Google details Android N security and performance improvements

The as-yet-unnamed Android N was officially announced during Google's I/O 2016 Keynote. For those fortunate enough to own a Nexus or Pixel C device, the beta release can be installed now and updates will automatically be installed as it progresses to a stable release later this summer. Google is also asking for help with naming this release on the Android website, although "Namey McNameface" has apparently been disqualified as a potential option already.

We've come to expect a new Android release alongside the annual I/O conference, but what's inside? For developers, there's three big announcements: a new JIT compiler, Vulkan support, and an updated version of Android Studio, now on version 2.2. The new JIT compiler is supposed to improve software performance and speed-up app installs. The best part is that Google suggested an up to 50% app size reduction based on this new compiler. The worst case for that figure is apps like games where graphics assets are the majority of the app content.

Spock comes home to roost in Android this year, for Vulkan is officially on the Android N plate. When developers start to program with Vulkan, their graphics code should be unified across ecosystems: desktop, console, and mobile. That unity could make for tasty benchmark comparisons across devices. Vulkan for mobile should have the biggest impact by relieving the CPU from some of the scheduling work that was required with OpenGL (the older Android graphics API). Vulkan is able to dispatch draw calls without eating up CPU cycles that OpenGL would require, an important win for power and performance on the lower-end ARM cores found on most mobile devices. Vulkan requires mobile OpenGL ES 3.1 hardware support, though, which may not be available on all low-end devices for some time to come.

The release of Android Studio 2.2, while not part of Android N, certainly brings some encouraging features that exemplify Google's push toward a low-latency Android. The new release introduces support for NDK-Build and CMake, build tools used for building C++-based apps. Non-Java apps are able to bypass the object runtime of ART and directly make native Linux system calls, the type of feature that enables low-latency applications—still an issue for some Android apps.

Android N also comes with two new multi-tasking features: picture-in-picture and split-screen support. An official split-screen feature is something Android has needed since the early days of large-screen devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note. Mobile VR may progress beyond Cardboard and Gear VR with Android N and their "Daydream ready" specification, too. You can read more in our dedicated Daydream article. This release will also support quick responses from notification windows, and the app history switcher is being overhauled with a recent applications view and the ability to dismiss all apps at once.

This Android release is getting beefed-up security features, even if it's not as fine-grained control as Privacy Guard in CyanogenMod. Instead, Android N introduces per-file encryption, media hardening, and seamless OS upgrades. Per-file encryption offers finer granularity and potentially better performance compared to block-level device encryption. While this scheme allows users to encrypt their private files without slowing down the whole OS, it doesn't prevent at-rest data leakage like full-device encryption does.

After a string of embarrassing security holes in the media framework of older Android versions, Android N now restricts codec access with SELinux permissions to reduce their ability to impact a system if they are compromised. In practice, media apps should no longer be able to take over the entire system if they're fed a malicious file. Lastly, Android N introduces seamless OS upgrades where the OS image is downloaded automatically and updated in a single step, a feature already known and loved in Chrome OS.

Comments closed
    • Lily_Rose
    • 3 years ago
    • Mr Bill
    • 3 years ago

    I suggest Android “Nanu” for a name.

    • brucethemoose
    • 3 years ago

    Being fed up with Apple’s shenanigans, I’m about to get my first Android phone… HTC is one of the better manufacturers when it comes to pushing out updates, right?

      • Chrispy_
      • 3 years ago

      Just get a Nexus.

        • brucethemoose
        • 3 years ago

        The 6P is too big for me, and the 5X is missing some features that I consider essential (good audio quality, SD card slot).

          • Prospero424
          • 3 years ago

          As someone who has been on Android since the very beginning, I just can’t bring myself to buy OR recommend a non-Nexus Android phone in this day and age, no matter how awesome the hardware may be. I really can’t. HTC and Samsung and others make awesome hardware, but until they not just give lip service to, but actually DELIVER timely Android updates, they remain part of the problem.

          Even my “old” Nexus devices now get monthly updates and run the latest Google-released version of Android (6.01).

          With modern mobile operating systems evolving as quickly as they are and massive security holes being exposed and patched constantly, unless you are itching to experiment with third-party Android mods and endless tinkering, these days you get an iPhone, you get a Windows Phone, or you get a Nexus.

            • evilpaul
            • 3 years ago

            What about Motorola/Lenovo? I’ve got a crappy Samsung Galaxy Avant (was considering a Moto G2 at the time too, would have gone with that in retrospect) and have been eyeing the Moto X Pure all year. The new versions are coming out soon and look promising.

            • TheMonkeyKing
            • 3 years ago

            My wife had the S3 and it was time to move on. I struggled with either a Nexus 6p or Samsung S7.

            Knowing however, that buying an S7 was one of two options, wait for the US unlocked version on Ebay or go through Verizon (our carrier). Verizon adds so much crap and bloatware and pairing that with updates was something I did not want to go through again.

            You will be surprised how you can get used to the size of the 6p. My wife thought the same and now she likes the extra screen size.

            If you do have Verizon and you do not have a phone with microSD chip AND you are one of the handful of people still carrying the grandfathered unlimited plan, there will be pain involved trying to swap chips. I had to put the chip in my work iPhone to get it ‘activated’ before using it the 6p.

      • Disco
      • 3 years ago

      I’ve had HTC phones for a long time. Right now I have the M8, which is great. My wife has the S5 which the M8 ‘lost’ out to when they were both premium phones a couple summers ago. She hates it, and can’t wait to go back to an HTC – used to have a Desire. My daughter has a Nexus 5. It’s decent, but I’m not a huge fan of the basic android.

      Short story – HTC make great premium phones. I’m really looking forward to the HTC 10. The Sense overlay is great – and much better built-in email and messaging apps than Samsung. And I’ve had no major issues with the M8 camera. I don’t see how the S5 was ever considered significantly better – I’ve tested with my wife’s phone and have never seen much difference. Depends on the subject and lighting. Also, the battery life is great. Almost 2 yrs old and my phone still lasts just short of 2 full days with moderate use.

      My only concern is that HTC seems to asking exorbitant $$ for the 10, and in Canada the early release is limited to a single carrier (not mine). We’ll see what the actual prices are in August when my 2-yr contract is up, and if Telus is carrying the HTC 10.

      ***Not sure if I missed it the first time (your edit?), but the HTC is kept up to date pretty well (have marshmallow). It’s been only slightly behind my Nexus 7 tablet for android updates ***

        • brucethemoose
        • 3 years ago

        There are $100 off promo codes floating around. That brings the price down to $600 in the U.S, which is less absurd than $700 but still tough to swallow.

          • Disco
          • 3 years ago

          I’m hoping that there are some promo options to increase adoption for the back to school period. Lots of people are getting new phones then, and that’s when my contract is up…

      • egon
      • 3 years ago

      [url<]http://www.htc.com/us/go/htc-software-updates-process/[/url<] The Anatomy of an Android OS Update, or "why Android updates take so damn long to roll out".

        • brucethemoose
        • 3 years ago

        That’s interesting… And scary. With all the cooperation that’s required, I’m suprised it gets done at all. And that doesn’t even cover the internal development steps within HTC.

        Having owned some Samsung stuff, this how I picture their software division:

        [url<]http://media1.notapipe.biz/2015/06/Monkeys-typing-Shakespeare.jpg[/url<] They have [i<]alot[/i<] of monkeys... But yeah. From what I gather, HTC seems better.

          • Disco
          • 3 years ago

          I don’t believe that my wife’s S5 has yet been updated to android 6 (M), but I’ll check when she gets home…

            • Disco
            • 3 years ago

            Just checked… the S5 was updated about 1 month ago. I’m pretty sure I’ve been on marshmallow since Jan/Feb.

            And I’ll add one more thing. HTC lets you install apps on your microSD card. I do not believe that Samsung lets you do this (if that’s even something that interests you).

      • crystall
      • 3 years ago

      I’ve just got myself a Fairphone 2. It’s fairly expensive, a peculiar design, but a very good phone nonetheless. The ability to take it apart easily for repair is also a big bonus for me (I tend to keep stuff around longer than the market would like me too). I think it’s worth a look.

        • Disco
        • 3 years ago

        Just looked it up. That is pretty cool. The modularity is amazing.

          • crystall
          • 3 years ago

          Yeah, it’s a very neat aspect of it. The way it’s built makes it thicker than other phones, but the back cover has a rubber lining around the screen so it doubles as a shock protector. Not needing an additional one means it’s potentially thinner than a regular phone of it’s class with a shock protector.

      • nico1982
      • 3 years ago

      If you don’t mind older chipset, take a look at Sony Xperia Z3 (SD801) and Z5 (SD810). Or wait for the Xperia X Performance (SD820). Sony has been quite reliabile in firmware updates in the past years. Even the Z2, launched on Kit Kat, is now running Marshmallow.

      • Bonusbartus
      • 3 years ago

      Who cares about official updates?
      just check on xda-developers.com if there is someone making roms for the device you like.
      been doing that since 2006 (windows mobile then) and have always had a phone with latest updates.

      • Mr Bill
      • 3 years ago

      Moto X Pure Edition is a really nice phone, I’m very satisfied.

        • Anonymous Coward
        • 3 years ago

        Moto X Play here, nice practical phone, good battery. Also can probably expect updates. 🙂

      • bfar
      • 3 years ago

      Seriously, do take a second look at the Nexus phones. Although there’s no SD card slots, Google will store your photos and music online for free, and the limits are generous.

      As a long time Galaxy user, I’ve finally had enough of the third party bloat that fouls Android.

      Apple and Nexus are the only real alternatives. Apple takes the prize for third party apps and tablet, but I find Google’s core day-to-day apps – phone, messenger, gmail, maps, calendar, Photos, Music, Chrome – are generally the best available, and the hardware is better value.

    • mark625
    • 3 years ago

    Hm. I submitted “Namey McNameface” with no problem. I’m sure that it will be the Winnar!

      • drsauced
      • 3 years ago

      Nexus McNexusface FTW!

    • camelNotation
    • 3 years ago

    Android N should be named “Nutella.”

      • Ninjitsu
      • 3 years ago

      Thought the same XD

      • cmrcmk
      • 3 years ago

      That’s what I suggested to Google.

    • UberGerbil
    • 3 years ago

    [quote<]For those fortunate enough to own a Nexus or Pixel C device, the beta release can be installed now [/quote<]Well, Nexus [i<]phones[/i<]. The Nexus 7 tablet (either year) is notably absent:[quote="Google"<]Which devices are eligible?[list<][*<]Nexus 6, Nexus 9, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Nexus Player [/*<][*<]Pixel C [/*<][*<]General Mobile 4G (Android One)[/*<][/list<] Sony Xperia Z3 owners can participate through Sony’s N Developer Preview program.[/quote<]

      • Ninjitsu
      • 3 years ago

      No Nexus 5? Boo.

        • rxc6
        • 3 years ago

        Somehow people think that Nexus phones are on par with anyone else when it comes to updates. I guess that these people keep thinking that the Galaxy Nexus, Nexus 4, and now the Nexus 5 were “one-time occurrences”. Nexus phones are not the fix it all solution that people believe they are.

        • nico1982
        • 3 years ago

        It is not the first time the Nexus 5 get Marshmallow updates at a later time.

        Edit: I have to stop posting while doing too many things. It is not the first time the Nexus 5 got its updates at a later time. It happened even on Marshmallow.

    • JosiahBradley
    • 3 years ago

    Been using N since the first public Beta and they have made it pretty far in 3 releases.

    • cygnus1
    • 3 years ago

    [quote<] Lastly, Android N introduces seamless OS upgrades [/quote<] And has this process been taken out of the hands of the manufacturer and the carrier??? If not, then it's a very minor improvement. Until Google gets to a point where they can issue a patch today, and have 90% of Android devices running it within a few days, it will remain a steaming pile of insecurity....

      • Raymond Page
      • 3 years ago

      It just means it will download the OS update and install it, then allow a switch to the new os on next reboot.

    • DPete27
    • 3 years ago

    Aaaaaand 90% of existing phones will never this….

      • Firestarter
      • 3 years ago

      I look forward to my perfectly serviceable LG G3 not getting this. I mean it only has 3gb of RAM, that’s way adequate

        • DancinJack
        • 3 years ago

        It’s not like it is a secret, and it hasn’t been for years. If you want updates, you buy a Nexus. It’s time to get over this fact.

          • adisor19
          • 3 years ago

          You mean to say : “If you want updaetes, you buy a Nexus or switch to iPhone.”

          Adi

            • Voldenuit
            • 3 years ago

            My sony Z3 Compact has a Marshmallow update pending. I’ve been putting it off for a while b/c MM broke my SD card use case on my Shield Tablet, so I’ve been holding off until I do more research into getting back write access for apps before updating this time.

          • derFunkenstein
          • 3 years ago

          you mean that people who want change should just shut up about it? Didn’t realize it worked that way.

          • Firestarter
          • 3 years ago

          and if you wanted a decent camera, you bought something else. That too was known for years and has only changed with the very last nexus models. The Nexus line is not an excuse for the sad fragmented and unsecure state of Android

          • cygnus1
          • 3 years ago

          This is the single biggest drawback to Android in my mind. I mean, besides the mediocrity of the available apps, Google not controlling updates for all devices is not a good thing.

        • Voldenuit
        • 3 years ago

        A friend runs an unlocked G3 w a custom bootloader. He upgraded to MM fairly quickly and did not encounter the problems I did with my Shield Tablet (stock bootloader).

          • Firestarter
          • 3 years ago

          I got MM quickly and I’m very happy with it, I have to give props to LG for that. But at the same time, the G2 does not have MM and there’s no official say on whether it will ever get it. The 2 phones are very comparable with the G3 only being a minor bump in specs and size, but nevertheless support for the G2 is already effectively over as far as we can tell. That doesn’t bode well for the G3, and what reason do we have that it will be better for the G4 and G5? I admit that I knew what I was getting into and that I’d probably be forced to go with a custom community sourced ROM to keep my phone up to date, and I don’t really blame LG for it either. No, it’s Google who caused this situation and only Google can really start fixing it

        • brucethemoose
        • 3 years ago

        And here my iPhone 5 has the opposite problem.

        Apple won’t [i<]stop[/i<] trying to push updates to it, and the 1GB RAM just doesn't cut it in iOS 8 (I haven't dared try 9 yet, as there's no going back).

      • adisor19
      • 3 years ago

      That’s the sad state of Android these days. Unless it’s a Nexus, there is pretty much very little chance of getting a timely upgrade of your current phone.

      Adi

        • sweatshopking
        • 3 years ago

        android these days? what? that’s always been android. Though, to be fair, at least android updates actually do stuff, unlike iphone updates which just bring new icons every 3 versions.

        • bwoodring
        • 3 years ago

        It’s hilarious dude. You are like that nerd at a party that keeps trying to break into conversations and making everyone uncomfortable. Keep it up buddy, someone will talk to you some day.

          • Anonymous Coward
          • 3 years ago

          …except he’s on the internet where its acceptable behavior.

      • chµck
      • 3 years ago

      This is one thing apple, and now even microsoft, have on android, with apple being a bit better.
      Apple controls updates 100%, bypassing service providers.
      Microsoft got annoyed with service providers not putting any effort into getting updates to windows phones, and now allows users to directly update via a free windows insider account.
      A lumia 920 from 2012 can now run the latest version of windows 10.

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