Google bucked the soaring smartphone price trend Tuesday, unveiling a high-performance Pixel handset aimed at the middle of the market as part of a wide-ranging pitch to developers of its new hardware, software and privacy efforts.
The Pixel 3a phone, which includes many of the artificial intelligence features of its flagship devices, is priced from $399, executives said as Google opened its annual I/O developers conference near its headquarters in the Silicon Valley city of Mountain View.
“There has been a troubling trend of high-end phones getting more expensive,” Google head of hardware Rick Osterloh said.
“So, we challenged ourselves to deliver a high-end experience in a new Pixel 3a starting at $399.”
The new Pixel was available atGoogle’s online shop.
Osterloh contended that the price is about half that of latest generation premium smartphones but is built with camera, digital assistant and other features found in top-end handsets.
“They just redefined what a mid-priced phone can do,” Forrester Research principal analyst Frank Gillett said at the event.
“But they didn’t tell us what compromises they made on the hardware.”
Google’s expertise is software, so getting features like artificial intelligence to work on less costly smartphones plays to the internet giant’s strength, according to Gillett.
Enabling artificial intelligence to handle sophisticated features on smartphone means less user data needs to be shared with online data centers to handle tasks, Google chief executive Sundar Pichai said while discussing steps being taken to strengthen privacy and security of users.
“We always want to do more for users, but do it with less data over time,” Pichai said.
“We strongly believe that privacy and security are for everyone.”
The Pixel 3a makes its debut in a tightening smartphone market, particularly when it comes to premium models, with Google having failed to garner significant market share.
Over the past quarter, South Korea’s Samsung led all manufacturers with a 23 percent share in a global market that fell 6.6 percent, according to research firm IDC.
China’s Huawei, US-based Apple and three other Chinese firms rounded out the top five, according to IDC.
Google stepped up its hardware ambitions last year with the acquisition of the smartphone division of Taiwan-based HTC.
The new Pixel 3a device is being introduced as Apple and Samsung have boosted prices of their newest handsets to over $1,000, and with Google’s flagship Pixel 3 selling from around $800.
Pixel 3a has features “extremely attractive to users on a budget,” and comes as a threat to the leading Android-powered smartphone maker Samsung, according to Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi.
Google also introduced a Nest Hub Max device that combines a 10-inch (25-centimeter) display with a camera, microphone, sound system and a digital assistant.
Smarts built into Max include facial recognition that allows the device to personalize experiences and even alert owners when someone it doesn’t recognize is in a home, according to executives.
Max will be priced at $229 when it launches later this year in Australia, Britain and the US.
Analyst Gillett saw the Max price as “jaw-dropping” given it combines a smart camera, video screen and high-quality stereo.
Google executives dived deep into ways it is improving its software, particularly with privacy and machine learning in mind.
Along with weaving podcasts and 3-D augmented reality images into search results, Google is enabling more of the computing to be done on handsets where users have control.
“Instead of sending data to the cloud, we shipped machine learning models directly to your device,” Pichai said.
“We always want to do more for users, but do it with less data over time.”
While the “devil is in the details” regarding how much of what Google mobile software learns about users will be “grist” for its money-making online ads, weaving improved privacy into its offerings could improve the company’s position with regulators, according to Gillett.
ABC of US ban on Huawei
With the suspension of some business by Google with Huawei, the Chinese technology giant will immediately lose access to updates to the Android operating system except those available through an open source licence.
President Donald Trump had extended the trade war he stoked between America and China to Huawei. In what appears to be worry over security, White House had also shunned the 5G technology which Huawei has been championing.
Huawei said it has made substantial contributions to the development and growth of Android around the world.
“As one of Android’s key global partners, we have worked closely with their open-source platform to develop an ecosystem that has benefitted both users and the industry.
“Huawei will continue to provide security updates and after sales services to all existing Huawei and Honor smartphone and tablet products covering those have been sold or still in stock globally.
“We will continue to build a safe and sustainable software ecosystem, in order to provide the best experience for all users globally,” Huawei said.
Analysts said with the development, the next version of Huawei’s smartphones outside China will also lose access to popular applications and services such as Gmail.
Alphabet’s Google has suspended business with Huawei that requires the transfer of hardware, software and technical services except those publicly available via open source licensing, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Sunday, in a blow to the Chinese technology company that the US government has sought to blacklist around the world.
The move could hobble Huawei’s smartphone business outside China as the tech giant will immediately lose access to updates to Google’s Android operating system.
The next version of its Android smartphones will also lose access to popular services including the Google Play Store and Gmail and YouTube apps.
“Huawei will only be able to use the public version of Android and will not be able to get access to proprietary apps and services from Google,” a source said.
The Trump administration last week Thursday added Huawei Technologies to a trade blacklist, immediately enacting restrictions that will make it extremely difficult for the company to do business with its U.S. counterparts.
On Friday the US Commerce Department said it was considering scaling back restrictions on Huawei to “prevent the interruption of existing network operations and equipment.”
It was not immediately clear whether Huawei’s access to mobile software would be affected.
The extent to which Huawei will be hurt by the US government’s blacklist is not yet known as its global supply chain assesses the impact. Chip experts have questioned Huawei’s ability to continue to operate without U.S help.
Details of the specific services affected by the suspension were still being discussed internally at Google, according to the source.
Huawei lawyers are also studying the impact of the blacklist, a Huawei spokesman said on Friday. Huawei was not immediately reachable for further comment.
Representatives of the US Commerce Department did not immediately have comment.
Huawei will continue to have access to the version of the Android operating system available through the open source license, known as Android Open Source Project (AOSP) available for free to anyone who wishes to use it.
There are about 2.5 billion active Android devices worldwide, according to Google.
But Google will stop providing Huawei with access, technical support and collaboration involving its proprietary apps and services going forward, the source said.
Huawei said it has spent the last few years preparing a contingency plan by developing its own technology in case it is blocked from using Android.
Some of this technology is already being used in products sold in China, the company has said.
In an interview with Reuters in March, Eric Xu, rotating chairman of Huawei, struck a defiant note in anticipation of retaliatory actions by U.S companies.
“No matter what happens, the Android Community does not have any legal right to block any company from accessing its open-source license,” he said.
Popular Google apps such as Gmail, YouTube and the Chrome browser that are available through Google’s Play Store will disappear from future Huawei handsets as those services are not covered by the open source licence and require a commercial agreement with Google.
But users of existing Huawei devices who have access to the Google Play Store will still be able to download app updates provided by Google.
Apps such as Gmail are updated through the store, unlike operating system updates which are typically handled by phone manufacturers and telecoms carriers, which the blacklist could affect, the source said.
The impact is expected to be minimal in the Chinese market. Most Google mobile apps are banned in China, where alternatives are offered by domestic competitors such as Tencent and Baidu.
Huawei’s European business, its second-biggest market, could be hit as Huawei licenses these services from Google in Europe.
“Having those apps is critical for smartphone makers to stay competitive in regions like Europe,” said Geoff Blaber, vice-president of research at CCS Insight.
Just In: Facebook removes 265 ‘fake accounts’
Facebook on Thursday said it had removed 265 Facebook and Instagram accounts, pages, groups and events linked to an Israeli-based firm due to what it called “inauthentic behaviour” targeting users in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa.
The move is part of wider efforts by Facebook to address concerns over privacy lapses and hate speech in social media.
Facebook said the “inauthentic” activity originated in Israel and focused on Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Angola, Niger and Tunisia as well as in Latin America and Southeast Asia. “The people behind this network used fake accounts to run pages, disseminate their content and artificially increase engagement,” Nathaniel, head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook said in a statement.
He identified Israel’s Archimedes Group as the source of some of the activity. “This organisation and all its subsidiaries are now banned from Facebook, and it has been issued a cease and desist letter,” said Gleicher.
Archimedes was not immediately available for comment Gleicher said Archimedes had 65 Facebook accounts, 161 pages, 12 events and four Instagram accounts. Some 2.8 million accounts followed one or more of these pages.
He said that the individuals involved also represented themselves as locals, including local news organisations, and published allegedly leaked information about politicians. “The page administrators and account owners frequently posted about political news, including topics like elections in various countries, candidate views and criticism of political opponents,” Gleicher said.
“We’re taking down these pages and accounts based on their behaviour, not the content they posted.”
He added that around 812,000 dollars was spent for advertisements on Facebook paid for in Brazilian reals, Israeli shekels and U.S. dollars with the first ad running in 2012 and the most recent last month, Gleicher said. “We have shared information about our analysis with industry partners and policymakers,” he said.
Similarly, Amnesty International on Thursday called for Israel’s government to ensure that an Israeli company, whose spyware has been linked to a WhatsApp breach that may have targeted human rights groups, be held accountable for the way its software is used.
Amnesty on Tuesday filed a petition in Israel seeking the revocation of NSO Group’s export licence and said that it was up to the government to take a firmer stance against export licenses that have “resulted in human rights abuses.”
Israel’s Ministry of Defence declined to comment.
WhatsApp, a unit of Facebook, said on Tuesday that a security breach on its messaging app may have targeted human rights groups.
According to Eva Galperin, Director of cybersecurity at San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, WhatsApp told human rights groups it believed the spyware used was developed by Israel’s NSO.A second person familiar with the matter also identified spyware from NSO.
Amnesty said in an emailed statement that NSO has “again and again demonstrated their intent to avoid responsibility for the way their software is used,” and that only government intervention would change that.
NSO has not commented on any specific attacks, but following the WhatsApp breach it said it would investigate any “credible allegations of misuse” of its technology which “is solely operated by intelligence and law enforcement agencies”.
NSO’s biggest shareholder, Novalpina Capital, said in a statement that it intends to bring NSO’s governance into alignment with UN principles and will seek insights from Amnesty and other groups “into how best to achieve this important goal.”
WhatsApp, one of the world’s most popular messaging tools which are used by 1.5 billion people monthly, said it had notified the U.S. Department of Justice to help with an investigation into the breach.
And it encouraged its users to update to the latest version of the app, where the breach had been fixed.
One target of the new WhatsApp exploit was a United Kingdom-based human rights lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Reuters reported on Tuesday.
The United Kingdom-based human rights lawyer is helping a Saudi dissident and several Mexican journalists mount civil cases against NSO for its alleged role in selling hacking tools to the Saudi and Mexican governments, which they alleged were used to hack into their phones.
NSO says it sells only to law enforcement and intelligence agencies pursuing legitimate targets, such as terrorists and criminals.
Novalpina, in a May 15 letter to Amnesty signed by founding partner Stephen Peel, said Novalpina was “determined to do whatever is necessary to ensure that NSO technology is used for the purpose for which it is intended.
“The prevention of harm to fundamental human rights arising from terrorism and serious crime – and not abused in a manner that undermines other equally fundamental human rights.”
Facebook restricts live-streaming feature
Facebook Inc says it is tightening rules around its livestreaming feature ahead of a meeting of world leaders aimed at curbing online violence in the aftermath of a massacre in New Zealand.
A lone gunman killed 51 people at two mosques in the city of Christchurch on March 15 while livestreaming the attacks on Facebook.
It was New Zealand’s worst peacetime shooting and spurred calls for tech companies to do more to combat extremism on their services.
Facebook said in a statement it was introducing a “one-strike” policy for use of Facebook Live, temporarily restricting access for people who have faced disciplinary action for breaking the company’s most serious rules anywhere on its site.
First-time offenders will be suspended from using Live for set periods of time, the company said. It is also broadening the range of offences that will qualify for one-strike suspensions.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the change addressed a key component of an initiative, known as the “Christchurch Call”, she is spearheading to halt the spread of violence online.
“Facebook’s decision to put limits on livestreaming is a good first step to restrict the application being used as a tool for terrorists, and shows the Christchurch Call is being acted on,” she said in an email from her spokesman.