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February 12, 2016

Android N features: everything confirmed, rumored and expected

by John_A

Andy-Android-2

With Google I/O 2016 fast approaching, the new Android N release is not far away either. As confirmed at last year’s I/O, Google will now release major new Android updates yearly, following the path established with Lollipop. So for this year, we know we’ll see the Android N developer preview at I/O, followed by monthly(ish) updates until the full Android 7.0 release in October. Here are all the confirmed, rumored and expected Android N features.

Confirmed Android N features

Android N release date

As mentioned above, we already know that the Android N release date will be May 18, during Google’s annual developer conference, Google I/O 2016. The Android N developer preview will be shown off during Sundar Pichai’s keynote lecture on day one of the conference and the factory images will be made available later in the day.

The Android N release date will be May 18, after the Google I/O 2016 keynote.

The final Android 7.0 release date will coincide with the launch of the next-gen Nexus releases at the end of October or early November. This Android 7 release will be limited to Nexus devices at first and make its way to all other manufacturer devices and carriers networks over the next six months or so.

Multi-window mode

The first Android N feature to be confirmed was multi-window mode, with the confirmation coming, obscurely enough, via a Reddit AMA with the Pixel C team. During the discussion, Andrew Bowers confirmed that “split screen is in the works”. Of course, you can already get a version of stock multi-window mode in Android Marshmallow, but it’s far from polished.

android-6-0-multi-window-1

Better tablet support

During the same Reddit AMA, Pixel C team member Glen Murphy came right out and confessed: “we’re working hard on a range of enhancements for this form factor.” While he didn’t go any further, these Android N tablet features could include: more functional multi-tasking (and I’m not just talking about multi-window here), a real push for tablet-optimized apps (rather than just blown-up phone apps), customizable nav buttons, DPI switcher, stock floating mini-apps and tablet-specific System UI Tuner features.

Moving to OpenJDK from Java APIs

Following a sticky situation with Oracle over “rewritten” Java APIs , Google will officially be making the switch to OpenJDK in Android N. It’s still Oracle code, but OpenJDK is, as the name, suggests, part of the open-source Java Development Kit. As Google confirmed: “we plan to move Android’s Java language libraries to an OpenJDK-based approach, creating a common code base for developers to build apps and services.” The change should make development for Android N that much simpler and external changes will be negligible.

Android M Easter Egg-8

Rumored Android N features

Android N name

The Android N name is the biggest game of the year, even more so than “who will make the 2016 Nexus?” You don’t need to have a sophisticated knowledge of the Android ecosystem or market to have a horse in this race, simply pick your favorite dessert that starts with an “n” and place your bets. The firm favorite currently is Android 7.0 Nutella, with Nougat coming a close second and a variety of indian desserts also being bandied about. Sundar Pichai even said he’d ask his mother or let fans vote for the official Android N name.

Sundar Pichai said he’d ask his mother or let fans vote for the official Android N name.

Stock stylus support

As we recently reported, Samsung may have hinted at stock stylus support in Android N by planning to retire several of the main S Pen features from its Look API. The Samsung developers page makes the notation that these features “will be deprecated in Android N” – a term used to describe a soon-to-be-obsolete feature. The natural assumption is that these stylus features will appear in stock Android 7.0. The same thing happened with battery saving in Lollipop and fingerprint support in Marshmallow.

nexus 6p vs samsung galaxy note 5 aa (24 of 26)

ChromeOS integration

This one is a peculiar one. Last year The Wall Street Journal “confirmed” that Android and Chrome OS would be merged, only to have Google set the record straight soon after. While the initial report claimed that Chrome OS would be killed off, Google responded by saying it was fully committed to Chrome OS and the platform was “here to stay” but that it is looking at “ways to bring together the best of both operating systems.” It’s highly likely that we’ll see at least some implementation of Chrome OS and Android compatibility in Android N.

New messaging app

There’s a rumor doing the rounds that Google will be introducing an all-new messaging app with Android N to replace the largely unpopular Hangouts SMS/MMs integration. The new app will be based on the Rich Communications Services (RCS) platform, which allows for much more than just talk and text to be shuttled around, including video chat, file sharing and instant messaging. Google has publicly admitted its commitment to the RSC standard, but there’s no telling yet if it’s anywhere near ready for inclusion in Android N.

hangouts message google now 2

Expected Android N features

Return of the Dark Theme

The Dark Theme that appeared temporarily in the Android M preview builds vanished again to widespread dismay and still hasn’t made it back into an official Android Marshmallow update. Considering it’s such a popular feature request and AMOLED displays look set to take over the display market, we can only assume it will sneak back in as an Android N feature much like stock multi-window mode. Stock theme support would also be nice, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves too much.

Improved Smart Lock for Passwords

Android Marshmallow introduced Smart Lock for Passwords, a basic Google password manager that can store your app passwords so that any time you re-install an app you will be automatically logged in. Combined with Android’s revitalised app backup, the idea is that the whole process of setting up a new device is seamless. The only problem is that not that many apps support Smart Lock for passwords yet so its value is still largely underutilized. With any luck, Android N will see a lot more apps supporting the feature.

Google Smart Lock passwords aa

MOAR battery optimization

Battery optimization is and always will be one of the most important aspects of any Android release. Lollipop introduced a stock Battery Saver Mode and Marshmallow introduced Doze Mode and App Standby. Android N will likely refine these features – and hopefully allow Doze to work even when it’s in your pocket, much like Greenify’s new hibernation features do – and tweak Battery Saver in ways that make the default state of your phone a power-conservation mode.

Enhanced security and app stability

With the appearance of granular app permissions in Marshmallow, Google took a major step in the right direction: allowing users to choose the app permissions they were comfortable with on an app-by-app basis and reject those they felt were unreasonable. Because it was such early days, some apps that weren’t updated to allow such user-facing control tended to behave erratically. By the time Android N rolls out, Google should have committed devs to updating their apps to provide the same level of stability with or without certain non-critical permissions allowed.

Did we miss anything? Let us know what Android N features you’re expecting or looking forward to in the comments.

Read next: All the MWC 2016 announcements you can expect!

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