As Google’s annual developer shindig, Google IO, got under way last week, Android enthusiasts and developers were downloading the beta of the next version of the operating system, known for now as Android P.
Update, 3 July: We’ve seen reports that the latest update to the Android P beta version – build PPP4.180612.004, which has been rolling out over the past day or so – has broken Google Pay. I found this out when I tried to pay for something this morning, only to get the error message “You can no longer pay in shops with Google Pay.”
When users getting this error message try to fix it by deleting and then adding back their card, they get another error message that warns “This phone can’t be used to pay in shops. This may be because it is rooted or altered in some other way.”
Google tells me it’s investigating, but for now, we would advise not installing the beta on a phone you rely on every day, and if you are already using the beta, don’t install the latest update.
Update, 4 July: The good news is that there is a workaround to this issue. Go to Settings > Apps & notifications, and scroll down to your Google Play Store app. Click on that , then click on Storage, and click the Clear Storage button. Once you’ve done that, reboot, and Google Pay should be working properly.
There’s a lot of chatter about it online, but what’s it like to use? I installed it on my phone, a Pixel 2 XL at the end of last week, and I’ve been using it ever since.
If you want to install it and if you’ve got an eligible phone, head over to Google’s beta program website. You’ll need to be signed in to Google to take the next step, which is to enrol your phone in the program.
Once you’ve done that, you’ll be offered an update. Be warned, it’s a big download – 943.7MB for my phone, so best to wait until you’re connected to wi-fi if your data allowance is limited.
It was a speedy download and update for me – just 10 minutes later I was up and running in Android P.
At first glance, the changes are subtle – there are small changes such as the time switching from the right side of the screen to the left.
Changing the wallpaper or adding widgets is tidier, too.
But the moment you pull down the notification shade, it’s clear that things have changed: notification icons have (finally) acquired the Google Material Design style.
That extends to the Settings app, which certainly looks fresher. Digging around in the settings, some things are much clearer, and offer more granular control. Under Battery, for example, you can enable Adaptive Battery, which will manage your phone and battery life.
Google was keen to explain that this is one of the ways it’s deploying AI (artificial intelligence) on your phone. Your phone will learn how you use apps, shutting down the ones you don’t use to save them draining your battery
One big change is how you navigate through apps. Running apps are now accessed by sweeping up from the bottom – and the right-hand button has disappeared, with the back button only appearing when it’s needed. In its place is the “pill” button.
This isn’t on by default – you have to turn it on in the settings, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it were automatically on by the time Android P is officially released.
This will feel familiar to Apple users, and as with iOS (and indeed, the late lamented webOS, which flowered briefly on Palm devices), apps are now cleared by flicking them up rather than to the side.
Yes, that’s the same gesture that invokes the app drawer, so if you sweep up from the home screen, you’ll first get your running apps and then the app drawer slides up. It’s a bit disconcerting and inelegant, but I got used to it quickly enough.
I was disappointed to discover that some of the new features discussed at Google IO haven’t made it into the beta yet: there’s no Slices yet, nor any sign of the Dashboard, which will help you manage your use of your phone. Wind Down, which will turn your screen to grayscale as you head to bed isn’t in the beta yet either, and neither is App Timer.
Learning from you
Android P makes clear that Google’s focus is not so much on how you use your phone as your phone learning how it fits in with your life. Some might find that creepy; I think it’s potentially useful.
And it seems my phone knows me quite well already: as Friday evening loomed, it suggested I WhatsApp one of my closest friends to plan a catch-up over the weekend.
Although Google warns that it could be unstable and suggests you don’t put it on your everyday phone, I’ve had very few problems. A couple of apps I installed over the weekend warned that they hadn’t been tested with this version of Android but nonetheless behaved themselves.
Should you install it? Despite warnings from Google that “system and app performance is known to be periodically slow and janky”, it’s been fine so far for me. If you do install it and decide it’s not for you, your phone will be wiped when you roll back, so make sure you back it up before you take the plunge.
Will you be installing the beta? What do you think of the new features?