Android Archive

Google details how it will comply with the EC’s Android ruling

Google has detailed its response to the EU Android antitrust ruling, and going forward, Google's going to change quite a few things about how it distributes Android in the European Union.

First, we're updating the compatibility agreements with mobile device makers that set out how Android is used to develop smartphones and tablets. Going forward, Android partners wishing to distribute Google apps may also build non-compatible, or forked, smartphones and tablets for the European Economic Area (EEA).

Second, device manufacturers will be able to license the Google mobile application suite separately from the Google Search App or the Chrome browser. Since the pre-installation of Google Search and Chrome together with our other apps helped us fund the development and free distribution of Android, we will introduce a new paid licensing agreement for smartphones and tablets shipped into the EEA. Android will remain free and open source.

Third, we will offer separate licenses to the Google Search app and to Chrome.

While I doubt we'll see a sudden increase in competing platforms, these changes do make it possible for device makers to offer devices that are less tied to Google alongside their regular Google Android devices. I can imagine OEMs offering devices that run Microsoft's growing suite of Android applications, which would be a good thing for competition.

The Pixel 3 uses Samsung’s super-fast F2FS file system

All the way back in 2012, Samsung created a new file system purpose-built for flash-based storage, called 'F2FS'. It's typically faster on smartphones than the ext4 file system that most Android devices use, but it has suffered from reliability issues over the years. Google apparently thinks it's ready for prime-time though, as the Pixel 3 and 3 XL both use F2FS for local storage.

The technical details of F2FS are a bit complicated - some of the features include multi-head logging, TRIM/FITRIM support, and an adaptive logging scheme. The main advantage compared to ext4 is improved performance, specifically with random write speeds. It's also less prone to slowing down when limited free storage space is available.

The Pixel 3 isn't the first Android phone to use F2FS, as evidenced by its website.

Google Call Screen: a robot that will answer spam calls

Not everything got leaked before Google's event today. One surprise announcement that wowed was Call Screen, a new feature that lets the Google Assistant answer your incoming calls and politely ask what the caller wants. A real-time transcript will appear on your screen, allowing you to decide whether or not you want to pick up.

When your Pixel rings, a "Screen call" button shows up alongside the usual controls. Tapping it will prompt the Google Assistant to tell your caller that the call is being screened and ask what it's about. Their explanation is transcribed on your screen, and you have options to mark the call as spam or tell the caller you'll get back to them, among others.

This is an amazing feature that will save a lot of people a lot of frustration. I want this feature on my phone now.

On a related note, Google Duplex, the feature whereby the Google Assistant will call restaurants and such on your behalf, will be rolled out to Pixel phones next month.

Review: Wear OS 2.0 can’t fix its obsolete watch hardware

Google's major Wear OS revamp is out today, and soon it will arrive on most devices released in the past year and a half (although Ars has already spent a week with a pre-release version of the OS). In the face of relentless competition from the Apple Watch Series 4 and Samsung Galaxy Watch, Google's most obvious change in the new Wear OS is a new UI for most of the main screens. There's not much in the way of new functionality or features, but everything is laid out better.

Seems like a very welcome update to a struggling platform.

Leaving Apple and Google: /e/ first beta is here

Less than a year ago, I posted a serie of articles "Leaving Apple & Google..." to announce that I was planning to create a smartphone OS. A new OS that would:

  • be free from Google (no Google services, no Google search, no Google Play store, etc.)
  • be far more respectful of user’s data privacy
  • be attractive enough so that Mom and Dad, children and friends would enjoy using it even if they aren't technophiles or geeks

Today we release a first beta of what we have done so far to make the initial vision a reality.

It's basically LineageOS with a number of additional tweaks and changes, but if it can become a fully-featured Google-free Android, that's always welcome.

Android 9 Pie, thoroughly reviewed

Android 9 Pie brings Google's updated Material Design spec (don't call it "Material Design 2") to Android OS, and it begins a wave of UI updates that will spread across Google's entire portfolio. In Android, that means revamped interfaces for the notification panel, Recent Apps, settings, and various bits of system UI. For future smartphone designs (like, say, the Pixel 3), Android 9 includes an experimental gesture navigation system and built-in notch support. There's also a new screenshot editor, lots of improvements for text selection, and changes to the way rotation works.

Under the hood, more changes have come, too, with AI-powered battery usage controls, new rules for Play Store developers, and changes to how apps get distributed.

The usual Android review by Ars. Always worth a read.

Qualcomm finally has a new chip for Android smartwatches

It's been two and a half years since Qualcomm last released a major new smartwatch chip, and in the time since, Android smartwatches have languished. But in the coming months, they could finally start seeing some meaningful improvements: Qualcomm is releasing a new processor for watches, called the Snapdragon Wear 3100, that's meant to extend battery life, enhance always-on displays, and offer more versatility when it comes to sports devices and fitness sensors.

Good news, since the Android Wear world had really died down. This new chip should breath some much-needed new life in the market. It also highlights the distinct and profound advantage Apple has in that it designs its own chips.

Note 5, S6 edge+ will not get monthly security updates

Samsung has now confirmed that the Galaxy Note 5 and the Galaxy S6 edge+ will no longer receive monthly security updates. It's not surprising as the Galaxy S6 has already dropped off the list of devices receiving monthly security updates earlier this year. The aforementioned devices will not be receiving security patches regularly every month going forward.

Those are €800-1000 computers released only 3 years ago, probably available in stores for years, maybe even now - and just like that, no more security updates. Why do we and our lawmakers just allow these companies to get away with this? It's high, high time we mandate a minimum lifespan for these expensive devices.

Google is revamping the Wear OS smartwatch user interface

If you have a newer Wear OS watch, sometime in the coming month, you'll get a software update that will change what happens when you swipe on your watchface. Alongside the new UI, Google is also adding a new feed of information from Google Assistant, faster access to Google Fit, and a more information-dense view of your notifications.

At least this means Wear OS isn't dead - which is good news, because it really felt like Google was sunsetting the whole project.

The first Android Fortnite Installer had a serious vulnerability

Google has just publicly disclosed that it discovered an extremely serious vulnerability in Epic's first Fortnite installer for Android that allowed any app on your phone to download and install anything in the background, including apps with full permissions granted, without the user's knowledge. Google's security team first disclosed the vulnerability privately to Epic Games on August 15, and has since released the information publicly following confirmation from Epic that the vulnerability was patched.

In short, this was exactly the kind of exploit that Android Central, and others, had feared would occur with this sort of installation system.

Everybody rang the alarm bells about Epic distributing its Fortnite game outside of the Play Store, asking users to enable installation from untrusted sources, and here we are - the warnings were justified. Incredible.

Don't install this garbage unless you know what you're doing. It's clear Epic cares more about its bottom line than its - often very young - players.

Palm PVG100 passes through regulators with Android 8.1 Oreo

Back in March, a trusted source revealed to us that a Palm-branded Android smartphone was slated to launch on Verizon in the second half of 2018. We haven't heard anything since then, but a Palm device with model name 'PVG100' has just rolled through both the FCC and Wi-Fi Alliance.

As is commonplace with these filings, much of the information and all photos are obscured at the request of the manufacturer. However, there's still a bit of information that can be gleaned. The FCC page is barren aside from the model name and some operating frequencies, but the Wi-Fi Alliance PDF reveals that the PVG100 will run Android 8.1 Oreo. Interestingly, the only frequency band listed is 2.4GHz, meaning that the PVG100 will not have 5GHz. Without 5GHz support, it's unlikely that this device will wind up being very upmarket.

These Palm phones will probably have little to nothing to do with the Palm I loved (the pre-webOS Palm, because webOS was terrible and not a proper Palm product).

Google releases Android 9 Pie

The latest release of Android is here! And it comes with a heaping helping of artificial intelligence baked in to make your phone smarter, simpler and more tailored to you. Today we’re officially introducing Android 9 Pie.

We’ve built Android 9 to learn from you - and work better for you - the more you use it. From predicting your next task so you can jump right into the action you want to take, to prioritizing battery power for the apps you use most, to helping you disconnect from your phone at the end of the day, Android 9 adapts to your life and the ways you like to use your phone.

The Android Developers blog has more information on Android 9's release. It's coming to Pixel phones starting today, and phones that participated in the Android 9 beta program will get Android 9 before the end of Autumn. For all other devices - the devices people actually buy, i.e., Samsung devices - you may get Android 9 within 12-18 months, or you may not get it al, but who really knows.

Android engineers talk battery life improvements in Android P

With the last version of the Android P Developer Preview released, we're quickly heading toward the final build of another major Android version. And for Android P - aka version 9.0 - battery life is a major focus. The Adaptive Battery feature will dole out background access to only the apps you use, a new auto brightness scheme has been devised, and the Android team has made changes to how background work runs on the CPU. All together, battery life should be batter (err, better) than ever.

To get a bit more detail about how all this works, we sat down with a pair of Android engineers: Benjamin Poiesz, group product manager for the Android Framework, and Tim Murray, a senior staff software engineer for Android. And over the course of our second fireside Android chat, we learned a bit more about Android P overall and some specific things about how Google goes about diagnosing and tracking battery life across the range of the OS' install base.

I like these technical interviews with Android developers. They provide great insight into the current goings-on of the operating system.

Nokia 6.1: best answer to “What Android phone should I buy?”

As someone who spends a lot of time with smartphones, I often get asked, "Hey Ron, what Android phone should I buy?" The high-end answer is usually easy: buy a Pixel phone. But not everyone is willing to shell out $650+ for a smartphone, especially the types of casual users that ask for advice. Beyond the flagship smartphones, things get more difficult within the Android ecosystem. Motorola under Google used to be great at building a non-flagship phone, but since the company was sold to Lenovo (which gutted the update program), it has been tough to find a decent phone that isn't super expensive.

Enter HMD's Nokia phones, an entire lineup of cheap smartphones ranging from $100 to $400. HMD recently launched the second generation of its lineup, with phones like the Nokia 2.1, 3.1, and 5.1. We recently spent time with the highest end phone in this series that happens to be one of the few HMD devices for sale in the US: the Nokia 6.1. And for $269, you get a pretty spectacular-sounding package of a Snapdragon 630, a 5.5-inch 1080p screen, stock Android 8.1, fast updates, and a metal body.

Nokia's Android phones seem well underway to become the default choice for people who want a good Android phone with fast updates at a decent price.

Google may have to make major changes to Android

The punishment from Margrethe Vestager, the European Union's competition chief, is expected to include a fine ranging into the billions of dollars, according to people familiar with her thinking, marking the second time in as many years that the region’s antitrust authorities have found that Google threatens corporate rivals and consumers.

At the heart of the E.U.'s looming decision are Google's policies that pressure smartphone and tablet manufacturers that use Google's Android operating system to pre-install the tech giant's own apps. In the E.U.'s eyes, device makers such as HTC and Samsung face an anti-competitive choice: Set Google Search as the default search service and offer Google's Chrome browser, or lose access to Android's popular app store. Lacking that portal, owners of Android smartphones or tablets can't easily download games or other apps - or services from Google’s competitors - offered by third-party developers.

Vestager has argued the arrangements ensure Google's continued dominance of the Internet ecosystem. As a result, her forthcoming ruling could prohibit Google from striking such app-installation deals with device makers, experts have said. Alternatively, the E.U. could force the company to give consumers an easier way to switch services, like search engines, on their phones or tablets.

If Google illegally pressured OEMs, then they ought to be punished. I'm not sure forcing changes to the default services and apps is the right way to go, though.

Android emulator: AMD processor and Hyper-V support

Making the Android Emulator faster is one of the top priorities for the Android Studio team. Over the last few releases, we have launched quick boot & emulator snapshots for quickly starting and resuming emulator sessions in under 2 seconds. Up until now, our emulator experience has almost universally worked on macOS and Linux computers. But for users of Microsoft Windows or the Microsoft Hyper-V platform, our hardware accelerated speed enhancements for the Android Emulator only worked with computers with Intel processors. Support for AMD processors and Microsoft Hyper-V hypervisor are two long-standing user requests from the Android developer community that we are happy to address with this Android Emulator update.

Welcome addition with the recent popularity of AMD Zen-based processors.

Nokia 2.1, 3.1, and 5.1: cheap phones with stock Android

From about a month ago:

HMD announced a new slate of Nokia phones Tuesday. To go along with the previously announced Nokia 6.1, we have the Nokia 5.1, Nokia 3.1, and Nokia 2.1. The highest-end phone here starts at $220, and the price goes down from there.

Every Nokia phone is worth paying attention to, because they are all part of Google's Android One program. This means they run stock Android and get monthly security updates. Nokia promises two years of major OS updates and three years of security updates for everything. It's really hard to find good, cheap smartphones, and with this lineup (depending on distribution), HMD seems to have the market locked up.

The 3.1 will be available in the US starting 2 July, and browsing around Dutch stores, it seems they'll make it to The Netherlands (and thus, I assume, the rest of Europe) in early July as well. These look like some incredibly solid, affordable, and properly update-friendly phones (because they run Android One). I might pick one of these up myself.

How Android engineers are winning the war on fragmentation

With the launch of Android 8.0 last year, Google released Project Treble into the world. Treble was one of Android's biggest engineering projects ever, modularizing the Android operating system away from the hardware and greatly reducing the amount of work needed to update a device. The goal here is nothing short of fixing Android's continual fragmentation problem, and now, six months later, it seems like the plan is actually working.

There are indeed some small signs of hope, but the reality is that as long as Samsung isn't on board, it's effectively all for naught. I find this article far too positive when you look at the reality of Android updates, but at least there's some progress.

Android Developers Blog: insider attack resistance

In the past, device makers have focused on safeguarding these keys by storing the keys in secure locations and severely restricting the number of people who have access to them. That's good, but it leaves those people open to attack by coercion or social engineering. That's risky for the employees personally, and we believe it creates too much risk for user data.

To mitigate these risks, Google Pixel 2 devices implement insider attack resistance in the tamper-resistant hardware security module that guards the encryption keys for user data. This helps prevent an attacker who manages to produce properly signed malicious firmware from installing it on the security module in a lost or stolen device without the user's cooperation. Specifically, it is not possible to upgrade the firmware that checks the user's password unless you present the correct user password. There is a way to "force" an upgrade, for example when a returned device is refurbished for resale, but forcing it wipes the secrets used to decrypt the user's data, effectively destroying it.