Understanding Android 8.1's capabilities will help you understand the next generation of mobile hardware.
As you read this blog, your mobile phone probably is plugged into the wall, resting on its wireless charger, or sitting in a docking station. It beeps, makes sounds, flashes notifications on the screen, and pulls electricity into its battery. Regardless of the hardware manufactures, it probably has a touch screen, a small microphone, several external speakers (the one you directly put on your ear and the other acts as a speaker), and two cameras (one internal facing and the other external). The uniqueness of the functions which makes the mobile device is currently provided by two operating system (OS) software vendors: Apple through iOS and Google through Android. There are others such as Tizen, the ill-fated Ubuntu Touch, Sailfish, and others. But, it is reasonable to assume there are two players who dominate the OS market today run by Apple, Amazon, and Google.
Why does an OS Matter?
Much like in the beginning age of the IBM desktop PC, if there isn't an operating system, taking the human's commands and making them into something the computer can understand, the hardware is an oversized brick. The equipment needs the operating system (OS), for it to achieve what the individual requests for it.
Thos blog post is talking about Google's Android OS available through the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) (Link: https://source.android.com/). According to Google: "[The] Android is an open source software stack for a wide range of mobile devices and a corresponding open source project led by Google. This site and the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) repository offer the information and source code you need to create custom variants of the Android stack, port devices, and accessories to the Android platform, and ensure your devices meet compatibility requirements." (Link: https://source.android.com/)
It's like seeing two fast cars side by side. Apple, keeps its iOS close to its chest, not showing the new features. Each time the new iOS is deployed, a new set of hardware (HW) requirements are manufactured to meet the skill set of the iOS software. Google, has a different approach to software development. It releases new updates to its Android code to the AOSP. Then, HW manufacturers can take the software code, tweak it and add additional functions along with picture logos, and then deploy it on new hardware.
Amazon, through its Lab126 (Link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_Lab126) the retail giant was putting together a phone (remember the Amazon Fire Phone?) to compete in this market. Now, remember what I said about hardware earlier, even though the Amazon Fire Phone wasn't a success, the "voice assistant" part (much like Apple's Siri, Samsung's Bixby, and Google's voice recognition portion of Android) did succeed in linking people to Amazon products trough voice. Thus, a new type of "voice only" hardware was developed under the "Amazon Echo" line. This is discussed in further detail in this article: http://nickstockton.blogspot.com/2017/12/the-rise-of-voice-assistants.html.
So, getting back to Google, the OS is controlled through AOSP, which could be used with any hardware device which meets the hardware standards, regardless if it's a new phone, a voice assistant (Google Assistant), Google Auto, or any other hardware configuration that a manufacturer can come up with. For a general view of hardware devices and functions of the latest Android system go to https://www.android.com/
The next paragraph will hit the highlights of Android 8.1 (released in December of 2017) for a full list of function updates see: https://source.android.com/setup/site-updates#Dec-2017.
- AAudio and MMAP: AAudio is an audio API that has enhancements to reduce latency when used in conjunction with a hardware abstraction layer (HAL) and driver that support MMAP (Memory Map) (Link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mmap).
- ART configuration changes: The WITH_DEXPREOPT_BOOT_IMG_ONLY makefile option was removed from the Android runtime (ART) in Android 8.1 and replaced with the WITH_DEXPREOPT_BOOT_IMG_AND_SYSTEM_SERVER_ONLY option that pre-optimizes the system server jars, as well as the boot classpath.
- Biometric unlock security measurements: Android 8.1 introduces two new metrics associated with biometric unlocks that are intended to help device manufacturers evaluate their security more accurately: Imposter Accept Rate (IAR) and Spoof Accept Rate (SAR).
- Imposter Accept Rate (IAR): The chance that a biometric model accepts input that is meant to mimic a known good sample. For example, in the Smart Lock trusted Voice (voice unlock) mechanism, this would measure how often someone trying to emulate a user's voice (using similar tone, accent, etc.) can unlock their device. We call such attacks Imposter Attacks.
- Spoof Accept Rate (SAR): The chance that a biometric model accepts a previously recorded, known good sample. For example, with voice unlock this would measure the chances of unlocking a user's phone using a recorded sample of them saying: "Ok, Google" We call such attacks Spoof Attacks.
- In a future blog entry, we'll further breakdown biometric security, IAR, and SAR
- Link: https://source.Android.com/security/biometric/
- Boot time optimizations: Starting with Android 8.1, power saving setting for components like UFS and CPU governor can be disabled to improve device boot times.
- Color management: Android 8.1 adds support for color management that can be used to provide a consistent experience across display technologies.
- OpenGLRenderer configuration simplification: In Android 8.1 and later, only the ro.zygote.disable_gl_preload the property still applies to OpenGLRenderer configuration. All other properties have been removed.
- Retail demo mode made easy: Through Device Policy Manager, Android 8.1 supports demonstrating device functionality in retail stores via a demo-type user role.
- TEXTCLASSIFIER: Android 8.1 introduces the TextClassfier API that uses machine learning techniques to help developers classify text.
- Time zone rules: Android 8.1 provides a new mechanism for device manufacturers (OEMs) to push updated time zone rules data to devices without requiring a system update. This mechanism enables users to receive timely updates and OEMs to test time zone updates independently of system image updates.
- Wi-Fi Aware: The Wi-Fi Aware feature in Android 8.1 enables supporting devices to connect to one another directly over Wi-Fi without internet or cellular network access. This feature allows easy sharing of high-throughput data among trusted devices and apps that are otherwise off the network.
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Understanding Android 8.1's capabilities will help you understand the next generation of mobile hardware. As you can see in the listing above, much of the work is centered around biometric security, enhancing the audio and visual depth of the user experience, as well as further machine learning techniques. Android 8.1 will also adopt WiFi Aware technology (link: https://www.wi-fi.org/discover-wi-fi/wi-fi-aware) which will offer additional "proximity-based social-networking features". as the site says: "Wi-Fi Aware will be a key enabler of a personalized social, local, and mobile experience, enabling users to find video gaming opponents, share media content, and access localized information all before establishing a connection." (link: https://www.wi-fi.org/discover-wi-fi/wi-fi-aware)
Thank you for reading this blog. If you have questions: comments, or concerns: please leave them in the comments below.