Google Now Gets An Update – Brings A Widget, And A Couple Of New Cards

Google today released a new update for Google Search on the Play Store for Android 4.1+ devices. The new update brings with it a handy lock screen and desktop widget for quick access to Google Now cards, a slightly re-designed Google Now weather card, and a couple of new cards.

Using Zillow, Google Now will automatically show you the prices of real estate nearby along with more information about a specific listing. Another new card is the Movies card that now shows you the ratings of the movie from Rotten Tomatoes. Also, if you buy the tickets from Fandango, the Movies card will automatically pop-up the ticket when you arrive at the movie hall.

Lastly, with this update Google has also added the ability to display the latest Google Doodle instead of the usual Google Now cover page for your city.

The official change-log is below -:

– Google Now widget for home screen or lock screen
– Movie passes from Fandango
– Movies now includes ratings from Rotten Tomatoes
– Real estate listings from Zillow when in the market for a home
– Music button when a song is playing in voice mode (US only)
– Support for US college sports

The widget is definitely a bit clunky but should come in useful for quick access to the Google Now cards. The addition of US college sports to the Sports card will also be appreciated by a lot of sports lover in the United States.

Google Spotted Testing Quick View for Wikipedia in Mobile Search

Google Search is known to test new features on random unsuspecting users. At any point of time, there are probably several different versions of its search page floating around. The latest feature that has been spotted in the wild is “Quick View” for mobile search results.

Google has been offering the Quick View option for documents (PPT, PDF etc.) for quite some time. Now, it’s toying with the idea of introducing Quick View for websites. Wissam Dandan spotted that Google is displaying a Quick View link in the search results page for Wikipedia pages. Tapping on the link opens up the mobile version of Wikipedia.

Google-Mobile-Quick-View-1 Google-Mobile-Quick-View-2

Currently this feature seems to be limited only to Wikipedia. However, there’s no reason why Google couldn’t expand this feature to include all webpages. It can either attempt to load the mobile website whenever possible, or load a stripped down version (sort of like Readability mode) of the webpage. Right now this feature doesn’t really make much of a difference; however, I like the concept. Hopefully, Google will expand the feature and roll it out to all mobile users in the future.

New Horizontal Menus in Google Search Results

Earlier in June, Keith had first reported that Google is testing out a new layout for it’s search results page by moving the vertical menu on the left over to the top. It looks like Google has permanently implemented the change as several numbers of users have started to see the new look for Google’s search results pages.

However, I find the new Google search horizontal menu completely unnecessary, or the old menu which was on the left hand side served better. There is also the dark horizontal navigation menu on top, which is pretty much same as the new one, just that the options (services) are shuffled. This makes the new menu redundant.

New Google Search Layout

Google should have at least the made the position of one of the navigation bars fixed, so that the bar sticks to the top when the user scrolls down, and does not have to scroll back to the top when they want to change page.

Jon Wiley, Lead Designer, Google Search says that,

“You’ll notice a new simpler, cleaner design on the search results page – we’ve been working on ways to create a consistent search experience across the wide variety of devices and screen sizes people use today. We started with tablets last year, got it to mobile phones a few weeks ago, and are now rolling out to the desktop.

With the new design, there’s a bit more breathing room, and more focus on the answers you’re looking for, whether from web results or from a feature like the Knowledge Graph”

There’s a whole lot of space on the left hand side and we’re not clear whether how Google will make use of it. Google also enhanced the search results page by adding several new features including Knowledge Graph and a dedicated application search for Mobile, PC & Browser Apps.

Do You Know Your Bacon Number?

If you lived through the mid 90s, you more than likely heard of, if not played, a popular game called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. You probably remember him for his famous role in the movie “Footloose”. In 1994, a group of college students got the idea to invent a game that sought to connect Kevin Bacon to any actor in 6 degrees or less. I remember some people were wicked serious about this game. As a matter of fact, the game ended becoming a board game. Now, it has made its mark on the web as Google has actually programmed Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon into its search engine.

Kevin Bacon

Playing the game on Google is very simple. In the search bar, type in “Bacon Number” and then an actor or actresses name. Below, you can see where I chose Prince and you can see that his “Bacon Number” is 3.

Prince's Bacon Number

Notice that there are 3 lines listed showing how Prince is associated with Kevin Bacon. I will go ahead and apologize to you in advance, as if you needed another time waster in your life. Unfortunately, this one can be pretty addictive.

The Guardian had a nice piece about Bacon and his attitude about the game. He thought it was negative at first. He thought it was some new way to poke fun at him, but apparently he ended up meeting the students that invented the game and even wrote the intro to their book. Kevin actually turned this whole thing into something very positive. He started a charitable website called http://sixdegrees.org. It is a social networking site that connects people to charities and even lets them start their own charitable campaigns. Kevin makes a personal statement on the “about” page of his website.

I want to thank those partners — and especially, I want to thank you, for making a difference in this small world.

All the best,
Kevin

Take a moment to play the game on Google, then swing over to the Six Degrees website and see if there is a cause near and dear to your heart.

Google Celebrates Its 14th Birthday

It seems hard for me to fathom that Google turns 14 today. Google was officially incorporated on September 4, 1998 and the world has never been the same since. What started out so simply, as evidenced by the picture below, is now the driving force behind much of the web.

Google 1998
Google’s Beta Page 1998 (credit: Anakin101:Wikipedia)

Google started as a research project at Stanford University. Larry Page and Sergey Brin set out to develop a new page ranking technology that analyzed back links to webpages to score their importance. According to Wikipedia, because Page and Brin wanted to show that they were serving large amounts of data, they originally wanted to call the search engine “googol”. Googol is a large number represented with a 1 followed by a hundred zeroes. Somehow, through a misspelling the company became “Google” instead.

Google sure has come a long way since those early days of the web. I remember how impressed I was when I first used Google’s search engine. I was just blown away with how accurate the results were and with how many results were presented. It is obvious that I wasn’t the only one as the word “Google” actually became a verb to represent you were searching for something. Google grew exponentially and became the search engine of choice for most of the world. In 1999, Google came up with the genius idea to sell text-based ads on its website based on keywords. It was a great idea because it contextualized ad results to the consumer, but because they were text-based, they loaded quickly on the screen. For those of you who remember dial-up, speed was everything back then.

It’s hard to imagine a world without Google anymore. Since their initial IPO in 2004, Google has branched out to find new revenue streams and innovate in other areas. Their raging success has not been met without opposition, however. It seems they have been sued by every major player in the Internet industry for some reason or another. I guess that is the price for fame. Let’s just take a second and think about some of Google’s contributions to the world:

  1. Gmail – Google got into the webmail game in 2004. One of the biggest contributions it made to email was grouping messages into conversations instead of just listing messages as they came in. They also were the first to offer contextual ads based on content in your inbox. That was met with more than a little controversy.
  2. Adwords – Google has made a killing on pay-per-click and Adwords, but let’s face it, so have a lot of web sites. People participating in Google’s ad programs have prospered quite a bit.
  3. Chrome – Here is another September birthday. In September 2008, Chrome debuted as an alternative to Internet Explorer. Tabbed browsing and being able to search directly from the address bar were a couple of new offerings that Chrome made available. Though,  Firefox probably had tabbed browsing by then too. Chrome is a fast and secure alternative to Internet Explorer.
  4. Google Apps – There are so many apps, it’s hard to list them here. However, the main draw of Google apps is that you can create and share documents and spreadsheets on the web. They don’t require expensive desktop software to run and you don’t have to be tethered to your computer to use them.
  5. Android – As of this month, Android accounts for 52% marketshare of smartphones. The Android tablets and smartphones are simply dominating the market and giving Apple all the competition it wants.
  6. Google Doodles – How can I not mention the Google doodles? Google doodles started as a result of Page and Brin attending a festival and they redesigned the logo as sort of an “out of office” greeting. Their website http://www.google.com/doodles/about tells a lot about the history. I look forward to major birthdays and events when Google publishes their new doodles.

This just barely scratches the surface of all the contributions that Google has made to our world. Perhaps most notable is their commitment to their unofficial motto “Don’t Be Evil”. In a way, I believe the existence of Google has kept others in the industry honest. At the very least, they have busted up the Microsoft monopoly on the web. Hopefully, Google will continue to embrace a culture of doing good in our world and will achieve success for many years to come!

Google Now For Android Gets An Update — Now Smarter Than Before!

Last night, Google released a new update for the Google Search app in the Play Store. The new update mainly brings enhancements to the Google Now functionality with support for Movies, Public Alerts, the ability to select your favorite sports team and finally, support for Korean language.

With the new Movies feature, Google Now will automatically notify users of the timings of the movies playing in a nearby movie hall. The Public Alerts feature will automatically notify users of any emergency such as earthquakes or Tsunamis.

Lastly, post the update, users can select their favorite Sports team from the Google Now settings menu. This will then allow Google Now to notify you of all the upcoming matches and results of existing matches of your favorite sports team. As of now, the list of teams are limited to Soccer, Baseball and Football. The update is already live in the Google Play Store, and can be downloaded for free.

Oh! Google also released an update for Google Maps in the Play Store that brings turn-by-turn biking navigation to the app.

Google Now Includes Gmail in Search Results

Yesterday, in a blog post titled “Building the search engine of the future, one baby step at a time“, Google unveiled some interesting information about the future of its search engine. Perhaps its most surprising announcement, is that it plans to include information from your Gmail account in your search results.

gmail result
Gmail Search Results (Courtesy Google Blog)

At the moment, this program is voluntary and you have to join their field trial to participate in the service. The link for the trial is https://www.google.com/experimental/gmailfieldtrial. Pictured above, you can see an example of what the Gmail results might look like. In Google’s example, they imagine that you may be going on a biking trip. When you type the search query “biking in tahoe”, you will get the typical search results, but out to the side you will see email results from friends where they may have suggested good trails or eateries nearby.

Some other cool features they’re considering involves organizing information from Gmail in a very readable way. The example they used was typing the query “my flights” into the search box. Pictured below, you can see they pull the pertinent information from your email and display directly on your search results page.

flights
(Courtesy Google Blog)

Google is trying to make its search more relevant. One of the ways it wants to do this is by making information more personal. The biggest threat to Google search is Facebook. Simply put, Facebook has ridiculous amounts of personal information on its users and if it ever figures out a way to “monetize” this information, look out Google! Another point that Google made was about its voice recognition service. Below, you can watch a sample of Google’s enhanced speech recognition for search.

[Video Link]

Google is trying to do everything it can to enhance its search. It seems that most of its diversification attempts haven’t been very successful which leaves it in the vulnerable position of being a one trick pony. Unfortunately, past endeavors to tap into user data exposed some serious privacy issues. It appears that Google is being a little more cautious with this attempt as it currently is an opt-in service.

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean Unveiled – Everything You Need To Know About It!

Google just announced the next version of Android (4.1) known as Jelly Bean. Jelly Bean builds upon Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and includes lots of new features, usability and UI enhancements and performance improvements. If you missed the Google I/O keynote, here is everything that you need to know about Android 4.1 Jelly Bean -:

Project Butter and Updated Launcher

One important part of Jelly Bean is Project Butter. Project Butter includes Vsync, Triple buffering, improved touch experience, lower CPU usage, and improved usage of system resources. Basically, Project Butter is aimed at improving the overall speed of Android OS and Apps as a whole to provide a ‘butter’ smooth UI experience. According to Google, Jelly Bean is the fastest version of Android yet!

Jelly Bean also includes a new and updated launcher that automatically resizes the widgets if its size is too big, or re-aligns the icons to fit the widget on a specific homescreen.

New Prediction System and 18 New Input Languages

Google also updated the keyboard predictive system in Jelly Bean to make it more Swiftkey like. The keyboard now tries to predict the next word the user is going to type, which is similar to Swiftkey. The Voice to text feature also got a major update, and now works without a working data connection. Apart from this, Google has also added support for 18 new Input languages including Hindi and Persian language. There is also an Arabic font for Arabian users.

Updated Camera App

The Camera app in Ice Cream Sandwich got a pretty major upgrade in Ice Cream Sandwich, but Google has once again updated it in Jelly Bean. The new camera app allows users to navigate through their photos right from the camera app extremely quickly. Users can use the pinch-to-zoom option to zoom out and see all the pictures they have clicked at once in a card-stacked view. They can delete any picture by just swiping it out. An Undo option is also present for that oops moment.

Android Beam With File Sharing Support

In Ice Cream Sandwich, Google introduced Android Beam that allowed users to share data between other NFC enabled devices by just tapping them together. However, this only work for a limited set of data like an app’s play store link, a YouTube video etc. With Jelly Bean, Google went ahead and updated Android Beam to allow support for sharing for videos and pictures via Android Beam using Wi-Fi Direct. S-Beam on the Galaxy S III provides the same feature as this but the former works only with another Galaxy S III, while the latter will work on any Android device with a NFC chip running Jelly Bean.

Updated Notification System

The Notification bar got a slight UI update in Ice Cream Sandwich, but with Jelly Bean Google has once again proved that Android’s notification system is better than iOS6 and Windows Phone. Now, users can directly call, like, check-in or message a friend right from the notification bar. For example, users can also view their new streams in Pulse right from the notification bar by just using a simple pinch-to-zoom gesture.

New Google Search Experience

Google has updated the Google Search bar and the whole Google search experience to take it to the next level. Not only is it faster, smarter and easier to use, it also provides users with direct answers to their question using Google’s Knowledge Graph. The Voice Search feature has also been updated, and is more accurate than before. It will also reply back to users with the answers ala Siri.

Google Now

Google Now uses a user’s search history, calendar entries and other personal information to provide them with relevant information in real-time. It will automatically provide users with bus schedules when they are near a bus station, or the quickest route to their home when they leave their home, or by provide them with the scores of your favorite team or by providing relevant information when they travel abroad.

App Encryption and Smart APK Updates

With Jelly Bean, Google has introduced App encryption. The app will be encrypted before the download begins and once it is downloaded on the device as well, using a device specific key making them more secure.

Smart APK Updates will allow users to download users to download only the ‘updated’ parts of the APK and not the whole APK. This will help in not only reducing the size of the APK updates, but will also reduce the bandwith usage for quite a lot of users. The Smart APK updates feature will be available for Android 2.3+ Gingerbread devices.

Chrome

With Jelly Bean, Google has replaced the stock Ice Cream Sandwich browser with Chrome in Nexus 7. This also marks the death of Flash for Android. For other devices, the stock Android browser will still be shipped as the default one.

Availability

The Android 4.1 Jelly Bean update will be available for Galaxy Nexus, Nexus S and the Motorola XOOM sometime in mid-July as an OTA update.

Image Source – TheVerge

Google Testing Horizontal Menus in Search Results

Google has been continuously enhancing their Google search results by adding several new features including Knowledge Graph and a dedicated application search for Mobile, PC & Browser Apps. In addition to that, they also rolled out a complete new redesign for Google Search.

Google Search Old Vertical Navigation

One of the changes from the new design from Google was the left hand navigation menus which allowed you to search within several different Google products and also refine your search (see screenshot above). However, it looks like Google has started testing a new design which has a Horizontal menu as seen in the screenshot below.

Google Horizontal Menu Navigation

The new search results page moves the navigation below the search box and also reduces the space it used in the earlier left hand side navigation design. I found the new horizontal navigation to be more useful than the left hand side, it it worked properly that is.

Right now it looks like the horizontal navigation was rolled out accidentally because clicking on the “More down arrow key”  does not do anything. Additionally, the “Settings icon” and the “Search tools” links are broken as well.

Looking at the problems with current navigation it looks like someone just pushed the wrong button at Google However, the new navigation is definitely better and may be rolled out to users in the next weeks or so.

The Big Daddy of Search Just Got Better with Knowledge Graph

Google has just rolled out the new Knowledge Graph that is expected to make your search experience more engaging. Until now, search was all about queries matching keywords. The new technology is designed to deliver a more human approach to the search results rather than just a list of links. With Knowledge Graph, Google can now shed light on people, places, books and many other such things that are correlated to the query. Google presents you with 500 million objects along with 3.5 billion facts that relates those objects. That’s an impressive count to start with. Let us take a closer look at what it promises to do.

Pinpointing The Search:

taj-mahal-google-knowledge-graph

Every time you search for something that may have different interpretations, you are presented with a list of possible things that relate to the search. For instance, a search for the term Taj Mahal will now show Shahjahan’s monument, a musician whose stage name was Taj Mahal and even a casino likewise with a same name. Click any of those and links having matching keywords or relevant information will show up.

Summary and Related Information:

frank-lloyd-wright-google-knowledge-graph

The search for the term Frank Lloyd Wright will now show a summary about the versatile architect with information such as date of birth, education, projects etc. In addition to these, Google will also show people and data that may be of importance or concern to the user. A similar search about Marie Curie, the Noble winning erudite, will portray her as a person and not just a search term, thus depicting her as a mother(name of children) and a wife(name of spouse) as well apart from showcasing her achievements in the field of radioactivity.

Delving Deeper:

The another side of search that intrigues a user apart from the information he/she was looking for is something that he/she found out of the blue. The new search is capable of doing that(as the press release publicizes). Web seemed great so far, however, at times the pool of information seems overwhelming. The new search feature will perhaps be better enjoyed for consuming information easily.

The Knowledge Graph was rumored to change the search experience altogether and with the official launch, the response so far from the media bigwigs are quite pleasant to summarize. The feature is yet to be available for all but will soon be rolled out globally. Since Google has already implemented social search with Google+ search integration, the new technology is expected to provide better results based on facts from knowledge bases like Wikipedia, Freebase or CIA World Factbook which with time will be augmented by the search habits and shared information not only by any user but his/her network as well. Although Google predicts Google+ to be the next step, the improvement to the core product is a welcome change. To put it in a line, “I’m feeling luckier”, are you?

[via Google Blog, Forbes]