Android Isn’t Going Anywhere

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Android Isn’t Going Anywhere

There’s been a buzz going around this week that Android is dead.  Well dying actually, but everyone is claiming that Android’s reign is coming to an end and Google is moving forward.  If we take a few moments to look at the bigger picture then we’ll see Android has a long way to go before it’s no more.  The most popular operating system in the world is here to stay for a long time.

The Rumor:

The rumors pertain to the Made by Google 2018 keynote that just took place in New York City.  During this keynote the word “Android” was not said, and many have taken this as a subtle sign that Google is looking to replace the brand.  This coupled with the fact that “Android Messages” was recently renamed to “Messages” on the Play Store, and bloggers everywhere ate it up. 

Many believe that Chrome OS is set to take over Android’s claim as king since that was front and center at the keynote.  Google told a whole story about Chrome OS’s history and why it belongs on tablets. They also marketed it as a great alternative for your desktop instead of Windows and macOS.

Do the rumors stand?

While it may be true that we didn’t hear the word “Android” explicitly said, let’s not forget that there is still Android related tech coming out.  Android Auto is rolling out to a ton of new cars this year, Android Pie was released at the start of this fall, and Google just adopted Kotlin as a new official Android programming language.

Along with all these new developments we have the Google Pixel 3 and 3 XL that have just come out running Android Pie.  Sure they would have to run it since that’s the newest version to come out and it’s Google’s flagship phone.  But let’s remember that that’s the newest version to come out and it’s Google’s flagship phone.  People are discussing the death of Android less than a week after a new huge phone dropped running that same software.

Looking Forwards

Sure there are things in the works to improve the user’s experience like Fuschia, but that doesn’t mean that Android is on its way out.  The fact of the matter is Android is going nowhere.  An operating system that covers 75% of smartphones worldwide is too nested into Google’s overarching architecture to instantly remove, and there are too many new Android advancements coming out to argue that Google wants to remove it.

What do you think about the recent talk against Android?  Let us know your predictions in the comments below!

 

The Pixel 3 has been unveiled, and it looks sweet!

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The Pixel 3 has been unveiled, and it looks sweet!

We’ve talked about the Pixel 3 again and again here at RootJunky, and there have been far too many rumors and leaks about it over the past few months.  I’m happy to say that’s all come to a close.  Not because I don’t like writing about it, but because the Pixel 3 has officially been released. Earlier today Google unveiled the new phone, and the preorders have begun rolling in.

The Hype Recap:

Before we get in to what the Pixel 3 and 3XL actually are, let’s take a second to remember how much build up there was about these devices.  There were images leaked on the XDADeveloper forum showing a notched display with two cameras, as well as a glass back for wireless charging.  But hardware leaks aside, what was really interesting about this phone’s build up was the rumors about rumors.

After we’d all sat with the leaked images for a bit the news surfaces that Google was reaching out to popular YouTuber’s asking to use their clips bashing the leaked design.  The result of this was the people began thinking Google had intentionally leaked images so that they could use this footage in their grand reveal of a more impressive phone.  It was a conspiracy theory for sure, but not entirely unbelievable.

Fast-forward to October 9th’s Hardware:

Skipping to today the Pixel actually dropped, and it actually doesn’t look that different from the leaked images.  Despite what some YouTuber’s may have said I don’t think that’s a bad thing.  Starting at $799, the Pixel 3 sticks to the traditional design of a split material back allowing for wireless charging (thank goodness!).  The regular phone measures in at 5.5 inches and for $100 more the XL measures in at 6.3 inches.

Pixel phones have been notorious for having great cameras, and that trend isn’t stopping with the Pixel 3. It is however deciding to avoid the current trend of a dual rear camera.  With a total of 3 cameras, one can be found on the back and two on the front.  And guess what?  For the XL these cameras are nested in a notch.  This trend seems to be sticking around for a while, and even Google’s flagship device has embraced it.  The new cameras seek to take the crown and offer incredible zoom in as well as a wide range selfie mode.

Screening the Spammers:

Remember that ground breaking release from Google I/O earlier this year called Duplex?  It seemed unreal as the Google Assistant called a barber shop, had a conversation with the receptionist, and successfully booked an appointment for its user.
Well the Pixel 3 leverages this technology to make your call screening much more enjoyable.  Using Duplex, you’ll never have to answer the phone for a telemarketer again.

The Pixel 3 can answer itself and provide a real-time transcript to you of whatever the caller says. Duplex prompts them on the other side of the line asking them to identify themselves and let you know if the call is urgent, and as they talk you can see the text appear on your screen.
Then if you want to answer you can, or you can select from premade responses to keep the conversation going and get more details before deciding to pick up or not.  Google Assistant really is becoming a personal secretary.

I’m really excited for the Pixel 3 to be out and will be getting my hands on it as soon as I can. What are your thoughts on the new device?  Let us know in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Google Minus And Project Strobe

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Google Minus and Project Strobe

After 7 years of effort Google has decided that enough is enough for Google+.  The tech giant has admitted to failing its entrance into the social media marketplace. As both a business decision and safety concern they’ve decided to take Google+ off the web and focus on other things.

Project Strobe

Security has been at the forefront of everyone’s minds this year as privacy scandal after privacy scandal has surfaced.  Facebook’s Cambridge Analytics scandal made us hyper aware of how much data is exposed to third-parties.  In an attempt to combat privacy issues Google launched Project Strobe.  It’s a root-and-branch review of third-party developer access to Google accounts and Android devices.  Essentially it’s a research project to check up on how secure everyone’s information really is.

The findings: not the best.   Today Google announced four key findings from the project along with steps to remedy each.

1. There are significant challenges in creating and maintain a successful Google+ product that meets consumer’s expectations.

Google+ has a pretty serious bug in it that exposed user data to third-party applications that didn’t have proper access.  Google says that there is no evidence anyone else found this out before they did (hard to be sure).  But combining this with the lack of adoption among users and the end result has been to remove Google+ entirely.  I don’t think anyone is too upset at this move, and it’s probably for the best Google diverts its time towards new innovations.

2. People want fine-grained controls over the data they share with apps

When you download a new app that performs certain functions, it may need permission to do so.  Whether that’s accessing your camera to take a picture or seeing your contacts so that it can share a picture with others, apps can’t do these things until you let them.  This is a big plus for Android security, but unfortunately sometimes it’s not organized well enough.

There are some permissions that are grouped together when presented to a user, and this can potentially be a problem.  If you want an app to do one thing you shouldn’t have to grant it access to 3 permission, yet this is sometimes how things are organized.  Google has announced they’ll be launching more granular account permissions that will show individual dialog boxes for each.  Maybe a little more frustrating for relaxed users, but definitely a win for security.

3. When users grant apps access to their Gmail, they do so with certain user cases in mind

To correct the security issue of third-parties abusing contact information Google is limiting what kinds of apps are allowed to access Gmail data.  The only apps allowed will be those that are “directly enhancing email functionality”.  Basically, if there’s not real reason for your app to need to write an email, it’s banned.

4. When users grant SMS, Contacts and Phone permissions to Android apps they do so with certain use cases in mind.

3 and 4 are pretty similar to one another, but this other finding takes things past email and into the phone/contacts.  Google is limiting how many apps will be allowed to access this information.  In addition to this Contact interaction data will no longer be available vie the Android Contacts API.

The bottom line is that Google did a security sweep and decided a few things needed to change.  It seems that these changes are proactive which is always a good things, but if you’re one of the world’s Google+ user’s then I’m sorry you have to say goodbye.  For everyone else these changes should be nothing but good as security continues to improve.

What are your thoughts on Project Strobe?  Let us know in the comments below!

 

Hands Up For Hands Off Hardware

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Hands Up For Hands Off Hardware

Have you ever held your phone for so long that your hand start to cramp up?  Maybe I just have a problem and need to get off mine.  Regardless I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing that I could navigate at times without having to actually touch my screen.  Thanks to Google’s new app Voice Access this is becoming a reality.

What is Voice Access?

Plenty of people could benefit from using their devices while their busy doing other things.  Whether it’s cooking a meal or driving a car it’s nice to at least have the option.  Google’s Central Accessibility Team agrees with this and after years of research has release an app that lets users move to and fro in apps using just their voices.  We’ve had things like Google Assistant around for a while now, but this is taking things up a notch.

Voice Access has actually been in beta for a couple years, but non-stop development has finally made it ready for a production release.  Users are able to open and close apps, compose text messages, click buttons, watch videos (ok that one doesn’t really take touch in the first place).  Long story short there aren’t a lot of interactions that you can’t replicate using your voice.

So How Does It Work?

Voice Access offers users control of where they want to go by placing numbers on the screen near possible interactions.  Users can say what they want to click on and also issue commands such as “turn down the volume”, “turn off device”, or “scroll up”.    In other words, there are common sense interactions, and for everything else there are little paper clips floating around and if you say their name they’ll help you out.

Users can even modify their texts as they type them.  For instance if you wrote a text to a friend saying “Do you want to get dinner tonight?” but then changed your mind you could ask Voice Access to modify.  Simply say “replace ‘tonight’ with ‘tomorrow”, and the text would become “Do you want to get dinner tomorrow?” This kind of feature is particularly useful when you consider that the majority of people using hands free devices for interactions will be texting.

A larger market:

But it isn’t just for convenience’s sake.  In the United States alone millions of people have mobility impairments that could limit their hand function.  Voice Access offers people a chance to use phones to their full capacity when that capability might not otherwise have existed.  It will also be interesting to see how this develops as Fuchsia rises in popularity.  That alternative operating system is based around audio interactions so the two could certainly have some innovation in the years to come.

What do you think about hands free devices?  Have you thought of any other ways users could use their phones other than with voice commands?  Let us know in the comments below!

 

Microsoft Mirrors Apps sppA srorriM tfosorciM

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Microsoft Mirrors Apps sppA srorriM tfosorciM

You’re not alone if you’ve searched for Snapchat, Instagram, or a texting app on your computer.  We all want seamless experiences and being able to share information between our computers and phones helps make this happen.  Unfortunately, in the past this has been relatively hard to come by.  Some apps have been exclusively mobile, but that may be about to change thanks to Microsoft.

Mirror Mirror On The Screen:

The tech giant has just announced a new feature for Windows 10 that will let Android users view any app from their phone on a Windows desktop.  If you’re wanting to watch a video from a friend pulling it up on your computer will be a breeze.  And if you’re engaged in a rapid-fire text session then a full keyboard is at your disposal.  For some apps this won’t mean much, but for others it could completely change the experience.

The feature is being referred to by Microsoft as “app mirroring” (aptly named) and can be opened on your computer as an app called Your Phone.   The Windows YouTube channel features a video showing a user drag images from their phone gallery into a PowerPoint presentation.  After doing this they copy a sentence from a text message and paste in elsewhere on the screen.  The idea is to give as much interoperability between the two systems as possible.

Developer Impacts:

While I didn’t lie when I just said everything will be a breeze, I may have overemphasized Your Phone in its current state.  It will be a breeze, it’s just not ready for everything yet.  Microsoft says the feature will be available with the new Windows 10 October update starting with Android stock texting and photos apps.  It’s not clear what the future holds for when exactly all apps will be integrable.  Regardless, if you’re a developer you should be paying attention because this could be big for you.

Phone-to-computer transfers are another experience that a user can go through, and as such there are sure to be new advantages and features that come about with it.  People may just be thinking about taking what’s on an app right now and viewing in on a bigger screen, but here’s an opportunity to get really creative.  I won’t go into details as to what these opportunities could be simply because I haven’t thought of any (yet).  But it’s silly to not acknowledge that interoperability can open the door for new experiences and thus new markets to capture.

What are your thoughts on Microsoft mirroring?  Are there any apps in particular you’ve been wanting to use on your computer?  Let us know in the comments below!

Let Firebase Cover the Basics For You

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Let Firebase Cover the Basics For You

When it comes to writing code, the less you have to do the better.  You want control over how your applications behave, but if you can piggy back off of other developer’s work then that’s generally a good thing.  And if you’re hoping to be an app developer, then one of the best tools for piggy backing is Firebase.

Using others to your advantage:

If you think about it even developing the most basic app takes the work of countless others.  Someone else had to develop the programming language you’re writing in, someone else had to build the IDE (probable Android Studio) that you’re developing on, and someone had to…well you get the point.  Any modern-day invention was not created from nothing, it came about thanks to the ground work being done by something that came first.

This doesn’t mean you can’t be innovative.  It means that there’s nothing wrong with using 3rd party libraries and tools to make your development journey easier.  If you don’t have to worry about the basics then you can focus on what makes your app great.  Ok enough justification, let’s talk about how you should use Firebase to make life easier.

Authentication and Data Management:

How many apps do you have that require you to sign in to fully use features?  Of those how many let you create and account through Facebook?  Users hate having to create sign-in info, a decent percentage won’t even go through the process because of the extra 10 seconds it takes.  So including an option for one-click sign in makes it more likely your app will succeed from the start.  Firebase makes this feature easy to leverage allowing you to create a sign in screen with companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google. 

When users sign up Firebase keeps track of their info and allows user management to be easily configured.  If a user gets a new phone they can log in and Firebase will associate them with the same account.  Firebase also has a database feature allowing you to create and store JSON info, so users can interact with one another and store information easily.  Let’s say you wanted to create that new social media app which lets people post pictures and message one another:  Firebase should be your go to.

Analytics:

When you release an app it’s best to have a game plan for what’s next.  What if users love one part of the app but never use another?  Well if that’s the case then you should aim for a redesign that either brings in new features or directs the users attention to things they are more interested in.  Of course if you release an app and people in other countries start downloading it you can’t exactly track them down and ask them how they’ve been using the app.

This is where analytics come in.  Firebase gives you the capability to monitor user events (anonymously) so you can see which features are getting the most interaction.  If you have a search bar in your app that no one ever clicks on, it’s either time to drop it or move it elsewhere to try again.  Analytics can keep you in know for how your app is behaving and what should change.

Crashlytics:

And on the topic of what should change in app behavior, crashes are about the worst thing a user can experience.  You may be getting 1 star ratings in the app store because your app shuts off randomly for some users and you don’t know why.  Firebase offers Crashlytics to look at the stack trace details for every crashed application.  If there’s one button in your app that is broken and slipped through your checks when publishing, now you’ll be able to see that it’s responsible for the crashes and act accordingly.

Firebase offers a ton of other features that can make development easier and the user experience more fluid.  These are just the tip of the iceberg and features I enjoy using on a daily basis.  If you want to learn how to incorporate Firebase into your apps then checkout Phonlab’s Android Development Course!

 

Android Auto Is on A Roll!

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Android Auto Is on A Roll!

We all love our smartphones.  Unfortunately, some of us love them a little too much.  As fascinating as they are there are certain times in life when our attention should be elsewhere.  One of these is when we’re driving, as evidenced by the number of accidents that happen thanks to texting.  Luckily Android Auto is on the rise to increase the number of hands-free experiences.

Android Auto:

A few major announcements have come this month announcing partnerships between Google and automakers planning to include the Android operating system in their vehicles.  For those that don’t know, Android Auto is a mobile app developed by Google to mirror features from Android devices to a car’s dashboard or a headset.  By doing so users are able to interact with key features such as Google Maps, playing music, and texting without having to ever pick up their phones. 

Android Auto supports touchscreen dashboards as well as button-controlled head-sets.  Along with these is the more encouraged hands-free voice command.  It was first revealed at Google I/O in 2014, and now is available in 28 countries around the globe.

Upcoming rollouts:

The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance has signed a multiyear global agreement to embed Android in vehicles.  Toyota will also be allowing Android Auto devices to connect directly to cars for the first time.  And as the most recent development Jaguar has announced plans to add CarPlay and Android Auto to their vehicles.  The story is pretty much the same from car company to car company, but it’s clear that adoption is the trend.  And that’s a good thing both for innovation and safety.

The end goal for Android Auto is to create a seamless experience for users moving from their phone into their car.  If there are no apps that a user can’t experience hands free, then there’s no motivation to use your phone while driving.  And if there’s no motivation to use your phones while driving, car accidents are going to be much less frequent.  You could say it’s a noble cause, or you could say it’s just a business decision to get user’s more engrossed in the product.  Either way it has a positive externality.

What are your thoughts on what the future holds for Android Auto?  Do you think Apple’s software in vehicles is giving it a run for it’s money?  Let us know in the comments below!

 

Flutter Is About To Take Flight

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Flutter Is About To Take Flight

As android developer’s we’re always looking towards the next thing.  Whether it’s a new feature or a new way to do things more efficiently, innovation is good.  Take for example the multi-part Kotlin post showing how to write more efficient and easily read code.  Google has fully adopted Kotlin as the next language for Android, but there’s another innovation on the rise: Flutter.  Earlier this week Google launched the final preview of Flutter 1.0, and it looks like it has a bright future.

What is Flutter?

You may have heard of flutter (we’ve written about it here at RootJunky before).  It’s Google’s personal mobile app SDK designed to make app making incredibly simple.  It’s written in Dart, also developed by Google, and works with existing code to develop at incredibly high speeds.  What’s more is that it’s not Android specific.  We all know Android is where it’s at, but we also should acknowledge that there’s another audience out there to market to.

Flutter allows you to create Android and iOS apps, as well as for FuschiaSo no matter what market you’re trying to hit it’s a good skill to have under your belt.  As a freelancer you’ll find clients few and far between that want an app developed for just one side or the other.  If you’re hired to a company as an android or iOS developer specifically then you’ll get by easier, but I’d still recommend working to get both down as it simply increases your marketability.

Material Design updates:

So far Flutter has been a cross platform development tool, but it’s given Android the majority of it’s attention.  It’s considered a “first-class tookit” for Material Design, but the frameworks compatibility with Apple’s UI guidelines has only been acceptable.  This newest release preview is revamping the Cupertino widget set with dozens of updates to help fit iOS design guidelines.  The important thing is that developers are able to build layouts that both Apple and Android users will be comfortable with.  Here are a few sample designs built with flutter on their home page:

While this allows us to create apps that fit the design guidelines of both operating systems, it’s also important to note that Flutter doesn’t use native platform widgets directly.  This means that there’s nothing stopping a developer from using Cupertino widgets in and Android app or Material Design with iOS.  Not necessarily a good idea, but hey the more freedom the better right?

App size reduction:

Another big perk of using Flutter to develop your app is that it’s size will drastically be reduced.  So far we’ve seen a 30% reduction in app size.  Quite simply this means that your apps won’t bog down users as much and they’re be less prone to remove them when space becomes an issue on their phones.  The Flutter team is committed to bringing that number even lower, but as is that’s already a huge step in the right direction.

If you’re interested in getting started with Flutter or learning more then go to flutter.io.  We’re sure to see plenty of it down the road.  Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

 

That Missing Guide To Kotlin Part 2

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That Missing Guide To Kotlin Part 2

In part one of our Kotlin series we began exploring the newly adopted language.  We saw a few examples of how it can make our code more concise and user friendly than Java including type inference and inline constructors.  In part two we’ll continue to show how Kotlin can make your code easier to work with while focusing on one dreaded Java roadblock: The NullPointerException.

If you’ve written anything in Java before then you’re familiar with NPE’s.  It occurs when you attempt to interact with a variable’s value, but it turns out there is no value to interact with.  Your compiler can’t see that there’s no value available, but at run-time your system checks for it and then crashes when it can’t be found.

Kotlin to the rescue

While Kotlin is 100% interoperable with Java (99% really as we’ll see soon) it’s fundamentally different in a few aspects.  One of these is nullability.  In Java every variable has a default value.  This is the value it can fall back on if you never explicity say what value it contained.  For example when you declare a boolean variable, unless you specify its value, it will be false.  For any variable that isn’t a primitive type, the default value will be null.  This can be really useful at times, but it allows us to accidentally try to grab a value when there isn’t one.

In Kotlin its possible to completely avoid this situation. Every variable that is declared is either a nullable type or a non-null type.  What this means is that along with declaring what type of value (Int, Boolean, custom class) your variable holds, you declare whether it is ever allowed to be null or not.  Here are two varaibles declared in Kotlin.  The first can never be null, while the second is nullable.

As you can see, the question mark is used to show a variable has the possibility of being null.  If there’s no question mark in the variables declaration, then you are safe to use it in every situation without risking it throwing an NPE.  This means that you’ll never have to write if statements checking if a variable is null to play things safe. Goodbye useless lines of code

Nullablility In Action

When using non-null type variables, we don’t have to check if there is a value present.  But for other situations we still must take precautions.  One way that Kotlin allows us to do this concisely is through safe calls.  A safe call looks similar to the traditional method of retrieving a value, except we include a question mark at the end of the variable.  So

Becomes

By doing this we can almost read the code as if it’s English.  We’re asking “does the pet exist?”, and if the answer to that question is yes then we move on to the name characteristic of our pet.  If there is no pet that has been created at this point in our code, instead of the app crashing our variable will be given a value of null.

This becomes incredibly powerful when we start chaining safe calls.  Let’s say we want to check if a company has an HR department with an employee name Toby who at tuna for lunch.  Instead of writing a null check for each of these before interacting with them we can write

If along the way any of these things doesn’t exist, then the code will finish the statement returning null and not interacting with any of the variables past the break.  Without an HR department the code won’t crash, but instead our employee variable will be set equal to null.

Control Is A Good Thing

This is probably the most common feature of Kotlin that you see people talk about, and it’s because of how powerful it is.  Not having to deal with null values is amazing, but even when we have to our code can be concise and clean.

The language can also smart cast nullable variables into non-null given the proper verification at first.  So if you had a nullable variable and then explicitly check if it wasn’t null, then you wouldn’t need to use any ?’s moving forward when accessing that variable.

Kotlin isn’t perfect, but when it comes to dealing with null values it has everything that Java has to offer with some additional perks and changes.  We’ll continue exploring some of Kotlin’s advantages in part 3.  In the mean time if you have any questions about how nullability works let us know in the comments below!

Rumors About Rumors About the Pixel 3

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Rumors About Rumors About the Pixel 3

Over the past few months rumors have been floating around left and right about the upcoming Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL.  We’ve written about leaks here before as a serious of photos have surfaced revelaing potential designs.  Of particular interest are the XL leaks with the notch taking phone manufacturers by storm these days.  These are so interesting not because of what they show, but what they may be hiding.

The newest rumor going around is that the Pixel 3 XL we’ve seen thus far is a fake.  And not simply fake that someone decided to make up, but rather a fake that was released by Google to throw people off.  It’s a bold claim, but not entirely impossible.  Here’s why:

Hating The Notch:

When the XL leaks first surfaced a lot of people got excited.  And likewise a lot of people were upset to see that the notch was involved.  The 3 is set to bring back other exciting features like wireless charging, yet the notch seems to be what gained so much attention.  Some well known YouTubers have critiqued the design on their channels.  Google has taken note.

According to Jon Prosser, one of the YouTubers who spoke out against the leak, Google reached out to him and asked for a very specific clip of him speaking badly about the design.  He found out from other YouTubers that the same request was made to quite a few of them.  Google didn’t say why it wanted the footage, but simply asked for it.

What’s Google’s Game?

So why would Google want to use footage from well known reviewers bashing its product?  Well, the natural conclusion is that it’s not really their product.  If people hate the design that’s been leaked and it turns out that’s not actually the desing Google is unveiling in October, then no harm no foul.  Actually if anything it could help Google as they market that they’ve listened to people’s feedback and are moving in a direction that consumers want.

It’s possible (but not confirmed) that Google has artificially leaked things in an attempt to generate a buzz about the new phones.  If that’s the case then it’s definitely worked.  As to the probability of this actually ocurring…well that’s another story.  Only time will tell, but you could argue it’s pretty farfetched.  It would be incredibly hard to keep this kind of fake leak in house up until now.

Pie and The Notch

The Pixel 3 will also be the first phone to come with Android Pie which includes notch support.  The two don’t have to come in a package deal, but it would be a little strange to see that as a feature in Pie and not have it avaiable to users who buy the first phone with it.

What do you think of these rumors about rumors?  Whether you think its plausible or ridiculous let us know in the comments below!