Android O is shaping up to be exactly what Android needs

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Today’s Google I/O presentation was as wide-ranging as the company’s various ventures into future technology, though the biggest cheers of excitement were inevitably reserved for Android. I just got my first taste of Google’s next iteration, codenamed Android O, and it looks like it’s targeting exactly the areas where Google’s mobile OS needed improvement.

Battery life, a thing that matters to all users at all times, is getting a nice helping hand from a couple of changes that limit resource consumption by apps running in the background. When a background app wants a location update, for instance, Android O will feed it the user’s last known location instead of activating the GPS or other hardware to collect a fresh location. Then, when the app is in the foreground, it regains its privilege of being able to poll for current location info. If you’re thinking that’s how it always should have been, I totally agree.

Google’s umbrella term for the unsexy but essential under-the-hood improvements in Android O is “vitals.” My other highlight from among them is the massively improved bootup time: my personal Google Pixel took more than twice as long to start up than Google’s demo Pixel running O. I also find Android O runs very fast and smooth already, despite being only beta software. Naturally, not everything works flawlessly in the new OS yet, so I can’t judge how well Google is doing with its other vital bulletpoint, stability, but the first impression I’ve obtained is a positive one.

The more visible changes include a streamlined Settings menu (when has a Settings menu not looked in need of streamlining?), another gradual update to how notifications work, and new app badging à la the iPhone. Google calls these notification dots, and it adds a nice twist to the idea by automatically color-matching the dots to the app icon. A long press on an app with a notification dot on it lets you access a secondary menu where you can swipe that alert away without having to hunt it down in among your agglomeration of notifications in the tray.

Perhaps the biggest small change in Android O is the addition of picture-in-picture functionality. It allows YouTube Red subscribers to punt a video they’re watching to a small window — positionable anywhere on the screen — and carry on using their phone as usual. The Google Duo video-chatting app also supports this behaviour, but those two apps are the full extent of this functionality for now. I’d really love to see this made available to all YouTube users, and once third-party app makers like Netflix jump on board, it’s likely to grow into a popular feature.

Android O is littered with little nips and tucks that just enhance the user experience without necessarily being visible or apparent. At this stage in Android’s evolution, this approach feels like the best one to take, and I suspect we’ll all be just as aggrieved about not having the Android O update on our non-Google phones as we have in previous years of slow Android upgrades.*

*Google claims it’s made some other changes in the OS that will make Android more modular and thus expedite Android updates, but I’ll believe that when I see it, not before.

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