Google Updates: Post-Alphabet, Post-Android Peegate, Post Quicker in Hangouts

A quiet week in Google. Nothing to really talk about. I mean, it’s not as if a new parent company has been created in order to restructure the whole business into a subsidiary of something called Alphabet.

Oh, wait. All that did happen. But there’s a lot more that went under the radar as a result. As we’ve already reported, Android user loyalty has now overtaken iOS users, as proved by last week’s debate in which 72 percent of you chose Android over iOS.

As a reward for your unending loyalty, Google has announced Android Experiments, a new site that showcases some of the weird and wonderful things that people have done with the platform.

The company explained, “Android was created as an open and flexible platform, giving people more ways to come together to imagine and create. Developers everywhere have used the unique capabilities of the platform to push the limits of what’s possible on phones, tablets, watches and beyond.

“We’re working to document creative experiments like these and make them open source so anyone can see how they are made, or get inspired to create their own. Our hope is to encourage more developers to challenge how we interact with the devices we use every day.”

There’s some cool stuff there. We won’t spoil it. Go and explore.

Android Hangouts 4.0 is here! Hoorah! The update you didn’t know you needed offers speed and performance boosts, material design, an on-screen compose button, streamlined contacts lists, and support to say, “OK Google, send a Hangouts message” for that extra impersonal touch.

All this and the return of custom status messages so you can say, “So sad. Terrible day” and have the whole world checking up on you to discover that your favorite TV show has been canceled or something equally unimportant.

It’s rolling out now and should be among you soon.

Android Wear also gets an update to version 1.3. New features will include touch-sensitive watch faces with the ability to pair your watch with a friend’s, for some reason, plus four-day weather forecast and Google Translate built in. Now all we need is that long-awaited Huawei watch.

After “Peegate,” Google took its custom Map Maker offline. But now it’s “back, back, back!” as they used to say in Smash Hits (ask your mom). New moderation tools to try to avoid a repeat mean that so far, only a few countries, none of which are the U.S. or the U.K., have it online, but it’s only a matter of time. Google is appointing “regional leads,” power users who will keep tabs on changes in their territory. As soon as they’re in place in your area, you’ll have access once again.

Also new in Maps is Open Location Codes, a shorthand way of encoding latitude and longitude coordinates for places that don’t have a clear address. This could be handy if you live on a newly-built estate, or find yourself waking up in a field after a night out. We’ve all been there.

More leaks suggest there will be two Nexus devices this year, one from Huawei and one from LG. We’re not big into reporting leaks in detail, but we do love to drool and hope, and it’s worth you doing the same. When we have more solid info, we’ll add it in.

Google+ for Android is out; it begins the process of dismantling the failed social layer with the removal of Photos, which have been superseded by their own app. It also features changes which will make it play nice with Android M, which has a whole bunch of new permissions to deal with.

There’s a new feature in Google Drive for desktop, an extension that will allow you to “open with” third-party apps. So say, for example, you find a PDF in your Drive, you can now open it with Adobe Reader, instead of Chrome or the internal PDF reader. Docs can be opened in Word (where compatibility allows) and so on. It’s a neat little touch in a world where companies are starting to realise that compatibility beats proprietary any day of the week.

Finally for this week, one Google startup that won’t be joining the Alphabet soup is Niantic Labs. The company behind cool but slightly off-message apps like location-aware tour guide Field Trip, and the massive multiplayer augmented reality game Ingress, is being spun off into its own company. It never really fit in, with its own branding and very un-Google interfaces, but both apps are exceedingly cool, so good luck to them as they strike out on their own.

Enough. Next Thursday OK for you? We’ll get the kettle on.

This article was originally published on the Inquirer.

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