All posts in “Apps”

Google brings Q&As to Google Maps

Google is launching a new feature for Google Maps for Android and mobile search today: question and answers. I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise when I tell you that this feature allows you to ask questions about a place and answer other users’ inquiries and indeed, it’s that straightforward.

Starting now, when you find a place in Google Maps, for example, you can scroll down in the business’ listing and find the new Q&A section between the business’ details like phone numbers and the “popular times” widget. Unsurprisingly, you’re not likely to find any questions there yet (and I don’t think there’s a prize for asking the first question), but that’ll likely change over time.

Google is also encouraging business owners to use this for an FAQ section, and the company notes that business owners will get a notification when somebody asks a question.

With this move, Google is expanding its existing efforts to bring more user-generated content to Maps. It already rewards users who review businesses, upload photos, provide information about a business and correct listings that are wrong. This Q&A section is more interactive than its existing offerings, though, and it’ll be interesting to see how users — and businesses — will use it (and how Google will police it).

Apple could guide you around your city using augmented reality

ARKit is one of the biggest changes in iOS 11. Under the hood, Apple is about to transform the iPhone into a very capable augmented reality device. Felix Lapalme‏ has been looking at assets in the Maps app package to find out if the company is going to leverage augmented reality for turn-by-turn directions.

On July 22nd, he dug around a beta version of iOS 11 and found this mysterious 3D arrow for the Maps app:

You might think that Apple is going to use this arrow for traditional turn-by-turn directions on top of a map like in traditional navigation apps. But some code tells you to tilt your phone in front of your face when you’re using walking directions.

In addition to that, it looks like the Maps app is going to use your phone cameras. That’s a lot of smoke for a feature that could ship with the iPhone 8. And when there’s smoke, Apple hides it:

You might remember Google’s Project Tango. Among other things, Google promised to use augmented reality to provide turn-by-turn directions inside museums, malls and more.

Apple already announced that it plans to add detailed maps of airports and malls in iOS 11. iOS 11 and the next iPhone are shipping in September. So I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple talked about some feature that lets you walk around an airport to find the nearest coffee shop using augmented reality. It would look like this app developed by Andrew Hart‏, a developer who has been playing around with new frameworks:

Pinterest users can now pinch-to-zoom on photos in the app

Pinterest is adding a new feature today that allows users to pinch a photo to zoom in and out on various Pins, matching a feature that’s available on a lot of other services, like Instagram.

Pinterest is trying to be a central hub of high-quality photos and videos centered around ideas and products, but this still more or less exemplifies that the ability to manipulate photos within the app has started to become table stakes for sites like Pinterest. It also has to refine its visual search product as more and more companies offer similar products, like Google (ironically also called Lens, the same name as Pinterest’s camera search product). As the company becomes increasingly focused on mobile and discovery centered around photos, users will start expecting the kinds of behaviors that exist on other services (like Instagram) to exist on Pinterest.

One of Pinterest’s core directives is to push people closer and closer toward a moment of inspiration where they act on some kind of idea they discover on Pinterest. That can include buying a product, downloading an app or even changing things in their closet based on something they see on Pinterest. If Pinterest is able to do that, it can go to advertisers and explain that it has a different kind of user behavior that they won’t find on Facebook or Snap — and get them to start spending a lot of money on Pinterest.

Zooming in on a photo to get a better look at something seems like a good feature for digging through cluttered photos in order to identify a product. Pinterest is giving users a way to take photos in order to search for products, but those kinds of amateur photos might not have the right products in focus. That might be especially true for rooms in homes and could hold true even for professional photos.

That might also help Pinterest fend off apps picking off certain use cases that the company has traditionally owned. Houzz, for example, is trying to become a go-to place for interior design and products you would buy for your home. That’s catapulted Houzz into a startup with a $4 billion valuation.

Pinterest is also making a small tweak to make the option to search visually on a Pin easier to find. All these kinds of tweaks may seem somewhat small. But the sum of these incremental changes may help Pinterest continue to show advertisers that it’s a company that deserves a big chunk of their ad budgets typically reserved for Google and Facebook. Pinterest recently raised capital at a $12.3 billion valuation, and if it’s going to justify that valuation it has to turn into a critical spend for marketers.

Messaging app Line adds livestreaming for group chats

In the latest update to its messaging app, Line has added a livestreaming feature, called Chat Live, which can be used in group or multi-person chats of up to 200 people.

The company suggests a variety of uses for the live video feature — such as chatting with friends while livestreaming a sporting event or chatting with grandparents while showing them their grandchildren.

The messaging platform, which reported a total 169 million monthly active users in its Q2, and is especially popular in Japan, has offered video and group calling features for some time — adding group video calls (including live reaction effects) back in December, for instance.

But it’s continuing to build out its comms capabilities, especially around video — and says the livestreaming feature is part of ongoing efforts to provide users with an “increasingly rich communications experience”.

Given Line’s group chat feature already supports up to 200 users there’s potentially some business user scenarios here, such as conference calling with a live show-and-tell element — the company has previously couched its apps as a potential replacement for paid business-grade conference call services.

To start livestreaming within a Line chat, a Line user taps on the ‘telephone’ icon and then hits the ‘Live’ button. The size of the livestream screen can be adjusted, from full screen to 1/8 and various settings in between.

Fierce competition to grab eyeballs in the social comms space continues to accelerate techie developments. Snapchat’s real-time selfie lenses’ most recent play is the ability to augment reality by Pikachuing people, for example. Standing still when your competitors are sticking yellow bunny ears on video selfies isn’t really an option.

Hence the Line v7.9.0 update also brings over face recognition filter and effects from other standalone Line camera apps — namely its B612 app, which offers “beautification adjustments” for selfies; and its Foodie camera app which, as the name suggests, offers food lovers a series of filters and effects aimed at enhancing their culinary chronicles.

Both types of effects are now also available in Line messaging app’s in-chat camera — including being accessible via the new livestreaming feature — with seven filters and 50 effects available at this point, and Line touting more to come in future.

“Users will be able to use filters and effects to touch up their complexion and have fun manipulating their pictures and videos from within the chat, all without opening another camera app,” it says.

Another new feature, added initially to Line’s iOS app, with an Android release date still tbc, is the ability to display a minimized video or YouTube player from within the Line app — to, as Line puts it, “enjoy videos while chatting”.

It notes that the Line app camera supports taking pictures in three aspect ratios (1:1, 3:4, and 9:16), and offers the ability to make simple edits to videos, such as trimming the length or removing the audio.

45 million people send birthday wishes on Facebook each day

Roughly 1 in 30 Facebook users tells someone Happy Birthday each day, showing Facebook’s first major emergent behavior is still going strong. Now Facebook is equipping the 45 million people sending birthday wishes each day with some new features.

Now instead of just posting a soulless “HBD” or “Happy Birthday!” on someone’s wall with no personal message, photo, memory, or anything that makes it feel sincere, you can post one of Facebook’s auto-generated, personalized birthday videos. Similar to the ones it shows on your friendversary with different people, the birthday video will show photos of you and the birthday boy/girl with stylized transitions.

These videos could make it just as easy to send something that shows you and a friend’s unique journey through life together as it does to send a generic string of text. That could make sending birthday wishes feel more authentic and valuable, and less like a boring chore. Facebook launched birthday message recap videos last year to aggregate text wall posts from all your friends into something more visual, but now each friend can send a happy birthday video.

And now when it’s your birthday, you can easily dedicate it to a charity. Two weeks before your birthday, you’ll get a prompt to choose from one of 750,000 eligible non-profits vetted by Facebook. Friends will get a notification about your fundraiser, and be able to donate on your behalf as a birthday gift.

Facebook launched the donate button in 2013, and last year let people easily set up personal fundraisers. Facebook has received some flack for charging a 6.9% + $0.30 fee, but that covers processing, security, fraud, and vetting to ensure people are giving to real charities. Facebook has told me this is not a revenue generator, and in fact its fees are lower than what other donation platforms like GoFundMe charge.

Last year Facebook said 100 million birthday wishes per day total. Birthday fundraisers could let people leverage the social obligation some users feel about sending birthday wishes, and turn that sentiment into actual good. It’s nice to see Facebook realize it’s created the “HBD” behavioral norm that wasn’t necessarily delivering much positive outcome or emotional resonance, and turn it into something more beneficial and nostalgia-inducing.