MOUNTAIN VIEW. CALIF. — After A, I, V, and R (as in artificial intelligence and virtual reality), the next most important letter at Google’s just-concluded I/O conference here had to have been N.
That’s the letter assigned to the next version of its Android operating system, the subject of a major part of the keynote Wednesday. Google will almost certainly name it after a dessert beginning with “n,” in keeping with its habit of thinking with its sweet tooth when christening new Android releases.
(You can suggest your own “N” names at android.com/n.)
While we wait for a ruling from the Google officials on that, here’s what we do know is coming from Android N when it ships later this summer:
Split screen mode: Years after Samsung added an option to some of its Android devices to run two apps alongside each other — after which Apple did the same thing in iOS 9 — Google is catching up. You’ll be able to run two apps at once, either stacked one above the other or side by side.
Simpler multitasking: Switching from one app to another should also get simpler in N, where a tap of the recent-apps button will longer show a seemingly infinite list of every app you’ve opened in recent history.
Instead, Android N will automatically sweep away apps you haven’t used in a while — Google’s research showed that most people only flipped through seven apps in this list--and let you swipe the whole thing clean. To jump back to the last app you had open, just tap the recent-apps button twice.
More interactive notifications: Android N will take an existing option to respond to an app’s notification after it appears atop the screen by letting you carry on entire conversations within the notification view. Where a messaging app might now only show a preview of a message, in N it will add a “Reply” button.
Longer battery life: The current Android Marshmallow release has a great feature called Doze that suspends most app activity when the phone isn’t moving. N will expand this function to the times when the phone may be moving but its screen is off — as in, the large amount of time a phone is not being used because it’s in a pocket or purse.
More efficient apps: Reworked code should cut down on the time apps need to install and should also trim their storage needs. And a new Data Saver option will let you constrain an app’s appetite for wireless data.
Security tweaks: The Android components that play media get locked down further in N, with much more limited access to the rest of the system. It’s a response to the “Stagefright” vulnerability that last year could have been used to attack a phone just by sending it a malicious multimedia message.
Android security updates will also download and install in the background, much as they do in Google's Chrome OS--and when you restart the phone to compete that install, you won't have a lengthy wait while Android essentially reinstalls every app.
But for your Android phone in particular to get these features, its manufacturer and your wireless carrier (unless you bought it directly from the manufacturer) will both have to ship an Android N update to your phone. And the issue of how many existing devices will get such an update represents a much bigger mystery than Android N’s name.