Google

Google’s speech recognition technology now has a 4.9% word error rate

Google CEO Sundar Pichai today announced that the company’s speech recognition technology now has achieved a 4.9 percent word error rate. Put another way, Google transcribes every 20th word incorrectly. That’s a big improvement from the 23 percent the company saw in 2013 and the 8 percent it shared two years ago at I/O 2015.

The tidbit was revealed at Google’s I/O 2017 developer conference, where a big emphasis is artificial intelligence. Deep learning, a type of AI, is used to achieve accurate image recognition and speech recognition. The method involves ingesting lots of data to train systems called neural networks, and then feeding new data to those systems in an attempt to make predictions.

“We’ve been using voice as an input across many of our products,” Pichai said onstage. “That’s…

Google gives developers more monetization options with Payment API, redesigned AdMob, and Play store ads

While Google’s Marketing Next conference is next week, the company had some developer-specific ads news to share at its I/O 2017 developer conference. The company highlighted three improvements for developers: the Google Payment API, a redesigned AdMob, and

Google has expanded its payment solutions with the Google Payment API, which lets merchants and developers offer their users to pay with credit and debit cards saved to their Google Account. Payment options include a credit or a debit card previously saved via Android Pay, a payment card used to transact on the Play Store, or a form of payment stored via Chrome. They can use these saved payment options in third-party apps and mobile sites, as well as in Google Assistant.

For users, the API means faster checkout as they are more likely to be able to have a saved card when they see the option to pay with Google on supported apps or sites. For developers, the API means faster checkout, more conversions, increased sales, and fewer abandoned carts.

Google has completely redesigned AdMob, which has paid over $3.5 billion in ads revenue to developers across 1 million apps on Android and iOS. Rebuilt from the ground up, AdMob has embraced Google’s Material Design on desktop and mobile. For example, it’s now easier to pick an app, check out its key metrics, and…

What’s New in Android O, Arriving Summer 2017

Google I/O 2017 keynote is in the books, and as usual, Google showed us a preview of the latest version of Android. Codenamed O, the next iteration of Google’s mobile operating system is coming this summer, but you can get your hands on the beta right now. Here are the best features you’ll see when it drops.

Just like with Android N, Google is offering a formal beta program for Android O. Device support for this build is much smaller than it was for the N preview, however, with only a handful of units being eligible:

  • Nexus 6P
  • Nexus 5X
  • Google Pixel
  • Google Pixel XL
  • Nexus Player
  • Pixel C

If you have any of those devices, you can jump in on the beta here. A word of caution, however: I do not recommend using this if it’s your only phone. This is very much a beta and not meant for daily use. You have been warned.

Not so brave? Here’s a list of what you’ll get when Android O drops this summer.

Fluid Experiences

Google is bringing a new set of features to Android O that it calls “Fluid Experiences”. It includes Picture in Picture, Notification Dots, Autofill, and Smart Text Selection. Here’s a brief look at each one.

Picture in Picture Puts One App Above Another

In Android Nougat (7.x), we got the ability to run two apps on the screen at once with Multi-window. While a super useful feature in its own right, it’s not always best solution. So with O, Google is bringing Picture in Picture mode to the small screen. This will let users open an app in the foreground, while keeping something like a YouTube video running in a smaller window on top. The early implementation looks really solid so far.

Notification Dots Let You Know What Apps Have Notifications

If you’ve ever used something like Nova Launcher that has built-in notification “badges,” then you already know what Notification Dots are all about. Basically, this a quick way to see pending notifications (aside from using the notification bar, of course) on home screen icons. Unfortunately, they are exactly what the name suggests: dots. Not numbers or anything of the sort. It’s also unclear if these will work in the app drawer as well.

One cool thing about Notification Dots is the long-press action. With the long-press features introduced with Pixel Launcher, you are able to do more with home screen icons, and Notification Dots takes this a step further by allowing you to actually see the notification by long-pressing the icon. It’s rad.

Autofill Passwords in Apps

Chrome has had autofill features for a long time—be it passwords or form data. Now that feature is coming to Android apps as well. For example, if Chrome has your Twitter or Facebook login credentials saved, the app will autofill and login on your Android phone. This is a feature that’s way overdue, and I’m so glad to see it coming front and center in Android O.

Smart Text Selection Gives You Context-Aware Shortcuts

Google Assistant arrives on iPhone

At its I/O 2017 developer conference today, Google announced Google Assistant is coming to iOS today as a standalone app, rolling out to the U.S. first. Until now, the only way iPhone users could access Google Assistant was through Allo, the Google messaging app nobody uses.

Scott Huffman, vice president of Google Assistant engineering, made the announcement onstage. He also revealed that Google Assistant is already available on over 100 million Android devices. That’s Google’s way of hinting to developers that they should start building for the tool.

Huffman also added that Google Assistant is becoming available in more languages on both Android and iOS (it’s still English-only today). Support for French, German, Brazilian-Portuguese, and Japanese is coming later this summer while Italian, Spanish, and Korean will be available by the…

How Uber and Waymo Ended Up Rivals in the Race for Driverless Cars

SAN FRANCISCO — At a technology conference in mid-2014, the Google co-founder Sergey Brin presented the company’s first prototype for a self-driving car. Watching in the audience was Travis Kalanick, chief executive of Uber, the ride-hailing start-up.

Mr. Brin’s presentation in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. — including a video of a compact two-seater autonomously doing laps around a parking lot — jolted Mr. Kalanick, according to two people who spoke with him. Google, the search giant — long considered an Uber ally — seemed to be turning on him. And even as Uber was a growing force to be reckoned with, it was lacking in self-driving car technology, an important field of study that might affect the future of transportation.

So Mr. Kalanick spent much of 2015 raiding Google’s engineering corps. To learn about the technology, he struck up a friendship with Anthony Levandowski, a top autonomous vehicle engineer at “G-co,” Mr. Kalanick’s pet name for Google.

The two men often spoke for hours about the future of driving, meeting at the Ferry Building in San Francisco and walking five miles to the Golden Gate Bridge, according to two people familiar with the executives, who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The friendship developed into a partnership. Mr. Levandowski left Google last year to form Otto, a self-driving trucking start-up. Uber acquired it months later for nearly $700 million. Mr. Kalanick subsequently appointed Mr. Levandowski to run Uber’s autonomous vehicle research.

That relationship has since set off a legal morass, with Google’s self-driving vehicle business — now called Waymo — accusing Mr. Levandowski of creating Otto as a front to steal trade secrets from Google, then using the findings with Uber’s driverless cars. On Monday, a federal judge in San Francisco barred Mr. Levandowski from working on a crucial component of Uber’s self-driving car technology for the duration of the case.

The implications are set to reverberate far beyond the courtroom. Any setback for Uber will shake up the driverless car industry, which is locked in a bitter race to introduce and commercialize autonomous cars. Silicon Valley tech titans and Detroit automakers are making huge investments — bets that autonomous vehicle technology will usher in a new age of how people get around. For some companies, especially traditional carmakers, their very survival is at stake.

While Google has been developing autonomous vehicle technology for more than a decade, others have raced to catch up. General Motors, Ford, Apple, Tesla, Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are among those that have jumped in. All are competing — and sometimes cooperating — for a slice of a new market expected to top $77 billion over the next two decades, according to a study from Boston Consulting Group.

Uber has been ahead of many others in publicly testing autonomous vehicles. Last year, the company began a pilot program of autonomous cars in Pittsburgh; it has also done testing in San Francisco and Tempe, Ariz.

That aggressiveness has spurred an intense rivalry with Waymo. Waymo’s legal pursuit of Uber and Mr. Levandowski is out of corporate character; Google has tended to refrain from suing former employees who move to competitors. Many at Google and Waymo are incensed at Mr. Levandowski and how he may have betrayed them for a rich payday, according to current and former employees.

That has pushed Waymo to strike back. Beyond suing Uber, Waymo said on Sunday it had teamed up with Lyft, a ride-hailing rival, on driverless car initiatives.

“This is a race where every single minute seems to…

Google launches Cloud Spanner globally distributed relational database service out of beta

Google today announced that Cloud Spanner, the company’s globally distributed relational database service, is now generally available. The company is promising enterprise database features, including ANSI 2011 SQL support, ACID transactions, 99.999 percent availability, and strong consistency — all without compromising latency.

Cloud Spanner first launched in beta just three months ago. The service is an implementation of the Spanner software that Google documented in a 2012 paper and has been using internally for years. Now customers can use the same software that Google uses to power Google Play and AdWords.

Thanks to atomic clocks and GPS receivers across Google’s global network, Cloud Spanner also offers additional accuracy, reliability, and performance in the form of a fully managed cloud database service. Google says Cloud Spanner is already powering mission-critical applications…

Android O, Google Assistant and augmented reality: What to expect at Google I/O

Google’s biggest event of the year is about to get underway.

The company’s developers conference, Google I/O, is just hours away so naturally the rumor mill has already kicked into high gear. At this year’s event, we expect to hear much more about the next version of Android, Google’s plans for its Assistant, and what’s going on with its VR platform, Daydream.

Of course, as with every year, there are bound to be a few surprises as well. But for now, here’s a look at everything we’re expecting to see (and, in some cases not see) at I/O.

Android O(reo?)

Though Google already released the first developer preview for Android O (the version of Android after N, or Nougat), I/O is when we’ll finally hear about what’s next for Android in much, much, more detail. Given what we’ve seen in the preview, though, we know improvements to notifications and battery life are likely to be a big focus. We also know customizable app icons for different device types, picture-in-picture and improved autofill are also on the table.

Image: oreo

As for the name, it’s anyone’s guess. The company could go the crowd-source route like it did last year, or it could have the name already picked out. The current favorite, though, seems to be Android Oreo — and not just because it’s one of the only sugary treats that starts with the letter “O.”

Earlier this year, Oreo released a mobile game that encourages users to snap photos of cookies with their phones in order to virtually “dunk” the cookies through space. The game, which uses…

Microsoft’s Apps Problem Has Never Been More Dire

At Microsoft’s Build conference, the dorkiest of companies put on a big show, complete with fog machines and fancy lights, in order to show it’s a cool competitor to Apple and Google. The speakers who came on stage during keynotes had stylish hair. “Do they have dressers backstage?” an attendee asked a group of us when it was all over.

Build exists to get developers excited. The biggest devs blow upwards of $2000 for a three-day pass to the event, where they have unlimited drinks, plentiful meals, and access to Microsoft’s best and brightest. Part of Microsoft’s wooing process involves appearing “hip” to a group of developers who resemble the cast of Silicon Valley in all the worst ways. Hence the light show and Microsoft EVP Terry Myerson’s questionable hoodie and leather vest combo. It wants these devs so amped that they’ll rush back to their MacBook Airs and Surface Books to crank out brilliant software, hopefully for Microsoft’s Windows Store, which has just one third of the apps of much cooler stores from Google and Apple.

With the arrival of Windows 10 S, which can only use apps from the Windows Store, the app marketplace has never been more important than today. Yet time after time over the course of the event, Microsoft dropped the ball on its pitch to developers in favor of niche distractions.

Apple’s a monolith of money and users, and thanks to Android and Chrome OS, Google is right there with it. Both have OS platforms with heavily used app stores. They’ve built customer bases of hungry fans that enthusiastically embrace their hardware and software products, and consequently, developers want to build apps that work with Apple and Google platforms.

Microsoft, on the other hand, can’t seem to ditch the buttoned-up association it’s developed for making the work computer you don’t want to use. Its reputation is seemingly forever cemented by those old Mac vs PC commercials. Attempts to rewrite the script have been met with mixed success. On the hardware side, Microsoft has become a genuine player in the field of coveted kit. The Surface Pro and Studio are ambitious devices that are legitimately exciting. The Surface Laptop announced earlier this month is one of the most interesting products announced so far this year.

But Microsoft’s software landscape is still dorktown and one of the big ways Microsoft’s attempting to undorkify things is by leaning into the Windows Store. There’s a problem though. Microsoft’s app store in uncommonly small compared to the other guys. According to Microsoft, in 2015 there were just 669,000 apps available. (The company hasn’t officially updated that number since.) According to Statista Apple and Google both have more than three times that number of apps available in their stores.

The number of available apps alone doesn’t necessarily dictate the quality of someone’s computing experience, but…

Slack is working to make bots more discoverable

Slack recently shared insights into how it plans to compete with new entrants to the enterprise chat landscape that include Microsoft Teams, Google’s Hangout Chats, and Workplace by Facebook.

Near-, mid-, and long-term plans for the future of the Slack platform for bots were updated Friday in this publicly visible Trello project management board.

In the near term, Slack will make bots discoverable for users inside Slack. Today Slack bots are added from the Slack App Directory with a web browser. The company also plans to enable “deeper messaged-based interactivity with text input and more” and track new events like when a Slack team uninstalls an app or bot.

The ability to install Slack bots inside Slack is a mid-term goal, as is allowing new display of attachments like lists and tables inside Slack.

Long term, Slack wants…