Android L preview: Notifications and lockscreen

Android L takes the design of this operating system in a different direction, and nowhere is that more apparent right when you start using it than in the lockscreen and notification area. The now-familiar Google Now card paradigm is alive and well throughout the interface of Android L, taken to the next level with the new ideas and colors present in the Material Design language that the software is built on.

At the same time as the big visual redesign, the notification pane and lockscreen have both received functionality changes that bring the most important information forward to you and make accessing your phone's controls a little easier. While what we have available now in the Android L Developer Preview likely only scratches the surface of what we'll see in a final release, we're excited to take a walk through notifications and the lockscreen in Android L.

A new look for notifications

Android L Notifications

While looks and functions have changed, the drop-down notification pane has been a part of Android since version 1.0. We're now looking at the latest incarnation of that notification pane idea in Android L, and it's actually a notable departure all around. Swiping down from the top of your screen pulls up a new interface that "floats" on top of your homscreen, and actually doesn't reach the full width of the screen or slide all the way down to the bottom, adding to the subtle effect. The clock shifts over to the left side of the top bar, while your Google profile picture appears next to the battery on the right.

Below that top bar are your notifications, now shown in a striking white color with rounded corners and drop shadows, just like cards in Google Now. Newer notifications at the top show up in another subtle animation when you swipe down initially, with older notifications sliding out from underneath and expanding down. Individual notifications can be swiped away to either side, or expanded with an additional swipe down if that app's notifications support it.

A subtle horizontal line below the standard notifications separate them from ongoing notifications, such as the status of your device when it's plugged into your computer or a weather update from Google Now. As the number of notifications piles up, at the bottom of the list you'll notice older notifications start to stack up on top of each other, fading away and indicating their age. As you swipe away notifications from the top, you'll see the list at the bottom expand again to fill the room.

There's a new class of notifications in Android L called "Heads-up Notifications" as well, which were briefly shown off in the Google I/O keynote but we now understand a bit more. Heads-up notifications come down from the top of the screen, even in full-screen apps and games, to give you important information such as an incoming call or a very important chat message. You can take action on them by tapping the message or the expanded action buttons, or swipe them away to get back to your app. And no, there's no way at this time to clear all notifications at once, it seems.

Starting with Jelly Bean, apps can declare what priority — max, high, default, low, min — their notifications should be (more on this from the Android Developer site), and in L, those that declare themselves "max" priority will show up as a Heads-up Notification type. We've noticed Facebook Messenger oddly (but honestly not surprisingly) makes all of its notifications the max priority, but we'd hope as L gets further into development that app developers will take it upon themselves to declare the proper priority so they're not spamming us with drop-down notifications.

The entire notification experience is nice to use once you get over the striking visual differences from KitKat, as most everything works just as you're used to, but with new animations and styles. Matias Duarte and the rest of the design group at Google talked about the animations throughout Android L being subtle and something that you simply notice but aren't strong enough to draw your full attention — I'd say that's a pretty accurate representation of what you see here.

Accessing quick settings

Android L Quick Settings

With all of the new notification pane design, we're thankful Google didn't forget about the quick settings panel. The two-finger swipe from the top of the screen is gone in Android L, replaced by a tap on the top bar or additional swipe down after expanding the notification pane first. Once you expand the quick settings menu, you'll find a full brightness slider at the very top, followed by Wifi, Bluetooth, Mobile data, Airplane mode, Notifications, Auto-rotate, Location and Cast screen buttons. Missing is the ability to toggle auto brightness and see the battery percentage — you'll have to go into the full settings to do those.

For Wifi and Bluetooth, tapping the top icon of either one will toggle the radio on or off, while pressing the name under the icon (separated by a small line) will take you into the settings menu. Tapping Airplane mode, Auto-rotate and Location simply toggle those functions, while the Notifications and Cast screen buttons have deeper functions.

Tapping the Notifications button reveals a secondary panel to control notification volume and access the new "Do not disturb" function in Android L. Tap the button in this pane and you can enable Do not disturb for a set period of time — between 15 minutes and 8 hours — or turn it on until you turn it back off again. Notifications received while Do not disturb is turned on show up silently in the notification bar as "Notification hidden," which you can tap to reveal. We'll be diving deeper into Do not disturb mode in Android L in a separate post, but needless to say it's a welcomed addition to the OS and importantly finds its place in the quick settings menu.

Using the lockscreen

Android L Lockscreen

In Android L, the lockscreen and notification pane are getting closer to convergence. When you power the screen on, you'll be greeted by a clock with the date on the top portion of the screen, along with a listing of your most important notifications underneath it in the same style as you see on the homescreen when you pull down the notification pane. You'll get the top four notifications listed, with a small "+" and the number of additional notifications there are below it. Your network, battery state and profile picture show in the top right — just as they do in the notification pane — along with your carrier information in the top left corner and three icons — phone, unlock and camera — on the bottom.

Assuming you forego having a PIN, pattern or password (or in later builds have a trusted Bluetooth device connected), there are four basic gestures that are available to you on the lockscreen. Swiping down across any portion of the screen will expand the small view of your notifications to show a full list of all notifications, which you can then interact with in all of the usual ways. A swipe up on the screen sends you to the homescreen, while a swipe from the right launches the camera (same as KitKat) and a swipe from the left launches your phone dialer.

If you choose to go with the aforementioned versions of lockscreen security, the functionality of the lockscreen changes a bit. By default, notification display changes to only show the app and number of notifications, while hiding the content of the message. For example you'll see that there's a Gmail notification, along with the message "Unlock your device to see this notification." Swiping down on the screen simply gives an expanded list of these style of notifications.

Dive into the settings and you can enable full-content notifications while using lockscreen security, if you prefer, and you can also turn off lockscreen notifications altogether.

At least based on what the current Android L Developer Preview has to show us, I think we can call the lockscreen widgets introduced in Android 4.2 a failure as they aren't even included in this release of the software. Considering that very few people really took advantage of the lockscreen widgets and that the notification pane is now taking over your lockscreen the moment you power on your phone, there's really little need for them either. Having quick access to your phone dialer, notifications and camera with simple swipes on the lockscreen is just about all most people will want to do — anything more and they can probably just unlock their phone.

More on Android L

We'll be diving deeply into several different features of Android L, and right now you can follow along with even more words and visuals on the latest version of Android:

  • Android L developer preview hands-on
  • In pictures: Android L
  • Here are the Android L Developer Preview factory images

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

  • I miss that dismiss all button tho...had to swipe away about 30 app installed notifications earlier... Posted via Android Central App
  • I am sure there is a way in L. ಠ益ಠ
  • If I have to look hard that's not good period I've had Android L for 6 hours and I swiped away like 40 notifications
    Posted from my Nexus 7 2013 running Android L or Samsung galaxy S5
  • i mean, once you figure it out, do you have to always "look hard?" no... you learn it, like anything else. not a crisis.
  • I remember when there wasn't an Update All button in the Android Market and each app had to be updated manually. Sometimes there isn't a way.
  • I had read rumor that the Dismiss/close all option might be gone. I'll seriously miss that if it is truly gone.
  • I have a feeling google doesn't really want you removing them anymore. Just let them pile up and combine at the bottom as old... I'm not liking the notifications at all in this preview... I'm not sure what I'll do if they stay like this when it's released because I don't see myself putting up with it.
  • Hmm...So when they are all stacked at the bottom shouldn't you be able to swipe all away at that moment? What's the point of stacking them like that then? I get that it lets you clear some room to see the other notifications, but seriously... Don't tell me they didn't think of that...
  • Maybe they plan to start sending ads through notifications and if they let you dismiss all then you wont be seeing their ads. By forcing you to dismiss them individually it forces to to at least glance at them.
  • WAY too many people have notification anxiety to get rid of the Clear All button. Smart phones are great and terrible for folks that have OCD. The people that maintain inbox zero will also swipe each notification away. Why make the world more efficient by having us unlock our phones more often if you are going to replace it with swiping all these notifications away.
  • Yep... I agree... Clearing 60 notifications made me tired almost. Lolz Posted via Android Central App
  • I would seriously hate to lose that. I hate that about iOS. Seems to limit things. I'm also not liking these ugly white rectangles filing up an otherwise attractive lock screen. Posted via Android Central App
  • Yep, that'll be the first thing that gets disabled on my Nexus. Posted via Android Central App
  • It is a developer preview... Incomplete.. Your gonna have stuff like that Posted via Android Central App
  • Exactly. I fully expect it to be re-added by the time it actually releases. This is used much to frequently by nearly everyone for them to completely get rid of it.
  • Dash Clock essentially is dead Sent from my Nexus 5
  • I'm hoping this is just a temporary thing while they get the software working. I like my Dash Clock Widgets.
  • wait why are you saying that? I haven't read the entire write up yet so if its obvious excuse me.
  • There's a reason why the comment section is below the article itself, read first and ask questions later. It's common sense. Posted via Android Central App
  • +1 Posted from my Nexus 7 2013 running Android L or Samsung galaxy S5
  • The article specifically states that there are no lockscreen widgets anymore.
  • It will still be a pretty useful homescreen widgets, plenty of people use it that way. But its main functionality will be dead for sure.
  • I'm guessing studies showed not a lot of people used lockscreen widgets... Truth be told, they were kinda buried. I think they'd make more sense if the stock lock screen actually forced you to swipe past the actual lock screen even when security hadn't kicked in, like Sense, rather than just jumping straight to the home screen or last used app. I always thought Sense and iOS had a more logical approach to that, even if it isn't quite as quick at times.
  • These lockscreen notifications look damn nice. Useful feature Posted via Android Central App
  • +googol ಠ益ಠ
  • Are lockscreen widgets still around? Posted via Android Central App
  • I've had L for 8 hours now, and I see no way to enable lock screen widgets to me they seem to be dead
  • Nooooooooo! Posted via Android Central App
  • The article says that there are no longer lockscreen widgets.
  • Double Twist has one. That is the only app that I know of that has one. Posted via Android Central App
  • Would look a lot better with round icons (with color) with the info next to them in a shaded opaque box. Would look more classy than this. But I'm not a designer. Just a consumer. I know nothing.
  • You know nothing, Jon Snow Posted via Android Central App
  • Made my day.
  • I agree they look quite ugly, they need *some* colour in there. Posted via Android Central App
  • Samsung has had those popup notifications for awhile (for phone calls), the rest really looks good though
  • And LG. But yeah they are a very welcome feature to the stock experience. ಠ益ಠ
  • I like the LG g3 quick reply from any screen. I'm not sure why manufactures haven't done this.
  • I KNOWWWW! It is easily the most useful feature on my G2 above my M8. I wish everyone would adopt this feature.
  • And HTC Posted via Android Central App
  • ALways good to see features that the OEMs have been building made part of the Android core. It (hopefully) means faster turn around time on device updates, and less chance for OEMs to build "janky" features.
  • Not to mention quicker turn around time for the OEMs to get updates out...
  • Agreed.
  • I hope they have a night mode for these notifications and the settings menus etc. These notification cards dark, perhaps with transparency, and light text would suit me better. Hoping we get the chance to have some options in this area. Posted via Android Central App
  • I doubt you'll be able to change the menu or notification colors. Sorry :-/
  • I agree. I prefer the dark look we currently have with KitKat over these light colored notifications. Posted via Android Central App on The Nexus 5
  • +1 Posted via Android Central App
  • Yeah I've been hoping for a dark option for a while, not gonna happen they're going bright low contrast :( Not only do dark themes look better (in my opinion) they're a hell of a lot easier on the visually impaired. Probably old folks too, for the same reason. Posted via Android Central App
  • Not battery friendly for amoled screens neither. Posted via Android Central App
  • I usually prefer the dark themes but the colors in L are are much easier on the eyes then any other version of Android to date. The soft Grey and whites work extremely well and are easy on the eyes day and night also L has some crazy accessibility options, especialy for color blindness or has color correction settings. Also auto brightness had been replaced by adaptive brightness you can use the quick title to adjust your preference to à certain lighting condition and it'll adjust from the as the light becomes brighter or dimmer
  • i believe the Screens hasnt matured fully yet... there are so many colors, aqua, white, green, shades of grey,
  • Agreed, the white menus =( , the crazy sea green colors in the dialer and everywhere =( , white notifications =(.. Why can't Google have a dark theme? Throw it in under display or development settings.. Posted via Android Central App
  • Aesthetically , It looks like a blend of iOS n TW , none of which I'm a Fan of.
    Since I like how my active notifications work on my Moto X I'll hold off a bit longer to switch. Posted via Android Central App
  • Don't know if it helps, but you can get *almost* the same thing as Moto's Active Notifications on any device with this app:
  • Yeah kind of like a toddler designing the color scheme here. At least in ICS and jelly bean they were consistent. Going light is one thing but it seems like they are all over the place as far as design now... Almost like different teams were responsible for different parts of the OS and gave each part subtle design differences. It looks really amateur. I kind of thought the darker theme was a nice android t