In November 2014, Google hit a home run with the Android Lollipop. It had some huge under the hood improvements like the switch from Dalvik to Android Runtime, which greatly improved app performance. Android L also saw the improvement of notifications, allowing them to be seen as banners even within apps and accessible from the lock screen. But the biggest new feature of Android L was its redesigned user interface.
For this interface Google created an all new design language known as Material Design. Material Design took its cues from the Google Now app, which used a card-based layout and the company seemed to achieve both a flat new look while not sacrificing depth. As a Google designer described at the time: "Material has physical surfaces and edges. Seams and shadows provide meaning about what you can touch."
Google’s Android platform has had more than its fair share of security issues over the years. Some were pretty benign, while others were cause for concern for millions of users the globe over. A lot of these exploits are caused by Android’s fragmented nature; there are still plenty of handsets running Android Ice Cream Sandwich, for instance, and this makes it extremely hard for OEMs to ensure all their code, even year’s old code, is fully up to date with the latest security patches.
Basically, a lot of this has more to do with OEMs than Google. If they looked after their older handsets better, none of this would happen. But as anyone who has owned an Android phone in the past six years will tell you, this just doesn’t happen. You get 12-18 months of support at best, and then you’re on your own.
Google develops Android every year. No ifs, no buts. It adds in new features, augments designs, fixes bugs and axes old features no longer required.
Google's big 2015 launch was unusually chock full of new hardware; two new Nexus phones with the Nexus 5X and the Nexus 6P, an updated Chromecast 2, and a brand new surprise with the Google Pixel C convertible hybrid tablet, plus a new initiative that looks to breathe life back into old speakers called Chromecast Audio. Of course the main event was the new iteration of Android itself, Android 6.0, aka Android Marshmallow.
Google announced Android Marshmallow as Android M way back at its annual Google I/O expo. Shortly thereafter the Big G released a bunch of test-builds to developers and those signed up to Google’s beta software program. The final build of Android Marshmallow dropped in Q3 2015 and could mainly be found up and running on Nexus handsets, though many Android OEMs have now confirmed they will be adding support for Android M during Q1 2016.
For the most part, Android Marshmallow is a serious breath of fresh air inside any handset. The software is more polished, looks better and is less power hungry. Boot up a Nexus 5 with it and you’ll experience about 30% uplift in battery performance -- we kid you not. On more premium handsets running the latest-gen CPUs the difference should be INSANE.
Android Marshmallow, on the whole, is a pretty comprehensive update that looks to fix many of Android’s latent problems. The most notable of which is security and power management. We’ve been tinkering with Android Marshmallow for a good few months now. These features listed below are Android Marshmallow’s BEST new attributes and the things you should be looking forward to using the most.
Android Marshmallow: App Permisions
Android Marshmallow's app permissions have been tweaked and now lets users reject or approve permissions from individual apps and individual functions within the app itself. You won't be hit with a big wall of permissions when you install an app anymore, instead when you use a feature, say the voice message recording inside WhatsApp, it'll ask you for permission. You can still go into permissions for any given app and tweak them at any time, however.
Android Marshmallow: Web Browsing & Chrome
It wouldn't be new Android without at least some attention given to the web experience via the Chrome browser. Most notably Google has added "custom tabs" which allow Chrome to open up links to web content inside an app as an overlay, rather than jumping you out of the app entirely and into the full-blown browser, as has been the case until now.
This feature will allow app developers to customise the tabs to fit the look and feel of their own app design language, but will be directly linked to Chrome on that device and a logged-in user account, preserving things like remembered passwords and login details - allowing for a seamless experience.
Android Marshmallow: Fingerprint Scanner
Between the inclusion of fingerprint scanners on a range of Android phones (including the new Nexus devices) and the rollout of Google's own Android Pay it was inevitable that some attention be given to fingerprint scanning and biometric security. Google's gone for standardised, built-in support for fingerprint authentication, allowing developers to make use of the feature for unlocking devices, logging into apps and content, and purchases via web stores or points-of-sale in bricks n' mortar retail outlets.
Android Marshmallow: Android Pay & Mobile Payments
Android Pay is now rolling out and is a natural evolution of Google Wallet — the Big G’s first attempt at mobile payments. Android Pay has been redesigned and rejigged with 2015/16’s market in mind. In order to use it you will need Android handset running Android KitKat and above and NFC — bad news for OnePlus 2 owners, then! Unlike Apple Pay, Android Pay does not require a fingerprint scanner, despite many new Android handsets shipping with one. If you don’t have a fingerprint scanner on your phone you can authenticate a payment using a PIN, pattern or password.
Android Marshmallow: Battery Optimisations
Doze is designed to make your Android Marshmallow handset suitably more power efficient. How it works is simple: sensors detect when you’re not using your phone, say while watching a movie or reading a book, and put it into a kind of sleep mode so it uses less power. This is an excellent addition to Android and one that adds in a bunch more hours to a handset’s idle performance. You’ll even notice the difference on older hardware like the Nexus 5.
Material Design: New App Drawer & New Animations
It's not a big visual overhaul but Material Design has been tweaked a little, most notably the new animations designed to make everything even more visually integrated, intuitive, and seamless. On top of this a new app drawer design is much cleaner, features vertical scrolling, discretely colours itself the same way as your wallpaper, and prioritises your most-used apps at the top. Lastly, Google has added a more seamless homescreen rotation functionality, and options for toggling this on or off.
Android Marshmallow: Android RAM Manager
No this isn't a kind of shepherd. The Android RAM Manager keeps a close eye on your phone's Random Access Memory and shows you a much more detailed background of which apps are most hungry for your phone's grey matter.
Android Marshmallow: Adoptive Storage
Adoptive Storage allows the Android system to "adopt" an external memory device such as a microSD card and treat it as onboard storage. Excellent stuff! Now we just need OEMs to start including microSD-support again and everything will be good again!
Android Marshmallow: Dark Theme
Pretty much does what it says on the tin; there's a dark theme now if you want it!
Android Marshmallow: Google Now
Plenty of attention has been focused on Google Now, generally with the intention of making it smarter, faster, more responsive and accurate, and overall easier to use and get exactly what you need out of it.
Google says the Google Now suite understands context better than ever before, so for example, if you have a route set up in your Maps already you can ask "how far is it?" and Google Now will know you are referring to the current route's end destination - you don't have to be so specific any longer.
Android Marshmallow: Voicemail
Google has expanded voicemail functionality to include a lot more useful details at a glance and allowing you to control your message playback via a slider, pause, delete and much more, rather than having to go through the annoying process of pressing number keys to perform these functions when prompted.
This functionality will need to be enabled on a carrier-by-carrier basis, but support is expected to become widespread.
Android Marshmallow: Status Bar Customisation
The settings menu has been expanded to allow you to directly customise which icons appear in the status bar - don't want to see a Bluetooth indicator? Toggle it off or on as you wish.