Android’s latest redesign is on the way, and it looks to be a significant visual overhaul. Google ran through a quick preview of its mobile OS’s forthcoming “L” release at the Google I/O developer’s conference today, demonstrating what Android users can expect when the update arrives in full later this fall.
Google didn’t specify an exact name or point number for the release, but L makes some immediately noticeable changes to Android’s current look either way. At the heart of it is a new design language that Google calls “Material Design,” which is intended to bring a more consistent look to software across devices on Android, Chrome OS, and the web.
The new look largely follows the “flat design” trend that’s been sweeping the tech world over the past several months, and generally brings a more lighthearted, colorful presence. Icons are rounder; the traditional trio of soft keys have been redesigned to a simple triangle, circle and square; Google Keyboard is flatter with less individually distinct keys; the default “Roboto” typeface appears crisper than before; and animations are generally livelier and more active when transitioning through apps.
Google says it wants Material Design to make better use of each device’s screen space, and first-party mainstays like Gmail and Google Calendar indeed appear far less scrunched together at first blush. The whole thing makes heavy use of the Google Now-style “cards” look too, at least within its default functions and apps. Google has a web app made with Material Design up here for those who want to get a feel for its general aesthetic.
From a functionality standpoint, Android L allows for Moto X-type access to notifications from your phone’s lock screen, letting you view more details about any missed calls or messages without unlocking your device as a whole. And if you receive a notification while you’re in the middle of another app, the L release will drop it down over the top of your screen in the form of a thin card, which can then be accessed with a double tap, or dismissed with a swipe without pausing your current program.
The “recents” button (now represented by a square) now brings up a rolodex-style set of cards to display your open apps, rather than the traditional list view. It’ll also shows open Chrome tabs individually, even when they’re opened on a connected desktop. Google Search results can now bring you directly to a company’s app instead of its website if you have said app installed. A “do not disturb” mode was mentioned as well, though it wasn’t demoed on stage. A baked-in “Android for work” feature allows personal and business data to live separately on one device, a la Samsung Knox. Little tweaks and updates like these appear to be all the place.
On the more technical side of things, Google says that Android L will bring the expected performance increases as well. For one, the update runs exclusively on the ART runtime that was introduced back with KitKat last year. It’s fully compatible with 64-bit mobile chips, and a built-in “battery saver” mode is there to squeeze up to 90 minutes of extra juice by shutting down certain background programs. A new set of “Android extension pack” features for mobile GPUs aim to dramatically improve the lighting, tessellation, and other such graphical effects of the OS’s mobile games too.
Material Design’s drastic visual changes could very well lead Android L to polarize current fans of the OS, but it clearly marks Google’s attempt to unify the OS across phones, tablets, wearables, TVs, and any other conceivable smart platform. We’ll get a better sense of how it all works when the release launches later this fall, but a preview code for the release is available for developers to download today.