Android P: The Best Features
We all love Android Oreo, but its days as the premiere version of Android are numbered. Google has given us our first look at the next version of Android, codenamed Android P, which will likely be released later this year.
Keep in mind that this is a developer preview. It gives them a head start on adapting their apps for the forthcoming update, and is intended to get the dev community hyped up for May’s Google I/O conference. It’s not, strictly speaking, for normal people like you and me.
But the dev release does give us some hints on what we can look forward to when those wonderful over-the-air updates eventually trickle down to our phones. This just scratches the surface of the extensive list of changes coming to Android P, but read on for the highlights.
Indoor Location Tracking
Google Maps is perhaps the greatest gift Google has given humanity, but it relies on some technologies (GPS, cell tower triangulation) that don’t work well indoors. Enter Wi-Fi Round-Trip-Time (RTT). This technology allows Android P devices to measure the distance between Wi-Fi access points (without connecting to them) and figure out your position indoors. If you’re within pinging distance of at least three access points, Google says it find your location within one or two meters.
This is great for getting around in places where GPS isn’t available (on a digital tour of Mammoth Cave perhaps?) or accurate, but Google has some other suggestions for how it can be used. Figure out who is speaking to a microphone, for example, which could be a game changer for smarter, smaller voice assistants. Google also suggests it could be used to push location-based special offers—ads, basically—because everything has to be a little evil.
Speaking of evil, there are some limitations for when Wi-Fi RTT can find you. For starters, the access points your phone communicates with won’t get your location. Also, your device will have to have its Wi-Fi radio on and location services enabled, while any app that wishes to use this technology has to request the ACCESS_FINE_LOCATION permission.
Save Us From the Notches
Ah, how Android users laughed when the iPhone X$999.00 at Verizon Wireless came out. “Such foolish Apple buyers,” they chortled, clutching tumblers of port. “Only such sheeple would buy a phone with a hideous chip out of the top.” Then, at Mobile World Congress 2018, they saw how many forthcoming Android devices were emulating the iPhone X notch, and wept cold, bitter tears.
Google adds support for notched screens in Android P. Great. Fantastic. Now even more of these monstrosities with useless, power-burning pixels in the corners can be sold at ever-higher prices.
Time Moves Right to Left
Time is an illusion and the position of the clock at the top of Android device screens is just as illusory. That’s because, as of Android P, the clock will move from the right of the screen to the far left.
This isn’t a fluke or a weird, obscure setting lurking in the developer mode guts of Android. Every screenshot on the Android P developer site shows the time on the left. It’s also not just a notched phone thing, since it appears in screenshots of both notched and saintly un-notched devices.
That doesn’t, however, mean it’s a permanent change. A developer preview is just that: a preview. Lots of ideas and features will come and go before the public beta is released. Also, I couldn’t find any reference to the move in the documentation itself. How odd.
Android Oreo is all about notifications: making them smarter and more engaging, and letting you block whole types of notifications with a swipe. Android P ups the ante even further. Media elements, like photos and user avatars, will now appear in notifications along with text. Someday soon, you’ll be able to see an unprompted and unwanted photo of someone’s unmentionables and who sent it without ever having to open your messaging app.
More Notification Improvements
You want more notification features? Android P has got more notification features. In the forthcoming operating system, you’ll get the AI-generated auto response that first debuted in Gmail. Forget voice-to-text, swipe-typing, or even thinking about what you need to say. All you need to do is tap and trust in the machine-learning model.
If your Android device has a dual-camera arrangement on either the front or the back, you might see it gain some new tricks in Android P. The latest version of the OS will support simultaneous streams from these cameras, allowing for all kinds of new effects in apps. Google says it could be used for “seamless zoom, bokeh, and stereo vision.”
Note that the documentation makes it sounds like Android P will only allow simultaneous feeds from cameras facing the same direction.
I’m a bit of a panoiac, and I get unreasonably excited every time Google rolls out some new security features for Android. The forthcoming P edition has subtle, but still important, improvements to encryption and other under-the-hood technologies. There are two features users will see, however.
First is a unified fingerprint-authentication screen. This is a small thing, but it means you’ll see the same screen prompting you to place a digit on the fingerprint scanner. That way, you know it’s a legit request.
The second thing has to do with encrypted backups. When you try to access a backup of your phone, you’ll have to enter the password, PIN, or pattern you use to unlock your phone. That’s great, since it means your data will remain safe, whether live on your phone or backed up on the cloud.
Locking Down the Background
One of the major changes in Android Oreo was limitations placed on what apps could do when running in the background. The goal, Google said, was to improve performance and battery life by restricting apps from being extremely active when they weren’t in view. As a privacy-conscious person, I appreciate this because I don’t think apps should be doing much of anything when I am not looking at them.
In Android P, Google has a few more restrictions for background activities. First, apps will no longer receive event reports if they’re drawing continuous information from sensors, including the accelerometers and gyroscopes. I’m not certain, but it sounds like this means apps won’t receive information from these sensors when the apps are in the background—we’ll have to get clarification to be sure.
A more important change is that background apps will no longer be able to access the microphone or camera. That’s great, since I want to know exactly what is recording me. I’m also curious to see how this will work with the use of ultrasonic beacons in TV ads that can be picked up by apps as part of super-gross marketing data gathering.
Every new version of Android gets a code name in alphabetical order, and in honor of a dessert food of some kind. Kit-Kat, Oreos, Honeycombs, and Jelly Beans have all had their turn. Google normally doesn’t announce the name of the OS until much closer to launch. Here’s the thing: We always knew that Android O was going to be Oreo. There is no universe in which this was not a dead certainty.
The humble letter P, on the other hand, offers many more options for the dessert-themed naming convention. Popsicle? Peeps? Pop Rocks? Pixy Stix? Persimmon? Pear? Papaya? At least this year, there’ll be a little more mystery.