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Google’s new Android P mobile operating system promises to save your battery, improve navigation, and help you tame your smartphone addiction
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Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks about YouTube break reminders at the Google I/O conference in Mountain View, Calif., Tuesday, May 8, 2018.(Photo: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Google isn’t ready to tell us what the “P” in Android P will stand for: pistachio ice cream, peanut butter, pretzels or presumably, the name of some other edible treat.
What Google did reveal Tuesday at its Google I/O developer conference, however, was a lot more about the features and thinking behind the latest version of its mobile operating system, including ways Android P might even help you tame your smartphone addiction. And yes, the successor to the current version, Android Oreo, leverages Google’s prowess in artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Android P won’t formally launch until the fall. But if you have a Google Pixel or such other phones as the Sony Xperia XZ2, Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S, Nokia 7 Plus, Oppo R15 Pro, Vivo X21, OnePlus 6, and Essential PH‑1, you’ll be able to try Android P in beta starting Tuesday, assuming all the usual risks that come with running pre-launch software.
(As a quick side note, it’s interesting that none of the Galaxy handsets from the leading maker of Android phones, Samsung, are on the beta list at this stage.)
More: Creepy or convenient? Google Assistant can make human-sounding phone calls on your behalf
More: Google I/O: Google vows to wean you off the device addiction it helped encourage
More: We asked Google Assistant, Amazon ‘s Alexa and Apple’s Siri 150 questions. Here’s who won.
I plan to take the beta for a spin myself. In the meantime, what Google is promising comes in three broad buckets: intelligence (fueled by AI), simplicity (new navigational gestures), and what the company is referring to as your digital well-being, or helping you strike a balance between your digital and off-device life.
Here are five ways that Android may alter the way you use your smartphone.
Google says Android P can learn from how you use your phone and anticipate what you’ll want to do next. The goal is to save you some time, and as a bonus help preserve your phone’s battery.
Along those lines, Google is teaming up with its UK-based artificial intelligence unit DeepMind on a feature called “Adaptive Battery.” Via machine learning, Android determines which apps you’re likely to use over the next few hours, and which ones are going to remain benched. The operating system devotes battery resources only on the apps and services it expects you to use.
Great to see this work between the teams to improve battery life and brightness use cases on Android! https://t.co/ihp5HzqVyO
Google is also using machine learning to discover how you like to set your brightness settings on the phone, does it for you automatically in a power-efficient way, based on your preferences and the ambient lighting environment. It found that about half the people who tested the feature made fewer manual brightness adjustments compared to prior versions of Android.
A year ago, Google launched a feature that predicted the next app you would use and the path you took to launch that app, with a prediction rate of almost 60%. With Android P, Google is taking this further based on through what it refers to as “App Actions.” Based on your usage patterns, Google is trying to help you get to the next task you want to tackle faster.
If you plug in headphones, for example, Android might surface an action to resume the album you had been listening to, or to launch a playlist in Spotify.
Google is incorporating App Actions inside the Android launcher, Play Store, the Google Assistant and Google search. So if you’re searching, say, for the new Star Wars movie, Google might launch an action that brings up Fandango or another app you typically use to buy tickets.
Inside search, Google is also laying the groundwork for another new feature, Slices, which lets developers surface interactive snippets based on whatever it is you searched for.
Say you type Lyft in the Google search box on your phone. Android P might deliver a Slice from the Lyft app on your phone that reveals how much a ride home will cost. You’ll also be able to order the ride from the Slice. What you did not do, though, was open the full Lyft app on the phone
Another example: Enter Hawaii as a search and you might get a Slice Google Photos that shows off your vacation pics.
Google says will be opening up App Actions and Slices to developers next month.
Google aims to make navigation and multitasking on the phone more approachable by making the tech fade into the background.
One way is through gestures that take the place of, or dramatically reduce the number of times you’ll tap a button on the screen. There’s now a single clean home button.
For instance, swiping up from the bottom of the screen summons an overview screen where you can easily resume recently used apps. At the bottom of the screen are five predicted apps.
Swipe up a second time and you’ll get to an all apps screen.
You can also scroll through recent apps by sliding the home button sideways.
The swiping up gesture works from wherever and whatever you are doing on your phone.
Inside the aforementioned overview, you can take advantage of a smart text selection feature which recognizes the meaning of the text you’ve selected—a recording artist, say—and suggests relevant actions based on that selection (e.g. listen on Spotify.)
Will any of this in fact make getting around simpler? I’ll wait until I’ve put Android P through its paces. But Google believes navigation will indeed improve, especially with the trend towards taller phones with more narrow bezels.
Meantime, have you ever tried lowering the volume on your phone before a video starts, only to turn down the ringer volume instead? Google’s latest volume control adjusts the media volume by default instead. And you really do want to silence the ringer, you can still do that too.
Android P lets you summon a Dashboard that may help you understand your screen time habits. It will show you how much time you spent in apps, how many times you’ve unlocked the device, how many notifications you received and so on. The idea is that knowledge is power. Armed with such information, you might be able to alter your behavior, though suffice it to say, that remains to be seen.
Developers will also be able to provide detailed breakdowns of how you spend time in their apps. YouTube, for example, will let you know where you can see total watch time across mobile and desktop.
Determining who can break through Do Not Disturb mode in Android. (Photo: Google)
I’m particularly eager as a parent to test this feature out, though the truth is it is not just the kids who are addicted to this or that app. Android P will let you set time limits on specific apps. When you approach the time limit on such and app, you’ll get a nudge advising you that it is time to do something else. For the rest of the day the icon for that app will be greyed out.
Android already has a do not disturb blocks notifications and other distractions. With Android P, it adds a “Shush” feature that automatically turns on do not disturb when you flip the phone and lay the device down so the screen is no longer facing you. You won’t get a ping or vibration or other notification in this mode, except from designated contacts (your spouse, or boss) who can always get to you in a pinch.
Meanwhile, come bedtime when you should be putting your phone away but can’t help yourself. Android P helps you fight that urge with another new feature called Wind Down. First, you tell the Google Assistant when it is you hope to to go to sleep. Then, when the time comes, the phone will not only kick into a do not disturb state, but will simultaneously transform the display from color to grayscale.
Entering this mode is supposed to be far less stimulating on the brain, and maybe, just maybe, encourage you to set the device down until morning when full color is restored.
To try the Android P beta, head to Android.com/beta with an eligible phone.
Email: [email protected]; Follow USA TODAY Personal Tech Columnist @edbaig on Twitter