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Google I/O 2015: What you should expect

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With Google’s annual conference right around the corner, we’re left anticipating what news is on the horizon. Though Google I/O is meant for developers, consumers can look to it for concepts they likely will see on their devices in a few months time.

So what are we going to get at I/O this year? Probably nothing groundbreaking, but we’ll still have a lot to talk about.

Android M

Google’s Senior Vice President of Products (read: guy responsible for everything you use) Sundar Pichai will likely drop Android M on us, but not in a big way. We won’t get the official Android M build until the Fall, when new Nexus devices are announced.

Still, Google likes to seed details about future Android iterations at Google I/O, so we’re bound to hear something about it, but not what it will eventually be named (Marshmallow? Milkshake? Mushy peas?).

The scuttlebutt surrounding Android M suggests it will be aimed at enterprise, and support fingerprint sensors. We’re also hearing some Google Now APIs will be made available to third-party apps in Android M. All incremental additions, but steps that have a broader appeal than it would seem at first blush.

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Chrome

The wildcard of Google I/O, Chrome always gets a lot of attention at the event, but little rumor-mongering ahead of it.

Looking to the Google I/O schedule, it seems Chrome’s 2015 focus is mobile. Two separate web (Chrome as far as Google is concerned) chats on Rails pop up in the schedule list, and Rails is fantastic for mobile — another big part of Google’s empire.

Google Cast

Many are also expecting new Chromecast hardware to come about at Google I/O. Since unveiling Chromecast at a special event nearly two years ago, Google hasn’t done a thing with Chromecast hardware.

A recent Chromecast app update is only stoking the new hardware fire, and there are several sessions dedicated to bringing games to the big screen via Chromecast — something that more powerful hardware would better accomplish versus what we have now.

Google's Android And Chrome Chief Sundar Pichai Holds News Event

Material Design

Google’s newest UI/UX standard, Material Design, is gorgeous. The trick for Google is getting developers to implement it en masse.

Google I/O has plenty of sessions regarding Material Design, and the overall scope is making sure developers are using it properly. There’s even a breakout session on Material Design for Android Auto, and review sessions to make sure an app is implementing Material Design as Google intends.

Android Wear

Android Wear may have been eclipsed by Apple Watch recently, but Google knows wearables are important. There are several sessions regarding Android Wear, but one detailing how developers can better take advantage of the Android Wear support library to make great apps could lead to more software for Android Wear.

Separately, Google seems to understand it’s trailing Apple Watch in one key field: fitness. Two breakout sessions regarding Google Fit and building better fitness apps are also available, so expect some nuanced fitness apps for your Android Wear smartwatch soon.

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Smart home

Brillo is the alleged codename for Google’s new Android-based Internet of Things framework. If it comes to pass, we’re looking at the software platform your smart(er) home needs.

Rather than an entirely new platform, Brillo is said to be a build of Android manufacturers and developers can tap into. Currently, Brillo is said to be aimed at smart home hardware, though it could branch out to encompass anything with sensors that doesn’t have an operating system.

Loose ends

Google’s alleged Photos refresh could end up as ‘best in show’ at Google I/O this year. The app is billed as one that will offer all we like about Google Photos without the Google Plus profile many aren’t interested in.

Google’s ATAP skunkworks department is still working on Project Ara and Tango. A session from ATAP promised some sort of surprising new wearable, but we’ve not heard specifics. Expect something weird and wonderful, but don’t expect ATAP to have a consumer-ready device just yet. Even the Project Tango session reads as a primer for understanding what ATAP is up to rather than implementing new features into existing apps or services.

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Cardboard was the darling of Google I/O last year, serving as Google’s tongue-in-cheek answer to Oculus Rift. Since then, VR for mobile has taken off in a significant way with many OEMs making VR headsets designed specifically for their phones. A session titled “Make Believe” is all about VR, as is “Designing for virtual reality”. There are also plenty of gaming sessions at Google I/O, so expect a lot of cool VR stuff to pop up later this week.

If you want something to keep a close eye on at Google I/O 2015, I’d say look to Chromecast. Bringing gaming to the big screen via Google’s smallest bit of hardware seems to be a big focus, and we’re long overdue for a hardware refresh. Google likes to brag that over one billion Chromecasts have been sold, and there’s no way they’d let the platform languish any longer.

Google I/O 2015

Roku rolls out new Search and Feed features, releases Roku 2 player in the UK

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Roku’s UI revamp and new discovery features are rolling out to Roku devices in the UK from today.

Announced in a blog post, the company says its new Roku 2 device also hits retailers’ shelves today (a US variant was already available) priced at £69.99. It offers (essentially) the same hardware as the Roku 3, but without the motion sensing remote and headphone socket.

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For existing Roku owners there’s an over-the-air update rolling out from today too, which will bring its new Roku Search and Roku Feed features to the UK for the first time. For now, only Netflix, Snagfilms and Popcornflix results will be returned in the new Roku Search results but the company says new channels will be added over time.

Ahead of today’s announcement, Roku rolled out updated iOS and Android apps that also support the new Feed and Search discovery features.

➤ Roku [iOS | Android]

Read next: Amazon’s Fire TV Stick is now available in the UK and Germany, and it might just have replaced my Roku

Twitter may be trying to buy Flipboard

Twitter (by Owen Williams)

Twitter is reportedly in discussions to purchase Flipboard. Citing sources familiar with the matter, Re/Code is reporting Twitter wants to purchase Flipboard in an all-stock deal that would value Flipboard north of $1 billion.

The ongoing talks have been occuring since the beginning of the year, and spearheaded by Twitter CFO Anthony Noto.

Why Twitter might be interested in Flipboard is not known, but curation may be Twitter’s aim. Flipboard recently purchased Zite, a competing site with personalized curation tools. Flipboard’s advertising muscle is also something Twitter may be interested in.

When we reached out for a response to this report, a Twitter spokesperson would only say “We don’t comment on rumor or speculation.”

Twitter Has Held Talks to Acquire Flipboard [Re/Code]

Jony Ive becomes Apple’s Chief Design Officer, trusted lieutenants take his previous roles

Jony Ive New Role Chief Design Officer

Sir Jony Ive is Apple’s most important executive not called Tim Cook (and that’s arguable), and he just got a promotion.

According to the Telegraph, Ive is now leading the newly minted Chief Design Officer position. Meanwhile, two close lieutenants, Alan Dye and Richard Howarth, are taking over Ive’s previous roles as vice presidents of User Interface and Industrial Design, respectively.

9to5Mac retrieved an internal Memo sent out by Cook, which suggests the new role will allow Ive will tackle larger projects. The memo notes the change is a reflection of the scope of the projects Ive has already been involved with recently, including Apple’s retail stores and the upcoming new Cupertino campus. Ive is also looking to travel more with some of the extra time afforded to him.

Dye and Howarth, meanwhile, will take over his day-to-day managerial roles. Dye started at Apple 9 years ago and collaborated with Ive on iOS and the Apple Watch, while Howarth has been part of the industrial design team for two decades.

When asked why he relinquished control over two departments he’d been so successful with, Ive noted he is still in charge of them; his title is ‘Chief Design Officer,’ after all. The difference is he doesn’t have to waste time with the boring management part of daily affairs.

When Stephen Fry met Jony Ive: the self-confessed tech geek talks to Apple’s newly promoted chief design officer [The Telegraph]

New Panda font is designed to help protect beloved animals

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Extinction sucks and no one wants that to happen to the panda.

Rare members of the bear family, the Giant Panda resides in bamboo forests high in the mountains of western China. They are highly prized throughout the world for their beauty and their peaceful natures.

Despite lacking natural predators in the wild, they are endangered because their habitat is being systematically destroyed.

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Pandas require a diet almost totally consisting of bamboo and must eat between 26 and 84 pounds of the stuff every day, while at the same time their forest habitat is decimated by roads and railroads to support the Chinese economy. Such conditions isolate populations, interfere with breeding and deprive the bears of food.

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With about 1,864 pandas left in the wild, the World Wildlife Fund Japan decided to create a new Panda font to raise awareness about their dire situation and to help encourage donations to the organization’s Giant Panda program. Designed in conjunction with ad agency Ogilvy & Mather Japan, each character features a panda head.

Giant_Panda_Hero_image_(c)_Michel_Gunther_WWF_CanonGiant Panda, Credit: World Wildlife Fund

Despite the Chinese government’s efforts to protect the panda — it has created 50 panda reserves throughout the country — only 61 percent of the population actually benefits from that protection, the WWF says.

Right now, there’s no indication of how to obtain the font, but we are looking into it and will update this story when we have an answer.

➤ WWF Japan Made A Panda Font That You Can Use To Raise Awareness [Bored Panda]

Meet BRETT, the robot that learns by trial and error

BRETT

Robots are remarkably efficient at handling pre-programmed tasks ranging from remarkably simple to incredibly complex. Tasks such as vacuuming a floor, flying an airplane, or near-complete assembly of modern automobiles are all currently within the realm of robot capabilities.

The one inefficiency in modern robots is the reliance on humans to provide them with the correct sequence of 1’s and 0’s needed to carry out a task.

This could soon change.

Meet BRETT.

BRETT – or Berkeley Robot for the Elimination of Tedious Tasks – is a creation of the Berkeley Robot Learning Lab that uses deep learning techniques in order to complete seemingly simple tasks without any direct input from humans. Tasks like connecting two LEGO pieces, inserting a peg into a hole and unscrewing a water bottle might seem simple to your average toddler, but provide a challenging puzzle for artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms.

When pre-programmed, these tasks are easily executed by a robot, but BRETT differs in that the machine learns how to execute the steps necessary for solving these simple problems on his own. In a few years, who knows what BRETT, and others like it, will be capable of.

Telegram with Aniways suggests GIFs and Smart Emoticons as you type

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Telegram with Aniways is a new messaging app for Android and iOS that’s based on the official Telegram service.

I use iMessage for almost all of my messaging and if someone’s not on iOS, I generally use Messenger or WhatsApp. I decided to give Telegram with Aniways a go to see if it would be the platform to replace the rest.

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If you don’t already use Telegram, you’ll need to give your phone number to set it up and then you can create a profile and choose a username so people can find you even if they don’t have your digits.

Any of your friends who are already using it will show at the top of your contacts list within the app and it tells you when they were last online.

From the contacts view, you can also invite your friends to join, start conversations and send a broadcast message to multiple people at once.

The app’s interface is simplistic and bears a striking resemblance to WhatsApp. There are three core options on the main screen – Contacts, Chats and Settings.

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The conversations layout is practically identical to WhatsApp, even down to the default wallpaper. Each message sent and received has a time stamp and delivery is marked by a tick, with two ticks to show it has been read.

What makes Telegrams with Aniways stand out from WhatsApp is how it detects what you’re writing as you type and suggests emojis and stickers, which it calls ‘Smart Emoticons.’

If the Smart Emoticons aren’t enough to express yourself, you can swipe left and get some related GIFs or just tap the emoji button in the text bar.

Telegram

You can send voice messages or pictures from your Camera Roll from within the app as well, but a neat feature is how you can search the Web for images by tapping on the paperclip icon. I’ve had issues with iMessage in the past where I have wanted to find a particular message and search just doesn’t seem to be able locate it.

The search on Telegram with Aniways is surprisingly accurate, quickly opening the particular message you need, rather than just opening the end of a conversation like iMessage does.

However, what I thought would be my favorite features – the Smart Emoticons and GIF suggestions – turned out to be interruptive and distracting when I was typing messages after a while.

I think it would be a great platform for a group chat or maybe for people who communicate more with emojis and pictures than words, but I will be going back to the trinity – iMessage, WhatsApp and Messenger.

 ➤ Telegram [iOS | Android]

Here’s how a 353-gigapixel panorama is made

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There’s megapixels and then there’s gigapixels.

Yes, the latter is actually a thing and it’s the hallmark of what’s being called “the world’s largest photo” at precisely 353 gigapixels.

How does a photo get that huge? It takes a lot of photos. Photographer Filippo Blengini alongside a five-person international shooting team, has published a panorama of Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Europe. While the mountain itself rises to 4,810 meters (15,780 feet), the team shot the pano at 3500 meters (11.5 feet).

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Using a Canon 70D, a Canon EF 400mm f/2.8 II IS, and a Canon Extender 2X III on a special Clauss robotic mount, the team, shot a total of 70,000 photographs from all directions spanning some 35 hours in temperatures of frigid minus 10 Celsius (about 14 degrees Farenheit).

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There’s plenty to read about how it was done, but my advice is to head over to the start page first to take in the full interactive panoramic view. The images here simply don’t do it justice.

Four simple controls let you view, pan and zoom the image full screen. Navigate the image yourself, or key into suggested parts chosen by the photographers, where you can actually see closeups of them in action.

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Screen performance will likely vary depending on the horsepower of your computer, but even if you experience a little scrolling lag, it will be worth the view.

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Post-processing and combining some 46 terabytes worth of photos took another two months.

And there’s more to come. Future releases from the project will feature two Mont Blanc gigapanoramas from different points of view including peak names, climbing tracks, your point of view inside the image, and more.

For the record, two other images may be used in size comparisons, but both fail to measure up to the new Mont Blanc pano. The 2013 London Panorama weighs in at 320 gigapixels and 48,000 frames, while a NASA satellite image shows a 681 gigapixel image of the moon derived from a four-year Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

➤ in2white

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Time Warner Cable is reportedly being acquired by Charter Communications

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Remember that Time Warner/Comcast merger basically everyone was hoping wouldn’t happen until it was canceled a month ago? Well, it looks like Time Warner Cable is taking its assets to a smaller provider instead.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Charter Communications is very near announcing a deal to purchase Time Warner – despite the former being the smaller company. The announcement could happen as soon as Tuesday.

Charter would also incorporate smaller provider Bright House Networks. Combined, Charter would then have 23 million customers, leaving it behind only Comcast, which remains the largest provider with 27 million customers.

The original Comcast merger, a deal worth $45.2 billion, was met with heavy criticism from the both the public and Washington . Merging the two largest cable providers seemed to close to a monopoly, so it couldn’t get the regulatory approval needed and the deal went sour.

Charter’s smaller size means the merger has a better chance of being approved. We’ll find out soon enough.

Charter Communications Nearing Deal for Time Warner Cable [WSJ]