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Today during Google I/O 2015’s opening keynote Google announced the latest release of their Android operating system. The new version of Android is using the code name Android M, much like how Lollipop was initially referred to as Android L. While Android Lollipop was a major release with many new features and a comprehensive redesign, Android M goes back to basics, and focuses on polishing what Google introduced with Lollipop. That isn’t to say that there are no new features or design tweaks, but they are not on the same scale as Lollipop’s changes. It may be best to think of Android M being to Lollipop what Jellybean was to Ice Cream Sandwich.
When Google originally announced Android L at Google I/O last year, they released a developer preview so developers could prepare their apps for the new operating system, as well as for both developers and Android enthusiasts to provide feedback about the changes that were being made. Google has done the same thing with Android M, and they have committed to releasing over-the-air updates to the developer preview on a monthly basis.
While I’m hopeful that the final name of this next Android release will be Android Muffin, we won’t know details about the name of the new OS for quite some time. Opening the Android M Easter egg in the About phone section of Settings shows you the new Android M logo which you can see in the cover image of this article. Long pressing on that logo kicks you out of that section and presents you with the increasingly common Tsu (?) emoji. Google clearly enjoys the speculation from users and the press about what the final name will be.
While we don’t know the full name of Android M, we can look at some of the changes that are included in the developer preview build that Google has released. All of these features are obviously subject to change, and some will most certainly change as users and developers give feedback on them in the coming months. I’m just taking a look at what changes have been made so far to see where Google is headed, and to cover some of the changes that were too small to be mentioned during Google’s keynote.
Android Lollipop on the left, Android M on the right
The first thing you’re likely to notice after installing the Android M preview is that Google has included a new wallpaper which is set as the default option. They’ve also made some notable tweaks to the lock screen. The most obvious is the change to the clock and date. Not only is the text more bold, but the altered spacing between characters may mean that we’re looking at a font other than Roboto, or at some special version of Roboto. I’ve never been very good with identifying fonts so I couldn’t say for sure, but I personally prefer the thinner look of the original clock.
On top of the new font, Google has also replaced the phone dialer shortcut with a voice search shortcut. I would love to know if this is the result of data showing that people rarely used the phone shortcut. The phone part of a smartphone now seems more like an additional app on what is really a computer in your pocket.
Android Lollipop on the left, Android M on the right
Not much is tweaked with the home screens of the Google Now Launcher in Android M. You still get the same grid of icons, with the leftmost home screen being Google Now. Once you enter the app drawer you’ll see that Google has made some significant changes after all. The big change is a switch from having pages of apps that you scroll horizontally between to having a continuously scrolling vertical list of apps. From a functional standpoint, this layout is similar to how the app drawer was designed in older versions of Android from Gingerbread and prior.
There are also some changes at the top and on the side of the new app drawer. Based on some quick testing, I believe that the row of four icons on the very top are your four most commonly used applications. Above those is a search bar for those users who have so many applications that scrolling to them becomes a chore. Since the drawer is organized alphabetically, Google has made finding apps easier by putting letters on the left side which indicate the first letter of the app names that you’re currently viewing.
Something I’ve desired for a long time is a revamp of the permissions system on Android. Quite frankly, I feel like the system prior to Android M was a complete and utter disaster. The reason is that if there was a single permission that you didn’t want an app to have, then you were barred from installing that application. Permissions were also grouped poorly, and sometimes apps would have to ask for permissions that made them seem malicious but for some obscure reason were required for part of that app to function. In Android M, Google has resolved both of my concerns by changing the system to ask permission at the time a function of the phone needs to be used rather than at the time of install.
Since the permissions system is a key part of Android, it wasn’t possible for Google to bring their new system to older applications. Because of this, the screen above with a list of permissions that you need to accept at the time of install won’t be going away any time soon. However, Google has been able to implement part of their new permissions system, and if you take the time to use it you can control which permissions an application has access to. This can be done by going to the Apps menu in Settings, selecting the app, and then selecting permissions. This brings up the list you see in the right image above, and you can enable to disable permissions at will. I think this is a huge win for users and their privacy, and it will be even better when developers update their applications so that users can just accept or deny permissions as they are needed.
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