Create Your Own Virtual Reality with Google Cardboard App

487582-google-cardboard-cameraGoogle is taking its virtual reality efforts to the next level with the launch of a new app called Cardboard Camera, which enables Android users to create their own virtual reality content using the cameras on their phones.

With the app, you can just hold out your phone and movie around you in a circle. Then, when you put your phone in a Google Cardboard viewer, you can experience the photo in virtual reality. The photos are 3D panoramas that provide “slightly different” views for each of your eyes. This makes it so that near things look near and far things look far. You can look around to explore the image in all directions, and even record sound with your photo to hear the moment exactly as it happened. With Cardboard Camera, anyone can create their own VR experience.

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Google+ Surviving by Refocusing Its Use and New Design

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Google+ is still trucking along as a social network, as Google announced a redesign for the site that focuses purely on the social aspects and moves the site from being people-based to focus more on “interests.”

The new design brings a splash of color and more of Google’s Material Design aesthetic to the desktop site. The whole thing looks a lot more like the mobile app. The header has changed from a boring gray to a bright red, and the mobile app’s floating circular button even makes an appearance as the new way to write a post. The “core” of the site looks pretty much the same—text and images inside a scrolling list of cards.

Narrowing the focus of Google+ was probably the best way for Google to salvage the service. It originally started life as a Facebook-style social network for posting links, photos, status updates, and more with your friends. The original big innovation was the concept of dividing the people you followed on Google+ into “circles” and then sharing content with just the relevant groups of people, but it failed to catch on with users. However, there’s no doubt that some good things came out of Google+ as well — particularly the excellent Google Photos project that the company separated out of Google+ back at I/O this year. With the change, Google+ will formally be less about interacting with your friends and more about finding topics that interest you and meeting people across the internet who have those same interests.

Social Media’s Benefit Magnified in Wake of Paris Attacks

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Following the horrific attacks in Paris that has claimed more than 100 lives, people around the world took to social media looking for their loved ones. Social media has put forth tools to help people in times of crisis.

Facebook activated its Safety Check tool, which allows users in an area affected by a crisis to mark themselves or others as safe. Facebook created the tool to help in times of crisis, and it has activated it five times in the past year after natural disasters.

Twitter kept followers informed by highlighting top news tweets, as well as well wishes posted by people around the world. It also turned into a message board Friday night with information to help people in Paris get to safety. The hashtag #PorteOuverte or “open door,” became a vehicle for offering shelter to those in Paris who needed it. Twitter has revealed that 1 million tweets were associated with the hashtag in 10 hours. The hashtag #StrandedInUS gained a lot of traction in the United States to help French people whose flights had been canceled.

Will We See More Mobile Use with Comcast Data Limits?

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Comcast has recently offered Atlanta customers the option of getting an unlimited data plan for an extra $35 a month, as they have been subject to the data cap (300 gigabytes) since 2013. It’s a limited trial, but the economics of Comcast’s unlimited plan make it a potentially dramatic shift in the way we’ll buy broadband in the future. If Comcast decides this trial is a working model, other markets where the data cap is in place could start seeing similar offers, and it’s not crazy to think the plan might someday roll out nationwide.

Cellular providers have been selling mobile Internet like this for years. You know how it works: Go over your monthly limit, and you’ll face penalties such as reduced speeds or expensive overage fees. In the select markets where Comcast has experimented with data caps, the company assesses a $10 charge for every 50 GB a customer uses beyond their monthly limit. And yes, some Comcast users actually reach this point, paying as much as $30 a month in overage fees. When Comcast surveyed these folks, it found that 60% were willing to pay a flat $30-$40 a month extra to be freed from overage payments, hence the $35 a month that Atlanta customers pay.

You can probably see where this is headed. Even if you don’t use a ton of data now, more of our work and play is moving to the Web. Netflix is the cause of one-third of the country’s Internet traffic, and we’re only just getting started with driverless and connected cars, smart appliances and other devices associated with the Internet of Things.

However, Comcast isn’t the only one looking into data cap-associated fees for unlimited usage. A study last year found Internet providers everywhere could benefit financially from introducing data caps and other features associated with metered usage plans.

So how will this possible change effect mobile users? You might be more inclined to have your data increased, as it is much more convenient to have your data readily available to you on your mobile. How will these data limits persuade you to forget home internet all together, and opt for mobile data instead?

Respond Quickly to E-mail Using Smart Replies

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Not every e-mail that you get in your inbox deserves a well thought out reply, which is why Google is using the power of machine learning to make email triage a little bit faster.

Google announced the new “Smart Replies” feature for its Inbox email client, which gives users of its service up to three quick options to send back in reply to emails based on a machine learning analysis of the message’s content. People can use the short replies as either a way to quickly respond, or a way to start a longer message. This could prove to be especially useful for mobile users who would rather reply with a quick response, rather than type out a whole e-mail on their phone. This is the latest example of Google’s effort to teach machines how to take over some of the tasks typically handled by humans.

The new feature is available to all consumers who use the free version of Inbox, as well as the more than 2 million businesses who pay for Google’s suite of applications designed for work.

Google in Trouble with Russia’s Antimonopoly Agency

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Russia’s antimonopoly agency has given Google until November 18 to make amendments to features of its Android platform that it deemed anticompetitive. If Google fails to make the demanded changes, it could face stiff penalties of up to 15% of its revenue gained from mobile applications in Russia.

Google’s policy that when a device maker chooses to install Android, it must also install the Google Play store app and several other Google applications. In addition, device manufacturers are restricted from installing apps and services that compete with Google’s core offerings.

The case against Google in Russia was launched by Yandex, a domestic search competitor that’s been losing market share as consumers pick up low-cost Android handsets pre-installed with Google search. If Google makes the changes laid out by the Federal Antimonopoly Service in Russia, it would allow third-party app developers like Yandex to get their own services installed on Android devices.

Google is already paring down the number of apps it bundles on new phones, which could help its case. Of course, Google is always going to want to include its best apps with Android to bring people deeper into its ecosystem of services, so whatever changes it makes are unlikely to fully wipe those apps away, not unless it really has to.

Google and Microsoft Kiss and Makeup?

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Google and Microsoft are playing nice, burying all current patent infringement lawsuits that they have had ongoing for some time, all 18 of them.

Microsoft has been systematically targeting Android handset makers with a set of undisclosed patents that were violated by the use of the Android operating system. However, current leadership at Microsoft seems to be shifting from their old ways of confrontation to making way for more collaboration. Arguably, Microsoft used to be quick to sue and drag matters out in court, but it seems newer players within the company are becoming quicker to settle and partner.

Possibly signaling the winding down of the global smartphone wars, the two companies said the deal puts an end to court fights involving a variety of technologies, including mobile phones, Wi-Fi, and patents used in Microsoft’s Xbox game consoles and other Windows products. The agreement also drops all litigation involving Motorola Mobility, which Google sold to Lenovo last year while keeping its patents.

Predictably, as Microsoft and Google continue to make products that compete directly with each other, the agreement notably does not preclude any future infringement lawsuits. The two have said they have been co-operating on such issues as the development of a unified patent court for the European Union, and on royalty-free technology for speeding up video on the Internet.

Apple Axing Advertising

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Apple is waging a battle on advertising, as they have made ad-blocking software available on the iPhone with the new operating system iOS9. This likely undermines their arch-rival Google, which dominates the $120 billion online ad market.

For the first time, third-party software strip out marketing messages such as banner and video ads when people surf the web via the Safari browser. But Apple’s new approach will not affect advertising inside applications such as Facebook, casual games, or even Apple’s own applications. In effect, Apple is nudging companies to shift spending to apps, rather than traditional online ads where Google leads. 200 million people have used ad blockers last year, up 40% from a year earlier, resulting in $22 billion in lost advertising revenue.

Incidentally, Apple has launched their own news app, which will allow media companies to bypass blockers to serve their own ads or let Apple sell ads and share the revenue. It will be interesting to see how these moves made by Apple will affect its own interests, and if it will loosen Google’s hold on the mobile ad market.

Ding Dong the Fire Phone is Dead

As Apple demonstrated its brand new lineup of smartphones, it looks like Amazon was quietly killing off its own.

Amazon had been rumored to be working on a smartphone for years before the Fire Phone was unveiled. Just over a year ago we got our first look at the device, and all the predictions about Amazon’s phone being inexpensive were wrong; the high price tag and gimmicky features kept consumers away and the phone flopped. Now even Amazon has admitted defeat by ending sales of the device.

You would have to really dig for the Amazon Fire Phone now as most links to the phone in Amazon’s Fire device pages have been removed. When you do find them, both the AT&T and unlocked Fire Phone show up as unavailable and no more stock is expected. This isn’t just a question of running out, they just aren’t being offered for sale on Amazon’s website anymore.

Amazon’s move to stop producing the phone is no surprise. Despite all the buzz, it failed to become the success the company hoped. Only a few months after shipping, Amazon admitted last October that it took a $170 million charge mostly associated with the Fire phone and related supplier costs, and $83 million worth of phone inventory surplus.

While Amazon blamed the phone’s flop on badly pricing the device, some in the industry pinned the failure on the phone’s concept. Like Amazon’s other Fire devices, the Fire Phone ran a heavily customized version of Android without Google’s services. Amazon supplied the apps, music, video, and everything else. This was the Fire Phone’s greatest weakness as Amazon’s services lacked many of the features that make Android phones great. Fire OS is fine for a content consumption device like a tablet, but not a phone. The Fire Phone had a feature called “Dynamic Perspective” that used head tracking to adjust the UI, but it didn’t really make up for the missing features.

Google Getting Serious About Interstitials

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Yesterday, Google announced that as of November 1st, webpages need to get rid of any interstitials— those annoying prompts you get from some websites that want you to download their mobile app— or else face the penalty of losing priority in mobile search results:

“After November 1, mobile web pages that show an app install interstitial that hides a significant amount of content on the transition from the search result page will no longer be considered mobile-friendly.”

As discussed previously, more and more people are using their phones— not their laptops or desktops— to perform searches. Being considered non mobile-friendly can significantly impact organic traffic, as it’s known that Google aims to return only mobile-friendly sites in mobile search. Also, the Mobile Usability report in Search Console will warn you if it detects large app download interstitials. Rather than using app download interstitials, Google reminds that browsers promote apps in ways that are more user-friendly.

Back in late July, Google published a post on its blog asking people to reconsider using app download interstitials. History shows us that when Google issues a recommendation it is best to listen, because an algorithm update soon follows behind.