Android M brings hefty upgrades to core user experience

Android die-hards will have a lot to like in the next update to Google’s mobile operating system, code-named Android M.

Dave Burke, the company’s vice president of engineering for Android, gave developers a first glimpse at M during a keynote presentation at the Google I/O conference Thursday. Calling it Google’s “most polished Android release to date,” he said that M is focused on improving the core user experience of the mobile OS.

Google has overhauled the permissions system in Android with the new release. Specifically, Android M apps won’t ask for a smorgasbord of permissions up front when users first install an app. Instead, apps will query users when they try to use a feature that requires a permission. Users will be able to allow or deny individual permissions when they’re requested, and turn them on or off at will.

Those changes should make it easier for developers to get users to update their apps, since updates don’t require users to approve new permissions. It should also cut down on people fretting about permissions that may not make sense at first blush, like Facebook Messenger requesting microphone access. The messaging app uses a device’s microphone in order to power its voice calling feature, but doesn’t use it otherwise. Under the new permissions model, Facebook Messenger users won’t be asked for microphone access until they place a call for the first time.

The update also includes system-level support for fingerprint sensors, which will standardize development for phones that have those sensors.

Android M also includes a number of smaller improvements, including updates to the system volume controls that allow users to control different volume levels for things like alarms and the phone’s ringer.

Developers will be able to download a preview version of Android M to the Nexus 5, Nexus 6, Nexus 9 and Nexus Player Thursday, with a full consumer release coming later.

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