• Fri. Oct 30th, 2020

Android 11 system update from Google adds privacy controls

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By Leo Kelion
Technology desk editor

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image captionAndroid no longer gives sweet-themed code names to its operating system updates

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.css-14iz86j-BoldText{font-weight:bold;}New privacy controls and a screen-recording tool are among features being added to Android phones in the latest major update to Google’s mobile operating system (OS).

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Google has made efforts to encourage third-party device manufacturers to roll out its system updates more quickly than they used to.

But some brands lag behind others.

The tech giant has said that in addition to its own Pixel brand, the following firms would be the first to offer downloads of Android 11:

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  • OnePlus
  • Xiaomi
  • Oppo
  • RealMe

Nokia has also tended to be an early adopter, while Samsung, Huawei and LG typically take a little longer to adapt new features to their own user interfaces.

In any case, one expert said the fact that Google had detached app and security updates from its major system releases a while back meant delays were now less of an issue than they had once been.

“There’s a lot of features that drip into Android phones across the year via app updates, which happen independently of the manufacturers,” explained Chris Hall from the tech review site Pocket-lint.

“That contrasts with Apple’s iOS, where iPhone users wait for a big dump of features to happen all at once.”

Smart device controlsimage copyrightGoogle
image captionUsers can now control smart home gadgets from different brands via a single screen rather than multiple apps

Even so, Mr Hall acknowledged that some of the privacy changes could prove timely.

  • the ability to give apps single-use – rather than perpetual – access to a device’s microphones, cameras and location
  • a permissions auto-reset function that retracts apps’ access to such functions if they have not been launched for a few months
  • limiting apps to launching the phone’s built-in camera app rather than a third-party alternative. This has been done to close a loophole that allowed some developers to harvest location data without the user’s say-so

“People often grant permissions without realising what they are doing as they just click on an option to accept all features, allowing an app to go off and do what it wants,” commented Mr Hall.

“So building in one-time permissions is actually quite a big deal, especially after some high-profile cases of microphones and cameras being accessed without users realising what was going on.”

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Connected cars

Many of Android 11’s other changes are focused on trying to simplify use of a smartphone.

A smart devices feature, for example, lets owners call up controls for all their connected devices in one place by holding down the power button.

Another tool is designed to help users manage multiple messaging apps, such as Facebook Messenger, Android Messages, Twitter, WhatsApp, Slack and Telegram.

Android Conversations featureimage copyrightGoogle
image captionChat message

Posts received via all these platforms are now grouped together in a new “conversations” section of the notifications screen that appears when you swipe down from the top of the phone’s display.

This separates them out from other types of alerts, helping owners avoid missing an important message.

Users can also give certain chats priority over others, so they appear at the top of the screen and can still pop up when the device is put in Do Not Disturb mode if desired.

In addition, new Chat Bubbles can be set to appear above other apps, allowing users to quickly respond to friends’ queries via a floating panel. This avoids them having to switch out of the app they were using at the time in order to respond.

Chat Bubblesimage copyrightGoogle
image captionChat Bubbles allow conversations to be carried out in floating panels that appear above apps updated to support the facility

Devices also gain the ability to natively record the screen without having to install a dedicated app, mirroring a feature already available on iOS. This could be useful for capturing game footage or recording a video chat.

And the update should also allow all smartphones running it to connect via wi-fi to car entertainment systems powered by Android Auto.

Until now only Pixel and Samsung phones could do this, meaning users of other brands had needed to resort to a USB cable if they wanted to stream music, have chat messages read aloud via the vehicle’s speakers or get-real time alerts on their navigation display.

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  • Mobile phones
  • Apps
  • Android

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