10 January 2015

Material Design for Google Maps Transit Directions

The desktop Google Maps got a Material Design update: the timetable for transit directions is now displayed in an overlay. Just click More options and times next to Google's transit directions to see the new interface. Here's an example.

"If you're taking public transit, you'll see details about the transit line, trip duration, and schedule. To see other public transit times and enter a specific time, click More options and times. From here, you can see key information: overall travel time for your route, time spent walking (dotted lines), time spent on transit (solid lines), transportation lines used. To see the next scheduled departure, click Leave now. Or choose a different time and date for your directions in the boxes at the top. Click on a trip to select it and see it on the map. Click Route options to narrow your directions down to a particular type of transit. You can also choose Fewer transfers and Less walking," informs Google.

{ Thanks, Emanuele Bartolomucci and Jérôme Flipo. }

08 January 2015

First TVs Powered by Android TV

Android TV is Google's second attempt to bring Android to TVs (the first one was Google TV). After Chromecast's success and the launch of Nexus Player, Google partnered with a few TV manufacturers that will launch Smart TVs powered by Android TV.

"This spring, Sony, Sharp and TP Vision, with its range of Philips TVs, will start shipping televisions powered by Android TV. These have all the goodness of Android TV built in so you won't need to plug anything extra into your television. You can use a single remote to watch live TV channels and play games, movies or shows from Google Play and your apps. These televisions feature voice search, to help you quickly find what you want, and they're Google Cast Ready so you can cast your favorite entertainment from your phone or tablet to the big screen," mentions Google.

From The Verge: "Live at CES 2015, Sony's CEO Kaz Hirai announced that the company's new smart TVs will run on Google's new platform for television, Android TV. The remote control for the TV is essentially a giant trackpad, so that you can navigate the Android TV interface more easily. The remote also comes with a microphone, to make searching easier."

Other manufacturers use different operating systems: Samsung uses Tizen, LG uses WebOS, while Panasonic launches Firefox OS Smart TVs. It's interesting to notice that Samsung and LG use their own operating systems to power smartwatches, smart TVs, smart washing machine, smart vacuum cleaners, cars and more. "The OS of everything - Tizen is the open-source operating system for all device areas," mentions Tizen's homepage. Having their own operating system allows them to control their own destiny and launch new devices without relying on software from Google.

Google Now Tests Contextual Images

Sterling Alvarez, a reader of this blog, noticed a new Google Now background image that shows some buildings from downtime Miami. He's from Miami, so it's likely that Google tests a feature that displays images related to your location.

Here's another image that's displayed in the morning:

{ Thanks, Sterling. }

07 January 2015

Wrong Google Answer

Google's answers aren't always that great. Google picks the snippet for a search result and places it in a special card that is supposed to provide a quick answer. When searching for [Cheapest Health Insurance], Google provides the following answer: "Don't wait to enroll! Humana can help you find a plan for you and your family with benefits you want and offers plans at a variety of prices. You must enroll in a plan by February 15 to have coverage in 2015!". Obviously, the snippet is an ad and not an informative answer to the query.

There are questions that are better left unanswered and this is one of them.

{ via Google Groups. Thanks, Thomas P. }

YouTube Tests a Player With Hidden Controls

YouTube tests a new feature that hides the player's controls when you're watching a video. To see the controls, you need to mouse over the player and you'll be able to pause the video, use the seek bar, change the volume, hide annotations, switch to the theater mode, play the video in full screen. Player controls are always displayed when the video is paused and after the video ends.

While the interface is cleaner and it focuses more on the video that's currently playing, a small seek bar would still be useful, so you don't have to keep moving your mouse to find when the video ends.

Here's how you can enable the experimental player. If you use Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari or Internet Explorer:

1. open youtube.com in a new tab

2. load your browser's developer console:

* Chrome or Opera 15+ - 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

* Internet Explorer 8+ - press F12 and select the "Console" tab

* Safari 6+ - if you haven't enabled the Develop menu, open Preferences from the Safari menu, go to the Advanced tab and check "Show Develop menu in menu bar". Close Preferences and then press Command-Option-C to show the console.

* Opera 12 - press Ctrl+Shift+I for Windows/Linux or Command-Option-I for Mac, then click "Console".

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

document.cookie="VISITOR_INFO1_LIVE=SR64eWDDWNU; path=/; domain=.youtube.com";window.location.reload();

4. press Enter and close the console.

To disable the experiment, use the same instructions, but replace the code from step 3 with this one:

document.cookie="VISITOR_INFO1_LIVE=; path=/; domain=.youtube.com";window.location.reload();

{ via Rubén Gómez }

05 January 2015

Google Cast for Audio

Chromecast works well for streaming music, but it's not always convenient to use a TV for this. Now that the Google Cast technology from Chromecast is added to other devices (Nexus Player, TVs powered by Android TV), Google Cast-enabled speakers make sense.

"Google Cast for audio embeds the same technology behind Chromecast into speakers, sound bars, and A/V receivers. Just like Chromecast, simply tap the cast button in your favorite music or radio app on Android, iOS, or the web, and select a Google Cast Ready speaker to get the party started," informs Google.

Instead of casting music to TVs, you're casting it directly to speakers. The downside is that you need new speakers that work with Google Cast.

"The first Google Cast Ready speakers will first be available in the US this spring from lead brands Sony, LG, and HEOS by Denon with more brands coming later in 2015 with the support of chip makers Broadcom, Marvell, MediaTek and system integrator Libre Wireless. These products will join a growing Google Cast ecosystem, which includes more Android TVs, game consoles and set-top boxes."

In many ways, Google Cast is Google's take on AirPlay with a cross-platform twist. Apple's AirPlay started with audio and then it was enabled for video. There are many AirPlay speakers and you can also use Apple's Airport Express to connect speakers. Maybe Google should release a Chromecast version with audio output, so that you don't have to buy new speakers or use adaptors like this one.

Change All-Day Event Notifications in Google Calendar

Google Calendar now lets you change notification time for all-day events. When you create a new all-day event or edit an existing event, you can ask Google to notify you X days before the event at HH:MM.

You can also set a default notification time in the settings. "Event notifications tell you about an all-day event at a specified time some number of days before it begins. For example, if you'd like to be alerted about an all-day event at 9 am the day before it occurs, you'd set a notification," informs Google.

Eric Ward, a reader of this blog, noticed this new feature and he says that he's "glad to see this feature because previously the reminder was by default at 4:50 pm on the day before the event with no ability to set the time." Google Calendar's help center hasn't been updated and it still informs users that "reminders for All Day events are based on 5:00 pm the day before the event (according to your current time zone). So, if you choose to receive your reminder 10 minutes before your All Day event on August 24th, you'll be reminded on August 23rd at 4:50 pm".

{ Thanks, Eric Ward. }

04 January 2015

Google Cards for Synonyms and Antonyms

Google has a clever way to adapt the dictionary card based on your query. If you search for [work synonym], Google only includes a list of synonyms for each meaning. When you search for [work antonyms], Google shows a list of antonyms for each meaning of the word. Expand the card to see all the definitions and to find more information about word, including etymology and use over time.

For some reason, when you search for synonyms, Google shows most definitions, so the dictionary card can become quite big if the word has a lot of meanings. Here's an example for "work", which shows the unexpanded card. As you can see, the card uses more space than the list of search results.

Google, Did You Know?

When searching for a song, Google usually shows a big card that links to the YouTube music video. The card includes a thumbnail and some information about the song (artists, album, release date, awards, lyrics). It's now clear if Google obtains that information from Wikipedia or from other sources, but sometimes Google's algorithms make mistakes.

Pentatonix has recently released a cover of "Mary, Did You Know" and Google shows the right YouTube music video when you search for [Mary, did you know]. Unfortunately, the information placed below the video thumbnail is inaccurate. Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd aren't the right artists, the song is not from 2002 and the album is not called "The Gift".

"'Mary, Did You Know?' is a Christmas song with lyrics and music written by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene. It was originally recorded by Christian recording artist, Michael English on his solo debut album in 1991. A duet version recorded by Wynonna Judd and Kenny Rogers peaked at No. 55 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks charts in 1997," informs Wikipedia.

Fortunately, there's a "Feedback" link that lets you report mistakes.

Google's In the News

Google's search results used to include a news section that featured relevant articles from Google News. This section was replaced by "In the News", a feature that goes beyond Google News and also shows popular YouTube videos, forum threads and posts from blogs that aren't indexed by Google News.

For example, a search for [Nexus 6] returns 3 "in the news" results and none of them is from a site currently indexed by Google News. The first result is a Nexus 6 unboxing, the second one is a blog post from XDA Developers that shows how to enable double-tap to wake and the third result is a PocketNow post about re-enabling tethering.

A search for [gifs] returns 3 results from reddit, which is not indexed by Google News:

Back in October, a Google spokesperson said: "We will be pulling from all over the web which means that we will present as diverse a range of voices as possible to ensure we get users to the answer they are looking for."