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Seven Google apps that hint at what Android 5.0 will look like
What’s in the cards for Android 5.0?
Android smartphone and tablet makers are notorious for not updating their devices to the latest versions of the OS in a timely fashion — if ever. But it appears Google has been deploying a stealthy strategy to mitigate this problem somewhat: They have released new apps or revised many of the ones that come with Android. For users, this means an improvement in the overall Android experience.
A taste of Key Lime Pie
While we likely won’t see Android 5.0 (Key Lime Pie) for some time, the new apps suggest that the future look and feel of Google’s mobile OS could be built upon “cards.” Across Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, the primary GUI metaphor is the tile — a square or rectangle that works as a shortcut, window showing real-time information, or both. In the Android realm, the similar equivalent could be the card.
This intelligent assistant, which is incorporated into the Google Search engine in Android 4.1 and up, first introduced the card UI design philosophy. Google Now mines your Google user account activity and data to present a series of cards, each of which shows updated information relevant to you, such as event alerts, flight schedules, local weather, search history, and traffic reports. These cards are lined up in a column that you scroll through. You can read the information on a card, tap on it to see more details, or swipe it aside to get rid of it.
Keep is the second app Google introduced to prominently incorporate the card UI concept. With it, you can easily enter text onto virtual notecards (either by typing or speaking the words), insert photos by snapping them with your device’s camera or voice clips recorded from your device’s mic. The background colors of these cards can be changed, and you can arrange them in the order you want. If you use the Keep widget, you can pin your notecards to the Home screen.
This is Google’s attempt to start merging their chat services, beginning with Google Talk and Google+ Messenger. With this app, you can message individuals or groups of people in your Gmail contacts or Google+ social circles by starting a “hangout” — a chatroom that remains persistently available to all parties. Photos can be shared, and video chats can be initiated, by you and the other participants. Hangouts uses a card UI in the screen where you start a new hangout.
The update of the Android app for Google’s social network enhances the appearance of photos you take with your device’s camera or ones already on it that you upload to your Google+ profile. More impressive is that the app attempts to auto-tag the subject matter of your photos. Google+ for Android is a full-on card UI app: Photos, shares and status updates by persons you follow are depicted as cards you flick through. In portrait mode, this stream of cards is presented as a single column. In landscape mode, the stream is arranged across three columns.
On May 22, the Drive app for Android was updated with a new Scan tool which lets you snap a photo of a document, like a sales receipt, with your device’s camera. Drive saves the image as a PDF, and you can then use the app to search for text within the scanned image. Your documents can now be displayed as cards —actually, these are shortcuts that show a large square thumbnail of your document. Tap on one to load the document, or press-and-hold on the thumbnail to access other functions.
The May 29 update to the Android app for Google’s webmail service automatically sorts your inbox into up to five categories (“Primary,” “Social,” “Promotions,” “Updates” and “Forums”). Whichever inbox category you switch to, your email list is shown in a flat design where each email is denoted by a brightly colored square with the first letter of the sender’s name or their headshot if they have provided one. The specific color for each square appears to be randomly selected by the app but is then applied consistently to each sender.
Also updated on May 29, Google Calendar’s flat makeover emphasizes more white space and allows you to designate colors to days and months. Circles take prominence in certain areas of the GUI design, such as the clock and when you pick colors, or days of the week when you’re setting an alert for a recurring event. This version of Google Calendar is available only for devices running at least Android 4.1.