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Category Archives: Google

Google will score big by entertaining in robot cars

Google self-driving car

If there was one takeaway from the video Google released last week of its self-driving cars – besides the fact that, you know, they drive themselves – it’s how boring the typical commute could soon be.

Sure, the people in the video are completely amazed at being chauffeured around by a machine, but of course they would be. It’s a freakin’ robot, after all. But what happens when the novelty wears off?

Google’s first effort is minimalistically sparse on bells and whistles – the cars only have a start/stop button and a screen that shows occupants the route they’re taking – and understandably so. The company wants to make sure the main functions work perfectly before adding accoutrements. In the meantime, there’s zilch for those passengers to do except stare out the window and ponder how increasingly useless they’re becoming.

It’s only when those extras are considered that it starts to become clearer just how big these cars are going to be for Google. After all, people are going to need to do something while they’re being driven around. We are an easily bored species, after all. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2014 in apple, cars, Google, robots

 

Apple set to transform the world… with headphones?

beats-headphones

It has been a mostly inspirational week in technology, with a couple of tech titans showing off some truly amazing futuristic technology.

First up is Google, which on Tuesday took the wraps off its own self-built, self-driving car. While the search giant has been working on autonomous vehicles for some time, the difference with this one is that it isn’t a repurposed car with a bunch of tech strapped to it. Rather, it’s built from the ground up as a robot.

That means it has no steering wheels or pedals, just a start and stop button and a screen that shows its route.

Project director Chris Urmson outlined Google’s plans for the new vehicle in a blog post:

We’re planning to build about a hundred prototype vehicles, and later this summer, our safety drivers will start testing early versions of these vehicles that have manual controls. If all goes well, we’d like to run a small pilot program here in California in the next couple of years.

The company also released a vehicle showing seniors, children and even blind people going for test drives:

Not to be outdone, Microsoft also showed off some amazing technology on Tuesday evening at the inaugural Code Conference in California. The company is busy working instant translation into Skype, and appears to be having some success.

As shown during an on-stage demo, Skype vice-president Gurdeep Pall – speaking English – had a real-time conversation with another Microsoft employee, who was speaking German. The service itself translated their words into each others’ respective tongues, then read them aloud like a virtual translator.

The associated feature discusses how this sort of technology has been a long time in the making and the staggering challenges it has faced. It doesn’t work perfectly yet, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

Check out the video – things get interesting around the three-minute mark.

And then there’s Apple. The company finally made its purchase of Beats official on Wednesday, announcing that it has acquired both Beats Music and Beats Electronics for a combined $3 billion.

“Music is such an important part of all of our lives and holds a special place within our hearts at Apple,” said Apple chief executive Tim Cook in a statement. “That’s why we have kept investing in music and are bringing together these extraordinary teams so we can continue to create the most innovative music products and services in the world.”

To put the week in perspective: Google shows off cars that can drive blind people, Microsoft demos technology that allows people from disparate cultures to communicate with each other, and Apple buys some middling headphones and one of a logjam of music streaming services. Hmm. Okay.

Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference is next week. After being shown up in the innovation department by its two biggest rivals, the pressure cooker of expectations just got a whole lot more intense.

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2014 in apple, Google, microsoft, music, robots, skype

 

Google expands Play Music: watch those data caps

google-musicA new media streaming service is launching in Canada and with it, of course, come more data-cap concerns.

Google on Monday announced the expansion of Play Music, a triple-pronged service designed to hook smartphone users even more deeply into its rapidly expanding mobile ecosystem, which already includes Android, Gmail, Maps, Now, Translate and more.

First up is a free cloud storage “locker” where you can park up to 20,000 songs, to be streamed to any device you want. To populate your library, Google scans your computer or device and matches tracks to its library of 25 million. If it doesn’t find a particular song, it uploads a copy from your device and puts it into the locker. Next up is a store where you can buy and download tracks and albums, similar to the iTunes store, with each purchase also naturally added to your locker. Rounding out the offering is Google’s lynchpin, a $9.99-per-month subscription service – $7.99 if signed up for before June 30 – that serves up unlimited streaming of those millions of songs.

All of this can be accessed while sitting at a computer but, as the company put it during a launch event in Toronto, it’s designed to be mobile-first. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2014 in apple, Google, music

 

Microsoft aiming ‘to be all things to all people’

windowsUnder new chief executive Satya Nadella, Microsoft is charging ahead with a “universal app” strategy – the idea that software developers can create an app once and then deliver it to each of the company’s devices, whether it’s PCs, tablets, phones or even Xbox consoles, without much additional work. This one-app-to-rule-them-all approach is how the company plans to overcome its disadvantage in phones and tablets, where it is way behind Apple and Google in terms of market share and total number of apps. A simplified and unified experience could indeed be the secret to luring developers away from its two rivals, both of whom run different operating systems depending on which devices they’re using.

I spoke with Windows Phone director Greg Sullivan last week at Microsoft’s annual Build conference in San Francisco about the plan and why it could work. I also sat down with Mary-Ellen Anderson from Microsoft Canada to get the local perspective. As vice-president of the developer and platform group, she’s in charge of recruiting companies and individuals to create apps for Windows devices here in the snowy north. With the company having success in securing the biggest app developers, its focus is now shifting to a more local level.

“We need to get the [apps] people care about in Canada,” Anderson said. “That’s a big, big deal for me.”

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2014 in amazon, apple, Google, microsoft, roku

 

Review: Roku Streaming Stick facing tough battles

roku-streaming-stickJust when the war for the living room couldn’t get any hotter, here comes Amazon with the Fire TV set-top box. No, it’s not a porn-delivery device – it’s Amazon’s answer to Apple TV, Roku and Chromecast, the company’s best foot forward into getting some of that lucrative living room entertainment pie.

Canadians aren’t likely to see the Fire TV any time soon. Tech companies often like to try out new products in the United States first before expanding internationally, but that’s even more so the case with much of what Amazon does. The company has been offering music downloads and video streaming down south for years and has yet expand them northward. With its set-top box predicated on such content, there’s no reason to believe Canada is a priority market for it.

There is another related battle unfolding here, however, and it involves sticks – media-streaming sticks, to be precise. It’s not a hockey game, but it could be just as bruising.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2014 in Google, roku

 

Chromecast’s expansion raises streaming stakes

The new Google Chromecast dongle is pictured on an electronic screen as it is announced during a Google event at Dogpatch Studio in San FranciscoDon’t look now, but Google has beaten Roku’s Streaming Stick into Canada with the international expansion of Chromecast, its own streaming dongle for HDTVs. The device, which has been popular in the United States since its release there last year, became available in Canada for $39 through Amazon.ca and Google Play as of Tuesday evening, as well as 10 additional countries.

Roku announced earlier this month it would be launching its device in both Canada and the United States in April but with Google getting past the post first, the battle to control the living room streaming experience is now most definitely on. The third participant in the fray is, of course, Apple, but more on that in a second.

In assessing the combatants, it’s hard to deny that Chromecast has a lot going for it. Like the Roku Streaming Stick, it’s tiny. The dongle plugs into a TV’s HDMI port and sucks power from its USB port, so it’s basically invisible behind the set. Alternatively, it can be powered via a regular electrical plug, but one of the great things about these sticks is that they can eliminate one cord from the nasty spaghetti mess found behind the typical home entertainment system. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2014 in apple, Google, netflix, roku, youtube

 

Roku Streaming Stick takes aim at TV wire mess

roku-stickOne of the downsides of the big gadget revolution of the past few years is television spaghetti, or that big mess of wires that many people have behind their home entertainment systems. With all the PVRs, game consoles and media-streaming set-top boxes out there, plenty of households are having to deal with this unseemly problem.

Fortunately, things are likely to improve over the next few years as TV sets gets more powerful and connected and more cloud services take off. PVR pioneer TiVo is just one of the big names looking to replace hardware-based recording with an internet-accessed service, while Sony is leading the charge toward cloud gaming with PlayStation Now, scheduled to launch in a few months. Some day in the not-too-distant future, both PVRs and game consoles – with all their attendant wires – will be a thing of the past.

Media-streaming devices such as Roku and Apple TV are likely to beat them to the punch, however. California-based Roku is indeed taking steps toward that wireless – or at least less-wired – destiny with its announcement Tuesday of a new stick-like streaming device that plugs directly into TVs. The Roku Streaming Stick, which resembles a USB thumb storage drive, will be available in Canada and the United States in April at $59 and $49, respectively.

Roku has had a similar device on the market since 2012, but this one is different in several respects. For one, it works with any high-definition television, whereas its predecessor was only compatible with so-called “Roku-ready” TVs. The new Stick plugs into any HDTV’s HDMI port, with an additional power plug going into the set’s USB port. Users who don’t want to clog up their USB port have the option of plugging the Stick into a regular electricity outlet for power, but that might defeat the whole idea of getting rid of excess wires.

Regardless of power option, the Stick gives American users access to Roku’s 1,200 apps or “channels,” as the company calls them, while Canadians get about 750. The device also comes with the basic remote control, which is similar to that included with the Roku 1 and Roku 2 streaming boxes, but which lacks the headphone jack or motion gaming control of the Roku 3.

The Streaming Stick is similar to Chromecast, the $35 Google device that also streams online apps and media to TVs. Roku’s price premium represents the extra value of having the remote control, while the Stick itself is an obvious answer to Google’s device, which has been wildly popular in the United States since its release last year. Canadians are still out of luck when it comes to Chromecast, meaning that Roku’s device may have a leg up here when it’s released.

The Streaming Stick isn’t Roku’s only effort to eliminate TV spaghetti. The company announced its own Roku TV at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, a collaboration with Chinese television makers Hisense and TCL that will see its streaming devices effectively built into the flat panels themselves.

Set-top streaming boxes are thus coming under pressure from both ends – from smaller, cheaper and more convenient USB-like dongles, and “smart” televisions with software and interfaces that are indeed smarter, as opposed to the dog’s breakfast that many of them have been so far.

The writing is on the wall for boxes, but their demise probably won’t happen overnight. “We think the external player is going to be around for many years,” says Lloyd Klarke, Roku’s director of product management. “There are still a bunch of TVs that need Rokus attached to them.”

Roku TVs are coming to the United States later this year, he added, with their arrival in Canada likely happening a few months after that. Still, it won’t be too long before at least a few wires can be trimmed away from that giant mess behind the TV.

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2014 in Google, roku