Google today announced Play Services 7.5, an update to the underlying set of code most Android devices rely on for accessing the Play Store and various features within applications. Play Services 7.5 is a big step forward and adds a broad range of new functionalities and associated APIs for developers. The new Smart Lock for passwords, for example, can retrieve saved credentials as part of an app's login process, as well as save new credentials for later use on other Android devices and in any Chrome browser. Play Services updates Google Cloud Messaging with support for iOS devices for cross-platform messaging. Google Cast gains a Remote Display API for Android and iOS, which will let developers build a tailored second screen experience. Google Cast also gains new APIs for controlling autoplay functions, queuing, and gaming. Android Wear has a new Maps API that will let developers add map data to their own Wear apps. The SDK for Play Service 7.5 is available to developers now. Google didn't say when Play Services 7.5 will reach end-user devices.
Google today provided a small update to its Cardboard virtual reality product. To start, the actual viewer is now larger and simpler to assemble. Google says it will fit phones with screens up to 6 inches, and the viewer assembles in 3 steps rather than 12. Further, Google updated the Cardboard SDK so developers can create apps for Android and iOS devices. Google is also making an effort to push Cardboard into classrooms through a program called Expeditions, where it thinks Cardboard can empower new ways of learning about the world. Google is pitching Expeditions as "field trips to anywhere." Last, Google showed off a product called Jump that uses a 16-camera array to capture 3D, 360-degree footage for virtual reality content.
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Google today said it plans to add a section to the Play Store that will make it simpler for families to find appropriate content. A new graphic, called the Family Star, will signify to consumers when content is rated for children. Parents will be able to search via age groups for apps, games, and even movies, TV shows, and music. Google said the family-friendly tools will be added to the Play Store in the months ahead.
Google today demonstrated a future version of Google Maps that will work when the device is offline. Users will be able to save maps on their device ahead of time for offline access. Nearly all features of Maps will work when offline, including location search, hours and reviews, and even voice-guided, turn-by-turn navigation. Google said offline Maps will be available later this year.
Google today announced Google Photos, another attempt by the company to help people get a handle on their photos and videos. Google wants Photos to serve as users' central repository for all their photos and videos, make it easy to manage and edit them, and make it easy to share and save the photos that matter. The service will be available online and to mobile devices. Users can take advantage of pinch gestures to view days, weeks, months, or years. Everything is stored online in Google Drive. The service also automatically creates albums based on location and time stamps. Google strove to remove the work from keeping photos organized. Users can use people, places, and things to categorize images -- and all the tags are generated automatically and privately so only the user can see them. Google's image recognition is able to tag people consistently as they age over time. Photos also has powerful search tools, which allow users to find specific moments in time. The service supports albums, movies, storyboards, animations, soundtracks, and editing. Sharing functions make selecting multiple shots a cinch with a single gesture. Users can easily generate links to photo albums for sharing that don't require the recipient to have a specific app installed. Google Photos offers unlimited storage for full-resolution photos and 1080p HD videos for free. Google Photos is available beginning today for Android, iOS, and the web.
Google today showed off an improved version of its Google Now service that is more context aware and able to help generate useful information immediately. On stage, Google used an example with a messaging app in which the recipient was asked about dinner reservations and dry cleaning. With a long press of the home key, Google Now instantly generated basic information about the restaurant referenced in the message (phone number, hours, reviews) and a reminder to pick up the dry cleaning. Google said Google Now on Tap will arrive with Android M later this year.
Google today announced its own internet-of-things platform called Brillo. Brillo is derived from Android and has minimal system requirements. It has broad silicon support and is easy to secure -- both elements Google felt were important to offer. In coordination with Brillo, Google introduced Weave, a language for internet-of-things devices to use to communicate with one another. Google says Weave uses schemas, or language templates to communicate basic actions back and forth. Weave functions across platforms, and offers developers some APIs for incorporating into their own apps. Google claims the Brillo UI is easy for consumers to use when it comes to setting up their connected devices. Brillo will arrive in preview form during the third quarter of 2015 and Weave will be fully formed by the fourth quarter.
Google today said its Inbox desktop email service and associated mobile applications are open to anyone who wants to use them. Before today, the app required potential users to register for an invitation. Google gave the email service new features, as well, including Trip Bundles, which package together all the details of upcoming trips, such as flight and hotel details. The app gains new controls, too, such as undo send, swipe to delete, and signatures. Last, Inbox has tweaked reminder and note functions meant to help save users time. Inbox is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google today offered up the first bits of information concerning the next release of Android, called Android M for the time being. Google says it has gone back to the basics to make the platform more stable across devices. Google focus on six key areas. First, Android M will expand app permission controls, which give users more choice when it comes to granting apps access to personal data. Apps will ask permission to use features as the user takes the app for a spin, rather than at the time of installation. Users will be able to revoke permissions or adjust them as desired. The second major tentpole revolves around the web experience. Through Chrome custom tabs, the browser will save more passwords, auto-fill more content, and so on. The third area Google focused on is app linking. Moving forward, Android will take people to the appropriate app rather than a dialog box when clicking on links. The fourth tentpole is Android Pay. Android Pay works similarly to Apple Pay in that Android device owners will be able to make point-of-sale payments by tapping on terminal. It works with any Android device with NFC. Google says it will be available at 700,000 retailers around the U.S. Android pay will also be available for making payments within application. Android Pay will work on all KitKat and above hardware. The fifth tentpole is broader support for fingerprints for identity verification. Android M lets users lock their device or make Play Store purchases. Moreover, Google is giving developers access to the fingerprint API so they can add fingerprint support to their own apps. Last, Google addressed how Android M handles power and charging. It will be smarter about how it handles power through a feature called doze. Android uses significant motion detection to tell if the device has been unmoved for an extended period. If so, it will go into an extended doze state to conserve power. Google claims the Doze feature extends standby time by a factor of two. Android M is being released as a developer preview. The platform is also adding wide support for USB Type C and more granular control over how the USB connection is used. The full version isn't expected until the fall.
AT&T today was the last of the major carriers to disclose its plans for launching the LG G4 smartphone. AT&T said it will begin taking pre-orders for the device at 12:01 am on May 29. The G4 will reach company stores on June 5. AT&T is offering the metallic gray and black leather models, and has several financing options in place for the handset. The gray plastic version is available for $21 per month for 30 months with an AT&T Next 24 plan; $26.25 for 24 months with Next 18; or $31.50 for 20 months with Next 12. Customers may also buy the LG G4 for $199.99 with a two-year contract or for $629.99 at full retail price. The black leather model costs more. It's pricing runs $22.34 per month for 30 months with AT&T Next 24; $29.92 with Next 18; or $33.50 with Next 12. The black model costs $239.99 on contract or $669.99 at full retail. AT&T is also offering the LG G Pad F 8.0 for $0.99 to customers who buy an LG G4. Last, AT&T is offering a 32 GB memory card and battery bundle to those who order the LG G4 early.
Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure believes the company will have the number 1 or number 2 network in the country within 18 to 24 months. Claure made the comments while speaking at the Recode Conference. "I can tell you we're making progress, and I can tell you the area of focus will be the continued building of our network," he said. Many third-party network ranking businesses place Sprint's network in last place when compared to the performance of AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. Claure says Sprint has already made some improvements and notes the company has deep resources thanks to majority owner SoftBank. He has spent a lot of time with SoftBank Chairman Masayoshi Son in order to craft a viable network improvement plan. Claure has already helped stop customer losses. When he joined Sprint as CEO last year, Sprint was losing close to 700,000 customers per quarter. In the most-recent quarter, Sprint added 1.2 million customers. "I think the patient is doing well now," said Claure said. "The patient is in stable condition." Claure didn't provide specifics about Sprint's plan, but the company does have large spectrum holdings in the 800MHz, 1900MHz and 2.5GHz bands. Many of its devices now access LTE in all three bands, which Sprint markets as Sprint Spark.
Microsoft said it plans to more effectively enforce rules in the Windows Store in order to rid it of duplicate and questionable apps. The company will focus on four main areas: eliminating app clutter; ensuring apps are appropriately priced; distinguishing informational apps; and ensuring relevant app titles and keywords. Microsoft plans to strip away app clones that don't offered differentiated features, such as the myriad flashlight apps in the store. Microsoft will be checking to be sure developers price their apps in line with similar apps, and will also make sure developers describe them appropriately so people know what they're getting. Microsoft also wants informational apps to be more differentiated from functional apps so users know when they're buying a game and not a game guide, for example. Microsoft believes these enforcements will improve the Windows Store for both developers and consumers.
Avago Technologies today said it plans to acquire Broadcom for $37 billion. Avago is offering Broadcom's shareholders $17 billion in cash and $20 billion in Avago stock. Avago predicts the combined company will realize cost savings of $750 million per year and bring in $15 billion in annual revenue. Hock Tan, president and CEO of Avago, will become president and CEO of the combined company, which will be called Broadcom Limited. Avago and Broadcom expect the combined company to be a stronger competitor in the market, with a diversified product offering that will appeal to makers of mobile devices. The deal will be subject to regulatory approval. Avago expects the deal to close during the first quarter of 2016.
Verizon Wireless said customers can begin placing orders for the LG G4 today. Early orders will likely ship before the G4 reaches stores on June 4. Verizon is offering the G4 via its Edge payment plans for $22.91 per month for 25 months or at the full retail price of $549.99. Verizon is selling the white and gray plastic versions, as well as the black leather model. Like other carriers, Verizon and LG are offering a free 32 GB memory card, free battery, and free battery charger to those place orders early. Verizon is also selling the new LG G Pad X8.3 tablet for $12.49 per month for 24 months or $299.99. Customers who buy the LG G4 can snag the X8.3 for just $49.99, though a two-year contract is required. Last, Verizon is offering a $100 bill credit to customers who port their number to Verizon and activate a new smartphone via its Edge payment plans.
Facebook today pushed out a minor update to its Facebook Messenger application and improved how it handles peer-to-peer payments. First, it made the mobile payment feature available to residents of the greater New York City area. The app makes it simpler for New Yorkers to send money to others by automatically turning numbers typed in conversation threads into dollar amount hyperlinks. The recipient can click on the hyperlink to accept the payment. The web version of Messenger now supports payments within group conversations, too, with each member able to see who paid who. Users need to add a Visa or MasterCard debit to their Facebook account in order to send money to or receive money from others. According to Facebook, payments are processed immediately on the sending side, but may take a day or two to process on the receiving side. Sending money is free of transaction charges. Facebook says users can set up PINs to protect the service, and Apple device owners will be able to use TouchID to secure it. Sending money is possible from the Android, iOS, and web versions of Messenger.
Microsoft today released a full version of its Office Lens application for Android devices. Prior to today the app was offered only as a preview. Office Lens uses a smartphone's camera to capture receipts, business cards, menus, whiteboards, sticky notes, and other documents and save them to OneNote. The tool is able to adjust automatically for crooked or angled images, and can recognize text thanks to optical character recognition. Users can convert images of paper documents into Word, PowerPoint, or PDF files; automatically populate their contact lists with scans of business cards; as well as search, save, export, or share the images. Office Lens is free to download from the Play Store.
Google plans to make it easier for people to purchase goods online by adding a buy button directly to search results. "There is going to be a buy button, it is actually imminent," said Omid Kordestani, Google's chief business officer, at a conference. The button will appear on mobile devices, allowing people to click on search results with the option to buy rather than go to a third-party web site first. Kurdistan said the goal is to reduce friction and make it simpler to make mobile purchases. Google didn't say exactly when the button will appear, nor on what platforms; however, Google's own developer conference is scheduled for this week, with the keynote taking place on May 28.
Samsung's flagship Android smartphone for 2015 is stunning in many ways. This metal-and-glass handset is attractive and powerful. Here is Phone Scoop's in-depth report about AT&T's version of this remarkable phone.