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September 29, 2012

The New Google Trends

Google Trends is one of the small services that haven't been discontinued by Google. It uses data from Google search to show information about the popularity a query. A few years ago, Google also launched a more advanced version of Google Trends called Insights for Search and now the two services have been merged.

"We've updated the line chart and map using HTML5 based Google Chart Tools so you can now load the page on your mobile devices, visualize the results without scrolling, and get Hot Searches not just for the U.S., but also India, Japan, and Singapore," informs Google.

There are some casualties: Google Trends for Websites is no longer available, headlines are no longer displayed next to the chart (you can still find them when you mouse over the chart). Basically, the new Google Trends is a simplified version of Insights for Search, so you'll see many cool features like predictions, comparing locations and time ranges, finding the most popular queries from a region, restricting results to a category or a date range, checking results from specialized search engines like Image Search, Google News or Google Shopping.

September 28, 2012

Google Contacts Sync Using CardDAV

CardDav is an open standard for syncing contacts and it's closely related to CalDAV, a standard for synchronizing calendars. Google Calendar already supports CalDAV and now it's time for Google Contacts to add support for CardDAV.

If you have an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad and you want to sync your data with a Google Account, you probably select "Gmail" from the list of accounts and you're disappointed to find out that you can only sync your mail, calendar and notes, not to mention that there's no push support. What about your contacts? A better option is to add a new account that uses Microsoft Exchange to sync. You can also manually add a CardDav account using these instructions, assuming that your device uses iOS 5 or iOS 6. If you need push support, the only option is to use Exchange.

"By supporting IMAP, CalDAV, and CardDAV together, we're making it possible for 3rd parties to build a seamless Google Account sync experience," says Google. There are many applications and services that support CardDav: Apple's Address Book from Mac OS X, Atmail, CardDAV-Sync for Android, Apple's iOS.

YouTube's Updated Design Experiment

YouTube tests yet another interface and this time it's both for the homepage and the video pages. For the first time, Google's navigation bar is added to YouTube. The sidebar from the previous experiment includes some options that used to be placed at the top of the page and used to be persistent. Now you have to click "My subscriptions" every time you go to YouTube's homepage if you want to remove reccomendations.

The upload button now has a drop-down that lets you go to the video manager and the analytics section, while the browse button has been removed. You can no longer go to the "inbox" from the homepage. When you click the button next to your Google Profile avatar (which is also new), YouTube sends you to the settings page, where there's a tab for the inbox.

Video pages have a button that toggles the sidebar, so you can quickly access the feed, your subscriptions, the history and other sections without having to visit the homepage. It's interesting to notice that most YouTube sections have a consistent feed-like interface, whether they're displaying videos from your subscriptions, recommendations, playlists or your history.

Here's how you can try the new interface. If you use Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari or Internet Explorer 8+:

1. open in a new tab

2. load your browser's developer console:

* Chrome - press Ctrl+Shift+J for Windows/Linux/ChromeOS or Command-Option-J for Mac

* Firefox - press Ctrl+Shift+K for Windows/Linux or Command-Option-K for Mac

* Opera - press Ctrl+Shift+I for Windows/Linux or Command-Option-I for Mac, then click "Console"

* Safari - check this article

* Internet Explorer - press F12 and select the "Console" tab.

3. paste the following code which changes a YouTube cookie:

document.cookie="VISITOR_INFO1_LIVE=vSPn-CmshUU; path=/;";window.location.reload();

4. press Enter and close the console.

You can also check the previous UI experiments for the homepage and "watch" pages.

Update (December 7, 2012): The new interface is available for everyone and you can no longer go back to the old layout.

{ Thanks, Pascal. }

Google Docs No Longer Exports Files in the Old Microsoft Office Formats

Google Docs changed the Microsoft Office format for exporting documents and switched to Office Open XML. "The built-in exporting feature from Google Docs to Microsoft Office will now allow users to download Google documents as modern Office formats (.docx, .xlsx, .pptx), as opposed to the older formats (.doc, .xls, .ppt) that were standard in Office 97-2003. For users who still use Office 97-2003, we recommend installing the free compatibility plugin from Microsoft, which will allow them to open modern Office file types," informs Google. The same feature will be added to Google Apps on October 1st.

Google Docs can still import Office 97-2003 files, so it's not clear why the modern Office formats weren't included as an additional optional in the "download as" menu. For some reason, if you use the "email as attachment" feature and select "Microsoft Word/Excel/Powerpoint", you can still get the old formats.

The Register predicts that a lot of business users will complain. "The move is troublesome not only for stick-in-the-muds who haven't upgraded their Office installs: it's perfectly feasible that much of a large business' corporate memory will be in the old binary formats (along with spreadsheets containing large, custom macros that nobody's rewritten in the newer versions yet)." Google Docs will continue to import existing files and there's a compatibility pack for old Office versions, but that doesn't mean corporate users won't complain.

When Web Apps Trump Native Apps

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming. It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes web apps are better than native apps. Now that browsers are so advanced and powerful, web apps can integrate with the operating system, are fast and easy to update.

Take the new YouTube app for iOS. Now that Apple removed the YouTube app from iOS 6, Google had to develop its own app for YouTube. The application looks just like the YouTube for Android, but it doesn't properly integrate with the operating system. It doesn't support AirPlay, so you can't redirect videos to on an Apple TV or a computer. You can't close the YouTube app and continue playing videos in the background, which is especially useful for music videos. The new YouTube app doesn't let you switch to the low-quality video flavor, which is better suited for slow Internet connections.

Perhaps the most annoying issue is that the YouTube app doesn't buffer the video when you pause it and the unused buffer is discarded when you close the app. Let's say you start watching a 10-minute video and you close the app after 3 minutes (for example, you get a phone call). Even if the video has been completely buffered, the YouTube app will download it again once you go back and tap the "play" button. The same thing happens when you open the Notification Center or double-click the Home button.

What if you're trying to find a video and you enter multiple queries? How do you go back to the start page? Just the tap the "back" arrow for each query you've typed. That's really annoying.

What if you want to see the most popular YouTube videos today and you're signed in to your Google account? Just scroll the entire list of subscriptions from the sidebar and you can finally see the "popular" section.

Surprisingly, none of these issues happen in YouTube's mobile web app available at Sure, the web app doesn't look so polished and you can't read the comments while watching a video (you're not missing too much), but it works pretty well. Google will probably fix these issues in the future releases, but for now YouTube's mobile site is better.

And speaking of mobile apps, if you have an iPhone 5 or you've updated an iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad to iOS 6, it's worth trying the mobile Google Maps available at and even adding a shortcut to the home screen. Google takes its time developing the Google Maps app for iOS.