Today, we’re going to take a look at some notable changes coming in the fall to the latest Android OS, Android L. From the screenshots of developers taking the new OS out for spin, it looks like a totally fresh update. This article will be in 2 parts as there were a multitude of new changes in this update, I’ll cover the biggest and most talked about changes in Part 1 today.

 

Project Volta

Android L promises a totally new user experience. This includes a behind the scenes improvement dubbed ‘Project Volta’. Volta promises to extend battery life by managing behind the scenes processes such as toggling Wi-Fi off when not needed and scheduling non critical app processes until such a time when resource use is at a minimum.  It also promises Battery Historian which will help the user determine which apps are draining the battery by drilling down into the system with more detail than previous versions.

And last, but by no means least, is the new BatterySaver mode that will limit CPU cycles, manage background data, turn off Wi-Fi, dim the screen and turn off auto sync. This is similar to what Samsung, HTC and other OEM’s have built in to their handsets and tablets. However, Project Volta comes ready-baked into the Android L OS. The promise of extending battery life up to 90 minutes will remain to be seen, especially on larger handsets such as the Note series, the G series from LG and of course, the biggest battery hogs in the barn, tablets.

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Material Design

Gone is the Holo design introduced in Jellybean that we have become acquainted with over the past 2 years. That release introduced us to ‘Project Butter’, which improved front end actions such as smooth scrolling and transitions. With the smoothness factor under control, Android L attempts to tie the overall appearance of the Android ecosystem into a tidy, colorful, uniform design element. Material Design encompasses every aspect of the look and design feel in this version of OS. The clean, bright colors may not appeal to some, but many are pleased with the look and feel of the unification attempt by Google. And, interestingly, it’s not just the look, it’s the feel as well. The notification shade has been redesigned, the Gmail app and phone dialer also have a refreshing new look. In addition, Enhanced Notifications appear on the lockscreen, eliminating the need for a third party lockscreen notification app.

 

ART- Android Runtime

To the average Android phone owner, the acronym ART, has little meaning and more than likely, they have never heard of Android Runtime. Previous versions of the Android OS have always run on Dalvik.  ART was available to Nexus devices, although hidden in the Developers Options section. However, ART lacked support from many app developers since it was not in widespread use prior to KitKat.  Adding to the mystery, it was toggled off by default. If you weren’t a tech inclined user, you probably would not delve into the settings deep enough to find it in the first place.

So what’s the big deal about ART vs Dalvik?  Simply defined, Dalvik is used when your device loads an app; a lot of the heavy lifting is done on the fly or Just In Time (JIT) by the Dalvik Virtual Machine.  This forces heavy memory utilization upon every start up of every app, thus putting pressure on resources and eating up battery each time the app is called up or opened. In the ART mode it utilizes Ahead Of Time (AOT) actions.  The heavy lifting in ART is done during the installation of the app, resulting in a tad longer installation time, but the upside is that apps load faster and consume less battery life overall making the device response snappier with less lag.

This is a welcome change and will be the standard for the Android OS in the future. However, owners of older devices with low memory may have some difficulty with ART since it does use more memory, devices with as little at 512megs of memory may run ART relatively well. This is welcome news to the millions of Android device users throughout the world on older and low end devices.

 

Chromecast

And to end this segment, there is big news regarding Google’s popular and inexpensive Chromecast device. What is Chromecast and why would you want it?

From Wikipedia:

“Chromecast is a digital media streaming adapter developed by Google. The device, a 2.83-inch dongle, plays audio/video content on a high-definition television by streaming it via Wi-Fi from the Internet or local network.”

It is powered by a micro USB that plugs into your TV and uses your local Wi-Fi connection to “cast” apps to your TV from your device running the Chrome browser.  However, with the coming of Android L, it is now possible to mirror the image on your mobile device (currently limited to newer devices from Samsung, HTC, LG and Nexus, more to be added later at launch), to your TV screen with the Chromecast dongle attached.

No longer will the user’s controller device need to be connected to the same Wi-Fi network as the Chromecast. Rather, the user’s phone will be able to ‘discover’ nearby Chromecasts by the detection of ultrasonic sounds emitted by the Chromecast-connected TV.  Another cool feature will be the ability to pair the Chromecast device over the internet using a four-digit PIN shown on the Chromecast connected TV screen.

Also included in this update, Google added a nice little feature called “Backdrop“. Think of Backdrop as a dynamic, personalized screensaver which allows the user to include personal pictures and videos. You, the user, control the content displayed. Overall, a nice little update for the popular and inexpensive Chromecast that aims to bring consumable media to your big screen TV without a lot of hoopla and pesky wires.

 

Next…

So that ends the Part 1 review of the Android L hot topics that came out of the conference on Wednesday. We’ll pick back up tomorrow with the rest of the highlights from Google I/O 2014 including Android TV, Google Fit, Android One, Android Wear, Android Auto, and just because Google wants to have serious fun with us, Google Cardboard.

 

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