Google today announced the US rollout of Google-operated RCS for its Messages app for Android, making RCS "broadly" available to Android users in the US by the end of the year. RCS is the new industry standard for messaging designed to replace SMS and MMS. It brings advanced features similar to iMessage, including the ability to send and receive high-resolution photos and videos, and see if people have received your messages. Although the Messages app has supported RCS for some time, it has relied on carrier support on a phone-by-phone basis, which has been slow to roll out. Google's new service announced today side-steps carrier infrastructure and gives Android users RCS without waiting for carrier support. Google launched a similar service in the UK, France, and Mexico earlier this year. Just three weeks ago, the top four US carriers announced a joint venture to accelerate the launch of carrier-run RCS in the US in 2020. It's unclear if these two efforts might conflict in the coming months, but Google says it is "committed to working with our partners, including carriers and device makers, to provide a consistent and interoperable experience for everyone on Android."
Google this week announced a new program to collaborate with other companies to screen apps for harmful code before they reach the Google Play Store, the app store for Android devices. The App Defense Alliance includes Google, ESET, Lookout, and Zimperium. "As part of this Alliance, we are integrating our Google Play Protect detection systems with each partner’s scanning engines. This will generate new app risk intelligence as apps are being queued to publish."
Google has added a rewards program called Google Play Points to the Android app store. The program is free to join and members earn points for everything they buy through Google Play, and even for downloading "featured" free apps and games. Points can be redeemed for Google Play purchases, in-app purchases and discounts, as well as donations to charity. The program has four tiers, with higher levels offering weekly prizes. The program is launching this week in the US, but has been available in Korea and Japan for a year.
Fitbit has agreed to be purchased by Google for $2.1 billion. Fitbit makes activity-tracking wearables, having sold more than 100 million devices, with 28 million current active users. Google has its own Wear OS smartwatch platform, which integrates with its Google Fit activity- and health-tracking service. Google said it sees "an opportunity to invest even more in Wear OS as well as introduce Made by Google wearable devices into the market." On privacy, Fitbit says "Fitbit will continue to put users in control of their data and will remain transparent about the data it collects and why. The company never sells personal information, and Fitbit health and wellness data will not be used for Google ads." Fitbit also pledged to continue supporting both iOS and Android.
Google has stopped selling Daydream VR headsets and the new Pixel 4 phones won't support Daydream VR. The Daydream headset used a phone's display and processor to power a mid-range VR experience.
Google has unveiled the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL, its new own-brand flagship Android phones. The phones have Motion Sense, which uses a tiny RADAR sensor to read mid-air hand gestures, and power advanced face recognition for phone security. Google claims its face unlock is the fastest on the market, and requires no screen touch at all. This technology was first developed as Google's Project Soli. The OLED display supports an auto-adjusting refresh rate, up to 90 Hz. The Pixel 4 also reacts to squeeze gestures. The Pixel 4 comes with Google Recorder, which includes real-time, on-device voice recognition and dictation that produces searchable transcripts. The camera includes both standard (12 megapixel, f/1.7, 77º) and telephoto (16 megapixel, 52º) lenses, as well as multi-frame hi-res digital zoom. The improved HDR+ now supports live preview and dual exposure controls for greater creative control. An AI-powered white balance feature recognizes scene elements to provide better color. The improved portrait function uses both cameras. The new night mode supports astrophotography with long exposures up to 4 minutes. The larger XL model has a 6.3-inch QHD+ display and 3,700 battery, while the smaller model has a 5.7-inch FHD+ display and 2,800 mAh battery. Both models have a Snapdragon 855 processor, 6 GB of RAM, 64 or 128 GB of storage, and 18W fast charging. The Pixel 4 will be available from all major US carriers on October 24th, with pre-orders available today. It will start at $799 ($899 for the XL) and come in Just Black, Clearly White, and Oh So Orange.
Google today previewed the new Pixel Buds, which are its first fully wireless Bluetooth earbuds. They feature built-in machine learning processing that powers Google Assistant, language translation, and other experiences to be announced. They have long-range Bluetooth that can reach up to the length of a football field. The design fits almost completely inside the ear, with a spatial vent that allows you to hear a limited amount of ambient sound at all times. Beam-forming mics allow you to be heard clearly on calls, and power an auto-volume feature. The new Pixel buds last 5 hours on their own, or 24 hours with the included charging case. They'll be available in the spring of 2020 for $179.
Going forward, all new phones shipping with Android 9 or 10 will come with the YouTube Music app. On Android 10 devices, it will be the only music app from Google to be pre-installed, replacing Google Play Music.
Google today launched Play Pass, a new $5/month subscription service for Android users that provides full access to over 350 games and apps, ad-free and without in-app purchases. Google is offering a ten-day free trial as well as special intro pricing of just $2/month for the first 12 months. The collection of games and apps is curated by Google. Games and apps part of Play Pass at launch include Terraria, Monument Valley, Risk, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, AccuWeather, and many more. Google will add new titles every month. Developers are invited to express interest, but Google decides which developers to invite into the program. The service is similar to Apple Arcade, a $5/month subscription games service Apple just launched for devices using its platforms. Google is leveraging existing titles while Apple Arcade games are all exclusive to that service.
Google has added an unlimited-data plan option to its Google Fi cellular service. The pricing is competitive with what most major US carriers are currently offering, starting at $70/line for just one line, down to $45/line for 4-6 lines. The plan also includes unlimited data and texting while abroad in 200 destinations, and free calling from the US to 50 countries and territories. It also includes a Google One membership, which includes 100 GB of cloud storage. Like most competing plans in this price range, Google "may" limit streaming video to SD resolution, and data speeds are reduced after 22 GB is used in a given month. Google still offers its traditional Flexible plans, which start at $20/month plus $10/GB for data. Flexible plans do not include free data while overseas, free international calling, nor Google One membership.
The Google Chrome web browser now lets you send the web page you're on at the moment to another one of your devices, so you can finish on your phone an article you started reading at your desk, for example, or vice-versa. The feature debuted in version 77, which just became available for all platforms. To use the feature on a desktop platform, simply right-click the browser tab and choose "Send to Your Devices". The feature is somewhat hidden on mobile: tap the three-dot menu icon at the top right, choose "Share...", scroll down to "Apps list", and there's now an extra Chrome icon that says something like "Send to yo...". After choosing a target device, a notification appears on the target device that you can click to open the sent web page. The feature does not preserve sessions on web sites that require a login. Although The Verge could not get it to work on macOS, Phone Scoop used the feature on macOS. Firefox has had a similar feature since February.
Google is making its differential privacy code freely available to all developers. Differential Privacy is a special mathematic technique that allows organizations to collect data from individuals in a way that guarantees individual privacy. Collected data cannot be traced back to any one person. For example, Google uses this technique to capture what dishes people order at restaurants. The data is then used to show which dishes are most popular at restaurants in Google Maps results. But by using differential privacy, Google has no way of using that data to go back determine what any specific person ordered. By releasing this code, Google hopes to encourage more app developers to use differential privacy techniques when they collect data from app users.
Google released the final version of Android 10 today, after several months of public beta versions. It's available now for all of Google's own Pixel phones, and will be available for other phones in the coming weeks and months. The new OS offers a system-wide dark mode, new gesture navigation, and new privacy controls, among many features and improvements. For the new gesture navigation, a swipe in from the left or right edge of the screen performs the "back" action, while a swipe up from the bottom edge takes users to the home screen. Some apps will need to be updated to avoid triggering the back action accidentally. Users will also be notified when an app requests location data while running in the background, and users can decline those requests. Google recently changed the version naming scheme for Android, switching to simple numbers instead of letters and dessert names.
The FCC today approved four new Google Pixel phones, two of which seem US-bound, both of which include short-range 60 GHz radios, commonly used for the technology known as WiGig, Wireless Display, or 802.11ad. WiGig is fast enough to send 4K video or real-time VR wirelessly. The high frequency and low power of WiGig limit it to very short-range applications, typically within the same room. However 60 GHz radios could also be used for RADAR, and Google has put out its own teaser for the Pixel 4 revealing that the phones will have face unlock and support mid-air hand gestures, both features which could potentially leverage RADAR hardware running at 60 GHz. The phones are presumably the forthcoming Pixel 4 series, although FCC documents made public today reveal little else of note about the "G020I" and "G020J". As with previous Pixel phones, they include support for all frequency bands used by US LTE networks, including newer bands like 14, 30, 66, and 71.
Google has dramatically expanded its bug bounty program to include non-Google Android apps in Google Play with 100 million or more installs, as well as data privacy issues in any app. Google will work with developers' own bug/vulnerability bounty programs, but will pay out bounties in addition to those of developers. Google will also use reports of security vulnerabilities through the new program to improve its automated scanners that look for security issues in all apps uploaded to the Play Store. Google is also starting a new program called Developer Data Protection Reward Program (DDPRP) that will offer similar rewards for people who find proof that an app in the Play Store is violating Google's policies on data privacy. Google will pay up to $50,000 to people who identify situations where user data is being used or sold unexpectedly, or repurposed in an illegitimate way without user consent.
In the coming weeks, Google Maps transit directions will be enhanced to include biking and ride-share as options for each end of the trip, when appropriate. The feature includes cost estimates and estimated wait times, and lets you hire a ride-share car right within the directions. You can also choose your favorite ride-share provider and other available ride options like pool or economy. The new options are factored into your total travel time and ETA.
Google has updated Google Photos with the ability to search for text contained within your photos and videos. Google acknowledged the feature on Twitter, adding that it will roll out to users "starting this month". Phone Scoop was able to use the feature successfully. For example, searching for "wi-fi" brought up photos containing that text, useful for capturing and recalling local Wi-Fi passwords. Users can also copy text directly from the photo using the Lens feature.
The tenth version of the Android operating system for phones will be known simply as "Android 10", dropping Google's long-running practice of publicly referring to OS versions by "internal code names" named after desserts. Android 9 was named "Pie", 8 was named "Oreo", and 7 was "Nougat". Google says the change will make the naming more accessible to a global audience, including places where "pie" is not a dessert, or marshmallows are uncommon, for example. Google also revealed a new logo for the OS.
Google is starting to roll out new features in Search, Assistant, and its Google Podcasts app to make it easier to find and listen to relevant podcasts. Starting today, including the word "podcasts" in a search will bring up a new section with playable podcast results. Soon, Google will surface playable podcast results for certain searches even without using the "podcasts" keyword. Later this year, Google will make the same function available when searching using Google Assistant. For example, when you say "Hey Google, play a podcast about Marie Curie," it will suggest relevant episodes for you. Google syncs listening progress, so you can start a podcast, and pick up where you left off in Google Podcasts. Google is also working with podcasters to let them specify where their podcasts are available, to help surface non-free podcast content.
Google is adding a new feature to some Android phones that can speak to an emergency operator on your behalf when you call 911. During an emergency call, three new buttons — "Medical", "Fire", and "Police" — will be available in case you're unable to speak. They will initiate a voice message to the emergency operator that explains the nature of the emergency and your current location. After you activate the service, you can always speak directly to the operator as well. The feature will become available in the US over the coming months, starting with Pixel phones.
Google today issued a blog post detailing two key new features of the forthcoming Pixel 4: Face Unlock and Motion Sense mid-air hand gestures. Face Unlock is designed to be faster and more seamless than Apple's implementation. It uses four infrared components: a dot projector, flood illuminator, and two cameras. With these components, it can recognize your face from any angle as you lift it, and fully unlock before you're ready to touch the screen. Face Unlock will also work for secure payments and app authentication. The Pixel 4 will also include a RADAR chip developed by Google as Project Soli. This enables Motion Sense, which can detect mid-air hand gestures made in front of the phone, such as waving your hand to skip songs, snooze alarms, and silence phone calls. The sensors for these new features take up space above the display, creating a "forehead" instead of the notch or all-screen design that has become standard in high-end phones recently. Both features keep data locally for privacy. Facial recognition data is stored in Google's custom Titan M security chip.
The Google app for iOS and Android now makes it easier to search for animated GIFs and share them directly to popular messaging apps. When searching for "excited gif", for example, a new "share GIFs" section in image results will show GIFs based on how likely they are to be shared, and include a "share" button that connects directly to apps including Whatsapp, Android Messages, Gmail, and Hangouts. The feature is also available in when searching Google in Chrome on Android.
Google will offer its own RCS service for Android users on networks that have not yet launched RCS. RCS is an open industry standard for enhanced messaging, designed to replace SMS and MMS. It offers many of the features of Apple's iMessage, such as read receipts, high-quality attachments, and typing indicators. Most new Android phones support RCS via Google's Messages app and its Chat feature, but it requires support on the network side. RCS was designed so that network operators could launch RCS support on their own networks, but most operators have been slow to adopt RCS. Sprint has launched it. T-Mobile has also launched it, but does not yet support it on all Android phones. Verizon has launched it for Pixel phones and promised greater support in 2019. AT&T does not yet support the Universal Profile that makes it RCS standard and interoperable between networks. RCS servers can be located anywhere on the Internet, though, so Google is launching its own. Google is rolling out the service on a country-by-country basis, starting with the UK and France this month. When available, Android users without an active RCS service will see a new prompt when opening the Messages app, asking if they want to opt in to Google's RCS service. Google has pledged to delete message content from its servers as soon as message delivery is confirmed.
Google is adding new restrictions on Android apps available through its Play Store. Games that offer "loot boxes" for sale must now clearly disclose the odds of receiving items in advance of purchase. Apps that facilitate marijuana sale or delivery are now banned. Developers of all apps must now associate their app with more specific age targets (such as 6-8 and 13-15) and comply with stricter rules for younger age groups. Google is now applying much stricter rules regarding sexual content and hate speech.
Google today announced the global launch of a group video calling feature for its Google Duo app. The feature lets up to eight people join a live video chat at once. It's available for both iOS and Android. Apple's FaceTime has supported group calls of up to 32 people since January, but only works on iOS devices.
The Trump administration issued an executive order last week preventing "foreign adversaries" from doing telecommunication business in the US. Although the order's wording was vague, the implementation includes preventing Huawei from doing business with any US software or hardware supplier, including Google, Intel, Qualcomm, and Broadcom. This means Huawei will no longer be able to ship new phones to western markets with Google's version of Android that includes the Play Store, Google Maps, Google Assistant, and Gmail. Huawei can still use the open-source version of Android, but Android phones without Google services are a tough sell in western markets. Although Huawei can use its own SoC chips instead of Qualcomm's, being cut off from US hardware suppliers is likely to affect its smartphone business worldwide. The company has reportedly been stockpiling chips and parts from US companies for months to prepare for this possibility.
Android Q will include new cryptography software called Adiantum, which allows any device to keep user data encrypted, something that previously required cryptographic acceleration hardware. Further, Google announced that "all compatible Android devices newly launching with Android Q are required to encrypt user data, with no exceptions". The policy seems to exempt devices that launched with an earlier version of Android but are upgraded to Q. Encrypting user data keeps data on the phone from being accessed when a device is lost or stolen, for example. Google is also making TLS 1.3 standard in Android Q. TLS 1.3 offers faster, more secure protection for network connections, compared to TLS 1.2.
Google today expanded its Pixel lineup with two mid-range models: the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL. The new models look much like the higher-end Pixel 3 models and have many of the same features, but use software to bring enhanced quality to more affordable hardware components such as a camera module without Google's Visual Core chip. Cost savings also come from dropping water resistance, wireless charging, and the wide-angle selfie camera. The processor is Snapdragon 670 instead of 845, and the rear is made of plastic instead of glass. The Pixel 3a has a 5.6-inch display and sells for $399. The larger Pixel 3a XL has a 6-inch display and sells for $479. The phones are on sale starting today from Google. Tomorrow, Google is expanding distribution of its whole Pixel 3/3a lineup to T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular, in addition to Verizon. The Pixel 3a phones include a 3.5mm audio jack, full-HD OLED displays, Night Sight and Portrait modes in the camera app, call screening, a squeeze shortcut for Google Assistant, USB-C, stereo speakers, Google's Titan M security chip, and a promise of OS updates for three years. The phones support fast charging and come with an 18-watt charger. The Pixel 3a is available in three colors: Just Black, Clearly White, and Purple-ish.
Google today announced that its privacy-oriented Incognito feature will be expanding to apps beyond the Chrome browser. Google Maps and YouTube will soon offer Incognito mode, which keeps Google from tracking and storing your activity and associating it with your Google account. Later this year, Google will also add Incognito mode to Google Search on mobile.
Google's new Pixel phones coming later this year will have a new version of the Google Assistant that brings Google's speech-recognition system onto the phone itself for up to ten times faster response times, as well as offline capability. Google has shrunk its machine-learning model for speech recognition down to just 80 MB, enabling it to fit on phones. Google is also adding several features to Assistant, such as semi-automated transactions on select web sites, such as reserving a rental car. Google is also adding a new driving mode to Assistant that combines Maps navigation with audio features in a voice-driven interface that minimizes distractions.
Google is adding 3D models to its search results, including the option to use AR to display models at actual size in the space around you. At Google I/O today, Google demoed 3D models of the human body, sneakers, and a great white shark.
A redesigned version of Android Auto will roll out this summer. The biggest change is the ability to control two apps at once, with one taking up the main screen, and the other displaying limited controls and/or info in a widget within the persistent bar at the bottom of the screen. For example, the main screen can show navigation maps while Spotify controls appear in the bottom bar. The bottom bar also swaps out app shortcuts for a new voice assistant button, and a button that summons a new notification center. Android Auto can also now automatically launch navigation and resume your music each time you start your car. An expanded layout will appear on cars with wider displays. Android Auto lets an Android phone power a car's dashboard touch screen with an interface optimized for driving with minimal distraction. It's similar to Apple's CarPlay feature. More than 500 car models from 50 different brands support Android Auto.
A Best Buy store in Ohio accidentally put an unannounced new Pixel phone on display. The long-rumored Pixel 3a and 3x XL seem to be more-affordable versions of the existing Pixel 3 models. The Pixel 3a XL on display has packaging confirming a 6-inch display, which is smaller than the existing Pixel 3 XL model. Both black and light purple colors are also confirmed. The design looks nearly identical to the existing model. Google's annual developer conference starts Tuesday, May 7th. The company is widely expected to announce the new Pixel phones then.
Google today announced Tiles, a new feature of Wear OS that brings a set of widgets one swipe away from the home screen on Wear OS smartwatches. Six "tiles" are available to start, and Google promises to add more tiles over time. The initial set of tiles is: Goals, Next event, Forecast (weather), Heart rate, Headlines and Timer. Tiles replaces the Google Fit screen, which is now the Goals tile. Users can re-arrange the tiles into any order they like. Tiles will be rolling out to Wear OS smartwatches over the next month.
A new option has appeared in Google Pay that lets it automatically, continuously import "passes" (including tickets and loyalty cards) from emails received in Gmail. The option is disabled by default, but is available now for most users within the Google Pay app, under Settings > General > Gmail imports. Passes added via this feature are marked with a mail icon, and the pass includes a link to the specific email it was generated from. In our testing, the feature worked with mixed success. Some loyalty programs were imported successfully, showing the loyalty program number and most recent points total. In other cases, it mistook phone numbers for member numbers, and imported four-year-old emails from companies and programs that no longer exist.
Google Fi is running a one-day sale today on the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, offering both phones for half price. The offer is open until midnight PT tonight, and requires that the phone be activated on Google Fi within 30 days of shipping.
Google has expanded the two-step verification options when logging into Google services on a tablet or computer to allow the use of any Android 7+ phone as a hardware security key. The option is available today, for both personal and business accounts. It requires the Google Chrome browser on the computer or tablet. After entering their password on the computer or tablet, the user only needs to press one button on their phone, initiating the secure exchange of cryptographic keys over Bluetooth, which completes the login. Passwords alone only provide limited security, so two-step verification (2SV) is recommended for most users. Basic versions of 2SV use one-time codes, sent via text or app, as an additional password. But users can be tricked into giving these codes to attackers, and in some cases the codes can be intercepted. The most secure 2SV relies on a separate physical device carried by the user. Google sells such a keychain device — the Titan Security Key — for $50. Now any Android 7+ phone can serve that purpose, although Google still recommends a secure backup key in case the phone is lost.
Google has turned its Smart Reply technology into an API that third-party Android and iOS developers can easily deploy in their own messaging apps. The software looks at the (up to) ten most recent messages in a thread, applies Google's machine learning algorithm locally (nothing is sent to the cloud,) and suggests three complete replies that can be sent with one tap. The software also uses machine learning to identify sensitive topics, so it can avoid making inappropriate suggestions in response to cases of personal tragedy/hardship or profanity. The feature is part of ML Kit, a suite of APIs that all use machine learning. Google also just added Language Identification to ML Kit. The new Smart Reply API is available first in English, and uses Language Identification to only suggest replies in the appropriate language. The first third-party app to make use of the Smart Reply API is textPlus.
Google's automated voice assistant features for handling calls on a person's behalf are now rolling out to more phones beyond Google's own Pixel phones. The two features are Duplex and Call Screening. Duplex will make an entire interactive call on a user's behalf, making a reservation with a restaurant or business when requested via Google Assistant. This is rolling out to nearly all Android phones, as well as the iOS version of Google Assistant app. It's available in 43 US states. Call Screening is an alternative to directly answering an incoming call. With it, callers are prompted to explain who they are and why they're calling. The answer is transcribed and displayed in real time on the phone's screen, so you can decide to pick up if it's someone you want to talk to. Call Screening is rolling out now to Motorola g7 and One phones as a software update.
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.