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Google Makes Beta Testing Android Apps Easier And More Open

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 4:00pm

Google knows a friction-free app testing and submission process can help developers keep decent apps flowing, so it just rolled out a series of improvements to the beta testing process for Google Play apps. 

Overall, the changes are designed to help developers manage pre-release beta tests easily, so they can "iterate faster" to develop or improve features. 

See also: Google's Offering Smarter Tools For Smarter Apps And Homes

Consider it part of Google's recent developer outreach, which also gives app makers more finetuned ways to promote their apps once the testing is over. 

Test Away

In the past, beta tests were closed and ran through a Google+ community or Google Group. Now users don't have to be part of the company's social channels to become testers. 

The new open beta program option lets developers send links, so any user can join a beta test with a single click. That allows the group of users to go from small to large easily, though developers can set a maximize cap, if they want to control the test size. 

The old way of running closed beta tests will still be available, Google says. If they want, developers will even be able to start with the old process and move over to the more open version with the same list of testers. 

See also: Google’s ARC Welder Gives You A Glimpse Of An Android-Anywhere Future

There's also another option for closed tests: You can run a closed beta test using a private list of email addresses, instead of a Google community or group. Set a master list, and your participants will get a one-click link sent to their inboxes. 

Google has provided some examples of how developers might want to test their apps. Vector Unit's Matt Small, for example, suggests using a closed beta to iron out any glaring issues and then switching to an open beta.

The company posted a full walkthrough of the process in the Developer Console's help pages. Beta testers can't leave reviews and ratings in the Google Play Store, so your app's reputation won't take a hit due to any bugs (not until the official public release, anyway). 

Finished Your Beta? Here's A New Way To Promote It

Changes to the beta program are not the only new Google offering this week. A new Search Ads format for Google Play is now available to everyone. The service, which began testing in February, allows developers and advertisers to promote apps based on what users search in the store. 

According to the company's official statement, "Search Ads on Google Play can provide consumers new ways to discover apps that they otherwise might have missed and help developers drive more awareness of their apps." Promoted apps appear with a small yellow Ad sticker in search results. 

The new feature works a lot like ads on Google itself: Apps can be promoted in relation to certain keywords, so a booking app can appear at the top of a search for "hotel reservations," for instance.

In the coming weeks Google will roll out a new Universal App Campaigns platform that lets developers and marketers manage app promotion across Web search, YouTube, app store search and Google's other properties. "Simply let us know what your ad will say, who you want to reach, your budget and target cost-per-install, and we’ll do the rest," the company wrote.

The benefits for Google are obvious: Better testing and search infrastructure means happier developers. Even Apple seems to have gotten that memo, having surprised app builders with recently expanded TestFlight limits. But, by contrast, the iOS beta testing process is still much more controlled and restrictive—which is, in fact, everything you might expect from Apple. 

Image courtesy of Google

Categories: Technology

After Gender Ratio Stalls, Pinterest Cofounder Promises To Do Better

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 1:14pm

Pinterest, the fast-growing, highly valued Visual Web startup, is far ahead of the Silicon Valley pack when it comes to gender diversity. But it's vowing to do far better on both gender and racial diversity, cofounder Evan Sharp promised in a blog post on Thursday.

Startlingly, despite Pinterest's efforts to improve its numbers, its industry-leading ratio of women tech employees stayed steady at 21 percent from 2014 to 2015.

See also: Why Pinterest's Workforce Is The Future Of Tech

That's nearly twice the ratios other large tech companies have reported. But Pinterest, spurred by engineer Tracy Chou, has made far more substantive efforts. If it's struggling, it shows just how hard the problem is to crack.

"Tech" includes product management, engineering, and design. Pinterest separately broke out its engineering diversity figures this year: 19 percent of its engineers are women. Overall, Pinterest improved its workforce gender ratio from 40 percent female to 42 percent.

Pinterest has been doing well with recruiting women into engineering internships and into entry-level engineering jobs for new college graduates, but that hasn't been enough to move its overall numbers.

So, Sharp says the company's going to make at least 30 percent of its full-time engineering hires women in 2016. The company's also going to increase its hiring for people of Hispanic and African-American backgrounds in both engineering and non-engineering roles. 

It's a maxim in business that you can't manage what you don't measure. Pinterest will likely face some criticism that it's setting quotas. But one person's quota is another person's target. 

Pinterest is betting that a diverse workforce isn't just the right thing to do—it's good for its business, as it seeks to have employees who can relate to its fast-growing base of users and represent their experiences.

Here's Pinterest's current workforce breakdown:

Pinterest's 2015 workforce demographics

Images courtesy of Pinterest

Categories: Technology

How Amazon's Drone Superhighway Would Work

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 12:13pm

How do we make personal and commercial drones safe? Some of the biggest names in technology put their heads together at a NASA convention in California to address that issue, and Amazon is the first to step up with a detailed proposal. Its idea: build a drone highway in the air. 

Action of some sort is most definitely needed. Drones flown by the public have been getting too close to airports, interfering with firefighting operations, and even crashing into national landmarks. 

See also: Facebook's First Drone Is Broader Than A 737

Amazon's plan involves two different paths for traffic—an expressway for long-haul travel and a separate, slower "local" lane for shorter trips. Fundamentally, the approach could clear some of the biggest hurdles for drone safety, and if it's adopted, it would offer some clear guidelines for anyone interested in developing or using this technology. 

Express Or Local?

Amazon—which has been exploring drone use for product deliveries—has a deep and obvious interest in making sure the airborne technology flies. Before it can unleash a fleet of compact air couriers, it wants to make sure safety concerns must be the first priority. 

The e-commerce giant's two-lane plan envisions the slower route occupying the air below 200 feet, with faster long-distance drones traveling along a band of sky between 200 and 400 feet. It also recommends a no-fly zone between 400 and 500 feet. 

Federal Aviation Administration has already banned drone flight for airspace higher than that, at least for hobbyists, so the dead zone would offer some padding between the traffic lanes and that prohibited airspace. 

See also: Amazon's FAA Exemption Doesn't Make Prime Air Any More Real

The proposal hinges on the devices communicating with each other, so that every Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in the sky will know where others are. That sort of networking could lead to a centralized air traffic control system for drones. If a flying gadget can't connect to others, it will be required to remain below 200 feet. 

With potentially thousands of small drones may take flight in the next few years, Amazon also wants new and existing hardware makers to consider safety during product development. 

If they integrate software and components that can detect nearby obstacles on their own, drones would be able to identify dangers, such as a flock of seagulls, as well as other aircraft. The overarching control network could then provide more logistical assistance for incoming drones farther afield. 

"It's completely doable," Prime Air's Gur Kimchi told Bloomberg News. "We can only be safe and efficient if everybody else is safe and efficient." 

Letting Safety Take Flight

The devices have become nuisances for some public locations, so the FAA also requires consumer drone pilots to fly them within sight and avoid airports, people and stadiums. Other sites, like national parks, independently banned them as well.

Amazon's plan may not prompt anyone to relax those rules. But it might mitigate the annoyance enough to prevent tougher crackdowns on them—at least when it comes to safety. (Privacy is another matter.) 

This and other proposals are being considered as part of NASA's nascent Unmanned Aerial System Traffic Management system, which includes Google and Verizon as partners. 

See also: Google Starts Over In Its Drone War With Amazon

"We think the airspace side of this picture is really not a place where any one entity or any one organization can think of taking charge," said Google's Dave Vos, who confirmed his company's commitment to an open and shared method of drone control last week.  "The idea really is anyone should be free to build a solution." 

Like Amazon, Google is also interested in drone technology for deliveries. Vos heads up Project Wing, a Google X experimental program that's exploring how drones can be used for deliveries—just like Prime Air. 

Eventually, those machines could be used to transport anything from an Amazon package to a life-saving supply of medicine to the remotest parts of Earth, unhindered by traffic jams or infrastructure problems. But they can't deliver on that promise—or anything else—until tech makers ensure they can fly safely first

Lead photo from The Fifth Element, courtesy of Columbia Pictures; Amazon Prime Air photo courtesy of Amazon; drone photos by Don McCullough and Jon Mills

Categories: Technology