Category Archives: Google

Keep an eye on this

What do these two news items have in common:

1. Brazilian Newspapers withdrew from Google News and only saw a 5% decline in their web traffic. At least that’s what they say, they obviously have a vested interest in downplaying the impact. Meanwhile, a number of European papers may be close to making a similar move.

2. In an management reorganization at Apple this week, Eddie Cue was named Vice President of Internet Software and Services. Previously, Cue played an important role in the creation of the iTunes Music Store, including difficult contract renewal negotiations with entertainment companies in ~2009. As a result of the changes, Siri and Apple Maps are now part of Cue’s responsibilities.

Google, Apple, Maps, and Anil Dash

Anil Dash is pretty down on the new maps in iOS 6.

But this time, they’re right: Apple’s made a new product that actually is pretty but dumb. Worse, they’ve used their platform dominance to privilege their own app over a competitor’s offering, even though it’s a worse experience for users. This is the new Maps in iOS 6.

The root of the issue: from iOS 1.0 through iOS 5, the Map application was built on data from Google. Google’s data was used for the maps themselves along with local search, street views, walking, driving, and transit directions, and, I think, current traffic conditions. In iOS 6, Apple has dropped Google’s data, and some of the features that depended on it.

I face the change with some trepidation. If nothing else, I think the street-level views are much more useful than the fly-over views that are replacing them. I hope a Google Maps iOS app shows up real soon. That said, Dash is missing some important aspects of the issue.

His first mistake was to assume that the status quo was sustainable. Often, in business (and war) that isn’t option. In this case, it is like that continuing to use Google’s data as they had in the past was not an option for Apple.

At my last job, we depended heavily on Google’s Map API. About a year ago, Google made moves that make their maps API completely untenable for a variety of once loyal customers. They backed down to some degree, indecisiveness creates uncertainty, itself a big negative. Apple may have more leverage than most customers, but Google likely tried to push some big changes on them too.

It may have boiled down to dollars, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Google wanted to push mobile advertising into iOS maps. How would that be for users? Part of Apple’s value proposition is: you are the customer, not the product. Apple is not in the business of forcing advertising on their well paying customers.

Consider also that Apple is adding turn-by-turn navigation in iOS 6. This is something Google has offered on Android for a while now and some people have been critical of Apple for not having the feature on the iPhone. It is quite plausible that Google would not allow Apple to use their map data with a turn-by-turn navigation feature.

Dash also seems to forget that the Map apps is and has always been Apple’s. Google’s data has been integral, but it was never Google’s app. Apple has always privileged their own map application over those from others, it’s just that their map application used to be based on Google Maps.

Despite getting these things wrong, I suspect Dash is right, the Map app in iOS 6 is going to feel like a step back in a lot of ways. In the long run though, I think this is a good thing. It gives Google some competition, and hopefully it will result in improvements flowing to OpenStreet Map, which Apple is using for some of their map data.

The Best Cheap Tablet Doesn’t Exist?

The Wirecutter reviews the options and finds that Google’s new Nexus 7 is the best cheap tablet. Along the way, they don’t make a very convincing case for why you’d actually want to spend $200 on one. They do, however, accidentally make an excellent case for why someone would want the rumored, hypothetical, cheaper, smaller version of the Apple iPad.

Google Acquires ImageAmerica, maker of high res aerial cameras

TechCrunch reports that Google has acquired ImageAmerica, which makes high-resolution aerial cameras that have provided Google with images for Google Maps and Google Earth, but neither the author of the post, nor the commentors seem to know what to make of it.

I don’t know the aerial imaging market at all, but I think I can make a good guess. There are atleast two complimentary reasons why Google would buy a company like this.

First, Google want’s to deny competitors access to a key technology or service. If this company is the clear leader in it’s market, then they have just denied Microsoft access to a potentially important resource for their own mapping efforts.

Second, Google want’s to make sure they continue to have access to a key technology based service. If Microsoft bought the company instead, they could have cut off Google’s ability to acquire the highest resolution aerial photography, which would hurt Google’s mapping efforts.

Make no mistake, mapping is very important to Google, because mapping is very important to local services, and locality is a very important piece of context in context specific advertising.

Google Experiments with Timeline View

Google has been experimenting with it’s search UI lately. It’s nice to see, because for the most part, there has been very little search UI innovation reaching the mainstream in the last decade.

I’ve been making use of their timeline view lately. They extract dates from the text of pages and then present them in chronological order with a timeline for drilling down. It’s been really handy for finding blog posts talking about specific presentations at various conferences — often the slides from the talk are published, but the added context the speaker gives is usually missing and people’s lecture notes help fill in the gaps.
Google Timeline View
There is no exposed UI for invoking the timeline view, other than some examples on Google Labs, but you can trigger it by adding “view:timeline” to the end of your search terms. For example:

“Applying Game Mechanics to Social Software view:timeline

It’s already quite handy, but there are a few things I’d like to see that would make it more useful to me:

  • Reverse chronological view by default — I’d like to see the most recent dates first. Barring that, I’d like a way to swap the sort order with a single click.
  • Full range timeline for paging — Right now, the timeline at the top of the page only displays dates associated with the 10 results on the current page, which makes me think there aren’t more recent results (even though there often are). I’d like to see either the timeline for the entire result set, or some sort of indication on the timeline that there are earlier or later results available.
  • Better result titles and summaries — Ordinary google search results show the page title and then a snippet of text containing your search term. The timeline search moves the page title to the bottom of the result (and often cuts it off) and replaces it with the year found in the text. The summary text then emphasizes the year. My reaction is that I’d rather have basically the same result format as ordinary search results with the addition of the year somewhere less obtrusive, perhaps at the end of the title line. The date is really secondary to the search term, it’s a handy way of ordering the results, but it’s not necessarily important in its own right (if it were, I would probably try using it as part of my search term)

It seems like I had one other gripepiece of constructive criticism, but I can’t think of it now.

It will be interesting to see if this ever makes it into the main google search UI.