8 ways Lollipop 5.0 reinvents Android

Enhanced security, improved architecture, extensive APIs -- bold changes make Android 5.0 better for business

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ART: Shaking up Android to the core

Lollipop’s change log includes a plethora of under-the-hood tweaks, the most substantial of which is an overhaul of Android’s core architecture, with Android Run Time (ART) replacing the Dalvik VM. According to Google, this shift has made Android considerably faster and more powerful. (Various reviewers report that Android Lollipop doesn’t run slower on older Android devices -- a welcome indicator that ART may in fact be faster.)

Whereas Dalvik compiled and processed apps each time they were opened, ART performs ahead-of-time processing, translating an app’s source code on initial installation. The result, Google claims, is device performance of up to four times than that of previous versions with smoother, more visually rich applications that open and operate more efficiently.

This performance boost was noticeable on my Nexus 5 at the outset. As you begin to use Android Lollipop, you will certainly realize that navigating the OS, transitional animations, and app switching is far smoother than before.

Android Lollipop is also the first version with 64-bit support, which Google claims will bring desktop-class CPU performance to the OS. Android’s core applications, including Chrome, Gmail, and Play Music, are now 64-bit-native, as is the Java engine that many third-party applications are built on. The difference won’t likely be felt by users immediately, as nearly all apps are still 32-bit, but it will allow hardware makers to incorporate more powerful yet efficient processors, GPUs, and RAM into the next generation of smartphones and tablets.

Project Volta: Optimizing power use

When we first met what was then referred to as Android L in June, one of the most exciting and promising features was Project Volta, an initiative that Google claimed would yield massive improvements in mobile battery efficiency.

First, similar to a trick already used in Samsung, HTC, LG, and other Android devices, is a new native power-saver mode that helps Lollipop devices limit ravenous background data, haptic feedback, and the like to squeeze extra life out of a nearly empty battery.

Behind the scenes, Project Volta’s Job Scheduler API batches battery-intensive tasks and schedules them for optimal times. Instead of completing each background task immediately, Android can now put off certain functions until a device is connected to Wi-Fi or a charger, thus reducing the number of times the OS draws power from the battery.

Project Volta also provides developers access to a battery historian, which illustrates how and when apps use voltage, as well as how efficiently they’re doing so.

In practice, you might not notice Project Volta right out of the box -- in fact, multiple early reviews of the Nexus 6 and 9 have reported merely average battery life -- but it holds exciting promise once developers and hardware makers begin utilizing its tools.

Enhanced security and Android for Work

Lollipop heralds the first iteration of Android built with enterprise use squarely in mind. Thanks to improved security features such as default encryption on new devices, contextually aware device unlocking, and Security Enhanced Linux (SELinux) malware protection, devices running Android Lollipop are now more enterprise-friendly than ever.

Among the security enhancements is Lollipop Smart Lock, a feature that allows you to associate one or more Bluetooth devices (aka Trusted Devices) as automatic unlocks, such as your key fob in your pocket. Smart Lock also includes Trusted Faces, a previously available feature that uses facial recognition to unlock a device. Look for it now in the Smart Lock group in Settings. Also of interest is the newly available Trusted Locations, which enables you to set locations where your phone could be left open for easy access, such as at home or the office. Trust Locations is currently available through Google Play Services, as opposed to Lollipop itself, so you may need to download and install it yourself.

Most exciting, though, is Android for Work, a dual-persona system Google acquired from Divide last spring that also is said to include Samsung's Knox technology. Google’s Android for Work keeps work and other sensitive data separated from your personal information and media. When Android for Work becomes available in mobile management servers some time next year, IT personnel will be able to deploy apps in bulk to business-user devices and maintain centralized control over sensitive functions.

Google’s Android for Work is built around three major concepts: device and data security, support for IT policies, and mobile application management. Lollipop implements its multiuser support to create a behind-the-scenes user profile that employs block-level disk encryption to keep sensitive data protected, similar to Samsung’s approach with Knox’s Workspace or BlackBerry’s Balance. With Lollipop’s new enterprise-friendly APIs, IT admins will have more tools than ever to configure system and application settings and restrictions.

Android for Work is part of Android Lollipop, and Google says it will be available as an app for devices running Android 4.0 and later as well. Several mobile management vendors promise support for it.

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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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