Introducing Android Q

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Introducing Android Q

 

Pie is still on its way out to most of the world, but today we’re going one step further.  Android Q’s first beta has officially launched!  As Android’s developer blog puts it so perfectly: “…mobile innovation is stronger than ever, with new technologies from 5G to edge to edge displays and even foldable screens.  Android is right at the center of this innovation cycle”.

The bug tracker for Q first opened on Monday, and since then we’ve all been waiting expectantly to see its release.  Now that it’s here let’s take a look at some of the things it has to offer.

Privacy and Security: 

Whenever we’re discussing privacy, one of the first things that comes to mind is location.  We don’t all like the idea of being tracked everywhere we go by 3rdparties.  Currently on Android no app is able to track your location unless you explicitly allow it. Q takes this to the next level by allowing users to grant location based on app usage.  So if you want, no more being tracked when an app isn’t open.  This could be useful for things such as food delivery apps that really have no business monitoring you during other parts of your day.  

Another improvement for user security that revolves around runtime permissions is access to files and media. The Photos and Videos and Audio collections will be featured in a new set of runtime permissions.  And downloads must use the system file picker, allowing the user to decide which download files an app has access to.  This is just another step to help silo information and enhance a user’s experience without having to give an app everything.

Innovative Screens and Experiences:

You’ve undoubtedly seen some of the new foldable phones that have been revealed recently.  They look incredibly fun (unfortunately also incredibly expensive), but it should be no surprise that Q will be accounting for these.  To help users make use of an unfolded device with lots of screen space, changes have been made to onResume and onPause to support multi-resume (we wrote about this in one of our Q hypothesis posts a while back).

In addition, some changes have been made with sharing and setting to speed up a user’s navigation. The process of moving from one app to another to share content has been streamlined with Sharing Shortcuts.  You can also show key system settings insideof your app using a new Settings Panel API.  This uses the Slices feature from Pie and lets you present a modal to users where they can directly access things such as what Wi-Fi they are connected to. No more redirecting users into the Settings app to mess with things!

There are also changes to the camera, media, and graphics utilizing Dynamic Depth.  Using Q users can request a Dynamic Depth image which consists of a JPEG, XMP metadata, and a depth and confidence map all embedded in the same file. The result of this is the possibility to offer specialized blurs and bokeh options in your app.  Or if you want you can create 3D images/photograph things in AR much more accurately.

Getting Q On Your Phone:

As with many of Google’s recent technologies, you can get your hands on it first if you own a Pixel. Beta 1 is available all the way back to the original Pixel/Pixel XL.  Click here to enroll in the Android Q Beta and start playing around with it.  And if you don’t own a Pixel, you can always use the Android Emulator and download a system image via the SDK Manager.

There is a ton to explore for Android Q still since it’s just day 1.  Let us know what you think about it in the comments below!

Duplex Is Officially Here

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Duplex Is Officially Here

Time after time we’ve seen Google Duplex in the news, but it’s always been just on the horizon for the mass market.  Well here’s some news that isn’t just a tease: Duplex is now on your phone!

Pixels Now Have Duplex:

Ok, sorry to get your hopes up if you’re not team Pixel, but if you are, then this is good news for you. Google has just rolled out Duplex to Pixel phones in 43 states.  This means that if you own a Pixel and live in one of these states, you can now have your Google Assistant call on your behalf.  Looking for a restaurant reservation?  Just say “Ok Google, make a reservation at ___”.

That’s it.  Duplex will call the restaurant and take care of everything else.  Ok, it will ask you a few more details (such as for what time and for how many people), but it takes care of all the conversing on the phone.  The future is now.

Just how good is it?

Google actually received a ton of criticism after I/O last year when Duplex made its debut.  People were concerned that it mimicked a human toowell.  In June the company promised that Google Assistant would introduce itself before engaging in any conversation.  If you’ve used Google’s call screening feature before then you’re somewhat familiar with this introduction.

Duplex uses Google’s WaveNet audio processing neural network, and as such it sounds incredibly natural.  It throws “ums” into the conversation to mimic how people actually converse. While these may seem arbitrary, the VP of engineering for Google Assistant said that they are actually the key to keeping people engrossed in conversation.  Otherwise things start to feel too artificial and people hang up.

Opting Out:

While this technology is incredible, there are certainly going to be people that want nothing to do with it yet.  And as such Duplex makes it very clear that the call is automated, and informs everyone it calls that their being recorded.  If they respond with anything along the lines of “I don’t want to be recorded” or “I don’t want to speak with this” then the call is handed off to a human operator.

There’s sure to be some legal/ethical issues that arise despite this, but it’s good to at least see people are given the option to opt out.  Duplex is going to continue its rollout to other devices over time, and eventually it will just be taken for granted.  But for now its cutting edge tech and Pixel users can take advantage of it.

What are your thoughts on Duplex and its rollout?  Let us know in the comments below!

 

Backing Away From The Back Button

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Backing Away From The Back Button

If you ever have a conversation between an Android user and an iPhone user, each will have their arguments for why one phone is superior.  While many of the differences are in the software, one is glaringly different between the two: the back button.  At least is used to be, but we may be seeing the end of days for this feature.

Q Follows P:

The back button is one of the most prominent features on Android phones.  At least it was, but there has been discussion recently about moving deeper into the world of gesture recognition.  The idea is to move closer to a buttonless screen, and thus create more screen real estate for users on smaller devices.  Android Pie took a step in this direction with some of its changes in navigation between apps, and Q will likely continue the trend.

If you own a phone that operates on Pie, then it likely took you a few days to adjust.  The whole process of navigating between apps is different from Oreo.  Instead of swiping left or right to kill apps you swipe them up (much like iOS).  And while Pie still has a back button on the left side of Pixel devices, there are some unique interactions you can use with the bottom nav bar.

What’s New With Q?

On Pie phones today if you swipe from the left side of the nav bar over to the right, your phone will exit the current app and open whatever app you were using just before it.  What’s more, if you swipe to the right and don’t release, you’ll be able to scroll between all of your apps to select one quickly. It’s not too different from checking all the paused apps and selecting one, but one swipe actions put a grin on your face.

Q is looking to do just this by removing the back button entirely and replacing it with a swipe to the left.  The exact motion discussed above, just in reverse.  So when users want to back out of an application or go back in an app, they will swipe instead of pressing the back button.  Whether you like it or not, this is a pretty drastic change from years of tradition on a feature that has separated Android from iOS.

Swiping: The Good, Bad, and Ugly:

My initial reaction to this was not a good one.  It seemed rather counter intuitive to have users swipe in one direction to go back in an app, and swipe in the opposite direction to go “back” to other apps.  Change is scary.  But if you can get past that, then this could make for an interesting user experience.  If we take it one step further and swipe up in place of the home button, then the entire bottom drawer could cease to exist.  A marginal change, but every centimeter counts when we only have a few to deal with.

These changes have not been confirmed, and I’m still undecided on how I feel.  But I think it’s important to not jump on the bandwagon of “Change is bad”.  Q could bring some really cool things to the Android world, and for all we know in a few years we’ll be looking back at the old ways of navigation and shaking our heads!

What are your thoughts on Q’s possible removal of the back button?  How about the other changes we’ve talked about with Q?  Let us know in the comments below!

 

 

Starting the Reactive Journey

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Starting the Reactive Journey

If you’re an Android developer, then odds are you’ve heard of RxJava.  It’s a popular library that utilizes the observer pattern.  Rx (ReactiveX) allows us to program reactively, meaning our code can be executed as events happen.  It’s tough to fully wrap your head around it at first, but once you get it your codebase can become more efficient and clean.

The Observer Pattern:

The Observer pattern (and RxJava) revolves around three key concepts.  The three O’s: observables, observers, and operators.  When combined these three allow us to emit information, modify it, and then react to it.  The best way to think about the observable pattern is to consider everything a stream. Data starts at the top of a stream and flows downhill.  On its way down things can happen to it to modify the data, and then at the bottom of the hill we use the data.

This is a high-level view of how the observer pattern works.  Think of observables as the top of the stream, operators changing the data on its way down, and observers as the bottom of the hill.  Ok, maybe this analogy will make a little more sense after you learn a little more about each of these O’s.

Observables:

An observable is something that can be observed.  It is something that emits data that we can react to.  A good example that already exists in Android is a button.  Whenever a button is pressed by the user it emits data. That data is basically just saying “I was pressed”, but it’s still data emitted from an observable!  What we do with that data is our option and none of the observable’s concern (think about the standard Android button; it just knows it was pressed, we write the logic for what it does).

So an observable is…literally something that is observable.  Real life examples could be a movie playing or a singer singing. These are things we could watch happen, but they don’t really impact us until we observe them.  Which brings us to the bottom of the stream.

Observers:

We’ll skip over operators right now and jump straight to observers because they are essential to this paradigm. So we have a movie playing already (the observable), and once we turn on the TV to watch it we have become the observer. The data (movie) is coming to us and we can react to it however we want.  Likewise, with an observer in Android we can write a function to react to the data an observable emits.

In the RxJava world observables don’t always have to emit just one piece of data, that’s the beauty of it.  They can emit thousands and thousands of pieces of data, and then observers can react to each and every piece of data if they see fit.  And just like multiple people can watch one tv, multiple observers can observe one observable.

Wrapping Up:

It’s a lot of “o” words I know, but the concept is pretty simple.  Observables emit data, observers react to it.  We’ll dive into plenty of code in part 2, so stay tuned for that as well as examples of how operators come into the mix!  RxJava takes a little while to get down, but once you do it’s too addictive to quit!

Samsung Leaks Unfold

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Samsung Leaks Unfold

The newest trend in Mobile is upon us.  We’ve seen generation follow generation of smartphones each with more features than the last, and while the software has changes dramatically the physically devices have just changed in size.  2019 is the year that this changes as the world adopts its first foldable phones (again!).

Samsung’s Leak(s)

Samsung announced the arrival of its first foldable phone a few months ago, but other than a few concept picture’s it’s just been floating around.  At their developer conference in November they unveiled the Infinity Flex flexible screen giving us a sneak peek at that idea.  Next week we can expect to see quite a bit more about this concept though.

The Galaxy S10 Unpacked event is scheduled for February 20th, and we have good reason to believe this event will also bring news about the foldable device. Ishan Agarwal, a reputable leaker, posted a GIF on twitter showing a demo of a phone folding.  With it he said

“EXCLUSIVE! Looks like Samsung’s sticking with the name ‘Galaxy Winner’ for the Foldable Phone right now. As far as I can see, the product page for special phone will be live after the event as well! Doesn’t exactly looks like a final name but it is I guess. Welcome Galaxy Winner!”

Winner is the rumored codename for the Galaxy F right now, and if what Ishan posted is true, then we will be seeing two new product pages after the event.

More on the S10:

There’s a lot of hype around the Galaxy F since it’s a revolutionary product, but let’s not forget the S10 is making its debut.  One of Samsung’s biggest leaks ever has just taken place releasing full specs for the three new phones we’ll be seeing soon.  These are the Galaxy S10e, S10, and S10+. It looks like they’ll range in size from 5.8 inches to 6.3, along with a side fingerprint sensor and facial recognition.

There’s no lack of pixels on these screens either.  The S10e weighs in at 2280 x 1080 with 438 ppi, the S10 at 3040 x 1440 with 550 ppi, and the S10+ at 3040 x 1440 with 522ppi.  We have some great displays on their way, and they’ll be running the newest software for a superb user experience.

Why So Sudden?

With the world waiting to see more of the S10 next week, why would Samsung mesh in a release of such a groundbreaking phone at the same event?  Because of healthy competition.  Huawei will likely be unveiling their first foldable handset later this month as well, and if you’re not first you’re last.

I’m sure we’ll see this trend in quite a few phone makers over the next year or two, and I’m particularly interested to see if Google takes any action with a foldable Pixel.  What are your thoughts on foldable devices?  Let us know in the comments below!

 

Magic Leap is Moving into Mobile

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Magic Leap is Moving into Mobile

Augmented reality has been all the rage the past few years.  From headsets to mobile apps we’ve seen it start to infiltrate every piece of technology.  One of the companies behind this infiltration is Magic Leap.  They released their first headset last August after nearly 10 years of development work.  And now it seems their looking to up the ante by bridging the gap between headsets and phones.

Magic Leap’s History:

Magic Leap has been flying under the radar for quite some time now.  Their central product is a head-mounted virtual retina display which superimposes 3D images over real-world objects.  That’s the fancy way of saying AR goggles.  And fancy they are!  The company has raised more than $1.4 billion in investment capital since 2010 and in 2016 was valued at $4.5 billion by Forbes.

So the company has some serious backers, and in 2018 when they released their goggles for the first time they were available only to investors.  I wish I could say I’ve tried them on, but I unfortunately can’t attest to their experience.  CNBC, however, was granted an exclusive trial run of the goggles and the description is quite amazing.

Their tester wrote about how he was able to “place” a tv anywhere in a room to watch an NBA game. What’s more he could also place a 3D rendering of the entire game on the floor and walk around it seeing live gameplay from every angle.  Seriously, just think about this for a second and all the possibilities it holds!

Seeking AR Mobile Developers:

The goggles can already do some pretty sweet things, and when they came out in August they came with a mobile support app.  The main purpose of this was to help users with setup, but it seems now Magic Leap is hoping to go further.  Earlier this month they posted a job description for a senior software engineer with experience in mobile AR.  The description says

“In this role, you will help build a cross-platform framework that enables large scale shared AR experiences between mobile devices (iOS, Android) and Magic Leap devices. Your work will include implementing high-performance, production quality AR and computer vision algorithms, and designing and building the Magic Leap mobile SDK.”

ARKit and ARCore:

It also lists the developer should have experience with ARKit and ARCore, the AR frameworks by Apple and Google respectively.  The company’s CCO spoke on this saying that undoubtedly the whole world will not use Magic Leap’s goggles, but they should all have access to a smaller version of the experience.  Rio Caraeff said “…if there’s a 500 foot tall dragon in Central Park, you know we all want to see the dragon, not just the people with Magic Leap. And so we need an interoperability solution.”

Regardless of if you’re interested in Magic Leap as a company, the simple fact that AR is penetrating every corner of our world is undeniable.  That being said, the sooner you get in on the action the more likely you are to ride the wave up!  What are your thoughts on Magic Leap’s goggles?  Let us know in the comments below.

 

I/O 2019 Is Upon Us

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I/O 2019 Is Upon Us

Mark your calendars, Google 1/0 2019 has been announced!  The company’s annual developer conference will be kicking off May 7th and run though the 9th.  Google tweeted about the event yesterday, and as usual it looks like there are some exciting things on the agenda.

Flash Back To 2018:

Last year’s I/O was a particularly exciting one, and there were a few core themes behind it.  While buzz-wordy, the event revolved around the ideas of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence.  We got to see demonstrations of Google’s Duplex making a phone call, as well as learning about what Android P brought to the table.  It offered improved battery life, brightness, and app suggestions to refine the mobile experience for users.

Up This Year:

Last year had a lot of interesting concepts, and this year is sure to be even more impressive.  It’s far too early to say everything that will be taking place in this year’s reveals, but there are a few things we can be certain are on the agenda.  The first of these is of course a new version of Android.  Following it’s alphabetical trend, Q is next on the roster.

We’ve talked a little about Q here before but very little has been revealed thus far.  Rumors have it that the new version will be featuring an expansive Dark Theme for battery saving and, well because dark themes are all the rage right now.  There is also discussion about a change to the android activity life cycle to include a multi-resume.  This could allow for easier interaction with multiple apps at the same time when using split screen on your phone.

Watch and Learn:

Many believe we are about to see the reveal of a Pixel Watch.  iOS has definitely been the dominant culture when it comes to accessories for your primary device, but that’s all the more reason for Google to try and match it.  No leaks have come yet regarding what it will look like but news that Google bought $40 million of smartwatch technology and researchers from Fossil is a definite hint that big things are coming.

There are also bound to be Google Assistant improvements this year, an we could see these play a big role in how the watch functions for things like speech-to-text. Duplex was demoed last year but we haven’t seen to much of it in the real world up until the last few months either.  I would predict the artificial intelligence of the Assistant opens up a few new doors this year.

Fuchsia is the Future:

And of course there is the ever prevalent mystery that is Fuchsia in development.  Said to be Android’s replacement, Fuchsia is on the rise and will likely be utilized in some demos this year.  It’s a ways off from being the new OS for smartphones, but it’s been development for a few years now and it is starting to make it’s way into the limelight.

For the fourth consecutive year the event will be held at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California.  What are you most excited about for Google I/O 2019?  Do you have any predictions about what we may see this year?  Let us know in the comments below!

 

Microsoft Moving Out Of Mobile

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Microsoft Moving Out Of Mobile

It’s the end of an era for Microsoft phones.  While back in 2017 Microsoft announced they were done developing new hardware for their devices, now they’ve decided to end support altogether.  Security and software updates will be coming to a close In December of this year.  It’s time to move on to an Android or iPhone.

Failure To Launch:

The company once had huge plans for their mobile phones, but things never really took off quite as expected. The Windows Phone 7 launched in 2010, but now less than a decade later Microsoft is moving out of the mobile hardware industry. Back then Microsoft touted that the emergence of their phones would be the death of both BlackBerry and iPhone. One of these has come true, but the other…not so much.

There are many reasons for the Windows phones not resonating with users, but a hefty one was the lack of apps in the app store.  Many popular apps on Android and iOS devices simply weren’t available for Windows users. Now Microsoft has decided to bypass this issue and instead focus on providing its services to other carriers. 

The Future of Mobile For Microsoft:

Microsoft phones may be done for, but the company’s future in mobile is far from over.  They’ve invested heavily in making Office products available on both Android and iPhones.  They also have a partnership with Samsung, who sells some of their Galaxy phones with Office pre-installed.

Android seems to be the mobile choice that Microsoft has embraced.  With an Android launcher and upcoming app mirroring support, users moving away from Microsoft phones will likely lean towards that option.

Moving Forwards:

It’s no huge surprise that Microsoft dropped support for Windows 10 mobile, since the same thing happened for the Windows Phone 8.1 in 2017.  While Microsoft will be playing a role in mobile phones down the road, their attention has shifted elsewhere.  They’re still a mega player in the tech world (we just wrote about their changes to GitHub).

Still, Microsoft is urging users to move to either one of the two main players.  They said “With the Windows 10 Mobile OS end of support, we recommend that customers move to a supported Android or iOS device.  Microsoft’s mission statement to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more, compels us to support our Mobile apps on those platforms and devices.”

What are your thoughts on the end of Microsoft mobile support?  Will these phones be missed or is it best that Microsoft focus their efforts elsewhere?  Let us know in the comments below!

 

Private Repos Coming to a Website Near You

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Private Repos Coming to a Website Near You

Chances are you’re familiar with GitHub, the web-based hosting service for version control.  It’s where many developers go to save their code online or share it with others.  While GitHub is free to use, if you wanted more privacy then that cost money.  At least it used to!

Free Private Repos:

Earlier this week GitHub underwent a change.  Users are now allowed to host as many private repositories as they want.  A dramatic change considering this feature used to cost $7 a month.  Private repos are free to use with up to three collaborators, and public repos still allow for unlimited collaborators.

The number of collaborators is the only real limitation on private repos, and the change is aimed at improving the version control experience for smaller fish in the development pool. The idea being that if you’re on a small team or an individual you won’t have to pay the fees larger companies do. 

GitHub’s Going Through Changes:

GitHub has been making headlines a lot in the past few months. In October Microsoft completed their $7.5 billion acquisition of it.  In November of 2018 GitHub passed 100 million repositories (and that number could sky rocket now that anyone can utilize private repos for free).

A number of pricing changes have come along with free repos, but this is the most noteworthy for individual developers.  Originally called GitHub Developer, the $7/month plan has been rebranded to GitHub Pro.  The company also offered GitHub Enterprise and GitHub Business Cloud for $21 each and has now consolidated them into one $42/month subscription.

Moving Forward:

It’s worth noting that these changes bring GitHub more in line with other version control services like Bitbucket and GitLab.  The former allows unlimited private repos with up to five collaborators, and the latter has no limit.

This is definitely a plus for GitHub users like myself, but it by no means that public repos will come to an end.  The development community thrives on open source technology.  That being said having options is certainly nice.  What are your thoughts on Microsoft making private repos free? Let us know in the comments below!

Keep The Resolutions Going With Phonlab

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Keep The Resolutions Going With Phonlab

We’re one week into the new year, and hopefully sticking with resolutions.  The most common goals tend to revolve around exercising, eating healthier, or learning something.  We can’t help you out with the first two, but if you’re looking to pick up a new skill this year you’re in luck!

Mobile Developer Courses:

Phonlab’s Mobile Development courses offer a great affordable way to learn app development.  Whether you’re completely new to programming or looking to add a new skill to your repertoire, it’s worth it.  These courses will take you from writing your first line of code all the way up to publishing your first app on the Google Play Store or Apple App Store.

Coursework is great, but really sets Phonlab apart from other online educational materials is the personal touch.  As you’re learning you’ll undoubtedly get stuck. Instead of having to spend hours researching your issue, you’ll receive personalized support walking you through solutions.

What’s in a Lesson?

Depending on your level of dedication, you could go from never programming to publishing an app in less than a month.  And you only have a few spare hours a week, fear not!  With Phonlab’s one-time payment you get access to the coursework forever.  You can either speed through the course again and again or take your time and absorb all the knowledge it has to offer.

And that knowledge covers all the core topics in mobile development.  Whether it’s Material Design tips for how to create an aesthetic layout of images, or efficiently downloading information from online and displaying it to users, there’s a video teaching it.  These videos feature footage of apps being built in real time with audio explaining every step.  And along with the actual creations are animations helping to explain any tricky concepts.  The goal is to make it as easy as possible for you the developer.

Sign Up Today!

If you’re interested in taking your programming skills to the next level or starting at line 1, I’d definitely recommend you check out these courses.  Who knows, by the end of 2019 you may be making apps for a living.

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