M is for Marshmallow: Google names its next Android update

The search giant unveils the name of its next update for smartphones and tablets. Some key features include a new mobile payments system and some tricks for the company's digital assistant, Google Now.

Google's new Android update is named Marshmallow. James Martin/CNET

Google's update for Android, its mobile software for smartphones and tablets, officially has a name: Marshmallow.

The software, previously only referred to as Android M, was announced in May during Google I/O, the search giant's annual developer conference.

The moniker follows Google's whimsical naming convention for new versions of Android. The company typically names its software updates alphabetically and after sweets. For example, the most current version of Android is named Lollipop, and the one before that was KitKat. Marshmallow is expected to be released this fall.

But while the names are silly, Android is serious business for Google. The software powers more than 80 percent of the world's smartphones, from manufacturers including Samsung, HTC and Motorola. The software is also a gateway for Google to get people to use the company's services -- like search, maps and video site YouTube -- on their phones.

The software update will have some key new features. Android Pay, a revamped mobile payments service, will let people pay for goods both in apps and at retail stores using their phones. Google has been working on mobile payments for the past few years with a service called Google Wallet. The feature -- which will continue to exist but has changed its focus to letting people make money transfers in small amounts -- initially never caught on with consumers.

Android Marshmallow is expected to be released in the fall. Google

But since Apple introduced its own version, Apple Pay, as a new feature on its iPhone 6 models and Apple Watch, the mobile-payments space has heated up. Samsung showed off its offering, Samsung Pay, last week.

Android Marshmallow will also include a new feature for the search giant's digital assistant Google Now, called Now On Tap. The feature lets you access Google Now by holding the home button on your phone, similar to what Apple lets you do with its own assistant, Siri. With Now on Tap, Google reaches into its trove of data on users to give them useful information based on what they are doing at the time. That includes understanding what email you're reading or knowing what dry cleaner you use.

But while Google announces its Android updates with much fanfare, it will take awhile for most Android users to start using the software. As of the first week of August, only about 18 percent of Android users were using the most current available version of the software, Lollipop. The vast majority of Android users, about 73 percent, are using KitKat and Jellybean, two older versions of the software. The challenge, which observers often refer to as "fragmentation," often comes from handset manufacturers being slow to push out updates.

By comparison, Apple's iOS 8, which was released in September and powers iPhones and iPads, is on 85 percent of Apple's devices.

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