Breaking away from the tradition it started with Android L, Google didn’t wait until Google I/O to make the Android N preview available and instead released it back in March. Since that time, we’ve had two additional previews, with the latest “beta-quality” preview touching down recently during Google I/O 2016.
The latest preview doesn’t look too different from earlier releases on the surface, but underneath there are tons of new APIs, as well as bug fixes and software improvements, that make Android N a very stable affair for the few Nexus devices lucky enough to support it.
For those wondering, the officially supported devices are the Motorola Nexus 6, LG Nexus 5X, and Huawei Nexus 6P. The latter of these devices gives the best overall performance and even offers some extra Android N functionality you don’t get with the others, which we’ll highlight a bit later in this post.
Multi-tasking at a whole other level with Android N
Android N brings quite a few changes to the table over Android 6.0 Marshmallow, including an improved notifications menu, improved settings, an enhanced doze mode for even better battery life, and tons of refinements throughout. However, probably some of the biggest changes have to do with multitasking in Android N.
For the longest while, 3rd party skins from several competitors have already included features designed to make multi-tasking a cinch, including the ability to quickly clear all recent apps, multi-window modes, and more. Now Google is adding similar functionality right into Android N.
While the Nexus 5X also offers many of these functions when running the latest Android N preview, the bigger screen of the Huawei Nexus 6P is much better suited for these functions.
With Android and the Nexus 6P, activating multi-window mode is as simple as going into the recent apps menu, and then dragging the app you want to the top and then clicking the second app that you want displayed at the bottom. You can eve drag on each window to resize them, if you’d rather have one window bigger than the other.
Multi-window is particularly useful for things like using a calculator app while going through a grocery list, browsing the web while texting a buddy, and the list goes on.
It’s also worth noting that Google has added a really handy app switching mode that lets you switch between the two most recent apps you’ve used by double-tapping the multi-tasking button.
But it’s not just multi-tasking that makes the Huawei Nexus 6P stand out when running Android N Developer Preview 3. At Google I/0 2016 that we learned about the biggest ace up Android N’s sleeve, Google Daydream.
What’s Daydream, and how it impacts the future of VR
Daydream is Google’s new VR platform, and it’s a massive step up from its predecessor, the less ambitious Cardboard platform. Recently we wrote a feature entitled “Does Daydream have what it takes to make VR mainstream?”, and largely our take away is yes, it does.
Despite the existence of offerings like HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, the vast majority of consumers find that VR is pretty much out of reach for them due to the prohibitive costs involved. Sure, there are cheaper options like Cardboard or Gear VR, but the former is almost too limited in function, and the latter only works with a few Samsung branded phones. With Daydream, Google is opening the door to high-quality VR that will be compatible with many future handsets from several different OEMs including LG, Samsung, HTC, and Huawei.
the vast majority of consumers find that VR is pretty much out of reach for them due to the prohibitive costs involved
Unlike Cardboard, Daydream will provide a unified UI called “VR Mode”, baked right into Android N. This VR Mode offers its own Google Play VR app store, as well as apps like a VR-optimized version of YouTube. Google is also working with tons of app and game makers to ensure there are plenty of great VR experiences. Daydream’s appeal isn’t just limited to its UI, however.
A good VR experience begins with low latency performance. With Daydream, Google is able to offer a motion-to-photon latency of less than 20 milliseconds, which is what is required to immerse people into the VR experience and make them feel like they are really there. According to Google, VR Mode in Android N also offers single buffering and access to an “exclusive CPU core for VR apps”, which should allow for smooth head-tracking and stereo notifications.
Bottom-line, the tech making its way to Daydream provides an experience that surpasses any other mobile VR solution to date, including Samsung’s Gear VR. Sure, Gear also offers low latency and a unified UI, but Google ups the ante by giving a wider level of phone support, as well as introducing a unique motion controller experience.
Experiencing the future of VR begins with the Nexus 6P
I mentioned earlier that the Nexus 6P has an important ‘extra’ when it comes to Android N (aside from better multi-tasking), and that’s support for Daydream. While the next-gen Nexus phones will inevitably have support for Daydream, right now the only Daydream-ready handset is the Huawei Nexus 6P running Android N Developer Preview 3. That means if you’re a developer looking to get your apps ready for Daydream, the Nexus 6P is your only gateway for testing.
If you’re an average non-developer Joe like myself, having the 6P also lets you get a sneak peek at what Google’s Daydream will be like. How do you do that? By installing a Daydream test app onto your Nexus 6P, a motion controller emulator onto a second phone (or tablet) with Android 4.4 or higher, and tossing on a Google Cardboard or any Cardboard-compliant VR headset. Google has instructions for testing out its unique VR painting app, right here.
the Nexus 6P has an important 'extra' when it comes to Android N, and that's support for Daydream
Keep in mind, that stuff like the Android VR homescreen and Google Play VR store aren’t accessible just yet, and instead you’re jumping straight into a raw app – just like you would with Cardboard. That said, it does certainly give you a taste of what Daydream is all about. As someone who has used a ton of Cardboard and Gear VR apps, I will tell you I had a lot of fun with this demo, despite the fact it’s quite simple in nature.
The ‘Controller Paint’ Daydream app might be basic, but moving around just feels better and smoother, especially when compared to all the Cardboard games and demos I’ve tried in the past. Using a second phone or tablet as control, you can wave your hand around this 360-degree painting canvas and just go nuts. It’s funny, because if this was a non-VR app, it would be nothing more than a really, really primitive paint app — but with my makeshift “Daydream Dev Kit”, the experience came to life in a whole new way.
Keep in mind that at least one more Android N preview is expected, and so we could be seeing even more official Daydream VR apps and experiences come to the Huawei Nexus 6P ahead of Daydream’s formal launch this fall. Not to mention that places like XDA’s forums will likely have 3rd party Daydream demos available in the not too distant future as would-be Daydream developers look for more feedback on their apps.
It’s only going to get better
Android N brings a lot of refinement with it, and is particularly exciting when it comes to multitasking and the improved VR experience brought with the new Daydream initiative. And the even better news is things will only improve as Google marches closer to its fall launch.
We anticipate a number of OEMs will soon get onboard with their own Daydream handsets and VR headsets. It’s an exciting time for VR and while we can’t wait to see it all unfold, at least with the Nexus 6P we can begin to get a feel for what’s next without the wait.
Have you tried out Android N Developer Preview 3 on the Huawei Nexus 6P? Have you tried putting together your own “Daydream Dev kit”? If so, share your thoughts down in the comments.