Today at the Google I/O 2014 Developer Conference keynote, top executives at the corporation revealed the details of the next version of Android.
The next release is currently dubbed simply “L”, but the name is likely to be sweetened by its release this fall, in line with Google’s habit of naming its OS releases after sweet foods, like the most recent KitKat and earlier Jelly Bean.
Some of L’s features highlighted in today’s talk focused on smartphones, but there is important news for Android tablet users, mainly regarding an updated user interface and system updates.
The Front End: Material Design
Stylistically, L’s design is pretty and bold. In some aspects it resembles the “flat” look of Microsoft Windows Phone or Apple’s iOS, with fields of bright colors appearing prominently.
Google’s new “Material Design” philosophy looks to give pixels on devices not just colors, but simulated depth as well. The Material look draws on physically-inspired surfaces and edges that can be oriented in 3D views with real-time shadows and perspective, giving that sense of perceived depth. They will also move with the physics of real cardstock, leading to a more intuitive interface for scrolling and flicking.
The use of a grid has improved in L to provide cleaner interfaces, and the updated default system font (Roboto) will take up less space on the screen while maintaining legibility. With improved use of animations as visual feedback for touch input, the interface is designed to be much more responsive and active as well. The use of dynamic color palettes in tiles that can draw from the content they are attached to is also a nice touch.
Material Design will unify user interface experiences across all Google technology, from Chrome to Android, wearables to Google-connected automobile technology. The Material Design reel shown during the keynote is available on YouTube, and gives a good glimpse of the UI that awaits us this Fall.
The Back End: 64-Bit ART and More
In terms of performance, L will feature several improvements over KitKat thanks to its new runtime, the Android Runtime (ART). ART was first introduced experimentally in the 4.4 release, and Google has decided to switch to it fully in L from the current Dalvik runtime.
L will be the first full 64-bit Android release, and will benefit from cross-platform support on ARM, x86, and MIPS technology. This feature will allow the new Android release to better handle high-end multimedia such as streaming HD video, run more intensive mobile games, and 4K-resolution displays.
Battery-intensive subsystems such as GPS, radio and Bluetooth are also being optimized via Google’s “Project Volta” with the aim of increasing the battery life of every device running L. And thanks to Google’s new Battery Saver Mode, users will be able to disable auto-updates, GPU use, and more to extend battery life, or have it automatically engage when the battery is low.
Finally, in the face of privacy and security concerns, L will offer Universal Data Controls, where users will be able to modify privacy settings such as device location history. Users will also have more ability to disable their device if it is ever lost or stolen.
A developer preview version of Android L is available now, and it will officially launch to the general public this fall.
Other Improvments Coming from Google
Not everyhting announced today is directly related to L. For example, Google’s acquisition of Quickoffice is leading to native Microsoft Office support in Google Drive. That suggests that the quirks and formatting changes that occur when porting an Office Doc to an Office alternative will no longer be an issue.