Google has begun rolling the latest version of Android, the operating system running most smart phones, not to mention a lot of TVs and other devices. Of course, many existing devices won’t get the new version. But users of recent model Nexus phones will be the first to receive Android version 7.0, otherwise known as Nougat, with millions of others likely to follow.

Nexus phones run plain Android, without the skins and ‘improvements’ laid over the top by most major phone producers, so Google can deliver a new version to them without complications. Dave Burke, Google’s Vice President of Engineering, says that while the roll out to Nexus devices is happening, the company is “pushing the Android 7.0 source code to the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), extending public availability of this new version of Android to the broader ecosystem.”

Translation: it is being made available to the other phone makers so that they can work out how to include it in their phones. The major phone makers are likely provide updates for their current premium models – these are typically running Marshmallow, Android 6.0.1 – within a few months once they have integrated their proprietary interfaces with it and are sure it will work properly. How far back into their model history they will go remains to be seen. Samsung Galaxy S7 and LG G5 owners, for example, can be confident they’ll get Nougat. S6 and G4 owners? They’ll have to wait and see.

(Okay, I’ve got enquiries in with both those companies, but experience suggests that reliable information won’t be forthcoming. We’ll let you know if we get an answer.)

Burke says, “Android Nougat reflects input from thousands of fans and developers … all around the world. There are over 250 major features in Android Nougat, including VR Mode in Android.”

VR – Virtual Reality – is of course the hot new thing whereby with the use of some form of headset to split the screen image so that each eye can have its own separate “feed” – a smart phone can become the centrepiece of truly immersive games and videos. Building greater support into the operating system itself ought to leady to more apps and content being produced.

Split screen with Android Nougat

There are a bunch of system level changes which need not concern us here – few of us are all that interested in the new JIT/AOT compiler, even though it does important under-the-hood stuff – but which should ensure higher performance into the future. But there are some obviously useful features, too. Such as “Direct Reply”, where you’ll be able to reply to some notifications directly from the notification bar without going to the relevant app. There is also “Multi-Window” support. True windows of the kind found on computers will only be available for large screen devices such as TVs. For handheld devices there’ll be a split screen mode with the dividing line between the two apps able to be slid to allow one or the other more screen space. Only the active app will be running. The other will be “paused”, although video may continue to run in it.

Apps will have to be updated to be compatible with this function (not unreasonably, since the screen shape will be changed for them).

Perhaps more usefully, there’s a shortcut for switching between the current and last used apps running in normal full screen mode: a double tap on the “overview” button (that’s the “other” button that brings up a list of recently used apps) switches between them.

Android

Importantly, although invisibly to most users, there are new security improvements to protect your phone and information, and lengthened battery life due to Doze being incorporated. Doze puts the phone into low power mode when it is clearly not being used.

The phones to be updated “over the air” in the initial release will be the Nexus 6, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Nexus 9, Nexus Player, Pixel C, and General Mobile 4G (Android One). This will happen, Burke says, “over the next several weeks”.

The first phone to be released new with Android Nougat will be the LG V20, LG’s forthcoming super high fidelity (it has a Quad digital to analogue converter from ESS Technology) smart phone. Unfortunately, Australia is not on the list of nations slated to receive this model.