Google I/O 2017: What to Expect

Thousands of software and hardware developers will descend on the Googleplex to hear about the company's latest products. Here's what they might be.

The Best To-Do List Apps of 2017

Get organized and complete tasks more quickly and more reliably by using the right to-do app. These are the top performers in our tests.

Gartner reports first ever global decline in smartphone sales

Global smartphone sales have not been firing on all cylinders for several years now but Gartner’s latest figures record the first ever decline since the analyst began tracking the market all the way back in 2004. Read More

Google Play now makes it easier to manage your subscriptions

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.

The Best VPN Apps for Android of 2017

Using the internet on your Android phone isn't as secure or private as you might hope. Fortunately, you can protect your mobile communications with a secure virtual private network (or VPN) app.

Google’s new Android App Bundles promise to make apps radically smaller

Google today announced Android App Bundles, a new tool for developers that will make apps radically smaller. The trick here is that developers can now say which of their apps’ assets should be included for a given device so there’s no need to ship every visual asset for every screen size and support for every language to every user, for example — something many developers do today. That can result in install files that can sometimes be more than 50 percent smaller than before. As Google’s Stephanie Cuthbertson told me, large download sizes are often an issue for users in developing countries, but elsewhere, too, users often balk at installing large apps. “Apps are targeting more countries than over, they have more features than ever,” she told me. “But we know the larger apps are, the fewer installs they get.” To enable this new feature, Google rearchitected its whole app serving stack. As Cuthbertson noted, that was a major project. Since the Android team had been toying with this idea for a while, though, most of the Android platform was ready for this change. So while the standard APK format isn’t going to change, every user now essentially gets a somewhat personalized file when hitting the Install button in Google Play. Google says it trialed this service with some of its own apps already, including the YouTube and Google apps. A couple of other partners also tested it already; Microsoft, for example, saw a 23 percent file reduction for the LinkedIn app. Most of the hard work to enable this feature is handled by Google, but developers who want to make use of it do have to specify which assets and languages they want to ship to which users. As Cuthbertson noted, much of this was possible before, but it was hard to do for developers. Now, they can use the same development flow as before and only have to make some very minor changes to enable support for App Bundles. In addition to delivering the full app through an App Bundle, Google is also today introducing a related new tool: dynamic features. This essentially allows developers to make their apps modular. As Cuthbertson noted, that may be especially interesting to developers whose apps offer lots of features, some of which may only see usage by a very small number of users. For those users, developers can simply ship that feature on demand when they attempt to use it. Developers can start experimenting with these features in the latest canary release of Android Studio.

How to Use Microsoft Edge on iOS and Android

Looking to check out Microsoft Edge on your mobile device? On iOS and Android, Edge offers some advantages over rival mobile browsers. Let's check them out.

Anker’s Nebula Capsule portable projector is a pocket powerhouse

Anker is a devie maker that’s rapidly become a go-to brand for affordable, quality accessories include cables, chargers and backup batteries. More recently, it’s started to branch out into additional areas, including projectors through its Nebula brand. The Nebula Capsule is the latest product from that line, a super portable projector with an Android-based OS, a built-in battery and the ability to double as a Bluetooth speaker. The Nebula Capsule is the smaller sibling to the Nebula Mars portable cinema projector, which is actually far less portable than the newer Capsule. The Mars is more of a home theater projector that you’re also technically able to take with you if you want, whereas the Capsule is roughly the size of a can of Coke, and easy to stash in even smaller bags, or, if you’re not worries bout some bulging, even in a jacket pocket. Anker initially launched the Capsule on Indiegogo, but now it’s made its way to Amazon where it retails for $349. The projector can extend an image up to 100 inches in diameter, with 100 ANSI lumens of brightness, and it can mange four hours of video playback on its built-in power source. There’s a 360-degree speaker integrated into the base, and it comes with built-in Wi-Fi and Android 7.1, with its own app store to run popular apps like Netflix, Plex, Hulu and Amazon Prime. The device has micro USB OTG input, and can read from USB drives formatted in FAT32, plus a full-sized HDMI for attaching basically anything. Its native 854×480 resolution isn’t going to win any awards, but it’s hardly important when you’re catching up on a show on the road or playing Switch in your backyard on a stretched out bed sheet. And the trade-off, in terms of portability and versatility, its worth it. On top of the device, there are arrows that help you adjust volume, and there’s a button to turn it on, as well as a mode switch so you can use it as a Bluetooth speaker I you want. Focus adjustment is handled via a wheel mounted into the side, and this is a bit tricky because it involves a little hunting to get it just right, but the minimal interface options, but again, it’s a practical way of doing it and works given the form factor of the device. In the box, you also get a remote control, which works via IR (there’s a receiver built into the back of the device). Here, it’d be nicer to have some kid of RF-based remote instead, but the IR version works well enough, and there’s a companion mobile app for both controlling the projector and for mirroring your content. You can’t mirror content-protected media, which is a bit of a pain, but the fact that the Capsule supports streaming media from built-in apps mostly makes up for this. The speaker is surprisingly powerful, and can fill a small room easily. It’s not going to compete with 5.1 audio systems, or with something like the HomePod, but it’s plenty good enough that watching a show or movie on the Capsule is pleasant, and never falls down on the back of bad sound. Plus, I almost always pack a dedicated Bluetooth speaker on my trips away, anyway – the Capsule doubles as one, and takes up as little or even less space than most, with equivalent sound quality. Acting just as a Bluetooth speaker, the capsule’s battery life extends out to 30 hours. Considered as a two-for-one combo that includes a great travel projector and a terrific portable Bluetooth speaker, the Anker Nebula Capsule is a hard bargain to pass up.

Miracle Merchant (for Android)

For those with apothecarial aspirations, look to Miracle Merchant, where you mix up magic potions in a fun and charming solitaire card game.

ZTE said to be meeting with Google over US export ban

Yesterday was a rough one for ZTE. A year after pleading guilty to violating sanctions with Iran and North Korea, the U.S. Department of Commerce brought the hammer down and announced a seven-year export restriction on goods sporting U.S. components. That applies to more than a quarter of the components used in the company’s telecom equipment and mobile devices, according to estimates, including some big names like Qualcomm. The list may well also include Google licenses, a core part of the company’s Android handsets. According to a Bloomberg unnamed source, ZTE is evaluating its mobile operating system options as its lawyers meet with Google officials. Many of the internal components can be replaced by non-U.S. companies. ZTE can likely lean more heavily on fellow Chinese manufacturers to provide more of the product’s internals, but it’s hard to see precisely where it goes from here with regard to an operating system. There’s an extremely small smattering of alternatives open to the company, but none are great. Each would essentially involve the company working to build things, including app selections, from the ground up — and likely play a much more central role in the OS’s development. As for Google’s role in all of this, ZTE certainly isn’t make or break for Android’s fortunes. Still, it’s a pretty sizable presence. As of late last year, it commanded 12.2 percent of U.S. market share, putting it in fourth place behind Apple, Samsung and LG. It’s certainly in Google’s best interest to maintain as many prominent hardware partners as possible — though, not if it comes with the added risk of upsetting the DOC in the process.

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