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The Week in Mobile: February 28 – March 5, 2016

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The Happy Meal goes high-tech, Google tests hands-free payments, new Alexa-enabled devices from Amazon and more.

Each week we round up the top news stories, think pieces and other content that centers on the fast-paced, quickly changing world of mobile technology. We tell you which companies are employing clever mobile strategies, illuminate new ways of thinking about mobile and offer a peek at meaningful trends in the industry. This content is designed to inspire you and your company to take advantage of the many benefits mobile can offer.

Google Tests Hands Free Mobile Payments

In an attempt to make mobile payments even easier, Google is testing a new program called Hands Free, which allows users to pay for products without taking out their phone. To make a purchase, all users have to do is walk up to the register and tell the cashier that they are paying with Google. Sensors on the user’s phone will automatically communicate with supporting registers, so there’s no need to present the device. Hands Free is already being tested in the Bay Area.

Google Introduces Photo Location Identifying Software

In other Google news, the company introduced PlaNet, a network that uses image recognition to identify the exact location of where a photo was taken. Right now, the software is still in its early stages — it can only locate 3.6 percent of images at street-level and 10.1 percent at city-level — but as the software sees more images, it will become more accurate and is better able to identify places around the globe.

With Google I/O 2016 around the corner, PlaNet is just one of many innovations we can expect in the coming months. The countdown to the event has already begun, with tickets going on sale March 8.

McDonald’s Jumps into VR with “Happy Goggles”

McDonald’s is adding to the recent virtual reality buzz with Happy Meal boxes that double as virtual reality headsets. Available at McDonald’s locations in Sweden, Happy Goggles are assembled by taking apart the Happy Meal box and following instructions to build your very own VR goggles. Kids are then able to insert a smartphone into the headset and hit the slopes in McDonald’s VR educational gaming app called Slope Stars.

HTC Sells 15,000 Vive VR Kits in 10 Minutes

HTC says it sold over 15,000 Vive VR headsets within the first 10 minutes the device was available for pre-order. That’s impressive considering the devices cost $800 a piece and require a PC in order to operate. Additionally, HTC has hinted that the company is considering breaking into mobile VR in the future.

Elsewhere in the VR world, Microsoft’s HoloLens Developer Kit is now available for pre-order by developers who have applied for a device. Developers will be able to purchase the device for $3,000, with the first round of HoloLens’ expected to ship on March 30.

Amazon Expands its AI Offerings with Two New Alexa-Enabled Devices

Last week, Amazon expanded its AI offerings with two new Alexa-enabled devices. Inspired by the widespread success of the Amazon Echo, the new Amazon Tap is a smaller, portable version of the Echo that includes a speaker. Meanwhile, Echo Dot is a smaller device that extends the original Echo and lets you use your own speakers. The Dot can only be ordered through an Alexa device. Additionally, Amazon introduced a new API that allows its AI assistants to connect with smart thermostats and an Alexa SDK, which opens up voice command capabilities to third-party devices.

Facebook Launches Interactive Mobile Ads

Facebook’s new interactive mobile ads product – Canvas – has officially launched, which means businesses will be able to create a “more immersive advertising experience” within Facebook’s flagship app. Building on previous ad formats — such as Facebook’s Carousel ads — Canvas is a full-screen ad promoting specific products. Canvas supports interactive navigation, slideshows and videos. Canvas ads were created to fit seamlessly within your News Feed, so ad placements feel natural.

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