Google I/O Revisited

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Google I/O Revisited

Last week we wrote about Google I/Ocoming to an end.  We highlighted some of the cool new features that were unveiled and explored upcoming technologies.  There was tons to show on stage, but of course it’s not magic.  Every tech innovation has logic working under the hood.  And as developer’s Google I/O is the perfect place to be to see how some of this logic works.

From A Developer’s POV:

First off, there’s a ton of other topics covered, but we’ll mainly be focusing on Android development in this post.  But don’t worry.  That still leaves us with tons of talking material!  Let’s start with the most fundamental topic of Android’s OS.  We saw Android Q up on the big stage at I/O, and with it are some new things that developers are going to need to consider when writing their code.

Permission changes are a big one.  An entire talk was dedicated to privacy changestaking place on Q, and immediately after it was another talk discussing location permission. In the past when you wanted access to a user’s location for your app you simple asked for it and they said yes or no. Q brings a 3rdoption into the mix.  It’s actually been around for a while on iOS devices, but starting on Q user’s will have two options to allow an app access to their location.  They can either say yes all the time, or they can grant permission only when an app is in use.  This way if there’s an app you don’t think should be tracking you when you’re not using it…well it won’t!

There were also sessions talking about new Q features such as gesture navigation and dark mode.  Yes, believe it or not Android is ditching the back button! Another iOS style move, but given time we may think it’s for the best.

New Ways to Develop:

The topic that has interested me the most since the end of I/O has been Flutter.  And if you haven’t heard of it before, here’s where to get started.  Flutter is an incredibly cool toolkit to help you write one codebase and run it on both iOS and Android apps.  Yep, write it once, ship it twice.  It was developed by Google in 2017 and since then the company has not stopped pushing it, so it doesn’t look like it’s about to fade away.  It allows for fast development, flexible UI’s and a new way of thinking while you code.

My favorite feature it the hot-reload.  Since you only have to compile changes you’ve made in the code, rerunning your app is insanely fast.  By insanely fast I mean less than a second.  This can allow for a whole new approach to coding as you constantly tweak minute things and hit run to instantly see how they change your app’s appearance.  Exploring it is a great way to learn.  I’ll be writing a post later this week in extensive detail on what Flutter has to offer because it’s so cool.

New Ways to Share:

From a developer’s standpoint there is more to life than just code.  You have to do something with the finished product, right?  There are people you need to share it with. Whether those are friends, work associates, or the world, the more options available to share your app the better.

We saw some cool things come in this realm at the talk “Customizable Delivery With the App Bundle and Easy Sharing of Test Builds”.  First, we saw how shrinking your app can dramatically increase the number of downloads that you get (1% increase for every 3MB your app sheds).  And with this we saw how to do just this by adopting App Bundles.

My favorite part of this talk though was about sharing test builds.  Taking things one step further than Alpha and Beta testing, you can now “upload” a build to the store and share the url with anyone you would like. The build is only accessible via that link though and doesn’t register as your regular app on the Play Store, so your secret is still safe if you’re doing internal testing.  Let’s say you want everyone at the office to give the new version a go before rubber stamping it.  This is designed for just that.

That’s a Wrap!

Wrapping up there were tons and tons of cool features from a development standpoint covered this year. And Google employees went over how to develop each one of them on stage in liver demos.  I would highly recommend checking out some of the footage if you haven’t yet.

What was your favorite part of Google I/O 2019?  Let us know in the comments below!

 

Google I/O, That’s a Wrap!

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Google I/O, That’s a Wrap!

Now that it’s come and passed Google I/O 2019 has left us amped for the coming year.  We got to see some amazing demos covering topics from Augmented Reality to new devices like the Nest Hub Max.  I’m still trying to wrap my head around some of the material, but it’s safe to say we have a good year of development ahead of us all.  Let’s take a look at some of the highlights:

New Devices have Dropped:

As mentioned just above Google released the Nest Hub Max.  A home assistant with a 10-inch display to welcome you in the morning with your daily routine.  At the keynote we saw some of its incredible features such as facial recognition and motion sensing.  Depending on who the screen sees it will display their own welcome screen with important information.  Along with the personalized assistant and a stunning speaker comes a motion sensor that can pause music at the flick of a wrist.

The Nest Hub Max wasn’t the only device dropped at I/O though.  While we technically saw it out a few months ago, the Pixel 3a was officially announced at a starting price of $599. Google’s sales of the Pixel 3 were not quite what they hoped for.  Butt they’re aiming high again with the 3a.  On stage we saw a demo of its camera in low lighting compared to an iPhone X, and the difference was pretty apparent.

Android Q and Dark Mode:

Q is in beta 3 right now, but we learned quite a bit about it at I/O.  There was a whole session discussing how gesture recognizers will be replacing the back and home buttons on Android devices.  I’m sure we’ll see a lot of smartphone carriers start to make full screen devices to reflect this change.  Instead of a back-button user’s will slide in from the left side of the screen.   And now to go home user’s will slide up.  It’s somewhat similar to Pie, but removing the back button is a pretty drastic change.

And then from a visual appearance we also have Dark Mode.  You can watch the talk online to see how to prep your app for the new UI changes coming with Q.  Basically, there is another attribute you can add on to your views to account for if a user has selected dark mode.  If so then you can make your app fit two different color scheme flows.  It’s pretty easy on the eyes!

Duplex and Live Subtitles:

Last year we saw Duplex make its debut on the main stage.  Since then it’s been rolled out to Pixel phones everywhere for use.  Duplex allows the Google assistant to call a restaurant/business on your behalf and talk with a human on the other end.  It will schedule your calendar for you and notify you when an appointment has been successfully made.  Insanely cool.

And now Duplex is going a step further to take care of things on the web.  It will be able to navigate websites for services like car rentals and fill out all of your information for you.  The end result is very similar to what we saw before. But with being able to fill out information online, a human was never contacted on the business side.  We will now be able to have computers interacting with computers and all you have to do is ask you phone to get you a car for next week.

Another amazing feature on the AI side of things is live video being translated to text.  So if you’re hard of hearing or want to watch a video in a quiet place, Google will be able to convert the audio file from a video into text on the screen live for you.

There are a ton of new features that came about in I/O this year.  Too many to count, but we’ll be writing about a lot of them over the next few weeks!  Stay tuned for another post soon about some of the Android development topics that were covered.

 

 

Google I/O Coming In Hot

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Google I/O Coming In Hot

It’s that time of year again.  The time when Android developers from around the world gather into Mountain View, CA.  The reason?  Google I/O of course!  We’re less than a week out from the annual developer conference where people connect to see what’s coming in the next year.  The scheduler is up, and it looks like a promising conference.

 

Google I/O 2018:

 

We covered last year’s conferencein detail here, and the plan is to do the same this time around.  Last year everything seemed to link back to one of three core themes:  Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, and the newest Android version at the time (Pie).  We saw a breathtaking demo of Duplex on the main stage as it called a hair salon and booked an appointment with a human on the other end.  Sure, this took a while to make it to our phones, but just under a year later it’s available on Pixel devices!

We also saw some cool demos of what Google Maps had coming in terms of Augmented Reality.  And as you’ll see in a second the AR train is still going strong.  We learned about features like Adaptive Battery and Brightness in Android P designed to improve a user’s experience through machine learning.  So on and so forth.

 

This Year’s Agenda:

 

Let’s turn towards the future now.  Google I/O 2019 has a slew of similar sessions ahead focusing on Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, and Android Q.  The conference covers many other topics as well, but these are still core themes. Along with them gaining a lot of attention this year are Kotlin and Firebase.

 

Kotlin was adopted as an official programming language for Android a while back, and the community LOVES it.  If you’re interested in getting started with Kotlin or app development, you should check out Phonlab’s Android App Development course. Kotlin offers a great way to improve your code’s readability and efficiency, so in this day and age it’s a must have skill for mobile developers.

 

Our selections:

 

Unless you’re locked in for a few days, you probably don’t have time to view all the materials that will be available at this year’s session.  Additionally not everything is Android based.  There are tons of other interesting topics that look like they’ll be discussed this year, but here are a few hand selected ones I’d recommend for those of you interested in taking your Android development to the next level:

 

Tuesday:

10:00-1:45pm Google Keynote/Developer Keynote

2:00-3:00pm What’s New in Android

Wednesday:

10:30-11:30am What’s New in Architecture Components

12:30-1:30pm What’s New in Kotlin on Android

5:30-6:30pm Android Studio: Tips and Tricks

Thursday:

10:30-11:30am Motional Intelligence: Build Smarter Animations

11:30-12:30pm Kotlin Under the Hood: Understand the Internals

 

All of the sessions will be available eventually on YouTube, but to guarantee that you can see some and benefit from them I’d recommend tuning in as they are live.  And if you don’t have time to go that in depth, don’t worry we’ll be covering them here!

 

What are you most excited for about Google I/O 2019?  Let us know in the comments below.

Android Studio Tuning Up

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Android Studio Tuning Up

Android Q has been the buzz of April, but without a physical device to see it on most developers are out of the loop.  Sure we can read things online or watch videos, but it just isn’t the same as seeing it in person.  Fortunately, this (among other things) is now a reality thanks to Android Studio’s newest version!

Android Studio 3.4:

Android’s developer blog just posted about Android Studio 3.4.  After six months of development, it’s now available on the stable release channel. There’s not a crazy amount of change from the previous version of the Integrated Development Environment (IDE), but the changes available are certainly welcome.

The first wave of these changes are for actual development.  We all use import intentions when coding to save time.  It’s what happens automatically if you hit enter halfway through typing a class or method from elsewhere.  Android Studio automatically adds the import statement at the top of your file so that you don’t have to worry about these.

And if you don’t hit enter, after seeing an error in the code you can click Alt + Enter to bring up a list of hot options such as this import.  Of course, these only work if you already have that 3rdparty library added to your Gradle file.  At least it used to work that way! Now Android Studio will recognize common classes and suggest adding these dependencies to your Gradle project files.

Visual Changes:

If you’ve ever worked in a project that uses a lot of drawable images, you know it can get very messy very fast.  A huge downside of Android Studio’s organization of images is that there is only one layer. This means you can’t nest images in folders, thus it’s very easy to see a wall of file names and have to scroll endlessly unless you remember the name of the image your looking for.

There’s actually a toggle you can use to display images so that your scrolling can take place a little easier, but overall resource management in Android Studio has always been a little clunky.  3.4. aims to bring a new tool to visualize drawables, colors, and layouts across your project in an easier way to manage.  No more scrolling indefinitely!

Android Q:

And finally with Android Q gaining popularity, it was only a matter of time before the beta build made its way onto an Emulator.  So if you’ve been itching to get your hands on a device to test the new features this version brings, now is your chance!

Android 3.4 is officially on the stable release channel, so feel free to download it right now.  After you do let us know what you think about it in the comments below.

 

 

Android Q Is Bubbling Up

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Android Q Is Bubbling Up

Android Q made its debut recently in Beta format, and since then developers have begun downloading and experimenting with the new software.  We wrote about some of the new features that it brought on its first day of release.  Since then a new feature has risen up and could dramatically change how users interact with their phones.  If you hadn’t guessed, it’s bubbles!

Multitasking Now and Then: 

In the early days of Android we thought of multitasking as simply being able to switch between apps quickly.  Then came the era of split screen.  Admittedly it was not the best experience at first, but after a few adaptations the feature became quite useful.  Larger screens also helped make this appealing.

Since then individual companies have experimented with other styles of multi-tasking such as floating apps or Facebook’s bubble conversations.  But since these concepts were not part of Android’s software globally they have not gained as much traction as a universal adoption would.  Then came Oreo’s picture in picture mode to achieve this global adoption, and since then we’ve been waiting to see what’s next.

Enter Bubbles:

But wait…as I just said bubbles have actually existed on Android via Facebook since 2013. So this release has quite a bit of déjà vu to it.  It’s hard to say how much new will be brought to the table with the reappearing feature. But it will be coming in line with a lot more apps, and as more apps build functionality for a feature its comfort of use grows.

The idea behind this is exactly what you think of if you’ve ever used Facebook messaging.  They are designed to hover on the side of your screen until you click on them or they receive a notification, and then they can expand to display more information.  If you’re texting someone, you can use another app and then expand the bubble for a few moments to write a reply.  Then press send and minimize it again almost seamlessly.

Growing adoption:

It’s a solid experience, just one that should have made its way into a lot more Android apps a long time ago.  It’s not made for every app, but with more apps having the software easily available for use (instead of having to develop code themselves) we’re sure to see some good uses of it.

Multi-resume is supposed to play a large role in Android Q as well, so potentially playing multiple videos in bubbles will be a reality as well.  Only time and creativity will tell.  What are your thoughts on Android bubbles?  Is there a reason they have been around for so long and haven’t grown? Or is it finally time that they hit the mainstream development market?  Let us know in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

 

Google+ Has Left The Building

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Google+ Has Left The Building

We wrote about it when first announced, but the day has finally come for Google+.  Google has officially started the process of shutting down and deleting all consumer accounts.  It was a noble effort to complete with the likes of Facebook and Twitter, but it fell flat and won’t be getting back up any time soon.

Google + Security Issues:

Google+’s demise is actually a two-fold one.  It was shut down due to “low usage”, but it also had a security Issue.  Google has disclosed two significant data leaks that potentially exposed millions of user’s private data.  The first leak was kept secret for a few months, but was the ultimate decided for the end of Google+.  And then the second prompted a premature shut down in April instead of the originally planned August.  Not great for Google.

Google says that for both of these leaks there is no evidence that they were taken advantage of, but they did exist.  Google+ API has been shut down now as part of the closing doors process.

Small But Loyal:

Google’s Ben Smith talked about the failure to grow.  He said “While our engineering teams have put a lot of effort and dedication into building Google+ over the years, it has not achieved broad consumer or developer adoption, and has seen limited user interaction with apps”.  He also revealed the fact that 90% of user session on Google+ only lasted 5 seconds.  This could be due to people simply opening the app for notification checks, but it’s still not a great number to see.

But while Google+ is shutting down due to lack of a large audience, that doesn’t mean it didn’t have an audience at all.  It was the host of a small but loyal group of users over the years and I’m sure it will be missed by at least a few.  The site was designed to encourage topic-focused discussion to mimic how we interact in real life (something a lot of social media is missing these days).

On To Other Ventures:

With Google+ being decommissioned, labor at Google is sure to be targeted towards other activities. We have a lot to see coming up in the future (Google I/O 2019 isn’t that far away!).  I’m sure we’ll all be pleasantly surprised by a few things.  Recently Google launched Stadia as its gaming platform as well.  Just because Google+ is on its way out doesn’t mean other things won’t take its place in our daily lives.

What are your thoughts about Google+’s demise?  Was it about time or are you going to miss it?  Let us know in the comments below!

App Mirroring Has Begun!

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App Mirroring Has Begun!

Last October we wrote about Microsoft’s expedition in linking mobile phones and computers to provide a seamless experience for users. Known as App Mirroring, the goal is to allows users to take any app they use on their phone and use it the same way on a desktop or laptop.  It was just a showcase idea at the time, but now the beta testing has begun!

App Mirroring:

We all love a fluid experience between our devices, yet up to this point in time there has been a noticeable gap between apps and how/if they can be accessed on a computer.  If you want to take your Snapchat conversation and continue it on a desktop, that can prove to be a feat.  With app mirroring the idea is that any app that you can use on a phone can be mimicked on a Windows screen.

We talked about how this could be exciting not only for users, but for developers too.  It could create another medium for experiences, and thus new types of apps could spring up.  Hard to say what, but that’s up the creatives of the world and I’m sure we’ll see some cool things.

Device Limitations:

App Mirroring is still a catchy term in my opinion, but the feature is currently named “Phone Screen”, and it has a few limitations.  Phone Screen will only be supported on certain types of hardware and requires users to use the latest beta Windows 10 Insiders build.  It will be compatible with Android phones running 7.0 or higher, so if you’ve bought a phone within the past few years you are probably in the clear there.

Additionally user’s PCs will need to support Bluetooth with Low Energy Peripheral mode. And with the Surface Go meeting these requirements, there will likely be a fair amount of compatibility between the app and tablet worlds as well.

Using Phone Screen:

To use Phone Screen as a beta tester you’ll simply open the Windows 10 Your Phone app.  In here you’ll be able to see a list of all your installed Android apps, and you can select any of them to open the same way you would a phone.

Currently only Windows Insiders running the latest test builds will be able to test app-mirroring (that’s how betas usually go), but it’s hard to say how long until its available to everyone.  Android users can already use the Your Phone app to see the last couple dozen photos they’ve taken on their phone.  So the first steps to bridging the gap are actually already here for all of us. It’s good to see that trend is continuing with App Mirroring

What are your thoughts on App Mirroring/Phone Screen?  Are there any apps it will be amazing to use on a desktop?  Let us know in the comments below!

 

Introducing Android Q

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Introducing Android Q

 

Pie is still on its way out to most of the world, but today we’re going one step further.  Android Q’s first beta has officially launched!  As Android’s developer blog puts it so perfectly: “…mobile innovation is stronger than ever, with new technologies from 5G to edge to edge displays and even foldable screens.  Android is right at the center of this innovation cycle”.

The bug tracker for Q first opened on Monday, and since then we’ve all been waiting expectantly to see its release.  Now that it’s here let’s take a look at some of the things it has to offer.

Privacy and Security: 

Whenever we’re discussing privacy, one of the first things that comes to mind is location.  We don’t all like the idea of being tracked everywhere we go by 3rdparties.  Currently on Android no app is able to track your location unless you explicitly allow it. Q takes this to the next level by allowing users to grant location based on app usage.  So if you want, no more being tracked when an app isn’t open.  This could be useful for things such as food delivery apps that really have no business monitoring you during other parts of your day.  

Another improvement for user security that revolves around runtime permissions is access to files and media. The Photos and Videos and Audio collections will be featured in a new set of runtime permissions.  And downloads must use the system file picker, allowing the user to decide which download files an app has access to.  This is just another step to help silo information and enhance a user’s experience without having to give an app everything.

Innovative Screens and Experiences:

You’ve undoubtedly seen some of the new foldable phones that have been revealed recently.  They look incredibly fun (unfortunately also incredibly expensive), but it should be no surprise that Q will be accounting for these.  To help users make use of an unfolded device with lots of screen space, changes have been made to onResume and onPause to support multi-resume (we wrote about this in one of our Q hypothesis posts a while back).

In addition, some changes have been made with sharing and setting to speed up a user’s navigation. The process of moving from one app to another to share content has been streamlined with Sharing Shortcuts.  You can also show key system settings insideof your app using a new Settings Panel API.  This uses the Slices feature from Pie and lets you present a modal to users where they can directly access things such as what Wi-Fi they are connected to. No more redirecting users into the Settings app to mess with things!

There are also changes to the camera, media, and graphics utilizing Dynamic Depth.  Using Q users can request a Dynamic Depth image which consists of a JPEG, XMP metadata, and a depth and confidence map all embedded in the same file. The result of this is the possibility to offer specialized blurs and bokeh options in your app.  Or if you want you can create 3D images/photograph things in AR much more accurately.

Getting Q On Your Phone:

As with many of Google’s recent technologies, you can get your hands on it first if you own a Pixel. Beta 1 is available all the way back to the original Pixel/Pixel XL.  Click here to enroll in the Android Q Beta and start playing around with it.  And if you don’t own a Pixel, you can always use the Android Emulator and download a system image via the SDK Manager.

There is a ton to explore for Android Q still since it’s just day 1.  Let us know what you think about it in the comments below!

Duplex Is Officially Here

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Duplex Is Officially Here

Time after time we’ve seen Google Duplex in the news, but it’s always been just on the horizon for the mass market.  Well here’s some news that isn’t just a tease: Duplex is now on your phone!

Pixels Now Have Duplex:

Ok, sorry to get your hopes up if you’re not team Pixel, but if you are, then this is good news for you. Google has just rolled out Duplex to Pixel phones in 43 states.  This means that if you own a Pixel and live in one of these states, you can now have your Google Assistant call on your behalf.  Looking for a restaurant reservation?  Just say “Ok Google, make a reservation at ___”.

That’s it.  Duplex will call the restaurant and take care of everything else.  Ok, it will ask you a few more details (such as for what time and for how many people), but it takes care of all the conversing on the phone.  The future is now.

Just how good is it?

Google actually received a ton of criticism after I/O last year when Duplex made its debut.  People were concerned that it mimicked a human toowell.  In June the company promised that Google Assistant would introduce itself before engaging in any conversation.  If you’ve used Google’s call screening feature before then you’re somewhat familiar with this introduction.

Duplex uses Google’s WaveNet audio processing neural network, and as such it sounds incredibly natural.  It throws “ums” into the conversation to mimic how people actually converse. While these may seem arbitrary, the VP of engineering for Google Assistant said that they are actually the key to keeping people engrossed in conversation.  Otherwise things start to feel too artificial and people hang up.

Opting Out:

While this technology is incredible, there are certainly going to be people that want nothing to do with it yet.  And as such Duplex makes it very clear that the call is automated, and informs everyone it calls that their being recorded.  If they respond with anything along the lines of “I don’t want to be recorded” or “I don’t want to speak with this” then the call is handed off to a human operator.

There’s sure to be some legal/ethical issues that arise despite this, but it’s good to at least see people are given the option to opt out.  Duplex is going to continue its rollout to other devices over time, and eventually it will just be taken for granted.  But for now its cutting edge tech and Pixel users can take advantage of it.

What are your thoughts on Duplex and its rollout?  Let us know in the comments below!

 

Backing Away From The Back Button

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Backing Away From The Back Button

If you ever have a conversation between an Android user and an iPhone user, each will have their arguments for why one phone is superior.  While many of the differences are in the software, one is glaringly different between the two: the back button.  At least is used to be, but we may be seeing the end of days for this feature.

Q Follows P:

The back button is one of the most prominent features on Android phones.  At least it was, but there has been discussion recently about moving deeper into the world of gesture recognition.  The idea is to move closer to a buttonless screen, and thus create more screen real estate for users on smaller devices.  Android Pie took a step in this direction with some of its changes in navigation between apps, and Q will likely continue the trend.

If you own a phone that operates on Pie, then it likely took you a few days to adjust.  The whole process of navigating between apps is different from Oreo.  Instead of swiping left or right to kill apps you swipe them up (much like iOS).  And while Pie still has a back button on the left side of Pixel devices, there are some unique interactions you can use with the bottom nav bar.

What’s New With Q?

On Pie phones today if you swipe from the left side of the nav bar over to the right, your phone will exit the current app and open whatever app you were using just before it.  What’s more, if you swipe to the right and don’t release, you’ll be able to scroll between all of your apps to select one quickly. It’s not too different from checking all the paused apps and selecting one, but one swipe actions put a grin on your face.

Q is looking to do just this by removing the back button entirely and replacing it with a swipe to the left.  The exact motion discussed above, just in reverse.  So when users want to back out of an application or go back in an app, they will swipe instead of pressing the back button.  Whether you like it or not, this is a pretty drastic change from years of tradition on a feature that has separated Android from iOS.

Swiping: The Good, Bad, and Ugly:

My initial reaction to this was not a good one.  It seemed rather counter intuitive to have users swipe in one direction to go back in an app, and swipe in the opposite direction to go “back” to other apps.  Change is scary.  But if you can get past that, then this could make for an interesting user experience.  If we take it one step further and swipe up in place of the home button, then the entire bottom drawer could cease to exist.  A marginal change, but every centimeter counts when we only have a few to deal with.

These changes have not been confirmed, and I’m still undecided on how I feel.  But I think it’s important to not jump on the bandwagon of “Change is bad”.  Q could bring some really cool things to the Android world, and for all we know in a few years we’ll be looking back at the old ways of navigation and shaking our heads!

What are your thoughts on Q’s possible removal of the back button?  How about the other changes we’ve talked about with Q?  Let us know in the comments below!

 

 

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