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article imageGoogle announces first Android N preview, includes multi-window

By James Walker     Mar 10, 2016 in Technology
In a break from tradition, Google has launched the first developer preview of Android N, the next version of Android to be released this year. For the first time, it includes true split-screen multi-window support alongside other new features.
Google usually unveils the next version of Android at its summer I/O developers conference. This year, it's doing things differently, launching a developer preview of Android N even though it's only March. The company says it has made the change so developers can use the pre-release software for longer, letting the Android team build on more feedback than it usually can.
The headline feature of the new release is multi-window support. It makes it possible to run two apps side-by-side in landscape or portrait mode, allowing Android to become a productive operating system that is versatile on tablets and other larger devices.
Apps can be snapped to the edges of the display from the recent apps menu. The space allocated to each app can be changed between 50/50 and 66/33 to emphasize either one. On phones, the screen is split vertically but the same proportions are available.
The feature acts like Apple's implementation of split-screen in iOS 9. It has a "primary" and "secondary" app that dictates how the contents of each pane can be changed once setup. The app in the primary space cannot be changed without dismissing the feature. The secondary app can be reconfigured by returning to home or the recent apps menu.
Android N Developer Preview 1  released 10/03/2016
Android N Developer Preview 1, released 10/03/2016
It is still a less versatile solution than what Windows tablets have to offer, but a huge step in the right direction for Android. Historically, Android tablets haven't been a great idea for people wanting to remain productive on the go, in part because it has been impossible to truly multitask between apps. Android N will finally put an end to this issue.
The notification tray is getting another revamp for the new release. Now, notifications can be bundled together by app, solving the problem of the tray becoming cluttered by hundreds of messages from a group chat. The app can group them all into one expandable notification, making it easier to digest the information in the tray and prioritise the order to respond in.
Additionally, notifications can now have built-in action buttons to immediately trigger a reply. This is already used in some Google apps, letting users reply to or forward an email directly from the alert, but will now be accessible to all developers.
One of the major features introduced in last year's Android Marshmallow was Doze, a smart battery-saving mode that helps reduce power consumption by curbing app use when asleep. However, it only triggers when the phone has been inactive for a while, limiting its effectiveness.
In N, a phone can doze as soon as its display turns off. It stays in a higher-power state than full Doze to ensure it immediately responds when the power button is pressed while saving power every time the device is locked. Eventually, it will fall into the existing "deep doze" mode.
Google is yet to reveal any major interface changes in N. Further announcements are likely to be made over the next few months. For now, it is only detailing features that will impact app developers, ensuring their creations will be able to take full advantage of new features like multi-window and direct reply notifications.
Developers can install the as-yet unnamed Android N today on Nexus 6, Nexus 5X, Nexus Player, Nexus 9 and Pixel C devices. Android fans should note that Google explicitly advises against consumers installing this very early developer preview.
While there's nothing to stop you installing Android N today, provided you own one of the compatible Nexus phones, Google warns it is "not intended for daily use or consumer use." It intends to open the beta up to general users later in development though, giving more people the chance to try Android N before it hits the masses.
Android N is currently in very early development and is likely to be buggy, unstable and generally unreliable. As always with pre-release products, details are subject to change before Android N goes public and the implementation of features shown off today is likely to look very different by the summer.
More about Google, Android, android n, Multitasking, multiwindow
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