Google I/O reveals big changes in Android M

Android 6.0, code-named 'Android M,' brings improved security, longer battery life, a better mobile payment feature, and a nifty expansion to Google Now called 'Now on Tap.'

Jeff Chiu/AP
Android 6.0 doesn't add as many features as its predecessor, but includes some important security and power tweaks. Here, Google exec Sherice Torres shows the Android Pay icon on a phone running a test build of Android 6.0.

Google announced the next version of its Android mobile operating system, codenamed “Android M,” on Friday at the Google I/O 2015 developer conference. (In case you’re wondering, the company did the same thing with Android 5.0 “Lollipop,” referring to it as “Android L” until just before the software actually launched.) But while Lollipop introduced a ton of new features and a new visual design for the operating system, Android M’s big changes are under the hood.

The biggest change is the expansion of Google Now, the hub of information, reminders, maps, and more that populates based on how you use your phone. Google Now has always been able to pull data from Google apps to do things such as tell you when to leave for an appointment or when to check in for a flight.

But the service now integrates with third party apps, allowing users to pull up information that’s relevant to whatever they’re doing at the moment. Google calls the feature “Now on Tap,” and it can do things such as bring up a restaurant’s location and menu when it’s mentioned in a text conversation or pull up information about an artist whose song is playing in Spotify.

Android M also allows you to guard your privacy by giving apps permission to access only certain features of your phone. Until now, you had to agree to a list of permissions when installing an app, which usually meant allowing that app to use your phone’s microphone, location, contact list, and more. Now you can enable those permissions one at a time – so if you don’t feel comfortable letting an app listen through your phone’s microphone, you can restrict that access (assuming you’re willing to live without whatever app feature requires the microphone). Apple has included this feature in iOS for several years, and it’s a welcome addition to Android.

Also on the security front, Android M will bring support for fingerprint sensors, such as the one found in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Some Android phones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Note 4, already have fingerprint sensors, but they’re powered by extra manufacturer software layered over the top of Android. Now that fingerprint support is baked in to Android, merchant and banking apps will be able to use it to provide additional security.

Android M will also include Android Pay, a service that will allow people to pay in stores by tapping their phones against special terminals, which will e-mail them a receipt. Android Pay is the successor to Google Wallet, which was released way back in 2011 but which lags behind Apple Pay in terms of support and ease of use. Google says Android Pay users won’t need to open a particular app to use the service – you can just tap your phone at the counter and be on your way.

Finally, Android M includes a slew of power tweaks designed to make phones last longer. A new “Doze” mode can put a phone into a low-power state when its motion sensors detect that it hasn’t been used in a while. Android M also supports USB Type C connectors, which will allow phones to charge about three to five times faster than the micro-USB tech found in today’s Android phones.

The features in Android M will undoubtedly change as Google receives feedback from developers and testers, but the operating system unveiled on Friday offers a good look at a slimmer, smarter, slightly more secure Android.

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