Android P is shaping up to be one of the most consequential Android updates in years. Not only is Google changing the way Android is navigated, but it’s also changing the way we interact with our phones — and how our phones interact with us. The big goals of Android P are to make our phones less distracting and less stressful and to give people control over how much of their attention they suck up. It’s all about taking on notification and app overload.
Google announced all the big changes of Android P yesterday. You can see an overview of them in our video above. Here are the biggest highlights:
App time limits
There’s a lot of new stuff in Android P, but for my money, this is the biggest deal. Google is going to show you how much time you spend in every app. And, more importantly, it’s going to let you set time limits on how long you use them.
You’ll be able to limit yourself to a certain amount of time every day — say, 15 minutes or an hour. After that time, the app’s icon will go gray. When you try to use it, Android won’t let you. Instead, a pop-up will tell you that you’ve hit your time limit. There won’t even be a button to ignore it and let you open the app anyway. (You’ll be able to get back into the app if you really need to, but you’d have to go back into settings and remove your time limit.)
Google says it might tweak exactly how that works because Android P exists in beta; it’s also testing an option that will turn your entire phone black and white when you’re supposed to go to bed. Both are great ideas. Particularly over the past year, there’s been a rise in complaints about the time we spend staring at our phones. There have been parental control apps for a while now, but there hasn’t been an equivalent service that lets adults set limits for themselves.
Fewer notification annoyances
Notifications are a smartphone necessity. They’re also the absolute worst. Google is trying to do even more in Android P to get them out of your face. For one, it’ll suggest muting an app’s notifications if you keep swiping them away. But the even bigger thing is how much it’s beefing up Do Not Disturb.
Now, when your phone enters Do Not Disturb mode, you’ll be able to set it so that notifications don’t appear on-screen at all. Nowhere. Not on the lock screen. Not even in the notification drawer. You’ll also be able to turn on Do Not Disturb by flipping the phone facedown on a table. And if your phone is set up to separate your work apps from your personal ones, there’ll now be a toggle to mute all of them at once, which should be great for vacations or even just the weekend.
It’s been more than six years since Google last made a substantial change to how you navigate Android. Since 2011, it’s been all about those three on-screen buttons: back, home, and multitask. But now that’s about to change.
In Android P, Google will begin to transition over to a gesture-based control scheme. At first, you’ll just see the home button. You’ll swipe up to multitask… but, uh, you’ll also be able to swipe right to multitask. There’ll be a back button, but only when an app can actually use it.
In some ways, this new control scheme will definitely complicate things, especially for less smartphone-savvy users. It’s hard to beat always-present buttons. But the gestures begin to move Android toward a much more flexible way of controlling the operating system, and one that, eventually, will likely help to free up screen space, too.
This one is overdue, but I’m still very excited about it. In Android P, you’ll be able to edit and mark up screenshots after taking them, instead of having to jump over to another app. There’ll also be an option to take a screenshot from the power menu, which will be handy for when you inevitably forget the multibutton shortcut.
Smarter app search results
Android’s built-in search is getting a lot more capable in P. Now, instead of just pulling up icons of installed apps, it’ll be able to pull up things you can do inside of apps, too. So if you search for Lyft, you might also get buttons to hail a ride to your home or office, saving you some extra button presses.
The app drawer will also use that ability to intelligently suggest things for you to do. So instead of just presenting the button for Seamless, it might also show you a prompt to reorder your last meal.
How to try it all out
Android P likely won’t be finished until sometime this fall. But you don’t have to wait until then to try it. The OS is available in a beta version that’s fairly easy to install, so long as you have one of the nine phones that support it. Those include both the Pixel and Pixel 2, the Essential Phone, Sony’s Xperia XZ2, Xiaomi’s Mi Mix 2S, Nokia’s 7 Plus, Vivo’s X21, Oppo’s R15 Pro, and — whenever it’s released — the OnePlus 6.
You can find instructions on how to get started right here.
But a major word of warning: once you opt-in to the beta, there’s no simple way of backing out. If you want to revert back to Android Oreo, you’ll have to fully wipe your phone and set everything up again, which is a lot of work.
Since this is a beta — and a beta that’s just getting started — there will likely to be bugs and usability issues. New features may not be fully optimized, so performance and battery life might suffer. While it’s fun to try out new features, be aware that this is really best to do on a phone that you aren’t going to be using day-to-day.