It’s finally happening. After a long, grueling 113-day wait since Google I/O (but who’s counting?), Google has finally announced Android 5.0 Lollipop, putting to rest the rampant speculation about what “L” would stand for.
As much as the Nexus warriors and Android fanboys fought over what the next version would be named, the actual contents of this update is where the importance lies. We saw a lot of what’s new back at I/O, but now that Lollipop is nearing its release date, it has grown more mature and Google has added some cool stuff to it.
This is the biggest and most noticeable change from KitKat, and it part of Google’s larger movement to standardize cross-device design and make everything more beautiful and easy to use. We’ve already seen some Google apps updated to incorporate some of these new design paradigms, but now that Lollipop is almost ready to be made public, we should see Google updating more of their applications, along with third-party developers being able to update their own apps without the need of workarounds and third-party libraries.
Obviously this also brings on a new visual design of Android, making this the biggest visual design overhaul in Android history (or at least since Holo was introduced with Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich). With such a heavy emphasis on design, color, consistency, and animations, we should see a version of Android that we’ve all been waiting for. As much as we love Android, it has had its faults in the past in this area. This time, Android is up to par in my opinion, and probably even surpassing it.
Another problem that has plagued Android since day 1 is battery life, and it looks like Google is making this a priority. With a newly-built power saving mode, Google promises an extra 90 minutes of battery life. Hopefully, this will be enough time for you to get to a charger.
Once you have made it safely to a charger, Android will now give you an estimated time until fully charged. No longer are the days are saying “Hang on just 54% more!” Now, we can talk in minutes, which is a lot more easily understood.
Android’s strong suit has always been the way it handles notifications, and that’s about to get a lot better.
Lockscreen widgets were a nice feature for their time, but the only real use I found was when I installed Dashclock, which showed me important notifications on my lockscreen. Now, that’s been baked into Lollipop. We can now read and reply to notifications right from the lockscreen, without even having to unlock the phone.
There is also a new quiet mode, which blocks notifications from coming through at times you don’t want them to. To make this even more useful, there is also the new Priority Mode, which lets certain notifications come through that are important to you. This is huge because there are so many times where I really just need to focus without distractions but still need to communicate with one or two people. This allows us to get rid of those distractions.
We saw heads-up notifications a couple days before I/O, as they were actually already baked into KitKat, just not active. These heads-up notifications will pop up subtly when you are gaming or watching a video to let you know you are getting a call without fully disrupting what you are doing. Almost to the next level in Candy Crush when a telemarketer calls you? No worries, just hit ignore and beat that level.
In today’s world, security is a hot topic, and Google knows this. With Lollipop, personal data encryption is turned on by default for new devices. If you have an older device that gets upgraded to Lollipop, you’ll probably need to turn it on yourself.
Along with this, a feature I’ve been pumped about since they announced it at I/O is Android Smart Lock. With this feature, you will be able to bypass the lockscreen if your device detects a connection to another device, like a smartwatch or even your car. This not only is super convenient, but it also makes me actually want to use an actual lock feature on my phone (as opposed to a simple swipe).
You know that friend who is constantly asking to borrow your phone because their phone is broken/dead/MIA? With Lollipop, anyone can log into their account on your device, allowing them to check messages and access photos and such.
You know that other friend to whom you show one app or picture but then they start going through your phone? No more! Lollipop allows for screen pinning, stopping phone snoopers in their tracks and only letting them see that one page.
One word: flashlight.
Yes, finally, we have a flashlight in quick settings.
On top of that, WiFi, Bluetooth, and the others are now easier to toggle (which is still unclear why this wasn’t how it originally was) and brightness is now even more dynamic. You can set the brightness to a certain spot, and then adaptive brightness will work it’s magic based on ambient lighting. We saw this in the L preview, but it sometimes gave me some issues.
You know how when you are in a video chat and you leave a WiFi area and it drops the chat? No more! Lollipop comes with improved network handoff. In addition, they’ve added better logic so that the device will only connect to a network when it knows it can get access to the internet. They’ve also updated Bluetooth low energy, making it more power-efficient.
We saw Android Runtime (ART) make it’s appearance last fall with KitKat, and while it was made very clear that the runtime was in beta and there would be bugs, some people still complained about applications not working and other issues. Now, ART is official, and it’s great. It allows for a smoother UI and better performance. Additionally, Android now supports 64-bit devices like the Nexus 9 with its Tegra K1 processor.
Lollipop adds a plethora of improvements to many different kinds of media. Lower-latency audio will give music and communication apps a real-time feel, while professional music applications will be allowed to tap into multi-channel audio streaming. USB Audio support allows for USB devices like speakers and microphones to be plugged into an Android device.
Photography also got a big boost.:
- Capture full resolution frames around 30 fps when recording video
- Support raw formats like YUV and Bayer RAW
- Control capture settings for the sensor, lens, and flash per individual frame
- Capture metadata like noise models and optical information
Last year we got the Google Now Launcher, allowing us to say “OK Google” from our homescreen and get a response. Then it was updated to allow “OK Google” from any screen and with the screen off if the device was on a charger. Now, with devices supporting digital signal processing, we can say “OK Google” while the phone is off and get a response even when it’s not charging.
We saw the beginnings of Android TV at Google I/O, but with the release of Lollipop, we will get the full experience. This means a “UI adopted for the living room,” voice search for Google Play, console-style gaming, and casting apps to the TV.
Moto made device setup pretty easy with their Motorola Migration tool, but Lollipop goes a step further and allows you to use NFC to tap your devices together to start the setup process. How great is that?
There’s probably a whole ton of smaller details updated too, which we will see in the coming weeks when Lollipop starts landing on devices. No word on when that will be, but the Lollipop SDK will be released on Friday alongside updated Nexus preview images. This will allow eager developers to update their apps with the 5,000 new APIs introduced with Lollipop. Google probably wants to hold off on releasing Lollipop until their new devices ship. I’ll be counting the seconds, though.
Editor’s note: the 2012 Nexus 7 and the Nexus 4 will also get a lick of Lollipop.