Android Pie – what’s new and improved?

Image credit: Google

It's that time of year again when Google treats us all to a sweet new dessert in the form of it's latest update to the Android operating system. And in keeping with tradition, which has previously given us the likes of Marshmallow, Nougat and Oreo, this year, it's time to claim a slice of Pie (presumably something along the lines of Lemon Meringue, not Steak and Kidney).

This ninth major iteration of the operating system was officially unveiled by Google last week and it brings with it the usual range of improvements to the interface, notifications and new innovations that aim to make using a smartphone that bit easier.

So what's new this time around? Here's a quick rundown of some of the key features included in this edition, and when you can expect to enjoy them.

When will I get it?

First things first, the key question most people have whenever there's a new Android version out is, 'when will it be available on my phone?' This is because, unlike its main rival iOS, Android is a hugely fragmented system offered by dozens of hardware manufacturers and devices, so it always takes a bit of time to roll out to everyone.

As ever, the best way to get early access is to own a Google handset. The Pixel and Pixel 2 and their respective XL versions are always guaranteed to have day one access, but for the rest of us, there's usually a bit of a wait. Happily, however, thanks to Google's Project Treble, which aims to tackle this problem, several devices have already been running beta versions of Pie, so should get the full serving sooner rather than later.

These include gadgets from Sony, OnePlus 6, Nokia, HTC and Xiaomi, which should get the updates in the autumn. As for the likes of Samsung and LG, however, it's still 'wait and see'.

New gesture controls

One of the biggest changes in the new update is an overhaul of the user interface that will, among other additions, replace the traditional Back, Home and Recent Apps buttons with a new, gesture-based design centred around a pill-shaped Home button.

Swipe this upwards and it will take you to the new Overview screen to see your recent and most frequently used apps, while swiping further towards the top of the screen now summons the app drawer. A quick flick to the right and your last used app will be presented. For heavy users who are frequently switching between multiple apps, this could be a great way to save time and be more intuitive – but if you prefer the way things were, you'll be pleased to hear it's completely optional.

Putting 'digital wellness' first

Another big addition is a new focus on 'digital wellness', perhaps in recognition of some people's growing concerns about spending too much time staring at their smartphone. There are several elements to this, including a Dashboard screen that allows you to keep track of how long you've spent using the device, and an option to add time limits to individual apps that restrict how long you can use them for – which may be useful if you just can't break that social media habit with willpower alone.

Elsewhere, there's also a 'wind down' function, which will gradually dim your smartphone's screen and shift the colours to greyscale at the end of the day, while also enabling the Do Not Disturb mode, to help you make the transition from 'switched-on' to 'ready for bed' more easily. 

It's important to note, however, that these features are still in beta, with Google looking to roll them out to Pie users in the autumn.

AI adaptive features

No smartphone update these days is complete without a range of artificial intelligence features, and unsurprisingly, Android Pie is no exception. But its main innovations here go beyond tweaks to the Google Assistant voice-activated helper.

Pie's AI aims to learn from how you use your phone every day and optimise it in the background to give you a better experience. For example, the new Adaptive Battery feature aims to use machine learning to understand which apps you use and when, then prioritise resources accordingly. The outcome should, in theory, be to give you a longer time between charges by predicting which apps you're likely to use and when, and reducing the amount of power devoted to rarely-used apps.

Elsewhere, adaptive brightness learns how you like to set the brightness in various settings, and does it for you, while App Actions predicts what you'll want to do next based on your context. For example, if it's a weekday morning, Android Pie will recognise your normal commuting routine and suggest actions like navigating to work on Google Maps or resuming an audiobook with Google Play Books to listen to on the journey.