In a surprise unveiling, Google has given the world its first look at the next version of Android.
The yet-to-be-named Android update, codenamed “Android N,” features a split-screen mode, improved notifications and better battery life. Google unveiled a preview version of Android N for developers this week.
The new split-screen tool would catch Android up to Apple’s iPad, Samsung and Windows, which all give customers the ability to view multiple apps on the same screen.
Google said it could allow a video-playing app to continue to run while a person opens a different app. For example, you could continue to watch a YouTube video while opening up your Gmail app to respond to an email.
Samsung, which makes Android phones and tablets, has long given customers the ability to run split-screen apps. But it was an add-on feature, so people who owned non-Samsung Android devices have been left out of the multi-window fun.
Android N will introduce notifications that customers can reply to inside the notification itself. So if you get a text message, you can hit “reply” right in the notification and start typing without opening up the messaging app.
Interactive notifications have been a staple of Android for years, although they’ve been limited to actions like play, pause or delete. Unlike iOS, Android largely hasn’t allowed people to type anything into a notification. Google’s Hangouts currently allows customers to reply from an Android notification, but that still requires a pop-up window. Android N will just expand the notification window a bit to include a text box.
Android N will also include “bundled notifications,” which will keep all notifications for a single app in one line. Customers will be able to expand those notifications using a two-finger gesture or by tapping a new expansion button.
In the current version of Android, Google included a feature called “Doze,” which put phones into a deep sleep when they were sitting on a table for a while.
Android N will take Doze a step further, putting phones to rest whenever the screen is off. Google also said that Android N will make background tasks more efficient and less taxing on the battery.
Google said Android N’s new feature set isn’t limited to those new bells and whistles. Google will continue to release new features as it builds them.
Typically, new Android releases are unveiled during Google I/O, the company’s annual developer conference. This year’s I/O is scheduled for May 18-20.
“We’re doing something a little different this year by releasing the preview early… really early,” Google said in a blog post.
Google noted that a super-early preview allows developers to weigh in much sooner, giving Google more time to incorporate app-makers’ feedback. It follows Microsoft’s nearly yearlong preview of Windows 10, allowing anyone to download it and submit suggestions along the way.
The next version of Android will be named after some tasty treat that starts with the letter “N.” The current version is called Marshmallow.