Android M Usability: Initial Impressions

The Android M developer preview has been made available to a handful of nexus devices, and the latest flavor of Android seems to bring some changes to the User Experience. Let’s have a look at some of the features of Android M and how they impact usability:

Revamped volume controls

pocketnow_androidM_volumes

Google’s approach to volume controls in Android Lollipop was panned widely by the masses. It was an attempt to provide more powerful and granular features to the users, but it sacrificed the quick accessibility of the silence toggles. The Lollipop volume scheme also didn’t do a good job of explaining the meanings of the three volume modes.

The new volume settings in Android M aim to fix all these problems, by providing the option to toggle volumes for system sounds, app sounds and alarms at any time through a drop down menu. Pressing the volume down button till zero volume enables silent mode, and pressing it once more enables the “do not disturb” mode. The no not disturb toggle is also available in the quick settings.

Granular App Permissions

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Most importantly, there’s permissions management. A better permissions management has been something power users have wanted, even more so after the botched “app-ops” roll out and eventual roll-back. The user will be asked for permission by the app to request access to things like the Location, Microphone, Contacts, etc.

The application section within the settings has also been changed to reflect the changes made to the permissions system. However, this new system will only be available to apps that use the Android M API which means that current apps will have to be updated before these features become available to them. This implementation of app permissions will be appreciated by the “power users” who like to keep a close watch on the permissions granted to apps.

It might be annoying to some who do not like to be prompted, however there is a way to manage the permissions through the app permissions feature, which is a very convenient way to have all the apps sorted by permission, making it easier to manage it all with minimal frustration.

Dark Theme

Android M dark theme

One of the major annoyances some of us had with Android Lollipop was the overabundance of white and other light colors being used in the UI. At this point it affects only the settings menu and does not affect any other aspect of the UI. The Android M developer preview seems to include the option to change the theme, with Light and Dark theme options. (It is accessible through the developer options.

This is a welcome addition for a lot of users, especially people who use devices with AMOLED panels. It would be great if the Automatic mode gave us the ability to adjust the theme based on the environment, using ambient light or the time of day.

Multi-Window

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We clamored for it, and they have listened. Kind of. Although this requires quite a bit of tweaking, and is at a highly experimental stage, just the fact that this option is being considered is great in and of itself. The functionality itself is controlled through the recent apps menu. The fact that it’s in the recent apps menu is a good way to do it, as it’s the logical place to put it and it’s not “in your face” so as to confuse new users.

Considering that this feature is at an experimental stage it may never see the light of day, but if it does show up in the final version of Android M, it’s a great plus for multitasking.

Disable Heads-Up notifications

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There’s also the option to disable the Heads-Up Notifications that show up on the screen for some time and then disappear into the notifications tray. The way Android Lollipop overbearingly used this new scheme for app notifications was very annoying to a lot of people and it’s good to see an option being provided to users to disable it.

New App Drawer layout

pocketnow_androidM_revamped-app-drawer

The app drawer in Android M seems to give up the traditional grid of icons with a horizontally scrolling paginated list. Instead, it seems like they have gone with an alphabetical list of icons that scrolls vertically. There’s also a search bar that enables you to search for a particular app by typing in the name. On top of the app drawer four app icons are visible, but it’s not clear as to whether they are the recently used apps, or the most used apps, as there’s no indication of it, like a text label.

Although this new app drawer seems to be a very easy to use an intuitive layout, if it is forced upon regular users of Android, there may be negative feedback. Users that are familiar with the old layout of the paginated grid may not like the new layout, and we hope that there’s an option for the users to revert back to the old layout in the settings.

The Rest

There’s a lot of great stuff baked into the Android M developer preview.  There’s a  a native Flashlight API, and  the ability to move around and delete quick settings toggles through developer options. On the hardware support front, there’s full support for USB type C, better USB OTG support, an “adoptable” storage model that lets you use an external storage device as an internal one, with all the formatting and encryption just like an internal storage would have.

Fingerprint scanning is also built in, paving the way for app support and OEMs to bring fingerprint readers on their new devices.

The Android M developer preview has us all giddy with excitement, we just hope that the future iterations bring a better Android user experience. Judging by what we have seen so far, Google seems to be moving in the right direction.

 

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About The Author
Dushyant Shrikhande
Dushyant is a Master's student studying Human Computer Interaction, learning how people use technology, and how this can be used to make systems better and more "delightful" to use. A long-time tech enthusiast, he also likes writing in general, and playing video-games.