Communications

Google is Making it Easier For 911 To Find You in an Emergency

An anonymous reader shares a report: When you call 911 from a cellphone, your location is typically sent to the call taker by a wireless carrier. But that information isn't always so accurate. Well Google might have a better way of going about it and it tested its system across a few states in December and January, the Wall Street Journal reports. In the states where the tests took place, Google sent location data from a random selection of 911 callers using Android phones straight to the people taking those calls. The test included 50 call centers that cover around 2.4 million people in Texas, Tennessee and Florida, and early reports of the results suggest the system is promising.

One company involved in the test told the Wall Street Journal that for over 80 percent of the 911 calls where Googl's system was used, the tech giant's location data were more accurate than what wireless carriers provided. The company, RapidSOS, also said that while carrier data location estimates had, on average, a radius of around 522 feet, Google's data gave estimates with radii around 121 feet. Google's data also arrived more quickly than carrier data typically did.
Google

Gmail Go, a Lightweight Version of Google's Email App, Launched on Android (techcrunch.com) 55

Google has added a notable addition to its line of "Go" edition apps -- the lightweight apps designed primarily for emerging markets -- with the launch of Gmail Go. From a report: The app, like others in the Go line, takes up less storage space on users' smartphones and makes better use of mobile data compared with the regular version of Gmail. The app also offers standard Gmail features like multiple account support, conversation view, attachments, and push notifications for new messages. It also prioritizes messages from friends and family first, while categorizing promotional and social emails in separate tabs, as Gmail does. But like other Go apps, Gmail Go doesn't consume as much storage space on the device. In fact, according to numerous reports, Gmail Go clocked in at a 9.51 MB download, and takes up roughly 25 MB of space on a device, compared with Gmail's 20.66 MB download, and 47 MB storage space.
Android

FBI, CIA, and NSA: Don't Use Huawei Phones (cnbc.com) 231

The heads of six top U.S. intelligence agencies told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday they would not advise Americans to use products or services from Chinese smartphone maker Huawei. "The six -- including the heads of the CIA, FBI, NSA and the director of national intelligence -- first expressed their distrust of Apple-rival Huawei and fellow Chinese telecom company ZTE in reference to public servants and state agencies," reports CNBC. From the report: "We're deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don't share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks," FBI Director Chris Wray testified. "That provides the capacity to exert pressure or control over our telecommunications infrastructure," Wray said. "It provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information. And it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage."

In a response, Huawei said that it "poses no greater cybersecurity risk than any ICT vendor." A spokesman said in a statement: "Huawei is aware of a range of U.S. government activities seemingly aimed at inhibiting Huawei's business in the U.S. market. Huawei is trusted by governments and customers in 170 countries worldwide and poses no greater cybersecurity risk than any ICT vendor, sharing as we do common global supply chains and production capabilities."

Advertising

Huawei Got People To Write Fake Reviews For An Unreleased Phone (theverge.com) 39

As spotted by 9to5Google, Huawei has apparently posted fake reviews on Best Buy for its new Mate 10 Pro, which is available for pre-order in the U.S. despite not having any deals with U.S. carriers. "The fake reviews, which are exclusively on the Best Buy website, are likely the result of a contest Huawei ran on Facebook," reports The Verge. From the report: On January 31st, the company posted to a Facebook group with over 60,000 members, asking for people to leave comments on the Best Buy pre-sale page in exchange for a chance to beta test a Mate 10 Pro. The original post has been deleted, but 9to5Google obtained a screenshot before it went down. "Tell us how to why (sic) you WANT to own the Mate 10 Pro in the review section of our pre-sale Best Buy retail page," the post states. On the Best Buy site, there are currently 108 reviews for the phone, 103 of which were written on or after January 31st, the day Huawei posted the contest. Many of the comments directly reference not having any actual hands-on experience with the product itself, but give the phone a five star rating. "I can't wait to get my hands on this phone and demonstrate how amazing it is to people," reads one. "This device looks exciting and beautiful and it would be amazing to have a chance to beta test it," another reads. It seems Huawei is betting that loads of high ratings early on will make people trust the product and lead to higher sales. That's all well and good except that these types of reviews are strictly against Best Buy policy, as 9to5Google points out. "Huawei's first priority is always the consumer and we encourage our customers to share their experiences with our devices in their own voice and through authentic conversation," a Huawei representative told The Verge in a statement. "While there are reviews from beta testers with extensive knowledge of the product, they were in no way given monetary benefits for providing their honest opinions of the product. However, we are working to remove posts by beta testers where it isn't disclosed they participated in the review program."
Android

Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Benchmarks Show An Incredible GPU, Faster CPU (hothardware.com) 52

MojoKid writes: Though the company has been evangelizing its new Snapdragon 845 Mobile Platform for a while now, Qualcomm is lifting the veil today on the new chip's benchmark performance profile. At the heart of the Snapdragon 845 is the new Kyro 385 CPU, which features four high-performance cores operating at 2.8GHz and four efficiency cores that are dialed back to 1.7GHz, all of which should culminate in a claimed 25 percent uplift over the previous generation Snapdragon 835, along with improved power efficiency. In addition, the Snapdragon 845's new Adreno 630 integrated GPU core should deliver a boost in performance over its predecessor as well, with up to a 30 percent increase in graphics throughput, allowing it to become the first mobile platform to enable room-scale VR/AR experiences. Armed with prototype reference devices, members of the press put the Snapdragon 845 through its paces and the chip proved to be anywhere from 15 to 35 percent faster, depending on workloads and benchmarks, with graphics showing especially strong. Next-generation Android smartphones and other devices based on the Snapdragon 845 are expected to be unveiled at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona at the end of this month.
Google

The Insane Amount of Backward Compatibility in Google Maps (tnhh.net) 73

Huan Truong, a software developer, writes in a blog post: There is always an unlikely app that consistently works on all of my devices, regardless of their OS and how old they are: Google Maps. Google Maps still works today on Android 1.0, the earliest version available (Maps actually still works with some of the beta versions before that). I believe Maps was only a prototype app in Android 1.0. If I recall correctly, Google didn't have any official real device to run Android 1.0. That was back all the way in 2007. But then, you say, Android is Google's OS for Pete's sake. How about iOS? Google Maps for iOS, version 1.0, released late 2012, still works just fine. That was the first version of Google Maps ever released as a standalone app after Apple ditched Google's map solution on iOS. But wait... there is more. There is native iOS Maps on iOS 6, which was released in early 2012, and it still works. But that's only 6 years ago. Let's go hardcore. How about Google Maps on Java phones (the dumb bricks that run Java "midlets" or whatever the ancient Greeks call it)? It works too. [...] The Palm OS didn't even have screenshot functionality. But lo and behold, Google Maps worked.
Google

Google's Next Android Overhaul Will Embrace iPhone's 'Notch' (bloomberg.com) 179

Google is working on a "dramatic redesign" of its Android operating system, Bloomberg reported on Monday. The company has stuck with a single look for its mobile operating system (OS) for quite some time now, but it's now reportedly looking at Apple for inspiration. The new version of Android -- which Bloomberg says is called "Pistachio Ice Cream" internally -- will apparently be designed with the space for a cutout at the top, much like the iPhone X and its so-called "notch." From the report: The operating system refresh, Android P, will emphasize Google's Assistant, a digital helper that competes with Apple's Siri and Amazon.com's Alexa. Developers will be able to integrate Google's voice-based technology inside of their apps. The company has also weighed integrating the search bar on the Android home screen with its assistant, although neither of these changes are finalized for introduction this year, according to one of the people familiar with the situation.
Android

Chinese Phone Maker Xiaomi Deletes a Public MIUI vs Android One Twitter Poll After Voting Didn't Go Its Way (betanews.com) 61

Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi, which sells handsets at razor thin margins, is increasingly dominating in its home market and emerging places such as India and Indonesia. To make money, the company relies on a range of homegrown software features in its Android-based MIUI operating system. In a surprising move earlier this week, the company asked its Twitter followers to choose between MIUI and Android One (which runs pure Android OS). Things didn't go as it had planned. From a report: Presumably the company was rather hoping that Twitter users would vote for its own MIUI which it could then rub in Google's face -- but the poll actually went against Xiaomi. Rather than leave the results of the vote up for anyone to see, the company decided to simply delete it and pretend it never happened. Take a look at the Xiaomi account on Twitter, and you'll see no hint that any such poll has ever taken place. But over on Reddit, there's a thread which was started by someone posting a link to the poll. In the comments, one Redditor noticed after a period of voting that: "So far it's 53-47 for android one."
Android

Android Wear Is Getting Killed, and It's All Qualcomm's Fault (arstechnica.com) 174

The death of Android Wear is all Qualcomm's fault, largely due to the fact that the company "has a monopoly on smartwatch chips and doesn't seem interested in making any smartwatch chips," writes Ars Technica's Ron Amadeo. This weekend marks the second birthday of Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 2100 SoC, which was announced in February 2016 and is the "least awful smartwatch SoC you can use in an Android Wear device." Since Qualcomm skipped out on an upgrade last year, and it doesn't seem like we'll get a new smartwatch chip any time soon, the entire Android Wear market will continue to suffer. From the report: In a healthy SoC market, this would be fine. Qualcomm would ignore the smartwatch SoC market, make very little money, and all the Android Wear OEMs would buy their SoCs from a chip vendor that was addressing smartwatch demand with a quality chip. The problem is, the SoC market isn't healthy at all. Qualcomm has a monopoly on smartwatch chips and doesn't seem interested in making any smartwatch chips. For companies like Google, LG, Huawei, Motorola, and Asus, it is absolutely crippling. There are literally zero other options in a reasonable price range (although we'd like to give a shoutout to the $1,600 Intel Atom-equipped Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45), so companies either keep shipping two-year-old Qualcomm chips or stop building smartwatches. Android Wear is not a perfect smartwatch operating system, but the primary problem with Android Wear watches is the hardware, like size, design (which is closely related to size), speed, and battery life. All of these are primarily influenced by the SoC, and there hasn't been a new option for OEMs since 2016. There are only so many ways you can wrap a screen, battery, and body around an SoC, so Android smartwatch hardware has totally stagnated. To make matters worse, the Wear 2100 wasn't even a good chip when it was new.
Software

Researchers Are Developing An Algorithm That Makes Smartphones Child-Proof (technologyreview.com) 67

An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: Researchers at the University of South Carolina and China's Zhejiang University have created an algorithm that can spot whether your kid is accidentally trying to, say, order from Amazon without your knowing. There are already plenty of activity-monitoring apps that aim to control what kids do on phones, but parents need to add them and turn them on, and they could be disabled by tech-savvy children. The researchers figured that automated age-range detection would make it easier for parents to hand their phones over to curious children without worrying that the kids will stumble upon an inappropriate website or get into a work e-mail account.

The researchers built a simple app and asked a group of kids between the ages of three and 11 -- and a group of adults between 22 and 60 -- to use it. The app had participants unlock an Android phone and then play a numbers-based game on it, so that the researchers could record a variety of taps and swipes. They also tracked things like the amount of pressure applied by a user's finger and the area it encompassed. The researchers used the resulting data to train an age-detecting algorithm that they say is 84 percent accurate with just one swipe on the screen -- a figure that goes up to 97 percent after eight swipes.

Android

Rejoice: Samsung's Next Flagship Smartphone Looks To Keep the Headphone Jack Alive (theverge.com) 193

Notorious smartphone leaker Evan Blass has leaked a couple press images of the Galaxy S9, giving us the first indication that it will still have a headphone jack. "The full information spill today is actually focused on a new Samsung DeX Pad, which appears to be an evolution of last year's DeX dock for the Galaxy S8," reports The Verge. From the report: Samsung, LG, and a couple of other companies like OnePlus have remained resolute in their inclusion of a headphone jack, but that was far from a certainty for the next Galaxy S iteration. This is a phone that will compete against the iPhone X, Huawei Mate 10 Pro, and more niche rivals like Google's Pixel 2: all of them surviving sans a headphone jack. So Samsung could have dumped the analog audio output, but it seems to have opted against it, and that's worthy of commendation. USB-C earphones are all still either bad or expensive -- or both -- and phones that retain compatibility with 3.5mm connectors remain profoundly useful to consumers that aren't yet convinced by Bluetooth.
Android

Android Messages May Soon Let You Text From the Web (androidpolice.com) 48

Android Police dug into the code for the latest version of Android Messages and found two very intriguing features: Rich Communication Services (RCS) support and support for all the popular web browsers. From the report: Google is developing a web interface to run on a desktop or laptop, and it will pair with your phone for sending messages. Internally, the codename for this feature is "Ditto," but it looks like it will be labeled "Messages for web" when it launches. You'll be guided to visit a website on the computer you want to pair with your phone, then simply scan a QR code. Once that's done, you'll be able to send and receive messages in the web interface and it will link with the phone to do the actual communication through your carrier. I can't say with any certainty that all mainstream browsers will be supported right away, but all of them are named, so most users should be covered.

Another major move appears to be happening with RCS, and it looks like Google may be tired of letting it progress slowly. A lot of new promotional text has been added to encourage people to "text over Wi-Fi" and suggesting that they "upgrade" immediately. There's a lot of text in that block, but most of it is purely promotional. It describes features that are already largely familiar as capabilities of RCS, including texting through a data connection, seeing messaging status (if somebody is typing) and read receipts, and sending photos. Google does put a lot of emphasis that if it's handling the photos, that they are high-quality.
Android Police also notes the ability to make purchases via Messages.
Media

VLC 3.0 Adds Chromecast Support and More as the Best Free Media Player Gets Even Better (pcworld.com) 131

Ian Paul, writing for PCWorld: The best free media player is getting even better. After three years of development, VLC 3.0 'Ventari' is rolling out to all platforms, and it's packed full of goodies such as Chromecast support. The latest version of VLC contains a lot of great additions, as well as a tweaked UI. Chromecast discovery tops the list. It's only available on Windows desktop and Android right now, but Videolan says the feature's coming to VLC's iOS and the Windows Store apps in the future. [...] VLC 3.0's refreshed UI isn't a fresh, new look from previous versions, but it is noticeably different. The icons at the bottom of the window are cleaner, and the small icons used within menu items are also new. Version 3.0 also adds support for 360-degree video and 3D audio, readying features for a VR version of VLC slated to roll out in mid-April. The new VLC also adds hardware decoding across all platforms for better performance and less CPU consumption, especially when dealing with more resource-intense video.
Security

Meet the Tiny Startup That Sells IPhone and Android Zero Days To Governments (vice.com) 51

An anonymous reader writes: The story of Azimuth Security, a tiny startup in Australia, provides a rare peek inside the secretive industry that helps government hackers get around encryption. Azimuth is part of an opaque, little known corner of the intelligence world made of hackers who develop and sell expensive exploits to break into popular technologies like iOS, Chrome, Android and Tor.
Android

Android Oreo Passes 1 Percent Adoption After 5 Months, Nougat Finally Takes First Place (venturebeat.com) 98

According to Google's Platform Versions page, Android 8.0 Oreo mobile operating system finally has 1.1 percent adoption. Like Android Nougat before it, Android Oreo took five months to pass the 1 percent adoption mark. VentureBeat reports: On the bright side, Nougat this month has passed Marshmallow, meaning the second newest Android version is now the most widely used. The latest version of Android typically takes more than a year to become the most-used release, and so far it doesn't look like Oreo's story will be any different. Google's Platform Versions tool uses data gathered from the Google Play Store app, which requires Android 2.2 and above. This means devices running older versions are not included, nor are devices that don't have Google Play installed (such as many Android phones and tablets in China, Amazon's Fire line, and so on). Also, Android versions that have less than 0.1 percent adoption, such as Android 3.0 Honeycomb and Android 2.2 Froyo, are not listed. The two next-oldest Android versions are thus set to drop off the list sometime this year. The Android adoption order now stands as follows: Nougat in first place, Marshmallow in second place, Lollipop in third, KitKat in fourth, Jelly Bean in fifth, Oreo in sixth, ICS in seventh, and Gingerbread in last. All eyes are now on Oreo to see how slowly it can climb the ranks.
Google

Google Enables Pixel Visual Core For Better Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp Photos (theverge.com) 22

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Google's Pixel Visual Core, the hidden image-processing chip inside the Pixel 2 family of phones, is getting an update today that lets it work its machine learning magic in third-party apps. Already enabled via Android 8.1 for the Pixel 2's main camera app, the Visual Core is now going to be operational within any other camera app that employs the relevant Google APIs. That means your Instagram photography and Snapchat Stories will get the benefit of the same improvements in processing speed and efficiency. I have been using a Google Pixel 2 XL since before the Android 8.1 update that initially flipped the Visual Core to being active, and I can't say I've noticed a huge difference in the speed or operation of the camera. It was sterling before 8.1, and it's been the same since. But the way Google explains it, the Visual Core is likely to be more helpful and impressive in third-party apps because it will allow the company to run its proprietary HDR+ algorithm in those other apps: "Pixel Visual Core is built to do heavy-lifting image processing while using less power, which saves battery. That means we're able to use that additional computing power to improve the quality of your pictures by running the HDR+ algorithm."
Encryption

Camera Makers Resist Encryption, Despite Warnings From Photographers (zdnet.com) 291

An anonymous reader shares an article from the security editor of ZDNet: A year after photojournalists and filmmakers sent a critical letter to camera makers for failing to add a basic security feature to protect their work from searches and hacking, little progress has been made. The letter, sent in late 2016, called on camera makers to build encryption into their cameras after photojournalists said they face "a variety of threats..." Even when they're out in the field, collecting footage and documenting evidence, reporters have long argued that without encryption, police, the military, and border agents in countries where they work can examine and search their devices. "The consequences can be dire," the letter added.

Although iPhones and Android phones, computers, and instant messengers all come with encryption, camera makers have fallen behind. Not only does encryption protect reported work from prying eyes, it also protects sources -- many of whom put their lives at risk to expose corruption or wrongdoing... The lack of encryption means high-end camera makers are forcing their customers to choose between putting their sources at risk, or relying on encrypted, but less-capable devices, like iPhones. We asked the same camera manufacturers if they plan to add encryption to their cameras -- and if not, why. The short answer: don't expect much any time soon.

Android

Chrome OS Is Almost Ready To Replace Android On Tablets (theverge.com) 61

Several news features rolling out to Chromebooks paint a picture of the future of Chrome OS as the rightful replacement for Android tablet software. Those include a new split-screen feature for multitasking while in tablet mode, and a screenshot feature borrowed from Android. The Verge reports: As it stands now, Chrome OS is very close to taking up the mantle there, and features like this push it ever closer to becoming the hybrid OS for all types of Google-powered screens. This has been in the works for quite a while as Google's Chrome and Android teams have coordinated closely to ensure the influx of low-cost, hybrid computing devices like 2-in-1 Chromebooks get the best of both worlds. There is, of course, Android app compatibility on Chrome OS, an initiative that first arrived somewhat half-baked last year and has taken months to fully jell as Google worked out the kinks. For instance, just last month Google added the ability for Android apps on Chromebooks run in the background. In July of last year, Google also began embarking on a touch-focused redesign of Chrome OS to make the software more functional in tablet mode. We're likely not getting the full-blown merging of the two divisions and their respective platforms anytime soon, or perhaps ever, as Google has played with the idea for years without ever seeming to decide that one platform should supersede the other. In essence, however, Android remains Google's dominant mobile OS, while Chrome OS has been taking on more responsibility as Chromebooks have steadily become more capable and tablet-like.
Android

LG Settles Bootloop Lawsuit With $425 Cash Or a $700 Rebate Toward a New LG Phone (androidpolice.com) 38

Early last year, a class-action lawsuit was filed against LG over bootloop issues affecting their G4 and V10 smartphones. Now, according to a settlement website set up by the law firm Girard Gibbs, members of the lawsuit have received a settlement offer. The only catch is that the settlement is only for plaintiffs of the initial case. Android Police reports: LG is offering plaintiffs either $425 as a cash settlement or a $700 rebate toward the purchase of a new LG phone. That's pretty generous, and it's clear that's going to help offset some of the anger LG's created with this whole incident. If you're one of the plaintiffs, you don't have to mail in your broken phone or anything, you just get the settlement offer, straight up. Members of the class will be contacted shortly with instructions on how to take advantage of the settlement. Payments will be distributed beginning in March.
Privacy

Messaging App Telegram Pulled From Apple's App Store Due To 'Inappropriate Content' (theverge.com) 86

An anonymous reader shares a report: Apple has removed Telegram's official app from its iOS App Store. The app disappeared yesterday, shortly after Telegram launched a rewritten Telegram X app for Android. Telegram X is currently in testing on iOS, and it was also removed from the App Store. "We were alerted by Apple that inappropriate content was made available to our users and both apps were taken off the App Store," says Telegram CEO Pavel Durov. "Once we have protections in place we expect the apps to be back on the App Store."

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