P is for preview with Google's latest Android developer release


Android handset lovers, rejoice. Good ol' master Google has just let loose the developer preview of Android P, the next version of the operating system. Developers can get cracking right away as there are system images available, though only for Pixel devices for the time being. The release has no name yet, but we're betting on Pizza or maybe even Pepsi, or its equivalent PoorCoke. Meanwhile, let's take a look at the user-facing highlights in this release.

The headlining feature is probably an again-revamped notifications panel. Applications can now add images to notifications, and the system should also identify group conversations as well as the people in it. Users can also save replies as drafts or use system-suggested replies.

GPS location in phones already works pretty much flawlessly, but Android P takes things a little further with support for Wi-Fi RTT (known as the IEEE 802.11mc standard). That feature means that the phone and apps can know your indoors location by reaching out to nearby Wi-FI access points (APs). The pinpointing can be accurate down to a radius of one to two meters if there are three or more APs in range. Google says this enables features like asking a virtual assistant to "turn on this light," or have the handset display special offers for specific products inside a supermarket. The Android team notes that the APs don't keep location data—the process is all done in the phone.

Surprising absolutely no-one that's not living under a rock, Android P adds API-level support for the latest regrettable fad in the phone world, screen notches. Apps will be aware of the existance of a notch and its shape and alter their behavior accordingly. Developers can simulate a notch on the SDK, too.

Multi-camera setups are also a common feature on high-end handsets, and Android P has system-level support for handling and mixing the output of several snappers together. On the image topic, there's now API support for HDR VP9 video and HEIF images. The latter in particular is rather interesting as it can enable massive space savings when storing pictures.

Nobody likes data-hogging apps, and Android P has a few nifty features to curb excessive data usage. Applications can now declare how much network data they're expecting to consume and how often they could be prefetching data. In turn, Android P's scheduling services can prioritize network requests appropriately according to timing, size, and network conditions like being on an unmetered connection or a busy one.

Besides the big topics outlined above, Android P also offers touch-ups to accessibility functionality and power efficiency. Apps should start a little faster and take up less RAM, thanks to improvements to Android's runtime handler ART. Security-minded folks will also appreciate a unified system-level fingerprint dialog and improved private key handling.

Android upgrades to existing handsets have always been a sore spot, and our expectation is that about zero of the handsets recently announced at MWC will have it. However, starting September 2018, all applications in the Play Store will be required to target API Level 26, aka Android 8.0 Oreo. Along with Project Treble, this move might go some way toward easing upgrade pains for OEMs.

Android P should be out in Q3 2018, according to Google's preview schedule. The company will talk at length about the upcoming release at its I/O 2018 conference.

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