Finally: Hidden Android M feature allows customization of quick toggles
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One of Android’s core strengths is its open nature — any developer can build on top of it, and many do. Given the platform’s scale, it’s unsurprising that this has spawned a number of communities that focus on modding the system in order to gain extended functionality. For years now, we’ve called modded Android software custom ROMs, though not all mods and hacks require you to flash an entirely new firmware. The byproduct of this activity is obvious if you step back — Google has a legion of (unpaid) developers contributing to Android, and a free pick of the features it likes best.
Over the years, third-party devs’ efforts have translated into functionality that, eventually, becomes available with stock — or Google’s — Android. In Android M, we already saw yet another great piece making the transition from a third-party perk to a core feature — granular volume controls bar. After some digging, however, we found that another often-requested feature may very well become a part of the core Android experience: customizable quick toggles.
In case you drew a blank at the mention of quick toggles, they’re simply the shortcuts available when within the notifications panel that you slide from the top. There, you have access to brightness control, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and so on. Until now, it’s never been possible to re-arrange or change these. In Android M, however, this may change, judging by a new feature available within the hidden (by default) Developers options menu. In there, you can find a SystemUI tuner option, which if enabled, spawns a menu of the same name in the root settings menu, as shown below.
For the time being, the option is quite buggy, and constantly causes the system UI to crash. Occasionally, however, it works properly, allowing us to change things around and even add a new, custom toggle. Due to the nature of developer previews, it is possible that this feature never makes it into the final, commercial software, so keep that in mind. If it does, however, Google will give many an additional reason to love stock Android.
Android M has arrived: here’s what you need to know
1. App permissions
First up, app permissions. As had previously been speculated, app permissions have been overhauled in Android M, with users now being able to choose to accept or deny individual permissions as they see fit. Permissions have also been simplified.
Permissions will now be requested the first time you try to use a feature, not at the point of installation. “You don’t have to agree to permissions that don’t make sense to you,” Burke said, and used WhatsApp to give an example of how this works.
If you want to record a voice message, WhatsApp will prompt you with a one-time request for permission to use your mic: if you still wish to give it access and record the message, you can, but you don’t have to. Android M is giving users greater control of the information apps can access, and this is a truly positive step forward for Android.
You can modify the permissions granted to apps at a later date in your Settings, or you can view permissions by type and see which apps have that permission granted. It’s all about giving the user complete control over their Android.
2. Web experience
Google has been exploring trends in the way web content is consumed to provide a better user-experience when interacting with websites and apps. “Chrome Custom Tabs is a new feature that gives developers a way to harness all of Chrome’s capabilities, while still keeping control of the look and feel of the experience,” said Burke.
Chrome Custom Tabs will allow apps to open a customized Chrome window on top of the active app, instead of launching the Chrome app separately. This will provide a faster and more intuitive user-experience when navigating between apps and the web.
Chrome Custom Tabs supports automatic sign-in, saved passwords, autofill, and multi-process security to assist the integration of the app and web experience. So, for example, a Pinterest custom tab will have a Pinterest share button embedded in it, can include custom overflow menu options and doesn’t require the Pinterest developers to build their own web browser.
3. Fingerprint support
Google will “standardize support” for fingerprint scanners on phones running Android M. The new functionality will allow fingerprint scanners to be used not only to unlock phones, but to make purchases shopping in real-life or within Play Store apps.
Of course, your device will need a hardware fingerprint scanner to begin with, but with Google’s full support, expect to see these appear on many more devices in the future.
4. Mobile payments
Android Pay is Google’s new mobile payments system designed to make the checkout process easier and faster. Google is aiming to provide “simplicity, security, and choice,” with Android Pay, allowing you to use your existing credit cards to pay for products in more than 700,000 stores in the US.
Compatible with any device housing NFC capabilities (and running 4.4 KitKat or above), the Android Pay platform is being supported by American Express, Visa, Mastercard, and Discover, as well as carriers such as AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile. Google’s response to Apple pay is here.
5. App links
“When a user selects a weblink from somewhere, Android doesn’t know whether to show it in a web-browser, or some other app that claims support for the link,” this was the problem facing the Google developers before Android M.
You may be familiar with the “Open with” dialogue box which appears when you try to open a link within an app on Android. You might be asked if you want to open a link with YouTube, or with Chrome, for example.
App links are being changed in M so that Android has a greater awareness of which apps can open content directly, instead of stopping users every time with the dialog box. If you tap a Twitter link in an email, for example, the Twitter app will open automatically instead of prompting you to ask if you want to use Twitter to view it.
This is almost a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it improvement, but it’s representative of Google’s attention to detail: Android M is probably going to feel more usable without the user ever understanding why.
6. Power and charging
Android M makes use of a new function known as Doze to improve device standby time. By using motion detectors, Android will recognize when devices haven’t been interacted with for a while, such as when a person is asleep or a device has been left on a table, to reduce background processes.
Burke said that Google tested two Nexus 9 devices, one running Lollipop and one running the Android M preview, and learned that M will provide up to two-times longer standby time. Even in Doze mode, your Android can still start alarms or notify you of priority notifications.
Android M also supports USB Type-C which provides faster charging, and lets users charge other devices with their phone.
Android M release date
The Android M Developer Preview is available now for Nexus 5, Nexus 6, Nexus 9 and Nexus Player, and the final version is due to launch in Q3, 2015.