Google Assistant picks up a few new tricks

Google Assistant, the voice-driven AI that sits inside Google Home (plus Android phones, newer Nest cameras, and a bunch of other devices) and awaits your “Hey, Google” commands, is already pretty clever. That doesn’t mean it can’t learn a few new tricks.

In a quick press briefing this week, Google told us a couple new abilities Assistant will pick up in the coming weeks. First, and perhaps most interestingly: routines can now be set to trigger the moment you dismiss an alarm on your phone. Routines are basically Google Assistant combo moves; you build them to trigger multiple actions at once. You can build a “Hey Google, I’m going to bed.” command, for example, that turns off your smart lights, shuts down the TV, and locks your smart locks. For a while now, you’ve been able to have routines triggered at specific times; now you can have them triggered
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Google’s Project Fi gets an improved VPN service

Google’s Project Fi wireless service is getting a major update today that introduces an optional always-on VPN service and a smarter way to switch between Wi-Fi and cellular connections.

By default, Fi already uses a VPN service to protect users when they connect to the roughly two million supported Wi-Fi hotspots. Now, Google is expanding this to cellular connections, as well. “When you enable our enhanced network, all of your mobile and Wi-Fi traffic will be encrypted and securely sent through our virtual private network (VPN) on every network you connect to, so you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing that others can’t see your online activity,” the team writes in today’s announcement. Google notes that the VPN also shields all of your traffic from Google itself and that it isn’t tied to your Google account or phone number. The VPN is part of what Google calls its
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Xiaomi is opening a retail store in London as it extends its Europe push

Xiaomi’s expansion into Europe continues at speed after the Chinese smartphone maker announced plans to open its first retail store in London.

The company is best known for developing quality Android phones at affordable prices and already it has launched devices in Spain, Italy and France. Now, that foray has touched the UK where Xiaomi launched its Mi 8 Pro device at an event yesterday and revealed that it will open a store at the Westfield mall in London on November 18. That outlet will become Xiaomi’s first authorized Mi Store. Styled on Apple’s iconic stores, the Mi store will showcase a range of products, not all of which are available in the UK. Still, Xiaomi has shown a taste of what it plans to offer in the UK by introducing a number of products alongside the Mi 8 Pro this week. Those include its budget tier Redmi 6A phone and,
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Google is adding Android support for foldable screens

Big day for developer events. As Samsung was onstage getting ready to talk about its upcoming foldable phone, Google spilled the beans a bit at its own Android Developer Summit. The company briefly detailed plans to bake support for folding phones into the mobile operating system.

Support for the nascent technology is going to be tough, given what’s expected to be a variety of different form factors, so Google’s been working with hardware partners. Its first, naturally, is Samsung. The two companies have been working closely on a device it plans to launch “early next year,” according to Google. That device is expected to debut moments from now on Samsung’s own stage.

Google is referring to the category as “Foldables.”

Android developers can now force users to update their apps

At its Android Dev Summit, Google today announced a number of new tools and features for developers that write apps for its mobile operating system. Some of those are no surprise, including support for the latest release of the Kotlin language, which is becoming increasingly popular in the Android developer ecosystem, as well as new features for the Android Jetpack tools and APIs, as well as the Android Studio IDE. The biggest surprise, though, is likely the launch of the In-app Updates API.

While the name doesn’t exactly make it sound like a break-through feature, it’s actually a big deal. With this new API, developers now get two new ways to push users to update their app. “This is something that developers have asked us for a long time is — say you own an app and you want to make sure the user is running the latest version,”
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How to Play Classic Windows Games on Your Phone

I think the last time I played a Windows game—as in, a Microsoft game that comes baked into the Windows operating system—was back in Windows 95. Ah, FreeCell. That’s not to say that Microsoft’s games were bad, it’s just not very often that I find myself needing to strike up some Minesweeper to kill time. Read more...

Google walkout organizer: ‘I hope I still have a career in Silicon Valley after this’

Shouting “women’s rights are worker’s rights” and a number of other #TimesUp and #MeToo chants, upwards of 1,000 Google employees gathered in San Francisco’s Harry Bridges Plaza Thursday to protest the company’s handling of sexual harassment and misconduct cases.

Staffers from all of Google’s San Francisco offices were in attendance. An organizer, who declined to be named, told TechCrunch there were 1,500 Google employees across the globe that participated in the 48-hour effort to arrange a worldwide walkout. The effort was a major success. More than 3,000 Googlers and supporters of the movement attended the New York City walkout alone. As many as 1,000 Googlers and others came out for the San Francisco walkout, which the organizers said, was double the number they expected. Cathay Bi, a Google employee in San Francisco and one of the walkout organizers, told a group of journalists at the rally that she was conflicted
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Google employees across the globe are walking out now to protest sexual harassment

Google employees are fed up with the search giant’s lack of transparency when it comes to handling sexual harassment and misconduct allegations.

This morning, thousands of Googlers from San Francisco to Dublin are walking out in hopes of bringing real change to the company. The protest follows a New York Times report last week that revealed Google had provided Android co-creator Andy Rubin a $90 million payout package despite credible allegations of sexual misconduct made against him. The protestors have five key asks:
  1. An end to forced arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination.
  2. A commitment to end pay and opportunity inequity.
  3. A publicly disclosed sexual harassment transparency report.
  4. A clear, uniform, globally inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct safely and anonymously.
  5. Elevate the chief diversity officer to answer directly to the chief executive officer and make recommendations directly to the board of directors. And appoint an employee representative to the board.
📺
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🎙
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How the Apple Watch changed the world

In 2015 Switzerland was fucked. This blunt belief, grunted out by Apple’s Jony Ive and repeated by the media as a death knell for the watch industry, seemed to define a sad truth: that the Swiss watch was dead and Apple pulled the trigger.

Now, three years and four Apple Watches later, was Ive right? Did Apple change the world? And, most importantly, did Switzerland survive?

Yes, but…

As you might have noticed the Swiss watch industry is still standing. The major Swiss houses – LVMH, Richemont, and Swatch Group – are seeing a major uptick in sales, especially in the US. According to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, sales are up 5.5% year-over-year, a bit of news that was, amusingly, almost buried by the onslaught of Apple Watch Series 4 reviews. This increase of US sales bucked a major trend this year and one
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The Google Home Hub is deeply insecure

Security advocate Jerry Gamblin has posted a set of instructions – essentially basic lines of XML – that can easily pull important information off of the Google Home Hub and, in some cases, temporarily brick the device.

The Home Hub, which is essentially an Android tablet attached to a speaker, is designed to act as an in-room Google Assistant. This means it connects to Wi-Fi (and allows you to see open Wi-Fi access points near the device), receives video and photos from other devices (and broadcasts its pin), and accepts commands remotely (including a quick reboot via the command line). The command – which consists of a simple URL call via the command line – is clearly part of the setup process. You can try this at home if you replace “hub” with the Home Hub’s local IP address. curl -Lv -H Content-Type:application/json --data-raw '{"params":"now"}' http://hub:8008/setup/reboot

WhatsApp is finally adding stickers

WhatsApp is finally adding stickers to its hugely popular messaging app. The company said today that support for stickers will roll out to Android and iOS users over “the coming weeks.”

Initially, the app’s 1.5 billion users will have a seemingly limited selection with the first packs provided by WhatsApp’s own design team and some “other artists” chosen by the company. However, that’s likely to change in the future since WhatsApp will allow anyone to add stickers that can be used inside the app. It’s taking an interesting route to enabling that. Would-be sticker artists will need to publish their packs as an app on the Google Play or Apple App Store. From there, users can download the apps and then make use of the packs inside WhatsApp. The company has provided a template that it claims requires “minimal development or coding experience.” A full guide
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Fleksy’s keyboard grabs $800k+ via equity crowdfunding

The dev team that’s now engineering the Fleksy keyboard app has raised more than $800,000 via an equity crowdfunding route.

As we reported a year ago, the development of Fleksy’s keyboard has been taken over by the Barcelona-based startup behind an earlier keyboard app called ThingThing. The team says their new funding raise — described as a pre-Series A round — will be put towards continued product development of the Fleksy keyboard, including the core AI engine used for next word and content prediction, plus additional features being requested by users — such as swipe to type.  Support for more languages is also planned. (Fleksy’s Android and iOS apps are currently available in 45+ languages.) Their other big push will be for growth: Scaling the user-base via a licensing route to market in which the team pitches Android OEMs on the benefits of baking Fleksy in as the
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Mobvoi launches new $200 smartwatch and $130 AirPods alternative

Chinese AI company Mobvoi has consistently been one of the best also-rans in the smartwatch game, which remains dominated by Apple. Today, it launched a sequel to its 2016 TicWatch, which was a viral hit raising over $2 million on Kickstarter, and it unveiled a cheaper take on Apple’s AirPods.

The new TicWatch C2 was outed at a London event and is priced at $199.99. Unlike its predecessor, it has shifted from Mobvoi’s own OS to Google’s Wear OS. That isn’t a huge surprise, though, since Mobvoi’s newer budget watches and ‘pro’ watch have both already made that jump. The C2 — which stands for classic 2 — packs NFC, Bluetooth, NFC and a voice assistant. It comes in black, platinum and rose gold. The latter color option — shown below — is thinner so presumably it is designed for female wrists. However, there’s a compromise since the watch isn’t shipping with Qualcomm’s newest Snapdragon
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Mozilla is matching all donations to the Tor Project

Firefox parent Mozilla is returning to back the Tor Project, its long-time ally, after it committed to matching all donations made to fund Tor, the open source initiative to improve online privacy which has just started its annual end of year funding drive.

Tor announced Mozilla’s support today, extending the pair’s partnership which last year helped Tor raise over $400,000 from a similar campaign last year. That is a small seed round for a tech startup, but it represents an important source of income for Tor, which began soliciting ‘crowdfunded’ donations in 2015 in a bid to offset its reliance on government grants. The company’s latest publicly available accounts cover 2015 when Tor received a record $3.3 million in donations. That’s up from $2.5 million in 2014 and it represented Tor’s highest year of income to date, but state-related grants accounted for 86 percent of the figure. That was an improvement
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YouTube’s beta program will test stability, not new features

Google sometimes experiments with new features in beta versions of its various Android applications on Google Play. However, the recently spotted YouTube beta program will not, unfortunately, be a testbed for upcoming additions to the video-sharing service. Instead, Google says it only plans to test the stability of the YouTube app at this time, not features.

The company quietly rolled out a YouTube beta program last week on Google Play, where it was soon spotted by the folks at Android Police. Originally, the belief was that Google would use this new beta to try out features it was planning to bring to the YouTube app – in fact, that’s what Google’s own help documentation about the beta said! Not only that, but the documentation urged testers not to share information about the features they see in the app until they’re publicly launched. That all sounds pretty exciting, right? (At least
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Review: Apple’s iPhone XR is a fine young cannibal

This iPhone is great. It is most like the last iPhone — but not the last “best” iPhone — more like the last not as good iPhone. It’s better than that one though, just not as good as the newest best iPhone or the older best iPhone.

If you’re upgrading from an iPhone 7 or iPhone 8, you’re gonna love it and likely won’t miss any current features while also getting a nice update to a gesture-driven phone with Face ID. But don’t buy it if you’re coming from an iPhone X, you’ll be disappointed as there are some compromises from the incredibly high level of performance and quality in Apple’s last flagship, which really was pushing the envelope at the time.

From a consumer perspective, this is offering a bit of choice that targets the same kind of customer who bought the iPhone 8 instead of the iPhone X

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Use GSMArena’s Phone Finder to Pick Your Next Smartphone

For most, buying a new smartphone is easy—you just get the latest version of whatever it is you’ve been using. If you’re dissatisfied enough, or you don’t want the latest Galaxy, Pixel, or iPhone (to name a few), then it’s time to go shopping, and you’ll have a sea of smartphones to wade through in order to find the… Read more...

Google improves Android App Bundles and makes building Instant Apps easier

Google is launching a number of new features for Android app developers today that will make it easier for them to build smaller apps that download faster and to release instant apps that allow potential users to trial a new app without having to install it.

Android App Bundles, a feature that allows developers to modularize their apps and deliver features on demand, isn’t a new feature. The company announced it a while ago; there are now “thousands of app bundles” in production with an average file size reduction of 35 percent. With today’s update, Google is making some changes to how app bundles handle uncompressed native libraries that are already on a device. Those will lead to downloads that are on average 8 percent smaller and take up 16 percent less space on a device. Talking about size, Google now lets developers upload app bundles with installed APK sizes of
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Spotify’s Premium app gets a big makeover

Spotify has given its app a big makeover, with a focus on making the experience better for its paying subscribers. The company has simplified the app’s navigation by reducing the numbers of buttons and has revamped its Search page, which now incorporates elements previously found in “Browse,” like favorite genres or music to match a mood. And it’s given its Radio service a redesign as well, with the addition of new and easy-to-use Artist Radio Playlists.

The most immediately noticeable change is the app’s navigation. Spotify has always felt a bit cluttered, with its five navigation buttons – Home, Browse, Search, Radio and My Library. The new app has chopped this down to just three buttons – Home, Search, and My Library. Recommendations will appear on the Home page, following the update, while discovery is powered by Search. The Search page lets you seek out artists, albums and podcasts
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