Specific partnerships not yet named; hotels, flights and reservations are the focus
Speaking on one of the countless Google Developers Live talks at Google I/O, one of the creators of Google Now Baris Gultekin explained how select partners will get better access to Google Now going forward. When commenting on how Now can offer more useful information to users, Gultekin announced that certain Google partners will now be able to use mark up tools to put flags in emails that will get them directly noticed by Google Now. Similarly to the way Gmail currently looks for flight numbers, package shipment confirmations and hotel reservations, select third parties can now alert Gmail to look specifically at its email and find the relevant information to then push to Google Now.
Gultekin didn't mention any specific names in relation to this initiative, but he did note that it was focused on things like flights, hotels and dinner reservations. Getting all of the major airlines and hotel chains on-board with this program could help ensure that Google Now never misses an important event surrounding travel, which is very important if people are going to trust Google Now to give them relevant information.
The entire 22 minute talk (seen above) is quite interesting if you're at all interested in Google Now, but if you want to jump ahead to the specific part where Gultekin mentions the partnerships you can find it at about the 16 minute mark. This surely won't be the only little gem that gets noticed as people wade through the hours of footage coming out of GDL at Google I/O this year.
Nexus 7 and other tablet users can now update to replace the Google Talk app
Following its announcement at Google I/O, the new Hangouts app from Google has had a bit of a rocky rollout to certain devices. Because it replaces a pre-installed system app (Google Talk), there are some complications with pushing an update that makes so many changes. When the app first hit the Play Store many users wouldn't get the option to update, especially if they were on tablets. Google has just pushed out an update today that should fix those issues, making the app compatible with tablets of all sizes.
The app's description has also been updated to note that it is aware of some compatibility issues, and that Hangouts is actually being rolled out over the course of several days. That would explain why some users that were eager to install saw some hiccups. Rest assured that as of now most devices (using Android 2.3 and up) should be good to go with an update from the Play Store directly.
1 week ago
Google Play Services gives control of Android back to Google
With API services outside of the core operating system, Google is taking back control of Android
We didn't get a new version of Android this year at Google I/O. You can read all the lamenting and gnashing of teeth over this across the web, so I'll spare you the play by play of how it was supposed to happen (a proverbial lock), but didn't.
Instead, I'll tell you a little bit about what we did get -- a huge updated version of Google's service APIs, which turns out is much better.
Wait. Better? How can an app I never wanted that got magically pushed to my phone be better than a newer, higher number in my about phone screen? That's crazy talk, right?.
Turns out, that little app is a powerful beast. Read on.
Continuous playback over notifications and more bug fixes than you can shake a stick at
Since making the move to a completely new design with Pocket Casts 4, a few lingering bugs have been piling up. Those are getting squashed today, along with a few new feature adds, with a big update to the app today. First up, the update brings the option to have playback not be interrupted by notifications, which is still set to be off by default. The sharing menu for podcasts has also received a tweak that gives you three simple options -- email, other apps, copy link -- to cut down on the interface clutter. You can now mark every episode from a certain podcast as "unplayed", and long-pressing on the "next" button will skip to the next item in a playlist.
Some of the big user-facing bugs, such as duplicate episode downloads and action bar bugs that showed extra action buttons have been notably fixed. When episode downloads fail, they now properly show up in the "not downloaded" filter once again. There are also many more back-end issues that have been fixed as well. If you haven't had a chance to see Pocket Casts in action, now may be the time -- grab a download from the Play Store link above.
1 week ago
Sony brings AOSP open-source Android to Xperia Tablet Z
Vanilla, open-source Android available for 10-inch tablet on Sony GitHub
Like the Xperia Z before it, Sony has announced that it's bringing the Xperia Tablet Z into its version of the Android Open-Source Project (AOSP). The project brings the latest vanilla Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean to the tablet, with the caveat that it's not "certified or intended for daily use," and many of the features from the shipping ROM will be missing.
You'll also need to do a bit of legwork yourself if you want to get AOSP up and running on your Xperia Tablet Z. The code is available on the Sony GitHub, just as it is for the Xperia Z, but you'll need to download and compile it yourself. So this is by no means a quick, easy fix to turn the Tablet Z into a Nexus-style device, but active development from Sony -- not to mention community developers -- could eventually make this a tablet of choice for Android hackers.
You'll find more technical details over on the official Sony blog, linked below. The Xperia Tablet Z is already available in some countries around the world. The Sony U.S. store is currently taking pre-orders, with an estimated ship date of May 24.
PCS spectrum and 420,000 U.S. Cellular customers part of deal
Sprint has announced that it's closed a deal to purchase PCS spectrum and a large number of customers from U.S. Cellular in the Midwest. As part of the deal, Sprint gets its hands on 20MHz of PCS airwaves in " various Midwest markets including Chicago, South Bend, Ind., and Champaign, Ill.," and 10MHz in St. Louis. As part of the transaction, Sprint will also inherit around 420,000 U.S. Cellular customers. That transition, Sprint's press release reveals, will last "several months."
The customers affected by the purchase have already been informed, Sprint says, and it aims to offer them a smooth transition to its own network or one of its pre-paid brands, on a "similar or better" device at "little or no cost." The additional spectrum will help Sprint boost its network in these areas, as it looks to expand its 4G LTE coverage.
£95 up-front gets you Jelly Bean on a 4-inch screen
If you were wondering just how much smartphone you can get for under £100, Vodafone UK has your answer. The Vodafone Smart III is the latest entrant in the operator's Smart line, coming with mostly vanilla Android 4.1 Jelly Bean (despite the distinctly ICS-looking search bar) on a 4-inch WVGA screen. It's powered by an unnamed 1GHz processor with 512MB of RAM, and packs 5-megapixel rear camera, so there's nothing too fancy going on under the hood. But it's an attractive enough design, and we always like to see more vanilla Android out there.
The Vodafone Smart III sells for £95 outright on PAYG, and is given away for free on contracts starting at £13 per month. The device is on sale now in black and white color options.
Available today from Samsung, $15 for pack of five tags
Samsung has announced the availability of its second-generation TecTiles tags, tiny writable NFC stickers that can be used to trigger various actions on a smartphone. For example, used with the TecTiles app, they can be programmed to check in on social networks, or toggle various settings on the device when it's within range.
TecTiles 2 are compatible with all NFC-enabled Samsung phones, and the company says they may work on other Android-based phones with NFC too, though it's making no promises. Unlike first-gen TecTiles, TecTiles 2 are fully compatible with the Samsung Galaxy S4. (Go figure.)
The tags are available today from Samsung's online store, priced at $15 for a pack of five, and they'll be starting to appear in brick-and-mortar stores from June. Hit the Google Play link above to grab the TecTiles app, or the source link below to buy the tags themselves.
Component supply issues behind it, HTC ramps up production of flagship device
Despite suffering some early setbacks due to camera component shortages, HTC is looking to ramp up production of its flagship HTC One handset. HTC North Asia president Jack Tong told Taiwan Focus that production will double in May and rise further in June to meet "strong demand." Speaking at a news conference, Tong added “We are optimistic about our high-end sales during April and June.”
Tong also highlighted the HTC Butterfly (the global version of the Droid DNA sold in Asia) as a strong performer, noting that sales had increased by as much as 50 percent since a price cut made it free on-contract in Japan. The Butterfly, Tong says, should also be getting a software update with Sense 5.0 and new features like BlinkFeed before the end of the month.
A shortage of specialized camera components resulted in shortages of HTC One stock around the phone's European launch, which had the knock-on effect of pushing back the U.S. release slightly. After a pretty dismal few months of financial results, HTC will be hoping that this increased demand for its phones will result in a stronger set of numbers in Q2.
"Growing buzz" moves up pre-order date for gaming handheld
NVIDIA has announced that it's moved up the pre-order date for its Shield handheld gaming device, due to "growing buzz" from partners in recent days. That means you can now pre-order NVIDIA Shield right now, either directly from NVIDIA or through one of its retailer partners -- Newegg, Gamestop or Canada Computers. Pre-orders are live three days ahead of the planned May 20 date.
As was announced a few days back, Shield sells for $349.99, and devices pre-ordered today should be arriving "by the end of June." Alongside the console itself, NVIDIA's also offering pre-orders on the carrying case, which costs $39.99, and carbon fiber and glossy black replacement lids, which go for $19.99 each.