Posts tagged with "google"

Google Updates Gboard with Dictation, Doodles, New Languages, and Emoji

Nearly one year ago Google launched Gboard, a third-party keyboard for iOS that brought the power of Google search to iOS's keyboard. The company has continuously improved the keyboard over time, with updates including support for multiple languages and a 3D Touch-powered trackpad mode. Earlier this year the keyboard was integrated with Google's standard search app. Today the improvements continue with three separate highlights.

Dictation

The default iOS keyboard has long presented the option to dictate text rather than type it, and Gboard has gained that ability starting today. Users will notice a speaker icon that now appears on the right side of the space bar. Long pressing that speaker icon will engage dictation mode.

Doodles

Google's Doodles add a sense of whimsy to the company's search page, but until today searching through Gboard meant missing out on Doodles. Going forward, whenever a Doodle is available the "G" button on the left side of the keyboard will animate, indicating you can pull up the Doodle with a quick tap.

Languages and Emoji

In addition to support for many new languages – Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Polish, Romanian, Swedish, Catalan, Hungarian, Malay, Russian, Latin American Spanish and Turkish – Gboard has also been updated to enable searching for and using the new emoji that Apple added to iOS 10.

Gboard can be downloaded from the App Store.


Google Updating AMP Pages with Easier Way to View, Copy Source URLs

A few months ago, I decided to remove Google AMP support from MacStories due to the obfuscation of our permalinks by the AMP plugin. There was a good discussion about publishers' AMP concerns, including a story on The New York Times.

Today, Google has announced that they're introducing a new feature that makes it easier to see a publisher's full URL and copy it. Here's Alex Fischer, writing on the Google Developers Blog:

Today, we're adding a feature to the AMP integration in Google Search that allows users to access, copy, and share the canonical URL of an AMP document. But before diving deeper into the news, let's take a step back to elaborate more on URLs in the AMP world and how they relate to the speed benefits of AMP.

And:

In addition to the above, many users have requested a way to access, copy, and share the canonical URL of a document. Today, we're adding support for this functionality in form of an anchor button in the AMP Viewer header on Google Search. This feature allows users to use their browser's native share functionality by long-tapping on the link that is displayed.

Google is also hoping that browsers will add support for a new Web Share API (which sounds nice as long as it can only be manually activated by the user; I can imagine websites abusing programmatic activation of the system share sheet).

I'm still not going to re-enable AMP in the short term, but I'm glad to see Google is listening to publishers and iterating quickly.

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YouTube Updated with Chromecast Control Features

If you own a Google Chromecast or Chromecast-compatible device, you now have more options for controlling it from an iOS device. The YouTube app received an update that lets you play, pause, skip forward and back, and control the volume of streaming video from the Lock screen and Control Center of an iOS device, or from an Apple Watch. This functionality has been available on Android for a long time, so it’s nice to see it extended to iOS users who have a Chromecast too.


Fabric Acquired by Google

Fabric, a suite of developer tools owned by Twitter, is being acquired by Google and will become part of Google's Developer Product Group, working with Google’s Firebase team. According to Francis Ma, Firebase Product Manager:

As a popular, trusted tool over many years, we expect that Crashlytics will become the main crash reporting offering for Firebase and will augment the work that we have already done in this area. While Fabric was built on the foundation of Crashlytics, the Fabric team leveraged its success to launch a broad set of important tools, including Answers and Fastlane. We'll share further details in the coming weeks after we close the deal, as we work closely together with the Fabric team to determine the most efficient ways to further combine our strengths.

It appears that Google is clearly interested in Crashlytics, Fabric’s crash reporting tool, but has left open the extent to which the other components of Fabric will be incorporated into the Firebase toolset.


Gboard Incorporated into Google’s iOS Search App

Google released an update to its iOS search app today that includes Gboard integration. Gboard is Google’s alternative to the iOS system keyboard and one of the better third-party keyboards available on iOS. The keyboard supports web, image, and GIF searches, instant-answer search results, multiple languages, 3D Touch cursor movement, contacts, and other features.

Gboard must still be installed by navigating to the Keyboard settings in Apple’s Settings app, but after you do that, Gboard’s settings can be adjusted in the Google app instead of the separate Gboard app. The downside of the new approach is that if you already have Gboard installed, it is now possible to have two Gboard keyboards installed at once – one from the standalone Gboard app, which is still available on the App Store, and the other from the Google app. If you’re a Google app user and already have Gboard installed as I did, I suggest deleting the Gboard app because there is no reason to have two instances of the Gboard keyboard installed.

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Google Introduces Featured Photos Screensaver for macOS

Popular Google+ photos have been available via Google's Wallpapers app on Android and on Google Fiber and Chromecast devices, but today, Google is bringing them to macOS too. Google’s Featured Photos Screensaver rotates through a selection of high-resolution photographs that have been publicly shared on Google+ and don’t include people in them. Each photo also includes information about the photographer that took the shot and links to more of their work. If you’re a photographer and want your photos to be considered for inclusion in the app, you can learn more here.

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Google Play Newsstand Redesigned

Google has been on a tear with new and updated iOS apps. The latest is a redesign of Google Play Newsstand, a free app for browsing news outlets and magazines similar to Apple News.

Blending a variety of national and local news with article recommendations based on your personal interests using machine learning, Newsstand creates a media-rich 'For You' page divided into two sections. The 'Briefing' includes a handful of what Google deems the most important and relevant stories to you. Below the Briefing is 'Highlights,' a longer list of articles culled from you favorite sources and topics. Each article in Highlights helpfully explains why it was suggested.

Tapping the three dot menu button below any article lets you hide stories from its source, have fewer articles of that type suggested (I took advantage of this immediately with CNN's report on a Parmesan cheese recall), or jump directly to the source or topic of the article. I've found the last two options a great way to quickly build a database of topics and sources that I want to follow.

Newsstand is built on an AMP foundation:

We have improved our support for multimedia content building on the AMP support we launched earlier this year. Scroll through your feed, and you will see autoplay videos, easy podcast controls, and high-resolution, full-bleed images. Every story and topic in Newsstand now comes to life in a more engaging, beautiful presentation.

I'm not a fan of autoplay anything, but Newstand's articles look terrific and load fast.

Finally, Google also touts Newsstand's new web app as a way to access news wherever you are. It’s broad claim that needs to be qualified. The unstated assumption seems to be that the web app is for desktop use only because it doesn't work on iOS even if you use Google's Chrome browser. Moreover, on macOS, Newsstand doesn’t work with Safari, instead directing you to download Chrome.

Newsstand's web app does not work on Safari for iOS or macOS.

Newsstand's web app does not work on Safari for iOS or macOS.

In some ways Google Play Newsstand feels like a modern implementation of Google Reader, which was shuttered in 2013 around the same time that Newsstand was introduced. I wonder how much better my recommendations would be if Newsstand had the benefit of all the years I used Google Reader. Maybe it does have access to that data, but using Newsstand feels too much like starting over for that to be the case. In any event, Google Play Newsstand is a worthy competitor to Apple News. Perhaps 2017 will see competition among news services similar to what we've seen with photo services this year.

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Google Introduces PhotoScan and Updates Google Photos

Earlier today, Google announced a new app called PhotoScan and updates to Google Photos. PhotoScan is a simple scanner app for capturing prints. On launch it opens to a camera view with the instruction to frame your photo within the rectangle on the screen. When you tap the shutter, instead of taking a picture of your print, PhotoScan displays a circle in the middle of the view finder with four other circles near the corners of your print. There is a little arrow that prompts you to move your phone to line up the middle circle with each of the four other circles one at a time. When you’re finished, PhotoScan processes the data it’s collected and presents you with your scanned print, which can be further adjusted in-app.

PhotoScan, which is a free download on the App Store, doesn’t require you to sign into a Google account, unless you want to save your scans to Google Photos. If you prefer, you can save your scans to Apple’s Photos.

Google made a video demoing how PhotoScan works:

I tried PhotoScan on a handful of family photos to see how it would fare. In my tests, I found that there are a couple of simple things you can do to greatly improve your scans. First, find a spot where the lighting is good, but indirect which will help avoid glare on glossy photos. Second, don’t use the flash. Here’s an example of a scan with and without the flash that I took in the same spot, from the same distance, and with the same lighting:

The scan with flash turned on (left) has a nasty white glare spot in the middle of the photo and did a poor job cropping the image.

The scan with flash turned on (left) has a nasty white glare spot in the middle of the photo and did a poor job cropping the image.

Not every photo taken with the flash on had this much glare, but most had a bright white spot in the middle of the photos. Here are three scans that came out much better that were taken under normal lighting conditions in my kitchen with the flash turned off:

Each of these photos was scanned with the flash turned off  and turned out reasonably well.

Each of these photos was scanned with the flash turned off and turned out reasonably well.

PhotoScan does have some bugs. It crashed a couple times while I was using it. The second crash happened after I scanned fourteen photos. I went to the preview page to save them and when I tapped ‘Save All,’ PhotoScan crashed. When I reopened the app, all of my scans were gone. I thought I had lost data, but it turns out they were saved to Photos before the app crashed, so what could have been a scary moment if I had scanned dozens of photos turned out fine.

Overall, PhotoScan did a good job detecting the corners of prints and properly cropping most of them. PhotoScan also did a good job capturing the colors and detail of each shot as long as the flash was disabled. None of the snapshots I scanned were in perfect focus, but the scans of each were noticeably fuzzier and the colors off a little in some. Despite the bugs and limitations though, PhotoScan is an app I’ll keep close by when I visit relatives over the holidays for when they pull out family albums of photos because it’s so convenient and easy to use.

Google also added three new features to Google Photos today. The first is an improved auto-enhance tool. Second, Google added twelve new filters, which it calls ‘Looks.’ The feature first edits the photo to enhance it and then applies a filter that complements your photo. How does Google Photos know how to adjust its filters complement your photos? Machine learning of course. The third feature is fine-grained light and color editing tools. The Verge reports that Google is also introducing three new automatically created videos to Google Photos, for newborns, formal occasions like weddings, and a ‘through the years’ a slideshow for annual events like holiday gatherings.


Google Play Music Gets Smart

Google is revamping Google Play Music with intelligence that it says will deliver the right music at the right time using machine learning. According to a post by Elias Roman, Lead Product Manager for Google Play Music, Google’s streaming music service will go beyond just figuring out what you like from the music you listen to. The update will also take into account context – things like your location, what you’re doing, and even the weather.

As Roman describes it:

To provide even richer music recommendations based on Google’s understanding of your world, we’ve plugged into the contextual tools that power Google products. When you opt in, we’ll deliver personalized music based on where you are and why you are listening — relaxing at home, powering through at work, commuting, flying, exploring new cities, heading out on the town, and everything in between. Your workout music is front and center as you walk into the gym, a sunset soundtrack appears just as the sky goes pink, and tunes for focusing turn up at the library.

In addition, Google has redesigned the Google Play Music home screen to emphasize your favorite music by putting it right at the top of the screen and adjusting what’s shown based on your context. The service will also automatically create an offline playlist of recently played songs for subscribers to listen to when they have no data connection.

It’s not surprising to see Google take Google Play Music in this direction. One of Google’s biggest competitive advantages is the data it knows about you from its many products. This sort of assistive technology is already baked into products like Google Photos and it seems natural to bring the same smarts to Google Play Music too.

Google Play Music will begin its world-wide roll-out to sixty-two countries this week on iOS, Android, and the web.

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