In 2013, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office released results from a survey, showing that 49% of smartphone users don’t download apps because of privacy concerns. It’s a topic we’ve written about here before, and one we’ve spent time discussing with companies. Many of the concerns came from the permission requests that apps asked for, prior to downloading apps on Android.

If we take a look at Facebook, one of the most used and downloaded apps in the world, we can get a bit of a sense of what might be putting some people off downloading apps. Here is a very small segment of the permissions Google Play asks users to accept, prior to downloading the app:
– add or modify calendar events and send emails to guests without owners’ knowledge
– read calendar events plus confidential information
– precise location (GPS and network-based)
– read your text messages (SMS or MMS)
– read call log
– directly call phone numbers
– modify or delete the contents of your USB storage
– read phone status and identity
– download files without notification
– create accounts and set passwords

Taken at face value, these requests are pretty scary. Yet, it’s these requests that makes Facebook, or many other apps, usable.

At I/O last week, Google addressed this issue by announcing a big change to the way apps ask for permission. With the announcement of Android M, apps will now only request permission from within apps, the first time users try to access features. For example, if you were to open Foursquare and wanted to see places nearby to you, the app would ask permission to access your location. If you wanted to send a restaurant suggestion to a friend or colleague, the app would ask you for permission to your contacts and to send SMS messages. By making this change, Google is making it easier for users to understand why apps ask for permissions, and gives them control over what apps are able to access. Anyone who uses iOS will be familiar with this approach.

One of the reasons this is so important is this simple fact: eight out of 10 phones last year were powered by Android. There are over 4,000 devices available today that run Android, with over a billion users across the globe. Making apps seem less scary, means that developers stand to increase the number of downloads they see, from the biggest mobile platform in the world.

As we’re expecting with Apple’s WWDC next week, Google announced that one of the major things its team has focused on over the past year is polish and quality. Android Lollipop bought in a new design language and other enhancements to Android, meaning that the company is now focused on refining and stabilising its OS.

Outside of this, some of the other big announcements from last week’s show included the introduction of:

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.

App Links
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.

Android Pay
With Android M, Google is making major changes and improvements to its mobile payments system. Android Pay is focused around three core tenets: Simplicity, security and choice. Users simply unlock their phones and put their phones in-front of payment terminals to pay. Each device is given a virtual account number, meaning that your card details aren’t handed over to vendors. Google has made Android Pay open source meaning that any device from 2011, when Android device manufacturers started introducing fingerprint sensors into their devices, will be able to use Android Pay. Developers will also be able to use the APIs for Android Pay from within apps, meaning that banks could build contactless payments into their own apps.

Other refinements or improvements include support for USB Type C connectors which not only introduces reversible cables (current Micro-USB cables require users to put them in, in a specific orientation), but also the ability to turn your phone, or more likely tablet, into a portable charger. Google is also improving text selection within Android, with a new floating toolbar with copy, paste and other functionality.

Google Now is also going to see a large amount of improvements, becoming far more contextual in the way it helps users. The system will be able to recognise natural language and provide automated responses. For example, in emails or SMS, if you receive an email from a colleague asking some questions, Google Now would be able to come up with information about the questions – such as identifying company names, locations or other information.

In terms of Android for Work, Android M should see some other enhancements, including:

Enhanced controls for Corporate-Owned, Single-use devices, where the device owner (i.e. the company) can control additional 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’s also now possible to prevent the screen from turning off while plugged in. Both of these two last changes appear to be targeted at Android devices that may be used by the public, ensuring that users can’t make changes to devices.

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 M, IT will also be able to tell devices to automatically accept system updates, or postpone updates by 30 days or when devices aren’t being used.

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. IT will also be able to set app restrictions on Google Play services to specify alternative Google accounts for unlocking Factory Reset.

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 increasing amounts of productivity being done on mobile devices, making them easier to manage, helps to reduce additional work or costs IT would have to incur. They 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.

We’ll be finding out more about Android M over the coming days and weeks, so will be sure to add more thoughts about the changes. Oh, and if you were wondering – the rumours are that the latest version of Android will be officially called M&M.

To date, Android Lollipop, released last year has reached a 9.7% share of the Android user base. For comparison, iOS 8 also released last year has an install rate of 82%. Though this doesn’t hugely matter, it does show that for developers and companies, there is less of a need to consider app upgrades ahead of the release of Android M.

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