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Android Marshmallow lowdown: permissions, auto backups, behavior changes & more


Google has launched the official Android 6.0, a.k.a Android Marshmallow, SDK, the company reported through a blog post. The company is also opening up Google Play for publishing apps using the new API level 23 in Marshmallow.

How to update: The latest version of Android is available to users using Nexus 5, 6, 9 devices and/or the Nexus Player, although currently the update has to be done manually by downloading the device system images from Google’s developer preview site. The update will be available to these Nexus users over-the-air over the next couple of days. This is Android M’s final preview before the rollout sometime later this year, and as such most other users will have to wait a while before getting a final OTA update. Those in a hurry can check out the new preview system via the Android emulator system images as well.

New features: The update to Android 6.0 ‘Marshmallow’ is fairly incremental, with most of the changes being directed towards how apps can interact with the phone or other apps. Some of important changes include

App linking which allows developers to associate their app with a web domain they own. Basically, the OS can automatically determine the default app to handle a particular weblink, and instead of opening the browser, can open the link in the app directly. For example, clicking on an Amazon product could take the users directly to the product on the app, rather than opening it first in a browser.

Auto backups will now perform full data backup to the user’s Google account. We presume this means app settings, logins and save games etc., will be uploaded to Google (similar to how Play store maintains a list of user apps even after changing the phone), so users can continue where they left off, even after changing their phones. Note that if users delete their Google accounts, all this information is lost.

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Auto authentication for apps will let developers authenticate users based on how recently they unlocked the device. This removes the need for users to type in a password every time they unlock the device or use a passworded app.

API for sharing has been improved, and will now let developers define direct share targets that launch a specific activity in other apps. Users can find these direct share targets in the share menu, and will allow them to directly share data like contacts, within other apps.

Voice interaction API, along with Voice Actions, lets developers use the voice assistants within their apps. For example, an app launched through a voice interaction can also send an intent to launch a voice interaction.

– Other features include new categories (types) of notifications, bluetooth stylus support, hotspot 2.0, a 4K display mode, MIDI protocol for audio, improvements in media sync and a flashlight API for the camera.

For developers: The biggest change from a developer perspective is probably the permissions behavior, which lets users choose to deny certain permissions to apps. Basically, instead of asking for permissions during install, users are prompted to give permissions at runtime. Users will also be able to revoke an app permission at anytime, as such Google suggests developers to disable certain features if a specific required permission isn’t granted, rather than disabling the entire app. Other than this, there are some API changes, like updates to the fingerprint API which Google claims to be better at error reporting and recognizing fingerprints.

Android for Work: Google has introduced a few important updates to its Android for Work platform. For starters, the device owner (or company) can now silently install and uninstall applications, independent of Google Play for Work, from employee devices. Owners can also auto accept updates, postpone them or prevent them from being taken by the user for up to 30 days. Device owners can now also set a permission policy for all runtime requests of applications, enabling owners to grant or deny permission, automatically or silently, for app usage on employee devices. For employees, the system now prominently displays a briefcase icon when a managed app is activated in the foreground.

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Behaviour changes: Android M makes some behavioral changes that the user should notice upfront. For example, devices connected over USB are by default set to charge only mode, with explicit permission required to do anything more. The new version of the OS also updates the copy paste mechanism, by displaying a floating toolbar for cut, copy or paste actions. On the security front, Android M removes programmatic access to the device’s hardware identifier for apps using WiFi or Bluetooth APIs. Finally, the camera API will now prioritize high priority process, rather than act on a ‘first come, first serve’ basis.

Google Play’s beta testing: Google Play has also introduced a new beta testing feature that will enable developers to get early feedback before rolling out the new app to all users.

Image sourceDave Burke

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