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4 months ago

Gmail for desktop now lets you stream video attachments

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You no longer have to download video attachments to view them.

If you've ever received a video attachment in Gmail, the only option was to download the file to view it. That's changing today, as Google is now rolling out the option to stream video attachments from the Gmail desktop client.

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4 months ago

Google has ANOTHER new messaging app, because of course it does

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I kind of like this better than Allo, not gonna lie.

The guttural moan that escaped my face hole when I saw a new messaging app from Google in the Play Store, entirely separate from Allo and Duo and Hangouts and Google Voice and everything else Google has elsewhere, was enough to send my dog running from the room. Can we get 10 minutes where Google seems focused on delivering a single cohesive messaging experience to its users please? Do we really need another app for talking to people with Google accounts?

It turns out, the answer is yes. I fully expected to hate this experience and spend the next 500 words giving Google hell for wasting everyone's time, but I'm pretty sure this is actually something I'm going to love using with my friends.

It's called Supersonic, and it's not technically a Google app. In its current form, it'll never be a part of the core Google experience. The app itself is under the publishing name Area 120, because it's the creation of Google employees inside of an internal incubator program for building new and exciting apps. At its core, Supersonic is a walkie-talkie style voice chat app for your friends. You hold down the mic, speak, and the message is transcribed to text with a voice recording attached.

This is where things get kind of interesting. If you're actively chatting with a friend, those messages arrive in real-time and the voice autoplays as though you're on speakerphone with them. This means you can either send a quick message to be read later, or have a quick nearly real-time chat without a constant voice connection. It's less data being used, and if you're in a noisy place you can read instead of listen. You can also message in a group, which can be especially handy when you have chatty friends and are sick to death of Facebook Messenger.

This app will let me chat in a slightly more personal way with my closest friends

It also helps that the text translation is real time and remarkably accurate, given some of the Google text hilarity we've seen in the past. Part of the text transcription includes converting some of your words to emoji, which is either deeply frustrating or incredibly cool depending on your age. If you like this feature, and would like more emoji, the app allows you to submit phrase translations you'd like to see in the future.

While having another messaging app on my phone is the absolute last thing I wanted right now, I'm going to keep using Supersonic for a bit. Unlike Allo, I don't have to give a phone number. Supersonic isn't limited to a number of devices, and I don't have to import my whole Hangouts list if I don't want to. This app lets me chat in a slightly more personal way with my closest friends, and while that would be a nice thing to see built into one of my existing apps at some point this is actually kinda nice.

Check out Supersonic on Google Play

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4 months ago

Starbucks finally launches its mobile app in India

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You can now pay for your favorite beverages right from your phone.

Starbucks has rolled out its mobile app in India, allowing you to quickly see your rewards and pay using your linked Starbucks card. You have the option of managing all the cards linked to your account, adding funds to your card, and paying for coffee and other items with your phone by scanning a barcode.

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4 months ago

WhatsApp brings back the classic Status feature after complaints about the new one

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WhatsApp is now calling status update About because Stories is actually Status. Got all that?

The new About feature is actually the old Status feature.

If you're a WhatsApp veteran you'll know that until recently the service used the passive and often unwieldy (but extremely popular) status update to give friends and family an idea of what its users were up to. That changed with the proliferating Snapchatification of all of Facebook's properties when WhatsApp added a new Status, lifting Stories straight from the popular ephemeral messaging platform.

But after considerable pushback, WhatsApp has announced that it is adding the original status update back, calling it 'About', since Status is already taken. Beta users can access the new About feature through Settings —> Profile, which will then show in the chat window just as it did before. The feature is meant to live alongside Stories Status, and only happened because thousands of people submitted complaints to the company.

Despite the complaints, WhatsApp continues to be one of the most popular messaging apps in the world, with over 1.2 billion people using it every month.

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4 months ago

Google Family Link finally brings broad parental controls to Android phones

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Parents will soon have new tools to manage their child's phone access.

Google is making a huge step toward letting families manage Google accounts and phones of children in the house, moving well beyond Google Play Family Library. Family Link is Google's new system for parents to create Google accounts for minors (under 13 years old, officially) who technically can't have their own accounts, and when attached to an Android phone the parents get all sorts of great tools to manage their use.

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4 months ago

There's reason to be skeptical of Samsung's new 'commitment' to monthly security updates

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A generic form response from Samsung's 'security team' does not mean what you think it means.

Building on the frustration of the U.S. unlocked Galaxy S7 still not having Nougat while other models are updated, a story is swirling this week about Samsung Mobile Security saying in an email that it will "commit" to updates every month for unlocked phones. As great as it would be, there's plenty of reason to be skeptical about the possibilities of Samsung flipping the switch to a full-on commitment to release these updates monthly — even for a single device in a single country.

Going back as far as August 2015, Samsung has made a commitment to streamlining the security patch update process, going so far as to list devices that would receive the updates and start surfacing the patch level in its software. We were rightfully excited back in 2015 — then everyone forgot about it as things got back to normal and various phones and tablets skipped patches for months at a time.

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4 months ago

Google I/O 2017 preview: Everything you need to know about Google's dev conference

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What we expect to see from this year's Google I/O.

Google I/O 2017 will be here before you know it. Everyone's involved: Google itself, presenters, hardware partners, and anyone else who will make the three-day event awesome is busy getting ready. We're going to have fun and learn stuff. That's the perfect combo.

Last year's Google I/O had some logistics problems that shouldn't return in 2017.

2017's I/O is going to be at Mountain View's Shoreline Amphitheatre like it was in 2016. That caused a few, ahem, difficulties last year and we learned that even Google is unable to control the weather and figure out you need more than 50 chairs to seat 200 people. I'm sure they did a good bit of post op and think they have a better handle on things this year. I know we do and we're already talking about how we can do our jobs better at this type of event.

Of course, the most important things to come out of Google I/O will be seeing the direction Google's products will be taking for the year. We typically see several announcements that have everyone shifting gears and trying something new, but most of Google's products are mature and won't see any major changes on the user-facing side. When the event is over, some will be excited and some will be disappointed, so it will be the same as every year on that front. But make no mistake; Google will be pushing Android and Chrome forward while they chase the next billion users.

Android O

By Evan-Amos - Public Domain

There's no way Google can get through the week without saying something about the next version of Android.

I expect to see some early demos on the big screen, as well as just enough information about what's changing to get developer interest piqued. But we're not going to be flying home from the Bay playing with any type of beta software.

Expect Google to announce Android O without giving it a name, announce a beta program without giving it a date, and announce that it will be the best Android version yet. It's early in the year so all we really need is a good bit of hyperbole.

Security

There is so much misinformation being spread around (much of it on purpose) about phone hacking that Google almost has to address this area.

Expect Google to affirm that the encryption methods used to secure your data inside Android haven't been cracked by anyone no matter what any ex-pats may say on Twitter. But they will recognize the threat we're seeing from leaked documents and how the focus has changed. A shift from widespread surveillance then pouring through it all has moved to targeted methods to attempt to gather intel one phone at a time. That's a very big challenge for Google, Apple, and Microsoft to tackle and will mean some changes have to come.

Now would be a good time to encrypt Gmail from end to end, Google.

VR

Daydream is just the beginning. Google needed to make VR inexpensive and comfortable before they could take the next step and we're already seeing enormous amounts of work from the Android and Chromium teams when it comes to VR and AR.

Strap yourself in because VR is going to be bigger than ever.

We can say with confidence that Google wants to be able to bring rich mixed reality content to your eyeballs via the web, on every screen you own. How they plan to do this is still a mystery, but the first steps — a VR web experience through Chrome for Android — are already in place. More importantly, developer tools that make it easier to build a VR web are a priority and alliances, like the Khronos Group, are making the technology ready for content.

The success of products like the HTC Vive and PlayStation VR mean that the market for people who won't or can't spend that much money is super important. Google and Facebook and Samsung and Oculus all competing to try and outdo each other is great news for us.

You'll be able to get your fix for everything VR from Google I/O both here at Android Central and VRHeads, so you won't miss a thing!

Google in your house

Google has been thirsty to get into our living room for years. The combination of Chromecast, Google Home, and Android TV give them the best shot of doing it that they've had.

Google knows the edge they have when it comes to Assistant. It's part of an internet writer's job to remind you that Alexa can do 11 more things than Assistant right now, but that's the tiny picture. Google has a mountain of your data. When combined with the mountains of data from everyone else, they have the most difficult part of training an AI system to be smart. They just have to figure out how to present it while it's learning so we want to keep using it. Amazon doesn't have this, but Facebook does and they will soon make their play in the same space. Google needs to be one step ahead here.

One of the bigger pieces of the puzzle that often gets overlooked is Android TV. With Nougat, Android TV has most everything it needs to become (and replace) your cable box and DVR. Potential changes planned with Android O could fill in the rest and the right hardware partner could mean Google is at your cable company, too. Google routers and TV boxes can provide everything we want from an entertainment package and Google gets more of that precious data they need to survive.

Android Wear

Google was very smart in how they handled the Android Wear 2.0 update and it reminds us that they are serious about wearables, even if we don't get news on them every day.

Wear 2.0 took the best ideas about how computing on your wrist can be done and implemented them without adding extra cruft to a system designed for very limited hardware. From first experiences, it looks like they were successful and Wear 2.0 is part of what it will take to make smart watches compelling again.

Wear 2.0 is good enough to make us want smartwatches again and Google is going to make sure we know it.

What's missing (and what we saw from Apple) is the right fitness partner. Names like Nike can make a platform mainstream as long as the initial release is good enough to get people to buy the next release. Any new platform, whether it be on your wrist, on your TV or in your car, is instantly caught in the worst Catch-22 situation available: Content is needed to attract buyers and buyers are needed to attract content creators.

We know companies like LG can make the hardware and Android Wear can power it all. Now Google needs to make sure everyone else knows and some big news for wearables at their annual developer conference would be a smart way to get started.

The Web

Google has some amazing products and projects for use on the web in general. Some we use every day and others that we only know the buzzwords surrounding them. And plenty of others we don't know about at all.

Besides the obligatory news and improvements for advertisers and analytics (someone has to make all the money so everyone else can have some fun), we might get to hear some really cool stuff about Tensorflow and deep learning. And there's a lot there to talk about, covering a wide range of spaces like cancer research, cars that drive themselves, or even something as mundane as finding files on your Google Drive faster.

The Cloud is a platform and Google knows it. And it will take everything Google can do to wrest it away from Amazon and Microsoft.

These and other web technologies Google has at work all mix into another area where google would love to get a stronger hold — Internet As A Service. Amazon and Microsoft have a tight grip on the market because they offer great products and services. Google has great products and services of their own and as they further develop and work together, we'll see more and more ways Google can provide what a business needs for data services.

There is a lot of money to be made here. Like every company, Google wants their chunk of it.

Everything else

Every department at Google will have something worth seeing and hearing about at Google I/O. Hearing about some of them, like Android and Chrome, is a given, but there will certainly be a surprise or two. Last year, Firebase came out of nowhere (not really, but tech press wasn't ready) and stole the show with the way it makes everything easier for people developing for the future.

Who knows what this year's sleeper hit might be? That's anyone's guess, but you can bet that we'll be itching to talk about everything we get to see at Google I/O 2017.

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4 months ago

Best March Madness apps for Android 2017

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The NCAA Tournament is in full swing. These apps will help you keep up with your bracket.

Game on. The 2017 NCAA Tournament (that's college men's basketball, in case you're not into such things) is underway. That means countless work hours lost over the next couple weeks, but specifically in these early days as we all pore over our brackets, hoping to avoid the bust and advance to the next round.

Sadly, we don't all have televisions in our offices. But seeing as how this is 2017, there's more than one way to keep up with the tourney. A trusty web browser is one, of course. But you're on the go. That's where these handy Android apps come in.

Updated March 2017: We've updated our favorites for following this year's big dance.

The Score

theScore

theScore is a longtime sports staple on Android. Follow leagues, teams and even individual players. You'll get real time updates on scores, stats and news, and the ability to fine tune and personalize that feed. It's got a dedicated tournament section, with a smartly designed sort of bracket that's using Android design guidelines instead of the sort of pan-and-zoom thing you'll find elsewhere. It's really well done.

The app is ad-supported, but it's also one of those apps that can very well stick around once you try it. So try it.

Download theScore (free)

NCAA March Madness Live

NCAA March Madness Live

This one's the official app from the folks putting on the tournament, so you know it's good. It's also very much sponsored by AT&T, Capital One and Infiniti, so you'll be subjected to ads from those three throughout. But if you've got a cable subscription this is a great way to watch all the games live.

And with Chromecast support built in, you can stream to a larger TV or monitor if you're not in the same room as your cable box. Plus there are scores, info on every team in the tourney, and the ability to keep up with your bracket, at least until it gets busted. There's are also radio broadcasts of each game, and video highlights so that you can keep up on every moment.

Download NCAA March Madness Live (free)

ESPN Tournament Challenge

ESPN Tournament Challenge

This one's less about following the tournament and more about a bracket challenge. Specifically, if you're playing with ESPN's brackets. (If you're not, just move on.) You can follow up to 25 brackets and get alerts on the latest news. You also get access to Bracketcast which allows you to see how upsets or underdogs have affected your own brackets. Following scores is fairly simply, but the app also is (unsurprisingly) pretty ad-heavy. Again, if you're not actually doing ESPN's bracket challenge, no need to stop here.

Download ESPN Tournament Challenge (free)

CBS Sports

CBS Sports

CBS consistently has had some of the best sports apps out there, and that continues this year with the latest iteration of the CBS Sports app. At launch you'll be asked if you want to use location services to follow local (or regional) teams. Do or do not, there is no try. You also can designate specific teams in any of the sports that you want to give special attention to.

From there, it's all sports, all the time. That means you'll see other events lumped with the basketball games. Just duck into the drawer on the left for quick links to scores and news, the full brackets, and expert pics. (And CBS has added the NIT tournament for good measure.) You also get Chromecast support, live streaming radio, and personalized alerts for the news stories that you don't want to miss.

If you're looking for a really good all-around sports app, this is one to have.

Download CBS Sports (free)

Google Now

Google Now

Don't wanna go through any of that? Just ask your phone. "Show me NCAA basketball tournament scores" will pull up the recent games in Google Now. No having to install and wade through any other apps than that. It's quick, it's easy, and it's probably already on your phone.

Download Google (free)

Your turn

Those are still our favorite picks. Did we miss something that's worth checking out? Let us know in the comments. And may your bracket live beyond the weekend.

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4 months ago

Best photography apps for Android

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Pixel XL using Lightroom Mobile

The best camera is the one you have with you, and for most of us that means our go-to gadget for taking pictures is our smartphone.

Choosing a phone with a great camera is only part of the equation, though. The apps you use with it — and after the fact, by enhancing your photos — are equally important.

Here, as part of our series on Android photography, we present some of our top picks for taking great photos on your Android phone, making them even better, and sharing them with the world.

Google Photos

Google Photos

Google Photos is probably the best overall photo app on Android. You can automatically backup your photos and videos to Google's cloud, making them available on every device you own — including the web — and view highlights of each day, so you don't need to scroll through all your photos to find the best ones. This means that for folks who don't have a ton of storage on their phone, they can ensure that a photo is never lost or deleted accidentally. And because Photos has unlimited storage, you can feel safe deleting pics from your phone to free up that space.

One of Google Photos' best features is Auto Awesome. Take a bunch of photos and it'll periodically "gift" you enhanced versions of them to sit alongside the originals in your collections — think animated GIFs if you've taken a burst shot, Instagram-style filters and contrast-boosted versions of washed-out shots. Take a series of images from different perspectives and you might even end up with an auto-generated Panorama based on these pics.

Google Photos is full of great features to make storing and accessing your photos easier than ever

The Auto Awesome feature also lets you create video highlights reels based on a series of images and videos. And if you're going on vacation, Photos can sort your images and videos into a chronological story book of your trip, ideal for sharing on social networks. Photos even includes some of Snapseed's photo editing and filtering capabilities through its "edit" button, which is useful if you just want to tweak your shots or add filters without downloading a separate app.

Download: Google Photos

Instagram

Instagram

Instagram is the original filtered photo-sharing app, now owned by Facebook and pretty much synonymous with smartphone photography. It's also come a long, long, long, way since it was first introduced to users. They've added some excellent features that make sharing photos, and videos, an easier and more enjoyable process.

Instagram is pretty much synonymous with mobile photography.

New filters are being added all the time, and for the most part they do a good job of giving photos character without stomping all over them. In addition to controlling lux and the level of filtering, you can tweak photos' color temperatures, adjust highlight and shadow brightness, add a vignette, sharpen and even introduce tilt-shift effects. There is also video integration, so that you can take and share videos with your followers, and if you have a particular photo or video you want all of your followers to see, you can add it to your story as a pinned post of sorts. Of course, there's also Stories, a Snapchat clone that has proven an extremely popular way to share snippets of your day — if you're into that.

And from there, share to your timeline, or directly to specific people. Naturally, there's integration with Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Foursquare, too.

Download: Instagram

VSCO Cam

VSCO

Popular on iOS before making its way to Android, VSCO Cam aims to be your one-stop shop for photography and image editing on your Android phone. VSCO lets you capture images, tweak and tune them to your liking, sync them across devices and share them with the world. You can even discover the best original photography from other VSCO users through the Grid feature.

Like the rest of VSCO, the built-in camera app is relatively simple, offering basic controls including grid lines and flash toggles. When it comes time to enhance your photo, the app brings an assortment of filters to the table, along with the option to buy even more through in-app purchases. That's on top of the usual combination of dials to adjust brightness, contrast, saturation and other properties. There is also the ability to copy/paste batch photo editing as well.

VSCO has a fairly minimalist look when scrolling through photos that others have posted, showing you only the photo and the username of the photographer. This minimalism also translated over to the camera and editing functions. This makes it easier to concentrate on what you're working on without lots of extraneous things getting in your way.

Download: VSCO Cam

Snapseed

Snapseed

Google's Snapseed is one of the most accessible photo editing apps for Android, with a wide range of features for experienced users and newcomers alike. At its most basic level, Snapseed lets you scroll vertically through image enhancement options, then drag horizontally to control the intensity of the effect.

The range of features is pretty diverse: everything from basic automatic color and contrast enhancement to cropping and sharpening, to selectively adjusting color properties within a particular radius. And of course it wouldn't be a photo editing app without the obligatory filters and frames, which are controlled by swiping, just like Snapseed's image tuning features.

If you're after a photo editing app that's powerful yet simple to learn, Snapseed strikes a great balance between the two.

Download: Snapseed

Open Camera

Open Camera

Open Camera is a great option for anyone who isn't really a fan of the camera baked into their phone. This app is completely free, updated somewhat regularly, and absolutely bursting at the seams with features. It's also completely open source which is something that may perk your ears up.

It offers photo stabilization, taking photos remotely by using a command word or signal, GPS tagging, and so much more. Open Camera has just about any feature you can think of, and aims to be your one stop shop for taking photographs. You can also use it to record in HD, although users with some phones may find issues with audio not syncing up properly. Best of all you have access to manual settings for focus, ISO and exposure time. If you like having all the features, then this may be the app for you.

Download: Open Camera

PicsArt Photo Studio and Collage

PicsArt

PicsArt is its own tiny social media network that includes a robust photo editor. Of course it includes the usual tools, allowing you to adjust white balance, tone, cropping, and more. PicsArt goes a big step further though. You can purchase sticker packs to adorn your photos, add adjustable lens flares, access to filters, and even use what it calls 'magic' to apply Prisma-like features to transform your photos.

While some of the cooler features do require in-app purchases in order to use them, you still get tons of fun stuff to edit and share your photos with friends. When you're done editing your app you can save the photo privately, or share it on PicsArt. You can also make the photo free to edit, if you want to let strangers tweak your photos into something strange and new.

Download: PicsArt

Lightroom

Lightroom Moble

Lightroom is the photo editing software from Adobe Creative Cloud, and now it's available on Android. If you don't already have a Creative Cloud account, you can try out the trial version of Lightroom for free, but if you already pay for the service, all you need to do is sign into your account and you'll be good to go. Using Lightroom Mobile can take a few minutes to get used to, but after you figure out where everything is, it's a breeze to edit your photos wherever you are.

Lightroom Mobile also lets you take photos using the app

You're able to add photos to Lightroom so long as it's a photo saved on your phone. Once you've imported the photo that needs adjusting, just tap on it an the editing menu will open up. At the bottom of the screen you'll see a bar that has settings that can be applied with a tap. You just need to select the catergory of tool that you want to use from adjusting the look of the photo itself, to cropping it, or adding a gradient. This includes white balance, autotone, and black and white mode. You can also easily adjust the temperature, tint, contrast and exposure.

Lightroom Mobile also lets you take photos using the app. You can shoot in Auto, Professional, or HDR modes. Select phones can also capture and edit in RAW. There are a ton of features packed into Lightroom's shooting mode from adjusting the ratio, to including a grid when shooting, to geotagging your photos, and plenty more to boot.

When you're done adjusting your photo, it's also easy to save your edits and share it, You can save to your gallery if it's a personal photo, or share to your social media network of choice without any further hassle.

Download Lightroom Mobile

What are your favorite apps for Android photography?

There are tons of great apps on Android that can help you take and tweak photos of the people, places, and things that you love. Did we miss an amazing app that deserves to be here? What is your favorite photography app? Be sure to let us know in the comments below!

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4 months ago

Keep your internet browsing encrypted with VPNSecure, now 91% off

Banking information. Mortgage payment history. Your important documents. Nearly all of your life is online these days, and, while convenient, that can be scary. There are many people out there looking to act maliciously, and we need to be sure that is in the back of our brains at all times. While you can't avoid using the internet (in most cases), you can ensure that it is a secure connection when you do use it.

Secure your browsing sessions for less! Learn More

VPNs have become more and more popular as the time passes because people want to make sure that the information they are transmitting is getting to the right places. VPNSecure is a great option, and right now you can score a sweet deal on a lifetime subscription to the service. With it you'll be able to connect up to five devices at the same time, use unlimited bandwidth and more.

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  • Grants you the ability to choose Data Cipher
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Secure your browsing sessions for less! Learn More

You are getting a whole lot for your money here. VPNSecure normally costs $450 for the lifetime subscription, but right now you can pick one up for only $39. You'll want to hurry though, because this price won't last long.

Browsing the web can get you in loads of trouble if you aren't careful, so be sure to grab this at its 91% discount to secure your browsing sessions.

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4 months ago

These are the watches that support Android Pay

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Android Pay on your watch makes paying easier than ever.

Android Pay has been making payments easier on all of us for a while by linking your bank card to your smartphone. Things have just gotten even easier though, because it has been added to the Android Wear ecosystem. Using your watch to pay means that you don't even need to take anything out of your pocket when it comes time to pay for your purchases, but to use Android Pay on your watch there are a few requirements.

Note: This list will be updated as new devices are released with Android Wear support.

What is necessary for Android Pay to work?

While Android Pay is brand new to the Android Wear ecosystem, it does have a few requirements to work correctly on your watch.

Namely, you'll need to make sure that your watch is running Android Wear 2.0, and includes NFC. While there are a number of watches that will be getting the update to Android Wear 2.0, the second part is a bit trickier. That's because most watches don't include NFC, so you may need to pick up a new watch if you're hoping to use Android Pay as soon as possible.

Which watches support Android Pay?

Since Android Wear 2.0 is brand new, the list of supported watches is extremely short. At the time of writing, it's limited to just three models. This list is sure to expand as more watches are released that include NFC specifically to support Android Pay. The list of compatible watches is as follows:

Android Wear

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4 months ago

Google's Uptime app is a more social way to watch YouTube videos

13

... and for the moment, only available on iPhone.

Google's Area 120 startup incubator, set up last year to allow Googlers to play startup pioneer in their "20% time," has just birthed its first product — a social video app called Uptime.

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4 months ago

Love to Snapchat your pals? Now you can make Bitmoji shortcuts for your faves

0
Snapchat Spectacles

Snapchat will soon let you pin your closest Snap pals to the Home screen for easy chats.

Ignore the fledging IPO struggling to find its footing for just a second. For those of you who may be signed up for the Snapchat Beta — you can sign up for it here — the Android app now lets you pin specific Bitmoji to your home screen, reports The Verge.

Snapchat shortcuts

You might be wondering, why would I want to do that? Well, pinning a Bitmoji makes a shortcut to a Snapchat chat window with that friend or group of friends. It's to encourage you to use the app for all your corresponding needs. You can access the ability through Android's native widget functionality, which is likely why this particular feature is limited to Android users at present.

Thus far, my favorite part of trying out this feature is realizing how many of my friends and family have actually set up a Bitmoji avatar; I'm fascinated by how they've chosen to depict themselves in digital cartoon form. My second favorite part is sending a screenshot to my friends on Snapchat of their avatars pinned to my Home screen, to show them how devoted I am to communicating through this medium. No one has replied to my chats yet, however. Also, if your friend doesn't have Bitmoji set up, there's no way to pin them.

If you'd like to try out the new Snapchat feature, you can join the beta. However, the stable version of the app seems to include the Bitmoji update, too.

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4 months ago

Google's unique update process is one of the best parts of owning a Pixel

42

Google's phones are updated the same way phones from other companies are, with one big difference.

There is an extremely well-defined divide between phones from Google and phones from any other company when it comes to updates. While a few exceptions exist, you know that you can only expect a timely Android update if you're using a phone recently sold by Google. In short, unless your phone says Nexus or Pixel on the back of it, getting updates can be as random and unpredictable as rolling dice.

Whenever we start talking about the update situation, someone will mention that Google can do it faster because it isn't going through the carriers and the companies that make the phone hardware. There is a lot more at play here, but a look at how a Google Android update is born and delivered should make for a fun conversation!

Two misconceptions

Let's start by addressing two things most of us get wrong: 1) The number of devices sold makes a big difference. 2) Carriers and manufacturers aren't in the picture.

Building a software update for one phone is the same as building a software update for one million phones. There are differences in the deployment because more people are downloading it and more errors can happen, but changing the code and testing how everything works is completely independent of how many phones that will use it are in the wild.

Android on a Nexus 5X is the same as Android on a Nexus 6P or Pixel.

Android is not developed in a bubble and it isn't tested in one, either. A manufacturer is still involved in an update for a Pixel or Nexus phone. Someone works with the vendors that make the individual components and get everything working as expected and sort out the licensing, and then it's tested with input from a lot of other companies, like big software vendors and carriers. Verizon (for example) places a pretty high value on its network and would blacklist a particular phone quickly if it caused trouble. Google gets Verizon to have a look before that can happen even though the phone in question may not be branded specifically for Verizon.

What we really mean here is that Google is the only company writing the software for an Android update on a Nexus or Pixel phone. This isn't technically correct either, but it gets the message across. This is Android the way Google made it with no major changes.

The deployment

Google is pretty good at this internet stuff. It has built a FOTA update (Firmware Over The Air) system into Android that's simple and robust. An application in the system software pings a server, and if the response indicates that an update is available a special download manager service starts and grabs the file. The files are hosted by Google for almost every Android phone.

Your phone is assigned an update slot based on your unique device ID and a bit of random number generation. By not making the update files available to everyone at the same time, download servers aren't crushed by demand and if a critical error is uncovered the rollout can be stopped.

An update is deployed for almost every other phone this same way.

How an update is developed

This is the important part.

All updates, even Nexus or Pixel updates, have manufacturer and carrier involvement. They all get rolled out the same basic way through Google Android update servers. How the updated code is delivered by the people writing it to the people in charge of building software is where Google has a distinct advantage.

When an update is "finished" by Google it's still not finished for Samsung.

The people involved in building Android for a Nexus or Pixel phone basically use the Android code the way it is written. Building Android from the source code isn't difficult at all. A few commands given to a computer that's been properly set up to compile Android is all that's needed to build all the parts into software that can be copied to a phone. The "hard" work is done by the folks writing and changing the code itself.

Phones sold by Samsung or LG or any other company aren't using the code the way it is written. That means they can't just download the updated parts and build their software like Google can. This is especially apparent for those monthly Android security patches, which need to be adapted to work with the custom operating system companies build using Android as the base.

The way Google handles the source code and builds updated software for their own phones isn't drastically different from the way anyone else does it. Developers make changes and add features to the Android source. Google Hardware takes that code and works with the companies that make the parts inside the phones to get it running well on each model, then makes it available to the public through the beta program.

The step Google Hardware doesn't have to do — work these base layer changes into the code for a custom operating system — is what gives a Nexus or Pixel phone an edge when it comes to waiting for an update.

This is unavoidable when you have different companies building different software from the same base code. The goal is a rich ecosystem built from different companies that offer very different experiences while still being compatible with Android at the feature and app level. We wouldn't want it any other way.

Android Nougat

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4 months ago

Hey look — Facebook Messenger is now copying Snapchat, too

13

If Snapchat does it, you can sure bet Facebook's apps will do it.

Facebook-owned Instagram has not-so-subtly followed in Snapchat's path for many of its recent feature additions, and now Facebook's own Messenger app is doing the same. With the announcement of the "Messenger Day" feature, Facebook Messenger is going straight after Snapchat Stories as well.

The writing was on the wall since Messenger added quick access to a camera interface late in 2016, but with this latest update it isn't just for single photos and videos. Messenger Day lets you chronicle your day in order from start to finish, creating a timeline of photos and videos augmented with plenty of filters and stickers along the way.

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