Android Archive

Early Android Q build has a system-wide dark theme, permission revamp, more

The early Android Q leaked build we have obtained was built just this week with the February 2019 security patches, and it’s up-to-date with Google’s AOSP internal master. That means it has a ton of new Android platform features that you won’t find anywhere publicly, but there are no Google Pixel software customizations nor are there pre-installed Google Play apps or services so I don’t have any new information to share on those fronts. Still, there’s a lot to digest here, so we’ve flashed the build on the Pixel 3 XL to find out what’s new—both on the surface-level and under-the-hood. This article will focus on all the surface-level changes we’ve found in Android Q. There’s a lot of good stuff in here, most notably a complete redesign of the permissions user interface, as well as even stricter limitations on what applications can do, such as only granting certain permissions while the application in question is in use. There’s also a system-wide dark mode, hints of a DeX-like desktop mode, and a lot more.

Google sets deadlines for 64bit support in Android applications

64-bit CPUs deliver faster, richer experiences for your users. Adding a 64-bit version of your app provides performance improvements, makes way for future innovation, and sets you up for devices with 64-bit only hardware. We want to help you get ready and know you need time to plan. We’ve supported 64-bit CPUs since Android 5.0 Lollipop and in 2017 we first announced that apps using native code must provide a 64-bit version (in addition to the 32-bit version). Today we’re providing more detailed information and timelines to make it as easy as possible to transition in 2019. Important information for Android developers regarding requirements around 64bit support.

“Don’t kill my app!”

With Android 6 (Marshmallow), Google has introduced Doze mode to the base Android, in an attempt to unify battery saving across the various Android phones. Unfortunately, vendors (e.g. Xiaomi, Huawei, OnePlus or even Samsung..) did not seem to catch that ball and they all have their own battery savers, usually very poorly written, saving battery only superficially with side effects. Naturally users blame developers for their apps failing to deliver. But the truth is developers do the maximum they can. Always investigating new device specific hacks to keep their (your!) apps working. But in many cases they simply fall short as vendors have full control over processes on your phone. This is a legitimate problem on my OnePlus 6T. I enjoy using this phone, but the aggressive non-standard application cycle management definitely leads to issues with not receiving notifications or login procedures being restarted as you leave an application. It doesn’t happen often enough to truly bother me, but I can definitely see how people who make more extensive use of their phone than I do run into this issue every day.

Google makes a case to never buy a Pixel at launch again

Google’s Pixel phones are far from perfect, but they are getting better year by year. Despite various flaws, they remain some of our favorite phones on the market. However, with the Pixel 3, Google has made it abundantly clear that almost no one should ever buy one of its phones at launch.

Coincidentally, I just bought a new phone to replace my iPhone X, and while the Pixel devices are not available in The Netherlands (they are only available in like 4 countries), as a thought exercise, I did include the Pixel in my deliberations as to what phone to buy. And you know what? Aside from its exceptional camera, the Pixel phones don't really seem to offer any benefits over other Android phones, while still being quite expensive.

The only redeeming quality is updates, but since OnePlus has been excellent with Android updates, I opted to buy the OnePlus 6T, which also happens to be considerably cheaper, despite having pretty much the same specifications. Virtually every single review also noted that the 6T had superior performance to the Pixel 3, which seems to have considerable performance issues.

With devices like the 6T on the market, is there really any reason to buy a Pixel at all?

The good and bad of Samsung’s One UI interface

One UI will initially be rolled out as a beta for users later this month, and in January 2019, will officially make its way to all Galaxy S9, S9+, and Note 9 devices.

What we've seen of One UI so far looks quite promising, but it's also not without its faults. Here's both the good and bad that you can look forward to when the update lands on your phone.

One UI is Samsung's new TouchWiz, and it's kind of hilarious. For a number of applications, Samsung decided to put all the content on the bottom half of the screen, while reserving the top half for just one header (like "Settings" or "Messages"). Basically, you have a huge screen and a tall display, only for literally half of it to be taken up by a massive single-word header.

Okay Samsung. Okay.

APEX furthers the Android modularization started by Treble

At a technical level, APEX has been compared to Magisk, which works by mounting folders into the system partition at boot, rather than modifying the system partition directly (which is detectable). APEX appears to extend that same functionality over into core Android packages, separating out things like the Android Runtime into their own packages, separate from the system partition. That means they can be individually and separately updated from the system image.

It's possible that modularized OEM modifications could then be distributed on top of a Google-maintained system image - basically meaning the version of Android itself on a given phone could potentially be updated by Google, but the bits responsible for an OEM skin could be present, updated, and maintained as separate components. That's not to mention how it could ease ROM development, as Treble has.

It's good to see Google working to go beyond Treble, because the cold and harsh facts are that Treble hasn't made any serious dent in the update problem at all. The problem is as big as it's ever been.

Samsung shows off its smartphone with foldable display

At Samsung's Developer Conference earlier today, the company gave a short glimpse of its smartphone with foldable display.

Samsung's folding phone will actually have three screens - a large display that will unfold the phone into a small tablet, and a smaller display which sits on the outside of the phone for use in one-handed operation. Samsung calls this smaller screen the "cover display," and it definitely seems smaller than what you get on a modern, large-display smartphone. The idea is that since the "large" tablet display can only be used in the full-size mode, you'll need this secondary display for more day-to-day smartphone functions.

The demo device was inside a "black box" to disguise the actual industrial design, but that suggests this phone is getting pretty close to being done (also, the bezels won't be that large - it's deliberate obfuscation). Samsung says production of Infinity folding panels should be ready in the coming months, suggesting the phone could launch in the early part of next year.

Meanwhile, Google has announced that Android will support foldable displays, so that applications can seamlessly shrink and expand based on the state of the foldable display.

I love the technology that makes all this possible, but I think it'll take a few generations and iterating before these foldable displays truly become useful.

Google mandates two years of Android security updates

Every month, a security team at Google releases a new set of patches for Android - and every month, carriers and manufacturers struggle to get them installed on actual phones. It's a complex, long-standing problem, but confidential contracts obtained by The Verge show many manufacturers now have explicit obligations about keeping their phones updated written into their contract with Google.

A contract obtained by The Verge requires Android device makers to regularly install updates for any popular phone or tablet for at least two years. Google's contract with Android partners stipulates that they must provide "at least four security updates" within one year of the phone's launch. Security updates are mandated within the second year as well, though without a specified minimum number of releases.

Be still my beating heart - four whole security updates in the first year, and "a" security update in the second year? How mightily generous.

Network of more than 125 Android apps used in ad fraud scheme

But an investigation by BuzzFeed News reveals that these seemingly separate apps and companies are today part of a massive, sophisticated digital advertising fraud scheme involving more than 125 Android apps and websites connected to a network of front and shell companies in Cyprus, Malta, British Virgin Islands, Croatia, Bulgaria, and elsewhere. More than a dozen of the affected apps are targeted at kids or teens, and a person involved in the scheme estimates it has stolen hundreds of millions of dollars from brands whose ads were shown to bots instead of actual humans.

Scammers were buying applications from developers, and after adding usage behavior tracking tools to these existing applications, used said data to mimic "real" user behaviour.

One way the fraudsters find apps for their scheme is to acquire legitimate apps through We Purchase Apps and transfer them to shell companies. They then capture the behavior of the app’s human users and program a vast network of bots to mimic it, according to analysis from Protected Media, a cybersecurity and fraud detection firm that analyzed the apps and websites at BuzzFeed News' request.

Sure, this is all terrible and probably quite illegal, but honestly, you have to respect the ingenuity here.

Google app suite costs as much as $40 per phone in the EU

After news earlier this week that Google was going to make sweeping changes to how it licenses Android within the European Union, The Verge now has the prices Google is going to charge.

EU countries are divided into three tiers, with the highest fees coming in the UK, Sweden, Germany, Norway, and the Netherlands. In those countries, a device with a pixel density higher than 500 ppi would have to pay a $40 fee to license Google's suite of apps, according to pricing documents. 400 to 500ppi devices would pay a $20 fee, while devices under 400 ppi would pay only $10. In some countries, for lower-end phones, the fee can be as little as $2.50 per device.

That's quite a bit more than I would've thought.

The new Palm is a tiny phone you can’t buy separetely

There's a new phone with the word "Palm" on it that's tiny, intriguing, and has very little to do with Palm beyond that word printed on the back. It comes from a startup in San Francisco, which purchased the rights for the name from TCL last year. It costs $349.99 and will be available in November, but you can't go out and buy it on its own. It's only available as an add-on to a current line. Also, Steph Curry is somehow involved.

This is a rather interesting little device, as it seems one of the very phones focusing on being a small device that gets out of your way instead of trying to draw you in. I honestly don't understand the business model, though - who's going to buy a second $350 phone you can only get when you buy your primary phone? This seems doomed to fail, even though I'm sure there are quite a few people who'd love to buy a relatively cheap, well-designed full Android phone that isn't a surfboard.

Google details how it will comply with the EC’s Android ruling

Google has detailed its response to the EU Android antitrust ruling, and going forward, Google's going to change quite a few things about how it distributes Android in the European Union.

First, we're updating the compatibility agreements with mobile device makers that set out how Android is used to develop smartphones and tablets. Going forward, Android partners wishing to distribute Google apps may also build non-compatible, or forked, smartphones and tablets for the European Economic Area (EEA).

Second, device manufacturers will be able to license the Google mobile application suite separately from the Google Search App or the Chrome browser. Since the pre-installation of Google Search and Chrome together with our other apps helped us fund the development and free distribution of Android, we will introduce a new paid licensing agreement for smartphones and tablets shipped into the EEA. Android will remain free and open source.

Third, we will offer separate licenses to the Google Search app and to Chrome.

While I doubt we'll see a sudden increase in competing platforms, these changes do make it possible for device makers to offer devices that are less tied to Google alongside their regular Google Android devices. I can imagine OEMs offering devices that run Microsoft's growing suite of Android applications, which would be a good thing for competition.

The Pixel 3 uses Samsung’s super-fast F2FS file system

All the way back in 2012, Samsung created a new file system purpose-built for flash-based storage, called 'F2FS'. It's typically faster on smartphones than the ext4 file system that most Android devices use, but it has suffered from reliability issues over the years. Google apparently thinks it's ready for prime-time though, as the Pixel 3 and 3 XL both use F2FS for local storage.

The technical details of F2FS are a bit complicated - some of the features include multi-head logging, TRIM/FITRIM support, and an adaptive logging scheme. The main advantage compared to ext4 is improved performance, specifically with random write speeds. It's also less prone to slowing down when limited free storage space is available.

The Pixel 3 isn't the first Android phone to use F2FS, as evidenced by its website.

Google Call Screen: a robot that will answer spam calls

Not everything got leaked before Google's event today. One surprise announcement that wowed was Call Screen, a new feature that lets the Google Assistant answer your incoming calls and politely ask what the caller wants. A real-time transcript will appear on your screen, allowing you to decide whether or not you want to pick up.

When your Pixel rings, a "Screen call" button shows up alongside the usual controls. Tapping it will prompt the Google Assistant to tell your caller that the call is being screened and ask what it's about. Their explanation is transcribed on your screen, and you have options to mark the call as spam or tell the caller you'll get back to them, among others.

This is an amazing feature that will save a lot of people a lot of frustration. I want this feature on my phone now.

On a related note, Google Duplex, the feature whereby the Google Assistant will call restaurants and such on your behalf, will be rolled out to Pixel phones next month.

Review: Wear OS 2.0 can’t fix its obsolete watch hardware

Google's major Wear OS revamp is out today, and soon it will arrive on most devices released in the past year and a half (although Ars has already spent a week with a pre-release version of the OS). In the face of relentless competition from the Apple Watch Series 4 and Samsung Galaxy Watch, Google's most obvious change in the new Wear OS is a new UI for most of the main screens. There's not much in the way of new functionality or features, but everything is laid out better.

Seems like a very welcome update to a struggling platform.

Leaving Apple and Google: /e/ first beta is here

Less than a year ago, I posted a serie of articles "Leaving Apple & Google..." to announce that I was planning to create a smartphone OS. A new OS that would:

  • be free from Google (no Google services, no Google search, no Google Play store, etc.)
  • be far more respectful of user’s data privacy
  • be attractive enough so that Mom and Dad, children and friends would enjoy using it even if they aren't technophiles or geeks

Today we release a first beta of what we have done so far to make the initial vision a reality.

It's basically LineageOS with a number of additional tweaks and changes, but if it can become a fully-featured Google-free Android, that's always welcome.

Android 9 Pie, thoroughly reviewed

Android 9 Pie brings Google's updated Material Design spec (don't call it "Material Design 2") to Android OS, and it begins a wave of UI updates that will spread across Google's entire portfolio. In Android, that means revamped interfaces for the notification panel, Recent Apps, settings, and various bits of system UI. For future smartphone designs (like, say, the Pixel 3), Android 9 includes an experimental gesture navigation system and built-in notch support. There's also a new screenshot editor, lots of improvements for text selection, and changes to the way rotation works.

Under the hood, more changes have come, too, with AI-powered battery usage controls, new rules for Play Store developers, and changes to how apps get distributed.

The usual Android review by Ars. Always worth a read.

Qualcomm finally has a new chip for Android smartwatches

It's been two and a half years since Qualcomm last released a major new smartwatch chip, and in the time since, Android smartwatches have languished. But in the coming months, they could finally start seeing some meaningful improvements: Qualcomm is releasing a new processor for watches, called the Snapdragon Wear 3100, that's meant to extend battery life, enhance always-on displays, and offer more versatility when it comes to sports devices and fitness sensors.

Good news, since the Android Wear world had really died down. This new chip should breath some much-needed new life in the market. It also highlights the distinct and profound advantage Apple has in that it designs its own chips.

Note 5, S6 edge+ will not get monthly security updates

Samsung has now confirmed that the Galaxy Note 5 and the Galaxy S6 edge+ will no longer receive monthly security updates. It's not surprising as the Galaxy S6 has already dropped off the list of devices receiving monthly security updates earlier this year. The aforementioned devices will not be receiving security patches regularly every month going forward.

Those are €800-1000 computers released only 3 years ago, probably available in stores for years, maybe even now - and just like that, no more security updates. Why do we and our lawmakers just allow these companies to get away with this? It's high, high time we mandate a minimum lifespan for these expensive devices.