Google Home can now handle two commands at once →

Taylor Martin for CNET:

While Routines are still nowhere to be found, you can issue up to two commands to Google Home at once. You can say something like, “OK, Google, turn on the TV and what’s the weather?” Your TV with Chromecast ($35.00 at B&H Photo-Video) will power on and Google Home will tell you the weather for your location.

This worked with almost all the commands we tested. Traffic, however, only seemed to work sometimes. Other times Google Home just ignored the traffic request and responded to the second command. This feature is also limited to a string of two commands. Three or more commands will not work.

This is exactly what I asked for of smart speakers/assistants as a whole in this poorly-worded post.

Among the other examples given, for me, this would be extremely helpful to control two lights at once that aren’t exclusively part of a scene.

Previously, Google addressed my other request for adaptive volume with its Night Mode feature that lowers volume during preset times.

Too bad I don’t have a Google Home. Amazon needs to add this to their Echo line and Apple should take note for Siri/HomePod.

Google collects Android users’ locations even when location services are disabled →

Keith Collins for Quartz:

Since the beginning of 2017, Android phones have been collecting the addresses of nearby cellular towers—even when location services are disabled—and sending that data back to Google. The result is that Google, the unit of Alphabet behind Android, has access to data about individuals’ locations and their movements that go far beyond a reasonable consumer expectation of privacy.

Quartz observed the data collection occur and contacted Google, which confirmed the practice.

Explanation by Google:

“In January of this year, we began looking into using Cell ID codes as an additional signal to further improve the speed and performance of message delivery,” the Google spokesperson said in an email. “However, we never incorporated Cell ID into our network sync system, so that data was immediately discarded, and we updated it to no longer request Cell ID.”

Don’t be evil [and get caught]. ™

On a serious note, when location services are disabled, nothing better be using or logging my whereabouts. Furthermore, who is to say the data they collected was really discarded? Caveat emptor.

Pixel Buds sound like more bad design work by Google →

Sam Machkovech for Ars Technica wrote a great review on what sounds like a bad product — the new Pixel Buds, Google’s challenge to AirPods. As I started pulling out quotes to comment on, the common theme we as obvious — Pixel Buds sound like they are badly designed. I haven’t played with them myself, but I can see a trend emerging.

Design isn’t just about looks. It’s about the trade offs you have to make to accommodate underlying function. Here’s a quick parallel before we get into Sam’s review:


No touch controls. You can set each pod to perform one function via double-tap. The choices are: Siri, Play/Pause, Next Track, or Previous Track. The input is recognized by a built in accelerometer, not a touch-sensitive pad. By the way, here’s my AirPods review if you haven’t read it.

Trade offs: while there is no way to have access to all functions at once directly from AirPods, the result is a nicer-looking earbud (in my opinion) that doesn’t get in the way. Most of the time, other people don’t even realize I’m wearing mine.

Pixel Buds

On the other hand, one Pixel Bud does have a touch sensitive surface for playback control via gestures.

Trade offs: while you do have access to all playback controls, you have these gaudy, circular pads sticking out of your ear that can be prone to accidental touches (see below). Its sheer obviousness is reminiscent of Google Glass.

Now, here’s a few quotes from Sam that illustrate this theme.

On earbud design:

[…] Instead of a stem extending from the primary earbud unit, Google attaches a larger plastic bubble. Thankfully, this increased size doesn’t add significant weight or bulk when wearing the things, but it also doesn’t seem to add particularly improved battery life or other hardware tweaks. (I also actually think the round design looks surprisingly cool in my ear canal. […]


However, the Pixel Buds lack one of AirPods’ best features: sensing when they’re in your ears. Without this ability, the Pixel Buds’ touch-sensitive right earbud can easily get activated when you’re pulling it out or trying to firmly stick it in the charging case. […]

Sam likes the looks of the round disc, but it’s a hard pass for me. Here’s also what I meant about accidental touches.

On the case design:

But Google’s carrying case is definitively worse than Apple’s version. When you want to charge your Pixel Buds, you have to situate them perfectly into the case’s holes, and this requires fitting them in as if the holes were your ear canals, as opposed to the way the AirPods’ stems just fall into place. This isn’t necessarily difficult, but there is more of a required push-to-confirm feeling, and getting that wrong means you can miss the Buds’ crucial battery-charging connection via little golden connectors.

Sounds like a far cry from the AirPods case.

On audio quality:

With a lot of modern pop music, like the latest Kesha and Taylor Swift albums, these equalization effects add a noticeable “sparkle” to high-gloss production elements […] The issue comes from Google’s desire to emphasize the Buds’ speaker placement, which is split into three little openings—two for normal/higher frequencies, and one for bass resonance.[…]

[…] When the effect appeared to sound the way Google wanted, it was enough to make me say, “oh, these headphones are unique.” But I never felt like they made songs sound better and clearer, and they never drew out particular instruments in compelling ways.They did, at least, appear to find the right bass balance […]

[…] older songs sound decidedly flatter and muddier, and bass tones get lost in the mix. I even found this distinction played out in different decades of hip-hop production. […]

This sounds really bad. I hate when earbuds apply their own audio dressing to my music. I wouldn’t have AirPods if they pulled this crap.

On lack of function:

[…] I held a finger on my right Pixel Bud panel, said “set timer for 30 seconds,” and started pouring hot water. Thirty seconds later, the timer began beeping… but I couldn’t turn it off. Tapping my Pixel Bud did nothing.

Double-tapping will dismiss a timer (among other things) on AirPods.

On the language translation feature:

During a reveal event, Google demonstrated the Pixel Buds’ additional perk: hold a button down on your Buds and talk, and the translation will project from a Pixel 2 phone. Then the other person can speak in the other language, and the resulting translation will be piped directly into the Pixel Buds. Nifty!

Trouble is, that’s not exactly how it works. For one, in this use case, the non-Bud speaker has to be close enough to the phone to hold down an on-screen button and only when he/she speaks, at that. Additionally, when my Pixel 2 was in sleep mode or doing something else, and I held my finger on the right earpiece and said, “help me translate Spanish,” I’d run into Bud-phone sync issues. Either the Google Translate app wouldn’t boot as promised, or the app would boot but with the Pixel Buds not working. This happened a few times in public, often while describing this seemingly wondrous feature to a person at a coffee shop counter, to my utter embarrassment.

This is a really cool feature, but I’m sad to hear it doesn’t work as well as it could.

Here’s the truth: Google is still learning how to design their own hardware. Stemming from issues with Home Mini and Pixel 2 XL, this is just the latest development. Should we give them a pass? No. Do I think they are serious about making their own hardware? Yes. However, time will tell if they have the resolve to deliver without these issues. I hope they do.

Fake WhatsApp on Google Play Store downloaded by over one million →

Swati Khandelwal for The Hacker News:

Yesterday some users spotted a fake version of the most popular WhatsApp messaging app for Android on the official Google Play Store that has already tricked more than one million users into downloading it.

The app maker added a Unicode character space after the actual WhatsApp Inc. name, which in computer code reads WhatsApp+Inc%C2%A0.

However, this hidden character space at the end of the WhatsApp Inc. would be easily invisible to an average Android user browsing Google Play Store, allowing this dodgy version of the app to masquerade as a product of WhatsApp Inc.

According to Redditors, who first spotted this fake app on Friday, the app was not a chat app; instead, it served Android users with advertisements to download other apps.

What a total shit show. Google removed the app from the Play Store, but not before it was downloaded by one million people. Think about how damaging this could be to the WhatsApp brand. I also wonder how vulnerable this makes Google to a lawsuit.

Google has touted advanced malware scanning as a feature of Android 8.0 Oreo, dubbed Google Play Protect. That’s nice and all, but this protection should be baked in to the Play Store for everyone, not only for operating systems with a .2% market share. Turns out the often-complained about walled garden that is Apple’s App Store has its benefits.

Review Roundup: Google Pixel 2

Google’s second-generation Pixel impresses most reviewers, even if the screen quality is less than perfect. Here’s a couple reviews that caught my eye.

David Pierce for Wired on the camera:

I was in New Orleans for the weekend, and I took pictures of drunk people in bars, jazz bands, drunk people outdoors, and gators. All, of course, to put the Pixel 2 through its paces (which is why I will be expensing all my bar tabs, please and thank you). After about a week of using both models, the Pixel 2 and the larger Pixel 2 XL, but mostly the XL, I can safely say the Pixel 2 is the Android phone to buy. Not because it has any particular otherworldly feature: the camera is fantastic, though not a full class above the Samsung Note 8 or the iPhone 8 Plus. As with last year, the Pixel 2 is just the phone that gets the most things right. It has the best, smartest, most reliable software. It’s fast. It’s waterproof. It’s interestingly and attractively designed. OK, fine, it doesn’t have a headphone jack. That sucks. But the Pixel 2’s still the phone I recommend.

The impressive picture quality of the Pixel 2’s camera is a recurring theme amongst reviewers. Even though iPhone has typically been regarded as the industry benchmark, I gotta give it up for Google here for iterating so quickly on the Pixel’s original camera.

Dieter Bohn for The Verge on the screen:

The screen, especially on the 2 XL, has been polarizing. Google opted to tune the display to sRGB (the Galaxy S8, by comparison, offers four gamut options), so it looks a little more like the iPhone’s screen. But more than that, on the 2 XL the colors look muted in a way that many Android users I’ve shown it to found distasteful (even with the “vivid colors” setting turned on). I think many Android phones, especially from Samsung, are so vivid as to be phantasmagoric, so Google’s choice was to make this more “naturalistic.”

Part of the issue, Google says, is that Oreo is the first version of Android to have proper color space control. So until now, Android developers really didn’t have a way to control precisely how their colors would look on screens. The Pixel 2 is part of an effort to fix that, but even so, the more “naturalistic” color tuning on the Pixel 2 XL (and, to a lesser extent, the smaller Pixel 2) just looks a little off. The problem gets much worse when you look at the screen from angles, the color swings simply because that’s what pOLED does.

OLED itself isn’t perfect, but it’s damn nice, even if most people don’t like the pentile pixel arrangement typically found in these screens. iPhone X is confirmed to have such an arrangement, but Apple also said its the first OLED panel “worthy of iPhone”, so it will be interesting to see how it differs from Samsung’s normal offerings. pOLED, what LG makes and is in the Pixel 2, is even further behind and will require more iteration to catch up.

In my opinion, the screen is the most important part of a phone, especially in an age where the phone is essentially becoming the screen. For it to be anything less than stellar is unfortunate.

Google will ‘permanently remove’ Home Mini feature that led to constant recording →

Jacob Kastrenakes for The Verge:

Google has decided to “permanently remove” the feature that led to a “small number” of Home Mini units accidentally recording thousands of times a day, instead of just when a user triggers it. In a statement released today, the company said that it made the decision because “we want people to have complete peace of mind while using Google Home Mini.”

Google had seemingly hoped to return the top button functionality to the Home Mini at a later date, but now the company seems to have given up on that — either because it couldn’t figure out a way to do it, or simply out of an abundance of caution. (I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s both; the potential for the Mini to turn into a constant surveillance device would be a huge liability.) Either way, it’s not the biggest loss, but it’s not great to see such a major issue come up right as a product is about to ship.

With the top button gone, the Home Mini now has to be activated entirely by voice, which isn’t really a huge limitation since it’s designed to be a voice assistant. The Mini’s left and right buttons will continue to work for adjusting the volume.

I’m guessing most people rarely use a similar button on the full-size Google Home or Echo devices, but the fact that this basic functionality had to be completely disabled is a monumental screw up. Google is learning the hard way that making your own hardware isn’t as easy as it seems.

As Jacob alludes to, the optics of this aren’t great either, as Google is a company that profits mainly off user data.

All in all, this really is an unfortunate misstep — the smart home market’s maturity will depend on increased competition as a result of successful products. I quite like the fabric top, too. To me, it’s more aesthetically pleasing than the all-business-looking Echo Dot.

Google Home Night Mode will lower volume and lights during specified times →

Corbin Davenport for Android Police:

Google created a preview program for the Google Home back in August, allowing users to test upcoming features. A new option has appeared for Homes on the preview – Night Mode. With this, you can set a time span (and even specific days) for the Home to reduce its volume automatically and dim the speaker’s lights. In addition, you can also enable a new Do Not Disturb mode, which blocks sounds from reminders and other broadcasted messages. Alarms and timers will still be heard when DnD is turned on, just like on Android.

This is great, and the volume lowering addresses one of the feature requests I wrote about in a terribly-titled article a few months ago. Hopefully similar options come to Alexa and especially Siri, since HomePod is launching this December.

Google announces ARCore, an Augmented Reality development kit

Today, Google announced a new Augmented Reality SDK preview for developers dubbed ARCore. Based off work it has accomplished with Project Tango and similar to Apple’s ARKit, ARCore allow developers to implement Augmented Reality into their apps starting today.

From the Google Blog:

ARCore will run on millions of devices, starting today with the Pixel and Samsung’s S8, running 7.0 Nougat and above. We’re targeting 100 million devices at the end of the preview. We’re working with manufacturers like Samsung, Huawei, LG, ASUS and others to make this possible with a consistent bar for quality and high performance.

Google has even launched its own AR Experiments showcase to highlight example uses of ARCore. This is similar to the third-party run Made With ARKit website, which serves the same purpose for iOS.

As for the SDK name, I think Google could’ve chosen something less Apple-like as the branding is highly similar.

Either way, Augmented Reality is going to be huge. Pedestrian implementations are already loved by the masses (see: Pokémon Go, Snapchat filters). We’re all going to be blown away by what AR will do for us, and it won’t take that much longer to reap tangible rewards.

Google Glass Enterprise Edition →

Alphabet and X1 announced Glass Enterprise Edition today, the successor to the Google Glass consumer product discontinued in 2015. This new version is aimed to improve the efficiency of factories.

Steven Levy for Wired:

That’s what Erickson wears every day. She works for AGCO, an agricultural equipment manufacturer that is an early adopter of Glass EE. For about two years, Glass EE has been quietly in use in dozens of workplaces, slipping under the radar of gadget bloggers, analysts, and self-appointed futurists. Yes, the population of those using the vaunted consumer version of Glass has dwindled, tired of being driven out of lounges by cocktail-fork-wielding patrons fearing unwelcome YouTube cameos. Meanwhile, Alphabet has been selling hundreds of units of EE, an improved version of the product that originally shipped in a so-called Explorer Edition in 2013. Companies testing EE—including giants like GE, Boeing, DHL, and Volkswagen—have measured huge gains in productivity and noticeable improvements in quality. What started as pilot projects are now morphing into plans for widespread adoption in these corporations. Other businesses, like medical practices, are introducing Enterprise Edition in their workplaces to transform previously cumbersome tasks.

Makes a lot of sense. To me, Glass is more of a HUD than a real AR experience, which is still cool. I could easily see how having a HUD while working on cars, machinery, even on people in the operating room would be extremely helpful. This is Glass’s rightful place.

The difference between the original Glass and the Enterprise edition could be summarized neatly by two images. The first is the iconic photo of Brin alongside designer Diane von Furstenberg at a fashion show, both wearing the tell-tale wraparound headband with display stub. The second image is what I saw at the factory where Erickson works, just above the Iowa state line and 90 miles from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Workers at each station on the tractor assembly line—sporting eyewear that doesn’t look much different from the safety frames required by OSHA—begin their tasks by saying, “OK, Glass, Proceed.” When they go home, they leave their glasses behind.

Quite a contrast.

Left: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images. Right: Courtesy of AGCO.

Quite a contrast. Truly laughable, but necessary. Hopefully it taught us a lesson that not all wearables have to be trendy or fashionable. Maybe some wearables just need to be utilitarian. Although, if you want people to wear them everywhere, they better look good. Apple is rumored to be working on AR glasses in some form, and they would never make anything as ugly as Glass for the masses.

  1. Alphabet’s moonshot entity. ↩︎