Google Assistant on the iPhone is better than Siri, but not much

Google’s Assistant is finally ready to take on Siri on Apple’s own turf: the iPhone. Yes, you could already play around with the AI-powered chatbot if you downloaded Allo — Google’s mobile-only messenger app — but its functionality was limited. Today, that changes thanks to a new standalone Google Assistant app available on Apple’s App Store (though it’s US-only for now). Eager to check it out, we downloaded it right away and spent some time commanding our Google-branded phone butler around. After a few hours, I’ll say that while I find Google Assistant a lot friendlier and smarter than Siri, it doesn’t quite replace it. At least, not yet.

The first obvious barrier is that while Siri is baked right into iOS, you’ll need to download Google Assistant as a separate app. Plus, accessing Siri is as easy as holding down the iPhone’s home button — with Google Assistant (as with Cortana, Alexa and all other third-party assistants), you’ll need to take the extra step of launching an app. If you have an Android phone, Google Assistant is ready to go without having to download anything at all.

As you might expect, when you first launch Google Assistant on the iPhone, it asks you to log in with your Google account. After you do, it introduces itself to you and invites you to ask it anything you wish. Press the microphone icon at the center to offer a voice command, or if you’d rather not disturb the people around you, you can hit the keyboard icon to type your query.

The first thing you might wonder is if you can make a call or send a message on the iPhone with Google Assistant. The answer is: You can, but it’s not any easier than it would be with Siri. When I say, “Call Mom,” for example, it brings up her name and triggers a phone call, which you can then cancel or confirm. When I say, “Text Mom,” it asks me for my message and then kicks me over to the Messages app on my phone, where I can choose to send it off or not. At least Siri can send messages without me having to open the app.

I also tried to play music on Google Assistant to see how the experience compares to Siri. It was a little, well, uneven. When you first tell Google Assistant to play music, it’ll ask you to choose between Apple Music and YouTube as your default. I chose YouTube and then said, “Play LCD Soundsystem.” It kicked me over to the YouTube app, where it played a random song from the band. Then I went back and said “Play Radiohead,” and it would just give a list of albums. I then tried to switch the default choice to Apple Music, which I somehow was able to do so by saying “Play on Apple Music.” From then on, whenever I said “Play [name of song],” it would play the song on Apple Music. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that I can switch back to YouTube as the default, despite multiple attempts. Sometimes it says it’s playing a song, but nothing happens. Clearly, this feature is still pretty buggy.

As you might expect, Assistant plays particularly well with Google’s own apps. So sending email through Gmail is a snap — say who you want to send the email to, and it’ll kick you over to the Gmail app to follow through. Similarly, it’ll offer directions with Google Maps rather than Apple’s own.

What I found particularly intriguing about the Google Assistant app on iOS is that there’s a whole Explore page full of suggestions on what you can do with it. There’s a list of the usual suggestions, like “How many pounds in a kilogram?” or “What sound does a dog make?”

But interestingly, there’s also a slew of third-party chatbots you can try out. Examples include Genius, a bot that’ll guess the name of a song based on a lyric snippet, or the Magic 8 Ball, which will offer pithy responses to yes-or-no questions. Google Home users likely already know about some of these third-party chatbots, but to mobile users, this is new.

Aside from Explore, there’s also a Your Stuff tab that lists your Reminders, Agenda, Shopping List and quick Shortcuts that you can add to customize Assistant. So, for example, you can say “Late again” to trigger an automatic text to your best friend that you’re running five minutes late. “Cheer me up” will automatically bring up a list of kitten videos on YouTube.

I then tried to do a number of things on both Google Assistant and Siri to compare the two. I discovered that due to iOS restrictions, Google Assistant isn’t able to set alarms, take selfies, launch apps, post to Twitter or Facebook, call Ubers or Lyfts, or use third-party apps like Whatsapp for sending messages. Siri, however, was able to do all of these tasks without issue.

At the same time, Google Assistant was vastly superior when it came to translating languages (Siri often faltered) and remembering context clues. For example, when I asked, “Who’s the president of the United States” and followed it up immediately with “How tall is he?” Google Assistant immediately responded with “Donald J Trump” and “6-feet 2-inches tall.” Siri, on the other hand, could answer the first question, but not the second (it responded with “I don’t know”). Google Assistant also was smart enough to respond to set-a-reminder requests with the place and time in which I wanted to be reminded — Siri just placed them on a Reminders list. Siri was also sometimes just plain wrong — it erroneously said the population of Egypt was 85,800 (it’s actually 91.51 million).

In many ways, Siri pales in comparison to Google Assistant. It can’t understand voice commands as well as Google, and it doesn’t remember your preferences like Google can. Siri makes so many errors that there’s even a Reddit group called “Siri fails” that documents its many mistakes. But as long as it comes preinstalled in every iPhone out there and does a good-enough job, Google Assistant — and all other rivals — will have a hard time replacing it.

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Google Maps uses Street View to keep you on the right path

Google Maps for Android got a slight remake this week, with a couple handy new features on board. It still looks and functions basically the same as the Google Maps you know and potentially love, but Google has smartly integrated some Street View features directly into the navigation view. When you ask the app for directions, you can swipe up from the bottom of the screen to see the all the turn-by-turn steps as before. But now each step is accompanied by a Street View image of that exact turn.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because Google added it to the web version of Maps many year ago, in 2008 in fact (as Android Police notes). Tapping on the Street View image opens it up full-screen, properly facing the direction you’re going on the route. Most people are probably happy enough with the info provided by the turn-by-turn navigation, but if you’re the type to get a little lost these images might help you prepare for the route.

The default view when you pop open the Google Maps app has changed a bit, as well. Now, the bottom third or so of the screen contains info relevant to the time of day and your location, like local lunch spots. Google’s had this location-specific info in Maps for a long time now; they’re just surfacing it in a more obvious way here. These changes should all be available in Google Maps for Android now, but they haven’t rolled out to the iOS app just yet. Given how Google is keen on keeping its apps in parity, these new features will likely hit the iPhone before long.

Via: Android Police

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Google iOS search now finds streaming movies, music and TV

Finding streaming content on your iPhone is getting easier. Google announced on Wednesday that the newest update to its search app on iOS devices will enable users to find TV shows, movies and songs on streaming services. That includes iTunes, Hulu, Amazon Video, Google Play, YouTube and Spotify.

The feature, which is already available on Android and the desktop, displays the icons of streaming services that currently offer the content you’re searching for. So, for example, if you look for Zootopia, the app will pop the “Knowledge Box” at the top of the search results. Below the screenshots, movie ratings and synopsis, you’ll now find links to Netflix, Hulu and wherever else it’s streaming. The same goes for music, though you’ll find links to Apple Music, Spotify and Pandora instead. The app will also show how much you’ll have to pay to rent or buy the content.

It’s not a huge addition, but a helpful one. As mobile culture moves from surfing the web to working within apps, this new feature will help users find what they’re looking for more efficiently, regardless of which service the content resides on.

Source: TechCrunch

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Google might bring curved screens to its next Pixel phone

Google, which has taken a hands-off approach to Android hardware until recently, may be getting more involved in smartphone production. It’s reportedly investing up to $ 875 million in LG Display to develop a stable supply of flexible OLED screens for its Pixel phones, according to reports from Korea’s Yonhap News and Electronic Times (ET). That would help ease supply problems for the next-gen device, as the current model has been nearly impossible to find.

The search giant would invest a trillion won ($ 875 million) and possibly more to secure a production line dedicated to its own smartphones. It may also reserve some flexible OLED screens for other devices like a rumored pair of “Pixel” smartwatches. LG display is reportedly mulling the offer, which would be a strategic investment and not just an order deposit. If it signs on, curved screens for the Pixel would likely be built in LG’s $ 1.3 billion flexible OLED line in Gumi, North Gyeongsang Province.

With its Nexus phones, Google let partners Huawei, LG and HTC control all aspects of the devices and hardware. However, with the Pixel and Pixel XL, Google actually took charge of the design and thus, to some level, the hardware. That was both a good and bad thing — the phone was generally acknowledged as the best-ever Google device, but was only released in the US, UK, Australia, Germany and Canada. Even in those nations, it was pretty damn hard to find.

If the news is accurate (and with supply rumors, that’s a big “if”) then Google would be playing favorites with one Android supplier, LG, over another, Samsung. On the other hand, Samsung might be quite okay with that, considering it’s about to launch its own curved OLED Galaxy S8 smartphone and possibly supply the flexible OLED display for Apple’s next iPhone 8. With OLED tech seemingly the only thing that manufacturers want, it makes sense for Google to cut a deal with LG, which isn’t faring so well with its own devices.

Via: Techcrunch

Source: Yonhap, ET News (translated)

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Google adds voice typing, Doodles and more emoji to Gboard on iOS

Google’s powerful Gboard app might now be on Android, but it’s the iPhone version that is receiving most of the updates. As part of its most recent overhaul, the search giant has extended support to 15 new countries*, and also added a number of new features that make it easier to say what you have to say.

As of now, users have access to all of the latest emoji in iOS 10. If you don’t remember, one of the most useful Gboard features is the ability to search and find the perfect emoji, allowing you to decorate texts and emails without scrolling through endless lists of icons.

By incorporating search into its keyboard, you don’t need to visit Google.com to find what you’re after and share it. Keeping with this theme, the app now also hosts Google Doodles, notifying you of new additions via the animated “G” button. If it’s moving, hit the icon and Gboard will display more information about the Doodle on that particular day.

Perhaps the most useful feature is voice support. Like the native keyboard, all you need to do is press the microphone and talk. If you’ve used Google’s voice services before, you’ll know that they are pretty reliable, so it might come in handy when you have your hands full or need your eyes fixed on something more important.


*Supported languages include: Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Polish, Romanian, Swedish, Catalan, Hungarian, Malay, Russian, Latin American Spanish and Turkish. They can be selected by opening the Gboard app and choosing “Languages”, then “Add Language.”

Via: Google Blog

Source: gBoard (App Store)

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Why didn’t Google make Chromebooks a priority this holiday season?

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone, and the holiday shopping season is in full swing. As such, Google, Microsoft and Apple have all revealed their latest and greatest to get shoppers opening their wallets. Microsoft has the Surface Studio and refreshed Surface Book, not to mention the Xbox holiday lineup, while Apple goes into holiday battle with the new MacBook Pro and the iPhone 7.

Google is trying something different this year. The company has a full ecosystem of products made in-house for the first time: the Pixel smartphone, Google Home assistant and Daydream VR headset. All three products are important to Google’s strategy, but it feels to me like something’s missing: the humble Chromebook. Google’s more traditional computing platform has gone neglected this fall, and it’s especially surprising in light of a few big developments this year.

The first was a report from IDC claiming that Chromebooks outsold Macs in the first quarter of the year. Yes, that’s just one isolated data point, but it shows that there’s a market for Chromebooks, and that market is growing. The second development was Google’s announcement that Android apps would come to Chromebooks this year. That would solve two of the platform’s big weaknesses: the lack of traditional applications and the Chromebook’s limited offline capabilities.

But the rollout of Google Play on Chromebooks has been stilted at best. Only three models have full support as of today, more than six months after Google first announced the feature. There are a few more that can run Android apps if you use the developer version of Chrome OS, but ultimately this isn’t a selling point Google can use to drive interest in the platform. Indeed, the company doesn’t mention the feature at all on its Chromebook website or in its online store. Based on my experiences using Android on Chromebooks, that’s because the experience isn’t quite yet ready for prime time. There’s no sense in launching a half-baked feature, but I had assumed it would be ready to go by the end of this year.

It’s hard to see this as anything but a missed opportunity. Android is the most popular mobile OS by a wide margin, and being able to use the same apps on both your mobile phone and Chromebook would bring a nice layer of integration to the two platforms. But this non-launch means that consumers aren’t aware of this potentially important feature and developers have zero incentive to consider Chromebooks when building apps.

Google is dropping the ball from a hardware perspective as well. The Chromebook Pixel 2 was discontinued at the end of August with no replacement in site. Sure, that computer was never a practical buy, but similar to what the Nexus program did for phones, it provided manufacturers and developers inspiration when building their own Chromebooks. Other manufacturers have picked up the slack to some extent, but I’m surprised Google appears to have given up making its own Chrome OS hardware.

The hardware gulf shows up in Google’s online store too. Right now, you can only buy three different Chromebooks — all from Acer, two with 11-inch screens and large boat anchor with a 14-inch screen. It seems extremely strange that you cannot visit Google’s store and buy a Chromebook with the ever-popular 13-inch screen size.

One possible explanation for the apparent de-prioritization of Chromebooks at Google could be that the company is fully merging Chrome OS with Android, as various rumors have suggested over the years. The most recent rumor claims a merged Android / Chrome OS will power the next Pixel laptop planned to arrive sometime next year. That would certainly explain the silence, and an announcement of that magnitude would likely wait for the next I/O event in late spring. But that’s still another six months from now, not that the timeframe really matters if Google is moving on from Chrome OS.

It’s too soon to know what Google’s plan is, but a Google spokesperson confirmed that the company “remains committed to Chrome OS and Chromebooks.” The spokesperson also said that Google is seeing great momentum for the platform, particularly in the education market. And given that nearly all Chromebooks are made by OEM partners, there’s logic to keeping this fall’s big launch event focused on the “Made by Google” products. But if the company isn’t giving up on Chromebooks, that makes the lack of new hardware this fall all the more strange.

That’s particularly true given that Google has been closing the gap with Apple, a company whose laptop situation is a bit out of whack right now. A Chromebook is clearly a different class of device than a MacBook Pro, but that’s beside the point. If Google isn’t giving customers good devices to buy and making big advances like Android apps a priority, Chromebooks will continue to have a hard time shaking the old “it’s only a browser” stigma.

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Google adds a food delivery shortcut to Maps for iOS

Not content with a simple navigation app, Google has updated Maps for iOS with a handy food delivery shortcut. So when you tap on a nearby restaurant, perhaps to see its opening times, you’ll soon see a button titled “Place an Order.” Tapping this will give you a few different options (these will vary depending on your country and the business in question) such as Grubhub, Seamless and Eat 24 in the US. Select your preferred service and you’ll be thrown across to the relevant iPhone app. It’s a small addition, sure, but one that could make ordering dinner just a little faster at night.

Via: Mac Rumors

Source: Google Maps (iOS)

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Google Pixel tools help you switch from an iPhone

We’ve seen many attempts at helping you switch from one smartphone platform to another, but Google is kicking things up a notch with its Pixel smartphones. The lineup will include software to bring over contacts, media and messages from other phones, including iPhones. It’ll even bring over your iMessages, in case you’re worried that all those blue chat bubbles will disappear while moving to Android. To that end, Google bundles an adapter to help iPhone owners make the leap. These tools aren’t that necessary if you store a lot of your data in the cloud, but it’s evident that Google wants to remove as many pain points as possible — it wants Pixel to appeal to everyone.

Click here to catch all the latest news from Google’s fall event.

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Google stores ‘transient’ Allo messages until you delete them

Back when Google first announced its brand-new chat app Allo, the company told The Verge it would only store messages “transiently,” not indefinitely. But since May, when the app was first announced at Google I/O, things have changed a bit in that regard. A Google spokesperson confirmed that messages are now stored on Google’s end as long as that chat history is available on your personal device. But once you choose to delete the history, it’s also deleted on Google’s end — so users do have control over just how long their messages persist for.

Google told me that it made this change after the company pushed the app out to wide testing around the company; it found that the experience was better when it saved chat history for longer. That history helps Google with things like the app’s auto-reply features, which work better the more data is available for Google to analyze.

For the end user, this means that your messages are stored on Google’s servers, in the same fashion that Hangouts messages and emails from your Gmail account are. The messages are still encrypted between your phone and Google’s servers, and they’re stored using encryption that Google can open up so it’s accessible to their machine learning processes.

If both you and the other participant in your conversation choose to delete a conversation, though, the messages will be removed from Google’s servers. And if you want extra privacy, you can use Allo’s incognito mode, though you won’t get the benefit of the Google Assistant that sets the app apart from other options. Deleting the app itself from my iPhone also deleted all the content of the conversations I was having — but again, if my friends didn’t delete those chats, they’re still out there on Google’s servers.

For most users, this probably won’t be a deal-breaker — it’s not really any different than how most of Google’s many other communication products behave. But there’s also no doubt that there’s been increased attention given to the privacy and security of your online communications. If that’s a concern to you, Allo might not be the best option for you.

Via: The Verge

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‘Pokémon Go’ on iOS is digging deep into linked Google accounts (update)

If you spent your weekend wandering around capturing cartoon monsters on your phone, you’re likely one of millions addicted to Pokémon Go, the latest mobile game sensation. But if you played the game on an iPhone and signed in with your Google account, you also just handed the keys to your entire Google account to Niantic, the developer behind the game. As pointed out by Adam Reeve, a principal architect at Red Owl analytics, nothing in the sign up process indicates that you’re giving the app full access to your account.

Indeed, according to the Google help page, this means that the application will now be able to “see and modify nearly all information in your Google account.” That means that Niantic — and, more importantly, anyone who has access to Niantic’s servers — will be able to read and access all your email, your Google drive docs, your search history, your private Google Photos and a lot more. To be clear, this wouldn’t be a problem if you signed up for the game using Pokemon’s own “Trainer Club” account, but Pokemon’s servers appear to be down. Also, while this full access issue appears to happen predominantly on iOS, a few Android users have reported the same as well.

We’ve reached out to Niantic and to Google to get more information about what happened here. Right now, we hear they’re still trying to clarify what’s going on and we’ll update you on their response if any. For now, however, we recommend revoking Pokemon Go’s full account access by heading to this link and clicking “Remove.” The game should still function if you have it open, but you’ll probably have to reauthorize (and re-revoke) on future sign-ins.

Update: Good news! Niantic Labs and The Pokémon Company issued a response to Engadget, confirming that it’s not actually reading your emails. Still, it has far more access than is necessary for the game and the company says that while it’s working on a fix for the client to only request the correct permission, Google will reduce Pokémon Go’s access on its end ‘soon.’

Just in case there’s any remaining confusion about what the app does or doesn’t have access to, enter Slack security dev Ari Rubinstein. He’s tested out the OAuth token used by Pokémon to see what has access to in a Google account, and posted the results on GitHub. Ultimately, what he’s found is that the problem is likely more related to use of an out-of-date API that caused Google to display a message showing it had “full access” to your account, even though the app ultimately does not have permission to access things like your email or calendar even if it wanted to.

We recently discovered that the Pokémon Go account creation process on iOS erroneously requests full access permission for the user’s Google account. However, Pokémon Go only accesses basic Google profile information (specifically, your User ID and email address) and no other Google account information is or has been accessed or collected. Once we became aware of this error, we began working on a client-side fix to request permission for only basic Google profile information, in line with the data that we actually access. Google has verified that no other information has been received or accessed by Pokémon Go or Niantic. Google will soon reduce Pokémon Go’s permission to only the basic profile data that Pokémon Go needs, and users do not need to take any actions themselves.

For more information, please review Niantic’s Privacy Policy here: https://www.nianticlabs.com/privacy/pokemongo/en


Source: Adam Reeve

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