Google's Daydream View Available on November 10th

Subject: Mobile | November 7, 2016 - 07:01 AM |
Tagged: VR, google, daydream

Now that Android 7.0 Nougat is beginning to ship on phones, and the holidays are around the corner, Google is releasing accessories to support it. The Daydream View, which you can dock phones into for VR purposes, will be on sale on November 10th. The viewer will cost $79 USD, minus the phone of course, and can be purchased in the US, Canada, UK, Germany, and Australia.

google-2016-daydream.jpg

Currently, the only Daydream-compatible phone is Google's Pixel. As mentioned before, Nougat is only beginning to ship on phones, and the OS is required for this feature. One thing that's not entirely clear to me, after reading several sites, is whether all Daydream-compatible phones will be able to use this specific viewer, or if some will need a different chassis. You would think that variations in attributes like screen size might complicate things, but we know it will support other, non-Pixel phones; I'm just not clear whether it's some or all.

Anyway, that concern aside, it's almost cheap enough to be a “why not?” addition to any phone that is compatible. It certainly will not put the HTC Vive PC-based VR system out of business, but I'm interested in how it works with mobile content, especially linear video, going forward.

Source: Google

Alphabet Inc.'s DeepMind Working on StarCraft II AI

Subject: General Tech | November 4, 2016 - 02:55 PM |
Tagged: blizzard, google, ai, deep learning, Starcraft II

Blizzard and DeepMind, which was acquired by Google in 2014 and is now a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., have just announced opening up StarCraft II for AI research. DeepMind was the company that made AlphaGo, which beat Lee Sedol, a grandmaster of Go, in a best-of-five showmatch with a score of four to one. They hinted at possibly having a BlizzCon champion, some year, do a showmatch as well, which would be entertaining.

blizzard-2016-blizzcon-deepmindgoogle.jpg

StarCraft II is different from Go in three important ways. First, any given player knows what they scout, which they apparently will constrain these AI to honor. Second, there are three possible match-ups for any choice of race, except random, which has nine. Third, it's real-time, which can be good for AI, because they're not constrained by human input limitations, but also difficult from a performance standpoint.

From Blizzard's perspective, better AI can be useful, because humans need to be challenged to learn. Novices won't be embarrassed to lose to a computer over and over, so they can have a human-like opponent to experiment with. Likewise, grandmasters will want to have someone better than them to keep advancing, especially if it allows them to keep new strategies hidden. From DeepMind's perspective, this is another step in AI research, which could be applied to science, medicine, and so forth in the coming years and decades.

Unfortunately, this is an early announcement. We don't know any more details, although they will have a Blizzcon panel on Saturday at 1pm EDT (10am PDT).

Source: Blizzard

Nexus has been Pixel-ated by Motorola ... Google it!

Subject: Mobile | October 20, 2016 - 05:45 PM |
Tagged: pixel, pixel xl, google, Android, Snapdragon 821, nougat

Ah, the tech industry; blink and suddenly familiar things disappear and yet you are also simultaneously overcome with a sense of deja vu.  Former Motorola President Rick Osterloh now heads a team at Google which is the combination of Nexus, Pixel Chromebooks, Chromecast, OnHub, ATAP, and Google Glass and this team have just released two new Google phones.  The 5" 1920x1080 Pixel and the 5.5" 2560x1440 Pixel XL have arrived on the market, priced to compete with Apple's new lineup, though still far less expensive than the Chromebooks which bore the same name up until recently.  The phones run Android 7.1 Nougat on a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 and are manufactured by HTC.  Ars Technica considers them to now be the best Android phones on the market and yet somehow bland; read their full review to see if you agree.

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"Welcome to the age of Google Hardware. Apparently tired of letting third-party Android OEMs serve as the stewards of Android handsets, Google has become a hardware company. (Again)."

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Source: Ars Technica

Google tests its Power and takes a shot at Intel

Subject: General Tech | October 17, 2016 - 12:48 PM |
Tagged: google, Intel, power9, zaius

Not too long ago Google revealed it had updated the code that runs behind its popular web based services to make it more hardware agnostic.  With a trivial tweak to the code their software can switch between running on Intel x86, IBM Power or 64-bit ARM cores.  On Friday Google Cloud's technical program manager, John Zipfel, provided more information on the OpenCAPI compliant Zaius P9 server that is in development and revealed it will use an IBM Power 9 chip.  As it will be OpenCAPI, it will use interconnects such as NVIDIA's NVLink or AMD's as yet unnamed fabric interconnect but will not leverage Intel's.  The Register has a bit more information on Google's plans and the Zaius here.

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"Google has gently increased pressure on Intel – its main source for data-center processors – by saying it is "looking forward" to using chips from IBM and other semiconductor rivals."

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Source: The Register

Google WiFi Bringing Wireless Mesh Networking to the Home

Subject: Networking | October 9, 2016 - 01:42 AM |
Tagged: wifi, onhub, mesh, google wifi, google, 802.11ac

Building on the company’s OnHub WiFi router program, the search giant will be offering up its own mesh WiFi network solution for home users later this year aptly named “Google WiFi.” Available in November for pre-order Google will offer single and triple packs of its puck-shaped smartphone controlled WiFi nodes.

Google WiFi node.png

Google WiFi is a new product that takes advantage of an old technology called mesh networking. While most home users rely on a single powerful access point to distribute the wireless signal throughout the home, mesh networks place nodes around the home in such a way that the WiFi networks overlap. Devices can connect to any node and transition between nodes automatically. The nodes communicate with each other wirelessly and connect end devices to the router and Internet by taking the best path (least number of hops and/or highest signal strengths). This model does have some disadvantages that are shared with WiFi repeater solutions in that as much as 50% (or worse!) of the bandwidth can be lost at each hop as the devices use wireless for both communicating with end devices and the backbone to the router. The advantage though is that you need only find a power outlet to set up the mesh node and there is no need to run Ethernet or deal with Powerline or MoCA setups.

Fortunately, it looks as though Google has mitigated the disadvantage by including two radios. The circular Google WiFi nodes (which measure 4.17” diagonally and 2.7” tall) pack a dual band 802.11ac WiFi chip that can operate at both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Using the 5 GHz network for in room end devices (PCs, smartphones, game consoles, Rokus, et al) and the 2.4 GHz network to communicate with each other will help to eliminate a major bottleneck. There will likely still be some bandwidth lost, especially over multiple hops, due to interference, but it should be much less than 50% bandwidth loss.

Google WiFi Mesh.png

Each Google WiFi node features two Gigabit Ethernet ports that can be setup as LAN or WAN ports, Bluetooth, and an 802.11ac 2x2 WiFi radio with beamforming support. The nodes are powered by an unspecified quad core processor, 512MB DDR3L memory, and 4GB of eMMC flash storage. The nodes apparently draw as much as 15 watts.

Of course, being Google, the Google WiFi can be controlled using an Android or iOS app that allows the administrator to pause WiFi on a per-device basis (e.g. set time limits for children), monitor device bandwidth usage and prioritize traffic, and automatically apply firmware updates to mitigate security risks. Additionally, Google WiFi automatically configures each node to use the best channel and band to get the best performance that supports all devices.

The nodes currently come only in white and are constructed of plastic. There are blue LEDs around the middle of the puck shaped device. Google WiFi will be available for pre-order in November. A single node will cost $129 while a three pack will cost $299. Google is not first to the wireless mesh party but it looks like it will be competitively priced (the three pack is $200 cheaper than eero, for example).

This looks like it might be a simple to setup solution if you or your family are currently running a single access point that can’t quite cover the entire home. I don’t really see this as a product for enthusiasts, but it might be worth recommending to people that just want WiFi that works with little setup. I will have to wait for reviews to say for sure though.

What are your thoughts on Google WiFi?

Also read:

Source: Google

Putting fingerprints on the Google Pixel

Subject: Mobile | October 6, 2016 - 01:20 PM |
Tagged: google, pixel, pixel xl, nougat, Android 7.1

The Inquirer had a chance to lay their hands on the new Google Pixel and Pixel XL and have shared their experiences here.  We have covered the specs of the phone previously and so will not reiterate them here, check out Tim's coverage for the details.  The impression that The Inq immediately had upon grasping the phone is that it feels very much like a slimmer HTC 10, which they were not overly impressed by. That HTC phone was rated 88 in DxOMark, the Pixel an 89 while the iPhone 7 garnered a rating of 86, if you follow that particular benchmark tool.  They had a strong feeling that Google may have missed too many marks on this phone to justify the pricing, read on to see if you agree with their experiences.

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"On first impressions, we can't help but feel that the Pixel is a bit of a wasted opportunity. The handset has a largely boring design, doesn't offer much in the way of innovation and is expensive compared with previous Nexus smartphones."

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Source: The Inquirer

About the "Firefox Is Eating Your SSD" Story

Subject: Storage | October 5, 2016 - 07:57 PM |
Tagged: ssd, mozilla, google, firefox, endurance, chrome

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a post pop up on Twitter a few times about Firefox performing excessive writes to SSDs, which total up to 32GBs in a single day. The author attributes it mostly to a fast-updating session restore feature, although cookies were also resource hogs in their findings. In an update, they also tested Google Chrome, which, itself, clocked in over 24GB of writes in a day.

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This, of course, seemed weird to me. I would have thought that at least one browser vendor might notice an issue like this. Still, I passed the link to Allyn because he would be much more capable in terms of being able to replicate these results. In our internal chat at the time, he was less skeptical than I was. I've since followed up with him, and he said that his initial results “wasn't nearly as bad as their case”. He'll apparently elaborate on tonight's podcast, and I'll update this post with his findings.

Google Launches High End Pixel Smartphones

Subject: General Tech | October 4, 2016 - 11:47 PM |
Tagged: usb-c, Snapdragon 821, pixel, Kryo, google, android assistant, adreno 530, 802.11ac

Google introduced its own premium smartphone today in the form of the Pixel and Pixel XL. Running Android Nougat 7.1, the Pixel smartphones will not only run the latest operating system but will be the new premium experience with the best Android features including Google Assistant and Smart Storage with unlimited cloud storage of photos and videos.

Google Pixel Smartphone.jpg

Google is definitely taking a greater interest in promoting Pixel than they have with even their Nexus devices. It will be interesting to see how other Android manufacturers react to this news but I would imagine that they are not all that pleased and Google will be in a similar position to Microsoft with its Surface products and Nvidia with it's Founder's Edition graphics cards. 

Google's Pixel lineup includes the Pixel (5.6 x 2.7 x 0.2-0.3") and the Pixel XL (6 x 2.9 x 0.2-0.34") that wrap their respective 5-inch 1080p (441 PPI) and 5.5-inch 1440p (534 PPI) displays in a full aluminum and glass unibody design that will come in one of three colors: Very Black, Quite Silver and Really Blue. The smartphones feature curved corners and rounded edges with Corning Gorilla Glass 4 on the front and half of the back. Google has put a fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone and power, volume, three microphones, a USB-C port, and, yes, a 3.5mm audio jack. 

There are both front and rear cameras and Google is claiming that the rear camera in particular is the best smartphone camera yet (with a DxOMark score of 89 points). The rear camera (which sits flush with the back of the phone) is rated at 12.3 MP with a f/2.0 aperture, and 1.55µm pixels. The camera further features an IMX378 sensor. electronic image stabilization, and both phase detection and laser auto focus. The Pixel can take HDR+ photos and videos at up to 4K30, 1080p120, or 720p240. Users can adjust white balance and use automatic exposure or auto focus locking. The front camera is less impressive at 8MP with fixed focus lens and f/2.4.

Internally, Google has opted to use the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 (MSM8996) which is a 2+2 design that pairs two Kryo cores at 2.15 GHz with two Kryo cores at 1.6 GHz along with an Adreno 530 GPU, an impressive 4GB of LPDDR4 memory, and either 32GB or 128GB of internal storage which is regrettably non-expandable. The smartphones can tap into up to Category 11 LTE (Cat 9 in the US), 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, and NFC. Sensors include GPS, proximity, accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, barometer, and hall sensors.

The Pixel features a 2,770 mAh battery and the Pixel Xl uses a slightly larger 3,450 mAh battery. In either case, Google rates the Pixel and Pixel XL at 13 hours and 14 hours of internet browsing and video playback respectively. Further, the batteries are able to be quick charged enough for up to "seven hours of use" after just 15 minutes of charging time using the included 18W USB-C charger.

Pricing works out to $649 for the 32GB Pixel, $749 for the 128GB Pixel, $769 for the 32GB Pixel XL, and $869 for the 128GB Pixel XL. In the US Google has partnered with Verizon for brick-and-mortar availability in addition to it being available on the Google store and other online retailers.

Google is banking a lot on these devices and asking a very premium price tag for the unlocked phones. It is certainly a gamble whether users will find the unique features enough to go with the Pixel over other flagships. What do you think about Google's increased interest in the smartphone space with the launch of its own hardware? How well will Pixel fit into the existing environment – will Pixel lead Android hardware and the OS to success or simply fragment it more?

I do like the look of the Pixel (especially the blue one) and the feature lists sounds good enough that maybe I could live without a removable battery and non-expandable storage (I'll be holding onto my old T-Mobile unlimited plan for as long as possible! heh). Pricing is a bit steep though and I think that will trip a lot of people up when searching for their next device.

Source: Google

Google Shows Off $69 4K HDR Capable Chromecast Ultra at #madebygoogle Event

Subject: General Tech | October 4, 2016 - 04:28 PM |
Tagged: google, chromecast, media streaming, 4k, hdr, google home

During Google's #madebygoogle event (embedded below), the company introduced a number of new pieces of hardware including a new Chromecast. The Chromecast Ultra is aimed at owners of 4K televisions and supports both 4K Ultra HD and HDR content from the likes of Netflix, YouTube, and other apps. Like previous models, the Chromecast takes input from Android, iOS, Mac OSX, and Windows devices that "cast" media to the TV. Additionally, it can be paired with Google Home where users can use voice commands such as "Ok, Google. Play the sneezing panda video on my TV."

Chromecast Ultra 4K HDR.jpg

The Chromecast Ultra is a small circular puck with a Micro USB port and a short flexible flat HDMI cable that is permanently attached to the device. The Micro USB port is used for both power and data. One neat feature about the new Chromecast Ultra is that the power adpater has an Ethernet port on it so that users can hook the streaming device up to their wired network for better performance (important for streaming 4K content). Not to worry if you rely on WiFi though because it does support dual band 802.11ac.

Google has not yet revealed what hardware is under the hood of its new 4k capable Chromecast, unfortunately. They did release pricing information though: the Chromecast Ultra will be $69 and is "coming soon". If you are interested you can sign up to be notified when it becomes available.

Source: Google

Google Translate Boosted by Deep Learning

Subject: General Tech | September 28, 2016 - 07:36 PM |
Tagged: google

Machine translation is quite difficult, especially between certain pairs of languages that vary greatly in how they handle implied context and intonation. At Google, the current translation system picks out known words and phrases, converts them to the target language, and blindly outputs them. This, unfortunately, ignores how the phrases are structured together.

google-2016-translate-neural-net.png

Google has been working toward a newer system, though. Google Neural Machine Translation (GNMT) considers whole sentences, rather than individual words and phrases. It lists all possible translations, and weighs them based on how humans rate their quality. These values are stored and used to better predict following choices, which should be a familiar concept to those who have been reading up on deep learning over the last couple of years.

This new system makes use of Google's “TensorFlow” library, released to the public last year under a permissive, Apache 2.0 license. It will also be compatible with Google's custom Tensor Processing Unit (TPU) ASICs that were announced last May at Google I/O. The advantage of TPUs is that they can reach extremely high parallelism because they operate on extremely low-precision values.

The GNMT announcement showed the new system attempting to translate English to and from Spanish, French, and Chinese. Each pairing, in both directions, showed a definite increase, with French to English almost matching a human translation according to their quality metric. GNMT is currently live to the public when attempting to translate between Chinese and English, and Google will expand this to other languages “over the coming months”.

Source: ZDNet