Although we’re already halfway through 2016 and Android N is looming just around the corner, many people still haven’t updated to the latest iteration, Android 6.0, or Marshmallow. In fact, according to Google Analytics data, just 7.5% of all Android devices are operating on Marshmallow. What are you running on your phone and why does it matter?
Marshmallow was released in October as a successor to 5.0, Lollipop. Although 6.0 brought forth relatively few changes to the structure of Android OS and instead focused on improving usability and functionality, it did include several game-changing new features to the way things worked. Let’s take a look at a few of these!
Most notably was the incorporation of Google Now on Tap – whilst in previous versions of Android compatible with Google Now, Android 6.0 incorporated a new launching mechanism and additional features for Google Now.
Google Now on Tap is activated on Android 6.0 devices by long-pressing the home button on most devices. It enables Google Now to analyze the content on your screen at the time of activation, and provides more relevant information than in the past. Google doesn’t intrude on your screen’s real estate as much as it did in the past, either, as it now functions as an overlay instead of a newly-launched app. However, if unwanted, Now on Tap can be disabled and Google Now activation can be reverted to its past form or disabled in the settings for the Google app.
In addition to the changes made to Google Now, a significant new feature introduced with 6.0 was the “Doze” profile built into the operating system. Doze dramatically improves battery life by disabling phone wake commands, keeping the phone in a low-energy power state and preventing it from automatically running tasks when unneeded. Notifications marked as high-priority, such texts, calls, or notifications from priority apps. Doze offers incredible battery life improvements, reducing battery drain to a mere 3-5% overnight as opposed to 15-25%, meaning that if your phone has sufficient juice in it from the day before and you forget to charge it overnight, you’ll still be able to get through the day tomorrow without panicking.
A wide variety of fresh security features were also added with the release of Marshmallow, including fingerprint sensor support and increased security for app permissions. Apps now require the user to grant it individual permissions prior to being able to do potentially invasive tasks, such as accessing your contacts list, device storage, or camera and microphone. The addition of the fingerprint scanner API without any need for device manufacturers to implement custom software has also led to a higher, standardized bar among android devices, and has also heralded the advance of Android Pay, Google’s response to Apple Pay and Samsung Pay. Google Pay requires an NFC-enabled Marshmallow device and can be used as a trusted payment system at most retailers. Monthly Google security patches are also included now, after the Stagefright bug scare from last year. The most recent security patch on your phone can be found by checking Settings > About.
One thing you might notice if you’re on a Nexus or Motorola device running stock or near-stock Android 6.0 would be changes to the notification drawer and the volume panel. Specifically, the quick toggles area has been expanded and given more customization, as users can now slide between pages and add or remove toggles, while the volume panel brings additional sliders into view – in the past, users were restricted to manipulating only one volume setting at a time.
Additional minor tweaks to devices include a more effective text selection algorithm and options bar – text can now be selected by “chunking” words together, and a handy new select all button is added to the context bar, alongside additional context-based options to translate text and more – a lock screen which Google Now can be more easily accessed from (just swipe in from the bottom left!), and the option to delete your screenshots from the notification that appears after they’re taken. Although small, these handy efficiency tweaks just might save users a lot of time in the long run!
If you’re dying to get your hands on Android M before the release of N, go to Settings > About > Check for updates to see if your manufacturer or carrier has come out with an update for you. If an update isn’t available, no worries – for the more tech-oriented, take a look to see if Google has a public release image up, or if your phone is compatible with CyanogenMod 13.0, a popular custom ROM based on Marshmallow. Keep in mind, though, that manually installing a ROM over your current operating system may void your warranty and requires some degree of know-how to install!
What are your favorite features about Android M, and what are you looking forwards to seeing included in Android N?