New Google Maps ads will drop branded pins on your search results

Yes, Google builds plenty of useful and fun products, but don’t ever forget — the company is first and foremost an advertising business. As such, today the company is announcing a number of updates to its various advertising products to help brands do a better job at reaching the billion-plus people using Google’s core services like search, Gmail and Maps.

The change that’ll probably be most noticeable to Google’s end users comes to Maps, a particularly valuable product for the company — Google says that nearly a third of all mobile searches are related to specific locations, and lots of those searches likely end up with the user in Google Maps. So now, when you’re looking at Google Maps on your phone, you’ll see the occasional “branded pin.” It’s similar to the red pin that shows up when you do a search, but it contains a brand’s logo right in it. These will show up when you’re looking at a map or looking at the navigation view in Google Maps.

Google is also offering brands and advertisers more customizable product pages within Google Maps itself. If you tab through to an advertising business’s detail page, you’ll be able to search a store’s local inventory or redeem special offers (if the store chooses to offer those options, that is). During a press briefing, we saw a Best Buy that offered 10 percent off iPhone accessories and a Starbucks that offered a dollar off your drink when you tapped through to the specific location details.

Obviously, none of us really want more ads in our products, but it’s an inevitability when dealing with Google. And there are worse things than having the option to save a few bucks if you need to hit a big-box store or chain. Hopefully Google and advertisers will exercise some restraint when using this tool, which will start popping up on iOS and Android over the coming months.

Source: Google

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I salvaged my shattered iPhone with a ‘Band-Aid’ screen cover

After a BBQ last Sunday (there may have been alcohol), I dropped my phone. Multiple times. And I wasn’t lucky. Although my iPhone 6 Plus has suffered tiny hairline cracks in two of the corners, this time the drops were critical hits resulting in a spiderweb of substantial cracks, the majority of them around the bottom right corner — you know, where your thumb always is. Typing on it meant risking a tiny shard or two cutting into my thumb, and even when I avoided that, those cracks still irritated my fingertips. Touch functions were also impaired. Google Maps was not cooperating. While the brunt of the damage was in the lower corner, the drop had also crippled my front-facing camera. Perhaps the camera leaves the screen structurally weaker there, or was this the universe’s way of saying I’d taken one too many self-portraits?

And yet the next day was Monday, a work day. The Apple Store was fully booked. I needed a miracle. Or at least a cheap short-term solution. I turned to Pitamo’s smartphone bansouko (“Band-Aid”), a cut-it-yourself three-layer screen for broken smartphones. It promises to contain any more shards of doom, stop the cracks from getting worse, and keep your phone useable — all for under 10 bucks. What could go wrong?

I heard about the smartphone “band-aid” from my colleagues at Engadget Japan. None of them had tried it out — possibly because they were sober enough to not drop their (caseless) iPhone multiple times. I went to one of Tokyo’s many giant electronics stores to make a purchase.

I picked it up and grimaced. “Cut to size,” it said at the bottom of the packaging. I was going to be dependent on my cutting and tracing skills for this to work even remotely well. There’s a laborious nine-minute, Japanese-language tutorial on how to apply it, but the pictures included with the cover explain everything, even if you have no kanji-reading skills. You trace the outline of your phone (and because you cut it yourself, you can use it on any smartphone model). Then you cut out your phone-shaped sticker. Carefully. The guide then suggests you use a toothbrush to gently remove any excess phone screen shards. Except my thumb had done that for me already.

Then there’s the heady (actually low-stakes) tension of attaching your screen cover: no bubbles, get the sides aligned just right, and make sure nothing gets trapped underneath. In case you’ve never used one before, welcome to the wonderful world of smartphone screen covers. These little sheets of curvy plastic have the inexplicable superpower to trap air, hair and dust no matter how hard you try not to. (The Apple Store offers this service for free for a reason: You’ll screw it up on your own.)

The base layer of this particular cover is made of a softer material that keeps what’s left of your screen in place and intact. It also has a bit of flexibility to it and feels like it’s tightly bound to my phone. The topmost layer has a low-reflective satiny finish which the maker says should resist fingerprints more easily — though that’s really the least of my problems.

When it finally went on, it felt good. Peeling a “fresh” cover off an out-of-box smartphone is the primary reason most tech writers get out of the bed in the morning. This may be the reverse of that, but it feels just as satisfying. However, the struggle wasn’t over yet. I then had to grab a craft knife and cut away and areas that needed access to the outer elements: the home button, speaker and front-facing camera. The scrape of a craft knife on my iPhone made me queasy — especially on the home button — but I pushed through. Still, the glass-based damage to the front camera (coupled with multiple layers of plastic) means I’m going to have to learn how to take selfies with the iPhone’s main camera.


Is my screen perfect again? God, no. Look at it! But the smartphone cover is helping. I can safely run my fingertips over the screen; it’s at least useable again. My iPhone will live another day to play games, get me places on Maps, and help me rant on Facebook. Fortunately, I had paid extra for Apple Care, and so I’ll be taking my phone in later next week to get it replaced. This “Band-Aid” cover is very much a short-term solution, but by that criteria, it works.

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OS X update could use iPhone’s Touch ID to unlock Macs

As we approach Apple’s annual WWDC event that starts June 13th, the rumors about upcoming iOS and OS X features are sure to ramp up. This week, MacRumors is reporting that the company is working on a way for you to unlock a Mac using your iPhone’s Touch ID feature. The security measure is said to bypass a typed log-in using Bluetooth when the phone is “in close proximity” to a computer running OS X. As MacRumors notes, there’s a similar feature on the Apple Watch that allows an unlocked iPhone to provide access to the wearable without the need to enter a second password.

If this Touch ID to unlock a Mac functionality sounds familiar, the third party Knock app for iOS and Apple Watch unlocks a nearby computer with those devices rather than having to key in a password. Back in March, Recode reported that Apple Pay was on its way to the browser for making purchases on the web. This new report suggests that the Touch ID interaction with Macs will be used to confirm those transactions as well. As is the case with any rumor, it pays to be a bit skeptical. However, we won’t have to wait long to see if this news is indeed true.

In terms of other rumors for OS X 10.12, reports indicate that Siri could finally make its debut on the desktop. This week, rumblings surfaced about the design of the dock icon, but we’ll have to wait a few more weeks to see if that virtual assistant or Touch ID unlocking will be a part of this fall’s software update.

Source: MacRumors

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Boosted’s new electric skateboards go further, ride smoother

Many a short journey has been livened up with one of Boosted’s electric skateboards underfoot, but after selling the same line-up for a few years now, it’s time to pimp that ride. The second-generation Boosted boards unveiled today keep the same, classic longboard styling and bamboo deck, but are otherwise different beasts. For starters, the boards will now take you a lot further thanks to swappable batteries and an extended-range option that increases average distance from 6-7 miles to 12-14 miles. Bigger 80mm wheels, custom-built trucks and various improvements to the motors and transmission should make those longer trips that much smoother, too.

All the important parts are now shielded against water damage, making puddles less of an obstacle, and are “modular” according to Boosted, allowing sidewalk surfers to fix and upgrade their boards without professional assistance. There’s also a new port for powering accessories like headlights, and finally, a new dual Bluetooth radio setup for keeping a strong connection to the throttle/brake remote and Boosted’s iPhone and Watch apps. Best of all, the second-generation electric boards are selling for the same price as their predecessors: $ 999 for the Single, $ 1,299 for the Dual and $ 1,499 for the Dual+. When you’ve settled on what kind of top speed you’d be comfortable with, throw in an extra $ 100 and you’ll get the extended-range battery as standard.

Boosted is asking for a $ 100 refundable deposit to reserve one (no Kickstarter campaign this time around), with the first electric boards shipping towards the end of July. International certification also means riders outside the US can jump on a Boosted board for the first time. Come fall, shipping will be expanded to Australia, New Zealand and much of Europe, including the UK.

Source: Boosted

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Android Wear is getting a massive overhaul this fall

It’s been over two years since Android Wear was introduced, but smartwatches are still very much an unproven commodity. But Google has been making plenty of tweaks and refinements to its watch-based OS to hone the features owners find most useful. Today at its annual I/O developer conference, Google is announcing what Android Wear VP David Singleton is calling its “biggest platform update yet”: Android Wear 2.0. It’s a visual and functional overhaul organized around the three things Google has found to be most important for Android Wear users.

The core uses for Wear so far are glanceable information, messaging and fitness. Each of those parts of the OS have been improved, but the changes actually reach far beyond just that. “For the very first time, we’ve been able to take a holistic pass across the design of the entire system and UI to really hone and tune the interactions around key things that people want to do,” Singleton says.

Some of the most profound changes to Wear come under messaging, so let’s start there. Many of the changes Singleton outlined go far beyond messaging apps, most notably notifications in general. Gone are the white cards that you’d swipe through to see what info Android Wear is pushing to your watch. Now each card has a dark but colored background as a visual cue to what app wants your attention. Hangouts is dark green, Gmail is red, and so forth.

The bigger change is that notifications no longer take up the bottom 10 percent of your watch face. Instead, if you receive a notification, the next time you raise your watch to your eyeline, you’ll see the card slide up into the display as a visual cue. It then recedes and gives you a clean view of the watch face. “It’s an obvious but also quite subtle cue that there’s something to take action on in the stream of cards, but then it goes away again,” Singleton explains.

Of course, you can still swipe up from the bottom of the watch face to go through your various notifications and cards — and there’s a host of new features if you want to reply to a message. You can already reply by voice or with the emoji-sketching feature introduced last year, but now Google’s gone mad and added a full keyboard, handwriting recognition and smart replies to Wear. All are available to third-party apps, as well.

All three of these new reply features are powered in large part by Google’s machine learning. Smart reply works like the same feature in Inbox: After reading your message, the app will suggest salient possible replies that you can just tap to send. If those smart replies don’t say what you want, you can sketch letters on the watch screen or use a tiny keyboard to swipe out a message. You can hunt and peck if you want, but swipe seems like a much better experience on such a small screen.

“We’ve worked really hard to make this work well for small screen devices,” Singleton says about handwriting recognition. “Our machine learning techniques recognize both the strokes that I draw, but also if I draw multiple strokes it can actually adapt the word that’s being recognized based on the context of what went before.” And once you type or swipe a single word with the on-screen keyboard, Wear will start suggesting words to follow it, again based on machine learning. In a lot of cases, you should be able to type or swipe out a couple words and then tap the suggested options to complete your message. I was extremely skeptical of a watch-sized keyboard, but in the brief demo I saw, it worked far better than I would have expected.

There are a few other UI changes, as well. Across the entire system, Google is using swipe-up-and-down gestures to hide navigation and actions. If you pull from the top of the screen, you’ll get the “wearable navigation drawer,” which lets you move through the various screens in an app. Pulling from the bottom brings up the “action drawer,” which is where you’ll find buttons to perform specific functions. “Having to give over a lot of real estate to moving between screens or taking actions means that the user has to do more scrolling,” Singleton says. “It’s harder for apps to just show at a glance the information that you care about.”

The next major change to Android Wear was introduced as a fitness feature — but the implications go far beyond fitness. Any app for Wear can now operate in a “stand-alone” mode, running on the watch itself with unfettered network access. Whether pulling data from your phone’s connection, a WiFi network or a built-in LTE connection, these apps can now operate fully untethered from your phone. If you want to go running with just your watch, for example, this means you can stream music from Spotify without having to sync songs in offline mode first.

Furthermore, stand-alone apps mean you’ll be able to find and install apps directly from your watch. Previously you had to go through your phone to add new apps. Perhaps the most notable thing about this change is that iPhone users with an Android Wear watch will have access to far more apps. Right now Wear is extremely limited if you’re pairing it with an iPhone. But with 2.0, you’ll be able to browse and install stand-alone apps straight to your watch, regardless of what phone you pair it with. So far it’s been hard to recommend Wear devices to iPhone users, but that may change when Wear 2.0 arrives.

The big fitness-focused change here is a new API called the activity recognition API. As you might expect, this lets the watch better identify what your body is doing at any given moment and launch the appropriate app to track your activity. “If I just start running, within about 10 seconds [fitness app] Strava can launch and show my time, my distance and my pace for my run,” Singleton says. “It just launched itself, in the right context.” Unfortunately, it sounds like the API only recognizes walking, running and biking, at least for now.

As for glanceable information, Google has built a new complications API that’ll let any third-party app display whatever it wants on any watch face. The watch face has to support complications, but once it does, any app can plug into it and share information there. The app developer decides what (if any) data it wants to make available. But if you’re building a watch face, as long as it’s designed to support complications, any app will work with it.

That’s a big change from how things have worked: Developers needed to design and build their own custom faces to share data from their app. And there was no way to have a variety of complications from different apps. Now end users will have a lot more options for customizing their watch to show the info they want to see.

Ultimately, Android Wear 2.0 doesn’t radically change the OS: It’s still based primarily on your notifications and Google Now cards, with richer app experiences becoming more common. That said, Google is definitely improving what it sees as Wear’s most important features. That should benefit all users. The updated UI, notifications and complications will be useful to everyone with a Wear device, and compatibility with the iPhone should take a big step forward. Unfortunately, you’ll need to wait a bit to get your hands on version 2.0. Google is seeding it to developers today, but consumers won’t get to try it until later this year.

For all the latest news and updates from Google I/O 2016, follow along here.

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Tumblr rolls out ‘GIF posts’ for iOS users

Do you use Tumblr? Do you love GIFs? Do you also have an iPhone? Beginning today, you can start creating GIF posts via the official Tumblr app on iOS.

Tumblr’s GIF-creation tools have been around since last year, and in fact this very same feature was available this whole time wrapped inside of the Tumblr app’s photo post option. It’s now available as a separate option to make things easier and more apparent to users.

Granted, it’s been launched with a few upgrades, such as the ability to draw on top of your GIFs, place emoji on them, and superimpose text on top. The actual editing options as far as text goes are paltry at best, with some pretty garish options as far as fonts go, but like with Snapchat’s editor you can alter your images as you see fit.

If editing straight from the Tumblr app doesn’t appeal to you, you can still post regular old GIFs from the website or desktop via Tumblr. But being able to turn videos into GIFs or film your own moments for the app is still a handy tool. If you’re without an iPhone and feel left out, don’t worry. Android users will be receiving this update soon as well.

Source: The Verge

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Brain testing app will help diagnose mental health issues

Savonix is a company that claims to take the “analog processes” of cognitive assessment into the digital age. The firm is launching an iOS and Android app that, for the next six weeks, will let anyone examine their own mental ability. Users will have to undergo a series of tests that test the limits of their ability, from smart thinking through to emotional control. Whereas previously these tests would have been worked out on pen-and-paper under the supervision of a stern looking psychologist, now it’s open to anyone. After the open beta closes and all of the kinks have been worked out, the app will become exclusively available to users who license the app through “healthcare organizations.”

I put myself forward as a test subject, spending 40 minutes in a quiet room going through the various examinations. If you’ve ever played Brain Age / Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training on the Nintendo DS, you’ll be familiar with the territory here. If you’re not, then it’s a series of 12 cognition tests, ranging from remembering a list of words to drawing a picture from memory. There are also more advance examinations, such as the Iowa Gambling Task through to spotting someone’s perceived emotion from a still image of their face.

The test is reasonably simple to complete and to do so in the comfortable surroundings of your own home helps. The instructions are unthreatening and, on the most part, easy to understand, although a bug in the app robbed me of my practice run for one of the sections. As a tool to make general conclusions in a quick, easy and cheap manner for mental health professionals, it seems like something of a no brainer. Just be warned: if you don’t have a psychological condition that needs attention, don’t be offended if you get called average.

Source: Savonix (App Store), Savonix (Google Play), Savonix

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