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Internet connectivity projects unite as Alphabet spinout Loon grabs $125M from SoftBank’s HAPSMobile – TechCrunch

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Two futuristic projects are coming together to help increase global internet access after Loon, the Google spinout that uses a collection of floating balloons to bring connectivity to remote areas, announced it has raised money from a SoftBank initiative.

HAPSMobile, a SoftBank project that is also focused on increasing global connectivity, is investing $125 million into Loon, according to an announcement from SoftBank made this morning. The agreement includes an option for Loon to make a reciprocal $125 million investment in HAPSMobile and it includes co-operation plans, details of which are below.

HAPSMobile is a one-year-old joint venture between SoftBank and U.S. company AeroVironment . The company has developed a solar-powered drone that’s designed to deliver 5G connectivity in the same way Facebook has tried in the past. The social network canceled its Aquila drone last year, although it is reported to have teamed up with Airbus for new trials in Australia.

Where Facebook has stumbled, HAPSMobile has made promising progress. The company said that its HAWK 30 drone — pictured below in an impression — has completed its initial development and the first trials are reportedly set to begin this year.

Loon, meanwhile, was one of the first projects to go after the idea of air-based connectivity with a launch in 2013. The business was spun out of X, the ‘moonshot’ division of Alphabet, last year and, though it is still a work in progress, it has certainly developed from an initial crazy idea conceived within Google.

Loon played a role in connecting those affected by flooding in Peru in 2017 and it assisted those devastated by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year. Loon claims its balloons have flown more than 30 million kms and provided internet access for “hundreds of thousands” of people across the world.

In addition to the capital investment, the two companies have announced a set of initiatives that will help them leverage their collective work and technology.

For starters, they say they will make their crafts/balloons open to use for the other — so HAPSMobile can tap Loon balloons for connectivity and vice-versa — while, connected to that, they will jointly develop a communication payload across both services. They also plan to develop a common ground station that could work with each side’s tech and develop shared connectivity that their airborne hardware can tap.

Loon has already developed fleet management technology because of the nature of its service, which is delivered by a collection of balloons, and that will be optimized for HAPSMobile.

The premise of HAPSMobile is very much like Loon

Outside of tech, the duo said they will create an alliance “to promote the use of high altitude communications solution with regulators and officials worldwide.”

The investment is another signal that shows SoftBank’s appetite in tech investing is not limited to up-and-coming startups via its Vision Fund, more established ventures are indeed also in play. Just yesterday, the Vision Fund announced plans to invest $1 billion in German payment firm Wirecard and its past investments include ARM and Nvidia, although SoftBank has sold its stake in the latter.

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Android may soon get new emojis without waiting for an OS update

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It seemed for a time that emojis would be the new hieroglyphics that our descendants would scratch their heads at thousands of years into the future. These pictorial representations of emotions, peoples, and objects are lightweight, compared to GIFs and stickers, and are more common across platforms and devices thanks to the Unicode standard that gets updated and enlarged regularly. Unfortunately, smartphone platforms like Android aren’t always able to catch up with these changes but Google might be paving the way for updating emojis outside of major Android OTA updates.

It might shock some people but emojis are actually part of the Unicode standard, the specification that pretty much determines the symbols that will be universally accepted across computers. Yes, emojis are pretty much extensions of the same letters that make up the world’s languages and are, therefore, handled and displayed by each operating system’s fonts.

Fonts on Android, unfortunately, aren’t as flexible as their desktop counterparts. They reside in a read-only part of the OS that can only be changed by a firmware update, which also requires a reboot. Google usually waits for major Android updates to include new emojis, which means Android users are often late to the party.

XDA reports that there are some changes to Android’s source code that hints Google might be moving fonts to another location. Specifically, fonts, and therefore emojis, might soon reside in the /data partition of the device that can be written to by a system_server process. In other words, it might be possible in the future to have new emojis come simply via a Google Play Store update.

The site does note that the change is still in its early stages and may not even make it to the next Android release. This change won’t just affect emojis, of course, but will also benefit Android’s entire font system in general.

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Google Fit Wear OS update comes just in time for the holidays

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The holiday season is upon us, a season that is usually associated with rest, relaxation, and, more often than not, stuffing ourselves beyond capacity. While self-care is definitely important, part of that involves also taking care of physical fitness. Knowing that many health-conscious people will be fussing and fretting over their calories over the next few weeks, Google has started rolling out an update to Google Fit for Wear OS smartwatches that will make keeping track of your workouts actually take less work.

There is really only so much you can do and see on a tiny smartwatch screen and the challenge has always been to cram as much information as possible without overdoing it. The latest Google Fit on Wear OS update does exactly that, providing information you can quickly digest at a glance while keeping additional data just a swipe away.

Workout metrics like distance covered, calories burned, and heart rate are, for example, accessible on just two screens. But since most people like to listen to music, podcasts, or audiobooks during workouts, media controls are also just a swipe away for quick and easy access without breaking a sweat, figuratively, of course.

Keeping track of workouts isn’t always just a matter of looking at your stats but also about defining and reaching goals. You can now do that from your wrist and even celebrated when you do achieve that milestone. Google Fit will also remind you to take a literal breather to make sure you aren’t always running on adrenaline throughout the day.

To make sure you don’t get interrupted when you accidentally tap your smartwatch and end your session, you can now also enable Touch Lock directly from your workout screen. You can still press hardware buttons, hopefully not accidentally. Google notes that for this particular feature, the smartwatch must also be running on the latest Wear OS H MR2 version as well.

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Huawei EMUI 11 update schedule gives a tiny bit of hope

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Huawei has really been hit hard this year, and not just because of the novel coronavirus. Sanctions and restrictions from the US may cause it to fold, raising concerns about its capability to continue supporting existing customers and products. As if trying to assuage those fears, Huawei has just published a massive and ambitious roadmap for updating its existing phones to its latest EMUI 11 across the world. But while it is generally good news, the fine print still leads to some rather disappointing points in Huawei’s mobile business.

Huawei’s advertised roadmap for EMUI 11 updates is a rather long list that covers a wide range of smartphone models across the world, except the US of course. Huawei is promising that it will able completed by the first quarter of 2021, which is why it’s a rather ambitious promise considering the company failed to finish its EMUI 10.1 rollout to those markets. Unfortunately, that long list also belies the number of smartphones that aren’t actually included in its update plans.

The Huawei Mate 30 and P40 series are, unsurprisingly, the first to receive the update, which Huawei says should start next month. Suspiciously absent, however, are the Lite versions of these models, which leaves them in inconsistent EMUI versions. The list also doesn’t include any of the company’s P smart and Y series phones, suggesting that Huawei has probably forgotten about its mid-range products.

The other caveat is that, despite the name, EMUI 11 is actually based on last year’s Android 10 only. Huawei has yet to actually make the jump to Android 11 if it could at all. Given it is reported operating under “survival mode”, giving its users the latest Android version is probably the least of its worries.

This EMUI 11 Update Plan is clearly Huawei’s way of showing that it is business as usual. Sadly, it’s not exactly the reassuring message that its customers may have wanted to hear. Still, given everything that’s happening to the company, owners of recent P and Mate series phones will still have to look forward to, presuming the company does deliver on time in the next four months.

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