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Google unveils Android’s latest technological tricks

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    David Singleton, director at Android Wear, speaks during the Google I/O 2015 keynote presentation in San Francisco, Thursday, May 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
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SAN FRANCISCO >> Google’s next version of its Android operating system will boast new ways to fetch information, pay merchants and protect privacy on mobile devices as the Internet company duels with Apple in the quest to make their technology indispensable.

The upgrade will give Android’s personal assistant, Google Now, expanded powers of intuition that may be greeted as a great convenience to some and a tad too creepy for others.

Most of the renovations unveiled Thursday at Google’s annual developers’ conference won’t be available until late summer or early fall, around the same time that Apple is expected to release the latest overhaul of the iOS software that powers the iPhone and iPad.

The annual changes to Android and iOS are becoming increasingly important as people become more dependent on smartphones to manage their lives. Android holds about an 80 percent share of the worldwide smartphone market, with iOS a distant second at 16 percent, according to the research firm International Data Corp.

Both Google and Apple are vying to make their products even more ubiquitous by transplanting much of their mobile technology into automobiles and Internet-connected televisions and appliances. Google hopes to play a prominent role in the management of home security and appliances with a new operating system called Brillo that will interact with Android devices.

Here’s a closer look at some of the key features in the upcoming Android upgrade, currently known simply as “M” and other developments from the developer’s conference:

HBO NOW WILL BE AVAILABLE THROUGH ANDROID

HBO Now, the premium channel’s new online service for people who don’t pay for cable, will be available through Android devices this summer.

HBO Now has been available since April for people to get the service through their iPhones, iPads or an Apple TV, or who were customers of New York-area cable provider Cablevision. It costs $15 a month.

Traditional TV subscriptions are slowly starting to slip as more people watch online video. Access to popular HBO shows like “Game of Thrones” and sports channels are some of the major draws of cable and satellite TV packages with hundreds of channels. Such packages easily run you $70 and up after promotions run out.

But with HBO Now, the channel’s shows and movies are available for people who don’t pay for cable. As for sports, Dish Network’s Sling TV makes ESPN and about 20 other cable channels available over the Internet for $20 a month.

You would also need Internet access. Internet prices vary. Comcast, the country’s largest cable company, advertises high-speed Internet by itself at $70 to $75 a month after promotions expire.

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UNLIMITED PHOTO STORAGE

Google is willing to store and organize all of the world’s digital photos and videos for free.

The online photo service announced Thursday is the latest example of Google’s desire to wrap its tentacles around virtually every part of people’s lives.

Google will provide unlimited storage of all photos up to 16 megapixels and high-definition video up to 1080p.

The service, called Google Photos, will be available as an app on Android and Apple devices, and on a website. It’s a variation of the photo-management tool on Google Plus, a social networking service that has struggled to compete against Facebook since its 2011 debut.

Apple has a photo service that offers up to five gigabytes of storage for free. Yahoo’s Flickr service offers one terabyte of storage for free.

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NOW ON TAP

Google Now currently learns a user’s interests and habits by analyzing search requests and scanning emails so it can automatically present helpful information, such as the latest news about a favorite sports team or how long it will take to get to work.

With the M upgrade, users will be able to summon Google Now to scan whatever content might be on a mobile device’s screen so it can present pertinent information about the topic of a text, a song, a video clip or an article.

The new Android feature, called “Now on Tap,” will be activated by holding down the device’s home button or speaking, “OK Google,” into the microphone. That action will prompt Now on Tap to scan the screen in attempt to figure out how to be the most helpful. Or, if speaking, users can just say what they are seeking, such as “Who sings this?”

Google is hoping to provide Android users with what they need at the precise moment they need it without forcing them to hopscotch from one app to another.

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MOBILE PAYMENT DO-OVER

Android M will include an alternative to the mobile payment system that Apple introduced last fall. Google’s response, called Android Pay, will replace Google Wallet for making mobile purchases in stores and applications. Google Wallet, which came out in 2011, will still work for sending payments from one person to another.

Like Apple’s system, Android Pay can be used to store major credit and debit cards in smartphones that can be used to pay merchants equipped with terminals that work with the technology. Android Pay will also work on devices running on the KitKat version of Android released last year.

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PROTECTING PRIVACY

Android M will be compatible with fingerprint scanners so device users can verify their identities by pressing a button instead of entering a passcode. Apple’s iPhones began using a fingerprint reader in 2013.

Besides supporting fingerprint scanners, Android M will make it easier to users to prevent mobile applications from grabbing their personal information. Permission will only need to be granted to each app if the access is needed for a specific action. That means Android users won’t be asked to share information about their contact lists, photo rolls or locations until an app won’t work without it.

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