Meptember is our favourite time of year. It’s the time when the hottest mobile hardware and next generation software finally reaches our hands. Since June, we’ve been testing beta versions of iOS and Android. Now that iOS 9 is out and installed on over 50% of iOS devices (and the iPhone 6S coming out on Friday), it’s time to turn our attention to Google and Android.
Next Tuesday, Google is holding the launch event for its new range of Nexus phones — the Nexus 5X by LG and 6P by Huawei, with the Nexus phones. These will be the first devices running Android Marshmallow straight out of the box. The event is also likely to see the launch of a new Chromecast device with support for Android streaming. This will allow Chromecast to be plugged into any device that accepts a 3.5mm jack, to stream music from your phone to it.
In terms of the Nexus hardware, we can expect the devices to be the first to support USB Type-C connectors — signalling the beginning of the end for Mini USB cables on phones. USB C will allow for faster charging and data transfer. Nexus is the purest form of Android, untouched by manufacturers add ons or tweaks (something that Android purists, and the media, tend to appreciate).
In terms of what we can expect to see with Marshmallow:
Polishing the user experience: Android Lollipop introduced Material Design as the new design guideline for the Android OS across all platforms (from your phone, to wearable, tablet, TV and car). With Marshmallow, Google has focused on stability of the OS.
Voice control from the lock screen
With stock Marshmallow, users can quickly launch into Google voice search by swiping up from the bottom left of the device. In the last version, this action would have launched into the phone — but as fewer people use their smartphones for actual telephone calls, this helps people get to what they need.
This is a new power management scheme that reduces the level of background app activity, when motion sensors identify that the device isn’t being used. This is estimated to double the device’s battery life.
Apps in a vertical list
Android used to be all about swiping across different app screens. Now, when users launch into the app screen, apps are presented in a vertical list, sorted into alphabetical order. This will make it easier for users to find apps, as they can quickly scroll through the (potentially) hundreds of apps they have on their devices.
Additional control over Do Not Disturb
Do Not Disturb can now be customised with more granular control over the amount of time it stays on for, or whether there are calls or messages from select people users are happy to be disturbed by. This could be especially useful if people are expecting an urgent call but don’t want to be distracted by anyone else.
Chrome custom tabs
Custom tabs will provide users with a seamless in-app experience for looking at content that links to a website. Rather than opening an embedded web view, when users click links, a Chrome Tab will open a customised window of Google Chrome on top of the active app. This will mean that users will be able to use their saved passwords, autofill and security features found within Chrome. It also means that developers can ensure a consistent experience with elements of their app design carried over to the Custom Chrome Tab. From both a user and developer perspective, this should greatly enhance the experience of viewing web pages from within apps.
To date, when users click on a link from within an app, they are given an option of what to do next. Though this may be ideal for power users, who want more options and more control over their mobile experience, other users may be confused as to the right action to take. With Android M, Google is introducing App Links, making it possible for apps to automatically verify links and take the right action. This means that developers can link different apps up together, making it possible for users to jump from app to app when clicking a link. For example, if you’re in an app that has a link to Twitter, rather than giving you the option of opening Twitter’s website or app, it will just open the app.
Now on Tap
One of the big features to come to Android Marshmallow is Now on Tap, which will bring context and additional information to what people are looking at. Whilst Apple is going down the route of 3D Touch to identify context within the user experience, Google is using Now on Tap to bring up additional information from a range of different sources. Now on Tap goes further by bringing up a range of options for what users are looking at, such as restaurant reviews, adding reminders or directions to a location.
Launched last week in the US, Android Pay is built in as standard to Android Marshmallow, allowing users to make in-app or physical payments with their fingerprint.
Reset Network Settings
Marshmallow includes the ability to reset all network settings, clearing Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and cellular connectivity issues.
Native fingerprint recognition authentication
Many device manufacturers have implemented fingerprint sensors for the past few years. Now, Google has provided a standard API to allow third-party apps to use fingerprints, in addition to enabling fingerpaying on the Play Store and with Android Pay.
Features for Enterprise
Enhanced controls for corporate-owned, single use devices
With Android Marshmallow the device owner (i.e. IT) will be able control settings, such as disabling or re-enabling the device password. This will be particularly useful for companies to enforce password protection, or access devices if employees have left. Companies can also have control over whether the status bar is enabled or disabled, providing control over what users are able to do. It will also be possible to prevent the screen from turning off while plugged in, helping to ensure that devices being used as information points or kiosks remain on. Both of these two last changes appear to be targeted at Android devices that may be used by the public, ensuring that people can’t make changes to devices.
Enhanced app management
Companies will also be able to silently install or uninstall apps on devices they own. This will help with device management, but also making sure that apps bought or created for businesses can be added to devices. IT will also be able to silently grant managed apps with access to enterprise certificates, without user interaction. Additionally, with Android Marshmallow, IT will also be able to tell devices to automatically accept system updates, or postpone updates by 30 days. This feature will also be able to prevent devices from updating if they’re being used, with the system working out when the best time to reset is.
Control for factory reset
Further improvements to Android for Work include the ability to configure parameters to unlock Factory Reset Protection, such as using NFC on a device within IT. For example, IT may have a device that it keeps in its department which can be used to authenticate a factory reset. IT will also be able to set app restrictions on Google Play services to specify alternative Google accounts for unlocking Factory Reset.
Data usage tracking
IT, or the device owner, will also be able to query data usage tracking of corporate-owned devices. All of these enhancements are focused around making it easier for IT to manage devices that companies deploy to employees, or have for the public to use (such as kiosks or information points).
These features alone are sure to be positive news for IT managers throughout the world. With productivity tasks increasingly being carried out on mobile devices, making them easier to manage helps to reduce additional work or costs IT would have to incur. These features should also mean that the end user experience is better, as users won’t have to worry about installing certificates or carrying out other, more technical tasks.
Of course, for companies to make use of these features, they’ll need to update any Android devices that they already have. This may depend on whether the device manufacturers or mobile operators allow devices to receive the upgrades. With Lollipop now accounting for 21.1% of the install base for Android devices, Android Marshmallow will help to bring refinement to the new design, in addition to a number of new features – which hopefully users with Lollipop will be able to upgrade to.