Google is working on an overhaul of its Android mobile software for a new generation of smartphones mimicking Apple Inc.’s controversial new "notch" at the top of the iPhone X, according to people familiar with the situation.
The Android update, due later in the year, will also more tightly integrate Google’s digital assistant, improve battery life on phones and support new designs, like multiple screens and foldable displays, the people added.
A key goal of this year’s update to the Google mobile operating system is to persuade more iPhone users to switch to Android devices by improving the look of the software, the people said. They asked not to be identified discussing the private plans. A Google spokesman declined to comment.
While Android dominates the middle and low-end of the global smartphone market, Apple controls much of the high-end with users who spend more on apps and other services. Embracing the notch may help change that. The design will mean more new Androidphones with cutouts at the top of their screens to fit cameras and other sensors. That will likely support new features, helping Android device makers keep up with similar Apple technology.
What’s unlikely to change much is Android’s nagging problem: Most of the billion-plus Android devices globally run outdated versions of the operating system, exposing security holes and holding back Google’s newest mobile innovations.
Alphabet Inc.’s Google controls the Android software, while other companies manufacture the devices. These partners can also tweak the software to their specific needs, so not all Android phones will have notches. Indeed, when the iPhone X came out in November, Samsung Electronics Co., the largest Android phone maker, mocked the feature in a commercial.
Still, building notch capabilities into Android suggests Google expects the iPhone X look to catch on more broadly. Currently, a smartphone from Essential, run by Android’s former boss Andy Rubin, is the only other major handset on the market with the feature. Huawei Technologies Co., a large Chinese vendor, is working on a similar model, according to people familiar with its development.
The operating system refresh, Android P, will emphasize Google’s Assistant, a digital helper that competes with Apple’s Siri and Amazon.com Inc.’s Alexa. Developers will be able to integrate Google’s voice-based technology inside of their apps. The company has also weighed integrating the search bar on the Android home screen with its assistant, although neither of these changes are finalized for introduction this year, according to one of the people familiar with the situation.
The dramatic redesign will be a contrast this year to the iPhone’s operating system, which will lack a clear outward-facing upgrade in favor of system improvements for performance and reliability, Bloomberg News has reported.
Every year, the new Android version is named after a dessert. Internally, Google is calling the latest one Pistachio Ice Cream, but the company typically uses different official names, the people also said.