Motorola today announced the availability of a digital tattoo that can be used to unlock the Moto X. The tattoo is actually an adhesive based on VivaLnk’s eSkin technology. It is about the size of a nickel and adheres to the skin for about five days. Users need only tap the Moto X against the digital tattoo, which has a shimmery, metallic design, to unlock their device. According to Motorola, the tattoo is waterproof and can be used during activities such as swimming and jogging. The digital tattoo was created by Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group in cooperation with VivaLnk. VivaLnk sells the tattoos in packs of 10 for $10. It was first announced last month.
Amazon recently released a mobile wallet application for Android-based smartphones. The app, which Amazon has labeled a beta, lets people store gift cards, loyalty cards, and membership cards, which can be scanned or typed directly into the app. Amazon touts the app as a way to reduce clutter in wallets and purses. The wallet can reveal bar codes for scanning at a number of different merchants to make gift card-based payments. The wallet app does not connect to a bank account or credit card, however, and cannot be used to make tap-and-go payments via NFC. The app is free to download from the Amazon Appstore and the Google Play Store. Amazon did not immediately say if a similar app will be available to its own Fire Phone.
Google this week released a new version of Google Wallet that can capture, store, and manage gift card info. Users can add gift cards via the camera or keyboard, then show a barcode on the screen to redeem the card. Select retailers - including AMC, Best Buy, Nike, Sephora, Toys-R-Us, TGI Friday’s, and Whole Foods - have linked their systems with Google Wallet to allow the app to display remaining balances on the virtual gift cards. The app can also alert the user when they are near one of those locations. The new version of the app also adds Spanish language support and a feature to request money from friends via Gmail.
BlackBerry today revealed that the upcoming BlackBerry OS 10.3 will include a voice-activated virtual assistant, much like Siri and Google Now. BlackBerry assistant, as the app is called, will be able to interact with email, calendar, messaging, timers, and the web. In addition to voice, it also accepts input via the keyboard. Tasks it enables by voice include sending meeting invitations, searching email, setting reminders, searching the web, launching apps, changing ringer profiles, and sending messages. The Assistant learns, improving over time.
Google updated Maps for iOS devices today and added a number of new features. To start, search results now appear with descriptions directly on the map, and search results can be easily switched between list and map views. The details of search results are presented on cards similar to those used by Google Now on Android devices. The locations of reservations and appointments culled from Gmail are visible and labeled on maps, and the new explore tool provides users with recommendations based on location and time of day. Google Maps is free to download for the iPhone and iPad.
Samsung announced a change to its application storefront for smartphones and tablets that it hopes will set its offerings apart from Google's as well as reduce consumer confusion. What was previously called Samsung Apps will now be called Galaxy Apps. Samsung said the Galaxy Apps store will offer hundreds of applications exclusive to Samsung's smartphones. Further, the store will include sections and apps exclusive to specific Galaxy-branded devices. One section will include apps made specifically with Samsung's SDKs. Samsung has already redesigned its online app portal to reflect the new branding. It plans to roll out the redesigned Galaxy Apps store to its smartphones and tablets over the coming weeks.
Google today made Play Games 2.0 available to Android handsets via the Google Play Store. The updated gaming center provides an entirely new profile interface and has otherwise been redesigned. The app offers users far more personalization tools, as well as the ability to interact with gamers using iOS devices. In addition to the Play Games update, Google published a new set of SDKs and APIs for developers so they can take advantage of the changes to Play Games 2.0. Google improved the Google Play Games C++ SDK with more cross-platform support, while the Play Games iOS SDK was updated with support for Quests and Saved Games. Play Games 2.0 will eventually reach most Android devices. Developers can access the new SDKs from the Android developer portal.
Google pushed out a small update to its Android camera application this week that makes it compatible with Android Wear devices. Specifically, owners of the LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live will be able to remotely trigger their smartphone's camera from their smartwatch. The functionality includes a countdown timer, but not a viewfinder. Google Camera is free to download from the Play Store.
Google today revealed a new feature headed to the Gmail app for Android devices. The latest version of Gmail will allow Google Drive users to insert files stored in Drive directly into Gmail messages. The app will prompt users to change their Drive settings when sharing files, and will also offer autocomplete suggestions for contacts when composing messages. Google said the Gmail app will be updated with the new feature over the next few days. Sharing Drive files will work on both Android smartphones and Android tablets.
Google today said its Chromecast HDTV plugin device can now mirror the screens of nearby Android smartphones and tablets. With screen mirroring, anything that appears on the phone or tablet's screen will appear on the TV. The feature can be used to share photos or view/interact with apps on the big screen. According to Google, screen mirroring is available as a beta to Nexus devices and select phones from Samsung, HTC, and LG. Mirroring requires the Chromecast app version 1.7, which should reach the Play Store in the coming days. The Chromecast is a HDMI dongle that plugs directly into TV sets. Users can cast content, such as music and movies, from select apps to the Chromecast via Wi-Fi.
Sprint today announced it is bringing ZTE's smart projector to its network as the Sprint LivePro. ZTE announced the LivePro at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, which combines a digital projector and LTE mobile hotspot into one device. The LivePro runs Android 4.2 Jelly Bean and has its own 4-inch display. It is powered by a 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor with 2GB of RAM and runs the complete suite of Google services, such as Gmail, Maps, Drive, and YouTube. The projector can access Sprint's 3G/4G networks, including Sprint Spark, and can serve as a Wi-Fi mobile hotspot for up to eight other devices. The projector has USB and HDMI ports, and supports Miracast for mirroring the screens of nearby smartphones or tablets. The LivePro can display content up to 1080p HD at distances between 10 inches and 10 feet, for a maximum screen size of 120 inches. The bulb is rated at 100 lumens and provides 20,000 hours of of life. The LivePro has a 5,000mAh battery that can be used to charge other devices if need be. The Sprint LivePro will be available via most Sprint sales channels beginning July 11 for about $450, or $18.75 per month for 24 months with Sprint Easy Pay. Data plans start at $$35 per month for 3GB of combined 3G/4G data while on the Sprint network.
Google today added support for 13 more languages to the mobile browser-based version of Gmail for feature phones. Gmail users can now read their email in Afrikaans, Azerbaijani, Chinese, French, Zulu, and others. Gmail is free online.
Google today said the majority of Android smartphones and tablets have been upgraded to Play Services 5.0. The newest version of Play Services, which Google first revealed during its I/O developer event in June, is a major leap forward for developers. Play Services 5.0 supports new SDKs and APIs that will allow developers to be even more creative with their applications. For example, it introduces APIs for Android Wear, Google's wearables platform, as well as an updated Google Drive API, which lets developers bake more features of Google Drive directly into their own apps. Some of the other tools include a dynamic security provider API, which can enable rapid security patches; Quests and Saved Games APIs for Google Play Games, which can be used to save gameplay for later sharing; App Index API for deep linking within applications; Google Cast for improved accessibility services within Chromecast; and updated Google Wallet tools that will make it easier for consumers and developers to make use of loyalty programs, as well as split purchases between the Wallet Balance and an associated credit/debit card. Developers can access these tools via the Android Developer portal. Consumers don't need to do anything to update their device to Play Services 5.0. The update is applied automatically.
Microsoft has joined the AllSeen Alliance, an effort backed by Qualcomm to provide a standard for connecting the Internet of Things. The alliance already has 50 companies on board, including LG, Panasonic, and Sharp. The group's goal is to make it easy for devices to interact with one another by devising a single standard through which they can communicate. Qualcomm's rivals, however, are prepared to form their own group, according to unnamed sources cited by Reuters. The competing consortium may launch as soon as next week, and will seek to create its own standard for connecting the Internet of Things. Apple has already announced HomeKit, its own protocol for connecting smartphones and tablets to devices around the home. Further, Google recently released an SDK for its Nest thermostat, which will eventually allow smartphones, tablets, and other apps to interact with Nest. Multiple standards may make it more difficult for consumers to find devices that work with one another. Reuters didn't say which companies are going to support the competitor to AllSeen.
Vine has updated its Android and iOS applications and added several new features to the video-sharing social network. The app now displays loop counts, which show how many times individual Vine videos have been played by others. Vine refreshed the design of the app, cleaning up the look and making videos larger. Last, Vine redesigned the Activity screen, which now provides more info about account milestones and makes other notifications easier to discern. Vine is free to download from the Google Play Store and the iTunes App Store.
Google and Songza today announced that Google has acquired the small start-up for an undisclosed sum. Songza offers a playlist- and song-recommendation service that uses variables such as the time of day and location to cultivate selections. According to Google, there will be no immediate changes made to Songza's service. Google did not say what part of the company Songza's 40 staffers will be joining, but did say it will continue to make the service faster and easier to use. Companies such as Apple, Microsoft, and Google have been angling to improve their mobile music offerings, which Songza may be able to do for Google.
Google today said it will close its Orkut service effective September 30. Orkut is a social network of sorts that embodies communities, games, and social interactions. It has been around for a decade. Usage in the U.S. declined over the last six to eight years, but Orkut remained popular in other markets, such as Brazil and India. According to Google, the dedicated Orkut mobile application will no longer be available as of today, but those who've downloaded it will continue to be able to use the app and Orkut until the September 30 shutdown date. Google suggests users take advantage of its Google Takeout service to download and archive any content they may want saved. Account data will be inaccessible after September 30. Google will preserve the open community threads, and suggests users transition their content and communities to Google+. Google often kills underperforming products.
Google recently said it will yank its Quickoffice app from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store in the coming weeks. Google is making the change because it has published stand-alone Docs, Sheets, and Slides apps for creating and editing documents within its Google Drive service. This change applies to both the Android and iOS versions of Quickoffice. Customers who've already downloaded Quickoffice will continue to be able to use the software, but Google will no longer update the app and new customers will no longer be able to download it.
Google today made good on its promise to release a preview of the next-generation Android platform to developers. The L Developer Preview is available for download from Google's developer web site. It is compatible with the Nexus 5 and Nexus 7 (2013 Wi-Fi model). The operating system will need to be installed manually. The preview is not meant for general consumers; it is for developers or others with the technical know-how to install the operating system. Google warns that the preview may not be stable, and may not work properly with all third-party applications. Google is expected to make Android Release L available to consumers in the fall. Google is providing developers with an early look at the operating system so they may prepare their applications. Apple does a similar thing with iOS, releasing successive betas between the time the OS is first announced and when it goes live.
Google today rolled out updates to its core productivity apps associated with Google Drive. The chief new feature is the ability to edit Microsoft Word documents - online or offline - natively with no need for plugins or conversions. Google Docs users will be able to make whatever edits they need to Word documents and send them back as Word files. Google Drive also brings Slides to mobile devices for the first time. Android smartphone and tablet owners can now create, edit, and interact with slide presentations on their mobile devices. Another new feature is called Suggested Edits. Using a new tool called Commenting Access, document owners can give others the ability to add comments or suggestions to documents, but not the power to make actual edits. This leaves the document owner in control. Last, Google has given Drive a performance boost both on mobile devices (Android and iOS) and the web. Google says Drive now takes advantage of background syncing so files load faster, and the cloud-based storage service delivers search results quicker, too. The new versions of Drive, Docs, Sheets, and Slides will be available in the Play Store and iTunes App Store beginning today.
Google today showed off Google Fit. Similar to Apple's HealthKit, Google Fit will be a platform through which Android and Google customers can track and manage their healthcare and fitness data across apps. Some of the initial partners supporting Google Fit include Adidas, Basis, Nike, RunKeeper, and Withings. Google will release an SDK in the coming weeks so developers can integrate Google Fit into their Android apps.
Google today introduced Android for Work, a new capability of Android that will allow people to separate their personal and business information and keep them secure. Android for Work is based in part on Samsung's Knox enterprise security platform. It will function without requiring developers to recode their apps. It gives business IT admins the ability to bulk install apps on remote employee devices, as well as manage IT policies and wipe/lock devices as needed. Android for Work is compatible with all versions of Android running Ice Cream Sandwich and up.
As part of its I/O keynote, Google said that Android applications are coming to its Chrome platform. Chrome is Google's browser and the operating system for its own Chromebooks and Chromeboxes. Chromebook owners will be able to access and interact with some of their Android apps on the desktop of their laptop. Further, Chrome users will receive notifications pushed from their nearby Android devices to their laptop. The Android apps appear in a phone-sized window on the desktop. The new capability will be reserved to Android devices running the L release, which is expected to arrive this fall.
Google today announced Android TV, a new platform that will bring certain features of the Android operating system to smart TVs. The platform can be embedded in HDTVs, as well as installed in stand-alone boxes. It lets Android smartphones and tablets connect directly to TVs and control them. Android TV supports Play Store content, including games, and third party apps. Some of the initial batch of apps that will work on Android TV include Netflix, Plex, iHeartRadio, TuneIn Radio, and others. Further, Android TV supports casting, which will let Android smartphone and tablet owners push content from their mobile device to Android TV. The Google Play store for television sets will launch in the fall, as will Android TV set top boxes. Television makers such as Sony and Sharp will incorporate Android TV into their 2015 lineup. Google also talked about its Chromecast product. Chromecast is a thumb drive plug-in for HDTVs that can project audio and video content from Android devices to TVs. Until today, Chromecast required users to connect via the same Wi-Fi network. Chromecast is being updated, however, with the ability to cast from separate Wi-Fi networks. This means people can push content to a TV even when they aren't there or even nearby. The tool uses Google's cloud for authentication. Chromecast also adds the ability to exactly mirror what's on the screen of Android smartphones and tablets. The new features for Chromecast will arrive later this year.
Google today announced Android Auto, its new platform for connecting smartphones to select cars. Similar to Apple's CarPlay, Android Auto will project a simplified version of key apps to the car's infotainment system. Like Android Wear, Android Auto relies heavily on Google Now and its voice-based commands for interacting with the system. It brings over the phone app, Google Maps, Play Music, Search, and a handful of others that drivers can access when in their car. Android Auto will be baked into the L release of Android, which is expected to arrive this fall. According to Google, two dozen car makers have agree to support the platform and will roll cars off assembly lines with Android Auto preloaded by the end of the year.
Google today provided a deeper look at what Android Wear - its platform for wearable devices - will be able to do. Android Wear will first be deployed on smart watches, with LG, Samsung, and Motorola making the first wave of hardware. Much of Android Wear's functionality comes from Google Now and its voice-controlled searches and actions. The user interface includes multiple screens that are accessed by swiping up and down, and back and forth. Many of Android Wear's initial powers will center on interacting with smartphone-based notifications. The Google Now functionality adds tools such as voice reminders, voice search, and similar powers to the platform. Android Wear supports third-party apps thanks to the full SDK, which Google made available to developers today. The apps are automatically installed on Wear when the corresponding version is installed on the associated smartphone. The LG G watch and the Samsung Gear Live will be available for sale later today, with the Moto 360 arriving later this summer. Google didn't provide details about the hardware, but they can be ordered via the Google Play Store.
Google today talked about some of the new features that will eventually appear in the L release of Android later this year. Google has re-envisioned the lock screen to incorporate more of the notifications, as well as the ability to automatically unlock the device when a trusted wearable is nearby. Android L also brings the Material Design language to the web to improve the overall experience, such as overlapping cards to represent open Chrome tabs. L will also offer a new keyboard design. Moving forward, Android L will rely on the ART runtime engine instead of Dalvik, which has served for several years. Google says ART offers a two-times improvement in app performance across the platform. ART is also more memory efficient, and is optimized 64-bit processing. The platform includes the Android Extension Pack to improve graphics performance. Google took time to improve the platform's efficiency, too. Project Volta, for example, took aim at helping OEMs and developers improve battery life by more optimizing their apps. Further, Android L adds its own Battery Saver tool to help extend the life of a battery when it reaches critical levels. L builds in more malware protection and ways for Android users to secure their device and make sure apps are scanned for safety. Google said the L release will arrive in the fall, though developers will have access to it earlier.
Google today talked about the next version of Android during its I/O Developer conference. According to Google, it represents one of the biggest releases of Android ever, and includes 5,000 new APIs for developers. Google wanted to streamline the user experience across all its platforms, including smartphones, tablets, and computers (including Chrome OS). To that end, it created a new design language called Material Design. Material Design adds a new element to the user interface by allowing developers to designate depth for their apps, as well as colors. The company also updated its Roboto font and added rich, animated touch feedback to apps. The design lets developers create more seamless animations between screens and apps with the same user interface across platforms. It released a first draft the new design tools to developers today.
Google today announced a new program called Android One in order to reach more of the world's consumers with smartphones. The program provides reference hardware and software features that OEMs can use to craft low-cost devices. Google will debut Android One hardware made by Micromax, Karbonn, and Spice in India later this year.
AT&T today made available two new services developed by a company called Muuzii that can translate messages and speech between two phones in real-time. Muuzii Message lets subscribers enter a phrase via text message and instantly see the translation for sending. Similarly, Muuzii Speak records a snippet of speech and returns an audio file with the translated response complete with pronunciation guide. According to Muuzii, its service doesn't rely on canned or preformed responses, it translates free-spoken languages using the correct and/or correlative jargon, phrases, and terminology. The service translates English to Spanish, Spanish to English, and English to Chinese. Muuzii Message costs AT&T subscribers $2.99 per month and Muuzii Speak costs $3.99 per month. The service is compatible with all phones, not just smartphones Muuzii said it hopes to expand to other North American operators over time. The service competes with the likes of Google Translate and Samsung's S Translator, which are both free to use but are limited to Android smart devices.
Microsoft today overhauled its cloud storage service OneDrive and is offering more storage for less money at all price points. To start, Microsoft has increased the standard, free 7GB storage amount for all OneDrive users to 15GB. Microsoft's move puts OneDrive inline with Google Drive, which also offers 15GB for free. Customers who need more than 15GB in OneDrive can buy more if they so choose. Microsoft is asking $2 per month for 100GB and $4 per month for 200GB (previously $7.50 and $11.50, respectively). Further, Microsoft is increasing the OneDrive capacity available to all Office365 subscribers (professional, home, student subscriptions) to 1TB. The increases are all automatic and will go into effect next month.
Google recently added a new feature to Google Search for Android devices that makes it faster than ever to listen to new artists. From now on, when users ask Google Search about an artist or band, they'll be able to tap a link in the search results and play the artist's music in one of the music apps installed on the phone. The playback feature works with Google Play, Spotify, YouTube, iHeartRadio, TuneIn Radio, and Rdio. Instant playback through Google Search only works in the U.S., but Google hopes to expand it to more markets and music apps over time.
Google has made factory images of Android 4.4.4 available for download from its developer site. The operating system is for Nexus devices only, including the Nexus 4 and 5 smartphones and the Nexus 7 and 10 tablets. Google has not indicated when it will push the updates out over the air. These updates are for knowledgeable users who can install system updates manually. Google only recently updated the Nexus devices to Android 4.4.3. Google didn't immediately say what is new in the minor system jump.
Google has added another core Android application to the growing list of those that can be updated outside of full-on system upgrades. Google made the generic email application that ships on many Android phones (separate from the official Gmail app) available as a stand-alone app in the Play Store. The app can handle IMAP, POP, and Exchange email services such as Yahoo, Hotmail, or Outlook. This app is often skinned by the network operator selling the phone in question. Google offers stand-alone versions of Gmail, Maps, Hangouts, the Camera, and others so more Android device owners can enjoy new features in these apps without the need to update their entire device.
Samsung and Nokia have both recently made available launchers for Android devices that serve as alternatives to their normal approach for home screen behavior. Terrain (pictured) comes from a Samsung-sponsored developer and is free to download from the Google Play Store. It features a customizable sidebar that can be used to house all the owner's favorites, including apps, web sites, contacts, and so on. The launcher includes interchangeable cards that can hold separate apps, shortcuts, and data. Terrain also includes a phone search tool that it claims is faster for finding things stored on the device. Terrain's main goal is to help Android users personalize their handset in ways the stock Android tools don't allow for, while streamlining the experience and making it quicker to reach apps and services. Terrain was built using HTML5 and the company is offering developers an API so they can contribute their own cards to a Terrain-backed store, which will launch later this year. Similarly, Nokia released Z Launcher as a limited beta. (Nokia offers several Android handsets, which are now being sold by Microsoft.) Z Launcher is a learning launcher that adjusts what it shows the phone owner on the home screen throughout the day depending on their pattern of behavior. For example, in the morning Z Launcher will present apps such as email and the calendar, while in the evening it will present apps such as Facebook and Spotify. Nokia says Z Launcher improves its predictions over time. Further, Z Launcher includes a gesture search tool that lets users initiate searches from the home screen by tracing letters on the glass. Z Launcher can be downloaded directly from Nokia.
Google and Microsoft today indicated they will add theft deterrent tools to their respective mobile platforms. The commitment comes after major cities, including New York and San Francisco, saw significant drops in iPhone thefts during the first few months on the year. Apple added kill switch tools to the iPhone when it introduced iOS 7 last September. Google has yet to spell out the specifics of its kill switch feature, but Microsoft said it will add a kill switch to all devices running Windows Phone 8 and up. The Windows Phone tool will allow owners to: remotely wipe personal data from the phone; render the smartphone inoperable; prevent reactivation without the owner's permission; reverse the inoperability if the phone is recovered; and restore user data if the phone was erased. These functions will be added to Windows Phone's Find My Phone tool. Microsoft said it will have the tool ready before the July 2015 deadline set by the CTIA for implementing such features. Lawmakers have been urging phone makers and carriers to add these tools for well more than a year. The CTIA Wireless Association, which lobbies for the wireless industry in Washington, voluntarily set up a timeline for theft deterrent tools which are to be added to all new phones by next year. The commitments from Google and Microsoft should help speed up those efforts. The long-term goal is to reduce the number of smartphone thefts, which are popular targets due to their value.
YouTube is preparing to launch a paid music service in order to compete with similar offerings from Pandora and Spotify. "We're adding subscription-based features for music on YouTube with this in mind -- to bring our music partners new revenue streams in addition to the hundreds of millions of dollars YouTube already generates for them each year," said YouTube in a statement provided to Reuters. YouTube has been criticized by some record labels that claim the company will block their content unless they agree to join the service. Sources cited by Reuters say YouTube has already signed deals with 95% of the labels with which it already works to offer music videos online. YouTube, which is owned by Google, will likely work in conjunction with Google Play All Access, Google's own $10-per-month music service. YouTube's music offering is expected to launch later this year.
Sony recently released an application for the Xperia Z2 called Live on YouTube. The app allows the Xperia Z2 handset to stream live video feeds directly to YouTube. The app follows the path set by Sony's Social Live application, released last year, which lets Xperia devices broadcast live video directly to Facebook. The new app permits streaming of up to 15 minutes of live 480p footage, which is then recorded and stored on the owner's YouTube channel. The app displays likes/dislikes, and allows Z2 owners to adjust the privacy of videos as well as share them after the live stream ends. The app requires a verified YouTube account in good standing. It is free for Z2 owners and can be downloaded from the Google Play Store. Sony announced the Z2 earlier this year, though it has yet to release the phone in the U.S. According to Sony, the Z2 will be made available to U.S. consumers this summer via its web site, where it will be sold unlocked at full price.
Facebook has pushed out an update to its Messenger application for both Android and iOS and added several new features. The most significant new feature is the ability to record and send 15-second video clips to other Facebook users from within the app itself. This feature is found in competing chat app Snapchat, and will be part of the native messaging app in Apple's iOS 8 when it arrives later this year. The app also makes it easier to share photos and to insert stickers. The iOS version adds "Big Likes," which Facebook says are an even bigger version of its thumbs up graphic. Facebook Messenger for Android and iOS is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store, respectively.
U.S. Cellular and ZTE today announced the Grand S Pro, a high-end Android smartphone that costs $99 with a two-year contract. The Grand S Pro features a 5-inch 720p display protected by Dragontrail Glass, and it is powered by a quad-core 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor with 2GB of RAM. The Grand S Pro includes a 13-megapixel main camera with LED flash, autofocus, 1080p HD video capture and Pro Mode, as well as a 2-megapixel user-facing camera for video chats and selfies. The phone had 8GB of built-in storage and supports microSD cards up to 32GB for added capacity. The Grand S Pro can access and use U.S. Cellular's LTE 4G network, and it includes dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, MHL, and GPS. It runs Android 4.3 Jelly Bean and includes a 2,300mAh battery. The ZTE Grand S Pro is available starting today for $99 with a contract or $249 at full retail price.