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Google posts January OTA and system image files along with new security bulletin

It's that time of month again—Google has posted updates for Nexus and Pixel devices, and there's a new security bulletin full of scary things. As usual, the OTAs are going to be rolling out to Google devices in the next few days, but you can grab the files right now and do the update manually.

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Gboard (formerly Google Keyboard) hits 500 million installs in the Play Store

There are many, many keyboard apps in the Play Store, but Google Keyboard has long been my go-to option. With the Gboard re-branding, Google added a few long-awaited features like multiple active languages and integrated search. That was enough to push it over the 500 million download threshold, joining apps like Photos, Dropbox, and Super-Bright LED Flashlight.

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LG posts January security bulletin ahead of Google with Android and LG-specific patches

Google has been releasing monthly security patches like clockwork ever since it revamped the Android security model in the wake of Stage Fright. Samsung and LG are also trying to keep up with the monthly patches, but not always with the most success. LG's getting the jump on Google today, though. It has posted the January security bulletin a little early with information on Google and LG-specific patches.

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Amazon adds limited context functionality to Alexa, but it's still no match for Google

Amazon hopped on the voice assistant train a few years ago with the Echo, and has since added its Alexa platform to a myriad of products. While Alexa is great at things like controlling smart home devices, its ability to answer multiple queries is not so great. It appears to be getting better, though. Amazon has added some limited contextual awareness to Alexa.

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Some Pixel owners are experiencing random software freezes

Google's trying to market the new Pixel and Pixel XL phones as premium, market-leading devices, and a big part of that is nailing the software experience. Alas, quite a few owners of Google's first-party phones aren't feeling particularly premium as of late: this lengthy discussion on Google's product forum documents a series of as-yet-unexplained software freezes and lockups. Commonalities among the users seem to be a complete freeze of the interface that lasts several seconds to several minutes, including disappearing navigation buttons.

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Google Home has custom light patterns when playing holiday music

Google has added multiple Easter eggs to Google Assistant, but this one is specifically for the Google Home. Tipster Ronald informed us that when you ask Google Home to "play Christmas music" or "play Hanukkah music," the alternating lights on the Home change colors. For Christmas, it alternates red and green lights, and for Hanukkah, blue and white.

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The first Waymo self-driving car is a Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan

Google announced last week that it was getting out of the self-driving car business. That doesn't mean self-driving cars won't be a thing around Mountain View anymore; the project is simply being spun off into its own Alphabet company called Waymo. Now, Waymo CEO John Krafcik has posted some details of the company's first self-driving vehicle. It's a minivan built in cooperation with Chrysler.

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Android Pay supports 31 new banks and credit unions

One of the disadvantages of Android Pay is that banks, credit unions, and credit card companies have to support it (as opposed to Google Wallet NFC payments). Thankfully, support has greatly expanded in the past few months, with Chase being the last major holdout in the United States.

Now Android Pay has started working with 31 additional banks and credit unions. Here is the full list:

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Google Contributor is being discontinued in favor of a newer iteration due in early 2017

Google Contributor was a very interesting proposition for those of us in the web publishing industry. It allowed sites like Android Police to offer readers an option to pay a little bit of money per month to remove some ads and thus have a better experience reading us while also helping us stay in business. It was launched in August of 2015 and has thus far stayed limited to users in the US. Today though, Contributor is being discontinued.

Users are receiving an email that explains that there's a new and improved version of Contributor that will launch "early next year" and that, in the meantime, the current Contributor will be discontinued.

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Google+ v9.3 reveals plan to move Location Sharing to Google Maps and make a more useful cropping tool [APK Teardown]

This week has been busy with updates, but many are just checking bugs off the list before everybody takes off a couple of weeks for the holidays. The web interface was given adjustments for how frequently Recommended and Trending posts are shown, and there are now better recommendations and a new horizontally scrollable view on the mobile site, but only the improved recommendations made it over to the app (so far). The interesting part of the apk update is in the teardown, which confirms plans to relocate the location sharing feature to Google Maps. There is also evidence of a new improved image cropping tool in the works.

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