New Google Maps, a totally new GChat, new features for Android, and more.
Google announced a bunch of stuff today at the annual I/O conference in California. The announcements are mostly updates–nothing as exciting as the introduction of Google Glass or a new tablet–but there are lots of changes that’ll affect how you compute, and that give an idea of how Google plans to evolve in the near future. Here’s what we saw:
Maps Can Think. One of Google’s best tactics of late is taking what it knows about you–which is a lot, eeee–and not just presenting it to you, but analyzing and predicting what you want to know. When you search for “Sur La Table” on your phone, your results now show a white box that gives you the address and store hours–exactly what you probably want to know. And the new Google Maps works the same way.
Maps now adjusts based on your use. It uses the data it has on you to suggest things to do in the area you’ve selected, personalized just for you. Clicking on any individual item changes the map to show related items, making those brighter and less related items duller. Directions now have more detail in the different options; public transit directions now show the different number of transfers, for example.
Sync Your Stuff. Android’s notifications system has been about two or three years beyond Apple since the launch of the first Android phone. For every step Apple takes, Google takes one a step further. Apple uses the swipe-down-from-the-top motion to trigger a notifications shade? Android allows you to swipe them individually to close, or head straight to your settings menu from there. The latest is syncing: swipe to dismiss a notification on your phone, and that’ll be carried over to any other Android or Chrome device, so you don’t need to dismiss things multiple times. Smart.
Another Music Subscription. Google introduced the awkwardly named Google Play Music All Access service, which is…exactly like Spotify, or Rdio, or Zune, or Rhapsody. Ten bucks a month, listen all you want. We love these services, but Google made no effort to move things forward with this offering, so we’re not sure who’s going to use it. Why use Google Play when you’ve already got Spotify and Rdio on your phone?
Google Insists You Want Voice Search. Google spent a long time today discussing the improvements made to voice search. (We’re iffy on its potential.) Google Glass relies on it already, but now Google wants you to have a full-on conversation with your computer, tablet, and phone, as well. You talk to it by saying “Ok, Google.” Read more about that here.
Chat Is Now Hangouts. GChat might be ubiquitous among the under-30 set, but Google’s approach to chat has been confusing. Google Chat, Google Talk, Gmail, Google Hangouts, Video Chat–lots of different services, unnecessarily confusing. Now it’s all one thing: Google Hangouts. It’s available for Android, iOS, and on your computer as a Chrome extension, and looks like a more powerful, cleaner version of GChat. You can drop photos and videos easily, switch to video chat in the same window, and Google has apparently hand-drawn hundreds of new emoji, if you’re into that kind of thing. More on that here.
Google+ Is Still Alive. Google redesigned Google+, with a new multi-pane design and fancy animations, though we doubt that’ll get anyone to use it who doesn’t already. The best part? Photos are well-attended; they’ll upload automatically, highlight and autocorrect exposure and color, and attempt to group them based on content, so all photos of a certain party will be together.
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