Today Apple announced a special partnership with Google to develop contact tracing technology designed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the coming months. The plan involves two steps:
First, in May, both companies will release APIs that enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities. These official apps will be available for users to download via their respective app stores.
Second, in the coming months, Apple and Google will work to enable a broader Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform by building this functionality into the underlying platforms. This is a more robust solution than an API and would allow more individuals to participate, if they choose to opt in, as well as enable interaction with a broader ecosystem of apps and government health authorities. Privacy, transparency, and consent are of utmost importance in this effort, and we look forward to building this functionality in consultation with interested stakeholders. We will openly publish information about our work for others to analyze.
Additionally, Apple has published draft technical documentation covering their joint work with Google.
This marks only the latest of several efforts Apple has developed to help fight the spread of COVID-19. The company developed an app and website, in partnership with the CDC, to help people with symptoms know what they should do. Additionally Tim Cook has been tweeting periodic updates about the masks and face shields the company has sourced and developed to send to first responders. Today’s partnership with Google, however, may be the most significant effort to date.
The World Health Organization explains how contact tracing – which involves keeping track of anyone who has been in contact with an infected person – can help limit the transmission of disease. Although current social distancing policies are a strict form of containment, well-implemented contact tracing could help prevent the need for such drastic measures in the future.
I’m glad that Apple and Google are collaborating on this effort, and that it will be privacy-first and opt-in. Anything that can be done to minimize the spread of COVID-19 is a good thing.
Google released an exciting update for its Assistant iOS app today, bringing support for Siri shortcuts and, for the first time, opening lines of communication between the two competing assistants.
Siri and the Google Assistant have historically been unable to work together in any way, but thanks to the opening up of Siri via shortcuts in iOS 12, that changes now. With the latest update, you can set up a shortcut in iOS to immediately, via Siri, trigger any command you’d like to give Google’s Assistant.
Google has announced that later this week, it will add several new features to its Maps app for iOS and Android commuters. The update includes live, personalized traffic data, support for ‘mixed-mode’ commutes, real-time bus and train tracking, and integration with Apple Music, Google Play Music, and Spotify.
The update will include a dedicated ‘Commute’ tab in the Maps app. After users identify their commute, Google Maps will provide live traffic data about the route. The Android app will also include notifications about delays as they happen so you can adjust your trip.
Google Maps will also support mixed-mode commutes. That means, for example, commuters who travel by car, train, and on foot will see commute information relevant to each leg of their journey. Real-time bus and train tracking is being added in 80 cities worldwide too.
Playback controls for Apple Music, Spotify, and Google Play Music is coming to Google Maps. Spotify users on Android will also be able to browse and select content from inside the app.
As someone who used to commute by train every day, I particularly appreciate the focus on public transportation. Google hasn’t said, but hopefully, these new features are included as part of Google Maps’ CarPlay integration too.
Google Maps is available as a free download on the App Store.
Google launched Inbox in 2014 as a place to experiment with new email features, some of which made their way into the company’s Gmail app eventually. Although it served as a sandbox for trying new features like email snoozing, Smart Replies, and Nudges, Inbox was not updated nearly as frequently as Gmail. So, it wasn’t surprising to hear from Google yesterday that it plans to end support for Inbox at the end of March 2019.
If you are an Inbox user and want to move your email accounts to Gmail, Google has created a transition guide.
Chrome just turned 10 and Google is celebrating with a big update to its Chrome browser on iOS and the Mac. The update, which was announced on Google’s The Keyword blog, includes a redesign of the app’s UI, improvements to password management, answers to common queries directly from Google’s Omnibox, new personalization options, and under-the-hood enhancements.
Front and center is a redesign of Chrome’s UI. Iconography, text fields, and tabs all have more rounded corners than previously. Google has also adjusted the color palette used. The overall effect has a more lightweight feel, especially on the Mac where there is abundant white space.
Chrome’s password manager is improved too. Google says the app is better at filling in names, addresses, and credit card information in web forms. Chrome also generates, saves, and syncs your passwords across platforms.
If all you need is a simple answer to a question, Google’s combination search bar/address bar, which it calls the Omnibox, will now display relevant information as you type on the Mac. Google says the Omnibox will return definitions in the drop-down results as you type as well as information about people and other subjects. In my limited testing, I was able to display definitions from the Omnibox, but I couldn’t recreate the other results demonstrated by Google in its announcement.
Google has also added shortcut management to newly opened tabs, which can also feature a photo of your choice in the background. Google also mentions that it is experimenting with under-the-hood changes to improve Chrome’s overall performance that are covered in detail on its developer blog.
The iOS update is available on the App Store and the Mac version directly from Google.
If you’ve ever wondered how long you spend watching YouTube, now you can find out. With an update that hit the App Store today, Google has added ‘Time watched’ statistics to the iOS app’s Account view. Tap your avatar in the upper right-hand corner, then ‘Time watched’ for your total viewing time today, yesterday, and the past week, plus your daily average. The statistics are based on your YouTube Watch History, so they don’t include anything deleted from your Watch History or watched in Incognito mode. Nor does Google include YouTube Music listening statistics.
The new ‘Time watched’ section also includes the ability to set up reminders to take a break periodically, which can be set in 5-minute increments between 5 minutes and 24 hours. There’s also a toggle for batching the notifications YouTube sends. There are 10 categories of notifications available in the YouTube app, so batching them if you have several turned on is a welcome addition. Notification digests can also be accessed from the app’s settings. From ‘Time watched,’ you can turn off Autoplay and disable sounds and vibrations too.
Originally announced at Google I/O earlier this year, it’s nice to see watch time statistics added at the app level, even though similar information will be available from the Screen Time feature coming soon with iOS 12. If you haven’t been running the iOS 12 beta, taking a peek at your YouTube usage statistics now is an excellent way to get a feel for the utility of having an objective measure of how long you spend on the service.
Breaking out from the Google Drive moniker, Google has launched a set of new cloud storage tiers under the branding Google One. The new name makes sense, since Google Drive storage formerly encompassed space allotted to a wide swath of Google products, such as Photos, Docs, and Gmail, as well as files actually stored in Drive. Now Google One fills the role of covering your storage needs across all Google products and services, which I think will be less confusing. It’s a pattern that follows Apple’s own iCloud branding, where iCloud storage covers a variety of Apple services like Photos and Mail, with iCloud Drive just one of those services.
Along with the organizational change, Google One introduces revised pricing and storage options:
- 15 GB: Free
- 100 GB: $1.99/month
- 200 GB: $2.99/month
- 2 TB: $9.99/month
- As well as 10 TB, 20 TB, and 30 TB options for prices in the hundreds of dollars per month
Google’s pricing is comparable to Apple’s own iCloud storage, though with more options and a more generous free tier. Apple offers 5 GB for free, 50 GB for $0.99/month, 200 GB for $2.99/month, and for 2 TB for $9.99/month.
Google One’s rollout will be staged worldwide, but as of today it appears to be available in the U.S. at least.
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.