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Android O touts better battery life and notifications

The search giant unveils the next generation of its mobile software, but it's only a preview version.

Stephen Shankland/CNET
Now Playing: Watch this: Android O will make your battery last longer
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Google is hoping its newest version of Android is sweeter than the last.

The search giant on Tuesday announced the next generation of its mobile software, which powers almost nine out of every 10 smartphones on the planet. For now, the software is just called Android O, and it's an unfinished version, meant to give software developers a leg up before Google officially releases it.

For the uninitiated, Google names each new version of Android alphabetically and after a candy or sweet. For example, the previous version was called Nougat. Before that was Marshmallow, then Lollipop. So let the naming speculation begin. Android Oreo? Oatmeal cookie? ("O" is kind of a hard one.)

Among the new stuff: better battery-life features, more control over notifications, and a picture-in-picture mode for phones and tablets.

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The new version of Android is nicknamed "O."

Google

One of the biggest updates is a tweak meant to conserve your phone's juice. To do that, Google will limit what apps can do while they are launched on your phone but not actively being used. For example, now apps won't be able to do as much with location updates while they're running in the background -- which can be a big battery suck.

"Building on the work we began in Nougat, Android O puts a big priority on improving a user's battery life," David Burke, vice president of engineering for Android, wrote in a blog post.

Android O also tries to bring order to the deluge of notifications we get on our phones. Now users will be able to have more control over notifications within an app. They'll also be able to group together different notifications.

Google has also tried to make your phone more secure with an update to Android's WebView, a widely used service that lets developers take advantage of browser technology in their apps. The update makes it harder for a maliciously coded app to steal your personal information.

The Android O announcement is the first big Android update since Google unveiled its flagship Pixel phone in October. So it will be interesting to see how Google decides to build out its software from now on to take advantage of having tighter control over its hardware design.

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Notifications are getting a revamp in Android O.

Google

The new features are an upgrade, but Google's ongoing challenge with new Android releases is getting people to actually use them. That's because Android's got several different hardware and carrier partners that like to add their own flourishes to the software, so getting them all to update to the current version is a constant headache for Google. It's a problem the industry calls "fragmentation."

As of the first week of March, only 2.8 percent of Android users are on the current version of the software, Nougat. The vast majority of them, almost 85 percent, are on three previous versions: Marshmallow, Lollipop and KitKat. The oldest of those, KitKat, was first released in 2013.

By comparison, Apple's got 79 percent of users on iOS 10, the most current version of its software for iPhones and iPads.

Other new Android O features include a picture-in-picture view on phones and tablets so you can keep watching a video while using other apps -- like hailing a car or answering a message. That feature was previously only available on Android TV. The update will also allow for better autofill options, which populate text boxes automatically with things like your name and address so you don't have to type them in repeatedly.

This version of Android is specifically for software developers, but the company will detail the features in more depth at its annual software developer conference, Google I/O, in May.

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