The Android 11 interview: Googlers answer our burning questions

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We have established a little bit of a convention right here at Ars. Yearly at Google I/O, we’ve got a sit-down speak to be taught extra about Android straight from the people who make it. After all, this 12 months, nearly each main occasion was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, nothing is absolutely regular, and Google I/O by no means occurred.

We are able to nonetheless do interviews over the Web although! So whereas it occurred later within the 12 months than regular, we had been nonetheless in a position to maintain our annual chat with a few of the most vital Googlers at Android HQ: Dave Burke, Android’s VP of Engineering, and Iliyan Malchev, Principal Engineer at Android and the lead of Venture Treble.

We got here prepped with questions in regards to the extra mysterious corners of Android 11, which really led to lots of attention-grabbing speak in regards to the future. You will find out about a coming re-write of the Bluetooth stack, and there is a number of speak about modularity and simple updating (like plans will hopefully, sometime, can help you replace the Linux kernel and developer APIs as simply as you obtain an app replace).

This interview befell simply days earlier than the launch of Android 11, which went last on September 8t. As normal, this has solely been flippantly edited for readability, and I will embrace no matter background is required in italics. Given the odd state of every little thing as all of us popped right into a Google Meet video chat, COVID was an apparent first subject.

Ars: How are you all coping with COVID-19 in Android improvement land?

Dave Burke: Good. Like everybody, after we did the work-from-home change, it was a little bit of a scramble to say the least. We had lots of developer productiveness issues to iron out. Lots of people use high-powered workstations for constructing the working system, with a cellphone tethered over USB, and we wished to discover a manner that they might nonetheless use their workstations however flash to a cellphone that was tethered to a laptop computer. So we did a bunch of infrastructure work and whatnot to get everybody up and working. That really labored fairly properly. I used to be fairly impressed.

Google Meet labored out nice, too. I keep in mind pondering a pair years in the past, “Wow, Google is investing so much on this video conferencing stuff, why not use one thing business?” However now I am so glad Google constructed its personal. A whole lot of us now use the Meet rooms, so we’ve got lots of like digital, Slack-like channels, if you wish to name it that. It has been fairly good!

I imply it is clearly been powerful as properly, not having issues like hall conversations. We noticed someplace between like a 7 to  11 % drop in productiveness, I’d say, at the start. Then it appeared to get well as individuals tailored. We did set the schedule again a couple of month simply because we have to accommodate of us with that transition. The business wanted time to adapt, too, however yeah, it is largely figuring out. After all, I believe we’d all be fairly pleased to return to work.

Iliyan Malchev: I believe the largest fear going into COVID was simply, ‘Will the ISP infrastructure have the ability to deal with this big spike in media consumption?’ It appears to have held up for probably the most half.

Burke: The opposite factor I have been engaged on is is publicity notifications with Apple, in order that’s been fairly intense. We’re constructing capability to detect for those who’ve been approximate to somebody who has examined optimistic for COVID-19. We have been working quick on that, in order that’s been an thrilling additional second job.

Ah, sure, Android’s COVID publicity notifications rolling out to a smartphone close to you. The APIs for this has shipped in Google Play Providers and rolled out to mainly all the two billion Google Play Android units on the market. Full OS updates may be dependent in your machine producer, however Play Providers updates hit each cellphone that has the Play Retailer put in, so mainly each Android cellphone exterior of China.

Google is going to start generating COVID apps itself so states and other entities can get up-and-running easier.
Enlarge / Google goes to start out producing COVID apps itself so states and different entities can get up-and-running simpler.


The present drawback with COVID monitoring is that particular person well being organizations have to make apps that plug into this API, and within the US, that is normally your state authorities. States do not actually have competent app builders on name for one thing like this (Is your native DMV web site as a lot of a catastrophe as mine?). To this point, solely six states at the moment have COVID apps. It seems like Google’s subsequent step to attempt to repair that is to make apps itself, so states solely want to provide a configuration file to stand up and working.

Venture Mainline updates

Venture Mainline, aka “Google Play System Updates” is likely one of the largest modifications to return to Android in a while. The function debuted in Android 10, and it is a main step within the modularization of Android. Mainline added a brand new “APEX” file sort, designed to bundle core system parts for straightforward updatability by way of the Play Retailer. Beforehand, the Play Retailer solely shipped APK recordsdata, which, since they had been constructed with third-party apps in thoughts, got here with all types of safety and performance limitations that would not work for core system parts. APEX recordsdata can solely come from Google or your OEM, so these supply much more energy and start-up earlier within the boot course of. APEX recordsdata can do issues like replace the app framework, which you could possibly by no means do with an app.

Mainline was additionally about getting OEMs on-board with Google taking on extra of Android’s base code—code that beforehand was obtainable to OEMs to customise. Google needed to sit down with all of the OEMs (I think about these conferences appear to be the Galactic Senate) and ask, “Do you actually need to customise the way in which the DNS resolver works?” When all of the solutions come again “no,” that turns into a Mainline module and everybody agrees to ship the identical piece of code. When there are customization issues, Google and OEMs are working collectively to upstream code right into a module that everybody can use.

That was Android 10. For Android 11, the final information we bought about Mainline was Google’s first developer preview weblog submit from February, which stated there have been “12 new modules” in Mainline. It did not present way more element than that.

Ars: Your weblog submit stated there have been “12 new apex modules” in Android 11, however what are they precisely?

Burke: Yeah, there is a bunch. I’ve an inventory right here: so statsd, which is our daemon for accumulating stats, and that is smart since you wish to have uniform telemetry. Wi-Fi tethering is a brand new module. NNAPI—the neural networks API—once more, that is one other house that is altering quickly as we be taught extra strategies in machine studying. ADBD. Cell broadcast. There’s some Wi-Fi modules. SDK extension stuff. Oh, and media supplier as properly, which underpins scoped storage, so we wished that to be updatable.

I believe there is a complete of 21 modules now and I believe most likely extra vital than what the precise modules are is the work that is gone into the infrastructure to make them potential. Now we have very superior launch administration. We have short-term, long-term telemetry. We have A-B functionality. We have file system snapshot within the rollback. And the opposite half, after all, is only a cultural change for the builders to discover ways to write in a module that is being up to date on a regular basis. I am fairly excited in regards to the basis that we have laid greater than what the particular modules are as a result of there’s extra to return.

Ars: Talking of “extra to return,” I wished to ask about that “SDK extension module,” which sounds fairly vital. Is that this as attention-grabbing as I am imagining? You wish to ship new API ranges by way of the Play Retailer?

OK, trip whereas I clarify this query: Android variations are recognized to you and me by their model numbers, however internally Android identifies itself to apps with a quantity interchangeably known as the “SDK stage” or “API stage.” So all the brand new options, permissions, and safety restrictions in Android 11 can be found to apps in “API Degree 30.” Prior to now, API Ranges have at all times gone up +1 with every Android launch (even for the smaller 0.1 releases, which is why we’re at stage 30).

The hypothesis with an SDK module is that Google would have the ability to ship complete new SDK ranges to builders, together with new options, with out having to push out a complete OS replace. This could be completely unimaginable for Android, since full OS updates have such poor distribution and small person bases that builders are reluctant to help new APIs when nobody can run them. API ranges over Google Play can be identical to a Play Providers rollout, the place a brand new function can hit two billion units just about in a single day. This additionally sounds very arduous to imagine, as a result of a brand new developer API can hit any a part of the OS. How might you probably replace that by way of a single module?

Burke: I believe the entire thought of updatable OS modules is a reasonably profound shift, so it is all fairly attention-grabbing. However yeah, we’ve got the power in Android 11—Android R, as we name it—to create new system APIs and deploy them in mainline modules. That is in R. In S [Android S would be version 12], we will plan to have the ability to really ship new public APIs in Mainline modules, so we’re actually simply extending the breadth of what is a module and what’s updatable.

Ars: That is going to should be extra restricted than a full OS replace, proper? How properly can that work in comparison with an OTA? It sounds superb but additionally fairly arduous.

Burke: Yeah, I believe it is nonetheless early. You are proper. The problem with updatable modules is that the module updates however you may’t assume that every little thing round it updates. So, you need to watch out and have secure inner APIs or boundaries between these interfaces.

So yeah, we’re nonetheless working. I believe what you actually need is for the API to be related solely to a different updateable module, in any other case it does not fairly make sense. We’re constructing out the aptitude after which we’ll see what we’ll use it for.


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