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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Android L Release (5.0) announced - Here's all you need to know


Google's Android L Release
Today during the ongoing Google I/O, Sundar Pichai, the company's head of Android and Chrome was on stage to unveil the latest developments from his team. One of the announcements was for the next version of Android, which is simply being referred to as the Android L release.

According to Sundar, Android L is one of the most comprehensive Android updates in the mobile platform's history. Here are some of the key features available with this upcoming update.


A new "Material Design" interface


To give Android a proper facelift, Google challenged themselves to "create a visual language for our users that synthesizes the classic principles of good design with the innovation and possibility of technology and science." It wanted to achieve a "single underlying system that allows for a unified experience across platforms and device sizes", regardless of their form-factor and input method. Touch, voice, mouse, keyboard - Material Design takes it.



See the Material Design in action in the following video demo


Android's new visual language is inspired by nature, physics, and the bold, graphic look of print-based design. Or in other words, a design based on the qualities of paper. When experiencing Material Design, look for material metaphors - "use of familiar tactile attributes" and "realistic lighting" to provide a"rationalized space" and a "system of motion". 

The second foundation is motion. Google is being very specific about how Android has to move on your device's display - "All action takes place in a single environment. Objects are presented to the user without breaking the continuity of experience even as they transform and reorganize. Feedback is subtle yet clear. Transitions are ef´Čücient yet coherent." 

Finally, Google gave print design its mobile device 'renaissance' - "The fundamental elements of print-based design—typography, grids, space, scale, color, and use of imagery—guide visual treatments - create hierarchy, meaning, and focus. Deliberate color choices, edge-to-edge imagery, large-scale typography, and intentional white space create a bold and graphic interface that immerses the user in the experience."When was the last time you read a print magazine? Now is the time to buy a beautiful mag and immerse yourself in its pages in preparation.


"A critical aspect of motion for material design is to retain the feeling of physicality without sacrificing elegance, simplicity, beauty, and the magic of a seamless user experience."
What this means is that Google has abandoned mechanical, linear movement in favor of swift, elegantly dancing elements. Objects entering the screen space move at peak velocity, as natural movement commands. "A person entering the frame of vision does not begin walking at the edge of the frame but well before it. Similarly, when an object exits the frame, have it maintain its velocity, rather than slowing down as it exits the frame." It's safe to say Google and app developers will no longer distract you with unnecessary changes in velocity.

Another big push towards making Android in tune with nature is Responsive Interaction. This means the interface elements will react to user input in a logical, predictable manner guided by principles Google has broken down to Surface Reaction (instantaneous visual confirmation at the point of contact), Material Response (transforming materials upon touch or click), and Radial Action (actions will visually connect to their input epicenter - voice enters through the mic icon, keyboard through keyboard keys, etc).

Another way in which Material Design delights users is Meaningful Transitions. "Transitioning between two visual states should be smooth, appear effortless, and above all, provide clarity to the user, not confusion." - proclaims Google, adding that "as transitioning elements move around the screen, they should behave in a coordinated manner. The paths elements travel along should all make sense and be orderly."

To make apps look beautiful and appealing and make you want to touch them more and more, Google urges designers and developers to use animations beyond obvious ways. "A menu icon that becomes an arrow or playback controls that seamlessly change from one to the other serve dual functions: to inform the user and to imbue your app with a moment of wonder and a sense of superb craftsmanship."


According to Google, Material Design's color representation is all about "bold color statements juxtaposed with muted environments, taking cues from contemporary architecture, road signs, pavement marking tape, and sports courts." Bold shadows and highlights, unexpected and vibrant colors are in tow. App menus will, generally, adhere to a palette of three colors - primary, secondary, and accent. Grey text, icons, and dividers will use alpha values instead of solid colors for better representation.

In terms of typography, Android's signature Roboto font has been given a new look too - it's now wider and rounder, clearer and "more optimistic".


Android's new icons are "simple, modern, friendly, and sometimes quirky", as described by Google. Designers will be playing with symmetry and consistency of shapes to give icons an unique quality. Round curves will trump over sharp, dangerous corners. Bear in mind, though - "consistency is important". Thus, developers are urged to use Android's system icons whenever possible across different apps.


Quantum Paper

App designers must switch to thinking of each pixel (with the exception of system/status bars) as if its residing on a sheet of paper. Layouts will be arranged like paper sheets, which are joined by seams, moving and overlapping together. You really have to see it in action to understand what the philosophy is about. What's most important, however, is that Google has laid down strict principles on how different windows and menus should be behaving. Hopefully, this will lead to seamless, uniform apps.


Check out the following gallery which shows off the new Android L design in action..

(coming)



New Features and Improvements

Design is just one of the improvements coming to the Android L Release. Google has also heavily invested in improving the user experience in many ways of the end user

Search

Android L - Search FunctionalityWhen you think Google, you usually  surprised to find out that Android L will brings some enhancements to search. For example, Google has put an emphasis on 'rediscovery', meaning that Google Search will now be better aware of what you were doing immediately before looking for something online. One primer Google demo'd is Search's knowledge of a user's previous Google Earth search for a location.

This query, which was performed in an app separate from Search, is then incorporated in the results you get for the same or similar searches, and you'll be able to jump right into a given app and start right where you left off.

Additionally, this new API will be made available to developers, so third-party apps will also be in a position to take advantage of this new functionality -- it doesn't have to be a Google app. This opens up a number of possible use case scenarios, and we look forward to seeing how developers make use of this.

Updated Multitasking

Android L - Multitasking
With Android L, Google is also changing things up when it comes to what we usually refer to as the 'recents' menu. Apart from sporting a different design, the new recents tab will now decouple existing Chrome tabs into separate, clickable, entities. 


The new user interface actually looks more like how Google Chrome on Android manages its tabs. You can select whichever open app you want by selecting it from the stack. You will also be able to swipe away the apps you want to close.

What's more, Google is again opening up this API to developers, so if that kind of functionality makes sense for a particular app, devs will be able to take advantage of it.

The new multitasking user interface nicely fits into Google's Material Design, but it somehow doesn't feel as organized as it used to be previously. However it will be interesting to see how the functionality pans out in real world tests.

New Notifications

Android L Release - New NotificationsAnother area Android L will touch on are notifications. Here, Google is improving the existing notifications functionality in two ways.

First, notifications are now even more interactive, and this holds true even when looking at those from your lockscreen. In Android L, you can expand or discard those (and more), and Google promised that algorithms will try and curate what you get served, in an attempt to keep it relevant. What's more, double-tapping a notification from your lockscreen will immediately redirect you to the app that triggered it.

Second, Android L will introduce what the community has come to recognize as heads-up notifications. This means that notifications can now be displayed in a much larger box, and will go beyond just notifying you through the tiny status bar strip. If you have an LG or Samsung phone, these are very much alike to their respective 'floating caller' functionality, which introduces a small box when a call is patched through, allowing you to continue whatever it is you're doing, instead of forcibly hijacking your experience.

Contextually Aware

With Android's L release, all your Android devices at home will be contextually aware of each other. For example, your Android smartphone will be able to detect you as its owner by checking for other Android wearables, like a smartwatch you may be wearing. This will allow the smartphone owner to quickly access their device. If such a device is not detected, the phone will revert back to its PIN or Pattern protection.

Google also demonstrated how an Android phone will be detected by a Chromebook, and if both are on the same Google account, the Chromebook will automatically be logged in.





Performance Improvements



Google has also been working on improving Android's performance with their L release. One of the new enhancements is that the Davlik runtime has now been replaced by ART. ART was initially introduced as an experimental feature with Android 4.4 KitKat, and is finally ready for prime time. 

The new runtime is expected to bring Ahead-Of-Time execution of apps, so their code will be assimilated by the system upon install, which will bring notable improvements in performance over Dalvik, which uses JIT (Just-In-Time, meaning that code is executed when you start the app).

In practice, Google is reporting at least a 2x increase in performance, so apps will be now more readily available and also perform better. In fact, certain benchmarking suites (Chessbench, for example) indicate an improvement transcending 400%.

GPU performance improvements

Google also detailed their "Android Extension Pack" which brings several enhancements to GPU. Google claims that the update brings smartphone graphics closer to that offered by desktops and consoles. Mobile graphics have long lagged behind desktop, and even console graphics. Because of the smaller size of handheld devices, it limits the power of processors manufacturers can add to these handsets, which is inversely related with power efficiency. 



With Android L, and the so-called Android Extension Pack, Google is hoping to close some of that gap, and get Android devices closer to consoles in terms of the visual candy they can produce. 


The Android Extension Pack is a set of features that includes things like tessellation, geometry shaders, and others, which should help to arrive at more realistic environments, characters, and sophisticated lightning and reflections.

Project Volta



Keeping with tradition, Android L will serve as the proving grounds for yet another performance project, courtesy of Google. After Project Butter (Jelly Bean) and Project Svelte (KitKat), both of which were aimed at improving performance for both low and high end devices, we're now saying hello to Project Volta, which hopes to improve battery life.

Project Volta will mainly concerns itself with the various subsystems of Android, so stuff like Wi-Fi and cell radios, GPS, etc. will be more competently handled through new power-saving APIs. What's more, Google is adding a more sophisticated instrumentation to help identify power leaks called Battery Historian. This is mainly a tool for developers, but it should hopefully help them produce better-optimized code.

Project VoltaProject Volta

Lastly, and this one is rather big, Android L will finally bring a special Battery Saver mode to stock Android. Battery Saver can be configured to work only when your charge drops under a certain percentage (say <15%), or you can turn it on manually. What the energy-efficient mode does is simply limit your handset's performance by lowering processor clock speed and the display's refresh rate. According to Google, a Nexus 5 gets extra 90 minutes of juice with the new mode on. Not bad, though it should be noted that pretty much every manufacturer has implemented such a mode in their device by now. Google is a bit late to the party.

64-bit ready


Android's L release will be 64-bit ready thanks to the underlying ART runtime. This will allow future Android devices to bypass the 3GB RAM limit, and we will also start seeing devices with 64-bit processors make an appearance soon.

This should allow a huge performance improvement in future Android devices and allow mobile devices to be even closer in performance to desktop grade devices.



Bring Your Own Device to Work


Google was expected to address the enterprise market at Google I/O, and it did not disappoint. One way it's doing that is through Android L, which will now be a much better-suited device for enterprise users. Essentially, what happened is that Samsung contributed quite some of its KNOX security suite code to Android, and Google immediately implemented it into L.

In practice, this means that users with the latest Android software will be able to better separate their personal and work lives on their smartphones, as data will be separate between the two modes. Information beyond that is scarce at this point, so we're unaware if further security enhancements will be a part of this special new mode (probably).



Other Features and Improvements

While Google may have not had time to detail all the features and improvements heading to Android with its L release, we can expect the upcoming update to bring several enhancements. 


Google teased all those little features of Android L in a slide which you can see below.
  • Burst-mode camera APIs
  • H.265, NDK media APIs
  • TV input framework
  • Low latency audio recording, audio patch-panel, improved AV sync, USB audio
  • Cast-receiver hardware-assisted hot-word
  • ART, 64-bit trusted execution environment
  • Volta, improved battery stats, predicted time remaining, battery historian
  • Battery Saver mode, time to charge, time on lock screen
  • JobsScheduler, multi-network
  • Bluetooth 4.1, BLE central and peripheral modes
  • HFP 1.6 SAP, multi HFP
  • Map Email
  • OpenGL ES 3.1 and Android Extension Pack
  • Personal unlocking, enterprise, lock to app apis
  • Document-centric multi-tasking
  • Lockscreen notifications, heads-up notifications, do not disturb
  • New quick settings, phone rotation lock
  • Improved game controller support
  • Closed caption, color inversion, color space correction, improved text rendering
  • Material theme, activity transitions, view shadows, view elevation
  • RecycleView, CardView, path animations, color extractor



Availability


The Android L release will be available to the public later this fall. Developers who own a Google Nexus 5 or a Google Nexus 7 will get access to the Android L Developer Preview tomorrow (June 26). Find out when your device will receive the Android L Release.


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