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Android O my god! It's finally here (for devs)

Will Google's operating system be an 'oh baby' or an 'oh dear' moment for programmers?

By Thomas Claburn, 22 Mar 2017

Google on Tuesday published a developer-oriented preview of Android O, which turns out to be a software sequel rather than softcore erotica.

Despite the cringe-inducing caveat that "it's early days" – the public relations equivalent of nutritional supplement disclaimers – Google engineering VP Dave Burke manages to outline a handful of useful improvements coming to the Android world.

Android O Developer Preview page

A note on the download page offers a less trite version of that message: "Caution: Developer Preview 1 is for developers only and not intended for daily or consumer use."

Android O continues the battery storyline that played out in Android Nougat. Google's avowed goal is to improve device battery life and responsiveness to interaction. Toward that end, the software limits what apps can do in the background, a sensible alternative to gambling with more energy-dense and potentially combustible lithium-ion batteries.

"These changes will make it easier to create apps that have minimal impact on a user's device and battery," said Burke, pointing developers to documentation on background execution limits and background location limits.

Google's dev literature explains that apps running in the background will be limited in how they can access background services and that apps will no longer be able to use manifest declarations to register for most implicit broadcasts – device-wide events not targeted at a specific app.

Android O also makes Notifications more manageable by introducing notification channels – app-defined categories to sort notification content. Users can control these channels individually, making notifications less of a downpour-or-drought model.

Filling out forms with credit card numbers and other personal information should be easier in Android O, thanks to the Autofill Framework. Standard application views will work with Autofill automatically. Custom views can use the autofill API to specify metadata that's exposed to the Autofill Framework.

Other improvements include:

  • Fonts in XML, which lets developers bundle fonts as application resources.
  • Picture-in-Picture Display, which lets users continue watching videos while using other applications.
  • Adaptive icons, which shift shape based on a device-specific mask.
  • Support for wide gamut images.

There's support for the LDAC codec (high-quality Bluetooth audio) and Wi-Fi Aware. The Telecom framework extends the ConnectionService APIs to make the integration of third-party calling apps work better.

What's more, there's a new native API called Audio for high-performance, low-latency audio, a longstanding issue among game developers. WebView makes multiprocess mode, introduced in Nougat, the default and adds an API for error and crash handling. It also can run URLs through Google's Safe Browsing API.

Also, Android is gaining support for Java 8 language APIs and the Android Runtime has been improved, with 2x performance gains in some benchmarks.

The Android O developer site has more details. Google is soliciting feedback from developers, so now's the time to test things out if you don't mind unstable software. ®

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