by Lance Somoza

Google

All about Google, including rumors and speculation abound.


Google’s second-generation Pixel impresses most reviewers, even if the screen quality is less than perfect. Here’s a couple reviews that caught my eye.

David Pierce for Wired on the camera:

I was in New Orleans for the weekend, and I took pictures of drunk people in bars, jazz bands, drunk people outdoors, and gators. All, of course, to put the Pixel 2 through its paces (which is why I will be expensing all my bar tabs, please and thank you). After about a week of using both models, the Pixel 2 and the larger Pixel 2 XL, but mostly the XL, I can safely say the Pixel 2 is the Android phone to buy. Not because it has any particular otherworldly feature: the camera is fantastic, though not a full class above the Samsung Note 8 or the iPhone 8 Plus. As with last year, the Pixel 2 is just the phone that gets the most things right. It has the best, smartest, most reliable software. It’s fast. It’s waterproof. It’s interestingly and attractively designed. OK, fine, it doesn’t have a headphone jack. That sucks. But the Pixel 2’s still the phone I recommend.

The impressive picture quality of the Pixel 2’s camera is a recurring theme amongst reviewers. Even though iPhone has typically been regarded as the industry benchmark, I gotta give it up for Google here for iterating so quickly on the Pixel’s original camera.

Dieter Bohn for The Verge on the screen:

The screen, especially on the 2 XL, has been polarizing. Google opted to tune the display to sRGB (the Galaxy S8, by comparison, offers four gamut options), so it looks a little more like the iPhone’s screen. But more than that, on the 2 XL the colors look muted in a way that many Android users I’ve shown it to found distasteful (even with the “vivid colors” setting turned on). I think many Android phones, especially from Samsung, are so vivid as to be phantasmagoric, so Google’s choice was to make this more “naturalistic.”

Part of the issue, Google says, is that Oreo is the first version of Android to have proper color space control. So until now, Android developers really didn’t have a way to control precisely how their colors would look on screens. The Pixel 2 is part of an effort to fix that, but even so, the more “naturalistic” color tuning on the Pixel 2 XL (and, to a lesser extent, the smaller Pixel 2) just looks a little off. The problem gets much worse when you look at the screen from angles, the color swings simply because that’s what pOLED does.

OLED itself isn’t perfect, but it’s damn nice, even if most people don’t like the pentile pixel arrangement typically found in these screens. iPhone X is confirmed to have such an arrangement, but Apple also said its the first OLED panel “worthy of iPhone”, so it will be interesting to see how it differs from Samsung’s normal offerings. pOLED, what LG makes and is in the Pixel 2, is even further behind and will require more iteration to catch up.

In my opinion, the screen is the most important part of a phone, especially in an age where the phone is essentially becoming the screen. For it to be anything less than stellar is unfortunate.

Jacob Kastrenakes for The Verge:

Google has decided to “permanently remove” the feature that led to a “small number” of Home Mini units accidentally recording thousands of times a day, instead of just when a user triggers it. In a statement released today, the company said that it made the decision because “we want people to have complete peace of mind while using Google Home Mini.”

Google had seemingly hoped to return the top button functionality to the Home Mini at a later date, but now the company seems to have given up on that — either because it couldn’t figure out a way to do it, or simply out of an abundance of caution. (I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s both; the potential for the Mini to turn into a constant surveillance device would be a huge liability.) Either way, it’s not the biggest loss, but it’s not great to see such a major issue come up right as a product is about to ship.

With the top button gone, the Home Mini now has to be activated entirely by voice, which isn’t really a huge limitation since it’s designed to be a voice assistant. The Mini’s left and right buttons will continue to work for adjusting the volume.

I’m guessing most people rarely use a similar button on the full-size Google Home or Echo devices, but the fact that this basic functionality had to be completely disabled is a monumental screw up. Google is learning the hard way that making your own hardware isn’t as easy as it seems.

As Jacob alludes to, the optics of this aren’t great either, as Google is a company that profits mainly off user data.

All in all, this really is an unfortunate misstep — the smart home market’s maturity will depend on increased competition as a result of successful products. I quite like the fabric top, too. To me, it’s more aesthetically pleasing than the all-business-looking Echo Dot.

Corbin Davenport for Android Police:

Google created a preview program for the Google Home back in August, allowing users to test upcoming features. A new option has appeared for Homes on the preview - Night Mode. With this, you can set a time span (and even specific days) for the Home to reduce its volume automatically and dim the speaker’s lights. In addition, you can also enable a new Do Not Disturb mode, which blocks sounds from reminders and other broadcasted messages. Alarms and timers will still be heard when DnD is turned on, just like on Android.

This is great, and the volume lowering addresses one of the feature requests I wrote about in a terribly-titled article a few months ago. Hopefully similar options come to Alexa and especially Siri, since HomePod is launching this December.

Today, Google announced a new Augmented Reality SDK preview for developers dubbed ARCore. Based off work it has accomplished with Project Tango and similar to Apple’s ARKit, ARCore allow developers to implement Augmented Reality into their apps starting today.

From the Google Blog:

ARCore will run on millions of devices, starting today with the Pixel and Samsung’s S8, running 7.0 Nougat and above. We’re targeting 100 million devices at the end of the preview. We’re working with manufacturers like Samsung, Huawei, LG, ASUS and others to make this possible with a consistent bar for quality and high performance.

Google has even launched its own AR Experiments showcase to highlight example uses of ARCore. This is similar to the third-party run Made With ARKit website, which serves the same purpose for iOS.

As for the SDK name, I think Google could’ve chosen something less Apple-like as the branding is highly similar.

Either way, Augmented Reality is going to be huge. Pedestrian implementations are already loved by the masses (see: Pokémon Go, Snapchat filters). We’re all going to be blown away by what AR will do for us, and it won’t take that much longer to reap tangible rewards.

Alphabet and X1 announced Glass Enterprise Edition today, the successor to the Google Glass consumer product discontinued in 2015. This new version is aimed to improve the efficiency of factories.

Steven Levy for Wired:

That’s what Erickson wears every day. She works for AGCO, an agricultural equipment manufacturer that is an early adopter of Glass EE. For about two years, Glass EE has been quietly in use in dozens of workplaces, slipping under the radar of gadget bloggers, analysts, and self-appointed futurists. Yes, the population of those using the vaunted consumer version of Glass has dwindled, tired of being driven out of lounges by cocktail-fork-wielding patrons fearing unwelcome YouTube cameos. Meanwhile, Alphabet has been selling hundreds of units of EE, an improved version of the product that originally shipped in a so-called Explorer Edition in 2013. Companies testing EE—including giants like GE, Boeing, DHL, and Volkswagen—have measured huge gains in productivity and noticeable improvements in quality. What started as pilot projects are now morphing into plans for widespread adoption in these corporations. Other businesses, like medical practices, are introducing Enterprise Edition in their workplaces to transform previously cumbersome tasks.

Makes a lot of sense. To me, Glass is more of a HUD than a real AR experience, which is still cool. I could easily see how having a HUD while working on cars, machinery, even on people in the operating room would be extremely helpful. This is Glass’s rightful place.

The difference between the original Glass and the Enterprise edition could be summarized neatly by two images. The first is the iconic photo of Brin alongside designer Diane von Furstenberg at a fashion show, both wearing the tell-tale wraparound headband with display stub. The second image is what I saw at the factory where Erickson works, just above the Iowa state line and 90 miles from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Workers at each station on the tractor assembly line—sporting eyewear that doesn’t look much different from the safety frames required by OSHA—begin their tasks by saying, “OK, Glass, Proceed.” When they go home, they leave their glasses behind.

Quite a contrast.
Left: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images. Right: Courtesy of AGCO.

Quite a contrast. Truly laughable, but necessary. Hopefully it taught us a lesson that not all wearables have to be trendy or fashionable. Maybe some wearables just need to be utilitarian. Although, if you want people to wear them everywhere, they better look good. Apple is rumored to be working on AR glasses in some form, and they would never make anything as ugly as Glass for the masses.


  1. Alphabet’s moonshot entity. ↩︎

Google Home

The Verge put together a great summary of the big updates for Google Home announced today at Google’s I/O developer conference. Google Home was introduced last May, and has been met with decent reviews, but this round of updates sounds pretty great.

Jacob Kastrenakes for The Verge:

Sometimes you actually want to see what’s going on, so Google’s making a TV interface for the Google Home. You’ll soon be able to ask the Home to send information to your TV, from basics like the weather and your calendar, to information it’s looking up like nearby restaurants or YouTube videos you might want to watch.

I’ve thought Siri should be able to do this exact thing, but from any Apple device to the Apple TV. It would be really nice to say “Hey Siri, play some Rush on my Apple TV”, or “play this on my Apple TV”, and have it play whatever you’re watching. Competition for the home is heating up, with Amazon’s Echo Show announcement and rumors of a Siri Speaker announcement next month. This is when the real fun begins for us consumers.

Google Assistant announced at 2017 I/O conference

Google brought their Assistant app to the iPhone today, announced at their Google I/O conference for developers. The Assistant is similar to Siri, Alexa, Cortana1 and others, but you are also able to ask it things via textual chat as opposed to just voice. It also can control some smart home devices and talk to other third-party applications.

In my opinion, any third-party digital assistant is dead on arrival on the iPhone, due to the fact that they are locked into applications, and you can’t replace Siri from being the default. After you’ve unlocked your phone and found the app, you might as well have used Siri anyway. Still, it’s fun to play around with, and this is surely a big moment as we move towards more voice-based interactions with our technology.

Google Assistant is now available on the App Store.


  1. Microsoft’s digital assistant. ↩︎

Ron Amadeo for ArsTechnica:

Google, never one to compete in a market with a single product, is apparently hard at work on a third operating system after Android and Chrome OS. This one is an open source, real-time OS called “Fuchsia.” The OS first popped up in August last year, but back then it was just a command line. Now the mysterious project has a crazy new UI we can look at, so let’s dive in.

Fuchsia

Source: Ars Technica

This work is obviously rough and early-on, but it’s always nice to see what might be coming next. Check out the Ars Technica article for more info and images.