Friday, April 30, 2010

Google reportedly preparing to intro TV software next month

The Google TV—or rather, Google's software for set-top boxes—is one step closer to reality, according to sources speaking to the Wall Street Journal. Google is reportedly preparing to announce the software at next month's Google I/O conference, where developers may be able to get their feet wet writing applications for the platform, though the sources cautioned that Google might back off on the announcement if it's not quite ready by then.

Google's TV plans have yet to be officially confirmed, though they have been rumored for at least a month now. Consistent with the company's strategy in other areas, Google isn't expected to be involved in manufacturing set-top boxes; rather, the company is supposedly developing a version of Android that would be especially conducive to the big screen. Third-party developers would then be able to write their own apps for the devices, giving more openness and flexibility to people's TV watching habits.

According to the WSJ, hardware makers like Sony, Intel, and Logitech are interested in rolling out devices that work with Google's software. On top of that, Google is reportedly in the process of testing a sort of "television search" with the Dish Network, which allows users to search for content on the Internet and from Dish's programming.

We're still left a little unsure of how well the Google TV project will succeed, given the fact that there are already a handful of other set-top boxes available (and some of them for pretty cheap). However, if the UI is good and the developer community gets on board, there's potential for this device (or, more likely: devices) to fill a small gap in the market. After all, there are few set-top boxes right now that aren't full-blown HTPCs, but still give developers the freedom to develop their own apps, and their growing familiarity with Android—thanks to the mobile world—would certainly help.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The 10 best Google Android phones

10. T-Mobile G2 Touch
The G1 was the first of all the Google Android handsets, and with its slide-out keyboard and bricklike design, it was hard to see that the phone would ever challenge Apple. This second generation model is a lot better, having ditched the keyboard for a straightforward touch screen. There’s a five megapixel camera and eight hours of talk time – but beware: as this is simply a rebadged HTC Hero, buying one on T-Mobile limits your options.

T-Mobile G2

T-Mobile G2

9. LG InTouch Max GW620
The GW620 is very nearly a fantastic Android phone. But there are too many niggles for it to be perfect. On a petty note; what's the point of a camera timer if the phone's sides are curved so you can't stand the phone up on its own? Sony Ericcson is much better at camera phone design. And when it comes to interface design, HTC are much better. Again, it’s got a five megapixel camera and eight hours of talktime. So there’s not much to complain about, but consumers can do better than this for the money.

LG InTouch Max GW620

LG InTouch Max GW620

8. Motorola Milestone
When it was launched in America, as the Droid, the Milestone sold almost as many units in its first two and half months as the iPhone. It did not – quite – live up to the expectations, but this is an impressive phone. It’s got a slide out keyboard, which for once feels genuinely useful without being clunky. And it has also got Motorola’s navigation built-in. Add in the car holder, and this is a pretty compelling handset, and probably one of your best options if you want an inexpensive Android phone with a keyboard.

Motorola Droid (US) Motorola Milestone (UK)

Motorola Milestone Photo: Motorola

7. Samsung Galaxy Portal
As a budget handset, the Galaxy Portal is impressive – a three-megapixel camera is a small fly in the ointment, but it produces adequate images. It offers all the usual video-recording, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities and claims up to about seven hours of talk time. The build quality simply isn’t as high as some of HTC’s premium products, but considering that it’s available from free on some very inexpensive tariffs, the Galaxy Portal is impressive.

Samsung Galaxy Portal

Samsung Galaxy Portal

6. HTC Hero
The Hero was, when it was first launched, heralded as the first breakthrough handset for Android. Forgive this device the ridiculous chin that makes any man carrying it in a suit’s breast pocket appear to be either packing a holster or wearing a truss. This is a slick handset with a decent interface. It’s only unfortunate because it has not yet been upgraded to the version of Android that will allow it to run satnav-style navigation in Google Maps.

HTC Hero

HTC Hero

5. Xperia X10
Sony Ericsson’s flagship Android handset is a fine phone – with an eight megapixel camera and a 10 hours battery life, the Sony Ericsson interface adds a level of depth to the Google experience that rivals HTC’s Sense skin.

Sony Ericsson Xperia X10

Sony Ericsson Xperia X10

4. HTC Legend
Perhaps the most stylish Android handset on the market at the moment, the HTC Legend is made from a single piece of aluminium. Similar in shape to the HTC Hero, it uses the same kind of manufacturing process used by Apple to make its unibody Mac computers. The Legend has a 3.2in AMOLED screen, which produces pin-sharp images and bright, crisp colours, and combines a touch-screen interface with an optical trackpad for easier menu navigation.

HTC Legend

3. Xperia X10 Mini Pro
The startling thing about the X10 Mini Pro is simply how mini it is – this is a phone that is almost too small to be a convincing handset. But with a slide out keyboard, it’s usable even for those with fairly podgy fingers. There’s a five-megapixel camera, a built-in radio – and room for plenty more space in even the smallest handbag.

Sony Ericsson X10 Mini Pro

Sony Ericsson X10 Mini Pro

2. Nexus One
The first phone designed by Google (in association with HTC) was, on its release, a superb handset – its only weakness is that it has now been overtaken by others. It is, however, still a satisfying thing to hold, well-weighted and very small. It’s also one of a few phones that is, in conjunction with, for instance the Amazon MP3 Store, an acceptable replacement for an iPhone. It’s got a perfectly adequate five megapixel camera, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi of course, and it’s fast enough to run a decent number of apps or Google’s navigation at a usable speed.

Google Nexus One

Google Nexus One

1. HTC Desire
The HTC Desire is the best Google phone yet made, and one of the first handsets that is not only better on paper than an iPhone but also as good to use. A range of widgets that fix on the devices various homescreens make multitasking really easy, and Google’s mapping software is superb because of the phone’s impressive hardware, too. The only downside is that the battery life has yet to catch up with the processor’s capacity to run software.

HTC Desire

HTC Desire

Google brings 3D Earth view to the web

Google has announced that it has finally taken off the training wheels of its Google Earth plug-in and merged the application with its Maps service.

Released originally as a standalone app, Google Earth brings a 3D view to the world, allowing you to zoom across countries and see famous landmarks and terrain close up and personal.

Google has now launched Google Earth as a plug-in to its Maps service, offering a more detailed view of the world around us.

Earth view

In a blog post, Google said about the new plug-in: "If you're one of the hundreds of millions of people who use Maps worldwide, you can now explore the world in luxuriantly-detailed, data-rich 3D imagery and terrain from Google Earth.

"If you've already downloaded the Google Earth Plug-in, you should be able to see Earth view in Maps right away. Otherwise, you can just install the Plug-in to enjoy a Maps experience that includes angled Earth views, 3D buildings, smooth panning and zooming and a great introductory showcase of places to visit and things to see."

To make the service as easy as possible to access, Google has integrated an Earth button on its Maps page, so you can toggle between the satellite, Maps and 3D view.

Google is actually a little late to the party with its 3D plug-in – Microsoft has been has been offering the same sort of functionality for over a month now on its Bing Maps service.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Google Launches Online Video Rental Service

Google's popular online video streaming service, YouTube, has launched its very own online video rental service.

The scheme, which was released on a 10-day trial basis earlier this year, allows users to rent Hollywood movies and episodes of popular TV programmes for periods ranging from 24 to 72 hours.

Videos cost from 99 cents up to $3.99. At present, the service is only available to US users and Google hasn't said whether the service will be available in the UK.

A YouTube spokesperson told blog site NewTeeVee: “When we announced YouTube Rentals in January, we said we would be creating a destination after more partners joined the program. To date... nearly 500 partners have joined our Rental program.”

Earlier this year, the New York Times reported the scheme made $10,709 during its 10-day trial by renting out movies from the Sundance film festival.

Armed with a wider roster of film titles and an improved business model, industry pundits believe the service will do wonders for both Google and the US TV and film industry.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hubble Telescope at 20: Images now on Google Earth

I have a special affinity for the Hubble Space Telescope. Run by the Space Telescope Science Institute on the Johns Hopkins University campus and developed in part by scientists at the JHU Applied Physics Laboratory, Hubble is closely tied to my alma mater. It also launched in 1990 and, to a 14-year old geeky kid who had just gotten his own telescope for Christmas, Hubble was incredibly cool. Now 20 years old, the telescope is on its last legs with just four more years of life expected before it is replaced by the infrared James Webb Space Telescope. Even at the ripe old age of 20, though, Hubble continues to amaze, and its galleries are well worth exploring on Google Earth.
Although Hubble images have been available in Google Earth for some time, a new tour of the available images is available from Google in honor of the 20th anniversary. The zooming capabilities are pretty remarkable and each part of the tour links to the relevant areas of hubblesite.org. The Cat’s Eye Nebula, for example, shown below, 
is linked to information about its formation, high-resolution photos, video (shown below embedded form YouTube, but available as high-resolution downloads on Hubblesite), and additional resource links online.

The integration with Google Earth allows Hubble’s major discoveries to be located on star charts and put in the context of constellations that we can identify. A quick double-click takes us many light years away, flying past intermediate stars to features as diverse as Galaxy M87 where we can zoom in on “a black-hole-powered jet of electrons and other sub-atomic particles traveling at nearly the speed of light.”
While you’re at it, this isn’t a bad time to check out the other “sky database” features of Google Earth. The current sky events layer is particularly interesting, including both a visual of (not surprisingly) what objects you can see from a given location, but also links to podcasts and extra educational information. There are also links to Stardate broadcasts from the University of Texas which are quite accessible for most audiences.
Say what you will about Google and its privacy issues, but like the company or not, Google Earth remains one of the cooler educational resources for geography, oceanography, and, in this case, astronomy.

Android 2.2 (Froyo) features

It sounds like a beta version of Android 2.2 (Froyo) is out in the wild for testing — and it has some interesting features that I’m sure Android users will find interesting. The new version of the operating system will be available on the Nexus One, and quite possibly Verizon phones in late May — my guess will be on the same day as Google I/O (May 19).
This version of Android will feature lots of bug fixes, as well as some great additions. The new features will include:
JIT Compiler
This is huge. With JIT enabled (Just-in-time compilation), applications will run a lot faster — like 3x faster. In addition to speed improvements, it has a positive effect on battery life. This feature is all but confirmed by thesession list at Google I/O.
Automatic App Updates
For both application developers, and users, this feature will make a big difference. As a developer, you want your entire user base to be on the latest version of your software if possible — it gives you a tighter grip on the user experience, and makes supporting your software a bit easier.
As a user, it takes more effort than needed to keep your applications up to date. If you’ve got 50 great apps with lots of active development, you would spend a good portion of your day updating your software. Ok, that may be an exaggeration, but it’s definitely better to have the operating system do the heavy lifting if possible.
FM Radio
This one is cool. It’s one thing to have a giant collection of MP3s that you listen to on the way to work — but what if you wanted to hear the morning show, or your local community radio station for the latest in the local independent music scene? You would have to pull out your Walkman.
Well, it sounds like Google will be enabling FM radio in the latest version of Android.
New Linux kernel
New versions of things like this are good for several reasons — Security, stability, performance, etc. This latest version of the kernel actually uses less RAM — freeing it up for applications to use. This will have an all-around positive impact on your phone.
OpenGL improvements
Gaming graphics and performance should be improved with the update to OpenGL that is planned for Froyo.
Flash 10.1 Support
Apple has been ignoring flash like it doesn’t exist. Google is taking another approach, and giving users what they actually want here. People have been clamoring for Flash support on their mobile devices, and thanks to Froyo, they will have it.
Color Trackball
Well, it’s not exactly a feature that was needed, but Google will be enabling color on the trackball. I don’t know anybody that uses the trackball on their android device — but I think people may be looking at it the wrong way. It actually is useful — it serves as a great notifier for things. I use it all the time without even thinking about it — when it’s flashing, it means i have a work email waiting for me.
With color added, it can serve a multitude of different purposes, limited only to developers imaginations.
I’m really looking forward to the newest version of Android — so bring it on Google!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Google Expands “Search Suggest” Feature On Google Maps

oogle recently introduced “Search Suggest” for Google Maps in several countries, and now it has expanded the feature to ten more countries, including the U.S., simplifying it for users to find places in a nearby location, the search giant announcedThursday.
The feature, as the name implies, automatically furnishes with suggestions whenever a person searches for a particular locale in Google Maps, users will now find suggestions in a drop-down box below the search box related to your query as you type along. But rather than offering suggestions based solely on the words the user is typing, the items in the drop-down will be based on the location they are viewing at the time.
According to Google, if a person is glancing the map of San Francisco and types in “Mandela” into the search box, (as shown in the image above) they will find related items to that keyword that are in and around San Francisco.
The improved feature will propose different output according to your current location. For example, if a user types in a query “Mandela” into Google Maps while glancing at it from London, different results in and around London will be displayed, (as shown in the image below).
The suggestions in Google Maps now include additional information like the address of the business or the district that a place is in. “This extra information helps you find and select the exact business or location you are seeking,” say Engineer Steffen Meschkat and Product Manager Peter Lidwell.
“As our team stationed in our Z├╝rich office, we understand the importance of getting information that is locally relevant,” the pair says. “We have built this capability into Suggest for Google Maps so that you get the most useful suggestions depending on where you are zoomed into on the map.”
Also, if a user is logged into their Google accounts and have their web history enabled can also find their personalized suggestions, based on past searches. This will definitely improve the overall Maps experience and allow you to find the places your a looking for even faster.
The service was previously only available in Germany, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, but from now onwards that list has been expanded to include 10 new markets including Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Italy, Netherlands, Russia, Spain, United States, and the United Kingdom. Additionally, it will be available in 8 more languages from now on.
It is already available on many of Google products and services. However, Google Maps was kind left behind until now. Google says it is looking to expand it worldwide soon.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Chrome OS brings printing to the cloud

The developers behind Google Chrome OS, the forthcoming cloud-enabled operating system from the internet giant, have explained how they are dealing with a key need for any computer - how well it plays with the printer.
With Chrome OS on course for arrival at the end of 2010, the details of how the operating system, which is all about cloud computing, will do familiar computing tasks are an increasingly important factor.
The Chrome OS developers are mindful of the interest and the latest blog post from Mike Jazayeri, group product manager for Chrome OS, explains the detail.

Gmail Adds Drag & Drop Attachments & Calendar Invitations

Gmail, Gmail, you have won our hearts over the years and a constantly improving feature set has been firmly behind that, but finally, finally, finally, finally you've added two basics that have been lacking for far too long...

In a double announcement Google has revealed Gmail now has drag and drop support for attachments and the ability to insert calendar invitations into emails. 
The first couldn't be simpler - and thankfully after so much thinking time is very gracefully done: just drag a file, or files, onto the subject line area and Gmail will switch layout to display a 'Drop files here to add them as attachments' message. Do that and voila! Easy, elegant and long overdue (though currently supported only by Firefox and Chrome browsers for now).

As for calendar invitations, the option to 'Insert: Invitation' has been added alongside 'Attach a file' and once clicked creates a invitation box which looks much like that seen in Google Calendar. If shared calendars are present they can show when fellow recipients are/aren't busy, though once sent the invitations are simply added automatically into all parties' calendars rather than relying on a yes/no reply which is a disappointment. 
Both drag & drop and invitations have gone live immediately and it is noticeable Google hasn't messed around by putting them in Labs, they are hardwired into all Gmail and Google Apps accounts. 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Google Rolls Out Two New Twitter Tools

One tool heps you see a term's popularity on Twitter over time; the other is a is fairly typical tool of the "find people to follow" variety.

Google announced two new Twitter projects yesterday, presumably to coincide with Twitter's Chirp conference which began yesterday and runs through today.

The first is the ability to see a term's popularity on Twitter over time, and even 'replay' tweets that include that term. You search on a term in Google, click the Show Options link and then choose Updates (this part works now, in case you haven't tried it – I hadn't). You'll start seeing tweets in real time, or very nearly so. Above the search results you'll see a timeline that indicates visually how often your search term is being tweeted. You can drag a cursor back and forth along the timeline and the search results will change to show tweets from that period of time. You can scale the timeline to show the current year, current month, or current 24 hour period. It's easier experienced than described, and to that end Google has set up a test page where you can try it now.

Searching Twitter from Google already seems a lot "cleaner" than searching Twitter from Twitter and as a bonus, "Promoted Tweets" don't show up in Google (though I suppose that may change). The timeline will improve the experience even more.

The second Twitter feature Google added is called Google Follow Finder. This is fairly typical twitter tool of the "find people to follow" variety. Enter your twitter name, hit submit and you get two columns of twitter users. One is "Tweeps you might like" and the other is "Tweeps with similar followers." I didn't find this tool to be all that useful. Most of the suggested users weren't of interest to me; the tool seemed to think I was a Mac fan since quite a few of the highest-ranked suggestions were people from MacBreak Weekly. Boy, when Google gets it wrong, Google really gets it wrong. Beyond the first handful, there were people I am interested in...but I'm already Following them! Clearly the tool needs some fine tuning and some filters, but if you're just getting started it might be of some help. When you do find someone to Follow, you're supposed to be able to Follow them right from the site (the UI for this is currently in place but I got an error when I tried to use it).

Monday, April 12, 2010

Google Documents get an upgrade

In a challenge to Microsoft's dominant position in office productivity software, Google on Monday began offering an array of upgrades to its Internet-based office applications, including the ability to have as many as 50 people work simultaneously on a piece of writing or a spreadsheet.

The upgrade to Google Documents comes just weeks before Microsoft begins rolling out its Office 2010 software to businesses, a crucial release for the Redmond, Wash., software giant, when it will introduce new versions of its Office and SharePoint products that also will allow workers to do real-time collaboration.

The Google Docs upgrades will roll out to users over the next few days. They are designed to make the company's Internet-based word-processing and spreadsheet products faster and more functional, adding basic writing features like automatic spell-complete and tab stops. But perhaps the most significant addition is to allow a large group of people to cooperatively draft a contract, or to analyze a sales problem with a spreadsheet, in real-time.

"It's a little bit of an in your face to Microsoft, because Microsoft is adding co-authoring into its 2010 package," said Melissa Webster, an analyst with the research firm IDC. "Google is upping the ante in an area where they are particularly strong, right before Microsoft's launch."

Google Docs has long allowed for the sharing of documents among multiple users, but there was a limited ability to have two or more people work together on the same thing at the same time. In the new version, everyone sees the changes as they are typed in. The feature will include an instant messenger component, identifying who is doing what action and allowing collaborators to comment on revisions.

"You all know you're working on the same version of the document," said Jonathan Rochelle, a group product manager for Google who said Docs offers a superior platform for collaboration than Microsoft's package.

A Microsoft executive countered that the company's collaborative features would offer a key feature Google doesn't — the ability to run its software either within an organization's network, or on the Internet "cloud."

"If you're the CIA, you don't want to use our data center; you want to run this yourself," Microsoft senior vice president Chris Capossela said in an interview. In terms of the privacy and security of their data, "many people still have questions about the cloud."

Microsoft also said it would offer many functions, like the ability to cut and paste across applications, that Google Docs does not.

Microsoft's Office software has the dominant position among business users, with about 100 million licenses, and its office and related business software comprises almost one third of the company's sales. Microsoft plans to begin rolling out Office 2010 to businesses in mid-May. In terms of importance, it's "the biggest release we've ever done," Capossela said.

Ted Schadler, an analyst with the research firm Forrester, said that for most people, choosing between basic software tools like word processing, spreadsheets and calendars won't be an either-or decision between the two companies.

"We're all comfortable using multiple tools," Schadler said. "My personal feeling is this is not going to be as much as a displacement strategy for Google, as it's going to become an extension strategy."

Webster said the intense competition is sure to benefit one group — users.

"It's a really interesting battle here," she said. "Competition always fosters great products."

Friday, April 9, 2010

Google adds site speed to search mix

Google's famous recipe for determining how sites get ranked in search results has a new ingredient: site speed.

Two of Google's top search engineers--Google Fellow Amit Singhal and principal engineer Matt Cutts--announced the addition Friday, after hinting it would be coming for several months. It's actually been live for a few weeks, they said in a blog post Friday, and Google is using a variety of components to ascertain how much faster one Web page responds compared to another.

In general, one of Google's operating philosophies is that faster is better. It's not just them, either: the increased demand for real-time information shows just how much people want sites and pages to load quickly, and the world's attention spans certainly aren't getting any longer.

Still, speed will not trump relevancy in search rankings. Search Engine Land noted that Google employs over 200 factors in considering where to rank a search result, and Google said the change should affect fewer than 1 percent of search query results.

Site owners can use a wide variety of tools from Google, Yahoo, and third-party developers to measure the speed of their Web pages.