Google made some big changes back in May with the launch of Google News, bringing both Play Magazines and the News & Weather app together in a new format and completely redesigned app. A few months later, Google announced several new automatic features for the Google News app that would make it even more data-efficient. Unfortunately, something went wrong and many users found that the app had taken to downloading multiple gigabytes of data over cellular connections and racking up huge overages. While those bugs seem to have been fixed, the latest update includes signs that Google may be putting countermeasures in place to help prevent similar bugs in the future.

Teardown

Disclaimer: Teardowns are based on evidence found inside of apks (Android's application package) and are necessarily speculative and usually based on incomplete information. It's possible that the guesses made here are wrong or inaccurate. Even when predictions are correct, there is always a chance that products could change or may be canceled. Much like rumors, nothing is certain until it's officially announced and released.

The features discussed below are probably not live yet, or may only be live for a small percentage of users. Unless stated otherwise, don't expect to see these features if you install the apk. All screenshots and images are real unless otherwise stated, and images are only altered to remove personal information.

Background data and sync restrictions

While it's pretty likely the big bugs causing massive data use were probably fixed in either the v5.5.1 or v5.6 updates that came earlier in November, it looks like Google isn't going to take any chances. Text for two new settings has turned up, and they're entirely focused on preventing data abuse by the app.

The first setting will be called Background Usage Restriction. When enabled, Google News will check whether it has used 5MB or more data within 10 seconds of going into the background and will kill (force itself to quit) if it has. This setting can be configured to check for usage on both Wi-Fi and cellular connections, just cellular, or the restriction can be left off.

<string name="background_usage_restriction">Background Usage Restriction</string>
<string name="background_usage_restriction_all">App is killed if more than 5MB of cellular or WiFi data is used within 10 seconds after the app goes to the background</string>
<string name="background_usage_restriction_cellular">App is killed if more than 5MB of cellular data is used within 10 seconds after the app goes to the background</string>
<string name="background_usage_restriction_key">background_usage_restriction_key</string>
<string name="background_usage_restriction_none">None</string>
<array name="background_usage_restriction_values">
<item>NO_RESTRICTION</item>
<item>CELLULAR</item>
<item>WIFI_AND_CELLULAR</item>
</array>
<array name="background_usage_restriction_entries">
<item>@string/background_usage_restriction_none</item>
<item>@string/background_usage_restriction_cellular</item>
<item>@string/background_usage_restriction_all</item>
</array>

The second setting is called Sync Restriction. This one will control when and if Google News will perform syncing operations. Users can stick with the default behavior, turn off the restriction entirely, set it to only sync if it's initiated by the user, or completely lock out syncing. The implications of these options is a bit cloudy, so I'm inclined to expect Google to spell them out more clearly before launching this setting to the public.

<string name="sync_restriction">Sync restriction</string>
<string name="sync_restriction_default">Default</string>
<string name="sync_restriction_user_only">Allowed only if initiated by the user</string>
<string name="sync_restriction_all">All sync are blocked</string>
<string name="sync_restriction_none">No restriction</string>
<string name="sync_restriction_key">sync_restriction_key</string>
<array name="sync_restriction_values">
<item>DEFAULT</item>
<item>USER_INITIATED_ONLY</item>
<item>ALL_SYNC_BLOCKED</item>
<item>NO_RESTRICTION</item>
</array>
<array name="sync_restriction_entries">
<item>@string/sync_restriction_default</item>
<item>@string/sync_restriction_user_only</item>
<item>@string/sync_restriction_all</item>
<item>@string/sync_restriction_none</item>
</array>

The currently defined defaults for the two settings are configured to zero background restrictions and default sync restriction. Both are located in an internal screen for testing, but I have little doubt that they'll eventually emerge for regular users.

Partnership with the Grammy Awards

In case you didn't know, the 61st annual Grammy Awards is set for February 10th, 2019. It's a ceremony that recognizes achievements within the music industry. This year, Google will be celebrating right along with everybody else by displaying the nominees and marking the winners once they've been announced. Not only that, but it looks like you'll also be able to listen to relevant songs and artists right in the Google News app.

<string name="grammys_a11y_announce_music_nominee">Playing %1$s, nominee for %2$s</string>
<string name="grammys_a11y_announce_music_winner">Playing %1$s, winner of %2$s</string>
<string name="award_winner">Winner</string>
<string name="award_winners">Winners</string>
<string name="error_music_unavailable">Music unavailable. Next song in %1$d</string>
<string name="error_music_unavailable_a11y">Music unavailable. Tap \'Next\' for more music.</string>
<string name="error_playing_music">Can\'t play music. Try again.</string>
<string name="progress_spinner_content_description">Loading music</string>

What's unknown is whether or not you'll be able to listen to full songs or just samples? And if these are full songs, will you need a subscription to YouTube Premium / Play Music to listen, will there be ads, or have the licensing rights been worked out to give free replays during this event? The only error messages here seem to suggest tracks can't be played, but they're vague enough that it's not clear if it's because of connection errors or if a song was intentionally not available for listening.

With those big questions aside, this is probably a decent way to keep up with the Grammys in semi-real time if you can't watch the event live. Award nominations are set to be revealed this Friday, December 7.

Download

The APK is signed by Google and upgrades your existing app. The cryptographic signature guarantees that the file is safe to install and was not tampered with in any way. Rather than wait for Google to push this download to your devices, which can take days, download and install it just like any other APK.

Google News
Google News
Developer: Google LLC
Price: Free