Archive for Google
Already having Gmail under their belts didn’t stop Google from continuing to rethink email. Apparently it was years in the making, but only now is Inbox a reality (promising to give you focus on the things that really matter).
In a blog post announcing Inbox, Google employee Sundar Pichai described the service:
“With this evolution comes new challenges: we get more email now than ever, important information is buried inside messages, and our most important tasks can slip through the cracks—especially when we’re working on our phones. For many of us, dealing with email has become a daily chore that distracts from what we really need to do—rather than helping us get those things done.
If this all sounds familiar, then Inbox is for you. Or more accurately, Inbox works for you.”
Key features of Inbox allow you to better organize your email categories using bundles (grouping together things like bank statements or utility bills), highlight key information from important messages (with examples like flight itineraries or event information), and reminders (letting you focus on your priorities so that you don’t need to keep track of tasks and appointments, complete with a Snooze feature). Also included with Inbox are what Google calls Assists, described as little bits of information that make your life easier. As an example: if you make a restaurant reservation, Inbox will add a map to your confirmation email.
Inbox is currently in a beta phase, with used only gaining access via invitation; there is no word on when it will see open release.
Those of you who love Gmail just the way it is may need to be a little concerned: Google has a history of abandoning projects in lieu of new ideas (speaking as somebody who still feels the sting of Google Reader having been discontinued)… and it is easy to see that they have several services starting to overlap (Google Now has a lot of similar personal assistant functionality).
According to the latest statistics released by Chitika, the LG user base has exhibited the greatest usage share growth as compared to any of the competing Android brands since June 2014. With a 1.7 percentage point gain and representing over 10% of the total North American smartphone and tablet Web traffic, LG should be counted as a significant player in the mobile market.
Samsung can rest easy for now, sitting comfortably at the top of the heap with 57.4% of the current Android market share –but it would be wise to keep at least one eye on their competition given their less substantial 1% gain since June 2014 (despite the release of an entirely updated line of mobile hardware during this period). Amazon is sitting precariously in the third spot (with a meagre .5% lead on Motorola), likely due in large part to their Fire tablets as opposed to their unremarkable smartphone sales.
Google was down this quarter, falling to just 3.6% –but these numbers should look a little better shortly with the release of the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 devices.
Chitika’s report also indicated that smartphones continue to dominate the mobile Web traffic, with very little growth in this area being observed in the Android tablet space. Some speculation suggests that this is due to Apple’s dominance in the tablet arena, but it may also be due in part to the next-generation phablet type smartphones prompting users to invest in large-screen, smartphones instead of a tablet.
Founded in 2003, Chitika is an online ad network that boasts the delivery of “over four billion strategically targeted ads each month to a network of over 300,000+ sites.” Together with high profile advertising partners like Yahoo!, Chitika has developed proprietary optimization technology that promises to display the right ad, at the right time.
It is with great enthusiasm that Google released their next generation Nexus 6 smartphone yesterday. Being labelled the next in a line of phablets, the Nexus 6 is a very large mobile device that straddles the line between smartphone and tablets. Packed with features, the Nexus 6 promises to stand up proudly against the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus.
Design and Display
It can’t be said that the Nexus 6 is a light smartphone, and coming in at 6.49 ounces (184g) is will feel quite substantial. By comparison, the Galaxy Note 4 is 6.21 ounce (176g) and the iPhone 6 Plus is the lightest at 6.07 ounces (172g). It is also the largest of the three phablets, with a full 6-inch display with a 1440×2560 pixel resolution and 493 ppi density. Also a very attractive feature is that the Nexus 6 is splash resistant (without needing to wrap it in a case) –other Samsung products can boast that, the Galaxy Note 4 isn’t so lucky.
The camera in the Nexus 6 is competitive with a dual LED flash, but only measures 13 megapixels (where the Galaxy Note 4 has 16, and iPhone 6 Plus lags quite a distance behind at 8).
Running the latest Android Lollipop, Google maintains their top spot as the manufacturer with the truest Android smartphone.
Powered by a quad core, 2700 MHz, Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processor, the Nexus 6 should still be comparable the 8-core, 1900 MHz ARM processor found in the Galaxy Note 4 –though on paper Apple’s processor seems quite a bit behind both devices by only being dual core and 1400MHz. With that said, many of the performance tests being run are placing Apple’s smartphone performing ahead of Samsung’s, so these specifications on their own don’t carry much real-world weight or meaning. The Nexus 6 comes with 32GB or 64GB of built-in storage, but unlike the Galaxy Note 4, cannot be expanded with additional storage (using microSD, microSDHC, or microSDXC).
Google claims that the Nexus 6 will deliver 24 hours of talk time. They also say you can expect 13.8 days of stand-by time. In other news, pigs can apparently fly. I’ll believe that these batteries perform this well when I experience it for myself, but I do trust that it’s better than most of us are used to… especially if you turn off the Ambient Display.
Unlike any of the competition, the Nexus 6 does lead the pack in the power arena by offering built-in wireless charging… and using Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0, a quick 15 minutes of charging should get you about 6 more hours of use.
You should have no complaints in this arena, with the Nexus 6 offering GSM at 850/900/1800/1900MHz, CDMA band classes 0/1/10, WCDMA bands 1/2/4/5/8, and LTE bands 2/3/4/5/7/12/13/17/25/26/29/41.
Aside from cellular options, Google equipped the Nexus 6 with 802.11ac Wi-Fi using a 2×2 MIMO antenna, Bluetooth 4.1 LE, and NFC.
Before you salivate yourself into needing a fresh shirt, brace yourself for the $649 USD price-tag found on the unlocked model. Not surprisingly, many Android purists are already expressing their outrage at the cost –especially when previous Nexus smartphones only rid our wallets of $349 USD. While this increase is difficult to accept, it’s necessary if Google is going to produce the kind of hardware that will have the chops to compete with the quality options being released by the competition. Of course, the Nexus 6 looks to be worth every penny… but it means that carriers with contract-signing incentives will play a much more significant role in the success of this device (like they already do for the high-end hardware coming from Samsung and Apple).
Pre-order for the Nexus 6 will begin in late October, with full retail availability beginning in November.
Usually when Google takes aim, the target is Apple –this time, Amazon is more clearly locked in their sights. Google’s Brian Elliott, Head of Partnerships at Google Shopping, announced this week that they would be rebranding their services as Google Express and expanding to three new cities: Chicago, Boston, and Washington, D.C (not to mention the fact that they added 16 new participating merchants to their roster with familiar names like: Barnes & Noble, PetSmart, Vitamin Shoppe and Sports Authority).
Much like Amazon Prime’s Same Day delivery service, Google Express intends to bridge the gap between shopping at your favourite local stores and the convenience of being able to do that online. To this end, I’m certain it isn’t a coincidence that Google has undercut Amazon’s $99 annual membership fee by charging $95 for their equivalent (after three free months during which you can give it a try). You can of course pay by the order as well, but it adds up quickly with a $5-$8 surcharge applied to each.
So what privileges does this membership provide? It’s all about same-day delivery… at least as long as you are one of the lucky 7-million people who happen to live in the right city and want products from the right stores. Truth is that things are rather limited right now, but it’s a good start.
Analysts are busy trying to figure how less retail foot traffic affects businesses, with many suggesting that it won’t eliminate the need for employees, but rather change the type of work that needs doing (picking and packing orders instead of dealing directly with customers).
For those of us already delighted by online shopping, Google (and others) embracing rapid shipping practices demonstrates positive forward momentum. It also means that one day, sooner than later, I may not have to leave the house to brave huge retail outlets (and their parking lots) for boring things like toilet paper and laundry soap.
Despite the fact that all reports indicate Android dominates the smartphone market, being able to brag having an over 80% share, app revenue continues to lag behind Apple (by a shocking average of almost $4 million dollars per day). Understandably, Google would like to do something about that imbalance –especially with such a firm position as Android’s biggest cheerleader.
You’ve likely heard that there are statistics for anything, and generally they don’t mean much. In this case, the details aren’t known but would tell us a lot. Are there fewer paid apps in the Google Play Store as compared to the Apple App Store? Does the average price differ between the two stores? These and more questions abound.
One option Google is courting appears to be the idea of offering a trial version of paid apps and games. This would allow users to take things for a test drive before taking the plunge (even if it is just $0.99). My immediate question is how this might work. Most reporting on this news are suggesting Google would offer a smaller, specific portion of the app or game –making it a smaller download than the full version, and offering demo-like functionality.
This would be a mistake.
I don’t want to deal with or download an app twice. Even though the idea of a quick download and peek sounds romantic, it also seems like a lot of hassle –especially for something that may cost a dollar. Generally speaking, most apps aren’t that large anyway. Plus, a subset of the full functionality may not actually give an accurate forecast of what it would be like to use.
Is there a way it could work? With Google offering refunds when you dislike an app (if you decide quickly), I’m not sure it’s really necessary to offer a trial, but there may be marketing appeal for saying it’s available. I suppose I could be persuaded to support an expiry function, forcing you to either make the purchase or delete the app after a specific period of time… but only if it’s virtually effortless to do so.
None of this addresses the fact that Apple is already making far more money in their App Store than Google without offering this feature. Perhaps Google should consider other ways of monetizing apps that more closely mimic the competition they are trying to dominate.
I don’t know if you have noticed this, but no two weather apps on your smartphone will ever agree. In fact, even this morning there is a several degree discrepancy between the temperature broadcast by The Weather Network app that runs natively on my iPhone and the old de facto standard from iOS 7 – Yahoo Weather. To this end, you may wish to employ yet another weather app: Google News & Weather.
It is difficult to decide whether to be excited by this app release, with so many other options already available for news and weather reporting. Even though the app comes equipped with coverage from over 65,000 publications, it isn’t full featured enough to truly deliver mass quantities of news –but with that said, if you are a fan of hitting http://news.google.com on a regular basis to see the most recent (and therefore probably most prominent and important) headlines, it may be just what the doctor ordered.
Just like on their website, news can be tailored to your country of choice and tuned to particular categories (with choices like “Hollywood”, “NASA”, or “Fashion”). On the landing page inside the app, a brief summary is displayed for each story with full articles and additional details available with a single on-screen tap.
Whether this is a must-have app or not, it is nice to see Google giving iOS users the option to use the same software available on Android; it certainly isn’t a courtesy that is often returned by Apple.
If you’d like to take advantage of Google News & Weather on your iOS device, download it for free now from the Apple App Store. I can’t promise it is any more accurate than the zillions of other weather apps already available, but it should be of a certain quality given that it comes to us from Google.
It is either the best feature Google Now offers, or the scariest. Apparently, Google can scan your email account looking for bills –so when you tap the microphone in the app and ask “Show me my bills” or “Which of my bills are due this week”, a detailed list of what is owed and a summary of past bills will be presented. This is one more extension of the growing Google Now personal assistant technology, aimed at providing important information to users before they even know to ask for it.
“When you can’t remember whether you’ve paid your bills — or you simply can’t remember how much money you need to pay — you can now just ask Google,” says the company. Of course, if you also forget to ask the question to begin with…
Scanning your email for content cues isn’t a new thing for Google, their search app has already been on the lookout for details regarding flight information and hotel reservations. Those concerned about privacy and security are likely to be a little outraged (or at least a tad nervous and concerned). Even though Google Now does require that you grant permission for email review initially, who knows what will be cataloged going forward.
Playing a little catch-up with other Internet video stores (including iTunes), Google Play is now letting users pre-order movies so you see the latest new releases the moment they are available.
Using the new feature is easy: check the list of available pre-orders, click the button to reserve it, enter your credit card details (though you will not be charged until the movie is actually delivered), and then your movie will be added to “My Movies” (where you can review the actual release date and any relevant details). On the day your movie is ready to be watched, you will receive an email to confirm your purchase and advise that it has been added to your library.
No more marking your calendar so you can return to the store at a later date –stay on top of the best Hollywood has to offer.
Movie pre-orders are only available in the US currently, but Google promises other countries will see this feature soon.
A lack of multimedia message service (MMS) support has plagued Google Voice since it began, particularly these days when being able to share photos and videos with your contacts is considered a basic messaging feature. Being able to send a simple, 160-character, text-only, SMS message isn’t enough anymore; fortunately Google has now added support for MMS.
Google employee Alex Wiesen, shared news of the update:
“We’ve been working with nearly 100 different North American carriers to enable this feature — including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Bell Canada, Rogers, Telus, and many more — and starting today all these integrations are live. So enjoy those incoming pics, say goodbye to fomo (fear of missing out), and stay tuned for more Google Voice messaging improvements!”
What is apparent in Wiesen’s comment is the lack of universal carrier support –with a few noticeable absences (Verizon Wireless, anybody?). Not to fear, though… Google appears ready, willing, and able to work with any carriers that would like to add support for MMS.
Early reviews of the service indicate that it is a little glitchy, but that isn’t unusual with a first release. If you would like to give it a try for yourself, download Google Voice now.
Announced earlier this year, Classroom rounds out the free suite of tools provided within Google Apps for Education. Intended to behave as a sort of portal for Google Docs, Drive, and Gmail, Classroom aims to help teachers “create and organize assignments quickly, provide feedback efficiently, and communicate with their classes with ease.”
There is little question that technology is a necessary companion to a modern education, but finding the proper fit is a significant challenge. Google isn’t the first organization to offer a suite of educational support apps, but they may be among the most likely to succeed –if for no other reason than they are a known-brand with a familiar suite of tools.
Classroom boasts a feature-set that is hard to resist, including:
- Easy Configuration and Set-Up – Teachers can add students manually, or choose to share a code with their class that allows everyone to join.
- Save Time – By making assignments paperless, the process of reviewing and grading each one is faster and easier.
- Improved Organization – Students are able to see their outstanding homework assignments at a glance, in a single location, with the required reference materials easily accessible.
- Open and Enhanced Communication – Classroom makes it easy for students to ask questions and read important announcements.
- Value – Free to schools, Classroom contains no ads.
- Secure – Google promises that content and student data will never be used for advertising purposes.
When all of these things combine to make Classroom seem a little too good to be true, the only way to give it proper consideration is to evaluate the opinions, experience, and concerns being publicly expressed:
|Outsourcing vs. In-House||Though it is the subject of great debate, it seems that the IT departments at most schools lack the skills and available cycles to adequately create and support a custom suite of educational apps. To this end, subscribing to an external system makes good sense.||With considerable competition for the dollars invested in education, desire to have complete control over these kinds of tools needs to be weighed against the availability of services like Classroom that may not be custom but should be considered good enough.|
|Data Storage||Overwhelmingly, the idea of educational data storage is uncharted territory. Everybody agrees in principle that the security of student data is critical, but few can agree on the best way to ensure its security.||While many believe that schools housing their own data is the only reasonable choice, many experts suggest that the IT expertise available with organizations like Google may offer superior protection.|
|Ongoing Support||When schools relinquish control over their educational systems, they are at the mercy of outside organizations. If a software vendor goes out of business or decides to sunset an application suite, little can be done.||While Google has a history of abandoning projects that no longer entertain them, it seems unlikely that they would sacrifice an entire educational initiative without careful thought and planning. It should also be understood that no solution is future proof: developers that work on custom in-house projects leave or retire, third-party software vendors go out of business or sunset application suites and cease their support, and technology changes… consider that 5-6 years ago, universities would have placed their entire mobile focus on BlackBerry devices.|
|Registration||Using Classroom requires that each participating student has an account with Google.||While it may seem like cause for concern, use of any system would require an account of one sort of another (along with the acceptance of a corresponding ‘Terms of Service’ agreement). It could be argued that Google’s agreements are publicly available and therefore quite transparent.|
|Compatibility||Organizations are overwhelmingly BYOD (bring your own device). Students and their families are no different.||This is one area where Classroom is likely to be the undisputed leader. Google is well-used to the challenges that accompany being cross-platform while accommodating a wide variety of laptops, tablets, and smartphones.|
|Learning Curve||Students have enough difficulty learning the material covered by the curriculum, let alone needing to understand how to use the technology required to consume that information.||Gmail is Gmail is Gmail. By using already-familiar Google tools and technologies, students and parents will enjoy a much shorter learning curve.|
|Cost||Everybody loves a bargain, but those same people tend to misunderstand the difference between cost and worth.||If the system is free, what’s in it for Google? Just like Apple’s strategy in the 1980’s, Google understands that families tend to be brand loyal –getting students on board, gets parents on board. This means more use of other Google products and services, including the sale of more Chromebooks and Nexus mobile devices.|
Pilot projects have been running across North America to mainly rave reviews, but it shouldn’t be discounted that most schools test-driving Classroom haven’t worked with any competing service in the past. Also important is understanding that this is the first release –what is documented now as being underwhelming or simplistic should be seen as a basic foundation. What counts now is how Google moves forward: subsequent versions will need to respond to feature requests while maintaining stability and security.
Ultimately, only time will be able to tell if Classroom is a success. What can be said for certain is that Google is providing a viable solution for schools, teachers, and students… but they aren’t alone in this arena, Microsoft and Apple are also trying desperately to secure their own pieces of this emerging educational market (don’t forget: competition drives innovation).
Android users have been using Google Play Newsstand instead of the older Currents app for quite some time, but thanks to an update this week, iOS users will get the same pleasure. Advertising itself as a way to “discover more of the news you care about,” Google Play Newsstand is more like a digital magazine and less like a traditional aggregator.
Now featuring the updated look and feel using Google’s new Material Design language, the redesign offers truly elegant navigation –though the interface isn’t always as quick and responsive as it should be (for instance, choosing to delete a category wasn’t executed and confirmed for almost 30 seconds after tapping the on-screen confirmation).
If you haven’t yet created a library of your own, begin by choosing to explore the suggested news feeds assembled by Google. You can add topics broadly for things like Art or Photography, or include individual feeds for more specific content. If you already have a favourite blogger or news site, you can add those individually as well. Once your library is assembled, flip easily through all of the new articles –choosing to read them now, share with your friends, open in a browser, or bookmark to review later.
Google Play Newsstand is trying hard to compete with popular news apps like Flipboard with the functionality of Pocket, and this new version is a good first step. In its current form, I feel that this app is best used for browsing news stories the way you would magazines in a waiting room and less useful for keeping current with your existing blog roll. I read a lot of news every day, and I need to be able to do it quickly –even if it isn’t always beautiful to look at. I also need something that properly syncs between devices and makes it easy to tell what’s already been read at a glance… and Google Play Newsstand just isn’t there yet.
If you already had Currents installed, you will be prompted to upgrade automatically –otherwise, download Google Play Newsstand now to give it a try.