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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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