Google Play Pass launches with 350+ premium apps and games, initially for $1.99 per month

Following the well-received launch of Apple Arcade, Google today is officially introducing its own take on subscription-based access to premium mobile games — or, Google’s case, premium mobile apps, too. The new Google Play Pass subscription, arriving this week, will offer over 350 apps and games that are completely unlocked, with no upfront fees, in-app purchases, or advertisements. And the initial price point is something of a no-brainer — it’s just $ 1.99 per month for the first year, Google says.

That price will increase to $ 4.99 per month after the first 12 months have passed, which is the same price as Apple Arcade at launch. This launch promotion is only available until October 10, 2019, however.

The two services are similar in concept, as both are providing a large library of premium content for a monthly subscription. But there are some differences between the two.

For starters, Apple Arcade is filled with exclusives — meaning its games will not be found on Andriod. The reverse is not true for Google Play Pass. Instead, the Play Pass catalog includes many cross-platform titles, including some that even found their fame first on iOS, like ustwo’s Monument Valley.

In addition, Play Pass’s launch titles aren’t all games. There are also ad-free versions of popular mobile apps, like AccuWeather, Facetune, and Pic Stitch, for example.

Notable launch titles include Stardew Valley, Risk, Terraria, Monument Valley, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Reigns: Game of Thrones, Titan Quest, and Wayward Souls. Some lesser-known additions include LIMBO, Lichtspeer, Mini Metro, and Old Man’s Journey. Others, like This War of Mine and Cytus, are coming soon. And for little kids, there are some preschooler-friendly titles like Toca Boca classics and the My Town series.

More titles are added on a monthly basis, Google says.

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Because it’s not relying on exclusives, Google’s catalog is more than triple the size of Apple’s at launch. That being said, Apple’s Arcade library is filled with gorgeous, high-quality games while Play Pass is rounded out with a lot of more utilities, like weather apps and photo editors.

Play Pass ticket logoLike Apple Arcade, the new subscription gets its own tab in the Google Play app, where the games are organized by genre, popularity and other factors — just like a mini app store. However, unlike Apple Arcade, where games are only found in the Arcade tab or through search, Google Play Pass titles will appear directly in the Play Store. They’ll be designated with a Play Pass ticket badge, so you can easily identify them.

The Play Pass subscription also allows the games to be shared with the whole family. The family manager can share their Play Pass subscription with up to five other family members, who can each access the titles independently. This is comparable to Apple Arcade.

We already knew Google was working on an Apple Arcade competitor before today. The Play Pass subscription’s existence had been leaked, and Google later confirmed the service with a tweet. What we didn’t yet know was the launch date, lineup, or the official pricing.

Google Play Pass service is rolling out this week to Android devices in the U.S., with more countries coming soon. A 10-day subscription is available, before it converts to the $ 1.99 per month limited promotion, followed by the $ 4.99 per month price point when the promotion ends.

While neither Apple nor Google is discussing the terms of their deals with developers, Google says that the more people who download a Play Pass title, the more the revenue developers receive on a recurring basis. It also explained that Google itself is funding the initial launch offer, so developers can gain more subscriber interest without impacting their revenue.

 

 


Android – TechCrunch

Climate activists plan to use drones to shut down Heathrow Airport next month

A UK group of climate activists is planning to fly drones close to Heathrow Airport next month in a direct action they hope will shut down the country’s largest airport for days or even longer.

The planned action is in protest at the government’s decision to green-light a third runway at Heathrow.

They plan to use small, lightweight “toy” drones, flown at head high (6ft) within a 5km drone ‘no fly’ zone around the airport — but not within flight paths. The illegal drone flights will also be made in the early morning at a time when there would not be any scheduled flights in the air space to avoid any risk of posing a threat to aircraft.

The activists point out that the government recently declared a climate emergency — when it also pledged to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 — arguing there is no chance of meeting that target if the UK expands current airport capacity.

A press spokesman for the group, which is calling itself Heathrow Pause, told TechCrunch: “Over a thousand child are dying as a result of climate change and ecological collapse — already, every single day. That figure is set to significantly worsen. The government has committed to not just reducing carbon emissions but reducing them to net zero — that is clearly empirically impossible if they build another runway.”

The type of drones they plan to use for the protest are budget models which they say can be bought cheaply at UK retailer Argos — which, for example, sells the Sky Viper Stunt Drone for £30; the Revell GO! Stunt Quadcopter Drone for £40; and the Revell Spot 2.0 Quadcopter (which comes with a HD camera) for £50.

The aim for the protest is to exploit what the group dubs a loophole in Heathrow’s health and safety protocol around nearby drone flights to force it to close down runways and ground flights.

Late last year a spate of drone sightings near the UK’s second busiest airport, Gatwick, led to massive disruption for travellers just before Christmas after the airport responded by grounding flights.

At the time, the government was sharply criticized for having failed to foresee weaknesses in the regulatory framework around drone flights near sensitive sites like airports.

In the following months it responded by beefing up what was then a 1km airport exclusion zone to 5km — with that expanded ‘no fly’ zone coming into force in March. However a wider government plan to table a comprehensive drones bill has faced a number of delays.

It’s the larger 5km ‘no fly’ zone that the Heathrow Pause activists are targeting in a way they hope will safely trigger the airport’s health & safety protocol and shut down the airspace and business as usual.

Whether the strategy to use drones as a protest tool to force the closure of the UK’s largest airport will fly remains to be seen.

A spokeswoman for Heathrow airport told us it’s confident it has “robust plans” in place to ensure the group’s protest does not result in any disruption to flights. However she would not provide any details on the steps it will take to avoid having to close runways and ground flights, per its safety protocol.

When we put the airport’s claim of zero disruption from intended action back to Heathrow Pause, its spokesman told us: “Our understanding is that the airport’s own health and safety protocols dictate that they have to ground airplanes if there are any drones of any size flying at any height anywhere within 5km of the airport.

“Our position would be that it’s entirely up to them what they do. That the action that we’re taking does not pose a threat to anybody and that’s very deliberately the case. Having said that I’d be surprised to hear that they’re going to disregard their own protocols even if those are — in our view — excessive. It would still come as a surprise if they weren’t going to follow them.”

“We won’t be grounding any flights in any circumstances,” he added. “It’s not within our power to do so. All of the actions that have been planned have been meticulously planned so as not to pose any threat to anybody. We don’t actually see that there need to be flights grounded either. Having said that clearly it would be great if Heathrow decided to ground flights. Every flight that’s grounded is that much less greenhouse gas pumped into the atmosphere. And it directly saves lives.

“The fewer flights there are the better. But if there are no flights cancelled we’d still consider the action to be an enormous success — purely upon the basis of people being arrested.”

The current plan for the protest is to start illegally flying drones near Heathrow on September 13 — and continue for what the spokesman said could be as long as “weeks”, depending on how many volunteer pilots it can sign up. He says they “anticipate” having between 50 to 200 people willing to risk arrest by breaching drone flight law.

The intention is to keep flying drones for as long as people are willing to join the protest. “We are hoping to go for over a week,” he told us.

Given the plan has been directly communicated to police the spokesman conceded there is a possibility that the activists could face arrest before they are able to carry out the protest — which he suggested might be what Heathrow is banking on.

Anyone who flies a drone in an airport’s ‘no fly’ zone is certainly risking arrest and prosecution under UK law. Penalties for the offence range from fines to life imprisonment if a drone is intentionally used to cause violence. But the group is clearly taking pains to avoid accusations the protest poses a safety risk or threatens violence — including by publishing extensive details of their plan online, as well as communicating it to police and airport authorities.

A detailed protocol on their website sets out the various safety measures and conditions the activists are attaching to the drone action — “to ensure no living being is harmed”. Such as only using drones lighter than 7kg, and giving the airport an hour’s advance notice ahead of each drone flight.

They also say they have a protocol to shut down the protest in the event of an emergency — and will have a dedicated line of communication open to Heathrow for this purposes.

Some of the activists are scheduled to meet with police and airport authorities  tomorrow, face to face, at a London police station to discuss the planned action.

The group says it will only call off the action if the Heathrow third runway expansion is cancelled.

In an emailed statement in response to the protest, Heathrow Airport told us:

We agree with the need to act on climate change. This is a global issue that requires constructive engagement and action. Committing criminal offences and disrupting passengers is counterproductive.

Flying of any form of drone near Heathrow is illegal and any persons found doing so will be subject to the full force of the law. We are working closely with the Met Police and will use our own drone detection capability to mitigate the operational impact of any illegal use of drones near the airport.

Asked why the environmental activists have selected drones as their tool of choice for this protest, rather than deploying more traditional peaceful direct action strategies, such as trespassing on airport grounds or chaining themselves to fixed infrastructure, the Heathrow Pause spokesman told us: “Those kind of actions have been done in the past and they tend to result in very short duration of time during which very few flights are cancelled. What we are seeking to do is unprecedented in terms of the duration and the extent of the disruption that we would hope to cause.

“The reason for drones is in order to exploit this loophole in the health and safety protocols that have been presented to us — that it’s possible for a person with a toy drone that you can purchase for a couple of quid, miles away from any planes, to cause an entire airport to stop having flights. It is quite an amazing situation — and once it became apparent that that was really a possibility it almost seemed criminal not to do it.”

He added that drone technology, and the current law in the UK around how drones can be legally used, present an opportunity for activists to level up their environmental protest — “to cause so much disruption with so few people and so little effort” — that it’s simply “a no brainer”.

During last year’s Gatwick drone debacle the spokesman said he received many enquiries from journalists asking if the group was responsible for that. They weren’t — but the mass chaos caused by the spectre of a few drones being flown near Gatwick provided inspiration for using drone technology for an environmental protest.

The group’s website is hosting video interviews with some of the volunteer drone pilots who are willing to risk arrest to protest against the expansion of Heathrow Airport on environmental grounds.

In a statement there, one of them, a 64-year-old writer called Valerie Milner-Brown, said: “We are in the middle of a climate and ecological emergency. I am a law-abiding citizen — a mother and a grandmother too. I don’t want to break the law, I don’t want to go to prison, but right now we, as a species, are walking off the edge of a cliff. Life on Earth is dying. Fires are ravaging the Amazon. Our planet’s lungs are quite literally on fire. Hundreds of species are going extinct every day. We are experiencing hottest day after hottest day, and the Arctic is melting faster than scientists’ worst predictions.

“All of this means that we have to cut emissions right now, or face widespread catastrophe on an increasingly uninhabitable planet. Heathrow Airport emits 18 million tons of CO2 a year. That’s more than most countries. A third runway will produce a further 7.3 million tons of CO2. For all Life — now and in the future — we have to take action. I’m terrified but if this is what it will take to make politicians, business leaders and the media wake up, then I’m prepared to take this action and to face the consequences.”

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Apple could charge $9.99 per month each for HBO, Showtime and Starz

The Wall Street Journal has published a report on Apple’s media push. The company is about to unveil a new video streaming service and an Apple News subscription on Monday.

According to The WSJ, you’ll be able to subscribe to multiple content packages to increase the video library in a new app called Apple TV — it’s unclear if this app is going to replace the existing Apple TV app.

The service would work more or less like Amazon Prime Video Channels. Users will be able to subscribe to HBO, Showtime or Starz for a monthly fee. The WSJ says that these three partners would charge $ 9.99 per month each.

According to a previous report from CNBC, it differs from the existing Apple TV app as you won’t be redirected to another app. Everything will be available within a single app.

Controlling the experience from start to finish would be a great advantage for users. As many people now suffer from subscription fatigue, Apple would be able to centralize all your content subscriptions in a single app. You could tick and untick options depending on your needs.

But some companies probably don’t want to partner with Apple. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll find Netflix or Amazon Prime Video content in the Apple TV app. Those services also want to control the experience from start to finish. It’s also easier to gather data analytics when subscribers are using your own app.

Apple should open up the Apple TV app to other platforms. Just like you can play music on Apple Music on Android, a Sonos speaker or an Amazon Echo speaker, Apple is working on apps for smart TVs. The company has already launched iTunes Store apps on Samsung TVs, so it wouldn’t be a big surprise.

The company has also spent a ton of money on original content for its own service. Details are still thin on this front. Many of those shows might not be ready for Monday. Do you have to pay to access Apple’s content too? How much? We’ll find out on Monday.

When it comes to Apple News, The WSJ says that content from 200 magazines and newspapers will be available for $ 9.99 per month. The Wall Street Journal confirms a New York Times report that said that The Wall Street Journal was part of the subscription.

Apple is also monitoring the App Store to detect popular apps according to multiple metrics, The WSJ says. Sure, Apple runs the App Store. But Facebook faced a public outcry when people realized that Facebook was monitoring popular apps with a VPN app called Onavo.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

UK’s extended 5km airport drone ‘no-fly’ zones in force next month

The UK’s Department for Transport has said today that an expansion of drone ‘no-fly’ zones to 5km around airport runways will come into force on March 13.

Anyone caught and convicted of flying a drone inside the restricted zones could face a fine and years in prison.

Last month the government said it would tighten restrictions on drones flights around airports, after the existing 1km limit was criticized for being inadequate — saying it believes expanded no-fly zones will help protect airports from drone misuse.

The 1km drone exclusion zone around airports, and a 400ft drone flight height restriction rule, only came into force last July. But ministers came in for sharp criticism following the Gatwick Airport drone fiasco when a spate of drone sightings near the UK’s second busiest airport caused a temporary shutdown of the runway and travel disruption for thousands of people right before Christmas.

Heathrow, the UK’s busiest airport, also briefly halted departures after further sightings of drones last month.

“The law is clear that flying a drone near an airport is a serious criminal act. We’re now going even further and extending the no-fly zone to help keep our airports secure and our skies safe,” said transport secretary, Chris Grayling, in a statement today.

“We are also working to raise awareness of the rules in place. Anyone flying their drone within the vicinity of an airport should know they are not only acting irresponsibly, but criminally, and could face imprisonment.”

The government and the Civil Aviation Authority have announced a partnership with online retailer Jessops to help raise public awareness about the new drone rules — and encourage what they dub “responsible drone use” — as part of a national awareness campaign.

The government also said work is continuing on a new Drones Bill. Although the planned legislation is already almost a year behind schedule — and is still only slated for introduction “in due course”.

The bill will give police officers powers to stop and search people suspected of using drones maliciously above 400ft or within 5km of an airport, the government said.

It added that the planned legislation will give additional new powers to the police to clamp down on those misusing drones and other small unmanned aircraft, including the power to access electronic data stored on a drone with a warrant.

Additional powers for police were trailed back in 2017 when the drone bill was first floated by the government. It re-announced its intention to beef up police powers to tackle drone misuse last month following the Gatwick fiasco.

The government added today that the Home Office is still reviewing the UK’s approach to countering the malicious use of drones, writing that it will “consider how best to protect the full range of the UK’s critical national infrastructure — including testing and evaluating technology to counter drones”.

In related news this month, drone maker DJI announced upgrades to its geofencing systems across Europe — applying stricter and more detailed restrictions around airports and other sensitive sites after switching its mapping data provider from US based AirMap to UK based Altitude Angel.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

LG hints at gesture interface for smartphone flagship next month

LG has put out a gesture-heavy hint ahead of the annual unveiling of new smartphone hardware at the world’s biggest mobile confab, Mobile World Congress, which kicks off in a month’s time.

The brief video teaser for its forthcoming MWC press event in Barcelona, which was shared today via LG’s social media channels, shows a man’s hand swiping to change on screen content, including the message “goodbye touch”.

The title of LG’s teaser video includes the name “LG Premiere”, which could be the name of the forthcoming flagship — albeit that would be confusingly similar to the mid-tier LG Premier of yore. So, hopefully the company is going to make that last ‘e’ really count.

Beyond some very unsubtle magic wand sound effects to draw extra attention to the contactless gestures, the video offers very little to go on. But we’re pretty sure LG is not about to pivot away from touchscreens entirely.

Rather we’re betting on some sort of Leap Motion -style gesture control interface being added to the front of the handset, using sensors to detect a hovering hand, for example — which will probably be accompanied by lots of marketing about how filthy-with-germs phone screens are so it’s totally better you don’t actually touch them.

Safe to say, the idea looks terribly gimmicky. Or, well, just terrible. This kind of stuff has been tried (and failed to stick) plenty of times before — as long ago as a decade, in the now no longer mobile-maker Sony Ericcson’s case.

Samsung also added a gesture feature, called Air Gesture, to some of its handsets more than five years old — which lets smartphone users do things like wave to answer a call or swipe through air to scroll up. Some devices also offered hands-free scrolling via facial tracking.

Yet smartphone users everywhere still seem as hooked as ever on actually fingering their touchscreens. And gesture-based interfaces have, fittingly enough, largely failed to stick.

You could view Apple’s Face ID technology as a form of non-touch gesture control, as my TC colleague Ingrid Lunden suggests. Albeit the primary point in that case is security/authentication, so it’s more than just a frictionless way to interact with a device without touching it.

Despite a flighty history for gesture interfaces on mobile, smartphone makers — and Android OEMs especially — are under acute pressure to stand out in a fiercely competitive and growth-stalled market. So a bunch of hardware experiments look to be in play, including, as we noted earlier, some makers openly flirting with folding phones (also today: Xiaomi teased a double folder phone.)

We’ll be on the ground in Barcelona to bring you news of all the major hardware releases next month — including keeping an eye on whatever LG is preparing to unbox (but not actually touch) on February 24. So stay tuned.


Android – TechCrunch