Google asks the public to name the forthcoming Android N operating system

Not 'Namey McNameface' pleads Burke

Google I/O 2016 Google has been using its developers conference to show off forthcoming improvements in Android N and is taking the unusual move of asking the public to name it.

Traditionally Android builds have been named after foodstuffs, like Jellybean or KitKat – the later picked not for marketing dollars but as an attempt to show how "fun" Google is. Now the next iteration of Android, version N, needs a name and the public have been asked to come up with it.

"Just don't call it Namey McNameface," said the VP of Android engineering Dave Burke, alluding to the recent fracas over the naming of the UK's latest research vessel.

"We will be picking the name from the suggestions – it's not a vote."

The developer preview of Android N has been out for a few months now, but today Google has released a third preview that Burke said was a bonafide Beta build that could be run on a Nexus phone or tablet, and detailed a few additions to the OS.

We already knew that Android N is going to be adding a new 3D engine called Vulkan, which is both faster and smaller. But Android is also getting a new JIT compiler that Burke claimed is 75 per cent faster at booting apps and compresses code down to 50 per cent of its current size.

On the surface

As for the user interface, there are some new features: split screen, windows in windows, and drag and drop capability. All Android N phones and fondleslabs will be able to run two screens simultaneously in portrait and landscape mode.

Android TVs can run a window in a window to allow you to watch TV and do other things, Burke said. In both cases data will now be drag and droppable between the screens.

The device notifications bar is also being updated. When a user pulls down from the top of the screen to access things like turning WiFi or location data on and off, the five most-used notification tabs will be displayed at the top of the screen and users will be able to customize the whole page.

On the apps front, Android N will have a new feature, still in development, called Instant Apps. This allows a user to click on a link to a site that has its own app and just download a few parts of the software to help the link run more smoothly and with more features, but without installing the full code.

Instant Apps, when it's finished, won't be just for Android N users however. Google will roll it out to all Android builds back to KitKat for maximum coverage. On the battery front, N will have an enhanced Doze mode, dubbed Project Svelte. With the current build the phone will slip into power-saving doze mode if the phone is stationary and on battery. With N, doze mode will be accessed even if the phone is in motion but isn't being used, like being stuck in a bag or a pocket.

As for saving data, Android N will allow users to cap the amount of data that individual apps use. This is good news for someone on a tight data plan, and should help rein in talkative apps.

Security has also been beefed up in N. The build will include a feature from ChromeOS that allows the phone to download an updated image of the operating system in the background without bothering the user, and patch the OS remotely.

Android N will also introduce file-level encryption for individual chunks of data, to work in tandem with the existing phone encryption systems. The oft-patched media handling software has been rebuilt into separate silos, like codecs and file structures, to reduce the attack surface and dissemination possibilities for hackers.

The future of VR and Wear

Google has been expected to make a virtual reality announcement and Clay Bavor, the firm's VP of VR, said that Android N had been built with the virtual world in mind.

The VR platform is called Daydream, and will be released this Autumn along with a developer toolkit and a reference design for a virtual reality headset that uses an Android phone. Also coming is a handheld controller to allow you to maneuver in the virtual space.

The VR experience does require more sensors in a phone to be really good, so you'll probably need to upgrade your handset. Bavor said that a dozen smartphone makers will have new VR-ready kit available this year.

Google has also signed up a lot of partners for content. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are going to be publishing VR content, and Hulu, Netflix, and IMAX will also be broadcasting virtual shows for end users.

YouTube is being totally rewritten with VR in mind, Bavor said, and will be hosting lots of VR content when daydream finally launches. Existing content will also be adapted for VR viewers.

Finally Android Wear is going to be getting an overhaul, with Wear 2.0 to be released shortly. The new operating system will allow people to write messages on their phone using fingers, and allow apps to run on a smart watch without being tied to a nearby mobile phone.

Wear apps are also getting smarter. Wear 2.0 will allow them to exchange information with each other – for example an exercise app can share data with a dietary app on the number of calories used in a workout.

The one thing that wasn't mentioned was a firm release date for Android N. Based on what's been said today, expect it in early Autumn. ®

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