Android M: When Apps Are Too Powerful

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Android M was announced today and it’s available as a preview for developers. It brings some new features and makes some radical changes that improve battery life and user privacy.

The most significant change is a new permission model that’s also used by iOS. Until now, users could only install an app by granting all the permissions requested by the app and couldn’t revoke permissions. In Android M, the app requests permissions as it needs them and users can always grant or revoke permissions from the settings.

Android’s backup and restore feature has always been way behind iOS and that’s about to change in Android M. Google used to save device settings and the list of apps you’ve installed, but not their data and settings. “Automatic backups are enabled for all apps installed on devices running the Android M Preview. No additional app code is required,” informs Google. For now, users can store up to 25MB per Android app and “backups occur every 24 hours, when the device is idle, charging, and connected to a Wi-Fi network.”

Doze is a new feature that saves battery life. “If a device is unplugged and left stationary with the screen off for a period of time, it goes into Doze mode where it attempts to keep the system in a sleep state. In this mode, devices periodically resume normal operations for brief periods of time so that app syncing can occur and the system can perform any pending operations,” informs Google. A lot of features are disabled in the Doze mode: network access (except for high priority Google Cloud Messaging tickles), wake locks, WiFi scans, syncing.

Another power optimization feature is app standby. “The system may determine that apps are idle when they are not in active use. Your app is considered idle after a period of time, unless the system detects any of these signals: the app is explicitly launched by the user, the app has a process currently in the foreground, the app generates a notification that users see on the lock screen or in the notification tray or the user explicitly asks for the app to be exempt from optimizations, via Settings. If the device is unplugged, apps deemed idle will have their network access disabled and their syncs and jobs suspended.”

Android Pay addresses Google Wallet’s failure by creating an open platform for mobile payments. This time, Google partnered with 3 major US mobile carriers (AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon), in addition to banks, payment processors and retailers. After Softcard’s demise, Android Pay will replace it. Google acquired Softcard technology a few months ago. It’s worth pointing out that Android Pay is an app that requires Android KitKat or later, so it’s not clear why it was announced as an Android M feature.

Google Now will also work inside Android apps. Tap and hold the home button and Google Now will show relevant information, including links to other useful apps. Say “OK Google” followed by a question and Google’s answer will use the app’s context. For example, you can ask “What’s her latest album?” when listening to Mariah Carey in your favorite music app and Google will know that “her” refers to Mariah Carey.

Android M brings native support for fingerprint sensor, simplified volume controls, easy word selection with floating clipboard toolbar.

The updated launcher has an alphabetic app list and a search box that lets you quickly find an app. It also shows the most recently used apps at the top.

You cab change default apps from the settings, so it’s easier to pick the default browser, phone app or SMS app.

Android M supports app link verification, so that links can open in an app without having to pick one first. You can disable app links in the settings.

There’s also an updated memory stats section and you can find more information about apps.

Another improvement is that there’s no longer an icon for Google Settings. This is now a section in the settings app.

May 29th 2015 Android

The Aria Lets You Control Your Smart Watch Without Touching It

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Aria wearable The Aria is an add-on band that measures movement in the wrist to control smart watches with finger gestures. Compatible with Android Wear and the Pebble Time, their module slots in to an existing band and lets you move through a watch’s interface without tapping the screen or using controls on the side of the watch face. Read More

May 23rd 2015 Android, Mobile

‘Ok Google’ Coming To More Android Apps

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Google is giving developers a new way to let Android users interact with their apps with voice commands. The company announced the launch of its first set of partners for custom voice actions, as well as plans to expand it more broadly.

Google said in a Google+ post, “This feature will enable people to say things like ‘Ok Google, listen to NPR’ or ‘Ok Google, show attractions near me on TripAdvisor.’ We’re currently piloting custom voice actions with a select group of partners, but we plan to open it up more widely in the future — and we’d love to hear your ideas for actions you’d like to implement.”

“Google Voice Actions let users quickly complete tasks in your app using voice commands,” Google explains. “It’s another way to drive usage of your app with Google. Users’ voice and text action requests can now lead directly to your Android app, so they can get to your native mobile experiences quickly and easily.”

“Google Voice Actions provides support for defining custom actions to support use cases not addressed by system actions,” it says. “For example, developers have implemented commands like ‘scan my receipt on Walmart’ or ‘watch trailer for Inception on Flixter’. The custom voice actions feature let you define these kinds of new commands.”

Google has a form developers can fill out here if they wish to request voice actions for their apps. They can request up to three for now.

Voice actions recognize many spoken and typed action requests, and create Android intents for them. Google explains how to define an intent filter, handle the intent in your app, and report what your app did using the App Indexing API here. You can also add voice search to your app by following the instructions here.

Image via Google

May 2nd 2015 Android, Google, Mobile

Android Action Cards in Google Search

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Google has a few search cards that let you send some information to an Android phone from your desktop computer. In addition to finding your device, you can send directions, send notes, set alarms and reminders.

Search for [send directions], set a destination and click “Send directions to your phone”. When you unlock your phone, Google Maps will automatically open and show your destination.

When you search for [note to self] or [send a note], you can enter some text and you’ll get a similar notification on your mobile device. Another option is to add the note to your query and search for things like [note to self buy some milk].

Another action card lets you set an alarm on your phone. Just search for [set an alarm] and enter the right time for your alarm. You can also search for [set an alarm for 9:00] or other similar queries.

“You can connect your Android phone to Google, which lets you send information from your computer to your phone,” informs a help center article. To use this feature, you need the latest version of the Google app for Android, Google Now cards and notifications need to be enabled, Web & App Activity has to be enabled in Google Account History. Another requirement is to log in to your Google account.

Tip: if you’re not in the US and you don’t see the cards when you enter the queries listed above, add &gl=us to the URL. For example:

{ via +Google }

April 25th 2015 Android

Android Wear: wear what you want, get what you need

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Architect and artist William Morris once said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Turns out that’s also good advice for deciding what to wear. So Android Wear offers a range of watches and apps that are fashionable as well as functional.

Over the past few months we’ve added lots of ways to express your style—from custom watch faces to a rainbow of bands. Today we’re making Android Wear more helpful as well—getting you what you need, right on your wrist.

Always-on screen, always-on apps

When you buy a watch you want it to, well, tell the time. So most Android Wear watches include an always-on screen—no tapping, twisting or shaking required to see what time it is. Now we’re expanding this option to apps, so they can stay visible as long as you need them, instead of disappearing when you drop your arm. In either case the screen is only full color when you’re actively looking at it—so you get the info you need, and you save on battery life.

Wi-Fi support

With GPS and offline music support, you can already leave your phone at home, then go jogging and jamming like normal. Now Android Wear supports watches with built-in Wi-Fi. As long as your watch is connected to a Wi-Fi network, and your phone has a data connection (wherever it is), you’ll be able to get notifications, send messages, and use all your favorite apps. And if you really do forget your phone, you can always ask your watch where it is.

Simpler, faster, and more smiley

When it comes to your watch, using apps should be as simple as checking the time. So today we’re making a number of Android Wear improvements to help you access your info, and express yourself more easily:

  • Got your hands full? You no longer need them to check your news and notifications. Instead you can just flick your wrist to scroll through the stream.
  • Your apps and contacts are now just a tap away from the watch face. Just touch the screen, and you’ll be able to start apps and send messages immediately.

Find Your Android Phone Using Google Search

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Android Device Manager is now available in Google Search for desktop. If you search for [find my phone] or [find my tablet] and you’re logged in to your Google account, you can see a map that shows the most recent location of your Android phone or tablet. If you have more than one Android device, there’s a dropdown that lets you select other phones and tablets connected to your account.

The location is not displayed instantly, so you may see the message: “locating your phone” for a few seconds. Obviously, your phone or tablet needs to have a working Internet connection, location needs to be enabled and the setting: “remotely locate this device” has to be enabled in Google Settings / Security.

If your Android device is nearby, you can also click “ring” to quickly find it. “Your phone will ring at full volume for 5 minutes. Press its power button to stop the ringing.”

Click the map from Google Search to open Android Device Manager and use other features that let you lock your device and erase all your data.

{ via +Google }

April 16th 2015 Android

Google Handwriting App for Android

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Google has a new Android app that lets you input text using handwriting. “Google Handwriting Input allows you to handwrite text on your phone or tablet in 82 languages. It supports printed and cursive writing, with or without a stylus. Google Handwriting Input also supports hundreds of emojis, so you can express yourself in any Android app.”

After you select your favorite languages from the settings, Google downloads the language packs. The English files are preloaded, so there’s nothing to download. By the default, handwriting recognition works offline, but you can tap the cloud button to switch to the online recognition mode. Here’s a help center page that offers more information about Google Handwriting Input.

Google Handwriting Input works like a regular Android keyboard, so you can use it any Android app that lets you input text. Google automatically converts your handwriting to a text and shows some other candidates (long press the centered candidate to see even more suggestions). If you try to write a word that’s too long, you can type the first part of the word and then continue entering the rest of the word, as Google’s app is smart enough to merge them. You can also write two lines or switch to the landscape mode.

“By building on large-scale language modeling, robust multi-language OCR, and incorporating large-scale neural-networks and approximate nearest neighbor search for character classification, Google Handwriting Input supports languages that can be challenging to type on a virtual keyboard. For example, keyboards for ideographic languages (such as Chinese) are often based on a particular dialect of the language, but if a user does not know that dialect, they may be hard to use,” informs the Google Research blog.

Google’s app claims to support even terrible handwriting, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes a poorly written letter can make the app return incorrect results, especially for less common words.

Google Handwriting Input requires Android 4.0.3 or later and works for both phones and tablets. It integrates many features that were previously available in other specialized Google apps and services (Mobile Google Search, Google Translate for Android and iOS, Google Input Tools for Gmail, Google Docs and Google Translate, Gesture Search for Android, Input Methods for Chinese, Cantonese and Hindi).

April 16th 2015 Android

Google Launches Handwriting Input For Text And Emoji On Android

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google_handwriting Google Research today launched its latest project: Google Handwriting Input. Besides their voice and favorite keyboards, Android users using Android 4.0.3 and up can now also simply use good old-fashioned handwriting to input text into any Android app. Read More

April 16th 2015 Android, Google, Mobile

ARC Welder: Run Android Apps in Chrome

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Google added support for Android apps in Chrome OS, but there are only a few Android apps in Chrome Web Store. Developers tested the apps and tweaked them to work well in Chrome OS, even if they were created for phones and tablets.

Now there’s an app for Chrome and Chrome OS that lets you run Android apps. It’s called ARC Welder (ARC = App Runtime for Chrome, Weld = to unite) and it’s mostly for Android developers that want to test their apps before submitting them to Chrome Web Store. You can select any APK file, but not all of them work, especially if they use Google Play Services APIs.

I’ve tried various APK files from A few of them worked properly (IMDb, BBC News, Wikipedia), while others crashed (for example: Amazon and Yahoo Weather), required Google Play Services (like YouTube and other Google apps) or didn’t work that well (like Aviary). ARC is still in beta, so there are still many bugs that need to be fixed.

April 7th 2015 Android

15 TechCrunch Stories You Don’t Want To Miss This Week

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TC-weekly-roundup This week’s tech headlines saw a mega-roundup of April Fool’s Day tech pranks, Jay-Z’s new music streaming service and much more. These were our best stories of the week (3/28-4/3). Read More

April 4th 2015 Android, apple, microsoft