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Android O will focus on ‘vitals’ like battery life and speed, first beta launches today

It’s been two months since Google first announced Android O, but today’s the day we’re really learning about what’s inside the operating system’s next big update.

Google says the big feature this year is a focus on phones’ “vitals” — their battery life, security, startup time, and stability.

For security, Google is introducing a new feature called Google Play Protect. Google already scans apps in the Play Store to make sure they aren’t malicious, but now it’s going to make that more visible by showing that your phone’s apps have recently been scanned when you’re in the Store.

For startup time, Google says that the system should boot twice as fast and that apps should all be faster by default. This is the result of “extensive changes” to the operating system’s core, said Android product manager Stephanie Saad Cuthbertson.

On battery, Android will now apply what Cuthbertson calls “wise limits” to background location and app activity to make sure nothing is draining the phone when it doesn’t need to be.

There are also some small but helpful new additions that’ll be visible in the interface.

Android O “notification dots”

Android O “notification dots”

Photo by Vlad Savov / The Verge

One of those touches is app badging — like on iOS — to indicate when an app has pending notifications. When a notification is waiting, a small dot will appear at the top right corner of the app icon. A number won’t be displayed to show how many notifications there are, so you’ll have to tap in to check. But there is a very nice touch: you’ll be able to long press on the app icon to see what the notification is and interact with it.

Google is also doing a handful of things to make filling in text even easier. For one, it’s bringing autofill to all apps, not just Chrome, to help insert info like your address. Text selection is also getting much easier. Instead of dragging around handles, Android will automatically recognize when you’re trying to select distinct things like phone numbers and addresses and select the entire item when you double tap it. Users will also be presented with a pop-up that suggests an app they may want to bring that information over to, like the Dialer for a phone number.

There were already a handful of things we knew about O before today. Notifications are also getting complicated and / or streamlined with the addition of notification channels (like “news”) which you can individually mute or prioritize. And developers will be able to make app icons that change shape — from freeform, to circles, to squares, to something in between — to better fit a phone’s custom theme.

One of the other big addition in O is a “modular” architecture that will theoretically make it easier for manufacturers to update their devices to new versions of Android. Android has long had problems with slow updates, so it’d be a big deal if this one pans out.

The first public beta for Android O is launching today, and you’ll be able to sign up here. Just a warning: once you install it, you’ll have wipe your device to go back to a stable build of Android Nougat — so don’t opt into O’s beta unless you’re sure you’re okay with encountering some bugs. Only a few Nexus and Pixel devices are eligible for the beta so far.

One thing we still don’t know about Android O: its proper name. Google doesn’t usually announce the full name of an Android version until shortly before its release, so we may still have months to wait for that. We don’t know the final release date of Android O either, but chances are it’ll be sometime this fall.

Android O sounds like one of the quieter releases of Google’s operating system. There aren’t any huge, exciting features here that’ll make people scramble to get it on their device. But by updating the foundations of the OS, this could be an important release that puts Android on a better foot going forward.

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