Android Intelligence Analysis

5 missing footnotes from those Android P rumors

Android P rumor season has begun — but this first batch of tantalizing teases could use a little clarification.

Android P Rumors
Magnascan (CC0)

Well, gang, we knew it was inevitable, and now it's actually happening: Here in the land of Android, we are officially talking about the first stream of P leaks.

Hey, it could be worse. Just wait until developers start getting P on their devices.

In all seriousness, though, Android P is inching ever-closer to its actual arrival. The first developers' preview of Android O landed on March 21st last year, 57 days ahead of Google's 2017 I/O convention. This year's I/O event is happening even earlier — starting on May 8th — and so it's not unreasonable to think the first Android P preview could come out even earlier as well (especially considering that Google has been putting out its previews earlier and earlier every year, regardless).

Anyhoo, point being: Work on Android P is well underway at this point. And the folks over at Bloomberg got their hands on what seems to be a juicy set of rumors about the release.

The article makes a bunch of sensational-sounding claims — claims that, on the surface, make you sit up in your rickety ol' rocker and say: "Hmph! My goodness, that's some scandalous scuttlebutt!" (In this scenario, you're a 30s-era hepcat. Try to keep up, wouldya?)

The problem, though, is that the story's most eyebrow-raising tidbits are lacking context. And once you put 'em in the proper perspective, they suddenly seem, well, a lot less shocking.

By all means, read the Bloomberg article. But then add in these critical-yet-underemphasized footnotes, and you'll be in a much better position to process the info.

Footnote #1: About all that notch stuff...

The Bloomberg piece makes a big point about how Android P is going to "overhaul" Android to support "a new generation of smartphones" that copy Apple's magical and revolutionary iPhone X notch.

From the story:

While Android dominates the middle and low-end of the global smartphone market, Apple controls much of the high-end with users who spend more on apps and other services. Embracing the notch may help change that. The design will mean more new Android phones with cutouts at the top of their screens to fit cameras and other sensors.

And now the context: It should come as no surprise that Google is working to provide native support for manufacturers that want to create notch-rockin' phones, just as Essential did ahead of the iPhone X's release. In fact, Essential has talked about how it worked closely with Google to come up with a way for Android to function with that mid-status-bar cutout on its first device.

Android P Notch - Essential Phone, iPhone X Essential / Apple

Notch to notch: the Essential Phone, left, and iPhone X, right

We've also known for some time now that a certain amount of iPhone X notch-emulation was pretty much inevitable in the Android ecosystem. So, yes, all considered, it's perfectly sensible and expected that Google would update the operating system to support this.

Does that mean that suddenly, all high-end Android devices are going to be sporting those oh-so-stylish and not at all silly mid-screen cutouts? Does the fact that Google is "embracing" something in the operating system mean that it is unequivocally the Next Big Thing in Android — the missing piece that every manufacturer is going to eagerly embrace?

Well, consider this: Back in 2013, when IR blasters were the hot new whizbang feature o' the moment, Google added native OS-level support for IR blasters into the Android 4.4 KitKat release. And we all know how that ended.

In 2015, Google added enhanced native support for external storage into Android 6.0, Marshmallow. How many phones do we see shipping with SD card slots today?

Android 6.0 also saw the addition of native OS-level Bluetooth stylus support. And more recently, rumors of an early Android 7.0 build sporting pressure sensitivity code set off a flurry of blogs about how 3D Touch was about to become the new must-have standard for Android.

See where I'm going with this?

Google supports (or at least considers supporting) lots of things as part of the core Android software. Its job is to respond to partners' requests and enable manufacturers to embrace all sorts of emerging technology and design concepts. But saying something is coming into Android as an element and acting like it's bound to become a defining feature of the platform are two very different things.

Footnote #2: About the role of Google Assistant...

One of Bloomberg's other key themes is the fact that Android P will "more tightly integrate" and emphasize Google Assistant.

From the article:

Developers will be able to integrate Google’s voice-based technology inside of their apps. The company has also weighed integrating the search bar on the Android home screen with its assistant, although neither of these changes are finalized for introduction this year.

Google's very clearly been shifting its emphasis toward Assistant for some time now — something we've discussed in detail before. So, yes: Of course the company is going to further integrate Assistant in Android P and do everything it can to push users toward its presence. This is a given. The virtual assistant has surpassed the operating system in importance, and it's going to be Google's main underlying focus for most products moving forward.

Google's been encouraging developers to embrace and promote Assistant for a while. And streamlining the many forms of virtual assistance on Android — like the home screen search bar, which still uses the pre-Assistant Google Voice Search system for spoken queries on many devices — is a sensible and overdue shift.

But the home screen also isn't typically something Google has complete control over across the entire Android ecosystem, and we all know that any changes it makes to the default layout are likely to be limited to its own Pixel Launcher and not necessarily relevant to the way Android appears on other manufacturers' devices.

Footnote #3: About Android P's other alleged highlights...

According to Bloomberg, Android P's other noteworthy changes include the fact that it'll "improve battery life on phones and support new designs, like multiple screens and foldable displays."

First things first: Android or otherwise, every single OS release promises better battery life (along with, of course, the always-reliable "faster and smoother performance"). It's practically a prerequisite for a new software version slide deck. Heck, saying a new OS version is going to improve battery life is almost like saying a new OS version will have a new number. It's just par for the course.

As for the multiple screens and foldable displays, we know different manufacturers have been experimenting with those sorts of technologies as of late. See footnote #1.

(And also, as an astute reader reminded me, support for multiple displays actually arrived in last year's Android 8.0 release. D'oh!)

Footnote #4: About the competition factor...

Per Bloomberg:

A key goal of this year’s update to the Google mobile operating system is to persuade more iPhone users to switch to Android devices by improving the look of the software.

Huh — ya think? Google's made no bones about the fact that it's trying to claim its share of the high-end phone market via its Pixel program. (Read this Wired profile of Google hardware VP Rick Osterloh. That fact is mentioned in the very first paragraph and repeated several times throughout the story. And it's far from the first time we've heard that plainly apparent narrative.)

So, yes, every single Android release — and, more significantly, every single Google phone release — is going to have a key goal of convincing more iPhone users to make the switch. This is nothing new, nothing surprising, and nothing unique to Android P.

But in 2018, I don't think "the look of the software" is what's holding Apple holdouts back. That may have been the case in the Gingerbread era of 2010, but Android has matured considerably since then and hasn't been accused of lacking poise, polish, or prettiness in many a moon. Today, the primary force keeping people within a platform is the ecosystem around it — and that is what Google is truly focused on reclaiming and solidifying right now.

Footnote #5: About the name...

I'd hope this last one would be obvious, but based on the headlines I've seen out there since Bloomberg's story broke, it clearly is not:

The fact that Google is apparently referring to Android P internally as "Pistachio Ice Cream" does not mean the release will be called Pistachio Ice Cream. If anything, it means the software probably won't bear that name.

Google famously referred to KitKat as "Key Lime Pie" ahead of its release. Marshmallow was called Macademia Nut Cookie. And don't even get me started on Android O's naming games.

Until a name is officially revealed, folks, nothing actually matters. You know what does matter, though? Context and perspective — the two factors too often absent in Android news and speculation.

Add these five footnotes into this latest bit of P leakage, though, and it's all far less shocking — and far more sensible — than it initially appears.

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