Google Allo finally offers web chat, but it’s only for Android users

Allo, Google’s beleaguered chat app that arrived on the iPhone and Android devices last year, finally has a web counterpart. Just a few minutes ago, Amit Fulay (head of product for Allo and video chat app Duo) tweeted that Allo for the web was available, but only for Android phones. To give it a go, you’ll need to open the Allo app on your device and use that to scan a QR code you can generate at this link.

Once you’ve scanned the code, Allo pulls up your chat history and mirrors all the conversations you have on your phone. Most of Allo’s key features, including smart replies, emoji, stickers and most importantly the Google Assistant are all intact here. In fact, this is the first time you can really get the full Google Assistant experience through the web; it’s been limited to phones and Google Home thus far.

There are a few things that didn’t work so well in my quick test. Pictures from earlier in a chat with one of my co-workers failed to translate to the web — instead, I was told I had to view them on my phone. Allo’s little “slider” feature that lets you increase or decrease the size of text in chats is also unavailable, and you can’t make your own emoji like you can on Android.

But the good news is that the most important features are all here and conversations sync quickly between multiple devices. That alone is enough to make Allo worth recommending, perhaps for the first time ever. I just couldn’t go back to a world where my chats weren’t synced across computer and phone, but that’s no longer a problem, at least for Android users. Google says that Allo for the web will be available for iPhone users before long.

Source: Amit Fulay (Twitter), Allo for web

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Android creator Andy Rubin teases his new smartphone

The creator of Android, Andy Rubin, is building a new smartphone — and today, he shared the first image of his mysterious hardware. It’s just a tease, revealing only the corner of the phone, where battery, time and network information is displayed in tiny white text.


The new device comes from Rubin’s company, Essential Products Inc., which is focused on creating tablets, smartphones and mobile software. Essential’s flagship phone will serve as the foundation for a lineup of connected products, according to early reports about the company’s movements. A handful of its smartphone prototypes are larger than an iPhone 7 Plus, featuring bezel-free screens and ceramic backings. Rubin and co. are apparently working on a proprietary version of Apple’s 3D Touch and they’re playing around with magnetic charging accessories.

The image Rubin shared today is reminiscent of Xiaomi’s Mi MIX concept phone, which has an edge-to-edge 1080p LCD and a ceramic body. However, with such a small portion of the hardware exposed in this single tweet, it’s hard to say where the similarities truly begin (and end).

Essential’s flagship smartphone is expected to drop in mid-2017.

Source: @Arubin

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This iPhone case is basically an Android phone

iPhones have a reputation for being user friendly, but ultimately, Android can do a lot of things iOS can’t. Aspects of Android could be useful to all phone users, but straying from the Apple ecosystem can be intimidating. Now, there’s a new way for iPhone users to easily access Android features like expandable storage and multiple SIM cards. Entrepreneur Joseph Savion and his company ESTI Inc. decided to (almost literally) strap an Android phone to the back of an iPhone. That sounds like a strange idea, but that’s basically what ESTI’s Eye phone case does.

The case, which is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, adds a 5-inch AMOLED display, a 2.3GHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 CPU, a 2800mAh battery, up to 256GB of microSD storage, dual SIM slots, a headphone jack and wireless charging, among other features. There are two versions of the case: one with cellular connectivity and one without. A comment from Savion on the Kickstarter page says that the Android device can make use of the iPhone’s internet connection. While there is some other integration between the devices — they share the iPhone’s speaker, microphone and cameras — they pretty much function as their own machines.

The case runs Android 7.1 Nougat, and if Eye is starting to sound more like a standalone phone than an iPhone case, well, it’s priced like one too. It’s expected to retail for $ 189 (or $ 229 for the 4G version), although early Kickstarter backers can get theirs for $ 95 ($ 129 for 4G). That said, $ 95 for a phone is pretty cheap.

The main question is, who this product is even for? Most iPhone users seem happy with their devices, and probably don’t need a product like this to “improve” it. Even for users wanting to test the Android waters, there are plenty of non-Apple devices available for under $ 100 that could satisfy their curiosity without adding bulk to their current phone.

Ultimately, Eye seems a lot more interesting than it does practical. As of this writing, the case has raised over $ 84,000 of its $ 95,000 goal with 32 days to go. So, it might not be necessary, but it will probably come to market anyway.

Via: The Verge, 9to5Google

Source: Kickstarter

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Google’s Android texting app has a new name

Despite how common texting is, its integration on Android has always lagged slightly behind, as Google appeared to focus on other things. Sometimes it wrapped the feature into other services/apps like Google Voice and Hangouts, but lately, the main Android texting app has been getting some tweaks too. The latest one brings a new name, as it goes from Google Messenger (probably frequently confused with the bot-laden Facebook Messenger) to Android Messages.

If your iPhone owning friends hate seeing green bubbles pop up in iMessage, it probably won’t do much to change that, and even for Android users, there’s very little changed beyond the name. The styling and features of the app are exactly the same, but with MWC 2017 about to kick off, maybe it has more plans in store. In the changelog, it notes that there is “Simpler sign-up for enhanced features on supported carriers,” so there could be easier access to RCS-enabled enhancements that bring its experience up to par with iMessage.

Of course, if there’s anything we know about Google, it’s that the company always has another new messaging scheme around the corner.

Source: Android Messages

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Android Wear 2.0 was worth the long wait

When Google introduced Android Wear back in 2014, the smartwatch industry was young. The only players worth noting were Pebble, Samsung (with its Tizen-based offerings) and a few other niche options (like Sony’s proprietary Smartwatch OS). Google, however, aimed to kick the door wide open with the same approach it had taken with phones: Instead of making both the watch and the software, it would court different hardware manufacturers, cultivating a diverse set of designs along with a robust third-party app ecosystem.

Three years later, the bet seems to have paid off. Although it’s had to fight off tough competition from the Apple Watch, Android Wear has survived and, according to Google, thrived. “If you compare the holiday season of 2016 with the holiday season the year before, we saw more than 70 percent growth,” says Android Wear VP David Singleton (not that that’s necessarily saying much). And so with all of that success comes time for the second iteration of Google’s wearable OS, Android Wear 2.0. It’ll be available first on the newly announced LG Watch Style and Watch Sport on Feb. 10th and will roll out to compatible existing hardware in the coming weeks.

This update, according to Singleton, is the platform’s biggest one since the birth of Android Wear three years ago. “With 2.0, we really looked hard at what people are using their watches for,” he said. “We saw that usage was really focused around watch faces, messaging and fitness. So we really optimized 2.0 for those things.” But Google improved a lot of other aspects of Wear as well, including the user interface, navigation and notifications.

First, let’s talk about watch faces. As with the previous iteration of Android Wear, you can swap in whatever face you like, either by selecting it on the companion Android Wear phone app or by adding it directly on the watch. But with Wear 1.0, there was often a tradeoff: You could either choose the stylish but barren design, or the complex but informative one.

With Wear 2.0, however, you can have the best of both worlds. That’s because any watch face, as long as it supports complications, can now be customized with data from any app. Swapping out the complications is as easy as long-pressing them and then picking its replacement, which can be anything from calories burned to an app shortcut.

As with Wear 1.0, tapping on each complication brings up the related information card. So for example, tapping the calendar launches the agenda for the day, while the step counter shows how much progress you’ve made towards your 10,000-step goal.

And say you want different complications for different times of day — you want the Nest function when you’re at home, but not in the office, for example — you can customize different watch faces for different use cases. Switching watch faces is as easy as swiping left or right on the active watch screen, so you can simply change from one to another depending on where you are.

Indeed, the Android Wear team took care to make navigation a priority with the 2.0 update. “We really condensed and simplified things,” said Jeff Chang, an Android Wear product manager. “We measured the number of taps and swipes between things, to get that down as few as possible.” So for example, oft-accessed settings are now combined into one display. Swipe down from the active screen and you’ll see toggles for airplane mode, Do Not Disturb and as a settings shortcut.

One press of the side button launches the app menu, and navigating through the list can be done either via a rotating crown (if your watch has one) or the touch screen. If you’d rather not scroll through your lengthy list of apps, you can also long-press a favorite to pin it to the top. The menu will list recently accessed apps first, followed by favorites and then the rest by alphabetical order.

Notifications have changed drastically as well. Instead of glaring white cards that take up the bottom half of the screen, there are now subtler notification icons. Also, the notifications themselves are now color-coded and contextual. So Gmail notifications have a red background, for example, while Hangouts are green. They only appear when you bring the watch up to your eyeline; a few seconds later, the watch face resurfaces again. If you like, you can access all of your recent notifications by swiping up on the main screen. The watch’s overall UI is also much darker. “It’s not only easier on the eyes, and it’s a lot easier on battery life as well,” Singleton says.

As for those incoming message notifications, replying is as easy as tapping; do it once and you’ll immediately be brought to the reply menu. (Though bear in mind this is the experience on Android; the feature is extremely limited on the iPhone.) In addition to using your voice or drawing an emoji, Wear 2.0 introduces a full-on touch keyboard as well. At first this sounds pretty ridiculous on such a small screen, but it’s surprisingly intuitive. You can either swipe through words like you can on Swype or Swiftkey, or you can use handwriting recognition. Either way, I found that the word detection to be surprisingly accurate, with only a few occasional errors.

Another way to reply to messages is through Smart Reply, which is powered by Google’s machine learning. You’ll see a list of what it thinks your reply will be depending on the context of the message. Much like the feature of the same name in Inbox, Smart Reply should be able to offer smarter and better responses over time as it learns more about you.

Speaking of machine learning, Android Wear 2.0 also finally brings Google’s Assistant to the watch. Say “OK Google” or long-press the power button, and you can ask all sorts of queries, like “How did the Warriors do against the Cavaliers?” or “How many tablespoons are there in a cup?” or “Is it going to rain today?” It can also be easily integrated with third-party connected devices like the Nest thermostat or Philips Hue lights, or services like Uber and OpenTable.

Now onto fitness. Android Wear 2.0 has Google’s preinstalled Fit app just as before, but the experience is much more improved. You can see your calories, pace, distance as you sweat it out, and if your watch has a heart rate sensor, you’ll see your beats per minute too. It’ also keeps track of how much you’ve been walking and cycling throughout the week, and offers gentle reminders to get going towards your goal if you haven’t met your mark. Plus, it will congratulate you when you succeed.

The new Google Fit is also a lot better-suited to indoor workouts as well. Simply say you’re on a treadmill or a stationary bike, and it’ll track your workout accordingly. Another great feature for strength-training fans is that it can also now count reps when you’re weight lifting and coach you through push-ups and sit-ups. “The watch actually recognizes that you’re doing it,” Singleton says. “So there’s no cheating.”

There’s also a special treat if your Android watch has LTE. With Wear 2.0, you’ll finally be able to stream music to the watch, without having to download the songs first. The default option would be with Google Play Music, but Spotify should be compatible soon as well. You’ll probably want to use Bluetooth headphones to listen to your tunes, unless you want to blast your playlist to the world around you as you’re running.

Oh, and say you’d really like a refreshing drink after you’re done with that run. Well, if you happen to be close to an establishment that accepts Android Pay, you’re in luck. That’s because Android Pay is finally coming to Wear 2.0. So if your watch happens to support NFC, you can just tap it to the reader to pay for that bottle of water.

Last but certainly not least, Wear 2.0 has a completely reimagined App store model. Before, the only way to load apps onto the watch was via a companion app. Not anymore. Now you can browse the Play Store right on the watch and even download certain apps directly, without the need for a corresponding phone app. This is especially useful if you have an iPhone — you’ll finally be able to download and use third-party apps regardless of what phone you have. Of course, not all apps can be operated as standalone — some will still require an Android phone for full functionality. But if you are an iPhone user, you won’t see them in the Play Store anyway; only compatible apps will show up on the watch.

On the whole, Android Wear 2.0 is a welcome improvement. It doesn’t just look better; it’s also much easier to use than before. What used to take several taps and swipes now just take one or two. The new messaging and fitness features are welcome as well. But it’s the introduction of Google Assistant and the standalone App Store that takes Wear 2.0 from good to great. Not only does it make Android Wear much less dependent on the phone, it’s also now that much more compatible with iOS — making it the toughest contender against the Apple Watch yet.

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Android creator Andy Rubin is building a high-end smartphone

It turns out the rumors were true: Android creator Andy Rubin is returning to phones with his latest company Essential Products Inc. According to a report from Bloomberg, Essential aims to bring together several mobile and smart home products under one platform and the company will release a flagship smartphone around the middle of this year.

In a filing with California regulators, Essential listed tablets, smartphones and mobile software among its products, but according to Bloomberg‘s sources, the company’s first device will be the center of a whole suite of connected products. Essential’s 40-person team was largely poached from both Apple and Google, so the phone will compete directly with the iPhone and Pixel in terms of both specs and price point. Essential’s various prototypes reportedly sport features like a large, bezel-free screen that’s bigger than an iPhone 7 Plus and a ceramic back that requires some finesse to manufacture. The company is also working on a version of Apple’s 3D Touch and developing its own magnetic charging and accessories connector that will allow the device to add aftermarket hardware features. As for the software, Bloomberg says it’s currently “unclear” whether the devices will run on an Android-based operating system.

Essential Products at least partially grew out of Rubin’s Silicon Valley incubator Playground Global, which is focused on quantum computing and artificial intelligence. Foxconn, which is an investor in Playground Global, is reportedly in talks to build the new device.

Source: Bloomberg

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‘Pokémon Go’ rolls out on Android and iOS

With all the news surrounding Pokémon Go‘s beta test and wearable, you’d be forgiven for thinking the full game was already out. Until recently, it wasn’t, but that’s changing if you live in the United States and have an Android device, as spotted by 9to5 Google. Rocking a handset designed in Cupertino? Well, only iPhone owners in Australia have access at the moment so a measure of patience is in order.

The game that brings Pokémon collecting into the real world via developer Niantic Labs’ augmented reality and GPS tech has been gestating for quite a bit. The intent, Niantic CEP John Hanke told us back in June, is to make you feel like you’re venturing out into the world and capturing the pocket monsters for yourself. “You can live the story of being a Pokemon trainer,” he said. Now it’s time to discover how quickly can you catch ’em all.

Via: 9to5 Google

Source: iTunes (Australia), Google Play

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Android malware from Chinese ad firm infects 10 million devices

The Android malware Hummingbad has infected 10 million devices so far, but what’s most interesting is where it comes from. First discovered by the security firm Check Point in February, the researchers have tied it to Yingmob, a highly organized Chinese advertising and analytics company that looks like your typical hum-drum ad firm. Once it successfully infects and sets up a rootkit on Android devices (giving it full administrative control), Hummingbad generates as much as $ 300,000 a month through fraudulent app installs and ad clicks. As Check Point describes it, Hummingbad is an example of how malware companies can support themselves independently.

“Emboldened by this independence, Yingmob and groups like it can focus on honing their skill sets to take malware campaigns in entirely new directions, a trend Check Point researchers believe will escalate,” the researchers say. “For example, groups can pool device resources to create powerful botnets, they can create databases of devices to conduct highly-targeted attacks, or they can build new streams of revenue by selling access to devices under their control to the highest bidder.”

On top of its Hummingbad victims, Yingmob controls around 85 million devices globally. Naturally, the company is also able to sell access to the infected devices, along with sensitive information. And while its attack is global, most victims are in China and India, with 1.6 million and 1.3 million infected users, respectively. iPhone users aren’t safe from Yingmob either — researchers have also found that the group is behind the Yispecter iOS malware.

Via: CNET

Source: Check Point (1), (2)

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BBM Video for Android and iPhone is now out in Asia-Pacific

Most BBM users finally have access to the app’s video calling capability. BlackBerry has released the feature for Android and iOS in Asia-Pacific, which is apparently home to its biggest userbase. The company said it made cross-platform video calls available in the US and Canada first, because it wanted to be able to fix bugs before it reaches more people. Since video calling is now stable, the phonemaker can roll it out to the rest of world.

While BBM isn’t as popular as its newer, shinier rivals like Messenger or WhatsApp anymore, BlackBerry is still developing new features for it. In fact, this release is but a small part of a bigger rollout. Later this summer, the company will launch the capability to register for an account using a phone number, among other things. Android users will be able to share larger videos, as well, while those on iOS will be able to mute group notifications.

Source: BlackBerry

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Android Pay Day offers UK discounts for mobile payments

Now that Android Pay is available in the UK, Google wants to make sure people are actually using it. The company has come up with a promotion called Android Pay Day, which offers discounts every month on the Tuesday before your next pay slip. The scheme kicks off today with two deals; firstly, in Starbucks, you can get two-for-one on Frappucinos; the second is a £5 voucher (ANDROIDPAY5 for new users, ANDROIDPAY2.5 for existing customers) that you can redeem inside the Deliveroo app, provided you select Android Pay as your payment method at checkout.

These discounts are designed, no doubt, to educate people about the different ways they can spend with Android Pay. Most Brits will know they can use their phone to pay at physical stores — they’ll have seen iPhone users doing the same with Apple Pay. But it’s possible, or rather likely, that users are less familiar with Android Pay’s second role as a digital wallet. Android Pay Day could, therefore, be an important tool for raising awareness among the Android-wielding public. Success will ultimately hinge, however, on Google promoting the monthly rewards effectively — if no-one knows they exist, they won’t have an impact on adoption.

A good start would be a promotions page like the one it’s set up for US customers.

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