Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone, and the holiday shopping season is in full swing. As such, Google, Microsoft and Apple have all revealed their latest and greatest to get shoppers opening their wallets. Microsoft has the Surface Studio and refreshed Surface Book, not to mention the Xbox holiday lineup, while Apple goes into holiday battle with the new MacBook Pro and the iPhone 7.
Google is trying something different this year. The company has a full ecosystem of products made in-house for the first time: the Pixel smartphone, Google Home assistant and Daydream VR headset. All three products are important to Google’s strategy, but it feels to me like something’s missing: the humble Chromebook. Google’s more traditional computing platform has gone neglected this fall, and it’s especially surprising in light of a few big developments this year.
The first was a report from IDC claiming that Chromebooks outsold Macs in the first quarter of the year. Yes, that’s just one isolated data point, but it shows that there’s a market for Chromebooks, and that market is growing. The second development was Google’s announcement that Android apps would come to Chromebooks this year. That would solve two of the platform’s big weaknesses: the lack of traditional applications and the Chromebook’s limited offline capabilities.
But the rollout of Google Play on Chromebooks has been stilted at best. Only three models have full support as of today, more than six months after Google first announced the feature. There are a few more that can run Android apps if you use the developer version of Chrome OS, but ultimately this isn’t a selling point Google can use to drive interest in the platform. Indeed, the company doesn’t mention the feature at all on its Chromebook website or in its online store. Based on my experiences using Android on Chromebooks, that’s because the experience isn’t quite yet ready for prime time. There’s no sense in launching a half-baked feature, but I had assumed it would be ready to go by the end of this year.
It’s hard to see this as anything but a missed opportunity. Android is the most popular mobile OS by a wide margin, and being able to use the same apps on both your mobile phone and Chromebook would bring a nice layer of integration to the two platforms. But this non-launch means that consumers aren’t aware of this potentially important feature and developers have zero incentive to consider Chromebooks when building apps.
Google is dropping the ball from a hardware perspective as well. The Chromebook Pixel 2 was discontinued at the end of August with no replacement in site. Sure, that computer was never a practical buy, but similar to what the Nexus program did for phones, it provided manufacturers and developers inspiration when building their own Chromebooks. Other manufacturers have picked up the slack to some extent, but I’m surprised Google appears to have given up making its own Chrome OS hardware.
The hardware gulf shows up in Google’s online store too. Right now, you can only buy three different Chromebooks — all from Acer, two with 11-inch screens and large boat anchor with a 14-inch screen. It seems extremely strange that you cannot visit Google’s store and buy a Chromebook with the ever-popular 13-inch screen size.
One possible explanation for the apparent de-prioritization of Chromebooks at Google could be that the company is fully merging Chrome OS with Android, as various rumors have suggested over the years. The most recent rumor claims a merged Android / Chrome OS will power the next Pixel laptop planned to arrive sometime next year. That would certainly explain the silence, and an announcement of that magnitude would likely wait for the next I/O event in late spring. But that’s still another six months from now, not that the timeframe really matters if Google is moving on from Chrome OS.
It’s too soon to know what Google’s plan is, but a Google spokesperson confirmed that the company “remains committed to Chrome OS and Chromebooks.” The spokesperson also said that Google is seeing great momentum for the platform, particularly in the education market. And given that nearly all Chromebooks are made by OEM partners, there’s logic to keeping this fall’s big launch event focused on the “Made by Google” products. But if the company isn’t giving up on Chromebooks, that makes the lack of new hardware this fall all the more strange.
That’s particularly true given that Google has been closing the gap with Apple, a company whose laptop situation is a bit out of whack right now. A Chromebook is clearly a different class of device than a MacBook Pro, but that’s beside the point. If Google isn’t giving customers good devices to buy and making big advances like Android apps a priority, Chromebooks will continue to have a hard time shaking the old “it’s only a browser” stigma.
We might not see a successor to the 2015 Moto 360 in the near future, or even at all. Motorola and its parent company Lenovo have confirmed to The Verge that they’re not working on a new smartwatch to be released in time for Android Wear 2’s launch next year. Moto’s head of global product development Shakil Barkat told the publication that the company doesn’t “see enough pull in the market” to justify developing a new smartwatch at this point in time. He even went on to say that “wearables do not have broad enough appeal for [Moto] to continue to build on it year after year.”
Based on Barkat’s statements, smartwatches and other wearable devices aren’t doing too well and haven’t been able to attract enough audience to make a regular refresh viable. It’s unclear if we’ll ever see another Moto 360, since it sounds like it’s not doing anything for the company. According to Barkat, though, Moto believes that the “wrist still has value,” hinting that the company hasn’t closed its doors on the possibility of releasing another wearable device.
Source: The Verge
The major selling point of Android Auto is that it brings smartphone-like apps and services to your vehicle. Google Maps, access to music and weather updates are now taken for granted, but it’s remained a mystery over why one of Android’s most useful hands-free commands — “OK Google” — has taken so long to come to the infotainment software. Luckily, the search giant has finally recognized the need for the feature and is in the process of rolling it out, albeit at a slow pace.
The feature was first spotted by Reddit user neo5468, who noticed that the latest versions of the Android Search and Auto apps enabled a new toggle for OK Google commands while driving. However, even if you have the new updates installed, Google appears to be limiting the expansion on an per account basis, so you may need to wait your turn.
It’s been more than six months since Google’s I/O conference, where it first shared that it would enable hotword support in Android Auto. The company also said at the time that it would integrate Waze, but that is also taking some time to surface.
Via: Android Police
Malware writers haven’t stopped trying to game app rankings through bogus app installs. Researchers at Check Point have identified a new strain of the longstanding Ghost Push malware, Googlian, that has infected over 1 million Android devices to date and continues to grow (about 13,000 new infections per day). As with earlier code, attackers trick you into installing a Googlian-based app through either a third-party app store or a phishing scam. Once it’s on your phone, the software takes advantage of Linux kernel exploits to access your Google authorization token and install fraudulent apps, whether to boost their Google Play rankings or to generate money through ads.
You’re probably safe. Google fixed the vulnerability in Android 6.0 Marshmallow and beyond, and you’re unlikely to run into one of the malicious apps if you stick to downloading from Google Play. Also, Google observes that the apps aren’t harvesting data or committing fraud beyond the Google Play ratings. If you’re concerned, you can use a web tool from Check Point to verify whether or not Googlian has abused your account.
The concern, as is frequently the case with Android malware, is that many people will remain at risk. As of this story, Google reports that only 24.3 percent of users it tracks are running sufficiently up to date versions of Android. Also, Google Play isn’t always an option — the Chinese can’t use Google Play, for instance, while others may have devices where the store app isn’t installed. It may take a long while before enough people are up to date (most likely through new hardware) that malware like Googlian is no longer effective.
Via: The Verge
Source: Check Point (1), (2), Adrian Ludwig (Google+)
After letting its users virtually queue up for restaurants with a previous update, now Yelp wants them to put a face to the person behind each star-rating. With the service’s amateur reviews shaping restaurant scenes around the globe, the influential platform’s latest update allows its users to attach a selfie, or “Yelfie,” as the site is unfortunately calling them, to their reviews.
When checking-in to a restaurant, reviewers can now pout after being served a poor pastry or smile after tasting a particularly succulent soup. With over 140 million monthly users, these amateur critics now have a chance to gain some notoriety. It will be interesting to see how influential popular “Yelpers” become.
The idea was originally developed by the company at a hackathon conference and they decided that it was too good an idea to waste. Both Android and iPhone Yelp users can download the update today. With spurned restaurant owners now being able to see who’s behind their scathing reviews, be sure to check your Yelfie before you wreck your self(ie).
It’s not much fun to plug away at a presentation, but Microsoft might have found a way to make the experience more bearable for Office 365 subscribers. It’s updating the Windows version of PowerPoint with real-time collaboration that helps you share the workload. You can see who’s editing specific slides, and see typing as it happens. You’ll need to be part of the Office Insider program to use this right away, but don’t be surprised if it’s available more broadly in the near future.
Microsoft’s updates will also let you know what’s going on when you’re away from your desk. Both Android and iOS users are getting notifications that let you know when someone is offering or working on a shared Excel, PowerPoint or Word file. Ideally, you won’t be caught off-guard when a coworker starts editing a team report. You’ll have to be patient if you think these would be useful, however. You need to be an Office Insider to get these notifications on Android at the moment, and you’ll have to wait for the December updates before they show up on iOS.
Source: Office Blogs
Amazon is still riding high on the success of its Echo speakers, and there’s only one place to go now that it has a low-cost option like the Echo Dot: to the high end. Accordingly, Bloomberg sources hear that Amazon is working on a “premium” Echo-style speaker whose centerpiece would be a roughly 7-inch touchscreen. The visuals would give you a clearer look at your calendar, the weather and other data where Alexa’s voice can’t provide a perfect description. It would sound better, too with “high-grade” speakers that sound good regardless of volume levels.
If this sounds a bit like a tablet with speakers, you wouldn’t be far off the mark. The insiders claim that this speaker would run an “optimized” variant of Fire OS, the Android spinoff that you see on Fire tablets and the Fire TV. That would give you the ability to display info unrelated to your voice commands, such as an in-testing feature that would let you pin photos and other items to the home screen. It’s not certain that this has any relation to “Knight,” the Alexa-guided kitchen device rumored back in May, although there are at least some superficial connections.
There’s no mention of pricing (besides more than the $180 standard Echo). If the scoop is accurate, however, Amazon could ship the speaker as early as the first quarter of 2017. That sounds like odd timing, but the internet retailer does have an incentive to move quickly. Google Home undercuts the standard Echo’s price, so there’s a strong incentive to offer something beyond what Google can offer. And remember, there are rumors of an Apple smart speaker in the works — Amazon might not want to be caught without an answer to whatever is cooking in Cupertino.
So, you don’t like typing out your address or any other information you usually send other people again and again — SwiftKey gets it. In fact, its latest update for Android devices adds a couple of new features you’ll enjoy. First is the keyboard’s brand new Clipboard, which you can use to save phrases you often use and anything else you want. You can simply copy and paste items you saved onto a messaging or email app whenever you need to.
In case it’s an address or any other pertinent info you’d like to keep in your Clipboard indefinitely, you can take advantage of another new feature: Shortcuts. You can assign a shortcut to any info you clip and type it in lieu of that information when texting or emailing someone. For instance, if you mark your address as “home” or “office,” you only need to type either shortcut to bring up the complete address on the prediction bar, which you can then insert into whatever you’re composing.
Besides these two related features, the updated SwiftKey for Android also comes with Incognito mode. It keeps the app from learning words and phrases you don’t want anyone else to know you’ve been typing on your phone — you only need to swipe right on the hamburger menu and enable it through the SwiftKey Hub. Since the keyboard is now powered by a neural network and serves better predictions that before, incognito sounds like a great addition to keep its vocabulary safe for work and kids.
If you’ve ever wanted to create puzzles for mobile games rather than playing whatever the developer gives you, you’re about to have a field day. Square Enix has released a promised Puzzle Maker update for Deus Ex Go that lets you craft your own challenges on Android and iOS. As the studio told us back in June, this isn’t considered a throwaway feature — the aim is to have a genuinely practical, easy-to-use level editor that you’d want to try on your phone. You can share your work with the community, as well, so this could extend the life of the game even if you hardly touch the creative tools yourself.
The update includes a few other welcome tweaks, too. You now have an undo feature to rewind your move, and a profile page that lets you earn rewards as you gain experience points. There’s also a daily challenge if you’ve run out of levels to play. The main gripe, assuming you like Deus Ex Go in the first place, is that this puzzle editing isn’t coming to Hitman Go or Lara Croft Go. Like it or not, you’ll have to pay for the newer game (and accept its sci-fi trappings) to express yourself.
Source: App Store, Google Play, Square Enix Montreal (Twitter)
Did you get some of your holiday gift shopping done on your phone, instead of your PC? You’re far from alone. Adobe has determined that mobile shopping (both phone and tablet) was responsible for $1.2 billion in US online sales on Black Friday — the first time it has ever crossed the $1 billion mark, in fact. It’s still in the minority, representing 36 percent of the total $3.34 billion, but that’s still a huge 33 percent spike over the shopping frenzy from last year.
Those mobile users actually outweighed their PC counterparts in terms of viewing, racking up 55 percent of visits. In other words, some of those people shopping from their PCs still checked on their phones before committing to a purchase. As for what Americans bought? In terms of tech, the highest-grossing gadgets were iPads, Samsung 4K TVs, MacBooks (particularly the 13-inch Air), LG TVs and the Xbox One.
Adobe’s data lines up with what the retailers themselves are saying. Amazon is shy on numbers, as usual, but says its mobile orders on Thanksgiving alone topped what it saw last year. Target reports that over 60 percent of its record-setting online sales came from mobile, while over 70 percent of Walmart’s web traffic was from mobile devices.
The figures were likely helped by incentives. Amazon, Target and Walmart all offered perks for shopping from your phone, such as exclusive discounts and early access. Still, it’s clear that online stores ignore the mobile crowd at their peril — they’re leaving a lot of money on the table if they assume you’ll buy gifts at a computer.
Source: Adobe, Target, Walmart