Visualizing Android Activations

February 27, 2011 · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Android, Featured 

This video from Google lets you visualize the evolution of Android activations from October 2008 to January 2011. HTC Dream/G1, the first Android device, was launched in the US and the UK in October 2008 and it became available in other countries in 2009, but it wasn’t until the launch of Motorola Droid in November 2009 that Android became popular.


Android Central says that this is “a staggering reminder of just how far Android has come in a relatively short amount of time”. Eric Schmidt has recently mentioned that the average number of daily Android activations is now 350,000, up from 300,000 in December, 200,000 in August and 60,000 in April 2010.




Android Gingerbread for Nexus One

February 25, 2011 · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Android, Featured 

Two months after Android Gingerbread was released, Nexus One users can finally update their phones to the latest Android version. “Gingerbread (Android 2.3.3) update now rolling out to Nexus S and Nexus One. Be patient, may take a few weeks for OTA to complete,” informs Google. Ry Guy explains that Google “sends out OTA updates (…) incrementally to ensure that everything is going smoothly”.

The good news is that Nexus One is the second Android phone updated to Gingerbread and it’s likely that the feedback from Nexus S users helped Google fix the most important bugs. Unfortunately, Google is caught between releasing the Android version for tablets, continuing to improve Gingerbread, developing new Android apps and services, improving the Android Market, so the delays are inevitable.


{ via Android Spin }

New look for Google Translate for Android

January 13, 2011 · 1 Comment
Filed under: Android, Featured, Google 

Today, Google is refreshing Translate for Android with several updates to make the app easier to interact with. Among other improvements, we’ve created better dropdown boxes to help select the languages you want to translate from and into, an improved input box, and cleaner icons and layout.


We also want to let you in on an experimental feature that’s still in its earliest stages—Conversation Mode. This is a new interface within Google Translate that’s optimized to allow you to communicate fluidly with a nearby person in another language. You may have seen an early demo a few months ago, and today you can try it yourself on your Android device.

Currently, you can only use Conversation Mode when translating between English and Spanish. In conversation mode, simply press the microphone for your language and start speaking. Google Translate will translate your speech and read the translation out loud. Your conversation partner can then respond in their language, and you’ll hear the translation spoken back to you. Because this technology is still in alpha, factors like regional accents, background noise or rapid speech may make it difficult to understand what you’re saying. Even with these caveats, we’re excited about the future promise of this technology to be able to help people connect across languages.


As Android devices have spread across the globe, we’ve seen Translate for Android used all over. The majority of our usage now comes from outside the United States, and we’ve seen daily usage from more than 150 countries, from Malaysia to Mexico to Mozambique. It’s really rewarding for us to see how this new platform is helping us break down language barriers the world over.

Translate supports 53 languages, from Afrikaans to Yiddish, and voice input for 15 languages. You can download the application, available for devices running Android 2.1 and above, by searching for “Google Translate” in Android Market or by scanning the QR Code below.


Posted by Awaneesh Verma, Product Manager

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Google Places with Hotpot for iPhone

January 12, 2011 · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Android, Featured, Google 

Google recently released Google Places with Hotpot in Google Maps for Android, and starting now, you can have that same great experience as an iPhone app. We realize the importance of finding places you’ll love while you’re out and about, no matter what mobile device you use. And Places with Hotpot not only helps you find places near where you are, it gives you the best places to go for you by personalizing your search results.

In case you aren’t familiar with Google Places, it lets you quickly search for places nearby and personalizes the results based on places you’ve rated. We get you started with a few popular search categories, but you can also tailor the list by adding your own favorite searches. This makes it fast and easy to find the best places for you with little fuss.

Use a default search category, save your own, or rate the nearest place quickly.


It can be pretty rewarding to discover a new place you love, but we also realize that there are some experiences you just can’t wait to share. So Places makes it super simple to rate a place with your iPhone while you’re there. Just fire up the app and hit “Rate now.” It will use your location to guess your current place and let you post a Hotpot review right from your phone. But it’s not just about getting to say what you think—the more you rate places, the more you’re sharing about your tastes and the more we can give you personally tailored recommendations.

Give your star rating and add optional details or a review so Hotpot knows your taste.


If you want to make things even tastier, just visit google.com/hotpot from your desktop computer. Here you can add friends to the mix and quickly rate all the places you already know. Once you’ve added friends, you’ll find your results seasoned not just with reviews from around the web and recommendations based on your own personal taste, but also with your friends’ opinions too.

Once you start rating and add friends, Places can give you personalized recommendations.


Get the Places app on your iPhone now by searching for Google Places in the App Store or going here.

This first version of Places is available for all iOS devices in English only. However, expect more features and improvements to roll out soon, including localization in many new languages. We’re hard at work to make Places with Hotpot more and more delicious.

Posted by Greg Blevins, Software Engineer, Google Hotpot team Permalink

Android Addresses UI Shortcomings

January 10, 2011 · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Android, Featured, Google 

It’s amazing to see how much Android’s user interface has changed ever since Matias Duarte was hired by Google to improve Android. Matias has previously worked on Sidekick, Helio and Palm’s WebOS, so Android is a perfect fit for him. In only 9 months, Matias Duarte and his team managed to address a lot of Android’s UI shortcomings: a virtual keyboard that wasn’t good enough, an uninspired interface for multitasking, the hidden menus that required to click on a soft key to display them, inflexible soft keys that were restricted to a single orientation.

Here’s, for example, the navigation bar that replaces the hidden menu for common actions in Android Honeycomb:


The Gmail app currently available in the Android Market requires to use a hidden menu to perform common actions like composing mail or going back to the inbox:


Here’s a comparison between the Froyo keyboard and the Gingerbread keyboard. According to Google, “the Android soft keyboard is redesigned and optimized for faster text input and editing. The keys themselves are reshaped and repositioned for improved targeting, making them easier to see and press accurately, even at high speeds.”


In an interview with Joshua Topolsky from Engadget, Matias says that Honeycomb is the future of Android in terms of user experience. His job is to make Android’s interface so good that companies like HTC or Samsung don’t have to spend so much time improving it. The stock user interface will raise the bar high enough to be more than a solid foundation.

You’re not working on one product, you’re not saying “we’re one company, vertically integrating and making one product and we’re going to focus on one market and we’re going to try and meet that particularly need.” But instead, the idea is that there’s a common problem that every company that wants to succeed in making computing better, making computing mobile has and that’s the fundamental platform problem. We’re not only going to try to find a way to get everybody to benefit from it, we’re going to do it for free. We’re going to work on building this common tide that rises all boats.

It’s interesting to think of Android as “the tide that rises all boats”, a platform that accelerates mobile development not just for smartphones, but also for tablets, media players, digital cameras, TVs, cars, appliances and much more.

Honeycomb: Android for Tablets

January 6, 2011 · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Android, Featured, Google 

Google has accidentally made public a YouTube video that shows Android 3.0 in action. It’s a completely new interface for tablets that borrows a lot of ideas from BumpTop, the 3D desktop software acquired by Google last year.


Engadget says that the new interface “looks more or less nothing like Android”. You might think it’s a new operating system. The video mentions that this is “the next generation of Android” and that’s built entirely for tablets.

Google has focused on improving the user interface and Android 3.0 comes with fluid home screens, better app switching, browser tabs, video chat, dynamic app shortcuts and new versions of Google’s Android applications that take advantage of the bigger screen.

It seems that the Android tablets that will be launched in the coming months will have impressive hardware and an updated operating system that looks stunning, so they’re poised for success.

Update: Google confirms the release of Android Honeycomb.

Honeycomb is the next version of the Android platform, designed from the ground up for devices with larger screen sizes, particularly tablets. We’ve spent a lot of time refining the user experience in Honeycomb, and we’ve developed a brand new, truly virtual and holographic user interface. Many of Android’s existing features will really shine on Honeycomb: refined multi-tasking, elegant notifications, access to over 100,000 apps on Android Market, home screen customization with a new 3D experience and redesigned widgets that are richer and more interactive. We’ve also made some powerful upgrades to the web browser, including tabbed browsing, form auto-fill, syncing with your Google Chrome bookmarks, and incognito mode for private browsing.

Latest from the Google Lab

December 22, 2010 · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Android, Featured, Google 

Over the last couple of weeks, lots of apps have debuted on Google Labs, a laboratory where our more adventurous users can try our experimental products and offer feedback directly to the engineers who developed them. Teams at Google are gearing up to deliver more and more cool innovations to users, and this month alone, we’ve launched six new products on Google Labs. Here are the highlights of our recent releases.

App Inventor for Android
App Inventor for Android makes it easier for people to access the capabilities of their Android phones and create apps for their personal use. Until now, it was only available to a group of people who requested and received invitations. Last week, we announced that App Inventor (beta) is now available to anyone with a Google account. Visit the App Inventor homepage to get set up and start building your own Android app—and be sure to share your App Inventor story on the App Inventor user forum!

Body Browser
Body Browser is a demo app that allows you to visualize complex 3D graphics of the human body. It works in the latest beta version of Google Chrome and uses WebGL, a new standard that enables 3D experiences in the web browser without any plug-ins. Using Body Browser, you can explore different layers of human anatomy by moving the slider to rotate and zoom in on parts you are interested in. Not sure where something is? Try the search box. You can also share the exact scene you’re viewing by copying and pasting the corresponding URL.


DataWiki
DataWiki is a wiki for structured data, extending the idea of a normal wiki to make it easy to create, edit, share and visualize structured data, and to interlink data formats to make them more understandable and useful. The project is inspired by the need to create customized data formats for crisis response, for example to quickly create a person-finder application after an earthquake, or share Internet and cellular phone connectivity maps from an affected area. DataWiki operates as a RESTful web-service, is built on AppEngine and is completely open source.


Google Books Ngram Viewer
Google Books Ngram Viewer graphs and compares the historical usage of phrases based on the datasets comprised of more than 500 billion words and their associated volumes over time in about 5.2 million books. Last week, we released this visualization tool along with freely-downloadable phrase frequency datasets to help humanities research. You can find interesting example queries (e.g., “tofu” vs. “hot dog”) and more information about the effort in our blog post.


Google Earth Engine
Google Earth Engine, which we announced at the U.N. Climate Change Conference Cancun earlier this month, is a technology platform that enables scientists to do global-scale observation and measurement of changes in the earth’s environment. It provides an unprecedented amount of satellite imagery and data online for the first time, as well as our extensive computing infrastructure—the Google “cloud”—to analyze the imagery. We’re excited about the initial use of Google Earth Engine to support efforts to stop global deforestation, but the platform can be used for a wide range of applications, from mapping water resources to ecosystem services. It’s part of our broader effort at Google to build a more sustainable future.

Google Shared Spaces
Google Shared Spaces is an easy way for you to share mini-collaborative applications, like scheduling tools or games, with your friends or colleagues. By creating a Shared Space, you can share a gadget with whomever you want by simply sending the URL. Once your friends join the Shared Space, you can collaborate with them in real-time on the gadget, and you can chat with them, too. This product is built on some of the technology used in Google Wave.


Those experimental products have been developed by many teams across Google. Some products were born in 20% time, and some were built by start-up-like teams inside the company. But all of these products were created by passionate, small teams just because they cared about them so much.

You can find more Labs products on googlelabs.com. Please play with them and give us feedback. And stay tuned for experiments coming in the future.

Posted by Riku Inoue, Product Manager, Google Labs Permalink

Some cool Android tips and tricks

December 22, 2010 · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Android, Featured, Technology News 

Tips

  • Visual cue for scrolling: When you are in a scrollable list (like your Gmail inbox) and you reach the end of the list it shows an orange hue—a visual cue that you can’t scroll anymore.
  • Notification bar icons (Wi-Fi, network coverage bars, etc.): Turn green when you have an uninhibited connection to Google, white when you don’t. Hint: if you’re in a hotel or airport using Wi-Fi, the bars won’t turn green until you launch the browser and get past the captive portal.
  • Voice actions: Tell your phone what to do by pressing the microphone icon next to the search box on the home screen, or long press the magnifying glass. You can tell it to send an email or text message (“send text to mom, see you for pizza at 7”), call someone (“call mom”), navigate somewhere (“navigate to pizza”), or listen to music (“listen to Mamma Mia”).
  • Find things you’ve downloaded from your browser: Your downloads are now neatly collected in a Downloads manager, which you can find in the apps drawer.
  • Turn a Gallery stack into a slideshow: In Gallery, when you are looking at a stack of photos, put two fingers on the stack and spread them. The stack spreads out and the pictures flow from one finger to the other, a moving slideshow that lets you see all of the photos.
  • Walk, don’t drive: Once you’ve gotten directions within Google Maps, click on the walking person icon to get walking directions.
  • Easy text copy/paste from a webpage: To copy/paste from a webpage, long press some text, drag the handles around to select the text you want to copy, and press somewhere in the highlighted region. To paste, simply long press a text entry box and select paste. Gmail is a bit different: you need to go to Menu > More > Select Text.
  • Turn your phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot: Go to Settings > Wireless & Networks > Tethering & Portable Hotspot. (You may have to pay extra for this feature.)
  • Look at Maps in 3D: With the latest release of Google Maps, you can now look at 3D maps. Tilt the map by sliding two fingers vertically up/down the screen, and rotate it by placing two fingers on the map and sliding in a circular motion, e.g., from 12 and 6 o’clock to 3 and 9.
  • Cool shutdown effect: When you put the phone to sleep, you’ll see an animation that resembles an old cathode tube TV turning off.

Keyboard tricks

  • Shift+Key to capitalize a word: In Gingerbread (and supported hardware), you can Shift+Key to capitalize a letter instead of going to a separate all caps keyboard.
  • Auto-complete: The space bar lights up when auto-complete can finish a word.
  • Quick replace: Tap on any previously typed word, then tap on a suggestion to automatically replace it with the suggested word.
  • Easy access to special characters (like numbers, punctuation): Press and hold any key to go to the special character keyboard. You can also press and hold the “,” key for an extensive punctuation keyboard.

Applications

  • Angry Birds: Popular game that lets you knock down blocks by slingshotting birds.
  • Astro: Awesome file explorer app. Browse and access the directories on your phone, and take full advantage of its capabilities. Great if you’re a power user.
  • Chrome to Phone: This one is really useful for Chrome users. You can send anything you browse on your computer to your phone. So if you are heading out to a restaurant or party and look up directions on your computer, just click the “send to phone” button (requires Chrome to Phone extension) and that exact page will open on your phone. Same with virtually any webpage.
  • Flash: Install from Android Market to watch Flash videos embedded throughout the web. Runs even better on Gingerbread.
  • Fruit Ninja: A juicy action game that tests your ability to smash flying fruit. A fun time-killer on the bus or train.
  • FXCamera: Popular photo sharing app with slick effects and filters.
  • Google Maps: Use your device as a GPS navigation system with free turn-by-turn voice guidance, and take advantage of other Google Maps features like Street View, Latitude and Places.
  • Instant Heart Rate: Measure your heart rate using your camera.
  • Phoneanlyzr: Track your phone usage: who you text most, call most, average call length distribution, etc.
  • RemoteDroid: Control your computer from your phone. Gives you a mobile wireless mouse and keyboard. Great if you’re using your computer for music or movies.
  • Shazam: Identifies virtually any song you are listening to.
  • SoundHound: Record a snippet of a song and get it identified instantly. You can even hum (if you can carry a tune!).
  • Tango: A free, high-quality video call app that works on both 3G and Wi-Fi. If your device has a front facing camera (e.g., Nexus S), you will love this app.
  • YouTube: New UI. Plus, portrait-mode player, and view comments and drop-down box video information

Posted by Jonathan Rosenberg, Senior Vice President, Product Management Permalink

Google Maps 5.0 for Android and Vector Graphics

December 19, 2010 · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Android, Featured, Google 

Now Google Maps are built using vector graphics to dynamically draw the map as you use it. Building a vector graphics engine capable of achieving the visual quality and performance level you expect from Google Maps was a major technical challenge and enables all sorts of future possibilities. So we wanted to give you a closer look under the hood at the technology driving the next generation of mobile maps.

Vector graphics
Before diving into how Maps uses vector graphics, it may be helpful to understand how maps were created before. Previously, Google Maps downloaded the map as sets of individual 256×256 pixel “image tiles.” Each pre-rendered image tile was downloaded with its own section of map imagery, roads, labels and other features baked right in. Google Maps would download each tile as you needed it and then stitch sets together to form the map you see. It takes more than 360 billion tiles to cover the whole world at 20 zoom levels!

Now, we use vector graphics to dynamically draw the map. Maps will download “vector tiles” that describe the underlying geometry of the map. You can think of them as the blueprints needed to draw a map, instead of static map images. Because you only need to download the blueprints, the amount of data needed to draw maps from vector tiles is drastically less than when downloading pre-rendered image tiles. Google Maps isn’t the first mobile app to use vector graphics—in fact, Google Earth and our Navigation (Beta) feature do already. But a combination of modern device hardware and innovative engineering allow us to stream vector tiles efficiently and render them smoothly, while maintaining the speed and readability we require in Google Maps. Just try it out and see for yourself!

See the difference between image tiles (left) and vector tiles (right) tilted to show 3D buildings.

One map, many perspectives
Using vector tiles instead of image tiles gives Maps the flexibility to re-draw the same map from different perspectives using the same set of data. Zooming is one example of this at work. If you magnify an map image tile by 2x, lines such as roads and text would get twice as wide and appear blurry. As a result, we had to constrain Maps to 20 fixed “zoom levels,” each one twice as close as the last. Every time you zoomed in further, you’d need to download a completely new set of image tiles. It took time to load new data over a mobile data connection, and would fail when you lost your connection in a subway or large building.

Compared to image tiles (left), vector tiles (right) keep lines and labels crisp as you zoom.

With vector graphics, you no longer need to “round” to the nearest zoom level and then download all the tiles for that level. One vector tile has the underlying vector data (or blueprints) to draw the map at many different levels of scale. So when you zoom, the map stops when your fingers stop, and roads and labels always stay crisp. This same technique powers the new 3D map interactions: tilt, rotate and compass mode. Just like with zooming, Maps uses the same vector data to draw the map from any angle or direction as you tilt or rotate.

We can also display entirely new levels of detail that weren’t possible with flat image tiles. For example, in the 100+ cities where we have 3D building data, each building is drawn in 3D using a polygonal building footprint and heights for different parts of the building. And with tilt and rotate, you can see them from a variety of different angles.

Reading the map
Just like other map features, labels are dynamically drawn so they continue to face you and stay legible if you rotate the rest of the map or use compass mode. Maps also “chooses” the best labels to show you based on several factors. You’ll notice labels fade in and out as you interact with the map so that the most useful ones appear and the map never gets too cluttered.

See the difference between rotating maps with static labels (left) and dynamic labels (right).

Vector graphics also allow us to draw additional data on the map more clearly. For example, traffic or transit lines no longer block the labels beneath them. We can also draw the same map in different styles—like “satellite view” where the roads are translucent over aerial imagery, or Navigation’s “night mode” where a darker palette helps your eyes adjust quickly in the lower light.

Previously, map features like labels and traffic could conflict (left) instead of blend seamlessly (right).

Offline reliability
Vector graphics also enable another significant new feature: the ability to continue viewing maps even when you have poor—or no—network connections. Because each vector tile works across multiple zoom levels, it requires more than 100 times less data to view maps across all zoom levels than before, allowing Maps to cache much larger areas of the map on your device.

With this first version, Maps proactively caches map data for the places you use Maps the most—where you’re actively using it as well as places for which you search or get directions. Then when you’re plugged in and connected over WiFi, caching happens automatically. Near your frequent places, you’ll get detailed vector tiles for city-sized regions so you can see every road labeled. Further away, you’ll have less detail but will typically have towns and highways labeled for miles. We’re continuing to work on these algorithms, so you’ll see improvements over time.

Offline rerouting
With Google Maps Navigation (Beta), you’ll also see the benefits of additional caching with offline rerouting. This feature is only possible because Navigation caches not only map data but also data like turn restrictions for the areas surrounding your route. You’ll still need to be connected when you first start a trip to download and cache your route. But this way, even if you take a wrong turn after losing your connection, Navigation can use the cached data to get you back on your way. We will be rolling this feature out gradually over the next few weeks.

This is just the start, and we’re really excited about all the possible ways to use vector graphics technology for the next generation of Google Maps. So please stay tuned!

Update 12:43 PM: Tweaked the description of the difference between image maps zoom levels.

Posted by Andrew Miller, Software Engineer, Google Maps for mobile Permalink

Google Maps 5 for Android: 3D Maps and Offline Caching

December 17, 2010 · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Android, Featured, Google 

Google Maps 5 for Android comes with two features that make Google’s mapping software a lot more useful. Google now uses vector graphics instead of map tiles and it caches some of your most frequently used maps so that they are available offline.

Vector-based maps allowed Google to add a lot of cool gestures:

Tilting: Drag down with two fingers to tilt the map. Tilt while zoomed in on one of the 100+ cities around the world with 3D buildings to see a skyline spring to life.

Rotating: Twist with two fingers to rotate the map. After tilting to see 3D buildings, rotate around them to gain a new perspective from any direction.

Smooth zooming: Slide two fingers together or apart, and see the map and labels continuously scale to any zoom level, stopping when your fingers stop.

Compass mode: Center the map on your location, and then tap the compass button in the top right corner. The map will flip into 3D mode and start rotating to match your perspective, while still keeping all the labels upright and readable.

The new 3D view makes maps more intuitive and easier to use, but that’s not all. Since Google no longer has to download map images from its servers and vector-based maps require 100 times less data for all zoom levels, it’s feasible to cache data. “Rather than having a static set of maps when installed, Maps will automatically start caching the areas you visit the most when your device is plugged in and connected to WiFi (e.g., the nightly charge).” You can’t manually control caching, but it’s an important first step toward an offline Google Maps.

Google also promises to add offline rerouting to Google Maps Navigation. “You’ll still need a connection to start a route, but if you miss a turn along the way, we’ll quickly get you back on track, even if you don’t have an Internet connection.”

Google Maps 5 for Android uses about 70% less data than the previous version, so it loads maps much faster. The new features require Android 2.0+, but not all devices support them. The list of devices that support all multi-touch gestures includes: Samsung Nexus S, Samsung Galaxy S, HTC G2, HTC Incredible, HTC Evo 4G and Motorola Droid/Droid 2/Droid X, while HTC Nexus One, HTC Desire, Sony Ericsson X10 and LG Ally don’t support rotating gestures.

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