Google Pushes Virtual Reality Harder With New Phones From Partners

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Huawei announced two phones that will work with Daydream View
  • Asus ZenFone AR will support both Daydream and Google’s Tango
  • Google has stressed that the programs do not overlap for now

Alphabet Inc’s Google quickened the pace of its push into virtual and augmented reality this week as its hardware partners announced new devices featuring the company’s technology at the CES electronics show in Las Vegas.

Google has been trying to position the vast network of smartphones running its Android operating system for virtual and augmented reality, known as VR and AR, fields that many in the technology industry say are poised to go mainstream after years of niche appeal.

Chinese manufacturer Huaweiannounced on Thursday that two of its phones will soon work with Daydream View, a VR headset released last year by Google. Meanwhile, Taiwanese manufacturer AsusTek Computer Inc announced that its ZenFone AR will support both Daydream and Google’s Tango software for AR, in which computer-generated content is overlaid on the real world.

While the announcements expand the line-up of participating phones, Google still has much to do to take its technology to the masses, said analyst Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research, noting that Samsung Electronics Co, the largest Android manufacturer, has yet to sign on.

Google Pushes Virtual Reality Harder With New Phones From Partners

“Google’s ecosystem for both AR and VR is in the very early days,” he said.

As growth in the global smartphone market shows signs of slowing, some manufacturers are voicing optimism that AR and VR will revive consumer enthusiasm.

“This is the next wave of technology that is really going to get consumers excited about smartphones,” Erik Hermanson, Asus’s head of marketing for mobile products, said at the show.

 

But mainstream consumer interest in the technology remains largely unproven. Apps might be expected to stimulate demand, but until Google’s technology is available on a wider range of phones, it will be tough to persuade developers to build for the platform, analysts said.

“We are waiting for app developers to really use the platform for what it’s for,” Amit Singh, a vice president for VR at Google, told reporters.

In addition to supporting Daydream, Huawei said that it is exploring opportunities for Tango with Google. The Asus phone became the first to support both technologies.

Google has stressed that the programs do not overlap for now, but by pursuing both, the company can position itself for success regardless of whether AR or VR becomes a mainstream hit.

“By having options for both, they can cover the full potential market,” said analyst Bob O’Donnell of TECHnalysis Research.

 

Google Allo v12 Update Brings Selfie Clips, New Compose Bar

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The new Selfie Clip feature is rolling out for all users
  • There’s also a new redesigned compose bar
  • The update brings Allo to version 12

Google’s Allo chat app has been updated once again, and brings a new feature called Selfie Clips. This feature allows users to make GIFs out of the selfie camera, and send them as loops while chatting to another user on Allo. The updated app is available for Android and iPhone.

The Mountain View giant launched Allo last year, in a bid take on WhatsApp and other chat apps out there. The tech giant has been updating the app ever since, bringing new features like chat backups, link previews, personalised selfie stickers, and much more. Google Allo v12 brings the big Selfie Clips feature, along with other changes like a redesigned compose bar.

Selfie Clips essentially lets you use the front camera to make GIF loops of yourself or anything in the front camera view, and send them in chat conversations. Earlier, to send GIFs, you’d have to use third-party material, and a tool to create one was not available in-app. With this update, Allo adds the ability for iPhone and Android users in-app. This feature was announced by Allo team head Amit Fulay. Furthermore, the selfie sticker feature that was only launched for Android first, has now been made available to iPhone users as well.

Google Allo v12 Update Brings Selfie Clips, New Compose Bar

The new compose bar was also mentioned by Fulay and it basically gets rid of the ‘+’ icon that hid all the compose buttons, and shows them all above the message bar itself. This makes them more accessible than before, as earlier they were hidden behind the ‘+’ button, and could only be seen when the button was pressed.

Android Police also did an APK Teardown to reveal some potential upcoming features. Reportedly, a future update will bring the ability to send messages by pressing the enter button, instead of just hitting the send icon on screen.

Google Allo was also reported to launch its Web client soon, but a recent report suggests that the public launch is still a month or two away.

Google Sheets Can Now Make Charts on Request Using Machine Learning

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The updates are already available on Android and iOS
  • Explore feature was added to the app last year
  • Update adds support for spreadsheet shortcuts to the Web version

Google Sheets is already a useful productivity tool but the search giant has now updated it to add some more machine learning features. While users could already ask questions from Sheets to get data-related responses using Explore feature, machine learning now allows the app to create charts demanded by the users.

With the latest update, if users cannot see a chart that they need for their project or presentation, they can simply ask the app to create it for them. “Instead of manually building charts, ask Explore to do it by typing in ‘histogram of 2017 customer ratings’ or ‘bar chart for ice cream sales’. Less time spent building charts means more time acting on new insights,” the search giant said in its blog post.

google sheet story2 Google Sheets Story 2

Notably, users could already ask Google Sheets queries like “what is the distribution of products sold?” or “what are average sales on Sundays?” to get responses from the Explore feature, which was added last year.

Further, the giant has made it easier to keep your tables updated as users can now copy and paste data from Sheets to Docs or Slides and tap the “update” button to sync their data.

Apart from these updates, Google has also added the support for spreadsheet shortcuts to the web version of the app. The latest update is already available on both Android and iOS and can be downloaded through Google Play store or the App Store respectively.

Google Cloud Print is ready to spool in beta, if you have a Windows PC handy

Google blew the lid off of Chrome OS yesterday in a big way, and one of its key features is now ready to roll. Cloud Print was unveiled back in April, a method to enable Google mobile devices to print via nebulous networking, and it’s now here

 with some caveats. The biggest being that right now the only host for a non Cloud Print-compatible printer (basically all but this one) is a Windows PC running Chrome 9.0.597.1 or greater. Set up the service through there and the browser will host your good ‘ol printer to your Chrome OS device. Don’t have a Chrome OS device? You will. Eventually more printers will support this natively, eliminating the middleman, and we’re sure printing support will be coming to Androiddown the road too. When? In due time, fair reader. In due time.

Google Play Now Has an 'Android Excellence' Section With Curated Apps and Games

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The lists in the section will be refreshed quarterly
  • Android Excellence can be found in revamped Editor’s Choice section
  • The section promotes the content that follows Google’s guidelines

Google has introduced a new section in Google Play store called ‘Android Excellence’. This section is meant to promote apps that have great design, performance, or follow the best practices given by the search giant itself. The newly introduced Android Excellence section can be found in the revamped Editor’s Choice section and promotes content and provides recognition to the apps that follow “best practices,” as per the company.

The move comes a week after Apple announced that it’s completely revamping the App Store with iOS 11 to place greater focus on manual curation of apps, with daily updates in the form of lists, developer stories, and more.

“The new collections will showcase apps and games that deliver incredible user experiences on Android, use many of our best practices, and have great design, technical performance, localisation, and device optimisation,” Google said in its blog post.

Google Play Now Has an 'Android Excellence' Section With Curated Apps and Games

Google says that the Android Excellence collections will be refreshed quarterly. Currently, some of the notable mentions in the first round Android Excellence Games include Hitman GO, Pictionary, Riptide GP: Renegade, and Toca Blocks. On the other hand, some of the noteworthy names in Android Excellence Apps include Evernote, Memrise, Pocket, and Skyscanner.

As the lists will be refreshed after a considerable time, it might not be the best place to find great new apps or games but the entries that make this list are likely to get abundance of promotion and exposure. This is likely to prove as a great incentive for app developers to follow the guidelines provided by Google for Android apps.

Google Digitises Delhi’s Historic ‘Baolis’

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Google announced the project ‘Baolis of Delhi – Stepping into Step Wells’
  • It features baolis constructed between 1210-1540 with their virtual tours
  • The photographs can be viewed on the website, iOS and Android apps

As Delhi’s historical stepwells lie in ruins with the ongoing urbanisation drive, a new initiative seeks to preserve seven baolis across the city.

The baolis which were once a major source of water for civilisations that sprung up around them, are being digitised by The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) in collaboration with Google.

Titled “Baolis of Delhi – Stepping into Step Wells”, the project features baolis constructed between 1210 – 1540 and offers a virtual tour of the structures through specially curated photographs.

“The effort would help to reach out to more people and provide them information about the architectural heritage of our city.

Google Digitises Delhi’s Historic ‘Baolis’

“By reaching out to more and more people we are creating public awareness which is the first step towards conservation,” Swapna Liddle, Convenor of INTACH’s Delhi chapter, told PTI.

With over 20 baolis spread across the city, most of these structures, Liddle said, have been neglected due to lack of awareness among people.

Besides documenting the popular stepwells – Agrasen Ki Baoli in Lutyens and the baoli at Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah, the project also introduces the lesser known baolis along with interesting narratives around them.

Viewers will also get a virtual experience that enables them to have a look at the reservoirs which no longer have public access.

 

These include the baoli at Feroz Shah Kotla and Purana Qila among others.

The photographs can be viewed on the website – Google Art and Culture (GAC), and also on the corresponding application on both iOS as well as Android.

Talking about the need for collaborating with governments for initiatives to conserve historical structures, Liddle noted how a baoli in Dwarka is being restored by the Delhi government.

“We need to work in collaboration. The INTACH Delhi Chapter in fact has had a very fruitful partnership with Delhi government through which we are studying and restoring several heritage structures for the Delhi State Department of Archaeology,” she said.

When asked why only seven baolis were shortlisted for the project, Liddle said, the material picked up by Google was part of tourist literature and not a comprehensive list.

Simon Rein, programme manager – India, GAC said that the initiative is inclined towards making India’s rich heritage and culture more accessible to people at home and abroad.

“It stems from Google’s broader mission to organise and make information about world heritage more accessible to people. We want to enable users to discover artworks in new ways and help the cultural sector make the most of the digital opportunities,” he said.

Google Withholds Gender Pay Details

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Google refused to disclose the gender pay disparities
  • 69% of the company’s global employees are male and 31% females
  • But it’s unclear how much women employees are paid relative to the men

For the second year in a row, shareholders of Alphabet, the parent company of Google, voted down a proposal asking the tech giant to publish a report on possible pay disparities between its male and female employees. The vote comes at a time when the company is grappling with a federal lawsuit tied to this very issue and as the tech industry faces heightened scrutiny over gender pay, a lack of diversity, and dysfunctional work environments.

Under the proposal, the company would measure and disclose how much its female employees make as a percentage of their male counterparts. The plan, put forward by Arjuna Capital, an investment firm, and other co-filers also called for the company to design a policy to tackle any gender pay disparity.

Google Withholds Gender Pay Details

“Gender pay disparity is not only one of the biggest social justice issues of our time, it poses a risk to companies’ performance, brand, and investor returns,” said Natasha Lamb, Arjuna’s director of shareholder engagement, at the shareholder meeting. “This issue is particularly salient to the technology industry, which struggles to attract, retain, and move women into positions of leadership,” she said.

The board of directors told shareholders that approving the proposal would not be in the best interest of the company or its investors, according to Alphabet’s 2017 statement to stockholders. Management pointed to Google’s existing diversity reports and internal evaluations as sufficient measures to ensure pay equity among its staff. “Our board of directors does not believe that the proposal would enhance Alphabet’s existing commitment to fostering a fair and inclusive culture,” read the statement.

Like many of its peers in the tech industry, Google produces an annual report outlining the gender and ethnic makeup of its employees. A vast majority of Alphabet’s employees work for Google. But the report doesn’t outline gender pay disparities. Sixty-nine percent of the company’s global employees are male and 31 percent are female, according to Google’ 2016 diversity report, which captured data from the year prior. But it’s unclear how much women employees are paid relative to the men.

Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft have each reported on their gender pay disparity, with each company claiming a discrepancy near zero. Lamb described Alphabet as a laggard, compared to its peers, when it comes to transparency over gender pay.

Alphabet declined to comment.

 

Arjuna Capital’s push for Alphabet to release its gender pay information is part of a broader campaign to address enduring gender discrimination in the American workplace. Within Silicon Valley, which generally views itself as a meritocracy, calls for improving diversity have only grown louder as yearly employment reports continue to show leadership teams being dominated by men.

The calls also come as accounts of workplace harassment continue to surface. In February, former Uber employee Susan Fowler published a blog post alleging episodes of sexual harassment that she said took place while she worked as an engineer at the company. Since her writing, Uber initiated several internal investigations to examine what Fowler and others described as a toxic work culture. But Uber’s sexual harassment controversy is viewed by some not as an outlier, but just the latest, prominent example of women facing discrimination at work in Silicon Valley.

The Mountain View, California, company is currently facing a lawsuit from the Labor Department related to unfair gender pay. The Labor Department filed the lawsuit against Google in January after the company refused to turn over compensation data as part of a “routine compliance evaluation,” according to a Labor Department statement released in the same month. Labor Department lawyers have accused Alphabet of underpaying women, finding evidence of “extreme” gender pay discrimination. Google has denied those accusations. In a hearing last month, Alphabet said that it couldn’t turn over internal wage data that the department requested because that would cost too much – $100,000 (roughly Rs. 64 lakhs) – and require hundreds of hours of work, according to the Guardian.

Alphabet is the third major tech company since 2016 to fall under Labor Department scrutiny. Palantir was accused of discriminating against Asian job applicants, and Oracle was sued for engaging in pay discrimination against women employees, as well as Asian and black workers, according to the Guardian.

At the -shareholder meeting, Lamb also presented a shareholder proposal for Google to analyse its role in the spread of misleading and fabricated news stories, so-called fake news. With management’s blessing, that proposal failed.

Another plan presented by NorthStars Asset Management would have given stockholders equal voting power.

That was defeated as well.

 

Google on Why It’s Keen to Enable Opportunities in India’s Online Education Sector

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Google says the education market is set to grow to $1.96 billion by 2021
  • Success in the future is going to require a mix of online and offline
  • Faster and cheaper mobile data has been a key driver in this sector

Google has reported a huge increase in education-related queries on both search and on YouTube. According a study Google carried out with KPMG, the Indian online education sector will be a $1.96 billion (roughly Rs. 12,670 crores) industry by 2021. Gadgets 360 had a chance to catch up with Nitin Bawankule, Industry Director, Google India, to talk about the education industry in the country, and the opportunities that lie ahead.

Bawankule tells us that while the overall number of Internet users in India is growing rapidly, contributing, in turn, to a growth in volumes of search queries, Google has seen a greater rise in interest in education and that’s why the company wants to focus on the sector and understand what the public wants.

Google on Why It’s Keen to Enable Opportunities in India’s Online Education Sector

Bawankule says that the online education sector is spread across a number of different areas – tutoring, test preparation, and higher education are all in the formal sector, while there are more informal areas such as re-skilling, corporate training, and language learning. Predictably, growth in mobile queries has far outpaced PC queries, as the number of users for the former shot up dramatically in India. Bawankule says that much of the growth acceleration has been in the last year, crediting it to the Jio-effect, as other providers have also cut data tariffs to stay competitive.

“A lot of the new net users are also coming from areas with low access to education,” he explains. “In those spaces, people are particularly keen to invest in education as it can open up opportunities.”

smartphone screen reading generic pixabay learning

“Online education has a lot of advantages,” says Bawankule. “It’s convenient, because offline, if there’s a class it will be at a fixed time. But online, you could take the class late at night, or early in the morning, or whenever suits you. It’s also more adaptable, and can be personalised for your requirements.”

He adds that the growth in queries has come from all over India, with Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities that have lesser access to offline coaching in particular showing great growth.

For the online education sector, Bawankule tells Gadgets 360 that important changes need to be made to meet the projected demand. He believes that better content models, with more video based instruction, is going to be critical. Better hiring linkages will matter a lot as well, as lack of recruitment possibilities is seen as a major issue with online education, he adds.

“Going forward, it will also be very important to have an offline and online, mixed model of education,” says Bawankule. “It’s obviously not going to be possible to have a centre in every village, but people need to have something accessible – like maybe in a 30km radius. This is because, if you’re studying something like physics for example, fine, you can learn a lot from theory, but at least once a month you need to be able to travel to a lab and learn the practical side of things as well.”

What is Google’s role?
Apart from carrying out activities such as this study, what other part can Google play in the education ecosystem, we asked Bawankule.

asus chromebook flip story winfuture

“The key role for Google is to enable the ecosystem,” he says. “There needs to be an understanding of the consumers and the ecosystem, and what we do with studies like this one is to provide the data that can help startups and established education providers to plan for the future.”

Beyond that, he adds that Google is providing tools for developers, and working with offline players to help them move online as well. “The market is huge, and we are helping in a number of different capacities,” he adds, pointing out that the Chromebook team has been doing very well in the education sector in India, as it is globally.

Beyond that, he says, there has been a “significant jump in niche players who are realising the importance of addressing specific problems in education, rather than trying to deliver a broad solution.”

Bawankule signs off from the conversation by saying, “learning and education is a very broad category that goes from do-it-yourself videos on YouTube, which can teach people useful practical skills, to Khan Academy, for example, and that’s why it’s important to have specialist players who address different parts of the issue.”

 

Google Pixel, Pixel XL Tipped to Receive Android O in August, Ahead of Nexus Devices

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The rollout is expected to happen in August
  • Nexus devices to get the update later
  • Android O update coming Nokia and OnePlus devices as well

Android O was one of the biggest highlights of Google I/O 2017 this year, and to test waters the search giant has also released Android O in a public beta. The timeline for a public release is usually at the same time as the launch of the new Pixel device in October. However, a new tip hints that the current Pixel devices will be the first to receive a stable update to Android O, as early as August.

Android Police’s David Ruddock tweeted this information claiming that the Google Pixel and Google Pixel XL will be the first to receive Android O. The update will be rolled out in the first or second week of August, ahead of Nexus devices. This is way in advance from last year’s rollout timeline as well. This isn’t to say that Nexus devices won’t be receiving an update, but only a little later.

Ruddock claims that he got the information from a reliable source, but we recommend you to not get your hopes up until Google announces it officially.

Image result for Google Pixel, Pixel XL

Other smartphones that are confirmed to get the Android O update, whenever it arrives, include the Nokia 3, Nokia 5, Nokia 6, and OnePlus 3, OnePlus 3T. Users wanting to try the new operating system can do so by enrolling in the Android O beta. Do keep in mind that you’ll need to have an eligible Google smartphone. Currently, the only supported phones for the Android O beta are the Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Google Pixel, and the Google Pixel XL.

Android O brings along redesigned settings, notifications, quick toggles, picture in picture mode, and much more. Check out our first impressions right here.

Google Pixel

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32GB

Rear Camera

12.3-megapixel

Battery Capacity

2770mAh

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  • Good
  • Brilliant low-light photography
  • Fast modern processor
  • Great battery life
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Google Assistant for iPhone Review

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Google Assistant works on iOS 9.1 or later
  • It’s only available for now via App Store in the US
  • Siri has a few homegrown advantages

Google Assistant now lives on the iPhone. Its purpose lies in its name: to help you with your day-to-day life, be it set reminders, play music, fire off emails, give you directions, and tell you random facts, among other things. If you’re thinking that’s what Siri is for, you’re right. Except Google’s offering can actually hold a conversation.

Ask Siri and the Assistant the capital of Uruguay, and they’ll both give you the same response. (It’s Montevideo, if you were curious.) But when you ask a follow-up question, say “What’s the weather like?”, Siri gives you the weather at your current location. It has already forgotten the query that came before. Google Assistant, on the other hand, can handle context, which allows it to give you the weather for Montevideo, and not where you are. You can then move the conversation forward, querying the best time to visit, or the places you should see.

Google Assistant for iPhone Review

That’s one of the things that makes the Assistant slightly unique. The other is the way you communicate; you can chat with Google’s digital assistant by either talking or typing, the latter of which Siri doesn’t do. It’s probably worth a mention that you could do the same inside Google’s chat app, Allo, earlier but Assistant now available without that convolution, as a standalone app. The ability to type and interact means you can use the Assistant on the train, or in a meeting, without feeling like a dork.

At launch, the Assistant is capable of a lot. Apart from the functionality listed above, it can initiate calls, provide answers or translations, play games, fetch sports scores, set timers, look up stock prices, places nearby, or the definition of any word; get flight status, your next meeting, food nutrition, or the news; and remember little nuggets of information (such as your bike lock). A lot of that is made possible by Google’s Knowledge Graph or linking into other Google apps: Calendar, Gmail, News, and so forth. It doesn’t support all of Google’s apps though, as you can’t use Inbox for emails, or Play Music for listening to music on iOS.

google assistant siri iphone Google Assistant Siri iPhone

You can even set up shortcuts in the app settings, which helps you cut down on repeating long phrases over and over to achieve the same thing. As an example, if you love watching videos of Corgi dogs on YouTube as a pick-me-up, you can set up a shortcut phrase, say, “Cheer me up”, which will then trigger the Assistant follow the much longer and complex command – “Show me Corgi videos on YouTube”.

But at the same time, owing to Apple’s baked-in restrictions, there’s a lot it can also not do. For one, it can’t talk to other apps like Siri can. That means it can’t call an Uber, or send a message through WhatsApp. It’s also not allowed to talk directly to any system apps and services, so you won’t be able to make handsfree calls, or toggle the Bluetooth setting.

The Google Assistant also steps into puddles of its own making on iOS. Every now and then, it tends to suggest features it can’t actually do – like “Start watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix on the TV” or “Play workout music on Google Play Music” – probably because of its roots in the Google ecosystem, but this is something that needs to be fixed, as it’s needlessly confusing for inexperienced users.

The first time we asked the Assistant to play music, it suggested “Listen to Imagine on Spotify” in the line below. But upon selecting it, it ruefully reminded us that it couldn’t do that. Another time, after singing a short song (yep, it can sing), one of the suggestions read “Tell me a poem”. Again, the function completely failed, and it instead looked up “Song Poem” on Apple Music. And though you can play anything on YouTube, much like on Android, Assistant for iOS still hasn’t been integrated with Google’s Chromecast hardware, so you can’t ask it to play stuff on your TV, like you can with Google Home.

IMG 2143 Google Assistant iPhone

Of course it’s not as simple to bring up Google Assistant as holding down the home button for Siri. Google’s way around that has to been craft a widget that you can quickly get to in iOS 10’s new widget panel. If you’ve place it at the top, you can get it by swiping right from the lock screen, from the left of home screen, or by pulling down the notification drawer and swiping right. But it’s still nowhere as convenient as the single press of a button. Even more so if you have security (passcode/ Touch ID) turned on, as pressing the widget’s button on the lock screen prompts you to unlock the phone.

What’s worse, for now, Google Assistant is only available via the US App Store (and in turn, only in US English), so its availability is limited at best. And thanks to the single language support – the Google Assistant is available in English (India) on Android – the iOS counterpart isn’t obviously as good with picking up Indian names.

But there are ways the Assistant is also better on iPhone than Android, surprisingly. You can listen to the news on iOS, and even customise your preferred news sources in the settings. If you ask the Assistant to “listen to the news” on Android, it starts searching for music called “the news” on Play Music, funnily enough.

For what it’s worth, it’s a kink waiting to be resolved, and the Assistant will always be more helpful on Android, thanks to the deeper integration. And for as long as Siri gets priority override on the iPhone, Google Assistant can hang around on Apple’s turf, but this will never be its true home.