Google recently updated its Text-to-Speech app for Android devices and gave the tool a handful of new features. The app adds support for Bengali, Danish, English, Finnish, Hungarian, Norwegian, and Mandarin. The 14 supported languages each has six voices, three mail and three female. Google says the voices can be processor intensive and are not available to all devices. The app also improves its voice for Indian English. Last, the speech app can read aloud any text that is highlighted on the screen. Google's Speech-to-Text app is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google today said it plans to place advertisements in Google Maps on mobile devices. The change is meant to help Google's business customers promote their own businesses to people who search through Google Maps. Google says advertisers can take advantage of location extensions to showcase their locations on maps as promoted pins. Google is experimenting with a variety of ad formats, and will relaunch local business pages so they are more appealing and include special offers and the ability to browse product inventory at any given store. The introduction of advertising will come to both the Android and iOS versions of Maps, but Google didn't say exactly when. The new advertising push is part of Google's attempt top shore up its core business.
Spotify today reduced the cost of its family plan and made it competitive with offerings from Apple and Google. Moving forward, the Spotify family plan costs $14.99 per month and supports up to six individual users. Each user is able to create and manage their own playlists. The old plan cost $30 per month for five users. Spotify's family plan now costs the same as the family plans sold through Apple Music and Google Music. The Spotify family plan offers on-demand, ad-free, and offline music. Spotify is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.
Google today said its modular phone, called Project Ara, will reach developers during the fourth quarter of this year. The company delayed the project last summer after running into trouble with the modules. The platform lets people hot-swap various modules, such as cameras, batteries, speakers, and screens. The modules all connect to a central frame. Google also said it plans to release a version of Project Ara for consumers some time in 2017. Google execs said the company will manufacture the Project Ara phones itself.
ZTE today announced the Grand X Max 2 for Cricket Wireless, an inexpensive handset that includes two rear cameras. The phone boasts a 6-inch full HD display protected by Gorilla Glass 3. The camera ensemble features 13- and 2-megapixel sensors on the back that ZTE says capture more detailed images. The camera boasts features such as bokeh, panorama, multiexposure, and manual modes. The front camera has a 5-megapixel sensor; both cameras can capture full HD video. The Grand X Max 2 is powered by a 1.5 GHz octa-core Snapdragon processor and ships with 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of internal storage. The phone adopts the USB Type-C connector and the 3,400mAh battery supports Quick Charge 2.0 for rapid charging. Other hardware features include LTE, GPS, memory card support, and standard headphone jack. ZTE loaded Google's Android 6.0 Marshmallow operating system on the device, which includes a variety of Google and Cricket apps and services, such as Deezer and Dolby Audio. The ZTE Grand X Max 2 is available at Cricket stores starting today for $199.99.
Google released a developer preview of Android Wear 2.0. This new platform, which touts a wholly refreshed user interface, is the biggest update yet for Google smartwatches. Here is a quick look at this early version of Android Wear 2.0 on the Huawei Watch.
Google today said its Chrome operating system will soon have access to the Google Play Store and the Android apps therein. ChromeOS will support all Android phone and tablet apps, including games, productivity apps, and social networking. Android apps can run in three different window sizes in ChromeOS and users will be able to move the windows around and multitask as needed. Keyboard, mouse, and touch input will all work together within Android apps, and Android-based notifications will be pushed to Chromebooks as well as phones. Moreover, users will be able share files seamlessly between Chrome and Android devices through a new Files app. Google says developers can add admin-level network support to their Android apps for Chrome so businesses and schools can control options such as Bluetooth and WiFi. Android games should run very well on Chromebooks, according to Google. Google Play for Chrome will be available to developers on the Asus Chromebook Flip, Acer Chromebook R 11, and the Chromebook Pixel with a wider launch expected later this year. Google says it will add support for Android apps to more Chromebooks over time. ChromeOS is Google's light-weight, browser-based operating system that runs on inexpensive laptops.
Google today announced YouTube VR, a version of YouTube dedicated to virtual reality. It will be among the first apps to support Daydream, Google's new VR platform for Android devices. YouTube says the VR app will support voice search, browsing/discovery, and playlists. Google says all YouTube content — whether captured in 360-degree/3D or not — will be available via YouTube VR. Google is working with content creators and camera makers to ensure that plenty of 360-degree content is available when the app launches. Google expects YouTube VR to arrive with Daydream in the fall. It will only work with Android phones. Google didn't say if YouTube VR will be compatible with other VR headsets, such as Gear VR or Oculus.
Developers will soon be able to make their apps aware of their surroundings thanks to the new Awareness API. The API can support up to seven different signals at once, including time, location, places, beacons, headphones, activity, and weather, to deliver contextually aware information. Google says the API is able to process signals from these sources intelligently for accuracy and efficiency, and do so without chewing through battery life. "Your app can combine these context signals to make inferences about the user's current situation, and use this information to provide customized experiences. For example, suggesting a playlist when the user plugs in headphones and starts jogging," explained Google. WebOS, developed by Palm, was able to handle some contextually aware situations, such as recognizing when the user's location didn't match their calendar appointments. Developers can sign up for early access to the Awareness API. Google didn't say when the API will be made more widely available, nor how or when it will be added to Android handsets.
Google plans to make it easier for people to find and test beta applications in the Google Play Store. Google said it will begin to surface beta apps within search results in order to improve visibility. Users will be able to opt-in and send feedback to developers more directly. Google said it will begin bundling apps together in theme collections, as well. For example, a collection might feature a home finder app as well as a mortgage finder and real estate agent search tool. Google is also offering developers with more behind-the-scenes tools to assess beta apps and make fixes thanks to diagnostic reports.
Google today outlined some of the new features in Google Play Services 9.0. Specifically, there are a handful of new APIs that will let developers add more functionality to their apps. For example, the Video Recording API will allow developers to add video recording the their own apps, as well as make those videos easy to share via YouTube or other apps. The updated Nearby API will let apps scan for nearby Bluetooth low energy beacons without additional permissions. This will give beacon owners (and the developers who wrote the apps for them) more leeway to send messages to Android devices as they roam near beacons. Play Services 9.0 makes changes to the Player Stats API, which lets developers gain more insight to gameplay, what actions gamers are likely to pursue, and whether or not they'll spend more money. In a related change, Play Services 9.0 makes improvements to how developers can integrate ads and ad campaigns into their apps. Google didn't say when Play Services will be distributed to end-user devices.
Google today said it has streamlined the developer tools needed to add Android Pay support to mobile apps and web sites. The company revised the APIs used by developers, who should now be able to enable Android Pay with just a few lines of code. Google hopes easing the process will convince more developers to adopt the burgeoning mobile payment service. Google recently expanded Android Pay to the UK, and plans to reach Australia and Singapore soon. Android Pay will soon add loyalty cards and promotions, as well.
Google offered a few details on what the future holds for Android Auto. The platform will be expanded thanks to Android N. To start, Android Auto will soon be available to Android devices — sans car. The phone-based app will be updated with the same user interface and functionality found on the in-dash experience, allowing people who drive older cars to enjoy the benefits of Android Auto even if their car doesn't support it. Some of the tools included are voice-enabled calling, media payback, messaging, and navigation. Android N brings support for AM/FM radios, HVAC controls, Bluetooth calling/media streaming, multi-channel audio, and digital instrument clusters. Google says more carmakers are selecting Android Auto as the base for their in-car systems. Moreover, Android Auto will soon gain connectivity independent of a phone thanks to Qualcomm's modular Snapdragon 820 Automotive Platform. The Android Auto platform will soon add Waze, hotwording, and support for apps and services directly from carmakers, including Honda and Hyundai.
Google today showed off what it calls Android Instant Apps. The idea here is to allow people to access content that's buried within apps that are not installed on their phone. For example, when people send a link to content that's contained within an app, the recipient will be able to click the link and view the content. Instant Apps will install only the bits of the app needed to run the requested content. Android Instant Apps are technically based on deep linking, explained Google, but still allow for most of the app's features to work even when the app is not on the phone. Google sees this as a way to convince more people to access or use content they might otherwise ignore because they don't have or use the specific app in question. Developers will need to configure their apps to perform instantly using Android Studio.
Google today provided a preview of Android Wear 2.0, which it says was developed with end users in mind. Watch faces, for example, will be able to show data from other apps, such as fitness info. This leads to greater personal customization of watch faces. Messaging sees updates, too, thanks to better handwriting recognition, voice controls, and keyboards. Android Wear 2.0 will also enjoy expanded fitness tools, such as automatic activity recognition and easier music streaming. The platform brings with it support for standalone apps that don't require a nearby cellphone to function. Developers can download a preview of Android Wear 2.0 today, but the public release isn't expected until the fall.
Google today announced Daydream, a brand new platform for expanding virtual reality to more devices. The Daydream spec will be defined so hardware makers can make sure they create compatible phones. Android N will be able to tell if phones are Daydream ready based on the sensors, display, and processor within. Android N brings improvements to performance VR thanks to low latency (20ms) and the simplified system user interface. At the same time, Google created a blueprint for Daydream-compatible headsets. It will share the headset / controller blueprints with device makers. Google believes a secondary controller (like a small remote) will help the Daydream VR experience. Google expects Daydream-ready devices, including phones from Samsung, Alcatel, and Asus, to reach the market by fall.
Google today provided an update to Android N at its I/O developer conference. 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, N introduces file-based encryption to better isolate and protect individual users. It also hardened the media framework to prevent attacks. Last, Android N offers seamless security updates that happen automatically in the background with no user action required. As for productivity, Google make improvements to the multitasking function. Moving forward, Android N will show only the most recent seven apps. Moreover, Android N moves the "clear all" tool to the top of the screen to prevent accidental closings. Android N uses two multi-window tools, one called multi-screen (two windows used side-by-side) and picture-in-picture to let video play while users perform other tasks. Google imagines the PIP feature will be used most on Android TV. Android N overhauls notifications, providing direct control over silencing certain types of notifications. The new platform adds Unicode 9.0 for an expanded set of emoji, including skin-tone variations. Last, Android N bakes in more direct support for virtual reality. Google is asking the public to help name Android N, and has set up a web site to take suggestions. Android N is available in beta form beginning today and should reach final release status later this summer.
Google today showed off a video calling app called Duo. The app is a companion to the Allo messaging app. It includes a feature called Knock Knock, which lets people see the caller — and the caller's situation --before answering. The app supports the same end-to-end encryption found in Allo. It relies on WebRTC to power instant video and improve video call quality. It can seamlessly switch between WiFi and cellular depending on network quality. The UI fades away so people can focus on the video conversation, rather than the controls. Duo will be available later this summer.
Google today announced Allo, a messaging application that 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. For example, Allo was able to automatically suggest that a photo of a dog was cute. This feature is called Smart Reply. The app includes search tools similar to the GBoard keyboard app that Google recently made available to the iPhone. The app permits people to converse directly with the Google Assistant to, in effect, perform searches, such as sports scores and headlines. As for privacy and security, Google created an incognito mode for Allo that are encrypted end-to-end. It offers private notifications and expiring chats, and when incognito conversation threads are deleted they are gone forever. Allo will be the first home for the new Google Assistant. Allo will be available later this summer.
Google today announced the Google Assistant, a conversational assistant with two-way dialog capabilities meant to help people search and find answers. The Assistant takes what Google Now can already do to a new level. Google says it already handles vast amounts of voice search every day. The product, meant to compete more directly with Siri, Cortana, and Alexa, was announced on stage during the Google I/O developer conference. Google Assistant can answer questions about movie play times and eventually buy tickets through the conversation. "We like to think of Google Assistant as an ambient experience that extends across devices," said Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Google said the Google Assistant will eventually baked into devices for the home, such as Chromecast. The company is creating a specific product called Google Home that resembles its On-Hub wireless routers. Google Home is similar to Amazon's Alexa. It has a built-in speaker and supports Google Cast technology so it can accept music from other nearby devices. Home can be used to manage everyday tasks, such as alarms and timers. It will also connect with internet-of-things hardware to control lights, environmental settings, and entryways. Google Home will be available later this year. Google didn't say how much it might cost.
T-Mobile today increased the number of video apps that are available through its Binge-On streaming video program. The new services include Google Play Music (music videos), Great Big Story, NBC, Ligonier Ministries, Noggin, Qello Concerts, Radio Disney (music videos), Univision, Univision Noticias, Spotify (music videos), Tidal (music videos), and Toon Goggles. T-Mobile customers can stream an unlimited amount of video content from these and other providers without impacting their monthly data bucket. Binge-On video quality is capped at 480p. The company claims its customers have streamed some 377 million hours of video since Binge-On launched in December.
Google today delivered a small update to the YouTube app for iOS devices. Specifically, the refreshed app adds support for Google Cardboard content. This means iPhone owners can use a Google Cardboard headset to view virtual reality content on YouTube. The update also resolves a bug resolving watch counts. YouTube for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Google today introduced a new app called Spaces, which is meant to facilitate group conversations around specific subjects. Google imagines the app could be helpful to book clubs, or to people planning trips, and so on. Chrome, YouTube, and Search are built into Spaces, so finding and adding content to conversation threads is a cinch. Google says threads are easy to follow, and because they are searchable it is easy to go back and find previous discussions, comments, or content. Spaces can be created with a single tap, and invitations can be sent via email, social network, or messaging. Google Spaces is available to all Gmail accounts today online, and for Android and iOS devices. The service is free to use.
Google and Microsoft have fielded new keyboard apps — GBoard and Word Flow, respectively — for the Apple iPhone. GBoard includes search tools, while Word Flow lets you create your own themes. Here is a quick rundown on these alternative keyboard apps for iOS users.
Google today said it has expanded Google Drive's support for Evernote, making it easier to share files between the two cloud services. Before today, Drive content shared to Evernote took the form of a link. Now, Drive content includes thumbnails and/or previews of the content so it can be seen from within Evernote. Evernote has added a Google Drive icon to its toolbar to facilitate jumping from one app to the other. Moreover, Google says any changes made to documents or images in Google Drive will be reflected in Evernote automatically. The new features are available to Evernote on the web and for Android. Google Drive and Evernote are both free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google today revealed GBoard, a keyboard application for iPhones that includes search capabilities. Google is pitching GBoard as a way to simplify how people use the iPhone by allowing users to perform searches without leaving the current app, such as text messaging. A dedicated button calls up the search tool, which presents results in card form with important details, including addresses, business hours, and phone numbers, on the screen. iPhone owners can then send search results, such as restaurant info, flight times, and news articles, in messages or emails with a single tap. Beyond the search tool, GBoard also brings searchable GIFs to the iPhone keyboard, and makes it easier to find emoji. Last, the app includes swipe-style typing, so iPhone owners can trace their finger across the keyboard rather than peck at individual letters. GBoard is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Google Calendar for Android devices will soon help people dial-in to conference calls with fewer steps and less frustration. When users dial the conference call number through the Calendar app, the app will automatically add the conference passcode to connect to the right call. Google says the passcode or meeting ID must be in the event location field or event notes field in order for it to properly recognize the code. Google Calendar for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google today said it is making Google Photos more social for both Android and iOS devices. The latest version of the app adds commenting and smart suggestions to shared albums. People who join shared albums can comment on the photos therein, as well as comment the larger album as a whole. Comment threads can be created directly from the mobile app. Moreover, Photos now suggests which photos in users' libraries will fit with the images inside shared albums. Users will still have full control over what images are actually shared with others, but Photos will make selecting the right photos easier. These new features are rolling out now to Android, iOS, and the web. Google Photos is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.
Microsoft plans to discontinue the Sunrise calendar application it offers to the Android and iOS platforms. Microsoft acquired the team behind Sunrise last year. Sunrise will be removed from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store within a few days and will cease working entirely on August 31. The Sunrise team is now working to bring Sunrise's best features to the Outlook email/calendar app for Android and iOS.
Google has updated its Google Translate app for Android and iOS mobile devices with a handful of new features. A tool called Tap to Translate in the Android app makes it simpler to translate text on the go. Google says users can copy text in any app and view the translation in a pop-up box that appears without forcing users to switch apps. Google Translate for iOS now works offline thanks to the addition of offline mode. iOS Translate users will need to download language packs in order to see translations when offline. Google said it reduced the size of language packs by 90% to about 25MB each. Last, both the Android and iOS versions of Google Translate can now instantly translate Chinese via the Word Lens function. Word Lens makes use of the camera, which people aim at text (menus, signs) they want to see translated. Chinese is the 29th language added to Word Lens. Google Translate for Android and iOS is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store, respectively.
Instagram today revealed a new look for its Android and iOS mobile apps. The updated appearance includes new app icons for the main Instagram app, as well as Instagram's ancillary apps, Layout, Boomerang, and Hyperlapse. Inside the app, Instagram toned down the chrome and adopted a black and white design. Instagram has been testing the new design for several weeks. "The simpler design puts more focus on your photos and videos without changing how you navigate the app," explained Instagram in a blog post. The updated series of apps are free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.
Republic Wireless today said it has partnered with a new GSM-based carrier to help increase its service availability around the U.S. Republic launched as a WiFi-first service in 2011, and partnered with Sprint so customers could make calls, send messages, and surf the web when away from WiFi. Republic's new carrier partner is likely T-Mobile, though Republic Wireless did not say so directly. Republic will work with both Sprint and T-Mobile moving forward. With the new GSM partnership in place, Republic is set to expand its selection of devices to include some newer, top-tier Android phones. Beginning in July, Republic will offer the Samsung Galaxy S7/S7 Edge, S6, and J3, the Google Nexus 6P and 5X, and the Motorola Moto X Pure Edition — all of which run Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Republic said financing will be available for each handset. Customers will be able to bring their own GSM-based device if they so wish. Last, Republic said it is prepared to roll out new service plans. One such plan costs $20 per month and includes unlimited talk, text, and 1 GB of LTE. Republic will share more details about its new service plans in the weeks ahead.
Google recently added over-the-air images for Nexus phones to the Google Developers web site. The site already hosts the raw factory images for Nexus phones, which allow developers to manually update their devices to the latest code, but the OTA files are simpler to use. The factory images, for example, need to be installed via PC and Google's developer console. The OTA files still need to be installed via PC, but require only a few commands. Moreover, the OTA files don't require devices to have unlocked bootloaders, whereas the factory images do. Google has posted the more recent OTA images for all Nexus devices from the Nexus 7 through the Pixel C.
Google has proposed to Unicode, the organization that oversees the development of emoji, that it include more options representing women in the workplace. Google argues that "adding 13 new emoji that depict women across a representative sample of professions ... will empower young women and better reflect the pivotal roles women play in the world." Google created some sample emoji across a range of occupations, including manufacturing, industry, healthcare, technology, business, education, food service, farming, and musician. Google paired these 13 women emoji with corresponding male emoji to make standardization easier and keep complexity to a minimum. Google hopes to see Unicode set a path toward accepting and implementing these proposed emoji by the end of the year.
Pebble today improved its smartwatch platform with more health and fitness features. The expanded toolset is being made available through a firmware update for the Pebble Time-series watches as well as the accompanying Pebble app for Android and iOS smartphones. Pebble firmware version 3.12 lets Time watch owners see interactive charts of their step and sleep activity in a new Health section on the watch itself. Pebble Health can automatically detect runs or long walks, and develop notifications and timeline pins once the activity is completed. The new firmware adds a Smart Alarm, which Pebble says wakes people up when it detects light sleep patterns within 30 minutes of the alarm's scheduled time. These same features and tools have been added to the Android and iOS Pebble apps. The iPhone Pebble app also installs the ability for Pebble owners to send text replies to incoming messages or missed calls (this feature is already available to Android-based Pebble owners). The Pebble mobile app version 3.12 is available for free from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.
Google has updated its Google News product across all platforms with improved visibility of locally-sourced stories. The local source tag in Google News highlights local news outlets that have covered large, national news stories. Part of the idea behind tagging such stories is to provide more credit to local news teams that may have uncovered or broken stories that are later picked up by larger media outlets. Google says local stories will be visible in the expanded story box online, and in the Android and iOS Google News & Weather apps. Google News is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.
The FCC and FTC today asked carriers and phone manufacturers how they handle security updates for their devices. The FCC sent letters to AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, and other carriers, while the FTC queried Apple, Blackberry, Google, HTC, LG, Microsoft, Motorola, and Samsung. In particular, the agencies want to know: the factors carriers/OEMs consider in deciding whether to patch a vulnerability on a particular phone; data on the specific phones sold in the U.S. since August 2013; the vulnerabilities that have affected those devices; and whether and when the company patched such vulnerabilities. The government said the line of inquiry is to help it further understand how these companies do or do not protect consumers. "Consumers may be left unprotected, for long periods of time or even indefinitely, by any delays in patching vulnerabilities once they are discovered," said the FCC. "To date, operating system providers, original equipment manufacturers, and mobile service providers have responded to address vulnerabilities as they arise. There are, however, significant delays in delivering patches to actual devices — and that older devices may never be patched." Google provides monthly security updates to Nexus-branded Android devices, but individual phone makers lag badly. Apple provides occasional updates.
Google today announced an update for its Slides presentation tool that adds the ability for presenters to easily field questions from attendees/viewers. Slides now include a link within presentations that viewers can click on to submit questions for the presenter. All viewers can see and vote on the submitted questions to help the presenter prioritize which to answer. Viewers can submit questions anonymously, or with their names attached. Slides also now allows people to present slides through a Hangout from an iPhone or iPad, or push the presentation to nearby screens using Chromecast or AirPlay. Last, the web version of Slides gains a new laser pointer. Slides for Android and iOS is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store, respectively.
Opera today released a new version of its Opera Mini browser for Android and gave it a native ad blocker. Opera claims the ad blocker serves two purposes: 1. It speeds up page load times by 40%, and 2. It reduces data consumption up to 14% to help lower phone bills. Faster load times are always desirable, but especially so when network conditions are not at their best. Similarly, many consumers subscribe to metered service plans, which makes every bit of data count. The ad blocker in Opera Mini is not on by default, users must activate it in the settings menu. Opera says the browser also now allows users to set home screen shortcuts to specific web pages, and features a redesigned Discover section for curated news feeds. Opera Mini for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Twitter today announced a new tool meant to make it easier to find new people and accounts to follow. The "connect" tab will appear on Twitter for the web, and in the Android and iOS mobile apps beginning today, where Twitter will curate a list of accounts it believe users might like to follow. Twitter says it makes recommendations based on who users already follow, which tweets they like, global events, and what's popular nearby. Twitter says it will refine its recommendations over time. The connect tab also integrates with the user's address book, making it simple to follow contacts en masse. Twitter says the connect tab is rolling out for all users. Twitter is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.