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Google just told us how to fix the worst thing about Androids and iPhones

No matter how strong your allegiance to Android or iPhone is, you’ll probably agree that the worst thing about Android phones and iPhones is battery life. Yes, most of the new phones will get you through the day, and the advantage is clearly on Android, as some vendors have equipped their devices with massive battery packs. But battery life is never enough, especially as the battery degrades over time. Thankfully, Google just told us how to improve battery life on certain Android and most of the new iPhones, admitting a mistake in Android design in the process.

It turns out it’s something as easy as switching to dark mode whenever possible. That’s something smartphone-savvy users have long suspected, that dark mode will help conserve battery life. There is a caveat, however. The screen has to be an OLED one. But that’s absolutely not a problem these days, as most of the flagship devices out there pack OLED screens, premium iPhone X versions included.

Google shared data about energy consumption on phones at this week’s Android Dev Summit, SlashGear reports.

The company studied energy consumptions on phones with white and dark themes and concluded that at max brightness, the dark mode on OLED always wins. With OLED screens, each pixel lights up independently, which is why dark mode helps preserve battery life.

Google also showed a comparison between the original Pixel and the iPhone 7 which is self-explanatory, as long as you’re aware of the screen differences between the two devices. OLED, on the original Pixel, does consume less power on dark mode compared to the iPhone 7, which has an LCD.

All Pixels since the Pixel 3 come with OLED screens, as do Samsung flagship devices like the Galaxy S or Note, and Apple’s iPhone X, iPhone XS, and iPhone XS Max. But you won’t really find true dark modes for any of them.

Even Google admitted that it was wrong to impose white as the predominant color for Material Design apps. Apple’s iPhone UI, meanwhile, is also heavy on white, and there’s no dedicated dark mode on iPhone either. Interestingly, Apple launched a dark mode for Mac, although all Macs have LCD screens, which means it won’t help with battery life. Samsung phones, meanwhile, will get a dark mode via the One UI update, but not all its phones are eligible for it.

Just because Google told us how easy it is to “fix” battery life on OLED smartphones, doesn’t mean we’re getting dark modes from either Google or Apple anytime soon. But there may be independent apps that may offer users dark modes, with YouTube being one such example.

Google just announced Android support for foldable phone displays

Phones with foldable displays might never be anything more than a niche product. Then again, if you’re Google, and you’re dealing with a seemingly never-ending reality of fragmentation among Android device makers with all kinds of different screens, sizes, and form factors, it might make sense to get in on the ground floor and offer Android support to foldable phone makers like Samsung in the hopes that you can start promoting a bit of uniformity early — at least in terms of the app experience making a seamless transition between different screens, including the bendy ones.

That’s behind Google’s thinking in announcing today, at the company’s Android Developer Summit, that Android will officially support a “Foldables” device category, with Android VP of engineering Dave Burke saying that Google basically plans to enhance the OS “to take advantage of this new form factor with as little work as necessary.”

Beyond that announcement, there’s not much else in the way of specifics as of yet. Though there will be a “Foldables” session this week at the developer summit that will reportedly have more to share.

The Android Developers blog has some additional things to say, including the fact that foldables are on the way from several Android manufacturers like Samsung, which previewed one today and plans to offer it next year.

“There are two variants broadly speaking,” the post explains. “Two-screen devices and one-screen devices. When folded, foldables look like phones, fitting in your pocket or purse. When unfolded, their defining feature is what we call screen continuity. For example, start a video with the folded smaller screen — and later you can sit down and unfold the device to get a larger tablet-sized screen for a beautiful, immersive experience.

“As you unfold, the app seamlessly transfers to the bigger screen without missing a beat. We’re optimizing Android for this new form factor. And, making changes to help developers everywhere take advantage of the possibilities this creates for amazing new experiences, new ways to engage and delight your users.”

The post goes on to note that as early as Android 1.6, there was consideration being given to different screen sizes and densities so that the platform could support new form factors and experiences like Android TV, Wear OS and more.

All of this is to say that the “support” Android is offering for foldables as of right now appears to be mainly guidance in the form of steering developers toward the screen continuity feature that post mentions above. Sagar Kamdar, Android director of product management, told The Verge there are different ways to cut down on fragmentation among foldables devices and experiences, but that Google doesn’t have anything else to announce. At least today.

“The company isn’t ready yet to discuss some of the more fundamental questions, like will Google create a default home screen for foldables?” The Verge reports. “Will better support for drag-and-drop on a full-screen display come? Will device makers need to sign a different kind of Android license to create a foldable phone?

“Still, the most important question is whether or not Google is on the ball when it comes to preventing fragmentation on this new form factor. The answer appears to be yes.”

Google is giving some Android users up to $5 of free Play store credit

With the holidays coming up, everyone is looking for ways to save money, which is why some Android users were pleasantly surprised on Monday to find a few free dollars of Google Play store credit in their accounts. Android Police reports that it has received several messages from readers (as well as from colleagues working for the site) claiming that they opened the Google Play app only to discover they had been credited a few dollars.

According to Android Police, you can check to see if you’ve received the credit by opening the Play store and scrolling down past the first section of app suggestions. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a banner offering a $2, $3, or $5 credit. That $2 credit appears to be specifically for users who purchased a Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL.

Once you accept the free credit, you’ll be able to spend it on any app or game available on the Google Play store. If you have a Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL, you only have until November 30th of this year to use the credit, but everyone else’s credit should be good through the end of November in 2020 — a full two years. I managed to snag $3 from the store myself, which Google says I can use any time between now and November, 2020.

It’s unclear why this promotion is happening right now, but they say you shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. It’s also unclear who exactly qualifies for this offer, though it seems to be relatively widespread. If you own any Android device, it can’t hurt to scroll down and see if you are one of the lucky ones.

Some users are experiencing terrible battery drain on Android Pie

If anything, software updates should improve the battery life of our devices, but many Android fans are discovering that Android 9.0 Pie does the opposite. As noted by VentureBeat this week, some users who upgraded to Android Pie are noticing significantly faster battery drain on their devices than before the update. A quick search on Reddit or the Pixel User Community forum turns up dozens of results, mostly from users of older phones.

The first suspect was a new feature called Adaptive Battery, which, as part of Android Pie, is intended to automatically adjust to your habits in order to conserve your battery throughout the day. This was ruled out quickly by users online who said turning off the feature had no effect, and an independent test by VentureBeat.

In the process, VentureBeat was able to confirm that the issue only affects devices on Android Pie. Those affected have reported battery drain as severe as 10% to 20% in an hour when the phone is idle. There was also at least one instance where a battery seemingly died in an instant. To make matters worse, with the battery life falling so quickly, Android isn’t able to accurately predict how long the phone will last, leading to sudden shutdowns.

One thing that many of the affected users appear to have in common is that media apps such as YouTube and Spotify are heavily contributing to battery drain. As VentureBeat points out, apps built for older OS versions aren’t subject to many modern Android restrictions, like background execution limits, which could potentially be to blame. Thankfully, Google changed this requirement starting on November 1st.

If you’re one of the many Android Pie users experiencing noticeable battery drain, VentureBeat recommends that you cut out your use of all your media apps as much as possible, turn on Battery Saver all day long, and turn off Adaptive Brightness. If none of that works, you can try a factory reset if you’re desperate. The hope is that Google will issue an update sooner than later to address the problem, but nothing has been confirmed.

Google’s fix for Android fragmentation hasn’t done a damn thing

In the early hours on Thursday morning, Apple updated its App Store support page with new iOS version distribution data that is current as of the end of October. The data shows that 60% of all iOS devices are now running iOS 12, which was released 44 days ago on September 17th. Sixty percent. 29% of iOS devices are running iOS 11 from one year ago, and just 11% are running older versions of iOS. If you narrow that down only to iOS devices released in the last four years, the numbers are even more impressive. 63% of iPhones, iPads, and iPad touch models from the past four years are running iOS 12, while 30% are on iOS 11 and just 7% are on an earlier version of Apple’s mobile platform.

Once again, the benefits of Apple’s model are beyond obvious. Because Apple controls its hardware, software, and update mechanism, all iOS device users instantly gain access to Apple’s latest software updates. That means the latest and greatest features are available instantly, along with all those important bug fixes and security updates. Some choose not to update right away for various reasons, but all have the opportunity to update if they want to. Android, meanwhile, still isn’t showing any signs of improvement in this crucial area despite the introduction of Google’s fragmentation fix, which was released over a year ago in August 2017.

First, let’s look at Apple’s iOS version distribution chart:

As we’ve already covered, the numbers are quite impressive for a software update that was released just 44 days ago. Now, let’s take a look at Google’s latest Android version distribution data, which is current as of October 26th.

At 28.2%, the most widely used version of Android right now is Android Nougat, which was released back in August 2016 more than two years ago. The 14-month-old Android Oreo release comes in at number 2 with 21.5%, and Google’s 3-year-old Android Marshmallow release is right behind it with 21.3%. Of course, you’ll also notice a version of Google’s mobile platform that is completely absent from this chart. That’s right, it’s Android Pie, which was released nearly three months ago on August 6th.

So, Apple’s iOS 12 software is now found on 60% of all iOS devices just 44 days after its release. In 87 days, Android Pie isn’t even on enough Android devices to be measured. As you’ll note from the last line of the Google graphic above, that means it’s on less than 0.1% of Android devices.

Put another way, more Android devices are running Android Gingerbread from 2010 — seven years ago — than Android Pie from 2018. That’s absolutely insane.

The worst part about this whole ordeal is the fact that last year’s Android Oreo release included Google’s fix for Android fragmentation… and it’s actually a fantastic solution. But it clearly isn’t doing anything at all just yet. It’s called Project Treble, and it gives Android smartphone vendors like Samsung and LG a way to separate the cord Android framework from their own interface tweaks and extra features.

Before Android Oreo, Android phone makers would have to rework their software from top to bottom in order to build a new version of Android. Then the software has to be tested thoroughly by vendors and by wireless carriers before it can be released. With Project Treble in Android Oreo and above, however, the process is simplified. Android phone makers can apply their previous “vendor implementation” to the updated core Android framework and they’re done. It’s obviously a bit more complicated than that, but the process is simplified dramatically compared to how it used to be.

Android phone makers have had more than a year to work with the changes brought about by Project Treble. What’s more, we know that Treble works — OnePlus took just 45 days to update the OnePlus 6 to Android Pie. 45 days! That’s practically a miracle compared to Android updates of old. But as we can see in Google’s Android version distribution data above, Treble isn’t having the impact Android fans hoped it would. At least, not yet. As a result, we’re still in a place where almost no one has access to all of the great new features available in Android Pie.