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June 30, 2014

Understanding Android Wear

Android Wear watches work best when paired with phones running Android 4.3 or later. You can also pair them with tablets, but they're more useful as phone companions. Android 4.3 brings support for Bluetooth 4.0 and that's the reason why it's required.

There's no app store for Android Wear: the watch will show information from the apps you've installed on your phone. Android Wear has a simple interface for displaying notifications, Google Now cards and a few customization options. Watches don't make sounds for notifications, they only vibrate. You can only use voice input and this works when you are online.

So what happens when you aren't near your phone or you unpair your watch from your phone? You can still use some basic features: tell the time, alarm, stopwatch, timer, view calendar for today, step count, heart rate (if supported), change watch face and enable airplane mode. Basically, it's a combination of watch, timer and pedometer.

Android Wear watches don't bring any new feature, they're just a more convenient way to access your notifications and Google Now cards. A second screen for your phone that displays useful information, so that you only use your phone when it's necessary. It's also a way to quickly find information or perform simple actions like setting reminders, controlling music, taking notes or replying to texts and emails - all of them using your voice. "OK Google" is the magic hotword.

Android Wear's tagline is "information that moves with you". The first two Android Wear watches from Samsung and LG cost from $199 to $229 and don't have impressive specs. Battery life is limited to 1-2 days and that's one of the most important things that need to be improved. Unlike Samsung's Gear watch that runs its own software, they don't have a camera and they don't let you answer phone calls.

Computing devices get smaller and smaller, they're powerful because they're always with you. Still, it's important to keep in mind that Android Wear watches aren't standalone devices, they're only companion devices. They're water resistant, so they're better suited for an active lifestyle.

Google Now and Google Voice Search are great for interacting with a simple device that has a small screen. Hopefully, Android Wear forces Google to add APIs that allow other apps to add Google Now cards and voice actions.

New Features for YouTube Uploaders

YouTube has a lot of new features in store for those who upload videos and for those who watch them.

YouTube Creator Studio combines a lot of useful information about your videos: analytics data, video management, comment management and a dashboard that lets you see what's new. It's available at for the desktop. There's also an Android app and an upcoming iOS app.

The Audio Library now includes thousands of royalty-free sound effects you can add to your videos: from dog barking to cowbell ringing, from zombie roar to keyboard typing, alien breath and baby whine. You can download the audio effects as MP3 files and also add them to your favorites.

YouTube will add support for 48fps and 60fps videos. You can test the new feature using this playlist. "We're starting to roll out video support for 48 and even 60 frames per second. See how high frame rates can make motion-intense videos even more awesome," mentions the description.

Fans will be able to contribute money to support a channel. They'll also be able to contribute subtitles. "In the coming months, your fans will be able to submit translations in any language based on the subtitles or captions you've created, helping you reach even more viewers." You can test user-contributed subtitles by checking some of the latest Barely Political videos.

YouTube will also add better-looking annotations and more ways to create playlists.

Google to Shut Down Orkut

It's not surprising that Google will soon shut down its first social network, Orkut. It used to be popular in India and Brazil, but it's no longer used by many people.

"Ten years ago, Orkut was Google's first foray into social networking. Built as a '20 percent' project, Orkut communities started conversations, and forged connections, that had never existed before. Over the past decade, YouTube, Blogger and Google+ have taken off, with communities springing up in every corner of the world. Because the growth of these communities has outpaced Orkut's growth, we've decided to bid Orkut farewell," informs Orkut's blog.

Google will shut down Orkut on September 30, 2014. Users will be able to export data using Google Takeout until September 2016.

Google will preserve an archive of orkut's online communities, which will be available online after Orkut shuts down. If you don't want your posts to be included in the archive, you can delete them or remove Orkut from your Google account.

This Google Trends chart illustrates the rise and fall of Orkut:

{ Thanks, Luiz Fernando. }

Short URL for Classic Google Maps

Update (June 25, 2015): Classic Google Maps is no longer available.

Now that Google Maps for desktop redirects to the new interface, I tried to find a URL for the classic version. Last year, I found:, then,,, but they no longer work.

Of course, you can also go to Google Maps, click the help icon at the bottom of the page and then click "return to classic Google Maps" twice. Google includes some reasons why you would prefer the old version: map is covered by boxes, too slow, missing features, map display issues.

More Google Shortcuts

More Google services let you add shortcuts to the app launcher. Here are some of the new services I found:

* Google Image Search
* Google Video Search - for some reason, the app launcher doesn't display an icon when adding the shortcut
* Google Hotel Finder
* Google Support
* Google Helpouts
* Google Map Maker

To add a shortcut, visit a Google service, make sure you are logged in, click the app launcher icon at the top of the page and click "add a shortcut" next to the service's name. You can rearrange icons using drag and drop and move shortcuts to the "more" section.

Here are some other services you can add:

* Google Play Music
* Google Voice
* Google Patent Search
* Google Webmaster Tools
* Google Groups
* Google Sites
* Google Keep
* Google Contacts

June 29, 2014

The New Android

Somewhere between the new gadget releases and the new Android flavours, there's a new Android and it doesn't look like the old one. The old Android was about developers and customization, the new Android is about users and user experience. To control the user experience, customization will take the back seat.

ArsTechnica reports that Android TV, Android Wear and Android Auto won't allow hardware manufacturers to change the interface. The software will be updated by Google and manufacturers will only be able to add some apps and some hardware features.

"The UI is more part of the product in this case," said Google engineering director David Burke. "We want to just have a very consistent user experience, so if you have one TV in one room and another TV in another room and they both say Android TV, we want them to work the same and look the same... The device manufacturers can brand it, and they might have services that they want to include with it, but otherwise it should be the same."

Much like Chromebooks, the new Android devices will be frequently updated by Google. Even if you're buying a Chromebook from Samsung, HP or Acer, you're getting almost identical software and similar user experience, but slightly different hardware.

Back when the first Android phones were released, Google was more focused on adding features and APIs and cared less about user experience. Manufacturers had to create their own apps and skins to sell phones. This fostered a vibrant ecosystem, but also created problems: devices are slow to update, Google's guidelines are sometimes ignored by manufacturers, user experience suffers. Apple started with the user experience and added the missing features later, Android started with the features and improved the user experience later.

"The new Android projects Google talked about at I/O this year circumvent the [fragmentation] problem entirely by not offering that kind of freedom to OEMs in the first place. That might make it more difficult for them to differentiate their products from one another, but it saves them a ton of development work and gives users more consistent, more secure devices that all pick up new features at the same time," concludes ArsTechnica.

They're more like Windows Phone devices. Strict guidelines, consistent interface and branding.

Google's Detailed World Cup Results

Google used to call them OneBox results. Now they're interactive gadgets that provide detailed information.

World Cup instant results are probably the most comprehensive OneBox results ever added by Google. They offer so much real-time information that you don't even have to visit other sites. A search for [world cup] shows today's matches and the matches from any other day, group results and a chart for the second stage.

Search for a match and Google shows a timeline, match stats and lineups. Search for a country (for example: [argentina world cup]) and Google shows the latest matches and results.

There are also Google Now cards with useful information and notifications:

To see much Google's results have evolved, here are the OneBox results from 2010:

Another screenshot:

Here are the results from 2006:

Google doesn't only show interactive results for the FIFA World Cup, it also replaces the Google logo with a lot of interactive doodles: 40 World Cup doodles in 18 days. Too many.

In 2010, Google only used 2 doodles for the opening day and final, as well as a few doodles from the Doodle 4 Google competition. In 2006, Google used a single doodle adapted for the participating countries.

Google Docs' Identity Problem

Google's office suite has always had an identity problem. Google changed product names multiple times and didn't manage to differentiate its products.

Back in 2006, Google acquired Writely (an online document editor) and XL2Web, which later became Google Spreadsheets. The two products merged and the resulting service was called Google Docs & Spreadsheets.

That worked well until 2007, when Google acquired Tonic Systems and launched a service for editing presentations. Google Docs & Spreadsheets was rebranded as Google Docs.

Back then, the document manager was called Google Docs List. The name was changed to Google Drive in 2012 and Google positioned it as an online storage service. Even though Google offered 1GB of free storage before Google Drive's launch, Google Docs was mainly perceived as a Microsoft Office alternative, not as a Dropbox alternative.

Google Drive added support for third-party apps and Google's online editors finally got names: Docs, Sheets, Slides.

Two months ago, Google Drive's mobile app for Android and iOS was split into 3 apps: Google Drive (file manager, file viewer), Google Docs and Google Sheets. Google Slides for Android was released last week and the iOS version will be released in a few weeks. Desktop apps will have custom URLs and their own dashboards.

Why create so many separate apps? Google's online editors have always been distinct applications. They came from different acquisitions and didn't have a lot in common when they were released. Their best feature was collaboration, but business users kept complaining about Microsoft Office compatibility, so Google bought QuickOffice and added support for native Office editing without conversion using a Chrome extension and the new mobile apps.

To show that Google Drive/Docs still have an identity problem, let's read the Wikipedia page for Google Docs: "Google Docs is a free, web-based office suite offered by Google within its Google Drive service. It was formerly a storage service as well, but has since been replaced by Google Drive." Actually Google Docs is no longer an office suite, it's just an app for editing documents. It's not Google's Office, it's only Google's Words.

Maybe the new mobile apps and the new dashboards for the desktop apps will make it more obvious that Docs, Sheets and Slides are separate apps and have their own identity.

Plugin-Free Google+ Hangouts in Chrome

Last year, Chrome's team announced that NPAPI support will be removed by the end of 2014. At that time, the Google+ Hangouts (Talk) plugin was one of the most popular NPAPI plugins used in Chrome (8.7% usage), so it was obvious that Google had to provide an alternative solution.

Now Google+ Hangouts no longer requires plugins in Chrome. Google uses WebRTC and Native Client to provide a native video chat experience.

"We're rolling out an update that makes it easier than ever to start Hangouts video calls with your family and friends! You'll now be able to launch Hangouts in Chrome without having to download and install a plugin. Just click to start the Hangout, allow Hangouts to use your camera and microphone, and you'll be good to go! This update is now available for all Chrome Dev and Canary users, and will be rolling out to all Chrome users over the next few weeks."

You can get a list of the plugins currently used by Chrome by visiting chrome://plugins (an internal Chrome page). The page lets you disable some of the plugins or whitelist them: check "always allowed" to disable Chrome's plugin blocking feature. Some of the plugins are bundled with Chrome and use Google's PPAPI/Pepper instead of NPAPI: Chrome Remote Desktop Viewer, Widevine Content Decryption Module, Adobe Flash Player, Chrome PDF Viewer, Native Client.

QuickOffice Will Be Discontinued

2 years ago, Google bought Quickoffice, one of the best mobile apps for editing Office files. At that time, Google explained that "Quickoffice has an established track record of enabling seamless interoperability with popular file formats, and we'll be working on bringing their powerful technology to our Apps product suite".

Since then, Google made Quickoffice free (first for business users, then for everyone), removed integration with other services than Google Drive, improved Quickoffice's interface, created a Chrome extension for editing Office files and added native Office editing to the new mobile apps for Docs, Slides and Sheets.

Now Quickoffice will be discontinued and the mobile apps will be removed from Play Store and App Store. "With the integration of Quickoffice into the Google Docs, Sheets and Slides apps, the Quickoffice app will be unpublished from Google Play and the App Store in the coming weeks. Existing users with the app can continue to use it, but no features will be added and new users will not be able to install the app," informs Google.

New Interface for Gmail and Google Drive File Previews

When you use Google Drive and click on a file that can't be edited, you get a preview interface that lets you quickly check your files, navigate between your files and more. The same file preview UI is also used for Gmail attachments.

Google updated the file previewer to give more focus to the content. The toolbar is now at the top of the page, it has an improved "zoom" feature and it disappears when you're not using it. Documents and images are displayed in a wider frame and take the center stage.

{ via Google Apps blog }

Password Lock in Google Drive for iOS

Google Drive for iOS added a few weeks ago a feature that lets you set a 4-digit passcode code for the app so that others can't access your files while using your iPhone or iPad. Just go to the settings, tap "passcode lock", enable the feature, enter a passcode for Drive and decide if you want to enter the passcode even when you return to the app.

The passcode is only for the phone or tablet you are using and for the account that's currently logged in.

"To always require a passcode when returning to Drive, choose the Always Lock option from the passcode settings screen. Without Always Lock enabled, you will be prompted for the passcode only after 15 minutes or more of inactivity. If you have multiple accounts linked to your Drive app and want to switch between them, you'll only be required to enter passcodes for accounts with codes that have already been created," informs Google.

"If you have forgotten the passcode for your Drive app and have entered the wrong code 5 times, a menu will appear allowing you to remove your account from the app without a passcode. You can then re-add the account to the app without a passcode. After entering the wrong passcode 20 times, you will be prompted to remove your account from the app and will no longer have the option of trying again to enter the passcode."

June 28, 2014

Responsive YouTube Player

Remember the YouTube experiment that resized the player dynamically? It's now a regular YouTube feature.

"When using YouTube on your computer, the size of your video player will automatically adapt based on the available space in your browser window. If your browser is larger than a certain size, you will see a larger player by default. If you want to manually change the size of your video player, resize your browser window," explains YouTube.

When you resize your browser's window, YouTube automatically switches from 360p to 480p, 720p and 1080p, while the player gets bigger. Thanks to the adaptive DASH player, the transition is smooth.

Another change is that the "large player" setting is now called "theater mode" and has a black background.

Here's a video that shows the new features:

June 27, 2014

Google Play Services Delivers Security Updates

One of the most important new features announced at Google I/O was that Google Play Services will deliver security updates.

Google Play Services started as a way to solve Android's fragmentation problem: instead of adding APIs to new Android versions, they were added to Play Services, which was bundled with almost any Android device and updated automatically by Google. Play Services became a clever tool that allowed Google to add new features to Android without waiting until phone manufacturers update their software.

Now it looks like Google can deliver timely security updates using the same software bundle. Apparently, Google uses a "Dynamic Security Provider, which offers an alternative to the platform's secure networking APIs that can be updated more frequently, for faster delivery of security patches."

Google Play Services is updated every 6 weeks and about 93% of the Android devices have the latest version. "By updating this application, Google can keep as many Android devices and Android users up to date with software, services, and security issues," mentions Ewan Spence from Forbes, who suggests that Play Services is also a way for Google to control the Android platform and make it more difficult to fork Android, since Play Services is not open source. "By being in complete control of the access to Google Play Services, and by association the other closed source apps that consumers feel are integral to the Android experience, Google acts as a gatekeeper to the successful Android world."

When YouTube's Automatic Captions Were Funny

YouTube's auto-captioning feature used to work so poorly that the captions were funny and not very useful. There's a video from 2010 that shows how the "transcribe audio function turns great works of literature into hilarious nonsense". Annotations include the original text, while The Bakery team reads YouTube's automatic captions.

You can also watch the original video, enable automatic captions and see how well YouTube's feature works right now. The nice thing about online services is that they can constantly improve. While YouTube's captions aren't perfect, they're a lot better than they were back in 2010. Here are some examples:

Original text: "Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen"
YouTube captions in 2010: "Frightened for Tickets watch she"
YouTube captions in 2014: "Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen"

Original text: "1984 by George Orwell"
YouTube captions in 2010: "1984 but it wasn't"
YouTube captions in 2014: "1984 by George Orwell"

Original text: "it was a bright cold day in April"
YouTube captions in 2010: "it was a bright cocaine"
YouTube captions in 2014:"it was a bright cold day in April"

Original text:  "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins, my sin, my soul"
YouTube captions in 2010: "Lisa, months of my life, Floyd of my dealings, much months old"
YouTube captions in 2014:  "liter light of my life fire of my loins my seen my soul".

Android Developer Previews

This year, Google changed the way it releases new Android versions. Just like Apple, Google released a developer preview that allows developers to test their apps, add new features, tweak their UIs before regular users install the new Android version.

This make sense, considering that Android L (Android 5.0) is probably the biggest new release since Android 1.0. There's a new runtime (ART replaces Dalvik), 64-bit support, a completely new design language, there are a lot of new APIs and new classes of devices that require optimized interfaces.

"The Developer Preview lets you explore features and capabilities of the L release and get started developing and testing on the new platform. The L Developer Preview includes updated SDK tools, system images for testing on an emulator, and system images for testing on a Nexus 5 or Nexus 7 device." Only the latest of version of Nexus 7 Wifi is supported. "With the SDK Tools, and Nexus device images, you can get a head start on testing out your app on the latest Android platform months before the official launch. You can use the extra lead time to take advantage of all the new app features and APIs in your apps," informs Google.

A yearly major release with a few months of beta testing has a lot of advantages:

* bugs can be found faster and the final release will be better. There's a bug tracker for the Dev Preview
* Nexus phones and tablets are actually used as developer devices
* both iOS and Windows Phone allow developers to install early releases. Android is now more developer-friendly
* developers are expected to test their apps in the new Android version and take advantage of the new features, so Android apps will get better
* developers have more time to read about the latest features and to update their apps
* developers and power users feel important because they get to try the latest features faster
* there's more hype about the latest Android release: journalists and bloggers write more articles about the new features because not everyone wants to install "dev preview" software
* phone manufactures have a few more months to integrate, optimize and test their own software
* when the new Android version is publicly released, more devices will be updated (not just Nexus and Play Edition phones and tablets)
* new Android versions will get significant market share faster.

To sum up, Android developer previews are better for developers, users, phone manufacturers and for Google. Developers, manufactures and Google have more time to improve their software, while users will install a better OS and higher quality apps.

June 26, 2014

Google's "Right to be Forgotten" Disclaimer

If you are in a EU country, you may have seen this message when searching for a name: "Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe". It's displayed below the list of search results, but it's worth pointing out that the message only expresses a possibility:

"When you search for a name, you may see a notice that says that results may have been modified in accordance with data protection law in Europe. We're showing this notice in Europe when a user searches for most names, not just pages that have been affected by a removal," informs Google.

"The recent ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union has profound consequences for search engines in Europe. The court found that certain users have the right to ask search engines like Google to remove results for queries that include the person's name. To qualify, the results shown would need to be inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant, or excessive."

There's a form you can fill out and request that Google removes certain search results associated with your name. You also need to attach a legible copy of a document that verifies your identity.

Here's how the whole thing started:

On 5 March 2010, Mr Costeja González, a Spanish national resident in Spain, lodged with the AEPD (Spanish Data Protection Agency) a complaint against La Vanguardia Ediciones SL, which publishes a daily newspaper with a large circulation, in particular in Catalonia (Spain) ('La Vanguardia'), and against Google Spain and Google Inc. The complaint was based on the fact that, when an internet user entered Mr Costeja González's name in the search engine of the Google group ('Google Search'), he would obtain links to two pages of La Vanguardia's newspaper, of 19 January and 9 March 1998 respectively, on which an announcement mentioning Mr Costeja González's name appeared for a real-estate auction connected with attachment proceedings for the recovery of social security debts.

By that complaint, Mr Costeja González requested, first, that La Vanguardia be required either to remove or alter those pages so that the personal data relating to him no longer appeared or to use certain tools made available by search engines in order to protect the data. Second, he requested that Google Spain or Google Inc. be required to remove or conceal the personal data relating to him so that they ceased to be included in the search results and no longer appeared in the links to La Vanguardia.

AEPD rejected the complaint against La Vanguardia, but decided that the complaint Google was justified because "search engines are subject to data protection legislation". Google Spain disagreed: "search engines process all the information available on the internet without effecting a selection between personal data and other information". Data processing has multiple meanings: there are companies that process personal data and other companies that process publicly available data from the Web. Google also suggested that complaints should be directed to the sites that include personal information, not to search engines. Google sued in Spain and the lawsuit was transferred to the European Court of Justice. The Court of Justice decided that search engines process personal data.

"Google received 12,000 requests on the first day of its 'to be forgotten' campaign, in which Europeans have been given court backing to have certain links removed."

New Google Drive Interface

There are a lot of changes in Google Drive for both the web apps and the mobile apps. Google Drive has a new desktop interface that will roll out in the coming weeks. The updated UI includes a unified "New" button for both creating new documents and uploading files, a streamlined grid view, a list of recently used folders, an incoming view that shows the files that have been shared with you, a simplified toolbar, better ways to select files, a new look for the "details and activity" sidebar and more. The new Google Drive is faster and more consistent with the mobile apps. It's also "much more accessible for blind and visually impaired users. The new Drive includes improved keyboard accessibility, support for zooming and high contrast mode, and better compatibility with screen readers."

Google Drive's mobile apps will also get some of the new features: the info box includes recent activity and more information about files, there's an incoming view, background syncing is faster, you can set files or folders so anyone with a link can view, comment or edit.

Google launched an Android app for Google Slides and the corresponding iOS app will be released in the coming weeks.

Docs, Sheets, and Slides will let you edit Microsoft Office files without converting them first: the mobile apps will support this feature natively, while for the desktop you'll need the new Google Drive interface and this Chrome extension (if you don't use Chrome, native Office editing is not available). "Once the extension is installed, Office files that you drag into Chrome, open in Gmail, Google Drive, and more, will be opened in Docs, Sheets, and Slides for viewing and editing." This feature is called Office Compatibility Mode and it's powered by Quickoffice, a software acquired by Google in 2012.

Google Docs includes a new collaborate: suggested edits. If you're allowed to comment on a document, you can now "suggest edits to the owner without affecting the original text. Your suggestions won't change the original text until the document owner approves them."

In the coming weeks, the desktop web apps for Docs, Sheets and Slides will have their own home screens, just like the mobile apps. You'll go to,, and quickly access your documents, spreadsheets and presentations. "Your most recently edited documents are available right at the top, you can quickly create something new with a click on the + button, edit Office files by installing the new Chrome extension, and once you enable offline editing, everything on your home screen is editable even when you're not connected to the Internet," informs Google. For now, the URLs create new files.