Google Previews ‘Android P’ For Next-Generation Gadgets

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The successor to Android 8.x ‘Oreo’ supports an iPhone X-style notch, along with improved indoor location, a new notification panel and more

Google has released the first preview version of Android P, the successor to the latest version of the mobile operating system, Android 8.x ‘Oreo’, with new features that include built-in support for an iPhone X-s

Credit: Google
tyle ‘notch’.

The new software gives an idea of the features Google’s developing for devices that won’t begin reaching the public until some time in 2019.

The Android Oreo preview was released in March of last year, was released publicly in August and is built into handsets released this year. Google said it’s expecting to follow a similar schedule for Android P, with more information to be released at Google I/O in May and the software to be finalised in the autumn.

Dave Burke, Google’s vice president of engineering, emphasised that the new software is an “early baseline build for developers only”. To drive the point home Google is only allowing registered developers to download and install it manually, with over-the-air updates reserved for a future date.

Credit: Google

Notch support

It will only run on Google’s own Pixel devices, the Pixel, Pixel XL Pixel 2, and Pixel 2 XL, and on Google’s official emulator. Earlier Nexus devices aren’t supported.

“This first developer preview of Android P is just the start,” Burke wrote in a blog post.

Apple pioneered the notch, or “display cutout”, as Google calls it in the Android P documentation, to allow the iPhone X’s display to wrap around an area reserved for forward-facing sensors including the device’s selfie camera.

Android versions of the feature were impossible not to notice at last month’s Mobile World Congress expo in Barcelona, with the displays of a number of next-generation handsets sporting it. Leaked images of Huawei’s upcoming flagship device, set to launch later this month in Paris, also indicate it may feature a notch.

With Android P Google said it recognises that many newer phones will use notches. The feature’s presence in the Android P preview means developers can test the way their applications will work with cutouts on those devices.

“Android P offers support for the latest edge-to-edge screens with display cutout for camera and speaker,” Google wrote in its documentation for the software preview. “The new DisplayCutout class lets you find out the location and shape of the non-functional areas where content shouldn’t be displayed.”

Credit: Google

Indoor location awareness

Burke also highlighted a new feature that improves apps’ ability to pinpoint users’ location indoors. It uses a feature called Wi-Fi Round-Trip-Time (RTT), which measures the device’s distance from nearby Wi-Fi access points.

“The device doesn’t need to connect to the APs to use RTT, and to maintain privacy, only the phone is able to determine the distance, not the APs,” Burke wrote.

Another significant user-interface change is a new look for the panels that display Android’s Quick Settings and notifications from apps. In the developer release the panels have rounded corners, though that could change with future versions.

The new notification style, called MessagingStyle, now highlights who is sending the message and how the user can reply. Notifications can display conversations, photos and stickers and can suggest ready-made replies.

Users can now reply to messages within the notification, without having to switch to the app, Burke said. The feature’s similar to the way iOS handles iMessage notifications.

Credit: Google

On-device neural networks

Android P builds on the Neural Networks API built into Android 8.1 with support for new operations. The API supports on-device machine learning on Android gadgets, a trend being driven by the likes of Huawei, which was one of the first to put AI chips directly into Android handsets.

A new security feature sees Google introducing a standard dialogue box interface for apps that want to verify a user’s identity via a fingerprint reader.

Other changes include improvements to Autofill, the implementation of the GlobalPlatform Open Mobile API for contactless payments, and improvements to underlying security, performance and power management features.

Burke said with Android P users will be warned when they install an app that’s targeted to versions of Android earlier than 4.2, as it pushes developers to target more recent versions of the platform.

The release also begins a gradual process of restricting developers’ use of private APIs, alerting them to switch to the publicly available equivalents, Burke said.

He said Google plans to begin inviting consumers to try the software as more of its early bugs are ironed out.

“We’ll open up enrollments through Android Beta at that time,” he wrote.

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