Thursday, July 3, 2014

First Impressions: Android L Developer’s Preview – Evolutionary or Revolutionary?

“Design” is thinking made visible. And with Android L, Google has truly expressed their intentions regarding their dedication to B.E.A.U.T.I.F.Y the world’s most popular mobile operating system.

(Click any picture to open a larger higher-resolution version in a new window)

Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich was a complete revolution in terms of user interface as compared to gingerbread when Google launched it more than couple of years back and with each minor iteration including Jellybean and KitKat they kept on adding or enhancing features which were not only functional but visually appealing as well. The octa core/quad core power hungry mobile CPUs and GPUs were put to great use with Android OS.

Google has, for the first time announced an operating system by launching its developer’s edition which though is not a final copy or official release but it can be easily used by anyone on their Nexus devices. The primary purpose of developer edition is to let the developers make their existing apps compatible with Android L so that every app can make the best use of new APIs and functionalities supported by the operating system.

The biggest under the hood change in Android L is the introduction of the Android RunTime, ‘ART’, which is the successor and replacement for Dalvik, the virtual machine on which Android Java code is executed on. This is totally compatible with Dalvik to maintain backward application compatibility. The major change that ART brings, is that instead of being using a Just-in-Time (JIT) compiler, it now uses ahead-of-Time compiler (AOT). The runtime has to compile the byte code to native code only once instead of compiling it every time the application runs so that will give a huge performance boost to overall system.

The other important areas where changes have been made includes the design and utility of menu, back and home button of the OS. Google calls them the ‘Soft Keys’. The design and shape has received a complete revamp which distinguishes it from the existing iterations of Android. Google has stressed on what they call ‘Material’ design which honestly speaking makes the new OS a visual treat. The new framework will provide APIs supporting real time effects and shadows along with virtual light sources for 3d effect.  With large number of animations, transition effects and new card layout enhances the user interface experience. And with power hungry hardware in most of the phones, this material design is all set to make user experience truly remarkable.  

With Android L, Google has introduced new “people” app and phone dialer app. The design is nice, slicker and makes it even contemporary. Dialer buttons have touch animation effects. The notification department has got various changes in terms of how they appear and look. They are now displayed in form of stacked cards and you can randomly pick any notification which interests you at that particular moment and let others be there till you clear them all. All apps will be compatible with Android based wearable devices and Android TV, so that means one can experience the apps from a device with smallest display to biggest possible display!

Please note that some apps like mail, gallery, camera, music player etc will look same as they look in older Android versions because the "Material" variants of these apps won't be available until final release. There are not much changes in them either. Same is the case with other apps and that’s the main motive behind releasing a developer’s preview of Android L so that the developers can fine tune and upgrade their apps for Android L. Since this is of course not the final release, there were minor couple of bugs which surely will go away with final release but the new operating system was performing rock solid on Nexus 5.

Google has also introduced ‘Project Volta’ with Android L which keeps a check on battery’s usage and make it last longer than ever. It gives more accurate battery usage by apps and extends the overall backup time by good margin. Nexus 5 lasted longer on L as compared to 4.4.4. Project Volta will be really significant for power smartphone users.

Now any guesses for the full name of Android L or its version number? Well most probably it will be the Android 5.0 and name will start with ‘L’ only which might be Android 5.0 LollyPop? Who knows! Only time will tell. Google is reported to launch Nexus 6 sporting a 5.5-inch 2K display, 3GB RAM and quad-core 2.7GHz processor along with Android L final release out of the box later this year.

Thanks folks for reading!