Google just introduced the newest iteration of its Android Operating System, Android M, during its 2015 Google I/O keynote. While the keynote mentioned that Android M mainly centered around optimizing the operating system, the update also came with a host of new features. The updates included Google Maps, Google Photos, Android Wear, Google Now, Android Pay, app permissions and a bunch of other smaller updates.
You could already save offline maps in the Google Maps app, but you could not do a whole lot more if you did not have any service (other than look at the map and scroll around). With Android M however, you can now get searches, reviews and information and turn by turn directions while you are offline. There was an onstage demo to show-off all these features and it seemed to work seamlessly.
To a lot of people, this could possibly have been the biggest update. Google announced a new Photos app that can auto-backup an unlimited amount videos and photos (photos up to 16MP and videos up to 1080p). The new Photos app also organizes all your photos in a timeline and can group sets together by location. This organization of photos can be searched using keywords like “beach” or “snow” or “dog” to bring up relevant photos that match your search query. The app looks good, very similar to iOS’s photos app. The new Google Photos is available on Android, iOS and desktop.
Android Wear got a bunch of new apps, including Uber and Spotify. The update now makes Android Wear screens stay on at all times, even while you are in an app. It uses low-power black and white display mode to save battery. This means that apps like Maps can stay on the screen at all times so that you can quickly glance at directions. Android Wear is also getting a new app launcher.
Google Now might arguably have the best voice search and integration out there, certainly better than Siri and Cortana currently. Its is now getting even better with a new program called Now on Tap. Now on Tap incorporates Google Now throughout the phone so you can use it to bring up relevant information while using apps like email, messages or a web browser. The on-stage demo showed how you can use Now on Tap while reading an email about a movie to bring up relevant information about the movie.
Google Wallet did not go as well as Google hoped, and is now evolved into Android Pay, which is Google’s answer to Apple Pay. It works similarly to Apple Pay, using NFC to pay for items and purchase terminals. Android Pay is said to come pre-installed on phones from AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile and should run on all phones running Android KitKat (4.4) and higher.
Android M brings a welcome update to how Android handles app permissions. In the past, you were given a list of permissions that the app required when you installed a new app. That setup is now changed to show you fewer permission categories and permissions will only be asked when the app requires a approval for something (like accessing contacts or the camera) – very similar to how iOS has been handling permissions for a number of years.
Android M is currently in beta testing, and developers can get a developers preview image for the Nexus 5 and 6 phones and the Nexus 7 tablets from Google’s Developers Portal to test the new OS.