Google Releases Early Developers Preview of Android O

The latest version of Google's mobile operating system, named Android O or Oreo, is mostly all about incremental feature updates.

Android O Developers Release

Google this week released a developer preview of Android O, the next version of its mobile operating system the includes several mostly incremental feature upgrades over the currently available version Android N also known as Nougat.

Key among the upgrades are those that are designed to improve battery life, application notifications and the ability for users to store data such as addresses, user names and passwords for auto filling login and other repetitive information.

The Developer Preview comes with an updated software development kit that developers can use for testing the OS on devices like the Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P and Google Pixel devices. 

Google names new Android version in Alphabetical order. It also gives them nicknames taken from candies and confections. So Android O is also known as Oreo. The version before Nougat was known as Marshmallow.

As is its usual practice when releasing preview versions of its software, Google this week invited developers to try out the new OS to give it feedback and to report bugs or feature requests. The company has claimed that it incorporates such feedback into its products.

Google has not indicated it will release Android O to mobile device makers and users. In a post on the company’s Android Developer Blog, Google’s vice president of engineering Dave Burke described the next Android version as being in the very early stages of development with several more features, stabilization and performance work remaining to be done in the coming months.

Burke’s description of the planned enhancements to Android O shows that Google is putting new limits on what applications can do in the background in order to improve battery life. The enhancements are focused on automatically limiting implicit broadcasts, location updates and other background services that are known to drain battery life when an application is not running.

With Android O, Google also will introduce what it calls ‘notification channels’ which developers can use to enable finer controls for users over the kind of automatic notifications they receive from an application. The feature will give users a way to block only the app notifications they do not wish to see while allowing other notifications through.

Android O will support a Picture in Picture display feature that will let users watch or continue watching a video while taking a call or performing some other action on their Android smartphones and tablets.

In all, Burke listed more than one dozen features in the developer preview version of Android O that either build on what’s available in the previous Android 7.0 version or are new.

Google has released new versions of Android on an almost yearly basis for the past several years. Android 7.0 or Nougat was released last August and last updated on Feb. 24, while Marshmallow, the version prior to that was officially released in October 2015. 

But the relatively fast pace of the OS upgrades usually has meant little for a vast majority of Android device owners. Unlike Apple’s iOS upgrades, Google’s Android updates can sometimes take years to trickle down the highly fragmented Android ecosystem.

Google only has direct control over when its own line of hardware such as its Nexus and Pixel families receives OS upgrades. In almost all other cases, it is the carriers and the thousands of Android handset makers that decide when to implement an OS upgrade. As a result the installed base of Android devices usually consists of devices running anything from the latest OS version to versions that are several generations behind.

Google’s Developers Dashboard shows that barely 2.5 percent of Android devices currently run Android 7.0 Nougat. More than 31 percent of Android devices are still on Marshmallow while about 23 percent are even further behind on Android Lollipop. About 21 percent are running on Android KitKat from 2013 while more than 10 percent go back even further to the Jelly Bean release from 2012.

In an analyst note, Richard Windsor an analyst at Edison Investment Research said it can take up to four years for new Android software to fully penetrate the user base. “This gives rivals plenty of time to copy Google’s innovations and put them into their devices long before Google’s own innovations reach the hands of users,” Windsor said.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.