Android Pie: What you need to know

Alex Kidman 7 August 2018 NEWS

What to expect, how to install and when your Android device might see Android 9, now known as "Android Pie".

Overnight, Google has released Android 9, simultaneously revealing that the "P" in what was previously called "Android P" stands simply for "Pie". We were hanging out for Android Pavlova, which would have had a nice antipodean flavour to it, but simply Pie it is.

What's new in Android Pie?

Google has introduced a range of new features and optimisations in Android Pie, although not all of them will be available straight away.

One of the most hyped features is Google's "Digital Wellbeing" campaign, designed to let you more precisely manage your screen time between work and home, wind down and live a healthier life with your Android device. You can set time limits for apps, make the screen gradually fade colours as the day progresses to remind you to go to bed or set apps for specific "Work" or "Personal" subsections.

Digital Wellbeing is part of Android Pie, but it's still only in Beta. If you're keen, the public beta sign-up is here.

Like every other tech company right now, Google is heavily pushing the AI angle of its products, and Android Pie is no exception. App Actions will give you contextual choices based on the onscreen information of a particular app, while onscreen brightness will note your brightness choices over the course of a day and adjust accordingly.

Users of Android Pie phones should also see better overall battery life, with the new Adaptive Battery feature, which will learn your usage patterns and adjust app usage accordingly. It won't be an absolute saviour of all your battery woes but should stop rogue apps you're not using sucking up your precious battery capacity.

The feature of Android Pie you'll almost certainly notice first are the new gesture controls. These work in a similar (but not quite identical) way to the gestures used by Apple's iPhone X, in that a single pill-shaped icon at the base of the screen is used in place of the traditional back, home and multi-tasking buttons.

Swiping up brings up multi-tasking, to the side for app switching and tapping for home is surprisingly easy to learn, although Google was beaten to this feature by Huawei. It has used the fingerprint reader on many of its premium phones in this way for some time, albeit as an option you had to enable rather than a core feature.

Which phones can get Android Pie?

Right now, if you're the owner of a Google Pixel phone, such as the Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL, you can download Android Pie to your device. It's being delivered as an Over The Air (OTA) update, so it will eventually pester you to upgrade, but if you can't wait, Google has also made the factory images available for download for compatible devices here.

It's generally safer (and substantially easier) to opt for the OTA delivery than push it yourself as it ensures that the correct image will be applied to your device.

The only other manufacturer offering Android Pie as of today is Essential Phone. Essential has never offered its handsets for sale directly in Australia, but if you did happen to import one, you should be able to upgrade today.

However, it's not just a Pixel/Essential party because Google did open up the Android P beta to a range of phones, and it's expected that they'll get full Android Pie in the coming months. Officially, it's before the end of northern hemisphere Autumn, which does give manufacturers until nearly the end of December. Specifically, owners of the following handsets should see Android Pie pretty rapidly:

  • Nokia 7 Plus
  • OnePlus 6
  • Oppo R15 Pro
  • Sony Xperia XZ2
  • Vivo X21
  • Vivo X21UD
  • Xiaomi MiMix 2S

If you own one of the handful of Android One phones (mostly Nokia models in the Australian market), you should also see Android Pie pretty swiftly because the entire point of Android One is that the updates come from Google rather than manufacturers.

My phone isn't in that list! Can I get Android Pie?

The answer to that is a qualified "maybe".

It has long been an issue that many Android phones don't see full operating system updates, much more so than for Apple devices. Typically speaking, premium Android phones tend to adopt Android updates a little faster than their cheaper brethren. But that's made more complex by the levels of customisation that each Android manufacturer puts on top of the basic Android OS.

It's a more complex job for, say, Oppo and its ColorOS overlay than it would be for Motorola, where you get nearly-stock Android. Then again, Oppo's R15 Pro was an Android P beta phone. Essentially, it's hard to tell when you might see an update, although it's always worth checking manufacturer pages as they may have public announcements that clarify the position for specific handsets.

Any updates then have to be tested by carriers, so if you got your handset through Telstra, Optus or Vodafone there can be further delays in rolling it out to your device.

While that's frustrating, nobody's holding up your Android updates for the sake of it. The variety in the open Android ecosystem means that there's a lot more that can go wrong with the complex code. Nobody wants an update that bricks their phone.

It's reasonable to expect that most of the current crop of premium phones from Samsung, LG, Sony, HTC and Huawei should see updates at some point in 2019, but all you can really do is wait and see.

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