Anti-spam service Truecaller adds free voice calling feature

Truecaller, an app best known for helping users screen calls from strangers and spammers, is adding yet another feature to its service as it bolsters its super app status. The Stockholm-based firm said today that its app can now be used to place free VoIP-powered voice calls.

The company told TechCrunch on Tuesday that it has started to roll out the free voice calling feature to its Android users. It expects the rollout to reach all Android users in the coming days. The feature, which currently only supports calls between two users, will arrive on its iOS app soon.

In emerging markets such as India, where 100 million of Truecaller’s 140 million users live, free voice calls has been a long-sought after feature. Until late 2016, voice calls were fairly expensive in India, with telecom operators counting revenue from traditional calls as their biggest profit generator.

But in last two and a half years, things have changed dramatically for hundreds of millions of people in India after Reliance Jio, a telecom operator owned by India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, launched its network with free voice calls and low-priced data services. Reliance Jio has already amassed over 300 million users to become one of the top three telcos in the nation.

Yet, the quality of network still leaves much to be desired in India as traditional calls drop abruptly and run into quality issues more often than one would like. Truecaller said that its voice calls rely on data services — mobile data and Wi-Fi — and claimed that they can work swiftly even on patchy network.

The addition of voice calling functionality comes as Truecaller aggressively looks to expand its business. The service, which offers both ad-support free tier and subscription bundle, has added messaging, mobile payments, and call recording features in recent years. Earlier this year, it also added a crediting option, allowing users in India to borrow a few hundred dollars.

A representative with the company said Truecaller began exploring the free voice calling feature a few months ago. It began testing the new functionality with alpha and beta test group users four weeks ago. It now plans to introduce group voice calling support soon, the company said.

With the new feature, Truecaller now competes even more closely with WhatsApp . The Facebook-owned app has become ubiquitous in India with more than three-quarters of India’s smartphone base using the app. WhatsApp added voice calling feature to its app in 2015. Last year, Facebook said users around the world were spending 2 billion minutes per day on WhatsApp video and audio calls.

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Palm is selling an unlocked version of its tiny smartphone

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As much as Palm’s tiny phone has improved over the past several months, there’s still been one glaring limitation: you’ve had to use it on Verizon (Engadget’s parent company) in the US. You won’t have to be quite so picky after today. Palm has opened pre-orders for an unlocked version of the minuscule Android device that will work as a stand-alone phone on most major US carriers, including AT&T, T-Mobile and the prepaid Metro brand. No, there’s no mention of Sprint — ironically, the home of the original Palm Pre won’t get this device a decade later.

The handset is functionally identical to the one available through Big Red, for better or for worse. It was initially meant as a “secondary” phone for times when you didn’t want to lug around a full device, and its 3.2-inch display, Snapdragon 435 chip, limited cameras and shorter battery life reflect that. As an independent device, it’s really meant for those who hate ever-growing phone screens or prefer something that can do slightly more than the basics.

An unlocked model will cost you $350, with pre-orders expected to ship six to eight weeks. That’s certainly more affordable than some phones, although it’s not what we’d call a budget proposition. You can snag phones from Motorola and others that do considerably more and cost less. Palm’s model is really for people who value miniaturization and focus above all else, and are willing to pay for the privilege.

Verizon owns Engadget’s parent company, Verizon Media. Rest assured, Verizon has no control over our coverage. Engadget remains editorially independent.

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Nintendo brings 'Dr. Mario World' to Android and iOS on July 10th

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Earlier this year Nintendo announced that its Dr. Mario puzzle game would return in a new iteration for mobile devices, and now Dr. Mario World has a release date: July 10th. Set to appear on Android and iOS (and available for pre-order via either of those links), it’s a free-to-play game with stages where you can either send or receive hearts to other players to exchange extra stamina, or battle online in versus mode.

As one would expect, the goal is to eliminate viruses by aligning them with similarly-colored capsules. The different stages present new challenges, and players have a limited number of capsules. The part that costs money are optional “diamonds” that players can cash in for items, restore stamina or purchase new doctors with special skills instead of waiting for stamina to recover over time or to earn them in gameplay with coins.

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Google takes control of bringing next-gen texting to Android

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Google’s rollout of RCS chat to Android devices has been slow, and you can blame that partly on the carriers. As the next-gen texting format usually depends on networks adding support one at a time, compatibility has been patchy at best. Now, though, Google is ready to take matters into its own hands — the internet giant will offer RCS services to Android users in the UK and France later in June, giving them an opt-in choice through the platform’s Messages app. The company’s Drew Rowny explained it to The Verge as a sort of peer-to-peer end run around the carrier-driven model.

Rather than rely on a central server (as with Apple’s iMessage), Android Messages quietly pings each participant in a chat to see if they support RCS. If they do, you get high-quality media, read receipts and other perks that come with the technology. Google does pass messages through its servers (though they’re deleted as soon as they’re delivered), but this is ultimately a decentralized approach that doesn’t require carrier support or put full control in one party’s hands — it’s the app that enables RCS.

The weaknesses of RCS remain. It’s not end-to-end encrypted, so it’s viable for an intruder to read your messages. It’s also tied to your phone number, so you don’t have the iMessage-style ability to chat on non-phone devices. And when Google handles RCS, it’ll need to temporarily retain attached files as well as data like the phone number and IMSI. The company said it was “committed to finding a solution” for secure chat, however, and texts won’t disappear into a void if you switch to a phone that doesn’t support RCS.

This doesn’t mean that Google has finally licked the RCS problem once and for all. It doesn’t have a timetable for bringing the chat technology to other countries, and Apple hasn’t shown interest in supporting RCS itself. The rollout beats waiting for providers to take action, mind you, and it might spur them to add RCS so that Google doesn’t have too much power. Either way, your Android texts could become livelier in the near future.

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Is your product’s AI annoying people?

Artificial intelligence is allowing us all to consider surprising new ways to simplify the lives of our customers. As a product developer, your central focus is always on the customer. But new problems can arise when the specific solution under development helps one customer while alienating others.

We tend to think of AI as an incredible dream assistant to our lives and business operations, when that’s not always the case. Designers of new AI services should consider in what ways and for whom might these services be annoying, burdensome or problematic, and whether it involves the direct customer or others who are intertwined with the customer. When we apply AI services to make tasks easier for our customers that end up making things more difficult for others, that outcome can ultimately cause real harm to our brand perception.

Let’s consider one personal example taken from my own use of Amy.ai, a service (from x.ai) that provides AI assistants named Amy and Andrew Ingram. Amy and Andrew are AI assistants that help schedule meetings for up to four people. This service solves the very relatable problem of scheduling meetings over email, at least for the person who is trying to do the scheduling.

After all, who doesn’t want a personal assistant to whom you can simply say, “Amy, please find the time next week to meet with Tom, Mary, Anushya and Shiveesh.” In this way, you don’t have to arrange a meeting room, send the email, and go back and forth managing everyone’s replies. My own experience showed that while it was easier for me to use Amy to find a good time to meet with my four colleagues, it soon became a headache for those other four people. They resented me for it after being bombarded by countless emails trying to find some mutually agreeable time and place for everyone involved.

Automotive designers are another group that’s incorporating all kinds of new AI systems to enhance the driving experience. For instance, Tesla recently updated its autopilot software to allow a car to change lanes automatically when it sees fit, presumably when the system interprets that the next lane’s traffic is going faster.

In concept, this idea seems advantageous to the driver who can make a safe entrance into faster traffic, while relieving any cognitive burden of having to change lanes manually. Furthermore, by allowing the Tesla system to change lanes, it takes away the desire to play Speed Racer or edge toward competitiveness that one may feel on the highway.

However, for the drivers in other lanes who are forced to react to the Tesla autopilot, they may be annoyed if the Tesla jerks, slows down or behaves outside the normal realm of what people expect on the freeway. Moreover, if they are driving very fast and the autopilot did not recognize they were operating at a high rate of speed when the car decided to make the lane change, then that other driver can get annoyed. We can all relate to driving 75 mph in the fast lane, only to have someone suddenly pull in front of us at 70 as if they were clueless that the lane was moving at 75.

For two-lane traffic highways that are not busy, the Tesla software might work reasonably well. However, in my experience of driving around the congested freeways of the Bay Area, the system performed horribly whenever I changed crowded lanes, and I knew that it was angering other drivers most of the time. Even without knowing those irate drivers personally, I care enough about driving etiquette to politely change lanes without getting the finger from them for doing so.

Post Intelligence robot

Another example from the internet world involves Google Duplex, a clever feature for Android phone users that allows AI to make restaurant reservations. From the consumer point of view, having an automated system to make a dinner reservation on one’s behalf sounds excellent. It is advantageous to the person making the reservation because, theoretically, it will save the burden of calling when the restaurant is open and the hassle of dealing with busy signals and callbacks.

However, this tool is also potentially problematic for the restaurant worker who answers the phone. Even though the system may introduce itself as artificial, the burden shifts to the restaurant employee to adapt and master a new and more limited interaction to achieve the same goal — making a simple reservation.

On the one hand, Duplex is bringing customers to the restaurant, but on the other hand, the system is narrowing the scope of interaction between the restaurant and its customer. The restaurant may have other tables on different days, or it may be able to squeeze you in if you leave early, but the system might not handle exceptions like this. Even the idea of an AI bot bothering the host who answers the phone doesn’t seem quite right.

As you think about making the lives of your customers easier, consider how the assistance you are dreaming about might be more of a nightmare for everyone else associated with your primary customer. If there is a question regarding the negative experience of anyone related to your AI product, explore that experience further to determine if there is another better way to still delight them without angering their neighbors.

From a user-experience perspective, developing a customer journey map can be a helpful way to explore the actions, thoughts and emotional experiences of your primary customer or “buyer persona.” Identify the touchpoints in which your system interacts with innocent bystanders who are not your direct customers. For those people unaware of your product, explore their interaction with your buyer persona, specifically their emotional experience.

An aspirational goal should be to delight this adjacent group of people enough that they would move toward being prospects and, eventually, becoming your customers as well. Also, you can use participant ethnography to analyze the innocent bystander in relation to your product. This is a research method that combines the observations of people as they interact with processes and the product.

A guiding design inspiration for this research could be, “How can our AI system behave in such a way that everyone who might come into contact with our product is enchanted and wants to know more?”

That’s just human intelligence, and it’s not artificial.

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