Lollipop? Ladyfinger? Lemonhead? No one outside of Mountain View is 100% sure what Google will officially name their latest mobile OS, but they might as well call it Ludens with how much people are talking about it. It’s sleeker, faster, and more efficient than any Android operating system to date, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
After Apple announced iOS 8 at this year’s WWDC, tech lovers all over the blogosphere were applauding them from their most open platform yet (by their standards), but Google was quick to remind developers that when it comes to creative freedom and innovation, no platform does it better than Android.
If there’s one area where Apple historically beats Android, it’s design. Jony Ive and his team of anal-retentive coffee snobs have an undeniable knack for aesthetics, and Android L does a good job of closing the gap between the competing operating systems. Their new visual style, Material Design, brings the simplicity of pen and paper to smartphones and tablets.
Following Apple’s lead, Matias Duarte and his Android design team have decided to do away with skeumorphism once and for all. Wired’s Cliff Kuang sums it up best in his article, The Smart Problem-Solving Behind Android’s Awesome New Design Language:
“It was always clear that as platforms proliferate and mobile comes to dominate, the information that needs to be shown on tiny screens was only going to go up; as a result, you have to clarify your design language and strip it down. Anything fussy just becomes a zoo, once you account for the millions of apps being built upon Android. Flatness isn’t a strategy by itself, but rather a recognition of how many competing demands need to be stripped down for our phones not to start feeling like Japanese stereos from the 1980s, buried in both functional and decorative elements which then crowd out whatever you’re actually trying to do.”
Anyone who’s ever owned a JVC Jambox knows EXACTLY what Kuang is talking about. Bells, whistles, and embellishments are only useful when you’re trying to cover up your product’s lack of substance (i.e. almost every Michael Bay movie). As Google’s mobile ecosystem continues to expand, there’s absolutely no reason for developers to shellac their apps in gradients and shadows.
Where Android begins to break away from the Apple comparisons is their intelligent use of dimension and animations. In Android L, every pixel is assigned its own elevation, making it easier to break apps and browser windows into layers. This pairs nicely with the motions and color cues that accompany every tap of the screen, helping users intuitively perform their tasks. From the responsive nav bars to the vibrant dots that appear when your finger hits the glass, Duarte and team have been hard at work making your user experience as easy as possible. What won’t be easy is getting Material Design to the masses.
Once again, fragmentation is bound and determined to rain on Google’s parade. Even with their highly-detailed design guidelines, there’s no guarantee designers and hardware manufacturers are going to follow Duarte’s lead. And even if they do, only the users with the latest devices will get to enjoy Material Design they way it was meant to be appreciated. But hey, you can’t blame them for trying.
Another problem Android is tackling head-on is battery drain, and they’re doing through a series of strategic tactics known as Project Volta. Project Volta was created to fight the disparity between the amount active and standby time we spend with our mobile devices. After meticulously examining how a variety of Android apps perform, the engineers of Project Volta decided the answer was to give developers more control over battery power through APIs.
A recent Gigaom report, explains how the network activity awareness API helps apps determine if the cellular radio is active, allowing them to “piggyback” on active connections rather than waking up a sleeping radio. The report also relayed an example of Project Volta’s battery saving power, referencing an Ars Technica where Ron Amadeo managed to gain 36% more battery life by running Android L. Although there is still a long way to go in the battle between bandwidth and batteries, Project Volta promises to be a step in the right direction.
In addition to battery drain, Google is reducing the amount of time it takes for your apps to process Java code with Android RunTime (ART). ART was created to replace Android’s previous time saver, Dalvik. It does so by compiling application Ahead-of Time (AOT), rather than Just-in Time (JOT) like it currently does with Dalvik. The good news is ART is compatible with the Dalvik executable (Dex) byte-code format, meaning developers won’t have to write new applications to comply with ART.
What took so long? According to Andrei Frumusanu, “[These] native translations of the applications take up space, and this new methodology is something that has been made possible today only due to the vast increases in available storage space on today’s devices, a big shift from the early beginnings of Android devices.” For a more intricate and acronym heavy description of ART, check out his article, A Closer Look at Android RunTime (ART) in Android L.
As for the layman’s interpretation, Android L will use the storage capacity and processing power of modern mobile devices to make your apps run faster by preparing for your actions before your perform them. Think of ART as your device’s prep cook, chopping up and storing all the ingredients an app is going to need before a user places their order.
Android L was made with smart devices in mind, and as such, Google is making their latest operating system even smarter by encouraging it to learn from your habits. This can most noticeably be seen with their revamped notifications, which puts the most pertinent information at the forefront of your lock screen, web browser and everywhere in between. Rather than making you favorite or bookmark your most commonly used apps and interactions, Android L picks up on your habits and re-adjusts to best suit your needs. But the education doesn’t end at screen taps and finger swipes.
Android L has doubled down on voice recognition. Android Wear obviously had a huge influence over this decision. After all, it’s a lot easier to control a smartwatch with a quick verbal command than a series of finger movements. The same could be said for Google Glass, if Google had said ANYTHING about Glass during their keynote. Although the lack of Glass acknowledgement was suspicious, most attendees were too enchanted with Android Wear, Android TV and Android Auto to notice.
Eager to get your fingers on Android L? Well, you’ll most likely have to wait. Unless you’re a developer with a Nexus 5 or 7, the earliest you’ll see Android L is sometime this fall. Below is a summary of the International Business Times list of potential release dates for the major smartphone manufacturers:
Until these devices start entering the streets, we’ll just have to stay hungry for Google’s latest operating system—whatever they end up naming it.
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