TIME Internet

Google’s Nuttiest Project Is Making Big Progress

Google Internet Balloon
Jon Shenk—AP Google has been testing balloons which sail into the stratosphere and beam Internet down to Earth.

Project Loon is getting a lot more sophisticated

Project Loon, Google’s ambitious plan to deliver Internet access to remote places via balloons, is becoming more than just a moonshot. At its annual I/O developers conference, the company told Bloomberg that it has had two key breakthroughs with Loon recently that could help it scale to achieve its goal.

Initially launching a single balloon required a dozen employees. Now Google has built a 50-ft.-(15-m)-tall, cube-shaped contraption called the Autolauncher, which can send balloons airborne every 15 minutes with the aid of just four people.

Secondly, Google has increased the range the balloons can travel and still carry an Internet connection. The company has developed technology to transfer Internet signals from balloon to balloon, which will allow the balloons to travel up to 497 miles (800 km) away from a ground station that’s connected to the Internet. Previously the balloons could only travel 50 miles (80 km) from a ground station and maintain an Internet signal. With the new innovation, Google will be able to cover the entire region of West Africa using only about eight ground stations.

Though Loon is still in an experimental phase, the advancements mean it may reach commercial deployment sometime in 2016.

TIME Google

Gmail Just Hit a Pretty Major Milestone

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.

It's closing in on 1 billion users

Google’s Gmail, already the most popular email service around, just notched member No. 900 million, the company announced at its annual I/O developers conference this week.

Gmail doubled its number of users in the last three years, USA Today reports. The announcement was made by Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president of products.

The news comes as Google is publicly launching Inbox, a version of Gmail designed for mobile phones. Over three-quarters of Gmail users log into their email accounts from their phones.

Google’s Pichai recently spoke with Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky about the company’s business strategy and being patient.

TIME Innovation

Google Wants to Put a Touch Sensor on Your Pants

In this March 23, 2010 file photo, the Google logo is seen at the Google headquarters in Brussels.
Virginia Mayo—AP In this March 23, 2010 file photo, the Google logo is seen at the Google headquarters in Brussels.

Get ready for smart clothing

Soon your clothes may be able to communicate with your phone. At its annual I/O developers conference, Google is demoing a new smart fabric that it calls Project Jacquard, made by its experimental Advanced Technologies and Projects group. The fabric is made using conductive thread and works similarly to a touchpad, using low-power Wi-Fi to interact with other devices. Jacquard can sense multiple finger presses and even varying amounts of pressure. In the demo, Google showed the fabric being used to change the brightness and color of smart light bulbs as well as to control a media player.

The company said a primary initial use case for the technology would be to control a smartphone. So get ready to use your pants to fiddle with the smartphone that’s already sitting right in your pocket.



TIME Innovation

Google’s Ultra-Cheap Virtual Reality Now Works With iPhones

Google Cardboard iPhone VR
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images An attendee inspects Google Cardboard during the 2015 Google I/O conference on May 28, 2015 in San Francisco, Calif.

The headset costs around $20

Google released Cardboard for iOS to the App Store on Friday, officially bringing the company’s ultra-cheap virtual reality to iPhones.

The free app, which works in conjunction with a DIY mount costing about $20, is available for the iPhone 5 and above, and early reviews report a smooth experience. Google also unveiled at the annual I/O 2015 developer’s conference this week several other new changes to Cardboard, including supporting phones sized up to six inches.

Cardboard, unveiled last year at I/O 2014, was originally designed for Android phones and available on only Google Play — though that didn’t stop iPhone users from coming up with creative ways to use Cardboard with their iPhones.

TIME Google

Here’s the Best Feature in Google’s New Photos App

Here's the best feature in Google's new photos app

Google’s new photos app for iOS and Android has one truly standout new feature: It offers users suggestions to delete similar photos, potentially freeing up tons of space in the process, as Business Insider highlights.

A Google employee demoing the new product this week called it a “free-up space ability.” During the demo, the app reportedly suggested that he delete over three gigabytes of duplicate photos, illustrating how useful the feature could be to users looking to get more space on their mobile devices.

The new app, which allows users to backup an unlimited number of photos and videos to the cloud, also comes with a powerful search function. Photos uploaded to Google Photos for free, which was taken from Google’s semi-defunct Google Plus social network, will be capped at 16 megapixels, while users can upload videos with resolution up to 1080p.

TIME Google

Google Is Testing Hands-free Payments With McDonald’s and Papa Johns

The tech giant is testing an app that will let you pay at the store without pulling out your wallet or phone

Google is testing a futuristic way for shoppers to pay for what they buy without having to take out their wallet — or even their phones.

The technology, known as hands-free payments, is supposed to make paying in stores that much easier. All a customer has to do is download an app onto their phone. When checking out at a store, all they have to do is stand in front of the cash register and say their name to the cashier. A blue tooth sensor automatically detects whether they have the app and then bills them.

Google revealed the test Thursday at its annual developers conference in San Francisco. Fast food giant McDonald’s and pizza chain Papa John’s have partnered with Google to experiment with the technology in the Bay Area.

Details about Google’s payment system are still fuzzy. The company emphasized that it is an experiment. It may rely on Bluetooth technology to sense that your mobile phone is nearby. Shoppers who make a purchase receive a notification on their phone about being billed.

The technology is just one of many ideas involving mobile payments, a particularly hot space in the tech industry. A number of companies like Apple are experimenting with different ways for consumers to pay using their phones under the theory that paying digitally is more convenient than using cash or credit cards.

Google isn’t the first company to tackle hands-free payments. Payments company Square introduced hands-free payments in 2011, but has since retired its consumer-facing app that included the feature. In 2013, PayPal premiered a similar technology using Beacon, a Bluetooth device retailers placed in their stores.

In addition to discussing hands-free payments, Google unveiled a new mobile payments wallet and platform on Thursday called Android Pay.

TIME Google

The 4 Biggest Things Google Announced Today

Android lovers, this is your Christmas

At its annual I/O developers conference Thursday, talk unsurprisingly centered on the company’s Android mobile operating system.

While the company didn’t have any super-surprising reveals, Google’s product roadmap indicates that Android is only going to become more versatile as it enters sectors such as commerce and the smart home. Google is also become more skilled at tying together its disparate services into a single, pleasing user experience, as evinced by the expanded focus on Google Now.

Here’s a quick roundup of the four biggest new announcements Google made Thursday:

Google Now gets even smarter

Google’s sophisticated digital assistant Google Now already offers up curated news, trip reminders, suggested travel routes and other info to make daily life easier. Now the company is expanding its functionality across multiple apps with Now on Tap. When using apps such as music players and email clients, users can simply press the home button or ask Google a question verbally to get context-sensitive answers based on what’s on screen (if your significant other texts you to ask you to pick up laundry, for example, Now on Tap will suggest adding a reminder to your calendar). The new features could give Now a leg up against Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana.

Android Pay looks a whole lot like Apple Pay

After years of tepid response to Google Wallet, the company is taking another shot at mobile payments with Android Pay. The new platform, available later this year in the U.S., will let users load their credit card information onto their phones and then use their phones to pay at physical retailers. The functionality is very similar to Apple Pay, which quickly managed to make a bigger splash than Google Wallet ever did. Android Pay will be available at 700,000 retail stores, including Whole Foods, Macy’s and Walgreens.

A new photo app with unlimited storage

Photo storage and organization was one of the best features of Google+. Now Google is bringing that strength to all its users with a new standalone app, Google Photos. Users of the app, available on Android, iOS and the web, will have unlimited photo and video storage. The revamped service also boasts some impressive search features. Users can search by location, objects in the photo (boats, for instance) or even by face. The updated apps rolled out on Thursday.

A new OS for the Internet of Things

Given that Google shelled out billions for smart thermostat company Nest, it’s no surprise that the company is making a power play to control the living room. The company announced Project Brillo, an Android-powered operating system for connected devices, as well as Weave, a common language to let connected Brillo devices communicate. Brillo will support both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, giving developers multiple ways to let users connect.

TIME Google

Google Is Bringing Virtual Reality to the Classroom

Sundar Pichai, senior vice-president of Products for Google Inc., speaks during the Google I/O Annual Developers Conference in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, May 28, 2014. Google Inc. executives are taking the stage this week to talk about a plethora of new technologies, including automobiles, home automation, digital TV, Web-connected devices and a new version of Android. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** Sundar Pichai
David Paul Morris—© 2015 Bloomberg Finance LP Sundar Pichai, senior vice-president of Products for Google Inc., speaks during the Google I/O Annual Developers Conference in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, May 28, 2014.

Super-cheap VR has found a home

In 2014, Google made a virtual reality viewer out of cardboard. In 2015, it’s turning it into a teaching tool for school classrooms.

The Google Cardboard headset, which is mostly made out of cardboard and works with Android phones and special apps, turned out to be a hit beyond just a gimmick at the company’s developer conference last year. Clay Bavor, Google vice president of product management said on-stage at this year’s Google I/O conference Thursday that it’s shipped more than 1 million cardboard headsets in the past year. There are also hundreds of cardboard-compatible apps in Google’s app store.

But now, Google is bringing is cheap and easy set to the classroom, helping teachers take their students on virtual field trips with Cardboard units, mobile devices, and software.

Dubbed “Expeditions,” Google’s program is partnering with organizations such as the Planetary Society and the American Museum of Natural History for content. Through Expeditions, teachers will receive a kit for their classrooms which will include cardboard viewers for each student, Android phones, a tablet, and pre-installed software that will keep all the viewers synced together. All the teacher has to do is get the virtual field trip going on their device to send the whole class on a trip together.

Bavor also said Google is releasing a new version of its cardboard viewer, which will now support phones with 6-inch displays and all Android phone models (it previously only fit certain ones). It will also only require three steps to assemble instead of 12.

TIME Google

Finally, You Can Get Your Google Maps Directions Anytime

Google Maps Returns To Apple's iPhone
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

No wireless connection needed

You know those annoying moments when your phone goes offline and you can’t get directions to where you’re going? And it’s always at the least opportune moments?

Good news: That will soon be a thing of the past.

On Thursday, Google announced at its annual developers in San Francisco that turn-by-turn directions would soon be available — even without a data connection. All you have to do is save the route while you’re connected and the directions will be there when you need them.

Also, because GPS doesn’t need LTE coverage, it can still track where you are on your route and estimate the time remaining for your trip.

That will be especially game-changing in communities where fast, reliable wireless infrastructure is spotty. It’s one of many offline improvements Google announced at this year’s conference, including saving search results in Chrome and videos from YouTube.

TIME Google

This Is Google’s Plan for Internet-Connected Everything

Google senior vice president of product Sundar Pichai delivers the keynote address during the 2015 Google I/O conference on May 28, 2015 in San Francisco.
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Google senior vice president of product Sundar Pichai delivers the keynote address during the 2015 Google I/O conference on May 28, 2015 in San Francisco.

Meet 'Project Brillo'

Google announced its planned software for the Internet of things and it’s a pretty nice shot at all the major players trying to horn in on the space while taking advantage of Google’s dominance in the mobile operating system arena today.

Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president of Chrome and App, said the company developed Brillo, a stripped down version of Android that will run on battery-powered connected devices and Weave, a communications standard that will let developers build programs that allow these connected devices to communication.

Brillo will support Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and because it was developed with some input from Nest, although it is not part of the Nest business, Brillo developers at Google may support alternative wireless radio protocols such as Thread.

This is not a new approach to the Internet of things. What Google is doing is building an operating system that device manufacturers can put on their devices to ease the process of getting a device online, manage the connectivity and many of the lower-level hardware functions that manufacturers don’t want to deal with. I’ve covered some of the reasons behind Brillo in a previous story, here.

The other part of Google’s Internet of things strategy is the inclusion of a communications standard called Weave, which will define certain devices and what they can do. So for example, a camera can be turned on or off. Pichai didn’t go into a lot of detail about Weave. He did say that Weave is cross platform, and it exposes developer application programming interfaces, which is a plus for people trying to link their cloud-based services to devices communicating with Weave.

Weave is not a separate protocol, but rather a lightweight schema developers can use. In function it reminds me of what the All Seen Alliance is pushing with AllJoyn and the Open Internet Consortium is trying to do with Iotivity. However, both of those are protocols and it’s not yet clear how all three would compare and contrast for developers.

Pichai also noted that any device running Brillo and Weave will be able to talk to other Android devices, which means that when these are fully implemented the scenario should look similar to what Apple is trying to do with HomeKit—only Google was careful to keep the scope of its efforts at a larger scale. Pichai mentioned the smart home, but also farmers and other use cases. This would give manufacturers of connected devices a reason to use Brillo and weaved over alternatives, because there’s an embedded base of devices that already would talk to them and it makes it much easier to build services that could tie all of the myriad devices together.

Brillo will be available in the third quarter of the year, while Weave will be available in the fourth quarter in its full entirety. Pichai said we can expect bits of Weave information to come out before then.

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