Every new generation of the Android operating system heralds a distinct evolution in this Linux-based software. Providing the foundations for a billion smartphones worldwide, Android’s significance is reflected in the attention paid to each dessert-themed upgrade. Cupcake introduced on-screen keyboards in 2009, 2011’s Honeycomb pioneered screen-based buttons for navigation, and 2013’s KitKat heralded the first OK Google voice support.
In August, Android version 9.0 was rolled out. More commonly known as Pie, it’s as significant an advance on the previous version as we’ve seen to date. Once again, device operation is at the forefront of changes, but are these revisions enough to persuade consumers to upgrade? After all, Android users are hardly renowned as early adopters. The most widely-used version of the operating system is 6.0 (Marshmallow), with 7.0 (Nougat) close behind. In terms of market share, the most recent Oreo release still trails 2014’s Lollipop.
These are the key changes and new features in Android Pie:
Pie introduces a new – and controversial – gesture recognition interface. Android’s classic triumvirate of buttons is replaced with a single Home button and a scrolling ‘rolodex’ of apps. Users swipe up to close a program and down to open it, though a left-justified Back button periodically appears in certain apps. This is believed to be a compromise for enraged beta testers, though it appears the Back button’s days are finally numbered. Apple has already adopted a similar approach in iOS, attracting equally mixed feedback.
2. App folders
Instead of scrolling through pages of screens, apps are now tucked away within a pull-out card. Key functions display at the bottom of the Home screen, with a discreet arrow above them. Drag upwards, and your app drawer reveals every program currently installed. This means that apps are accessible from anywhere in the system, rather than having to exit a particular program and head back to the Home screen.
3. Adaptive elements
Battery anxiety is a growing issue, but it’s particularly troublesome on phones where a full charge doesn’t last a whole day. The Adaptive Battery function studies user behavior, closing little-used apps and services to reduce the drain on system resources at rest. Similarly, the screen automatically adjusts itself based on early user input, so if you crank the brightness up every sunny morning, Android Pie will learn to replicate these actions. It even launches the last-used music app or streaming service when headphones are plugged in – an ingenious touch music lovers are bound to appreciate.
4. Device monitoring
In these increasingly self-aware times, when mental health issues are being linked to social media addiction and excessive smartphone usage, Android Pie monitors individual app use. It also records how often the phone is unlocked and checked, as well as how much time is spent using it. It’s possible to set a maximum daily time allowance for certain apps, which turn gray when the daily usage limit is reached. Apps are still available in an emergency, but this is a clever way to deter over-use. Similarly, a bedroom-friendly Do Not Disturb function turns the entire screen gray and mutes notifications overnight.
The days of only connecting one Bluetooth device at a time are mercifully behind us. Android Pie supports five Bluetooth connections, remembering which ones are able to transmit voice calls. There’s a clever system helping to synch video and audio streams, while volume settings on individual Bluetooth devices are reprised from the most recent connection to prevent unexpected aural explosions. Finally, there’s greater support for HD audio and HDR-enabled YouTube/Google Play content.
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