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printed November 19, 2017
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Google Endows Assistant with More App Smarts

Wednesday, 3:09 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced a comprehensive update to the Google Assistant. Most of the changes are meant for developers, but everyone will benefit from Assistant's improved ability to interact with third-party applications. To start, Assistant will help people find apps in a more seamless and natural way. For example, updates to the app directory will surface trending sections that change over time. New subcategories are on deck, as well, which will break down directories to provide more fine-tuned results. Google says it is able to do this by using the description developers provide for their apps and keyboard match that text with spoken voice queries made by end users. Finding apps will be aided by implicit discovery, as well, or the ability to connect with an app using contextual queries, such as "fix my bike." Developers will have access to badges that call out family-friendly apps, as well as expanded international support thanks to the addition of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese. Other changes target how apps use Assistant to interact directly with people, such as transferring phone calls from the Google Home to a smartphone. Apps will have new powers for handling the end of conversations, such as providing polite or informative farewells, cancelling requests, and finding the right time to suggest account linking. Last, Google wants to ensure developers and their Assistant-powered apps are engaging with users. Moving forward, apps will be able to provide daily updates, gentle suggestions, and push notifications (thanks to a new API.) For example, Google says developers will be able to send alerts via Assistant about upcoming sales or discounts to those who've expressed interest. Google is encouraging developers to put these new tools to use within their Assistant-connected apps. Google hopes the end result will be more useful and informative apps for end users that are discovered and accessed via Google Assistant.

Google Refreshes Maps to Help Aid Navigation

Wednesday, 1:15 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced a significant change to the appearance of Google Maps. According to Google, it has updated the look of driving, navigation, and transit maps in a way so ancillary information is more visible, such as gas stations when driving or train stations when riding the rails. Maps now relies on a new color scheme to define its legend and (hopefully) make it easier for people to differentiate between points of interest based on color alone. For example, orange signifies food and drink options, while green is for outdoor spaces, and purple is for roadside services. Google believes once people understand the color scheme, they'll be able to spot what they want or need quicker when using Google Maps. Google says this change will impact all versions of Maps (mobile, desktop), as well as other Google services that rely on Maps, such as Assistant, Search, Earth, and Android Auto. The changes will be rolled out over the next few weeks.

Google Overhauls Its Home Media App

Tuesday, 12:33 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today released a new version of Google Home, the mobile app smartphone owners use to interact with their Google Home speaker and Chromecast dongles. Google says the revised application should make it easier to find content to share with connected speakers and television sets. To start, the app has been given a full visual makeover that Google claims is more intuitive. It now recommends content from all the user's connected media services, such as Spotify or Netflix, so music and movies are simpler to start streaming. Search has been improved and can now handle keyword searches based on actor, artist, genre, or category. Google Home can now be used to cast movie trailers to a connected TV. Last, the app gives people more control over their entire viewing and listening experience. For example, the redesigned controllers give people the ability to tweak bass or treble on supported speakers, including the Google Home device. The Google Home companion app is free to download from the Play Store.

Google Home's Broadcast Feature Goes Live

Nov 13, 2017, 12:37 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today enabled the broadcast feature on Google Home devices in English in the U.S., U.K., Australia, and Canada. Now, people with Google Home devices in their house can broadcast announcements or statements from their phone-based Google Assistant to their Home device. For example, parents can say “Ok Google, broadcast I’m on my way home!” to the Assistant on their phone, and it will broadcast to their Google Home for those to hear. People will need to be signed into the same Google Assistant account on all devices for this to work. Google first announced the broadcast feature earlier this year. Broadcast will become available to more languages and countries over time.

Google Testing Beta of 'Files Go' App for Managing Phone Storage

Nov 9, 2017, 9:23 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google is testing a new application for Android phones that can help people better manage on-device storage. Files Go, according to Google, can be put to use to clean up space and keep files organized. For example, it can identify rarely-used apps, spam, and duplicate images that can all be removed to free up storage. Files Go's built-in search tools can assist in finding photos, videos, and documents. The app also makes it easy to quickly and securely share files offline. The app itself is small at just 6 MB. Files Go Beta is free to download from the Google Play Store, though Google warns it may still be buggy.

Skype Now Lets You Dress Up Your Photos with Stickers and Effects

Nov 9, 2017, 8:49 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Skype has updated its mobile app with new tools for customizing pictures similar to Instagram and Snapchat. The photo effects include face stickers, captions, celebrity lookalikes, location and weather, and face swaps for adding a dash of whimsy to shared images. A "magic wand" button appears on the screen after users snap a photo and provides access to the effects tools. Photos can then be shared with friends and family via chat or highlights. Microsoft says the sticker selections will change over time, especially as holidays come and go. The new version of Skype is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.

Google Targeting Unwanted Redirects In Chrome

Nov 9, 2017, 8:26 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google plans to add new safety features to its Chrome browser over the coming weeks that will address user complaints regarding several types of shady behavior. First, Chrome 64 will attempt to foil unwanted redirects. Google says the browser will show any and all redirects originating from third-party frames in a new infobar rather than allowing the redirects to move forward. This will give users the opportunity to remain on the original page they were reading, or to jump to the new content if they wish. Often, these redirects come from aggressive web ads. Second, Chrome 65 will tackle pop-unders. Sometimes when browsing, users click on a link that opens the content they want in a new tab while at the same time the original tab navigates to an unwanted page. Google says some web site purveyors use this method to circumvent popup ads. In Chrome 65, Google will detect this behavior and trigger an infobar, once again giving people the choice to move forward while preserving the original tab. Further down the road, Google hopes too address hard-to-detect behaviors that might include links to third-party web sites disguised as play buttons or other site controls, or transparent overlays on web sites that capture all clicks and open new tabs or windows. These are frequently the cause of user complaints and Google will do what it can to prevent or minimize them.

Google Search and Maps to Show Live Restaurant Wait Times

Nov 7, 2017, 11:22 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google can now let you know just how long the wait will be at your favorite restaurant. Google is adding live wait times to Google Search and Google Maps. Moving forward, the Popular Times section in search results includes an estimated wait time that's live to the moment. Google says tapping any of the hour bars in the Popular Times section displays the average wait for that time of day. Summaries of each day's wait times are available when scrolling left or right. This new tool is being added to Google Search first, with Google Maps to follow shortly.

Google Boosts Pixel 2 XL Display Color In System Update

Nov 7, 2017, 8:12 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google says the November security update for the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL includes several behavioral and bug fixes to address user complaints. To start, the new software should resolve the clicking noise heard in some Pixel 2 earpieces during phone calls. Moreover, the update adds a new saturated color mode and tweaks maximum brightness settings for both displays to increase color saturation and lead to a brighter look. Google says the update also ensures the UI will avoid behaviors that might lead to screen burn-in. "These features have been carefully designed so as not to detract from the user experience," explained Google. "Since all OLED displays experience some degree of decay over time, we’ll continue to make enhancements which maximize the life of your Pixel screen." Some users complained of muted colors in the phones' displays, as well as burn-in on the Pixel 2 XL. Other changes in the update include improved Bluetooth pairing and media data visibility with older accessories, as well as improved speed and autofocus behaviors in the camera. The last set of tweaks adjust headphone volume warnings and YouTube's ability to switch from WiFi to LTE during playback. The system downloads for the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are rolling out over the air gradually. Google plans to bring further enhancements to the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL via the December security update.

Google Assistant Now Recognizes Songs On Request

Nov 6, 2017, 5:18 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google Assistant on Android handsets is now able to identify songs playing in the background. As long as the music is audible, querying the Assistant with "what song is this?" will cause the app to listen for several seconds and identify the song. Results include the song title, artist, album, lyrics, and links to associated online music services, such as YouTube, Spotify, and Google Play. The feature is free to use and is being rolled out gradually. Google's new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL handsets include a song-recognizing feature that runs in the background and displays the song/artist information on the ambient display.

Google Pixel and Nexus Devices Gain November Security Patch

Nov 6, 2017, 3:00 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made its monthly security update available to its branded Android devices. November's patch plugs a handful of security holes that threaten Android devices. Google found dozens of vulnerabilities, most of which were classified as moderately dangerous though some were rated as high and others as critical. Some of problems are related to specific hardware and the associated software drivers that control them, such as components from MediaTek, Nvidia, and Qualcomm. Other vulnerabilities impact the kernel, system, and media framework directly. Google is pushing a patch dated November 5 to resolve these issues. Google said the Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL, Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel C, Nexus Player, Nexus 5X, and Nexus 6P devices will receive the November security patch directly over the air. The updated factory image for each of these devices is available for download from Google's developer web site. Google says none of these security holes have yet been exploited. Google already supplied the patches to its handset partners and will soon get one to AOSP.

Samsung Letting Galaxy S8 Owners Test Drive Android 8

Nov 2, 2017, 4:25 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung today said select customers will soon be able to beta test Samsung Experience 9.0 before its official release. The Samsung Experience, formerly called TouchWiz, is the user interface that Samsung created for its device ecosystem. Starting November 2, Galaxy S8 and S8+ users based in the U.S., U.K., and South Korea will have access to Samsung Experience 9.0, which is based on Android 8 Oreo. Samsung hopes to use the beta period to assess user feedback and fine-tune the platform before its release for "the next flagship Galaxy device." Interested beta testers will need to have an active Samsung account and meet certain (unspecified) requirements. Samsung said the beta may be distributed via the Samsung+ app in the U.S., which is available from the Google Play Store. People can apply to test Samsung Experience 9.0 through the app.

Google Overhauls YouTube Kids App for Mobile Devices

Nov 2, 2017, 4:18 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today pushed out a significant update to its YouTube Kids mobile application, giving both kids and their parents new features to enjoy. For example, kids can create their own profiles each with a customized appearance. The app is more fine-tuned for children's ages. Older kid will see more content on the home screens, while younger kids will be served less text. For parents, the app has a new setup process to help them select the content that's most appropriate for their kids. Last, kids get their own passcodes to protect their profile so siblings can't make unwanted changes. Google says the kid passcode can be overridden by adults. YouTube Kids is free to download.

T-Mobile to Sell HTC U11 Life Mid-Ranger for $349

Nov 2, 2017, 2:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

HTC today announced the U11 Life, a mid-range handset that resembles the company’s U11 flagship though it tones down specs to reach a reasonable price point. The U11 Life is almost identical to the U11 at a glance, but it trades the U11’s high-quality glass for plastic. HTC achieved the mirror-like finish by using a clear acrylic exterior with metallic paint on the inside surface. The point, according to HTC, is to give people a device that looks like a flagship at a more affordable cost. The U11 Life has a 5.2-inch full HD LCD display and it is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 processor with 3 GB of memory and 32 GB of storage. The U11 Life has a 16-megapixel camera at f/2.0 on both the back and the front. Where the rear camera has phase-detection autofocus, the front camera has fixed focus. The device does include the U11’s squeezable Edge Sense feature for initiating certain actions. Other features include USB-C noise-cancelling earbuds, HTC Alexa voice assistant, IP67 water resistance, and Android 7 Nougat. (HTC will update the phone to Android 8 Oreo by the end of November.) Perhaps most importantly, the U11 Life will be widely available to U.S. consumers. T-Mobile plans to sell the phone and feature it in stores as a “Smart Pick.” The U11 Life will be sold unlocked from HTC starting on November 2 and should hit T-Mobile stores the following day, November 3. The U11 Life is priced at under $349.

Google Assistant Now Speaks Spanish and Italian

Nov 1, 2017, 3:17 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made its Google Assistant available in a couple of Romance languages. The Google Assistant now speaks in Spanish and Italian on Android handsets. Google says Spanish is available in the U.S., Mexico, and Spain, while Italian is available in Italy. The Assistant already speaks English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, and Portuguese. Google says support for Spanish and Italian will roll out to end users over the next few weeks.

Cricket Wireless Debuts the ZTE Overture 3

Nov 1, 2017, 2:43 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Cricket Wireless today announced the ZTE Overture 3, an inexpensive Android handset. The phone has a 5-inch FWVGA screen and it relies on a quad-core 1.1 GHz processor with 16 GB of storage. A 5-megapixel camera with flash adorns the rear, while a 2-megapixel camera sits on front. Both can capture video up to 720p HD. The phone is powered by a 2,115mAh battery. Others features include Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, WiFi, and LTE 4G. It runs Android 7 Nougat. Cricket says the ZTE Overture 3 will reach stores on November 10. The phone costs $50, but Cricket will give it those who port in their number for free.

Google Rolling Out 'Fast Pair' Bluetooth for Android Devices

Oct 31, 2017, 11:19 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced a new feature headed to Android phones that should ease Bluetooth pairing pains. The tool, called Fast Pair, makes discovering and pairing with nearby Bluetooth devices much simpler. Google says Fast Pair is being made available to devices running at least Google Play Services 11.7 and Android 6 Marshmallow (and up). Fast Pair relies on Bluetooth Low Energy. Accessories will need to adopt the technology in order for Fast Pair to work properly. Devices with BLE on board will, when put in pairing mode, send information regarding the device identity to nearby Bluetooth devices. The Android phone will see the BLE broadcast and send information back to Google's servers to learn the product name, find the product companion app, and verify the product image. Google then pushes a notification with a "tap to pair" feature complete with the product details. Users need only accept the notification to complete pairing automatically. Google says people will be able to test Fast Pair with Google Pixel Buds or Libratone's Q Adapt On-Ear headphones. Plantronics' Voyager 8200 series wireless headsets will also soon support Fast Pair. Fast Pair is being made available to Android devices over time.

Nokia 2 Rounds Out the Bottom of HMD Global's Android Lineup

Oct 31, 2017, 7:26 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

HMD Global today announced the Nokia 2, an entry-level Android smartphone that promises two-day battery life. The phone has a metal frame, polycarbonate rear plate, and Gorilla Glass 3 front. The display measures 5 inches and offers 720p HD resolution. Underneath the hood, the Nokia 2 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 212 processor with 1 GB of RAM and 8 GB of storage. The primary camera has an 8-megaixel sensor with autofocus and LED flash, while the front camera has a 5-megapixel, fixed-focus sensor. The phone packs a huge 4,100mAh battery for extended uptime. Other specs include CAT 4 LTE, Bluetooth 4.1, GPS, WiFi, and FM radio, and support for dual SIM cards or one SIM and one memory card. The Nokia 2 runs Android 7 Nougat with the Google Assistant on board. The Nokia 2 goes on sale later this year for about $120. There's no word yet if it will be made available to North American consumers.

YouTube TV Finally Gains An App for TV Sets

Oct 30, 2017, 11:25 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced that YouTube TV subscribers can now access the television service directly from compatible TV sets and streaming boxes. Until today, the service was limited to a mobile app on smartphones and tablets that needed to be cast to TV sets. Google says the YouTube TV app for TV devices is available today to the Nvidia Shield, TVs with Android TV built-in, as well as the Xbox One, One S, and (soon) One X. In the next few weeks, this same app will arrive on additional smart TVs from LG, Samsung, and Sony, as well as the Apple TV streaming box. Subscribers with any of these devices will be able to access and view YouTube TV directly from their television set and can leave their phone or tablet on the coffee table. The app for TV boxes includes the three existing tabs for live TV, recorded/library content, and the home screen. Google changed the app's white background to black for TVs, and added a new Live Guide that's better at displaying what's coming on later. People will be able to use their streaming box or game controller to control live TV, and can pick up where they left off on mobile devices. YouTube TV supports up to six individual users on a single account, each of whom has access to an unlimited DVR of recordings. YouTube TV offers about 50 channels, including live broadcasts from ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC, to many of the major markets around the country. It costs $35 per month.

Google Takes Steps to Ensure Search Results Are Locally Relevant

Oct 27, 2017, 12:07 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said it has updated the way it handles queries in Search and Maps when people travel. Moving forward, people will be served search results based on their actual location, not the domain they've indicated on the web (such as .com, .uk, .de, etc.) Google says people using Search in the U.S. will automatically be served Search and Maps results for U.S. locations. When a U.S. user travels to Canada, Google will automatically switch to the country service for Canada in order to deliver the best, most-relevant results while that person is traveling. Google will switch country service back to the U.S. when that traveler returns to the States. People can customize this if they wish. Google says the update won't impact how well Google Search and Google Maps work. Instead, results should automatically follow people as they move from country to country. The reason behind the change is that many people often type in the domain for their home country even when traveling abroad, which can skew results. The change is being made to the mobile web, the Google app for iOS, and desktop Search and Maps.

Google to Rely On Software to Tweak Pixel 2 XL Screen, Pixel 2 Noise Issues

Oct 27, 2017, 7:39 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google says it will update both the Pixel 2 XL and Pixel 2 smartphones in the coming weeks to resolve various issues spotted by early adopters. Starting with the Pixel 2 XL, Google says it will give users more options to tweak the screen's color through a tool added to the display settings. One complaint about the device is its more natural-looking display, which shows muted colors. The new color profile will let people boost saturation for a brighter look if they wish. "One of our design intents was to achieve a more natural and accurate rendition of colors. Based on the recent feedback, we’re adding a new mode for more saturated colors," said Google in a blog post. Concerning burn-in on the display, something witnessed by Phone Scoop and others, Google insists the display falls in line with other OLED displays. "Our current investigation of burn-in confirms that the differential aging is in line with that of other premium smartphones and should not affect the normal, day-to-day user experience of the Pixel 2 XL. Regardless, we use software to safeguard the user experience and maximize the life of the OLED display, and we’ll make ongoing software updates to optimize further," explained Google. For example, it will reduce the brightness of the software control panel that appears persistently at the bottom of the screen, and work with app vendors so the control panel can be switched from black to white, and even disappear entirely when not needed. The smaller Pixel 2 will get its own software patch, though this one targets a clicking sound in the earpiece reported by some customers. Google suggested those who dislike the clicking sound disable NFC for now. It's not clear if the software patch will have the same effect. The separate software updates will arrive at some point in the next few weeks. Both phones will be given an extended warranty. The original warranty was good for one year; now, Google will provide the Pixel 2 XL and Pixel 2 with two years of protection. "We’re very confident that the Pixel 2 delivers an exceptional smartphone experience, and to give users peace of mind, every Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL will now come with a two-year warranty worldwide," concluded Google. Technical details concerning the screen color tweaks and burn-in issues are available on Google's user forums for those who might wish to read more.

LG Q6 to Come to U.S. as Amazon Prime Exclusive

Oct 26, 2017, 8:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon today announced that it will soon offer a slew of LG Android smartphones through its Amazon Prime Exclusives program. Among them is the LG Q6 (pictured), marking the first time this particular phone is being made available to U.S. consumers. The Q6, announced in July, features a 5.5-inch, 18:9 display with full HD+ resolution, curved aluminum frame, and minimized bezels. It runs Android 7.1 Nougat and includes Google Assistant and facial recognition for unlocking the phone. The main camera has a standard-angle 13-megapixel sensor and the front camera has a 100-degree, wide-angle 5-megapixel sensor. The Q6 is powered by a Snapdragon 435 processor and includes a 3,000mAh battery and NFC. The Q6 costs $300, but Amazon Prime members can buy it for $230 through Amazon Prime Exclusives. Handsets sold under the Prime Exclusives banner cost less because users agree to view advertisements on the lock screen. Amazon said the Q6 will become available in the coming months. Amazon is also slated to sell the LG G6 ($400), G6+ ($500), and X charge ($150), all of which have been for sale directly from carriers since earlier this year. All four phones are sold unlocked with support for AT&T and T-Mobile.

Google Releases Android 8.1 Developer Preview

Oct 25, 2017, 12:56 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made the first developer preview of Android 8.1 Oreo available to app writers and beta testers. This update to Android is anything but minor, as it includes a significant number of under-the-hood changes. First up is the Neural Networks API, which lets apps take advantage of hardware acceleration for on-device machine learning operations. Android 8.1 makes changes to notifications. For example, apps can now only make a notification alert sound once per second. Android 8.1 helps developers target low-RAM devices through two new hardware features that let them split their APK into versions for normal and memory-constrained handsets. The beta makes improvements to Oreo's autofill behaviors. For example, developers can create custom descriptions so the Android system shows only partial text strings to protect data such as credit card numbers. Google made it simple to take advantage of the Safe Browsing API, which lets apps detect when an instance of WebView attempts to navigate to a known bad URL. Developers can then customize how their apps respond to known threats. A new shared memory API lets developers create, map, and manage anonymous shared memory that can be used by multiple processes or apps. The WallpaperColors API adds support for managing wallpaper colors. Last, new behaviors can be assigned to the fingerprint reader on Android handsets, including the opportunity to permanently lockout users who fail too many times to unlock their device with a fingerprint. The Android 8.1 Oreo Developer Preview is available to registered developers and Android beta testers. Google has made system images available for direct installation on compatible handsets, though an over-the-air update will also reach registered Google users in the near future.

Gmail Gains Third-Party Add-Ons

Oct 24, 2017, 12:25 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today added support for add-ons to Gmail on the web and Android devices. Add-ons allows power users to bridge Gmail with other business apps for smoother productivity and workflows. Moving forward, Gmail will be able to "contextually surface your go-to app" based on the email at hand to get things done faster. Google says add-ons function the same across the web and Android, so they will only need to be installed and activated once. Google has been testing add-ons with developers since earlier this year. Some of the first to support add-ons include Asana, Dialpad, DocuSign, Hire, Intuit QuickBooks, RingCentral, Smartsheet, Streak, and Trello. The Trello add-on, for example, lets people turn emails into actionable tasks within Trello than can be shared with colleagues. Google says add-ons for Gmail will first be available to its G Suite business customers.

Google Assistant Now Features Family Fun Activities

Oct 24, 2017, 12:13 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today added some 50 games, activities, and stories intended for families to Google Assistant. Using Google Assistant on Android devices or Google Home, families can initiate fun and learning activities by saying things such as "Okay Google, let's learn" or "lets play a game" or "tell me a story." Google says the kid-friendly update is meant to help families spend time pursuing activities together than don't necessarily involve screens. The new family fun stuff can be configured for kids younger than age 13 (with parents permission) so children can have their own personalized account via Family Link. The new features are rolling out to Android and Google Home devices today.

Google Assistant On Smartphones Now Responds to 'Hey Google'

Oct 24, 2017, 8:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has updated its voice-based assistant on Android smartphones to respond to a new catchphrase. In order to activate Google Assistant by voice, smartphone owners have until now needed to speak the "Okay Google" catchphrase. Some feel the phrase is awkward to speak. A new update pushed to the Google Assistant app allows people to use the slightly-easier-to-say "Hey Google" phrase instead. This latter phrase has been available to the Google Home product for a while. Google Assistant is free to download from the Google Play Store.

'Pay with Google' Goes Live for Online and In-App Payments

Oct 23, 2017, 7:20 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made good on its promise back in May to release a tool for improving online and in-app payments. Pay with Google allows people to pay with any card on file, including the card they might have associated with Android Pay, Google Play, YouTube, or Chrome. As people navigate the checkout process online Google sends the merchant all the payment and shipping information, negating the need for people to type those details in manually. The transaction then moves forward as it normally would. In order for the service to work within web sites and applications, developers will need to add it themselves with the Google Payment API. Google tells developers they only need to insert a few lines of code to make Pay with Google an option at checkout, and Google doesn't take any fees. Some of the early adopters online include Eat24, Fancy, Kayak, and PostMates, with others including AirBnB, Hotel Tonight, and StubHub coming soon. Some of the first payment services to support Google Pay include Braintree, Vantiv, and Stripe. Pay with Google competes with Apple Pay on the iPhone, which, in addition to handling retail transactions, also helps Mac users with online and in-app payments. Pay with Google is launching first in the U.S. and the U.K.

Google Improves Visibility of Instant Apps with 'Try It Now' Button

Oct 19, 2017, 12:29 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today outlined a number of improvements it has made to the Play Store in order to help both consumers and developers make the most of Android apps and games. The most significant user-facing change is the addition of a "Try It Now" button that accompanies Instant Apps in the Play Store. This allows people to jump right into the app for sampling purposes without downloading or installing the full application. The idea is to give people a taste of what the app or game delivers without requiring them to download or pay for it right away. Google believes this will boost download numbers for developers. The Play Store now includes trailers for games and expanded screenshots depicting gameplay, as well as previews for upcoming releases. The curated Editors' Choice section is now live in 17 countries, providing the best apps and games with even more visibility on end-user devices. Google has made changes to the way it handles subscriptions, though these changes mostly benefit developers. For example, developers can now offer shorter free trials (minimum of three days), as well as enforce one free trial to reduce the potential for abuse. Moreover, beginning in January the subscription fee expense for developers will drop from 30% to 15% for customers who stick around for more than 12 months for any given subscription.

Samsung Embraces Google's ARCore for Augmented Reality

Oct 18, 2017, 3:25 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung today said it will work with Google to bring Google's ARCore augmented reality content to a wider range of its smartphones, including the Galaxy S8, S8+, and Note8. Using the ARCore SDK, developers will be able to create augmented reality experiences for millions of Galaxy handsets. Google announced ARCore in August. The effort will see less-demanding hardware requirements for running AR apps on Android devices, expanding AR's reach to some 100 million phones. In addition to its stance on AR, Samsung also provided an update on its efforts in the virtual reality space. For example, it continues to iterate on its Gear VR headset for Galaxy smartphones and recently introduced the Samsung Internet VR, a browser optimized for the Gear VR. Another app called Samsung PhoneCast VR lets people translate 2D apps into 3D AR through mirroring for improved gameplay. Samsung offers developers the Samsung Gear VR Framework, an open-source VR rendering engine with a Java interface. The Java UI gives developers a familiar environment in which to create without forcing them to learn new SDKs. Samsung says it will continue to work with partners such as Google and Facebook/Oculus to push mobile-based AR and VR forward.

Google Testing 3rd-Party Email Access in iOS Gmail App

Oct 18, 2017, 7:12 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google is allowing people to use their non-Gmail email service within the Gmail app for iOS. Apple's own iOS email app and Microsoft's Outlook email app both already support multiple email services, as does Gmail on Android handsets. This will be the first time Google has brought the feature to its iOS Gmail app. Those interested in testing the feature can sign up with Google to take the beta app for a spin. The beta app will be distributed through TestFlight, rather than the iTunes App Store. Google hasn't said how long the feature might be in testing before it reaches final form.

YouTube TV Gains Voice Control Via Google Home

Oct 17, 2017, 2:16 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today updated its YouTube TV and Google Home products, giving them the ability to speak with one another. Moving forward, YouTube TV subscribers will be able to control YouTube TV on their television set via Google Home. People will need to link their YouTube TV account with their Google Home (or Chromecast). Once that step is complete, they can utter requests such as “Play last week’s ‘NCIS’” or “Play the MLB game” and Google Home will take care of the rest. YouTube TV costs $35 per month and is available in many U.S. cities. Television stations are limited to about 50 in total, though that includes live broadcasts from most major networks. Google Home and Chromecast are additional hardware purchases.

Google Pixel Phones Have Hidden Image Processor

Oct 17, 2017, 12:56 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today revealed the Pixel Visual Core, a custom-designed co-processor that is built into every Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphone. The Image Processing Unit has eight cores, each with 512 arithmetic logic units (ALUs) that can handle some three trillion calculations per second. Google claims the Pixel Visual Core with HDR+ can run five times faster and at less than one-tenth the energy than running directly on the application processor. The Pixel Visual Core is laying dormant for the time being, but Google says it will turn the co-processor on soon. Google created advanced software to manage the Pixel’s ability to capture rich photos and it wants to extend that to other photo apps. The Pixel Visual Core will eventually allow third-party apps to use the Pixel’s HDR+ technology. Google plans to enable the Pixel Visual Core as a developer option in the developer preview of Android Oreo 8.1 (MR1) in the coming weeks. Later, Google will let third-party camera apps access it using the Android Camera API, giving them access to the Pixel 2’s HDR+ technology. The end result should be much better photos on the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL when using photo apps other than the stock camera.

Google's Fur-tastic Google Photos Now Better at Recognizing Pets

Oct 16, 2017, 12:22 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made it easier for pet lovers to manage pictures of their feline or canine companions. Google says Photos will now treat pets as the family members they are, grouping them alongside people and allowing users to name and/or label them. Google believes this will improve search and discoverability of pet pictures within Google Photos. Moreover, Google Photos can now sort between breeds to help separate pictures of different dogs. Accordingly, Google Assistant has been improved with the ability to create albums, collages, and movies of pets. Google Photos users can, of course, make their own pet creations whenever they wish. Google Photos' new pet recognition feature is rolling out to most users worldwide today.

Researchers Say WiFi Vulnerability Impacts Nearly Everything

Oct 16, 2017, 7:57 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Researchers say they've found a serious gap in the WPA2 security protocol that can allow hackers to use key reinstallation attacks (KRACKs) to compromise most WiFi devices. The researchers say the method allows hackers to read encrypted information transiting via WiFi, including passwords, emails, photos, credit card numbers, and more. KRACKs can access nearly all WiFi traffic and, depending on the individual network safety configuration, insert code and alter data, such as send malware. The researchers claim the weakness is in the WiFi standard itself, and not in individual products, which is why the vulnerability is so widespread. Devices running Android, iOS, Linux, Windows, macOS, and other platforms are impacted. The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) agreed with the researchers' assessment and warned, "The impact of exploiting these vulnerabilities includes decryption, packet replay, TCP connection hijacking, HTTP content injection, and others. Note that as protocol-level issues, most or all correct implementations of the standard will be affected." In other words, even if WiFi devices are being used properly, with passwords, they are still vulnerable. Google said it is aware of the issue and will patch the vulnerability in a future security update. The WiFi Alliance has not yet responded to the researcher's revelations.

OnePlus Allowing 3 and 3T Owners to Test Oreo Beta

Oct 16, 2017, 7:35 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

OnePlus has made OxygenOS Open Beta 25, based on Android 8 Oreo, available to the OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T smartphones. Owners of these phones can, if they wish, download the beta build for pre-release testing. The beta includes core Android 8 Oreo features, such as the new Quick Settings design, auto-fill, smart text selection, PiP, and notification dots. Items specific to OxygenOS include new a OnePlus account login for access to Shot on OnePlus, as well as the ability to upload photos directly to Shot on OnePlus through wallpapers. OnePlus warns there are some bugs in the beta build, including slow downs with the fingerprint reader, stability issues with NFC and Bluetooth, and the loss of the camera shortcut to Google Photos. OxygenOS Open Beta 25 is free to download for those signed up with OnePlus' beta program. OnePlus says users will be able to downgrade to the Nougat-based version of OxygenOS if they find Open Beta 25 too unstable.

Phone-Based Google Assistant Can Now Manage Chromecasts

Oct 14, 2017, 11:34 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has made it possible for people to control media playback on their Chromecast devices through their smartphone. The new behavior is available via Google Assistant on Android and iOS devices. People can issue voice-based commands on their mobile phone to play music and/or videos directly on Chromecast dongles, whether the dongles be attached to speakers, television sets, or embedded in boomboxes. People who own multiple Chromecast dongles can specify which one their phone controls. Prior to this change, a Google Home was required to control Chromecast dongles from a phone. Now, Google Home is no longer needed. The feature has been rolling out slowly, but Google confirmed that it is now available to everyone.

Google Assistant On Phones to Gain Voice-Based Shopping

Oct 12, 2017, 10:49 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today expanded the scale of its Google Express service with the addition of Target stores nationwide. Starting immediately, people who live in the 48 contiguous states can ask Google Assistant on the Google Home product to purchase items from Target. Target offers two-day delivery of most items, and orders over $35 ship for free. Google says the device will soon support the Target RedCard for discounted shopping, as well as common purchases for easy reordering. Google is bringing this same voice-based support for Google Express to Google Assistant on Android and iOS smartphones in the near future. People will be able to say something like "Ok Google, buy a kids bomber jacket from Target," and Google Assistant will call up a selection of jackets on the phone with purchase links. Google says some 50 retailers support Google Express. The company didn't specify how soon Google Express will reach phones.

Google Opinion Rewards Hits iOS

Oct 12, 2017, 7:39 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has made Google Opinion Rewards available to iOS users through a new app. As it does on Android handsets, Google Opinion Rewards will send surveys to iOS devices that people can complete for cash rewards. Google says surveys have between one and 10 questions, and always take less than 30 seconds to complete. iPhone owners can earn up to $1 for each completed survey. Google says iPhone users will have to link their PayPal account to make use of the rewards (on Android, the rewards are deposited into users' Google Play accounts.) The Google Opinion Rewards app is free to download from the iTunes App Store.

Google Lets Android Users Merge iTunes, Google Movie Libraries Into One

Oct 12, 2017, 7:15 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced a new service called Movies Anywhere, which allows people to bring together their movie collections from Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, and Vudu into a single library that can be accessed from any device. Google is launching Movies Anywhere in the U.S. first and it includes movie purchases from major studios Disney, Fox, Sony Pictures, Universal, and Warner Bros. As an incentive, Google is offering free access to a handful of movies to those who link two or more accounts to Movies Anywhere, including last year's Ghostbusters and Jason Borne. Use of Movies Anywhere is free.

Google Merging Video Call Tool Into Phone Dialer

Oct 11, 2017, 1:49 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said it is taking steps to ease the process of making video calls between Android handsets. Starting with Nexus, Pixel, and Android One devices, users will be able to initiate video calls directly from the phone dialer or text messaging app. There are some hitches. Both the caller and the callee will need to be on carrier networks that support ViLTE video calling. If ViLTE is not available, both the caller and callee will need to have the Google Duo video calling app installed. Google says it hopes to bring the merged video/voice call interface to more Android handsets over time, including the second-generation Pixel devices.

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