Posts tagged with "google"

MKBHD Compares Siri and Google Assistant

This is a good video by Marques Brownlee on where things stand today between Siri (iOS 10) and the Google Assistant (running Android Nougat on a Google Pixel XL). Three takeaways: Google Assistant is more chatty than old Google Voice Search; Google still seems to have an edge over Siri when it comes to follow-up questions based on topic inference (which Siri also does, but not as well); and, Siri holds up well in most types of questions asked by Brownlee.

In my daily experience, however, Siri still falls short of basic tasks too often (two examples) and deals with questions inconsistently. There is also, I believe, a perception problem with Siri in that Apple fixes obvious Siri shortcomings too slowly or simply isn't prepared for new types of questions – such as asking how the last presidential debate went. In addition, being able to text with Google Assistant in Allo for iOS has reinforced a longstanding wish of mine – the ability to converse silently with a digital assistant. I hope Siri gets some kind of textual mode or iMessage integration in iOS 11.

One note on Brownlee's video: the reason Siri isn't as conversational as Google Assistant is due to the way Brownlee activates Siri. When invoked with the Home button (or by tapping the microphone icon), Siri assumes the user is looking at the screen and provides fewer audio cues, prioritizing visual feedback instead. If Brownlee had opened Siri using "Hey Siri" hands-free activation, Siri would have likely been just as conversational as Google. I prefer Apple's approach here – if I'm holding a phone, it means I can look at the UI, and there's no need to speak detailed results aloud.


Gboard Adds 3D Touch Cursor Movement, Contacts Integration

Google released a nice update to their iOS keyboard, Gboard, earlier today.

Cursor control can now be activated with 3D Touch, which is consistent with the behavior of Apple's keyboard. Gboard can't move the cursor freely on the screen like the system keyboard, though, which makes it more limited when it comes to swiping across multiple lines of text. Also, Google didn't implement haptic feedback when switching between contextual keyboard menus (such as holding down on the dash key), which is another detail that I appreciate in Apple's keyboard on the iPhone 7.

Similarly, Gboard now features Contacts integration to look up a person's contact card directly from the keyboard – but it's not as tightly integrated as QuickType suggestions in iOS 10. However, I prefer the presentation of contact cards in Gboard and I think Google's is a sweet solution as well.

Gboard is shaping up nicely, but I continue to wish Google paid more attention to the iPad layout and built true multilingual support for international users.


Google Photos Adds Four New Features

Google Photos has introduced four new features:

  • Google Photos uses faces in your most recent photos to suggest older photos with with the same person in them;
  • If you take a lot of photos of the same subject, like a child, Google Photos will create a card of the best ones from the past month;
  • Animations, which Google Photos already creates using photos, are also generated from videos now; and
  • If Google Photos detects that there are sideways photos in your collection, it will present a card with the photos that it thinks should be rotated.

This is what Google Photos does best. It finds connections and photos that would be like searching for a needle in a haystack if you did it manually with a big photo library.

Each of the new features are available on iOS, Android, and the web.


Where Will Google Assistant Live?

Google held an event earlier today where they announced a new line of Android phones, a smart speaker called Google Home, a Daydream VR headset, and more. MacRumors has a good recap of all the news.

As an Apple user, what grabbed my attention was the multi-platform nature of Google Assistant, the company's take on Siri powered by advanced AI and third-party service integrations. As explained by Jacob Kastrenakes at The Verge, Google Assistant will be available in three places, with some initial differences:

Google is almost certainly going to combine the different forms of its Assistant eventually so that they're all more-or-less equal in terms of features (save for, you know, stuff like screen search on a speaker). But for now, it’ll be occasionally limiting of what you can do.

And if you’re wondering how Google Now factors into all of this, well, join the club. Google says some of the stuff in Now that makes sense to be in an assistant will migrate over there — but how and when that will happen is anyone’s guess.

These inconsistencies may be part of why Google is keeping Assistant exclusive to just a few of its own products for the time being. It's a core feature of those products, but it's still in early stages, with mixed up features and ways to use it.

Obviously, Google Assistant is never going to be as prominent on iOS as it is on Android and other Google hardware, but I hope Google will update their iOS apps to bring Assistant's features to iPhone and iPad users.

Right now, Assistant can be accessed in a conversational form inside Allo, Google's messaging app that I only keep installed because of its Assistant support. The Google app is limited to Google Now (which I enjoy because of its time to leave and package tracking updates), but I'd expect it to gain Assistant in the future, simulating a Siri-like interface like Microsoft did with Cortana on iOS. Or perhaps Google could launch a full-fledged Assistant app on iOS, bundling text interactions (which Siri doesn't have) and voice activation in a single utility. I'm curious to see how (and when) Google brings more of its Assistant to Apple's devices.


Google Allo Is Available

Allo, the messaging app that Google announced in May, has been released for iOS and Android. Dieter Bohn at The Verge has this to say about Allo:

I’ve been using it for a few days now, and it’s fine. Totally, completely fine. It does the things you expect from a messaging app…. If for some reason you abhor the dozen or so widely-used chat apps out there today, maybe Allo will appeal to you (assuming you can also get your friends to use it).

But to succeed, Google needs much more than fine. It needs something special. It needs something to make users switch away from those other apps (and to redeem itself after the slow, sad slide of Google Hangouts).

Google’s attempt at ‘something special’ is Google Assistant, a bot that can pull information from your calendar, email, the web and other sources. The feature is handy, but I agree with Bohn that it’s not enough if you are already invested in another messaging service.

What you can do with Google Assistant depends on where you use it. In one-on-one conversations with the bot, you can receive personal information like upcoming flight information or calendar appointments along with things like the weather, driving directions, and sports scores. Google Assistant can also be called upon in conversations with another person to do web searches and retrieve other data, but it will not share personal information in this context. For example, when Federico and I briefly tried Allo this morning, he couldn’t use Google Assistant to share a calendar appointment with me.

There are other limitations that iOS users should keep in mind. Allo does not work with the iPad, except in iPhone compatibility mode. Even then, when I sent a message to Federico on my iPad and then switched to my iPhone, I could no longer use my iPad with Allo and the message I sent from my iPad didn’t show up in the conversation on my iPhone. In addition, the notifications you receive on the iPhone are not the rich iOS 10 notifications many apps have already adopted. Nor is there a desktop native app or web client, which further limits Allo’s utility.

Allo also reflects the difference in approaches to privacy taken by Google and Apple. Whereas iMessages are encrypted end-to-end, Allo’s messages are unencrypted and stored on Google’s servers, unless you delete them or use Incognito Mode to send them. That’s because Google Assistant learns from your past messages to do things like suggest personalized canned responses to messages you receive.

It’s hard to get excited about any messaging service that is iPhone only. If you have friends and family that use Android devices though, Allo may be a good way to communicate with them and enjoy some of kinds of media-rich features offered by other services. Google Assistant is also off to a solid start and something I would like to see it incorporated in other Google products or as a stand-alone app.

For a comprehensive rundown of Allo’s features, check out Dieter Bohn’s review on The Verge.


Google Photos Introduces Movie Concepts

In addition to improvements for sharing between users, Google has announced a new feature for Google Photos dubbed 'movie concepts'. Automatically generated like the service's previous slideshows and Assistant creations, movie concepts are based on "creative concepts" – themes found in your photos that go beyond recent uploads.

As Google writes:

We’re also upping our game when it comes to automatic creations. Google Photos has always made movies for you using your recently uploaded photos. Now we’re going further, with new movies that are based on creative concepts — the kinds of movies you might make yourself, if you just had the time. And they’re not only limited to your most recent uploads.


Look out for a concept to commemorate the good times from this summer, and another one for formal events like weddings. And you don’t need to do a thing — these movies get made automatically for you.

Here's an example of a concept created by Google Photos:

Casey Newton, writing for The Verge, has more details:

Tim Novikoff, who joined Google last year when it acquired his video-editing company, Fly Labs, said the feature takes advantage of Google’s advancements in deep learning and computer vision. The idea, he said, was "let’s leverage this to make movies that are emotionally powerful — that make your really smile, or even make you cry and reminisce and show your family."

More concept movies are planned. "You can imagine where this goes," Novikoff said. "Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Little League highlights, dance recitals. All the things that people do, we can make special movies around them."

The new feature comes less than a week after the launch of iOS 10, which includes Memories – a feature of Apple's Photos app that creates personalized movies based on location, dates, and people recognized in your photo library. From Google's description and Novikoff's comments, it sounds like movie concepts will be more advanced than iOS' automated creations, but we'll have to test them in practice and see if the promise holds up. I'm curious to compare Apple's Memories to Google Photos' concepts.


Google Trips Debuts on iPhone

Google launched a free trip planning app called Google Trips today with a deep set of features that work online and off. The motivation for the app was described by Richard Holden, a Google vice president of product management, to Casey Newton of The Verge in an interview:

We’re doing a great job on the planning stages, but we really need to help consumers when they’re actually at their destination.

I have spent a short time with Google Trips and it looks like Google has delivered.

After signing into Google Trips with the Gmail account I typically use to make travel plans, Trips showed an upcoming trip to Austin and past trips going back to 2008. Tapping on a trip opens a page with buttons to view any reservations the app finds in your Gmail, ‘Things to Do,’ ‘Food & Drink,’ and ‘Saved Places,’ which are any destinations you mark with a star as you browse through Trips’ suggestions.

Trips’ recommendations are further divided into categories like ‘Top Spots’ and ‘Outdoors’ for activities, and restaurants, cafes, and places near where you are staying for food and drink suggestions. Results can be viewed in a list view, where each item can be tapped to view more detail, or on a map. A toggle on the first page of each trip gives you the option to download the trip, a handy feature if you are traveling internationally and want to limit your data use.

Of course, to get the most out of Google Trips, you need to log into it with a Google account. If you are uncomfortable with Trips scanning your Gmail and search history to customize what it presents to you, Trips is probably not the app for you.

Google Trips is an iPhone-only app and is available as a free download on the App Store.

Google Photos Updated

Google released version 2.0.0 of Google Photos today to integrate better with other Google products and to give customers greater control over their photos.

In June, Google released Motion Stills an app that can turn Live Photos into GIFs or movies and does an amazing job eliminating camera shake. Version 2.0.0 brings that same functionality to Google Photos. From the menu, choose ‘Save as video’ and Google Photos will save a video version of your Live Photo.

It is also easier to upload your videos to YouTube. Select a video, tap share, pick the ‘YouTube’ icon from the share sheet. Google Photos will prepare the file and send it to the YouTube app where you can edit it further before posting if you like.

Finally, Google added a couple of user-friendly features to Google Photos. The first is the ability to sort photos in albums either chronologically or by recently added. The second is the ability to change the thumbnail used in the ‘People’ view to a photo of your own choosing.

As we saw from the introduction of the iPhone 7 yesterday, photography and the apps surrounding it continue to be some of the most competitive areas in mobile computing. With Google Photos 2.0.0, Google continues to refine its approach to photo management and tie it more closely with its video products.

Google Duo Launches

At Google I/O in May, two related mobile products were announced – Duo, a FaceTime-like video calling app, and Allo, an instant messaging client. Earlier today, Google began rolling out Duo worldwide to iOS and Android users. Duo is available in the US App Store now and, according to Google's blog, will appear in other countries over the next few days. I've only just begun to try Google Duo, but it seems to fulfill the promises made onstage at Google I/O, though with a few launch-day hiccups.

Duo is limited to one-to-one calling and is tied to your phone number. As a result, unlike FaceTime, you won't be able to use Duo on anything but your phone. However, because Duo is on iOS and Android, you will be able to make calls to people on both platforms.

Setting up Google Duo.

Setting up Google Duo.

Duo is extremely easy to set up and start using - all you have to do is verify your phone number and grant the app access to your contacts and camera. The app starts with a live view from the front facing camera. There’s a button to start a call and another that shows your most recently called contact. Settings are available from the familiar three dots in the top right-hand corner of the screen. Google says that video quality will adjust automatically based on the quality of your network connection.

The most unique feature of Duo is ‘Knock Knock,’ which displays your video stream to the recipient of your call as it rings on their end. In my brief tests, Knock Knock worked as advertised, but if you don’t like it, the feature can be turned off in settings.

I have only used Duo a couple of times. It worked as advertised on strong WiFi, but my subsequent attempts to make calls have failed, probably because the rest of the world is simultaneously trying Duo too. Given Google's infrastructure, I expect connection issues should settle down over time.

Google Duo is available on the App Store as a free download.

You can watch Google’s promotional video after the break.

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