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article imageGoogle unveils the next version of Android

By James Walker     Mar 21, 2017 in Technology
Google has officially announced Android O, the next major version of its mobile operating system set to be released later this year. The company has launched the first preview of the under-development OS, introducing several major new features.
The as-yet unnamed Android O follows last year's Nougat and in many ways is a continuation of Google's work during 2016. The company is continuing to focus on Android's productivity, security and performance features, giving phones and tablets the capability to handle more tasks while running for longer.
Notification channels
There are currently four headline features in Android O, alongside several other smaller ones. First up is notification channels, a system apps can use to define categories for their notifications. An app from a news publisher could create categories such as "World," "Business" and "Technology." Notifications it distributes would then be assigned one of these categories.
Notification channels in Android O
Notification channels in Android O
Google
You can then use the categories to fine-tune the notifications you want to receive from an app. Currently, you can only turn an app's notifications on or off. Under Android O, you'll be able to disable notifications in the "World" and "Business" categories but keep tech news alerts turned on. It's an official solution to the checkbox options already offered by some developers, letting you precisely control the notification activity of any supporting app from Android's settings menu.
Picture-in-picture
Google is extending Android's split-screen multitasking capabilities introduced last year with a new picture-in-picture display mode. Supporting apps will allow their main content to be popped out into a sticky window that persists on the display above other apps. It'll be most useful for media players and video conferencing solutions.
Android O icon
Android O icon
Google
Apple already offers a picture-in-picture mode on the iPad and Microsoft will enable it for Windows 10 tablets in the next few weeks. Android the currently the only platform to support it on phones though, letting you multitask more effectively while on the go.
Autofill
Google is adding a new autofill API which will allow apps to act as autofill agents. This is an interesting extension of Android's platform capabilities which could give rise to a new class of apps.
In the same way as you currently install a custom keyboard, with Android O you'll be able to download autofill providers. These apps will be able to store data like your email address and phone number and automatically add it to form fields in other apps. This could enable existing password management solutions like LastPass to integrate directly with the operating system.
Adaptive Icons
Adaptive icons in Android O
Adaptive icons in Android O
Google
The last major visual feature announced so far is a change aimed mainly at developers but also significant for users. In recognition of the fragmented state of Android skins and launchers used by phone manufacturers, Google is launching a new system that will enable app icons to automatically adjust to suit a device's theme.
In a world where people obsess over making sure their app icons match and line up, Android O will make it a little easier to obtain a neat home screen. Adaptive icons will be able to transition between different shapes, such as square, circular and rounded corners, depending on the standard used by the phone. The adaptive icons system also enables animations for the icons in several settings.
The best of the rest
Android O is still many months away from being publicly launched and it's expected Google will add more features before the summer. Additional minor capabilities announced today include support for wide-gamut colour apps, keyboard navigation within apps, support for new Wi-Fi features and improved system audio throughput.
Android O
Android O
Google
Finally, Google is taking its work on improving Android's battery life up another level, announcing new limits on what apps can do while in the background. The company said this will help further lower the system's power consumption.
If you want to live on the cutting edge, you can download the first developer preview of Android O today if you own a supported device. As ever with very early versions of pre-release software, this shouldn't be installed on a device you rely on as it almost certainly contains critical bugs.
Google warned the build is not intended for consumer use. It won't be offered over the usual Android Beta channel owing to its instability.
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