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Google reportedly offered Android changes to EU in 2017

July 22, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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The European Union may have characterized its $5 billion Android antitrust fine as punishment for an intransigent Google, but the practical reality might be different. Bloomberg sources have claimed that Google offered to make changes to its Android policies in August 2017, not long after it received an EU antitrust penalty for its product search practices. Although Google didn’t dive into specifics, it had offered to “loosen restrictions” in Android contracts and had considered distributing its apps in “two different ways.”

The EU wasn’t having it, according to the sources. Officials reportedly said only that a settlement was “no longer an option,” and that Google’s offer was “too little too late.” It couldn’t even mention the possibility of paying a fine as part of an agreement — regulators had effectively locked in their course of action. Google had tried to talk about ending the probe considerably earlier than that, according to the tipsters, but regulators supposedly either stonewalled or said it was too early to negotiate. If so, there may have only been a brief window of opportunity for a truce.

The revelations, if accurate, ultimately leave Google in the same boat: it’s now facing a giant fine and significant changes to its mobile strategy if its appeal doesn’t succeed. They do suggest that the penalty wasn’t inevitable, though, and that Google might well have implemented Russia-style changes months sooner if the EU had wanted to bend.

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Facebook Messenger for Kids is now available in Mexico

July 19, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Rob LeFebvre/Engadget

Today marks Facebook releasing its Messenger for Kids app to our friendly southern neighbor. It doesn’t have any Mexico-specific features, and unlike when it was released in Canada and Peru, it isn’t part of a larger feature roll-out like a Spanish-language version, either. No matter, it being available to the nation’s 130 million residents is pretty big in and of itself.

The app has courted controversy since it was released last December. In June, Facebook responded to complaints about it encouraging screen time in youngsters several months later by partnering with Yale to boost the social and emotional learning features of Messenger for Kids. That’s in addition, of course, to increasing the available parental controls.

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Google's Fuchsia OS could start replacing Android in five years

July 19, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Reuters/Stephen Lam

Google has been willing to acknowledge the existence of its Fuchsia operating system for a while, and has made rough versions available on everything from mobile devices to PCs. But is it just an experiment, or are there grander ambitions? We might have a better idea. Bloomberg sources have asserted that Fuchsia is ultimately intended to replace the company’s existing platforms, including Android and Chrome OS. While executives haven’t formally committed to roadmaps, engineers reportedly want to put Fuchsia on connected devices (like Home speakers) within three years, move on to “larger machines” like laptops, and put it on smartphones in the “next half decade.”

As we’ve seen through previous software clues, the OS would represent Google’s chance to start from scratch and eliminate the baggage that comes with existing software. Both Android and Chrome OS are based on Linux, for example, which carries technology that Google might no longer need. Android in particular still has some elements of Java (currently through OpenJDK) that Google might want to jettison in light of its ongoing legal battles with Oracle. Fuchsia is also expected to scale more consistently across device types, include better hooks for voice commands and provide faster security updates than on Android.

It’s far from certain that Google would make that timetable. It’s a daunting feat to ask Samsung and other hardware brands to throw out legacy app compatibility, rewrite custom software and otherwise pour massive amounts of time and money into supporting an untested platform. Just ask Microsoft how well things went when Windows Phone 7 rendered existing Windows Mobile know-how obsolete. Google would have to both ensure a rich catalog of Fuchsia-native apps and convince manufacturers that the OS is worth using on mainstream devices that would attract wide audiences. It wouldn’t be shocking if Fuchsia took much longer than five years to completely supplant Android, if just because the existing platform is so deeply entrenched.

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Hey Google, Android actually does stifle competition

July 19, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Sundar Pichai knows that the choice of mobile OS nowadays boils down to Android or iOS. He published a blog post yesterday in response to the European Commission’s competition decision against Android, which opens saying, “If you buy an Android phone, you’re choosing one of the world’s two most popular mobile platforms.” That’s not very many options, but it’s also not Google’s fault.

Although, the rise of Android did arguably force operating systems like Symbian, BlackBerry OS, Palm OS, Windows Mobile and even upstarts like Firefox OS, out of the ecosystem. Still, Pichai contends that Android has expanded the choice of phones available around the world, while the Commission believes that Google’s dominance and the restrictions it reportedly imposes are detrimental to competition, particularly with regards to the software on those phones.

As a refresher, the European Commission announced on Wednesday that it’s fining Google €4.34 billion (about US$5.1 billion) for “breaching EU antitrust rules.” According to the news release, “Google has imposed illegal restrictions on Android device manufacturers and mobile network operators to cement its dominant position in general internet search” since 2011. Google intends to appeal the decision, Pichai said.

I’m not going to get too deep into the details of the Commission’s contentions and Google’s arguments. The gist is that the Commission believes Google required manufacturers to pre-install certain apps like Chrome and Google Search, either by paying them or making it a condition for licensing the Play Store. The Commission also believes that Google blocked manufacturers from selling devices running alternative versions of Android without its approval.

When I asked Google whether these claims are true, the company’s reps directed me to Pichai’s blog post. In it, he didn’t directly address these statements, although he explained some of the practices (sort of). He acknowledged that with Android, the company can “offer phone makers the option of pre-loading a suite of popular Google apps…, some of which generate revenue for us.”

He also said that companies aren’t obligated to pre-install those apps, and that they’re free to bundle competing options alongside Google’s own. In that situation, Pichai said the company only makes money if its apps are installed and used instead of the alternatives.

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But his biggest point, which he made at the beginning of his piece, is that Android provides choice — that “there are more than 24,000 devices, at every price point, from more than 1,300 different brands.” So technically you can choose from thousands of different Android phones.

Here’s the thing, though: manufacturers don’t have all that much choice. Of all the viable mobile platforms available today, Android and iOS are the only ones with enough users to even be a consideration. But Apple is the only company that can make iOS devices, so hardware makers are really only left with Android. Now, of course, under the Android umbrella, they can choose from the regular flavor or the lightweight Go version. That’s great, but it’s still a Google game. Manufacturers have to meet certain technical requirements (admittedly for a better overall user experience in general) and play by Google’s rules. That means installing the apps Google suggests, just to keep it happy.

When a phone already comes installed with browser, messaging, email and other apps from Google, bundling competing options just adds to software bloat, which turns most users off. Not only is there no incentive to create better alternatives, then, but there’s compelling reason for manufacturers to not create their own apps. Also, people are lazy — they likely won’t go to the trouble of installing a new browser and setting it as their default. So, if what the Commission contends is true, and Google is making pre-installing Chrome and Search prerequisites for access to the Play Store, then it is stifling competition.

That’s not just limiting for phone makers, but could lead to fewer meaningful choices for consumers as well. Every Android phone is more or less the same — a Galaxy S9 is a nicer LG G7 ThinQ with better cameras minus the AI photographer, for example. Companies fighting to differentiate in hardware is why we end up with iterative performance upgrades every year, or features like more cameras with more megapixels. Some of these can be truly innovative, like in-screen fingerprint readers. But for the most part, we’re getting things like motorized pop-up selfie cameras, stronger-than-usual haptic motors or two-tone gradient finishes.

Even just within the realm of competing Android skins, we’ve seen the benefits of an abundance of choice. Developers have come up with useful features like Night mode and lock-screen shortcuts that have now become baked into the major operating systems. What if software makers were encouraged to develop their own OSes — what changes could they come up with?

Nowhere do we see this stagnation more clearly than with Wear OS watches. Sure, there may be dozens of variants available from brands like Huawei, LG, Fossil, Michael Kors, Kate Spade, Casio and a ton more. But each of these smartwatches is basically the same skeleton. Imagine trying to pick a new teammate from an offering of clones of the same person wearing different clothes. Some of them have better features, like built-in GPS, longer lasting batteries and brighter displays, but ultimately they do the same things.

Don’t get me wrong, Google has done a lot of good for app developers and consumers. Android is a fine operating system (good riddance to Symbian) and has helped deliver strong competition for Apple. And to Google’s point, which it illustrated with a hilarious step-by-step GIF complete with timer, uninstalling a preloaded app is quite easy and takes about 10 seconds (if you’re slow).

Android has also freed up Google’s partners so they can innovate on hardware, which admittedly gives us a variety of options from the likes of Samsung’s Galaxy line to the OnePlus phones or even the BlackBerry KeyTwo. That range of choices allows the market to cater for a wide-ranging set of users. But while Android has fostered healthy handset competition, it may have stifled the same for software. Google already has Microsoft as an example to look to — the Windows maker avoided hefty fines by complying with the EU and letting users pick third-party default browsers more easily. Of course, it’s ridiculous that Apple gets away with pre-installing Safari (among other things) because, as the Commission argues, it is “exclusively used by vertically integrated developers,” while Microsoft and Google are punished for working with hardware partners.

But the point is that Google does work with many other manufacturers, who shouldn’t be forced into pre-installation decisions they wouldn’t otherwise make. They should have the choice to bundle Chrome if they want, without being threatened with losing access to app stores. There should also be a level playing field for people who want to make competing apps. Google should be more concerned with making the best available product that users would install when their phones don’t already come with one. Ultimately, by arguing that it has fostered healthy handset diversity, Google is not only nitpicking, but also neglecting the control it has over mobile platforms.

Tech News

Samsung will reportedly launch foldable-screen phone in early 2019

July 18, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Chris Velazco/Engadget

Samsung has been teasing the prospect of a foldable-screen smartphone for years, and even hoped to launch one this year. Now, however, it looks like that pipe dream might become a reality… if a little later than expected. Wall Street Journal sources have claimed that the folding-screen handset (codenamed “Winner”) is now slated to arrive sometime in early 2019. It would have a 7-inch screen and would fold in half “like a wallet,” with a compact “display bar” on one side of the folded phone and cameras on the back. It sounds somewhat like the design from a 2016 Samsung patent application, although there’s little doubt that the real world product would vary sharply.

The company will reportedly start by targeting the handset at niche audiences like gamers. However, it eventually hopes for a “broader” debut in the second half of 2019, and the goal is to offer a third flagship on par with the Galaxy S and Galaxy Note lines. This might not be a one-off experimental phone like the Galaxy Note Edge, then.

There might be a major wrinkle to that, however: the price. Between the exotic display and the requisite high-end components (such as a large battery and a fast processor), Winner could “easily” cost more than $1,500. If you thought the Galaxy Note 8 and iPhone X were expensive handsets, they would seem like relative bargains after this.

You should see something somewhat more affordable in the future. The same tipsters reported that Samsung’s promised Bixby smart speaker is expected to launch in “the next month or so” for $300 with a release likely coming around that of the Galaxy Note 9. The device supposedly looks like a bowl on legs, and would tout directional audio that can be sent in the direction of whoever’s speaking. Samsung may pitch it as a high-end music player, which would have it compete with the likes of Apple’s HomePod and Google’s Home Max. It might face an uphill battle — Bixby is still struggling more than a year later, and there’s no guarantee that version 2.0 will lure people away.

Tech News

Why does Google owe the EU $5 billion?

July 18, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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After the better part of three yearsinvestigation, the European Union has announced that it will fine Google €4.34 billion ($5 billion). The company was found to have restricted competition through the use of its dominance in the mobile market. Officials believe that Google’s business practices, including using Google Play rules to block manufacturers forking Android, is an abuse of its power. The Commission also believes that financial incentives were used to ensure that they “exclusively pre-install Google search on their devices.” The fine is the largest in European Union history, dwarfing the €2.4 billion penalty handed out to Google in 2017. Confused? Let us help you get all caught up.

What has Google done wrong?

The EU believes that Google has abused its dominant power in ways that are designed to crowd out other businesses. Officials say that since 2011, the company has “imposed illegal restrictions on Android device manufacturers and mobile network operators.” These restrictions have ensured that Google has been able to “cement its dominant position in general internet search.”

Officials say that the search engine has “made payments to certain large manufacturers and mobile network operators.” The payments are allegedly intended to ensure that carriers only installed Google Search on their devices. And since users are often satisfied with their default option, Google’s products remained the most used across the continent.

The other part of the charge relates to how Google ships versions of Android to the manufacturers who put it on their devices. There are, you see, two different flavors of Android, “Android GMS (Google Mobile Services),” and “Android AOSP (Android Open Source Project.)”

Android GMS is the flavor you’re probably familiar with if you own a handset from a brand-name manufacturer. Now, there are two things that you’ll find on pretty much every GMS device: access to Google Play, and Google’s core apps pre-installed. So, instead of a generic browser and email client, you’ll find Chrome and Gmail there on the home screen. That’s not a coincidence, because if you don’t have those pre-installed, you don’t have access to Play.

AOSP, however, as the open-source version of Android, doesn’t come pre-installed with Google’s apps. And, as a consequence, doesn’t have access to Google Play, reducing the ability for users to easily download new apps. But AOSP has been tweaked by numerous developers, especially in lower-cost handsets, as well as for specific commercial applications.

The EU feels that by withholding Google Play on the condition of using GMS, it has essentially ensured that the majority of Android handsets have Google’s blessing. And, in doing so, enables “Google to use Android as a vehicle to cement the dominance of its search engine.”

Officials can even cite an example: Amazon’s Fire tablets run an AOSP fork called Fire OS which lacks access to Google Play. Instead, you have to use Amazon’s own app store and services with the platform, which runs on Amazon devices. But apparently,

Tech News

Google fined $5.04 billion for forcing its apps onto Android phones

July 18, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Europe has imposed a record-setting €4.3 billion ($5 billion) fine on Google for antitrust violations around its Android smartphone operating system. In 2016, the EU Commission charged Google with forcing mobile network operators to install Chrome, search and other Google apps as the default or exclusive search service on most devices sold in Europe. With a market share of over 80 percent in many countries, that effectively locked others out of the search market, creating a near-monopoly for the search giant.

“The Commission’s fine of €4,342,865,000 takes account of the duration and gravity of the infringement,” the EU Commission wrote. “In accordance with the Commission’s 2006 Guidelines … the fine has been calculated on the basis of the value of Google’s revenue from search advertising services on Android devices in the EEA [European Economic Area]. The Commission decision requires Google to bring its illegal conduct to an end in an effective manner within 90 days of the decision.”

In a statement to Engadget, Google said it would launch an appeal. “Android has created more choice for everyone, not less. A vibrant ecosystem, rapid innovation, and lower prices are classic hallmarks of robust competition. We will appeal the Commission’s decision.”

Google committed antitrust violations in three ways, the Commission said: It required manufacturers to pre-install Google Search and the Chrome browser on Android devices; paid manufacturers and mobile operators on the condition that they exclusively install the Google search app; and prevented manufacturers from selling any mobile devices running Android forks not approved by Google.

As an example of the latter, the EU’s competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager noted that Google stopped a large number of manufacturers from building and selling Amazon Fire TVs and other devices based on FireOS, an Android Fork. (That might explain why Amazon Fire TVs, conspicuously absent in Europe, are reportedly now coming soon.)

“Google is entitled to set technical requirements to ensure that functionality and apps within its own ecosystem run smoothly, but these technical requirements cannot serve as a smokescreen to prevent the development of competing Android ecosystems,” she said during a press conference this morning. “Google cannot have its cake and eat it.”

Google is entitled to set technical requirements to ensure that functionality and apps within its own ecosystem run smoothly, but these technical requirements cannot serve as a smokescreen to prevent the development of competing Android ecosystems. Google cannot have its cake and eat it.

The record-setting fine nearly doubles the €2.4 billion ($2.8 billion) penalty levied against Google last year for pushing its own shopping results to the top of search pages. (Google has appealed the amount of that fine.) The higher figure reflects the fact that search has a much bigger impact than shopping on Google’s bottom line. The EU had the right to fine Google up to 10 percent of its annual revenue of $110 billion in 2017.

“Google’s practices have denied rival search engines the

Tech News

'Alto's Odyssey' lands on Android for free next week

July 17, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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Apple Design Award winner Alto’s Odyssey hit the App Store in February, but Android players have been forced to wait for the serene platformer to come to Google Play. They won’t have to sit on their hands for much longer — Alto’s Odyssey will land on Android on July 26th. And, when it does, it’ll be free.

The iOS version of Alto’s Odyssey costs $5 and that’s not going to change when the Android edition goes live. There’s precedent for this platform price disparity: Alto’s Adventure, the first game in the series, cost $3 on the App Store when it launched in 2015, while the Android version landed in 2016 as a free game. Snowman, the studio behind Alto, had heard from fellow indie developers that it was difficult to attain App Store-level sales figures on Google Play with a paid game, so they tried out a free model with ad support.

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It worked. Alto’s Adventure has been downloaded 36.5 million times on Android, with 647 billion play sessions total, Snowman founder Ryan Cash told Engadget. Over the past three months, Alto’s Adventure Android players have logged on for an average of 13 million sessions a day across 1.5 million devices. Keep in mind, those numbers are all for a game that’s more than two years old.

Alto’s Odyssey is keeping up the positive sales trend on iOS. It’s been out for five months as a premium title on the App Store, and it’s already picked up an Apple Design Award.

“Sales have definitely met our expectations,” Cash said. “It can be tough to launch a premium mobile game these days, especially with such high-quality console-level games making their way to mobile as F2P titles. With that being said, if you make something really great, and you spend time marketing it properly (and add a bit of luck), you can still make a solid business as a premium title today.”

The Android launch is all about fostering longevity for the series, but it’s also critical to Snowman’s future as a studio, financially and culturally.

“With our upcoming Android launch we’re hoping to add an additional and hopefully long-running source of revenue for the company, but more importantly, we’re excited to continue growing the Alto fanbase,” Cash said. “It shows that we take our time with the things we make, and that we’re — hopefully — building a strong and lasting reputation with the kinds of products we make.”

“There’s always something cooking.”

Snowman was founded in 2012 and, thanks in large part to Alto, it’s grown into a stable indie studio that’s able to support the development of multiple projects at once. Today, Snowman acts as a middle man for a few other small studios, offering marketing and collaboration support on games including Where Cards Fall, Skate City and DISTANT.

However, Alto is baked into Snowman’s DNA and the series won’t likely end with

Tech News

Google Assistant adds a snapshot of your daily agenda

July 17, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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Google is no stranger to serving up contextual info and commands when they’re relevant. But wouldn’t it be nice if could curate and organize that info in a way that could help with a jam-packed schedule? It does now. The search firm is currently trotting out a “visual snapshot” for Assistant on mobile devices that provides the info and controls the AI helper believes you’ll need to make it through the day. It prioritizes navigation, but scrolling down will show you your itinerary, reminders, reservations (such as flights and movies) and eventually less essential content like stock prices and Assistant action suggestions.

As you’d expect, the data will vary based on the time of day, where you are and your recent history with Assistant.

The feature will expand over time, Google said. You’ll eventually see an overview of your notes and to-do lists (whether or not they’re from Google apps), a discovery section for new activities, music suggestions and even your parking spot. Clearly, Google is hoping that you’ll have a reason to keep returning to Assistant over and over again, rather than remembering to juggle apps at the right times.

You may have to wait a few days for the feature to show up, but you’ll know when it’s ready. There will be an inbox-like icon when you invoke Assistant on Android, while iOS users will see it as soon as they launch the Assistant app. It’s not a radical departure for Google, especially if you’re used to receiving “leave now” notifications and similar alerts, but the consolidation could prove supremely helpful for those days where the sheer number of tasks proves overwhelming.

Tech News

Google is resurrecting blob emoji again

July 17, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Google

Fans of Google’s now-dead blob emoji have a reason to be happy today. The company announced that it’s resurrecting its cute, flatly designed characters, albeit as a sticker pack for Gboard and Android Messages, as spotted by The Verge. What’s the occasion? Well, it’s World Emoji Day, of course. This isn’t a direct replacement for the standard circular emoji Google adopted after unceremoniously killing its own version off, but if you’re feeling nostalgic for a time before Android O it should do the trick. Now, Google has done this before, on World Emoji Day last year to be exact, but the adorable ‘lil guys were imprisoned in Allo which put a damper on the festivities. Thankfully, the search juggernaut seems to have learned it’s better to wait before sending a drunk announcement this time.