Google plans to launch the next major version of Android later this year… and for the first time the company will be releasing a developer preview ahead of time.
The company unveiled Android L Developer Preview during the Google IO conference, placing a major emphasis on new design elements including sleek color effects, shadows, and animations.
The Android L preview SDK will be available at developer.android.com starting June 26th, along with system images for the Google Nexus 5 and Nexus 7.
New 3D and shadow effects allow developers to create apps that float one element over another, so you get a sense of movement as you switch between elements. When you touch certain elements, there’s also a ripple effect.
The company calls this user interface “Material,” since it adds virtual texture to Android.
Google is showing off the new features in the latest phone dialer app as well as an enhanced version of its notifications system (which also now supports lock screen notifications).
Don’t want everyone to be able to see your notifications without unlocking your device? Google is introducing Spheres of visibility, allowing apps and users to decide which notifications or other items can be displayed on a phone that hasn’t been unlocked.
Google is also updating the Roboto font so that it works better across different device sizes. Google’s Matias Duarte says developers can use a single font and know that it will look good across a range of screen sizes for smartwatches, phones, tablets, laptops, and TVs.
Google expects it to take a while for developers to incorporate Material into their apps, which is why the company is releasing a developer preview for the first time. Over the next few months Google plans to update its own apps with Material effects.
Not all of the new features in Android relate to the Materials design language. The company showed off a new feature called Personal unlocking which can help you unlock your device more quickly.
For instance, if you set up a pattern unlock on your phone but you also have a supported smartwatch, your will detect when you’re watch is nearby and let you unlock the phone without entering a pattern first. Take off your watch so that your phone doesn’t know who’s holding it, and you’ll need swipe a pattern on the screen again.
The Recents feature of Android has also been redesigned so that it uses the Materials interface and shows not only recently opened apps… but also individual websites from Chrome tabs.
Other new features in Android L will include a new keyboard design, Do Not Disturb, and new Quick Settings features. Android Beam will now show up in the Share menu, to let you transfer data over NFC.
As expected, Google is moving from the Dalvik virtual machine to ART with Android L. This means that apps will be compiled ahead-of-time instead of just-in time.
Google says this can offer up to a 2x performance bump in apps, offers improved memory usage, and is compatible with 64-bit processors including ARM and x86 chips.
Developers don’t need to do anything different in order for their apps to take advantage of ART.
Android L places an emphasis on graphics improvements with a new Android Extension pack for geometry shaders, computer shaders, tesselation and more features to take advantage of the advanced graphics capabilities of the latest mobile chips.
Google says this will help provide PC-level gaming graphics in a pocket-sized device.
Battery life and Project Volta
Google is taking aim at battery life in Android L with a new initiative code-named Project Volta. Among other things, it includes a new app for developers called Battery Historian which can help identify causes of battery drain.
There’s also a new job scheduler API that allows apps to do perform some activity only at certain times, for instance when the phone is plugged in.
As for users, there’s a new Battery Saver mode which you can run automatically or turn on just when you need a battery boost. According to Google, a typical Nexus 5 user could get up to 90 minutes of extra battery life using Battery Saver.
Android for Work
Google will support the BYOD market by letting a single phone have work and personal profiles while data remains separate.
IT departments can use bulk deployment of apps, and the software features Samsung’s Knox security software.