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printed September 29, 2016
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Facebook, Google, Microsoft Team Up to Quell AI Fears

Today, 7:41 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

A handful of big tech companies have formed a partnership with the goal of keeping people informed about the development of artificial intelligence. Many people already use technology that is aided by AI, and that number will only continue to grow. The group includes Amazon, Facebook, Google, IBM, and Microsoft, each of which has its own AI tech (such as Alexa, Watson, and Cortana). The primary aim of the Partnership on AI will be to educate the public about the uses of artificial intelligence and calm any fears that AI will take over our lives. The secondary goal will be to ensure that all companies developing AI are using best practices formed by non-business experts such as philosophers and ethicists. Founding members of the coalition are expected to contribute financial and research resources that will be shared among all members. The group has mandated that the board be equally split between corporate members and non-corporate members. "AI technologies hold tremendous potential to improve many aspects of life, ranging from healthcare, education, and manufacturing to home automation and transportation," said the Partnership in a statement. "Through rigorous research, the development of best practices, and an open and transparent dialogue, [we] hope to maximize this potential and ensure it benefits as many people as possible."

BlackBerry to Kill Off Smartphone-Making Business

Yesterday, 7:11 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry today said it will no longer make and sell its own smartphones. Instead, it will rely on original device manufacturers to design and make devices that will carry BlackBerry branding and software. The company employed this strategy earlier this year with the DTEK50, which was a rebranded Alcatel Idol 4. BlackBerry uses Google's Android platform as a base and hardens it with respect to bugs and security. It then packages this with its BlackBerry Suite of apps and services. "We are reaching an inflection point with our strategy," said CEO John Chen. "Our financial foundation is strong, and our pivot to software is taking hold. Under this strategy, we are focusing on software development, including security and applications. The company plans to end all internal hardware development and will outsource that function to partners." BlackBerry calls this its Mobility Solutions strategy. The company has already forged a licensing agreement with a telecom joint venture in Indonesia. BlackBerry announced the news along with its fiscal 2017 second quarter earnings report. The company generated $352 million in revenue, of which $156 million came from its software business.

Google Search for iOS Lets Users Secure Incognito Search

Tuesday, 2:42 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today pushed out an update to its Google Search app for iOS devices and included several new features. Most importantly, Search for iOS now allows people to use incognito mode. Searches performed when in incognito mode are not saved in users' search history. Moreover, people can secure incognito mode with Touch ID, meaning only the device owner will be able to enter the secure search mode. Google says it added a 3D Touch shortcut to incognito mode, as well, making it easily accessible from the home screen. The other significant new feature in Search for iOS is the ability to watch YouTube videos directly in search results without opening the YouTube app. Google says the refreshed app also adds iOS 10 refinements and stability fixes. Google Search is free to download from the iTunes App Store.

Google Creates YouTube Go with Slow Networks In Mind

Tuesday, 7:28 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today released YouTube Go, a version of the mobile video app that has been optimized for slow and inconsistent wireless networks. The idea, says Google, is to allow people to get the most from YouTube even under poor network conditions. Google created the app with several key tenets in mind. First, it should help people find "relatable" videos on the launch screen, which means content that is popular with people/friends who are nearby. Second, the app was built for offline use. People can preview videos so they can get a better sense of what they're about to watch before viewing. Users can then opt to download compressed versions for easier offline viewing. Third, the app adds tools allowing users to select the resolution of streamed or saved videos in order to provide control over data consumption. Last, YouTube Go includes sharing tools for sending videos to others without using data, even when offline. YouTube Go is being made available in India first, with other regions to follow. People may sign up to gain early access to the app.

Google Chrome for Android Becomes More Efficient

Tuesday, 7:17 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today updated its Chrome browser for Android devices with new tools to help reduce data usage, download pages for offline use, and discover more personalized content. To start, Data Saver has expanded to video. The Data Saver tool was built into Chrome earlier this year, but until today it only targeted text and images; now, it also compresses video to reduce data over cellular networks. Google says its compression technology allows Android users to save up to 67% on data consumption when viewing MP4 format videos through Chrome. Data Saver can sense slow or limited connections, and will automatically optimize HTTP web sites down to their essentials for faster loading. The new download feature is meant to help people save web sites and other online content for later. A button added to the browser makes it simpler to download web pages, music, pictures, or video. Downloads that fail due to network interruptions will automatically resume once connectivity is restored. Further, a new section in Chrome houses users' downloaded content so it can be retrieved quickly. (Downloads will first be available in Chrome beta.) Last, Chrome will begin to recommend web sites when people open new tabs in Chrome. Google says it will recommend fresh content, the latest news, as well as help people find their saved pages, images, and video. The more people use Chrome, the more personalized the recommendations will be. Google Chrome is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Google's Daydream Developer Tools Exit Beta

Sep 22, 2016, 12:41 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made Google VR SDK 1.0 with support for Daydream available to developers. The VR SDK, which has been in beta since earlier this year, gives developers the tools they need to create virtual reality content for Google's Daydream platform. Google says the SDK "simplifies common VR development tasks so [devs] can focus on building immersive, interactive mobile VR applications for Daydream-ready phones and headsets." The SDK supports integrated asynchronous reprojection, high fidelity spatialized audio, and interactions using the Daydream controller. Moreover, Google said it has partnered with Unity and Unreal so developers can make use of the Unity and Unreal gaming engines as they build their VR apps. The company is now accepting applications for its Daydream Access Program. Developers who rely on the Google VR SDK can ensure their apps will work seamlessly with all Daydream-compatible phones and headsets. Google expects the first Daydream devices to ship this fall.

Google Releases Allo Messaging App for Android and iOS

Sep 21, 2016, 7:06 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Sep 21, 2016, 7:09 AM

Google today made Allo, the messaging app it first revealed back in May, available to Android and iOS devices. Allo expands the ability for expression by tapping into the new Google Assistant, all while keeping conversations secure. The app supports emoji and stickers, and a tool called "whisper shout" that lets people shrink or expand the size of text to convey volume or impact. Allo supports drawing tools for marking up or annotating photos. It uses machine learning to guess or suggest responses that could be appropriate for the conversation — all without requiring users to type. Google says the app can do things such as help make dinner plans, find answers to basic searches, and share YouTube videos. Users need only type "@google" to bring the assistant into group chats. The app permits people to converse directly with the Google Assistant to, in effect, perform searches, such as sports scores and headlines. Incognito mode encrypts messages from end-to-end for privacy and offers private notifications and expiring chats. Further, when incognito conversation threads are deleted they are gone forever. Google says Allo can send simple SMS messages to people who don't use Allo, and can also send previews of Allo-stylized messages with a link to the app for download. Google Allo is free to download from the Google Play Store and from the iTunes App Store.

Google Maps Replaces Directional Arrow with a Beam

Sep 20, 2016, 11:24 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced a minor change to Google Maps for Android that swaps out the direction arrow with a blue beam. Maps users will no longer see an arrow pointing in the direction of travel and will instead see a blue beam that indicates which way they are going. Google says the beam will also signal how accurate the phone's compass is: narrow beams indicate high accuracy, while wide beams suggest the compass needs calibration. Google Maps is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Comcast Targeting Mid-2017 for Wireless Network Launch

Sep 20, 2016, 9:41 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts today said the company plans to offer wireless service as soon as the middle of 2017. The service will rely on some 15 million WiFi hotspots Comcast has located around the country, as well as cellular access via Verizon Wireless. The network will operate similar to Google's Project Fi, which prioritizes access via WiFi but relies on cellular when WiFi is not available. The company has had a wholesale agreement in place with Verizon since 2011, and Roberts suggested Comcast will be able to offer competitive pricing. Roberts made the comments at an investor conference this morning, but didn't provide more details about pricing, devices, and exact availability.

Google Play Books Turns On Recommendations Engine

Sep 19, 2016, 12:26 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today launched a new "Discover" tool within its Google Play Books app and service. Google says the tool is meant to help people find new books based on their interests and what's popular around the web. For example, the Discover section will reveal what books are being made into movies, or what lands on NPR's recommendations list. The tool looks for news, reviews, lists, and videos about books and delivers these recommendations to readers in a way that's easy to browse. Google will also look at recommendations based on users' reading history and preferences, and will also point people toward the latest book reviews and editorial showcases that center on specific authors and/or subjects. The new version of Google Play Books is headed to Android devices today and will reach iOS devices in the near future.

Google Says It's Now Easier to Share from Photos

Sep 19, 2016, 12:19 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today improved the sharing options within its Google Photos service. Google Photos now circumvents the dialog box that requires people to choose which apps to use for sharing photos. "You pick the photos, tap 'share' and select the people you want to share with, instead of the apps — and we take care of the rest," explained Google in a blog post. People (recipients) who use Google Photos will receive a notification that new photos have been shared with them. People who don't use Google Photos will receive either an SMS or email with a link to Google Photos so they can view the images online or on their mobile device. Google said it is also working harder to automatically create movies and other photo compilations for Photos users. Google said it will suggest videos from summer vacations, events such as weddings, and more. These updates are rolling out today across Android, iOS, and the web. Google says more changes are headed to Photos in the near future.

Google Debuts 'Trips' Travel App for Android and iOS

Sep 19, 2016, 11:10 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today released a new application for Android and iOS devices that's meant to help people plan vacations and other trips. The app provides information about cities and points of interest, as well as all the details associated with traveling to and from those locations. The idea is to give people a single app where they can manage everything to do with their trips. For example, plane, train, bus, and hotel reservations are automatically added from Gmail so they are in a single place on the phone. The app will offer suggestions for day plans complete with maps, routes, and food/drink options along the way. The app can also provide suggestions for nearby attractions while travelers are on the go, or suggest places that might require a small amount of travel to find. Last, the app stores all data offline so it can be accessed when the phone has no internet connection. Google Trips is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.

Gmail to Optimize Emails for Viewing On Mobile Devices

Sep 14, 2016, 2:40 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said it plans to support emails made with responsive design so they are easier to view and interact with on mobile devices. Responsive design allows emails to reformat themselves based on the screen size and shape, making text, links, and buttons bigger. This in turn makes it easier to tap or select items within emails. At the same time, Gmail on the desktop will better render emails formatted specifically for mobile. Google says it is rolling out support for responsive design to all versions of Gmail over the coming weeks.

Microsoft Adds More Sunrise Features to Outlook Calendar

Sep 13, 2016, 11:24 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today updated its Outlook email and calendar app for Android and iOS devices. The refreshed communications and scheduling tool offers a number of new features aimed at the calendar. For example, Outlook now offers design elements borrowed from Sunrise (a calendar app acquired by Microsoft.) The Outlook calendar will show things like coffee cup and bike emoji when people schedule coffee meetings or bike rides. Moreover, Outlook will autocomplete addresses when filling in meeting locations, as well as allow users to tap the time/date on the calendar to create events with those details filled in automatically. Meeting participants will be notified automatically if the organizer adjusts meeting start/end times, and users can create Skype for Business meetings directly from their phone. Last, Outlook will allow people to discover and subscribe to interesting calendars, such as sporting events, holidays, and more. Microsoft's Outlook email and calendar app for iOS and Android is free to download from the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store.

LG and Samsung Sued Over Hiring Practices

Sep 13, 2016, 7:24 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

A former LG employee is suing both LG and Samsung, alleging the companies have a no-recruit agreement between them in the U.S., which can impact employees' potential earnings. Accuser A. Frost, once an LG employee, claims a recruiter from Samsung reached out to him for a job, but later reneged saying, "I’m not supposed to poach LG for Samsung!" The recruiter went on to explain the companies have an agreement not to hire away one another's workers. Mr. Frost is seeking class-action status for the lawsuit. Silicon Valley companies have been taken to task in recent years for such agreements. For example, in 2015 Apple, Intel, Adobe, and Google agreed to pay some 64,000 workers $415 million to settle similar class-action lawsuits. Those companies never admitted wrongdoing. Neither LG nor Samsung commented on this latest legal action.

Google Brings Cardboard Camera App to iOS, Enables Sharing

Sep 12, 2016, 11:35 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made it easier for more people to take and share 360-degree photos. The company has made its Cardboard Camera application available to iOS devices, allowing iPhone owners to capture 360-degree shots and look at them via the Google Cardboard VR viewer. iPhone owners were previously limited to consuming Cardboard VR content shot by others; now, they can shoot and view their own. Moreover, Google made 360-degree shots more shareable thanks to new tools in the Cardboard Camera application. People can easily send one another 360-degree photos that are then stored in the app itself for subsequent viewing. Google Cardboard Camera is free to download from the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store.

Google Photos for iOS Bakes In 'Motion Stills'

Sep 8, 2016, 1:22 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google updated Google Photos for iOS and merged its separate Motion Stills app into the larger Photos app. This chiefly impacts Live Photos as captured by the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus. Live Photos can be shared with other Apple devices and through Facebook, but not other social networks. Google Photos now uses Google's video stabilization technology to freeze the background portions of Live Photos while allowing the subject/foreground to move independently. It can also pan across the background to follow moving subjects. The end result is a looping GIF that can be shared easily via most social media apps. The app allows iPhone owners to merge looping GIFs into a larger moving picture. The new version also makes it easier to select thumbnail photos, sort photo albums, and share to YouTube. Google Photos is free to download from the iTunes App Store. Motion Stills will remain available as a separate app.

Google Adds Lyft and Gett to Google Maps

Sep 8, 2016, 10:04 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today boosted the number of ride-hailing services available within Google Maps to a total of nine. Moving forward, Lyft and Gett will display ride options in the U.S. alongside Uber and others, allowing users to find the cheapest, quickest, or most appealing option to get from one place to another. Google Maps will display estimated ride arrival times, travel times, and fares, as well as any additional services that may be offered by each individual ride provider. The new ride-hailing options are available to Maps for Android and iOS.

Android Pay Rings Up Chase In the US

Sep 7, 2016, 8:13 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said Chase has agreed to support Android Pay on Android smartphones and other devices. Starting immediately, Chase customers can add their eligible Chase Visa debit/credit card to Android Pay and make tap-and-go payments wherever Android Pay is accepted. Chase is one of the largest U.S. banks. Google also added a number of new financial institutions in the U.K. Further, Google says it has been working with its merchant partners to improve the Android Pay experience at retail terminals, as well as the benefits available to consumers. For example, Walgreens recently integrated its Balance Rewards loyalty program into Android Pay, and Google plans to add Dunkin' Donuts and Chili's to Android Pay in the coming months. Android Pay is working with Uber's Payment Rewards program to provide discounted rides for U.S. consumers. Last, Google recently made Android Pay available as an option for online retailers in its Chrome browser. Android Pay is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Google Adds Android Pay to Chrome

Sep 6, 2016, 2:49 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google recently updated its Chrome browser for Android devices with several performance improvements. Fire and foremost, Android users can rely on Android Pay to make purchases online when browsing. Specifically, Google added support for the PaymentRequest web standard, which allows online retailers to add Android Pay as a payment option to their mobile web sites. Google says the latest version of Chrome for Android is 15% faster than before. Further, the browser has made gains in power management and now consumes less battery power. Chrome is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Intel to Buy Movidius for AI Camera Tech

Sep 6, 2016, 7:15 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Intel today said it has agreed to buy Movidius in order to supplement its RealSense computer vision technology. Intel says Movidius' visual processing unit can help it bring computer vision applications to market faster. Movidius' technology already powers drones and other products from DJI, FLIR, Google, and Lenovo. Intel's RealSense cameras use cameras as the "eyes", a CPU as the "brain" and a vision processor as the "visual cortex" in order to allow computers to understand the world around them. Movidius' VPU technology will allow RealSense to track, navigate, map, and recognize scenes and objects. Intel plans to first use Movidius and RealSense for augmented/virtual reality, drones, robotics, and digital security cameras, with more applications to follow. Intel last year showed off a version of its RealSense camera for smartphones. Intel expects the deal to close later this year.

Google Hangs Up On Project Ara, Says Reuters

Sep 2, 2016, 2:55 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has halted efforts to develop its modular smartphone, dubbed Project Ara, according to sources cited by Reuters. Project Ara has been under development for years, but ran into trouble along the way. For example, Google was forced to rethink the magnets that held the modules in place. The original idea was to create a phone that would allow owners to swap modules any time, adding a camera or extra battery. Google may yet license Project Ara to its hardware partners, but has ceased work on the project in house. Google did not comment on Reuters' story.

Facebook Brings Instant Video to Messenger

Sep 1, 2016, 10:08 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Facebook today added the ability to stream video live within its Messenger application. The feature is different from a two-way video chat, which has been part of Messenger since 2015. With Instant Videos, users tap a button and automatically begin streaming live video in one direction. The recipient can see the video without taking action, but needs to tap the video in order to hear sound. Instant Videos are available within chat threads and can be initiated with a single tap. Both the sender and the recipient need the latest Android/iOS Messenger app from Facebook in order for Instant Video to work. Moreover, both people need to be viewing the conversation thread at the same time for the video to connect. Facebook said the updated Android and iOS Messenger app will reach the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store soon.

Qualcomm Reveals More About Snapdragon 821

Aug 31, 2016, 6:30 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Qualcomm today provided a more complete picture of the Snapdragon 821, a revision to its top-of-the-line processor. The company already explained how the 821 boosts the performance of the SoC with higher clock speeds and other refinements. Today, Qualcomm revealed that the processor includes support for the Snapdragon VR SDK, which will let developers target Google's Daydream VR platform on devices with the 821. The processor adds native support for dual-phase autofocus for faster camera performance under a variety of lighting conditions, as well as extended-range laser auto-focus for locking in focus quickly over greater distances. The 821 will also support Android 7 Nougat with additional security measures. Qualcomm says the Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe will be the first premium smartphone to ship with the Snapdragon 821.

Google Brings In-App Search to Android Phones

Aug 31, 2016, 5:22 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google this week announced a new tool for searching the content on devices. The search mode, called In Apps, allows people to find content that's buried inside apps installed on the phone. For example, users can seek out specific songs, friends, or notes directly from search rather than first opening the associated app. The functionality is accessible from a new "In Apps" tab that appears in the Google search app. At launch, it can parse through Gmail, Spotify, and YouTube. Google plans to add more third-party apps, such as Facebook Messenger, LinkedIn, Evernote, Glide, Todoist, and Google Keep, to In Apps over time. Last, Google said some phones will be able to take advantage of a special In Apps home screen shortcut. The LG V20, which LG plans to announce Sept. 5, will be the first phone with this dedicated shortcut.

Pebble OS 4.0 Focuses On Ease of Use

Aug 30, 2016, 12:56 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Pebble today released a new firmware update for its line of wearables that should improve the day-to-day usability of Pebble smartwatches. For example, a new Quick View feature lets users see what's next on their calendar from the watch face. Pressing the watch face opens all current events. Another tool called App Glances lets people view app data without fully opening the app. Moreover, Pebble owners can use the 4-Button Quick Launch feature to customize their device by assigning their favorite apps to each button. The health app has been redesigned with more glanceable information. It also brings back weekly charts to help provide a broader overview of health stats. Last, the revised system software adds email actions for iOS users, who can reply to, delete, and archive emails directly from the notification screen. Pebble OS 4.0 is free to download and install via the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.

Google Contacts Gains More Editing Powers

Aug 30, 2016, 12:49 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google recently updated the Contacts application for select Android devices and made it easier to edit contact details. Most significantly, Google expanded the app's availability from just Marshmallow to Lollipop. The app is still limited to Nexus, Android One, and Google Play Edition devices. People running Lollipop on these devices can now add and edit contact data points (name, number, email), save them to their Google account, fix duplicates, and call or message from the contact card. Google Contacts is free to download from the Google Play Store.

HTC Reveals Nougat Update Plans

Aug 26, 2016, 6:59 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

HTC revealed via its Twitter account that it plans to update some devices to Android 7.0 Nougat later this year. The unlocked HTC 10 will be first to receive Nougat at some point during the fourth quarter. HTC will follow that with the unlocked One M9 and unlocked One A9, but it didn't specify timing for these two phones. The carrier versions of all three of these devices will also see Nougat down the road, but again HTC didn't provide specifics. The news walks backs HTC's initial promise to provide Nougat to the HTC 10 within 15 days of Google's Nexus-branded devices (which received Nougat on Aug. 22). The company didn't explain why it isn't sticking to its earlier commitment.

Google Killing Off Device Assist Tool On Nexus Phones

Aug 26, 2016, 6:53 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has begun informing owners of Nexus devices that it is shutting down the Device Assist app. The app, which first appeared in 2014, was meant to serve as a support tool for Nexus handsets. Google did not explain why it is discontinuing the tool. The change is effective immediately.

Google Adds Actual Games to Mobile Search

Aug 25, 2016, 9:06 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made several simple games available to play directly in search results. Performing a search for solitaire will bring up a playable version of the card game. Similarly, users can search for tic-tac-toe to strategize Xs and Os. Google also made a simple coin toss function available in search to help people settle bets. Google says more simple and fun games are headed to search in the near future. The games can be assessed via the desktop or mobile devices.

Google Drive, Play Music See Updates on Android

Aug 25, 2016, 7:26 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google recently updated its Google Drive and Google Play Music apps for Android devices, giving new features to both apps. Google Drive now allows people to set home screen shortcuts for their favorite or frequently-used files and folders. The update also makes it easier to control notifications and upgrade or change the storage plan. Google Play Music adds a sleep timer that people can use to control how long their device plays music. The app also features new control buttons and other minor tweaks. Google Drive and Google Play Music for Android are both free to download from the Google Play Store.

Google Gives Nexus Phones Access to WiFi Assistant

Aug 24, 2016, 11:28 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Aug 24, 2016, 11:32 AM

Google this week made its WiFi Assistant feature available to all Nexus devices. The tool is a direct carryover from Google's Project Fi. The WiFi Assistant lets Nexus owners automatically and securely connect to more than one million free, open WiFi hotspots that are certified by Google. Users won't be required to sign in or set up accounts to access the WiFi. Moreover, Google manages the connection and ensures it is protected. Google says the tool can help improve average connection speeds and lower monthly data consumption, regardless of which wireless carrier provides cellular service to the phone. The Google WiFi Assistant is available to Nexus devices in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Nordic countries. Google says it will roll out over the next few weeks. Project Fi relies on WiFi for calling and data, but also hops onto Sprint, T-Mobile, or U.S. Cellular when WiFi is not available.

Google to Tackle Annoying Popup Mobile Ads

Aug 23, 2016, 12:29 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said it plans to change how it ranks mobile search results in a way that will make content easier to find and consume. First, the company will remove the "optimized for mobile" tag that often accompanies results. Google says 85% of mobile search results already meet this criteria and it is no longer necessary to call it out. Removing the label will declutter search results and allow more results to be seen. Google is already in the process of removing the tag. Second, Google is going after web sites that take advantage of mobile search to serve interstitial popup ads. Specifically, Google will de-prioritize the rankings of sites that a show a popup that covers the content; display a standalone interstitial that must be dismissed before accessing the content; or use a layout where the above-the-fold portion looks like a standalone interstitial. Google says such ad practices often frustrate users and don't promote a good mobile experience. Google will begin lowering the search rank of web sites that use these frustrating ads January 10, 2017. Google says some interstitials are okay, such as those that require age verification, or those that use a reasonable amount of screen space, and are easily dismissed.

Opera Brings Its Mobile VPN to Android Devices

Aug 23, 2016, 7:16 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Opera Software today launched a free VPN for Android devices that allows smartphone and tablet owners to browse the web more securely and access what might be prohibited content when using managed networks. The VPN removes ad trackers for privacy purposes and supports virtual locations (U.S., Canada, Germany, Singapore, and the Netherlands), which should let people get around some region-based restrictions. The VPN includes a WiFi tester that can detect the strength of WiFi security. If the VPN determines the network isn't secure, it will recommend users connect through the VPN. The WiFi sniffer also checks to see if the network its public or private, if it's encrypted, how many other devices are using it, if the IP address/location are exposed, and whether or not others can see your device. Opera imagines the VPN will be useful to students and office workers who are restricted from accessing social networks or other types of web sites when using campus or office WiFi. Opera VPN is free to downloaded from the Google Play Store. Opera made the same VPN available to iOS devices earlier this year.

Google Officially Releases Android 7 Nougat

Aug 22, 2016, 12:10 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made the final version of Android 7.0 Nougat available to developers, phone makers, and select devices. Google released the first developer build of Nougat earlier this year and has been refining the platform ever since. Today marks the official release of the platform, which moves out of beta. The next-generation mobile operating system includes support for Vulkan to improve graphics performance for games, but it also improves the Android runtime to speed up daily use. For example, apps should install 75% faster while requiring 50% less code. On the security front, Nougat introduces file-based encryption to better isolate and protect individual users. It also hardened the media framework to prevent attacks. Nougat offers seamless security updates that happen automatically in the background with no user action required. Google made improvements to the multitasking functions, with multi-window mode available to all. Nougat will show only the most recent seven apps and moves the "clear all" tool to the top of the screen to prevent accidental closings. Nougat overhauls notifications, providing direct control over silencing certain types of notifications. The platform adds Unicode 9.0 for an expanded set of emoji, including skin-tone variations. Last, Nougat bakes in more direct support for virtual reality. Nougat is available to the Nexus 6, 5X, 6P, 9, and Pixel C devices.

Walgreens Adds Its Loyalty Program to Android Pay

Aug 22, 2016, 9:42 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Walgreens today said Android Pay users can now incorporate their Walgreens Balance Rewards membership with the Google mobile payment service. Adding the loyalty account to Android Pay gives Walgreens customers the ability to earn points every time they pay with their mobile device, and can do so without requiring people to separately scan their Balance Rewards account card. Walgreens says Android Pay is accepted at some 8,200 stores. Walgreens Balance Rewards are already available to Apple Pay users.

Samsung's Milk Music Sours, to Be Discontinued

Aug 20, 2016, 8:56 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung says it will discontinue its Milk Music service in the U.S. on September 22. "We have made the strategic decision to invest in a partner model focused on seamlessly integrating the best music services available today into our family of Galaxy devices. We believe that working with partners will accelerate innovation, enhance device sales and provide amazing new experiences for our customers," said the company in a statement. Samsung built Milk Music using Slacker's library. The company created a unique, circular user interface for Milk and preloaded the app on its Android smartphones for several years. Samsung had a similar video service called Milk Video, but discontinued that service in November 2015. Samsung did not say what users of its Milk Music service can/should do with the app or their account once it is turned off. There are plenty of alternatives in the market, including Spotify, Google Play Music, and Apple Music.

AT&T Spearheading Robocall 'Strike Force'

Aug 19, 2016, 9:11 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T and dozens of other companies are escalating the war on robocalls with a new Strike Force aimed at disrupting spammers' ability to call and pester consumers. AT&T CEO Randal Stephenson says carriers, device makers, OS developers, network designers, regulators, and lawmakers will all need to work together to create a play book to tackle the problem. "In parallel with technological solutions, we need our regulatory and law enforcement agencies to go after the bad actors. Shutting down the bad guys is a necessary step, and a powerful example to others. Our goal isn't complicated: Stop unwanted robocalls. Easy to say. Hard to do," said Stephenson in remarks made at the FCC's first meeting of the Robocall Strike Force. Industry player are gathering today to discuss initial plans and are expected to report back with more solid short- and long-term plans on October 19. Some of the companies participating in the Strike Force include AT&T, Apple, Blackberry, Comcast, Ericsson, Google, LG, Microsoft, Nokia, Qualcomm, Samsung, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon.

Google Building Non-Linux OS Called Fuchsia

Aug 16, 2016, 11:09 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google is working on a new operating system called Fuchsia. The open-source platform is the first from Google that does not rely on Linux at its core. Instead, the operating system runs the Magenta kernel and, according to the documentation, it relies on the Flutter user interface and Dart programming language. The platform appears to be intended as an embedded operating system for IoT devices, but it can also run on smartphones and PCs. Google hasn't said much about the project, but the platform is available in pieces via GitHub. It's unclear if or when Google might release a complete, final version of the operating system.

Google Duo ls Here

Aug 16, 2016, 7:23 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today released Duo, the video chatting app for Android and iOS it announced earlier this year. Duo is simple to use. It doesn't require a separate account, users need only their phone number to get started. Google says it built the app to function well even across poor network connections. The app will change the resolution to match the connection speed in order to keep the call going, and can seamlessly switch from wifi to cellular. A feature called Knock Knock gives people a preview video of the person calling so they can see what's up before answering the video call. Duo is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.

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