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September 11, 2014

Android Apps in Chrome OS

Google built an app runtime for Chrome that allows Android apps to run in Chrome OS. The first Android apps you can run in Chrome OS are Duolingo, Evernote, Sight Words and Vine.

Bringing more powerful apps to Chrome OS is a great idea. Making it easier to bring mobile apps to Chrome encourages developers to go beyond web apps and write native apps that work offline, include hardware integration and work outside of the browser. While cross-platform web apps are still useful, the new Chrome apps can bring some missing features that people expect to find in native apps. "These combine the best of websites and native applications — they're available offline, are always up to date, and they can communicate with devices like USB drives & Bluetooth speakers," explains Google.

"These first apps are the result of a project called the App Runtime for Chrome (Beta), which we announced earlier this summer at Google I/O. Over the coming months, we'll be working with a select group of Android developers to add more of your favorite apps so you'll have a more seamless experience across your Android phone and Chromebook," informs Google. You can tell Google what Android apps you'd like to be ported to Chrome.

For now, the first 4 apps can only be installed in Chrome OS, but I'm sure that Google will add support for Chrome in the near future.

It's interesting to notice that the apps aren't manually ported to Chrome, as I assumed. Here's an explanation from a Google employee:

"The app code is all running on top of the Chrome platform, specifically inside of Native Client. In this way the ARC (Android Runtime for Chrome) apps run in the same environment as other apps you can download from the Chrome Web Store, even though they are written on top of standard Android APIs. The developers do not need to port or modify their code, though they often choose to improve it to work well with the Chromebook form factor (keyboard, touchpad, optional touchscreen, etc)."

Here's an APK for Duolingo (Android app) inside the CRX file (Chrome app):

Google's Object Recognition Technology

Google continues to improve its image recognition technology. A Google team placed first in the classification and detection tasks of the ImageNet large-scale visual recognition challenge, the largest academic challenge in computer vision.

"Superior performance in the detection challenge requires pushing beyond annotating an image with a 'bag of labels' - a model must be able to describe a complex scene by accurately locating and identifying many objects in it," explains Google. Here's are some examples of object detection:

"This effort was accomplished by using the DistBelief infrastructure, which makes it possible to train neural networks in a distributed manner and rapidly iterate. At the core of the approach is a radically redesigned convolutional network architecture," mentions Google. The goal is to train large models for deep neural networks.

Last year, Google used the DistBelief infrastructure to improve some models used by the winning team at ImageNet and implemented the algorithms in Google+ Photos Search and later in Google Drive's search engine. Google automatically annotates images and it allows you to search for things like "car" or "laptop" and find images that include them.

Google promises to use the latest achievements to improve "Google products such as photo search, image search, YouTube, self-driving cars, and any place where it is useful to understand what is in an image as well as where things are".

New Security Section in Google Accounts Settings

The Security tab from Google's accounts settings page has a new section that lets you quickly update your security settings. Google suggests to "secure your account and
get better protection for your account."

You can edit your recovery phone and email, check your recent activity, disable access for less secure apps and remove account permissions. All of these features were already available, but this page groups them and displays them using a simplified interface.

{ Thanks, Florian Kiersch. }

Google Tests Search History Export

Google tests a feature that will let you export your Web History data. For now, the experimental feature creates a ZIP archive that splits your search history in several JSON files.

Most likely, this feature will be added to Google Takeout when it's released.

{ Thanks, Florian Kiersch. }

"In the News" Google Search Card

Google added a new search card for news-related searches. It's display in the right sidebar and it doesn't replace the list of Google News results. For example, when searching for [Jill Duggar], Google shows a thumbnail, a short summary ("Jill Duggar and her new husband, Derick Dillard, are expecting their first child"), a link to a news article and a list of related searches.

The new card seems to be displayed for some people in the news, but only if they don't have their own Knowledge Graph cards with information from sites like Wikipedia. It's probably just an experiment, since it's rarely displayed.

{ via Search Engine Land }

September 7, 2014

Inline Facts Next to Google Search Results

Google now shows a list of facts next to some Wikipedia results. Knowledge Graph data extracted from Wikipedia is now placed below the snippets.

For example, when searching for [duchy of Amalfi], Google shows some information about Amalfi, a town in the province of Salerno and the former capital of the Duchy of Amalfi.

When searching for [king of Rome], Google shows the name of the last king and the year when the monarchy ended.

Some of the facts aren't very useful or are taken out of context. For example, Google shows "President: Dwight D. Eisenhower" next to the Wikipedia result for Richard Nixon, without mentioning that Nixon was vice president during the Eisenhower administration.

Google Knowledge Graph Shows Forms of Government

Do you want to learn more about the forms of government from various countries? Search Google for "government of [country]" and Google will show if the country is a constitutional monarchy, constitutional republic, federal republic, unitary state, parliamentary republic, non-partisan democracy, military dictatorship.

Here's an example for [government of tuvalu]

Click one of the forms of government and Google will display more information. For example, Tuvalu, a small island in the Pacific Ocean, is a nonpartisan democracy, which means that Tuvalu has no political parties. It's also a constitutional monarchy.

Germany is a federal republic, which means it's a federation of states with a republican form of government.

Switzerland is also a federal republic, but it's the only country in the world that's a direct democracy and has a directorial system. "Switzerland is the closest state in the world to a direct democracy. For any change in the constitution, a referendum is mandatory (mandatory referendum); for any change in a law, a referendum can be requested (optional referendum)," explains Wikipedia. Switzerland is also a directorial republic, "a country ruled by a college of several people who jointly exercise the powers of a head of state or a head of government".

{ Thanks, Herin. }

September 6, 2014

Google Account Settings Lite

Google's account settings page has a simplified version for old browsers. You can find it at: The page shows some links that let you edit your profile, change your password, change password recovery options, manage account information, change email addresses and manage connected accounts.

Google shows this message: "Upgrade to a common and recent browser to modify Security, Language, Data Tools, and Account history settings." If you use an old browser, you'll also see: "It appears as if you're using an old or uncommon browser that doesn't support common standards. To access all of your Google account settings, upgrade to the latest version of any of the following browsers: Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari". Google provides download links.

I've loaded in Chrome 5 and Google redirected to the lite version.

{ Thanks, Luiz Pimenta. }

Gmail, Powered by Google

For some reason, Gmail shows a new message at the bottom of the page: "powered by Google". This was already used by the Google Apps version of Gmail, so it's not clear if the new attribution is placed by mistake in the standard Gmail.

"Powered by Google" makes sense in Google Apps, which offers white-label versions of Google's consumer services, but it feels out of place in a regular Google service.

Google also uses "powered by Google" for custom search engines, "powered by Google Translate" for Google Translate gadgets, "powered by Google Drive" for forms, "powered by Google App Engine" for App Engine sites, "powered by Blogger" for Blogger blogs, "powered by Google Sites" for sites created using Google Sites. These attribution messages are displayed for pages, gadgets, sites created using Google's technology.

{ Thanks, PhistucK. }

September 5, 2014

Windows Free

Little by little, Microsoft's operating system becomes free. Android's dominance forced Microsoft to make Windows Phone free. Chromebooks' popularity forced Microsoft to remove the Windows license for low-cost computers.

Windows is now a burden for hardware manufacturers: its license is a significant part of the computer's price and Windows 8 doesn't drive sales. Desktop operating systems are becoming less important, computers use less power and offload processing to the cloud.

A desktop operating system built around a browser and a mobile operating system built around openness made Google the obvious choice for Microsoft's OEMs. Two timely solutions that allowed companies like Samsung, Asus, HTC to come up with products people wanted to buy. Hardware companies usually don't write great software, so Google wrote some of the software and freed them from Windows. And now the popularity of the Windows-free products powered by Google made Windows free.