Update: Android N Developer Preview 3 is now out, and the launch date could be as soon as this summer. Here’s everything we know about the forthcoming Android N update, including all the new information from Google IO 2016.
Android N is Google’s next phone and tablet operating system update that’s been so thoroughly refined, the company is officially more than halfway through the English alphabet.
The shocker is that the company didn’t wait to announcing Android N at Google IO 2016. The reason behind this is it gives developers more time to tinker with the update, according to Google.
That’s fantastic news for anyone who is brave enough to update their phone, tablet or streaming box with the unfinished build. We did just that to tell the rest of you what’s inside.
Cut to the chase
- What is it? The next version of Google’s mobile OS, Android N
- When is it out? “Later this summer” – we reckon September/October*
- What will it cost? Free
*when – and if – you get it depends on what phone/tablet you own though
Will it be Android 7?
There’s no guarantee this will be called Android 7 update – Google has sometimes opted to do smaller iterations for the updates. For example, Android 4 had 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, 4.1 Jelly Bean and 4.4 KitKat.
However, Samsung has mistakenly leaked out a hint it’ll be called Android 7. Within its source code for its MultiWindow SDK 1.3.1, it reads “This version has been released with Android N(7.0) compatibility.”
Sadly, Google didn’t announce the big number at IO, so for now we’re still in the dark.
Android N beta compatibility
Android N Beta is now available from android.com/beta for newer Nexus devices from the last year and a half, which first and foremost means Google’s star players, the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P.
The giant Nexus 6 also gets some beta action, but the weaker Nexus 5 has been left out. The Android N beta also works with Google Pixel C and its recently discontinued tablet brother Nexus 9 as well as the Nexus Player.
Non-Nexus phones aren’t typically able to be a part of the beta and have to wait weeks if not months for the update after the finished version makes its debut on new Nexus phones.
Android N VR
We’ve tested out a bunch of existing Android N features below, but there’s also exciting new tools coming to the update, specifically Android VR.
A buried menu for VR helper services in Android N Developer Preview 2, and an equally buried release note for “Android VR” in Unreal Engine 4.12 beta hints at a big push for a Google Cardboard successor – and Google confirmed its VR intentions during IO.
The Play Store, StreetView, Photos, YouTube and Play Movies will all support VR, allowing you to jump into games, locations and videos – all via Google’s Daydream VR platform. Daydream is due to be released in the fall, so it’s unlikely to be included in the initial Android N launch.
True multitasking support is finally arriving as expected, and Split Screen is deservedly the highlight of Android N on phones and tablets. You’re going to be able to open up two apps at once on your Nexus phone or tablet.
It’s a popular feature Samsung and LG phones have incorporated into their Android skins years ago, so it’s nice (and about time) Google is including the same functionality in its own software. It’s easy to launch too – just long press on the recent (multi-tasking) button in the nav bar.
Multi-window support could increase enterprise interest in Android tablets and the Pixel C. It’s a bet that Apple recently made when it launched a similar split-screen and picture-in-picture feature for iOS 9.
You may not have to wait until the Android N update to take advantage of pure Android multitasking. It’s rumored to be making an early debut in Android 6.1 in June.
Meanwhile Android TV gets picture-in-picture mode, allowing you to continue watching your show in a smaller screen while performing another task.
Direct Reply Notifications
You won’t have to navigate away from your current window (or, now, windows) just to answer an incoming message. You can just reply within the notification that appears at the top of the screen.
It worked well enough for the iPhone and iPad when the same idea made its debut with iOS 8 under the name Quick Reply. But Apple’s approach to messages worked strictly with its iMessage app.
Google is opening up Direct Reply Notifications beyond Hangouts, and that could mean popular apps like WhatsApp could take advantage of this convenient inline messaging feature.
New quick settings menu
Google is adding a new quick settings menu to the notifications shade you pull down from the top. It’s a lot like the one Samsung, LG and every other Android manufacturer seems to use.
Sure, Google stock Android software has had switches for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Airplane mode and so forth, but it required pulling the notifications bar down a second time to reveal the quick settings menu.
Now the quick settings toggles are here as soon as you gesture downward once to see notifications. The best news is that all of the buttons small and unobstructive. It leaves room for notifications to flourish.
Longtime Nexus users will also be happy to hear that the quick settings switches can be sorted to your liking, much like they can on other Android phones. You won’t need the System UI Tuner to meddle.
For example, I often use MiFi more than Airplane Mode, so Mobile Hotspot icon get promoted to be one of the five icons along the top of the initial quick settings on my Nexus 6P.
That little airplane icon is still there for my takeoff and landings needs, but it got the bump to the second swipe menu. Sorting is finally up to you, which is really what Android is all about.
Google’s not done with the way Android N changes notifications. It also announced that notification cards will be grouped together if they’re from the same app.
All messages from a specific messaging app, for example, are bundled together in the notification shade. These grouped alerts can then be expanded into individual notifications using a two-finger gesture or tapping the all-new expansion button.
This is basically the opposite of what Apple did in the jump from iOS 8 to iOS 9, switching from grouping them by app to lining them up chronologically. We’ll see which method works best this autumn.
There’s more control over your notifications in Android N too, as now you can long press on a notification to either silence future notifications, or turn them off completely.
Android N multi-tasking
There are two handy new features in multi-tasking on Android N. First up is a Clear All button at the top of the multi-tasking menu – a feature Google says has been one of the most asked for. This allows you to close all applications running in the background with a single tap.
We’ve seen manufacturers add a clear all button in their Android interfaces, but the stock version has been crying out for the same function. Finally, we’re getting it.
Secondly, Google’s added Quick Switch to Android N. This lets you jump back to the previous application with a double tap of the recent (multi-tasking) button in the navigation bar.
Doze Mode 2.0
One of the (literal) sleeper hits of Android Marshmallow has been Doze Mode, Google’s crafty way of saving battery life whenever your device is stationary. It’s amounts to a deep standby mode.
Android N is going to step up the company’s energy-saving software techniques by expanding Doze Mode so that it thoroughly limits background tasks whenever the screen is turned off.
That’s ideal for throwing a phone in your pocket or your tablet in a backpack, and then retrieving it the next day or next week without having to recharge it right away. Your “I can’t even” face when you pick up your dead Nexus phone the next morning will be a thing of the past.
Android N performance
Google says Android N will provide its biggest leap forward in graphics with the introduction of Vulkan, giving game developers controls of the GPU.
That in turn will result in even better graphics and smoother, faster performance.
There’s also been a number of Android runtime improvements, including optimizations to the JIT complier which has seen task speeds increase between 30%-600% compared to the previous version.
Updates are also more seamless, with security updates automatically downloaded and a simple fresh boot up of your device will see you run the latest offering. It’s also got rid of that annoying “Android is updating” pop up when you restart after an update.
Google has confirmed the new “Launcher Shortcuts” feature that debuted in the second beta for Android N is ready for pressure sensitive display technology.
It will make it easier for Android manufacturers to bring 3D Touch-like technology to Android handsets as it’s baked directly into the OS.
Android N will also bring support for Unicode 9, which among other things will see the introduction of 72 new emoji – such fun!
The Android N name
History has taught us that Android N is going to be named after a delicious treat, but Google hasn’t told us which one it is yet. In fact, even Google doesn’t know which dessert-based name to give its latest mobile platform.
It’s so unsure, it’s asking you – YES, YOU – to submit your ideas. Head over to android.com/n to submit your idea, and Google will then pick the best one. And band news, it’s already ruled out Namey McNameFace. Boo.
For now, we’re testing out the Developer Preview on a first-letter basis. It’s very informal. We also don’t exactly know if it’ll be Android 7.0 or not either. It’s currently unclear. Let’s not forget Google’s dabble with the number four with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, 4.1/2/3 Jelly Bean and 4.4 KitKat.
Android N release date
The official Android N launch date is still several months away, however Google announced at its IO event that it would launch “later this summer”. Now what exactly it means by that is up for debate, but hopefully it means we’ll see it around September.
Nexus devices are always first in line to get new Android updates, so your brand new Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge will have to wait. Manufacturers and carriers have to rework their own version of the software and push it out to users – and that can take months.
What phones will get Android N?
If you’ve got a recent flagship phone, you should be in luck. Most phone and tablet makers try and push the software to phones and tablets that are less than two years old, but it may be quite a wait.
Samsung, Sony, LG and HTC are usually quite fast at getting the update to your phone, as is Motorola. Some other manufacturers can take a little while to release it, though.
Each manufacturer can take time to tweak the updates. Take Android Marshmallow for example, some phones still don’t have the update, even though it’s been out for five month… five very long months, as February was 29 days long since it’s not a leap year.
If you want the latest software, it’s best to get a Nexus device, as the newest version of Android will always be pushed to that first. Newer Nexus owners are currently able to test out Developer Preview 1.
HTC has confirmed it will be bringing Android N to the HTC 10, One A9 and One M9 – although there’s no time scale yet.
Motorola has also confirmed the Moto G4 Plus will get Android 7 software in the future. The strange thing is, Motorola also confirmed the phone will be updated to Android O when it comes around as well. That’s software Google hasn’t even announced yet and there’s no guarantee Android 8 will be named after the letter O.