Google this week pushed out an update to its Keep application for Android devices. The note-taking app adds labels, which users can take advantage of to organize their notes or make them easier to search. The app also adds scheduled reminders (daily, weekly, monthly) for recurring tasks or events. Google Keep is free to download from the Google Play Store.
TomTom today released a new version of its navigation service for Android devices. TomTom Go Mobile boasts up-to-date maps for more than 100 countries with support for offline viewing, live traffic updates, safety camera locations, points of interest, and seamless syncing with contacts. The app depicts buildings and landmarks in 3D and provides alerts ahead of known speed traps. TomTom Go Mobile offers a limited amount of free turn-by-turn navigation per month (about 60 miles). Users can upgrade to unlimited navigation for $20 for one year or $45 for three years. TomTom has removed its old navigation app from the Play Store. Consumers who've already installed the old app will be able to upgrade to the new app with a year of unlimited navigation for just $0.99. The old app will be fully discontinued Oct. 1. TomTom Go Mobile is free to download from the Play Store. It competes with Google Maps and Nokia HERE Maps, which offer unlimited navigation for free.
Samsung plans to preinstall a wide range of Microsoft's productivity apps on its Android devices moving through the first half of the year. Samsung already announced the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge will have Microsoft's OneNote, OneDrive, and Skype apps on board. Today, Samsung said will will put Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, OneDrive, and Skype on some of its Android tablets. The GS6 and GS6 Edge will also have access to 100GB of OneDrive storage for a period of two years. Microsoft and Samsung believe the expanded partnership will provide potential business customers with improved productivity options via Office 365, and better security through Samsung's KNOX program. The companies did not specify if Microsoft's productivity apps will be preinstalled on more smartphones, but Microsoft Office apps are already free for most Android devices to download from the Google Play Store.
Google today made Android Auto, its platform for connecting to car-based infotainment systems, available as an app in the Play Store. With the app and compatible car, Android smartphone owners will be able to access navigation, calls and messaging, Google Search, and their music through the car's screen rather than their phone. Android Auto competes with Apple's CarPlay and the open MirrorLink standard. It is available in select head units from Pioneer and will soon be available in select cars. The app is free to download, but requires Android 5.0 and up. Google also created a section in the Play Store highlighting third-party apps that are compatible with Android Auto.
Tag Heuer today announced plans to create a Swiss-designed smartwatch using Google's Android Wear platform. Tag Heuer said it will collaborate with Intel to bring the device to market. The luxury watchmaker expects its device to compete with the Apple Watch, which is seen as a premium device thanks to the $17,000 gold Watch Edition. Tag Heuer and Intel expect to make their smartwatch available later this year.
Google today added support for Android Wear to its Android Device Manager tool. With it, people will be able to locate their misplaced Android smartphone by asking their watch to find it. Smartwatch wearers can use a voice search or the menu system to locate a lost phone, which will ring at full volume when prompted. Android Device Manager is similar to Apple's "Find My iPhone" tool in that it helps people find their missing devices. Google said support for Android Wear is rolling out over the next few weeks.
Google has pushed out an update to its Docs, Sheets, and Slides apps for Android devices in a bid to make them more useful. The latest version of Google's productivity suite makes it easier to view and edit documents on mobile devices. Notably, documents have less "chrome" and other tools surrounding the main text, which makes them easier to read. If users need to edit the documents, they can easily recall the editing tools by tapping the blue pencil icon. Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides are free to download from the Google Play Store.
Nokia recently announced a moderate improvement to HERE Transit Maps for Android and iOS devices. Nokia focused its efforts on adding more timetables and routes to public transportation schedules. In North America, Nokia HERE Transit Maps now includes directions for Fredericton (New Brunswick, Canada), as well as 19 cities in the U.S. including Orlando, Detroit, and Raleigh. Nokia also made improvements to the suburbs around New York, including Sussex County in New Jersey. A smattering of other cities around the globe have updated transit schedules, too, including Rennes and Marseille in France; Granada, Huesca, and Ávila in Spain; Trento, Brescia, Mantua, and Verona in Italy; and many others. Android and iOS device owners don't need to update their apps in order to access the improved transit directions. Nokia HERE Maps is free to download from the Google Play Store and the iTunes App Store.
Google today made two significant changes to how it operators the Play Store. First, it has added an age-based ratings system. Moving forward, developers will need to fill out questionnaires for their apps and games to receive objective content ratings. The questionnaire covers ratings for a number of standards bodies and territories, so apps and games will be rated appropriately for individual markets. Google is asking developers to fill out the forms for their existing apps, and will mandate all apps be rated starting May 1. Google has also added a human component to app reviews. Google believes the human element will help discover violations to its app policies before apps are published. Even with people looking at apps, Google said it still expects apps to be approved within hours of submission. Google said these changes will help better protect its customers as they shop for and download applications and games.
Google today pushed out a minor update to its Messenger application for Android phones. The primary new feature included in the update is support for GIFs, which can be used to liven up conversations. The app also has a new home screen widget and general performance improvements. Google Messenger, which provides SMS and MMS messaging, is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Microsoft is preparing to make its Cortana personal assistant software available as a stand-alone application to the Android and iOS platforms later this year, reports Reuters. Microsoft is already developing an improved version of Cortana for its forthcoming Windows 10 desktop, tablet, and phone operating system, expected this fall. Microsoft is culling research from an artificial intelligence project called Einstein to improve Cortana's predictive and conversational abilities. "This kind of technology, which can read and understand email, will play a central role in the next roll out of Cortana, which we are working on now for the fall time frame," said Eric Horvitz, managing director of Microsoft Research, in an interview with Reuters. Microsoft believes Cortana's abilities can surpass those of its rivals, Google Now on Android phones and Siri on iPhones. "We're defining the competitive landscape of who can provide the most supportive services that make life easier, keep track of things, that complement human memory in a way that helps us get things done," said Horvitz. Microsoft envisions Cortana becoming more capable with respect to helping users by anticipating their needs. Google and Apple have taken similar steps with Google Now and Siri, respectively. Google Now is adept at providing just-in-time reminders and details in the form of cards, but Siri is more limited to responding to direct requests. Horvitz did not confirm Microsoft's intent to bring Cortana to Android and iOS, but Reuters says people familiar with Microsoft's plans are certain it will appear after Windows 10's debut later this year. Microsoft has made an aggressive push over the last year to port key applications to the Android and iOS platforms, such as Microsoft Office. Bringing Cortana to Android and iOS would fit in with the pattern of Microsoft's behavior.
Google today kicked out a minor update to its Chrome browser for Android devices. Chief among the new features is the ability to pull down to refresh most web sites. The update also includes improved site permission management, bug fixes, and performance tweaks for devices running Android 5.0 Lollipop. Chrome is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Verizon Wireless today said the Motorola Nexus 6 will be available for preorder March 12 and should reach stores March 19. It will cost $250 with a contract or $27 per month with a Verizon Edge plan. Google, Motorola, and others have been selling the Nexus 6 since last year.
Google today made the Android 5.1 SDK available to developers. The updated SDK includes tools developers need in order to use the new features of Android 5.1. Some of the features are support for dual SIM cards and a new Android Protect function that device owners can use to render their lost or stolen devices useless to thieves. Google said the Nexus 4, 5, 6, 7 (2012, 2013), Nexus 9, Nexus 10, and Nexus Player should all be updated to Android 5.1 in the next few weeks. Google suggests developers download the SDK and begin making their apps compatible with the latest version of the mobile operating system.
Google today released a version of its calendar application for iOS devices. The app includes features such as Assists to help schedule regularly-occurring meetings, as well as Schedule View to make it easier to glean daily schedule details in a glance. The app integrates with Google Apps for Work, too, so companies can manage the app if need be. Google Calendar for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Opera today announced that its desktop and mobile browsers can now sync bookmarks across platforms. Bookmark syncing is available in the Opera desktop browser, as well as Opera Mini for iOS and Opera for Android. Users of PCs, smartphones, and tablets can choose to sync their browsers across various devices, though the feature requires users to create and sign in to an Opera account. Opera's browsers are free to download form the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store.
Google today announced a new version of Android that promises to clean up some bugs. Android 5.1 Lollipop improves stability and makes other minor improvements. In addition to the cleaned-up code, Android 5.1 also adds several features. For example, Device Protection prevents a lost or stolen device from accessing mobile networks without the original owner's Google password - even if the device has been reset to factory settings. The update also adds native support for multiple SIM cards, and improves HD voice performance on the Nexus 6 through T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless. Last, Android 5.1 makes it easier to manage Bluetooth and WiFi settings (especially device connections) from the Quick Settings menus. Google expects to roll out Android 5.1 to select devices over the next few days.
Microsoft has filed a lawsuit against Kyocera in which it alleges the Japanese smartphone maker is violating seven of its patents. In particular, Microsoft is targeting the Duraforce, Hydro, and Brigadier series devices. Microsoft claims these phones use Microsoft-patented technology pertaining to location services and text messaging. These devices all run Google's Android platform. Microsoft has successfully forced most Android smartphone makers into signing licensing agreements for patents that are part of the Android operating system. "We respect Kyocera but we believe they need to license the patented technology they are using. We're hopeful this case can be resolved amicably," said Microsoft in a statement. Kyocera has yet to respond to the allegations.
Google's forthcoming wireless service will only be available to the Nexus 6 handset at launch, reports the Wall Street Journal. Citing sources familiar with Google's plans, the Journal says Google's wireless service will "weave together" access from T-Mobile and Sprint's cellular services, in addition to WiFi. The service won't be available to older Nexus handsets, such as the LG-made Nexus 5 and Nexus 4. The Nexus 6, made by Google's former Motorola unit, went on sale last year and is available directly from Google online. At the Mobile World Congress trade show this week, Google's Sundar Pichai confirmed plans to offer wireless service on an experimental basis. He likened it to the Nexus device program, about which he said, "Our goal here is to drive a set of innovations which we think the system should adopt." Android 5.0 Lollipop is able to automatically pick the best wireless service (cellular or WiFi) based on a given app's needs. Google did not comment on the Journal's report.
Google has pushed out a minor update to its Gmail application for iPhones and iPads that allows people to reply to or archive emails directly from incoming notifications on the lock screen. When pressed on the lock screen, the new reply button opens a response in the Gmail application, which reduces steps and saves time. Gmail now also allows users to share media content (photos, videos) from other apps directly to new messages in Gmail. Gmail is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Softcard, the mobile wallet service developed by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless, has informed users the application will go offline March 31. Softcard customers can use the app through that date, but afterward their accounts will automatically be closed. Softcard recommends users who wish to be able to make mobile payments in the future download Google Wallet. Google purchased certain Softcard assets in a deal announced last month. Google Wallet will replace Softcard on Android handsets later this year. Softcard never caught on with consumers due to limited handset, credit card, and retail support. General interest in mobile payments has increased after the launch of Apple Pay on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Samsung recently announced plans for its own mobile wallet service, called Samsung Pay. Samsung Pay will first be available to the Galaxy S6.
Google will no longer provide updates to its Chrome browser for devices running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Google first released Android 4.0 in 2011. Continually developing for it takes resources away from updating/creating apps for newer platforms, says Google. Chrome 42, which Google released recently, is the last major version update Android 4.0 users will see. The browser will continue to function without change.
Google has completely redesigned Google Contacts, the contact-management tool associated with Gmail. The online app has a brand new look and feel that brings it inline with many of Google's existing services. One of the main improvements is the ability to better manage duplicate contacts. Google said it can now keep information up-to-date by blending users' data with its own Google profile data. Google Contacts now also shows the most recent emails and meetings users may have had with specific contacts so they can review their last few messages. Google is offering the new Google Contacts as a preview online. Google didn't say if or how the new Google Contacts service will affect Android's contact application.
The Car Connectivity Consortium today announced that the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, and the HTC One M9 support the MirrorLink standard for connecting to cars. MirrorLink is a platform-agnostic tool that allows smartphones to push apps and content to in-dash consoles. It competes with Google's Android Auto and Apple's CarPlay. With MirrorLink on board, the GS6, GS6 Edge, and One M9 will be able to connect to the infotainment systems of supported cars.
Google today announced the rollout of Play Services 7.0. Play Services is the backbone developers use to create and power applications for Android. The latest version of Play Services adds a handful of new tools for developers to take advantage of when writing apps. First is a Location Settings Dialog box that will appear when users need to activate location services. Typically when apps require location details apps prompt users to go to the settings menu to turn location on. With the Location Settings Dialog box, a pop-up menu will appear instead, allowing users to flick on GPS without diving into the settings menu. A Places API allows developers to call up details from Google’s database of places and businesses within Maps, making it easier for users to see the names of nearby venues and points of interest. Play Services 7.0 breaks up the Google Fit API into six different APIs that allow developers to fine-tune how Google Fit handles workouts and other sensor data capturing in the background. Targeting gamers, the Nearby Connections API lets games connect smartphones and tablets as second-screen controls to the game running on your TV. The new developer tools also makes me changes to advertising behaviors. Google is rolling Play Services 7.0 beginning today. It should reach most phones running Android 2.3 and up in the next one to two weeks. After it has been distributed, Google will give developers a new SDK to access all the new tools inside Play Services 7.0.
Google's Sundar Pichai today said that it doesn't see Android Pay and Google Wallet competing with Samsung's recently announced Samsung Pay. Android Pay is an API that will be used by developers across the entire Android ecosystem. Samsung Pay is a complete solution to make mobile payments possible on Samsung's handsets. Google expects to work with Samsung to see how Android Pay and Samsung Pay can work together. There was some concern over friction between Google and Samsung.
Google today said the company will announce Google-branded wireless service at some point in the coming months. The comments were made by Google's Sundar Pichai, who was speaking at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona. Pichai says Google hopes to use the service to highlight newer technologies, not compete with incumbent companies. Google will work with wireless carrier partners to offer the service, rather than create a network of its own. Various reports have suggested that Google is prepared to partner with Sprint and T-Mobile, but Google still hasn't confirmed any details.
Google has appointed Bradley Horowitz as head of Google’s Photos and Streams products. Google is splitting the Photos product from the main Google+ social network, which is being recognized by Google under the new "Streams" name. The news follows a recent Fortune interview with Google's Sundar Pichai, who implied that the photos product would eventually stand on its own. "It's important to me that these changes are properly understood to be positive improvements to both our products and how they reach users," said Hotowitz in a blog post. At the moment, the products are still together. Google didn't say when an official split will take place. Google has long been improving the Photos app on Android devices, which the default photo gallery tool on Android smartphones.
BlackBerry today announced updates to the Android and iOS versions of BBM. Both versions gain access to two new services: no ads and custom PINs. People who'd like to use BBM with no ads can do so for $0.99 per month. People who'd like to generate their own, personal PIN code can do so for $1.99 per month. Android and iOS users will also be able to share photos within BBM group chats. The Android version of BBM adds support for Android Wear, so smartwatch wearers can receive BBM notifications on their wrists. The iOS version of BBM gains support for TouchID, which will allow users to secure their BBM chats with their fingerprint. BBM is free to download from the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store.
Silent Circle today said it has purchased the Blackphone assets from partner Geeksphone. Silent Circle and Geeksphone together launched the Blackphone, a secure smartphone based on a forked version of Google's Android platform, last year. Geeksphone, based in Spain, created the hardware and Silent Circle, based in Switzerland, provided the secure communications services. Today, Silent Circle bought out SGP Technologies, which was the joint venture formed between the two companies. Silent Circle now fully owns the Blackphone and its associated services. Silent Circle said the move will result in operating efficiencies and an integrated product roadmap. The company also said it intends to introduce new devices, software, and services at the upcoming Mobile World Congress trade show. More information will be available in the days ahead.
LG today announced a variant of its Watch Urbane smartwatch that adds support for LTE and NFC. Because Google's Android Wear platform doesn't yet support LTE and NFC, the Watch Urbane LTE runs LG's proprietary wearables platform. LG said its own platform offers most of the same features found on the Android Wear version of the Watch Urbane. With LTE, the Watch Urbane can make and receive phone calls, send and receive messages, enable carry out push-to-talk conversations, and perform other network-centric tasks without requiring a nearby smartphone. The Watch Urbane LTE has a 1.3-inch 320 x 320 P-OLED display, Qualcomm 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 processor with 1GB of RAM and 4GB of storage, and a bevy of sensors for tracking motion and other metrics. LG significantly increased the size of the battery from 410mAh to 700mAh to accommodate the LTE radio's power requirements. LG claims the watch can last for days in standby mode. The Watch Urbane LTE is protected from water and dust thanks to its IP67 rating. LG didn't disclose pricing or availability.
Google pushed out an update to its calendar app for Android devices today and added several features requested by users. For example, the calendar now offers a seven-day view and pinch-to-zoom. Users can now add Google Drive files directly to events and control whether or not birthdays are shown from Google+. The calendar can also show week numbers and import .ics files from within Gmail and other apps. Google Calendar for Android devices is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google today updated its Android for Work initiative to better woo corporate users. Android for Work is a set of tools that allow businesses to better manage employee devices. For example, work profiles isolate work data (including email, calendar, contacts) from personal data. Companies can protect the work data, but can't touch the personal data. This works natively in Android 5.0 Lollipop. In devices running Ice Cream Sandwich through KitKat, the Android for Work application houses corporate communications in a separate container that acts like a profile where it can be managed securely. Google Play for Work allows businesses to deploy and manage corporate apps securely, and can prevent unauthorized app downloads. Last, Android for Work includes Google's Docs productivity suite, with additional support for Microsoft Exchange and Notes. Google hopes these tools will convince more businesses to adopt Android.
Softcard today indicated that the Windows Phone version of the Softcard mobile payment application will be discontinued. "The Softcard for Windows Phone app will be terminated. A specific termination date will be provided soon," said Softcard in a statement on a new FAQ web site published today. Softcard was developed by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. Supported devices, including a handful of Windows Phones sold by AT&T and Verizon, can use Softcard to make tap-and-go mobile payments at participating retailers. Google purchased Softcard's assets from AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon earlier this week to bolster its own Google Wallet application. The three carriers have agreed to preload Google Wallet on their Android handsets moving forward. Wallet competed with Softcard. Softcard didn't indicate how soon the Windows Phone app will be deactivated. Without it, Windows Phone handsets won't have the same mobile payment options available to Android and iOS devices.
Google today more than doubled the amount of storage available to users of its Play Music service. Beginning today, users can upload as many as 50,000 songs from their personal library (previous limit was 20,000). Once uploaded, the songs can be accessed from any Android device, as well as from the iPhone, iPad, and from web browsers. The upgraded storage and basic service are free. Consumers can pay $10 per month for access to Google's entire library of music.
Apple was found guilty of infringing on three patents held by a company called Smartflash and must pay the firm $532.9 million. A federal jury in Texas reached the verdict Tuesday and said Apple violated the patents willfully. According to Smartflash, Apple's iTunes software uses its patented technology for storing and retrieving music, movies, and games. Apple was disappointed with the verdict and railed against Smartflash, which is a patent holding firm. "We refused to pay off this company for the ideas our employees spent years innovating and unfortunately we have been left with no choice but to take this fight up through the court system," said Apple in a statement provided to Reuters. Smartflash has filed similar lawsuits against Google, HTC, and Samsung.
Google today announced that AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless have agreed to preload Google Wallet on their Android smartphones later this year. The mobile wallet will come on all devices running Android 4.4 KitKat and higher. At the same time, Google is purchasing intellectual property from Softcard -- the mobile payment service created by the same three carriers -- to help improve Wallet's performance. Softcard said its users will be able to continue to make tap-and-go payments at supporting retailers for the time being. Both Google and Softcard said more information will be made available in the coming weeks. Google is looking to revive its mobile wallet product after seeing Apple's success with Apple Pay, which is only available to the iPhone. Google Wallet has been around since 2011.
Google today announced YouTube Kids, what it calls a family-friendly video app for children. The app has narrowed down the focus of content available to what's appropriate for younger viewers. Google said the app is brighter and has bigger user interface elements to make it easier for kids to use. Some parental controls are built in, as well, permitting parents to limit viewing time and set sound and search parameters. Google has worked with a wide variety of content producers to highlight programming from DreamWorks TV, Jim Henson TV, Mother Goose Club, Talking Tom and Friends, National Geographic Kids, Reading Rainbow, and many more. YouTube Kids is available in the Google Play Store and the iTunes App Store beginning today.
By all accounts, both Apple and Google have bold ambitions in the automotive space. But an Apple or Google Car is many years away. What's available today are CarPlay and Android Auto, both of which take a major new step in integrating your phone with your car. They're remarkably similar, both extending your phone's interface to the touch screen in your dash, but relying mostly on voice interaction for safe use while driving. In the this in-depth hands-on, we take a look at how they work, their striking similarities, and how they differ.
Google is seeking help from its carrier and hardware partners to revitalize its flagging Google Wallet service. According to sources cited by the Wall Street Journal, Google is waving more cash in front of network operators to feature the app on their Android smartphones. Google told investors last month that it is prepared to launch a "fully functional payment system" that goes "beyond just tap and pay" at its I/O Developer Conference, scheduled for late May. Google's efforts won't be easy. Google doesn't enjoy the same level of control that Apple does, which manages the hardware and software of the iPhone. Google has to work with the carriers, handset makers, and financial institutions to make it all work. Apple cut carriers out of Apple Pay and only had to work with banks. Google's efforts are being undermined by its own partners. Earlier this week, Samsung purchased LoopPay to help it create its own competitor to Apple Pay; meanwhile, the bulk of Samsung's handsets run Google's Android platform. Moreover, the carriers have their own mobile payment service in place, called Softcard, and actively prevented Google Wallet from accessing the secure portions of their smartphones. According to the Journal, Google is offering carriers a bigger cut of ad dollars for promoting Google Wallet. Further, Google is in talks with carriers to purchase Softcard, which could help resolve some of the issues at play. Google declined to comment on the Journal's story.