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printed February 20, 2017
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Android 2.3 Gingerbread Officially No Longer Supported

Today, 8:44 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has put Android 2.3 Gingerbread out to pasture. The update this month follows an announcement Google first made in November regarding Play Services 10.2, which severs backward compatibility with devices running Android 2.3 and older. Google Play Services is the core code behind app compatibility across Android platforms. The Play Services 10.2 update jumps from API level 9 to API level 14. This means Play Services 10.2.0 only supports Android 4.0.1 Ice Cream Sandwich and up. Gingerbread is nearly six years old and Google says the number of devices impacted by the change is fairly small. Google Play Services is updated automatically across Android devices once every couple of months. The 10.2 update to Play Services introduces a handful of new tools that developers can use to improve their apps. For example, it supports the latest version of Google's Firebase developer toolset, custom styling within Google Maps, more health data points in Google Fit, and additional behaviors of ID tokens with Smart Lock. Play Services 10.2 also lets developers use some updated and/or new APIs, including the Fence API for geofencing, the Google Sign-in API for authentication, and the Nearby API for ultrasonic audio location. Most Android devices can expect to see Play Services 10.2 installed on their devices shortly, if it hasn't been already.

Skype Douses Android and iOS Apps with Silliness

Friday, 8:37 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Skype's mobile app for Android and iOS devices now looks a lot more like Facebook Messenger, based on the preview released by Microsoft this week. In a blog post, Microsoft explained the new features are meant to make conversations more expressive and entertaining. First, Skype adds in-call reactions. These let people add live emoticons, photos, and text to video calls. The integrated camera now supports emoticons, stickers, and annotations. People can respond to any individual message with multiple reactions, such as a thumbs up, sad face, smiley face, or shock. Last, the app adds a new search panel for finding and sharing links, news, sports, points of interest and other data. Microsoft says this negates the need to jump back and forth between apps. Android device owners can download this Skype Preview from the Google Play Store. iPhone owners will need to apply to become a Skype Insider for iOS. If selected, Skype will email a download link to the app. Microsoft hopes those who preview this version of Skype for Android and iOS will offer feedback before the company releases these features to everyone.

Google Home Gains Voice-Based Shopping to Compete with Amazon Echo

Thursday, 12:09 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today added the ability to shop for certain goods to its voice-controlled Google Home speaker. Google says people can use Google Home to purchase everyday essentials from more than 50 national and local retailers. Some of the initial stores include Costco, Whole Foods Market, Walgreens, PetSmart, and Bed Bath & Beyond. Google Home owners need only say "Ok Google, how do I shop?" or "Ok Google, order paper towels" to get started. The Google Home app on the Google Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones allows Home owners to configure their default credit card, shipping address, and other settings before making their first purchase. Google says now through April 30, people who shop via Google Home won't be dinged with service or membership fees associated with its retail partners. Google expects to enable purchases from more apps and services over time.

Google Search Now Offers 'Fun Facts' for Entertainment Purposes

Feb 15, 2017, 1:32 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made Google Search more entertaining to use with the addition of fun facts. The feature is starting small. Users can type in queries such as "hippo fun facts" and Google Search will display a unique and interesting fact about hippos that may not be well known (apparently hippos can hold their breath for up to five minutes.) What to know more? Refresh the search and Google will display a second fun fact about the search subject. Standard, in-depth results will still be listed below the fun facts, which appear at the top of the results page. Google suggests people stick with fun facts about animals, plants, fruits, and vegetables for now.

Nest Cameras Gain Door Recognition, Apps Gain Better Notifications

Feb 14, 2017, 1:01 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Nest today updated its camera software and mobile app for Android and iOS devices with new features and tools for keeping homes safe. In conjunction with its line of indoor and outdoor security cameras and Nest Aware, the Nest mobile app has learned to recognize doorways. It can now automatically create Activity Zones around doors, and will send notifications when it registers motion in those Activity Zones. Nest Aware users (requires monthly subscription) have long been able to designate Activity Zones manually; the change here is that Nest Cams and the Nest app can now do this on their own. Beyond the door recognition tool, the Nest app gains better alerts for Android and iOS. For example, alerts will include a thumbnail image that shows users what’s going on at a glance, and can let people see animated previews of Nest Cam video clips without opening the app. Further, when the Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detector goes off, any Nest Cams associated with the account will show a live video feed so homeowners can assess what their entryways look like. Last, the Android version of the Nest mobile app is adding app shortcuts on the home screen. The Nest mobile app is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store. Nest Cams, Nest Protect, and Nest Aware are all sold separately. Nest says the Nest Cam Indoor and Nest Cam Outdoor will receive the door recognition update over the next few weeks.

Google Bringing Original Content to YouTube Kids App

Feb 13, 2017, 12:17 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said it has a handful of new programs for its YouTube Kids service on deck. Specifically, subscribers to YouTube Red (Google's ad-free version of YouTube) will be able to watch four kid-focused series called Hyperlinked, DanTDM Creates a Big Scene, The King of Atlantis, and Fruit Ninja: Frenzy Force. Google said it worked with Susanne Daniels to develop the shows, which are currently in production. Google expects these four shows to reach YouTube this spring with more originals to debut later this year. In addition to the new programming, Google plans to release a version of YouTube Kids for certain LG and Samsung Smart TVs. The Smart TV app will let children access their favorite YouTube Kids content — all with the same parental controls available to the mobile app — from their television set.

Google Adds Shareable Lists to Maps

Feb 13, 2017, 8:51 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made it easier to keep track of and share favorite spots thanks to a new list tool in Google Maps. Maps users can take advantage of pre-set list categories, such as Want to Go or Favorites, as well as create their own. Lists are accessible via Maps' side menu under Your Places and icons for saved spots will appear on maps themselves so users can always see when they are nearby. Of course, all lists can be shared via text, email, social networks, and popular messaging apps. Google says lists are available on mobile (Android, iOS) and desktop machines, and can even be saved for offline access. Lists will be made available to most users over the days ahead.

Verizon Rolls Out Trade-In Offer to Match New Unlimited Plan

Feb 13, 2017, 8:13 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless today announced a promotional trade-in offer that will give a free flagship-class phone to those who switch from other carriers. The offer requires users to select Verizon's new $80 monthly unlimited plan. It also requires a working trade-in that is fully paid off. Customers will need to port their number in from a competing service provider. Customers can then select the iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, Google Pixel, Moto Z Droid, Moto Z Force Droid, Samsung Galaxy S7, Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, or LG V20. Verizon will provide up to $792 toward the cost of the phone spread out over 24 months. In order to get one of the above phones for free, switchers will need to trade-in the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6S, iPhone 6S Plus, iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, Samsung Galaxy S6, Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+, Samsung Galaxy S7, Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, Samsung Note 5, LG G5, LG V20, or the HTC 10. Customers who have an older phone to trade, such as the Apple iPhone SE, Samsung Note 4, Samsung Galaxy S5, LG G4, LG V10, or HTC M9, will need to pay $5 per month for the "free" phones being offered by Verizon. Verizon Wireless didn't say how long this promotion will be available.

'Instant Tethering' Makes Your Pixel A Hands-Free Hotspot

Feb 10, 2017, 3:56 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Feb 10, 2017, 3:57 PM

Google today added a feature to its Pixel and Nexus handsets that it hopes will help ease the process of using phones as mobile hotspots. Instant Tethering, as the feature is called, works because both the phone and secondary device (like a tablet) rely on the same Google account and can talk to one another via Bluetooth. "When you unlock a tablet such as the Pixel C, it will notice if there is no internet connection available, and will ask your Pixel phone if it has internet and battery life," explained Pixel Project Manager Omri Amarilio in a blog post. "If it does, we will give you an option to enable a secure hotspot and pair automagically, without even taking your phone out of your pocket." Once you stop using the tablet and lock the screen, Instant Tethering is smart enough to realize the hotspot is no longer needed and will turn it off on the phone in order to save battery life. Instant Tethering is limited to Google devices and works with the Pixel, Pixel XL, Nexus 5X, and Nexus 6P smartphones and the Nexus 9 and Pixel C tablets.

Google Pixel Gains Access to Home Control Functions

Feb 9, 2017, 4:51 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made it possible for the Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones to control some smart home products through the Google Assistant. Pixel owners can now interact with Belkin Wemo and Honeywell smart home products, for example. Users will need to add each smart home product manually to their Pixel via the app. Once added, people can utter requests such as, "Ok Google, turn the temperature up downstairs" to adjust the thermostat. This functionality requires the latest version of Google Play Services as well as the latest Google app.

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Android Things Earns Second Dev Preview from Google

Feb 9, 2017, 2:39 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has released a second developer preview of its Google Things IoT platform. Android Things lets developers create smart and connected devices using existing Android APIs and Google services. The platform relies on toolsets that developers are already familiar with, including Android Studio, the Android SDK, Google Play Services, and Google Cloud Platform. This second preview mainly tweaks the features and options available to app developers. For example, it adds support for USB Audio for the Intel Edison, NXP Pico, and Raspberry Pi 3 testing platforms. Android Things Preview 2 also includes: a library to provide native access to the Peripheral API; TensorFlow inference library for ARM and x86; and support for the Intel Joule platform. Google 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.

Virtual Reality Comes to the Web Thanks to Chrome

Feb 9, 2017, 1:32 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made it possible to view web-based virtual reality content through its Chrome browser. The latest version of Chrome for Android devices supports VR, and Google says a number of its partners have begun to add VR content to their web sites. For example, Sketchfab has more than one million 3D scenes available that range from video games to works of art. The Chrome-based VR content requires a Daydream-compatible smartphone and Daydream VR viewer. Daydream handsets are limited to Google's own Pixel and Pixel XL, the Nexus 6P, Moto Z, and ZTE Axon 7. People who don't have Daydream phones can use their mouse or finger to pan around 3D content directly in the browser. Google says it plans to bring web-based VR support to its Cardboard viewer in the months ahead.

Google Brings Inline Video Support to Google Slides

Feb 8, 2017, 3:16 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made it possible place videos within Google Slide presentations. Google Drive users can insert video stored on Google Drive or YouTube directly into presentations to enhance slides. The document creator will be able to control where videos begin and end, whether or not they auto-play, and whether or not they have sound. Google says videos can only be inserted into Slides via the web, but can be played back on desktop and mobile devices. The feature will roll out to all users over the next few weeks.

LG Watch Style Is Less Bulky, More Fashionable

Feb 8, 2017, 12:15 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

LG's second Android Wear 2.0 offering announced today is the Watch Style, a smaller, simpler offering when compared to the Watch Sport. The Watch Style trades plastic materials for silver, titanium, and rose gold enclosures with an exchangeable leather wrist strap. The wearable has a 1.2-inch P-OLED screen with 360 by 360 pixels. It is powered by the same 1.1 GHz Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor as the larger Watch Sport, but has less RAM at 512 MB and a smaller battery at 240mAh. It included 4 GB of storage for music and other data. It includes WiFi and Bluetooth, but not LTE. The Watch Style costs $249. The LG Watch Style will be available at Best Buy and the Google Store starting on Feb. 10. It will be sold in Canada, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, UAE, and the U.K. in the coming weeks.

Google Launches Android Wear 2.0

Feb 8, 2017, 12:04 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Feb 8, 2017, 12:31 PM

Google today officially made Android Wear 2.0 available to device makers and the public. The wearable platform has been in preview status since May 2016 and its release has been delayed for several months. Android Wear 2.0 includes a handful of key improvements over earlier versions of the operating system. First, Android Wear apps can now run directly on wearables without a nearby smartphone. Standalone apps will make Android-based wearables more useful on their own. This goes hand-in-hand with added support for LTE data connections built directly into the OS, allowing users to install watch apps directly to their wearable via WiFi or cellular connections. Android Wear 2.0 also adds the Google Play Store, where smartwatch owners will be able to browse for apps via keyword and voice search directly from their wrist. Other features include a circular user interface with swipe-to-dismiss behaviors, one-click Google sign-in, and improved complications. Watch faces, for example, will be able to show data from other apps, such as fitness info. The messaging app gains a significant update, too, thanks to better handwriting recognition, voice controls, and an on-device keyboard. Android Wear 2.0 also supports Apple's iOS so iPhone owners can use Android Wear watches. Last, Android Wear 2.0 brings the new Google Assistant to user's wrists, where people will be able to speak the "OK, Google" command to perform voice-based searches. Android Wear 2.0 will ship on the new LG Watch Sport and Watch Style, which were announced separately, beginning Feb. 10. Google says the platform will reach a number of existing supported devices in the weeks ahead. Some include the Asus ZenWatch 2 and 3; Casio Smart Outdoor and Pro Trek Smart; Fossil Q Found, Marshal, and Wander; Huawei Watch; LG G Watch R, Watch Urbane, Watch Urbane 2nd Ed; Moto 360 (2nd Gen and Sport); New Balance RunIQ; and the Tag Heuer Connected.

LG Watch Sport Targets Fitness Buffs, Supports Android Pay

Feb 8, 2017, 12:04 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Feb 8, 2017, 12:17 PM

LG today announced the LG Watch Sport, which is among the first wearables to ship with Google's Android Wear 2.0 platform on board. The Watch Sport is a circular, fitness-focused smartwatch that can track workouts and health data, such as distance covered and heart rate. The P-OLED screen measures 1.38 inches across and boasts 480 by 480 pixels. The Watch Sport is powered by a 1.1 GHz Snapdragon 2100 processor with 768 MB of RAM and 4 GB of storage. It includes Bluetooth, WiFi, and GPS radios, as well as LTE for cellular connections. The watch is able to connect to LTE for calls, messaging, and downloading or accessing apps. The Watch Sport can be used in coordination with a smartphone, sharing the same number so users can always be reached, or on its own even when the associated smartphone is not turned on. Notably, the watch includes NFC and support for Android Pay, so it can be used for mobile payments. It packs a 430mAh battery. The LG Watch Sport costs $380. The LG Watch Style will be available at Best Buy and the Google Store, as well as from AT&T and Verizon Wireless starting on Feb. 10. It will be sold in Canada, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, UAE, and the U.K. in the coming weeks.

BlackBerry Hub Adapts to the Dark

Feb 7, 2017, 10:56 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry today pushed out an update to its BlackBerry Hub application for Android devices. The most obvious change is the addition of a dark theme. The Hub has long been limited to a white screen with black text. Now, users can change the background to black and view white text. This is easier on the eyes and, on devices with OLED screens, saves battery life. BlackBerry Hub also gains support for an attachment view to make it easier to find and open emails with attachments, and adds support for WeChat and Line notifications. BlackBerry Password Keeper, a separate app from the Hub, also gains the new dark theme. BlackBerry Hub and Password Keeper for Android are free to download from the Google Play Store.

YouTube Live Streaming from Mobile Devices Coming Soon

Feb 7, 2017, 10:42 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Feb 7, 2017, 10:43 AM

YouTube today said users will soon be able to stream video live from their mobile phones. The video site already supports live streaming from PCs, and YouTube first promised to bring live streaming to phones last summer. The company has been testing live streaming with select content creators for months to tweak quality, controls, and social interactions when live. YouTube says the feature will first reach accounts that have 10,000 or more subscribers. The feature is simple to use, people need only begin capturing video directly through the YouTube app to go live. YouTube is also introducing Super Chat, a way for viewers and fans to make their comments stand out to content creators. Viewers will have to pay for this added visibility, allowing creators to earn some extra cash. Google says mobile live streaming will reach regular users over time.

Google Improves Link Sharing from AMP Articles

Feb 7, 2017, 8:09 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google this week made it simpler for mobile device users to share AMP articles. AMP articles are specially formatted for viewing on mobile devices and load faster than standard web sites. The way Google delivers AMP articles to Google Search requires the use of headers in the URL. The headers, while necessary, extend the length of URLs and makes them awkward to share. Moving forward, articles displayed in the AMP view in Google Search on Android devices will include an anchor button that exposes the canonical URL for easier sharing. Users can long press the URL and then share it as they are used to via the browser's standard sharing tools. Google says this feature is rolling out to the Google Search app for Android in the days ahead. Further, Google says the Android Google app will be able to share the original URL when users tap on the app's share button, a feature already available to iOS devices, in the weeks ahead. Google Search is free to download from the App Store.

ZTE's Axon 7 Updated with Nougat and Daydream

Feb 7, 2017, 7:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ZTE today made Android 7 Nougat and Google Daydream available to its Axon 7 flagship smartphone. The updated operating system allows Axon 7 owners to run two apps side by side, tweak and conserve battery use, access more emoji, and enjoy access to Google's Daydream virtual reality content. ZTE says the device also gains a new call-screening tool from Hiya, which the company is also making available to other handsets in its lineup. Hiya, built directly into the phone app, is able to integrate caller identification, spam detection and call blocking. The Axon 7 has been available since last year. The phone is sold unlocked and costs $400. It features a 5.5-inch quad HD screen, Snapdragon 820 processor, 4 GB of RAM, 20-megapixel camera, and a 3,140mAh battery.

Google Adds Real-Time Tabs to Google Maps for Android

Feb 6, 2017, 8:27 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today updated its Google Maps app for Android devices with new tab-based tools meant to help access real-time information with a single tap. Moving forward, three tabs appear at the bottom of Maps' home screen: places, driving, and transit. The places tab will reveal a set of curated, nearby locations such as diners, coffee shops, ATMs, gas stations, and other such destinations. The driving tab will provide real-time ETA data between home and work, with traffic alerts when in driving mode. Last, the transit tab will make it easier to discover bus/train schedules, see when the next arrives, and get ETA data for arrival times. Google Maps has long offered these functions, but they were not always available directly on the home screen. Moving them to dedicated spaces that can be opened with one press should help make them more accessible and, Google hopes, more useful. The new tabbed version of Google Maps is rolling out to Android devices starting today.

Progressive Web Apps Will Soon Sink Deeper Into Android

Feb 3, 2017, 8:35 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google plans to improve Progressive Web Apps in the next beta version of Chrome, a change that will give the apps far more functionality than they currently enjoy. Google has been experimenting with Progressive Web Apps since 2015. The apps are rooted in the Chrome browser, rather than the Android OS itself, and have until now been limited in scope. For example, Progressive Web Apps could only exist on the Android home screen. Google says the new Progressive Web Apps can appear in the app drawer section of the launcher, as well as be managed via the device's settings. Progressive Web Apps will be able to receive incoming intents from other apps, and support full Android notifications (rather than Chrome notifications). Google said it hopes to eventually enable Progressive Web Apps for all browsers that function on Android. The new beta build of Chrome with Progressive Web Apps in tow is expected to become available in the days ahead.

Google to Scuttle Hands Free App

Feb 2, 2017, 10:09 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said it is cancelling its Hands Free mobile payment service. The company has been piloting Hands Free Payments since March 2016. Hands Free allowed people to pay for goods and services without taking their phone out of their pocket. It relied on location data, WiFi, Bluetooth beacons, and other sensors to detect nearby participating stores. Pilot testers needed only to say "I'll pay with Google" to the cashier, who confirmed shoppers' identity with their initials and profile photo. Google said it has learned a lot from early adopters. "Based on all the positive feedback, we're now working to bring the best of the Hands Free technology to even more people and stores. To focus our efforts on that, we'll be shutting down the Hands Free app on February 8," said the company. Google suggests people interested in mobile payments take a look at Android Pay, which is available to most NFC-equipped Android smartphones.

Chrome for iOS Gains QR Scanning Tool

Feb 2, 2017, 9:37 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today updated its Chrome browser for iOS devices and added a novel tool: a QR and barcode scanner. iPhone owners can scan a QR code or barcode by using 3D Touch on the app logo or by searching for "QR" in iOS's Spotlight search bar. Google says it also redesigned the tab switcher layout for the iPad to make it easier for people to access open sites. Chrome 56 is free to download from the iTunes App Store.

Google Pushing Chrome 56 to Android Devices

Feb 2, 2017, 9:26 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has made the latest build of its Chrome browser available to Android handsets and tablets. Chrome 56 adds several new features, including the ability to easily use emails, addresses, and phone numbers that are buried within web pages by tapping on them. Chrome 56 also makes it simpler to access downloaded files and web pages, as well as download article suggestions with a long press on the new tab page. The browser has also been given a nice performance boost thanks to new page reloading behavior. Google says its new methodology improves reload times by 28% while also cutting down on power usage and bandwidth. Google Chrome 56 is free to download from the Play Store.

Snapseed for Android and iOS Adopts Curves

Feb 1, 2017, 8:28 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has added several features to its Snapseed photo editing app for Android and iOS devices. The primary new tool is called curves, which allows people to precisely control brightness levels within their photos. Snapseed also improves face detection, adds the ability to force line breaks within text, and improves grain clarity in black and white images. Snapseed is free to download from the Google Play Store and the iTunes App Store.

Google Open Sources Chrome for iOS

Jan 31, 2017, 2:38 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said it has made an open source version of its Chrome browser for iOS available to developers. Google says today's news is the result of year's worth of work. "Due to constraints of the iOS platform, all browsers must be built on top of the WebKit rendering engine," explained Google in a blog post. "For Chromium, this means supporting both WebKit as well as Blink, Chrome's rendering engine for other platforms. That created some extra complexities which we wanted to avoid placing in the Chromium code base." Google has pulled apart the code for iOS and carefully refactored it into the open-source repository. Google says developers can take the core code and use it to compile the iOS version of Chromium just as they already do for Android and other platforms. Google hopes developers will use the open source version of Chrome to improve web-based features for Apple's iPhone and iPad.

HTC Exec Jason Mackenzie Departs After 12 Years

Jan 31, 2017, 12:41 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

HTC executive vice president Jason Mackenzie said today will be his last day with the company. Mackenzie has been with HTC since 2005. He spent the last year working at a global position, but previously served as the head of HTC's U.S. operations. Mackenzie did not say what his next move will be. His departure follows closely that of VP of Design Claude Zellweger, who recently accepted a position with Google's Daydream virtual reality team.

Google Distributes First Preview of Android 7.1.2

Jan 30, 2017, 5:59 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced the public availability of Android 7.1.2, what it calls a maintenance release. Google is pushing the first public beta of the operating system update to the Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel C, Nexus 5X, and Nexus Player devices. Google says it is still working on a version for the Nexus 6P. Owners of these devices need only enroll in the public beta program to test the pre-release code. Google says Android 7.1.2 focuses on refinements, bug fixes, and other unspecified optimizations for both end users and carriers. Google expects to test the platform for a couple of months before releasing it to the general public. The update will reach devices enrolled in the beta program in the days ahead.

Google Hangouts Improves Contact Design

Jan 27, 2017, 8:32 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google this week updated its Hangouts app for Android devices and made a few performance tweaks along the way. Going forward, Google says it should be easier to find the right contacts quickly thanks to a reshuffled contacts user interface. The "frequent" and "your contacts" lists are gone in favor of "on hangouts" and "not on hangouts." This way, it's easy to sort between those you regularly contact via Google's messaging service and those you don't (or can't). The small update also promises to fix some bugs. Google Hangouts is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Google Maps to Assess How Long It Will Take to Find Parking

Jan 26, 2017, 11:32 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today added a tool to Google Maps that helps people gauge how difficult parking will be when they arrive at their destination. Google will rate parking difficulty across 25 metro regions in the U.S., including major cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Dallas, Denver, Orlando, Seattle, and Atlanta. Parking difficulty will be rated easy, medium, or limited. Google says it will use historical parking data to make these assessments for each location. The parking difficulty tool is only available within the turn-by-turn navigation feature of Google Maps for Android. The idea is to let people factor in the time it will take to find parking when planning trips. Google expects to make the new version of Maps available via the Google Play Store over the next few days.

Google Opens Up Daydream VR to All Developers

Jan 26, 2017, 11:21 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has made it possible for more developers to create Daydream virtual reality applications for Android devices. Before this week, the necessary tools were limited to a few select Google partners. Now, any developer can publish a Daydream application on the Google Play Store. Daydream apps are called out in a specific section of the Play Store to help make them more visible. The move should eventually lead to a greater selection of virtual reality apps for Google's Daydream platform. Daydream is available to a limited selection of devices right now, including the Google Pixel and Pixel XL, and Motorola Moto Z Droid and Z Force Droid. More Daydream-compatible handsets are expected to arrive this year.

Hugo Barra to Work On Oculus VR at Facebook

Jan 26, 2017, 8:11 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Facebook today said that former Google and Xiaomi exec Hugo Barra will join the company's virtual reality team. Barra plans to work on Facebook's Oculus project after taking some time off. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, "Hugo shares my belief that virtual and augmented reality will be the next major computing platform. They'll enable us to experience completely new things and be more creative than ever before. Hugo is going to help build that future." Barra most recently helped Chinese company Xiaomi expand beyond its own borders into India and other Asia/Pacific markets. Prior to Xiaomi, Barra helped develop the Android platform for Google. Barra announced plans to leave Xiaomi earlier this week for health reasons.

Netflix Lets Android Users Save Shows to Memory Cards

Jan 25, 2017, 8:09 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The most recent update to the Netflix mobile app adds a useful tool for Android device owners: subscribers can now download TV shows and movies to on-device memory cards. Netflix says a new setting allows Android device owners to select either their phone's internal storage or a microSD memory card when saving shows for offline viewing. The update also fixes some bugs. The Netflix mobile application is free to download from the Google Play Store, but Netflix itself requires a monthly subscription.

Final Android Wear 2.0 Preview Adds iOS Support

Jan 24, 2017, 1:28 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made the final preview of Android Wear 2.0 available to developers. Google is expected to release the new wearable platform to the public — alongside new smartwatches — at some point in early February. The company hopes developers will use this final preview to tidy up their apps ahead of the platform's debut. Apps compiled using this preview build will be considered ready for Android Wear 2.0 at launch. The primary addition to this build of Android Wear 2.0 is support for iOS, meaning iPhone owners will be able to use Android Wear smartwatches with their iPhone. "Android Wear apps running on watches paired with iOS devices will be able to perform phone hand-off flows such as OAuth and RemoteIntent for launching a web page on a paired iOS device," explained Google in a blog post. Other last-minute tweaks include new navigation drawer behaviors and several bug fixes. Google has not said exactly when the delayed wearable operating system will be announced.

Google Home Gains More Home Automation Powers

Jan 24, 2017, 1:08 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today expanded the number of third-party smart home apps that can be controlled by its Google Home product. Owners of Google Home can now control Belkin Wemo and Honeywell smart home products via Google Home. Users will need to add each smart home product to Home via the smartphone app manual. Once added, people can utter requests such as, "Ok Google, turn the temperature up downstairs" to adjust the thermostat. Home already works with Nest, Philips Hue, and Samsung SmartThings. Google says it plans to bring these Google Home control features to the Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones soon. The Pixel and Home both rely on Google Assistant for their voice-activated features.

Instagram's Live Stories Tool Goes Global

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

Instagram today said the live stories video feature it announced in November should begin reaching users around the globe over the next week. Instagram fans in the U.S. have had access to live stories since December. 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 is also visible in the Explore tab. Instagram is free to download from the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store.

Google Kicks Off Live Tests of Android Instant Apps

Jan 23, 2017, 1:10 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said has begun real-world testing of Android Instant Apps. Google first announced Instant Apps at its I/O developer conference in May 2016. Instant Apps can run within search results even if the app is not actually installed on the phone. Google is making a small number of Instant Apps available to Android users today starting with BuzzFeed, Wish, Periscope, and Viki. Google plans to collect feedback through this initial selection of apps and eventually expand test apps to more over time. Google further suggested developers ensure their Android apps can take advantage of Instant Apps functionality. Google expects the full Instant Apps SDK to reach developers in the coming months. The full launch of Instant Apps is planned for later this year.

Google Voice Gains New Lease On Life with Massive Overhaul

Jan 23, 2017, 12:24 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today introduced a wholly new version of Google Voice for Android, iOS, and the web. The calling, voicemail, and messaging platform has been overhauled from the ground up with a new design, new features, and a fresh commitment from Google to keep the service updated. Google Voice now includes separate tabs to help people manage text messages, calls, and voicemails. Conversations with individual contacts are threaded to improve ease-of-use. Google Voice adds support for group messaging and photo MMS, features long absent from the previous version of Google Voice. These go a long way toward allowing the service to act as a primary messaging application. Google says it is working with mobile network operators to add support for RCS to the service down the road. People who prefer to use Google Hangouts for their messaging services will need to choose either Hangouts or Voice, as only one can be used at a time; moreover, Voice will not migrate conversation threads from Hangouts into Voice. Existing features, such as voicemail transcription, remain intact, and Voice gains new spam filtering tools to keep pesky messages out of your inbox. Google says it is rolling out the new Google Voice in stages. Android devices will receive it first, with iOS to follow. Google expects all users to have access to the new Google Voice within a few weeks.

Xiaomi's Hugo Barra to Return to Silicon Valley

Jan 23, 2017, 8:20 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Xiaomi executive Hugo Barra has left his job at the China-based company in order to return Silicon Valley. Xiaomi poached Barra from Google back in 2013, when he worked on the Android team. For Xiaomi, Barra helped the company expand its footprint from China to India, Singapore, and more than a dozen other markets along the Pacific rim. Barra said his time at Xiaomi, while challenging and rewarding, took a toll on his health. "Xiaomi is in a very good place on its global expansion path, and if there was ever going to be a good time for me to come back home, that time is now — when I can confidently say [Xiaomi's] global business is no longer just an in-house startup," wrote Barra in a Facebook post. Barra plans to leave the company after the Chinese New Year in February. He will take some time off before announcing what he plans to do next.

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