Do you know that Merriam-Webster adds new words to the dictionary every year? Do you also know that the Unicode Consortium adds new emojis to everyone’s devices every year? Such is the way of language. New ways to communicate will always emerge out of nowhere. Usually, they form whenever two things combine into an all-new form. It’s easy enough to combine words together, but how do you do that with emojis?
Google is developing a way to fuse emojis into new ones. In an official blog post, the Android developer announced the new feature called Emoji Kitchen. A feature of Gboard, Emoji Kitchen unlocks a plethora of new emojis. How about a cowboy ghost? Or a crying robot? Or a kissing poop face?
Prior to the Emoji Kitchen, users already received access to emoji variants in the past. Today, you can select different skin tones for human emojis. With the Emoji Kitchen, you can mix existing ones with each other. Likewise, users can access the feature automatically by opening compatible emojis. Opening the cowboy emoji sub-menu, for example, will open up its different variants.
Naturally, Emoji Kitchen will combine only existing emojis. In other words, you can’t create an all-new emoji from nothing. All new emojis come from Google’s own designers. Still, the feature’s new combinations will come in handy. Especially when I feel like a… monkey cactus?
Emoji Kitchen is slowly rolling out to Gboard users starting today. If you don’t want to wait for an official version, you can sign up for the Gboard Beta program for instant access.
Xiaomi, OPPO, Vivo joins Huawei’s effort to build a Play Store alternative
Preparing for a Google-less future
Xiaomi, OPPO, and Vivo recently collaborated with Huawei to build the Global Developer Service Alliance (GDSA). GDSA aims to create a single app store aimed at simplifying app uploads and downloads for developers and consumers.
At first glance, GDSA seems like a competitor for Google’s Play Store. Over the years, the rising hostility of the US towards Chinese tech companies led to tariffs and outright ban from using its technologies. For example, Huawei suffered an entity ban last 2018 due to suspicions of spying for the Chinese government.
Such precedence may have stoked fear among other Chinese companies that a ban could be leveraged by the US in the future. Dependence on Western technologies is crucial for these companies. As such, a ban would represent a great loss, considering that most of these companies have established markets in many countries.
To counter this scenario, these tech companies are slowly building their own alternatives to established apps and services. Huawei, for its part, had already pushed out AppGallery as an alternative to Google’s Play Store. Xiaomi, OPPO, and Vivo have their own app stores in China due to a continuing ban on Google’s services in the country.
A unified app store
A unified app store will greatly simplify the process for developers who have to deal with these multiple app stores. GDSA will unify the backend of these app stores so developers can publish once and have their apps appear on the brands’ respective app stores.
For now, details about GDSA are scarce. Pilot countries for its deployment include 9 key regions including India, Russia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. A prototype website has been set up, but developers cannot sign up for it yet.
But if GDSA really pushes through, Google will face some serious competition on Android app distribution. Furthermore, the issue of fragmentation will only deepen in the ecosystem as companies build their own version of Google apps.
Xiaomi already responded with a statement stating that they have no plans to position GDSA as a Play Store competitor. The company reiterated GDSA’s function to simplify the app uploading process. Furthermore, there was no mention of Huawei in their statement.
Huawei and Google have yet to release a statement. However, it is clear that Google will not welcome this development. Considering that Google has an iron grip on app store distribution outside China, a viable competitor will only compel the American company to further control the Android ecosystem.
With a tightening grip on Android, other tech companies will only intensify their efforts to build an alternative OS. Huawei, as an example, launched HarmonyOS for its devices in the future.
An alternative app store will also open up another potential avenue for hackers targeting users with malware. This will only contribute to security and privacy problems in Android, which has long been dealing with notorious malware and data breaches.
Grab Philippines ordered to suspend in-car recording and selfie verification
Due to violations in the Data Privacy Act of 2012
Last year, Grab Philippines tested new features to ensure passenger and driver safety. These new features are in-car audio and video recording, as well as selfie verification.
However, the country’s National Privacy Commission (NPC) ordered Grab to halt the rollout of these features. The commission stated that those features pose a privacy risk to passengers. A cease and desist order released by NPC cites violations within the Data Privacy Act of 2012, which governs the privacy and security of all digital data on the country.
NPC also stated in its Notice of Deficiencies that the ride-sharing company failed to assess the new features’ risk to passengers, taking only into account “the risk faced by the company”.
The notice also noted that there is no clear mechanism for informing passengers when recorded data gets sent to authorities. It also found out that there is ambiguity in opting out of recording.
As such, NPC gave Grab 15 days to address the deficiencies it found for both in-car recording and selfie verification. This is surely a welcome move for ensuring passengers’ privacy. However, the question remains on what measures Grab will implement in the future to protect its passengers’ safety.
Google Maps turns 15 this year
A new icon to match
Today marks the 15th birthday of Google Maps. It’s the company’s widely-used mapping service. Google Maps’ 15th birthday also marks a pivotal moment as it introduces new features for users.
New icon for users
For its 15th birthday, Google updated the logo of Google Maps to better reflect the iconic pin that defined its brand. Gone is the old logo with “G” embedded on a map with a large pin. Now, Google Maps sports a simplified logo featuring a large pin that reflects Google’s brand of colors.
Easier navigation on the go
It is also getting an update on both Android and iOS app. Users will see five tabs on the bottom of the app now: Explore, Commute, Saved, Contribute, and Updates. From now on, these tabs will serve as the primary method of navigating through the app, as the latest update removes the iconic hamburger menu on the search bar.
Explore tab will help users find information and reviews for landmarks all over the world. Commute tab, on the other hand, will help users navigate to a place in the most efficient route.
Meanwhile, the three remaining tabs — Saved, Contribute, and Updates — will help users discover a place and make mapping an engaging activity. Saved places are consolidated in a new tab for easier access. Contributing a place is easier with the Contribute tab. Lastly, the latest news and posts about a place find home in the Updates tab.
Google Maps is also leveraging machine learning to give useful insights to commuters on the go. Aside from predicting how crowded public transportation is based on riders’ patterns, commuters will get insights such as temperature, accessibility and security information. Women commuters may also find the women’s section insight useful — allowing them to check whether a public transportation option gives priority to women.
These useful insights will roll out globally this March 2020.
Live View will also expand to more regions and gain new capabilities. Users will surely appreciate its new capability which lets them quickly see how far away and in which direction a place is.
Mapping the future
Google Maps’ growth has been phenomenal. In just a span of 15 years, it became the world’s favorite mapping app. Over the years, it gained useful additions, from Street Maker to Live View, which helped users navigate to their favorite places anytime, anywhere.
Google Maps is already looking ahead by expanding its open-source digital address initiative — the Plus Codes. With Plus Codes, users don’t have to look up the long, physical address of a landmark since they simply have to remember some codes.
For years to come, Google Maps will be busy innovating and adding new features for its users. Surely, the next few years will define the mapping service from Google as it faces new competitors and challenges ahead.
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