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Android Pie review: a glimpse at the future of AI-powered phones

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WIRED / Android

Google’s new Android operating system has finally arrived. After months of developer testing, Android Pie has been rolled out to the public. But for the time being this is only the case if you’ve got one of Google’s own Pixel phones. For now, everyone else has to wait – but the wait may be worth it.

Android Pie isn’t filled with any flashy new features, the changes to the operating system are all about making your smartphone more reliable and smarter. The new features Google has introduced tap into its machine learning systems and hint at what future phone usage will be like. We’ve been testing Android Pie on a Google Pixel 2 since the public version of the code was released.

The most visible and instantaneously noticeable difference between Pie and its predecessor Oreo is within the navigation. Gone are the three digital buttons along the bottom of the phone’s screen. Instead, these are replaced with one pill-shaped icon that does everything. Swiping up on the pill shows all the apps that are open and lets you scroll through them. In a slightly more intuitive navigation feature you can also hold and swipe across the pill to flick between the apps you have open.

These gesture controls are comparable to the iPhone X’s ability to swipe between apps, but on Android they’re more straightforward. Right swiping on the iPhone forces each app to open fullscreen whereas the hold and swipe in Android Pie allows you to get through all the apps you have open in a couple of seconds.

Pie is full of tweaks that make the Android experience slightly more pleasant: notifications have more white space and Google’s material design makes everything a little flatter.

Where Android shows the most promise is personalisation. Making devices that can know and understand their owners needs has been the promise of multiple mobile phones for years, but we’re finally getting to a stage where it is possible. Machine learning on phones is able to crunch data in real-time and start to learn user behaviours.

Flicking up through Pie’s navigation opens Android’s view of all apps. Above the alphabetical list Google has introduced ‘app actions’. These are data-driven suggestions about what you may want to do based on your location and what you usually do when there. For me, probably unsurprisingly, the actions frequently suggested are sending a message to WIRED’s Slack channel and WhatsApp-ing my partner. (Both happen pretty frequently.)

However, there have been times when the app actions have been more intelligent. When I have walked towards London Bridge train station it has offered the action of opening Google Maps to see live departures. The promise of Pie is to know when you’re about to call your parents, based on your history, and then recommend making the call before you do it.

Google has also turned its AI to one of the smartphone’s biggest pain points: battery life. Its adaptive battery option monitors which apps you use and then stops infrequently opened apps from draining your device. Disappointingly, Android Pie doesn’t give any stats on how much battery life this saves. The version of Android also has an adaptive battery brightness, which uses machine learning to brighten or dim the screen based on lighting conditions.

Google also says it will be introducing app ‘slices’ in the next updates to Android Pie. These build upon app actions by making sure you don’t have to open the apps you’ve downloaded. "If you start typing ‘Lyft’ into Google Search, you’ll see a ‘slice’ of the Lyft app, showing prices for your ride home and the ETA for a driver so you can take action more quickly and easily," Google said in a blog post. The result may be that apps give users information before they ask for it and ultimately don’t have to open an app.

WIRED / Android

The biggest new addition to Pie isn’t included in the download that’s currently available. Google’s suite of Digital Wellbeing tools, which have been included to raise awareness of how long you’re using your phone, are available as a separate beta. They’ll be included in the full version of Pie later this year, but to get them at the moment you have to visit this website.

For some reason, Google has hidden Digital Wellbeing away in the phone settings (between accessibility and Google). For a feature that’s designed to encourage responsible phone use Digital Wellbeing isn’t at all prominent. Ideally, the tools would have been placed as an app on the home screen.

Primarily, Digital Wellbeing offers a dashboard that lets you evaluate phone use. You can see how long you’ve spent on your phone each day, how many times the phone is unlocked and the number of notifications that distract you, broken down by app. What I’ve gleaned is my phone usage fluctuates between around two and four hours each day. Instagram, Twitter and Chrome are the most dominant apps, which I could have predicted without the dashboard. What has been a surprise is the number of notifications I get each day: 600-700. The majority of these are split between emails and pretty active WhatsApp group chats. (I unlock my phone about 100 times a day.)

Google isn’t the only tech firm pursuing digital wellness – iOS 12 plus Facebook and Instagram are introducing similar tools. At present there’s little evidence to show that the systems will change user behaviour.

Android’s Digital Wellbeing allows you easy access to notification settings and allows you to limit how long you use an app each day. It’s possible to set a timer – 15 minutes, 30 minutes, one hour or a custom period – for each app. As you get close to the time limit a notification appears onscreen and warns there’s only five minutes of app use left. Once the time limit is up the app is greyed out on the home screen. If you tap on it, a popup appears saying the day’s limits have been hit and there are two options: ‘OK’ or ‘Learn more’. By going through the latter it is possible to adjust the app’s time limits and use it again. The app timer, seems easy to dodge, but having to tap through a couple of screens to increase the time limit does make it that little bit harder. It’s enough to make you reconsider using the app again that day.

The settings could be smarter. Hopefully these tools will get smarter and more automated, in the same way Android Pie has, as Digital Wellbeing comes out of beta and matures. Notification settings need to be customisable by time: I want to be able to set email notifications to be off after 7pm but still have WhatsApp notifications on after this time. Some level of customisation is possible for all apps through Do Not Disturb, but this is blanket across all notifications.

There’s little technical reason why Google can’t – using location data, device proximity and usage patterns – determine that I’m sat at my desk and cease sending email notifications to my phone. (After all, I’m answering the emails from a laptop or desktop). The same goes for WhatsApp when it’s being used on the web.

Android Pie is the most complete version of the operating system so far, but Google has only just started to hint at what the next version will include. It’s heading towards a system where apps will be used less and phones may finally get smarter.

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UK company to turn out 499 fully electric '67 Ford Mustangs

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A U.K. company plans to produce a limited-edition run of fully-electric sports cars, built using officially licensed body shells of Ford Mustang fastbacks and convertibles from the 1960s.

…yeah, this one’s unlikely to go down well…

Though each of the 499 Mustangs built by Charge Automotive will ‘preserve the classic design and styling’ of the ‘60s original, the rumbling V8 will make way for a 60-kWh battery pack that powers an as-of-yet unspecified electric motor (or motors), the combined power of which will be 300 kW – around 402-hp – and a sizeable 885-lb ft of torque.

That’s more than 130 hp more than even the V8-engined first-generation Shelby Mustang GT350 turned out, and enough to propel the Charge Car newboy from zero to 100 km/h in an eyelash over three seconds.

That’s pretty impressive, given the theoretical electric range is a solid 200 km.

Details on the interior are also fairly thin on the ground. Charge Cars has confirmed, though, that each Mustang will feature ‘state-of-the-art components and a personalised digital interface’, the latter of which, as suggested by the teaser video, seemingly controls everything.

In terms of the credentials, Charge Cars’ engineers, according to the London-based firm’s official website, have contributed to various projects with Williams F1, McLaren and Jaguar Land Rover, while the company has apparently developed close working relationships with Michelin, EV technology and Roborace.

So, let’s just get this straight: Charge Cars has collaborated with the developers of the world’s first driver-less motor racing series to create a ‘60s muscle car without internal combustion or any form of mechanical driving engagement, has replaced the Mustang badge on the grille with its own ‘cross’ emblem, and will be charging £200,000 (around $335,000) – about the same as a Tesla Roadster – for one of only 499 examples that, presumably, will not be able to replicate that stonking V8 soundtrack.

Right. Well. Best of luck on Twitter, guys…

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First Look: 2020 Toyota Corolla

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CARMEL, Calif. — Come for the meal, stay for the show. That is literally what happened during the launch for Toyota’s new 2019 RAV4 — more on that next week — by surprising all in attendance and pulling the covers off the brand-new 2020 Corolla sedan.

This is “take two” for the 12th-generation Corolla; the new Hatchback arrived earlier this year and now comes the sedan, the Corolla’s best-selling body style. Both cars are based on the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform.

Far more dramatically styled, the new Corolla sedan has the same 2,700-millimetre wheelbase as its predecessor, yet any commonality ends there. The 2020 model brings with it a wider front and rear track by 11 and 22 millimetres, respectively. The front overhang is shortened by 33 millimetres and the rear extended by more than 15. Height is reduced by 20 millimetres and the hood is lowered another 35 for better forward visibility, made possible by a lower mounting of the engine. Those changes, plus others, reduce the car’s centre of gravity by 20 millimetres.

The sedan’s stronger front fascia varies by model grade, with the SE and XSE putting on the sportiest faces, including a body-colour chin spoiler and aero-stabilizing fins. The slim, J-shaped “bi-beam” LED headlamps wrap deeply into the front fenders. The SE and XSE trims also use triple J-shaped clearance lamps with LED light guides, along with LED turn signals. At the rear, narrow combination lamps that wrap deeply into the fenders.

For the first time, 18-inch wheels are on the menu, available on the SE and XSE. The LE rides on 16-inch steel wheels with covers. The XLE grade gets new 16-inch alloy wheels. A new multi-link independent rear suspension replaces the old torsion-beam setup used in the previous model.

L, LE, and XLE models will be powered by the same 1.8-litre four-cylinder found in the outgoing Corolla, yet with more horsepower and better fuel efficiency. XSE and SE models get the same 169-horsepower, 2.0-litre direct-injected four-cylinder engine found in the new Hatchback. A hybrid model is coming, set to debut at the L.A. Auto Show later this month.

The new Direct-Shift continuously variable transmission now comes with the more direct driving feel of a traditional geared automatic, thanks to a physical first gear used for start-off acceleration, before handing off to the CVT’s pulley system. Because the launch gear is handling the higher input load at launch, the size of the CVT’s belt and pulley components are reduced, yielding shifting speeds that are 20 percent faster than in a conventional CVT. The Direct-Shift CVT also has simulated 10-speed sequential steps, along with a sport mode. Dedicated followers of manual shifters will be pleased to find the 2020 Corolla sedan offers an all-new “intelligent” six-speed manual, complete with downshift rev-matching control. Standard hill-start assist — also on the CVT models — helps prevent rollback when starting off on an incline.

Inside the cabin, a new and slimmer instrument panel features a high-resolution eight-inch touchscreen for the standard Entune 3.0 infotainment on all trim levels — except the base L, which gets a seven-inch touchscreen. The centre stack screen provides access to vehicle settings, audio controls, navigation, and Entune 3.0 apps. Climate controls are located below the multimedia portal. Compared with the previous Corolla, the instrument panel, cowl, hood and beltline height are all lowered to increase visibility and create a more open feel.

2020 Toyota Corolla

2020 Toyota Corolla

The Corolla comes standard with a 4.2-inch display in the instrument cluster, while a seven-inch display is available. With the larger display, the driver can switch between analogue and digital speedometer styles. The top-of-the-line Entune 3.0 Audio Premium package that’s optional on XSE and XLE trims includes a JBL nine-speaker, 800-watt system with Clari-Fi, Dynamic Voice Recognition, Dynamic Navigation, Dynamic Points of Interest Search and Destination Assist Connect.

Pricing information on the 2020 Corolla sedan will be announced closer to the car’s launch date next year.

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Facebook Suggests The Switch to Android From iPhones Was Purely on Merit, Not a Tiff With Tim Cook

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Facebook said Zuckerberg’s disagreement with Cook is only over the business model.

IANS

Updated:November 16, 2018, 8:32 AM IST

Facebook Suggests The Switch to Android From iPhones Was Purely on Merit, Not a Tiff With Tim Cook

Facebook said Zuckerberg’s disagreement with Cook is only over the business model.

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Dismissing a media report that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg ordered his management team to use only Android phones after his tiff with Apple CEO Tim Cook, the social media network on Thursday said the decision to use Android is because it is the most popular operating system in the world. The New York Times on Wednesday said that “after Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, quipped in an interview that his company did not traffic in personal data, Mr. Zuckerberg ordered his management team to use only Android phones”.

In a statement on Thursday, Facebook said Zuckerberg’s disagreement with Cook is only over the business model. “Tim Cook has consistently criticised our business model and Mark has been equally clear he disagrees. So there’s been no need to employ anyone else to do this for us,” Facebook said.
“And we’ve long encouraged our employees and executives to use Android because it is the most popular operating system in the world,” the social networking giant added. In a Recode and MSNBC interview in March this year, Cook had called for increased regulation of social media, and questioned the practice of monetising user data on free platforms by selling ads that allow advertisers to target specific groups.
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The Apple CEO was asked how he would handle the crisis Facebook is facing. “I wouldn’t be in this situation,” he said.
“The truth is, we could make a ton of money if we monetised our customer… If our customer was our product,… We’ve elected not to do that.” Reacting to Cook’s remarks, Zuckerberg had said his remarks about the social networking giant were “extremely glib”. Zuckerberg said that Facebook remains free to use because it’s focused on connecting people and many people can’t afford to pay, therefore, “having an advertising-supported model is the only rational model that can support building this service to reach people”.

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