Qualcomm today provided a more complete picture of the Snapdragon 821, a revision to its top-of-the-line processor. The company already explained how the 821 boosts the performance of the SoC with higher clock speeds and other refinements. Today, Qualcomm revealed that the processor includes support for the Snapdragon VR SDK, which will let developers target Google's Daydream VR platform on devices with the 821. The processor adds native support for dual-phase autofocus for faster camera performance under a variety of lighting conditions, as well as extended-range laser auto-focus for locking in focus quickly over greater distances. The 821 will also support Android 7 Nougat with additional security measures. Qualcomm says the Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe will be the first premium smartphone to ship with the Snapdragon 821.
Google this week announced a new tool for searching the content on devices. The search mode, called In Apps, allows people to find content that's buried inside apps installed on the phone. For example, users can seek out specific songs, friends, or notes directly from search rather than first opening the associated app. The functionality is accessible from a new "In Apps" tab that appears in the Google search app. At launch, it can parse through Gmail, Spotify, and YouTube. Google plans to add more third-party apps, such as Facebook Messenger, LinkedIn, Evernote, Glide, Todoist, and Google Keep, to In Apps over time. Last, Google said some phones will be able to take advantage of a special In Apps home screen shortcut. The LG V20, which LG plans to announce Sept. 5, will be the first phone with this dedicated shortcut.
Pebble today released a new firmware update for its line of wearables that should improve the day-to-day usability of Pebble smartwatches. For example, a new Quick View feature lets users see what's next on their calendar from the watch face. Pressing the watch face opens all current events. Another tool called App Glances lets people view app data without fully opening the app. Moreover, Pebble owners can use the 4-Button Quick Launch feature to customize their device by assigning their favorite apps to each button. The health app has been redesigned with more glanceable information. It also brings back weekly charts to help provide a broader overview of health stats. Last, the revised system software adds email actions for iOS users, who can reply to, delete, and archive emails directly from the notification screen. Pebble OS 4.0 is free to download and install via the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.
Google recently updated the Contacts application for select Android devices and made it easier to edit contact details. Most significantly, Google expanded the app's availability from just Marshmallow to Lollipop. The app is still limited to Nexus, Android One, and Google Play Edition devices. People running Lollipop on these devices can now add and edit contact data points (name, number, email), save them to their Google account, fix duplicates, and call or message from the contact card. Google Contacts is free to download from the Google Play Store.
HTC revealed via its Twitter account that it plans to update some devices to Android 7.0 Nougat later this year. The unlocked HTC 10 will be first to receive Nougat at some point during the fourth quarter. HTC will follow that with the unlocked One M9 and unlocked One A9, but it didn't specify timing for these two phones. The carrier versions of all three of these devices will also see Nougat down the road, but again HTC didn't provide specifics. The news walks backs HTC's initial promise to provide Nougat to the HTC 10 within 15 days of Google's Nexus-branded devices (which received Nougat on Aug. 22). The company didn't explain why it isn't sticking to its earlier commitment.
Google has begun informing owners of Nexus devices that it is shutting down the Device Assist app. The app, which first appeared in 2014, was meant to serve as a support tool for Nexus handsets. Google did not explain why it is discontinuing the tool. The change is effective immediately.
Google today made several simple games available to play directly in search results. Performing a search for solitaire will bring up a playable version of the card game. Similarly, users can search for tic-tac-toe to strategize Xs and Os. Google also made a simple coin toss function available in search to help people settle bets. Google says more simple and fun games are headed to search in the near future. The games can be assessed via the desktop or mobile devices.
Google recently updated its Google Drive and Google Play Music apps for Android devices, giving new features to both apps. Google Drive now allows people to set home screen shortcuts for their favorite or frequently-used files and folders. The update also makes it easier to control notifications and upgrade or change the storage plan. Google Play Music adds a sleep timer that people can use to control how long their device plays music. The app also features new control buttons and other minor tweaks. Google Drive and Google Play Music for Android are both free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google this week made its WiFi Assistant feature available to all Nexus devices. The tool is a direct carryover from Google's Project Fi. The WiFi Assistant lets Nexus owners automatically and securely connect to more than one million free, open WiFi hotspots that are certified by Google. Users won't be required to sign in or set up accounts to access the WiFi. Moreover, Google manages the connection and ensures it is protected. Google says the tool can help improve average connection speeds and lower monthly data consumption, regardless of which wireless carrier provides cellular service to the phone. The Google WiFi Assistant is available to Nexus devices in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Nordic countries. Google says it will roll out over the next few weeks. Project Fi relies on WiFi for calling and data, but also hops onto Sprint, T-Mobile, or U.S. Cellular when WiFi is not available.
Google today said it plans to change how it ranks mobile search results in a way that will make content easier to find and consume. First, the company will remove the "optimized for mobile" tag that often accompanies results. Google says 85% of mobile search results already meet this criteria and it is no longer necessary to call it out. Removing the label will declutter search results and allow more results to be seen. Google is already in the process of removing the tag. Second, Google is going after web sites that take advantage of mobile search to serve interstitial popup ads. Specifically, Google will de-prioritize the rankings of sites that a show a popup that covers the content; display a standalone interstitial that must be dismissed before accessing the content; or use a layout where the above-the-fold portion looks like a standalone interstitial. Google says such ad practices often frustrate users and don't promote a good mobile experience. Google will begin lowering the search rank of web sites that use these frustrating ads January 10, 2017. Google says some interstitials are okay, such as those that require age verification, or those that use a reasonable amount of screen space, and are easily dismissed.
Opera Software today launched a free VPN for Android devices that allows smartphone and tablet owners to browse the web more securely and access what might be prohibited content when using managed networks. The VPN removes ad trackers for privacy purposes and supports virtual locations (U.S., Canada, Germany, Singapore, and the Netherlands), which should let people get around some region-based restrictions. The VPN includes a WiFi tester that can detect the strength of WiFi security. If the VPN determines the network isn't secure, it will recommend users connect through the VPN. The WiFi sniffer also checks to see if the network its public or private, if it's encrypted, how many other devices are using it, if the IP address/location are exposed, and whether or not others can see your device. Opera imagines the VPN will be useful to students and office workers who are restricted from accessing social networks or other types of web sites when using campus or office WiFi. Opera VPN is free to downloaded from the Google Play Store. Opera made the same VPN available to iOS devices earlier this year.
Google today made the final version of Android 7.0 Nougat available to developers, phone makers, and select devices. Google released the first developer build of Nougat earlier this year and has been refining the platform ever since. Today marks the official release of the platform, which moves out of beta. The next-generation mobile operating system includes support for Vulkan to improve graphics performance for games, but it also improves the Android runtime to speed up daily use. For example, apps should install 75% faster while requiring 50% less code. On the security front, Nougat introduces file-based encryption to better isolate and protect individual users. It also hardened the media framework to prevent attacks. Nougat offers seamless security updates that happen automatically in the background with no user action required. Google made improvements to the multitasking functions, with multi-window mode available to all. Nougat will show only the most recent seven apps and moves the "clear all" tool to the top of the screen to prevent accidental closings. Nougat overhauls notifications, providing direct control over silencing certain types of notifications. The platform adds Unicode 9.0 for an expanded set of emoji, including skin-tone variations. Last, Nougat bakes in more direct support for virtual reality. Nougat is available to the Nexus 6, 5X, 6P, 9, and Pixel C devices.
Walgreens today said Android Pay users can now incorporate their Walgreens Balance Rewards membership with the Google mobile payment service. Adding the loyalty account to Android Pay gives Walgreens customers the ability to earn points every time they pay with their mobile device, and can do so without requiring people to separately scan their Balance Rewards account card. Walgreens says Android Pay is accepted at some 8,200 stores. Walgreens Balance Rewards are already available to Apple Pay users.
Samsung says it will discontinue its Milk Music service in the U.S. on September 22. "We have made the strategic decision to invest in a partner model focused on seamlessly integrating the best music services available today into our family of Galaxy devices. We believe that working with partners will accelerate innovation, enhance device sales and provide amazing new experiences for our customers," said the company in a statement. Samsung built Milk Music using Slacker's library. The company created a unique, circular user interface for Milk and preloaded the app on its Android smartphones for several years. Samsung had a similar video service called Milk Video, but discontinued that service in November 2015. Samsung did not say what users of its Milk Music service can/should do with the app or their account once it is turned off. There are plenty of alternatives in the market, including Spotify, Google Play Music, and Apple Music.
AT&T and dozens of other companies are escalating the war on robocalls with a new Strike Force aimed at disrupting spammers' ability to call and pester consumers. AT&T CEO Randal Stephenson says carriers, device makers, OS developers, network designers, regulators, and lawmakers will all need to work together to create a play book to tackle the problem. "In parallel with technological solutions, we need our regulatory and law enforcement agencies to go after the bad actors. Shutting down the bad guys is a necessary step, and a powerful example to others. Our goal isn't complicated: Stop unwanted robocalls. Easy to say. Hard to do," said Stephenson in remarks made at the FCC's first meeting of the Robocall Strike Force. Industry player are gathering today to discuss initial plans and are expected to report back with more solid short- and long-term plans on October 19. Some of the companies participating in the Strike Force include AT&T, Apple, Blackberry, Comcast, Ericsson, Google, LG, Microsoft, Nokia, Qualcomm, Samsung, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon.
Google is working on a new operating system called Fuchsia. The open-source platform is the first from Google that does not rely on Linux at its core. Instead, the operating system runs the Magenta kernel and, according to the documentation, it relies on the Flutter user interface and Dart programming language. The platform appears to be intended as an embedded operating system for IoT devices, but it can also run on smartphones and PCs. Google hasn't said much about the project, but the platform is available in pieces via GitHub. It's unclear if or when Google might release a complete, final version of the operating system.
Google today released Duo, the video chatting app for Android and iOS it announced earlier this year. Duo is simple to use. It doesn't require a separate account, users need only their phone number to get started. Google says it built the app to function well even across poor network connections. The app will change the resolution to match the connection speed in order to keep the call going, and can seamlessly switch from wifi to cellular. A feature called Knock Knock gives people a preview video of the person calling so they can see what's up before answering the video call. Duo is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.
The FCC has approved two new handsets from HTC that may be bound for Google's Nexus program. The FCC documents don't confirm much other than the model numbers and radio support, but they do leave a few clues as to the devices' potential. In a letter to the FCC, HTC says the user guide "will be made publicly available on Google's web site (support.google.com/nexus) at the time the product is commercially released." This strongly suggests the devices will be Nexus-branded phones. The FCC confirms the devices will support a variety of LTE bands, as well as hearing aids and CDMA networks — key factors for use in the U.S. The documents do not clarify why there are two different model numbers. Neither HTC nor Google has confirmed any such devices are in the works.
Google today launched two new features for Google Maps for Android: a Wi-Fi Only mode, and the option to store offline map data on removable memory cards. Together, the two features are especially useful for those traveling overseas, where data roaming is expensive. The Wi-Fi Only mode allows users to stay connected to data networks for functions like email, while avoiding data charges for mapping, relying instead only on offline map data previously downloaded, and on Wi-Fi service when available. Users can also download extensive map data before their trip — or over Wi-Fi while traveling — and store it on a removable memory card for navigation without using mobile data while roaming. The features are also useful for non-traveling users with limited data plans or spotty service locally. The company did not announce whether the Wi-Fi Only mode will come to Google Maps for iOS.
Dashlane today announced Open YOLO, an open-source project the company is spearheading together with Google to create a universal API for third-party apps to automatically and securely access login information stored in password managers such as Dashlane. Other password manager developers are involved as well, and the standard will also be open to other OSes. YOLO stands for You Only Login Once, the basic goal of the project. Password managers enable secure passwords (long, random passwords that are different for each service) that would be difficult to remember otherwise. Current solutions rely on auto-fill software for login forms, or sometimes copy-and-paste. Open YOLO would allow apps to skip the login step entirely, while keeping login info secure.
Google has updated its Gboard keyboard application for the iPhone and added several new features. To start, the app now supports English, German, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish worldwide. Google also added smart GIF suggestions that will appear as users type in the search bar. Last, the keyboard now lets users select from several different themes for a more personal look. Gboard is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Microsoft has updated Skype for Android, iOS, Mac, the web, and Windows devices and given the communications tool access to more chat bots. Microsoft says it worked with select partners this time around to bring dedicated services to Skype. A bot from Skyscanner lets Skype users search for flights, while a StubHub bot makes it simpler to find event tickets. A bot from IFTTT can deliver alerts from apps, devices, and web sites, while a Hipmunk bot helps book entire vacation packages. Microsoft updated its bot platform last month with support for group bot chats and info cards. The company says more bots and capabilities are on the way. Skype is free to download from the Google Play Store, iTunes App Store, Apple App Store, and Windows Store.
Apple updated its Music app for Android devices and it has finally exited beta status. The 1.0 app adds a single feature in its full release, a graphic equalizer tool for adjusting sound levels. Apple says the app also received a variety of performance, playback, and stability improvements. Apple Music allows people to create personalized stations, as well as listen to tracks on-demand. It includes Beats1 Radio, and supports local caching for offline playback. The app itself is free to download from the Google Play Store, but the service costs $10 per month.
Google's YouTube Kids app now offers an ad-free experience to young viewers thanks to new compatibility with YouTube Red. Google says parents who have a YouTube Red account can sign in via the settings menu, thereby allowing their kids to have an ad-free experience when watching videos. Google says the app now also includes support for offline videos and uninterrupted music thanks to background playback. The YouTube Kids app with YouTube Red benefits is available in the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand. The app is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store. Google says more parental controls are on the way.
BlackBerry today began rolling out a series of software updates to its Android-based handsets, the Priv and DTEK50. The upgraded software adds new features and improves functionality across various apps. The Hub gains pinch-to-filter, quick send, Viber integration, and Twitter refresh along with WhatsApp and other, general performance improvements, such as quicker load times for long email threads. BlackBerry tweaked the BlackBerry keyboard with quicker language switching, Chinese support, and an on-screen pointer mode for the Priv. The camera app now includes remote shutter triggering, video preview imagery, manual control settings, and a toggle for managing video capture resolution. The calendar adds support for free/busy suggestions for Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync users and cleans up the event invite user interface. BlackBerry said Priv and DTEK50 owners can update these apps individually via the Google Play Store.
BlackBerry today announced BlackBerry Hub+, a software offering that brings the company's BBOS 10-based messaging control center to all Android devices running 6.0 Marshmallow and up. The bundle includes BlackBerry Hub, Calendar, and Password Keeper and is available on a trial basis for free for 30 days. After the trial ends, people can continue to use the suite for free as long as they agree to view some ads. Alternately, people can subscribe to BlackBerry Hub+ for $0.99 per month. The for-pay subscription adds Contacts, Tasks, Device Search, Notes, and Launcher to BlackBerry Hub+. The Hub+ is the same software BlackBerry's own Priv and DTEK50 use for communications. The one-stop-shop provides a central place to manage email, text, IM, and social media messages. BlackBerry says BlackBerry Hub+ will reach the Google Play Store later today. BlackBerry said it is working to bring Hub+ to devices running Android Lollipop and iOS.
Google today said Chrome 52 for Android devices should display video quicker and smoother. The refreshed browser is also less power hungry, so it shouldn't dent battery life as much. Moreover, video can be used in data saver mode, which compresses video so it consumes less data over cellular connections. The browser makes full use of HTML5. Google says as more web publishers switch their video content to HTML5, video performance should only get better. Chrome is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google today said it is taking a more proactive step to notify users when there is new account activity. Specifically, Google will send push notifications to Android devices associated with an account every time a new device is added to the account. Users can review the activity to see what device was added and at what location. People can dismiss expected activity, such as when adding a new Android tablet, or immediately secure their account if the activity appears to be suspicious. Google says the native Android notifications are more visible than email notifications, and are reviewed by users four times more often. Google is rolling the feature out to all users slowly over the next two weeks.
Google has added the ability to plan multi-stop trips to its app for iPhones and iPads. The latest version of Google Maps for iOS allows people to add multiple destinations to a single excursion. Users can reorder the stops whenever needed, as well as search for specific locations, such as gas stations or restaurants, to add to the route. Google says once users plot their multi-stop route, navigation functions as it always has. Google Maps is free to download from the iTunes App Store. Google Maps for Android already supports multiple stops.
LG today shared more details about the successor to last year's V10 smartphone. LG confirmed that the new device will be called the V20 and that it will be revealed in September. Moreover, LG said the V20 will be among the first devices to ship with Android 7 Nougat. Google hasn't released the final version of Nougat yet, but is expected to sometime this month. LG didn't say exactly when the V20 will be announced, but the IFA trade show takes in Berlin in early September. The V10 was unique thanks to its dual-selfie cameras and secondary display for notifications and other content. LG implied the V20 will carry over these and other features.
Google today said it has worked with several partners to develop Android add-ons for its Docs and Sheets productivity apps. The add-ons extend the functionality of Docs and Sheets, allowing people to accomplish more from their mobile phones. For example, an add-on from DocuSign lets people add a signature to a document and save that document to Google Drive. Another add-on from Scanbot makes it possible to scan documents with the camera and, using the add-on's built-in object character recognition, insert the content into Docs as editable text. Google says eight such add-ons are available from various partners in the Google Play Store.
AT&T is sending out the July 1 Android security patch to its variants of the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge smartphones. Google made the security patch available earlier this month. It plugs a number of holes in the code, including some that could lead to remote code execution. In addition to the security update, the phones gain access to AT&T's WiFi Calling service. The update for the S7 and S7 Edge can be downloaded and installed over the air.
Here has renamed and refreshed its core mobile mapping service for Android and iOS devices. Here Maps is now called Here WeGo. The company said it believed the original name was too generic. Along with the name change, the apps gain a significant revision. Here WeGo now prioritizes the search function for finding specific addresses or places. Users will be able to compare multiple different routes more easily, including car, public transit, cycling, and pedestrian options. Here WeGo also now displays options from car-sharing firm Car2Go, as well as regular taxi services with approximate fare rates and wait times. Last, Here WeGo improved bicycle route details with elevation profiles. Here WeGo is free to download from the Google Play Store and the iTunes App Store.
Nextbit today shared two bits of news concerning its Robin smartphone. First, the company is now selling an ember color variant. The ember model is being sold directly from Nextbit.com. Nexbit says only a limited number are available. The ember models costs $299. Second, the company is updating the Robin's software to include video backups. The new video-saving feature works the same as with photos; the file is moved off the device and into the cloud, but a thumbnail of the video remains on the device so the file can be retrieved when wanted. The video backup function is available first to beta testers. Nexbit said the planned August software update for all users will include the latest security patches from Google. Nexbit didn't say when the video backup feature will go live for everyone.
Google today introduced the Google Play Family Library, which allows a single account holder to share purchases with up to six family members. Google says eligible app, game, movie, TV show, and book purchases from the Play Store can be shared across Android and iOS devices, as well as the web with no additional sign-up fee. Account holders will have control over what content is shared and what is not. Users can make their credit card available to other family members for purchases, too, and control/manage those purchases. The Google Play Family Library is free to use, but does not include access to Google Music. The fee for the Google Music family plan remains $15 per month. Google says the Family Library is going live in the U.S. and a handful of other countries beginning today.
Twitter today announced a new night mode tool for its Android app that should make viewing in the dark less stressful on the eyes. The refreshed app includes a slider tool in the settings menu that when activated changes the background from white to a deep blue. Twitter for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store. Twitter didn't immediately say if it will make this same feature available to iOS devices.
BlackBerry today announced the DTEK50 smartphone, a slab-style handset that runs Android and features BlackBerry's signature communications and security software. BlackBerry says the DTEK50 features FIPS-2 hardware encryption, rapid security patching, secure boot process, and a hardened Android OS core. It includes Android for Work and Google Play for Work, as well as support for BlackBerry's full enterprise mobility management suite. Other features include BBM, BlackBerry Hub, the BlackBerry intelligent keyboard, and a customizable action key. The hardware is a rebadged version of the Alcatel Idol 4, which was announced earlier this year. The DTEK50 has a 5.2-inch full-HD LCD display, Snapdragon 617 processor with 3 GB of RAM, and 16 GB of storage. It has a 13-megapixel camera main camera, 8-megapixel front camera, NFC, Cat 6 LTE, memory card slot, and Quick Charge 2.0. The phone ships with Android 6.0 Marshmallow. The DTEK50 is available for preorder in the U.S. and other countries starting today for $299. BlackBerry said it will reveal shipping dates on a regional basis over the coming weeks.
People who use Opera Mini on Android devices now have the ability to download videos directly from the browser. Opera Software updated Mini with a tool for saving videos to a phone for offline playback. Opera says the downloader works on "some top video and social media web sites ... without their own built-in media players," such as Facebook, Instagram, and IMDb. Some regions and web sites may restrict video downloads. The download option appears once users tap the play button and allows people to choose where the video is stored (internal storage or memory card). The downloader doesn't require a separate app or web link. Opera Mini for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google today said it is updating the Google Phone app on Nexus and Android One devices with a new spam-blocking tool. With the new app aboard, Nexus devices will warn owners about potential spam callers, as well as give them the ability to block or report suspected spam callers. Google says Nexus and Android One device owners will need to enable Caller ID in order to enjoy the new spam protection. The Google Phone app is free to Nexus and Android One devices and will be updated automatically by Google over the days ahead. Google's new app arrives just days after the FCC asked phone carriers to step up efforts to block robocalls.
Google today rolled out a fresh version of Maps for Android, iOS, and the web with a cleaner user interface. Google says it eliminated unnecessary UI elements, such a road outlines, while simplifying the typography for street names, points of interest, and more. Google Maps now treats areas of interest differently with orange shading. Users can readily spot and click on areas of interest to see things to do in that area. Last, the refreshed Google Maps relies on a new color scheme that Google says is easier to use to differentiate between man-made and natural map features. The new version of Google Maps is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.