Nope, Android isn’t getting a system-wide dark mode (at least not yet)

According to a number of reports today, the next version of Android would include a “dark mode” — something that’s been a long-time feature request from those who prefer the dark-themed and power-saving option that’s already available in apps like YouTube and Twitter. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

News that Android was getting its own dark mode emerged from a post by a Google engineer on the company’s Issue Tracker forums, which was then spotted by a Reddit user. (Android PoliceThe Next Web and others noted this, too.)

The Google engineer had responded on the thread where a user had requested dark mode, saying that “our engineering team has added this feature,” and that “it will be available in a future Android release.”

As you can imagine, this got people pretty excited.

Dark mode has become an increasingly popular theme in a variety of third-party apps, and users have since been clamoring for a way to easily toggle on a dark mode across their operating system entirely. (Some Android devices had supported an automatically applied light and dark theme, based on your wallpaper, but users still want a manual, system-wide setting.)

While that could still be in the works, we suppose, the Google engineer’s comments did not mean to refer to a universal Android dark mode, as it turns out.

Instead, from what we heard and since confirmed, what the engineer was referring to was improved support for dark mode as a feature for developers to implement in their own Android applications. That is, if an app developer wants to build in a dark mode, Google is making that an easier process for them in a future release of Android.

The engineer has also since clarified his remarks, too.

In a new post he writes:

…What we *have* added in a future Android release is a developer-facing setting (via Developer Options) to toggle the -night UI mode qualifier, which will make it easier for developers to create and test apps that implement night mode. This qualifier has been in the platform since Froyo (SDK 8) and globally modifiable via UiModeManager since Marshmallow (SDK 23); however, there was never an explicit toggle made available anywhere in Settings.

If it’s any consolation, we will also not be adding Hot Dog Mode (where all UI elements are yellow and red).

What, no hot dog mode? At least he’s got a sense of humor about the whole thing.

Image credit, top: 9to5Google

Instagram won’t comment on rumored video calling feature

Instagram copied the ‘Snap’ and now it might be going after the ‘chat’. A video calling feature was spotted in an non-public version of Instagram by WhatsApp industry blog WABetaInfo. It would let users who’ve begun an Instagram Direct message thread to video chat with each other. That could let users spend even more time in the app, but by actively communicating, rather that passively browsing which Facebook has come to admit isn’t good for people’s well-being.

For now, though, Instagram it’s refusing to comment. When asked about the feature, a spokesperson told TechCrunch “We don’t comment on rumors and speculation”. That’s different than it’s more affirmative boilerplate statement given when it does confirm tests of forthcoming features, “we’re always testing new experiences for the Instagram community.” That’s what the company told us earlier this month when we reported Instagram’s partnership with Giphy for Stories GIFs…which launched a week later. This video calling feature might never launch.

But Instagram already lets people call in via video to each other’s Live Stories like they’re on a TV talk show, and send short ephemeral video clips over Direct. Instagram recently launched a standalone Direct messaging app. And video calling has become one of the most popular features of Instagram parent Facebook’s Messenger app — with 17 billion video chats occurring in 2017, up 2X from 2016.

So given that Instagram has the capability, interest, and infrastructure to add video calling, why wouldn’t it? WABetaInfo spotted the video call button in the top right of the chat screen, with it only available when messaging with people who’ve already accepted your Direct request.

Leaked usage data from The Daily Beast’s Taylor Lorenz outed how Snapchat Stories sharing has stopped growing, in part because of competition from Instagram Stories, but users are still addicted to Snapchat’s chat feature. Snapchat offers audio and video calling as well as photo, audio clip, video clip, and text messaging, effectively making it an alternative to one’s phone itself.

Messaging is the center of the mobile experience, generating the most device opens and time spent. As Facebook tries to shift the behaviors it instills from harmful, zombie-like scrolling to real interpersonal interaction, doubling down on messaging is a clear path. And Facebook’s apps are always hungry for younger users who might not have phone numbers or bountiful mobile plans, and therefore might especially benefit from this new feature.

Now we’ll have to wait and see whether soon you’ll be calling friends on the Insta-phone. Or is it the Phonogram?

Annual smartphone shipments in China declined for the first time in 2017

China’s smartphone market is no longer growing after it witnessed its first annual decline in shipments during 2017, according to new figures released today.

The writing was on the wall with a market decline first noted in Q2 but this is the first time a drop has been sustained over a twelve-month period. That’s according to data from analyst firm Canalys which reported that total smartphone shipments dipped four percent year-on-year to reach 459 million units in 2017. In particular, the numbers in Q4 were down 14 percent on one year previous with 113 million units shipped.

Despite evidence of buyer saturation, Huawei continued its impressive growth spurt with 24 million shipments in the final quarter of 2017, growing its numbers nine percent above the market.

Sister companies Oppo and Vivo have exploded on to the global stage with strong sales in emerging markets in Asia, but, in China, their numbers fell 16 percent and 7 percent, respectively, with 19 million and 17 million shipments, according to Canalys.

Finally, the launch of the iPhone X and iPhone 8 helped Apple pip Xiaomi to fourth place with 13 million shipments in Q4 2017.

Slowing growth at home has prompted Chinese phone brands to look overseas, with many turning to India where they have long beaten out the local competition and nascent markets like Indonesia, which could grow significantly.

Xiaomi, in particular, which beat Samsung to the top spot in India in Q4, has also made moves into Spain, Mexico, Russia and parts of Africa, too.

The U.S. has proven a tougher market to crack. Xiaomi has sold accessories there for some time, but it is yet to make the leap of smartphones despite many public declarations of intent.

Those that have been more aggressive have met tough pushback. AT&T, the second-largest U.S. carrier, canceled plans to carry the Huawei Mate 10 Pro following reports of pressure from the government. There are also rumors that Verizon is facing pressure over its plan to stock the device, which has already seen its launch pushed back from an original summer timeline.

Huawei instead plans to sell the Mate 10 Pro unlocked and it recruited Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot to front its campaign as its “Chief Experience Officer.” But carrier deals remain a key way to reach users without an upfront price that can near the quadruple digits. Huawei has distribution with key retailers like Best Buy and Amazon, but the company ultimately won’t penetrate the market the way it hopes without that extra push.

Featured Image: Russell Monk/Getty Images

Facebook adds support for live streaming and video chats to Messenger games

Last November, Facebook launched Instant Games, a new platform for gaming with friends inside the Messenger chat app. Today, the company is announcing a couple of notable new features for this gaming platform, including support for live streaming via Facebook Live and video chatting with fellow gamers.

The idea with Instant Games is to boost people’s time spent in Messenger by giving them something else to do besides just chat.

It also serves as Facebook’s newest attempt to return to dominance in social gaming. The company’s gaming platform years ago had earned a peak of a quarter-billion dollars per quarter on its 30 percent tax on in-game purchases, and it leveraged Facebook’s network effects to help games go viral.

But with the shift to mobile, Facebook’s position in gaming declined. These days, people spend more time gaming in native mobile apps built for iOS and Android devices.

When Instant Games first launched it offered 20 games across 30 markets, including titles like Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Words With Friends Frenzy. Now that number has grown to over 70 games from more than 100 developers worldwide, the company says, including recently launched Tetris.

It will soon add other big names, like Angry Birds (built by CoolGames, who also built Tetris); Sonic Jump from SEGA; Disney Tsum Tsum, published by LINE; and a new game from Puzzle & Dragons maker, GungHo Online Entertainment, Inc.

To mark its one-year anniversary, Facebook is also debuting a couple of new features for its Instant Games: live streaming and video chat.

Live streaming begins rolling out today.

The feature, powered by Facebook Live, lets Messenger users broadcast their gameplay to their Facebook Page or profile. To use live streaming, you just tap on the new camera icon at the top right of the screen while gaming, then add a short description to be shared alongside your post. To start recording, you press the “Start Live Video” button.

The live broadcast is then shared to your Page or profile. When it ends, friends and fans can watch the saved recording.

With the live streaming feature, Facebook is playing catch up rivals like Twitch, YouTube and Microsoft, all of which today offer their own tools and services for live streaming games. However, in Facebook’s case, the addition is more casual – it’s more about sharing with friends, not monetizing a community through subscriptions, game sales, or custom chat icons, as you’d find on Twitch or YouTube, for example. (At least, not yet).

Facebook says it will soon start testing a feature that lets users video chat while gaming, as well. The feature will initially debut next year in Zynga’s Words with Friends, before expanding to other titles.

According to the company, over 245 million people video chat every month on Messenger. That makes for a large potential audience for a video chatting feature, which adds interactive element to the gaming experience. The feature will also challenge other popular video chatting and hangout apps popular with teens and young adults, like Fam, the app for group video chat via iMessage, for example, or Microsoft’s Skype, among others.

As part of today’s news, Facebook shared a few stats from its gaming partners. You can see these below:

Foursquare VP of business development Mike Harkey has left for Google

Foursquare’s VP of business development Mike Harkey, who has been with the company for more than 5 years, has left to join Google as its director of global product partnerships.

His LinkedIn page shows that he joined Google this month after serving a lengthy tenure at Foursquare, which has seen a significant shift from an early darling as a check-in product to one with a robust enterprise business and location data set. Foursquare now has products like City Guide, which provide a wide array of tips, locations and other information for venues in different cities.

“[Harkey] moved on to a role at Google after 5 terrific years with Foursquare,” the company said. “We’re wishing him all the best. Jeff Reine, who has been with Foursquare for two years, was named the new VP of Business Development and Enterprise.”

The company raised $45 million at the beginning of last year as it began to capitalize on its data business as co-founder Dennis Crowley took a step back. That data business, indeed, is probably the company’s strongest asset as its location services power a myriad of services. As Foursquare looks to continue building out those partnerships, Harkey’s departure may be a bit of a speed bump, as he takes a lot of experience working with the platform with him over to Google. Foursquare is going to have to continue building out those kinds of partnerships if it’s going to thrive off its data business.

Over that time, the company has gathered as many as 125,000 developers and powers location services for companies like Uber and Airbnb. While starting off as a consumer product, Foursquare was able to create a thorough set of so-called “true” locations of venues, which might not be a specific latitude and longitude but rather a general area that exists in the minds of consumers. And it built a suite of developer tools on top of that, allowing developers to quickly tap that data if they need a big data set of venues, locations, and information around those.

We also reached out to Harkey, and will update when we hear back.

Featured Image: Foursquare