Google Announcing New Products at I/O Conference

Google 2013 developer conference - new google productsThe biggest Internet news of the week is coming from Google, which just yesterday kicked off its 6th annual Google I/O developer conference.

The conference, which over 6,000 developers are attending at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, is still going on right now and will conclude tomorrow. But there has been quite a lot of buzz about what Google has already announced.

Here’s a rundown of the biggest announcements from the Google I/O developer conference so far:

  • Google Play Music All Access: This is a new, unlimited streaming music/Internet radio subscription service. It offers access to millions of tracks, playlists and suggestions based on music you already own and like, and let you customize a streaming radio station based on specific songs or artists (a la Pandora). You can stream music on Web or Android phones and tablets. The service will cost $9.99 a month, but if you sign up for a free 30-day trial before June 30th, you’ll pay only $7.99 a month. CNET has a review of the new All Access service. Or visit Google Play Music.
  • Google Play social gaming: Google is launching a new platform that will allow game developers to build in more social gaming aspects as well as take advantage of Google’s cloud storage capabilities, so you could play and pause a game on Android devices, iOS decices, PCs or Macs. See the Wall Street Journal for a review.
  • Google Maps: The popular map and direction service has been totally rebuilt. The next generation of Google Maps offers a more full-screen, less cluttered view with a search box built into the map itself. You’ll get a lot more options with your map searches: more local points of interest, more business information, street view and satellite imagery options, photo tours, and more. You’ll likewise get more options for directions: car, public transportation, walking, biking, flying. The new maps is available for the Web, on Android devices, or iPhone. Google has a preview of the new Maps and links to downloads here.
  • Google Search: Google previewed its work on conversational search. When it launches, you’ll be able to say “OK, Google, will it be raining this weekend in Central Park?” and get your answer spoken back to you. You can then ask follow-up questions. Google also announced improvements to its Knowledge Graph, to answer factual questions more precisely and fully. And Google Now updates offer reminders based on time and your current location. See Google’s Inside Search blog for more details.
  • Google Hangouts: Google launched a new Hangouts chat, video chat and unified messaging app that works across platforms. You can use it to text, send photos, or have a group video conference; SMS integration is reportedly coming soon (but not for iOS). The new Hangouts replaces Google Talk and G+ Messenger. It’s now available on Android, iOS, Chrome and Gmail. Read a review of Hangouts on Techcrunch.
  • Google+: The social network site has been redesigned to work better across platforms (Web and mobile devices). Google+ Photos also features a number of important updates: Auto Backup, Auto Highlight, Auto Enhance, and the more-awesomely named Auto Awesome. Google has an overview of G+ changes here.

That’s not all. Watch for more updates on Google’s Official Blog.

You can also keep up-to-the-minute on Google announcements and even watch live streaming video of the ongoing developers conference here.

Facebook Home – the Not-Quite Facebook Phone

For months now, the Facebook rumors and speculation have been flying:

  • “Facebook is thinking about launching a phone.”
  • “Facebook is going to launch a phone.”
  • “What will the Facebook phone look like?” 
  • “Will the Facebook phone be a Google killer or an Apple killer?” 
  • “When will Facebook finally unveil its phone?” 

New Facebook Home for Android smartphonesWell, the when question has been answered. But what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled last Thursday wasn’t exactly the long-rumored and now-expected Facebook Phone. But neither was it just another Facebook mobile phone app. It’s really something in the middle. Something called Facebook Home.

Facebook Home is a kind of super-app that takes over your Android phone’s home and lock screens and fills them with live updates from your Facebook account with a feature called Cover Feed.

With Facebook Home, you’ll not only be able to see your Facebook news feed, including full-screen photos, but you’ll also be able to Like things, comment on posts, or initiate Facebook Messenger Chats. New messages, by the way, will pop up a round icon showing your friend’s face. It’s a new feature called “Chat Heads” that will allow you to chat even while using other phone features.

As Facebook describes it, Home is “the family of apps that puts your friends at the heart of your phone.” Visit the official Facebook Home page for their overview and highlights. There’s also a brief FAQ that covers the basics of using Facebook Home.

But what about some more objective opinions?

Wall Street Journal columnist Walt Mossberg wrote that he “found Facebook Home easy to use, elegantly designed and addictive,” noting that it prompted him to interact with Facebook more than ever. For big Facebook fans, he added, this could be “a big win.”

The New York Times’ David Pogue had a more mixed response, mostly noting the tradeoffs Home users will have to make (loss of easy access to other apps) and some “confusing” aspects of the user interface. In summary, he wrote “everything in Home is attractive, smooth and quick. At the same time, there’s something vaguely incoherent about the whole operation.”

On Mashable, Lance Ulanoff writes that he found the scrolling Cover Feed “undeniably compelling” and that Facebook Home may “suck you back in” if you’ve been drifting away from Facebook. He said in just 36 hours, it prompted him to spend “more time on Facebook than I  have in the past three months.” But, he reminds us that the Cover Feed is expected to get ads at some point in the near future, a feature that “may annoy some people.”

Facebook Home is scheduled to be available tomorrow, April 12, as a free download from the Google Play store on these four Android phones:

  • Samsung Galaxy S III
  • Samsung Galaxy Note
  • HTC One X
  • HTC One X+

Other Android phones will follow. No iPhone, however. Apple’s iOS doesn’t allow the same kind of Home screen takeover that Google’s Android OS does.

And speaking of phones, there is one new phone that’s being called, informally at leaset, the Facebook Phone. It’s the HTC First — as in the first phone to have Facebook Home preinstalled, which Facebook claims is “the best Home experience possible.”

Reviews of the HTC First and its Facebook Home integration were mixed. TechCrunch called the new phone “an impressive first try” and did a nice round-up of other HTC First and Facebook Home reviews.

Living with Social Media

Social media has completely permeated our culture.  No one will be mad if you pass up using super-specific social networking sites and apps (like Pinterest), but you’ll definitely get sideways looks if you tell people you’re not on Facebook.

It’s odd that, with all the popularity of social media, theredon’t seem to be any tips sheets or guides on how to “properly” use it. And that’s exactly why EarthLink has put together a quick cheat sheet to help you with the basics:

BE YOURSELF

When the internet was newer, anonymity was key.  Disguising your true identity with usernames like “HappyMom97″ was a socially acceptable way to communicate through your computer.  This is no longer the case.  People want to find you (actual people from your past and present, like your friends, relatives, and coworkers), so it’s expected that you will now use your real name and a real photo in your social media profiles (some sites, like Google+, even require it!).  That being said, please NEVER including sensitive information like addresses, phone numbers, or even your current and past employment (the one exception is LinkedIN, a professional social site where it pays to show off your resume).

WRITE FOR YOUR MOTHER

If you wouldn’t want your mother to read it or see it, don’t post about it or upload a picture of it.  Only share photos of yourself that you’d be proud for an employer to see (the number of employers using social media to check up on applicants and current employees is on the rise), and try to avoid heated discussions.  Those conversations always work better face-to-face, and people reading it can easily take what you say out of context, no matter how well-worded or thought-out it is.

BE FRIENDS WITH…FRIENDS

Only “friend” people you know in real life.  If you get a message from a stranger, feel free to message back (most sites allow messaging…like an in-social-media email…between non “friends”), but don’t “add” them until you’ve met or spoken outside of social media.

KNOW HOW TO COMMUNICATE

  • Send a message if you want it to privately talk to someone
  • Post on a friend’s wall if it’s for a specific person, but one of your or their friends might enjoy what you’re sharing (like a recipe or a video of a sleeping cat)
  • Post a status about something general that all your friends might enjoy (like the deal on lunch you discovered)
  • Only comment on a post or status with something relevant (Example: if the original post is “I adore ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE by The Beatles,” comment “Me too!” and not “I miss you…how are you?”  That’s better for a separate wall post or message.

Use these as a jumping off point to get yourself settled into communicating through social media.  It’s meant to be a fun way to represent yourself online, so have fun with it!

Internet Access Plays a Part in Purchasing Choices

Internet Access became an American need for people to have access to email, news, games, and (more recently) social media.  Being able to shop online is also a large positive of internet access, but a recent Nielsen survey shows that the internet may play a deeper role in purchase choices than we initially thought.

According to the survey, people were most likely to make a purchase based on (in order): advice of family/friends (around 77%), physically seeing a product in-store (72%), free samples (70%), searching the Web (67%), expert advice (66%) and TV and radio ads (59%).

Breaking it down by product categories, consumers replied that internet access is either “very” or “somewhat important” when making purchase decisions for electronics (81%), appliances (77%), books (70%), music/clothing (69% each), and automobiles (68%). At least 60% said it also influenced the buying of food, hygiene products, over-the-counter medicine, and hair care.  And while social media was built as a way to connect with friends, the Nielsen survey discovered that 1/3 of U.S. consumers are actively researching products on social sites like Facebook.

So the internet isn’t just a place to come to buy a product; internet access allows you to take the entire shopping process (research, comparison, decision, and purchase) out of the retailer and into your home.  One wonders if eventually we’ll need to leave the house for anything!