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Google's Shopping Actions Make It Easy to Buy Stuff from Search Results

Yesterday, 1:20 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced its Shopping Actions program, a way for retailers to surface their products in search results and ensure those products are easy to purchase. Google is bringing Shopping Actions to Google Assistant and Google Search, which will include a universal shopping cart on mobile devices, desktops, and Google Home products. The program is for retailers and lets them surface their products in Google Assistant with voice shopping. For example, customers can say, "OK Google, buy Up & Up laundry detergent," and Google will find the item and then ask if it should added to the user's shopping cart. People can save their checkout and shipping credentials for use across retailers online. Google says the platform offers improved loyalty programs to retailers, which can take advantage of one-click reordering, personalized recommendations, and basket-building. Google has partnered with Target, Ulta, and 1-800 Flowers, which have been testing the service for some time. Google claims early tests have been positive with these initial partners. Businesses interested in participating in Shopping Actions can register with Google online. Mobile device users can expect to see Shopping Actions appear within Google Assistant and Google Search over time.

Google Play Instant Lets You Test-Drive Games Without Downloading Them

Yesterday, 12:26 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced several changes to the Google Play Store and Google Play Games apps that should entice Android device owners to check out the latest games. A new feature called Google Instant Play lets people tap and try games directly in the Google Play Store and Google Play Games app without first downloading the game. Google first introduced Instant Apps in the Play Store last year. Play Instant marks the tool's expansion to gaming. Google says it is starting with a few sample games today and will post more Instant Play games over the course of the year. Google is also making games more visible in order to appear to game developers. The Google Play Games app now includes an "Arcade" tab that lets people view game trailers or take advantage of new tags to browse through game categories. Last, the Google Play Games app will include YouTube videos related to users' favorite games, such as tutorials, to help them boost their skills and/or interest in the game. Google says these new features are hitting the Google Play Store and Google Play Games apps for most Android handsets.

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Google Pay Lets People Use their Phone as Ticket On Las Vegas Monorail

Yesterday, 8:23 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said its Google Pay app can now serve as a transit ticket on the Las Vegas monorail system. People visiting Las Vegas will be able to use Google Pay to purchase their monorail ticket online and add it to the app. The service includes prepaid, single-use, or other types of passes. Once purchased, people will be able to use their phone as the ticket at monorail stations. Google says the system is powered by NXP's MIFARE contactless system, which relies on NFC for authentication at gates. Travelers will need to hold their phone to a reader at the gate in order to enter the monorail. Las Vegas monorail passes in Google Pay include data such as recent transactions, trips, and the location of monorail stops. The most recent version of Google Pay is free to download from the Google Play Store. Google says support for more transit systems in more cities in on the way.

LG Releases Open Source Version of WebOS to Spur Invention

Yesterday, 7:24 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

LG today made an open version of the webOS platform available to developers and the public. Anyone can download webOS Open Source Edition from LG's web site and use the the code for whatever they wish. WebOS was originally developed by Palm for smartphones and later cultivated by HP before being purchased by LG. LG chiefly uses the platform to power its connected devices, such as television sets and refrigerators. LG said developers can grab the source code as well as tools and guides. Forums are available online to help developers become more familiar with webOS and all its capabilities. The platform is based on Linux and supports open web standards such as HTML5 and CSS3, so it should be fairly easy to work with. Further, LG is working with the Korean government to encourage entrepreneurs and startups to make use of the operating system. LG will solicit webOS-based business proposals and provide logistical and technical support to help startups commercialize webOS products. "As we move from an app-based environment to a web-based one, we believe the true potential of webOS has yet to be seen," concluded LG.

Review: LG Tribute Dynasty for Boost Mobile

Yesterday, 6:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

LG's Tribute Dynasty is a sub-$100 handset sold by Boost Mobile and Sprint. This low-cost Android handset features a simple design, average build, and entry-level capabilities. Here is Phone Scoop's in-depth review.

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Apple Seeds iOS 11.3 Beta 6 to Developers and Public

Sunday, 1:52 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple has made available iOS 11.3 Beta 6 to both developers and public testers. iOS 11.3 Beta 6 tweaks performance and includes the battery health meter for certain devices. The tool is meant to help people balance the battery life and performance of older iPhones. iOS 11.3 also introduces four more animoji for the iPhone X, business chat, AirPlay 2, and more personalized recommendations in News. Registered developers and public testers can download iOS 11.3 Beta 6 over the air. Apple said the final version of iOS 11.3 will be available to all consumers this spring. Spring kicks off March 20, and Apple has scheduled an event for March 27. It's possible Apple will provide the final version of iOS 11.3 in the next couple of weeks.

Alcatel Says 1X with Android Go and 3V to Hit US In Coming Months

Friday, 1:05 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Yesterday, 12:14 PM

TCL today announced that it intends to sell the Alcatel 1X with Android Go and the Alcatel 3V in the U.S. at some point over the next few months. Both phones were announced earlier this year. The Alcatel 1X (pictured) is a small, entry-level device with the Android 8.1 Oreo Go Edition on board. Android Go is intended for low-powered phones and includes optimized Go variants of core apps such as Gmail, Maps, and YouTube. The 1X has a 5.3-inch, 18:9 screen with a quad-core MediaTek processor, 1 GB of RAM, 16 GB of storage, 8-megapixel main camera and 5-megapixel selfie camera. The U.S. version, priced at $100, will include a fingerprint reader. The Alcatel 3V has a 6-inch, 18:9 display and includes a quad-core MediaTek processor with 2 GB of RAM and at least 16 GB of storage. The rear camera has a 12-megapixel main sensor and 2-megapixel secondary sensor for bokeh-style photos. The 3V comes in black, gold, or blue with a fingerprint reader, and runs Android 8 Oreo. TCL said more details will be made available soon.

iPhone Owners Gain Access to Google Lens in Google Photos

Friday, 7:19 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said iOS users can try a preview of Google Lens in the latest version of Google Photos (v3.15). Google Lens is an image-recognition function that relies on mobile cameras to perform searches. Using Google Lens, iPhone and iPad owners can aim their camera at just about anything and Google will instantly perform a search and suggest results. For example, users can snap a shot of an old car on the street and immediately gain information about that car and discover where it might be available for sale. Google Lens can recognize objects such as flowers, vehicles, gadgets, business cards, and more. The tool works within the Google Photos mobile app. Google Photos is free to download from the iTunes App Store. Google Lens has been widely available to Android devices since earlier this month.

Samsung Brings Mickey and Minnie Mouse to the Galaxy S9 and S9+ as AR Emoji on Launch Day

Friday, 7:15 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung today said those who buy the Galaxy S9 or S9+ smartphones will have access to classic Disney characters Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse via the phones' cameras. The pair of mice are brought to life in the S9/S9+ device thanks to Samsung's AR Emoji, which uses the front-facing camera to help people animate characters and more. Owners of the S9/S9+ will be able to send animated GIFs of Mickey and Minnie through messaging apps or pin them to their lock screen. "With more than 6 billion emojis sent daily, our goal with developing AR Emoji was to provide a fun, exciting way to communicate and a new way to bring animated images to life,” said Samsung's Younghee Lee. Characters from other Disney films including The Incredibles, Zootopia, and Frozen will roll out throughout the year.

Google Maps Transit Navigation Adds Wheelchair-Compatible Routes

Thursday, 4:10 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today updated Google Maps public transit navigation with support for wheelchairs. The company asked its Local Guides to begin adding wheelchair/accessibility data to Maps last fall. This week's action builds on the data generated by that effort. Moving forward, people will be able to look up "wheelchair accessible" routes within Google Maps when using public transportation. Maps then displays a list of possible routes that weigh accessibility needs with data concerning elevators, lifts, ramp, and escalators. Google says accessibility-compatible routes are available in London, New York, Tokyo, Mexico City, Boston, and Sydney. Support for wheelchair navigation in public transit will come to more major cities over the coming months.

Facebook Bringing Lite App to More Countries, Including US

Thursday, 12:35 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Facebook today said it will allow more people to download and use the Facebook Lite application. Facebook Lite, which has been available since 2015, is a stripped-down version of the social networking app meant for regions with slow or poor network connectivity. Facebook is expanding the app's availability beyond the initial list of 100 countries to include nations with developed networks such as the U.S., Canada, Australia, the U.K., France, Germany, Ireland, and New Zealand. "We’ve seen that even in some developed markets people can have lower connectivity, so we want to make sure everyone has the option to use this app if they want," said the company. Facebook Lite will reach the new markets beginning March 16. Earlier this month Facebook brought Facebook Messenger Lite to more countries, including the U.S.

Law Enforcement Could Use CLOUD Act to Skirt 4th Amendment

Thursday, 11:32 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The CLOUD Act would give law enforcement both at home and abroad new access to Americans' personal data in violation of the Fourth Amendment, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The CLOUD Act (H.R. 4943 and S. 2383) lets U.S. law enforcement access data stored anywhere in the world regardless of the privacy laws where that data is located. Moreover, it gives the president the power to enter into agreements with any nation that would let foreign law enforcement officials take data from U.S. companies — all without showing probable cause or requiring a warrant. The Act stipulates that foreign police could only grab data from U.S. companies when the target is not a U.S. citizen, but there's a big back door. According to the EFF, data scooped up on foreign targets in the U.S. would surely include metadata generated by and pertaining to Americans. Metadata might include call times/locations, emails, messages, voicemails, and more. Further, foreign law enforcement agencies could then share any data collected about U.S. citizens with U.S. law enforcement, again, with no warrant needed. The language that covers the circumstances under which data could be shared between agencies and across boarders is vague at best. "The backdoor proposed in the CLOUD Act violates our Fourth Amendment right to privacy by granting unconstitutional access to our private lives online," claims EFF. The Cloud Act is currently working its way through the House and the Senate. It's not clear if or when there might be a vote.

Google Rebrands 'Android Wear' as 'Wear OS by Google'

Thursday, 10:59 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said it is getting rid of the Android Wear brand that has been a part of its smartwatch strategy for years. Moving forward, Google's platform for wearable devices will be called Wear OS by Google. "As our technology and partnerships have evolved, so have our users. In 2017, one out of three new Android Wear watch owners also used an iPhone," explained Google in a blog post. "We’re announcing a new name that better reflects our technology, vision, and most important of all — the people who wear our watches. We’re now Wear OS by Google, a wearables operating system for everyone." Google didn't say if the OS or platform will change along with the name. It did, however, say that smartwatch and phone apps will be updated with the new name over the coming weeks.

BlackBerry to Keep John Chen As CEO Through 2023

Thursday, 8:31 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry today said it has extended its contract with CEO John S. Chen, who will serve as chief executive through November 2023. BlackBerry brought Chen on board in 2013 and he oversaw the company's transformation from a hardware business to a software and services business. Chen was responsible for deep spending cuts that helped keep the company from going under. It is now focused on selling mobile device management services to business customers. The company also develops device-side software for Android handsets that allows them to offer secure email, messaging, and other core communications. "The BlackBerry Board of Directors has tremendous confidence in John Chen. John engineered a successful turnaround and has the company repositioned to apply its strengths and assets to the Enterprise of Things, an emerging category with massive potential," said board member Prem Watsa. BlackBerry-branded handsets are designed and sold by TCL, which also designs devices under the Alcatel brand.

Google Opens Pixel's Depth-Of-Field Effect Code to Researchers

Thursday, 8:21 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Thursday, 8:49 AM

Google this week made its semantic image segmentation feature, which is what powers the portrait effect on the Pixel smartphones, available to academia and researchers. Google uses semantic image segmentation to define the shape of objects within photos and then assign those objects a label, such as person, dog, or car. In short, it's what allows smartphones such as the Pixel to recognize the shape of a subject's head in a portrait, draw a line around it, and then take action with the other regions of the photo, such as blur the background. Google is open-sourcing the newest version of its semantic image segmentation code, DeepLab-v3+, as implemented in TensorFlow. It is built on top of a convolutional neural network (CNN) backbone architecture, which Google says is meant for server-side deployments. Google's immediate goal is not to bring Pixel-level portrait shooting to other smartphones. "We hope that publicly sharing our system with the community will make it easier for other groups in academia and industry to reproduce and further improve upon state-of-art systems, train models on new datasets, and envision new applications for this technology," said the company. Researchers and academics interested in the technology can find the necessary resources on GitHub.

Apple Puts Family Resources On a Single Web Page

Thursday, 7:49 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple recently published a new web site meant to help families manage their iPhones, iPads, Macs, and Apple accounts. The site offers high-level overviews of all the parental controls available, as well as deep-dive tutorials with step-by-step directions on how to enable each tool. Parents have long been able to manage iTunes purchases, control content, set time/usage limits, see location data, share calendars and iTunes purchases, and more. The new Families web page is meant to serve as a central resource. It describes in detail how parents can reduce distracted driving for teens, set family groups and manage communications, find lost devices, and so on. The web site arrives after shareholders published an open letter earlier this year asking the company to address smartphone addiction.

Smartphone Camera Shoot-Out: iPhone X, Pixel 2 XL, Galaxy S9+

Mar 14, 2018, 3:55 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Is photography your passion? If so, and you're in the market for a new phone, the Apple iPhone X, Google Pixel 2 XL, and Samsung Galaxy S9+ should be at the top of your list. Here’s a rundown of the features offered by each and how the three devices compare in a head-to-head shoot-out.

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Google Opens Maps and Resonance Audio to Developers

Mar 14, 2018, 2:01 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today gave developers more access to mapping and audio tools for creating games and other immersive experiences. First, Google brought its Google Maps API to the Unity gaming engine. The idea is to allow game developers to bring real-world map data into their augmented reality games. This way, games can mix and match reality with augmented content so developers can find the best real-world places for playing their games. Google says roads, parks, and buildings are now GameObjects in Unity, allowing developers to add their own style and textures to existing objects rather than force them to create new worlds from the ground up. Some 100 million buildings, landmarks, and other locales are available in 3D across more than 200 countries around the globe. Together with ARCore, Google believes its new Google Maps API will improve mobile gameplay. Second, Google released an open source version of its Resonance Audio project. Google released the spatial audio SDK last year. That SDK relies on data generated by the Resonance Audio project. Spatial audio creates a sense of presence within AR/VR environments, meaning players feel more like they are actually there. By opening Resonance Audio, Google hopes the community-driven approach will improve the tools available for developers when creating mobile or desktop experiences. Resonance Audio is now open source as a standalone library offered via GitHub through an Apache 2.0 license. Resonance Audio plugins for Unity, Unreal, FMOD, and Wwise are also open source, though they will be maintained by Google's partners. Developers can learn more about the new Maps API and open source Resonance Audio from Google's developer web sites.

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