Google unveils new Pixel phones, speakers, futuristic headphones

Google has pulled the curtain off a whole collection of new gadgets.

The company revealed on Wednesday its latest hardware products at a press event in San Francisco, including the Pixel 2 smartphone, futuristic headphones and two new smart speakers. It included a number of nods to Apple, including killing the headphone jack on its Pixel phones.

Tech companies such as Apple and Google tend to announce their newest products this time of year, ahead of the holiday shopping season. This year’s big tech trends include smart speakers, home security, and of course, smartphones.

Here’s a look at Google’s new products:

Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones

The Pixel is Google’s flagship phone, designed to show off the best possible version of the company’s Android mobile operating system. The latest editions of the Google-made smartphones have new OLED screens, fingerprint sensors and are water resistant. They also pack a powerful rear camera — one of the Pixel’s biggest draws. Oh, and they no longer have a headphone jack.

During a demo, Google made a dig at Apple’s strategy to keep some features specific to its larger-sized iPhone Plus model.

“We don’t set aside better features for the larger device,” said a presenter on stage.

But the biggest changes to the devices are inside. Earlier this year, Google previewed its new Lens feature, which lets you point your phone’s camera at a something — like a sign or animal — for relevant information like phone numbers and dog species. Google will finally debut Lens as a special feature within the Google Photos app, but only on new Pixel devices to start. Google would also like to make Lens a verb, so make sure you say “I’m Lensing this dog!” when using the feature.

The Pixel is adding a portrait mode, just like a certain company that rhymes with Snapple. Portrait mode fakes a shallow depth of field effect by detecting the subject and throwing the background out of focus. Google is doing it with just one camera instead of two.

Not to be outdone by Apple’s talking poop emoji feature, Google is adding AR stickers, so you can add things like virtual coffee to your videos and photos.

Pixel 2 has a 5-inch screen and will cost $649 and up. The Pixel 2 XL has a 6-inch screen and starts at $849. Both are now available for pre-orders in Australia, Canada, Germany, India, the U.K. and the U.S.

Last year, it was a challenge to get your hands on a Pixel phone. It’s unclear as of now if Google will increase its supplies for the new models.

Google Pixel Buds

Pixel users will be able to use the phones with its new Pixel Buds, a pair of wireless headphones connected to each other with a string. The $159 headphones will only work with the Google Pixel phone for now, but they have one really cool trick. The headphones can translate 40 languages via Google Translate. The built in microphones help handle almost real-time translation. In an on-stage demonstration, Google translated Swedish to English.

Google Clips

Google Clips is a small square camera for people who don’t want to press buttons. Users place it in front of a scene such as on the floor of a room that toddlers and dogs frequent. It will detect when something is worth recording and take still photos or silent videos. It is specifically scanning for faces you have trained it to recognize, smiles, dogs and cats. The final files are 15 frame-per-second movie clips. They’re transferred to your phone over Wi-Fi, where you can save it as a GIF or movie file, or pick out a single frame to save as a photo. To counter potential privacy concerns, all the processing is one on the device or your phone, meaning nothing is saved in the cloud unless you do it yourself. The Clips’ battery should last about three hours, and the LED lights let you know when it’s recording.

The device isn’t entirely original. There have been similar products in the past, but not that include Google’s powerful AI technology. The device ($249) works with the Pixel, iPhone 6 and later, and Galaxy S7 and S8 phones.

Google Home Mini

There’s now a tiny-sized version of the Google Home speaker. Called the Google Home Mini — which Google said is smaller than a donut — it is a rounded disk covered in the hottest new technology material: fabric. It has the same powers as the full-sized Google Home, like voice recognition and the usual smart home and calling powers. There are four LED lights on top, and it plugs into the wall.

The device, which comes in grey, dark grey and coral, will cost $49 and be available October 19. It’s Google’s answer to Amazon’s Echo Dot.

Google Home Max

Google is also releasing a direct competitor to Apple’s forthcoming HomePod. The Google Home Max ($399) is a higher-end speaker with the company’s built-in Google Assistant technology. The device, available in light or dark grey, includes a feature called Smart Sound, which allows you to adjust the audio based on the surrounding environment. Two Max speakers will play music in stereo.

The device will launch in December and include a free 12-month subscription to YouTube Red, the video service’s subscription option.

Google Pixelbook

The Google Pixelbook is the company’s newest convertible laptop. This means you can fold the screen all the way back and pretend it’s a tablet. It has a 12.3-inch touchscreen display and the battery can last 10 hours, according to Google.

The Pixelbook touts a feature called instant tethering that will automatically connect it to a Pixel phone’s Wi-Fi network, if no other connections are available. The laptop comes with Google Assistant built in — it even has its own dedicated key on the keyboard. It also works with a stylus ($99).

The Pixelbook, available on October 31, starts at $999.

Google Assistant updates

Google noticed that kids enjoy talking to the Google Assistant, so it added a few features especially for tinier humans. Google said it’s improved how the technology understands the way kids speak, and there’s a new account option for children under 13 that parents can set up and control.

Google is also adding 50 “experiences” for kids, such as games and a story time feature. It is also working with companies like DC Comics and Disney on new apps.

The event

Sundar Pichai opened up the event with a nod to recent events: the shooting in Las Vegas and multiple hurricanes.

“It’s been hard to see the suffering, but I’ve been moved and inspired by the everyday heroism,” said Pichai.

He mentioned how people have opened their homes up to victims and called out the help from first responders.

“We are working closely with many relief agencies in affected areas and are committed to doing our part,” said Pichai.

Apple unveils iPhone 7 and new Watch

— The iPhone 7 has arrived.

Apple announced its next-generation smartphones and a slew of other products at its annual press event on Wednesday. The event kicked off with Apple CEO Tim Cook doing a little Carpool Karaoke with James Cordon and Pharrell. Apple recently bought a Carpool Karaoke TV series exclusively for Apple Music that will debut next year.

iPhone 7 focuses on photography: Apple’s new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are water resistant, come in new shades of black, and have improved cameras.

The iPhone is Apple’s bread and butter. The company has sold over 1 billion of the devices since it launched in 2007, according to Cook. The latest version isn’t a huge departure from the iPhone 6S, but it has a few key upgrades.

It’s water and dust resistant, which is different from waterproof but still an improvement over “easily killed by water.”

The larger iPhone has two side-by-side12-megapixel cameras. One is wide angle and one is telephoto. It gives users 2x optical zoom and 10x digital zoom. In the future, both cameras will be used at the same time to get a shallow depth-of-field effect, but that feature wasn’t ready at launch. The smaller iPhone 7 still has one, lonely camera on the back.

The cameras on both phones have been updated with an optical image stabilizer, a new lens and a 12 megapixel sensor. The flash has four LEDs and can detect the flickers of artificial lighting to better compensate.

The Home button is now force sensitive. Instead of knowing you pressed the button because it clicked, it will vibrate. Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller said the revolutionary new button is “creating new feelings and experiences that could not have been created before.”

The iPhone 7 now comes in two new colors: a high gloss jet black finish and a matte black. It’s also still available in gold, silver and rose gold (yes, pink). The phones will ship with iOS 10. Existing iPhones can upgrade to the new mobile OS on September 13.

The new iPhones will be available September 16 and start at $649. And, finally, the 16GB entry level version has been nixed. The new phones will come with 32GB, 128GB and 256GB of storage.

Goodbye, headphone jack: Rest in peace, iPhone headphone jack. As expected, Apple has removed the port from the iPhone 7. Wired headphones, like Apple’s own EarPods, will now connect over the Lightning port instead. Apple spun the controversial decision a few ways. First, we don’t lose a port, we gain improved stereo speakers! Schiller said the decision took courage — “the courage to move on and do something new that betters all of us.”

To help ease the transition, Apple made an adapter that it will include with all iPhone 7 and 7 Pluses.

Apple is also introducing AirPods, wireless headphones that you will probably lose in the first month. The little wireless buds come with a white case for charging, and get up to five hours of listening time per charge. Infrared sensors detect when they’re in your ears. The headphones include microphones and one-tap Siri access, powered by built-in accelerometers.

The wireless headphones will cost $159 when they come out in late October.

A new, waterproof Apple Watch: It might look the same on the outside, but Apple introduced a waterproof Apple Watch that is 50% faster and has a brighter display. It also has built in GPS. This is the first hardware update since the watch was launched last year. The new version is clumsily named Apple Watch Series 2.

The device is waterproof up to 50 meters deep. To make it waterproof, Apple changed the speaker design so after a swim, surf, or bubble bath, it can expel any water automatically. The GPS doesn’t sever all ties with the iPhone, but does give the Apple Watch a slightly longer leash.

There’s a new white ceramic option, which makes it look like a little iPod on your wrist. A trio of new leather Hermes bands might appeal to fashionistas. Apple is also teaming up with Nike on a special edition, the Apple Watch Nike+, specifically for motivating and tracking runners.

The Apple Watch Series 2, which will be available in late October, will start at $369. The original watch is still available, but now has the faster processor and starts at $269. Current Apple Watch owners can pretend they have a new watch on September 13, when the new watchOS is released.

Ceramic is now the most expensive Apple Watch, and starts at $1,249. Apple is no longer selling the high-end Apple Watch Edition, an actual gold device that cost between $10,000 and $17,000.

Super Mario on iOS: There’s a brand new Super Mario game coming to iOS later this year. Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto came on stage to demo Super Mario Run, which can be played with one hand and comes with a battle mode. You can compete against players around the world. It’s not an Apple Car, but it was a huge crowd pleaser.

Pokemon Go comes to the Apple Watch: Pokemon Go is coming to the Apple Watch, a natural fit for the augmented reality game and fitness wearable. The game has been downloaded more that 500 million times since it was launched, according to John Hanke, founder and CEO of Niantic. Its players have walked more than 4.6 billion kilometers. The game will be available on the Apple Watch later this year.

iWork gets collaborative: The suite of work programs is adding real-time online collaboration, a la Google Docs and Microsoft Office. It works across Macs, iPads, iPhones and web versions of iWork apps.


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Facebook rainbow profiles used by 26 million

— Rainbows spread quickly all over Facebook this weekend to celebrate the Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage.

Over the past three days, 26 million people have super imposed rainbows over their Facebook profile pictures using a free tool provided by the company. The rainbow filter launched Friday and continued to gain steam over Pride weekend, garnering more than half a billion likes and comments all over the world.

Famous people including Russell Simmons, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff changed their profiles.

The tool was created by two Facebook interns during an internal hackathon last week.

Changing a profile picture is easily dismissed as low-effort activism. But for many people who are not typically political it was a way to quietly show support.

Facebook has long been a vocal supporter of LGBTQ rights. But many activists are still upset about the company’s real-names policy that requires people use an “authentic” name that they can prove they’re known by in the real world. Drag queens, sex workers, abuse survivors and Native Americans all say the policy discriminates against them.

In the US alone, more than 6 million people have identified as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender or gender non-conforming on the social network.


™ & © 2015 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Google commits $150 million to diversity

— Google is taking a uniquely Google-esque approach to increasing the diversity of its workforce.

The Sunnyvale, Calif., tech giant is trying to get more women and minorities into technology with an ambitious, $150 million plan, which VP of People Operations Nancy Lee revealed in an interview with USA Today.

In a blog post this week, Lee laid out the company’s strategy. It follows earlier public efforts by Google to increase diversity, including sending Google engineers to historically black universities and and working with Disney to improve depictions of girls in computer science.

The company is also expanding where it looks for fresh talent by recruiting at a wider variety of colleges.

The lack of diversity in tech goes deeper than just the HR department. As was highlighted in the Ellen Pao gender discrimination trial, company culture is also key to keeping and encouraging a diverse workforce. Google is offering more internal training and workshops on unconscious bias, and employees can use part of their time to work on diversity initiatives.

It’s also looking at the root of the problem, expanding computer science education for kids and pushing to get under-served communities online.

The company still has a lot of work to do. According to the diversity report it released last year, only 17% of its tech workers are female, 1% of its tech workforce is black and 2% are Hispanic. In the blog post, Lee said Google plans to release 2015 diversity numbers soon.

In March, Google executive Eric Schmidt was called out during a panel on diversity at SXSW for repeatedly interrupting Megan Smith, the chief technology officer of the U.S. and a former Googler. The audience member who pointed it out was Judith Williams, the manager of Google’s global diversity and talent programs.

It’s not the only company putting money into diversity. Apple has donated $50 million to organizations that will help more minorities and women get into tech. Intel is sinking $300 million into a program that expands STEM eduction to more diverse students.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


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The ‘Heartbleed’ security flaw that affects most of the Internet

— A major online security vulnerability dubbed “Heartbleed” could put your personal information at risk, including passwords, credit card information and e-mails.

Heartbleed is a flaw in OpenSSL, an open-source encryption technology that is used by an estimated two-thirds of Web servers. It is behind many HTTPS sites that collect personal or financial information. These sites are typically indicated by a lock icon in the browser to let site visitors know the information they’re sending online is hidden from prying eyes.

Cybercriminals could exploit the bug to access visitors’ personal data as well as a site’s cryptographic keys, which can be used to impersonate that site and collect even more information.

It was discovered by a Google researcher and an independent Finnish security firm called Codenomicon. The researchers have put up a dedicated site to answer common questions about the bug. They even gave it an adorably gruesome custom icon.

Heartbleed is the result of a small coding error but it could have far-reaching consequences and affect the majority of Internet users.

Researchers discovered the issue last week and published their findings on Monday, but said the problem has been present for more than two years, since March 2012. Any communications that took place over SSL in the past two years could have been subject to malicious eavesdropping.

What makes the bug particularly problematic is that there is no simple fix. Action needs to be taken by both the compromised sites and individuals who have visited them.

To protect their user data and encryption keys, sites must upgrade to the patched version of OpenSSL, revoke compromised SSL certificates and get new ones issued.

Many major websites including Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Amazon and Steam have said they’ve taken steps to secure their sites. Security researchers demonstrated the flaw by stealing Yahoo e-mail logins on Tuesday morning, but Yahoo has since fixed the issue across its major sites, including Tumblr.

It’s not just an issue for major sites. Smaller online stores and services use OpenSSL, and those sites might take longer to make the necessary fixes. Websites don’t typically publicize whether they’re using OpenSSL, so the process will also be bumpy for consumers.

Individuals should update their passwords across the various Web pages they use, but only once they have confirmed a site has already taken the proper measures to address Heartbleed. If they don’t and that site is still at risk, the new password could also be compromised. Many sites will also likely send e-mails instructing customers to update passwords if necessary.


™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Google kicks off student Doodle contest

It gets more visitors than any art gallery and more clicks than any other single site on the Internet. Imagine getting your own drawing on Google’s homepage.

Google is giving aspiring student artists and inventors a rare chance to get their original artwork on the heavily trafficked The company is kicking off a Doodle 4 Google contest, and any student in the United States, grades kindergarten through 12, can submit their own doodle between now and March 20.

The theme of this year’s contest is “If I Could Invent One Thing to Make the World a Better Place …” If your idea is especially brilliant, you might want to patent it before showing it off to the entire world or having it turned into a top-secret Google[x] project.

In addition to a $30,000 scholarship and a tech grant to their school, the winner will make a trip to Google headquarters and work with its Doodle team to turn their drawing into an animation. The winning entry will appear on on June 9.

Even as ads and other detritus have filled search results, Google’s search-engine homepage has stayed clean, sparse and almost always free of ads. (Google has made exceptions to push its Nexus 7, Nexus One and Motorola Droid devices.)

The classic multicolored Google logo sits on top of the search bar in the middle of the white page. But over the years, the logo itself has been altered for fun and some smart brand marketing. These artistic “doodles” direct visitors to information on topics they might normally have overlooked, from filmmaker Ingmar Bergman to writer Zora Neale Hurston.

“It’s kind of like the mission behind having a search engine that can bring you all the information in the world,” Google Doodler Sophie Diao said. (Her business card actually lists “Doodler” as her job title.) “We can help users find something or learn about things that they otherwise might not.”

The first Google Doodle was posted in 1998, when the company founders took off for Burning Man and decided to drop a stick figure into the regular logo as a sort of “Gone Fishing” sign. Over time, the company started marking the occasional holidays with decked-out logos, and the doodle took off.

Now they mark important historical occasions and bring attention to people and topics that might otherwise be overlooked, such as Simone de Beauvoir’s 106th birthday, the 66th anniversary of the Roswell Incident and the 100th Tour de France.

The doodles are usually created by a team of 20 Google employees, including 10 artists and three engineers, at the company’s Mountain View, California, headquarters. They make about a doodle a day, though many are only for specific regions of the world, so not everyone will see them on their homepage.

You can see every doodle from around the world at

The altered logos take different forms. Most are static illustrations, but there are also animations and games. Some of the biggest hits are elaborate interactive doodles, like the winter-themed Zamboni game, which can take months to create. Clicking on a doodle brings up search results for that topic.

In addition to hosting the winner for a day, the Doodle team will help an official group of judges sort through entries and pick the best drawings. The public will be able to chime in and vote on their favorites.

“We’re looking for doodles that kind of feel at once very personal and relatable and are also a showcase of the student’s creativity,” Diao said.

Last year’s Doodle 4 Google contest winner was 18-year-old Sabrina Brady, who created an image of a returning U.S. soldier hugging his young daughter. She has gone on to use her scholarship money to enter art school.


™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Facebook is tweaking your News Feed

— Facebook wants to make sure you don’t miss the most important updates, photos, humblebrags and baby announcements from your friends.

The company on Tuesday announced a tweak to its News Feed that will take a popular story — one that’s getting lots of comments and likes — and put it back at the top of your feed to make sure you don’t miss it.

On a typical day, the average Facebook user is only seeing 20% of the posts from friends and pages that he or she follows. Where are the rest? Filtered out by Facebook, using algorithms it has developed to determine the stories and posts the social network thinks you’ll care about most.

Now Facebook has decided to shed some light on the mysterious decisions that go into ranking the stories in the news feed. People have grumbled in the past about not having a pure, kitchen-sink feed of all their friends’ updates, so the company is explaining a little about how it does what it does.

To figure out what posts to show, Facebook looks at a person’s most recent everyday actions such as liking, sharing or hiding posts, the amount of interaction they have with people or pages, and a post’s popularity among their group of friends.

Facebook displayed updates differently in the past. The social media site was once a chronologically ordered feed of all the things posted by friends and pages. But then its number of users soared — now more than 1 billion — and over time, most users collected so many connections that their bloated feeds became unwieldy.

On an average day, Facebook says you have about 1,500 posts from friends and pages you follow. But only about 300 of those appear in your feed. Facebook thinks showing all 1,500 stories would be overwhelming, and that people would miss important posts in that flood of updates.

The company did some tests and found that people read, comment and like fewer posts when faced with the entire unfiltered stream. Even with the shorter, ranked news feeds, people only read an average of 57% of the posts.

With the new tweak, older posts can resurface and the amount of stories read jumps to 70%, Facebook said. It also resulted in a 5% increase in likes, comments and shares on the resurrected posts from friends, and 8% increase in the same activity for posts from pages, it said.

“The data suggests that this update does a better job of showing people the stories they want to see, even if they missed them the first time,” Facebook said in a blog post.

Facebook previously tried to profit from this system. Last year it tried out a feature that let people pay to promote their own posts, ensuring that they appeared at the top of their friends’ streams instead of getting buried. Earlier this year it expanded the feature to friends’ posts.


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