Android L’s Project Volte – Google’s New Power Management

In June, Google unveiled their next version of Android, currently simply called ‘Android L' at their annual Google I/O event. I was fortunate to be able to watch some of the conference over a YouTube connection and if you're interested in Android, the press has been full of stories surrounding the announcements made.

I've deliberately held off writing anything about these announcements because there has already been much coverage and further details have been released. But it's now the time to talk about Project Volte, one of the new improvements due to hit our devices in the fall.

Project Volte is a suite of changes to Android designed to extend battery life. There are three legs to this project: network scheduling, a new battery manager screen and a power saver mode.

The network scheduling aspect should be the most transparent change. Once applications have been designed to work with Android L, the operating system will schedule access to the network in order to maximise efficiency. Applications will log a timed network request and Android will decide when to go online to process these. To put this into context, a Twitter client may request that it synchronizes the follower data inside the next two hours. A Facebook client may request that it synchronizes the wall thread every ten to twenty minutes and an email client may request it goes online to download message bodies every ten to thirty minutes. Android will ensure that all applications are able to access the Internet at the same time, when it opens the network connection, rather than allowing individual applications to control when they connect.

The Battery Manager screen is set for some improvements designed to help determine what's using the battery. It's more designed for app developers to monitor power consumption of their particular applications. Depending on how obsessive the user is with the battery, this may or may not be of interest. Certainly, the ability to monitor what application is using the battery is a handy feature but in an ideal world, users don't need to access this screen.

Google are introducing a new power saving modes implemented into Android, something that several manufacturers have been using for a number of years. This is likely to reduce screen animations, underclock processors, reduce screen brightness and disable background network activity. We're yet to see the real world impact of the new power saver mode and of course on functionality, but so far it looks like it'll not be as extreme as the Extreme Power Saving Modes that have been introduced in 2014.

Something else that we should consider for Android L's power management is that Google are switching to the ART runtime by default. As I wrote back when Android Kit Kat was released, ART should save battery in the everyday use of the device because applications are already compiled for the device.

ART in Android L has some interesting features that merits a dedicated article, but should result in improved efficiency and reduced power consumption.

Project Volte could be very beneficial, but will rely on applications being updated to cooperate with the power management functions of the device. Early indications from people running the developer prerelease of Android L are broadly positive for the impact on battery life.

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