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Hands on: What's new and noteworthy with Android N

JR Raphael | May 27, 2016
A detailed look at the most meaningful changes coming to Android via this year's yet-to-be-named N release.

With Google's I/O developers' conference behind us, it's time to start looking forward to what's next in the world of Android.

The most prominent thing is Google's rapidly approaching Android release, currently known only as Android "N." (The company has yet to reveal the full name or version number.) While the software itself isn't expected to arrive until sometime this summer, we're getting an increasingly clear picture of the fresh features and improvements it'll provide.

I've been using the pre-release versions of Android N since Google's first developer preview back in March and all the way through the most recent update put out last week (which is available to anyone with an eligible device, though be warned that it isn't entirely stable). While the software is still in flux and its elements aren't guaranteed to remain unchanged, we've seen enough at this point to get a pretty good idea of what's in the works.

Here's a tour of the most significant new elements in Android N as of now -- and why they all matter.

(Remember: Since manufacturers are able to customize Android as they like, some specifics of the software may vary from one device to the next once N is actually released, as will the timing of when the upgrade becomes available. What's described here is Google's core vision for the software -- which is what's used on its own Nexus devices and what all manufacturers use as a base for their efforts.)

Multi-window mode

The marquee feature in Android N is without a doubt its new multi-window mode. The feature makes it possible to split a device's display in half and view two apps onscreen at the same time.

02 android n multi window
The new multi-window mode makes it possible to split a device's display in half and view two apps onscreen at the same time.

Sound familiar? It should: Manufacturers like Samsung have been adding that ability into their Android devices for quite a while now. Android N, however, marks the first time the function is being offered as a native part of the actual operating system -- which means it's the first time it'll be available on all Android devices, regardless of who makes them, and the first time developers will be able to optimize their apps to work consistently well with the feature across the entire platform.

Taking advantage of multi-window mode on Android N is quite easy: While using any app, you simply press and hold the system Overview key (typically the square-shaped icon next to the Back and Home icons). That shrinks the app down to half of the screen and brings up cards showing your most recently used apps in the other half. All you do then is select the second app you want from the stack of cards, and ta-da: You've got two apps running simultaneously on your display.

 

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