Google surprised everyone with the spontaneous announcement of the Android N Developer Preview in March. This early version of Android 7.0, due to be released later in the year, features some significant changes over Android 6.0 Marshmallow, but it's still yet to be named. That's about to change and you can read about this and all of the other Android N release date, features and news details below.
At the Google I/O 2016 keynote on May 18, Google announced the release of a beta-quality Android N release. This third developer preview focuses on three areas: performance, security and productivity. Native VR support has now also been confirmed, with a new VR platform called Daydream.
The name of the new Android OS was not presented during the keynote. Instead, Google announced that it will take suggestions for the name via an online submission form. See the 'Android N name' later in this article for details.
Android N Developer Preview 3
The new build promises increased stability, to the extent that Google is encouraging developers, and even casual users, to install it on their primary devices. It now works with Android Pay, making it much more functional. The build number is NPD35K.
Google has also added "platform support and optimizations for a new VR mode" intended for developers to begin building apps for the baked in VR support, allowing for access to such things as intelligent head tracking and stereo notifications.
You can read over the full changelog at the Google Developers blog. This update should roll out to your device OTA if you're part of the Android Beta Program, otherwise you can download and flash it manually by grabbing the image from Google. Google said that the final version of Android N will be sent to all manufacturers this summer.
A new JIT compiler means that apps should install up to 75 percent faster, and compiler code should be reduced by 50 percent. The irritating Android is starting... dialogue box will be gone for good, thanks to this new compiler, as well.
Google stressed improvements in security through file-based encryption, media framework hardening and seamless updates. In particular, these 'Seamless updates' mean that your phone will download new software images in the background and prepare them for the next time you restart your device. Thanks to the file-based encryption, you also won't need to enter your device password upon restarting.
Productivity is also now a focus. Google says that most people only use their seven most recent apps from the recent app drawer, so the wheel will be limited to these. There is also going to be a Clear all button, which received a rush of applause for a grateful I/O audience.
By double-tapping the recent apps button, you can quickly switch to the previous app, although, on many devices, this feature was already available via a long press on the same button.
Multi-window mode sees two uses folded in: the standard, split-screen view, and picture-in-picture, designed for Android TV. This latter mode lets you shrink what's on the screen to a small box in the corner of the screen and do something else in the dominant, full-screen window.
Elsewhere, replying from within notifications was covered, as well as notification visibility, letting you quickly block or hide similar notifications in the future via a long press, and support for Unicode 9.0 Emoji, all features we've already looked at below.
Native support for VR was also formally introduced. Daydream, a platform for mobile VR was announced, which comes with a set of specs phones have to meet in order to be compatible. Many manufacturers are making Daydream-compatible devices, including Samsung, HTC, LG, Xiaomi and Huawei.
For more on Google's VR-related announcements, and other news from Google I/O, check out our dedicated page that gives you all the info you need on the events.
Android N Developer Preview: new features
Available on some Nexus devices (Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6, Pixel C, Nexus 9 and Nexus Player), the Android N Developer Preview is a test version of the new Android software, primarily intended for developers. Like previous Developer Preview versions (such as Android M, which later became Android Marshmallow), the first version of this software does not contain all the new features of the next version of Android, but only parts.
The first update to the Developer Preview was released on March 17. The factory images are available for the Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Nexus 9 and Nexus 9 LTE. If you're signed up to the Android Beta Program, you can expect to see the update arrive over the air very soon.
Developer Preview 2
Developer Preview 2 was released on April 13. The latest version adds the ability for apps to define intent shortcuts, meaning users can use launchers to create shortcuts, like adding a memo to the calendar, with just one press.
Emoji Unicode 9 support is now incorporated, and a variety of APIs see inclusion, including Vulkan, which is intended primarily to improve gaming performance.
Menu between the system settings
A hamburger menu button (the icon with three lines) has now been embedded into the system settings. When a user is in the Bluetooth menu, for example, they can quickly jump to the other system options using this left side menu. This menu is already a standard in other Google applications.
Reply to messages from the notifications bar
Of the new additions, this is possibly the feature which most resembles Apple iOS. Messages can now be answered from the notification itself. With this, the user will not need to leave an app to answer a message or even unlock their phone.
As we saw in the Android M developer preview, Google has been working hard to bring a native and efficient multitasking system to Android. Although the function was eventually omitted from Android 6.0 Marshmallow, with Android N, Google now seems ready to make the leap.
The image below shows the multi-window feature, which works on both tablets and phones and mirrors what you can currently get on some Samsung and LG devices.
Like most major platform changes, developers will have to opt in for the split screen mode to allow their apps to run smoothly. This can be done by adding a new attribute called: resizableActivity.
This attribute allows developers to specify the minimum size the app can be resized to and to determine whether resizing will be immediate or the application needs to restart with the required dimensions.
New Notifications panel
The notification panel has been completely redesigned, perfectly aligning with what we had seen in earlier leaks. Icons above the notification shade are now more prominent, and on the far right there is a drop-down toggle to expand the panel.
It is now possible to respond to messages directly from within a notification, a feature that uses the same RemoteInput API that Android Wear makes use of.
Notifications can now also be 'stacked', optimizing the space in the notification area.
Developers can choose to stack notifications from the same application in a single line. These can then be expanded using the expansion button or a two-fingered gesture.
With Developer Preview 2, notifications can be set manually at any one of six levels of importance for each app:
Blocked - never show notifications
Min importance - silently show at the bottom of the notification list
Low importance - silently show notifications in chronological order
Normal importance - allow these notifications to play sounds
High importance - peek onto the screen and play sounds
Urgent importance - show at the top of the notifications list, peek onto the screen and play sounds
To access these, you need to bring down the notification shade and long press on the gear icon to activate the System UI Tuner in the Settings menu. Then enter said menu, go to Other and enable Show full importance settings.
Now, when you go to Settings > apps and select any app and press on Notifications, you will see a slider that allows you to change the importance.
Enhanced Doze mode
The energy saving mode Doze has been improved in Android N. Previously, the feature had only worked when the phone had remained completely undisturbed for a long time, i.e. when you're sleeping, but now Google says Doze will also save battery any time the screen is turned off. We will have to test the new system more thoroughly to find out what impact it has on energy consumption.
A system like this that comes into effect every time the phone's display turns off might not be something everyone is keen on, but we'll have to see how it works in practice. It is possible that a less extreme version of Doze mode, one that monitors the energy consumption of apps without impairing the usability and notifications, might be worked out.
Android Beta Program
Another new addition from Google is a way to receive preview builds and updates over-the-air, avoiding the need for flashing factory images. Anyone with a compatible device is able to sign up for the Android Beta Program and receive these preview builds automatically.
These are just some of the new features of Android 7.0, and many other improvements are yet to be implemented or previewed. Some features we may even have to wait for the final build to find out about. For now the app drawer still remains, although rumors suggest that it may disappear in the future.
Google says it has been hard at work on Project Svelte, a set of tweaks that make Android more able to run on aging and less-powerful devices. This project originates from Android KitKat but we don't know much about it yet. More details should follow with the full release of Android N.
We saw the first hint of what many suspected early on: native support for VR in Android N. The hint to what Google is working on appears in a menu in the new Android system. By going to Settings > Apps > Configure apps > Special access > VR helper, you can find a menu screen waiting to be filled by a list of apps that are making use of an API designed for VR apps.
There's also something called 'Sustained performance mode'referenced, that is almost certainly intended to help devices run this demanding VR mode for longer periods of time. As anyone who has used a Gear VR will know, the phone quickly becomes very hot and boots the user out of the VR software, a problem that Google will need to overcome if VR is to become more widespread.
3D Touch support
Apple's iPhone 6s launched with a pressure-sensitive screen that allowed users to make use of shortcuts by pressing either lightly or heavily on the screen. Now, it looks as though Google won't put 3D Touch in its Android OS.
The new feature, called Force Touch or 3D Touch was first mentioned in the Android N Developer Preview documents but sources now say this won't be included in the launch of Android N. Take a look at our full report on 3D Touch in the link below.
In Android N Developer Preview 2, Google made two improvements to its Google Now Launcher. You can use a pinch gesture on the home screen to bring up the overview page, where, at the bottom, options for wallpapers, widgets and settings appear. And, at last, app options when dragging apps from the home screen and the app drawer are consistent. The options are now Remove / Cancel, Uninstall and App info. A minor but very welcome change.
How to download Android N
If you are a developer or just want to test the preview version of Android 7.0, you can download images of the new OS directly from Google. Remember that this version is unstable and contains many bugs. The update can be downloaded via this link.
Note: Only the Nexus line of devices can receive the preview build of Android N. Below you can see what the Nexus models support the OS:
Android Authority picked up on the findings of an eagle-eyed Reddit user who spotted something hidden in the HTML code of the Android N Preview page, suggesting that Google might be planning to make the Developer Preview available on non-Nexus devices. The code in question states, "more supported devices from OEM partners".
Evidence of this has mounted, with proof a OnePlus 3 running Android N appearing in a leaked screenshot. However, the problems with this becoming a reality are manifold. It takes manufacturers a long time to release updates for a reason: OEM interfaces like TouchWiz and EMUI incorporate features that are otherwise not supported by stock Android.
Android N name
Android N is purely a codename right now, so what will the new version be called? At Google I/O 2016, it was announced that suggestions for the name of the new OS would be accepted from the public.
Android Neyyappam (an Indian dessert) became one of the frontrunners from this polling after a number of people campaigned for it on social media but it now appears that Google is no longer taking suggestions.
On June 8, Google tweeted to thank people for the submissions and said that the official name will be revealed shortly. What do you think it's going to be?