(Image source: Droid Life)

Android 6.0 Marshmallow has just started shipping, albeit only on Nexus devices. All other Android smartphones have got to wait some more. As always, OEMs have to run thru their usual and lengthy processes of adapting and testing their flavors of it. Expect this to take another couple of weeks/months before it broadly ships on non-Nexus devices.

New Features of Marshmallow

Android 5.0 was centered around – among other things – implementing the Material Design framework throughout the UI and Google’s native apps. Lots of UI polishing. Marshmallow in contrast brings some more “under the hood” improvements, alongside further UI tweaks. Here’ a couple of the key new features and updates:

  • Updated app menu design and UX
  • App search bar and favourites
  • Battery optimisation now on a by-app basis
  • Dedicated memory manager
  • Updated volume controls
  • Fingerprint scanners now supported as standard
  • Better and more granular app permissions management
  • Doze, a smart management of reduced background activity for conserving power
  • USB Type-C/3.1 support
  • Google Now on steroids: “Now on Tap”, the key feature to take a closer look at

Why is Marshmallow so crucial for Google? What role does Now on Tap play?

Marshmallow is about drastically increasing stickiness so that all user behaviour is as closely tied into Google’s own services framework as possible. That is search, more than any other use case.

There is a clear focus on making sure that as many user interactions as possible, no matter where in the UI, lead (back) into Google’s own services and apps. And this is a key element in Google’s strategy to remain the dominant player in search and indexing every thinkable online activity of a user. We have already crossed the threshold where more than half of all page views are originating from mobile browsers. Same is valid for search queries, where mobile devices have passed desktop systems. Given that Android is the world-wide dominant mobile OS it is logical that Google’s market share in the mobile space should be even higher than in the desktop space. And a lot of these use cases are more profitable than the average desktop search. Local searches, restaurant recommendations, menus, opening times, etc. allow very directed advertising by local businesses.

With Marshmallow, the deep mashup of mobile OS and Google’s very own assets like Chrome, Now, Search, Maps, etc. is taken to a new level. This includes the extension of search results into in-app content (something that is also launching with iOS9) and further tie-in of Chrome browser windows into apps. Especially indexing app content is powerful; users will be able to interact with app content even without opening the app.

Most noteworthy in this strategy is – as mentioned earlier – the evolution of Google Now: Now on Tap, an opt-in and much improved version of the service which proactively delivers search results based on previous and current user behaviour. Where in the past Now was rather relying on sending traffic condition alerts for the anticipated route to work, weather forecasts or even a suggested music playlist for the respective context, Now on Tap takes this a step ahead. There is more contextual information available, not only in Google app contexts, but also in other apps. And it allows developers of popular apps and services to surface relevant reminders, even when you’re not using their apps at the very moment.

Thus you don’t have to leave an app to start a context sensitive search. The famous Now Cards can now be pulled up by pressing the home button in various other app usage scenarios. You can get more information and take action from directly within an app. You mention the band The Killers in a Facebook Messenger conversation? With the tap of a button Now on Tap instantly delivers load of additional information. You want to watch a Youtube video of a particular song of the band? Or on listen to it on Google Play Music? Or know about upcoming gigs in your area? Or just read more about the band and go to Chrome? And if your thing is not in the list of cards, you can fine tune your concern with a Google Voice search.

Stressing the “smart” in Smartphone

This is something that stresses the “smart” in smartphone. It makes the phone smarter. It gives Google Now a far more central role in Android. It is easy to grasp the potential of this, especially when thinking about e-commerce. Bringing together local search results and table booking options, movie trailers and movie theater bookings or Blue Ray purchases is great, and there could be a lot more commerce and purchasing options in the future.

The deep integration and interworking of OS, the assistance service Now, Search and Maps is a key lever to keep control and dominance in the search market when the majority of web searches are carried out on mobile devices. Deep insight into mobile search activity, map whereabouts, app downloads and purchases and usage behavior in general gives Google a superior knowledge advance and allows a profitable conversion in their ad business. Advertising targeting will advance to even more granular and effective levels.

According to Statista already today half of the top 10 apps used on Android devices are Google apps (Search, YouTube, Maps, Mail/Gmail, Google Play). With Marshmallow and even tighter mash up of Google driven Search with all other apps and assets, Google Search should become even more popular. And it’s interesting to see what the ongoing strong shift into the “assistant-centric” services will bring. What Now on Tap will mean for usage adoption, engagement, behavior insights and in the end advertising revenues. Now on Tap is a decisive step into the direction of smart and ubiquitous assistance services. This is just another one of the early steps of a development that we will hear a lot more about in the future.

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