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The week in tech: Cool new Android features, a pebble-shaped phone and more

The stuff that made the headlines in the world of tech this week 

The small, rounded Balmuda phone  
The small, rounded Balmuda phone   (

Apps: Indians are learning and listening 

The Google Play Best of 2021 winners, announced earlier this week, revealed some interesting trends on the apps Indians have turned to most over the past year. Interest in courses and new skills, on everything from education to dance lessons, picked up. BitClass, a live learning app that offers courses in a two-way interaction format, has been chosen as the Google Play Editors’ best app of 2021. The users’ choice app of 2021, however, was Clubhouse, the audio-social app which only went live for Android users in India in May. While there are lingering doubts about the longevity of Clubhouse’s popularity here, audio-video social networking apps seem to have struck a chord with Indian users for now.

Why does everyone love the new Balmuda phone? 

The Balmuda phone (front view) 
The Balmuda phone (front view) 

A compact Android smartphone released by a Japanese toaster-maker is the latest breakaway product in smartphone design. The “pebble-shaped” phone, fat and rounded at the middle with soft, curved edges, is designed to fit snugly into the palm of your hand and can provide users who don’t like today’s typical cold, six-inch, brick-like smartphones with a more ergonomic option. It doesn't compromise on tech either: the Balmuda phone has a 4.9-inch display, comes with 6GB RAM and 128GB storage powered by a Snapdragon 765 chipset, and supports 5G. The fact that it costs ¥104,800 (approximately 70,000) shows the company is serious about it—and hopes it will have takers around the world.

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Google's new Android features

Family alerts are a good addition during the holiday season and beyond 
Family alerts are a good addition during the holiday season and beyond  (

Google has announced a bunch of new Android features, some of which are already live. There's Family Bell, which will alert you and your family when it's time for important moments throughout the day. The alerts come via phone, home speaker, or smart display. Aside from the shared "bells", you can also set "bells" on your own devices so you can stay on top of your individual goals too. For the holidays, suggested bells include watering a tree, a family movie night, or volunteering to support a local cause.

Three Google apps are getting new widgets. The new Google Play Books widget lets you access your full library and keep track of audiobook progress, the new YouTube Music widget puts playback controls and recently played tracks on your Home screen, and the new Google Photos People and Pets widget lets you select a few faces and an appropriate frame, and then the widget will decorate your Home screen with your nearest and dearest.

The new Photos widget is rolling out next week, while the others have an unclear release schedule. Speaking of Photos, this week new Memories are rolling out in the app, featuring a curated selection of photos and videos from holidays, as well as important milestones like birthdays and graduations. Specific controls will allow you to rename, personalise, correct and remove these if you want to.

Auto-resetting of permissions for apps you haven't used in a while will be available next month on Android 6.0 and later, through Google Play Services. This feature will automatically turn off runtime permissions, which allow apps to access data or take actions on your behalf, once they've been dormant for a while. The permissions turn back on again when you next open each app.

Gboard is getting new Emoji Kitchen combinations – you can now use the wrapped gift box emoji as well as an all-new collection of furry friends to create cool combos. These are rolling out to Gboard Beta users today and will be available for all "in the coming weeks".

Finally, Android Auto can be set to launch automatically when you connect your Android phone to your compatible car. Once you're on the road, you'll have access to smart replies "soon", so you can respond to a text more easily with the Google Assistant. Also "coming soon", the ability to use your voice to search for music faster in your media apps. 

Where does 5G go from here?

The adoption of 5G is picking up pace and it could soon become the fastest deployed mobile generation till date. The latest Ericsson Mobility Report, released this week, estimates that there will be close to 660 million 5G subscriptions globally by the end of this year, primarily due to stronger than expected demand in China and North America. In a few years, 5G is expected to become the dominant mobile access technology. The report forecasts 4.4 billion 5G subscriptions globally by the end of 2027. That will be equal to around half, approximately 49%, of all mobile subscriptions at the time. In India, 5G is expected to represent around 39%—estimated at about 500 million—of mobile subscriptions by the end of 2027.

All About AI

The Age of AI
The Age of AI

What do a notorious former US secretary of state, a former CEO of one of the largest global tech companies, and the first dean of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing have in common? They have all collaborated to write a semi-philosophical book on Artificial Intelligence (AI), which they say “is changing nearly everything about how we navigate the world”. In The Age Of AI, Henry A. Kissinger, Eric Schmidt and Daniel P. Huttenlocher come together to consider how AI will change our relationships with knowledge, politics and the societies in which we live as they attempt to present an essential roadmap to our present and our future.

Compiled by Shrabonti Bagchi and Nitin Sreedhar


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