Our Android update most-wanted list
Google's I/O conference takes place in June, and you can be pretty sure we'll see Android 4.5 revealed at the event, along with fresh hardware and other cool features.
Below are some of the things we want to see in the new iteration of Google's massive popular mobile OS. We can't guarantee we'll get them all, but our fingers are firmly crossed that some, if not all, of our wishes come to pass.
Improved Google Now
Google Now is already better than Apple's Siri in so many respects. It's hardly worth comparing them any more - but one thing Siri gets right is that the whole experience feels a little more organic and personal. The voice inside your phone sounds like it genuinely understands what you're saying and why you're saying it.
Google Now is more abrupt, and the supplied speech often feels superfluous. Google needs to make its AI assistant feel a little more human in Android 4.5 - especially with the rumours that Microsoft's Cortana is going to be combine the best bits of Google and Apple's challengers to create the ultimate personal helper on your handset. Google Now already goes beyond the call of duty to give you traffic alerts, email updates and weather - now it needs that "more human than human" impact to leave its rivals in the dust.
The fingerprint scanner on the iPhone 5S is likely to be one of the most imitated features of 2014, with Samsung's Galaxy S5 already confirmed to have a similar mechanic. However, we think it's highly likely that Google's 2014 Nexus phone will showcase this function as well, and that of course means baking such security measures into the next edition of the operating system.
We'd also like to see Face Unlock receive an overhaul in Android 4.5. It was a neat party trick when it was unveiled alongside the Galaxy Nexus, but it's still not accurate enough to be completely useful. Our phones are now packed with vital and personal information, so the mobile OS that offers the most robust security method is likely to gain plenty of support - hopefully Android 4.5 can deliver the goods.
Faster performance with better battery life
We're going to get slightly techy now. Android at present uses the Dalvik runtime, which is the process that executes application instructions. Dalvik is what is known as a "Just in Time" compiler, which means it only processes things as and when they're needed. It has served Android users well up to now, but Google is moving to ART runtime soon.
Introduced experimentally in Android 4.4, ART is known as a "Ahead of time" compiler. It processes data just before it's needed to speed things up. In theory, it should allow for a smoother user experience and better battery life, and we should get to see if these claims are true when Google replaces Dalvik entirely with ART. That could well happen in Android 4.5.
Samsung's Multi Window feature has been part of its TouchWiz UI for quite some time now, and makes a lot of sense when you consider how large smartphone screens are these days. It lets you run two apps on-screen at the same time. Being able to use two apps simultaneously is a real boon, and saves you having to constantly switch between them.
The only issue is that Samsung's execution is a little clunky, and what we need is for Google's software engineers to cook up a more agreeable solution. Apps could snap into halves of the screen automatically when they detect you're about to switch to another process, or something similar. The feature needs to feel more natural than it does on Samsung's phones, otherwise it will continue to be little more than a gimmick.
A vastly improved camera
When Google launched the Nexus 5 with Android 4.4, users were up in arms about how poor the camera was. Shots took too long to focus and the resultant images were fuzzy and washed out.
Many feared that LG's hardware was to blame, but a quick software fix - in the shape of Android 4.4.2 - solved the issue, to a certain degree. Android's stock camera software remains disappointing when compared to iOS and those seen in the custom UIs created by Samsung, HTC and LG. Google has to make some big improvements in 4.5 if it wants to catch up.
Smartwatch connectivity to beat them all
Google's smartwatch announcement is due any time soon, and its own wearable tech will be going head-to-head with the Samsung Gear 2 and Sony SmartWatch 2. As ever, it would be wise to expect Google to cut through the nonsense and come up with an accessory that complements your handset and provides intuitive features that elevate the concept above that of a money-grabbing gimmick.
We've seen smartwatches with clumsy interfaces, atrocious battery life and pointless functionality, but what we need now is a timepiece that can genuinely compete with your G-Shock when it comes to looks, stamina and durability. By bonding the tech with Android on a basic, fundamental level, Google can ensure that users are tempted to purchase the watch to complement their phone and gain the full experience - so expect Android 4.5 to come with exclusive elements that can only be used with its own brand of wearable tech.
One of Android's primary strengths is that users can customise their experience by downloading a selection of apps from the Google Play market. Unlike iOS, Android allows users to dig quite deeply into the functionality of their handsets, and apps like Screebl and Tasker allow them to perform tricks like allowing the screen to stay alive when you're holding the phone or automatically shut down features depending on your location, battery level or time of day.
Manufacturers such as Samsung and LG have already started to bake such features into their custom UI skins, but what we really want to see is Google make them a core part of the Android experience. These kind of cool little tricks are what could make the OS even more desirable to outsiders. For example, Screebl now comes with the ability to automatically lock your screen when you slip your phone into your pocket, and then fire it up again the moment you pull it out - a simple thing, but still impressive. We'd love to see Android 4.5 come with a suite of these tricks, thereby removing the need to download separate apps.
Next, read our Nexus 5 tips and tricks