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August 7, 2018

Android Pie: The best new features so far

by John_A

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Everyone loves new features, and Android gets new ones every year when it’s time for a new version.

In 2018, that means Android Pie and there are a handful of new great things to check out on top of the changes that make Android more efficient and easier for developers to build applications. We’ve picked out the best of these new features that you can look forward to having once your phone gets updated or you buy a new model running Android Pie.

Notch support

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Now that phones have notches at the top, Android has tools developers can use to work around them. Love them or hate them, if a notch has to be there at least software can be developed to mitigate the drawbacks.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the clock is now on the left side so things can be symmetrical around a notch. Developers will also be able to change the status bar height automatically based on how far the notch protrudes into the display area. this should eliminate the letterbox effect. If an app is designed for full-screen display the developers can define an area where a notch would be so that nothing important is placed there.

For developers who don’t have phones with notches for testing purposes, they can simulate one on their display using Android’s developer tools.

HDR and HEIF support

Android Pie includes native support for the royalty-free HDR VP9 profile. This means that HDR movies using the profile can be watched using any media player. Previously, the media player app needed to support HDR profiles to display content correctly on an HDR display.

Android P also supports the HEIF image compression format. HEIF stands for High Efficiency Image Format and pictures using it can store twice as much data using the same size file as a JPEG image, meaning the pictures displayed have a much higher quality.

These changes are more important than they sound. HDR VP9 and HEIF are becoming popular and without support, your phone wouldn’t be able to display anything using either. More importantly, you wouldn’t know why nothing was being displayed and need to troubleshoot on your own. That’s not a good experience, so we’re really glad to see them supported.

Adaptive Battery

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Google is leveraging their massive AI clusters to help your battery last longer.

Adaptive Battery learns how and when you use the apps you use and can make adjustments that keep them from eating away at your battery when you aren’t looking at them. Android apps have multiple components that often run in the background and doing things that way can cause the processor and network to be active when you don’t need it to be.

When the system notices it can step in and manage an app for you it will prompt you, and if you say yes that app won’t do anything you don’t absolutely need it to do until you open it again. Added with the Adaptive Brightness feature, this means a substantial stretching of the time between charges.

Indoor navigation

Android Pie introduces support for the IEEE 802.11mc Wi-Fi protocol, also known as WiFi RTT (Round Trip Time).

WiFi RTT support means your phone can use its Wi-Fi signal (when on a network with support) for location services. RTT is precise and can locate your phone within 1-2 meters, which is more precise than the GPS signal you use outdoors.

While your first thought at hearing this might be indoor turn-by-turn navigation, this protocol can also be used for things like helping find a restroom by sending an alert or letting multiple people keep track of where each is while on a Wi-FI network with RTT support.

Multi-camera API

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API stands for Application Programming Interface and what this means is that devices with two cameras will now have both be supported by the standard Android camera tools developers use. That means any camera app can support all two-camera setups and you aren’t forced to use the included camera app with your phone.

These APIs include features like zoom, portrait/bokeh, and 3D stereo vision as well as the current Android camera functions. This will help developers get their apps working well on devices with multiple cameras, and allow them to build one version that works with every phone. That means you’ll see your favorite app get updated to support your two-camera phone much, much faster.

Notification improvements

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Android Pie introduces support for “more informative” notifications.

You will be able to see a preview of an attached image, see the last few messages in a conversation, and use Google Assistant-powered smart replies from the notification shade.

We see improvements to notifications with every new Android release. That’s understandable, as Android’s notifications are one of its strong points and we see their influence in other operating systems, both mobile and on the desktop. That happens when you build something great.

With every new set of features also comes the wait for developers to update their apps to include them. Sometimes they “just work” and other times some of them will work, but usually to get the full extent an app will need to be updated. Changes in notifications for Android Pie are no different.

A rotation button

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Android Pie has a new way to control how the display rotates, and it’s great!

You can lock your rotation settings in place so that things stay vertical no matter how you tilt your phone, and a new button in the system bar will change things with just a tap. Perfect for bedtime readers.

Changes to Google’s Launcher

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There are also some changes to Google’s interface on the Pixel line. These changes can be incorporated into the user interface by other companies but aren’t required as they aren’t part of the core Android system. On the Pixel phones, we’ll see things like a new volume slider widget that appears on the side instead of the top when you press a volume key, a more colorful settings menu, and a revised layout for Quick settings.

Some of these are already present in other phones from companies like Samsung and LG, while others might make their way there if support was added in Android that makes them easy to include. Just know that you might not see any of these when your phone gets updated.

These need developer support

As we see every year with a new version of Android, most of the new features have one thing in common — they need developers to update their apps to include them. This can be frustrating because it takes so long for most phones to get updated. Developers have to prioritize their time, and when the bulk of phones are running an older version of Android, supporting those phones is the priority. Any changes that introduce new features have to be written with backward compatibility in mind so the user-base doesn’t have a poor experience.

Because of this, many of your favorite apps will take a while to get updated with the features you want to see. That’s better than breaking an app for billions of other phones, though. Eventually, the most popular apps will receive an update to support what’s new and everyone is happy.

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