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Android Marshmallow 6.0 (M) - features & news

Richard Easton
29 Sep 2015
Google IO - developer preview Android M
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We round up everything you need to know about the next version of Android

Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) is almost with us. Google's next-gen mobile operating system has just been announced for its own-brand Nexus handsets and will roll out across other devices over the coming months. Highlights include improved battery life, better handling of app permissions for improved security and 'Now on Tap', which provides helpful info whatever you're looking at.

The release of Android Lollipop (version 5.0) saw one of the biggest updates to the operating system to date, not only visually with a large splash of Material Design but also through the introduction of numerous backend functions and refinements. We don't expect Android 6.0 to be quite as dramatic, but there's still plenty to get excited about if you own an Android phone.

And phones are only the beginning, with Android powering a whole raft of new devices including smartwatches, televisions and even in-car technology. We take a look at what Android 6.0 will bring to your devices.

Android M release date

Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) was announced on the 29th of September at a Google press event [video]. The event officially launched the new operating system alongside the new Nexus 5X and 6P handsets and the new Chromecast too.

If you're running a Nexus handset then that should receive an OTA (over-the-air) update in the following week or so. Phones from other manufacturers may have to wait much longer, though, usually depending on how many modifications to the operating system the manufacturer wishes to make. Expect updates to Motorola handsets fairly quickly then, but Samsung will take far longer.

Android M review

With the Developer Preview having been available for months, we've been able to flash our Nexus handset and give it a thorough going over. The current build of the new version of Android is largely complete, but all the new features haven't been integrated yet, most notably there's no Now on Tap, see below. For our full take see Android M review.

Android M new features

Now on tap

The most obvious and impressive new feature demoed was Now on Tap. This takes Google Now and spread it out across the operating system, so that you can use it pretty much wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. You simply make a long press on the Home button and Now slides up from the bottom of the screen over whatever you’re doing

It’s driven by some very powerful context-sensitive, intelligent search algorithms. Which means it scans the content you’re looking at and provides information around that, which may be useful. For example, you could make a voice query such as ‘how old is he?’ while looking at a page about Hugh Laurie, and Now on Tap will pop up the answer - it knows which ‘he’ you’re referring to.

Android M Now on Tap

If you’re reading an email and it mentions a film you can quickly get local screening times, or reviews. And it ties into other apps now too, so Google Now will offer IMDB, for example, to provide more information on that film. It all looks very clever and it could make Now a key part of Android, rather than simply an aside that most people don’t use very often.

Doze

Google is again promising to improve battery life, but this time it's standby power that’s getting the boost. Doze is a new technology that detects when the device is motionless and unused and goes into a deeper sleep mode, polling for updates less often, but still available for important incoming events like calls or VoIP.

In internal tests, Google found it doubled the battery life of a Nexus 9 tablet, we’re guessing a not-much-used Nexus 9. Still we’ve always found our iPad lasts for ages longer on standby than our Google-power equivalent, so it sounds like a good move.

App Permissions

App permissions are a bit of a pain in Android. The more open nature of the Play Store, compared to say the App Store, means that you’re forever giving apps endless permissions to do things, many of which you aren’t happy with.

Now app permissions are granted when used, not at installation. So the first time an app tries to access your camera, it provides a request to do so, and you can agree once or forever. This way apps that may have certain functions you don’t use, don’t have access to things you don’t need them to access. For example, Skype, if you only use voice calls it doesn’t need to access your camera.

There will be a smaller, simpler set of permissions now, and you’ll be able to go in and edit them either by the app, or by permission type (say contacts or microphone). Updates are now more seamless for apps as updated permissions don’t require agreement at install.

Android M app permissions

Fingerprint sensors and Android Pay

Support for fingerprint sensors is being added in Android M, in conjunction with a push on Android Pay - which seems to have superseded Google Wallet entirely, initially you'll be able to authorise Play Store transactions and unlock your phone using the system. Phones with scanners will be coming soon, so expect them on every flagship handset in 2016. What we're really waiting on though is the ability to buy stuff using our phones, so we don't have to fish out our debit and credit cards to make quick purchases.

With Apple Pay finally rolling out in the UK, making use of the now widely spread Contactless payment system, we're hoping that Google steps up its game, too, and paying for lunch with your phone should soon be the norm. Although for this you will need a handset with NFC and preferably a fingerprint sensor, you could probably use a security PIN but that rather defeats the convenience of the whole system.

Android M fingerprint scanner shopping

Multi-app, splitscreen support

The new operating system will also be able to  run two apps side-by-side. We've seen this before on Samsung's Note devices, but it's never been a feature in Google's own version of Android. It will be a huge boon for users of biggers handsets, such as the Nexus 6.

Other bits

Google is adding Chrome Custom Tabs to Android. These allow app developers to create browser tabs in their own style, to make the move from app content to web content smoother, allowing apps to integrate web content without a visually jarring effect.  

There will also be Improved linking between apps, so you’ll see a lot less of that annoying screen that asks you to pick which app you want to open your request. Certified apps will be able to ‘own’ links connected to them, for example by default the Twitter app will own Twitter links, and you’ll get taken straight to it should you click on one in a browser. You’ll be able to reassign these if you prefer another app, but by default it will be a far more seamless app-to-app experience.


Finally, Google's sense of humour has remained intact for Marshmallow. As with previous Android releases, digging into the settings menu and tapping on "Android version number" seven times will open an easter egg, themed around fluffy mallow goodness. It's a Flappy Bird-style endless runner where you have to guide a floating Android through Androidified marshmallow obstacles, tapping the screen to keep it in the air. Your score increases with every one you get past successfully. It's certainly a step up from the developer preview build, which would simply display a row of repeating ¯_(ツ)_/¯ shrug shoulders ascii characters.