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Google I/O 2016: Assistant, Home, Allo, Duo, Android N, and More

Google hosted its annual I/O developers keynote at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California today, announcing multiple new products and services related to Android, search, messaging, home automation, and more. Google Assistant Google Assistant is described as a "conversational assistant" that builds upon Google Now based on two-way dialog. The tool can be used, for example, to ask who directed the movie Avatar, and to ask which other movies he has directed, and Google should be able to isolate the questions from the conversation and provide answers. The new Siri and Alexa rival, compatible with both voice and chat, will be widely available on Android, iOS, in the home, and elsewhere later this year. Google Home Google Home is a new Wi-Fi-enabled personal assistant device for the home that enables people to ask Google search queries, manage everyday tasks, enjoy music and entertainment, and more using hands-free "OK Google" voice commands. The Amazon Echo rival features a clean, color-changing design with no buttons, a speaker on the bottom, multiple room support, remote control of Chromecast and other speakers, compatibility with Nest and other popular home automation platforms, and more. Google Home can be used to make general searches, check flight statuses, track shipments, set dinner reservations, turn on lights or play music in certain rooms, receive real-time traffic and routing information, check your appointments, and more. Google Home will be available later this year. Pricing was not

Google Combines Search, YouTube, and Chrome Into New Sharing App 'Spaces'

Google this morning announced a new app called "Spaces" for iOS, Android and desktop, that combines Google Search, YouTube, and Chrome together into one app to easily share and discuss content amongst friends. Similar to Gboard launched last week, Google is hoping to lessen the amount of time needed to jump between apps by streamlining multiple features into one application. To start off, users can create a Space within the app centering around any article or video they like, and invite friends and family to the Space through texts, email, or a connected social network. From there, they can start discussing the topic in question, and even go through old conversations with a search function that can pull up image results as well as hits related to text. Group sharing isn’t easy. From book clubs to house hunts to weekend trips and more, getting friends into the same app can be challenging. Sharing things typically involves hopping between apps to copy and paste links. Group conversations often don’t stay on topic, and things get lost in endless threads that you can’t easily get back to when you need them. We wanted to build a better group sharing experience, so we made a new app called Spaces that lets people get people together instantly to share around any topic. Google said it plans to test out Spaces at its annual Google I/O conference starting this week. The company will have Spaces set up for each session, letting developers and conference goers connect and discuss all of the event's biggest topics in one organized app. The rollout for Spaces is starting

Google Again Surpasses Apple as Most Valuable Company in the World

With Apple shares dipping below $90 this morning, Google's parent company Alphabet briefly overtook Apple as the world's most valuable company hitting a market cap of $498 billion compared to Apple's market cap of $494 billion. Apple and Google shares continue to fluctuate and the two companies are neck-and-neck for the top valuation, but Google remains in the lead. Apple's stock has seen steep declines in recent weeks, following its first ever drop in iPhone sales and its first year-over-year revenue decline since 2003. Apple's share price is down again amid rumors of weak demand for the upcoming iPhone 7 and there's no relief in sight as Apple is also expecting a revenue drop in Q3 2016. Apple's guidance for the quarter includes expected revenue of $41 to $43 billion and gross margin between 37.5 and 38 percent, compared to $49.6 billion revenue and gross margin of 39.7 percent in Q3 2015. Google parent company Alphabet previously overtook Apple as the most valuable company in the world in February of 2016 following a strong Q1 2016 earnings report. Earlier today, Apple was ranked the world's most valuable brand by Forbes, assigned a brand value of $154.1 billion compared to Google's $82.5

Google Debuts 'Gboard' Keyboard for iPhone With Built-In Search Functionality

Google today announced "Gboard," a new third-party keyboard application for iOS devices that directly integrates the company's search capabilities into an iPhone or iPad's keyboard. With the new Google button in Gboard, users can search for information, send what they find, discover GIFs, emojis, and more, without having to exit a messenger app to visit Safari or Chrome. In its blog post, the company gives an example of someone needing to look up the address of a restaurant, normally forcing them to leave the app, perform a search in a mobile web browser, copy the address information, return to Messages, paste it, then send it off. With Gboard, Google hopes to streamline that process into a headache-free card system built around the smaller UI space required of third-party keyboards. With Gboard, you can search and send all kinds of things—restaurant info, flight times, news articles—right from your keyboard. Anything you’d search on Google, you can search with Gboard. Results appear as cards with the key information front and center, such as the phone number, ratings and hours. With one tap, you can send it to your friend and you keep the conversation going. In addition to the basic search feature, Gboard lets users search for emojis -- unlike Apple's first-party keyboard -- by typing in key words like "dancer" to find the corresponding character. There's also a section that lets users browse and search for GIFs, and even glide typing for those who prefer sliding to text instead of tapping each key. Google mentioned that Gboard "works in any app" with a keyboard,

Google Translate Gains Offline Translation in 52 Languages

Google's Google Translate app was today updated to version 5.0.0, adding a new feature that allows users to translate words and phrases even when offline in 52 of the 103 languages available in the app. With the offline update, the app remains useful when no cellular or Wi-Fi connection is available, making it ideal for traveling. Today's update also adds instant camera translation between English and Chinese (Simplified and Traditional), which is useful for reading signs and other content without needing to type words into the app. Instant camera translation is now available in a total of 29 languages and camera mode, which allows users to take pictures of text for higher-quality translations, is available in 37 languages.What's New - Offline translation in 52 languages - Instant camera translation: English to/from Chinese (Simplified and Traditional) - 13 new languagesGoogle Translate can be downloaded from the App Store for free. [Direct Link]

Google Hangouts for iOS Gains Share Extension and Low Power Mode Support

Google has updated its Hangouts app for iPhone and iPad with a native iOS Share Sheet extension and support for Low Power mode. Google Hangouts for iOS enables users to send and receive instant messages and group messages, share photos, and make video and voice calls using the company's cross-platform communication service. Users can also connect up to Google Voice via the service to link their personal phone numbers, enable SMS and activate voice recognition. The Share extension in version 9.0 of Hangouts means users can now share text, links, images, and video from other apps on their device, while the Low Power support essentially means that the app will now automatically turn off video when the device's battery is depleted to 20% or lower. The Share extension can be activated by tapping the Share button within the app, selecting "More" at the end of the Share Sheet, and toggling the switch next to Hangouts to the ON position. Google Hangouts is a free download on the App Store for iPhone and iPad. [Direct Link]

Google Testing Support for Native OS X Notifications in Chrome

Google's Chrome browser has long supported push notifications, but it's always used its own notification center instead of relying on the OS X Notification Center that was built into Apple's operating system in 2012. That may change in the near future, as Google is experimenting with the built-in OS X Notification Center. Available to all Chrome users as an experimental feature, OS X notifications can be turned on in the current version of the Chrome browser by inserting "chrome://flags/#enable-native-notifications" in the address bar and choosing the "enable" option. It should be noted that a more current version of the feature is available through Chrome Canary, as the implementation on the release browser is 6-12 weeks behind the current state of development. Native OS X notifications are more visually attractive than standard Chrome notifications and they're also listed in the Notification Center window, something that wasn't possible with Chrome notifications. OS X notifications coming from Chrome will also obey Do Not Disturb settings. As The Next Web points out, the Notification Center feature is still in active development so users who choose to turn it on could run into some bugs. Google developers say work on OS X Notification Center integration is being actively pursued, but it is not "100% clear either way" whether support will become official as "certain roadblocks" could potentially prevent that from

Google Announces Cardboard SDK for iOS, 'VR View' Feature for Apps and Websites

Google today announced the launch of a Cardboard SDK for iOS developers, allowing them to more easily create native iPhone apps and experiences that will work with the Google Cardboard virtual reality viewer. The Cardboard SDK for iOS includes all of the features that are already available in the Android Cardboard SDK. For those unfamiliar with Google Cardboard, it is a low-cost viewer designed to work with a range of smartphones from Android devices to iOS devices. The iPhone or other smartphone fits into the front of a viewer made from cardboard or another material, bringing virtual and augmented reality experiences to the user through apps. Google is also debuting VR view, a feature that allows immersive content to be embedded into apps and websites. VR views transform 360 degree VR images or video into an interactive experience that can be viewed on a desktop computer (an example is available in Google's blog post) or with a phone attached to a Cardboard viewer.Travel apps may include turtle photos, but they're nothing like diving into the open ocean. Real estate websites may include descriptions of the dining room, but it's nothing like actually touring the home. For developers, having immersive elements in their apps and websites can be the difference between meh and magical. That's why we're introducing VR view--a quick and easy way to embed immersive content on Android, iOS and the web.The Cardboard SDK for iOS and the tools for creating VR views are available starting

Google Developing Search-Focused Third-Party Keyboard for iOS

Google is working on a third-party keyboard designed for iOS devices that would incorporate search functionality, reports The Verge. Citing people familiar with Google's plans, The Verge says the keyboard, which has been in development for several months, "incorporates a variety of search options" to attract more Google search users on iOS devices. The keyboard is said to feature gesture-based typing like Swype, allowing users to slide their fingers across the keyboard to enter letters. Tapping on a built-in Google logo brings up a web search bar, and there are also options for searching for pictures and GIFs. Design elements are not clear, but it is apparently "visually distinct" from the standard keyboard available on Android devices. News of Google's work on an iOS keyboard comes just a few months after images surfaced of a Word Flow Windows Phone-style keyboard Microsoft is developing for iOS devices. It is not known when Google might release its keyboard, and a release date for the Microsoft keyboard is also unavailable. Google and Microsoft's effort to develop keyboards for Apple devices is curious, as third-party keyboards have not proven to be particularly popular with iOS users due to ongoing issues with slowness, crashing, and other

Apple Inks Deal to Use Google Cloud Platform for Some iCloud Services

Apple has signed a deal with Google that will see the Google Cloud Platform providing some of the cloud infrastructure for iCloud and other cloud-based Apple services, reports CRN (via Business Insider). Apple reportedly established a $400 to $600 million deal with Google last last year and has, as a result, "significantly" cut down on its reliance on Amazon Web Services (AWS). According to the sources, Google executives have told partners that Apple is spending between $400 million and $600 million on Google Cloud Platform, although this couldn't be independently confirmed. Also unclear is whether this range refers to an annual spending rate or a set amount of capacity.While the money Apple is now paying Google was previously spent on AWS, Apple has not stopped using Amazon's cloud computing services entirely. Apple has never confirmed the cloud services that power iCloud, but past rumors have pointed towards AWS and Microsoft Azure, suggesting Apple will continue using multiple services to meet its needs. According to The Information's Amir Efrati, who has confirmed Apple's plans, it will take a year for Apple to transition to using Google Cloud Platform. It’s true, @iCloud to be partially powered by @googlecloud. But will take a year & unlikely to be profitable. @awscloud lost $ from iCloud.— Amir Efrati (@amir) March 16, 2016 Since last year, Google has been aggressively pursuing deals for its Google Cloud Platform, led by former VMware CEO Diane Greene. Google and Amazon have been involved in ongoing pricing wars, but Google claims to be the "price/performance

Google Testing 'Hands Free' Payment System on Android and iOS

Google today announced a pilot program for its "Hands Free" payment service, allowing customers in the southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area to pay for goods and services over Bluetooth using a photograph for confirmation. Hands Free, as the name implies, is aimed at allowing people to make purchases without the need to pull out a phone or a wallet. It requires customers to create a profile (with photo) through the Hands Free app, available for both iOS and Android. When in a location that supports Hands Free payments, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and location services on the phone will communicate with the store's cash point-of-sale system. When ready to make a payment, customers can say "I'll pay with Google," and the cashier will confirm the payment using the person's initials and the photo associated with the Hands Free app, both of which are displayed to the cashier on the cash register. In select locations, Google is also using a visual identification via an in-store camera to confirm identity based on the Hands Free profile picture. As with Android Pay, Hands Free does not transmit full card details to retailers, and purchases made send notifications to the accompanying phone. Google says it sends alerts if any unusual activity is detected and suspicious transactions won't go through without approval. Hands Free payment options are currently available at select locations in the South Bay, including McDonald's and Papa John's Pizza. The Hands Free app for the iPhone can be downloaded from the App Store for free. [Direct Link]

Google Maps for iOS Gaining New 'Pit Stop' Feature

Google today announced an incoming update to its Google Maps for iOS app that will let users add pit stops onto their trips without leaving navigation mode. First introduced on Android last fall, the company said that the pit stop feature will be available in any country where Google Maps navigation is offered, which is "more than 100 worldwide." From navigation mode, users will just need to tap the magnifying glass located in the top right corner of Google Maps to see a drop down menu of potential pit stops to add to a trip. The menu offers a few automatic options like restaurants and coffee shops, but a search field gives users a more robust option for specifically finding their desired pit stop. Life is full of the unexpected—things that send us scrambling for a gas station in the middle of nowhere, looking up a florist on our way home from work or searching for a restaurant as we tour the back roads of our latest vacation destination. Finding and navigating to these last-minute pit stops used to force you out of navigation mode in Google Maps—and away from the traffic updates, turn-by-turn directions and map you rely on to stay on track. Similar to Android, the new function on iOS details both the public rating of the pit stop and the amount of time the detour will add onto a trip, letting users select the best-rated and quickest pit stop beforehand. Prior to the update, Google Maps users would have to manually discover and find a potential pit stop, navigate to the location, and when ready to leave, re-start their original route navigation. The company said

Google CEO Calls FBI's Request for Apple Backdoor 'A Troubling Precedent'

This morning, Apple CEO Tim Cook published an open letter declaring the company's intention to oppose an order from a U.S. federal judge that would require Apple to give the FBI the tools to bypass the passcode on an iPhone owned by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook. Since then, dozens of government officials, members of the media, and tech company leaders have weighed in on the issue, including Sundar Pichai, Google's CEO. In a series of tweets shared this afternoon, Pichai seemingly sided with Apple, saying the FBI's request to enable a backdoor "could compromise users' privacy." He went on to say that while Google understands the challenges law enforcement faces and supports providing access to data based on valid legal orders, that's "wholly different" than ordering companies to "enable hacking of customer devices & data," something he says "could be a troubling precedent." 4/5 But that’s wholly different than requiring companies to enable hacking of customer devices & data. Could be a troubling precedent— sundarpichai (@sundarpichai) February 17, 2016 As the company behind Android, the other major operating system widely used by smartphone owners, Google's opinion on the issue carries some weight. People have been waiting to see what stance Google would take and whether the company would back Apple. Other tech company CEOs, including those from Twitter and Facebook, have yet to share an opinion, but WhatsApp CEO and founder Jan Koum wrote a strong statement supporting Apple this morning. "We must not allow this dangerous precedent to be set," he penned.

Google Developing Standalone Virtual Reality Headset, Upgraded Cardboard Viewer

As rumors circulate about Apple's secret work on virtual reality headset prototypes, Google is developing a standalone virtual reality headset, reports The Wall Street Journal. Google's virtual reality headset is not reliant on a smartphone, computer, or game console, unlike existing virtual reality products like the Oculus Rift, which requires a powerful computer, or its own Google Cardboard viewer, which requires a smartphone. According to sources familiar with Google's work, the VR headset will feature a screen, high-powered processors, and a set of outward-facing cameras. Movidius chips that use the camera feed to track head motion will be included, alleviating the need for an external camera to track movement. Along with a standalone virtual reality headset, Google is also working on a "more advanced version" of the Cardboard, which will be made of plastic and will include computer chips and sensors. The updated version of the Cardboard will be released this year, perhaps in May, but The Wall Street Journal says the timing of the standalone headset is unclear. It could debut in 2016, but since it is early in the development process, Google could scrap it.Google and others have shipped more than five million cardboard viewers since late 2014, helping introduce many consumers to technology that immerses them in experiences that seem to be all around them. The recent moves suggest Google now thinks virtual reality could become a moneymaker in both hardware and software.Apple is rumored to have a team of several hundred employees working on augmented and virtual

Google Surpasses Apple as World's Most Valuable Company

Google's parent company, Alphabet, is encroaching on Apple's status as the most valuable company in the world, reports CNN. While Apple is currently on top, a surge in Alphabet shares today gave it a market valuation of $533.4 billion, briefly surpassing Apple's valuation of $532.7 billion on a 1 percent stock drop. Alphabet shares dropped shortly after, leaving Apple at a higher valuation, but the numbers could shift again tomorrow following Alphabet's first financial earnings report this afternoon. Alphabet is expected to announce overall revenue growth of close to 15 percent with a 20 percent increase in earnings per share. Over the course of the last several months, Apple shares have fallen steadily, dropping its peak valuation of $740 billion to ~$540 billion. Despite record earnings for the first fiscal quarter of 2016, with revenue of $75.9 billion and net quarterly profit of $18.4 billion, Apple has not bounced back from rumors that the iPhone 6s and the iPhone 6s are not selling well and concerns that the company has reached "peak iPhone" with no replacement product on the horizon. Apple is in for a rough second quarter as the company is expected to announce its first ever decline in iPhone sales and its first year-over-year revenue drop in thirteen years. Currency headwinds caused by a strong U.S. dollar are costing Apple a significant percent of its earnings compared to the year-ago quarter. Update 1:05 PM: Alphabet is up another 8 percent in after hours trading following a strong earnings report, meaning Alphabet will almost certainly open trading

Google Shifts Chrome for iOS to Apple’s WKWebView, Reducing Crashes by 70%

Google today introduced a few stability and performance improvements into its Chrome for iOS app, mainly centering around the company's switch from in-process rendering with UIWebView to out-of-process rendering thanks to WKWebView. Tests by Google proved the new update reduces the app's crash rate by 70 percent, letting users pick up where they left off on a page from any device without a crash causing issues. The biggest change is in stability: with WKWebView’s out-of-process rendering, when the web view crashes or runs out of memory, it won’t bring down all of Chrome with it. As a result, Chrome crashes 70% less with WKWebView. Even when counting the “Aw, Snap!” page shown when the renderer crashes, there’s still a big improvement. Outside of stability, WKWebView brings many other benefits. Web compatibility is improved with support for features like IndexedDB, bringing the HTML5test score for Chrome on iOS from 391 up to 409. Switching to background tabs will cause pages to reload 25% less often. JavaScript speed on benchmarks such as Octane is an order of magnitude faster, and scrolling is smoother and more responsive. For the web, Google also created a new extension called "Data Saver," that will allow Chrome users the ability to manage data usage while outside of their home Wi-Fi. Similar in function to the extension available for Android devices, Data Saver reduces the data needed to access the web with the help of the company's "compression technology." The extension lets users see exactly how much data they saved and highlight which websites are using the

Google Paid Apple $1 Billion in 2014 to be Default iOS Search Engine

It's common knowledge that Apple and Google have a monetary agreement that ensures Google's position as the default search engine on Apple's iOS devices, but the details of that deal have been kept under wraps, until now. A recent court transcript from Oracle's copyright lawsuit against Google was obtained by Bloomberg and sheds some light on the agreement, suggesting Google pays out a lot of money to keep its search bar on Apple's iPhones and iPads. Apple receives a percentage of the revenue that Google earns from searches made on iOS devices, and in 2014, Apple's payout from Google totaled $1 billion. That information mirrors a similar rumor from 2012 that also suggested Google was paying Apple upwards of $1 billion. The current cut Apple receives from the advertising revenue Google collects isn't known, but according to a Google witness questioned during the Oracle-Google lawsuit, the revenue share was at 34 percent "at one point in time." According to Bloomberg, it was not made clear in the transcript if 34 percent is the amount Apple received or the amount Google got to keep.An attorney for Google objected to the information being disclosed and attempted to have the judge strike the mention of 34 percent from the record. "That percentage just stated, that should be sealed," lawyer Robert Van Nest said, according to the transcript. "We are talking hypotheticals here. That's not a publicly known number."Both Google and Apple attempted to have the court records blocked from public review because the information is "extremely confidential," but a judge denied the

iPhone 6s Tops Google's 2015 'Year in Search' List in Consumer Tech

Google today released its annual "Year in Search" results, highlighting popular and trending searches in 2015. Apple-related search terms continued to rank highly in the consumer tech category, with iPhone 6s taking the top spot and Samsung Galaxy S6, Apple Watch, iPad Pro and LG G4 rounding off the top five globally. Samsung's Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy J5, HTC's One M9, Huawei's Nexus 6P and Microsoft's Surface Pro 4 were also among the top ten Google searches in the consumer tech category this year. No technology-related terms made it into Google's top ten searches overall in 2015. In Google's 2014 Year in Search, a number of Apple-related search terms similarly ranked highly among the most trending searches in the Consumer Electronics category, with "iPhone 6" taking #1, "Apple Watch" taking #8, and "iPad Air" taking #10. Flappy Bird also ranked #6 in Google's top 10 overall trending searches in

Google to Fix Incorrect 1-Star App Ratings in Search Results Next Week

Google today acknowledged an ongoing issue causing a number of iPhone, iPad and Mac apps to display incorrect one-star ratings in its search results on the web, and confirmed that a fix should be implemented by early next week. "I'm happy to share that we've been working hard on providing a solution, and a new fix has been scheduled for the next release, which should be rolling out early next week," wrote Google Search community manager AJ in the Google support forums. A growing number of developers, including the makers of Dandelion, have reported incorrect one-star ratings in Google search results since late October, despite actually having higher-than-one-star ratings on iTunes.One of the apps that we have developed - Dandelion App - has an average of 4 star rating on the iTunes store, however when you search it on Google Search, it comes up as 1 star. How does Google generate the average ratings on its search page? Is this an error? The app has more than 1 review - so just interested why it's coming up with the wrong information.The issue appears to be limited to App Store apps that have not received enough ratings (five or more) to display an average for the current version, a threshold that can take a while to reach for apps that have limited downloads or frequent updates. Google community manager AJ advises developers that continue to see incorrect ratings in search results after mid next week to report the issue in the Google support forums so the company can continue to

Google Announces Offline Maps and Navigation Coming Soon to iOS

Google has announced that the latest version of Google Maps for Android has an improved offline mode, providing access to turn-by-turn directions and several other features in areas without a reliable cellular data or internet connection. It also confirmed these features will be coming soon to iOS, but did not provide a specific release timeframe. Google Maps was previously limited to viewing maps while offline, but this update will enable iPhone users to navigate with turn-by-turn driving directions, search for specific destinations and look up information about places, including hours of operation, contact information and ratings, while offline.Now you can download an area of the world to your phone, and the next time you find there’s no connectivity—whether it’s a country road or an underground parking garage—Google Maps will continue to work seamlessly. Whereas before you could simply view an area of the map offline, now you can get turn-by-turn driving directions, search for specific destinations, and find useful information about places, like hours of operation, contact information or ratings.Google previewed Offline Maps at Google I/O in May, and will be gradually rolling out the new features to Android and iOS