Has the time for another major Android refresh come around already?
Well, not quite. Android Q isn’t scheduled for general consumer release until early Autumn. But last month, Google launched its developer-focused preview version (Android Q Beta), which was followed at the start of April by Android Q Beta 2.
So far, headline changes in the revamped OS include Bubbles - an app notification feature that promises to make multitasking easier, native screen recording, a new sharing shortcut function, along with support for folding phones.
Beyond the usual incremental interface tweaks, Android Q also promises some useful security and privacy enhancements. Here’s a closer look at what we can expect – and at what’s behind the changes…
The Background: Android Q and Google’s New Approach to Security…
Ever opened an app and wondered why you’re being asked to give access to so much info? You’re not alone…
Last year, Google announced Project Strobe, a root and branch review of third-party developer access to account and device data, with a firm focus on maintaining user confidence.
As part of this project, the consumer version of Google+ was culled (it had next to no users – and maintaining it securely was simply not deemed ‘worth it’).
Beyond this, with many consumers becoming much more privacy-savvy, Google realised that if developers are still requesting blanket permissions given out of context and with no real explanation, this could easily erode confidence in the whole Google ecosystem. People want more fine-grained control over the data they share – especially when it comes to Android apps.
Many of the security and privacy enhancements ushered in under Android Q can be seen as part of this drive for greater transparency on the part of app developers and greater control for users.
Let’s face it, with a few exceptions, there’s seldom a good reason why an app needs to know your location all of the time.
And yet, up until now, location permission on Android was an all or nothing matter: you either gave blanket permission for that app to access your location (even if you were not actually using the app) - or you denied location access in all circumstances.
Q lets you get more granular. With it, you can choose to grant access all of the time, when the app is in use - or never.
Media and other files
It’s easy to see why a chat app would need access to your contacts - or why a productivity tool would need to see your calendar. On the other hand, it’s often a lot harder to see the rationale behind a wholesale request to access your photos and videos in their entirety!
Android Q makes it easier for users to control access to shared files in their Photos, Videos and Audio folders through a new series of type-specific and app-specific permissions.
To access your downloads, apps will also now have to use the system file picker, which also gives you greater control over which files the app is able to access.
Q also changes how apps may access the files stored externally (on an SD card, for instance). Under the new process, apps will be able to access their own files that are stored externally via their own isolated storage sandbox - but will require a new series of permissions to access other types of files. This prevents some known attacks.
Fewer screen takeovers
Q looks set to stop background apps from launching full scale foreground activities. In practice, it should prevent the annoying situation where an app running in background suddenly takes over your screen, demanding your attention, based on what can often be the flimsiest of pretexts.
Under Q’s default requirements, if a background app demands your attention, it must seek it via a notification message - not a fullscreen pop-up.
Where can I access Android Q right now?
The latest Q beta update is currently available for its homegrown Pixel devices (including the Pixel 2, Pixel 3 and Pixel 3XL models) - and you can access it here. As with Android Pie, it’s expected that other manufacturers (e.g. Sony, OnePlus - and possibly Samsung) will be able to access the beta phase in due course.
P.S. Just be aware that this early stage beta rollout is designed to give developers an early heads-up on upcoming changes. It’s not meant for casual users - and almost certainly isn’t yet stable enough for day-to-day use!