Android N developer preview launches, bringing split-screen support and other tweaks

Surprise! Google sends N into the world sooner than usual

We usually hear first official word about the next major version of Android when Google's I/O event rolls around in May or June each year, but with Android N, you'll be able to download a developer preview today.

Yes, today - in early March! It doesn't have an official name yet, but Android N is being offered out to developers extra-early this time around. As Hiroshi Lockheimer, Google's VP of Android engineering explains, it's all about getting actionable feedback earlier in the process so that manufacturers can get Android N sooner than usual.

"By releasing the first preview and asking for your feedback now (in March!), we’ll be able to act on that feedback while still being able to hand off the final N release to device makers this summer, so they can get their hands on the latest version of Android earlier than ever," he writes in a post on Medium.

So what's new and exciting? Native split-screen support for both phones and tablets is a big addition, along with picture-in-picture support for video. Meanwhile, notifications can let you reply directly across the system, and each app can bundle its notifications under one card to avoid clogging up your center - and the center itself sees visual tweaks. Doze will also activate anytime the screen is off, potentially saving more battery life.

While today's announcement lacks the bombast of the usual I/O keynote reveal, it's a smart move for the Android ecosystem: device fragmentation is only getting worse, with only about 2% of devices carrying Android Marshmallow after five months. Getting a working version of Android N out early lets phone makers prepare updates sooner, and lets app developers take faster advantage of the tweaks, as well.

And Google is launching a new Android Beta Program today that lets you receive updates over the air, just like you would updates for a final version. Interested parties can sign up here, and anyone with a Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6, Nexus 9, Nexus Player, or Pixel C can join up and start experiencing Android N right away.

[Sources: Medium, Android Developers Blog, The Verge]