Android Go could help make Android O a runaway success

Chris Velazco, Engadget, 5/20/17

Android O might not seem like the most thrilling software update at first, but it just might be one of the most important. Google has been on a quest to capture and delight billions of new Android users for years with various initiatives. So far, scaling hasn’t been a problem — there are now 2 billion monthly active devices, and with Android Go, Google’s hell-bent on picking up even more in developing and underserved markets.

When phone makers install O on their low-end devices, they don’t just get optimizations to make everything run better. They also get a different set of stock Google apps and a version of the Play Store that highlights apps designed for these limited devices. To be clear, Go — or whatever it winds up being called — isn’t actually a separate version of Android, but a special configuration of Android O meant for low-end devices. And the most fascinating part? It’s just tucked away in the regular O update, invisible to anyone whose phone has more than 1GB of RAM.

“‘Go’ is sort of a focus on the lower hardware specs and mak[ing] sure Android works really well on it,” Android engineering VP Dave Burke told Engadget. While O promises to pack performance and battery enhancements, its Android Go side might help it expand in ways earlier versions couldn’t.

Just look at the stats. Android 7.0 and 7.1 are collectively running on only 7 percent of devices worldwide. Last year’s Marshmallow accounts for 31.2 percent of Android devices out there, and Lollipop is just about even with that. Meanwhile, Android 4.4 KitKat is still very widely used: meaning nearly 19 percent of Android devices are running software from more than three years ago. Needless to say, there’s a wide variety in the experiences available to the world’s Android users.

That’s partially due to how new phones are produced. When companies like Qualcomm or Mediatek cook up a new chipset, the next step involves figuring out which version of Android they can run and tuning it for compatibility. When these companies want to go after entry-level users, Android Go VP of product management Sameer Samat told Engadget that they often dig into the past for versions of Android that would run well without much horsepower. Sometimes, that means a new phone, fresh off the assembly line in 2017, will run Android 4.4 KitKat. Google’s work with Android O, however, could change that.

“What we’ve been doing is working with some of our SoC partners very early with O to get it brought up on entry-level chipsets,” Samat said. In other words, Google is working with chipset makers to make sure they’re aware that Go makes brand-new Android available on even modest hardware, removing the need for those companies to scrounge around for the latest version of Android that would run well.

Google

And when it comes to keeping those devices up-to-date, Project Treble is here to help. At its core, Treble keeps the Android framework separate from the software chipset-makers create to ensure compatibility and device performance. The wall between the two means Android can be updated without chip makers necessarily redoing all of their custom work. Long story short, this should make for easier, more frequent software updates. Between Google’s focus on getting Android O and Go running on phones of all performance levels and Treble’s ability to make sure updates can happen faster than ever, we might see the O experience spread like wildfire. The obvious upside is that people around the world, from very different economic and technical circumstances, could share in O’s modern software foundation.

To be clear, I’m just extrapolating — Samat definitively said that Android O wasn’t designed to “solve fragmentation.” Even so, this is very good news for anyone who buys an entry-level phone in the near future. What’s still unclear is what happens to people out there who already have devices that fit the Go criteria.

On one hand, Google seems unconcerned about the problem. Samat pointed out that many devices that fit the Go spec are running much older versions of Android, so they wouldn’t necessarily get new updates anyway. “That is not something we’ve historically focused on,” he added. “We’re focused on moving this forward.”

Even so, there are devices — like the newly announced Moto C — that only have 1GB of RAM and run Android 7.0. What happens if that device, or one like it, gets an Android O update? Will it get the Go experience or not? Samat says Google is currently in discussions with device makers, but nothing has been locked down yet. The issue is that Android Go has multiple parts, like that specially modified suite of Google apps. And therein lies the rub.

“The problem is that once you have a phone with updates, we can’t just change the apps on you,” Burke told us. “If you were to buy a new phone that was Android Go, you’d have a different set of Google apps.”

Samat and Burke left the upgrade question on an uncertain note, but their willingness to point at ongoing conversations with device makers offers some hope that upgrades to Go-flavored Android O are possible. If nothing else, though, Samat said Google is “likely to make the Google apps that receive the Go treatment available to download” even if you don’t have an entry-level phone.

It’s still early days for Android O and Go, so it’s no surprise that many questions are still unanswered. While it may lack the whiz-bang features that get tech pundits drooling, Android O has the potential to be a more impactful success than any of its recent predecessors.

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Posted on May 20, 2017 at 8:20 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Android, Mobile Technology

Android Device Manager has a new name: Find My Device

Richard Lawler, Engadget, 5/20/17

Part of the Google Play Protect rollout is a new name for an old feature.

Since Google introduced Android Device Manager in 2013 it has updated the feature periodically, but the latest change gives it a new name — Find My Device — and a few new features. It’s now a part of the Google Play Protect service mentioned earlier during I/O, and most Android owners should see an update for it on their devices. The standard features (similar to iOS’ Find My iPhone) are still intact with the ability to locate, ring, lock down or wipe your hardware remotely — you can even Google Search “Find My Phone” to use it — while it has added information about the current battery level and WiFi network connection.

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Posted on May 20, 2017 at 8:14 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Android, iOS, Mobile Technology · Tagged with: 

Android O is supposed to make Android updates arrive faster

Google is once again trying to solve the problem of slow Android updates, and this time, the company says it has a solution that’ll make it “easier, faster, and less costly for manufacturers” to update their phones to new versions of Android.

The answer is a feature inside of Android O called “Project Treble,” which is supposed to let manufacturers update their phones without having to make a ton of software changes first.

Google has essentially split apart its own work on Android from the work that its hardware partners do on Android to make sure it works with their latest chips. If Treble works like Google says it does, companies like Samsung and Motorola will be able to issue Android updates without waiting for a chip partner, like Qualcomm, to first send along software updates.

Project Treble explanation

It’s not clear if this removes all hurdles or if manufacturers will still have to update Android’s code to make sure that features specific to their phone are working. But it certainly sounds like one of the most concrete things Google has done to address the problem of Android fragmentation.

While the fragmentation situation has gotten better over time, it certainly hasn’t gone away: the latest version of Android, Nougat, has been out for more than eight months and is still on only 7 percent of Android phones. Android Jelly Bean, which was succeeded almost four years ago, is on more devices than that.

Project Treble explanation

Google has tried to speed up Android updates in the past without much luck, so this is still very much something we have to wait and see on. And perhaps more importantly, there’s still one big hurdle: this feature arrives in Android O, and who knows when any existing phones will get updated to the new OS.

We’ll hear more about Treble at Google’s I/O conference next week. The company should be talking more about Android O there, too, though the operating system likely won’t see a full release until later in the year.

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Posted on May 17, 2017 at 9:44 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Android, Mobile Technology

Android malware spreads like wildfire: 350 new malicious apps every hour

The Next Web, 5/4/17

Better watch out what apps you opt to install on your Android device: It turns out malware-infested software for Google’s mobile operating system is multiplying at an alarming rate.

Security researchers from antivirus software firm G Data have discovered that more than 750,000 new malicious apps have sprung out during the first quarter of this year, with estimates the total number will grow up to a staggering 3.5 million by the end of 2017.

The report further warns the problem is particularly widespread among devices from third-party phonemakers where software updates that tend to receive software updates less frequently and sometimes with significant delays.

To give you some more context, G Data researchers also note that in comparison to this year, they were able to identify at least 3.2 and 2.3 million infected apps in 2016 and 2015 respectively.

According to their findings, G Data claims malware proliferates most significantly in Android Lollipop and Marshmallow, accounting for two-thirds of all infected apps.

Here is the full breakdown:

Given that almost nine out of 10 handsets worldwide run on Android, it is hardly surprising that attackers are targeting Google’s OS.

So in case you want to stay out of harm’s way: Make sure you update your phone to the latest version of Android regularly and download apps exclusively from the Play Store.

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Posted on May 4, 2017 at 9:54 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Android · Tagged with: 

Apple is upgrading millions of iOS devices to a new modern file system

Apple’s iOS 10.3 is rolling out today, with a new find my AirPods option and CarPlay improvements. Most of the features in iOS 10.3 aren’t major, but Apple is actually undertaking a pretty huge shift for all iPad and iPhone users today. Within iOS 10.3, Apple is moving supported devices to its new Apple File System (APFS). It’s a file system that was originally announced at WWDC last year, and it’s designed with the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Mac, and Apple TV in mind.

Apple has been using its 31-year-old Hierarchical File System (HFS) for iOS devices so far. It was originally designed for Macs with floppy or hard disks, and not for modern mobile devices with solid state storage. Even its successor, HFS+, still doesn’t address the needs of these mobile devices enough. Apple’s new APFS is designed to scale across these new types of devices and take advantage of flash or SSD storage. It’s also engineered with encryption as a primary feature, and even supports features like snapshots so restoring files on a Mac or even an iOS device might get a lot easier in the future.

As APFS is designed to be low latency, this should also improve read and write speeds on iOS or Mac devices. Apple demonstrated this during WWDC last year with a Mac, showing how APFS saved time on a simple file copy compared to HFS+. Most iPhone and iPad users won’t notice a difference after today’s iOS 10.3 update, but there could be a boost to storage levels for some. Beta testers of iOS 10.3 reported seeing more storage available after the update, primarily due to the way APFS calculates available data.

Other than a tiny boost to storage, it’s unlikely you’ll see any benefits from this new file system on an iPad or iPhone just yet. It will help lay some of the foundations for Apple to switch fully over to 64-bit apps only on iOS, something that many believe will happen with iOS 11. What you might notice when you install iOS 10.3 is that it takes longer to install. It shouldn’t be too much longer, but Apple is taking on a big task to carefully and silently update millions of iOS devices’ file systems so things will take a little longer than normal.

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Posted on April 3, 2017 at 8:22 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: iOS, Mobile Technology

Gmail for Android can send and receive payments as attachments

Mariella Moon, Engadget, 3/15/17

The Google Wallet integration used to be exclusive to Gmail for the web.

The Gmail app for Android has scored what used to be a web-only feature. It now has Google Wallet integration, so you can send and request money right within your emails. Say, you need to split the bill for a dinner — all you need to do is tap the attachment icon and click “Send money” to pay your friend. A Google Wallet pop up will ask you how much you want to send and will forward your payment as an attachment.

In case you’re typically the one receiving payments for group dinners, shared bills and the like, you can also tweak the feature’s settings to send the money straight to your bank account. The feature works even if your friends, roommates or co-workers don’t use Gmail, but only if you’re all in the US. Since it’s only available for users in the country and only on Android and the web, you’ll probably want to keep those other payment apps on your phone.

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Posted on March 15, 2017 at 9:31 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Android, Mobile Technology

Android devices coming with preinstalled malware

, ComputerWorld, 3/14/17

Android devices were infected with malware at some point after leaving the manufacturers, but before landing in the hands of companies’ employees.

The phone, given to you by your company, could be targeted at some point and end up with a malware infection, but you wouldn’t expect the malware to be pre-installed “somewhere along the supply chain.” Yet pre-installed malware is precisely what one security vendor found on 38 Android devices.

Check Point Software Technologies did not name the affected companies, saying only that the phones belonged to “a large telecommunications company” and “a multi-nation technology company.” A good chunk of the infected phones were Samsung models, but phones by Lenovo, LG, Asus, ZTE, Vivo, Oppo and Xiaomi were also preinstalled with malware after leaving the manufacturers but before landing in the hands of the companies’ employees.

Check Point explained that the malware was “already present on the devices even before the users received them. The malicious apps were not part of the official ROM supplied by the vendor, and were added somewhere along the supply chain. Six of the malware instances were added by a malicious actor to the device’s ROM using system privileges, meaning they couldn’t be removed by the user and the device had to be re-flashed.”

The infected Android devices were tainted with various types of malware, with most being info-stealers and malicious ad networks; Check Point called Loki the most notable malware. One device came preinstalled with the mobile ransomware Slocker which encrypts all the files on a phone, demands a ransom in exchange for the decryption key, and communicates with its C&C server via Tor.

The malware was not always found in the same app. Check Point included the full list of malware, SHA hashes and affected devices. The list originally included 38 Android devices, but Check Point removed Nexus 5 and Nexus 5X without giving a detailed explanation.

The 36 remaining malware-tainted devices included these models:

Even if users are careful by avoiding risky sites and install apps only from trusted sources like the Play Store, Check Point said that is not enough to guarantee their security. “Pre-installed malware compromise the security even of the most careful users. In addition, a user who receives a device already containing malware will not be able to notice any change in the device’s activity which often occur once a malware is installed.”

Hopefully you do use a malware scanner on your mobile devices. Keep in mind that not all mobile security apps are created equal.

 

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Posted on March 14, 2017 at 9:04 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Android, Mobile Technology · Tagged with: 

Google says to “count on” a second-generation Pixel smartphone this year

, Tech Crunch, 3/3/17

Google’s Pixel smartphone this year was a significant reset for the company’s mobile hardware strategy – and one that earned a lot of praise from customers and critics. Good news for those who liked it: Pixel’s successor will arrive sometime in 2017, as confirmed by Google SVP of Hardware Rick Osterloh to Android Pit at MWC this year.

It sounds like the Pixel 2 will continue the tradition of the original – Osterloh said it’ll remain “premium” in its next iteration, and he added that the company isn’t interested in offering a low-cost version, preferring instead to let that segment be addressed by its external hardware partners.

While it was to be expected that Google would put out a smartphone this year, since the annual release cycle for hardware is hardly new, Osterloh’s confirmation tells us a few things about the company’s strategy that weren’t previously totally pinned down. First, we know Google’s staying the course with the new strategy it set out with Pixel, whereby it aims to compete more directly with the iPhone. Second, we know it’s not going to split its focus by simultaneously going after mid- and low-market opportunities at the same time.

This bodes well for Google’s smartphone strategy. The first Pixel is still the best Android smartphone available, in my opinion, and it’s good to see Google continuing along that path.

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Posted on March 3, 2017 at 8:57 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Mobile Technology

AT&T tweaks its unlimited data plans to offer tethering

Daniel Cooper, Engadget, 3/3/17

10GB per line, plus incentives for you to get DirecTV.

Remember when AT&T announced that it would once again offer unlimited data packages, and they were a little underwhelming? Sensing its error, the company has taken the opportunity to roll out a tweaked plan to ease the pain of your wallet. AT&T Unlimited Plus offers unlimited calls, texts and 22GB of high speed data before you hit the throttling wall for $90 a month. Even better, the plan now offers 10GB tethering data per line — something that was omitted from the prior set of plans.

AT&T’s also keen on tying folks in to both its mobile and TV packages, with juicy incentives for those who pay for both. Subscribers to Unlimited Plus will get a $25 monthly credit towards their DirecTV, DirecTV Now or U-Verse TV packages. In addition, AT&T is proud to offer zero-rating for its video packages, so if you watch DirecTV Now on your mobile connection, it won’t count against your data.

Naturally, the pricing schedule is increasingly complicated the more lines you pay for, but you can get four lines for $185 a month. You can also add on other devices, like a tablet, wireless home phone or hotspot, for another $20 a month. For most people, the easy calculation is that you’ll get the main data plan and DirecTV now for $100 a month once you’ve taken credits and incentives into account.

The company is also rolling out an unlimited data plan without the extra bells and whistles, so long as you’re happy with capped speeds. AT&T Unlimited Choice will set you back $60 a month (for the first line) with the speed limited to 3Mbps and video held at 480p resolution. Both plans however, will allow you to roam into Canada and Mexico without incurring additional charges.

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Posted on March 3, 2017 at 8:55 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Mobile Technology · Tagged with: ,

Alcatel wants to be Android, but different – and another crack at the Windows market

Tim Anderson, The Register, 3/3/17

MWC Alcatel, a brand of Hong Kong-based TCL Communication, has announced the A5 LED at Mobile World Congress, which it claims is “the world’s first interactive LED-covered smartphone.”

Before you quip “and there’s a reason for that”, have some sympathy for the plight of Android vendors struggling to differentiate their brands.

Aimed at “energetic young consumers”, the 5.2″ A5 LED has an illuminated back panel which you can use for notifications, setting different patterns for each type of message, and for creating your own pulsating light show in time with music playback.

Powered by a MediaTek MT6753 8-core, 1.5GHz processor, and running Android 6.0 Marshmallow, the A5 LED will be available in May for around €199.

TCL has licensed the BlackBerry brand for mobiles aimed at the business market, but that has not stopped Alcatel from launching a new Windows 10 Mobile handset which also has business users in mind. The 5.5″ (1080×1920 pixels) Idol 4 Pro runs a Qualcomm quad-core Snapdragon 820 and supports Microsoft’s Continuum feature, where you can dock to an external keyboard and screen for a PC-like experience, albeit restricted to Universal Windows Apps.

The spec is reasonable, with 21MP rear camera and 8MP front, fingerprint reader, 4GB RAM, 64GB storage and MicroSD support. It will be available in Europe “by June”, according to Alcatel, and will cost around €599.

Continuum is a neat trick, but Windows 10 Mobile users have to live with a limited range of apps compared to iOS or Android. Windows 10 Mobile is not quite dead then; though we suspect it will be a hard sell.

If you want to run Windows on the go, you might be better off with the Idol Plus 12 2-in-1 tablet, promised for July at around €499. This 11.6″ device runs an Intel Celeron N3350 and has a detachable keyboard in which you can install a SIM to create a mobile hotspot.

We took a quick look at the Plus 12 at Alcatel’s press event and it feels like a decent effort though why you would not just use your phone for a mobile data is not clear. Another puzzle is that the Plus 12 comes with Windows 10 Home, whereas most business users run Pro or Enterprise editions.

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Posted on March 3, 2017 at 8:52 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Android, Blackberry, iOS, Mobile Technology, WinPhone