Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Everything new in Android O: features and changes

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Like last year, Google dropped the first preview build for the upcoming Android version a couple of months ahead of Google I/O. This year, the first Android O developer preview arrived on March 21 (12 days later than last year) for the Google Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel C, Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X and Nexus Player. We got busy and have brought together all the changes, features and things you should know about Android O.


Android O release schedule


The Android O release will ultimately become Android 8.0 . Google has already shared a timeline for the rollout of each preview build with the second developer preview due out in mid-May, likely during Google I/O, the third in mid-June and the fourth in mid-July. The public version of Android 8.0 will be out for supported Pixel, Nexus and Android One devices sometime in Q3, most likely in late August or early September.




TL;DR


Most of the major visual changes in Android O are relegated to the redesigned settings menu, but there are a few minor tweaks elsewhere in the UI like in the notification shade. Material Design is still the order of the day because Android O focuses on important background changes like notification channels to providing even greater control over the Android system.


Some long-awaited features like picture-in-picture mode and unread notification app badges have finally landed while some entirely new features like better Bluetooth audio support and adaptive icons are a welcome addition. It’s early days yet, but Android O is looking feature-packed already.



Notifications shade


When you swipe down the notifications shade you’ll see the first visual changes in Android O. The strip of six toggles at the top of the notifications shade now takes up a little more space on-screen and there’s a little re-ordering of the toggles in Android O since Nougat. A new condensed font for the date and time means that information takes up less space, which is fortunate because there are now more status bar icons visible.


A new condensed font for the date and time means that information takes up less space, which is fortunate because there are now more status bar icons visible.



Besides the shortcut to the settings menu and the Quick Settings carat (downward-facing arrow), you’ve now also got Wi-Fi and cellular connection icons as well as the battery icon and remaining percentage (which is shown next to the battery icon).





As for the notifications themselves, they look just the same as in Nougat, complete with bundled notifications and quick reply. If you have multiple notifications, you’ll notice that as you drag the notifications shade down, a tiny icon for each notification appears in a horizontal line at the bottom of the shade. As you drag the shade down, each icon pops up and expands into a full notification as more screen space becomes available.


Notification handling


As for notification handling, there’s some familiar stuff going on as well as some new options. If you long press on a notification you’ll see a toggle for Notifications, allowing you to disable all future notifications from that app (when notification channels are fully introduced you’ll also have access to them here, but more on that below).


However, if you swipe a notification to the side a little, you’ll get two icons: one for accessing the Notifications toggle and a clock icon for snoozing the notification. If you tap the clock you’ll automatically snooze for 15 minutes but you can open the drop-down menu to snooze for 30 or 60 minutes instead or to disable snooze.


Quick Settings


When you open up the Quick Settings screen, you’ll see we still have different color schemes for the Pixels compared to Nexus devices. Nexuses get that same dark blue-gray background with aqua accents while the Pixels maintain the near-black and bright blue accent scheme.





Looking at the Quick Settings themselves, Google has changed things up yet again. In Android O, the Quick Settings with a line underneath (Wi-Fi, cellular, Bluetooth, Do Not Disturb) have a double function. You can tap the icon to toggle the setting on and off, but if you tap the word underneath the toggle, you’ll open up the mini settings menu instead.


The non-underlined toggles just enable a feature like the flashlight or cycle through modes like for data saver no matter where you tap them. Just like in Nougat, you can tap the pen icon to edit the order of the Quick Settings or add another page and you’ve got the same shortcut to add a guest or switch between user accounts.


Android O finally adds native support for app badges.



App badges


Android O finally adds native support for app badges. They’re the little number bubble that shows up on an app icon to show you your unread notification count and are yet another custom launcher feature being absorbed into stock Android. Of course, you’ll have complete control over these at the flick of a toggle in the individual app notification settings.



Settings menu


The Settings menu is where most of the visual changes look to be taking place in the Android O release.



The Settings menu is where most of the visual changes look to be taking place in the Android O release. For starters there’s a new color scheme: both the Pixels and Nexus devices get a black and white approach but you’ll still see their individual blue tones used for accents here and there.


The Settings menu itself has received a bit of a reshuffle as well. I won’t bore with you with what section moved into which other section, so take a look at the screenshots below to see for yourself. The slide-out navigation drawer and hamburger menu icon have both been removed in this developer preview.


The major change in Android O is that the Settings menu is much shorter than it was in Nougat, with no more umbrella categories like “wireless and networks,” “device,” “personal” and “system”. Instead, Android O has more descriptive sections that cover more ground, like “networks and internet,” “connected devices,” “apps and notifications” and “security and screen lock”.



Generally speaking, everything is in the same place, but a few changes are noticeable. For starters, in the Display settings, Pixel devices have an option for “device theme” with two choices: Inverted or Pixel. From what we can see right now all this does is change the Quick Settings area from light to dark but it may evolve into the long-awaited system-wide dark theme in later developer previews.


Pixel devices have an option for “device theme” that may evolve into a system-wide dark theme in Android 8.0.



The Pixels also show Night Light in the Display settings while the Nexus does not. As you may remember, night mode made a brief appearance on Nexus devices in the Android N preview builds, but was later removed for failing to meet Google’s performance standards. Dark mode, meanwhile, originally appeared in both the Android M and Android N previews, but has still not made it to prime time on any device.


Most sub-sections in the Settings menu have also been overhauled visually. The battery and storage sections are all-new and the app info pages have a new look too. A whole bunch of stuff has now moved into the System sub-section, including languages and input, date and time, updates, about phone and backup and rest options.


Everything you know from Nougat is here, but you’ll have to go digging to find it.



Pretty much everything you know from Nougat still exists in Android O, but you’ll have to go digging to find where it now lives. On the plus side, I have to congratulate Google for finally seeming to get things into places and groupings that make sense, without breaking everything down into an interminable list.


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