Google just took the lead with a 2-hour keynote address.

Google I/O 2017 marked a massive improvement in Google Home’s capabilities, the importance of which should not be underestimated. With less than a 30 minute slice of the two-hour long keynote address, Google rolled out fresh Google Home features that improve daily functionality of the connected speaker and completely change the possibilities for both requesting and receiving information from it.

Amazon should take note.

Adding push information

It becomes harder and harder to ignore Google Home’s presence.

In what may have initially come across as a small development, Google made an important change to the way Google Home works by introducing what it calls “proactive notifications.” Up to now, Google Home was always listening and waiting for your input — now, it can pulse its lights to let you know it has something to tell you. When you notice the lights, simply say “hey google, what’s up?” and it will give you the timely information that you’ll hopefully find useful. Google says what it pushes will be limited to only the most important information, and if done correctly it can be extremely useful.

This is a huge change to the way you’re expected to interact with Google Home, and has the potential to dramatically increase use by the average Home owner. By proactively pushing useful information, it becomes harder and harder to ignore Google Home’s presence, which creates a loop of using Home more often.

Calling without a catch

One large feature that caught everyone’s eyes in the wake of Amazon’s recent Echo announcements was free calling from Google Home. You can now simply ask Google Home to call any of your contacts, so long as they have a phone number associated with their contact entry in your Google account. This critically bests the Echo in that it actually dials a phone number — you can call any mobile or landline, rather than dialing someone else’s Google Home or phone via the Home app. The outgoing calls from Home can even be masked to look like they’re coming from your phone, which makes the experience 100% seamless for the person on the other end.

Call any number at any time — no strings attached.

An important function that really makes voice calling effective is Google’s recent implementation of multi-user functionality based on voice recognition. If you say “call mom” it’s going to dial your mom … and if your spouse says the same query it’s going to call their mother instead. A decidedly personal experience that just makes sense, but is a difficult technological problem to solve.

An entirely new interface paradigm

Google Home can respond on your phone or TV, too.

The final part of the latest Google Home announcements has less to do with Home itself and more with how it fits into your entire life. Now Google Home is no longer operating in a silo — it’s simply the contact point for your voice, and can then give you information on other devices. Google Home can now send content to your phone or TV when applicable, whether that means sending Google Maps directions to your phone when you ask or playing a YouTube video on your nearby TV.

You could easily see this as a direct shot across the bow of the new Amazon Echo Show, which made the important jump to using a screen in addition to voice so that it can always offer you information no matter your query. Google Home and Google Assistant’s strength over Amazon here is that Google has potential for deeper integration with more of your screens. Chromecast and Android TV give more options for your big screens and multi-room audio, while Google Assistant being built into just about every Android phone offers a deep hook in billions of devices.

Of course this is only a big feature if you’re a household that already has Chromecasts or Android TVs — which isn’t necessarily a given — but the potential is there in ways that Amazon can’t yet offer.

Your move, Amazon

With these fresh Google Home features, the ball is back in Amazon’s court to try and step up and match what Google Home is now capable of. Amazon may have a larger, longer-standing install base of Echo devices, with new hardware coming, but Google’s superiority in software and platforms is winning right now.

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Google’s big data advantage might help it surpass the Galaxy S8′s fledgling Bixby feature.

Google Lens was one of the major announcements of the I/O 2017 keynote, as Google revealed the latest step in its visual search journey. This is an endeavor which can be traced back to Google Image Search years ago, and which is a close relative of the AI powering Google Photos’ object and scene recognition.

As a part of Google Assistant, Google Lens has the potential to reach every Android phone or tablet on Marshmallow and up, letting these devices recognize things visually (with a little help from location data) and conjure up information about them. For example, you might be able to identify a certain flower visually, then bring up info on it from Google’s knowledge graph. Or it could scan a restaurant in the real world, and bring up reviews and photos from Google Maps.

Whether it’s through a camera interface in Google Assistant, or after the fact through Google Photos, the strength of Lens — if it works as advertised — will be the accurate identification and the ability to provide useful info based on that. It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine the feature might well be baked into the Google camera app on the next generation of Pixel phones.

Big, BIG data

Like all the best Google solutions, Lens is a product of AI and data.

Like all the best Google solutions, Google Lens is rooted in big data. It’s ideally suited to Google, with its vast reserves of visual information and growing cloud AI infrastructure. Doing this instantly on a smartphone is a step beyond running similar recognition patterns on an uploaded image via Google Image Search, but the principles are the same, and you can easily draw a straight line to Google Lens, starting with Image Search and going through Google Goggles.

Back in 2011, Google Goggles was impressive, futuristic and in the right setting, genuinely impressive. In addition to increased speed, Google Lens goes a step beyond this by not only identifying what it’s looking at, but understanding it and connecting it to other things that Google knows about. It’s easy to see how this might be extended over time, tying visible objects in photos to the information in your Google account.

The potential for Google Lens is only going to grow as Google’s capabilities in AI and big data increase.

At a more advanced level, Google’s VPS (visual positioning system) builds on the foundations of Google Lens on Tango devices to pinpoint specific objects in the device’s field of vision, like items on a store shelf. As mainstream phone cameras improve, and the trend towards multiple lenses in high-end phones continue, there’s every chance VPS could eventually become a standard Lens feature.

What Bixby Vision should have been

The potential for Google Lens is only going to grow as Google’s capabilities in these areas become stronger. And the contrast with one of the Galaxy S8′s most publicized features is pretty stark. Samsung is still a relative newcomer in AI, and that’s reflected in the current weakness of Bixby Vision.

Right now Bixby can help you identify wine (badly), as well as flowers (sometimes) and animals (to varying degrees of success), and products, through Vivino, Pinterest and Amazon respectively. Samsung doesn’t have its own mountain of data to fall back on, and so it has to rely on specific partnerships for various types of objects. What’s more, while Samsung can (and apparently does plan to) bring Bixby to older phones via a software update, Google could conceivably flip the switch through Assistant and open the floodgates to everything running Android 6.0 and up.

Anyone who’s used Bixby Vision can attest that it just doesn’t work very well, and Google Lens seems like a much more elegant implementation. We don’t yet know how well Lens will work in the real world, but if it’s anywhere near as competent as Google Photos’ image identification skills, it’ll be something worth looking forward to.

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Unboxing the HTC U11

17 May 2017

The HTC U11 will be hitting store shelves in Taiwan later this week, so we thought you might be interested in an HTC U11 unboxing video.

Compared to most HTC phone, the U11 has a lot of added accessories inside … Read More

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Let’s see what Google has in store for the rest of the year.

For fans of Google, Android and Chrome, the keynote and Google I/O is an event held above all else. It’s a time for Google to lay out its initiatives for both consumer products and developer tools alike, and it’s typically jam-packed with great stuff. Google CEO Sundar Pichai, along with plenty of other influential members of the company, will be on stage at the Shoreline Amphitheater right in Google’s backyard to unveil the latest the company has to offer.

It all kicks off at 10:00 a.m. PT (that’s 1 p.m. ET) today, and the Android Central team is there to bring you all of the sights and commentary you expect. Join us!

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Our friends at Thrifter are back again, this time with a discount on Amazon’s latest Fire tablets!

Amazon’s Fire tablet has been an extremely popular device since its release, and a large part of that is due to its aggressive price point. The company just announced a refreshed version of it with a higher contrast display, the addition of Alexa and more, yet kept it at the same price point. That’s right, the new version still starts at just $49.99, but you can actually get it for less if you buy more of them.

You may be considering picking up a few of these for your family, and if you grab three of them at the same time you can save 20% on the purchase with promo code FIRE3PACK. This drops the price of three Fire tablets down to just $128.38, saving you $29.99.

The Fire tablet has a 7-inch IPS display and comes with a base of 8GB of storage in it. You can opt to upgrade that to 16GB of internal space for $20 more, or you could spend that extra $20 on a microSD card since the tablet can handle up to 256GB of expandable storage. You can grab one in black, yellow, blue, or red depending on your preference.

See at Amazon

For more great deals be sure to check out our friends at Thrifter now!

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Everyone likes free stuff — especially from Google.

Now that Google seems to have some Pixel XLs back in stock on the Google Store, it’s running a limited-time promotion to hand out a free case with each purchase. If you go to buy a Pixel XL, you can just add one of Google’s silicone cases in a variety of colors to your cart and see a $35 discount applied automatically. There’s no specific end date on the deal, as it’s simply listed “while supplies last” — but as we know, that may not be long when it comes to the Pixel XL.

The deal is only available for the Pixel XL, and only for the $35 silicone case — which is interesting, because it could easily get away with letting people pick up the cheaper $30 hard plastic case for free instead. But either way, we can’t look this gift horse in the mouth. Perhaps the knowledge that the Pixel XL is in stock and you’re getting a free case will be enough for people to buy,

See at Google Store

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