California congressman proposes an investigation into Trump’s unsecured Android phone

Remember the unsecured Android handset that newly minted President Trump gave up, but then apparently didn’t actually give up? Things had seemingly gone silent on that front as the world took some time out to focus on the rest of the deluge of insanity that is politics in 2017.

Today, however, the story is rearing its head yet again, as California Congressman Ted Lieu has proposed an investigation into stories that reports that Trump is still using his unsecured Android headset (an old Samsung Galaxy S3, apparently), executive security be damned.

Rep. Lieu has requested that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hold an investigative hearing into the reports that the President is “that the President is jeopardizing national security by egregiously failing to implement commonsense security measures across the board.”

A press release tied to the letter also makes reference to reports about Trump talking nuclear strategy at a dinner table in Mar-a-Lago for good measure. Lieu adds in the letter, “Cybersecurity experts universally agree that an ordinary Android smartphone, which the President is reportedly using despite repeated warnings from the Secret Service, can be easily hacked,” calling it “ an egregious affront to national security.”

The letter, co-signed by 15 members of Congress also makes reference to an issue that ought prove to anyone who paid any attention during the election, citing the White House staff’s alleged use of unsecure email accounts. “We would remind the Chairmen of Congressional Republicans’ concerns over the use of private email by Secretary Clinton,” the letter states, adding that “a public hearing is required to ensure the security of such communications as well as the adequacy of record keeping procedures as required under federal law.”

Featured Image: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Google inks third carrier, Telenor, to its Android RCS messaging play

Another mobile carrier, Telenor, has partnered with Google to roll out a next-gen SMS tech — this time targeting Android users in Europe and Asia.

The aim with the Rich Communications Services (aka RCS) technology in general is to bring an enhanced messaging experience for SMS users — enabling iMessage-style features such as group chats, read receipts and typing indicators, and high-res photo sharing.

The flavor of the tech Google is involved with integrates its own Messenger app into the native SMS app to bring upgraded native messaging features to newer Android handsets.

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Late last year this flavor of RCS tech was rolled out to Android hardware using the Sprint and Rogers‘ networks, in the US and Canada — with Sprint being Google’s first carrier partner in the initiative.

Telenor’s coverage footprint includes countries such as India and Thailand, as well as multiple European nations, and it has some 214 million mobile subscribers in all — so it’s the biggest bump yet in potential reach for Google’s initiative.

That said, the company still has a very long way to go if it’s hoping to build comprehensive backing for its effort to upgrade Android users’ experience of SMS across the board.

Almost a year ago, Mountain View announced a joint effort with mobile carriers to push the next-gen SMS standard, with a plan to include an RCS-messaging client in Android.

Although it’s also been up to individual carriers to get on board and enable the tech for their networks, which underlines the scale of the fragmentation challenge for Google/Alphabet here, given how carriers do tend to prioritize their own competing commercial interests, rather than falling in step with Google’s. (Whereas Apple’s closed iOS ecosystem more easily sidesteps such issues.)

In fact carriers actually started working on RCS a decade ago, with the idea of improving SMS across the board. Yet according to data from mobile industry association the GSMA, there are only around 50 carriers globally with RCS launched at this point, spanning 37 countries and supporting 156 devices. (And, to be clear, the lion’s share of those rollouts are also older iterations on the RCS standard — i.e., not the newer, Google-backed play with the Android RCS-messaging client on board.)

In 2015 Google clearly got tired of waiting around on the sidelines for carriers to get a collective messaging act together — acquiring a specialist in the standard, Jibe Mobile, to, in its words, “help bring RCS to a global audience”. Or rather to try to persuade carriers of the benefits of aligning with a cross-network Android-to-Android next-gen SMS messaging strategy.

Progress so far on that goal? The three carriers listed in this article. Though the company says it will have more RCS launches in the “coming months”, and related news to announce at the Mobile World Congress tradeshow taking place later this month — so more operators are presumably going to be added to that tally soon.

Either way, Google remains a very, very long way away from its sought for destination of having a comprehensive competitor to iMessage baked into Android users’ SMS experience out of the box. The diversity of the Android ecosystem makes any push for standardizing enhanced native messaging features a Sisyphean struggle.

And even where carriers agree to roll out its flavor of RCS, as Telenor now has, the initiative relies on existing subscribers to their networks having the Google Messenger app already on their phone in order to get the update automatically (via an update to that app). Or else installing the Messenger app in future.

Google said today that as part of its partnership with Telenor “many” new Android devices will come with Messenger for Android preloaded as the default SMS and RCS messaging app. But many =/= all. So its RCS play is also being hamstrung by a limited pool of compatible devices.

Safe to say, a lot of players will need to be in it for the long haul if Android is to summit this ‘better native messaging’ mountain. Meanwhile over-the-top mobile messaging app giants like WhatsApp — which has more than one billion monthly active users for its richly featured messaging platform — continue to cannibalize SMS and pull users away from native messaging clients. So all this effort might end up being rather ‘too little, too late’ in any case.

Jaguar launches in-car payments at Shell gas stations

In a first for in-car convenience features, Jaguar is teaming up with Shell to launch a new payment feature that lets you use Apple Pay or PayPal (with Android Pay coming later on) to easily pay for gas right within their vehicles at the pumps. The feature is coming to the UK first, but will roll out around the world after that.

The feature requires installation of the Shell app to make the payments possible, but it’ll show up on your Jaguar’s in-car infotainment touchscreen display once installed, You can then pay using either your PayPal or Apple Pay credentials as mentioned, and all of this is available as of Wednesday in the UK – provided you’ve got a new model Jaguar XE, XF and F-PACE car.

The app lets the driver select how much gas they want, then pre-pay for their fuel. It also shows a receipt of the payment on the display itself, and forwards along a copy to your email address.

It’s true that a lot of pumps support payment at the pump via credit or debit card, but this is an even more convenient system since you never even have to take out your wallet. It’s also a sign of things to come – in-car payment methods that use retailer and service provider apps, combined with stored digital payment methods like Apple and Android Pay, as well as instant receipts and transaction records seem like a huge opportunity, now that vehicles are increasingly networked and equipped with geolocation services.

Here’s hoping Jaguar owners aren’t the only ones who get to enjoy this luxury for long.

Google & H&M’s Ivyrevel will make you a dress customized using your personal data

At last year’s Google I/O developer conference, Google introduced a new Awareness API that would allow for smarter applications that could understand where you were, what you were doing, what’s nearby, and even the weather, in order to more intelligently react to your current situation. Today, Google introduced a new application that’s taking advantage of this sort of data in order to…design you a dress.

Yes, a dress.

Uhhh???

Google says it teamed up with H&M’s digital fashion house Ivyrevel on a project dubbed “Coded Couture.

Through a forthcoming Android application, users can consent to have their activity and lifestyle data monitored – by way of the Awareness API – to create a their own, personalized, custom-made dress that’s ordered through the app. Excuse me, it’s officially called the “Data Dress,” says Google.

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Specifically, the Android app being developed now will use the Snapshot API to monitor the person’s daily activity and lifestyle, including things like where they traveled, where they eat dinner or hang out with friends, the typical weather in the area, and more. This information is collected over a week’s time, then used to create a digitally tailored dress that can be bought within the app.

The idea is that you can translate your life and your lifestyle into a unique, wearable look. But in reality, the resulting creation mainly displays your routes and routines as lines on map, sans street labels and points of interest. Users can also choose which style of dress they want, whether a look for work, parties, or formal events.

Google says that the choice of material, color, embellishment used, and added details like belt and cuffs are data-driven, as well. For example, the material will be selected based on weather data like the temperature and the fit will be based on the wearer’s activity level.

This doesn’t seem like the best use case for the Awareness API’s capabilities, but there you have it.

Currently, the app is in a closed beta and being tested by a handful of style “influencers,” including Ivyrevel’s co-founder Kenza Zouiten. Interested testers can also sign up to join a later trial ahead of the public release.

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Previously, Google had shown off better examples of how the Awareness API could be used in apps, including real estate app Trulia’s smarter push notifications that alert you to open houses only if you’re nearby, walking and it’s nice outside. Another, Runkeeper, lets you tag your posts with the current weather, while a music streaming app Superplayer Music took advantage of the new tool to suggest music based on your activity and location – like workout music for the gym.

The custom dresses will start at $99, and the app will release later this year.

(1/6/17, 12:40 PM ET: updated with pricing information, additional details)

Google will soon integrate Progressive Web Apps deeper into Android

Progressive Web Apps, which are basically sophisticated web apps that are able to use features like push notifications and a local cache to give users a native-like experience, have been on Google’s radar for the last few years. While they almost look and feel like native apps, they were never fully integrated into Android. Google plans to change this soon, though.

Soon, you will not just be able to add a link to a progressive web app to your home screen, but once you save it there, that app will also be integrated far deeper into Android than ever before. The apps will not just appear on the home screen, for example, but also in the app drawer. They will also appear in the settings menu, get all the same notifications options that native apps currently have, and be able to receive incoming intents from other apps.

“This new Add to Home screen feature is one more step in our journey to empower developers to build the best possible experience for their users, and we are committed to ensuring the same mechanisms for installing Progressive Web Apps are available to all browsers on Android,” Google’s Yaron Friedman writes in today’s announcement.

For users, this will make for a far better experience than the current one, which mostly treats the links to the web apps as glorified bookmarks.

Facebook brings its Slideshow movie-maker to Android

This past summer, Facebook introduced a new photo-sharing sharing tool called Slideshow that’s able to turn your photos and videos into mini-movies that also include themed music and transitions. The feature had originated in Facebook’s private photo-sharing app Moments before making its way over to the main social network.

The idea is to offer Facebook users an easier way to create more compelling, engaging posts as an alternative to simply posting a video or a bunch of static photos.

The Slideshow movie-maker had also arrived at a time when many tech companies, Apple and Google included, are trying to figure out new ways to help users do more with their now numerous photos and videos, while also helping to automate sharing. Apple last year announced its mini-movie maker called Memories in iOS 10, for example, and Google Photos has long since included several automated photo tools, including its own movie maker.

At launch, Facebook’s version would prompt users who were posting their status to create a Slideshow if they had snapped more than five photos or videos in the last 24 hours. A “Try It” button also appeared next to friends’ slideshows you were viewing.

Now, however, you’ll see the option appear when you click on the Status bar (“What’s on your mind?”) alongside the others, like Photo/Video, Go Live, Check In, Feeling/Activity, etc.

This is where it will be found on Android as well.

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Image credit: Android Police

Slideshow’s Android launch was first spotted by the blog Android Police, which noted that the option is appearing in this same section, just above the “Tag Friends” option. Not everyone is yet seeing this feature, though.

Facebook confirmed to us that it has just started to test the feature on Android, and only a small percentage of users are seeing it appear for the time being.

It’s interesting that it’s still being characterized as a “test,” given that the feature has been live on iOS for over half a year. But since it’s not a full rollout yet, it’s possible that Facebook will make some tweaks ahead of its public launch.

The movie maker basically works the same on Android as on iOS for now. You’re prompted to select from a gallery of your own photos and videos, and then set your title and pick your music before publishing to Facebook. (Facebook provides the music choices as before – you can’t choose your own.)

Facebook didn’t say when Slideshows would roll out to all Android users, but given the feature’s maturity, that date is not likely to be too far away.

Fender’s guitar tuning app arrives on Android

In August, Fender’s slow expansion into non-guitar products continued with the company’s first app. Of course, the iconic Strat-maker played it pretty close to its base, releasing a fairly straight-forward guitar tuning app for the iPhone. I played around with it, I liked it.

It wasn’t anything exceptional as far as guitar tuning apps go (I’ve since gone back to GuitarTuna for my own guitar tuning needs), but it was pretty robust, offering settings for electric and acoustic guitars and bass, along with a slew of different tunings.

Fender Tune lands on Google Play this week, bringing with it more or less the same features as its iPhone counterpart, including auto mode, tips and chromatic tuning. And like its predecessor, it’s available for free.

It’s nothing really ground breaking, but Fender’s done a decent job trying something new, without going to far afield from the brand people love. And it’s promised that Tune is just the first step in a portfolio of software offerings.

The company has also been expanding out on the hardware front of late, as well, including a line of pricey but nice sounding in-ear monitors.

Trump is apparently still using his unsecured Android phone

Last week, we reported that Trump had somewhat begrudgingly trading his beloved Android phone in for something more secure. An unnamed encrypted device with a phone number that “few people possess.” At the time, it seemed to put to rest the question of whether the new president would finally abandon his personal Twitter machine for the sake of national security.

Now, deep in a story by The New York Times, the same outlet that initially reported on the peaceful transition of handsets, is passing mention of the fact that maybe Trump hasn’t given up on old faithful after all.

In an article detailing his new daily routine at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the paper notes that Trump spends some of his evenings away from Melania and Barron sitting in front of the TV with “his old, unsecured Android phone,” a fact that has apparently been the source of protest among some of the president’s aides.

In the lead up to inauguration, Trump was reportedly concerned about giving up his device over fears that doing so would cause him to become more isolated after his move from Trump Tower, causing him to lose touch with friends.

Apparently like just about every other aspect of his presidency thus far, he’s doing it his way in the end – a decision that could well provoke a new conversation around security after an election plagued by hacking concerns.

Featured Image: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Google starts testing Instant Apps in the wild

One of the biggest surprises at last year’s Google I/O developer conference was the announcement of Instant Apps for Android. These new kinds of apps are meant to help bridge the gap between web apps and native apps. The idea here is to break native apps into very small packets that, because they are so small, can run almost instantly — and without having to go to an app store — when you tap on a URL.

Now, more than half a year after the company first announced this feature, the first couple of Instant Apps are ready for limited testing.

bh-deviceGoogle says that it has been working with a small number of developers to test the user and developer experience over the last few months. The result is a limited test that includes apps from BuzzFeed, Wish, Periscope and Viki.

“Instant Apps is really about re-thinking where apps are going,” Google VP of Engineering for Android Dave Burke told me when the company announced Instant Apps last year. “Web pages are ephemeral. They appear, you use them, and never think about them again.” Installing apps, on the other hand, comes with a lot of friction and users often only want to perform a single action or get a specific piece of information (say pay for parking with an app in a city you don’t often travel to). Ideally, Instant Apps gives you the speed of a light web page with all of the benefits of a native app.

For developers, supporting Instant Apps isn’t quite as easy as adding AMP support to a web site, though. They first have to modularize their apps so that the smaller packages can run as fast as possible (and without any access to the full app). The full SDK for enabling Instant Apps on Android will be available in the coming months, but developers who want to be ready for the launch should probably look at Google’s recommendations for preparing their apps for this launch.

Sadly, details about how to actually try an Instant App remain sparse. We’ve asked Google for a few more details (and maybe a few URLs to test) and will update this post once we learn more.

All Chromebooks launching in 2017 will be compatible with Android apps

All Chromebooks new in 2017 will support Android apps out of the box. An update will not be required. Owners will be able to take the Chromebook home, open it up and immediately access the Google Play Store.

The news comes from a single line of text on Google’s list of Chromebooks compatible with Android apps. “All Chromebooks launching in 2017 and after as well as the Chromebooks listed below will work with Android apps in the coming future,” it says.

Last year Google finally made Chromebooks compatible with Android apps, but so far support had been limited to just select models, requiring shoppers to consult a list to determine which Chromebook supports the Google Play Store. This move takes the ambiguity out of shopping: Buy a new Chromebook and know Android apps are available to be installed.

The addition of Android apps dramatically widens the appeal of Chromebooks. With access to the Play Store, Chromebooks gain an ecosystem as deep as Windows or macOS.