AI Pie is Google’s latest recipe for Android

Google has released the latest version of the Android operating system, named Pie, which unsurprisingly bigs up artificial intelligence credentials for the digital economy.

While it is the hottest buzzword of 2018, Google has been plugging AI for longer than most, arguably creating a global leadership position which few can compete with. The AI exploits date back to 2014 with Google’s acquisition of Deepmind, an organization which underpins a huge amount of success in the area, though Pie looks like it is AI-ed up to its virtual eyes.

“The latest release of Android is here! And it comes with a heaping helping of artificial intelligence baked in to make your phone smarter, simpler and more tailored to you,” said Sameer Samat, VP of Product Management for Android & Google Play on the company blog. “Today we’re officially introducing Android 9 Pie.

“We’ve built Android 9 to learn from you—and work better for you—the more you use it. From predicting your next task so you can jump right into the action you want to take, to prioritizing battery power for the apps you use most, to helping you disconnect from your phone at the end of the day, Android 9 adapts to your life and the ways you like to use your phone.”

This is the AI dream which we have all been promised, but the industry has largely failed to deliver to date; genuine personalisation. Whether Google can live up to the bold promises remains to be seen, but the world is changing in the right way.

For AI to be moderately successful in terms of personalisation and acting in an intuitive manner, the assistant has to be used. It’s all about data which is local and specific to the user, allowing the power of machine learning technology to adapt platforms and services. The last couple of months have seen users become more accustomed and comfortable with the idea, which sets the scene for the reality which has been built up in our minds.

There are of course the more complicated aspects of the AI, such as predicting your next task or managing diaries, but the simpler ideas are the ones which users might find the most useful in the first instance. Adaptive battery performance, or adaptive screen brightness are two features which will improve the performance of devices. Users might not even know any changes have taken place, but there is the potential to enhance the digital experience.

Of course, adapting the experience to the individual user is the image of AI which we have in our minds, and Google claims this is now possible. App Actions uses context and displays to predict what apps the user might want to use next, such as a news app is the smartphone detects you are on the way to the tube at 8am on a Tuesday morning. It might not be a gamechanger, but incremental steps forward are perfect when introducing new ideas, which could be deemed potentially intrusive by some.

Simplicity is the idea for the AI, and this has been rolled out throughout the display as well. With devices changing, Android needed to adapt as well, and soon enough navigating between screens, or searching for apps will become simpler. While we only have Google’s word to take on how good the operating system is right now, we do like the look of it. The Android team do tend to strike the right balance between usability and experience very well, and this looks to be the same.

First and foremost the update will be rolled out to Pixel devices, though devices that participated in the Beta program (Sony Mobile, Xiaomi, HMD Global, Oppo, Vivo, OnePlus and Essential) will get the Pie treatment towards the end of the year.

And of course…

Why not have a guess at what the next Android update could be named. Next up will be Q… this could be a tricky one…

Baidu rolls out another quarter of strong profit

Baidu has released financials for the last three months with its news product leading the charge for the Chinese search giant.

Total revenues stood at $3.93 billion, increasing 32% year-on-year, while mobile represented 77% of total net revenues, compared to 72% for the second quarter of 2017. The core business brought in $3.03 billion, a 28% rise, while net income was $967 million.

“We had another strong quarter in Q2 with search exhibiting robust revenue growth driven by AI-powered monetization capabilities and Baidu feed continuing strong traffic and monetization momentum,” said CEO Robin Li.

The potentially problematic news app, a similar proposition to the Facebook newsfeed, seems to have successfully negotiated regulatory landmines, reaching 148 million daily active users in June 2018, up 17% from the same period last year. While competitive offerings have been struggling to meet the censorship demands of the Chinese government, Baidu seems to have bowed suggesting there might be more successful numbers over the coming months. Competing video platform Bilibili was one which fell short of government expectations, leading to the app being temporarily removed from app stores by authorities.

The DuerOS, Baidu’s smartphone operating system based on an Android fork, had another successful period with the installed base reaching 90 million devices. Government officials might be keeping a close eye on the situation here, as a viable alternative to Android would be welcomed. AI investments across the Baidu business will improve capabilities here, as the team sign new partnerships with various different segments.

Baidu has now formed strategic partnerships with 20 global and domestic auto OEMs, including the BMW, Daimler and Ford. The autonomous vehicle space is a growing area, though other wins for the operating system are focused around the smart speakers. Not only does Baidu claim the DuerOS-powered Xiaodu Smart Speaker sold out 10,000 units within 90 seconds of its first two online sales, a partnership with InterContinental Hotels Group takes the smart speakers, and more importantly the OS, into the world of smart hotel rooms.

With the voice user interface set to become more important in the digital ecosystem over the next few years, DuerOS is certainly an area worth keeping an eye on.

Google focuses on UI, UX and AI with Android P

Internet giant Google has unveiled the new features that will come with the next major version of its ubiquitous mobile OS.

Android P (no desert identified yet but they seem to be spoilt for choice this time with all the pies, puddings and pavlovas on offer) focuses on using artificial intelligence to augment the user interface and user experience. One of the main things it seems to address is giving users more transparency and control over how they use their phones.

AI is especially handy for learning user behaviour and then using that knowledge to anticipate your every need. This can help with things like speed of loading popular apps and functions as well as optimising the performance of components such as batteries and screens.

In fact a big part of the Android P announcement concerns a collaboration with Google AI subsidiary DeepMind to produce Adaptive Battery and Adaptive Brightness that are both designed to make sure you only use exactly the amount of power you need.

Other new features include App Actions – an AI-drive cascade of actions anticipated from some clear catalyst, such as connecting to headphones. Slices offer a fragment of one of your apps as part of a search query to enable some actions without firing the whole thing up.

A new Dashboard will offer a bunch of analytics into how you use your apps so you can see just how much of your life you’re wasting dicking about on your phone. If you’re appropriately ashamed of your temporal profligacy you can set an app timer to cut you off if you spend too much time of Facebook or whatever.

One really useful feature is an enhanced Do Not Disturb that not only silences calls but all other types of visual interruptions like notifications too. The coolest part is that this feature is automatically activated when you place your phone face-down on a table and hopefully it includes the ability to keep the alarm going even when everything else is silenced. Lastly a feature called Wind Down will start shutting everything down at bed time to spare you from nocturnal tweeting.

Android P screens

The Beta of Android P is already available on the Google Pixel phones and will soon come to Sony Xperia XZ2, Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S, Nokia 7 Plus, Oppo R15 Pro, Vivo X21, OnePlus 6, and Essential PH‑1. AI is clearly here to stay but Google needs to make sure it’s just as easy to decline all this cyber help as to embrace it, or Android P runs the risk of alienating as many people as it pleases.

Huawei prepares itself for potential Android ban

With tensions continuing to escalate between the US and China, Huawei is reportedly preparing for the worst-case-scenario by developing its own mobile operating system.

According to The South China Morning Post, Huawei has been building an alternative to the Android operating system, a project which will be accelerated in light of the rapidly deteriorating relationship between the US and China. Should Huawei face the same penalties as ZTE, its ambitions to be the world’s premier smartphone manufacturer would be severely dented as it could be left without an effective operating system to power devices.

Last week it was reported the US Department of Justice launched an investigation to see whether Huawei violated US sanctions against Iran. ZTE’s issues started with a similar probe, while the anti-China sentiment in the country combined with suspect activity at ZTE, took the firm down a worrying path. Huawei should certainly be worried about suffering the same fate.

As it stands, Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS are the world’s two dominant operating systems. There have been various attempts to break this strangle-hold, Microsoft’s Windows Mobile OS or Samsung with its Tizen system for example, but none have come close. Considering the tensions between the two nations, Huawei finds itself in a precarious position, with its smartphones and wearable devices dependent on the US Android system.

ZTE is certainly taking the brunt of US aggression at the moment, though Huawei has also been under the spotlight. Numerous reports have been produced pointing the espionage finger at Huawei, and it would surprise few if a chain of events unfolded, leading Huawei to the same position as ZTE; a ban from including any US product or IP in its supply-chain. For the devices business, this would be a disaster unless an alternative operating system could be produced.

As it stands, Huawei is the most popular smartphone brand in China and third worldwide. Progress has been very encouraging in the developed markets, where Chinese brands have traditionally struggled; being banned from using the Android operating system would put an end to this momentum. Sources close to the situation claim this is very much being viewed as worst-case-scenario, as one of the reasons the OS has not been released yet is that is simply isn’t as good as Android.

Worryingly for Huawei is the scrutiny which will be placed on a Chinese OS. While some European countries have confirmed a suspicious eye is watching Huawei, these governments might sleep easier knowing a US firm controls the operating software. Should Huawei (a supposed puppet of the Chinese government to the paranoid) control both the hardware and the software, intelligence agencies could be spurred into a state of panic.

Pancake, Popsicle or Pavlova? Google releases preview of Android P

Releasing the developer preview of the latest Android update in March has become a bit of a tradition for Google, and this year’s preview hasn’t disappointed.

Perhaps the most notable change this year is support for the latest edge-to-edge screens with display cut out for the camera. Handset manufacturers have a habit of copying the latest iPhone release, so the notch at the top of the screen will have to be accommodated for. Support for the cut out essentially makes it easier for developers to manage how a screen cut out affects an apps content.

While this is one of the more notable updates, it isn’t the one which we like the look of. Android P adds platform support for the IEEE protocol known as Wi-Fi Round-Trip-Time (RTT). It sounds very technical and scientific, but for those of us who aren’t that way inclined it is a feature which improves indoor positioning.

Apps will be able to use the RTT APIs to measure the distance to nearby RTT-capable wifi Access Points. By essentially bouncing a signal off a couple of these different Access Points, the app will be able to triangulate a more accurate position indoor, with Google claiming it could be as accurate as 1-2 metres. The APIs will start to open up a whole new array of features for apps such as disambiguated voice control and more accurate location-based information.

Micro-location technologies and beacons were a talking point in the industry a couple of years back but never really took off. The technology was clumsy and clunky, while consumers were less accepting of random notifications. Consumers are a bit more passive when it comes to intrusive notifications nowadays, so why not have another crack at making the micro-location technology work again.

Other new features include:

  • Adjusted format for message notifications, including more space to see who is messaging, add replies and images and use smart replies
  • New camera APIs which will allow the user to stream the feed from multiple cameras on the device simultaneously
  • Support for HDR VP9 Profile 2 to allow developers to deliver HDR-enabled movies from YouTube, Play Movies, and other sources on HDR-capable devices
  • Neural network APIs to accelerate on-device machine learning on Android
  • Client-side encryption of Android backups to enhance privacy

On the privacy side of things, Android P will also further limit the ability of background apps to access user input and sensor data. This has been a feature in previous updates, though Google has chosen to step up the efforts once again. Some of the limitations include accessing the microphone or camera, while accelerometers and gyroscopes will receive less information. Apps which require access to events will have to use a foreground service.

What is worth noting is that these are only a handful of the changes which will be made, and there are of course no promises that anything released in this preview will be gospel. There are a couple of cool features to look forward to, but now onto the important question; what do you think the Googlers will name it?

Improved indoor positioning will add a new dimension for some apps

Improved indoor positioning will add a new dimension for some apps

Apps with immersive content will be able to build the experience around the cut out

Apps with immersive content will be able to build the experience around the cut out

Message notifications will also get quite a bit of a revamp

Message notifications will also get quite a bit of a revamp