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Android O Beta: Top features, how to get it and everything to know

May 18, 2017 6:03 AM
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Android O Beta: Top features, how to get it and everything to know

Google just released the second developer preview of Android O at Google I/O 2017. While it is mostly just an incremental update from the first developer preview released in March, Google showcased some new features such as Vitals, Notification Dots and more.

The first developer preview introduced features such as picture in picture, streamlined notifications, audio enhancements and more. It also added support for wide gamut color, adaptive icons and WebView optimisations.

With the second developer preview, Google has also opened the Android O Beta program through which interested users can test drive Android O on their devices.

Notification overload has been a constant source of irritation for Android users. With Android O, Google has introduced several new features to manage notifications seamlessly.

With Android O, Google has introduced a feature called Notification Dots - iOS-like small dots on the top right corner of an app that show previews of incoming emails, messages and more.

Whenever a new notification comes in, the corresponding app will display a dot. Additionally, users can long press on the app icon itself to see the notification.

This feature lets app developers group notifications together by type. This allows users to have a granular control on each channel. Ex: Users can decide how news based notifications will be displayed or how text alerts are displayed.

Notifications can be segmented into various different channels like sports news, text messages, music applications and so on and users can control each channel separately. The notification shade will also group notifications by channel, making it much easier to glance through relevant notifications. Users can also block or snooze a whole channel in one go if they wish.

Developers can also change the background color of their app's notifications. They can also set definite time increments - 15 minutes, 30 minutes or 1 hour in which the notifications will dismiss themselves.

Dave Burke, VP of Engineering at Google said "Channels let developers give users fine-grained control over different kinds of notifications - users can block or change the behavior of each channel individually, rather than managing all of the app's notifications together."

Android Marshmallow and Android Nougat saw the introduction of of features such as Doze mode and Doze on the go aimed at improving battery life. With Android O, Google is introducing new features to further clamp down on erratic apps eating the battery in the background.

With Android O, Google is introducing 'Wise Limits' - a feature which places restrictions on background apps, especially those which use location services constantly.

Android O places specific limits on implicit broadcasts (signals sent by an application for other apps or activities to act upon), location updates and background services. All these happen automatically in the background, without users having to manage anything on their own.

With Android O, Google has introduced a new feature called 'Telecom framework', which allows for third-party calling applications to work with each other and with carriers.

Google has introduced a new of tools under the banner 'Vitals' aims at comprehensively optimising, and securing Android. The first is called Google Play Project, which is basically a virus scanner for all apps on the play store. In Android O, you will see a new UI elements in the Google Play update window which will show you your recent scans and issues found, if any.

Google has also optimised Android O comprehensively, so much so that the team claims that Pixel devices are now booting up twice as fast as before. This speed increase is also carried over to applications. Google has managed to achieve this by implementing significant changes in the runtime - to things such as code locality, garbage collection and more.

Lastly, Google has introduced Play Console Dashboard, which is a new developer tool that provides in-depth analytics on app device usage. With Dashboard, users will be able to see real-time results of their app from any active Android device. Google has also included in-depth tools which will make it easier for developers to speed up their apps and reduce their battery usage.

In Android 7.0 Nougat, Google introduced an optional multi-process mode for WebView that moved the handling of web content into an isolated process. In Android O, the company is enabling the multi-process mode by default and is also introducing a new API that let developers handle their own errors and crashes in WebView.

Android O also brings with it optimisations for new runtimes for better stability and performance in applications designed specifically for Android O.

Google is also introducing picture-in-picture support (PIP) with Android O. With PIP, users will be able to minimise whatever video they are watching and watch it whilst using another application.

Developers can specify which aspect ratio they want for their application and can even set custom interactions on the PIP window. This feature is already available on devices running Android TV.

TensorFlow Lite is basically a scaled down version of Tensor Flow, Google's machine learning tool. Android O will hardware accelerate features of Google's neural network. It will keep few of the Ai components on the device itself, negating the need to find online servers to compute actions.

Copy Less combines machine learning and computer vision into one cohesive whole. This feature will intelligently recognise context in applications - thereby making it easier to copy and paste within Android O.

With Android O, Google is introducing 'Wise Limits' - a feature which places restrictions on background apps, especially those which use location services constantly.

How this works is simple. For example, if your are having a conversation with your friend on WhatsApp about where to have lunch and you switch to Zomato for recommendations on places to eat, Android O will automatically understand that you're looking for a place to eat. So if youre friend asks "Where are we going to eat?" in the chat, Copy Less will suggest relevant replies to that very question.

Android O uses Google's AI to intelligently recognise names and addresses in text streams. For ex: In a chat, you can just tap to dial a phone number after highlighting it. Additionally, you can just tap on an address to jump to that location in Google Maps.

With Android O, Google is introducing several new features aimed at audiophiles. Android O brings with it support for high-quality audio codecs such as LDAC. Additionally, Google is also introducing AAudio - a new native API for applications needing support for high-performance, low-latency audio.

While Google says the developer preview is 'strictly' not intended for daily or consumer use, you can download Android O onto your Android device if you wish to. Currently, only 6 devices are supported - Google Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel C, Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X and Nexus Player.

There are two ways to go about the same. Firstly, you can sign up for the Android Beta program and wait for the OTA update to land on your smartphone. Secondly, if you are adventurous enough and do not wish to wait for the OTA, you can flash the developer preview manually onto your smartphone.

Developers previews tend to be buggy and unstable so be cautious while installing the update. We recommend you install the update on a second or third device. Additionally, you can also brick your device if you don't know what you are doing or if you get any of the steps wrong.

(Disclaimer: India Today Tech shall hold no responsibility if you incur any problems during installation or brick your device)

2. Head over to this link to download the system image for your device. The factory image downloaded from this page includes a script that flashes the device, typically named (On Windows systems, use flash-all.bat instead).

4. Once you have the fastboot tool, add it to your PATH environment variable (the flash-all script below must be able to find it).

Turn the device off, then turn it on and immediately hold down the relevant key combination for your device. For example, to put a Nexus 5 ("hammerhead") into fastboot mode, press and hold Volume Up + Volume Down + Power as the device begins booting up.

10. Open a terminal and navigate to the unzipped system image directory.


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