Anker, a popular if battery and cable company, recently announced the Mars II projector under its Nebula brand. The company, which primarily sells via Amazon, is expanding out of batteries and cables and is now creating audio and other portable AV gear. This compact, battery-powered DLP projector is their latest creation and it has found a place of honor at our family barbecues. The projector is actually an Android 7.1 device stuffed into a case about as big as a Bluetooth speaker. A physical lens cap slides down and turns on the system and you control everything from he included remote or the buttons on the top of the device. You can also download an app that mimics a mouse and keyboard for choosing videos and information entry. It projects at a maximum of 300 lumens and projects at 720p. You can also connect an HDMI device like a game console or stick in a USB drive full of videos to view on the fly. Again, the real benefit here is the ability to stream from various apps. I have YouTube, Netflix, Plex, and other apps installed and you can install almost any other Android app you can imagine. It has speakers built in and you can cast to it via Miracast but you cannot insert a Chromecast. If all you want to do is throw up a little Santa Clarita Diet or Ice Age on a sheet in the back yard, this thing is perfect. Because the brightness is fairly low you need solid twilight or a partially dark room to get a good picture. However, the picture is good enough and it would also make a great presentation device for a closed, dark conference room. Because of its small size and battery life – four hours on a charge – it makes for a great alternative to a full-sized projector or even a standard TV. At $539 the Mars II is priced on par with other 720p projectors. The primary use case – connecting a computer or console via HDMI – works quite well but streaming user experience is a bit of a mixed bag. Because Anker didn’t modify the Android installation much further than adding a few default apps, some apps require a mouse to use and others can be controlled via the arrow keys on the remote or body of the device. This means that some apps – like Plex, for example – let you pick a video via the arrow keys but require you to press the “mouse” button to begin simulating a mouse cursor on the screen. It’s a bit frustrating, especially in poor lighting conditions. One of the interesting features is the automatic focus system. Instead of fiddling with a knob or slider, you simply point this at a surface and the system projects a bullseye focus ring until the picture is in focus. The focus changes any time you move the device and sometimes it gets caught up if the screen or projector are moving. However in most cases it works perfectly fine. Like most portable projectors you aren’t buying the Mars II to watch 4K video in 5.1 surround sound. You buy it to offer an alternative to sitting on the couch and watching a movie. That means this is great for on-the-road business presentations, campouts, outdoor movie viewing, and sleepovers. It is cheap and portable enough to be almost disposable and it’s not as heavy and hot as other, larger devices. In short, it can go anywhere, show anything, and works really well. Anker also makes the Mars, a more expensive 1080p device, but this one works just fine for about $400 less – a big drop in just about a year of brisk sales. It’s nice to see a good, low-cost manufacturer dabble in the world of complex consumer electronics and come up with a product that is truly useful and fun.
Mobile app subscriptions are a big business, but consumers sometimes hesitate to sign up because pausing and cancelling existing subscriptions hasn’t been as easy as opting in. Google is now addressing those concerns with the official launch of its subscription center for Android users. The new feature centralizes all your Google Play subscriptions, and offers a way for you to find others you might like to try. The feature was first introduced at Google’s I/O developer conference in May, and recently rolled out to Android users, the company says. However, Google hadn’t formally announced its arrival until today. Access to the subscriptions center only takes one tap – the link is directly available from the “hamburger” menu in the Play Store app. Apple’s page for subscription management, by comparison, is far more tucked away. On iOS, you have to tap on your profile icon in the App Store app, then tap on your name. This already seem unintuitive – especially considering that a link to “Purchases” is on this Account screen. Why wouldn’t Subscriptions be here, too? But instead, you have to go to the next screen, then scroll down to near the bottom to find “Subscriptions” and tap that. To turn any individual subscription off, you have to go to its own page, scroll to the bottom and tap “Cancel.” This process should be more streamlined for iOS users. In Google Play’s Subscriptions center, you can view all your existing subscriptions, cancel them, renew them, or even restore those you had previously cancelled – perfect for turning HBO NOW back on when “Game of Thrones” returns, for example. You can also manage and update your payment methods, and set up a backup method. Making it just as easy for consumers to get out of their subscriptions as it is to sign up is a good business practice, and could boost subscription sign-ups overall, which benefits developers. When consumers aren’t afraid they’ll forget or not be able to find the cancellation options later on, they’re more likely to give subscriptions a try. In addition, developers can now create deep links to their subscriptions which they can distribute across the web, email, and social media. This makes it easier to direct people to their app’s subscription management page directly. When users cancel, developers can also trigger a survey to find out why – and possibly tweak their product offerings a result of this user feedback. There’s also a new subscription discovery section that will help Android users find subscription-based apps through both curated and localized collections, Google notes. These additional features, along with a good handful of subscription management tools for developers, were all previously announced at I/O but weren’t in their final state at the time. Google had cautioned that it may tweak the look-and-feel of the product between the developer event and the public launch, but it looks the same as what was shown before – right down to the demo subscription apps. Subscriptions are rapidly becoming a top way for developers to generate revenue for their applications. Google says subscribers are growing at more than 80 percent year-over-year. Sensor Tower also reported that app revenue grew 35 percent to $60 billion in 2017, in part thanks to the growth in subscriptions.
Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, the progenitor and once-reigning champion of last-player-standing battle royale gaming that’s swept the video game world by storm, has hit over 400 million players globally across all platforms. As a perk and potential sop to bring new players to its personal computing platform, PUBG is offering the full version of its full throttle game for $19.99 — a 33.33% cut from the game’s regular price. The offer includes classic maps Erangel and Miramar and the all-new Sanhok, launching on June 22, according to a statement from the company. PUBG has already moved 50 million units of its game across PC and Xbox One consoles and has hit 87 million daily players. Roughly 227 million players engage in PUBG’s particular murder-death-kill competition every month. “We are genuinely humbled by the ongoing success and growth of PUBG,” said CH Kim, CEO, PUBG Corp. “We are not resting on our laurels though, as we continue to focus on performance and content updates for current players to enjoy, and look to our future as we aspire to deliver the signature PUBG experience to fans worldwide.” While PUBG’s rise has been swift, hitting the 400 million figure in a little over six months since its worldwide release (and over 15 months since its early access release), the game’s publisher has been beset with competitors nipping at its heels. Already, the game has been toppled from the top slot by the new player on the battle royale block — Fortnite. In April alone, Fortnite pulled in $296 million for its own last-avatar-standing game — and the game’s popularity likely will only grow once the title takes its bow on the Android gaming platform later this month. PUBG, the company, and its parent company, Bluehole, aren’t taking the competition lying down. They’ve taken Fortnite’s creators to court, filing a suit against Epic Games over copyright infringement concerns. As we reported earlier, the South Korean suit, noted by The Korea Times, takes particular issue with Fortnite’s battle royale mode. PUBG leadership declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Messages, Google’s more recent focus for its scattered messaging efforts following its decision to “pause” work on Allo, is now available for web users. The company announced that it would begin rolling out Messages for web starting today, with the full rollout completing over the next week. The feature, along with others including GIF search, smart replies, and more, is part of an updated messaging experience for Android users that aims to be Google’s response to iMessage. The company earlier this year moved its Allo team to work on Android Messages, Google’s app that utilizes the RCS messaging standard. The standard, adopted by numerous mobile operators worldwide, offers more feature parity with iMessage, thanks to its support for things like read receipts, typing indicators, high-res photo sharing, better group chat, and other features. Now, Messages is gaining another feature to better compete with iMessage: web support. Today, Apple users can access iMessage conversations on their Mac using a dedicated app. Google’s Messages for web is similar in the sense that it also offers cross-platform access to messages – that is, it lets Android users view and respond to chats when they’re not on their phone. However, the implementation of Messages for web is more like WhatsApp for the desktop, right down to how you scan a code on the Message website to sync things up with your phone. Google says Messages for web will support sending stickers, emoji and image attachments, as well as text, at launch. The company also announced a few other features that will come to the Messages app over the next week, including built-in GIF search; Smart Replies, which suggest English language text responses and emoji for now; preview web links in conversations; and the ability to copy one-time passwords with a tap. This last feature is also similar to a new addition coming to iMessage in iOS 12. When you’re logging into a site or app that requires a one-time password sent over text message, iOS 12 will let you paste that into the necessary field with one tap. Google’s system looks like it requires two taps – both the copy and the paste functions – but it’s still a lot easier than before. To try out the new features, Android users will need to be on the latest version of the Messages app from Google Play.
LIV Watches is a crowdfunding darling with a number of Kickstarted watches under its belt. Now it’s offering a unique set of watches to backers, including the Liv Genesis GX-AC, an automatic chronograph with date. The watch runs a Sellita Caliber SW500, visible through the see-through back, and features a screw down crown and massive metal pushers. The company prides itself on the size of its watches and this piece is no exception. The GX-AC isn’t wildly big – at 46mm it’s just a bit bigger than most Android Wear watches – and it fits nicely thanks to a rounded rubber band that hugs the top and bottom of the case. There is a small running seconds hand at nine-o’clock and registers for minutes and hours at noon and six. If you’ve seen automatic chronographs before you know what you’re in for – a standard movement encased in a special steel case that is designed to appeal to a certain demographic. LIV is also Kickstarting a number of other watches, including a Day-Date chronograph that is flight-inspired and a diver, so check them out. However, if you’re into this piece then you’re in for a treat. It starts at $790, far below most mechanical chronographs I’ve seen, and the workmanship and quality of this piece is quite nice. I wore it a little over the past few weeks and found it very comfortable and easy to read. The running seconds hand is a bit small and the lume is limited to the pips and hands but as a fashion/everyday wear piece it’s excellent. If you particularly like the style – F1 racing meets Kylo Ren – then you’re probably going to like this thing and since they’ve already surpassed their goal and hit $602,000 you can expect delivery of your perk. Again, watches like this one require a specific style and taste. The LIV is reminiscent of Alpina and Tissot in its case style and decoration and it pays homage to racing and speed. Grabbing a Swiss made watch for under $1,000 is a treat and this is a good example of the species and well worth a look.
Several years ago Google X engineer Max Braun published a medium post on a smart mirror he made and now he’s back with a new version that’s smaller and smarter. This is a smart mirror I can get behind though I still find smart mirrors completely frivolous. He published his project on Medium where he explains the process and the parts a person would need to build their own. This isn’t a project for everyone, but Max gives enough instructions that most enterprising builders should be able to hack something similar together. I recently reviewed a smart mirror and found it a bit silly but still useful. Ideally, like in Max’s smart mirrors, the software is passive and always available. Users shouldn’t have to think about interacting with the devices; the right information should be displayed automatically. It’s a balancing act. At this point, smart mirrors are little more than Android tablets placed behind a two-way mirror. Retail models are expensive to be buy and hardly worth it since a person’s phone or voice assistant can probably provide the same information. After all, how many devices does a person really need to tell them the weather forecast?
Google has quietly crept out of the tablet business, removing the “tablets” heading from its Android page. Perhaps it hoped that no one would notice on a Friday and by Monday it would be old news, but Android Police caught them in the act. It was there yesterday, but it’s gone today. We (well, Romain) called tablets dead in 2016, which was probably a little premature, since over 160 million of them shipped last year — but even so, it’s not much of a life they’re living. Google in particular has struggled to make Android a convincing alternative to iOS in the tablet realm, and with this move has clearly indicated its preference for the Chrome OS side of things, where it has inherited the questionable (but lucrative) legacy of netbooks. They’ve also been working on broadening Android compatibility with that OS. So it shouldn’t come as much surprise that the company is bowing out. Sales have dropped considerably, since few people see any reason to upgrade a device that was originally sold for its simplicity and ease of use, not its specs. I, for one, have been using the 3rd-gen (1st Retina) iPad since its release approximately 500 years ago and have never felt any compulsion whatsoever to get a new one. What happened to tablet sales? Cheap Kindle tablets from Amazon have proliferated somewhat, presumably as distractions for kids who would otherwise get fingerprints all over mom’s new phone, or for ultra-compact time-wasting on airplanes. Google’s exit doesn’t mean Android tablets are done for, of course. They’ll still get made, primarily by Samsung, Amazon, and a couple others, and there will probably even be some nice ones. But if Google isn’t selling them, it probably isn’t prioritizing them as far as features and support. Fortunately tablets aren’t subject to quite the same feature mania as smartphones, so it won’t really matter if your new Galaxy Tab or what have you doesn’t do all the cool new Google Assistant things. It plays a few games, stores your Pocket articles, and lets you watch Netflix in coach. Something cheap along those lines will always be available, but Google’s done with that whole scene. I’ve reached out to Google for comment and will update if I hear back.
Microsoft is launching an update to its Android launcher today that gives parents the ability to track their kids’ location. This is one out of a number of parent- and kid-focused announcements the company made today. Others include the ability to block sites in Microsoft Edge on Android and the launch of MSN Kids, a new curated news website for children. At the core of these new features are Microsoft’s family group settings that already allowed you to do things like track a child’s activity on Windows 10 and Xbox One devices or limit screen time in general. “As a mother to a young and curious daughter, I deeply understand the need for tools to help balance the use of technology in the home as well as out of the home,” writes Shilpa Ranganathan, the General Manager of Microsoft’s Mobile Experiences group, in today’s announcement. “It’s especially near and dear to me as leader of a team building experiences for mobile devices. We emphasize the idea of transparency as a guiding principle for these new experiences.” The new tracking tool is rolling out with today’s update of the Microsoft Launcher for Android and will put the latest known location of your kids right in its personalized news feed. I’m not sure how useful blocking access to sites in Edge for Android really is, but if you manage to lock your kids out from Chrome or any other pre-installed browser — and block them from downloading them — then I guess this could work. As for MSN Kids, Microsoft notes that the site will curate information from trusted sources, including Time for Kids, Popular Science, Sports Illustrated for Kids, National Geographic, and USA TODAY. It’s worth noting that there is no sponsored content or advertising on the site.
Google is slowing piecing together a strategy for China to ensure that it doesn’t miss out on the growth of technology in the world’s largest country. It’s been months in the making through a series of gradual plays, but further evidence of those plans comes today via a product launch. Files Go — a file manager for Android devices released last year — has made its way to China today. Not a huge launch, for sure, but the mechanisms behind it provide insight into how Google may be thinking about the country, where it has been absent since 2010 after redirecting its Chinese search service to Hong Kong in the face of government pressure. For Files Go, Google is taking a partner-led approach to distribution because the Google Play Store does not operate in China. The company is working with Tencent, Huawei, Xiaomi and Baidu, each of which will stock the app in their independent app stores, which are among the country’s most prominent third-party stores. Let that sink in a little: the creator of Android is using third-party Android app stores to distribute one of its products. On the outside that’s quite the scenario, but in China it makes perfect of sense. There’s been regular media speculation in recent about Google’s desire to return to China which, during its absence, has become the largest single market for smartphone users, and the country with the most app downloads and highest app revenue per year. Mostly the rumors have centered around audacious strategies such as the return of the Google Play Store or the restoration of Google’s Chinese search business, both of which would mean complying with demands from the Chinese government. Then there’s the politics. The U.S. and China are currently in an ongoing trade standoff that has spilled into tech, impacting deals, while Chinese premier Xi Jinping has taken a protectionist approach to promoting local business and industries, in particular AI. XI’s more controversial policies, including the banning of VPNs, have put heat on Apple, which stands accused of colluding with authorities and preventing free speech in China. Political tension between the U.S. and China is affecting tech companies. [Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images]Even when you remove the political issues, a full return is a tough challenge. Google would be starting businesses almost from scratch in a highly competitive market where it has little brand recognition. It’s hardly surprising, then, that it hasn’t made big moves… yet at least. Instead, it appears that the company is exploring more nimble approaches. There have been opportunistic product launches using established platforms, and generally Google seems intent at building relationships and growing a local presence that allows its global business to tap into the talent and technology that China offers. Files Go is the latest example, but already we’ve seen Google relaunch its Translate app in 2017 and more recently it brought its ARCore technology for augmented and virtual reality to China using partners, which include Xiaomi and Huawei. Bouquets of flowers lie on the Google logo outside the company’s China head office in Beijing on March 23, 2010 after the US web giant said it would no longer filter results and was redirecting mainland Chinese users to an uncensored site in Hong Kong — effectively closing down the mainland site. Google’s decision to effectively shut down its Chinese-language search engine is likely to stunt the development of the Internet in China and isolate local web users, analysts say. (Photo credit: xin/AFP/Getty Images) Beyond products, Google is cultivating relationships, too. It inked a wide-ranging patent deal with Tencent, China’s $500 billion tech giant which operates WeChat and more, and has made strategic investments to back AI startup XtalPi (alongside Tencent), live-streaming platform Chushou, and AI and hardware company Mobvoi. There have been events, too, including AlphaGo’s three-game battle with Chinese grandmaster Ke Jie in Wuzhen, developer events in China and the forthcoming first Google Asia Demo Day, which takes places in Shanghai in September. In addition to making friends in the right places, Google is also increasing its own presence on Chinese soil. The company opened an AI lab in Beijing to help access China-based talent, while it also unveiled a more modest presence in Shenzhen, China’s hardware capital, where it has a serviced office for staff. That hardware move ties into Google’s acquisition of a chunk of HTC’s smartphone division for $1.1 billion. The strategy is no doubt in its early days, so now is a good time to keep a keen eye on Google’s moves in this part of the world.