Today, Google is releasing Android 13 for Google Pixel smartphones, following months of developer previews and beta releases. It’s an update that polishes a lot of the changes that Android 12 brought to the table, while also introducing a ton of small, helpful features across the board that aims to improve privacy, security, and usability. Alongside the update, the company has also announced that Android 13’s source code is now available in AOSP. It’ll be a while before Android 13 lands in most of our hands.
The /e/ OS operating system provides a user-friendly alternative to Android for people who want the Android experience without the reliance on Google and associated manufacturer-related applications and telemetry. Compared to LineageOS, /e/ provides a more unified experience out of the box, with a suitable suite of default open source applications and a system-based application store. Despite the fact that /e/ borrowed from various pre-existing open source projects to create its default applications, none looks out of place. It’s a good choice for people looking to de-Google, but the rather lacklustre device support is a big problem, forcing you to buy a new device if you want to give this a go. That’s not really /e/’s fault, of course, but it’s an issue nonetheless.
With the addition of the developer-generated Data safety section this year, Google Play removed the old list of app permissions. The Play Store is now reversing this decision in response to user feedback and will have both coexist. This was a baffling decision to begin with – the Data safety section relied on developers being honest and truthful about their privacy practices and permissions usage, which was never going to work out with the amount of downright scams and sleaziness targeting children that are in the Play Store (and App Store).
Hello Nova Community, I’m Kevin Barry, the creator of Nova Launcher. I’ve made, make and will continue to make Nova Launcher. Today I’m announcing that Branch has acquired Nova Launcher, and hired myself and Cliff Wade (Nova Community Manager). Branch has also acquired Sesame Search and hired the Sesame Crew (Steve Blackwell and Phil Wall). I’ll continue to control the direction and development of Nova Launcher, and that direction is unchanged. Nova focuses on power users and customization. I will be adding some features powered by Branch, they’ll be optional like most features in Nova. This is a tough pill to swallow. I’ve been a dedicated Nova user since… I honestly can’t even remember, and to me, Nova equals Android, and it’s always been clear Nova thoroughly and truly understood what demanding Android users were looking for. I have really never used any other launcher, and it’s the first application I install on all my Android devices. Seeing this vital application bought up by a mobile analytics form of all things is gut-wrenching. Several decades covering this industry have taught me that acquisitions like this pretty much exclusively mean doom, and usually signal a slow but steady decline in quality and corresponding increase in user-hostile features. I’m always open to being proven wrong, but I don’t have a lot of hope. In any event, I guess it’s time to find another launcher.
And another great application falls victim to Google’s absolute disdain for Android developers. Marcel Bokhorst has announced that after yet another brick wall interaction with Google, he is ending development of his popular (in the right circles) open source email client FairEmail. All my projects have been terminated after Google falsely flagged FairEmail as spyware without a reasonable opportunity to appeal. There will be no further development and no more support. On XDA, he gives more background. According to Google FairEmail is spyware because it uploads the contact list. My guess is this is because of the usage of favicons, which will use the domain name of email addresses to fetch info. This feature has been removed from the Play store version now. Google has been violating EU regulation 2019/1150 on multiple occasions now by not being transparent about what exactly the problem is, but what can I do? Complain via the EU, wait five years for action while the app is being removed from the Play store? FairEmail obviously isn’t as popular as the Gmail application or Outlook, but it does have more than 500.000 installs on Google Play (it’s als available on F-Droid), and if you care about open source and privacy, there’s very few other places to go for email on Android (whether Google-less or not). It’s incredibly full-featured and was regularly updated. It’s sad to see rare applications like this fall victim to Google’s inscrutable bureaucracy, but I fully understand Bokhorst throwing in the towel.
At its Google I/O event on Wednesday, Google released the second beta of Android 13. The search giant highlighted several new aspects to Android 13 including better privacy controls that help users to limit what data apps have access to, an improved Material You theme system that works across more apps, a new Settings & Privacy page that can help you boost your security, swanky music controls that adjust their look based on the music you’re listening to, and the ability to change the language of each app – something that music be quite handy if you are bilingual and prefer certain apps in a particular language. You can really tell we’ve hit a fairly stable feature ceiling for mobile operating systems. New releases don’t really rock the boat anymore, and there’s rarely any major, tent pole features that you’ll miss out on. Still, updates are updates, and they come with more than just new features – security fixes are reason enough phone makers should be forced to support phones with full Android version updates for at least five years, preferably longer.
Android’s Accessibility API is an incredibly powerful tool intended for developers to build apps for users with disabilities. The API lets apps read the contents of the screen and perform inputs on behalf of the user, which are essential functions for screen readers and alternative input systems. Unfortunately, these functions are also incredibly useful for malicious apps that want to steal data from users, which is why Google has been cracking down on which apps are allowed to use the Accessibility API. Google has already limited which apps on Google Play can use the Accessibility API, and in Android 13, they’re taking things one step further by heavily restricting API access for apps that the user has sideloaded from outside of an app store. And so, step by step, Google locks down more and more of Android. Some of the most fascinating and unique applications use the Accessiblity APIs, and making it harder for them to do their thing will have a chilling effect on the wild innovation we see in the Android world. For now, this restriction only applies to applications sideloaded outside of application stores (e.g, applications installed through F-Droid are not affected), but I have my doubt slippery slope is suddenly going to even out at this specific point. After all, we must be protected against ourselves at all costs.
It’s already April and we’ve been making steady progress refining the features and stability of Android 13, building around our core themes of privacy and security, developer productivity, as well as tablet and large screen support. Today we’re moving into the next phase of our cycle and releasing the first Beta of Android 13. Android 13 development seems to be ahead of the regular schedule.
Today, we’re releasing the first developer preview for the Privacy Sandbox on Android, which provides an early look at the SDK Runtime and Topics API. You’ll be able to do preliminary testing of these new technologies and evaluate how you might adopt them for your solutions. This is a preview, so some features may not be implemented just yet, and functionality is subject to change. See the release notes for more details on what’s included in the release. We’ll see if this initiative will have a material impact on user privacy on Android, but I have my sincerest doubt. Even if does make more applications respect your privacy, I have a feeling this is going to be a classic situation of “rules for thee but not for me” (a phrase far newer and more recent than I realised).
Building on the foundation laid by Android 12, described by many as the biggest Android OS update since 2014, this year’s upcoming Android 13 release refines the feature set and tweaks the user interface in subtle ways. However, it also includes many significant behavioral and platform changes under the hood, as well as several new platform APIs that developers should be aware of. For large screen devices in particular, Android 13 also builds upon the enhancements and features introduced in Android 12L, the feature drop for large screen devices. Android 13 is set for release later this year, but ahead of its public release, Google has shared preview builds so developers can test their applications. The preview builds provide an early look at Android 13 and introduces many — but not all — of the new features, API updates, user interface tweaks, platform changes, and behavioral changes to the Android platform. In this article, we’ll document all of the changes that we find so you can prepare your application or device for Android 13. This is a long and detailed article, and both users and developers alike should be able to find some interesting information in here. You might want to set aside a decent amount of time for this one.
Starting on November 1, 2022, existing apps that don’t target an API level within two years of the latest major Android release version will not be available for discovery or installation for new users with devices running Android OS versions higher than apps’ target API level. As new Android OS versions launch in the future, the requirement window will adjust accordingly. This is a very welcome move, since finding incredibly old and abandoned applications is not an uncommon occurrence in the Play Store. Clean-ups like this almost make up for Google removing the “last updated on” field in Play Store listings. Almost.
Back in 2020, Google announced that it would require all apps in the Play Store to use its billing system but later delayed that to this month. Google will soon allow Android apps to use their own payment system as long as Play Store billing is an option alongside it, with Spotify notably the first “User Choice Billing” partner. Regulatory pressure is mounting, and it’s clear it’s been working. This is a major concession by Google, and a very welcome one. We’ve still got a long, long way to go, but things are, at least, changing for the better. Slowly.
Android 12L, the big-screen updated version of Android 12, is now rolling out after months of testing, landing as part of today’s Feature Drop update for Pixels and coming soon to other tablets and foldables from companies like Samsung, Lenovo, and Microsoft. If you haven’t followed along with our Android 12L feature coverage, the very short version is that most of the changes were meant to address issues larger devices face when running Android. That includes UI tweaks covering a range from the notification shade to launcher grid sizing, plus some tweaks to multitasking, as well as a new taskbar that behaves a little more like Chrome OS — Google’s unifying its interfaces across compatible screen sizes. Most of the changes are, as said, for devices with larger screens, so most likely there isn’t much in here for people with regular phones.
Oh, oh, oh Samsung, up to their usual tricks. Samsung phones ship with a Game Optimizing Service app pre-installed as a system app — we confirmed it’s installed on the Galaxy S22+, as pictured below. It cannot be disabled. The app’s exact purpose isn’t described very well anywhere, but its name certainly implies the app is used to improve performance for games. However, as one Twitter user points out, with the backing of a lengthy thread from frustrated Samsung Galaxy owners in Korea (via Android Authority), Samsung seems to be using this app to “optimize” the performance of thousands of non-gaming apps. When an app is in the Game Optimizing Service list, its performance is limited, as demonstrated by a YouTuber who changed the package name of the 3DMark benchmark app to trick Samsung’s software into throttling it, and the results are pretty telling. In and of itself there’s really nothing wrong with managing the performance of various applications in order to preserve battery life. However, it has to be done transparently and openly, so that users can easily see what’s going on and disable any optimisations they’re not interested in. This kind of obfuscation by Samsung is deception, and simply should not be allowed.
Today, we’re announcing a multi-year initiative to build the Privacy Sandbox on Android, with the goal of introducing new, more private advertising solutions. Specifically, these solutions will limit sharing of user data with third parties and operate without cross-app identifiers, including advertising ID. We’re also exploring technologies that reduce the potential for covert data collection, including safer ways for apps to integrate with advertising SDKs. The Privacy Sandbox on Android builds on our existing efforts on the web, providing a clear path forward to improve user privacy without putting access to free content and services at risk. A plan for a plan that aims to please the advertising industry, an industry which at this point means Google, all built by Google. I might be mildly skeptical.
Today, we’re sharing a first look at the next release of Android, with the Android 13 Developer Preview 1. With Android 13 we’re continuing some important themes: privacy and security, as well as developer productivity. We’ll also build on some of the newer updates we made in 12L to help you take advantage of the 250+ million large screen Android devices currently running. There’s actually quite a few cool features in here, some of which are long overdue – like a standard, system-wide photo and video picker for sharing. Share sheets in Android have become an utter mess, so any cleanup is very welcome here.
There are over a quarter billion large screen devices running Android across tablets, foldables, and ChromeOS devices. In just the last 12 months we’ve seen nearly 100 million new Android tablet activations–a 20% year-over-year growth, while ChromeOS, now the fastest growing desktop platform, grew by 92%. We’ve also seen Foldable devices on the rise, with year on year growth of over 265%! All told, there are over 250 million active large screen devices running Android. With all of the momentum, we’re continuing to invest in making Android an even better OS on these devices, for users and developers. So today at Android Dev Summit, we announced a feature drop for Android 12 that is purpose-built for large screens, we’re calling it 12L, along with new APIs, tools, and guidance to make it easier to build for large screens. We also talked about changes we’re making to Google Play to help users discover your large-screen optimized apps more easily. Read on to see what’s new for large screens on Android! Android 12 isn’t even really in anyone’s hands, and we’ve got the next release waiting around the corner already. The improvements coming in 12L seem quite welcome, since Android and tablets haven’t exactly been a match made in heaven, something made all the more obvious when you run Android applications on Chromebooks. I hope developers will tap into these new APIs and tools, but as with every Google promise for Android, seeing is believing.
To help support the specific needs of developers offering subscriptions, starting on January 1, 2022, we’re decreasing the service fee for all subscriptions on Google Play from 30% to 15%, starting from day one. Regulatory pressure works. This is only a small step, but at least it’s progress.
After many leaks, official teases, and months of waiting, Google has finally given its latest Pixel phones a formal launch. The new Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are the latest high-end phones from the company that hasn’t traditionally been able to make much of a dent in the high-end phone market. Both are available for preorder starting today, October 19th, and will begin shipping on October 28th. Google says all the major US carriers, plus retailers such as the Google Store, Best Buy, Amazon, Walmart, Costco, and others, will be selling the phones. There are a lot of things to cover with the new Pixels, but the most important place to start is this: $599 and $899. Those are the starting prices for the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, respectively. That pricing is aggressive compared to similar iPhones, Samsungs, or even OnePlus phones, especially when you consider that Google is providing 128GB of storage in both base models. (The 6 can be equipped with up to 256GB, the 6 Pro has options up to 512GB.) Ars Technica has more on the new Tensor SoC by Google that powers these new Pixels. I’d love to say more about these new Pixels, but Google refuses to actually sell them anywhere, so I’m not even sure Pixel phones even exist in the first place. I’m not into conspiracy theories, but until Google sells these things in more than like 3 countries, I’ll just keep calling them an elaborate hoax.
Today we’re pushing the source to the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) and officially releasing the latest version of Android. Keep an eye out for Android 12 coming to a device near you starting with Pixel in the next few weeks and Samsung Galaxy, OnePlus, Oppo, Realme, Tecno, Vivo, and Xiaomi devices later this year. The first Android 12 reviews have rolled out too, and the conclusion seems to be that this new release focuses heavily on overhauling the look and feel of Android, without disrupting how you actually use your phone all that much. Android 12 isn’t an update that’s trying to change how you use your phone — not that it needed to be. Instead of just tacking on dozens of new features, Google just wanted to shake things up in the design department for the sake of it. It’s an upheaval of some of Android’s smallest details. It amounts to a more customizable experience, which in turn lets your phone look and feel more unique. If that gets you excited, you probably won’t regret installing. But I wouldn’t buy a Pixel just to experience Android 12. And if you can’t get the update today, I wouldn’t fret too much until more features are added. I’m definitely excited to experience the new look and feel, but it will be a while before any of my devices gets the update.