China’s Xiaomi, Huawei Technologies, Oppo and Vivo are joining forces to create a platform for developers outside China to upload apps onto all of their app stores simultaneously, in a move analysts say is meant to challenge the dominance of Google’s Play store. I’m glad Android is open enough to allow alternative application stores to exist, but whether or not non-Chinese application makers would want to partake in a Chinese state-run application store effort is another issue altogether.
Over 50 organizations including the Privacy International, Digital Rights Foundation, DuckDuckGo, and Electronic Frontier Foundation have written an open letter to Alphabet and Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai about exploitive pre-installed bloatware on Android devices and how they pose a privacy risk to consumers. Thus, the group wants Google to make some changes to how Android handles pre-installed apps a.k.a bloatware. They want the company to provide users with the ability to permanently uninstall all pre-installed apps on their devices. While some pre-loaded apps can be disabled on Android devices, they continue to run some background processes which makes disabling them a moot point. The open letter requests Google to ensure that pre-installed apps go through the same scrutiny as all the apps listed on the Google Play Store. They also want all pre-installed apps to be updated through Google Play even if the device does not have a user logged into it. Google should also not certify devices on privacy grounds if it detects that an OEM is trying to exploit users’ privacy and their data. With antitrust regulators from both the EU and the US breathing down their necks, I highly doubt Google will do what this open letter asks of them. And let’s face it – you can’t on the one hand lament Google’s control over Android, while on the other hand ask that they use said control against parties you happen to dislike. I hate bloatware as much as anyone else, but I’d be a massive hypocrite if, after years of advocating for user freedom when it comes to smartphones, computers, and other devices, I would turn around and ask Google to lock down Android devices even more to Google Play just because I happen to think carriers are the scum of the earth.
In 2019, smartphone brands have made huge jumps in camera quality, especially when it comes to zoom and low-light. On the other hand, video quality hasn’t been given the same amount of attention. That could change in 2020 with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865’s improved ISP. Yet, even as Android smartphones are shipping with larger internal storage capacities, have faster modems, and are now supporting 5G networks, an old limitation prevents most of these phones from saving video files that are larger than 4GB in size. However, that could change in Android 11, the next major version of Android that’s set to release in 2020. The reason the limit existed in the first place is far more interesting than its removal – it’s a classic case of “ should be enough for everyone” that’s now been annoying people who record a lot of video on Android for years.
It seems like Google is working hard to update and upstream the Linux kernel that sits at the heart of every Android phone. The company was a big participant in this year’s Linux Plumbers Conference, a yearly meeting of the top Linux developers, and Google spent a lot of time talking about getting Android to work with a generic Linux kernel instead of the highly customized version it uses now. It even showed an Android phone running a mainline Linux kernel. Android is the most popular Linux distribution by far, so a move to a more generic Linux kernel benefits the ecosystem as a whole.
Google has published some statistics about the effects of Project Treble on Android updates. In late July, 2018, just before Android 9 Pie was launched in AOSP, Android 8.0 (Oreo) accounted for 8.9% of the ecosystem. By comparison, in late August 2019, just before we launched Android 10, Android 9 (Pie) accounted for 22.6% of the ecosystem. This makes it the largest fraction of the ecosystem, and shows that Project Treble has had a positive effect on updatability. That’s definitely good news, but Google still has a long way to go.
Google has detailed some of the new features of the Go edition of Android 10, the version of Android designed specifically for lower-end devices. First, this new release helps you switch between apps faster and in a memory-efficient way. Speed and reliability are also enhanced—apps now launch 10 percent faster than they did on Android 9 (Go edition). Encryption underpins our digital security, as it protects your data even if your device falls into the wrong hands. That’s why Android 10 (Go edition) includes a new form of encryption, built by Google for entry-level smartphones, called Adiantum. Up until now, not all entry-level smartphones were able to encrypt data without affecting device performance. Encryption on every Android phone, regardless of specifications, is a huge deal. Good move.
Full video of what shows a Nokia feature phone running Android 8.1 has now emerged. The unknown Nokia feature phone prototype is not running KaiOS and rather one can clearly notice Android 8.1 mentioned in the system settings. It wouldn’t surprise me if Google did indeed have plans to shoehorn Android into feature phones, only to realise it made more sense to just invest in KaiOS instead. I don’t think this Nokia phone is more than an old prototype.
Despite the change, Android 10 brings a lot of tasty, frequently user-requested changes to Android. The OS is finally getting a dark mode, the share menu is getting revamped, and gesture navigation has seen huge improvements over the half-baked version introduced in Android 9. Developers have a host of new APIs to play with, including support for upcoming foldable smartphones, floating app “Bubbles,” and a new, more generalized biometrics API. And on top of all that, there’s a host of changes to work around, like considerations for the new gesture navigation system and new app restrictions focused on privacy and security. Even the notification panel is getting a fresh injection of artificial intelligence, and of course there are new emoji. The under-the-hood work on Android modularity continues, as always, with Android 10. This year “Project Mainline” is the highlighted engineering effort. This initiative creates a new, more powerful file type for system-level code, and it sees several chunks of functionality move out of the difficult-to-update core OS and into the Play Store, where they will get monthly updates. There’s new dual boot functionality, too, which will allow curious users to quickly switch between retail and beta builds of Android. As has become Ars tradition, we will be covering every single change in excruciating detail. So even if Google is ditching the snack theme, you may want to grab your own snack before diving in to the following 20,000+ words of Android 10 intel. Always a worthy read. Get some coffee or tea, sit down and relax, and read.
Android 10 is here! With this release, we focused on making your everyday life easier with features powered by on-device machine learning, as well as supporting new technologies like Foldables and 5G. At the same time, with almost 50 changes related to privacy and security, Android 10 gives you greater protection, transparency, and control over your data. This builds on top of our ongoing commitment to provide industry-leading security and privacy protections on Android. We also built new tools that empower people of all abilities, and help you find the right balance with technology. Coming to only very few devices probably not near you.
Android 10 is expected to begin rolling out sometime next month to all Pixel phones. According to Canadian carrier Rogers today, the Android 10 launch date is Tuesday, September 3rd. For the past several years, Google has released Android versions at the start of the month alongside security patches. Given that the first Monday of September is Labor Day in the United States, Google looks to be targeting the day after. Now the waiting game begins for the 99.9% of Android users who do not have a Pixel.
First, we’re changing the way we name our releases. Our engineering team has always used internal code names for each version, based off of tasty treats, or desserts, in alphabetical order. This naming tradition has become a fun part of the release each year externally, too. But we’ve heard feedback over the years that the names weren’t always understood by everyone in the global community. As a global operating system, it’s important that these names are clear and relatable for everyone in the world. So, this next release of Android will simply use the version number and be called Android 10. We think this change helps make release names simpler and more intuitive for our global community. And while there were many tempting “Q” desserts out there, we think that at version 10 and 2.5 billion active devices, it was time to make this change. Not exactly a hugely important bit of news or anything, but there you have it – the dessert names are no more.
Earlier this year, Google announced it was going to present EU Android users with a search engine choice dialog. Today the company revealed more details. Next year, we’ll introduce a new way for Android users to select a search provider to power a search box on their home screen and as the default in Chrome (if installed). Search providers can apply to be part of the new choice screen, which will appear when someone is setting up a new Android smartphone or tablet in Europe. So far so good, but then Google goes on to detail how a search provider can add itself to the list. Other than Google itself, only three other possible choices will be listed in each individual EU member state. Google will conduct a closed auction in each member state, wherein search provider can bid by stating how much they are willing to pay per user who selects them. Search providers will have to pay a fee for each user that selects them. Google will send a monthly invoice to search providers and charge only when the provider is selected by the user. Your monthly invoice will indicate how many selections came via the choice screen per country and the total amount owed to Google. In other words, the bigger and richer the search provider, the more likely it will be featured. This rules out smaller companies and open source search engines, who simply won’t be able to compete with the bigger players. In addition, all the auction details – how many providers partake, their bids, and so on – will all remain secret. I wonder if this will satisfy the European Commission, and I’m certainly no lawyer in any way, shape, or form, but merely going by gut, having search providers pay Google secret amounts of money in secret auctions somehow does not seem what the EC is after.
Given that the Switch isn’t intended to run an alternate OS whatsoever, the state of the ROM is impressive. Android works in handheld and docked mode, audio and Joycons work flawlessly, and there’s even an optional ‘Shield-ifier’ mode that turns the Switch into an Nvidia Shield TV (complete with support for Nvidia Gamestream and some Shield-exclusive games). However, there are still plenty of bugs, like spotty Wi-Fi and a lack of rotation support. This is quite an impressive ROM – there are Android phones with crappier LineageOS support than this.
Kyle Bradshaw at 9To5Google: For the past few months, we’ve been tracking developments in Chrome that point to Android becoming a competitor to KaiOS by entering the feature phone market. Today, the first purported image of an Android feature phone has come to light, with Nokia stylings. Thus far, everything we’ve learned about the likelihood of Android coming to feature phones has come from tidbits within public Chrome code. From the code, we know that Android feature phones will be distinctly different from Android Go, as the feature phones will not have a touchscreen. Instead, the phones will be navigated using a traditional d-pad, shoulder buttons, and the number keys. Feature phones are far from dead, and it seems Google really wants a piece of this pie. KaiOS is kind of an unsung hero here in the west, but it’s quite popular on feature phones all over the world.
As has become tradition for Ars at Google I/O, we recently sat down with some of the people who make Android to learn more about Google’s latest OS. For 2019, the talk was all about Android Q and this year’s big engineering effort, Project Mainline. Mainline’s goal is to enable Google (and sometimes OEMs!) to directly update core parts of the OS without pushing out a whole system update. If that sounds technical and challenging, well, it is. These are always great reads, and a welcome new tradition.
Kyle Bradshaw at 9to5Google: Officially, Google has “no plans” to make any changes to the status quo of Android apps on Chrome OS. Under the surface, however, the Chromium team has been making an effort to make Chrome OS’s Android apps support more like their Linux apps support. The effort, aptly named ARCVM (short for ARC Virtual Machine), from the bits of evidence available, seems poised to take advantage of the work done on the Crostini project by running Android through the same Termina VM. By moving to a virtual machine, Chrome OS’s Android support will be able to take advantage of the same security features, and the ability to easily reset should anything go wrong. I’ve always been curious about running Android applications on Linux, but none of the solutions out there seem to work very well. Perhaps some of Google’s work here can find its way to desktop Linux.
Big news over the weekend. Following The United States government’s ban on importing products from Huawei, Google had to suspend Huawei’s Android license. Alphabet’s Google has suspended business with Huawei that requires the transfer of hardware, software and technical services except those publicly available via open source licensing, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Sunday, in a blow to the Chinese technology company that the U.S. government has sought to blacklist around the world. Holders of current Huawei smartphones with Google apps, however, will continue to be able to use and download app updates provided by Google, a Google spokesperson said, confirming earlier reporting by Reuters. This means that from now on, Huawei only has access to the AOSP parts of Android – it no longer has access to the Google Play Store and other Google Play Services. This is a major blow to Huawei’s business in the United States. Other companies, like Intel and Qualcomm, have also complied with the US government’s ban and are also blacklisiting Huawei. Huawei’s response doesn’t say much: Huawei has made substantial contributions to the development and growth of Android around the world. As one of Android’s key global partners, we have worked closely with their open-source platform to develop an ecosystem that has benefitted both users and the industry. Huawei will continue to provide security updates and after-sales services to all existing Huawei and Honor smartphone and tablet products, covering those that have been sold and that are still in stock globally. It’s important to note that the US government has as of yet been unable to provide any evidence that Huawei devices contain backdoors or are somehow used to spy on people. That being said, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine such a scenario – all countries spy on all other countries, and China is in a unique position, as the manufacturing centre of the world, to do so. I do wish to point out, though, that devices from other companies – Apple, Google, Dell, and virtually everyone else – are manufactured in the same factories by the same people led by the same managers owned by the same Chinese government as Huawei devices. Singling out Huawei, while trusting your Pixel 3 or iPhone X which rolls off the same assembly line, seems naive, at best. China will, probably, retaliate, especially since Chinese people themselves seem to solidly back Huawei. The totalitarian government has many ways it can strike back, and with a growing sentiment in China to boycott Apple, it wouldn’t be surprising to see China target Apple, specifically, in its response.
Android is now at the point where sRGB color gamut with 8 bits per color channel is not enough to take advantage of the display and camera technology. At Android we have been working to make wide color photography happen end-to-end, e.g. more bits and bigger gamuts. This means, eventually users will be able to capture the richness of the scenes, share a wide color pictures with friends and view wide color pictures on their phones. And now with Android Q, it’s starting to get really close to reality: wide color photography is coming to Android. So, it’s very important to applications to be wide color gamut ready. This article will show how you can test your application to see whether it’s wide color gamut ready and wide color gamut capable, and the steps you need to take to be ready for wide color gamut photography.
ADB backup and restore is a handy tool that allows you to do more than some built-in backup options. You can save private data and installed applications without needing root, depending on whether or not the app allows it. Unfortunately, it looks like ADB backup and restore may be going away in a future Android release. A commit in AOSP is titled “Add deprecation warning to adb backup/restore.” A warning will be shown whenever the user runs the tool in the latest ADB tools release telling them that the feature might not stick around. A useful tool, and I’m sad to see it go.
This process will no doubt sound familiar to those of you who have used Linux. Most Linux distributions offer bootable images that can be flashed to a USB drive or burned to a CD/DVD. When the computer boots from the Linux drive, a complete desktop environment is present, allowing the user to easily test applications and perform other tasks. Nothing is installed to the computer’s internal drive, and all data is deleted when Linux shuts down. Android Q will include similar functionality, which is currently being called ‘Dynamic System Updates’ (though ‘Live Images’ and ‘Dynamic Android’ were also being used to refer to it). A temporary system partition is created, and an alternative Generic System Image (GSI) can be installed to it. A notification appears when the process is done, and tapping it reboots the phone into the GSI. When you’re done, simply reboot the phone, and you’re returned to your phone’s regular build of Android. This will be a very welcome feature not just for developers, but also for people like me who would love to test public beta releases before committing.