November 10, 2015

            On October 5, 2015, Google released the latest update to its Android operating system: 6.0 Marshmallow. Although not as radically different from its predecessor as Android Lollipop was, it has brought significant changes and new features to the OS such as Now on Tap, which allows the user to receive contextual information about the contents of the screen. Marshmallow also brings the usual performance updates and improved battery life, as well as an overhaul of the way permissions are handled.

“Now on Tap” is easy to use. If the home button is held in Marshmallow, the feature is activated, scanning the current content of the device’s screen. The data is then sent to Google’s servers and analyzed, returning useful shortcuts and information. Like the Now Cards before it, however, Now on Tap is not perfect. As of the time of writing, it only works in some apps, with which ones being unclear. Given the correct input, however, Now on Tap functions as advertised: a phone number on the screen will bring up a shortcut to dial it.

Two features that most users may never notice are Doze and App Standby, both of which work to improve battery life by silently regulating running apps in the background. The former detects whether the device is actively being used or lying motionless on a table. If it is not in use, it limits the resource consumption of most apps until the device is moved or woken again. App Standby is similar, but turns off apps based on the time since they were last used. Both have been advertised as doing two things: improving battery life and working without any user input, both of which should be welcome to users struggling with battery life.

Permissions were, for a long time, a frustrating part of dealing with Android; however with Marshmallow that frustration is no more. Apps can no longer request a batch of permissions upon installation, but rather must request each one as needed, granting users more control over the permissions they give. Furthermore, Google has made the revoking of permissions a much simpler process: each app lists its permissions under the settings menu, while specific permissions such as location list all the apps using them.

The remaining changes with Marshmallow are primarily conveniences. The Do Not Disturb setting has been moved to the quick settings drawer, and now has the option to remain active until manually disabled. Additionally, the app drawer has been changed to be vertical scrolling, with recommended apps based on previous usage habits appearing at the top. Finally, the greatest change for the sake of convenience is the splitting of the volume menu: although Android still attempts to guess which alarms, music, and notifications the user is trying to change, it presents the option to open a menu containing all three.

Although not as revolutionary or anticipated as its predecessor, Android 6.0 Marshmallow still delivers new features, smoothes out some of the frustrating wrinkles of using Google’s operating system, and improves battery life. Unlike the facelift Lollipop brought to Android, its successor brings primarily under-the-hood improvements and conveniences. These changes are sure to be welcomed, as despite the lack of new visuals, Marshmallow should bring better performance and greater ease of use.


Works Cited

Bohn, Dieter. “Android 6.0 Marshmallow Review.” The Verge. Vox Media Inc., 15 Oct. 2015. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.

Welch, Chris. “Android 6.0 Marshmallow Is Now Available for Google’s Nexus Devices.” The Verge. Vox Media Inc., 05 Oct. 2015. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.