Google Could Be Working on a Rival for the Amazon Echo

Amazon’s Echo is certainly a useful little gadget, as it is capable of voice interaction and is able to create to-do lists, playback your favorite music and provide useful information regarding traffic and weather. However, rumours indicate that Google might actually be working on its own version of this popular wireless speaker, a version that could potentially provide even more useful features at a similar price. Even though Google has not replied to inquiries about an Echo rival at the time of writing, it would certainly make sense for the company to produce such a device, particularly since it already owns all of the necessary tools to do so. Experts seem to agree as well, as a Moor Insights & Strategy analyst named Patrick Moorhead has stated the following:

“Google has all the capabilities that Amazon Echo has. However, Google’s been focused on smartphones and tablets right now. “I believe Google will build a plugged-in device that does what Echo can do — and more.”

Moreover, another analyst named Ezra Gottheil has brought up an interesting topic: if people are already used to controlling their mobile devices using voice commands, it probably makes sense for them to do the same with other gadgets.

“Why not be able to do that when your hands are full of food or baby or puppy? Whatever Google builds will have to be better than Echo, but I don’t think that will be hard. Google’s current voice-based product, Google Voice Search, is available in a bunch of languages, while Echo is English-only. Echo does interface with Gmail but I would be surprised if Google can’t come up with deeper integration.”

Obviously, creating a rival for the Echo and selling it successfully will give Google an even better opportunity to learn more about its users, especially since the device would operate out of its owners’ homes at all times. Would you buy a smart wireless speaker developed by Google?

Google Is Killing off the Chrome App Launcher

In an effort to make Chrome as light and as less bloated as possible, Google has decided to completely remove the Chrome App Launcher from Linux, Apple and Microsoft operating systems, which means that you’re in for quite a shock if you’re used to launching Google apps from the App Launcher directly. Fortunately, the App Launcher will remain in place on Chrome OS, so there’s that at least. Apparently, the removal will take place steadily over the next few months, and the launcher will lose its ability to install new apps within the next few weeks. The feature will be killed off completely in July, which is three years after it was introduced for Microsoft Windows in the first place.

In order to make sure that this change won’t catch too many users by surprise, Google says that it will notify all of the launcher’s fans of this big change. Last summer, Chrome was stripped of its notification center in a similar effort to make the user’s experience better. We can all hope that the removal of the App Launcher will make Chrome lighter and less resource hungry, but I have to say that the decision doesn’t make too much sense to me as this component is actually optional.

Google Is Recruiting Experts for Its Self-Driving Car Project

Even though Google has stated that it won’t be involved directly in the manufacturing of self-driving cars, recent news seems to suggest otherwise. Apparently, the company’s recruitment website features a series of job listings aimed at individuals who have a background in automobile manufacturing, including noise-reduction specialists and manufacturing process engineers. Judging by the company’s official statements, we were inclined to believe that Google would only be making the required software for self-driving cars, which means that another well-known automaker would take care of the actual engineering and manufacturing process.

However, since the self-driving car project is now being led by the former head of Hyundai of America, John Krafcik, the company could be moving in a new direction. For example, the task of a manufacturing supplier quality engineer is to create and approve “manufacturing inspection processes, equipment, tools gauges and fixtures for raw material, mechanical components and mechanical assemblies,” while a mechanical global supply chain manager would be primarily responsible for creating development execution. And since the company is also looking for a head of real estate and workplace services, the hiring spree is likely to escalate in the near future. Right now, all we can do is wait and see what Google plans to do next.

Google Simulates 3 Million Miles of Autonomous Driving Every Day

In its ongoing effort to make sure that its self-driving cars will run as safely as possible, it looks like Google has its data centers simulate no less than 3 million miles of autonomous driving every day. That might seem like a lot of driving at a glance, but data shows that Americans actually drove 2.7 trillion miles in the year 2000 alone, which means that Google’s simulations are actually on point. Obviously, engineers want to use the data obtained from these simulations to perfect various algorithms that animate autonomous cars. Furthermore, the simulations also allow the company to create specific scenarios based on real-world events such as adjusting the speeds of cars during a highway merge.

Various improvements can then be designed and implemented back into the simulator in order to ensure that things will always go according to plan when the cars will actually hit the streets. However, before any code changes are actually applied, the simulator “re-drives” its complete driving history of more than 2 million miles. Even after the code goes live, Google still tests it with 10 to 15,000 miles of autonomous driving each week. It certainly appears that the company is taking things seriously when it comes to autonomous vehicles, but then again, that’s exactly what we should expect from a tech giant such as Google.

Court Records Unveil $1 Billion Agreement between Google and Apple

There has been quite a bit of speculation based on this particular subject over the years, but now we actually have some reliable sources stating that Google and Apple had struck a deal back in 2014. A series of court records have shed some light on the controversial topic that Google has actually paid Apple a lot of money to implement its search engine bar on iPhones by default. Even though Google has preferred to keep details regarding the deal a secret, we now know that the transaction was no less than $1 billion. While that is a lot of money, keep in mind that Apple is also receiving a hefty sum from the overall revenue generated by Google through iPhones.

The documents suggest that the exact sum amounts to 34 percent, but this is where things get slightly confusing, as nobody knows for sure if the 34 percent is actually received by Apple or retained by Google. However, even if it reflects how much Google retains, that’s still quite a lot of money considering how popular Apple’s smartphones are. Pund-IT analyst Charles King agrees that this would not be a bad scenario for Google, and since Apple doesn’t really have a search engine of its own, it makes sense for the Cupertino-based company to jump at the opportunity to get some revenue by leasing a small space on its most popular device.

Google Are Paying Their Back Taxes in the UK

It looks like Google has a lot of catching up to do as far as taxes are concerned, particularly in the United Kingdom. Following an open audit of its accounts conducted by a team of investigators, the company has agreed to pay £130 million in back taxes. What’s interesting is the fact that some of the taxes in question date all the way back to 2005, and this kind of makes sense considering how often Google has come under fire for not paying its share. Apparently, the deal with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will also ensure that the company will pay the correct amount of taxes in the future. One of Google’s representatives has stated the following:

“We have agreed with HMRC a new approach for our UK taxes and will pay £130 million, covering taxes since 2005. We will now pay tax based on revenue from UK-based advertisers, which reflects the size and scope of our UK business. The way multinational companies are taxed has been debated for many years and the international tax system is changing as a result. This settlement reflects that shift and is in line with recent OECD guidance.”

In the past, the company has been known to take “shortcuts” when it comes to paying its taxes to foreign countries. The tactics that were employed were definitely not illegal, but they were somewhat immoral, at least according to MP Margaret Hodge. We’re talking about the year 2012, in which Google has reportedly used subsidiaries in Bermuda and Ireland in order to dodge a £1.2billion tax payment. Hopefully, this new deal will pave the way for a better relationship between Google and the UK’s officials.

Google Street View Visits Word’s Largest Model Railway

Google uses some pretty incredible hardware in order to create Street View – the technology that provides panoramic views of most of the world’s city streets. However, it looks like the tech can also be implemented on a smaller scale, as proven by this adorable project that was put together by Google and Ubilabs. The two companies joined forces in order to assemble a series of miniature Street View vehicles that traveled on the streets of Hamburg’s Miniatur Wunderland, which is the largest model railway in the world. The vehicles were equipped with very small cameras, and they were able to traverse the roads and the train tracks of the model railway with ease.

Along the way, they managed to capture the miniature environment in incredible detail, including a recreation of Hamburg, a small Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, a mini Las Vegas and a fictional town situated between the Alps and Harz. The pictures were taken from the vehicles’ point of view, which is why they look incredibly real and detailed. Even though all of these images are impressive in their own way, I personally enjoyed the ones of the Las Vegas Strip the most, as they feature outstanding lighting and vibrant colors. If you want to explore the entire Miniatur Wunderland using Street View, you can always head over to Google’s website.

Google Hires the Man Who Developed Tesla’s Autopilot System

Robert Rose, the man who led the development of Tesla’s “Autopilot” project, has been hired by Google not too long ago. The news was confirmed by Robert himself in a way, as he updated his LinkedIn page in order to reflect his new job position. According to Rose’s profile, he spent six months before October this year as an engineering manager for Tesla’s semi-autonomous Autopilot system. He was also employed at Elon Musk’s other company, Space X, for over five years.

Even though it’s not exactly clear right now what Robert will be working on at Google, he could end up developing new tech for the company’s self-driving car project. The self-driving car is Google’s main robotics project, but Rose could also do some work for Boston Dynamics, another company owned by Google.

For its fully autonomous vehicles, Google is using LiDAR technology, something that in Elon Musk’s opinion ‘’doesn’t make sense in a car context” and is ‘’unnecessary’’. The plan for Tesla is to keep using hardware based on cameras for its next Autopilot system, which will undoubtedly be quite impressive. It looks like it’s becoming a common practice to poach employees from rivaling companies, at least as far as Google, Tesla and Apple are concerned. Not too long ago, Musk has referred to Apple as “Tesla’s graveyard” because the Cupertino-based company has hired people who were previously fired from Tesla.

Google Has Lowered Minimum App Prices in Several Countries

After running a series of tests in India earlier this year, Google has decided to officially lower the minimum prices of apps in the Play Store in a total of 17 countries. Up until now, the lowest price for any app was 99 cents regardless of location, but Google realized that this might still be a bit too much in some parts of the world. For example, Poland’s minimum app cost was lowered to 45 cents, but other countries have seen even more drastic changes, including India where the cheapest app will now cost 10 Rupees or just 15 cents.

Those of you who develop apps and are willing sell at lower prices can head over to “Pricing & Distribution” or “In-app Products” in the Google Play Developer Console in order to adjust your pricing scheme. It’s refreshing to see a large company such as Google acknowledge the vast economic differences between the world’s different countries, and this decision to lower app prices will definitely make numerous foreign users quite happy. Below you will find a list including the 17 countries as well as the exact app pricing changes.

  • Brazil: R$ 0.99 (US$0.26) — was R$2.00
  • Chile: CLP $200.00 (US$0.28) — was CLP $500.00
  • Colombia: COP$ 800.00 (US$0.26) — was COP$ 2000.00
  • Hungary: Ft 125.00 (US$0.43) — was Ft 225.00
  • Indonesia: Rp 3,000.00 (US$0.22) — was Rp 12,000.00
  • Malaysia: RM 1.00 (US$0.23) — was RM 3.50
  • Mexico: MXN$ 5.00 (US$0.30) — was MXN$ 9.90
  • Peru: S/. 0.99 (US$0.30) — was S/. 3.00
  • Philippines: ₱15.00 (US$0.32) — was ₱43.00
  • Poland: zł1.79 (US$0.45) — was zł2.99
  • Russia: руб 15.00 (US$0.23) — was руб 30.00
  • Saudi Arabia:﷼ 0.99 (US$0.26) — was 4.00﷼
  • South Africa: R3.99 (US$0.28) — was R10.00
  • Thailand: ฿10.00 (US$0.28) — was ฿32.00
  • Turkey: ₺0.59 (US$0.21) — was ₺2.00
  • Ukraine: ₴5.00 (US$0.21) — was ₴8.00
  • Vietnam: ₫6,000 (US$0.27) — was ₫21,000.00

A Google Self-Driving Car Was Pulled over for Going Too Slow

Well I guess this was bound to happen sooner or later, right? Not too long ago, one of Google’s self-driving cars was pulled over by a police officer near the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. It looks like the car in question was actually going too slow and was impeding traffic, which is why the police officer decided to take action. To be more specific, traffic was slowing down at El Camino Real near Rengstorff Avenue, which is just 2.3 miles away from Google’s headquarters. The car was going 24 mph in a 35 mph zone, and after it was pulled over, the officer made contact with the vehicle’s operators in order to inform them of what just happened.

According to the Neighborhood Electric Vehicle Definition per 385.5 of the California Vehicle Code, Google’s autonomous vehicles can travel on roads that have speed limits under or at 35 mph. Since El Camino Real is rated at 35mph, it appears that the car was operating legally. Google issued a response in which it explained that it has limited the speed of its cars to 25 mph. The company also added the following statement:

“Like this officer, people sometimes flag us down when they want to know more about our project. After 1.2 million miles of autonomous driving (that’s the human equivalent of 90 years of driving experience), we’re proud to say we’ve never been ticketed!”

Chrome Will no Longer Include “OK Google” Extension

Have you ever actually used the “OK Google” extension in order to search for something? If the answer is “no”, then you’re among the majority of Chrome desktop users. Since nobody is really getting some good use out of this eavesdropping feature anyway, Google has decided to remove it from the browser altogether. “OK Google” was implemented for the first time along with Chrome 35 for Windows, Linux and OS X, and it enabled people to conduct searches with the help of their voice. All you had to do was visit Google-dot-com and start speaking to your computer, but according to ArsTechnica, the feature could also be triggered accidentally by doing things such as opening new tabs.

The beginning of the end for this pesky and somewhat useless extension started out in June 2015 when it was discovered that Chromium was downloading a similar binary package. As you can probably imagine, users were not very happy about this, which is why Google decided to remove the package from Chromium. Fast forward to Google 46 and the feature has disappeared completely from the standard browser. However, smartphones will still support the extension, and desktop users can still conduct searches using their voices on the Google homepage.

Google Rewarded the Man Who Bought Google.com in Cash

Just in case you’re not already familiar with this story, I’m going to tell you that not too long ago, a man named Sanmay Ved managed to purchase the Google.com domain for no more than $12, and he actually got to own it for about a minute or so. The system flaw was identified by Google soon enough, and Mr. Ved was refunded the $12 and informed that someone had already purchased the domain. It’s probably safe to assume that Google’s representatives thought that the man who bought Google.com was looking to make some easy money, but Sanmay said that he was going to give any resulting money to charity.

In more recent news, Google’s security team has decided to reward Mr. Ved in cash, who then donated it to an Indian foundation that strives to bring education to impoverished areas. Upon seeing that the money would indeed go to charity, Google has decided to double the sum. Sanmay was reluctant to divulge the exact numbers, but he did say that it was “more than 10,000,” which is definitely nothing to sneeze at. Sanmay has stated that he was never interested in making money from the purchase, which is quite noble of him, wouldn’t you agree?

“I don’t care about the money. It was never about the money. I also want to set an example that it’s people who want to find bugs and that it’s not always about the money.”

Thank you Metro for providing us with this information.

Google Makes it Easier for People to use Public Transport in Delhi

As the capital territory of India, Delhi is one of the busiest places in the country and also one of the hardest to navigate if you’re not familiar with its public transportation routes and schedules. However, Google has just made it a lot easier to use public transport in Delhi, as it has recently released the Delhi Public Transport app. This Android app was created by the Google Maps team and is currently in an “experimental” phase. It gathers public transportation data from Maps and other Google services, and it offers valuable information regarding Metro and bus timetables, routes, directions and schedules.

In order to make sure that it would be useful to as many people as possible, Google’s team designed the app to deliver information offline, and they also made sure that it would be quite small, 1MB to be precise. This way, even the owners of older smartphones can install the app and use it without too many issues. Many other cities in Asia are extremely difficult to navigate, but if Delhi’s Public Transport app proves to be a success, there’s a good chance that Google will focus its attention on other parts of the world as well.

Thank you Techcrunch for providing us with this information.

Ex-Hyundai America CEO Starts Working on Google’s Self-Driving Cars

Google is quite determined to make self-driving cars a common sight in the near future, but in order to achieve its goal, it needs to make sure that these things are completely safe for fellow drivers and pedestrians. The self-driving car project by Google will most likely rely on the valuable input of automotive experts such as John Krafcik, who previously worked at Ford and was the President and CEO of Hyundai’s American branch. John has recently been hired as the new CEO for the self-driving car project, and judging by his resume, he’s definitely the right man for the job. He previously worked on two “lean production” manifestos while he was at MIT, but just because he’s the new CEO of the project, this does not mean that Google will start mass-producing self-driving cars right away.

The little cars were tested on public roads over the last few months in Mountain View, California and in Austin, Texas. The initial tests proved that they are able to avoid pedestrians and traffic without too much trouble, but there’s still a lot of work to be done before they can be declared legal. Even though it might end up becoming its own company under Alphabet at some point, the self-driving car project will remain a part of Google X for now, with Krafcik at the helm.

When talking about this new job and about the project, John Krafcik said that this new technology “can save thousands of lives, give millions of people greater mobility, and free us from a lot of the things we find frustrating about driving today.”

Thank you TheVerge for providing us with this information.

Google Accused by India of Manipulating Search Results

This is certainly not the first time that Google has been accused of taking advantage of its dominant position in the search engine world, and it probably won’t be the last. This time around, it is India’s Competition Commission that’s accusing the company of gaming search results, and it looks like other companies such as Facebook and Flipkart are also pointing their fingers at Google, at least according to a report in India’s Economic Times.

The main idea is that Google is willingly pushing its own products in the search results instead of those wanted by users. A good example relates to CNBC’s India-based website MoneyControl, which will be surpassed by Google Finance in the search results even though it is definitely more popular. Google is expected to respond to the accusations within ten days, after which public hearings are set to commence. This could hurt Google quite a bit if things go bad, as the commission has the right to fine the company up to 10 percent of its income. If European representatives decide to form their own accusations, Alphabet is in for some serious trouble.

Do you think that Google is cheating on search results in order to make sure that its own products become more popular than others?

Thank you Engadget for providing us with this information.

Google Ordered by the UK to Remove Links To “Right to Be Forgotten” News

Google’s “Right to be Forgotten” initiative is definitely a noble one as it removes all irrelevant or outdated links pointing to certain individuals. However, as you can probably imagine, Google was swarmed with countless requests, and even though it managed to fulfill most of them, the search giant eventually did something that made the whole business redundant: it added links to news stories regarding the removals. The problem is that many of these news stories actually included the names of those who requested the removals as well as their past misdemeanors, which is why a UK court is now ordering Google to remove links to stories about removing links. Yeah, I know how it sounds.

Initially, Google refused to remove search results pointing to stories about the “right to be forgotten” law, and it explained its decision by stating that censoring this content is a “matter of significant public informance.” On one hand, the UK Information Commissioner’s Office tends to agree, but it cannot stand idly while some of these cases are basically making a non-public person’s life an open book. The Commissioner’s Office released the following statement:

“Content relating to the decisions to delist search results may be newsworthy and in the public interest. However, that interest can be adequately and properly met without a search made on the basis of the complainant’s name.”

Google has 35 days to remove the links, but it also has the right to appeal the decision.

Thank you Engadget for providing us with this information.

Google’s Project Sunroof Makes Solar Panel Implementation Easier

Google’s always keeping an eye on what people search for using its search engine, so when it noticed that more and more users were looking for information on how to install and use solar panels, it decided to launch Project Sunroof in order to help them out. This new Google project uses Google Earth data in order to tell users just how much sunlight comes down on their roof and where are its primary hotspots. The project can also calculate how much a household could save on bills after installing solar panels, and it even ensures a link to some local companies that specialize in solar roofs.

It’s worth noting that the feature is only available in Boston, the Bay Area and Fresno right now, but it will surely expand to other areas in the future. If you currently live in one of these places, you can just type in your home address and let Project Sunroof do its thing. It will tell you how much sunlight reaches your roof in a year and will suggest how many solar panels you should install. The application works by analyzing a 3D model of your roof, and it takes into account nearby buildings or trees that could cast a shadow on it. Historical temperature patterns as well as sun positions throughout the year are also analyzed in order to deliver the most accurate data possible.

Thank you TechSpot for providing us with this information.

Google Will Soon Provide Free Internet in Sri Lanka

Google’s efforts to bring free internet to some of the world’s most remote areas is certainly commendable, and even though Project Loon is a very difficult project to complete on a global scale, Google is definitely making some incredible progress. To be more specific, Project Loon is expected to launch for the first time in Sri Lanka, which makes sense since this particular island country has been very supportive of the endeavor. Also, the fact that Sri Lanka measures just 25,000 square miles definitely helps.

The actual plan involves Google working closely with the island’s own internet providers in order to allow them to expand their range and service quality, which means that Project Loon for Sri Lanka won’t deliver free internet for everyone but will rather expand the coverage of existing networks. Keep in mind that the service can only deliver 3G speeds at this point, which means that tasks that require a bit of bandwidth such as high-quality video streaming will likely not be supported. However, light web browsing and the occasional YouTube video can be enjoyed in 3G without too many issues. Sri Lanka currently boasts about 20 million citizens, out of which only a bit over 3 million enjoy internet access. Therefore, Project Loon has the potential to improve the quality of life for many people. Google plans to start launching balloons by next March.

Thank you TheVerge for providing us with this information.

Google Drive Receives an Information Rights Management Feature

If you are working with sensitive information all the time, then perhaps Google Drive is not your first choice when it comes to storing important documents. However, thanks to a new feature called Information Rights Management (IRM), Google Drive is now a much more viable option, as it allows its users to remain in full control of the sensitive information even after the document has been shared. IRM prevents viewers from downloading, printing or copying shared documents, and it can be activated easily enough by checking a box in Drive’s “advanced settings” section.

For now, the new feature only works in the full web version of Google Drive, which means that it cannot be accessed through mobile apps. A downside to IRM is that it automatically disables printing, copying and downloading at the same time, which means that the user cannot choose to restrict these actions individually. This new feature can definitely come in handy for big companies, as it is likely to prevent leaks. Furthermore, developers will enjoy access to IRM’s options through the Google Drive API.

Information Rights Management will become available for all Drive users in the following days. Are you more likely to use Google’s file storage service now?

Thank you TechSpot for providing us with this information.

Google Will Soon Take up Residence in a Converted Coal Plant

There’s nothing surprising about Google expanding and creating new data centers, right? However, choosing to convert an actual coal power plant into a data center is something that I did not anticipate. This is actually a pretty smart move if you think about it, as Google does not need to build its new Alabama center from scratch as long as it can operate within an existing building. The Widows Creek factory in Jackson County will close its doors in October because of certain regulation changes concerning the monitoring and storage of coal ash.

This factory has been giving out power to the county since the 1960s, and Google is now planning to make good use of its electric transmission lines. Still, it looks like the company won’t actually be using any fossil fuels in order to obtain power for the data center but will work closely with local authorities in order to secure renewable energy sources that will feed right into the factory’s electrical grid. The building’s transformation is scheduled to begin early next year.

This is not the first time that Google has repurposed an old building, as its Finland data center used to be an old paper mill.

Thank you Engadget for providing us with this information.

Is Google Preparing For Mass Production of Their Smartwatches?

If you follow tech news you would have known that Google’s new software Google Now is due for an appearance in the general consumer market any time soon. From features such as real-time updates on train times, traffic reports and even flight delays, Google Now is soon to be “the next big thing”, but the real question is: Will Google beat Apple to a Smartwatch?

We all know how large Apple is and what they’ve done with technology. With incredible leaps and bounds through the world of development, Apple have been practically one step ahead of everyone in terms of understanding exactly what consumers want, but can Google really beat Apple to the mark this time?

Google Now is a revolutionary new piece of technology which is aimed to be embedded inside of technology such as Google Glasses, making life easier to deal with by having your trusted companion there by your side with second by second updates on exactly what you need to know and when you want to know it.

A Smartwatch has recently been the main focus point for tech blogs, developers and even marketers across the globe and recent news has been going around that Google has been tapping into Asia’s massive manufacturing lines to up the production of their smartwatches. This quite possibly has been done to compete with Apple’s own Smartwatch which will be based around iOS, allowing Google to match Apple’s amazingly high production rate and become a viable competitor.

Are you interested in a Smartwatch or do you see it as a fad? Let us know in the comment section below!

Thanks to Mashable for the information!