Google I/O: Android N goes beta and here's what's new

Google focused on using its developer base to push virtual reality, performance, productivity and security improvements.

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(Image: live stream)

Google said Android N has gone beta and includes virtual reality hooks as well as productivity, security and performance improvements.

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Dave Burke, vice president of engineering, said Android N is available as a beta to be tried out on primary devices. "A lot of the features in N were inspired by users," said Burke, who added that Google was holding a naming contest to define what the "N" should stand for as a code name.

Perhaps the most notable item in Android is the push into virtual reality. Google has a reference design called Daydream with specs for smartphones.

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Here's an overview of the Android improvements.

VR mode

Android is focusing on performance, low latency and a system UI that can be used for virtual reality. Android N will enable developers to create VR tools for Daydream-ready smartphones which will be available in the fall. The Android ecosystem will all have phones.

Google's move with Android's virtual reality connections rhymes with what Microsoft did with Windows 10. The goal is to make it easy for developers to create virtual reality applications.

See CNET's take on Daydream VR.


Performance

Graphics and run-time have been improved. "With N we're making our biggest leap forward with Vulkan API," said Burke.

Most of the improvements in Android are aimed at gaming. Graphics performance improvements can show more detail. Android's just in time runtime enables apps to be installed 75 percent faster than the previous version and cuts their size by 50 percent.

Overall, the runtime improvements are going to help battery life.

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(Image: live stream)

Security

Google hardened Android N on the security front. "We split out key subsystems," said Burke. Google added file-based encryption, media framework hardening and seamless updates.

Devices will install new software images in the background similar to how Chromebooks operate on security updates.

Android has also added Google Play Security Testing, an App Security Improvement Program as well as a safe browsing. These tests are enabled via a tool called SafetyNet, which tracks 8 billion apps a day.

Productivity

Burke said multi-tasking was a key focus for Android.

Android N automatically closes apps you haven't used in a while. There's also a "clear all" button at the top. "What we've learned from our user research is that 99% of the time, people only choose from the last seven," said Burke.

There's also a Quick Switch feature that previous app used just by double-tapping the recent button. "You can think of it like a simplified alt-tab," said Burke.

Google also added two new window modes, picture in picture and split screen. Split screen will be available on tablets and phones. Notifications also enable quick replies with more controls. "Now you're able to choose which application's notifications are important for you," said Burke.

The company also updated Android Wear 2.0.