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Stadia is Google's Game-Streaming Service

Yesterday, 1:56 PM   by Rich Brome

Google today announced a new, cloud-based service called Stadia that lets people play high-quality games on any device without downloading them. It also caters to people who like to watch others play games, in a way that's integrated with YouTube and competes with Twitch. The service supports high-end 3D games (such as Assassin's Creed) at up to 4K / 60 fps, on any device that supports Chrome, including Android phones, tablets, low-end desktops, and TVs with certain Chromecast dongles. It supports existing input devices, as well as a new Stadia Controller that links directly to the cloud via Wi-Fi. The controller has a headset jack, share/stream button, and Google Assistant button. Games run in Google Cloud datacenters, on special Linux-based Stadia instances that have twice the graphics performance of a modern game console such as the Xbox One X or PS4 Pro. The YouTube integration allows gamers to jump right into a multi-player game directly from a livestream. It supports advanced split-screen features, and the ability to share a playable game moment with other players with simple links. Stadia also supports cross-platform features to link to other game platforms.

Google Lookout Describes What it Sees to the Visually Impaired

Mar 13, 2019, 12:00 PM   by Rich Brome

Google Lookout is a free app that uses AI to identify things it sees through the phone's camera and describe it to a visually-impaired user. The company announced this week that the app is available now for English speakers in the US with a Google Pixel phone. The app has three modes: Explore, for exploring new spaces and dealing with typical office, home, and cooking tasks; Shopping, which reads bar codes, prices, and physical currency; and Quick Read, which reads text from mail, signs, and labels. The app is designed to be used with the phone held in hand, or hung on a neck lanyard. Microsoft already offers a similar app called Seeing AI, and recently updated it to include haptic feedback.

Google Removing Voice Match Unlocking From Existing Phones

Mar 1, 2019, 11:43 AM   by Rich Brome

Google is removing the relatively insecure Voice Match security option from existing Android phones. Previously, older Pixel and Moto phones offered the option to secure a phone with voiceprint and fully unlock it by saying "OK Google". But the method wasn't very secure; it could be fooled by a recording of the owner's voice. When users update to the newest version of the Google app, this option will be replaced by a new, limited Google Assistant interface on the lock screen. Its options include accessing certain email results, calendar events, contacts, reminders, and shopping lists. But other Assistant features like playing music will be unavailable without fully unlocking the phone via a different method.

Google Limits Android Things to Smart Speakers and Smart Displays

Feb 13, 2019, 2:35 PM   by Rich Brome

Originally an Android-based OS for any smart-home or IoT device, Google has now decided that Android Things will be limited to smart speakers and smart displays with Google Assistant built in. As a result, Google is withdrawing support for several hardware platforms. The company just finalized Android Things 1.0 last May and promised three years of OS updates for some of the platforms it is now dropping.

Target, Taco Bell Finally Accepting NFC Payments

Jan 22, 2019, 10:47 AM   by Rich Brome

Apple Pay and Google Pay are closer to being accepted everywhere, with the announcement that Target, Taco Bell, Jack in the Box, Hy-Vee and Speedway are now rolling out support for NFC payments. Target was one of the last big holdouts in supporting the technology, which lets you simply tap your NFC-equipped phone or smartwatch on the card terminal to pay. Target expects its rollout to all 1,850 locations across the US to be complete in the "coming weeks". Taco Bell and Jack in the Box expect to finish their rollout in the "next few months". Previous holdouts CVS, 7-Eleven, and Costco launched support for NFC payments last year.

Google Fi Adds RCS, 4G Roaming Overseas

Jan 14, 2019, 5:28 PM   by Rich Brome

Google's Fi mobile service now supports RCS, the standards-based rich messaging standard. Also today, the company announced that Fi overseas roaming in 33 countries (mostly in Europe) will now take advantage of faster 4G networks. The RCS standard offers rich services like typing indicators, read receipts, and hi-res videos. Fi users can take advantage of RCS simply by using Google's Messages as their default messaging app. Google Fi already offers data service — albeit at slower 3G speeds — in over 200 countries, with no special roaming charges.

Google Photos Live Albums Now Support Up to 20,000 Images

Dec 20, 2018, 8:32 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has updated the limit it initially placed on the number of photos and videos that can be added to a Live Album. When launched in October, the service supported up to 10,000 photos/videos. That number is now 20,000, twice as many as before. Google does warn that extreme album size may limit some features of Live Albums, though it didn't elaborate as to which ones. Live Albums relies on object recognition to automatically identify people and pets and build albums around those identities.

Consumer Groups Want Google's Kid App Policies Investigated

Dec 19, 2018, 2:44 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

A collection of organizations that monitors services marketed to children and consumers alleges Google's marketing policies in the Google Play Store are misleading and should be investigated. The groups have filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission wherein they suggest the Family section of the Play Store is rife with content unsuitable for kids. For example, apps showed ads for casino games, forced kids to watch video ads, and steered them toward making in-app purchases. Moreover, the groups also claim a number of apps violate the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act by collecting phone numbers, precision location, photos, and persistent tracking identifiers — all without verifiable parental permission. In April, researchers found that thousands of free children's apps shared personal data. In October, two senators asked for a federal investigation into Google's vetting process for kid apps. Those same senators today sent a second letter to the FTC asking for "a comprehensive investigation into the Google Play store and its compliance" with rules protecting children's privacy. Google says it has already nixed thousands of apps from the Designed for Families program after finding policy violations. "Parents want their children to be safe online, and we work hard to protect them," said Google spokesperson Aaron Stein in a statement provided to the New York Times. "Apps in our Designed for Families program have to comply with strict policies on content, privacy and advertising, and we take action on any policy violations that we find." The FTC has not yet publicly commented on the letters, nor has it publicly launched an investigation.

Google Says Gboard Supports More than 500 Languages

Dec 18, 2018, 2:19 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced that Gboard now lets people type in more than 500 languages on their phones. More than 90% of the world's population has access to Gboard in their native tongue. The company has added more than 100 new languages in the last few months to reach this milestone. Some of the newest include Nigerian Pidgin, Rangpuri, Balinese, Choctaw, Kamba, Teso, Trinidadian Creole, and Pontic Greek. The company has focused efforts on adding languages that do not rely on the western alphabet. Google says Gboard supports more than 40 writing systems, all with support for auto-complete and word suggestions via artificial intelligence. Google believes its newest additions are important because they are not widely written and are rarely found online. Adding more languages is particularly key for countries and regions that are still developing internet, communications, and information services. The latest version of Gboard, free to download from the Google Play Store, added 50 languages.

Google Assistant to Be More Proactive About Flight Delay Alerts

Dec 17, 2018, 1:37 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said Google Assistant will play a greater role in alerting travelers to delayed flights. The Assistant has been sharing delayed flight predictions since earlier this year. It uses historic flight data and merges that with machine learning to predict when a flight may be delayed — sometimes before even the airline knows. With the number of travelers increasing during the holidays, Google says it will share flight delay predictions more proactively. Assistant will send notifications to users’ phones when it determines there might be a delay, and it will offer details behind the delay when it can. These changes will appear automatically, though travelers can always ask the Assistant directly about their flight’s status.

YouTube Music App Integrates Charts as Playlists

Dec 13, 2018, 4:10 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today updated its YouTube Music mobile app with YouTube Charts. The charts are available as playlists within the YouTube Music app and are accessible from all 29 markets where YouTube Music operates. Google says the charts contain the freshest, hottest songs and videos, which can be streamed or downloaded (for premium subscribers). Each country is given access to five charts: three from their own region and two world charts. Users can add the charted playlists to their own library if they wish. Some of the charts include the top 100 songs, top 100 videos, and top 20 trending songs, based on fast-rising new releases. YouTube Music is available to Android and iOS devices via the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store, respectively.

Google Brings Australian and British Accents to Assistant

Dec 13, 2018, 12:40 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said people in the U.S. can opt for either an Australian accent or a British accent when using Google Assistant. The voices were built using DeepMind's speech synthesis model WaveNet, according to Google. WaveNet "uses deep neural networks to generate raw audio waveforms — resulting in more realistic and natural-sounding voices," explained Google. People wishing to change the voice of their Assistant can do so via the Settings > Assistant > Assistant Voice. The new options include "Sydney Harbour Blue" and "British Racing Green." Apart from the accent, all Google Assistant features are still the same. People can still rely on Google Assistant to set timers, check the weather, or inquire about their commute.

Google Maps Will Help You Find Lime Scooters and Bikes

Dec 13, 2018, 9:31 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced a new partnership with Lime that hopes to help people get across the "last mile" of their journey. In 13 cities around the world, Maps will display the location of nearby Lime scooters, bikes, and e-bikes. The option to use Lime will appear under the transit icon when navigating between points. Maps will detail the closest Lime vehicle, the vehicle type, how long it will take to walk to the vehicle, how much the ride will cost, and the total journey time. Lime users can integrate their Lime card with Google Maps. Tapping on Lime in Maps will then take people to the Lime app and provide all the necessary details to book a scooter, find it, and unlock it. In the U.S., Lime scooters will be visible in Austin, Baltimore, Dallas, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Antonio, San Diego, San Jose, Scottsdale, and Seattle. International cities include Auckland, New Zealand, and Brisbane, Australia. The feature is available in Maps for both Android and iOS.

Google Makes It Easy to Give Charitably Via the Play Store

Dec 12, 2018, 5:16 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said the Google Play Store can now accept charitable donations. Residents of the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Germany, Great Britain, France, Spain, Italy, Taiwan, and Indonesia will see the opportunity to give pop up in the Play Store over the next few days. Google says the full donated amount goes directly to the nonprofit of your choice. Some of the organizations include the American Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, Girls Who Code, Save the Children, UNICEF, and the World Wildlife Fund. Google hopes the new tool helps people provide assistance to communities outside of their own during the holiday season.

Google App for iOS Gains Google Lens Visual Search

Dec 11, 2018, 8:36 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google recently updated the Google Search app for iOS devices and added the Google Lens visual search feature. The Google Lens icon now appears in the search bar. Pressing it turns on the camera, which can then be aimed at objects, text, plants/animals, books/media, and QR/barcodes. Objects and items that Google recognizes will generate results that are displayed on the screen. Google Lens is already part of Google Photos on iOS. This latest feature simplifies the process of searching based on images rather than words. The updated version of Google Search for iOS is rolling out to users now.

Google Fit Gains Widget and Breathe Functions

Dec 10, 2018, 12:41 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today updated its Google Fit app for Android devices and bestowed the health-minded tool with a few new features. To start, Google Fit gains a home screen widget where users can quickly view their daily progress at a glance. The widget provides information about Heart Points, Move Minutes, and other daily stats. It can feature the most recent workout on the home screen, and now allows users to adjust activity intensity when manually logging workouts for more accurate Heart Points. Last, Google Fit for Wear OS will guide users through a breathing exercise when so desired to help them unwind and relax. Google says these features will reach Android phones and Wear OS watches over the next few days.

Files by Google Gains USB Device Support

Dec 10, 2018, 8:37 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google's on-device file and storage management app has new powers thanks to a recent update. The app can now access external USB storage devices and move files using USB on-the-go. In short, it allows users to plug in any USB flash drive or card and view the contents through Files by Google. The update also adds the ability to view full folder structures on phones and/or connected devices. Bug fixes are aboard, too. Files by Google is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Google Maps' 'For You' Tab Reaches iOS

Dec 10, 2018, 8:18 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today extended the availability of its For You feature in Google Maps to iOS devices. The feature was first rolled out to Android phones earlier this year. Moving forward, iPhone owners will be able to follow their favorite places, such as coffee shops or record stores. News from the followed place will then appear under the For You tab within maps. Places can advertise sales, offers, and events in this space where followers can check in for updates any time. Google Maps is also making it possible to keep tabs on places that haven't yet opened. Businesses prepping new locations can add profiles to Maps as much as three months before launch. People can follow the profile as soon as it becomes available, where they can be kept up-to-date on launch details. The For You tab will reach iOS devices in more than 40 countries over the next few days. At the same time, Google says it expanded the availability of For You in Maps for Android to a total of 130 countries. Google Maps is free to download.

Google Cutting Off Play Store Support for Android Ice Cream Sandwich

Dec 6, 2018, 7:15 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said that it will no longer update Google Play Services for Android 4.x Ice Cream Sandwich. Google says the active device count for Ice Cream Sandwich is below 1% of all users and has been for some time. The company will deprecate support for the seven-year-old platform in future updates to Google Play Services. Google Play Services is a core functionality of Android and is used to update Google apps and apps from Google Play. This means that any Ice Cream Sandwich-based devices still in use will no longer be able to update the installed apps. This move effectively ends Google's support for the platform. Google says developers should adjust their code accordingly and target API level 16 and up.

Google’s Allo App to Retire In March 2019

Dec 5, 2018, 8:58 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today clarified which messaging products it will focus on moving forward and Allo doesn’t make the cut. Google says the AI-assisted chat app will be sunset in March 2019. Google paused developing the app earlier this year. The company has moved some features over to the Android Messages app. Google says Android Messages is the main text-based app for reaching out to friends and family. Messages is being enhanced with rich communications services (RCS) thanks to some 40 carriers around the world. RCS means Messages can offer advanced features like group chats, read receipts, and large file transfers. At the same time, Google is sticking with Duo, its simple-to-use video chat app. Duo recently expanded to the iPad and other devices. Google says Duo is popular and highly rated and will continue to be its video chat app for consumers. Google Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet are focused on business users of G Suite, where they can be properly supported by companies.

Verizon Plans to Push RCS to Pixel Phones December 6

Dec 5, 2018, 7:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless has sped up its timeline for deploying rich communications services (RCS). The company had previously said it would launch RCS in early 2019. Now, Verizon will seed RCS as soon as this week. "Verizon and Google will be rolling out enhanced messaging (RCS) in the Messages app on Google Pixel 3 and Google Pixel 3 XL beginning this Thursday, December 6th," said Verizon in a statement provided to The Verge. "This messaging service brings, for example, typing indicators, very large group chats and the ability to transfer large files between the owners of these smartphones." Google has been pushing the RCS standard on carriers for several years. RCS is the next-generation messaging system that was designed by the GSMA to provide media-rich messaging to Android devices. Carriers must support RCS on the backend, and convincing U.S. operators to jump aboard has taken time. Sprint and T-Mobile announced support for RCS earlier this year, and each is in various stages of deployment. AT&T supports a version of RCS, though not the Universal Profile, which is what makes RCS work across carriers. Verizon will use the Universal Profile, which is good news. Verizon already offers a media-rich texting app called Message+ to its customers. The RCS features will be added to the Google-made Messages app.

Google Releases Flutter 1.0 for Android and iOS App Writers

Dec 4, 2018, 12:52 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made Flutter 1.0 available to developers. It has been in testing since the February and updated several times since. Flutter is a set of tools that lets developers create user interface designs that work on Android and iOS. Google says Flutter is quick and easy to use, and can be put to work by experienced and novice developers alike. It includes frameworks for windows, widgets, animations, and image libraries. It includes a GPU-accelerated renderer and native ARM code runtime. It supports accessibility features, right-to-left text, localization, and internationalization. On iOS, it supports inline video, additional image formats, and background processes. Other functions include support for hardware keyboards, barcode scanners, and video recording. Since the last release, Google has improved the video player package with broader format support and better reliability. It has also extended Firebase support to include dynamic links for handling links across platforms. Google hopes this will lead to mobile apps that look and run the same on Android and iOS.

Google Patches Pixel 3 Bugs Along with Monthly Security Update

Dec 3, 2018, 2:07 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today provided details about the December security patch for Android devices, as well as fixes specifically being applied to its Pixel phones. Google discovered a number of vulnerabilities in Android's code, some of which could lead to remote attacks. To its knowledge, Google says no such attacks have occurred. The company already alerted its handset partners and will supply the updated code to the AOSP within 48 hours. The vulnerabilities were found in the media framework, system, and kernel, as well as in components from Qualcomm and HTC. As for the Pixel phones, Google is using the patch to resolve number of performance issues that have plagued the newer phones since their release in October. For example, the camera on the Pixel 3 should exhibit better autofocus, better shutter performance, and more stability. Compatibility with the Pixel Stand is improved thanks to more visible notifications and more reliable hot word performance. Other improvements impact Android Auto, Bluetooth, media playback, and the display. Google has made the update available to the Pixel, Pixel 2, and Pixel 3 series. Owners of these phones can download the update over the air. It is up to other phone makers to push the latest security patches to their own devices.

Google to Let More Carriers Tap Into the Pixel 3's eSIM

Dec 3, 2018, 12:30 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said it plans to expand the availability of the eSIM technology that's built into the Pixel 3. Google's Pixel 3 has an eSIM inside, a virtual SIM card that replaces the need for a physical SIM card. The eSIM makes it easier to change carriers using software. Google has supported the eSIM on its own Fi network sine last year and now says Sprint will support the eSIM in the coming months. In addition to Sprint, a handful of international carriers, including Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone in Germany, EE in the U.K., Airtel and Reliance Jio in India, and Truphone and Gigsky in various countries, will also add support for the Pixel's eSIM. Google says it is developing a program so Android device makers can build eSIM-capable products in a way that's consistent across phones, watches, tablets, and laptops.

Google Assistant Will Be More Polite As It Adds Holiday Features

Nov 29, 2018, 9:25 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today introduced an update to Google Assistant that brings new behaviors and features to the voice-activated helper. First, the Assistant is rolling out a feature meant for families called Pretty Please. The idea, introduced at I/O in May, is to help parents and families respond to positive conversations with polite reinforcement. When children or other users say "please" or "thank you" when interacting with Google Assistant, it will respond in kind. Moreover, it is voice-matched so it will speak directly to the person by name. In addition to Pretty Please, Assistant is tacking on a handful of holiday-themed tools. For example, people can easily create notes and lists, such as "Hey Google, create a gift list." Assistant on smart displays will now play nicely with Nest video doorbells. It includes a two-way talk function so people can have a conversation with the caller. Google Play Music subscribers can take advantage of a new feature that brings song lyrics to smart display screens for sing-along fun. This is available for select songs. Assistant-supplied sound effects and music are available to more book titles for interactive read-along experiences. Children can say "Hey Google, call Santa" and have a chat with the annual gift giver. Google's Home Hub and Home speaker support replies to broadcasts. People can use Assistant from their phone to broadcast a message to the Assistant-powered devices at home, and receive a response from whoever is there. Last, Google has improved how Google Photos are shared on smart displays, making it easier to share photos with people on their contact list. These new features are rolling out today.

Google's Improved Fast Pair to Streamline Process of Pairing Accessories with New Phones

Nov 27, 2018, 1:25 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google hopes to ease the pain of pairing Bluetooth accessories with multiple devices through an update to its Fast Pair specification. Moving forward, Google says Fast Pair will "connect accessories to a user's current and future Android Phones" as long as they are signed into their account and running Android 6 and up. This same feature will reach Chromebooks in 2019. Google's manufacturing partners have been building Fast Pair into their headphones, speakers, and other devices since last year, and will announce more over the coming months. In order to simplify the process for manufacturers, Google has added native Fast Pair support to the software development kits of component makers including Airoha Technology, BES, and Qualcomm. Using such components, Jaybird's Tarah Wireless Sport Headphones will be among the first to support the updated Fast Pair spec. Products from Anker/Soundcore, Bose, and others are on the way.

Google Assistant for iOS Updated with Siri Shortcuts

Nov 21, 2018, 8:16 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has made its Google Assistant app for iOS devices compatible with Siri shortcuts. This tool allows iPhone and iPad owners to combine Siri and Google Assistant actions. Using the Siri Shortcuts app, people can set up Siri commands that wake Google Assistant to perform tasks. It lets iPhone owners effectively bypass Siri if they wish in favor of Google Assistant. Google Assistant for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store.

Google's Digital Wellbeing App Graduates Beta, Available to All Pixels

Nov 20, 2018, 4:52 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said that its Digital Wellbeing application has reached launch status. The app, which has been in testing on some Pixel phones, is now available from the Google Play Store to all Pixel phones and Android One phones. Digital Wellbeing provides people with a way to track their phone usage over time. For example, people can see how frequently they use different apps, how many notifications they receive, and how often they check their phone. Digital Wellbeing also includes features such as Do Not Disturb to prevent interruptions and Wind Down to help people put their phones down. Digital Wellbeing requires Android 9 Pie.

Google to Nix SMS Notifications for Google Calendar

Nov 19, 2018, 12:37 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said that it plans to stop offering SMS-based notifications for Google Calendar. "If you had previously been receiving Calendar notifications via SMS, they'll be replaced with in-app and email notifications," said Google. Google also plans to adjust the Calendar API to reflect this change, meaning developers will have to update their apps if the apps integrate with Google Calendar. Google Calendar's in-app notifications for Android and iOS include banners, badges, and sounds. People who had previously set SMS notifications for new events, changed events, canceled events, or event responses will now see those notifications via email. The change goes into effect January 9, 2019.

Google Photos Lets iPhone Owners Adjust Background Blur

Nov 19, 2018, 10:49 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Nov 19, 2018, 1:37 PM

The most recent update to the Google Photos app for iOS added a feature to help spruce up portraits. Photos for iOS allows users to adjust the background blur and change the focus of photos taken in portrait mode. These tools have been added to the editing menu of Google Photos, where new sliders appear for making adjustments. The Android version of Google Photos gained the blur adjustment feature earlier this year. Google Photos for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store.

Verizon Prepping RCS Text Messaging for Early 2019 Launch

Nov 16, 2018, 4:58 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless plans to roll out support for RCS messaging in early 2019, according to Aparna Khurjekar, SVP of consumer products at Verizon. Google has been pushing the RCS standard on carriers for several years. RCS is the next-generation messaging system that was designed by the GSMA to provide media-rich messages, including read receipts, video calls, and group chats, to Android devices around the world. Carriers, however, are the linchpin, as they must support it on the backend. In the U.S., Sprint and T-Mobile announced support for RCS earlier this year, and each is in various stages of deployment. AT&T supports a version of RCS, though not the Universal Profile, which is what makes RCS work across carriers. Verizon hasn't said if it will support the Universal Profile, nor has the company said exactly when it will launch RCS. Verizon already offers a media-rich texting app called Message+ to its customers. It's not clear if Verizon will add RCS to that app, or launch a brand new app.

Google Wear OS 'H Update' Further Tackles Battery Life

Nov 15, 2018, 3:25 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today revealed that a small system update will reach Wear OS-based devices over the next few months. Wear OS Version H focuses on fine-tuning battery performance. For example, an update to battery saver mode will force the watch to only display the time once the battery reaches 10%. After 30 minutes of inactivity when a smartwatch isn't being worn, Wear OS watches will automatically go into a deep sleep mode to conserve power. Google says Wear OS watches should be easier to turn off thanks to a new, two-step power down routine. Last, Google is extending Smart App Resume to all apps. This will let watch wearers pick up where they left off across all apps on their watch. Google says Wear OS Version H may take several months to reach all devices.

Google Says It Is Making Progress with Project Treble

Nov 15, 2018, 8:35 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google believes the initial adoption of Android 9 Pie will be quicker than the initial adoption of Android 8 Oreo thanks in part to Project Treble. Google launched Project Treble in 2017 with Oreo in an effort to speed up phone makers' ability to push system and security updates to users. Since then, Google has worked with its hardware partners to create a Generic System Image (GSI), drawn directly from the latest AOSP build, and what it calls Vendor Interfaces. These delineate a clear boundary between the partner's code and Google's code. Google's code can be updated via the GSI rapidly and independently of the vendor code. Moving forward, Google says all devices that launch with Android 9 Pie will be Treble-compliant and can take advantage of swifter system upgrades. It is this that gives Google the confidence to predict that more devices will be running Pie at the end of 2018 than were running Oreo at the end of 2017. Developers can use the GSI, too, which will always be based on the most up-to-date version of Android, to test their apps. This should let developers adapt to new Android builds at a faster rate.

Google Maps Makes It Simple to Message Businesses

Nov 15, 2018, 8:09 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has made it easier for people to connect with businesses through Google Maps. Google has allowed Maps users in select countries to message businesses through the Google Maps app itself. This is intended to help when it might be inconvenient to call the business directly. Google is expanding the availability of this feature to more countries. Further, Google is now saving those conversations in Google Maps so they can be revisited if users need to re-start the thread. At the same time, Google released a new app for businesses, called Google My Business, which lets businesses easily set up and manage the ability to message customers. Google didn't say to which countries Map messaging is being extended.

Google Turns On the Night for Pixel Phones

Nov 14, 2018, 12:38 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google says all three generations of Pixel phones will soon be able to take advantage of Night Sight, Google's new low-light photo feature. Night Sight uses several techniques at once in order to improve the chances of capturing a successful shot in dark environments. Night Sight continually adapts to the movement of the Pixel phone and the surrounding light. The software is able to measure hand shake and motion in the scene to find the right exposure. Google says when the Pixel is held still, Night Sight will take longer exposures to minimize noise, but if the subject is moving Night Sight will use shorter exposures to minimize blur. Night Sight can compensate for some amount of motion in the shot by firing off a burst of photos and then merging the results to provide a bright, sharp photo. Night Sight also uses machine learning to balance color and create true-to-life images. Pixel phones will automatically suggest Night Sight when they detect low-light conditions, though users can also turn the feature on manually. Night Sight will be rolling out over the next few days through an update to the Google Camera app.

Google's Project Fi Integrates VPN More Tightly for Security

Nov 13, 2018, 1:00 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said its Project Fi wireless service will soon be more secure. The company is extending the way it uses a VPN to protect subscribers' connections. Moving forward, all connections, whether cellular or WiFi, will be encrypted via Google's VPN. Using a VPN prevents bad actors from intercepting the data being sent between your device and the connection point. Moreover, the VPN was designed so a user's traffic isn't tied to their Google account or phone number, providing another layer of security. Google Fi provides LTE via three different carriers (Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular) and automatically switches to WiFi when available. Google says Fi will be more proactive about returning to the cellular network when the WiFi connection gets sketchy. Google claims this reduces the amount of time people wait for their device to switch over by as much as 40%. Google will begin distributing these new features to devices running Android 9 Pie on Project Fi over the coming week.

GBoard to Use AI In Order to Suggest GIFs, Emoji and Stickers

Nov 12, 2018, 12:38 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google's GBoard application for Android devices is prepared to add a bit of smarts to the conversation. The latest version of the app will use artificial intelligence to suggest GIFs, emojis, and stickers. As people type, Google will scan for words that are commonly paired with GIFs, emoji or stickers. When it reads them, the "G" logo on the keyboard will light up, letting the user know that GIFs are available. Tapping on the "G" then takes users to a screen where they can choose from pre-selected GIFs, or search for a different one. Google says all the AI processing is done locally on the phone to ensure a quick experience. The new AI-assisted GIF suggestions are available globally in English starting today. Google hopes to expand to more languages over time.

Google Renames Files Go Android App to Files by Google

Nov 8, 2018, 10:11 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said it is rebranding its mobile app for managing on-device storage and sharing files with others. When Files Go first launched in December 2017, its goal was to help people whose devices had limited storage. It was also meant to let people share music, videos, and apps with others even when an internet connection wasn't available. Google says the app has grown to 30 million monthly users. The company is rebranding Files Go to Files by Android and redesigned the user interface at the same time. The app now focuses more on content stored on the mobile phone, yet it still includes lighthearted experiences such as celebratory notifications explaining how much storage people have recovered when they delete files from their device. Files by Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Google to Let Developers Update Apps As People Use Them

Nov 7, 2018, 3:59 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced a number of features that developers can put to use in their Android apps. First up, the new In-App Updates API lets developers push updates to their app while the app is in use. One one scenario, the user waits a moment while the update is applied immediately. In another scenario, the update is downloaded in the background even while the app is in use. Google believes this will make the updating process feel more seamless to end users, as they won't be forced to close apps or update via the Play Store. Google Slices, a concept introduced earlier this year, are now in public testing. Slices allow a snippet of an app to run without the app actually being installed on the device. Several apps, including Kayak and Doist, will have Slices up and running by the end of the month. Google expects to expand Slices to more apps in the near future. Google also released a new version of the Kotlin coding language, launched Android Studio 3.3 in beta, added support for uncompressed native libraries in Android App Bundles, and made improvements to Instant Apps. Developers can access and put these new tools to use through the Android developer portal.

Google Adds Native Support for 'Foldables' to Android

Nov 7, 2018, 1:28 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced support for folding devices, what it calls "foldables," at the Android Developer Summit. Google says this is a new form factor coming from Android device makers next year. With native support for foldables baked into Android, apps will be able to run seamlessly as the device folds and unfolds. This achieves this form factor's chief feature, which Google says is screen continuity. Google didn't spell out any specific devices. Samsung is widely expected to announce a folding phone in the near future.

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