Google adds SoundStage developer Logan Olson to its VR team

Slowly but surely, Google is transforming itself into a formidable VR player. This week, the Daydream maker hired Logan Olson, best known as the developer of SoundStage, a well-received HTC Vive title built around a VR music studio sandbox.

First spotted by The Verge, Google confirmed the hire with TechCrunch, stating, “We’re excited to welcome Logan to the Google VR team. As a leader in thinking about creating in VR with his app Soundstage, we’re really inspired by what he’s built and for the potential for VR and creativity.”

Olson will join the ranks of Clay Bavor, who has been fiddling with VR under the Google umbrella since 2013, officially becoming the head of that department in early 2016, as the company looked to shift the department in a more serious direction following the release of Cardboard.

Since then, Google’s VR focus has largely centered around Daydream, an offering more in line with the likes of Samsung’s Gear VR, albeit under a more manufacturer- and device-inclusive model. Though of late, the company doesn’t appear to be too outwardly active on that front.

 Olson’s team released the 1.0 version of SoundStage on Steam just last month. The title has been well-received for its innovative application of VR in the music making process.

With Olson on-board, Google will be ending active development on the title, but will keep it around in maintenance mode. Instead, the company plans to use what the developer has built to help bolster existing titles and begin developing some new ones.

Google doesn’t have any specifics to offer up on that front at present, but given the fact that the company picked up the team behind Tilt Brush in 2015, the pieces seem to be falling in place for a VR play that’s focused heavily on creativity and content creation, as opposed to simply gaming.

It’s worth noting, too, that Google’s chief game designer left the company this week, citing plans to explore the, “confluence of games, neuroscience and VR.”

Google’s Cloud Platform improves its free tier and adds always-free compute and storage services

Google today quietly launched an improved always-free tier and trial program for its Cloud Platform.

The free tier, which now offers enough power to run a small app in Google’s cloud, is offered in addition to an expanded free trial program (yep — that’s all a bit confusing). This free trial gives you $300 in credits that you can use over the course of 12 months. Previously, Google also offered the $300 in credits, but those had to be used within 60 days.

The free tier, which the company never really advertised, now allows for free usage of a small (f1-micro) instance in Compute Engine, Cloud Pub/Sub, Google Cloud Storage and Cloud Functions. In total, the free tier now includes 15 services.

The addition of the Compute Engine instance and 5GB of free Cloud Storage usage is probably the most important update here because those are, after all, the services that are at the core of most cloud applications. You can find the exact limits here.

It’s worth noting that the free tier is only available in Google’s us-east1, us-west1 and us-central1 regions.

 With this move, Google is clearly stepping up its attacks against AWS, which offers a similar but more limited free tier and free 12-month trial program for its users. Indeed, many of Google’s limits look fairly similar to AWS’s 12-month free tier, but the AWS always-free tier doesn’t include a free virtual machine, for example (you only get it for free for 12 months). I expect AWS will pull even with Google in the near future and extend its free offer, too.

The idea here is clearly to get people comfortable with Google’s platform. It’s often the developer who runs a hobby project in the cloud who gets the whole team in an enterprise to move over or who decides to use a certain public cloud to run a startup’s infrastructure. New developers, too, typically chose AWS to learn about the cloud because of its free 12-month trials. The 60-day $300 credit Google previously offered simply didn’t cut it for developers who wanted to learn how to work with Google’s cloud.

What happens if Google buys Twitter?

Initially, Google would have get right of entry to to 310 million energetic users – with 44% of them (136 million) using the platform daily. this could constitute a successful return for the employer to the arena of social networks, a space where it has already failed 3 times, with Orkut, Buzz and Google+.

As Microsoft will likely do with LinkedIn, don’t forget that Google could combine its essential gear into the Twitter platform to facilitate the manufacturing and sharing of content material. In other words, YouTube, Google docs, drive, Calendar, and others would be to be had directly inside the Twitter person interface for brief get entry to.

Possibly extra full-size, but, is the ability Twitter gives to Google’s on line marketing enterprise version, where the significant majority of its revenue is generated.

The timing of the acquisition couldn’t be better
In its wonderful beyond, Twitter resisted gives from opponents like facebook and even Google. but now the marketplace is different. The 140 man or woman-confined social network is going through warmness from its investors for failing to increase the consumer base. To make matters worse, Twitter turned into recently overtaken through Snapchat in ordinary lively users (150 million versus 136 million).

Messengers like WhatsApp and fb Messenger have already passed Twitter in total number of users. To make matters worse, after announcing losses of $521 million in 2015, Twitter’s stocks fell by way of 7 percent at the start of the 12 months. So several shareholders of the organisation see a proposal from Google as a ability to recover their lost investment.

Twitter continues to be alive. For now.

Twitter has made a few adjustments to try and make bigger its consumer base. The contemporary became to ease its ancient restriction of 140 characters; this became once something considered unchangeable and a hallmark of the business enterprise.

Now, content material including polls, GIFs, hyperlinks to photographs, the cope with of the consumer being answered and videos no longer count as part of the one hundred forty characters. The same isn’t actual of outside links.

Similarly to this, the corporation has been the usage of other assets to monetize its provider higher. One is to allow its advertisers to look at an emoji despatched with the aid of customers. This facilitates companies better target its classified ads.

Oracle loses massive fair use case against Google, Android

Java-Android

For the past six years, Oracle has pursued copyright and patent infringement claims against Google over the use of Java APIs within Android. The case has bounced around through multiple courts — the patent issues were resolved with zero damages, but the copyright claims were dismissed in favor of Google before a federal court reversed that verdict. Over the last few weeks, Oracle and Google have been tied up in court over whether or not Google’s use of the Java API could be considered fair use or not.

The trial has now concluded with a jury verdict in favor of Google, meaning that Google’s specific use of APIs in Android is considered fair use. Oracle, never formally declared how much money it would seek from Google if the verdict had gone the other way, but an expert report prepared for the case claimed $9.3 billion in damages.

The central issue of the trial was whether or not Google was legally required to license Java in order to use certain Java APIs — 37 in all — as part of Android. Google had initially argued that API’s weren’t copyrightable at all, since they represented functional code that’s often critical to ensuring interoperability between system components. Over the course of the trial, Google presented evidence showing that Sun, which created Java, had no problem with Google’s using it in Android, including testimony from Sun’s ex-CEO, Jonathan Schwartz. Oracle concentrated on the idea that Google’s use of Android had crippled Oracle’s ability to launch smartphones based on its own Java-based operating system, and that the search giant had unjustly enriched itself by not licensing Java.

GoogleJava

Unfortunately, while this is a win for Google, it doesn’t answer the question of when exactly using an API is or isn’t fair use. The problem with fair use doctrine in the United States is that infringement is often in the eye of the beholder. Fair use is determined by the purpose and character of the use, including whether or not the use is transformative (parody and satire are typically found to be transformative). Fair use is also measured according to the nature of the original work, how much of the copyrighted work has been excerpted and used, and whether or not the use of the material impacts the ability of the original creator to profit from their work. To use a simple example, one cannot borrow the vast majority of material from one work, stuff it into a different book or film, and claim that this is protected under fair use doctrine.

While these rules create a useful framework for evaluating fair use, they don’t define how much of a work can be used for fair use to apply, or specify exact circumstances in which a usage is or is not fair. If Oracle had won its case against Google, it would have set a dangerous precedent. While the 37 APIs that Google used are critical to the overall function of Android, they represent a tiny fraction of Android’s total code base.

Oracle has, of course, already vowed to appeal the verdict, which means this case will still be winding its way through the court system several years from now. Google, meanwhile, is already planning to move away from Oracle’s Java and will use a new implementation based on OpenJDK.

Your current phone probably won’t work with Google’s Daydream VR

daydreamhome

Even if you have a top-of-the-line phone, it’s not likely to be compatible with Google’s Daydream VR initiative.

That’s the word from Clay Bavor, who heads up the company’s virtual reality efforts. He told RoadtoVR that specific component requirements will mean the current generation of devices won’t make the cut:

“I can tell you that there will most likely not be any ‘retroactively’ Daydream-ready phones. We want to hold a very high quality bar, and for that to happen all the components need to be just right. So, to VR fans, I would say, hold off for a few months to get your next phone…and get a Daydream-ready phone.”

This comes despite the fact that the recommended test device for developers is Google’s own Nexus 6P. Of course, spec recommendations and getting something to work are often two different things: It’s highly possible that current phones could function just fine with Daydream VR given the right amount of tweaking by someone in the developer community.

The impact on you: If you want to stick to Bavor’s recommendation, you could always wait for a new phone if you’re eager to test out Google’s take on virtual reality. The best bet will be whatever Nexus successor the company announces this fall, which is Google’s usual timeline for refreshing its Nexus devices.

Google Will No Longer Ask You to Use Google+ to Play Android Games

Google Will No Longer Ask You to Use Google+ to Play Android Games

In what appears to be another instance of Google decoupling Google+ from other services, Google Play Games, the Mountain View company’s online gaming service and SDK, will let you play your games without signing into Google+.

Players will no longer be asked to sign-in to Google+ every time they play a game that uses Google Play Games API. Also, players don’t have to upgrade to Google+ to use Play Games services like achievements or in-game recording. And if players have signed in once they won’t need to sign into any other games in the future. It will happen automatically across games. Players can turn off auto-sign-in through the Play Games App’s settings.

“We’re taking steps to reduce sign-in friction and unnecessary permission requests for players by moving the Games APIs to a new model,” wrote Wolff Dobson, Developer Advocate on Google’s Android Developers Blog. He goes on to state that protect user privacy, the company will change how player IDs work.

“For existing players: Games will continue to get their Google+ ID (also called “player ID” in previous documentation) when they sign in.For new players: Games will get a new player ID which is not the same as the previous IDs we’ve used.”

It’s a welcome move from Google that recently allowed developers to finally create promo codes and is moving towards allowing users to install apps via Google Search.

Google to Pay $185 Million UK Back Taxes, Critics Want More

Google to Pay $185 Million UK Back Taxes, Critics Want More

Google said on Friday it agreed to pay the UK tax authority GBP 130 million (roughly Rs. 1,253 crores) in back taxes, prompting criticism from campaigners and academics who said the UK tax authority had agreed a “sweetheart deal”.

Google, now part of Alphabet Inc , has been under pressure in recent years over its practice of channelling most profits from European clients through Ireland to Bermuda where it pays no tax on them.

In 2013, the company faced a UK parliamentary inquiry after a Reuters investigation showed the company employed hundreds of sales people in Britain despite saying it did not conduct sales in the country, a key plank in its tax arrangements.

Google said the UK tax authority had challenged the company’s low tax returns for the years since 2005 and had now agreed to settle the probe in return for a payment of GBP 130 million.

It said it had also agreed a basis on which tax in the future would be calculated.

“The way multinational companies are taxed has been debated for many years and the international tax system is changing as a result. This settlement reflects that shift,” a Google spokesman said in a statement.

A finance ministry spokeswoman welcomed the deal saying,”This is the first important victory in the campaign the Government has led to ensure companies pay their fair share of tax on profits made in the UK and is a success for our new tax laws”.

However, Prems Sikka, Professor of Accounting at Essex University said the settlement looked like a “sweetheart deal.”

He said that for a company that enjoyed UK turnover of around 24 billion pounds over the period and margins of 30 percent, the settlement represented an effective tax rate in the low single digits for Google.

“This is a lousy number and we need to know more,” he said. Richard Murphy, a tax expert who has advised the opposition Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, on economic policy, said the deal was “a disaster” and that, based on the turnover and margins Google enjoyed, “They should have been paying 200 million pounds a year.”

Between 2005 and 2013, Google had UK turnover of GBP 17 billion and its main UK unit reported a tax charge of GBP 52 million, filings showed. In 2014, it had UK revenues of around 4 billion pounds, according to its annual report, but has not yet published its UK tax charge.

Labour’s finance spokesman John McDonnell said the government should publish more information about the Google deal.

Obama Shifts Online Strategy On Islamic State

Obama Shifts Online Strategy On Islamic StateWASHINGTON:  The Obama administration on Friday announced a wide-ranging overhaul of its efforts to respond to online propaganda from the Islamic State after months of acknowledgments that it had largely failed in its attempts to counter extremist recruitment and exhortations to violence on social media.

The administration has emphasized that it needs the assistance of some of the nation’s biggest technology companies, and a group of top White House and national security officials flew to California on Friday to plead their case with executives.

In a reflection of just how urgent the White House views the efforts, the discussions involved officials like Denis R. McDonough, the White House chief of staff; Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch; James R. Clapper Jr., director of national intelligence; James B. Comey, the FBI director; and Lisa Monaco, the president’s counterterrorism adviser. They met with Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, as well as top executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google.

“Given the way the technology works these days, there surely are ways that we can disrupt paths to radicalization, to identify recruitment patterns and to provide metrics that allow us to measure the success of our counter-radicalization efforts,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said before the California meeting began.

A task force will be created in the departments of Homeland Security and Justice to coordinate the government’s new effort.

The State Department announced the creation of a center to respond to disinformation from extremist groups around the world by highlighting their misdeeds and creating positive images of the West.
After the terrorist attack last year that killed 130 people in Paris, President Barack Obama delivered a series of speeches seeking to reassure the country while demanding rapid changes within the administration to improve responses to jihadi propaganda.

Obama has been speaking for some time about the need for the West to more effectively counter the austere and apocalyptic pronouncements of Islamist extremists. At the United Nations in September, he told world leaders that “ideologies are not defeated with guns; they are defeated by better ideas – a more attractive and compelling vision.”

But the State Department has largely foundered in its efforts to fashion the kind of war room that would effectively counter the propaganda flowing out of the Islamic State, which is widely seen as adept at using social media to recruit and inspire followers.

For help with these challenges, the administration turned Friday to Silicon Valley. “I do have a lot of confidence that those companies that are run by patriotic Americans are not interested in seeing their tools or their technology used by terrorists to harm innocent Americans,” Earnest said.

Those executives, however, are in charge of global corporations whose revenues are increasingly derived from people outside the United States. The executives have long pushed back on demands by governments to censor posts, provide access to user accounts, or hand over the keys to encryption technologies.

If the companies begin to work with the government to monitor and remove posts or create anti-terrorism counternarratives, they might have a harder time resisting similar requests from foreign governments.

“It’s a slippery slope with free speech where if you start making exceptions, where do you stop and where do you draw the line?” said Emma Llanso, a director at the Center for Democracy in Technology, a think tank.

She said the consequence could be an erosion of trust by consumers.That erosion of trust began in the wake of revelations from Edward J. Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, who showed previous coordination among some technology companies with U.S. surveillance efforts. Executives are eager to avoid a repeat.

There is also the technological challenge of sifting through vast amounts of user-generated content in different languages on a growing number of social media platforms.

Law enforcement officials for years have expressed frustration that technology companies are increasingly creating products like smartphones with encryption technologies that make it difficult, if not impossible for the government to monitor conversations. But the discussion Friday, while touching on encryption issues, was expected to focus largely on social media and how technology companies could more effectively police their platforms.

Some former top administration officials now work at prominent technology firms, including Jay Carney, a former White House press secretary, who is now a senior vice president at Amazon. Megan Smith, the administration’s chief technology officer, who worked at Google, and Alexander Macgillivray, the administration’s deputy chief technology officer, who worked at Twitter, both attended the meeting Friday in California.

“This meeting is the latest in the administration’s continuing dialogue with technology providers and others to ensure we are bringing our best private and public sector thinking to combating terrorism,” said Melanie R. Newman, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department.

Facebook’s Contingency Plans Tipped for When Things Go South With Google

Facebook's Contingency Plans Tipped for When Things Go South With Google

It’s no secret Facebook has been looking for a way to gain more control of its place in Google’s Android ecosystem, especially its current reliance on the Google Play store and its associated services. From Facebook phones to Android launchers, the company has tried its hand to pervade the ecosystem on several occasions. A recent media report indicates Facebook has several contingency plans in place should its relationship with Google becomes bitter, as the Android creator could limit the way apps and services work on its platform, charge the social network, or remove it from Google Play entirely.

According to a report by The Information that cites several people with knowledge of Facebook’s contingency plans, the social network is afraid of relying on Google Play and associated services for its app distribution (including for app updates), and to power services like notifications and in-app payments. While Facebook doesn’t think it will get cut off by Google “anytime soon”, the company is reportedly planning to offset the damage anyway. To recall, out of the top ten apps on the Google Play Store in many regions, four of them are Facebook-owned.

To that end, Facebook reportedly carried out tests for years that assessed just how loyal users were to the social network despite problems with their Android experience. To test the length to which people are willing to go to access Facebook on their Android handsets, the social juggernaut in past years reportedly provided buggy Facebook apps to Google Play users. The experiment was to test whether people were going to go to Facebook if the Facebook’s Android app crashed. Most people kept trying to access the app, and if that failed, used the mobile website.

The report adds the Facebook is also considering distribution via other app stores, or by agreements with hardware manufacturers to preloading its apps. The company is reportedly also contemplating whether it would be a good idea to use Oculus VR app store, which is available on many Samsungsmartphones, to deliver Facebook updates. In another test, Facebook is said to have quietly provided a third-party link to download an updated version of the app, and saw sufficiently promising results in terms of adoption.

The social juggernaut is reportedly also looking to offer a notifications and payments platform to other app makers, one that doesn’t use Google’s platforms. It could be leveraged on custom ROMs or open source flavours of Android used by developers and manufacturers like Cyanogen and Amazon, apart from entire ecosystems where Google services are not welcome, such as China and Russia, where custom ROMs already flourish without access to any Google mobile services.

Google’s Pixel C review roundup: Gorgeous hardware, half-baked software

pixel c

Google’s Pixel C tablet is the first Android tablet built in-house by Google and the only consumer product to date to feature Nvidia’s latest Maxwell-based Tegra SoC, the Tegra X1. With performance chops like that, you’d expect the device to ship with glowing recommendations, but if early reviews are any indication, the Pixel C needed more time to bake.

The Pixel C starts at $499 for the 32GB flavor and $599 for the 64GB variant. The Bluetooth keyboard is available separately for $149, bringing the cost of the top-end model to ~$750. That’s not quite Surface 4 Pro territory (Microsoft’s tablet starts at $899), but it’s not far off, either.

Google’s first in-house tablet takes a number of design cues from Microsoft’s Surface, including its premium construction and attachable keyboard. Everyone loves the hardware design — the all-aluminum body and screen quality are praised by The Verge,Wired, Ars Technica, Engadget, and CNET, though Engadget thought the device was a “tad hefty,” at 1.13 lbs, compared with the iPad Air 2 at less than a pound. It might not sound like much, but even ounces matter when you hold a device in one hand.

Display quality is high, without necessarily being a stand-out feature. Ars Technica notes that the 2560×1800 resolution on a 10.2-inch panel has a 308 PPI, well above the roughly 265 PPI you find on a Surface or iPad. Color and sharpness were reported as appropriate for a device in this price range, but Ars had major problems with their device’s touch screen, noting that it often failed to register both single and multi-touch gestures. Scrolling was unreliable and the device sometimes forgot that its keyboard was attached.

pixel-c-hero

One thing that stuck out when reading the various reviews is that each site ran into some unique problems in addition to general issues. Engadget lavished praise on the Pixel-C’s performance in both benchmarks and everyday tasks and had no issues with the touchscreen. The Verge, however, said the keyboard’s Bluetooth connection was prone to dropping out, as did Ars. The Verge also saw odd performance overall, writing:

Something is amiss with performance on the Pixel C. There are inexcusable pauses and latency, especially when launching and switching apps. My hunch is that the Android team still hasn’t figured out how to take real advantage of all that power out of Nvidia’s silicon (the Nexus 9 seemed to similarly underutilize its processor). Whatever the reason, it’s a miss. A bad one.

CNET, like Engadget, explicitly praises the Pixel C’s performance and appears to be the only publication that had no performance issues or other errata. The fact that four different publications found three different problems suggests some significant quality control issues with the hardware. Battery life, however, is uniformly excellent.

Software

No one seems particularly happy with the Pixel C’s software. Google built a 10.2-inch panel that can only display one application at a time. Pixel C runs Marshmallow, but as Ars points out, it makes no attempt to field applications that are actually designed for a large-screen tablet. As a result, most apps waste huge amounts of screen space displaying stretched phone apps rather than native Pixel C apps.

Image by Ars Technica. Original caption:  4.6 million pixels. The most beautiful 10-inch tablet display ever created. It can display one tweet

Wired writes that Android “is terrific smartphone software, but not at all well-suited to tablets.” The Verge agrees, noting that the Pixel C’s 1:√2 aspect ratio is identical to a standard sheet of A4 paper and begs for a split-screen view option that’s entirely missing from the device.

Ars doesn’t think Google’s poor treatment of Android tablets is an accident. The company has shown it can adapt applications to smartphones, cars, and televisions, yet most Android apps on tablets are poorly optimized. The complete lack of multi-tasking on a tablet with a top-end price of $750 only underscores the point.

Worth your time and money?

Ars said Android’s tablet app ecosystem is so bad, “no Android tablet is worth your time,” but notes the specific issues they encountered with the Pixel C make it impossible to recommend no matter what. Wired thinks the Pixel C actually makes the case for Chrome OS as opposed to Android, and hopes Google makes every Android engineer use one, so they’ll stop ignoring tablets.

Pixel C, sans keyboard

Pixel C, sans keyboard

The Verge doesn’t recommend the device either, mostly due to Android’s failure to take advantage of the Pixel C’s capabilities. Engadget was a bit kinder, simply calling the new tablet “tough to recommend.” Only CNET floated the phrase “iPad killer.”