Phones

Google Play Movies & TV becomes a one-stop shop for everything that streams

With the explosion of streaming services now available, it’s becoming more difficult to figure out not just what movie or TV show to watch next, but where you can actually watch it. Google today is rolling out its solution to this problem with a significant revamp of its Google Play Movies & TV app and an update to the Google Play Store itself that will show you which streaming services have the content available, in addition to whether it’s available for rent or purchase, as before. The end result is something that’s similar to Apple’s own TV app, which combines users’ own library of movies and TV with the ability to seek out what’s trending and available in the world of online video. In the updated Google Play Movies & TV app, you’ll now find three tabs in the new bottom navigation bar which will direct you to your Home, Library or your Watchlist. The watchlist is a feature the app recently gained as well, but now it has a much more prominent position. As you browse through the app, you can click on titles to read more about them, as before, but now you’re also able to see where the item can be streamed. At launch, Google is working with 28 streaming services whose content libraries are now integrated in Google Play Movies & TV. That’s fewer than Apple’s TV app supports, which is currently over 60. But it will find content even if it’s an exclusive to the streaming provider, and not necessarily something Google has for rent or sale. That means you can find original programming – like Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle” – and then start watching it on the streaming service that hosts it. “We deeplink right into playback for that [third-party streaming] app,” explains Ben Serridge, the product manager for the Movies & TV app at Google. “So if I wanted to start watching ‘The Good Doctor’ pilot, I press the play button and it goes into the ABC app and start playback.” Beyond the big names, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, the app also pulls in content from ABC, CBS, FOX NOW, NBC, HBO NOW, HBO Go, Showtime, Showtime Anytime, Max Go, Starz, Disney Now, HGTV, BET Now, Comedy Central, A&E, Cooking Channel, Crackle, DIY Network, Food Network, History, Lifetime, MTV, The CW, Travel Channel, Tubi TV and VH1. Notably missing is Netflix, whose content is searchable in Apple’s TV app. Serridge didn’t explain why it’s missing, saying only that “we would very much like to have all the apps that distribute this kind of content on Play participating” – effectively tossing the ball back to Netflix’s court. Even without Netflix, the feature is useful if not comprehensive. It will show you the services hosting the content, whether it’s freely available to stream, if you need a subscription (as with HBO Now), the associated costs, or if you need to login with pay TV credentials to watch. This is especially helpful because some of the network TV apps offer a teaser of a show with a few free episodes, but not complete seasons. The Google Play Movies & TV app will help you track down the rest elsewhere, if need be. The app will also now help you narrow down searches thanks to a robust filtering system that lets you click on tags by genre, mood, decade, and more. For example, you could click on “Family,” “Drama,” Award winning,” Highly rated,” Comedy,” and other filters. In addition to helping you find content, stream it, or add it to your Watchlist, the app includes personalized recommendations. These will be partly based on items you’ve previously watched, but you can also explicitly signal your interest or distste as well, by clicking on the thumbs up or thumbs down button. The thumbs down will remove the item from your suggestions entirely. Outside the app itself, the Play Store is being updated to show you the same information about content availability. Solutions like the new Google Play Movies & TV app and Apple’s TV app are handy in the cord cutting era where content is spread out across networks, services, and other over-the-top offerings. But even these apps aren’t enough. Not only is Netflix missing from Google’s app, so is its own YouTube original content – and that’s the same company! Also not addressed by either Apple or Google’s app are which shows may be available to stream or record via live TV services like YouTube TV, Hulu Live TV, PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now, and Sling TV. (Although, to be fair, that’s not only a different set of services, it’s also a much larger challenge given that broadcast network availability varies by market. A dedicated solution like Suppose.tv or Fomopop’s live TV finder may work better.) Meanwhile, there are other tools for finding and tracking favorite shows, like Reelgood or TV Time (or a jailbroken Fire TV stick we should admit), but they don’t have the the benefit of matching content from a rent-and-buy marketplace like Google Play, or being available across phone, tablet, and desktop web, like Google Play. Google says the new features will roll out to Android phones and tablets in the U.S. over the next few days.

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Huawei’s P20 is a shiny, extravagant phone

Huawei just unveiled its brand new flagship phone — the P20. It’s a solid, well-designed Android phone with a shiny design, an iPhone X-like notch and some extravagant features, such as not one, not two but three cameras on the back of the P20 Pro. I’ve played with the phone for a few minutes yesterday, and I would consider it one of the most polished Android phones out there. It’s a good successor to the P10, a good alternative to the Samsung Galaxy S9 and a good incarnation of Android. The P20 and P20 Pro Huawei is launching two different phones. The P20 is the most affordable version of the devices. It features a 5.8-inch LCD display with an 18.7:9 aspect ratio. In other words, the screen is more or less just like the one on the iPhone X. The P20 Pro is slightly larger with a 6.1-inch display. And, for the first time in a Huawei phone, it has an OLED display. This feature alone makes the P20 Pro much nicer than the P20. Phone manufacturers shouldn’t even try selling a phone with a notch combined with an LCD display. It just looks bad. Both phones have a glass back and an aluminum frame, just like the Samsung Galaxy S9. It doesn’t feel as heavy as the iPhone X with its stainless steel frame, but it feels nice in your hand. It’s a bit surprising that Huawei opted for a glass back even though the P20 and P20 Pro don’t feature wireless charging. Many manufacturers switched to glass cases to facilitate wireless charging. With those new devices, you get the fingerprints on the back of the device without any additional feature. There are five colors for the P20 and four colors for the P20 Pro. In addition to standard colors (black, midnight blue for both devices, champagne gold for the P20), Huawei has created two gradient colors that look great — twilight and pink gold. Another thing that differentiates the Huawei P20 from other Android phones, Huawei has kept the fingerprint sensor on the front, below the display. Many manufacturers have put the fingerprint sensor on the back, which works fine if you have the phone in your hand. But if the phone is on the table, you have to pick it up to unlock it — you don’t have this issue with the P20. Throwing more cameras at the problem But the real craziness is on the back of the device. The P20 Pro has three camera sensors because two cameras weren’t enough. There’s a 40 megapixels lens combined with a 20 megapixels monochrome lens and an 8 megapixels telephoto lens. All of this should help you zoom further, take portait photos and take super slow-motion videos at 960 frames per second. While that sounds like an overkill, Huawei thinks this is the best physical representation of its work when it comes to photography. The company automatically detects objects and scenes to adjust the camera settings. The selfie camera automatically enhances your skin so that you feel comfortable sharing selfies with your friends. Long exposures are automatically stabilized for those long dark winter nights. I could go on and on with Huawei’s special camera features, but it’s hard to judge if it’s actually useful without using the phone for a few days. The P20 is a bit more reasonable as it only has two rear cameras. Let’s go through some fine prints. Both devices are powered by an ARM-based Kirin 970 system-on-a-chip designed by Huawei. It runs Android 8.1 with Huawei’s EMUI custom skin. It comes with 128GB of internal storage, no microSD slot, no headphone jack and a USB Type-C port. There will be dual SIM versions of both devices. The company says that you can unlock the device with your face, but it’s nowhere near as good as Face ID. It takes a 2D photo of your face so you can easily bypass it with a photo. Trying to be different When you see the shiny P20, it has a distinctive look. That hasn’t always been the case with Huawei phones. The company has chosen to embrace the notch. It makes the P20 look much different from the notch-less Samsung Galaxy S9. In many ways, the P20 isn’t groundbreaking. It’s a faster, more capable smartphone. But it’s hard to keep innovating after more than a decade of smartphones. So the P20 feels like a solid Android phone. The only issue is that you won’t be able to buy the P20 in the U.S. That’s why Huawei introduced its smartphone in Paris with videos featuring Orange, Vodafone, Telefonica and Deutsche Telekom.

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The Huawei P20 is not coming to the U.S.

Meet the Huawei P20. It’s a pretty nice phone. I played around with it, and I can confirm that it is, indeed, a solid flagship with some suitably over-the-top features — what’s that you say? Three rear-facing cameras?! But all of this is kind of a moot point if you live here in the States. Sure, Huawei’s been having a lot of issues trying to sell its phones in America. In fact, just as I was playing around with the P20, news was breaking that Best Buy was planning to stop selling the company’s phones — it was a bit like finding out your starting pitcher needs Tommy John surgery before opening day. Only with, you know, lots more international espionage and such. Rather than deal with the rigmarole of getting shot down by carriers and retailers this time out, the company is simply making it clear right off the bat that the new flagship just won’t be available here — not through any sort of official channels. And honestly, it’s probably best for Huawei to just focus on those countries that have long stocked its phones — from the look of the FCC reports earlier this week, this situation is going to get worse long before it gets any better. For the rest of the world, there’s plenty to like here. The P20 looks like a cross between the iPhone X and HTC’s latest shiny metal phones. It’s got a 5.8-inch display (6.1 on the P20 Pro) and some crazy camera specs, including three rear lenses, including an eight-megapixel telephoto and 40-megapixel (!) RGP, coupled with a built-in color temperature sensor. There’s still a front-mounted fingerprint sensor and some strange choices, like a 2D face unlock function that makes do with the lack of depth sensing. No pricing or availability at press time, except here in the States, where the latter is just a picture of a big red circle with a line through it.

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Watch Huawei unveil the P20 live right here

Huawei is about to unveil its brand new flagship smartphone — the P20. While many details have already leaked, this is going to be an interesting launch. The company chose to unveil its new device at the magnificent Grand Palais in Paris. This is the first time Huawei chooses Paris to launch a major new device. Carriers and retailers in the U.S. have stopped selling Huawei devices. That might be the reason why the press conference is happening in Europe. Huawei is now the second largest phone manufacturer in the world behind Samsung and just slightly above Apple. The P10 was a great device, so it’s clear that many Android fans will pay attention to today’s launch.

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Facebook fights creeps and apathy with expiring friend requests

Snapchat has ephemeral messages, and now Facebook has ephemeral friend requests. The big blue social network feeds off your social graph, and every time you expand it, it has more content to show you. But if you leave a questionable friend request in limbo for too long, you’ll probably never confirm or delete it. So Facebook is betting that by making those friend requests into exploding offers, you’ll be more likely to accept than lose the opportunity to connect. And if you didn’t want that friend request in the first place, it will self-destruct even if you don’t bother to manually reject it. On Friday, TechCrunch reader Christine Hudler provided screenshots of a new expiring friend requests feature that gives you a 14 day countdown to make a decision. Now a Facebook spokesperson has confirmed the feature to TechCrunch, writing “I can confirm that this is a test to help surface the most recent requests.” Facebook tells me it’s a way to assist people with managing unwanted friend requests by eventually deleting those people saw but didn’t accept. It’s currently only appearing to a subset of users, not to everyone. Those in the test group will see a “14 days to respond” countdown on their friend requests. A ‘Learn More’ link leads to this Help Center article we’ve screenshotted here, as it only shows details about expirations to those in the test. Keeping people’s friend request queue clean is critical to the company because if you can’t find the legitimate ones from people you know amongst all the randos and spam, you might stop growing your graph. Expiring friend requests could also solve a problem for social media stars and other public figures on Facebook. The app only lets you have up to 5000 friends, and a limited number of pending requests that seems to be 5000 minus your friend count (Facebook wouldn’t say). After that, you won’t receive inbound friend requests any more. The expiration date makes it much less likely that you’ll ever hit the pending friend request maximum. The “limited time offer” trick has been around in shopping forever as way to boost your sense of urgency. Humans love optionality but hate to miss out. People buy things off of infomercials they don’t actually want because if they “ACT NOW!” they’ll get a discount before it disappears. This same approach compels people to open Snapchat so they don’t miss their friends’ Stories that delete themselves after 24 hours. The feature comes at a time when Facebook is especially sensitive about appearing respectful of your data, following the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Friend requests from total strangers can make users feel like they’re already sharing too much public information, and that one wrong click could expose their friends-only photos and posts. Keeping these requests from piling up could make users feel safer while ensuring they can keep adding real friends. For more on what’s up with Facebook, read our feature pieces: Regulation could protect Facebook, not punish it 7 much scarier questions for Zuckerberg

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HQ Trivia’s first sponsored games roll out this week from Nike and Warner Bros.

HQ Trivia, the TV-style game show in an app, is starting to make money. The company this week is rolling out its first sponsored games, including a $3 million deal which includes sponsored games from Warner Bros., as well as a sponsored game from Nike, arriving today. AdAge was the first to report on HQ Trivia’s deal with Warner Bros., which is using the popular live trivia app to promote three movies, beginning with Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One.” According to the report – which HQ Trivia declined to comment on at the time – the overall deal with Warner Bros. is worth $3 million, and will include a $250,000 jackpot on a sponsored game that promotes “Ready Player One,” airing on Wednesday. The jackpot would be the largest ever seen on the HQ Trivia app, AdAge noted. (HQ Trivia confirmed this is the case, in an email to TechCrunch.) The biggest jackpot the app had seen until now was the $50,000 prize from the game that aired on March 4, 2018, the night of the Academy Awards. The game also saw its peak audience that night, with 2.18 million people logged on at the same time, the company said. On Sunday evening, Warner Bros. confirmed its sponsorship of a Wednesday HQ Trivia game in a tweet from the “Ready Player One” Twitter account: This Wednesday, Ready Player One and HQ Trivia invite you to join the leaderboard! Download the HQ Trivia App to play: https://t.co/FsnefCe3T9 pic.twitter.com/xLwhxvhNM4 — Ready Player One (@readyplayerone) March 26, 2018 Today, HQ Trivia teased another big name sponsor, Nike, in another tweet. “HQ x Nike Airing 3.26,” is all the tweet said. Nike confirmed to TechCrunch it will be hosting a surprise game today, on Air Max Day – Nike’s made-up shoe-celebrating holiday. Airing 3.26 pic.twitter.com/e3OpLdrrlr — HQ Trivia (@hqtrivia) March 26, 2018 Don’t miss it. #AirMax Day. https://t.co/2XH5TJJhJh — Nike (@Nike) March 25, 2018 Nike’s game will offer a $100,000 prize pot, along with some sort “prize that money can’t buy” for 100 winners. While neither HQ Trivia nor Nike would provide more information on what that prize may be, folks on Twitter are speculating it’s some sort of special edition shoe to tie-in to Air Max Day. The Nike game will be a separate, surprise game that airs in addition to its regular games, HQ Trivia tells TechCrunch. Typically, HQ Trivia runs games at 3 PM EDT on weekdays and 9 PM EDT every day. These sponsored game launches are notable because they represent HQ Trivia’s first serious attempts at generating revenue. But they don’t come as a surprise. The company has said for some time that it would collaborate with brands as a means of making money. For example, it told Variety in December that the focus with its brand deals would be on enhancing gameplay. And when HQ Trivia recently announced its $15 million round of funding, it again reiterated how it would work with brands to sponsor questions or provide bigger jackpots in the future, instead of just running ads. However, with bigger jackpots, there comes a bigger risk of cheating – something that’s been an increasing concern thanks to the numerous bots that have been built to help people answer questions accurately. In fact, HQ Trivia recently kicked the remaining players out of a $25,000 game, which it followed up by tweeting that moderators kick people out who violate its terms and contest rules. The company never officially confirmed what the players did, but the general consensus is that they were caught cheating. The HQ Trivia app is a free download on both iOS and Android.

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FCC wants to stop spending on gear from companies that ‘pose a national security threat’

The U.S. maneuvers against China’s tech giants continue today with an official announcement from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai that the agency may soon ban purchasing anything from companies that “pose a national security threat.” Huawei, ZTE, and other major tech manufacturers aren’t named specifically, but it’s clear what is meant. Pai lists the risk of backdoored routers, switches, and other telecoms equipment as the primary threat; Huawei and ZTE have been accused of doing this for years, though hard evidence has been scarce. The proposal would prohibit any money from the FCC’s $8.5 billion Universal Service Fund, used for all kinds of projects and grants, to be spent on companies beholden to “hostile governments.” Pai mentioned the two Chinese giants in a previous letter describing the proposed plan. Both companies in question have strenuously denied the charges; perhaps most publicly by Richard Yu, CEO of the company’s consumer business group, at CES this year. But warnings from U.S. intelligence services have been ongoing since 2012, and Congress is considering banning Huawei equipment from use by government entities, saying the company “is effectively an arm of the Chinese government.” Strong ties between these major companies and the Chinese government are hard to deny, of course, given China’s particularly hands-on methods in this sort of thing. Ironically, however, it seems that our spy agencies are so sure about this in great part because they themselves have pushed for and occasionally accomplished the same compromises of network infrastructure. If they’ve done it, they can be sure their Chinese rivals have. The specifics of the rule are unknown, but even a relatively lax ban would likely be a big hit to Huawei and ZTE, which so far have failed to make a dent in the U.S. phone market but still manufacture all kinds of other telecommunications gear making up our infrastructure. The draft of the new rule will be published tomorrow; the other Commissioners have it now and are no doubt reading and forming their own opinions on how to improve it. The vote is set for April 17.

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Google begins to roll out mobile-first indexing

Google announced this morning its “mobile -first” indexing of the web is now starting to roll out, after a year and a half of testing and experimentation. Back in 2016, Google first detailed its plan to change the way its search index operates, explaining how its algorithms would eventually be shifted to use the mobile version of a website’s content to index its pages, as well as to understand its structured data and to show snippets from the site in the Google search results. In December 2017, Google said it had begun to transition a small handful of sites to mobile-first indexing, but declined to say which properties had been made the move. Mobile-first indexing means Google will use the mobile version of a web page “for indexing and ranking, to better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they’re looking for,” the company writes in a blog post. By “primarily mobile,” Google is referring to the fact that the majority of people who use Google search today now do so from mobile devices, and have done so since 2015. Google also explains that it will have one index for search results, not a mobile-first index that’s separate from its main index. In other words, it will start to look to the mobile web pages to index the web, not the desktop version. Mobile-friendliness has long been one of the many factors in determining how a site is ranked, but it’s not the only factor. For example, there are times when a non-mobile friendly page still has the best information and will appear higher, Google says. However, Google has begun to prioritize mobile sites in several ways. For example, it began to boost the rank of mobile-friendly webpages on mobile search results back in 2015, and more recently said it was adding a signal that uses page speed to help determine a page’s mobile search ranking. Starting in July 2018, slow-loading content will be downranked. While Google today claims the mobile-friendly indexing won’t directly impact how content is ranked, it does note that having a site’s mobile-friendly content indexed in this new fashion will likely help the site “perform better” in mobile search results. Google isn’t shifting all sites over to the new mobile-first indexing today – just the first wave. Specifically, Google selected those sites that are already following the best practices for mobile-first indexing, it says. And it will favor the mobile version of the webpage over its own fast-loading AMP pages. Those sites who have been shifted will be notified via Search Console, says Google, and will begin see increased visits from the Smartphone Googlebot. After the shift, Google will show the mobile version of the site’s pages in its Search results and in the Google cached pages. Google tells the webmasters of sites that are not yet mobile-optimized to not panic yet. “If you only have desktop content, you will continue to be represented in our index,” assures the Google announcement. The company did not specify when the rollout of the mobile-first indexing would complete.

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Google begins to roll out its mobile-first index

Google announced this morning its “mobile -first” index of the web is now starting to roll out, after a year and a half of testing and experimentation. Back in 2016, Google first detailed its plan to change the way its search index operates, explaining how its algorithms would eventually be shifted to use the mobile version of a website’s content to index its pages, as well as to understand its structured data and to show snippets from the site in the Google search results. In December 2017, Google said it had begun to transition a small handful of sites to the mobile-first index, but declined to say which properties had been made the move. Mobile-first indexing means Google will use the mobile version of a web page “for indexing and ranking, to better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they’re looking for,” the company writes in a blog post. By “primarily mobile,” Google is referring to the fact that the majority of people who use Google search today now do so from mobile devices, and have done so since 2015. Google also explains that it will have one index for search results, not a mobile-first index that’s separate from its main index. In other words, it will start to look to the mobile web pages to index the web, not the desktop version. Mobile-friendliness has long been one of the many factors in determining how a site is ranked, but it’s not the only factor. For example, there are times when a non-mobile friendly page still has the best information and will appear higher, Google says. However, Google has begun to prioritize mobile sites in several ways. For example, it began to boost the rank of mobile-friendly webpages on mobile search results back in 2015, and more recently said it was adding a signal that uses page speed to help determine a page’s mobile search ranking. Starting in July 2018, slow-loading content will be downranked. While Google today claims the mobile-friendly index won’t directly impact how content is ranked, it does note that having a site’s mobile-friendly content indexed in this new fashion will likely help the site “perform better” in mobile search results. Google isn’t shifting all sites over to the new mobile-first index today – just the first wave. Specifically, Google selected those sites that are already following the best practices for mobile-first indexing, it says. And it will favor the mobile version of the webpage over its own fast-loading AMP pages. Those sites who have been shifted will be notified via Search Console, says Google, and will begin see increased visits from the Smartphone Googlebot. After the shift, Google will show the mobile version of the site’s pages in its Search results and in the Google cached pages. Google tells the webmasters of sites that are not yet mobile-optimized to not panic yet. “If you only have desktop content, you will continue to be represented in our index,” assures the Google announcement. The company did not specify when the rollout of the mobile-first index would complete.

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HTC had a terrible holiday quarter

Smartphone and VR headset maker HTC has published its consolidated results for Q4 2017 — and it makes for grim reading. The topline figures are: Flat quarterly revenue of NT$15.7 billion (~$540M) with gross margin of -30.8% Quarterly operating loss of NT$9.6 billion (~$330M) with operating margin of -60.8% Quarterly net loss after tax: NT$9.8 billion (~$337M), or -NT$11.93 (-$0.41) per share HTC says this latest quarterly loss was due to “market competition, product mix, pricing, and recognized inventory write-downs”. So pretty much a full house of operational and business problems. The one bright spot for HTC’s business is a deal worth $1.1BN, in which Google acquired a chunk of HTC’s hardware business — which was completed at the end of January. That one-off cash injection is not reflected in the Q4 results but will rather give some passing uplift to HTC’s Q1 2018 results. HTC says it will be using the Google windfall for “greater investment in emerging technologies”, writing that they will be “vital across all of our businesses and present significant long-term growth opportunities”. There’s no doubt that any business revival would require hefty investment. But exactly what long-term growth opportunities HTC believes it can capture is questionable, given how fiercely competitive the smartphone market continues to be (with Chinese OEMs making what running there is in a shrinking global market); and how the VR market — which HTC bet big on in 2015, with Vive and Valve, to try to diversify beyond mobile — has hardly turned out to be the next major computing paradigm. Not yet anyway. So the emphasis really is on the “long-term” earning potential of VR — say five or even ten years hence. HTC flags the launch of its VIVE Focus standalone VR system in China — which it last week said it would also be bringing to the UK and other global markets later this year — and the launch of a VIVE Pro premium PC VR system in January, which it was showing off at CES, as examples of focused product innovation in the VR space. Following a strategic business review aimed at optimizing its teams and processes — both for smartphones and VR — it also says it now has “a series of measures in place to enable stronger execution”, and is touting fresh innovations coming across its markets this year. But HTC is going to need a whole lot more than squeezable gimmicks and shiny finishes to lift out of these doldrums.

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