TIME innovations

This Is What Computers Look Like Now and That’s Just Awesome

Google Chromebit
Google Google Chromebit

ASUS' new Chromebit is a very big deal

Take a look at the device above. It’s a colorful USB drive, right? Maybe a very pretty streaming stick?

Nope. That’s a computer.

That’s right: The device before you is ASUS’ Chromebit, a new sub-$100 dongle you can plug into any display and turn it into a full-blown computer running Google’s Chrome OS. The Chromebit packs 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, and HDMI and USB ports. The HDMI port is for connecting to external displays, while the USB helps with attaching a keyboard and mouse — and the Chromebit has Bluetooth, too, making that even easier. (Intel is working on a similar but costlier device running Windows 8.1)

The ASUS Chromebit certainly won’t run laps around a Mac Pro speed-wise when it launches this summer. But that’s not the point. The idea here is more profound.

Using the Chromebit and a decent Internet connection (Chrome OS relies heavily on web access), you could turn any aging computer into a lean, mean processing machine on the cheap. That’s going to have huge implications in places where cost is a major roadblock to better tech, like public schools or the developing world. Instead of upgrading every computer in every school, a cost-strapped district could just buy a whole bunch of Chromebits, plug them in to classrooms’ old computers (or monitors) and essentially turn them into lean terminals for running web apps like Google Docs.

How well the Chromebit performs has yet to be seen. But right off the bat, this is one of the most exciting new products to hit the market in some time.

TIME Video Games

Google Maps Is Now a Giant Game of Pac-Man

Google Maps Pac-Man
Google Maps Google Maps Pac-Man

Now you can finally battle those demons that plague you in your hometown

Remember when Google turned its logo into a game of Pac-Man back in 2010 and office workers collectively spent millions of hours running away from ghosts? Google is now trying to 1-Up that interactive project by turning Google Maps into a giant version of the popular arcade game.

On the desktop version of Google Maps, users can search for nearly any part of the map that has a large number of roads and immediately convert a city into a Pac-Man maze (rural areas don’t work). The signature pellets, blue walls and ravenous ghosts immediately appear in place of street names and landmarks. Users can share their high scores with others via social media and share their specific maps so others can try to top them.

Pac-Man is also available on the Google Maps mobile app, but the game the game is limited to specific locations that Google is revealing through a series of clues that seem to point to famous global locales such as Times Square in New York and the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.

The game is likely part of Google’s planned April Fools Day tricks for this year. Last year the company turned Maps into a giant game of Pokemon on April 1.

TIME apps

Gmail’s Android App Just Got Way Better

Gmail
Gmail Gmail

Now you can combine inboxes and view more email threads as conversations

Android users will no longer have to trawl through multiple email accounts to keep track of all their Gmail messages.

Google is introducing a new feature in the Android version of Gmail that will let users view emails from multiple accounts in a single inbox. The new “all inboxes” option will dump all messages into a single window, even if they are from non-Gmail accounts such as Yahoo or Outlook.

The Android update also includes other new features. The “conversation view,” which groups messages on the same email chain in a single thread, can now be applied to Yahoo, Outlook and other email accounts that are viewed through Gmail. The company has also improved the auto-complete search function and made it possible to save documents to Google Drive with a single button press.

TIME Internet

New Google Doodle Honors Opening of Eiffel Tower

Floriane Marchix—Google New Google Doodle honoring the 126th anniversary of the public opening of the Eiffel Tower

The Parisian centerpiece was the tallest man-made structure in the world for over four decades

Once contemptuously referred to as “a truly tragic street lamp,” the Eiffel Tower of Paris, France, was opened on March 31, 1889, and to celebrate the 126th anniversary a new Google Doodle has been created in its honor.

Construction of the iron lattice structure, named after engineer Gustave Eiffel, began on Jan. 28, 1887. Despite the early protests, the tower was an instant hit, with an estimated 30,000 people climbing its steps in the first weeks — before even an elevator was installed.

Eventually, it grew into a worldwide landmark; as TIME wrote during last year’s 125th anniversary celebrations, “the tower became more than a tower, and more than a symbol of Paris.”

At 1,063 ft. high, it was the tallest man-made structure in the world for over four decades, until it was surpassed by New York City’s Chrysler Building in 1930.

The Doodle itself features a group of supposedly French painters hanging precariously from the tower as they beautify the Grande Dame of Paris.

MONEY Tech

Why Won’t Google Just Let Google Glass Die?

150326_INV_DIEGOOGLEGLASS
Phillip Bond—Alamy

Despite heavy criticism and disappointing sales, the search king is sticking with its Glass initiative.

Google GOOGLE INC. GOOG -0.99% board Chairman Eric Schmidt has never been shy about pushing the envelope in the company’s penchant for innovation. Its ongoing experiments with a self-driving car and those odd-shaped balloons in Project Loon (Google’s effort to beam Internet connectivity to remote regions of the world) are just a couple examples.

However, Google didn’t stop with the cars and balloons. Word has it Google is also working on nanotechnology that would seek out and diagnose cancer and heart disease, among other ailments. That’s heady stuff, and supports the notion that Google is one of the most innovative companies on the planet.

Then there’s Glass. Google’s wearable initiative might have topped the innovation list; instead, after lackluster sales and consumer angst, Google shut down its “Explorer” program, which seemingly put an end to an unsuccessful bid to bring Jetsons-like devices to the world. But according to a recent interview, Schmidt simply won’t let Glass die. And that’s a mistake.

Knowing when to say when

Conceptualizing, let alone developing, the aforementioned innovative technologies speaks volumes about Google. But as with any company willing to take calculated risks that result in fundamental changes in the way consumers live, there are misses along the way.

Longtime Google nemesis Apple APPLE INC. AAPL -0.14% didn’t become the largest company in the world thanks to its digital assistant Newton or the wildly unpopular Pippin gaming console. And those are not even in the same innovation ballpark as nanotechnology pills, let alone Google Glass. But from a business perspective there sometimes comes a time to cut the cord — when did you last see a Newton? — and for Google Glass, that time has come and gone.

What’s the problem?

A big concern, certainly from an investor’s perspective, is there’s no mass market for Glass. While the notion of a fully connected, powerful computer wearable device — which Glass was intended to be — has potential, continuing to pour resources into something consumers aren’t interested in isn’t warranted.

Although Google hasn’t revealed the cost of developing Glass, let alone its ongoing overhead to build a new version with longer battery life, better sound, and improved display, it certainly hasn’t been cheap. For shareholders to get a return on that investment, Glass will need to become a mainstream success, and that’s not going to happen.

It could be argued there is a niche business case for Glass. It could make sense for engineers who want to view detailed 3D specs of a building while it’s being built, or for doctors and other professionals needing to access reference data and communicate on the fly. But Google has put too much money and time into Glass for it to simply meet a few, specific needs. And Schmidt has made it clear: Google intends to bring Glass to the masses.

But according to IDC, by 2018 the entire wearable device market will total a (relatively) paltry 112 million units. To put that in perspective, that same year 1.9 billion smartphones are expected to be shipped globally.

The insurmountable problem

Why is there no market for Glass? After all, Glass is actually a stand-alone, Internet-connected device, unlike the new Apple Watch that has garnered so much press. Apple Watch is like virtually every other device of its ilk: It requires a smartphone to utilize most features, which include what amount to a pager and health monitor. Meanwhile, Glass has actual computing functions, including pictures, audio, and surfing the Internet.

The problems began with poor aesthetics. The first versions of Glass were simply not something most consumers would wear. Google is rumored to be working with designers to remedy the appearance problem, but the poor looks pale in comparison to the biggest concern: privacy. Nearly two years ago, even as Glass was in its earliest stages, a laundry list of industries, including banks, sports arenas, and hospitals, banned Glass.

In some instances the concerns were safety-related, but many restaurants and other public businesses banned Glass because of how uncomfortable it makes their patrons. The notion of Glass owners surreptitiously taking pictures of complete strangers and recording their conversations leaves a lot of people — understandably — uncomfortable.

With privacy becoming more of a concern with each passing day, overcoming that challenge could prove impossible for Glass, rendering it unmarketable. Speaking of Glass, Schmidt said, “These things take time.” True, cutting-edge innovations do take time to develop, and sometimes even to catch on. But all the time in the world won’t help Glass. Sometimes, Google, you have to know when to say when.

Related Links

TIME Companies

Google’s Self-Driving Car May Come With Airbags on the Outside

Transportation Sec'y Foxx Discusses Future Transportation Trends With Google CEO
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx (R) and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt (L) ride in a Google self-driving car at the Google headquarters on February 2, 2015 in Mountain View, California.

Google could be be turning its vehicle into a real-life bumper car

Google’s latest idea might be its craziest yet. The tech company has secured a patent for airbags that go on the outside of the car to protect nearby pedestrians.

Skeptics have questioned how safe Google’s driverless car can be, and the new patent, awarded to the company on Tuesday, suggests the Google is taking great strides to reassure consumers. According to the patent, airbags on the bumper of the vehicle would deploy when sensors detect an imminent crash.

Though normal airbags would send pedestrians flying in the other direction, likely injuring or killing them, the patent says the Google car airbags would be made of “visco-elastic material.” Though Google doesn’t specify what exactly that material is, Quartz describes it as something similar to memory foam that would cushion the blow to pedestrians so that they are not pushed to the street.

Though the idea sounds bizarre, Google is not the first to come up with it. Volvo also has outside airbags that raise the hood and come out of the windshield. (See a demonstration of the Volvo technology below.) But don’t expect to see these ballooning cars on the streets anytime soon: Volvo has not yet used the technology, and just because Google has acquired the patent doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily use it.

MONEY Banking

Google Wants You to Use Gmail to Pay Your Bills

Google is working on a service, code-named Pony Express, that would let you receive and pay bills from your inbox.

TIME Money

Soon You’ll Be Able to Pay Bills Right Inside Gmail

US-TECHONOLOGY-GOOGLE
Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images Google's lead designer for "Inbox by Gmail" Jason Cornwell shows the app's functionalities on a nexus 6 android phone during a media preview in New York on October 29, 2014.

Gmail users could pay electric or telephone bills from their inbox

Google has already been experimenting with turning Gmail into a commerce platform. Now, the company may be poised to take the next step down that path by letting users pay their bills using the email service.

Re/code has viewed documents describing a new service dubbed “Pony Express” that would allow users to link up their electricity, phone and other utility bills to their Gmail account. Users would be able to pay the bills within Gmail using a credit card or a bank account withdrawal. The bills would be bundled together in a special Pony Express folder within Gmail or Google’s new email app Inbox, according to the documents.

A Google spokeswoman declined to comment.

Launching a bill-paying service would give Google more access to users’ personal and financial information. It would also keep users more tightly tethered to Google’s services. However, many utilities already offer online payment systems, so it’s not clear whether people would adopt a Google version of online billing en masse.

MONEY Tech

3 Companies Apple Needs to Watch Out For

Apple Store, 5th Avenue, New York
Alamy

The world's most valuable tech company is riding high, but there are a few companies it should notice in the rearview mirror.

Apple APPLE INC. AAPL -0.14% is on top of the world. The stock hit a new all-time high late last month, and now the market is looking forward to next month’s debut of the Apple Watch as the class act of Cupertino makes its first push into wearable computing.

This doesn’t mean that the coast is clear for Apple. There are a few companies that may have Apple in their crosshairs, and we asked our Motley Fool investing experts which companies they thought that Apple can’t ignore if it wants to stay on top.

Rick Munarriz: There isn’t a riverboat gambler as gutsy as Amazon.com’s AMAZON.COM INC. AMZN -0.5% Jeff Bezos in consumer tech, and that could spell trouble for Apple down the line. Bezos conceded late last year that he has spent billions on failures at the leading online retailer, but that hasn’t stopped him from placing more bold bets. He’s crazy as a fox, and margin-heavy Apple is the mother of all hen houses.

Amazon isn’t afraid to sacrifice margins for the sake of market share, explaining why you can buy a Kindle e-reader for as little as $79 and a Kindle Fire tablet for less than $100. His aim isn’t always true. Last year’s Fire Phone was a flop, and that’s comforting for Apple investors since the iPhone accounted for more than two-thirds of Apple’s sales in its latest quarter. However, with Kindle and Fire TV products butting heads with pricier Apple counterparts the battle is real. Apple rightfully commands a market premium for its products, but with Bezos willing to take big hits in the pursuit of relevance it’s a hard company to dismiss in Apple’s rearview mirror.

Dan Caplinger: Many investors see Garmin GARMIN LTD. GRMN -0.95% as already having gotten defeated by Apple and other mobile-device makers, as the company that pioneered special-purpose GPS devices for navigation has found that smartphones like Apple’s iPhone have enough navigational prowess to handle ordinary GPS applications like driving directions without a custom device. Yet as Apple prepares to move into the smartwatch market with its Apple Watch, Garmin will once again pose a competitive threat that Apple will have to overcome.

Garmin has done a good job of catering to enthusiasts with its watch offerings. Its D2 Pilot and Quatix Marine watches help airplane pilots and boat captains handle essential navigational tasks, with specific capabilities that an all-purpose watch like Apple Watch won’t be able to match. At the same time, Garmin has a good reputation for its fitness products, with the Forerunner series of high-end watches providing independent GPS navigation without the need for wireless connectivity along with a host of heart-rate and physical-performance metrics for avid runners, cyclists, and other athletes.

Garmin’s focus on specialized niches has served it well after losing much of its all-purpose GPS business. To maximize its success, Apple will have to lure some of Garmin’s loyal customers away by going beyond basic apps to take full advantage of whatever technological capabilities the Apple Watch ends up having.

Tim Beyers: Web-based computing is no longer a “someday” affair. For evidence, look at the astounding growth of salesforce.com. The poster company for cloud computing doubled earnings per share in the latest quarter as revenue soared 25.7% and its backlog of booked business grew to a whopping $9 billion.

Importantly, salesforce isn’t the only one seeing heightened interest in cloud alternatives. In its annual report on the state of the cloud, hosting provider RightScale said that 88% of the 930 IT professionals it surveyed are using the public cloud to power apps and get business done.

Why should Apple investors care? The iEmpire banks on attracting users into a closed, device-dependent ecosystem. Richer cloud environments could help break the company’s vice grip on users, and no one is working harder than Google GOOGLE INC. GOOGL -0.94% to enable this future.

Success has come slowly but surely. According to Net Applications, Chrome has consistently grown its share of the browser market since April of last year. (From 17.92% then, to 24.69% as of February.) Chromebooks are also on the rise, accounting for 25% of low-cost laptops sold in the U.S. Sales are on track to nearly triple over the next three years, Gartner reports.

For now, Chromebooks are limited in scope and functionality when compared to a full-blown Mac. What happens when that’s no longer true? What happens when I can get a high-performance Alienware laptop built to run Chrome OS apps as fast and functionally as native software on a MacBook? That could take years, of course. But it’ll be a disruptive day for Apple when it finally arrives.

TIME Smartphones

Your Next Phone Could Stay Unlocked As You Carry It

US-TECHONOLOGY-GOOGLE
Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images Google's lead designer for "Inbox by Gmail" Jason Cornwell shows the app's functionalities on a nexus 6 android phone during a media preview in New York on October 29, 2014.

Google might bring the feature to more Android phones

Google wants to make unlocking your phone less of a hassle.

The company is introducing a new Android feature called “on-body protection” that will allow a phone to remain unlocked as long as a person is carrying it in their hands, purse or pocket. The feature makes use of smartphones’ accelerometers to detect when the phone is in motion. When the phone comes to a standstill for a while, like when it’s placed on a desk, the lock screen will reappear.

There’s a tradeoff for the added convenience, of course. On-body protection could make it easier for a pickpocket or phone-snatcher to gain access to your device after they swipe it.

The new option was first spotted on Nexus phones but is expected to roll out to other Android devices soon, according to The Verge.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com