Version 2 of Google’s Flutter toolkit adds support for desktop and web apps

At an online event, Google today announced Flutter 2, the newest version of its open-source UI toolkit for building portable apps. While Flutter started out with a focus on mobile when it first launched two years ago, it spread its wings in recent years and with version 2, Flutter now supports web and desktop apps out of the box. With that, Flutter users can now use the same codebase to build apps for iOS, Android, Windows, MacOS, Linux and the web.

“The big thing that justifies the major version number shift is, of course, the availability of web and desktop support,” Flutter product lead Tim Sneath told me. “And that’s just a fairly profound pivot. It’s rare for products that you suddenly have all these additional endpoints.”

Image Credits: Google

He noted that because of Flutter’s open-source nature, web and desktop support had been “cooking in the open” for a while, so the addition of these endpoints isn’t a surprise. A lot of that work in getting these new platforms ready for the 2.0 release involved getting the performance up to par on these new platforms.

It’s worth noting, though, that Flutter desktop support is still behind an early-release flag in Flutter’s stable release channel and Google says developers should think of it as a “beta snapshot.” Web support, however, has transitioned from beta to stable and has become just another target for building apps with Flutter.

Image Credits: Google

On the web platform, specifically, Sneath noted that the team deliberately started out with a very standard, DOM-centric approach. But while that worked fine, it also meant performance was held back by that, especially for more advanced features. Over the course of the last year or so, the team started working on what it calls Canvas Kit. This WebAssembly-based project takes the same Skia graphics engine that powers Android and Chrome itself and makes it available to web apps.

“What that’s meant is that we can now essentially bypass the core HTML — sort of the document-centric parts of the web platform — and really use the app-centric parts of the web platform without leaving [behind] things like auto-complete of text or passwords and all the things that keep the web feeling very unique,” Sneath said.

Image Credits: Google

On the desktop, Google is announcing that Canonical is going all-in on Flutter and making it the default choice of all its future desktop and mobile apps.

Microsoft, too, is expanding its support for Flutter and working with Google on Windows support for Flutter. Given Microsoft’s interest in Android, that’s maybe no huge surprise, and indeed, Microsoft today is releasing contributions to the Flutter engine to help support foldable Android devices.

In total, Google notes, there are now over 15,000 packages for Flutter and Dart from companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Adobe, Huawei, Alibaba, eBay and Square.

As always, there are dozen of other smaller updates to Flutter in this update, too.

Looking ahead, Sneath noted that the Flutter team plans to spend more time on Flutter as a framework for embedded devices and other somewhat non-traditional platforms. He also noted that the team is interested in how Flutter can help power ambient computing experiences.

“As we think about the ambient computing worlds where there are these core premises behind the ambient computing aspects — things like: can it be searched easily? Can people make money off of the apps that they build and do it in a responsible way? We’re building support for those kinds of services. Better analytics, better ads frameworks, connectivity into things like Firebase and Google Cloud, so that people can not just take advantage of Flutter but the broader ecosystem services that Google provides,” Sneath explained.

Amazon’s GameOn app, a platform for sharing mobile gaming clips, launches on iOS

Mobile gaming hasn’t seen the same demand for streaming content in the past as desktop has, but Amazon sees a market there to extend Twitch’s dominance. After launching on Android back in November, the company’s mobile streaming centric app has just launched on Apple’s App Store.

The app lets users record short clips (anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes of content) of gameplay from a variety of titles that support screen recording capture. Users can screen record these clips directly into the GameOn library at which point they can add commentary or additional edits before publishing to the GameOn platform or sharing links to the platform on other sites.

The GameOn platform is interestingly fully disconnected from Twitch with separate branding and different channels. Amazon has been partnering with streamers to wholly focus on mobile gaming while promoting challenges unique to the app.The company says the service is compatible with over 1,000 mobile games.

Developers have been increasingly vigilant about brining more full-featured ports of desktop titles to mobile though the lack of sophisticated controls has made this a challenge. As gaming platforms aim to bring cloud streaming networks to iOS there could end up being more demand for shot-on-mobile content and titles that users control with a gamepad, but this will depend on whether the App Store grows more amenable to these platforms over time.


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Hackers release a new jailbreak tool for almost every iPhone

An iPhone hacking team has released a new jailbreak tool for almost every iPhone, including the most recent models, by using the same vulnerability that Apple last month said was under active attack by hackers.

The Unc0ver team released its latest jailbreak this weekend, and says it works on iOS 11 (iPhone 5s and later) to iOS 14.3, which Apple released in December.

Jailbreaking is a cat-and-mouse game between security researchers who want greater control and customizations over their phones, and Apple, which says it locks down iPhones for security. Hackers build jailbreak tools by finding and exploiting vulnerabilities that can lift some of the restrictions that Apple puts in place, like installing apps outside of its app store, which most Android users are already used to.

In a tweet, the jailbreak group said it used its “own exploit” for CVE-2021-1782, a kernel vulnerability that Apple said was one of three flaws that “may have been actively exploited” by hackers. By targeting the kernel, the hackers are able to get deep hooks into the underlying operating system.

Apple fixed the vulnerability in iOS 14.4, released last month, which also prevents the jailbreak from working on later versions. It was a rare admission that the iPhone was under active attack by hackers, but the company declined to say who the hackers were and who they were targeting. Apple also granted anonymity to the researcher who submitted the bug.

The group’s last jailbreak, which supported iPhones running iOS 11 to iOS 13.5, was fixed in a matter of days last year. Apple works quickly to understand and fix the vulnerabilities found by jailbreak groups, since these same vulnerabilities can be exploited maliciously.

Security experts generally advise iPhone users against jailbreaking because it makes the device more vulnerable to attacks. And while keeping your phone up to date may introduce security fixes that remove the jailbreak, it’s one of the best ways of keeping your device secure.


Early Stage is the premiere ‘how-to’ event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear first-hand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company-building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, legal, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in – there’s ample time included in each for audience questions and discussion.


Android’s latest update will let you schedule texts, secure your passwords and more

Google today announced the next set of features coming to Android, including a new password checkup tool, a way to schedule your texts, along with other improvements to products like its screen reader TalkBack, Maps, Assistant and Android Auto. This spring 2021 release is latest in a series of smaller update bundles, similar to iOS “point releases,” that add new functionality and features to Android outside of the larger update cycle.

One the security front, this update will integrate a feature called Password Checkup into devices running Android 9 and above to alert you to passwords you’re using that have been previously exposed.

The feature works with Autofill with Google, which lets you quickly sign in to apps and other services on Android. Now, when you use Autofill, Password Checkup will check your credentials against a list of known compromised passwords, then notify you if your credentials appear on that list and what to do about it.

Image Credits: Google

The prompt can also direct you to your Password Manager page on Google, where you can review all your other saved Autofill passwords for similar issues.

To use this feature, you’ll need to have Autofill enabled. (Settings > System > Languages & Input > Advanced, the tap Autofill. Tap Google to ensure the setting is enabled.)

The new Messages feature rolling out this update could see prolific texters considering a switch to Android, as it’s one of the most in-demand features since SMS was invented: the ability to schedule your texts.

Image Credits: Google

Android’s new scheduled send feature will allow you to compose a message ahead of time, whenever it’s convenient for you, then schedule it to be sent later when it’s a more appropriate time. This can be particularly helpful if you have friends, family or coworkers and colleagues in other timezones, and are hesitant to bother them when they could be sleeping or enjoying family time after work. It can also help those who often remember something they meant to text when it’s late at night and too late to send the message.

To use this feature, you’ll just write the text as usual, then press and hold the send button to select a date and time to deliver the message. You’ll need the latest version of the Android Messages app for this feature to work.

Another flagship feature arriving in this Android release is aimed at making Android’s screen reader, known as TalkBack, easier to use for those users who are blind or have low vision. TalkBack today allows users to navigate their device with their voice and gestures in order to read, write, send emails, share social media, order delivery and more.

Image Credits: Google

The updated version (TalkBack 9.1) will now include a dozen new multifinger gestures to interact with apps and perform common actions, like selecting and editing text, controlling media or getting help. This will work on Pixel and Samsung Galaxy devices from One UI 3 onwards, Google says.

Google is also responding to user feedback over TalkBack’s confusing multiple menu system and has returned to the single menu system users wanted. This single menu will adapt to context while also providing consistent access to the most common functions.

Other TalkBack improvements includes new gestures — like an up and right swipe to access over 25 voice commands — and new reading controls that let users either skim a page, read only headlines, listen word-by-word or even character-by-character.

Users can also now add or remove options from the TalkBack menu or the reading controls to further customize the interface to their needs. Plus, TalkBack’s braille keyboard added support for Arabic and Spanish.

The spring update also adds more minor improvements to Maps, Assistant and Android Auto.

Maps is getting a dark mode that you can enable as the default under Settings > Theme and then selecting “Always in Dark Theme.”

 

Image Credits: Google

Google Assistant’s update will let you use the feature when the phone is locked or further away from you, by turning on Lock Screen Personal Results in Assistant’s Settings then saying “Hey Google,” as needed.

The new cards that appear when the phone is locked are meant to be easier to read with just a glance, Google says.

And finally, Android Auto will now include custom wallpapers and voice-activated games like trivia and “Jeopardy!” that you can ask for via the “Hey Google” command.

Image Credits: Google

There are also now shortcuts on the launch screen for accessing your contacts, or using Assistant to complete tasks like checking the weather or adjusting the thermostat, for example. Cars with wider screens will gain access to a split screen view with Google Maps on one side and media controls on the other.

Android Auto’s features will roll out in the “coming days” on phones running Android 6.0 and higher and work with compatible cars, Google notes.

Rode’s Wireless Go II delivers key upgrades to the best mobile mic for creators

Rode Microphones has a new and improved version of its much-loved Go portable mic, the Wireless Go II, which uses the same form factor as the original but adds a list of new and improved features. Most notably, the Go II offers two transmitter packs that can simultaneously talk to a single receiver, letting you record two individual speakers to the same camera or connected device.

Basics

The Rode Wireless Go II ($299) ships with everything you need to begin recording high-quality audio to a camera or anything else that can connect to a 3.5mm jack. The transmitter packs – there are two of them in the box – have built-in microphones that offer great sound on their own, or you can use them with any 3.5mm-equipped lavalier mic depending on your needs.

The receiver pack can output to 3.5mm TRS, but it can also transmit using USB Type-C (which is also for charging). This is new for this generation, and Rode also sells USB-C to USB-C and USB-C to Lightning cables so that you can use them with modern Android devices, iPhones, iPads, Macs and PCs.

Image Credits: Rode

Each of the three packs has a built-in rechargeable battery that can provide up to 7 hours of operating time on a single charge. You can independently adjust the gain on each of the transmitters, and mute each individually or both from the receiver pack. You can also swap between mono recording with each transmitter as a channel, and stereo recording modes.

The transmitters can operate at a range of 200 meters (roughly 650 feet) from the receiver, provided they have line-of-sight, and the receiver has a display to show you input levels, battery status, connectivity and more. The transmitters each have two LEDs that provide visual feedback for connectivity and gain. Each also automatically records locally, with the ability to store more than 24 hours of audio on built-in storage in case of dropouts in connectivity.

Design and performance

With this update, it really feels like Rode has thought of everything. You can get started immediately, for one, since the transmitter packs and receiver come pre-paired and assigned to left and right channels by default. They’re incredibly user-friendly, and while Rode has introduced a new Windows and Mac app for centralized control of them called Rode Central, you don’t actually need any additional software to get started recording with them.

This updated version also uses a new RF transmission tech that has 128-bit encryption built in, with a much farther line-of-site range for their use. This is designed to make them much more reliable in areas where there’s a lot of RF traffic happening already – like a busy shopping mall (once COVID times are behind us), conference halls, or other public areas with lots of people and smartphones around.

The onboard memory is also new, and means you’ll never have to worry about any potential dropped connections since you’ll always have a local file to rely on on the transmitter packs themselves. A similar peace-of-mind feature is a safety channel that records a back-up track at -20db, so that if you encounter any overloud sounds that cause peaking in your primary recording, you’ll have another option. Both of these features have to be turned on proactively in the Rode Central app, which Rode will also use to deliver future firmware updates for the Go II, but they’re very welcome additions.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

Meanwhile, the best new feature might be that you get all these improvements in the same great package. Rode’s original Go was remarkable in large part because it came in such a small, portable package, with transmitters that featured built-in mics as well as being great body packs. The size here is exactly the same, and these use the same integrated clips that make them compatible with all of Rode’s existing Go accessories.

Bottom line

There’s a concept of ‘lapping’ in racing, where you’re so far ahead of a competitor that you overtake them again. That’s basically what Rode has done with the Go II, which pads the lead for the best mobile video/field podcasting mic on the market, with smart features that address the few downsides of the original.