Google today expanded the capabilities of its Keep note-taking application thanks to improved integration with Android Wear. Owners of Android Wear smartwatches can use voice prompts to open Keep, browse existing notes in Keep, or dictate new notes in Keep. Users can swipe up and down on the screen to see notes, tap to open notes, or tap the plus sign to create a new note. The Android Wear app supports recurring reminders, too. Google says the update to Keep on the Android Wear platform dovetails nicely with a recent update Google made to the smartphone version of the app. Keep on Android handsets supports labels and to-do lists to help users stay on top of their ideas and tasks. Google Keep is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Microsoft today updated its Outlook for Android app and says the email program has graduated from preview status. Today's update marks the app's full release. According to Microsoft, it has updated Outlook for Android 17 times since the preview first launched in January. During that time it has: improved the look and feel of the app; added support for IMAP; improved the People (contacts) section; added a Directory Search tool; introduced a three-day view in the calendar; and bestowed the app with a handful of gestures for navigating between emails and folders. Microsoft says Outlook for Android is on even footing with its Outlook for iOS application, which it made available earlier this year. Outlook for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google today announced Project Fi, which relies on a combination of cellular and WiFi networks to keep users connected wherever they roam. Google partnered with Sprint and T-Mobile to provide the cellular component. Google says Project Fi can automatically connect to over one million verified WiFi hotspots around the U.S, and all connections are encrypted. The goal is to make communicating simple no matter what device or network is being used. Calls made through WiFi connections will seamlessly hand-off to cellular networks with no interruptions. Google says Project Fi users' phone numbers "live in the cloud," so they can talk and text from just about any phone, tablet, or laptop. Project Fi takes a new approach with respect to billing. The basic plan costs $20 per month and includes talk, text, WiFi tethering, and international coverage in 120 countries. Google then charges $10 per gigabyte of cellular data in the U.S. and abroad. So, 1 GB of data costs $10 per month, 2 GB costs $20 per month, and so on. The unique idea here is that Google will refund people for the data they don't use. For example, subscribers who pay $30 for a 3 GB plan, but only use 1.4 GB, will receive a $16 refund from Google for the unused data. Google is offering Project Fi through an early access program. It requires the Nexus 6 smartphone at launch, which Google says was developed with Project Fi in mind. Nexus 6 owners can request invites starting today.
Google has updated the Android Wear app for smartphones ahead of the Android Wear system update for smartwatches. The smartphone Android Wear app has a brand new design that more closely matches Google's Material Design concepts. It also introduces new info cards for gleaning information about on-board watch apps. The phone app's settings tools, used to control nearby smartwatches, have been revamped entirely. One new features lets users sync only select (rather than all) calendars to the phone. Last, the app adds a Cloud Sync function, which will help the smartwatch provide notifications even when not connected to a nearby phone. This feature requires devices with the new Android Wear operating system, which is expected to arrive in a few weeks. Google's Android Wear smartphone application is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google is prepared to launch its wireless service as soon as tomorrow, according to the Wall Street Journal. Google's wireless service will rely on the mobile networks operated by Sprint and T-Mobile, in addition to WiFi. The service will only be available to the Nexus 6 smartphone at launch, which will be able to dynamically weave from network to network in order to find the strongest signal for calls, messaging, and mobile browsing. In what the Journal calls a key development, customers of Google's wireless service will only pay for the actual data they consume each month, rather than fork over money for buckets of data. Google confirmed last month that it is preparing a mobile service, but has not verified the Journal's details. Google's Sundar Pichai said during the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona the company's wireless service will be offered on an experimental basis. He likened it to the Nexus device program, about which he said, "Our goal here is to drive a set of innovations which we think the system should adopt." Specifics such as pricing are still unknown. Sprint and T-Mobile both have large MVNO programs, which is, in effect, how Google's service will operate. Sprint and T-Mobile may renegotiate with Google if its service gets too big.
Android users can now tap into push notifications from their favorite web sites. Google updated its Chrome browser this week with support for personalized notifications that come directly from the web. Google says some early adopter web sites (eBay, Pinterest, Vice News, and others) will begin offering the notifications to web surfers in the next few weeks. The notifications will behave just like those in native apps and can offer information such as breaking news or alerts to updated content. Google says web designers should be able to add the notifications to their own sites easily. The new version of Chrome also makes it simpler and faster to drop web sites onto the Android home screen thanks to new prompts that come directly from the web site itself. Google had been testing these features in a beta version of Chrome since last month. This latest release of Chrome is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google has made changes to its YouTube application that breaks compatibility with certain devices. Specifically, Google updated the YouTube Data API so it can incorporate new features. The changes in the API make YouTube non-functional on iPhones from 2012 and earlier, as well as video-based hardware, such as the Apple TV, versions 1 and 2 of Google TV, and select smart TVs dating earlier than 2013. According to Google, iPhone owners running iOS 7 and up should not experience any trouble. If they do, downloading the current version of the app should resolve any problems. People who own newer versions of the Apple TV, newer smart TVs, and the Nexus Player,should have no trouble using YouTube. The change went into effect April 20.
Twitter today revealed adjustments to the Direct Message function of its service that will expand the ability for people to talk to one another in private. Moving forward, any user will be able to DM their followers. Users can opt to receive private messages from any Twitter user, regardless of who follows who, if they wish. Twitter now has broader support for group messaging, as well. Twitter said forthcoming updates to the Android and iOS apps will enable this feature, as well as make it easier to DM others with a dedicated button in user profiles. Twitter is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store, respectively. The changes reflect the competitive and critical nature of mobile messaging.
Google today announced a significant slew of new features will be available to Android Wear devices thanks to a forthcoming update. Most significantly, Android Wear will support always-on apps. This means users can choose to leave any app running on the screen without fear of the screen going dark if they lower their arm. The platform will also add support for WiFi, which will permit smartwatches to be more connected without nearby smartphones. As long as the phone has a data connection wherever it is and the watch is connected to WiFi, users will still be able to receive their notifications and messages. The platform also adds support for gestures. For example, users will be able to flick their wrist to scroll through the content in apps. Android Wear also makes it easier to use apps with a new app launcher that's available from the home screen. Last, users will be able to scribble emoji directly on their watch screen when replying to messages. (The Apple Watch has a similar feature.) Google said the update will reach most Android Wear devices over the next few weeks.
People who use Google Wallet should be able to rest a bit easier, as Google Wallet funds are now protected by the federal government. Google has altered the terms of service for its Wallet product and will store users' funds in FDIC-insured banks. This means if Google collapses, users' money will be safe. A Google spokesperson revealed the change to Yahoo Finance. Similar cash transfer apps, such as Venmo and PayPayl, do not offer such protection for their users because the funds aren't stored in FDIC-insure banks. Mobile payment services like Apple Pay are based on credit card transactions, so user funds are not generally stored in a third-party bank account at all.
Google today debuted the Works with Google Cardboard program, which it says should make it possible for any Cardboard viewer to work well with any Cardboard app. Google first revealed Cardboard last year. Cardboard is a foldable viewer that lets people experience virtual reality when paired with their smartphone. Google quickly realized that the optics involved in creating the viewers aren't necessarily the same, which can lead to incompatibility problems. Google wants Cardboard makers to define their viewer’s key parameters (focal length, input type, inter-lens distance) and to generate a QR code containing those parameters to place on the outside of the viewer. Smartphone owners scan the code, and Cardboard-compatible apps will be able to adjust accordingly to provide a better experience. Google is offering developers a new SDK and refreshed design guidelines in order to help make their apps functional with the broadest range of viewers and phones. For end users, Google said it is changing the visibility of Cardboard apps in the Play Store to make them easier to discover.
Google today updated its Chrome browser for the iOS platform. Three gestures are the chief new feature. According to Google, users can now pull straight down to reload any web site, pull down and to the left to open a new tab, and pull down and right to close a tab. The browser also lets iOS 8 users add Chrome to the Today View, which makes it possible to open a new tab from the notification panel. The app adds auto-suggestions when typing searches in the address bar, and now supports third-party password managers for saving usernames and passwords. Chrome for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
AT&T and Verizon Wireless are limiting Microsoft's attempt to bulk up use of its mobile applications. Last month, Samsung agreed to preload Microsoft's OneDrive, OneNote, and Skype applications on the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. Verizon, however, won't pre-load any of the Microsoft apps on its versions of the S6 and S6 Edge. AT&T will include OneNote and Skype, but not OneDrive. The Sprint and T-Mobile versions of the S6 and S6 Edge are shipping with all three Microsoft apps aboard. Neither AT&T nor Verizon commented on their stance against the Microsoft-made apps. Even though the trio of apps won't be pre-loaded, people who buy the S6 and S6 Edge from AT&T or Verizon are free to download the apps, as well as Microsoft's Outlook email and Office productivity apps, from the Google Play Store for free on their own.
Google recently rolled out updates to its productivity suite of applications. Google Drive for Android now allows users to share files/photos directly from the notification panel once the file is finished uploading. Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides for Android and iOS were also given new powers, such as the ability to accept, reject, or comment on suggestions in Docs. Docs also makes reviewing and acting on comments/suggestions easier from mobile devices, and includes the ability to track changes across document versions. The Docs app for iOS now allows users to edit tables. The Sheets app lets people move, resize, and delete charts, as well as reorder objects. Last, the Slides app is more compatible with PowerPoint files from Microsoft, and they should load quicker and scroll faster. Google Drive, Docs, Sheets, and Slides are free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store. Google said the updates will arrive over the next few days.
Cyanogen today said it has partnered with Microsoft to bring the latter's productivity apps to Cyanogen's operating system. Microsoft will create native integrations on Cyanogen OS. Cyanogen expects to include Microsoft's Bing, Skype, OneDrive, OneNote, Outlook, and Microsoft Office apps in a future version of the operating system. Cyanogen is looking to separate its version of Android, based on AOSP, away from Google's version of Android. Cyanogen needs a partnership like this one to make sure Cyanogen OS users have a full set of on-board productivity tools. Cyanogen didn't say how soon the integration might be completed. Microsoft has made an aggressive push to get its apps onto as many mobile platforms as possible. It already offers free versions of Office, Outlook, OneDrive, and others to the Android and iOS platforms.
Google recently rolled out a quick new way to locate misplaced Android smartphones. A simple Google search for "Find My Phone" from a PC can find a lost phone, force it to ring at full volume, and even position it on a map. The tool requires device owners to sign in to their Google account in the browser and they must also have the latest version of the Google app installed on their phone. For people with multiple Android devices, a drop-down menu lets you specify which device you'd like to find. Users who want to lock or wipe their phone will need to have Android Device Manager activated on their handset. "Find My Phone" is free to use.
The NFC Forum today approved the Signature Record Type Definition (RTD) 2.0 technical specification, which will help authenticate the data stored on NFC tags. According to the NFC Forum, Signature RTD 2.0 lets developers verify the integrity of data within NFC Data Exchange Format messages, which is the core of how NFC tags and devices communicate with one another. The NFC Forum says the spec can assure companies that the data they're placing in NFC tags is protected from potential hackers. It also lets device owners know they won't be risking anything by reading the tag with their phone. The complete Signature RTD 2.0 specification is available for download from the NFC Forum's web site. NFC has become more critical in recent years with the launch of mobile payment services like Google Wallet, Apple Pay, and soon Samsung Pay. The extra layer of security helps protect the ecosystem from abuse.
Google today made available a new keyboard for Android devices that allows people to handwrite text in 82 languages rather than type on the keys. According to Google, the main features allow for printed and script handwriting recognition, voice input, and emoji support. Users can write text with their finger or with a stylus, and the app works on tablets and smartphones alike. Google Handwriting Input is free to download from the Play Store. It supports devices running Ice Cream Sandwich and up.
AT&T today began updating its versions of the Samsung Galaxy Alpha and Galaxy S5 Active to Android 5.0 Lollipop. Both updates are available for over-the-air download and are rolling out over the next few days. Lollipop includes Google's Material Design language, battery-saving features, Smart Lock, and more. The update is free.
Apple recently made iOS 8.4 available to developers in beta form and the new system software revealed a handful of changes to the music player. First and foremost, the music application has been refreshed a bit to more closely match the visual experience offered by Apple's iTunes desktop application. New tabs along the bottom of the screen let users quickly switch between tracks, playlists, and iTunes Radio. The app also makes it easier to adjust playlists and song queues on the fly, and the refreshed music playback user interface puts a higher priority on album artwork. In iOS 8.4 beta Apple has finally pulled audiobooks out of the music application and added them to the iBook application. iBooks itself has a refreshed player and makes sorting between audiobooks and iBook purchases simple. Google's Android platform can play audiobooks in the Play Music app, most simple MP3 apps, and third-party reader apps, such as Audible. Apple only recently released iOS 8.3 to the general public. There's no telling when 8.4 will go live for all users.
Google today announced a new program for developers called Designed for Families. The program is meant to allow developers to designate their apps and games as family friendly. Apps submitted with this designation may be eligible for what Google says is a forthcoming, family-focused section of the Google Play Store. This section will help parents find age-appropriate content for their kids. Developers can opt into the program beginning today via the Google Play Developer Console. Google will review these apps to make sure they meet the requirements for the Designed for Families program. Google said more details about the program will be available soon. Earlier this year, Google released an app called YouTube for Kids meant to offer kid-specific content in an easier-to-manage format.
Opera Software today announced a wholly refreshed version of Opera Mini for Android devices. Opera gave the browser a new user interface based on Material Design, which lends the browser a more native look and feel to Android devices. Beyond the revised UX, Opera Mini for Android has a simplified menu, an overhauled Speed Dial feature (for favorites), and a private browsing mode. Users can customize the browser's layout, and the UI scales better on larger phones and tablets. Opera updated the Discover newsfeed to make news discovery easier and made the data counter more visible. Opera Mini is a proxy-based browser, which means Opera compresses web pages on its servers before delivering them over wireless networks. This is meant to help cut down data consumption. Opera believes the new browser will help it grow its user base from 130 million users today to 275 million by 2017. Opera's browser competes with Google's Chrome, Mozilla's Firefox, and myriad other browsers.
Via Licensing today said that Google has added its LTE patents to its broader pool of LTE patents. Via Licensing collects wireless patents from a broad range of companies with the intent of licensing them at fair and reasonable rates. Google is the latest to add its intellectual property to the pool, which already has patents from AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, KDDI, NTT DoCoMo, SK Telecom, Telecom Italia, Telefonica, ZTE, and others. Google gained ownership of some 17,000 patents when it acquired Motorola in 2012. Via Licensing says any patent holder is welcome to contribute patents to its growing collection.
Google today said Android device owners can make mobile payments at Dunkin Donuts stores and for Seamless delivery orders. These join others, such as Papa Johns, Dominos, and Panda Express, in accepting Google Wallet for tap-and-go transactions. In addition to mobile payments, the Dunkin Donuts Android application now accepts Google Wallet for recharging the mobile Dunkin Donuts Card. Last, Dunkin Donuts, Seamless, and Papa Johns all now support in-app ordering with Google Wallet. Google said users will need to download the latest versions of these mobile apps to fully integrate them with Google Wallet. The apps are free from the Google Play Store.
Google has begun pushing the Android 5.1 Lollipop update to several Play Edition smartphones, including the HTC One M8 and the Sony Xperia Z Ultra. Android 5.1 makes a number of improvements to the devices' performance, and also adds several new features. Google tweaked the Quick Settings menu, added support for HD voice, improved security by blocking non-authorized device resets, and changed how users adjust notifications and alerts. Play Edition handsets, which are available directly from Google, are unlocked and run a native version of Android. They are entirely devoid of manufacturer and carrier user interface overlays. The Android 5.1 Lollipop update is free to install.
Google today said the number of individual watch faces for Android Wear smartwatches number more than 1,000. In order to make them easier to find and install, Google is calling them out in a special section in the Google Play Store. Google also said it has put together a curated selection of watch bands to help customers further personalize their Android Wear devices. Most Android Wear devices use the standard 22mm strap bands. The options, which vary in color, material, and design, come from E3 Supply, Worn & Wound, and Clockwork Synergy.
Instagram today said several new editing options will soon be available in its Android and iOS applications. According to Instagram, the Color tool lets people add colors/tints to highlights in their photos. The app will have yellow, orange, red, pink, purple, cyan, blue, and green hues for giving photos some extra punch. The Fade tool lets users soften colors a bit to adjust the tone. The updated Android app can be downloaded from the Google Play Store today. Instagram said the updated iOS app will be available in a few days.
LG is slowly revealing aspects of its forthcoming flagship smartphone bit by bit. The G4, expected to arrive at an event later this month, will have LG's newest user interface called LG UX 4.0. The UI has a new design based on Android 5.0 Lollipop. According to LG, UX 4.0 "provides more optimized and intuitive convenience to each individual at every user level." One new feature is called Quick Shot, which lets users to take pictures by double-tapping the phone's rear key even while the display is off. The camera itself gains new functions, too, including a manual mode that gives users full control over the camera's settings and behaviors. LG updated its calendar app with a drag-and-drop scheduler and improved its Smart Bulletin tool with the ability to collect data across more apps. The UX also introduces LG's version of Google Now, called Smart Notice. LG says Smart Notice provides personalized notifications for weather, travel, and more by analyzing users' daily routines and habits. LG also posted a teaser video on its YouTube channel regarding the G4's camera. The camera will have an aperture of f/1.8, which means it can let in a little bit more light than most competing smartphone cameras. The Samsung Galaxy S6, for example, has an aperture of f/1.9 and the HTC One M9 has an aperture of f/2.2. Earlier this month LG revealed a new 5.5-inch quad HD display for the G4. Together, these hints provide a decent picture of what the LG G4 will offer. The LG G4 launch event is scheduled for April 28.
Google released a supposed kid-friendly version of YouTube in February, and it has already raised the ire of advocacy groups. Consumer protection organizations asked the FTC to investigate the app for its deceptive and unfair advertising practices. Search results in the app often turn up advertisements disguised as content, claim the groups, which makes it easy to prey on the trusting nature of children. "As a consumer, you should have the right to know who is trying to persuade you," said Angela Campbell with the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown Law. The groups say the amount of advertising and the style in which it is presented would never fly on television. "When developing YouTube Kids, we consulted with numerous partners and child advocacy and privacy groups. We are always open to feedback on ways to improve the app," said Google. The FTC has not responded publicly to the groups' request.
Google recently updated its Google Wallet application and added several new features that make it easier to find past purchases. A new search tool lets users find transactions within the app itself, and updated receipts provide more details about the merchant, such as the location of each transaction. Google Wallet is free to download from the Play Store. The app competes with Apple Pay on the iPhone and the forthcoming Samsung Pay service for the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge.
Two consumers have withdrawn a lawsuit filed against Google in which they claimed the OS-maker artificially inflated smartphone prices by requiring phone manufacturers to include its apps. The class action lawsuit was filed in May 2014. The plaintiffs asserted that phone OEMs were forced to favor Google apps and were restricted from using apps from competitors. The judge overseeing the case said the plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate how this illegally raised prices. Google contends that phone makers don't have to use its apps at all. "Since Android's introduction, greater competition in smartphones has given consumers more choices at lower prices," said Google in an email to Reuters. Amazon's Fire Phone is a good example of a device that runs Android without Google's apps on board. Amazon supplanted Google's services with its own. Google is still facing a similar lawsuit in Europe.
Google was unable to convince a judge to dismiss a potential class action lawsuit concerning its Google Wallet application and service. A consumer sued Google in late 2013 alleging the company violated its own privacy policies by providing third-party app developers with consumer information, including street addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses. Lead plaintiff, Alice Svenson of Illinois, claims this practice raised the risk of identity theft. Though Google ceased the practice after the lawsuit was filed a year and a half ago, the plaintiff is seeking class action status, $1,000 per violation, and other punitive damages. Google Wallet has been around since 2011 and lets users store credit, debit, and loyalty cards on their phone in addition to make tap-and-go payments at participating retailers. Google didn't comment on the judge's decision.
LG today said consumers who purchase a new LG G3 smartphone will also receive its Google Cardboard-based virtual reality headset for free. LG announced the VR for G3 earlier this year. Users slip their handset into the VR for G3, similar to the Google Cardboard headset. The offer also includes an in-box QR code that unlocks a free download of select VR gaming content. LG said the virtual reality headset will be available for free while supplies last. The G3 is nearing the end of its shelf life. LG has scheduled a press event for April 28, when it is expected to debut the G4 smartphone.
Google today updated its Inbox email service with the ability to set custom snooze times. Google said Inbox should figure out when to snooze for most people based on their daily activity, but it also permits people to manually set their own morning, afternoon, and evening snooze times so they can be interruption free. In addition to the new snoozing feature, Inbox makes it easier for users to reach their contacts. Inbox, which is a substitute for Gmail, is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Yahoo today pushed out an update to its Android application that brings it inline with the iOS app, which it refreshed in January. The Android Yahoo app is now more visually engaging and makes it easier to access articles, polls, and blogs from Yahoo's digital magazines, such as Yahoo Autos, Yahoo Sports, and others. The app also now keeps Yahoo Weather and Yahoo News Digest above all the other digital sections in the news feed. Yahoo for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google today said it is giving people more options for organizing their photos and videos online. Moving forward, all the photos and videos users have stored in Google+ will be accessible from Google Drive. This change applies to the Android and iOS apps, as well as the web. Google believes adding photos/videos to drive will help people organize them more easily alongside their other files. Even so, Google+ Photos will continue to operate separately, where people can store, edit, and share their pictures. Google said Drive users should see their photos begin to appear automatically over the next few weeks.
Google today updated its Gmail application for Android devices with the ability to see all emails from various accounts in a single, master inbox. Using the new "All Inboxes" option will lump together emails from Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook, and IMAP/POP accounts into a single view. This way users can respond to emails from all their accounts without having to switch inboxes. Further, Google will automatically thread email conversations from non-Gmail addresses to help users keep their inbox under control. Other new features include improved auto-complete when using the search box, more responsive animations, larger attachment previews, and the ability to save to Drive with a single tap. The new version of Gmail for Android devices is available from the Google Play Store.
Sony today followed through on an announcement made in January concerning Sony Music Unlimited and Spotify. Sony Music Unlimited has gone offline in all 19 countries where it was offered. The service, which cost $10 per month, let Xperia device and PlayStation owners stream songs and playlists. Sony partnered with Spotify, which is officially taking Music Unlimited's place across Sony's devices. Spotify gives Sony hardware owners access to 30 million songs and 1.5 billion playlists. PlayStation owners will be able to create and listen to playlists when playing games, as well as listen to music on-demand whenever they wish. Spotify replaces Sony's Music Unlimited service on Xperia smartphones and tablets, too, but it isn't yet available. Sony said it should be ready for mobile devices soon. Spotify is already available to Android and iOS devices from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store, respectively.
Google this week pushed out an update to its Keep application for Android devices. The note-taking app adds labels, which users can take advantage of to organize their notes or make them easier to search. The app also adds scheduled reminders (daily, weekly, monthly) for recurring tasks or events. Google Keep is free to download from the Google Play Store.
TomTom today released a new version of its navigation service for Android devices. TomTom Go Mobile boasts up-to-date maps for more than 100 countries with support for offline viewing, live traffic updates, safety camera locations, points of interest, and seamless syncing with contacts. The app depicts buildings and landmarks in 3D and provides alerts ahead of known speed traps. TomTom Go Mobile offers a limited amount of free turn-by-turn navigation per month (about 60 miles). Users can upgrade to unlimited navigation for $20 for one year or $45 for three years. TomTom has removed its old navigation app from the Play Store. Consumers who've already installed the old app will be able to upgrade to the new app with a year of unlimited navigation for just $0.99. The old app will be fully discontinued Oct. 1. TomTom Go Mobile is free to download from the Play Store. It competes with Google Maps and Nokia HERE Maps, which offer unlimited navigation for free.