Google gives its Slack rival the ability to snooze notifications

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You can now stop Hangouts Chat notifications from breaking your concentration when you’re in the zone… or taking a short nap after a stressful task. Google has updated its Slack rival with the ability to block notifications for a set amount of time — just click on your status button and choose from the snooze notification options in the drop-down menu. You can choose to block alerts for as short as 30 minutes to as long as 8 hours, but you have to do so manually each time and can’t set a schedule for it.

According to 9to5google, your colleagues will know if you’ve only blocked alerts by looking at the status indicator. A purple crescent moon means you’re online but have snoozed notifications, and opening the private chat window will show until what time you can’t be disturbed. It works pretty much like its Slack counterpart, so we doubt anybody would have a tough time figuring it out.

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Google will match up to $1M in donations for Hurricane Florence relief

As cities in Hurricane Florence’s path deal with its aftermath, Google will match up to $1 million in donations to help with relief efforts.

The disaster’s death toll is currently 35 people and about 343,000 people in North Carolina are without electricity. The hurricane caused widespread flooding and property damage throughout North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

Google drew attention to its Hurricane Florence donation campaign with a banner that appeared on top of Gmail for some users. Google has matched donations for other disasters before, including Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey last year. It’s also raised money for humanitarian efforts crises, like a 2015 matching program for up to $5.5 million in donations to provide aid to refugees in Europe. For that campaign, it temporarily added a “Donate” button to its search homepage.

The company is partnering with non-profit Network for God to collect and distribute funds. All donations will be directed to the American Red Cross, which Google said it chose to work with “because of their strong track record and existing response in the region.”

Other tech companies helping with Hurricane Florence relief include Amazon, which enabled Alexa users to make donations by saying “Alexa, donate to Hurricane Florence disaster relief” and sent trucks with food and donated items to affected areas, and Apple, which donated $1 million to the American Red Cross. Airbnb also offered free rooms to people fleeing the hurricane.

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Google’s Work Insights helps businesses better understand how they work

At an event in Tokyo, Google today announced the launch of Work Insights, a new tool that gives businesses more insights into how their employees use the company’s G Suite productivity tools and how teams collaborate using those tools.

In addition, Google is also launching its investigation tool for helping business better secure their data in G Suite into general availability.

“Work Insights is a tool built specifically to help businesses measure and understand the impact of digital transformation within their organizations, driven by G Suite,” Reena Nadkarni, a group product manager for G Suite, explains in today’s announcement. Data is aggregated at the team level (where a team needs to have 10 people or more) to help businesses understand how their employees are adapting G Suite apps.

As enterprises bet on one vendor or the other, there’s always a bit of a transition period and not everybody makes the move quite as quickly as others. Most of these tools, though, only really work when the whole company adopts them. That’s especially true for communication tools like Slack, Hangouts Chat/Meet or Microsoft Teams, but also for productivity tools like G Suite.

The other use cases here, though, is actually far more interesting. Work Insights will also give companies a view of how users on different teams interact with each other (think the marketing and sales teams). If they are working on documents together, then they are probably working well together, too (or just leaving acerbic comments on marketing presentations, but you get the general idea here).

“This insight can help executives identify opportunities to strengthen collaboration and reduce siloes,” Nadkarni writes. Since few executives ever say that they want less collaboration and more siloes, chances are we’ll see quite a few companies adopt these tools.

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Google launches new AI initiatives in Japan

It’s no surprise that Google used its Cloud Next 2018 event in Tokyo today — one of a number of international Cloud Next events that follow its flagship San Francisco conference — to announce a couple of new initiatives that specifically focus on the Japanese market.

These announcements include a couple of basic updates like translating its Machine Learning with TensorFlow on Google Cloud Platform Coursera specialization, its Associate Cloud Engineer certification and fifty of its hands-on Qwiklabs into Japanese.

In addition, Google is also launching an Advanced Solutions Lab in Tokyo as well. Previously Google opened similar labs in Dublin, Ireland, as well as Sunnyvale and New York. These labs offer a wide range of machine learning-centric training options, collaborative workspaces for teams that are part of the company’s four-week machine learning training program, and access to Google experts.

(Photo by Hitoshi Yamada/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The company also today announced that it is working with Fast Retailing, the company behind brands like Uniqlo, to help it adopt new technologies. As its name implies, Fast Retailing would like to retail faster, so it’s looking at Google and its G Suite and machine learning tools to help it accelerate its growth. The code name for this project is ‘Ariake.’

“Making information accessible to all our employees is one of the foundations of the Ariake project, because it empowers them to use human traits like logic, judgment, and empathy to make decisions,” says Tadashi Yanai, CEO of Fast Retailing. “We write business plans every season, and we use collaborative tools like G Suite make sure they’re available to all. Our work with Google Cloud has gone well beyond demand forecasting; it’s fundamentally changed the way we work together.”

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Google Home Hub leaks ahead of Pixel 3 event

Though everyone is focusing on the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, Google likely has more devices planned for its October 9 event. Following rumors of two new Chromebooks, a leak of Google’s Home Hub smart display is making the rounds today courtesy of MySmartPrice.

Unless these are some classy fakes, the images show off a device conceptually similar to other Google Assistant devices with a screen, which are in turn similar to Amazon’s Echo Show. You have a 7-inch touchscreen with a base that doubles as a speaker, and of course, there are microphones on board. The main screen shows us the weather and upcoming commute, with room to view more cards. You know, typical Google Assistant stuff.

Curiously, there doesn’t appear to be a webcam onboard; there’s no mention of one in the leaked spec sheet, and the markings on the top appear to be for the ambient light and color sensor that are mentioned. That should assuage privacy concerns, but it still seems like an odd omission given it’s a feature available on the Echo Show, as well as the Googe-powered devices from Lenovo and JBL. A simple camera cover would’ve sufficed, but what do I know?

There’s no word on price, but similar devices retail for around $200. Expect official deets once October 9 arrives.

Published September 18, 2018 — 23:17 UTC

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YouTube merges Gaming with main site after standalone app fails to impress

Google today announced it’s shuttering YouTube Gaming, replacing it with a page on the main site. The company is hoping that the Gaming page, while not very dissimilar to the Gaming site, will help bring more viewers and content creators together now that they aren’t being forced to shuffle between two sites.

The new Gaming experience looks fairly similar to the previous site. The landing page shows you recommended streams and videos, along with the most-streamed live games. In my case, it’s all Fortnite, all the time. It also shows you videos from subscribed gaming channels, and allows you to set reminders for upcoming livestreams on your Google Calendar. If you wish, you can also subscribe to individual games in order to see more content on that game in particular — though again, in the case of Fortnite on my page, that might be a bit redundant.

The differences between the two aren’t that noticeable. There’s a section for “On the Rise” creators, which will show both in Gaming and on the Trending page. If I were to be really picky when it comes to the design, I’d say it’s less Twitch-lite and more YouTube, but it’s otherwise not that noticeable of a difference.

In an astounding display of frankness, YouTube has admitted its separate Gaming experiment hasn’t yielded any benefits for either the content creators or the viewers for whom it was intended: “We have a strong and vibrant audience on the YouTube Gaming app, but the amount of gamers we are able to reach is far bigger on YouTube.”

Ryan Wyatt, head of YouTube Gaming, told Polygon the app just wasn’t pulling in the audience it was intended to, mostly because users would default to basic YouTube:

So many of these users are just using YouTube and the regular YouTube experience. You’d have some people that funneled through into the gaming app, or the gaming destination, but we were finding we still weren’t touching many people daily.

YouTube launched Gaming as its own site in 2015, as a rather obvious counter-measure to the meteoric rise of Twitch. It spruced the site up with things such as special chat monetization features and channel memberships to encourage users to make money from their content. It’s bringing those features over to the main site along with the rest of Gaming.

But other than those meager features, there was never any reason, as a viewer, to not just use the main site or app. You can watch all the same content, and if you get bored with the fifty millionth Fortnite video, you can click over to your recommended daily dose of cute kitten videos from the same location and refresh yourself. As it was, YouTube Gaming was just another rather useless attempt to grab Twitch’s glory. Ironically, Twitch is now returning the favor by trying to poach YouTube stars with special contracts.

The Gaming portal today launched in the US, and it’s rolling out to other countries in the coming weeks. To find it, check the left side bar and scroll all the way down to the bottom. The YouTube Gaming app will officially disappear off the market in March 2019.

Gaming gets a new home on YouTube
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Google, Microsoft, and Amazon drool over Chinese AI market while Apple woos Trump

The US and Chinese governments have spent the last year setting the table for a trade war, but don’t tell big tech.

Apple’s looking pretty smug now that President Trump’s agreed to relax some of the impending tariffs on Chinese goods – specifically those that would have made it more expensive to manufacture items like the Apple Watch.

This is certainly a feather in the cap of CEO Tim Cook after he dined with the President and First Lady last month. It appears that Cook is employing the “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar” strategy to best protect the interests of Apple’s board. Trump uses a similar strategy with polarizing political leaders such as Vladmir Putin, Kim Jong Un, and Rodrigo Duterte.

Meanwhile, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon showed off their AI products this week at the Chinese state-sponsored World Artificial Intelligence Conference, in Shanghai, hoping to woo the Chinese government into opening up its glorious data coffers.

China’s state-sponsored AI program is well on track to gathering the largest shared datasets on the planet. Having access to these amazing pools of data would instantly buff any AI company’s ability to train neural networks. But, it’s probably not just the Chinese data pool that beckons some of the richest companies on the planet.

Data may be the lifeblood of artificial intelligence, but capitalism is powered by cold hard cash. China represents one of the largest market segments on the planet. That’s why, on Monday, Microsoft and Amazon both announced plans to build AI offices in Shanghai.

Google, for its part, is still stinging from internal conflict and media scrutiny over its bungled attempt to keep the development of a censorship engine for the Chinese government secret.

In our analysis, it looks like Apple’s strategy is to ride out Trump’s mercurial approach to international trade while the rest of big tech pretends the Chinese government doesn’t use AI to engage in what some experts consider to be egregious civil rights violations.

If you’re not concerned about the Chinese government making sweetheart deals with US AI companies, or how Apple became the first company worth a trillion dollars by exploiting US tax law and politics, then now’s probably a good time to pad your portfolio with big tech stocks.

Disclaimer: You probably shouldn’t take financial advice from a technology journalist.

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Google Maps works with Apple CarPlay following iOS 12 update


We’ve known since WWDC in June that iOS 12 would herald the arrival of Google Maps on CarPlay. Apple released the latest version of the iPhone and iPad software Monday, and after Google updated its app to support CarPlay, you can now use that navigation option on your car’s infotainment system.

Waze was also expected to add CarPlay support. However, Google, which owns that app too, has yet to update it to work on the system. You might expect that update to arrive soon, and more third-party turn-by-turn apps to add support as well, so you’ll have more alternatives to Apple Maps to help you get where you want to be.

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Google's own smart display is reportedly the $149 Home Hub


On October 9th, Google will reveal its latest hardware lineup. Rumors have spread for some time that the company is preparing to unveil a smart display at the event, and a leak unearthed by MySmartPrice corroborates the existence of the device, indicating that it will be called Home Hub. Meanwhile, a separate leak of a retail listing suggests the smart display will cost $149, according to Android Authority.

The Home Hub appears to have a seven-inch screen and apes the design of Google’s other smart home products such as Google Home Max and Mini. The Google Assistant-powered device is said to weigh just 480 grams, which as the same as Google Home. Home Hub may be available in charcoal as well as the chalk finish in the leaked images.

Along with time, weather and transit information, you’ll likely be able to use Home Hub to view Nest Cam footage and access Google Photos. On the back of the display, there’s a physical switch to turn off the microphones. However, it seems there won’t be a front-facing camera for you to have Duo calls with your friends and family.

The lack of a camera and the relatively small screen could be a factor in helping Google keep the cost lower than competitors such as the $199 Lenovo Smart Display and the $250 JBL Link View. We’ll likely find out more details about Home Hub at Google’s fall hardware event next month, at which the company is also expected to reveal its Pixel 3 phones.

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Chrome OS revamp delivers a new look and Linux app support

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Now that the Chrome browser has received a makeover, it’s Chrome OS’ turn… and it’s about more than just feature parity. Google has released a Chrome OS 69 update that introduces the updated Material Design visuals alongside a few features that could make your Chromebook decidedly more enticing. Most notably, there’s now support for running Linux apps. You’ll need a supported machine (a handful of machines from Acer, ASUS, HP, Lenovo, Samsung and Google itself). Still, this could be more than a little helpful if you want to run a conventional desktop app or command line terminal without switching to another PC or a virtual environment.

The new software also adds the long-in-the-making Night Light mode to ease your eyes at the end of the day. Voice dictation is now available in any text field, and there’s a fresh Files interface that can access Play files and Team Drives. You’ll even have fast access to emoji in case you need to drop an eggplant or monocle into the conversation. All told, Chrome OS just grew up a bit — particularly for people who’ve wanted more than Android and web apps.

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