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Posts tagged ‘Google’


Google’s Daydream VR could debut in the next few weeks

With the release of Android Nougat this week, Google’s mobile VR platform Daydream couldn’t be far behind. And that indeed seems to be the case, as Bloomberg reports that Daydream will launch in the “coming weeks.” You can also expect some brand new VR media from the likes of Hulu and YouTube stars like Justine Ezarik and the Dolan twins to accompany the platform.

At this point, the search giant is dabbling in different types of VR content to see what sticks, according to Bloomberg. It’s shelling out in the “high six figures” for video game-related VR experiences, and in the “low five figures to low six figures” for projects involving filmmakers. Facebook, in comparison, has poured millions into producing VR media for its Oculus platform. That’s also one of the biggest strengths of Samsung’s Gear VR, which was built in partnership with Oculus.

While Daydream seems like a far more ambitious VR initiative than Google Cardboard, there’s still plenty we don’t know about it. For one, we’ve only seen a sketch of a prototype headset design, which looks very similar to Samsung’s Gear VR. It’s also unclear what, exactly, Google will demand of its hardware partners. All we know is that Daydream compatible phones will require “key components” like “specific sensors and screens.” (Based on conversations with people in the VR industry, I’d bet that OLED displays will play a major role.) The company has at least managed to get Samsung, LG, Xiaomi and HTC onboard with building Daydream-compatible phones.

Source: Bloomberg


Google will downplay mobile websites with intrusive pop-ups

It’s bad enough when you deal with third-party pop-up ads, but it’s that much worse when the site itself shows pop-ups. Do you really want to subscribe to that newsletter before you’ve even read a single word on the page? Google wants to put a stop to this. As of January 10th, 2017, its mobile search results will downplay sites with “intrusive” interstitials and pop-ups. It’ll accept content that asks for necessary info or takes up a “reasonable” amount of space (such as the app install banners in Android or iOS), but “click to continue” pop-ups and first-party sales pitches won’t curry Google’s favor.

Google is quick to note that a high-quality site might still rank well even with those irksome pop-ups, so this isn’t a death knell for the format. However, it might persuade some sites to tone down their in-your-face marketing and focus on the content you came to see. Don’t be surprised if a page that drives you bonkers now is much less annoying in the months ahead.

Via: The Verge

Source: Google Webmaster Central Blog


Google’s using neural networks to make image files smaller

Somewhere at Google, researchers are blurring the line between reality and fiction. Tell me if you’ve heard this one, Silicon Valley fans — a small team builds a neural network for the sole purpose of making media files teeny-tiny. Google’s latest experiment isn’t exactly the HBO hit’s Pied Piper come to life, but it’s a step in that direction: using trained computer intelligence to make images smaller than current JPEG compression allows.

Google’s approach relies on forcing its network to learn compression the hard way. Researchers sampled six million compressed photos from the internet and broke them each 32 x 32 pixel pieces. The neural network was then fed 100 bits from each image that represented the poorest elements of its compression — the idea being that if the network could do a better job compressing the worst of the competition, it should do a better job compressing everything.

Google Compressed Image

The group’s paper breaks the process down further, using math (that admittedly is beyond this writer’s comprehension) to demonstrate how the network broke down images into binary code and reconstructed them piece by piece, outperforming JPEG compression at most bitrates. At least by the numbers — human perception is a bit flighty. Even Google admits that the “human visual system is more sensitive to certain types of distortions than others,” and there isn’t a universally recognized metric for measuring human perception of a compressed image.

Still, the project is a big step forward in making our ever-growing libraries of media just a little smaller. And that’s always a good thing.

Source: Arxiv, Quartz


Android 7.0 Nougat arrives today

Typically, Google releases new versions of Android alongside new Nexus hardware, but the company is breaking with tradition this year. Android 7.0 Nougat is rolling out as an over the air update starting today. The update is available to anyone using the Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X and Nexus 6 phones as well as the Nexus 9 and Pixel C tablets. It’s also coming to the Nexus Player set-top box and the General Mobile 4G Android One smartphone.

If you’ve been using the Android 7.0 open beta, you won’t notice a ton of differences here. Google rolled out a very stable version of that beta software back at I/O in May, and it has served as a solid template for the final version coming out today.

The new features of Android Nougat aren’t exactly a surprise at this point, but they’re worth reviewing as the OS rolls out more widely. Probably the two biggest user-facing changes are new notifications and a multi-tasking mode. Notifications are now grouped by app in the notification shade; you can pull down on any app’s alerts to get the full list. You can also reply directly from notifications, something that iOS has actually had for longer than Android.

Multi-window multitasking lets you run two apps side-by-side, just like you can on the iPad when running iOS 9. This multitasking mode will probably be most useful on tablets like the Pixel C, but it works on smartphones as well — and the experience is a lot better than we originally expected.

Nougat also has a bunch of small tweaks that make getting around the OS generally and more personalized to you. The quick settings menu can now be customized to include the things you access the most, and double-tapping the multitasking button switches you between the two more recent apps you’ve used.

Doze mode, a battery-saving measure introduced last year in Android Marshmallow, has also been tweaked. Previously, Doze would put your phone into a lower-energy mode when the screen was off and the phone wasn’t moving, but now it’s smart enough to stay in low-power mode even when you’re moving around (say, if your phone is tucked in your pocket or backpack).

Perhaps less immediately useful but no less significant is how Android Nougat will handle software updates. If you’re running a “new” Android device with Nougat, software updates will install in the background and be present when you reboot your phone — there’s no more waiting with your phone totally locked up while new software installs. But it looks like only devices released from this point forward will have this feature. Current Nexus devices will benefit from much faster software updates, but it’ll still be in the old fashion where your phone reboots and is unable to be used during installation.

Most significantly, there are 72 new emoji available in Nougat. Get to texting. There are a lot more new features to be found in Nougat, but these are the ones that most users will want to use as soon as the update hits their phones. Unfortunately, it might be a little bit before that happens — in classic Google fashion, the update will be rolling out “in the coming weeks.”


Oracle funds a group trying to tarnish Google’s image

It won’t shock you to hear that Oracle is nursing a grudge after it lost its big copyright case against Google. It’s pushing for a new trial, for one thing. However, the software giant is also trying to undermine its rival in roundabout ways. Oracle has confirmed to Fortune that it’s funding Campaign for Accountability, a non-profit advocacy group with a decidedly anti-Google bent. While it promotes some common causes, such as fighting “big oil” and promoting LGBT rights, it also has a Google Transparency Project that aims to “track the company’s influence” on government and personal lives. And not surprisingly, most of it is critical — the project is obsessed with the possible ethical implications of Google’s White House meetings.

Ironically, CfA isn’t very transparent about its own membership. Microsoft has explicitly denied funding the group, however, so it’s not necessarily a haven for tech giants with an axe to grind. The big concern is that Oracle will use CfA as an astroturfing (fake grassroots) weapon to undermine Google, particularly among politicians who might not either see the Oracle connection or are willing to turn a blind eye to it.

Source: Fortune, Campaign for Accountability


Now you can unlock Chrome OS with a PIN code

Want to unlock your screen by typing in a few numbers instead of a hefty password? The experimental feature is currently being tested in the latest Chrome OS developer update, according to Google employee François Beaufort. In a Google+ post, he describes how to drop the new functionality into your system:

All you have to do is enable the flag chrome://flags/#quick-unlock-pin, restart Chrome, and go to Chrome Material Design settings page for now to set up your Lock Screen PIN in the new “Screen Lock” section. When it’s done, lock your screen with 🔍 + L and enjoy the new unlock experience!

Sure, it’s far easier to plug in a PIN instead of whatever you’ve set as your Chrome OS password, and possibly more secure than using a nearby Android phone for Smart Lock. But you’re also not entering the code that will get you into your Google suite — the “keys to the kingdom” as one commenter on Beaufort’s post put it. Nifty, huh? Those wanting to dig deeper should check out the source code here.

Source: Google Plus (developer)


Google Allo’s sticker packs are weird and wonderful

Google’s Allo messaging app is on the horizon, and Android Police has an early look at what we can expect out of the sticker packs with which you can decorate your conversations with others. At a glance, they’re pretty out there.

If you’ve ever wanted to send someone a sticker of a bull squeezing his nipples or a very Rodney Alan Greenblat-like pig (person?) asking for pics, you’re in luck. Julio the Bull, Kind of Perfect Lovers and Cool Beans are just a small sampling of the stickers you can expect to see showing up within the app, each worlds apart from the more generic emoji you’ll find within the regular Google Hangouts app.

The stickers are currently out in the wild via test preview versions of Allo. While it’s not certain which will make the final cut when the app rolls out its final release, we’re hoping that a few of these irreverent illustrations do.

Source: Android Police


Google is phasing out Chrome apps for Mac and Windows

Google’s Chrome browser has supported stand-alone “apps” on Mac, Windows and Linux for some time now, but they’ll be going away before long. The company just announced that it’ll be removing support for apps gradually over the next two years. The decision comes as part of an effort to simplify the Chrome browser and move developers to more standardized web apps. Apps will remain part of Chrome OS for the foreseeable future.

If you haven’t used Chrome’s web apps much before, they do a pretty good job of simulating smaller apps in their own dedicated window. Chrome needs to be running for the app to work, but they otherwise feel separate from the browser and are often almost indistinguishable from a native app. (I use Chrome apps for things like Google Keep, Hangouts and Wunderlist on my Mac from time to time, for example.)

The phase-out plan for Chrome apps calls for newly-published apps to only be available to Chrome OS starting at the end of 2016. By mid-2017, the Chrome app store won’t show apps Mac, Windows or Linux users anymore (though extensions will still be available), and in early 2018 Chrome apps won’t function at all on those platforms.

That gives users plenty of time to find alternatives and for developers to build standard web apps for their services. And Google says that one percent of users on Mac, Windows and Linux use Chrome’s “packaged” apps. There’s another type of Chrome apps, hosted apps, that Google says are already implimented as standard web apps. Netflix is a good example: It’s available in the Chrome app store for multiple platforms, but it just opens the Netflix site in a new browser tab. It’s little more than a glorified bookmark.

While some users might be annoyed by this change, it doesn’t sound like Chrome will lose much in the way of functionality, and the long runway for shutting down the platform means users will easily be able to adjust their workflows. And Google’s push towards web standards means it’s already been encouraging developers to build services that are browser-agnostic. The slow discontinuation of Chrome apps is just another part of that goal.

Source: Google


The Engadget Podcast Ep 2: One More Robot

In Episode Two: One More Robot, editors Cherlynn Low, Dana Wollman and Chris Velazco join host Terrence O’Brien to talk about how fitness trackers ruined Happy Meals, the true potential of AI and try to figure out what monster would want the backspace key navigate back a page in Chrome.

Relevant links:

  • Intel shows off Project Alloy, an all-in-one VR headset
  • McDonald’s hands out activity trackers with Happy Meals
  • McDonald’s pulls plug on Happy Meal activity trackers
  • Elon Musk’s OpenAI will teach machines to talk using Reddit
  • Duo, Google’s supersimple video chat app, arrives today
  • Chrome extension restores the backspace key to its former glory
  • Google will stop you hitting backspace in Chrome by mistake
  • We don’t understand AI because we don’t understand intelligence
  • How a robot wrote for Engadget
  • The Galaxy Note 7 vs. the competition: familiar, but different
  • I taught a computer to write like Engadget

You can check out every episode on The Engadget Podcast page in audio, video and text form for the hearing impaired.

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Subscribe on Pocket Casts


Google is opening a dedicated space for startups in San Francisco

With its close ties to San Francisco and Silicon Valley, Google naturally has its hands in the region’s huge startup economy. To further its involvement, the company has announced plans to open a 14,000 square foot space right in the heart of San Francisco to work directly with various startups and developers. Google hasn’t released a ton of details yet, but it says that the space will hold events including the company’s Codelabs, Design Sprints and Tech Talks. It’ll also host meetups of the Google developer community.

Perhaps most notably, the new space will host the third class of Google’s Launchpad Accelerator, a part of the company meant to give startups resources and up to $50,000 in equity-free funding. Previous classes the Launchpad Accelerator came from Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and India, and Google’s blog post announcing its new space notes that it wants to use it to help bridge Silicon Valley with startups from emerging markets around the world. It’s been less than a year since the Launchpad Accelerator started, but it seems that Google’s keen to keep investing in its program.

Other details on what Google intends to do with this huge space aren’t available yet, and the company hasn’t said yet when it’ll open — but Google says it’ll have more details in the coming weeks.

Source: Google


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