Posts tagged with "google"

Google Buys Songza

In more music news, Google just announced they're acquiring Songza, a music streaming and recommendation service available in the US and Canada.

The Verge writes:

Google announced today that it's acquiring the streaming-music service Songza for an undisclosed sum. Over the coming months it will be integrating the company's smart playlist creation into Google Play Music and perhaps YouTube. Songza will remain an active and independent app for the time being. The purchase highlights the increasingly competitive landscape emerging around music, as Apple, Amazon, and Google all seek to differentiate their mobile products by offering top-notch streaming services.

Here's the Google announcement:

They’ve built a great service which uses contextual expert-curated playlists to give you the right music at the right time. We aren't planning any immediate changes to Songza, so it will continue to work like usual for existing users. Over the coming months, we’ll explore ways to bring what you love about Songza to Google Play Music. We'll also look for opportunities to bring their great work to the music experience on YouTube and other Google products.

Songza also notes that “no immediate changes” are planned, although that usually means that specific features will be integrated into other Google products or that the acquired app (Songza is available on both iOS and Android) will be removed from sale:

Today, we’re thrilled to announce that we’re becoming part of Google. We can’t think of a better company to join in our quest to provide the perfect soundtrack for everything you do.

Songza went through several iterations, and in 2011 it relaunched to focus on curated music recommendations provided by its own team of music experts; in 2012, the company launched a Concierge feature to recommend music based on situations and moods, with filters to refine selections and vote songs. Here's a Billboard article with a review of Concierge from March 2012.

There are many parallels with Beats Music, which seems to confirm that human music curation as an aid to algorithms and traditional search matters.

Music curation is one of themes of 2014 at this point – even Spotify revamped their app homepage to prominently feature curated playlists and recommendations based on mood and time of the day. It'll be interesting to see what Apple and Google will do with their acquisitions.

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Google Brings Lane Guidance, Uber Integration, New Filters and Offline Mode To Maps for iOS

In a major update released today and detailed on the official Maps blog, Google has announced a variety of new features for Google Maps for iOS, available for iPhone and iPad.

For users in the United States and "parts of Canada and Japan", Google has added lane guidance, a turn-by-turn navigation feature that allows the app to show the lane to stay in or move to; lane guidance is often found on dedicated GPS devices, and it should enable Google Maps to provide drivers with more precise directions.

Previously available only through a hidden command, Google has added a new offline mode to Maps that lets users easily store multiple areas as offline maps for usage in areas with no cellular or WiFi coverage. In the new version of the app, a new "Save map to use offline" is featured in the detail screen of a location (or dropped pin); offline maps can be given a unique name, and they can be viewed in a new list of the Profile view in the app. When offline, Google Maps will allow to zoom and pan on saved maps, but search and directions won't be available.

Alongside improvements to public transit directions (which now include total walking time and next scheduled bus or train), Google has also revamped the filter functionality of nearby search results:

With new filters, you can browse through restaurants, bars and hotels by opening hours, rating, price, and more—where available—to find just what you’re looking for, right when you need it.

The other big addition is Uber integration inside the Google Maps app. For users who have the Uber app installed on their devices, Maps will allow to compare their ride with other directions and, through a "Get an Uber" button embedded in the app, it'll be possible to switch directly to the Uber app with one tap. Notably, Google's investment arm Google Ventures is an investor in Uber.

Google added other functionalities for iOS users in version 3.0 of the app as well. iPhone and iPad contacts can be accessed directly from the app, and Voice Search (a feature previously available in the Chrome and Search apps for iOS) has been integrated in the app's search box to look for locations without typing. A scale bar to estimate distances is now visualized on the map, and the process of saving and sharing locations has been refined; recently saved places and searches will be available in a "Places to review" list (requires sign-in).

Version 3.0 of Google Maps for iOS is available on the App Store.


GAget for iPhone

First released in October, GAget is my favorite Google Analytics app for iPhone because it makes it easy to look at stats for the current day and past 4 weeks with a clean design. Most Google Analytics clients tend to display as much information as possible at once, whereas GAget is a dashboard for your Analytics account – readable and with just the right amount of numbers and charts.

The latest 1.1 version adds support for traffic sources, platform data, and social stats that are displayed at the bottom of the screen with icons and percentages. Developer Zoltan Hosszu also makes GAget for Mac (which we covered in 2011), and the iPhone app is useful for quick overviews. GAget is $1.99 on the App Store.

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How Should Dropbox Respond To Google Drive’s Price Cut?

Bradley Chambers writes about Dropbox and last week's price cut for Google Drive:

Dropbox has been the king of the folder syncing hill for a few years now. Transporter is doing a end-run around on Dropbox by offering similar functionality with no monthly fees (and using onsite storage). Google is doing a full frontal assault with the price cut. Google is offering 100GB at 75% less than Dropbox at this time.

How does Dropbox respond? One thing they need is a great web presence. Dropbox's web interface is for viewing, organizing, deleting, and viewing. With Google Drive, you can create and edit spreadsheets, presentations, and documents. Dropbox needs to add this feature, but they also need to provide more. What could they do without matching the price?

I think that Bradley's proposed solutions make a lot of sense from a productivity standpoint, but I'll add this: revamp the Photos product on the web and mobile apps. Last year, Dropbox launched a series of enhancements to make it easier to upload photos and share them, but the presentation options and management features still lack behind what dedicated solutions like Picturelife, Flickr, and even Google+ are providing (not to mention the defunct, beloved Everpix).

The Photos view on Dropbox is limited, and while it aggregrates photos from your account and organizes them chronologically, it doesn't do much else. Dropbox is already storing user files and they're way past the problem of scaling, so they shouldn't run into the same issues of a startup like Everpix in terms of costs. If done right, photo backup and management with options to tag people, browse albums and locations, and easily share through Dropbox with family members could become an important part of the Dropbox product, if only because photos are personal, people care about them, and clearly no one has solved the photo problem yet – not Apple, not Flickr, and not Loom or Picturelife yet. Dropbox may not cut prices as much as Google, but a terrific Photos product could add a lot of value to the service.

Could Dropbox “fix” photo backup and management this year, or do they feel like Apple and Google will eventually get it just right (especially Apple, which is in an extremely sorry state of confusing Photo Stream affairs these days). Or does Dropbox prefer focusing on productivity features such as the ones Bradley imagines? Could they do both?

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Google Music for Mac Brings the Web Player to the Desktop

One of the least talked about music services is Google’s Play Music service, a combination music store and digital locker that can match up to 20,000 songs from your local library and stream them to your devices over the web for free. With All Access, you can stream Google’s entire catalog of music for $9.99 a month.

I’ve dabbled with the service before, using it with my previous storage limited MacBook and giving it an honest shot when away from home. The service has some nice touches, such as a miniature spectrum visualizer that designates the currently playing track and album in a variety of views, thumbs-up and thumbs-down ratings in contrast to stars, and instant mixes that create Genius-like playlists from your music library on the fly. I’ve always thought the player itself was good, and it’s certainly a usable alternative to iTunes for those listening on their work machine or Chromebook. The separate manager for matching songs is a little clumsy, but it’s not a deal breaker.

While the service offers a proper mobile experience on iOS and Android, the desktop experience is limited to the browser. At least that was until Google Music for Mac, an open source application that wraps the experience in a native player and binds the app to your Mac’s media keys.

The app lets you play your music Library through its native experience or, like Fluid, simply present the web app in a window. The experience largely reminds of Pocket for Mac, with the Google Play logo, search, and popover menus comprising the native wrapper.

I like the player. While I don’t see the purpose of including a button for other Google apps, the player rightfully does Google’s service justice on the desktop. You’ll have to log into the app using your username and password, and for those who are security conscious, the app does display your email address in the top right. Regardless, the app itself does a swell job of presenting your music (and Free from Google tunes) in a presentable interface. Small touches reformat the sidebar into something more appealing for OS X. All the little details from the web service have been carried over as-is, such as how album artwork fades into view, how soft shadows bring artists and albums forward, and Google's distinct orange highlights. Shortcuts are peppered throughout the app, letting you create playlists or jump to an artist view without having to go through library links or categories. Highlighting the scrubber brings up the play timer, and takes to you whatever point in the song you click.

The app’s free to download from Google Music for Mac’s project page, letting you skip Github if you're not interested in the repository.

Download it here.

[Hat tip @smileykeith]



Leaving Google Chrome: Why I’ve Returned To Safari

Safari

Safari

I guess you could say that I was quite the fan of Google Chrome.

Before switching to Chrome last year, I didn’t have a “favorite” browser or “browser of choice”: I just kept jumping between Safari, Chrome, and Firefox, trying out all the features that the three major players had to offer on OS X. I’m pretty sure that, at one point, I even tried to go a full week with using Opera. My browser requirements have always been fairly standard (several open tabs; a lot of reading; sync with mobile devices), so I could afford to change browsers without having to worry about setting up a complex environment from scratch.[1]

As I started using my iPad as my primary computer last year, I was growing increasingly annoyed with the state of iCloud sync in Safari and lack of major overhaul to a design that originally shipped with iPhone OS 1. I don’t frequently abandon systems that work for me due to stagnation, but iOS 6’s Safari exhibited a certain staleness on top of issues with bookmark and tab sync that, for me, were becoming an annoying problem. I liked Safari’s speed and native integrations with iOS, but it was prone to errors and boring.

On the other hand, Google Chrome for iOS was promising, familiar, and power user-friendly. I fell in love with Google’s support for x-callback-url, which I integrated in several workflows of mine as it allowed me to save time when switching between apps on my iPad; sync was nearly perfect; I praised Google’s superior implementation of voice dictation and feedback, although I noted how their Voice Search couldn’t exactly compete with Siri. Google kept pushing updates to Chrome for iOS, making it a capable browser for average and power users alike.

A few weeks after publishing my review of iOS 7, I decided to uninstall Chrome from all my devices and move back to Safari as my main and only browser on my iPhone, iPad, and two Macs.

I’m not looking back. I’m happy with the new Safari – so much, in fact, that I’m even considering Reading List as my “read later” service going forward.

Read more


Google Play Music Now Available on the App Store

Joining the wealth of music streaming services such as Rdio and Spotify, Google Play Music is now available to download on the App Store. Formally announced in March, Google Play Music All Access originally let subscribers stream a collection of two million songs from the web and to Android devices for $9.99 a month. Similar to iTunes Match, Google also lets users match up to 20,000 songs from local music libraries for free, but like Spotify lets users listen to local music alongside streaming content.

Google Play Music for iOS brings all of All Access' features to the iPhone, including unlimited streaming, ad-free custom radio stations with unlimited skips based on songs or artists, recommendations, and curated playlists. For streaming to speakers, the iOS app will stream over AirPlay and Chromecast.

Download Google Play Music from the App Store for free. A $9.99 monthly subscription is required to enjoy the service, but you can stream the first month for free.

[via 9to5Mac, The Verge]


Google Hangouts For iOS Updated with Support for GIFs

In what can be heralded as the first "major" update to the app since May 2013, Google has today released a new version of Hangouts for iOS that brings support for animated GIFs.

Hangouts 1.3 also lets you make and receive calls using your Google Voice number, it has indicators for contacts that are online and reachable, and it even fixes a pesky bug that caused audio playback to stop when the app was running in the foreground -- but the highlight is, clearly, support for inline visualization of GIFs.

Considered a priority over smooth scrolling and proper iOS 7 support (the app sports a lovely iOS 6 keyboard), GIF support works in tandem with the iOS Camera Roll: whenever you're in need of sending a friend, a co-worker, or a loved one a GIF that can, more than any other static image, prove a point through the use of animated cats, the new Hangouts app can pick a GIF from the Camera Roll, preview it, and insert it in a conversation. The GIF will be played inline across the web and the new iOS app.

In my tests, GIFs that I had archived in Evernote and saved to the Camera Roll weren't attached as animated GIFs to the Hangouts app; however, it's possible that this may be an issue of the Evernote app, as GIFs saved from Safari worked well with Google's client, retaining their beautiful and modern animations.

Support for inline animated GIFs is welcome; based on our first few tests, we can't pinpoint whether Google also made much-needed improvements to the app's performance -- particularly an issue for long threads and group conversations. On a somewhat related note, Apple released an update to iOS last month, but Google didn't decide to take advantage on it for version 1.3, deeming inline GIFs the feature worth improving in Hangouts.

Google Hangouts 1.3 is available on the App Store. GIFs are available on the Internet.


YouTube 2.2

The official YouTube app for iOS received an update earlier today. You can now choose the quality of videos you want to stream (tap the new icon on the video player); unfortunately, after two months, the app still isn't built for iOS 7.

Previously, YouTube announced that an update set to be released in November will add a new feature to download videos for offline watching.

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