Google has long been the first place most of us go when searching for something specific, and now it wants to be our primary destination for personalized, proactive content as well. Launching today in the US, and internationally in the coming weeks, the Google app for iOS now includes a personalized feed filled with things like news stories, live sports highlights, and suggested videos, all of which are merged in the feed with other data we’ve come to expect from the Google app such as local weather, relevant travel info, and more.
While Google’s iOS app formerly served as a place to mainly perform searches and see a bit of personalized data, today’s update transforms the app experience entirely. The search option is still at the top of the screen, and that data you’re used to seeing is still around, but the additions included here change the app’s primary purpose. It becomes a place to go not only when you need to find something, but also just when you have a little time to kill and want to catch up on what’s going on in the outside world. If the feed becomes good enough at knowing what’s important to me, I can see myself regularly checking and scrolling through it the way I do with social apps like Twitter or Facebook.
Google promises that the feed will get better over time as its machine learning algorithms gain a more accurate understanding of a user’s interests. One way that users can help that process is through using the new ‘Follow’ button that will soon begin appearing next to Google search results. This button will allow you to selectively follow certain movies or TV shows, sports teams, musical artists, celebrities, and more. Another layer of customization is found in the ‘Customize the Feed’ menu accessible by tapping the three dots in the upper right corner of any content card. Here you can turn the feed off entirely if you’d like, but you can also customize exactly which categories of content will populate your feed.
If you’d like more in-depth information about today’s update, Google has a blog post walking through the changes.
First announced last month at Google I/O, Google Photos for iOS has now been updated to include several new sharing features, including suggested sharing and shared libraries.
The suggested sharing feature brings with it a new dedicated navigation tab labeled ‘Sharing.’ Here you’ll find a listing of all prior sharing activity, as well as suggestions of photos you haven’t shared yet but may want to. These suggestions are made for one of two reasons: either the photos in question appear similar to images you’ve shared in the past with certain people, so Google thinks you may want to share them, or the photos contain people that Google knows are in your contacts, and thus you may want to share them.
If a Google Photos user shares images with another Google Photos user, and the sharing recipient appears to have photos from the same time and place, Google will suggest adding those images to the shared album. This can be used most effectively when sharing photos around a certain event, like a wedding or vacation. One person may initiate the sharing, but Google Photos makes it easy for the other people who attended the event to improve the shared album by seamlessly adding their own captured memories to it.
The new library sharing features are accessed from the sidebar menu’s ‘Share your library’ option, not the ‘Sharing’ tab. After you’ve selected one or more people to share with, there are a couple settings you can adjust. You can choose to share your entire library, or only photos of specific people. You can also set a time period from which the library sharing should begin – for example, you can set sharing to only happen with all photos from this day on, or from six months ago on, etc.
Google Photos was already an excellent service, but today’s updates make it even better. The automatic library sharing in particular has been on my wish list for Apple Photos for a long time. At the time these features were announced, details about iOS 11 were still unknown, but now that the WWDC unveiling has come and gone without any announced improvements to sharing in Apple Photos, Google Photos is more tempting than ever.
Today Google kicked off its I/O event with a keynote that covered a wide array of announcements, several of which were particularly relevant for Apple users.
Google Assistant Coming to iOS: Google Assistant is coming to the iPhone in the form of a dedicated app, launching today. Assistant is the company's Siri competitor, and until now it has been largely restricted to Android and Google-made devices like Google Home. The messaging app, Allo, has had some form of Assistant since its launch last September, but the full Assistant has not been available on iOS until now. Like every other third-party digital assistant on iOS, Google Assistant will be more restricted in its system access than Apple's own Siri, and less convenient to activate as well. To engage the Assistant, you'll have to open the app or interact with the app's widget. (Source)
Sharing Features and Photo Books with Google Photos: In the coming weeks, Google will be adding new sharing features to its Photos iOS app. Similar to the smart sharing features in Apple's Clips app, Google Photos will identify the subjects in your photos and suggest sharing the images with those people. Separately, a new Shared Libraries feature allows easy sharing of all images that fit the parameters you set. One option that's especially interesting is the ability to automatically share only the photos that contain a certain person in them. The last of the Photos announcements was that starting next week, U.S. users will be able to order Photo Books consisting of selections from their libraries. (Source)
Smart Reply Comes to the Gmail App: Google previously added a Smart Reply feature to its Inbox and Allo apps, but today it is expanding the feature to Gmail for iOS and Android. The feature offers three suggested responses that you can quickly tap on to send. Google says the feature has already driven 12 percent of replies in the Inbox app, so it is likely to receive a lot more use as it expands to more users. (Source)
Today's Apple-related announcements are on the lighter side when compared to some past I/O keynotes, but they're still nice to have for iPhone users who rely on Google services.
Dieter Bohn of The Verge reports on some major changes coming soon to Google Hangouts. Google's new strategy for the service aims to make Hangouts a formidable Slack competitor as a team collaboration tool. The changes are focused in two main areas:
Google Hangouts has been having an identity crisis ever since Google tried to relaunch it as an end-all, be-all replacement for Gchat. It’s been ping-ponging between Google Plus, business video chat, Google Voice, Project Fi, SMS, and lord knows what else. Focusing on business chat seems like a better strategy — and thankfully one that doesn’t feel beholden to some other Google product with a dubious future. Hangouts is fully a Google Cloud / G Suite product now, and it will be developed for those users.
Google's changes to Hangouts follow recent moves by Facebook and Microsoft in the collaborative chat space. These days, it seems everyone wants a piece of the workplace collaboration pie.
Apple added collaboration tools to iWork last year, but otherwise the company has shown no signs of creating its own competitor to Slack. I do wonder, though, how iMessage could potentially evolve in the future to serve many of the needs that tools like Slack currently meet. The user base is already there, and iMessage Apps could provide the extensibility needed to compete with Slack.
The question, however, is not "Could Apple do it?" Instead, it's "Would they want to?" They could very well be content to simply serve as the platform where these competing services live.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.