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Android N: What's new in the developer preview, what's still to come

Derek Walter | March 18, 2016
There’s a lot to like in the first developer preview, and plenty more still to come.

The rumor mill is churning

Several items that we’ve heard about didn’t make the cut for the first release. Yet there’s still a chance we could see them before the final build. One such feature is support for the Vulkan 3D graphics API. This is a huge deal for what’s called low-overhead graphics rendering, so games run faster, look better, and don’t use as much CPU. It could result in longer battery life, too. It goes along nicely with the theme of Android N using less system resources, so we’ll see if this pops up in another update. 

There’s also been much weeping and gnashing of teeth about the possibility the app drawer may be going away. It’s still here for now, but if Google wants to simplify Android for the masses even further this would be a way to do it. Power users may not like it, but there’s also the possibility Android N could just have the option to use it or not.

There also isn’t any mention of stylus support yet, but now that split-screen is here we expect to see this. The Pixel C shows that Google has big goals for turning Android into a larger-screen productivity device. The platform will need this to keep up with the Surface line and iPad Pro.

Split-screen may be only the beginning of N's multi-window support. There are hints in the code of a "freeform window" mode. You know, the way a desktop OS like Windows or OS X works. It might be just an experiment, but the references are there in the framework-res.apk component.

Apple is all-in with pressure-sensitive displays, which it calls 3D Touch. A couple of Android models have a similar feature, but it’s not baked into the core of the system, so developer support is thin. We wouldn’t be surprised if Android N included an official API for pressure-sensitive displays.

Finally, Google is all-in with VR given its Cardboard line and dabbling with 360-degree cameras. A more native VR mode, much like Samsung has in its latest high-end phones to support GearVR, isn’t that big of a stretch. This would require a substantial amount of under-the-hood work, which is why it probably it’s slated for a later release, if it shows up at all. And given that Google I/O is gong for an outdoor location at the Shoreline Amphitheater this year, you have to wonder if some type of visual show is in the plans.

A long road ahead

Since there are going to be five more updates to come, we’re sure to see more drop in. Monitoring Android N is going to be a long-term project, so we’ll shout as soon as we spot something new with each release. 


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