Google Purchases HTC’s Pixel Division for $1.1 Billion

Google today announced that it will acquire part of HTC's mobile division in a deal that's worth $1.1 billion.

Under terms of the agreement "a team of HTC talent" will join Google's hardware organization. The HTC employees moving to Google worked as part of the "Powered by HTC" unit that developed the Google Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones. Google also gained a non-exclusive license for HTC intellectual property.


"These future fellow Googlers are amazing folks we've already been working with closely on the Pixel smartphone line, and we're excited to see what we can do together as one team," said Google SVP of hardware Rick Osterloh.

While part of HTC's mobile unit is moving to Google, HTC will continue to develop and sell HTC-branded smartphones. HTC says the sale will allow for a "more streamlined product portfolio," and that its next-generation flagship phone is already in development.

Google's HTC purchase marks its second major smartphone-related acquisition. Google purchased Motorola Mobility in August of 2011 for $12.5 billion, mainly to get Motorola's patents, and in 2014 sold the company to Lenovo for $2.91 billion.

With the acquisition of the HTC hardware team, Google will be able to more closely mimic Apple's strategy of close integration between software and hardware.

Google's next-generation Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones are set to debut at an October 4 launch event.

Tags: Google, HTC

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Upcoming ‘Google Home Mini’ Smart Speaker Details and Images Leaked

We've previously covered rumors that Google has been working on a "mini" version of its $129 Google Home smart speaker, which is expected to be unveiled at the company's Pixel 2 smartphone event scheduled for October 4. But it looks as if details and images of the "Home Mini" have already been leaked, courtesy of DroidLife.

According to the tech site, Google Home Mini is the official name of the new smart speaker, which will cost $49 and come in Chalk, Charcoal, and Coral colors.


The Google Home Mini is said to be able to help users with their schedule, set reminders, catch up on news headlines, and other Home-related inquiries, thanks to integrated Google Assistant.

The pictures show lights on top of each unit, which will likely indicate interaction with Google Assistant. But unlike the original Google Home, the images suggest owners won't be able to change the color of the bases on the Mini versions.

Alongside the new smart speaker, Google is expected to launch a rebranded Chromebook or "Google Pixelbook" at its Pixel 2 smartphone event. DroidLife has also managed to unearth pictures of the new notebook, which will reportedly come in silver, offer stylus support, and have three different storage tiers – 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB, costing $1,199, $1,399, and $1,749, respectively.


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Gmail Now Converts Phone Numbers and Addresses to Links on Desktop and in iOS Apps

Google today announced an update to Gmail that will see the popular mail client able to convert addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and contacts to into clickable hyperlinks.

The new hyperlink feature is available on the web and in the Gmail mobile apps for iOS and Android -- Gmail and Inbox by Gmail. This is something that has long been available in Apple's own Mail app on iOS and Mac devices.


When an address is clicked from Gmail, it will automatically open up Google Maps. Clicking an email address will compose a new email using the user's default email client, and clicking a phone number will start a call request.

Google says it will take approximately one to three days for the new feature to roll out to all users.

Tags: Google, Gmail

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Google Launches ‘Tez’ Mobile Payments Service in India for Android and iOS

Google today launched a new mobile payment app in India that allows users to connect their bank accounts directly to the service and employs ultrasound technology in lieu of an NFC chip to transfer money between devices.

Called Tez (Hindi for "fast"), Google's new payment platform links customers' bank accounts to Android and iOS via the Unified Payment Interface (UPI), a state-backed payments system. Google has partnered with State Bank of India, the country's biggest lender, HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank, and Axis Bank, with 55 banks in total said to be supporting the service across India.


Tez uses a technology called audio QR that allows mobile users to transfer cash between devices using an inaudible ultrasonic frequency to identify the payer and payee. The system works with any mobile device with a mic and speaker and the Tez app installed, and therefore doesn't require an NFC chip.

India is home to 300 million smartphone users, but most handsets in the country don't feature NFC, so Google's audio QR solution is being marketed as a secure mainstream alternative. Apart from typical mobile transactions to pay for everyday items, Google says small businesses can also use the app to accept payments into their bank accounts, with payments from mobile merchants supported, too.


According to Bloomberg, digital transactions have surged after the Indian Government banned high-value cash notes in 2016. Tez is available on both Android and iOS, and Google plans to release the app in other emerging countries including Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand. Apple has yet to launch Apple Pay in any of the aforementioned countries and is still negotiating with the Indian government about bringing its own mobile payment system to the country. Apple Pay Cash, Apple's peer-to-peer mobile payment feature, is set to launch in the U.S. with the official release iOS 11 this month.

Tags: Google, India, Tez

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Google Teases Upcoming Pixel 2 Event, Aimed at Those Who Are ‘Thinking About Changing Phones’

Google has launched a new advertising campaign and teaser website for its upcoming "Pixel 2" smartphone. The site teases visitors with an October 4 event date, aimed at anyone who might be "thinking about changing phones" (via TechCrunch). The page presents no other information, and asks for the user's email address to stay up-to-date with alerts regarding breaking news ahead of the October 4 event.


Since the original Pixel smartphone debuted in October of last year (it was actually announced on the exact same date in 2016), a similar date was expected for the new version of Google's smartphone. Rumors about the Pixel 2 have been spreading over the summer in the lead-up to its launch, with current predictions aimed at a smartphone with a Snapdragon 835 or 836 chipset, 4GB of RAM, "squeezable" sides to perform different functions, and IP68 water and dust resistance.

The Google Pixel 2 will also come in standard and "XL" versions, similar to the first generation (launched in 5-inch and 5.5-inch sizes). The XL is rumored to have premium features, however, including a larger 6-inch display with "very narrow" bezels, which the smaller device will lack and reportedly appear similar to the 2016 design. There's a chance other Google devices, like a new Chromebook and "Google Home mini," will appear at the same event.

The current lineup of Pixel Phone devices

Google's tease comes two days after Apple revealed the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X, which have enticed many users who are ready to upgrade their smartphones -- the customers that Google is likely aiming at with its new Pixel 2 campaign. If the rumored specs become true, compared to the iPhone X the Pixel 2 will have slightly better RAM (4GB vs 3GB), water resistance (IP68 vs IP67), and screen size (6-inch vs 5.8-inch).


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Apple Pulls Popular Third-Party YouTube App ‘ProTube’ From the App Store

Hugely popular third-party YouTube app "ProTube" was quietly removed from the App Store by Apple last week. Apple's decision to pull the app followed several takedown requests from Google that were received by the app's developer.

ProTube was hailed by users during its three-year reign for several features either not available in the official YouTube app or not offered by other third-party apps, such as the ability to play videos in 4K at 60 frames per second, background playback, and an audio-only mode. Over its lifetime, the $5 app reached number 1 in the paid app charts in 11 different countries and the top 10 in 57 countries.


In a statement on his website, developer Jonas Gessner said he was "very sad to announce that ProTube was removed from the App Store by Apple on September 1, 2017". The action reportedly came "after multiple requests and threats by YouTube which ultimately led Apple to suddenly pulling the app from the App Store", said Gessner.
YouTube first requested Apple to remove my app well over a year ago, initially just stating that my app violates their Terms of Service. This was a generic takedown request they sent to many YouTube apps at once. They later started going into more detail, even stating that I could not sell the app as that alone violates their ToS. They basically wanted me to remove every feature that made ProTube what it is – that includes the player itself that allows you to play 60fps videos, background playback, audio only mode and more.

Without those features ProTube would not be any better than YouTube's own app, and that is exactly what they want to achieve. YouTube wants to sell its $10/month [YouTube Red] subscription service which offers many features that ProTube also offered for a lower one time price, so they started hunting down 3rd party YouTube apps on the App Store.
Gessner said he initially considered several options to end the dispute with YouTube, including removing all the contested features and making the app free, but ultimately he decided against this because "everyone who paid for ProTube's standout features would suddenly get an app update that removes all those features, resulting in a useless app".

The developer also tried to negotiate with YouTube to come to some sort of agreement, but found the process "very difficult" and claimed he was unable to get a direct response to his questions. After threats of legal action, "I knew that getting sued could cost me more than I ever made with ProTube," he said.

"While it is absolutely awful seeing ProTube getting pulled from the App Store, it was the best solution when it comes to the users that already purchased the app," admitted Gessner. "I was getting screwed either way but I at least didn't want to screw my users."

Many other third-party YouTube apps on the App Store have been targeted by YouTube with takedown requests, according to the developer, who signed off by thanking ProTube's "big and passionate fanbase" and warning that dozens of fake ProTube apps have appeared on the App Store since it was removed.


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Google iOS App Update Brings ‘Smart Answers’ and ‘Trending Searches’

Google added a couple of new features to its flagship iOS app on Friday, one of which shows searches that are trending in a user's geographical location before they begin typing into the search field.

Following yesterday's update, whenever a user taps on a search box to start a search, a dropdown menu shows "Trending Searches" indicated by a blue jagged arrow icon next to them, contrasting them from gray icons that mark out the user's search history. In our testing, trending searches didn't show up in some locations, so it's possible Google is still rolling out support on its servers.

Trending Searches appeared last year on Android, but the change prompted a number of user complaints that led Google to make the feature optional. Fortunately, iOS users can find the same opt-out toggle on the Settings screen by tapping their account profile in the upper left of the Search interface.

Apart from that, Google says the search box has gotten smarter, in that now users can often get the answer they're looking for before they've even finished typing in the question, with possible answers appearing in the suggestions below. For example, typing in "how fast is a chee" immediately displays a cheetah's land speed (110-120 km/h, for those interested).

The feature additions come on the back of Google's recent introduction of a personalized news feed for the app, offering a stream of content based on user search history and topics they choose to follow. The feed replaced Google Now, the company's predictive search feature that displays traffic updates, weather, and other information, all of which has been moved to a new tab called Updates.

The Google app is a free download for iPhone and iPad on the App Store. [Direct Link]

Tag: Google

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Google Reveals its Answer to Apple’s ARKit With ‘ARCore’, Bringing AR to 100M Android Devices

Google today announced a new developer platform for augmented reality apps that won't require dedicated hardware, which it's calling "ARCore." The company originally began making inroads in the AR space a few years ago with Project Tango, which required manufacturers to implement specialized equipment so that smartphones would be compatible with Tango's AR features.

Now, Google is "effectively shuttering" the Tango brand, according to TechCrunch, and focusing on the ARCore software development kit. The new platform will deliver AR abilities to compatible Android smartphones, immediately turning a large swath of the Android device market into advanced AR-enabled machines, similar to what will happen with iOS 11-enabled devices following the debut of Apple's upcoming ARKit.


To start, ARCore is launching on the Google Pixel and Samsung Galaxy S8 (which must be running 7.0 Nougat or above), and a wider adoption of more smartphones will come later down the line for ARCore's public launch. By that date, Google "plans to have 100 million Android devices" out in the wild that support motion-tracking AR capabilities, and as more advanced smartphones launch the company said that ARCore will only grow stronger.
“We’ve architected ARCore to be able to perceive a wide variety of sensors,” Google AR/VR head Clay Bavor told TechCrunch. “We foresee, in the future, many more phones having depth-sensing capabilities and as those come into mainstream phones, that’s great, ARCore will work seamlessly with those and benefit from the additional sensing capabilities.”
ARCore works by detecting surfaces near the user in order to display augmented reality content in a stable space. The Android smartphone sensors will detect these horizontal planes, factor in the device's motion tracking, and estimate the light entering a room so objects can be dynamically lit based on their environment.

The company is also focusing on the web, which it describes as "a critical component of the future of AR." It's beginning by releasing a prototype browser for web developers, allowing them to begin experimenting with AR alongside mobile developers. In the future, Google says that these custom browsers will allow developers to make AR-enhanced websites that run on both Android and ARCore, as well as iOS and ARKit.


Apple announced ARKit back in June, introducing a developer platform that functions in much the same way as Google's ARCore. With ARKit, developers can create apps that take advantage of the built-in camera, processors, and motion sensors of an iPhone or iPad, resulting in advanced AR experiences. Demos of these apps have been continuously emerging online in the wake of ARKit's WWDC announcement.

Android developers interested in ARCore can begin experimenting and creating apps for the Pixel and Galaxy S8 smartphones starting today. To see more examples of ARCore in action, Google has created an AR Experiments website.


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New Google Chromebook and Google Home ‘Mini’ Could Debut Alongside Pixel 2 Phones

Google will launch an all-new Pixel-branded Chromebook and a miniaturized version of its Google Home smart speaker alongside new Pixel smartphones at an event this fall, according to a source familiar with the company's plans.

Details are scant on the new Pixel notebook, which will revive the Chromebook line after two years of inactivity, but AndroidPolice suggests it could be the fruition of Google's secretive "Project Bison" first reported last year.


According to rumors, the Bison has a 12.3-inch display, 32 or 128GB of storage, 8 or 16GB of RAM, and a thickness of under 10mm, with the possibility of a "tablet" mode. Originally tipped for a Q3 2017 release and with prices said to start at $799, Bison was said to be considered internally as a serious competitor to Apple's MacBook and Microsoft's Surface Pro, but it's unknown whether the new Pixel Chromebook will actually take this form.

Again, details are few and far between regarding the rumored Google Home "mini" that could debut at the company's fall event, but it's likely to be positioned similarly to Amazon's Echo Dot as a smaller, cheaper version of the $129 flagship model, offering existing Google Home owners a more affordable way of extending smart speaker coverage to additional rooms of the house.

Google's second-generation Pixel smartphones will come in two sizes and both models are expected to feature "squeezable" sides that enable them to perform different functions. The 4.97-inch device will by made by HTC and is said to have a 1080p display and stereo speakers, while the 6-inch XL handset made by LG will feature an AMOLED display with a 2:1 aspect ratio. Both devices are said to have no headphone jack.

There's still no confirmation of the actual date of Google's fall event, but the original Pixel smartphones were unveiled in October of last year, so expect it to be around then.


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Google Payments Could Account for 5% of Apple’s Operating Profits This Year

Google is set to pay Apple nearly $3 billion this year to remain as the default search engine on iPhones and iPads, according to U.S. research and brokerage firm Bernstein (via CNBC).

According to the investor note, Google is paying out three times as much to Apple as it did in 2014 for the same privilege, with Google's licensing fees making up a large bulk of Apple's services business.

"Court documents indicate that Google paid Apple $1B in 2014, and we estimate that total Google payments to Apple in FY 17 may approach $3B," CNBC quoted analyst A.M. Sacconaghi Jr. as saying.

"Given that Google payments are nearly all profit for Apple, Google alone may account for five per cent of Apple's total operating profits this year, and may account for 25 per cent of total company OP growth over the last two years," he added.
Apple has increasingly highlighted its services business as a core component of its continued growth. In a recent conference call, for example, CEO Tim Cook said the company's services had become as large as a Fortune 100 company over the last 12 months.

Apple's iOS devices contribute about 50 per cent to Google's mobile search revenue, according to Sacconaghi, suggesting Google would be unlikely to walk away from the licensing deal even if it suspected Apple would stick with Google as the default search engine anyway, given its huge popularity.

Tag: Google

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