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Posts tagged with "google"

Google Allo Is Available

Allo, the messaging app that Google announced in May, has been released for iOS and Android. Dieter Bohn at The Verge has this to say about Allo:

I’ve been using it for a few days now, and it’s fine. Totally, completely fine. It does the things you expect from a messaging app…. If for some reason you abhor the dozen or so widely-used chat apps out there today, maybe Allo will appeal to you (assuming you can also get your friends to use it).

But to succeed, Google needs much more than fine. It needs something special. It needs something to make users switch away from those other apps (and to redeem itself after the slow, sad slide of Google Hangouts).

Google’s attempt at ‘something special’ is Google Assistant, a bot that can pull information from your calendar, email, the web and other sources. The feature is handy, but I agree with Bohn that it’s not enough if you are already invested in another messaging service.

What you can do with Google Assistant depends on where you use it. In one-on-one conversations with the bot, you can receive personal information like upcoming flight information or calendar appointments along with things like the weather, driving directions, and sports scores. Google Assistant can also be called upon in conversations with another person to do web searches and retrieve other data, but it will not share personal information in this context. For example, when Federico and I briefly tried Allo this morning, he couldn’t use Google Assistant to share a calendar appointment with me.

There are other limitations that iOS users should keep in mind. Allo does not work with the iPad, except in iPhone compatibility mode. Even then, when I sent a message to Federico on my iPad and then switched to my iPhone, I could no longer use my iPad with Allo and the message I sent from my iPad didn’t show up in the conversation on my iPhone. In addition, the notifications you receive on the iPhone are not the rich iOS 10 notifications many apps have already adopted. Nor is there a desktop native app or web client, which further limits Allo’s utility.

Allo also reflects the difference in approaches to privacy taken by Google and Apple. Whereas iMessages are encrypted end-to-end, Allo’s messages are unencrypted and stored on Google’s servers, unless you delete them or use Incognito Mode to send them. That’s because Google Assistant learns from your past messages to do things like suggest personalized canned responses to messages you receive.

It’s hard to get excited about any messaging service that is iPhone only. If you have friends and family that use Android devices though, Allo may be a good way to communicate with them and enjoy some of kinds of media-rich features offered by other services. Google Assistant is also off to a solid start and something I would like to see it incorporated in other Google products or as a stand-alone app.

For a comprehensive rundown of Allo’s features, check out Dieter Bohn’s review on The Verge.

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Google Photos Introduces Movie Concepts

In addition to improvements for sharing between users, Google has announced a new feature for Google Photos dubbed 'movie concepts'. Automatically generated like the service's previous slideshows and Assistant creations, movie concepts are based on "creative concepts" – themes found in your photos that go beyond recent uploads.

As Google writes:

We’re also upping our game when it comes to automatic creations. Google Photos has always made movies for you using your recently uploaded photos. Now we’re going further, with new movies that are based on creative concepts — the kinds of movies you might make yourself, if you just had the time. And they’re not only limited to your most recent uploads.

And:

Look out for a concept to commemorate the good times from this summer, and another one for formal events like weddings. And you don’t need to do a thing — these movies get made automatically for you.

Here's an example of a concept created by Google Photos:

Casey Newton, writing for The Verge, has more details:

Tim Novikoff, who joined Google last year when it acquired his video-editing company, Fly Labs, said the feature takes advantage of Google’s advancements in deep learning and computer vision. The idea, he said, was "let’s leverage this to make movies that are emotionally powerful — that make your really smile, or even make you cry and reminisce and show your family."

More concept movies are planned. "You can imagine where this goes," Novikoff said. "Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Little League highlights, dance recitals. All the things that people do, we can make special movies around them."

The new feature comes less than a week after the launch of iOS 10, which includes Memories – a feature of Apple's Photos app that creates personalized movies based on location, dates, and people recognized in your photo library. From Google's description and Novikoff's comments, it sounds like movie concepts will be more advanced than iOS' automated creations, but we'll have to test them in practice and see if the promise holds up. I'm curious to compare Apple's Memories to Google Photos' concepts.

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Google Trips Debuts on iPhone

Google launched a free trip planning app called Google Trips today with a deep set of features that work online and off. The motivation for the app was described by Richard Holden, a Google vice president of product management, to Casey Newton of The Verge in an interview:

We’re doing a great job on the planning stages, but we really need to help consumers when they’re actually at their destination.

I have spent a short time with Google Trips and it looks like Google has delivered.

After signing into Google Trips with the Gmail account I typically use to make travel plans, Trips showed an upcoming trip to Austin and past trips going back to 2008. Tapping on a trip opens a page with buttons to view any reservations the app finds in your Gmail, ‘Things to Do,’ ‘Food & Drink,’ and ‘Saved Places,’ which are any destinations you mark with a star as you browse through Trips’ suggestions.

Trips’ recommendations are further divided into categories like ‘Top Spots’ and ‘Outdoors’ for activities, and restaurants, cafes, and places near where you are staying for food and drink suggestions. Results can be viewed in a list view, where each item can be tapped to view more detail, or on a map. A toggle on the first page of each trip gives you the option to download the trip, a handy feature if you are traveling internationally and want to limit your data use.

Of course, to get the most out of Google Trips, you need to log into it with a Google account. If you are uncomfortable with Trips scanning your Gmail and search history to customize what it presents to you, Trips is probably not the app for you.

Google Trips is an iPhone-only app and is available as a free download on the App Store.


Google Photos Updated

Google released version 2.0.0 of Google Photos today to integrate better with other Google products and to give customers greater control over their photos.

In June, Google released Motion Stills an app that can turn Live Photos into GIFs or movies and does an amazing job eliminating camera shake. Version 2.0.0 brings that same functionality to Google Photos. From the menu, choose ‘Save as video’ and Google Photos will save a video version of your Live Photo.

It is also easier to upload your videos to YouTube. Select a video, tap share, pick the ‘YouTube’ icon from the share sheet. Google Photos will prepare the file and send it to the YouTube app where you can edit it further before posting if you like.

Finally, Google added a couple of user-friendly features to Google Photos. The first is the ability to sort photos in albums either chronologically or by recently added. The second is the ability to change the thumbnail used in the ‘People’ view to a photo of your own choosing.

As we saw from the introduction of the iPhone 7 yesterday, photography and the apps surrounding it continue to be some of the most competitive areas in mobile computing. With Google Photos 2.0.0, Google continues to refine its approach to photo management and tie it more closely with its video products.


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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