Google will not participate in next month's spectrum auction, says the company. The deadline to file applications for the auction passed on February 10. "Like all those interested in improved connectivity and equitable access, we'll be following the upcoming spectrum auction closely. That said, we have not filed to participate," explained a spokesperson in a statement provided to Reuters. Carriers AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless have all indicated an interest in the auction, although Sprint will not participate. The reverse auction will see television broadcasters sell their 600 MHz airwaves to wireless network operators. Google did participate in the 700 MHz auction several years ago.
Google today said it plans to retire Picasa, which has long served as its online photo management service, in favor of the newer Google Photos product. Google hopes to accomplish the transition over the next few months and said it is taking pains to ensure users' photos and memories are preserved. Picasa users will be able to access, manage, and add to their existing Picasa web albums via Google Photos immediately. Google says people who are not interested in using Google Photos can still access their Picasa web albums, but will no longer be able to add to or manage them, aside from downloading the image library. The Picasa desktop app will continue to function, but Google says it will not be updated after March 15. Picasa and Google Photos users can instead make use of the Photos uploader tool for adding images to their online library. Google stresses that these changes are not happening immediately. The general transition away from Picasa will begin May 1, giving users plenty of time to download, move, or otherwise manage their Picasa web albums.
Lawmakers in California and New York want to ban the sale of encrypted mobile devices, but two members of Congress are fighting back. Reps. Ted Lieu of California and Blake Farenthold of Texas introduced the ENCRYPT Act this week, a federal law that would prevent states or other local governments from mandating weak handset security. Law enforcement officials want the ability to break into the phones of suspects. Devices running Android and iOS are encrypted by default, and Apple and Google refuse to decrypt them. The ENCRYPT Act is a response to bills introduced in California and New York. "Different rules in different states create a myriad of issues and will actually make it more difficult for law enforcement officials," said Rep. Farenthold. "We need a unified approach to this issue that both protects security and privacy while enabling law enforcement to keep us safe. The California and New York proposals do not solve the problem." Farenthold said backdoors could be exploited by hackers, thereby rendering the very idea of encrypting devices useless. Farenthold and Lieu hope their act will ensure the conversation regarding encryption is handled at the federal level.
Google has updated its Keep note-taking app for Android devices and on the web. Now, the app and web offer a more consistent experience for creating notes, setting reminders, sharing, and managing lists. With the same control panel appearing online and on mobile devices, Keep users should have an easier time managing their notes. Users can now also set specific start times for morning, afternoon, and evening, rather than rely on Google's definitions for those periods. Last, web users can add a shortcut to Google Keep to their account panel. Google Keep is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google says the latest release of Chrome for Android supports Eddystone Bluetooth beacons and can surface what's known as "physical web" content to nearby devices. Google's Eddystone beacons can now broadcast web content, such as URLs, to Android devices within range. Google says this means developers will be able to make Android users aware of this content through notifications, which will let people see a list of web sites pertaining to nearby points of interest. For example, the Golden State Warriors basketball team is pushing highlight videos and other content to fans who attend games at Oracle Arena. This new capability is reaching Chrome 49 in the beta channel first. It will eventually be pushed out to all Android devices through the Plat Store.
Qualcomm today announced Snapdragon Wear, a new platform for wearable devices. The Snapdragon Wear 2100 system-on-a-chip is the first product in the Snapdragon Wear platform and is meant to improve next-generation smartwatches. The Wear 2100 replaces the Snapdragon 400. The new SoC is 30% smaller than the Snapdragon 400, which can lead to slimmer designs, and reduces power needs by 25%, which can help improve battery life. The Wear 2100 includes a low-power sensor hub for managing input, and can be paired with WiFi and LTE radios for connectivity. The system-on-a-chip supports Google's Android Wear operating system, as well as Android itself. Qualcomm sees the Snapdragon Wear 2100 forming the core of advanced smartwatches and basic smartwatches alike, as well as smart bands, smart eyewear, and headsets. Qualcomm says Snapdragon Wear 2100 is available to its hardware partners immediately.
Google is hoping to protect Gmail users by making them more aware of secure and insecure messages. Moving forward, Gmail will display an open lock icon for Google Apps users who receive messages from email services that don't support an encrypted connection. The same applies when users are about to send an email through unprotected servers. Google says people sending messages between Google-hosted domains won't see the open lock icon because Gmail operates through secure servers. Further, if Google can't authenticate the sender of an email via Sender Policy Framework or DKIM, it will replace the sender's profile photo with a question mark. Google believes these visual clues will help people tread more carefully when opening and responding to emails. Google also suggests Gmail users take advantage of two-step verification, activate Data Loss Prevention, check and fine-tune spam settings, and enforce mobile device policies. These changes will role out to Google Apps users (business accounts) over the next few weeks.
The latest version of Google Hangouts allows mobile devices to establish a peer-to-peer connection when possible in order to improve the quality of phone calls. Older versions of Hangouts passed calls through Google's servers. Google says the direct connection is more efficient and offers a boost in audio and video quality. Google Hangouts is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google today announced Android Wear 1.4, which adds a fistful of new features. Chiefly, Android-based smartwatches can now make and take calls via Bluetooth when the wearable itself includes a speaker. Google says this is limited to the Huawei Watch and the ASUS ZenWatch 2 at the moment, but it expects more watches to ship with speakers and calling support over time. Watches with speakers can also be used to listen to audio messages from apps such as Glide. Android Wear 1.4 also expands the number of apps able to use voice actions to dictate and send messages, which now includes, Google Hangouts, Nextplus, Telegram, Viber, WeChat, and WhatsApp. Last, Google added a few new wrist gestures to the platform. For example, Android smartwatches can now expand cards, bring up the app drawer, or return home with a push, lift, or shake, respectively. Google says Android Wear 1.4 is rolling out to Android smartwatches over the next few days.
Google today said it is expanding its Safe Browsing protection to further keep people safe when browsing the mobile web. Specifically, Google is now targeting social engineering attacks, which often trick users into downloading unwanted software or revealing personal data by looking like the device's native software. Google will go after ads that pretend to "act, or look and feel, like a trusted entity — like your own device, or browser" and those that attempt to "trick you into doing something you'd only for a trusted entity" such as sharing a password or phone number. Google turned on Safe Browsing in Chrome on Android devices by default last year. This improvement in Safe Browsing will add another layer of protection for mobile surfers.
Turing today said the Turing Phone will allow owners to access the Play Store and standard Android apps, even though the phone runs Sailfish OS. "Turing Phone supports Google Play Store and Android apps via the Alien Dalvik engine running on the Sailfish OS 2.0," said Turing to Phonescoop in an email. The company has dropped Google's Android platform in favor of Sailfish OS for its security-focused smartphone, due later this year. Sailfish, based on Linux, was developed and is licensed by Jolla.
Turing Robotics Industries today informed those who preordered its smartphone that the device will ship with Sailfish OS instead of Android. The Turing Phone was first announced last year. Turing Robotics pitched the phone as an ultra-secure handset for those seeking private communications. When first announced, Turing said the phone would run Android 5.1 Lollipop. In a newsletter emailed to supporters, however, Turing confirmed plans to drop Android for Jolla's Sailfish OS. Turing says its phone "will still be able to run Android Apps on the Sailfish OS without issue" and "an Android application store will be available for you to download your favorite apps." A Turing representative could not tell Phonescoop if the Android app store referenced in the newsletter is the Google Play Store or some other Android app store. Turing claims the phone runs very quickly with Sailfish OS on board and the company expects the phone to ship in April. Sailfish OS was created by Jolla, composed chiefly of former Nokia employees. Sailfish is based on the discarded Meego Linux platform. Late last year, Jolla ran into financial difficulties and laid off a significant portion of its staff. The company also cancelled its hardware plans, including a phone and tablet. Jolla now exists to license Sailfish OS to other OEMs. Turing is one of the first companies to voice support for the fledgling platform.
Google is now delivering a security patch to Nexus smartphones and tablets. The patch resolves 10 issues, of which five are considered to be critical. The two most severe problems could allow for remote code execution through a WiFi driver and a media server. Google found the vulnerabilities in January and alerted its hardware partners to the problems. The security patch is available via factory images from Google's developer web site, but the company will push the update out over the air in the days ahead. Google plans to provide a new version of Android 6 Marshmallow to the Android Open Source Project in a day or two. Google says to the best of its knowledge that the security holes were not exploited. BlackBerry, too, is pushing the February security patch to the BlackBerry Priv smartphone. Other phone makers are expected to deliver the patch in the weeks ahead.
Yahoo today made new versions of Yahoo Mail available to Android and iOS devices. The refreshed email application brings customizable swiping gestures to both platforms. For example, users can set swipes to add stars to individual messages, move them to specific folders, delete messages, or archive them. The Android app gains the ability to reply to incoming notifications and the redesigned multi-select toolbar adds a wider array of actions. The iOS app now lets users see recent attachments when composing emails, as well as create, delete, and organize folders. Yahoo Mail for Android and iOS is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store, respectively.
Yahoo today unveiled a redesigned home page on the web and new, corresponding apps for Android and iOS devices. Yahoo said the new design should make news and other content easier to find, read, and share. It reduced the number of new pages or tabs that users need to open when browsing through stories, and offers more suggestions for related content. Users can "heart" content and Yahoo's learning engine will use that information to deliver a more curated set of stories over time. The Yahoo app is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.
Google Docs on Android and iOS mobile devices took a big step forward today with the addition of commenting. Google says document collaborators can now easily make comments in Docs, Sheets, and Slides files from their smartphone or tablet. Further, users can tag colleagues in comments to include them in conversations. The tools should help boost the productivity of Docs users on Android and iOS devices, as well as the desktop, as everyone can make, see, and respond to comments. Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides are free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.
Google today said it has partnered with semiconductor startup Movidius to bring deep learning to smartphones. Movidius specializes in computer vision and helped with Google's Project Tango 3D mapping effort. Google's Android handsets are already able to identify objects in photos, but a network connection is required to send the images to Google's servers where the calculations take place. This new venture will see smartphones handle object recognition on their own, independent from Google's servers. Under its arrangement with Movidius, Google plans to purchase an unspecified number of the company's MA2450 chips along with the necessary software. "By working with Movidius, we're able to expand this technology beyond the data center and out into the real world, giving people the benefits of machine intelligence on their personal devices," said Google. Movidius' chief executive said it believes Google will add these features to smartphones sooner rather than later, but Google has not spelled out exactly how the MA2450 will be put to use in future handsets.
Samsung has detailed a security update that's headed to its Galaxy smartphones. The update includes the most recent Android system-level security patch from Google, as well as fixes for vulnerabilities specific to Samsung's phones. Samsung says it is resolving seven problems that impact some of its devices, including the Galaxy S6. Several of the issues earned a critical rating and could lead to remote code execution. Samsung didn't say how quickly the security update will be delivered to its handsets.
Google has updated Hangouts for Android devices and added the ability to send responses to incoming notifications. The new function makes it quicker to fire off replies, as it doesn't require users to fully open the Hangouts app. Hangouts 7.0 also now lets users pin conversation shortcuts to the home screen for quick access to specific threads. Hangouts 7.0 requires Android 4.1 and up and is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google today updated its Inbox application with new search tools that should make certain types of information easier to find. For example, when searching for a tracking number Inbox will automatically find tracking numbers buried within emails and show the numbers and the corresponding messages at the top of search results. This tool works with details like phone numbers, addresses, order numbers, reservations, and frequent flyer numbers. Inbox now delivers streamlined search results, too. For example, under the quick answers box users will see a "top results" section that orders emails according to their relevance, followed by all the results in chronological order. Google believes these new tools will save Inbox users time. Inbox works with Gmail and is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google has made it easier for owners of Android devices to sign-in to and use Google Games. Moving forward, players will only have to sign-in once per account, rather than once per game, and players no longer need to have a Google+ account to use Play Games services. Google has been slowly dropping the Google+ requirement from its services over the last year. "We're taking [these] steps to reduce sign-in friction and unnecessary permission requests for players," explained Google. "Once a user signs in for first time, new games will generally be able to sign-in without any user interaction." In order to make this happen, Google is changing the Games API and suggests developers check out the new permissions model. While the move does ease some pain points for end users, developers are the real beneficiaries. Erasing hurdles in the sign-in process means people who've downloaded a game are more likely to play it.
Four senior executives at Twitter have revealed plans to leave the company. The four include product chief Kevin Weil; head of engineering Alex Roetter; VP of global media, Katie Jacobs Stanton; and VP of human resources, Skip Schipper. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey confirmed the departures and said each exec made the decision to leave separately within the last few weeks. Dorsey framed the them as "taking some well-deserved time off." Twitter COO Adam Bain and CTO Adam Messinger will take on some of the departed execs' responsibilities while the company searches for replacements. Dorsey said the company plans to bring on a new CMO as well as new board members. Jason Toff, the general manager of Vine (owned by Twitter), also announced plans to depart. Toff is headed to Google, where he will join the virtual reality team. Twitter has struggled to win over new users and has seen its share price erode dramatically over the last few months.
Checking the weather forecast via Google Search just received a big upgrade. On Android devices, searches in the Google app for "weather" will include far more information than before in a more appealing design. For example, the app will change background colors in response to sky conditions, time of day, and season. The refreshed weather report will show precipitation potential, severe weather alerts, air quality/UV index, sunrise/sunset times, and a look ahead at the 10-day forecast. Further, users will be able to save favorite locations, which will be available in a drop-down tool. The Google Search app for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google is about to make its Chrome browser much faster. The company is ready to use a new compression algorithm called Brotli, according to Google engineer Ilya Grigorik. Brotli can compress web sites in a way that makes them up to 26% smaller than Chrome's current algorithm, called Zopfli. Smaller web sites take less time to transit wireless networks. Brotli will be added to the next version of Chrome for desktop and mobile devices, though Grigorik did not say when that might be. It's possible Google will push a Brotli-equipped build of Chrome through its beta channel first.
Microsoft today updated Skype for Android with new ways to work with Outlook and Office. The latest version of Microsoft's calling and messaging app allows users to schedule calls in Outlook from Skype easily by tapping the contact's name and using the scheduling tool to send an invite. This feature is available to other calendar apps, too, says Microsoft. Skype now also supports Word, PowerPoint, and Excel documents, which can be opened directly in the app from within chat threads. Users who've not already downloaded Microsoft's Office apps for Android will be prompted to install the app before they can open the shared file in Skype. Skype for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google has made it possible to install apps onto Android phones directly from Google Search results. The new tool bypasses the Play Store entirely, though a link to the Play Store is still available for those seeking more details about the app. Free apps can be installed from Search results with a single tap. The feature is being rolled out to users over time, but Phone Scoop was able to confirm that it does in fact work. The idea is to cut down the number of steps required to install apps, which is better for app developers and consumers alike.
Sony today announced News Suite, a free news app for Android handsets. The app is a dramatically overhauled version of Sony's older SocialLife app. News Suite allows users too customize preferred media outlets and subscribe to feeds from sites around the world. The two-tabbed system, says Sony, lets people view general and personalized news stories separately. Users can take advantage of key words to find and populate their feed with news about select subjects or people. This redesigned SocialLife / News Suite app strips out Twitter and YouTube browsing, but adds saved reading lists and article sharing. News Suite is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google has updated the Google Play Developer Console for app writers and added the ability to generate and distribute promotional codes. The idea is to encourage users to check out new games or continue playing ones they already own. Promo codes can be used to cover the cost of entire apps or games, as well as in-app purchases. Developers will be limited to 500 codes per app per quarter, and Google suggests they be used to reward loyal users or attract new ones. The Apple iTunes App Store has offered promo codes for years.
Google today updated the SDK for Google Cardboard and added support for spatial audio. Until today, Cardboard apps were limited to stereo sound. The addition of spatial audio will allow developers to create more immersive sound environments to match their VR experiences. Google says the SDK lets developers specify the size and material of their virtual environment, which impacts how sound moves around objects and to the listener's ears. Adding spatial audio will have minimal impact on CPU performance needs, so it shouldn't affect battery life. The Unity version of the SDK can be used to bring spatial auto to Android, iOS, Windows, and OS X devices, while the native Android SDK will require only a simple Java API. Developers can download the updated SDK directly from Google.
Google is adding a feature to Google Maps for Android today that guesses where drivers want to go and then helps them get there. Driving Mode factors in the user's home and work addresses, in addition to other destinations from previous searches. When in Driving Mode, for example, Maps will know you've left work and are headed toward home. If it sees traffic problems ahead, it can reroute users even if you haven't selected home as your destination. Alternately, if people sometimes go to the gym after work, it can offer directions there instead. "With a simple shortcut on your home screen, you'll head straight into the new Driving Mode so you're sure to get where you're going on the quickest route possible — without entering a destination," said Google in a statement provided to VentureBeat. "Get information like ETAs, traffic updates, nearby gas prices, and quickest routes to familiar places — like home, work, and recently searched destinations — all from your home screen." Driving Mode has been added to the latest version of Maps, but will be limited in its rollout to the U.S., United Arab Emirates, Great Britain, Ireland, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Singapore. Driving Mode is being made available slowly over the course of the next week.
Google has given the Nexus 5X a permanent price cut. The handset now sells for $349 (16 GB) and $399 (32 GB). Those prices represent a drop of $30 each.
Huawei today announced the immediate availability of a gold version of the popular Nexus 6P Android phone. It's available in both 32 and 64 GB versions, from Best Buy and Google.
Google today highlighted its January security patch, which is first being delivered to Nexus smartphones and tablets. The patch resolves 12 issues, of which five are considered critical. The most severe could enable remote code execution via email, the web, and picture/video messages. Google says it discovered the vulnerabilities earlier this year and alerted its parters on December 7. Google has already made the patch available in factory image form via the Google Developer Site. It will release the associated patches to the Android Open Source Project within the next 48 hours, and will push the update over the air to Nexus handsets in the next few days. Google said, as far it is aware, none of the vulnerabilities were exploited.
Fiat Chrysler today followed Ford in voicing support for Google's Android Auto and Apple's CarPlay interfaces. The fourth generation of Fiat Chrysler's Uconnect platform will add the smartphone-linking software to select 2016 models. Both Android Auto and CarPlay allow smartphones to push certain content to the in-dash infotainment center for accessing maps, music, messaging, and calling features. Fiat Chrysler did not say which cars will gain the latest Uconnect platform, nor exactly when it will begin the rollout.
Ford today announced an update to its Sync 3 in-car infotainment system, to support Apple CarPlay and Google's Android Auto. All 2017 Ford models with Sync 3 will support CarPlay and Android Auto, and an update will be offered for 2016 models with Sync 3. Ford has previously supported Apple's Siri Eyes-Free for integrated Siri voice control with iPhones. The new support brings a car-oriented visual interface to the dash display, powered by the phone. The update to Sync 3 also brings LTE connectivity, allowing owners to remotely start and unlock their car from their smartphone. Ford joins Audi, Volkswagen, Kia, GM, Hyundai, Nissan, Volvo, Subaru, and Honda in supporting both CarPlay and Android Auto.
Google plans to take Oracle's proprietary Java code out of the Android operating system. Rather than rely on Oracle's Java Development Kit (JDK), Google will switch to the OpenJDK. Android is based on Java and the JDKs are what manage the APIs and other tools developers need to create apps. "As an open-source platform, Android is built upon the collaboration of the open-source community," said Google to VentureBeat. "In our upcoming release of Android, we plan to move Android's Java language libraries to an OpenJDK-based approach, creating a common code base for developers to build apps and services. Google has long worked with and contributed to the OpenJDK community, and we look forward to making even more contributions to the OpenJDK project in the future." Oracle, which developed Java, makes two versions of its JDK, a proprietary one and an open one. Android uses both, but mostly the proprietary one controlled by Oracle. Google says moving to the OpenJDK will simplify things for app developers, but as VentureBeat points out, the change also protects future versions of Android from litigation. Oracle sued Google in 2010 over its use of Java APIs that it claims are patented. The case has bounced around several courts and has yet to be resolved. Google did not comment on the current status of the Oracle lawsuit.
Google is prepping a mobile messaging app that is assisted by artificial intelligence, reports the Wall Street Journal. The service will integrate chatbots with a message application that will allow people to converse with friends or bots. The bots can scour the web to answer questions, said people familiar with Google's plans. The unnamed service does not have a projected launch date, but aims to compete with offerings from Facebook and others. Google declined to comment on the Journal's story.
Microsoft has removed the Hey, Cortana catchphrase from the Cortana app for Android devices. Uttering the phrase within earshot of an Android handset could launch Cortana. A bug, however, locked up Google Now on some users' devices an in some instances impeded the ability to make phone calls. A recent update to the Android Cortana removes the Hey, Cortana feature and makes several other tweaks, such as improving calling and messaging actions. Microsoft did not say if or when the feature might return. Cortona is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google has spent the last few weeks pushing Google Play Services 8.4 to Android devices and today released the SDK developers need to access the new features within. Most of the benefits of Play Services 8.4 are developer facing, rather than end-user facing. For example, developers can let app users share the app via email, or discover more information about game player churn and spending habits. The new version of Play Services improve the Fused Location Provider API so it is able to determine location via cell tower with much greater accuracy. This can help apps save power when pulling in needed location data. Play Services 8.4 also adds support for Aztec bar codes, background scanning for Eddystone beacons, and text auto-complete for location names. Last, step counts and other Google Fit data will sync consistently across handsets, wearables, and third-party fitness apps / watch faces. The Play Services 8.4 SDK is available to developers from Google's Android developer portal. Most Android handsets and tablets should already be running Play Services 8.4.