Forget Popsicle, Pancake, Peppermint or even Peanut Butter; Android P is officially Android 9 Pie. Our periodic perusal of the Pie preview program has given us a pretty clear impression of the new version as it’s gone through the final stages of its development. And from today the finished version is available for pixel owners to enjoy. So, from the top down Android Pie is a big beefy update that changes and improves a lot of things. If you have a supported device, you can download OTA update zip file from the link given at the end of this post and update your phone to latest version of Android i.e. Android 9 Pie.
1 Android Navigation Bar
Let’s start with the big one; Android’s navigation bar gets its biggest change in seven years. The Recents Key is gone the Back key is still there but a little smaller and Home key is now this swipy tab thing. The new gesture navigation is actually an option in Android 9 Pie, so strictly speaking the standard buttons aren’t going away overnight. When current pixel phones upgrade they’ll stick with the old three button setup and you’ll have to opt-in if you want the new gesture based arrangement. On future Google phones gesture navigation will be the default. But other manufacturers shipping devices on Pi will be able to use whichever one they want.
It’s easy to look at some of these changes and say Google is chasing the iPhone and to a certain extent that’s true. Google wants to sell Android phones ideally Pixel phones to iPhone owners. And from this year onwards all of those people will have iPhone 10 muscle memory with a swipe up to get back to the Homescreen or switch apps. With gesture navigation on Android Pi things work a little differently; a swipe UP takes you to your recent apps, which now scrolls horizontally five app predictions appear down below, then swipe UP again to get to your app drawer. A tap of course will always get you back to the home screen. While you’re in the app drawer, the Android launcher is now able to show specific actions within apps based on your usage that could be a contact, a particular podcast or music playlist or an email label. There’s a similar feature called App Slicers 2 – which will allow apps to show you more rich functionality from within the Google search bar. We’ll see this more as apps start to be updated to support the features of Android Pi.
Back to gestures; though the most useful part of the new Home button is how quickly you can hop between apps. In a way that’s more fun and visual than the old double tap shortcuts. A quick fall to the right will move you to your last app or swipe and drag to scroll through the whole list. The space where the Recents key used to live can now host the Keyboard Switcher or Manual Rotation Toggle. The physics of all this stuff is quite satisfying and is part of a wider focus on animations and responsiveness in Android 9. These are all really small things, just a few frames of animations that are hard on camera but transitions, button presses and other flourishes are more subtle and quicker than before tying the whole UI together in a more polished way.
2 Notification Panel and Lockscreen
Whether you’re tapping through layers of Menus in the Settings app or pulling down notifications on the lock screen, everything just flows better and feels more fluent on Pixel devices. The lock screen and ambient display is also more informative showing you battery charge levels and upcoming events from your Calendar. Basically the ‘At a glance’ widget from the Pixel 2 now lives not only on your home screen but in these two new places as well.
Notifications are getting smarter too. Android Pi will show you inline predictive replies. Notifications can also show you more information inline, like the last few messages of a conversation or a photo in the correct context. The visual side of Android has been given a significant overhaul as well clearly influenced by Google’s new material theme. That’s the next stage in the evolution of material design, the design language for the whole of Google. Individually, these are small changes. If you’ve used a Pixel 2 before, then Android Pi won’t overwhelm you with new visuals. But Pi is clearly taking us closer to Google’s material themed future with heavier use of the Google font and a whole lot of white.
There’s also a big focus on rounded icons in places like the Settings app and quick settings drop-down. We’ve yet to see material theme take over all of Google’s Android apps though. That’s a change that likely kick in around the time the Pixel 3 launches. At the same time don’t necessarily expect some of the more Googley design touches we see here on the pixel phones like rounded corners in the notification area and quick settings to come to other Android phones once they’re upgraded. Every manufacturer will have their own take on this UI.
3 Volume Controls
Many of the other UI changes aren’t just about looking prettier but making Android easier and simpler to use. The Volume Rocker now controls Media volume by default reflecting the fact that phone calls are now a very secondary function of our phones. And the slider is easier to reach with one hand as opposed to popping up right at the top of the screen.
4 Notch Support
Android Pi also adds support for notches an important change to avoid apps not working right on phones with display cutouts. Notches are not going away anytime soon. In fact Google’s Pixel 3XL will probably have a pretty sizable notch itself. But knowing where the cutout begins and ends means apps can scale intelligently around it and make sure nothing important is blocked by the cutout. That’s a big deal for phones like the OnePlus 6 which is part of the Android 9 beta program and so should be fast tracked for an upgrade to the final version. And it means as more phones ship with notches in 2019, app compatibility shouldn’t be a problem. Because Android now supports notches, things have had to move around at the top of the screen too. The Clock is now relocated over to the left side of the status bar ensuring there is room for a notch if it’s there. This is a big historic change for Android as a whole but in my experience it’s been very easy to adjust to.
5 Battery Improvements
It seems like every year Google talks up battery life improvements in Android but Android Pie’s Adaptive Battery might be one of the few changes that actually lives up to the hype. Android now uses machine learning to manage power based on your usage and how battery intensive your apps are. It will also proactively find apps that are using power in an unusual way and stop them from draining your battery. It’s a big change from the older approach in Oreo where Android would just bug you with this persistent notification.
6 Digital Wellbeing
Google also has a whole array of features in Android Pi based around what it calls ‘Digital Wellbeing’ which is a program that actually extends to the whole of Google not just Android. It’s about helping you use your devices in a healthier way as the name suggests. And for example in Android 9, Do-Not-Disturb is now smarter with the option to hide notifications completely during off-hours. The bulk of the digital wellness feature isn’t actually ready yet in the initial release of Android Pi but in the future updates, Android will allow you to see a breakdown of how you’re using your screen time and set limits on how much you can use certain apps each day. This stuff isn’t in the initial release of Android 9.0 but will be rolling out in a separate beta soon before launching for everyone later in the fall.
7 Other Features
And now for some quick five feature editions that don’t really fit anywhere else but a kind of interesting all the same:
Dual Camera Support
Dual camera support is official in Android 9 but to give app developers an easy way to handle input from two cameras at once, big deal for dual camera phones like the Galaxy S 9 Plus and of course we’re expecting to see a Pixel 3 with dual front cameras as well.
Some privacy improvements: Apps can no longer snoop on your microphone or camera in the background. And the new Lockdown Mode helps you quickly lock your phone and requires a PIN and not fingerprint to unlock.
More than 150 new emoji’s new additions include more gender-neutral emoji as well as food and animal options like lobsters, bagels and alpacas.
Wi-Fi RTT Positioning Support
RTT will let Android apps show your location more accurately when you’re indoors. It should help solve the problem of poor location accuracy when you’re inside an airport or shopping mall or anywhere with a lot of walls between you and those GPS satellites.
And finally editing, cropping screenshots is easy than ever, thanks to the new Markup app.
Android Pie is available for Pixel phones and will be rolling out to other devices starting with third-party phones in the Android beta program over the next few weeks. Phones outside that very select group will almost certainly have to wait a little longer for their slice of the Pie. As the weeks and months pass through, it’ll be interesting to see whether the promise of Google’s project treble which separates out the core Android OS from manufacturer skins will make it any quicker for Pie to land on mainstream phones like the Galaxy S9 or LG G7.
With the big changes coming to navigation on Android, we’re sure to see a diverse and likely confusing mix of ways to go back Home and switch apps. The gesture setup we see here won’t necessarily be the same as what’s on your next phone if it’s not a Pixel. Nevertheless what we have here in Android Pie today is stable and polished with feature additions to get the OS ready for the phones of 2019 and beyond. So that’s Android 9 Pie.
Have a supported phone? Get the OTA files from here: Android 9 Pie OTA Download