Android P: everything you need to know about Google's new mobile OS

Android is getting an upgrade

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Google treats us to a brand new version of Android every year, and in 2018 that upgrade is called Android P – we're still waiting for the full title. Here's everything you need to know about the OS, including all the new features, and when your phone can expect to get it.

With Apple also refreshing its mobile OS every year, Google knows it can't get complacent with its own software plans. We already know plenty about what Android P is going to offer, but expect several more announcements about its features in the months ahead.

Android P: release date and availability

Google Pixel 2 XL

The Google Pixel 2 XL

As you might have noticed, the first developer preview of Android P is already here: that's the version designed for app makers to test out, and it's not really for public consumption (though you can try and manually flash the OS onto a device if you want).

Google will still have a lot of new features up its sleeve, but even at this early stage, developers can start adapting their apps to the demands of Android P, and begin taking advantage of all the extra functionality.

According to Google, there will be a public beta later in the year: that's where anyone who wants to can sign up for an early edition of Android P and help squash bugs. Android 8.0 Oreo launched as a beta in May 2017, so May is a safe bet for this year too.

As for when the finished version of Android P will appear, we're not exactly sure – but again we can get some clues from last year. Oreo was released to the public in August 2017, and we think Google will probably follow the same schedule this time around.

For any of these releases, whether the developer preview or the beta or the finished version, you're going to need a Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL phone to be able to take advantage. As usual, Google's phones get first dibs on the new software, and this year the older Nexus phones are getting cut out of the loop.

If you don't have a Pixel phone, you're at the mercy of Samsung, LG, HTC, Sony, or whichever company makes your handset. It's up to them how quickly you get the edited update after Google has pushed it out.

Android P: all the new features so far

Android P

Android P messaging

We're only at the developer preview stage, which means not all the new features coming to Android P will be included in the code yet, but there's already plenty to explore.

The interface has been given a few tweaks here and there, tweaks which may or may not make it into the final version of Android P: the icons on the pull-down quick settings menu are clearer, for example. Sliders to adjust the volume also get a redesign in a more compact box in the middle of the screen.

Notifications are getting improvements too, with smart replies and in-line picture previews coming to messages, so you can see more and do more from the notification panel. Plus, if you hide a lot of notifications from one particular app, Android P will ask if you want to hide alerts from that app completely.

On the security side of Android P, you can put your phone into a special "lockdown" mode where you can't unlock your phone using anything but your PIN. Also, apps face tighter restrictions about using the microphone and camera, which should mean no chance of anyone being able to spy on you.

Internal navigation is improved with tech known as W-Fi RTT (that's Round-Trip-Time) – it basically lets you find your position in indoor shopping centres, airports and other places based on the location of nearby Wi-Fi networks.

There are a ton of other very minor changes, but finally for now, Android P brings support for displays with notches (that is Android phones that want to follow the lead of the iPhone X). Apps will be able to adapt to shift their layout for notches of different sizes, and for phones that have no notch at all.

Android P: what else we're expecting

Google I O 2017

Google I/O 2017

As we've said, Google is likely to roll out plenty more features for Android P over the coming months. The bulk of them will probably be announced at the Google I/O 2018 developer conference – get 8-10 May marked in your calendars to hear the news (here's what happened last year).

Bearing in mind that Google's key apps, from Chrome to Gmail, all get updated outside of Android, don't expect anything mind-blowing. The usual improvements to battery life and graphics performance will no doubt be mentioned.

We should also see more features that build on the big two themes of the last year in mobile: artificial intelligence and augmented reality. Android P is likely to be smarter than any Android before it, and they'll be more going on in terms of AR experiences through the phone camera as well.

A couple of tweaks to the notification system are already apparent and that might get expanded further, as might some of the system settings. The developer preview lets you lock your phone in landscape mode, for example, so we'll wait and see if that makes it to the final version.

During the preview and beta phases, Google often pulls features out of Android as well as adding them in, so try not to get too excited about anything you see until the code is finalised or Google confirms something is staying.

App and phone security should get a boost too, as Google tries to fight malware and dodgy apps on the platform, and stay tuned for some Google Assistant upgrades as well – though these can also happen outside of the main Android updates.

Last but not least, we're also expecting Google to settle on a full and final name for Android P – what's your guess for this year's dessert?