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Android N name


This is perhaps the most interesting thing about Android N right now: what will it be called? There are already a lot of possibilities, but the major front-runners are Android Nutella and Android Nougat. If this year is any indicator, Google will share the official Android N name in the weeks before the release of the 2016 Nexus devices and the final version of Android N.

In December 2015, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, speaking at a college in Delhi, suggested that Google is considering holding a poll to allow users to decide the official name of Android N. The comment came after Pichai was asked why there has not been an Android version named after an Indian desert. He commented that he would ask his mother for suggestions, and an online poll might make it a reality.

We're betting that Android N will be called Android Nutella
Android N: what we already know
Android N release date


We already know what the Android N release date will be. Google announces major yearly Android updates at Google I/O – its annual developer conference – in May, so it's very likely that the Android N developer preview will be debuted at Google I/O 2016, followed by monthly(ish) updates until the final version.

That final version will come around Nexus time – late September or early October – with Android N availability for other manufacturers and devices in the six or so months to follow.

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We already know Android N will have a native multi-window mode for tablets. / © Google
Android N multi-window mode

When the Pixel C tablet was released recently, some of the Google team behind it held a Reddit AMA to answer a few questions about the hybrid tablet/laptop. One thing that came up during the AMA was that the Android team is working on native split-screen mode for the Android N release. You can already get multi-window mode in Android Marshmallow, but it's very much a work in progress.

Android N will bring a polished split-screen mode for tablets and smartphones alike, making yet another third-party addition a core part of stock Android, just like Battery Saver in Lollipop and fingerprint support in Marshmallow. The reason it has taken Google this long to bring split-screen is down to two factors:


Google must:

optimize the function for all screen sizes, definitions and densities
make the feature universal so all applications, not just a few, work in split screen


The smartphone world can build a strange legal topography, with patents for rounded rectangles and swipe-to-unlock features being awarded with utmost sincerity.

In 2010, lawsuit kingpins Oracle joined the games and enveloped Google in a legal battle over copyright protection of Java APIs, which are fundamental in allowing Android programs to communicate. What could have been a twisted and potentially wide-reaching legal dispute in the software development world, now seems to have culminated relatively quietly.

News coming through VentureBeat confirms that Google is making the move from its rewritten and reimplemented version of Oracle's Java APIs to OpenJDK, the open source version of Oracle's Java Development Kit (JDK).

Google argues that the move is intended to make development for Android easier, but the roiling seas of legal turmoil are thinly veiled, and the signs of an out-of-court settlement are evident upon closer inspection. By moving to the open source JDK, Google need not fear further legal reprisals, but the fact remains that rewritten versions of Oracle's Java APIs remain in use in older versions of Android, so it seems unlikely that the case will end here.

Whether or not this move by Google is the endgame in a complicated legal tango, as things stand now, the end user is set to see little change. App developers may, however, as Google claims, have a slightly easier time of things, thanks to a more unified, untinkered Java experience. If the transition occurs smoothly, compatibility and performance should be affected very little if at all.

Android N notifications and quick settings changes


A very early build of Android N found its way into the hands of Android Police, who, while unable to post actual screenshots, created mock-ups of what they saw in the new OS.

Two notable changes have been accounted for. Firstly, the notification shade displays full-width notifications, separated by an extremely thin line. The notifications now also display which app generated each, and app icons have been significantly shrunk in response.

AndroidN mockup


The current (left) and Android N notifications shades. /
The Quick Settings also see some adjustments. Above the notification shade, the icons are now larger, taking center stage, making them more accessible, and falling into line with what most manufacturers do with their own UIs.

When fully expanded, the Quick Settings panel, like the notifications shade, is full width. The expandable Bluetooth and Wi-Fi buttons have been removed, and an edit button has been added, suggesting an expansion to how customizable the menu is. Two dots at the bottom of the panel suggest pagination has been added, allowing less-frequently used settings to be relegated to a second page.

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The current (left) and Android N Quick Settings panel. /
Bear in mind that this is a very early build of the new OS, seen months prior to Google I/O, where the first developer build is usually released, so everything is very much subject to change.

Android N: what we'd like to see
Android N user-facing controls



Android Marshmallow delivered a lot of useful – if not exactly sexy – features, including granular app permissions, app standby whitelist (for exceptions to battery optimization), app linking preferences, System UI Tuner (for simple changes to the interface and RAM management.

Android N will likely continue to add more user-facing controls to stock Android. Some of the Android N features we'd like to see are more custom launcher features, such as the ability to change the number of rows and columns of icons in the app drawer, vertical or horizontal app drawer layout, user-defined gesture controls and a customizable power off menu. These features may well make it to prime time via updates to the currently hidden System UI Tuner.


Android N password manager



In Marshmallow, the Smart Lock for Passwords feature is hidden down the bottom of the Google settings. It's a fledgling password manager for apps that will basically set back to exactly where you were if you uninstall and then re-install an app.

Smart Lock for Passwords automatically signs you into apps, and Marshmallow's automatic app backup feature re-loads all of your app data and progress. It's a nice idea, but it doesn't work with many apps yet. We hope the Android N release delivers a fully functional and widely supported password manager.


Android N permissions manager



As we mentioned, Android Marshmallow already has granular app permissions – meaning that you can select individual permissions to grant or deny a particular app and change them at any time – but the feature is still a little confusing. The feature actually debuted back in the hidden AppOps in Android 4.3 Jelly Bean but was quickly removed, only to resurface in Android 6.0.

So we'd like to see an even better permission manager in Android N, one that makes the process more intuitive and allows better control over app permissions while making the whole process a lot more transparent. Right now you have to dig around in the apps settings of Marshmallow to even find and make sense of the current state of your app permissions.

By the time Android N rolls around, we also expect a lot more apps to support API 23, which ensures that granular app permissions do not significantly affect an app's functionality. It's early days for app permissions, but we think Android N will be the release where things get mature.


Android N default applications



As mentioned above, Android Marshmallow includes an app linking feature that allows you to define which apps to use to open particular links with. In the same area, you can tell the Android system which apps you want to use as the default for a few functions, such as the dialer, browser, SMS app and voice input.

Google is slowly expanding the default app functionality introduced back in KitKat when Hangouts was set as the default SMS app. Now we have four default apps options, but we're hoping that Android N will introduce a default app picker for any number of your system needs: email, camera, file manager, fitness, weather, contacts, maps and more.


We hope Android N lets you choose any default apps you want.

If you've seen the OnePlus 2 you'll know just how easily the stock Android interface can be themed, even on a very superficial level. OnePlus' OxygenOS looks a lot like stock Android but allows you to choose custom accent colors for the interface (that's the color of switches and toggles and so on). This would be a very simple but welcome addition to Android N.

We'd also expect to see a Dark Mode in Android N, but we wouldn't be surprised if it reappeared in an upcoming Marshmallow update, long before Android N. It goes without saying that there's no limit to how far Google could take a stock Android theme engine if it felt so inclined. After all, Android has been borrowing features from alternate launchers and custom ROMs for a while now.


Android N system update independence



This would be the holy grail of Android N updates: independent system updates from Google that are totally separate from any subsequent updates imposed by your manufacturer or carrier. These last two are the reasons why Android updates take so long for non-Nexus devices.

If Google could update the core functionality of Android, independent of any interface and software feature changes added later by manufacturers and carriers, we could suddenly be looking at Nexus-speed Android updates for everyone, just like with iOS, and the end of Android fragmentation.

Add-ons from carriers and OEMs could simply come at a later date, but the core functionality would be near instantaneous. How this could all work is a bit of a mystery, but there has to be a team at Android already looking at it how it could make it work.


We saw Smart App Updates introduced back in mid-2012, whereby app updates don't install the entire app again but only the new parts unavailable in your current version. We've also seen manufacturers like HTC pushing software features and apps to the Play Store to cut down on the weight of system updates.

By disentangling those features that don't need to be tied up in major Android updates, patches and bug fixes can be pushed out a lot faster and the heavy lifting when major updates arrive will be lessened. If Google could manage this on an Android-wide scale (which is, admittedly, not very likely) it would be the best news to come out of Android in a very long time.

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Mithilesh Joshi