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Google Releases Android O Developer Preview with UI & Audio Improvements, Better Performance, etc…

March 22nd, 2017 No comments

Nearly exactly one year after Android N developer preview release, Google has now announced the release of Android O developer preview in order to get feedback from the developer community before the official release of Android 8.0? Oreo? in Q3 2017.

So what’s new so far in Android O? Here are some of the changes:

  • Background activity limits –  Automatic limits on what apps can do in the background for implicit broadcasts, background services, and location updates.
  • Notification channels –  New app-defined categories for notification content for better control from the use, as user may only block or change the behavior from one channel, instead of applying the same behavior to all notifications from a given app. For example, a News app may have notifications for Technology, Sports, Politics, International, etc…
  • Autofill APIs – Platform support for autofill, where users can select an autofill app, similar to the way they select a keyboard app, with the app securely storing  addresses, user names, and even passwords.
  • PIP for handsets and new windowing features – Picture in Picture (PIP) display is now working on phones and tablets, so users can continue watching a video while they’re answering a chat or hailing a car. Other window features include overlay window and multi-display support.
  • Font resources in XML – Apps can now use fonts in XML layouts as well as define font families in XML — declaring the font style and weight along with the font files.
  • Adaptive icons  Icons that can be displayed in different shapes, e.g. round or rounded square based on a mask selected by the device. Animated interactions with the icons are also supported.
  • Wide-gamut color for apps – Android developers of imaging apps can now take advantage of new devices that have a wide-gamut color capable display.
  • Connectivity 
    • Support for high-quality Bluetooth audio codecs such as LDAC codec.
    • Wi-Fi Aware support, aka Neighbor Awareness Networking (NAN), allowing to discover and communicate over WiFi without an Internet access point
    • Extension of ConnectionService APIs to enable third party calling apps integrate with System UI and operate seamlessly with other audio apps.
  • Keyboard navigation –  Better use of “arrow” and “tab” navigation key for systems connected to keyboard such as Chrome OS with Google Play.
  • AAudio API for Pro Audio –  Native API designed for high-performance, low-latency audio.
  • WebView enhancements –  Multiprocess mode enabled by default, and new API for errors and crashes handling.
  • Java 8 Language APIs and runtime optimizations  – New Java Language APIs, such as java.time API. Android Runtime is up to 2x faster on some application benchmarks. 

Google has provided system images for Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Nexus Player, Pixel, Pixel C, and Pixel XL devices. You’ll find more details about the preview on Android Developer website.

Categories: Android, Chrome OS Tags: Android, audio, battery, google, oreo, sdk

Google Releases Guetzli Open Source JPEG Encoder Generating 20 to 35% Smaller Files Compared to Libjpeg

March 17th, 2017 13 comments

Google has been working one several front to make data and images smaller, hence faster to load from the Internet, with project such as Zopfli algorithm producing smalled PNG & gzip files, or WebP image compression algorithm that provides better lossless compression compare to PNG, and better lossy compression compared to JPEG, but requires updated support from clients such as web browsers. Google has now released Guetzli algorithm that improve on the latter, as it can create JPEG files that are 20 to 35% smaller compared to libjpeg with similar quality, and still compatible with the JPEG format.

The image above shows a close up on a phone line with the original picture, the JPEG picture compressed with libjpeg with the artifacts around the line, and a smaller JPEG picture compressed with Guetzli with less artifacts.

You can find out more about the algorithm in the paper entitled “Guetzli: Perceptually Guided JPEG Encoder“, or read the abstract below:

Guetzli is a new JPEG encoder that aims to produce visually indistinguishable images at a lower bit-rate than other common JPEG encoders. It optimizes both the JPEG global quantization tables and the DCT coefficient values in each JPEG block using a closed-loop optimizer. Guetzli uses Butteraugli, our perceptual distance metric, as the source of feedback in its optimization process. We reach a 29-45% reduction in data size for a given perceptual distance, according to Butteraugli, in comparison to other compressors we tried. Guetzli’s computation is currently extremely slow, which limits its applicability to compressing static content and serving as a proof- of-concept that we can achieve significant reductions in size by combining advanced psychovisual models with lossy compression techniques.

The compression is quite slower than with libjpeg or libjpeg-turbo, but considering that on the Internet a file is usually compressed once, and decompressed many times by visitors, this does not matter so much. Another limitation is that it does not support progressive JPEG encoding.

You can try Guetzli by yourserlf as the code was released on github. It did the following to build the tool on Ubuntu 16.04:

You’ll the executable in bin/release directory, and you can run it to list all options:

Ideally you should have a raw or losslesly compressed image, but I tried a photo taken from my camera first:

But it reported my JPEG file was invalid, so I tried another file (1920×1080 PNG file):

It’s a single threaded process, and it takes an awful lot of time (about 3 minutes on an AMD FX8350 processor), at least with the current implementation. You may want to run it with “verbose” option to make sure it’s not dead.

I repeated the test with convert using quality 95, as it is the default option in Guetzli:

The file compressed with Guetzli is indeed about 15% smaller, and should have similar quality:

It’s just currently about 1,400 times slower on my machine.

New 96Boards IoT Edition Boards Showcased at Linaro Connect 2017: BlueSky IE and WRTNode IE

March 9th, 2017 10 comments

Linaro Connect Budapest 2017 is taking place this week in Hungary, and during George Grey – Linaro CEO – keynote, he provided a status updates for the Linaro group, addressed some of Linaro’s criticisms from members and the community, and unveiled two upcoming boards compliant with 96Boards IoT edition both running Zephyr OS, and adding to BLE Carbon board announced last year.

Click to Enlarge

The first board is BlueSky IE board with the following key specifications:

  • SoC – RDA Micro RDA5981A ARM Cortex-M4 Wireless MCU with 64KB ROM, and 32KB cache
  • System Memory – 485KB SRAM. It’s unclear if that’s only the on-chip SRAM, and there’s also some external PSRAM added.
  • Storage – 8Mb NOR flash 802.11 b / g / n HT20 / 40 mode
  • Connectivity – 802.11 b/g/n WiFi with support for  HT20 / 40 modes
  • Crypto security hardware

The second board is WRTnode IE:

  • SoC – Mediatek MT7697 ARM Cortex-M4 wireless MCU @ up to 192MHz with 64KB ROM, 353 KB SRAM
  • Storage – 4Mb NOR flash
  • Connectivity – 802.11 b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.2 LE
  • Crypto security hardware

Neither boards are available now, and Linaro and their members must still be working on them before the launch. There’s currently very little information about RDA5981(A) MCU except on some Chinese websites, but you’ll find many more resources for Mediatek MT7697. Mr Grey also demo’ed Orange Pi i96 board announced last year with an Ubuntu distribution developed by Shenzhen Xunlong Software.

Linaro also announced four new members with Acer joining the Linaro IoT and Embedded (LITE) Group, Guizhou Huaxintong Semiconductor Technology Co., Ltd (HXT Semiconductor) & Fujitsu Limited coming to the Linaro Enterprise Group (LEG), with the latter also joining as founding member of the LEG High Performance Computing Special Interest Group (HPC SIG), and Google joined as a Club member.

You might be interested in watching the keynote with all those announcements, and to be more up-to-date with Linaro’s progress.


If you are in a rush, you may prefer flicking through the keynote presentation slides instead.

LG Watch Style and Watch Sport Smartwatches Launched with Android Wear 2.0

February 9th, 2017 2 comments

Google released an Android Wear 2.0 developer preview  last May at Google I/O 2016, with the new operating system now supporting standalone apps and keyboard and handwriting input method, featuring a new user interface with material design support, integrating Google Fit & Google Assistant support, and supporting many of the features available in Android 7.0 Nougat like data saver, and emojis. The first two devices running the latest Android Wear 2.0 will be LG Watch Style and Watch Sport smartwatches.

LG Watch Style (Left) and LG Watch Sport (Right) – Click to Enlarge

LG Android Wear 2.0 watches specifications can be found in the table below (Source: XDA)

LG Watch Style LG Watch Sport (W280A)
Display 1.2″ 360×360 P-OLED (Gorilla Glass 3) 1.38″ 480×480 P-OLED (Gorilla Glass 3)
Processor Snapdragon Wear 2100  @ 1.1GHz
RAM 512MB 768MB
Storage 4GB
Connectivity Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2 Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, LTE, NFC, GPS
Sensors Accelerometer, Ambient light sensor, Gyro sensor Heart Rate Sensor (PPG), Gyroscope, Accelerometer, Barometer
Battery 240 mAh 430 mAh
Resistance IP67 IP68
Dimensions 42.3 x 45.7 x 10.79 mm 45.4 x 51.21 x 15.5 mm
Straps Leather, 18mm (User-replaceable) Fixed (Contains hardware?)
Price $249 $349

The watches support Music Streaming with Google Play Music, Android Pay via NFC (Watch Sport only), and Google Fit. A wireless charging dock will be included with the watch as shown in the picture below.

Click to Enlarge

The actual launch will be on February 10, when, if you’re based in the US, you’ll be able to buy  LG Watch Style at Best Buy and the Google Store, and the LG Watch Sport at AT&T, Verizon and the Google Store. These watches will be available at carriers and retailers across Canada, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, UAE and UK in the coming weeks. You’ll find a few more details on LG Watch Sport product page. LG Watch Style page is not up yet.

If you already own an Android Wear device, the following models with get updated to Android Wear 2.0:

  • ASUS ZenWatch 2 & 3
  • Casio Smart Outdoor Watch, Casio PRO TREK Smart
  • Fossil Q Founder, Fossil Q Marshal, Fossil Q Wander
  • Huawei Watch
  • LG G Watch R, LG Watch Urbane & 2nd Edition LTE,
  • Michael Kors Access Smartwatches
  • Moto 360 2nd Gen, Moto 360 for Women, Moto 360 Sport
  • New Balance RunIQ, Nixon Mission, Polar M600 and TAG Heuer Connected.

Google Introduces Draco Open Source 3D Mesh Compression Tool

January 14th, 2017 1 comment

Specific compression and/or encoding algorithms are used for video, audio, and files, and each time one watches a video, listens to music, or downloads a file from the Internet, the amount data has likely been reduced thanks to the implementation of one of those algorithms. Google has been involved in the development of some algorithms and their implementation such as VP8/VP9/VP10 video codecs, and brotli file compression. With the emergence of virtual and augmented reality applications and accompanying 3D mesh data, the company has also worked on 3D data compression, and just unveiled Draco.

Sample representation of 3D mesh data

Sample representation of 3D mesh data

A simple web search showed me some other 3D mesh compression tools are already available including Open3DGC and OpenCTM, but Google decided to compare Draco to GZIP instead, and it indeed offers much better compression than this general purpose file compression tool. Encoding and decoding also appear to be fairly fast, although Google did not compare the performance against ZIP or other compressors.

Draco-Compression-Ratio-PerformanceYou can try it yourself in your browser (I used Firefox) with this example. The video shows the same sample loading with either Draco or GZIP decompression.

Draco is open source with the code available on Github.

Categories: Graphics, Video Tags: 3d, compression, draco, google

Vapor Cooled ASUS Zenfone AR Smartphone Comes with 8GB RAM, Supports Google DayDream and Tango

January 5th, 2017 1 comment

ASUS Zenfore AR is an interesting beast, powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor, it’s the first processor I’ve heard to come with 8GB RAM, and also the first to support both Google DayDream virtual reality, and Google Tango 3D depth sensing camera. On top of that, it’s allegedly cooled by an “advanced vapor cooling system”.
asus-zenfone-ar

Zenfone AR (ZS571KL) specifications:

  • SoC – Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 quad core processor up to 2.35 GHz with Adreno 530 GPU
  • System Memory – 6 to 8 GB LPDDR4 RAM
  • Storage – 32, 64, 128 or 256GB UFS 2.0 flash, micro SD/SDCX card slot up to 2TB, 5GB ASUS WebStorage for file, 100GB Google drive for 2 years
  • Display – 5.7″ WQHD (2560×1440) AMOLED display with Gorilla Glass 4, 10-finger capacitive touch
  • Camera
    • Tricam system with 23MP autofocus, motion tracking, and depth sensing cameras (Tango)
    • 8MP front-facing camera with autofocus dual LED flash
  • Video – 4K video recording
  • Audio – Built-in mono speaker, 3.5mm audio jack
  • Cellular Connectivity – Dual SIM card for 2G, 3G, and 4G networks; up to 600Mbps download speed (LTE cat12); up to 75 upload speed (LTE cat13)
  • Connectivity – 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac 2×2 MIMO, Bluetooth 4.2 + A2DP + EDR, GPS/A-GPS/GLONASS/BDS, NFC
  • USB – 1x USB type C port
  • Sensors – Accelerator/E-Compass/Gyroscope/Proximity sensor/Hall sensor/Ambient light sensor/RGB sensor/IR sensor (Laser Focus)/Fingerprint/Barometer
  • Battery – 3,300 mAh (non-removable) with fast charging through PowerDelivery 2.0 and Quick Charge 3.0
  • Power Supply – 9V/2A (18W) power adapter
  • Dimensions – 158.67 x 77.7 x 4.6 to 8.95 mm
  • Weight – 170 grams

The smartphone will run Android 7.0 Nougat with ZenUI 3.0, and ships with a headset and the power adapter.

Zefone AR is expected to be released in Q2 2017, with pricing yet to be announced. You’ll find more details and photos on ZenFone AR product page.

Android Things OS for the Internet of Things Supports Raspberry Pi 3, Intel Edison, and NXP Pico Boards

December 14th, 2016 7 comments

Google introduced Project Brillo a little over a year ago, an operating system based on Android, but with a smaller footprint optimized for Internet of Things applications. Brillo has now just become Android Things OS, with Google releasing a developer preview of Android Things working on Raspberry Pi 3, Intel Edison, and NXP Pico boards.

android-things-architecture

Android Things Software Architecture

The company has also updated the Weave platform to simplify connection of all types of devices to the cloud, and interaction with services like the Google Assistant. The Weave Device SDK currently supports schemas for light bulbs, smart plugs, switches, and thermostats, with more type of device supported in the future, as well as a mobile app API for both Android and iOS.

Using an Android based OS instead of a pure Linux OS should make it easier for Android app developers to create smart devices thanks to the use of familiar Android APIs and Google Services. The workflow is pretty similar to creating mobile apps, with development being done within Android Studio and you’d connect to the target board through adb. One difference is the the Things Support library that provides a peripheral I/O API for interfaces such as GPIOs, PWM, I2C, SPI and UART as well as a user driver API  used to allow apps to inject hardware events in to the Android framework.

nxp-pico-board

NXP Pico Board with TechNexion PICO-i.MX6UL SoM

If you’d like to get started, get one of the three supported boards, and get the Android Things developer preview. You may also been interested in Weave and Google Cloud platform sites to respectively control capable device such as Philips Hue and Samsung SmartThings, and get your data into the cloud. Some sample code is also available on AndroidThings’ github account, and you may want to subscribe to  Google’s IoT Developers Community on Google+ for support and discussions. NXP also has a higher end Android IoT platform equipped with more I/Os and ports called VVDN Technologies Argon i.MX6UL development board.

$49 Dashbot Car Dashboard Assistant is Powered by C.H.I.P Pro Allwinner GR8 Module (Crowdfunding)

November 18th, 2016 2 comments

Most companies specializing in development boards may sell a few accessories for their boards, but usually leave product design to their customers. Next Thing Co. does that too, but the company also produces some products like PocketCHIP portable Linux computer & retro game console, and more recently Dashbot, a voice controller assistant for your car’s dashboard powered by CHIP Pro module.

dashbot

Dashbot hardware specifications:

  • CPU Module – CHIP Pro with Allwinner GR8 ARM Cortex A8 processor @ 1.0 GHz, 512MB NAND flash, 256 DDR3 RAM, 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2
  • External Storage – micro SD slot
  • Display – Red LED display
  • Audio – 32-bit audio DSP for beamforming & noise suppression; fairfield audio pre-processor with 24-bit ADC; high fidelity MEMS microphone array (106 dB dynamic range)
  • USB – 1x USB host port
  • Power Supply – 5V via USB port or 12V via power port (aka cigarette lighter) + backup LiFePo4 battery
  • Dimensions – 84 x 60 x 28 mm

The bot runs mainline Linux, source code will be available, as well as hardware design files making open source hardware (likely minus CHIP Pro module itself). Once you’ve stuck the magnetic adhesive mount to the dashboard, and placed Dashbot on top, you can connect it to your car stereo via Bluetooth or your car’s auxiliary jack. Wait what?  My car does not have any of those two connection methods… But no problem as the company also offers a Retro Pack adding an FM transmitter and cassette adapter for older cars.

dashbot-connection-guideThe main goal of Dashbot is to keep your smartphone in your pocket, and control it with your voice in order to keep your eyes on the road. But you’ll still need your phone, and after installing Dashbot app on your Android 5.0+ or iOS 10+ smartphones, you’ll be able to tell Dashbot to start playing music from online services like Spotify, Soundcloud, Google Play Music, and others, or tell it to “go home” and it will show the directions from Google Maps on the red LED display, and of course you can also answer phone calls, and reply to SMS.

Dashbot “AI powered hands-free car kit” launched on Kickstarter a few hours ago, has already raised over $50,000, and I’m confident it will surpass its $100,000 funding target. A $49 pledge should get you Dashbot, a power port for your cigarette lighter and an AUX cable, but if you have a car with a stereo that does not come with Bluetooth nor an AUX IN jack, you can get the Retro Pack for $65 with an FM radio/cassette player adapter. They also have rewards with an OBD-II dongle, and bundles with multiple Dashbots. Shipping adds $9 or more depending on rewards and destination, and delivery is planned for July 2017.