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Google's Lollipop Will Allow Android Devices to Come in Many Flavors

The latest version of Android will arrive next month preloaded onto several devices.

Ina Fried

After offering a taste earlier this year, Google is now ready to share its lollipops with the world, offering up several new Nexus devices alongside the next release of Android.

The release, which was previewed as Android L at Google I/O back in June, is being made available in final form as Android 5.0 (a.k.a. Lollipop) and will power three new Nexus devices — the Motorola-made Nexus 6 phablet, the HTC-built Nexus 9 tablet and the Asus-built Nexus Player, a $99 set-top box.

The software itself is a major update for Google, which designed the operating system to power not only phones and tablets, but also televisions, watches and in-car entertainment systems.


“It’s a big deal, and I think the team is pretty excited and pretty exhausted,” Hiroshi Lockheimer, VP of engineering, said in an interview on Tuesday.

On the hardware front, Google spread the wealth, working with three different chipset providers and three different hardware makers for the latest crop of Nexus devices.

The six-inch Nexus phone, which looks and feels a lot like a bigger Moto X, will be available in mid-November. Unlike many past Nexus phones, the Nexus 6 will be available not just from Google, but also directly from carriers, using either two-year contracts or device financing. On the downside, the device is pricier than any prior Nexus phone, starting at $649 without a contract.

It does pack high-end features, including its six-inch AMOLED display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 chip, 13-megapixel camera and the ability to get six hours of use from a 15-minute charge.

Lockheimer said the pricier Nexus phone came, in part, due to requests from Android enthusiasts.

“People wanted something a little more premium,” Lockheimer said. However, he noted, Lollipop will also run on the roughly $100 emerging-market devices that are part of Google’s Android One project.

The nine-inch tablet, which will start at $399, is the first 64-bit portable device running Android and also features Nvidia’s K1 processor, while the Nexus Player set-top box is the first Nexus with an Intel chip.

The tablet also uses a 4-by-3, rather than 16-by-9, aspect ratio. That was, in part, to highlight the fact it is useful for more than just watching movies, Lockheimer said. Google plans to sell a Nexus 9 case that doubles as a Bluetooth keyboard. The base model comes with 16 gigabytes of memory and is Wi-Fi only. Additional options include a 32GB Wi-Fi model and a 32GB model with LTE and Wi-Fi capabilities.

 Google’s $99 Nexus Player, seen here with optional game controller
Google’s $99 Nexus Player, seen here with optional game controller

As for the Nexus Player, it is Google’s latest effort to push Android into the TV market, having had limited success with past efforts. This year’s set-top box supports all the functions of Google’s Chromecast and runs Android apps as well. It comes with a remote that can also process voice input, with a full-on game controller sold as a $39 add-on.

The tablet and set-top box will both be available Nov. 3, Google said.

Lockheimer noted that Lollipop packs 5,000 new developer hooks, including new features for business users, along with a “material design” user interface intended to carry a common look across devices as disparate as cars, TVs and watches, along with the core Android market — phones and tablets.

Among the other features of Lollipop, Google is supporting a “kill switch” to make stolen phones unusable through what it is calling “Factory Reset Protection.” Essentially, it requires a password before a phone can be reset, ideally preventing thieves from making use of stolen phones.

Also on the security front, Google is turning on encryption by default, and Lollipop is the first version with support for separate user profiles on phones, making it easier for parents to hand off their devices to their kids. (Android already supported multiple users for tablets.) Google is also building in support for businesses that want to separate work and personal data.

Another key feature, Lockheimer said, is the ability to get information at a glance. That’s critical on watches, but also quite useful on phones. The Nexus 6, for example, has notifications that pulse even when the phone is in standby, in much the same way Motorola has already done on its own with Moto X.

And never one to be satisfied with its latest dessert, Lockheimer said Google is already scoping out what to do next. “We’re already thinking about M, planning a bunch of stuff,” he said.

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