India’s Reliance Jio rolls out Wi-Fi calling feature

Two of the top three telecom operators in India are beginning to address one of the biggest challenges hundreds of millions of their subscribers face in the country each day: poor call quality and abrupt voice drops.

Reliance Jio, India’s second largest telecom operator, announced today that it now supports voice and video calling functionality over Wi-Fi network. The 4G-only network said it has started to roll out the feature to all of its subscribers in India and expects to reach all of its 360 million consumers by next week.

The rollout of calls over Wi-Fi functionality on Jio comes weeks after Airtel, India’s third largest telecom operator with over 260 million subscribers, began to support this feature in select places in the country. Neither of the operators are levying any additional fee for this feature and say that their subscribers can place phone calls over Wi-Fi across the networks.

Wi-Fi calling is a popular feature that enables users to latch onto their wireless internet connection to make phone calls. These calls tend to be of much better quality than those that rely on traditional telecom infrastructure. In the U.S., T-Mobile, Verizon (which owns TechCrunch), and AT&T began to offer this feature in late 2015 and early 2016.

In many markets such as India, calls over internet began to gain traction four to five years ago after services such as WhatsApp enabled such functionality. In the years since, telecom operators have also rolled out support for calls over LTE network.

Airtel currently supports Wi-Fi calling in select circles — such as Mumbai, Kolkata, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu — and requires its users to be a subscriber of Airtel broadband service. It also works only on a handful of smartphone models.

Reliance Jio, on the other hand, supports more than 150 smartphone models including several recent iPhone generations and a wide-range of mid-tier and high-end Android smartphones. A Reliance Jio spokesperson told TechCrunch that Jio’s Wi-Fi calling functionality works on any Wi-Fi network.

Akash Ambani, Director of Jio, said Reliance Jio consumers already use over 900 minutes of voice calling every month. “The launch of Jio Wi-Fi Calling will further enhance every Jio consumer’s voice-calling experience, which is already a benchmark for the industry with India’s-first all VoLTE network,” he said in a statement.

Vodafone, which at the last count (PDF) was ahead of Reliance Jio by a few million subscribers, is yet to offer this functionality. The announcement follows price hike by all the top three telecom networks in India.


Android – TechCrunch

Following FTC complaint, Google rolls out new policies around kids’ apps on Google Play

Google announced this morning a new set of developer policies aimed at providing additional protections for children and families seeking out kid-friendly apps on Google Play. The new policies require that developers ensure their apps are meeting all the necessary policy and regulatory requirements for apps that target children in terms of their content, ads, and how they handle personally identifiable information.

For starters, developers are being asked to consider whether children are a part of their target audience — and, if they’re not, developers must ensure their app doesn’t unintentionally appeal to them. Google says it will now also double-check an app’s marketing to confirm this is the case and ask for changes, as needed.

Apps that do target children have to meet the policy requirements concerning content and handling of personally identifiable information. This shouldn’t be new to developers playing by the rules, as Google has had policies around “kid-safe” apps for years as part of its “Designed for Families” program, and countries have their own regulations to follow when it comes to collecting children’s data.

In addition, developers whose apps are targeting children must only serve ads from an ads network that has certified compliance with Google’s families policies.

 

To enforce these policies at scale, Google is now requiring all developers to complete the new target audience and content section of the Google Play Console. Here, they will have to specify more details about their app. If they say that children are targeted, they’ll be directed to the appropriate policies.

Google will use this information, alongside its review of the app’s marketing materials, in order to categorize apps and apply policies across three target groups: children, children and older users, and older users. (And because the definition of “children” may vary by country, developers will need to determine what age-based restrictions apply in the countries where their app is listed.)

Developers have to comply with the process of filling out the information on Google Play and come into compliance with the updated policies by September 1, 2019.

The company says it’s committed to providing “a safe, positive environment” for kids and families, which is why it’s announcing these changes.

However, the changes are more likely inspired by an FTC complaint filed in December, in which a coalition of 22 consumer and public health advocacy groups, led by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), asked for an investigation of kids’ apps on Google Play.

The organizations claimed that Google was not verifying apps and games featured in the Family section of Google Play for compliance with U.S. children’s privacy law COPPA.

They also said many so-called “kids” apps exhibited bad behaviors — like showing ads that are difficult to exit or showing those that require viewing in order to continue the current game. Some apps pressured kids into making in-app purchases, and others were found serving ads for alcohol and gambling. And others, still, were found to model harmful behavior or contain graphic, sexualized images, the groups warned regulators.

The time when violations like these can slip through the cracks is long past, thanks to increased regulatory oversight across the online industry by way of laws like the EU’s GDPR, which focuses on data protection and privacy. The FTC is also more keen to act, as needed — it even recently doled out a record fine for TikTok for violating COPPA. 

The target audience and content section are live today in the Google Play Console, along with documentation on the new policies, a developer guide, and online training. In addition, Google says it has also increased its staffing and improved its communications for the Google Play app review and appeals processes in order to help developers get timely decisions and understand any changes they’re directed to make.

 


Android – TechCrunch

This clever transforming robot flies and rolls on its rotating arms

There’s great potential in using both drones and ground-based robots for situations like disaster response, but generally these platforms either fly or creep along the ground. Not the “Flying STAR,” which does both quite well, and through a mechanism so clever and simple you’ll wish you’d thought of it.

Conceived of by researchers at Ben-Gurion University in Israel, the “flying sprawl-tuned autonomous robot” is based on the elementary observation that both rotors and wheels spin. So why shouldn’t a vehicle have both?

Well, there are lots of good reasons why it’s difficult to create such a hybrid, but the team, led by David Zarrouk, overcame them with the help of today’s high-powered, lightweight drone components. The result is a robot that can easily fly when it needs to, then land softly and, by tilting the rotor arms downwards, direct that same motive force into four wheels.

Of course you could have a drone that simply has a couple wheels on the bottom that let it roll along. But this improves on that idea in several ways. In the first place, it’s mechanically more efficient since the same motor drives the rotors and wheels at the same time — though when rolling the RPMs are of course considerably lower. But the rotating arms also give the robot a flexible stance, large wheelbase, and high clearance that make it much more capable on rough terrain.

You can watch FSTAR fly, roll, transform, flatten, and so on in the following video, prepared for presentation at the IEEE International Convention on Robotics and Automation in Montreal:

The ability to roll along at up to 8 feet per second using comparatively little energy, while also being able to leap over obstacles, scale stairs, or simply ascend and fly to a new location give FSTAR considerable adaptability.

“We plan to develop larger and smaller versions to expand this family of sprawling robots for different applications, as well as algorithms that will help exploit speed and cost of transport for these flying/driving robots,” said Zarrouk in a press release.

Obviously at present this is a mere prototype, and will need further work to bring it to a state where it could be useful for rescue teams, commercial operations, and the military.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Audio tech supplier to Rolls Royce and Xiaomi secures another $13.2M in funding

As autonomous driving eventually transforms cars from transportation devices to mobile theaters or conference rooms we will need better audio inside them. And we’ve already seen that VCs like Andreessen Horowitz say ‘audio is the future.’

So it’s interesting that Swedish sound pioneer Dirac has completed a new $ 13.2 million round of financing led by current investors. Previous investors included Swedish Angel network Club Network Investments, Erik Ejerhed and Staffan Persson.

Dirac makes sophisticated audio technology for customers including BMW, OnePlus, Rolls Royce, Volvo, and Xiaomi .

Its platform is used by those firms for everything from capture to playback – regardless of device size or form factor.

“As consumer devices decrease in size and expand in complexity, digital signal processing is
the key to unlocking their full audio potential and creating premium sound experiences,” says
Dirac CEO Mathias Johansson. “With this new funding, we can take our approach to digitizing
sound systems even further – creating more intelligent and adaptive audio processing solutions that establish new standards in both audio playback and capture across a variety of
applications.”

Dirac has now appointed former Harman International executive Armin Prommersberger as CTO and opened a Copenhagen Research Development Center.

Johansson says new 5G networks are set to create new use-cases for current and emerging technologies, including audio.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Twitter’s de-algorithmizing ‘sparkle button’ rolls out on Android

After launching on iOS, Twitter is giving Android users the ability to easily switch between seeing the reverse-chronological “latest tweets” and the algorithmic “top tweets” feeds on their home page. The company announced the rollout at a media event in New York.

The “sparkle button” is a way for Twitter to appease long-time power tweeters while also shifting more of its user base to the algorithmic feed which the company says has served to increase the number of conversations happening on the platform.

You can read more about the company’s algorithmic feed thinking here:


Android – TechCrunch