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Amazon and Google Want to Turn Their Smart Home Speakers Into Telephone Replacements

Both Amazon and Google are working on turning their popular AI-based speaker products into replacements for a home telephone, reports The Wall Street Journal. The Amazon Echo and/or the Google Home could be used to make and receive phone calls, with the two companies planning to add the updated functionality as soon as this year. Smart home products like the Amazon Echo have become a staple in the lives of many people and the ability to make phone calls directly from the device would be a valuable addition. Google and Amazon are said to be working to overcome concerns about privacy, telecom regulations, and emergency services, plus the "inherent awkwardness" of making phone conversations via a speaker. The two companies are worried consumers won't want to speak on a device that is able to record conversations. Both the Echo and the Home continuously record audio to enable AI responses. One source that spoke to The Wall Street Journal said that Amazon would only collect metadata from phone calls rather than conversations themselves, and while it's unclear what Google would retain, a Home-based call service would likely resemble Google Voice, which does not record phone calls.Amazon is considering multiple options for how the phone feature could work, the people said. The Echo could get its own phone number. Call forwarding could enable calls to that number to be answered remotely on a cellphone, and vice versa. Another option is to sync a user's existing phone number and contacts with the Echo. Incoming calls would ring on the user's cellphone. Amazon and

Google Makes Chrome Browser for iOS Open Source

Google today announced that the code for Chrome for iOS is being added to its Chromium project and will be available through the company's open-source repository going forward. According to Google, Chrome for iOS was previously kept separate from the rest of the Chromium project because of the "additional complexity" required for the platform, such as the need for the browser to be built using the WebKit rendering engine. Google says the company's engineers have spent "a lot of time" over the last few years tweaking the Chrome for iOS code needed to upstream into Chromium, a process that was recently completed.Today, that upstreaming is complete, and developers can compile the iOS version of Chromium like they can for other versions of Chromium. Development speed is also faster now that all of the tests for Chrome for iOS are available to the entire Chromium community and automatically run any time that code is checked in.Designed as an alternative to Safari, Chrome for iOS is available for free to all users from the iOS App Store. [Direct Link] Chrome users won't notice any obvious changes to the browser, but the shift to open source will make it easier for Google to release new versions of Chrome for

Google Arts & Culture iOS App Showcases Chinese New Year Exhibition 'Arts of the New Moon'

Today marks the beginning of the Chinese Lunar New Year, and to celebrate the Year of the Rooster, Google has teamed up with 12 museums from Beijing to Washington to create a new online exhibition that can be visited through the Google Arts & Culture iOS app. Across Asia and around the world, families are coming together, houses and neighborhoods are being dressed up in red and traditional lanterns are being hung. If you're still wondering about what the fireworks are all about, Google Arts & Culture is here to help you learn more about this centuries-old tradition. Titled 'Arts of the New Moon', the exhibition features rich video and interactive graphics to showcase a range of arts and crafts connected to the ancient tradition, taking in ancient calligraphy, contemporary painting, performing arts, woodblock prints, and more. The app includes Google Cardboard-compatible VR portals to explore iconic places, like the Ge Garden in Yangzhou and the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum in Japan. Elsewhere, users can follow the zodiac animals across 1,000 years of art history, and kids can play New Year-themed games starring the Red Rooster. Also to be found are interesting facts about the Lunar New Year, with a special lesson on how to give and accept a traditional red envelope. The Google Arts & Culture app is a free download for iPhone and iPad available on the App Store. [Direct Link]

Google's Waymo Unveils Fleet of Self-Driving Chrysler Pacifica Minivans

Google spin-off Waymo unveiled its fleet of 100 self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans in a preview event ahead of the North American International Auto Show on Sunday (via USA Today). John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo, told attendees at the Detroit event that the fleet packs an array of new sensors that were all developed in-house, including an enhanced vision system, improved radar and laser-based lidar. "We're serious about creating fully self-driving cars that can help millions of people, and to do that we have to oversee both the self-driving software and the self-driving hardware," said Krafcik.The autonomous vehicles are the result of a partnership between Google and Fiat Chrysler that was agreed last spring, and represent the first time Google has chosen to build self-driving technology itself, rather than turn to third-party manufacturers. As a result, Waymo said the company had been able to cut costs by 90 percent. But apart from cutting costs, Krafcik told attendees that building the hardware in-house had allowed the company to develop better technology, such as an improved rooftop radar system, or Lidar, that allows the cars to read more information off the environment. "The detail we capture is so high that not only can we detect pedestrians all around us, but we can tell which direction they’re facing," said Krafcik. "This is incredibly important, as it helps us more accurately predict where someone will walk next." The hybrid vehicles will join the company's Lexus SUVs and Firefly vehicles on public roads in California and Arizona later this month to

Facebook and Google Dominate 'Top Smartphone Apps of 2016' List, While Apple Music Ranks 9th

A new trend study published by Nielsen this week looks into the top smartphone apps of 2016, as well as the operating systems that the apps were downloaded on. This year within the United States, Facebook won the top spot with more than 146 million average unique users each month. The social network company also dominated the second spot with Facebook Messenger at 129 million unique users per month. Following Facebook's winning of the top spots, Google holds most of the remaining spots with YouTube (113 million), Google Maps (105 million), Google Search (103 million), Google Play (99 million), and Gmail (88 million). Another Facebook-owned app in the 8th spot, Instagram (74 million), bookends the Google apps. For Apple, the only app that appears on Nielsen's chart is Apple Music, with just over 68 million unique users each month, a growth of 20 percent from 2015. Earlier in December, it was reported that Apple's music streaming service had officially surpassed the 20 million subscriber mark. Amazon's popular shopping app rounds out the list in the 10th spot with 65 million monthly users. In the third quarter of 2016, the apps were opened on average 53 percent of the time on an Android operating system and 45 percent on iOS, according to Nielsen's data of around 9,000 panelists. Windows Phone and BlackBerry accounted for a minimal portion of the statistics at 2 percent and 1 percent,

Google Brings Roving Text Effects to Apple's Live Photos in 'Motion Stills' App Update

Google has released an update to its Motion Stills app that lets users create moving text effects for inclusion in their videos. Motion Stills is designed to create unique GIFs from Live Photo images captured with the iPhone 7, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, and iPhone SE. The app was released earlier this year and its main features were subsequently integrated into Google Photos for iOS. The update means that users can add motion-tracked text overlays to their high-resolution videos and fun gifs, as described and demonstrated in the company's research blog post. We've added motion text so you can create moving text effects, similar to what you might see in movies and TV shows, directly on your phone. With Motion Text, you can easily position text anywhere over your video to get the exact result you want. It only takes a second to initialize while you type, and a tracks at 1000 FPS throughout the whole Live Photo, so the process feels instantaneous.The update also brings Google's RAISR machine learning technology to the app to create super-resolution detail in images, adds 3D Touch support to the interface, and introduces fully automatic cinemagraphs – looping moving images in which the foreground subject moves while the background remains static. Google's updated ">Motion Stills app for iPhone and iPad can be downloaded from the App Store for free. [Direct link]

iPhone 7 Tops Google's 2016 'Year in Search' Tech List, Loses to Pokémon Go in Overall Searches

Google has listed its annual "Year in Search" results, highlighting the most popular searches performed by people throughout 2016. As is usually the case, Apple-related search inquiries topped a few of the charts over the last twelve months, with Apple winning four total spots in the Consumer Tech category: the iPhone 7 topped the list ahead of the Freedom 251, iPhone SE, iPhone 6s, Google Pixel, Samsung Galaxy S7, iPhone 7 Plus, Galaxy Note7, Nintendo Switch, and Samsung J7. Last December, the iPhone 6s ranked #1 in the same category, with the Apple Watch coming in at a high point at #3. Apple's wearable was nowhere to be seen in the top Google tech searches in 2016, despite Apple launching the new Series 1 and Series 2 versions of the device. In the Overall searches category, Pokémon Go came in first place in 2016 thanks to the height of its popularity and player base earlier in the summer, and the game's continued updates and additions throughout the fall. iPhone 7 ranked second behind Pokémon Go, and was the only Apple-related item to be listed in the section this year. Other popular search terms in 2016 were for Deadpool, the Olympics, Slither.io, Prince, David Bowie, and more. Check out the rest of Google's Year in Search rankings here to discover the most popularly searched movies, news, tv shows, musicians, and more this past

Google Scales Back Self-Driving Car Ambitions

Google is reported to have shelved plans to develop its own self-driving vehicle in favor of nurturing partnerships with existing car makers to continue its work in the automotive space. According to The Information, the company's autonomous car unit, known internally as Chauffeur, is working with established car companies to develop vehicles that will include self-driving features, while ditching earlier plans to remove the steering wheel and pedal controls. The news follows on from reports back in May that Google is actively working with Fiat Chrysler on automotive projects. Despite the shift in gears for its car project, sources suggest Google still has plans to bring an autonomous taxi service to U.S. roads before the end of 2017. Its autonomous vehicles have already clocked over two million miles of tests on public roads. Recent reports regarding Apple's ambitions in the autonomous vehicle space appear to have taken a similar hard turn away from developing an own-branded electric car. The Cupertino company is said to have shelved its original automotive program "for now" in favor of building a self-driving software platform, possibly in partnership with existing car makers. In a letter earlier this month to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Apple admitted to its interest in "machine learning and automation" as it pertains to transportation, and confirmed its desire to help define rules for the self-driving car industry in the

Gmail for iOS Updated With New Browser Preference, Multiple Message and Compose Options

Google has issued an update to its recently redesigned Gmail app for iOS that brings a few notable changes to email composition and management on mobile devices. In version 5.0.7, an option in the Settings panel lets users select their favorite browser (Safari or Chrome) for opening links in emails. Users are now also able to select multiple messages in their inbox by tapping on the sender's profile image or icon next to the email, while messages can be marked as read or unread by selecting the email and tapping the 'open/closed envelope' icon in the top toolbar. In addition, it's now possible to edit quoted content when replying to a message, and to copy and paste rich text content in a message. Gmail is a free download on the App Store for iPhone and iPad. [Direct Link]

YouTube Adds 4K Live Streaming Support to its Content Infrastructure

YouTube has announced it now supports 4K live streaming at 60 frames per second, enabling content creators to live broadcast both 360-degree and standard video in the high resolution standard. Viewers with screens equipped to take advantage of the resolution shouldn't have to wait long to tune in to regularly streamed 4K broadcasts. YouTube said the first event to be live streamed in 4K will be the Game Awards, which takes place today at 9pm EST (6pm PST). For creators this means the ability to take advantage of an incredibly clear picture for recorded and now streaming video. It’s the kind of thing that can help to push their hardware (and their talent) to create the most beautiful or just plain crazy-looking images and videos possible. And with 360 4K live streams, the sky is (literally) the limit. Get ready for 360 concert and event streams that look sharper, cleaner, and brighter than ever before. 4K video uploading has been supported on YouTube since 2010, but the high resolution content has only gained steam more recently as the technology gradually approaches the mainstream. Today's upgrade to the Google-owned service also potentially opens the door to 4K live streamed events like sports and concerts being included in YouTube's forthcoming "Unplugged" web-based TV streaming service, which is close to being finalized. Unplugged is said to include a "skinny bundle" of channels from the four major U.S. networks, along with a few popular cable channels priced at around $35 per month. YouTube has been in talks with major media companies like 21st Century

Google Releases 'Featured Photos' Screensaver for Mac

Google has released a free Mac screensaver that showcases popular high-quality photos shared and liked by Google+ users. The company regularly showcases Google+ photography on idle Pixel phone screens as well as on TVs and monitors connected to its Chromecast and Google Fiber products. Called Featured Photos, the free screensaver download announced yesterday brings the same eye-catching photography to the Mac. From striking skylines to captivating vistas, talented photographers share beautiful, eye catching work on Google+ every day. To bring these photos to a wider audience, we’ve long showcased a selection of them on TVs and monitors around the world via Google Fiber and millions of Chromecast devices. Now, we’re pleased to be able to make these beautiful photos by our members even more accessible by bringing them to your computers and [Android] phones. Photos are selected based on set criteria, so there are no pictures featuring people, text, or watermarks, and all photos are landscape orientation with a minimum 1080p resolution. Each photo is attributed to its owner via a Google+ profile link in the corner of the screen. Users with multiple screen set-ups see a different photo on each screen. You can download the screensaver here

Google Offering 4-Month Free Trial of Play Music Streaming Service

Google is offering four free months of Play Music as part of its Cyber Week deals. The four-month trial includes a YouTube Red subscription for ad-free YouTube streaming and can be cancelled at any time. The Play music streaming service usually costs $9.99 per month, giving members access to over 35 million songs. Google recently announced an overhaul of its Google Play Music streaming platform, with new contextually aware, opt-in music recommendation features that promise a more personal music listening experience. Users who have had a free trial or cancelled a Play Music membership in the past aren't eligible for the Cyber Week promotion, but that doesn't stop anyone curious to see what's changed from creating a new Google account to take advantage of the

Google Maps Now Lets You Check How Crowded a Store is in Real Time

Google has announced a new feature in its Search and Maps services that enables Black Friday shoppers to know how busy a store is in real time. Dubbed "crowd control", the live feature comes on the back of the company's Popular Times feature, introduced last year, that lets users check how busy a place typically is at different times of the week. Just in time for the Black Friday swarms, we're adding a real-time look at how crowded a place is right now, to help you decide where and when to go. Whether you’re rushing to pick up a last minute gift or seeking a lively bar for some festive spirit, check Popular Times for a sneak preview of what to expect when you arrive.The feature works by crowd-sourcing anonymized location data from other Google users and also feeds in Google searches to analyze how busy a location is at any given moment. In addition, Google is also introducing a new way of checking how long people typically stay at a particular location, thereby allowing users to plan their itinerary ahead of time and to the minute. The features augment the services' existing location information, which also now includes individual department and service hours for stores, businesses, restaurants. The added times are meant to help users know what time they can, say, use the pharmacy at the local drugstore or supermarket, or to find out what time food delivery begins at a nearby restaurant. Many retailers offer steep discounts on popular items on Black Friday in order to attract customers, with Apple products frequently being included in these sales. To

Google Translate Update Bringing Easier-to-Read Translations to Web and App

An incoming update to Google Translate on the web and mobile app will enhance the service's ability to translate whole sentences at a time, instead of going word by word. With the help of "Neural Machine Translation," Google said that Google Translate will be able to look at the "broader context" of a phrase to parse out a more naturalistic representation in the native language of the app's user. With the update, Google mentioned that now translated paragraphs and entire articles are going to be "a lot smoother and easier to read," thanks to the new end-to-end learning system introduced within Neural Machine Translation. Like other AI-learning software, Google said this "basically means that the system learns over time to create better, more natural translations." Neural Machine Translation has been generating exciting research results for a few years and in September, our researchers announced Google's version of this technique. At a high level, the Neural system translates whole sentences at a time, rather than just piece by piece. It uses this broader context to help it figure out the most relevant translation, which it then rearranges and adjusts to be more like a human speaking with proper grammar. With this update, Google Translate is improving more in a single leap than we’ve seen in the last ten years combined. Across Google Translate on the web and in its iOS and Android apps, users will be able to put Neural Machine Translation to the test with eight languages to and from English and French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and

Google Debuts 'PhotoScan' App for Scanning Old Photos With iPhone

Google today launched a new app called PhotoScan, which is designed to make it easy to scan printed photographs using your iPhone's camera. PhotoScan instructs users to take four separate quick images of a printed photo, stitching them together to create a perfect high-resolution digital copy. Google's multi-image capture method eliminates issues that normally plague digital photos of print photographs, including glare and distortion. Automatic edge detection crops photos to the correct size, and PhotoScan is also able to fix orientation and perspective for a clean-looking scan.PhotoScan gets you great looking digital copies in seconds - it detects edges, straightens the image, rotates it to the correct orientation, and removes glare. Scanned photos can be saved in one tap to Google Photos to be organized, searchable, shared, and safely backed up at high quality--for free.Alongside PhotoScan, Google is also updating Google Photos with improved auto enhance, new looks, and more advanced editing tools for improving images. PhotoScan can be downloaded from the App Store for free. [Direct Link]

Revamped Google Play Music Streams Content Based on User Location, Activity, and Time of Day

Google today announced an overhaul of its Google Play Music streaming platform, with new contextually aware, opt-in music recommendation features that promise a more personal music listening experience. Building on its stated aim of helping users find the right music for any moment, Google says the fresh take on its streaming service is "smarter, easier to use, and much more assistive", thanks in large part to deeper integration with machine learning technology that allows it to offer content based on user location, time of day, current activity, and music preferences. Central to the overhaul is a redesigned home screen that Google likens to "the ultimate personal DJ", which learns what you like to listen to and when you like to listen to it, presenting content accordingly. Examples include suggesting a users' workout playlist when they arrive at the gym, offering music for unwinding after a day at the office, and recommending additional songs from new artists the user has previously expressed an interest in. To provide even richer music recommendations based on Google's understanding of your world, we've plugged into the contextual tools that power Google products. When you opt in, we'll deliver personalized music based on where you are and why you are listening — relaxing at home, powering through at work, commuting, flying, exploring new cities, heading out on the town, and everything in between. Your workout music is front and center as you walk into the gym, a sunset soundtrack appears just as the sky goes pink, and tunes for focusing turn up at the library.In

Google Cast App Rebranded to Coincide With Impending Launch of Google Home

Google has officially rebranded its "Google Cast" iOS and Android apps to "Google Home," getting the mobile apps ready for the launch of its hands-free smart home speaker, similarly named Google Home. The new name also comes with a new app icon, new features, and some slight UI tweaks that make "the app easier to use." The old Google Cast icon (left) compared with the new Google Home version (right) The "Home" launchpad in the app now has a "Watch" and "Discover" section that lets you watch videos on any of the Chromecast-enabled apps you already have installed, or discover thousands of new apps available for Chromecast, respectively. Additionally, a floating magnifying glass button enables video search across multiple apps to make it easy to find the videos you want. Once Google Home launches next week, on November 4, the new app will be the single location for users to control all of their Chromecast and Google Home devices. A "Devices" button in the top right corner will guide users through easily pairing a new product to the app, and after pairing is complete they can adjust its settings, control audio and video playback, and more. Google Home is available to download for free from the iOS App Store [Direct Link], and users can pre-order the Google Home smart speaker itself for $129.00 from the Google Store, Best Buy, Target, and

Google Signs Deal With CBS for Upcoming YouTube Streaming Television Service

Google has inked a deal with CBS for its upcoming web-based streaming television service, reports The Wall Street Journal. Called "Unplugged," the paid subscription service, available on YouTube, will see Google offering a bundle of several channels for a set price of $25 to $40 per month. CBS, a major network, is now on board, and Google is also said to be close to reaching deals with both 21st Century Fox and Disney, putting it one step closer to establishing a streaming service. Google plans to launch "Unplugged" in early 2017 and has already built out the necessary infrastructure. Google's YouTube Unplugged offering is aimed at cord cutters and is the type of television service that Apple was hoping to provide to customers before its streaming television plans were put on hold. Apple wanted to offer a "skinny bundle" featuring channels from major networks and popular cable channels, which would have been priced at approximately $35 per month. Apple has been trying to create some kind of streaming television service for many years, but has continually run into negotiation difficulties with content providers due to its "hard-nosed" negotiating tactics and an inability to assuage fears about the interruption of traditional revenue streams. Apple's latest streaming plans fell through because media companies demanded too much money for content rights and were reluctant to unbundle channels. While Google and other companies are developing streaming television services, Apple is aiming to position the Apple TV set-top box and the tvOS App Store as a platform

Gboard Update Brings 3D Touch Cursor Tracking and Support for iOS 10 Emojis

An update to Google's iOS Gboard app today has introduced 3D Touch into the third-party keyboard, letting users move the cursor by hard pressing and sliding their finger around the keyboard to pinpoint the location they want to land. Gboard's 3D Touch lacks the free-floating cursor of Apple's stock keyboard, however, and simply moves left and right throughout a message, without the ability to track upwards and downwards. The version 1.2.0 update has also added support for Apple's new iOS 10 emojis, as well as the ability for users to search and share their contacts directly from within the keyboard. Anyone who wants to use the feature must first go to the Gboard app, tap "search settings" and activate "Contacts search," and then they'll be able to access their iPhone contact list directly within Gboard in Messages. The app has gained new themes as well, including a collection of new "Landscape" images that users can download and add onto Gboard with the tap of a button. When it launched in May, Google touted Gboard's advantageous ability to perform Google searches directly within the keyboard of Messages. Apple has made a big deal out of similar abilities in Messages with its new Messages App Store in iOS 10, where users can install smaller-scale apps to find movies, make dinner reservations, and place stickers. Gboard can be downloaded from the iOS App Store for free. [Direct Link]

Google Unveils Pixel Phone, Smart Home Hub, and More at AI-Focused Event

At its media event today in San Francisco, Google announced a few new pieces of hardware, mainly centering around the company's artificial intelligence initiatives and the confirmation of a new pair of smartphones called the Pixel and Pixel XL. Additionally, the company revealed the new Chromecast Ultra streaming dongle, a VR headset called Google Daydream, and gave more details about its connected smart home hub device, Google Home. Bits and pieces of information on the Pixel smartphones and Google Home have surfaced online over the past few weeks, correctly predicting most of today's announcements. Google Assistant The company started off by providing details on its artificial intelligence platform, called Google Assistant, which the company says is like "your own personal Google." The assistant can perform normal tasks like playing music, performing search queries, and providing navigation directions, as well as carrying on a normal conversation with the user. The company showed this by providing an example of a user asking for directions, then inquiring about restaurants at the destination's end, and finally setting a reservation at one. Google CEO Sundar Pichai also discussed a few intelligent updates coming to the company's search system, including improvements to image descriptions, better translation fueled by machine learning technology, and more human-like text-to-speech abilities. Pichai said that the assistant will "constantly get better" as the company introduces it to more and more users, which it's started doing with the recent launch of