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4 months ago

Allo's end-to-end encryption will be powered by Open Whisper Systems Signal Protocol


The end-to-end encryption that will be found in Google's upcoming messaging app Allo will be powered by Open Whisper Systems Signal Protocol. Conversations that are held in Incognito mode will be fully encrypted, and disappear once you exit Incognito.

Very little was said during the original announcement about how the end-to-end encryption would work, or who Google partnered with to provide the security. From Open Whisper Systems announcement:

We're excited to partner with Google on the private communication features of their new smart messaging app, Allo. We've been collaborating together on the integration of Signal Protocol into Allo, which will bring all of Signal Protocol's strong encryption properties to Allo's incognito mode.

Open Whisper Systems said it will provide further details on the integration once the app is officially available from Google later this summer.

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4 months ago

Every Android N screenshot at Google I/O shows the clock at 7:00, and you know what that means ...


Well, it doesn't necessarily mean anything. But it's still easy to guess what version number Android N will be.

You know how Google regularly teases (or sometimes trolls) the new version number of upcoming Android releases by placing the version in the clock in official screenshots? Well, Android N doesn't have an official version number yet, and at Google I/O 2016 those screenshots all have clocks pegged at 7:00.

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4 months ago

What's new in Android N ... so far [Beta 1 update]


Updated May 18, 2016, with the first release candidate build, which we're calling "Beta 1."

Android N — the next major release of the Android operating system — is in its infancy, though it's slowly gaining weight. This is our living document of what's new. There will be updates. Many updates.

The yearly cycle of Android upgrades has started early in 2016, with the first Android N Developer Preview dropping a full month and a half ahead of the annual Google I/O developer conference. That change in and of itself should be an indicator that big things are at work here, even if they're not entirely apparent at first.

And because this is Android we're talking about, it gets a little complicated. There are lots of things that go into a major new release. Open-source code drops. Device factory images. New APIs for developers. Minute features for a small subset of Android devices that, while important, will change once the mass market starts seeing updates many months from now.

There's an awful lot to take in here. This is our living document explaining it all. It will be updated as we get new releases ahead of the "final" (nothing is ever "final") public release of Android N.

Let's get to it.

What is Android 7.0 Nougat?

Every major release of Android gets a version number and a nickname. Android 6.x is "Marshmallow." Android 5.x is "Lollipop." Android 4.4 is "KitKat." And so on and so forth. (You can check out the full rundown of Android versions here.)

Next up is Android 7.0, nicknamed "Nougat."

And we have a fairly good idea for when we'll actually see Android N be released. We've been told to expect five preview builds in total, with the final public release (including the code push to the Android Open Source Project) to come in Q3 2016. That lines up with previous releases, between October and the end of the year.

That's all ancillary. What is Android N? It's a whole lot of change, from the looks of it.

Android Developer Beta

Until Android N, Developer Previews were a decidedly nerdy affair. They still are, in many respects, but they've also become much more accessible to a lot of people. And at Google I/O in May 2016, Google released a "release-candidate quality beta" of Android N.

Android developer beta programAndroid developer previews really have one goal: To give app developers (and to a different extent, hardware partners) an early look at upcoming features, and the code that powers them.

Google still keeps these previews relatively close to the vest. You have to have one of Google's "Nexus" devices to run the Developer Preview. Generally those have been limited to a scant handful of devices. This year, with Android N, we've got six. The Nexus 5X, Nexus 6, Nexus 6P phones all can run the N preview, as can the Nexus 9 and Pixel C tablets. The Sony Xperia Z3 also is supported as well. The aging Nexus Player — Google's Intel-powered media player from 2015 — also can run the N preview and is important for a few media-specific (TV-specific, actually) reasons. (And, now, the Huawei Watch and LG Watch Urbane.)

The Android Developer Beta makes it far easier to play, however. Previously you'd have to manually flash factory restore images to the supported devices. That generally involves some command-line work and SDK-type stuff — not really anything a casual user wants or needs to get involved in. But the Android Developer Program allows anyone with a supported device to opt in and receive over-the-air updates for the Android N Developer Preview. All your app data remains as it was (unless and until you opt out, in which case you'll receive a downgrade over-the-air "update" and end up with a clean device.

That's good and bad. It makes it easier for anyone with a Nexus device (and for these purposes the Pixel C fits that bill) to enter the Android Developer Beta.

Android N will make updates easier on everyone

Here's how Google puts it:

Android N also adds some important new features to help keep users safer and more secure. Inspired by how Chromebooks apply updates, we're introducing seamless updates, so that new Android devices built on N can install system updates in the background. This means that the next time a user powers up their device, new devices can automatically and seamlessly switch into the new updated system image.

Update in Beta 1: We had an inkling that Google was about to shake things up when it comes to software updates, and at Google I/O we got the full lowdown. Android devices will be able to update much in the same way as Chromebooks do, with system updates installing in the background and applying themselves after a reboot.

So what's new in Android N?

If you had to boil what a major release of Android (or any operating system) means to just a single acronym, it'd be this: APIs. That's short for Application Program Interface, and it's what allows apps to do, well, anything. There are a ton of new ones coming in Android N, and we've only gotten a small taste thus far. More should be announced as we get new preview builds.

Some, however, are more anticipated than others.

Multi-Window in Android N


This is the big one we've been waiting for. Multi-window support — that is, two apps running side by side on the same display — was hidden deep within the first Android M preview in 2015, before being unceremoniously removed in a subsequent build. It was never really meant for public consumption, nor was it ever really publicly mentioned.

That is, until Google released the Pixel C tablet in late 2015. It's a bit of an odd product with an odd 1√2 aspect ratio — the same as a standard sheet of paper. That lets you fold it in half and have the same aspect ratio — perfect for running apps side by side.

Only, the Pixel C launched without that feature. So it was pretty clear then that we'd probably see multi-window with the N release in 2016. And we now have it. And not just on tablets — it works on phones as well. This is going to be one feature that developers need to take a look at very quickly.

Multi-window will be available for phones and tablets. On the Nexus Player, apps will run picture-in-picture. And Google says "manufacturers of larger devices" (note that it doesn't say tablets or TVs or what) will have access to a "freeform" mode that lets the user scale apps however they want in addition to side-by-side multi-window.

Direct reply notifications and bundled notifications

Stacked notifications in Android NWe've been able to interact with notifications for a good long while now. Not every app supports this, but look at Gmail as an early example. Pull down the notification, and archive an email without actually having to open it. Brilliant.

Google Hangouts took this a step further, allowing you to reply to messages right from the notification try, without having to open the app, or the message itself. It's slick.

You'll now be able to have bundled notifications. Or, rather, better bundled notifications. Think off it as more information in one place. Have a half-dozen emails come in through Gmail? You'll be able to see more subject lines at one time in the notification area.

Projects Doze and Svelte

Two major features from the past year are Doze and Svelte. The former has to do with all but shutting down your phone when it's not in use, allowing minimal communications to come through and maximizing battery life when the phone was at rest and not plugged. In Android N, it gets smarter, saving even more battery when the screen is merely off. That's a big deal.

Also a big deal is even better memory management and power consumption as part of Project Svelte. The short version here is that apps shouldn't wake up as often when a change in network connectivity occurs. If you've got a lot of apps that use the particular broadcast receiver in question (and you almost certainly do), then this will help a lot. The catch here is that the app has to be updated for these Android N features for them to work.

More widespread is that Google is reining in how apps interact with the camera. Instead of every app that hooks into the camera waking up any time the camera fires off for a picture or video, they'll stay dormant. That's a good fix, and it applies to any application, not just one that targets Android N.

Android N display size

New accessibility features

Android N includes a new screen zoom feature as part of the accessibility suite. It appears to be pretty straightforward, making everything on the screen larger and easier to see. There are some behind the scenes things added in N to help with this.

Equally important is that you'll see accessibility features — specifically magnification gesture, font size, display size and TalkBack — available during the initial setup process. That's a really good change.

Android For Work

There are a lot of changes coming to Android For Work in Android N. This is Google's system for allowing a company to have some control over your work phone.

One big change is that companies will be able to provision phones for Android for Work by simply scanning a QR code. Here's a quick rundown of other new Android for Work features that may be coming to a work device near you:

  • You might see a security challenge when trying to open a work-controlled application.
  • New rules for password policies — different required password lengths, for example.
  • Apps can be temporarily suspended. (We warned you that you were spending too much time on Facebook.)
  • A work profile could force a VPN connection, which would fire up when the device boots.
  • Better integration of work and personal contacts, if permitted.
  • Devices can be remotely rebooted — useful if you have, say, a tablet tucked in some sort of kiosk housing where the power button isn't accessible.
  • Better device activity logging to keep an eye out for nefarious actors. Like Stephen Dorff.
  • Disabling of location functions for work apps while still allowing them for personal apps.
  • Custom lock screen messages. "Think different." Or something like that.
  • And other little things like locking down the wallpaper and user icon.

So, a lot of stuff that you might or might not ever see. But it's still cool to have available for businesses.

Data saver

Data Saver in Android NNot everybody wants to churn through their data plan just as fast as possible. Android N adds a new tool in settings to help with this. When you turn the Data Saver feature on in settings, "the system blocks background data usage and signals apps to use less data in the foreground wherever possible." You'll be able to whitelist any apps you want to ignore the Data Saver setting.

But Data Saver only kicks in when you're on a "metered" connection, and your Android device generally is smart enough to tell when this is. A mobile network is the obvious example here, but there can be metered Wi-Fi networks as well (as set by the DHCP lease).

In addition to living the in settings, Data Saver gets a notification icon and can be toggled in quick-settings.

Update in Beta 1: Starting in Developer Preview 3, apps can use use an intent to display a system dialog that lets the user directly add the app to the Data Saver exemption whitelist.

Direct boot

This splits things into two groups when you first power up your phone. One group is able to do things before you unlock the device. Apps like SMS messages and alarm clocks and accessibility features may need to use this.

Anything else gets siloed off in a separate storage area until the device is unlocked. That's a very cool preview feature.

Language and locale

This one gets to be a little confusing for those of use who only do English, but Android N is making languages and locations a good bit smarter, particularly for app developers. Say your device is set to the Swiss version of French, but an app only contains a different regionalization of French. Previously it would fail over to, say, an English default — without actually knowing (or caring) if the user understands English.

Now it'll be smarter about things and look for similar regionalization before running back to the default language.

As a bonus, the Google Keyboard for Android N is completely themable. You can even use your own background picture.

Scoped directories tighten access to storage

This is pretty cool. Previously if an application needed access to a storage folder beyond its own data folder, you'd have to grant it a pretty sweeping permission — reading or writing to all of external storage.

Scoped directories tightens things up both from a security standpoint as well as a matter of organization. If an app always (and only) needs access to your pictures, this new API makes it so the app only gets access to the Pictures folder and not the whole smash. It's neater, and it's safer.

Picture-in-picture and TV recording

Android N picture-in-picture Android TV is getting smarter. If you've got a Nexus Player (or eventually something like a NVIDIA Shield TV) you'll be able to watch video picture-in-picture as you use other applications. So you can watch Hungry Shark Evolution videos while you're playing Hungry Shark Evolution, for example. (That's pretty hard-core.)

The PIP window opens at 240x135 in a corner of the screen determined by the system. (It'll be smart about what else is drawn on the screen.) Users will have access to a menu (via holding down the Home button) that allows the PIP video to be expanded to full screen, or closed. If another video starts playing on the main display, the PIP window will close.

Android TV also is gaining some proper TV recording features. (This will be good if you have a television with Android TV baked in.) You already can pause and rewind channel playback. But in N you'll be able to save more than one session. That allows you to schedule recordings or hit record as you start watching — basic DVR functionality, really.

Update for Beta 1: In addition to all that, at Google I/O it was announced that HDR mode in 4K sets would be supported. Also, PIP features could well be baked into devices other than televisions.

Edging toward Java 8

With Android N, Google is bringing support for new Java 8 features to Android. Using the open-source Java Android Compiler Kit — JACK for short — Google allows developers to use native Java features while building applications.

This means developers won't need to write as much support code — known as "boilerplate" code — when they want to do things like create events that listen for input. Some of the features will be supported back to Gingerbread when using JACK, while others are going to be strictly Android N and above.

Maybe the best news is that Google says they are going to monitor the evolution of Java more closely and support new features while doing everything they can to maintain backwards-compatibility. These are things that the folks building the apps that make Android great love to hear.

Faster reboots after updates

Ever get excited about an over-the-air system update, only to have it take close to an hour to install? That's going to change in Android N. Google is adding a Just In Time compiler to the Android Runtime (you'll recall that the old Dalvik Runtime also had JIT) to "constantly improve the performance of Android apps as they run." This will work alongside the Ahead of Time compiler that's already part of ART.

This means better RAM management (great for lower-end devices) — and also means faster app installations, and faster reboots after system updates because apps may not have to be optimized again.

Smarter quick settings

Google's tweaking quick settings in Android N. As we found out in the first preview, swiping left or right allows for more quick settings without taking up additional space. Developers also will be able to add their own quick settings tiles. And users will be able to move the position of the individual quick settings, as well as which ones appear.

All that said — there are few major phones outside of Google's Nexus line that use these default quick settings.

New in Developer Preview 2

Vulkan graphics APIs

The Samsung Galaxy S7 was one of the first Android devices to support the new Vulkan gaming APIs (and NVIDIA's Shield Tablet just got it, too), and so it's not a huge surprise to see them make their way into the next major version of Android. (The API was only introduced in early 2016 anyway.) Why Vulkan? Because it'll allow better graphics performance without taxing the CPU — never mind the GPU. Applications will be able to tap into Vulkan directly, and not through drivers, which is a good thing.

More: What the Vulkan APIs mean for Android

New launcher shortcuts are removed

Update in Beta 1: Google has decided to remove the Launcher Shortcuts feature that would have allowed apps to have multiple actions on the home screen.

Here's the deal:

We've decided to defer this feature to a future release of Android. We plan to remove the Launcher Shortcuts APIs (ShortcutManager and others) from the public Android N API starting in the next developer preview.

Originally, Launcher shortcuts would have allowed applications to give specific (and multiple) options for launchers. For instance: The Android Central app could have given the option to open straight to the forums instead of the blog roll. Or directly to the podcast page. Or wallpapers. Launchers will be expected to support three to five shortcuts per app, Google says.

Google described it as:

Your app can create up to five dynamic shortcuts. When users perform a gesture over your app's launcher icon, these shortcuts appear. By dragging the shortcuts onto the launcher, users can make persistent copies of the shortcuts, called pinned shortcuts. Users can create an unlimited number of pinned shortcuts for each app.

But, we'll just have to wait.

New emoji

Android N emoji

Good news, everyone! You're getting new emoji in Android N. These will be based off Unicode 9, and will look more like people and less like yellow, muppety blobs. (This includes things like bacon, facepalms and different skin tones.)

The bad news? Stock Android devices (and their emoji) make up a small percentage of the total number of Android devices out in the world. So maybe you'll see these. And maybe you won't.

Keeping a Developer Preview in context

We're going through a lot of features as we see them on Nexus devices running the Android N Developer Preview. And while this is important (and fun!) if you're dabbling in the Developer Preview, it's also important to keep things in context.

The first thing to know is that things are going to change. Developer Previews are like that. None of this is final yet.

Second is that we need to remember that the public release of Android N is still a ways off. Months. August at the earliest, most likely.

Third is that just because Android N code becomes public doesn't meant that you're going to see an update any time soon. Unless you're on a Nexus device, that is. For everyone else, the usual rules still apply. Manufacturers do their thing to the code, carriers sign off on it, and updates eventually trickle out. As we pointed out, Android N very much appears to be laying the foundation to streamline this process. But that's still a good ways off in the future, and your device will still have to be updated to N first.

And we still have absolutely no idea what Android N features the manufacturers will be required to use. Some — Motorola, for example, and HTC more recently — keep their user interface more in line with Google's vision and what you'll find on Nexus devices. Others — Samsung, LG, Sony, etc. — do more custom work on their own, for better or worse.

The point is that any examples of Android N features that you see on Nexus devices might well not look or behave the same on your device when it eventually gets Android N.

In other words, we all need patience here. It's exciting, but this is not end-user stuff. The Android N Developer Preview is for developers.

Webview geolocation goes secure

New in Beta 1: Says Google: Starting with apps targeting Android N, the geolocation API will only be allowed on secure origins (over HTTPS.) This policy is designed to protect users' private information when they're using an insecure connection.

Android Wear gets its own N beta

<a href="name="wear">Nexus devices aren't the only ones that can play in the N beta pool. If you have an LG Watch Urbane or Huawei Watch, you can download and install the Android Wear 2.0 beta, which is based on Android N.

With it you'll get options for watch face complications, new navigation and action drawers, expanded notifications and inputs, smart replies, remote input — and standalone apps that no longer require a phone at all.

We took a quick look at the beta at Google I/O.

And you can find more and download the betas here.

Cool Nexus stuff you need to know

All those previous disclaimers aside, there's a lot of fun and exciting stuff to be found on Android N on Nexus devices. And we're working our way through them. This updated list rounds things up nicely.


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4 months ago

You'll soon be able to use Android Pay in more apps and on the mobile web


Android Pay has only recently expanded to the UK, but Google has no intention of slowing down on its burgeoning contactless payment solution.

Starting today, the company will make its in-app payments API available to everyone, a considerable expansion compared to the small number of partners it began with when the feature launched last December. In addition to apps like Uber, Lyft, OpenTable, Wish, and Fancy, any app that has an e-commerce element will be able to tap into securely stored credits cards on compatible smartphones — in countries that support it.

Perhaps more interesting, though, is the expansion of Android Pay's in-app purchase workflow to the mobile web. Developed in conjunction with the Chrome team, a new experience will allow merchants to quickly integrate e-commerce solutions on mobile web pages that leverage the necessary hardware — in particular, fingerprint sensors — to complete transactions on web pages without having to manually enter credit card numbers, shipping and billing information, and more.

During a session at Google I/O, Pali Bhat, Senior Director of Product Management at Google, demoed the new feature, which optimizes payment experiences on a smartphone — app or no app — with the same workflow. While Android Pay was initially envisioned as a solution for contactless in-store payments utilizing popular standards such as tokenization and dynamic transport schemes, it has since expanded to be a full-scale payments platform, allowing anyone with a Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover card to potentially leave their plastic at home.

And while Google already announced loyalty integration with Android Pay, it has now gone one step further, working with popular drug store Walgreens to facilitate loyalty signup, in addition to collection and redemption. Walgreens can merely send an email or SMS, or use an NFC-based reader in-store, to quickly sign a customer to a points program and begin collecting.

Finally, Bhat demoed a new feature with Android Pay in the UK, working with Transport for London (TfL) to not only replace existing Oyster payment cards with a phone, but track when a rider has tapped on and off. If a customer forgets to tap off, he or she will receive a notification with a reminder to tap off or risk having to pay the maximum fare.

While none of the Android Pay announces are on their own particularly exciting, they represent a new phase for digital wallets where payments alone are no longer the crux of the experience. From loyalty to convenience, the ability to replace an increasing number of physical cards, payment or otherwise, with digital equivalents, reducing the number of total actions in the process, is the incentive people need to leave their wallets at home — for good.

More: Google I/O 2016 coverage

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4 months ago

You can now pre-register for Google's new Allo + Duo messenger apps [update]

Allo Duo

Allo and Duo aren't available yet, but you can now pre-register for Google's new messaging apps.

Update: The pre-register links are working again.

Allo, Google's new messenger app that brings in the intelligence of Google Assistant, was one of the highlights of today's Google I/O keynote. Together with Duo, the new video calling app, they represent the next step for Google's messaging efforts. And although they're not yet available, you can now sign up to receive a notification when they do lad.

"Pre-registration" pages for the apps have appeared on the Google Play Store following the keynote. Tap the button and Google explains how it all works:

"You're about to pre-register for Allo by Google. Pre-registering means that you will receive a notification on your device when the app is released. You can unregister by clicking the 'Unregister' button."

Allo and Duo are set to launch later this summer.

Source: Google Play (Allo) (Duo)

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4 months ago

Developers can now track and respond to Google Play reviews through Zendesk


Customer service platform Zendesk has announced it is taking advantage of new Google Play integration to help developers and companies more easily track and respond to app reviews.

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4 months ago

Google Play Services 9.0 includes new video recording API and more


Google Play Services 9.0 has just been released for Android app developers. It includes a new API that allows app makers to add video recording and more.

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4 months ago

Google will make discovering beta apps easier with Google Play Early Access


Open beta programs for apps on Google Play have been around for a while now, but Google is now taking steps to make finding and participating in those programs even easier.

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4 months ago

New Play Console app gives Android developers instant access to the data they need


Google has released the new Play Console app in the Google Play Store, giving Android app developers a new way to instantly access the app critical app data on the go.

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4 months ago

Google's revamped Firebase will offer better tools for mobile developers


During today's Google I/O 2016 keynote, the company offered details on the new version of Firebase, which will offer better tools for mobile developers.

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4 months ago

50 million Google Cardboard VR apps have been installed so far


During today's Google I/O 2016 keynote, the company announced that 50 million Google Cardboard apps have been installed so far for virtual reality experiences

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4 months ago

Google hopes to make video calling magical with Duo


Google continued its emphasis on communication today at Google I/O 2016 with the introduction of Duo, a new video calling app, and a companion to the Allo chat application. Duo, which will be available for both Android and iOS, hopes to provide a better video calling experience for everyone.

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4 months ago

Allo is Google's new, insanely smart messaging app that learns over time


Google has announced a new smart messaging app, Allo. The app is based on your phone number, and it will continue to learn from you over time, making it smarter each day. In addition to this, you can add more emotion to your messages, in ways that you couldn't before. You will be able to "whisper" or "shout" your message, and the font size will change depending on which you select. This is accomplished by pressing the send button and dragging up or down to change the level of emotion.

You'll also be able to draw on your photos before you send them with the Ink feature, add stickers and emoji and much more. Taking a page out of its success with Inbox, Allo will also have Smart Reply built right in. You can use emoji in the Smart Reply, and it will also work when people send you pictures. For example, if you receive a picture of a dog, the replies that will pop up are related to the dog.

Assistant Integration

Google will be building its new Assistant feature right into Allo as well. For example, if you are talking with a friend about Italian food, you get a suggestion that you can tap to display to everyone in the message thread to help decide on a restaurant. Once you all agree on a place, Google Assistant will help you book a table through OpenTable right from within the messaging thread. Being conversational, all of the members are sending messages to the Google Assistant like they are talking with another human.

You'll be able to call on the Assistant at any time during a conversation by simply typing "@google" and then your query. For example, you can type "@google funny cat pics" and then get responses right in the chat. These chats can take place in group form, or one-on-one with just the Assistant.

Bored and want to play a game? Well, Assistant can help you with that as well. There is an emoji game that gives you various emoji and you have to pick what they translate into. Developers will be able to create and submit games that the Assistant can play with others.

Incognito Mode

Understanding that you don't always want everything to be seen by everyone, Allo will also offer an Incognito mode like it does in Chrome. This provides end-to-end encryption, time-deleted messages and the ability to hide the sender and receiver details. As soon as you close the Incognito mode, everything that you did will disappear, like it never happened.

Allo will be available on both iOS and Android later this summer.

More: Google I/O 2016 coverage

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4 months ago

Google Photos now has 200 million monthly active users


During today's Google I/O 2016 keynote, the company announced that Google Photos now has 200 million monthly active users

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4 months ago

SwiftKey is testing a keyboard that'll help you pick the perfect emoji


SwiftKey is currently beta testing a new Android keyboard called Swiftmoji. It is designed to predict which emojis should be used in texts based on its prediction engine.

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