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.
Google is tackling version fragmentation with initiatives such as Project Treble, a major rearchitecting of Android resulting in a separation between the Android OS framework components and the vendor HAL components, extended Linux kernel LTS, mandatory security patch updates for 2 years, and Android Enterprise Recommended. At Google I/O 2019, the company announced its latest initiative to speed up security updates: Project Mainline for Android Q. A fairly detailed look at how this new initiative works. Sadly, as always, this only affects Android Q devices or devices that get updated to Android Q – the vast install base of earlier versions see no benefit at all.
With Android Q, we’ve focused on three themes: innovation, security and privacy, and digital wellbeing. We want to help you take advantage of the latest new technology — 5G, foldables, edge-to-edge screens, on-device AI, and more — while making sure users’ security, privacy, and wellbeing are always a top priority. This year, Android Q Beta 3 is available on 15 partner devices from 12 OEMs — that’s twice as many devices as last year! It’s all thanks to Project Treble and especially to our partners who are committed to accelerating updates to Android users globally — Huawei, Xiaomi, Nokia, Sony, Vivo, OPPO, OnePlus, ASUS, LGE, TECNO, Essential, and realme. Android Q doesn’t seem like a massive release, but I do like the growing number of Treble-enabled devices that can install this new beta.
With the introduction of Tiles, it will be possible to pick from an assortment of new screens that appear in a swipeable carousel from the watch face. Tiles can be arranged in whatever order you like, but the current list is fairly short, adding up to just six. I’m not entirely sure what Google’s future plans for Wear OS are. I wear a Wear OS smartwatch every day, but it’s an older model with limited performance – I’d love to get something newer, but there simply aren’t any. Most of them still use Qualcomm’s terrible 2100 SoC, and while some do use the newer 3100 SoC, it’s barely a step up and simply not worth the price of admission. Google’s Wear OS is held hostage by a disinterested Qualcomm, which in turn means Google isn’t really doing a whole lot to advance the platform either. Either Qualcomm gets off its butt, or Google develops its own SoC. If not, Wear OS will continue to languish.
Following the changes we made to comply with the European Commission’s ruling last year, we’ll start presenting new screens to Android users in Europe with an option to download search apps and browsers. These new screens will be displayed the first time a user opens Google Play after receiving an upcoming update. Two screens will surface: one for search apps and another for browsers, each containing a total of five apps, including any that are already installed. Apps that are not already installed on the device will be included based on their popularity and shown in a random order. This all seems very similar to the browser choice window Microsoft displayed in Windows for a while. It will be available to both new and existing Android users within the EU.
There’s a new(ish) smartphone operating system aimed at folks who want to be able to run Android apps, but want additional security and privacy features. It’s called GrapheneOS, and it comes from Daniel Micay, the former lead developer of another security-based Android fork called CopperheadOS. After the founders of Copperhead had a falling out last year, Micay turned his attention to the Android Hardening Project, which he recently renamed GrapheneOS to better reflect what the project has become. Official images are currently available for Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 3, but source code is available if you’re interested in installing it on another device with an unlocked bootloader.
It’s now possible to run Android applications in the same graphical environment as regular Wayland Linux applications with full 3D acceleration. Running Android has some advantages compared to native Linux applications, for example with regard to the availability of applications and application developers. For current non-Android systems, this work enables a path forward to running Android applications in the same graphical environment as traditional non-Android applications are run. Running Android applications safely – as in, containerised, like this approach achieves – inside a regular Linux distribution seems like such an obvious feature. I would love to run a proper Twitter client and the YouTube application on my Linux desktop.
Google just dropped the second Android Q beta for all three generations of Google Pixel smartphones, but they also released system images that will allow for any Project Treble-compatible smartphone to flash Android Q! Yes, Google has finally released generic system images (GSIs) of the latest Android version. That means non-Pixel smartphones can test the latest Android version, too. Finally a benefit of Treble is showing up. A small benefit though, because these GSIs only work for devices that launched with Android 9 Pie.
Google’s Android security team has published its yearly report on the state of Android security, and it’s filled with detailed information. The broadest statistic for measuring device hygiene is how frequently a full-device scan detects Potentially Harmful Applications (PHAs). Google Play Protect, Android’s built-in defense mechanism, is incredibly effective at keeping PHAs out of Google Play, but malicious apps can still be downloaded from other sources. These apps endanger not only the device but also threaten the sanctity of the Android environment. This is why Google Play Protect scans all apps installed on a device regardless of the source. In 2018 only 0.08% of devices that used Google Play exclusively for app downloads were affected by PHAs. In contrast, devices that installed apps from outside of Google Play were affected by PHAs eight times more often.Compared to the previous year, even those devices saw a 15% reduction in malware due to the vigilance of Google Play Protect. Over the years, I’ve come to accept that tech media is easily fooled by security stories – in the olden days, when the desktop reigned supreme, it was baseless story after baseless story about macOS and security (usually sponsored and/or pushed by antivirus peddlers), and now that mobile reigns supreme, they aim their FUD at iOS and Android. Don’t fall for it. With normal use, iOS and Android are incredibly safe operating systems to use.
After the Commission’s July 2018 decision, we changed the licensing model for the Google apps we build for use on Android phones, creating new, separate licenses for Google Play, the Google Chrome browser, and for Google Search. In doing so, we maintained the freedom for phone makers to install any alternative app alongside a Google app. Now we’ll also do more to ensure that Android phone owners know about the wide choice of browsers and search engines available to download to their phones. This will involve asking users of existing and new Android devices in Europe which browser and search apps they would like to use. Low effort initiative that will only serve to annoy users. I don’t think this addresses the core issue of the power large megacorporations have, but what do I know.
If you’re setting an app to be your default browser or email client, you probably trust it with your data. However, you still have to manually grant it permission for everything. Starting with Android Q, apps set as defaults will be automatically granted permissions based on what they are the default for. Android Q introduces a new function called ‘Roles’, which “allows the OS to grant apps elevated access to system functions based on well-understood use cases”. I’m not entirely sure this is a great idea. I can easily see scammers trying to trick people into setting a malware app as default, granting it easier access to their device.
Today we’re releasing Beta 1 of Android Q for early adopters and a preview SDK for developers. You can get started with Beta 1 today by enrolling any Pixel device (including the original Pixel and Pixel XL, which we’ve extended support for by popular demand!). Please let us know what you think! Read on for a taste of what’s in Android Q, and we’ll see you at Google I/O in May when we’ll have even more to share. The first beta for Android Q includes a ton of privacy improvements, support for foldable devices, a new share sheet that isn’t slow as molasses, improvements to ART, and much more.