Google gives Android fans taste of Lollipop: Top features the new OS offers
Google isn't holding a glitzy, glamour-filled media event to unveil the latest version of its Android mobile platform. Instead, it's building a giant lollipop statue to stand alongside its other tributes to earlier Android sweets in front of Google's headquarters in Mountain View, California.
Originally known as Android L, Android Lollipop will come ready for use on Google's new Nexus 6 smartphone and Nexus 9 tablet when they start shipping on Nov. 3. It will also be available as an over-the-air update for the Nexus 10, Nexus 7, Nexus 6 and Nexus 5 "in the coming weeks."
HTC also announced that it will roll out Lollipop upgrades within 90 days of release, but other Android device makers have yet to announce plans. Motorola, being owned by Google, will likely see an upgrade for Moto X and Moto G within the year, while Samsung has always had a good record so we'll likely see Lollipop on its devices and, possibly, the Galaxy S4 and Note 3. LG and Sony will also likely push the new version to their LG G3, G2 Pro and the Sony Xperia Z3 line of smartphones.
In a blog post, Google touts Android Lollipop as its "largest, most ambitious release on Android," and says the latest refresh to its mobile platform is "designed to be shared," meaning it can work on all devices, from phones to tablets and even TVs. That said, here is what Android device owners must look out for when Android Lollipop comes to their smartphones and tablets.
Earlier this year, Google made a big deal out of Material Design, which it is pushing not just in its mobile but also web ecosystems. It's Android's brand new, made-over look punctuated with a cleaner, more fluid interface with 3D shadows, 3D animations and smoother transitions. Google calls it a "bold, colorful and responsive UI design."
"Lollipop has a consistent design across device -- an approach we call Material Design," says Sundar Pichai, Google senior vice president for Android, in a blog post. "Now content responds to your touch, or even your voice, in more intuitive ways, and transitions between tasks are more fluid."
Android has always been on top of its game with notifications, but Lollipop comes with sweeter improvements. On the new Android, users can choose when to receive notifications and from whom. For instance, if they're playing a game or viewing a movie and a call comes in, the notification floats on top of the screen but users can choose to ignore the call or take it. Users can also set schedules for when Lollipop is allowed to push notifications, similar to Apple's Do Not Disturb mode. Lollipop also pushes notifications to the lock screen and arranges them in order of priority.
"You can now adjust your settings so that only certain people and notifications can get through, for example, when you're out to dinner or in the middle of an important meeting," says Pichai.
Lollipop introduces Android Runtime (ART), which Google says offers up to four times the performance of the old Dalvik runtime and allows for a smoother, more visually complex UI. ART also supports all major chip architectures, including ARM, MIPS and x86, including 64-bit chips. Google has already started encouraging developers to make their apps 64-bit compatible, but it will likely take a while before 64-bit actually introduces big changes in the mobile industry. A 64-bit Android, however, is Google's first step into the future of the technology.
Project Volta is one of the most written about features of Lollipop back when it was still Android L. Volta allows developers to create battery-friendly apps that don't guzzle up the juice on the device. On the user side, Google also introduced major improvements, including a battery saving mode that can save users up to 90 minutes of extra battery life. It also shows users how much time is left before they have to charge their devices.
Security has always been a major point of contention when it comes to mobile devices. As promised a few weeks ago, Google stepped up security on Android with a phone encryption feature that comes out of the box. Phone encryption has been around for a while, but Lollipop is the first Android OS to have encryption turned on by default. It also comes with SELinux enforcing for all apps for better protection from malware. Lollipop also has Smart Lock, a new feature that will hopefully deter thieves, as it allows users to unlock their devices only when paired with another device, such as a smart watch running on Android Wear.
Android users have long requested multiple accounts for their devices, which would be useful for families sharing one phone but don't want to share their contents with other family members or when friends borrow each other's phones because they forgot theirs at home. Users can set up multiple accounts, such as guest accounts, on Lollipop as well as enable screen pinning, a feature that lets them pin down the screen so that other people can access only what's on the screen but not the rest of the phone.
Many high-end Android devices have always had great camera hardware, but the software side has been quite lacking up to this point. With Lollipop, users get new hardware-level controls "for the sensor, lens, and flash per individual frame." This means users can now customize settings such as shutter speed, ISO and focus as long as their hardware supports it.
Disc jockeys, musicians and other music producers have always preferred iOS for its low-latency audio support, which lets them create music using their iPhones as a centralized hub. Lollipop, however, brings support for low-latency audio to Android devices and now allows audio devices such as microphones and mixers to be connected to their devices, which can now support music production apps for Android.