Google has officially launched the first beta version of the next major update to its Android mobile operating system, Android Q.

While it doesn't yet have a snappy, treat-based nickname like Android Oreo and Pie (and Google may find its options somewhat limited this year. Android Quiche, anyone?), this is the first of several beta builds that are set to be released between now and the official launch in the autumn.

Anyone who wants to take part can sign up to do so, provided they have a Pixel smartphone of any generation, including the original. So what can they expect in the latest update?

Meeting the needs of an evolving ecosystem

In a blog post introducing the new beta, vice-president of engineering at Google Dave Burke noted that 2019 will be a time of huge change in the smartphone market. With innovations such as 5G, edge-to-edge screens and foldable devices all set to become widespread, it's vital that the software available helps users make the most of new hardware and networking tools.

"As the mobile ecosystem evolves, Android is focused on helping users take advantage of the latest innovations, while making sure users' security and privacy are always a top priority," he stated.

Privacy to be a priority

Many of the new features and improvements in Android Q will be focused on boosting the security and privacy of devices, something which has become even more of a priority for many users in 2019 following a year of controversy over the misuse of personal data.

For instance, the new platform will bring in more granular security settings to give users more control over the data each app is able to access. "Users will be able to control apps' access to the Photos and Videos or the Audio collections via new runtime permissions. For Downloads, apps must use the system file picker, which allows the user to decide which Download files the app can access," Mr Burke explained.

The operating system will also limit access to critical device identifiers, such as device IMEI and serial number, while it will also randomise the device's MAC address when connected to different Wi-Fi networks by default – something that was only optional in Android Pie. 

Location settings have also been overhauled. While apps will still have to gain the user's permission before accessing this information, individuals can now choose whether to deny this, grant permission at all times, or restrict it to only when the app is in use.

Support for innovative screen designs

Android Q will also make it easier to take advantage of new and innovative display systems, including foldable phones. Given many manufacturers are likely to use Android in their flexible gadgets, getting it to work smoothly and efficiently will naturally be a high priority for Google this year.

To assist with this, the new platform is now able to preserve the state of a user's apps as they move from one screen to another, or convert a folded display into a full-size one. So, for example, Android Q could let Samsung Galaxy Fold users have Google Maps open on the smaller front display, and have this jump instantly to the larger inside display when they open the device up.

Improved sharing

The new platform is also aiming to make it easier to share content such as photos and videos, making it faster and more intuitive. Ars Technica notes that with current iterations of Android, opening the share list results in the device checking with every app to populate the list of options, slowing down the process and making it hard to find the app users wanted.

Android Q, however, introduces 'sharing shortcuts', which let users jump directly into another app to share content. Mr Burke explained: "Developers can publish share targets that launch a specific activity in their apps with content attached, and these are shown to users in the share UI. Because they're published in advance, the share UI can load instantly when launched."

Boosting connectivity

The new update also includes a number of tweaks and new features to improve connectivity for both peer-to-peer activities, such as connecting to a wireless printer, and for the wider internet.

For instance, users can now request adaptive Wi-Fi by enabling high performance and low latency modes. Google stated these modes will be particularly useful for activities where low latency is important to the user experience, such as real-time gaming, active voice calls and similar use-cases.

These are just some of the features unveiled by Google for the first beta, and you can expect many more to be added over the coming months as Google works towards a final release, which is expected to be in the third quarter of the year.

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