Developers usually have to wait for the Google I/O conference in May before getting their paws on the latest Android builds, but this year the Chocolate Factory has let its version 7.0, or N, build out of the bag well before the show.
"We're doing something a little different this year by releasing the preview early ... really early," said Dave Burke, VP of engineering at Android.
"By releasing a 'work in progress' build earlier in development, we have more time to incorporate developer feedback. Also, the earlier preview allows us to hand off the final N release to device makers this summer, so they can get their hands on the latest version of Android earlier than ever."
It's a smart move, and one that'll be popular with Android developers, who will have a chance to use I/O to troubleshoot problems on the OS based on experience, rather than just listening to how wonderful it is on the day.
The new Android N build isn't ready for prime time as yet, and developers will only be able to run it on Nexus 6, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Nexus Player, Nexus 9, and Google's Pixel C fondleslab. Developers who want a Pixel C can also buy one at a $150 discount from today.
The biggest change in the operating system is the inclusion of multi-window support with the android:resizableActivity manifest attribute. Developers can now write apps that open multiple sizable windows on a single phone or tablet screen – allowing drag and dropping of data between the two.
Picture-in-picture viewing for the Nexus Player is a part of this, with a new android:supportsPictureInPicture feature that Google hopes will get developers coding for the media player. More details on this are likely at Google's forthcoming developer conference.
The new build is also claiming to be even thriftier with the power than Android Marshmallow, with an improved Doze function that saves power use on standby and from apps running in the background. Google warned developers to add Doze to their code as soon as possible because this is going to be a major feature of power management in the future.
Notifications are also getting a major revamp. For one-off notifications like a text message, Android N will now support a direct, in-window reply option, just like with the Wear operating system.
Notifications can also be bundled so that the same app can send multiple messages with a single action. A two-fingered gesture (no, not that one) or other button presses will bring the full roster of notifications up and ready for action.
The other big update is in better Java 8 support. Google is moving Java onto its "Java Android Compiler Kit" (aka Jack) and is adding support for Java's default and static methods, streams, and functional interfaces.
Android N is still a work in progress, but Google is getting it out there early and is keen to make a go of getting this onto handsets as soon as possible. In the meantime, developers can go wild on the software and will have some interesting questions to ask on May 18 when I/O opens its doors. ®