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AR 1.0 is dead: Here’s what it got wrong

Posted by | app-store, Apple, apple inc, augmented reality, consumer products, Developer, Emerging-Technologies, Extra Crunch, Facebook, Gaming, Google, hardware, Magic Leap, Market Analysis, mixed reality, Mobile, operating systems, smartglasses, Startups, TC, Virtual reality, Wearables | No Comments

The first wave of AR startups offering smart glasses is now over, with a few exceptions.

Google acquired North this week for an undisclosed sum. The Canadian company had raised nearly $200 million, but the release of its Focals 2.0 smart glasses has been cancelled, a bittersweet end for its soft landing.

Many AR startups before North made huge promises and raised huge amounts of capital before flaring out in a similarly dramatic fashion.

The technology was almost there in a lot of cases, but the real issue was that the stakes to beat the major players to market were so high that many entrants pushed out boring, general consumer products. In a race to be everything for everybody, the industry relied on nascent developer platforms to do the dirty work of building their early use cases, which contributed heavily to nonexistent user adoption.

A key error of this batch was thinking that an AR glasses company was hardware-first, when the reality is that the missing value is almost entirely centered on missing first-party software experiences. To succeed, the next generation of consumer AR glasses will have to nail this.

Image Credits: ODG

App ecosystems alone don’t create product-market fit

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Google to offer loans to merchants in India

Posted by | Android, Apps, Asia, BharatPe, Flipkart, Google, Google India, india, Online lending, payments, Paytm, PhonePe, Softbank, TC, Walmart | No Comments

Google said on Thursday it plans to offer credit to millions of merchants in India through its Google Pay app starting later this year as the American technology group looks to help small businesses in the country steer through the pandemic and also find a business model for its mobile payments service.

The company said it is working with financial institutions to offer loans to merchants from within Google Pay for Business app. The Google Pay’s business app, which the Android giant launched late last year, has already amassed 3 million merchants, it said.

Google’s announcement today comes as part of its effort to share its broader initiatives for small and micro-businesses in India.

The company said Google My Business, an app it launched in India in the second half of 2017 to help mom and pop stores and other small merchants build online presence, has been used by more than 26 million businesses in the country to list themselves on Google search and Maps. India has about 60 million small and micro-sized businesses in the nation, according to government estimates.

“Every month we drive over 150 million direct connections between these businesses and customers including calls, online reservations and direction requests,” company executives said.

New Delhi ordered a nationwide lockdown in late March in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19. The move forced most businesses to suspend their operations. In recent weeks, the Indian government has rushed to relax some of its restrictions and many stores have resumed their businesses.

Last year Google launched the Spot feature in India that allows businesses to easily create their own branded commercial fronts that are accessible to customers through the Google Pay app.

Image Credits: Google

In May, Google introduced Nearby Stores as a Spot feature on the Google Pay app that allowed local businesses in select parts of the country get discovered by customers in their neighborhood. The company said it is expanding this offering across India starting today.

Thursday’s announcement also outlines the grip Google assumes on small businesses in India, and how its scale — and resources — could pose additional challenges for scores of local startups that are already attempting to serve businesses.

SoftBank -backed Paytm, Walmart’s PhonePe and New Delhi-based BharatPe have in recent years onboarded millions of merchants and offer them a range of services, including loans.

Paytm, which works with more than 16 million merchants, earlier this year launched a range of gadgets, including a device that displays QR check-out codes that comes with a calculator and USB charger, a jukebox that provides voice confirmations of transactions and services to streamline inventory management for merchants.

For some of these players, Google’s increasingly growing interest in targeting merchants means they will be facing off the search giant on two fronts. TechCrunch reported earlier this month that Google Pay had about 75 million transacting users in India, more than any of its competitors. But despite the scale, Google Pay and most other payments services in India are struggling to find a business model for their services.

Facebook, Google’s global rival, has courted more than 1 million merchants in India on its WhatsApp’s business app. WhatsApp, which is the most popular app in India, is informally used by countless additional merchants in the country.

For merchants, the more players the merrier. Small businesses in India continue to struggle to secure working capital from financial institutions, such as banks.

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Apple’s iOS 14 will give users the option to decline app ad tracking

Posted by | Android, app-store, Apple, apple inc, computing, events, Google, iPads, iPhone, iTunes, mach, operating systems, privacy, Security, smartphones, Software, wwdc 2020 | No Comments

A new version of iOS wouldn’t be the same without a bunch of security and privacy updates. Apple on Monday announced a ton of new features it’ll bake into iOS 14, expected out later this year with the release of new iPhones and iPads.

Apple said it will allow users to share your approximate location with apps, instead of your precise location. It’ll allow apps to take your rough location without identifying precisely where you are. It’s another option that users have when they give over their location. Last year, Apple allowed users to give over their location once so that apps can’t track a person as they go about their day.

iPhones with iOS 14 will also get a camera and microphone recording indicator in the status bar. It’s a similar feature to the camera light that comes with Macs and MacBooks. The recording indicator will sit in the top bar of your iPhone’s display when your front or rear camera is in use, or if a microphone is active.

But the biggest changes are for app developers themselves, Apple said. In iOS 14, users will be asked if they want to be tracked by the app. That’s a major change that will likely have a ripple effect: By allowing users to reject tracking, it’ll reduce the amount of data that’s collected, preserving user privacy.

Apple also said it will also require app developers to self-report the kinds of permissions that their apps request. This will improve transparency, allowing the user to know what kind of data they may have to give over in order to use the app. It also will explain how that collected data could be tracked outside of the app.

Android users have been able to see app permissions for years on the Google Play app store.

The move is Apple’s latest assault against the ad industry as part of the tech giant’s privacy-conscious mantra.

The ad industry has frequently been the target of Apple’s barbs, amid a string of controversies that have embroiled both advertisers and data-hungry tech giants, like Facebook and Google, which make the bulk of their profits from targeted advertising. As far back as 2015, Apple CEO Tim Cook said its Silicon Valley rivals are “gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it.” Apple, which makes its money selling hardware, “elected not to do that,” said Cook.

As targeted advertising became more invasive, Apple countered by baking in new privacy features to its software, like its intelligence tracking prevention technology and allowing Safari users to install content blockers that prevent ads and trackers from loading.

Just last year Apple told developers to stop using third-party trackers in apps for children or face rejection from the App Store.

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French court slaps down Google’s appeal against $57M GDPR fine

Posted by | Alphabet, Android, cnil, data controller, data processing, digital rights, Europe, european union, France, GDPR, General Data Protection Regulation, Google, ireland, Max Schrems, privacy, United States | No Comments

France’s top court for administrative law has dismissed Google’s appeal against a $57M fine issued by the data watchdog last year for not making it clear enough to Android users how it processes their personal information.

The State Council issued the decision today, affirming the data watchdog CNIL’s earlier finding that Google did not provide “sufficiently clear” information to Android users — which in turn meant it had not legally obtained their consent to use their data for targeted ads.

“Google’s request has been rejected,” a spokesperson for the Conseil D’Etat confirmed to TechCrunch via email.

“The Council of State confirms the CNIL’s assessment that information relating to targeting advertising is not presented in a sufficiently clear and distinct manner for the consent of the user to be validly collected,” the court also writes in a press release [translated with Google Translate] on its website.

It found the size of the fine to be proportionate — given the severity and ongoing nature of the violations.

Importantly, the court also affirmed the jurisdiction of France’s national watchdog to regulate Google — at least on the date when this penalty was issued (January 2019).

The CNIL’s multimillion dollar fine against Google remains the largest to date against a tech giant under Europe’s flagship General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — lending the case a certain symbolic value, for those concerned about whether the regulation is functioning as intended vs platform power.

While the size of the fine is still relative peanuts vs Google’s parent entity Alphabet’s global revenue, changes the tech giant may have to make to how it harvests user data could be far more impactful to its ad-targeting bottom line. 

Under European law, for consent to be a valid legal basis for processing personal data it must be informed, specific and freely given. Or, to put it another way, consent cannot be strained.

In this case French judges concluded Google had not provided clear enough information for consent to be lawfully obtained — including objecting to a pre-ticked checkbox which the court affirmed does not meet the requirements of the GDPR.

So, tl;dr, the CNIL’s decision has been entirely vindicated.

Reached for comment on the court’s dismissal of its appeal, a Google spokeswoman sent us this statement:

People expect to understand and control how their data is used, and we’ve invested in industry-leading tools that help them do both. This case was not about whether consent is needed for personalised advertising, but about how exactly it should be obtained. In light of this decision, we will now review what changes we need to make.

GDPR came into force in 2018, updating long standing European data protection rules and opening up the possibility of supersized fines of up to 4% of global annual turnover.

However actions against big tech have largely stalled, with scores of complaints being funnelled through Ireland’s Data Protection Commission — on account of a one-stop-shop mechanism in the regulation — causing a major backlog of cases. The Irish DPC has yet to issue decisions on any cross border complaints, though it has said its first ones are imminent — on complaints involving Twitter and Facebook.

Ireland’s data watchdog is also continuing to investigate a number of complaints against Google, following a change Google announced to the legal jurisdiction of where it processes European users’ data — moving them to Google Ireland Limited, based in Dublin, which it said applied from January 22, 2019 — with ongoing investigations by the Irish DPC into a long running complaint related to how Google handles location data and another major probe of its adtech, to name two

On the GDPR one-stop shop mechanism — and, indirectly, the wider problematic issue of ‘forum shopping’ and European data protection regulation — the French State Council writes: “Google believed that the Irish data protection authority was solely competent to control its activities in the European Union, the control of data processing being the responsibility of the authority of the country where the main establishment of the data controller is located, according to a ‘one-stop-shop’ principle instituted by the GDPR. The Council of State notes however that at the date of the sanction, the Irish subsidiary of Google had no power of control over the other European subsidiaries nor any decision-making power over the data processing, the company Google LLC located in the United States with this power alone.”

In its own statement responding to the court’s decision, the CNIL notes the court’s view that GDPR’s one-stop-shop mechanism was not applicable in this case — writing: “It did so by applying the new European framework as interpreted by all the European authorities in the guidelines of the European Data Protection Committee.”

Privacy NGO noyb — one of the privacy campaign groups which lodged the original ‘forced consent’ complaint against Google, all the way back in May 2018 — welcomed the court’s decision on all fronts, including the jurisdiction point.

Commenting in a statement, noyb’s honorary chairman, Max Schrems, said: “It is very important that companies like Google cannot simply declare themselves to be ‘Irish’ to escape the oversight by the privacy regulators.”

A key question is whether CNIL — or another (non-Irish) EU DPA — will be found to be competent to sanction Google in future, following its shift to naming its Google Ireland subsidiary as the regional data processor. (Other tech giants use the same or a similar playbook, seeking out the EU’s more ‘business-friendly’ regulators.)

On the wider ruling, Schrems also said: “This decision requires substantial improvements by Google. Their privacy policy now really needs to make it crystal clear what they do with users’ data. Users must also get an option to agree to only some parts of what Google does with their data and refuse other things.”

French digital rights group, La Quadrature du Net — which had filed a related complaint against Google, feeding the CNIL’s investigation — also declared victory today, noting it’s the first sanction in a number of GDPR complaints it has lodged against tech giants on behalf of 12,000 citizens.

Nouvelle victoire !

Le @Conseil_Etat valide intégralement, en la reprenant à son compte, la sanction de 50 millions d’€ contre Google prononcée en janvier 2019 par la CNIL.https://t.co/6gJRL5ZM3r

— La Quadrature du Net (@laquadrature) June 19, 2020

“The rest of the complaints against Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft are still under investigation in Ireland. In any case, this is what this authority promises us,” it added in another tweet.

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UK gives up on centralized coronavirus contacts-tracing app — will ‘likely’ switch to model backed by Apple and Google

Posted by | Apple, apple inc, Apps, Bluetooth, contacts tracing, coronavirus, COVID-19, Denmark, Europe, european union, Germany, Google, Health, ireland, Italy, Matt Hancock, Mobile, mobile app, NHS, NHS COVID-19, northern ireland, privacy, smartphone, smartphones, switzerland, United Kingdom | No Comments

The UK has given up building a centralized coronavirus contacts-tracing app and will instead switch to a decentralized app architecture, the BBC has reported. This suggests its any future app will be capable of plugging into the joint ‘exposure notification’ API which has been developed in recent weeks by Apple and Google.

The UK’s decision to abandon a bespoke app architecture comes more than a month after ministers had been reported to be eyeing such a switch. They went on to award a contract to an IT supplier to develop a decentralized tracing app in parallel as a backup — while continuing to test the centralized app, which is called NHS COVID-19.

At the same time, a number of European countries have now successfully launched contracts-tracing apps with a decentralized app architecture that’s able to plug into the ‘Gapple’ API — including Denmark, Germany, Italy, Latvia and Switzerland. Several more such apps remain in testing. While EU Member States just agreed on a technical framework to enable cross-border interoperability of apps based on the same architecture.

Germany — which launched the decentralized ‘Corona Warning App’ this week — announced its software had been downloaded 6.5M times in the first 24 hours. The country had initially appeared to favor a centralized approach but switched to a decentralized model back in April in the face of pushback from privacy and security experts.

The UK’s NHS COVID-19 app, meanwhile, has not progressed past field tests, after facing a plethora of technical barriers and privacy challenges — as a direct consequence of the government’s decision to opt for a proprietary system which uploads proximity data to a central server, rather than processing exposure notifications locally on device.

Apple and Google’s API, which is being used by all Europe’s decentralized apps, does not support centralized app architectures — meaning the UK app faced technical hurdles related to accessing Bluetooth in the background. The centralized choice also raised big questions around cross-border interoperability, as we’ve explained before. Questions had also been raised over the risk of mission creep and a lack of transparency and legal certainty over what would be done with people’s data.

So the UK’s move to abandon the approach and adopt a decentralized model is hardly surprising — although the time it’s taken the government to arrive at the obvious conclusion does raise some major questions over its competence at handling technology projects.

Michael Veale, a lecturer in digital rights and regulation at UCL — who has been involved in the development of the DP3T decentralized contacts-tracing standard, which influenced Apple and Google’s choice of API — welcomed the UK’s decision to ditch a centralized app architecture but questioned why the government has wasted so much time.

“This is a welcome, if a heavily and unnecessarily delayed, move by NHSX,” Veale told TechCrunch. “The Google -Apple system in a way is home-grown: Originating with research at a large consortium of universities led by Switzerland and including UCL in the UK. NHSX has no end of options and no reasonable excuse to not get the app out quickly now. Germany and Switzerland both have high quality open source code that can be easily adapted. The NHS England app will now be compatible with Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, and also the many destinations for holidaymakers in and out of the UK.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, UK ministers are now heavily de-emphasizing the importance of having an app in the fight against the coronavirus at all.

The Department for Health and Social Care’s, Lord Bethell, told the Science and Technology Committee yesterday the app will not now be ready until the winter. “We’re seeking to get something going for the winter, but it isn’t a priority for us,” he said.

Yet the centralized version of the NHS COVID-19 app has been in testing in a limited geographical pilot on the Isle of Wight since early May — and up until the middle of last month health minister, Matt Hancock, had said it would be rolled out nationally in mid May.

Of course that timeframe came and went without launch. And now the prospect of the UK having an app at all is being booted right into the back end of the year.

Compare and contrast that with government messaging at its daily coronavirus briefings back in May — when Hancock made “download the app” one of the key slogans — and the word ‘omnishambles‘ springs to mind…

NHSX relayed our request for comment on the switch to a decentralized system and the new timeframe for an app launch to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) — but the department had not responded to us at the time of publication.

Earlier this week the BBC reported that a former Apple executive, Simon Thompson, was taking charge of the delayed app project — while the two lead managers, the NHSX’s Matthew Gould and Geraint Lewis — were reported to be stepping back.

Back in April, Gould told the Science and Technology Committee the app would “technically” be ready to launch in 2-3 weeks’ time, though he also said any national launch would depend on the preparedness of a wider government program of coronavirus testing and manual contacts tracing. He also emphasized the need for a major PR campaign to educate the public on downloading and using the app.

Government briefings to the press today have included suggestions that app testers on the Isle of Wight told it they were not comfortable receiving COVID-19 notifications via text message — and that the human touch of a phone call is preferred.

However none of the European countries that have already deployed contacts-tracing apps has promoted the software as a one-stop panacea for tackling COVID-19. Rather tracing apps are intended to supplement manual contacts-tracing methods — the latter involving the use of trained humans making phone calls to people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 to ask who they might have been in contact with over the infectious period.

Even with major resource put into manual contacts-tracing, apps — which use Bluetooth signals to estimate proximity between smartphone users in order to calculate virus expose risk — could still play an important role by, for example, being able to trace strangers who are sat near an infected person on public transport.

Update: The DHSC has now issued a statement addressing reports of the switch of app architecture for the NHS COVID-19 app — in which it confirms, in between reams of blame-shifting spin, that it’s testing a new app that is able to plug into the Apple and Google API — and which it says it may go on to launch nationally, but without providing any time frame.

It also claims it’s working with Apple and Google to try to enhance how their technology estimates the distance between smartphone users.

“Through the systematic testing, a number of technical challenges were identified — including the reliability of detecting contacts on specific operating systems — which cannot be resolved in isolation with the app in its current form,” DHSC writes of the centralized NHS COVID-19 app.

“While it does not yet present a viable solution, at this stage an app based on the Google / Apple API appears most likely to address some of the specific limitations identified through our field testing.  However, there is still more work to do on the Google / Apple solution which does not currently estimate distance in the way required.”

Based on this, the focus of work will shift from the current app design and to work instead with Google and Apple to understand how using their solution can meet the specific needs of the public,” it adds. 

We reached out to Apple and Google for comment. Apple declined to comment.

According to one source, the UK has been pressing for the tech giants’ API to include device model and RSSI info alongside the ephemeral IDs which devices that come into proximity exchange with each other — presumably to try to improve distance calculations via a better understanding of the specific hardware involved.

However introducing additional, fixed pieces of device-linked data would have the effect of undermining the privacy protections baked into the decentralized system — which uses ephemeral, rotating IDs in order to prevent third party tracking of app users. Any fixed data-points being exchanged would risk unpicking the whole anti-tracking approach.

Norway, another European country which opted for a centralized approach for coronavirus contacts tracing — but got an app launched in mid April — made the decision to suspend its operation this week, after an intervention by the national privacy watchdog. In that case the app was collecting both GPS and Bluetooth —  posing a massive privacy risk. The watchdog warned the public health agency the tool was no longer a proportionate intervention — owing to what are now low levels of coronavirus risk in the country.

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Google is launching a way to buy Android app subscriptions outside of the app itself

Posted by | Android, Apps, Google, Mobile | No Comments

Alongside the Android 11 beta news and updates to Android developer tools, Google has quietly rolled out a significant change in how Android app developers can market their subscriptions on the Google Play Store. The company confirmed a select set of developers are testing a new feature that allows consumers to purchase an app’s subscription outside of the app itself. That is, instead of having to click through in-app pop-ups and read the fine print inside an app, consumers can choose to buy an app’s subscription directly from its Play Store listing page — even if they don’t yet have the app installed.

Google vaguely announced the change in a blog post, but didn’t offer concrete details as to how this feature worked, instead describing it only as a way for users “to discover and purchase items outside your app.”

The functionality is being made available through the Android Billing Library version 3, which Google recently introduced. The new library can power a subscription promo code redemption experience, where users can redeem free trials before the app is installed. And it allows consumers to resubscribe to subscriptions they used to pay for from the Google Play subscriptions center.

But the most notable part of the update is how it allows developers to sell subscriptions directly on their app’s details page. Now, next to the app’s “Install” button, consumers will be able to instead choose to click a separate button to purchase the app’s subscription and even its free trial.

In an example, the robocall-blocking app Truecaller shows a button next to “Install” which reads, instead, “Free trial & Install.” Beneath this, a window provides all the details about the app’s subscription, including the free trial length, the cost when the trial ends, and what the subscription offers, in terms of feature set.

This more transparent marketing option benefits consumers and developers alike.

Today, too many consumers are still being duped by tricky subscriptions that don’t play by app store guidelines. The problem isn’t unique to Android apps, unfortunately. A report from security firm Sophos found that more than 3.5 million iOS users have installed fleeceware apps from Apple’s App Store, for example.

Google, for its part, introduced a new set of Play Store policies in April with the goal of ensuring that users are able to understand the terms of the subscription offer, the free trial period and how they can cancel the subscription, if desired. The updated policy bans things like hidden terms, unclear billing frequencies, and hidden pricing.

This new feature offering a separate button just for subscriptions could give users another way to learn about the app’s pricing and feature set before making a commitment to download the app.

This, in turn, could help reduce user churn — as fewer users would drop out of the app once they realize the features they needed were only offered as a paid option. It could also help developers attract more valuable paid subscribers by allowing potential users an easy way to compare their subscription pricing with competitors, while additionally reducing user requests for refunds.

For now, Android users can only purchase subscriptions outside the app from a limited set of developers who have been testing the feature, Google says.

The company tells us it will expand this feature to include other virtual goods in the future.

This latest change isn’t the only way Google is trying to increase transparency around subscriptions.

In a video shared with developers, the company noted it has made improvements to its checkout cart on Google Play to add further distinctions between trial periods and regular pricing. Google also now sends out email reminders to alert users when free trials are ending and it now pops up a notification when an app is uninstalled to remind users they may also want to cancel the app’s subscription.

Google is also changing the option that lets a customer pause a subscription. Starting on November 1, 2020, this will default to “on,” and other features like Account Hold and Restore will be required for app subscription-based apps. Plus, developers will be able to pop-up a list of reasons to keep a subscription when a user hits the cancel button.

“We believe that in increasing user trust around subscriptions, you will benefit from an increase higher-quality subscribers and lower refund and chargeback rates,” says Google Play Commerce product manager, Mrinalini Loew, in the video.

 

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Google brings Meet to Gmail on mobile

Posted by | Android, Apps, computing, gmail, Google, Google Hangouts, Google-Calendar, meet, operating systems, web app, webmail | No Comments

Google today announced a deeper integration between Gmail on mobile and its Meet video conferencing service. Now, if you use Gmail on Android or iOS and somebody sends you a link to a Meet event, you can join the meeting right from your inbox.

That obviously isn’t radically different from how things work today, where Gmail will take you right into the Meet app, but the major difference here is that you won’t have to install the dedicated Meet app anymore to join a call from Gmail.

The second and maybe bigger update — and this one won’t launch until a few weeks from now — is that the mobile Gmail app will also get a new Meet tab at the bottom of the screen. This new tab will show you all your upcoming Meet meetings in Google Calendar and will allow you to start a meeting, get a link to share or schedule a meeting in Calendar.

If you’re not a Meet power user, then you can turn this tab off, too, which I assume a lot of people will do, given that not everybody will want to give up screen estate in their email app for a dedicated Meet button.

It’s interesting to see that Google is trying to bring Gmail and Meet so closely together. The act of moving between two different apps for email and meetings never felt like a burden, but Google clearly wants more people to be aware of Meet (especially now that it offers a free tier) and remove any friction that could keep potential users from using it. The company already integrated Meet into the Gmail web app, where it felt pretty natural given that Gmail on the web long featured support for Hangouts (RIP, I guess?) and its predecessors. On mobile, though, it feels a bit forced. Hangouts, after all, was never a built-in part of Gmail on mobile either.

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US Commerce Dept. amends Huawei ban to allow for development of 5G standards

Posted by | 5g, Android, Google, Government, hardware, huawei, iran, Policy, smartphone, technology, telecommunications, U.S. Department of Commerce, United States, wireless technology | No Comments

The United States Department of Commerce today issued a change to its sweeping Huawei ban. Proponents of the move note that the change in policy ought not be regarded as a softening on the government’s stance toward the embattled hardware maker, but instead is an attempt to develop more streamlined standards for 5G, along with the company, which has been one of the primary forces in its development 

According to the Department:

This action is meant to ensure Huawei’s placement on the Entity List in May 2019 does not prevent American companies from contributing to important standards-developing activities despite Huawei’s pervasive participation in standards-development organizations.

The change is designed to allow Huawei and U.S. to both play a role in hashing out the parameters for the next-generation wireless technology. “The United States will not cede leadership in global innovation. This action recognizes the importance of harnessing American ingenuity to advance and protect our economic and national security,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement. “The Department is committed to protecting U.S. national security and foreign policy interests by encouraging U.S. industry to fully engage and advocate for U.S. technologies to become international standards.”

The new  Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) rule essentially allows companies to share information about technologies in order to develop a joint standard without requiring an export license. Beyond that, however, the DOC has no stated plans to ease up after placing Huawei on its entities list last year.

The Chinese smartphone maker was included in the blacklist over a litany of ongoing complaints, including its ties to national government, concerns over spying and alleged sanction violations with Iran. The move has had a profound impact on the company, including a severing of its ties to Google, which formed the software backbone of its mobile line through Android and a suit of included apps. Subsequent handsets, including the recently released P40 Pro+, have been shipped without the software on board.

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This Week in Apps: Android 11 beta, Snapchat’s makeover, Apple’s WWDC20 plans

Posted by | Android, Apple, Apps, coronavirus, COVID-19, Extra Crunch, Google, Snap, Twitter | No Comments

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People are now spending three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week, we’re looking at the mobile news from the events that didn’t happen this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. That includes the launch of Android 11 beta, which would have normally arrived during Google I/O, along with all the new Android developer tools. Snap also held its partner summit this week, where it announced a number of new Snapchat features, new partner relationships, and its plans for its AR ecosystem.

Not to be left out, Apple stole a little attention this week with its reveal of the WWDC20 schedule. Like many others, Apple’s conference is going virtual for the first time. It’s even redesigning its forums to aid with Apple engineer-developer interactions.

This week in app trends, we examine data from new reports on COVID’s impact on home improvement apps and hypercasual gaming.

Headlines

Android 11 beta launches along with new developer tools

After a series of delays and the cancellation of Google I/O, the Android 11 beta finally launched this week. This next major version of the Android OS is focused around three themes, says Google: People, Controls and Privacy.

On the People side, Android 11 gives conversation notifications a dedicated section at the top of the shade, offers a Bubbles API for messaging apps, improves Voice Access, adds new emoji and more. New consolidated keyboard suggestions allow Autofill apps and Input Method Editors (e.g., password managers and third-party keyboards), to now securely offer context-specific entries in the suggestion strip.

 

New device controls make it easier for users to access and control connected/smart home devices with a long press of the power button or access payment options. New media controls in an upcoming beta release will make it easier to switch the output device for audio or video content.

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You can now install the first beta of Android 11

Posted by | Android, Android Nougat, api, computing, Gadgets, Google, Mobile, mobile app, operating systems, password manager, smart home devices, smartphones | No Comments

After a series of developer previews, Google today released the first beta of Android 11, and with that, it is also making these pre-release versions available for over-the-air updates. This time around, the list of supported devices only includes the Pixel 2, 3, 3a and 4.

If you’re brave enough to try this early version (and I wouldn’t do so on your daily driver until a few more people have tested it), you can now enroll here. Like always, Google is also making OS images available for download and an updated emulator is available, too.

Google says the beta focuses on three key themes: people, controls and privacy.

Like in previous updates, Google once again worked on improving notifications — in this case, conversation notifications, which now appear in a dedicated section at the top of the pull-down shade. From there, you will be able to take actions right from inside the notification or ask the OS to remind you of this conversation at a later time. Also new is built-in support in the notification system for what are essentially chat bubbles, which messaging apps can now use to notify you even as you are working (or playing) in another app.

Another new feature is consolidated keyboard suggestions. With these, Autofill apps and Input Method Editors (think password managers and third-party keyboards), can now securely offer context-specific entries in the suggestion strip. Until now, enabling autofill for a password manager, for example, often involved delving into multiple settings and the whole experience often felt like a bit of a hack.

For those users who rely on voice to control their phones, Android now uses a new on-device system that aims to understand what is on the screen and then automatically generates labels and access points for voice commands.

As for controls, Google is now letting you long-press the power button to bring up controls for your smart home devices (though companies that want to appear in this new menu need to make use of Google’s new API for this). In one of the next beta releases, Google will also enable media controls that will make it easier to switch the output device for their audio and video content.

In terms of privacy, Google is adding one-time permissions so that an app only gets access to your microphone, camera or location once, as well as auto-resets for permissions when you haven’t used an app for a while.

A few months ago, Google said that developers would need to get a user’s approval to access background location. That caused a bit of a stir among developers and now Google will keep its current policies in place until 2021 to give developers more time to update their apps.

In addition to these user-facing features, Google is also launching a series of updates aimed at Android developers. You can read more about them here.

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