What’s New in Android M?

Google recently previewed its newest Android release, dubbed Android M. Reviewers are calling it a return to basics instead of a splash of new eye candy. There are some significant enhancements, and thousands of much-needed bug fixes that are bringing a new level of stability and usability to the widely-used Android platform.

Now on Tap Gets Smarter

Contextual assistance has taken a big leap forward with improvements to the Now on Tap feature. From within any Google Now enabled app, you can access the Google Now virtual assistant by holding the Home button, which provides you all information relevant to user context instantly. For instance, if you receive a text message from a friend telling you about a new movie they saw, a single tap brings you reviews, actor bios, movie locations, schedules and links to any other relevant apps. Developers can add this feature via App indexing.

Android Pay

Leveraging Gingerbread’s Near Field Communications and Kitkat’s Host Card Emulation, Android Pay on Android M allows users to securely and seamlessly use their Android phone to make payments in stores or via Android Pay partner apps.

Fingerprint

Android Pay’s and 3rd-party apps’ security will be further enhanced by Android M’s fingerprint feature. Any developer has the ability to add fingerprint authorization for purchases or unlocking functions via new Android APIs. For instance, multifactor confirmation can be added by asking for a fingerprint scan. The functionality works across a large range of sensors and devices.

User Control of Permissions

Users will be able to manage individual app permissions from within their platform settings on Android M. Also, apps can make contextually-sensitive, on-demand requests for permissions when needed for such things as access to contacts, photos or location. This features lets users get up and running more quickly without app pre-configuration.

Battery Management

A new Android M feature called Doze more intelligently saves power by using the output from motion sensors to determine if a device is unattended. If it determines the device is not actively in use, it can crank back background activity to increase battery life. Developers can use high priority messages to override this behavior if they want to keep their apps’ activity level high.

Miscellaneous Improvements

A number of other features are new or have been improved:

  • Do Not Disturb is more straightforward and easier to understand
  • App collections now scroll vertically and are indexed alphabetically
  • Android M supports USB-C, which is agnostic to plug orientation
  • Users will be able to charge their device from another Android M device
  • Copy/paste functionality is easier to use with floating toolbars
  • Smart Lock can be accessed by developers and publishers

New Developer Tools

  • Android Studio – A new version of Android Studio gives developers access to new Android M features such as code development for C/C++ alongside of Java.
  • Design Support Library – Essential components for use in material design apps are provided in this new library. Motion-enabled toolbars, navigation view and floating action buttons are among new functionality available. Everything is backward-compatible with API 7 so modernizing an Android app does not require a complete rebuild.
  • Google Play v7.5 – New features in Google Play include new Google Cloud Messaging and Google Case APIs, Smart Lock Passwords, and a Google Maps API for Android wearable devices.

None of these features are yet available and may not be present for months or even years on older devices unable to update the OS. However, web users will be able to enjoy many Android M features on Chrome, Gmail and Maps when they receive updates. For phone users, the first Android M device is a new Nexus phone launching later this year. Android M will be more widely distributed during the next round of showroom device releases from mobile device manufacturers in the first half of 2016.