Android N Developer Preview 2 Includes Vulkan

Subject: Mobile | April 14, 2016 - 04:59 PM |
Tagged: vulkan, google, android n, Android

We knew it was coming. Google was a partner of Vulkan since it launched, but support was coming at some point after the desktop launch. We expected that it would be soon, but now we know that the new graphics API is in Android N Developer Preview 2. Other platforms, like apparently the Samsung Galaxy S7, are able to ship Vulkan drivers, but it is “a part of the platform” in this Android N pre-release.

khronos-2016-vulkanlogo2.png

Vulkan is particularly useful for mobile because those devices tend to have many cores, but relatively slow cores, which drive a decently fast GPU. Whether the benefits end up being higher performance or just better battery life (as the CPU can downclock more and more often) depends on the application, but it can be useful for 3D applications, and eventually even 2D ones, like future Qt applications with many elements, or even web browsers (when drawing complex sites).

It's good that Google is supporting Vulkan, especially after their ban of OpenCL drivers from Nexus devices. We want a single GPU compute interface across as many platforms as possible. While Vulkan isn't as complete as OpenCL, lacking some features such as unified memory, it should be more useful than OpenGL ES compute shaders.

Android N Developer Preview 2 launched (again, as a preview) yesterday.

Source: Google

Pixel C Developer Discounts Have Expanded

Subject: Mobile | March 31, 2016 - 03:40 PM |
Tagged: google, pixel c

A few weeks ago, Google published preview builds of Android N, and they announced a developer discount page for the Pixel C. At the time, it was US-only and applied to the 64GB version, bringing it down to $450 USD. The website also seemed... broken... so I wasn't sure if Google were fixing it or whatever. A few people received discount codes on the first run, but the websites now say that they will email you within a few days with a promotional code.

google-2016-android-n-discount.png.jpg

The discount website has now been updated, and the terms have changed. The major difference is that it is now available in 13 countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and the United States, of course. The discount is now a blanket 25% off a Pixel C tablet (just one, like before). I haven't received the promotion code yet, so I can't confirm that it applies to both 32GB and 64GB models, but ZDNet claims it does, and Android Police states that Google confirmed it to them. The discount still does not apply to the keyboard.

Google's Nexus line has been known to limit API access, specifically by not shipping OpenCL drivers and pushing developers toward their proprietary RenderScript instead. That said, it should be kept up to date with Google's latest OSes for longer than most devices. Also, Vulkan is being considered a Google-supported API, so, unless something weird happens, Pixel C should get those drivers, which should be sufficient for upcoming GPU compute and gaming tasks.

Source: Google

Android N Preview Published and Pixel C for Devs Discounts

Subject: Mobile | March 9, 2016 - 02:22 PM |
Tagged: pixel c, nexus 6p, nexus 6, nexus 5x, google, android n, Android

With basically zero warning, Google has released Android N previews for the Nexus 5X, the Nexus 6, the Nexus 6P, the Nexus 9, the Nexus Player, and the Pixel C. It can be installed by flashing the OS onto the device, or by joining the Android Beta Program. Personally, I'd recommend joining the program, because then updates are pushed over-the-air. Be sure to back up your personal data, too. Almost every method of installing or removing the preview build will intentionally wipe the device. (Technically, installing from the Android Beta Program shouldn't erase user data, but errors can occur, and, even then, the device will be wiped when you leave.)

google-2016-android-n-preview-hero.png

Aligning with this announcement is a discount on the Pixel C. It is only available to developers, and only within the US. Also, before I found out that Canadians were not eligible, I tried getting a code and the website seems to silently fail. It basically just refreshes and no email is sent, so Google might have pulled the plug once non-developers heard the news. Android Police believes that it only applies to the 64GB version, but Google's announcement wasn't clear on that. This would make the Pixel C available for $450 USD, which is quite cheap for a 10-inch, Tegra X1 device.

Android N will have a few user experience (UX) changes. The two most obvious ones are app splitscreen, which behaves like Windows 8's Windows Store app snapping, and “direct reply notifications,” which allows, for instance, replying to a chat message from the notification itself. Google has also moved to OpenJDK, as we mentioned during the holidays. This is an Oracle-approved, open-source implementation of Java that can be freely used.

Source: Google

PSA: Get An Additional 2GB of Free Google Drive Storage by Securing Your Account

Subject: General Tech | February 12, 2016 - 09:56 PM |
Tagged: google drive, google, cloud storage

In honor of Safer Internet Day, Google is offering up 2GB of additional Google Drive storage space for free to users that run a security checkup on their accounts through this Google tool.

Free Google Drive Storage.png

Google will ask you to go through several steps to secure your Google account and verify your information. You will need to confirm your account recovery information and connected devices. The tool will also show you what applications and services have access to your Google account (for me it was only Chrome and Target's Cartwheel app). Further, it will ask you to set up 2-factor authentication and confirm that you still want to leave the listed app passwords active (app passwords are randomly generated passwords used in apps that do not support 2-factor authentication, such as Thunderbird).

After stepping through the security checklist, you will find an addtional 2GB of storage space in your Drive account. Note that native Google Docs do not count against your space, but uploaded copies of things like Excel spreadsheets and Word documents kept in those formats do. Get the free space while it's still being offered!

Also, I hope that you have already locked in your OneDrive storage space as well!

Source: Google

Are you going to phish or cut clickbait?

Subject: General Tech | February 4, 2016 - 02:08 PM |
Tagged: security, google

Remember the thrill of finding the actual download button for the software you need, hidden on a webpage featuring at least four other large download buttons leading to unrelated and generally nasty software?  Well those horrible people at Google want to take that joy away from you!  Instead of practicing your skills at slapping the monkey, shooting the duck or pretending you are on an online version of Let's Make a Deal trying to pick the right download button to reveal the prize you want, they will present you with a bright red warning screen. 

For some reason those hacks over at The Inquirer think it is a good idea to take away the hours of time spent with your family, and all the interesting things that "just appeared" on their machines.

index.png

"Google is still chipping away at creating a secure online experience and has just unearthed a new element for safe browsing that stops click-happy idiots doing click-stupid things."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

 

Source: The Inquirer

Google Releases Chrome 48 with Interesting Features

Subject: General Tech | January 21, 2016 - 02:59 AM |
Tagged: google, chrome

Web browsers are typically on rapid release cycles so they can get features out frequently. The Web is changing on a constant basis to help it become an effective application platform, which is cross-compatible with competing implementations. A common complaint is that the cycle is to yield high version numbers for marketing, to give a false sense of maturity, but I'd expect that frequent, breaking changes are kind-of necessary to synchronize features between implementations. If Google lands a feature a month after Mozilla publishes a new version, should they really wait two years for their next one? Granted, they probably knew about it pre-release, but you get the idea. Also, even if the theory is true, artificially high version numbers is one of the most benign things a company could do.

Google_Chrome_icon_(2011).png

Some versions introduce some fairly interesting features, though. This one, Google Chrome 48, deprecates RC4 encryption for HTTPS, which forces web servers to use newer cyphers or they will fail to load.

Another major one, and probably more interesting for our audience, is the introduction of VP9 to WebRTC. This video codec is Google's open competitor to H.265. At similar quality settings, VP9 will use about half of the bandwidth (or storage) as VP8. WebRTC is mostly used for video conferencing, but it's really an open platform for webcam, microphone, audio, video, and raw, peer-to-peer data connections. There are even examples of it being used to synchronize objects in multiplayer video games, which has nothing to do with video or audio streaming. I'm not sure what is possible with this support, but it might even lead to web applications that can edit video.

Google Chrome 48 is available today. Also, as a related note, Firefox 44 should release next week with its own features, like experimental rendering of WebGL images offscreen and multi-threaded. The full changelog for Google Chrome 48 from Git is about 42 MB large and, ironically, tends to crash Firefox.

Source: VentureBeat

Google Switching to OpenJDK in Android N

Subject: Mobile | December 30, 2015 - 11:09 PM |
Tagged: Android, oracle, google, Java, openjdk

The Android ecosystem was built atop a Java-like framework, although a native development kit was added later. Oracle, current owner of the Java copyrights and trademarks, was not too happy with this. The two companies, Google and Oracle, were in a legal battle for the last three-and-a-half years. The courts have not ruled overwhelmingly in favor of either side.

OpenJDK_logo.png

Google is now replacing their implementation with one that is derived from OpenJDK. Officially, this is so Google has more say in how the language evolves. This would also circumvent all legal issues, because OpenJDK is supported by Oracle, but Google is not commenting on that advantage. They are in an ongoing legal battle, so that is not surprising. It wouldn't immunize them from damages that are ruled for existing products. Changing now only limits the number of products that infringe, if it is eventually ruled illegal, and remove an awkward gap where nothing is legal until a fix is implemented.

From a performance and feature standpoint, the two JDKs are supposedly equivalent nowadays.

Source: VentureBeat

Mozilla Abandons Firefox OS Smartphones

Subject: Editorial, Mobile, Shows and Expos | December 9, 2015 - 07:04 AM |
Tagged: yahoo, mozilla, google, Firefox OS, Android

Author's Disclosure: I volunteer for Mozilla, unpaid. I've been to one of their events in 2013, but otherwise have no financial ties with them. They actually weren't aware that I was a journalist. Still, our readers should know my background when reading my editorial.

Mozilla has announced that, while Firefox OS will still be developed for “many connected devices,” the organization will stop developing and selling smartphones through carriers. Mozilla claims that the reason is because they “weren't able to offer the best user experience possible.” While the statement is generic enough to apply in a lot of contexts, I'm not sure how close to the center of that region it is.

This all occurred at the “Mozlando” conference in Florida.

firefoxos.jpg

Firefox OS was born when stakeholders asked Mozilla to get involved in the iOS and Android duopoly. Unlike Windows, Blackberry, and other competitors, Mozilla has a history of leveraging Web standards to topple industry giants. Rather than trying to fight the industry leaders with a better platform, and hoping that developers create enough apps to draw users over, they expanded what Web could do to dig the ground out of their competitors.

This makes sense. Mobile apps were still in their infancy themselves, so Firefox OS wouldn't need to defeat decades of lock-in or orders of magnitude performance deltas. JavaScript is getting quite fast anyway, especially when transpiled from an unmanaged language like C, so apps could exist to show developers that the phones are just as capable as their competitors.

ilovetheweb.png

The issue is that being able to achieve high performance is different from actually achieving it. The Web, as a platform, is getting panned as slow and “memory hungry” (even though free memory doesn't make a system faster -- it's all about the overhead required to manage it). Likewise, the first few phones landed at the low end, due in part to Mozilla, the non-profit organization remember, wanting to use Firefox OS to bring computing to new areas of the world. A few hiccups here and there added another coat of paint to the Web's perception of low performance.

Granted, they couldn't compete on the high end without a successful app ecosystem if they tried. Only the most hardcore of fans would purchase a several-hundred dollar smartphone, and intend to put up with just Web apps. Likewise, when I've told people that phones run on the Web, they didn't realize we mean “primarily localhost” until it's explicitly stated. People are afraid for their data caps, even though offline experiences are actually offline and stored locally.

The Dinosaur in the Room

Then there's the last question that I have. I am a bit concerned about the organization as a whole. They seem to be trying to shed several products lately, and narrow their focus. Granted, all of these announcements occur because of the event, so there's plenty of room for coincidence. They have announced that they will drop ad tiles, which I've heard praised.

Mozilla_Foundation_201x_logo.png

The problem is, why would they do that? Was it for good will, aligning with their non-profit values? (Update: Fixed double-negative typo) Or was it bringing in much less money than projected? If it's the latter, then how far do they need to shrink their influence, and how? Did they already over-extend, and will they need to compensate for that? Looking at their other decisions, they've downsized Firefox OS, they are thinking about spinning out Thunderbird again, and they have quietly shuttered several internal projects, like their division for skunkworks projects, called “Mozilla Labs.” Mozilla also has a division called "Mozilla Research," although that is going strong. They are continually hiring for projects like "Servo," a potential new browser engine, and "Rust," a programming language that is used for Servo and other projects.

While Mozilla is definitely stable enough, financially, to thrive in their core products, I'm concerned about how much they can do beyond that. I'm genuinely concerned that Mozilla is trying to restructure while looking like a warrior for both human rights and platforms of free expression. We will not see the books until a few months from now, so we can only speculate until then. The organization is pulling inward, though. I don't know how much of this is refocusing on the problems they can solve, or the problems they can afford. We will see.

Source: Techcrunch

Google to merge Chrome and Android into their One True OS

Subject: General Tech | October 30, 2015 - 01:25 PM |
Tagged: chrome, Android, google

It has been long suspected that eventually Google would merge their two operating systems into one and we now have a rumoured date, 2017.  An Android runtime for the Chrome OS already exists and almost any Android app can be modified to run on a Chrome powered device but we now have confirmation that the two will finally merge under the Android brand.  The new OS will remain open sourced and programmers may be enticed into programming more applications as they would only need to make one application instead of needing to write two versions.  Pop by The Inquirer for more speculation.

chrome-os-logo.jpg

"ALPHABET SUBSIDIARY Google (still sounds weird, right?), is reportedly planning to merge Chrome OS and Android into a single platform."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: The Inquirer

Android to iPhone Day 31: Battery Life and Closing

Subject: Mobile | October 29, 2015 - 09:46 AM |
Tagged: iphone 6s, iphone, ios, google, apple, Android, A9

PC Perspective’s Android to iPhone series explores the opinions, views and experiences of the site’s Editor in Chief, Ryan Shrout, as he moves from the Android smartphone ecosystem to the world of the iPhone and iOS. Having been entrenched in the Android smartphone market for 7+ years, the editorial series is less of a review of the new iPhone 6s as it is an exploration on how the current smartphone market compares to what each sides’ expectations are.

Full Story Listing:

iphonestorysmall.jpg

It has been too long since my last update to this story, and I promised a final answer when it comes to our view of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus in terms of battery life. If you remember back to some of our previous posts, the iPhone 6s actually has a smaller battery in it than the previous iPhone 6 did; the same is true for the Plus model as well.

Model Battery Size
iPhone 6 1810 mAh
iPhone 6s 1715 mAh
iPhone 6 Plus 2910 mAh
iPhone 6s Plus 2750 mAh

Clearly Apple knew that would be a contentious specification change from year to year, but the company has clearly done a lot to make sure it doesn't affect the battery life and usability of the iPhone. First, the new Apple A9 SoC is built on a smaller process technology; both Samsung and TSMC are making chips for the phones at 16nm and 14nm, and along with that process technology change comes an inherent power efficiency gain. Changing process nodes does not always magically make an existing architecture better performing or more efficient, but Apple's engineers are more than capable of being able to achieve that. After all, when you have unlimited funds and an edict never make a misstep, it helps.

The other change that came with the iPhone 6s and Plus is the move to iOS 9, which promises to improve battery and processing efficiency along the way. In the past, we have all heard rumors or had experiences with users of older phone models seeing decreased performance or decreased battery life when upgrading to the latest version of iOS. That may be the true, and I am not going to attempt to validate those claims here today, but it does make some sense that the latest OS would be tuned for the latest hardware.

If you're Apple, you don't want to have to make the battery in the new phones smaller than the old phones. It's a line item in a review that stands out to the general consumer - "WHAT? This year's model has a SMALLER battery??" - and could have a dramatic impact on sales and perception. But Apple also couldn't make the new phone any thicker as the same immediate response would take place. In order to add in support for the new 3D Touch and Taptic Engine technology the phones had to sacrifice a bit of space behind the screen. The result is a slightly thinner, and smaller capacity, battery.

battery.jpg

Image source: iFixit iPhone 6s Teardown

But let's talk about usability. In several instances in this series of editorials I have mentioned my extremely positive impressions from battery life in my normal use. The phone just seems to last longer than my Motorola Droid Turbo did, even with the Droid Turbo's much larger (3000 mAh) battery. Apple's control over the operating system, and to some extent the amount of interaction and capability that third party applications have, allows them to do more with less. And as a result you can drastically improve surrounding experiences: phone size, weight, design, included hardware features, etc.

There have definitely been days where my iPhone 6s would have been dead before I made it to my bed had I not had an external battery with me. But those were always extreme cases and include little to no service at a camp ground with the family, a wedding where I took hundreds of photos and videos, a 7am to 2am day where we had a site maintenance issue and I was on the phone (yes, talking!) for several hours in total. I don't think there is a scenario of use where the Android devices I have had would ever surpass the battery life of the iPhone 6s. And that's an impressive feat all things considered.

But like many of you reading this, I like hard numbers. Data, graphs and empirical results. To get some numbers I ran the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus through our standard PC Perspective Wi-Fi Battery testing process. We have a custom site that allows us to cycle through legit, real websites in a cycle of 20, pausing and scrolling on each to closely simulate how a user would surf.

battery-browsing.png

The biggest winner here is the iPhone 6s Plus, pulling in nearly 9 hours of continuous use in our web browsing test. The OnePlus 2, with a battery size of 3,300 mAh, can't keep up with the flagship iPhone product of the class of form factor, able to muster only 7.5 hours of use, a full 20% less than the 6s Plus. The iPhone 6s, using the same Apple A9 processor, pulls in than 6.6 hours of battery life in our Wi-Fi test, more than 1.5 hours more than the LG G4, one of the flagship Android phones of this past summer.

It's not exhaustive, but I think the results speak clearly about where the iPhone 6s stands in the current smartphone ecosystem. It has outstanding battery life, though there are plenty of rival Android phones on market currently that could match it. The key difference is that Apple is able to do it with less physical battery, and thus make a sleeker device. Seeing the added battery life of the iPhone 6s Plus does make me wonder if I would be willing to sacrifice my pockets for the extra security it offers. What I really want though is an iPhone 6s that is a bit thicker, offering up the same level of battery capacity as the larger phone. I know many users would be willing to swap the cache of sexy iPhone industrial design for the ability to make last call without a wall plug completely reliably.

Wrapping up the Experiment

It's been just over 30 days now in my Android to iPhone experiment, so the big question needs to be answered: will I be sticking with the iPhone 6s or going back to one of the newer Android devices like the refresh Nexus phones?

The Apple iPhone 6s will stay in my pocket.

Honestly, the answer surprises me - I did not expect this result when I placed the order button on Apple.com those many weeks ago. I have always been a proponent of the openness of Android, the flexibility that offered in terms of applications and OS access, but at the end of the day, I'm just a person using a phone. I have had only one instance of a crash/lock up on the iPhone 6s in my usage and it is reliably fast and responsive, something that eventually faded on the Droid Turbo. The camera takes fantastic photos, the application ecosystem offers more range than the Google Play Store and the global integration of Touch ID makes using LastPass less frustrating, accessing my eTrade bank accounts quicker and much more. Those are just some of the reasons for the switch for me.

I don't propose that everyone should make the same move. If you are a power user that likes to root your phones and change Android ROMs, you won't really find the same level of support for that on iPhones. If you welcome side-loading applications easily to your device (which is something I do miss) for development or experimenting purposes, Android is still the way to go. But it's hard to see the majority of the consumer base of smartphones in this country using both devices for extended periods and not see Apple as the more polished and friendly experience. That's what happened to me.

I look forward to trying out the upcoming Android phones in the near term and I won't ever say that I won't be switching back. Google continues to push the OS development further and offers features sometimes years of ahead of Apple. I'm working on getting both a 6P and 5X Nexus phone to try out; I'm curious to see how the implementation of the fingerprint sensor and improve cameras might shift my view.

And who knows, maybe in early 2016 we'll see a revamped editorial series going back to Android, or even Windows Phone? Easy now, don't get crazy Ryan.