Android Archive

Google extends Linux kernel support to keep Android devices secure for longer

Android, like many other operating systems, uses the open-source Linux kernel. There are several different types of Linux kernel releases, but the type that’s most important to Android is the long-term support (LTS) one, as they’re updated regularly with important bug fixes and security patches. Starting in 2017, the support lifetime of LTS releases of Linux was extended from two years to six years, but early last year, this extension was reversed. Fortunately, Google has announced that moving forward, they’ll support their own LTS kernel releases for four years. Here’s why that’s important for the security of Android devices. ↫ Mishaal Rahman at Android Authority I fully support the Linux kernel maintainers dropping the LTS window from six to two years. The only places where such old kernels were being used were embedded devices and things like smartphones vendors refused to update to newer Android releases, and it makes no sense for kernel maintainers to be worrying about that sort of stuff. If an OEM wants to keep using such outdated kernels, the burden should be on that OEM to support that kernel, or to update affected devices to a newer, supported kernel. It seems Google, probably wisely, realised that most OEMs weren’t going to properly upgrade their devices and the kernels that run on them, and as such, the search giant decided to simply create their own LTS releases instead, which will be supported for four years. Google already maintains various Android-specific Linux kernel branches anyway, so it fits right into their existing development model for the Android Linux kernel. Some of the more popular OEMs, like Google itself or Samsung, have promised longer support life cycles for new Android versions on their devices, so even with this new Android-specific LTS policy, there’s still going to be cases where an OEM will have to perform a kernel upgrade where they didn’t have to before with the six year LTS policy. I wonder if this is going to impact any support promises made in recent years.

Android 15 could include a desktop mode — but what for?

If there was ever a “will they, won’t they?” love story in mobile computing, it’s definitely Google’s on and off again relationship with Android’s desktop mode. There have been countless hints, efforts, and code pertaining to the mythical desktop mode for Android, but so far, Google has never flipped the switch and made it available. It’s 2024, Android 15 development is in full swing, and it seems Google and Android’s desktop mode are dating again. This past spring, Google added DisplayPort support to the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro in a Feature Drop update, allowing for easy wired connections to external monitors. Then, tinkering in Android 14 QPR3 Beta 2.1, Mishaal Rahman was able to get a new desktop interface up and running, complete with Android apps running in resizeable floating windows. It’s not confirmed that Android 15 will ship with a built-in desktop mode, but the bones are there. It does make me wonder, though: why? What would a desktop interface add to Android? ↫ Taylor Kerns at Android Police I’m actually fairly convinced Android could, indeed, serve as an excellent desktop operating system, but without any official backing by Google, it’s always been a massive hack to use Android with a mouse and keyboard. It’s not so much the hardware support – it’s all there – but rather the software support, and the clunky way common Android UI tasks feel when performing them with a mouse. I’ve installed Android desktop ‘distributions’ countless times, and the third-party hacks they use, like clunky taskbars and custom menus and so on, make for a horrid user experience. Samsung DEX seems to be the only somewhat successful attempt at adding a desktop mode to Android, but it can’t be installed on any regular PC or laptop, and requires cumbersome cabling or expensive docks, making it more of a curiosity than a true desktop mode in the sense most of us are thinking of. This feature needs to come from Google itself, and it needs to be something third parties can use in their ROMs and x86 builds so we can truly use Android on a desktop. I don’t believe that’s going to happen, though. It’s clear Google is more interested in pushing Chrome OS for desktop and laptop use, and it seems more likely that any desktop mode that gets added to Android is going to be similar in nature to DEX – something you can only use by hooking up your phone to a display and configuring wireless input devices. Cool, but not exactly something that will turn Android into a desktop contender.

Android 15 beta 2 released

Google released Android 15 beta 2 today, and with it, they unveiled some more of the new features coming to Android later this year when the final release lands. Android 15 comes with something called a private space, an area with an extra layer of authentication where you can keep applications and data hidden away, such as banking applications or health data. It’s effectively a separate user profile, and shows up as a separate area in the application drawer when unlocked. When locked, it disappears entirely from sight, share sheets, and so on. Another awesome new feature is Theft Detection Lock, which uses Google “AI” to detect when a phone is snatched out of your hands by someone running, biking, or driving away, and instantly locks it. Theft like this is quite common in certain areas, and this seems like an excellent use of “AI” (i.e., accelerometer data) to discourage thieves from trying this. There’s also a bunch of smaller stuff, like custom vibration patterns per notification, giving applications partial access to only your most recent photos and videos, system-wide preferences for which gender you’d like to be addressed as in gendered languages (French gets this feature first), and a whole lot more. Developers also get a lot to play with here, from safer intents to something like ANGLE: Vulkan is Android’s preferred interface to the GPU. Therefore, Android 15 includes ANGLE as an optional layer for running OpenGL ES on top of Vulkan. Moving to ANGLE will standardize the Android OpenGL implementation for improved compatibility, and, in some cases, improved performance. You can test out your OpenGL ES app stability and performance with ANGLE by enabling the developer option in Settings -> System -> Developer Options -> Experimental: Enable ANGLE on Android 15. ↫ Android developer blog You can install Android 15 beta 2 on a number f Pixel devices and devices from other OEMs starting today. I installed it on my Pixel 8 Pro, and after a few hours I haven’t really noticed anything breaking, but that’s really not enough time to make any meaningful observations. Google also detailed Wear OS 5. Later this year, battery life optimizations are coming to watches with Wear OS 5. For example, running an outdoor marathon will consume up to 20% less power when compared to watches with Wear OS 4. And your fitness apps will be able to help improve your performance with the option to support more data types like ground contact time, stride length and vertical oscillation. ↫ Android developer blog Wear OS 5 will also improve the Watch Face Format with more complications, which is very welcome, because the selection of complications is currently rather meager. Wear OS 5 will also ship later this year.

Google details some of the “AI” features coming to Android

Google I/O, the company’s developer conference, started today, but for the first time since I can remember, Android and Chrome OS have been relegated to day two of the conference. The first day was all about “AI”, most of which I’m not even remotely interested in, except of course where it related to Google’s operating system offerings. And the company did have a few things to say about “AI” on Android, and the general gist is that yeah, they’re going to be stuffing it into every corner of the operating system. Google’s “AI” tool Gemini will be integrated deeply into Android, and you’ll be able to call up an overlay wherever you are in the operating system, and do things like summarise a PDF that’s on screen, summarise a YouTube video, generate images on the fly and drop them into emails and conversations, and so on. A more interesting and helpful “AI” addition is using it to improve TalkBack, so that people with impaired vision can let the device describe images on the screen for them. Google claims TalkBack users come across about 90 images without description every day (!), so this is a massive improvement for people with impaired vision, and a genuinely helpful and worthwhile “AI” feature. Creepier is that Google’s “AI” will also be able to listen along with your phone calls, and warn you if an ongoing conversation is a scamming attempt. If the person on the other end of the line claiming to be your bank asks you to move a bunch of money around to keep it safe, Gemini will pop up and warn you it’s a scam, since banks don’t ask you such things. Clever, sure, but also absolutely terrifying and definitely not something I’ll be turning on. Google claims all of these features take place on-device, so privacy should be respected, but I’m always a bit unsure about such things staying that way in the future. Regardless, “AI” is coming to Android in a big way, but I’m just here wondering how much of it I’ll be able to turn off.

Google is experimenting with running Chrome OS on Android

Now that Android – since version 13 – ships with the Android Virtualisation Framework, Google can start doing interesting things with it. It turns out the first interesting thing Google wants do with it is run Chrome OS inside of it. Even though AVF was initially designed around running small workloads in a highly stripped-down build of Android loaded in an isolated virtual machine, there’s technically no reason it can’t be used to run other operating systems. As a matter of fact, this was demonstrated already when developer Danny Lin got Windows 11 running on an Android phone back in 2022. Google itself never officially provided support for running anything other than its custom build of Android called “microdroid” in AVF, but that’s no longer the case. The company has started to offer official support for running Chromium OS, the open-source version of Chrome OS, on Android phones through AVF, and it has even been privately demoing this to other companies. At a privately held event, Google recently demonstrated a special build of Chromium OS — code-named “ferrochrome” — running in a virtual machine on a Pixel 8. However, Chromium OS wasn’t shown running on the phone’s screen itself. Rather, it was projected to an external display, which is possible because Google recently enabled display output on its Pixel 8 series. Time will tell if Google is thinking of positioning Chrome OS as a platform for its desktop mode ambitions and Samsung DeX rival. ↫ Mishaal Rahman at Android Authority It seems that Google is in the phase of exploring if there are any OEMs interested in allowing users to plug their Android phone into an external display and input devices and run Chrome OS on it. This sounds like an interesting approach to the longstanding dream of convergence – one device for all your computing needs – but at the same time, it feels quite convoluted to have your Android device emulate an entire Chrome OS installation. What a damning condemnation of Android as a platform that despite years of trying, Google just can’t seem to make Android and its applications work in a desktop form factor. I’ve tried to shoehorn Android into a desktop workflow, and it’s quite hard, despite third parties having made some interesting tools to help you along. It really seems Android just does not want to be anywhere else but on a mobile touch display.

RISC-V support in Android just got a big setback

Although Google has shown significant progress in recent weeks in improving RISC-V support in Android, it seems that we’re still quite a bit away from seeing RISC-V hardware running certified builds of Android. Earlier today, a Senior Staff Software Engineer at Google who, according to their LinkedIn, leads the Android Systems Team and works on Android’s Linux kernel fork, submitted a series of patches to AOSP that “remove ACK’s support for riscv64.” The description of these patches states that “support for risc64 GKI kernels is discontinued.” ↫ Mishaal Rahman Google provided Android Authority with a statement, claiming that Android will continue to support RISC-V. What these patches do, however, is remove support for the architecture from the Generic Kernel Image, which is the only type of kernel Google certifies for Android, which means that it is now no longer possible to ship a certified Android device that uses RISC-V. Any OEM shipping a RISC-V Android device will have to create and maintain its own kernel fork with the required patches. This doesn’t seem to align with Google’s statement. So, unless Google intends to add RISC-V support back into GKI, there won’t be any officially certified Android devices running on RISC-V. Definitely an odd chain of events here.

Facebook opens its Android-based Quest operating system to other VR device makers

Today we’re taking the next step toward our vision for a more open computing platform for the metaverse. We’re opening up the operating system powering our Meta Quest devices to third-party hardware makers, giving more choice to consumers and a larger ecosystem for developers to build for. We’re working with leading global technology companies to bring this new ecosystem to life and making it even easier for developers to build apps and reach their audiences on the platform. Meta Horizon OS is the result of a decade of work by Meta to build a next-generation computing platform. To pioneer standalone headsets, we developed technologies like inside-out tracking, and for more natural interaction systems and social presence, we developed eye, face, hand, and body tracking. For mixed reality, we built a full stack of technologies for blending the digital and physical worlds, including high-resolution Passthrough, Scene Understanding, and Spatial Anchors. This long-term investment that began on the mobile-first foundations of the Android Open Source Project has produced a full mixed reality operating system used by millions of people. ↫ Facebook’s blog In summary, Facebook wants the operating system of their Quest series of virtual reality devices – an Android Open Source Project fork optimised for this use – to become the default platform for virtual reality devices from all kinds of OEMs. Today, they’re announcing that both Asus and Lenovo will be releasing devices running this Meta Horizon OS, with the former focusing on high-end VR gaming, and the latter on more general use cases of work, entertainment, and so on. Facebook will also be working together with Microsoft to create a Quest “inspired by Xbox”. The Meta Quest Store, the on-device marketplace for applications and games, will be renamed to the Meta Horizon Store, and the App Lab, where developers can more easily get their applications and games on devices and in the hands of consumers as long as they meet basic technical and content guidelines, will be integrated into the Meta Horizon Store for easier access than before. In addition, in a mildly spicy move, Facebook is openly inviting Google to bring the Google Play Store to the VR Android fork, “where it can operate with the same economic model it does on other platforms”. The odds of me buying anything from Facebook are slim, so I really hope this new move won’t corner the market for VR headsets right out of the gate; I don’t want another Android/iOS duopoly. I’m not particularly interested in VR quite yet – but give it a few more years, and I certainly won’t pass up on a capable device that allows me to play Beat Saber and other exercise-focused applications and games. I just don’t want it to be a Facebook device or operating system.

Google’s Generic Kernel Image now required on all Android form factors

New TVs that launch with Android TV 14 or later on Linux kernel 5.15 or higher will be required to meet Google’s Generic Kernel Image (GKI) requirements in order to pass certification! This means that GKI is now enforced on all major Android form factors with AArch64 chipsets: handhelds, watches, automotive, & televisions. ↫ Mishaal Rahman What this means is that all the major Android form factors will be running kernels that adhere to the GKI requirements, which means SoC and board support is not part of the core kernel, but instead achieved through loadable modules. This should, in theory, make it easier to provide long-term support.

Android 15 Beta 1 is here, but details are still under wraps

After two months of developer previews, Google has finally released Android 15 Beta 1. While the beta usually offers more user-facing changes, Google is still pretty light on details with this build, giving us only a few more details on what we can expect. Instead, the company is pointing to Google I/O for more details, which will take place on May 14 this year, basically confirming that this is when we will get the second beta with more features. ↫ Manuel Vonau There’s very little of interest in this beta, so unless you’re really into Android development, I’d wait out installing any betas until after Google I/O.

Google details privacy and security features of its new Find My Device network

Yesterday, I posted an item about the updated Find My Device network Google launched for Android, but I forgot to link to an additional blog post by Google about the various security and privacy precautions they’ve taken. One aspect in particular stands out as something new that Apple’s Find My network doesn’t do (yet): This is a first-of-its-kind safety protection that makes unwanted tracking to a private location, like your home, more difficult. By default, the Find My Device network requires multiple nearby Android devices to detect a tag before reporting its location to the tag’s owner. Our research found that the Find My Device network is most valuable in public settings like cafes and airports, where there are likely many devices nearby. By implementing aggregation before showing a tag’s location to its owner, the network can take advantage of its biggest strength – over a billion Android devices that can participate. This helps tag owners find their lost devices in these busier locations while prioritizing safety from unwanted tracking near private locations. In less busy areas, last known location and Nest finding are reliable ways to locate items. ↫ Dave Kleidermacher In addition, when you’re at home, your devices won’t contribute any information either. There’s a whole bunch of other things in there, too, so head on over if you’re curious.

Google launches new Find My Device network on Android

Today, the all-new Find My Device is rolling out to Android devices around the world, starting in the U.S. and Canada. With a new, crowdsourced network of over a billion Android devices, Find My Device can help you find your misplaced Android devices and everyday items quickly and securely. Here are five ways you can try it out. ↫ Erik Kay on the Google blog This old Android feature has basically been updated to be the same thing as Apple’s Find My, but with more than just one vendor making the tracking tags. Of course, this means it also comes with the same problems, from its use by stalkers to controlling partners, and everything in between. This is a very problematic technology, one which I think is almost impossible to make safe. Still, I have a Samsung tracker that I don’t use anymore – because I bought a Pixel 8 Pro, and don’t want to install any Samsung applications – and I do plan on getting a new tracker that’s compatible with this new Find My Device network. With two small kids, it’s easy to lose track of something like my car keys, and instead of stressing about where they are when we need to leave on time, I can just ping them using our Google Home devices instead. Sometimes, these silly smart technologies really do take just that little bit of stress out of your life – you just have to be really picky and honest with yourself about what you really need.

Android 15 Developer Preview 2 rolling out to Pixel

Android 15 adds “UI elements to ensure a consistent user experience across the satellite connectivity landscape.” A system-level “Auto-connected to satellite” notification conveys how “You can send and receive messages without a mobile or Wi-Fi network” with a shortcut to “Open Messages” or get more information. Meanwhile, note the status bar icon at the right. Speaking of Google Messages, “Android 15 provides support for SMS/ MMS applications as well as preloaded RCS applications to use satellite connectivity for sending and receiving messages.” Other apps will also be able to “detect when a device is connected to a satellite, giving them more awareness of why full network services may be unavailable.” ↫ Abner Li at 9To5Google 9To5Google also has a list of all the new features in this Developer Preview with copious amounts of screenshots.

Better, faster, stronger time zone updates on Android

From the beginning, time zone rules were a component in Mainline, called Time Zone Data or tzdata module. This integration allowed us to react more quickly to government-mandated time zone changes than before. However until 2023 tzdata updates were still bundled with other Mainline changes, sometimes leading to testing complexities and slower deployment. In 2023, we made further investments in Mainline’s infrastructure and decoupled the tzdata module from the other components. With this isolation, we gained the ability to respond rapidly to time zone legislation changes — often releasing updates to Android users outside of the established release cadence. Additionally, this change means time zone updates can reach a far greater number of Android devices, ensuring you as Android users always see the correct time. ↫ Almaz Mingaleev and Masha Khokhlova This is equal parts boring and equal parts amazing. The amount of work developers have to put into making sure timezones work is astonishing, and the fact that a large chunk of it is done by volunteers is even more impressive.

Google Messages is blocking RCS texts on rooted Android phones

Rooting an Android phone is no longer as popular as it was a few years ago. Plus, if you root your phone now, you will run into several issues, like Google Wallet and banking apps not working, as the device will fail the Play Integrity API test. It makes sense for Google to block banking apps and payment functionality on rooted phones for safety and security reasons. But the company is now taking things a step further and has started blocking RCS from working in Google Messages on rooted or bootloader unlocked Android devices. ↫ Rajesh Pandey Entirely expected, but no less unconscionable. Banking applications, government ID services, and now even messaging platforms – all entirely crucial functions in the very fabric of society and government that we’re just handing over to two ruthless abusive companies. It’s simply no longer possible to function in many modern societies without having either a blessed Android device, or an iPhone, since any other platform will often lock you out of crucial functionality that you need to function in today’s world. If there was ever anything the European Union should be fighting against, it’s this.

New Wear OS devices run two operating systems

Wear OS smartwatches have a dual-chipset architecture inclusive of a powerful application processor (AP) and ultra low-power co-processor microcontroller unit (MCU). The architecture has a powerful AP capable of handling complex operations en-masse, and is seamlessly coupled with a low power MCU. The Wear OS hybrid interface enables intelligent switching between the MCU or the AP, allowing the AP to be suspended when not needed to preserve battery life. It helps, for instance, achieve more power-efficient experiences, like sensor data processing on the MCU while the AP is asleep. At the same time, the hybrid interface provides a seamless transition between these states, keeping a rich and premium user experience without jarring transitions between power modes. ↫ Kseniia Shumelchyk on the Android Developers Blog The new OnePlus Watch 2 is the first to use this new architecture, and the most interesting part is that it runs not one, but two operating systems: Wear OS, which is Android, running on the “AP”, and a smaller RTOS that runs on the “MCU”. In the case of the OnePlus Watch 2, the “AP” is a Snapdragon W5, while the “MCU” is a BES 2700, an ultra low power microcontroller. I can’t seem to find any information on this “RTOS”, but I’d really love to know what it’s based on.

Android prepares to only support Seamless Updates, but Samsung could still avoid it

Android introduced support for Seamless Updates quite a long time ago at this point and, while it’s seen adoption from most, Samsung stubbornly refuses to move its devices to the A/B system. Android is now moving towards a future where A/B Seamless Updates are the only supported update mechanism, but that may not be enough to stop Samsung. ↫ Ben Schoon at 9To5Google The fact Samsung hasn’t embraced Seamless Updates yet is utterly baffling. It’s better in every single way, and there’s little to no downsides one can think of. I hope this little nudge gets them to finally get their act together.

The First Developer Preview of Android 15 released

We’re releasing the first Developer Preview of Android 15 today so you, our developers, can collaborate with us to build a better Android. Android 15 continues our work to build a platform that helps improve your productivity while giving you new capabilities to produce superior media experiences, minimize battery impact, maximize smooth app performance, and protect user privacy and security all on the most diverse lineup of devices out there. ↫ Dave Burke on the Android Developers Blog This being the first Android 15 Developer Preview, the tentpole features it would contain are not here yet. We’re looking at a lot of under-the-hood features most users will never actively notice, but are still very welcome. The Privacy Sandbox has been updated, it adds Health Connect, a secure place to store health data, partial screen sharing, and a lot more.

WebGPU comes to Chrome 121 for Android

The Chrome team is excited to announce that WebGPU is now enabled by default in Chrome 121 on devices running Android 12 and greater powered by Qualcomm and ARM GPUs. Support will gradually expand to encompass a wider range of Android devices, including those running on Android 11 in a near future. This expansion will be dependent on further testing and optimization to ensure a seamless experience across a broader range of hardware configurations. ↫ François Beaufort Mind you, this is about WebGPU, not WebGL.

Google shamelessly tries to rebrand gambling as “real-money gaming”

As a platform, we strive to help developers responsibly build new businesses and reach wider audiences across a variety of content types and genres. In response to strong demand, in 2021 we began onboarding a wider range of real-money gaming (RMG) apps in markets with pre-existing licensing frameworks. Since then, this app category has continued to flourish with developers creating new RMG experiences for mobile. ↫ Karan Gambhir, director of “Global Trust and Safety Partnerships” at Google “Real-money gaming” is the most obvious and blatant rebranding of “gambling” I have ever seen. Google, this is gambling. You’re making it easier for scumbags to target the poor and swindle them out of the little money they have. This is a shameless attempt at increasing Google’s revenue by making it easier to scam people into gambling. Everything about this post – and (mobile) gambling – is disgusting.