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Google is making a huge change to its business model in response to the EU

Google is preparing for a major shift to its business model in response to a record-breaking EU fine this summer over the rules that Google binds Android handset makers to if they want access to the OS — rules that include requiring those handset manufacturers to set Google’s own search and web browsers as the default offerings.

Now, in response to the EU ruling, Google is saying it will shift for the first time away from giving away its Android OS for free to get it onto as many devices as possible. Google will now charge a licensing fee for Android device makers that want to deliver handsets pre-installed with apps like Gmail and YouTube within the EU. In another major change, per CNBCGoogle will also end restrictions on phone makers selling forked versions of Android.

“Previously,” CNBC notes, “Google tied together a suite of 11 different apps that phone makers would have to pre-install if they wanted to license its app store, Play. In July, the EU ruled that this bundling was anti-competitive — pushing consumers towards Google’s search engine and weakening rival app makers — though it only specifically called for Google to separate Chrome and Search from Play.”

This is what we reported earlier this summer would be the big thing to watch once the EU ruling came down. Everyone knew a mega-fine was coming, and since Google basically mints money thanks in part to its lucrative ad business there was no question it would be able to absorb any financial penalty. What was going to be especially interesting to look out for, we noted, was whether the EU fine would force any kind of change to the way the search giant does business. Indeed, it appears that’s coming to pass.
Details are still few about what the financial consequences of this move will be for Google, which is going to start selling a license for a package that includes Gmail, YouTube, Maps and the Google Play store. Google is also going to sell a separate license for Android device makers that want to use Google Search and Chrome but pair those with services from Google competitors. Among other things we don’t know at this point is how much those licenses will cost.

Here’s more from The New York Times about the backstory and what this all means: “By obligating handset makers to load the free apps along with the Android operating system, regulators said, Google had boxed out competitors. With the company now required to separate its services in Europe, handset manufacturers like Samsung and Huawei will now have more flexibility there to choose what applications they want to pre-install on phones.”

Android, the paper goes on to note, is the most widely used mobile operating system in the world. More than 80 percent of all smartphones run Android, as do more than 24,000 different kinds of devices.

“Using Android,” reports the NYT, “has allowed companies like Samsung to compete against Apple’s iPhone without having to make their own software. In providing Android free to any device maker to use and modify, Google helped make the software available everywhere — in phones, tablets, cars and refrigerators. But the company tied the use of the popular Play store, where customers can download more than one million apps made by outside developers, to requirements that device makers feature other, ad-driven services like Google’s search engine and web browser.”

Some device makers had complained to regulators in Europe that Google’s terms effectively boxed them out from producing successful devices that don’t rely heavily on Google applications. Now, presumably, they have more freedom to try to do so.

“Going forward, Android partners wishing to distribute Google apps may also build noncompatible, or forked, smartphones and tablets” in Europe, Google said in a company blog post today. “Second, device manufacturers will be able to license the Google mobile application suite separately from the Google Search App or the Chrome browser. Since the pre-installation of Google Search and Chrome together with our other apps helped us fund the development and free distribution of Android, we will introduce a new paid licensing agreement for smartphones and tablets shipped into the EEA. Android will remain free and open source.”

Former Google designer blasts Google+, says the initiative was a mess from the start

When Google last week announced that it was axing Google+ for consumers, my first reaction was utter shock and disbelief — mostly because I had completely forgotten that Google’s ill-fated attempt at a Facebook clone was even still around. Originally launched in 2011, Google+ was essentially Google’s effort to wade into social networking waters and geniunely compete with Facebook.

Despite Google’s vast amount of resources and engineering talent, Google+ was something of a joke right from the start. And though the search giant did all sorts of crafty things to boost the cumulative number of Google+ users, user engagement on the site never even came close to matching what Facebook managed to achieve. With Google+ now nothing more than a footnote in tech history, Morgan Knutson — a former designer on the Google+ team — published a wild and completely enthralling recap of his time working on the site. Put simply, Knutson explains why Google+ was a mess — bureaucratic and otherwise — from the start.

Knutson’s lengthy thread was first published on Twitter and was compiled into a single entry on Threader. The entire thing is captivating and well worth reading in its entirety, but we’ve selected a few notable excerpts below.

Interestingly, Knutson details how Google+ was given exceptionally favorable treatement because it was under purview of Vic Gundotra, a former Google executive with quite a bit of power and influence.

Google+ was situated in THE main building. 1900. A floor away from Larry’s office (CEO). If you were one of the 12,000+ people at google in MV who didn’t work on Plus, then you didn’t have access to these floors.

The CEO didn’t just have an office. The entire floor was his. We all had access to it and were encouraged to use it sparingly. A “war room” here and there.

We had access to “his” cafe too. A super fancy vegan cafe called “cloud” that wouldn’t be sustainable in the real world.

Why this exclusivity? What made this project so special? Why was it held so closely to Google’s chest? I’d find out later that the SVP of Plus used his clout to swing all of this.

His name was Vic Gundotra.

He was relatively charismatic. I remember him frequently flirting with the women on the team. Gave me a compounded horrible impression of him.

What’s more, Knutson relays how other teams at Google were incentivized to incorporate Google+ into their own services.

If your team, say on Gmail or Android, was to integrate Google+’s features then your team would be awarded a 1.5-3x multiplier on top of your yearly bonus. Your bonus was already something like 15% of your salary.

You read that correctly. A fuck ton of money to ruin the product you were building with bloated garbage that no one wanted 😂 No one really liked this. People drank the kool-aid though, but mostly because it was green and made of paper.

While you might think that a core initiative like Google+ coming from a company with as many resources as Google would be well managed and efficiently run, Knutson describes a working environment that is as chaotic as it is seemingly random and one where problems were seemingly solved by reflexively adding more and more engineers.

If you’re curious as to what it’s like to work on a monumental initiative at a huge tech company, you’ll definitely want to read Knutson’s full story.

Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla come together to end TLS 1.0

Almost everyone has now migrated to TLS 1.2, and a few have moved to TLS 1.3.

Google’s Pixel 3 has a pretty serious design problem that no one’s talking about

We published our full in-depth review of Google’s new Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL flagship smartphones on Monday, and we got a ton of great feedback via email. If you missed it or if you don’t have time to read the whole thing, here’s the TL;DR version: they’re really, really good smartphones with really, really good cameras. Google did an all-around fantastic job with these phones, packing top-notch performance into the company’s best overall design so far. “Pure” Android runs like a dream on the new Pixel phones, and Google’s AI-driven Assistant brings in a bunch of useful extras.

All in all, the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are indeed great phones and most of the emails we got were from people who couldn’t wait to get their hands on one. But the new Google phones are not without their flaws, of course, and many of the people who emailed us wanted more information about one annoying flaw in particular that we discovered — especially since other reviewers apparently didn’t dig deep enough to find it.

While the bulk of our review was overwhelmingly positive, there were a few things we didn’t like about the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL. For example, the huge bezels on the smaller Pixel 3 are better suited to a phone from 2014 or 2015 than a modern smartphone that will be on sale in 2018 and 2019. The larger Pixel 3 XL’s gigantic notch and wide chin bezel aren’t much better, though at least there was some effort made there to modernize the phone’s display design. But those were all intentional design decisions on Google’s part, and our biggest problem with the phones pertains to an unintentional design flaw.

Here’s an excerpt from yesterday’s in-depth Pixel 3 review:

As good as the overall design is, and as much as I love the fit and finish of Google’s Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, there is a serious design flaw that has really bothered me while I began testing the phones.

Google’s new Pixel phones have front-firing stereo speakers that sound great and are wonderfully loud. Unfortunately, using them means dealing with an unwanted side effect: an insane amount of vibration on the back of the phone. All phones vibrate to an extent if you turn their speakers up loud enough. It’s the nature of sound waves. But I’ve never felt anything like this.

At low volumes, it’s really annoying. The back of the phone vibrates with each and every beat of whatever music you’re playing. Even during dialog in a video, you can still feel the back of the phone vibrate constantly. If there’s sound, it’s vibrating.

Then if you turn the volume up to about 50%, the vibration goes from annoying to aggravating. At 80% or higher, it’s downright horrible. The back of the phone vibrates as hard or even harder than the vibration motor inside the phone that Google uses for notifications. Imagine playing music and having your phone’s notification motor vibrating the entire time. It’s so violent that Google’s fabric Pixel cases barely dampen it at all.

The whole point of the great stereo speakers on Google’s Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL is so that you can watch videos or play music with the volume turned up nice and loud. If you plan to actually use the speakers though, be prepared to either hold the phone with your fingertips by its aluminum edges, or to be very annoyed by all the vibration you’re going to feel.

If this was an iPhone, it would absolutely be a “gate” — probably “Vibrationgate” or something like that — and the tech press would lose its collective mind over the issue. Let’s see how bloggers react to the problem on a Google phone.

Now, we haven’t taken the time to read other Pixel 3 reviews out there, but we did skim a few. We also received emails from some people who said they read many of the reviews that were published on Monday, and they didn’t find any other mention of the issue. It’s easy for tech bloggers to stick to a specific procedure when reviewing phones, so we’re not very surprised that other sites didn’t catch it. Loud speakers simply aren’t a big focus when people are testing phones. People who buy the new Pixel phones, however, will definitely notice this issue.

We live in a mobile first age when people spend so much time on their smartphones. And mobile video has never been more popular than it is right now. People watch YouTube videos on their phones, they stream Netflix to their phones, and plenty more. Many people spend more time watching video on their phones than they do on TVs. In fact, I know people in their 20s and people with children in their teens who don’t even have TVs. All of the content they watch is streamed to a smartphone or computer.

Smartphone makers know how much time people spend these days watching content and playing music on their phones, and that’s why loud speakers have become such a big focus in recent years. Google even went as far as to talk up its new dual front-firing stereo speakers on stage during its big Pixel 3 event last week. This is a big, annoying problem that users are definitely going to take issue with, and I doubt there’s anything Google can do to fix it short of redesigning the phone.

Google’s AI is now better than doctors at spotting breast cancer

Cancer researchers are constantly advancing the technology that doctors use to screen for, detect, and treat all kinds of cancers, and the survivability prospects have greatly improved over the past few decades. Now, AI is giving scientists another tool in the fight against the disease, and one of the biggest names in the AI game is Google.

In a new blog post, Google researchers explain that their AI known as LYNA — short for Lymph Node Assistant — has reached a level of sophistication that it can now tell the difference between cancer and non-cancer on slides with a stunning 99% accuracy.

Google explains that, in a pair of recently-published research papers, the LYNA tool demonstrated incredible accuracy in determining whether breast cancer had spread to a patient’s lymph nodes. Determining this is a major factor in deciding how a cancer patient might proceed, and can change the treatment options and approach that doctors take when handling a particular case.

Google notes that pathologist diagnosis of lymph node metastases (determining whether or not the cancer has spread) can be quite inaccurate, often due to time crunch and fast-moving decisions in the early stages of treatment. Accuracy of an individual slide can be as low as 38 percent, Google notes while referencing past research.

LYNA, on the other hand, is incredibly accurate right out of the gate, improving accuracy to 99 percent on a per-slide basis, like the one seen above.

“LYNA was able to accurately pinpoint the location of both cancers and other suspicious regions within each slide, some of which were too small to be consistently detected by pathologists,” Google writes. “As such, we reasoned that one potential benefit of LYNA could be to highlight these areas of concern for pathologists to review and determine the final diagnosis.”

Going forward, AI could ultimately be the most important tool for cancer detection yet, aiding doctors in diagnosis and allowing their expertise to be honed for finding the right treatment options that will save patient lives. That would be good news for all of us.