Google today started rolling out its Android 6.0 Marshmallow mobile operating system to users of its Nexus devices.
Key among the new features available with the operating system is Google Now on Tap, a digital assistant that serves up contextual information to users as they use an application or service. Also new with Marshmallow are a couple of battery power saving features, more granular application permissions and fingerprint-enabled authentication.
Starting today, the new version of Android will be available as an over the air software update for users of Nexus 5, Nexus 6, Nexus 7, Nexus 9 and Nexus Player, Brian Rakowski, Google's vice president of Android product management, said in a blog post.
Google's new Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X smartphones announced last week will ship with Marshmallow preinstalled on the devices straight from the factory.
Google itself considers the Now on Tap feature to be one of Marshmallow's most important updates, as do many Android watchers. Google first announced Now on Tap at Google I/O in May; it currently is only available with Marshmallow.
The feature basically allows Android device users to get context-based assistance when using an application simply by tapping and holding down the Home button on their Android smartphone.
"Say you receive an email about meeting a friend at the Central Park Zoo," Rakowski said by way of an example of how the Now on Tap feature works. "Just tap and hold on the home button, and Now on Tap will assist you by providing links to information about the zoo, shortcuts to relevant apps and even suggest a calendar entry for the date, time and location."
Similarly, an Android user attempting to respond to an email invitation to a movie and dinner would be able to quickly pull up information on the restaurant and theater simply by pressing down on the Home button.
Google has previously noted that its goal in delivering the technology is to make smartphones smarter and more intuitive to use. Initially at least, Now on Tap will be available only in English, but Google plans on rolling the feature out in other languages in future.
Marshmallow also introduces two new battery power saving features. One of them, dubbed Doze, knows when a device is idle and switches to what Google describes as a "deep sleep state" in order to limit power consumption. According to the company, it tested Marshmallow-powered Nexus devices against devices running Android Lollipop to see how effective Doze would be in conserving power. It discovered that the screen-off time of Marshmallow-powered devices was about 30 percent longer on average compared with devices running Lollipop.
The other power saving feature, called App Standby, basically puts rarely used apps into a "reduced activity state" to save on battery power.
Users of Marshmallow-powered devices will also be able to exercise more granular control over app permissions. With Marshmallow, users will have the ability to specify the permissions they are willing to grant an application at the time of use rather than at the time when the app is installed. According to Google, users will be able to deny permissions at will and still be able to use the application.
In addition, Marshmallow incorporates support for fingerprint authentication in Android devices that have a fingerprint sensor. Users can choose to use the fingerprint technology to authenticate themselves to the device as well as to applications such as Google Play and Android Pay.