Samsung Phone

One UI 2.0 Coming to Samsung Phones in January

One of the benefits of owning an iPhone is that iPhone users can expect regular software updates, even for aging phones, and a similar, polished user experience across Apple devices. The same cannot be said for phones running Android, as each manufacturer offers its own take on Google’s mobile operating system, including unique skins, features, and apps for different devices. While this distinction has the benefit of affording Android users greater customizability and choice when selecting a device, the drawback is that the custom software experiences offered by different manufacturers can vary greatly in quality. Samsung, the South Korean company which for years has dominated the Android smartphone market, has long been plagued by complaints about bloatware and the presence of redundant features that are difficult or impossible to disable. The first version of One UI, which came bundled with the ninth version of Android as a software update in 2018, sought to address these criticisms by streamlining the user experience across the board, introducing easy-to-read UI elements and other user-oriented features. Now, for 2020, Samsung is introducing One UI 2, which will be pushed to compatible devices in the coming weeks and months.

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One UI 2.0 comes with Android 10, Google’s latest iteration of its mobile operating system, and additionally includes a number of features and improvements in an attempt to enhance the smartphone experience beyond what Google offers with stock Android. While the debut of One UI radically transformed the look and feel of Samsung phones, One UI 2 is more of an iterative update, building upon the new experience the company revealed just a few years ago. One UI 2.0 has been available in beta form for some users for months, but the update only recently began rolling out to regular users. While Samsung does not provide exact release dates for its software updates, the company has said that the update will be rolled out in phases throughout the year, with the most popular phones, including the S9 and S10, receiving One UI 2 in January and the rest of Samsung’s lineup of compatible devices receiving it as late as September. As software updates grow increasingly complicated and remain prone to bugs and security vulnerabilities, Samsung has opted to take its time distributing the update to its many devices, trying to ensure that ordinary users enjoy a smooth and polished software experience.

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One UI 2 contains new features designed to improve both the aesthetics and functionality of Samsung devices. For instance, the Dark Mode feature has been improved in One UI 2, which enables a black background with white text throughout nearly all of the software design. The update also enables Navigation Gestures, a method of using swipes to switch between apps that would look familiar to users of the newest iPhones. Also familiar to Apple fans is the introduction of Digital Wellbeing features, which aim to help users understand how frequently they use their devices and offer tools for limiting the duration of users’ engagement with their smartphones. Many of the other improvements built into One UI 2 take place behind the scenes, as Samsung has integrated enhancements to WiFi, audio and video codecs, and graphics processing software, which likely will benefit speed, stability, and battery life. And the company has also improved its software’s accessibility options, making their phones more useful to disabled users with options like high-contrast UI elements and even amplification of ambient noises when using the Galaxy Buds.

Android phones have long been criticized for being slow to receive updates, and Samsung’s phones are no different, as the months-old Android 10 is currently only available on a handful of the company’s products. Nonetheless, the upcoming release of One UI 2, with its impressive suite of bespoke features, shows that Samsung is committed to maintaining a quality user experience for its customers, even if it takes some time for the company to polish its software to meet the standards of the general public.

Google Android

Google Introduces “Ambient Mode” for Android Devices

Google is known for their constant innovations for their various products, most notably the Android operating system that powers most smartphones. The newest version of Android, Android 10, introduces features like a system-wide dark theme, more sophisticated UI navigation controls, and improved location and privacy tools. While Android 10 continues to roll out to devices from a variety of manufacturers, Google is also looking to improve the Android experience in other ways, most recently in the development of a so-called “Ambient Mode,” which passively displays information on the phone’s display while it is charging and allows the user to interact with the phone in a limited way.

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Google unveiled the feature in a Youtube video which shows Ambient Mode running on a Pixel phone and details the various features of the update. The video describes Ambient Mode as “Android’s proactive Google Assistant,” and Google Product Manager Arvind Chandrababu said that the goal for Ambient Mode is to anticipate users’ needs and allow them to accomplish tasks as quickly as possible. In doing so, Google hopes to move users away from an “app-based” way of doing things, in which users scroll through their list of apps and choose the one that matches what they want to do, to an “intent-based” way of doing things, in which the phone is intelligent enough to adapt to the user’s intent. This is part of Google’s broad philosophy of “ambient computing,” the goal of which is to make the integration of computing into users’ lives as seamless and invisible as possible.

While this philosophy is certainly very ambitious, the announcement of Ambient Mode represents only a small step towards that lofty goal. Though Google has said that Ambient Mode will be available on Android 8.0 and above, the number of devices that are announced to support the feature is limited, including relatively esoteric devices like Sony Xperia phones, Nokia phones, and Xiaomi phones, with no mention of more popular devices like the Samsung Galaxy line of devices or even Google’s own Pixel phones. Additionally, Ambient Mode in its current form is surprisingly limited, as it offers no customization features whatsoever, allowing users to adjust a limited number of quick settings, control compatible smart home devices like lightbulbs and thermostats, and view notifications like weather and calendar alerts. 

While the extent of Google’s control over the smartphone operating system ecosystem is impressive, a number of factors prevent the company from offering the highest-quality products possible. For years, one of Google’s most damaging problems has been the fragmentation of its software lineup. The company has released  — and discontinued — a large number of messaging apps, for instance, and each of these apps is mutually incompatible with others. The problem is made worse by the fact that many smartphone manufacturers build their own messaging apps for their phones; for instance, the Samsung Galaxy s9 comes with an app called “Messages,” which, confusingly, is not the same as the “Messages” app developed by Google.

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For this reason, text messaging on Android phones isn’t nearly as sophisticated or robust as iMessage, the app that comes standard on all iPhones and allows advanced features like read receipts and typing indicators, which are by and large absent on Android. In an attempt to correct this shortcoming, Google has recently announced that it would activate RCS compatibility on its Messages app for all Android phones in certain countries, which enables many of the messaging features that iPhone users have enjoyed for years. However, the problem of app fragmentation remains, as only people who are using an app that incorporates RCS compatibility can use these advanced features. As of now, Ambient Mode seems to be plagued by this same shortcoming, due to the feature’s limited availability and functionality. If the company’s prior conduct is any indication of future events, the likelihood of Ambient Mode being rolled out to most Android devices in a timely fashion seems low, as most Android smartphone owners are still waiting for the latest version of Android and other features to arrive on their devices.


How to Take Advantage of Smartphones’ “Digital Wellbeing” Tools

It’s no secret that over the past several years, smartphones have taken over nearly every aspect of most of our lives, as we use the versatile devices for everything from communicating with friends to catching up on work emails to consuming entertainment. As smartphone use is on the rise, many are concerned about the negative impact that device addiction may have on our lives, interfering with our engagement with the real world. This concern is shared even by developers of smartphone software, who have introduced tools to allow users to limit their exposure to their devices, which are categorized under the umbrella term “digital wellbeing.” Such tools are available on both Android and iOS devices, and while their presence may not be obvious, digital-wellbeing features are built into the operating systems of many popular smartphones.

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While digital wellbeing features have existed in Android for some time, their functionality has been expanded for Android 10, the latest version of Google’s operating system. While Android 10 is currently only available for Google Pixel devices, the software update should roll out to other smartphones soon, as manufacturers work to optimize the software for their individual devices. Digital Wellbeing is one of Google’s prioritizes for this version of the operating system, and a number of landmark features have been introduced. For instance, users can enable a so-called “Focus mode,” which disables certain apps deemed to be distracting, and users can also set a maximum amount of time they’re allowed to use each app per day. Additionally, Android 10 introduces a “wind down” mode, which is designed to help users fall asleep at the end of the day by switching the screen to a less-engaging grayscale mode and turns on Do Not Disturb. Android 10 users can also view the amount of time they spend using each app in the Settings menu, and see which apps are occupying the most of their time.

iPhone users, too, have access to tools that are meant to improve their relationship with technology. iOS 12 includes a mode called “Screen Time” which, like its Android counterpart, allows users to view statistics about how often and for how long they use particular apps. This mode also allows users to view the number of times they’ve picked up their phone as well as the time of day they’re most frequently active on their devices. Both operating systems allow users to create limits on how long they use their phones, but whereas Android allows users to set limits on an app-by-app basis, iOS users are only able to set limits by category. iPhones running iOS 12 also have a “Bedtime mode” feature, which dims the display of the lock screen at night to prevent your phone from waking you up when it’s on your nightstand.

Both operating systems allow users to create limits on how long they use their phones

In addition to specialized tools built into their operating systems, Google offers advice for how to ensure the way you’re using your devices is healthy and positive. The company has a page inviting users to reflect on their technology habits, encouraging them to “take the first step toward understanding your relationship with tech, and get tips and tools to help your digital well-being.” This page presents visitors with a quiz, asking them questions about their usage of technology and whether it interferes with their other obligations, whether those are related to work, family, or friends. The company recommends users take advantage of the Google Assistant, which allows people to interact with their phone using only their voice, to spend more time away from the device’s screen, and also suggests users customize the notifications they receive on a per-app basis to prevent them from becoming overwhelming.

While it may seem counterintuitive to rely on our phones to provide us with ways to limit our engagement with technology, the integration of smartphones into our daily lives is a fact of living in the modern era. As such, these tools are a welcome addition to the smartphone ecosystem, and as developers continue to compete for our attention with ever-more engaging apps, the prospect of enforcing self-imposed limits on smartphone usage may become increasingly enticing.