Android 12 early impressions: improvement via imprecision

Two weeks after I installed Android 12 on my aging, yet well-maintaned Pixel 3a smartphone, the biggest selling point of this release is not the self-tinting interface colors that Google talked up this summer. Instead, I’m appreciating a new option to leave apps a little fuzzier about my whereabouts.

In adding the ability to deny an app access to your precise location, Android 12 returns to the earliest days of Google’s mobile operating system, when an app could ask for either “fine” or “coarse” location. But it also reflects what we’ve learned since then about how location-data brokers will embed location-tracking code in other apps, often without disclosure, and then exploit that harvested info to build vast databases.

Photo shows the Android 12 Settings app open to a page denying the Today Weather access to my precise location; in the background, the print edition of the Nov. 12, 2021 Washington Post reveals a bit of the weather forecast.

So my first move after my phone rebooted into Android 12 was to take the GPS keys away from some apps. I started with one I already paid for, Today Weather. Why bother depriving a paid-for and therefore ad-free app of my exact location? Because the forecast shouldn’t change that much between here and a mile away–but keeping my precise coordinates from a third party means they can’t get exposed if that firm suffers a data breach later on.

My second move was much less exciting, in that I swapped out some of the default screen widgets: I like scallops and I like having a large display of the time on my home screen, but I don’t like the scallop-shaped clock widget that comes standard in Android 12.

My first software-update-induced moment of confusion, meanwhile, came a day after I installed this update when I mashed down the power button to invove the Google Pay shortcut to choose a different stored credit card for a purchase–and nothing happened. That’s because Android 12 moved that from the power-button menu to the Quick Settings menu. Broken muscle memory aside, I get that relocating this setting from a non-obvious spot to a menu that people use all the time should make it more discoverable.

Finally, one Android 12 detail that’s gotten less attention than the others in press coverage just might save me from waking up with a phone at 10% of a charge: When you plug a phone into a charger, a wave of sparkles washes up the screen to confirm that current is flowing to the device. Considering my own record of inattentive device charging, that’s a feature I could have used 10 years ago.

Weekly output: a fixed Hue vulnerability, techno-optimism, mobile apps versus mobile sites

I’m watching the Oscars as I type this, and a look at this year’s nominees shows I’m even more out of touch with pop culture than usual, having seen only two of the pictures nominated. I’m sure none of you are surprised to learn that I watched one–American Factory–on an airplane.

Speaking of that, if my travel posts here have you interested in hearing more on that subject, I’ll be discussing the finer points of business travel at Frequent Traveler University Washington DC on Sunday, March, 8. Twice: once that morning with travel blogger Tess Zhao (you’ll need a pass to the Travel and Adventure Show happening around FTU DC, $11 in advance for the day), and then an advanced version that afternoon for FTU DC pass holders ($129). For more on this event, I’ll point you to FTU DC speakers Tiffany Funk of One Mile At a Time and Matthew Klint of Live and Let’s Fly.

2/5/2020: Yet another joy of the smart home: Light bulbs at risk from hackers, Fast Company

I got an advance on Check Point’s documentation of an already-fixed vulnerability in the hardware bridge used by many Hue connected light bulbs–as did many other reporters who wrote up this story.  I hope that my critiquing the hopelessly-vague release notes for the patch that closed this “vuln” added some distinct value.

2/7/2020: New Industries & Opportunities: The Case for Techno-optimism, Greater Good Gathering

I headed up to New York Thursday to moderate this panel Friday morning, in which Microsoft Research director Eric Horvitz, Ownable president and CEO Brian Selander, CoverUS co-founder Peter Shanley, and Columbia University engineering professor Vijay Modi spoke about reasons to feel some optimism about where technology is taking us.

Yes, this was another manel for me. Until a week ago, I was supposed to moderate a different panel at this conference at Columbia that would have had some gender balance, but then the organizers had to reshuffle a few speaking slots.

2/9/2020: No, there doesn’t have to be an app for that, USA Today

About that Iowa app: Couldn’t the work of transmitting caucus results have been done much more simply via a mobile-friendly site? Mobile sites have other advantages over mobile apps for users–if not necessarily developers–and I outlined them in this USAT column.

Updated 2/22/2020 to add a YouTube embed of my panel.