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April 18, 2015

Chrome 42 Brings Better Integration With iOS 8

Chrome 42 for iOS brought a lot of new features. Some of them use the APIs introduced in iOS 8, while others make it easy to use Apple's bigger phones.

You can now reload a page, open a new tab or close a tab with one swipe. Go to the top of a page, pull down and you'll see three buttons: a reload button (pull straight down), a plus button for opening a new tab (pull down and left) and a button that closes the current tab (pull down and right).

Chrome for iOS 8 now has support for the Today View. You can open a new tab, use voice search or open copied links. For example, you can copy a link from Safari, open the Notification Center and tap "open copied link" to open the page in Chrome.

Chrome has its own app extension for the Today View, but it also supports third-party app extensions. For example, you can now use password managers like LastPass and 1Password right inside Chrome. Here are the instructions for LastPass. Basically, you need to tap the share button from Chrome's menu, enable LastPass in the extensions menu and then you can quickly log in using LastPass.

Another new feature allows you find answers more quickly. When you're searching from the address bar, Chrome now shows answers related to weather, stocks, unit conversions and more. Chrome also shows the latest URL copied to the clipboard.

April 17, 2015

Breadcrumbs in Google Mobile Search

Google's mobile search site replaced URLs for search results with breadcrumbs that reflect the structure of the URL. "To help mobile searchers understand your website better when we show it in the mobile search results, today we're updating the algorithms that display URLs in the search results to better reflect the names of websites, using the real-world name of the site instead of the domain name, and the URL structure of the sites in a breadcrumbs-like format," informs Google.

For example, instead of URLs like, you'll see something like this: Google > about > company > history.

Google added support for structured data for websites, so webmasters can include the site's name and the URL structure as breadcrumbs. You can include multiple site names, but they have to be unique and closely related to the domain name.

Breadcrumbs are already used in desktop SERPs. When they were released, you could click each link to navigate the site's hierarchy, but this feature is no longer available. Google also shows the site's name next to the URL and you can click it to find more information about the site.

Mobile SERPs will add a similar feature and the most important change is that Google will replace the domain name with the site's name. Regular users don't understand web addresses and that's why they use search engines to navigate to sites they visit often like Facebook or Amazon.

Mobile breadcrumbs will gradually roll out worldwide, but site names will only be displayed in the US. I assume that Google will use domain names outside the US, at least for now.

In my opinion, the war against URLs is a bad idea. More and more browser partially hide URLs, Google replaces search results URLs with breadcrumbs and even tests removing them. URLs may be meaningless for many people, but they're unique and they give some information about the site's identity. It's hard to come up with unique site names, especially when you consider that there are many companies, products and sites that have the same name.

April 16, 2015

Export Classic Custom Maps

The old My Maps is no longer available, even if you use the classic Google Maps interface. Your custom maps were upgraded to the new My Maps, which has more advanced features.

You can still download the original KML files for your custom maps until June 1st, just in case they weren't properly converted. To export a map, go to My Maps, click "open a map", pick the map you want to export and click "Download classic My Maps data" in the settings menu. If this feature is not available, then the map was created using the new My Maps. There's also an option to "export to KML", which downloads the current map.

"If you aren't happy with the way that your maps upgraded, you can download the original, pre-upgrade version of your maps as KML files from within the new My Maps. These files will be available only until June 1st, 2015. After June 1st, the pre-upgrade version of the KML files will be removed," informs Google.

Google Removes Search Filters for Visited Pages

One by one, Google's advanced search features disappear. Google's search tools menu used to include a lot of filters and now there are only 2 filters.

Google has quietly removed the features that allowed you to restrict results to visited pages and pages you haven't visited yet. "Visited pages" and "not yet visited" are no longer included in the search tools menu.

Here's a screenshot from 2013: 9 search tools.

A screenshot from 2014: 4 search tools.

And here's the same menu today: only 2 search tools left, at least for now.

I'm sure that Google will soon remove "reading level" and "verbatim", since they're probably used by a small percentage of Google users, just like all the other advanced search features. Google now focuses on answering questions and natural language understanding, so these features for power users are no longer important.

Here's a list of cool features removed by Google in the past 5 years:

* finding sites with images
* finding search results in foreign languages ("translated foreign pages")
* restricting results to forums, reviews, blogs
* finding recipes (the feature is still available here)
* removing shopping sites from the list of search results
* blocking search results
* quick view for PDF files and Office files
* timeline view for search results.

Find Your Android Phone Using Google Search

Android Device Manager is now available in Google Search for desktop. If you search for [find my phone] or [find my tablet] and you're logged in to your Google account, you can see a map that shows the most recent location of your Android phone or tablet. If you have more than one Android device, there's a dropdown that lets you select other phones and tablets connected to your account.

The location is not displayed instantly, so you may see the message: "locating your phone" for a few seconds. Obviously, your phone or tablet needs to have a working Internet connection, location needs to be enabled and the setting: "remotely locate this device" has to be enabled in Google Settings / Security.

If your Android device is nearby, you can also click "ring" to quickly find it. "Your phone will ring at full volume for 5 minutes. Press its power button to stop the ringing."

Click the map from Google Search to open Android Device Manager and use other features that let you lock your device and erase all your data.

{ via +Google }

Google Handwriting App for Android

Google has a new Android app that lets you input text using handwriting. "Google Handwriting Input allows you to handwrite text on your phone or tablet in 82 languages. It supports printed and cursive writing, with or without a stylus. Google Handwriting Input also supports hundreds of emojis, so you can express yourself in any Android app."

After you select your favorite languages from the settings, Google downloads the language packs. The English files are preloaded, so there's nothing to download. By the default, handwriting recognition works offline, but you can tap the cloud button to switch to the online recognition mode. Here's a help center page that offers more information about Google Handwriting Input.

Google Handwriting Input works like a regular Android keyboard, so you can use it any Android app that lets you input text. Google automatically converts your handwriting to a text and shows some other candidates (long press the centered candidate to see even more suggestions). If you try to write a word that's too long, you can type the first part of the word and then continue entering the rest of the word, as Google's app is smart enough to merge them. You can also write two lines or switch to the landscape mode.

"By building on large-scale language modeling, robust multi-language OCR, and incorporating large-scale neural-networks and approximate nearest neighbor search for character classification, Google Handwriting Input supports languages that can be challenging to type on a virtual keyboard. For example, keyboards for ideographic languages (such as Chinese) are often based on a particular dialect of the language, but if a user does not know that dialect, they may be hard to use," informs the Google Research blog.

Google's app claims to support even terrible handwriting, but that's not always the case. Sometimes a poorly written letter can make the app return incorrect results, especially for less common words.

Google Handwriting Input requires Android 4.0.3 or later and works for both phones and tablets. It integrates many features that were previously available in other specialized Google apps and services (Mobile Google Search, Google Translate for Android and iOS, Google Input Tools for Gmail, Google Docs and Google Translate, Gesture Search for Android, Input Methods for Chinese, Cantonese and Hindi).

April 11, 2015

YouTube Tests New Video Player for Desktop

YouTube tests a new HTML5 video player with a transparent control bar that hides when you're not using it, just like mobile video players.

After a few seconds, controls disappear.

This screenshot shows both the experimental player (at the top) and the regular player (at the bottom). As you can see, the "watch later" button is not available in the new player. Another change is that the seek bar is thinner and it's enlarged when you mouse over the bar.

The experimental player has bigger and bolder icons. Toggles for autoplay and annotations look better, while dropdowns for speed and quality are replaced by mobile-inspired menus.

If you want to enable the experimental player, you need to change the cookie value for VISITOR_INFO1_LIVE to Q06SngRDTGA. If you use Chrome, install EditThisCookie, open, click the extension's button and change the value for VISITOR_INFO1_LIVE. Make sure that you're using the English (US) interface.

{ Thanks, Angelo Giuffrida and Sterling Alvarez. }

April 8, 2015

Shared With Me, Removed From Google Play Music

Google Play Music had a special playlist called "Shared with me", but it's no longer available. The playlist included all the songs shared with you by Google+ users.

Here's how Google described this feature: "Share a free play of the songs and albums you've purchased on Google Play with your friends on Google+. They can share their purchases with you too. Forget the name of that song shared with you last week? No problem, you can find all of the music shared with you in your 'Shared with me' auto playlist."

The auto playlists section from the sidebar only has 4 auto playlists: "queue", "thumbs up", "last added" and "free and purchased".

{ Thanks, Boris Larson. }

April 7, 2015

ARC Welder: Run Android Apps in Chrome

Google added support for Android apps in Chrome OS, but there are only a few Android apps in Chrome Web Store. Developers tested the apps and tweaked them to work well in Chrome OS, even if they were created for phones and tablets.

Now there's an app for Chrome and Chrome OS that lets you run Android apps. It's called ARC Welder (ARC = App Runtime for Chrome, Weld = to unite) and it's mostly for Android developers that want to test their apps before submitting them to Chrome Web Store. You can select any APK file, but not all of them work, especially if they use Google Play Services APIs.

I've tried various APK files from A few of them worked properly (IMDb, BBC News, Wikipedia), while others crashed (for example: Amazon and Yahoo Weather), required Google Play Services (like YouTube and other Google apps) or didn't work that well (like Aviary). ARC is still in beta, so there are still many bugs that need to be fixed.

Google Now Card for Google+ Stories

Google Now shows a new card for Google+ Stories. Google automatically generates stories using the images you upload to Google+ Photos. "Your best photos are automatically chosen and arranged in a fun timeline to show the highlights of your trip or event," explains Google.

Until now, users only received Google+ notifications.

{ Thanks, Angelo Giuffrida. }