First look: Android L in action

The new Android version comes with a UI refresh, not new features alone

Google Android L
Google

Android L: The new UI ups the polish

Another year, but not just another Android: The new Android L mobile OS, due this fall, promises to bring Android's UI to a more sophisticated level, while also reducing the platform's infamous fragmentation. I installed the very first developer preview on a Nexus 5 to see the new Android L in action. What you see here is that very first version, which is sure to go through changes before the formal release. This is the first taste, not the final meal.

Also on InfoWorld:
• Android L first take: Developers are excited, intrigued
• Developers rejoice: Android innovation rules at Google I/O
Android is poised to grow big -- if Google sticks with it

Android L: Welcome to Material Design

Android L: Welcome to Material Design

The changes in Android L's UI aren't as dramatic as the shift Apple made in iOS 7, but they favor a similarly clean look, with simpler icons and a UI approach called Material Design. You can see hints of that cleaner approach in the revamped People app (left) and Calendar app (right).

Not only is there less clutter, but screens are designed to flow more easily. Developers will be able to set color palettes and touch animations for apps and widgets to customize the experience within the Material Design framework.

Android L: A more subdued home screen

Android L: A more subdued home screen

The Android L home screen (at left) has a more subdued background, as you can see by comparing to the Android KitKat home screen at right.

The other big change is that the standard Android buttons' icons (for Back, Home, and Recent Apps) have changed to simple geometric forms.

Android L: The familiar app screen

Android L: The familiar app screen

The Android L app screen (at left) appears identical to the KitKat version (at right), but look more closely and you'll see some icon changes that are in the spirit of Android L's more sophisticated look, such as for the Camera app.

Android L: The carousel of recent apps

Android L: The carousel of recent apps

One area where Android is quite fragmented is in support of the Recent Apps button, which is missing from Samsung's and other vendors' devices. On devices that have it or an equivalent gesture, the button opens a list of currently running apps, so you can easily navigate among them.

The scrollable thumbnail rail design of KitKat (at right) becomes an Amazon Kindle Fire-style carousel in Android L (at left).

Android L: The feature-packed Notifications Bar

Android L: The feature-packed Notifications Bar

Android popularized the idea of a Notifications Bar for quick access to both notifications and frequently used settings. Android L (at left) adds more settings to its version than in KitKat (at right), while making recent notifications more visible below.

Another change: Your personal photo is now part of the bar itself (at upper right), not in the pull-down portion, so it's easier to see which account your Android device is currently using.

Android L: Easier-to-read settings

Android L: Easier-to-read settings

The Settings app in Android L (at left) is a good example of the Material Design principles: The default text is more readable, and the display is simplified to show only the options, not additional controls, as KitKat's Settings app offers (at right).

Android L: Much better Office compatibility

Android L: Much better Office compatibility

Although Google has long been trying to get people and businesses to dump Microsoft Office in favor of Google Drive (formerly Docs), the truth is that Drive's mobile version has very limited functionality, and it requires conversion of Office formats to Google's own versions before you can do any real editing of them.

Google Drive in Android L changes that by integrating the Quickoffice app into Google Drive, for both native Office editing and a more powerful set of capabilities. Quickoffice had been one of the best mobile editors before Google acquired and gutted it, so there's hope it can return to that former glory.