A few days ago, I was reading about a speculative design for an Android-based smartphone that was less "mobile" and more "desktop." It has one major goal — unifying the interface between smartphones, tablets, and desktops. Within the warp and weft of that sentence, I cannot help but read a bit of Chrome OS into the mix. But that would be nothing but hearsay, so let's stick with what we know.
What we do know is pretty impressive. Out of Google I/O, we learned a great deal about how the next iteration of Android will evolve the platform. Let's break it down.
The Android UI is getting a complete retooling. We're talking everything — icons, animations, sounds, themes, fonts... even a new pastel palette. Google laid out a complete new set of design specs intended for the web end of this massive change. The specs, called Polymer, are highlighted in this calculator app that Google created. Since Google is looking at major unification of its platform, you can bet that look and feel will be a part of Android "L."
Notifications and the lock screen
The notification system is going to borrow heavily from Google Now. Instead of the tiny listings in the notification area, the "L" system will be comprised of cards. Notification cards will also appear in the lock screen in a sort of merge between the lock screen and the notification system. Personally, I'd like to see the whole of Google Now integrated with the lock screen, but that may be too much to ask at this point. The lock screen will enjoy a new heads-up display for urgent bits of information. This idea is borrowed from the Motorola Active Display (which is brilliant and should be used by default).
One nifty feature coming to Android is adding "safe places" where your PIN is not necessary. This could come in handy if you work a lot from home and don't want to always enter your PIN to access your smartphone. While you're in that smart place, the PIN is disabled. Leave that safe place, and the PIN is re-enabled.
Google is placing a lot of importance (as they should) on battery life. In fact, they have an entire initiative on seriously improving the battery life of the Android platform. Project Volta will include a system, similar to that found on HTC devices, which will be able to switch your device into Battery Saver mode and auto-shift your system into minimal power usage until it's charged.
This upcoming feature will be a real boon to business users who also use their smartphone for personal reasons. You'll soon be able to separate your data between personal and business usage. This means that your device will have two completely separate secure areas for different profile data.
Okay, I briefly mentioned this earlier as hearsay, but the truth is that Google is planning to converge Android and Chrome OS. There are already rumblings that, in an upcoming release of Chrome OS, Android apps will be able to run natively. But there will also be some nifty features, such as the ability to unlock your Chromebook simply by having your Android smartphone nearby. Also, incoming calls and text messages will show up on Chrome OS. To up the convergent ante even more — the redesigned multitasking tool on Android will now include recent tabs from your Chromebook.
Naturally, this is just the tip of a very massive iceberg. Google has become an innovative juggernaut and plans on taking the Android (and Chrome OS) platforms into some very exciting places that no platform has ever dared dream. Between Polymer, convergence, and the retooling of the Android design, it's a pretty exciting time to be a part of the Android community.
What do you think of Google's grand designs for Android? Do you think the convergence of Android and Chrome OS is a good thing? And what about the new UI design — good, bad, or ugly? How would you evolve Android? Share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.