Google today outlined a number of changes to its various messaging services, including a dramatic shift for Hangouts. Starting May 22, Google Hangouts will no longer support SMS for text messaging between phones. Hangouts will continue to work as a messaging client, it just cannot be used to send SMS messages. Earlier this year Google said it plans to refocus Hangouts on enterprise communications. Google is now pushing the Android Messages app as its primary SMS client. The company is working with carriers to add RCS to the Android Messages, and Google expects to see the app become the default SMS tool on Android phones over time. RCS in Android Messages will support features like read receipts, group chat, hi-res photo sharing, and more. Google plans to notify Hangouts users about the change in the coming weeks and will recommend they download Android Messages. The shift to Android Messages will not impact Hangouts users' message history. More importantly, Google says Google Voice and Project Fi customers will continue to be able to use Hangouts for SMS for the foreseeable future. In other Google messaging news, Google said it plans to get rid of Google Talk within Gmail and replace it with Google Hangouts. It began doing this several years ago, but will finalize the transition in June. The legacy Google Talk Android app, which was replaced in 2013, will cease working when the transition takes place. All Google Talk users should expect to use Google Hangouts moving forward. Google is also retiring a number of Gmail Labs, including Authentication Icon, Google Voice Player, Picasa previews, Pictures in chat, Quick Links, Quote Selected Text, Smartlabels, and Yelp previews. Last, Google is removing some Google+ functionality from Gmail, specifically the ability to email Google+ profiles and the use of Google+ Circles. These changes will take place after April 24.
Instagram today said it has rolled out two-factor authentication for all users around the world. The extra layer of security is optional, but can be used to safeguard accounts. With 2FA turned on, account holders will need to enter a code (in addition to their username and password) each time they log in from a new device. The code is typically sent to a known or trusted device via text message. Instagram is also taking steps to protect users from potentially sensitive content. Moving forward, photos and videos that may have sensitive content will be covered by a screen. Instagram says these photos and videos don't necessarily violate its guidelines, but others have reported them as offensive or sensitive. A simple tap allows people to bypass the screen and view the photo/video. Instagram is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.
Google today said it plans to give phone makers and network operators more options for pushing security updates to smartphones. In an annual report published today, Google says some 735 million devices received at least one security update during 2016. However, some 50% of devices in use haven't received a security update in the past 12 months. "We’re working to increase device security updates by streamlining our security update program to make it easier for manufacturers to deploy security patches and releasing A/B updates to make it easier for users to apply those patches," explained Google in its report. Google continues to work with security firms and researchers to find and fix bugs. The company typically releases security updates once per month. Google didn't say exactly how it plans to address security updates with its partners moving forward, only that it would.
Google updated a handful of its apps and services today, including Duo, Allo, and Photos. Moving forward, Duo users on Android and iOS will be able to make voice-only calls when they wish. Google says Duo's voice calls work well on most connection speeds and won't consume much data. Audio calls via Duo are being made available in Brazil today, with other regions to follow in the next few days. Google updated its Allo messaging app with support for attachments in group chats. Users will be able to share several file types (.pdf, .docs, .apk, .zip, and mp3) with groups through the messaging app. Last, Google says Photos is now better at backing up photos. Photos will first send low-resolution backups to Photos when the network connection is slow or spotty. Photos will then replace the low-resolution shots with high-quality images once good connectivity is available. Moreover, people will be able to share the low-resolution previews with others immediately. These new features are rolling out to Duo, Allo, and Photos over the next few days.
Google today made it possible for Maps users to share their exact location with friends and family. In Maps, users need only tap the blue dot (signifying their location) and select those with whom they'd like to share. People can share through their Google contacts as well as send links through most messaging apps. The tool permits people to select how long they share their location, which ranges between 15 minutes and 3 days. Alternately, location sharing can be left on indefinitely and/or turned off at any time. Indicators in the app let people know when and with whom they are sharing their location for as long as the tool is active. Recipients of location data will see the shared location as a blue dot on Maps in addition to their own blue dot. The tool also lets people share their real-time location and trip progress while navigating between points. Google says the location-sharing feature works on Android, iPhone, the mobile web, and desktops. Google plans to roll the tool out worldwide over the next few days. Google also recently made it easier for people to remember where they parked their car. A tool in Maps lets users pinpoint their parking spot when they park.
Google today said it has added more stores to the home screen of its News & Weather app for mobile devices. Specifically, the home screen will list an additional 200 stories in a section called More Headlines. Google says the More Headlines section is easy to scroll through on smartphone screens and offers a deeper look at business, tech, entertainment, sports, and other topics. The section loads on demand so the more you scroll down, the more stories it will load. Google News & Weather incorporates Google's AMP articles, which load faster over mobile connections. The More Headlines section will reach the Android and iOS versions of News & Weather over the come days. The app is free to download from the Google App Store and iTunes App Store.
Google today announced the first preview of Android O, the unnamed next version of its core mobile operating system. This early version of Android O brings with it a handful of new features that clearly target developers and device makers more so than end users. The primary consumer-facing function is a picture-in-picture viewer for Android phones (this feature is already available to Android tablets). Developers will be able to take advantage of a new background limiter, which can control how much power apps are allowed to consume when running in the background. Android O takes a new stab a notifications with what it calls notification channels. These will let users manage which types of notifications are allowed from individual apps, including new visual groupings that make it easier to see what's going on. The new Autofill API will let developers of apps such as password managers choose autofill defaults across keyboards. Adaptive icons for the home screen will automatically change based on system preferences so they can adapt to different phones and user interfaces. Android O adds new support for Bluetooth audio codecs, such as Sony's LDAC codec. Other features include: in-app pinning of shortcuts and widgets; support for Wi-Fi Aware; XML fonts; wide-gamut color apps; new WebView APIs; expanded accessibility options; improved support for multiple displays; and changes to the MediaPlayer, including new support for the MPEG2_TS codec for media streaming. Developers can install this first Android O preview on their Pixel, Pixel XL, Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X, Pixel C, and Nexus Player, but will have to do so manually via their computer. Google says Android O will see at least one more developer preview before the company releases a consumer beta of the operating system. Google didn't suggest when the final version of Android O might be ready, but it typically releases new Android operating systems in the fall.
Google today said an update to its mobile search app should make it quicker and easier to find basic information via tappable shortcuts that are positioned underneath the search box. The shortcuts let people perform instant searches for a variety of items, including entertainment, sports, weather, food, news, and more. The shortcuts appear on the home screen of the Google search app on Android and iOS devices, as well as Google.com in mobile browsers. Google says Android users will have access to more shortcuts, such as flights, currency converters, attractions, hotels, and others. People will be able to customize the shortcuts and results based on their preferences. Google says it will automatically add tappable search shortcuts for big and current events as they come and go. Google Search is free to download from the Google Play Store and the iTunes App Store.
Google has released a second beta update for Android 7.1.2. Build NPG47I is rolling out to the Google Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel C, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, and Nexus Player devices, as long as those devices are enrolled in the public beta program. Google says Android 7.1.2 focuses on refinements, bug fixes, and other unspecified optimizations for both end users and carriers. Google has been testing the platform with developer betas since January. Build NPG47I will reach beta testers in the days ahead.
Instagram today made it possible to save live video broadcasts to your phone's local gallery. Live videos that are broadcast to Instagram eventually disappear from the app, but now users can elect to store videos on their phone for safekeeping. The option is made available after users end their live broadcast. Instagram says only the raw video is saved; extras such as comments, likes, and number of viewers are not added to the saved product. The video-saving feature is available to the Android and iOS versions of Instagram, which are free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store, respectively.
Google updated its Motion Stills app for the Apple iPhone this week and added a small number of new features. Motion Stills allows iPhone owners to export their Live Photos in the more widely usable GIF format, which can be shared with non-Apple devices. Chiefly, users can now pick the best possible frame within the Live Photo. This sets the tone for how the app treats other frames in the Live Photo and creates a more personal animation. The app also improves how it treats floating text bubble tracking, and how GIFs are exported. Motion Stills is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Verizon Wireless' launch plans for the LG G6 include a free LG television set. To start, Verizon is asking $28 per month for 24 months, or about $672 in total for the LG G6. For a limited time, customers can get a free LG 43-inch Smart TV when activating an LG G6 on a new Verizon Unlimited service plan. In order to get the TV, customers need to remain with Verizon for at least six months and then submit a claim. The TV will be shipped 8 to 10 weeks after the claim is made. Verizon Wireless is also offering up to $200 on select trade-ins. The trade-ins must be in good, working condition and are limited to the Apple iPhone 6, 6 Plus and SE; the HTC 10; the LG G4, G5, V10, or V20; or the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 or 5, S6, S6 edge, S6 edge+, S7, and S7 edge. Last, LG G6 buyers qualify for a free Google Home from LG. Preorders begin March 17 and Verizon will begin shipping the LG G6 on March 30.
AT&T today announced its plans to sell the LG G6 and the company is going a step further than competitor T-Mobile. For a limited time, people who purchase an LG G6 can score a second LG G6 when adding a new line. AT&T is asking for $24 per month for 30 months to cover the cost of the phone, or about $720 in total. The offer requires both lines use an AT&T Next installment plan, and the cost of the second device will be covered on a month-to-month basis. In addition to the two-for-one offer, customers who buy the LG G6 before April 30 will be given a free Google Home by LG. Last, AT&T customers who buy an LG G6 can get the LG Watch Sport for $50 with a two-year service agreement on the wearable. AT&T will start taking preorders for the LG G6 on March 17, with orders shipping on April 7.
T-Mobile today said customers can buy the LG G6 online and in stores beginning April 7. T-Mobile is asking for $26 down and $26 per month for 24 months to cover the phone's $650 retail cost. Further, T-Mobile customers who order the G6 before April 30 will receive a Google Home from LG for free. The Google Home normally costs $129. The LG G6 has a 5.7-inch screen with an 18:9, or 2:1, aspect ratio. Other features include a Snapdragon 821 processor, dual 13-megapixel cameras, and a rear-mounted fingerprint reader. The phone is made from metal and glass and is waterproof. It runs Android 7 Nougat and includes the Google Assistant.
ZTE today began pushing Android 7.1.1 to its Axon 7 flagship smartphone. The Axon 7 is one of the first devices other than Google's own Pixel handsets to receive this update. Some of the features added in the system upgrade include support for T-Mobile WiFi Calling; a wider selection of gender-balanced emoji and GIFs; performance improvements to Google's Daydream VR; and the latest security patches. ZTE says it also fixes bugs and tweaked behaviors throughout the operating system. People who own the Axon 7 can download the update manually via the system settings tools on their phone or wait for it to arrive over the air.
Google today announced Family Link, an app and service parents can use to set up and monitor Android smartphones for their children. Parents can use the app to create Google accounts for kids younger than age 13, which is linked to the parent account. The app lets parents approve and block apps from the Google Play Store, control screen time with daily limits, and remotely lock or prevent devices from being used at night. Google is offering Family Link through an early access program. Parents interested in testing it can request an invitation. Family Link requires handsets running Android 7 Nougat and up.
Facebook is making it easier for people to find and contact their local government officials. The latest version of the app includes a section called Town Hall. Using it, people can seek out local, state, and federal officials based on location. The app makes it easy to subscribe to any or all of the representatives' official Facebook pages, as well as contact them directly through the app. Contact options include messaging and emailing, but not calling. Individual reps' pages are up to that person to maintain, but can contain mailing addresses, phone numbers, direct email addresses, and other details concerning their office and initiatives. The app even shows people which of their friends have subscribed to their own local government officials. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently discussed his intent to make it simpler for people to step up local civil action through Facebook. This Town Hall feature may be a first step in making that happen. Facebook is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.
Google has updated its Chrome browser for iOS devices and given it the ability to save online stories for later reading. The share button now includes a "read later" option that will download the article directly to the device so it can be read at a later time, even when the phone is offline. Chrome 57 is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Google has made it simpler to find music when casting or streaming thanks to a small update to the Google Home app. The latest version of Google Home now includes a Listen tab that's dedicated to music. It reveals curated playlists patched together from songs, albums, podcasts, and more. The Listen tab works with music services including Google Play Music and Spotify, and can tap into whatever playlists may already be on the owner's phone or tablet. Last, Google Home will display a set of recommended or new songs/artists to help people explore new music. The idea here is to make it easier to manage music from a single place, rather than force people to use their music app to find music and the Google Home app to cast it. Now, the Google Home app can handle both discovering and casting. The app is free to download from the Google Play Store and the iTunes App Store.
Google today made it possible to send or request money within Gmail on Android devices. The sender will need a Google Wallet account, but the recipient does not need Google Wallet, nor even Gmail. The service is free for both the sender and receiver. The recipient can transfer the funds from Gmail to the bank account of their choice. The tool is available via the attachment button, which allows people to send/request specific dollar amounts. The send-money feature will be available in an update to the Gmail app, which is rolling out over the next few days. The service competes with similar offerings from Venmo and PayPal. It is only available in the U.S.
Tag Heuer and Intel today announced the Modular 45, an Android-powered smartwatch run by an Intel processor. As the name implies, the wearable is highly configurable thanks to easy-to-swap modules, horns, bracelets, buckles, and dials. Tag Heuer and Intel claim more than 500 unique combinations are possible. The device uses an Intel Atom Z34XX processor and relies on Android Wear 2.0 with Google Assistant. Some of the specs include a 1.39-inch AMOLED display covered by sapphire, a titanium case, all-day battery life, 4 GB of memory, and water resistance to 5 atmospheres (~100 feet). The Modular 45 includes Bluetooth, GPS, and WiFi, but not LTE nor a heart rate monitor. The Modular 45 costs $1,600. It goes on sale today.
Google recently released Uptime, an app that lets people share and watch YouTube videos simultaneously from different phones. The idea is to make YouTube (even) more social and interactive. With Uptime installed, people can watch a video, interact and chat, curate favorites, and get daily recommendations together with friends. Interactions include stickers, emoji, and other real-time reactions to videos. Uptime is only available to the iPhone for now. Google hasn't said if or when it will bring Uptime to Android handsets.
Pandora today finally launched its long-awaited Pandora Premium music service for mobile devices and the web. Pandora Premium is a $10-per-month music streaming service that competes with Apple Music, Spotify, and Google Play Music. Like similar products, Pandora Premium offers ad-free, all-you-can-eat streaming of millions of tracks. It includes unlimited skips and downloads for offline listening. Pandora Premium competes with Pandora's own $5 monthly product, which is also ad-free and allows for some skipping. The major difference between the two is the recommendation engine. Pandora Premium relies on the data Pandora has collated via the Music Genome to the tune of one billion data points per day. It also takes advantage of users' own "thumbs up" activity and creates playlists based on those songs. The Premium product will be more aggressive about pushing recommendations, particularly when users reach the end of a play list or album. Pandora first announced Pandora Premium late last year. Today marks the service's official launch. The Pandora app is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.
Google recently launched a new web site that lets people configure and design their home screen experience. The tool is meant to help those who might not be fully versed in all the different options available within Android to create a home space that works for them. Using #myAndroid, people answer a series of questions concerning the preferences for design usability, and likes/dislikes. At the end of the test, Google recommends wallpaper packs, alternative launchers, icon packs, and even some applications to help people achieve the look they created. Anyone can use #myAndroid online.
Google this week made significant change to its core productivity suite, including its email, online storage, and messaging tools. Gmail gains support for add-ons from the G Suite Marketplace, which will let third-party companies create small apps that can hook into an enhance Gmail. Google Drive earned a major overhaul. The new Drive now includes Team Drives for shared work spaces, Google Vault for protecting sensitive data, Drive File Stream for integrating with existing apps and tools, and Quick Access for advanced search powered by machine learning. Google Hangouts sees what is perhaps the most visible change, as Google split the messaging service in two. Moving forward, Hangouts' two major functions will be covered in separate applications, Google Meet and Google Chat. Meet is a video conferencing tool that Google says works via shared links; it doesn't require accounts, plugins, or downloads, and is accessible from PCs, tablets, and mobile phones. Further, Meet integrates with Gmail, Google Calendar, and other Google services. Google Chat takes features from Google's other services and packs them into a more powerful messaging app. For example, it supports virtual rooms for team conversations and works with Google Drive, Docs, and Photos for sharing files directly with the group. Chat also gains access to bots and third-party applications. The new tools will become available over time, according to Google. Hangouts Meet is available immediately, but Hangouts Chat is only being offered through an early adopter program. Google didn't detail how these changes will impact mobile users, but it's safe to assume many of the features will eventually be accessible from smartphones.
Google today updated its Gboard keyboard application for Android devices and made it possible to translate text in real time. Clicking the new translate icon loads Google Translate, which can instantly translate words as you type. Gboard also made it easier to find emojis and GIFs as the app will suggest them as users type. Further, GIFs can now be shared with other messaging apps, including Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Hangouts, and Allo. Other new features include an expanded set of scenic views for backdrops and support for search in right-to-left languages. Gboard for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Facebook is updating its Messenger application with disappearing stories that behave similar to those of Snapchat and Instagram. The feature, called Messenger Day, lets people create short stories made up of photos and videos and then share them with their Facebook friends. The content for each day automatically disappears after 24 hours. Messenger Day plays on the in-app camera that Facebook added to Messenger last year. Like many modern messaging tools, Messenger Day includes effects, emoji, and art for dressing up shared photos and videos. It also supports text for adding comments directly to images and videos. Messenger Day lets users share their story with a single person, groups, or everyone. People can import conversation threads from Messenger if they wish, and Messenger will provide alerts when people share new content in their Day. Photos and video captured via Messenger Day will be saved to the device's local camera roll for safekeeping. Facebook has been testing this feature overseas for several months, but is now rolling it out globally to Android and iOS devices. Facebook Messenger is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.
Users of Google's Allo mobile messaging application can now use the service from the comfort of their car. The latest update, available in the Google Play Store, brings support for Android Auto to Allo, which joins several other messaging services that are already accessible when in drive mode. Google says the latest update also adds animated emoji. Allo, which integrates the Google Assistant and yet doesn't support SMS, is free to download from Google's app store.
BlackBerry is pushing the March security patches from Google to its BlackBerry Priv, DTEK60, and DTEK50 smartphones. Google made the security patches available to its own Nexus and Pixel devices earlier this week. The combined March 1 and March 5 patch plugs a significant number of vulnerabilities, including at least 10 classified as critical. Critical holes can lead to remote code execution, which means hackers can take control over devices from afar. BlackBerry says Priv, DTEK60, and DTEK50 owners should see the update appear over the next few days. Alternately, users can seek the update manually via their phone's system settings.
Google has updated its Google Translate service and made it possible to generate higher-quality translations for a handful of new languages. Specifically, Google has applied its neural machine translation technique to Hindi, Russian, and Vietnamese. This methodology translates entire sentences at a time, rather than individual words or smaller phrases. The results create more accurate translations that sound more natural and are better at conveying the intended meaning of the original content. Google has already applied neural machine translation to a number of other languages, such as Portuguese and Turkish. Google says it will apply neural machine translations to more languages over time. The improved Hindi, Russian, and Vietnamese is available thanks to an update on the web, as well as to the mobile Google Translate app for Android and iOS devices.
Google today provided some information about its March 2017 security patches for Android devices. The patches plug a significant number of security holes that threaten all Android devices. Google found dozens of vulnerabilities, of which it classified 10 as critical, or able to remotely execute code. Google is pushing two separate patches to cover these vulnerabilities, one dated March 1 and the second dated March 5. As always, Google is pushing the patches directly to Nexus- and Pixel-branded devices first, and has already provided factory images for download. Google's handsets will receive both patches in a single download. Google said that, as far as it is aware, none of these security holes have been exploited for nefarious purposes. Google has already given the patches to its OEM partners. It will be up to individual hardware makers to offer the patches to their own devices.
Google says a new version of its Google Photos app introduces several new editing tools for improving photographs. The Google Photos editor already automatically corrects exposure and saturation, but will now also automatically correct white balance. It can sense whether photos are too yellow or too blue and balance them out. Further, the editor makes it possible to manually control white balance with a slider tool. Google says this feature is rolling out to Google Photos on the web and for Android devices this week, with iOS to follow later.
Google has this week opened up beta testing programs for its Gboard keyboard application and for Google Play Services. Gboard is an advanced keyboard that includes emoji and GIF search tools. Google Play Services is the core behind the Google Play Store and is what allows developers to create apps for multiple versions of the operating system. Google warns that beta variants of Gboard and Play Services may be unstable when compared to the public releases. Google hopes beta testers will offer feedback about their experiences in order to help improve the apps ahead of general release. Google already offers beta testing programs for the Google Search app and Chrome browser.
Google today made its Gmail application for Android devices more useful to those who use Microsoft Exchange services. The latest version of Gmail adds support for Exchange tasks. Gmail can automatically synchronize tasks to/from Exchange, allowing Gmail users to stay on top of their task list. People can create, edit, and flag tasks, as well as set or alter task priorities from within Gmail. The unified task list across Exchange and Gmail means people will be able to check things off their task list from their phone or PC and see things marked as complete on their other devices. Gmail for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google improved its Allo messaging service today with more expressive tools. Allo already allows people to search for and use emoji and stickers. Now, Allo includes a tool for seeking and using GIFs within messages. The GIF search is available by swiping left on the smiley search bar. For the daring, an "@lucky" search function will search for and send a random GIF to message recipients. Google says Allo's emoji are now animated. Touching and holding one of 10 supported emoji brings it to life when sent. Last, Google Assistant is more readily accessible within Allo. Google says it is easier to bring Google Assistant into conversations for help and suggestions. The new version of Allo is available for Android devices starting today, and will reach iOS devices soon.
Google today said its Google Assistant voice-activated tool is now being pushed out to Android 6 marshmallow and Android 7 Nougat devices. Most every device should gain access to the tool over the next few days. Google Assistant allows people to make conversational requests of their Android smartphone. Assistant debuted first within the Google Allo messaging app, and later on the Google Pixel smartphones, Google Home in-home speaker, and Android Wear 2.0 smartwatches.
Google this week announced YouTube TV, another way to watch television content online. Google partnered with more than 40 television networks, including national and regional channels, to provide access to their shows for the YouTube generation. Some of the channels include ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, ESPN, USA, FX, Disney Channel, Sprout, E! and Bravo. People can add on Showtime for an extra monthly fee if they wish. The monthly service is accessible from mobile devices, including smartphones, tablets, and PCs. Moreover, Android and iOS device users will be able to cast YouTube TV shows from their phone or tablet to their Chromecast-equipped television set. YouTube TV includes a cloud-based DVR with unlimited storage where people can save and access their shows from practically anywhere. Google will allow people to store recordings for free for up to nine months. Each YouTube TV subscription includes up to six individual accounts for personalized recommendations and DVR recording. Google says YouTube TV will go live in the largest U.S. markets soon, with others to follow shortly thereafter. YouTube TV costs $35 per month and doesn't require any contracts or commitments.
Google has made it possible for people to pull their great ideas from Keep and put them in Google Docs. The company this week added Google Keep, its idea-storing service, to the G Suite, which is the official tool for managing Google Drive and Docs. The integration means people can drag notes from Keep directly into work documents, search notes in Keep while using Docs, add new notes to Keep from within Google Docs, and easily merge Keep and Docs content. Keep and Docs will remain separate apps and services. This week's change simply means people can access content in one from the other. Keep and Docs are available as mobile apps to Android and iOS devices, as well as on PCs via the web.
Samsung today said it intends to adopt Rich Communications Services messaging on its smartphones. RCS is a more advanced messaging standard that supports group chats, video messaging, and more. Samsung acquired RCS technology when it picked up NewNet late last year. Samsung plans to work with overseas carriers such as Deutsche Telekom, Korea Telecom, SK Telecom, T-Mobile, and Vodafone to enable RCS on its devices. Samsung's move follows a similar one made by Google, which is working with a wider selection of phone makers and carriers to bring RCS to Android devices around the world. Samsung is one of only a few device makers not supporting Google's RCS push, and now we know why.
Google has updated Hangouts on the web and on mobile devices with a new user interface for finding the newest messages. Moving forward, Hangouts users will see a "Jump to Last Read" button that will take them to the last unread message in their chat. The button for discerning the number of new messages has also been redesigned to match the newer UI. This change has already reached the iOS version of Hangouts and will hit Android soon.