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.
Forbes recently challenged a variety of smartphone face-recognition systems with a 3d printed head modeled after the author's head.
The head was printed at Backface in Birmingham, U.K., where I was ushered into a dome-like studio containing 50 cameras. Together, they combine to take a single shot that makes up a full 3D image.
The final model took a few days to generate at the cost of just over £300. With it, the author tested it out against four Android smartphones and the iPhone X. All Android phones tested were able to be unlocked with the fake 3d printed head.
If you're an Android customer, though, look away from your screen now. We tested four of the hottest handsets running Google's operating systems and Apple's iPhone to see how easy it'd be to break into them. We did it with a 3D-printed head. All of the Androids opened with the fake. Apple's phone, however, was impenetrable.
The Android phones tested included the LG G7 ThinQ, Samsung S9, Samsung Note 8 and OnePlus 6.
It's been long known that many implementations of facial recognition amongst Android phones have been less secure than Apple's Face ID system. Some of those face recognition systems have been fooled with simple photographs. Apple's Face ID, however, also includes IR depth mapping and attention awareness technology. The attention awareness alone may be enough to explain the inability for a static 3d printed head to unlock the iPhone X. That said, the iPhone X's Face ID has been fooled in the past with more sophisticated printed 3d heads.
Apple is now beta testing a version of the Apple Music app for Android smartphones that works with larger-screen Android tablets (via Pixel Spot). Found in the 2.7.0 update of Apple Music on Android, when opened on an Android tablet the app now adapts to the increased display area. With the added room, it shows additional playlists, albums, featured artists, songs, and more of what is presented in the selected tab, similar to Apple Music on iPad.
Image via Pixel Spot
In regards to the tabs, Apple Music on Android also now features a bottom bar navigation menu that's close to the one found on the iOS app, with Library, For You, Browse, and Radio all listed at the bottom of the app. On Android, search is still located in the top right corner. Previously, the Android app used a left-hand collapsable hamburger menu for navigation. The full 2.7.0 beta changelog is below:
- Tablet Support: Enjoy Apple Music with an experience designed for a wider range of Android devices.
- Performance improvements for images and audio playback.
- Various bug fixes.
In August, Apple Music updated on Android with support for Android Auto, letting Android smartphone owners control playback of Apple Music songs directly from the infotainment center in their vehicle. Android Auto support was part of Apple Music's 2.6.0 beta on Android, which also included numerous other features already found on Apple Music on iOS: lyric searches, updated artist pages, and the new weekly playlist called "Friends Mix."
Following the release of iOS 12, which brought a few new Apple Music features, Apple has updated its Apple Music app for Android to introduce feature parity.
Today's update brings support for searching by lyrics, an iOS 12 feature that's designed to let you locate songs and artists using song lyrics rather than a song name.
To use the feature, all you need to do is type in a sentence from the lyrics of a particular song and Apple Music will try to find it. This doesn't work with all songs, but it does work with those that offer lyrics in the Apple Music app.
Apple Music for Android is also gaining the new Artist Pages that were introduced in iOS 12, allowing an artist's music to be played with a single tap, and there's support for the Friends Mix.
Friends Mix is a playlist of songs gathered from the people that you're following on Apple Music. Android users can also discover new music through the inclusion of a new Top 100 list that offers up the daily top 100 songs from countries around the world.
After installing the 2.6.0 update, Android users will also be able to use Apple Music with Android Auto for the first time thanks to new Android Auto support.
Apple doesn't plan to return to fingerprint recognition for biometric authentication features with its 2019 iPhone lineup, according to a new note to investors shared this morning by Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.
Kuo does not expect Apple's 2019 iPhones to support fingerprint on display technology, which would allow the iPhone to read a fingerprint through its display, doing away with the need for a physical Home button.
Instead, Apple is likely to continue to use the TrueDepth Camera System for Face ID as a biometric authentication method in the iPhone and other devices.
According to Kuo, Android manufacturers are keen to adopt fingerprint on display technology as a way to differentiate their devices from the iPhone.
All main Android brands currently treat FOD as the important function to differentiate themselves from iPhone (we expect 2H19 iPhone models will not support FOD). The reasons are as follows: (1) The user feedback on the iPhone is lower than expected. (2) The user feedback on the first FOD smartphone, Vivo's X21 FOD version, is higher than expected, and (3) FOD is the best fingerprint recognition solution for the full-screen design which is necessary for a high-end smartphone.
Kuo last year said that Android manufacturers were several years away from matching the iPhone's advanced Face ID technology. Companies like Samsung have adopted facial recognition, but not a secure 3D version like Apple has implemented, which is likely another reason Android manufacturers are focusing on fingerprint on display technology.
Over the course of the next year, Kuo expects an increasing number of Android manufacturers to adopt fingerprint on display functionality, encouraged by Vivo's implementation and advances in technology that will cut down on component pricing and experience.
By the first half of 2019, Kuo is counting on an uptick in fingerprint on display manufacturers, with "marked improvements for user experience" coming due to an upgrade to a larger aperture lens and ultrasonic fingerprint on display mass production.
Samsung, one of Apple's main competitors, is expected to adopt fingerprint on display technology for its Galaxy S10 during the first quarter of 2019.
During quarterly earnings calls, Apple CEO Tim Cook often boasts about the high rate of customers who are switching from Android devices over to iPhones. Recent research data has suggested Android switchers account for 15 to 20 percent of iPhone purchases.
A new survey of 2,500 people conducted by PCMag delves into the reasons why iOS users switch to Android and why Android users switch to iOS.
18 percent of customers who switched mobile operating systems went from Android to iOS, while just 11 percent dropped iOS for Android.
47 percent of customers who switched over to iOS from Android said that they chose to do so for a "better user experience," while 25 percent cited "better features" like camera and design.
11 percent of respondents switched to Android for better prices, while other reasons for switching included more apps, faster software updates, and better customer service.
On the Android side, customers switching to Android from iOS cited better user experience and better prices as the main reasons why they chose to adopt a new operating system.
While there were a small number of switchers among those surveyed, 71 percent have never switched at all, remaining loyal to their operating system of choice. According to data shared earlier this year by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, both iOS and Android have high customer loyalty rates.
It's difficult for smartphone companies to get customers to switch operating systems, and this has led Apple to lure Android users through a variety of methods, including trade-in options, ads touting iPhone features compared to Android devices, a Move to iOS app to make transitioning simple, and a "Switch" website dedicated to explaining all of the reasons why the iPhone is better than competing smartphones.
According to PCMag's survey, operating system isn't the biggest factor in why customers choose one smartphone over another. 33 percent cited price as the reason for picking an iOS device or an Android device, while 26 percent said brand mattered. 19 percent said that operating system was the main reason for choosing iOS or Android.
PCMag also shared a few other interesting data points that came from the Apple and Android customers it surveyed. Among customers who made a switch to a new operating system or are considering making a switch, 56 percent said they didn't care about new smartphone releases.
34 percent said they buy a new phone when their contract is up, and 17 percent said they make a new phone purchase only when they break the screen on their current phone.
Apple may see a new wave of Android switchers over the course of the next few months with the launch of the 2018 iPhones. Android switchers typically choose larger "Plus" sized iPhones when switching and Apple is set to debut an iPhone with a 6.5-inch OLED display, the company's biggest iPhone screen to date.
Glass panels for the three iPhones coming in 2018
The 6.5-inch OLED iPhone will be sold alongside a 5.8-inch OLED iPhone and a 6.1-inch iPhone with an LCD and a lower price tag, which could also lure Android users. Rumors have suggested the 6.1-inch iPhone, which will offer up Face ID and an edge-to-edge design, could be priced somewhere around $700.
Idle Android devices typically send almost ten times as much data to Google as iOS devices send to Apple's servers, according to new research shared by trade association Digital Content Next.
In a paper titled "Google Data Collection," Douglas C. Schmidt, a computer science professor at Vanderbilt University, arrives at some stark conclusions regarding how much Google is collecting about consumers who use the company's products, even when they aren't interacting with their smartphones and tablets.
Among several findings, Schmidt's experiments found that an idle Android phone with Chrome web browser active in the background communicated location information to Google 340 times during a 24-hour period. An equivalent experiment found that on an iOS device with Safari open but not Chrome, Google could not collect any appreciable data unless a user was interacting with the device.
In addition, he found that an idle Android phone running Chrome sends back to Google nearly fifty times as many data requests per hour as an idle iPhone running Safari. Overall, an idle Android device was found to communicate with Google nearly 10 times more often than an Apple device communicates with Apple servers.
As well as data transmission frequencies, Schmidt's research also turned up some of the ways that Google can potentially tie together anonymous data collected through passive means with the personal information of its users.
For example, on an Android device, so-called "anonymous" advertising identifiers that collect activity data on apps and third-party web page visits can get associated with a user's real Google identity by the passing of device-level identification information to Google servers.
The same goes for the supposedly user-anonymous DoubleClick cookie ID, which tracks a user's activity on third-party web pages. According to Schmidt's research, Google can associate the cookie to a user's Google account when a user accesses a Google app in the same browser that a third-party web page was accessed.
The research follows a recent investigation conducted by the Associated Press which revealed that Google continues to track location data even after a consumer has turned off the setting in many of its apps, including Google Maps.
In response to a query about location history tracking, Google said that it is clear about its location policies, yet the company continues to collect data through app features that come under "My Activity" even when its "Location History" setting is turned off. The practice has since led to a class action lawsuit against the company by a user arguing breach of privacy.
Location information stored in "My Activity" is used for ad targeting purposes, which is still Google's primary business model. In contrast, Apple uses differential privacy to gather anonymous usage insights from devices like iPhones, iPads, and Macs, allowing it to crowdsource data from a large number of users without compromising the privacy of any individual.
Apple says the data it collects off-device is used to improve services like Siri suggestions, and to help identify problematic websites that use excessive power or too much memory in Safari, but the data is randomized before being sent from devices, so that its servers never see or receive raw data from users.
When users set up their device, Apple explicitly asks users if they wish to provide usage information on an opt-in basis. If a user declines, no data is collected by Apple unless they choose to opt in at a later time.
Apple executives have said several times that Apple customers are not the company's product, and Apple CEO Tim Cook has maintained that privacy is a fundamental human right. The company also has a dedicated privacy website that explains its approach to privacy, outlines tools available to customers to protect their privacy, and details government data requests.
Android Pie introduces a new gesture-based system interface that's similar to the interface of the iPhone X, with iPhone-like swipes for navigating through the operating system. We went hands-on with Android Pie earlier this year when it was in a beta testing phase.
The new update also introduces the Android Dashboard, designed to tell you how much time you're spending on your device, which is similar to Apple's own Screen Time feature. A new Do Not Disturb option called "Shush" silences Android devices when placed facedown, and a Wind Down option lets Android users select a specific bedtime to turn the interface gray to discourage smartphone usage at night.
Android Pie also includes an Adaptive Battery feature that maximizes battery power by prioritizing the apps you're most likely to use next, App Actions for predicting what you'll want to do next (much like Siri Suggestions), and Slices, a feature that brings up information from your favorite apps right in search, is coming in the future.
Like all new versions of Android, Android Pie is available for a limited number of smartphones at its launch because Android-based smartphones use customized versions of the Android operating system, and each smartphone manufacturer needs to make the new software available to its customers.
Android Pie is available to Pixel phones today, with the update set to roll out to recent devices from manufacturers that include Sony Mobile, Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo, OnePlus, and Essential later this year.
The majority of Android devices are not likely to ever see the Android Pie upgrade given Android smartphone fragmentation. The previous release, Android 8 Oreo, is installed on just 12 percent of Android devices as of July 23, 2018, despite the fact that it was released in August 2017.
Most Android smartphones continue to use Android Nougat, Marshmallow, and Lollipop, updates that came out in 2016, 2015, and 2014, respectively.
Comparatively, Apple's most recent operating system, iOS 11, was installed on 81 percent of devices as of May 31, 2018. 14 percent of devices use iOS 10, released in 2017, and just five percent of devices use an earlier version of iOS.
Apple is able to control the operating system on all of its devices which allows the company to distribute bug fixes, new features, and more to customers much more quickly.
When iOS 11 was launched, 25 percent of customers had downloaded it after just one week, and iOS 12, with the wealth of features that it brings like Screen Time and Siri Shortcuts, could see even faster adoption when it's released alongside new iPhones this September.
Fortnite, the ultra popular multiplayer battle royale game that's available for iOS devices, consoles, and PCs, is expanding to Android today, but Epic Games is launching Fortnite for Android in a unique way that's worth paying attention to.
As outlined by our sister site TouchArcade, rather than releasing the game on Google Play or another Android marketplace, Epic has created its own Fortnite installer that skirts all fees and eschews the Google Play monopoly on apps, letting Android users install the app outside of Google Play.
Google, like Apple, collects a 30 percent fee for apps (and in-app purchases) released through the Google Play platform, and despite the fees, most developers use Google Play anyway because it's simple, streamlined, and easier in terms of app discovery. But, in contrast to the iOS platform, it is possible for apps to be installed on Android devices without Google Play (or the Amazon Marketplace) and that's what Fortnite has done here.
Fortnite is so popular that Epic doesn't need Google Play to get people to download the game, and thus Google won't be getting a cut of in-app purchases from a mobile game that's already brought more than $100 million in revenue on iOS devices.
Fortnite on Android is being distributed exclusively through Epic's Fortnite Installer, which TouchArcade says is basically a third-party App Store that lets you install one app - Fortnite.
TouchArcadespoke with Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney, and he said that the company was motivated by "economic efficiency." The 30 percent fee charged by open platforms, he says, is "disproportionate" to the services provided.
The 30% store tax is a high cost in a world where game developersʼ 70% must cover all the cost of developing, operating, and supporting their games. Thereʼs a rationale for this on console where thereʼs enormous investment in hardware, often sold below cost, and marketing campaigns in broad partnership with publishers. But on open platforms, 30% is disproportionate to the cost of the services these stores perform, such as payment processing, download bandwidth, and customer service. Weʼre intimately familiar with these costs from our experience operating Fortnite as a direct-to-customer service on PC and Mac.
Sweeney says that right now, Epic Games is focused on Fortnite and there are no current plans for a full Epic App Store that permanently shuts out Google Play, but he didn't rule it out.
Unfortunately for Epic, Apple's mobile platform is more restrictive than Android and there is no way to make a similar move on iOS devices. The only options for skirting the App Store are jailbreaking or distributing outside of the App Store via Xcode, two practices that Apple heavily frowns upon. F.lux, for example, tried using side-loading to release an iOS app back in 2015, and Apple shut it down quickly.
While Epic Games won't be paying fees on Android, Apple will continue getting its 30 percent cut of all Fortnite in-app purchases, at least for now. TouchArcade editor-in-chief Eli Hodapp suggests that this launch has the potential to put pressure on both Google Play and the App Store if Epic Games releases an alternative Android platform that offers more affordable rates. Epic's Unreal Engine Marketplace, for example, offers an 88/12 split, a much better deal than the 30/70 split Apple and Google provide developers.