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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 what you need to know about eSIM

The technology behind Apple’s first dual-SIM iPhone

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When Apple first revealed their new iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, people were expecting something different. While on the outside nothing seems to have changed, the inside is a whole different story. The most notable change is the introduction of eSIM (embedded SIM) technology, something that they’ve done before with the Apple Watch.

But, what is this eSIM? How different is it from the SIM card that you know and love? And does using an eSIM change the game completely?

Let’s talk about the SIM and eSIM

One of the essentials for any phone in the market is a SIM card. Short for Subscriber Identity Module, a SIM card contains key identification and security features from any network carrier. It is used by these networks to identify their consumers and provide mobile connectivity for them — through calls, texts, and access to the internet. SIM cards also allow you to store information when you decide to switch devices every now and then.

eSIM technology, as the name implies, is embedded into the phone yet it still keeps the same functionalities as before. On devices that were designed with only one SIM card slot, adding an eSIM makes it a virtual dual-SIM machine. 

How have regions adopted eSIM?

As mentioned earlier, this isn’t the first time Apple dealt with eSIM tech. The company had initially launched the eSIM for their Apple Watch Series 3 to give it better connectivity on the go. While Apples continues to incorporate eSIM in its newer Watch Series 4, they’ve decided to take it one step further with the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max.

However, as of writing, only ten countries in the entire world currently support eSIM. This is mostly due to these countries having the proper infrastructure to support the use of it. While smartphone companies are looking to incorporate this new technology, the market for it seems to be relatively small.

The good and bad about eSIM

Like any other new technology, eSIM comes with its own set of benefits and difficulties — especially for those transitioning from the traditional SIM card. With eSIM installed in your phone, users will no longer have to go through the hassle of buying a specific SIM card.

Ideally, having an eSIM also allows you to switch between networks easily. Apart from an eSIM-capable phone, it also comes with the needed software to make the switching process faster and easier. In essence, you will be able to free up the allocated SIM card slot for a physical SIM card if your device supports it. This is most helpful when you travel abroad, and you need a local number in that country to access their network.

However, there are some processes that prove to be difficult with eSIM, one of which is quickly transferring your phone number to another phone, especially if you frequently switch devices. Unlike traditional SIM cards wherein you just transfer the card, you’d have to contact your service provider to activate the number in your new phone. This could be cumbersome depending on your provider’s customer service.

Furthermore, if the eSIM in your phone becomes corrupted or gets damaged in any way, it’s possible that you would need to replace your whole phone. Because the eSIM is integrated inside your phone, it won’t be easy to pry it out when things go wrong. This wouldn’t be too big of a concern for traditional SIM cards, especially when the card gets destroyed.

Are smartphones ready for the eSIM?

The eSIM technology is still in its young stages, and only a handful of devices currently support it. There is potential for the tech to be implemented across more devices in the future despite only a few countries welcoming them. However, a lot of people still primarily utilize traditional SIM cards given the difficulties of using an eSIM.

In the case of the new iPhones, for example, you can’t create two instances of chat apps on iOS. So even if you have two numbers running at the same time, you’d need a separate phone for another WhatsApp or Viber number, until Apple comes up with a software patch for this.

In the end, the technology’s impact can only be measured once more devices embrace it. But, for now, let’s celebrate how the eSIM gave us the first dual-SIM iPhone and see where the future will take us.

Illustrations by MJ Jucutan

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All filters: Article 13 of the EUCD explained

Is this the end for memes everywhere?

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If you haven’t been on the web often lately, this may be something that has slipped past your radar. On September 12, 2018, the European Parliament voted to pass a directive that could change the way we approach the internet for years to come. But, consider first that it’s only the initial review, with a final vote happening next year.

What is this directive, and why is the internet involved? Why are people suddenly seeing #Article13 trend on Twitter a few hours after the decision was passed? What’s with this #SaveTheInternet nonsense?

Understanding the copyright directive

The directive at the forefront of this entire debacle is known as the European Union Copyright Directive, or EUCD. The EUCD hopes to streamline effective regulations towards the protection of intellectual property in the EU. It was first adopted in 2001, following the ruling during the 1996 World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty. Earlier this year, another version of the directive was drafted with added articles and stipulations.

Basically, the EUCD seeks to create measures to protect one’s copyright on created content. The range of intellectual property that should be protected include music, videos, images, algorithms/codes, and even software. The directive calls for member countries to enact and implement laws that protect copyright owners. Eventually, such stipulations also reach big companies that operate within the EU.

You might be thinking why there is an outcry over it in the first place, especially when the directive’s purpose is clear. Well, there’s one particular part of the EUCD that a lot of people disagree on: Article 13.

The unlucky Article 13

Article 13 of the EUCD isn’t a lengthy piece of reading. The whole article contains three provisions for the implementation of copyright protection on websites that host user-generated content. The directive makes a note that these websites store large amounts of user-generated content, with the main purpose, if not one of its main purposes, of earning profit. Basically, any website that allows you to upload your own content and allows you to earn money from it is affected by the directive.

The article also cites that such websites should create measures such as “effective content recognition technologies,” complaint management systems, and tracking solutions. These measures should be readily available the moment users upload content on the website itself. With such measures taken into account, it allows content creators and service providers to properly engage in discussions should there be a dispute. It’s basically what YouTube Creators is all about.

Websites like YouTube, Twitch, Facebook, and Twitter, as well as streaming apps such as Spotify, Apple Music, and IGTV (when monetization is available) are most likely the article’s main targets. The directive also explicitly states that non-profit service providers and online marketplaces will not be affected. So, Wikipedia and Shopee aren’t affected, don’t worry.

The ongoing debate towards copyright protection

For some people, the EUCD is inherently good for intellectual property protection. They argue that the primary goal of the directive is to protect users from piracy and copyright infringement. Through the EUCD, there will be systems in place that protect music labels, content creators, and publishers from any illegal use of their content online. For these people, users should be held liable for infringement of any kind (memes, remixes, and parodies are a few examples).

Furthermore, the directive not only affects users but also the companies that run these websites. It basically mandates companies to create better content recognition systems, or change their already existing system for stricter copyright protection. If they don’t make adjustments, they will be held liable for any infringement-related issues. What Article 13 does, for those who are for the EUCD, is simply a suggested improvement.

However, there are others who believe that the directive is a little too extreme and could potentially do more harm than good. Leading institutions and companies in the tech industry think that the provisions are too vague, leaving it open for interpretation. This has the potential for companies to abuse copyright claims without effective ways of intervention. Furthermore, any significant changes to already-existing systems would require heavy costs to implement.

The bigger picture here is how the directive affects the internet as a whole. Big names in the tech industry argue that it’s an attack on the creative freedom of users. Instead of allowing the internet to be an open space for the right way of creativity, it simply adds more filters and restrictions in the process. Basically, you can’t put up an Avengers meme without having the approval of Disney and Marvel Studios first.

So, what happens now?

The EUCD was put in place to protect copyright — a simple and basic goal. There is recognition that there are measures that must be in place to uphold copyright. There is no denying that big companies have to abide by intellectual property rules, or suffer severe consequences for infringement. However, a lot of people are clamoring that these measures are both vague and sound extreme. Not only does the directive infringe one’s creative freedom in providing quality content, but it also makes the whole process costly and rigid.

At the end of the day, everybody wants to protect copyright. The argument for or against the EUCD is already past the debate on whether protecting copyright is right or wrong. The debate now is whether or not a open source like the internet should be kept that way or be strictly protected at all costs.

All of these will come into play in January 2019, when the European Parliament casts its vote for or against the directive. If you have the time to read the EUCD, you can access the full document here.

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

Better visuals without sacrificing battery life?

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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

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