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Category: Google

Keeping up with the latest Android news

Ars Technica recently published a deep-dive review of Android 8.0 (Oreo) that contains several interesting tidbits about what the author called “Android’s biggest re-architecture, ever.” After reading the details, it’s hard to argue with that assessment.

The article’s thorough analysis includes a list of the changes Oreo is bringing to the UI, notification settings, locations service settings, and more. In addition to the types of updates that we usually see, a few key points stand out.

  • Project Treble, a complete reworking of Android’s foundational structure intended to increase the speed and efficiency of update delivery
  • A serious commitment to eliminating silent background services, giving users more control over their phone’s resources, and potentially enabling significant gains in battery life
  • Increased machine learning/neural network integration for text selection and recognition
  • A potential neural network API that allows third-party plugins
  • Android Go, a scaled-down version of Android tuned for budget phones in developing markets

There’s too much information about each of the points to discuss here, but I encourage anyone interested in Android development to check out the article. Just be warned that when they say “thorough,” they mean it, so it’s not exactly a quick read.

Right now, Oreo is available on only the Google Pixel and Pixel XL phones, and will not likely be available to most users until sometime next year. Even though widespread adoption is a way off, the sheer scale of the expected changes requires us to adopt a long-term development perspective.

We’ll continue to track developments in the Android world and keep the community informed about any impact that those changes may have on MobileXPRT and BatteryXPRT. If you have any questions or suggestions for future XPRT/Android applications, let us know!


Machine learning everywhere!

I usually think of machine learning as an emerging technology that will have a big impact on our lives in the not too distant future through applications like autonomous driving. Everywhere I look, however, I see areas where machine learning will affect our lives much sooner in a myriad of smaller ways.

A recent article in Wired described one such example. It told about the work some MIT and Google researchers have done using machine learning to retouch photos. I would do this by using a photo editing program to do something like adjust the color saturation of a whole photo. Instead, their algorithm applies different filters to different parts of a photo. So, faces in the foreground might get different treatment than the sunset in the background.

The researchers train the neural network using professionally retouched photos. I love the idea of a program that automatically improves the look of my less-than-professional personal photos.

What I found more exciting, however, is that the researchers could make their software efficient enough to run on a smartphone in a fraction of a second. That makes it significantly more useful.

This technology is not yet available, but it seems like something that could show up in existing photo or camera apps before long. I hope to see it soon on a smartphone in my hand!

All of that made me think about how we might incorporate such an algorithm in the XPRTs. When I started reading the article, I was thinking it might fit well in our upcoming machine-learning XPRT. By the time I finished it, however, I realized it might belong in a future version of one of the other XPRTs, like MobileXPRT. What do you think?


Evolve or die

Last week, Google announced that it would retire its Octane benchmark. Their announcement explains that they designed Octane to spur improvement in JavaScript performance, and while it did just that when it was first released, those improvements have plateaued in recent years. They also note that there are some operations in Octane that optimize Octane scores but do not reflect real-world scenarios. That’s unfortunate, because they, like most of us, want improvements in benchmark scores to mean improvements in end-user experience.

WebXPRT comes at the web performance issue differently. While Octane’s goal was to improve JavaScript performance, the purpose of WebXPRT is to measure performance from the end user’s perspective. By doing the types of work real people do, WebXPRT doesn’t measure only improvements in JavaScript performance; it also measures the quality of the real-world user experience. WebXPRT’s results also reflect the performance of the entire device and software stack, not just the performance of the JavaScript interpreter.

Google’s announcement reminds us that benchmarks have finite life spans, that they must constantly evolve to keep pace with changes in technology, or they will become useless. To make sure the XPRT benchmarks do just that, we are always looking at how people use their devices and developing workloads that reflect their actions. This is a core element of the XPRT philosophy.

As we mentioned last week, we’ve working on the next version of WebXPRT. If you have any thoughts about how it should evolve, let us know!


Running Android-oriented XPRTs on Chrome OS

Since last summer, we’ve been following Google’s progress in bringing Android apps and the Google Play store to Chromebooks, along with their plan to gradually phase out support for Chrome apps over the next few years. Because we currently offer apps that assess battery life and performance for Android devices (BatteryXPRT and MobileXPRT) and Chromebooks (CrXPRT), the way this situation unfolds could affect the makeup of the XPRT portfolio in the years to come.

For now, we’re experimenting to see how well the Android app/Chrome OS merger is working with the devices in our lab. One test case is the Samsung Chromebook Plus, which we featured in the XPRT Weekly Tech Spotlight a few weeks ago. Normally, we would publish only CrXPRT and WebXPRT results for a Chromebook, but installing and running MobileXPRT 2015 from the Google Play store was such a smooth and error-free process that we decided to publish the first MobileXPRT score for a device running Chrome OS.

We also tried running BatteryXPRT on the Chromebook Plus, but even though the installation was quick and easy and the test kicked off without a hitch, we could not generate a valid result. Typically, the test would complete several iterations successfully, but terminate before producing a result. We’re investigating the problem, and will keep the community up to date on what we find.

In the meantime, we continue to recommend that Chromebook testers use CrXPRT for performance and battery life assessment. While we haven’t encountered any issues running MobileXPRT 2015 on Chromebooks, CrXPRT has a proven track record.

If you have any questions about running Android-oriented XPRTs on Chrome OS, or insights that you’d like to share, please let us know.


A Chrome-plated example

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about how benchmarks have to evolve to keep up with the changing ways people use their devices. One area where we are expecting a lot of change in the next few months is Chromebooks.

These web-based devices have become very popular, even outselling Macs for the first time in Q1 of this year. Chromebooks run Google Apps and a variety of third-party Chrome apps that also run on Windows, Mac, and Linux systems.

Back in May, Google announced that Android apps would be coming to Chromebooks. This exciting development will bring a lot more applications to the platform. Now, Google has announced that they will be “moving away” from the Chrome apps platform and will be phasing out Chrome app support on other platforms within the next two years.

Clearly, the uses of Chromebooks are likely to change a lot in coming months. Interestingly, part of the rationale Google gives for this decision is the development of powerful new Web APIs, which will have implications for WebXPRT as well.

As we’ve said before, we’ll be watching and adapting as the applications change.


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