Created by Google, Android is a smartphone OS and platform that is open-source and open for any manufacturer to use to make a smartphone. Most Android phones use a version that is mostly provided by Google and requires Google services. Android phones can run Android apps, available from the Google Play Store, or, optionally, from other sources.
ROKiT is a new line of affordable unlocked phones accompanied by a unique range of health and life services for what it calls "transitionals", which means people between jobs, people struggling socioeconomically, and anyone without adequate health insurance. The lineup includes two very basic feature phones and three Android models. Two of the Android phones have glasses-free 3D screens and a ROK Flix app with exclusive 3D content. One of the first content offerings is an animated bible created by the company's own animation studio. The company offers a variety of subscription services tailored to its target market. ROK Health is included free for the first year on the three Android phones, and includes pharmacy discounts and family telemedicine. The subscriber and family members under 26 can call and consult with a real doctor at any time. After the first year, ROK Health is $10/month or $100/year. A step-up plan called ROK Life adds roadside assistance, accidental death insurance, burial and cremation insurance, ID theft protection, and family legal services. ROK Life runs $15/month or $150/year. The roadside assistance is also available separately for $30/year. The feature phones are priced $35-40. The Android models run $90-275. The phones work on AT&T and T-Mobile networks, and cellular service must be purchased separately. ROKit phones and services will be available in March. The parent company ROK Brands previously launched ROK Mobile as a music-focused MVNO in 2014, re-launched it in 2015, then closed shop last year.
TCL today announced the Alcatel 1x (2019), an update to last year's 1x with significant upgrades and new features, including dual rear cameras. Like the original 1x, it has a 2:1 display shape and fingerprint reader (some versions, depending on region). The display has been upgraded to HD resolution and enlarged from 5.3 to 5.5 inches. The (non-removable) battery is 22% larger, now 3,000 mAh. While last year's 1x ran Android Go, the new version has 2GB of RAM and a full version of Android 8.1 (Oreo). The distinctive design has a rough texture that wraps around the sides on the bottom half. The rear camera has been upgraded to 13 megapixel and is aided by a second camera for depth, offering a portrait mode with focus adjustable after the shot has been taken. The 1x is powered by a MediaTek 6739 processor. It will ship globally — including North America — in the coming weeks, for around $120.
Planet Computers is at CES this week showing off an early prototype of its Cosmo Communicator, which is an upgraded version of its Gemini. The Cosmo and Gemini share the same basic design that looks like a micro-size laptop. Both have the same "full size" QWERTY keyboard with real laptop-style keys, although the Cosmo's keys are backlit. The Cosmo's upgrades consist mostly of additions to the outer shell, including a small touchscreen, 24-megapixel camera, and fingerprint reader. The processor, memory, and storage have also been upgraded, to a MediaTek P70 processor, 6 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of storage. The Cosmo supports Android 9 as well as other Linux-based OSes. The company is still working on the outer touch-screen interface, with the goal of making it act more like a (large) phone when closed. The Cosmo is currently available on Indiegogo, where it's already over 450% funded.
Residents of Los Angeles can now download an app that can provide early warning of many major earthquakes. The app, offered by the city, is called ShakeAlertLA and is available now for both Android and iOS. The app was developed under contract with AT&T and is powered by the USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) earthquake early warning system. The USGS system currently includes 615 earthquake-sensing stations in California, with another 500 to be added by 2021. Similar services are already available in Mexico City and Japan, and have proven effective in giving citizens time to find safety in the event of a quake.
AT&T plans to change the indicator in the status bar of some Android phones from "LTE" to "5G E" in select markets. Specifically, this logo will appear in cities and towns that have been upgraded to AT&T's 5G Evolution technology, which is not 5G at all. Instead, the phones will be connecting to faster 4G LTE that relies on 4x4 MIMO, LAA, 256 QAM, and other LTE-based technologies. What AT&T calls 5G Evolution will be up and running in more than 400 markets by the end of the year. It is in these markets that Android device owners will see the logo change. The change arrives just as AT&T launches its mobile 5G network. The only device that can access the nascent 5G network is a mobile hotspot. AT&T isn't expected to offer a 5G phone until February or March. That 5G service will appear as "5G+" once it arrives. AT&T's planned "5G E" change is likely to mislead some consumers into believing they are connecting to 5G service when in fact they are not.
Instagram today announced several new ways people can interact with one another via the social network. First, it has added the ability to ask friends for music recommendations, or to make your own recommendations, using the questions sticker. A new music icon appears in the sticker that lets people browse or search through the music library and then share. Opening the viewer's list will reveal all the responses and recommendations. Instagram says people can take a picture or video as the music plays in the background. New effects in the camera respond to the beat of the music. These features are rolling out for Android and iOS in select regions. Second, Instagram says people can use the question sticker in Live to interact with people in real time. When users go Live, a "Q&A" indicator will show up in the stories tray. Join the Live video to see questions and answers as they happen. Those broadcasting Live can share photos and videos from their camera roll directly to the Live feed. Instagram says questions in Live will be rolling out on the latest version of Instagram for iOS and Android starting today. Last, Instagram has added a new interactive countdown sticker for stories. It lets people count down to upcoming moments, such as holidays, with their friends. People can follow the countdown and they will receive a notification when the countdown ends. Once users create a countdown, it will remain available for use in other stories. This feature will reach all users globally today.
Twitter today said iPhone owners can now choose to view tweets in the order they were published. This generally means in reverse chronological order, which is how Twitter originally operated until it later introduced the algorithmic feed. The company has been testing the tool since September and made it available through its mobile app for iPhones. It will reach the Android mobile app soon, says Twitter. People will see a sparkle icon in the app. Tapping it re-orders the timeline. The default experience is still based on Twitter's algorithmic feed, which showcases "top tweets" first. Twitter made the change based on customer feedback.
Fitbit today said it is distributing Fitbit OS 3.0 to its two most powerful devices, the Ionic and Versa smartwatches. The upgraded platform is more personal and customizable. It includes a revised Fitbit Today dashboard that features new tiles so owners can see their sleep quality, weight, water intake, and food at a glance. The Fitbit app gallery boasts several new apps. For example, a fresh health and fitness app helps people remain on target each day. Another new app, TRX, offers quick guided workouts, and FitBark lets people add their pet’s activity to their own. Last, revised goal-based exercise modes let people set targets and ensure real-time stats are properly recorded for more than 15 different activities. The Fitbit Ionic and Versa are compatible with Android and iOS devices. The watch update is available via the associated mobile phone app.
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.
Opera Software today launched a new version of its Opera browser for Android devices that takes a step toward the internet's future. The latest build of Opera, based on blockchain, now includes an integrated crypto wallet and Web 3 support. By adding blockchain to the browser, Opera works with Ethereum, a blockchain-based coin for Web 3 transactions. Android device owners can get started by downloading Opera, then purchasing some Ethereum cryptocurrency and storing it in Opera's crypto wallet. This will allow people to make Web 3 purchases directly from Opera. This is important because Web 3 is based on the idea of decentralization. Distributed apps (Dapps) are what's used in Web 3 and the only way to manage transactions in Dapps is via cryptocurrency. The benefit is that people have far greater control over their privacy and identity. Opera knows that consumer understanding of blockchain and cryptocurrency needs a boost. "Until now, using cryptocurrencies online and accessing Web 3 required special apps or extensions, making it difficult for people to even try it out," said Charles Hamel, Product Manager of Opera Crypto. By adding a crypto wallet and Web 3 to its browser, Opera's goal is to "accelerate the transition of cryptocurrencies from speculation and investment to being used for actual payments and transactions in our users' daily lives." Opera is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Blu today revealed the Vivo Go, a sub-$100 smartphone that runs the Go Edition of Android 9 Pie. Android Go focuses on delivering the core Android experience through lightweight versions of Google's apps. The phone has a curved glass front, mirrored frame, and metal-plated rear panel. The Vivo Go includes a 6-inch, HD+ (1,440 by 720p) screen with a 2:1 aspect ratio. It is powered by a 1.5 GHz quad-core MediaTek chipset with 1 GB of memory and 16 GB of storage. The phone supports microSD memory cards up to 64 GB. Blu paired an 8-megapixel main sensor with a VGA secondary sensor on the rear. The dual-camera setup supports adjustable depth-of-field portrait shooting. The selfie camera has a 5-megapixel sensor and a flash of its own. Other features include a rear-mounted fingerprint reader, 3.5mm headphone jack, microUSB, and basic support for AT&T/Cricket Wireless and T-Mobile/Metro. The Blu Vivo Go goes on sale via Amazon.com today for $80. It will be available briefly at a price of $60 upon launch.
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.
OnePlus today made Android 9 Pie available to the OnePlus 5 and OnePlus 5T through a new open beta of OxygenOS. The introduction of Pie gives the 5/5T a brand new user interface based more on swiping gestures. The beta includes Pie's Do Not Disturb mode, which lets people be more proactive about silencing their phones. In addition to the core features of Pie, OnePlus improved the UI when calling 911 and when using speed dial, and made it possible to assign a specific SIM for a specific contact or group when using two SIM cards. The 5/5T gain support for more parallel apps, including Telegram, Discord, IMP, and Uber. OnePlus made a number of changes to the weather tool. For example, it now automatically displays the weather for the current location, offers more suggestions when performing place searches, and fixes bugs impacting the ability to properly locate certain cities and towns. Owners already taking advantage of the OnePlus open beta program will receive Android 9 Pie as an over-the-air download. Those not signed up will need to do so in order to gain access to the updated operating system. OnePlus says the OTA download will reach users in phases over the next few days.
Instagram today said users can put the direct messaging tool inside its mobile app to work with their voice. The private messaging function now supports voice messages. "Talk the way you want to be heard, whether by whispering what you’re up to or shouting a compliment," said Instagram. The feature is rolling out to Android and iOS devices over the next few days.
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 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.
Blu Products today unveiled the Vivo XL4, an affordable device with a large screen. The XL4 has a curved glass front and a metal chassis. The notched display measures 6.2 inches across the diagonal and has slim side bezels. The display resolution is HD+ with 1,520 by 720 pixels in a 19:9 aspect ratio. The XL4 is powered by a 2.0 GHz octa-core MediaTek Helio P22 processor with 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage. The main camera has a 13-/2-megapixel configuration and supports portrait or bokeh-style images. The selfie camera also has a 13-megapixel sensor. It can take advantage of pixel binning in low light situations, as well as capture wide-angle shots. The selfie cam powers the Facemoji feature, which lets people create animated likenesses of themselves that can then be shared via social media. Other features of the Vivo XL4 include a 4,000mAh battery with quick charge, fingerprint sensor, microSD memory card slot, microUSB, dual SIM card, and split-screen operation when in landscape orientation. The phone runs Android 8.1 Oreo and is sold unlocked via Amazon. The retail price is $150, but it is being offered at $99 for a short time. The Vivo XL4 supports AT&T/Cricket and T-Mobile/Metro.
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.
HMD Global today announced the Nokia 8.1, a devices that blends high-end design and performance in an affordable package. The 8.1 is a metal and glass slab. It features a 6000 series aluminum frame with diamond-cut edges and sandblasted, curved glass panels. The PureDisplay stretches 6.18 inches from corner to corner, and provides full HD+ resolution in a 2:1 aspect ratio. It supports HDR 10 color for improved video playback. HMD Global opted for the Snapdragon 710 processor from Qualcomm with a more powerful multi-core AI Engine. It ships with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage. A dual-camera system adorns the rear and features a 12-megapixel main sensor and a 13-megapixel secondary sensor with Zeiss optics and optical image stabilization. The Pro Camera mode can tap into the camera's wide aperture for improved low-light shots. The pair can capture portrait/bokeh-style images. A 20-megapixel camera is on front. It supports pixel-binning when shooting in low light and can capture 4K selfie videos. The Nokia 8.1 can use both cameras at the same time to take a "bothie" that can then be dressed up with stickers and other edits. Other features of the Nokia 8.1 include a 3,500mAh battery with fast charging, Bluetooth with aptX, USB-C, 3.5mm headphone jack, and a memory card slot. The 8.1 runs the Android One version of Android 9 Pie, meaning it has a clean user interface and will receive at least two OS-level updates for two years and security updates for three years. The Nokia 8.1 goes on sale in India later this month for approximately $450. HMD Global says it will expand to other markets over time, though it didn't immediately specify which LTE bands the phone supports.
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.
YouTube has decided to make Autoplay On Home available to everyone. The feature, which has been available to YouTube Premium subscribers for several months, begins rolling video previews automatically. YouTube suggests that previewing videos helps people make a "more informed decision" about whether or not they want to view the entire video. The videos will play without sound, and can include captions if desired. Autoplay On Home can be set to roll videos only when on WiFi, or turned off entirely. The feature will reach all users on Android and iOS over the next few weeks.
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.
Metro by T-Mobile and Alcatel today announced the 1X Evolve, an update to the compact Alcatel 1X from earlier this year. The phone has curved, 2.5D Dragontrail glass on front and a soft suede finish on the rear. The phone features a 5.34-inch display with a 2:1 aspect ratio and minimal bezels along the outer edges. The 1X Evolve has an 8-megapixel camera on back and a 5-megapixel camera on front. Camera tools include Alcatel's Social Mode for editing and sharing, Social Square for previewing images on half the screen, and Instant Collage for merging photos into shareable collages. The 1X Evolve is powered by a quad-core processor and supports T-Mobile's 600 MHz (Band 71) spectrum for better LTE 4G performance. It packs a 2,460mAh battery and ships with Android 8 Oreo. The Alcatel 1X Evolve reaches Metro stores on December 10. Pricing was not immediately disclosed.
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.
Instagram today gave people more control over who sees their stories. A new tool called Close Friends lets people create small groups and share stories that are only visible to members of that group. The Close Friends function appears in the side menu of users' profiles. Only those who create the lists will be able to see who is on the list, and no one can ask to be added. The option to share Stories with everyone or just the smaller group will appear when posting stories. People who are added to groups by others will see a green badge when viewing the story and a green ring around the profile photo in the Stories tray. Instagram says Close Friends is rolling out to Android and iOS globally today.
Google today announced a significant update to Android Auto, its in-car app for managing entertainment, navigation, and communications. Google tackled music discovery in this update. Android Auto now features an improved layout with larger album art to make identifying tunes easier. Google Assistant can lend a helping hand, too; the voice search experience has been fine-tuned. Drivers can say "OK Google, play 90s music" and the app will reveal more categorized search results on the screen. These tools are compatible with popular media apps such as Google Play Books, Google Play Music, iHeartRadio, Pocket Casts, and Spotify. On the communications front, Google has added previews for incoming messages. This optional feature must be manually turned on. It lets people see the first few words of messages so they can determine whether or not an immediate response is needed once stopped. Android Auto also now supports MMS and RCS, meaning more content will be available within messages, such as group chats. Google says these features will hit the Android Auto app, free to download from the Google Play Store, over the next few days.
T-Mobile has rolled out a digital banking service called T-Mobile Money. T-Mobile says T-Mobile Money is available to T-Mobile customers as well as non-customers. The service focuses on providing easy access to funds and banking services through a mobile device. T-Mobile Money can be managed from the Android and iOS platforms via dedicated mobile apps. T-Mobile says the service doesn't charge maintenance, ATM, overdraft, or minimum balance fees, and delivers guaranteed interest. All customers can earn at least 1.00% interest on an annual basis, and T-Mobile subscribers are eligible to earn up to 4.00%. T-Mobile Money is FDIC insured and provides protection against unauthorized purchases. It is compatible with Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay for mobile transactions. Customers can receive a MasterCard-backed T-Mobile Money debit card if they wish. Other features include online bill pay, mobile check deposit, and easy setup for direct deposit. People can register via the T-Mobile Money app, which is available in the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store. Customers can also sign up online.
Google today renamed its MVNO, Project Fi, to Google Fi. Along with the name change comes dramatically expanded compatibility with phones. Moving forward, the service will work with most Android phones as well as the Apple iPhone. The process of activating Fi on Android devices will be straightforward. Google says compatibility with iPhones is in beta and will require people to jump through a few more hoops, including the use of an iOS app. Basic service will be available to the majority of devices. Fi operates on T-Mobile, Sprint, U.S. Cellular, and WiFi, dynamically jumping to the strongest connection. Subscribers will need specific phones, listed on the Fi web site, to get this benefit, as proper LTE support is required. Google recently added VPN protection to Fi. The base service costs $20 per month for unlimited voice and text. Google charges $10 per gigabyte of data. People interested in the service will need to order SIM cards from the Google Fi web site. The service does not require contracts.
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.
Amazon has made the Alexa Mobile Accessory Kit available to developers, which will enable them to build the smart assistant into headphones, wearables, and more. Amazon first announced the AMA Kit in January of this year and has been testing it since. This week marks the general availability of the kit. The kit supports Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy audio-capable devices so people can tap into Alexa from just about anywhere. Amazon says end users need only pair their Android phone or iPhone with a Bluetooth headset or smartwatch, install the Alexa mobile app, and perform a quick one-time setup. Most Alexa features are included, such as streaming media, controlling smart home devices, and interacting with tens of thousands of Alexa skills. The AMA Kit includes all the code developers need so they can focus on building their product. Developers interested in the Alexa Mobile Accessory Kit can get started via Amazon's developer portal. Consumers can expect to see more Alexa-enabled gear in the months ahead.
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 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.
Sony Mobile today said Android 9 Pie is now available to the Xperia XZ2 Premium. Sony debuted the XZ2 Premium earlier this year. In October, Sony said the XZ2 Premium would receive Pie on November 7. Android 9 Pie includes features such as Adaptive Battery, a new Ambient Display, and Digital Wellbeing for controlling phone use. Sony said owners of the XZ2 Premium can check for the update via the settings menu
Verizon Wireless today introduced a new application called My Numbers that lets any single phone use up to five distinct numbers. The app is available to Android and iOS devices. Customers who want or need to manage multiple numbers can add them to the app, where each will have its own voicemail inbox and SMS inbox. Each number added to the app costs $15 extra per month. The service uses software to mimic the idea of multiple SIMs in a single phone. My Numbers is available now.
AT&T plans to cease offering AT&T Smart Limits, a service that allows parents to control their kids' phones, on November 26. Smart Limits will no longer be available after that date. In its place, AT&T is launching AT&T Secure Family. The new app and service has more features, a simpler user interface, and lets parents manage more phones at a lower price. AT&T Secure Family includes live location tracking and detailed location history for each family member. Parents can set up arrival and departure alerts, such as when kids leave school or arrive home. Parents can also schedule location updates that are sent automatically throughout the day. Secure Family includes content and usage controls. Parents can pause access to the internet, such as at bedtime, filter and block apps and online content based on age, set time limits for kids' daily internet access, and prevent kids from making purchases on the iTunes App Store or Google Play Store. AT&T Secure Family is available to iPhone and Android devices and costs $7.99 per month to manage up to 10 lines.
Instagram has integrated shopping deeper into its mobile app. The latest version of Instagram, which people use to share photos and videos, adds a shopping collection, or a way for people to save potential purchase items for later. People can return to the items they've saved via their profile. The company is testing a redesign of the Shop tab that appears on business profiles. The idea is to let people quickly see all the products from that retailer as they appear in Instagram posts/stories. Instagram says this is a good way to browse all the products from a single company at once. Last, Instagram has made it possible for people to shop from feed videos. A new shopping icon will appear in the bottom left corner of videos that contain products. Tapping the icon will open a page with details about that specific product. The new version of Instagram will reach Android and iOS devices over the next few days.
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.
Verizon Media Group has launched a brand new version of the Yahoo mobile app. It combines all facets of Yahoo's online services in a single space. The app ties together separate services such as Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Sports, and Yahoo Finance, as well as various pieces of Yahoo's main web page. Users who create profiles and sign in can customize the app to show them local news and weather, local sports and highlights, as well as top news stories, stocks, daily deals, video content, and search. A separate tab called Watch contains the latest and most popular video on the web, curated by Yahoo's editors. Yahoo says app users will be treated to a "Deal of the Day" from partners during the upcoming holiday season, which delivers savings on potential gift items to Yahoo inboxes. The new Yahoo app is free to download from the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store.