Android 9 Pie is a delicious slice of AI powered computing
Android 9 Pie is here! We grab a slice of the popular mobile operating system for a quick taste test. What can developers expect from Android Pie? A smarter, simpler UI experience powered by AI. I’ll have mine à la mode.
Android 9 is here! The yearly update to the popular mobile operating system came out of the oven a little early, but everything looks delightfully golden brown. Following their delicious naming scheme, the latest update is called Android 9 Pie. (Next year’s Q release is sure to be difficult one to name.)
Most of the new features aren’t a surprise – we covered them earlier this year with our Android P coverage. However, some of those headline features are missing and won’t be generally available until the fall. That said, what we’re really interested in is the tech under the hood, so grab a fork and dig right in.
What’s in Android 9?
Android 9 leans in hard to the machine learning trend with a system that helps pick up on users preferences. Helpfully, Android 9 keeps things running longer by helping users extend their battery life as long as possible.
Adaptive Battery – Thanks to a partnership with Deep Mind, power management is the more sophisticated than ever. Android 9 uses machine learning to prioritize the apps that users care most about. The App standby buckets and battery saver improvements ensure that energy resources are available to apps whenever needed. (These changes apply to all apps, whether or not they target Android 9.)
Text Classifier and Smart Linkify – Android 9 extends the ML models that identify important text details like dates and flight numbers in the TextClassifier API. The Linkify API improves user engagement by taking a piece of text and a regular expression and turning all of the regex matches in the text into clickable links.
Neural Networks API 1.1 – There’s an upgrade for this API to extend Android’s support for on-device machine learning. This includes increased support for nine new ops, Pad, BatchToSpaceND, SpaceToBatchND, Transpose, Strided Slice, Mean, Div, Sub, and Squeeze. Developers can take advantage of this API with TensorFlow Lite.
Kotlin – Kotlin is a first-class language on Android! Android 9 has improved several compiler optimizations, especially those that target loops, to extract better performance.
Lots of new security and privacy features in this release! Here are some of the biggies.
Biometric prompt – Android 9 has introduced a system-managed dialog to prompt users for any supported biometric authentication. Developers can use the BiometricPrompt API instead of needing to develop their own. This includes Fingerprint, Face, and Iris authentication.
Android Protected Confirmation – Supported devices that run Android 9 or higher give developers the ability to use Android Protected Confirmation. When using this workflow, apps display a prompt to the user, asking them to approve a short statement. This statement allows the app to reaffirm that the user would like to complete a sensitive transaction, such as making a payment.
However, this doesn’t actually provide a secure information channel for the user. Your app cannot assume any confidentiality guarantees beyond those that the Android platform offers. Do not use this workflow to display sensitive information that you wouldn’t ordinarily show on the user’s device.
HTTPS by default – Exactly what it says on the tin. Android 9 changed the default for Network Security Configuration to block all cleartext traffic.
User privacy safeguards – Android 9 restricts access to the mic, camera, and all SensorManager sensors from idle apps. While your app’s UID is idle, the mic reports empty audio and sensors stop reporting events. Cameras used by your app are disconnected and will generate an error if the app tries to use them. In most cases, these restrictions should not introduce new issues for existing apps, but we recommend removing these requests from your apps.
Some of the proposed features are still a work in progress or only available to Pixel users as a beta. However, these features are intended to ship in the fall.
Digital Wellbeing – This was one of the more intriguing features that was hyped in the press release back in May. However, the dashboard to show smartphone usage habits, app limit timers, and a “wind down” mode to help users focus on going to sleep are only available to Pixel users in beta form. (Try it out here.)
Slices – This feature helps users perform tasks faster by enabling engagement outside of the fullscreen app experience. By using rich and dynamic UI templates, your app can display interactive content from within the Google Search App or in the Google Assistant.
Developers can build slices as enhancements to App Actions. Support for Slices is built into Android Jetpack and can extend all the way back to Android 4.4, reaching approximately 95% of all Android users. Slices will start appearing soon for users, but developers can already start building their slices today.
App Actions – Thanks to machine learning, apps can be suggested to users when they need them most. Developers can register their app to handle one or more user intents. Then, users will be able to see and interact with the app across multiple Google and Android surfaces for increased reach and engagement. The developer preview is coming soon.
Get Android Pie
Want to try Android Pie? It is currently rolling out an over-the-air update to Pixel users. Developers can find the source code at the Android Open Source Project repos in the Android 9 branches.
The full changelog of new features is available here. Happy developing!