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Alcatel Says 1X with Android Go and 3V to Hit US In Coming Months

Yesterday, 1:05 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

TCL today announced that it intends to sell the Alcatel 1X with Android Go and the Alcatel 3V in the U.S. at some point over the next few months. Both phones were announced earlier this year. The Alcatel 1X (pictured) is a small, entry-level device with the Android 8.1 Oreo Go Edition on board. Android Go is intended for low-powered phones and includes optimized Go variants of core apps such as Gmail, Maps, and YouTube. The 1X has a 5.3-inch, 18:9 screen with a quad-core MediaTek processor, 2 GB of RAM, 16 GB of storage, 13-megapixel main camera and 8-megapixel selfie camera. The U.S. version, priced at $100, will include a fingerprint reader. The Alcatel 3V has a 6-inch, 18:9 display and includes a quad-core MediaTek processor with 2 GB of RAM and at least 16 GB of storage. The rear camera has a 12-megapixel main sensor and 2-megapixel secondary sensor for bokeh-style photos. The 3V comes in black, gold, or blue with a fingerprint reader, and runs Android 8 Oreo. TCL said more details will be made available soon.

iPhone Owners Gain Access to Google Lens in Google Photos

Yesterday, 7:19 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said iOS users can try a preview of Google Lens in the latest version of Google Photos (v3.15). Google Lens is an image-recognition function that relies on mobile cameras to perform searches. Using Google Lens, iPhone and iPad owners can aim their camera at just about anything and Google will instantly perform a search and suggest results. For example, users can snap a shot of an old car on the street and immediately gain information about that car and discover where it might be available for sale. Google Lens can recognize objects such as flowers, vehicles, gadgets, business cards, and more. The tool works within the Google Photos mobile app. Google Photos is free to download from the iTunes App Store. Google Lens has been widely available to Android devices since earlier this month.

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Samsung Brings Mickey and Minnie Mouse to the Galaxy S9 and S9+ as AR Emoji on Launch Day

Yesterday, 7:15 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung today said those who buy the Galaxy S9 or S9+ smartphones will have access to classic Disney characters Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse via the phones' cameras. The pair of mice are brought to life in the S9/S9+ device thanks to Samsung's AR Emoji, which uses the front-facing camera to help people animate characters and more. Owners of the S9/S9+ will be able to send animated GIFs of Mickey and Minnie through messaging apps or pin them to their lock screen. "With more than 6 billion emojis sent daily, our goal with developing AR Emoji was to provide a fun, exciting way to communicate and a new way to bring animated images to life,” said Samsung's Younghee Lee. Characters from other Disney films including The Incredibles, Zootopia, and Frozen will roll out throughout the year.

Google Maps Transit Navigation Adds Wheelchair-Compatible Routes

Thursday, 4:10 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today updated Google Maps public transit navigation with support for wheelchairs. The company asked its Local Guides to begin adding wheelchair/accessibility data to Maps last fall. This week's action builds on the data generated by that effort. Moving forward, people will be able to look up "wheelchair accessible" routes within Google Maps when using public transportation. Maps then displays a list of possible routes that weigh accessibility needs with data concerning elevators, lifts, ramp, and escalators. Google says accessibility-compatible routes are available in London, New York, Tokyo, Mexico City, Boston, and Sydney. Support for wheelchair navigation in public transit will come to more major cities over the coming months.

Facebook Bringing Lite App to More Countries, Including US

Thursday, 12:35 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Facebook today said it will allow more people to download and use the Facebook Lite application. Facebook Lite, which has been available since 2015, is a stripped-down version of the social networking app meant for regions with slow or poor network connectivity. Facebook is expanding the app's availability beyond the initial list of 100 countries to include nations with developed networks such as the U.S., Canada, Australia, the U.K., France, Germany, Ireland, and New Zealand. "We’ve seen that even in some developed markets people can have lower connectivity, so we want to make sure everyone has the option to use this app if they want," said the company. Facebook Lite will reach the new markets beginning March 16. Earlier this month Facebook brought Facebook Messenger Lite to more countries, including the U.S.

Law Enforcement Could Use CLOUD Act to Skirt 4th Amendment

Thursday, 11:32 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The CLOUD Act would give law enforcement both at home and abroad new access to Americans' personal data in violation of the Fourth Amendment, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The CLOUD Act (H.R. 4943 and S. 2383) lets U.S. law enforcement access data stored anywhere in the world regardless of the privacy laws where that data is located. Moreover, it gives the president the power to enter into agreements with any nation that would let foreign law enforcement officials take data from U.S. companies — all without showing probable cause or requiring a warrant. The Act stipulates that foreign police could only grab data from U.S. companies when the target is not a U.S. citizen, but there's a big back door. According to the EFF, data scooped up on foreign targets in the U.S. would surely include metadata generated by and pertaining to Americans. Metadata might include call times/locations, emails, messages, voicemails, and more. Further, foreign law enforcement agencies could then share any data collected about U.S. citizens with U.S. law enforcement, again, with no warrant needed. The language that covers the circumstances under which data could be shared between agencies and across boarders is vague at best. "The backdoor proposed in the CLOUD Act violates our Fourth Amendment right to privacy by granting unconstitutional access to our private lives online," claims EFF. The Cloud Act is currently working its way through the House and the Senate. It's not clear if or when there might be a vote.

Google Rebrands 'Android Wear' as 'Wear OS by Google'

Thursday, 10:59 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said it is getting rid of the Android Wear brand that has been a part of its smartwatch strategy for years. Moving forward, Google's platform for wearable devices will be called Wear OS by Google. "As our technology and partnerships have evolved, so have our users. In 2017, one out of three new Android Wear watch owners also used an iPhone," explained Google in a blog post. "We’re announcing a new name that better reflects our technology, vision, and most important of all — the people who wear our watches. We’re now Wear OS by Google, a wearables operating system for everyone." Google didn't say if the OS or platform will change along with the name. It did, however, say that smartwatch and phone apps will be updated with the new name over the coming weeks.

BlackBerry to Keep John Chen As CEO Through 2023

Thursday, 8:31 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry today said it has extended its contract with CEO John S. Chen, who will serve as chief executive through November 2023. BlackBerry brought Chen on board in 2013 and he oversaw the company's transformation from a hardware business to a software and services business. Chen was responsible for deep spending cuts that helped keep the company from going under. It is now focused on selling mobile device management services to business customers. The company also develops device-side software for Android handsets that allows them to offer secure email, messaging, and other core communications. "The BlackBerry Board of Directors has tremendous confidence in John Chen. John engineered a successful turnaround and has the company repositioned to apply its strengths and assets to the Enterprise of Things, an emerging category with massive potential," said board member Prem Watsa. BlackBerry-branded handsets are designed and sold by TCL, which also designs devices under the Alcatel brand.

Google Opens Pixel's Depth-Of-Field Effect Code to Researchers

Thursday, 8:21 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Thursday, 8:49 AM

Google this week made its semantic image segmentation feature, which is what powers the portrait effect on the Pixel smartphones, available to academia and researchers. Google uses semantic image segmentation to define the shape of objects within photos and then assign those objects a label, such as person, dog, or car. In short, it's what allows smartphones such as the Pixel to recognize the shape of a subject's head in a portrait, draw a line around it, and then take action with the other regions of the photo, such as blur the background. Google is open-sourcing the newest version of its semantic image segmentation code, DeepLab-v3+, as implemented in TensorFlow. It is built on top of a convolutional neural network (CNN) backbone architecture, which Google says is meant for server-side deployments. Google's immediate goal is not to bring Pixel-level portrait shooting to other smartphones. "We hope that publicly sharing our system with the community will make it easier for other groups in academia and industry to reproduce and further improve upon state-of-art systems, train models on new datasets, and envision new applications for this technology," said the company. Researchers and academics interested in the technology can find the necessary resources on GitHub.

Apple Puts Family Resources On a Single Web Page

Thursday, 7:49 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple recently published a new web site meant to help families manage their iPhones, iPads, Macs, and Apple accounts. The site offers high-level overviews of all the parental controls available, as well as deep-dive tutorials with step-by-step directions on how to enable each tool. Parents have long been able to manage iTunes purchases, control content, set time/usage limits, see location data, share calendars and iTunes purchases, and more. The new Families web page is meant to serve as a central resource. It describes in detail how parents can reduce distracted driving for teens, set family groups and manage communications, find lost devices, and so on. The web site arrives after shareholders published an open letter earlier this year asking the company to address smartphone addiction.

Smartphone Camera Shoot-Out: iPhone X, Pixel 2 XL, Galaxy S9+

Wednesday, 3:55 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Is photography your passion? If so, and you're in the market for a new phone, the Apple iPhone X, Google Pixel 2 XL, and Samsung Galaxy S9+ should be at the top of your list. Here’s a rundown of the features offered by each and how the three devices compare in a head-to-head shoot-out.

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Google Opens Maps and Resonance Audio to Developers

Wednesday, 2:01 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today gave developers more access to mapping and audio tools for creating games and other immersive experiences. First, Google brought its Google Maps API to the Unity gaming engine. The idea is to allow game developers to bring real-world map data into their augmented reality games. This way, games can mix and match reality with augmented content so developers can find the best real-world places for playing their games. Google says roads, parks, and buildings are now GameObjects in Unity, allowing developers to add their own style and textures to existing objects rather than force them to create new worlds from the ground up. Some 100 million buildings, landmarks, and other locales are available in 3D across more than 200 countries around the globe. Together with ARCore, Google believes its new Google Maps API will improve mobile gameplay. Second, Google released an open source version of its Resonance Audio project. Google released the spatial audio SDK last year. That SDK relies on data generated by the Resonance Audio project. Spatial audio creates a sense of presence within AR/VR environments, meaning players feel more like they are actually there. By opening Resonance Audio, Google hopes the community-driven approach will improve the tools available for developers when creating mobile or desktop experiences. Resonance Audio is now open source as a standalone library offered via GitHub through an Apache 2.0 license. Resonance Audio plugins for Unity, Unreal, FMOD, and Wwise are also open source, though they will be maintained by Google's partners. Developers can learn more about the new Maps API and open source Resonance Audio from Google's developer web sites.

Google Home Lets People Set Reminders That Ping Their Phone

Wednesday, 1:33 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has this week added several new features to Google Home that make the product more useful. First, people can now set reminders on their Google Home that are triggered by their phone's location. For example, at home, say, "Hey Google, set a reminder to pick up more coffee at the grocery store," and Google Assistant will remind you on your phone when you're actually at the grocery store. This is an expansion of a feature Google first announced last month. Second, routines are now more widely available. Routines string together a handful of actions that are triggered by a specific catch phrase. For example, people can ask Google to tell them about their day and get the news, weather, and traffic information they need first thing in the morning. Routines can now proactively turn off mobile devices' silent mode, and even interact with Assistant-powered appliances. Google is offering a half dozen routines to start, including morning, leaving home, bedtime, and so on. Users can easily customize the routines, and even ensure Google Assistant recognizes individual users for personalized routines. The new tools are free to use.

Samsung Partners with uBreakiFix for Same-Day Galaxy Repairs

Wednesday, 10:43 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Owners of Samsung's newer high-end phones will soon be able to score same-day repairs for most problems. Samsung has teamed up with uBreakiFix, which has some 370 locations around the country, in order to provide more timely repairs. uBreakiFix offers authorized repairs with genuine Samsung parts. The company says its technicians are all certified by Samsung and repaired devices are restored to factory conditions. uBreakiFix will fix the Note 5 and Note 8, as well as the Galaxy S6, S7, S8, and S9. The partnership officially kicks off March 15. The move helps Samsung become more competitive with Apple, which offers quick iPhone repairs at its Apple Stores.

Broadcom Ends Bid to Acquire Qualcomm

Wednesday, 7:08 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Broadcom today said it will no longer pursue its proposed acquisition of rival chipmaker Qualcomm. The decision comes two days after the Trump administration opposed the deal on national security grounds. Broadcom will also withdraw its nominees for Qualcomm board seats. "Although we are disappointed with this outcome, Broadcom will comply with the order," said the company in a statement. Broadcom first proposed to acquire Qualcomm late last year. The companies have been wrangling over price and other matters since. Despite losing its planned bid for Qualcomm, Broadcom said it will continue efforts to repatriate to the U.S. The company is currently based in Singapore and plans to return to the U.S. within the next few months.

YouTube Debuts Dark Mode on Android and iOS

Tuesday, 7:57 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

YouTube today updated its mobile app for Android and iOS devices with a dark theme. The latest version of YouTube allows people to opt between light and dark theme. The dark theme changes the white background to dark gray. This makes the app easier on the eyes during nighttime viewing. The update is rolling out over the next few days.

T-Mobile to Adopt GSMA Universal RCS Profile

Tuesday, 2:19 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Tuesday, 7:54 PM

T-Mobile today said it plans to expand its support for Rich Communications Services during the second quarter of the year by adopting the GSMA Universal Profile. This will allow T-Mobile customers to take advantage of RCS-based features, such as video chat and large file transfers, with the native Android Messages texting app on their handset. The GSMA Universal Profile, for example, will let people send files as big as 100MB via messaging in addition to audio notes and more. T-Mobile is working with Google and other carriers around the world to ensure its RCS service is compatible with those used by competing networks, such as Sprint in the U.S., which adopted Google's RCS standard several years ago. This means people will be able to send rich messages to one another without downloading or installing a third-party messaging application, such as WhatsApp. T-Mobile said its customers can expect to see an update to the Android Messaging app arrive during the second quarter of the year. Moreover, the company intends to bring RCS Business Messaging to its network down the road. This will let businesses chat directly with customers for actions such as taking restaurant reservations or setting appointments. T-Mobile already offers RCS service to its own customers and has since 2015. AT&T and Verizon support their own RCS-like messaging services and have not announced plans to support the GSMA Universal Profile for RCS.

Essential Phone Being Updated to Android Oreo 8.1

Tuesday, 12:12 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Essential Products today said that the PH-1 Essential Phone is now receiving the Android Oreo 8.1 update. Essential says both beta testers and general users should be able to check for and download the update via the systems settings. Essential had been testing the Oreo build in beta for the last few months. Core improvement include notification dots, picture-in-picture, and autofill. The update is free to install.

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