Motorola has in recent days updated its camera and gallery applications. The camera app brings QR and barcode scanning to some of Motorola's older handsets, such as the Moto X (2nd Gen.), Moto X Pro, DROID Turbo, and Moto Maxx/Turbo. The gallery app's primary new feature is the ability to move photo albums to microSD memory cards, which the newest Moto X and Moto G smartphones support. Both apps are free to download from the Google Play Store.
John S. Chen, CEO of BlackBerry, admitted that its recent handsets have not sold as well as he hoped. "By any definition it is not a runaway success," said Chen to Re/Code of BlackBerry's smartphone business. Chen put some of the blame on the lack of apps. The Blackberry World app store "[is] not competitive to Google Play or the iTunes store," said Chen. "We're working hard at that." BlackBerry handsets are able to run Android apps, but even that doesn't help. Recent reports have suggested the company is preparing a BlackBerry handset with Android on board, but Chen said, "It is a little more complex [than that], which is why it is not done." BlackBerry has already made significant cuts to its hardware business this year and plans to release just one or two handsets per year. Even so, the company may consider exiting smartphones altogether. "If I can't make money on the phone, I will be out of that telephone handset business. There is a timeline; I won't tell you when."
Vine has updated its Android and iOS apps with a new feature allowing users to easily attach music to their videos. A function called Snap to Beat makes it easy to create what Vine refers to as perfect loops, or soundtracks that loop seamlessly with no breaks. Vine offers a selection of songs that can be attached to videos and it will then automatically trim it to the perfect length for each individual video. The soundtrack function also lets people edit music loops on their own for added control, as well as a handful of sound effects for dramatic impact. The music feature isn't just for adorning videos with songs. Users can discover music through a "featured tracks" tool, as well as easily find out the names of songs playing in other peoples' vine videos. Vine is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.
Apple today announced that Apple Pay is now compatible with PayAnywhere, a type of credit card reader that's in use at about 300,000 locations around the U.S. Apple will sell the newest version of the PayAnywhere terminal to merchants through its own stores. The deal expands the availability of Apple Pay significantly. Apple said it hopes to see Apple Pay accepted at more than 1.5 million locations before year's end. In order to boost interest in the terminal, PayAnywhere is offering new customers $5,000 in free Apple Pay transactions. Apple Pay makes use of NFC to power tap-and-go payments at supporting terminals. Google and Samsung are on the cusp of releasing Android Pay and Samsung Pay, respectively, which will offer similar capabilities to Android handsets.
Instagram marked a major change today by adding support for portrait and landscape photos to its Android and iOS apps. Since its launch, Instagram has required all photos to be square. Some users circumvented the requirement by using third-party apps to make their landscape and portrait images comply with the square shape. Moving forward, photos pulled from the camera roll can be posted in their full size and aspect ratio or zoomed/cropped into a square. The default shape for capturing images within Instagram will still be square. The app, owned by Facebook, is free to download from the Google Play Store and Android App Store.
Facebook is trialling a smart personal assistant that will live inside its Messenger application and complete various tasks for users. For now, the assistant is called Facebook M and Facebook claims it will be superior to competing products. "Unlike other AI-based services in the market, M can actually complete tasks on your behalf," explained Facebook VP David Marcus. "It can purchase items, get gifts delivered to your loved ones, book restaurants, travel arrangements, appointments and way more." Facebook is testing M with a small number of people the Los Angeles area and, for now, its most complicated tasks will be overseen by real people. Facebook didn't say if or when it will expand testing to more users, nor when it will launch the product to everyone. M will join a crowded market of virtual assistants, which already includes Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri, Google's Now, and Microsoft's Cortana.
Google today fully launched its stand-alone YouTube Gaming site. The site features dedicated search algorithms so results focus on games. It includes landing pages for individual game franchises, and allows users to upload their gameplay, similar to Twitch. The service also supports clip highlights and lets users broadcast content easily. The YouTube Gaming web site is live, as is the dedicated mobile app for Android devices. The iOS app has yet to show up in the iTunes App Store. YouTube Gaming is free to access and use.
Google Apps users will soon have to spend less time managing their calendar thanks to a new feature headed to Gmail. Gmail will soon automatically populate Google Calendar with flight, hotel, and other travel information it sees in the inbox. Google will go beyond simply creating events; it will include location details, directions, flight numbers, and check-in times. Google says events added by Gmail will only be visible to the calendar owner, who will be able to delete unwanted events and alter visibility settings to include colleagues. When it becomes available, Google Calendar users will be greeted with a card on their handset followed by an email in Gmail explaining how it works. The feature can be turned off any time. Google Apps is the business version of Google's core productivity services, including Gmail, Calendar, Docs, and Drive. The feature won't be available to government users, and is not yet being made available to normal users. The new functions will roll out to all Google Apps users over the next few weeks.
Microsoft today made its Cortana voice-activated personal assistant available to Android users via the Google Play Store beta channel. The app had previously only been available through a closed beta, but is now accessible through an open beta program. Cortana for Android can be used to track flights and other calendar appointments, set reminders and alarms, and monitor packages. Cortana can also supplant Google Now on Android handsets if users so wish. Cortana beta testers can set Cortana to launch with a long press of the home button, which makes it easier to use Cortana on Android phones. Cortana testers will still be able to interact with and launch Google Now on their handsets via other actions. Cortana for Android is free to download from Microsoft's beta site in the Google Play Store. Microsoft is still working to bring Cortana to iOS devices.
HTC today kicked off a short promotion that will reward buyers of the One M9 smartphone with $100 in Google Play Store credit. Buyers will need to scoop up the phone from HTC.com no later than Oct. 31 to claim the $100 in free app, music, movie, and game content.
Android device owners will soon see fewer Google-branded apps on their smartphones. The company has altered its requirements and phone makers will no longer be forced to stick Google+, Play Games, Newsstand, and Play Books on their smartphones, according to sources cited by the Wall Street Journal. The change comes in response to an investigation the European Commission is conducting into Google's potential monopolistic business practices. Google has long required handset makers to include a series of core apps, such as Gmail, Google Maps, Calendar, and the Play Store. The list of these required apps has grown over the years. Unwanted apps — especially those that cannot be deleted — are often referred to as bloatware. The EU saw the presence of these unwanted and unremovable apps as unfair competition to third-party apps that do the same (or similar) thing. Google has not commented on the matter in any official way. The news was first reported by Android Central.
The folks running Google's Project Ara modular smartphone amended some comments made through its Twitter account to say its device in fact did not break apart when dropped. Earlier in the week, the team said, "No more electropermanent magnets," via its official Twitter account, followed by the hashtag #FailedTheDropTest. The implication was that the modular handset broke apart when dropped. It turns out that's not the case. "BTW #FailedTheDropTest was a joke. Didn't fail. We have been configuring a new solution. It's better too. Better camera? On that too. Better battery life? We're on it," said Project Ara in follow up Tweets. The team said it was "working on its humor."
Yahoo today updated the Yahoo Weather app for Android and iOS devices with several improvements. Yahoo claims the app is much more accurate at providing local weather, and can even zoom in to provide details about microclimates. The app also adds new weather alerts that will arrive 15 minutes ahead of rain, snow, or other severe weather is expected to occur. Yahoo Weather is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.
Google today announced an update to its Android Wear platform that makes it possible to interact directly with watch faces. The revised watch face code lets watch faces change their design to reveal new information, such as notifications, or launch a specific app. Google teamed up with a handful of developers, including Bit, Under Armour, and Together, which created the first set of interactive watch faces. Under Armour's watch face, for example, will let users see their step count, calories burned, and distance moved. The updated platform also includes Google Translate. Users can speak to their watch and see words translated into 44 different languages. Wearers can flip the smartwatch to show a friend, who responds in his or her own language. When the watch is flipped back toward the wearer, the response is translated back to the original language. The Android Wear update is being pushed out to Android Wear devices over the next few weeks. At the same time, Google released the necessary API for developers to use to create the new, active watch screens. It will be up to developers to add interactive functions to their watch faces.
Microsoft today updated its Bing Search app for Android devices and gave it the ability to perform searches from within other applications. The feature, called Bing snapshots, scouts things mentioned on any given page and provides relevant information about them in snapshots. Users need only long-press the home button when surfing the web or browsing Facebook and Bing will automatically search the current screen for details for display. It works similar to Google's forthcoming Google Now On Tap feature in that it is contextually aware. In addition to the updated app, Microsoft is making a new Bing API available to developers so they can integrate the search functionality into their own apps. Bing for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.
The team managing Google's Project Ara has provided a possible reason behind the project's delayed arrival. "No more electropermanent magnets," said the team via its official Twitter account, followed by the hashtag #FailedTheDropTest. Project Ara is a modular smartphone that will allow users to swap out hardware components via removable modules. In order to keep the modules in place, Google turned to electropermanent magnets, which are released by using software on the phone. As the tweet implies, however, the magnets may not be strong enough to survive drop tests. In other words, the handset breaks apart when dropped. Project Ara followed up its initial tweet with one that read, "We are testing a signature experience to attach/detach modules. #WeHopeYouLikeIt." Google recently delayed Project Ara's launch to 2016 and said it is looking for a different launch location. It was originally expected to begin beta testing in Puerto Rico.
Google today pushed out a modest update to the Google Photos app for Android devices and it brings with it several new functions. To start, Google Photos can now recognize animations created by the Google Camera app (think GIFs). Thanks to the update, users can now: log into Google Photos from Google Plus pages; reorder photos within individual albums; trim video clips to be included in movies; and enjoy the new timeline user interface for movie editing. The Google Plus compatibility is especially helpful to those who manage Google Plus pages. Google Photos for Android is free to download from the Play Store.
Google recently said a forthcoming update to its News and Weather application for Android and iOS will add support for seven new languages. The additions include Bahasa Indonesia, Bengali, Bulgarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, and Thai, and bump the total number of languages supported to 35. Google News and Weather offers breaking news stories culled from online as well as up-to-date weather details. The app is free from the Play Store and iTunes App Store.
Microsoft today made Skype 5.10 available to Android handsets and added several new features. To start, Skype users can now customize incoming call sounds for individual contacts. The app also lets users share photos from chats with other Skype friends through a new forwarding function. The update includes some fixes and adjustments as well, such as changing the color of group chat avatars so conversations are easier to differentiate. Skype 5.10 is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google today announced the OnHub, a WiFi router meant for use in the home. Google and hardware partner TP-LINK hid the antennas inside and gave the router a more useful set of lights so people will be more apt to put it out in the open, where it will work better. Google says the device automatically selects the best frequencies for optimal performance and an accompanying app (Android and iOS) lets owners manage it remotely. The app can provide details about bandwidth usage, run network checks, and suggest fixes to problems. It also lets people more easily control the router's password. The OnHub will update the firmware automatically to keep it secure and add new features. It supports Bluetooth Smart Ready, Weave, and 802.15.4 for potential connected-home uses. Google said it expects to release more OnHub-branded products later this year with Asus. The OnHub WiFi router is available for preorder today. It costs $199 and will ship in the coming weeks.
Opera updated its Opera Max data-savings tool for Android with support for several video services. Users can now view videos hosted on YouTube and Netflix and manage how much mobile data they consume. Opera claims Max can pare down YouTube without degrading video quality or increasing buffering times. Opera Max also gains VPN controls and a handful of adjustments to the user interface. Opera Max for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google has given Hangouts a web site all its own. Users of Google's cross-device messaging service can now visit Hangouts.Google.com for a dedicated chat window. The app still resides in Gmail, but those looking for a richer experience can go to the Hangouts web site, which displays conversations in bigger windows and lets users customize the wallpaper and other aspects of its appearance. Hangouts is available to Android and iOS devices as a mobile messaging app. Conversations are synced between the desktop and mobile devices automatically. Hangouts is free to use.
Google indicated today via Twitter that its Project Ara modular smartphone project has been delayed until next year. The project was scheduled to trial its mix-and-match smartphone hardware in Puerto Rico this year, but the company now says it is looking at U.S. sites and won't get off the ground until some point in 2016. Google didn't provide a real reason for the delay, other than to say "lots of iterations, more than we thought." The idea would allow people to swap and interchange smartphone modules, such as the display, battery, or camera, rather than replace the entire device.
Google today officially named the next version of its mobile operating system Android 6.0 Marshmallow. The company had strongly implied that Marshmallow would be the final name in a teaser video released last week. In addition to revealing the new operating system's name, Google made the Android 6.0 SDK available to developers, which contains an updated set of APIs. This final version takes advantage of newer, more power efficient fingerprint APIs and finalizes the permissions user interface. Last, Google is pushing out what it says is the final preview version of Android 6.0 Marshmallow to developers and testers. Google is expected to make Android 6.0 Marshmallow available to the general public in September or October.
A serious flaw has been found in Google's recent fix for the recently-disclosed "Stagefright" security issue in its Android OS. The issue lets malicious video content crash a phone, and can be triggered by automatic downloading of a video MMS. Google is distributing ad updated software patch to partners, and will update Nexus phones next month. The Stagefright issue allows a malicious video to access random software code on the device, thus potentially crashing the phone. It cannot easily be used to target specific code, thanks to a security feature built into Android called ASLR. ASLR randomizes the location of code in memory to keep these kinds of exploits from being able to target any specific system code and perform a specific intended action.
Google today said it has finished updating most Android devices to Play Services 7.8. This new version of Play Services adds several functionalities that developers can take advantage of when writing apps. For example, Nearby Messages adds a cross-platform API to let devices communicate with beacons more efficiently based on proximity. It melds Bluetooth, WiFi, and ultrasonic audio to connect devices. Play Services 7.8 adds a Face API, which developers can put to use finding human faces in images and video. It performs better than the Android FaceDetector.Face API. Google said it is much quicker to see eyes, noses, and mouths no matter how the image is oriented. Google sees this API being helpful in games and photo apps. The Barcode API lets apps recognize barcodes automatically in real-time. Google says it can read multiple barcodes at once and supports many types of barcodes. Google improved Google Cloud Messaging, too, which gains expanded notification support localization. Last, Google added high and normal priority notifications to Google Cloud Messaging, which will be a feature in Android Release M, due later this year. Play Services 7.8 is compatible with most Android devices running 2.3 Gingerbread and later. It should already be updated for the majority of users.
As part of its recently-announced corporate restructuring, Google will be parting ways with Niantic Labs, creators of the Ingress and Field Trip apps. Google will now be part of the larger Alphabet parent company. While companies like Nest will remain under the Alphabet umbrella, Niantic will spin out to be a completely separate company. Niantic's Ingress is a multi-player game that uses augmented reality to make the real word the playing field. The company's Field Trip app offers crowd-sourced suggestions on local attractions and businesses.
Lenovo today said it plans to reduce its headcount by as many as 3,200, or about 10%, as it looks to reduce expenses. The company reported earnings and said sales across its various business units dropped by 9% during the quarter. Lenovo's Motorola unit saw a significant drop in shipments, which plunged 31% to 5.9 million phones during the quarter. The company blamed the poor performance on competition in emerging markets. Even though Motorola's sales sank, Lenovo CEO Yang Yuanqing expressed confidence in the division "I still believe mobile is a new business we must win. I still believe this acquisition was the right decision. Except Apple and Samsung, there is no third strong player. I believe that will be Lenovo." Motorola recently released the Moto G in the U.S., and plans to release the Moto X next month. Lenovo acquired Motorola from Google last year for about $2.9 billion.
Rite Aid today said it will begin accepting Apple Pay and Google Wallet in its 4,600 U.S. stores. Rite Aid will also accept Android Pay when it launches later this year. Rite Aid had originally voiced support for the Merchant Customer Exchange-developed CurrentC mobile payments service, but CurrentC has yet to launch. Rite Aid did not say if it still plans to support CurrentC if/when it goes live, nor did it say if it will support Samsung's forthcoming Samsung Pay service, expected later this year. Rite Aid customers who have Apple Pay and/or Google Wallet activated on their handsets will be able to make tap-and-go mobile payments beginning August 15. In other Apple Pay news, Apple recently said American Express Corporate cardholders can use their cards with Apple Pay. Further, Apple Pay is now available to Bellco cardholders in Colorado.
Nextbit today said it plans to fully reveal its first smartphone on Sept. 1. The company has not revealed any details about the handset just yet, other than to say it will make use of Google's Android platform and will hook into Nextbit's cloud services. "The idea is to take Android a step further, and extend beyond the hard specs of the phone to offer features that consumers have been clamoring for over the past few years," said the company. Nextbit is based in San Francisco and run by former Googler Tom Moss. HTC's former head of design, Scott Croyle, is also aboard. The company is backed by Google Ventures and other investment firms. The Nextbit phone will be available for order on the Sept. 1 launch date.
Google today announced sweeping changes to the structure of the company that sees Google Inc. becoming part of a larger company called Alphabet. Moving forward, the large business entity known as Google will be renamed Alphabet. Google will operate as a smaller part of Alphabet with Sundar Pichai — long the head of Google's Android and Chrome businesses — taking charge as CEO of Google. Larry Page will become CEO of Alphabet, an entity that both he and Google co-founder Sergey Brin will manage. "What is Alphabet? Alphabet is mostly a collection of companies. The largest of which, of course, is Google. This newer Google is a bit slimmed down, with the companies that are pretty far afield of our main internet products contained in Alphabet instead," explained Page. "What do we mean by far afield? Good examples are our health efforts: Life Sciences and Calico." YouTube is another business that will operate as a separate unit under the over-arching Alphabet brand, as are the X Labs and Google Ventures and Capital. Page said Alphabet Inc. will replace Google Inc. as the publicly traded company in the stock market. Page and Brin believe giving each business unit some independence and its own identity will add focus and lead to better long-term prospects for each. The changes are effective immediately.
Google today announced a new 3D rendering API for Android called Vulkan. The Vulkan API provides developers with more control over how mobile processors render 3D environments like those used in games. Google says the API is similar to OpenGL ES in that it is an open standard for 3D graphics. However, it has been created explicitly to help minimize CPU overhead and conserve resources for the GPU. The API also works better in parallel by allowing multiple threads to perform commands at the same time. Google said it is developing Android CTS tests for Vulkan so developers will be able to test apps across a variety of devices at once. Moving forward, Google says developers can choose either the Vulkan API or the OpenGL ES API for rendering their 3D environments. OpenGL is easier to use, but Vulkan provides a finer degree of control. The end result, hopes Google, will be improved gaming experiences on Android handsets and tablets.
Google today pushed out a significant update to its Hangouts messaging application for Android devices that puts it inline with the iOS app. Google overhauled Hangouts' visual appearance with material design, and improved how the app feels thanks to more fluid transitions, and better touch response. Major actions, such as composing new messages, have been simplified with redesigned buttons. Google streamlined the contact list and made it quicker to attach emoji, GIFs, location details, and multiple photos to messages. Google says it cleaned up lots of bugs, too, to improve the app's reliability and speed, which has the side benefit of reducing battery consumption. Google also updated the behavior of the Hangouts Dialer with an outbound caller ID. It added support for Google Voice functions, such as support for group MMS messages. The new Hangouts interacts better with Android Wear, which lets people send messages from their wearable via voice commands. Last, the app regains the ability to set custom status/away messages. The new Hangouts app starts rolling out to Android users today, and is available in the Play Store.
Microsoft recently updated the beta version of Cortana for Android and gave it the power to supplant Google Now. Cortana beta testers can now set Cortana — rather than Google Now — to launch with a long press of the home button. The change makes it easier to use Cortana on Android phones, though people will still be able to interact with and launch Google Now on their handsets via other actions. Cortana is Microsoft's personal assistant, which can do many things like Google Now, like set reminders and surface travel details. Microsoft has not yet said when it will release a 1.0 version of Cortana for Android.
Motorola has said it, too, will push a security patch to resolve the Stagefright vulnerability found on its Android smartphones. Motorola's newest phones, the Moto X Style, Moto X Play, and Moto G (3rd Gen) will have the patches installed in the factory. Motorola is actively building patches for the Moto X, G, and E (1st Gen, 2nd Gen); Moto X Pro; Moto Maxx/Turbo; and Droid Turbo and Droid Ultra/Mini/Maxx. Motorola will begin handing the patch to its carrier partners on August 10, but it will be up to carriers to deliver the final version of the patch to end users via over-the-air software updates. Google, Samsung, Alcatel OneTouch, and LG have all said they plan to issue Stagefright security patches in the near future.
Google has pushed out an update to the iOS version of Google Maps and added several key features. The primary addition is night mode, which darkens the screen for navigating when driving at night. Night mode only functions/appears when navigating at nighttime. Google Maps users can now also label places to see them on the map and in search suggestions, and edit photo captions. Google Maps is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Microsoft has made available a handful of apps for wearables running Google's Android Wear and Apple's WatchOS. First, Microsoft has ported Outlook to the Apple Watch. The app lets Apple Watch owners browse and read emails and perform actions such as archiving, deleting, and flagging messages. It includes pre-written responses and supports dictation for longer messages. It accompanies the Outlook email app for iOS. Second, Microsoft made its Translator app available to both the Apple Watch and Android Wear. The app lets wearable owners get instant translations in 50 languages by speaking to their watch. It supports search history and caches recently-used phrases. Third, Microsoft updated its OneDrive and OneNote apps for Android Wear. OneDrive will now display a photo on the watch face alongside notifications for up-to-date files. OneNote makes it easy to dictate new notes by saying "OK Google, take a note." The app also displays the most recently viewed notes on the watch face. Outlook, Translator, OneDrive, and OneNote are all free to download from iTunes and the Google Play Store.
HBO updated its HBO Now application and added support for Google's Chromecast device. Android smartphone and tablet owners will now be able to push HBO Now content from their device to a Chromecast-equipped TV. HBO Now is HBO's $15-per-month subscription video service. Google said a handful of other apps have been updated with Chromecast support, including games FitFlap and Catch Phrase Blitz, as well as Pixlr, Food Network, Travel Channel, and Pokemon TV. All these apps are available from the Google Play Store.
Google has pushed out small updates to its Slides and Keep mobile apps. Google Slides now allows people to push presentations directly from their handset to Google Video Hangouts. This permits them to participate and present at the same time, even granting them access to presentation notes. Google Keep has been updated, too, with the ability to save notes from Keep to Google Docs. Once saved to Google Docs, users can do more to edit and interact with the notes. Exporting the notes to Google Docs does not erase the note stored in Google Keep. Google Slides and Google Keep are both free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google today said it plans to push security patches to Nexus-branded Android devices on a monthly basis to make sure they remain protected from potential and developing threats. Google is delivering the first security update today to the Nexus 4, Nexus 5, Nexus 6, Nexus 7, Nexus 9, Nexus 10, smartphones and tablets, and the Nexus Player. Google says the update contains fixes for the StageFright vulnerability and other issues submitted over the last few weeks by its carrier and handset partners. Google will simultaneously release security fixes to the public via the Android Open Source Project. Google committed to updating Nexus devices with major operating system versions for a period of two years, and security patches for a period of three years or 18 months from the date on which the phone is discontinued for sale.