Android is the most widely used mobile platform on the planet. With over 80% of global mobile market share, it seems nothing can stop Google's operating system.
Since the release of Android 7.0 (Android Nougat), the platform has been one of the most reliable, flexible, user-friendly, and powerful OSes in the mobile landscape. Recent reports indicate that Android users are more loyal to their mobile OS than iPhone users, and Google has put its platform in a perfect position to continue its current trajectory. Android 9.0 (aka Android P—the name of the latest iteration has yet to be announced) should go a very long way in solidifying Google's position at the top of the mobile heap.
SEE: Job description: Android developer (Tech Pro Research)
Read this Android P cheat sheet to get up to speed on Google's latest offering. We'll update this resource periodically when there is new information about Android P.
What is Android P?
Android P (Android 9.0) will be the next Android OS released from Google. Since the initial release of Android, Google has used names of various desserts for the platform. These are the names that Google has used for Android versions. (Before its release, Android 1.1 was called Petit Four internally.)
- Android 1.5: Android Cupcake
- Android 1.6: Android Donut
- Android 2.0 - 2.1: Android Eclair
- Android 2.2 - 2.2.3: Android Froyo
- Android 2.3 - 2.3.7: Android Gingerbread
- Android 3.0 - 3.2.6: Android Honeycomb
- Android 4.0 - 4.0.4: Android Ice Cream Sandwich
- Android 4.1 - 4.3.1: Android Jelly Bean
- Android 4.4 - 4.4.4: Android KitKat
- Android 5.0 - 5.1.1: Android Lollipop
- Android 6.0 - 6.0.1: Android Marshmallow
- Android 7.0 - 7.1.2: Android Nougat
- Android: 8.0 - 8.1: Android Oreo
This brings us to Android 9 (Android P). There have been plenty of rumors as to what Android 9 might be called, including:
- Android Pie
- Android Pumpkin Pie
- Android Pound Cake
- Android Pastille
- Android Popsicle
- Android Pancake
- Android Profiterole
- Android Pistachio Ice Cream (This is rumored to be the internal name of Android P.)
The official name for Android P has yet to be served up (it wasn't even announced at Google I/O, which was held May 8-10, 2018 in Mountain View, CA). Regardless of nomenclature, it is clear that Android P will bring to the table a number of new features, as well as improvements on some old favorites.
What new features will be in Android P?
There are a number of possible new features coming to Android in its ninth iteration. Some of these features could become user favorites, while other features, such as the notch, already have Android fans divided.
The notch, a cut-out section at the top of the device's screen for the camera, has become infamous because of the reaction to the Apple iPhone X notch. This was Apple's attempt at creating an edge-to-edge display that made use of both side-to-side and top-to-bottom real estate; unfortunately, users balked at the notch, and third-party developers came out with apps that disabled the feature. Soon after Apple released its notched device, Essential followed suit with the PH-1. Essential's take on the notch was a better design than Apple's notch and better received. It looks as if Android will officially offer support for the notch, which will enable hardware manufacturers to design hardware that includes a notch.
It's also rumored that Android 9 will support foldable displays, such as what is in the Galaxy X (Figure A).
Speaking of displays, Android P will add support for High Dynamic Range (HDR) VP9 Profile 2; this means developers will be able to offer HDR-enabled movies from YouTube, Netflix, and Google Play Movies. HDR is able to improve the viewing experience on any screen size by expanding the luminance range and color gamut. This equates to a significant improvement for viewing video on supported platforms.
A rather interesting rumor is that Android P will be able to function as a bluetooth keyboard or mouse. There are apps in the Google Play store that add similar functionality (such as Telepad) but having it built-in could be interesting.
One very exciting addition is a multi-camera API. This feature gives applications access to dual front or back cameras or even to use a fused camera stream of both front and back cameras. Imagine being able to film video or take pictures from both front and back cameras simultaneously.
- 7 reasons why you'll want Android P (CNET)
- Google's Android P is all about notches and notifications (CNET)
- The real reason Android P uses gestures (CNET)
- Android P will not support these Nexus and Pixel devices (TechRepublic)
Which features are improved in Android P?
The biggest news about Android P centers on current features that will be improved—and the improvements are wide-reaching and impressive. These are some of the improvements Android users might see.
Google is looking to open up Google Assistant to third-party developers in a similar fashion to what Amazon has done with Alexa. This should translate to being able to ask Google Assistant to perform tasks in non-Google apps and quite possibly hardware.
The home screen button will be replaced by a swipe-able "pill" that will enact certain actions, specific to swipes. For example: Swipe to left to reveal your multitasking views and swipe up to reveal the App Drawer. The UI will also suggest what apps you might use. In addition to the gesture-based home button, gestures will start becoming key to overall Android navigation. The traditional back button will vanish (unless an app requires it), to be replaced by gesture-based navigation.
Notifications will get a bit of a retooling. Instead of only text appearing in notifications, images will also be allowed; this way, it will be easier for users to know who they are replying to or chatting with. Another addition to notifications is smart replies (which has only been available in Gmail and Allo), so sending quick replies to messages can happen with a quick couple of taps.
Thanks to the addition of the IEEE 802.11mc Wi-Fi protocol, apps will be able to better handle indoor positioning. This means APIs will be able to measure distances relative to a Wi-Fi access point, which will vastly improve indoor location mapping.
SEE: Oracle vs Google: Android P is for Poisoned Platform (ZDNet)
It can be cumbersome to take screenshots on Android because you have to press both the power and volume down buttons; rumor has it that Android P will include a screenshot button in the Power menu (Figure B). Hopefully, this feature will include either a timer, or it will hide the popup menu from the screenshot being taken.
Android P will likely be more efficient in how it handles images. Thanks to HEIF (High Efficiency Image File Format), jpeg images will come in at 50% of the original size. Google is also working with the Alliance for Open Media on its own version of this same protocol that is currently able to create images 15% smaller than what HEIC can produce. With this new protocol, images created by Android devices would be smaller in file size, thereby taking up less space on a device.
In the same vein, ImageDecoder will replace BitmapFactory, which enables third-party apps to read and decode images of different types of sources. This should help further reduce the size of images on Android.
Android Oreo introduced a very reliable and user-friendly form of call blocking, but that call blocking was focused on known or suspected spam numbers. With Android P, users will be able to block private numbers, pay phones, and numbers with either no ID or that aren't in the device owner's contacts list.
SEE: Photos: Android P's new features and other Google I/O keynote announcements (TechRepublic)
Thanks to an improved Neural Network API, machine learning will get a boost in Android P. The Neural Network API was introduced in Android 8.1 and provided developers with the tools for machine learning. Google is expanding the API to support these new operations: Pad, BatchToSpaceND, SpaceToBatchND, Transpose, Strided Slice, Mean, Div, Sub, and Squeeze.
AI will be front and center with Android P; in fact, the deep integration of AI might be the biggest feature of all. Specifically, AI will be central to optimizing the battery life for Android P. Thanks to Google's AI, a new Adaptive Battery feature will prioritize battery power only for the apps and services that you use most. Combine this with the new Adaptive Brightness (which learns how you set your brightness, given certain surroundings), and Android P battery life should be amazing.
Another fascinating new feature is the Dashboard—this is where users can discover how much time they spend in apps and even control that with app timers. This will be coupled with the new Wind Down feature, which will switch on a black and white mode at night and utilize a much-improved Do Not Disturb.
- Here's how Google is using AI to make your Android smartphone battery last longer (TechRepublic)
- Android P tries Apple's approach to shrinking photo sizes (CNET)
- Google's Android P will make it easier for OEMs to copy iPhone X (TechRepublic)
- Android P's killer photo feature won't work on lower-end phones (CNET)
What security features are in Android P?
With regards to security, Google will be seriously upping the game on Android. Malicious apps running in the background will be prevented from accessing both camera and mic. If an app attempts to use your device's cameras without your knowledge, Android will shut the app down and send an error. The apps attempting to record audio will capture nothing but silence until the app is opened.
Cameras and mics aren't the only features caught in the lens of security. Starting with Android P, the platform will require encryption for data traffic, passwords for encrypted backups, and notifications for all background sensor operations. Couple that with a much-improved fingerprint scanner (which should increase the consistency of fingerprint scans), and Android will be able to position itself as a serious competitor in the enterprise market.
Android P will add an implementation of the GlobalPlatform Open Mobile API (OMAPI). This means third-party apps will be able to access secure elements, which will allow them to use smart card payments and other secure services.
High-assurance user confirmation is a new feature that improves the security of payments. Developers can create a confirmation message that affirms the user would like to complete a sensitive transaction, such as making a payment via an app.
Supported devices that run Android P can include what is called a StrongBox Keymaster. This is an implementation of the Keymaster Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL) that resides in a hardware security module, which contains its own CPU, secure storage, a true random-number generator, and additional mechanisms to prevent package tampering and unauthorized sideloading of apps.
There will be a compatibility mode for the AutoFill Framework that will allow password managers to work with apps that have yet to build in support for Autofill.
- In Android P, Google is fixing flaw that let apps secretly track users for years (TechRepublic)
- Android P adds critical security updates, makes its case as an enterprise OS (TechRepublic)
- Android P will stop apps from silently using your phone's camera and mic (ZDNet)
- Here's how Android P promises to protect your privacy (ZDNet)
How can developers start using Android P?
Android P is now in beta release, which means developers and early adopters can begin testing the platform. At the moment, the only devices that can test Android P are (instructions for each in links):
- Pixel and Pixel 2
- Essential Phone PH-1
- Sony's Xperia XZ2
- Xiaomi's Mi MIX 2S
- Nokia's 7 Plus
- Vivo's X21
- Oppo's R15 Pro
- OnePlus 6 (upon release)
If you're a developer and want to start using Android P, download an image of the release and manually flash the image to your device. Images for Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel 2, and Pixel 2 XL devices can be downloaded here. Image flashing instructions can be found here. If you don't have a Pixel device, you can use the Android Emulator to test your app and further explore Android P.
- Android P will not support these Nexus and Pixel devices (TechRepublic)
- Building for iOS and Android: Getting started with Google's Flutter (ZDNet)
- Google makes it easier to incorporate machine learning into mobile apps (ZDNet)
- Android P launches in developer preview with improved messaging, AI (TechRepublic)
- How to install Android P right now (CNET)
When will Android P be generally available?
For the general public, Android P should start rolling out in the summer of 2018—although considering Android Oreo is only just now starting to appear on a wider level, Android P might not trickle out to end users until late fall 2018 or early winter 2018. You should expect Pixel devices to receive the upgrade first, followed shortly by smaller vendors (those without carrier tie-ins) such as Essential and then the larger vendors such as Samsung.
- See what it's like to use Android P for yourself (CNET)
- Android P: What to expect from the Android's latest flavor (CNET)
- Mobile device computing policy (Tech Pro Research)
- BYOD policy (Tech Pro Research)
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 jackwallen.com.