Google is an American multinational company which was established for providing internet solutions to its customers. Google began with the launch of its famous search engine Google Search and soon entered online advertising, cloud computing and software development.
As the world started using the internet, Google started expanding its business and launched online tools like Gmail, Google Drive, Google Docs and Google+.
Other products which Google specializes in are applications for web browsing, organizing and editing photos, and instant messaging.
A relatively newer innovation of the company is the mobile operating system “Android”, which is an open source system that opened up a whole new world for developers and manufacturers to build upon. Over time, Android has become another pillar of the mobile devices ecosystem, powering more devices than any other OS in the world.
By partnering with major electronics manufacturers Google has also launched a high-end range of smart devices known as Nexus, that run on pure Android.
Google Glass is Back!
The original Glass designers had optimistic visions of people blissfully living their lives in tandem with a wraparound frame and a small display screen hovering over their eye. However, the dream quickly gave way to disillusionment as early adopters found that their device delivered less than promised and the Google Glass was further criticized on concerns of privacy of the people around the user.
Google as a company was very reliant on the search for its massive revenues. Google along the way has launch many products and services, however these are not minting money for the company as Google would have liked. Anything that is not Google’s search, display, and video advertising, seems to be lagging behind. Google, with the formation of Alphabet has sent out a clear signal that all Google products need to become accountable for earning their place in the company’s balance sheet. We should see Google infuse our lives with their presence in more ways in the coming year. One step seems to be the wearable segment getting a brand new lease on life in the enterprise segment. Alphabet’s X, which oversees the development of the Google Glass, has announced that the Glass Enterprise Edition is being rolled out to more businesses, after two years limited trial program.
Glass ‘Enterprise Edition’ first broke cover back in 2015 in a Federal Communications Commission, US government body leak, and the new version has had many upgrades over the consumer variant. With a faster atom processor, a higher-resolution 8MP camera, the Glass is also striving to boost Glass’ battery life, one of the major drawbacks in the Google Glass consumer Edition. The display element of Glass 2 will be both larger than the original and able to move both vertically and horizontally. this would begin to alleviate another popular gripe regarding the original Glass: that the display was just too hard to focus on.
The Google Glass 2, Glass Enterprise Edition project is currently under the supervision of Nest co-founder Tony Fadell. Alphabet worked with over “30 expert partners” to tweak the overall design and functionality of the Glass with the likes of GE, AGCO, Boeing, Volkswagen, and DHL. The team at Alphabet made many enhancements to the design and internal hardware, introducing a lightweight model with increased comfort for prolonged use.
Workers at AGCO, an agricultural machinery manufacturer in Jackson, Minnesota, are using over a hundred Glass Enterprise Edition units. Using Google Glass Enterprise Edition has led to a decrease in machinery production time for AGCO by reducing the amount of time spent on “back and forth” for workers to view instruction manuals or sending photos from laptops and tablets as they assembled machines and accessed checklists. The Glass has reduced machinery production time by 25 percent and inspection times by 30 percent. Alphabet noted that DHL was able to increase its supply chain efficiency by 15% after turning to Glass Enterprise Edition. This Glass wearable also allowed doctors at Dignity Health to increase the interaction time with their patients.
The reason why Google Glass 2 work so well in a business setting vs those in private settings is that in the enterprise world, Glass is not an outgrowth of the distracting smart phone, but a tool for getting work done. The Enterprise Edition runs only the single application which is necessary to do the job. There’s no Tweeting, Snapping, Facebooking, distracting notifications, or rage-generating headlines. The company is making Google Glass Enterprise Edition accessible to more businesses via partners. While it is great to see the Google wearable find its momentum in the enterprise segment, it’s unlikely we’ll see a consumer-facing variant.
Glass in an enterprise setting is not a toy, it’s a tool that enhances our ability to perform as professionals.
Sony's Smart Contact Lens Will Blow Your Mind Away!
Sony’s patented smart contact lens technology seems straight out of sci-fi movie!
A diminutive little device, but unbelievably capable, Sony seems to have cracked many difficult stumblers (that larger brands hadn’t been able to, so far), to come up with something that is as scary as it is exciting.
A contact lens that can be worn as a regular lens is, but it comes with the ability to click photos and record videos, instantly play them back, store them internally and even transmit them to a nearby device. All in transparent, practically invisible form.
Seven inventors at the tech pioneer’s Japan office, are the brains behind the new patent, through which, Sony is going to be able to muscle it’s way into a game that so far featured players as big as Samsung and Google, and other independent intelligent minds working in different nooks and corners of the world.
The contact lens from Sony will come with the functionality of clicking photos and videos with auto focus and zoom capability, along with the ability to store them internally and play them back.
To achieve this the lens will use a combination of sensors – a piezoelectric sensor, infrared sensor and an acceleration sensor. Working in conjunction, these small electronic sensors will measure changes in pressure, temperature, acceleration and force, which the device will measure and translate into control instructions.
There’s more: the contact lens could also be equipped with gyroscope technology to correct tilted images, get rid of blur images, and control aperture.
Got your attention yet?
As exciting as it sounds, we must pause and consider the challenges and the triumph of engineering this little busybody.
The lens will be an intricate assembly of many delicate components like the main control unit, a wireless communication processing control unit, image pick-up lens and unit, antenna, sensors and a storage unit.
Once again, all that in a nearly transparent, near-invisible form! Amazing!!
The piezoelectric sensors will convert the mechanical energy from movement-nuances like pressure and force of a movement, into electrical energy which will be used to trigger and operate the lens’ functionality.
The most important part though, is controlling the lens, with no outwardly visible physical control. Here’s another mind bending achievement – the patent states that the smart sensors embedded in the lens are able to differentiate between an involuntary blink and a deliberate blink.
“It is known that a time period of usual blinking is usually 0.2 seconds to 0.4 seconds, and therefore it can be said that, in the case where the time period of blinking exceeds 0.5 seconds, the blinking is conscious blinking that is different from usual blinking (unconscious blinking)”.
Now, let me explain how will the lens work in real life.
The wearer’s eye movements will be used to guide and operate the lens as described in the patent. The patent elaborates, “the time period of the eyelid closure is sensed in accordance with output from a piezoelectric sensor provided in the lens unit“. The display control unit thus, will control the display direction of the captured image according to the tilt of the lens unit sensed by the tilt sensor.
An image pickup unit is configured to capture an image of a subject which is then stored temporarily in the storage medium; the integrated transmission unit will then transmit the captured image to an external device.
Power you ask? Well, the lens will not derive power from batteries. The power source could be a hybrid of power being generated using movement and electromagnetic conduction (where power can be drawn via radio waves or electromagnetic field resonance).
Apart from Samsung (who have patented a smart lens that can project images directly into the user’s eye), Google’s been in the smart contact lens Frey too – it’s been actively working on it’s research around contact lenses that are capable of detecting the wearer’s blood sugar levels, designed to help diabetes patients.
Taking the research further, Google filed a patent application, published earlier this month, devising contact lenses that could be injected directly into the eyes of the users!
Thus it’s safe to summarise that research around contact- and wearable-lenses is clearly gaining momentum. Time will soon tell, what technology or functionality takes traction and comes out of the labs to the consumers. This innovation will also help augmented reality to take a quantum leap forward – and that may explain the ever-growing interest in this category of products.
Will leave you with one for the road – Patent Literature 2 from Sony proposes a thin image display device in which a display unit and a lens array unit are integrally provided on a curved surface, the thin image display device being shaped to be fully wearable on an eye such as a contact lens. So Sony’s very serious about this one!
I know all this sounds very complicated and perhaps a little scary (to have a powered gizmo sitting on your cornea) – but think about it, it’s the same reservation that must’ve been felt (and later conquered) by regular contact lenses too. So, there is hope, and given the popularity of contact lenses and ever improving nano technology, this could well be a reality soon.
Meet Cortica: An Israeli AI Company That's Teaching Machines To Observe And Reason, Like Humans Do
The human brain processes all information via electrical impulses. You knew that, right? Well, that is exactly what inspired Igal Raichelgauz, CEO of Cortica, an Israel-based Artificial Intelligence startup. He saw the human brain as an electrical circuit and set out to replicate that circuitry to create an AI-based capability that would endow machines with a similar skill set.
Cortica wanted their AI to have a sight sense on par with that of humans.
And we do indeed have an astonishingly complex sight system – everything you see with your eyes, open receptors in your eyes convert to electrical signals. All that information is transferred by those signals, to a part of your brain which sorts and analyzes the color, depth, shape, and size of all those objects. This data is then received by the cortex – the part that most interests Cortica.
Remember poststructuralism? For those of you who need help with that preface, you only know a table as a table because you see it in relation to a chair. If the chair didn’t exist, how would you know what a table is, what it’s used for?
Something similar happens in your visual cortex. It classifies all the objects you see into different categories by assessing them in relation to all the objects you’ve ever come across.
That’s how you know what you just saw was a bird, or a bottle, or your friend, or anything else.
Sure, you know how little time it takes for our brain to perform the entire process since you experience it every waking moment of your life, but have you ever stopped to wonder, to revel or to acknowledge the sheer speed and processing power behind it?
You know what you saw the moment you saw it. Cortica believes it has reverse engineered this process, replicated the biological visual cortex of humans.
Guess how they achieved that?
They worked on a piece of rat brain, a piece that is still living. Yup, you read that right!
The brain gave them access to the electrical interface of all the neurons contained in that tissue. They were able to understand the input-output process of the neurons. They discovered that with some modifications, a neural network could create a “conceptual signature” – without any prior training. It would be able to recognize similar objects, and differentiate them from others.
Such an AI would be able to learn by itself, much like babies do – by observation and reasoning. While we observe and learn from the world around us, it would do the same from the data available on the web.
This is Cortica’s own, unique approach to what is called ‘unsupervised learning’ within the field of artificial intelligence.
Just so you’re on the same page, there are 3 kinds of machine learning – supervised, unsupervised and semi-supervised.
Supervised learning is when you teach the AI from a pre-determined data set, so you already know the output. This is the most commonly used one.
Unsupervised learning is when you give the AI no prior training, and you tell it to solve the problem with only the necessary input. The output from such an algorithm is unknown. For instance, you want your AI to categorize certain geometrical shapes into matching groups.
If you’re using supervised learning, you would have taught the AI about circles, squares, hexagons etc. before giving it the problem. In unsupervised learning, however, you would teach your AI nothing before asking it to solve the problem. It would see the various shapes, categorize them based on similarity, and give its own label to them. This is a process much more difficult to teach an AI.
Semi-supervised learning falls between these two. The AI would have an incomplete set of reference data, and it would hazard the best possible guess based on the limited data it has, and it’s own abilities to extrapolate the data.
Now do you see the ramifications of what Cortica has achieved? Two words – it’s huge!
But Cortica isn’t completely done yet. There’s still time before the technology enters the consumer industry, but Cortica claims to have created an AI that can see and process information like humans.
So many possibilities!
Self-driving cars have already entered the marketplace. But imagine if they could actually recognize and understand what an object or obstacle ahead of them is. The car would stop by itself if it sees a pedestrian crossing the road, thus preventing many road accidents.
The might be able to recognise accidents on the road and could call for help independently.
Your smart home gadgets would revert to the settings that are specific to you when they see you approaching. An air conditioner could increase the temperature if it sees a child in the room, so they don’t get cold. The refrigerator could detect what groceries are finished up and remind you to get more.
Amazon’s grocery store in Seattle is already automated, but what if it could actually see you? That would even remove the need to even scan the app at the entrance. You could just walk right in and it would recognize you from its database, and be able to process you, and your purchases independently and accurately!
The possibilities are truly endless.
Other AI startups such as DeepMind, RealFace, and Genee have been acquired by Google, Apple, and Microsoft respectively. Would Cortica too become a target to be acquired, or would it be able to hold its own against them? Its technology certainly looks powerful enough.
The world is changing, friends. Get ready to see it differently, soon.
Updated: WhatsApp Withdrawing Support For These Devices
This might come as bad news to some WhatsApp users, but the world’s foremost messenger application, with over one billion users worldwide has decided to withdraw support for some operating systems and devices on 31st December, 2016.
What this means is that the users of these devices will no longer receive any future software updates on the App thereafter, though WhatsApp will not be blocking services to the devices. So, WhatsApp will continue to run, but won’t get any more jazzy upgrades.
Well, since you are obviously going to be curious as to which these operating systems are, here’s the list that WhatsApp has published:
This does not come as a fresh announcement as it is actually a reminder from their earlier announcement made on their blog back in February of 2016 (around the seventh anniversary of the application). The post had stated: “While these mobile devices have been an important part of our story, they don’t offer the kind of capabilities we need to expand our app’s features in the future. This was a tough decision for us to make, but the right one in order to give people better ways to keep in touch with friends, family, and loved ones using WhatsApp”.
The reasons stated for the withdrawal of support for these devices by the Facebook-owned company are simplified into – they believe that the messenger application and its features have grown far beyond the scope of these operating systems, which can no longer incorporate within them the latest features, in general, or those of security.
The technology over the years has obviously improved drastically, and these older operating systems, even logically speaking, would lack the capacity to withstand the changes.
The WhatsApp announcement post goes further, almost nostalgically explaining: “About 70 percent of smartphones sold at the time had operating systems offered by BlackBerry and Nokia. Mobile operating systems offered by Google, Apple and Microsoft – which account for 99.5 percent of sales today – were on less than 25 percent of mobile devices sold at the time”.
Updates to this Article:
In developing news, however, WhatsApp just launched a video calling feature on its application for all its users. Along with this new feature, it also decided to extend the support for Blackberry and Windows operating systems until July 2017, as of now.
This seems like a move planned as per the market, competing with a number of rivals such as Facebook’s own Messenger, Microsoft’s Skype, Apple’s iMessage, Google’s recently launched Duo, and independent similar applications like Viber, Line, and others.
WhatsApp has a dominant hand in the market, so, it would be wrong to state that WhatsApp is playing catch up with other applications, but what is certain is that WhatsApp is gearing up to retain its position in the market. These latest moves only serve to highlight that intent.
While WhatsApp, back in February, politely requested the users of these older operating systems (and of course, devices) to buy devices running on more recent OS before the end of the year, now, with their latest move they are extending the support for a few of these by six months.
But we don’t think they’re going to be providing any further extensions. So if you’re an avid chatter, on one of the devices on the endangered species list, we recommend you begin saving up and move out soon.
Update (on 8th June, 2017):
The six month extension that Facebook-owned Whatsapp had so zealously provided for the operating systems in concern has now come to an end. As of June 30th, the above mentioned operating systems will no longer receive support for the messenger application. The apps won’t die, they just won’t receive any more updates.
Whatsapp has been making a lot of changes to its ecosystem lately, with talk of bringing in unique features that will allow you to ‘recall’, or ‘edit’ a sent text. and with bringing in features like audio and video calls, stories, and working around the idea of a ‘status’. It is quite clear that Whatsapp is moving towards bringing in more and more features for its users in a crowded market. To keep doing that, it is important for them to invest their energy judiciously. The withdrawal of support for these operating systems is precisely that, a move towards judicious investment of energy.
Update (on June 23rd, 2017)
It seems like the end of life date for BlackBerry OS and Nokia S40 platforms has been pushed back again. WhatsApp, on their website, has reportedly confirmed the extension of its services for BlackBerry and Nokia S40 platforms till December 2017 and December 2018, respectively.
As per a report by Netherlands-based fan website WhatsAppen, WhatsApp for BlackBerry 10 and BlackBerry OS7+ recently received an update that extends support for the platforms until December 31, 2017.
As far as support for Nokia S40 platform is concerned, the end-of-life date has been moved from December 31, 2017 to December 31, 2018.
This, however, gives a mixed message, given the extension is not being granted to Nokia Symbian S60 platform. There are very limited number of customers who use the Nokia S40 platform, but the news will be a relief to them nonetheless.
Soon You'll Be Able To Back Your Entire Computer Up To Google Drive
Google Drive is gearing up to be the answer to all your data and backup needs.
Soon, Google Drive will be able to automatically backup all the files residing in any folder on your computer that you point it to. The backup would include your computer’s desktop, files residing in your documents and all other possible locations on your computer.
This is a big change as it will mean that will no longer have to place files only in a specific ‘Drive’ folder on your computer, as you need to today.
All of this comes via an app called Backup and Sync. The app is the latest version of Google Drive for Macs and PCs, and is integrated with the Google Photos desktop loader.
From what it sounds like, this new app will replace the currently existing Google Drive app and the Google Photos backup app for computers.
The change, however, is only available to consumer users for now (those who use Google Drive for personal everyday things), and not to business users. Google is recommending that business users who have been using G Suite, for now, stick with the Google Drive for Mac/PC until the new enterprise-focused solution, Drive File Stream, is made available to them.
Drive File Stream will come with another approach altogether, which will allow users to access huge corporate data sets without taking up the equivalent space on their hard drives. The feature will definitely be something that business users will look forward to.
Once the personal version of the app goes live, users will be able to sign into the uploader via their Google Account, and then select which specific folders on their PC or Mac that they want continuously backed up to their Google Drive. It is not yet clear how much more users will be able to do with this expanded storage. The assumption is that users will be able to open and edit some common file types within Drive. It is, however, not clear that users will be able to sync those files back to the computer using the drive as an intermediary.
Another question that arises is that of the storage limit. The expanded backup will quite certainly count towards your Google storage limit too. Given that, the new app will be a quick and easy way to hit the 15 GB data storage limit that free accounts currently enjoy from Google. Users can then rent additional space from Google, which will cost them USD 2 a month for 100 GB, USD 10 for 1 TB, and USD 100 a month for 10 TB.
The new feature is definitely a smart move on Google’s part. It is a handy feature that users have been demanding from Dropbox for a while now.
Dropbox (like the Google Drive) currently required users to save files in a particular folder on their computer for them to back up. Microsoft’s OneDrive is another cloud storage service which lets users automatically back up files from their computers, but even for that users have to save the file in a particular folder, or prompt them to be saved on OneDrive while saving them in the first place.
Google’s new feature is likely to be popular with consumers looking to keep copies of their photo, video and music libraries. Given the ransomware attacks that have not faded from the memory of millions of users around the world, Google’s service might come as a relief to many.
The service was to be available from the 28th of June, but Google has postponed its release, “based on your valuable feedback, we’ve decided to delay the launch of Backup and Sync while we make improvements to the product“.
The service can be expected to be available in a few weeks’ time.
Stricter Rules and Regulations In Online Advertising Affect Google And Facebook
The world is surely being digitized.
From transactions to socializing, digital is the word that the world is bending to.
Global revenue from advertisements are growing exponentially, creating jobs and employment for artistic, creative individuals who have found ingenious ways to gain user attention and generate traffic. This trend has created wonders for Google (including YouTube) as it is the largest recipient of this global advertisement revenue, with Facebook being stuck in a distant second place.
You may be surprised to learn that Facebook, despite all it’s reach and social graces, receiving only about one third of the revenue received by Google!
Over 77% of Google’s ad revenue is generated from their own websites, thanks to their humungous AdWords platform which covers almost all services used by Google.
To gain the top spot on Google’s Search, companies (and people) bid for the spots – obviously, the higher the bid the higher the spot. And it’s really no surprise that bidders at the bottom of the pile won’t even have their ads displayed due to their dwindling position on the list.
Google operates on a cost per click basis, with the advertisers paying Google anywhere form a few cents to USD 50 per click depending upon the nature and importance of the advertisement.
That’s not all though. Google has another ace tangled up in their web of user-inducement.
Capitalisng on the digital revolution and cementing their earning opportunity, Google AdSense also allows placement of advertisements within blogs and other websites.
Facebook also earns revenue in a similar (but not same) way. While most of Facebook’s revenue is generated from website and mobile advertising, in contrast to AdWords, Facebook advertisers can target users based on information like age, gender and geographic locations to custom tailor their advertisements.
Due to the nature of Facebook’s website, the average session tends to last much longer than the typical Google search, so information collected from Facebook is a better representation of consumer habits.
Given how majority of the developed and developing world, is tuning onto YouTube and Facebook, rather than their TV screens and print media, it is likely that advertisements would be more prevalent in the online sphere rather than the offline content.
But all’s not rosy.
Given that content has generated traffic in some cases where the proponents have resorted to hate-spreading and filth to get views or reads, advertisements placed on those very articles or videos have created enormous wealth for the content providers.
This has called for stricter rules and regulations.
Earlier, the policy had a very narrow range, addressing speech that was threatening against defined groups including religious and ethnic groups, LGBT groups and individuals.
The policy has now been expanded to include more groups like immigrants and refugees and it also applies to discriminatory pages which weren’t covered before.
Google has therefore revised its policy on hate speech and online racism.
This regulation has deterred advertisers from lucrative but malicious content, both on websites and YouTube as Google now allows companies to choose what kind of content, they’d like to advertise upon. For those who choose to not advertise on content that might be ‘mildly offensive’ or ‘politically volatile’, will reduce considerable revenues for the content providers and in the long run, will reduce viewership.
All said and done, Google and Facebook will retain their positions at the top even if they take a marginal hit in their earnings in the present term, yet this change is good and necessary.
Apple's Hiding Some Brilliant New Tech. Here's A Sneak-Peek!
Apple never fails to amaze us. But I think it also takes equal pleasure in confusing us!
Famous for its innovative tech, Apple also continues to earn patents for next-gen tech that industry watchers like us keep reading about, and salivating over- hoping that the next device from Apple carries the latest tidbit we happen to spot.
Keeping that mischievous tradition alive, the next up in the list of “we want” tech is for a recently-granted patent of a woven display!
The U.S. Patent and Trademark office has recently awarded Apple with that patent (filed back in May 2014) which is the result of efforts made by inventors Douglas J. Weber and Teodor Dabov.
So, what is a woven display?
Apple’s patent describes the use of a proprietary method of weaving light transmissive fibres into conventional textiles to get a visual display.
The interesting part is that these fibers would not conduct electricity and thus will not have light of their own, however they’ll be used to carry the luminance being transferred from the source (external LEDs or an external electric base), which will allow them to have varying optical properties.
These light tubes or light pipes as they are currently referred to, are optical waveguides used for transporting or distributing light for the purpose of illumination. Imagine them to be like threads running from one point to another carrying (not creating) signals.
Modern weaving, braiding, and knitting technology will be used along with three-dimensional knitting tools capable of producing flexible fiber band materials, to create fabric materials that would be difficult or impossible to implement using other fabrication technologies.
A schematic diagram of a weaving system that may be used to weave fibers is shown below:
The idea of a woven display leads to a flexible display.
While plenty of other tech firms are working on bendable, flexible and foldable screens, Apple’s approach is novel and it has immense advantages over other innovators’ approaches.
Images made possible through the fibers could prove to be a boon in the sphere of Wearable devices, where the currently-unused surfaces on clothes (like sleeves or cuffs) could be converted to visually capable real-estate! Or it could convert your every-day sports accessories like a wrist band, for example, to act as extended add-ons to your devices.
Isn’t that an amazing prospect!
Apple could perhaps want to kick-start the use of this proprietary technology on their Apple Watch’s bands – allowing them to have capability to display notifications or to show you your heart rate etc.
We grab this hint from the company’s own belief that the strap has so far, not been used to its fullest potential: ”While useful for such purposes, these tethers are generally decorative and serve no useful information providing, or other utilitarian, function other than for aesthetic purposes”.
The woven display for now seems more along the line of basic display of notifications. The notifications could be basic and mimic a digital watch like display, allowing for a passive display of missed calls or messages, exercise data like steps, calories burnt, steps climbed, etc.
This could help save the precious battery power while allowing the wearer access simple data.
This is not new, Alcatel Hero 2 had a snap on front cover which allowed for basic notifications like time, sms and email, just that it was not flexible.
Now, with this technology, if this capability can be woven into a flexible cloth like material, the adaptations can be numerous, allowing the wearables to become truly communicative.
Google actually has Project Jacquard, a division within the company’s Advanced Technology and Projects that makes it possible to weave touch- and gesture-interactivity into any textile using standard, industrial looms.
Jacquard yarn structures combine thin, metallic alloys instead of light transmissive fibers with natural and synthetic yarns like cotton, polyester, or silk, making the yarn strong enough to be woven on any industrial loom. Their conductive yarns with touch and gesture capability can be woven anywhere. This March, they did showcase their collaboration with Levi’s in the form of a jacket, which could be washed.
This has the potential to allows us to transform everyday objects such as clothes and furniture into interactive surfaces. Similar to the tech patented by Apple, Google’s conductive yarn needs to be connected to a base which is the brains, while the conductive patch is an extension allowing the user ease in accessing and interacting with the interface.
Such progressive research that will create flexible screens and adventurous new surfaces will allow us to ingrain technology into our daily lives, making our interaction with technology more tactile and will allow us to consume it seamlessly.
Do read our Radar and Tech ShowCase sections for technology that is going to creep into your lives in the near future!
Heard Of Areo Yet? You Will.
Google. Hyperlocal. No Surprise.
Google, Hyperlocal, India. Big Surprise!!
Well, Google has finally stepped into the mushrooming hyperlocal services market – in India!
The search giant of the world has quietly launched a new delivery and home services app for India. The app is called Areo and is currently operational in Bengaluru and Mumbai.
The app covers a range of services including food delivery, home maintenance, fitness, electrical repairs, etc. – things an average Indian needs and uses around home. Hence Hyperlocal.
The app is not the service provider though. Like many others before it, Google’s Areo is but an aggregator of the existing services in the market. It works with local on-demand players like UrbanClap, Zimmber, Freshmenu, Box8, Holachef and Faasos, powering the reach of these partner firms by booking appointments, scheduling deliveries, and even enabling payments for them – all online.
“We are constantly experimenting with ways to better serve our users in India”, a spokesperson for Google said in a statement. “In this case, Areo makes everyday chores and ordering food easier by bringing together useful local services like ordering food or hiring a cleaner in one place“.
Google declined to comment upon how it got into this market. The start point though, can simply be attributed to two things – the growing success of Google Shopping (in international markets), and the aforementioned mushrooming of aggregated and lifestyle services.
Another clue: The idea to launch this in India can be traced back to over a year ago. Reportedly Google approached Zimmber’s CPO, Siddhartha Srivastava about 9-10 months ago.
Srivastava said that “The search giant was keen on firms that own the delivery model and have a strong technology base“.
“We have invested very heavily in honing our technology integration for this platform over the last 5-6 months, which is a cost for us”, Srivastava expanded. “We expect 10-15% of our revenues to come from Areo. That will be a cheaper marketing strategy for Zimmber. If they market Areo as they have done for other services or products in the past, the revenue growth (for us) could be higher“.
The service has been online and operational as a pilot program (only on Android for the moment), for Google employees for about three months now with Google actually footing the entire bill for the pilot service for its employees!
One must acknowledge that what Google has made quite a smart choice about how it has chosen to go about the idea. What Google has done is to hit a double-volley with the same shot: Instead of trying to build their own system for what is certainly quite a dynamic market, it has made use of existing resources and service providers (who are not only hungry for additional revenue, but would also give up their antique Standard Heralds bequeathed to them by their maternal uncles, for a chance to be listed as a Google partner).
But that’s not the smarter of the choices I was referring to.
The smarter of the choices made here is that Google has recognized that the market it is entering is not just a dynamic one, but also a very disorganized one. Far too many players already exist in the Indian hyperlocal services market and there is no convenient way for most users to chart through the mush, to try to identify the best option for their needs.
This problem of the unfathomable plenty, has caused the market to suffer the only known outcome of confusion – abstinence. Through the last year many players have shut down operations, while some others have consolidated their operations.
It is the potential to organize the market and make money while doing that (something that’s Google’s bread and butter anyway), that Google is banking upon, and hopes to take to the bank (okay, that one just felt nice rolling off the tongue. Not every word needs to have a point!)
Areo could potentially be a breath of fresh air for the user, and the suppliers, alike. While this would pose serious competition to players like Zomato, Swiggy and Amazon-backed Housejoy, it would also open up more avenues for the partner firms.
The immense, almost immeasurable fillip towards making their services available via the search giant’s platform, is bound to gain traction. The fact that it comes from Google will help it obtain instant credibility and should also open up a much larger audience.
There’s another implicit ploy that I can sense… Areo would also enable Google to compete with Facebook’s (recently launched) competing venture called MarketPlace.
This is not the first time that India has been a testing space for Google. In the past, Google has tested new products like YouTube Offline, Google Maps Offline and more recently, YouTube Go.
“Increasingly, we realise that we can try things in India — it’s a quick test market — if it works, we can take it outside. Our experience with YouTube Offline worked well in India and we transitioned it to other countries“, Google CEO Sundar Pichai had said some time ago.
Alphabet’s Verily Launches Study Watch - A Health-Focused Smartwatch
The market for body mappers and health readers has been increasing steadily – especially in the hospitality and fitness industries around the world.
Well, where there are customers – and customer data – Alphabet (née Google) can’t be far away.
Verily, the life sciences business division of Alphabet (Google’s parent company), has developed a smartwatch that can passively capture health data for medical uses.
According to the Verily’s official blog post, the device can track signals related to cardiovascular, movement and other medical data points.
The study watch measures ECG and electrodermal activity to gather loads of big data for analysis, which provide further insights into a person’s health conditions.
The Study Watch, as it is called, uses a two-point ECG – one source is the watch on the wrist while the other source is created when the user touches the metal bezel of the watch with his other hand.
Clearly, this is no run-of-the-mill smartwatch with some basic additional functionalities. It is clearly a medical tool.
As mentioned on Verily’s blog post, the architecture of the Study Watch was made specifically for high quality usage and seamless signal usage.
The company mentioned that the watch would be used in a Baseline Study – a Verily project that is aimed at establishing what a healthy human looks like, and also be used in the Personalised Parkinson’s Project, a multi-year study to identify patterns in the progression of Parkinson’s disease, giving way to a more personalised treatment.
The watch, unlike it’s distant cousins in the market, isn’t bulky and the processor that being used can easily manage and encrypt the data generated by the user.
That said, one of the major concerns with all smartwatches has been their battery life. With the Study Watch though, the company promises a week-long battery life for the device and also enough storage for the device to keep weeks’ worth of raw data, eliminating the need for continuous cloud sync.
The watch also has the capability of getting Over the Air updates, which indicates that the interface might change over time. The only catch is that this state-of-the-art device is not for sale. It’ll be given out to participants who will be participating in Verily’s medical studies.
Tech companies are usually not trusted to manage health data and their efforts at consumer health products or apps have garnered little or no interest at all. That’s primarily because the “health” capabilities of most wearables and trackers has been awash with basic gimmicky stuff only shoehorned into them, to justify their very existence (and to provide some form of superiority over smartphones).
There are a few commercial predecessors to the Study Watch, and the most important one being the FitBit Charge HR. This device is capable of monitoring the heart rate, the amount of calories burnt, the number of steps taken and much more, but without the uncomfortable chest strap.
The Garmin Vivo Smart HR+ also does the same stuff, but is a pricier variant of the FitBit.
Apple’s Watch is the only one that has somewhat caught the fancy of the masses. It does things well, including measuring heart rate – in fact, some instances were reported where the watch tipped off users about health emergencies after obtaining unusual readings.
But no company till date was ready to say that the watch could diagnose any diseases, and Alphabet may be a little ahead in the game with their Study Watch.
The Indian Market
India has been the target for all international companies, as Indian users amount to a considerable size of the global smart device sales. The Indian community is a growing digital market and could prove to be a valuable ground for some smart device companies – firstly because of the tech savvy Indian youth, and secondly due to the governments “go digital” idea.
Will the Study Watch catch on? Well, considering it’s not a retail product, it’s reach will be limited to the market of serious users. That said, Epi Pens, Diabetes tests (Glucometers), even pregnancy tests and other such home-use medical tools are a multi-billion dollar industry in the U.S. alone! Imagine the potential that the Study Watch has, if provided economically and promoted empathetically to India’s 1.3 billion population…
Alphabet’s going to have to play this smart – and knowing them, as well as we do, they will.
New Chefs In The Apple Health Kitchen: Diabetes Specialists
Apple has recently hired a bunch of biomedical engineers as a part of what seems to be a secret mission to fight diabetes. As initially envisioned by late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, this would be an R&D program to develop sensors to fight diabetes, by monitoring glucose levels.
While the company has for now declined to make a statement in this regard, many people supposedly familiar with the matter have come forward to share their “knowledge”.
The team is said to work at a nondescript office in Palo Alto, California, in close proximity to the Silicon Valley headquarters. While we do not know the details of the project yet, we do believe this is an adventure to create ‘breakthrough’ wearable devices that detect the disease and monitor blood-sugar levels.
The reason that this could prove to be instrumental in the field of medicine is because up until now it is impossible to monitor sugar levels without breaking through the skin. Electronic diabetes detection devices have proven to be lifesavers for the hundreds of millions of people who are affected by the ailment, but all of them require plucking through the skin to get blood, to discern the sugar level.
“There is a cemetery full of efforts to measure glucose in a non-invasive way“, said DexCom chief executive Terrance Gregg, whose firm is known for minimally invasive blood-sugar techniques. “To succeed would require several hundred million dollars or even a billion dollars“.
What Apple has is much more than that, so it may well be investing some of it to solve this biggie.
Reports state that about 30 people are working on this project now, and the project has been in folds for about five years now. Reports also state that the team has been carrying out clinical trials in San Francisco, the results of which have not been revealed yet.
In addition, they have also reportedly hired consultants to look into the rules and regulations around bringing such a product to market.
For those of you who might be a little surprised, Apple, yes, the makers of the iPhone and the iPad, also have a secret workshop that they have had running for a while now. In this R&D workshop, they have been known to work on many non-phone related products, most of which are experimental for now.
This speaks to the larger Silicon Valley trend that Google, Microsoft, Facebook and the likes have also been feeding into, through their R&D divisions. From Artificial Intelligence, to automated cars, to technology that works with medicine – they’ve got a lot going on in their backyards.
The news of the project comes at a time when the line between pharmaceuticals and technology seems to be blurring, and quite fast. While on the one hand, you have scientists detecting rare genetic disorders wth facial recognition technology, on the other you have Elon Musk’s Neuralink that plans to work on the much risky uncharted territory of the brain.
The approach most companies are taking is of combining biology, software, and hardware, to tackle chronic diseases using high-tech devices. This has led to the jump-start of a novel field of medicine called bioelectronics, and it’s gratifying to see that Apple is not the only player in the game on this one.
It was last year that another biggie came into the scene when GlaxoSmithKline Plc and Google’s parent Alphabet Inc. joined hands and unveiled a company aimed at making bioelectronic devices to fight illness by attaching to individual nerves. U.S. biotech firms Setpoint Medical and EnteroMedics have already shown that strides can be made with bioelectronics in treating rheumatoid arthritis and suppressing appetite in the obese. Medtronic Plc., Proteus Digital Technology, Sanofi SA, and Biogen Inc., are others that are playing in the field, trying to make a mark in this extremely interesting field.
Specifically, in the field of diabetes, Virta is a fairly new startup, which is working on tackling type 2 diabetes, to completely cure patients by remotely monitoring behavior. Livongo Health is another startup, which has recently raised about USD 52 million to launch its blood sugar monitoring product. Alphabet too is involved, via it’s subsidiary Verily who’s tried to tackle this big one with a smart contact lens that measures blood glucose levels through the eye, but that has not proven to be quite successful yet.
While we don’t know exactly what the shape of Apple’s project is, for now, yet it does seem to fit into the bigger vision of the company that Steve Jobs famously dreamed. Jobs believed Apple would one day be at the intersection of technology and biology, and making this happen would be a perfect manifestation of the same.
They are already halfway there with the Apple Watch which counts calories, and steps, takes heart rate, and other biological measures. Add this, and voila!
Microsoft Buys Deis To Boost It's Azure Cloud Service
Microsoft is buying Deis, a small company that specializes in Containers – a modern way to develop and deploy software.
What’s Microsoft going to do with this acquisition? Well that’s the question we’re going to help you answer!
Simply put, this seems to be an act of self-improvement – one that is aimed at “sponsoring one’s weakness“.
The undeniable fact is that when one thinks of cloud computing services, Microsoft’s Azure does not ring up any major recall.
Despite a lot of efforts on the part of the Silicon Valley’s biggest IT giant, towards upgrading their cloud computing services and it’s appeal, Azure hasn’t really become one of the top players. Amazon, Google and even Dropbox have held the podium for a long, long time.
So this acquisition may be one of Microsoft’s steps toward climbing that vaunted podium.
Microsoft, over the time, has bought into many renowned companies and start-ups, so as to either boost its sales or improve its efficiency. This new buy of Microsoft has got to do with the latter, i.e. increased efficiency.
Thanks to Deis’ proprietary technology, Microsoft may now be able to live up to consumers’ expectations by providing Azure with the smoothness and heightened efficiency that they (users) have come to enjoy from Microsoft’s competitors.
Well, Deis is a San Francisco based open-source tool provider that enables teams to create and manage applications on the Google-backed Kubernetes platform. The company also specializes in containers.
Containers can be considered as one unit of cloud computing, and what Google’s Kubernetes does, up until this point, is that it allows many containers to be compartmentalised – to the extent that multiple containers can be managed on a single cloud instance.
While all that jargon is prone to go over your head, all that you need to know is that it means increased efficiency for the Cloud. Deis even claims to take this one step further.
Deis has in the past, claimed that it can make it easier for companies to use Google’s Kubernetes for their own purposes. This is a management specialization which is poised to save space and increase efficiency.
Now that we know what Deis is and what they do, we shall return to our topic at hand: Microsoft buying Deis. How will it help Microsoft?
Well, for starters, the tools provided by Deis will make Azure function better with a better consumer interface. Microsoft is undoubtedly expecting (or is it, hoping) that the acquisition of Deis will help consumers to work better with Microsoft’s existing container portfolio including Linux and Windows Server Containers and Azure Container Service.
Whatever the case be, Microsoft seems to be making a strategic and planned investment here. Software containers, at this point, are pivotal and are touted as the new building blocks of cloud-based applications. Thus, they are somewhat, a necessity as small to big businesses are turning to third-party public clouds – like Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services – to run their applications.
So, in a time where the market is turning to third-party clouds, being able to make them run in the most reliable and efficient manner is critical. This is Microsoft’s next step in precisely that direction.
As far as what Deis is getting out of the equation – well, they get a broader customer base.
Deis has been contributing extensively to the Helm, Workflow and Steward open source projects and intends to continue doing so. But now, working with Microsoft, the company would be able to take their service to a much wider and more heterogeneous audience.
Gabriel Monroy, the CTO of Deis said: “From our new home at Microsoft, you should expect nothing less. We will continue our contributions to Workflow, Helm, and Steward and look forward to maintaining our deep engagement with the Kubernetes community. The future of open source infrastructure at Microsoft is very bright”.
The deal was made behind closed doors and hence no financial information is available except for the name Deis was bought from the parent company, EngineYard.
The deal, however, does mark a change in Microsoft’s approach to the market. Microsoft had for years, established itself as a closed-source proprietor of software and hardly considered the open source market to be a market worth investing in. That felt almost like Microsoft was refusing to move with time.
However, Satya Nadela’s introduction into the company has changed that. From acquiring massive cloud computing exhibitors, to a time when nearly a third of all machines in Azure run Linux (the popular open-source operating system favored by many developers over Windows), it’s quite a change.
It would be interesting and important to see which way the company continues to move.
“At Microsoft, we’ve seen explosive growth in both interest and deployment of containerized workloads on Azure, and we’re committed to ensuring Azure is the best place to run them”, said Microsoft’s Executive VP for its Cloud and Enterprise Group, Scott Guthrie.
With that change of approach in mind, buying Deis is a smart move for Microsoft. “…the Deis team brings a depth of open source technology experience — furthering Microsoft’s commitments to improve developer productivity and to provide choice and flexibility for our customers everywhere”.
Google's Rolling Out A Fact-Check Feature To Combat Fake News
We’ve been covering the increasing prevalence of Fake News, at our site, for quite a few months now. We’ve also highlighted what Facebook (the main protagonist of the story, so far, has been doing to combat the widespread menace of half-truths.
In an attempt to deal with the growing problem of fake news and misinformation, Google has now decided to roll out a feature to “fact-check” search results and news looked at through its platform.
So, going forward, when you search for something on Google, if the search query returns a result that has been marked as disputed or fake, Google will highlight the matter and display who made the claim, and will also indicate if a third-party organization (identified by Google) has found the item to be true, false or somewhere in between.
In addition to the review of the information, the new feature will also provide users with a link, so that they can provide feedback in case they think something is wrong.
However, the “if” in that statement is quite important, because not all results will appear with a review, for now.
Google first tried this out last year in a limited capacity on their news results, just a few weeks before the U.S. Presidential elections. Now, they are rolling it out completely, in all countries, and languages that Google functions in. It will now encompass two of Google’s biggest and most far-reaching entities – Search and News results.
Google’s move comes right after Facebook put up a “disputed” feature on their platform, to flag news that might not be accurate, or might not be coming from trustworthy sources.
Internet platforms have been receiving a lot of criticism for the spread of fake news, and misinformation, to an extent that Germany is currently in the process of establishing a law to fine social media platforms it deems are contributing to the problem.
Some other countries in Europe are considering a similar approach.
In the aftermath of the completed unexpected selection of Trump to the throne of U.S. presidency, the news online has become pretty much a topic of distrust around the world.
Not wanting to painted (or tainted) in the same colour, Google has played it’s own Ace of Diamonds, through this move.
The key here is that Google has not taken on the task of fact-checking the information themselves – instead opting to rely on specialist and better-equipped third party organization like Politifacts and Snopes, to assess the veracity of statements made by public officials and news organizations. There are about 115 of those !
This is quite interesting because even Facebook, when they rolled out their “disputed” tag, took the responsibility of the verification out of their organization, and put the onus on third party organizations like Politifacts and Snopes. They also enabled their own users to report stories that might be misinformation, in a manner different from what Google is doing, and even though, on the face of things that does look helpful, it might run them into a huge task of sorting out through claims of the billions of users.
As far as the credibility of Google’s verification is concerned, it openly says there might be times that different fact checking organizations might disagree, and it would be listing out the disagreement as well.
“These fact checks are not Google’s and are presented so people can make more informed judgements. Even though differing conclusions may be presented, we think it’s still helpful for people to understand the degree of consensus around a particular claim and have clear information on which sources agree. As we make fact checks more visible in Search results, we believe people will have an easier time reviewing and assessing these fact checks, and making their own informed opinions“, Google said in their announcement blog post.
While we are indeed happy that Google has decided to come on board in a fight against misinformation, we are uncertain of how effective this will be, for now. The amount of information that goes on to the internet everyday is obviously a lot, and it may take third party sources several days before the information can be verified. And this stands only for information that is yet to be put on to the internet; there does not seem to be a method to verify the information that already exists effectively.
What might be another “umm” moment is that what this fact-checking feature won’t do is improve the search rank for fact-checking sites or bring their information to the top of the page in Google’s “featured snippets” box. What they should have ensured is that the review snippet display on top of the search results, regardless of however few searches it shows up on for now.
Regardless, we welcome this first step, because that is better than none!
Google Play Music Subscription Launched In India At ₹89 Per Month
To the joy of many, many Indians, Google had launched their streaming music app, Google Play Music last September.
However it had come with a bulky model – lacking a subscription feature, users had to buy the album or individual songs in order to listen to them.
Well, the good news of the month is that Google Play Music has finally launched their subscription model in India. The paid subscription will cost the user INR 89 per month, and will have a host of features to justify that cost.
First and foremost, it will allow users to enjoy unlimited streaming and downloading of music!
Imagine, you could listen to, download and play offline, any of near-40 million tracks that are available on the platform – with just one charge!
Thanks to Google’s mind-bendingly good search capabilities, you can search for music by language or by your favorite Bollywood artists, even music directors. The app will also throw up video options of the songs if available.
“With Google Play Music subscription, Indian subscribers can listen to their favorite music across a variety of languages, including Hindi, English, Tamil and more. This music can be accessed from any device with your Google Account”, Elias Roman, Lead Product Manager, Google Play Music, said.
There’s more – From a personalisation standpoint, the app will provide you with an offline playlist based on what you’ve listened to recently and will allow you to listen to that music offline, even if you haven’t downloaded those songs ahead of time.
This feature also exists on other similar apps in the market, including Saavn. But that shouldn’t be an impediment for Google, as they have a heck of a lot on offer, given their huge repository and immense data mining capabilities.
“To make the experience deeply personalized, we’ve plugged into Google’s understanding of context and machine learning to recommend the right music at the right moment based on each listener’s preference, place, and activity”, Roman added.
The company is offering a 14 day free trial to its users, and offering discounted rates to those who sign up within 45 days of the rollout. The discounted rate of INR 89, might go up to INR 99 for those who sign up later. The service will be available on Android, iOS and the web.
Even though the move is a good one, Google might be a little too late to the Indian music streaming and downloads game.
Local players like Saavn, Gaana and Wynk have already cornered major chunks of the market, with Wynk having recently reported 50 million users (as have the others).
The only other international player in the market, after Rdio’s shutdown, is Apple Music, and it has a customer base which functions of the loyalty to Apple, and not so much on what’s popular in the market.
It is, however, noteworthy that Google’s subscription price, at INR 89, is lower than that of anyone else in the market; Apple Play is at INR 120, and the local players are all in the range of INR 99.
Thus in order to find a place for itself in this dynamic market and to carve a niche for itself, Google Play Music is taking a few different approaches.
For starters, it has recently added a new ad-supported tier to its services, which allows its users to upload upto 50,000 of their own songs to its Play Music, without having to spend a single rupee in doing so. This would enable them to build a YouTube-like library of audio data.
The second interesting thing that Google is doing is offering radio services to its free users, which includes playlists depending on mood, activities, and situations. This works on a location-based algorithm, where it can assess your location and figure out whether you’re at work, home, or traveling, and then plays music for you accordingly. A lot of the other services offer radio services too, but they may prove to not be as effective without the location/time-based customisation of the music they serve up.
It is also interesting to see Google taking steps to go deeper into a market like India, which works a great deal on piracy. Illegal music is downloaded off of the internet all the time, and most smartphone users play that, at least partially, if not fully.
A business model like the one that Google is using has proven to work in the market where piracy is a smaller factor, but in a country like India, it’d be interesting to see how it comes along.
Google's Revised Ad Policy Aims To Disincentivize Hate Speech By Demonetising It
Google’s hate speech policy is undergoing intensive surgery with new areas being added to address concerns of ads promoting and even financially funding inappropriate content online (Basic Economics 101).
Several media outlets in the U.S. joined the clamour triggered by the British government, complaining against the placement of advertisements over videos that are offensive or promoting forms of hate speech.
The changes fulfil the plans that Google had announced back a month ago, in response to the YouTube controversy that arose and then almost spiralled out of control.
This was not the first time a controversy has been seen – just a little while ago, Google got caught up in the furore over Fake News (specifically about Google’s ad network supporting fake news).
The policy additions should over time, address an increasingly toxic online environment that currently harbours content that borders on hate speech.
The policy has now been expanded to include more groups like immigrants and refugees and also applies to discriminatory pages. The language of the policy is such that it covers pages which deny the Holocaust or promote the exclusion of certain groups. Earlier, the policy had a very narrow range, addressing speech that was threatening against defined groups (including religious and ethnic groups, LGBT groups and individuals).
The definition of protected groups and individuals has been expanded as well, to include those who share “any characteristic that is associated with systemic discrimination and marginalization”.
The definition implies that harassing and disparaging speech against immigrants or refugees will be in violation of the policy.
Summers, who oversees the development and implementation of Google policies impacting publishers, said in a statement that this status was used as a proxy for attacking people in what is commonly known as a protected group.
The revamped policy will also apply to specific pages with content in violation of the policy meaning that the ads will not need to be removed from an entire site or account.
What this means is for example, an article on Breitbart that uses a derogatory term for transgender won’t get any ad money but will still receive ads on others pages.
Google denied commenting about whether the parent company would be affected or not. Keeping in mind the size of the revamp and understanding that the change is global, the current implementations wouldn’t be noticeable immediately.
In March, Philipp Schindler, Google’s top business executive, in his blog, mentioned how the company was taking a tougher stance on hateful, offensive and derogatory content to remove ads from the inappropriate content more effectively.
The policy enables companies to reject their advertisements being played on content that might have “offensive or malicious intent” as per YouTube’s own standards.
Although it sounds like a decent step, however YouTubers across the spectrum have mentioned that the move is reducing their ad revenues and sometimes for reasons that “don’t make sense“.
While a majority of YouTubers do use curse words in their videos, now companies can stop putting advertisements on such videos too. YouTubers like Pewdiepie have gone outright against YouTube for “pandering” to the press like Wall Street Journal and some other websites who initially caused the stir by doctoring videos of the said stars as supporting the Third Reich.
It remains to be seen how YouTube fares with these decisions and policy changes, and how much of it survives beyond the first few months. Revenue after all, is the lifeblood of all online forums.
Google Brokers A Consortium Amongst Top Android Partners To Increase Mutual Benefit
If you are a mobile manufacturing enterprise that produces Android-backed smartphones or tablets, then things just got sweeter for you!
Google and several top-drawer Android device manufacturing companies have agreed to a truce that will bring more openness into the Android applications and software market.
The agreement, namely the “Android Networked Cross License Agreement” has been melded together between a group comprising of Android giants Google, HTC, LG, Samsung, HMD, Foxconn and a variety of other companies. It pledges to share royalty-free patents amongst each other.
Licenses are going to be granted royalty-free to any company that manufactures devices with pre-installed Android applications which meet Android’s compatibility norms, with the condition that they join the group and adhere to the agreement.
The agreement is also being coined as PAX by executives at Google, which means ‘peace’ in Latin.
Jamie Rosenberg, Google’s Vice President of Business and Operations of the Android and Google Play wing said in an editorial, “It is with a hope for such benefits that we are announcing our newest patent licensing initiative focusing on patent peace, which we call PAX”.
On the PAX website, it mentions that any company that wishes to join, shall not be a party to interference, as all the other members will respect each other’s autonomy in their own affairs, as long-term freedom of action related to Google and Android shall be accorded everyone concerned.
What are the obvious benefits for signatories
The website also sheds light on certain facts such as that of the current member companies having a combined patent inventory of more than 230,000 patents. Hence, Google is quite excited and interested in welcoming other companies, large or small, to become signatories and reap the benefits of a sustainable, peaceful and friendly Android ecosystem.
Commercially, what the agreement will help the companies indirectly with, is the might to fight patent lawsuits collectively. As lawsuit rulings in favour of companies which acquired lawsuits amounted to a certain amount of income, the group might sue other companies together if the need arises. The direct benefits for companies are very high as there is no need to pay royalties to a ‘partner’ company.
Google, Samsung and HTC will really benefit from PAX. This is because, the Android ecosystem, owner by Google, will get a wider spectrum of companies of varying size in its family. Therefore, multiplying the acceptability of Android.
As a competitor of iOS, Google would really benefit. The smaller companies which feared litigation, would be exempt from it. Similarly, Samsung and HTC selling a huge number of devices integrated with Android and Google applications, looks to benefit the most. There would be hardly any risk form patent trolls given the nature of the agreement and the willingness to fight the lawsuits collectively.
However, it is not yet known what kind of patents will be shared or what threats these companies wish to defend against. That is the kind of details we would have to keep an eye out for.
YouTube’s $25 Billion Ad Problem, And Alphabet's Fix
Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company, and the owner of YouTube, recently announced that it is introducing a new system that will let outside firms verify advertisements’ quality standards on YouTube.
Coming as what Alphabet hopes, will be the remedy to the huge advertising boycott YouTube has been up against lately, this change also embraces wider definitions of “offensive content”.
Over the last few weeks, a whole bunch of companies including AT&T, Verizon, Enterprise and even the British government have pulled their ads off of the YouTube platform following the British government’s vociferous objection to one of their ads being played on top of an extremist video that featured highly provocative and offensive content.
The British Government’s reaction and consternation placed the spotlight on YouTube’s current policies that stated that all ads YouTube carries were overlaid atop videos basis the amount of viewership of the content, but did not consider the content of the video itself; nor did it (YouTube’s algorithm) look for any parity between the video’s content and the ad itself.
YouTube did have some checks in place to ensure sensitive content was flagged, but the definition of “sensitive” or “offensive” that YouTube used so far was very loose and half-hearted.
The cause and the effect combined to made the situation extremely problematic for the brands, YouTube, and Alphabet itself.
Why? Well, YouTube’s erstwhile policies and methods basically meant that videos supporting terrorism, extremism and such morally offensive subjects had ads running atop them from brands of every nature, who had absolutely no support or allegiance to said videos. In fact, none of them would’ve really known of this disparity either, given the randomness driven by the automated algorithm that places ads on the platform.
Miffed and offended, many large brands pulled their ad campaigns off of YouTube, and involuntarily triggered a boycott of the platform by other brands too.
This included brands like PepsiCo., Johnson and Johnson, and WalMart, amongst many others.
Let me diverge for a bit, and state the un-obvious.
Just a few months ago, something of the kind would perhaps not have gained this form of momentum or impetus.
The fact is that there is a rising anxiety in people’s minds regarding the trustability of the “new online” – everyone has become a little extra sensitive to whatever they see online. The entire Fake News incidents and how people could’ve been manipulated by what they read/saw online is still very raw in their minds.
Add to this the fact that Facebook recently admitted flaws in how it reported ad performance to ad buyers.
With all of that in play, digital advertising has come under greater scrutiny lately, and thus Alphabet’s YouTube problem kept snowballing as things rolled downhill.
To be fair to Alphabet, navigating this issue is certainly no cakewalk. Content worth as much as 400 hours is uploaded to YouTube every minute, and navigating through that much content is obviously not an easy job.
To top it all, as per Alphabet’s erstwhile policies, any channel with a certain number of views were seeded with ads running on top of their videos. Alphabet had not implement, so far, any methods to categorise channels basis the nature of the content they doled out, nor had they formulated differential policies towards the ad-overlays.
Amidst all this though, is one undeniable fact – advertisers and brands depend upon Google’s system to get them the best results. So being the customer, brands’ interests and brand image is paramount to YouTube’s existence, even more than it’s revenues.
Quite a good example would be that of Google’s AdWords, the larger ad business that Alphabet runs across the internet. Over the years, it has been Alphabet’s policy to not stand between the publishers, and the advertisers, for fear of becoming too much of an arbiter of what’s appropriate.
But in the process of making the path from advertiser to targeted audience eyeballs as efficient as possible Alphabet does make a lot of money. So it must then, not shrug away from the onus of responsibility when its systems run into issues.
Even after apologies, and statements promising that steps would be taken in this regard, brands are still pulling the plug on their YouTube ad spend, and Alphabet’s shares are doing the frisky dingo on the charts.
All in all, Alphabet has lost about USD 25 billion to this tailspin that YouTube has hit, and even though that number does pale in comparison to the entirety of Alphabet’s income, it is still quite a big number.
The new policies should be of some relief. After the forest caught the fire, Alphabet has improved its ability to flag offending videos and immediately disable ads. This has led to some advertisers circling back.
With these new changes in the policy, we can expect more advertisers to come circling back. But the question will still remain: Is this going to be the solution?
We think not.
Even though the policies have been changed to broaden the definition of sensitive content, there’s not enough information shared by Alphabet to convince the world that there are now enough checks in place to mark sensitive content as such and treat it differently.
Case in point would be that of YouTube channels like Real Women Real Stories.
Run by Israel-based entrepreneur Matan Uziel, the channel features videos of women narrating to the camera their experiences of sexual abuse. Under even the amended policies, this would be marked off as sensitive content (under the unchanged policies it was marked off as sensitive content, and ads were taken off of the channel).
And there are many other channels of this kind that have, and will be, marked off.
So, even though it may be quite clear what content a channel is running, machines and algorithms don’t really yet know to interpret it correctly. The content in Real Women Real Stories is not particularly offensive, not promoting terrorism, extremism, or violence of any kind – but it did get the stick.
What I’m saying is that there is rather a much-needed journalistic approach to real stories that need to be told. Yet, these channels will receive the same treatment as purposefully offensive content made with mal intentions do. That does not seem fair, and neither do the policies enabling such interpretations.
So, while Alphabet has admittedly taken the first baby steps – only after having been kicked in the gut by the advertisers – yet, there is a long way to go for them to actually be able to work this out properly.
With YouTube’s ad revenues hopefully preserved now, Alphabet must surely realize that the task is not yet done.
Google Pummelling Symantec To Ensure Better Internet Encryption
For all that world may consider Google to be, it is definitely the Dean of the Internet, in many ways.
In that role, and to drive better user privacy and internet security, Google has taken on Symantec over it’s (Symantec’s) role in ensuring the sanctity of the encrypted portions of the internet.
Google, who had previously accused Symantec and its partners of mis-issuing tens of thousands of certificates that certified encrypted web connections, quietly announced this week that it (Google) is downgrading the level and length of trust that Chrome will place in certificates issued by Symantec.
Before we delve into this further, let us pause for a moment and help you understand the kinds of certificates we’re referring to, what Symantec does and what are the implications of mis-issuing certificates for encrypted web connections.
Well, there are two kinds of sites usually, the ones with HTTP, and the ones with HTTPS prefixes. First up, the same site can have two different versions or just one, depending on their own motives.
HTTPS connections are usually found on banking sites, login pages, and sites which need an extra layer of security. This ‘S’ in the address, the extra layer of security is certified by deputed Certificate Authorities, who verify the identity of the website’s owner and check for some mandatory security protocols having been adhered to by the website, and only then, issue the site a certificate authenticating that they are who they say they are and that the necessary protocols are in place.
Think of this like a passport issuing authority.
Once a passport is issued by a legit authority, everyone in the world considers it valid and thus deems the information on the passport as being valid. The onus of checking the information lies upon the authority in the equation.
Similarly, once a certificate has been issued, everyone in the world is expected to trust it. But there is a catch.
The onus of the verification, in the Internet world also lies on the certificate issuing authority. Without their authentication of a website owner’s identity, users can’t trust that the site on the other end of their HTTPS connection is really who they think it is. Makes sense, up until here?!
Well, Symantec is a giant in the world of these certificate authorities. It’s certificates vouched for about 30% of the entire internet, in 2015! So we must believe that they have been doing their job properly and they are trustable.
Google, however, does not think so.
Google claims that Symantec has issued at least 30,000 certificates without properly verifying the websites that received the certificates. The allegation is thus quite grave. Not only does it undermine the trust users can place in the encrypted web, it also leaves the user in a limbo, not knowing if the sites they have been relying on owing to the HTTPS tag, can really after all be trusted, or not.
Google has been claiming that Symantec’s behavior failed to meet the baseline requirements for a Certificate Authority, creating what it termed as “significant risk for Google Chrome users“.
To add to this, Ryan Sleevi, a Software Engineer at Google, said, “Symantec allowed at least four parties access to their infrastructure in a way to cause certificate issuance, did not sufficiently oversee these capabilities as required and expected, and when presented with evidence of these organizations’ failure to abide to the appropriate standard of care, failed to disclose such information in a timely manner or to identify the significance of the issues reported to them. These issues, and the corresponding failure of appropriate oversight spanned a period of several years, and were trivially identifiable from the information publicly available or that Symantec shared“.
Google also pointed out that Symantec partnered with other CAs, like CrossCert (Korea’s Electronic Certificate Authority), Certisign Certificatadora Digital, Certsuperior S. de R. L. de C.V., and Certisur S.A., and did not follow proper verification procedures. This allegedly led to the mis-issuance of 30,000 certificates.
This is not the first time that Symantec and Google have gone head to head. The spat has been on for over a year now.
Back in October 2015, Google discovered that Symantec has mis-issued certificates for Google itself and for Opera Software. “Our investigation uncovered no evidence of malicious intent, nor harm to anyone”, Symantec had stated back then. But that did not allay Google’s concerns.
Google, has now taken steps to mitigate possible impacts to users. It stated that it will begin the process of distrusting Symantec-issued certificates in its Chrome browser.
It is said that Google will update Chrome’s code, which would reduce the length of time the browser trusts a Symantec-issued certificate. This would then also over time, require sites to replace old Symantec certificates with newer, trusted ones.
“Since January 19, the Google Chrome team has been investigating a series of failures by Symantec Corporation to properly validate certificates. Over the course of this investigation, the explanations provided by Symantec have revealed a continually increasing scope of misissuance with each set of questions from members of the Google Chrome team; an initial set of reportedly 127 certificates has expanded to include at least 30,000 certificates, issued over a period spanning several years,” Sleevi wrote in a forum post outlining the case against Symantec. “This is also coupled with a series of failures following the previous set of misissued certificates from Symantec, causing us to no longer have confidence in the certificate issuance policies and practices of Symantec over the past several years.”
Symantec’s response so far has been: “Google’s statements about our issuance practices and the scope of our past mis-issuances are exaggerated and misleading. For example, Google’s claim that we have mis-issued 30,000 SSL/TLS certificates is not true. In the event Google is referring to, 127 certificates — not 30,000 — were identified as mis-issued, and they resulted in no consumer harm. While all major CAs have experienced SSL/TLS certificate mis-issuance events, Google has singled out the Symantec Certificate Authority in its proposal even though the mis-issuance event identified in Google’s blog post involved several CAs”.
Symantec has also stated that they are open to discussion with Google, to try to resolve the situation. Symantec has purportedly cut ties with four of the firms associated with the mis-issued certificates. That might help them save some face with Google when they do come to a discussion table.
“Symantec will vigorously defend the safe and productive use of the Internet, including minimizing any potential disruption caused by the proposal in Google’s blog post”, the company said.
For website owners who currently use Symantec to verify their HTTPS connections: You should, in the meantime, start taking steps to ensure Chrome users can access your sites without getting hit with security warnings!
What Does Android 7.1.2 Beta 2 Have For Us?
Google started to roll out the second beta of Android 7.1.2 for Pixel and Nexus users a couple of days ago.
The recent release fixes some bugs from the initial version released in January, and also offers the latest security patch from March.
This Beta is expected to soon be made available to public for Pixel and Nexus smartphone users brings a number of bug fixes and performance optimisations, bringing the devices up to build NPG47I.
According to reports, the second version of the update is bringing in the highly requested “swipe-down-for-notifications” shortcut for Nexus 6P, which has been available to Nexus 5X users since the first beta.
The latest release also brings massive changes to Pixel C, finally bringing it up closer to the Pixel lineup. From the new white navigation buttons to the updated settings menu, Google has made a number of changes to Pixel C’s user interface.
The tablet had also received a new multi-tasking menu.
Google is yet to officially post the details or factory images for the latest update; we will include them here as soon as they are made available.
Android 7.1.2 is expected to be made available to the public in the first week of April. Google had announced last year that it would be following a regular maintenance and managing schedule with the launch of Android Nougat, however, it did take Google longer than expected to release the second beta.
We hope it was worth the additional wait
Google's New reCAPTCHA Automatically Tells You're Not A Bot
Google’s new & revised reCAPTCHA is invisible!
Implemented in 2009, reCAPTCHA has become the de facto tool for websites to distinguish bots masquerading as humans, from real-world users.
With it’s name derived from the product’s mission statement Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart, reCAPTCHA has over the years used various methods to make this distinction. This includes asking users to transcribe distorted words, confirm street views, identify pictures, or sometimes just mark a tick. So, those annoying gibberish texts you’ve had to type out at the end of forms, or the ‘which pictures have a street sign’ pop, actually played an extremely important role in keeping systems (and your accounts) secure.
Google’s reCAPTCHA is a rather hardworking tool, that thrives on its efforts to keep websites safe from various threats posed by rogue viruses, and bots on the internet.
Now, the hardworking system has seem a major upgrade to it’s habits and intelligence. Think of it as an intensive brain surgery…
Google has used a combination of machine learning and advanced risk analysis, to update the system to detect human habits without dedicated interactions. So, when you are basically going about your business on the internet, this upgraded system should be invisible, opening gates (sites and forms) for you, without your even realising how and when it’s doing that for you!
While your behaviour and basic interactions would be monitored, however only at a very superficial level – just to make sure you have warm blood flowing through your veins and not electrical electrons buzzing over silicon circuits!
If you do trip Google’s risk analysis algorithms, then the new system might ask you to solve a simple puzzle, just to make sure that you are human indeed (a lot like the current grids).
Google did not reveal much about how the invisible reCAPTCHA works, but just said their technology will “actively consider a user’s engagement with the CAPTCHA — before, during, and after — to determine whether that user is a human“.
Our guess is that the system probably analyses things like typing speed, cursor movements, and rate of scrolling to determine whether a visitor is a human or a bot. People type relatively slowly, rarely move their cursors in straight lines, and usually take their time scrolling through a website. Bots don’t work quite like that.
Additionally, we’re quite sure the new system would also consider other variables like your IP address and perhaps check for any historical misdemeanours from that IP etc.
Clearly, this simple change to the authentication process would significantly reduce the number of times that Google might have to engage with the users personally, thus enhancing their experience and making searches easier and quicker.
All in all, hassle-free internet journey seem like the end goal.
Amazon And Google Saddle Up To Take On Slack
Slack where all work communication happens for most of the 21st-century organisations, dominates not only the enterprise setup, but also today’s startups, has some competition brewing.
Google and Amazon both are vying to take on Slack and carve out sizeable pieces of the burgeoning work space.
Amazon, last month acquired a startup called Do.com and converted it to Chime.
Just two days after this acquisition, Do.com on its official website announced that it had been acquired and would discontinue its service entirely on all platforms including its web, mobile and Apple Watch apps by the end of February. While Do never disclosed the name of its buyer but a hawk-eyed reader brought it to the attention of a news house that the company’s LinkedIn profile now mentioned that the startup was “now a part of Amazon Chime”. A similar change was noticed on the profile of Do’s employees as well, thus confirming the acquirer.
To add spice to the story, as soon as some of the tech websites published the news of Do being acquired by Amazon, Do quickly removed all the evidences that pointed towards this conclusion – the official blog post from Do that announced its acquisition was removed and the LinkedIn profiles that had given away the secret were also modified. But the cat was already out of the bag.
Amazon officially launched Chime on February 13th, as part of it’s Amazon Web Services’ cluster.
All this hush-hush and coyness reminds me of our Bollywood celebrities who attempt to keep their relationship status under wraps. Amazon and Do are now trying to conceal this association from the world as there is no official announcement at Amazon’s end and no one knows what part of Do.com was acquired and at what cost. Curiouser and curiouser!
What does Do actually do? And how is it going to help Chime?
Do.com was a startup that had created a platform that aimed increasing the productivity of meetings by providing services like managing advance notes made in preparation for the meeting and even generating notes for absentees.
Amazon Chime too, is defined in a similar fashion per Amazon itself – “(it is) a secure, real-time, unified communications service that transforms meetings by making them more efficient and easier to conduct.”
So, making meetings hassle free and more efficient is what Do will do for Amazon Chime.
Moving on, while Amazon doesn’t want to talk about it, Google on the other hand, is out there conjuring up major updates to Google Hangouts.
Google is trying to make Hangouts a more business-friendly product and considering that Hangouts already does a lot of what apps like Slack use to dominate the scene, there is clearly a need for Google to up the ante and tom-tom it’s wares and make Hangouts’ presence felt.
Accordingly, Google announced some changes to Hangouts at the Next Conference in San Francisco.
Google has bifurcated its workplace tools, dubbed as G Suite into two separate apps: Hangouts Meet, a videoconferencing app, and Hangouts Chat, a Slack-like messaging app designed for teams to interact professionally.
Hangout Chats’ new prime feature is all about group messaging – and to be yet more specific, team messaging. Chat has also incorporated threaded conversations without which any messenger app looks barren and which Slack hasn’t been able to perfect as yet.
Additionally, to make things easier and more efficient, Hangouts Chat will now be able to perform advanced search and be able to filter conversations by file types.
What’s more, the update also enables users to create virtual chat rooms which would be a one-stop place to hold group conversations. No points for guessing this one, just like Slack!
And obviously you can’t take out Google from Hangout Chats as the former’s services are deeply entrenched within Chat as when you share a file with a room, all of the members automatically get access to it.
All the G Suite customers who apply for access will be able to enjoy this new feature. But, for starters, Hangouts Chat will only be available to companies in Google’s Early Adopter Program, and as of now there are no clear indications as to which features will cost money and which ones will be free of cost.
Hangouts Meet, the other sibling is all about making your meetings hassle free.
With just a click, you’ll be transported into a meeting – be it an audio or video one.
Meet is combined with what Google likes to call a digital whiteboard, dubbed as the Jamboard, that enables users to easily collaborate and view Jamboard displays remotely.
Google claims that this rewritten version of Hangouts meeting experience will be lighter on the processor and would not gobble onto your laptop’s battery life either.
What I love the most about all this, is that the whole thing would work without any plug-ins and due to the cut down in size will load “instantly”. It use to irk me to have to download plugins on every new computer and click pop-ups to confirm Trust alerts. Hopefully, they’re gone now!
The reason why Hangouts has been bifurcated is because Google wants to take better care of its enterprise customers. Google does claim though, that these major changes to Hangouts are not aimed at overtaking Slack.
As per Prabhakar Raghavan, the Head of Apps Engineering at Google, Slack already integrates with Google Drive. “We don’t intend to take away from that” he said during a panel discussion at the conference.
However, that doesn’t negate the fact that a lot of what the new Hangouts does, is to showcase it’s wares better, and enables users with a lot of the frill and benefits that Slack users have enjoyed for a while.
Look out Slack, sleeping tigers are rousing!
Google And Microsoft Agree To Help Combat Illegal Downloads
Pirated material may no longer find its place on the first pages of two leading search engines Google and Bing (from Microsoft), at least in Britain.
The two search engine giants have accepted a new Code Of Conduct proposed by Britain’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) that has been created to demote websites that stream or host pirated material.
After this the users, sure might have a hard time looking for disreputable content providers.
If statistics by Britain’s IPO are taken in consideration, around one in six internet users have access to pirated content, though the numbers are on a decline due to rise of legal streaming services.
The agreement comes after a long-drawn journey of campaigning by record labels and film studios who have constantly cited Google and Microsoft of ignoring (and perhaps festering) piracy deliberately and not intervening in the form of measures to protect copyright online.
However, Google is of the view that search engines don’t divert traffic to piracy websites.
A spokesman said: “Google has been an active partner for many years in the fight against piracy online. We remain committed to tackling this issue and look forward to further partnership with rights holders.”
The Code Of Conduct, the first of its kind in the U.K., will drive change in search result rankings such that when users try searching for content like digital books, music videos and cricket coverage, they will in all probability be directed to legit providers and not pirate sites.
It is however, important to realise that such changes will happen gradually, page rankings and their algorithms are seriously big complex, and making changes to these core logics is never taken lightly. So, while the search giants will begin their arduous tasks soon, changes are officially expected to be rolled out this summer.
Eddy Leviten, Director General at the Alliance for Intellectual Property, in this regard said, “Sometimes people will search for something and they will end up unwittingly being taken to a pirated piece of content…What we want to ensure is that the results at the top of the search engines are the genuine ones.”
It will be way too far-fetched to assume that the implementation of this code would mean complete extinction of pirating websites from search engines like Google and Bing, but what it would definitely do is that it will downgrade such portals from being visible in the search results and advance authentic distributors up in the list instead.
The Code thereby ensures that most of the traffic lands up on genuine websites and not on the illegal ones.
So how does one categorise this illegal piracy promoting websites?
Simply put, all the websites that have been served with copyright infringement notices will be in a way down-listed on the common searches on Google and Microsoft. Search engine autocomplete function would also adopt this Code, thereby removing terms or keywords that may lead to pirate websites instead of legitimate services that pay fees to copyright holders.
While the adoption of such a Code on Google and Bing is voluntary, there is a supervising body that will monitor Google and Bing’s response over the coming few months and then based on that apply stricter measures as and when required in the future.
The news has managed to garner positive reactions from a lot of influential people and publications.
Geoff Taylor, Chief Executive of BPI, which represents record labels, said the code would not be a silver bullet for copyright holders.
“We have long campaigned for search engines to do more to ensure fans are directed to legal sources for music or other entertainment. There is much work still to do to achieve this. The Code will not be a silver bullet fix, but it will mean that illegal sites are demoted more quickly from search results and that fans searching for music are more likely to find a fair site.”
Stan McCoy, of the Motion Picture Association in Europe, said “Pirate websites are currently much too easy to find via search, so we appreciate the parties’ willingness to try to improve that situation”.
“We look forward to working on this initiative alongside many other approaches to fighting online piracy, such as the Get it Right campaign that aims to help educate consumers about the many ways to enjoy film and television content legally and at the time of their choosing.”
It would be interesting to see how this code pans out in the UK and as to whether it will roll out in other countries as well or not.
Breakthrough On Google Loon!
In the world we live in today, innovation and invention is the mantra of many, many companies. Technology and resources have never been as supportive of growth and development as they are been in the last five years.
Yet only a few of these companies have the risk appetite for moonshots. Simply because moonshots by the very definition, are long term expeditions into the unknown and hence need to be well supported and financed. Not only do the explorers need to have the pockets to survive the long journeys of discovery, they also need to to sustain and remain positive.
One of the projects that has gained the most fandom (and is thankfully not being pillaged by any one) is one of Google’s most ambitious projects – Project Loon.
Google, one of those select few companies that embarks on moonshots that aim to change the way the world works. Project Loon is one of these projects, which is aimed at bringing internet connectivity to far flung and “disconnected” via a bunch of flying balloons. Sounds cool, eh?
Well, cool it indeed is! And Google has just made a breakthrough on the project.
Google recently announced that thanks to advancements in machine learning software, it can now deploy fewer balloons to provide greater connectivity. The project is well into its fourth year of development and this breakthrough could well be the tailwind they were looking for, to twist the throttle and shorten the timeline for the formally launching the service globally.
“The reason this is so exciting is we can now run an experiment and try to give services in particular places of the world with 10 or 20 or 30 balloons, not with 200 or 300 or 400 balloons”, said Astro Teller, the head of X, at a press event. The Google Loon project is a part of X, which is run by Google’s parent company Alphabet.
“We’ve actually made so much progress that we think our timeline for when we can provide useful internet service to people is much, much sooner”, added Sal Candido, an engineer on the Loon project.
Well, one good news is that Loon has at least been out of the lab, and abundantly at that. A bunch of their testing units have been in floating around over South America.
Last September, X had shared a story of a 98-day flight over Peru, and soon after Loon was spotted over Yellow Stone National Park.
One of the problems that the project was facing was with respect to the positioning of the balloons.
The original idea was that the balloons would just float around the globe, giving off internet connectivity. But tests eventually proved that that approach did not make much sense. So a revised strategy decreed that the balloons would be concentrated on areas that suffered connectivity issues.
It was with this, that debilitating problems arose.
The first problem was to find a way to keep the balloons a safe traveling distance apart. The second was to replace a balloon that drifted from an area that needed connectivity.
Amongst the new developments, the team now believes that they have found solutions to these, and devised methods of keeping the balloons in more concentrated areas. Thanks to improved altitude control and navigation systems, the balloons will now make small loops over a land mass, instead of circumnavigating the whole planet as was the plan originally.
“Project Loon’s algorithms can now send small teams of balloons to form a cluster over a specific region where people need internet access”, the company stated. “This is a shift from our original model for Loon in which we planned to create rings of balloons sailing around the globe, and balloons would take turns moving through a region to provide service”.
“We’ll reduce the number of balloons we need and get greater value out of each one”, the company said in the post. “All of this helps reduce the costs of operating a Loon-powered network, which is good news for the telco partners we’ll work with around the world to make Loon a reality, and critical given that cost has been one key factor keeping reliable internet from people living in rural and remote regions”.
However, what remains to now be seen is the practicality of it all, and the actual performance numbers, when it comes to the investment required.
The question of whether the balloons will be cheaper than building infrastructure in remote areas that lack connectivity is yet to be answered.
Also, one must take into consideration that telecom providers do not usually lay cable in disconnected areas because there isn’t an abundance of subscribers there, which makes the project unprofitable for them. Will Google’s intentions be similar, and if not, then with what intention will Google go ahead with the project?
They haven’t been pumping money into this for years no end without any expectations. Generous, Google has always been; and they usually attack problems because they often are the only ones with the resources and the small approval protocol (no Appropriations processes, no politicians to convince, no budgets to get sanctioned) to be able to pull it off in a shortish timeframe; but generosity comes when there’s viability and need. I doubt that Google’s doing this with a view to profit from it financially. I think it’s more an expedition to empower the human race, because they, Google are in a position to. That said, they’ll definitely have an end game in mind, as must Facebook with it’s own internet-via-solar-powered-drone project called Aquila.
All this is exciting, with one proviso – Net Neutrality be upheld.
Google Maps - The New Social Network?
As Google Maps introduces a new feature that enables you to create and share with others, a list of your favourite locations, we wonder if this a turning point (no pun intended) in Google Maps’ raison d’être (reason for existence).
This new feature is of course, a nice way to organise all your favourite restaurants, bars, museums, and coffee shops in one place. But, what makes it even more interesting is that you can also now follow your friend’s Google Maps lists, or send her your’s via text, email, messaging apps, or social media.
Aimed at making the mapping application more involved with your daily life (and not only for commutes), this makes the Maps application something you’d turn to more often (there we go again – no pun intended, again).
This change though small in technical terms, does provide Google new and potentially very lucrative avenue to know even more about you. But an important question arises: Is Google Maps trying to mimic a social network?
Waze was the first, and perhaps last well-known navigation service with a somewhat-social angle built into it, thanks to it’s crowdsourcing bedrock. Guess where Waze is now?
In Google. Entrenched deep within Google Maps.
Now, Google seems to be melting what it’s got from Waze and observed from Foursquare (later called Swarm) and creating a new work stream.
Google said that this new option will give users an easy way to share information, places, etc. with their friends. “Previously, people could ‘star’ places on Google Maps, but there was no way to organize that information or share those places with people“, Google spokeswoman Elizabeth Davidoff wrote in an email.
It is the ‘share’ part of this new roll out that reflects quite heavily in Google’s approach.
Google has been operating under the assumption for a while now that people want to use Maps for several reasons other than simply finding their way in an unknown area. This also reflects in the other recent features that they have added to Google Maps, including the ability to hail a cab ride from Uber or Lyft, or things like finding out if parking is an issue in an area you’re intending to visit.
This new move also raises an important question with respect to how people use Google Maps.
Google has done a great job by mapping pretty much the entire the world through labour-intensive efforts like Street View and crowdsourcing real-time traffic updates with Waze.
In addition they added popular locations, businesses, ratings, comments, photos, and other details that previously were exclusive to sites like Yelp.
This new move will not only allow users to personalise the data available on Google, but also to share this personalised data.
Things like finding out about traffic, or nearby restaurants, bars, petrol pumps, banks, etc., have been widely used Google Map features for a while now. They are features that are quite helpful, and user-friendly, but all of them follow a user-service approach, working towards finding information pertaining to the user’s need. This new feature, enabling people to share their Google Map lists, marks a change in this particular approach, not just helping users find what they need, but also enabling them to “share” in with others… Facebook much, Google?!
As we mention Facebook, we must not ignore another important angle to Google’s new move.
As is almost always the case, the trade-off with convenience is increased data collection. This new feature is quite obviously another way to collect information about users’ preferences and interests. Information of the kind, like where people went or where they want to go may, can be really valuable to advertisers, and it could easily be used to target customers more effectively.
So, Google Maps might be trying to mimic a social network, but with the ‘desired, friendly, and the popular’, also come concerning controversial features.
The new feature is available on Android and iOS starting this week.
Don't Hate Google For This - It's Going To Count Calories From Your Photos Soon
In between uploading photos of your steaks and kababs to Instagram and waiting for the Likes to come streaming in, you could also be smacked in the face with a sobering calorie count, courtesy Google!
The company unveiled plans for a new app called Im2Calories at a tech conference in Boston last week.
Well, this could actually be more revolutionary than its autonomous car technology (Kidding! We love you, Google!).
One of the app’s goals is to make calorie tracking easier. Instead of jotting food down in a journal, or typing and using a separate app, Im2Calories piggybacks off something you might already do – snapping and sharing pics of your plate.
Im2Calories will rely on image-processing technology that can identify and recognise the food in your photos, and by analysing the pixels, the app will estimate how many calories you’re about to spear on your fork. It bases the information on publicly available nutrition labels.
The app isn’t designed to be perfect, but it will get better over time as more people start using it, said Google research scientist Kevin Murphy, according to a Popular Science report.
That’s because Im2Calories is an artificial intelligence and machine learning tool at heart. With more data, the app will learn to distinguish blueberry pancakes from chocolate chip pancakes, and if it’s wrong, Google will give you a way to change the name of what’s tagged.
This isn’t going to lead to a practical product in the short term. Google only just filed for a patent on Im2Calories’ underlying technology and has no immediate release plans, so you can post dessert photos to Instagram with relatively little guilt.
A spokesperson told CNET the technology behind Im2Calories is still in research and development. “No actual product plans at this stage“, he added.
Eventually, though, it could be a staple feature of health apps that help you balance your food habits with your activity levels. And the potential doesn’t stop there, either. While food is the “killer app”, the image recognition code could also apply to traffic prediction and anything else where a series of photos can provide a wealth of data.
“We semi-automate“, Murphy said.
Like Facebook (FB, Tech30) and other big tech companies, Google has been focused on image-processing technology lately. Its new Photos app, for example, automatically groups and strings your pictures together into albums without you having to do a thing. RealNetworks (RNWK) recently launched a comeback with a similar app called RealTimes, which automatically creates video slideshows.
Google, has already filed a patent for the capability, so expect things to starting popping up with more and more AI built in, to demystify, tag, club and process your photos with even more intuition.
Google Daydream Open To All Developers
The VR platform everyone had been waiting for is finally open to all developers. As of this week, any developer can make an app for Google Daydream.
Google had been arguably a little late to the VR party, but when it did arrive, it did not bring a device – it brought an entire ecosystem instead, something from where devices can be powered.
Google Daydream has been the center of curiosity of the many, ever since. Here’s a quick read, that should explain what Google Daydream is about.
The platform was announced back in May 2016 and has been live for a few months now but was only open to apps by a select few developers. For starters, the company was still in the process of testing the platform. Secondly, to ensure that the users appreciate the experience, Google had been quite particular about maintaining a quality standard for apps that were allowed to be available on the platform.
Limiting the number of developers they worked with allowed Google to work in close collaboration with partners and thus carefully curate, and manage, content for their new platform. But it of course also had a downside. It severely limited the number of apps one could download for the new headset ecosystem through the Google Play store. So while the experience was supposedly good, the variety was quite limited. Now that the platform is open to all developers, that is bound to change.
It would be interesting to see what this new move brings to the platform.
It would be interesting to see what this new move brings to the platform. While there are obviously many skilled developers waiting who have been waiting for the platform to open so that they can present their apps.
Similarly, of course, there also are many low-skilled developers who might end up pushing incomplete and low-quality apps onto the platform. Filtering then, in this new environment, would be an interesting task. Apps can be submitted through the Play Store, much like any other Android app is submitted at the moment.
Google, however, is still being very particular about the quality standard on its platform. The company has published a set of requirements for apps that can be published onto the VR platform. All developers must follow these requirements while submitting the apps, and the company expects to hold the standards high. These requirements include certain unique assets, such as 360-degree photosphere, a VR icon, and Motion Intensity Ratings.
This move has the capacity to dramatically shift the momentum in mobile VR. Especially given that the company is competing with the likes of Samsung Gear VR, which recently announced that they sold about 5 million VR headsets and Facebook’s Oculus.
Both of these have already made their way into global markets, and everyone has been wondering where Google’s Daydream is headed.
The apps on Daydream have been showing comparatively smaller download numbers. With more apps which can be expected to be available now, this can be expected to change, as users would have more options to choose from.
Google also announced Daydream View, a Daydream-compatible VR headset that was designed by Google, in October last year. The VR headset, Daydream View, for now has a limited availability, within the US. It is available at Verizon, Best Buy and the Google Store in the US.
As the ecosystem grows, more and more headsets and phones can be expected to be compatible with it. Even though that sounds like a given thing, the catch is that curation in VR is quite tricky, especially given the fact that design problems and slight glitches don’t just mean a broken app on your phone, these could leave the users feeling ill, and with severe nausea, headache, and the likes. It is therefore important to get it just right, even if it means stalling the process a wee bit longer.
The move to open to platform to all developers is not really an unexpected or surprising move; it was a logical step that everyone had been waiting for. Google had previously indicated that it would be opening the platform to all developers in 2017. The move, nonetheless, is quite welcome.
Google To Improve Video Call Capabilities
Technology enablement is a finicky mistress.
We’ve said it earlier and it bears repeating.
Well, Google’s tried everything (except buying Facebook) to conquer WhatsApp’s sheer dominance over text messaging, and failed. Time and time again.
Conversely, Facebook-owned WhatsApp set sail on it’s journey to counter Google Hangouts and Skype’s collective dominance over the Video Call side of things, via it’s two-stage release of audio-only and sometime later, Video-calls via the standard WhatsApp interface – and didn’t even make a ripple, forget a splash.
Why are they striving so hard in this space? Well, two reasons – first, most of us prefer a one-stop solution to things (smartphones are the world’s best example of that, aren’t they!) rather than have to manage different platforms and IDs, nurture contact lists, and swap between apps. Second, communication is the stepping stone to other, integrated and interdependent activities.
If a consumer has one place to text, share and socialise, there’s no greater salvation for her. Well, that’s the premise anyway.
Google seems to realise that one’s better than nine in the bush, and is hence working to remarkably improve the Video Call experience and move the bar so high, that it can become the WhatsApp of the Video Calling world.
And one of the critical quibbles with Video Calling is the poor audio experience (streaming/buffering issues aside).
Hence it’s no surprise that Google recently acquired Limes Audio, a Swedish company that primarily deals in voice communication solutions and builds technology that can be used to improve audio quality using software.
A 10-year old company based in Umeå, Sweden, Limes Audio has been innovating in spatial and environmentally-aware improvements in audio.
The news of this announcement was made by Google in a blog post:
“One of the biggest challenges to a great video meeting is the audio quality. Conference rooms today come in all shapes and sizes and that can provide a challenge for acoustics. Additionally, a poor Internet connection can hamper voice quality in video conference calls. Limes Audio has been building solutions that remove the distracting noise, distortion and echoes that can affect online video and telephony meetings, improving the overall online conference experience. We’re excited to work closely with the Limes Audio team to introduce new solutions that offer our customers the best online voice quality on the market”.
This is not the first time that Google has acquired a company to improve on its existing communication technology. In 2007, Google acquired Swedish communications company Marratech (for $15 million) to boost Google Talk and Hangouts.
This acquisition bore fruit in the form of a much-improved and simplified experience via the updated Google Hangouts platform.
Given our reliance growing reliance on video calls and usage of internet based services like Hangouts, Skype and Facetime, the clarity of voice becomes an important component in the overall experience, and consequently impacts the uptake of such services in day-to-day life.
Google’s concern around voice quality is also justified as two of its products, Google Hangouts and Google Duo integrate audio-video communication as their main features. The variable nature of the presenter, the audience and their accompanying environments hamper the acoustics and create scenarios replete with echoes. Additionally, poor internet connections are enemies of the audio experience.
What Limes Audio brings to the table as a solution to these issues, is its ability to ensure that clear voice is transmitted from one end to the other by removing noise, distortion, distracting elements and echoes that lead to bad audio quality.
Limes Audio (understandably) seemed happy about this recent acquisition as the company’s founders Fredric Lindström and Christian Schüldt made the deal public on its homepage, asserting that the team is “now very excited to join Google” where it plans to “continue to work towards all voice conversations sounding equally loud and clear, regardless of the distance or environment”.
This elated post, perhaps, also points towards the possibility of Limes Audio shutting down consequent to the recent deal with Google, and hauling its software to Mountain View, California.
This kind of probability is also reflected in a note from the founders suggesting that the team may “continue collaborating within the community” going forward, (by) “working together towards a better audio experience for everyone”.
To present Google’s side of this acquisition, Google Cloud Director of Product Management Serge Lachapelle noted how the company will incorporate Limes Audio into its own platforms, which are scheduled for an audio quality upgrade:
“As more and more businesses adopt our video conferencing solutions, powered by Chromebox for Meetings and Google Hangouts, it’s critical that we provide a great audio experience. With G Suite customers now relying on video communications for their day-to-day meetings, it’s more important than ever to ensure low-cost, high-quality audio.”
It is important to keep in mind that Google hasn’t specifically mentioned which products benefit and improve directly via Limes Audios association. But if it all works out, we’ll find out soon enough, first hand.
Keep and ear out for this!
Google Ready To Ride The Cashless Transaction Wave In India
Three terms that all of India, and nigh almost every Indian got a crash course on in recently – demonetisation, cashless economy, and digital payment solutions; have become an intrinsic part of our new lives in the cashless economy.
December 2016, demonetization in India saw both, a lot of support and tons of criticism from the masses.
But the one industry that witnessed a hitherto unbelievable trajectory (post demonetization) is that of Digital Payment Solutions – where cash is transferred virtually, especially via mobile devices.
As digital payment becomes popular amidst users in India , there is word that Google may soon back this burgeoning technology.
In his latest statement, Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai stated that the company was thinking of making such a move and that Google would work hard on offering some of its services on top of the Unified Payments Interface.
For the uninitiated, Unified Payments Interface (UPI) is India’s intrepid project to make person-to-person and e-commerce transactions easier and more efficient.
The UPI is a system that powers multiple bank accounts into a single mobile application (of any participating bank), amalgamating several banking features, uninterrupted fund routing and merchant payments under one umbrella.
UPI is built over IMPS (Immediate Payment Service), which makes the transfer of funds even easier than the new and revolutionary IMPS.
Like the IMPS, UPI’s new payment interface will still need payee details like bank name, branch, IFSC code and full name to be entered; the only relevant thing here becomes the Virtual Payment Address (VPA) which enables the user to send and receive payments.
Currently, UPI is only enabled on Android-based apps, without any information about its debut on iOS. Given the fact that Android is the most extensively used platform in India, Google’s move towards introducing a UPI-based payments solution definitely constitutes a sagacious move and is expected to relieve hassled consumers.
Already, some of the major UPI apps in usage include ICICI Pockets, Canara Banks’ ‘epower’ etc.
In fact, the Indian government has also taken steps in this direction and launched a common UPI app, called BHIM.
Talking about UPI, Pichai said in an interview, “I think it’s a bold and courageous move and it is a platform shift for the underlying economy to try and digitize how cash moves around and we are excited by it“, also adding that such moves work out “gradually”.
Currently, in India, the dissemination of bank accounts, and by extension, debit cards and credit cards remain fairly low. With UPI, the Indian government is trying to bring banking and financial services accessible for its entire population.
Another program called Aadhaar by the government seems to be an initiative to make it easier for the users to have one set of information work across abundant services.
“Maybe we will bring services from Google that will work on top of UPI which will make things work better for users in India“, Pichai said in the interview, adding, “We are working on it hard. Anything we can do to make payments easier for users in India. So we are trying to understand UPI stack, to bring some services, which will make things better for Indian users in terms of digital payments”.
This clearly implies that Indians will soon be able to enjoy Google-powered payments solution just like Apple Pay or Samsung Pay which could be either voice or biometric authentication-based.
Pichai’s comment gains perspective, when the fact that the Indian government has held talks with Google, Apple, and Microsoft to bring Aadhaar-enabled authentication system to their respective mobile operating systems is brought into the purview. Though at that time, the companies didn’t accede to the proposal.
Mr. Pichai showed his confidence in India being a global player in digital economy. “I think I am absolutely, with full certainty, convinced that India will be a global player in digital economy and it will be competitive with any country in the world in the digital economy. We have all the foundation“.
Google is also working on numerous projects like ‘Internet Saathi‘ to educate people on Internet and to get more people online, particularly in rural areas. Google was working on making its services available in as many local Indian languages as possible.
Pichai is of the view that, “English is spoken only by a small segment of the overall population. So just getting Google to work in other languages is a big focus. We have made progress today in Android, with search, we support many languages but we want to do all that better so that it works even in rural situations with the right dialects and so on”.
Google seems to have picked the right and most lucrative vein in India and is ready to make the most of this cashless era.
‘Digitally Safe Consumer’ Campaign By Google For India
Google India has collaborated with the Ministry of Consumer Affairs to launch a nationwide ‘Digitally Safe Consumer’ campaign. The campaign is an initiative launched with the aim of raising awareness about online safety and to help foster better protect consumer interest online.
It is an extremely important initiative for a time when the entire country is hurtling towards a cashless, hence digital economy, bidden by the recent Demonetisation shove.
Google, along with Ministry of Consumer Affairs, will undertake a year-long campaign focused on building the capabilities of consumer organisations, grooming personnel of Consumer Affairs department and counsellors of National Consumer Helpline on Internet safety and related issues.
Google, with partner agencies, will work towards advocating digital security and privacy needs through the said ‘Digital Literacy, Safety & Security’ workshops. It will be through a ‘Train the Trainer’ model for approximately 500 people, who will further engage with the local community to spread awareness around the need for Internet safety.
The campaign is expected to roll out in January, 2017 with the training materials reaching over 1,200 consumer organizations and consumer affairs department of every State and Union Territory.
The educational campaign including multiple workshops across the country, will feature write ups, posters, interactive quizzes and audio-visuals that will help in educating the internet users about the challenges of Internet safety and security.
Chetan Krishnaswamy, Country Head, Public Policy, Google India said, “With the rapid increase in digitization across all spheres, the message of internet safety needs to be integrated into the everyday tasks that the consumer undertakes online. This initiative will add to our existing campaigns guiding users to navigate the web and manage their digital lives safely and leverage the web to the fullest”.
Nougat Updates Are Rolling Out
While the roll-out of Android Nougat 7.0 is still underway, Google has already started rolling out the beta version of Nougat 7.1.1 for certain devices.
The Nougat 7.1.1 version was put out in the developer preview in November, and was subsequently released for the Google Pixel, Google Pixel XL, Google Nexus 6P, Google Nexus 5X, Google Nexus 9, Google Pixel tablet, the Nexus player and other General Mobile 4G (Android One) devices.
With the Nougat 7.1.1 update, Google is interestingly bringing some features that were initially seen only on the Pixel devices to the Nexus devices.
While Google has moved on, most other non-Google brands are still yet to roll out the Nougat 7.0 version entirely.
As budget smartphone brands, most of them Chinese, have been climbing up the charts for their products’ specs and capabilities, they all use heavily personalized versions of Android, to distinguish their products from the rivals in the market.
What this basically means for the users of these devices is that brands such as Huawei, Lenovo, Xiaomi, Gionee, Oppo, Vivo, Coolpad and LeEco, are almost always among the very last to roll out updates to their respective devices.
This time around, however, with Nougat 7.0, things seem to be a little different.
And it is good news, as Android Nougat brings several improvements over the older versions of Android for the users.
All this is very impressive. Android has historically be infamous for the glacial reach across brands. With the 7.0 update in the market for over a month now, and the 7.1.1 version already starting out, it stands to reason that updates should be rolling out even faster, as more and more companies seem ready to bring it to their devices.
For more information on if the update is yet available on your device or not, check for the update on your device, or stay tuned for more information.
Google's Business Apps Get An Upgrade
This past month, the Silicon Valley giant announced the commencement of a systematic upgrade of its apps for work, which will hence be called Google Suite. This move comes with the launch of Google Cloud, a unique and broad portfolio of products, services, and technologies.
These apps are designed to enhance the experience of the Android operating system within the workplace with Google bringing in new features and Artificial Intelligence (AI) into the equation.
First, the Google Suite. When it was initially launched back into 2007, most people dismissed it simply because using the Microsoft Office suite on your desktop was much easier than using a suite that relied on an internet browser for its functionality. Well, times have indeed changed, with smartphones and interconnected devices, we all want our content accessible and editable wherever and whenever we want.
And Google Apps (neé Suite) has been enabling exactly this proclivity a while.
But given that they aren’t the only ones – Dropbox, Apple and even Microsoft have equally strong offerings in the Cloud and Online Collaborative Apps space, Google is now introducing newer features to their Docs, backed by Google’s own forays into AI and Big Data.
The first change being introduced is the Explore button, located in the bottom-right of all your Google documents, enabling different functionality depending on the app you’re using.
It uses the data within your spreadsheet or document or presentation to provide insights real-time; Sheets will give you answers to natural-language questions asked in the tool, in addition to helping you prep for your work by keeping search topics ready for you, in line with what you’re working on and giving possible search links, and results. When you are working on Slides, this same feature will also provide pictures and possible design patterns.
If this does not work for you, they have an inbuilt search bar, which beats any search bar built into any other working suites.
These new features are being introduced across the platform. A feature called Quick Access in Google Drive on Android, for instance, uses interactions with your colleagues and your calendar to access the files most relevant to you at the given time.
Google Drive will now be better equipped to work with teams, from small things like integrating the work better, making it easier to add or reduce a team member.
Google Hangouts will be better enabled for team meetings; no downloads, no browser plugins, invite anyone, join from any device, even without an account or a data connection as every meeting generates a short link and dial-in phone number.
Googe is trying hard and brings a lot to the table, however, the fact of the matter also is that this is a market that is overpopulated.
Microsoft, of course, rules, not only with its Office but also with the mass fondness it has generated over the time it has been in the market. Apple and its partnership with IBM always keep pushing for more share, even though that has stayed more towards the elitist side.
Rumour has it that Facebook too, is planning to launch its business focused Facebook for Work, which just increases the competition (though we hear that Facebook for Work is more like well, Facebook at work – the same newsfeed and groups and other things Social).
Back to Google. In order to make an even more compelling amalgam of cohesive services, Google has also introduced its Google Cloud.
Google Cloud will encompass every layer of it’s business apps – from Google Cloud Platform to G Suite, machine learning tools and APIs, enterprise maps APIs, Android phones, tablets, and Chromebooks. The idea is to provide a robust storage solution for the workplace, which is not only dynamic to suit the ever-changing environment, but even has better integration making it compatible with it’s very diverse user pool.
Having used most of Google’s aforementioned services I can tell you that everything works and is fairly good. It justifies Google being hard at work, and is clearly helping Google make its own mark in the work environment, even though one would say that they are a tad late.
Will this pass the stringent litmus test of user adoption is yet to be seen.
Google's Pixel Smartphones Are Going On Pre-Order In India
The phones will also go on pre-order through over 1,000 retail stores including Reliance Digital, Croma and Vijay Sales.
If you’re planning to purchase either of these “Made By Google” smartphones, do prepare to pay a premium. The starting price of the Pixel smartphone is INR 57,000, whereas the base Pixel XL model will cost INR 67,000.
The top-of-the-line, 128 GB variant of the Pixel will cost INR 66,000, whereas 128 GB of the Pixel XL is priced at INR 76,000. Gone are the days when Stock Android lineup i.e. Google’s Nexus lineup was the affordable, reliable and capable option!
However, to make it easier for some people to afford the smartphone, Google says it’s partnered retailers will offer interest-free EMI programs and “attractive upgrade offers”.
A report published on Wednesday claimed that after-sales service for Google’s Pixel smartphones will be handled by HTC in India (which makes sense as HTC is the behind-the-scenes manufacturer of the Pixel duo). However, some media report indicate that while some HTC service centres will function as the port of call for Pixel customers, the warranty arrangement is no different than what companies use for other products.
As reported earlier, Google will have a toll free 24×7 customer care where consumers can call to get help resolve issues related to the device real-time. If further support is required, they will be directed to the nearest customer care centre, which could be a HTC service centre, but these outlets will have Google Pixel branding.
This, of course, is a common practice as many service centres across the country function as multi-brand outlets. Google in a statement told Gadgets 360, “Pixel is the first phone made by Google – warranty will be fulfilled by Google“.
In a statement after the launch of the Pixel smartphones last week, Google had revealed that Pixel users will have access to 54 walk-in service centres across 30 cities in India. A source inside Google told Gadgets 360 that currently Google’s partner for after-sales service in India is HTC, but this may change in the future, and more partners may be added.
The new Pixel phones come in three colors: Really Blue, Very Silver and Quite Black (I’m really, very, quite serious about those names). They’re also the first phones to come with Google Assistant – similar to what you find in Google’s new Allo chat app – baked in the Pixels.
Google Assistant is the highlight of the Pixel, Pixel XL phones. Long-pressing the home button starts the personal Google Assistant, which can be keep a track of daily meetings, appointments, even have a conversation with the user. Google is working on third-party integration for Assistant as well.
These phones also run the new Pixel launcher, which has some unique features. So a hard press on the phone dialer will show the recent contacts. There’s a new layout for the apps as in the Pixel launcher. However, users can change the launcher on the Pixel phones.
Inside, you’re looking at a 2.51 GHz Snapdragon 821 processor, 4 GB of RAM, either 32 GB or 128 GB of internal storage, a 12 megapixel rear camera and an 8 megapixel front camera. Aside from the physical footprint, the only differences between the two phones are the display sizes and battery capacities: a 5-inch display and 2,770 mAh battery in the Pixel and a 5.5-inch display and 3,450 mAh battery in the Pixel XL.
Flipkart is offering INR 27,000 on exchange, but we could not get the offer for a South Delhi address, although it looks like the option is live for the city of Mumbai.
Flipkart also has No Cost EMI and Interest-Based EMIs programs running for these phones, for those who are interested in these options.
However the lack of colour options might be disappointing for some. Hopefully more options will come before the phone releases on October 24.
Introducing Google Chromecast Ultra 4k Streaming Device
At its hardware launch event in San Francisco today, Google unveiled its new Chromecast Ultra, a streaming dongle that pairs with your phone and plugs into your TV to deliver 4K video-content.
The successor to last year’s 2nd Generation Chromecast, the new Chromecast Ultra also supports high dynamic range (HDR) and Dolby Vision output, so you should see improved contrast and lighting effects in videos!
The Chromecast Ultra will be released in the US in November 2016 at $69, double the price of its predecessor and will thereafter be made available in 15 countries around the world.
The Chromecast Ultra will be able to stream 4K content from YouTube, Netflix, and Vudu at launch, with films from Google Play Movies gaining support in November.
HDR content — both HDR10 and Dolby Vision formats are supported by the Ultra.
Google says the Ultra is its fastest Chromecast, regardless if you have a 4K TV or not and thanks to improved Wi Fi connectivity, loading videos 1.8 times faster than the standard Chromecast. The company is also including an Ethernet port on the power adapter for users whose Wi-Fi connections may not be able to handle 4K streams.
The design of the Ultra is very similar to the standard Chromecast – a flat hockey-puck design however with the ” G” logo instead of the Chrome badge, and a small attached HDMI cord allowing the device to easily hide behind your TV.
You can still mirror content from your Android phone and laptop, it will work in concert with Google Home. As mentioned earlier, and it bears repeating, the new Chromecast Ultra has an Ethernet port integrated into the power adaptor for increased connectivity options.
The device can be controlled hands-free when paired with the company’s Home voice-activated hub; you can fire up YouTube and (soon) Netflix content just by asking for whatever you want to watch, or check out photos from your library.
On the whole though, we at Chip-Monks think that the new device will be a hard sell, given that the only real upgrade that the Chromecast Ultra brings is higher resolution output. For that price, you can score Xiaomi’s new 4K-capable Android TV-based streaming box, which not only includes a full OS that supports a range of interactive apps, but also comes with a handheld remote that accepts voice commands.
And of course, there’s Apple’s new Apple TV out there, that’s got a lot of people interested.
That said, Google has reach. It’s sold more than 30 million Chromecast devices since they first launched, so obviously, they have quite a following of their own.
It will be very interesting to see how the latest addition does.
Google's Been Quite Busy Lately
The tech giant Google has been quite busy lately with their ‘Made By Google’ launch.
At their launch event yesterday, Google brought out an array of products. These included the Pixel smartphones range, that is already turning into the Apple of everyone’s eye (pun intended!), as well as their Google Home Hub, Google WiFi Router, Chromecast Ultra, Daydream VR headset, and an Assistant AI to knit all of this together.
Pixel Smartphones Range
The Pixel range comes with two smartphones: a Pixel, and a Pixel XL. The former has a 5-inch display with 1080p resolution, while the latter has a 5.5 inches display with Quad HD display. Both the phones are powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821 chips. For eyes, they feature a 12.3 megapixel primary camera, they have 4 GB of RAM plus either 32 GB or 128 GB of onboard storage.
The difference between the two isn’t much, aside from the screen size, and the battery, with XL having a larger battery at 3,450 mAh. And yes, they have a headphone jack!
We are not going to go into the specs of the phones much deeper, but rather focus on highlighting what makes them different. The primary point to note about the phone is that it comes enabled with it’s own AI Assistant, which enables it to specifically respond to a user based on what it knows about their app preferences and provide relevant information in response to a question. The phone also ships with Android Nougat 7.1 and notably is the first phone to do so. The software updates are seamless and quick, and Google says the phone will continue receiving them for at least two years. (A rollout for Android N has recently started for other devices).
Of other good news that the phones bring us is that on 15 minutes of charge, you can expect up to 7 hours of battery life on Pixels fast charging technology.
With these features, most of which I haven’t been able to expand upon at all, the phones can be expected to do extremely well in the market; the social media is breaking already!
Google Home Hub
The Home Hub is Google’s voice-powered assistant/Bluetooth speaker, which will work to control your home devices. This can, for now, be connected to Nest Thermostat, SmartThings, Philips, and IFTTT, in addition to other Google casting devices.
It can also play Youtube videos, and stream music from Google Play Music, Spotify, Pandora, Tunein and IHeart Radio, and the rumour is that it might also soon be playing Netflix.
The device is powered by Android, and runs on the company’s search engine, and can access the company’s Assistant. It can also access your Google account for your schedule, and other information, and share details about your day with you before you head out the door including weather, schedule, and traffic. These are the features which make it so crispy and delightful to use.
It is quite like Google’s answer to Amazon’s Echo, only better. The device will be priced at USD 129, and is expected to start shipping next week.
Google WiFi Router
Google WiFi is, of course, a WiFi router which Google claims enables you to access faster and better internet on multiple devices. This is enabled to stand up to activities of higher bandwidth, like video streaming and gaming. Instead of working through one central point in your home, it works more like a mesh, with various points, enveloping your home with high-speed internet.
It also comes with a companion app that helps with the controlling of the network, enabling you to use better parental controls, prioritize certain devices, allocate bandwidth. It also has settings for easily controlling cloud management and industry-leading security features such as wireless encryption, verified boot, and auto updates to keep your network safe and secure.
This seems to be a better version of OnHub, which the company had introduced last year in partnership with TP-Link, and Asus. The device is priced at USD 129 each and seems to be hitting the sweet spot where price is concerned.
The sad part, however, is that the device won’t be available before December. Pre-ordering starts in November.
The Chromecast Ultra is basically a streaming device that plugs into your TV’s HDMI port, which enables you to stream 4K Ultra HD and HDR videos on your network. This enables you to have a reliable performance on streaming on your network, with minimal buffering and smoother streaming.
Google claims that this version is 1.8 times faster than the previous one, and included Ethernet support for a dongle.
The device is expected to ship in November. It will be taking heat from Amazon’s 4K Fire TV devices and potentially a new Apple TV.
Daydream VR Headset
Daydream is the poke at the Virtual Reality that everyone had been waiting for for a while now. The device packs a controller and a headset into a single bundle, enabling people with supporting smartphones to experience virtual reality.
The company has focused on making the device comfortable, easy to use, and stylish. It has touchable buttons and allows you to interact with the VR. It is fitted with sensors that respond to your movements, and comfort, with your body.
Google has worked with various partners to bring more and more experiences to the users. A total of 50 apps are coming to Daydream, such as Hulu, Google Play Movies and Google Maps, which will allow users to enjoy 150 curated tours of places. One partner worth mentioning is Warner Bros, and the new Harry Potter movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Users will be able to explore J.K Rowling’s world, using the wand to levitate and cast spells!
The Daydream opens up the Gear VR concept to the entire Android Ecosystem, with future Android devices expected to support the standard.
It will cost about USD 100, and will start shipping in November. It is right now available for pre-order.
Google Proves India's Important To It's Future
At the same event that Google made known it’s plans for Google Station, it made a few other announcements as well.
Google announced that its Artificial Intelligent (AI)-powered Google Assistant is learning a second language which is none other than… Hindi!
Soon you will be able to hear the voice controlled AI tool speaking in saada Hindi and since the assistant also powers the ‘smart replies’ feature in Google Allo, expect to be spoken back too, in the national vernacular.
Further, Google also announced that India was the first country to get its new messaging app Google Allo, which prima facie, seems competent enough to take on Facebook-owned WhatsApp.
The list of announcements continues as Google also announced that its Chrome Data Saver can now work on videos as well, allowing the users to save up to 67% of their data costs when viewing MP4 videos through Chrome!
Here’s some trivia: Google says in India alone, this new feature is saving 138 TB of data on video in a single week. That’s amazing!!
Google also launched the YouTube Go app, which not only offers offline mode but also lets the user save on data by selecting a preferred resolution of videos that they view.
It’s important to point out here that Google is not opening these channels and Google Stations out of charity, or for the welfare of society at large – they clearly have a capitalistic interest in bringing connectivity to everybody and in getting more people online.
It’s through online advertisements that Google’s going to mint money. If statistics provided by Google are to be believed, then as much as 10,000 people go online for the first time each hour in India alone, while in Southeast Asia the figure is around 3.8 million per month (do the math, it’s significantly lesser than Indians’ climb-on rate)!
We’re important. Now, I’m off for a vada pao.o
Inroads Into India - Google To Bring Wi-Fi To Public Areas
There is news from Google that will make all the internet aficionados very, very happy!
Google has announced Google Station, which is aimed at bringing fast and affordable Wi-Fi to public areas that serve millions of people across India.
Under this service, Google intends to rollout Wi-Fi hot spots at public places like malls, metro stations, cafés and even universities across the country. Isn’t that an amazing piece of news!
I mean anything free is more than welcome for us Indians!
The announcement of this was made at an event organized in New Delhi today. Caesar Sengupta, Vice President, Next Billion Users at Google said, “The goal is to give people many hot spots within a few minutes’ walk from their home, university, or workplace, unified by a simple login process that works across all of them“. Sengupta also said that the company is also looking to monetize the service it currently offers for free at railway stations.
Google in association with RailTel at present offers free Wi-Fi access at around 52 railway stations across the country and intends to hike it up to 100 stations by the end of 2016. In fact, the plan is to take the service to a total of 400 train stations in India.
At present, there are around 3.5 million users that are said to be making use of the free Wi-Fi service. We’d written about it’s impact and also explored Google’s possible intentions and benefits, here. You should read that article too.
Last year in September, Google announced a plan to install high speed wifi at 400 train stations, in support of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India campaign. The infrastructure setup was completed In January, and the bustling Mumbai Central station became India’s first railway stop to offer free, high speed Wi-Fi for public.
In fact, the free internet is said to be much faster than the 3G internet that is most widely used in India!
Considering the success of this free Wi-Fi, we expect Google to perform well and to come through on it’s publicised mission of helping bring reliable connectivity to people on the move.
Snapchat Is Going To Release Video Recording Sunglasses
Snapchat is growing and how! The proof of the pudding lies in Snapchatters sending more than one billion Snaps and watching more than 10 billion videos a day!
Another estimate gauged more than 60% of global smartphone users in the age group of 13-34 years, being on the app. That’s one huge user base!
This huge following seems to have influenced Snapchat to take a plunge into creating hardware.
Recently, in a low-key conference meeting in Venice, Snapchat’s 26-year-old CEO Evan Spiegel unveiled the first hardware product from Snap Inc., called Spectacles. And it seems like a smarter, less intrusive cousin of the Google Glass.
‘Imagine one of your favorite memories,’ the Snap.com post reads, ‘what if you could go back and see any memory, the way you experienced it?’
At the first cursory glance, these Spectacles might look like a normal pair of sunglasses, albeit with a little catch, there is a button near the hinge, which with a tap, starts recording videos of up to 10 seconds durations at one go, from a first-person vantage.
The camera on Spectacles utilizes a 115 degree angle lens while shooting first-person videos, which has a wider angle than the ones usually found on smartphones.
In fact, it is much closer to the natural field of view of human eye, so much so, that the video it records is circular, somewhat like the human vision.
So, what happens to the ‘Snaps’ (thats a misnomer, as you record videos using this device, not photos!) taken through Spectacles? Well, the Snaps taken via the Spectacles are transferred to a connected smartphone and then on to the Snapchat app. You can watch all the Snaps that you’ve recorded on the smartphone itself (and not on the Spectacles).
Thankfully, unlike Google Glass, the Spectacles look like regular sunglasses and come in a one-size-fits-all model. There are three color variants though – Black, Teal and Coral.
Snap Inc. introduced these glasses through a newly-created, dedicated website called Spectacles.com.
The company’s statement posted on the new site reads, ‘We’ve created one of the smallest wireless video cameras in the world, capable of taking a day’s worth of Snaps on a single charge, and we integrated it seamlessly into a fun pair of sunglasses.‘
To address another one of the issues that plagued Google Glass – Privacy, Snapchat has thoughtfully included a light on the front of the glass to clearly indicate to people around the Spectacles user, that the device is currently recording.
When Spiegel was asked as to why make the product with all its attendant risks and why now? He responded, ‘Because it’s fun’.
The site mentions that the specs will arrive “soon” however reports from The Wall Street Journal predict the Spectacles will be available by autumn this year.
Will it become globally available? Spiegel mentioned, ‘We’re going to take a slow approach to rolling them out. It’s about us figuring out if it fits into people’s lives and seeing how they like it.’
Thus, in the initial stages there will be limited distribution and the device isn’t being seen as a source of immediate revenue.
For now the device has been priced at USD 130, unlike Google Glass, which was introduced at an exorbitant price of USD 1,500.
On the surface, the release of Spectacles looks like all fun and play, but it has strong, far reaching undercurrents to it. Spectacles will enable Snap Inc. to break free from the shackles of the users’ smartphone’s in-built lens and would give them more direct control over physical camera, and also enable a much more seamless and (hopefully) more regular content capture mechanism – all of which will fuel Snapchat’s transactions a lot longer than the mobile-based app’s own organic use would.
Will The Pixels Be The Fastest Android Phones Yet?
Google’s upcoming Pixel phones are touted to be the fastest Android smartphones in the world, all thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor.
Will they be fast enough to challenge the new iPhones too?
For those who are unaware of the existence of “Pixel” phones, they are the next in line from the erstwhile Google’s Nexus lineage.
After the explosive launch of the Galaxy Note7 (pun surely intended) and the huge global recall that followed, other smartphone makers can now fish millions of potential customers ripe for their taking. Both Apple and Google will undoubtedly capitalize on this.
That said, Google’s Pixel phones shouldn’t be taken for lightly, as they clearly have the potential to take the Android space by a storm. This is because phones made by Google – the almighty of all things Android, will naturally leave people intrigued, starting with the cost of the devices.
David Ruddock, Android Police’s Managing Editor, took to Twitter to unveil information about the Pixel phones. “By the way, as far as I can tell, the Pixels will by the first US devices with Snapdragon 821 by a long shot. No one else is using it”, he said.
This chip is claimed to be 10 % faster than the Snapdragon 820 with support for Virtual Reality (VR). Interestingly enough, the new Snapdragon 821 processor was supposed to be a part of the Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe, but the company launched the phone in India with the older 820 chip. Curious.
Ruddock also highlighted the fact that the OEMs might be avoiding the new Snapdragon 821 chipset because Qualcomm is charging “an arm and a leg” for the SoC.
This cost transferred to the customers results in higher prices.
While talking about the prices of Pixel phones, Ruddock said, Google “is getting out of the ‘cheap phone’ business at this point”, he said. “This one is more hearsay: price point being thrown around for Pixel XL is USD 649. Not clear if that’s 32 GB or 128 GB. Pixel phones will have exclusive Google support, exclusive software features, and exclusive financing options”, he also noted. “Google is going for it”
“So, if you’re the person who wanted Google to ‘really get out there and market their phones,’ you may finally see your wish granted”, Ruddock added.
Speculations regarding specifications of the phones have it that one of these Pixel phones will have a 7-inch screen with AMOLED qHD display, 4 GB RAM, 12 megapixel rear camera and 8 megapixel front snapper.
Both, Pixel (Sailfish) and Pixel XL (Marlin) are believed to have the same 4K video recording capabilities. Also expected with the handset is the USB Type-C port with a massive battery (about 5,100 mAh) and running on Android OS, 7.0 Nougat.
“I think we’re going to see Google do with Pixel what they have so long hesitated to: take the gloves off and compete with Android partners”, Ruddock clarified in a tweet, highlighting the ambitions of the team that’s developing this phone.
Rumors regarding the Pixel phones show a phone complete with not so appealing rear design and a Google branding on the back.
With the prices now in the vicinity of Apple iPhones, the Pixel devices will leave the earlier playing field of Android phones and will showcase themselves with the likes of Apple iPhones and Samsung Galaxy S Series – will they hold up is yet to be seen.
Samsung And HTC Get The Android 7.0 Nougat Update
Finally, it’s showtime for Android 7.0 Nougat!!
Additionally, Android One devices will also be receiving the update.
Android 7.0 Nougat packs new features like customizable home screen widgets, split screen multitasking, expanded emojis and smarter battery usage via the Doze feature.
Data conscious users have also been kept in mind and the update packs in a Data Saver feature that will block background apps from accessing cellular data, helping you reduce on the excess usage of your data plan.
Across the pond, T-Mobile recently revealed a list of smartphones eligible for receiving Android 7.0 Nougat update, a little earlier than expected. We’re listing T-Mobile’s plans here, as they are indicative of how the roll-out will happen to devices from these brands, and the same mantra usually applies across the globe.
The T-Mobile list of devices as of now is small and over time will expand to include more devices. The current list contains eight devices: Samsung Galaxy Note5, Samsung Galaxy Note7, Samsung Galaxy S6, Samsung Galaxy S6 edge, Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+, Samsung Galaxy S7, Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, HTC 10, and HTC One M9.
There is a possibility that more devices will be added soon in the second round. We say so because, initially HTC One A9 was to be there in the list and its presence was confirmed by HTC however we find it has disappeared from the current list.
In fact, as per other reports, HTC has already begun working on releasing the new update to some of its devices and the company plans to initially roll out the Android 7.0 Nougat on the HTC 10 in the fourth quarter of 2016, before seeding it to the One M9 (unlocked) and One A9 (unlocked).
Interestingly enough, it is not Google’s upcoming Nexus device but LG’s V20, which will be the first new smartphone to be shipped with Android 7.0 Nougat!
The LG V20, a new introduction, powered by a quad-core Qualcomm MSM8996 Snapdragon 820 processor, comes with a 5.7-inch main IPS Quantum Display and a secondary display. It boasts a dual rear camera with a 135-degree 8-megapixel lens complimented by a 16-megapixel 75-degree lens. The front has a 5-megapixel 120-degree lens for your selfies and video communications. You can read more about the LG V20 in our intro article here.
Despite the announcement, there are no exact dates that have been mentioned for the release of this update. However, it is speculated that devices from manufacturers other than Samsung and HTC will receive the update a little later while some will get it next year.
Nexus Getting Rebranded!
Google is reportedly moving away from the brand name Nexus that has been associated with their smartphones and tablets, for the last six years.
As per a report by Android Central, the change shall be affective in the two upcoming smartphones that are expected to release in the market this October.
Since the first Nexus phone in January 2010, the company has brought out eight Nexus smartphones. On such devices, the software is backed by Google, and of course the phones are Android, or rather one shall say Stock Android – true to the Android experience in the most original form, without the manufacturer tweaking their wares.
The point to note though, is that Google however does not take care of the manufacturing of such devices; the manufacturing is done in partnership with other smartphone manufacturers, and Huawei, LG, HTC, Samsung, and even Motorola has been on the other side of that deal.
Now, rumours have it that Google is having some upcoming devices manufactured by HTC, but under it’s (Google’s) direct supervision and to their exacting requirements. To differentiate such devices in the marketplace (from other Nexus devices), Google might strip the Nexus brand name from its smartphones, instead replacing it with just a ‘G’, standing for Google, as individual branding for these niche devices.
The move could work quite well for Google, given that it is such a popular brand on its own. But it will also raise some interesting questions as to what direction such a move will force upon the company – since they’ve preserved the Google brand name for the software entity, for years now, separating it from the hardware entity by terming those clearly as Nexus.
If the rebranding does happen, the first two devices to showcase it would be Pixel and Pixel XL, manufactured by HTC. These have so far been known with their codenames, “Marlin” and “Sailfish.” The devices reportedly feature a 5 and 5.5 inch display respectively, which is a slight downsize from the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P.
Given that the market is moving slowly away from hyper-sized phones, the downsizing might be a good idea. As to how the devices will do in the market, their features are still not out in the open for discussion. We shall have to wait for a while longer to speculate more on that.
On the significance of the rebranding, it does not simply have to do with replacing the logo on the back. The shift in the brand name has also got to do with a change in how Google functions altogether. Up to now, as I mentioned earlier, Nexus devices have been shipped with stock version, or ‘vanilla’ versions of the Android OS, without any tweaking whatsoever.
What this means is that these phones are devoid of the special features that third party manufacturers enable in their devices, to enhance user experience.
But with these new devices, Google might be planning to change that, and ship them with a special version of their latest Android Nougat. There isn’t much news on what would be special about this version of Android N, and how it would be tweaked, but we will find out soon enough.
Some critics are of the opinion that this kind of a change was bound to happen, since Google had pretty much been moving away from what their idea of the Nexus had been back in 2009. They kept adding closed-source apps, services and features to the Nexus line, moving away from the initial idea of what “Nexus” really meant. There was going to come a time when they would feel the need to stop, regroup, and rebrand.
We still don’t know for certain if the Nexus brand name is dead or not, especially given the fact that no news has been heard about the tablets that were also a subsidiary of the brand.
If all of this were to prove true, this would be one of the most significant overhauls that the Android world will see, especially given how they are approaching Android Nougat right now.
The company has so far not provided with any confirmations on this news, but it seems to align with what Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, had to say at the Recode Code Conference, back in June: “You’ll see us hopefully add more features on top of Android on Nexus phones. There’s a lot of software innovation to be had“.
Could These Google Nexus 5P ‘Sailfish’ Specs Be True?
Starting from scratch, like last year, two Nexus smartphones are expected to be introduced this year- one aimed at regular users while the other sibling would be a comparatively high-end device.
So far leaks have proposed that the devices have been codenamed Marlin and Sailfish, or M1 and S1.
If the freshly leaked images and reports from GFXBench (whose speciality is that it is expansive in its hardware readout) are to be believed, Nexus 5P (a.k.a. Sailfish) that would release soon would sport a 5- inch touchscreen with a 1920×1080 pixels resolution. The leaks also point to the primary camera being 12 megapixels with 4K recording capability while the secondary camera is an 8 megapixel unit capable of 2K recording.
Sailfish an upgrade to the Nexus 5X, will be backed by a Snapdragon 820 SoC clocked at 2.1 GHz coupled with an Adreno 530 graphics processing unit to power the good stuff. The tested model had 4 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage. The phone comes with usual connectivity options like GPS, Bluetooth, NFC and Wi-Fi sensors and is a single SIM device.
It isn’t yet clear as to whether the phone has a provision for microSD card.
So far, everything is in keeping with a flagship device, including an Android version the GFXBench tags as an “INVALID Android Google Edition”, which is probably Android Nougat. If the software is taken into consideration, then the tested device was running on Android N, Manufacture Release 1.
Rumor has it that Nexus Sailfish will support swipe gestures through it’s fingerprint sensor, in order to view notifications and access similar functions, a USB Type-C port and bottom firing speakers.
A larger 5.5-inch Nexus device by HTC called the Marlin is also expected to roll out as it had been spotted in a Geekbench listing which managed to reveal almost all specs of the device. It will have a 2K screen resolution, be driven by a 3,450 mAh battery and powered by a quad-core 1.6 GHz processor (said to be SD820 SoC) coupled with 4 GB of RAM.
The phone is said to feature a USB Type-C port as well as a fingerprint scanner on the back. Marlin just like Sailfish will sport a 12 megapixel rear camera and 8 megapixel front camera with 32 GB and 128 GB storage options and a 3,450 mAh battery.
Pure speculation: The devices, Marlin and Sailfish ought to come with Android N out-of-the-box and would probably support functions like ambient display functions and more.
The Nexus 5P too, is reportedly being built by HTC. But all the rumors should be taken with a grain of salt as nothing has been officially announced by the company.
So far with all these rumors and leaks, it’s exciting to see how the Nexus 5P, the Sailfish device is shaping up. Also, since both Sailfish and Marlin feature Android N, it will be worth a try.
Using SMS For Two-Factor Authentication May Be No More
Two factor authentication is the current norm for web services. They provide that additional layer of security during online transactions that makes us feel warm and secure. However, a new draft by the US National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), proposes to rule out the use of Two Factor Authentication as a valid security measure.
The basis for this decision comes from the fact that text messaging is not considered as being sufficiently secure and hence may be barred as a vehicle for such communication in the future.
This may have been prompted in the wake of some incidents like the attacks on political activists in Iran, Russia and USA. They’ve demonstrated that determined hackers can sometimes hijack the SMS messages that were meant to keep the users safe in the first place.
So it seems like a wise idea to welcome a better system – the likes of smartphone based authentication apps that generate one-time codes. Services like Twitter that have yet stuck with second factor protections that depend on SMS, are taking note from the incidents around the world and are apparently switching to more secure methods.
NIST formulates national-level guidelines and rules, which are used as a yardstick by various industries and organisations. Its role in keeping the policies related to secure electronic communications updated has kept us secure for a long time. While NIST guidelines do not have the power of law, still most of major companies do follow by them.
As a parable, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) fills the same shoes in India, albeit only in telecom, and related circles.
The NIST draft reads “If the out of band verification is to be made using a SMS message on a public mobile telephone network, the verifier shall verify that the pre-registered telephone number being used is actually associated with a mobile network and not with a VoIP (or other software-based) service. It then sends the SMS message to the pre-registered telephone number. Changing the pre-registered telephone number shall not be possible without two-factor authentication at the time of the change. OOB using SMS is deprecated, and will no longer be allowed in future releases of this guidance.”
What this implies is that NIST draft wishes that companies must ensure that only trusted phone numbers are linked to a mobile network, and not a virtual number functioning through a VoIP service, as VoIP services can be compromised and tampered with.
The only intriguing and confusing part of this draft is the sentence at the end that mentions ‘Out of band [verification] using SMS is deprecated, and will no longer be allowed in future releases of this guidance.’
The term ‘out of band’ could mean a lot of things in this case, referring to a physically discrete channel, which in the lingo of telecoms is sometimes used to refer to VoIP services.
However, in security parlance, out of band could also mean logging-in on the web and receiving a verification code by phone. In the case of this draft, it seems that the reference here is to the latter, which is to say that use of SMS will be barred.
This is an indication towards the fact that Apple and others might have to bid farewell to this option.
Apple currently provides the options for two-factor authentication: a code is sent to a trusted device which could be an iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch or Mac, a phone call to a trusted phone number or a code sent by SMS to a trusted phone number.
The only question that arises after this ruling is that if two-factor authentication via SMS is barred as an unviable option, then what are the valid options to uphold security of the user and the process?
Tools like Google Authenticator or an RSA token could probably act as an alternative as these work by generating a unique code that matches the one generated on a web service’s server.
This doesn’t involve communication between the two devices, thereby making the whole procedure safer than sending a text message with a one-time code to someone’s phone; however, the convenience has been compromised here and that why that it lags in popularity among users.
And as security related concerns swirl around in the smart devices world, it’s ironical that the erstwhile authority on mobile device security, BlackBerry is almost on it’s way out of the industry. Perhaps it’s decision to exit the Mobile OS market and focus on its’ Enterprise platforms (like the Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) platform) was a foresightful one, and it (BlackBerry) will be able to resurrect itself as the Phoenix that the smart devices world needs desperately.
That aside, authentication via SMS has always been there – it’s ease, convenience and universally acceptable integrations made it so preferable. It will be missed by many of us!
Google Maps To Get Wi-Fi-Only Mode And Many More Upgrades
Google is testing a Wi-Fi only mode in it’s much-loved and super useful Maps app, and might roll out this feature in the coming weeks.
The feature is meant to help users with limited Mobile Data plans that count every KB of Data used, and for explorers. The Wi-Fi only mode disconnects the Maps app from the Mobile Data network, working in a fashion similar to the “Use Cellular Data For” switches in iOS’ own Settings app, whereby new information is loaded only via Wi Fi.
The toggle for the Wi-Fi only mode can be found in Settings screen. Some folks have reported seeing this toggle already, whereas others aren’t yet seeing it. Clearly, this (like many other Google roll-outs) is happening in phases.
In reality, the toggle is a rebranding of the toggle named “Offline Areas” which was a capability deployed for users who were going “off-the-grid” i.e. travelling to remotes parts of earth where mobile connectivity doesn’t exist.
When you switch on the toggle, a blue bar appears at the top of the screen, which informs the user that the app is in Wi-Fi only mode. Google, however, doesn’t forget to mention in a small pop up that the Maps app may still use a small amount of data during operation.
That’s not all!
Google’s also adding a new feature of notifications for Mass Transit Delays.
This new feature can be realized in its full potential in publicly connected cities by those who travel by bus or trains frequently and rely on those public transport options as their daily drivers.
This utility informs users of any delays, hold ups, accidents etc. so as to proactively warn them of the exigency; and proves mightily useful in informing thousands of people of disruption alerts via convenient and timely notifications.
On the interface front too, there seems to be a major change underway. The newest Google Maps app seems to have changed for good, it has a cleaner look on the whole, making the streets easier to see, read and understand.
In a blog post, the Maps team gave a general overview of the new visual changes in Google Maps. Google has removed all the redundant stuff like the black outline of streets and included new typography and color schemes allowing the essential information to be displayed quicker and cleaner.
Google has recently enhanced the image quality for its Maps app. While you would see all the changes bit by bit, the differences on the mosaics are considerable, with the difference being cloud-free imagery, lending to richer views of the earth with greater detail and truer colors. The Landsat 8 captures images twice as fast compared to Landsat 7, making the mosaic more current compared to the past iterations.
On the whole, Maps app looks a lot more clean and light, with legible information, color-coded locations and a fancy new color wheel to brighten up things.
Google Maps can now even highlight areas of interest in a light orange tint. Sections of a map which are lively and worth visiting will appear in orange and you can zoom in and tap individual locations for further information just like you always could. It provides the users with a quick glance at the areas worth checking out in your city which you may have not yet explored or go exploring a new city.
Meanwhile, it’s important to consider that the new feature is rolling out gradually and that users will need Maps v9.32 installed to make the best of it.
Google hasn’t made any official announcements as yet but the new features are definitely being tested, that’s for sure, and their roll out to the broader market depends on user feedback.
Let’s see how this pans out. We should know more in the coming weeks.
A 99 $ Superbook To Change Your Smartphone Into A Laptop
The idea for using your smartphone as a laptop is not a new one. What’s new is the inexpensive solution to do that.
Microsoft has been the most visible proponent of this idea in recent months; its Continuum feature allows Windows Phones to run a lightweight version of Windows 10 when plugged into a display dock.
The problem, in a nutshell, is that masses are not swayed towards buying Windows Phones.
Before Microsoft, there was Ubuntu. It struggled long and hard to gain traction with similar promises, dating back to its failed Edge project in 2013.
Before even Ubuntu, there was Motorola, with its Atrix phone that worked much the same way, but its laptop dock cost USD 500, the software you used with it was half-baked, and the phone was only “strong” by 2011’s standards. Again, few people cared as it did not seem viable.
Andromium, made its first attempt at a fully functioning phone-based workstation in 2014. Plugged into an MHL-compatible phone, it gave users the ability to connect an external monitor, keyboard and mouse. Although it had potential, backers apparently weren’t keen on a connecting various peripherals via a tangle of USB and HDMI cables, and the Andromium Dock never reached its funding goals.
Andromium took note and now has ditched all its peripherals and commenced a new project. Taking the idea of “democratization of the laptop” to a certain new level, the team at Andromium has started a crowdsourcing campaign to launch the Superbook – a USD 99 laptop dock for Android smartphones.
Aesthetically, the Superbook is a convincing Apple MacBook Air 11-inch clone. The device offers an 11.6-inch, 1366×768 LCD panel, what appears to be a full-size island-style keyboard and a large gesture-capable touchpad with a built-in battery that Andromium claims will last eight hours.
Outside of that, the Superbook is an empty shell, just waiting for you to hook up your Android phone via the USB Type-C or micro USB port.
Download the Andromium app on a device running Android 5.0 or later, connect the device using either a micro-USB or USB-C cord, and the laptop shell will power on mimicking a laptop.
Imaginatively, you’re not limited to any particular model of Android smartphone, but the company points out that the phone should have at least 1.5 GB of RAM, a dual-core chip, and Android 5.0 or higher. It also has to support the USB-OTG standard, but that shouldn’t be an issue for the vast majority of devices.
The idea, as it’s always been, is to leverage your phone’s power with a laptop’s form factor. In Andromium, buying a new phone then becomes akin to buying a new laptop. Some specs will get bumped up as stretch goals get surpassed, the USD 500,000 goal takes the battery up to 10 or more hours of use, for example.
Andromium is offering a whole bouquet of perks to get the project funded adequately.
So far, the project has raised more than USD 700,100 on Kickstarter, comfortably outdoing the initial USD 50,000 goal with 26 days remaining!
The most basic Superbook pack, which includes a Gold laptop, a USB-OTG cable and wall adapter, is at the USD 99 pledge level, but jumping to USD 159 will get you a Superbook in Blue or Gold, a universal smartphone mount for the screen-edge and a wall charger.
If everything goes to plan, shipping should start in February 2017. The Kickstarter funding for the project ends on August 20.
Ready to book yours?
Apple Is The World's Favorite Company, Yet Again
FutureBrand just announced Apple as the world’s favorite company.
FutureBrand takes a look the world’s 100 largest companies and conducts an annual survey of about 3,000 consumers and industry professionals to rank them on the basis of a range of elements such as Personality, Consistency, Trust, Innovation, Price Premium, Resource Management, etc.
After providing them attributes to rank, the respondents are then asked to place the company on the basis of personal preference that ranges from Distant and Passionate at the extreme ends of the rung, with Indifferent, Close, and Admiration in between.
With Google’s reorganization, only parent company Alphabet has made it large and was able to make it onto the top 100 shortlist and Google itself didn’t even qualify.
Last year, the FutureBrand rankings had Google, Apple, Microsoft, Walt Disney, AbbVie, Gilead Sciences, Samsung, MasterCard, Celgene, SABMiller as the top 10 rank holders.
The two most likeable feelings that respondents showed toward Apple were passion and admiration. Apple was ranked highly for its attributes like individuality, authenticity, innovation and thought-leadership.
The remainder seven positions read like this:
We spy some lesser-known names and this clearly indicates the significant role that industry professionals play in the rankings.
Both Apple and Microsoft have risen higher in the ladder as they have jumped a place from last year’s rankings to stand 1st and 2nd, with Samsung jumping four places from last year to advance ahead of tech industry giants like Facebook Inc. and Amazon.com, Inc.
When asked where the respondents saw Apple three years from now, more than 75% believed that Apple has a linear progression and they expect it would continue to do so in the future. Half of them were ready to buy Apple’s devices and many of them were ready to work for the company. These views reflect on the high regard with which Apple is seen among industry professionals.
Coming back to Alphabet, it managed to bag the 21st place in the list probably because of the lack of brand awareness as Google. It could also be for the fact that since the company is so varied (businesses range from Android OS, to Phones, to Networking, to Search Engine, to their Special projects like Loon, Jacquard, etc.) that it was difficult for the respondents to assign the attributes to it and reflected in the response that they had.
While 25% of respondents said that they felt ‘close’ to Alphabet, the rest on the other hand felt indifferent and only 20% said that they admired Alphabet, with a minority of them feeling passionate about it. The two strongest attributes associated with the company were a sense of purpose and the quality of its people.
Apple definitely is stealing the show this time at the FutureBrand Index 2016. Apple seems to be the current favorite of many as it last week it sold its billionth iPhone.
The company is close to celebrating its 10th anniversary next year with major upgrades and overhauls.
Facebook Successfully Tests Solar-Powered Internet Drone
In the surge to bring Internet to remote areas of the world, Facebook has gone a step ahead, having successfully tested a solar-powered Internet drone with the aim to deliver Internet to remote areas of the world, flying for months at a time.
Facebook’s Connectivity Lab, a division working on solutions to bring easy Internet access around the world, runs the project. They reported in the latter half of July that they’d successfully flown a solar-powered high-altitude Internet drone, which they call Aquila.
The test reportedly took place on June 28th, and the company waited about a month to process and showcases their findings.
Aquila aims to provide what has been described as “atmospheric satellite” capability. The drone would fly for about three months at a time, orbiting over remote areas and providing connectivity for a circle as much as 60 miles in diameter, using a laser-based network “backbone” and radio signals for local bandwidth!
It can supposedly fly at 25 miles an hour.
The test on 28th June was supposed to only be a “functional check”, a 30-minute flight, but reportedly it went so well that the engineers ended flying the drone for about 90 minutes, thrice the amount of time they had intended for in the first place.
Aquila has a wingspan that is comparable to that of the Boeing 737 and a mass almost as much as that of an automobile; in a nutshell, it is fairly large for a drone. The initial tests were reportedly only to ensure that the “huge” drone could even get airborne in the first place.
This was the first time the device was tested outside of computer modeling and the test proved immensely successful.
What’s more, the flying on Aquila is done by an autopilot without any constant human contact. This is what would enable it to scale portions of the world that have no Internet connectivity by itself. It can, however, be remotely commanded, if need be.
“We’ve been flying a one-fifth scale version of Aquila for several months, but this was the first time we’ve flown the full-scale aircraft. This test flight was designed to verify our operational models and overall aircraft design. To prove out the full capacity of the design, we will push Aquila to the limits in a lengthy series of tests in the coming months and years. Failures are expected and sometimes even planned; we learn more when we push the plane to the brink”, Facebook reported on their official blog.
Something that Aquila would be comparable to is Google’s Project Loon. Project Loon is a project run by Google [X]—the moonshot factory of the tech giant – to bring Internet to remote and unconnected place around the world. Project Loon uses big high-altitude balloons placed in the stratosphere (at an altitude of about 18 km), to create an aerial wireless network with up to 4G-LTE speeds. The first of the experiments regarding Project Loon were conducted in New Zealand last year, with 30 balloons launched and tested, though, the project is far from ready-for-action yet.
Quite like Project Loon, Aquila is also still a few steps away from perfection.
The Facebook team would have to develop better solar technology to achieve the goals and dreams that they have for Aquila since the solar-technology that they currently have is reportedly not good enough.
The challenges plaguing the solar technology are primarily related to the size of the batteries, and to the ability to function even when it does not get enough sunlight (something that will happen in winter months and in cold areas). Making the battery work is not the only challenge that Aquila is faced with.
Getting it airborne and working might perhaps be easier than making it financially viable enough for Facebook to actually be able to run this as a real world project, out of the lab.
Another challenge that Facebook might have to face would be to convince network operators to help them get the broadband links they would need to run something of this kind in reality.
Convincing governments to let this drone fly over political boundaries, might be the greatest of the challenges given the recent Net Neutrality debate and ban of Facebook’s Free Basics in India.
Given that roughly 60% of the world’s population – somewhere in the ballpark of 4 billion people – does not have access to the internet, a project like this, if made reality, could prove immensely beneficial however it would, of course, come at its own costs, and what these costs would be can for now only be speculated. That, however, is not a reason to not celebrate this big positive step with Facebook towards the Internet for everyone.
It’s a big step, people. Applaud it!
Bone Conduction Technology
Have you ever heard yourself when a recording of your voice is played back to you? Very often, the first reaction is – “who’s that?!” …. as the recording does not sound much like you.
The reason: The culprit for this confusion is a phenomenon called ‘bone conduction‘.
When you speak the bones of your skull conduct the lower frequencies better than the air around you does (solid is a better conductor than air, as most of you would recall). Thus tricking you to perceive your voice to be of lower octave than what another person would perceive.
The great 18th- and early-19th century composer Ludwig Van Beethoven, who suffered hearing loss apparently caused by thickening of the structures in his middle ear, may have been one of the first people to develop a bone-conducting device help him hear music!
He attached a rod to his piano and then connected it to his head, so that it transmitted the vibration of his playing directly to his cochlea.
It didn’t stop there. Technology never does!
This technology has been in use for sometime in the development of communication devices for divers (to talk when under water). The speakers (known as transducers) of the device are placed behind the ear on the dome shaped protrusion, allowing sound to be experienced as coming from within the skull.
Another big-time application of Bone Conduction technology is in communication devices used by the Armed Forces.
Why? When directly input through the bones, clarity is not compromised.
And as all things military, this technology caught the fancy of civilian manufacturers. Over the years, there have been significant strides made in improving in the technology and readying them for consumer use. Consequently, there are now headsets available in retail stores, that allow the user to hear via their bones, in stereophonic clarity!
AfterShokz, is one such company that makes bone conducting headphones. Powered by military Special Ops bone conduction technology, they claim their products offer consumers a more comfortable, healthier, and safer listening experience.
They sit just in front of the ear and deliver sounds through the listener’s cheekbones.
Another company, Invisio makes devices using this the bone conduction technology, to be used in extreme environments. Instead of traditional sound wave technology, a small and comfortable in-ear microphone picks up vibrations from the user’s jawbone.
The vibrations are converted into sound, delivering crystal clear communication under extreme conditions, even when whispering!
You shouldn’t then be surprised when we tell you that Google’s been utilising this technique for a few years now. in fact, they used a variant of this technology in their Google Glass.
It’s interesting to note that the company, when filing for the Glass project at the FCC articulated this technology as “integral vibrating element that provides audio to the user via contact with the user’s head.”
Chip-Monks believes that the human race hasn’t yet even touched the tip of the nose (pun intended) of Bone Conduction yet.
Before we sign off, lets answer one of those questions that’ll be ricocheting in your head (pun intended, yet again) – products that use bone conduction enjoy the following advantages over traditional headphones:
Psst: you could also cheat on conference calls.. plug in your regular headphones in your ears, turn the volume down, and then slip bone conducting gear separately. You’ll get to enjoy some nice music as you participate in those boring calls. Remember to grunt every now and then, to mark your presence on the call!
Meet “Ahead” - A New Wearable Display
Recently a patent filed in Korea by a giant tech multinational company surfaced in the Tech world.
Looking like a heavily modified set of eye glasses, it includes a camera, an in-vision projector and a sound system rolled into one. This is not Google, and it’s not Google Glass… this is Samsung and it’s called ‘Samsung Ahead‘.
A product from Samsung’s C-Labs, Ahead could find use in many places – construction, sports, bikers to suggest just a few. While Google Glass has had it’s share of affection and criticism, it has proved clearly though, that eye-based wearables, done right are product of merit.
Consequently, ever since Google Glass burst onto the scene three years ago, there have been consistent rumours of similar devices from other manufacturers and Samsung itself has been long-rumoured to have a rival product, but we never came across any solid evidence.
This new patent filing from Samsung could point to Samsung’s hat in the Wearables ring.
The patent, discovered by the Wall Street Journal, was filed in April 2016 and is labelled as being similar to “sports glasses”. A trademark has been filed for a product called “Ahead”. It is described as a wearable computer “in the shape of a helmet”.
The patent says Ahead is made for the fast lives of people nowadays and takes the form of a small triangular device that attaches to any helmet via magnets, and enables the user to communicate (make calls, listen to notifications) and use media over bluetooth, during workouts, and control their phone when their hands are busy.
It is speculated that another version will include “Push to Talk’.
Samsung Ahead, will have its own operating system, bear a display, include MP3 functions and much more.
As the details available are very vague and general, we don’t know with certainty what this device will do or look like, except that the device is a wearable paired with a display that is transparent or translucent with the graphics available to just one eye. The device acts as a companion to your smartphone while you operate it hands free.
This is a simple move – like the ones Samsung has made numerous times before, to prepare space for the company to enter a particular technology field, even if other players have been there for a long time. It’s also worth noting that this is a Korean patent, in Samsung’s home market, which makes it a little unusual as Google, Apple, Microsoft, and many others are also considering headsets and localising the patent to just the Korean market seems like a little underwhelming estimation of customer interest.
Since device details have neither been released yet nor have proper specifications yet been shared with the market, the limited information leads us to predict that Ahead will provide competition to the already-existing wearable glasses in the market, but we can’t say for sure where all the applicability of this device lies.. thus it is difficult to estimate the ripples this wearable could make in a marketplace that has already rejected Google’s own invention that intended to play in a very similar space.
For now, we can just wait and look forward to more information before we assess this device and it’s promise.
Facebook And Google Move To Block Violent Videos Automatically
Google, Facebook and other internet video services have quietly started using automation to remove extremist content from their sites, as told to Reuters by sources familiar with the process.
The move marks a big step forward for internet companies, who are eager to remove violent propaganda from their networks.
Sites are also being pressured by governments around the world, to make amendments and exert effort against violent attacks – similar to the attacks in France, Belgium, and the United States which are becoming more prolific these days.
The sources told Reuters that YouTube and Twitter are also among the sites that are deploying systems to block or quickly delete videos published by groups such as the Islamic State and other groups posting similar material.
The technology used for achieving this was originally developed to identify and remove copyright-protected content. It achieves this by conducting mass-searches for “hashes,” i.e. a type of unique digital fingerprint. which allows all content with matching fingerprints to be identified. Subsequent to such identification the offending material is removed rapidly and automatically.
The system can also detect attempts to repost the content already identified as undesirable!
None of the companies identified as using this technology would confirm it’s use to Reuters, but sources familiar with the process said that posted videos could be checked against a database of banned content to identify new postings of violent nature.
In late April, amid pressure from US President Barack Obama and European leaders concerned about online radicalization, internet companies including Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube, Twitter Inc., Facebook Inc. and Cloud Flare held a call to discuss options, including a content-blocking system put forward by the privately funded Counter Extremism Project.
The discussions were mainly focused on the critical but difficult role some of the world’s most influential companies now play in addressing issues such as terrorism, free speech and the lines between government and corporate authority. Understandably these lines can blur occasionally, and these organisations need to have an established protocol on how to distinguish and act upon incidents correctly.
At this point, none of these companies have used the anti-extremist group’s system, as they have typically been wary of any kind of outside intervention and patrolling on how their sites should be policed.
“It’s a little bit different than copyright or child pornography, where things are very clearly illegal”, said Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism. “Extremist content exists on a spectrum”, Hughes said, “and different web companies draw the line in different places”.
Until now, most of these social sites have relied mainly on users to flag the content that violates their terms of service (and many continue to do so, without any more amendments made). Changing this would be one, very complicated to do, and second, disturb their user-friendly platform for their active members.
Coming back to the current protocol – Any ‘flagged’ material is then individually reviewed by human editors who delete postings found to be in violation. The companies that are now using automation are not publicly discussing it, two sources said, in part out of concern that terrorists might learn how to manipulate their systems or that repressive regimes might insist the technology be used to censor opponents. “There’s no upside in these companies talking about it”, said Matthew Prince, Chief Executive Of Content Distribution for Cloud Flare.
But done right, a lot of these efforts can actually be effecting in controlling the widespread reach of terrorism all around the world.
Chip-Monks says: This step should have been triggered a long time ago, and it could have possibly prevented many attacks on humankind in various forms.
But, better late than never!!
At this point, we should appreciate the steps taken by the authorities and the Internet platforms; these should help curb social crime by actively flagging and dealing with it, promptly.
App Intro: Google. Come, Discover Google-Level AI In Your Photos
With something that they call Google Photos, Google has decided to make a play for photos and videos storage market.
The name was heard back in May, stating an offer for unlimited storage of images and videos, for free. What might seem like a simple image hosting service, bridges the gap between cloud storage, image hosting, and image sharing services, giving stiff competition to Flickr, iCloud, Dropbox, and OneDrive.
Google Photos is available online at photos.google.com and on Android and iOS via their respective App Stores. The apps come with the “free” storage quality being limited to 16 megapixels for photos and 1080p for videos. (We’ll explain in a bit).
The first big feature that Photos boasts of is its organization capabilities.
The service will analyze your images and sort them into groups itself. This sounds a little confusing at first, but the feature is, frankly, kind of cool and uses artificial intelligence.
In their demonstration, Google displayed that the service analyses the photos based on the landscape, like say skyline or beaches. It can also identify people and keep tracking them, even as they age. So it will also enable you to just scroll through images of people over time. Face groups and labels are private to your account, and won’t be shared with anyone you share the photos with. This is along the same lines what Flickr came up with last month, only better.
Another cool thing you can do here is making use of Google’s search capabilities. Say you want pictures of the parade in New Delhi, just type that in, and the service will display pictures from your albums corresponding precisely to that particular demand.
An “Assistant” feature will backup photos to the cloud as soon as you shoot them, then let you know when it’s okay to delete them and free up space on your device (data consumption could be a concern here). There is also a Trash can, like on your computer, which allows for you to access photos you deleted, however retains them there for 60 days only.
Now that you have your organization skills and super cool features sorted, we have Google boasting its sharing skills.
You can share groups of images with people, and they do not necessarily need to have Google Photos as an app on their device as Google will create a web gallery for them, allowing them to access the photos you intended for them to access, without having to use Google Photos app.
Now this is going to be something that is going to make easily the lives of a lot of us!
Even though the storage type makes it seem limited, it isn’t. As we said earlier, Google is provided unlimited cloud storage for your photographs that are of 16 megapixels, or lower. If you want to store higher-res photos, you’ll need pay for some cloud space.
Thankfully, there’s a work around – if you want to store a file that is higher than the given format, it will tap into your Google Drive space and transfer the storage there.
While on one end, this certainly means that Google is dipping its feet into new waters, but it also means that Google is learning from its older mistakes. Google’s social networking service, Google+, launched out about four years ago, didn’t really go as big as they would’ve wanted for it to. So, Google seems to be extricating one the best of the features of Goolge+ and positioning it as a standalone service, that many will want.
It’s no secret – Google+ was always excellent with photo and storage, and now people can get that without signing up for the social networking site!
Google Photos has been out since the last week of May, and has garnered positive reviews since. Give it a try!Come Discover Google Photos
HTC Marlin Aka HTC Nexus To Sport Snapdragon 821 CPU
Two Nexus smartphones are expected to be released this year – one for average users and the other, a comparatively high-end device – just like last year.
So far, leaks have premised that the devices are codenamed Marlin and Sailfish, or M1 and S1.
Let’s tell you about ‘Marlin’ since that’s the only one that leaks have so far provided any specifics for.
First, it’s said to be manufactured by HTC. Rumoured to carry the Snapdragon 821 CPU-chipset, as per reports from Asia. This would raise the ‘HTC Nexus’ a nick above all the phones from this year, as they’re mostly running the Snapdragon 820 – including the Samsung Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 Edge, HTC 10, LG G5 and OnePlus 3.
We know very little about the Snapdragon 821 and it was expected that Qualcomm’s next mobile processor would be the Snapdragon 823, but with 821 there seems to be a minor, short-term bump in terms of power.
So far the only other mention of the Snapdragon 821 has been with the ZenFone 3 Deluxe from Asus and seemingly two of its four cores run at 2.3 GHz (hiked up from 2.1 GHz in the Snapdragon 820). It is possible that the new Nexuses will have 4 GB of RAM.
Android Police has come up with its own set of specifications that they think might feature on the HTC Marlin. If the rumours are to be believed then the phone might sport a 5-inch, 1080p display powered by Quad-core 2.0 GHz 64-bit processor, 4 GB RAM and 32 GB storage. To sustain it all is a 2,770 mAh battery and at the front of camera – a 12 megapixel rear camera and a 8 megapixel front camera. The fingerprint scanner and top mounted headphone jack with USB-C port, too might find their way into the HTC Marlin.
However, it’s important to remember that nothing has been received from any reliable sources or from the manufacturer; hence all these speculated specifications might change at any point of time.
Some interesting decisions made by HTC can be gauged out of these expected specs, such as the move to keep the headphone jack as opposed to Apple and other companies who are allegedly getting rid of the headphone jack and going wireless.
But with a 5-inch display Nexus seems to be fitting in the trend of less is more, as is the case with Apple going back to 4-inch screen on the iPhone SE from the huge screens on the iPhone 6 Plus and 6S Plus.
Another set of reports from India Today suggest that the HTC 10 (launched Jan 2016) will be the basis on which the Nexus phone will be built but of course with an upgraded processor and some more changes. The upgraded processor as mentioned above is Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor and might also carry a “tweaked” fingerprint sensor.
Being the newest, most unfamiliar processor, the Snapdragon 821 is expected to have a slightly higher top speed providing better heat efficiency and power management at the same time.
Some other, more divergent reports question all this, suggesting that Huawei could be involved as well, just the way it was last year.
To recall, HTC last manufactured the Nexus 9 for Google which didn’t go well with the users, whereas, the original Nexus One was better received.
Perhaps, Marlin is that device which will act as that launching pad that HTC needs.
Also, Interestingly, Google is expected to reveal the 2016 Nexus smartphones later in the year, around September, for an October release. The Android N operating system will also launch on these devices which coupled with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 CPU will make the devices worth a try.
So, despite this confusing state of affairs, it still is an exciting prospect!
HTC May Not Be Hanging Up Their Boots With Nexus Just Yet
After a false start, it’s pretty much been held with certainty in the last couple of months that HTC will be making this year’s Nexus devices.
Google the Android giant, makes two Nexus smartphones each year – one, a ‘P’ version which is the high-end version, and one that’s the ‘X’ version, which is usually the more affordable one.
It was towards the end of April that the rumours started buzzing of HTC having two new Nexus devices this year, and over time it had become almost certain.
But maybe HTC should wait for a little before hanging their boots with Nexus just yet.
In a statement issued earlier this week, almost unintentionally, by Charlene Munilall, General Manager for Huawei’s Consumer Business Group in South Africa, Huawei seems to also be working on a Nexus device for the year.
The statement was issued in an interview with Gear Burn, at the launch of a new trio of smartphones by Huawei. Neither Huawei nor Google has backed the statement yet.
The statement, of course, has the tech world tripping.
Putting aside the credibility of the statement for the moment, let us see what it would mean if it were true. Huawei last year did make the Nexus 6P for Google, and the devices have been undoubtedly the best received Nexus device as yet.
The critical reviews, the design, the sales, all speak for it. A few people might call the phone a little too big for their liking, but overall the pros outweigh the cons. It’s smooth, it’s edgy, and people want it. If the statement by Munilall is true then Huawei could be behind another Nexus device this year.
Let’s look at it from the perspective of Google; what’s in it for them, and what’s not. If Google goes with HTC, they’d be going back to the company that made their first ever smartphone, the Nexus One. Back in 2010, the phone was the ultimate Android handset, on paper. In reality, there were a lot of kinks that Google had to work out. And over the years, Google certainly has!
As of today, going with HTC gives Google an upper hand.
The Taiwanese company has been struggling in the last year, and Google recently has been indicating that it wants more control over the Nexus devices. Going with HTC might give it that. It might get to have more influence over the design, over the features, and the overall Nexus experience, if it were to go with HTC.
On the other hand, with Huawei, Google might get to use the expertise that it displayed with the Nexus 6P device. Google has certainly been very satisfied with the Chinese company and their collaboration last year. It would be a safe bet for Google to go with Huawei since a certain quality and standard has already been established.
On the other hand, Google might be wanting to explore more option with the motive of expanding beyond these certain quality standards; it might give Google chance to try something new.
While none of this has been officially confirmed by any of the companies involved, the speculations are obviously piling on. One thing can be speculated with certainty, though, that Google would be bringing out two new Nexus devices this year.
Now, whether it goes with HTC or Huawei, or with both, is yet to be seen.
My money is on Google going with both; the security of Huawei as a brand, and the ability to have greater influence over the product with HTC.
Asus Is Preparing Its Own VR Headset
At its Computex Press Conference in Taipei, Taiwan, the homegrown smart-device company sneakily dropped something that we did not see coming; a VR headset.
To go with the times when every megabrand is bringing its own Virtual Reality headset to the market, Asus is just doing the needful.
There isn’t much known about the VR headset yet. All that Asus did, was sneak it into the display in a tiny corner at a conference packed with phones, laptops and robots. It took a while for people to notice the VR headset resting in the display, but when people did notice, their eyes glowed with pleasure.
Behind the glass rested a headset, labelled Asus VR, and it’s a particularly fancy headset, at that. The headset sported stitched leather straps and shiny silver metal construct. Usage wise it seems like it’ll be used quite like Samsung’s Gear VR, or HTC’s Vibe.
The VR headset can presumably be used with Asus’s Zenfone smartphones, the Zenfone 3 series in particular, as one would guess, based on the size. The leather straps give the headset what the Asus ZenWatch smartwatch already has, a fashion quotient. It is about 5.7 inches wide and has a touchpad and buttons on the side for the controls.
There are many speculations regarding the headset as of now.
Most of them are about the time of its release – alluding that the headset can be expected in the market probably sometime in 2017. There are also some voices that speculate that it could be powered by Google’s Daydream platform.
Given Asus’s history with having made Android Wear watches, the Android TV-based Google Nexus Player, and the Google-backed OnHub router, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched an idea to think Asus might be jumping on board with Google.
Another thing that makes for the Daydream argument is the fact that Asus has always been more inclined towards AR – Augmented Reality – products rather than VR.
With a tie-up they would get to have what the market demands, a VR headset, and still be able to put their energies into AR products.
With more and more VR headset getting onto the market, a VR headset seems to be becoming what a smartwatch was last year – the must-have accessory for all megabrands.
It is soon going to get very difficult for users to decide which headset to buy, and since most of them are on the costlier side of the spectrum, the competition is going to be difficult.
For a company like Asus, the market next year could be tough.
More information on the Asus VR headset should be expected soon from the company.
HTC Stops The Production Of Nexus 9 Tablets
It’s time to bid farewell to the HTC Nexus 9 tablet which was released way back in October 2014.
HTC confirmed (to CNET) its decision to stop manufacturing Google’s flagship tablet. This was actually expected since the device was pulled off from Google Play store last month, though some models of the Nexus 9 are still available for sale on HTC’s official website and through third party retailers like Amazon. But that’s only going to be till stocks last.
The 8.9-inch Nexus 9 was never able to follow in the success of its early predecessor, Asus’s Nexus 7 tablet. While Nexus 7 was famous for its low price of USD 199, Nexus 9 due to its high pricing of USD 399, its poor build quality and quality control issues got universally panned in the review and was eventually never able to garner as much attention as the Nexus 7.
The Nexus 9 was presented in 2014 as a full featured tablet intended to compete against Apple’s iPad. However, the device with its setbacks mentioned above wasn’t received warmly by the customers and failed miserably.
Taiwanese device maker HTC is obviously not citing (the lack of) demand factor as the reason for its decision of stopping the manufacturing of HTC Nexus 9, instead the company simply states that the device has completed its manufacturing run and hence is being pulled off.
This news follows in the footsteps of Google confirming to discontinue its Nexus Player set-top box.
With the removal of HTC Nexus 9 tablet, the only Nexus-grade tablet remaining in the market is the one that Google itself is selling directly – the Pixel C which has a 10.2 inch display and is being sold for USD 499.
It is believed to be a hybrid tablet to contend the iPad Pro and Microsoft Surface Pro 4.
Pixel C also has some flaws but those can be expected to be fixed with the arrival of Android N.
Since HTC said that Nexus 9 had run out of its production cycle and didn’t hold the demand factor responsible for the cessation of the device, therefore it is possible that the company plans to unveil a new Nexus tablet. However, Google launched two Nexus smartphones – Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X in 2015, which seems to hint at the fact that the company is more inclined to make handsets.
There was not even a slightest hint of the coming of a new Nexus tablet in the Google I/O conference. Does that mean that the third party tablet line is being dumped altogether? It is thus possible that another answer is that Google is channelizing all its efforts in the VR venture.
This decision of cessation of Nexus 9 might also correspond to the general decline in the demand for tablets in the last few quarters. As per an International Data Corporation (IDC) report, the global market has reduced in the final quarter of 2015.
Around 65.9 million tablet units were shipped during the time, this figure marks a decline of around 13.7% compared to that of 2014.
The IDC also points out that a shift has been observed in case of tablets from stand-alone tablets to detachable (hybrid) tablets like the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, Google Pixel C and more.
Jean Philippe Bouchard, the IDC’s research director for Tablets explains the reason for this trend, “One of the biggest reasons why detachables are growing so fast is because end users are seeing those devices as PC replacements…We believe Apple sold just over 2 million iPad Pros while Microsoft sold around 1.6 million Surface devices, a majority of which were Surface Pro and not the more affordable Surface 3.”
The IDC report also indicates that price is not always an aspect that is considered by many buyers while purchasing a detachable tablet.
So, should you run out and buy the Nexus 9 tablet before the stocks run out? No!
Chip-Monks would rather advise you to buy something nicer. If you’re in the market for a tablet, tell us what you intend to do with it (the tablet), and we’ll tell you which one to get. It’s that easy!!
Daydream, Google’s New VR Ecosystem
Virtual Reality is the field that most new companies today are experimenting with. A few of them have stepped in with their toes already, while a few others are waiting to dip their feet in.
It was around 2014 that Virtual Reality, better known as VR, became the idea that everyone wanted to go for.
That be the case, then how can Google be far behind? Google recently revealed Daydream, a VR ecosystem, dipping their feet further into the high tide of Virtual Reality.
The company had earlier released Google Cardboard, which is basically makeshift VR headset that can be made out of foldable cardboard. It sold five million of the headsets, and their ambition then grew.
Until recently, the company as well as the employees were considering VR as an experiment. But not anymore! Google soon appointed a VR czar, Clay Bavor, who has since been responsible for the company’s VR projects. He stated by getting the employees attentions by converting their conference room at the Google Headquarters in Google’s Mountain View, California, into a VR room with soundproofing, speakers, and headsets. They could do whatever they wanted to in the space of that room, be is flying over the mountain and attending a concert. All they had to do was plug the VR in, and get started, and the experience was theirs to have. “People would go in wondering and come out believing. It was a powerful turning point for Google”, Bavor said.
With that, he had their attention, and people knew something was being worked on.
In the last two years, the scope of a VR headset has changed a lot in the market. Oculus VR, owned by Facebook, released their VR headset called Rift, Samsung had its Samsung had the Gear VR, and HTC, the Vibe. Even smaller companies like Huawei released devices like the Huawei VR. The market is estimated to be about $7B in business this year, and shooting only to the north from there.
With all of this already in the market, is there space for Google to expand? That’s where the key is. And Google showed it’s trademark savvy by adopting a very different approach. Instead of being a manufacturer or a provider, it decided to create an entire platform for VR!
Google did not build a device. Instead, it built an ecosystem; a platform upon which devices will be dependent. They did present a Viewer along with Daydream, but they also showcased their intent to work with partners that would make Daydream-ready devices support their ecosystem.
“The whole point is to think about the hardware, software, viewers, controllers, and experiences in concert”, said Bavor. They started with reworking their operating system, rebuilding it to accommodate the additional sensors, graphics, and component prioritization that would be required for a VR experience. This integrates the rest of your phone with the VR function, allowing you to do things like reading the text within the VR viewer.
The next step was obviously the hardware. The company worked for over a year to develop a headset that has been described as “a sleek fabric viewer that fits snugly around a user’s head“. The headset connects to the smartphone for the VR content. The efficiency of the headset can only be judges a little later when more information is available about it.
As for supporting their ecosystem, Google has been bringing on the partners that it needs to make the platform a success. This includes HTC and Samsung, two of the biggest Android-based smartphone manufacturers, that would contribute by developing Daydream-ready smartphones, in addition to the other partners like LG, Xiaomi, Huawei, ZTE, Asus, and Alcatel. Gaming megabrands such as Ubisoft and Electronic Arts plan to contribute by designing Daydream-ready games.
Unfortunately, the present creed of smartphones won’t be capable of supporting Daydream. Thats because Google believes they won’t be as compatible with the ecosystem since don’t have the requisite hardware or the horsepower. So, if one wants to truly experience Google’s version of VR, then one must wait for Daydream-ready devices.
You’ll remember that Google had been a little late to the party in the operating systems market, but not only did it catch on, it owned the market with Android, with the quality and the diversity and sheer capability that the platform offered to all and sundry. Clearly, they hope Daydream goes the Android way and becomes the platform that powers the VR world, in the real world..
Rumour has it that this time Google is ready to bring you something quite fun and perhaps quite useful too. They would likely call it the Google Home.
Google Home is a smart home device, which looks quite like a set of portable speakers that you can use with almost any device. But what is special about it is that it also features Google Now, Google’s virtual assistant.
The project had been in the pipeline for a while and it was reportedly codenamed as Google Chirp. Expected to look similar to the OnHub wireless router that Google develops with a third party developer, it would be a smart device, designed to provide you a wide range of services – including playing music, listening to- and acting upon voice commands, and interacting with apps.
Perhaps the best reference to explain this with would be Amazon’s Echo.
Echo too, is a smart home device, one that also looks quite like a set of portable speakers. It likes to be referred to as Alexa – with the use of that wake-word you can talk to it almost like you would to Apple’s Siri. The device is always-on. It uses seven microphones and has noise-canceling technology which enables it to to hear commands even when music is being played on it. The device also produces 360-degree audio.
As for the connectivity, it is Bluetooth-compatible, enabling music to be played via audio apps like Spotify. It is also cloud-connected, running on Amazon Web Services, and has companion apps on Fire OS and Android, with a web-based app currently used for iOS. This costs about $180.
There is also a Google device out there that we might want to bring into this discussion and that is the Google OnHub. OnHub is a wireless router that works as a perfect centre hub for internet-connected devices in your home. What’s missing there is a microphone, which means that OnHub can’t work on voice commands. Add a microphone, and not only will it be a voice enabled OnHub which works better, but it would also be able to bring in a whole lot more to the users!
What might work quite pleasantly, and conveniently, for the potential users is that given Google’s stronghold on its search engine, it wouldn’t be too farfetched to expect that the device would be linked to it, and would be enabled to search things based on voice commands.
So, while on one hand Echo can call you an Uber cab and adjust your thermostat, Google’s Home might be able to do a lot more. It should expectedly be able to track weather and other information, organize your itinerary, and do other things Google Assistant on your Android phones is enabled to do.
If Google Home is powered by Android – which it is expected to be – then it has even more advantages. which could come along with a simple API from Google to make apps share with Google Home. This would help its app pool grow much faster than its competitor, the Echo, which still has a fairly scant selection of services.
Like we said earlier, the project has been in the pipeline for a while now but what might be surprising again is that it was reportedly kept away from Nest.
Nest is a company that Google bought out for $3.2 billion, back in 2014, to boost its smart home credibility. Now one can either assume that they already got the best out if Nest’s technology and put it to use, or that they developed something better.
While there is always the possibility that a speech-powered device might not sit-right with those that are conscious of the internet-of-things, and of their privacy, but generally more and more consumers today are getting comfortable with the use of this technology in their daily lives. The personal assistants most smartphones features – like Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana – are perhaps responsible for that.
Google Home probably won’t launch before later this year, but once out, the device is expected to hit the smart home market in a big way, moving in on the turf carved out by Amazon’s Echo.
Google Chirp To Take On Amazon Echo
Google is currently working on a standalone device which has been codenamed as “Chirp” for the meanwhile (the name of the device at the time of the launch, when made available for the market might differ as it hasn’t been named officially as yet).
It is said that this device would combine Google’s search and voice assistant technology, which clearly is aimed to be a competition to Amazon’s Echo.
Google has the voice assistant technology in its Android Phones from a long time back and is put to use by the words “Okay Google”. If Google Chirp comes into being then you would be able to put the device to work using this same command throughout your home. Additionally, the device is rumoured to work in conjunction with Nest which was acquired by Google two years ago. Doesn’t this sound cool?
Physically, Google’s Chirp is believed to resemble Google’s OnHub wireless router which is a cylindrical router designed after taking into consideration the use of Wi-Fi by people at their homes.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about it though. Google’s standalone device with voice assistant technology has been much speculated upon and it has swirled rumours for quite long.
In fact, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai, in Google’s 2016 Founder’s Letter, seems to have hinted at the plans for an Amazon Echo-like device. Pichai said, “Looking to the future, the next big step will be for the very concept of the “device” to fade away. Over time, the computer itself—whatever its form factor—will be an intelligent assistant helping you through your day. We will move from mobile first to an AI first world”.
There are some cool features that the device could allegedly support such as enabling the users to verbally ask the device to search the Internet for information. Besides this, the device might come with Google Now support, enabling the users to put the virtual personal assistant to work like adding appointments to a calendar and much more.
Although Google has had voice assistant from a long time but it was restricted only to mobile phones and is not as conversational as Amazon Echo. Amazon Echo is already present on the scene, in fact is quite successful as one analyst estimated that Amazon Echo has already sold around three million units since its release in late 2014.
Amazon Echo uses Alexa voice technology to work with smart home devices including Nest. It also helps the users manage thermostat and lights, the Echo can read the news for you, audiobooks and play songs via Spotify, order a pizza via Domino’s, book a taxi using Uber.
You’d be surprised to learn that Echo has outperformed traditional speaker system sales in 2015, attaining over 25% of market share in 2015, beating Bose and Logitech at the same time!
This means Google has to incorporate a lot of amazing features to outshine Amazon Echo with its strong market standing.
It seems that Google is not only the one who is preparing Amazon Echo rival. Sony was also rumoured to have been working on a speaker powered by a voice and gesture based virtual assistant.
Samsung at its Developer Conference event launched Otto, it’s voice-based virtual assistant robot, which was considered as the company’s plans to take on the Amazon Echo. Otto was designed to answer weather related questions and control connected devices and appliances.
Google’s decision to pursue a device on similar lines then turns out to be pretty obvious. “Chirp” might rule your home with its features in the near future.
Chirp is likely to launch this year. With the Google I/O conference round the corner, it is highly possible that if not the launch, at least the unveiling of the device and the concept behind it might be made known to the eager users out there.
All you need to do is be a little patient and wait for the device to launch.
Indications That Chromebook Laptops Could Run Android Apps
One of the best things around Apple devices, is the ecosystem and it’s cohesiveness. Documents, images, settings & preferences and even passwords move fluidly across devices, with no effort being called upon from the user.
For several years, people have been trying out Chome OS and wanting the exact same thing – for their devices that run Android to work with their Chromebooks (and vice versa). But that hasn’t happened yet (at least not to the extent that Apple has tied its wares together).
So, when a Reddit user named “WiseYoda” pointed out that he was able to see a setting in Chrome OS called “Enable Android Apps to run on your Chromebook”, it got more than a few people excited.
However, as all things Murphy-inspired, the feature disappeared just a nano-second before WiseYoda could click the button, so we don’t know exactly what all is under the lid.
This feature noticed by WiseYoda is a feature in Version 51 of Chrome OS, which is currently in Developer channel. Other users may have seen it too, but can’t enable the feature as of now as it is still in the pre-launch testing phase.
Some of the users tried enabling the feature and reported on Reddit that a Play Store app opens and a tutorial begins indicating how to get started. But the feature isn’t functional as yet and automatically shuts down.
What this signals though, is that soon Chromebooks might be able to run Android apps or even play nice with other devices!
If Chromebooks were to be able to run Android apps, then it’s definitely going to be happy time for users as they’d get to access millions of apps available on the Play Store (instead of the rather puny Chrome Store).
The news seems to have sufficient ground as we all know that Google has its annual I/O developer conference scheduled for May 18-20, 2016 at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View.
The I/O developer conference has always been a platform for Google to unleash it’s latest Developer Products and this time it seems that this attempt at blurring of line between desktop and mobile operating system is the next big thing that Google plans.
Google first started making Android apps, including Vine, Evernote, and Duolingo — available on Chrome OS back in 2014, as part of a limited trial which was then expanded with the wider launch of the ARC (App Runtime for Chrome) Welder app, in April 2015.
ARC allows Android apps to run on Chrome OS. This piece of information helps establish important links, because when WiseYoda tried to check the Chrome OS Source Code, he found it to be “ARC OPT IN”, which indicates is that it’s an extension and expansion of the App Runtime for Chrome project.
If something new is being served at the table then definitely something old might be dumped. In this case, it is perhaps the end of the Chrome Web Store, which hosts Web Apps, Extensions and Themes for the platform. However, it seems that not a lot of people are going to miss the much-neglected child of Google, as in terms of feature development, Play Store has outshone Chrome Store.
The Chrome Store doesn’t accept Google Play credits, and also does not carry prepaid gift cards. Google Play supports A/B testing for listing, app analytics, developer replies, and lots of other features that make developers’ lives easier and the user’s experience great.
Google now has managed to build an air of mystery and excitement around its May 2016 I/O Developer’s Conference, since no official channel has confirmed this news of Play store coming on Chromebook.
It should also be remembered that, Google like Apple in the past has showed protestations on the idea of merging and having a unified operating system for its desktop and mobile products. They seem more inclined to extend the two OS’ to work with each other, not morph into one.
At Chip-Monks, we’re not sure why that is. And rather than conject, we’d let the shoe drop when it does.
So, how much of this sees the light of the day could be revealed in the 2016 I/O Developer’s Conference.
Custom Cases For Your Nexus Phones, Right From Google
This past week, Google launched an exciting new service for the Nexus phone owners.
Owners can now design their own custom covers for their smartphones. But that is not all there is to it. The covers come to life even as the wallpapers on your device!
The Nexus smartphones range has undoubtedly done well in the market, as it caters to exclusivity within the Android operating system domain. Within the Android operating system domain, which is a product of Google, Nexus range is the only hardware range that is a Google product. Every other Android device is a hardware product of a non-Google brand, starting from up end devices of Samsung, HTC, Sony, to budget devices of companies like Huawei, Xiaomi, Micromax, and many more.
With this new service that Google has brought out, custom covers can be designed for USD 35. These covers are called Live Cases. The fun of the cover is not just in the sleek and bulk-free snap-on protection it offers to your device, but in how it comes to life as your wallpaper.
There are two types of Live Cases: Photo Live cases and Places Live Cases. That sounds more complex than it is. But it sure is interesting, right?
Let’s learn a little more about it with an example.
For the Photo Live Cases, you basically just pick a favourite picture of yours as the custom back case. Along with that picture, you can pick a photo gallery to go as your live wallpapers that keep changing in due time. Now that sounds quite ordinary, to be honest. It is something you could design for yourself, practically with any phone that you have.
Where it gets interesting is the Places Live Cases. Say, for example, you go to Google Maps and select the area of Manhattan as your favourite place. The map of Manhattan then appears as your customized phone cover. But that is not all. What you get along are a bunch of companion wallpapers, that when activated, keep changing as per your current location.
So, basically, within the geographical location of the place you picked as your back cover, your live wallpaper keeps changing as per your then current location!
The Places Live Cases are available in a bunch of different styles and textures, plus endless colour choices. They are even available in matte and glossy finishes.
That’s all pretty cool right? But that’s not all!
There is a third feature to the new Live Cases, which is that you can launch your favourite app quickly with programmable shortcut button that would be set into your back cover!
This new, additional button allows for one touch access, and basically lets you activate your live wallpaper. This same button within the phone case can then be customised to instantly launch your camera or any other app you prefer.
For the One Touch Access, Google seems to be using NFC, which is Near Field Communication, which basically is short-range high frequency wireless communication technology that enables the exchange of data between devices over about a 10 centimetre distance.
It is with this One Touch Access that the cover just becomes the next thing you want for you Nexus devices! I’ve used it, and trust me, you’ll grow to love the case and it’s additional utilities!
Do I need to emphasize again that the cover is all for USD 35?! At this price the Live Cases are at par, if not below, the usual cost for a good case for any smartphone in developed countries like US or UK or across Europe.
In developing countries like India or Africa or others, this case might seem a little on the costlier side of the deal to the prospective buyers.
But, for now the cases are only available in the US. Google might have to rethink the price when it goes global. Regardless, it is a good deal for the features it comes with, especially the One Touch access.
This is not the first time that Google has brought out custom cases for their devices. It was only last year that they brought out a range called Enter Editions, which featured the Grammy-winning producer, Skrillex. These were limited edition and were then available for Nexus devices and Samsung Android smartphones.
Google Launches Voice Access
Google has been noticed for introducing a large number of features for the physically challenged users lately, so as to make smart devices more accessible to them.
The Google Accessibility team has introduced umpteen products and features including a built-in screen reader, hearing aid compatibility, Vision Settings, etc. And there’s a non-capitalist reason too. Google believes that nearly 20% of current population will suffer from some kind of disability at least once in their lifetime, thus, these kinds of tools become essential so that no one misses out on technology, or life.
Google recently launched a new app known as Voice Access which seeks to bring in increased functionality to specially abled users. Allowing users to control their smartphones exclusively by their voice, the app is targeted at those users who are unable to communicate with their smartphones by tapping into the touch screen due to tremor or injury.
The app comes as a bonus for those users who feel too lazy to use their fingers on their smartphones or are fascinated by the concept of voice control.
Google’s Voice Access offers basic navigation options which let the user utter commands like “Go to the Home Screen” or “Go to Settings,” and also extends the facility to the user to dictate and edit text like “Type Morning” or “Delete Hello”. New users can access the feature by enabling “OK Google” from any screen, and then saying “OK Google” followed by “Start Voice Access” which will turn the feature on, after which the user can make the device listen to its commands.
“We recently launched Voice Access Beta, an app that allows people who have difficulty manipulating a touch screen due to paralysis, tremor, temporary injury or other reasons to control their Android devices by voice”, Google said in a blog post on Monday.
Still being in the Beta phase, the app offers a great beginning for voice-controlled interaction, and no wonder Google has taken the initiative to bring about a revolution in the use of smartphones where everything could be controlled by speaking to the device.
The app is available for download at the Google Play Store and supports all the devices running on Android 5.0 or later.
Samsung Patents Smart Contact Lenses With Built-in Cameras
In today’s world where technology changes faster than fashion, tech companies are scrambling to develop technology to power new innovative ideas and to create products to attract the market share of every form.
One such hot area is Wearable technology. And, Augmented Reality tools aren’t far behind.
And where there’s customer interest (read: money to be made) Samsung is at the door, with a large hat to throw in the ring, any ring. So why should Wearables or AR be ignored?
Having exploring the realm of Virtual Reality (VR) with the Samsung Gear VR, the south Korean company is now entering the Augmented Reality (AR) arena.
Confused between AR and VR? Let me help you.
In layman language, the main difference between AR and VR is that in Augmented Reality, users continue to be in touch with the real world while interacting with virtual objects around them. Whereas with Virtual Reality, the user is isolated from the real world while involved in a world that is completely artificial.
Clearer now? Good!
Proceeding, technology blog Sammobile reported that Samsung has been granted a patent by the South Korean copyright authority titled ‘Smart Contact Lens For Augmented Reality And Methods Of Manufacturing And Operating‘.
The patent is to develop smart contact lenses that can project images directly into the user’s eye, take photographs and be powered by a wireless connection to a smartphone.
The patent was applied for in 2014 and the image associated with the application shows a lens with a small display, a camera, an RF antenna, and multiple sensors to detect movement – all in that small button-sized form!
The company also certifies in the patent that image quality suffers while using an external surface like the lens of a spectacle. The smart contact lenses would provide much better image quality than existing smart glasses and will obviously be far less bulky.
What Would Constitute The Uses Of Smart Contact Lenses?
Quite a few, actually:
Quite “smart” isn’t it?
But the tricky part is blinking as a means to control ocular interface. It may become a hassle and give rise to a lot of creepy and awkward situations. To your rescue comes the option of controlling the interface through your smartphone, as an alternative.
To address another issue that plagued Google Glass, Samsung claims that the smart lens can overcome the narrow limited viewing angle of Google Glass due to its proximity to the retina and could make the need for eye-tracking redundant. These issues will be resolved by inserting a tiny OLED display between soft contact lens layers.
Now, let’s surprise you!
What Samsung is doing is not new! Many have tested the waters with Google leading the front most prominently.
Samsung further claims superiority over Glass by spending on research and development for eye navigation instructions and the ability to search the web for extra information on what the user is seeing through the lens.
The road might not be that smooth for Samsung.
With Google Glass already finding it difficult to get the acceptance of mainstream users due to its unsightly and alienating image, and the heated privacy debate will reach an entirely new height when tiny cameras will become completely hidden in contact lenses coupled with the vast avenues to post the captured visuals albiet at times against the person’s consent.
While people already feel that Google Glass is just for the geeky nerd, Samsung is yet to deal with the fact that people walking around with the ability to discreetly take photographs with the blink of an eye might creep out the general public and the stigma may be difficult to shrug off.
But lets not get ahead of ourselves.
History has taught us that all that is patented may not necessarily see the light of the day as a final product. It takes a lot more than just a concept and a prototype to produce a market-viable product.
We are still unclear whether the smart lens is a concept or if it is actually happening. The point to take note is that Samsung has also trademarked the name ‘Gear Blink‘ in the US and South Korea approximately around the same time it filled for the smart lens patent.
So, for Gear Blink to suddenly make an appearance in near future would be a safe bet to place, considering that Samsung’s facing the heat on it’s pole position as the world’s smartphone Goliath, and needs something to stay ahead.
WhatsApp has Encryption Now
User privacy and security have been top-of-mind for almost everyone who uses any kind of Instant Messaging service.
Not anymore for the users of WhatsApp!
The messenger service with over a billion users has very recently brought out end-to-end encryption to each user- providing a secure a network for all their communication and media exchanged via the platform.
The messaging service, now owned by Facebook, announced their end-to-end encryption on April 5th, via a post, and via a notification on every WhatsApp user’s chat list.
The encryption is top-notch and is available on every platform, across operating systems. It took the company about 2 years to bring this idea of encryption into a reality for the users, but now that its implemented across the huge user base, it makes WhatsApp the undisputed leader of messaging services, promising the kind of privacy and security for their users, as those found in the most up-market enterprise software.
If you’re using the latest version of the app then you don’t need to do anything to activate the encryption; it will happen by default. If you’re not, then all you need to do is give your app an upgrade, and voila, you’re done!
“From now on when you and your contacts use the latest version of the app, every call you make, and every message, photo, video, file, and voice message you send, is end-to-end encrypted by default, including group chats,” WhatsApp proudly announced via their blog. “The idea is simple: when you send a message, the only person who can read it is the person or group chat that you send that message to. No one can see inside that message. Not cybercriminals. Not hackers. Not oppressive regimes. Not even us.”
This level of security has been brought to you by Open Whisper Systems, led by a highly regarded cryptographer who uses the name “Moxie Marlinspike” and was once a key member of Twitter’s security team.
I would rather not go into the technicalities of how the end-to-end encryption works, simply because there are other questions of much more importance that need to be discussed.
Before we delve into those questions, let us take a step back and look at the encryption WhatsApp has brought to you in the light of other instant messaging services.
BBM has been known to be the messaging service to have encryption security for a while now. Apple’s iMessage too, has boasted of high-level encryption. iCloud secures your data by storing it in an encrypted format when kept on server and uses secure tokens for authentication.
There have been other services like Gliph, Wickr, TextSecure and others, across iOS and Android, that have over the years provided for similar security measures.
They’ve never, however gained popularity as WhatsApp has.
The question of user privacy has always been something of importance for most of us. This is precisely why WhatsApp bringing this particular encryption is something that can’t be seen without the context it stands in.
Even though the company had been working on it for about 2 years now, the announcement comes surprisingly close to the end of the FBI vs. Apple debacle, which had precisely been about user privacy in today’s multimedia world.
Quite recently we discussed how “free” public Wi-Fi is something that can easily be used for spying by governmental bodies on its citizens as well as by other commercial bodies for the purposes of advertising, out of sheer capitalism intent.
Messaging services in this regard, are no different. Everything put on the internet, in any form, is open for hacking, open for basically anyone who wants it and possesses the skills to break the tiny password that has been put on, or the money to pay for someone who can do the same.
In today’s world, on the one hand, you have governmental bodies out of sheer spying instinct, trying to get as much information about every citizen as possible while on the other hand, you have corporate and capitalist entities quite ready to pay any amount to someone who can do the same for them.
Will the end-to-end encryption is then going to anger quite a few of these people?
The question of protecting people from the possible spying of the governmental bodies is something that seems to be of prime importance.
It came into the highlight with Edward Snowden announcing to the world in 2013 the extent of state surveillance on its people via WikiLeaks and every other platform he possibly could.
“I grew up in the USSR during communist rule and the fact that people couldn’t speak freely is one of the reasons my family moved to the United States,” said Jan and Brian, the founders of WhatsApp, in the announcement blog.
Back in the days of the communist rule in the USSR, communication privacy did not exist for any of its citizens. Post 9/11, the U.S., and subsequently, other countries, seem to be turning slowly towards the same. “Recently there has been a lot of discussion about encrypted services and the work of law enforcement. While we recognize the important work of law enforcement in keeping people safe, efforts to weaken encryption risk exposing people’s information to abuse from cybercriminals, hackers, and rogue states”.
While authorities in the U.S. perhaps might be a little reluctant to show their expected frustration at WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption, there are other countries that probably won’t be so. One such country is China, where quite big governmental lash-back can be expected towards WhatsApp’s encryption.
“Authorities around the world are likely to take issue, but expect a lot of pushback from China, where the government has shown little tolerance for encryption, and even less tolerance for foreign social media apps”, said John Horwitz, an expert, in a post on Quartz. Services like WhatsApp, their parent Facebook, Instagram, Line and KakaoTalk, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, and Hotmail, and even Google have faced severe back-lashes with timed or untimed bans in China over the years.
While backlash is expected and hopefully provisioned for, one thing is certain: this is a big victory for the advocate of user privacy and security.
With Snowden’s announcements having opened the debate not more than three years ago, this should have been expected.
Every WhatsApp user can now rejoice and share, safely and with the utmost privacy.
Google Sunsets It's Chrome App Launcher
It will still breathe on Chrome OS, though and the users will still be able to access Chrome apps by clicking shortcuts in the bookmark bar or heading to chrome://apps from the address bar.
Citing reasons for the removal, Google said, “We’ve found that users on Windows, Mac, and Linux prefer to launch their apps from within Chrome.”
Chrome inhabits an interstitial space between a desktop app and an operating system. While the Chrome App Launcher makes sense on a Chrome book, it feels rather out of place on other desktops.
Google perhaps sensed that user ambivalence and thus the decision to remove it.
The Chrome App Launcher will hang its boots this July – three years after the launcher hit Windows and the removal will unfold in stages.
Google in its blog post shared, “The removal process will take place over the next several months. Beginning in a few weeks, Chrome will no longer enable the launcher when users first install a Chrome app. Anyone who currently has the launcher will receive a notice informing them that the launcher will be going away. In July, existing instances of the launcher will be removed.”
This implies that the feature will fade away eventually and then get lost in the oblivion on Windows, Linux and Mac.
This move is a part of Google’s attempt to make its browser less bloated, with the blog post overtly citing last summer’s removal of the Chrome Notification Center as another example of those efforts.
In the words of Google, the removal of Notification Centre highlights “Chrome’s continued emphasis on simplicity and streamlining browser features.”
This decision of killing the Chrome App Launcher might also be justified by the fact that the Chrome app launcher for other OS’ has lagged behind their Chrome OS sibling for some time.
For the uninitiated, the Chrome App Launcher was originally ported from Chrome OS.
Google first started experimenting with bringing the App Launcher to its desktop browser in May 2013.
One of three Chrome browser features that appeared to be specifically designed to turn Chrome into a “platform within a platform”, the Chrome app launcher debuted on Windows in July 2013, followed by OS X in December 2013, and finally Linux in July 2014. on Windows.
In addition to the App Launcher—which sat in the taskbar and allowed users to fire up Chrome apps just like a normal desktop program (trying to imitate Windows Start menu functionality), Google killed Chrome’s Notification Center in October and the feature was replaced with native web push notifications, a standardized feature that sites can use across all browsers.
Beyond these two features, Google also created a modern UI version of the browser for Windows 8 that essentially put Chrome OS inside Windows.
Microsoft’s decision to do away with Windows 8’s dual UI and looking forward to a more traditional desktop in Windows 10 killed Google’s attempt at “Chrome OS for Windows.”
Google’s attempted invasion of the Windows desktop is now officially over.
Well, if we go by Google’s analysis, which mentions the rare usage of the app launcher, there won’t be many who will miss this feature. Will you miss it?
Update: Apple's iCloud Moving To Google's Servers
In what could be called a major victory for Alphabet Inc., Apple has reportedly decided to move parts of its cloud business over from Amazon Web Services (AWS) to Google, in a bid to diversify its infrastructure in data services as well as to serve a portion of its iCloud needs.
The magnitude as well as the impact of this move is significant as it is a major flag post for Google. While it currently falls behind Amazon’s AWS and Microsoft’s Azure in cloud services however with its recent growth, is now becoming more of a competitor to the other two.
Google’s been vying for a bigger slice of the Cloud Services pie for a while now. AWS is the Goliath to beat, and Google’s been whittling away at AWS’ portfolio bit by bit.
Just last month, Google scored Spotify’s business – the music streaming service announced it would shift away from Amazon Web Services and move most of its services onto the Google Cloud platform.
The competition is also incensed by the fact that Dropbox moved large parts of its data from AWS to its own servers to save money and improve efficiency.
Amir Efrati from The Information first revealed the news of Apple’s possible migration. His speculation is that the change of dynamic from AWS to Google might take a year but like the current AWS-Apple alliance is unlikely to be a major income generator for Google. But it’s a key win, nonetheless.
A report from CRN last week cited sources as saying Apple recently signed on with Google ahead of its departure from AWS in a deal in the neighbourhood of USD 400-600 million.
While it’s not definitive yet if Apple will actually move its data cloud or not but an AWS spokesperson was quoted as saying “It’s kind of a puzzler to us because vendors who understand doing business with enterprises respect NDAs with their customers and don’t imply competitive defection where it doesn’t exist“.
This statement from Amazon seems to suggest that either of the involved parties in the said migration may have leaked information about the monetary aspect of the deal, with Amazon betting their horses believing it is Google.
A reduced dependence on AWS was something Apple insiders have been hinting at since the start of the year, but the alternative then being looked at was an in-house solution which would have taken around two years to complete.
During a recent investor conference call, Apple’s CFO, Luca Maestri stressed the importance of fiscally-responsible data center operations in light of a quickly expanding iCloud user base. That also suggests a viewpoint that perhaps Google is being used on a temporary basis for smoothening the transition between moving from AWS to Apple’s own servers.
The company currently has plans to build three data centers scheduled to open over the next two years, including a USD 2 billion “Global Command Center” located at the failed sapphire production plant in Mesa, Arizona, with two more facilities slated to open in Denmark and Ireland for European customers.
A contrasting viewpoint developing suggests that perhaps Apple may be looking to enhance its infrastructure capabilities and by that logic having Google cloud in addition to AWS, Azure and its own servers makes for a very marketable and shrewd move.
It’s also possible that Apple is only looking at some very specific services on the Google cloud.
Apple’s cloud strategy shift has also changed the existing paradigm in the market, since we now have two rival companies collaborating upon a major venture, in addition to how this move is influencing a range of other companies as well.
Akami, another Internet infrastructure provider, has been forced to revisit its strategy since more and more of its self-perceived customers such as Apple, Facebook and Microsoft have decided to move to in-house servers. This increase in the “do-it-yourself” efforts has led to a decrease in the revenues for Akami.
Google is hosting a major cloud event, Google Next, in San Francisco, and while there is no clarity if Google will talk about recent events or not, but if they wish to do so, then that is certainly the right platform for it.
We’ll keep our ears open and let you know what we learn.
Will RCS From Google Take Your SMS And MMS To The Next Level?
With chat messengers like Whatsapp, Messenger, Hike, WeChat, BBM and more, we’ve all gotten very used to the idea of instant messaging. Whenever we need to send someone a message, most of us use a messenger service instead of the good old telecom operator driven SMS or MMS.
There were days, however, not too long ago, that SMS and MMS were the backbone of communication but lack of development in their capability to accommodate the growing user needs seem to have led to their decline.
Google, through RCS, is trying to revive them by infusing features and building on cross-operator capabilities.
Google, has been working on an initiative it likes to call Rich Communications Services (RCS) and plans to bring out a new messaging service that will be used solely across Android devices (for now) to revolutionise how Android users communicate while unifying telecom operators on the platform. The RCS seems to be a product of Google’s acquisition of the messaging service “Jibe” in September last year.
To propel this initiative, the tech giant has been working aggressively on bringing in the support and technology from different companies, either by partnerships or by acquisition.
Recently, Globe Telecom Inc. and Smart Communications Inc. amongst a myriad of mobile operators; Airtel Africa, América Móvil, AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, G KPN, Millicom, MTN, Orange, PLAY, Sprint, Telenor Group, Telstra, TIM, the GSM Association, VimpelCom and Vodafone along with the wireless standards body GSMA have partnered with Google to bring RCS to the Android users.
How will the new messaging service by RCS work is one curious question.
The messaging service is reportedly said to have a lot of features, including but not limited to group chat, high resolution photo sharing and have the ability to handle larger data packages. None of this is revolutionary in its sole existence, however what makes the RCS service important and special is that it would not work like an average app. It’d actually be aiming at bringing together all the various elements users enjoy from different apps and would enable them via an SMS or MMS service, via your telecom operator!
Thing is, through RCS, Google wants to resurrect the flagging cross-operator communications and infuse features offered by the third party “over the top” (OTT) internet messaging services like video and file sharing, group messaging, IP voice calls in addition to the security and privacy of messages.
RCS could offer operators a way back into the erstwhile lucrative messaging space, with the opportunity to earn from it again.
Yes, the operators do earn from the data usage while you access the messaging services via data packs, but it is far lesser than what they earned when we all used SMS’ or MMS’ as our communication vehicles.
The global decline can be seen in operator revenue decline and WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, LINE, Viber and other over-the-top (OTT) messaging services laughing their way to the banks with a growth from almost 31 trillion in 2014, to a projected 100 trillion by 2019 globally.
WhatsApp is routing about 30 billion messages daily, WeChat in China has more than 200 million users, while India has seen a decline of more than 18% in SMS usage as stated by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
This amounts to a ballpark figure of $1.5 billion revenues lost for the operators, and to make matter worse, due to a competitively crowded market, the cost of voice calls is projected to drop by 2% (Source: Accenture), in the coming year.
The OTT market remains smaller in the developing nations, however with data connectivity, the user will opt for enjoying messaging services like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and others to save on their costs.
From the perspective of the OTTs, they have not yet been successful in monetizing their services, however are capturing the user base with the diverse services provided at a fraction of the cost. OTT players are now further diversifying into the financial transactions; Facebook’s use of Messenger to send payments, Snapchat’s Snapcash and LINE Pay, to site a few.
The messaging revolution we are talking about obviously has its pros, but it shall also have it cons, and one of the biggest of those could perhaps be a compromise of security and user privacy.
Instant Messaging applications, such as Facebook’s WhatsApp as well as Messenger, and Apple’s iMessage, that would be the primary rivals of the said RCS messaging service, have closed security settings and keep the user’s privacy at the top of their service offering. In fact most of them have end-to-end encryption incubated into their platforms already.
The RCS messaging service however, would be operating with telecom service providers, which translates into the possibility that it might not be as secure on user privacy, as most telecom providers are at highly regulated, if not entirely run, by local governments and the content shared on such a platform could be of easy access to the prying eyes of the government, and could arguably be used for surveillance without the user’s knowledge.
To be clear, Google would not be responsible for the RCS security system, the telecom carriers would be.
“RCS continues to experience organic growth around the world, with 47 operators in 34 countries having launched services to date. However, this initiative will greatly simplify and accelerate adoption of the technology, and points to the future of how mobile users will communicate with one another. This is an incredibly positive development for the industry”, GSMA Chief Technology Officer, Alex Sinclair reportedly told Philstar.com.
While a Google-led, operator driven, messaging service does sound quite interesting, and could perhaps make the messaging world much simpler by ridding Android users of having to use various instant messaging applications (a successful endeavour in iMessage by Apple), it might also make their world more complex in other ways.
The only way to see how it does is to wait for it to get out there for users to review over time.
Facebook Using Artificial Intelligence To Help Visually Impaired Citizens
For most of us staying connected with friends and loved ones today is no big deal – all of us use Facebook, or Twitter or WhatsApp for that.
My high school buddy who now lives in another state, my friends from college, my work buddies, everyone, is at one place or another, staying in touch with each other, completely clued in on what’s happening in their lives. I know almost everything I need to, about what’s going in their lives, where they’re travelling to, who they’re with and anything else they like to share.
I, like millions others, love to see their pictures or videos; it feels so connected.
But, a close friend of mine isn’t blessed with the ability to see. She’s the most wonderful person in the world, and is everybody’s darling. And as much as we love spending time with her, she does feel cut off in some ways especially when aren’t together or if I were to post my vacation’s photos on Facebook.
Recognising this unfortunate blindspot (no pun intended, at all), and believing that staying connected shouldn’t be a ‘privilege’, Facebook is taking steps to be more inclusive towards specially abled folks.
Facebook has released a feature powered by it’s Artificial Intelligence engine, that enables visually challenged people to use Facebook to not just read the posts, but also to be able to know about the pictures shared on the platform.
The AI engine reviews the image, interprets it and then reads aloud to describe elements of picture, as best as it can.
The feature, which is currently available only in English and only on iOS, is limited to the pictures uploaded by your friends, and not other inputs in the News Feed (news sources etc.).
But Facebook is being very very cautious with this feature – photos are described by the AI using a vocabulary restricted to a hundred words. For instance, if I uploaded a picture from my trip to Goa, and that photo had a group of my friends, Facebook will give describe the picture by saying something to the effect of “the photo features five people smiling outdoors and a water body can be seen”; it would not add information about more specific elements (like about the burgers one of the friends is eating, or describe the drinks in peoples’ hands).
Facebook has intentionally applied this limitation to the vocabulary in order to not offend any any culture, tradition, race etc. Why? Well. Google learnt the hard way. Not too long ago, Google’s AI interpreted an image of an Afro-American couple as being that of two gorillas. The company had to issue an unconditional apology.
As reported by the Facebook blog, about 39 million of its users are visually challenged, and 246 million have severe sight impairments. Text reading features are already very common for a lot of devices, thus text based content is inclusive to the needs of visually challenged users. However, pictures were insurmountably out of reach.
“We want to build technology that helps the blind community experience Facebook the same way others enjoy it”, Facebook said in its same post.
How does it work, though? Well, it is simple, if anything AI can be termed simple!!
A new feature Facebook has been working on for a while, it works on what is called an automatic alternative text, which scripts up a description of the photo based on advancements in object recognition technology. This feature is actually an add-on to the pre-existing Screen Read feature on different Facebook platforms.
They plan to broaden the language base and the operating systems base soon, as they say.
“While this technology is still nascent, tapping its current capabilities to describe photos is an important step toward providing our visually impaired community the same benefits and enjoyment that everyone else gets from photos”.
Facebook’s seeing-AI comes followed with Microsoft showing off its own plans. The same week as Facebook enabled this feature on their iOS app, Microsoft showcased a similar feature in the form of a separate app. Microsoft calls it is the Seeing-AI app.
“Using a smartphone camera or a pair of camera-equipped smart glasses, the Seeing AI app can identify things in your environment — people, objects, and even emotions — to provide important context for what’s going on around you”, describes Dave Smith, of TechInsider, about the Microsoft AI.
The Microsoft Seeing-AI is still in developmental stages, and there no further word on it.
However one thing is certain, with the Microsoft AI having been showcased, it would be interesting to see who does it better: Facebook, or Microsoft, or will someone else do it better first? Should Microsoft win the race, it would be a huge shot in the arm for them, given their current struggle in the Mobile OS and Mobile Apps spaces.
This is not the first time that Facebook has shown sensitivity towards social issues and things that call for momentous effort. The company and its head Mark Zuckerberg have been known to work towards issues that demand attention and concern for a while now.
One of the major initiatives that Facebook had undertaken had been internet.org which aimed at bringing the internet to everyone in the world. “The body’s goals involve collaborating on technologies to reduce the cost of internet access; make apps that are more efficient in their data usage; and form partnerships with local operators and companies on new business models for providing internet access”, as describes Stuart Dredge from The Guardian.
The social media giant has also been known to have a long-standing commitment against cyber-bullying and has launched and carried out multiple initiatives in that record. Only a couple of months ago it launched Online Civil Courage Initiative (OCCI), which is an initiative against extremist speech on the internet. The company has also received great praise for its multiple anti-Ebola initiatives in African countries.
In the light of these efforts and initiatives, the advanced AI that now reads a description of pictures for the visually challenged is yet another step for Facebook.
In terms of technology, however, this might actually a huge leap.
What Is Google Fi?
What Is Google Fi?
Google Fi is Google’s attempt to enable faster internet and cellular service to the world by bringing the service directly to the phone via a SIM card, instead of going the pure-Wi-Fi way.
How Does It Work?
The service current relies on cellular networks from T-Mobile and Sprint’s networks in the U.S., combining them and using them interchangeably. Hence your device switches between the networks and Wi-Fi, according to the availability and the needs.
It is also capable of routing your traffic through Google’s VPN to make data exchange smoother. The best part? The switchover is seamless and without the slightest disruption.
The tech supporting Google Fi ensures that your connection switches automatically between cellular depending on the health of each network at that particular time and place, and also uses Wi-Fi for texting and calling whenever available. The phone will also automatically connect to any fully open WiFi hotspot.
Google connects you to the WiFis verified by them for security and speed, but not to fret on that as your data is encrypted when you connect to open WiFi hotspots.
The aim is to make your connectivity safer and smoother, focusing on the stability of the connection, while the WiFi connectivity keeps the cost of usage to a minimum.
Google Fi and charges you for what you use with no annual contract. The Data costs USD 10 per GB of Data consumed. However anything you did not use you’re refunded for.
The base plan (which costs USD 20) includes unlimited domestic calls (international calls at 20 cents per minute), free domestic and international texts, and with an ability to use your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot. The service already has network coverage in than more 120 countries.
And if you aren’t happy with the Fi’s service or outcomes, you can switch back to your previous service, or shift to a new one, anytime, since there are no contracts or commitments involved.
Is Google Fi The Right Deal For Me?
Google Fi is only ideal if you use one device at a time. If you are comfortable with shared plans and multiple devices then Google Fi isn’t for you – you’re better off staying with your old service.
It is also not for you if you are a very heavy data user. Google charges you a flat USD 10 per GB, which basically means that if you’re someone who uses say 5 to 7 GBs a month, then you’ll be paying a fairly big packet, instead of enjoying discounted plans that you’d easily get from other service providers.
A hiccup for people who are thinking to sign up for the service can also be the phone you use.
Google Fi currently only works on the latest from Google’s own Nexus range – the Nexus 6P or the Nexus 5X. Google does try and sweeten the deal by making it attractive by offering their perspective customers a zero interest 24-month financing option for buying a Nexus device if you do so while signing up for Fi.
For anyone who isn’t too keen on the Nexus devices, this clearly will be an issue.
Google Fi had launched in the U.S. last April and for the most part, it had only been more of an experiment than an actual service. Initially, you needed special invites to sign up for the service, but that is not the case any longer, as the signing up process has been made way easier by Google, with aim of making it available for more and more people.
It is interesting to see how manufacturers are working towards financial, network and connectivity services for their customers, with Google, Apple and Microsoft leading the way. Apple had introduced Apple-proprietary SIM cards supporting wireless services across multiple carriers which prompts users towards shorter contracts across multiple carriers across the globe. This was launched for their select iPad range in the US, UK, Australia, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden to name a few.
Microsoft is planning to come out with their SIM allowing users to connect to various mobile network operators without a contract.
Google has done everything to make Google Fi simple to understand and attractive in terms of packaging – your billing is as simple as it gets, and the features are good and relevant.
The service also works as Google intended, and the only thing that can make you go umm is the device choice. Or if you’re not in the U.S.
Seems Like Google's Killing The Password
Sick of forgetting your passwords? Worried that your personal information could be hacked?
Google’s apparently working to help you sleep better.
It is said that Google is on its way to creating a password-free world in order to help users like you stay clear of cyber-crime, as well as help you log into you Google account without having to use a password!
Google’s new mobile verification process was revealed on Reddit, by a beta tester for the feature called Rohit Paul. He put up a detailed step by step description of how this brilliant method works.
According to his post this cool new method utilises your cellphone as a verification tool – when you enter your ID to sign in to your account on a computer, you’ll receive an approval request on your smartphone, asking you to validate if you’re trying to login from another device.
Only when you click on yes on the smartphone, is the approval provided to the other device.
Obviously, this method is going to help against hacking of email accounts and help keep users’ data safe.
Currently, this “password free feature” is under beta testing, by a group of individuals are involved in what Google calls the “Sign in Experiments at Google” (entry to this group is by invitation only). This new service will be incorporated to provide convenience to the users, therefore, all the small little glitches that could create hinderences in their customer experience will be proactively negated by Google before this feature is comes out of the beta phase.
This new method seems to be pretty similar to a system devised by Yahoo for its app users earlier this year, and while it’ll protect Google users against various cyber-crimes that are picking up pace – insuring that the user’s emails and Google Docs safe and secure, it will also make the login process faster.
However, for those of you who would still want to use the old-fashioned way of logging in, Google’s providing that option as well. Google has also proactivley taken care to provide users the option to deactivate their smart devices in case they are stolen or lost.
Hopefully we should soon get rid of the age old practice of creating and remembering strong passwords that at times tend to become so complicated that we end up forgetting them ourselves!
We at Chip-Monks are eagerly waiting to get our hands on this feature and will share our experience with you, once we have some experience with the new feature.
Are We Going To See An AI Based Messaging App From Google?
Messaging apps are hot nowadays. While it may have started with WhatsApp simplifying instant messaging and making it so easy to use that almost every denizen of the inhabited world uses it, however now, messaging apps are becoming much, much more than a way to share the odd joke or a selfie.
Biggies like Facebook and Apple have already made progress via their respective instant messaging (IM) apps, and now it seems, Google’s going the merry convoy.
The world’s largest search platform is reportedly well on its way testing an all-new Artificial Intelligence (AI) based messaging app to replace its rather underwhelming and uncharacteristically tardy, Google Hangouts app.
Clearly, despite Google’s repeated efforts over the last few years, the Hangouts app has just not been able to taste success with the world’s users. As compared to Facebook messenger, WhatsApp, Snapchat or even China’s WeChat, Hangouts doesn’t even step on the same playground!
Having a messaging app that sends only free messages is not enough in today’s world where a number of messaging apps provide a lot more than just free messaging. There are services such as video chat and voice messaging also available along with much more. To be able to match up with these apps, Google needed to work really hard on its Hangouts app and add a lot more to it.
Red-faced, Google is said to have improvised on Hangouts in order make it more interesting and appealing to users.
As per a report by the Wall Street Journal, Google’s all new Hangouts is significantly focused on artificial intelligence and will rely on chatbots to answer queries pertaining to factoids like weather, news, nearby places, restaurants etc.
Plus, having learnt from others in the field, Google is apparently now going to enable Developers to freely create their own accesses into the chatbots and share information with Google’s systems, in order to enhance the overall experience.
It is said that Google has been working on this app for more than a year now! So we should expect quite a fair bit of improvements.
The premise of this app, though very interesting, sounds pretty much similar to Facebook’s M – a virtual manager that lives inside Facebook Messenger and assists you in making dinner plans, carrying out searches, buy gifts and get them delivered on your behalf, fix appointments and many more things. Facebook also announced its collaboration with Uber for its users in the US so that users could book a cab while using the app itself.
Now that is what I would say a messaging app should ideally be able to do – understand and fulfill all your needs without you really having to explain things or extensively communicate with it.
As a personal assistant, such an app needs to be able to fulfill the user’s needs holistically. Should it succeed in doing that, users will stay and thrive on that one app for personal and social needs, and not have to jump to other apps for such purposes.
Back to Google Hangouts: Clearly, the idea behind creating this new app is to get Google’s messaging app up to speed with other popular messaging apps like Snapchat and Viber and also turn its messenger (which is said to have nearly 500 million users around the globe) into a self-fulfilled platform.
There is a lot at stake for Google with this new chatbot-based app, and if it does work out, it can work wonders for the search giant and probably change the way people use messaging apps forever.
Chip-Monks is really eager to see what Google is going to come up with this time, as everything that this company does is pure genius (barring a few anomalies like Hangouts and the erstwhile Google Talk).
Five Features That Android Marshmallow Brought To Their Users
Android 6.0 Marshmallow, the latest version of the Google’s mobile operating system was unveiled to the users about 6 months ago, taking the world by storm.
Instead of bringing a lot of new to the market, what Android Marshmallow did was to refine the existing, making everything good about Android Lollipop, better.
Bring together a refined operating system with Google’s user base and what you have is something that has people going gaga over it. In the wake of Google dropping the Android M previews and details and it being seeded to most flagship devices, let us explore the five features of Android 6.0 Marshmallow that caught our eye:
Fingerprints For Security:
With Android Marshmallow, it was the first time that Android users could use the core OS to support fingerprint scanning as a security measure. Up to this point, third party vendors had been experimenting with the idea.
You, of course, need your smartphone’s hardware to support fingerprint scanning, but you no longer need a third party software to deal with the operative portion of it. You can use the feature to unlock your phone, and make payments on Android Pay seamlessly, much like you can do with iPhones.
Easier Management Of Permissions:
iOS has it all sorted out where it comes to permissions; the Apple operating system is transparent, organized and very unilateral, to the user’s benefit.
Android Marshmallow went up the same road – bringing to its users a much more organized system with regards to app permissions on their phone. The highlight: Permissions are asked for, when they are needed now, and not all at the same time upon installation like before.
It gives you a control over what’s going on your phone. Taking an example of what you can do – You can let a certain app use your camera but not your contacts while letting another one use none, enabling you to micromanage permissions.
Access And Display Most-used Apps:
One of the smooth things about Android Marshmallow is its ability to understand and remember human behaviour. It recognises the apps that you use the most, and the one you share the most data with and then creates your Share menu accordingly.
Say, for example, you are always sharing links off of the web browser onto your Facebook account, so Facebook is the first thing that will appear on your Share menu.
This also works the same on your contacts. Anything you basically indulge in more, Android Marshmallow is going to make it easier to reach. Now, this sounds ordinary, right? You almost take it for granted. But here is the deal, this wasn’t so for Android users before Android Marshmallow.
Monitor Device Memory Usage:
Just go to the Memory tab on your Settings and you can access the details of memory usage on your device!
It presents the pattern of memory usage, breaking it down into blocks of 3, 6 12 and 24 hours. You can gauge which apps use the most memory and manage the memory and storage on your device accordingly.
Google’s assistant might look the same as it did before, but Google has put in a lot of effort here; that you don’t necessarily see.
Google Now is now embedded into every sphere of the operating system, as a result, it is better at understanding where you are, and what you need at the moment, by focusing not just on the moment but on the context as a whole.
With Android Marshmallow having brought all these and more, let us now wait for what Android N might bring to the users in the near future.
It is a little disheartening to see the Nexus and Motorola users already get ready to experience Android N, there are still some brands that are just about starting to seed the Android M to their users.
iOS definitely has a leg up on Android on that front. But I still believe Android is as feature-rich as we need it to be, at this point.
Tag Heuer Connected - A New Smartwatch To Join The Race
The luxury Swiss watchmaker shared its intent to get into the effervescent Android Wear market back in March, at the Baselworld 2015 event, when it announced the imminent launch of what it termed as ‘the world’s first luxury Android Wear smartwatch’.
Jean-Claude Biver, the company’s CEO, claimed it to be ‘the biggest announcement ever’ for the luxury watchmaker. He also clarified that since the heart of the watch, it’s Intel processor wouldn’t be manufactured in Switzerland, their smartwatch couldn’t carry the vaunted “Swiss Made” label as a key component was being manufactured outside Switzerland’s borders.
He further added that, ‘For a traditional mechanical watch, ‘Swiss Made’ is a reference and criteria of reliability and quality’, however, ‘for a connected watch, Android from Google and Intel Inside are the criteria of quality and reliability’.
Tag Heuer teased the first image of its upcoming tech-timepiece and also revealed the official moniker for their wearable – Tag Heuer Connected.
The Android Wear based smartwatch is slated to launch on the 9th of November as per Tag Heuer’s official dedicated website (http://www.tagheuerconnected.com).
‘Tag Heuer is pushing the Swiss avant-garde limits even further with the Tag Heuer Connected. Tradition meets innovation, craftsmanship meets savoir-faire, and bold style meets breakthrough technology. The clock is ticking to the major breakthrough.’ is what the timeline says on that site, for 2015.
It may be assumed that the premium Swiss watchmaker’s prime objective would be to battle the luxury variants of the Apple Watch. Its clear that Tag Heuer’s going to play to weakness of its arch-nemesis. Tag Heuer Connected may fare better than the Apple Watch with respect to battery life – offering around 40 hours in a single charge, in contrast to 18 hours for the Apple Watch.
Relying on their lineage and brand positioning, the Tag Heuer team has been bold enough to state that the Apple Watch lacks aesthetic appeal and has failed to impress the fashion-conscious luxury customers… so, Tag will prove to be the preferred option to answer this need with it’s product’s stunning design and impressive features.
While the world isn’t yet privy to the Connected’s specs, however, if Tag really is hoping to compete with the Apple Watch, they’re going to have to step out of their mould and look at functionality first, and then wrap the aesthetics around it. Given the diverse functionality and capabilities that the Apple Watch already offers its users (the Watch itself, as well as its cohort, the iPhone), a mere variant of their famed “Carrera” simply acting as an extended display of a smartphone for basic notifications etc. may not cut it.
Acknowledging this, the team at Tag Heuer has already “sponsored it’s weaknesses” by teaming up with Google and Intel (both stalwarts of their respective industries); this is a shrewd move – both companies like to push boundaries, leveraging or creating technology. With a Swiss watchmaker whose got skin in the game (and more knowledge of that field on any day of the week, and thrice on Sunday), they can marry superlative design with technology – just as Apple does.
This type of partnership is not new for Google – it knows when it’s stepping out of it’s league, and has no qualms partnering with relevant experts. It had partnered with Ray Ban for their Google Glass.
With a lot of companies trying their hands on in the Wearables field, Tag Heuer has become the seventh company to offer an Android Wear smartwatch. While Asus leads the list offering a couple of devices, LG has three devices on sale, followed by Motorola offering two. Sony, Huawei and Samsung, all of them have one each.
Tag Heuer’s smartwatch will apparently carry a price tag of USD 1,800 (INR 1,20,000).
The competition between Apple and Tag Heuer should be interesting. Apple had hired the Sales Director for Tag Heuer last year, inducting him into their Apple Watch program. Maybe thats what got Tag’s feathers ruffled, or maybe its just that Tag is trying to get with the times (pun intended).
Amazon India Inadvertently Leaks Nexus 5X Specs And Details
With the world anxious to hear about the Nexus 5X specs, someone at Amazon India seems to have been a tad bit excited and may have inadvertently published the specifications online way before the official launch by Google.
This “oopsie” immediately lends authenticity to the rumours so far, since it originates from a reputed online merchant. It also corroborates the “LG-H791” model number that was seen on previous leaked images and renders of the Nexus 5X.
Some of the previous speculations regarding the specs, verified in this leak are:
One capability that Google refuses to upgrade (like Apple Inc.) is their device’s expandable memory or there the lack of. Providing a merger 16 GB with no expandable memory in today’s time and age may is largely unforgivable; silver lining – the OS’ size is on Nexus’s side. Since Nexus devices come with Stock Android OS, no bloatware and negligible skin additions help reduce those space guzzlers.
The Amazon leak is enough to make us hopeful that Nexus 5X will bring back the same near-perfect combination of looks, performance and pricing a la the Google Nexus 5.
Amazon hasn’t given us a pricing but we can bet our pony that Nexus 5X will be well within the reach of the well-heeled Indian.
The official Google event is set up for 29th September; stay tuned to find out more.
Android One Lands In Europe
After testing the waters in various Asian and North African markets, Google has finally launched its first Android One device in Europe.
As a primer, Android One smartphones run on stock Android OS, without the extensive manufacturer-specific modifications. Additionally, they all get Android updates as soon as they are released by Google, and since manufacturers don’t put any extra software or modifications, users are not left exposed to bugs and flaws and bloatwares introduced by device manufacturers.
Thus Android One is a standard created by Google for Android systems, in an endeavour to power affordable smartphones throughout the developing world. Hence these devices are mainly targeted at people buying their first smartphone and are thus price- and performance-sensitive.
The phone called BQ Aquaris A4.5, will be designed and marketed by Google but will be produced and marketed by the Spanish smartphone manufacturer BQ.
Sales are expected to begin in Portugal and Spain. The BQ Aquaris A4.5 will cost about INR 12,500 (currency converted).
Aquarius A4.5 will carry the following features and specifications:
Google has focused its Android One initiative to the Asian and North African markets so far, and launched it in India last year.
While it is bound to face some challenges due to higher than expected pricing in Europe, however it will be interesting to see whether it will be able to fulfill its stated vision of ensuring that when the rest of the population buys their first smartphones, they go with Android.
Google To Provide Free Wi-Fi Across 400 Railway Stations In India
Google, in a joint collaboration with RailTel Corporation of India (that provides broadband and VPN services) and the Indian Railways, has undertaken a project to provide free internet access to millions of passengers across 400 railway stations throughout India.
The company plans to have the service available in India’s 100 busiest railway stations by the end of 2016 and later expand it to 300 additional stations.
The objective is to bring the next billion Indians who still aren’t connected, online. In addition to providing them with access to web services, the joint venture will allow them to take advantage of information and opportunity using Google Fiber technology.
According to reports, passengers can connect to the Wi-Fi using a mobile number verification software and a one-time password sent over SMS. Once connected, users will be able to enjoy free high-speed internet for first 34 minutes, after which the speed will decrease, but connectivity will remain available throughout.
Apparently, the first phase of the project – to setup necessary Wi-Fi hotspots and infrastructure across 400 stations, will commence in a span of 4 months. The second phase will provide Wi-Fi onboard moving trains, however, there is no announcement regarding the exact dates, and timeline in which the project will be initiated.
Sundar Pichai, Google’s new CEO announced this project codenamed “Project Nilgiri” in accordance to Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s Digital India initiative.
During his recent visit to US, the Indian Prime Minister met CEOs of the tech industry to aggregate interest in upgrading India’s technology infrastructure and attract foreign investment.
Other big announcements were made by companies in line with Modi’s, Digital India initiative:
India is on the move, and these global stalwarts are going to get the train moving and be part of this catalytic journey.
Nexus 5 Releases in September
There have been umpteen speculations when it comes to the LG Nexus 5 (2015). The latest being that Google will be unveiling the handset in an event in San Francisco on the 29th of September, and it will be made available for sale on the same day via the Google Play Store, and the retailers (after a short span of time).
Nexus worshippers are ecstatic after the date of unveiling two new smartphones from the Google stable is out and if the speculations are to be believed, the two smartphones – the LG Nexus 5 and the Huawei Nexus 6, will come pre-installed with the latest version of the Android OS, Android 6.0 – Marshmallow.
The LG Nexus 5 is expected to flaunt:
While a little has been discussed of the LG Nexus 5, nothing has been revealed about the release date of the Huawei-built Nexus 6.
The bigger cousin to Nexus 5 (2015), Huawei Nexus 6, could include:
Stay tuned in for further updates.
Cortana Assistant Can Now Replace Google Now
Keeping the “Windows Everywhere” vision in sight, Microsoft is making continuous efforts to diversify its services and building its mobile base on the backs of Android devices, and not restricting all of its services only to Windows.
Last month, Microsoft started offering a private beta version of its Cortana assistant for the Android devices, by allowing them to select Cortana, in place of Google Now, as the default application while swiping up from the Home button on any Android device.
Microsoft is being very smart about all this – not only is it ensuring that Cortana improves with every update, they’re also spreading it’s reach, by generating a need and by influencing user habits.
Microsoft should be praised for such a smart move, which lets them take over the basic way of launching Google Now on any Android device.
With the recently developed version 184.108.40.206, the company made using Cortana even more trouble-free and ensured they offer the user an enhanced experience.
To use Cortana on Android devices all the users need to do is to press and hold the home button, which in turn will ask them to complete the action using Google Now or Cortana.
The user can select Cortana as the default digital voice assistant for their device voila, new primary digital assistant!
Microsoft’s Anannya Podder mentioned in a blog post, “Because your life is not limited to one device, neither is your digital assistant. Cortana is with you on your Windows 10 PC, tablet and phone – helping you whenever and wherever you need it. But we also know that there’s a choice of mobile devices out there, so we want help from our Windows Insiders to make sure she’s a great personal assistant on Android too“.
The beta version of the software launched in July and is currently available only in the United States and China, with Microsoft further developing the app in order to launch it worldwide.
Although Microsoft’s Cortana falls a bit short in comparison to Google Now owing to its hardware limitations, it’s wide range of features are quite impressive.
But we like this Microsoft, a lot. And Android is a big bastion to conquer – a new window to the smartphone world!
Smart Watches: The Next Big Thing?
The industry almost unanimously concurs, the next two generations of technology are undoubtedly going to be Wearable Computing and Smart Homes.
With the saturation of the smartphones market and the plateauing of innovation there, most companies big and small, are racing to make a splash in the Next Big Thing.
While Google Glass sank quite unceremoniously, it in no way indicates the death of head worn-wearable tech; conversely, it sets a bar that is a time-tested starting gun for a race in any new technological playground. Meanwhile, the recent release of Samsung Galaxy Gear shifted the limelight to the Smartwatch bullring.
The concept of a smart watch is not in any way a recent one. “Smart” watches have been around for decades now, though in very different forms from what you see being released now. While calculator watches had been around even earlier, the first real Smartwatch can probably be traced back to the early 1980s courtesy Seiko. Their NL C01 was probably the first watch with user-programmable memory, or “memory bank”. It was a great step at the time.
Gradually, these “Smart” watches evolved to interfacing with computers, receiving appointments and alarms from their larger cousins; with some even doubling up as pagers.
For almost two decades Wearable Technology continued to develop as iterations of this basic functionality – iterations involved increased memory, more capability, better functionality. But almost every product fell short, none of them making a substantial impact on the consumer market.
This can probably be explained with the simple reasoning that a wrist computer could never replace the desktop computer or the laptop. Not even in the way that smartphones and tablets eventually did. Smartwatches and their somewhat trivial capabilities just could not be considered significant enough to deem a product line unto themselves.
Amazingly, after a two decade wait, it was Microsoft that came out with the first real smartwatch. Produced in collaboration with the likes of Fossil and Tissot, the Microsoft SPOT (Smart Personal Object Technology) used MSN Direct network services to get information to the consumer, which was delivered across the United States and Canada based on FM radio broadcast signals in about 100 metropolitan areas. You could get information about the weather, stocks – heck, even control your coffee machine, but this product simply would not take off!
LG’s limited edition GD910, was released in 2008. With the ability to make video calls and use 3G, this watch phone should have been revolutionary. The user interface was good, and so was the functionality. The only place LG seemed to have gone wrong was the pricing of the device. At almost $800, the watch-phone attracted very few buyers and eventually suffered the same fate as the smartwatches before it – an ignominious death without much of a stir.
With the coming of Bluetooth, and bolstered by the rapid strides being made in smartphone technology, companies had the opportunity to remedy the situation. Watches no longer needed to be standalone products. Better batteries, touchscreens and low-power, short-range connections to extremely capable internet-connected devices such as smartphones allowed these watches to morph into what we see today – extensions of the smartphone.
This fundamental change is probably the fillip that smartwatches needed.
As standalone devices, it is understandable that watches were never able to make it big. They are, after all, extremely small devices and there is only so much hardware that manufacturers can stuff into them. Add to that, the fact that there’s a mandatory balance needed between aesthetics and the functionality of a computing device when worn as a watch. Size, weight and materials all become its Achilles Heel.
As a notification device (as it is currently used, as an extension of the smartphone) however, the smartwatch makes perfect sense, probably more for people who prefer 7-10 inch tablets over smartphones than anyone else. The ease with which you could check your messages and notifications all but eliminates the need to take out these rather large devices from wherever they’re being stored and this, in my opinion, is the most practical application for these devices.
Sony’s original SmartWatch was probably the first attempt by a major electronics manufacturer to enter the field in this avatar and purpose in mind. It was the first device which could connect to a majority of the Android devices available, looked sleek and futuristic while simultaneously enabling you to control your smartphone with a simple touch of your watch. It allowed you to read your texts, e-mail, Twitter feed, control your music player, get your calendar notifications, and a whole lot more.
This device was heavily criticised however, for its general execution. The user interface left much to be desired, often not responding to swipes or touches. Also, the complete lack of features when the device was not connected to a phone and the amount of time required to keep it running smoothly made it an easy target for critics and reviewers alike.
That being said, Sony should be given credit for the effort. Most of the above problems have been fixed in a software update and the watch’s second iteration, the Sony Smart Watch 2, making the product relatively better to use.
Oddly enough, the first ‘successful’ smart watch hasn’t been a product of the great minds at a major electronic multinational, instead it was the product of a fairly small project called the Pebble Smart Watch. The Pebble Smart Watch grew to become a consumer favourite owing to its easy to use interface, compatibility with both Android and iOS, and amazing battery life. Its simplicity and originality make it stand apart. Unlike Sony, who chose to have an LCD screen, the Pebble start-up decided to go for an “epaper” display, which helps save a ton of battery, enabling the Pebble Smart Watch to have a battery life of up to 7 days!
The most recent and probably the most “commercial” release in the smart watch arena, has been that of Samsung Galaxy Gear.
Galaxy Gear takes everything from its predecessors and adds more. Along with being a sleek looking notification device, Gear can be used to take calls, is voice-enabled and has a camera. Downside? A hefty price, coupled with the fact that the smartwatch is only compatible with the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, Samsung Galaxy 10.1 and soon the Samsung Galaxy S4.
Meanwhile, Apple is coming out with its own widely anticipated venture into worn technology with the Apple “iWatch”. There are plenty of rumours about this one, and almost no solid news.
While Apple has released no official statement, Apple’s registered patents have shed some light on some possible designs. Some patented designs indicate that Apple is looking to use flexible screens for their new device. A wristband-like design isn’t completely impossible, and would be rather welcome in a field in which the devices are already starting to look oddly similar. Other rumours include the use of Apple’s famous Sapphire Glass in its latest gadget, with the batteries encased in the wrist band. More recent rumours yield that Apple is using LG Display and RiTdisplay, a subsidiary of RITEK, to be the two producers for the iWatch screen.
Not far behind, Google’s rumoured Nexus ‘Gem’ will reportedly mark Google’s entry into the field. Having patented the Google Smart Watch back in 2011, this isn’t an altogether shocking move, and it seems the watch is nearing mass production.
The establishment of Google Now cards could see wide application in the watch, giving the consumer easily available information at the tip of their fingers.
Electronics manufacturers aside, it will be interesting to see how high-end watch makers and traditional smart watch makers such as CASIO respond to the encroachment of their territory. The CASIO G-Shock GB- X6900B, which is Bluetooth 4.0 enabled, marks a step in the right direction and allows you to program a custom button to run smartphone apps like alarms, music, world clocks and countdown timers, in addition to the current email and call notifications.
How much they are willing to compromise on traditional designs to make way for technology will be the question, if they see the smartwatch as a threat at all, that is. And while the possibility of competition between watch-making giants and electronics giants seems mouth-watering, I’d much rather see collaboration. This would open up the world of smartwatches to thousands of possibilities and may be the way forward into making the smartwatch a standard household device.
As the technology becomes more capable, we might soon see the incorporation of bendable batteries, screens into smartwatches. Most of the watches so far use fairly smartphone-like user interfaces to get around. What might push the smartwatch to the next level might be the development of a completely new way to interact with device.
Despite the fact that these watches have been around for as long as they have, the segment of worn technology can still be considered to be in its infancy. But it’s taking giant strides, and quickly! People are expecting that we will soon have smartwatches that could control just about anything you could put a sensor in.
This, and limitless possibilities of collaboration between technology and watch making giants, make them an exciting prospect. An Apple Rolex, anyone?
False Positives - Google Takes On The Fight
“False Positives”, is a term used to define the occurrence where an antivirus program identifies a legitimate file as a virus or malware.
Contrary to our belief, these occurrences are quite common in the antivirus industry, where an innocent file is identified as a predatory malware by the errant algorithm of the antivirus programs.
False positives are the reason you see a message from your antivirus programs warning you of probable malware in perfectly legitimate programs or softwares, which further renders them inoperable as the antivirus cleans (wipes) the operating files.
Software developers have been at the receiving end of bad feedback when their perfect programs and apps have been victims of false positives and thereby rendered useless or retained limited capability and thus getting inundated with customer queries.
Relying on digital signatures may not be enough as malware have cunningly used digital signatures stolen from legitimate developers.
The antivirus vendors also face the flack, as their products acquire the reputation of either slowing the processing speeds or even making the device misbehave while booting up.
To resolve this, Google has reached out to all, through their “Trusted Source’ program via a Google online scanning service VirusTotal.
VirusTotal is a free service from the Google stable, and to show their sincere intent to overcome the concerns of false positives, Google has joined hands with Microsoft.
It will be beneficial for Microsoft to add their metadata to the VirusTotal database, which will notify the developers and antivirus vendors alike of the “false positive” incidents and corrective actions can be implemented, leaving the end user satisfied with their purchases and downloads.
VirusTotal is capable of sending the data to the antivirus vendors even before the software vendors may have been notified, allowing them to make the necessary changes. Teaming with Microsoft, the team from Google has been able to negate more than 6,000 such “false positive” concerns.
Google has managed to nail the problem and roll-out an effective solution and with Microsoft joining hands on the project, we see that as one big positive step towards this initiative as big software developers will could quite effortlessly help with the identification and mitigation of false positives, leaving the field of available softwares clearer to identify and cull malware.
Google Wants To Be Your Universal Translator
Those of us who’ve witnessed the scientific marvel of Star Trek are well aware of what a ‘Universal translator’ is capable of. A Universal translator is exactly what it sounds like to be, it is a device that can translate your voice, be it in any language, to another language.
Most tech giants today are working on a device/app that can come close to the technological marvel of a universal translator. It’s safe to say that Google is coming close to achieving their dream of meeting this goal. Google’s Translate app has been totally revamped by the tech giant.
The latest version of Google Translate, which should hit Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store in the next few days offers two key features:
Although both these features have been present on the app for a while now, Google’s main objective behind this update is to enhance and simplify these features so that they work more fluidly, without any visible lag.
In the latest Google Translate app, to converse with someone speaking in a different language, a user chooses his language and that of the other speaker. He then taps the microphone icon, inputs his native language and then taps the microphone icon again. The app automatically recognizes which of the two selected languages is being spoken so the user can carry on his conversation without having to tap the mic each time he speaks in his language.
As far as image recognition is concerned, Google has improved that feature of the app as well. In earlier versions of this app, you had to take a photo of the foreign text to let the app translate it for you. Now, all you have to do is point your camera at the sign and the translated text appears on your screen.
The best thing about this entire process is that you don’t need Internet to use this feature! As of now, this feature supports English translated to and from French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. Google says it’s working to add more languages in addition to these languages.
Tech biggies such as Microsoft are also trying to enter this sector with their latest preview version of Skype Translator. As of now, Microsoft are aiming to release it only to Windows 8.1 PC’s and tablets and supported languages will be only Spanish and English. But Microsoft plan on expanding Skype Translator within the next few months.
Language translators are of immense importance to all those people who tend to travel across the globe. I am sure these fantastic new updates to Google Translate will immensely benefit such travelers!
Nexus 6 Back Covers Come Undone
All was well till the back covers for some devices started to have a mind of their own and started to pop off.
The problem, as seen in multiple images in the cyber world, is that the back cover comes unstuck and starts to bulge from the middle. Almost uncannily like humans who hit middle-age 😉
However, owners aren’t amused, with many of them having taken to social networks to vent their ire. Some owners have even claimed that the they received such a “bloated” phone out of the box.
As the clamour grew, speculations started circulating, that faulty batteries were causing bloating and causing the cover to come undone. However, Motorola quickly clarified that it was a result of a faulty glue, and the battery was nice and lean, thank you very much.
They were equally quick to deal with issue effectively – they acknowledged the flaw and announced how impacted owners could get immediate replacements.
They also advised owners against trying to resolve the problem using their own innovative methods, lest they inadvertently negate their warranty.
Motorola Rumoured To Be Working On The Next Nexus Phone Codenamed “Shamu”
Numerous rumors are doing the rounds on the future of Google’s Nexus devices. The latest is about a Nexus device from Motorola’s stable, code named Shamu.
Nexus phones in the past have always been code named with sea creatures like the Tilapia and Maguro and now Shamu keeps up with the tradition.
What’s most interesting though, is that Motorola seems to have pipped LG as the preferred partner on this project.
The phone is rumored to have a 5.9 inch display and include a finger print scanner. It’s name could be an indicator that since “Shamu the Whale” is oversized, the phone might be too!
Project Shamu is slated to be part of the Nexus program and will be released alongside HTC’s Volantis and will apparently running Android L.
Reviewers were surprised to see Motorola and Google working together so soon after it had been sold off to Lenovo however the move makes sense as this project has been in the mill for some time now.
The device is said to be set for a November release and will run on a Google-built Kernel. Other specs of the phone still are unclear and absence of any images for this device add to the mystery.
The image above is that of the Google tracker where the phone first showed up. This tracker comes from a company called Spirent Communications, which tests devices for error.
The image thus goes to show that they may have the instrument in their custody for testing
All is speculative information till we get our hands on concrete information of the device specifications, images and better still a physical device.
Who Will Buy Twitch?
Twitch.tv is a live video streaming platform that focuses on video games and e-sports.
Twitch as a gaming platform has over 55 million monthly visitors, making it a revolutionary game streaming website. Companies like Amazon, Google and Microsoft have approached Twitch to acquire them however there’s now sign of a winner.
Google began it talks with Twitch to make a deal for a billion dollars however the deal did not go through due to an antitrust compliance issue.
Antitrust law – a law that forbids any business from monopolizing a market and restricting free trade, is applicable to all businesses like transportation, manufacturing, marketing and in this case technology.
Google has already been embroiled in a number of lawsuits in connection to antitrust issues in the US and Europe. Mean while Google felt concerned that if this deal went through they would have put Twitch in control of YouTube, which is the world’s largest video site on the Internet and as a result, both companies could not reach a consensus on a break-up fee (an amount paid by one company or the other in a scenario that the acquisition does not go through).
The reasons for Google being interested in acquiring Twitch were simple:
Amazon.com is the world’s largest online retailer. They started as an online bookstore and later diversified into selling CD’s, Video’s, DVD’s, MP3 downloads/streaming, software, video games, electronics, apparel, furniture, food, toys, and jewellery. Amazon also produces consumer electronics like Amazon Kindle e-book readers, Kindle Fire tablets, Fire along with being a major provider for cloud computing services.
Amazon has always invested in their growth and has constantly added things to their growing content line up. They jumped at the offer when Twitch was on the table for sale again and pegged the price of the deal at USD 970 million in cash.
Amazon does have a lot of products under its hat, but it could not provide its users with on demand videos. Amazon has always shown a keen interest in games through Amazon’s Game studio and with this deal going through, Amazon could add that feather to it’s hat.
The deal between Twitch and Amazon does feel less idyllic, but Amazon can offer Twitch resources and reliability towards their faithful following which in turn would help them build their brand in the video gaming world.
Shear, CEO of Twitch was quoted explaining why Amazon was potentially the best fit for Twitch – “One of the things that really stood out about Amazon was their approach to acquisitions. We will be a wholly owned subsidiary and I will remain CEO. They have a long term vision about how to create big opportunities in the future by investing today”.
This will give Twitch a chance to grow as a single entity, growing under the wings of Amazon, while making a name for both in the growing gaming industry.
Let’s see how this cookie crumbles. Seems like it won’t be too long.
Apple And Google Battle It Out To Take Over Your Life
It seems like smartphones and tablets are the just the beginning, with titans such as Apple and Google raging forward to integrate their products in all aspects of your life.
Let’s explore what this means for customers.
Wearable technology is the new ‘it’ thing, and Google and Apple are determined to lead the way. With the recently launched Android Wear, Google offers seamless integration of your smartphone with your smartwatch. Once you sync Google Android Wear with your Android smartphone, the ‘wearable’ features of apps will automatically install on the wristwatch, and thereon, to use one is to use the other. Android Wear extensively utilizes voice control to perform tasks more easily and efficiently.
However, with Apple’s ‘iWatch’ rumoured to be just around corner, Google may have its work cut out for it. After all, Apple is known to be a formidable opponent in terms of design and its customer experience.
Next up, Cars. Instead of incorporating their software into automobiles, Apple and Google have paved the way for smart infotainment systems in your car by simply plugging in your smartphone.
First up, Apple introduced CarPlay, which is a specialised version of iOS centred around Siri. With the aim of providing a safe driving experience, you can ask Siri for directions or answer a call or dictate text messages without having to look down at your phone.
Google, not one to be left behind, launched a similar system called Android Auto. So instead of Siri, you’ll be giving instructions to Google Now. Be it maps or traffic notifications or selecting a music track, Android Auto does it all with a simple voice command.
Industry Uptake: While some car manufacturers sit firmly behind Apple and some behind Google, some manufacturers like Honda and Hyundai have signed up for both compatibilities.
Not only automobiles, Apple and Google are all set to invade your Homes too!
With Google Chromecast and Apple TV, the television viewing experience is never going to be the same. However, in this case, Google seems to take the cake with Chromecast’s compact design, wide range of apps and affordability at $35. Apple TV on the other hand, while equipped with better and cleaner features, comes at nearly thrice the cost of Chromecast, and unfortunately works only in the iOS ecosystem with majority of the content being iTunes-centric. So if you’re an Android user, this one’s not for you.
With Apple and Google fighting it out to lay claim to every aspect of your life, one wonders, what next? And so the battle rages on.
Meet Zocalo - Amazon's Answer To Dropbox And Google Docs
Years after the immensely successful launch of Amazon Web Services (AWS) in 2006, the e-commerce giant is now challenging yet another domain. Amazon just lobbed out its own answer to Dropbox and Google Docs, and it goes by the name of Zocalo.
Unusually named, Zocalo is a secure online storage service which allows companies to store, access and collaborate on documents over the internet.
Amazon describes Zocalo as a fully managed, secure enterprise storage and sharing service with extensive administrative control and feedback capabilities.
Not only does the service let users securely store data and documents, it also facilitates online collaboration on a variety of document formats such as spreadsheets, presentations, webpages, images, PDFs and more.
And keeping Amazon’s key initiative of any-device-anywhere alive, Zocalo is designed to work on a laptops, tablets, as well as on a range of mobile devices in both the Android and iOS ecosystems.
At the business end of things, Zocalo provides easy integration with an organization’s existing corporate directory. The administrator has all the functionality necessary to manage users and their capabilities. She can also administer such as limiting the storage space available to a user as well deactivating accounts etc.
Interestingly enough, Dropbox which ruled the cloud storage scene up until till now, is in fact renting storage space on Amazon S3, which is a part of AWS.
Now, with Zocalo entering the picture and offering users 200 GB of cloud space at USD 5 a month, which is nearly one-third the cost of Dropbox’s services, the prognosis for Dropbox doesn’t look so good.
And then, there’s the fact that the services offered by both are nearly identical.
Not one to hold back – Amazon uses every tool from their vast arsenal. So, not only are they offering reduced prices but they’re also providing the service free to existing customers of Amazon Workspaces! This will get them Zocalo free of cost, including 50 GB of storage space per user. This can be upgraded to 200 GB of space at a minimal amount of $2 per month.
Indeed Amazon seems serious about Zocalo and is enabling it with all that is at their command. Dropbox does have one point of advantage though – it’s available to individuals as well as organizations, whereas Zocalo is currently only pegged for organizational (enterprise) use.
Let’s see how this pans out. It’s going to be an interesting year.
Google Acquires Music Streaming App Songza
Joining the race to dominate the digital music market, tech giant Google recently acquired Songza, a music streaming app, for an undisclosed amount.
Scuttlebutt suggests the amount to be upwards of USD 15 Million.
This move comes with the aim of competing with Pandora, a leader in this space as well as with staunch rival Apple’s Beats Music, which it acquired a short while ago in May.
Songza is a music curating app, which instead of presenting users with a dry selection of songs and artistes, actually generates playlists that are crafted to suit a plethora of themes, occasions and moods.
Its selling point is its specially curated playlists, which unlike Pandora’s algorithm-generated ones, are actually handmade by DJs, musicians, music critics and musicologists.
In other words, Songza’s content has that human touch, one that is absent in competing music apps.
What’s more, is that it’s completely free of cost and features no audible commercial interruptions.
Google announced that Songza would remain active, independent and free – for the time being. However, Google does plan to incorporate Songza into Google Play Music, in an attempt to revamp the app which has constantly underperformed in comparison to its competitors since it was launched in 2011.
With Google’s resources and backing, Songza could scale greater heights and become a serious threat to other similar apps like Pandora, Beats and Spotify.
In addition, the tech giant also gains necessary technology to improve its YouTube ecosystem by adding significant value to the upcoming YouTube Music service.
So all in all, Google is working to build its market share and pile up even more revenue, especially considering that advertisers are gearing up to increase spending for internet music and radio services.
Google Glass Now Available to All, No Invitation Needed
Google just announced that it’s Google Glass will be available to any Glass fan who has been waiting to get her hands on the device.
Company representatives said that they will be selling the device more openly, only till stocks last, though.
Google had initially communicated that on April 15, the Glass could be ordered by anyone, however surprisingly, they have renewed this offer without any time limitations just 9 days after.
The company said “We learned a lot when we opened our site a few weeks ago, so we have decided to move to a more open beta”.
Glass is still not a fully finished consumer product and they are still working on the hardware and software fronts. Google so far is only offering an early version targeted at the beta testers called Explorers.
There is no clarity on how many units Google has made already and whether they will make more in response to their demand.
Google Glass fans here have another chance to grab the opportunity of purchasing the Glass for USD 1500 or wait until it leaves its development stage and reemerges with the consumer versions incorporated into frames that are going to be sold by Oakley and Ray-Ban.
The rules for buying a Google Glass are strictly limited to those who are 18 years of age, residents of the United States with a valid United States shipping address.
So people in other countries like UK and Australia will still be unable to buy the device for some more time.
Project Ara – Google’s Modular Phone
When Google bought Motorola, a lot of people thought that all of Nexus manufacturing would be moved from LG to Motorola, however, with the sale of the mobility business to Lenovo, Google had the business pundits confused.
The sale to Lenovo was however not the first time a part of Motorola business has been sold by Google. In 2012, they had sold off Motorola’s home set-top box division for USD 2.35 billion to Arris Group.
That said, Google is no bleeding heart. It knows what it wants from every deal, and it’s a fair assumption that Google gets more from a sale than what it paid for the asset.
Google has guarded, integrated and developed the multiple Motorola patents that it has retained, giving them the edge to develop smartphones without the legal hassles on design and technology, as can be seen with Samsung and Apple.
Google also retained the Special Projects team from Motorola. Called the Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group, it is from the ATAP design table, that Google’s bred the revolutionary concept of a modular phone.
Google calls this Project Ara.
The concept of the modular phone is actually not new! It was introduced by an Israeli company called Modu. The idea did not catch on and they went belly up, Google however watched them and had bought their intellectual property.
Google is intending to re-introduce the idea to retail customers, and enable the customer to build his phone from base up, by choosing from the different possible components – similar to assembling the various parts like Lego blocks.
The phone construction starts with the endoskeleton provided by Google, which has two slots in the front for the screen and the buttons and has eight slots in the back for power modules, processor module, etc.
Google will open the development of the different modules to external hardware developers, similar to their Android OS development model. This model will allow smaller hardware developers to reach customers directly and also gain a niche while developing a particular part of the smartphone.
The concept has many advantages, where e-waste can be reduced, as it allows users to upgrade his phone in parts, rather than discard the entire phone and buy a new one.
This also means that he will have the freedom to also buy attachments, which he can use at his convenience; like having a bigger camera attached when he is wants to indulge in his passion of photography, could have a medical attachment for monitoring health and many more. The various attachments could be similar to buying add-ons and attachments to accessorize and enable the phone.
Google is confident that third party hardware manufacturers will build a variety of modules for Ara, thereby making it a success.
Imagine the ease with which you could upgrade your phone without shelling out an arm and a leg for the price of a new one!
A concern some design pundits earlier had was the modular and bulky look of the phone; however they should not worry. With the development of technology and advancement in nano technology, the individual components can be molded into desired shapes and reduced to miniscule sizes.
Even the mock designs that have been floating around do not look bad at all.
The introduction of the modular phone will instigate manufacturers to compete thus igniting faster developments in the technology behind each component, fueled by the fear of performance redundancy of their hardware module.
Seems like a win-win for the customers.
Google Lays Down the Law: No More Device Launches With Dated Android OS
Apple has forever had an edge over the Android devices with regard to the high proportion of it’s user base that is on the most-contemporary iOS version.
Android on the other hand, struggles to overcome the highly fragmented adoption rate of it’s newer Android versions. Manufacturers are to blame, as is the overall ‘open source’ method of Android.
Android thus suffers poor users experience on it’s devices and Google has forever know that.
Now, Google might be taking their first step to regain some ground by introducing a policy applicable to all manufacturers utilizing Android OS for their devices.
The policy discourages them from releasing any new devices with an Android version which is 2 levels older than the current one.
Google wants to cull the fragmentation of Android OS at the manufacturer level and have taken a stand that they will not approve GMS (Google Mobile Service) distribution of devices nine months after the Android OS is released.
What this means to the manufacturer (and by extension, the users) is that if a brand’s device is found flouting this policy, it might not be able to access the Google Play Store at all, including the Google Mobile Service (GMS) which is a suite of all Google apps like Google Maps, Google Now, Hangouts etc., that are critical to the overall Android experience.
While the device will gunction normally even without the GMS, however it’s features and capabilities will be severely restricted as it will largely become an ‘island’ of a device. Can you imagine what the lack of access to the Play Store would do to your experience with your smartphone/tablet!
Well, here are the dates that Google’s specified:
The way we’ve heard it, Google will be enforcing this policy on budget phones and mid-range phones to start with, along with the top-of-line smartphones to follow suit.
They intend to apply the policy to cover not only the major players like Samsung, HTC, LG but also the upcoming brands and local brands that are flooding the market with their inexpensive devices that come with high-end specifications like Xiaomi, Micromax and Karbonn.
Should Google actually enforce this policy, one can envision a day when Google will unveil the latest version of the Android OS and all manufacturers will simultaneously launch it across their products on the same day rather than making their non-Nexus users wait months.
Here’s a beer to that!
Google Plays Rule Changes - Are They Good For You?
Open source programming, allowed by different versions of Android and Google, has let developers come up with applications in a whole myriad of ways, and allows them to publish the apps on the Google Play Store without a strict guideline.
The result? Spam targeted to consumer accounts, no restriction on type of content, fake applications and cloning of apps to list just a few repercussions. All this has led to significant customer dissatisfaction and worse, malware hitting Android’s heart.
Finally taking remedial steps to correct this culture, Google introduced six new rules for their app developers, promising to enforce them strictly.
Some are calling the rules overkill, however in light of recent cases of malware, abuse, misuse and unwanted contents being displayed to the users, Google’s being accused turning a blind eye to the violation of the integrity of consumers by such apps.
What’s worse is that malicious Android apps grew about 388% from the year 2011 to 2013 and to the naysayers’ point, these percentage of apps removed by Google has declined to from 63% to 23% in the said period.
There is a remarkable difference between the way Apple has handled their store apps in comparison to the Play Store.
Apple from the beginning has been very clear with the guidelines laid for their application developers and hence iOS and Mac users incur negligible nuisances from stuff downloaded from Apple’s App or iTunes Store.
Google initially cited the lack of direct control over the developers and manufacturers. But people aren’t listening. When simply downloading an app causes ads to start popping up randomly there’s not much humour in that. The absence of security in terms of adult content on Google Play Store too, has most customers unamused.
Google has issued notices to the software programmers and developers to now adhere to rules and guidelines laid out by them while developing Android based applications giving the developers a deadline of about 15 days to make the relevant changes for their respective apps which may not be falling in the ambit of the guidelines issued by them.
The are the new rules set by Google:
Hopefully this step should bring in the app security, integrity and quality of content being displayed to the users on the Play Store.
We think it will increase the consumer interaction exponentially.
Google Chrome Takes Down Extensions
Google Chrome has grown spectacularly in the past year and is one of the most recommended browsers. However Google recently had to withdraw two extensions that violated the terms of Google’s policy from the Chrome Web Store after a notification from the Wall Street Journal.
Extensions available on the Chrome Web Store are one of the attractions of Google’s browser allowing users to customize their Internet browsers.
Google was quoted as saying that it will be changing its policies by this June to filter out extensions that don’t follow the “single purpose that is narrow and easy-to-understand” model.
This incident was a result of two extensions, namely, “Add to Feedly” and “Tweet this page” launching unwanted and unnecessary ads when users installed these.
Amit Agarwal, the developer of “Add to Feedly” chrome extension (that provides a means to subscribe to RSS feeds of any web page) blogged about the events unfolding at the Google Chrome front, that an unknown user approached him to sell his extension for a neat sum and within a month saw it up on the Web Store.
He wrote “A month later, the new owners of the Feedly extension pushed an update to the Chrome store. No, the update didn’t bring any new features to the table nor contained any bug fixes. Instead, they incorporated advertising into the extension”.
These extensions launched invisible ads that work in the background in clear violation of terms and conditions. The foundation of such extensions was initiated as software add-ons wherein once you blindly agree to the terms and conditions of new software you’d like to download off the Internet, the extensions download as well.
Google has released an update to rectify the violation and address unhappy users, however this is large-scale practice without any surveillance and Google will have to turn its full attention to fully eradicate it.
Google has said that they will bring in changes to their Chrome Web Store policies soon.
HTC Announces The New HTC One Ahead Of The Samsung Galaxy S5
HTC recently announced the new HTC One, called the HTC One M8. Folks are already considering the new device to be good enough to become the top-dog in the Android market.
Aimed to please the end user, while the features may not be that significantly different from last year’s model however the looks have been refined to quite a degree, and HTC says there are major changes in its software too.
The HTC One M8 has a 5 inch display with a 1080 pixel resolution. Under the cover is a 2.3 GHz Snapdragon 801 quad core processor with a 2 GB RAM, which should allow the user to breeze through all the tasks that she can throw at it.
The device comes in storage options of 16 GB or 32 GB, which can be further augmented by an additional 128 GB thanks to a microSD slot.
If things could not get better – Google is giving 50 GB of cloud space on it’s Google Drive for two years!
For your entertainment the HTC One M8 has a 5 megapixel front camera and a HTC UltraPixel-enabled rear camera, which should provide the user superior picture quality, capturing depth information with a wide array of special effects to photos.
The device has another “camera” like sensor in the back and it is called a “Duo Camera Array”, where the second sensor is not a camera but a depth sensor. This addition allows the user to significantly modify the photos and successfully blur the backgrounds post clicking the photo.
The flagship feature for entertainment purposes, the front facing speakers, have been upgraded too. The HTC team has placed the speakers differently, and even redesigned the inbuilt amplifier to belt out richer sound.
A sizeable 2,600mAh battery keeps the phone going for a good 20 hours of talk time and now also has a new “extreme power saving mode” enhancing the standby time to 40 days.
HTC is also offering a new case, the Dot View case which is a cover made of perforated rubber enabling the user to view notifications through this case, displayed in a dot matrix style point. It looks different but the enhancement to our phone-experience is brilliant!
But it’s not an easy spot to land.
Google’s Nexus 5 released last year has gained tremendous success in the market, and Samsung’s own flagships, the Galaxy S4 and the Galaxy S5 will definitely prove stiff competition with regards pricing and features.
Reviewers have been questioning whether the HTC One M8 will be worth the money and if it would provide and edge with its new features. The answer is a “Yes” – so far, as it has emerged to be more capable than the Nexus 5 and the Galaxy S5!
It has outshone the Nexus in almost all of the features – be it the camera, the software or even the design.
The only drawback versus the Nexus 5, could be the HTC One M8’s size, as the Nexus is more manageable, allowing the user to use the phone with one hand, while with the HTC One, the user would have to stretch out their thumbs to reach the top left of the screen.
Between the three said phones, reviewers have quoted them to be as “M8 boasts of Luxury, Nexus 5 has practicality and the Galaxy S5 plays catch up”.
HTC was able to get the One M8 into the market before Samsung S5, which is yet to hit the stores. HTC pulled a fast one by keeping the launch and sale date the same for this device, and making it available worldwide with 230 operators in over 100 countries!
The price of this flagship phone doesn’t come as a bolt from the blue; with the latest technology under its cover it definitely commands its price tag. This phone is going to retail for USD 650, unlocked.
So, in conclusion we can say that this phone is being considered to be one that will create a lot of divide with users and their opinions. That said, the LG G3 and the iPhone 6 cannot be left out of consideration as they are both brilliant in their own rights. The only thing that puts them on at a disadvantage is that they are yet to be announced.
So for the moment, the fight remains between Samsung, Nexus and HTC One, and we think we know which one’s ruling people’s mind at this time!
Google And Samsung Concerned About Microsoft/Nokia Business In China
When Microsoft acquired Nokia’s hardware business, little did they know the panic waves that it would send across the telephony world!
It’s not so much the consternation around the hardware business being sold (since Nokia’s never really gotten both feet onto the smartphone wagon), but it’s what’s left out that has people worried.
Per the deal, Microsoft is leaving most of the wireless patents under Nokia’s control.
And ailing tigers aren’t reliable. They’re hungry and mostly desperate. Leaving them the keys to the larder may not make too much sense. And that’s got other manufacturers worried.
I’d perhaps make more sense through an example. Everybody knows that Microsoft loses a ton of royalty/revenues because of the pirated copies of it’s software being freely circulated. Yet, they don’t do much about enforcing recriminations. The buyers of the pirated software though, live in fear of that enforcement, because they could lose a lot should Microsoft decide to invoke it’s rightful privileges.
Patents are granted for the companies to protect their innovations, for exactly this reason.
Nokia has one the largest and singularly most vast repository of patents related to wireless technologies. Do you know that Nokia has spent more than USD 60 billion on R&D and have nearly single-handedly built wireless technology from scratch.
Now, back to the story. Google and Samsung (who having the largest shares in the Chinese markets), have expressed deep concern to the Chinese regulators. They, and other local manufacturers have joined hands to request the Ministry of Commerce to conduct an anti-monopoly review, which essentially means that the regulators could set conditions on the Microsoft-Nokia deal to make sure that all licensing fees on the existing patents for wireless technologies are not increased.
Thus it seems a little hypocritical – the fact that this concern is lead by companies that are undisputed leaders in their own right, and own several patents of their own, and also operate near monopoly margins themselves.
Google leads in operating systems penetration (Android is owned by Google) with more than 75% market share and Samsung leads as a manufacturer in China.
Increase in license fees can however be a bit of a hiccup for manufacturers – large and small – as it will automatically hit either their bottom lines or market prices.
Smaller manufacturers who haven’t really heeded the import of patent infringement in high regard while designing and manufacturing their products, may be gravely affected if the legal team at Nokia started to cite the infringements against their patents in China.
Concerns of Microsoft getting a boost in the smartphones market was already voiced in December 2013 – Microsoft faced union trouble in the European markets, but it did manage to pull through the Nokia deal as the Commission in Europe felt that the transaction would not raise any competition concerns.
Following regulators in Europe, US and India have already cleared the deal. Russia, Turkey and Israel have followed suit and cleared the merger.
We will have to wait and watch to see if the Ministry of Commerce in China approves the deal and whether they stipulate that the company ensures no hike in patent fees, or not.
Google Smartwatch Possibly In June 2014!
The latest news is in; Google’s long awaited entry into the smartwatch market is expected to be a reality by mid 2014.
The bigger news (well, still a rumour) is that it’s not only a device, it’s actually an entirely new operating system that Google’s working on.
Google may showcase their Wearables-specific operating system with all it’s bells and whistles and their smartwatch to the public eye in June this year.
Google patents for its smartwatch and their partnerships with some manufacturers who have capability to manufacture wearable devices, make Google’s entry in the market of smartwatches all but inevitable.
So come this June, we may see the Google Watch (or whatever it’ll formally be called). Google’s choice of LG as the manufacturer for the smartwatch device is not a total surprise either, as Patrick Pichette (CFO, Google) called the LG made Nexus 5 a “ very strong performer”.
The Google smartwatch codenamed Gem has been in the news for the past few months. In fact, we’d written about some of the conjecture that swirled around this Wearable back in February. Now there’s more to share/ruminate over.
The tech space is abuzz with speculations on what the watch will and will not have – we might have a credible peek through a patent document.
According to a document on patft.uspto.gov, “The base can be coupled to the wristband and include a housing, a processor, a wireless transceiver, and a tactile user interface. The wireless transceiver can be configured to connect to a wireless network. The tactile user interface can be configured to provide interaction between a user and the smart-watch. The flip up portion can be displaceable between an open position exposing the base and a closed position concealing the base”.
If we go by the above description filed in a patent application by Google in 2011, we might be looking at a watch with Google Glass-like interface!
The watch is touted to have a full color display and will use Bluetooth LE to pair with the mobile devices. The watch will be driven by gestures and should have “Google Now” deeply integrated.
It’s also easy to believe the conjecture that the watch would be an add-on device to an Android device – a little bit of a let down when compared to the probability of the iWatch (that’s what the rumour mill is calling Apple’s smartwatch) being a standalone device.
Wearable devices are going to flood the markets in the coming years as per market specialists. According to Juniper Research, 2013 saw consumers spending USD 1.4 billion on Wearables and this should grow exponentially. They say the market is predicted to be around USD 19 billion by 2018!
It seems like a very fertile playing field. ☺
Google Smartwatch To Launch In June At Google I/O 2014
Buzz in the market on Google’s second wearable gadget, a smartwatch, alludes to the belief that it will finally be unveiled at Google’s I/O even in San Francisco, this June.
The smartwatch apparently codenamed “Gem” has been in the news for the past few months.
Coming to public view via Google’s rumoured acquisition of WIMM, a smartwatch manufacturer, this line of leaks next led to Google’s apparent receipt of a patent or two for its smartwatches.
It can be said that their stepping into the smartwatch market was inevitable and just a matter of time. LG was a logical choice for Google, keeping their successful collaboration in production of smartphones (Nexus 4 and Nexus 5) and Google TV. Add to that, the fact that LG is also the world’s fourth largest smartphone maker.
With the Google smartwatch, which is rumoured to be coming from LG’s shop floor, LG shall now enter the market of wearable devices too. So far dominated by Samsung, Sony and Pebble, this market is ripe for more players (we haven’t mentioned Apple yet, have we?).
Tweets by EVLeaks, indicate the Google smartwatch would have a 280x280p resolution screen on a 1.65-inch IPS display, with 512 MB RAM and 4 GB internal storage.
More to the point, it is said that Google wants to give its users an experience of being able to view information just like looking up time on your watch. Although it would a need Bluetooth LE connection, as it couldn’t possibly be a standalone device!
It is further conjectured that the smartwatch will be able to answer questions and respond to text messages using voice commands and also monitor the user’s health and fitness.
The battery life is a definite concern that floats to mind, as the components used to make a smartwatch will be more or less the same used for a smartphone, which also implies they’ll be power-hungry.
Well, that’s all we know for now. We’ll be back with more updates/rumours in a bit. Stay tuned!
"Cider" Enables iOS Apps To Run On Android
Six ingenious minds at Columbia University have come up with an operating system compatibility architecture that enables apps built for different OS platforms (Android, iOS) to be used on the same device.
They call it Cider (pun intended to Apple?)
This has been successfully demonstrated when they used the Nexus 7 to run Android apps from the Google Play Store and iOS apps from the App Store on it.
So what’s the secret?
Cider enables the onboard operating system (OS) – Android in this case to mimic the application binary interface of the “foreign” OS (iOS in this case), enabling the device to run the app unmodified on the “foreign” OS. It even allows the foreign OS app to utilise and appropriately leverage the GPU hardware on the current device. The software is said to trick Android into believing that the apps were meant for it, while creating an environment so that the apps can run comfortably.
Cider provides a familiar user experience when running iOS apps on Android. Apps are launched from the Android home screen, just like any other Android app, and users can switch seamlessly between domestic Android apps and foreign iOS apps.
An abstract from the project’s papers submitted to the University of Columbia, “We present Cider, an operating system compatibility architecture that can run applications built for different mobile ecosystems, iOS or Android together on the same smartphone or tablet. Cider enhances the domestic operating system, Android, of a device with kernel-managed, per-thread personas to mimic the application binary interface of a foreign operating system, iOS, enabling it to run unmodified foreign binaries.”
Android app reviewers have said that Project Cider does have its shortcomings related to app and hardware functionality. Currently it cannot translate instructions and interfaces for access to a device’s Bluetooth, GPS, cameras and even cellular radios. Android apps will still function on the device even with the OS abstraction layer.
The good news is that there are no fundamental limitations regarding compatibility concerns between the two operating systems and the team is trying to get over the limitations and intends to continue development work on this project.
Prima facie, all this is really, really good news as it enables people to utilize the best of both worlds (Android and iOS), however this could spell trouble for the OS manufacturers as well as handset manufacturers.
Cider when fully developed, will gift the user capability to choose the best hardware at an optimal cost and enable the user to run apps from both OS’.
That said, analysts and reviewers are both skeptical as to how far project “Cider” will go, as there seems to be a number of obvious legal and technical complications, which the “Cider” team would face along the way, especially from biggies like Apple.
Nonetheless, the project has got a lot of techies’ attention and are stoking thought processes on the lines of cross OS functionality.
Let’s wait and watch how this concept takes shape and if it is ever released for public consumption.
Google Unveils Contact Lenses That Read Glucose Levels
Research to discover novel methods to read glucose levels has been long since ongoing and is now beginning to show results.
Getting on the Health bandwagon, Google has unveiled smart contact lens that read glucose levels in tears instead of the traditional needles-and-blood way.
Researchers at Google have apparently succeeded in developing sensors that can be miniaturised to fit in a contact lens’ envelope and take glucose related readings in an individual’s tears!
It is said that the lens may also be fitted with miniscule LED lights to indicate irregular glucose levels, to aid in forewarning the wearer of spikes and troughs in glucose levels.
Google has been rather smart to pursue this forward-looking project and innovate to help diabetics constantly and unobtrusively.
Given the sedentary lifestyles, and increased biological stresses, complicated by increasing disposable income which in turn, supports (unhealthy) “fast food” escape-route, there has been a perceptible, exponential increase in the number of people with high sugar levels.
Joining hands with the US Food and Drugs Administration, Google is looking to complete testing this health care invention and pushing it into mass production soon, so as to reach and support consumers on a global scale.
Google is definitely working to make life easier for diabetics and others afflicted by associated ailments – this undoubtedly entails a lot of research and innovation; however Google has put it’s money where it’s heart is, by foreseeing and trying to meet future social needs with cutting edge technology .
There isn’t much more information available on this project at this time, but we’ll keep our eyes open and let you know as we learn more about this.
Meanwhile, stay healthy!
Customized Google Maps – The Next Level Of Personalisation
Google Maps have guided us all to our varied destinations and recently when Apple Inc. had broken off with them, it completely messed with our lives.
Clearly, Apple wants to go it’s own way and try and create a Maps service of their own. Sensing that, Google is doubling it’s efforts and commitment to staying ahead of anything Apple can put out.
Team Google is apparently consolidating and collaborating within, to include your search data with your geographical queries so as to display a map customised just for you!
Jonah Jones, a User Experience designer at Google and Bernhard Seefeld, a product manager for Google Maps, shared this at Roadmap 2013.
This progression is the next logical step for Google; to engage the data from our previous searches into our current needs there-by effectively prioritizing the numerous data points to effectively answer our search query, even if it displayed on a map.
Google has already been successful in digitizing and displaying our locations using maps; now they will use your search queries and customize the maps to display the locations, businesses, and landmarks according to your needs.
This would mean that if two people were to search for the same area on the globe, they would have the same map displayed however the labels displayed would be selected, prioritized and selectively displayed to cater to your individual preferences.
The engineers talked about the Google engine to preemptively understand and process your needs and will also include your current location as a factor. They said that if you were to be in an airport, they could safely preempt your need and show you a flight schedule, making your location a search query.
This integration of predictive profiling of the user into the search results will further cement their #1 position in Search.
Google Files A Patent For Gesture Control In Automobiles
Google has come a very long way from being a company that was known just as the master of searches.
They’ve evolved into a mature organization which is into serious research in all matters related to enabling the human race – be it in the medical field (backing a venture to research aging in humans), or technological research (driverless cars also known as Google Chauffeur, and augmented reality via their Google Glass), or enabling the masses (Project Loon – thats’s aimed at providing internet in remote locations) to now, exploring an amalgamation of technology and gestures to operate automobiles!
That said, Google are not the first ones to join this bandwagon; General Motors has already started on this in their luxury cars segment.
Some manufacturers have used this on their media controls like Toyota.
The team at Mercedes has Dynamic & Intuitive Control Experience (DICE), which through numerous sensors translates hand and arm movements to access media, controls to a full screen display.
BMW has also been working on their iDrive system to integrate gesture control in addition to a touch consol.
So why, is there so much brouhaha about a patent being filed?
Well… because it is filed by Google and any news at Google is bound to create ripples.
Let’s tell you a little more about the technology now.
Google recently acquired a start-up called Flutter that specialises in gesture control.
Flutter has developed an app that allows you to use gestures to control your PCs and Macs.
The way we see it, if Google Now is the ear to your device, the app from Flutter has the potential become the eyes of your device.
Predictably, Google is adding more to Flutter’s model. While a lot of the blog world presumes that this tech will hit Google’s smartphones and tablets, at Chip-Monks, we actually think they intend to deploy it first in automobiles!
Google may use a camera and a laser scanner mounted in a vehicle to read the gestures and transmit them to the vehicle.
There will be numerous micro-actions that will be read and interpreted – like, the kind of gesture, velocity and context of the gesture, execution space for the gesture and ignoring normal human gestural responses to negative external stimuli (a.k.a. flipping other drivers who have just inconvenienced us).
What all can possibly be gesture controlled? Well anything from rolling your windows to controlling your media center.
That said, since it concerns our (and our family’s) well-being, one can’t just trust this technology from the get-go.
A lot of people will have some concerns with gesture controls, that they’d want answered before trusting the technology:
Gesture control sounds like a good assistive technology in the car, but a small gesture like scratching our nose should not lead our windscreen vipers into a tizzy!
For the new technology to be successful, not only will it need to be quick, accurate, but will also need to be tremendously reliable, especially in being contextually aware of what the occupant(s) intend.
And that’s a big ask, especially given how nascent machine learning is at the current time.
Yet, all great inventions need to start somewhere, at some time, and evolve over time. So let’s see where this takes us!
Revolutionise Your Android Experience With Mini Launcher
All of us love to run the latest version of Android on our phones – each software update brings with it plenty of changes in several departments, ranging from UI, appearance to features and capabilities.
OS manufacturers learn from each other, and from app developers, and often introduce evolutionary features that couldn’t make it to the previous build. All this usually adds up to a sumptuous new experience.
Android 4.4 KitKat was even more so!
The most noticeable and striking part of the recent Android 4.4 KitKat launch was the announcement of the all-new Google Experience Launcher.
Google initially made this launcher available for the newly launched Nexus 5 only, which didn’t play well with a lot of it’s loyal base that were using the still-relevant Nexus 4. However, Google, being the savvy folks they are, didn’t drag their feet at all; making the APK extensions of the launcher available online for the developer fraternity.
Consequently, there are now plenty of third-party launchers that support Android 4.0+ and give those users the all new KitKat experience on their devices!
Mini Launcher by Home Plus is one such launcher that can be downloaded from the Play Store. And installing it is easy… once you download it onto your device, simply open it from your app drawer and the app does the rest. We’ll cover that installation bit, a little later in the article.
The key feature of Mini is its handy sidebar that allows you to view current weather, recent apps, calls, messages and toggles for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS etc. Interestingly, the Mini has inbuilt support for GO Widgets without you actually needing to install the GO Launcher EX app.
To expand utility even further, you can also download the Mini Sidebar app from the Play Store – Once downloaded, the sidebar automatically integrates into Mini Launcher and presents the current weather, quick setting toggles, missed call and message notifications, recent apps as well as access to the app settings. Crazy stuff!
Something to note though, is that Mini only supports up to 3 home screen pages at the most, as opposed to other launchers that offer seven, nine or even unlimited home screens.
So, how do you setup the Mini Launcher? Well, after you’re done downloading Mini from the Play Store, launch it from your app drawer itself. Your device will automatically ask if you want to set it as your default launcher or whether you want to use it just this once. You can choose to try it once, to see how you like the new avatar, and then decide if you like it enough to be your default go-to version. You can then set it as default, in the same way (app drawer route)
Moving on, using the Mini is pretty similar to the Stock Android launchers that we’ve witnessed in the past. To add widgets/apps onto your home screen, simply open the app drawer, touch on any app/widget and drag it to the homescreen you wish to add it to. Or tap and hold anywhere on your home screen to bring up the Add to Home screen.
You get a ‘Mini Settings‘ screen along with this launcher, from where you can access all of the launcher’s settings – you’ll get a wide range of customization options like Sidebar, Theme Manager, Desktop, Drawer, Dock and Look and Feel.
The Mini Sidebar shows you the settings of the Sidebar extension of this launcher. Here, you can do stuff like toggle haptic feedback, select the sidebar style and even disable the sidebar if you so wish.
Theme Manager lets you easily download themes for this launcher and toggle between your installed themes. Desktop lets you customize some settings such as wallpaper scrolling, home screens, hide notification bar.
Drawer lets you toggle with the settings of your app drawer like the app grid size, scroll effect, background transparency etc.
With Look and Feel you can custom create or choose your own color theme and set stuff like scroll speed and animation speed.
Other settings like Gestures and Buttons let you access and customize launcher settings like the long press menu, swipe up transition etc. The Copy Home Screen feature lets you copy entire home screens from another launcher into Mini – which is rather useful if you use multiple launchers on your phone and prefer a particular layout or design.
That more or less covers everything this app has to offer! You’d agree, its quite a lot!
We at Chip-Monks think that the Mini Launcher is a brilliantly designed launcher with amazing features and an attractive user interface. So if you’ve had your phone for a while and are bored or are looking for an interface change, consider downloading this launcher and giving it a whirl.
Google Now To Let Users Set Reminders Entirely By Voice
Google Now, the intelligent personal assistant, has added a new feather to its cap – Voice Commands for setting Reminders. While this was already available, however it required multiple physical inputs including the user needing to confirm the accuracy of the verbally issued commands, by tapping the screen!!
The improved version of Google Now lets the user confirm his request with a simple verbal “Yes” or “No”. While the new feature is activated on its own (as it is present in the Google Now app), however this feature isn’t available in India immediately, as it is being rolled out steadily across the globe in phases.
Analysts had sarcastically called Google Now “the office assistant most people do not have the luxury to employ” however that should change one this feature reaches everyone as it is said to make Android phones more “hands free” to operate.
Google Now has a few feature-advantages over Siri – it tries to preempt the user’s next need, which is based on the user’s search habits and email history thus knowing when and which assistance to offer, even before being asked to do so. Clearly, Google is leveraging its absolutely brilliant algorithmic and interpretative capabilities borne of several trillion searches executed on their search engine. Apple of course, has no such proven artificial intelligence (AI) wealth to rely upon.
The Men are being separated from the Boys, we think. While Google Now and Siri on first-look seem to have a lot of things in common, however they are of different creeds.
Siri stands out for its wide variety of abilities – creating reminders, making calls, launching apps, playing music and being able to update Facebook and Twitter for its master.
Google Now is a little different from Siri – it seems to anticipate the user’s needs better and brings up information even before the user has requested for it!! For Google Now to be effective it would need the user using more of Google Apps like Gmail, Hangouts, and of course Google Search!
Google Now should be hitting the Indian shores soon and it will be a worthwhile wait for users to activate this feature for a better hands-free Android device.
The Android Dialer gets smarter with 4.4 KitKat
We’ve all come across many dialers on the Play Store. Each dialer claims to have something different. Some dialers claim to modify your call log as per your frequently contacted people whereas others have a great UI. What I’ll be focusing on, in this article, is the latest dialer provided by Google in their Kitkat update.
I’ve used many dialers myself, but I’ve never come across a dialer like this one!
Google and smartphones may have successfully helped remove the tedious process of memorizing phone numbers from our lives, but the dialer on Android 4.4 KitKat from Google takes things many levels ahead.
When you open this dialer, you are greeted with the last called contact shown at the top and a favorites tab just below it. Your favorites list is rather smart, because not only does it list the people you have specifically put in your favorites, but it adds in numbers that you’ve called a lot.
It constantly rearranges your favorites automatically based on how often you call certain numbers!
You even have a search bar located at the top of the screen which lets you search for contacts as well as nearby places. This is a truly amazing feature. You also have a voice input option on the right of the search bar which enables you to search using your voice.
In case you want to view all your contacts, you can either scroll down and tap on the ‘All contacts’ button at the bottom or you can tap on the 3 dots context menu and go to ‘All contacts’.
Tapping on the context menu brings up several other options in addition to settings like: Import/export contacts, Clear frequents, New contact, All contacts.
Scared of new stuff? The classic Android dialer can be accessed by tapping on the Dialer button at the bottom. This also has predictive input enabled by default.
You can view the Call settings by tapping on Settings-> Call Settings. Here, you can customize things like your phone ringtone, dial pad touch tones, quick responses and call forwarding.
The call log can be viewed by tapping on the Call log button (clock face) adjacent to the dialer button. Your logs are divided into 2 categories which are ‘All’ and ‘Missed’. Google have surely gone all the way with this new dialer of theirs!
Here is a little more on the two great features this latest Android Dialer gives you, namely Caller ID by Google and Nearby Places.
Caller ID by Google
This shows names for people and businesses not in your contacts. Users who have verified their phone number and have discovery turned on will have their names and Google Profile photos display whenever they call you, or you call them (it’s great if a new friend who hasn’t been saved in your contacts yet calls you).
Check your Google Account to make sure you are happy with how you appear on caller ID by Google: http://goo.gl/g9P3Bp
When you search from the phone app, this feature will use your location to find nearby places that match your query, even if they are not in your contacts. Of course, you need to have your location services enabled for this feature to be effective!
I’m surely going to be using this dialer for a long, long time. What about you?
Latent Search – What Is It & Whose Going To Rule It?
It is an unarguable fact that Google dominates the world in online search – with about 70% market share, with Microsoft’s Bing lagging behind at a distant second. ‘Google it’ has been ingrained into our vocabulary (it has even been inducted into Webster’s English as a verb) and has silently replaced ‘search the internet’.
Opportunity has opened up another type of search, called the ‘Latent Search’.
Latent search occurs when the search text is typed in natural language i.e. how we normally speak (a.k.a. conversational search). Another scenario where latent search thrives is when we aren’t exactly sure if the fact or information we’re searching for even exists.
It seems we subconsciously appease Google Search by using what we perceive as ‘official’ or proper language; it is only when we can’t express ourselves with ‘formal’ or ‘precise’ terminology that we switch to natural language and hope that Google gets us by overlooking our simple English.
Let’s try and explain this with an example: If we had to search for the availability and timing of a particular movie in a theater chain.
On Google Search we’d write – ‘<movie name>, theatre’ (this was done on the basis of words being important in a search and not in the natural order, flippantly referred to ‘Cave-man English’); and hit Go.
Using Latent Search we’d probably be more relaxed and expressive – ‘is <movie name> playing in <name of theater>’ (this would be a correctly strung sentence, which is being referred to as ‘Conversational Search’).
And it seems, that Bing understands Latent Search better than Google does!
People using Siri will already be familiar with this form of native expression. Apple surrendered their earlier partnership with Google to forge new bonds with Microsoft (Bing); and this could well be one of the influencing factors for that change in steeds.
Currently Facebook also uses Bing as their search engine. Facebook has about 1.1 billion registered users with a little more than 480 million users using it daily. A study from comScore point out, that more people spent time on Facebook than they did on Google (a large portion of this time on Google was spent on YouTube).
And there’s a reason for that – people want human-sourced responses/knowledge from people they are connected to or trust, rather than iffy, impersonal (and often non-contextual) responses from a bot. Hence they turn to their friends on Facebook. And Facebook turns to Bing to enable ‘human text’.
Ditto for Siri, who could be face the same instructions/questions from humans who just prefer to be themselves and not struggle to find appropriate ‘official’ or ‘proper’ terms for everything.
Imagine if Facebook and Apple were to join hands and design their search engine(s) collaboratively; it could spell trouble for Google.
Google however has already taken preemptive steps to protect their well earned top spot by reworking their search engine algorithm, called Hummingbird – a change that allows Google to now handle conversational search queries and even searches by images.
Google has rolled this out to their users in a staggered release. If you were not inconvenienced, then it is safe to say that their rollout has been successful.
Given the shift of users and usage – from PCs to Mobile devices, a major shift in customer experience is underfoot.
Insights from the comScore strongly point in that direction too. The comScore study for the US markets points out “The number of smartphone subscribers has increased by 29% from a year ago and by 99% from two years ago”. It also quantifies that “Smartphones customers have exceeded the 125 million mark in the U.S. Further, tablets are now owned by more than 50 million people”.
Research firm, IDC predicts the PC shipments in emerging markets to grow by 0.6% in 2013, and decline in mature markets by 4%, thus spelling an overall decline.
Do read our article on Tablets vs. PCs adoption for some more insight on this shift.
With the world moving to mobile devices, Internet becoming faster and freely available, there has been a sharp increase in mobile media consumption; the search engine needs to be faster and easier to use. The consumers have since silently paved the way for latent search.
Project Loon: Internet Via Balloons
Google has come up with an inexpensive, long-range and somewhat bizarre solution to bring Internet to everyone, everywhere, via balloons. They call this initiative: Project Loon.
As many internet and telecom providers have realised, providing internet in hinterlands, rough terrains and other challenging areas like politically afflicted/economically unstable regions is an uphill task (no pun intended), and extremely expensive at that since it involves setting up base- and relay-stations in such locations.
Unwilling to give in to the hand-wringing methods of traditional providers, Google has decided to take to the air, in order to execute on its mission of making the Internet a part of the list of basic human necessities (so per Google, the basic human needs according would now be food, shelter, clothes and the Internet… some wish they had included free smartphones for their users too – a humorous wish, not intended to take away from their serious contributions to the connected world).
Executing on their lofty plans, Google has launched Internet balloons in the Earth’s stratosphere where winds travel in layers.
Collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has helped Google understand wind velocities and steering mechanisms to maneuver the balloons. In return Google will share data with the NOAA to help them improve their wind predictions.
Both organisations are hoping that this will evolve into a long-term symbiotic relationship of data sharing between them.
Google’s plan of action fascinatingly involves a fleet of interconnected and intelligent balloons sailing 20 kilometres above sea level. These balloons can read wind patterns, formulate and recognize paths, communicate with one another and provide internet coverage over large areas.
The balloon design seems to have been very well thought through: armed with onboard solar panels that can produce up to 100W of power during daylight, enough to run all circuitry and onboard gizmos through the day, night and even through foul-weather days.
A fully inflated balloon stands at 12 meters tall and 15 meters wide, and also has a special envelope to handle pressure changes (which would be quite a norm considering the habitat that the balloon needs to reside in).
Once aloft, the balloon is largely autonomous – it reads wind patterns, manoeuvres to catch the right wind currents and hence steer, all the while providing Internet coverage by connecting to specialized antennas on ground.
The balloons communicate amongst themselves and the nearest Internet-providing ground station receiving, amplifying and re-radiating the signals back downwards (over a fairly larger area, with increased signal quality).
After a balloon has served its due course, a landing is planned, where the parts of the balloon will be recycled and reused in the replacement ‘loon.
To ensure that the balloons don’t contribute any adverse by-products like noise, extensive tests were carried out using numerous carefully placed microphones within the balloon and cradle, that yielded no noise up there thus indicating that the speed of the balloon was in sync with the wind speed, hence causing no turbulence nor wind-noise.
On the other hand, in some cases, below-par transmission of the Internet was experienced. Tests found signal interference during communication, drawing Google’s attention to rectify radio configuration.
Considering how unprecedented this entire landscape is, Google will have continue to testing and iterating the technology and design for a long time to come. Usage data too, will provide invaluable insights into the effective achievement of the primary objective.
Google aims at providing Internet facilities to areas that probably most need it i.e. the less developed parts of the world. For example in a financially underprivileged town somewhere deep in Africa, Internet could bring education, medical consultation, world news and entertainment within minutes or, in a politically unstable city, voices could be heard, opinions shared.
However while Google proudly boasts of its most ambitious project, some such as Bill Gates are questioning its credibility. As Gates mentioned in an interview with “ABC News”, the less developed parts of the world don’t need Internet that can remotely provide consultations and advice, but rather they require human support and equipment.
While the technological innovators are of differing opinions; our question is – would it be bad to have the internet connections over remote locations if they enable the citizens and rescue/development missions to utilize the same without taking anything and without any detrimental affects?
This project could prove to be an important enabler to the existing relief and developmental projects in locations largely forgotten or unapproachable in normal terms.
What Is Air Drop In The New iOS 7?
There’s always a lot of excitement generated by an impending Apple launch. Even if it is just the revamp of the OS.
Hence it isn’t anything strange that the proposed launch of the iOS 7 this fall has lots and lots of people excited. iOS users and Apple aficionados are looking to get some path-breaking features, as well as answers to their prayers for iOS to gain some features from other OS’.
AirDrop is one feature that is new and is being marketed rather loudly.
To understand what Air Drop is, we need to know how and why it came about.
Given the high storage space on devices today and even more importantly, the increasing usage and capabilities of smartphones and tablets, they have rapidly become storehouses of a myriad of information and content.
Unfortunately, they have also become islands of isolation. Hence, the need to have an uncomplicated method for file sharing across devices – mobile or static. This feature has been wished for by many and the diversity of reasons has been evolving over a period of time.
Sharing of data started with sharing files via emails and then we used MMS and progressed to additional third party apps (which took chats to the next level). Simultaneously, another technology was being explored; NFC (Near Field Communication).
NFC allows people to connect and importantly, is device agnostic i.e. does not change across manufacturers (similar to how Bluetooth operates). It only needs two NFC-enabled devices to be close enough.
The advantage of this technology is that it allows encryption and thus could be an alternative to securely transfer stuff, instead of emails. The disadvantage is that the devices needed to be in extremely close proximity (about 2/3 centimeters to make the transfer) and also transfers cannot happen simultaneously in a one-to-many-devices fashion.
The same concept has been further developed and used either in its more developed version or in conjunction with existing technology (Bluetooth and WIFI) by manufacturers (Samsung, Google) and third party app developers (Bump Technologies).
Bump developed an app by the same name, that allows people to share files by bumping their phones against each other (you could also bump with your Mac.. *cough*,*cough*).
Samsung uses NFC to establish connections between the devices and then uses Wi-Fi to transfer the data/file. This was actively marketed in their adverts for the Galaxy S III, where the devices were touched together to transfer pictures.
With the launch of the Air Drop in their mobile devices in iOS7 (it has existed for a while in their OS X operating system for their computers), Apple is taking the file-sharing concept to the next logical level.
Apple has used their proprietary iCloud and integrated it with the existing file sharing concepts, to develop a way of sharing files from one device to many devices using iCloud.
The data/file gets moved to the iCloud and then from there it gets sent to all the intended recipients, thus allowing for “one-to-many” transfer and across a larger area than that facilitated by NFC.
Apple has assured the world that all files so transferred will be encrypted, thus negating the fear of security breach.
Samsung is not far behind and have also introduced a similar technology (Group Play) in their Galaxy S4, where a player in their advert, is seen sharing his song with multiple devices. Group Play will allow its users to also share documents, pictures, games and media with multiple devices. Here the person who is transferring the data will become a WiFi access point. The upside to this is that you do not have to be connected to the same WIFI network like in the Galaxy S III.
Android though, has an inherent stumbling block, in the fact that different users of Android run devices having different interfaces that are dependent on the manufacturer of their device and not on the concept. This is not a limitation with Apple products, thus enabling them to harness this harmony and enabling the AirDrop to being a seamless new addition.
Hence don’t be surprised, if you hear about Air Drop a lot more that Group Play in the coming months.
We at Chip-Monks believe that its high time Google took an active interest in the plans and strategies of the members of its ecosystem and also invested in building brand-agnostic platforms, so that such innovations can spread wider and faster than at the discretionary speed of its members.
Chromecast Arrives On iOS
Big things come in small packages. And Chromecast just proved that. Who would’ve thought that a $35-priced streaming stick could be the new talk of the town?
What exactly is Google’s Chromecast, you ask? Well, it is touted as “the easiest way to enjoy your Videos and Music on your television” (which, you did spend a fortune on), claims Google.
Honestly, it does make a lot of sense – disruptive technology, simple set up, tremendous ease of use and most importantly, adds so much more content that you can consume on your existing TV! But does it deliver? Read on and decide.
What is Chromecast?
Chromecast is a Google device which allows you to stream your videos or listen to your music on your existing HDTVs. The prerequisites to get going with the Chromecast are simple those that you already possess! A smartphone, or a tablet or a PC. And, that dear friends, is the whole reason for this little dongle creating so much buzz – no additional expenses meaning you shed $35 to use your existing device as a wireless source to stream movies, videos or music.
Not bad, eh? Although, the applications which currently support casting through this service are only a handful at this time, but given the immense potential for significantly enhancing content consumption, as well as to integrate devices seamlessly (there’s something Chip-Monks absolutely loves!), there is already news of many, many third-party developers expressing interest in developing/upgrading their applications to leverage Chromecast.
Getting back to the story at hand – The arrival of the Chromecast app on the Apple’s App Store.
While Apple TV can probably been credited as being the genesis of this product category, and was very widely accepted and loved, however quite a few Apple fanboys and users have been secretly hoping and praying for the Chromecast – as it would allow some part of the China-wall enforced by Apple to be breached somewhat. Other than the most staunch customers of Apple, most others have devices (smartphones, tablets, computers and laptops) that run on a myriad of operating systems, and hence their content gets marooned either inside or outside of Apple’s walled garden.
The prayers of all those loyal to Apple were heard when the Chromecast app saw the light of day in Apple’s App Store yesterday (just a month after it did on the Play Store). The reasons for the delay aren’t certain but some like to say that Apple held it back as Chromecast has features alike to those offered by Airplay or Apple TV. Yet, its out there now.
What’s it like?
Google has been promoting their dongle as being extremely easy to set up – no sign ins, no subscriptions. As simple as plugging-it-in, connect to a common wireless network and cast! Well, that certainly sounds simple. How did they manage to keep it elementary? The answer lies in the fact that the set up of this streaming service is supported by its dedicated app on the store. That app does all the heavy lifting, so you don’t have to.
Chromecast setup for iOS
The Setup involves just 3 steps: Plugging it in, Connecting and Casting!
Take your Chromecast dongle and plug it into an available HDMI port on your TV and plug in the provided micro-USB cable (that needs to be attached to the top of the stick) into any available USB port. So you know, the HDMI port cannot provide the stick with all the power necessary to operate the Chromecast, and the micro-USB shall make sure that it is taken fed on power. Switch on your TV and switch to the respective HDMI input (in the AV selector on the TV), you’ll see a Chromecast screen on the display waiting for you.
Download the Chromecast app from the App Store onto your iDevice. After it’s installation is complete, open settings, turn on Wi-Fi on your device (in case you had it switched off), and connect to the Chromecast network. To help you, the good guys at Google have even programed the setup such that upon opening the application, that your device would’ve automatically identified and connected to your Chromecast. You will be able to see an option to change the name of your Chromecast unit, and one to select a wireless network for it to run on and configure the password.
You are all set to ‘cast (short for broadcast) content now!
Just find the Chromecast icon within the supported app (usually top right corner in YouTube or Netflix) and cast away! You can even cast tabs (pages) from your Chrome browser after you install the Chromecast extension on the browser.
The Underbelly of Chromecast on iOS
Google has been making tremendous efforts to make Chromecast a cross-platform success. But it has not been meeting the mark, at least not for iOS users. Even on Android, the number of applications which support Chromecast currently is fairly small, and the number of applications that support Chromecast on iOS are fewer still. Bear in mind, that Play Music and Movies are still exclusive to Android.
Another issue we should list out there, so you’re forewarned. Some Apple users have been complaining that the Chromecast experience on iOS is not as smooth or user-friendly as on Android. Keeping in mind that the Chromecast is still in its embryonic phase, major improvements are expected. So you first-mover tech aficionados should keep the faith. And patience.
One of the cheapest solutions amongst all its competitors, Chromecast is a great product which could give Apple TV a run for its money when it comes to usability and functioning. Many have ascertained it to be value for money just for casting through YouTube or Netflix while others are not content with the limited application support and so many other constraints.
Nothing changes the fact that for $35, it is one mighty little stick!
Chromecast: Google's Streaming Stick
Chromecast was launched with much fanfare during the “Breakfast with Sundar Pachai” on July 24th; it was a Google’s version of the “one more thing… tadaah!” to surprise the audience.
The Nexus 7 too, was launched and that made the event a rare double-header.
Well, back to Chromecast: It’s a dongle that creates a bridge to stream media onto a regular TV thus turning a regular TV into a Smart TV… simply and effortlessly!
Some folks reacted calling it a “namesake” competitor to Apple TV, as it doesn’t have the mainstay functionality that AirPlay provides but the price point of Chromecast ($35 which is about ₹2,000) could be one huge selling point in a nascent and extremely price conscious country like ours.
Chromecast is compatible with Android, iOS devices and any other platform capable of running the Chromecast extension for the Chrome browser.
Apps currently compatible with Chromecast are Google Play Music, Google Play Movies & TV, YouTube, and Netflix. The list will undoubtedly grow in the coming months, especially as content providers realise the huge market they could tap, if they can help develop it first.
Internet browsing can also be streamed/mirrored onto a TV using the Chromecast extension for Google Chrome.
The Chromecast is an ultra-portable device. It is just a tad bit larger than a regular pen drive. Even with such a small size, it packs some fairly impressive specs.
The its-bitsy device carries a Marvell DE3005-A1 single-core chip and unlike a PC, it has a very low thirst for power (just adequately powered to enable it the Chromecast to stream 1080p videos seamlessly from the cloud.
Chromecast also comes with 512 MB RAM and 2 GB internal storage (there seems to be no real purpose for this internal storage other than caching/buffering data feed).
It even runs a version “Chrome OS” (which in reality is closer to Android than it is to Chrome).
Chromecast relies on an external power source; power can be provided with a USB cable in addition to the power it receives from the HDMI connection with the TV. Power can also be supplied using the wall plug adaptor shipped in the box. Google recommends the latter as a primary method of providing power.
So, is the Chromecast really Google’s answer to the Apple TV?
The Chromecast should not be confused as a Google version of the Apple TV (though the products are similar enough to deserve a brief comparison), as both have different capabilities and are pegged at different price points.
Similarities between the devices:
Differences between the devices are:
The Advantage Of The Chromecast Way:
Chromecast uses a unique method: it transfers information to the TV, and doesn’t really stream it.
When you want to watch a video on YouTube for example, you click the link on your smartphone or tablet, and the device sends the YouTube video’s link to Chromecast, which then plays the video from the internet, as an independent entity. While the video is playing on the TV, any other activity can be done on the device as normal, without disturbing the “stream” since the device is not actually streaming content onto the screen.
In Chip-Monks’ experience, this is even better than Apple TV’s way of doing things – it reduces the load on the wireless network within the house/location, as the content is not being downloaded/streamed from the internet onto the mobile device, and then being rebroadcast using the same wireless infrastructure, to the Chromecast/Apple TV. As is clear this entire process (which is supposedly the core function of the Apple TV takes twice the bandwidth from the same wireless infrastructure, unnecessarily burdening it and rendering it rather hapless.
In our experience, this is Apple TV’s Achille’s Heel. The Apple TV freezes, sporadically and frequently while streaming from an iPhone, iPad and even from MacBook computers! This, despite the supposed “built to work together” ecosystem Apple claims rather loudly.
This way of functioning does not currently allow the Chromecast to handle device mirroring (where the mobile device or the computer can be replicated onto the TV’s much larger screen), and hence working on the device and sharing on the big screen is not possible (think presentations being displayed on the TV/projector and being controlled by a mobile device). Displaying photos is also not possible, nor is playing music from the device onto the TV
Apple TV does in theory (but not in the real world, to a great degree of satisfaction and reliability) score over the Chromecast in this round; since it does facilitate mirroring using AirPlay, hence an exact replica of the source device’s screen on the secondary screen (TV) – photos, music, games, and videos can be thrown on to the display without any restrictions.
The Chromecast by Google isn’t anything ground breaking, but it sure is a move in the right direction, and for the price point it’s hard to argue the money’s worth. If Google manages to get partnerships with other content providers, it may attract people by its diminutive size, and immense capabilities to change how we consume online and streaming content.
[R]evolution Of The Stylus
Does anyone remember the Stylus any more? No? Let me remind you – and for that, I’ll have to take you back in time.
Believe it or not, when the iPhone wasn’t around, people used to carry bulky PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) running Palm OS or Windows OS on them. While both OS’ were intended for point-and-click interactions, the screen technology (called Resistive Touch) back then didn’t really do well with finger or touch interactions. Hence, every touchscreen device had this little stick (metal or plastic) called the Stylus that was used to register inputs.
Resistive Touch technology works on the basis of contact made to the surface of the touchscreen presses it which then makes contact with another sheet placed right under it, separated by ‘microdots’. On these two sheets are horizontal and vertical lines that when pushed together, register the precise location of the touch. And in order to hit somewhere near precisely on the screen, one needed a pencil-point-sized instrument. Thus, the ever-important stylus.
The Stylus was not only the go-to tool for using your touchscreen device; it even increased the “cool” quotient of your device back then… indicative of “next-gen technology” or The Future.HTC PDA device with Stylus
However, with the debut of the Capacitive Touchscreen technology in mobile phones via Mr. Jobs’ brilliant introduction of the pathbreaking iPhone in 2007, the Stylus was suddenly redundant, and soon, forgotten.
A Capacitive Screen is basically a glass panel coated with a transparent conductive material that relies on touch-input on the surface of the screen via the finger, to trigger an electric field and register input. In simple words, it works on the principle of electric charges. Physically pressing down on the screen was no longer required. This as we all now know from personal experience, it is a much smoother and simpler experience. There’s no need to go hunting for or scrunching down on a stylus all day.
Soon resistive screens like styli, too became redundant technology and capacitive screens were incorporated into every phone, PDA, medical equipment and almost every other form of displays that we interact with nowadays.
With the onset of any new technology, people tend to dismiss all objects associated with what was ‘old’ as rubbish and move on, rather quickly. Give them some more time though, and nostalgia sets in. And remarkable as it is, old becomes fashionable again. Ah, the circle of life…
I was among the many smart phone users who had started secretly craving the Stylus after the dust from the whole touch screen razzmatazz had settled. I missed it – not that I have pudgy fingers or anything. But sometimes the curry, the wet hands and very often, the urge to peck at my phone as it lay at my work desk, instead of having to hold it in my hands (imagine that!) just belied the otherwise convenient touchscreen. I just needed distance from the screen, mainly to safeguard my sophisticated box of (silicon) chips and easily-smudged glass.
Well, the wheel rolled over and the circle was complete. Samsung came out with their Galaxy Note and its ‘S-Pen’, which sold more than 5 million units and almost all the phone-makers-of-the-world turned their collective attention back to the Stylus.
Now we’re onto the third gen of the Note series with Galaxy Note 3 and ‘S-Pen’ thrives – Samsung has optimized features on it, and on their homegrown variant of the Android OS. The number and kinds of things that the S-Pen can do has advanced significantly with the third installment of the Note series. So much so, that even though the Note III impresses customers with its size, features and capabilities, the S-Pen is the most versatile feature of the phone especially with the increased customizability of the Stylus to meet varied user needs.
However (there’s that word again), as with practically everything in the Digital Age, this super stylus requires some power to live up to all that it does. It draws that power wirelessly from the device itself (imagine that!!). Its all quite miraculous, this piece of plastic.
If you think I’m on some hyperbole trip, here are some of the most intriguing functions offered by the S-Pen:
• The Air Command feature lets you access the five most important functions from anywhere within the OS, just by clicking the S-Pen’s button while hovering over the screen,
• Displaying the contents of any app or folder when hovered over with the S-Pen.
• Drawing on the screen with the button pressed lets you clip anything that you’re reading to the clipboard; which then works beautifully with ‘S-Finder’ to help you look through all the content within your device including hand written notes (which also reminds me that the Hand Writing Recognition on this third gen Note is scarily accurate).
Other than this, the S-Pen has a lot more to offer and I believe it’s safe to say that it indeed is a very powerful tool capable of fulfilling expectations of all the creative minds out there, setting the Note III apart from all phones available in the market right now. It is commendable how Samsung has taken up the Stylus and introduced it as the mascot of their Note devices.
Samsung Galaxy Note with its dedicated Stylus [S-Pen] Samsung Galaxy Note 3 with the updated S-Pen
Other giants have also been paying attention to Samsung’s exploits with the stylus and have begun their journeys to revive the stylus with their own styles. HTC came out with its tablet devices, the Flyer and View with a dedicated Stylus each, which it called the ‘Scribe Pen’.
The stylus enabled users to do things like photo editing and drawing with pinpoint accuracy with such ease and simplicity that the Stylus (the modern stylus, of course) was back in the game.
HTC Flyer Tab with the Scribe Pen
Today, the demand for the Stylus is on the rise and there are many third party manufacturers catering to user’s needs by offering universal styli. We have styli for Apple devices too, however their limited use and cost has not made them a popular add-on for iOS devices. Yet.
However having taken a close look at the scenario today, I am not convinced that there are too many brands out there that have actually worked to harness the power of the Stylus. Most are just catching up with the Joneses, doing as they do, dancing as they dance.
With the evident popularity of the Samsung Galaxy Note and its sidekick, the S-Pen, there is a lot of potential for this simple tool to be re-incorporated with mobile devices and molded into something innovative and fresh. Opportunities are limitless, with touchscreen devices clearly being here to stay.
The Advent of Optical Wearable Technology
With wrist computing on the simmer, head worn computing could not be far behind!
There are two very diverse, yet equally exciting adventures underway. Google Glass and META’s newly engineered “Space Glasses” represent a new breed of computers that might just be the way of the future.
For the un-informed, Google Glass is a product of the research and development at Google’s Project Glass, which deals with innovations in ubiquitous computers.
Project Glass is working on developing a hands-free computer/smartphone equivalent by integrating the technologies used on computers and smartphones with an optical head mounted display (OHMD).
Purpose? To enable you to text, call, navigate, record, search and use many more features by simple voice recognition and comprehension; completely hands free.
Released for developers in late 2012, Google Glass is widely regarded as one of the biggest innovations in technology since the development of the mobile phone!
META’s Space Glasses, are a fairly recently developed piece of technology, that expand on the Google Glass concept, combining its features with artificial 3D rendering – along the lines of what you see Tony Stark using in Iron Man, albeit slightly more bulky.
Lets take a longer look at some of the features of these two stellar examples of innovation.
Though they both might look like similar devices, it’s important to understand that Google Glass and the Space Glasses have, at least in their current form, very different purposes.
Google Glass is aimed at being an assistant (an extremely efficient, proactive and capable one at that), in your daily life. It leverages Google’s large collection of data, its various technologies and products to give you time-relevant inputs through a small screen on the top right of your eye.
Information like maps, flight schedules or even reminders are a simple voice command away. Think of it as wearing a really simple smartphone on your head.
Additionally, Google Glass can take pictures, videos, access the internet, and is really designed so that a person could keep Glass worn and have access to these features even while carrying out their day to day activities while being least obstructive the field of view – with a carefully located prism screen near the top corner of the eye and a track pad along the side of the gear.
The screen is rumored to have a 640X360 resolution and a 5 megapixel camera with the option of video recording (720p, HD) running on Android 4.0.4 and higher. The track pad will enable users to control the device through hand actions like swipes and clicks while voice commands will be accepted through microphones. Sound outputs will be taken care by bone conduction transducers.
Google Glass will also be featuring a provision to recognize acquaintances in a crowd using facial recognition algorithms. While the idea of having a map laid out in front of your eyes while driving is relaxing, and a comforting voice guiding you through voice support is also reassuring, one wonders about how much is Google glass drawing on Augmented Reality!
META Space Glasses on the other hand, markets them as a natural machine, a tool. It uses gesture recognition, much like something you would see on Microsoft’s Kinect, to artificially render three dimensionally or create an augmented reality over your present environment using a camera that recognises gestures, allowing your hand movements to control the entire virtual interface.
Using the Space Glasses, you could design 3D structures on the basis of blueprints or even free hand! At least in their current form, Space Glasses aren’t designed to be a worn-all-the-time unobtrusive device, but more like gear worn for specific purposes at specific times.
Once the META is worn, you will be able to interact with the virtual world created in your field of view using your own hands (Iron-Man-/Tony-Stark-style). META pioneers Meron Gribetz and Ben Sand have concluded that the “keyboard and mouse” will be rendered obsolete once the Space Glasses are worn and will feature voice control and Wi-Fi connectivity as well.
META insists the product is not a competitor to Google Glass since they differ significantly in concept and offer two different technologies.
For a notification device meant to display information, Google sure has a lot to display. This, coupled with the intent of having Google Glass work hand in hand with your Android smartphone, is where I believe Glass has an edge over its competition. Google’s already-established Google Now Cards and compatibility with your Android device give Google a big running start towards adoption and uptake.
That being said, META isn’t really planning to become big in the notification device market. Their aim is to hit the market with artificial rendering for specific purposes, and they’re doing it fast. While META being a new company, has a disadvantage of starting its development from scratch, however, by not being a multi-billion dollar company involved in so many different projects, it actually has an advantage in being capable of developing its product much faster than Google.
Both Google and META have so far released only developer versions of their devices, and they do not come cheap!
Google is selling the developer version of Glass or ‘Explorer’ version for a hefty USD 1,500 on its website. META, meanwhile, has tentatively tagged the Space Glasses at a significantly cheaper USD 677 price point.
While many people have been critical when it comes to the pricing of these gadgets, it wasn’t completely unexpected. These gadgets are prototypes of prototypes, the very first in their field, and they haven’t even been made commercial yet.
Google would probably price the commercial version of Glass cheaper when it is released.
Currently, there is no news regarding the price of the commercial SpaceGlass, or even when they might be made available to the general public.
Both the devices haven’t received the most favourable of critique when it comes to their looks. While Glass has been accused by some, of looking like a “cyborg monocle”, the Space Glasses have been criticized for their bulky nature.
A concept design of the future versions of META’s SpaceGlasses
The good news is that looks, like price, will only get better with age. People can be very selective when it comes to what frames they choose and both companies seem to understand that.
Google and META have both promised better looking devices as the later versions, with both of them hinting at ‘Ray-Ban’ or other brand collaborations in the future.
Either way, these two companies understand that they are pioneering in a space that no man has ever been before. And its only a matter of time (and boatloads of work, luck and the advent of higher technologies) before they’ll have to consider any of our objections or concerns seriously. Till then, function overrides form, as has always been the case.
As mere onlookers, Chip-Monks wishes them both the very best of luck in their travails, and in exploring something, that could quite literally, change the face of mankind.
Google Partners With Ray-Ban, Oakley For New Glass Designs
The latest piece of news on Google Glass is that Google is partnering with the Luxottica Group, the world’s largest eyewear company best known for its brands like Ray-Ban, Persol and Oakley.
The partnership seems aimed at making the Google Glass headset a little more stylish. The aim being to combine “high end technology with avant-garde design”.
Google envisions Glass to become part of everyday wear, “a reflection of both function and fashion”.
They had hoped to launch a Consumer version of the Glass this year, but after with this deal, it seems that the estimated launch is being moved to 2015.
As per Google FAQ’s, Google and Luxottica will be designing the glasses jointly, while distribution and manufacturing will be handled solely by the Italian luxury brand.
Wearable devices symbolize the next stage in mobile computing and that Glass has been designed for people on the move, allowing the user to perform day to-day tasks with ease through voice commands. For those who are used to googling everything, all they’d have to do is ask a question and the device will get the answer and display it on the small screen in front of your eye!
Even Google Maps has been integrated into the system. That’s not all, all of this comes together to enable you to share live feeds with your friends and family in real time.
This partnership with the Fashion-centric brand is said to be with the intent of having the device metamorphose into something sexy, and to draw lesser of the tech oriented “geeks” and more of the fashion conscious folks.
With Oakley also being part of the designing team, tech enthusiasts can look forward to their patent futuristic designs too.
Analysts though, continue to maintain that it will be a challenge to convince consumers to wear computers on their face; it is both, a fashion problem as well as, a technology problem.
Another issue is that the the Glass is estimated to cost around USD 1500 (plus taxes). In this case, Google will have to rethink the price if they want to reach a wider customer range.
Since Luxottica Group controls LensCrafters and SunGlass Hut, one can expect Glass to be in more than 5,000 retail stores only across the US. Google’s deal with VSP Global, whose network of 30,000 optometrists in the U.S. will be selling Glass with prescription lenses and frames.
So with these two announcements the internet giant is hoping that critics will start to see the Glass in a different light!
All that said, all we can do for now is wait and look at all the press shots and videos as the excitement and interest for this device builds, till we can finally try it on for ourselves, once it is launched to the public at large.