Google introduces Android Pay, a replacement for its Wallet app on mobile

Another year, another attempt by Google to get mobile payments right. Today, at its I/O developer conference, the company unveiled a new app, called Android Pay, that will take the place of Google Wallet on your phone.

Android Pay will power in-app and tap-to-pay purchases on mobile devices. Google Wallet will stick around, but it will power Play Store purchases outside Android, say on the web, and facilitate peer-to-peer payments you can make through the app and on services like Gmail. Confused? Let the new branding wash over you, and stop worrying so much.


The history of Google’s work on mobile payments has always embodied this frustrating mix of promising ambition and confusingly fraught execution. Android smartphones had near field communication (NFC) and card emulation years before the competition. But relationships with the carriers and manufacturers that distribute Android devices kept Google Wallet from realizing its full potential. Google also had a tough time getting major banks and credit cards to participate. That allowed Apple to swoop in late and capture a great deal of momentum in the market, with CEO Tim Cook claiming that it is now larger than all its major competitors combined.

Google is hopeful that this will change now that Softcard is dead. The carrier-backed payment effort folded earlier this year, with Google purchasing some of its technology. At the time, Softcard advised all its users to download Google Wallet as a replacement. Those carriers will now simply preinstall Android Pay instead. It remains to be seen if swapping the word “wallet” for “pay” will give Android users the awareness and confidence they need to actually start shopping with their phones in the wild. Google is planning to make merchant’s reward programs work with Android Pay, a move it hopes will boost engagement.

It’s also likely that the tension between Google, the company, and Android, the open-source operating system, will continue. For example Samsung, the largest maker of Android devices, is building its own version of payments. What happens when I buy the latest Samsung Galaxy from one of the old Softcard carriers? Chances are the Android Pay app might not get top billing, even if it becomes the platform of choice for developers, powering in-app purchases and tap-to-pay in the background .

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Google has over a billion users of Android, Chrome, YouTube, and search

Google is kicking off I/O 2015, its big developer showcase for this year, with one very round and large number: a billion users. The Mountain View company now has over a billion users each for its core services of search, Chrome, Android, and YouTube. Gmail is only a hair’s breadth away, with a total of 900 million active users each month. Sundar Pichai opened the keynote presentation with these numbers and observed that everything Google has ever done has been with the goal of the widest possible accessibility. “Each of these products work,” he says, “at scale for everyone in the world.” Well, they work for the first billion people in the world, at least.


Developing. Check out our Google I/O Live Blog for the latest updates and our Google hub for all the news!

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Google announces Android M, available later this year

Google has just made the next version of Android official. During the keynote address of its annual developer conference, Google unveiled that Android M will succeed Android Lollipop this year. Google says that Android M, which is debuting as a prerelease version today with a full release later this year, brings a host of new features and performance enhancements. But at the same time, Google’s Sundar Pichai says the company has “gone back to the basics” and improved quality of the platform. Google isn’t saying what the version number or name of M will be just yet, but it is showing of a lot of what will be part of the update.

Dave Burke, vice president of engineering at Google, says that the company has been watching what device makers have been adding to Android and is folding a lot of those ideas into the core system. There are six new areas that Google has focused on with M, ranging from new features to improved performance and efficiency.

One of the big parts of Android M is a revamped apps permissions system. Users will be able to approve or deny security permissions, such as camera or location access, on a case by case basis. There are only eight categories of permissions available to apps now, and the apps will ask for them as they need them. That’s different from how Android current works, which asks users to approve all permissions at once when the app is installed. It’s also very similar to how Apple has handle app permissions in iOS for years. Apps will not have to ask for permissions with every update, either.

For Android M, Google is also revamping the web browsing experience with its Chrome browser. A new feature called “Chrome Custom Tabs” lets developers insert webviews directly in their apps, giving them the full power of Chrome without having to force the user to switch apps. Chrome features like automatic sign-in, saved passwords, autofill, and multi-process security are all now available to app developers within their apps.

Developing. Check out our Google I/O Live Blog for the latest updates and our Google hub for all the news!

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Google’s ambitious Inbox app is now available to everyone

After eight months as an invitation-only app, Google’s Inbox is now available to everyone — and it’s getting some new features to mark the occasion. The email app was first released in October last year as Google’s attempt to reinvent its email offering. Available on iOS, Android, and in the Chrome desktop browser, Inbox has a number of useful tricks up its sleeve, including the ability to snooze messages; a feature that automatically bundles emails together in groups like Purchases and Travel; and a Google Now-style card system that scoops important details out of your emails to save you from hunting through your inbox for information like flight times.

Inbox lets you undo sent messages for the first time on mobile

As part of the update for the app released today, Gmail users can now undo sent messages from their phone, with Inbox allowing them to take back a message “right after sending” if they spot a mistake. Google is also adding the option to make deleting the default action when swiping emails, and is integrating its to-do list app Keep a little more tightly. Reminders created in Keep will now appear in Inbox, and the app will suggest adding Reminders for any to-dos received by email. Google is also partnering with HotelTonight, Eat24, and Pinterest to let users do more without leaving the app, making reservations, food orders, and pins accessible directly within Inbox.

Google’s senior vice president, Sundar Pichai, announced these updates at Google I/O this morning, adding that the company now has more than 900 million active monthly Gmail users, with 75 percent of these using Google’s Gmail mobile app. While updates like today’s show that Google’s ambitions for Inbox go way beyond just email, the company has a long way to go before it even begins to match the popularity of Gmail.

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It’s Official: Austria Repatriates Gold, Confirms Loss Of Faith In Bank Of England

One week ago, the world was not exactly shocked to learn that after Germany and the Netherlands, one more country had unofficially joined the ranks of nations who have seen this all before and know how it ends, when reports emerged that Austria would repatriate 140 tons of gold from the Bank of England (appropriately immortalized in “this is what happens when you hand your gold over to The Bank of England for “safekeeping“.) As of today, it is official.

Earlier today the Austrian Central Bank confirmed the Kronen-Zeitung report, and said that by the year 2020, it would hold 50%, or 140 tons, of its gold domestically, up from 17% currently. This means that Austria will withdraw some 140 tons of gold from the BOE which holds 80% of Austria’s gold currently (and will soon hold only 30%) and send 92.4 tons back home to Vienna with another 47.6 tons being sent to Switzerland.

Which is also the biggest news: Austria is explicitly demonstrating a lack of confidence in the “pro-western” system of which the Bank of England is a critical cog, and instead opting for “neutral” Switzerland, which will hold nearly 50 tons of the gold formerly located at the Bank of England.

Why?

As AFP notes, the central bank said it took the decision after recommendations made by the Austrian Court of Audit in February, which warned of a “heightened concentration risk” linked to storing the majority of its reserves in Britain. At the time, the bank had argued the policy was warranted because London was a major international centre for the gold trade.”

Well, London still is a major international center, but in the past three months the bank surprisingly changed its mind after reviewing the court’s advice to diversify storage locations.

Vienna confirmed it would begin to gradually repatriate 92.4 tonnes this summer. A further 47.6 tonnes will be transferred from Britain to Switzerland.

From the Austrian Central Bank:

In May 2015, the gold reserves held by the OeNB amounted to 280 tons, having remained unchanged since 2007. Austria’s gold reserves are fully owned by the OeNB, which maintains and manages them with utmost care. In line with the OeNB’s current gold storage policy, 17 % of its gold holdings are at present kept in Austria, 80 % in the United Kingdom and 3 % in Switzerland.

Recently, the Governing Board of the OeNB adopted the 2020 gold storage policy following a regular in-house gold strategy and storage policy review, while also considering the recommendations made by the Austrian Court of Audit. The cornerstones of this policy are as follows:

  • By the year 2020, 50% of Austria’s gold reserves are to be held in Austria (OeNB and Münze Österreich AG), 30% in London and 20% in Switzerland.
  • Starting from mid-2015, the new storage policy will be gradually implemented in keeping with security and logistical requirements.
  • A comprehensive review and, if need be, adaptation of the storage policy is scheduled for 2019.
  • The OeNB will regularly report on the progress in its upcoming annual reports.

* * *

Good luck Austria with that repatriation and be sure to triple check that gold. After all you don’t want to be like Deutsche Bank which in 1968 got the short end of the stick following some questionable collusion between the BOE and the Fed as we reported in “Bank Of England To The Fed: “No Indication Should, Of Course, Be Given To The Bundesbank…””

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Wild salmon may not be as wild as you think

Alaska uses hatcheries to boost their stocks — but there may be risks

When it comes to sustainable seafood, Alaska’s wild salmon is unquestionably one of the best choices out there for conscientious eaters. But questions are mounting over just what counts as wild.

Today, a third of all salmon harvested in the state of Alaska — a whopping 58 million of them — are what are known in the industry as “hatch and catch.” Fully-wild salmon start life in a cool, gurgling stream, in a depression its mother formed by her wriggling. Instead, these salmon begin life in one of the state’s 31 hatchery facilities, where they’re bred from captured local broodstock, hatched, fed, and raised for two to three months (some as long as a year) before being released into the wild.

A third of all salmon harvested in the state of Alaska are “hatch and catch”

But there’s growing concern among scientists and environmentalists over the Alaska’s enhancement program for wild salmon. Worries over straying hatchery salmon, competition for food at sea, overharvesting of wild salmon in mixed stocks, and genetic fitness of hatchery-bred fish are gaining attention, prompting the state’s regulators to take a closer look at practices that have been in place for over 40 years.

Although most consumers of wild salmon aren’t aware of the state’s use of hatchery fish to supplement stocks, it isn’t a secret. Alaska’s hatchery program stretches back to the early 1970s and, from the beginning, was carefully planned. Hatcheries were intentionally placed away from large natural production areas, in spots where returning fish could be harvested separately from wild stocks. Each year, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game provide lawmakers and the public with updated reports detailing things like number of egg takes, releases, and adult returns, while wild stock numbers are continuously monitored.

Alaska is the largest producer of hatchery salmon in north America

Today, Alaska is the largest producer of hatchery salmon in North America, releasing about 1.6 billion juvenile salmon into the wild each year; it’s second only in the world to Japan, which releases approximately 2 billion fish a year. According to the 2014 Alaska Salmon Fisheries Enhancement Program report, in some parts of the state, hatchery fish make up the majority of the catch. In Prince William Sound, for example, 45 million salmon returned from hatchery releases, including 93 percent of the commercial catch of pink salmon, and 68 percent of the chum. In Southeast Alaska, 85 percent of the commercial chum catch started life in a hatchery, as did 27 percent of the commercial coho catch. And now, new studies are raising concerns that these millions of hatchery-raised salmon may in fact be harming wild salmon and other species, including young seabirds, after all.

We now know not all hatchery fish return to the exact streams where their lives began. Salmon sometimes stray. As far back as 1991, after the Exxon Valdez spill, hatchery fish were discovered in streams where they didn’t belong.

sockeye cluster

A mob of spawning salmon in Bristol Bay. (USEPA)

“That was the first we saw them straying into other streams,” said Jeff Regnart, director of the Division of Commercial Fisheries for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at a conference in February. “Later, we found that was continuing for pink and chum salmon, and that has given us pause. We want to understand if it’s going to have a fitness impact on wild populations. Our job is to protect wild salmon.”

What makes Alaska’s hatchery enhancement program different than those in Japan or Russia is the state is not using hatchery-bred fish to restore natural stocks lost to development or overfishing.

Greg Ruggerone, a salmon scientist with Natural Resources Consultants, a company specializing in fish ecology and fisheries management, says he is most worried about interbreeding of wild and hatchery fish.

“The biggest issue and the one that’s raised the greatest concern over the decades has been genetic issues — interbreeding of hatchery and wild salmon in spawning grounds,” says Ruggerone. “When hatchery fish interbreed with wild fish, it confounds our interpretation of the wild stock, making it hard to evaluate.”

“Our job is to protect wild salmon.”

But Ron Josephson, the section chief of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, says they are diligently monitoring areas with mixed stocks.

“If [scientists] find out hatcheries are impacting wild stocks, we’ll have to decide what action to take. These are decisions down the road. It depends on the magnitude of the effect. It’s hard to imagine it’s too large, or we would have seen it in areas like Prince William Sound or Southeast Alaska,” he says.

The state is in the third year of a 12-year Hatchery Wild Interaction Study looking at genetic and ecological interactions between hatchery and wild salmon and any impacts that may have on wild stocks.

“We’re now able to do family tracking through genetics,” says Sam Rabung, who is the PNP Hatchery Program Coordinator.

Today, scientists are able to identify the progeny from two salmon that spawned in a natural system. Or identify hatchery fish that spawned in the wild with another hatchery fish, or if it bred with a fully-wild salmon. And, they can identify their offspring, and whether or not those salmon came back to their spawning grounds at the same rate. “It’s remarkable,” says Rabung.

The numbers are massive — 58 million returning hatchery fish last year alone — which explains why straying of hatchery fish into wild populations and spawning grounds is a growing concern.

“If 1 percent of fish naturally stray, and 93 percent are hatchery salmon, that’s a big impact on the natural population in terms of sheer numbers,” says Randy Ericksen, the fisheries science director at Ocean Outcomes, a not-for-profit that studies global fisheries.

Straying isn’t the only the only worry. Generations of returning hatchery salmon could change the timing of natural salmon runs, warns Ericksen. And nuances in salmon, even within the same species, aren’t always controllable in hatchery breeding programs.

“There are differences even in fish that return to the same river,” says Ericksen. “Some sockeye, for example, specialize in spawning in rivers, others in tributaries, and others on beaches. You can look at them, and they can even be physically different, but they’re all sockeye.”

Hatchery enhancement is very much on the radar of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, which provides sustainable seafood recommendations to consumers. Wild Alaskan salmon (including hatchery fish) still merit a “best choice,” but the group is in the midst of updating its salmon standards.

“The concerns we’ve been looking at are mainly interactions between hatchery fish and wild fish,” says Sam Wilding, a senior fisheries scientist at Seafood Watch. “Over the last five years, there’s been more science looking at impacts. But what we don’t want to do is to put something in our criteria that says this is a concern, but we have no way to measure it. You have to be able to measure. Hopefully that will incentivize greater research.”

The use of hatcheries to enhance stocks has been a point of contention between the salmon industry and the Marine Stewardship Council, the world’s largest wild seafood certification program. MSC’s greater scrutiny of hatchery salmon are now being addressed in new standards went into effect April 1st, and for the first time, spell out how salmon enhancement activity will be measured.

“Our natural system is finite.”

“The requirement is that enhancement does not negatively impact wild stocks,” says Megan Atcheson, an assessment manager at MSC.

While Alaska takes a closer look at its hatchery program, don’t expect enhancement practices to go away anytime soon. Hatchery salmon provide additional harvestable fish and important economic benefits to the state.

“Our natural system is finite. The only way to produce more harvestable fish is through our hatchery program,” says Rabung.

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