Android L is Google’s most dramatic update to its mobile platform to date, and it includes a lot of new things, including a major design overhaul, work-play separation, 64-bit compatibility and so much more.
Nope, it’s not Android Lollipop or Lemonade or Licorice. It’s simply Android L. And while Google has veered off its regular tradition of naming its mobile operating system after popular sweet treats, we still have a lot of sweet things to expect from its latest version of the world’s most in demand mobile platform.
We still don’t know what the L stands for and Google’s head of Android Sundar Pichai didn’t say if this was Android 4.5 or Android 5, but judging from all the cool new features we’ve seen at the live preview at this year’s Google I/O conference in San Francisco, this update is worth more than a few points hike.
Google has a new design philosophy and it’s called Material Design. The first thing we’ve noticed is the bright, clutter-free interface that mimics what Apple did for iOS 7. Icons are flatter, the edges are softer and the overall effect is a consistent, minimalist look that doesn’t jump out at its user.
The simplified design even spreads to the navigation buttons, which are now changed into a basic circle for the home icon, a triangle for the back icon and a square for the Recent Apps icon.
Animations and transitions
A flat interface doesn’t mean boring. Material Design makes Android L fun to look at with layers and animations that provide the user a more three-dimensional experience.
Android’s design chief Matias Duarte says they drew inspiration for Material Design from traditional ink and paper, adding animation features such as depth and real-time shadows to make onscreen elements look like they are floating around and ripples to let the user know a tap has registered.
Lock-screen and heads-up notifications
Android L has a new kind of non-intrusive notification called a heads up. Here’s how it works. Suppose a user is playing a game full-screen and a new SMS comes in. A heads up will drop down from the top of the screen, which the user can simply swipe away if it’s from someone he doesn’t want to talk to right away.
Also included are better lock-screen notifications that the user can tap to open or swipe away to ignore.
For those who are inconvenienced by tedious pins and patterns, they can put in place L’s Personal Unlocking feature, which lets users program their phones at a location where it is safe for it to unlock itself.
Android is also allowing users to unlock an L device connected via Bluetooth to another device. For example, the device will automatically unlock if it detects an Android Wear smartwatch in the vicinity.
There’s also the all-important kill switch, officially known as Factory Reset Projection, that prevents phone thieves from using stolen phones.
Smart, card-based searching
Forget the list-based results. Android L will give you good-looking, highly-organized searches separated into cards à la Google Now, but with animations that make it look cooler when you’re flipping from one card to the next.
Also, if a user searches for something related to one of the apps already installed on his device, Google will open the search cards right inside the app itself. For example, if a user looks up the latest Star Wars film, L opens up the IMDb app automatically.
Neater Chrome app
Chrome also gets the Material Design treatment. Instead of the panic-inducing tabs we get during a heavy browsing session, L provides neater cards for each tab that pile up one on top of the other to give the user a more fluid browsing experience. However, for users who like to keep 42 tabs open onscreen, this probably won’t ease the frustration of flicking through multiple tabs.
Chrome also gives users the ability to seamlessly look back at their most recent tabs using the Most Recent apps icon. Google says other apps will also be able to use the “recents” functionality.
Clear line between work and play
Nobody wants a mass of apps and files for the office and for personal entertainment all jumbled up in one place, and L has thought of a solution – Android at Work. This new feature allows users to create a silo for stuff meant for work so users don’t accidentally reveal personal information to their colleagues or business partners.
Also a pleasant surprise is Google’s announcement that Samsung will be integrating its Knox security suite into Android at Work for an extra layer of protection for work files and another layer of privacy for personal stuff.
Android integration with Chromebook
Hoping to bump up sales for its low-cost Chromebook, Google has finally decided to integrate the Android environment into Chromebook, and L is the first concrete evidence of that.
Chromebooks will soon have the ability to run Android apps, starting with the popular Evernote, Vine and Flipboard apps. But that’s only the beginning. Chromebooks will also get the Personal Unlocking feature Google is embedding in Android Wear devices, so that any laptop running on Chrome OS will automatically log in when it detects an Android L device nearby.
Google also takes a page out of Apple’s integration playbook by allowing Chromebook to display L device notifications, such as when the battery is running low or when a new message pops in.
Better battery life
Everybody wants a stronger battery for their smartphones. Google’s solution to that is Project Volta, possibly the best named Google initiative yet. Volta allows users to access more information about their phone’s battery, such as which apps are draining up the juice.
It’s also beneficial for developers, who can then use this information to create apps that don’t use up too much power.
Also, L will come with its own built-in battery saver mode, something many have been looking for in Android since it was introduced in HTC One M8 and LG G3.
Better, faster, sleeker
Android has done away with its Dalvik runtime and to its ART ahead-of-time compiler, which was first introduced as a developer preview in KitKat. ART is compatible with just-in-time compilation and can run across different platforms, including those powered by x86 and ARM architectures, meaning it can run a variety of apps and is works with 64-bit processors.
Available in beta version
Android fans who want to get their hands on the latest Android iteration ahead of everyone else can certainly sign up for a beta version starting Wednesday, while Nexus device owners can join in on the action on June 26. Android L is by no means glitch-free, though, and it could crash entire systems for people who don’t know what they’re doing. Non-developers are better off waiting patiently for L’s official release.