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Android 8.1: What New Features Does It Bring?
By Shirley Siluk
Posted: November 28, 2017 9:39am PST

Google describes Android 8.1 as "an incremental maintenance release" of Oreo, which rolled out in August. One of the key improvements Oreo brought was enhanced protection against accidental installation of malicious apps from unknown sources.

Developers can now take the final preview of Android 8.1 for a test run before the full version rolls out to consumers next month. Released yesterday, the developer preview updates machine learning capabilities and adds optimizations for Android Go (pictured here), a stripped-down version of the operating system for low-memory mobile devices.

In addition, the latest preview makes several enhancements in response to user and developer feedback on last month's developer preview, which had a number of issues. It also provides Android's November round of security patches.

When Android 8.1 is officially released next month, it will roll out via over-the-air updates to supported devices, including the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, Pixel and Pixel XL, Pixel C, Nexus 5X, and Nexus 6P.

Lays Foundation for Apps with Machine Learning

"We've been working hard to bring on-device machine intelligence to mobile with features such as Now Playing and Google Lens," developer advocate Dan Galpin said in a YouTube video for Android developers. "The new neural networks API lays the foundation for our developer community to build accelerated on-device applications [with] machine learning, including image recognition and prediction."

Galpin added that most apps built with such capabilities won't use the Neural Networks API directly, but will likely use a machine-learning framework such as TensorFlow Lite, now available to developers, or Caffe2.

The latest Android 8.1 update also provides a new developer option that enables Pixel Visual Core, Google's custom-designed co-processor for image processing and machine learning. Built into Google's Pixel 2, Pixel Visual Core will -- with the updated Android software -- enable users to take HDR+-quality photos.

Developers will find that this new preview also addresses a number of issues that arose in the previous Android 8.1 preview, released late last month. Those bugs affected manual over-the-air file downloads and also prevented Pixel Visual Core from working as intended.

Autofill, Shared Memory Enhancements

Other improvements developers can expect to see with this latest preview of Android 8.1 include enhanced capabilities for autofill functions and a new API (application programming interface) that will allow apps to tap into shared memory for accessing common data.

"It's a great way to share data between multiple processes within a single app or even between apps," Galpin said in the YouTube video. He added that improvements to the autofill functions make it easier to create custom options and help users understand exactly what information is being saved when they fill in an online payment form, for example.

Google describes Android 8.1 as "an incremental maintenance release" of Oreo, which rolled out in August. One of the key improvements Oreo brought was enhanced protection against accidental installation of malicious apps from unknown sources.

Ahead of the final release of Android 8.1, Google is urging developers and early adopters to keep the company posted about any issues with the preview version.

"We've set up different hotlists where you can report Android platform issues, app compatibility issues, and third-party SDKs and tools issues," vice president of engineering Dave Burke wrote in a blog post yesterday. "We also have a dedicated hotlist for Neural Networks API issues."

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