Google just took the wraps off of the developer preview for "Android N", the next version of Android. Even better, it's available now. There are a ton of new features, including a huge one we've been wanting for a while: multi-window support for phones and tablets. Here are the highlights from today's announcement.
Multi-Window Lets You Run Multiple Apps Side-by-Side
The obvious headlining feature is multi-window support, which lets you run multiple apps side-by-side in the same view. With Android N, users will be able to launch and use multiple apps right next to each other. Google hasn't specified exactly how this will work just yet, but the interface looks much like Microsoft's split-screen feature, first introduced in Windows 8.1. Apps can take up a portion of one side of the screen, and the app's interface will adapt based on how much screen real estate it's given. On tablets, the split will be left-to-right, but on phones the split will be top-to-bottom.
For now, Google says that developers will need to enable the feature for their apps, which means multi-window will probably only work in apps that explicitly support it, or are updated to support it. However, it could also mean that developers can make their apps to run a multi-window interface by default, or choose to control which parts of the app are displayed. An "activity" in Android can be all or part of the app design, so it's feasible that developers could allow users to pin certain portions of an app (say, a single to-do list out of an entire to-do app, or just one tab from a browser), but that's just speculation at the moment.
Picture-in-Picture Keeps Video Up and Playing When You Leave an App
Google also specifically called out a new "picture-in-picture" mode. If you've ever used YouTube's multitasking video player on your phone or tablet, this will sound familiar. Android N gives developers the option to put activities like videos in an overlay that runs on top of the rest of Android. That means if you're watching a movie and need to check your email, or using an Android-based TV device (or maybe even casting video to your TV), you'll be able to minimise a video while you go back to the channel guide, or keep watching while you select something else to play.
Google specifically says this is useful for TV devices, meaning it's likely meant for Android TV more than anything. However, it's unclear if Google will allow this to be used on phones and tablets as well. We're crossing our fingers for a YouTube-like video overlay that works in every app.
You Can Reply to Any Notification Directly From the Pull-Down Shade
The newest version of Android tweaks the notification shade again, this time in a way that's super useful. This most welcome improvement allows users to reply to notifications from virtually any app without having to close the shade first, or open an app to view them.
Hangouts has had a workaround that enabled a similar quick reply feature, but this one will be built right into the shade itself. This new implementation sounds like it will be a lot more like the way iOS notifications currently work.
Apps Can Bundle Notifications and Expand Them All Later
Android N will give developers a new option for dealing with a flood of notifications from a particularly chatty app. Now, when you receive multiple alerts from the same app, they can be grouped together into an expandable "bundle". This might sound familiar to Inbox users. The bundle will be represented as one single notification in the shade. To dismiss them all, you can swipe the entire bundle away with one gesture. Alternatively, you can use a two-finger gesture or tap an Expand button to open the bundle and deal with each notification individually. This will be handy for apps that like to send a ton of individual notifications for every little thing. I'm looking at you, Facebook.
The New Android Public Beta Program Gets You Early Access Over the Air, Without Being a Developer
In ye olden days, if you wanted to try out the newest experimental version of Android, you had to manually download and install it. Now, Google has a new program called Android Beta, which will go live later today.
Simply sign up and Google will not only push the Android N developer preview to your device (assuming it's supported,) but you'll automatically receive updates as Google releases them. Presumably, this is limited to the devices Google already includes in its developer program. This year, that includes the Nexus 6, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Nexus Player, Nexus 9 and the Pixel C. If you still want to install Android N manually, you can download the preview images the normal way. Android Police has compiled a list of links to the images here.
These aren't the only new features, but they're the biggest ones. Google has also mentioned improvements to Doze mode and a new Quick Settings UI. We'll be poking around in the new version to see if we can find anything else Google hasn't announced. We'll have a guide with information on all the ways you can install the Android N developer preview later today, so stay tuned.