Lollipop or Android 5.x is the most recent version of Google’s Android operating system. It was announced in June 2014 and started to become available in November of last year. As of yet it has not made a significant impression on the Android market with the January 2015 numbers coming in at less than 0.1% of worldwide Android users. In the coming months it will start to become more prevalent on newer devices and updated older devices and is worth looking at as its own independent system.
It is important to realise that one version of Lollipop may not be quite like another. Google produces the original version which goes directly to their Nexus line of handsets (and a few others) but for most Android users the OS is changed and edited by the individual manufacturers and then again – in some cases – by the carrier. To take the popular HTC One M8 an example when Lollipop’s code was made available by Google HTC promised to get it rolled out to the M8 within 90 days. A little over that time in the future and the roll out is nowhere near complete. HTC have finished the code changes needed for the standard version of the M8 but each of the carrier versions are still undergoing ‘testing’. If you have a stock HTC M8 you have probably gotten the update, if you have a carrier branded version you have probably not.
Good to Know
Lollipop is a free update. Manufacturers might prefer that you buy a new device rather than having your old device updated but if you get it it an update it will be free.
To download and install the OS update you will need at least 600 meg of free internal space on your phone and with some manufacturer and carrier additions this might be significantly higher. You will also need at least 50% charge on your battery although we’d recommend having your device plugged in for any system update.
Lollipop looks very very different to the last version of Android. Most people will find that it is an improvement after they have had a chance to adjust but it will take time to adjust. If you find that you do not like the changes or have specific issues the chances are that you can change and fix the problem with a new launcher or third party application.
The update is not just about looks. There are a number of under the hood improvements including fresh security updates, a slight overall increase in speed and better battery management. Individually these are not huge changes but they do add up to a noticeable improvement on most systems.
Features and Accessibility
Design & Visual Accessibility
Lollipop represents a complete redesign of how Android looks from KitKat’s Holo to Material Design. Google sums up its philosophy with a few sentences :
Material is the metaphor… surfaces and edges provide visual clues.. The use of familiar tactile attributes helps users quickly understand affordances. Yet the flexibility of the material creates new affordances that supercede those in the physical world, without breaking the rules of physics.
Bold, graphic intentional…. create hierarchy, meaning, and focus. Deliberate color choices, edge-to-edge imagery, large-scale typography, and intentional white space create a bold and graphic interface that immerse the user in the experience.
Motion provides meaning…. Motion is meaningful and appropriate, serving to focus attention and maintain continuity. Feedback is subtle yet clear. Transitions are efﬁcient yet coherent.
Taken as a whole this does provide a clear and distinctive look which most will find visually appealing. It focuses on creating a clean and simple interface with lots of white space and contrast. This tends to also be quite visually accessible. There is much more movement and animation in Lollipop as apps and icons move and redraw and if you are very susceptible to motion sickness this could be an issue although I have not heard of any cases where it has been.
The down side of a complete visual redesign is that as most Android apps have not been rewritten into Material Design. It can often be jarring moving from the OS to an app that is designed for Holo. The apps still work as they did but the mental recalibration required between design philosophies can be an issue.
There are a number of additional accessibility options built in to Lollipop. The visual options include:
- Captions – a system wide close captioning for video content. The text can be changed in size and color.
- Magnification gestures – allows zooming on to any part of Lollipop using pinching gestures or two fingers to drag within a zoomed area.
- Large text – Increases the default font size throughout the OS and in apps that refer to the OS.
- High contrast text – increases the contrast of text giving white text a black outline and lighter colored text (grey) black.
- Color inversion – an experimental feature that flips the device’s colors to their opposite. This works in OS and in all apps and can be switched on and off easily. This could be very useful for apps that are not visually accessible.
- Color correction for color blindness – options to change display mode based on the users color blindness – deuteranomaly (red-green), protanaomaly (red-green) and tritanomaly (blue-yellow) are offered.
Input and Touch
Depending on the hardware Android has always been quite accessible to those with physical issues and lollipop continues this trend. It can work with a large variety of USB devices such as mice, trackballs and keyboards and specific switch access is built directly into the OS allowing control via a combination of physical keys.
Lollipop also expands the default Android keyboard as well with a slightly improved version of Gesture Typing. This will not be to everyones liking but can be ignored or turned off if you dislike it.
Also introduced is an option to set touch and hold delays – some system actions need a long press and this can be difficult for some users. This allows the duration of the press to be set to one of several default times.
Ease of Use
Lollipop is no more difficult or hard than previous versions of Android although some of the conventions that users have gotten used to in Holo – Android 4.x – no longer apply in quite the same way. A good example of this is Chrome tabs. In older versions of Android to see your tabs you needed to pull down the screen in Chrome and select from a list. In 5.x Chrome tabs show up as individual apps in the OS task switcher.
There are several slightly hidden extra features which are designed to make Lollipop simpler to use. For example the quick-setting menu initially includes a lot of options that most users will find useful. The settings offered will update themselves over time – if you do not use a setting for thirty days it will disappear from the quick options. If you go and find it in the main settings menu and activate it it will reappear on the quick menu.
Lollipop is a clearly positive build on KitKat both in design and in accessibility terms and makes Android more accessible and easier to use in general. The strength of Android is not so much in the operating system features themselves but in its openness to modification. From that perspective Lollipop is not a huge improvement over KitKat – there is little added that could not have been done with third part apps or a custom ROM.
That being said if you have the option to update you should do so straight away and if you are considering a new phone you should be very sceptical if does not already have lollipop or a firm date to receive an update. If your phone does not have lollipop don’t worry too much you are not missing anything crucial yet.
Product: Android 5.x Lollipop | Developer: Google | Release Date November 2014