Here’s Everything New in Android O Developer Preview 2
By Mishaal Rahman
It’s that time of year again. Google’s yearly I/O developer conference is like Christmas for Android enthusiasts. Every year the company bombards us with news related to everything Google has been working on in recent months. We’ve been extensively covering all the latest news from this year’s I/O, but one thing we haven’t gotten around to until after today’s keynote event was over was trying out the latest Android O beta release. But it’s been a few hours since Android O’s Beta Program has been live, and Google has even posted flashable images for anyone on compatible devices to try. We’ve now taken an in-depth look at Android O Developer Preview 2, and we’re ready to share what we’ve found.
Redesigned Quick Settings
One of the most glaring changes made in this new Developer Preview is the redesigned quick settings pages. As you can see in the screenshots below, the quick settings is now in a gray scale theme. Compared to the black and white theme that has been prominent in Android since Lollipop, I have to say I’m not a fan of this redesign.
Although, I am a fan of the other changes made to the quick settings screen. It now displays your carrier in the top left and the signal, time, and battery percentage in the top right. The buttons to edit the quick setting tiles, change user profiles, and shortcut settings have been moved below the quick settings tiles. The latter button is something I often use, and on a larger screen phone it will be a lot easier to press now that it isn’t stuck at the top of the screen. The date has also been moved down below, to the left of these aforementioned buttons, but personally I think it would make more sense to stick it way up top in the middle just like many custom ROMs do.
Change Icon Shapes on Pixel Launcher
With the launch of the Google Pixel and Pixel XL running Android 7.1, Google hoped that developers would start adding round icon support in their applications. Although ultimately whether or not your device displays round icons is up to the OEM, many developers started to slowly introduce round icons into their apps. In order to make it easier for developers to support multiple different icon shapes, Google introduced Adaptive Icons when they announced the first Android O Developer Preview. And now, we can finally see this feature in action in Google’s own Pixel Launcher.
As you can see below, there is a new setting in the Pixel Launcher that lets you pick between the normal circle icon (no change), Square icons, Rounded Corner Rectangle icons, Squircles, and Cylindrical icons.
Widget Selection from Long-Pressing the Icon
Long-pressing on an app brings up a list of available app shortcuts since Android 7.1 Nougat. Now, Google is adding an additional feature when you long-press on an app’s icon. You can now get quick access to that app’s widgets when you long-press on the icon. If you have installed a ton of apps that each have multiple widgets, this new method to access widgets will definitely be faster than scrolling through a huge list of all your widgets. However, this feature is only available on the Pixel Launcher on Android O Developer Preview 2 for now.
Notification Dots on the Home Screen
This one we’ve already covered in a previous article when it was announced live during the keynote event at Google I/O, so do take a look at that article to see this new feature in action.
Night Light Introduces Intensity Slider
Night Light is one of the more useful features available on the Google Pixel and Pixel XL, though a similar feature has existed in OEM software since before Google released these two devices. The Night Light feature on Android 7.1 and the first Android O Developer Preview only offers the ability for you to change when it activates, but starting with the second Android O Developer Preview you can now change the intensity of the color filter as well.
This is certainly a useful feature to have when you want to adjust how much red-tint is shown on your screen. Keep in mind that Night Light is still not supported on the Nexus 5X or Nexus 6P (due to lack of hardware compatibility according to Google), so you’ll still have to resort to using third-party apps or custom ROMs to replicate this feature.
Autofill Service is now Available
Android O is finally introducing native support for password management applications. We’ve previously seen what this will look like in action, and I’ve talked before about the other benefits that Android O’s Autofill Framework API will bring, but now we can actually start using the feature for ourselves.
If you go to Settings –> System –> Languages & Input then expand the “Advanced” section you will now see the Autofill service under “Input assistance.” In this menu, you can select an Autofill service to be used for entry of credentials. Currently only Google Play Service’s autofill service is available (com.google.android.gms/.autofill.service.AutofillService). Hopefully we’ll start to see our favorite password management apps roll out with updates for the Autofill Framework, but given that this is only a Developer Preview, it’s best to give those developers time to get it working.
Enhanced Battery Management Options
Android O is making some drastic changes to the way broadcast receivers work (basically, they’re killing off the vast majority of implicit broadcast receivers) and they are also limiting how often an app can request location. These two changes will drastically affect battery life and memory performance on your device, but exactly how those changes work we’ll dive into in a later article (so stay tuned).
But for now, there are some user-facing changes that we can already start to appreciate. Within the battery settings screen, there’s now new indicators that tell you how long ago your last full charge was, your screen usage since the last charge, and app usage since the last charge. These are useful diagnostic data so you can tell if your device is lasting as long as you would expect it to, and if it isn’t, which app may be the root cause of your phone dying so quickly.
If you do discover a bad-behaving app, you can enter its particular battery usage page and disable its background activity permission. There are also battery usage alerts added to the battery settings screen.
Picture-in-Picture Mode has its own Permissions Page, New Gesture in System UI Tuner
Picture-in-picture mode coming to phones is something we’ve known about since the initial release of Android O. We were the first to figure out how to enable it using a special key code back on Android O DP, but now that the feature is more polished Google is ready to allow users to try it out.
Within System UI Tuner, there’s now a special page dedicated to picture-in-picture mode. Within this page is a new setting that enables a drag/fling gesture in order to minimize the floating window. In order to use PiP, you’ll still have to use the special key code we discovered earlier, but now you won’t have to peek into the AndroidManifest of an app in order to see if it supports PiP. Under the “special app access” permissions page, there’s now an entry for apps that support picture-in-picture mode.
Google Instant Apps Settings now Available
Google announced today that any developer can start building an Instant App version of their application. As a reminder, Instant Apps was announced back during last year’s Google I/O as a way for users to try out an application without having it installed. This January, a handful of applications on a small number of devices began an initial testing phase of Instant Apps. Earlier this month we performed an APK teardown of the Play Store app and found that it would offer a settings screen to change the Google account used for Instant Apps. But now under Settings –> Apps –> Default apps –> opening links, there’s a new section dedicated to Instant Apps.
The fact that there’s a dedicated section to this suggests to me that Google really wants developers to implement Instant Apps. I can’t see why a developer wouldn’t do so, since this is a way to draw in new users who either dislike browsing on the mobile version of a website or don’t like having to download an app just to view a decent version of the site.
New WiFi Preferences Screen and Network Rating Provider
Under Settings –> Wi-Fi, advanced WiFi options are now accessible under the “Wi-Fi preferences” screen. Here, you have the option to turn on Wi-Fi automatically when near a saved, trusted network (a feature present in the first DP), connect to open, high-quality public networks (powered by Google’s WiFi Assistant), and the long-standing open network notification. When you expand the advanced section, there’s now a new “network rating provider.” Currently the only option is “Google”, and we’re not 100% sure what this does, but we suspect that Google will use a database of rated networks to let you know if the network you are connecting to is safe.
New Developer Options
Inside Developer Options, you can now add some Quick Settings tiles that will quickly toggle some common options. These tiles can toggle “show layout bounds”, “profile GPU rendering”, “force RTL layout direction”, and “window animation scale.” We’re most excited about the profile GPU rendering tile given how we like to use that to benchmark real-world UI performance, but developers testing their app should appreciate all of these tiles.
Finally, there’s a new “enable in-band ringing” option which allows system ringtones on your phone to be played over your Bluetooth headset. The other Bluetooth options were already there in the first Developer Preview, so we won’t go over that again.
“Select to Speak” and “Magnify with Button” Added to Accessibility Services
Although intended to be used by Android users with certain disabilities or difficulties operating the device in some aspects, Accessibility Services have evolved into being used by many different applications for all kinds of purposes. For instance, before the introduction of the Autofill Framework in Android O as mentioned previously, password managers had to use Accessibility Services in order to detect when a valid password entry field is on screen. Even though Accessibility Services have lost their association with actual “accessible” features in the minds of our readers, that hasn’t stopped Google from continuing to add features that enhance the experience of disabled Android users.
In Android O DP 2, the company has added a new “Select to Speak” feature that allows tap on or drag your finger over texts or images so you can then hear what you’ve highlighted.
Next, the new “Magnify with button” feature adds a button to your navigation bar that quickly lets you select an area of the screen to zoom in on. This is no different than the previous gesture to magnify the screen, but this feature can now be activated through a button which I feel is easier than using the triple-touch and zoom gesture.
Finally, Google has changed the way Accessibility shortcuts work. You can now customize the shortcut and also start these shortcuts from the lock screen.
Security Screen now shows Security Patch Level, Access to Android Device Manager
A very minor change, but the UI of the “Security and Location” screen has changed to show which security patch level you are on, whether or not Google Play Service’s app verification is on, and the status of Android Device Manager. Quick access to Android Device Manager is the biggest change here, but the other UI changes should make it easier for the average user to know if their device is secure.
Quick Access to Toggling Location Permissions
Android Marshmallow introduced run-time permissions, but the menu to change app permissions was likely off-putting to many users. There are just so many apps and so many permissions to deal with that most people probably never bothered giving it a shot. But managing your location permission is one important permission that shouldn’t be ignored, given that your location is one of the most sensitive details about you that a remote entity can access. Now, there’s a quick shortcut to manage location permissions within the Location settings.
Redesigned Storage Settings
Android O DP2 has redesigned the storage settings screen. You now have a circular progress bar showing how much of your storage is being used. The advanced settings menu has been removed, and the Smart Storage option can now be accessed on the very first screen.