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

DITO is all-in for the next generation of mobile connectivity

But what do they mean by this, exactly?

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For as long as most Filipinos can remember, the Philippines has always had only two major mobile networks that they could choose from. This made the choice of network provider a bit simple but very limited for consumers. Recently, however, an actual third player came into the picture in the form of DITO Telecommunity.

While availability started back in March, DITO is making strides in terms of the services it’s offering. Currently, they are available in over 650 cities and municipalities across the country. Also, for the most part, these offers consist of high-speed data plans at an affordable rate. Where they want you to shift your attention to, however, is that their network also supports 5G connectivity. In their words, it’s the “next-gen technology” they want their consumers to experience.

So, what is this “next-gen technology” that they’re going on about?

Let’s review: the essence of 5G

The biggest thing about DITO’s new network service is their claim to bring “the real 5G” to the Philippines, at least according to DITO CTO Retired Major General Rodolfo Santiago. We had already talked about the whole 5G experience and what it brings to the table, so let’s not get into it too much. Basically, 5G serves as the next big thing in mobile connectivity, promising faster connections and wider coverage.

As such, telecommunication companies are opting-in to provide just that to its consumer base. However, like most new technologies, there are obstacles in the way that makes fast mobile data a little impossible to achieve. Well, DITO pretty much has that covered with what they call their world-class digital infrastructure.

Standing alone, or not standing alone?

While competitors began to introduce 5G to its consumers earlier, what they initially deployed was 5G non-standalone (NSA) network. This means that their 5G architecture is assisted by their existing 4G infrastructure. DITO, on the other hand, began developing their 5G standalone (SA) network since their rollout in 2019. 

In theory, 5G standalone networks like DITO provides super-fast transmission speeds with ultra-low latency, which is suitable for most enterprises. Per its namesake, it relies heavily on its own 5G infrastructure instead of using its legacy 4G infrastructure as a jump-off point. In turn, DITO users will experience true 5G speeds every time they connect to the internet through mobile data. In other words, 5G standalone is “true 5G”.

With 5G standalone, DITO unlocks the “true 5G” in accommodating what 4G networks previously couldn’t. While it is building on what 4G connectivity initially offered, over time, it will eventually solidify itself as the standard for mobile connectivity.

The true goal for DITO

“Our goal has been to allow Filipinos to experience next-generation technology and we in DITO are excited to bring 5G to more areas in the country to truly transform digital connectivity and online interactions,” added DITO Chief Technology Officer Rodolfo Santiago.

For DITO, this is the “breakthrough connectivity” they want to bring to the general public. Apart from achieving greater mobile data speeds, each DITO SIM gives users access to more enhanced versions of innovations that are already widely available since the introduction of 4G. Two of which are VoLTE and ViLTE, the latter of which is something DITO proudly boasts.

Their next-gen offer: VoLTE and ViLTE

What exactly are these two innovations they’re enhancing with their services? Let’s start with VoLTE, mostly because this isn’t necessarily something new for most people. Simply put, Voice over LTE or VoLTE allows users to make voice calls without compromising mobile data speed. Normally, it’s an either-neither thing, wherein one use case will be a priority.

What is new is ViLTE, or as DITO calls it: Video over LTE, which works the same way as VoLTE but for video calls. In essence, users can make video calls from your device without the need for a video calling app. Also, these video calls are charged with the same rates as a normal voice call. However, this feature is currently limited to video calls between DITO subscribers.

Bringing it all together, DITO offers a package with faster connections and greater savings considering the innovations. It’s not something that a lot of other telcos are offering; for DITO, however, the experience doesn’t stop there.

Any phone will do, but what exactly do you need?

Upon its early availability, DITO released a list of compatible phones that supposedly bring out the telco’s best features. Like most providers, the DITO SIM works with any smartphone, 5G or not, for the bare minimum features like calling, texting, and mobile data. To experience “the real 5G,” however, they want a 5G device with a more standalone architecture.

For context, the 5G smartphones on this list come with either 5G NSA or 5G SA. The main difference between the two is, well, non-standalone architecture isn’t necessarily true 5G; rather, it is applying 5G to a 4G network. Meanwhile, 5G SA is its own 5G network, built and connected to 5G network bases to deliver higher speeds with lower latency than 4G.

In DITO’s case, only a handful of smartphones actually support the 5G SA architecture, which is where their 5G capabilities are built on. Currently, they are continuously exploring avenues to expand their network in order to bring “the real 5G” to more Filipinos, provided they have a supported smartphone. Again, these kinds of smartphones are a bit pricey, but to experience “the real 5G,” it’s not a bad trade-off.

The future is DITO (here)?

DITO enters the scene with the goal of bringing the next big thing in telecommunications, and their offer hinges on it. In their eyes, the promise of faster internet and wider coverage is already here, and it’s just a matter of getting people to opt-in. With its latest innovations, DITO provides a more enhanced mobile data experience.

To fully experience the next generation of technology, users must be properly equipped to wield such power. There’s a reason that DITO put out a device compatibility list upon initial launch: to provide users the best possible experience with all the features they have. Sure, any device will work with the DITO SIM, but certain devices give you that best experience.

Is it time to make the switch to the next-gen? In DITO’s eyes, the answer is simple and they’re waiting for people to join them.


This feature is a collaboration between GadgetMatch and DITO Philippines.

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Explainers

The secrets behind iPhone 13’s Cinematic Mode

Together with Apple’s VP for iPhone Product Marketing as well as their Human Interface Designer

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For the first time ever, we had a three-way interview with Apple’s VP for iPhone Product Marketing, Kaiann Drance as well as one of their leading Human Interface Designers, Johnnie Manzari. If you’re not starstruck enough, both of them appeared in Apple’s September 2021 Keynote event!

Other than new camera sensors, newer camera features are also found on the new iPhone 13 Series. One of those is the new Cinematic Mode.

If you’ve watched some of our latest iPhone videos including the Sierra Blue iPhone 12 Pro Max unboxing, we’ve let you take a sneak peek on that new video mode.

We’re not gonna lie, it’s one amazing camera feature Apple has managed to deliver.

But what are the secrets behind it? And are you curious how technicalities work?

Watch our 16-minute interview with the Apple executives explaining why Cinematic Mode is the next big thing in mobile videography.

 

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How Google alerted the Philippines during the July earthquake

Crowd-sourcing data

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Illustrations by Kris Blanco

Back in July, an earthquake rocked Metro Manila. Unbeknownst to most but noticed by some, a globally renowned company was helping everyone through the natural incident: Google. In the few minutes leading up to and during the 6.7 magnitude earthquake, Android users received important alerts warning them of the ongoing tremors. Though it wasn’t the dreaded Big One, the alert afforded attentive users a few precious seconds to either seek appropriate cover or stop doing dangerous tasks.

Incidentally, the tech surrounding Google’s earthquake alert system wasn’t just hastily built on ongoing databases or social media. Google actually packed in a fully responsive earthquake sensor for Android phones.

Faster than an earthquake

The forever-increasing speed of technology has always been a contentious element since the rise of smartphones. Developers and users alike have wondered how accurate or quick our favorite devices can warn us of things happening around us. There’s even an XKCD comic about how Twitter can warn us of an earthquake minutes before it reaches the reader.

Over the years, technology has developed new ways to deliver alerts. From simple weather apps to city-wide messaging systems, users can receive warnings in a timely fashion. Practically nothing is a surprise anymore with the right technology.

That said, Google has successfully developed a new system that can rely on other Android smartphones to accurately tell whether or not an earthquake is happening.

A quake detector in your pocket

Speaking to Android Police, the feature’s lead engineer Marc Stogaitis described how Google’s earthquake sensor leveraged other devices to tell users about the quake. It all revolves around the different sensors built inside your phone.

As it is, every smartphone comes with a host of sensors to support its different functions. A light detector can seamlessly adjust brightness and camera settings, and a gyroscope can support compasses, for example. With earthquakes, the biggest element to ponder on is a smartphone’s movement and vibrations during an earthquake.

According to the lead engineer, figuring out the metrics for detecting an earthquake wasn’t a problem. After decades of accurate seismograph technology, developers already have an idea on what they need to measure.

However, the technology does not stop there. Naturally, there are hiccups to relying on just a single (or even every) phone’s data. For one, a city-wide messaging system can set off everyone’s phone in a single area, potentially causing false positives. Plus, relying on a single phone is definitely tricky. There are multiple actions which can cause vibrations akin to an earthquake.

Crowdsourcing a quake

The feature doesn’t rely on just one phone. It doesn’t tap into every Android phone in an area either. Instead, it collates data from phones plugged into a charger. Naturally, a plugged-in phone is the most reliable barometer in terms of battery reliability. They won’t die out in the middle of an earthquake and ruin a source of data. Additionally, charging phones are often stationary. They won’t be affected by motions that mimic earthquakes.

Google “listens” to charging devices in an area. If the subset meets the criteria for an earthquake, the company quickly determines the earthquake’s epicenter (based on approximate location) and magnitude. Once the system declares that a quake is indeed happening, it sends out an alert to nearby devices and gives them the time needed to seek shelter.

The alerts naturally prioritize people nearer to the epicenter. But, of course, the speed will ultimately depend on the phone’s connectivity. A phone hooked up to a building’s fast Wi-Fi connection will receive alerts faster than a commuter’s phone on data while going through a tunnel.

Still, the short time that the alerts give users is enough to save themselves from a precarious situation. Though the feature can potentially warn users of quakes minutes in advance, Stogaitis says that it will more realistically push alerts five to ten seconds before the incident. However, five seconds is enough to go under a table and have some sort of protection against falling debris.

Still keeping things private

For anyone worrying about how Google is handling their data, Stogaitis says that the company removes all identifiers from the data except for approximate location. And, despite that, Google still maintains that the feature will be the most accurate that it can be. Either way, the feature will be useful for any earthquakes in the future.

The earthquake sensor is available for any Android phone running Lollipop and above. Naturally, the feature still necessitates that users turn on emergency alerts on their phone.

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