world wide web

Google announces Action Blocks, a new accessibility tool for creating mobile shortcuts

Posted by | accessibility, Android, artificial intelligence, Assistant, Google, Google Assistant, Mobile, mobile software, smartphones, TC, world wide web | No Comments

Google today announced Action Blocks, a new accessibility tool that allows you to create shortcuts for common multi-step tasks with the help of the Google Assistant. In that respect, Action Blocks isn’t all that different from Shortcuts on iOS, for example, but Google is specifically looking at this as an accessibility feature for people with cognitive disabilities.

“If you’ve booked a rideshare using your phone recently, you’ve probably had to go through several steps: unlock your phone, find the right app, navigate through its screens, select appropriate options, and enter your address into the input box,” writes Google accessibility software engineer Ajit Narayanan. “At each step, the app assumes that you’re able to read and write, find things by trial-and-error, remember your selections, and focus for a sustained period of time.”

Google’s own research shows that 80% of people with severe cognitive disabilities, like advanced dementia, autism or Down syndrome, don’t use smartphones, in part because of these barriers.

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Action Blocks are essentially a sequence of commands for the Google Assistant, so everything the Assistant can do can be scripted using this new tool, no matter whether that’s starting a call or playing a TV show. Once the Action Block is set up, you can create a shortcut with a custom image on your phone’s home screen.

For now, the only way to get access to Action Blocks is to join Google’s trusted tester program. It’s unclear when this will roll out to a wider audience. When it does, though, I’m sure a variety of users will want to use of this feature.

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Google Travel adds flight price notifications and a limited-time flight price guarantee

Posted by | Android, computing, Google, google search, google travel, Google-Maps, machine learning, Pricing, TC, Transportation, United States, world wide web | No Comments

tp animation full no zoom alpha 1Google is building out its travel product with more features to convince you to use it to book flights and plan trips directly, instead of having to go anywhere else. The company is adding more sophisticated pricing features, including historical price comparison for specific itineraries — and notifications about when a price is likely to spike or when it’s at the absolute lowest. It’s also offering a pricing guarantee for bookings made in the next couple of weeks, so you’ll get be refunded the difference if Google says a flight price won’t drop and it subsequently does.

For any flights booked through Google that originate in the U.S. (regardless of destination) between August 13 and September 2, for which Google sends you an alert notifying you that the price is predicted to be at its lowest, the company will alert you if it does drop and then send you a refund on the price difference between what it predicted (i.e. what you paid) and the lowest actual fare.

It’s an attractive deal, and the limited-time offer is probably only even available because this is new and Google wants to make sure people feel absolutely comfortable trusting their predictions. The company likely has the most readily available cross-airline information about flight availability, route popularity and price in the world, however, backed by some of the most sophisticated machine learning on the planet, so it sounds like it’s probably a pretty safe bet for them to make.

Google Travel is also adding a number of features once you actually book you trip — it’ll suggest next steps for planning your trip, and then help you find the best neighborhoods, hotels, restaurants and stuff to do. Plus, reservations and other trip details will automatically carry over to the Google Maps app on your iOS or Android.

Overall, it’s clear that Google is making an aggressive play to own your overall travel and trip planning — and it has the advantage of having more data, better engineering and a whole lot more in the way of design skills when compared to just about every dedicated travel booking company out there.

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Google is shutting down its Trips app

Posted by | Apps, computing, gmail, Google, google search, google trips, iOS 10, Mobile, mobile phones, TC, world wide web | No Comments

Google is shutting down its Trips app for mobile phones, but is incorporating much of the functionality from the service into its Maps app and Search features, according to a statement from the company.

Support for the Trips app ends today, but information like notes and saved places will be available in Search as long as a user signs into their Google account.

To find attractions, events and popular places in a geography, users can search for “my trips” or go to the new-and-improved Travel page in Google.

Google announced changes to their Travel site in September 2018, which included many of the features that had been broken out into the Trips app. So now the focus will be on driving users back to Travel and to include more of the functionality in Google’s dominant mapping and navigation app.

Soon users will be able to add and edit notes from Google Trips in the Travel section on a browser and find saved attractions, flights and hotels for upcoming and past trips.

In Maps, searching a destination or finding specific iconic places, guide lists, events or restaurants can be done by swiping up on the “Explore” tab in the app.

Tapping the menu icon will now take users to places they’ve saved under the “Your Places” section. And soon the maps app will also include upcoming reservations organized by trip and those reservations will be available offline so a user won’t need to download them.

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Google makes travel planning easier

Posted by | airline, computing, gmail, Google, google china, google travel, Google-Talk, Google.com, Mobile, TC, world wide web | No Comments

Google today announced a major revamp of its travel planning tools on the web. After launching a similar set of tools on mobile last year, the company today announced that google.com/travel on the web will now let you see information about all of your previously reserved trips and easily switch between flight, hotel and package searches.

In many ways, this finally brings all of Google’s travel services under one hood — a process that has taken far longer than I would’ve anticipated after Google bought ITA nine years ago.

Google Trips is essentially the landing page for the new site and brings together your existing bookings and information about your destination. The service will then feed your travel information back into Google Search and Maps. To do this, Google.com/travel (which I think we can safely call Google Travel, even if Google itself doesn’t do so), will use the confirmation emails and receipts from your Gmail inbox to build the timeline of your trip.

Because both the web and mobile versions are now on feature parity, this also makes it easier to pick up your trip planning on any device. Like always, though, you won’t be able to make any reservations through Google’s systems. Instead, Google will send you to an airline’s or hotel’s reservation system to complete a booking.

The actual flight and hotel search engines are still the same, though if Google previously offered the ability to buy flight and hotel packages, it did a good job of hiding that. Now, this option gets first billing, together with the hotel and flight searches.

“Our goal is to simplify trip planning by helping you quickly find the most useful information and pick up where you left off on any device. We’ll continue to make planning and taking trips easier with Google Maps, Google Search and google.com/travel—so you can get out and enjoy the world.”

Sadly, Google hasn’t ported Inbox’s useful Trip Bundles over to Gmail yet, though, despite promises to do so before shutting down Inbox. For the time being, the new Google Travel site is a pretty good alternative.

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Google starts rolling out better AMP URLs

Posted by | Amp+, Chrome, digital media, Google, google search, HTML, Mobile, mobile web, online advertising, TC, world wide web | No Comments

Publishers don’t always love Google’s AMP pages, but readers surely appreciate their speed, and while publishers are loath to give Google more power, virtually every major site now supports this format. One AMP quirk that publisher’s definitely never liked is about to go away, though. Starting today, when you use Google Search and click on an AMP link, the browser will display the publisher’s real URLs instead of an “http//google.com/amp” link.

This move has been in the making for well over a year. Last January, the company announced that it was embarking on a multi-month effort to load AMP pages from the Google AMP cache without displaying the Google URL.

At the core of this effort was the new Web Packaging standard, which uses signed exchanges with digital signatures to let the browser trust a document as if it belongs to a publisher’s origin. By default, a browser should reject scripts in a web page that try to access data that doesn’t come from the same origin. Publishers will have to do a bit of extra work, and publish both signed and un-signed versions of their stories.

 

Quite a few publishers already do this, given that Google started alerting publishers of this change in November 2018. For now, though, only Chrome supports the core features behind this service, but other browsers will likely add support soon, too.

For publishers, this is a pretty big deal, given that their domain name is a core part of their brand identity. Using their own URL also makes it easier to get analytics, and the standard grey bar that sits on top of AMP pages and shows the site you are on now isn’t necessary anymore because the name will be in the URL bar.

To launch this new feature, Google also partnered with Cloudflare, which launched its AMP Real URL feature today. It’ll take a bit before it will roll out to all users, who can then enable it with a single click. With this, the company will automatically sign every AMP page it sends to the Google AMP cache. For the time being, that makes Cloudflare the only CDN that supports this feature, though others will surely follow.

“AMP has been a great solution to improve the performance of the internet and we were eager to work with the AMP Project to help eliminate one of AMP’s biggest issues — that it wasn’t served from a publisher’s perspective,” said Matthew Prince, co-founder and CEO of Cloudflare. “As the only provider currently enabling this new solution, our global scale will allow publishers everywhere to benefit from a faster and more brand-aware mobile experience for their content.”

 

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Google’s new Stadia gaming platform is all about streamers

Posted by | digital media, Gaming, GDC, GDC 2019, Google, google stadia, Internet, live streaming, new media, stadia, streamer, TC, Twitch, twitch tv, video hosting, world wide web, YouTube | No Comments

Google unveiled its new Stadia game-streaming service today, and while we’re still waiting to hear more details about how (and when) consumers will be able to access the service, it’s clear that Google kept game streamers in mind when it designed this new service. Indeed, it’s the first modern gaming platform that was clearly designed from the ground up with game streamers in mind.

During its presentation today, Google almost spent more time talking about streamers than the games that will be available on the service. Because Google owns YouTube, that’s no surprise. But it’s worth remembering that while YouTube surely has its own dedicated streamer community, it lags well behind Amazon’s Twitch . Stadia could change that.

So here is what Google is doing for streamers: Google’s own Stadia controller will have a button that lets you stream right to YouTube (though it’s unclear if you’ll be able to bring in a feed from your webcam, too). In YouTube, streamers will be able to give watchers a direct link to the game on Stadia — and there’ll probably be some revenue share here. But the really innovative piece here is that streamers also will be able to create a queue for viewers who want to play with the streamer. And that’s to a feature called State Share; sharing clips to YouTube also will be incredibly easy.

Because all the tech is managed by Google and runs in the cloud, there’s no additional hardware or software to buy and manage for streamers.

“Stadia is focused on empowering both creators and viewers to achieve new heights by breaking barriers of content capture and creating unique ways to engage with and grow a creator’s audience,” Google’s Ryan Wyatt said. “Established creators will have new ways to engage and monetize on YouTube with Stadia’s features. And with aspiring creators, we’re going to break down the barrier of entry in capturing content by giving you the ability to highlight, live stream and capture directly from Stadia.”

The last part is important, given how it takes a bit of work to create a working streaming setup. Of course, that’ll mean you’ll see lots of low-quality streams on YouTube once Stadia goes live, but there’ll surely be some new talent that’ll be discovered this way, too.

It’s worth remembering that Stadia is a new platform — this isn’t just a way to play your existing library in the cloud. Developers will have to specifically port games to it. With that, Google is able to add these features right into Stadia, making it the first platform that is able to do so from the outset.

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FanAI buys Waypoint Media to better track fan engagement for streaming monetization

Posted by | api, esports, FanAI, Gaming, Internet, M&A, New York, online platforms, TC, Twitch, twitch tv, video hosting, Waypoint, world wide web | No Comments

FanAI, an audience analysis platform for esports and streaming, is buying New York-based Waypoint Media to improve its analytics tools for esports players and streamers.

The deal means that Waypoint’s Twitch Middleware API and the “Raven” tracking and URL shortener will be added to FanAI’s product portfolio. The middleware tech has the ability to track every unique registered Twitch viewer so streamers can monitor average watch time, median watch time and channel engagement.

Financial terms were not disclosed, but a person with knowledge of the deal called the acquisition a significant all-cash transaction. That likely means a nice outcome for Waypoint’s backers, the New York-based investment firm Grand Central Tech.

FanAI founder and CEO Johannes Waldstein said of the acquisition, “The way they are able to turn billions of data points into workable information is like nothing else available on the market. We will be able to provide a deeper look at audiences with the new tools and having someone like Kevin join us will cement the FanAI services at the top of the industry.”

Using the Raven URL shortener, FanAI customers can follow the ways in which users browse on online platforms, the company said in a statement.

As part of the acquisition, Waypoint’s chief product officer Kevin Hsu joins FanAI as head of Engineering, the company said.

“Combining forces with FanAI is a perfect fit; we work with the same client base and have complementary solutions to the same problem. Traditionally, FanAI has focused on more static information including social and purchasing data, while Waypoint worked to gather digital movements of the audience. Combined, we can provide the best service by giving access to even more detailed and actionable data for clients,” said Hsu, in a statement.

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Amazon has paused sales of its Echo Wall Clock due to connectivity issues

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, amazon alexa, Amazon Echo, clock, computing, Gadgets, microwave, Publishing, TC, world wide web | No Comments

Amazon launched an Echo Wall Clock before the end of last year but, less than a month later, things aren’t running to schedule. The e-commerce giant has paused the sale of the $30 Alexa-powered smart clock after a number of customers reported connectivity issues, according to The Verge.

The clock is still listed on Amazon but, as of Tuesday, it is “currently unavailable.”

“We’re aware that a small number of customers have had issues with connectivity. We’re working hard to address this and plan to make Echo Wall Clock available again in the coming weeks,” Amazon told The Verge in a statement.

The clock is pitched at existing Alexa users who could use it to set timers, countdowns or alarms, while it automatically adjusts to seasonal time changes. It is unashamedly basic, both in design as well as functionality, but it is an interesting addition to Amazon’s expanding home appliance push. That also includes an Alexa microwave (less impressive), a singing fish (ok…) along the more established cast of home speakers, the “Show” video screen, a subwoofer and more.

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FCC greenlights Soli, Google’s radar-based gesture tech

Posted by | computing, FCC, Gadgets, Google, hardware, smartphone, smartphones, smartwatch, Speaker, technology, touchscreen, wearable devices, world wide web | No Comments

Google has won U.S. regulatory approval to go ahead with a radar-based motion sensor that could make touchscreens look obsolete in the coming years. Known as the Soli Project, the initiative began in 2015 inside Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects unit, a group responsible for turning the giant’s cutting-edge ideas into products.

We’ve seen a number of Soli’s technological breakthroughs since then, from being able to identify objects to reducing the radar sensor’s power consumption. Most recently, a regulatory order is set to move it into a more actionable phase. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission said earlier this week that it would grant Project Soli a waiver to operate at higher power levels than currently allowed. The government agency also said users can operate the sensor aboard a plane because the device poses “minimal potential of causing harmful interference to other spectrum users.”

Soli fits radar sensors into a tiny chip the size of an American quarter to track slight hand or finger motions at high speed and accuracy. That means instead of twisting a knob to adjust the volume of your stereo, you can rub your fingers over a speaker that contains a Soli chip as if sliding across a virtual dial. Under the regulatory order, you also would be allowed to air press a button on your Soli-powered smartwatch in the future.

Aside from clearing safety concerns, the FCC also found that the sensing tech serves the public interest: “The ability to recognize users’ touchless hand gestures to control a device, such as a smartphone, could help people with mobility, speech, or tactile impairments, which in turn could lead to higher productivity and quality of life for many members of the American public.”

We contacted Google to ask for more detail and will update the story when and if we get a response.

The regulatory consent arrived months after Facebook raised issues with the FCC that the Soli sensors operating at higher power levels might interfere with other device systems. The two firms came to a consensus in September and told the FCC that Soli could operate at power levels higher than what the government allowed but lower than what Google had requested.

It’s a rational move for Facebook trying to shape the rules for the new field, given its own Oculus deploys motion technologies. The company also has invested in researching the area, for instance, by looking at a device that creates motion on the arm to simulate social gestures like hugging.

The update on Google’s technological development is a temporary distraction from the giant’s more questionable, revenue-driven moves in recent months, including a massive data leak on Google+ followed by the closure of the online ghost town, its failure to crack down on child porn and its controversial plan to re-enter China reportedly with a censored search engine.

[Update: Google removed several third-party apps that led users to child porn sharing groups after TechCrunch reported about the problem.]

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The annual PornHub year in review tells us what we’re really looking at online

Posted by | Android, Apps, arkansas, Australia, chrome os, Germany, india, microsoft windows, Mississippi, Nintendo, pornhub, pornography, South Carolina, Startups, TC, United Kingdom, United States, video hosting, world wide web | No Comments

PornHub, a popular site that features people in various stages of undress, saw 33.5 billion visits in 2018. There are currently 7.53 billion people on Earth.

Y’all have been busy.

The company, which owns most of the major porn sites online, produces a yearly report that aggregates user behavior on the site. Of particular interest, aside from the fact that all of us are horndogs, is that the U.S., Germany and India are in the top spots for porn browsing and that the company transferred 4,000 petabytes of data, or about 500 MB, per person on the planet.

We ignore this data at our peril. While it doesn’t seem important at first glance, the fact that these porn sites are doing more traffic than most major news organizations is deeply telling. Further, like the meme worlds of Twitter and Facebook, Stormy Daniels and Fortnite made the top searches, which points to the spread of politics and culture into the heart of our desires. TV manufacturers should note that 4K searchers are rising in popularity, which suggests that consumer electronics manufacturers should start getting read for a shift (although it should be noted that there is sadly little free 4K content on these sites, a discovery I just made while researching this brief.)

Need more frightening/enlightening data? Here you go.

Just as ‘1080p’ searches had been a defining term in 2017, now ‘4k’ ultra-hd has seen a significant increase in popularity through-out 2018. The popularity of ‘Romantic’ videos more than doubled, and remained twice as popular with female visitors when compared to men.

Searches referring to the dating app ‘Tinder’ grew by 161% among women, 113% among men and 131% by visitors aged 35 to 44. It was also a top trending term in many countries including the United Kingdom and Australia. The number of Tinder themed fantasy date videos on the site is now more than 3500.

Life imitates art, and eventually porn imitates everything, so perhaps it’s no surprise to see that ‘Bowsette’ also made our list of searches that defined 2018. After the original Nintendo fan-art went viral, searches for Bowsette exceeded 3 million in just one week and resulted in the release of a live-action Bowsette themed porn parody (NSFW) with more than 720,000 views.

Bowsette. Good. Moving on.

The Bible Belt represented well in the showings, with Mississippi, South Carolina and Arkansas spending the most time looking at porn. Kansas spent the least. Phones got the most use as porn distribution devices and iOS and Android nearly tied in terms of platform popularity.

Windows traffic fell considerably this year, while Chrome OS became decidedly more popular in 2018. Chrome was popular when it came to browsers used, while the PlayStation was the biggest deliverer of flicks to the console user.

Porn is a the canary in the tech coal mine, and where it goes the rest of tech follows. All of these data points, taken together, paint a fascinating picture of a world on the cusp of a fairly unique shift from desktop to mobile and from HD to 4K video. Further, given that these sites are delivering so much data on a daily basis, it’s clear that all of us are sneaking a peek now and again… even if we refuse to admit it.

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