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Android Q scores a system-wide ‘Dark Theme’

Judhajeet Das

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Google is bringing a system-wide dark mode to Android Q. It’s called Dark Theme and it’s exactly what you would expect, changing white page elements to solid black across the OS for friendlier night-time viewing.

You’ll be able to activate dark mode by tapping a dedicates tile in Quick Settings, or it can be auto-triggered when you turn on battery-saver mode. The company says the mode “will help you save battery,” highlighting how “Dark Theme” will fire up fewer pixels on your OLED device. The company explained later in a deeper dive into Android Q that the dark mode won’t be timed to a particular hour of the day — the user will be in control by toggling it on.

It looks like the theme will be coming to all of the first-party Android apps. Developers will be able to bring the functionality to their apps to easily trigger dark modes when Dark Theme is enabled through a variety of options — including one that would ignore the Dark Theme setting entirely, if they choose.

Dark modes have grown in popularity as larger phone screens became the norm — particularly because they can help to conserve battery life on high-end OLED devices.

Today, a number of apps support dark themes, including Google’s YouTube, Google’s main app, Medium, Reddit, Instapaper, Pocket, iBooks, Kindle, Google Maps, Waze, and most recently, Twitter.

Plus, Google this week added a dark theme to the revamped version of Android Auto.

Google acknowledged the addition of a Dark Theme to Android was a small update, but that didn’t stop the crowd from whooping it up at today’s event.

Additional reporting: Sarah Perez

Tech Passionate and Heavy Geek! Into Blogging world since 2014 and never looked back since then :) I am also a YouTube Video Producer and a Aspiring Entrepreneur. Founder, MyDroidDoes

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Week-in-Review: Alexa’s indefinite memory and NASA’s otherworldly plans for GPS

Judhajeet Das

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Hello, weekenders. This is Week-in-Review, where I give a heavy amount of analysis and/or rambling thoughts on one story while scouring the rest of the hundreds of stories that emerged on TechCrunch this week to surface my favorites for your reading pleasure.

Last week, I talked about the cult of Ive and the degradation of Apple design. On Sunday night, The Wall Street Journal published a report on how Ive had been moving away from the company, to the dismay of many on the design team. Tim Cook didn’t like the report very much. Our EIC gave a little breakdown on the whole saga in a nice piece.


Amazon Buys Whole Foods For Over 13 Billion

The big story

This week was a tad restrained in its eventfulness; seems like the newsmakers went on 4th of July vacations a little early. Amazon made a bit of news this week when the company confirmed that Alexa request logs are kept indefinitely.

Last week, an Amazon public policy exec answered some questions about Alexa in a letter sent to U.S. Senator Coons. His office published the letter on its site a few days ago and most of the details aren’t all that surprising, but the first answer really sets the tone for how Amazon sees Alexa activity:

Q: How long does Amazon store the transcripts of user voice recordings?

A: We retain customers’ voice recordings and transcripts until the customer chooses to delete them.

What’s interesting about this isn’t that we’re only now getting this level of straightforward dialogue from Amazon on how long data is kept if not specifically deleted, but it makes one wonder why it is useful or feasible for them to keep it indefinitely. (This assumes that they actually are keeping it indefinitely; it seems likely that most of it isn’t, and that by saying this they’re protecting themselves legally, but I’m just going off the letter.)

After several years of “Hey Alexa,” the company doesn’t seem all that close to figuring out what it is.

Alexa seems to be a shit solution for commerce, so why does Amazon have 10,000 people working on it, according to a report this week in The Information? All signs are pointing to the voice assistant experiment being a short-term failure in terms of the short-term ambitions, though AI advances will push the utility.

Training data is a big deal across AI teams looking to educate models on data sets of relevant information. The company seems to say as much. “Our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems use machine learning to adapt to customers’ speech patterns and vocabulary, informed by the way customers use Alexa in the real world. To work well, machine learning systems need to be trained using real world data.”

The company says it doesn’t anonymize any of this data because it has to stay associated with a user’s account in order for them to delete it. I’d feel a lot better if Amazon just effectively anonymized the data in the first place and used on-device processing the build a profile on my voice. What I’m more afraid of is Amazon having such a detailed voiceprint of everyone who has ever used an Alexa device.

If effortless voice-based e-commerce isn’t really the product anymore, what is? The answer is always us, but I don’t like the idea of indefinitely leaving Amazon with my data until they figure out the answer.

Send me feedback
on Twitter @lucasmtny or email
[email protected]

On to the rest of the week’s news.

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context:

  • NASA’s GPS moonshot
    The U.S. government really did us a solid inventing GPS, but NASA has some bigger ideas on the table for the positioning platform, namely, taking it to the Moon. It might be a little complicated, but, unsurprisingly, scientists have some ideas here. Read more.
  • Apple has your eyes
    Most of the iOS beta updates are bug fixes, but the latest change to iOS 13 brought a very strange surprise: changing the way the eyes of users on iPhone XS or XS Max look to people on the other end of the call. Instead of appearing that you’re looking below the camera, some software wizardry will now make it look like you’re staring directly at the camera. Apple hasn’t detailed how this works, but here’s what we do know
  • Trump is having a Twitter party
    Donald Trump’s administration declared a couple of months ago that it was launching an exploratory survey to try to gain a sense of conservative voices that had been silenced on social media. Now @realdonaldtrump is having a get-together and inviting his friends to chat about the issue. It’s a real who’s who; check out some of the people attending here.
Amazon CEO And Blue Origin Founder Jeff Bezos Speaks At Air Force Association Air, Space And Cyber Conference

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

GAFA Gaffes

How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of badness:

  1. Amazon is responsible for what it sells:
    [Appeals court rules Amazon can be held liable for third-party products]
  2. Android co-creator gets additional allegations filed:
    [Newly unsealed court documents reveal additional allegations against Andy Rubin]

Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription service had another week of interesting deep dives. TechCrunch reporter Kate Clark did a great interview with the ex-Facebook, ex-Venmo founding team behind Fin and how they’re thinking about the consumerization of the enterprise.

“…The thing is, developing an AI assistant capable of booking flights, arranging trips, teaching users how to play poker, identifying places to purchase specific items for a birthday party and answering wide-ranging zany questions like “can you look up a place where I can milk a goat?” requires a whole lot more human power than one might think. Capital-intensive and hard-to-scale, an app for “instantly offloading” chores wasn’t the best business. Neither Lessin nor Kortina will admit to failure, but Fin‘s excursion into B2B enterprise software eight months ago suggests the assistant technology wasn’t a billion-dollar idea.…”

Here are some of our other top reads this week for premium subscribers. This week, we talked a bit about asking for money and the future of China’s favorite tech platform:

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Spotify Lite for Android gets an official launch in 36 countries

Judhajeet Das

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Spotify’s Lite app is now official. The app has been in beta since last year, and now Spotify is officially releasing it in 36 countries worldwide.

The app is designed to work on patchy or weak internet connections and, at just 10MB, it is small enough to cater to older phones and lower-end devices that have limited storage. Spotify Lite is limited to Android devices running version 4.3 or newer, and it is open to both paying and non-paying users. For those worried about maxing out their data plan, the app comes with an optional limit that can tell you when you are close to hitting that buffer.

Spotify claims that 90% of the features of the main app are available in Lite, in particular areas around multimedia — including video and cover artist — are omitted as they are not critical to the core experience.

A spokesperson told TechCrunch that, as of now, there are no plans to bring the Lite experience to iOS. That makes sense, as the majority of people who would benefit from the stripped-down experience would be Android owners.

India is likely to be a key focus. Spotify introduced Lite in India in June, months after the full service went live in the country in February.

The overall goal here is to expand Spotify’s reach beyond the current user base by focusing on emerging markets or older users. The company currently claims 217 million users, of which 100 million are paying customers. For comparison, Apple Music passed 60 million users in June.

spotify

Cecilia Qvist, Global Head of Markets, Spotify (left) announced the release of Spotify Lite onstage at Rise in Hong Kong (Photo By David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

According to Google Play Store data, Spotify Lite has been downloaded more than 1 million times. Expect that number to rocket as the company goes to town promoting Lite as an alternative entry point for its service.

Lite apps have been popularized by services such as Facebook, Messenger and YouTube, which have tapped demand, particularly in emerging markets where data speeds tend to be inconsistent and lower-end devices are more prevalent.

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Google Maps now shows users discounts from nearby restaurants in India

Judhajeet Das

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Google said today that it has started to display discounts from restaurants in its Maps app in India as the Mountain View giant works to expand its ever-growing reach and relevance in one of its key overseas markets.

The company today rolled out an update to add three new features to the Google Maps app in India. Users can now see a new “offers” option in the “explore tab” that will display promotional offers from local restaurants. Google said it has partnered with EazyDiner, a table reservation platform, to display offers from more than 4,000 restaurants. The feature is live in 11 metro cities in India.

Restaurant offers are just the beginning, as the company plans to ink deals with more partners and expand to more categories in the future, it said. Users can also book a table to a restaurant directly from the Maps app. Google did not reveal the financial agreement it had with EazyDiner, a five-year-old New Delhi-based startup that has raised more than $13 million to date.

google maps

The new offering comes as Google explores ways to make more money off Google Maps. The company maintains a Google Maps Platform for enterprise customers, and has increased its access price over the years, but it has yet to monetize the consumer-facing part of the service in a significant way.

As part of today’s announcement, the company has also revamped the “explore tab” in India to “reflect the rich diversity of local neighborhoods and communities,” said Krish Vitaldevara and Chandu Thota, directors of Google Maps, in a blog post. As part of the fresh paint job, Google said it has added shortcuts to give users quick navigation to restaurants, ATMs, shopping, hotels, pharmacies and, of course, offers.

Additionally, there is also an option in the explore tab to get directions to top areas in each city. The company said it uses machine learning to identify these areas. “Besides your own city, you can also look up other Indian cities by just searching the city name — an easy way to get up to speed before you travel,” Vitaldevara and Thota wrote.

The third feature, dubbed “For You,” displays personalized recommendations for new restaurants and other trending places. Users in India can now also follow a business and get updates and news on events.

“This feature also uses the ‘Your Match’ score, which uses machine learning to combine what we know about millions of places with the information you’ve added — restaurants you’ve rated, cuisines you’ve liked, and places you have visited. The first time you use this feature you can select the areas/localities you are interested in, and get more personalized and relevant recommendations over time,” the executives wrote.

Google continues to bulk up its Maps offerings in India. In recent months, it has added the ability to check if a cab goes off the usual route, and look for real-time status of trains and buses, among other features.

The company, which has amassed more than 300 million users in India, continues to use the nation as a testbed for many of its services. This approach has helped Google, which operates the Android mobile operating system that runs on 98% of smartphones in India, gain wide adoption in the country.

But it has also instilled an antitrust probe on its influence in the nation.

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