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.
Today is launch day for Quibi, the new video subscription service with original content created exclusively for mobile devices. There are a number of original shows available including A-list celebrities. Episodes are ten minutes or less and are filmed so they can be viewed in either landscape or portrait orientation. The service is $5/month after a 90-day free trial. The ad-free version is $8/month. The app is available for both iOS and Android.
Apple has acquired the popular weather app Dark Sky. Dark Sky announced that it is pulling its Android and Wear OS apps from app stores, and existing installations on those platforms will stop working on July 1st, 2020. The company is also phasing out its API service, which is used by other apps and services. Dark Sky won't accept any new applications to use its API going forward, and the API service will shut down at the end of 2021. The iOS version of the Dark Sky app will continue to be sold in Apple's App Store.
Planet Computers, known for its pocketable phones with "full" laptop-style keyboards, has revealed a new model — the Astro Slide — with a unique slide-and-tilt mechanism they call "RockUp". While the company's past models had a standard clamshell hinge that hid the main screen when closed, the main screen on the Astro Slide is always accessible, making it usable like a standard smartphone when closed. When slid open, the large backlit keyboard is available, and the screen can be tilted at an angle like a tiny laptop. The device has 6.53-inch display, MediaTek Dimensity 1000 chipset, 5G (sub-6), 4,000 mAh battery, and a 48-megapixel camera. It also has Android 10, two USB-C ports, a fingerprint reader, NFC, and wireless charging. The device is being crowdfunded on Indiegogo, with a starting price of $491 and an estimated ship date of March 2021.
Google has redesigned its Podcasts app, and made a version available in Apple's App Store for iPhone users. Google Podcasts now stays fully synced between all platforms, including Android, web, and iOS, so you can pause a podcast on your phone and automatically pick up where you left off on the web. The new interface design has three tabs: Home, Explore and Activity. The Home tab features a feed of new episodes and gives you quick access to your subscribed shows. When you select an episode you want to listen to, you'll now see topics or people covered in that podcast. In the Explore tab, you can browse popular podcasts by category, and the app will make personalized show and episode recommendations. The Activity tab displays your listen history, queued up episodes, and downloads. For each show in your subscriptions, you can now enable automatic downloading and/or push notifications for when new episodes come out. The new Google Podcasts is available on iOS today and rolling out to Android this week.
Nokia today announced the Nokia 5.3, a new mid-range Android phone. It has a 6.5-inch HD display with a small notch, 4,000 mAh battery, and is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 chip. It has four rear cameras: a 13-megapixel main camera with f/1.8 aperture, plus a 5-megapixel wide camera, 2-megapixel macro camera, and a depth camera for portrait effects. The 5.3 also comes with 3–6 GB of RAM, 64 GB of storage, a memory card slot, USB-C, fingerprint reader, dedicated Google Assistant button, and a 3.5mm audio jack. The version for the Americas will support Cat. 4 LTE in bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12/17, 13, 28, 38 and 66. Color choices are Cyan, Sand, and Charcoal. It will ship globally in April for 189 Euros (approx. 200 USD).
A new phone available in Japan uses onboard AI to detect nudity, and prevent users from taking or saving photos with nudity. The Tone e20 is an affordable Android phone aimed at parents who want to protect their children from "being deceived or threatened to photograph their own nudity, etc." The phone works to detect nudity in both photo and video camera modes, and prevents the saving of images with nudity. When nudity is detected, an alert can be sent to parents with the time, date, and location of the event, as well as a pixelated thumbnail of the offending image. The phone includes other parental controls and family-safety features. It is only available in Japan.
LG today announced the V60 ThinQ 5G with LG Dual Screen. Its specs are flagship-level, but not quite as top-end as past V-series phones. Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and US Cellular will offer the V60 "in the coming weeks". As with the Samsung Galaxy S20, Verizon's version will supports both mmWave and sub-6 5G, while other versions will only support sub-6 5G (which offers better coverage but not the fastest 5G speeds.) The V60 will be packaged with LG's Dual Screen accessory, which adds a second display identical to phone's main display, connected to the phone with a 360-degree hinge, plus a 2.1-inch monochrome outer display. The V60's is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 chipset, and features a 6.8-inch full-HD+ OLED display, 5,000 mAh battery, 8 GB of RAM, 128 GB storage, memory card slot, and Android 10. It also features two rear cameras plus a ToF depth camera. The main camera is 64 megapixel (f/1.8), while the wide-angle camera is 13 megapixel (f/1.9, 117º). It can capture 8K video, as well as 4K time-lapse or 60 fps video. It has stereo speakers and 4 microphones, plus an ASMR recording mode. The phone also features an in-display fingerprint reader, 32-bit Hi-Fi Quad DAC, Quick Charge 4+, IP68 water rating, NFC, Bluetooth 5.1, Wi-Fi 6, and USB-C (3.1). It will be available in blue or white. Specific launch dates and pricing will be announced by US carriers in coming weeks.
To improve user privacy, Google is updating its Play Store policies to restrict the use of location data by Android apps when they're not actively running. Currently, any Android app can request permission for such access from the user. Starting in August, apps will only be able to do so with explicit permission from Google, having demonstrated a specific need for access to location data in the background. In November, Google will remove apps from the Play Store that have not complied with the new policy. Also today, Google announced the first Developer Preview of Android 11, which includes a new user option to allow apps to access location data on a one-time basis.
Google has released the first Developer Preview of Android 11. The list of features in this version provides a glimpse of what to expect when Android 11 becomes available to consumers later this year. Messaging receives the biggest update, with a new dedicated section of the notifications shade devoted to ongoing conversations. Messaging apps can also use "bubbles" to float a simple messaging thread window above other apps. System permission dialog boxes (for access to location, etc.) now have an "Only this time" option, similar to iOS. Android 11 also adds native support for secure storage and retrieval of verifiable identification documents, such as ISO 18013-5 compliant Mobile Driving Licenses. Call screening apps will now have standardized access to STIR-SHAKEN data, as well as a new screen that appears after each call, "to let users perform actions such as marking a call as spam or adding to contacts.". Also new are better support for pinhole displays, waterfall displays, animated HIEF image files, and low-latency video modes. Developers will benefit from new APIs for machine learning, as well as 5G network status and performance. Android 11 also advances Google's Project Mainline, moving additional components of the OS into modules that are quickly and easily updated via the Google Play Store, instead of requiring a manufacturer-supplied full OS update. The Developer Preview released today is not a "public beta" and is not intended for consumers; it will only run on certain Pixel devices and requires manual installation. Separately, Google announced that Android 11 will enhance Work Profile so that companies issuing company-owned phones to employees can give employees separate work and personal profiles on the same device. Companies still control the work profile and can set device-wide restrictions, but personal data is kept private from the employer. This feature was previously only available for personally-owned devices, not company-issued devices. Google is expected to reveal additional features of Android 11 at its developer conference in May.
Google has updated its Gboard keyboard option for Android phones to include a new Emoji Kitchen feature, which lets you create sticker graphics based on custom combinations and variations of standard emoji. For example, when you tap the face-with-cowboy-hat emoji, it presents options for monkey cowboy, ghost cowboy, laughing cowboy, kissy cowboy, in love cowboy, pleading cowboy, and pensive cowboy. The feature is rolling out to all Gboard users starting this week.
Essential Products is closing up shop. The company shipped one Android phone and promised more devices, but never gained much traction. Founder Andy Rubin is also one of the chief creators of Android, and before that, Danger. Rubin had a history of sexual harassment claims against him.
A security flaw has been found in Android that allows attackers to access a phone via Bluetooth with no user interaction required. Android's most recent monthly security update, released on February 3rd, fixes the flaw. The vulnerability is rated "critical" — the highest rating — for Android versions 8 and 9. In Android 10, the same bug allows a remote attacker to crash the Bluetooth system, but does not present the same security vulnerability. Attackers must be within Bluetooth range (typically around 30 feet) to exploit the flaw. Users can ensure they're not vulnerable by turning off Bluetooth until their phone receives the February update. There are ways to continue using Bluetooth in public while making it difficult to exploit the flaw. Attackers need to know your Bluetooth MAC address (device ID). This can be obtained in two ways: The first is if your phone is in Bluetooth "discoverable" (pairing) mode. Also, on some devices, the Bluetooth MAC address can be deduced from the Wi-Fi MAC address. Therefore users with a non-updated Android phone who are concerned about the issue should avoid pairing new Bluetooth devices while near any public areas, and keep Wi-Fi turned off on their phone.
Motorola has unveiled two new g-series phones for 2020: the Moto g Stylus and Moto g Power. The two phones are very similar, except the g Stylus has a built-in stylus pen and higher-end main camera, while the g Power has a larger battery. Both phones have a 6.4-inch full-HD+ display with a "hole punch" in the corner for the 16-megapixel selfie camera. Both are powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 chip paired with 4 GB of RAM and running Android 10. Both have a water-repellent design, stereo speakers, dual-band Wi-Fi, fingerprint reader, memory card slot, USB-C, 10W fast charging, 3.5mm headphone jack, and FM radio. Both have excellent support for all US 4G networks — including bands 13, 14, 25, 26, 29, 30, 41, 66, and 71 — with LTE Cat. 13 speeds. Motorola also has a new feature that limits interruptions while gaming. The few differences between the phones are:
- Moto g Stylus: Has a built-in stylus pen designed to help you edit photos, jot down notes, sketch artwork, copy and paste text, and mark up screenshots. Removing the stylus while the phone is idle will automatically start the new Moto Note app, which lets you take quick notes without unlocking the phone. It has a 4,000 mAh battery and 128 GB of storage. The main camera has a 48-megapixel sensor and f/1.7 aperture, with laser auto-focus. It also has a 2-megapixel macro camera and 16-megapixel "action" camera that takes ultra-wide video in landscape orientation while holding the phone vertically. The Moto g Stylus will be available unlocked "this spring" for $300, and subsequently at Verizon, Metro, and Republic.
- Moto g Power: Has an extra-large 5,000 mAh battery that Motorola claims can power the phone for three days. It also has three rear cameras, but the main camera is 16 megapixel (f/1.7) and the wide-angle camera is 8-megapixel with standard orientation. Like the g Stylus, it has a 2-megapixel macro camera that can focus on objects just 2cm from the lens. It has 64 GB of storage. The Moto g Power will be available unlocked "this spring" for $250, and subsequently at Verizon, Xfinity Mobile, US Cellular, Consumer Cellular, and Republic.
Google has updated its Maps app for iOS and Android with a new tab bar. The standard default view is now the "Explore" tab. A new "Commute" tab lets you specify your daily commute route and receive real-time traffic updates, travel times, and suggestions for alternative routes. It works for both driving and public transit. A "Saved" tab lets you see lists of your saved places, as well as upcoming reservations flagged by Gmail, and your saved maps. The new "Contribute" tab makes it easier to send Google reviews, recommendations, corrections, and photos to make Maps better. Finally, the new Updates tab highlights new places nearby, and new articles about places nearby.
The newest entry-level Nokia Android phone from HMD Global is the Nokia 2.3, which contains a 4,000 mAh battery that HMD claims can last through two days of use. It also has a 6.2-inch, 19:9, HD screen with small notch, MediaTek Helio A22 processor, 2 GB of RAM, 32 GB of storage, memory card slot, and 3.5mm headset jack. It has a 13 megapixel camera on the back plus depth camera for portrait mode, and a 5 megapixel camera on the front. An AI-powered "Recommended Shot" feature automatically captures alternate images before and after the shutter button is pressed and suggests the best one. It also has a multi-frame night mode. The frame is aluminum and the back has a "3D nano-textured" design. The 2.3 comes with Android 9 and two years of OS updates (including Android 10) plus three years of monthly security updates. The US version supports LTE in US bands 2, 4, 5, 12, and 66, which means basic support for AT&T and T-Mobile networks (including Cricket and Metro brands). The Nokia 2.3 will come in Sand and Charcoal in the US. It will be available unlocked from Amazon and Best Buy for $129 starting February 9th.
Nvidia has officially launched its GeForce Now game-streaming service, after years in beta. Like Google Stadia, the service runs full PC games on cloud servers and streams the video to your local device, such as a laptop or Android phone. But whereas Stadia requires new game purchases, GeForce Now lets you access games you've already purchased on the game platforms Steam, Epic, Battle.net, and Uplay. The basic tier of service is free, but limited to one hour of play at a time. The single paid tier offers faster startup and up to six hours at a time, for a limited-time price of $60/year after a free 90-day "introductory period". The service requires a fast connection: 15 Mbps minimum, 30 Mbps for 1080p60 quality, and 50 Mbps for the "best experience". Hundreds of games are fully supported and can be accessed quickly, and over a thousand others are supported but must be downloaded to a server at the start of each session.
Apple's icloud.com web site is now available in a mobile-friendly version with access to four iCloud services: Notes, Photos, Reminders, and Find iPhone. Although it seems designed to work in both Apple an Android mobile web browsers, key features — such as editing notes and uploading photos — are not currently working in Google's Chrome browser on Android. The mobile web site does not yet offer access to other services available in the desktop version of the web site, such as Mail, Contacts, Calendar, iCloud Drive, Pages, and Find Friends.
TCL Communication and BlackBerry Limited have announced an end to their partnership to produce BlackBerry phones. TCL made several BlackBerry phones in recent years, which ran Android with additional software from BlackBerry Limited. TCL will not introduce any additional BlackBerry phones, and will stop selling existing models at the end of August 2020. It will provide service and support for those phones until the end of August 2022. TCL made four BlackBerry models: The KEYone, KEY2, and KEY2 LE had physical QWERTY keyboards, while the Motion was a touchscreen-only device.
Google has launched a new support service for Android. Anyone using the hashtag #AndroidHelp on Twitter will receive Android tech support from Google.
The Byte app is now available to everyone, for both iOS and Android. Byte is a social network based on short video clips, with comment features similar to Instagram, and a "rebyte" feature similar to retweets on Twitter. Byte was founded by Dom Hofmann — one of the original creators of Vine — and is similar to Vine in many ways. (Vine was purchased by Twitter, which then shut down the service at the end of 2016.) The Byte app includes a search/explore section that lets you explore content by category, such as animation, pets, fitness, music, comedy, travel, and experimental, as well as latest and most popular content. The camera section lets you string together multiple short clips at once, recorded from either the front or back camera, and/or include sections of previously-recorded video. An onion-skinning feature helps you visually align the start of a new clip with the last frame of the last clip.
Verizon has pegged February 6th as the new launch date for the Motorola razr. Pre-orders open up at 12:01am ET on January 26th. The $1,500 phone is available exclusively from Verizon in the US. Verizon is offering special deals for new customers who switch to Verizon and pre-oder a razr: a $200 prepaid MasterCard, plus up to $500 when customers trade in an existing phone and sign up for a specific Unlimited plan. Existing Verizon customers upgrading to the razr can save up to $300 with a phone trade-in. Verizon is also offering the razr for $62.49 a month for 24 months. The razr was originally slated to ship January 9th, but was delayed. The 2020 razr resembles the original RAZR V3 launched in 2004, with its thin metal clamshell form factor. The new model features a 6.2" flexible, folding OLED main display and runs Android.
Samsung this week revealed the Galaxy XCover Pro, a new Android 10 phone "optimized for a variety of industries including retail, healthcare, logistics and manufacturing". It's just slightly larger than the Galaxy S10+, but with a rugged body military-rated for drops up to 1.5 meters, and rated IP68 for dust and water. Its flat screen measures 6.2-inches, sports full-HD+ resolution, and works with gloves and wet fingers. It has a 4,050 mAh removable battery that support 15W fast charging and charging docks with pogo pins. It also has a 25 megapixel main camera, 13 megapixel front camera, NFC, fingerprint reader on the side, and two programmable shortcut buttons. One of the buttons has be used for the PTT (walkie-talkie) feature of Microsoft Teams. It's powered by a Samsung Exynos chip paired with 4 GB of RAM. It has 64 GB of storage built-in and supports memory cards up to 512 GB. It will work on Verizon's network in the US and be available in the first half of 2020 for $500.
Transact — a leading supplier of student ID card systems — this week announced support for Google Pay, the primary digital wallet feature of Google's Android OS. The new capability allows students of participating colleges and universities to carry their student ID in their phone instead of a physical card. Students can simply tap their NFC-enabled phone on readers to access campus buildings, as well as payments for dining, laundry, vending, and retail. Apple Wallet has supported the Transact platform since late 2018, and additional student-ID systems since late 2019. Fifteen institutions have committed to the initial roll-out of Transact for Google Pay, including Arkansas State University, Chowan University, College of Coastal Georgia, Duke University, Georgetown University, Hamilton College, Johns Hopkins University, Marshall University, Mercer University, Roanoke College, St. Edward’s University, South Dakota State University, Temple University, The University of Alabama, and University of New Brunswick.
CAT's latest rugged phone for the US market is the S32. It's a bit more affordable than past models at $349. It's rated IP68 for water and dust. It can withstand being submerged under 1.5 meters of water for up to 35 minutes. It also has a military rating for drop and shock. It has a 5.5-inch HD display covered in DragonTrail Pro glass that works with gloves and wet fingers. It has a 4,200 mAh battery. It's powered by a MediaTek Helio A20 processor with 3 GB RAM, 32 GB storage, and Android 10. Features include NFC, 13 megapixel main camera, memory card slot, 3.5mm audio jack, and a user-assignable shortcut key on the side. The US variant will have full support for Verizon and T-Mobile 4G LTE bands, and decent support for AT&T, including band 14 for FirstNet.
At CES this year, Google is showing off several new functions coming to Google Assistant on Android phones. Soon, you'll be able to say "Hey Google, read it" or "Hey Google, read this page" when you're viewing an article. When you do, it will use "new voice datasets to create more expressive and more natural sounding voices" for reading long-form content. The content can also be translated into 42 languages. Google is also adding two new voice actions for people to easily control their privacy. The first is "Hey Google, that wasn’t for you," which lets you tell the Assistant to forget what it heard if an unintended activation occurs. The other is "Hey Google, are you saving my audio data?" to learn about your privacy controls and go directly into the settings screen to change your preferences. Google added several other privacy-related commands recently, including "Hey Google, delete everything I said to you this week."
Razer has introduced a new accessory that adds full-size physical game controls to a much wider range of phones than its previous Junglecat accessory. The Kishi comes in versions for both iOS and Android. The iOS version has a Lightning connector and is compatible with the iPhone 7 and newer. The Android version is designed to work with most phones that have a centered USB-C connector on the bottom. Kishi's controls are full-size and close to the ergonomics of a typical console game controller. The bottom of the right controller has a USB-C (or Lightning) connector for pass-through charging. The Kishi is powered directly by the phone, so it never needs charging. Kishi will be available in a few months for a price in roughly the same range as the Junglecat, which currently sells for $100. Read on for our hands-on impressions and notes.
Coolpad's first 5G phone will be offered as an unlocked phone in the US with wide support for most US 5G networks. It will sell for under $400, making it the most affordable 5G phone to date in the US. It will be fully compatible with the current and planned sub-6 GHz 5G networks of AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint, supporting 5G NR in frequency bands 2, 5, 12, 25, 41, 66, and 71. That is, by far, the largest number of US 5G bands supported in a single phone announced to date. (It won't support the faster mmWave 5G networks offered by Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, although those networks offer limited coverage in only the densest area of major cities.) This new phone will feature a 6.53-inch Full-HD+ display with HDR10 and a small notch, Qualcomm Snapdragon 765 chip, 4 GB RAM, 64 GB storage, 4,000 mAh battery, and 18W fast charging. For cameras, it will have a 48 megapixel main, 8 megapixel wide, and a 16 megapixel front camera. It will also come with Android 10, 3.5mm headphone jack, THX-certified stereo speakers, and a memory card slot. A unique color gradient on the back fades from denim to sand. It will be available in the second quarter of 2020. The exact model name and additional details will be announced later.
TCL has put out a few folding-screen concepts in the past year, and now they have a new one to show off at CES. It's a little more polished and functional than previous concepts, but it's also definitely not market-ready. The device resembles a small Android tablet when open, but is smaller than a phone when closed. In an interview with Phone Scoop, TCL spokesperson Jason Gerdon said that TCL currently plans to bring a foldable phone to market in 2020, but isn't trying to "rush it"; the company won't hesitate to delay their first foldable if the software and/or market isn't ready. We had some time with the concept model. Read on for our impressions and thoughts.
Alcatel today announced four new affordable phones in its 1- and 3-series. While they are mostly similar to least year's models, all have significantly larger batteries. Most have 4,000 mAh batteries. Only the very lowest-end Android Go model has a 3,000 mAh battery, (up from 2,200 mAh in last year's version).
- 3L: Three rear cameras, including a 48-megapixel main camera, 12-megapixel wide camera, and a 2-megapixel macro camera; 8 megapixel front camera; 6.22-inch HD display with small notch; 4,000 mAh battery; MediaTek MT6762 processor; 4 GB RAM; 64 GB storage, memory card slot; fingerprint reader; Android 10; dedicated Google Assistant button. An "Aurora" laser-etched finish on the back displays a wavy shimmering effect. Priced starting at $155.
- 3: Three rear cameras, including a 13-megapixel main camera, 5-megapixel depth camera, and a 2-megapixel macro camera; 5 megapixel front camera; 3 GB RAM; 32 GB storage. All other specs and features are the same as the 3L, including the screen, processor, and Aurora finish on the back. In some regions it will be sold as the Alcatel "1S" instead of "3". Priced starting at $110.
- 1V: The same specs and features as the 3, but without the macro camera or Aurora finish, and 2 GB of RAM instead of 3. A textured back resists finger smudging. Priced starting at $88.
- 1B: This new entry-level model runs Android 10 Go Edition. Key features include a 5.5-inch HD display with 2:1 ratio, dedicated Google Assistant button, 8 megapixel main camera, 5 megapixel front camera, memory card slot, and 3,000 mAh battery. Priced at just $66.
An update that includes Android version 10 is now rolling out to Samsung Galaxy S10 phones in the US. The Note10 series will receive the update "starting at the end of the month."
Google has added two major new features to its Messages app for Android phones: Verified SMS and spam protection. Verified SMS is a way for Google to confirm that SMS messages claiming to come from a participating business are, in fact, legitimate messages from that company. A special banner will appear at the top of such message threads to let the user know that the message is authentic. The feature should help combat phishing attacks involving fake security messages, for example. The US is among the launch countries. Businesses participating at launch include SoFi, Payback, Banco Bradesco, Kayak, and 1-800-Flowers. Spam protection works the opposite way, showing a warning banner on messages that Google suspects are spam, or that include links to web sites that Google knows to be unsafe. This features has been available in other countries, but is now rolling out "broadly" in the US. The spam banner includes options for confirming that a message is spam, or marking "not spam". Both new Messages features work without sending all of your messages to Google, keeping your messages private.
Incognito Mode is now available in Google Maps for iOS. In the Android version of Maps, a new bulk-delete features lets you delete all of your location history with Google, or any date range.
Motorola has a new One series phone it will be selling unlocked in the US. The Motorola One Hyper has an all-screen design with a pop-up selfie camera. Its main camera is 64 megapixel, while the selfie camera is 32 megapixel. It also has an 8-megapixel wide-angle (118º) camera on the back. The display is a 6.5-inch LCD with full HD resolution. The One Hyper is powered by a Snapdragon 675 chip and 4 GB of RAM. It has 128 GB of storage and supports memory cards up to 1 TB. The large 4,000 mAh battery charges quickly with the included 18W fast charger, and the phone supports 45W chargers. The fingerprint reader on the back is surrounded by a customizable circular notification light. It ships with Android 10. It has basic support for AT&T and T-Mobile networks in bands 2, 4, 5, 12, and 66. The One Hyper is available starting today from motorola.com for $400 in Deep Sea Blue. A Dark Amber color will available at a later date. Read on for more details, hands-on photos, and first impressions.
Google has updated its Maps app with the ability to speak aloud the name and/or address of your destination in the local language when traveling abroad. The feature is designed to be used when hailing a taxi or asking a local for directions. The feature appears automatically when in a country where the local language doesn't match your device's language setting. A speaker icon appears next to the place name in each listing. Tapping it brings up a new box with the option to speak the place name in the local language, speak the address in the local language, or jump to Google Translate to continue a conversation with a local. The new feature will be rolling out this month on Android and iOS with support for 50 languages and more on the way.
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.
Microsoft has released a public preview of its new, completely revamped Office app for Android and iOS. A single Office app replaces the previously separate Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps. It also includes the previously-announced features that let users take a photo of a document to create an editable Word document, and use the camera to import table data directly into Excel. It includes dedicated sections for non-Office documents: PDF, Media, and Notes. An Actions panel makes it easy to transfer files between phone and computer, or with nearby phones. It also includes shortcuts to create PDFs and add signatures to them. Anyone can try out the public preview, but it requires extra steps of enrolling in the testing program, a process that requires joining a group for Android, or using TestFlight for iOS.
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.
Razer this week launched two new phone accessories focused on the gamer market: Hammerhead True Wireless earbuds and the Junglecat, a dual-sided gaming controller. Both are designed to work with the company's own Razer Phone 2, as well as other phones. The Junglecat includes cases to fit the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, Samsung Galaxy S10+, as well as the Razer Phone 2. The Junglecat can be used attached to one of those three phones, or attached to a dedicated controller grip and used with any Android phone or Windows PC. It uses Bluetooth LE and charges via USB-C. The Hammerhead earbuds use a customized Bluetooth 5.0 connection for ultra-low latency of just 60ms. The earbuds offer 3 hours of battery life by themselves, and 15 hours with the included charging case, which charges via USB-C. The buds also sport touch controls, voice assistant compatibility, and IPx4 water-resistance rating. They're compatible with both Android and iOS devices, with an app available for both platforms. Both the Junglecat and Hammerhead True Wireless earbuds are available now for $100 each.