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Everything you need to know about Android 6.0 Marshmallow: Get it on your Nexus now

Google has made Android Marshmallow and its feature list official. The search giant first revealed details of the software at its annual developer conference during the summer, and then continued to drip feed information over the following months, culminating in a few final points at its Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P launch event in September. Here are the key features you need to know about in Android 6.0.

Updated on 10-05-2015 by Malarie Gokey: Added news that the update to Android 6.0 is rolling out to Nexus phones.

Android 6 release schedule

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Google started rolling Android 6.0 Marshmallow out to a selection of Nexus phones, including the Nexus 5, Nexus 6, and Nexus 9 on October 5. The update will come over-the-air. The new Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P will have Android 6.0 already installed. Other non-Nexus devices that are set to receive the new software will be announced separately, but as usual, don’t hold your breath for a rapid release.

Now On Tap

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Google has extended the capability of search in Android 6.0. Now On Tap requires a long press of the home button to activate, and provides contextual assistance based on the active app, or a message’s content. For example, if a message includes the mention of a restaurant and a time, Now On Tap will show the option to add a calendar entry, and shortcuts to apps such as OpenTablet and Yelp.

Permissions

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App permissions — stuff like microphone, camera, location, phone, SMS, and calendar access — were notoriously rigid on previous versions of Android. You had to approve an app’s access wholesale if you wanted to use it. Android M introduces a top-to-bottom overhaul that allows you not only to revoke permissions on an individual basis, but toggle them on and off even after you’ve installed apps.

Here’s how the new system works: when an app tries to use your phone’s hardware or access sensitive data for the first time, you’ll be prompted to grant or deny it permission, much like iOS. If you later change your mind, you can toggle that permission in a dedicated menu within Android Marshmallow’s app settings. (Google’s slimmed the number of core permissions to eight to make that list manageable.) You can drill down by app or permission. For example, you can disable just WhatsApp’s and Facebook’s access to your camera, or all apps’ access.

Chrome Custom Tabs

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“Chrome custom tabs” are an evolution of Web View, the Web browser built into all sorts of apps on Android. Google’s bringing the long overdue, full Chrome experience to the in-app browser: tabs will support automatic sign in, saved passwords, form autofill, and “multi-process security.” If you’re someone like me who uses lots of third-party apps that authenticate through Web pages, this is blockbuster news.

Android Pay and fingerprint authentication

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Android Pay is based around the tenants simplicity, security, and choice. In practice, it works in much like Google Wallet — you can pay with NFC at wireless terminals by tapping. But unlike Google Wallet, Android Pay is debuting with a ton of partners onboard — credit and debit card companies like American Express, Discover, Mastercard, and Visa, and mobile carriers, too.

Google announced Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile as launch partners. App integration is much improved, too. Many businesses — B&H, Seamless, Grubhub, Dunkin’ Donuts, Chipotle, LivingSocial, and more — are already supporting or are pledging to add Android Pay as a payments option. Google says it’ll continue to seek partners in the future, with the focus to shift internationally in the coming months.

Just like Google Wallet, Android Pay doesn’t transmit your credit card information when you pay with NFC — it generates a secure token that’s disposed of once the process completes. And Android M will support fingerprint authentication for both wireless and in-app payments.

Learn more about Android Pay in our extensive guide here.

Fingerprint authentication

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Speaking of fingerprint authentication, Android 6.0 standardizes support across devices. Android devices like the Motorola Atrix and Galaxy S5 had fingerprint sensors, but support was essentially shoehorned in — they relied on wonky software to work, and that resulted in less-than-consistent (to put it mildly) user experiences. You could unlock your device with a fingerprint, of course, but Google’s introducing APIs for app developers to leverage fingerprints in novel ways (think launching an app with your index finger).

Doze for better battery

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Google introduced two battery-saving initiatives, Project Volta and JobScheduler, with Android Lollipop. But both were voluntary, to an extent — they relied on developers to take advantage. With Android Marshmallow, Google’s introducing a blanket feature, Doze, that takes matters into its own hands by sending devices into a “deeper sleep” when they’ve been unattended for a significant amount of time (it detects this, apparently, using motion sensors). True to its namesake, “dozing” devices can still respond to high-priority messages.

According to the company, in tests using the Nexus 5 and Nexus 6, Doze has seen a 30-percent improvement in standby time, and is particularly effective if you forget to charge your phone overnight. In tests using the Nexus 9 tablet, standby time was up to two times longer. This is a significant increase, particularly for a software-only tweak.

USB Type-C support, better copy-and-paste, volume control, and more

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So what else is new in Android M? It packs support for USB Type-C, for one, plus a bunch of software tweaks and changes besides. Word selection has been improved — characters can be chunked together and you can drag the selection tool backwards — and copying and pasting tools now live in a floating menu above text. Volume controls are also a lot more granular now. You can control individual volume levels as you multitask, and M re-introduces a proper silence mode.

The lock screen a shortcut to activate voice control, and voice interactions can be tied into apps, allowing for wider use of the feature throughout Android. Animations when using apps are more natural, and apps appear from the point that’s touched, and disappear by sliding down the screen. The Home screen has an A-Z search feature, and apps will gather depending on how often they’re used.

Google calls Android M “the most polished Android release to date,” and we agree with that sentiment; there aren’t a ton of major additions, but mostly a sanding out of the rough edges Lollipop introduced. Nothing wrong with that.

Next page: Rumors prior to Google I/O

A slip-up may have revealed Android M as the next major release of Google’s mobile OS

The contents of a conference agenda often reveal quite a bit about the event in question. Case in point? An overzealous Googler posted an entry for an Android for Work session that seemingly confirms the existence of Android M, the next logical release of Google’s mobile operating system.

Related: Everything you need to know ahead of Google I/O 2015

The timing and name make sense. Google’s historically progressed through the alphabet for Android version codenames, naming each after a distinctive dessert — last year was Android L, or Lollipop. The company typically showcases releases at its opening I/O address and issues a developer preview edition ahead of stabler releases in the months that follow.

As for what dessert name beginning with the letter “m” Google could have possibly chosen, references in the Android Open Source Project, the publicly available framework upon which Android is built, give a possible clue. There are several mentions of “MNC,” an acronym sources say is short for Macadamia Nut Cookie. Of course, it’s entirely possible that Google intends to release Android M under a different name — that’d hardly be unprecedented — but just in case it doesn’t, you might want to get used to Macadamia.

Android for Work improvements and “Voice Access”

The I/O session’s description, since removed, sadly didn’t hint at any headlining Android M features, but did make vague mention of “bringing the power of Android to all kinds of workplaces.” Google released an Android for Work app that supports devices running Android 4.0 to 4.4 (Lollipop supports it natively) this month, but it seems the next version of Android will expand Google’s bring-your-own-device platform in ways currently unfeasible. Whether that means new devices (wearables or smartwatches?), new apps, or just an improved backend is anyone’s guess.

Related: Google might add a tool for developers to see which apps users like best

However, that’s definitely not all there is to Android M. Another session called, “Your app, now available hands-free,” describes “Voice Access,” a service that apparently “gives anyone access to their Android device through voice alone.” That’d go far beyond the capabilities of Google Now, which only just gained limited third-party app integration. Assuming Voice Access delivers as promised, it could be a boon for hands-free use in the car, letting you perform complicated in-app actions without having to swipe or tap.

Enhanced security

Beyond usability, privacy and security are purportedly receiving much-needed attention in Android M: Buzzfeed reports that it’ll introduce native support for fingerprint scanners. That’d be a boon for vendors like Samsung and Motorola, who’ve been either forced to implement software solutions of their own or, in the case of the latter, forgo the fingerprint sensor entirely.

Android M will also like mark a formal introduction of the granular privacy controls uncovered by modders in earlier versions of Android. According to rumors, the new modular permissions system will let users deny access to sensitive data on a per-app basis — you’ll be able to let Facebook use your location but not your contacts or sensor data, for example.

Android Pay

It’s no accident that the aforementioned security enhancements will debut alongside Android Pay, Google’s retooled payment platform for mobile devices. Confirmed by Android boss Sundar Pichai at MWC 2015, Android Pay will take the form of an API that companies can use to let users complete transactions with saved payment information. It’ll support in-app purchases and tap-to-pay functionality, and debut with Android M.

Android Pay isn’t replacing Google Wallet and it’s not competing with Samsung’s own payment solution, Samsung Pay. Instead, Pichai stressed at MWC, Android Pay is a platform which third parties have the option of tapping into — from a customer perspective, it’s simply yet another place your debit and credit cards reside.

Still, expect Google to pay it a fair amount of attention — the company didn’t acquire Softcard for nothing.

A focus on performance

As with Android Lollipop, Google’s putting a big focus on performance, but not necessarily at the system level. Instead of introducing changes to the way Android manages battery, the company’s reportedly urging its app teams to focus on reducing overhead — things like RAM usage, off-charger activity, and GPS-reliant features. It’ll encourage third-party developers to do the same.

Google’s last attempts at stretching battery, JobScheduler and Project Volta, noticeably improved battery on the Nexus 5 and other devices that launched with older versions of Android. Given the voluntary nature of Google’s latest push for more power, though, it remains to be seen whether the Android M initiative will be nearly as effective.

New photo app highlights Material Design

The new photos app for Android also recently leaked, revealing a bunch of new features, including automatic tagging, photo backups in smaller sizes, Autoawesome, and many of the other cool tools found in the Google+ photo section.

Updated on 09-29-2015 by Andy Boxall: Added in feature news and the release schedule revealed at Google’s Nexus launch event. 

Updated by Kyle Wiggers on 5-26-2015: Added news of rumored security, payment, photo app, and performance enhancements coming to Android.

Updated by Kyle Wiggers on 05-28-2015: Added official news of Android M features.