Android Peppermint? Pocky? Popcorn? —
We play "spot the differences" with the Android P Developer Preview.
Android P Developer Preview is out this week, and the whole Android community is combing through it looking for changes. When Android P is released later this year, it will bring an all-new notification panel, new settings, official notch support, and a ton of other tiny changes.
We already did a rundown of the features announced in Google's blog post, but now we've actually gotten to spend some time with the next major version of Android, so we're here to report back. What follows are some of the more interesting things we discovered.
Material Design 2?
In the lead up to the release of Android P, there were numerous rumblings that big design changes were coming from Google. A February report from Bloomberg said Android P would feature a "dramatic redesign" of the OS, and as more and more parts of Android P trickle out, this report is looking more plausible. Android P brings big changes to the notification panel, ambient display, and settings, along with lots of home screen tweaks. Outside of Android P, there's a continual drip of redesigned apps arriving through the Play Store that seem to slot nicely into this new design. By the time the September-ish launch rolls around, we could be looking at a software package from Google that looks nothing like the Android of last year.
The main motif we can pick out of this new design is "white and round." All over Android P we see white backgrounds with rounded corners and icons, which look distinctly different from Google's current "Material Design" design language. The most obvious implementation is the all-new notification panel, but this also extends to the power and volume menus, all the dialog boxes, and little things like the rounded search bar in settings. Outside of Android P, the Google app seems to fit nicely into this design, too, with rounded rectangles used for the news feed, search box, and even the search results on Google.com. One of Google's newest apps,Google Pay
(formerly Android Pay) fits right in with this motif, too.
All of these interfaces are also getting a heavier dose of Google's "Product Sans" font, the same font used for the Google and Alphabet logos. The font is now used for buttons all over the OS in notifications and dialog boxes. It's used all throughout Google Pay, and in the past year the font has taken over the Google Assistant, the Pixel's initial setup screens, and the update screen. While Roboto is used by default all throughout Android and is available to third-party OEMs, Product Sans is limited to the Pixel theme and other Google products.
If you want a possible new name for this design, it might be "Material Design 2." Earlier this year, XDA Developers spotted a commit in the Chromium source mentioning "the new Google Material Design 2 standard." While Google hasn't said anything official about a design revamp, it sounds like something that might be publicized during Google I/O 2018. For now, it's hard to not connect wide-ranging Android design changes with this mention of a new design standard.
Android P features a ton of new animations, too, mostly having to do with transitions from screen to screen or app to app. Launching an app from a notification now makes the notification expand vertically to fill the screen and transition to the app. App-to-app transitions are probably the most interesting. When launching one app from another app or when pressing and sliding back to move through previously opened apps, you'll trigger a horizontal sliding animation. It seems inevitable that Android will eventually come up with a fully gesture-based navigation system to match the iPhone X, and a horizontal sliding animation like this would be great for a "back" gesture.
Under the hood, there's a new permission that allows for an app to "control remote app transition animations," so it seems that Google is working on some kind of app-to-app animation coordination system.
The new notification panel
The first new feature Android P users are likely to notice is the all-new notification panel, which has a revamped design and better messaging notifications. As we previously mentioned as a possibility, Google's renders were not entirely accurate. Google's original picture lacked a date and time, but, in the actual Android P build, it turns out date and time both live in the status bar area. Eventually the notification panel will support "Smart Replies"—Google's machine-learning-generated custom replies to messages—but for now the feature doesn't work.
The new design is here, though, and I think it looks great. The pure-white design is a big upgrade over the ugly transparency introduced in Android 8.1, and the new buttons look nice and clean, if a little bit like the iOS control center.
Google seems to mess with the Quick Settings in every Android version, and again there are big changes in Android P. Before Android P the Quick Settings panel confusingly had two functions: some buttons would be power toggles, and others would open extra options panels for things like connecting to Wi-Fi or Bluetooth devices. From version to version, Google has flip-flopped on how this should work, hiding panels behind a long-press in some versions, or adding little drop-down buttons to launch panels in others. In Android P, the option panels are totally gone—nearly every Quick Settings button is a power toggle, while long pressing will dive into a related settings page.
If you have too many buttons to fit on-screen, Quick Settings will now scroll vertically instead of being horizontally paginated. There's also a new "Alarm" quick settings panel, which oddly doesn't turn the alarm on and off; instead, it just opens the alarm clock app. It's basically an app icon.
The way brightness works has been totally revamped in Android P, and it might be my favorite change: there is now nearly full-range auto-brightness, and it works wonderfully. Step into a dark room and Android will automatically reduce the screen brightness to near minimum levels. Walk out into the light and it will increase to max. You can watch this in real time by leaving the Quick Settings panel open, where the brightness slider will autonomously move left and right with the changing light levels. Moving into darkness is really fun—the slider will quickly zip down to 10 percent and will then spend the next few seconds getting even darker, as if it's meant to account for the slowly changing light sensitively of the human eye.
I haven't seen this last feature anywhere else on the Web, but for some reason I get little red minus circles on certain notifications. Tapping on these will bring up a message that says "You usually dismiss these notifications. Keep showing them?" and then it offers to block the notifications from the app. It seems like Android P comes with an automatic notification-blocker recommendation. The feature doesn't seem well-polished yet—in a multimessage Gmail notification, it tries to stick a red icon next to every line of the message, which results in the circles getting cut off and overlapping the text.