In March Google shocked the Android world by announcing and releasing a preview (beta) of Android N months ahead of Google I/O. The venue in which the company usually unveils the next version of Android. And in early April ahead of the summer release date, Google unleashed the developer preview 2 update with loads of changes, new features and fixes. This is what Nexus (and Sony Xperia Z3) owners need to know.
The update to the Android N beta or developer preview is available starting April 13th via Factory images users can download and install, or through Google’s new over-the-air updates for the beta test. It’s called build NPC91K and it’s available now for the Nexus 5X, Nexus 6, Nexus 6P, Nexus 9, Pixel C and select Android One devices. The Nexus Player isn’t yet supported. On April 21st Google added Sony to the developer preview, the first non-Nexus to participate.
As many already know, Android N brings lots of changes to our smartphones and tablets. However, the developer preview 2 fixes bugs from the first release to make Android N more stable, adds more features, and introduces a new Vulkan 3D API for improved performance, gaming, graphics and more. That’s the short explanation, and we have more details after the break.
Some noteworthy new features in Android N are native multi-window support for tablets and smartphones for improved multi-tasking, direct reply to notifications right from the pulldown bar, bundled notifications for a cleaner look for similar notifications, and significant improvements to Android Doze, which saves battery life. Doze puts Android into a deep-sleep low-power mode to save battery, and with Android N this will happen whenever the screen is turned off, not just when untouched for extended periods.
Update: Early on rumors suggested Google would allow 3rd party manufacturers like Sony, Motorola, Samsung or anyone, to participate in the developer preview of Android N. This would be a huge deal, as it’s typically been Google’s Nexus devices only. Today Google announced Android N is now available for the Sony Xperia Z3. Users can flash it the same way as Nexus owners, and updates will come right from Sony moving forward. This is big news, and hopefully other major phone makers do the same soon. (End of update)
Android Doze was introduced with Android M, and is even more improved, efficient, and aggressive in Android N. Expect big battery saving results. So what’s new in the Android N Developer Preview 2? Here’s what we know so far according to the release details provided by Google.
For the most part Android N DP2 builds on the features from the first release and fixes problems, but it also adds a lot to Android as well. Most aren’t very visual, aside from new emoji, but here’s the full list.
- Vulkan: Vulkan is a new 3D rendering API which we’ve helped to develop as a member of Khronos, geared at providing explicit, low-overhead GPU (Graphics Processor Unit) control to developers and offers a significant boost in performance for draw-call heavy applications. Vulkan’s reduction of CPU overhead allows some synthetic benchmarks to see as much as 10 times the draw-call throughput on a single core as compared to OpenGL ES. Combined with a threading-friendly API design which allows multiple cores to be used in parallel with high efficiency, this offers a significant boost in performance for draw-call heavy applications. With Android N, we’ve made Vulkan a part of the platform; you can try it out on supported devices running Developer Preview 2.
- Launcher shortcuts: Now, apps can define shortcuts which users can expose in the launcher to help them perform actions quicker. These shortcuts contain an Intent into specific points within your app (like sending a message to your best friend, navigating home in a mapping app, or playing the next episode of a TV show in a media app).
- Emoji Unicode 9 support: We are introducing a new emoji design for people emoji that moves away from our generic look in favor of a more human-looking design. If you’re a keyboard or messaging app developer, you should start incorporating these emoji into your apps. The update also introduces support for skin tone variations and Unicode 9 glyphs, like the bacon, selfie and face palm. You can dynamically check for the new emoji characters using Paint.hasGlyph().
- Multi-Window: You can now specify a separate minimum height and minimum width for an activity. In addition, several API names have been slightly changed.
- API changes: This update includes API changes as we continue to refine features such as multi-window support (you can now specify a separate minimum height and minimum width for an activity), notifications, and others. For details, take a look at the diff reports available in the downloadable API reference package
That’s all a bit technical, but essentially Android is getting faster, more powerful, more natural and user-friendly all at the same time. The Vulkan API was mentioned earlier this year, and is now fully integrated into the second developer preview. It offers huge performance improvements from both the CPU and GPU, for heavy tasks, app usage, gaming and more.
Owners can expect faster and more smooth performance, higher benchmark results, and just a better overall Android experience. That said, this is still a developer preview, or beta test, and problems will likely arise as Google continues their work towards an official release later this summer.
Launcher Actions are something we’ve seen in a long time from 3rd party apps, like NOVA launcher, and will add powerful shortcuts to our devices running Android N. It’s nice to see this added to stock Android, and we’ll cover this more in our Android 6.0 vs Android N comparison.
A number of bug fixes have been added from the first preview, the multi-tasking window mode is better, faster, and more customization, and much much more. Users can expect tons of small little changes here and there to be found in the coming hours or days. We’re downloading Android N DP2 as we speak, and will update with all the changes as they’re found.
For now it doesn’t look like over the air updates for the beta program are rolling out yet, although a few unconfirmed reports say they’ve received it. If you’d rather not wait, follow the how to near the top of the page to install the Android N Developer Preview 2 right now.