You’re Probably Going to Want to Buy Google’s New Device Very Soon

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If I were to tell you that a creative and reasonably priced item with a unique, yet practical, solution to a common modern day need was coming out, you wouldn’t be blamed for looking for the obligatory Kickstarter link, and start wondering how much the minimum contribution is.

That’s because while that site is heavily flawed (for instance, some developers exceed their requested amount by almost a $100,000 and still blow all the money, not release the product, and fail to have any reasonable plans for a refund in sight), it’s a consistently entertaining source of devices that make you go “Hmmm, interesting” possibly while smoking a pipe.

But this particular device actually comes not from Kickstarter, but from our friends at Google.

Called the Chromecast, it’s capable of broadcasting content from popular devices (be it iOS, Android, or computer) straight to your TV. Admittedly that’s a feature only impressive if you’ve never heard of HDMI, DVI, or VGA cables, but the Chromecast gains a leg up in that it’s not a cable at all, but rather an HDMI plug-in that can transmit the feed wirelessly from your selected device. All you have to do is find a compatible program, select a cast button, and you can view the feed from that program on your TV.

Of those programs, only the presence of Netflix seems to be superfluous, considering that anyone with an HDMI port on their TV likely has Netflix compatibility for it in one way or another. The other compatible programs like Youtube, Google Play, and Google Chrome are much more encouraging, with that last one really driving home the point that the Chromecast is aiming to turn almost any TV into something more resembling a “smart” TV for the mere cost of $35.

Even though I think the adding of the word smart before a device and calling it a day is a trend that needs to die a thousand deaths, the Chromecast is far and away the most exciting device of its kind I’ve ever seen, and with more program support (fingers crossed for Steam) can become an essential home device, though its base loadout justifies its meager $35 asking price already.

Plus, unlike Kickstarter campaigns, this one is actually supported by a legitimate company (rather than “some guys”) and is not only likely to properly function as advertised, but will also probably include a definitive release date, which are things that are becoming significantly more foreign in the world of intriguing and affordable devices than I tend to like.

See What It’s Really Like To Use Google Glass

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I’m sure by now we’ve all seen the mock ups, diagrams, videos shot from, parodies, specs, put downs, hype ups, and general impressions of Google Glass that have been floating around the internet for quite some time.

However, through it all there are still very few people who know exactly what Glass looks like to the user which, when it comes to understanding a product without any real historical equivalent, is kind of a big deal.

While it’s unlikely anyone will get a truly great idea of what it’s like to wear Glass until they are able to do so, there is one blog called phandroid, that’s posted a video showing a pretty good demonstration of the device in action, from the perspective of the user.

The actual quality of the HUD image is…not so great, though that is likely a result of the awkward task of trying to record the device, combined with the impossible hype surrounding it.

However functionality wise, this is a pretty impressive demo. The commands exhibited are extremely responsive, the phone and video chat features are particular highlights, and in general everything looks to work more or less as advertised, at least in the current “out of the box” capacity.

Google Glass has a long way to go before the final chapter on it is written, but from this demo it looks like underneath the high asking price, and still somewhat stupid looks, there might just be an actually useful device.

Rumors Have Google Planning to Open Nationwide Retail Stores

In their constant bid to do what they do every night and try to take over the world, Google is reportedly planning to open their own chain of brand specific retail stores.

Usually reliable Google centric blog 9to5 Google broke the news, saying their sources claim the web giant will be expanding past their occasional Best Buy and special event pop up Chrome stores, and will be looking at a nationwide retail store model similar to that of competitor Apple. The stores would also be used in much of the same fashion as Apple stores, as Google would use them to show off their latest and greatest gadgets, and also offer technical support.

While a reasonable, even sane, argument can be made that Google looking to get into a dying industry late is a costly business failure waiting to happen, the truth is that Apple still does very well at their retail locations, and Google is consistently cited as being at least as popular, if not more so, than Apple is. The real reason this could work though is Project Glass, as Google is set to launch what could potentially be the next great invention, and a physical retail store that lets people practically try it, could be a big draw.

We’ll know more as the rumored holiday 2013 US openings of these stores draws closer, but the one thing we know for sure is that if Google has as much fun designing the stores as they did their offices, we’re all in for a treat.

Google Launches Maps for iOS; Enjoys Benefits of the Eric Cartman Theory

Umm…the Eric Cartman theory?

Yeah, well remember that episode of “South Park” where Cartman buys a failing amusement park with his inheritance so he can have it all to himself? Eventually the operating costs force him to re-open it, and as a result, the time spent telling people they couldn’t come in made them want it even more, and the place became a huge success.

It’s a well reasoned theory that is now being enjoyed by Google, as they recently released the long awaited Google Maps app that has now shot to the top of the free apps download list, after less than 24 hours on the market. Of course the reason that people were so anxious to jump on the app is because it wasn’t available to them when the iPhone 5 first came out, as Apple tried to gain a leg up on the competition resulting in the hilarious failure known as Apple Maps.

That’s not to say that the app isn’t impressive. It is. But it’s also the exact same Google Maps we’ve known and loved for some time now, with a few little niceties thrown in for Apple users. But, oh my does it feel special this time. It’s like how you can take breathing for granted even if it is vital, but when it’s that first breath after being submerged underwater, it’s an incomparable joy.

It’s also pretty embarrassing for Apple. The question is, what do they do now? Had Apple Maps been a success right out of the gate, they could have really converted their users to the native feature and stole some serious momentum from a big rival. Instead, they now just have to watch as a stunning amount of users immediately abandon it, while Apple must continue to work hard to not only catch up with Google Maps, but somehow surpass it, lest they end up with a monumentally embarrassing failure on their resume.

The early success of Google Maps on iOS isn’t an immediate monumental victory for Google, or a resounding defeat for Apple. It is, however, for Apple, the first touchdown surrendered in a football game. While it doesn’t necessarily determine the outcome, they must still watch as another team celebrates in their territory.

And that’s got to hurt.

Bing Invites You to a Five Round Fight With Google

Well, I’ll give Microsoft and Bing this. They’re clearly not going down without a fight. In fact, thanks to their latest marketing ploy, that is exactly what they are seeking.

If you go to the website Bing It On, you can take part in a challenge that pits the search engines Google and Bing against each other in a side by side comparison. You enter a search term, and the results generated by both pages are given to you, along with the option to choose which results were better, or to declare it a draw. At the end of five searches, your score is tallied to reveal which search engine was your overall preference. Of course, to make sure that you have an open mind about the subject, this is a blind test and doesn’t make an indication as to which search engine is which when the results are displayed, Pepsi Challenge style.

Although, my guess is the average internet user is probably aware when they are looking at Google search results.

And that’s what makes this competition so bizarre. Even though the end of the test shows that overall results favor Bing at a 2-1 ratio, after taking the test three times, 15 total searches, my personal results came up with a draw once and Google coming ahead twice. While I freely admit that some of this may have been me subliminally recognizing Google and choosing it, even my Bing preferences were little more than the result of a mental “coin flip” of sorts that resulted from me not wanting to choose the draw option and cop out.

In fact the biggest conclusion I drew from this contest is that Bing is on par with Google. Congrats to them for that, but I don’t think that was ever really the question was it? Proving you’re as good as Google doesn’t make you Google, and if Bing really wants to close the gap in the search engine market share, it should probably spend more time working on what makes it different from the search giant, and not proving that if you type donuts into Bing, you get equal or slightly more appealing results for donuts than Google.

In a bit of irony about this challenge that kind of highlights that predicament, using Bing as one of the search subjects produced better results through Google, and I heard about the challenge initially using…Google.

But hey, it’s a fun little use of five minutes if you can spare it.

With New Search Parameters, Google May Actually be Taking Action to Cut Down on Pirated Material

What happened to you Google? You used to be cool.

As part of their collaboration with the film and music industry, Google is working on modifying its search engine parameters to filter out pirated material. Google’s current search method works off of hundreds of variables to determine which webpages are the most relevant to your search. The largest factor is possibly your page rank, which is determined, in part, by how many sites link from you.

A new variable will soon be added, however, that takes into account the number of valid copyright removal notices a site receives. Basically, the more that a site receives, the lower they fall on the overall search rankings. Since Google is processing more copyright claims than ever before, they feel that they are primed to recognize sites with pirated material, and divert searchers to legal sites like Hulu, and Spotify instead for their content needs.

So far the Recording Industry Association of America, and the Motion Picture Association of America are both highly supportive of this move as they feel it represents the largest step ever taken by Google to protect copyrights and combat piracy, and are happy to be getting support from one of the biggest companies in opposition against the recent Stop Online Piracy Act bill.

I’m not as convinced. This surely sounds like a proper move by Google, but really how much is it going to help? For one thing, can even Google process enough copyright claims in time to shut down that many websites from appearing in top hits, and even if they can couldn’t you just go to page 2, or *gasp* 3 on your search to find the site? Also, wouldn’t smaller sites with the same material just pop up instead in specific search results as the bigger ones go down, creating an endless loop of fresh pirated material? Speaking of search hits, will this still filter out specific searches? In the interest of not outing anyone, if I search say, Swashbuckler’s Cove for a torrent of “Game of Thrones,” wouldn’t Google still take me directly there regardless of the copyright claims?

What’s even better is that no mention of the Google owned YouTube is found in any of the statements on this matter. You know, one of the world’s most popular and prolific websites where just about any copyrighted material can be found free of charge (except for porn of course, in which case you need to go to PornTube, YouPorn, or PornPorn).

So wait a minute. Is it possible that Google just pulled a fast one on the continually technologically ignorant music and film industries by doing something to please them, while effectively doing nothing to aid them?

Pretty sneaky Google.

Google’s New Service Looks to Make Mobile E-mail Widely Available

Of all the evil, soulless, money grubbing corporations that ultimately run the world, I’ve got to say that Google consistently finds itself coming off as the most pleasant. Between their exceptional employee benefits, and those awesome Google Doodles, they really do seem like the simple global power next door types.

In their latest move of philanthropy, Google is now offering cell phone users in Africa a service called Gmail SMS. This will allow users without high tech cell phones, or conveniences like WiFi hotspots or 3G capabilities, to send and receive Gmail messages through a phone’s basic text messaging service. The e-mail service is free of charge, and the only incurred fees are tied into a plans standard text messaging rates.

This may not seem like a big deal to most, but it’s a simple gesture that could mean a lot to cell users in certain underdeveloped parts of the world. The technology to do something like this isn’t exactly mind blowing, but for Google to consider that maybe people who can’t afford hundreds of dollars for a phone, and/or may not have any widespread internet services available, might just enjoy actually having a modern convenience now and again is the kind of move that should make similar service providers take notice, bite their pride, and start to offer the service themselves if possible.

Currently the service is available in Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria, but it looks like the ambition is to offer Gmail SMS to as many markets as possible. Considering the large number of cell phone users in Africa, for those in underdeveloped parts of the continent (and similar areas of the world), the expansion surely can’t come soon enough.

New Website Maybe Wants to Help You with Life’s Tough Decisions

There’s no denying the power of sites like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Pinterest over modern society. Together, they help represent the core of the social networking society we live in, and the potential for one good idea to take over the world. Because of their success, thousands of sites are pitched and launched all the time with the hope of joining the internet elite and reaping the rewards that come with that.

Newcomer Maybe is one such site, and is based around the simple idea that in a world of potentially unlimited knowledge and information, there’s also too many decisions to make. Maybe combines elements of Pinterest, Facebook and good old Google to allow users to pose a question (current examples include: help choosing wedding shoes, what to do on vacation, and which work of fiction to read next), and use a combination of pictures and polls to let the rest of the world help them decide the answer.

Besides an interesting concept, Maybe also boasts a strong pedigree. Site founder Omar Hamoui made his big break in the online world with the promotional aid website AdMob, which was purchased by Google in 2009 for a princely $750 million. A year later, Hamoui left AdMob to start up Churn Labs, which was treading the waters of the App market until a new idea was birthed by Hamoui while helping his wife shop for a new coffee table. Hamoui says that as he was clicking link after link his wife sent him, he quickly became lost in all of the information and was having a hard time separating one products features and prices from another in order to reach a purchase decision. From there, Maybe was a result of the timeless statement, “There has to be an easier way.”

Maybe is in a preview build right now and sports a pretty simple design and straightforward purpose. However, Hamoui and his team have pledged to expand the website to its full potential, including adding a mobile app where the team feels that Maybe will truly shine. Personally, I feel the site is a great idea, as I count myself among the indecisive masses of the world who often debate over judgments ranging from what movie to watch, to where to go on vacation. If Maybe is able to acquire and maintain an active community of users, we could all be facing a glorious future where we never have to think for ourselves again.

Google launches Google+

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It’s been a long time coming, but Google has finally made a serious entry into the social media market. It took three attempts – you remember Wave and Buzz right? No? That’s okay, no one does – but it looks like Google may finally have a winner on its hands.

Still, Google+ has a long way to go. The service has launched to a relatively small group of users and continue to be limited by invites, but that could provide the kind of hype Google wants for a new service. Here’s an excerpt from an article I wrote about the service for Bullz-Eye:

One of the coolest parts of Google+ is Hangout, which allows users to jump into text and video chat rooms with customizable accessibility. It’s a product that could easily punch a hole in Skype and become an amazing productivity tool. That’s especially true for the companies that have made the transition to Google’s online products.

Sparks, on the other hand, is the service’s big flop. It’s meant to be some sort of social news feed, but it’s cumbersome instead of sleek, slow instead of fast, and skimpy where it should be overflowing with information. Sparks actually surprises me in its shortcomings. Google has mountains of information about me. I’m always signed in to its email service, I use the search engine exclusively, I have an Android phone, I use Google Reader on a daily basis, and I’m writing this article in Google Docs. Why is it so hard for me to get a decent feed on Sparks?

For the rest of the article, head over to the Bullz-Eye Gadgets channel.

Google adds Goggles to its mobile iPhone app

Google Goggles for the iPhone.

Google is about the only company that can make me sad to be an iPhone owner. Any time Google rolls out a spiffy new app for the mobile market, I die a little inside, knowing I probably won’t get to use it any time soon. Take Google Goggles, the service that allows you to search by what the camera on your phone can see. It debuted last December for Android users, and it has just now made its way to the iPhone.

Despite the long wait, the app is as cool as ever. Google built the new function into the standard Google Mobile app, which already allows you to search by text and voice. Here’s the official word from the Google blog:

In the new version of Google Mobile App just tap on the camera button to search using Goggles. Goggles will analyze the image and highlight the objects it recognizes — just click on them to find out more.

Though Goggles is still technically a “Labs” feature, Google says it works well for things like landmarks and logos, and that it will continue to improve for objects like animals and food.