Google has long struggled with how best to get dozens of Android smartphone manufacturers—and hundreds of carriers—to regularly push out security-focused software updates. But when one German security firm looked under the hood of hundreds of Android phones, it found a troubling new wrinkle: Not only do many Android phone vendors fail to make patches available to their users, or delay their release for months; they sometimes also tell users their phone's firmware is fully up to date, even while they've secretly skipped patches.
Android P Developer Preview is out this week, and the whole Android community is combing through it looking for changes. When Android P is released later this year, it will bring an all-new notification panel, new settings, official notch support, and a ton of other tiny changes.
We already did a rundown of the features announced in Google's blog post, but now we've actually gotten to spend some time with the next major version of Android, so we're here to report back. What follows are some of the more interesting things we discovered.
With the recent acquisition of one of HTC's smartphone teams, Google appears more committed than ever to being a smartphone hardware maker. The company still has a long way to go to reach a substantial customer base, though. The research director for IDC, Francisco Jeronimo, shared some interesting smartphone shipment numbers from the IDC's quarterly industry report.
When Google launched its Pixel 2 flagship smartphone last year, it included something of a surprise: A co-processor called Pixel Visual Core, the company’s first homegrown, consumer-facing piece of silicon. And while that feels like a momentous foray, the co-processor has lain dormant for months. Monday, Pixel Visual Core goes to work.
It hasn’t been long since Google started rolling out Android 8.1 for the Pixel and Nexus devices. It seems that there are still a couple of bugs that should have been addressed before the firmware was sent out the door. Some Pixel 2 XL owners have taken to Google’s official support forum to complain about a slowdown in the performance of the handset’s fingerprint sensor after updating it to Android 8.1.
This year’s launch of the iPhone X also included the introduction of Apple’s Face ID. Apple thinks that its facial recognition camera and hardware on the front of the iPhone X are among its biggest technological achievements. However, other Android phones have had facial and iris recognition hardware and software of their own. Samsung, as usual, is the leader in this effort, adding those kinds of features to the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus, along with the more recent Note 8 and the older, and explosion-prone, Note 7.
In October, security researchers discovered a major vulnerability in a Wi-Fi's WPA2 security called "KRACK." This "Key Reinstallation Attack" can disrupt the initial encryption handshake that happens when an access point and a device first connect, allowing an attacker to read information assumed to be securely encrypted. It's possible to totally defeat WPA2 encryption using KRACK, allowing a third party to sniff all the Wi-Fi packets you're sending out.
The most secure smartphones are Android smartphones. Don't buy that? Apple's latest version of iOS 11 was cracked a day -- a day! -- after it was released.
So Android is perfect? Heck no!
Android is under constant attack and older versions are far more vulnerable than new ones. Way too many smartphone vendors still don't issue Google's monthly Android security patches in a timely fashion, or at all. And, zero-day attacks still pop up.
So, what can you do to protect yourself? A lot actually.
Android 8.0 Oreo is the 26th version of the world's most popular operating system. This year, Google's mobile-and-everything-else OS hit two billion monthly active users—and that's just counting phones and tablets. What can all those users expect from the new version? In an interview with Ars earlier this year, Android's VP of engineering Dave Burke said that the 8.0 release would be about "foundation and fundamentals." His team was guided by a single question: "What are we doing to Android to make sure Android is in a great place in the next 5 to 10 years?"
Since the launch of Google’s Pixel and Pixel XL phones, we have seen a number of issues popping up. One of the most reported problems has probably been the audio distortion issue at higher volumes. While there were several arguments whether this was a hardware issue, yesterday’s Android 7.1.1 Nougat February security patch has apparently resolved the issue.