All posts in “Google”

Google finally ends support for the old Google Glass after a controversial life

One of the first high-profile wearables is finally about to kick the bucket, several years after a short rollercoaster ride atop the tech news cycle.

Google recently updated the support page for Google Glass Explorer Edition with information about the product’s final update. The patch will essentially divorce Google Glass from any of Google’s backend services after Feb. 25. Once it’s installed and that date rolls by, Glass users won’t be able to log in at all with their Google accounts on the device.

After that, the old version of Glass will still work as a sort of husk of its former self. It’ll still connect to phones via Bluetooth, support sideloaded apps, and allow photos and videos to be taken with the camera. But mirror apps such as Hangouts, YouTube, and Gmail won’t work anymore, per Google’s support page.

The MyGlass mobile app that allows users to manage device settings won’t work after the update, either.

It should be noted that this only applies to Google Glass Explorer Edition, the consumer-grade version of Glass that Google launched in 2013. The business-grade Enterprise Edition will still work normally for the foreseeable future. This is basically Google cutting bait on a device it hasn’t marketed or sold to the public for years.

Google made the (questionable, in hindsight) decision to launch Glass as a consumer product for $1,500 in 2013. The world wasn’t quite ready to see early adopters walking around with cameras on their faces, prompting widespread privacy concerns regarding the device. Some restaurants and bars banned them entirely, and their wearers were not-entirely-affectionately dubbed “glassholes.”

Eventually, Google scaled back the public-facing version of Glass and focused on enterprise solutions instead. Google Glass Enterprise Edition launched in 2017 and got a sleek new edition earlier in 2019. What is dead may never die.

Google Maps might soon start making sure you don’t wander into a dark alley

Google may be working on a cool feature that’ll make your walking commute a bit safer: A new “lighting” layer in Google Maps that highlights brightly lit streets when traveling on foot. 

This is according to XDA Developers, whose experts dug up lines of code in Google Maps beta that indicate such a feature is coming. From the information contained there, it appears that Google Maps will highlight well-lit streets with a yellow color. 

The feature doesn’t appear to be live yet, and there’s no word on when that might happen. 

Still, it’s one of those small but potentially life-saving features that makes Maps such a great product. If you’re making your way through a city at night, navigating via Google Maps, you’ll certainly appreciate not being sent into a dark, dangerous-looking alley or even main roads without adequate streetlights. 

There’s no official word on where Google might launch the feature first, and it’s also unclear how Google plans to collect street lighting data and keep it updated. 

Google has been steadily updating Maps with new features since…well, forever, but the recent couple of months have been especially fruitful. In October, the company added an Incognito mode for Maps, and later that month, it added extra detailed spoken directions to help blind people navigate. In Nov., Google Maps also got a translation feature to make it easier to read an address to someone in a foreign country.

Exactly how this new “lighting” feature will impact people’s experiences travelling through locations while using Maps remains to be seen. It’s not always lighting that makes a situation more dangerous than not, but every little tip helps.

Android’s ‘Focus Mode’ exits beta, adds new scheduling features

Google is expanding its suite of “Digital Wellbeing” tools for Android devices with a new feature, Focus Mode, launching today. This feature allows users to turn off distractions — like social media updates or email notifications — for a period of time, so you can get things done without interruption. Focus Mode was first announced at Google’s I/O developer conference this May, and has been in beta testing until now, Google says.

Unlike Do Not Disturb, which can mute sounds, stop vibrations and block visual disturbances, Focus Mode is only about silencing specific apps.

Within the Digital Wellbeing settings, users select which apps they find most distracting — like Facebook, YouTube, Gmail, games or anything else that tends to steal their attention. These apps can be paused temporarily, which stops those apps’ notifications. Plus, if you try to open the app, Focus Mode reminds you they’re paused.

During beta testing, Google said tester feedback led to the creation of a new enhancement for Focus Mode: the ability to set a schedule for your app breaks. This allows you to continually block app notifications for the days and times you choose — like your 9 AM to 5 PM working hours, for example.

There’s also a new option to take a break from Focus Mode, which allows you to use to use the blocked apps for a time, then return to Focus Mode without entirely disabling it to do so. In addition, if you finish your work or other tasks early one day, you can now turn off Focus Mode for that day without breaking its ongoing weekly schedule.

The Focus Mode feature is one of now many investments Google has made into its comprehensive Digital Wellbeing feature set, which was originally introduced at Google I/O 2018 but initially only on Pixel devices. Since then, Google has expanded access to Digital Wellbeing features and further integrated its features — including parent control app Family Link — into the Android OS.

It has also developed digital wellbeing apps outside of its core Digital Wellbeing product, with October’s launch of a handful of wellbeing experiments. This set of apps included a notification mailbox, unlock clock, and even an easy way to printout important information from your phone so you don’t have to keep checking your device throughout the day, among other things.

Elsewhere across Google’s product line it has developed settings and controls devoted to wellbeing, like YouTube’s reminders to “take a break,” automations for Gmail, downtime settings for Google Home, and more.

Google says the new version of Focus Mode exits beta testing today and is rolling out to all devices that support Digital Wellbeing and parental controls, including Android 9 and 10 phones.

Google’s cofounders are no longer running Alphabet

It’s the end of an era for Google and Alphabet. Google’s two cofounders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, are stepping down from their roles as Alphabet’s top executives, the company announced Tuesday. 

Sundar Pichai, who has served as Google’s CEO since 2015, will officially add Alphabet CEO to his responsibilities. While Brin and Page, who still control a majority of the most powerful shares of parent company Alphabet’s stock, will remain on the company’s board.

For those who have watched the company closely, it’s not a surprising move. Pichai has become the public face of Google in recent years, while Page and Brin rarely show at public-facing events, like shareholder meetings. BuzzFeed reported earlier this year that Brin and Page had become no-shows at the company’s weekly town hall meetings. 

“With Alphabet now well-established, and Google and the Other Bets operating effectively as independent companies, it’s the natural time to simplify our management structure,” Brin and Page wrote in a statement. “We’ve never been ones to hold on to management roles when we think there’s a better way to run the company. And Alphabet and Google no longer need two CEOs and a President.”

Google created Alphabet in 2015 amidst a restructuring that kept Google’s core projects, like search and Android, separate from its “other bets,” like its investments in self-driving cars, drones, and biotech. Pichai then became Google’s CEO, while Page and Brin took on CEO and president roles, respectively, at Alphabet.

Brin and Page’s departures come on the heels of a turbulent couple of years for Google. The company is currently dealing with an antitrust investigation from the Justice Department. Internally, the company is facing pressure from contractors who are looking to unionize and employees who have become increasingly vocal about the company’s culture, including its handling of sexual misconduct.

Why Notion is staying small as its valuation gets bigger

Work tools startup Notion, which recently reached a reported $800 million valuation, isn’t on the verge of a big SoftBank round. In fact, COO Akshay Kothari says the startup has “never felt like if we had more money we could grow faster.”

The company, centered around an app that helps non-developers build collaboration tools, has more than one million users and has scaled its product quickly despite having a team of just 27.

I wrote about the company’s partnership with some of tech’s top accelerators and venture capital firms last month. People are very curious about this small company and how it is run, so here’s more from my recent interview with COO Akshay Kothari in which we discussed the hyped startup’s philosophy of staying small and some of the challenges it may have ahead with this brand of thinking as competitors are raising massive sums.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Notion COO Akshay Kothari

Where does your story begin with Notion? Give me a snapshot of where the team is now.

Akshay Kothari: [Notion co-founders Ivan Zhao and Simon Last] started Notion six years ago and that’s when I invested. I had sold my previous company and I had this newfound money that I didn’t know what to do with. I invested in Notion, so that’s my connection.

We were kind of in research mode for many years trying to uncover what the market needs were. We launched about two years ago; 1.0 was just notes that you could take and a wiki so that you could collaborate with people. And then last year we launched databases and that was the 2.0 version, which kind of seemed like an inflection point, where now you could not only have your notes and your wiki, but also manage your tasks, manage your projects, manage candidates and recruiting, all in a single tool.

Over the last year and a half, the company has grown extremely fast. I joined about a year ago, there were about 10 people at the beginning of this year and now we’re close to 30. It’s still a really small engineering team. We’re 9 engineers, we don’t have any product managers, and we’re 2 designers. So there are about 10 people that are building the product, and 10 people on community and support teams, something that we’ve invested very heavily in. We’re starting to have a sales and marketing team. We have 2 people in marketing and 2 people in sales. That all rounds up to about 27 which is where we are now.

Since you joined do you think the idea has shifted at all?

In terms of the original idea, we were thinking about how people who didn’t know how to code could build things like tools and software that were really useful. I guess the only realization has been that not everyone wakes up wanting to build software, but everyone wakes to solve problems. That was the pivot to focusing on notes, wikis and tasks, because that’s actually something that every team needs.

Are those needs universal for big and small teams?

For the first 100 people you can actually do a lot with Notion. With 30 people, we pretty much run the entire company, except for using Slack for internal communication and Intercom for external communication like talking to customers. Everything else is actually on Notion, like our application tracking system for recruiting inside Notion, our sales CRM is in Notion, our wiki obviously is, our project management as well — no, we don’t use Jira.

For sub-100 businesses, you actually don’t need another tool. When you get to hundreds of people what tends to happens is that some person or some team tends to have a preference for a specific tool. In those situations, Notion plays well with other tools. You can embed things easily. So let’s say Excel or Google Sheets is something that you want to use, you can just embed that inside Notion. So Notion becomes this kind of central nervous system for all of the work that people are doing.

Building on that, one of the things we haven’t done is we don’t do synchronous communication so we’ve stayed away from that because I feel like people like using Slack. On Slack, you can’t actually collaborate on a project… Notion has become a place where you can actually do a lot of your work alongside the synchronous communication.

So, no interest in building a chat or video chat product?

Not in the near term. I think Slack is one of those enterprise tools that people at companies actually like. For a lot of these other tools, we just have to use it, not because we love it but because that that’s what exists.

What are the barriers for satisfying the customers with 100+ employees?