Android L preview: a whole new look for Google’s mobile operating system

Android L — which does not have a cute dessert name yet — is the biggest facelift Google has given Android in years. Google SVPs Sundar Pichai and Matias Duarte gave a preview of the future of Android at the Google I/O developer conference on Wednesday.

It starts with design: this is certainly the prettiest version of Android ever. Gone is the focus on charcoal and grey from earlier years, and in is a newfound emphasis on color. Following current design trends, Android L also emphasizes “material design,” which turns app windows into cards. Each card has a specified “elevation value,” which allows the Android UI to automatically add drop shadows, perspective, and other animation touches regardless of screen size or dimension.

There’s also a good deal of new animations included in Android L: for instance, a new touch feedback animation that looks like “ripples in a pond.”

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Google’s new guidelines for developers to make it easier to keep a consistent look and feel across Android — say, on a big 10-inch tablet as well as a tiny smartwatch screen.

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The first place users will notice the visual change is in Google’s built-in apps: for instance, the Gmail app previewed on stage has large amounts of neutral space, a flat design, and Google’s updated Roboto font. The dialer features bold colors, that ripple animation mentioned earlier, and more neutral space.

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Notifications have also gotten a lot of attention, with active banners popping up, even if you’re currently in another app, and a new approach to the lockscreen which allows users to take action on notifications without unlocking the device. One of the coolest features here is called Personal Unlocking, which uses context to skip locking the phone down. For instance, if your device is paired with a Bluetooth watch in the area, your phone will stay unlocked.

Chrome, the default browser on Android, has received a big update, with new recent tab screens and improved performance. Consumers will also appreciate the new “Universal Data Controls” feature, which puts all the device’s privacy settings in one place, and “Factory Reset Protection,” which provides a tool for administering remote wipes. Also appreciated: a new set of apps which will help save and monitor your device’s battery.

Under the hood — I/O is a developer’s conference, after all — there’s a lot that’s new as well. Most important is ART, which stands for Android Runtime. Google said ART manages RAM better than Dalvik, the previous runtime, and it’s fully 64-bit compatible. Google also announced the Android Extension Pack, which is a new collection of graphic tools like geometry shaders for game developers.

If you’re lucky enough to have a Nexus 5 or Nexus 7, you can download the Android L ROMs later today.

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