Google’s Project Jacquard jacket can now light up its tag and find your phone

When it went on sale in late September, Levi’s Commuter Trucker Jacket was the first piece of clothing to integrate Google’s Project Jacquard touch-gesture functionality.

At $350 a pop, it’s not a surprise that the Jacquard by Google app (which is used to customize and control the jacket) shows just 100-500 installs. That means a few hundred people will be delighted to learn that the app just got its first major update, which lets wearers of the Jacquard-woven jacket use gestures that enable new light modes for the tag on the sleeve, as well as find their phone.

The new Jacquard abilities are called “Illuminate” and “Find Your Phone.” The “Illuminate” ability let wearers assign a custom gesture to enable one of three light modes:

  • Shine, which turns the tag on the jacket’s sleeve into a flashlight
  • Blink, which turns the tag into a blinking light to make you more visible to drivers and others when you’re outside in the dark
  • Strobe, which turns the tag into a “multicolored party light” (Google’s words)

When you use a gesture assigned to enable the new “Find Your Phone” ability, your phone will ring for up to 30 seconds at maximum volume, even if it’s on silent.

Other Jacquard abilities include navigation help, call and text management, and music and audio control. In addition to the two new features, Google updated the “What’s Playing on Android” music-listening feature to work with all music services supporting Jacquard.

WHAT’S NEW

Your jacket can now do more!

Introducing two new abilities:

  • Illuminate – Blink, shine or celebrate with the light on your Jacquard snap tag.
  • Find Your Phone – Misplaced your phone? Make your phone ring so you can locate it.

We’ve updated What’s Playing on Android to work with all Jacquard supported music services.
https://support.google.com/jacquard/answer/7538406?hl=en

Cleaned house for the holidays, and swept out a few bugs.

 

Google starts using more secure packaging for trade-in program

Leading up to the launch of the Pixel 2, Google started a trade-in program to help drastically lower the cost of its shiny, new phone. Quotes for the trade-in program are more than reasonable, but it hasn’t been without its fair share of hiccups.

One of the main complaints we’ve heard is that the trade-in kit Google sends out is pretty flimsy, but it looks like this is now being addressed.

Rather than sending out plastic bubble wrap-lined sleeves, the Google Store is now shipping actual cardboard boxes for people to send out their phones in. Google initially stood behind the plastic sleeves, but we’d be lying if we said we weren’t glad to see this change.

The new cardboard box is relatively slim, but the inside is padded with foam on the top and bottom to keep your device safe and secure during its trip.

Most people on the Reddit thread where photos for the box were shared seem to be quite happy with the new packaging, and this should hopefully help to keep headaches during the trade-in process to a bare minimum.

 

Google previews TensorFlow Lite

Google is giving developers a way to add machine learning models to their mobile and embedded devices. The company announced the developer preview of TensorFlow Lite. The new solution is a lightweight version of TensorFlow, the open-source software library for machine intelligence.

“TensorFlow has always run on many platforms, from racks of servers to tiny IoT devices, but as the adoption of machine learning models has grown exponentially over the last few years, so has the need to deploy them on mobile and embedded devices. TensorFlow Lite enables low-latency inference of on-device machine learning models,” the TensorFlow team wrote in a post.

The developer preview includes a set of core operators for creating and running custom models, a new FlatBuffers-based model file format, an on-device interpreter with kernels, the TensorFlow converter, and pre-tested models. In addition, TensorFlow Lite supports the Android Neural Networks API, Java APIs and C++ APIs.

According to Google, developers should look at TensorFlow lite as an evolution of the TensorFlow Mobile API. TensorFlow Mobile API already supports mobile and embedded deployment of models. As TensorFlow Lite matures, it will become the recommended mobile solution. For now, TensorFlow Mobile will still support production apps.

“The scope of TensorFlow Lite is large and still under active development. With this developer preview, we have intentionally started with a constrained platform to ensure performance on some of the most important common models. We plan to prioritize future functional expansion based on the needs of our users. The goals for our continued development are to simplify the developer experience, and enable model deployment for a range of mobile and embedded devices,” the team wrote.

Google announces new machine learning capabilities for Firebase

Firebase’s development platform will receive a series of updates focused on tightening the integration of Firebase services and incorporating more machine learning technology into the toolkit, the Google-owned company announced today at the Firebase Dev Summit in Amsterdam.

Firebase is a mobile platform for developing high-quality applications.

The first notable update is the integration of Crashlytics by Fabric, which Google acquired in January. Crashlytics enables uses to track, prioritize, and fix stability issues within applications in real time. The integration will be rolled out over the next couple of weeks.

The company also announced that the overall UI and console appearance are receiving a major overhaul. “All of the products that you’re used to seeing in the Firebase console are still there; we’ve simply reorganized things to more accurately reflect the way your team works,” Francis Ma, group product manager for Firebase, wrote in a post. The features will also be integrated over the coming weeks.

In addition, the Firebase team announced a new A/B testing framework, based on the Google Optimize machine learning-assisted analytics tool. “Setting up an A/B test is quick and simple,” Ma wrote. “You can create an experiment with Remote Config or FCM, define different variant values and population sizes to test on, then set the experiment goal. From there, Firebase will take care of the rest, automatically running the experiment then letting you know when a winner towards your goal is determined with statistical significance.” The A/B testing feature is available as a beta feature today.

Finally, Google introduced Firebase Predictions, which uses machine learning to measure analytics and group users based on predicted behavior. The default groups are:

  • Users who are predicted to churn in the next 7 days
  • Users who are predicted to stay engaged with your app
  • Users who are predicted to spend money
  • Users who are predicted to not spend money in the next 7 days

In addition, users can set up custom groupings based on preferred data.

“While we’re excited about the updates to Firebase that we’ve announced today, we also know that there’s a lot more work to be done. We are working hard to prepare for the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) across Firebase and we’re committed to helping you succeed under it. Offering a data processing agreement where appropriate is one important step we’re taking to make sure that Firebase works for you, no matter how large your business or where your users are. We’ll also be publishing tools and documentation to help developers ensure they are compliant,” Ma wrote.

News digest: Google renames API.AI to Dialogflow, the Cloud Foundry Container Runtime, and Microsoft’s UWP support for .NET Standard 2.0

Google has a new name for its API.AI solution: Dialogflow. API.AI first started out as an API that could add natural language processing capabilities to applications, services, and devices. According to the company, over the past year it has grown into more than just an API with new features such as its analytics tool and 33 prebuilt agents, which is why the company decided it was necessary to rename the solution.

“Our new name doesn’t change the work we’re doing with you or our mission. Our mission continues to be that Dialogflow is your end-to-end platform for building great conversational experiences and our team will help you share what you’ve built with millions of users,” Ilya Gelfenbeyn, lead product manager at Google, wrote in a post.

The company also announced two new features for Dialogflow: an in-line code editor and multi-lingual agent support.

CFCR becomes the Cloud Foundry’s default method for deploying containers
The Cloud Foundry Foundation has announced that Cloud Foundry Container Runtime (CFCR) is now the default Cloud Foundry approach to deploying containers using Kubernetes and BOSH. Users can now use the Container Runtime to deploy Kubernetes or application runtime for a Cloud Application Platform. This project was originally donated to the Cloud Foundry Foundation in June by Google and Pivotal, in order to expand choice for Cloud Foundry’s massive user base.

“The technology has progressed quickly—after only four months in incubation, the first commercial offering has already been launched. Container Runtime expands the capabilities of Cloud Foundry beyond Application Runtime, giving enterprises more options to take advantage of cloud-native best practices,” said Abby Kearns, executive director for the Cloud Foundry Foundation. “With nearly 70 percent of enterprises using containers in some capacity, choice is critical. This expansion enables businesses to take advantage of the power of Kubernetes combined with BOSH, an open source, enterprise-grade management tool.”

Microsoft adds UWP support for .NET Standard 2.0
Microsoft has announced a major update to UWP for .NET developers, which is their largest release since shipping .NET Native with Windows 10. The company is adding support for .NET Standard 2.0, which will give UWP developers access to about 20k more APIs. The update will also allow developers to migrate code into UWP apps more easily. UWP apps use .NET Core for debugging and .NET Native for release builds. This release adds incremental build support for .NET native, making debugging with .NET Native more approachable, according to the company.

Sauce Labs announces Extended Debugging for Selenium tests
Sauce Labs has announced Extended Debugging for Selenium tests, which provides faster resolution times for fixing errors. This tool combines browser console log information with networking data in order to determine the cause and location of a problem.

“Automated testing is the backbone of continuous delivery. By adding Extended Debugging to our platform, we’re ensuring that our customers can identify the root case of test failures faster,” said Lubos Parobek, vice president of product at Sauce Labs. “This has been a much anticipated addition to our platform as browser and networking failures can often be difficult to reproduce, troubleshoot and fix.”

Anchore releases Anchore Cloud 2.0 
Anchore announced the release of Anchore Cloud 2.0, a series of software tools that provides developers, operations, and security teams with a means to achieve proper container compliance, both on-premises or in the cloud. Anchore Cloud is a SaaS product built on an open source analysis and policy engine, and allows users to look for container images on both public and private registries. Anchor is integrated with popular open source tools such as Jenkins and Kubernetes.

“Anchore Cloud 2.0 gives users the tools necessary to achieve a controllable containerized software flow in a way that can be certified by the user for their specific needs,” said Daniel Nurmi, CTO and cofounder of Anchore. “Coupled with our open source on-premise engine, Anchore Cloud 2.0 provides users the ability to quickly and easily integrate powerful inspection, reporting, and security and compliance checks into their existing or new container build environments.”

Syncfusion updates Dashboard and Data Integration platforms
Syncfusion is announcing an update to their Dashboard and Data Integration platforms. In this release, the Dashboard Platform and Data Integration Platform will be integrated, enabling users to access workflows from the Data Integration Server in the Dashboard. New Dashboard features include advanced sorting options for the Dashboard Designer, a common ODBC connection, a waterfall chart widget, and a widget for radar and polar charts.

The Data Integration Platform now offers a user-friendly design for processors, process groups, and ports, allowing views to be expanded and collapsed. It also features support for monitoring tasks, and allowing disk and JVM memory to be monitored.

“We’ve been very pleased at the success of our Data Platform,” said Daniel Jebaraj, vice president. “We’ve taken some innovative steps toward simplifying effective data usage for businesses, and we hope to continue improving the platform with releases like this.”

Comparing Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana and Siri smart speakers

The smart home assistant race has been building to a fever pitch over the course of the last couple of years. Things really came to head this past two weeks, when Amazon, Google and Sonos all held big events highlighting their latest smart speaker plays, making the already busy field a heck of a lot more crowded.

The burgeoning category can be a tough one to navigate. A lot of picking the right speaker for your own needs comes down to your assistant of choice — that, in turn, has a lot to do with both feature sets and your own mobile operating system loyalties. Each has benefits and drawbacks — Amazon has cornered the home, Apple has done a good job in mobile and Google has straddled the two better than anyone else. And Microsoft, well, a lot of people own Windows computers, at least.

Things can be equally complex from a hardware standpoint, between first-party products and the increasing presence of third-parties like Sony, Sonos and JBL. Devices also run a pretty wide price gamut, from ~$50 to $300. Some focus on premium sound, some feature screens, and some even let you choose between multiple assistants.

Here’s a quick break down to help make navigating these waters seem a bit less treacherous.


[Infogram version] 

Source: TechCrunch

Google reveals Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL

Google officially unveiled the next generation of its Pixel phones, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, at an event in San Francisco on Wednesday. The devices are built on the capabilities of Google Assistant, continuing Google’s shift “from mobile-first to AI-first” in computing, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said.

The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL aren’t much of a departure from the original Pixel phones in terms of design. The standard Pixel 2 features a 5″ screen with an OLED display, while the Pixel 2 XL sports a massive 6″ P-OLED screen with an 18:9 aspect ratio and a curved screen.

The phones have an all-aluminum body, with the smaller glass plate on the back. The fingerprint scanner remains in the same spot on the middle of the back of the phone.

The standard Pixel 2 is available in three colors: Kinda Blue, Just Black, and Clearly White. The Pixel 2 XL, however, is only available in Just Black and a separate Black and White colorway.

pixelhome.jpg

 

Google’s search box will now be at the bottom of the screen and will remain static while the user moves between home screens. A new feature called Active Edge will allow users to access Google Assistant by simply squeezing the sides of the phone. It will work with a case, and machine learning will be able to identify an “intentional squeeze.”

Google is continuing the trend of including premium camera technology in the Pixel line with the Pixel 2. The 12.2 MP camera, which achieved a DxOMark score of 98, is tuned for AR content and can read it in 60fps. The camera will also include a portrait mode, similar to what Apple introduced with its iPhone 7 Plus. This feature could be especially helpful for marketing professionals and social media pros who need to capture the best images for their content.

 

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Google plans on upgrading its two-factor authentication tool with an improved, physical security measure aimed at protecting high-profile users from politically motivated cyberattacks, according to a report from Bloomberg. The new service, to be called Advanced Protection Program and potentially slated to launch next month, will trade out the standard authentication process for services like Gmail and Google Drive with physical USB security keys. The service would also restrict the types of third-party apps and services that could connect to a user’s Google account.

The changes are not likely to affect standard Google account owners, as Bloomberg reports that Google “plans to market the product to corporate executives, politicians and others with heightened security concerns.” Following the 2016 hack of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s Gmail account, which was the result of a phishing attack with links to the Russian government, Google began looking into measures that would improve security for users in possession of sensitive material and those in a position of political prominence. The new physical security keys, which will require users keep them plugged in to access the additional security controls, should make it more difficult to remotely gain control of someone’s Gmail or Google Drive account.

Google buys HTC assets in $1.1bn return to mobile phone ownership

Google has bought part of HTC’s mobile phone division for $1.1bn (£820m), a return to hardware ownership for the company.

The deal will see 2,000 HTC staff join the US internet giant and underlines Google’s broadening ambitions in smartphone production.

Google develops the Android operating system used in more than 80pc of the world’s smartphones but largely relies on manufacturers like Samsung, Huawei and HTC itself to make and sell its phones, unlike Apple, which controls the design and development of both software and hardware.

Last year it released the first Google-branded phone, the Pixel, which is manufactured by HTC, and is gearing up to release a new model next month, but having thousands of staff join the company will expand the venture. The Pixel has been well received but only produced in small quantities.

Of the 2,000 staff moving from HTC, roughly about a fifth of its workforce, many are already working on the Pixel. Google is also acquiring a licence for HTC intellectual property.

The Taiwanese group said it would continue to produce its own phones, including a new flagship device, as well as continuing its Vive virtual reality headset and investing in other technologies.

Hanging over the deal will be the ghost of Motorola Mobility, the phone maker Google paid $12.5bn for in 2011. Motorola struggled under its ownership and it was sold to Lenovo for $2.9bn in 2014, retaining certain patents. Two other hardware companies, Nest and Dropcam, have also been seen as disappointments under Google ownership.

“HTC has been a longtime partner and has created some of the most beautiful, high-end devices on the market,” Rick Osterloh, the head of Google’s hardware department, said.

The Taiwanese company, whose shares had been suspended pending the announcement, was responsible for some of the first Android handsets capable of competing with the iPhone. But it failed to capitalise and as Samsung moved into the high-end of the market, HTC’s market share collapsed. Shares have fallen 95pc since 2011.

The company’s chief executive Cher Wang said it still had a bright future. “We believe HTC is well positioned to maintain our rich legacy of innovation and realise the potential of a new generation of connected products and services,” she said.

 

Google is serving ads in YouTube Red – even though it promises not to

So much for Google’s vows to deliver an ad-free watching experience for its premium YouTube Red service.

Peeved users have taken to Reddit to voice their frustration the search engine giant has begun displaying ads in its paid Red subscription service, which promised to deliver original content unobstructed by any promo materials.

Here are a couple of mildly annoying examples from users:

As you can see in the screenshots, the service now runs ads both on the home page and underneath certain clips.

One user who reached out to Google to express his dissatisfaction with the development, shared the following response from YouTube support:

Thanks for contacting YouTube. I can definitely understand your concern, since YouTube Red membership promises an ads-free experience across YouTube. I’ll clarify this for you.

With YouTube Red, you shouldn’t be seeing iBanner ad, image ad, pre-roll ad, ad that shows before their video starts (often 30 seconds or skippable after 5 seconds). This includes ads before and during a video, as well as banner ads, search ads, and video overlay ads. You may still see branding or promotions embedded in creators’ content that isn’t controlled by YouTube. Ad-free videos are supported across all devices and platforms where you can sign in with your YouTube account – including on compatible smart TVs/gaming consoles and the YouTube, YouTube Music, YouTube Gaming and YouTube Kids mobile apps, if they’re available in your location.

From the screenshot, looks like the ad format (print ad) is not supported by the YouTube Red

But here is the deal: At no point does Google mention the possibility of so-called ‘print ads’ (please see first image in gallery above) showing up under videos in its Red membership details.

In fact, it explicitly goes on to guarantee an ad-free experience:

Ad-free videos are supported on youtube.com and YouTube apps when you are signed in with your YouTube Red account.

With YouTube Red, you won’t see ads hosted by YouTube such as pre-roll or mid-roll video ads, banner ads, search ads, homepage banner ads, and in-video text-overlay-ads.

Other promotional content such as video annotations, links to other videos, trailers, or featured or recommended videos may appear.

While our policies do not permit creators to include ads in their content, there could be instances in which a creator includes product placements, incidental branding, or third party-ads in their videos. A typical example of this is a live stream of a concert or sporting event.

Assuming the ‘print ad’ format does indeed fall out of Red’s list of excluded ads, Google should have taken the measure to explicitly warn subscribers against this. Otherwise, they might as well go back to the freemium YouTube service coupled with any third-party ad-blocker to get the same ‘ad-free’ experience Red offers.

One thing to point out is that these ads appear to occur only to a limited extent at the time being. Some users were unable to reproduce the ad from the abovementioned video. However, others have reported spotting pre-roll ads on Red, which is strictly the opposite of what Red’s terms and services promise.

While in all fairness the ads in question seem rather unobtrusive, this breach of trust is particularly unsettling given Google’s ambitions to build its own ad-blocker for Chrome and destroy shitty ads.

Time to go back to third-party ad-blockers, folks.