Google revealed Android M at its I/O developer conference this week, a powerful step forward for the world's most popular mobile operating system. Google made a conscious effort to improve the platform's performance and stability, but was sure to include a few killer features.
The full changelog for Android M has no fewer than 55 items on it.
Many of the features are small enough that Google didn't highlight them on stage. Some of the less-sexy additions include: easy word selection and floating clipboard toolbar, simplified volume controls, undo/redo keyboard shortcuts, improved trusted face reliability, unified Google/device settings, WiFi power improvements, and stylus support.
There are many more.
Google Now On Tap is by far the most impressive addition to Android M. It's all about context and situational awareness. Google says the intent behind Now On Tap is to make it easier for Android users to get assistance when and where they need it.
"If your friend texts you about dinner at a new restaurant," explains Google, "without leaving the app, you can ask Google Now for help. Using just that context, Google can find menus, reviews, help you book a table, navigate there, and deep link you into relevant apps." Users need only long-press the home button and Google will automatically do everything else. The possibilities here are powerful.
Android Pay is perhaps second in line.
Android Pay will compete directly with Apple Pay and Samsung Pay. Android pay largely replaces Google Wallet. In fact, it's an entirely new product built on the ashes of Softcard. In the US, Android Pay will be supported by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. Device owners will be able to make tap-and-go payments at some 700,000 retailers around the country when it (re)launches.
With Google's support, mobile payment may get the shot in the arm it really needs for widespread adoption.
More importantly, Android Pay -- and everything else on Android M smartphones -- can be secured with fingerprint authentication. Until now, only select manufacturers offered APIs for developers to access their hardware's fingerprint readers. Now, Android supports fingerprint authentication system-wide for unlocking the device, approved purchases, and securing files or folders. The latest SDK from Google already includes the new fingerprint API. This has great implications for business users.
It may not seem all that important, but Android M's new power management features are something to get excited about. To start, a new feature called Doze can double standby battery life. Doze uses internal sensors to determine when the device hasn't been moved in a while. It then aggressively shuts down notifications and other power-sapping activities until the device is picked up or moved. This means if you forget to plug your device in overnight, it won't be dead in the morning. Moreover, Android M adds support for USB Type C, which has a reversible plug and reversible power flow. In other words, you will be able to use an Android M smartphone to charge an accessory such as a Bluetooth headset.
App Links is the last of the new features that will improve the day-to-day experience on Android devices.
As Android functions today, users often encounter popup dialog boxes when clicking links. For example, let's say someone is scanning through Twitter and encounters a link to an Instagram photo. Clicking the link opens a dialog asking the user to choose which app to use to open the link (in this case, Chrome or Instagram). With App Links in Android M, applications will be able to verify such links automatically. This means clicking an Instagram link in Twitter will open the photo in Instagram, no questions asked.
If you know your way around terminal commands, you can download and install the Android M Developer Preview today. Google said the final version of the operating system will arrive during the third quarter.
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