Google Fit gets improved activity logging and a breathing exercise

Google Fit, Google’ s activity tracking app for Android, is getting a small but meaningful update today that adds a few new features that’ll likely make its regular users quite happy. Some are pretty basic, like the launch of a Fit widget for your Android home screen, while others introduce new features like a breathing exercise (though that will only be available on Wear OS), an updated home screen in the app itself, and improved activity logging.

The app got a major redesign earlier this year and in the process, Google introduced Heart Points as a way of tracking not just the length but also the strenuousness of your activities. Those are tracked automatically as you go about your day, but since Fit also lets you log activities manually, you didn’t really get a chance to log the intensity of those exercises. Now, however, you can adjust the intensity in your quest for getting more Heart Points.

The other major new feature is the exact opposite of strenuous exercise: a breathing exercise for those moments when you don’t want to calm down. For some reason, Google decided that this feature is Wear OS-only right now. I’m not quite sure why that’s the case, but if you don’t have a Wear OS watch, you’ll just have to figure out some other way to keep calm and bugger on.

Mozilla and Qualcomm are bringing a native version of Firefox to Windows 10 on ARM

Microsoft is working with Google to bring a native ARM64 version of Chrome to Windows 10 on ARM and as Mozilla announced today, it, too, is working on bringing a native version of Firefox to Windows 10 on ARM. The organization is doing so in cooperation with Qualcomm.

Typically, to make any Windows 10 application run on ARM-based machines, Microsoft uses a number of emulation techniques. Those work quite well, but they do incur both power and performance cost. Native applications obviously don’t need emulation, so they run faster and more efficiently. Given that browsers are among the most-used applications, it’s no surprise that the major browser vendors are interested in offering the best support for the platform, even if we’re still talking about a very small niche for the time being.

We asked Mozilla for a release date for this Windows 10 on ARM version, but the organization has yet to provide us with this information. We’ll update this post once we learn more.

Qualcomm also today announced its new premium 8cx platform for PCs, which extends the company’s bet on the PC market. It’s probably no surprise that Mozilla chose today to make its announcement. In addition, though, Microsoft also today announced that it will move to the Chromium engine for its Edge browser. That leaves Firefox’s Gecko engine and WebKit, which Apple’s Safari uses, as the last two competitors with any major market share in the browser space.

Qualcomm expands its PC bet with its new 7nm 8cx platform

Qualcomm wants to become a major player in the PC/laptop market. Now that there is Windows 10 on ARM, that’s more than a pipe dream, but in its earliest iterations, those Qualcomm-based Windows 10 laptops used the Snapdragon 850 system on a chip that was specifically designed for PCs but still very much a direct descendant of its smartphone platform.

Today, the company announced its Snapdragon 8cx platform, “the most extreme Snapdragon ever,” in Qualcomm’s parlance, which still leverages some of the company’s mobile expertise and building blocks, but which was built from the ground up to power PCs.

The 8cx is very much tailored toward the PC, down to how it handles peak performance and multitasking. It’s also the first 7nm PC platform, the company claims, though the first devices won’t hit the market until Q3 of 2019.

The promise of using Qualcomm Snapdragon platform for a PC (which Qualcomm and Microsoft brands as “always connected PCs”) is that you’ll get multi-day battery life and a performance that is comparable to what you’d get with an Intel chip. The first generation of devices delivered great battery life, but performance wasn’t quite up to par. With this new release, Qualcomm promises to change that. Without saying Intel, Qualcomm argues that its 7nm chips are “multiple generations ahead of the traditional PC space.”

Despite launching the 8cx platform, Qualcomm is keeping the 850 around. It’s positioning the 8cx as a premium platform that complements the existing 850 platform in order to allow vendors to offer PCs at a wide range of different price points.

The new 8cx will feature Qualcomm’s Kryo 495 CPU and the Adreno 860 GPU, which will be able to power two 4K HDR monitors. It’ll also feature Qualcomm’s latest quick charging technology and all the usual connectivity options, ranging from Bluetooth to USB-C and LTE (for that always connected connectedness).

“With performance and battery life as our design tenets, we’re bringing 7nm innovations to the PC space, allowing for smartphone-like capabilities to transform the computing experience,” said Alex Katouzian, senior vice president and general manager of mobile for Qualcomm, in today’s announcement. “As the fastest Snapdragon platform ever, the Snapdragon 8cx will allow our customers to offer a powerful computing experience of multi-day battery life and multi-gigabit connectivity, in new thin, light and fanless design for consumers and the enterprise.”

 

Workato raises $25M for its integration platform

Workato, a startup that offers an integration and automation platform for businesses that competes with the likes of MuleSoft, SnapLogic and Microsoft’s Logic Apps, today announced that it has raised a $25 million Series B funding round from Battery Ventures, Storm Ventures, ServiceNow and Workday Ventures. Combined with its previous rounds, the company has now received investments from some of the largest SaaS players, including Salesforce, which participated in an earlier round.

At its core, Workato’s service isn’t that different from other integration services (you can think of them as IFTTT for the enterprise) in that it helps you to connect disparate systems and services, set up triggers to kick of certain actions (if somebody signs a contract on Docusign, send a message to Slack and create an invoice). Like its competitors, it connects to virtually any SaaS tool that a company would use, no matter whether that’s Marketo and Salesforce, or Slack and Twitter. And like some of its competitors, all of this can be done with a drag-and-drop interface.

What’s different, Workato founder and CEO Vijay Tella tells me, is that the service was built for business users, not IT admins. “Other enterprise integration platforms require people who are technical to build and manage them,” he said. “With the explosion in SaaS with lines of business buying them – the IT team gets backlogged with the various integration needs. Further, they are not able to handle all the workflow automation needs that businesses require to streamline and innovate on the operations.”

Battery Ventures’ general partner Neeraj Agrawal also echoed this. “As we’ve all seen, the number of SaaS applications run by companies is growing at a very rapid clip,” he said. “This has created a huge need to engage team members with less technical skill-sets in integrating all these applications. These types of users are closer to the actual business workflows that are ripe for automation, and we found Workato’s ability to empower everyday business users super compelling.”

Tella also stressed that Workato makes extensive use of AI/ML to make building integrations and automations easier. The company calls this Recipe Q. ” Leveraging the tens of billions of events processed, hundreds of millions of metadata elements inspected, and hundreds of thousands of automations that people have built on our platform – we leverage ML to guide users to build the most effective integration/automation by recommending next steps as they build these automations,” he explained. “It recommends the next set of actions to take, fields to map, auto-validates mappings, etc. The great thing with this is that as people build more automations – it learns from them and continues to make the automation smarter.”

The AI/ML system also handles errors and offers features like sentiment analysis to analyze emails and detect their intent, with the ability to route them depending on the results of that analysis.

As part of today’s announcement, the company is also launching a new AI-enabled feature: Automation Editions for sales, marketing and HR (with editions for finance and support coming in the future). The idea here is to give those departments a kit with pre-built workflows that helps them to get started with the service without having to bring in IT.

Google’s Flutter toolkit goes beyond mobile with Project Hummingbird

Flutter, Google’s toolkit for building cross-platform applications, hit version 1.0 today. Traditionally, the project always focused on iOS and Android apps, but as the company announced today, it’s now looking at bringing Flutter to the web, too. That project, currently called Hummingbird, is essentially an experimental web-based implementation of the Flutter runtime.

“From the beginning, we designed Flutter to be a portable UI toolkit, not just a mobile UI toolkit,” Google’s group product manager for Flutter, Tim Sneath, told me. “And so we’ve been experimenting with how we can bring Flutter to different places.”

Hummingbird takes the Dart code that all Flutter applications are written in and then compiles it to JavaScript, which in turn allows the code to run in any modern browser. Developers have always been able to compile Dart to JavaScript, so this part isn’t new, but ensuring that the Flutter engine would work, and bringing all the relevant Flutter features to the web was a major engineering effort. Indeed, Google built three prototypes to see how this could work. Just bringing the widgets over wasn’t enough. A combination of the Flutter widgets and its layout system was also discarded and in the end, the team decided to build a full Flutter web engine that retains all of the layers that sit above the dart:ui library.

“One of the great things about Flutter itself is that it compiles to machine code, to Arm code. But Hummingbird extends that further and says, okay, we’ll also compile to JavaScript and we’ll replace the Flutter engine on the web with the Hummingbird engine which then enables Flutter code to run without changes in web browsers. And that, of course, extends Flutter’s perspective to a whole new ecosystem.”

With tools like Electron, it’s easy enough to bring a web app to the desktop, too, so there’s now also a pathway for bringing Flutter apps to Windows and MacOS that way, though there is already another project in progress to embed Flutter into native desktop apps, too.

It’s worth noting that Google always touted the fact that Flutter compiled to native code — and the speed gains it got from that. Compiling to the web is a bit of a tradeoff, though. Sneath acknowledged as much and stressed that Hummingbird is an experimental project and that Google isn’t releasing any code today. Right now, it’s a technical demonstration.

“If you can go native, you should go native,” he said. “Think of it as an extension of Flutter’s reach rather than a solution to the problem that Flutter itself is solving.”

In its current iteration, the Flutter web engine can handle most apps, but there’s still a lot of work to do to ensure that all widgets run correctly, for example. The team is also looking at building a plugin system and ways to embed Flutter and into existing web apps — and existing web apps into Flutter web apps.

 

Qualcomm announces the Snapdragon 855 and its new under-display fingerprint sensor

This week, Qualcomm is hosting press and analysts on Maui for its annual Snapdragon Summit. Sadly, we’re not there, but a couple of weeks ago, Qualcomm gave us a preview of the news. There’ll be three days of news and the company decided to start with a focus on 5G, as well as a preview of its new Snapdragon 855 mobile platform. In addition, the company announced its new ultrasonic fingerprint solution for sensors that can sit under the display.

It’ll probably still be a while before there’ll be a 5G tower in your neighbourhood, but after years of buzz, it’s fair to say that we’re now getting to the point where 5G is becoming real. Indeed, AT&T and Verizon are showing off live 5G networks on Maui this week. Qualcomm described its event as the “coming out party for 5G,” though I’m sure we’ll hear from plenty of other players who will claim the same in the coming months.

In the short term, what’s maybe more interesting is that Qualcomm also announced its new flagship 855 mobile platform today. While the company didn’t release all of the details yet, it stressed that the 855 is “the world’s first commercial mobile platform supporting multi-gigabit 5G.”

The 855 also features a new multi-core AI engine that promises up to 3x better AI performance compared to its previous mobile platform, as well as specialized computer vision silicon for enhances computational photography (think something akin to Google’s Night Light) and video capture.

The company also briefly noted that the new platform has been optimized for gaming. The product name for this is “Snapdragon Elite Gaming,” but details remain sparse. Qualcomm also continues to bet on AR (or ‘extended reality’ as the company brands it).

The last piece of news is likely the most interesting here. Fingerprint sensors are now standard, even on mid-market phones. With its new 3D Sonic Sensors, Qualcomm promises an enhanced ultrasonic fingerprint solution that can sit under the display. In part, this is a rebranding of Qualcomm’s existing under-display sensor, but there’s some new technology here, too. The promise here is that the scanner will work, even if the display is very dirty or if the user installs a screen protector. Chances are, we’ll see quite a few new flagship phones in the next few months (Mobile World Congress is coming up quickly, after all) that will feature these new fingerprint scanners.

AWS announced Glacier Deep Archive to replace tape archives

At its re:Invent developer conference in Las Vegas, Amazon’s AWS today announced a new storage service that is meant for deep archival data that is only needed very infrequently but can’t be deleted. That makes Glacier Deep Archive an extension to the existing AWS Glacier service, but at a far lower price. Indeed, at $0.00099 per gigabyte and month, it’s pretty much the cheapest way to store data in the cloud. That’s a $1 per terabyte per month for archival storage.

The new service will go online in 2019.

AWS promises 99.99999999999 percent durability for the data. The company hasn’t yet said how long it will take to get access to this archival data yet, though. Traditionally, you’d have to wait hours to retrieve data. Chances are, that’s the same with this new service.

As AWS’ CEO Andy Jassy noted during his keynote, this service is mostly meant to replace the good old-fashioned tape that many companies still rely on. “We have a lot of customers with gobs of data,” Jassy said. “And these are pieces of data that are even less frequently than what people access on Glacier. Today, the way people manage this, they’re managing with tape. […] If you ever had the joy of managing tape, it’s no picnic.”

Jassy also noted that if a company ever wanted to move that data off premises, it’s not only hard but that data will likely be far away from your analytics and machine learning services. “You have to be out of your mind to manage your own tape moving forward,” said Jassy.

more AWS re:Invent 2018 coverage

Red Hat acquires hybrid cloud data management service NooBaa

Red Hat is in the process of being acquired by IBM for a massive $34 billion, but that deal hasn’t closed yet and, in the meantime, Red Hat is still running independently and making its own acquisitions, too. As the company today announced, it has acquired Tel Aviv-based NooBaa, an early-stage startup that helps enterprises manage their data more easily and access their various data providers through a single API.

NooBaa’s technology makes it a good fit for Red Hat, which has recently emphasized its ability to help enterprise more effectively manage their hybrid and multicloud deployments. At its core, NooBaa is all about bringing together various data silos, which should make it a good fit in Red Hat’s portfolio. With OpenShift and the OpenShift Container Platform, as well as its Ceph Storage service, Red Hat already offers a range of hybrid cloud tools, after all.

“NooBaa’s technologies will augment our portfolio and strengthen our ability to meet the needs of developers in today’s hybrid and multicloud world,” writes Ranga Rangachari, the VP and general manager for storage and hyperconverged infrastructure at Red Hat, in today’s announcement. “We are thrilled to welcome a technical team of nine to the Red Hat family as we work together to further solidify Red Hat as a leading provider of open hybrid cloud technologies.”

While virtually all of Red Hat’s technology is open source, NooBaa’s code is not. The company says that it plans to open source NooBaa’s technology in due time, though the exact timeline has yet to be determined.

NooBaa was founded in 2013. The company has raised some venture funding from the likes of Jerusalem Venture Partners and OurCrowd, with a strategic investment from Akamai Capital thrown in for good measure. The company never disclosed the size of that round, though, and neither Red Hat nor NooBaa are disclosing the financial terms of the acquisition.

AWS launches Arm-based servers for EC2

At its re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, AWS today announced the launch of Arm-based servers for its EC2 cloud computing service. These aren’t run-of-the-mill Arm chips, though. AWS took the standard Arm cores and then customized them to fit its needs.The company says that its so-called AWS Graviton Processors have been optimized for performance and cost, with a focus on scale-out workloads that can be spread across a number of smaller instances (think containerized microservices, web servers, caching fleets, etc.).

The first set of instances, called A1, is now available in a number of AWS regions in the U.S. and Europe. They support all of AWS’s standard instance pricing models, including on-demand, reserved instance, spot instance, dedicated instance and dedicated host.

For now, you can only use Amazon Linux 2, RHEL and Ubuntu as operating systems for these machines, but AWS promises that additional operating system support will launch in the future.

Because these are ARM servers, you’ll obviously have to recompile any native code for them before you can run your applications on them. Virtually any application that is written in a scripting language, though, will probably run without any modifications.

Prices for these instances start at $0.0255/hour for an a1.medium machine with 1 CPU and 2 GiB of RAM and go up to $0.4080/hour for machines with 16 CPUs and 32 GiB of RAM. That’s maybe not as cheap as you would’ve expected given that an X86-based t3.nano server starts at $0.0052/hour, but you can always save quite a bit by using spot instances, of course. Until we see some benchmarks, though, it’s hard to compare these different machine types anyway.

As Amazon’s Jeff Barr notes in today’s announcement, the company’s move to its so-called Nitro System now allows it to launch new instance types at a faster clip. Nitro essentially provides the building blocks for creating new instance types that the team can then mix and match as needed.

It’s worth noting that AWS also launched support for AMD EPYC processors earlier this month.

more AWS re:Invent 2018 coverage

Mailchimp teams up with Square to launch shoppable landing pages

Mailchimp, the popular email newsletter service and marketing platform, today announced a partnership with Square that will allow its users to create landing pages with built-in e-commerce features. These shoppable landing pages are meant to give businesses a new sales channel to sell things like limited-edition goods or run-targeted promotions.

Mailchimp’s landing pages have been around for a few years now. Until now, though, they were mostly meant to capture additional email addresses or link people to a store. Now, with this new partnership, customers will be able to build a full shopping flow with built-in payments right into these pages.

To make this easier, Mailchimp is offering a number of pre-designed templates and a drag-and-drop builder. Square will handle all the payments and Mailchimp will offer this service for a flat processing rate.

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Right now, this only works for a single product per landing page, though. That means there’s no shopping cart functionality, but also makes for an easy setup. That’s why the company is currently marketing this as a feature for limited-edition items, for example. Over time, though, the company plans to add additional functionality to these pages.

Mailchimp tells me that 50 percent of its revenue now comes from e-commerce. In total, its customers sold over $22 billion worth of products in the first half of 2018 alone.

It’s worth noting that Mailchimp went through a rebranding exercise earlier this year that was explicitly meant to highlight its feature set outside of its core email services. Today’s new shoppable landing pages are a good example for the kind of new features the company was surely thinking about when it went through this process.