Android Archive

Android gets its own Surface clone

Microsoft, it seems, is not the only company that believes in the concept of a productivity tablet. And it's not the only company that thinks that a kickstand and a magnetic keyboard are all it takes to transform a tablet into a mobile workstation.

The Jide Remix, made by a trio of former Google engineers, is for all intents and purposes a Microsoft Surface that's built for Android.

It's about as cloney as you can get, but the fact that is still looks very nice is testament to just how pretty Surface really is, and how much sense the concept makes. Surface's hardware is excellent - it's just the software side that always let it down.

I don't think Android is going to fix that.

Google updates Android platform distribution numbers

The developer dashboard has been updated, and there's some big movement this month. In the post holiday window, KitKat is up a healthy 5.2% and Gingerbread drops another 1.3%. One thing you won't see on the chart is Lollipop. Android 5.0 still hasn't hit the 0.1% threshold to be included in the data, just like last month.

Google Play Services mitigates a lot of the concerns about updates - not that many people seem to understand that - but this is still Android's biggest weakness by a huge margin. Sadly, it's also something Google seems to be doing little about. Also, this.

‘I don’t need your permission!’

Permissions on Android are tricky to get right from a user perspective. Usually you only want to do something minor and innocuous (pre-fill a form with a contact's info) but the actual permission you have to request gives you much more power than necessary (access to ALL contact details, ever).

It's understandable that users might be suspicious of you. If your app is closed-source then they have no way of verifying you're not downloading all their contacts to their servers. Even if you explain the permission request people may not trust you. In the past I've chosen not to implement what might be handy features just to avoid user distrust.

That said, one thing that bothers me is that you don't always have to ask for permission to do some actions.

Exactly, because on Android, you can use Intents.

Android's Intents system is fascinating from a historical perspective. Like so many other aspects of smartphones we take for granted today, it comes from PalmOS (and not from iOS or Android). I detailed PalmOS' "multitasking" capabilities in my Palm retrospective, but it basically comes down to this: in PalmOS, applications could 'sublaunch' other applications, let them do stuff, and then return to the original application. Many of the people working on these PalmOS capabilities (some of whom came from Be) would later work for the Android team at Google, where they further evolved it into the Intents system Android currently has.

The current smartphone platforms owe way more to Palm than modern pundits will ever be capable of understanding or willing to admit. Want to talk about inconsequential crap beveled edges and rounded corners some more?

Meet our new experimental toolchain, Jack and Jill

We've been working on a new toolchain for Android that's designed to improve build times and simplify development by reducing dependencies on other tools. Today, we're introducing you to Jack (Java Android Compiler Kit) and Jill (Jack Intermediate Library Linker), the two tools at the core of the new toolchain.

We are making an early, experimental version of Jack and Jill available for testing with non-production versions of your apps. This post describes how the toolchain works, how to configure it, and how to let us know of your feature requests and any bugs you find.

Google releases Android Wear ‘5.0’

Google today has announced a major update to Android Wear, bringing some long-awaited official functionality to its smartwatches - and a host of new features to go along with them.

There's a lot going on here, folks, and updates will arrive in their usual staggered fashion. The big strokes are official support for third-party watch faces, a new Android Wear app, and software all around.

Can't wait for this update to hit my Moto 360. It's based on Android 5.0, so the update is more substantial than the mentioned new features alone.

Android Police recommends a tablet

Android Police, one of the two best Android-related news websites (together with AndroidCentral) put together a holiday gift guide. Which tablet do they recommend?

iPad Air 2 ($499-expensive). Yes, I am breaking the gift guide by putting this here. Why? Because as you'll notice, none of us recommended the Nexus 9 (edit: Cameron recommended it, but don't listen to him), because it's not exactly great. In fact, I'd argue no Android tablet is. The Shield Tablet is a lot of bang for your buck, but the screen kind of sucks and the battery life isn't spectacular (standby is bad in particular) and it's heavy, thick, and kinda ugly.

The Air 2 is reliable, predictable, and very fast. iOS still has some tablet experience apps lacking Android equivalents, too, and while Android tablets do have some advantages (like a better Gmail app BY FAR), the iPad remains a no-brainer for me. If it's my money being spent on a tablet, I'm going to buy the one I know is going to live up to a standard of quality - the iPad has been the gold standard in tablets since it was unveiled, and that hasn't changed. I don't see it changing any time soon, either.

And he's totally right, of course. Assuming you don't yet have a preference for Android and you're out looking for the best tablet, the iPad is the only real option. Better applications, better experience, better build quality, better performance, better battery life - the list is endless. Google's still got so much work to do on tablets.

There are decent Android tablets, but there are no great ones.

How to add a dedicated number row to the Android keyboard

Here's one of those things that's been around for a little bit, but well hidden. If you're a fan of the stock Google keyboard but would love to have a dedicated number row - particularly given the size of many of today's smartphones - you can do it. It's not just an Android 5.0 Lollipop feature, so you're able to do this on the Nexus 6 or LG G3 or HTC One or whatever.

You will, however, have to do a little digging in the keyboard settings.

One of those little tips that can really make your phone better.

AnandTech’s Nexus 6 review

Update: Ars Technica's comprehensive Lollipop review is a great companion to the Nexus 6 review.

Nexus 6 reviews are hitting the web all over the place, but as a general rule of thumb, the only one that matters comes from AnandTech. They conclude:

Overall, I think that Google and Motorola have built a solid device. It isn't without its issues, but there's a lot to like, even if you're someone who has never used a phablet before. I had always been somewhat of a skeptic regarding massive phones; I didn't understand the appeal. But after using one, I can see how having a massive display to view all your content can be really beneficial by enabling forms of productivity that simply can't be done comfortably on smaller devices, and by making activities like viewing photos and watching videos significantly more engrossing. Not only did it change my mind about the appeal of phablets, it also changed my mind about Google's ability to compete in the premium device segment of the market. The Nexus 6 holds its own against all the other high end devices that we've seen released this year, although the Galaxy Note 4 with its more phablet oriented software features and hardware advantages might be a better device overall. But those who want a large device and value having software support directly from Google won't be disappointed by the Nexus 6.

It's too big for my tastes - I prefer the 4.5"-5.0" mark - but even so, it's a little sad Google didn't try to make better use of the large display through software tricks. I had hoped that such a large Nexus phone, paired with the new Nexus 9, would finally urge Google to add proper multiwindow to Android (just copy Windows 8's Metro multiwindow. Microsoft got it right), but alas, they did not.

Google releases Android 5.0 Lollipop for Nexus devices

Rejoice! Google has started pushing the over-the-air updates to Android 5.0 Lollipop out to Nexus devices, so over the coming days you can expect an update notification on your phone or tablet. In case you don't want to wait, you can grab the system images straight from Google and update manually.

I just updated my Nexus 5 to Lollipop manually, and everything went okay. It's smooth, and the new Material Design is a breath of fresh air. Not much to report after an hour, of course, but it does feel like an entirely new phone.

David Pogue’s Android Lollipop Review

Lollipop is out, though, of course, the only way to get it now is to buy a new device that supports it. And, according to Pogue, disappointment for people who like upgrading their OSes is only one of the ways that the new Android disappoints. It's flat. Perhaps too flat, and guilty of a myriad of user experience sins. But it's also chock full of new, improved, and useful features, many of which were cribbed from inspired by other platforms, like battery saver, do not disturb, new unlocking, phone to phone transfer, user accounts.

Ars talks to Android execs about the upcoming OS

In just a few weeks, Google will be pushing out one of its largest Android releases ever: Android 5.0, Lollipop. The update changes nearly every aspect of the OS - a new design for every app, a new runtime, lots of new features, and a focus on battery life. The company is also launching a pair of new Nexus flagships, the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 aiming for a more premium market, and the first Android TV device, the Nexus Player. Together with the release of Google Inbox and a new Wear update, we're in the middle of a very busy few weeks.

Google unveils Android Lollipop, Nexus 6, 9, Player

Time for happy news! Google has just released Android 5.0 Lollipop, and to accompany the release of their latest treat, they're also unveiling not one, but three new Nexus devices.

Let's start with Android Lollipop. Since its features have been unveiled months ago, there's little news to tell you that you don't already know. The biggest visible change is Material Design, the brand new design and behaviour language that spans all of Android's screens - from watch to car. Notifications have been significantly overhauled, and Lollipop will give you more control over what you see and when. There's also a lot of work done on battery usage, and Google promises you should get 90 minutes more battery life with the battery saver feature.

As fa as security goes, and as we touched upon recently, all new devices will come with encryption turned on by default, making it harder for third parties to see what's on your device if it get stolen or impounded. Lollipop will also be the first Android release to swap out Dalvik in favour of ART, and it brings support for 64bit.

Google will release a new Developer Preview for Android Lollipop this Friday, which, looking at its label, still isn't complete. Of course, this build is for Nexus devices only.

The Nexus devices, too, have been leaked extensively. There's the Motorola-made Nexus 6, with its huge 6" 2560x1440 display, Snapdragon 805 processor, and a 13 MP camera with OIS. It basically looks like a larger Moto X - not exactly my thing (way too large), and the price is decidedly non-Nexus too: $649. It'll be available on contract, too. Luckily, the Nexus 5 remains available as well. Pre-orders will open late October.

The second new Nexus is the Nexus 9, built by HTC. As the name suggests, it's got a 9" 2048x1536 with a 4:3 aspect ratio. The processor is interesting: NVIDIA Tegra K1 64-bit dual-core processor at 2.3 GHz, making this the first 64bit Nexus device. It's a lot cheaper than the Nexus 6 at a mere $399, and it will also be available for pre-order 17 October (in stores on 3 November).

Lastly, there's the odd one out: the Nexus Player. It's a box (well, circle) for your TV, much like the Apple TV. It's actually got an Intel Atom processor inside, making it the first x86 Nexus device. It's got all the usual TV stuff, and Google is selling a dedicated gaming controller separately. It'll also be available for pre-order on 17 October, for $99.

I can't wait to update my Nexus 5 to Lollipop, but I'm a little unsure about the Nexus 6. It's huge and expensive (in Nexus terms), and I just don't like the Motorola design (but that's moot).

Android L to bring multi-account support to phones

Earlier today, someone decided to post to the Android issue tracker complaining about the lack of multiuser support for smartphones. Within a few hours, a developer at Google responded and closed the issue, remarking that "the development team has implemented this feature and it will be available as a part of the next public build." Sounds pretty definitive to us.

On tablets, the use case for multiple accounts (of course, Android has always been multiuser) is clear. The device is often shared among family members, so each user having her or his own account is very useful. For smartphones, though, this feature seems more for business use cases than for home user, where most people will have their own phone.

Pretty sure business users are going to love this: one device, two accounts. One for work, one for play.

Another day, another sensationalist, unfounded security story

Dan Goodin, at Ars Technica, is writing about a security flaw in Android. It's got all the usual scary-scary language about doom and gloom, quotes from antivirus peddlers, and it wasn't long until sensationalist Apple site AppleInsider took it all one step further (relevant). So, is this a real security threat, or are we looking at sensationalism run amok?

This is the issue in a nutshell.

The Fake ID vulnerability stems from the failure of Android to verify the validity of cryptographic certificates that accompany each app installed on a device. The OS relies on the credentials when allocating special privileges that allow a handful of apps to bypass Android sandboxing. Under normal conditions, the sandbox prevents programs from accessing data belonging to other apps or to sensitive parts of the OS. Select apps, however, are permitted to break out of the sandbox. Adobe Flash in all but version 4.4, for instance, is permitted to act as a plugin for any other app installed on the phone, presumably to allow it to add animation and graphics support. Similarly, Google Wallet is permitted to access Near Field Communication hardware that processes payment information.

Sounds serious! Should you be worried? Is it time to stock up on canned beans and switch to a Nokia 3310? Of course, it's always time to switch to a Nokia 3310, but not really because of this "issue". Buried deep within the Ars Technica article is Google's response to the issue.

After receiving word of this vulnerability, we quickly issued a patch that was distributed to Android partners, as well as to AOSP. Google Play and Verify Apps have also been enhanced to protect users from this issue. At this time, we have scanned all applications submitted to Google Play as well as those Google has reviewed from outside of Google Play, and we have seen no evidence of attempted exploitation of this vulnerability.

First, a patch been sent to OEMs and AOSP, but with Android's abysmal update situation, this is a moot point. The crux, however, lies with Google Play and Verify Apps. These have already been updated to detect this issue, and prevent applications that try to abuse this flaw from being installed. This means two things.

First, that there are no applications in Google Play that exploit this issue. If you stick to Google Play, you're safe from this issue, period. No ifs and buts. Second, even if you install applications from outside of Google Play, you are still safe from this issue. Verify Apps is part of Play Services, and runs on every Android device from 2.3 and up. It scans every application at install and continuously during use for suspect behaviour. In this case, an application that tries to exploit this flaw will simply be blocked from installing or running.

As a sidenote, you can actually disable Verify Apps, but unlike what some people seem to think, the dialog you get about sending data to Google when trying to sideload an application has nothing to do with this (that dialog just covers sending data about the application to Google, which is not required for Verify Apps to work). To actually completely disable Verify Apps, you need to go into the Google Settings application (or the Android settings application in 4.2 and up), navigate to Security, and disable it from there.

To get back to the matter at hand: this means that every Android user with Google Play Services is 100% protected from this issue. The only way an Android user can potentially be affected by this issue is if she, one specifically allows installation from unknown sources, and two, specifically disables Verify Apps - all accompanied by several warnings. Luckily, not a single application in or outside of Google Play is currently trying to exploit this issue.

While one can expect sensationalist nonsense from a site like AppleInsider - you don't blame TMZ for reporting on a fart by Miley Cyrus; you don't blame AppleInsider for spreading sensationalist nonsense - I'm very disappointed that a respected site like Ars Technica resorts to spreading this kind of fear, uncertainty, and doubt, especially since this isn't the first time the site has done so.

Recently, it has become very clear that the security industry - antivirus peddlers and similar companies - have focussed all their attention on Android, resorting to all sorts of dirty tactics to scare unsuspecting users into buying their useless software. Since I can't stress this often enough: do not install antivirus on Android (or iOS, for that matter). It is not needed in any way, shape, or form.

This is not the first time they have tried to spread and exploit fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Back when Windows started properly shoring up its security, Microsoft released MSE, and the mass infections of the early XP days became a thing of the past, they tried to use the exact same tactics to try and scare the rapidly growing number of OS X users into buying their junk.

I advocated against this practice then (more here), and I will advocate against it now. When you come across stories like this, you can almost always assume it's FUD, whether it covers Android, OS X, or iOS. They almost always originate from antivirus peddlers, who know full well that operating system security - on both desktop and mobile - has increased so much these past decade or so that their core business model is at stake, and as such, they have to drum up the FUD. I just wish respected websites would not dance to their tunes for clicks.

And yes, you should totally get a 3310.

Nokia X Software Platform 1.2 update released

Nokia has released the first major software update for the Nokia X series of devices.

Key features of the update include:

  • Enjoy improved ease of use with the new app switcher - switch easily between open apps, or close apps with a single tap.
  • Instant access to your mail, calendar, and notes with Outlook.com and OneNote.
  • Updated Nokia Store - new design to help you find content more easily, and better integration with third-party stores.
  • New scrollable widgets, call reject with a message, contact search in the dialler, automatic uploading to OneDrive, and local calendar support.
  • General performance and usability improvements.

Could very well be the last.

Trend Micro caught lying about Android security

Antivirus peddler Trend Micro recently issued a "report", in which it states that "Google Play populated with fake apps, with more than half carrying malware". Sounds scary, right?

Well, reality is a little different, as TechRepulic and Android Police found out.

It turns out that Trend Micro is guilty of a little over-eager language that obfuscated the nature of some of these threats. While there are indeed fake versions of many popular Android apps available for download, Trend failed to mention in their initial promotion for the report that the apps in question were posted outside the Play Store, and had to be installed manually in what's commonly known as a side-load. This requires users to download the app in a browser, ignore a standard security warning about APK files, and disable a security option in Android's main settings menu.

As I've been saying for years and years now, antivirus peddlers are the scum of the technology industry. These people actively lie and spread FUD about popular platforms just to scare people into buying their crappy, bloated, unnecessary software. They tried these scummy scare tactics for OS X, iOS, and recently it's been Android's turn. Of course, it doesn't help that people like Tim Cook actively join in on the lying and FUD.

You can spot the FUD from miles away. It usually contains something like "99% of all mobile malware targets Android", which may technically be true, but is actually entirely meaningless without the figure that actually matters: infection rates to determine just how successful this malware actually is. The actual infection rate figures make it very clear that they are, in fact, not successful at all. Another dead giveaway that you're dealing with antivirus FUD is " is insecure. Buy our software to make it secure".

Android is just as secure as iOS. The figures are out there for all to see. Any time you see articles about reports regarding Android's security, you can be 100% sure it's coming from antivirus peddlers, meaning the figures will be contorted, false, manipulated, or just downright made up. These people are not to be trusted. If you still haven't learned that lesson, you are either stupid, or you have an agenda to push.

The Android screen fragmentation myth

Android's various screen sizes - how big of a problem is it, really, for developers? Not a big one, according to iOS and Android developer Russell Ivanovic:

The answer tends to surprise pretty much everyone: It's not that hard, and honestly causes us less headaches than most people imagine. Firstly, the tools Google give us to lay out interfaces have supported this from day one. You've been able to define one or more layouts that scale to various sizes, and if you want to get everything perfect, you can have as many of these layouts as you like, while still keeping the one codebase. The layouts are XML, and don't live in your code. If you're an iOS developer they are pretty much the equivalent of XIB files with size classes like iOS 8. The other part people don't realise is that Android has standardised on screen resolutions for a long time now.

I've long since accepted that certain complaints and issues are mostly only perpetuated by people with an agenda, even long after the actual problems are solved or no longer relevant. There's Windows and security, Apple and pricing, Android and security - you name it. In order to get a real finger on the true extent of these problems, you have to cut out the official bloggers and party parrots.

Windows has been secure for almost a decade now. Apple's devices and PCs are not expensive. Android has never been insecure. These are all cases of 'fear, uncertainty, and doubt' perpetuated and/or made excessively worse than they really are by people of questionable nature.

Android in 2015: Bringing ‘pure Google’ to every screen

This year's Google I/O developer conference was a massively Android-centric affair. The OS dominated the two-and-a-half-hour keynote presentation, which saw a new platform version - Android "L" - previewed to developers, alongside new form factors in Android Wear, Android Auto and Android TV.

It really does seem as if Android is 'winning' inside Google. Android on phones, TVs, cars, and watches - the only exception here is laptops, but even those are getting sort-of Android because Android application will run on Chrome OS. You have to wonder how long it'll take for Chrome OS itself to more or less turn into Android.

The second interesting point that became very clear during Google I/O is that the company is taking control away from OEMs. OEMs cannot alter Android TV and Android Wear's user experience, and that's a huge customer win. The downside here is that there's a very real possibility that these platforms won't become part of AOSP, ruling out things like CyanogenMod TV or OmniROM Wear.

Third, while it's clear that Google is trying to exert more control of phone/tablet Android too, it's still not clear how far they're willing to go. There was nothing on 'Android Silver', and the fact that the company confirmed that the Nexus programme will not go away means they still see a need for OEM-less Android - which would not be necessary if Google managed to get the same kind of control over phones/tablets as it will have over TV/Wear.