Android P: What You Need to Know

Slices, gestures, notifications and more

Android P (no confection name yet) introduces an array of new features and tools that can help you use your smartphone less or at least be aware of how much screen time you're spending. The beta version of Android 9.0, released in May 2018 showcases many, but not all of the features demoed at Google's I/O 2018 conference. The updates make Android more straightforward to use and help you get to app settings without having to dig too deep. We gave the new features a spin, and can't wait to see what Google does next.

App Usage Dashboard

One of the buzziest features of Android P is a new dashboard that tabulates your app usage. At the March 2018 Android keynote though, the company showcased a sandboxed version of the new operating system so that attendees could see what it might look like and even interact with it briefly. You might not expect a technology company to encourage you to use your device less, but Google has launched a Digital Wellbeing initiative aimed at just that. The dashboard is a big part of this endeavor, which helps you understand your digital habits and encourages users to take breaks and reduce interruptions.

Three phones showing Android dashboard, app timer, and wind down function

The new dashboard will show day-by-day information including:

  • The total number of minutes you use your phone
  • The number of notifications you receive
  • A pie chart showing which of your apps you've used the most
  • The number of minutes (or hours) you’ve used each of the apps on your phone

Using that information, you can set a daily limit on how long you can use each app on your device. Once time is up, your smartphone will "pause" the app, graying out its icon, and disabling it from launching. You can dig into settings to un-pause an app if you must use it, but the idea is to make it easier to take a break.

Of the many downsides to excessive screen time is the effect it can have on your sleep. Android P alleviates this with a feature called "Wind down." Once you enable it and tell it when you want to turn in for the night, the phone will, at the appointed time go into Do Not Disturb mode and switch grayscale. You can still use the phone, but it might convince you to put it down and get some shut-eye. Plus, the muted screen is more comfortable on the eyes and less likely to keep you up. Another option is to tell Google Assistant that it's bedtime, and it will turn off the lights and let you know if you need to set the alarm.

Adaptive Battery and Brightness

Google partnered with DeepMind, an artificial intelligence organization that's part of the Alphabet group, to build a smarter battery. Your smartphone learns which apps and services you use the most and prioritizes battery power to them, optimizing overall battery life. The company also applied machine learning to screen brightness. Adaptive Brightness learns your preferences and automatically adjusts your screen when you change surroundings.

Do Not Disturb Gets Less Disturbing

Android P has an updated Do Not Disturb function too. There are two options when you turn it on: Show notifications silently and Hide notifications. The first option will still display incoming notifications, but your phone will not ring or vibrate. The second option will not show any notifications on your lock screen, notification drawer, or your "always-on" screen, if you use that. You don't have to worry about missing an emergency call, though; you can opt to let calls from specific contacts come through if you wish.

There's also now a gesture option for Do Not Disturb, called Shush mode. Flip your phone face down and Do Not Disturb will automatically turn on. Handy during a business meeting or social event, it's a simple way to avoid interruptions.

Rein in Notifications

Managing notifications can be tedious, and Android P offers some relief.

Android screenshot showing recent notifications and new manage notifications button
You can quickly manage notifications using the link underneath your more recent ones, as shown here.

Your phone will notice which ones you frequently ignore or swipe away and ask if you want to disable that notification. We love this feature, but in the case of reminders, there are times one might dismiss that notification, not because it's irrelevant but because it has done its job of reminding. It'll be interesting to see if Google can recognize this nuance down the road.

You can also adjust settings by:

  • Long-pressing on a notification to stop notifications
  • Slowly swiping on an alert to reveal the settings gear
  • Tap on manage notifications at the bottom of the notifications tray (see above)
  • Android screenshots showing app notifications with toggle switches to turn them on and off
Android screenshots showing app notifications with toggle switches to turn them on and off

That last option brings you to the app notifications page, which you can sort by most recent or most frequent, and turn them off or on one app at a time.

Actions, Slices, and Volume Controls

Android Actions and Slices are two new features that work in the background to predict your next move and help you get to the information or activity you want faster. In the app drawer on Android P, there's a row of predictive apps; i.e., apps that use you frequently. Underneath that are actions that you often do, such as texting your partner or ordering take-out from an app. Actions can also appear in the app launcher, within Google Assistant, and on your home screen. 

Android Slices are shortcuts to the parts of an app you want to access. For instance, a button to call an Uber to take you home. Rather than launching the app and inputting an address, you can get a ride with one click. The idea behind slices is to reduce friction in everyday usage; rather than toggling between apps, you can multitask seamlessly. You can access slices by searching your phone; we expect to see expanded functionality here as third-party developers have the chance to play around with it.

Android screenshot showing home screen and volume controls

Volume control also sees a change. When you press on the volume up or down button, it adjusts the media volume by default. Tap on the settings gear to adjust ring and alarm volume, and the bell icon to toggle through sound options for calls and notifications: ring, vibrate, or silent.

Odds and Ends

There are a handful of smaller enhancements too. Android P includes a tool called Markup that lets you annotate screenshots right after you capture them. 

Two Android screenshots showing the screenshot annotation feature
You can annotate screens with a pen or highlighter, choosing from seven colors.

When viewing the screenshot, you'll see an edit option which will be next to the share symbol. You can mark screenshots with a pen or highlighter and crop them as well by dragging the edges. Taking screenshots gets a bit easier too—if you struggle with the power button/volume down combination (we do all the time), you can instead hold down the power button, and you'll see three options: power off, restart, and screenshot.

As is often the case with a software update, new emojis will be available. This update includes inclusive emojis with various skin colors and hairstyles as well as genderless options. 

You'll be able to pin a screen to a specific orientation to prevent rotating for when you don't want to lock in portrait or landscape for all apps, just one in particular.

Android screenshot showing new home button gesture

Finally, there's a new gesture where you can swipe up from the home button to see all open apps, and swipe twice to look at your app tray. When enabled, the home button transforms into a pill shape, the square overview button is gone, and the back button only shows up inside apps.