Speed Heat is an infinite runner game where you collect cars, unlock tracks, and keep racing until you’re ready ready to stop. It includes Facebook leaderboards, plenty of awesome cars to unlock, and simple controls that anyone can learn quickly. It’s inoffensive nature makes it great for kids or adults and its simple premise and quick game play make it a great time waster when you need to kill a few minutes. We’d like to thank Speed Heat for supporting the Android Apps Weekly show.
Welcome back to Android Apps Weekly! Here are your top headlines this week:
- Rumor around the water cooler is that Gmail and Inbox will soon let you pay bills directly from your email. Reports are that the service will start around Q4 of 2015 and will let you share bills with other people.
- Amazon is tinkering with an idea of starting a service called Amazon Unlocked which will give users paid apps, including in-app purchases, for free. Tech Crunch described it as the Amazon Prime but for apps and it may just help give Amazon that bump its app store sorely needs.
- This week Google announced the Safe Browsing API which will give developers access to the same malware blocking technology that Google uses in Google Chrome. You can likely expect apps with built-in web browsers to incorporate this technology eventually.
- Facebook has debuted its new Messenger Platform that allows third party applications to be integrated directly with Facebook Messenger. This will open up the chat platform to third party apps and allow for more functionality such as built-in support for Imgur or Giphy.
- Google is working on a platform called YouTube Live which will be a live streaming service for games and e-sports. The idea is to give Twitch some competition. Reportedly, Google has hired 50 engineers to help make this happen and they’ll have to do some awesome stuff to compete with Twitch.
For more Android apps news, updates, and releases, don’t forget to check out this week’s Android Apps Weekly newsletter. We’ll have a full list of the news, updates, and releases that took Android by storm over the course of the previous week. If you want, you can even subscribe using your email address and we’ll shoot it directly to your inbox every Friday.
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[Price: $4.99 each with in app purchases]
Telltale Games has been busy this last week as they have released new episodes for purchase for both Tales from the Borderlands and Game of Thrones. Tales from the Borderlands is getting the long awaited episode 2 entitled Atlas Mugged as an in-app purchase that’ll set you back $4.99. Game of Thrones is getting episode 3 of its game, also for $4.99. Both games are great action-adventure games that bring new depth to their respective properties and Telltale Games fans have likely already purchased the new content.
Google Keep received a substantial update this last week that includes recurring reminders and label support. This means you can set up a note that will appear on a recurring schedule to include daily, weekly, monthly, or even yearly and there are custom reminders available. At this point, Google might as well make this a task management app because it’s halfway there already. Label support helps users to organize their notes more efficiently. The update is rolling out right now so if you don’t have it yet, patience because it’s coming.
Fotonica is a unique endless runner game where you run through abstract levels at wicked high speeds. It’s definitely a different kind of take on the infinite runner genre and includes eight levels, three endless levels, local multiplayer, online rankings, and best of all, no in-app purchases or advertising. It’s on sale for $0.99 so you can pick it up for cheap right now. It’s an excellent time waster with a fun design and it’s definitely worth checking out.
[Price: Free with in app purchases]
TomTom GPS Navigation is a new navigation and maps app from TomTom, the well known mapping and navigation company. It features offline map storage, 3D views, speed camera warnings, real-time traffic updates, and more. You can use it for free for 50 miles each month or upgrade to a premium subscription which runs for about $20 per year. It has some release day bugs but nothing overly serious yet.
[Price: Free with in app purchases]
The long awaited Final Fantasy mashup game between Square Enix and DeNA launched this week. It features characters from a number of Final Fantasy games as they duke it out in epic moments from prior titles in the series. Think of it like a greatest hits compilation. The game uses 8-bit recreations of all the characters and according to user reviews, the in-app purchase strategy isn’t all that bad but that is, of course, up to individual interpretation. It’s currently free and Final Fantasy fans have already left to go download it.
If we missed any great Android apps or games news this week, tell us about it in the comments!
Facebook connects people, but it also wants to know them so it can show relevant information and targeted ads to them. To generate a personalized feed for each user, the network needs to identify and classify content in posts, images and news. Towards that end, the company launched an ambitious AI plan, and a research laboratory, at the end of 2013. Today at F8, its annual developer’s conference, the network’s CTO Mike Schroepfer talked about a specific AI prototype that can identify content in videos and the context of words. While AI for video can identify 487 types of sport activities, another reads sentences to pinpoint possessives from the grammar used. This allows the company to sift through an overwhelming load of information so it can arrive at a newsfeed that’s most appropriate for the user. It’s unclear if the new system is already peeking through posts, but Schroepfer indicated that over the next 10 years, Facebook will focus on building advanced AI systems.
Today at the company’s F8 event, Facebook unveiled its plans to make Messenger much more useful to its users. The social network announced Messenger Platform, which allows developers to integrate applications into the Messenger service.
Users will now easily be able to send GIFs, audio tracks, videos and more by simply downloading an add-on for Facebook Messenger through the designated Messenger store. For instance, if you’d like to send a GIF with Giphy, attach an image with Imgur or send personalized stickers with JibJab, you no longer have to go to each website to complete these actions. Just download each app and you’re all set.
Over 40 applications are already on-board with Messenger Platform, and there will obviously be many more added in the future. You’ll be able to find many of these add-ons from within the Messenger app. Additionally, if your friend sends you a message with an app that you don’t have installed yet, you’ll be able to easily download and install the add-on with a few clicks and respond accordingly. If you’d like to check out a full list of compatible applications so far, head to Facebook’s Messenger Platform Showcase.
Facebook didn’t just focus on add-ons at the F8 event, though. The social network also unveiled a service called Businesses on Messenger, which allows users to easily communicate with businesses through the Messenger app. After purchasing something from a website, users will be able to receive receipts, track/cancel orders, and even have a conversation with the business regarding the order. Of course, you don’t have to receive your updates through Messenger if a business supports it, but the option is now there if you’re interested.
Facebook will launch the new Businesses on Messenger feature with a number of different partners, but there’s no word yet as to when the service will be available to everyone. With all that said, if you have yet to download the Messenger app, now may be a good time to do so.
In case you didn’t know, Facebook is hosting their own developer conference this week. It’s called F8, and it will reveal new stuff regarding not only Facebook, but Instagram, Parse, Oculus, and LiveRail too.
On the Facebook side of things, they announced Messenger Platform, which gives the Messenger app its own ecosystem for creating and sharing content. They are launching a Messenger App Store, which will host about 40 new apps that work within the Messenger application. Users will be able to purchase and download these apps from within the Messenger app. These apps will allow you do utilize GIFs, video, audio clips, and more in an effort to enhance your conversations.
Facebook also announced Businesses on Messenger, which allows users to speak directly with companies about recent purchases. Companies will have the ability to send you a message when your item ships, and users will be able to make purchases from the Messenger app, assuming their credit card is on file.
Come comment on this article: Facebook adds a slew of new features to the Messenger app
In the past few months, Facebook has really ramped up the Messenger experience — you can add your location, add stickers and even use it for payments. Now, Facebook will let you add way way way more customized messages. That’s because Facebook has opened up Messenger as a platform, so you can integrate third-party apps into Messenger. Want to add GIFS from Giphy? Simply install the add-on, find the GIF you want, and away you go.
Now that Facebook has video ads, how is it going to make sure you hang around to watch more of them? According to a report on The Information, the social network is in talks with publishers like Vice, The Onion and Vox Media to make short-term videos it can host. The point to doing that instead of just letting them operate independently, is apparently to push them all as part of a service called “Anthology” for advertisers. That way it can charge advertisers higher prices with “TV-type scale” promised at millions of views. Whether or not that it takes off, this, along with rumors Facebook wants publishers posting content directly to its site suggests its vision of the future involves keeping users tied to Facebook.com — at least until they leave VR space.
[Image credit: Jeff Chiu/Associated Press]
Filed under: Internet
Source: The Information
If you live in the United States, you might’ve been surprised when Facebook purchased WhatsApp for $19 billion — or, in other words, thing-you’d-think-you’d-have-heard-of money. Facebook identified what those of us in the US with texting plans and Apple Messages haven’t noticed: There are whole ecosystems of social networking and instant messaging separate from those we customarily use.
There are a number of advantages services like Line and WhatsApp have over basic texting: They’re cross-platform and international, allowing people to talk to other users in other countries, on other devices and other networks, with no extra cost. Of course, for individual users, there’s only one thing that distinguishes one service from others: the presence of their friends.
What are the major services?
WhatsApp claims the largest user base of any mobile messaging app, with 700 million active users worldwide as of January. Of that group, the largest concentration (approximately 70 million monthly active users) is in India. Anecdotally, it’s also extremely popular in the Middle East. “Everyone in the Middle East uses WhatsApp,” said Mohammed Taher, president of Brave Wave Productions, the company behind WhatsApp, which was eventually bought by Facebook. “I use it mainly to keep in touch with my family and work colleagues. You can’t really escape it.”
The app, created in 2009 by former Yahoo employees Brian Acton and Jan Koum, allows users to send text, images, video and audio messages. Users create accounts by entering their phone numbers, then have the option to search their contacts for other WhatsApp users.
It’s not free: After one year of use, WhatsApp charges 99 cents a year. But that’s a lot less expensive than a texting plan, especially for users who frequently send messages internationally. WhatsApp announced last year that this fee will be waived in India, due to low credit card adoption and other “ecosystem issues.”
Line is a cute, bright-green messaging app with 50 million users in Japan, as of February 2014. Over 560 million users worldwide have memberships, of whom 181 million are considered monthly active users. It also claims the largest market share among messaging apps in Indonesia, Taiwan and Thailand. Thirteen countries, including the US, have over 10 million Line users each.
The app offers text, voice and video chat, as well as photo sharing, but its trademark feature is also its monetization method: stickers. Line sells packs of “stickers,” emoji-style images that can be sent in chat. Sticker packs range from popular anime and pop culture licenses, to Line’s original characters, to user-created collections from the Line Creators Market. It’s possible to communicate using only promotional Linkin Park cartoons, animated Hello Kittys and farting bears.
It’s possible to communicate using only promotional Linkin Park cartoons, animated Hello Kittys and farting bears.
Line also offers separate apps that connect to the messaging service, including the Line Game portal and standalone games like Disney Tsum Tsum, a camera app, drawing tools, e-cards and others. The company plans to launch a streaming-music option and recently started a payment service to enable users to link their credit cards and pay for goods and services online through Line. Meanwhile, outside of the virtual world, Line is opening a store in Harajuku, Japan, that sells exclusive merchandise of its popular characters, in case one of your friends needs a Swarovski-encrusted doll of Cony the rabbit. There’s even a taxi service.
Telegram is a project of Berlin’s Telegram Messenger, a company founded by Nikolai and Pavel Durov, who created the Russian VK network. Its user base is more diffuse than the other services; there doesn’t seem to be a particular “hotspot” among its 50 million users. And it’s likely that the ambiguity about location is by design: Telegram’s selling point is privacy. Users have the option to set up end-to-end encryption with each individual to whom they connect, and can set up self-destructing messages as well. The claim of security is bolstered by a $300,000 bounty for anyone who cracks the app’s encryption.
All Telegram clients (the service is, as of now, available on iOS, Android, Mac, PC, Windows Phone, Linux and as a Chrome browser app) are open source, and the service is free. The Telegram Messenger company is a nonprofit, not just in the sense of “not for profit,” but also as in “not really looking for any money.” As the FAQ on the website puts it: “Pavel Durov, who shares our vision, supplied Telegram with a generous donation through his Digital Fortress fund, so we have quite enough money for the time being. If Telegram runs out, we’ll invite our users to donate or add non-essential paid options.”
WeChat, originally Weixin, is a product of China’s Tencent, a massive company that also runs the QQ chat network and many online games, and owns the majority of League of Legends developer Riot Games. Unsurprisingly, the majority of the service’s 468 million users are in China, but the WeChat app is available worldwide, with around 70 million users outside of China as of last year. The app, available on iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Symbian and Blackberry, offers voice and text chat, a “broadcasting” ability, photo sharing and a “walkie-talkie” feature for instant group voice chats. It also features a Line-like sticker shop.
KakaoTalk also resembles Line, with cute cartoon stickers along with voice, video and text chat — and even a suite of connected apps for music, games and other services. But whereas Line is a Japan-native app from a Korean company, KakaoTalk is used mostly in South Korea, and is shockingly prevalent there: A reported 93 percent of smartphone users in the country use KakaoTalk.
Part of the popularity stems from its connection to popular online games: many free-to-play games for the Korean market, like the mobile DJMax rhythm games, use Kakao accounts. As with the other apps, of course, the main draw of KakaoTalk is access to friends in Korea, since they’re extremely likely to be using it. There are some concerns about security and privacy around both WeChat and KakaoTalk. In October, WeChat censored public messages in mainland China containing photos related to protests in Hong Kong, not the first instance of censorship. Depending on the content of your messages, it may bother you to have the Chinese government potentially looking over your shoulder.
For KakaoTalk, there is a concern on the part of some users about privacy — specifically, privacy from the government of South Korea. In late 2014, the government announced a crackdown on false information posted online, partly in response to rumors spread about President Park Geun-hye. That crackdown officially included monitoring of public posts on social networks, but many KakaoTalk users also received notification that their personal accounts had been investigated. Daum Kakao co-CEO Sirgoo Lee apologized to users for violating their privacy. As a result of this issue, an estimated 610,000 had visited Telegram, the privacy-focused network, as of October. KakaoTalk implemented end-to-end encrypted “secret chats” to address the concern.
Chances are, if you’re in the US, you already use at least one messaging service, probably many. But these services all offer something different: Unlike Apple’s Messages app, they aren’t tied to one company’s products. Snapchat offers self-destructing messages like Telegram or KakaoTalk, but veers heavily toward images instead of multimedia or text messaging, and it’s possible to retrieve messages even after their time limit elapses. Facebook has stickers now, like Line, but it also has the people you went to high school with.
As far choosing one over the others, however, these services are all roughly equivalent feature-wise; you can voice chat with other users, send text messages and share photos no matter what you use. The choice of which chat app you use comes down to what chat app your friends use, and that’s likely decided by geography.
Or just put them all on your phone. They’re (mostly) free.
[Image credits: Line (Pricing map); AP (WeChat, KakaoTalk)]
A user from California recently put Facebook’s suicide prevention feature to test. According to a report, Shane Tusch shared his frustrations about his bank on the social network and posted a fake-threat to hang himself from the Golden Gate Bridge. A reader swiftly reported his post. As per the prevention service update last month, Facebook locked Tusch out of his account. He should have been in conversation with a crisis worker soon after, but instead he was arrested and placed in a psychiatric institution for a total of 70 hours.
At a time when people are perpetually signed into social networks, online intervention could prove to be a crucial tool in saving lives. According to the CDC, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death across all ages in the US. Facebook first stepped in to help with its reporting tool in 2011. In partnership with suicide prevention organizations, the network eventually found a way to get friends involved beyond likes and comments. Through the service a concerned friend (or, as Tusch claims, a relative stranger) can report a suicide threat to generate a concerned email from Facebook.
Advocates root for the program. But Tusch’s experiment underscores the fact that it’s hard to tell a hoax from the truth on social media. He contacted Consumer Watchdog to share the repercussions of his Facebook post. And the non-profit sent Mark Zuckerberg a letter last week, asking him to discontinue the “ill-conceived” feature until it was better equipped with safeguards for users.
Facebook’s “you matter to us” service is not fool proof. Apart from hoaxes, trolls who thrive in the loopholes of online features could misuse it. But for those who take to social media as a last resort in life, perhaps the benefits of the service trump its potential for being trolled.
The White House has gone shopping for talent in Silicon Valley again. This time, it’s plucked David Recordon from Facebook to become its first Director of Information Technology. Before accepting the government position, Recordon served as the social network’s engineering director for five years, leading teams behind Facebook’s internal productivity, HR and video conferencing tools, among many other projects. As the IT director, he’s expected to “build on the Administration’s Smarter IT Delivery efforts to ensure that the technology utilized by the White House is efficient, effective, and secure.” He also has to “[modernize] software used to collaborate, and [bring] use of new technologies in line with private sector best practices.”
Recordon is joining a growing list of Silicon Valley alumni now employed at the White House, including former Google Site Reliability Manager Mikey Dickerson who led the efforts in fixing the Healthcare.gov fiasco. Dickerson and his personnel now form the first US Digital Service team, which is in charge of overhauling government websites and making sure they’re in working order. Former Google X VP Megan Smith is another entry in the list as US Chief Technical Officer, followed by ex-Twitter lawyer Alex Macgillivray who’s working under her as Deputy CTO. There’s also DJ Patil from eBay, PayPal and Skype, who’s now the Chief Data Scientist and Chief Technology Officer for Data Policy.
If the White House’s proposed fiscal budget of 2016 is approved, its aggressive hiring of top tech talents from the Valley won’t stop with Recordon. After all, the administration is asking for a $105 million budget to form a digital team for each of its 25 agencies.
[Image credit: Tantek/Wikipedia]