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Google I/O 2016: Android N hits beta, boasts VR and more

Jon Gold | May 19, 2016
Google’s been hard at work under the hood of its Android operating system, announcing performance, security and productivity updates in the new Android N alongside a swanky new suite of VR capabilities called Daydream and version 2.0 of Android Wear.

On the graphical side, a new API called Vulkan offers desktop-like direct access to GPU hardware for developers, which will allow them to wring the best possible frame rates out of demanding applications like games without sacrificing visual flash.

Productivity: Android N brings with it the kind of general usability improvements common to big new Android versions – this time, the addition of native split-screen (already present in some vendor versions of the software) and a handy double-tap on the “recent apps” button for an easy flick back and forth between two different apps, sort of like a mobile Alt+Tab, are the highlights.

There’s also the ability to respond directly to notifications – e.g., tapping a text message notification gives you the option to reply right there – as well as the option to change notification settings for an app simply by long-pressing a notification. (No more having to hunt through the settings menus to silence an obnoxious over-notifier.)

Security: Google provided three main security improvements in Android N – file-based encryption, hardened media frameworks and silent, automatic updates.

File-based encryption allows for more granular protection, according to Burke.

“By encrypting at the file level, instead of the block level, we’re able to better isolate and contain individual end users of the system,” he said.

But neither that nor the improved media framework security is likely to be as noticeable to users as the new silent updater, which, a la Google Chrome, downloads updates automatically and in the background, with no user input. This also has the happy side effect of eliminating the apparently endless “Android is upgrading…app 4 of 5,773” dialogue that occurs during an update.

 

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