What you can expect from Android O

Image result for What you can expect from Android O

The next version of Android, still just named “O” for now, is almost here. The Android O release candidate has just been released. And, unlike earlier Android releases, more users than ever should be able to use the new Android, thanks to Google’s Project Treble.

Project Treble has redesigned Android to make it easier, faster, and cheaper for manufacturers to update devices to a new version of Android. It does this by separating the device-specific, lower-level software — written mostly by the silicon manufacturers — from the Android OS Framework.

This change, which is being added in Android O, is actually this release’s most important new feature by far. While it will be invisible to users, it’ll enable smartphone vendors and carriers to bring new releases of Android to smartphones in weeks or months instead of the months and years (or never) we now see. It’s also expected to reduce Android fragmentation.

A new stable vendor interface between Android and the vendor’s hardware implementation bridges the gap between operating system and firmware. With this stable interface providing access to Android’s hardware-specific parts, device makers can deliver a new Android release to consumers by just updating the Android OS framework with no additional silicon coding.

In a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA), the Android O development team said, “We’re working closely with device makers and silicon manufacturers to both get required Android customizations (such as carrier-specific requirements) into AOSP, and reduce their cost and complexity when updating to the new version of Android. For example, Sony and Qualcomm have already contributed dozens of features and hundreds of bug fixes into AOSP [Android Open Source Project) so they no longer need to rework these patches with each new release of Android.”

HERE’S WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT FROM ANDROID O:

The only people certain to get the release are using Google phones. Specifically, you’ll get it on the Pixel, Pixel XL, Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X, the Pixel C tablet, and the forthcoming Pixel 2

Faster boot and application start times – Google promises that with Android O, you’ll see faster boot times and applications launches. Overall, Android O will have snappier performance from the same hardware than what you’re seeing from devices running Android Nougat.

Picture in Picture (PiP) mode – With Nougat, you can already run apps in split-window mode, but this enables you to have an app that supports it running on top of another app. So, for example, if you want to watch a YouTube video while downloading files, you can do that.

Improved battery life – Who doesn’t want more battery life? Android O uses restricted background activities to squeeze out more minutes. This de-prioritizes background functions. This is in addition to improvements to Doze, which turns off idle applications. The net result could be as much as an hour or two more of battery life.

Contextual press-to-act options – I’m looking forward to this one. Android O will learn what you want to do when you click on information in an application. Say, as I did yesterday, I had to copy and paste an address from an email and then paste it over to Google Maps. It’s doable, but it’s difficult. After I do it a time or two on Android O, the system will work out I want to use Maps to get directions when I press on an address, and it will automatically start me on my way.

Improved Bluetooth audio – Tired of sub-par Bluetooth audio? Android O comes with native support for LDAC, Sony’s hi-res Bluetooth audio codec. With a bitrate of up to 990Kbps, LDAC promises to be close to lossless audio codec quality. Other changes will give audio application developers more control over sound quality. The end result should be better audio for all of us.

Notification Dots – Variations of this are already on custom launchers such as Samsung’s TouchWiz. With this, when a new alert or message comes to an application, an alert message appears over the icon. For example, I can tell at a glance on my Samsung Galaxy S7 that I have 17 unread messages in my email. Google is building this into Android O. In addition, if you long-press the icon, a pop up on the launcher window gives you a list of actions to deal with the notification. Yes, let’s ignore those inbox messages for now.

This combination of features will make Android even more a pleasure to use. The real improvement, as I mentioned earlier, is that with this release users will finally have a chance to use the most recent version of Android without having to buy a new phone.

Finally!

[“Source-zdnet”]

ANTIVIRUS FOR ANDROID HAS A LONG, LONG WAY TO GO

ANTIVIRUS PROGRAMS ON PCs have a mixed track record. While generally useful, they still have to play catch-up with evolving threats–and their deep system access has on occasion enabled even worse attacks. Now, as antivirus products gain in popularity for Android devices, they appear to be making many of the same old mistakes.

A key part of the current shortcomings stems from relative immaturity in Android antivirus offerings. Researchers at Georgia Tech who analyzed 58 mainstream options found that many were relatively easy to defeat, often because didn’t take a nuanced and diverse approach to malware detection. Taking on the mindset of an attacker, the researchers built a tool called AVPass that works to smuggle malware into a system without being detected by antivirus. Of the 58 programs AVPass tested, only two–from AhnLab and WhiteArmor–consistently stopped AVPass attacks.

“Antivirus for the mobile platform is really just starting for some companies—a lot of the antivirus for Android may even be their first iteration,” says Max Wolotsky, a PhD student at Georgia Tech who worked on the research. “We would definitely warn consumers that they should look into more than just AV. You want to be cautious.”

Modern antivirus uses machine-learning techniques to evolve with the malware field. So in creating AVPass, the researchers started by developing methods for defeating defensive algorithms they could access (like those created for academic research or other open-source projects) and then used these strategies as the basis for working out attacks against proprietary consumer antivirus—products where you can’t see the code powering them. The team will present on and release AVPass at the Black Hat hacking conference in Las Vegas on Thursday.

Free Pass

To test the 58 Android antivirus products and figure out what bypasses would work against each of them, the researchers used a service called VirusTotal, which attempts to identify links and malware samples by scanning them through a system that incorporates dozens of tools, and offering results about what each tool found. By querying VirusTotal with different malware components and seeing which tools flagged which samples, the researchers were able to form a picture of the type of detection features each antivirus has. Under an academic license, VirusTotal limited the group to fewer than 300 queries per malware sample, but the researchers say even this small number was adequate for gathering data on how the different services go about detecting malware.

Before this reconnaissance, the team developed a feature for AVPass called Imitation Mode, which shields the test samples submitted for antivirus scanning so the snippets themselves wouldn’t be identified and blacklisted. “The Imitation Mode is for our malware obfuscation,” says Chanil Jeon, another researcher who worked on the project. “We extract particular malware features and insert them into an empty app, so we can test which feature or which combination is important for malware detection.” The team worked with mainstream malware samples from malware libraries like VirusShare.com and DREBIN.

AVPass is an open source prototype, part of broader Georgia Tech research into machine-learning algorithms (like those used in antivirus) and the extent to which they can be manipulated and exploited. But it also serves as commentary on the evolving landscape of mobile defense.

Room To Grow

If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that Android antivirus tools have an easier job than their PC equivalents, at least for now. “Android malware is not much of malware at all compared to PC malware,” says Mohammad Mannan, a security researcher at Concordia University in Montreal who has studied antivirus vulnerabilities. “They are just rogue apps in most cases, so they are far easier to detect.” And Mannan notes that though Android antivirus apps have a lot of leeway in the system, they aren’t as privileged as antivirus apps on PCs, which could potentially cut down on concerns that antivirus can sometimes be exploited as a security vulnerability in itself. “Mobile AVs run like a privileged app, but are still just an app in the end, not part of the operating system or kernel,” he says.

For now, though, the potential advantages seem overshadowed by the immaturity of the market. The AVPass team says that Android antivirus developers need to build out their products so the programs are looking for multiple malicious attributes at once. It’s much easier to sneak past one security guard than 10. And they note that their research would have been much more difficult and time-consuming if tools like VirusTotal were less specific in the information they disclose about each service.

“These results aren’t the most surprising,” Wolotsky says. “We knew going into this as security researchers that the mobile domain is much less advanced. We hope AVPass will give [antivirus developers] a way to see what works and what doesn’t, because I’m not sure they’ve had that.”

[“Source-wired”]

ANTIVIRUS FOR ANDROID HAS A LONG, LONG WAY TO GO

ANTIVIRUS PROGRAMS ON PCs have a mixed track record. While generally useful, they still have to play catch-up with evolving threats–and their deep system access has on occasion enabled even worse attacks. Now, as antivirus products gain in popularity for Android devices, they appear to be making many of the same old mistakes.

A key part of the current shortcomings stems from relative immaturity in Android antivirus offerings. Researchers at Georgia Tech who analyzed 58 mainstream options found that many were relatively easy to defeat, often because didn’t take a nuanced and diverse approach to malware detection. Taking on the mindset of an attacker, the researchers built a tool called AVPass that works to smuggle malware into a system without being detected by antivirus. Of the 58 programs AVPass tested, only two–from AhnLab and WhiteArmor–consistently stopped AVPass attacks.

“Antivirus for the mobile platform is really just starting for some companies—a lot of the antivirus for Android may even be their first iteration,” says Max Wolotsky, a PhD student at Georgia Tech who worked on the research. “We would definitely warn consumers that they should look into more than just AV. You want to be cautious.”

Modern antivirus uses machine-learning techniques to evolve with the malware field. So in creating AVPass, the researchers started by developing methods for defeating defensive algorithms they could access (like those created for academic research or other open-source projects) and then used these strategies as the basis for working out attacks against proprietary consumer antivirus—products where you can’t see the code powering them. The team will present on and release AVPass at the Black Hat hacking conference in Las Vegas on Thursday.

Free Pass

To test the 58 Android antivirus products and figure out what bypasses would work against each of them, the researchers used a service called VirusTotal, which attempts to identify links and malware samples by scanning them through a system that incorporates dozens of tools, and offering results about what each tool found. By querying VirusTotal with different malware components and seeing which tools flagged which samples, the researchers were able to form a picture of the type of detection features each antivirus has. Under an academic license, VirusTotal limited the group to fewer than 300 queries per malware sample, but the researchers say even this small number was adequate for gathering data on how the different services go about detecting malware.

Before this reconnaissance, the team developed a feature for AVPass called Imitation Mode, which shields the test samples submitted for antivirus scanning so the snippets themselves wouldn’t be identified and blacklisted. “The Imitation Mode is for our malware obfuscation,” says Chanil Jeon, another researcher who worked on the project. “We extract particular malware features and insert them into an empty app, so we can test which feature or which combination is important for malware detection.” The team worked with mainstream malware samples from malware libraries like VirusShare.com and DREBIN.

AVPass is an open source prototype, part of broader Georgia Tech research into machine-learning algorithms (like those used in antivirus) and the extent to which they can be manipulated and exploited. But it also serves as commentary on the evolving landscape of mobile defense.

Room To Grow

If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that Android antivirus tools have an easier job than their PC equivalents, at least for now. “Android malware is not much of malware at all compared to PC malware,” says Mohammad Mannan, a security researcher at Concordia University in Montreal who has studied antivirus vulnerabilities. “They are just rogue apps in most cases, so they are far easier to detect.” And Mannan notes that though Android antivirus apps have a lot of leeway in the system, they aren’t as privileged as antivirus apps on PCs, which could potentially cut down on concerns that antivirus can sometimes be exploited as a security vulnerability in itself. “Mobile AVs run like a privileged app, but are still just an app in the end, not part of the operating system or kernel,” he says.

For now, though, the potential advantages seem overshadowed by the immaturity of the market. The AVPass team says that Android antivirus developers need to build out their products so the programs are looking for multiple malicious attributes at once. It’s much easier to sneak past one security guard than 10. And they note that their research would have been much more difficult and time-consuming if tools like VirusTotal were less specific in the information they disclose about each service.

“These results aren’t the most surprising,” Wolotsky says. “We knew going into this as security researchers that the mobile domain is much less advanced. We hope AVPass will give [antivirus developers] a way to see what works and what doesn’t, because I’m not sure they’ve had that.”

[Source:-Wired]

Google brings its GIF-making Motion Stills app to Android

Google last year introduced an app called Motion Stills that aimed to help iOS users do more with their Live Photos – including being able to crop out blurry frames, stabilize images, and even turn Apple’s Live Photos format into more sharable GIFs. Today, Google says it’s bringing Motion Stills to Android, along with a few changes.

Obviously, Android users aren’t in need of a Live Photos image editing tool. Live Photos, after all, are a format Apple introduced back in 2015, allowing iPhone users to snap photos that animate with a touch.

And with the introduction of iOS 11 later this year, Apple is rolling out a number of built-in tools for editing Live Photos, further eliminating the need for third-party applications in order to do things like cropping, picking out a key photo, or applying effects – like the new loop effect that will make your Live Photos play more like a GIF.

It makes sense, then, that Google would now find a use case for some of its Motion Stills technology on its own Android platform.

The company says the Android app includes a new recording experience where everything you shoot is immediately transformed into short, sharable clips. To use this feature, you simply capture a Motion Still with a tap, like taking a photo. If that sounds a lot like Google is introducing its own take on Live Photos, well…you’d probably be right.

Another new feature called Fast Forward lets you reduce a longer recording into a short clip, as well. This works with recordings up to a minute long, and the video is processed right on your phone. You can adjust the playback speed from 1x to 8x after recording. Google details some of the technology it’s using to make this possible, including how it encodes videos with “a denser I-frame spacing to enable efficient seeking and playback;” and the use of “adaptive temporal downsampling in the linear solver and long-range stabilization.”

Or, in human speak, it’s making more stable, smoother clips you can easily share with friends, even if the original footage was super shaky.

The company shows this off in a sped-up clip of a bike ride over a dirt path:

Meanwhile, in terms of turning regular recordings into GIFs, Google introduced new technology as well. It says it redesigned its existing iOS video processing pipeline to use a streaming approach that processes each video frame as it’s recording. It then stabilizes the image while performing the loop optimization over the full sequence. Again, translated, this means you can quickly make a recording and immediately get a smoothed-out GIF to share as a result.

The company says the new app is meant to be a place where Google can continue to experiment with short-form video technology, and hints that some of the improvements may make their way to Google Photos in the future.

The Motion Stills app for Android is available as a free download on Google Play and works on Android 5.1 and higher.

[“Source-techcrunch”]

Oreo or Oatmeal cookie; dessert name of Android O is not decided yet

Oreo or Oatmeal cookie; dessert name of Android O is not decided yet

Later, we came across a report suggesting that instead of Oreo, Android O would be known as Oatmeal cookie. Then again a source claimed that Android O would be called Oreo. So you can understand the confusion. However, it seems like Google itself is confused about the name of the company’s latest version of Android OS. We say this as a Google employee has said that the company is yet to decide the name of Android O.

The revelation has been made in an AMA session (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit, which was held by software engineers from Google. However, the employee has assured that the search engine giant will decide on the dessert after which it’s going to name the next major iteration of Android by the end of this summer. Other than that, the team also confirmed the color of the notification shade in the latest developer preview of Android O is not a bug.

It was supposed to be whiter than the Android Nougat. The reason behind is that Google wanted to match the look of the notification shade and the Quick Settings section of the OS. There is some good news for Google Pixel and Pixel XL owners as well. After receiving the Android O update, they could experience better audio quality from Bluetooth headphones and earphones. However, the engineers from Google have mentioned that not all of the software additions will be available in the aforementioned smartphones.

[“source-gizbot”]

Android killed Windows Phone, not Apple

T-Mobile G1, the first Android phone

So Windows Phone is well and truly dead (excepting a tiny handful of Windows 10 devices). There it lies, buried in the graveyard of failed smartphone platforms. Cause of death: Android. Yes, really.

Apple changed everything in mobile, but in the chaotic years after its release, there was a massive opportunity to be the alternative that would ultimately dominate marketshare. It was Microsoft’s for the taking, but Google got there first.

I started reflecting on what happened to these smartphones as the 10th anniversary of the iPhone came and went. And the thought that kept occurring to me is how little everybody knew about what was about to happen to the smartphone industry before the iPhone came along. Nobody knew what they didn’t know.

That led to some hilarious quotes from competitors that are easy to mock now. BlackBerry CEO Jim Balsillie’s “in terms of a sort of a sea-change for BlackBerry, I would think that’s overstating it.” Palm CEO Ed Colligan’s “PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in.” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s “It doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard.”

After they said those things, all of those CEOs tried (and failed) to adequately respond to the iPhone. BlackBerry duct-taped extra software on its aging platform and tried to make the whole screen a giant button. Palm made a go of it with webOS but couldn’t get carrier support, nor make products good enough for consumers to go out and buy their devices.

Microsoft’s response was Windows 6.5, a hack on an old OS that wasn’t designed for full touchscreen devices. Then Windows Phone 7, which was an admirable reboot with genuinely new design ideas. It came too late, though, and floundered. Windows Phone 8 took a bad situation and made it worse by angering Microsoft’s surprisingly passionate fanbase when they learned existing devices wouldn’t get software upgrades. (The same thing happened with Windows Phone 10, though by then it hardly mattered.)

Oh yeah, one more thing: somewhere in there Microsoft bought Nokia and frittered away the most storied and trusted phone brand in history. Cool job.

So while Microsoft didn’t do itself any favors, I’d argue strongly that all these machinations and flailings weren’t a response (or weren’t only a response) to the iPhone. The real enemy was the company that had set its sights on Microsoft’s phone ambitions since before the iPhone was released.

That company was Google, of course, and it only tangentially wanted to take on the iPhone. Google’s real target was always Microsoft, and it hit the bullseye.

Google’s ‘Sooner’ prototype, killed by the iPhone
 Steven Troughton-Smith

The best window into what Google was thinking about when it was creating Android is the 2012 legal fight it had with Oracle about Java. The deeply nerdy API details of that case don’t really matter now, but the process of a public, protracted court battle gives us a special and unique gift: testimony and documents.

Here’s some of what then-CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, had to say about the creation of Android:

Q. And once Android came aboard and Mr. Rubin came aboard, was there a business strategy formed about what Android would be and how it worked?

A. Yes.

Q. Can you tell the jurors about that? What was it?

A. My recollection was that the the strategy that evolved over the first year, which would be roughly 2000 and — 2006, was to build a platform — which, again, we previously discussed — that would be free and clear of some of the other licensing restrictions that were slowing down the industry, and that would, in fact, create a viable alternative to the then key players at the time. As you’ve earlier seen in the documents.

So our idea was that if we made something that was generally available, it would provide a lot of customer value; it could be a very large platform; and it would grow very quickly. All of which has, indeed, occurred.

Q: When you say open or alternative to what was out there, tell our jurors what you mean by that.

A. Well, at the time, we were quite concerned about Microsoft’s products. It’s hard to relate to that now, but at the time we were very concerned that Microsoft’s mobile strategy would be successful.

It’s also true at the time that the primary player in the industry was Nokia, who had an operating system called Symbian, which we were also concerned about.

This was before the iPhone was announced and before the whole iPhone revolution occurred.

This all sounds awfully precious now, with the benefit of hindsight. The very idea that Google was terrified of Windows Mobile is hard to wrap your head around. After all, we all know that was the iPhone that changed everything in mobile, it was the iPhone that made all those other companies launch half-cocked jerry-rigged products as a stopgap before remaking their platforms later on.

Indeed, that happened with Android, too. Andy Rubin famously revamped Android’s launch plan when we saw the original iPhone presentation:

Rubin was so astonished by what Jobs was unveiling that, on his way to a meeting, he had his driver pull over so that he could finish watching the webcast.

“Holy crap,” he said to one of his colleagues in the car. “I guess we’re not going to ship that phone.”

But go back to Schmidt in that trial for a second. The thing he and Google’s other executives were worried about was ensuring that mobile users continued to have access to Google search. He saw clearly that there would end up being a software platform that lots of different manufacturers would license and use to make phones, and he wanted Google to be on it.

Rather than trust Microsoft and Nokia and everybody else to keep their platforms open to them, Google just went ahead and made the open platform itself. And then it released it to anybody to use for free, undercutting Microsoft’s licensing fee for Windows Mobile.

What killed Windows Phone was getting beat to market by Android. It took way too long for Microsoft to release a viable competitor to the iPhone – it didn’t really land until 2010. By then, Android had already been around for two years and Verizon was selling the Droid for a year.

Back then, despite the disruption in the market that the iPhone brought, US carriers still had the power to determine winners and losers. And since only AT&T had the iPhone, the other three in the US were casting about for their competitive product. Verizon, in particular, was going to be the kingmaker.

In 2008, Verizon tapped BlackBerry’s Storm, which was a colossal failure. In 2009, Verizon looked at what else was around. Palm hadn’t been able to convince Verizon to pick up the Palm Pre and Windows Phone 7 was still a year off. So Verizon went all in on Droid and the rest is history.

This is obviously an oversimplified timeline. Nokia woulda-coulda-shoulda made a move, for example. Palm and BlackBerry and everybody else made enough mistakes to fill books.

But in mobile, there’s no greater woulda-coulda-shoulda than Windows Phone. Everything that made Android successful was stuff that Microsoft was basically already trying to do. It’s just that Microsoft did it not quite as well, not quite as free, and way too late.

[“Source-theverge”]

Android stops glitchy apps by detecting your panicky presses

If you can’t dismiss an app by pressing the “back” button, it may just be a glitch or crappy app, but it could also be something much worse. That’s why Google has quietly slipped in a new Android feature called “panic detection” that can preemptively close an app if you stab at the back button multiple times. So far the feature, spotted by XDA Developers, has appeared in some, but not all devices with Android 7.1 Nougat.

Google hasn’t said anything about the feature– XDA just happened to discover the code in a recent build of Android 7.1. Essentially, it listens for back button presses, and if enough of them happen (four to be exact) in rapid succession (with less than a third of a second delay) then Android will override the app and bring back the home screen. This could apply to apps that just freeze, but also to rogue software that tries to intercept any and all actions, like malware or adware.

It’s a smart idea, because what’s the first thing you do when you can’t make an app go away? Frantically pressing the back key is probably the first thing, so that will kill the app and allow you to uninstall or disable it until you figure out the problem.

You’ll have to enable the feature to get it to work, apparently. Google seems to be rolling it out on a limited basis, and may in fact just be testing it, so it may be some time before it ends up on your device.

[“Source-engadget”]

When your best Android apps come from Microsoft

microsoft apps android resized1

Google may strike me down, but I’m going to say it anyway: Some of the best Android apps I’ve used come from Microsoft. I’d even go so far as to say that as an Android developer, Microsoft has done what it couldn’t with its own mobile platform—actually make you a Microsoft phone. (Microsoft has in fact given up on making phones, shuttering the Nokia division and dialing back the announcements on Windows 10 Mobile.)

If you use a Windows PC, there’s ample reason to explore the company’s suite of apps and services, as it can streamline the work you do between the desktop and your mobile device. It’s not yet nearly as smooth as what Apple offers between the Mac and iOS, but Cortana and some other Windows 10 tools can make the experience pretty seamless.

Goodbye Google, hello Cortana

The most critical piece of the link between the desktop and mobile is Cortana. Like the Google Assistant, Microsoft envisions Cortana as your intelligent digital assistant who answers questions and guides you through your day.

To get started, grab the Cortana app from the Play Store. It’ll walk you through the process of replacing the Google Assistant when you long-press the home button on your Android device.

cortana on lock screenIDG
Cortana will be your constant companion, replacing the Google Assistant.

Then, head to Settings > Assist & Voice Input. Next, touch Assist app and select Cortana. Now you can launch Cortana with a long-press on the home button.

choose assist appIDG
Make Cortana your default voice app on Android.

Cortana is built to be conversational, much the same way you’d interact on Windows 10 with ”Hey Cortana” functionality. Cortana’s helpfulness mirrors much of what Google’s Assistant provides. You can monitor your sports teams, make shopping lists, get commute updates, schedule alerts, and glean important tidbits about the weather.

launch cortana androidIDG
Cortana will jump into action with a long press of the home button.

Microsoft has done everything it can to make its digital assistant readily available, granting Cortana access to the lock screen so you can start the conversation without unlocking your phone. Head to Cortana’s settings to enable this feature.

cortana lock screenGreenbot
Microsoft’s Cortana can be accessed right from the lock screen.

Cortana can also sync your phone’s notifications and SMS messages to the desktop. When you get a text, you can write a response from your Windows 10 PC. In the Cortana Android app go to Settings > Sync notifications to enable this feature.

cortana smsGreenbot
You’re able to view and reply to SMS messages directly from the Windows 10 notification center.

In my experience, I’ve found this last feature is still a work in progress. Sometimes the messages arrive several minutes after they hit your phone. Additionally, getting all the notifications from other apps have been a little hit-and-miss.

But if your computing life is Windows and Android, it’s worth the effort to embrace what Cortana can do. Microsoft may have missed the mobile wave, but the company is in a strong position to serve as the AI companion for the future.

Swift as an arrow

The next big piece in a Microsoft-friendly overhaul of your phone is Arrow Launcher.

It’s a solid lock screen in its own right, and worth exploring regardless of whether you embrace more Microsoft services. It tries to rein in the sometimes unruly mashup of apps and widgets with quick access to contacts, a calendar, Office files, and of course, a Bing search bar.

arrow launcherGreenbot
Arrow Launcher tries to put the most essential information just a couple of swipes away.

Still, it has a lot of the Android-y tweaks that you get with other third-party launchers and lock screens, like the ability to change the icon sizes and design. You’ll have to slap on your own Google search bar, but the Microsoft-supplied alternative does a good job of scouring your contacts, apps, and recent Office files. If you’re a heavy user of Office 365 for personal or company use, that alone might make it worthwhile.

Change up the lock screen

Microsoft makes not one, but two different lockscreens for Android. My preferred choice is Next Lock Screen, as it combines Bing’s visual delight with several smart features.

Customizations abound, from the app drawer to an iOS-type menu with access to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a flashlight, and other features.

next lock screenGreenbot
The Next Lock Screen not only looks nice, but gives you quick access to apps, contacts, and notifications.

 Microsoft’s Picturesque Lock Screen is also a good choice. As the name implies, it decorates your lock screen with images drawn from Bing’s impressive trove.It also does a better job of bundling together notifications compared to Next, and you get a nice little news summary for each day. Both of these apps are less about a tight connection to Microsoft, and more about the flexibility that Android gives you for changing how your phone works.

Embracing Bing

While I’m big fan of what Microsoft’s productivity apps, I still struggle with Bing. It does a competent job, but Google is still just too good, especially with the amount of information I’ve given it (a move I don’t regret just yet).

You can embrace the best parts of Bing via the Android app. Remember to use the freebie that comes with it, Bing wallpapers, to get an appealing collection of images on your home screen. It gives Google’s own Wallpapers app a serious run for the money.

bing wallpaperGreenbot
Google may still be tops in search, but Bing will bring some serenity to your home screen.

Bing’s prediction engine is fun to play with, especially during sports playoff seasons. But to be honest, you’ll probably still end up back on Google for core search needs.

A few extras

Just like Google, Microsoft likes to experiment with apps that may never make it to prime time. Try them out while they last.

One of the most promising developments is the advent of Cortana Skills. It’ll allow you to connect with third-party services through Cortana, much like with Alexa or Google Assistant.

Integration hadn’t yet arrived when I tested this on the Cortana Android app, as a command like, “Ask Dark Sky for today’s weather forecast” will only yield you a prompt to download the mobile app. However, keep an eye on this feature, as it gives Cortana yet another way to be the go-to app on your Android device.

cortana dark skyIDG
Dark Sky is one of many services that will support Cortana’s Skills.

Other evolving tools include News Pro, which taps into your social networks to give you a more rounded take on the news. Microsoft Send is a rethink of workday communications. That one’s been put out to pasture, but it illustrates how Microsoft is willing to use Android as an experimental playground.

Finally, remember the basics. Both Dropbox and OneDrive integrate well with Office, so you can make edits to your Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files on the fly.

android office appsGreenbot
Make your Android phone an Office workstation.

On Android it’s easy to be all about Google, but Microsoft has done an excellent job of crafting its Office apps to keep the work flowing. Windows Mobile may be dead, but Microsoft’s work with Cortana and its entire application suite means that it doesn’t really matter. Now, it just might be time to pick a new phone.

[“Source-greenbot”]

Google’s new Android app makes it easy to save mobile data on the go

Google’s new Android app makes it easy to save mobile data on the go

The good folks at Android Police have spotted a new app from Google called Triangle; it lets you control which other apps can use your mobile data. It’s a handy little tool if you’re stuck on a crappy plan or are low on credits abroad.

Just fire up Triangle, grant it the necessary permissions (including one that allows it to set up a VPN), and you can then monitor data usage, and restrict apps from consuming mobile data – even if you’ve 2G/3G/4G data turned on.

That’s useful for times when you might forget that you’re on limited data, and happen to launch a data-hungry app just to kill time (Reddit clients have swallowed up my entire allowance a few times). It’s also great for preventing apps from consuming data in the background without your knowledge.

You can also grant apps access to mobile data for 10 minutes or 30 minutes from a prompt that pops up when you launch an app. And there are rewards to be earned by installing promoted apps, but that’s only available to a couple of carriers in the Philippines.

Speaking of which, Google is presently testing Triangle in the Philippines, and so it’s only available to users there from the Play store. It is, however, available to sideload from APKMirror and it works like a charm even if you’re not in that country.

Care to try it yourself? Grab the installer APK from this page, and check out more info on Google Play.

[“Source-thenextweb”]