We’re not used to seeing so many hardware announcements from Google at once, which made the major event earlier today all the more special. It’s not going to be something we’ll fondly remember eight years from now (ahem, Google Senior VP), there were several needle-moving products unveiled. Let’s see which ones are hot, and which are not.
HIT: Google’s first real crack at smartphones
This is a given. When you’re willing to kill off your signature device lineup, the replacement has to be worth the sacrifice. The Google Pixel and Pixel XL stand as the new role models for all things Android, and it’s not just because of the high-end specs.
Their real highlight is the introduction of Google Assistant, which is Google Now on steroids. By using advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning to understand your every move, the virtual companion is a lot more intuitive than Microsoft’s Cortana and Apple’s Siri.
Another highlighted feature is their shared camera. While it doesn’t stand out for its features — there’s only a single lens and no optical image stabilization — the shooter gets lots of praise for topping the highly respected DxOMark rankings for smartphone cameras.
MISS: No Pixel tablet in sight
It was a bit of a long shot, but we were expecting an Android tablet to be announced alongside the Pixel phones. Rumors have stated that there’s going to be a Huawei-made slate in the works under Google’s guidance, yet not even a hint was made during the event.
Having a new Google-designed tablet to erase the memory of the overpriced Pixel C would be great. There’s a possible theory why the announcement was pushed to a later date; we’ll discuss that in the next miss.
HIT: Daydream View is the VR headset we’ve been waiting for
With the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive already available and Sony’s PlayStation VR headset coming out soon, virtual reality in our homes is finally a thing. Sadly, it’s an expensive thing. And even though Samsung offers a cheaper alternative in the Gear VR, the exclusivity with top-shelf Galaxy handsets prevents mass sales. Daydream View will sort of change that.
Emphasis on sort of, because a smartphone has to be Daydream-compatible to work with Google’s stylish headset. As of now, only the Pixel handsets and a handful of other smartphones are ready for Daydream. It apparently takes a lot of guts to handle Google’s pumped-up Cardboard.
What makes this a hit for us is the design and price. Fork over $79 when it goes on sale in November, and you get the comfy-looking headset bundled with a motion-sensing controller that has a touchpad and two buttons. It’s a complete solution for anyone wanting to dive into mainstream VR without spending too much. Oh, and it works with eyeglasses on!
MISS: No Andromeda operating system yet
This one disappointed us the most. We were spoiled by the news from last week, only for it to fly over the event without even a squeak. We’re talking about Google’s rumored Andromeda operating system, which is expected to merge Android and Chrome OS.
Introducing a mobile system catered to convertible notebooks would definitely shake up the crappy battle for market dominance between Windows 10 and iOS. Neither of Microsoft or Apple’s operating systems truly fit into the convertible mold, and are better off in desktops and tablets, respectively.
By putting together an ecosystem based on Android and Chrome OS, Andromeda could eventually fill in the gaps for ever-evolving convertibles. Although fragmented, Android still does a decent job of working fluidly across thousands of varied smartphone and tablet hardware, and an open-source Andromeda could one day do the same for hybrid laptops.
The delay in announcing Andromeda probably explains why Google didn’t bother introducing a flagship tablet or convertible, as mentioned earlier. The Nexus 9 tablet is too old for showcasing a fresh OS, and the Pixel C is better left forgotten.
HIT: A collection of home products
Google isn’t just after your pockets (as in putting its Pixel phones in your pockets, not taking your money — but the latter makes sense, too), the search giant also wants to take over your home, and will do so with Google Home, Google Wifi, and Chromecast Ultra.
Google Home is the company’s answer to Amazon’s Echo, letting you communicate with your connected devices through voice commands. With it installed at the center of your place, you may control your music, make it stream movies for you, and even have it answer questions about everyday things. It’s good at knowing what you need, thanks to Google’s intelligently adaptive Assistant. It’ll cost only $129, and will ship beginning November 4.
Google Wifi does what you’d expect, but better. It’s a router that makes use of multiple access points to cover all the dead spots in a house or office. Everything still connects to one central internet host, and it’s smart enough to optimize your wireless connection depending on where you’re staying. It also has a price tag of $129, and will be available some time in November.
Finally, we have the Chromecast Ultra. If you’re familiar with previous Chromecast products, all you need to know is that the newest generation can now handle 4K streaming, HDR content, and Dolby Vision. Plus, it has an Ethernet port in case your Wi-Fi connection isn’t good enough. For those unfamiliar with Chromecast, it’s a little round device you can plug into your television to watch online content. It’ll retail for $69, and will come out in November, just in time for Google Play Movies’ 4K streaming debut.
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Google’s Emoji Kitchen will mash-up your favorite emojis
Rolling out on Gboard
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.
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