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.
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 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.
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.
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'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 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.
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 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 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.
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 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 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 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 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 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.
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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.