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07 Jul 2017
13 Sep 2013
News  Platforms
Android P dev preview

It's time for P

So the Android P dev preview is here, and I've had a little play to see what's new. I did this bearing in mind, as usual, these are aimed at brave developers only, who most definitely are not scared of the odd bug or two they might encounter. They also must happen to have a spare Pixel handset lying around if they want it on hardware, with the rest of us having to make do with the emulator ;-) In the end I didn't encounter anything serious, and in fact found it pretty stable and usable.

Google are calling this an alpha build, and the roadmap is expected to deliver the final release "Q318". They publish a list of known issues and make it easy for developers to file P related bugs.

To get the Android P preview on your Pixel, follow the installation guide. The emulator is much easier - just fire up a current Android Studio, create a new emulator and at the "Platform" prompt you should see "Android P" appear as an option now that Google have made it available on their servers.

Embrace the notch

MWC 2018 was noted for the number of new handsets featuring a notch - the cutout area smack in the middle of the status bar at the top of the screen. Some handsets were already doing something similar, for example Essential's flagship model which used it for its front camera.  Then came the iPhone X. This had a much bigger one, but that wasn't the point - being seen as something different meant trendy Apple had updated what a fashionable smartphone should look like, so now every man and his dog doesn't want to be seen to be left behind. Google clearly saw the way the herd was moving and so added the first cut of support for it directly in the platform:

android p screenshot 1 300x300

The return of the rounded corner wars?

It's impossible to ignore the irony of this one. Material design has been around for 4 years now, and as previously rumored there has been talk of a UI refresh some are calling Material Design 2.0. Several dialogs did sport these, but clearly the makeover on this one isn't total because some, such as the theme selector above, haven't got the memo yet.

In any case, a change to Material Design itself is potentially massive news, because Google have just finished rolling it out to all their major web properties - the last one I saw was Calendar, only a month or so back. They've done a fantastic job retaining this consistency, but lame metaphors involving painting bridges spring to mind if the last one done turns out to need an update so quickly. Still, we are talking dev preview here, so if there's any place and time to experiment with radical UI redesigns, this is it.

Even smarter replies

Remember the "Reply" mechanism Google introduced to messaging, where those in a hurry could choose instantly from a bunch of AI generated responses? Well that's been enchanced in this Android P preview so it now offers a little more, such as inline photos and "smart replies" - presumably smarter than it offered before. Here's Google's take on it:

Color correction

When I fired up Android P, the first thing I noticed was the white on certain apps seemed different. I had to double test this by visiting the same websites in both - see the difference here:

android p and o 1 720x720

Notice the status bar on Android P is taller - this might be down to the "notch" theme being applied. If that's the case, we all know how precious those screen pixels are, so there had better be a good reason for there clearly being fewer available for content in the above shots. Talking of the status bar, notice how the clock is now far left by default.

Wi-Fi 802.11mc

The P dev preview supports a new WiFi system which can help with location tracking indoors. Using a technique termed RTT, that's "Round Trip Time", the device can ping local routers and, after presumably carrying out some egghead-level calculations, triangulate to get a fix. That'll help shopping malls, museums, factories etc which can't get a GPS signal indoors. From the release notes:

If your device knows the distance to 3 or more APs, the API uses a multilateration algorithm to estimate the device position that best fits those measurements. The result is typically accurate within 1 to 2 meters.


There's a dash more color in the settings secreen, which has been almost completely mono for the past few versions. A greater emphasis is placed on cards for the UI too, which you can see here have been upgraded from regular list enties, for changing the fingerprint and wallpaper settings. The new colors, and the larger icons they surround, do make them seem friendlier, but many users of previously branded devices such as Samsung and LG will have seen this before.  

android p and o 2 720x720


These changes are welcome, but do feel like minor tweaks more worthy of a point release than a full platform update. Perhaps that's the point - a few smaller ones with this release to get things stable, so the next one can get a little more radical. The point being this is the first true test of project Treble, the radical low level major surgery Google performed to Android O to make sure future platform upgrades didn't depend on every low level driver being rewritten each time. The idea is the base level closest to the hardware has a new abstraction layer which can largely remain unchanged, letting the top layer "slide" over.

You can be sure they are on that right now with this preview ;-)