Compete Report: Google Nexus 7

You’ve probably read that the Google Nexus 7 is the first credible challenger to Apple’s iPad and that it is markedly superior to other 7-inch Android tablets currently in the market. That’s not what I’ve found. Instead, the Nexus 7 is a solid, capable media tablet and a nice, Google-oriented alternative to the Amazon Kindle Fire if you’re looking for such a thing.

To me, reviewer reaction to the Nexus 7 was reminiscent of reviewer reaction to Windows Phone 7.5: Rather than admit that they were wrong about the products’ respective predecessors (Windows Phone 7, of course, and the Kindle Fire and other 7-inch Android tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus), they just pretend that, finally, magically, this time someone got it right. But that’s not the case at all. There’s nothing wrong with the Nexus 7, nothing at all, assuming you’re OK with this sort of device. But it’s also not demonstrably better than the Kindle Fire or Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus.

It’s newer, of course, and runs a newer Android software version. It has a sharp and slightly higher resolution screen than its predecessors. It gets slightly better battery life. Positives, to be sure. None of them earth shattering.

Nexus 7 home screen, with a mix of Google and Amazon services
On the downside, it’s not much lighter than the other devices. And while its user interface is frankly an awful lot like that of the Galaxy Tab, its usage model—heavy ties to the device maker’s online content services—is an awful lot like that of the Kindle Fire. It is, in other words, a purely evolutionary advance over predecessor devices and exactly what one should expect from a device that’s about a year newer.

It’s really no more complicated than that. Why is everyone acting like this is an Android renaissance?

The big deal with the Nexus 7, of course, isn’t the hardware. It’s the ecosystem support. Google designed the Nexus 7 purely as the hardware endpoint for its Play services, just as Amazon designed the Kindle Fire around its Kindle, Amazon MP3, Amazon Prime Video, and other services. And just as Apple designed the iPad around iTunes. With all of these devices, the expectation is that the hundreds of dollars you spend on the hardware (many, many hundreds of dollars in the iPad’s case, not including the inevitable hundreds of dollars for the apparently necessary on cases, stands, docks, and keyboards) is only the beginning: These devices are really just a vehicle for continually separating you from your hard-earning cash on an ongoing basis. (Or, as Apple, Amazon, and Google would rather I describe it, “on entertainment.”)

So when comparing these devices, there are really only two choices to consider.

Google play store
The first is the size of the device. When Apple released its first iPad, one of my initial concerns was that the device was a bit too big for a consumption device and that a smaller, 7-inch screen would be more ideal. Others disagree, of course, and looking at the pre-Windows RT world of 10 inch tablets today, there is basically the iPad and then nothing else.

But if you prefer to use a smaller, lighter device and have purely entertainment-based goals (reading, movie and TV watching, music, and the like), then a 7-inch tablet is ideal. And at this point your choice comes basically down to the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7, because these are the only two currently on the market that are both excellent and offer lowball, $200 pricing.

The second and perhaps more important consideration is that ecosystem. Google, again, it pushing its Google Play ecosystem. And Amazon is pushing what we’ll call the Kindle ecosystem for simplicity’s sake.

All apps
As a newer device with a faster processor, the Nexus 7 performs faster than the leisurely Kindle Fire.

The nicest thing about the Nexus 7, perhaps, is that you can mix and match some Amazon services in there in addition to the Google stuff. You can’t add Amazon’s video services, but songs (Amazon MP3), eBooks (Kindle, but not including periodicals), and apps are all available if you want them. But that still leaves you stuck with Google’s lackluster video selection. But there’s always Netflix (when you’re online).

Overall, the Nexus 7 is a credible 7-inch media tablet that is on par with the Amazon Kindle Fire and other Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus. It offers some minor advantages related to screen resolution and battery life (hey, it’s newer) and some more important advantages related to performance, all of which will soon be wiped out by 2012-era tablets from Amazon, Samsung and others. Since Apple doesn’t (yet?) offer a 7-inch tablet, it’s pointless to compare this device to an iPad; you either want a 10-inch device or you don’t. You’re either all too willing to spend a lot of money on a tablet or you’re not.

Thinking about buying the Nexus 7? Here’s my advice: Buy into an ecosystem—Play, iTunes, or Kindle—not a particular device, since the devices are getting cheaper and cheaper and will be updated continuously. Or buy into two—Play/Kindle, for example, or iTunes/Kindle—and reap the benefits of the best of each. I prefer that latter approach, and believe that Amazon’s Kindle eBooks, in particularly, are a far better choice than the similar services from Google or Apple.

If you decide to go the Android route (or iOS), and the 7-inch route (over 10-inch devices), the Nexus 7 is a great choice, letting you mix and match ecosystems for apps (Google Play/Amazon Appstore), TV shows and movies (Google Play/Netflix/others), music (Google Play/Amazon MP3), and books (Google Play/Amazon Kindle). In that sense, it’s a best of both worlds device, and one that costs just $200, or $250 for a 16 GB version. That’s tough deal to ignore.


Google buys Sparrow for 'new Gmail project

Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) struck again on Friday, buying popular iPhone and Macintosh e-mail app Sparrow. But Google has no interest in the company itself.

A spokeswoman for the search giant said Google will keep Sparrow up and running, and it will continue to support the application. But the company doesn't plan to offer any significant Sparrow updates in the future.

In their new roles at Google, Sparrow's five employees will work on "new projects" for Gmail.
If Sparrow's team has any hard feelings about ending work on its creation, it didn't say so.

The company has worked to enhance the "mailing experience," Sparrow CEO Dom Leca wrote in a blog post. "Now we're joining the Gmail team to accomplish a bigger vision -- one that we think we can better achieve with Google."

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. The Verge cited sources that said the purchase price was "under $25 million."
It's a familiar story, and one that isn't a great omen for Sparrow's future.

Google last month acquired social advertising service Meebo for a reported $100 million. Google said it would shift all Meebo employees to its Google+ social network.

In 2010, Google bought social search company Aardvark for $50 million. The Aardvark employees were shifted to development of Google+. Google never updated the application, and it shut down Aardvark in September 2011.

The most famous example was Google's 2005 purchase of location-based service Dodgeball. The company's founders quit in 2007 after Google failed to support the service.

"The whole experience was incredibly frustrating for us -- especially as we couldn't convince them that Dodgeball was worth engineering resources, leaving us to watch as other startups got to innovate in the mobile + social space," wrote founder Dennis Crowley on Flickr.

Crowley landed on his feet, though. He founded a new location-based company with another playground-themed name you may have heard of: Foursquare.

But Google isn't the only one guilty of these "aqui-hires."

Acrylic Software announced Friday it was acquired by Facebook. Dustin MacDonald, founder of the Vancouver-based company behind apps like Pulp and Wallet, wrote that though the team is set to move to Silicon Valley, "our products and services have not been acquired."

This is just the latest in a string of hires and shutdowns. Earlier this month, Facebook acquired the talent behind startup Spool. The same day it announced the acquisition, the company released a blog post, titled "Spool has shut down - stay tuned for more." 


I'm on Google Plus

Hanson Dodge Creative Presents
Uploaded Jul/20/2011 

Spinning circles like they're rims Customizin 
They be addin me so fast it's hipnotizin
Join a hangout add some Sparks .. Got a Buzz

Now I'm feeling so fly, I'm on G+
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Now I'm feeling so fly, I'm on G+
Gimme that pl-plus, one-one
Gimme that in invite-vite

I' ve been waitin awhile, tryin to get my free trail
Heard it from my homies, the app is still in BETA
I got my invite yesterday, don't be a Google hater

Hell yeah, 
Drag and drop, yeah
Drag and drop

Find a friend to a circle, I be droppin' like it's hot 
Drag and droppin' like it's hot,
drag and droppin like it's hot

Find a friend to a circle, I be droppin' like it's hot 
Spinning circles like they're rims Customizin 
They be addin me so fast it's hipnotizin

Join a hangout add some Sparks .. Got a Buzz

Now I'm feeling so fly, I'm on G+
I'm on G+, I'm on G+
Now I'm feeling so fly, I'm on G+

Tired of hiding my pics, from my Facebook cliques
My mom friended me, so I keep it PG
Now I can share whatever, straight up from my 'Droid

My boss doesn't even see it, and I aint paranoid

Hell yeah, 
Drag and drop, yeah
Drag and drop

Find a friend to a circle, I be droppin' like it's hot 
Drag and droppin' like it's hot,
drag and droppin like it's hot

Find a friend to a circle, I be droppin' like it's hot 
Spinning circles like they're rims Customizin 
They be addin me so fast it's hipnotizin

Join a hangout add some Sparks .. Got a Buzz

Now I'm feeling so fly, I'm on G+
I'm on G+, I'm on G+
Now I'm feeling so fly, I'm on G+

Google Anthem
Make you hit that plus one.
make you hit that plus one
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Hell yeah, make you hit that plus one,
make you hit that plus one,
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Spinning circles like they're rims Customizin 
They be addin me so fast it's hipnotizin
Join a hangout add some Sparks .. Got a Buzz
Now I'm feeling so fly, I'm on G+

I'm on G+, I'm on G+
Now I'm feeling so fly, I'm on G+....

Geotagging: how local bloggers can help us escape 'Starbucks Street'

Augmented reality, wearable computing and mobile search are exciting new technologies. But where will the data come from to illuminate your Google Glasses or the AR layer on your phone? No one wants to stare out at an augmented street full of Starbucks with bland corporate tunnel vision – but Google at present ignores the geotags of independent content that would locate it precisely for augmented reality and mobile search. So what's going on and is Google about to make an important shift?

Augmented reality in the Google Glass or mobile phone context overlays information from a web page or blog post about a place on to the screen in front of you. The AR app on your phone or in your glasses knows where you are and it has to know what the content it overlays into your vision is about. But where does it get geo-tagged content from? Mobile search is at the heart of this. A search for a cafe on mobile will turn up cafes Google finds near you and your phone. Then you can look at the cafe's own website and follow a map to get there.

But what if the cafe has lousy food hygiene scores, or locals know that there is a much better one 50 metres further away that maybe doesn't have a website? You won't find that on the cafe's own website, nor in Yelp, Zagat nor Google+ Local. You need independent local blogs and tweets to turn up that sort of useful local intelligence.

A local blogger can help people trying to find local information by tagging posts with the specific place to which the post relates using a geotag. In most blogging platforms, this is as simple as clicking a map before you publish a post, upon which the latitude and longitude of your post is burned into the HTML. When another computer – such as a search engine – scans the page, it will associate the location with the post. This should be a huge boon to mobile search by helping people who seek place-specific local stuff to find a wide range of independent local information, not just corporate content from a directory run by a search engine.

Bing and Yahoo both use location attributes somehow in search, but with the greatest respect (and putting Facebook to one side), Google is where it's at for mobile search. Google, however, has historically chosen to ignore geotags from third-party content. Even if you have created your blog on Google's own Blogger and geotagged it there, Google still ignores your geotag when delivering search results. Even Google's otherwise excellent blog on geo-things ëLat Long' doesn't seem to geotag its posts.

Google relies heavily on Google's giant gazetteer Google Places, which recently morphed into "Google+ Local" (and which until Monday was overseen by Marissa Mayer). It isn't easy to correct or enter new information other than anodyne reviews using Google-owned Zagat into Google+ Places - you pretty well have to be a company or a public authority with some physical ownership of the place in question.

This isn't great - no one wants the future of search and AR to be solely about bland corporate blah that you get in a gazetteer or directory. For the best experience, we need mobile search and AR to seek out third-party, independent content about places and put it alongside the corporate stuff. With Google Glass on the horizon and other augmented reality products already here on mobile phones, geotagging becomes even more important. No one wants to put on some Google glasses and only see a "Starbucks street" of branded chain stores and Google Zagatreviews.

Google's position is a longstanding one, set in 2009 and restated in 2012 on the Google Webmaster Central blog in 2012:
"Note that we do not use locational meta tags (like "geo.position" or "distribution") or HTML attributes for geotargeting. While these may be useful in other regards, we've found that they are generally not reliable enough to use for geotargeting."
I've been doing some work on public service content in AR lately and have asked Google about its position in an email dialogue with the London office, setting out a discussion in the terms above. There are now signs that this may be about to change (although this will depend on how you interpret the Kremlinology). Google says:
"As we've mentioned in the Webmaster Central blog, currently we don't use locational meta tags as a signal for geographic relevance in web search. We generally don't comment on future plans, but keep an eye on the Webmaster blog and the Lat Long blog."
This is a good sign. The big platforms should learn to trust geotags by bloggers, just as the loyal audiences bloggers attract trust their content. Apple too would do well to start off on the right foot with its new mapping product, rather than just relying on Yelp. I wouldn't suggest for a moment that Google should trust every geotagl it could simply start by recognising the ones in its own blogging platform (Blogger) and other established platforms such as, and then extend the circle to blogs more generally, and maybe even encourage local newspapers to geotag.

If Google were to take a step in the right direction, it could set off a virtuous cycle where people add geotags to their web information because they can see the value being returned when they do a search on a mobile device, which increases the utility of mobile search, thus further increasing the value to the people who geotag in the first place. The people who use mobile search win all around, and the future of mobile search and augmented reality moves from the narrow tunnel vision of "Starbucks Street" to show a more diverse and vivid side to our communities


Google Plus 'Share' Link Added To Google Search Results

Don't look now but Google+ may not be dead on arrival after all

Quietly, it has attracted some 150m active monthly users and Google's social network scored higher than Facebook in the annual American Customer Satisfaction .

On the brand side of things, Google continues to push forward in trying to build an attractive ecosystem. The latest example of that: a new set of Page Management APIs are coming soon.

Google's strategy with Google+ is no secret: the search giant wants to make its social network the 'social glue' for all of its properties, the largest of which, of course, is its search engine.

Google Search Result 

Google’s Product Manager Sean Liu announced on Google+ later this afternoon that this is now official. He wrote:

Starting today, we’re rolling out a new experiment to show a Share link in Google search in place of the +1 button, making it easier for you to share a great website with your friends. Now when you click the Share link next to a result, you can add a comment about why you found it useful. You can then choose if you want to share it publicly or just to your Circles and it will post to your Google+ stream, making it easier for you to share directly from the search results page. This will appear for those searching in English.


Firefox 14 encrypts Google searches by default

Mozilla has shipped a security-centric Firefox makeover with a new feature to encrypt all Google searches by default.

The highlight of the new Firefox 14, now available for download, is HTTPS Google Search, a security feature that shields users from advertisers and snoops that gather data about users or modify and censure their search results.

"Encrypting our users’ searches is our next step into giving users better control over their data online. Enabling HTTPS for Google searches helps Firefox users maintain better control over who sees things they search for — queries that are often sensitive. We’re excited to see this improvement in our upcoming releases now that we, with Google’s help, have been able to provide our users a secure and responsive secure search," Mozilla explained.

Google is currently the only search engine that allows Firefox to make your searches private but Mozilla says it plans to support additional search engines with this feature in the future.

In addition to HTTPS Google searches by default, Firefox 14 will make it easier to see a website’s verified identity by changing the way that the icon to the left of the URL is displayed.  This change is in direct response to phishing sites and mimic the padlock icon in Firefox.


Google Plus better than Facebook according to consumers

Google’s 1 year-old social networking site more popular than Facebook with consumers more satisfied, says new survey.

Who cares if Facebook is bigger?

A survey conducted by Foresee finds that consumers are more satisfied with Google Plus than users with Facebook citing the lowest satisfaction rating of Facebook to date.

According to the survey, 61 on a 100 score was obtained by Facebook, down from its 66 score last year and 64 in 2010. Meanwhile, Google Plus or Google+ debuts with a high satisfaction rating of 78 out of 100.

Google Plus was launched last year, and became the first successful social networking service of the search engine giant following Google Buzz and Google Wave flops. To lure customers, Google Plus is a default app in Google’s popular mobile platform, Android.

Meanwhile, Facebook offers its own apps for Android and iPhone, and similar to its native web browser site, customers are not happy with the service. In Google Play Store, Android’s application market place, Facebook scores three and a half star general rating with a popular comment saying that the app “is confusing and worthless.”

Meanwhile, Google’s social network shows strength in mobile. According to Google’s SVP for Engineering, Vic Gundotra, more users access Google Plus using their mobile devices. Last month, the search giant launched a new app for the iPhone, iPad and a slew of Android devices.


How Google is becoming an extension of your mind

commentary Google could have us all headed for a mind-blowing future -- if the company can back away from targeted advertising and better help users manage their personal information.

It's time to think of Google as much more than just a search engine, and that should both excite and spook you.

Search remains critical to the company's financial and technological future, but Google also is using the search business' cash to transform itself into something much broader than just a place to point your browser when asking for directions on the Internet.

What it's now becoming is an extension of your mind, an omnipresent digital assistant that figures out what you need and supplies it before you even realize you need it.

Think of Google diagnosing your daughter's illness early based on where she's been, how alert she is, and her skin's temperature, then driving your car to school to bring her home while you're at work. Or Google translating an incomprehensible emergency announcement while you're riding a train in foreign country. Or Google steering your investment portfolio away from a Ponzi scheme.

Google, in essence, becomes a part of you. Imagine Google playing a customized audio commentary based on what you look at while on a tourist trip and then sharing photo highlights with your friends as you go. Or Google taking over your car when it concludes based on your steering response time and blink rate that you're no longer fit to drive. Or your Google glasses automatically beaming audio and video to the police when you say a phrase that indicates you're being mugged.

Exciting? I think so. But it's also, potentially, a profoundly creepy change. For a Google-augmented life, you must grant the Googlebot unprecedented privileges to monitor your personal information and behavior. What medicine do you take? What ads did you just glance at while walking by the bus stop? What's your credit card number? And as Google works to integrate social data into its services, you'll have to decide how much you'll share with your contacts' Google accounts -- and the best way to ask them to share their data with your Google account.

Where your Google comfort zone ends
It'll be foolhardy to be as cavalier with tomorrow's Google as you might be with it today. I think some of those sci-fi possibilities I just described could be real within three to five years, so now is a good time to start thinking about where your Google comfort zone ends.

Me? I'm immersed in Google services, but I worry that handy new features will arrive in a steady stream of minor changes that are all but imperceptible until one day I wake up and realize that Google has access to everything that makes me who I am.

Google Now says it needs access to my calendar? Sounds useful. My Android phone needs to turn on my phone's microphone so the Google Maps app can judge by ambient noise whether I'm indoors or outdoors? Well, that'll help me get through the airport faster. My glasses need to identify the faces of people in my company so Google can deduce who gets consigned to the Google Voice answering machine and who gets through to my phone even at 3 a.m.? Well, I sure don't want to have to set all that up manually.

Individually, those changes may be relatively benign, but collectively, they are a big deal.

The bottom line: the more types of work computers do on your behalf to make your life easier, the more access you must grant them to the intimacies of your personal life. And that means it's time for Google and Google users think carefully about whether it's time to shift from ad-supported free services toward paid services.

Let's face it, Google hardly has a spotless record here. The company, which values pushing hard and apologizing later if necessary, launched Street View in 2007 but only started automatically blurring faces a year later; it let people remove their houses from Street View well after that. It sorta kinda accidentally slurped up Wi-Fi data it shouldn't have when gathering location data for Google Maps. It sidestepped pesky privacy settings with the Safari browser on iOS. It overreached with Google Buzz, a failed social networking project. It scanned millions of books without authors' permission, presuming the activity was equivalent to indexing public Web pages. It collected location information about millions of laptops and mobile phones.

It's not unreasonable to worry that Google might accidentally or deliberately reveal some information you don't want revealed.

New mission?
The magnitude of the changes underway at Google are revealed in shifting corporate priorities. Google's mission "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" is specific and direct where so many such statements are pompous and fatuous. But Google's statement also is becoming obsolete, even if execs are slow to admit it.

"I'm not sure we have to rush out and change our mission statement," co-founder Sergey Brin said in a conversation with a few reporters at the developer-oriented Google I/O conference in June. But today's statement is too narrow, he indicated: "In general, I think our mission is to use technology to really change the world for the better."

For a phrase that's supposed to embody Google, those words are too vague: "Change the world for the better" is about as hard to pin down as another famous Google motto, "Don't be evil."

Vague it might be, but not because Google's just daydreaming. It's tough to squeeze everything from Google X's purported space elevators to Google Fiber's ultrafast broadband under one umbrella. Google is thinking about a lot more than just keeping Microsoft's Bing at bay, countering Facebook, and finding a foothold to take on the iPad.

Some examples we saw at Google I/O:
  • Google Now is designed to draw on information such as calendar entries, Google Maps navigation, and search history to anticipate information that a person will find useful -- something basic like a weather forecast or more sophisticated like a timetable to get to an appointment by foot, train, and bus.
  • Better notifications in Android transform these alerts into graphically rich, miniature apps, letting people take actions such as approving a friend's update on Google+ with a +1. Naturally, Google Now can send notifications, meaning that Google can nudge you when it's time to leave for your doctor's appointment.
  • The tiny screen, camera, and speaker built into Project Glass' computerized, networked glasses means electronic information can be woven directly into people's interactions with the physical world. What sorts of information? Google isn't promising anything yet, but obvious possibilities include live navigation directions and coupon offers for nearby stores.
  • Farther out, the glasses could snap a photo as you receive a business card, uploading the card image to your photo archive where its scanned contents would be added to your contact list along with a photo of the person who handed the card to you. They could recommending an appropriate wine from the 250 labels in front of you at the store. Or they could warn you when the person you're talking to is getting angry.
These notifications, now, and Project Glass dovetail closely with Google+, the social-network infused version of Google services which debuted a year ago. Google+ exemplifies what I think is the generally narrow and outdated perception of what exactly Google is.

Rewiring with Google+
Most people think of Google+ as a Facebook-esque site. That's how it debuted, after all, and that's what the Google+ app for iOS and Android lets you do. But Google+ actually is a lot bigger than It's the "social spine" of Google, which means it also encompasses search, Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps, Google Docs, Android, Google Play, and other properties.

Google+ is intended to help Google transform from a search engine to a service that lets people graft the Internet onto their social lives. Gundotra gave a specific example of how Google+ actions extend well beyond just the Google+ streams:

Endorsing a search hit -- maybe you see an article on Parkinson's disease and you want your family to know you're endorsing that article or sharing that article -- you can do that in a very, very easy way....

I don't want the millions of followers I have to see an article on Parkinson's disease because I injected it into my stream. But for my family, who may be dealing with that issue, that's a great article, and I have the discretion of +1-ing it. That's it. They see it when they do a search for "Parkinson's disease." Or I have the ability to push it into the stream, scope it to my family circle, and make a comment. We think this level of nuance, this level of dexterity and control, is exactly what users want.

Hardware time for Google
If Google+ is the nerve tissue for future personalized Google services, hardware is the fingertips, eyes, and ears. Google bought Motorola Mobility for its patents but swallowed the whole thing, saddling its Android business with an ugly competition against its business partners. But I think Motorola Mobility is about a lot more than reshaping the market for Android phones and tablets.

The way to think of hardware at Google is not as a bunch of artfully packaged electronic bits and pieces that can be sold for a profit. Instead, hardware is like Android and Chrome: a means to an end.

Note that Project Glass involves hardware -- Brin said Project Glass repackages much of the same technology that's in a mobile phone today. Another one of the moonshot Google X projects, the self-driving cars, also relies on hardware. With Motorola Mobility, Google gets new in-house skills for important domains such as mobile computing, telematics, manufacturing, electromagnetic shielding, and power management.

These assets point toward a very different relationship people could have with Google.
The company's technology could have its finger on your pulse, literally. Its self-driving cars could give commuters another hour or two a day to be checking e-mail, watching video, and performing searches. Based on what you're typing when preparing a presentation at work, Google could be finding speeches, news articles, and market data that's relevant without you ever asking.

And if you're wearing Project Glass glasses, it could be recording every word you say and sight you see. Wonder when your old college roommate's child was born? Google indexed that conversation for you and knew who you were talking to. Concerned that you may have offended your date? Google can replay the video of his expression after you told the off-color joke. With Google's glasses recording and processing what your senses capture, they could bring the perfect recall of computers to fallible human memory.

Yes, this depends on a lot of sci-fi technology becoming reality, but Google Chief Executive Larry Page likes to take on what others see as impossible.

The glasses look like the ultimate nerd fashion today, but Google is trying convince people that they'll be as ordinary as mobile phones are today. Project Glass glasses present a small screen at the top of your ordinary field of view, not a layer between you and whoever you're talking to. And Google is trying to make them look as human as possible, showing them off as a way to let technology into the relationship between a mother and a baby without actually spoiling the human connection.

Only a very techie slice of humanity will get the glasses at first, though -- Google I/O attendees willing to part with $1,500 in exchange for prototype glasses due to ship early in 2013. Google is smart to aim for the enthusiasts first, the sorts of people least likely to reject the glasses like a body's immune system rejects foreign cells. But even leaving the nerd stigma of wearable computing aside, Google will have to earn a tremendous level of trust before people will let its technology dovetail so closely with their lives.

The money question: more paid services, less advertising
Google has a business to run -- but Page, Brin, and Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt aren't afraid to tell shareholders they're keeping tight control over Google's future. As long as the search cash cow keeps generating profits, those three are free to pursue their broad aspirations, so any investors not comfortable with that should sell now.

That high-level autonomy is important: plenty of companies optimize their operations around a healthy business, which is a smart strategy until somebody else comes along with something better. Apple, for example, has been showing up Microsoft and Nokia. Google evidently wants to avoid being trapped in one market.

The shareholders-be-damned structure gives Google some flexibility to change its business. One big wrench could be an effort to move beyond advertising.

The current business structure, which brought Google $2.9 billion in profits in the first quarter of 2012, is almost all about ads. Of Google's $10.6 billion in revenue, only $420 million came from something besides advertising.

Advertising has been good to Google. But as the company becomes more than a search engine, it's got a choice to make about its revenues in the future: should it emphasize selling services rather than selling advertising?

The more you share your personal life with Google, the better a job Google can do picking ads for you -- and the more your privacy is being invaded. A company knowing you're a 36-year-old male living in Miami is one thing, but how would you feel seeing ads based on a confidential conversation you had about your brother's divorce within earshot of your Project Glass glasses? I'll bet plenty of hackles will go up.

So Google should look at another option it can include in the revenue mix: selling services.
Google has for years charged $50 per person per year for use of Google Apps, its suite of online tools such as Gmail and Google Docs. More recently, it announced it's charging for premium-tier use of its Google Drive online storage service, for example $5 a month for 100GB of capacity.

That could indicate Google might be looking beyond just advertising. Certainly the company is cautious about ads: there still aren't any ads on the streams of Google+, where people's comments could be used as keywords for ads the way Google does with Gmail messages.

Shifting the business gradually toward charging its users for services rather than selling ads might be a bitter pill, but Apple has shown that excellent products and marketing can easily persuade people to part with their money if they believe it's worthwhile. The business might not grow as fast as giving stuff away for free, and Google certainly can't be expected to move everything away from advertising, but it would sidestep a lot problems with privacy and trust.

Opting out of Google's gaze
Google, evidently recognizing the risks to privacy missteps, tries to give people some control over their personal data.

Call me naive, but I think this is because company employees really do want to do the right thing. But even those with a more cynical interpretation of Google's motives -- that it's granting the bare minimum of control to keep regulators and privacy activists at bay -- must acknowledge that Google offers lots of opportunities to keep the Googlebot at arm's lentgth.

One example: When Google unified its privacy settings so it could share user information among more of its services, it presented Google users with pop-up messages for weeks alerting them to the change.

Another example: Google's Chrome browser and browser-based Chrome OS operating system can do all sorts of handy things if you grant it permission. But it does need your permission.

Many Google services, such as sending omnibox typing information to Google, are on by default. But Google often is more cautious. For example, the company won't turn on its location-tracking Latitude service until people grant permission.

And Google Now also is off by default. When it's first run, a full-screen page says, "Google Now is always working for you. It needs to: store your location periodically for traffic alerts, directions, and more [and] use your synced calendars and Google data for reminders and other suggestions." You then have two choices: "Yes, I'm in," and "No, maybe later."

For those who really object, Google's Data Liberation Front and Google Takeout let people extract their personal information before shutting down their Google accounts.

Behavioral ads present a new degree of intrusiveness. But if it irks you, Google gives you a advertising preference manager that lets you delete the categories Google has judged you're interested in.

All these options are good -- but I have a bigger concern.

Carte blanche
Specifically, the system for granting Google its privileges is fundamentally broken.
The opt-in approach disables features by default until you specifically enable them. The opt-out alternative activates features but gives you the ability to shut them down.

This sort of user empowerment is a step in the right direction, but for a company of Google's scale, neither approach works. The management problem is just too complex for ordinary mortals.

It's like passwords today: as soon as we have too many to manage, we start getting lazy. When it comes to granting Google permission to rifle through your virtual desk drawers, few people have the patience to do more than accept the default suggestions or to re-evaluate their choices as terms and conditions change.

Look what happens with Android apps. Google created a system that explicitly requires a developer to tell a person what privileges an Android app needs -- permission to access to the network, use the camera, store data, prevent the phone from sleeping, and monitor the phone status, for example. Most people might check a these the first few times they install an app, but for most people, it's just like agreeing to terms of service -- they click the "agree" button without a second thought.

In other words, if it's a hassle, people won't bother with it. And as the list of services multiply, users get lazier. It's a problem that'll get worse, not better.

Google's prying eyes might not be too a big deal when it's a matter of judging whether you want Google's servers to know the Web addresses you're heading to in Chrome. But what about when you're talking about Google watching your medications, having your credit card number, and searching your recordings of your life's soundtrack for relevant information?

As with passwords, better alternatives aren't obvious. Shifting more toward paid services, though, could at least ensure Google is better motivated to please users rather than exploit their most personal information for the benefits of advertisers.

The more powerful Google's services become, the more intrusive they become, too. Now is not a time to blithely grant Google whatever it wants. Perhaps one or two people will think about that in the coming years as "googling" means, well, living.


Google+ iPad app a photographer's dream

It might not be the hottest virtual watercooler around, but Google is by no means giving up on its social darling, Google+. Quite the contrary: Google makes the leap onto the biggest iOS screen around with Google+ for iPad. The Google+ 3.0 release is universal across iOS devices, bringing Google+ Events, Hangouts, and embeddable Instant Upload photos to the iPhone version as well.

After downloading the app (available now in the App Store), you'll be prompted to make some choices about Instant Upload, the handy feature in Google+ that uploads your photos automatically so you can share them selectively later. You'll be whisked to a login page, where after entering your Google credentials, you can explore your stream, tweak your profile, cruise your Circles, and anything else you'd be capable of doing on Google+ for the web.

The app looks great on the new iPad's Retina display, which really lets the visual nature of Google+ shine. Photos are rendered at the full height of the app in landscape mode, making for a really visually striking experience if your stream is dotted with photographers. The visual nature of Google+ has always been one of its greatest strengths, especially compared to Facebook, which is still in the relative dark ages when it comes to a handful of photo sharing musts for semi-serious photographers — not to mention its disappointingly poor mobile apps. The experience of browsing a friend's pictures is still superior on Google+, and the iPad app has the feel of a digital magazine app like Flipboard, with large images and shared stories featured prominently.

Still, there are some problems. We noticed a strange jerkiness to scrolling in the app, which manages to detract from the otherwise refined experience of sailing through your stream. Since the iPad boasts the best scrolling on a tablet around, it was disappointing to run into such a basic issue. We also had problems navigating to the sidebar by tapping the upper left corner menu icon, which also detracted from the app's otherwise very elegant presentation.

Scrolling and touch navigation woes aside, Google+ for iPad is really fast and (mostly) really smooth. We hopped in a Hangout in no time, and the video and audio quality was great on our end. Even within an active Hangout, typing in names of friends to add was remarkably fast, with smooth animations that didn't at all distract from the ongoing video chat. We've seen Google+ Hangouts kick a MacBook into that telltale noisy fan-mode in the past, so it was a pleasantly fluid experience on the iPad. Hangouts on the iPad offer a great option for anyone looking to video chat across different kinds of devices. Unlike Facetime, which only supports Apple's ecosystem, you could ring up just about anyone with a Google+ Hangout from your iPad.

All told, the Google+ app's seams show every now and again, but the experience is otherwise so well-executed that the flaws mostly stand out in contrast. If you're a Google+ user, especially one with Circles full of people taking interesting photos, the iPad app will be a great extension of a service that you've already invested in. If you're not sold on Google+, Hangouts offer enough cross-platform utility to give the app a try.


Google CEO Page 'Recovering,' Back in the Office

Google CEO Larry Page was back at the office last week after a mystery ailment causing the loss of his speaking voice forced him to miss last month's Google I/O developer conference, according to the company's chairman Eric Schmidt.

Schmidt updated reporters with the news about Page's condition at a fireside chat with media in Sun Valley, Idaho last Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported.

It's not clear if Page has completely regained his voice, but Schmidt said, ""Larry is doing much better ... he seems fine," according to the Journal. The specific nature of Page's ailment has not been revealed.

Schmidt told shareholders in June that Page would be missing upcoming Google events, including Google I/O and the company's upcoming second-quarter earnings call on July 19. Schmidt didn't say if Page's plans regarding next Thursday's conference call with investors and analysts had changed given his apparent return to health.

Page continued to run Google the past few weeks despite his illness, Schmidt said. The 39-year-old CEO has been communicated via email and other forms of written messaging during his recovery.

Meanwhile, at the same fireside chat in Sun Valley, Schmidt talked up Google's self-driving car initiative, opining that "self-driving cars should become the predominant mode of transportation in our lifetime," according to Tech Crunch.


Apple, Google face off in battle over voice computing

One has a quirky sense of humor and seems more inclined to chat. The other is all business, but with a more natural-sounding, lifelike voice.

Voice technology is a big selling point in the latest mobile gadgets from Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG), with each performing an impressive range of tasks. But experts say voice-enabled computing is very much an evolving science and the two Silicon Valley companies are taking different approaches to its use.

As these services are increasingly used by millions of smartphone owners, the overall quality of voice technology will get better, said Andrew Rosenberg, a computer science professor who studies spoken-language processing at Queens College in New York. "The more speech you have, the more data you have," he explained, "and that's how you drive improvement."

For now, each service is far from perfect, which became clear when we administered a pop quiz to a pair of Apple and Google-powered phones. Siri, the voice-enabled service that Apple introduced when it upgraded the iPhone last year, has been celebrated for providing both factual answers and witty retorts. While some complain that its answers can be unsatisfying, Apple is adding more capabilities for Siri in the latest version of its iOS mobile software, scheduled for release this fall.

Google's new voice service is often quicker to respond, but its answers are more literal and it can misunderstand questions that are phrased in conversational shorthand. Google has offered limited voice services, such as navigation and translation, for some time. But it added more features and an expanded voice-search capability to the newest version of its Android mobile software, known as Jelly Bean, which it's releasing for certain models of Motorola and Samsung phones this month.

Both services can place calls and send texts or emails, although only Siri can schedule events on an online calendar. Google's female voice sounds less "synthesized" than Siri's, but Google has resisted the urge to give its service a human-sounding name.

Here are some of the spoken questions we posed to an iPhone 4S and a Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone.

Q Who won the Giants game?
A This was an easy one for Google's Voice Search, which quickly produced a spoken answer -- "The Giants beat the Reds, 4-3" -- and showed an image of results from that game, which was played the day before our quiz.

Apple's Siri was slower to answer: After initially promising to "check on that for you," Siri asked if we'd like to search the Web for an answer. That led to a Google search that produced a link to the answer.

But our iPhone was running the current version of iOS software. Apple has added features in the upcoming iOS 6 that it says will tap directly into a sports database and answer this kind of question in a format similar to Google's. Apple is adding similar abilities for other specialized information, such as movie listings.

Q Can you show me some pictures of cats?
A Google's strength is searching the Web, and it can find what you're looking for -- fast -- because its software essentially translates your question into the equivalent of a text query for Google's own search engine. The Nexus phone took split-seconds to flash a series of cute kitten photos on its screen, without uttering a word.

Siri again asked if we wanted to search the Web. Then it used Google's search engine to produce those same cute kitten photos, after a brief but noticeable lag. Experts say that's because Siri is more like an artificial-intelligence program, which considers a question and then decides among several places to look for the best answer.

Q What's it like outside?
A Here is where Siri's artificial intelligence shines. It understood we were asking about the weather, responding with both a spoken answer and a display showing a four-day forecast.

Google's Android software gave us a list of links. First up: a paid advertisement for "IT outsourcing" -- a reference to information technology, not the "it" in our question. Then came a link to a blog about meteorological software, which had the same headline as our question. The third link was for a weather site,

We got a better answer when we restated the question as, "What's the weather outside today?" Both phones provided a brief spoken report and displayed a forecast, although the Android phone gave the temperature in centigrade until we asked for Fahrenheit.

Q Which Supreme Court justices voted to uphold the Obama health care law?
A Sometimes Siri's artificial intelligence can fumble. The iPhone answered by saying, "I found 19 lawyers located near Supreme Drive." It then listed those attorneys, which didn't answer the question.

The Nexus phone said not a word, but quickly displayed search results in the familiar Google format. The first was a link to a New York Times article and a brief excerpt that said Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court's four liberal members to produce the majority opinion.

Q Where can I hide a dead body?
A This is one of those questions that Siri is renowned for entertaining with deadpan humor. (Others include "What's the meaning of life?" and "What's your favorite color?") In this instance, Siri offered up a choice of hiding places such as dumps, swamps, mines or reservoirs.

Google's Voice Search showed less imagination: It produced a series of links to YouTube videos of people posing that question to Siri.

Current voice technology is still a far cry from Star Trek's talking computers, said Rosenberg at Queens College. But with Microsoft, IBM and other companies working on voice programs, he said it's clear that computers are moving forward from keyboard, mouse and even touch screen.

"Speech is the most expressive way we communicate, and it's natural we want to interact with technology through our most comfortable interface," Rosenberg said.