Archive for Google
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.
According to Google, price ranges for in-app purchase will be listed on their detail pages within the Play store –including those fees payable for virtual products and subscriptions. Recent changes had already indicated whether in-app purchases were present within each title, but this takes it a thankful step further.
I expect reactions to this change will be mixed. In some cases it may be detrimental to developers who give apps away at freemium prices, only to (hopefully) engage users with amazing and useful apps that they then have a captive audience ready to purchase virtual goods and services. It may also benefit those developers, with users realizing ahead of time that they can eliminate the ads within an app for a mere $0.99 (as an example).
Of course, these added details may not be that helpful unless the listings are descriptive. For a game that lets you purchase virtual currency, the pricing may read something like: $1-99 (quite the range).
Apple is likely paying close attention to these changes being made by Google –having also been legally attacked recently for unintended in-app purchases that were made by their users (particularly parents).
Will seeing the in-app purchase prices make you more or less likely to download a particular app?
In the beginning, Google gave users a full 24-hours to regret an app purchase. In 2010, they updated their policy such that users only had 15-minutes to change their minds (which is a little tight, especially if you like to shop on your desktop and have apps downloaded onto your device from there –this method of shopping can add a few extra minutes to complete installation). As of September 10, 2014, the Google Play Store has become a little more generous and settled on a 2-hour refund window.
While many people enjoyed the original 24-hour window, most are willing to agree that it was overkill. Having 2 full hours to test-drive an app is very reasonable, and it is hard to complain when it beats the 0-minutes offers by the competition!
Some developers may be unhappy with this window being extended, but it should have a positive impact on reviews –with fewer users leaving poor reviews indicating that they are completely dissatisfied.
Google made this change without a press release or much fanfare, but it is laid out in black and white on the Google Play support page.
Google Play users on Android have had the ability to save television shows and movies for offline viewing for a while now, but thanks to a new update, iOS users can experience the same convenience. Whether you are frequently on-the-go and find yourself away from an Internet connection or suffer with slow download speeds, being able to save content for later is extremely valuable. Even more valuable when you consider that an investment into content from Google Play is entirely cross-platform, making it useful for the entire family no matter the device they prefer.
Downloading content has to be done over Wi-Fi, which just makes sense –and it can be done in the background, though Google does caution that doing so can decrease battery life (but I am sure we all could have guessed that).
Unfortunately, not all of the news is good… for those of us who use the service regularly, it would be nice if they added the ability to buy content directly from the app (of course, it’s safe to assume that the reason they don’t allow it is due in large part to the 30% cut that Apple takes on every sale made using their platform).
If you haven’t tried the Google Play Movies & TV app on your iOS device, this latest update makes it even more compelling to download it for free now.
Following in the footsteps of a 32.5M settlement reached with Apple in January, Google has agreed to pay back over $19M in charges racked up by kids playing games on smartphones and tablets. According to the details of the suit, the Federal Trade Commission noted that children were able to make these considerable payments using their parents’ credit cards for in-app currency and incentives.
In addition to the monies being returned, Google also agreed to update their billing practices so this kind of thing cannot happen in the future. Beginning in March of this year, Google has ensured that users are more aware of when actual money is being spent. They also allow consumers to decide if they want to be prompted for each purchase that is made (something that makes good sense, even if you don’t share your devices with other people –a little bit of hassle is worth the protection of not transferring money on a whim).
This wasn’t the case in 2011, when Google allowed purchases to be made inside apps without any password required. In 2012, a password was required, but entering it began a 30-minute window during which additional purchases could be made without further verification.
At the time the suit was filed, Google’s response to parents had been to advise they take their complaints directly to the app developers responsible for the games being played.
Sources close to The Wall Street Journal are indicating that instead of Google, it is Amazon that is readying to acquire the Twitch.tv video game streaming service. Rumoured to be selling for a meagre $1 billion, Twitch.tv is considered to be a true streaming video giant. Using the service, over 50-million monthly active users are able to stream live video of themselves playing their favourite games.
When we first heard that Google was interested in purchasing the service, it seemed like a logical move for the company that controls YouTube. So what does Amazon want with Twitch.tv? So far it is just speculation. Perhaps they are going to try and compete with Google in the streaming amateur video arena, but that seems like a difficult place to succeed. Other thoughts swirling around the rumour mill wonder if Amazon may be wanting to extend their own video rental and sales offering –or if they plan on trying to sweep in and dominate the growing eSports genre.
Update: Amazon has purchased Twitch for $970 million in cash. Twitch’s founders have attempted to quell any concerns that the Twitch’s community may have about the acquisition.
“We chose Amazon because they believe in our community, they share our values and long-term vision, and they want to help us get there faster,” wrote Mr Shear in a letter to users.
“We’re keeping most everything the same: our office, our employees, our brand, and most importantly our independence. But with Amazon’s support we’ll have the resources to bring you an even better Twitch.”
Rounding out their business-oriented app offering, Google has launched Slide for iOS (complimenting Google Docs and Google Sheets, which were already available). Slides provides similar functionality to competing apps: Microsoft’s PowerPoint or Apple’s Keynote, allowing users to create, edit, and collaborate with users on presentations.
Google has also released update for both Docs and Sheets, adding support for Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel that will now allow users to open and edit documents in these formats. Becoming more competitive with Microsoft is a wise move and sure to gain market-share, when you consider that in order to use their ‘free’ apps, an Office-365 membership is required.
Discussing these updates, the official update feed from the Google Apps team, stated:
“The new Google Slides mobile app is now available on iOS, making it easier for people to quickly find, edit and create presentations on the go–online or offline. As with the Android version, the Slides iOS app includes support for editing PowerPoint files. Additionally, as announced for Android in June, the Google Docs and Sheets apps for iOS have been updated to allow for seamless editing of Word and Excel files. No need to worry about file compatibility or internet connections anymore with the new Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides apps on iOS–it all just works.”
It shouldn’t be shocking to learn that Microsoft is trying to find a way into the wireless media streaming game. Apple started things off with AirPlay, Google is working hard to compete using Chromecast, and now Microsoft is targeting both technologies with their rumoured Miracast Dongle.
This new dongle is expected to build on Microsoft’s existing Miracast technology, currently used for screen-sharing on Windows 8.1, Windows RT, and Windows Phone 8.1 (and handily, also built in to Android 4.2 and BlackBerry 10.2.1); it is expected to be capable of mirroring phone, tablet, and laptop screens to a television.
Little more is known about the device, other than speculation that the price-point will be attractive (whenever it ends up being released). For those paying attention to these new streaming devices, the most significant question that comes to mind is which third-party hardware manufacturer will be first to market with an affordable and compelling product that accommodates all three of these devices simultaneously.
Jetpac is best known as the iOS app that is able to recommend restaurants, bars, and attractions based on their analyses of Instagram photographs by the thousands. Google has announced that they were able to acquire Jetpac (for a indeterminate amount of money), meaning that iOS users will lose the company’s app come September 15, 2014. Speculation suggests of course that Google will integrate Jetpac’s neural network technology into upcoming versions of their own apps, like Maps.
There is no exact science behind the scenes in how Jetpac works, other than it does represent highly advanced image processing. It’s actually rather clever… Jetpac takes every single detail from every single photograph and makes it relevant. While similar services may deliver recommendations based on the reviews provided by users, Jetpac makes carefully calculated assumptions: the more people captured leaving a restaurant with a smile, the better the odds are that you will also enjoy eating there. This concept is exciting on its own, but they take it a step further by reviewing the other photographs users have associated with their accounts. This may mean that the coffee shop you are being directed toward has resulted in satisfied dog lovers twice as often than those with a stronger affection for cats.
Who knows what Google really has planned, but with their strong interest in artificial intelligence combined with their renewed attention to online social elements, the marriage of the two companies seems like a great idea.
Rumours have swirled for several months now that suggest Google is readying to launch a You-Tube branded subscription music service. New details tell us that this service will be called YouTube Music Key. It is a little confusing of course, because the tech giant already has their Google Play All Access service –though all signs point to the two being joined.
Features of the service compare to the competition, offering: ad-free playback, the ability to save songs and videos for offline listening, and an optional audio-only interface.
The cost for YouTube Music Key is a very reasonable $9.99 per month (following a free 30-day trial) and is expected to include access to the Google Play and YouTube Music Key services together.
A date for the official launch hasn’t been announced, but it appears we are getting very close!