As it gradually becomes available for popular Android devices in the coming months, Alphabet Inc./Google's (GOOGL) Android 8.0 (Oreo) should be popular with Android users unhappy about battery life, notification overload, boot times and other nuts-and-bolts issues. Nonetheless, in light of what Apple Inc. (AAPL) has baked into iOS 11, Google might eventually wish it took a more aggressive approach to revamping its mobile OS.
This column originally appeared on Real Money, our premium site for active traders. Click here to get great columns like this.
- Battery life and performance are improved by restricting what apps running in the background can do. This includes setting limits on how often they use a phone's GPS radio to get location updates.
- Boot times are significantly lowered. Google claims a 2x improvement for Pixel phones.
- Different types of notifications from an app are collapsed and grouped into "channels." By pressing and holding a notification or visiting the Settings menu, users can control how a particular channel acts, including whether notifications appear on the lock screen, produce sound, or lead a phone to vibrate. They can also fully block a channel's notifications, or snooze them for a certain amount of time.
- "Notification dots" can appear on an app's home screen icon. By tapping on the dots, users can see new content from an app (for example, new e-mails or news feed posts) without having to fully open it.
- An autofill programming interface (API) lets users quickly enter saved login info for an app.
- A picture-in-picture mode (long an iOS staple) allows a video to continue playing while a user checks out the home screen or another app.
- Apps can support AAudio, a new API that improves audio performance for apps requiring low latency (for example, voice and video calls).
Google also used its event to tout some new Android features that aren't restricted to 8.0. These include Instant Apps, which lets a user almost immediately start using some of an app's features without installing it (they can install later if they want to). As well as Google Play Protect, a set of mobile security services that does things such as scan/verify apps, secure mobile browsers and remotely locate a device. Mobile security software firms such as AVG Technologies and Lookout probably aren't thrilled to see Play Protect.
Much like prior Android updates, 8.0 will take a few months to roll out to popular phones, due to the time needed by OEMs and carriers to prepare updates that include their own apps (often derided as bloatware) and custom interfaces -- Apple, which is solely responsible for rolling out its OS updates, doesn't have the same problem. Google is, however, promising updates will arrive faster starting with 8.0, thanks to the arrival of a new modular Android code architecture.
In a vacuum, Android 8.0 is a pretty solid update. Perhaps more impressive on the whole than Android 7.0 (Nougat), which brought with it features such as a split-screen app view, a Data Saver mode and (for some devices) support for Google's Daydream virtual reality platform. The only problem is that Apple is hardly standing still either.