Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
- Google is improving OS-level support in Android for devices that use screen cutouts, a design feature popularized by the iPhone X.
- Chrome OS-powered tablets may be coming soon, as visual theming changes and touchscreen-specific behavior have surfaced.
In advance of the Google I/O developer conference in May, details of the yearly update to Android have begun to surface. Android P will feature tighter integration with Google Assistant, as well as support for iPhone X-like screen cutouts.
According to a report from Bloomberg, third-party app developers will be able to integrate Assistant support into their apps. Specific details are not yet available, though for comparison, Apple introduced the ability for certain categories of third-party apps to interact with Siri in iOS 10 in September 2016. The report also indicates a potential for integrating Assistant support with the Google search bar widget, though plans are not yet finalized.
Additionally, Google is reportedly adding OS-level support for devices with screen cutouts, similar to the iPhone X. Presently, the only Android phones with screen cutouts are the Essential PH-1-designed by Android co-creator Andy Rubin and the Sharp AQUOS R Compact, which is only available in Japan. The addition of OS-level support for screen cutouts would make it easier for OEMs to ship phones with those screen types.
SEE: System update policy (Tech Pro Research)
Separately, a code commit to Chromium earlier this month indicates the existence of " Material Design 2," an update to the visual design language introduced four years ago as part of Android 5.0 (Marshmallow). This subtly modifies the palette of UI colors used in Chromium, though other styling elements appear unchanged. The same commit included additional enhancements for touch-enabled devices. Google may be preparing to introduce Chrome-powered tablets at I/O 2018. At the Bett conference in January, Acer privately demoed an education-targeted Chrome tablet, which leaked out in a tweet.
Google's intent on making Assistant more visible in Android comes as the personal digital assistant market is becoming too crowded, forcing potential competitors out. While Amazon's Alexa and Microsoft's Cortana are available as downloadable apps, Samsung's built-in and much maligned Bixby assistant continues to linger, though The Verge has called for Bixby's death. Cortana was conspicuously absent at CES 2018, leading ZDNet's Larry Dignan to declare the trade show "Cortana's Funeral." Facebook announced the discontinuation of their virtual assistant, M, in January.
For screen cutouts, it is yet to be seen if this design trend will continue to persist, or if this will wind up as a fad similar to 3D phones. While Apple's use of the technology is notable, it seems unlikely that manufacturers are holding back on shipping phones for lack of OS-level support. Of note, Sharp also produced a handful of 3D smartphones available primarily in Japan. Stateside, the only phones with that technology were the HTC EVO 3D, LG Optimus 3D and 3D Max, and the ill-fated Amazon Fire Phone.
The potential for Chrome tablets would be a significant development, as Android tablets have fallen by the wayside in recent years. The Pixel C—which was intended initially to be a Chrome device—was quietly pulled from the Google Store in December after two years. As Chrome OS is capable of running Android apps, a future of Chrome tablets would be a more compelling value proposition, as Android tablets (and Android devices in general) often have an unfortunate lack of OS updates after launch. Chromebooks have a five-year support lifespan, while Android phones often struggle to get two years of OS updates.
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James Sanders is a Tokyo-based programmer and technology journalist. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.