Android L release date, news and features
3rd Jul 2014 | 15:25
All the information from Google's IO conference
Android L news and features
Android L is here, and it's brought a raft of new changes, with Sundar Pichai, head of Android, proclaiming it to be one of the biggest upgrades to Android yet.
It's going to have a radical new design, 5000 new APIs, will be available for developer previews soon, and it's going beyond the mobile form factor. Android L will be contextually aware of its surrounding, plus voice is going to me a major input source.
The experience will also be seamless, so Android L devices communicate properly, although Pichai was at pains to point out the mobile phone will always be the priority.
TechRadar was in attendance to see all the action unfold, so if you're hankering for all the information about Android L, then you've come to the right place. Check out everything you need to know about Google's new mobile platform.
Android L release date
Here's what most of you will be wanting to know: when can I get it on my phone? Well, if you're a developer with a Nexus 5 or Nexus 7 then it will be easiest, as it's available from June 26 to developers.
For the rest of the folk in the world, it's coming 'this fall', which means that this is very much a preview to appease those that want to get cracking on development, and launching it at Google IO makes sense.
This also means that as Android L readies itself for a consumer launch we'll find out more about whether it's Android 5, Android 4.5 and which dessert name it will have... we're certain there's one coming.
HTC has already been in contact, giving the following statement about it's forthcoming upgrade to Android L:
"HTC is excited about the new features in Android L and we can't wait to share them with our customers. We are committed to updating our flagship HTC One family as fast as possible.
"We will begin rolling out updates to the HTC One (M8) and HTC One (M7) in regions worldwide within 90 days of receiving final software from Google, followed shortly thereafter by other One family members and select devices."
Remember, this doesn't mean the developer preview, but the final version later in the year. So expect Android L on your HTC One M8 and M7 around Christmas.
We'll update you as soon as we find out any more information from the other manufacturers about their plans for Android L release schedules.
The big news for Android L is the change to the way it looks - and it's going well beyond the mobile phone to the tablet, TV screen, watch and even the car.
The new Material Design is strange in that it bucks a trend at the moment - yes, it's flat, but it's heavily based on making every animation, every ripple, every shadow look real, which is something that most brands are shying away from.
Google tells us that this feels more intuitive, which means that there will be shadow gradients, 3D tiles that slide over one another and most importantly: access for developers to use this for themselves on their apps.
The idea of obvious: remove the fragmented way Android looks and bring consistency to the app world not matter what device you're on.
Roboto font has been updated too, so everything from watch to TV to mobile looks the same.
Every animation on screen will be allowed to connect to one another - so there's no 'teleportation between apps'. The home, back and multi-tasking window buttons on Android have been refined too, and overall, this is a massive step forward for a cleaner, more intuitive-looking version of Google's mobile platform.
Notifications and lock screen
Notifications on Android L are getting an overhaul, so only the more relevant information about your apps is being presented. The notification panel is being merged with the lockscreen so you can see what's going on as you pick up the phone, and a simple swipe up takes you into the phone.
Imagine that the lockscreen is similar to the notifications panel now, and you're pretty much there.
Android L will also learn from you, working out what you look at and interact with more often to prioritise that notification.
Another big change is that notifications will flow over the screen at the top - get a call when you're playing a game and it will pop up at the top, asking if you want to take it. This will likely be the same with messages etc too, meaning less intrusion at the wrong times.
The lockscreen is getting smarter too - if you've got a specific location set up, or are wearing a Bluetooth device, the phone will recognise you and unlock without a PIN. Move away or take your watch off and you'll need to tap or swipe in a code when you unlock - or you can even use your voice.
Google wants your apps to be able to talk to one another - it used the example of searching for a place, only to have it served up in Google Earth, which is where it originally was being looked at.
The idea goes much deeper than that though - Chrome browsing has an API that other apps can take advantage of, so if you click a link to book a table in the browser you'll be taken to something like OpenTable directly, rather than the mobile site.
This feature depends a lot on app developers taking advantage of the new tools, but all the onboard Google apps will be much more dependent on one another.
Android L is Faster, better looking and more efficient
Whilst Android comes with some nifty new features that make an immediate visual impact, Google has put a lot of work in behind the scenes to ensure that Android L is the fastest yet. If you're not big on codespeak, then this is the upshot: a new way of putting the platform together when you're using the phone makes everything slicker, faster and more efficient.
If you're interested, here are the finer details: ART, an optional runtime in Android KitKat, has now been made the standard for Android L and works with ARM, x86 and MIPS platforms and runs twice as fast as the Dalvik runtime that is found on previous Android iterations.
The biggest benefit to users comes that this won't require apps to be readjusted in order to benefit, instead all apps with benefit from ART right away. ART is also more memory efficient than Dalvik meaning that apps that are running in the background will benefit from megabytes of saved data.
ART is also 64-bit compatible allowing Android L to benefit from the larger number registers, cross platform support and the increased RAM support that 64-bit architecture supports.
Android L also allows mobile devices to further close the gap not only between mobile and console-quality gaming, but also between mobile and PC graphics. Working with Nvidia, Qualcomm, ARM and Imagination Technologies Google has designed the Android Extension Pack with the sole task of closing the gap between mobile and desktop-class graphics, which will result in "more realistic environments, more realistic characters and vastly improved lighting".
Android L battery life
Batteries on phones running Android L are going to become more efficient with Project Volta, Google's new way of showing why and how a phone's power pack is juicing down.
It opens up the battery use to developers so they can see what's ruining the experience, which should in turn help plug the gaps in power leakage. Nothing specific to talk about yet but will help make things look more efficient.
Battery Saver mode is integrated by default too, which can lengthen your use during the day by up to 90 mins. Not extreme power saving like on Samsung or HTC phones, but still useful to have baked in, even if all and sundry already have a likely more efficient version on board.
Even without Battery Saver mode Android L could do wonders for battery life. ArsTechnica put the new OS version to the test and found that a Nexus 5 running Android L had around 36% more battery life than one on Android 4.4 KitKat.
Android Wear gets kicked up a Gear
We saw a lot more about Android Wear - and not only that, but we were introduced to Samsung's Gear Live, the third member of the new smartwatch game Google is trying to put together before Apple throws its hat into the ring.
Android Wear will use the same tools as on Android for phones and tablets, plus square and circular screens will be supported. Sensors will be well integrated for fitness and social interactions, and help reduce the need to check a phone screen. It's basically wearables like the Galaxy Gear 2, really.
However, the design is a lot nicer, and is very similar to Google Now by letting you swipe through cards and for more information. The watch is also contextually aware, so if you ask to be notified about something when you 'get home' it will know.
The watch (whichever you have) is very much voice enabled, allowing you to play music on your phone or other connected devices.
You can even get a boarding pass on your watch... the poor flight attendants. They'd only just got used to the phone being used in this way. Do you really want to take off your watch and hand it over?
Google Maps is going to give turn by turn navigation on your wrist as well now - finally. And the whole thing will be opened up with an SDK, so developers can write code right to the wrist itself, in a very similar environment to what they're used to, so apps should be super-snazzy right from the start.
When a watch is connected to a phone, it will look to see if any apps have watch compatibility and show them right on your wrist - no need for separate apps to download, a la the Samsung Gear range. Which means you can order pizza on your wrist in less than 20 seconds... that's dangerous, right there.
And all the watches announced so far (LG, Samsung and Moto) are water resistant too.
The LG G Watch is available on the Play Store - and it will be joined by the all-new Samsung Gear Live too. The former will retail for $229, LG said at a press event this afternoon. Straight conversions put the watch at about £134 and AU$243.
As for the Gear Live, it will cost $199 (about £117, AU$211). Pre-orders get off the ground straight away via Google Play, and it will start shipping July 7.
As for the Moto 360, well, sadly, it won't be available until later in the summer.
Android TV now baked right in too
Android L is also going to support TV, with information overlaid across the top of the information. It's called Android TV, surprisingly, and after the failure of Google TV the brand is having another go, such was the popularity of the Chromecast.
This means you've got content (games, films, TV shows etc) straight on your big screen and has a home button to get you back to the main display whenever you want.
Search is well-integrated too (through the mobile phone... or even an Android Wear watch), with Android TV very much powered by voice. So say you search for something like 'Breaking Bad' on the phone (when connected to the Android TV) it will show you the option to watch it on Google Play or any other compatible app installed.
The demo showed that Netflix was installed, but didn't appear in the search options - perhaps it was just a dummy app for now, but certainly that would be where the info would show.
And here's the great news: Android TV has been signed up to by some big names - the likes of Sony, Philips and Sharp have whole 4K ranges based on Android TV. Asus and Razer promise to have set top boxes to achieve the same thing too... although surely Google will update Chromecast to achieve the same thing.
This could really ramp up the smart TV game.
Android TV is looking to snap up the mobile gamer too. You can take the games to the bigger screen in the house. It looks like you need a separate gamepad too. With the new Android L-based Android TV, you can even play multiplayer games... or use it like a Chromecast too.
The rumors from before the event:
Android 5 is going to be exciting, there's no doubt about that. Google saves the change to a new number for the big things, and it seems Android L is now on its way, ready to be debuted at Google IO on June 25.
We thought it would have been Key Lime Pie that showed off the next level, but on 31 October 2013, Google officially revealed its next minor update, Android 4.4 KitKat, which now clears the road for Android 5.
The dessert-themed code name that we assume will begin with L is anyone's guess at this stage. Android 5.0 Lemon Cheesecake or Android 5.0 Lemon Meringue Pie, anyone? Though there's talk that it might be called Android Lollipop or even Android Moonshine, as it's apparently internally known.
However, the latest leaks point simply to Android L - given Android head honcho Sundar Pichai said the conference would give the world an early look at the new OS, chances are the name will be held back until closer to launch, which may be later in the year.
Then again, a new screengrab of the KitKat Easter egg shows a new pudding - is that a hark to the possible Key Lime Pie that was usurped by KitKat, or are we looking at Lemon Meringue Pie?
It may not be called Android 5 though, with some rumors suggesting the next major iteration from Google's wheel house could arrive as Android 4.5. That would make sense as we've had 4.0, 4.1, 4.2, 4.3 and 4.4 in recent years.
That said, it appears Google may have just dropped a hint as to the version number of the next iteration of Android. 5.0 is currently looking favorable after the time of "5.00" appeared on screenshots posted on Twitter by the search giant - a signal Google has used before.
As we wait on official news of that name, we're constantly combing the web to see what's going to be happening with this L-powered update, so check back to see what we've uncovered and the level of likelihood each rumor brings.
Cut to the chase
- What is it? The next major upgrade for Android, to follow on from Android 4.4
- When is it out? We're thinking later in 2014, but an early look at Google IO
- What will it cost? Nothing, it'll be a free upgrade, but some handsets will take longer to get it than others.
Android 5.0 release date
Given Android 4.4 KitKat appeared on 31 October, we're looking forward to finally seeing a big step forward for Android. The good news is we're going to get our first taste at Google IO, the search firm's annual two-day developer conference in San Francisco.
That's a year on from when we had originally expected to see Android 5.0, which was at Google IO 2013, but Google has been keeping things within the '4.x' family for a while now.
Sundar Pichai, Google's new head of Android told Wired that 2013's IO was "not a time when we have much in the way of launches of new products or a new operating system"," which makes us wonder when the new software will be coming.
Our take: Android updates are still appeating too slowly for our liking, as while each 0.1-numbered upgrade is good, it's not enough to make us want the native experience.
We're expecting Google to make Android 5 rather special indeed, which means it can only wait a maximum of 6-7 months after KitKat was announced to show it off - so it's a relief to hear it's appearing, in some form at least, at the conference.
More recent reports of Android 4.5 being next in line may mean the update is more iterative than sprawling overhaul, so we're not getting too carried away just yet.
In any case Google I/O is set for June 25-26, so with any luck we should know lots, lots more about what Android Lollipop will be bringing to the table soon.
Android 5.0 phones
The first handset to run Android 5 will either be a Nexus phone or tablet, and given the timing of the announcement we think it might be the latter. The Google Nexus 5 launched Android 4.4 at the tail end of next year, and while we've been waiting for the update to the big-screen tablet, the Nexus 10 (2014) doesn't look like it's appearing any time soon.
HTC looks like the front runner to bring this tablet to the market (if it does exist), but the rumors aren't pointing to an unveil any time soon.
We're also hearing a lot of rumblings about a Nexus 8, a slate which will supposedly launch with Android 4.5, so maybe that's the device that Android Lollipop will make its debut on.
Will it be known as a Nexus though? The scheme is under threat from Android Silver, but it doesn't look like that's launching yet, so we reckon the Nexus name will be kept for at least the next round of devices.
A more recent idea is that Google's next version of Android will have more fitness smarts built in - and this is an idea we think has legs, if you'll pardon the sort-of pun.
Apple is set to launch the iWatch and iOS 8 with fitness very much at the heart - Cupertino looks very likely to be bringing something that's able to track your heart rate, blood glucose and other vital medical info before shooting it over to your doctor.
It seems Google wants to do the same thing - it's recently-launched Android Wear platform already has companies like LG and Motorola signed up, and Samsung is rumored to be joining the party too.
The idea is future versions of Android (ie Android 5) will allow the software to harness "fitness data from sensors on your Android device."
Pichai has essentially confirmed this is going to be baked into the hardware and software side of things, telling Bloomberg that it made no sense to have to go to the doctor to measure a variety of health elements when technology can do it daily.
"You obviously need to be able to measure these things so many more times and then apply more intelligence to it," he said.
It also looks like Android 5 may add support for 64-bit processors, as the Nexus 8 is rumored to have one and to be running the new version of Android (if it turns out to be a real device - chances are it won't appear just yet).
That in turn would allow for more than 4GB of RAM in devices, opening the floodgates to enormous increases in power.
Some have speculated that Android 5.0 will be actually Chrome OS, Google's high power operating system for its Chromebooks - that it would use Android for low- to mid-level handsets and put Chrome on the high end.
However, this makes little sense given the effort that would be needed for app integration, so like Microsoft and Windows Phone the mobile OS will very likely continue as is.
A recent image of 'Android L' (which is presumably Android 4.5 / 5) appears to show the browser floating in the middle of the screen, which may mean we'll be getting split screen apps. That would certainly be a useful feature, particularly on larger devices.
Samsung, LG and Sony already do this but if the functionality is baked into Android then all devices potentially could.
Android 5.0 interface
While little is known about the potential interface changes for the next iteration of Google's mobile platform, be it Android 5.0 or Android 4.5, a screenshot has appeared online claiming to reveal the upcoming version.
There's a clear visual overhaul present in the screenshot, and according to the leak the new design is being referred to as "Moonshine" internally at Google.
We've also caught a glimpse of how the dialer might look in Android 4.5 / Android 5, courtesy of an image leaked by Google itself. It's not in for a radical redesign but if the image is to be believed then it will be going blue, rather than sticking with the current light gray colour.