Google is reportedly testing an interesting new gesture for its Pixel smartphones that lets users double-tap the back of the handset to control various functions.
XDA-Developers discovered the new gesture system, codenamed "Columbus," in the Android 11 developer preview for Pixel phones. According to the site, the double-tap gesture can be used to perform the following actions:
Launch the camera
Invoke Google Assistant
Play or pause media
Collapse the status bar
Silence incoming calls
Other "user-selected action"
The double-tap gesture apparently doesn't require any special hardware, as it relies on the phone's gyroscope and accelerometer. XDA-Developers managed to get the gesture working on a Pixel 2 XL and Pixel 4 XL, both running Android 11 Developer Preview 1. You can see the gesture being used to launch the Camera app in the clip below.
To prevent the gesture being activated unintentionally, Google has also added so-called "gates" to stop the double tap actions from taking effect. Some of the currently implemented gates are said to include camera visibility, charging status, keyguard, and more. XDA believes the Settings app will also contain gesture training activities for the user to perform in order to refine its responsiveness.
Google's own-branded Android phones have included innovative interactive gestures before, such as fingerprint gestures, Active Edge, and Motion Sense on the Pixel 4 series. Active Edge lets users squeeze the sides of the device to quickly activate Google Assistant, while Motion Sense allows users to skip songs, snooze alarms, and silence phone calls by waving a hand in front of the phone.
Apple has also experimented with new ways of interacting with iPhones, including the use of touch and touchless gestures. A 2018 rumor from Bloomberg suggested Apple is working on iPhones that will use touchless gesture controls, allowing users to hover over the iPhone to navigate through the iOS operating system using a finger, but without having to touch the display.
If Apple moved forward with that rumored gesture technology, it could show up in iPhones as early as 2020, according to Bloomberg's two-year timeline for the feature. It's not yet clear if Apple is continuing to experiment with gestures, though, as we haven't heard any information on such a feature coming to the 2020 iPhone lineup.
What do you think of Google's rear double-tap gesture? Is it something you'd like to see in a new-generation iPhone, or are touch-less gestures the future? Let us know in the comments.
iPhone 11 lineup features Ultra Wideband technology
In a press release last year, NXP said Ultra Wideband will give mobile devices several new and interesting capabilities, such as being able to unlock a car's doors when the device comes in close proximity of the vehicle, potentially foreshadowing a feature that could come to the iPhone down the road.
"With the SR100T, mobile devices will be able to communicate with connected doors, points of entry, and cars to open them once approaching," said NXP in a press release. "Lights, audio speakers, and any other connected device with UWB sensing capability will be able to follow users from one room to another, and smart connected technology will intuitively be embedded in people's lives."
iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max models are equipped with an Apple-designed U1 chip with Ultra Wideband, allowing the devices to understand their precise location relative to other nearby U1‑equipped Apple devices. On iOS 13, for example, there is a directional AirDrop feature where you can point an iPhone 11 at another iPhone to instantly share files with them.
On its iPhone 11 Pro page, Apple teases that the directional AirDrop feature is "just the beginning" of what is possible with Ultra Wideband, adding that "amazing new capabilities" are coming later.
Last year, MacRumors uncovered evidence of Apple working on Tile-like item trackers in iOS 13 code. The so-called AirTags will also support Ultra Wideband, according to analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, suggesting that iPhone 11 models will be able to locate the tags with precise accuracy in both indoor and outdoor areas.
MacRumors exclusive: Find My app with hidden "Items" tab for AirTags
The distance between two Ultra Wideband devices can be measured precisely by calculating the time that it takes for a radio wave to pass between the two devices, with much more accuracy than Bluetooth LE and Wi-Fi.
It is unclear when Apple plans to announce its item tracking tags, or if development of the product has been abandoned.
In any case, it appears that Ultra Wideband really is just getting started.
A security flaw in Android smartphones from companies like Google and Samsung allowed malicious apps to record video, take photos, and capture audio, uploading the content to a remote server sans user permission.
The vulnerability was discovered by security firm Checkmarx, and was highlighted today by Ars Technica. The flaw had the potential to leave high-value targets open to having their surroundings illicitly recorded by their smartphones.
Android is meant to prevent apps from accessing the camera and the microphone on a smartphone without user permission, but with this particular exploit, an app could use the camera and the microphone to capture video and audio without express user consent. All an app needed to do was get permission to access a device's storage, which is commonly granted as most apps ask for this.
To demonstrate how the flaw worked, Checkmarx created a proof-of-concept app that appeared to be a weather app on the surface but was scooping up copious amounts of data in the background.
The app was able to take pictures and record videos even when the phone's screen was off or the app was closed, as well as access location data from the photos. It was able to operate in stealth mode, eliminating the camera shutter sound, and it could also record two-way phone conversations. All of the data was able to be uploaded to a remote server.
When the exploit was used, the screen of the smartphone being attacked would display the camera when recording video or taking a photo, which would let affected users know what was going on. It could be used secretly when a smartphone display was out of sight or when a device was placed screen down, and there was a feature for using the proximity sensor to determine when a smartphone was facedown.
Google addressed the vulnerability in its Pixel phones through a camera update that was launched back in July, and Samsung has also fixed the vulnerability, though it's not known when. From Google:
"We appreciate Checkmarx bringing this to our attention and working with Google and Android partners to coordinate disclosure. The issue was addressed on impacted Google devices via a Play Store update to the Google Camera Application in July 2019. A patch has also been made available to all partners."
"Since being notified of this issue by Google, we have subsequently released patches to address all Samsung device models that may be affected. We value our partnership with the Android team that allowed us to identify and address this matter directly."
According to Checkmarx, Google has said that Android phones from other manufacturers could also be vulnerable, so there may still be some devices out there that are open to attack. Google has not disclosed specific makers and models.
Since this is an Android bug, Apple's iOS devices are not affected by the security flaw.
It's not known why apps were able to access the camera without user permission. In an email to Ars Technica, Checkmarx speculated that it could potentially be related to Google's decision to make the camera work with Google Assistant, a feature that other manufacturers may have also implemented.
The latest beta version of Apple Music for Android includes Chromecast support, allowing users to stream songs and playlists from the service over Wi-Fi to Chromecast-enabled devices like the Google Home.
Image: Android Police
As noted by Android Police via AppleInsider, the cast icon will automatically appear on the now playing screen and elsewhere in the app if there is a compatible Chromecast-enabled speaker or TV connected to the same Wi-Fi network as the Android smartphone. Playback can still be controlled on the phone.
The latest beta of Apple Music for Android also provides access to over 100,000 broadcast radio stations from sources like TuneIn and iHeartRadio. And last month, in an earlier beta, the app gained a dark mode.
Google today announced its next major version of Android will be named Android 10, as the company has decided to move past dessert-inspired names for the operating system like Ice Cream Sandwich, Lollipop, and Marshmallow.
Android's new logo
Android's naming scheme is now consistent with iOS. Android is only on version 10 though, compared to iOS 13, because Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean, and KitKat were all considered version 4.0 through version 4.4.4 releases between 2011 and 2014. Android also launched over a year after the original iPhone.
Until now, Android 10 was expected to be named Android Q, but there are few well-known desserts that start with that letter, perhaps contributing to Google's decision to switch to a numbered scheme. Google also admitted that the dessert names "weren't always understood by everyone in the global community."
Google has also revamped the Android logo for the first time since 2014 and shared a video to unveil the new branding:
The final beta of Android 10 was seeded earlier this month. The update will be publicly released in the third quarter.
At a recent event hosted by venture capital firm Village Global, highlighted by TechCrunch, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates lamented on losing to Android, calling it "one of the greatest mistakes of all time."
Skip to the 11:40 mark:
In the software world, it's very predictable for platforms. These are winner-take-all markets. The greatest mistake ever is whatever mismanagement I engaged in that caused Microsoft not to be what Android is. Android is the standard phone platform — non-Apple phone platform. That was a natural thing for Microsoft to win. It really is winner take all. If you're there with half as many apps, or 90 percent as many apps, you're on your way to complete doom. There's room for exactly one non-Apple operating system.
It's amazing to me having made one of the greatest mistakes of all time… our other assets, Windows, Office, are still very strong… we are a leading company. If we'd gotten that right, we'd be the leading company.
In fairness, it was Steve Ballmer who served as Microsoft's CEO between 2000 and 2014. Ballmer is infamous for laughing off the iPhone, but Apple and Google had the last laugh, as Windows Phone failed to ever gain any significant market share among mobile operating systems and is ultimately being abandoned.
Gates added that there is room for exactly one non-Apple mobile operating system, which is certainly the case as of today. Together, Android and iOS have an estimated 99.9 percent market share, according to research firm Gartner, having squeezed out former heavyweights like BlackBerry and Nokia.
Simply put, Apple upended the industry when it launched the iPhone in 2007, and Microsoft failed to respond. Windows Phone could have been the commoditized mobile platform, as Windows is to Mac, but Android won the battle.
Apple last week unveiled a new Sign In with Apple option, offering up a convenient, privacy-focused alternative to sign-in options from companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter.
Apple collects no data and provides little data to the apps and websites you use with the feature, and it even offers an option to keep your email safe. In an interview with The Verge, Google product management director Mark Risher, who oversees Google's secure sign in tool, shared his thoughts on Apple's new feature.
Risher says that Google's own tool is not as data hungry as it was made out to be, and that it's not used for advertising or re-targeting. "There was a bunch of innuendo wrapped around the release that suggested that only one of them is pure and the rest of them are kind of corrupt, and obviously I don't like that," he said.
The only moment logged is the moment of authentication, according to Risher, info that's not distributed anywhere. Risher also suggested Apple's feature is more invasive because it will be logging emails received from companies when the email obscuring feature is used. "We'll see how the details work out," he said.
Risher went on to explain that Google tries to "set a very high bar" but is judged by the "worst behavior" in the Android ecosystem. He said the innuendo from Apple that Google's tool is less privacy focused "was a little annoying" because Google is "trying to really hold [itself] to a high standard."
Ultimately, Risher said that he believes the technology will make people safer.
I honestly do think this technology will be better for the internet and will make people much, much safer. Even if they're clicking our competitors button when they're logging into sites, that's still way better than typing in a bespoke username and password, or more commonly, a recycled username and password.
Risher likened log-in protection offered by Google and Apple to storing money in a bank to alleviate fears people might have about having all of their login data handled by a single company like Apple or Google.
People often push back against the federated model, saying we're putting all our eggs into one basket. It sort of rolls off the tongue, but I think it's the wrong metaphor. A better metaphor might be a bank. There are two ways to store your hundred dollars: you could spread it around the house, putting one dollar in each drawer, and some under your mattress and all of that. Or you could put it in a bank, which is one basket, but it's a basket that is protected by 12-inch thick steel doors. That seems like the better option!
Risher's full interview with is available on The Verge website and is worth checking out, but Google today is also making its own privacy-focused feature announcement for iOS users - the ability to use an Android smartphone as a two-factor verification key for logging into Google accounts.
The feature utilizes Google's Smart Lock App as part of a two-step verification system designed to keep Google accounts safer. After the security key feature is added to an Android device, it can be set up to pair with the iPhone to confirm logins over Bluetooth.
The new Browse tab has been tweaked to highlight an assortment of different playlists from various musical genres to make discovery quicker and easier. Android users will now find Apple's "Daily Top 100" playlist featured prominently at the top of the section, just below the traditional carousel of new music.
Apart from that minor refresh, the update brings official Chromebook support to the Android app, which basically means users can access Apple Music from Chrome OS on their Google notebook. According to the release notes, this version of Apple Music for Android also fixes various bugs, so users should also find it runs a bit more stable than previous versions.
Google appears to be working on a facial recognition system that would offer similar security to Face ID, based on code for the next-generation version of Android that was highlighted by XDA Developers.
Code in Android Q, set to be shown off at Google's developer conference in May, points towards an advanced facial recognition system that would be secure enough to be used for authorizing purchases and signing into apps, in addition to unlocking a smartphone.
Furthermore, the code references a built-in hardware based sensor through error messages that are highlighted when the sensor is unable to properly detect a face.
Combined, these two factors suggest that Google is expecting future smartphones to feature an advanced facial recognition system that could perhaps be as secure as Face ID.
Android Q code referencing a secure face unlock system. Click to enlarge.
Right now, there are Android devices that are using 2D facial recognition techniques to replace a passcode, but none of those systems are based on 3D face scans like Face ID. Facial recognition used by Android right now is more rudimentary and easily fooled, which is why Android devices continue to use fingerprint sensors for operations that need more security like payments.
The Android Q code indicates Google is building a native secure facial recognition option into the next version of Android, which would allow smartphone manufacturers to create systems that rival Face ID.
Android Q code referencing a secure face unlock system. Click to enlarge.
Face ID was first introduced in 2017 in the iPhone X, and has since expanded to the iPhone XR, XS, XS Max, and the 2018 iPad Pro models. At the time Face ID was introduced, respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo suggested the sophistication of the 3D camera system Apple uses would be unable to be matched by Android smartphone makers for 2.5 years.
One and a half years later, there are still no Android smartphone manufacturers that have created a front-facing camera system similar to the TrueDepth camera system able to be used for all secure system functions like payments.
Google's work on adding secure facial recognition code to Android does, however, suggest that Android devices with Face ID-like systems are in the works and coming soon.
Though designed for the iPhone, Apple's AirPods are also compatible with Android smartphones and tablets, so you can take advantage of Apple's wire-free tech even if you're an Android user or have both Android and Apple devices.
You do, of course, lose some bells and whistles like Apple's unique AirPods pairing features. AirPods do, however, work like any other Bluetooth headphones on an Android device, and there are ways to restore at least some of their functionality through Android apps.
Features That Don't Work on Android Out of the Box
When paired with an iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, or Mac, the AirPods offer a rich set of features thanks to the W1 wireless chip, the accelerometer, and deep integration with Apple's devices.
Here's a list of AirPods features you lose out on when using the AirPods with Android:
Siri. On iPhone, you can tap to access Siri for doing things like changing songs, adjusting volume, or just asking simple questions.
Customizing Double Tap. In the Settings app on an iOS device, you can change what the double tap gesture does. Options include accessing Siri, Play/Pause, Next Track, and Previous Track.
Automatic switching. AirPods are linked to an iCloud account for Apple users, which allows them to easily switch between using the AirPods with an iPad, iPhone, Apple Watch, and Mac.
Simple setup. Pairing with an iOS device only requires opening the case near said device and following the quick setup steps.
Checking AirPods battery. On the iPhone and Apple Watch, you can ask Siri about the AirPods battery life or check it from the Today center on iPhone or the Control Center on Apple Watch. Luckily, there is a way to replace this functionality on Android with the AirBattery app or Assistant Trigger.
Automatic ear detection. On iPhone, when you remove an AirPod from your ear, it pauses whatever you're listening to until you put the AirPod back into your ear.
Single AirPod listening. Listening to music with a single AirPod is limited to iOS devices because it uses ear detection functionality. On Android, you need to have both AirPods out of the case for them to connect.
Features That Work on Android
Out of the box, AirPods functionality on Android is quite limited, but the double tap feature works. When you double tap on one of the AirPods, it will play or pause the music. If you've customized your AirPods using an iOS device, next track and previous track gestures will also work, but Siri won't.
One additional benefit to AirPods on Android - Bluetooth connectivity distance. AirPods generally have a much longer Bluetooth range than other Bluetooth-enabled headphones, and this is true on both Android and iOS.
AirPods lose the rest of their unique functionality on Android, but there are a few Android apps that are designed to restore some of it, adding to what you can do with AirPods on Android.
Adding Back Lost Functionality
AirBattery - AirBattery adds a feature that lets you see the charge level of your AirPods. It includes battery levels for the left AirPod, right AirPod, and charging case, much like the battery interface on iOS devices. It also has an experimental ear detection feature when used with Spotify, which can pause music when you remove an AirPod.
AssistantTrigger - AssistantTrigger also lets you see the battery level of your AirPods, and it also says it adds ear detection features. Most notably, it can be used to change the tap gestures, letting you set up Google Assistant to be triggered with a double tap.
Pairing AirPods to an Android Smartphone
AirPods pair to an Android smartphone like any other Bluetooth device, but you there are some specific steps to follow.
Open up the AirPods case.
Go to the Bluetooth settings on your Android device.
On the AirPods case, hold the pairing button at the back.
Look for AirPods in the list of Bluetooth accessories and then tap the "Pair" button.
After tapping "Pair," the AirPods should successfully connect to your Android device.
Is it worth buying AirPods as an Android owner?
Even without many of the bells and whistles available on iOS devices, AirPods have some attractive features that may appeal to Android users.
Many AirPods users find them to be quite comfortable and stable in the ears, with little risk of them falling out, and the battery life is absolutely appealing. AirPods have a charging case that provides 24 hours of battery life in a portable, compact form factor. The case is also easy to charge, so long as you have a Lightning cable.
There's one major reason that you might want to avoid AirPods on Android, and that's audio quality. The Sound Guys outline the poor performance of AAC on Android compared to an iPhone, suggesting you might get degraded streaming on Android because of the way Android handles Bluetooth codecs.
Bottom line? Even if you use Android devices exclusively, the AirPods are a great wire-free earbud option that outperform many other Bluetooth earbuds available for Android devices. If you have both Android and iOS devices, AirPods are a no brainer because you'll be able to use them on both devices with few tradeoffs if you download the appropriate Android apps.