Posts tagged googles

Google’s 14 biggest hits and misses of 2014

A tech company as big as Google is bound to do some amazing things every year, but it’s also not immune to failure. Let’s look back at where the search giant went right and wrong in 2014.

The best of times, the worst of times
A tech company as big as Google is bound to do some amazing things every year, but it’s also not immune to failure. Let’s look back at where the search giant went right and wrong in 2014.

Hit: Android Lollipop’s new look
Android wasn’t exactly ugly in its previous incarnations, but it’s never looked as gorgeous as it does in Android 5.0 Lollipop. The new software combines flat design conventions with just a touch of depth and shadow, giving a sense that Android is built from layers of card stock. Now all we need is for OEMs not to mess it all up.

Miss: Finding a future for Google Glass
It’s been nearly two years since Google launched the prototype version of Google Glass, and its future looks murkier than ever. Instead of building hype, the Glass Explorer program merely exacerbated the stigmas and fears people had about Google’s high-tech specs. Recent reports suggest that a consumer launch is nowhere in sight. A possible pivot toward enterprise uses may help Google salvage the project, but it’s hardly looking like the revolution that Sergey Brin and his Google X labmates had in mind.

Hit: Chromecast beams past the competition
Google’s $35 TV dongle had its share of naysayers when it launched last year, but it’s clear now that Chromecast is a huge hit. A recent survey by Parks Associates found that Chromecast overtook Apple TV in U.S. sales, moving into second place behind Roku. Google also continued to build on Chromecast’s app library this year, with major additions such as MLB.TV, WatchESPN, Showtime Anytime, and Comedy Central. This isn’t rocket science, folks; Chromecast is a smart idea, executed well, at a price no other media streamer has been able to beat.

Miss: Android Silver slips away
Earlier this year, a slew of rumors suggested that Google was working on a white-glove service for high-end Android phones. Dubbed “Android Silver,” the plan was to offer fast upgrades and minimal bloatware on multiple phones from major wireless carriers. Ultimately, Silver may have replaced the Nexus program and helped bring pure Android to the mainstream. But according to The Information, this plan fell apart after receiving little interest from carriers and phone makers, followed by the departure of Chief Business Officer Nikesh Arora. Long live the Nexus, then?

Hit: No more Kafkaesque Captchas
Copying jumbled letters into a web form stopped being an effective anti-spam measure years ago, as machines became better at the task than most people. Fortunately, Google is putting an end to the cruel joke. Its latest “No Captcha ReCaptcha” requires only the click of a button, as it picks up on subtle cursor movements to figure out who’s human.

Miss: Staying neutral on net neutrality
Google was once a major proponent of net neutrality, pushing the idea that Internet service providers shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate against certain types of traffic. That was before Google forged a pact with Verizon in 2010 and essentially flip-flopped. With net neutrality becoming a hot topic again, Google had a chance to make things right. Instead, it has maintained a healthy distance, refusing to discuss its views with any substance. That’s a letdown regardless of which side of the debate you favor.

Hit: VR goes cheap with Cardboard
While Oculus and Samsung charge hundreds of dollars for their respective virtual reality headsets, Google proved that you can make compelling VR out of nothing but a pair of lenses and some cardboard. Just follow the online instructions (or order a cheap construction kit), download the Cardboard Android app, and enjoy some neat demos. Even if Cardboard never matures beyond its current state, it’s a welcome throwback to a time when Google liked to have fun.

Miss: Twitch today, Amazon tomorrow
It seemed like Google was this close to locking up its Internet video dominance with a billion-dollar acquisition of Twitch, a hugely-popular live video service focused on gaming. But while numerous publications claimed the deal was done, a last-minute arrangement with Amazon left Google empty-handed. The good news for consumers (which, in turn, is bad news for Google) is that Twitch now represents the closest thing to a competitive threat that YouTube has seen in years.

Hit: Google Voice’s new lease on life
Google Voice users had been understandably on edge since last year, as the call management service had been sorely lacking in major updates. Fortunately, 2014 brought substantive improvements, including MMS support and integration of many Voice features in Google’s slick new Hangouts app. While Google is known for putting niche services on the chopping block, longtime Voice users should be able to rest easier now.

Miss: Good grief, Google+
Google’s social network isn’t technically dead, but all signs indicate Google could de-emphasize its social network after the departure of Vic Gundotra in April. Google’s I/O conference came and went without any major Google+ news, and users may now create Google and Gmail accounts without a mandatory Google+ page. An unconfirmed report by TechCrunch also claimed that Google killed a policy requiring new products to have some Google+ element. While the single sign-in aspect of Google+ remains a success, the social networking angle is a failure—even according to one of its former engineers.

Hit: Bridging the Office-Drive divide
For lots of people, Google Drive and its Docs/Sheets/Slides suite have become a suitable replacement for Microsoft Office—until it’s time to deal with someone else’s Office documents. This year, Google updated its apps and added a Chrome extension to allow direct editing of Office documents, and added one-click document conversion from Gmail. There may still be other reasons to choose Office, but document formatting doesn’t have to be one of them anymore.

Miss: Take down that barge
It’s been more than a year since Google ‘fessed up to plans for “ interactive spaces” on a pair of floating barges in Los Angeles and Portland, Ore. But now those plans seem to be adrift. Googledismantled the Portland barge in August amid fire safety concerns, while the Los Angeles barge shipped up to Stockton, Calif., near San Francisco, where it can “have a break,” according to Google. Strangely, Stockton’s tourism website has a page about the incomplete barge, but notes that it’s off-limits to the public and is best viewed from a nearby peninsula.

Hit: Peace in the patent war with Apple
While Steve Jobs made no secret of his disdain for Android, and even likened Apple’s patent battle to a “holy war” in company e-mails, Tim Cook seems more willing to let the patent spats slide under the bridge. Apple settled with Google’s Motorola in May, and settled all non-U.S. disputes with Samsung in August. Google also settled with Rockstar, a consortium that includes Apple, Blackberry and Microsoft, for a bundle of patents last month. Maybe now, everyone can get back to competing.

Miss: The right to be forgotten
Although Google doesn’t want to be in charge of erasing the past, that’s exactly what it must do according to Europe’s “right to be forgotten” rules enacted this year. The issue is a knotty one: Crime victims and people who made stupid mistakes arguably deserve a second shot at web anonymity, but the rule also threatens press freedom and gives public figures a way to hide unsavory truths. Either way, it’s Google’s mess now, as the search giant must figure out how to reasonably maintain a memory hole for the Internet.


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Chromebook Pixel revisited: 18 months with Google’s luxury laptop

Is it crazy to pay $1300 for a Chromebook? Some reflections after a year and a half of living with Google’s luxurious Pixel.

When you stop and think about it, it’s kind of astonishing how far Chromebooks have come.

It was only last February, after all, that Google’s Chromebook Pixel came crashing into our lives and made us realize how good of an experience Chrome OS could provide.

At the time, the Pixel was light-years ahead of any other Chromebook in almost every possible way: From build quality to display and performance, the system was just in a league of its own. And its price reflected that status: The Pixel sold for a cool $1300, or $1450 if you wanted a higher-storage model with built-in LTE support.

Today, the Pixel remains the sole high-end device in the Chromebook world (and its price remains just as high). But the rest of the Chrome OS universe has evolved — and the gap between the Pixel and the next notch down isn’t quite as extreme as it used to be.

So how has the Pixel held up 18 months after its release, and does it still justify the lofty price? I’ve owned and used the Pixel since last spring and have evaluated almost every other Chromebook introduced since its debut.

Here are some scattered thoughts based on my experiences:

1. Hardware and design
As I said when I revisited the device a year ago, the Chromebook Pixel is hands-down the nicest computer I’ve ever used. The laptop is as luxurious as it gets, with a gorgeous design, premium materials, and top-notch build quality that screams “high-end” from edge to edge.
Chromebook Pixel Revisited

We’re finally starting to see some lower-end Chromebooks creep up in the realms of design and build quality — namely the original HP Chromebook 11 (though it’s simply too slow to recommend for most people) and the ThinkPad Yoga 11e Chromebook (which is sturdy and well-built but not exactly sleek) — and that’s a very good thing. In fact, that’s a large part of what Google was ultimately trying to accomplish by creating the Pixel in the first place. Think about it.

While those devices may be a step up from the status quo, though, they’re not even close to the standard of premium quality the Pixel delivers. When it comes to hardware, the Pixel is first-class through and through while other products are varying levels of economy.

The Pixel’s backlit keyboard and etched-glass trackpad also remain unmatched in their premium nature. Typing and navigating is a completely different experience on this laptop than on any other Chromebook (and, for that matter, on almost any non-Chrome-OS laptop, too).

The same goes for the Pixel’s spectacular speakers. Other Chromebooks are okay, but none is anywhere near this outstanding.

2. Display
The display — man, oh man, the display. The Pixel’s 12.85-in. 2560-x-1700 IPS screen is like candy for your eyes. The vast majority of Chromebook screens (yes, even those that offer 1080p resolution) are still using junky TN panels and consequently look pretty awful. The two exceptions are the same systems mentioned above — the HP 11 and the ThinkPad Yoga 11e — but while those devices’ displays reign superior in the sub-$500 category, their low resolution is no match for the Pixel’s crystal-clear image quality.

I continue to appreciate the Pixel’s touchscreen capability to this day, too: While I certainly don’t put my fingers on the screen all the time, it’s really nice to have the ability to reach up and tap, scroll, or pinch when I feel the urge. For as much time as I spend using smartphones and tablets, it seems completely natural to be able to do that with a laptop as well. (Admit it: You’ve tried to touch a non-touchscreen laptop at some point. We all have.)
“Performance is where things get particularly interesting”

I will say this, though: The time I’ve spent recently with the Yoga 11e has definitely gotten me keen on the idea of a Chromebook being able to convert into a tablet-like setup. After using that device, I sometimes find myself wishing the Pixel’s display could tilt back further and provide that sort of slate-style experience.

3. Stamina and performance
At about five hours per charge, the Pixel’s battery life is passable but not exceptional — especially compared to the eight to 10 hours we’re seeing on some systems these days. As I’ve mused before, stamina is the Pixel’s Achilles’ heel.

Performance is where things get particularly interesting: When the Pixel first came out, its horsepower was unheard of for a Chrome OS device. I could actually use the system in my typical power-user way, with tons of windows and tabs running at the same time and no slowdowns or multitasking misery. Compared to the sluggish Chrome OS systems we’d seen up to that point, it felt like a full-fledged miracle.

The Pixel’s performance is no less impressive today, but what’s changed is that other Chrome OS systems have actually come close to catching up. These days, you can get solid performance in a Chromebook for around $200 with the various Haswell-based systems. The newer Core i3 devices give you a little more punch for around $300. Neither quite reaches the Pixel’s level of snappiness and speed, but in practical terms, they’re not too far behind.

So for most folks, performance alone is no longer a reason to own the Pixel. It’s an important part of the Pixel, for sure, but if that’s the only thing you’re interested in, you’d do far better to save yourself the cash and get a lower-end Chromebook with decent internals.

To Pixel or not to Pixel?
What is a reason to own the Pixel, then? Simple: to enjoy a top-of-the-line Chrome OS experience with all the amenities you could ask for. The device’s hardware quality and design, keyboard and trackpad, speakers, and display add up to make a wonderful overall user experience no other Chromebook can match.

As for whether it’s worth the price, well, that’s a question only you can answer. Is a high-end car worth the premium over a reliable but less luxurious sedan? For someone like me, probably not. But for someone who’s passionate about cars, spends a lot of time in a vehicle and appreciates the elevated quality, it just might be.

The same concept applies here. The Pixel remains a fantastic luxury option for users sold on the Chrome OS concept — people like me who rely heavily on cloud storage and spend most of their time using Web-centric apps and services.

Like with any luxury item, the level of quality the Pixel provides certainly isn’t something anyone needs, but its premium nature is something a lot of folks will enjoy — and that’s as true today as it was last year.


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Google Is Trying to Fix Its Targeted Ad Attitude Problem

Yesterday the company announced a new feature that not only informs users why targeted ads appear but also provides a little ammo to detonate an unsavory targeted ad. “You can also go to the Ads Preferences Manager to make changes that improve the ads that you’re seeing, including blocking specific advertisers you’re not interested in or turning off ads personalization entirely (of course, you can change your mind at any time),” explains Susan Wojcicki, SVP, Advertising on The Official Google Blog. Being “targeted,” these ads are kind of like mind-readers, showing what Google thinks we would want. “We try really hard to show you ads that are relevant,” explains lead software engineer, Diane Tang in Google’s promotional video. Sometimes, though, Google’s robots don’t quite get it right; certain targeted ads feel creepy and can even venture into hurtful territory. But now, Google’s giving the user a little revenge power, allowing users to delete certain targeted ads. Unfortunately, while the process provides a little catharsis, it doesn’t keep other, similar annoying ads from popping up.

 

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Related: Do We Lie to Google?
If a user sees an add that doesn’t sit well with them, clicking the “Why this ad?” link in the ad will give a pseudo explanation of why you got the ad: it can be based on search, a combination of search terms, Web history, or the contents of the e-mail or inbox, for Gmail-related ads.

Related: Why Are the Major Networks Afraid of Google TV?
Related: Mixed Buzz Over Google Buzz
The explanations aren’t too satisfying, as you can see above. But, Google also gives the option to block certain advertisers from showing up, in the Ads Preferences Manager. It will show recent ads that came up on Google search or G-mail, there you can block away the annoying advertisement forever — unless for some reason you change your mind.
Related: Five Tips for Larry Page, Google’s New CEO

Related: Facebook and Google Join Forces to Oppose Privacy Bill
The problem with this, is that it doesn’t change the way Google picks ads. It will still rely on the same algorithm that reads Gmail and remembers Web history, which wouldn’t work for some, like an anonymous friend of The Atlantic’s Rebecca Rosen. Said friend didn’t appreciate Google’s “Save Your Relationship” and “Is He Lying?” ads after a bad break-up with her boyfriend. “This snarky little message in my face really pissed me off!,” the friend told Rosen. And simply blocking the ad wouldn’t really make this problem go away, because another related ad would pop up, too.
The only refuge Google offers is to entirely opt-out of personalized ads completely. But that makes everything spammier. Those who opt in for personalized ads get 10 percent fewer ads than those who receive random advertisements, according to Google. These people are also more likely to click, which is why Google prefers the personalization. But for the recently separated, more unrelated ads might be less harsh than a stream of heartbreak.

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