New Android 11 features released but only if you own these smartphones

Google has this week pushed out its highly anticipated Android 11 update, with the major OS upgrade hitting Pixel devices and a range of Chinese smartphones first. Besides devices such as the Pixel 4 select phones from OnePlus, Xiaomi, OPPO and Realme are also getting Android 11 at launch. Among the changes that Android 11 brings to the table are big improvements to conversations and bubbles as well as built-in screen recording.

But while Android 11 is out on a range of devices on day one, there are a number of features only available to Pixel smartphones.

Most of these Pixel-exclusive features either tie into new Android 11 features of the Pixel Launcher, and some of these new additions will get rolled out to other devices in time.

Among the features that Pixel owners are getting first dibs to are Smart Reply, Live View with Location Sharing and app suggestions.

Outlining these Pixel exclusive features in a blog post, technical programme manager Matt Meffin said: “A few times a year, your Pixel receives a boost with software updates that send new features, tricks, and apps to your phone.

READ MORE: Warning: reading this WhatsApp message will crash your phone instantly

“And this time, with new Pixel-first features on Android 11, your Pixel has even more smarts to make it better and more helpful—like giving you new ways to control your media and organise your apps, and making it easier to communicate with friends and family.

“And it all comes with privacy as a priority. Everything happens over the air, so you get that new-phone feeling over and over again.”

Meffin went on to give further details about the Pixel exclusive features arriving with Android 11. You can find a rundown below…

Live View with Location Sharing – Pixel users will be able to use Live View with Locating Sharing in Google Maps on Android 11. This new feature will help Pixel users easily meet up with friends, loved-ones or family members in real life. If they have shared their location a Pixel user will simply have to tap on their icon and then on Live View. Google Maps will then show where they are in relation and how far away they are. Tapping on start will then give you the directions you need to follow.

Smart Reply – Smart Reply is a Pixel exclusive feature in Android 11 which gives the user helpful suggestions to make typing easier when using a chat app. Google has said this is all processed directly on your phone to protect a user’s privacy. For the time being this is only available in English and requires use of Gboard. Google added that Smart Reply is not available for all chat apps.

App suggestions – With Android 11 a Pixel device will also be able to make app suggestions based on a user’s daily routine. So a Pixel user will be presented with the right app at the right time of each day. Android 11 will recommend apps for different times of the day – such as Messages for daily check-ins, Google Maps for your an afternoon walk or streaming apps in the evening if you want to chill out and watch a movie after a hectic day.

Folder grouping – The Pixel Launcher will make it easier for users to name folders by category and group apps together in Android 11. Apps can be quickly grouped together by theme such as Photography, News, Navigation, Fitness and more.

New overview options – With Android 11 Pixel users will find it easier to screenshot or highlight text for copying or searching. This new feature means “you’ll have more options over how you select and engage with content on your Pixel”.



TikTok, WeChat & Co: How does spyware get into smartphones?

The accusations against the Chinese app TikTok  and countless other apps from China are very grave:  The programs are alleged to siphon off a wealth of information about their users — data that has nothing to do with the actual function of the app and for whose collection there is no reasonable justification.

“With TikTok  and the other malware apps, the app is not innocent at first and then happens to get compromised,” says IT security expert Stefan Strobel. “The developer of the app built back doors, spy functions and other things into the app from the outset and took great care to ensure that no one would notice.”

Strobel, the founder and CEO of the IT security company CIROSEC,  advises German medium-sized companies on IT security issues. Some of these companies are active in China themselves. And so Strobel has ample experience with Chinese apps. In his view, the popular Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat are only the tip of the iceberg.

WeChat  is a universal app  that combines messaging with payment functions and other social media applications. It is very popular in China. Among IT experts, there is little doubt that all the data flowing through it is gathered completely by the Chinese regime.

Why is the app hiding something?

It’s not just TikTok and WeChat. There are thousands of apps involved — often free, but also commercial ones. “Again and again, you notice that for some strange reason a lot of money has been invested to make it difficult to analyze the apps,” says Strobel. “And then when you go to even more trouble and try to circumvent these protective functions to trace how the app was programmed, you realize that a lot of data is being collected and sent to China — data that is not really necessary.”

Many apps seem innocuous and harmless to start with. At first, there is only a small back door that an attacker can use later. “Even if you look at the app now, and it is only doing harmless things, the Chinese manufacturer is often able to extend the functionality at runtime,” says Strobel. “All of a sudden, the app does completely different things without having been updated somewhere from the app store.”

‘Everyone does it’ — not true!

This is by no means comparable to regular live updates as offered by Western software developers to their customers, he says. According to Strobel, the runtime updates of Chinese spy apps are not like those provided by Microsoft Office, for example. “With MS Office, as an end user I can agree to an update being installed,” he says. “The Chinese apps do this in a way that stays completely unnoticed by the end users, without them even knowing that anything is being updated — possibly even while they are working with the app.”

TikTok is an example of how cleverly the attackers go about collecting information. The app is initially disguised as a harmless gimmick, but its data appetite grows over time and in tandem with its success. Once a large number of users work with it, a pull effect is created. “And when the app reaches a cool status and goes viral, and people say ‘Hey, you have to have that!,’ then at some point the manufacturer can extend the rights, and then the person installing it has to agree to even more,” Strobel says.

In this way, the user grants the app permission to do more and more. Many users also don’t understand what the app requires of them. If a window pops up, they simply agree. And all of a sudden, the app has access to users’ current location, can query where they are at any time and perhaps has access to their contacts and schedules. This must then be accepted by anyone wanting to use the app.

Preinstalled spy apps

The problem does not exist only with apps that users actively download from the app store. Often the malware is already installed on a smartphone when customers buy it.

“A lot of software on the devices come with third-party code, and many of the companies use that code without actually knowing where it’s coming from or who has built it. It’s part of the functionality, and the supply chain becomes very quickly tainted without any control,” says Angelos Stavrou, a founder of the US company Kryptowire.

At the end of last year, with his company, he found 146 cases of preinstalled malware on Android  mobile phones from 26 different providers. The phones came from telecommunications companies, electronics stores or elsewhere. Hundreds more cases have since been added, Stavrou told DW at the IT Defense Conference 2020. 

As examples, his colleague Ryan Johnson mentions two small programs called “Lovelyfonts” and “LovelyHighFonts,”  which were discovered in 2019. They purported to be simply fonts that could make the display on the smartphone screen more appealing and playful.

In reality, both programs secretly launched an attack on the smartphone, tying up encrypted data packets and sending them to a server in Shanghai when the phone was not in use.

“Some of these applications actually won the system privileges and are considered part of the platform. And in that case, such applications can’t be disabled. So if there is a vulnerability in one of these apps or an app happens to be malicious, the general user can’t disable it,” says Johnson

Fragmented software development as a risk factor

Android is somewhat more vulnerable to such malicious software than the Apple operating system IOS. This has to do with the fact that at Apple the development of the smartphones and the App Store with the software are in one hand. Apple can thus react faster and remove malicious software if it is detected.

With Android this usually takes longer. It has the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), where the various software developers can offer their products. Those who bring a smartphone onto the market can use the AOSP and collect the software components there that they believe the customer will like.

And there are almost as many app stores as there are telephone providers. “Any vulnerability in the AOSP that is going to be in the core Android software gets propagated to the vendors,” warns Johnson.

The German IT security expert Strobel also sees a security risk in this confusing landscape of manufacturers, developers and retailers. “There are many different parties, a fragmented market, because there are completely different hardware manufacturers who make modifications to the operating system and put their own stamp on it. All this means that things are not getting any more secure,” he says.

Malware already hidden in programmers’ tools

But even Apple is not completely protected against such attacks. The XcodeGhost  also came from China around 2015. This was a manipulated and illegal copy of the Apple programming tool Xcode, which programmers need to write apps for MacOS or IOS.

“If you officially got the Xcode from Apple and developed using it, everything was fine. But if you got this environment through gray channels without paying and automatically integrated the malicious code into the app, then you had a problem,” says Strobel.

At the time, software developers programmed about 4,000 apps  with the hacked software, unknowingly contaminating their products with malware. This seems a lot at first glance, but is a relatively small number compared to the almost 2 million apps currently available in Apple’s App Store.

Nevertheless, even Strobel has to admit that the XCodeGhost was truly professional work.

“Using the development environment to smuggle the malicious code into the app during development is, of course, a brilliant trick from an attacker’s point of view,” he says.

Smartphones still more secure than PCs

But what can we as users actually do to be safe when surfing with our smartphones? The good and perhaps surprising news is that smartphones are not actually as unsafe as they seem. “The basic concept of smartphone operating systems — both Android and IOS — is that an app runs in a sandbox and initially has very limited rights,” says Strobel.

Even a malware app — if the operating system has no open security flaws — cannot easily access what you do in other apps, let alone intrude into your operating system. In this respect, smartphones are usually more secure than normal computers. “For example, IOS is more secure than what I find on a normal Windows 10 PC, starting with the fact that I don’t have administrative rights on an IOS phone — even as a user — while I, of course, have them on my PC.”

A lot depends on the user

The important thing is to be wary. Not every gimmick has to be installed on your smartphone. And you should keep an eye on what you are giving the apps permission to do and not allow them everything. We have compiled an overview of secure apps for you here. 

In the end, customers should ask also themselves whether, in view of the large amount of evidence pointing to the existence Chinese spy apps and the prevailing lack of transparency of some manufacturers, it is absolutely necessary to have a smartphone from a Chinese manufacturer.

In the case of companies, they can protect the smartphones they issue to their staff against attackers by using the central management for company devices — the so-called MDM function. There, they can specify, for example, that only approved apps can be installed. They can also determine which networks users are allowed to connect to, what the Bluetooth settings are and much more.

That’s all not as much fun as TikTok, but at least the data stays where it belongs. 

Read more: OONI: An app for detecting Internet censorship 



Huawei tops Samsung as the world's biggest smartphone seller

Huawei has grown to dominate China’s smartphone market and is also the world’s No. 1 smartphone seller, global analyst firm Canalys said on Thursday, based on the data for the second quarter of 2020.

The Chinese tech company shipped 55.8 million devices during April, May and June, overtaking Samsung, its closest rival. The South Korean firm sold 53.7 million units in the last quarter.

Read more: South Korean court rules Samsung heir can avoid jail, for now

While Huawei’s sales dropped 5% compared with the same time last year, Samsung’s device sales plunged some 30%. Huawei described its success in the face of a global pandemic as a signal of “exceptional resilience.”

But company-wide, Samsung Electronics reported Thursday that its net profit grew 7.3% year-on-year in the second quarter. While smartphone sales were down, strong demand for memory chips helped the company.

People use a mobile phone in a Huawei retail shop in Shenzhen, China's Guangdong province(picture-alliance/AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

The vast majority of Huawei’s sales are in China

Trouble brewing with US, India

Singapore-based Canalys reported that Huawei now sells over 70% of its smartphones in China. However, the industry tracker noted that the US sanctions had “stifled” Huawei on the global market and that overseas sales fell by nearly a third in the previous quarter.

The company’s dominance in China “will not be enough to sustain Huawei at the top once the global economy starts to recover,” said Canalys analyst Mo Jia.

In addition to the sanctions and Washington’s pressure to exclude Huawei from building 5G networks for US allies, the Chinese company now needs to contend with the diplomatic flare-up between China and India following a deadly border clash in June. The escalation has already prompted the Indian government to ban the use of TikTok and WeChat.

“There is certainly an anti-China sentiment in the minds of Indian consumers,” analyst Prachir Singh from the Hong Kong-based Counterpoint market observer company told the AFP news agency. “Samsung is surely benefiting from this.”

dj/sms (AFP, Reuters)



Forget 5G, Samsung smartphones could soon download movies in less than A SECOND

Speaking about it, Sunghyun Choi, Samsung’s Head of the Advanced Communications Research Centre, said: “While 5G commercialisation is still in its initial stage, it’s never too early to start preparing for 6G because it typically takes around 10 years from the start of research to commercialisation of a new generation of communications technology.

“We’ve already launched the research and development of 6G technologies by building upon the experience and ability we have accumulated from working on multiple generations of communications technology, including 5G. Going forward, we are committed to leading the standardisation of 6G in collaboration with various stakeholders across industry, academia and government fields.”

Samsung said they expected work construct a standard for 6G would begin next year and could be completed as early as 2028. Samsung added that this would then be rolled out to consumers around 2030.

A decade is a long time in the fast-moving world of tech – think of the smartphones released in 2010 (iPhone 4, Samsung Galaxy S) compared to those on high street store shelves now. The lightning-fast download speeds that iOS and Android devices will be able to take advantage of a decade from now should be coupled with futuristic designs we can’t even dream of.



Google may have finally fixed the biggest problem with Android smartphones

Explaining more in a post on its blog, Google said: “Over the past few years we’ve introduced new capabilities that enable us to deliver updates more uniformly, quickly, and efficiently to Android devices.

“Thanks to these efforts, the adoption of Android 10 has been faster than any previous versions of Android. Android 10 was running on 100 million devices 5 months post launch – 28% faster than Android Pie.”

“We’re excited by the increased adoption of Android and are grateful for the close collaborations with our chipset and OEM partners to deploy updates earlier. We continue to work on a number of enhancements in the platform and infrastructure to make it easier for developers and users to benefit from the latest versions of Android.”

Android 10’s adoption rate looks even better when you compare it to Android Oreo which was first released in 2017.



O2 customers get a huge free upgrade that fixes the biggest irritation of smartphones

Multiple National Trust and English Heritage sites have also welcomed a 4G boost, from the ruins of St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury, to the scenic Shieldaig Island, tucked away in the Scottish Highlands on Loch Torridon.

Along with that 4G data boost, O2 is continuing to rollout its next generation 5G service which can beam downloads to phones at over 300Mbps.

O2’s 5G signal is now in 60 towns and cities with over 300 popular UK destinations – including Covent Garden in London, and the Jewry Wall ruins in Leicester – able to access this boost.

Speaking about the update, Brendan O’Reilly, Chief Technology Officer at O2 said: “It has never been more important for people to keep connected. We have a collective responsibility to help rebuild our nation, and the telecoms industry stands at the forefront of this effort.