I/O 2014 app source code shows developers how it’s done

Last month, Google released its fancy new I/O 2014 app in preparation for its annual conference. Now it’s announcing that the source code for the app is now available from Google’s GitHub repository. While end-users might have no use for this, unless they happen to be knowledgeable about and/or like reading Java code, Google is inviting developers to take a look inside and learn about current best practices of creating an Android app and using Google’s API.

Aside from giving users a window into the world of Google I/O, the I/O 2014 app also showcases many of the staples of Android app development, whether it be components and featuers like Fragments, receivers, and notifications or design considerations like toolbars and themes. It also shows newer and better ways to use Google’s own services, like using Google Cloud Messaging (GSM) to keep devices up to date with the latest content and using Google Drive API to store users’ preferences and sync it with all connected devices. It even shows how to make an Android Wear companion app.

But aside from just hard, cold code, the app also gives developers a preview into Material Design. The app uses the design principles of tactile surfaces, animated feedback, colors, imagery, and the metaphor of paper, to give developers an idea how to theme their apps in preparation for Android L. The app also uses API found in the Android L Preview and has a separate APK for those already running it on their Nexus 5 or 7, or on the Android emulator. The video below, summarizes some of those key design points.

The source code for the I/O 2014 app is being released under an open source license. This means that more than just a reference, developers will be able to use code snippets to kickstart their own apps. Those interested in learning more about the different API and features in this app should keep tabs on the Android Developers Blog, source link below, as Google will be sharing more details about the app in the coming weeks.

Verizon releases Kyocera Brigadier with Sapphire Shield

With rumours swirling about that the new iPhone will be using sapphire crystal glass for its display screen among others, it seems that another OEM has gotten ahead of them. Verizon has officially announced that the Kyocera Brigadier, which has the sought after Sapphire Shield, is now available exclusively with the carrier.

While the Japanese brand may not be at the forefront of mobile devices, Kyocera released a teaser video a few days ago showing just how tough the sapphire display really is. The Brigadier specs are not on par with most new Android phones now, but it is pretty decent. It has a 4.5-inch screen with a 720p display, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, and runs on a 1.4GHz quad core SOC.

But remember that Kyocera manufactures smartphones that are for rough terrain and this one is no different as it has a lot of great ruggedisation features. It has IP68 dust and water resistance and can be submerged up to 30 minutes in six feet of water without suffering any damage. It is US MIL-STD-810G-rated which means it has protection against several environmental conditions like strong vibration and temperature extremes. But of course everyone is looking forward to the Sapphire Shield, which is “virtually scratchproof” and can even survive if you drop it screen-first onto rocks below.

Verizon is offering the Brigadier at $99 under a 2-year agreement and at $19.99/month if you want to split it into 20 payments. The price is not bad, despite the aforementioned simple specs, since you could expect to keep the phone for years due to its “rugged good looks”.

PayPal’s “Bill Me Later” Service Becomes “PayPal Credit,” As Company Expands Credit Products Globally

Touting its increasing focus on credit products for both consumers and small businesses, PayPal today announced it is rebranding its Bill Me Later service as “PayPal Credit,” while that and its PayPal Working Capital business loans service are now destined for international expansions.

PayPal Credit is soon being rolled out to the U.K. and Germany, while PayPal Working Capital is headed to the U.K., as previously reported, as well as Australia.

According to PayPal’s VP of Credit,  Steve Allocca, these changes are part of the company’s larger efforts to “bring credit more to the center of PayPal.” He says the businesses credit products drive engagement and usage in its network – meaning, simply put, PayPal and eBay buyers buy more, and sellers sell more.

Spend goes up 30% after a customer adopts a PayPal credit vehicle, he notes, citing previous studies at the company, whether that’s the Bill Me Later service or the GE-issued PayPal credit card.

That card, by the way, is on its way to become a deeper part of PayPal, the company revealed in its latest earnings. While GE has agreed to service that billion-dollar portfolio over the next two years, PayPal will buy that portfolio in 2016 as part of its strategy to increase and expand its credit offerings.

These changes are not only about making PayPal a consumer’s preferred option when shopping online, but speak to the company’s longer-term ambitions to compete on mobile as well as in the real world, at point-of-sale.

“[Credit is] especially important to us as we look to expand into the offline world and omni-channel,” says Allocca. “It’s going to be all the more important for us to have more levers to proactively manage and control our transaction expense,” he explains.

Bill Me Later Becomes PayPal Credit, More Changes Ahead

In addition to the rebranding of Bill Me Later, the service itself will be seeing increased functionality in the months ahead, including a transition away from being an online-only product and more functionality around monthly payments. In addition, more servicing of that portfolio will be done within PayPal Wallet instead of on a standalone website as is done today. The idea is to reduce the steps and the barriers between PayPal and PayPal Credit (Bill Me Later) which are currently present, Allocca says.

Further down the road, PayPal will expand Credit more directly to retail and point-of-sale, but that’s not its current focus.

While the company declines to break out how many of its customers use one of its credit products, Allocca would say that between PayPal Credit and PayPal Working Capital combined, it’s in the “millions.”

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Working Capital 

Working Capital, however, is still in private, invite-only testing. Since the pilot began in September of last year, over 20,000 businesses have borrowed more than $150 million from PayPal and its lending partner, WebBank. And, adds Darrell Esch, VP of SMB Lending at PayPal, businesses are now borrowing $1 million per day, with 60% of the loans going to eBay sellers.

That business competes with a variety of newcomers entering the small business lending market – the fallout of the financial crisis which made it more difficult for small business to access capital. Today, there are a number of companies for small businesses to choose from beyond PayPal, including recently funded (another $65 million) Funding Circle, Kabbage, Lending Club, CAN Capital, OnDeck, Fundera, Fundbox, and others.

What makes PayPal’s business unique, Esch says, is that its credit decisions are driven by customers’ sales histories with eBay and PayPal, allowing the company to make instant lending decisions in minutes that are tailored to its customer base using its own internal data.

He adds also that PayPal doesn’t view those other startups and businesses as competitors.

“We don’t think of this as competing with the new entrants out there, but just providing a service customers are going to love,” says Esch. “A lot of those newer startups are in it as single lines of business – they are providing credit and their earning are based solely on credit economics. We, at the heart, are still a commerce company.”

LG G Vista arrives with Verizon Wireless

After few leaked photos and details, Verizon Wireless has officially launched the LG G Vista, which comes with a 5.7-inch qHD display (960 x 540) and Android 4.4.2 KitKat. The phablet is slightly larger than the 5.5-inch LG G3, but share the similar back buttons design.

Available at $99.99 with 2 year service contract, the G Vista is powered by a 1.2GHz quad core processor. If you would like to get it without contract, the full retail price will be $399.99. Other specs include a 1.5GB RAM, 8GB internal storage, microSD card slot, Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi a/b/g/n and a 3200 mAh Li-Ion battery. Although there isn’t any specific processor info on the Verizon page, the LG G Vista’s processor should be a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 according to previous leaks.

Like LG G3, the G Vista has rear key control for power and volume adjustment. There is no Laser Auto Focus and dual LED flash on G Vista. Instead, it comes with a 8 megapixel camera, single LED flash and a 1.3 megapixel front facing camera.

Along with the new minimalistic GUI with Android KitKat, LG’s unique tools like QuickMemo, QSlide 2.0, Knock Code and Mini View are available on G Vista too. Improving on KnockON, Knock Code allows you to set a pattern of taps to wake up and unlock your phone from standby mode.

HTC’s latest J Butterfly is a supercharged One M8 in a waterproof body

Japanese carrier KDDI has just announced a new HTC J Butterfly, a handset which resembles the HTC One in specs but with features aimed at its home market. Like a lot of other Japanese devices, the 5-inch, full HD handset is waterproof, for starters, in case you feel like taking fish photos. For that, HTC has brand new cameras: a 13-megapixel rear dual-camera model, with a selfie-friendly 5-megapixel front shooter. That differs from the One M8’s 4-megapixel Duo “Ultrapixel” camera; KDDI instead calls it a “Duo Effect” camera with features like depth-of-field adjustment. Filling out the spec sheet are a Snapdragon 801, 802.11ac WiFi, LTE-Advanced, 150Mbps 4g, 2GB of RAM and Android 4.4 KitKat. All of that sounds pretty nice, but will it come to US shores? Hard to say, but the last J Butterfly model did eventually arrive as the Droid DNA (to Verizon), so we wouldn’t be surprised to see the new model here too.

Robot with broken leg figures out how to walk again in under 2 minutes

When an animal loses a limb, it’s usually able to work out a system for walking on the remaining ones pretty quickly. You might have seen a three-legged dog that can still outrun you without issue. A robot that loses a limb is a different matter. Since we still need to program robots with commands for every little thing, they don’t know how to adapt to damage. A group of engineers at Sorbonne University in Paris have developed a system that could make robots much more versatile by allowing them to compensate for damaged legs in just a few minutes.

Learning to walk again when a leg is damaged or inoperable is a complicated problem for a machine. A living creature doesn’t have to worry about how each joint is moving and how fast to contract muscles–you just walk. A robot’s locomotion is described by a series of parameters for each joint in the leg. The program needs to know the velocity and acceleration of each joint every second, and changing that to compensate for damage is a computationally expensive task.

The Sorbonne University team got around the problem by doing all the high level parameter calculations ahead of time. The test robot was a hexapod with 18 motors powering its six legs–that’s 36 parameters to deal with. The team took 13,000 possible gaits and indexed them by the amount of time each leg was on the ground. When one of the robot’s legs was damaged, it simply looked through the list of pre-calculated gaits and chose a few that used the broken leg the least. It measured its speed with each of the possible gaits, then selected the best one and off it went.

The robot was able to make its selection in less than two minutes, which is pretty astonishing. Some of the programs selected by the hexapod were dynamic and involved leaping forward, which was not part of the original programming. It was even able to improve the standard walking gait without any damage. Selecting from the indexed list, the robot was able to choose a gait that was 30% faster than its default hexapod movements.

Once refined, this approach to robotic locomotion could prove invaluable as we continue to use machines in challenging environments. Robots have the potential to keep humans safe by taking on dangerous tasks, but it’s no good if they can’t walk the moment something goes wrong. This may also be used to construct ultra-robust killbots when the robot apocalypse is upon us, but you can’t have everything.


Is Snapchat really worth $10 billion?

While competitors are busy cloning Snapchat in an attempt to replicate its success, Evan Spiegel and co. have continued to forge their own path. The company is already experimenting with new features in an attempt to generate revenue, but it’s also apparently talking to some big hitters to ensure it can keep growing until those profits come. According to Bloomberg, Snapchat is currently in talks over a new round of funding with investors, which include Yahoo-backed Alibaba, that if confirmed could value the company at an incredible $10 billion. It’s a significant figure, not only because it puts it on par with both Dropbox and Airbnb, but it’s around three times the amount Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook is rumored to have offered to acquire the company last year. Not bad for a service that’s known mostly for evaporating text and photo messages. Snapchat is understandably keeping quiet about its latest round of talks, and the figures could well change before the funding closes. Regardless of what happens, it appears Snapchat’s decision to hold out and grow the service was the right one.