The Biggest Features to Look Forward to in Android Oreo

By Ryan Whitwam

There's not one but two versions of Oreo to anticipate now.

Android 8.0 Oreo is only beginning to make its way out to devices. Pixel and Nexus devices from recent years have gotten their updates, and the Pixel 2 and 2 XL have launched with Oreo. Otherwise, there's not a lot of Android 8.0 around, and now version 8.1 is in testing.

Not everything that's new in Google's version of Android will ever show up in the modified builds that hit other devices. When it does come to your phone, it'll bring with it several important features, not all of which are as obvious as the headlining features in past versions. Here are the most important things Oreo will bring to your phone (whenever you finally get it).

The Autofill API

Remembering your passwords is tough, especially if you're doing the smart thing and using complex, unique passwords on every site. That's why many of us have turned to password managers like LastPass and Google's own Chrome password manager. Android apps have used some messy hacks to make those passwords more accessible while you're using the phone, but Oreo finally makes password managers an officially supported feature.

Deep in the language and input submenu of Oreo lurks the autofill app settings. Most of the major password managers are testing this feature in beta, and a few have rolled it out to the public version of their Android apps. If you have only been using Google's Chrome manager, that's also available as "Smart Lock" in the autofill settings.

With an autofill app selected, apps with login fields should pop up an option to login via your chosen password service. Some will have extra layers of security like fingerprint authentication before they paste in your username and password. It's a great experience when it works right, but some of the beta apps are still very beta. Google's version is a safe bet for now.

Background Limits

Google has been taking battery life more seriously in the last few Android releases. You might not recall, but in the days of 5.0 and earlier, you could leave an Android device sitting for a few hours and come back to a substantially drained battery. Well, no more. Google implemented Doze Mode in 6.0 and made Doze more powerful in 7.0. With Android 8.0, Google has implemented background limits on apps.

Any app that's in the background will be subject to the new Oreo limitations on processes, but what is a background app? Anything that's not currently on the screen or running a service with user consent (usually with a notification item to keep it alive) is considered to be in the background. These apps are marked as idle by the system and given a short window to finish what they're doing. After that, the system suspends them—they won't wake your device up on their own anymore.

So, what if an app needs to deliver notifications or other data in the background? That's where the job scheduler comes into play. Developers are required to use the job scheduler, which groups multiple broadcasts together to save battery. The system runs the job scheduler, lets apps do their thing, then goes back to sleep.

The result of all this is better battery life, but some apps might end up with slightly delayed notifications. For the record, I haven't seen any noticeable delays.

Picture-in-Picture Video

Phone screens keep getting bigger, so the addition of split-screen mode in Android 7.0 was a great advancement. However, it wasn't designed to allow video to play while you do something else. That's what picture-in-picture (PiP) mode is all about in Android 8.0 Oreo. Developers can add the option to keep video playing in their apps when you hit the home button. There are also some other novel uses. For example, Google Maps has a PiP mode when you have navigation running.

The list of apps with PiP support is short right now, but they're mostly from Google. A few others are actively testing the feature. Additionally, YouTube only does PiP video for Red subscribers.

Notification Improvements

With Android 8.0, Google is adding a number of notification improvements. You can finally quiet annoying notifications from an app without silencing it entirely. This is the "notification channel" feature, which is accessible via your applications settings menu. All apps that target Oreo have notification channels, even if it's just a single on or off toggle. However, apps that have multiple types of data can show a separate toggle for each one.

Notifications that you do want can also be managed in a new way. If you don't want to deal with something right at that moment, you can simply snooze it. Slide the notification slightly to the side, and tap the clock icon. It'll pop back up after the specified time.

The Next Step: Android 8.1

As we've all been watching and waiting for Oreo to roll out to new non-Google phones, Google is already hard at work on the next version of the OS—Android 8.1. It's available as a developer preview for the Pixel devices and last generation of Nexus phones, and Google expects to finalize the OS in December.

This update is shaping up to be aimed mainly at cleaning up Oreo's rough edges. Many of the features we're seeing in 8.1 are actually already present on the Pixel 2 with its special build of 8.0. For example, the home screen theme on the Pixel launcher changes based on the wallpaper you use. This is based on the wallpaper API made public in Android 8.1. Developers can use that to extract accent colors from your wallpapers.

8.1 also includes a revamped power menu, settings tweaks, and apps will be prevented from notifying you more than once per second. That should clear up the issue with notification spam when you start up a phone or come out of do-not-disturb mode.

The bummer here is that your phone running Nougat is probably not going straight to Android 8.1. It'll go to 8.0 because that's what OEMs have been working on for the last couple months. If you're lucky, a build based on 8.1 will roll out to you some time next year.