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Google tweaks Android licensing terms in Europe to allow Google app unbundling — for a fee

Posted by | Android, antitrust, Apps, chrome os, competition, Europe, Google, google-chrome, Mobile, operating system, play store, smartphones | No Comments

Google has announced changes to the licensing model for its Android mobile operating system in Europe,  including introducing a fee for licensing some of its own brand apps, saying it’s doing so to comply with a major European antitrust ruling this summer.

In July the region’s antitrust regulators hit Google with a recordbreaking $5BN fine for violations pertaining to Android, finding the company had abused the dominance of the platform by requiring manufacturers pre-install other Google apps in order to license its popular Play app store. 

Regulators also found Google had made payments to manufacturers and mobile network operators in exchange for exclusively pre-installing Google Search on their devices, and used Play store licensing to prevent manufacturers from selling devices based on Android forks.

Google disputes the Commission’s findings, and last week filed its appeal — a legal process that could take years. But in the meanwhile it’s making changes to how it licenses Android in Europe to avoid the risk of additional penalties heaped on top of the antitrust fine.

Hiroshi Lockheimer, Google’s senior vice president of platforms & ecosystems, revealed the new licensing options in a blog post published today.

Under updated “compatibility agreements”, he writes that mobile device makers will be able to build and sell Android devices intended for the European Economic Area (EEA) both with and without Google mobile apps preloaded — something Google’s same ‘compatibility’ contracts restricted them from doing before, when it was strictly either/or (either you made Android forks, or you made Android devices with Google apps — not both).

“Going forward, Android partners wishing to distribute Google apps may also build non-compatible, or forked, smartphones and tablets for the European Economic Area (EEA),” confirms Lockheimer.

However the company is also changing how it licenses the full Android bundle — which previously required OEMs to load devices with the Google mobile application suite, Google Search and the Chrome browser in order to be able to offer the popular Play Store — by introducing fees for OEMs wanting to pre-load a subset of those same apps under “a new paid licensing agreement for smartphones and tablets shipped into the EEA”.

Though Google stresses there will be no charge for using the Android platform itself. (So a pure fork without any Google services preloaded still wouldn’t require a fee.)

Google also appears to be splitting out Google Search and Chrome from the rest of the Google apps in its mobile suite (which traditionally means stuff like YouTube, the Play Store, Gmail, Google Maps, although Lockheimer’s blog post does not make it clear which exact apps he’s talking about) — letting OEMs selectively unbundle some Google apps, albeit potentially for a fee, depending on the apps in question.

“[D]evice manufacturers will be able to license the Google mobile application suite separately from the Google Search App or the Chrome browser,” is what Lockheimer unilluminatingly writes.

Perhaps Google wants future unbundled Android forks to still be able to have Google Search or Chrome, even if they don’t have the Play store, but it’s really not at all clear which configurations of Google apps will be permitted under the new licensing terms, and which won’t.

“Since the pre-installation of Google Search and Chrome together with our other apps helped us fund the development and free distribution of Android, we will introduce a new paid licensing agreement for smartphones and tablets shipped into the EEA. Android will remain free and open source,” Lockheimer adds, without specifying what the fees will be either. 

“We’ll also offer new commercial agreements to partners for the non-exclusive pre-installation and placement of Google Search and Chrome. As before, competing apps may be pre-installed alongside ours,” he continues to complete his trio of poorly explained licensing changes.

We’ve asked Google to clarify the various permitted and not permitted app configurations, as well as which apps will require a fee (and which won’t), and how much the fees will be, and will update this post with any response.

The devil in all those details should become clear soon though, as Google says the new licensing options will come into effect on October 29 for all new (Android based) smartphones and tablets launched in the EEA.

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Apple needs a feature like Google’s Call Screen

Posted by | a.i., Apple, artificial intelligence, Google, Mobile, PIXEL | No Comments

Google just one-upped Apple in a significant way by addressing a problem that’s plaguing U.S. cellphone owners: spam calls. The company’s new Pixel 3 flagship Android smartphone is first to introduce a new call screening feature that leverages the built-in Google Assistant. The screening service transcribes the caller’s request in real-time, allowing you to decide whether or not to pick up, and gives you a way to respond.

Despite the numerous leaks about Google’s new hardware, Call Screen and the launch of Duplex for restaurant reservations were big surprises coming from Google’s hardware event yesterday.

Arguably, they’re even more important developments than fancy new camera features  – even if Group Selfie and Top Shot are cool additions to Google’s new phone.

Apple has nothing like this call screening feature, only third-party call blocking apps – which are also available on Android, of course.

Siri today simply isn’t capable of answering phones on your behalf, politely asking the caller what they want, and transcribing their response instantly. It needs to catch up, and fast.

Half of calls will be spam in 2019

Call Screen, based on Google’s Duplex technology, is a big step for our smart devices. One where we’re not just querying our Assistant for help with various tasks, or to learn the day’s news and weather, but one where the phone’s assistant is helping with real-world problems.

In addition to calling restaurants to inquire about tables, Assistant will now help save us from the increasing barrage of spam calls.

This is a massive problem that every smartphone owner can relate to, and one the larger mobile industry has so far failed to solve.

Nearly half of all cellphone calls next year will be from scammers. And their tactics have gotten much worse in recent months.

They now often trick people by claiming to be the IRS, a bank, government representatives, and more. They pretend you’re in some sort of legal trouble. They say someone has stolen your bank card. They claim you owe taxes. Plus, they often use phone number spoofing tricks to make their calls appear local in order to get recipients to pick up.

The national Do-Not-Call registry hasn’t solved the problem. And despite large FCC fines, the epidemic continues.

A.I. handles the spammers 

In light of an industry solution, Google has turned to A.I.

The system has been designed to sound more natural, stepping in to do the sort of tasks we don’t want to – like calling for bookings, or screening our calls by first asking “who is this, please?” 

With Call Screen, as Google explained yesterday, Pixel device owners will be able to tap a button when a call comes in to send it to the new service. Google Assistant will answer the call for you, saying: “Hi, the person you’re calling is using a screening service from Google, and will get a copy of this conversation. Go ahead and say your name and why you’re calling.

The caller’s response is then transcribed in real-time on your screen.

These transcripts aren’t currently being saved, but Google says they could be stored in your Call History in the future.

To handle the caller, you can tap a variety of buttons to continue or end the conversation. Based on the demo and support documentation, these include things like: “Who is this?,” “I’ll call you back,” “Tell me more,” “I can’t understand,” or “Is it urgent?”

You can also use the Assistant to say things like, “Please remove the number from your contact list. Thanks and goodbye,” the demo showed, after the recipient hit the “Report as spam” button.

While Google’s own Google Voice technology has been able to screen incoming calls, this involved little more than asking for the caller’s name. Call Screen is next-level stuff, to put it mildly.

And it’s all taking place on the device, using A.I. – it doesn’t need to use your Wi-Fi connection or your mobile data, Google says.

As Call Screen is adopted at scale, Google will have effectively built out its own database of scammers. It could then feasibly block spam calls or telemarketers on your behalf as an OS-level feature at some point in the future.

“You’ll never have to talk to another telemarketer,” said Google PM Liza Ma at the event yesterday, followed by cheers and applause – one of the few times the audience even clapped during this otherwise low-key press conference.

Google has the better A.I. Phone

The news of Call Screen, and of Duplex more broadly, is another shot fired across Apple’s bow.

Smartphone hardware is basically good enough, and has been for some time. Apple and Google’s modern smartphones take great photos, too. New developments on the camera front matter more to photography enthusiasts than to the average user. The phones are fine. The cameras are fine. So what else can the phones do?

The next battle for smartphones is going to be about A.I. technology.

Apple is aware that’s the case.

In June, the company introduced what we called its “A.I. phone” – an iPhone infused with Siri smarts to personalize the device and better assist. It allows users to create A.I.-powered workflows to automate tasks, to speak with Siri more naturally with commands they invent, and to allow apps to make suggestions instead sending interruptive notifications.

But much of Siri’s capabilities still involve manual tweaking on users’ parts.

You record custom Siri voice commands to control apps (and then have to remember what your Siri catch phrase is in order to use them). Workflows have to be pinned together in a separate Siri Shortcuts app that’s over the heads of anyone but power users.

These are great features for iPhone owners, to be sure, but they’re not exactly automating A.I. technology in a seamless way. They’re Apple’s first steps towards making A.I. a bigger part of what it means to use an iPhone.

Call Screen, meanwhile, is a use case for A.I. that doesn’t require a ton of user education or manual labor. Even if you didn’t know it existed, pushing a “screen call” button when the phone rings is fairly straightforward stuff.

And it’s not just going to be just a Pixel 3 feature.

Said Google, Pixel 3 owners in the U.S. are just getting it first. It will also roll out to older Pixel devices next month (in English). Presumably, however, it will come to Android itself in time, when these early tests wrap.

After all, if the mobile OS battle is going to be over A.I. going forward, there’s no reason to keep A.I. advancements tied to only Google’s own hardware devices.

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Google files appeal against Europe’s $5BN antitrust fine for Android

Posted by | Android, antitrust, app developers, Apps, competition commission, competition law, EC, Europe, european commission, european union, Google, lawsuit, Margrethe Vestager, Mobile, play store, smartphone, smartphones, Sundar Pichai | No Comments

Google has lodged its legal appeal against the European Commission’s €4.34 billion (~$5BN) antitrust ruling against its Android mobile OS, according to Reuters — the first step in a process that could keep its lawyers busy for years to come.

“We have now filed our appeal of the EC’s Android decision at the General Court of the EU,” it told the news agency, via email.

We’ve reached out to Google for comment on the appeals process.

Rulings made by the EU’s General Court in Luxembourg can be appealed to the top court, the Court of Justice of the European Union, but only on points of law.

Europe’s competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, announced the record-breaking antitrust penalty for Android in July, following more than two years of investigation of the company’s practices around its smartphone operating system.

Vestager said Google had abused the regional dominance of its smartphone platform by requiring that manufacturers pre-install other Google apps as a condition for being able to license the Play Store.

She also found the company had made payments to some manufacturers and mobile network operators in exchange for them exclusively pre-installing Google Search on their devices, and used Google Play licensing to prevent manufacturers from selling devices based on Android forks — which would not have to include Google services and, in Vestager’s view, “could have provided a platform for rival search engines as well as other app developers to thrive”.

Google rejected the Commission’s findings and said it would appeal.

In a blog post at the time, Google CEO Sundar Pichai argued the contrary — claiming the Android ecosystem has “created more choice, not less” for consumers, and saying the Commission ruling “ignores the new breadth of choice and clear evidence about how people use their phones today”.

According to Reuters the company reiterated its earlier arguments in reference to the appeal.

A spokesperson for the EC told us simply: “The Commission will defend its decision in Court.”

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Google’s latest hardware innovation: Price

Posted by | Amazon, Apple, apple inc, Assistant, computing, electronics, Gadgets, Google, Google Hardware Event 2018, iOS, iPad, iPhone, Kindle, Microsoft, oled, PIXEL, RAM, Samsung, smartphone, smartphones, Sony, tablet computers, technology, video conferencing | No Comments

With its latest consumer hardware products, Google’s prices are undercutting Apple, Samsung and Amazon. The search giant just unveiled its latest flagship smartphone, tablet and smart home device, all available at prices well below their direct competitors. Where Apple and Samsung are pushing prices of its latest products even higher, Google is seemingly happy to keep prices low, and this is creating a distinct advantage for the company’s products.

Google, like Amazon and nearly Apple, is a services company that happens to sell hardware. It needs to acquire users through multiple verticals, including hardware. Somewhere, deep in the Googleplex, a team of number-crunchers decided it made more sense to make its hardware prices dramatically lower than competitors. If Google is taking a loss on the hardware, it is likely making it back through services.

Amazon does this with Kindle devices. Microsoft and Sony do it with game consoles. This is a proven strategy to increase market share where the revenue generated on the back end recovers the revenue lost on selling hardware with slim or negative margins.

Look at the Pixel 3. The base 64GB model is available for $799, while the base 64GB iPhone XS is $999. Want a bigger screen? The 64GB Pixel 3 XL is $899, and the 64GB iPhone XS Max is $1,099. Regarding the specs, both phones offer OLED displays and amazing cameras. There are likely pros and cons regarding the speed of the SoC, amount of RAM and wireless capabilities. Will consumers care that the screen and camera are so similar? Probably not.

Google also announced the Home Hub today. Like the Echo Show, it’s designed to be the central part of a smart home. It puts Google Assistant on a fixed screen where users can ask it questions and control a smart home. It’s $149. That’s $80 less than the Echo Show, though the Google version lacks video conferencing and a dedicated smart home hub — the Google Home Hub requires extra hardware for some smart home objects. Still, even with fewer features, the Home Hub is compelling because of its drastically lower price. For just a few dollars more than an Echo Show, a buyer could get a Home Hub and two Home Minis.

The Google Pixel Slate is Google’s answer to the iPad Pro. From everything we’ve seen, it appears to lack a lot of the processing power found in Apple’s top tablet. It doesn’t seem as refined or capable of specific tasks. But for view media, creating content and playing games, it feels just fine. It even has a Pixelbook Pen and a great keyboard that shows Google is positioning this against the iPad Pro. And the 12.3-inch Pixel Slate is available for $599, where the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is $799.

The upfront price is just part of the equation. When considering the resale value of these devices, a different conclusion can be reached. Apple products consistently resale for more money than Google products. On Gazelle.com, a company that buys used smartphones, a used iPhone X is worth $425, whereas a used Pixel 2 is $195. A used iPhone 8, a phone that sold for a price closer to the Pixel 2, is worth $240.

In the end, Google likely doesn’t expect to make money off the hardware it sells. It needs users to buy into its services. The best way to do that is to make the ecosystem competitive though perhaps not investing the capital to make it the best. It needs to be just good enough, and that’s how I would describe these devices. Good enough to be competitive on a spec-to-spec basis while available for much less.

more Google Event 2018 coverage

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Comparing Google Home Hub vs Amazon Echo Show 2 vs Facebook Portal

Posted by | Amazon, amazon alexa, Amazon Echo Show, artificial intelligence, eCommerce, Facebook, Facebook Portal, Gadgets, Google, Google Assistant, Google Hardware Event 2018, google home, hardware, JBL Link View, smart displays, Social, TC | No Comments

The war for the countertop has begun. Google, Amazon and Facebook all revealed their new smart displays this month. Each hopes to become the center of your Internet of Things-equipped home and a window to your loved ones. The $149 Google Home Hub is a cheap and privacy-safe smart home controller. The $229 Amazon Echo Show 2 gives Alexa a visual complement. And the $199 Facebook Portal and $349 Portal+ offer a Smart Lens that automatically zooms in and out to keep you in frame while you video chat.

For consumers, the biggest questions to consider are how much you care about privacy, whether you really video chat, which smart home ecosystem you’re building around and how much you want to spend.

  • For the privacy obsessed, Google’s Home Hub is the only one without a camera and it’s dirt cheap at $149.
  • For the privacy agnostic, Facebook’s Portal+ offers the best screen and video chat functionality.
  • For the chatty, Amazon Echo Show 2 can do message and video chat over Alexa, call phone numbers and is adding Skype.

If you want to go off-brand, there’s also the Lenovo Smart Display, with stylish hardware in a $249 10-inch 1080p version and a $199 8-inch 720p version. And for the audiophile, there’s the $199 JBL Link View. While those hit the market earlier than the platform-owned versions we’re reviewing here, they’re not likely to benefit from the constant iteration Google, Amazon and Facebook are working on for their tabletop screens.

Here’s a comparison of the top smart displays, including their hardware specs, unique software, killer features and pros and cons:

more Google Event 2018 coverage

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Here are all the details on the new Pixel 3, Pixel Slate, Pixel Stand, and Home Hub

Posted by | Android, Apple, Assistant, computing, Gadgets, Google, Google Assistant, Google Hardware Event 2018, google nexus, google store, machine learning, mobile phones, new york city, PIXEL, pixel 3, Samsung, smartphones, Speaker, tablet computers, TC, touch pad | No Comments

At a special event in New York City, Google announced some of its latest, flagship hardware devices. During the hour-long press conference Google executives and product managers took the wraps off the company’s latest products and explained their features. Chief among the lot is the Pixel 3, Google’s latest flagship Android device. Like the Pixel 2 before it, the Pixel 3’s main feature is its stellar camera but there’s a lot more magic packed inside the svelte frame.

Pixel 3

Contrary to some earlier renders, the third version of Google’s Android flagship (spotted by 9 to 5 Google) does boast a sizable notch up top, in keeping with earlier images of the larger XL. Makes sense, after all, Google went out of its way to boast about notch functionality when it introduced Pie, the latest version of its mobile OS.

The device is available for preorder today and will start shipping October 18, starting at $799. The larger XL starts at $899, still putting the product at less than the latest flagships from Apple and Samsung.

Pixel Slate

The device looks pretty much exactly like the leaks lead us to believe — it’s a premium slate with a keyboard cover that doubles as a stand. It also features a touch pad, which gives it the edge over products like Samsung’s most recent Galaxy Tab. There’s also a matching Google Pen, which appears to more or less be the same product announced around the Pixel Book, albeit with a darker paint job to match the new product.

The product starts at $599, plus $199 for the keyboard and $99 for the new dark Pen. All three are shipping at some point later this year.

Home Hub

The device looks like an Android tablet mounted on top of a speaker — which ought to address the backward firing sound, which is one of the largest design flaws of the recently introduced Echo Show 2. The speaker fabric comes in a number of different colors, in keeping with the rest of the Pixel/Home products, including the new Aqua.

When not in use, the product doubles as a smart picture frame, using albums from Google Photos. A new Live Albums, which auto updates, based on the people you choose. So you can, say, select your significant others and it will create a gallery based on that person. Sweet and also potentially creepy. Machine learning, meanwhile, will automatically filter out all of the lousy shots.

The Home Hub is up for pre-order today for a very reasonable $149. In fact, the device actually seems like a bit of a loss leader for the company in an attempt to hook people into the Google Assistant ecosystem. It will start shipping October 22.

Pixel Stand

The Pixel Stand is basically a sleek little round dock for your phone. While it can obviously charge your phone, what’s maybe more interesting is that when you put your phone into the cradle, it looks like it’ll start a new notifications view that’s not unlike what you’d see on a smart display. It costs $79.

more Google Event 2018 coverage

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Here’s how Google is revamping Gmail and Android security

Posted by | Android, Apps, gmail, Google, Mobile, privacy, Security | No Comments

Eager to change the conversation from their years-long exposure of user data via Google+ to the bright, shining future the company is providing, Google has announced some changes to the way permissions are approved for Android apps. The new process will be slower, more deliberate and hopefully secure.

The changes are part of “Project Strobe,” a “root-and-branch review of third-party developer access to Google account and Android device data and our philosophy around apps’ data access.” Essentially they decided it was time to update the complex and likely not entirely cohesive set of rules and practices around those third-party developers and API access.

One of those roots (or perhaps branches) was the bug discovered inside Google+, which theoretically (the company can’t tell if it was abused or not) exposed non-public profile data to apps that should have received only a user’s public profile. This, combined with the fact that Google+ never really justified its own existence in the first place, led to the service essentially being shut down. “The consumer version of Google+ currently has low usage and engagement,” Google admitted. “90 percent of Google+ user sessions are less than five seconds.”

But the team doing the review has plenty of other suggestions to improve the process of informed consent to sharing data with third parties.

The first change is the most user-facing. When an application wants to access your Google account data — say your Gmail, Calendar and Drive contents for a third-party productivity app — you’ll have to approve each one of those separately. You’ll also have the opportunity to deny access to one or more of those requests, so if you never plan on using the Drive functionality, you can just nix it and the app will never get that permission.

These permissions can also be delayed and gated behind the actions that require them. For instance, if this theoretical app wanted to give you the opportunity to take a picture to add to an email, it wouldn’t have to ask up front when you download it. Instead, when you tap the option to attach a picture, it would ask permission to access the camera then and there. Google went into a little more detail on this in a post on its developer blog.

Notably there is only the option to “deny” or “allow,” but no “deny this time” or “allow this time,” which I find to be useful when you’re not totally on board with the permission in question. You can always revert the setting manually, but it’s nice to have the option to say “okay, just this once, strange app.”

The changes will start rolling out this month, so don’t be surprised if things look a little different next time you download a game or update an app.

The second and third changes have to do with limiting which data from your Gmail and messaging can be accessed by apps, and which apps can be granted access in the first place.

Specifically, Google is restricting access to these sensitive data troves to apps “directly enhancing email functionality” for Gmail and your default calling and messaging apps for call logs and SMS data.

There are some edge cases where this might be annoying to power users; some have more than one messaging app that falls back to SMS or integrates SMS replies, and this might require those apps to take a new approach. And apps that want access to these things may have trouble convincing Google’s review authorities that they qualify.

Developers also will need to review and agree to a new set of rules governing what Gmail data can be used, how they can use it and the measures they must have in place to protect it. For example, apps are not allowed to “transfer or sell the data for other purposes such as targeting ads, market research, email campaign tracking, and other unrelated purposes.” That probably puts a few business models out of the running.

Apps looking to handle Gmail data will also have to submit a report detailing “application penetration testing, external network penetration testing, account deletion verification, reviews of incident response plans, vulnerability disclosure programs, and information security policies.” No fly-by-night operations permitted, clearly.

There also will be additional scrutiny on what permissions developers ask for to make sure it matches up with what their app requires. If you ask for Contacts access but don’t actually use it for anything, you’ll be asked to remove that, as it only increases risk.

These various new requirements will go into effect next year, with application review (a multi-week process) starting on January 9; tardy developers will see their apps stop working at the end of March if they don’t comply.

The relatively short timeline here suggests that some apps may in fact shut down temporarily or permanently due to the rigors of the review process. Don’t be surprised if early next year you get an update saying service may be interrupted due to Google review policies or the like.

These changes are just the first handful issuing from the recommendations of Project Strobe; we can expect more to appear over the next few months, though perhaps not such striking ones. To say Gmail and Android apps are widely used is something of an understatement, so it’s understandable that they would be focused on first, but there are many other policies and services the company will no doubt find reason to improve.

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Presidential alerts we really hope Trump won’t send…

Posted by | america, donald trump, Emergency Alert System, Google, Government, Mobile, president, text messaging, Twitter, United States, White House | No Comments

Move over Twitter, President Trump now has the power to send every phone in the land a simultaneous message — thanks to the new “presidential alert”, tested by FEMA yesterday.

What’s it for? The idea is to enable the president of the United States to warn the nation of major threats — such as a natural disaster or terrorist attack.

FEMA did already have the power to mass text US phones, via the National Wireless Emergency Alert System devised by the Bush administration in 2006, which has been used for sending alerts about national emergencies like weather events or missing children at a local level.

But now the system has been expanded to allow for the White House to compose and send its own ‘presidential alert’ to all phones in a national emergency situation.

There is no opt-out.

Repeat: No opt-out.

Fortunately Congress did limit the substance of these alerts — to “natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other man-made disasters or threats to public safety”, further stipulating that:

Except to the extent necessary for testing the public alert and warning system, the public alert and warning system shall not be used to transmit a message that does not relate to a natural disaster, act of terrorism, or other man-made disaster or threat to public safety.

But bearing in mind the ‘rip it up’ record of the current holder of office of the president of the US, there are no copper-bottomed guarantees about how ‘threat to public safety’ might be interpreted by president Trump.

So it remains a slightly mind-bending concept that the president could, say after a 3am binge-watch of his favorite TV show, fire out an alert entirely of his framing to EVERY US PHONE.

Technology is indeed a double-edged sword.

Here are a few ideas of presidential alerts we really hope Trump won’t be sending…

  • an accidental photo of a body part after he couldn’t figure out how to use the system and hit send accidentally
  • a text message intended for his son-in-law
  • “Donald Trump”
  • covfefe
  • an even worse spelling mistake, e.g. mangling the name of another world leader — like French president “Manuel Macaroon”
  • actual insults directed at other world leaders, e.g. suggesting Emmanuel Macron has a dandruff problem
  • threats of thermonuclear war
  • an unfortunate spoonerism, e.g. ‘the rockets are cot numbing’
  • a love sonnet to president Kim Jong-Un
  • encouragement to Russia to hack political opponents’ emails
  • a recipe for a “beautiful” chocolate cake
  • his golf handicap
  • an affiliate link to a brochure of Trump Tower
  • US stock market numbers
  • investment advice
  • an affiliate link to buy The Art of The Deal
  • any other book recommendations at all
  • a love sonnet to Ivanka Trump
  • a claim that the hurricane isn’t actually as bad as FEMA’s alert says it is
  • #MAGA
  • “Lock her up”
  • “His testimony was very credible, very credible”
  • “You also had some very fine people on both sides”
  • any claim about the size of the crowds at his inauguration
  • any claim about historical precedence and what his administration has achieved
  • all forms of self congratulation
  • his thoughts on the UN
  • his thoughts on NATO
  • his thoughts on the EU
  • his thoughts on China
  • his thoughts on the Queen
  • anything at all about women
  • “Melanie”
  • all insults about “the failing New York Times”
  • a heart emoji + the words “Tucker Carlson”
  • any text that includes the words “Fox & Friends”
  • any text that includes the phrase “America first”
  • a photo of Melania reclining on gilt furniture, in a gilt room, with some gilt statues
  • a selfie with anyone, especially Nigel Farage
  • any text written in ALL CAPS
  • any text ending with the word “Sad!”
  • his travel itinerary for his next trip to the Winter White House
  • a love sonnet to president Putin
  • ‘exciting’ real estate opportunities
  • credit for Brexit
  • a threat to Twitter not to shadowban conservative voices
  • “You’re fired!”
  • “Build the wall!”
  • “Mission accomplished!”
  • anything at all about president Obama
  • all sports commentary
  • anything containing the word “winning”
  • his thoughts on climate change
  • his thoughts on environmental protection
  • his thoughts on the safety of radioactive substances
  • a list of reasons why the Iran deal was a mistake
  • his thoughts on anything at all to do with the rest of the world
  • a photoshopped picture of Justin Trudeau to make him look ugly
  • diet advice
  • travel advice
  • fashion advice
  • complaints that Google is biased
  • anything about tax — unless it’s his own tax returns
  • a message to Peter Thiel asking him to come back
  • a message asking where the nearest KFC is
  • a message asking where he left his last bucket of KFC
  • a really boring and slightly blurred photo of the inside of Air Force One
  • any message about anything at all he saw on TV last night
  • “Ha-ha you can’t opt out!”
  • “Genius”
  • his thoughts

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The Google Assistant gets more visual

Posted by | Android, Apps, artificial intelligence, Assistant, Google, Google Assistant, google home, Mobile, smart home devices, TC | No Comments

Google today is launching a major visual redesign of its Assistant experience on phones. While the original vision of the Assistant focused mostly on voice, half of all interactions with the Assistant actually include touch. So with this redesign, Google acknowledges that and brings more and larger visuals to the Assistant experience.

If you’ve used one of the recent crop of Assistant-enabled smart displays, then some of what’s new here may look familiar. You now get controls and sliders to manage your smart home devices, for example. Those include sliders to dim your lights and buttons to turn them on or off. There also are controls for managing the volume of your speakers. Update: Google tells me that update will roll out over the course of the next few weeks, with the iOS release depending on Apple’s app store review process.Even in cases where the Assistant already offered visual feedback — say when you ask for the weather — the team has now also redesigned those results and brought them more in line with what users are already seeing on smart displays from the likes of Lenovo and LG. On the phone, though, that experience still feels a bit more pared down than on those larger displays.

With this redesign, which is going live on both Android and in the iOS app today, Google is also bringing a little bit more of the much-missed Google Now experience back to the phone. While you could already bring up a list of upcoming appointments, commute info, recent orders and other information about your day from the Assistant, that feature was hidden behind a rather odd icon that many users surely ignored. Now, after you’ve long-pressed the home button on your Android phone, you can swipe up to get that same experience. I’m not sure that’s more discoverable than previously, but Google is saving you a tap.

In addition to the visual redesign of the Assistant, Google also today announced a number of new features for developers. Unsurprisingly, one part of this announcement focuses on allowing developers to build their own visual Assistant experiences. Google calls these “rich responses” and provides developers with a set of pre-made visual components that they can easily use to extend their Assistant actions. And because nothing is complete with GIFs, they can now use GIFs in their Assistant apps, too.

But in addition to these new options for creating more visual experiences, Google is also making it a bit easier for developers to take their users money.

While they could already sell physical goods through their Assistant actions, starting today, they’ll also be able to sell digital goods. Those can be one-time purchases for a new level in a game or recurring subscriptions. Headspace, which has long offered a very basic Assistant experience, now lets you sign up for subscriptions right from the Assistant on your phone, for example.

Selling digital goods directly in the Assistant is one thing, but that sale has to sync across different applications, too, so Google today is also launching a new sign-in service for the Assistant that allows developers to log in and link their accounts.

“In the past, account linking could be a frustrating experience for your users; having to manually type a username and password — or worse, create a new account — breaks the natural conversational flow,” the company explains. “With Google Sign-In, users can now create a new account with just a tap or confirmation through their voice. Most users can even link to their existing accounts with your service using their verified email address.”

Starbucks has already integrated this feature into its Assistant experience to give users access to their rewards account. Adding the new Sign-In for the Assistant has almost doubled its conversion rate.

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Google launches voice assistant app to help people with limited mobility use their phones

Posted by | accessibility, Android, Diversity, Google, Include, inclusion, TC | No Comments

Google just introduced a new Android app to better enable people with limited mobility to use their phones. Called Voice Access, the app offers people a hands-free way to use apps, write and edit text and, of course, talk to the Google Assistant.

It’s designed to make it easier to control specific functions like clicking a button, and scrolling and navigating app screens. Currently, the app is only available in English, but Google is working on additional languages.

Google created the app in service of people with Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and spinal cord injuries, but recognizes that the tool can also be helpful for people whose hands are tied with other tasks.

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