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Google Adds Neural Networks API For Android 8.1 Preview

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Ahead of December launch, Android 8.1 includes a Neural Networks API to accelerate on-device machine intelligence

Google has begun to deliver the Android Oreo 8.1 preview to the developer community ahead of its general release in December.

One of the most notable enhancements to the new OS is the inclusion of a Neural Networks API to bolster machine intelligence on mobile handsets.

It was only in August when Google released Android 8.0 (Oreo), and that new mobile OS placed an emphasis on speed, security and multitasking.

Android Oreo Picture in Picture

Neural Networking

Now the 8.1 developer preview is available for those developers that have a Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Pixel C, Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL handset, or the Android emulator.

Details of the new operating system were revealed in a blog posting by Dave Burke, VP of Engineering.

“This update to Android Oreo includes a set of targeted enhancements including (memory) optimisations for Android Go (for devices with 1GB or less of memory) and a new Neural Networks API to accelerate on-device machine intelligence,” he wrote. “We’ve also included a few smaller enhancements to Oreo in response to user and developer feedback.”

The most noteworthy of these new features is the Neural Networks API, which Burke says is part of Google’s attempts to bring machine intelligence to Android.

For example, it should help if an Android user wants their handset to learn from their habits in order to predict behaviour, or even just assist in classifying emails, pictures etc.

“It enables hardware-accelerated inference operations on supported devices,” he explained. “We designed the Neural Networks API as a foundational layer for ML frameworks like TensorFlow Lite – Google’s upcoming cross-platform ML framework for mobile — as well as Caffe2 and others.”

Other Upgrades

So while the Neural Networks API is designed to place more work on the mobile device, Google has also tweaked Android Go in 8.1.

Android Go is lightweight version of Android for basic smartphones (with 1GB of memory or less), and with 8.1 Google has included a set of memory optimisations.

It has also added new hardware feature constants so the developer can now target the distribution of their apps and APK splits to normal or low-RAM devices running Android 8.1 and later.

The 8.1 developer preview also boasts autofill enhancements, as Google has made it easier for password managers and other Autofill services to use the Autofill framework.

And finally 8.1 comes with a shared memory API that lets apps allocate shared memory for faster access to common data.

Developers can access the Android 8.1 beta now, but the new operating system will only be released to the public in December.

Android is by far the largest mobile operating system in the world today.

Indeed, last month even Microsoft’s co-founder Bill Gates revealed he uses an Android phone with ‘a lot of Microsoft software’ rather than a Windows device.

Quiz: What do you know about Android?