Google’s new safety app will help you find friends and family in an emergency

Image: Press Association via AP Images

When something goes wrong, one of the first things you think about is getting in touch with the people you care about. But if there’s been a natural disaster, an accident or some other emergency, that may be a lot easier said than done.

Google’s latest app, called Trusted Contacts, aims to fix that. The app allows friends and family members to remotely share their location with just one touch.

When you sign up for the app, you designate specific people in your address book as “trusted contacts.” This allows you to share your location at any given time and allows them to request your location.

Unlike Apple’s Find My Friends and some related apps, Trusted Contacts doesn’t share your location by default. Instead, your trusted contacts can see general information about your whereabouts, like whether you’re currently online and if you’ve been moving around.

You can, however, broadcast your location at any given moment to one or all of your trusted contacts, who will be able to see your real-time location until you end the location sharing. The thinking, says product manager David Tattersall, is that users will be able to share their location with loved ones for brief periods of time, like while walking home or out on a hike.

The app also works offline, so if your battery dies or you lose service, the app will still be able to point contacts to wherever your last known location was.

Likewise, if a trusted contact wants to check on you, they can ask for your location within the app. When a contact requests your location, the app will notify you and you can opt to share your location or decline the request. If you don’t respond to the request, the app will automatically share your most recent location with the contact who requested.

That last part may be troubling to the more privacy conscious, but Google says it’s necessary as people are not always able to use their phone during serious emergencies, like natural disasters or car accidents.

“It basically means then that as long as you’ve got your phone in your pocket, someone can always find you in case of an emergency. You’re always findable,” Tattersall tells Mashable.

Trusted Contacts is currently only available on Android, but there is a web interface that allows you to designate iPhone users and others who don’t have the app as trusted contacts and Google says an iPhone version is in the works.

Though the app is relatively simple for now, Tattersall notes that the app complements some of Google’s other crisis response services and says that, in the future, Google may choose to integrate it with Android’s built-in emergency calling features.

“We have a really robust crisis response offering for times of earthquakes and natural disasters… you can see there’s a natural evolution here where these two products could work together if we want.”

BONUS: Google Earth Timelapse shows how man has altered the planet in 32 years

Read more: http://mashable.com/2016/12/05/google-trusted-contacts-app/

Google’s experimental Sprayscape app makes VR more like Snapchat

Imagine if you could share a virtual reality-ready 360-degree view of any moment, on the fly, as easily as you send a video on Snapchat.

That’s the premise of Sprayscape, the latest experimental app from Google. Out today, the Android app makes VR selfies a reality even if they are a bit blurry.

If you’ve ever tried to take a 360-degree photo or video with a smartphone before, then you know that capturing your surroundings perfectly is pretty much impossible. Sprayscape embraces this with its “perfectly imperfect” approach. Instead of creating an expertly stitched photo sphere, the app allows you to share an in-the-moment (and likely imperfect) look at what’s around you.

The app launches on an empty black sphere that you can fill with images by tapping on the screen. Sprayscape uses your phone’s gyroscope to help capture your surroundings. But the app only captures the part of the frame you touch and it’s far easier to capture a blurry view of what’s around you than a clear one.

The resulting “scapes” are unfocused and blurry but easily shareable. Just send a link (the app requires you to log in to a Google account for sharing) and your friends can view your 360-degree creation either by dragging their finger around the frame, holding up their phone to view different parts of the image, or by popping it in a Cardboard viewer.

“We call it VR-ish. When you use Sprayscape, you are taking photos on a 360-degree sphere. When you view a scape youre looking around media oriented to 360 space,” the app’s website explains.

The app comes to us via Android Experiments, which the company uses to highlight creative ways developers use Android to create new types of experiences, and Sprayscape, which was created internally at Google, certainly fits the bill.

Though we’ve seen other apps experiment with the “Snapchat for VR” concept before, Sprayscape offers a slightly more creative take on the idea. Still, it seems unlikely to be leaving Google’s experimental labs anytime soon.

Read more: http://mashable.com/

Google adds polling place, ballot information to search results

Voters fill out their ballot paper in London, Tuesday, March 1, 2016 as voting begins in the U.S. Democrats Abroad Global Presidential Primary.
Image: AP Photo/Frank Augstein

Google is making it easier for you to find information about the upcoming election.

The company is updating its search so that information about polling places and who is on your ballot will appear directly within search results.

Now, when you enter queries like “where is my polling place” or “who’s on my ballot,” Google will surface relevant results within the search in both Spanish and English.

In both cases, you’ll need to enter your home address where you’re registered to vote in order for the correct results to be displayed (if you have your location saved in Google Maps it can also pull from there.)

If you’re looking for a polling place, the results will show designated polling places in your area.

Image: google

For ballot information, the search results will reflect everything from presidential candidates down to local offices like school board positions. From there, you can click into the individual results to find additional information about candidates. Google says it may not be able to turn up results for every single local race nationwide just yet, but the company is working with local secretaries of state and other organizations to add more to the results.

The update is the latest search addition to emphasize voting. The company previously rolled out a similar search feature for helping people register to vote and highlighted the voter registration process in a recent Google Doodle.

Additionally, Google is also making all of its election data available to third-party developers via its Civic Information API, which helps other developers integrate the information into their apps.

Read more: http://mashable.com/

Apple is betting a drone fleet can make its Maps as good as Google’s

Image: AP

In news that should make anyone who’s experienced an Apple Maps fail a little less angry, Bloomberg reports that unnamed sources say that Apple is taking steps to overhaul its Maps service.

The report’s sources claim Apple is building a new team of robotics and data-collection experts with the directive to use drones to capture and update map information. Up to now, Maps data has been collected by a fleet of street-bound cars, so taking to the sky would immediately expand the effort.

The drones would be especially helpful for up-to-the-minute road monitoring for accurate traffic information, an area where Apple Maps has lagged behind Google Maps. The data collected will be sent to Apple teams, which will be tasked with updating the app for the highest level of accuracy possible. According to Bloomberg‘s sources, at least one person from Amazons Prime Air division has been brought in for the work.

But do we really want a bunch of flying Apple cameras patrolling the skies across the country? The company will have to abide by the Federal Aviation Administration’s commercial drone-use regulations, which Apple committed to when they were rolled out back in August.

Those regulations might make the drone initiative in cities near impossible, since flying over people and buildings are two of its strongest prohibitions. But in countries where there aren’t commercial restrictions, Apple can fly all it wants.

Along with the drones, Bloomberg‘s sources said that Apple is also developing new Maps features for use indoors and for its in-car navigation service. In a move that went largely under the radar last year, Apple acquired Finnish startup Indoor.io, a deal now confirmed.

That purchase, along with the more well-known acquisition of WiFiSlam (whose tech looked to be behind a mysterious mapping app that popped up last year) point to improved indoor navigation on Apple Maps.

In the future, Appel Maps users might be in for a new indoor mapping view for high-traffic buildings (think airports and museums).

BONUS: Keep this mini camera drone inside your phone case for the best aerial selfies

Read more: http://mashable.com/

Google’s updated Timelapse is the biggest timesink of the day

In 2013, Google launched Timelapse a Google Earth project that shows us how the Earth has changed in the last thirty years or so.

Now, Google has updated Timelapse with the four past years of imagery it now spans the period from 1984 to 2016 and “petabytes” of new data, which includes new, sharper images.

The imagery gives you quite an amazing view into various processes that change the shape of our planet deforestation, glacial motion, urbanization, war. Google offers a curated selection of interesting locations and events, such as the reconstruction of the Oakland Bay Bridge in San Francisco or the movement of the Hourihan Glacier in Antarctica.

San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge reconstruction

Image: Google/Landsat/Copernicus

You can, however, point the map to any location in the world and see how it changed over time (though the imagery might not be of the same quality everywhere).

See a YouTube playlist with all of Google’s curated Timelapse examples, below.

Google has shared an interesting insight on how Timelapse was created on its blog it took three quadrillion pixels and more than 5,000,000 satellite images to do it. Check out the details here.

Google Earth Timelapse is available at https://earthengine.google.com/timelapse/.

Read more: http://mashable.com/

Upcoming Google Search update will emphasize mobile over desktop

Image: brittany herbert/mashable

Google is getting ready to make some major changes to search.

The company is in the process of creating a new index for mobile devices, which will become the “primary” index for search, according to Google webmaster trends analyst Gary Illyes. This means searches from mobile devices will serve up the freshest results as Google will update its mobile index more frequently.

Google has previously discussed such plans but Illyes’ comments, which were reported by Search Engine Land, are the first indication that the company plans to roll this out fairly soon.

A quick refresher on how Google Search works: Google’s bots crawl the web tracking more than 60 trillion web pages and the links within them. These pages are then categorized into a massive index based on hundreds of different factors. This index, along with a series of algorithms, enables Google to turn up relevant search results when you enter a query into the search box.

Right now, Google only uses one such index for all its searches, regardless of platform. Under the upcoming update Illyes detailed, though, Google will create a separate mobile-only index that will serve as the “primary” index for search. As Search Engine Land points out, it’s unclear exactly how this will work or what the impact will be, but at a basic level it means desktop and mobile users will see different search results and Google will put more resources into those surfaced on mobile.

Desktop and mobile users will see different search results

While some have interpreted this to mean that Google is “downgrading” desktop in some way, there are practical reasons why Google would want to prioritize mobile for updates. For one, mobile now accounts for the majority of all Google searches, so using an index that was created primarily for desktop no longer makes sense.

Think of your own search habits: When you use Google from your phone, chances are, you’re looking for an immediate answer to a question you have in the moment. Likewise, if you want to research a topic more deeply something that requires combing through several pages of results you probably save that for desktop. So, it follows that Google would want to make its “freshest” results mobile-first.

The change also stands to drastically improve the user experience for mobile users. Think of how frustrating it is to search for something on your phone only to land on a link that is virtually unreadable because the website isn’t optimized for mobile.

This update, in theory, helps guard against that since Google could prioritize content that’s optimized for mobile devices even more than it already does. We’ve seen signs of this already, particularly with AMP, which allows publishers and others to create ultra-fast loading versions of articles to display in search results.

While we’ll have to wait for further details from Google to find out what the implications of the change will be (Google didn’t respond to Mashable’s request for comment on the update), it does sound like we’ll find out sooner rather than later. The new index should be rolling out “within months,” Illyes told Search Engine Land.

Read more: http://mashable.com/

Google Flights update fixes one of the most annoying parts about booking air travel

LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 11: A British Airways aircraft takes off from the Southern runway at Heathrow Airport on October 11, 2016 in London, England.
Image: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Seemingly random price changes can be one of the most frustrating parts of booking a flight. Now, Google is making it easier to know when prices will change so you can get a better deal on airfare.

The company is updating its airline search tool with new features that predict fare changes and notify you about price changes for flights you’re interested in.

The new features are rolling out to the Google Flights website (the service still doesn’t have its own dedicated app yet) “in the coming weeks,” according to Google.

Once they do, the site will let you know how long until the current fare is expected to change when you’re browsing specific flights. The feature, which uses uses historical flight data to make its predictions, should make surprise price increases at least a little easier to avoid.

For cases when you don’t yet have a specific flight in mind, the service will also now provide “tips” for specific routes.

“Tips can include things like recommendations for alternate airports or dates,” Google Flights product manager Nabil Naghdy writes in a blog post. “You may also see a new tip telling you about an expected price jump based on historic prices for that route.”

Though Google’s flight-tracking service lacks a standalone mobile app, the company is making its mobile site a little easier to use with the ability to keep tabs on saved flights.

Similarly, Google is updating its hotel search with a new “deals” tab that shows discounted rates as well as when there are lower rates as part of a hotel’s loyalty program.

Read more: http://mashable.com/

Google’s new update predicts when businesses are most crowded

-Customers save big at Walmart’s Black Friday shopping event on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2015 in Rogers, Ark.
Image: Gunnar Rathbun/Invision for Walmart

You may want to check Google before you head out on your next holiday shopping spree.

The company’s latest search feature makes it easier to find out how crowded stores are at any given time.

An extension of Google’s “popular times” update, which shows how crowded restaurants and coffee shops are based on search trends, the new feature will show a real-time estimate for how busy a particular location is.

Search for a store, restaurant or other location and Google will now provide a new “live” view in the popular times section of the location card. Googles predictions are based users location history, which is broken down by time of day.

While the popular times feature shows estimates based on historical trends, the live view uses real-time data to show how busy a particular location is at that moment.

The update also adds details about how long people tend to stay at any given place to help you anticipate how long the crowds will last.

While it’s likely impossible to avoid holiday shopping crowds entirely, Google’s predictions should help you feel a bit more prepared going in.

Monday’s update is also updating results for businesses’ holiday hours to reflect when stores and restaurants have different seasonal hours. It will also add in details for when a department within a particular business like a pharmacy within a grocery store has different hours than the main business.

All of the latest updates are available now in browser-based Google search results as well as in Google Maps on Android and desktop.

BONUS: This is how America’s biggest online shopping day came to be

Read more: http://mashable.com/2016/11/21/google-search-avoid-crowds/