In a somewhat unexpected move, Google has released the first Developer Preview of Android P, the next major version of the platform. While it was expected to be released this month, perhaps even on 3/14 (Pi… get it?), it seems that the wait for this alpha build was much shorter than expected.
Before going into the details of what is new in this build, let me first be very clear. This build is alpha. It is not going to be stable and, in fact, is not even supported in the Android beta program. In order to get it, you have to side-load it so it is really intended for app developers only. If you really, really, really want to download it, you can do so here but brace yourself. It is not going to be a smooth experience. Also, keep in mind that this alpha build is only available for the Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL.
The second thing I would caution readers on is what I write in this post about what is new in Android P could and likely will change. So take this alpha build with a bit of a grain of salt – but you get an idea of the direction where Google is going with Android.
Display Cutout Support
Ah, the notch. Yes, Android P supports the notch. This isn’t surprising as it was indicated in a commit that it was going to be supported. What it does mean however is that manufactures who want to develop bezel-less designs with the cameras and proximity sensors in a notch, a la Essential or iPhone X, they can do so and the platform will work around it. There are different modes of cutaways supported – Narrow, Tall and Wide and, of course, there is a None option.
WiFi RTT Support
WiFi 802.11mc is now supported in Android P. What is this exactly? Essentially it allows you to get real time location information indoors. The platform will triangulate your location based on WiFi access points around you. So long as it can triangulate between three APs, you are good-to-go and Android will get your location within a couple of meters from where you really are in a mall, airport or other public place.
So what does this mean in the real world? Using Google Maps, if I’m shopping with my wife at a mall and we are sharing location information, I could quickly identify not only what part of the mall she is in, but which shop she is in at the time.
Notifications, Notification Channels and Do Not Disturb Improvements
One of the biggest changes in P over Oreo, at least right now, is around notifications. The notification shade has been significantly revamped with rounded icons and a much cleaner look to it overall. But they didn’t stop there. Notifications channels, something new in Oreo, gets a bit of work in P too. Now you can completely block channel groups as well as support for broadcast intent types. In notification smart replies and replies are now supported in the notification shade and they are system wide, not just app specific.
Finally, Do Not Disturb got a nice polish in Android P too. It was simplified so basically, when enabled, all priority items (user defined) are allowed but nothing else is while DND is enabled.
In addition to these major feature changes, there are a lot of under-the-hood changes happening too. There are several security enhancements, including client encryption for backups, improvements in the autofill framework, unified fingerprint authentication and version 1.1 of the Neural Networks API. And there is also a tweak to the launcher that shades the entire dock in P.
All-in-all, this is a big change for Android and one that should bring yet more polish to the platform. Like Nougat and Oreo, P isn’t going to bring a massive, world changing event but rather is going to continue the effort to make it a better user experience.