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Google Updates: Pixel launch, wearables gone from Play Store, free apps

YES, WE’RE messing with the format again. From now on, Google Updates will be updated every Friday as usual, but we’ll be updating under headings and older news will remain up, so you can bookmark this page and come back to it. Hurrah!

Reports claim that Google will spin off its Shopping service into a standalone unit in a bid to keep EU regulators happy. While Google Shopping will remain part of the company, it will have its own revenue that it will use to make bids for ads against its rivals. We first heard about Google’s plan to auction off ad placements earlier this monthReuters reported that the will allow rival firms to bid for spots, known as ‘Product Listing Ads’ on its Shopping service.

Elsewhere in Search this week, Google has signed a deal with Apple which will see the search giant take over from Microsoft’s Bing as the default search engine for its Siri voice assistant.

15/9/17: Unsurprisingly, Google has confirmed that it will appeal the €2.42bn (around £2.1bn) antitrust fine handed to it by the European Commission (EC) earlier this year. In its decision back in June, the EC said that Google “abused its market dominance as a search engine by giving an illegal advantage to another Google product, its comparison shopping service,” a move which comes to the “detriment of customers” and “stifles innovation” in the online shopping market.

8/9/17: Google has released a guide to the most searched “how to” questions from around the world in an interactive essay. If you want to measure a bra, change your name and then get pregnant, then you’re in the majority.

The Google Drive desktop app is being taken out of service in February for reasons not entirely clear to us yet, but we think it’s something to do with watching pirated Game of Thrones episodes on it. We’ll come back to you. 

6/10/17: DeepMind has launched an ethics unit to ponder the big question of AI like ‘is it ok to be nursed by a robot’ and ‘can we trust our own creations’ and probably loads of other stuff so intellectually challenging it hasn’t crossed our minds

6/10/17: Of course, the big news of the week is the glut of products launched. You can read about the Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL, Pixelbook, Google Home Mini, Google Home Max, Google Smartbuds and Google Clips by clicking through and you can read our thoughts on the launch here. Meanwhile, pre-ordering has begun.

Something else happened too. Note that there’s no mention of Android Wear? Yeah. Check the Play Store. The Wearables section has gone completely. No announcement was made, no explanation has been given. It’s, at the very least, mysterious.

Other things you might have missed from the event – there’s a new Ambient Services app in the Play Store, to power the ‘always on’ music identification, and Google Assistant has more voice options, including a male one, if you need.

Google Allo for Web is now available across major browsers, not just Chrome. But its still tethered to your phone connection and is therefore a waste of space. It can also now be triggered from an iOS device. Because, sigh.

We’re also expecting to hear about a new smart speaker with a screen sooner rather than later, because Amazon launched theres and its caught Google on the hop.

Elsewhere there is unrest as Google has quietly shelved its smart unlock by NFC.

29/9/17: Full specifications for Google’s upcoming Pixel smartphones have leaked online, revealing that they will dump the 3.5mm headphone jack along with the, er SIM slot. The handsets will be officially unveiled next week at Google’s 4 October hardware launch event. 

22/9/17: The obvious big news of the week is that Google has taken on a billion-dollar deal to work with struggling phone maker HTC. The deal will cement the working relationship between the two firms that already exists, and will see a team from HTC move to Google to work on hardware.

It comes as we see a huge leak that suggests that the event on October 4th will have a Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL, a mini version of the Google Home, and a “Pixelbook” running Chrome OS with Android apps. 

As we were going to press, we heard that Bose is to be the first in a range of headphone makers to add a dedicated Assistant button, to rival the even expanding claws of Amazon Alexa. 

15/9/17: Google has confirmed that it’s holding a launch event on 4 October, where it’s expected to unveil the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones. There’s also talk that the fast-approaching launch could see the arrival of a new Google Home, new Chromebook Pixel and Google Assistant-powered wireless headphones – adding weight to the rumours that the next Pixels will ditch the headphone jack.

8/9/17: There’s a big rumour brewing in the Android sphere. We already know that whilst Pixel devices are branded as Google, they’re actually made by HTC. So given that HTC hasn’t made much impact lately, there’s a logic to the story that apparently, Google is about to buy them out as its devices division. We could hear as early as next week. It’s not Google’s first purchase of a phone maker – previously it bought, and then sold Motorola to Lenovo after establishing the modern Moto G and X lines with their nearly-stock version of Android.

Also new this week, it sounds like there are more teething problems for Android 8.0 Oreo. In addition to the Bluetooth issues, we’re now hearing that the 4G data setting doesn’t turn off when you switch to WiFi. Could be expensive to punters on metered connections.

There’s been a lot of Chrome-related news this week. First off, Google announced that, as expected, it’ll start distrusting Symantec security certificates with Chrome 66. Earlier today, the firm announced that Chrome 64, due in January next year, will start blocking autoplay videos, as it follows in the footsteps of Apple’s Safari. 

8/9/17: Chrome 61 is out in the stable channel. It adds granular Javascript, WebUSB support and stops sites certified by two Chinese authorities who were letting sites with malware slip through. It’s also available for Android.

Smart home
6/10/17: So we got not one but two new smart speakers. The Google Home Mini and the Google Home Max. See up the page for links. 

29/9/17: Rumour has it that Google is accelerating plans for a more comprehensive smart home hub in light of the global release of the Amazon Echo Show alongside a raft of new devices powered by its Alexa AI assistant. The so-called ‘Manhattan’ will boast a 7in screen offering video calling, Google Assistant, the usual glut of services like YouTube, and home controls for its Nest range and other smart home devices.

Also this week, Google has yanked YouTube support from the Amazon Echo Show, claiming that Amazon has failed to fix the “bad experience” offered to consumers. 

22/09/17: Nest is releasing a whole bunch of new stuff in the US this November including a video doorbell and a smart lock developed with Yale. It’s all a bit expensive. 

Free apps
Incisive Media makes no guarantees that these offers will still be on, prices are correct at time of writing. All prices reflect the UK Google Play Store.

Blue Light Filter Pro (£2.49) – If your phone doesn’t already have a night mode, you’ll do well with this filter app which reduces the chance of your phone keeping you awake. 10 minutes of smartphone use is equivalent to a cup of espresso, so get it while it’s free.

Mobile Doc Scanner (MD Scan) + OCR (£3.99) – Another app on heavy discount. Photograph your documents and let the software do its magic. We didn’t get a chance to test the OCR part, but hey, it’s free, worth a punt, right?

Freelance Simulator: Game Developer Edition (£0.89) – for any of our readers that aren’t freelance game developers anyway, here’s your chance to find out how its done with this sandboxing game. Nothing to do with cat litter, by the way. µ



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