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What's New in Android N and Wear 2.0

Although the Developer Preview for Android N had been available for a little while before Google I/O for select devices, Google announced an official beta release for users with those devices during the I/O keynote, opening the door for more people to try features and test what’s available in the latest version of the Android operating system.

While new versions of Android can take a long time to be widely adopted, understanding what is available to improve the user experience for those on the newest version is incredibly important for app quality and appealing to early adopters.

In this article, you learn about some of the new features available in Android N and the new capabilities developers can take advantage of to create amazing experiences for their users.

1. Passive Features

I like to call the first set of features that we will discuss passive features. These are improvements to the operating system that the user gets out of the box without a developer having to tailor their app for them. While developers tend to focus more on active features,  it's important to understand how the operating system behaves and how it could impact your applications.

Accessibility Improvements

One of the most important changes to the operating system in Android N for a large group of people is the additional work that has gone into accessibility. The latest update of the operating system will allow users to magnify the entire screen rather than just the text size. In addition, all of the existing accessibility features will now be available as soon as the device starts up.

Improved Battery and Memory

Although Doze and Svelte were introduced with earlier versions of Android, they have seen a significant improvement with Android N. Svelte throttles the CPU when the device isn't being actively used and it has been improved to handle situations where the device may have turned on the CPU when network status changed. While Doze only used to put a device into a standby state when it was at rest, it now begins to cut back on power consumption whenever the screen of the device is off.

Language/Locale Improvements

Before Android N, if a language/locale wasn't supported by an application, the operating system would default to English. In most parts of the world, however, people speak multiple languages. Android has a new feature that allows users to prioritize supported languages.

For example, if an app doesn't support a language, such as Spanish, but it does support French, then a user, who has ranked French above English, will see the app localized in French, even if their device is set to display Spanish.

Improved Data Usage

One new feature that users can enable in Android N is Data Saver. When this feature is enabled, apps that are not whitelisted will be blocked from using data when backgrounded and excessive data usage from foregrounded apps will also be throttled. This will only work with metered networks, such as cellular or limited Wi-Fi, as those are the networks that most users don't want to use a lot of data on.

2. Active Features

Active features are those that developers can take advantage of by modifying their applications. Whenever a new version of Android is available, these features are the first that developers tend to dig into and learn.

Multi-Window Support

This is a feature that caught the attention of many developers. Android devices will now allow users to have multiple apps running side-by-side in order to facilitate simple multitasking. It is important to note that scrollable Activity layouts should use a NestedLayout or RecyclerView to handle the nested scrolling functionality of the multi-window feature.

Example of Multiple Windows Open on an Android N Device

On Android TV devices, this feature translates to picture-in-picture, allowing activities to be minimized and attached to the corner of the screen while the user interacts with other applications on the television.

Instant Apps

This feature, though introduced at Google I/O and discussed with Android N, will actually be backwards compatible to Android API level 16. Using Instant Apps, developers will be able to modularize and configure their applications. Why is that useful? When a user selects a link or website related to the app, the appropriate module of the app will be downloaded and run immediately, rather than requiring the user to download the entire app. Not only will this increase interaction and engagement with users, but it will play nice with the user's device by not installing more software than the user needs or wants.

Direct Reply Notifications

An Android update wouldn't be complete without some sort of modification to how notifications work. This year Google has added a long requested feature, direct message replies.

When the user receives a notification that has been flagged as a message compatible with replying, they will be able to open a text input field in the notification to type in their response and immediately send it back.

Quick Settings

Recent versions of Android introduced a few new settings tiles, such as the flashlight tile, so that users can quickly toggle a setting on their device. In Android N, this is being taken one step further, allowing developers to add their own quick settings tiles to the user's device.

Quick Settings Editing In Android N

Direct Boot

Android N has introduced a secure mode, known as Direct Boot, that occurs between the time the user has powered on their device and before they have unlocked it. To facilitate data storage at this stage, Android N has divided device storage into two categories:

  • credential encrypted storage: the default and available as soon as the user unlocks their device
  • device encrypted storage: uses an authentication key to access once a device has performed a verified start-up and available during the direct boot stage

While direct boot may not be useful for most apps, it does serve a purpose for certain apps, such as those that handle messaging, accessibility, or alarms.

New Graphics API: Vulkan

With Android N comes support for a new graphics API, Vulkan. Vulkan was introduced to supplement, and in some cases even replace, OpenGL for game development. It provides more fine-grained control to developers for optimizing their code and be closer to the metal than was possible through OpenGL.

Android TV Recording API

In addition to Android N on phones and tablets, Android TV is getting an additional way to interact with live streaming channels through the new TV Recording API. Using this API, developers will be able to set up their applications to record and store live content for users, similar to how a DVR works, giving the user more freedom with how they consume content.

3. Android Wear 2.0

While Android N has been the main focus for a lot of developers, Android Wear is also upgrading to version 2.0 and introducing an assortment of new features.

Complications

While the Watch Face API was fairly simple in Android Wear 1.0, the latest iteration allows developers to include complications, components that do more than show the time. These complications can be hooked up to data providers on the Wear device to constantly deliver up to date information to users without requiring them to open another app.

Multiple Complications On an Android Wear Watch Face

Widgets

Another new set of components to be included in the latest version of Android Wear are navigation and action drawers. The navigation drawer works similar to the navigation drawer on a mobile device. The user can swipe from the top edge of the screen to see a set of sections that can be opened in their wearable app. The action drawer can be brought up from the bottom of the screen form which the user can select predefined actions related to the screen that they are on.

Improved Notifications

Since Android Wear was introduced, notifications have been the primary way for users to interact with their device. Wear 2.0 improves these notifications by adding expanded notifications, which adds additional actions to the bottom of a notification rather than requiring an additional card.

These new notifications also follow material design guidelines, giving users an experience similar to that on their mobile devices. Notifications that serve messages to users have an added benefit of providing smart reply messages or messages that are pregenerated, based on contextualized data, as additional actions.

Stand-Alone Apps

As the hardware for Wear devices improves and more features become available, devices can start connecting to networks independently of mobile devices. With this, Android Wear now supports the ability for applications to run on a Wear device without the mobile device nearby or powered on. This gives developers more freedom when developing apps that work on Android Wear.

Conclusion

Android N and Wear 2.0 have introduced many new features which both users and developers can benefit from. While we discussed some of the more interesting and promising features and improvements, Android N and Wear 2.0 include a lot more additions that improve Android.

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