Gmail to Get New Design, Smart Reply on Web; Android APK Suggests Enhanced Assistant Capabilities

Google is planning a major design overhaul for Gmail as seen in the Early Adopter Program which is said to offer a “new Gmail experience” in “the coming weeks”. As per online reports, Gmail is getting new features such as Smart Reply on Gmail web, native offline support, and improved access to other Google apps like Google Calendar directly from the Gmail app. Similarly, version 7.26 of the Google app also gets new features that include added capabilities to Google Assistant and Google Home.

In an email sent to G Suite administrators, as reported by Android Police and 9To5Google, features in the Early Adopter Program have been outed. These include a redesigned and clean look for Gmail’s desktop version, ability to snooze emails (like Inbox), and Smart Reply feature for emails on the Web interface – to recall, the Smart Reply feature rolled out to mobile versions back in May last year. Gmail will also get better access to G Suite apps like Google Calendar as well as native offline support – although the latter will arrive sometime in June. Native offline support is said to replace the Gmail Offline Chrome app.

The report also suggests that several major Chrome extensions will continue to operate with the revised Gmail experience, however developers should tread with caution before enabling the new experience within organisations.

“We’re working on some major updates to Gmail (they’re still in draft phase). We need a bit more time to compose ourselves, so can’t share anything yet-archive this for now, and we’ll let you know when it’s time to hit send,” said Google apparently replying to the query on these upcoming features.

Separately, according to an APK teardown, the Google app on Android is also getting certain new features including email capabilities on Google Home smart speakers, removed references for “Google Assistant for Households”, and capabilities on Assistant to make reservations and also help with Stocks preferences.

 

HandBrake 1.1.0 With Redesigned Interface, 4K Presets Debuted on Windows, Mac, and Linux

HandBrake, a popular open-source video transcoding app that is available on Windows, Mac, and Linux, has received a new update almost two years after it got updated to version 1.0. The new version, HandBrake 1.1.0, brings a redesigned user interface as well as new and improved official presets, including 4K device presets for Apple TV, Chromecast, Fire TV, and Roku. The updated transcoder also has tons of performance improvements and bug fixes and various platform-specific features.

Among other new features, HandBrake 1.1.0 has an improved main window that supports drag and drop of files and includes the new preset controls in the main workflow. The interface also has a new summary tab that defines settings at a glance. Further, there are updated interface icons that support high-resolution displays. The overall workflow also now moves top to bottom and left to right to deliver a more symmetrical user experience than before.

In addition to the improved user interface, HandBrake 1.1.0 includes a bunch of new and improved presents. There are new presets for Vimeo and YouTube, 2160p/ 4K device presets for Apple TV, Chromecast, Fire TV, and Roku, and new Production presets for post-production video editing workflows. Similarly, there are additional 2160/ 4K Matroska presets to let you export 4K videos using the Matroska (mkv) container.

The updated HandBrake software additionally has improved Apple TV 4K support. There are improvements towards the original Intel QuickSync Video support. These enable an experimental compatibility with Linux systems and 10-bit H.265/HEVC encoding support for Kaby Lake and newer CPUs. The HandBrake team has also added support for a variety of GPUs via D3D11 encode path.

Coming towards the platform-specific features, HandBrake 1.1.0 has improved support for Apple’s VoiceOver navigation. You can also experience overall stability derived from the bug fixes and improvements that the HandBrake team has added for Mac devices.

Linux users, on the other hand, can now install HandBrake on systems running Ubuntu 18.04 and 17.10, though it’s no longer supported for Ubuntu 15.04. For Windows machines, there are options to play a sound in MP3 or WAV format when encode or queue is finished and show progress, pass, passcount in the application title or task tray icon tooltip. The Windows version of HandBrake 1.1.0 also has support for per-display resolution awareness and running the app in a portable mode. There are improved audio selection behaviour controls and a tweaked UI consistency throughout. Furthermore, the HandBrake team has also added an option to configure low display space warning level across all the three platforms.

You can download the HandBrake 1.1.0 app on your system by visiting the HandBrake site. You can also view the detailed documentation of the software to understand its functionality.

Drake Will Rap About Fortnite If Epic Makes a Hotline Bling Emote for the Game

Grammy Award-winning rapper Drake may record a Fortnite track on his next album if the game’s creator, Epic Games makes an emote based on his song Hotline Bling. This stems from a conversation between Drake and popular Fortnite streamer Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins on Twitch. Fortnite fans have been demanding a Hotline Bling emote since the first time Drake and Ninja streamed the game, which broke Twitch’s live stream record with 630,000 concurrent viewers at its peak. A Hotline Bling emote is an in-game dance based on Drake’s moves in the music video for the song by the same name.

According to Drake, record producer and songwriter Murda Beatz is experimenting with putting Fortnite tunes in songs. Drake is working on a new album which features a collaboration with Murda Beatz.

“Dude, you gotta put some Fortnite lingo on the album,” Blevins said on the stream.

“It has to happen, it’s just gotta be the right way,” Drake replied.

“Someone’s gonna do it. Someone’s gonna pull it off. I say when Epic gives me the emote, when Epic gives me the Hotline Bling emote, I’ll do it. Until then, I’m on strike.”

Epic tends to give fans what they ask for and with the company currently running a competition where players can submit dances that may appear in the game, we won’t be surprised to see a bunch of Hotline Bling-inspired options. For what it’s worth, Epic hasn’t commented on the possibility of a Fortnite Hotline Bling emote just yet.


If you’re a fan of video games, check out Transition, Gadgets 360’s gaming podcast. You can listen to it via Apple Podcasts or RSS, or just listen to this week’s episode by hitting the play button below.

 

Google Search Gets ‘More Results’ Button for Mobile Users

Google has rolled out a “More results” button in Search for mobile users that will allow them to load additional search results beyond the first set that are displayed.

“We’ve launched a new “More results” button that makes it easier & faster to get more search results on mobile. Now additional listings load below the ones already being viewed, rather than the old “Next” button that would load an entirely new page,” Google’s Danny Sullivan tweeted via @SearchLiaison late on Wednesday.

Earlier this week, Sullivan had confirmed Google was running a test on the new “More results” button.

“The ‘More results’ button will appear for searchers using the Google app for iOS & Android or major mobile web browsers other than Chrome for iOS – support for that is coming,” the tweet further said.

The new button will load organic results first and then display ads relevant to them, Google added.

Google earlier this month announced a new feature in Search that will help plan movie nights better – movie showtimes. The update is rolling out to the mobile Web interface and the Google Search app on Android in the US and India (in Hindi and English). It will also be available on mobile search in the browser, and soon, on the Google Search app for iOS.

“Going to the movies this weekend? We’re now making it easier for you to make plans while you’re on the go… When deciding what movie to watch, you usually consider the movie itself along with the showtimes and theatre options. With our latest update rolling out today, you can quickly compare movies by the factors you care most about-ratings, showtimes, theatre location and more-all from the same view. And just as before, you can easily buy your tickets in advance; just click on a showtime to purchase a ticket,” Google said in a blog post.

 

Fortnite Down for Maintenance on All Platforms, Epic Working on Fix

Popular battle royale shooter Fortnite has been down for over 12 hours on all platforms – PS4, Xbox One, PC, and iOS. Developer Epic Games has taken the Fortnite servers offline for maintenance. According to the company’s Twitter account, there’s no estimated time as to when the Fortnite servers will be back online. Checking the Fortnite status page on Epic’s website suggests that the developer is in the process of installing major upgrades to its database systems for the game.

“We’re bringing the servers offline for emergency maintenance. We apologize for this inconvenience. We currently have no ETA on when servers will be back up,” reads a tweet from the official Fortnite account.

This comes a day after the company released a new update to Fortnite dubbed Fortnite v3.5 which included new features such as replay editor.

While Fortnite iOS gets “multiple graphical improvements” for “the skybox, vegetation and anti-aliasing”, the Fortnite Replay System is now available on PS4, PC, and Xbox One. In terms of size, the Fortnite v3.5 patch download size is 2.86GB on PS4 and a paltry 128.40MB on iOS. Firing up the game on iOS results in another download, presumably including the rest of the game’s files post-update. Other fixes include locking out jailbroken iOS devices and removing audio indicators for silenced weapons.

According to a report from analytics firm Sensor Tower, Fortnite has earned more from in-app purchases than Clash of Clans, Candy Crush Saga, and Pokemon Go in the last seven days. Fortnite continues to find a place in the top 10 grossing list on iPhone in 23 countries.

“Sensor Tower Store Intelligence data shows that lifting the invite requirement resulted in a 197 percent, or approximately three times increase in player expenditure on Monday, April 2, versus the $620,000 average across all previous days, totaling more than $1.8 million (nearly Rs. 11.70 crore) for the day,” a post from the company reads.


If you’re a fan of video games, check out Transition, Gadgets 360’s gaming podcast. You can listen to it via Apple Podcasts or RSS, or just listen to this week’s episode by hitting the play button below.

Orkut Creator Wants His New Social Network to Be a ‘Positive’ Influence

For many of us around the world – and especially in India and Brazil – Orkut was the introduction to social networking in the early 2000s. Developed by Google employee Orkut Buyukkokten in 2004, Orkut.com at its peak saw 300 million active users on the platform, until it was supplanted by Facebook, and eventually shut down in 2014. Hello Network is Orkut Buyukkokten’s fourth social media venture, and was launched in May 2016 as an app-only platform, with the goal of creating an offbeat social platform where users could explore bonds and friendships with other people. Gadgets 360 caught up with Orkut Buyukkokten at the public launch of Hello in India this week to get some insights on the rollout of his latest project in the country.

“We initially had a plan of getting 100 beta testers on-board for launch in India, but we ended up with 35,000,” said Buyukkokten. “During the beta testing phase, we found out that the Indian audience is more open and welcoming when compared with North American markets like the US. When I look at how the beta testers were using the app, they are not afraid of reaching out to strangers and making friends; they are not afraid of expressing themselves in front of others and on the public platform.”

Say Hello to Orkut Buyukkokten, Founder of India’s Former Favourite Social Network

Orkut.com, he said, once topped the traffic charts in India with more unique visitors than Google.com. But that was more than a decade ago.

“When Orkut.com first launched, it wasn’t built to support hundreds of millions of users,” said Buyukkokten. “So, right after we launched, we ran into certain scalability issues. It took us almost a year to rewrite our infrastructure, architecture so we could handle the traffic.” Hello, he added, has been designed keeping in mind all these limitations and is made to support millions of users. “Hello is a mobile-first network. Being mobile means being instant – at your fingertips,” said Buyukkokten. “In terms of infrastructure, a lot has changed since the era of Orkut. We have services like AWS (Amazon Web Services) and Google Cloud that allow platforms to scale to not just hundreds of thousands, but millions of users.”

“Later on, we will introduce ads; but when we introduce ads it will be in a way that is beneficial for the users, giving them a positive experience.”

And right now, Hello is looking to make its money not through targeted advertising, but rather, in-app spending. “We have a custom virtual currency revenue model. We have something called Hello Coins that users on the platform can use to unlock certain features,” said Buyukkokten. For instance, users can spend their Hello Coins to post anonymously on Hello, which is essentially meant to be a public platform. “By requiring people to use virtual currency to create these ‘Incognito posts’, we ensure that people aren’t doing it too often. It kind of creates a balance between public and private updates,” he added. Buyukkokten is also not completely opposed of advertisements on his platform either. “Later on, we will introduce ads; but when we introduce ads it will be in a way that is beneficial for the users, giving them a positive experience.”

Indian Users the Most Engaged but Least Likely to Pay: SwiftKey

Users can buy 200 Hello Coins for a price of about $1, or roughly Rs. 65, and you can earn coins by using the network. Coins are also used for things like creating communities. The relatively low price might lead to the increased usage of Hello for anonymous posts, something the founder would not want as he aims to create a “positive” network. With anonymity there often arises enemity and hatred, as we have seen on platforms like Secret.

The Hello Network app is a bit different from other social networks out there. During the sign up process, it asks you to choose five different tastes and preferences – called personas – out of more than a hundred. It then helps you match with other people that have similar tastes. Algorithms used by Hello help create clusters of users with similar tastes and help the platform categorise individuals in an organised manner.

“In our lives, we like things to be customised. If you go to the same coffee shop every time, you expect the barista to know your preferences; if you browse your Netflix, you expect it to offer you perfectly customised recommendations,” said Buyukkokten. “Similarly, recommendations on social media are good as long as they give users a positive experience, and are not creepy.” Hello aims to keep preference questions to a minimum.

Hello, India

With its public launch in the country, Hello has added certain India-centric features. These include new capabilities for users to add links on the platform, and several new personas. “We added Bollywood fan, Cricket fan, Spiritualist, and Chai lover to our list of user preferences considering how important these things are to people in the country,” said Buyukkokten. “As we launch in different countries, we will expand personas accordingly.”

Hello is not just for English speakers in India either. Buyukkokten said that the company is looking actively to localise and translate content on the platform to suit certain local audiences in the country. “We will start with English, but, as we get more regional native speakers on Hello, we will definitely focus our efforts on translation,” he said. A desktop version of Hello is also coming soon, Buyukkokten added, in an attempt to change its app-only image in India.

The company is also open to setting up offices in India. “We would love to open a marketing office as well as an engineering office in India, in different cities,” said Buyukkokten.

LinkedIn, Skype, and Facebook cater to budget smartphone users with toned down, Lite versions of their mobile apps. Hello’s focus is on offering customised system preferences to users that will allow them to use the normal version of the app on smartphones with low powered internals. “We will allow users to tweak settings in order to reduce their bandwidth usage – mostly on cellular data,” said Buyukkokten. “Users will be able to downgrade image quality in order to save data. We are also investigating having a Lite version, but that’s not our priority right now.” Hello is working majorly on improving the experience on its Android version considering the fact that 90 percent of its current market uses smartphones that run the Google-owned mobile operating system.

Using reputation to fight fake news
On being asked about his views on the prevalence of fake news on today’s social networking platforms, he said, “Fake news is a huge problem, worldwide, and the major issue we see is that major social media companies are not prioritising users – users don’t come first.” He thinks that fake users and fake updates create high traffic for these companies, which is in turn beneficial for shareholders and advertisers.

“It is impossible to create fake news because our platform has an anthropological system which distributes content based on reputation,”

With Hello, he says, things are a bit different. “It is impossible to create fake news because our platform has an anthropological system which distributes content based on reputation,” said Buyukkokten. Essentially, he explained that Hello is aiming to reduce the influence of fake news by popularising content that has been regarded as genuine by long-term users.

Ola Continues Australia Expansion With Melbourne Launch

Following successful launches in Perth and Sydney earlier this year, ride-hailing platform Ola announced the launch of operations in Melbourne in an emailed statement.

In lieu of this, Ola is offering passengers free rides from Thursday, for a limited period of time.

Following the launch of operations in Australia, Ola has been positively received and achieved 15,000 registrations across the region, the company said. Ola said it offers driver-partners a market low 7.5 percent introductory commission rate and daily payments, helping them earn more money and access it easily.

“We’ve been humbled by the response from passengers and drivers alike in Perth and Sydney, and are incredibly excited about launching Ola in Melbourne. We hope commuters and driver-partners continue to share their feedback to help us improve our service, as we continue on our journey to provide Australia with the best ride share experience possible,” said Chandra Nath, Vice President, Head of International, Ola.

Over the coming months, Ola said it would be working with local stakeholders to continue its rollout in Australia, with future launch cities including Brisbane and the Gold Coast, Canberra, Adelaide, Darwin and Hobart.

The company is also developing a number of new initiatives for its customers and driver-partners, it added. These include updates to the Ola app and building its local support team that will help build a better ride share experience.

 

Google Poised to Emerge Unscathed From European Antitrust Crackdown

The European Union’s top antitrust regulator, Margrethe Vestager, has made it her mission to stem alleged anti-competitive abuses by big American tech companies, threatening as recently as last month to break up Alphabet’s Google.

But a decision in the most important of three antitrust cases against Google – this one aimed at loosening its stranglehold over Android-powered smartphones – is likely to show just how difficult it is, even for a committed trust-buster like Vestager, to dent the power of the US giants.

The final ruling, expected within the next few months, will likely involve a multi-billion-dollar fine and an end to clauses in licencing agreements that stop smartphone vendors from promoting alternatives to apps such as Google Search and Maps, people familiar with the European Commission’s thinking say.

The decision, which is expected to hew closely to recommendations made in 2016 soon after the probe began, will almost certainly leave Google’s market dominance intact because the incentives to stick with the company are so strong, say industry executives, analysts and even its foes.

Robert Marcus, a former member of Microsoft’s mobile strategy team and now general partner at investment firm Quantum Wave Capital, said it was “virtually impossible” that any EU penalty would “change anything massively for Google.”

The case holds lessons for regulators in Europe and elsewhere as they pursue Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon over practices including anti-competitive conduct, tax avoidance and a cavalier approach to user data and hate speech.

German regulators have shown that targeted measures can force changes in a company’s conduct, such as compelling social media companies to quickly remove hate speech. Tax authorities can close loopholes and change laws to collect more money.

But stimulating competition in markets where products and services are free is a far more difficult undertaking.

“Once someone is entrenched, you can’t say, ‘stop’ and things get better,” said Mark Patterson, a Fordham University law professor who has researched Google antitrust issues.

The Commission declined to comment on the case. Google did not respond to a request for comment.

Few alternatives
Google holds 90 percent of the European search market, meaning there are few plausible alternatives for handset makers or consumers who might want to opt out.

Phone vendors will be reluctant to dump popular applications such as Google Maps even if they could do so freely. An executive at one major smartphone maker said European wireless carriers have told his company they would refuse to market phones without Google Search or the Google Play app store.

Alternatives to Android remain scarce. And Google still has the option of going all-out with its own Pixel phones if new rules make licencing Android unappealing.

Tom Moss, a former Google employee who wrote key parts of the first Android licencing agreements a decade ago, told Reuters tight control was necessary at the time, both to assure a standard platform for third-party software-makers to build Android apps and to guarantee customers a consistent experience.

Moss, now with the gaming hardware company Razer, acknowledges that at this stage, however, “keeping all the same policies and approaches can seem heavy-handed, unfair and anticompetitive”.

He added: “It’s not the end of the world” for Google that the EU is reassessing the arrangements.

The EU’s Android investigation began in 2015 following a complaint two years earlier from lobbying group FairSearch, whose members at the time included competitors like Oracle, Nokia and Microsoft.

Sources said Amazon also complained.

A preliminary document from 2016, seen by Reuters, said regulators should levy a large fine and that Google should stop giving revenue sharing payments to smartphone makers to pre-install only Google Search, as well as stop requiring Google’s Chrome browser and other apps to be installed alongside Google’s Play store.

The EU was not likely to go further than that recommendation, EU sources said. Ordering the company to divest its Android business altogether, for example, would be difficult to justify under European law, European Commission sources said.

Deutsche Bank analyst Lloyd Walmsley said in January the EU “could require more onerous changes” than it did last year in its inquiry into whether Google was favouring its own online shopping service in search results.

In that case, Google was fined $2.4 billion – a large amount for most companies, but barely 2 percent of the company’s 2017 sales.

Changes made by Google in response to the EU’s order did stoke more competition for certain ad slots, but because of the way Google’s ad auction system works that resulted in more money for the company without giving competitors enough of a leg up to gain market share.

There’s still a possibility the Commission could compel Google to work with manufacturing partners that want to use modified versions of Android, allowing what is known as “forking” of the operating system, EU sources said.

But the ruling almost certainly will not be enough to break Google’s monopolistic hold, FairSearch lawyer Thomas Vinje said.

“The Android case has taken too long, and … Google has in large measure achieved the elimination of competition it sought,” Vinje said.

Google is appealing the shopping verdict, and could also appeal any ruling in the Android case.

Rivals
The big issue for Google is less what the EU might do than how the strategies of smartphone makers might evolve. Global leader Samsung Electronics has long pushed its own apps for messaging, Internet browsing and other functionality.

Samsung could end its relationship with Google if it truly wanted to go in a different direction, Moss said. So far, however, Samsung has been unwilling to take that step. Among other things, doing so could drive customers to Google’s own Pixel smartphone because it comes with a full range of Google apps and often gets first access to new features.

Other challenges could come from Amazon, Alibaba and other companies who might customise an “open source” version of Android that Google has made freely available for public use.

There are few signs so far that any major smartphone vendors want to opt for a different operating system. Amazon tried to build its own phone with a modified version of Android several years ago, but it was a spectacular flop.

Google’s rivals in searches and Internet browsers are holding out hope they’ll be better able to compete under a new EU regulatory regime.

Guillaume Champeau, ethics and public relations officer at French search engine company Qwant, said an agreement it reached with a phone maker fell through last year because of Google’s rules.

“We want to have a chance to compete, but we need to be able to have agreements with phone manufacturers,” he said.

Such deals would not be a big threat to Google.

“Android is utterly dominant,” said technology analyst Geoff Blaber of CCS Insight. “Whatever the ruling, manufacturers are heavily reliant [on it] so nothing is going to change dramatically.”

© Thomson Reuters 2018