Google today launched the third release of the Android N developer preview, the first one to receive “beta-quality candidate” status. You can start testing your apps against this release by downloading the new preview from developer.android.com/preview. The factory images should arrive shortly for the supported devices: Nexus 5X, Nexus 6, Nexus 6P, Nexus 9, Nexus 9 LTE, Nexus Player, General Mobile 4G, and Pixel C.
Google launched the first Android N developer preview in March and the second preview in April. In past years, Google has unveiled the next Android version and released the accompanying developer preview at its I/O developer conference, but with Android N, the company is starting much earlier — we’re at I/O 2016 and the company is already on the third preview.
There are two big features the Android team is highlighting in the third preview: seamless updates (like in Chrome OS!) and VR mode. The third preview naturally includes everything inside the first two previews, but these features are being shared for the first time today.
Google says that seamless updates are “inspired by how Chromebooks apply updates.” In short, devices running Android N or greater can install system updates in the background. The next time you restart your Android phone or tablet, it will boot up using the updated system image.
Androind N will borrow the dual-partition setup from Chrome OS; the secondary system partition stays dormant and is updated as necessary. Whenever it receives an update, the secondary partition swaps with the primary partition to become active after a reboot. This could be problematic for existing devices already available, so the feature will likely be limited to devices that ship with Android N and above.
Seamless updates are a huge addition that will have massive implications on the Android ecosystem years down the road. The impact will be obvious in terms of security (Nexus and other Android devices already get monthly updates, but they’re not seamless) as well as for developers looking to use features only available on newer Android versions (it takes months for new Android versions to gain serious traction, meaning the most used version of Android is always outdated).
Still, we can’t get too excited. After all, we have to wait for Android N to gain some serious traction. Only then can the Android platform begin reaping the benefits of such a feature.
We’ll be hearing more about virtual reality from Google tomorrow, but today is Android day. In short, the operating system is getting its own virtual reality upgrade. When a user launches an app in VR mode, the Android operating system recalibrates the device into a state specifically optimized for virtual reality.
Google says the team “worked at all levels of the Android stack in N — from how the operating system reads sensor data to how it sends pixels to the display — to make it especially built to provide high quality mobile VR experiences.” Developers will be happy to know that VR mode brings performance enhancements, including single buffer rendering and access to an exclusive CPU core.
VR mode lets apps take advantage of smooth head-tracking, stereo notifications, and low latency graphics. Google says this preview brings motion-to-photon latency on the Nexus 6P down to less than 20ms, which is “the speed necessary to establish immersion for the user to feel like they are actually in another place.”
In short, Google wants Android to be its virtual reality platform. Of course, we knew that was the case thanks to Google Cardboard’s success, but now the company is baking support and improvements right into its mobile operating system.
As you might expect, the new preview also includes a few API changes (check out the diff reports) and a slew of bug fixes. If you find new bugs, Google asks that you report them to the N Developer Preview issue tracker or the N preview community.