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At the beginning of its I/O developer conference on Wednesday, Google revealed that the next major version of Android — codenamed "Android N" — is launching in beta later today, and will introduce features like better performance, improved multitasking, and even virtual reality support when it officially arrives in late summer.
One of the key aspects of the update is the integration of Vulkan, a faster cross-platform graphics API. Google has also made Android's compiler up to 75 percent quicker, and reduced the amount of space required for app installs.
Borrowing from iOS, users will be able to quick-reply to messages from notifications. Likewise Android is getting support for split-screen and picture-in-picture multitasking, something present on iPads since Septemer's iOS 9. Android users can, however, take advantage of split-screen on both phones and tablets, and picture-in-picture on Android TV.
Another multitasking improvement is a streamlined app switcher, limited to the last seven apps used, with a "Clear All" button for quickly closing every open app.
Android N will also include a dedicated VR Mode as part of a broader hardware and software initiative called Daydream. The first Daydream-compatible phones should launch in the fall, and will have screens, sensors, and other components tailored to VR. Part of the goal is to minimize latency, since instant response is important for immersion and avoiding motion sickness.
A special Daydream homescreen will in fact let people launch apps and content, including VR versions of YouTube, Street View, the Play Store, Play Movies, and Photos. Some initial third-party content providers will include Netflix, HBO, IMAX, the New York Times and others.
Daydream-ready phones will have to be paired with a compatible headset and controller, for which there is only a reference design at the moment.
Unusually, Google said it hasn't settled on a final name for Android N, and will be taking submissions on what the "N" should ultimately stand for, though Google is reserving the right of final selection.