News: 17 Exciting New Features & Changes in Android 10

17 Exciting New Features & Changes in Android 10

2019's major Android update should be a special one — it will be the tenth full version of the world's most commonly used operating system. The upcoming release, which should be known as Android 10 (codename Android Q), has already leaked, giving us a good idea of what to expect. While it isn't a dramatic visual change, there are a lot of goodies to look forward to.

Google has recently started referring to Android versions without the usual "point-0" suffix, so we expect Android 10 to simply be called "ten." As for the dessert codename, there aren't many choices that start with the letter Q (Qurabiya? Quindim?), but a sponsored name like Android Quik isn't out of the question.

While we don't know much about the name or nickname, we know an extraordinary amount about the actual update itself, thanks to the folks XDA getting their hands on a leaked build of the upcoming release. There are privacy improvements, a new dark mode, and even a chance that major system updates could start being pushed through the Google Play Store, so there's plenty to dig into.

1. System-Wide Dark Mode (Finally!)

Back in 2017, before Android Pie was released, an Android user asked Google about implementing a system-wide dark mode in Android. Their reasoning was that with the rise of OLED panels in smartphones, including this feature was an easy way to improve battery life. To everyone's surprise, a Googler answered, stating:

Our engineering team has added this feature. It will be available in a future Android release.

Later that day, Google killed the hype by stating that the dark mode "added" was, in fact, a toggle in Developer Options which changes the look of Quick Settings, the power menu, the app drawer (when using Pixel Launcher), and Google-developed apps which implement a dark theme, such as Messages, YouTube, and Phone.

Needless to say, that was a bit of a letdown. But the hype is up again, as Android Police discovered the following message in a Chromium bug tracker:

Dark mode is an approved Q feature ... The Q team wants to ensure that all preloaded apps support dark mode natively. In order to ship dark mode successfully, we need all UI elements to be ideally themed dark by May 2019.

At the time, we were cautiously optimistic as the comment was made back on October 31, 2018, and could have been abandoned by the time Android 10 (Q) came around. But thanks to a leaked build obtained by XDA, we can now confirm that it is here. Dark Mode is finally here!

A mockup of dark mode in the Settings app based on XDA's leaked build of Android 10. Images by Dallas Thomas/Gadget Hacks

Located under the "Display" menu in Settings, by selecting "Set Dark Mode," you can turn on a system-wide dark theme on, off, or have it automatically come on based on the time of the day (very similar to the dark mode we got in Android 9).

There are two key differences between the Android 10 dark mode and the half-baked one in Android 9. First, it will turn all system apps dark, as opposed to Android 9's version only working in select Google apps. Second, with an extra setting enabled in Developer Options, it can even turn third-party apps dark. This will essentially just invert colors in third-party apps, so it may not be perfect in some apps, but it will ensure every app on your phone goes dark when dark mode is enabled.

2. APEX (System Updates Through the Play Store?)

Imagine not having to wait on carriers or your phone's manufacturer to roll out an OTA update before you could get access to the latest Android features. Instead, a large part of these updates would come directly from Google as soon as they were available, perhaps through a simple app update on the Play Store.

According to XDA, an expansion of APEX ("application express") in Android 10 could lead to such a scenario. At the very least, it appears Google will be changing the way libraries are updated in the new version. Libraries are precompiled code which are called on by other programs such as Android apps. In previous versions of Android, these libraries required a software update in order to be updated.

With Android 10, these libraries can now be updated in the same manner as an app. While the full ramifications of this change are still unknown, on the surface, it appears as though this could mean a large chunk of system updates could be offloaded onto the Play Store. In a perfect world, this would mean the biggest parts of Android updates would be available to all users almost immediately.

3. No More Android Beam

If I asked you to recall the last time you used Android Beam, would you remember? It seems this might be the case for many Android users, which would explain why Google might be getting rid of it in Android 10.

XDA noticed commits in AOSP deprecating the Android Beam API in Android 10. While the feature was much more useful when it first launched, a lot has changed since then. Namely, the ability share large files easily with file sharing apps or Bluetooth has limited its usage, and it appears (although, we are not entirely sure) Google feels it is no longer needed.

While Google is removing the feature, they're still leaving it up to manufacturers to decide whether or not to keep Android Beam. When OEMs add support for NFC, they will also have to declare support for Android Beam. How many OEMs continue to support this feature is anyone's guess, but it looks like the end of days are coming for Android Beam.

Sharing files via NFC over Android Beam like this could soon be impossible. Images by Dallas Thomas/Gadget Hacks

4. Better Permissions Management

Once again, Google is continuing their effort to protect its users from malicious apps and malware with Android 10. Based on a leak obtained by XDA, Android 10 will include more control over permissions. Now, you can specify that apps can only access certain sensors and permissions while you're actively using them. For example, you could give Google Maps permission to access your location while the app is open, but block the location permission when Google Maps is closed.

The information page for individual permissions has also been revamped, making it easier to understand for casual users. Borrowing from the look of the Digitial Wellbeing app, Android 10 makes it easy to see which apps have access to a permission and which ones you've denied. It will also list which permission is the most requested and which permission is the most used, so you can make an educated decision regarding how sensors are used by apps installed on your phone.

5. New Privacy Indicators

Just as Android 9 made a considerable push toward improving the privacy and security of its users, based on a leaked build obtained by XDA, Android 10 is following in its footsteps.

Whenever an app is actively using your GPS, camera, or microphone, an icon will appear in the status bar to let you know. If you tap the corresponding notification, you'll get a popup that lists all the apps that are currently using the sensor, including a button that directs you to a new page for even more information. This is something new for mobile operating systems, and it shows how committed Google is to protecting its users from the dangers of the web.

6. New 'Sensors Off' Toggle

Android 10 will also include a new "sensors off" Quick Settings tile. According to XDA, this tile appears to disable all radios and turn on airplane mode.

XDA speculates this might also turn off sensors such as the accelerometer, gyroscope, and others. If this turns out to be true, this would be one of the first times a mobile phone provided this access, which could help curb the fears of the most privacy-conscious individuals.

7. RCS Messaging for 3rd-Party Apps

RCS, or Rich Communication Services, has been slow in its rollout. This is primarily due to the number of independent components which have to make changes to their part of the chain for RCS messaging to work outside of their network.

Besides making interoperability possible with Jibe Cloud and their work on the Universal Profile, Google has done their part with Android by adding support for the new messaging service in Android Messages. Unfortunately, this is one of the only apps which supports the feature.

According to XDA, Android 10 will include APIs to open the new standard to third-party developers. This means that your favorite texting app could soon include RCS's iMessage-style messaging services. This will also help spearhead RCS eventually replacing SMS and MMS and the standard for text messages. These APIs are still in their early stages, but one developer did comment on a code that he intended to implement the RCS API in Android 10.

Some of the RCS "Chat" features in Android Messages that will soon be available in your favorite third-party texting apps. Image by Dallas Thomas/Gadget Hacks

8. Desktop Mode?

We have seen both Samsung and Huawei add the ability to use Android in a desktop-like experience with either a dock or a cable, but it looks like they won't be alone for long. XDA found a setting to "Force desktop mode" in Developer Options in Android 10, with a description reading "force experimental desktop mode on secondary displays." XDA wasn't able to test this feature, but based on the description, it appears Android is getting native support for desktop mode.

9. New Options in Accessibility

XDA also reports that Android 10 made a few changes to Accessibility. There are two new options in the Accessibility menu, "Time to take action" and "Time to read." The former seems to manage the duration of snackbar messages, allowing you more time to see and interact with them.

"Time to read" controls the duration of heads up notifications and other messages "that ask you take action, but are only visible temporarily." Similar to snackbars, these can be extended to a duration up to two minutes in order for you to have the necessary time to interact with them.

10. Small Changes to Ambient Display

The always-on display feature has been slightly tweaked in stock Android 10. According to XDA, the setting has been moved to from under "Ambient Display" to "Lock screen display."

Visually, the battery and notification icons no longer appear below the clock and date. Instead, they appear in their respective corners along the status bar, similar to when the phone is unlocked. There is also a feature flag which lets your current wallpaper appear on the always-on display.

11. Carriers Can Exclude Phones

According to 9to5Google, four commits have posted which focus on carriers' ability to restrict devices. Specifically, in Android 10, carriers will now be able to create a whitelist and a blacklist of phones for their networks, making it difficult for certain unlocked phones to be used with their cell service.

New constraints are also coming which involve dual-SIM phones. With Android 10 devices, carriers will be able to restrict the second SIM slot from activating until an approved SIM card is in the first slot. This restraint will apply even after restarting the phone or if you conduct a factory reset.

12. Support for Secure Face Unlock

Facial recognition has reemerged as a popular biometric for smartphones. Apple's iPhone X was the first phone to combine several sensors, including a dot projector and IR illuminators, to create a method which was both secure and fast. And with most technologies in the smartphone industry, the competition was quick to replicate, creating both less secure methods (such as the ones found in OnePlus phones) and almost identical copies from Huawei and Xiaomi.

However, the Android OS doesn't include native support for facial recognition biometrics, and as a result, the more secure iterations had to work with Google to customize Android, making them less efficient than they could be.

According to XDA, however, it seems the next version of Android will add native support. In Android 10's framework-res APK, lines were found discussing an error message when a device lacked facial recognition hardware. But even more interesting were the lines of code which discussed how to set up facial recognition. Similar to the fingerprint scanner, these outline the need to set up a password, PIN, or pattern as a backup. This suggests the system is setting a form of biometrics which is trusted by Google and can be used in all places where a fingerprint was (pending developers add support to their apps).

13. Built-in Screen Recorder

According to 9to5Google, Android 10 will add a built-in screen recorder to complement the built-in screenshot feature of the OS. Like the screenshot feature, this is a major win for privacy, as screen recorder apps have been a breeding ground for malware. While masking as a screen recorder app, malicious developers have used these apps to record your screen in the background and use this information for financial incentive. With a built-in screen recorder, you'll no longer have to trust third parties apps.

14. Emergency Button

The power menu is getting a new button, Emergency. According to 9to5Google, Android 10 will add a new button which will launch the emergency dialer. This way, you can quickly call 911 or other emergency services while in a pinch.

15. Support for WPA3

Wi-Fi standards and versions can be confusing. There are versions which previously were labeled with letters (such as 802.11ac) and now identified using numbers ( such as Wi-Fi 6) which indicate the speed and performance of the wireless connection. Then there are security standards (such as WPA2) which indicate the type of protection available to prevent hackers from access your network or your internet connection. The latter is what Android is gaining support for in Android 10.

The latest security standard is WPA3 and it brings much-improved security to Wi-Fi. WPA3 introduces Simultaneous Authentication of Equals (SAE), which replaces WP2's Pre-Shared Key. SAE is a new way your router can determine whether your phone can access your network. Up until 2016, Pre-Shared Key was considered secure until the Key Reinstallation Attacks (KRACK) were discovered, making Wi-Fi networks based on WPA2 vulnerable (although, a fix was sent out later in the form of a security patch).

WP3 also supports 192-bit encryption, up from the 128-bit encryption in WPA2. This is an optional feature but can massively benefit schools and organizations which require the highest level of protection. WPA3 also makes open Wi-Fi networks more secure by using "individual data encryption" even when on an open Wi-Fi network.

16. 5G Indicator

With 5G just around the corner, Android needs to get ready for the upcoming wave of 5G-supported devices and networks. Currently, there is no indicator for when your phone is using a 5G network. However, 9to5Google discovered both 5G and 5G+ indicators in the Android 10 code, so this will no longer be a problem.

17. New System for Fonts, Accent Colors & Icon Shapes

According to XDA, stock Android is getting even more customization options — but temper your expectations, because these likely won't be available for the end user.

Android 10 will include a number of overlay categories to change the look of apps and system UI elements. These categories include fonts, accent colors, and icon shapes. The most interesting of the bunch is icon shapes. These can now be altered everywhere — not just the app drawer and home screen. Icon shapes will also change the look of Quick Setting tiles as well. Sadly, it's most likely that these features will only be available to OEMs as a method to customize their skins without building a custom UI framework, though it's possible users could activate these changes with root.

We will continue to update this article as new changes become known. What do you think about Android 10 so far? Are you excited about the new update? Let us know in the comment section below.

Cover image and screenshots by Jon Knight/Gadget Hacks

2 Comments

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