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Monday, June 1, 2015

Android M detailed: The little things

Already we talked about the six tentpole features in the new Android M release. But there's a lot more that Google didn't go into during the keynote, which we'll talk about now.
Direct Share

It was already easy to share content between apps on Android but with Direct Share, Android can now learn which apps you share content to frequently and place that at the top of the list, so if you share photos to the Facebook app a lot, it will be at the top. Direct Share also lets you share content to specific people that you contact you the most, so they are placed directly in the share sheet instead of having to hunt them in the contacts list.
Improved text selection and floating toolbar

The text selection in Android hasn't changed much in several years. You still get the same confusing, nondescript icons at the top when you select the text in an app. With M, you now get a floating toolbar with clear cut, copy, and paste buttons, with overflow menu for additional options such as search or translate. The selection now also moves forward word by word instead of letters to make it easier to mark text but you can go back to select letter by letter. This feature is not present in the current developer preview for some reason.
There will also be undo/redo keyboard shortcut buttons.
App Standby
We talked about Doze, which puts the device in a deep sleep state when not used for long periods of time to save power. App Standby does this for individual apps. When the OS detects an app hasn't been used in a long period of time then it automatically puts it on standby, which disables its network access and suspends its syncs and jobs. When you plug in your device for charging, these apps can resume syncing in the background as usual.
Improved volume control

A lot of people were upset by the lack of a traditional Silent mode in Lollipop. With M, the silent mode is back, accessed by holding down the volume button and then once again to exit the vibrate mode. Only alarms work in the Silent mode, as they used to.
Google also brought back the extended volume control options, which let you control the media and alarm volumes by a drop down next to the ringtone volume level. The Interruptions feature has been removed from the volume bar and now is a separate feature listed below.
Do not disturb quick setting

M has a new Do not disturb button in the notifications, which is essentially the previous Interruptions feature. You can choose between Total silence mode, Alarms only mode, or Priority only mode. You can customize these options from the notifications or the Settings app.
Adoptable storage devices
Users can now add an SD card, which will then be adopted by the system to behave like internal storage. The memory card will be formatted and encrypted and will be seen like internal memory. You can then install apps and other private data easily onto the memory card.
Auto backup for apps
Google will now perform full automatic data backup and restore for apps designed for M. The data will be in your Google account and will be synced across devices.
Bluetooth stylus support
The OS now includes improved support for Bluetooth stylus devices.
Improved Bluetooth Low Energy Scanning
A new approach to scanning method cuts down on the power required to perform the scan, provided the developer of the app implements the feature.
Hotspot 2.0 Release 1 support
Support for Hotspot 2.0 in devices like Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 to automatically connect to Hotspot 2.0 networks when you enter the area.
4K Display Mode
Android M now supports display resolutions up to 4K.
Improved Android for Work
Includes features such as enhanced controls for Corporate-Owned, Single-Use devices, silent install and uninstall of apps by Device Owner, silent enterprise certificate access, auto-acceptance of system updates, delegated certificate installation, enterprise factory reset protection, data usage tracking, runtime permission management, VPN in Settings, and work status notification.
Improved USB On-The-Go support

Previously connecting a USB OTG drive in stock Android made it accessible in apps but the OS itself behaved as if nothing was connected. In M, you now get a notification that lets you explore the contents of the drive in a file explorer like interface, along with an eject button to safely remove it. It also shows up in the Storage option in the Settings app, which has been revamped slightly.
Improved Calculator app

Google added a few extra functions to the Calculator app, namely the ability to switch between radians and degree and inverse sine, cosine and tangent functions. But there is still no percentage button.
5GHz hotspot access point band

M now allows you to setup your phone's hotspot on the far less crowded 5GHz band on compatible devices.
Changes to UI

M brings a handful of changes to the UI. First thing you'll notice is the new app drawer, which lists apps alphabetically in a vertically scrolling grid and shows most used apps at the top. There is a search button at the top as well. Even the widgets drawer has a vertically scrolling design.
The lockscreen also gets a different font for the clock and the voice search button replaces the dialler in the bottom left corner.
Google got rid of the Google Settings app and now all the options are listed inside the main Settings app under an option called Google.

Swiping up from the Home button bring the new Google Now on tap UI with a new animation. Now on tap is not yet available even in the developer preview but you can still use the Google Search bar which is available at the top.
The animations in general on M are more dramatic. There are some new animations for interactions and all the UI elements pop in and out with greater flourish. If you didn't like the animations in Lollipop, you are probably not going to like this either.

There is now an option to switch to the dark theme, although it's strangely buried in the Developer options in the developer preview. It also only affects the look of the Settings app for now. Other than Light, and Dark, there is an Automatic mode that automatically switches it to dark mode at night but it would have been nicer if it changed depending upon the ambient light.
That's it for now. We will be digging further in the developer preview to find more interesting things. It's worth noting that a lot could change in the final version. Some things might be removed, others added. This is the very first build that Google released and it's meant more for developers than users, so take all the UI changes bits with a grain of salt.
As for the developer preview, it's a beta and like all betas, not recommended for daily use. Many of the apps are crashing and there are other oddities as well (the phone memory doesn't show up on the computer when connected over USB for some reason). It's for this reason we don't recommend you install it on your primary device, but if you have a device to spare, you could give it a shot and send in any interesting things you find.

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