Google today warned that it intends to shut down old versions of Google Drive, Docs, Sheets, and Slides for Android and iOS devices. On April 3, Google will shutter Drive version 2.4.311 and Docs, Sheets, and Slides versions 1.6.292 for Android devices. Similarly, it will can Drive version 4.16 and Docs, Sheets, and Slides versions 1.2016.12204 for iOS devices. Google says people still using these legacy versions of its core productivity apps will be prompted to update them beginning March 1 and all functionality will cease a month later. Google said the change won't impact the web/desktop variants of these apps. The search giant encourages users to update to the latest versions of these apps as soon as possible.
Google has made it possible for Google Search to work even when the device goes offline. The latest build of Search for Android can store Google searches if a phone loses its network connection. Users can queue up as many searches as they want while the phone is offline. Google will then perform the searches as soon as the phone reconnects, saving the results within the app for easy retrieval. Google says the tool relies on streamlined behaviors to conserve power and data, so it shouldn't impact peoples' smartphones in a negative way. Google Search for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google today improved its Google+ community space with several new tools. First, Google+ now lets users hide "low-quality" comments. When turned on, a filter will weed out comments that don't benefit or adhere to the post or conversation at hand. Second, Google+ makes improvements to the photo experience. Google says less white space built around the app means images will fill more of the screen on smartphones. Moreover, a zooming tool lets people explore photos close up. Last, Google+ brings back the Events tool, which lets users schedule and attend online events. Google says the revised Google+ will reach Android and iOS devices in the days ahead.
Google today made it easier to hail rides from more car services within Google Maps. The new ride services mode now shows a map with a carousel of car providers that are nearby. Users can select their preferred service (Uber, Lyft) and see what options and promotions are available. Moreover, Maps will let people book, complete, and pay for an Uber ride without ever leaving the Google Maps app thanks to new integration with Uber's API. Uber users can sign into their account or create a new one within Google Maps and then book rides, track drivers, and connect via message — even if Uber is not installed on the device in question. The app also allows people to examine menus, hours, and other details about destinations while en route. Google says the new ride tools will be available over the next few days via Google Maps for Android and iOS.
Google this week said the Nexus 6 smartphone from Motorola should receive the Android 7.1.1 update in the days ahead. The updated system software installs the new app shortcuts, round app icons, the image-enabled keyboard with new emoji, and various bug fixes. The Nexus 6 does not get some of the best features available to the new Pixel phones, such as Google Assistant. Knowledgable users can manually install 7.1.1 using the factory images available from Google's web site, but the update will be distributed over the air soon.
Google today announced new integration between its Google Goals tool and Google Fit and Apple Health. In order to help ease the process of meeting goals, Fit and Health can automatically record and mark users' goals in Google Calendar as "done." The tool is smart enough to see that if users set goals for something like "run at 6am" but never get out the door until 6:45, Goals will adjust automatically to reflect the user's actual behavior. Google says this integration with Google Fit and Apple Health give people more ways to manage the activities they like to pursue — and find the time to do them. The feature is being added to the latest version of the Google Calendar app.
Google today said it is expanding the availability of its Google Assistant to Android TV products. People who own supported TVs and set-top boxes will be able to ask Google Assistant myriad questions about content and other queries. For example, Google Assistant can play movies and TV shows, control smart home products, and help with personal data, such as calendars and events. Google says the Assistant on Android TV will come to the Nvidia Shield, and all Android TVs in the U.S. running Android 6.0 Marshmallow or Android 7.0 Nougat. Some examples include Sharp Aquos, Sony Bravia, and Xiaomi Mi Box. Google expects to see Google Assistant reach Android Wear smartwatches, in-car systems, and other devices over the next few months. Last, Google says Assistant is gaining new skills thanks to Actions On Google. For example, Google Assistant will soon be able to answer select questions about Daimler and Hyundai cars. Google Assistant is built into the Google Home product as well as the Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones.
ZTE's forthcoming Android 7.0 update for its Axon 7 phone will add compatibility with Google's Daydream VR solution. The Axon 7's QHD display is well-suited to VR.
Asus today announced the ZenFone 3 Zoom, a new "optical zoom" phone that uses two cameras, much like the iPhone 7 Plus. Both the standard and 2.3x zoom cameras are 12-megapixel. It can also do a portrait mode with depth effect, and the main lens has f/1.7 aperture. Other camera features include OIS, laser focusing, RAW support, and a dedicated color sensor for improved white balance. It includes an extra-large 5,000 mAh battery that can be used to charge other devices via the USB-C connector. Specs include a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor, 5.5-in full-HD display, fingerprint sensor, memory card slot, and 3.5mm audio jack. Its US version will include LTE band 17 to support AT&T's network.
Asus today announced the ZenFone AR, the first phone to support both Project Tango AR and Daydream VR from Google. This large phone sports a 5.7-inch WQHD AMOLED display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor, an unprecedented 8 GB of RAM, and an advanced vapor cooling system. Triple cameras on the back support Tango applications with a 23-megapixel main camera, depth camera, and motion tracking camera. Other features include NFC, memory card slot, USB-C port, 3.5mm audio jack, and Cat 12 LTE. The 3,300 mAh battery supports Quick Charge 3.0. It will also run Android 7.0 Nougat and be available in Q2. The company did not announce which LTE bands the phone will support. The Qualcomm chip is a departure for Asus, which was previously one of the few major manufacturers to use Intel chips.
Google today made a small security update available to Pixel, Pixel XL, Nexus 6P, and Nexus 5X that plugs some vulnerabilities. In total, some 95 fixes are in store for Google's handsets that also provide Google's Android smartphone partners "with the flexibility to more quickly fix a subset of vulnerabilities that are similar across all Android devices." Two patches are being issued, one for all Android devices in general (given to smartphone makers), and one for the Pixel and Nexus phones directly. As per usual, the vulnerabilities range from moderate to critical, with the most severe able to remotely execute code and/or take over impacted phones. Google says it has fielded no complaints or reports of these vulnerabilities actually being exploited. The over-the-air updates for the Nexus and Pixel phones will arrive in the next day or so.
Samsung recently made a new productivity app called Samsung Focus available to its Android devices. Focus handles basic productivity functions, including email, calendar, contacts, tasks, and memos all in a single application. Focus supports Exchange, IMAP, and POP email services with functions such as push synchronization (email, contacts, calendar events) and support for multiple accounts. People will be able to use their Outlook, Gmail, Hotmail, Exchange, Office 365, IBM Notes, and other email services with Focus. Users can easily join conference calls and add tasks/events from emails, and take advantage of unified search across all the functions. Samsung Focus is free to download from the Google Play Store for Samsung smartphones running Android 6.0.1 and up.
Documents spotted on the FCC web site show off an unannounced phone from Blu called the Vivo XL2. According to the FCC, the XL2 includes support for similar radio bands to the Blu Vivo XL. The draft user manual for the XL2 points out features such as a rear camera with flash, user-facing camera, memory card support, and Google's Android operating system. The Vivo XL has a 5.5-inch screen, 3,150mAh battery, and MediaTek processor, but the FCC doesn't carry information about those specs for the XL2. Blu has not yet confirmed any details about the Vivo XL2.
Cyanogen said it plans to cease developing its open-source version of Android and will shutter its services by the end of the month. "As part of the ongoing consolidation of Cyanogen, all services and Cyanogen-supported nightly builds will be discontinued no later than [December 31]," said the company in a blog post. "The open source project and source code will remain available for anyone who wants to build CyanogenMod personally." Devices that run Cyanogen OS, including the OnePlus One, will no longer receive updates from Cyanogen. Cyanogen hoped to offer a better version of Android than Google's build, but it saw little traction in the market.
Instagram today introduced more ways for people to dress up their Instagram stories. First, stickers are now available for stories. People can easily customize their stories with weather data, time stamps, and location info. Viewers will be able to tap the stickers to learn more about locations tagged in stories. Stickers can be applied anywhere on stories, and can be resized as well. The photo-focused social network is offering up holiday-themed stickers packs for the next few weeks so users can share their holiday spirit. The app also gains a hands-free recording mode to make capturing video easier and the new freedom to add an unlimited amount of text to stories. Last, the iOS app allows Instagram users to save their stories to the camera roll as a single video. Instagram for iOS and for Android is free to download from the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store, respectively.
Facebook today launched group video chats within Messenger. The tool will allow up to six participants to view one another in a live video call. People can easily initiate calls within existing groups or by creating new groups. Tapping a video button is all that's required to kick off a video group chat. Facebook says people can ring the entire group at once, or just select numbers before inviting others. The feature is rolling out to Facebook Messenger for Android and iOS devices, as well as the web, globally. The app is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store. Video calls are free over WiFi, but will use data if conducted over cellular networks.
Google updated its Motion Stills app for iOS with several new features. First, users can now apply text to their GIFs. The Motion Text feature lets people position text anywhere they want in the GIF. It can then follow or move with a subject for the duration of the GIF. Google says it is using motion tracking technology and machine learning to make this function properly. Motion Stills also gains a new looping tool. Motion Stills is able to freeze the background of an image and analyze the movement to create the perfect loop transition. The result is GIFs that loop with fewer obvious cuts. Motion Stills takes advantage of Live Photos as captured by the iPhone 6s, 6s Plus, 7, and 7 Plus and turns them into shareable GIFs. Motion Stills is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
People who own the Google Home can now tell the in-home assistant to watch Netflix shows and movies on their TV. Using the latest version of the Google Home application on smartphones, Netflix subscribers can link their account and set their TV as a casting target for Google Home. Uttering phrases such as “Ok Google, play Stranger Things from Netflix on my TV” will do exactly that. Google is also allowing people to link their Google Photos account to Google Home. This will let people say things like “Ok Google, show my photos of Lake Tahoe on my TV” to view their images on-screen. Google says people will be able to search via voice for sunsets, locations, selfies, and more. Children can ask Google Home to track Santa, while parents can listen to their favorite Spotify and Pandora playlists. Google Home is available from Google's web store. The update Google Home app for Android and iOS is rolling out this week.
Google recently made it easier for iPhone owners to save the contents of their devices in the cloud. Google Drive now includes several options within the iPhone app for backing up contacts, calendar events, and photos/videos. The idea is to make it easier for iPhone owners to eventually switch to an Android handset. The app does not backup call history, messages, or files such as music. Google warns the initial backup may take several hours and is best completed via WiFi. Google Drive is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Google today made Android Wear 2.0 Beta 4 available to developers. The in-progress platform for smartwatches gains a handful of new features in this latest beta. Some new functions include one-click Google sign-in thanks to the OAuth API, and in-app billing, which will allow developers to unlock new ways to earn. The preview brings back swipe-to-dismiss behaviors and improves backward compatibility with Android Wear 1.0 apps. It also smoothes over action and navigation drawer behaviors; makes the circular UI opt-in, rather than mandatory; and provides burn-in protection for complications. Developers will need to manually install Android Wear 2.0 Beta 4. Google has said Android Wear 2.0 won't reach consumer devices until early 2017.
Google today made a preview of its Android Things platform available to developers. Android Things is for the Internet of Things. It lets developers create smart and connected devices using existing Android APIs and Google services. More importantly, the platform relies on toolsets that developers are already familiar with, including Android Studio, the Android SDK, Google Play Services, and Google Cloud Platform. Along with the developer preview, Google has named several "turnkey" developer hardware packages, including the Intel Edison, NXP Pico, and Raspberry Pi 3. Google believes together these will allow developers to create devices without worrying about backend cloud services, which they'll be able to communicate with automatically. Google expects to update the preview over time with more features and a broader range of devices. It will eventually debut an Android Things mobile application API for Android and iOS devices as it works to merge its Brillo, Weave, and Nest Weave platforms. Developers can find more information on Google's web site.
Facebook has made its Events application available to Android handsets via the Google Play Store. Events By Facebook, released to iOS devices in October, lets users find and schedule things to do with family and friends. The app highlights events that friends are planning to attend, new events added by liked pages, and updates from events to which users may have already RSVP'd. People can browse recommended local events based on interests, as well as peruse an interactive calendar that details exactly where events are taking place. Last, Events By Facebook ties in to users' Facebook calendar, allowing them to keep track of events, in addition to sync them to/from other calendars on their phone. Events By Facebook is free to download from the Google Play Store
Google has taken the best facets of its GBoard application for iOS and added them to its existing keyboard app for Android. The result is a single Google-made keyboard for Android devices that combines Google's tried-and-true gesture typing and word prediction with the fun and silly extras that have been available to iOS devices since earlier this year. With Gboard on Android, people can search through GIFs, emoji, memes, and other images to insert into conversations. The keyboard has a general search tool, too, for seeking out addresses, directions, and other data points for sharing. Users can add a permanent number row to the top of the keyboard and enable multiple languages for auto-correct. GBoard 6.0 replaces Google Keyboard 5.2 and will be available from the Google Play Store in the days ahead.
Instagram said the live video feature it announced in November should begin reaching users in the U.S. today. Live video lets users broadcast live video to their followers through the Stories section of the app. Followers may opt to receive notifications when people share live video, and live video is visibly earmarked as such. People may leave comments throughout the video's duration, but live video is not stored or saved in users' feeds. Live video was added to the Explore tab, too, allowing people to browse through live video that's being shared from around the world. Instagram is free to download from the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store.
Google today made the necessary tools available that will let other companies build apps for Google Assistant and Google Home. The developer platform for Google Assistant is called Actions on Google. Developers can now create Conversation Actions for Google Home in order to push data, services, or help to end users upon request. Google says end users won't have to enable skills or install apps as they do with Amazon's Alexa; instead, people will be able to simply talk to Google Home to access the desired actions. Google is allowing developers to sign up for early access to the program, which entails a new API along with a collection of samples and voice user interface resources. Google says some of its early partners will roll out their Conversation Actions for Google Home in the coming weeks. Google Assistant is at the heart of Google Home, and that means Conversation Actions will reach the Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones, and the Allo messaging/assistant app down the road. For example, Google plans to add support for purchases and bookings via Google Assistant, as well as deep integration across other verticals. Google didn't say exactly when it might bring Conversation Actions to the Pixel or Allo. Developers can find more information via Google's developer web site.
Google has added a variety of new Daydream virtual reality applications and games to the Google Play Store. People who own the Pixel, Pixel XL, Moto Z, and Moto Z Force can access and download the new content directly from their phone. Some of the new titles include Lego BrickHeadz, HBO Now and HBO Go, Netflix, NextVR, and Need for Speed. Last, both the snow and crimson Daydream View headsets are more widely available online in the U.S., U.K., and Australia. The View costs $79.
Following its recent release for desktop machines, Google has made Chrome 55 available to Android smartphones and tablets. Chrome 55 introduces a handful of new features. Chiefly, Chrome 55 makes it possible to download music, videos, and web pages for offline viewing. Downloads can be viewed and shared within Chrome. The updated browser also lets people see misspelled words in text fields and makes improvements to the contextual search user interface. Chrome 55 contains performance, memory, and stability fixes, as well. The browser is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Pandora has taken the wraps off Pandora Premium, its $10-per-month music streaming service that will compete with Apple Music, Spotify, and Google Play Music. Like similar products, Pandora Premium offers ad-free, all-you-can-eat streaming of millions of tracks. It includes unlimited skips and downloads for offline listening. Pandora Premium competes with Pandora's own $5 monthly product, which is also ad-free and allows for some skipping. The major difference between the two is the recommendation engine. Pandora Premium relies on the data Pandora has collated via the Music Genome to the tune of one billion data points per day. It also takes advantage of users' own "thumbs up" activity and will create playlists based on those songs. The Premium product will be more aggressive about pushing recommendations, particularly when users reach the end of a play list or album. Pandora expects to launch Pandora Premium for mobile devices and the web early next year.
Google updated its Duo video chatting app this week and made a small number of enhancements to the program. Most importantly, the update introduces significant video quality improvements so chats are clearer. The update smoothes over the camera behavior when the phone is rotated. Google also cleaned up the signup process and resolved a bug that impacted sound during video calls. Duo is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google today said it has implemented an approach it calls file-by-file patching to cut down the size of app updates. The technique can, on average, reduce the download size by 65% when compared to the original app. It's able to cut down some app downloads by as much as 90%. According to Google, the Play Store now sends Android devices a patch that details what's different between the old version and new version of the app. It then downloads only the bits needed to make those changes. In total, Google expects the effort will save Android device owners around the world an aggregate 6 petabytes of mobile data per day. Google hopes smaller app downloads will help improve uptake for app developers. File-by-file patching replaces the bsdiff algorithm previously used by Google, which was able to reduce app downloads by as much as 47%. People will not need to take any action to make use of the new updating process. Apple's iOS does something similar with apps downloaded from the iTunes App Store.
Google today said the Google Play Movies & TV store is now offering a small selection of 4K (Ultra HD) movies. About 125 titles can be purchased or streamed in 4K. Google is charging $8 for 4K rentals and between $25 and $30 for 4K purchases. Earlier this year, Google updated its Google Chromecast product with support for 4K, and other Google-compatible devices, such as the Xiaomi Mi Box, can also stream 4K content. Google didn't say how quickly it will ramp up its 4K library. The company did mention that the Google Play Movies & TV app is now available on 2016 model Samsung Smart TVs
Google today began rolling out an update to its Android Search app that separates information into two streams. Previously, the app displayed a long column of data, including calendar appointments, weather, news stories, and so on. Now, the app is dividing this information into two categories: upcoming events and current topics. The events section will contain details about travel, meetings, and important dates culled from the user's email and calendar. The topics section will contain a list of stories (news, weather, sports) that Google thinks the user will be interested in. The redesigned search app hits Android devices today and will reach iOS devices soon.
Google today made Android 7.1.1 Nougat available to Pixel and select Nexus devices. The refreshed operating system is available to the Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones, the Nexus 6P and 5X smartphones, as well as the Nexus 9 and Pixel C tablets. System images for side loading are already available online, and the over-the-air downloads will appear shortly. The most obvious new feature for end users is support for GIFs and animations within the keyboard. The Android keyboard can interact with third-party apps to create and apply stickers, videos, and other expressive content. Android 7.1.1 also adopts a 3D Touch-style interactive tool that will let people access up to five secondary actions or settings that can be reached directly from the launcher.
Google today updated its Allo messaging app with two new languages. Allo now supports Hindi and Brazilian Portuguese for both Google Assistant and Smart Reply. People can say "Talk to me in Hindi" or "Talk to me in Portuguese" to gain access to the alternate languages. Google says Smart Reply should show suggested responses in the language it hears. Last, Google added new local stickers for Brazil in Google Allo. Google says the Android and iOS Allo apps will see these new features in an update due to arrive in the next few days.
Verizon Wireless today detailed a system update for its variants of the Google Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones. The update primarily installs the latest security patches from Google, but also includes a number of software tweaks to improve performance. For example, it resolves several problems that prevented Pixel owners from seeing voicemail notification icons and accessing visual voicemail messages. It fixes a bug that impacted inbound call performance and another that garbled some on-screen text in the dialer. Last, the update lets people to choose cellular or WiFi as their preferred calling method when traveling overseas. The update is free to download and install over the air, but Verizon recommends users connect to WiFi first.
Google today made a new app available to Android devices that lets people share their location with others during emergencies. The app, called Trusted Contacts, simplifies the process of adding friends and family as emergency contacts. It allows trusted contacts to request location at any time. "If everything's fine, you can deny the request," explains Google, "but if you're unable to respond your location is shared automatically." This works even when offline or the phone's battery is dead. On the flip side, users can proactively share their location if they feel unsafe or become involved in an emergency situation. People added to the Trusted Contacts list will see the phone's activity status to know the owner is okay. The app is an alternative to something such as Facebook's Safety Check, which allows users of the social network to mark themselves safe during times of crisis. Safety Check is something that Facebook turns on when particular events warrant it. Trusted Contacts from Google can be used at any time, during any circumstances. Trusted Contacts is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Motorola does not plan to launch new smartwatches alongside the debut of Android Wear 2.0 early next year, reports The Verge. Shakil Barkat, Motorola's head of global product development, indicated the company will not release new hardware once Google's revised wearable platform hits the street. Motorola doesn't "see enough pull in the market to put [a new smartwatch] out at this time," said Barkat, though Motorola may revisit smartwatches down the road. "Wearables do not have broad enough appeal for us to continue to build on it year after year." Motorola's last wearable was the Moto 360 smartwatch, which debuted in September 2015. Since then, the company has focused chiefly on its mobile phones. Motorola hasn't written off wearables completely. "We believe the wrist still has value and there will be a point where they provide value to consumers more than they do today," noted Barkat. Huawei, too, has said it won't make more Android-based smartwatches, and Samsung swore off Android Wear in favor of its own Tizen platform some time ago. Google delayed the launch of Android Wear 2.0 from September to early in 2017.
BlackBerry's trio of Android smartphones can now download a series of system and software updates that add features and bolster performance. BlackBerry Hub+, for example, now allows users to hide specific accounts or stop them from syncing, as well as create custom views for emails from specific contacts. The BlackBerry Keyboard app has been improved with easier switching between languages, expanded Chinese language input, and support for fingerprint authentication (DTEK60 only). The BlackBerry Launcher has a new dark theme, and BlackBerry Password Keeper introduces a built-in browser, autofill tweaks, and support for non-Latin characters. Google says Priv, DTEK50, and DTEK60 owners should receive notifications once the updates are available to their handset.
Nokia today said it plans to return to the smartphone business during the first half of 2017 through its partnership with HMD Global. HMD Global recently completed a series of transactions between HMD, FIH Mobile Limited, and Microsoft that will allow it to make phones bearing the Nokia brand. The partnership between HMD and Nokia was first announced in May. HMD Global is a Finland-based business and will design smartphones that will then be manufactured exclusively by Foxconn. Foxconn is one of the world's largest device makers and manufactures the iPhone for Apple. HMD Global will pay Nokia licensing and royalty fees for smartphone and tablet sales. HMD Global boasts experienced Nokia veterans among its leadership team, but Nokia itself has no investment nor ownership stake in HMD. HMD Global and Nokia are relying on the know-how of the former Nokia execs at HMD's helm and the strength of the Nokia brand to return to the market. Nokia sold its smartphone business to Microsoft in 2014, which was then wholly based in Microsoft's Windows Phone platform. Moving forward, Nokia-branded handsets will run Google's Android platform. "We've been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm shown around the world for the return of the Nokia brand to smartphones," said Brad Rodrigues, interim president of Nokia Technologies.
Sony today said it has begin distributing the Android 7 Nougat operating system to its Xperia XZ and Xperia X Performance smartphones. The platform includes multi-window support, longer battery life, more messaging options, manual camera controls, and a revised home screen experience that includes Google Now. Sony said it is rolling the update out slowly. Owners of older Sony Xperia phones will be happy to learn that the company plans to make Android 7.0, Nougat available for the Xperia Z3+, Z4 Tablet, Z5, Z5 Compact, Z5 Premium, X, XA, XA Ultra, and X Compact. Sony didn't say when these devices will receive the update.