GOOGLE’S latest update to Android has arrived, with the fifth version dubbed Lollipop. Android 5 is no minor iterative update. It will look significantly different to previous versions thanks to the new “Material Design” graphics scheme – which was created to help Android extend across a range of new devices, from smartwatches to TVs. “Lollipop is our largest, most ambitious release on Android, with over 5,000 new APIs for developers,” said Android head Sundar Pichai. “Lollipop is designed to be flexible, to work on all your devices and to be customised for you, the way you see fit.” Here’s a tour of the key new features – and the devices that Google launched alongside the Android update.
Every OS seems to be getting an updated notifications system – from iOS 8 to Windows 10 – and Android 5 is no different. “Android Lollipop’s new notification system has to be singled out as a highlight: [notifications] can now be prioritised according to what the user wants to see,” noted uSwitch analyst Rob Kerr. “There’s also a way to respond to notifications from the lockscreen, which is a good timesaver.” Aside from the lockscreen, you can still swipe down from the top of the screen to see what’s new, and messages will slide over the top of the screen.
If you get a call during a game, you can choose to ignore it without leaving the app you’re in. If you would rather avoid all but the most important calls, Android Lollipop features a new Priority Mode, which lets only approved contacts’ messages through.
There’s also a new Quick Settings menu, which adds new controls, including Wi-Fi hotspot and screencasting, and makes toggling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on and off easier. There’s also a new tool called Screen Pinning, which lets you lock an app onscreen, so the user can’t exit – handy if you’re passing your device to your children to play a game. Lollipop makes it easier to move settings, apps and account details from an older Android phone by tapping the two NFC-enabled devices together.
Android 5 devices can also be unlocked via a Bluetooth device. If your smartwatch moves too far away from your tablet, it will automatically lock; walk back over, and it will unlock without you needing to enter your PIN. A new guest-user system means you can lend your handset to someone else without them accessing your data, and if you lose your phone, you can log in to any other Android handset to get at your messages, contacts and photos, backed up in the cloud.
Android Lollipop employs Google’s ART run time, which uses clever tricks to make apps feel more responsive, including ahead-of-time compilation, which compiles specific pieces of code upon installation rather than during execution. Google claims that ART is four times faster than its last generation Dalvik run time, which used just-in-time (JIT) compilation.
Android 5 also supports 64-bit hardware – the first example of which will be the Nexus 9 tablet (see The new Nexus line-up, right) – and it comes with 64-bit native apps, including Chrome and Gmail. Google is also promising an extra 90 minutes of use between charges thanks to its new battery-saving feature, and Android 5 now displays how much time it will take to charge your device when it’s plugged in.
Google revealed the new visual language for its mobile OS over the summer, back when it was known as Android L. Material Design, as Google calls it, is a simplified look, created to make it easier for Android to work across different devices, whether it’s running on a smartphone, tablet, smartwatch or TV.
“Material Design’s more colourful look and animated UI is certainly easy on the eyes, and a much welcomed overhaul to the OS,” said uSwitch’s Kerr. “There’s a hope this will be used across all screen sizes, helping the one-look-to-rule-them-all philosophy to take off.”
It’s dubbed Material Design because the underlying metaphor is physical materials, such as paper and ink. Aspects of it keep with the trend for flat-looking design – in a similar vein to iOS 7 and 8, and Microsoft’s Modern UI – with bright, bold colours and bold, clean typography.
However, Android 5 not only gives designers length and width to consider, but also lets them include depth. This means pages turn, corners bend up, and objects can stack – with shadows to indicate space – and will have realistic “weight” in their animations. This means tiles and cards can sit and slide over top of each other.
Colours and design elements are carried across platforms, so if you use an app on a smartphone, you’ll be able to quickly understand how to use it on a watch. There’s more to using an app across different devices than fonts and colours, too; Google continues to focus on voice input, making it easier to interact with wearables and TVs. Specific hardware, including the Nexus 6 and 9 (see below), will be able to listen for your commands via the “OK Google” prompt even if the display is turned off.
How to get it
Android 5 will likely arrive alongside the launch of the Nexus 6, and will roll out to other Nexus and Google Play edition devices – those running “pure” Android – shortly thereafter. When and whether other Android devices receive the update depends on your smartphone manufacturer and mobile operator. “Motorola is expected to be up next with a quick deployment, judging by past performance,” said Kerr. “Google has a good track record of rolling out the newest Android updates quickly – a definite plus point to owning a phone that supports them.”