Android developers are getting their first look at the future with the new Android L Developer Preview edition of the mobile device operating system, which was unveiled by Google on June 25 at the Google I/O 2014 developers conference. The early preview version provides developers and users with glimpses of the evolution of Android as it approaches its seventh birthday in September 2014.
Android L marks the first time that Google has ever provided early access to a development version of the OS to device and application developers, according to a June 25 post by Jamal Eason, an Android product manager, on the Android Developers Blog. The preview version, which is available for use as of today, will allow developers to explore many of the new features and capabilities of the next version of Android while providing tools to allow development and testing on the new platform, wrote Eason.
Among the key updates in the preview version of Android L is the inclusion of improved design requirements that will help Android gain a more integrated approach to visual, motion and interaction design across a number of platforms and form factors, wrote Eason. "Material design is a new aesthetic for designing apps in today's multi-device world. The L Developer Preview brings material design to Android, with a full set of tools for your apps. The system is incredibly flexible, allowing your app to express its individual character and brand with bold colors and a variety of responsive UI patterns and themeable elements."
Also featured in Android L are capabilities for enhanced notifications for users, including new lock screen notifications that will allow users to obtain specific content, updates and actions with a quick glance, rather than having to unlock their device screens, wrote Eason. Related visibility controls will allow users to manage the types of information shown on the lock screen, while heads-up notifications will appear on a small floating window on the device.
The preview version of Android L also includes new tools and APIs aimed at helping to conserve battery life on devices through a power-saving effort called "Project Volta," wrote Eason. "Battery Historian is a new tool that lets you visualize power events over time and understand how your app is using battery," he wrote. "A job scheduler API lets you set the conditions under which your background tasks and other jobs should run, such as when the device is idle or connected to an unmetered to a charger, to minimize battery impact."
Improvements for photography using Android L are also included, such as advanced camera capabilities through a new camera API that offers updated image capture and processing, wrote Eason. "On supported devices, your app can capture uncompressed YUV capture at full 8 megapixel resolution at 30 FPS. The API also lets you capture raw sensor data and control parameters such as exposure time, ISO sensitivity, and frame duration, on a per-frame basis."
Game developers will also see new capabilities under Android L due to support for OpenGL ES 3.1, which gives developers access to compute shaders, stencil textures and texture gather for their games, wrote Eason. "Android Extension Pack (AEP) is a new set of extensions to OpenGL ES that bring desktop-class graphics to Android. Games will be able to take advantage of tessellation and geometry shaders, and use ASTC texture compression across multiple GPU technologies."
Another big evolutionary change under the Android L Developer Preview is first-time support for 64-bit APIs, as well as for additional address space and improved performance with certain compute workloads, according to Eason. "Apps written in the Java language can run immediately on 64-bit architectures with no modifications required. To support apps using native code, we're also releasing an updated NDK that includes 64-bit support."
Google released KitKat 4.4, the latest version of Android, in October 2013 and gave it a host of features that allow it to perform well on older devices, according to an earlier eWEEK report. One of the key features of KitKat 4.4 is that it includes reduced memory needs so that it can run on a much broader range of devices, including entry-level devices that have as little as 512MB of RAM. That big change was meant to help move the Android ecosystem forward as it battles with competitors from Apple, Microsoft and BlackBerry.
Users were waiting for the next version of Android since Android 4.1 Jelly Bean debuted in July 2012 on various devices. The 4.1 final release came just a few weeks after its big splash in late June 2012 at Google's I/O developers conference.