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Google updates Android Studio with better TensorFlow Lite support and a new database inspector

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Google launched version 4.1 of Android Studio, its IDE for developing Android apps, into its stable channel today. As usual for Android Studio, the minor uptick in version numbers doesn’t quite do the update justice. It includes a vast number of new and improved features that should make life a little bit easier for Android developers. The team also fixed a whopping 2370 bugs during this release cycle and closed 275 public issues.

Image Credits: Google

The highlights of today’s release are a new database inspector and better support for on-device machine learning by allowing developers to bring TensorFlow Lite models to Android, as well as the ability to run the Android Emulator right inside of Android Studio and support for testing apps for foldable phones in the emulator as well. That’s in addition to various other changes the company has outlined here.

The one feature that will likely improve the quality of life for developers the most is the ability to run the Android Emulator right in Android Studio. That’s something the company announced earlier this summer, so it’s not a major surprise, but it’s a nice update for developers since they won’t have to switch back and forth between different windows and tools to test their apps.

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Talking about testing, the other update is support for foldable devices in the Android Emulator, which now allows developers to simulate the hinge angle sensor and posture changes so their apps can react accordingly. That’s still a niche market, obviously, but more and more developers are now aiming to offer apps to actually support these devices.

Image Credits: Google

Also new is improved support for TensorFlow Lite models in Android Studio, so that developers can bring those models to their apps, as well as a new database inspector that helps developers get easier insights into their queries and the data they return — and that lets them modify values white running their apps to see how their apps react to those.

Other updates include new templates in the New Project dialog that support Google’s Material Design Components, Dagger navigation support, System Trace UI improvements and new profilers to help developers optimize their apps’ performance and memory usage.

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Here.fm raises $2.9 million to reimagine video chat

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Here.fm, a new web-based communication platform founded by Jesse Boyes and Seth Harris, has today announced the close of a $2.9 million seed round from FirstMark with participation by Y Combinator and a group of angel investors.

Here is all about giving people the chance to create personal, shareable and flexible video chat rooms. Boyes and Harris, like the rest of us, moved to Zoom to collaborate when the pandemic hit and felt that there were several shortcomings.

Harris explained that it felt very impersonal and formal to switch into presentation mode with his cofounder and buddy, and that notes and other content in those meetings disappeared when the meeting ended, “like a wormhole.”

They set out to add more layers to virtual communication.

“There are four main components to communication,” said Harris. “What you’re saying, where you are, what you’re doing, and how you move. Everything we use today almost exclusively focuses on what you say, and very little on what you do. Zoom is a phone call with pictures.”

Here, in contrast, is a fully customizable room with video chat built on top of it, giving users the ability to decorate their room with virtual items, gifs, backgrounds, notes, pictures, etc. And, of course, these users can also customize their own video chat window and those of others, arranging them in the room in the size and shape that they prefer.

As with any other video chat software, users can also share their screen.

Image Credits: Here.fm

Harris and Boyes aren’t ready to commit to a certain business model or even use case, but would rather prefer to see how users approach the platform. Some have built out product war rooms, while others have set up their own virtual Blue Bottle shop to have coffee with each other. Others have set up Pilates classes that look and feel more like an actual Pilates studio than a Zoom call would.

That’s not to say they haven’t started thinking about revenue at all. There is potential here to offer payments processing for folks hosting classes or paid events, and there are also options to paywall persistence of the room and the items inside it, or even to charge for premium virtual objects or goods.

Here launched two months ago and thousands of rooms have been created since, with the average user session being 41 minutes.

Competition in this space is heating up. Mmhmm offers similar tools to customize the video chat room, but focuses more on presenting than hanging out. Macro is a tool that sits on top of a Zoom call to help ensure meetings are productive and efficient. And then there are the dozens (if not more) startups that sprung to action at the onset of the pandemic to build out the next-generation of video chat.

But Boyes and Harris don’t see competition as the greatest challenge to the company.

“Here is a product problem, it is not an execution problem,” said Harris. “It is about generating a very strong emotional response in our users when they come in.”

Image Credits: Here.fm

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Senate committee approves subpoenas for Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey

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The Senate Judiciary Committee approved subpoenas on Thursday to force Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to testify before the body regarding complaints of anti-conservative bias on their platforms.

Last week, the New York Post published a report alleging that Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, introduced his father to an executive at the Ukrainian energy company Burisma. For months, President Trump’s reelection campaign has targeted Biden’s alleged connections to Ukraine as the foundation of political attacks. Reporters disputed the Post’s allegations, and Facebook and Twitter moved to reduce the article’s reach.

Facebook signaled that the article was subject to third-party fact-checking, and Twitter banned linking to the story entirely. This lit a fire under Republicans who claimed that the platforms were censoring conservatives only weeks before the US presidential election.

“This is election interference, and we are 19 days out from an election,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), a Judiciary Committee member told reporters shortly after the platforms took action against the report. “Never before have we seen active censorship of a major press publication with serious allegations of corruption of one of the two candidates for president.”

Facebook did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Verge. A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment.

Republicans approved the subpoena authorizations unanimously in a 12-0 vote on Thursday. The subpoena vote followed the committee’s move to approve Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court, a hearing committee Democrats boycotted.

Zuckerberg, Dorsey, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai are already scheduled to testify before the Senate Commerce Committee on October 28th. The executives are set to be questioned by lawmakers over whether Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act should be changed, citing allegations over perceived conservative bias on platforms.

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The smart speaker market is expected grow 21% next year

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New numbers from Canalys point to a strong growth in smart speaker shipments in Mainland China this year. The market is on track to grow 2020, having gotten the COVID-19 pandemic mostly under control in recent months. The rest of the world — much of which continues to struggle with the virus — is only expected to see a 3% growth this year.

The global market will return to greater growth, per the firm, with numbers hitting 163 million units in 2021, marking a 21% growth overall. In spite of a slow down in purchasing non-essentials, a prolonged shutdown in many areas should lead more consumers to consider the possibility of introducing new devices into their homes — or replacing older and outdated units.

The last couple of months have been fairly busy for such products. Amazon, Google and Apple have all announced refreshes or additions to their smart speaker line. Google recently refreshed its baseline Home devices with new hardware and a new name, as the Nest Audio. Various Echo devices were updated as well, and Apple has finally introduced the long-awaited — and significantly less expensive — HomePod mini.

Image Credits: Canalys

Canalys notes that Apple is the only one of the big three U.S. companies sell their own smart speakers in Mainland China, and the new price point could help the company build more of a footprint in the market.

“The US $99 price segment is pretty much a no-mans-land in China, yet adequate to appeal to Apple’s user-base,” analyst Cynthia Chen says in a release. “Apple should take this opportunity to drive the uptake of its music and other services consumed at home.”

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