Android Pie is Fresh Out Of The Oven

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Android Pie is Fresh Out Of The Oven

Today Google officially dubbed the newest version of the Android operating system as Pie!  Along with this naming they’ve also released the first official version of it to Pixel phones.  Android users around the world are debating whether this was the right dessert name or not, but either way we know that Pie has some great things in store for us.

The Build Up:

Over the past few months we’ve seen a few beta version of Pie released on a series of smartphones, but this official release is only available on Pixel phones.  People who signed up for the Android Beta program will receive the update by the end of this fall though.  Google also said it’s working to launch/upgrade other devices sometime this year.

Those details are pretty vague, and if Pie behaves anything like other Android versions, it could be over a year before it’s adoption rate breaks double digit percentages.  All the same it’s officially available to Pixel users and it has a name.  That’s plenty for now, but let’s also not forget that Pie is available in its beta format on a number of different devices.

A review of Pie:

We’ve talked about Pie and its cool new features a few times here at RootJunky.com.  The new software is designed with predictive analytics and AI for battery power as some of the main features.  The idea is to improve things behind the scene for users.  Pie monitors and adjusts screen brightness as well as what apps are in the background during different times of the day.  It gets used to user’s habits, and then preps itself in advance to recreate that behavior.  AI is definitely a buzz-word, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have some perks.

It also features an official dark mode option in settings, something Android user’s have been asking for for years.  Notifications also offer features such as smart replies for texting and a new feel to them, so the changes in this version are both front and back end.

Aaand the Notch:

Of course when we’re talking about new looks we have to mention the notch.  It’s taken a hold of both the iOS and Android markets so much that Google has actually come out and banned phones with more than 3 notches from getting Google support.  Somewhat crazy to even think more than 3 notches could exist on a phone right now, but you never know!

One more feature that I have to mention that I’m very excited for is the change to rotation.  Instead of just locking your rotation or having it rotate every time you accidentally turn your screen, you now have optional re-orientation.  Android Pie will display a small button when it detects a screen rotation, and if you select this then the phone knows to readjust, and if not then you can continue doing things as you were, undisturbed.

The Pixel 3 will be coming out on October 4th just a few months from now, and it will likely be the first phone to be released with Pie as it’s initial operating system, but Pie is now available to those who are willing to take the steps to get it.  I’m excited to see it grow this year, and I’m also very interested to see what Q is going to be named.

What are your thoughts on Pie’s name?  Could Google have done better?  And if so, do you think it’s new features will make up for it? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Will Fuchsia be Android’s Usurper?

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Will Fuchsia be Android’s Usurper?

Android is the world’s most popular mobile operating system, and for good reason.  It’s created both high end and affordable options for users worldwide to experience what it has to offer.  And what is has to offer has been time and time again improved upon.  That being said, improvements are always happening in the tech world, and 5 years from now Android might not hold it’s place as #1.  Here’s a curve ball for you: I’m not talking about Apple.  Android’s upcoming replacement may be Fuchsia.

Wait…what the heck is Fuchsia?

For a few years now a stealthy group on engineers at Google have been working on Fuchsia.  The project came into existence as a potential solution to Android’s limitations.  It’s being designed with voice interactions and security updates in mind where the current Android platform falls short.  And while this has been quiet, it hasn’t been locked down.  Some of the code has been open source since 2016 and outside app developers have been allowed to experiment with it.

The Fuchsia team has a higher goal than just more efficient software though.  They’re attempting to design something that will make interaction with all in-house gadgets a fluid experience.  Imagine a single operating system that controls all your speakers, tv, and other residential tech.  Now imagine also being able to interact with all of these devices by speaking to them.  Your house becomes a sentient being, somewhat like this post we wrote a few months back.

So Android will be gone in 5 years?

No, I definitely exaggerated in that first paragraph.  5 years would be an insanely quick turnaround for Android to completely fall off the map.  Android currently dominates as king with roughly 75% market share compared to Apple’s 15%.  Still, it’s far from perfect.  There are performance, privacy, and security concerns with out of date Android phones that need to be addressed, and a new software like Fuchsia could help jump that transition forward.  All the same we’ll be seeing Android phones for quite some time still, and P hasn’t even reached the market!

Fuschia is being developed with audio interactions at its core.  There haven’t been any apps built on it at a serious commercial level yet, but rumors are flying that we’ll be seeing a YouTube app with voice command soon.  My prediction is that over the next year or two Fuchsia is going to grow in the open source community until its eventual official launch, at which point we’re going to see a boom (hopefully a quicker boom than new Android version adoption rates!).  I’ll be keeping a close eye on it, so stay tuned for more updates.  And if you have any thoughts about Fuchsia or it’s potential let us know here!

 

Android P Releases Its Final Beta

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Android P Releases Its Final Beta

While Android Oreo is just starting to hit its stride, Android P is making news too.  This week Google released the final beta preview of Android P before it’s official launch.  We’ve seen a few beta previews so far this year, and this one should be even closer to what P will look like when it launches.

According to Android VP Dave Burke this beta includes “final system behaviors” meaning Google’s new gesture-based navigation will be locked in and shipping with Android 9.0.  Of course there’s always room for improvement, and that’s a large reason betas exist, but this should be stable for installation on your main phone.  Google hasn’t mentioned any known bugs, so if you have a phone that can handle it out get the beta and let us know what you think!

What’s new in P?

We’ve talked before about Android P and what features it has to offer.  Spoiler: they’re awesome.  P offers a series of features that revolve around the idea of predictive analytics.

There’s an adaptive battery that takes into account what time of day you typically are running your apps, and if it doesn’t think you’ll be using them any time soon it shuts them off to save energy.  Couple this with the screen brightness which auto adjusts based on what you typically set it to throughout the day, and you’re looking at a much longer lasting battery life.

Apart from performance improvements, we also have completely new features that enable us to experience things differently.  One I’ve talked about before at length is Wi-Fi RTT.  Round Trip Time is a method of really getting to know your exact current location.  It’s accurate within about a meter, and does so by triangulating between multiple Wi-Fi access points nearby.  This improved location methodology offers some cool opportunities that just depend on how creative developers want to get.

Privacy Improvements:

There are also security improvements that come with P, and in an everchanging world of privacy that’s a key improvement.  Have you ever gotten a notification saying an app was running in the background when you didn’t think you’d been using it?  How about having an app crash in the background even though you haven’t opened it in ages?  That’s never a good thing to see.  P will prevent idle apps from performing actions such as accessing your camera (yes this is a thing!!).  P offers a series of security upgrades that limit what apps can do in the background in an effort to help protect user privacy.

How to get P?

First off, I’m so ready to stop calling it P and use it’s actual name. Unfortunately we’ll have to wait a little longer for that.  But if you want to get the beta on your phone today you can check it out on Android’s developer website here.  Give it a try and let us know your thoughts on it!  We’ll be sure to continue writing about developments in the software, so stay tuned for more.

 

 

 

Apps Need Room To Breathe!

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Apps Need Room To Breathe!

Android is a complex operating system.  There’s a lot more variable when developer for Android.  Things are unpredictable when it comes to knowing what phone your user will be on.  There’s literally no limit to how many different kinds of phones could be running Android on a given day.  If you don’t know what you’re doing this can be dangerous for your layouts.

How so?  Doesn’t everything work the same from phone to phone?  Well, no actually.  Things function very similarly, but different phones have different characteristics that can drastically change a user’s experience.  Take screen size for example.  You could design an app and have one user download it on a phone with a 4’’ screen and another on a 6’’ screen.  This may not sound like a huge difference (2 inches is rarely a big decider life), but when it comes to a screen size that’s literally 50% more screen space on one device than another!

How things can go very, very wrong:

If you don’t take different screen sizes into account, then users will most likely miss out on important info. When you’re first learning about how to develop Android apps you’ll most likely use LinearLayout a lot to organize your apps.  This layout takes one view (text, image, button, etc.) and then lines up the next one in a list side by side.  Or you can change it to go vertically.  Either way the end result is a neat row/column of views.  Here’s an image to help you visualize:

But what happens if when your developing you only test the layout on your phone (let’s assume its huge).  Things may look great to you, but when you publish the app and someone with a smaller phone uses it this is what they might see:

How we can prep for things to go very, very wrong:

Trust me as I made this mistake on the first app I ever published: It’s not a fun mistake to make.  Your app is a work of art.  It’s something that you created from nothing and want to show off to your friends, family, and the world.  So when you have someone download it and instantly their greeted with a funky looking layout…well it’s not the best feeling.  Luckily, we can learn from our mistakes and prep for them in the future!

There are situations where you want to use LinearLayout and there are situations where its best to avoid it.  Sometimes you may want to keep the row/column but add scrolling capability to it instead.  Android developers have experienced all these scenarios, and that’s why there’s more options than just LinearLayout.

Layouts like ConstraintLayout and RelativeLayout allow you to position views in relation to one another as well as to their parent.  So you could position pictures on your screen to “attach” to the right or left side, and make your layout look a lot more professional.  That’s of course just the tip of the iceberg though.  There are different screen densities to account for when choosing what images to use.  And you can also have portions of your screen appear/disappear by using fragments. Don’t worry we’ll have posts on both of these topics coming up soon!

If you’re interested in learning more about styling your apps for different screen sizes and how to make your layouts ready for professional use, checkout Phonlab’s Android App Developer course!

 

Google Pay: Caring Is Sharing

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Google Pay: Sharing Is Caring

Earlier this year Android Pay and Google Wallet combined forces to create Google Pay, a one-step payment process for Android users.  The app has featured online payments with certain websites/apps by initially linking a credit card and then checking out in the future with one click. More technologically impressive it uses NFC (Near Field Communication) to allow users to hold up their phone at a cash register and buy things in person too.

Google Pay seeks to make users lives easier by removing the hassle of reaching into you wallet/entering checkout info every time you buy something.  Yet the adoption rate for it has been…sub-optimal.  So far we’ve seen about 6% of total smartphone users give Google Pay a try.  It’s a growing number, but it’s still not very big.  If it’s because Google Pay doesn’t do enough for users, then it may start growing faster.

So what’s new?

Today Google announced some new features for the app that make it more useful.  The biggest of these is that you can now use Google Pay to send money to friends.  With apps like Venmo, PayPal, and the CashApp this is nothing new, but it’s necessary for the Google Pay to become relevant as it’s one of the primary ways younger generations pay one another.

And if you haven’t used cash sharing apps like these before GET ONE.  They’re essentially the staples easy button for splitting bills at restaurants and paying back friends.   Google Pay has a challenge of gaining traction in this sector since there are already a few established apps and sharing apps are only as useful as their adoption rate.  But then again, it’s Google and they choose what apps comes preloaded on Android phones.  Chances are they’ll be alright.

But wait there’s more!

Another new upgrade for the app is that it will be supporting boarding passes and event tickets.  Companies like Southwest and Ticketmaster will be incorporated into the app to allow users to take one step closer to a one-stop shop.  These tickets will update with real time information if something like a flight delay takes place, and they’ll work alongside any loyalty cards you have.

The updated Google Pay app is rolling out today, but it will be a few weeks until it reaches everyone who uses it.  The long term goal is clearly for Google Pay to become your go to app for any circumstances. I’m certain we’ll see some more new features come up in the news soon, and I’m also sure you’ll be able to read about them here!

What are your thoughts on Google Pay’s changes?  Is it still lacking something essential for success?  Let us know in the comments below.

The Six Degrees Of Activity Lifecycles

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The Six Degrees Of Activity Lifecycles

As an Android developer, one of the most fundamental concepts that you’ll learn about is Activities.  Activities are a Java class that focus on a single thing that users can do.  Many involve user interactions, and in most apps on your phone you can think of each page of the app as an activity.  Open Gmail and see your list of recent messages? Activity.  Click on one of those messages to open it in a new page?  Activity.

Activities are everywhere in Android development, yet many developers that are just starting out don’t fully understand how they function.  You might be able to get by without a full understanding, but this can be lethal to your app as it expands and becomes more complicated.  Lack of understanding opens up Pandora’s box for things to go wrong with memory leaks and debugging errors down the road.

Diving In:

So let’s take a blog post to discuss the Activity Lifecycle in a little detail.  We won’t get stuck in the weeds, but cover the basics enough that you understand what’s going on under the hood and can prep for smooth app development.

Just like humans have a lifecycle from birth to death, apps have a lifecycle they follow from when their first launched to when the user closes them.  There are six methods that can be called to change the state of an activity in Android:  onCreate(), onStart(), onResume(), onPause(), onStop(), and onDestroy().  At first glance these may seem similar if not identical to one another, but understanding the differences is key to a successful user experience.

onCreate():

This is the first of the 6 lifecycle methods called in an activity, and its invoked when (you guessed it) the activity is created.  In this method startup logic that should only happen once during an activity’s life takes place.  Examples of this might be to bind data to a list, or to instantiate class-scope variables.  The bottom line is that this is called once and only once.

onStart():  

Immediately after onCreate() comes onStart(). The start state of an activity occurs when it is made visible to the user.  This is where logic goes to prep the activity to enter the foreground and become interactive.  In other words the User Interface (UI) is taken care of here.

onResume():

Yes I know, it’s three different methods whose names make it sound like they all do the same thing.  Here’s the key difference with onResume() though.  onResume is called when an app has already been created and comes into (or back into) the foreground.  An activity is constantly interactive as long as it’s in the foreground for the user.

But what if your app includes a pop up message over the activity?  Well now that pop up has the foreground.  Your activity from before will enter the onPause() state (keep reading!) until that pop up goes away.  Once it does your app will resume, and thus the onResume() method will be called again.   For example, let’s say your playing a game and an alert interrupts it.  Obviously we don’t want the game to keep going when the user can’t see it, because that would be incredibly frustrating when the user returns and finds out they died while they were way.   So we call onPause() when an activity loses focus and certain resources need to either be cleared or put on hold.

onPause():

There’s really not too much more to this one other than what I said before.  It tags in and out with onResume() to create/delete resources when needed depending on if a user has focus.  It’s where the magic happens if you do things right, and where things go noticeably wrong if you don’t.

onStop():

When your activity is no longer visible, it has stopped.  This is different from onPause() in that your activity is entirely shrouded.  Instead of a pop-up that might cover half of the screen, a new activity may have taken place and covered your current one completely.  This is essentially where the app has can completely remove unused resources that the user won’t need when returning to the activity again.

onDestroy():

And finally comes our 6th method that wraps everything up.  This is called right before an Activity is destroyed, and as such you want nothing left hanging around.  If you forget to close up a loose end in onDestroy(), your app may begin to suffer from memory leaks and eventually bog things down.  Bottom line is that all resources should be released here if they weren’t in onStop().

These 6 methods essentially bounce the user between the two states of in the user’s foreground and in their background, but there are intricacies that go a lot deeper between them.  As such properly knowing when to implement each of them can be a life saver for your apps, and a huge time saver for you when you’re building things out and want to know what’s going wrong.

If you felt lost at all along the way of this blog, then you should check out Phonlab’s Android App Developer Course!  It’s a great way to go from writing your very first line of code up to publishing our own apps on the Play Store.

Samsung Is A Go For Android Go

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Samsung Is A Go For Android Go

We’ve talked about Android Go a few times here before.  It’s Google’s movement to bring budget phones to the rest of the world by stripping down the software and limiting specs.  There’s been a bit of buzz around the movement recently, and earlier this week a leak has revealed some details about Samsung coming into play.

The Specs:

That’s right, Samsung may be getting into the budget phone game with a 5-inch display and Samsung’s mid-range Exynos 7570 SoC processor.  For reference this compares pretty similarly to Samsung’s Galaxy J3 in terms of size and capability (see the following image).  The phone will come with 1GB RAM and 16GB of storage as well, following the Android Go system of making things high quality but low memory.  And of course, as with other Android Go phones the operating system version will be Android 8.0 (Oreo).

The SamMobile sources behind this leak said that the new phone (model name SM-J260G) is currently being tested in dozens of markets around the world including the UK. And everything about this leak falls in line with earlier reports that Samsung is testing three new mid-range smartphones.  Not much has been revealed about these other than their model names (SM-J260F, SM-J260G, and SM-J260M) and that they will all most likely be part of the Android Go movement.  So it seems Samsung is ready to dive into Go headfirst.

Android Go’s Future:

Android Go was announced back at MWC in February this year, and since then we’ve seen multiple phones get in on the action.  The idea is to bring incredibly affordable phones to people that otherwise couldn’t afford smartphones, but still give them all the newest in terms of software.  The was this is possible is by limiting other specs on the phone and putting in less preloaded apps (not exactly a bad thing!). Android Go is just getting started, but it aims to provide phones for the next billion users around the world, and I’m excited to see where it’ll go from here.

What are your thoughts on the new Samsung phone that we may be seeing soon?  Let us know in the comments below!

Improved Security Or Less Freedom? APK Updates

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Improved Security Or Less Freedom? APK Updates

Earlier this week a small change rolled out to the Google Play Store.  It’s one that you likely won’t even notice, but for those who have it’s tough to decide whether the shift is good or bad.  What change?  Just a small string of metadata for apps.

Google is adding a security string of metadata to all Android APKs (the file format android apps are stored in).  This string will come along with the usual app and be used to verify that apps are distributed through the Play Store or another approved channel.

But why?

The reasoning is (of course) for security purposes.  Users will be able to verify that the apps their downloading aren’t malicious apps seeking to wreak havoc on your system.  There are plenty of apps that have posed as secure looking every-day apps when in reality they were doing other things under the hood (such as mining bitcoin).  This new metadata will supposedly help catch apps like this and ensure that any apps users are downloading are coming from a safe place.

We’ve talked before about how android apps are pretty secure through their information silos.  Apps must use a content provider/resolver to access information from one another, and in order to get access to your serious information (contacts, messages, pictures) apps are required to request permissions that must be explicitly granted by the phone’s owner.  That being said it’s still not a good idea to go around downloading every app you can just for the heck of it.  Security should not encourage reckless behavior.

So what’s the issue?

So why the controversy?  If this new string of data will help keep our phones more secure why could people be opposed to it?  Well the new string is essentially DRM (Digital Rights Management).  As with media services, there’s potential for companies to abuse DRM to choose how and when you use their product.

Let’s say for example you download an app and like it how it is.  A new update comes out and you hear horrendous things about it like it makes an ad pop up every 5 seconds (a terrible marketing strategy).  Naturally you would try to hold off on updating to this new version as long as possible.  Well with DRM it might be difficult/impossible to tinker with the app to remove ads, and a developer could potentially force you to update to the new version by altering the metadata.  It’s a win for mobile app security, but it also invites misuse.

It’s not easy to say if this is a big deal or simply a step in the right direction for security, but it also hasn’t been in the limelight for long.  What are your thoughts on this change to coming apps?  Let us know in the comments below!

 

 

The Pixel 3 Leaks Just Keep Coming!

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The Pixel 3 Leaks Just Keep Coming!

 

If you’re a phone junky then you’ve probably been following all the buzz surrounding the upcoming Pixel 3.  And if you haven’t been but are interested in catching up, then you’ve come to the right place.  Rumors and leaks galore have been floating around this week and late discussing what the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL have in store for users.  Let’s discuss:

It’s Huge:

I’m not just talking about the hype.  The Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are going to be larger than their predecessors (is anyone surprised?).  Measuring in at 5.3’’ and 6.2’’ respectively these phones will be giving the iPhone X a run for its money in terms of screen real estate.  And also much like the iPhone…yep you guess it, there’s a notch thrown into the mix.

Just like almost every other android phone since the iPhone X’s reveal the notch seems to be playing a big role in design practices.  A few images were images have been posted on the XDADeveloper’s forum showing a Pixel 3 rocking a notched display, dual front cameras, and a back that appears to be made of glass.

New features:

Why glass on the back?  Well this has led to speculation that wireless charging may be coming back into play.  This feature was discontinued a few years back in the Nexus series after Google’s acquisition of HTC.  The argument was…not the strongest.  Google argued that Nexus phones had too much z (thickness) with the wireless charging, and that USB Type-C charging was a much simpler solution.  Maybe more efficient, but its definitely not as cool!

Of course we have to take these leaks with a grain of salt.  The Pixel’s camera is a good demonstration of this.  There’s been a lot of back and forth about whether one or two cameras are in store for the new device.  Leaked images have confirmed both cases, so its hard to know what’s really true and what is just a wannabe, but a series of images leaked by 9to5Google show a single rear camera on a Pixel 3 prototype.  This leak matters as the phone was sporting a mystery Google logo, so it gains another ounce of credibility.

Whatever the case, Pixel’s are known for their phenomenal cameras, and when the Pixel 2 came out its camera blew us away.  Since then quite a few other phones have scored higher on DxOMark (a image quality rating site), but at the time the Pixel 2 was the leader.  So odds are the Pixel 3 is going to exceed expectations again and top the charts in this manner.

New Software:

The Pixel 3 is also expected to be the first official phone rocking Android P software.  So new features like RTT-Wi-Fi and auto-adjusting batteries will open new possibilities for both users and developers.  Android P is currently available for beta use if you’re interested in exploring it early, but if you’re planning on purchasing a Pixel 3, you’ll have it in your hands before you know it.  There’s no official release date set right now, but the popular opinion is this October.  So close and yet so far.

What are you hoping the Pixel 3 will have that other phones are lacking?  Do you think it will be a let down or a leader in the industry?  Let us know in the comments below!

Changing Your Software In A Flash

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Changing Your Software In A Flash

Android P is the hot new software that just hit the market, and as such those ahead of the pack will be scrambling to get it on their phones.  This doesn’t mean that they have to go out and buy a phone with the newest software on it though.  By flashing your current phone you’re able to gain access to either the newest features on the market.  Or if you’re feeling nostalgic you can flash your phone to older versions as well.

The term “flashing” may be a new one to you, but if so don’t worry.  All it essentially means is that you’re loading a different version of software onto your operating system.  (Although you probably figured that out from the first paragraph).  So flashing forward can get you fancy new features, but why would you go backwards?  One reason might be to conserve battery power.  A newer version is bound to drain your battery faster, so the trade off may be worth it. 

WARNING:

Now here’s where I throw out the very important disclaimer.  Flashing your phone will erase all data from the device, and doing things wrong may brick your device. This means that if things are done incorrectly or get interrupted then you may render you phone unusable.  This is why its highly recommended to only flash a phone when its full charged.  If somehow the phone died mid process things could get tricky quickly.

That being said flashing can offer some really cool features, so if you’re careful and follow a guide to do it properly the results are worth it.  So how do you do it? There are a few things that you’ll need to make sure you have on your computer before starting the process, but overall the steps are simple.  In all flashing shouldn’t take you more than 30 minutes (and that’s moving slowly following a guide).  Google offers a step by step instructional guide on its docs page, but in order to follow this you’ll have to have the following tools:

-Android Debug Bride (ADB) and Fastboot

-A phone set to developer mode

-The correct image for the version you’re flashing to

Flashing can be a really cool experiment to undertake if you’ve never done it before and want to change how your phone works.  Just make sure you proceed with caution and charge your phone in advance.  If you really want to know more about it and get support on flashing/rooting your device Phonlab offers a course that covers just about every phone you can imagine!