Yesterday at the keynote for Google's I/O developer conference, the company introduced a News app launching soon for iOS and Android, which will replace the existing Google Play Newsstand app. The app is rolling out some time in the next week, but here are the highlights for what it'll contain.
Like Apple News, the landing page for Google News is called For You, which is where Google aggregates stories based on your interests. The second tab, Headlines, is strictly about the biggest stories in the world each day. These stories will be the same for everyone within a given geographic region, with no personalized curation at all. Finally, Favorites and Newsstand give you quick access to the publishers you follow, including the ability to subscribe to publications from directly within the app.
For the most part, Google News is a close imitation of Apple News – it has a similar layout, and a similar design with white backgrounds and a heavy focus on photography. The way it best differentiates itself is a feature that I think is the highlight of the app: Full Coverage. When you're reading a story and want to gain more insights and perspectives on the same topic, tapping the 'Full Coverage' option opens a view that aggregates a wide array of sources covering a variety of angles on that story. It's one way Google is aiming to promote solid journalism while gently combating filter bubbles. Based on the examples that have been shown so far, Full Coverage will list stories on an event timeline, offer answers to frequently asked questions about an event, highlight tweets and opinion pieces, fact checks, videos, and more. It's meant to be a comprehensive overview of a given story, and I think it looks fantastic.
It's unclear how widely available Full Coverage will be throughout the app, but we can assume that the most significant news events at least will include a Full Coverage component to them. Google demoed one Full Coverage story focusing on the Puerto Rico power outage situation.
Despite being different in execution, Full Coverage is similar in spirit to the Spotlight tab in Apple News: both aim to provide substantive overviews on a given topic by aggregating a variety of sources. While Spotlight is updated daily to cover a new topic, I appreciate Google's approach with Full Coverage because it will make those aggregated pages more accessible and relevant to readers. I love Spotlight and check it regularly, but it's frustrating that Spotlight stories can only be accessed the day they're published. Apple should take a note from Google News' playbook and start offering links to previous Spotlight features at the bottom of related stories.
Google announced a series of new features at its Google I/O developer conference that it will add to Google Maps and the Google Lens feature of its Photos and Assistant apps in the coming weeks and months.
During the Google I/O keynote, the company demonstrated augmented reality navigation that combines a camera-view of your location with superimposed walking directions. The feature, which works with a device’s camera, can also point out landmarks and overlay other information about the surrounding environment.
Google Maps is gaining a dedicated ‘For You’ tab too. The new tab will suggest nearby businesses, restaurants, and other activities based on things you’ve rated, places you’ve visited, and other input. The same sorts of inputs will be used in Maps’ new match score, which will predict how much you will like a particular destination and is designed to help make picking between multiple destinations easier. Maps will also allow users to quickly create lists of suggested destinations, share them with friends, and vote on where to go.
Google Lens, which is incorporated into the Google Photos and Assistant apps, is also gaining new features. Much like the iOS app Prizmo Go, Lens will be able to recognize text in books and documents viewed through the camera allowing you to highlight, copy, and paste the text into other apps. Lens is adding a Style Match feature which allows users to point a camera at something and see similar items too. In a demonstration, Google pointed Lens at a lamp, which generated a list of similar lamps almost instantly.
More than ever, Google is showing what can be accomplished with the vast amount of data it can bring to bear in real-time on mobile devices. The insights that are possible may seem creepy to some people, but if used responsibly, they allow Google to provide powerful contextual information to its users.
Google Tasks is a service many Google users may be unfamiliar with. Historically it's been a somewhat hidden feature of Gmail and Google Calendar, but today alongside a redesign of Gmail, Google is helping Tasks break out and receive slightly better treatment with the launch of a new iPhone app.
I have to say up front: if this app wasn't a Google property, tied to an existing Google service, it likely wouldn't merit much attention. Essentially it's a barebones home for task lists, with a couple small task manager-like functions. Each task you create can include additional details in a note area, be assigned a due date, and can include embedded subtasks. And that's basically it. You can create multiple lists to store your tasks, but there's not even a smart list that consolidates all your tasks containing due dates.
Ultimately, this is an extremely lightweight task manager that makes Apple's Reminders, its closest analog, seem like a heavy duty task powerhouse by comparison. Rita El Khoury of Android Police sums it up well in her take on the Android app:
I struggle to see who Tasks is for with this first version, and hope it's quickly iterated upon. If you're deeply invested in the Google ecosystem, and have very minimal task needs, but want something integrated with Google's other products, I guess Tasks could be for you. But only on the iPhone; there's no iPad version at this time.
Google Tasks is available as a free download on the App Store.
Today, Google announced a long list of updates to Gmail. The new features, which are beginning to roll out worldwide are focused primarily on security, artificial intelligence, and the incorporation of modern email features, some of which were first tested in the company’s Inbox app.
Google has addressed phishing with new, prominent warnings in the Gmail update. For sensitive information, Google is adding a ‘confidential mode’ in the coming weeks that will let users set expiration dates for messages and even revoke previously-sent messages. Google is also implementing per-message level two-factor authentication, which requires authentication via text message. Finally, users will be able to preclude message recipients from forwarding, copying, downloading, or printing messages.
Google is adding AI-powered functionality to Gmail. Nudging is a feature that will remind you of messages you haven’t responded to yet, so they don’t get lost. Gmail is also adding quick replies, which suggest responses based on the contents of the messages you receive.
The web interface of Gmail is getting several new features too. There’s a sidebar on the right-hand side of the screen for quick access to several Google apps and Gmail Add-Ons from third parties. A hover-over menu lets users RSVP to meeting invitations, archive message threads, and snooze messages. You can also view attachments without opening the message to which a document is attached. A new offline mode is available too, which will be a welcome addition for travelers when an Internet connection is unavailable.
Most of the changes to Gmail are to its web interface, but a couple of changes are coming to Gmail’s mobile apps in the coming weeks including high-priority notifications that only notify users of important messages and a one-tap unsubscribe feature.
Many of the new Gmail features are being rolled out globally in phases, so you may not see them right away. Google says others will be available in the upcoming weeks. Individual Gmail users can check the Settings menu for the updates and pick ‘Try the new Gmail’ to activate the new functionality. If you use G Suite, the new functionality can be turned on by participants in the G Suite Early Adopter Program from the Admin console.
Today on its blog, Dropbox announced an exciting piece of news: the company will soon add integrations between its service and Google's G Suite. The most prominent of those new ties involves Google Docs:
Dropbox users will be able to create, open, edit, save, and share Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides directly from Dropbox. And when you’re working in Dropbox, you’ll be able to save Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides to your Dropbox account.
Considering how much effort Dropbox has poured into building its own Google Docs competitor in Dropbox Paper, it's surprising to see the company embrace the competition wholeheartedly with a full-fledged integration like this. It's certainly good news for Dropbox users though, as Google Docs has long been the gold standard of web-based, collaborative document services.
Today's announcement post is unfortunately short on details of exactly when this integration will launch (besides saying "later this year"), or what it will look like. It's unknown, for instance, if the change will primarily impact Dropbox on the web, or if Dropbox's mobile app will be also optimized to do things like preview Google files and open them in their appropriate iOS apps for editing; one would hope mobile will reap the benefits too. The solid implementation of Dropbox's existing support for Microsoft Office gives hope that the service will play just as nicely with Google when the time comes.
One related piece of news from the post is that Dropbox is also building native integrations for Gmail and Hangouts Chat, so you'll be able to select files from your Dropbox account while using those services, plus a couple other small things.
Dropbox is pushing forward as a platform-agnostic, service-agnostic file hub for your working life. Whether the strategy will lead to long-term health for the company remains to be seen, but for me personally, it's one of the points keeping me from giving Dropbox up and going all-in on Apple's iCloud.
CES is a big, messy spectacle that has everything from vaporware and products you didn’t know you needed – and probably don’t – to truly cool new gadgets. We’ve been following the announcements this week and have rounded up a collection of the most interesting and promising gear we’ve seen so far. Many of these products have not shipped yet, so we haven’t had an opportunity to try them, but these are gadgets we will be watching closely throughout 2018 and that are likely to turn up again on MacStories later this year. CES doesn't end until Friday, so be sure to check back for updates on any additional announcements that catch our eyes.
I've always liked Gboard, Google's alternative keyboard for iOS. Gboard combines Google's intelligence (with accurate and personalized autocorrect, emoji and GIF suggestions) with handy features such as glide typing. However, as I mentioned before, I couldn't use Gboard as my primary keyboard on the iPhone for a variety of reasons: it lacked iOS' native dictation mode, couldn't automatically switch light and dark themes depending on the context of the current app, and, worst of all, it didn't support multi-language typing without manually picking a different keyboard layout.
Siri dictation and simultaneous multi-language support are still missing (the former will likely never be added), but today's update is an important step towards making Gboard feel more integrated with iOS. Gboard can now switch its default theme between light and dark based on the app you're using. I'm not sure how Google pulled this off, but I tested Gboard with the dark modes in Apollo, Tweetbot, Copied, and Bear, and the keyboard always used the dark theme instead of the light version. Conversely, in Safari, App Store, and other light-themed apps, Gboard used the light mode instead.
This was one of my complaints about the old Gboard: its default light theme looked garish in dark apps; on the other hand, if you persistently enabled Gboard's dark theme, then it would look out of place in apps like Messages or Mail. With automatic theme switch, changing Gboard's default appearance is no longer a concern because it adapts to the app you're using.
I've found a couple of apps where Gboard doesn't correctly apply the dark theme (Overcast is one of them), but I'm impressed overall; Gboard even switches to the dark theme when you swipe down on the Home screen to open Spotlight. I'd be curious to know which iOS API Google is using to implement this option, and if third-party developers can optimize for Gboard in any way.
In a series of updates released this morning on the App Store, Google brought support for two highly anticipated iOS 11 features – iPhone X compatibility and iPad drag and drop – to their Docs, Slides, and Sheets apps.
Google introduced Motion Stills on iOS in 2016. The app enables users to convert Live Photos into movies or GIFs applying stabilization to the video in the process. Live Photos can also be combined into moving collages.
Google has released version 2.0, which dispenses with the need to access your photo library to add Live Photos to a Motion Still. Instead, the app can now capture Live Photos and Motions Stills from within the app itself. The option to import from your photo library is still there, but having the option to shoot from within the Motion Stills app is a convenient addition. The new version also lets you delete Live Photos from your photo library with a swipe gesture and export collages you create as GIFs.
Motion Stills is available on the App Store.