Explainers

Why do Android updates arrive so late?

And what Google has been doing to solve it

Published

on

With new devices popping up left and right, more and more people now have access to the latest Android operating system (OS) and its technologies. From artificial intelligence (AI)-powered cameras to smoother, simpler designs to the user interface, Android has been looking to attract more users to its platform over the past few years.

However, there are consumers who own or wish to buy cheaper devices that still unfortunately use the older versions of Android, and wonder if they get to experience the new updates for themselves — only for them to realize that it’s the end of the line for their gadgets.

Updates arrive slower, mostly in small parts, and sometimes the entire OS cannot be upgraded any further. The questions Android developers have been facing from consumers within the last few years are these: Why do updates arrive so late, and what is Google doing about it?

The Android way

The Android operating system is one big, open-source platform for developers and manufacturers. This means that they are given the liberty to modify such software to introduce and improve their products. Android smartphone companies are able to set themselves apart from the others mostly because of this approach towards the unique interfaces.

According to Google’s Android Developers website, 63.2 percent of Android devices in the market run on older Android systems than Android 7.0 Nougat; manufacturers opt to sell their devices with much older software due to their insistence of applying their own Android “skins” or their own version of the OS.

Companies such as Xiaomi, Samsung, Huawei, and ASUS customize the Android operating systems to give users a unique experience when using their devices. Xiaomi’s MIUI 10 and Samsung’s Experience bring new features for AI and major redesigns for their latest smartphones. ASUS’ ZenUI offers features that support the gaming capabilities of their smartphones, while Huawei’s EMUI allows you to sync your LinkedIn account to your address book.

Implementing such skins either limits the number of updates the device receives, or it makes the gadget no longer upgradeable. This is how Android fragmentation works, and unfortunately, is also the reason you can’t get your older Android device to upgrade to the latest software easily.

People were excited when several companies announced which smartphones would receive an upgrade to Android 8.0 Oreo over the past few months. However, only about six percent of devices have the update ready for users either due to delays in the rollout or because of bugs that affected the device’s performance.

Android fragmentation has become a problem for third-party developers, especially those who were hoping to use the newer and more updated software to create better games and utility apps for people. Because of fragmentation, developers are limited to the older and less secure versions of Android, as well as the codes and programs that come with it.

The applications these developers make are not guaranteed to work without encountering problems along the way. The late arrival of updates hampers the developers’ ability to make any changes to their applications, and even put the user’s safety at risk.

Google’s plan of action

At present, the developers at Google did a number of projects for updates to arrive faster and all at once for third-party developers and phone manufacturers.

They came up with pure Android software known as Android One, and they encouraged device manufacturers to create smartphones using the Android One OS. Android One became Google’s standard for manufacturers and developers to use in their new devices and applications. With smartphones incorporating Android One, updates become more regular and can be streamlined across multiple devices all at once.

Android One was already available on a few devices since its initial launch in 2014, from the Cherry Mobile G1 to the Xiaomi Mi A1. However, the pure Android OS disappeared for a while because the software itself gave no freedom for manufactures to differentiate themselves. Eventually, Android One found itself back in the market with Nokia spearheading the effort to reintroduce it with the likes of the well-received Nokia 7 Plus.

Don’t confuse Android One with Android Go, Google’s cut-down version of its Android OS, however. While Android One is the standard Android software Google wants to apply across all devices, Android Go is designed for entry-level devices. Devices running Android Go will be able to maximize storage options and mobile data management for you, so you will be able to do many things with your phone without worrying about space and data consumption.

The latest experiment: Project Treble

Another project undertaken by Google to address the fragmentation issue is Project Treble. Project Treble is a service offered to users to help streamline the process of updating their software to the latest version from Android, and is currently offered to devices that have Android Oreo installed out of the box.

What Project Treble does is that it allows manufacturers to deliver the updates themselves, without having to go through long and expensive processes to deliver them. This also allows developers themselves to create applications using new codes and programs provided by the Android software.

Following Project Treble was the release of the beta version for Android P. Like in previous iterations, Google did this so developers can already work on their own software-specific applications and technologies that fit the profile Android P brings to the table. Of course, the beta version is still only available to a select number of companies working on new devices, but it will be available across all devices once a final version is released.

Initially, Project Treble and Android P Beta were only available on Google’s Pixel phones, but they’ve now branched out to non-Pixel phones, as well. Treble is available for all new devices that have Android Oreo pre-installed, so developers can experience Android P Beta and work around the new software. A list of devices that already support Android P Beta can be found here and on Android’s Developer website.

What’s next for Android?

With Project Treble and Android continuously bringing updates to the platform faster to consumers, Google is hoping to have just one centralized operating system in the future. Over the past year, Google has been working on Fuchsia, designed to be the central operating system that is potentially going to replace both Chrome OS and Android in the near future. Fuchsia is expected to further streamline updates as a way of fighting Android fragmentation.

Android P is still in its beta version as of writing, meaning that Google is getting feedback from companies that have devices already powered or tested using the latest Android software over the past few months. Google is constantly working on better and faster ways for software updates to reach Android devices, provided that such devices have the necessary hardware to accommodate the upgrades.

For third-party developers, Google has even made their services more accessible to older Android devices. Recently, it gave older devices access to the company’s virtual assistant service, Google Assistant, as long as these devices were running at least an Android 5.0 Lollipop system.

With all these developments for Android, it’s safe to say that Google has done what it can to address the issue on updates arriving so late, so don’t worry if your phone is still running on an older Android OS, because Google hasn’t forgotten you.

Illustrations by Yanni Panesa

Explainers

Play more, charge less: Huawei’s GPU Turbo explained

Better visuals without sacrificing battery life?

Published

on

Aside from using your phone to call, text, and take pictures, you now have the power to access the internet and play games with others. Instead of limiting yourself to Snake and Bounce, you now have online games such as PUBG Mobile and Mobile Legends.

There’s just one problem: Not all games are playable across all smartphones. With the gaming world now expanding to the mobile scene, you would need a smartphone with the latest hardware and software inside it. Even if that’s not the case, you would need a smartphone that can handle long hours of gaming, as well. It’s an intense fight over what matters to you the most: performance versus efficiency.

Fortunately, the choice shouldn’t be very difficult thanks to Huawei’s latest mobile advancement: GPU Turbo.

What’s GPU Turbo all about?

GPU Turbo processing technology aims to enhance the gaming experience across Huawei’s smartphones. Executives promise that the tech will boost gaming performance while maintaining the phone’s efficiency. This means you can play games on your smartphone without sacrificing much — like battery life, for example.

The technology looks at the graphical capabilities of your phone and adjusts it accordingly, especially for gaming. With GPU Turbo, technologies such as 4D gaming and both augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) are taken care of. Huawei believes that GPU Turbo will boost graphical performance by 60 percent, and can make even budget phones play graphically intensive games.

Apart from boosting visual performance, GPU Turbo also enables smartphones to maximize efficiency. One common problem across all smartphones is that the battery depletes relatively fast while you’re gaming. Partner that with a non-effective cooling solution within the phone, and it’s basically device overkill when playing games. What GPU Turbo does is extend your phone’s battery life by 30 percent and keep your device relatively cool while playing.

Implications on Huawei Smartphones

One of the key insights Huawei executives received was about consumer demand for a smoother mobile gaming experience. Because people want to play the latest mobile games seamlessly, they would want to buy smartphones that are capable of doing so. Graphical performance should not suffer in the slightest, especially for multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) and battle royale games.

The fun doesn’t stop there: With Huawei smartphones supporting GPU Turbo, other technologies such as AR and VR get a chance to truly shine. Huawei executives claim that GPU Turbo opens up opportunities for innovations like online shopping through AR or telemedicine through VR. At this rate, in theory, you could have a truly complete smartphone experience on your hands.

As of writing, GPU Turbo will take effect Huawei’s latest smartphones like the new Huawei Nova 3 series. However, older smartphones supported by the latest EMUI will experience the upgrade, as well. (View the list here.)

If you’ve been dying to have the full mobile gaming experience, GPU Turbo is definitely something to watch out for.

Illustrations by MJ Jucutan

Continue Reading

Explainers

The future for all games: Ray Tracing explained

The magic behind NVIDIA’s RTX series

Published

on

NVIDIA seemed to have struck gold with the announcement of their brand new graphics cards for gamers. These cards are set to bring the gaming world into unparalleled heights thanks to the technologies behind them. The company calls them the RTX series, and the biggest feature within these graphics cards is real-time, ray tracing technology.

But, what is ray tracing technology? What is it about this technology that had NVIDIA wanting to produce a new line of cards to house it? Will it really change the gaming experience as a whole?

Ray tracing in a nutshell

Ray tracing is a rendering technique that uses rays of light to project images or objects onto your screen. These rays of light determine the colors, reflections, refractions, and shadows that the objects possess. These also show more accurate, more realistic images as the rays trace back to any source of light in the surrounding. To put it simply, ray tracing is what happens when you could take a picture of anything around you with your eyes.

The technology isn’t that new; in fact, it has been used since the 1960s for movies and television. Ray tracing is the main proponent behind CGI, where most special effects are often rendered to recreate realistic backgrounds with accurate coloring. In 2008, Intel showed a demonstration of the game Enemy Territory: Quake Wars that used ray tracing powered by a Xeon Tigerton processor. Currently, there are applications that allow you to edit videos using ray tracing such as Adobe’s After Effects.

Shifting from rasterization to ray tracing

For the longest time, NVIDIA has worked with multiple companies to produce game-grade graphics cards for consumers. The main technology behind these graphics cards is rasterization. In a nutshell, rasterization creates shapes to outline certain elements during gameplay. These shapes are given various colors to mimic reflections and shadows produced by such objects. The technology does not use up too much processing power to produce high-quality images for games. Rasterization enables gamers to play at smoother frame rates while getting the best and most realistic image quality.

However, NVIDIA wanted to take things up a notch when producing the next generation of graphics cards for the modern-day gamer. The company wanted to improve the gaming experience by any means, thus bringing in ray tracing in their graphics cards. With ray tracing, colors are more accurate allowing for a more immersive gaming experience — at least that’s how the company explains it. This is clearly seen with their exclusive gameplay of Shadow of the Tomb Raider:

This technology became the backbone for their new RTX graphics cards, putting much emphasis on real-time interactions within games. The RTX graphics cards possess greater memory capacity and processing speeds to keep up with the demands of the technology inside it. With NVIDIA’s Turing architecture, these new cards make the ray tracing processes much faster while using less computations.

Risks of going for ray tracing

Of course, with new technologies comes risks to consider before buying into them. First, ray tracing heavily relies on multiple calculations to generate accurate images on your screen. Back then, computers and graphics cards were not powerful enough to produce quality images immediately using ray tracing. Production of such images can take days to possibly weeks or months, as seen with most movies that heavily rely on CGI.

When applying ray tracing technology to modern games, graphics cards tend to suffer more. The computational requirement for ray tracing is much more than the graphics card’s virtual memory (VRAM) could handle. Of course, it depends on how much RAM is included in your graphics card — even then, it would consume more energy than it’s optimized for. These are the risks that NVIDIA is constantly trying to address with their new RTX cards.

There is still a lot of work needed to prove that ray tracing is the future for gaming. While the technology wants to bring to you the most immersive gaming experience ever, it also comes with a heavy cost — not just on your wallet. Let’s hope that the RTX series is worth the wait.

Continue Reading

Explainers

The importance of artificial intelligence in smartphones

Is this still the future of technology?

Published

on

Have you ever wondered what smartphone brands actually mean when they tell you that their cameras use artificial intelligence (AI)?

With AI now becoming a significant part of our daily lives, we start to look into how this technology found its way into the market, and see whether or not AI truly is the future.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial intelligence, or AI for short, is a not-so-fairly new concept in the world of technology. What it basically means is that machines are given human-like intelligence through a system of information and programs or applications that are built into machines.

Machines with AI built inside can perform a variety of tasks mostly observed through human intuition like problem solving, gathering knowledge, and logical reasoning — among others. It’s basically making machines smarter and, in a way, more human-like.

Illustrations by Kimchi Lee

AI has been a part of many devices over the past few years, from smart homes to applications on your smartphone. Companies like Amazon and Google have come up with smart home devices that assist people with their day-to-day tasks such as Alexa and Google Assistant.

Businesses with online presence through company websites have also integrated chat boxes and online assistance bots that automatically answer any customer concerns depending on the information given.

How AI found its way to smartphones

Artificial intelligence was often associated with creating robots to perform human-like functions at a much faster, more efficient rate — which is heavily portrayed on mainstream media. Through AI, these machines learn more about the environment they’re in, and carefully adjust to meet the needs of the users. Such a process is called machine learning.

Nowadays, machine learning isn’t just limited to AI robots that learn what people are doing, but has now branched out to what people are thinking, inquiring about, and saying to other people. AI has slowly made its way into other devices that are much more accessible to us, primarily through the internet.

Machine learning is now incorporated into smart home devices, online video streaming websites like YouTube and Netflix, social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter; basically, the technology behind AI constantly learns more about people, their interests, and day-to-day activities.

The newest member of AI-integrated devices are smartphones themselves. Companies like Apple and Google have looked into integrating AI into the processors of their flagship phones — the iPhone and Pixel series, respectively. Early 2018 saw most Android smartphone brands integrate AI within their phones as a way of enhancing the user experience even further; Huawei and ASUS released their new flagship phone lines with their cameras utilizing AI for smarter responses to the environment around the user.

It’s quite possible that smartphones could very well lead the transition of all devices towards machine learning and AI in the near future.

Smartphones with AI

As mentioned, two companies have integrated AI into their smartphones to provide enhanced user experiences in a totally different way. One of these companies is ASUS, with their recently released ZenFone 5 series of smartphones with cameras powered by AI. Its shooters focus primarily on taking better photos and adjusting to the environment around you. The ZenFone 5’s AI Photo Learning allows the phone to learn how you like your photos and adjust the settings accordingly so you don’t have to.

Apart from its cameras, the ZenFone 5 series uses AI to boost overall performance. The base model is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 processor, which enables the full utilization of AI features on the phone. The AI Boost technology allows the handset to have an instant hit in performance when running heavy-duty applications and games. Of course, AI in the ZenFone 5 also predicts which apps you will use next and learns which apps you use regularly.

Another company that integrates AI in its smartphones is Huawei, with the Mate 10 and P20 series. They’re powered by the Kirin 970 processor — which boosts overall performance and efficiency using integrated AI. This means that the phones will adjust to how much you use them and maximize performance every step of the way. They also come with Huawei’s EMUI 8.0 with its own set of AI features such as Smart Screen for multitasking and real-time translation during calls.

Much like the ZenFone 5, the Huawei Mate 10 and P20 phones also have cameras powered by AI. This powers the phones’ dual-lens camera setups for scene and object recognition, automatically adjusting the camera’s settings to suit the situation. Huawei also emphasizes producing professional-grade photos by allowing the AI to adjust the camera’s focus on the subject. That way, you are able to achieve a perfect-looking selfie or portrait — without the need to manually adjust the settings for a long period of time.

What we get from AI

Artificial intelligence opens up many opportunities for technology to be like humans in terms of processing thoughts and insights. What AI does is it allows machines to learn more about humans and tailor-fits its processes and capabilities to match us, from search engines to smarter applications. When treated properly, AI can actually deliver better and more efficient ways of dealing with the problems people face almost every single day.

The only downside is AI has the potential to even invade one’s privacy, especially through one’s smartphone. Because the technology is constantly learning more about its user through his or her devices, this opens the door for the data to be retrieved by, quite literally, anyone on the internet.

Because people nowadays access their smartphones almost every chance they get, people who truly know how AI works have the potential to abuse what they know and use it for their own personal gain, either through malicious activities like cyberstalking and cyberbullying, or online attacks like hacking or phishing.

The future of AI

2018 is looking like the year of AI with the unveiling of smartphones and revamped smart devices to upgrade the user experience. The possibilities for artificial intelligence are endless, given its wide usage across any available platform.

For now, it’s intelligent cameras on your smartphones that adjust settings for you to save the hassle of getting the perfect image. Some time in the future, AI could very well exist even on a gaming controller or mirrorless camera to adjust to your needs. However, we have to be aware about the dangers of using AI to its fullest as it can also lead to our own careless actions.

Indeed, the future is bright for artificial intelligence — as long as we use it for the right reasons.

Continue Reading

Trending