Posted: May 23rd, 2013 | Author: Frederic Lardinois | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Google, Photos, Search | No Comments » | 0 views
Google almost completely revamped the Google+ photo experience last week, but somehow the company didn’t get around to announce one of the coolest photo-related features in its repertoire yet: Google now uses computer vision and machine learning to let you search your own photos for things like sunsets, food and flowers. I also tried terms like “cars,” “beach” and “bikes” and Google consistently returned the right results. This search is build into Google+, but you can also use the regular Google search and use the query term [my photos of xyz] to find the right images.
That’s a huge step forward for photo search in Google. As Google rightly notes, “searching for your photos can be challenging because the information you’re looking for is visual.” I know I’m anything but diligent about tagging my photos, so this new search feature actually allowed me to find random images I had uploaded to Picasaweb a long time ago.
As Google’s Vic Gundotra noted when he announced the new features for Google+ Photos at I/O last week, Google wants to help its users manage their photos. “Organizing photos is often a hassle,” he said, but oddly enough, the company didn’t announce this search feature at I/O and instead waited a week before launching it.
Posted: May 23rd, 2013 | Author: Frederic Lardinois | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Chrome, Google | No Comments » | 0 views
This isn’t exactly the launch of Google Now for the desktop, which many of us have been patiently waiting for, but Google today announced that it is bringing a richer notifications experience to Chrome, starting with the latest beta. This definitely feels like it brings Google Now yet another step closer to the desktop.
These new notifications, which developers can easily add to their own Chrome packaged apps and extensions, will pop up outside of the browser window and live in a center outside of the browser, so users will be able to receive notifications, even if the browser is not open.
This feature is now available for Windows and Chrome OS users. Google says it’s coming to OS X and Linux “soon.”
Chrome, of course, already features basic web notifications (and if you’re a Chrome and Google Apps user, you’ve probably seen them from services like Gmail). These rich notifications go a step further, though, as developers can add their own full-bleed icons, images, headlines and short messages to them. Developers can also decide for how long notifications should stay on the screen by specifying different priorities for each alert.
The new notification center will be available through the Windows system tray or from the Chrome OS launcher.
Last week, Google also announced its new Cloud Messaging for Chrome push notification service. While Google doesn’t mention them in today’s announcement, there is no reason why those push notifications couldn’t soon arrive in the new notifications center, too.
You can find a full changelog of what’s new in Chrome 28 here.
Posted: May 23rd, 2013 | Author: Frederic Lardinois | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Google | No Comments » | 0 views
Google today announced that it has been taking its Street View Trekker – the compact backpack version of its Street View cars – and its underwater Street View cameras to the Galapagos Islands and that it plans to make these images available on Google Maps later this year. The company worked together with the Charles Darwin Foundation, the Galapagos National Parks Directorate and, for the underwater survey, the Catlin Seaview Survey.
The Street View team, Google says, spent 10 days in the Galapagos to capture imagery from 10 locations that were selected by its partners. During these hikes, Google Maps project lead Raleigh Seamster says, the team “walked past giant tortoises and blue-footed boobies, navigated through steep trails and lava fields, and picked our way down the crater of an active volcano called Sierra Negra.”
Google, of course, has been taking the Trekker across the world already and most recently hiked around the Grand Canyon to take enough images for over 9,500 panoramas there and handed it over to a local hiker to get imagery of Canada’s Arctic territory.
The underwater part of the project, however, is maybe even more impressive. As Google revealed at I/O last week, the Catlin Seaview Survey currently has four underwater Street View cameras and its diver can cover about 2km during a single dive.
The Galapagos expedition, Seamster noted in today’s announcement, marks the first time the team has captured imagery from both land and sea at the same time.
Posted: May 23rd, 2013 | Author: Frederic Lardinois | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Cloud, Google | No Comments » | 0 views
At Google I/O last week, Google announced that its Google App Engine High Replication Datastore (HRD) – its schemaless object data storage service – currently processes over 4.5 trillion transactions per month, has an uptime of 99.95 percent and stores over a petabyte of data. Today, the company announced that it is dramatically reducing the pricing for some Datastore features. Storing a gigabyte of data previously cost $0.24 per month, but the company has now reduced this price to just $0.18 per month.
In addition, Google is also reducing the prices for read and write operations on the service. Write operations now cost $0.09 per 100,000 operations (previously $0.10) and read operations cost $0.06 per 100,000 operations (previously $0.07).
The High Replication Datastore automatically replicates data across multiple Google data centers to ensure that it’s always available. Before launching its HRD solution in 2011, Google previously offered a more traditional Master/Slave replication topology, but this old system has been deprecated since 2012.
Google’s HRD also forms the basis of its newly announced Cloud Datastore – a NoSQL database that’s currently in preview. Cloud Datastore’s pricing is currently coupled to App Engine’s pricing, so its users will see the same price reductions. Google also offers Cloud SQL for developers who need access to a more traditional relational database.
Posted: May 22nd, 2013 | Author: Frederic Lardinois | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Google | No Comments » | 0 views
After previously investing in the company, Google has now acquired Makani Power, a green energy startup that is currently building airborne wind turbines. The acquisition was first reported in Brad Stone’s Businessweek story about Google X, and judging from Stone’s story, the team will join Google X. Google invested $10 million in the Alameda, Calif.-based company in 2006 and another $5 million in 2008. As far as we can see, this also marks the first time Google has acquired a company specifically for its Google X skunkworks.
Stone reports that Google CEO Larry Page approved the acquisition, but as Google X’s director Astro Teller notes, Page said that X “could have the budget and the people to go do this, but that we had to make sure to crash at least five of the devices in the near future.”
The company was founded by Saul Griffith and Don Montague, a former World Cup windsurfer. The price of the acquisition was not disclosed.
Google has confirmed this acquisition and provided us with the following statement from Astro Teller, Google X’s “Captain of Moonshots”:
Creating clean energy is one of the most pressing issues facing the world, and Google for years has been interested in helping to solve this problem. Makani Power’s technology has opened the door to a radical new approach to wind energy. They’ve turned a technology that today involves hundreds of tons of steel and precious open space into a problem that can be solved with really intelligent software. We’re looking forward to bringing them into Google[x].
Makani says it hopes that this acquisition will provide it with “the resources to accelerate our work to make wind energy cost competitive with fossil fuels.” The acquisition comes just a week after the company completed the first autonomous flight of its Wing 7 prototype.
Here is how TechCrunch columnist Matylda Czarnecka described the project back in 2012:
The Makani Airborne Wind Turbines, which resemble mini airplanes, are launched when wind speeds reach 3.5 meters per second. Rotors on each blade help propel it into orbit, and double as turbines once airborne. The blades are tethered to the ground with a cord that delivers power to throw them into the sky and receives energy generated by the turbines to be sent to the grid-connected ground station.
Posted: May 22nd, 2013 | Author: Frederic Lardinois | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Android, Google | No Comments » | 0 views
Google’s Drive app for Android just got a major redesign that brings the Google Now-like card-style look the company introduced with Google Now to its mobile productivity app.
This new look, which Google says is cleaner and simpler than the previews design, will likely be the first thing users notice, but the company has also added a number of new features to the app. Most of these are small, such as the ability to download copies of your files to your Android device, but the new document-scanning features open up a whole new range of use cases for Drive.
The scanner tool, for example, which you can now find under the “Add New” menu, allows you to easily turn paper documents like receipts, letter and billing statements into PDFs. Thanks to Google’s advanced optical character-recognition technology, you can also easily search them later on. This definitely feels a bit like Evernote and it’ll be interesting to see if Google will continue to go down this path in the future updates to the app.
Also new in this version is an updated editing experience for Google Sheets spreadsheets. Users can now adjust font types and sizes for their spreadsheets and change cell text colors and cell alignment right from the application. The app now also finally supports Google’s Cloud Print.
Posted: May 22nd, 2013 | Author: Frederic Lardinois | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Android, Chrome, Google | No Comments » | 0 views
Chrome 27 for the desktop arrived yesterday and today, Google updated Chrome for Android to version 27 as well. While the desktop update mostly focused on improved speed, the Android version actually includes a number of new features. The most important of these is probably the new fullscreen mode for phones. Just like in the iPhone app (or in the old stock Android browser), the toolbar will now disappear as you scroll down.
Also new in this version is a somewhat simplified search experience: searching from the omnibox, Google says, will “keep your search query visible in the omnibox, making it easier to edit, and show more on your search result page.”
The company has been experimenting with a similar feature in the desktop version of Chrome. It essentially turns the omnibox into the Google.com search form instead of switching to the URL for your search and then replicating the search interface it on the search results page. On the desktop, this always throws me for a loop, but given the space constraints on a smaller screen, this will probably allow for a few more lines of search results to show without the need to scroll down.
Other new features in this update include support for client-side certificates (something that’s often needed to connect to enterprise intranets) and tab history support for tablets (so you can use a long press on the back button to bring up your tab history.
Posted: May 21st, 2013 | Author: Frederic Lardinois | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Funding | No Comments » | 0 views
Postmaster, an Austin-based startup that aims to simplify shipping and parcel tracking through an easy to use REST API, launched earlier this year and today, the company announced that it has raised a seed investment round of $600,000 led by Capital Factory, Cloud Power and Zelkova Ventures, as well as a consortium of angel investors. The Postmaster team plans to use this additional funding – it launched as a member of the last TechStars Cloud class – to expand its development team and build additional carrier integrations.
With Postmaster, e-commerce developers and merchants can easily add shipping features to their existing solutions. The service, for example, allows users to quickly compare rates across FedEx, UPS, Lone Star Overnight Canada Post and the USPS. This allows shippers to figure out what’s the fastest and most cost-effective way to ship a given parcel because the aggregate data Postmaster collects allows it to predict point-to-point shipping times for any given carrier. That’s data that companies like Amazon have for their shipping operations, but that’s not typically available to small businesses. Postmaster also, of course, allows its users to create shipping labels through its API and offers tracking, reporting and auditing tools.
The company also today announced that it has partnered with Lone Star Overnight (LSO), a shipping company that focuses on overnight deliveries to Texas, Oklahoma, western Louisiana and southern New Mexico (and which has partnerships to serve all of California and Mexico, too). Using Postmaster, LSO’s customers now get access to all of its services through a white-labeled portal.
This marks Postmaster’s first integration with a shipping carrier. “Our partnership with Lone Star Overnight is a win-win for everyone involved ,” said Jesse Lovelace, CEO and Co-Founder of Postmaster in a prepared statement today. “Postmaster will gain access to a wealth of shipping data instantly for even greater route optimization – not only for LSO customers, but for all Postmaster merchants. Additionally, this is the first simple and truly cross-carrier portal on the market for the public, solving some inherent issues that result from how siloed the carriers have traditionally been from one another.”
Shipping is obviously a pretty hot area right now, but the focus has mostly been on same-day shipping, with Google, for example, buying BufferBox and launching its Shopping Express service, eBay testing same-day delivery in Chicago and Dallas and startups like Deliv trying to bring same-day delivery services to even more businesses and customers. ShipHawk, a TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2013 Startup Alley audience choice winner, is also looking to make a dent in the shipping market, but unlike Postmaster, which focuses more on developers, Shiphawk targets consumers and small businesses directly.
Posted: May 20th, 2013 | Author: Frederic Lardinois | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Android | No Comments » | 0 views
Maluuba, the Waterloo, Canada-based Siri competitor and TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2012 Battlefield finalist, today announced that it has added two new features to its voice-powered personal assistant app for Android and Windows Phone: sports and TV schedules. With this, Maluuba users in the U.S. and Canada can now ask it for near real-time sports results and query the service for TV listings in their area by name, genre or channel.
One aspect of the service the Maluuba team has always been proud of is the fact that it has managed to add additional domains to the service quickly. The service started out with 18 domains, including restaurants, movies and general knowledge queries, but the team has continued to expand the range of topics it can handle since then. It has also rapidly expanded internationally since its launch and launched its Windows Phone 8 app earlier this year, too.
With the new sports integration – and thanks to Maluuba’s expertise in natural language processing – users can ask Maluuba questions like “When is the next Blackhawks game?” or ‘How many wins do the New York Yankees have?” and get answers almost immediately. To get this data, the company has partnered with Sports Direct. For TV shows, Maluuba now understands questions like “When’s The Big Bang Theory playing next?” or “What’s on Channel 5?”
“These features are a testament to our vision. Users want exact results, not just blue links that are merely related,” Mohamed Musbah, Maluuba’s product manager, said in a canned statement today. ”When you first use Sports or TV search on Maluuba, you’ll realize how easy and fast search can be.”
With its recently announced “conversational search” feature, Google is also adding more voice and NLP-powered search tools to its feature set. Maluuba, right now, still seems to be ahead of Google in many areas, The company tells me that it believes Google’s entry into this market validates Maluuba’s model and the team doesn’t seem to be afraid of Google for now.
Posted: May 19th, 2013 | Author: Frederic Lardinois | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Google, HTML5 | No Comments » | 0 views
While it was missing the skydiving antics of last year’s event, Google’s I/O keynote last week wasn’t short on product launches. In between the splashy updates to Google Maps, Search, Android and everything else Google announced, the company also briefly talked about Web Components for a few minutes. While Google’s Sundar Pichai noted that it’s still early days for this technology, he also said he believes that “the vision for it is clear” and that it will allow developers to build “elegant user interfaces that work across all form factors.”
Web Components are clearly a topic that’s close to the heart of a number of Chrome developers. Many of them, for example, cited it as one of the Chrome features they are most excited about at a fireside chat later in the week.
A number of Google engineers are also working on Project Polymer, which aims to write a web application framework that’s built upon the idea of Web Components and will allow developers to use the ideas behind Web Components on browsers that don’t even feature all of the necessary technologies yet.
The fact that it made an appearance during the keynote, right next to WebGL and other more established web development techniques, makes it pretty obvious that this is a technology that Google believes has the potential to change how developers write web apps going forward.
It’s worth noting that, for the time being, developers can’t rely on this to work in all browsers. Chrome Canary includes support for Web Components, but it’s hidden behind a number of flags. Mozilla will likely start adding support for it in Firefox soon, too. Most importantly, though, the Polymer project aims to bring the concept to all browsers with the help of a polyfill.
Web Components relies on four pieces – the template element, decorators (which apply templates to CSS), custom elements (which allow developers to create their own elements) and the Shadow DOM (which sounds ominous, but which really just defines how all of the other pieces play together and shield the other three pieces from the regular DOM if necessary).
Putting all of this together, including Custom Elements, developers can suddenly create their own HTML tags like after creating them using the tag. they can also extend existing elements. In addition, Web Components also allow developers to more easily separate content from presentation and the Shadow DOM ensures that the styles you create for the rest of your site don’t interfere with the widgets you build using Web Components.
All of this sounds pretty dry, but if it catches on – and there is no reason to think it won’t – this will change how developers write web apps (Google’s Eric Bidelman calls it a “tectonic shift for web development”) and there are some inherent advantages to Web Components that will also help it speed up the web browsing experience for users. In the end, though, this represents a completely new way for writing web applications and it will probably take a bit before the repercussions of this evolutions fully sink in.
If you want to take a deeper dive into this topic, take a look at this presentation here.