The latest Google Lens update might bring Circle to Search to many more phones

Google seemingly has plans to expand its Circle to Search feature to other Android phones via Google Lens. In a recent deep dive, news site Android Authority found clues to the update within the recent Google app betas files and compiled them all together. 

What’s particularly interesting is they managed to get the tool working on a smartphone, possibly hinting at an imminent release. According to the report, they even managed to get a popup notification informing users that the update would appear.

It tells people to hold down the home button to access Circle to Search, much like the experience on the Galaxy S24. Upon activation, a three-button navigation bar appears at the bottom, and an accompanying video shows the tool in action as it looks up highlighted portions of the Play Store on Google Search. The UI looks, unsurprisingly, similar to how it does on Galaxy phones, with search inquiries rising from the bottom.

Clashing with Gemini

You may notice that the rainbow filter animation is gone, having been replaced by a series of dots and lines. Well, that’s the old beta, and the newer version has the animation and the Translate button, which shows up in the lower right hand corner next to the search bar.

At a glance, it seems Circle to Search on Google Lens is close to launching, although it is still a work in progress with a few issues to iron out. For example, how will it work on a smartphone housing the Gemini app as holding down on the home button launches the chatbot? Google might give Circle to Search priority in this instance, so long pressing opens the tool rather than the AI. However, at this point, it’s too early to tell.

New navigation option

Android Authority also found “XML files referring to pill-based gesture navigation.” If you don’t know what that is, it’s the oval at the bottom of Android displays. The shape lets you move between apps with basic gestures. Google Lens could offer this option, allowing users to ditch the three-button navigation bar, but it may not come out for a while as it doesn’t work in the betas.

Circle to Search on Google Lens will most likely stick to the three buttons, though. The original report has a theory about this, as they believe implementing the pill navigation would systemic OTA (over-the-air) updates to millions upon millions of Android smartphones, which may or “may not be feasible.” So, to get Circle to Search out sooner to people, the navigation option will have to be pushed back a bit. The three-button solution is easier to implement.

There is no word on when the update will arrive, but we hope it’s soon, as it is a great feature and currently a highlight for the Galaxy and Pixel devices that have it. 

While you're here, be sure to check out TechRadar's list of the best Android phones for 2024.

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More Android phones can finally talk to the Google Gemini AI in Google Messages

If you’re on Android and starting to feel a bit jealous of all the Apple Intelligence hype then you should know that Google Gemini is making its way to more Android phones via the Google Messages app.

Using a compatible device you’ll be able to talk with Gemini, and use it just like you would any other chatbot like ChatGPT. You can draft messages, brainstorm plans, and ask questions about anything and everything – all from within your messages app.

Previously, Google Gemini’s Messages assistance was limited to a select few smartphones. Namely Google Pixel 6, Pixel 7, and Pixel 8 phones, or Samsung Galaxy S22 and later devices – including Samsung Galaxy Z Flip and Z Fold models.

These restrictions have now been scaled back to include any Android device running the latest version of Google Messages provided the phone has at least 6GB of RAM, and RCS messages are turned on. 

A few more hoops to jump through

A silhouette of a woman holding a smartphone with the Google Gemini logo in the background

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

You’ll also need to meet a few extra criteria that go beyond regular phone specs. You have to log into Messages using a personal account that isn’t managed by Family Link or a Google Workspace account; you need to be 18 or older, and be living in a country where the feature is available. Last but not least, your phone’s language must be set to English – though in Canada French will also work.

With all those hoops jumped through you’ll be able to enjoy Gemini’s assistance from within Messages.

To talk to Gemini simply press the Start Chat button and you should then see the option to talk to the bot at the top of the screen. If you’ve already started a Messages conversation with Gemini you pick things up where you left off from that message chain.

Just note that, as the app warns you your RCS chats with Gemini are not encrypted, and – as is the case for all AI – you may be sent back inaccurate information.

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Google rolls out huge security update to Pixel phones, squashing 50 vulnerabilities

June 2024 has been a big month for Pixel smartphones. Not only did Gemini Nano roll out to the Pixel 8a, but Google also released a huge security update to multiple models. 

It addresses 50 vulnerabilities, ranging in severity from moderate to critical. One of the more insidious flaws is CVE-2024-32896, which Tom’s Guide states “is an elevation of privilege (EoP) vulnerability.” 

An EoP refers to a bug or design flaw that a bad actor can exploit to gain unfettered access to a smartphone’s resources. It’s a level of access that not even a Pixel owner normally has. Even though it’s not as severe as the others, CVE-2024-32896 did warrant an extra warning from Google on the patch’s Pixel Update Bulletin page, stating it “may be under limited, targeted exploitation.” 

In other words, it's likely bad actors are going to be targeting the flaw to infiltrate a Pixel phone, so it’s important that you install the patch.

Installing the fix

The rest of the patch affects other important components on the devices, such as the Pixel Firmware fingerprint sensor. It even fixes a handful of Qualcomm and Qualcomm closed-source components.

Google’s patch is ready to download for all supporting Pixel phones, and you can find the full list of models on the tech giant’s Help website here. They include but are not limited to the Pixel Fold, Pixel 7 series, and the Pixel 8 line.

To download the update, go to the Settings menu on your Pixel phone. Go to Security & Privacy, then to System & Updates. Scroll down to the Security Update and hit Install. Give your device enough time to install the patch and then restart your smartphone.

Existing on Android

It’s important to mention that the EoP vulnerability seems to exist on third-party Android hardware; however, a fix won’t come out for a while. As news site Bleeping Computer explains, the operating systems for Pixel and Android smartphones receive security updates at different times. The reason for this separate rollout is that third-party devices have their own “exclusive features and capabilities.” One comes out faster than the other.

Developers for GrapheneOS, a unique version of Android that is more focused on security, initially found the flaw in April. In a recent post on X (the platform formerly known as Twitter), the team believes non-Pixel phones probably won’t receive the patch until the launch of Android 15. If you don’t get the new operating system, the EoP bug probably won't get removed. The GrapheneOS devs claim the June update “has not been backported.”

Be sure to check out TechRadar’s list of the best Android antivirus apps for 2024 if you want even more protection. 

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Samsung’s best customization app for Galaxy phones is now on Google Play

Samsung’s Good Lock app has recently been spotted on the Google Play Store hinting at a wider release. Good Lock, if you’re not familiar with it, is a customization app exclusive to Galaxy smartphones. It allows users to decorate various aspects of their device with the help of “modules”. These modules can be used to apply new themes, change the lock screen, revamp the keyboard, and more. The software has been around since 2016 and is a favorite among Samsung enthusiasts.

Initially spotted by several users on X (the platform formerly known as Twitter), Good Lock on the Play Store is currently sitting in Early Access. You can’t even find the app on the digital storefront unless you have a direct link to the listing page. Reports state you can only download the software on a Galaxy phone. 9To5Google in their coverage says you’ll see a line of text informing you that your device is not compatible if you try this.

It appears the app doesn’t work with jailbroken hardware either. We managed to download Good Lock on our jailbroken tablet, but when we tried to launch it, the app immediately crashed. The instability is probably due to the fact that Good Lock on Google Play is still under development.

Missing modules

No one knows if the Google Play version of Good Lock will have all of the same modules as the one found on the Galaxy Store. However, it’ll at least house one – One Hand Operation Plus. This module lets you create custom gesture controls. For example, a long swipe to the right launches the Quick Tools menu while swiping diagonally to the upper right opens the notification panel. Judging by the fact One Hand Operation has its own listing page, modules may be separate downloads.

At the time of this writing, it’s unknown when Good Lock will exit Early Access. Samsung may be doing some testing before committing to a formal launch. If it does come out soon, we could see more Galaxy Store-exclusive apps make their way to the Play Store. There aren’t many exclusive options, although there are a few such as Samsung’s Edge Panels and Camera Assistant.

We reached out to the tech giant asking when the app will become widely available and if it plans to expand its availability to non-Galaxy phones. They most likely won’t allow this, but you never know.

Until then, check out TechRadar's list of the best Samsung phones for 2024.

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Elon Musk’s Neuralink has performed its first human brain implant, and we’re a step closer to having phones inside our heads

Neuralink, Elon Musk's brain interface company, achieved a significant milestone this week, with Musk declaring on X (formerly Twitter), “The first human received an implant from yesterday and is recovering well.”

Driven by concerns that AI might soon outpace (or outthink) humans, Musk first proposed the idea of a brain-to-computer interface, then called Neural Lace, back in 2016. envisioning an implant that could overcome limitations inherent in human-to-computer interactions. Musk claimed that an interface that could read brain signals and deliver them directly to digital systems would massively outpace our typical keyboard and mouse interactions.

Four years later, Musk demonstrated early clinical trials with an uncooperative pig, and in 2021 the company installed the device in a monkey that used the interface to control a game of Pong.

It was, in a sense, all fun and games – until this week, and Musk's claim of a human trial and the introduction of some new branding.

Neuralink's first product is now called 'Telepathy' which, according to another Musk tweet, “Enables control of your phone or computer, and through them almost any device, just by thinking.”

As expected, these brain implants are not, at least for now, intended for everyone. Back in 2020, Musk explained that the intention is “to solve important spine and brain problems with a seamlessly implanted device.” Musk noted this week that “Initial users will be those who have lost the use of their limbs. Imagine if Stephen Hawking could communicate faster than a speed typist or auctioneer. That is the goal.”

Neural link devices like Telepathy are bio-safe implants comprising small disk-like devices (roughly the thickness of four coins stuck together) with ultra-fine wires trailing out of them that connect to various parts of the brain. The filaments read neural spikes, and a computer interface interprets them to understand the subject's intentions and translate them into action on, say, a phone, or a desktop computer. In this first trial, Musk noted that “Initial results show promising neuron spike detection,” but he didn't elaborate on whether the patient was able to control anything with his mind.

Musk didn't describe the surgical implantation process. Back in 2020, though, Neuralink introduced its Link surgery robot, which it promised would implant the Neuralink devices with minimal pain, blood, and, we're guessing, trauma. Considering that the implant is under the skin and skull, and sits on the brain, we're not sure how that's possible. It's also unclear if Neuralink used Link to install 'Telepathy.'

The new branding is not that far-fetched. While most people think of telepathy as people transmitting thoughts to one another, the definition is “the communication of thoughts or ideas by means other than the known senses.”

A phone in your head

Still, Musk has a habit of using hyperbole when describing Neuralink. During one early demonstration, he only half-jokingly said “It’s sort of like if your phone went in your brain.” He also later added that, “In the future, you will be able to save and replay memories.”

With the first Neuralink Telepathy device successfully installed, however, Musk appears to be somewhat more circumspect. There was no press conference, or parading of the patient before the reporters. All we have are these few tweets, and scant details about a brain implant that Musk hopes will help humans stay ahead of rapidly advancing AIs.

It's worth noting that for all of Musk's bluster and sometimes objectionable rhetoric, he was more right than he knew about where the state of AI would be by 2024. Back in 2016, there was no ChatGPT, Google Bard, or Microsoft CoPilot. We didn't have AI in Windows and Photoshop's Firefly, realistic AI images and videos, or realistic AI deepfakes. Concerns about AIs taking jobs are now real, and the idea of humans falling behind artificial intelligence sounds less like a sci-fi fantasy and more like our future.

Do those fears mean we're now more likely to sign up for our brain implants? Musk is betting on it.

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Microsoft is adding a Windows 11 feature that makes accessing your phone’s photos even easier

A new feature is coming to Windows 11 that will make transferring screenshots from your phone to your PC much easier. Thanks to testing being done by Microsoft, you should soon have the ability to access and edit your screenshots from your phone directly on your PC.

The Windows Insider Program for Developers is a channel that receives experimental builds of Windows 11 that represent any upcoming updates or new features that Microsoft plans to implement in the near future, in order to gather feedback before pushing features to the public version. 

When enabled in the Dev Channel, the Windows 11 Build 23619 now has a ‘Cross-Device Experience Host update’ that will replace the existing Phone Link feature, using this new feature instead to connect your phone and your PC.

Once your phone is connected, every time you take a screenshot on your phone a little pop-up will appear in your desktop notifications. You’ll then have to option to view, edit or share your screenshot straight from your PC.

Simple and smooth sharing 

I’m pretty excited for the feature to officially arrive in the public build of Windows 11, as it takes the hassle out of sending your photos to your PC via either a cable, messaging service or cloud storage service in order to edit them. At least once a week, I have to email myself screenshots from my phone to open on my computer, so it’ll be incredibly time-saving to simply have a little notification pop up on my desktop instead that I can choose to ignore or open and get to work. 

This feature will also be really good for those of us who might not be as technologically adept or are just in a hurry to transfer a new photo. It’s much easier to explain to someone who might need help that if you connect your phone to your PC using this feature you can simply take the screenshot and the pop-up will automatically appear, rather than explaining a lengthier step-by-step process to them.

It’s always good to see Microsoft continually working to improve Windows 11 – especially given some people’s unwillingness to upgrade from Windows 10. This update also came with some useful fixes, such as squashing a bug that caused crashes when you change voices in Narrator in Settings, and more work to improve the performance of File Explorer.

Via Betanews

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Galaxy S24, S23, and Pixel phones could be first in line for Assistant with Bard

At the same time as launching the Pixel 8, Pixel 8 Pro and Pixel Watch 2 last week, Google also unveiled its new AI-powered Assistant with Bard tool – and now we've got a better idea of which phones might be getting the app first.

The team at 9to5Google has dug into the latest Google app for Android to look for references to Assistant with Bard, and based on hidden code that's been uncovered, it looks as though the Pixel 8 and Samsung Galaxy S24 phones will be first in line.

With the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro shipping tomorrow, it seems likely that users of these phones will be able to try Assistant with Bard before anyone else – and Google intimated as much when it announced the AI bot. The Samsung Galaxy S24 isn't due to launch until January or February next year.

However, Google has also gone on record as saying Assistant with Bard will be available to “select testers” to begin with, before more people get it over the “next few months”. In other words, even if you've got a Pixel 8, you might be waiting a while.

Coming soon

After Pixel 8 and Galaxy S24 owners have had a good play around with everything that Assistant with Bard has to offer, 9to5Google suggests that the Pixel 6, Pixel 7, and Galaxy S23 handsets will be the next to receive the upgrade.

Some example queries have also been found in the Google app code, including “help explain in a kid-friendly way why rainbows appear” and “give me some ideas to surprise my concert-loving friend on their birthday”.

Those lines will be familiar to anyone who's already played around with the generative AI in Google Bard: like ChatGPT, it can write poetry, reports, emails, and much more, as well as coming up with ideas and explaining difficult topics.

Assistant with Bard adds all that to what we already have in Google Assistant: answering questions, controlling smart lights, finding out what the weather's doing, and so on. It could soon be the most powerful Google app on your phone.

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Duolingo’s new music lessons will cement its place on my phone’s home screen

As predicted by leaks Duolingo, the app synonymous with language learning, is expanding its portfolio into a new discipline with Duolingo Music. When it launches next month Duolingo will also be rolling out its Maths lessons (which have been in beta for around a year) to the main app, so you’ll be able to develop your math, music, and language skills all in one place.

According to the announcement trailer and press release we’ve been sent, the new digital piano experience will help develop your skills across “hundreds of interactive lessons” so you can find out how to perform “over 200 familiar tunes”. Based on what we’ve seen you’ll pick up music theory skills, as well as learn how to play tunes on an in-app virtual keyboard.

Best all, just like the existing Duolingo language courses (of which there are over 40), you’ll be able to access the music and math teaching for free. Duolingo hasn’t confirmed this with us yet, but we expect the new experiences will be ad-supported just like the existing language lessons unless you pay for Super Duolingo – we’ve also asked if this premium subscription will be going up in price because of the math and music additions.

The new music course will launch on iOS devices on October 11 and will be available in both English and Spanish. We’ve been told by a Duolingo representative that other platforms and languages will be supported “soon” but there are no firm dates yet – hopefully we’ll learn more at Duocon which also takes place on October 11.

Not leaving my home screen soon

Duolingo has been a permanent resident of my home screen for the past few months with my lesson streak currently over 110 days long. Ahead of a holiday to Belgium it was one of the language apps I used to develop my French skills, and (in an attempt to actualize my hopes of a holiday there) I’ve pivoted to learning Japanese since returning home.

The Duolingo widget shows Duo looking determined, then angry, then crying tears of sadness, and then surrounded by fire as the bird's watch glows.

The Duolingo widget is amazing (Image credit: Duolingo / Future )

The gamified courses (and the very emotive Duo widget I have set up for the app that shows the bird morphing from determined to sad to filled with the rage of 1,000 suns as the end of the day draws near and I haven’t completed a lesson) have kept me coming back for more – striking a good balance between engaging and informative. With these new music lessons on the way too, the app might have just further cemented itself to its spot on my home screen.

That said, I’m a little skeptical of the virtual keyboard experience. I’m worried it’ll be a little too small on my phone, and that playing it wouldn’t translate all that well to playing an actual piano. Given its success with language lessons, I'm hopeful the music experience will be solid too, but I'll have to hold off judgment until I’ve tried it out for myself – unfortunately, as a Google Pixel 6 user I might be left waiting a while for the Android release.

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Google just made life much easier for Windows 11 users with Android phones

Windows 11 (and 10) users can now easily share files between their Android devices and Windows PC, thanks to Google’s Nearby Share app which has been officially released for Microsoft’s desktop operating systems.

You may recall that Nearby Share was brought to Windows 11 as a beta app in March – before that, it was a tool for Chromebooks – so this represents the full release of the now-finished software.

For the unfamiliar, Nearby Share lets you share files (or indeed website links) just by selecting the option and tapping on the destination PC. You’ll then receive a notification of the file arriving on your computer.

Or working the other way round, from a Windows desktop, you can simply drag a file to the Nearby Share app, and it’ll be whizzed over to the Android smartphone.

Google has made a couple of nifty additions for this final incarnation of Nearby Share, too.

Firstly, an image preview is shown in the device notification to allow you to see that the correct file is being shared. And secondly, the file transfer is now furnished with an estimated time to complete, which for larger files that might take a while, is pretty handy.

Windows 11 Nearby Share

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Analysis: Faster and more reliable – just plain better

Those are some useful improvements, and overall Nearby Share is a smart feature to get on Windows 11 and Windows 10, particularly now any rough edges should have been smoothed out in beta testing.

On top of those additional features mentioned, Google also notes that it has made the file transfer process speedier since the beta app, and ensured better stability with fewer crashes encountered.

It’ll be no surprise to hear that the Nearby Share app was already popular. Even as a beta, Google tells us that 1.7 million people across the globe installed the app, so we can expect those ranks to swell considerably now we have the finished version.

For those keen to take the Nearby Share plunge, bear in mind that the transfer process is all the more seamless if you’re signed into your Google account on both your PC and phone.

Via Betanews

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Don’t worry, WhatsApp isn’t actually using your phone’s microphone to listen in

Google finally acknowledged and fixed an Android bug that caused WhatsApp to gain unauthorized access to a smartphone’s microphone. 

If you’re not super familiar with the story, around early April some people began noticing, and reporting online, that the software was using their device's mic without their consent. This issue came to a head on May 6 when Twitter engineer Foad Dabiri noticed WhatsApp had gained access to the microphone on his Pixel 7 Pro at least nine times in one morning. Every time the error occurred, a notification appeared informing him of what happened. WhatsApp’s official Twitter account responded, claiming the problem was caused by an Android bug misattributing information on the phone’s Privacy Dashboard, and then proceeded to ask Google to quickly roll out a fix. It took the tech giant nearly two months to recognize the issue, but fortunately, that day has arrived.

The official Android Developers Twitter account recently stated the bug only affected a “limited number of WhatsApp users”, explaining why it wasn’t a widespread problem. To patch up the security error and stop those notifications, Google states all you have to do is install the latest version of WhatsApp, which we strongly recommend you do.

Misattributed panic

To this day, no one knows what caused the microphone bug in the first place. Technical details surrounding the error are almost nonexistent as neither Google nor Meta (WhatsApp's parent company) has revealed any specifics. There's not even anything about it in the Android 13 changelog on the Android Developer website.

But the one thing that can be said is nothing was actually recorded. As clarified by WABetaInfo, WhatsApp didn’t actually gain access to the microphone on anyone's mobile device. It just triggered the notifications causing them to go a little haywire. This in turn resulted in some people online thinking they were being spied on or their privacy was being violated, but in truth, nothing of the sort happened. We reached out to Google to see if the company is willing to divulge any extra information about the fix. This story will be updated if we hear back. 

Having the piece of mind of knowing your information is safe and nothing is being recorded is vital for many users. However, software can’t solve everything. If you want to take your security to the next level, be sure to check out TechRadar’s list of the most secure smartphones for June 2023

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