Android Go is a lightweight version of Android for crazy cheap phones

There are 2 billion Android devices currently in use around the world. Google is now thinking about the next 2 billion devices. In order to do this, Google has a new project called Android Go. It’s a lightweight version of the upcoming version of Android (Android O) with optimized apps and Play Store.

Google focused on devices with very low specs, users with limited connectivity and multilingual capabilities. And it can run on devices with less than 1GB of memory. The Play Store is going to highlight apps that can run on these cheap devices.

These apps should be less than 10MB, work well when you’re not connected to the internet and support devices with slow systems-on-a-chip and little RAM.

Sameer Samat talked about Chrome’s data saver as an essential feature to load more pages with a minimal amount of cell data. But the company doesn’t plan to stop there.

For instance, YouTube Go is going to be an optimized version of the YouTube app. There’s a new preview feature so that you can have a look at the video before even loading the video.

Once you know for sure that you want to watch this video, you can select the quality of the video even before playing the video so that it doesn’t eat up all your data allowance. And if you’re on Wi-Fi, you can even download the video and watch it later.

This feature was limited to YouTube Red subscribers before. But YouTube Red is only available in the U.S., while Android Go is going to target developing countries. And if you’re watching videos with a friend, you can even share videos between multiple Android Go devices using peer-to-peer transfers.

In the future, all version of Android are going to ship with an Android Go variant. As Android becomes more powerful, Android Go seems like a smart move to make it run on crazy cheap phones and slow networks. Google hasn’t announced hardware partner yet.

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Google makes Kotlin a first-class language for writing Android apps

Google today announced that it is making Kotlin, a statically typed programming language for the Java Virtual Machine, a first-class language for writing Android apps. Kotlin’s primary sponsor is JetBrains, the company behind tools like IntelliJ. It’s 100 percent interoperable with Java, which until now was Google’s primary language for writing Android apps (besides C++).

The company also today said that it will launch a foundation for Kotlin (together with JetBrains). JetBrains open-sourced Kotlin back in 2012 and version 1.0 launched just over a year ago. Google’s own Android Studio, it’s worth noting, is based on the JetBrains IntelliJ Java IDE, and the next version of Android Studio (3.0) will support it out of the box.

Because Kotlin is interoperable with Java, you could already write Android apps in the language before, but now Google will put its weight behind the language. Kotlin includes support for a number of features that Java itself doesn’t currently support.

Google noted in a later keynote that this is only an additional language, not a replacement for its existing Java and C++ support.

It’s worth noting that the Kotlin announcement garnered what was likely the loudest applause from Google’s I/O keynote announcement today.

Android O Beta is available today

It’s already been available for a few months as a developer preview, but now the rest of us can finally get our hands on an upcoming version of Android. Android O Beta starts shipping today, if you point your browser over to android.com/beta.

The company used the opportunity to show a number of features that have already been available in the developer preview. Notifications have gotten number of key updates, including the addition of Notification Dots – a little circle that sits in the corner of an app icon, letting users know that that specific app has a new note tied to it. Giving it a long press, will pop up a preview window, similar to iOS, so users never have to leave the desktop to view.

Autofill is pretty much exactly what you think it is, with the company guess at what you’re trying to say while your typing, using context like user names, much as it does in the desktop-based browser. Smart Text Selection, meanwhile, spots things like business names and addresses from around the web, highlight the whole segment, to help avoid awkwardly highlighting and unhighlighting text, piece by piece.

Picture in Picture was already announced, but not available in the dev preview. The feature essentially place a small video box on the desktop, while other apps are open. That way you can, say, watch a YouTube or Netflix video or do a Duo chat, while sending an email. Assuming, of course, your screen is big enough and you’ve got enough processing power.

The new version of the operating system is also set to bring some advantages on the hardware front, according to the company, including, notably, an increase in boot times, which should fire up the handset in around half the time.

Also new is Vitals, a new feature available for Play that helps developers spot issues with apps that can potentially impact phone security, battery life and the like. The biggest cheer of the day from the developer-heavy crowd, on the other hand, came when the company announced Android support for the Kotlin programming language (nerds).

Developing…

Google brings Smart Replies to Gmail on iOS and Android

When Google launched Inbox, its more experimental next-gen email client for Gmail, one of its flagship features was Smart Reply. With Smart Reply, Google’s machine learning algorithms look at your incoming emails and then suggest short, three- or four-word replies (think “Sure” or “Yes, thank you”). Until now, this feature was only available in Inbox and the Allo messenger, but as the company announced today, it’s now also coming to Gmail for iOS and Android.

Unsurprisingly, this feature works exactly like you would expect it. Just like in Inbox, when you reply to an email, Smart Reply now appears at the bottom of the screen and offers you up to three potential replies. You can also start your reply with the Smart Reply option and then edit it or add more context.

In my experience, Smart Reply often works quite well and has only improved since launch. When it goes wrong, it’s often pretty comical, but given that you never have to rely on it, that doesn’t really matter.

This feature is now rolling out globally in English, with support for Spanish coming in the next few weeks.

Featured Image: Cairo/Flickr UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE

Volvo and Audi turn to Android for next-gen connected cars

Volvo and Audi are looking to do more with Android in its forthcoming connected vehicles, the companies announced on Monday ahead of this week’s Google I/O developer conference. The companies will be showing off the fruits of this deeper integration at the event in San Jose, which goes beyond entertainment and navigation to help drivers and passengers control AC, windows, sunroof and more via Android.

The integration of Android throughout more of the infotainment experience in cars is a win for Google, which is moving out ahead of competitors like Apple in terms of gaining more real estate in automobiles. This will become increasingly important as vehicles become sites for more mobile activity and additional connected activities, which will lead to more generation of data that can be useful to Google as an advertising platform, as well as for other aspects of its business including media delivery.

For Volvo and Audi, the advantage is more about meeting customers where they are – the dominant interface of any average person’s life is still going to be their smartphone for the foreseeable future. Plus, as infotainment tech has evolved, carmakers have been struggling to keep up in terms of providing intuitive ways for people to operate their vehicles.

Audi is showing off its Q8 sport concept at I/O to demonstrate how this will work on the user end, but basically Google Assistant will take a primary place as a voice controlled central companion. Navigation will still default to Audi’s HERE services, which makes sense given that Audi owner Volkswagen Group is a co-owner of the service following its divestment from Nokia. But users can switch the default to Google Maps, which is a significant sign that automakers are realizing the better strategy is to partner when it comes to in-car infotainment and cockpit control UX.

Google is also going to be able to provide more flexibility and immediacy when it comes to pushing out updates, Volvo notes, and better personalization across a driver’s digital life. Provided this results in more use of in-car connected services, this should benefit all parties involved thanks to the resulting wealth of data produced.

Offline content gets a boost in the new version of Chrome for Android

Google rolled out a “Downloads” feature in its mobile web browser Chrome for Android in December that allows you to save web pages, music and videos for offline access. Today, the company is introducing a series of improvements to make it easier to save content for offline access, as well as quickly find the pages you had already saved.

To download a web page previously, you would open Chrome’s menu in the top-right of the browser, then tap the “save” icon that’s located next to the star for bookmarking the site. You could then see all the content you had saved for offline access by tapping on “Downloads” from this same menu.

Now, Google is adding more ways to save content, including a way to long press on a link the way you do when you want to open up a page in a new tab. The option to “Download Link” will appear on the pop-up screen you see after your press, below the options to open the page in a new tab or incognito tab. Google says this long press action will also work on its article suggestions on its New Tab page.

This New Tab page will also include the articles you’ve already downloaded, which will be flagged with an offline badge.

This addition makes Chrome feel a little more like Instapaper or Pocket, services that both also provide users with a list of saved articles that you can read while offline. For those who only occasionally save articles for offline reading, Chrome could potentially take place of these services, as well as serve as an alternative to bookmarking web pages you want to catch up on later.

Because it’s built into the browser, Chrome’s offline saving feature could see wider adoption among more casual readers who wouldn’t have otherwise downloaded a standalone app for saving articles.

Google notes that having a list of articles to read could also be useful for times when you’ve stumbled into a dead patch on your network, or are out of data for the month on your phone plan.

Another new feature makes the download button available in more places. If you’re browsing offline, and click through to a dead web page you hadn’t downloaded, you’ll now notice a new blue button at the bottom of the screen that reads “Download Page Later.” By tapping this, Chrome will automatically download the content on that page when you again have an internet connection.

Google says Chrome users download more than 45 million web pages every week, which indicates some level of demand for offline reading functionality.

All of today’s new offline features are available in the updated version of Chrome on Android.

Google adds phishing protection to Gmail on Android

Following the widespread phishing scam that affected Google Docs and Gmail users this week, Google says it’s now rolling out a new security feature in its Gmail application on Android that will help warn users about suspicious links. This feature may not have prevented this week’s attack, however, as that attack involved a malicious and fake “Google Docs” app that was hosted on Google’s own domain.

However, the additional security protection is a step in the right direction, given how many users access Gmail on mobile, and the increasing sophistication of these phishing attacks that can even fool fairly tech-savvy individuals.

In this week’s attack, for example, you would have received an email from a known contact who said they were sharing a document with you. When you clicked to open the document, you’d be taken to an innocent-looking web page hosted by Google. The page wouldn’t even prompt you for your password, but instead listed all your Google accounts ready to be clicked.

You would be asked to give an app named “Google Docs” account permissions – but it wasn’t the real Google Docs. And once it had access, the worm began spreading to everyone in your contacts list.

The new phishing protection in the Gmail app for Android relies on Google’s Safe Browsing technology, which can warn web users if they’re about to visit a page that’s impersonating a legitimate website, like a bank, online store, or any other site trying to trick you into sharing your username and password information.

In Gmail, if you click on a suspicious link in your email message, the app will display a warning messaging that reads:

The site you are trying to visit has been identified as a forgery, intended to trick you into disclosing financial, personal or other sensitive information.

It then informs you that if you choose to proceed to the site, you do so at your own risk.

It doesn’t seem likely that the recent phishing attack would have been flagged by this system at the time of its occurrence, as it was a hosted app on Google’s own domain.

Google said on Wednesday it had taken action against the phishing attack that had affected Gmail and Google Docs users. It disabled the offending accounts. removed the fake pages, and pushed updates through Safe Browsing and its abuse team. The company also requested users to report any suspect phishing emails in Gmail.

The new mobile feature is rolling out this week to Gmail users on Android.

Featured Image: Cairo/Flickr UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE

Amazon FreeTime comes to Android phones and tablets

Amazon’s FreeTime service, which includes access to curated kid-friendly content and various parental controls, is now arriving on Android devices with the launch of a new FreeTime Android app. The app offers parents a similar set of parental controls as those found on Amazon’s Fire tablet devices, as well as a handpicked selection of over 40,000 YouTube videos and websites that have been deemed safe for kids through the FreeTime web browser.

Parents will also be able to upgrade to FreeTime Unlimited for $2.99 per month for an expanded selection of content, if the parent is a Prime member. If not, the price is $4.99 per month – as it is for the Fire tablet version of the service.

This upgraded selection includes over 10,000 age-appropriate books and videos from brands like Disney, Nickelodeon, Amazon Studios, PBS Kids, HarperCollins, Sesame Street, Simon & Schuster, and others.

However, FreeTime Unlimited works a bit differently on Android devices when it comes to apps, as parents will need to separately add in any apps or games they might own.

To date, the FreeTime service has been a major selling point for Amazon’s own hardware, including its Fire tablets, Kindle e-readers, and Fire TV. A free one-year subscription to the FreeTime Unlimited service has also been one of the key features of the Fire Kids Edition – a Fire tablet that includes a protective case and two-year “accident” warranty.

To date, over 10 million kids (meaning their parents) have signed up for FreeTime, Amazon says.

With this expansion to Android phones and tablets, it’s clear that Amazon has identified a hole in the market that it can exploit to its advantage.

FreeTime is already one of the better parental control services out there, not only because – until now – it was a first-party solution. But also because it’s focused on more than just locking down a device, as so many of the parental controls apps today do.

Instead, FreeTime allows parents to set screen time limits, set device “bedtimes,” as well as select the specific apps, games, videos, and books they want added to the child’s device. More importantly, it gives kids the feeling they have some level of control – instead of browsing the web or an app store and running into blocks, warning messages, and restrictions, kids can browse the FreeTime library to pick and choose what they want to watch, read or play.

In addition, parents can make sure tablet time isn’t coming at the expense of reading time by using FreeTime to set daily educational goals that have to be met before access to the entertainment content is unlocked.

In April, Amazon expanded FreeTime’s capabilities by introducing a parent dashboard which includes activity reports and other insights on how their child has been using their device. This is augmented with Discussion Cards, that can help parents stay tuned into what kids are involved with that day – like, what book they’re reading, video they’re watching, app they’re using, or game they’re playing.

The cards prompt parents to ask questions related to that content. For instance, if they were reading a book about pets, a parent could ask the child which is their favorite pet, and why. The dashboard can be viewed from any device – including, say, a parent’s iPhone from the website parents.amazon.com.

These cards and the parent dashboard will also be supported on Android devices, Amazon says.

It’s not likely that Amazon would port this same service to iOS, given that Apple’s platform doesn’t allow third-party apps to lock down access to content on the device the way that FreeTime does. But this Android launch hints that Amazon may be trying to get out ahead of an Apple announcement at WWDC in June that will introduce improvements to iOS’s parental controls.

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The FreeTime app for Android is free to use, and will offer access to Unlimited as a $2.99 per month upgrade. Existing Amazon Unlimited subscribers will be able to use the new Android app for no extra cost. And if you buy the subscription on Android, you can also use it on your Fire tablets, Kindle e-readers and Fire TV.

App stores saw record revenue and downloads in Q1 2017

Mobile applications saw a record number of downloads and revenue in the first quarter of the year, according to a new report from app store analytics firm App Annie out this morning. Across both iOS and Android, downloads grew by 15 percent year-over-year to reach nearly 25 billion worldwide – a figure that includes only new downloads, and not re-installs or downloads from prior quarters.

In addition, consumer spend on apps also grew 45 percent year-over-year in Q1, to reach over $15 billion across iOS and Android worldwide. However, the amount of money developers are making from their apps is even higher than this, as App Annie isn’t including the additional revenue generated from in-app advertising here, or revenue from mobile commerce applications.

In terms of the increased revenue figures, App Annie chalks up much of this growth to China’s impact on the market, and specifically its growth on iOS. The country is currently number one by iOS consumer spend, and the chief contributor to iOS revenue growth. It’s estimated China will remain in that position through at least 2021, the report said.

Overall, iOS continues to lead Google Play on revenue – and that distance is growing. Apple’s mobile platform increased its lead to 100 percent over Google Play on this metric in the quarter, up from its 90 percent lead in Q1 2016.

Of course, we know that looking only at the differences between iOS and Google Play doesn’t paint a full picture of today’s app market – as App Annie itself reported last month, Android is poised to top iOS in app store revenue this year, when you count the third-party Android app stores in the forecast. And given the importance of China’s position in the market, you must. These alternative Android app stores – which include marketplaces offered by Tencent, Baidu, Xiaomi, Huawei, and others – are expected to reach $20 billion in revenue in 2017.

Despite iOS’s lead, Google Play consumer spend did pick up steam in Q1 2017, having shown strong growth of 40 percent year-over-year.

While emerging markets like India had fueled download growth (especially on Google Play), it was established markets that led to the revenue growth. In particular, the U.S. and South Korea saw the greatest growth in market share of worldwide Google Play consumer spend, but the U.S. and Japan saw the largest absolute growth year-over-year.

Several European markets also impacted consumer spend across both iOS and Android in the quarter, including the U.K., Germany and France, which each ranked in the top 10 for consumer spend on both app stores. That’s not a new occurrence, though – App Annie notes this trend has been ongoing over the past five years.

Spotify brings “Behind the Lyrics” to Android

Over a year ago, Spotify inked a deal with music annotation startup Genius to provide the backstory to the songs you’re streaming through a feature called Behind the Lyrics, which pops up additional commentary as you’re listening to tracks on the service. Today, the company says the feature is finally making its way over to Android, where it will initially be available across a small handful of playlists.

Android users worldwide will be able to see the Behind the Lyrics commentary on Spotify’s own curated playlists, Behind the Lyrics: Hip Hop and Today’s Top Hits. When you’re listening to songs on these playlists, the tracks will pop up lyrical excerpts, fun facts and stories from the artists themselves, says Spotify in an announcement about the feature’s launch.

In addition, Khalid is offering Behind the Lyrics on every track on his new album American Teen.

These annotations play automatically, and make the process of listening to music more engaging. It’s a bit like the modern-day take on reading the liner notes. Instead of flipping through pages of text and printed photos, however, you’re meant to pay attention to your phone’s screen as the music plays. For Spotify, this has the advantage of keeping users in its app – an app most people today use in the background while they do other things.

This increased time spent in app means the company has a better shot at introducing its other content to its active listeners, including its videos, podcasts, clips, and original programming, as well as pointing you to nearby concerts or artist merchandise.

The Behind the Lyrics feature is now one of many ways artists can connect with their fans on Spotify – an area where iTunes, and its attempt at social networking called Connect – largely failed.

Earlier this month, Spotify launched its artist dashboard, which now lets artists not only track their streaming numbers, but also configure their profiles. This includes picking their own photo, selecting favorite tracks and playlists – even those from fellow artists. With Behind the Lyrics, the artists have another means of reaching their audience and telling their stories, while music listeners get an upgraded feature that’s not available on rival services like Apple Music.

However, for this to really be successful, Spotify and Genius need to work together to open the annotation platform so any artist can create their own “Behind the Lyrics”-powered track on the site, then immediately have it go live on Spotify.

Spotify says the Behind the Lyrics feature is seen by “millions” of iPhone users daily. With the expansion to Android, those numbers will soon grow.