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The first Android Q beta is now available for testing. Improved privacy controls, support for foldable screens, and more

The next version of Android is here… sorta. Like clockwork, Google‘s released the first beta version of its mobile operating system, Android Q, for developers.

The new version of Android is available to download for all Google Pixel owners — that’s for Pixel 1, 2, and 3 — and includes a number of updates ranging from improved security too with the most notable being support for foldable devices.

One of the biggest issues facing foldable devices is how Android will adapt to the various modes when folded and unfolded. Different devices will have different display configurations and it’s important Android can morph appropriately.

Optimizations

Google says Android Q comes with several optimizations to help better display apps on foldable devices and large screens. An updated Android Emulator also lets developers start testing their apps for foldable displays even without a foldable device on hand.

Portrait photos are all the rage these days, and in Android Q, Google’s taking them to another level with a feature called “dynamic depth.”

Using the depth map data collected from a camera, which include information for an isolated background and foreground. Google says apps will be able to create “specialized blurs and bokeh options.”

This is pretty neat and resembles what you can simulate with an app like Focus, which lets you change the shape of the bokeh from a circle to, say, a star, or triangle, or heart.

Android Q also makes sharing content faster. There’s a new Sharing Shortcuts feature that “let users jump directly into another app to share content.”

Updates

There’s also a host of other less visible under-the-hood updates to Android Q including a new settings panel that can be activated from within certain apps.

For example, Chrome could show shortcut buttons for adjusting settings like WiFi, airplane mode, and data without you needing to go into the Settings app.

New Wifi modes have been added to benefit certain applications like gaming. Google says users will be able to toggle on a “low latency mode” which would be beneficial for “real-time-gaming” and “active voice calls.”

Android Q also comes with hardened privacy protections that’ll give users more control over when apps access their location. You can choose to only let app access your location when it’s in use as opposed to always or never. Similarly, there are better controls to keep tabs on what files (i.e. photos, videos, audio, etc.) apps are requesting access to.

Support for an AV1 video

There’s a ton more of screw tightening in Android Q. Including support for an AV1 video codec that aims to improve high-res video while using less bandwidth, improved Vulkan support for better game graphics, and faster ART runtimes for speedier startups in various apps.

There are two ways to test Android Q on your Pixel, and both are pretty easy. The first is to enrol your Pixel in the Android beta program and get the update pushed to it over the air. If you’re more experienced, you can also download the Android system image files from Google here and flash them on yourself.

Android Q is a beta and as such, it’s likely buggy. As always, update at your own risk. We advise updating a device that isn’t your primary one to prevent any potential data loss if you’re eager to try Android Q.

Android Q’s final build will be revealed at Google I/O in May. Here’s a quick look at everything new in Android Q.

Eligibility of Android Q

How to get Android Q on your device?

Users and developers can enrol their device by going here. All eligible Android Q devices will reflect on this page. Keep in mind only Pixel devices are eligible right now. This is Pixel 3, Pixel 3 XL, Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL and Pixel and Pixel XL.

Google says the downloadable system images for those devices are also available. For those who do not have a Pixel device, they can use the Android Emulator. Download the latest emulator system images via the SDK Manager in Android Studio to test out Android Q.

Privacy Control on Android Q

Android Q will come with greater control over location data. Users will be able to decide when apps can get access to this particular data. Right now in Android, if apps ask for location and you grant it, then this is a done deal.

With Android Q, this changes. Just like Apple’s iOS, Android Q will let users decide whether they want to give access to their location. The three options will be when the app is in use (running), all the time (when the app is in the background) or never.

Users will have more control over apps and access to shared files as well in Android Q. “Users will be able to control apps’ access to the Photos and Videos or the Audio collections via new runtime permissions,” says the post.

Limit app access

In Android Q, a user will decide which downloaded files can be accessed by an app. For developers, there will be changes in how apps can access shared areas on external storage. Further, Android Q will prevent apps from launching an activity while in the background.

For developers, who need their app to come to the foreground to get the user’s attention. They will have the option of using a high-priority notification and provide a full-screen intent, says the blog.

More importantly, Google will limit app access to non-resettable device identifiers. These include details like device IMEI, serial number, etc. Android Q will also randomise the device’s MAC address when connected to different Wi-Fi networks by default. This setting was optional in Android 9 Pie.

Android Q and foldable screens

Given that Samsung, Huawei and other players are showcasing foldable phones, Android Q will also get ready for this. Google says they will have made improvements to help app developers take advantage of these foldable devices and other large-screen devices.

Google has also changed how the resizeableActivity manifest attribute works, in order to help developers manage how their app shows on foldable and large screens.

Sharing shortcuts in Android Q

Google says it will make sharing photos, etc with someone in another app easier and faster for users. Sharing Shortcuts will let users jump directly into another app to share content.

Settings Panels in Android Q

Google’s Android Q will have a new Settings Panel API also for developers to make use of; this will let them show key system systems directly inside their app.

The settings panel is a floating user interface, which can be invoked by the third-party app to show system settings that users might need, such as internet connectivity, NFC or audio volume.

The post explains one such use for this: a browser displaying a panel with connectivity settings like Airplane Mode, Wi-Fi (including nearby networks), and Mobile Data.

The advantage for the user is they do not have to leave the app, and can instead manage the relevant settings from the app itself.

Connectivity in Android Q

Google says it will improve privacy and security of Bluetooth, Cellular and WiFi, by requiring apps to rely on the FINE location permission, instead of the COARSE location permission.

With FINE location permission, it provides better and more accurate location as it gives permission for both GPS and Network provider location. COARSE only uses Network provider location.

Wifi

Android Q will also add support for a new Wi-Fi standard. Support WPA3 and Enhanced Open, to improve security for home and work networks as well as open/public networks.

There’s also improved peer-to-peer and internet connectivity, which will improve use-cases like managing IoT devices and suggesting internet connections. No location permission will be required for doing this.

With Android Q, app developers will be able to request adaptive Wi-Fi by enabling high performance and low latency modes.

Camera, media in Android Q

Google says with Android Q, apps will be able to request access to the Dynamic Depth image, which consists of a JPEG, XMP metadata that is related to depth related elements.

Photos, where the smartphones create a shallow depth of field either by relying on software or using the second sensor are referred to as Bokeh. Many phones offer these pictures in the ‘Portrait mode’

Video

Google says the advantage for app developers with this kind of setting will be that they can then offer specialised blurs and bokeh options in their app. The data can also be used to create 3D images or support AR photography.  Google says they will make Dynamic Depth an open format for the ecosystem.

Android Q will also bring support for open source video codec AV1. So users will be able to stream high-quality video content using less bandwidth. Android Q also brings HDR10+ support for high dynamic range video on devices that which offer this kind of recording.

64-bit support for all apps

Google says they are “moving the ecosystem toward readiness for 64-bit devices.” By later this year, Google Play will require 64-bit support in all apps.

Gaming on Android Q

Google will be adding “experimental support for ANGLE on top of Vulkan on Android devices.” Vulkan is the Android specific API for high performance and 3D graphics.

As the blog post explains, “ANGLE is a graphics abstraction layer designed for high-performance OpenGL compatibility” and it will let more apps and games using OpenGL take “advantage of the performance and stability of Vulkan.”

Google says their “goal is to make Vulkan on Android a broadly supported and consistent developer API for graphics.”

It will also require that device manufacturer make Vulkan 1.1 a requirement on all 64-bit devices running Android Q. Higher going forward to ensure a uniform high-performance graphics API for apps and games to use.

Neural Networks API 1.2

With Android Q, Google is adding more operations the Neutral Networks API with 60 new optimizations. Google says it will lay the foundation for accelerating a much greater range of models — such as those for object detection and image segmentation.

Apps to run faster

Android Q will bring improvements to the ART or Android runtime to help apps start faster and consume less memory. This will not require any work from developers. Android Q will also extend support for authentication methods such as face recognition.

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