Explainers

Why do Android updates arrive so late?

And what Google has been doing to solve it

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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

Here’s how India is trying to be China in the smartphone game

The world’s second-largest smartphone market has more to offer

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China is practically the world’s production powerhouse. And India wants to follow the same path. India’s Central government has approved three schemes to enable large scale electronics manufacturing and attract fresh investments worth almost INR 50,000 crore (US$ 6.3 billion) in the sector.

The government aims to provide companies a production-linked incentive of 4 percent to 6 percent on incremental sales for locally made goods over a period of five years. This not only includes mobile phone manufacturing but also assembly, testing, marking and packaging.

The other policy offers a 25 percent financial incentive for capital expenditure that goes towards “the manufacturing of goods that constitute the supply chain of an electronic product”. With these incentives, the government is optimistic that companies will come to India, contribute to progressing infrastructure, and make export-quality goods.

Inauguration of Samsung’s Noida Factory in India

According to their estimates, domestic value addition for mobile phones is expected to witness 35 to 40 percent jump by 2025, from the current 20-25 percent.

So far, companies have focused on assembling equipment like smartphones in India. A huge chunk of the components are still imported. These policy changes could act as a stimulant to locally source electrical components, semiconductors, as well as develop production clusters.

Bangalore and Hyderabad are infamous for their IT Tech Parks that house thousands of employees from IT service firms like TCS, Infosys, Accenture, and many more. Similarly, the government wants to create production clusters that can develop an eco-system of their own. These clusters can create a seamless supply chain when paired with proper land, air, and shipment infrastructure.

The timing of the announcement is what matters the most. China is embroiled in a trade war with the US for quite some time and we’ve seen how a giant like Huawei got caught in the cross-fire. Companies are skeptical about depending too much on China for production and sourcing. Hence, countries like Vietnam have witnessed a huge inflow of foreign investment from the likes of Nintendo, Foxconn, and even Samsung.

India is very much like Vietnam. A developing economy that’s on the look-out for foreign investment and enhances local production capabilities. This not only helps the government increase its tax revenue via taxation, but also provides employment. Considering the current Coronavirus crisis, it’s obvious that these plans may not materialize soon. But, as soon as the storm is gone, companies would want to find an alternative to China.

Prime Minister, Narendra Modi with Apple CEO, Time Cook

It’s reported that the alleged low-cost iPhone from Apple has been delayed due to the pandemic. Irrespective of the current health crisis, Apple has been trying to ramp up its local production in India and has done so, cautiously. India is the world’s second-largest smartphone market and every brand wants a piece of the cake. Realme and Xiaomi have been intensely fighting for supremacy, Samsung continues to lead via the offline market, and OPPO and Vivo have flooded all commercial banners with their products.

Xiaomi currently has seven plants in India, major ones being at Sri City and Sriperumbedur. It also makes its televisions in Tirupathi. Manu Kumar Jain, Vice President, Xiaomi, and Managing Director, Xiaomi India said that 95 percent of Xiaomi’s phones are made in India with 65 percent of a phone’s value being sourced locally. The government has been successful in compelling companies to make in India because it consistently kept on raising import duty on smartphones.

Samsung already has the world’s largest mobile phone factory in India that assembles top-tier variants, ready for export. We don’t know the volume it churns out right now, but their long-term investment is a precedent for other brands to take the market seriously. OnePlus has a research facility in Hyderabad where it makes software products intended for the Indian market.

Samsung’s factory in Noida, India

According to industry ICEA, the NOIDA region (a part of Delhi NCR) has close to 80 mobile manufacturing factories that provide employment to approximately 50,000 people. It’s normal today to see companies release press notes announcing new facilities across the country that’ll employ thousands of people.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi kickstarted the “Make in India” campaign five years ago to encourage foreign companies to invest and build in India. While its effects are debatable in a few industries, there’s no doubt that the mobile industry has picked up exponentially. State governments of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu have played a major role in establishing these clusters that symbolize progress.

Engineers are widely available in India, the country has developed multiple ports under the private-public model, and numerous airports are under construction. India is already the world’s second-largest smartphone maker, but the gap is huge. It’s about briding this. Obviously, the scale at which China produces is unmatchable. But that cannot undermine India’s efforts to be more relevant on the global stage. From a purely consumption-based economy, it’s slowly trying to turning into a production backed state.

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Explainers

Explaining smartphone display refresh rates

Are they really any different from PC displays?

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Smartphones, little by little, are turning into mini-PCs with the features that come with it. From browsing on social media to playing video games, technology is slowly adopting a more “on-the-go” lifestyle. Recently, smartphones have acquired another feature that your own desktop or laptop already has.

Some of the recently released premium and gaming smartphones now come with displays having their own dedicated refresh rate. Refresh rates aren’t new, but to see it on a compact device has a lot of people wondering. How different or similar is it to a PC’s refresh rate? And is it actually something good to have?

A crash course on refresh rates

A display’s refresh rate, basically is the number of times your display updates every second. Your screen usually takes a few seconds to just a second to load new images, depending on that rate. For example, a 60Hz refresh rate means that in one second, any image on your display is refreshed 60 times. Your eyes wouldn’t catch it fast enough, but that’s how your display works.

For most PC displays, the default is at 60Hz with companies releasing displays that range up to 240Hz. You mostly see this in displays fit for gaming purposes, since gamers prefer the higher refresh rate for improved performance. If you’re someone who mostly likes to watch movies, it really doesn’t matter how high the refresh rate is.

Note that this is entirely different from frame rates, in that these show how many images are produced within a second. Although, having a high refresh rate allows you to perform a lot better because it is optimized for higher frame rates. That’s why you see some gamers complain about playing on a 60Hz display.

Transitioning to a smartphone near you

Eventually, the concept of amping up a refresh rate will reach the world of smartphones. In fact, the OnePlus 7 Pro was actually the first mainstream smartphone to have a display with a 90Hz refresh rate. Most smartphones, even budget ones, have displays built with a 60Hz refresh rate. Something about it just makes you scroll through your phone without feeling too dizzy, unless you scroll too fast.

Premium smartphones mostly incorporate either a 90Hz or 120Hz refresh rate for a smoother UI experience. With higher refresh rates, scrolling through your phone feels a lot smoother without risking an eye sore. Of course, these smartphones do cost significantly more than your average, everyday smartphone.

Apart from premium smartphones, gaming smartphones have also incorporated higher than 60Hz refresh rates. Phones like the Razer Phone 2 and the ASUS ROG Phone 2 both come with a 120Hz refresh rate to suit mobile gamers, especially FPS (first-person shooter) gamers. With these higher refresh rates, mobile gamers see clearer images with less motion blur involved.

Do you really need all the hertz?

That begs the question: what do you need a high refresh rate screen for? When you use a PC, 60Hz is already good for most tasks and games. Trying to go for higher refresh rates usually means that you’re doing a lot more than the ordinary. Tasks such as heavy-duty data analytics or hardcore gaming are optimal for higher refresh rates.

The same logic works for smartphone displays, except on a smaller screen size. A lot of what you can do, you’re able to do so on 60Hz displays. If you’re just using your phone to browse social media, watch Netflix on the daily, and play games casually, you don’t need anything higher. Although, it is a premium to have if you want buttery smooth software.

If you play games competitively, you would prefer higher refresh rates just like in gaming monitors. Higher refresh rates allow you to perform at an optimal level when going for higher frame rates. We’re talking close to no image tearing or motion blur when you play PUBG Mobile or Call of Duty. While you can perform well at the default 60Hz, going for a 90Hz or 120Hz ideally makes the experience better.

Some final thoughts

Smartphone display refresh rates have always been a part of the technology. These displays were built in a way that everyone can benefit from them. It’s only fairly recently that smartphone companies came up with a way to make the experience a lot smoother. Hence, smartphones started incorporating higher refresh rates.

It almost feels like having that high refresh rate is a premium, given only select smartphones have it. But it’s a premium that you don’t really need unless you have a good reason to. Apart from the cost of experiencing it, it really depends on what you plan to do with your smartphone.

At the end of the day, it’s better to ask yourself if it’s a feature worth getting. If it’s something you feel you can’t live without, by all means, right?

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Automotive

Stranger Things 3: What exactly is an ignition cable?

Possessed Billy knew what he was doing

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By now, you’ve probably seen the third and newest season of Stranger Things on Netflix. If you still haven’t, it goes without saying that there are spoilers ahead and you should stay away from this article.

Seeing a pop culture reference such as Stranger Things together with the seemingly unrelated world of automotive in one writeup such as this could be strange (pun intended) for some. We really don’t mind and thought it would be a fun and unique way to talk about the show and learn a few things from it, as well.

So we ask the question: What exactly is an ignition cable?

The ignition cable is part of a vehicle’s ignition system. In simplest terms, it’s a mechanism that starts the engine. By generating a high voltage from the car’s battery to the spark plugs in its engine, it causes them to ignite the engine’s combustion chambers and get it up and running.

And in order to transfer that voltage from the source to the engine, you’ll need an ignition cable as it’s like a subway system that acts as pathways for the voltage to pass through. So if the ignition cable is not present, there’s no way to start the car.

Back to Stranger Things, Billy (although already possessed by the Mind Flayer) obviously still had his knowledge on cars so he took away the ignition cable trapping our favorite gang at Starcourt Mall’s parking lot.

Just to further stress the importance of an ignition cable and the whole ignition system for that matter, we’d like to visit other possibilities and ask, “What if Billy didn’t take it away?”

Well, the plan was for Eleven and her group to go to Bauman’s secret place and stay safe while Joyce, Hopper, and the rest try to close the portal and render the Mind Flayer powerless. If their ignition cable was intact, they’d be a lot safer away from the Mind Flayer although we wouldn’t be able to see that amazing fireworks scene inside the mall.

Through this, we see the importance of that one small part under the hood of the car. In real life, it really pays to make sure that everything is in good working condition and that one faulty cable could mean trouble for you if remained unaddressed — unless there’s a car on display inside a mall somewhere that you can take spare parts from!

SEE ALSO: Netflix launches AR Trailer with Stranger Things 3

 

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