The lack of new whizbang user-facing features in O is a sign of Android’s maturity, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see big surprises for non-phone devices.
The big Android story of the week was Android O. Based on what we know about O so far, it would appear to be one of those Android releases, like KitKat or Marshmallow that tunes things up, adds under-the-hood enhancements and builds on already solid foundations.
There are important features for developers, like background app limits, which could significantly improve Android battery life. And new things for users, like native app badge support (finally!) and notification channels. But on the whole, normal Android owners could be forgiven for not really caring about O just yet. That’s understandable. Few phones will get the update this year, if the OS’s track record is any indicator.
Instead, Android O is what you’ll see for the first time next year on your Galaxy S9 or LG G7 or Huawei P11.
The fact that we’re not seeing any huge, sweeping user-facing changes since Nougat speaks to a couple of things. First, Android is a mature, stable OS, and Google isn’t tearing anything down and rebuilding it just for the sake of novelty. Despite ongoing issues moving the billion-plus ecosystem off older OS versions, Android is working pretty well. Even longstanding security weaknesses are starting to be addressed.
That’s not to say Android is going to stand still. O is still a very important release for developers, which is why they’re getting an early look at what’s coming. Eventually it’ll be time to shake things up — with a big new release more akin to the changes of ICS or Lollipop, but that time hasn’t yet arrived.
Read this excellent Jerrytorial to learn how Google might significantly change things up Android P and beyond, with the new Fuschia kernel.
The O Preview is important for developers, with more user-facing features likely to break cover at I/O.
It’s also worth pointing out that what we have in this very first developer preview isn’t anything close to a final, stable build. Dave Burke himself says in this blog post that new features are coming, and the likely venue for that is Google I/O this May.
Tablets are going to be a big piece of the puzzle. Google has struggled with tablets and convertibles, a category which fits between two current areas of strength — smartphones and Chromebooks. This is the weird, hard-to-define space that the rumored Andromeda OS, a new thing combining parts of Android and Chrome, may live. As the Pixel C heads towards unsupported status for new OS updates (in November 2017), Google essentially has to release a new tablet this year. It’s going to be very interesting to see what form that takes, and I suspect the parts of Android O that we haven’t yet seen could form a major part of that.
Aside from all that, the smartphone side of things will continue to tick along, in a year when phone hardware finally becomes interesting again. If recent Galaxy S8 leaks are any indicator, this next round of flagships will look and feel more futuristic than ever — an advance in smartphone design that comes along only once every few years.
So even if Android O isn’t the most exciting release ever for phones, there’s still plenty to look forward to.
Other odds and ends for a working Sunday: