The Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) said on Tuesday Google’s contract terms with device makers amounted to an abuse of its dominant market position that restricted competition in the mobile OS market. Under the AFA, manufacturers could not equip their handsets with modified versions of Android, known as “Android forks”. That has helped Google cement its market dominance in the mobile OS market, the KFTC said. Under the ruling, Google is banned from forcing device makers to sign AFA contracts, allowing manufacturers to adopt modified versions of Android OS on their devices. Good. This particular kind of paper restrictions need to die in a fire.
Android 12 Beta 5 is here. For those that haven’t been following along at home, this is the last expected release before it hits stable and is ready for the masses — a so-called “release candidate” version that should be almost good to go. This latest version also picks up support for the brand new Pixel 5a, and it’s your last chance to get those beta-testing toes wet before Android 12 is released. On that note, Google also gives us a hint about its schedule, promising that Android 12 is “just a few weeks away.” Well, a few weeks away for a very small number of phones. For most users, this release is months away, at best, and infinity away, at worst.
Samsung has confirmed that it will stop showing ads in default apps including Samsung Weather, Samsung Pay, and Samsung Theme. It follows comments made by its mobile chief TM Roh in an internal town hall meeting reported by Yonhap. “Samsung has made a decision to cease the advertisement on proprietary apps including Samsung Weather, Samsung Pay, and Samsung Theme,” the company said in a statement given to The Verge. “The update will be ready by later this year.” I never got any of these ads on my Samsung Galaxy Note 10+, but I’d be absolutely livid if I did. I’m not going to commend Samsung for doing the absolutely bare minimum here and not show ads on €1000 devices. Dear lord.
As part of our ongoing efforts to keep our users safe, Google will no longer allow sign-in on Android devices that run Android 2.3.7 or lower starting September 27, 2021. If you sign into your device after September 27, you may get username or password errors when you try to use Google products and services like Gmail, YouTube, and Maps. Android 2.3.7 was released on 21 September, 2011. That’s ten years of support. I think that’s fair.
Google is announcing the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro today, though it might be better to call it a preview or a tease. Rather than releasing all the details on its new Android phones, Google is instead putting the focus on the new system on a chip (SoC) that will be inside the new Pixels. It’s called the Tensor SoC, named after the Tensor Processing Units (TPU) Google uses in its data centers. Tensor is an SoC, not a single processor. And so while it’s fair to call it Google-designed, it’s also still unclear which components are Google-made and which are licensed from others. Two things are definitely coming from Google: a mobile TPU for AI operations and a new Titan M2 chip for security. The rest, including the CPU, GPU, and 5G modem, are all still a mystery. Less mysterious: the phones themselves. I spent about an hour at Google’s Mountain View campus last week looking at the phone hardware and talking with Google’s hardware chief Rick Osterloh about Tensor. After all that, my main takeaway about the new Pixel 6 phones is simple. Google is actually, finally trying to make a competitive flagship phone. This looks like a really premium product, and it will most definitely have a price to match. Google finally switching over to its own SoC, after years of relying on Qualcomm, which is technically great for competition, but much as with Apple’s chips, it’s not like anyone else is really going to benefit from this. Assuming Google plans on selling this new Pixel in more than three countries, and assuming the claims about the cameras are backed up my real-world reviews, this will definitely be my next phone, since my current smartphone is ready for replacement. And what a surprise – smartphone camera quality suddenly matters now that I have a kid.
Today, we’re announcing additional details for the upcoming safety section in Google Play. At Google, we know that feeling safe online comes from using products that are secure by default, private by design, and give users control over their data. This new safety section will provide developers a simple way to showcase their app’s overall safety. Developers will be able to give users deeper insight into their privacy and security practices, as well as explain the data the app may collect and why — all before users install the app. Ultimately, all Google Play store apps will be required to share information in the safety section. We want to give developers plenty of time to adapt to these changes, so we’re sharing more information about the data type definitions, user journey, and policy requirements of this new feature. This basically means Android and the Play Store are getting the same kind of privacy labels as Apple introduced in iOS and the App Store. This is competition at work, and it’s great that both platforms will soon offer this feature.
Google has provided a few more details about the upcoming release of Wear OS 3, which combines Samsung’s Tizen with Google’s Wear OS. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, pretty much no existing Wear OS devices will be updated to Wear OS 3. Wear OS devices that will be eligible for upgrade include Mobvoi’s TicWatch Pro 3 GPS, TicWatch Pro 3 Cellular/LTE, TicWatch E3 and follow on TicWatch devices, as well as Fossil Group’s new generation of devices launching later this year. It would seem existing devices simply aren’t powerful enough, so the four existing Wear OS users – I’m one of them – are shit out of luck.
After announcing that OnePlus and Oppo would be merging more teams behind the scenes, the inevitable has happened. OnePlus has just announced that OxygenOS and ColorOS will come closer together, though with the benefit of OnePlus devices getting three years or more of Android updates. In a forum post today, OnePlus explains that the sub-brand of Oppo is “working on integrating the codebase of OxygenOS and ColorOS.” Apparently, the change will go unnoticed because it is happening behind the scenes. OnePlus’ OxygenOS has always been the darling among Android fans, because not only is it very close to stock Android, it also has great performance and (usually) a good update schedule. Oppo’s ColorOS, on the other hand, is none of that. I’m very skeptical of this merger turning out for the better for OnePlus users.
For as long as Android has been around, Android apps have been launched in the APK format (which stands for Android Package). However, in 2018, Google introduced a new format called Android App Bundles, or AAB (with the filename *.aab). Google touted that this new format would result in smaller app file sizes and easier ways to control various aspects of apps. Of the millions of apps on the Google Play Store, thousands of them already use the AAB system. Today, Google announced that the AAB format will now officially replace Android APKs. This means that starting in August of this year, all new apps submitted to the Google Play Store must come in the AAB format. Apps that are currently APKs can stay that way — at least for now. Alright, where’s the catch? There’s going to be a catch, right? Unlike APKs, Android App Bundles cannot exist outside of Google Play and cannot be distributed outside of it. This means that developers switching from APK to App Bundles can no longer provide the exact same package or experience on other app sources unless they opt to maintain a separate APK version. This naturally puts third-party app stores at a disadvantage, but Google will most likely play up the Play Store’s security as a major reason to avoid those sources anyway. There it is! Of course any technological step forward in the modern monopolised world of technology has to come with anti-consumer features or limitations that take control away from users. It’s like a law.
Usually, when Google announces Android previews or betas, the company focuses on developer-oriented details like new APIs. But, as Android 12 Beta 2 rolls out today, Google is hyping up long-awaited user-facing changes, like the new Privacy Dashboard, the microphone and camera access indicators it’s been working on in various forms since 2019 (plus quick settings toggles for both), and a new “connectivity experience” that makes it easier to switch between data sources. It’s unusual for early Android betas to include so many end user features. I hope this means the development process is farther along than usual as well, so OEMs can get started on the update process sooner, too.
So to recap: yesterday, Huawei was shipping smartwatches using LiteOS, and today, it’s shipping smartwatches with “HarmonyOS,” which is based on LiteOS. Yesterday, it was shipping phones and tablets using a forked version of Android without Google services. Today, Huawei is shipping “HarmonyOS” on phones and tablets, which is forked Android without Google services. Did anything actually change here? That about sums it up. We were promised a brand new operating system, but in reality, all they gave us is yet another Android fork, of which there are countless.
At Google I/O today, Google unveiled more about Android 12, and the biggest change is a complete visual overhaul of the operating system. It’s called Material You, and it’s radically different from what Android looks and feels like today. Every visual and animated aspect of the operating system seems to have been changed. Some examples: Wallpaper-based theming — or “color extraction” as Google calls it — brings bold color combinations to every corner of the OS. It automatically decides which hues in your wallpaper are good for the dominant and complementary colors and applies them in all of Android’s screens, menus, and even first-party apps. Apple likely lit a fire under Google when it added widgets to iOS, and the Mountain View company has responded with a much-needed refresh of its first-party widget designs. Expect to see new clocks, new weather widgets, new shortcuts to oft-used contacts, and easier access to your favorite chats. As well as a refresh of the static design elements, Material You will also breathe new life into animations. We’re going to get more fluid motion, better feedback, and generally much smoother performance. Google says that its work under the hood will reduce the CPU time taken up by core system services by up to 22%, which will be reflected in the user experience. I think it definitely looks new and fresh, and less edgy and harsh than the current Material Design sometimes feels. Of course, everyone will hate these changes at first – as is tradition – but I’m very curious to see this in action on my own phone, and something like this is sure to get me to take a serious look at the next crop of Pixel phones as my possible next phone, just to get my hands on the new look and feel. Aside from the massive visual overhaul, Google is also continuing its improvements on the privacy front, but Android being a Google product, I always feel a tad bit skeptical about this particular effort. We’ll see how long it will take for OEMs to actually ship Android 12 – and how badly they will butcher Material You – and as always, that wait may be long.
Today, we’re sharing the biggest update to Wear ever – built with your preferences in mind. We’ve been hard at work in three areas: building a unified platform with Samsung, delivering a new consumer experience and providing updates to your favorite Google apps. WearOS definitely needs a lot of love, and this is a big sign Google is taking the platform seriously. Merging with Samsung’s incompatible Tizen efforts makes sense, and adding Google’s acquisition of FitBit into the mix is a no-brainer, too. I’m one of the few people who actually likes WearOS – warts and all – so I’m excited to see what the future brings here.
The next version of Android remains focussed on developers until the first beta launches next month. With that in mind, we’re diving into today’s release of Android 12 DP3 to find all the new features. Mostly small changes, still, and many of them seem specific to Google’s own devices.
Correctness of code in the Android platform is a top priority for the security, stability, and quality of each Android release. Memory safety bugs in C and C++ continue to be the most-difficult-to-address source of incorrectness. We invest a great deal of effort and resources into detecting, fixing, and mitigating this class of bugs, and these efforts are effective in preventing a large number of bugs from making it into Android releases. Yet in spite of these efforts, memory safety bugs continue to be a top contributor of stability issues, and consistently represent ~70% of Android’s high severity security vulnerabilities. In addition to ongoing and upcoming efforts to improve detection of memory bugs, we are ramping up efforts to prevent them in the first place. Memory-safe languages are the most cost-effective means for preventing memory bugs. In addition to memory-safe languages like Kotlin and Java, we’re excited to announce that the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) now supports the Rust programming language for developing the OS itself. Rust is popping up everywhere.
Great news from the Supreme Court of the United States. In a ruling on Monday, the Supreme Court found that Google could legally use elements of Oracle’s Java application programming interface (API) code when building Android. “Google’s copying of the API to reimplement a user interface, taking only what was needed to allow users to put their accrued talents to work in a new and transformative program, constituted a fair use of that material,” the Supreme Court ruled in a 6-2 opinion, with one justice (Amy Coney Barrett) not taking part in the ruling. It overturned an earlier federal decision, which found that Google’s use of the API had constituted infringement. Not only is Google’s specific use case declared fair use, but any and all similar cases are fair use as well, as a matter of law, the Supreme Court ruled. We reach the conclusion that in this case, where Google reimplemented a user interface, taking only what was needed to allow users to put their accrued talents to work in a new and transformative program, Google’s copying of the Sun Java API was a fair use of that material as a matter of law. Not only is this the only possible correct and proper ruling, it also means Oracle and Larry Ellison fall flat on their face which is always a joyous occasion as far as I’m concerned. And so ends the saga that, according to my pet conspiracy theory, was set up as one-two punch between Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison, who were incredibly close friends. Apple’s patent assault on Android vendors and Oracle’s attack on Google’s Android API usage happened at the same time, right after Jobs proclaimed he would go “thermonuclear war” on Android. Now, you can argue that these two simultaneous assaults were entirely coincidental, and that these two close friends did not coordinate their attacks in any way. I, on the other hand, remain convinced this was a premeditated, coordinated assault on Android – entirely befitting the two, by all accounts, unpleasant people Jobs and Ellison are.
Google is making some new changes to the Developer Program Policy that will make it harder for apps to see what other apps are installed on your Android device. Google says it regards the full list of installed apps on a user’s device to be personal and sensitive information, and as such, will limit which apps can access this information. Specifically, Google will be restricting which apps can request the QUERY_ALL_PACKAGES permission which is currently required for apps targeting API level 30 (Android 11) and above that want to query the list of installed apps on a user’s device that runs Android 11 or later. These moves by Google to make Android’s permission system less permissive is a welcome one. These changes don’t really restrict users in what kinds of access and permissions they can give applications if they choose to do so, but the default access levels applications get are getting more restrictive, which I think is a good thing. As long as we can keep making different choices and grant the access we choose, all is well.
Fairphone—the sustainable, modular smartphone company—is still shipping updates to the 5-year-old Fairphone 2. The company won’t win any awards for speed, but the phone—which launched in 2015 with Android 5—is now being updated to Android 9.0. The most interesting part of this news is a video from Fairphone detailing the update process the company went through, which offers more transparency than we normally get from a smartphone manufacturer. To hear Fairphone tell the story of Android updates, the biggest barrier to longer-term support is—surprise!—Qualcomm. I thought this was common knowledge in our little corner of the world. Qualcomm has almost a monopoly on the mid-to-high-end smartphone world when it comes to SoCs, and they have a long history of cutting off support for chipsets well before those chipsets become unusable.
Today, Google is releasing its second developer preview of the next version of Android, Android 12. Note that this isn’t considered a beta just yet; that should be coming in May. For now, all of this is focused on developers. There are a bunch of new features though; for example, there are going to be better controls for lockscreen notification security. Developers can set notifications to require authentication before seeing them, or before taking action on them. Developers are also getting more control over app overlays, which let you show content on top of the active app. Not a lot of major new features just yet – those will be unveiled later.
Starting on July 1, 2021 we are reducing the service fee Google Play receives when a developer sells digital goods or services to 15% for the first $1M (USD) of revenue every developer earns each year. With this change, 99% of developers globally that sell digital goods and services with Play will see a 50% reduction in fees. These are funds that can help developers scale up at a critical phase of their growth by hiring more engineers, adding to their marketing staff, increasing server capacity, and more. While these investments are most critical when developers are in the earlier stages of growth, scaling an app doesn’t stop once a partner has reached $1M in revenue — we’ve heard from our partners making $2M, $5M and even $10M a year that their services are still on a path to self-sustaining orbit. This is why we are making this reduced fee on the first $1M of total revenue earned each year available to every Play developer, regardless of size. We believe this is a fair approach that aligns with Google’s broader mission to help all developers succeed. We look forward to sharing full details in the coming months. Hopefully this will help small developers.