Google today launched the first Android N developer preview, available for download now at developer.android.com/preview. Later today, the company will also debut the Android Beta Program, which lets you get early Android builds via over-their-air updates on Nexus devices.
In the past, Google has unveiled the next Android version and released the accompanying developer preview at its I/O developer conference. This year, the company is starting even earlier: I/O 2016 is scheduled for May 18 to May 20.
The Android N developer preview includes an updated SDK with system images for testing on the official Android emulator and on Nexus 6, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Nexus Player, Nexus 9, and Pixel C devices. Google is even throwing in a $150 discount on the Pixel C to encourage developers to help test Android N on a tablet.
Today’s preview includes the following APIs and features, but Google is promising developers a lot more to come:
- Multi-window — A new manifest attribute called android:resizableActivity is available for apps targeting N and above. This attribute lets you use split-screen modes on phones and tablets, and even specify minimum allowable dimensions. There is also a picture-in-picture mode for devices like TVs or playing videos within apps (set android:supportsPictureInPicture to true).
- Direct reply notifications — The RemoteInput notification API, originally added to Android Wear, now works for phones and tablets. In short, you can let your users reply to incoming message notifications without leaving the notification shade.
- Bundled notifications — The Notification.Builder.setGroup() method lets you group notifications from the same app together. Grouped notifications can be expanded into individual notifications by using a two-finger gesture or tapping the new expansion button.
- Efficiency — Doze in Marshmallow reduces battery life usage when your device is stationary. In N, Doze additionally saves your battery whenever the screen turns off. If you’ve already adapted your app for Doze, you don’t have to do anything else.
- Project Svelte — Google is still working to reduce the memory needs of Android so that it can run on a much broader range of devices. If you use JobScheduler for background work in your Android app, you don’t have to make any changes.
- Improved Java 8 language support — Android’s Jack compiler lets you use many popular Java 8 language features, including lambdas, default and static methods, streams, and functional interfaces, on Android versions as far back as Gingerbread. The new features help reduce boilerplate code.
For now, Google emphasizes that the preview release is not intended for daily use or consumer use. The company adds that the Android N developer preview system images will be updated “often” during the developer preview program. And the Android team does plan to invite consumers to try it out before the final release.
So why is Google giving the world a peek at the next Android version sooner (more than two months) than before? As you might guess, the company is hoping to get feedback from developers and manufacturers even earlier. Google specifically notes that it wants developers to get their apps ready for N sooner and that the earlier preview will allow it to hand off the final N release to device makers “this summer.”
Hiroshi Lockheimer, Google’s SVP for Android, Chrome OS, and Chromecast, elaborated on the timing a little more in a separate blog post. Here’s the crux of it:
As we look to the next release of Android, N, you’ll notice a few big changes aimed at you as developers: it’s earlier than ever, it’s easier to try and we’re expanding the ways for you to give us feedback. We hope these changes will ensure that you are heard and reflected — that’s what makes Android stronger.
Lockheimer ended his post with “what will the N-release be named? We’re nut tellin’ you yet.”
Let me be the first to point out the obvious.