On September 29, Google confirmed that Android Marshmallow would start to roll out to existing Nexus devices – that's the Nexus 5, Nexus 6, Nexus 7, Nexus 9 and Nexus Player – from Monday October 5, so if you have one of those devices, keep an eye out for the update.
The new Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P will come with Marshmallow straight out of the box,. Pre-orders for these phones are now open in the US, UK, Ireland and Japan, with shipping due to begin in October.
When Google VP of Engineering David Burke first showed off Android M at Google I/O in May 2015, he outlined six major features that would be at the core of the updated operating system. On September 29 Google's Android Marshmallow website went live, Burke provided a few extra details of Android 6.0.
So let's start with those six key areas that Google has focussed on for Marshmallow:
1. App permissions
First up, app permissions. As previously speculated, app permissions have been overhauled in Android M, and you can now choose to accept or deny individual permissions as you see fit. Permissions have also been simplified, and will now be requested the first time you try to use a feature, not at the point of installation.
"You don't have to agree to permissions that don't make sense to you," Burke said, and used WhatsApp to give an example of how this works. If you want to record a voice message, WhatsApp will prompt you with a one-time request for permission to use your mic: if you still wish to give it access and record the message, you can, but you don't have to. In this way, Android M is giving you greater control of the information apps can access, a step forward for the OS.
You can modify the permissions granted to apps at a later date in your Settings, or you can view permissions by type and see which apps have that permission granted. It's all about giving you much more control over your Android device.
2. Web experience
Google has been exploring trends in the way web content is consumed to provide a better user experience when interacting with websites and apps. "Chrome Custom Tabs is a new feature that gives developers a way to harness all of Chrome's capabilities, while still keeping control of the look and feel of the experience," said Burke.
Chrome Custom Tabs will allow apps to open a customized Chrome window on top of the active app, instead of launching the Chrome app separately. It's claimed that this provides a faster and more intuitive user-experience when navigating between apps and the web.
Chrome Custom Tabs supports automatic sign-in, saved passwords, autofill, and multi-process security to assist the integration of the app and web experience. So, for example, a Pinterest custom tab will have a Pinterest share button embedded in it, can include custom overflow menu options, and doesn't require the Pinterest developers to build their own web browser.
3. Fingerprint support
Google will "standardize support" for fingerprint scanners on phones running Android Marshmallow. The new functionality will allow fingerprint scanners to be used not only to unlock phones, but to make purchases when shopping in real-life or within Play Store apps.
Of course, your device will need a hardware fingerprint scanner to begin with, but with Google's full support, expect to see these appear on many more devices in the future.
4. Mobile payments
Android Pay is Google's new mobile payments system, designed to make the checkout process easier and faster. Google is aiming to provide "simplicity, security, and choice" with Android Pay, allowing you to use your existing credit cards to pay for products in more than 700,000 stores in the US.
Compatible with any device featuring NFC capabilities (and running 4.4 KitKat or above), the Android Pay platform is being supported by American Express, Visa, Mastercard, and Discover, as well as carriers such as AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile. Google's response to Apple Pay is here.
5. App links
"When a user selects a weblink from somewhere, Android doesn't know whether to show it in a web browser, or some other app that claims support for the link." This was the problem facing the Google developers before Android Marshmallow.
You may be familiar with the 'Open with' dialogue box which appears when you try to open a link within an app on Android. You might be asked if you want to open a link with YouTube, or with Chrome, for example.
App links are being changed in Android 6.0, so that Android has a greater awareness of which apps can open content directly. If you tap a Twitter link in an email, for example, the Twitter app will open automatically instead of prompting you to ask if you want to use Twitter to view it.
This is almost a blink-and-you'll-miss-it improvement, but it's representative of Google's attention to detail: Android M is probably going to feel more usable without many people even realising why.
6. Power and charging
We all hate running out of battery and Android Marshmallow wants to ease our pain through a new function called Doze to improve device standby time. By using motion detectors, Android will recognize when a device hasn’t been interacted with for a while, such as when a person is asleep or a phone has been left on a table, and reduce background processes.
Burke said that Google tested two Nexus 9 devices, one running Lollipop and one running the Android M preview, and learned that Android M will provide up to twice as much standby time. Even in Doze mode, though, Android can still start alarms or notify you of priority notifications.
Android's Compatibility Definition Document stipulates that all apps that choose not to use Doze must make this clear to the user. This means apps can avoid Doze, if they want to, but not without us knowing about it, which is a good discouragement for OEMs thinking about bypassing the feature.
The document also states that any OEM making a Marshmallow ROM must include Doze untouched if they wish to get Google certification.
Android Marshmallow also supports USB Type-C, which provides faster charging, and lets users charge other devices with their phone.
7. Improved cut, copy and paste
When you select text on a current Android device, a series of confusing icons appears at the top of the screen, and figuring out what they all do takes trial-and-error. In Android Marshmallow, the words 'cut', 'copy' and 'paste' will simply float above selected text, making the process much simpler.
It might seem a minor change, but these new cut, copy and paste options are an overdue update to one of the most commonly used features. The new, more intuitive approach mirrors the iOS way of doing things – and why not if it works?
8. Auto app data backup
The new app backup feature on Android Marshmallow will, in time, be very useful. It creates a copy of practically everything an app needs to be reinstalled and pick up where it left off. All the data is backed up to Google Drive, from which it can be plucked and placed on a new or reset device. So all your data, settings and passwords go back to how they were as if nothing ever happened.
The big problem is that it only works on apps targeting API 23, which, at the moment, is a mere five percent of the top 200 third-party, non-game apps. App makers also have to choose to enable the auto backup feature, and many do not, so you may have to activate it yourself. In time though, we're sure this feature will be widely implemented and prove to be very useful.
Google has built a file manager into Android Marshmallow. It lacks many of the features of third-party file managers, but it does allow users to search, copy, share, sort and delete files. You will probably get the most out of it if you have a microSD card slot and want to transfer files, but, given the lack of features, it seems most people would still be better off using a third-party app
To access the built-in file manager, go to Settings, then Storage. From there, select USB and finally Explore. It's quite well hidden, but it's there.
What else is new in Android Marshmallow?
Let's dive a bit deeper into Android 6.0 to see what awaits us when we get it.
Auto Backup and Restore for Apps
Possibly the most interesting aspect of Android Marshmallow not discussed in Google’s I/O keynote speech was Android Auto Backup and Restore for Apps. This feature will be used in conjunction with Google Drive to automatically backup app data and settings with a file size of 25 MB or less.
These backups occur no more than once a day, and run only when the device is idle and connected to Wi-Fi and power. The uploaded data does not count towards your Google Drive storage quota, and is encrypted.
If you lose your device or delete the app, your previous progress will be restored the next time you install it, and it even works with apps which are side-loaded or accessed through a third-party app store.
New app drawer
One of the most immediately obvious visual changes to Android 6.0 is the new app drawer. This now scrolls vertically instead of horizontally, and is held against a white background, rather than a muted shade of your homepage wallpaper. Across the top of the menu you will see your four most recently used apps.
Android Marshmallow RAM manager
Google has introduced a new RAM manager to Android M, with the aim of providing users with more accurate and comprehensible information regarding the maximum and average RAM usage of apps.
The menu can be found in Settings > Apps > Options (three dots button) > Advanced > Memory. Though it's a little hard to navigate to, the page offers a far clearer insight into app demands, and the overall effect they will have on your device.
With a reading of an individual app's RAM consumption, as well as how often it is running in the background, users will be able to better determine which apps should be removed in endless bid to increase device performance and battery life.
Android M even includes a simple bar at the top of the page displaying the current performance status of a person's handset; if it says 'good performance', you're probably running an efficient set of apps.
Adoptable Storage Devices
Though Google has in the past tried to step away from external storage use (the reason why none of its Nexus devices house a microSD card slot), it appears that Android Marshmallow is striking a compromise.
Adoptable Storage Devices is Google's new storage feature which essentially takes an external storage source (such as an SD card or USB drive) and formats it like an internal storage space. This means that app and personal data can be moved freely between a devices internal storage and its 'adopted' storage source.
Adopted storage devices are wrapped in a layer of encryption to soothe security concerns and both microSD cards and USB OTG drives are currently supported.
Android Marshmallow dark theme
Buried within the the first developer preview of the Android 6.0 settings was a 'Dark theme' option which transformed the menu background to a dark grey color rather than the normal pale shade. At the time, this only affected the settings menu, not the app drawer, and its function was purely cosmetic. Still, it looked nice on our Nexus 6 and we hoped it would get developed further.
But in the second developer preview of Android 6.0, that dark theme had been removed by Google. We're not sure why this happened or if it's a permanent removal, but we're hoping to see the dark theme make a triumphant return – in more than just the Settings menu – when Android M is finalized.
We're not the only ones. Hernán Castañón delved into the Android Marshmallow source code to reveal veiled references to a 'night mode'. This sounds mysterious, but these traces of code bring hope that Google hasn't quite renounced the possibility of a dark theme yet. Perhaps it even has plans for a color theme that changes according to the time of day, which would stop you from blinding yourself with a careless late-night look at your phone's glaring white screen.
Google Now has been improved upon once again with Android Marshmallow. It is now smarter than ever, and focuses on three key areas: being aware of different contexts, providing answers and helping you take action,
Google Now's context awareness understands more than100 million different places, so when you ask "How far is it to there?" Google Now know exactly which "there" you're referring to. This awareness is compounded by Google's Knowledge Graph, which understands one billion different entities, from sports teams to gas stations, TV shows to recipes.
Google Now is also rolling out a pilot program called Now on Tap with 100 popular apps. Now on Tap provides Google Now-like content right where you are, without having to leave the app you're in. So if you're in Spotify and say "Ok Google, what is his real name?" Now on Tap will know you're talking about the musician you're listening to and provide search results right there and then.
The same goes for the content of emails. If someone asks you a question about a restaurant or to remember something on your way home, Now on Tap can automatically pop up a restaurant card with Maps info, Yelp, OpenTable and the dialer, as well as offer to set a reminder for whatever it was you were supposed to not forget.
Information gleaned from the Android Developer Preview issue tracker page indicated that Android M will include Visual Voicemail service accessible from the dialer. According to a report by Android Police, it appears that T-Mobile and Orange France will be the only two carriers to support the functionality, but more are sure to follow (after all, Android Marshmallow is still in its early stages).
What is visual voicemail? It's basically how it sounds: visual voicemail presents your voicemail with a visual interface, rather than the audio-based setup like in current Android smartphones – whereby you call your carrier and listen for instructions. Though it may seem like a small addition, the functionality requires cooperation from carriers, which may suggest why few are currently on board.
Rotating home screen
A surprisingly slow feature to make it to Android, the screen rotation function for the home screen has finally made an appearance. Now you can use your phone in landscape format both in apps and on the home screen.
The second version of the Android M developer preview added a new delete option to the screenshot preview in the notifications shade. Previously you just had the option to share a screenshot from the notifications. Now you can delete it as well.
Remove status bar icons
Android Marshmallow brings toggles for which icons you see in the status bar. If, for example, you always have Bluetooth on and don't really need a persistent icon taking up space in your status bar, now you can simply remove it. The same goes for the Cast icon, hotspot, Do Not Disturb, alarm set, work profile, Wi-Fi, cellular data and more.
They're available in the new System UI Tuner, which needs to be enabled in Developer Options if you are running a developer preview of Android M (to enable this, go to Settings > About Phone and tap Build Number seven times. You'll now see Developer Options at the bottom of the Settings menu.)
The memory section is now located front and center in the Settings menu. We're not sure how often the average person is going to want to check in on memory usage, but having it plainly visible will hopefully mean more people become familiar with what RAM management is and what you can use it for.
Network Settings Reset option
Hidden away in the Backup and Reset settings is another new feature called Network Settings Reset. This lets you instantly wipe all of your network settings, including Wi-Fi connections, cellular data and Bluetooth connections.
Storage gets a makeover
Internal storage is always a hassle for smartphone users. Even with microSD expansion and USB On The Go (OTG) you always seem to need to keep an eye on available storage space. The new version of Android M introduces a simple line bar that shows how much space you have on your device with a breakdown of what is using up your internal storage.
On August 17, a Google Developers blog post revealed the Android 6.0 name as Android Marshmallow as well as ome more information on upcoming Android 6.0 Marshmallow features. The changelog for API level 23 details what these are but as the blog post states: "Compared to the previous developer preview updates, you will find this final API update fairly incremental."