Google

Google’s Pixel 4 briefly went up for preorder on Best Buy Canada

Posted by | Google, google hardware event 2019, hardware, Mobile, Pixel 4 | No Comments

The Pixel 4 is set to be unveiled at an event on Tuesday. This much we know for sure. We know a bunch more, too, (as outlined in this rumor roundup from yesterday), thanks to both official reveals and unofficial leaks. How much of this was planned is hard to say, but Google seemingly doesn’t mind building up the hype cycle.

Earlier today, Best Buy Canada made what may well be the most egregious reveal today (granted, there are three more days left to leak). The big box store posted up a preorder page for the upcoming smartphone. As expected, the listing was taken down, but not before 9to5Google managed to snap some screen shots.

From the looks of things, the rumors are pretty spot on. The device will come in both standard and XL versions, at 5.7 and 6.3 inches, respectively. Both models sport a Snapdradon 855, 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, along with a new Face Unlock feature. There are dual camera on each, per the listing — 12 and 16 megapixels — in the iPhone 11-esque square configuration.

pixel 4 specs leak

There’s a single front-facing 8 megapixel camera on each, and a 2,800 and 3,700mAh battery on the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL. Other highlights including the expected addition of “Quick Gestures,” which use use a wave of the hand to interact with the device — similar to features we’ve seen on other handsets before.

Conspicuously missing from the preorder, however, is the expected “Oh So Orange” color. Could be a preorder thing or maybe Best Buy Canadian customers will have to settle for Just Black and Clearly White. Maybe the company is saving some surprises for Tuesday’s event. Maybe.

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Google takes AMP to the OpenJS Foundation

Posted by | free software, Google, Javascript, linux, linux foundation, Mobile, node.js, TC | No Comments

AMP, Google’s somewhat controversial project for speeding up the mobile web, has always been open-source, but it also always felt like a Google project first. Today, however, Google announced that the AMP framework will join the OpenJS Foundation, the Linux Foundation-based group that launched last year after the merger of the Node.js and JS foundations. The OpenJS Foundation is currently the home of projects like jQuery, Node.js and webpack, and AMP will join the Foundation’s incubation program.

Large companies like Google tend to donate open-source projects to foundations once they become stable — and that’s definitely the case with the four-year-old AMP project, which developers have now used to create billions of pages on more than 30 million domains, according to Google. Late last year, Google introduced a Technical Steering Committee to help oversee the development of AMP and it was this committee that also agreed to bring the project to the OpenJS Foundation.

“Now in our fourth year, AMP is excited for the next step on our journey,” said Malte Ubl, member of the AMP Project Technical Steering Committee, in today’s announcement. “We’ve been considering the best home for AMP for some time. We decided on the OpenJS Foundation because we feel it’s the best place for us to help us to cater to our diverse group of constituencies. This step builds on previous moves we’ve made toward open governance and helps us focus on transparency and openness.”

Google also notes that the OpenJS Foundation’s goal of promoting JavaScript and related technologies is a good fit for AMP’s mission of providing “a user-first format for web content.” The company also notes that the Foundation allows projects to maintain their identities and technical focus and stresses that AMP’s governance model was already influenced by the JS Foundation and Node.js Foundation.

Google is currently a top-level platinum member of the OpenJS Foundation and will continue to support the project and employ a number of engineers that will work on AMP full-time.

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Google makes moving music and videos between speakers and screens easier

Posted by | artificial intelligence, Assistant, chromecast, Companies, Gadgets, Google, Google Assistant, Google Cast, google home, smart speakers, Speaker | No Comments

Google today announced a small but nifty feature for the Google Assistant and its smart home devices that makes it easier for you to take your music and videos with you as you wander about the different rooms in your home.

“Stream transfer,” as Google prosaically calls it, allows you to simply ask the Assistant to move your music to a different speaker, or — if you have the right speaker group set up — to all speakers and TVs in your home. All you have to say is “Hey Google, move the music to the bedroom speaker,” for example. In addition to your voice, you also can use the Google Home app or the touchscreen on your Google Nest Home Hub.

This will work with any source that can play to your Chromecast-enabled speakers and displays.

It’s all pretty straightforward — to the point where I’m surprised it took so long for Google to enable a feature like this. But maybe it just needed to have enough devices in peoples’ homes to make it worthwhile. “Now that millions of users have multiple TVs, smart speakers and smart displays (some in every room!) we wanted to make it easy for people to control their media as they moved from room to room,” Google itself explains in today’s announcement.

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Google’s Grasshopper coding class for beginners comes to the desktop

Posted by | Android, code editor, codecademy, Developer, Education, Google, google search, HTML, Javascript, mobile app, programming languages, web programming | No Comments

Google today announced that Grasshopper, its tool for teaching novices how to code, is now available on the desktop, too, in the form of a web-based app. Back in 2018, Grasshopper launched out of Area 120 as a mobile app for Android and iOS and since then, Google says, “millions” have downloaded it.

A larger screen and access to a keyboard makes learning to code on the desktop significantly easier than on mobile. In the desktop app, for example, Google is able to put columns for the instructions, the code editor and the results next to each other.

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Google also today added two new classes to Grasshopper, in addition to the original “fundamentals” class on basic topics like variables, operators and loops. The new classes are Using a Code Editor and Intro to Webpages, which teaches you more about HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

In case you are wondering why a “Using a Code Editor” class is useful, it’s worth noting that most of the coding experience in the first few courses is more about clicking short code snippets and putting them in the right order than typing out code by hand.

After completing all courses, users will be able to build a simple webpage and be ready to take on more complex courses on other platforms, like Codecademy, for example.

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HTC’s new CEO discusses the phonemaker’s future

Posted by | 5g, Apple, AT&T, augmented reality, Chanel, cher wang, China, deutsche telekom, Disrupt, Disrupt SF 2019, Ericsson, Exodus, Facebook, Google, hardware, HTC, huawei, Internet of Things, Louis-Vuitton, Mobile, mobile devices, Nokia, smartphones, sprint, T-Mobile, telecommunications, Verizon, Virtual reality, Yves Maitre | No Comments

On September 17, HTC announced that cofounder Cher Wang would be stepping down as CEO. In her place, Yves Maitre stepped into the role of Chief Executive, after more than a decade at French telecom giant, Orange.

It’s a tough job at an even tougher time. The move comes on the tail of five consecutive quarterly losses and major layoffs, including a quarter of the company’s staff, which were let go in July of last year.

It’s a far fall for a company that comprised roughly 11 percent of global smartphone sales, some eight years ago. These days, HTC is routinely relegated to the “other” column when these figures are published.

All of this is not to say that the company doesn’t have some interesting irons in the fire. With Vive, HTC has demonstrated its ability to offer a cutting edge VR platform, while Exodus has tapped into an interest in exploring the use of blockchain technologies for mobile devices.

Of course, neither of these examples show any sign of displacing HTC’s once-booming mobile device sales. And this January’s $1.1 billion sale of a significant portion of its hardware division to Google has left many wondering whether it has much gas left in the mobile tank.

With Wang initially scheduled to appear on stage at Disrupt this week, the company ultimately opted to have Maitre sit in on the panel instead. In preparation for the conversation, we sat down with the executive to discuss his new role and future of the struggling Taiwanese hardware company.

5G, XR and the future of the HTC brand

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Google announces Action Blocks, a new accessibility tool for creating mobile shortcuts

Posted by | accessibility, Android, artificial intelligence, Assistant, Google, Google Assistant, Mobile, mobile software, smartphones, TC, world wide web | No Comments

Google today announced Action Blocks, a new accessibility tool that allows you to create shortcuts for common multi-step tasks with the help of the Google Assistant. In that respect, Action Blocks isn’t all that different from Shortcuts on iOS, for example, but Google is specifically looking at this as an accessibility feature for people with cognitive disabilities.

“If you’ve booked a rideshare using your phone recently, you’ve probably had to go through several steps: unlock your phone, find the right app, navigate through its screens, select appropriate options, and enter your address into the input box,” writes Google accessibility software engineer Ajit Narayanan. “At each step, the app assumes that you’re able to read and write, find things by trial-and-error, remember your selections, and focus for a sustained period of time.”

Google’s own research shows that 80% of people with severe cognitive disabilities, like advanced dementia, autism or Down syndrome, don’t use smartphones, in part because of these barriers.

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Action Blocks are essentially a sequence of commands for the Google Assistant, so everything the Assistant can do can be scripted using this new tool, no matter whether that’s starting a call or playing a TV show. Once the Action Block is set up, you can create a shortcut with a custom image on your phone’s home screen.

For now, the only way to get access to Action Blocks is to join Google’s trusted tester program. It’s unclear when this will roll out to a wider audience. When it does, though, I’m sure a variety of users will want to use of this feature.

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Google brings its Jacquard wearables tech to Levi’s Trucker Jacket

Posted by | Android, Australia, Clothing, Fashion, France, Gadgets, Germany, Google, Google ATAP, hardware, Italy, jacket, Jacquard, Japan, noise cancelling, TC, United Kingdom, United States, Wearables | No Comments

Back in 2015, Google’s ATAP team demoed a new kind of wearable tech at Google I/O that used functional fabrics and conductive yarns to allow you to interact with your clothing and, by extension, the phone in your pocket. The company then released a jacket with Levi’s in 2017, but that was expensive, at $350, and never really quite caught on. Now, however, Jacquard is back. A few weeks ago, Saint Laurent launched a backpack with Jacquard support, but at $1,000, that was very much a luxury product. Today, however, Google and Levi’s are announcing their latest collaboration: Jacquard-enabled versions of Levi’s Trucker Jacket.

These jackets, which will come in different styles, including the Classic Trucker and the Sherpa Trucker, and in men’s and women’s versions, will retail for $198 for the Classic Trucker and $248 for the Sherpa Trucker. In addition to the U.S., it’ll be available in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.K.

The idea here is simple and hasn’t changed since the original launch: a dongle in your jacket’s cuff connects to conductive yarns in your jacket. You can then swipe over your cuff, tap it or hold your hand over it to issue commands to your phone. You use the Jacquard phone app for iOS or Android to set up what each gesture does, with commands ranging from saving your location to bringing up the Google Assistant in your headphones, from skipping to the next song to controlling your camera for selfies or simply counting things during the day, like the coffees you drink on the go. If you have Bose noise-canceling headphones, the app also lets you set a gesture to turn your noise cancellation on or off. In total, there are currently 19 abilities available, and the dongle also includes a vibration motor for notifications.

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What’s maybe most important, though, is that this (re-)launch sets up Jacquard as a more modular technology that Google and its partners hope will take it from a bit of a gimmick to something you’ll see in more places over the next few months and years.

“Since we launched the first product with Levi’s at the end of 2017, we were focused on trying to understand and working really hard on how we can take the technology from a single product […] to create a real technology platform that can be used by multiple brands and by multiple collaborators,” Ivan Poupyrev, the head of Jacquard by Google told me. He noted that the idea behind projects like Jacquard is to take things we use every day, like backpacks, jackets and shoes, and make them better with technology. He argued that, for the most part, technology hasn’t really been added to these things that we use every day. He wants to work with companies like Levi’s to “give people the opportunity to create new digital touchpoints to their digital life through things they already have and own and use every day.”

What’s also important about Jacquard 2.0 is that you can take the dongle from garment to garment. For the original jacket, the dongle only worked with this one specific type of jacket; now, you’ll be able to take it with you and use it in other wearables as well. The dongle, too, is significantly smaller and more powerful. It also now has more memory to support multiple products. Yet, in my own testing, its battery still lasts for a few days of occasional use, with plenty of standby time.

jacquard dongle

Poupyrev also noted that the team focused on reducing cost, “in order to bring the technology into a price range where it’s more attractive to consumers.” The team also made lots of changes to the software that runs on the device and, more importantly, in the cloud to allow it to configure itself for every product it’s being used in and to make it easier for the team to add new functionality over time (when was the last time your jacket got a software upgrade?).

He actually hopes that over time, people will forget that Google was involved in this. He wants the technology to fade into the background. Levi’s, on the other hand, obviously hopes that this technology will enable it to reach a new market. The 2017 version only included the Levi’s Commuter Trucker Jacket. Now, the company is going broader with different styles.

“We had gone out with a really sharp focus on trying to adapt the technology to meet the needs of our commuter customer, which a collection of Levi’s focused on urban cyclists,” Paul Dillinger, the VP of Global Product Innovation at Levi’s, told me when I asked him about the company’s original efforts around Jacquard. But there was a lot of interest beyond that community, he said, yet the built-in features were very much meant to serve the needs of this specific audience and not necessarily relevant to the lifestyles of other users. The jackets, of course, were also pretty expensive. “There was an appetite for the technology to do more and be more accessible,” he said — and the results of that work are these new jackets.

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Dillinger also noted that this changes the relationship his company has with the consumer, because Levi’s can now upgrade the technology in your jacket after you bought it. “This is a really new experience,” he said. “And it’s a completely different approach to fashion. The normal fashion promise from other companies really is that we promise that in six months, we’re going to try to sell you something else. Levi’s prides itself on creating enduring, lasting value in style and we are able to actually improve the value of the garment that was already in the consumer’s closet.”

I spent about a week with the Sherpa jacket before today’s launch. It does exactly what it promises to do. Pairing my phone and jacket took less than a minute and the connection between the two has been perfectly stable. The gesture recognition worked very well — maybe better than I expected. What it can do, it does well, and I appreciate that the team kept the functionality pretty narrow.

Whether Jacquard is for you may depend on your lifestyle, though. I think the ideal user is somebody who is out and about a lot, wearing headphones, given that music controls are one of the main features here. But you don’t have to be wearing headphones to get value out of Jacquard. I almost never wear headphones in public, but I used it to quickly tag where I parked my car, for example, and when I used it with headphones, I found using my jacket’s cuffs easier to forward to the next song than doing the same on my headphones. Your mileage may vary, of course, and while I like the idea of using this kind of tech so you need to take out your phone less often, I wonder if that ship hasn’t sailed at this point — and whether the controls on your headphones can’t do most of the things Jacquard can. Google surely wants Jacquard to be more than a gimmick, but at this stage, it kind of still is.

IMG 20190930 104137IMG 20190930 104137

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Not all is predictable on Facebook’s social Horizon

Posted by | Against Gravity, Andreessen Horowitz, augmented reality, bigscreen, Facebook, Facebook Horizon, facebook spaces, Gaming, Google, HTC, Index Ventures, Media, Oculus, Oculus Connect, Oculus Rooms, Oculus Venues, Rec Room, sequoia capital, Social, Startups, TC, True Ventures, Venture Capital, Video, Virtual reality | No Comments

Most of the people I spoke with at Facebook’s Oculus Connect see the proliferation of virtual reality as a foregone conclusion, one that’s just a matter of timing at this point. For Facebook, the conference’s “The Time is Now” catchphrase showcased that they feel their hardware is ready for everyone.

But despite the success they feel like they’ve tapped into when it comes to hardware iterations, the company’s bread and butter social networking prowess feels like it’s barely improved in-headset in the past several years of VR experimentations.

“On the social side, looking back, it’s kind of embarrassing all of the stages we’ve gone through at Oculus,” Oculus CTO and veteran programmer John Carmack conceded onstage during his signature rambling annual keynote, noting that his own social APK was followed by Oculus Rooms, Oculus Venues, Facebook Spaces and now the company’s latest shiny pearl Facebook Horizon.

Horizon’s debut this year included a flashy trailer for what quickly seemed to be the company’s biggest gamble and first potential social hit, a massive multi-player online world. In introducing the software, Zuckerberg talked about people-centric software as Facebook’s “bread-and-butter,” noting, “We build a lot of the best social experiences for phones and computers, and we want to do this for virtual reality as well.”

But Facebook does not actually appear to hold that much of an advantage over much smaller game studios in terms of understanding how to make social virtual reality experience take off.

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The time is right for Apple to buy Sonos

Posted by | AirPlay, Amazon, amazon alexa, Apple, apple inc, apple music, controller, echo, Gadgets, Google, hardware, HomePod, ios devices, iPhone, siri, smart speakers, Sonos, Spotify, TC, video streaming services, virtual assistant | No Comments

It’s been a busy couple of months for smart speakers — Amazon released a bunch just this week, including updated versions of its existing Echo hardware and a new Echo Studio with premium sound. Sonos also introduced its first portable speaker with Bluetooth support, the Sonos Move, and in August launched its collaboration collection with Ikea. Meanwhile, Apple didn’t say anything about the HomePod at its latest big product event — an omission that makes it all the more obvious the smart move would be for Apple to acquire a company that knows what they’re doing in this category: Sonos.

Highly aligned

From an outsider perspective, it’s hard to find two companies that seem more philosophically aligned than Sonos and Apple when it comes to product design and business model. Both are clearly focused on delivering premium hardware (at a price point that’s generally at the higher end of the mass market) and both use services to augment and complement the appeal of their hardware, even if Apple’s been shifting that mix a bit with a fast-growing services business.

Sonos, like Apple, clearly has a strong focus and deep investment in industrial design, and puts a lot of effort into truly distinctive product look and feel that stands out from the crowd — and is instantly identifiable once you know what to look for. Even the company’s preference for a mostly black and white palette feels distinctly Apple — at least Apple leading up to the prior renaissance of multi-color palettes for some of its more popular devices, including the iPhone.

airplay2 headerFrom a technical perspective, Apple and Sonos seem keen to work together — and the results of their collaboration has been great for consumers who use both ecosystems. AirPlay 2 support is effectively standard on all modern Sonos hardware, and really Sonos is essentially the default choice already for anyone looking to do AirPlay 2-based multiform audio, thanks to the wide range of options available in different form factors and at different price points. Sonos and Apple also offer an Apple Music integration for Sonos’ controller app, and now you can use voice control via Alexa to play Apple Music, too.

Competitive moves

The main issue that an Apple-owned Sonos hasn’t made much sense before now, at least from Sonos’ perspective, is that the speaker maker has reaped the benefits of being a platform that plays nice with all the major streaming service providers and virtual assistants. Recent Sonos speakers offer both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant support, for instance, and Sonos’ software has connections with virtually every major music and audio streaming service available.

What’s changed, especially in light of Amazon’s slew of announcements this week, is that competitors like Amazon are looking more like they want to own more of the business that currently falls within Sonos’ domain. Amazon’s Echo Studio is a new premium speaker that directly competes with Sonos in a way that previous Echos really haven’t, and the company has consistently been releasing better-sounding versions of its other, more affordable Echos. It’s also been rolling out more feature-rich multi-room audio features, including wireless surround support for home theater use — all things squarely in the Sonos wheelhouse.

alexa echo amazon 9250064

For now, Sonos and Amazon seem to be comfortably in “frenemy” territory, but increasingly, it doesn’t seem like Amazon is content to leave them their higher-end market segment when it comes to the speaker hardware category. Amazon still probably will do whatever it can to maximize use of Alexa, on both its own and third-party devices, but it also seems to be intent on strengthening and expanding its own first-party device lineup, with speakers as low-hanging fruit.

Other competitors, including Google and Apple, don’t seem to have had as much success with their products that line up as direct competitors to Sonos, but the speaker-maker also faces perennial challenges from hi-fi and audio industry stalwarts, and also seems likely to go up against newer device makers with audio ambitions and clear cost advantages, like Anker.

Missing ingredients/work to be done

Of course, there are some big challenges and potential red flags that stand in the way of Apple ever buying Sonos, or of that resulting union working out well for consumers. Sonos works so well because it’s service-agnostic, for instance, and the key to its success with recent products seems to also be integration with the smart home assistants that people seem to actually want to use most — namely Alexa and Google Assistant.

Under Apple ownership, it’s highly possible that Apple Music would at least get preferential treatment, if not become the lone streaming service on offer. It’s probable that Siri would replace Alexa and Assistant as the only virtual voice service available, and almost unthinkable that Apple would continue to support competing services if it did make this buy.

That said, there’s probably significant overlap between Apple and Sonos customers already, and as long as there was some service flexibility (in the same way there is for streaming competitors on iOS devices, including Spotify), then being locked into Siri probably wouldn’t sting as much. And it would serve to give Siri the foothold at home that the HomePod hasn’t managed to provide. Apple would also be better incentivized to work on improving Siri’s performance as a general home-based assistant, which would ultimately be good for Apple ecosystem customers.

Another smart adjacency

Apple’s bigger acquisitions are few and far between, but the ones it does make are typically obviously adjacent to its core business. A Sonos acquisition has a pretty strong precedent in the Beats purchase Apple made in 2014, albeit without the strong motivator of providing the underlying product and relationship basis for launching a streaming service.

What Sonos is, however, is an inversion of the historical Apple model of using great services to sell hardware. The Sonos ecosystem is a great, easy to use, premium-feel means of making the most of Apple’s music and video streaming services (and brand new games subscription offering), all of which are more important than ever to the company as it diversifies from its monolithic iPhone business.

I’m hardly the first to suggest an Apple-Sonos deal makes sense: J.P. Morgan analyst Samik Chatterjee suggested it earlier this year, in fact. From my perspective, however, the timing has never been better for this acquisition to take place, and the motivations never stronger for either party involved.

Disclosure: I worked briefly for Apple in its communications department in 2015-2016, but the above analysis is based entirely on publicly available information, and I hold no stock in either company.

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The Google Assistant can now control your Xbox One

Posted by | Amazon, Android, artificial intelligence, Cortana, Gaming, Google, Google Assistant, Microsoft, microsoft windows, operating systems, smartphones, TC, Windows 10, Windows Phone, xbox, Xbox One | No Comments

It wasn’t so long ago that Microsoft was betting heavily on its Cortana digital assistant. That’s a bet that didn’t pay off. But because this is the new Microsoft, the company is instead betting on integrating its products with those services that its users do actually use. Today, the company announced that you will now be able to control your Xbox One from the Google Assistant. For now, this feature is in beta, but you can expect a full launch later this fall.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean the Google Assistant is now available on your Xbox One and you can’t ask it for the weather. What it does mean is that you’ll be able to ask the Assistant to launch games on the Xbox, pause them, turn up the volume, etc. (Hey Google, turn off Xbox.”).

You can find a full list of supported commands here.

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This will work with virtually every Assistant-enabled device, including your iOS and Android phones. To get started, set up the Xbox like any other third-party Assistant device in the Google Home app on Android or iOS — and that’s essentially what the Xbox One then becomes in the Assistant ecosystem: just another device you can control with it.

It’s worth noting that Microsoft, which has basically given up on Cortana for the consumer market, is also working with Amazon to bring Alexa to your PC. Microsoft doesn’t really care what you use to control your Microsoft devices, as long as you use a Microsoft or Windows 10 device. Now it’s probably just a matter of time before you can control your PC with the Assistant — or even get full Assistant support in Windows 10.

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