Posts tagged with "google"

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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Google Docs and Sheets Add Split-View Support

Earlier today, Google Docs and Google Sheets for iOS were updated with Split View support. Google Docs also added the ability to insert images and page breaks in documents. With iOS 9, Apple introduced the ability to run two apps side-by-side on certain models of the iPad. In the ensuing months, Google Docs and Sheets were updated regularly, but Split View remained conspicuously absent. Now, on the eve of the release of iOS 10, users who rely on Google Docs and Sheets can finally write and work on spreadsheets on the iPad alongside another iOS app.

Update: In addition to Docs and Sheets, Google has updated Slides for iOS with Split View support.


Google’s Chrome Browser to Block Flash

Yesterday, Google announced that its Chrome browser will begin blocking Flash that runs in the background of webpages in September and make HTML5 the ‘default Chrome experience’ in December. According to Google:

Today, more than 90% of Flash on the web loads behind the scenes to support things like page analytics. This kind of Flash slows you down, and starting this September, Chrome 53 will begin to block it. HTML5 is much lighter and faster, and publishers are switching over to speed up page loading and save you more battery life. You’ll see an improvement in responsiveness and efficiency for many sites.

In December, Chrome 55 will make HTML5 the default experience, except for sites which only support Flash.

It has been more than six years since Steve Jobs penned an open letter titled ‘Thoughts on Flash,’ in which he concluded:

Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short.

The avalanche of media outlets offering their content for Apple’s mobile devices demonstrates that Flash is no longer necessary to watch video or consume any kind of web content. And the 250,000 apps on Apple’s App Store proves that Flash isn’t necessary for tens of thousands of developers to create graphically rich applications, including games.

New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too). Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind.

Jobs’ open letter was controversial when it was published. In 2010, Flash was everywhere, serving much of the video on the web and acting as a platform for online gaming. HTML5 was making headway, but it was the clear underdog.

Adobe’s initial response to Jobs came from none other than Kevin Lynch, who was the CTO of Adobe in 2010, but is now a Vice President of Technology at Apple, leading the development of watchOS. Lynch announced that Adobe was shifting its focus away from the iPhone and iPad in favor of implementing Flash on Android and other mobile platforms.

Flash never got a firm foothold in the mobile world. Roughly eighteen months after Jobs’ open letter, Adobe abandoned Flash for mobile and began to embrace HTML5. Since then, HTML5 has been incorporated into many of Adobe’s products and Adobe has actively participated in its development. The decline of Flash on PCs has been slower, but is likely to accelerate given Chrome’s browser market share, which, according to NetMarketShare, exceeds 50%.

Chrome is notoriously hard on laptops’ battery life. In what struck me as a significant understatement, Google says that:

Aside from [being prompted to enable Flash on Flash-only sites], the only change you’ll notice is a safer and more power-efficient browsing experience.

In a consumer PC market dominated by laptops, better battery life and safety may be the ‘only’ benefits users will notice, but they are nonetheless significant.



Gboard Adds Support for Multiple Languages

Nice update to Google's custom keyboard for iOS released today on the App Store:

Gboard is already available in English across the U.S., Europe, Canada and Australia. Starting today, Gboard is ready to start sending GIFs, searches, emojis and more for our friends who speak French, German, Italian, Portuguese (Brazil and Portugal) and Spanish (Spain).

Gboard's emoji search is the best way to search for any emoji I've tried on iOS. iOS 10's predictive emoji suggestions aren't even close to the Gboard's emoji features. I was hoping iOS 10 would have proper emoji search – maybe next year.

But I'm surprised that Google hasn't shipped an actual multilingual keyboard to type in two languages simultaneously. You have to switch between international layouts inside Gboard – just like in Apple's current keyboard for iOS 9. By contrast, iOS 10's upcoming multilingual keyboard is downright amazing, and I can't go back to keyboards without multilingual support now.

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Google Research Releases Motion Stills

Yesterday, Google Research released Motion Stills, an app that turns Live Photos into movies or GIFs. There is heavy-duty computing going on behind the scenes to separate the foreground from the background, stabilize the video clip, and loop it, which is one of Google’s strengths. Here is a taste of Google’s explanation:

We pioneered this technology by stabilizing hundreds of millions of videos and creating GIF animations from photo bursts. Our algorithm uses linear programming to compute a virtual camera path that is optimized to recast videos and bursts as if they were filmed using stabilization equipment, yielding a still background or creating cinematic pans to remove shakiness.

There’s much more to what Google is doing to create Motion Stills clips, so I recommend reading Google's entire post if you’re curious.

Image courtesy of Google.

Image courtesy of Google.

In my limited tests, creating clips was fast and easy, but I also had some trouble with Live Photos not properly displaying in Motion Stills. Occasionally, Motion Stills would seem empty or skip recent Live Photos, showing old ones instead. Hopefully Google will get those issues resolved in a future update because when it works properly, Motion Stills makes fantastic video clips.

Motion Stills is free on the App Store.

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Google Adds Find Your Phone Feature for iOS Devices

Google continues to improve and refine its ‘My Account’ features with a service that complements Apple’s ‘Find iPhone’ feature. Google’s ’Find Your Phone’ which has been available for a while for Android phones, allows Google users to:

  • find their iOS device and lock it by redirecting users to iCloud.com;
  • call an iOS device;
  • leave a callback number on an iOS device's screen;
  • log out of your Google account;
  • contact your mobile carrier; and
  • locate a local lost and found using Google Maps.

To access Find Your Phone, log into your Google ‘My Account’ page on the web or use the Google iOS app on another iOS device.


What Google Photos Could Do Next

Mat Honan, writing for BuzzFeed, interviewed Anil Sabharwal, vice president of Photos at Google, on the future of the service. It sounds like they're thinking of more ways to let artificial intelligence make photo management and sharing smarter:

Google refers to these auto-generated moments as “creations.” According to Sabharwal, the company has made 1.6 billion of them in the past year and has big plans to do more. “I think there’s a really great opportunity to mix the machine learning and creations together,” he said. “One [creation] we love is the concept of ‘rediscover this day’ — where we present to our users meaningful moments on a particular date in previous years. Rather than ‘here’s what happened a year ago,’ it’s here’s a set of photos from the last time you were with these people, or the last time you were at this restaurant.”

Sabharwal also said Photos might become smarter about the albums and movies it creates by giving them a stronger perspective and point of view. It might, for example, automatically select a wedding shot in which you and your partner are looking at each other for the hero shot in an anniversary album.

The success of Google Photos doesn't surprise me. Unlike other Google products, it's focused, updated often, and it distills the best of Google (machine learning at scale, speed, online backup) down to a clear, user-friendly product. I think it's the best consumer service they've launched in years.

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The Similarity of Differences

Seth Clifford:

Apple and Google, in the eyes of the general public and many tech bloggers, have been at war for many years, and in vague terms, both companies sell fancy mobile phones. But the implications of those businesses are so far beyond the face value of what we see. And what I’ve realized is that they aren’t zero-sum or mutually exclusive. What I’ve come to understand is that the more the two companies seem to have been battling, the more the individual directions of each company become unassailably concrete.

Different directions toward the same destination. But I would also add fundamentally different cultures and focus. This is what makes observing both companies so fun these days.

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