Google previews upcoming Android 'L' release

The new operating system is expected to be out later this year and will go head-to-head with Apple's iOS 8

Google gave several thousand developers and a global Internet audience a preview of the next version of its Android operating system Wednesday as it opened its I/O conference in San Francisco.

The upcoming release, which Google called the "biggest release in the history of Android," includes hundreds of enhancements and new features and will go head-to-head with Apple's iOS 8, which is launching later this year.

A user of the new OS won't necessarily be prompted to enter their PIN or password every time they pick up their phone. The software will allow users to set trusted locations -- places like a home -- where authentication isn't required.

The phone will determine where it is by the presence of Wi-Fi or Bluetooth signals so, for instance, if a home Wi-Fi network is within range, the phone won't prompt the user for a password. This removes the need to repeatedly enter a password when the phone is in an environment where it's likely under the owner's control.

Google will also allow all apps to be launched from Web links. Right now, Google allows some apps to be automatically launched when a user clicks on a related link, but the new software expands this to all apps. As an example, the company showed a link to a restaurant that, when clicked, launched the OpenTable app for making a reservation.

Google is refreshing the way notifications work, allowing users to access them from the phone's lock screen and putting some "high importance" notifications over the top of low importance applications like games. And there is also a new visual trick called "material" that adds a shadow to buttons to give a slight 3D effect.

Changes under the hood will mean software runs faster. A new runtime will allow applications to run about twice as fast as they do now, and enhancements to the graphics software will bring more realistic graphics and characters in applications like video games, the company said.

A battery monitor for developers will give them deeper insight into battery use by each app. The result should mean up to 90 minutes of extra battery life per day on devices, if they are optimized using the tool.

Google didn't give away the name of the upcoming OS. The company simply called it the "L" release, in line with its custom of using successive letters of the alphabet for each release. The current version is called "KitKat."

Android is the world's most popular smartphone OS, with a share of around 78 percent in the last quarter of 2013, according to data from IDC. Google said that it now counts 1 billion active monthly users of all versions of the platform, which is almost double that of a year ago.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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