What is new in Android M?

A look at the top ten features of Google’s upcoming Android M release

Android M logoAs you might have already read, Google previewed the Android M release, the successor to Android Lollipop, at the recently concluded I/O 2015 developer conference. Although the release is still in preview stage, Google has given us a detailed look at what to expect when the final version of Android M launches in Q3 of this year.

In this feature, I will be talking about the top ten consumer-centric features of the Android M. There are plenty more, but these will be impacting your Android M experience the most.

1. Doze: Battery back-up has become one of the biggest concerns for the smartphone owners these days and it has turned the power banks into a household and daily-use item. Google hopes to improve the battery life of Android M-running devices with the new Doze feature.  Doze works behind-the-scenes and recognizes when a device hasn’t been used for an extended period of time and puts the unneeded apps in an ultra-low power state, in turn restricting unnecessary background processing. These battery optimizations help the overall battery life. Google claims that with Doze, a device running on Android M will get almost double the battery back-up it was getting on Lollipop.Android M App Drawer

2. New searchable app drawer/ other UI tweaks: Although Google has mostly kept the user-interface same as Lollipop, the new app drawer will be the most noticeable change on the Android M running devices, at least the ones that won’t come with manufacturer customizations. The new launcher scrolls vertically and the apps are listed alphabetically. Google has also included a search function to help you quickly locate the applications you want. The app drawer also lists the four most-used applications (apart from the ones on home-screen) at the top. The widget-picker has also gone vertical and alphabetical with clear-cut app-wise listing. Among other UI tweaks, some settings have lost or gained a few new options but the overall look is still the same.

Android M Direct Share3. Direct Share: Apart from UI changes, Android’s built-in sharing functionality has largely remained the same over the years, but Google is adding a new Direct Share feature in it with Android M. With this feature, Android remembers the contacts with whom you mostly share your stuff (and using which apps) and gives you shortcuts to those contacts (along with your preferred specific apps) on top of the share menu. Meaning, if you frequently share photos with your friend ‘Tom’ using Hangouts, the next time you are sharing an image, Android share menu will automatically include a shortcut for Tom’s Hangouts contact.

4. App permissions: For regular users, Android app permissions have always been “all or nothing.” Unless you were comfortable with modding, it wasn’t possible to withheld certain permissions from apps, but with Android M, Google is changing all this. The company has totally overhauled the permission structure in the new version. Android apps no longer will be given permissions at the time of install, but they will ask for specific permissions as they need them the first time. Also, the consumers will be able to go to app settings and add/ remove permissions whenever they want. It is important to note here that this change will only apply to Android M and the apps designed for the new version, the legacy apps will still use the old method of permissions, but the users will still be able to go to settings and remove permissions.Android M App Permissions

5. Enhanced support for SD cards/ USB devices: Android has had an odd history with SD cards. Google initially added support for applications on SD cards with Android 2.2 Froyo, but the company later started discouraging them. With Android M, the company is going a new way with SD cards. The M release allows users to “adopt” an external storage device (like an SD card or USB drive), enabling users to move both app code (APKs) and private app data to that device.  When a storage device is adopted, Android M wraps it in a layer of encryption and formats it similar to internal storage, in turn treating it like internal storage.

Android M App Data Backup6. Auto back-up for app data: Another big feature debuting with Android M is automatic back-up for application data on Google Drive. So, after Android M, if you are changing your device, you will just have to login to your Google account and all the supported applications will automatically download your  app data from Drive. The application back-up will happen when you are not using the device and it is connected to Wi-Fi. Also, only 25MB storage will be available to each app for storing data on Drive, so the app developers will have to stick to only the important elements for back-up. Also, the app back-ups will not only work with applications installed from Google Play, but also for side-loaded applications and apps from third-party stores.

7. Native fingerprint sensor support: Although some high-end Android smartphones have had fingerprint sensors since Motorola Atrix, but the platform didn’t have the native fingerprint sensor support until now. With Android M, Google is including the fingerprint support and giving app developers access to the necessary APIs to make use of it for sign-in or payment authentication purposes. You will also be able to use your fingerprint for unlock your smartphone or authenticating payments in Google Play.

8. USB Type-C support: Over the last year, USB Type-C has appeared on the scene in a big-way and while none of the current mainstream smartphones include the port, we can expect wider adoption with Android M, given the added support. USB Type-C will not only help with faster battery charging time, but will also allow the device to act as a power bank for other devices. USB Type-C will also add more functions to the port on the Android smartphones, but Google hasn’t detailed them yet.

9. Android Pay: Google is jumping in the mobile payments once again with Android Pay. Android M will come with built-in support for Android Pay, which will allow the consumers to pay for stuff at the retail stores with their NFC-enabled smartphone. In addition, Android Pay will also be used for in-app payments. The new payment system will securely store details of credit/ debit cards, loyalty cards, and other payment-related data on the device. Unlike other features mentioned in this article, Android Pay will also be available for KitKat and Lollipop devices via an Android app. More on Android Pay here. Initially the Android Pay support (for the store payments) is expected to be limited to certain markets only.Android M Text Selection

10. Floating text action toolbar: Text selection and other related actions can be trickier on mobile devices, but Google wants it to be easy for you. Thus, in Android M, the company will include improved text-selection, which will highlight one word at the time for quick selection, but you can always slide back to select per character. In addition, Google has introduced a floating text action toolbar, which includes the usual functions like Cut, Copy, and Paste, as well as app-specific actions like Share, Translate etc.

Bonus feature: Now on tapNow on Tap

Although it is debuting with Android M, ‘Now on Tap’ is a Google Now feature rather than being an Android M-specific feature. Now on Tap brings the power of Google’s Knowledge Graph to you no matter where you are on your mobile device or in which app. Just long press the home button and Google Now will go through whatever is present on the screen to learn the context and guess what you are trying to learn about and offer you that information. As all these actions happen in a matter of milliseconds, the whole thing is seamless. You can also press home button and say “Ok Google” to ask specific queries. You can read more about Now on Tap here.

So, these are some of the best new features coming to Android with the M release. Share your thoughts on Android M and these features in the comments.

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