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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

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The importance of artificial intelligence in smartphones

Is this still the future of technology?

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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.

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.

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Setting the VAR: Football’s newest technology

And where better to shine than the 2018 FIFA World Cup

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The 2018 FIFA World Cup is in full swing, with the last few matches about to take place en route to the Round of 16 on Saturday. While the world’s greatest football players are taking center stage, another main attraction in the tournament is the football world’s latest technology: the Video Assistant Referee.

The Video Assistant Referee or VAR has been adopted in sports like tennis and rugby, and recently by football leagues such as the English FA Cup and the Bundesliga in Germany. Ideally, the VAR helps make decisions for referees much easier and more accurate — especially for crucial, game-changing calls. But is the technology useful and helpful in every possible way?

Illustrations from FIFA.com

What is the VAR?

The VAR is a video system that feeds information to referees on the pitch through a wireless earpiece. Assistant referees  gather the information away from the stadium and forward these to the referees when a call is contested. The VAR marks the huge step football leagues are taking to digitize football, and has been used since last year.

It utilizes a goal line technology that allows the cameras in the stadium to scan the pitch at every minute. With this technology, movement on the pitch is detected at all possible angles and calls can be made more precisely. Assistant referees inside a control room have access to all these cameras and they send live feed to the pitch via tablet or iPad should the referees want to look at the footage themselves.

The VAR reviews game-changing calls on the football pitch at the time a protest is filed. FIFA lists only four game-changing calls to be considered: goals, penalties, direct red card incidents, and mistaken identity. The VAR checks the validity of these calls and sends the information to the referees. Do note, however, that the referees themselves still have the final decision on what call to make.

The system made its debut in a FIFA Club World Cup in December 2017 between Atletico Nacional and Kashima Antlers. The referee rewarded Kashima with a penalty after reviewing a play inside the penalty box.

Putting the VAR to work

2017 also saw the VAR’s debut in the English FA Cup, but it had its own set of controversies along the way. During a quarterfinal match between Tottenham and Rochdale, a goal by Tottenham was reversed for unclear reasons cited by the VAR. German football league Bundesliga also utilized the VAR during its latest season, but received mixed reactions from players and fans.

In the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the VAR takes center stage as a decision-making aide for referees in the group stages. The first instance was a non-call on a foul by Spain’s Diego Costa in their 3-3 epic against Portugal. Costa would slice the Portugese defense to tie the game at 1-1 at the time, but did so while taking down Pepe from Portugal. After the review from the VAR, the referee stood by his decision to count the goal.

The second instance happened in the France-Australia game when French striker Antoine Griezmann was tackled inside the box, yet the referee called for play to continue. Griezmann received a pass from Paul Pogba, and virtually blitzed through the Socceroo’s defensive line. Griezmann was awarded the penalty after reviewing footage from the VAR as the French went on to win, 2-1.

The third instance was in the Peru-Denmark game when another penalty was awarded to Christian Cuerva of Peru. Denmark’s Yussuf Poulsen tackled the Peruvian in the box, yet the referee called for the play to continue until the incident was reviewed via VAR. However, Cuerva missed the penalty and Poulsen scored in another possession to give the Danish the win, 1-0.

A VAR too high or too low?

While the VAR has only been around for well over a year, it isn’t exempt from both praise and criticism. Many people have shown their praises for the newest technology applied to the football world. The VAR now adds certainty and legitimacy to calls made by referees during matches, instead of them making the same wrong call every time. With football players and managers focusing on the tiniest of details to improve their game, information from the VAR becomes important.

The VAR provides an opportunity for football games to be fair and balanced. Referees now have different vantage points to look at when making calls that ultimately change the outcome of the game. People came to see a quality match wherein the players truly shine, but sometimes the referee’s poor decisions hamper that. In this regard, there is no excuse for not making the right decision with all the video evidence available.

However, a lot of people also have strong feelings against using VAR. While the effort to make the right calls is appreciated, it gets in the way of what makes football so special. When referees call for the VAR — especially with contested goals — fans become anxious instead of jubillant. Usually, fans go into a frenzy the moment the ball goes through the net — no replays needed. It’s as if the game feels all too unrealistic because of all the technicalities.

For football players and coaches, the VAR only adds confusion to fans. Because some football stadiums are built without any big screens, fans become unaware of what’s happening when the referee calls for the VAR. Iran’s coach Carlos Queiroz lambasted the use of the VAR for close, judgment calls — particularly the offside call on his squad in a loss to Spain. He believes that the VAR was put in place to correct obvious mistakes by referees, not debatable calls.

Photo from FIFA.com

Final verdict

The VAR is a fairly new technology introduced in the world of football, and surely, it’s not perfect. It’s a bold take on digitalizing football, keeping up with the technological demands of today. Because football is decided by people making the right calls at the right time, the VAR becomes an important part in establishing the basis for such calls. The VAR is a useful solution for referees to make the right decisions on the pitch.

However, we must be critical about how the VAR should play in during very crucial moments in the game. The VAR should help give fans a fair yet exciting football match without losing its spirit. With the Round of 16 coming up, all eyes will be on the VAR and whether it will help make the road to the finals interesting or not.

At the end of the day, football fans came to see the best players in the world do what they do best, and no amount of technology should get in the way of that.

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Basics of cryptocurrency: Risks and benefits

Should you buy in on the craze?

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For a while, cryptocurrencies became the talk of the town across the internet. People all over the world saw the potential of what is essentially “virtual money,” starting a frenzy of investments, theories, and yes, memes — particularly towards one of the more popular cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin.

But do we really understand the power these cryptocurrencies yield, and how such power can affect the whole world over?

What are cryptocurrencies?

Cryptocurrencies are virtual currencies that are exchanged online with no interference from anyone, not even the government. These currencies, through their language of cryptography, contain secured information and are exchanged through a recording system known as a blockchain.

No one regulates the exchanges and no one controls how much of the cryptocurrency should be out there, but the blockchain keeps all of the exchanges transparent and fair for everyone. Think of it as openly sharing your share of a pizza to a friend in exchange for money, with your other friends keeping track of the exchange. Your friends make sure that you have a slice of pizza to give, your friend has the money he promised you, and that these items are actually from each of you and not from someone else.

Because of the creation of numerous cryptocurrencies all over the internet, a virtual market has been created for people who are interested and invested in these virtual currencies to trade among themselves. Groups of people have also made an effort to produce their own cryptocurrencies from their computers through cryptomining. Cryptomining, much like regular mining, is creating cryptocurrency tokens (an online version of coins) and putting them into the blockchain to be traded; it’s printing your own money, except it’s done from a computer and shared online.

In Bitcoin, for example: People who want to contribute to its blockchain to earn some share of the cryptocurrency would go through activities such as cryptomining. Despite it being one of the primary activities for creating and gaining Bitcoin, it’s also one of the more expensive ways of doing so since most cryptomining setups require computers with the most up-to-date hardware and processing speeds. Any person who wishes to do cryptomining would spend a ton of money just for the necessary hardware — all just to mine their own Bitcoin.

Where did the hype come from?

The tailend of 2017 (October to December) saw people get into a frenzy towards cryptocurrencies and its perceived value — a frenzy driven by growing interest. People had started to not only be invested (pun intended) in learning about cryptocurrencies in general, but they also searched “Bitcoin” a whole lot.

With more people understanding cryptocurrencies, investments towards such virtual currencies (particularly towards Bitcoin) increased, thereby expanding the market by a whopping 1,200 percent. Imagine getting 15,000 shares on your Facebook post about your dog within two days – that’s how quickly it blew up.

Another phenomenon that contributed to the rise of cryptocurrencies is the creation of initial coin offerings (ICO). An ICO is a public, unregulated way of earning funds for cryptocurrencies and is widely used by startups to bypass the usual fundraising activities for capital; ICOs are much like crowdfunding (such as Kickstarter or GoFundMe), except no one controls how the funding goes.

ICOs are usually distributed in Bitcoins; these will be used to start projects or applications that people create but initially have no money to operate. Because people have new ideas and the Internet is one of the faster ways to have the idea develop and spread all over, more and more people would go through ICOs to fund their projects instead of getting bank loans or using their own money.

Effects of cryptocurrencies

The impact of these cryptocurrencies take on a grand scale, especially from an economic context. People continually join the hype towards cryptocurrencies, so much so that it drives demand for them. Participating in online trading for cryptocurrencies is faster than those in the stock market, and is easily accessible by people since it is unregulated.

As such, governments are pushing for cryptocurrencies as a means for payment to add convenience for customers, especially those with plans to go paperless with their money. The Indian government, for example, is learning to embrace Bitcoin within their monetary system after taking in measures against tax evasion in black markets; they are also looking into regulating Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as well in the near future.

The risk of partaking in cryptocurrencies lies in its greatest feature: an organic form of virtual currency. Because no entity has any control of cryptocurrencies — including governments — these virtual currencies are prone to online attacks (most common form of attack: hacking), which rapidly hamper their growth and reduce their value significantly. With a large number of people currently trading cryptocurrencies online, the risk of hackers increases significantly, causing these people to lose more money when worse comes to worst.

Another threat posed by its greatest feature is that people would abuse the high interest rates and entice new investors to purchase tokens. Because there is no body to regulate the trading online, people engage in scams to take advantage of new investors who are not guided properly in the virtual currency market — despite it being heavily secured by cryptography.

Participating in the schemes makes the trade unfair, even with efforts to make things equal for everyone. One example is the Bitcoin Savings and Trust Ponzi scheme in 2011, which was shut down in 2012 due to the perpetrator, Trendon Shavers, being accused of raising 700,000 BTC — all from new investors who didn’t know any better.

Cryptocurrencies at present

At the moment, Bitcoin remains to be the top-traded cryptocurrency within the market, valued at US$ 151.1 billion — in spite of its decline over the past few months. Countries are starting to either accept Bitcoin as part of their national economies or reject Bitcoin and its risks. Litecoin, which was dubbed as an alternative to Bitcoin, is not performing as well as Bitcoin within the past month, culminating in a so-far failing venture with digital wallet service Abra. Ethereum, one of Bitcoin’s closest competitors, has quickly risen due to its value to customers.

There are countries in the world that think that cryptocurrencies can bring them out of total economic collapse and keep the country afloat. Venezuela, for instance had released its own cryptocurrency, Petro, after its own national currency lost its value. Other struggling nations such as Iran and Turkey are looking to follow suit, but would need enough investment to get the necessary equipment for creating their own cryptocurrencies.

Should you be worried? Do your research, familiarize yourselves with terminologies used in the world of cryptocurrencies, and always proceed with caution.

Even with the possibility of countries going paperless with their currencies, there are some that still fear its effects and have not wholeheartedly embraced cryptocurrencies. Despite the aforementioned efforts from the Indian government to shift to cryptocurrency-based payment methods, the Reserve Bank still finds engaging in cryptocurrencies illegal, to the point of barring banks from engaging in them. Reports of ransomware spreading in the United States, hacking computers used for mining Bitcoin raise security concerns for people investing in Bitcoin.

Should you be worried?

Whether you are currently investing in cryptocurrencies or not, the risks of such virtual currencies will remain to be there as long as other people keep increasing their investments towards them. The value of these cryptocurrencies continue to be unstable to this day, especially with the hype slowly dying down due to people learning more and more about cryptocurrencies and their possible (and real) dangers.

The call for people who wish to invest in these cryptocurrencies is to practice caution. Do some research, get to know more about the terminologies used in the world of cryptocurrencies, look at news reports — with the internet at your disposal, it’s better to know what you’re getting into, should you want to get into it. Anyone who wishes to create their own cryptocurrency might want to start saving up as early as now for all the hardware.

Should you be worried? Yes, to an extent, but it helps to be prepared.

Illustrations by Yanni Panesa

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