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Tech News

Google Home can now schedule routines

July 27, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Chris Velazco/Engadget

When Google introduced routines to Assistant, it promised that you’d eventually have the option to schedule those routines instead of having to invoke them yourself each and every time. That feature is finally here — Google has confirmed a Droid Life report revealing that scheduled routines are now reaching users. If you have an Assistant-equipped smart speaker, you can use the Home app to make multi-step actions repeat on specific days. You could adjust your lights and play music when you get up for work on weekdays, for instance.

The company told Engadget that the feature is currently available only to smart speaker users in the US, all of whom should have access within a week. This won’t be of much help if you’re only using Assistant on your phone. All the same, this is an important response to Amazon, whose Alexa helper has supported scheduled routines for months. You no longer have to be picky about your choice of smart speaker if you’re determined to automate your smart home.

Tech News

Five years later, the Chromecast still holds its own

July 24, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

There aren’t many gadgets that I’m still using five years after I buy them, except for maybe a laptop. Even then, that’s getting quite long in the tooth given how quickly upgrades arrive these days. Chromecast and Google Cast are still things that I use multiple times a day, every day. When Google first introduced the Chromecast in 2013, the company promised to make any TV with an HDMI port a smart display with the combination of a thumbdrive-like dongle and your home WiFi. That it did, but in the months that followed, Google expanded the tech undergirding its TV accessory well beyond that $35 device.

A device that you simply plug into the back of your television could beam content from your go-to streaming apps to your TV in seconds presented a very attractive option for me. It sounded insane that it could be so simple. There wasn’t any complicated setup or major headaches. It just worked. Chromecast was reliable from the jump, and it allowed people like me to upgrade their TVs for under $50 instead of spending over $1,000 on a new set. I vividly remember the first time I used it: I felt like I was performing some sort of magic trick with my phone and TV as the on-stage help.

Google VP Hugo Barra at the first Chromecast event

When the Chromecast debuted, I already had a smart TV. In fact, it’s still in my living room today. However, my Panasonic set is beginning to show its age, only offering direct access to Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Netflix and YouTube. While that may be enough for some, it wasn’t for me. As a die-hard sports fan, I need the ability to stream games from ESPN, Fox, NBC Sports, TNT and more on the biggest screen in my house. There’s also the various network apps, requisite software for keeping up with Mr. Robot, Game of Thrones, The Americans (RIP) and more. Basically, having a smart TV wasn’t enough for my streaming habit and the Chromecast was an affordable add-on.

Of course, I’m not really the target audience for this. Google created the Chromecast to give people who didn’t own a smart TV access to all of their streaming apps directly from their phone. That is, so long as their internet-less display has an HDMI port. It’s cheap, easy to setup and uses the device we’re already constantly looking at as the remote.

For a look back at the design process, I spoke to Google’s director of product management Micah Collins. Collins has worked on the Chromecast starting with that first device, and he’s also worked on the Google Home line of Assistant-powered speakers.

“For us, it was about making sure we knew what would put us in good stead for a long period of time on a 1080p television, and get that right,” Collins explained. “Affordability definitely plays into that.”

Rather than packing the

Tech News

Google Home and Chromecast are down for some users

June 27, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Engadget

‘Tis the season for large-scale service outages, apparently. Google has confirmed that many Home speaker and Chromecast users around the world are unable to use their devices, even after a reboot. The company didn’t say why, and didn’t have an estimated time of repair as of this writing. However, the issue has been inconsistent — my Home Mini could respond to commands, while TechCrunch colleagues received an error.

There are claims that the outage may have stemmed from an unsuccessful update, but there isn’t any firm evidence of this at the moment. One thing’s clear: this is bound to be frustrating if you rely heavily on Google’s ecosystem to power your smart home.

Hey there, sorry for the trouble. We don’t have a time frame, but rest assured that our team is working hard to have this fixed — we’ll let you know once we have an update. Thanks for bearing with us.

— Made by Google (@madebygoogle) June 27, 2018

Tech News

Google Assistant can speak Spanish on Home speakers

June 26, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Chris Velazco/AOL

Today, Google announced that Assistant on its Home, Mini and Max products can now speak and understand Spanish. Additionally, consumers in Mexico will be able to find Google Home on store shelves starting today; the product launched in Spain last week.

After saying the wake words “Ok, Google,” users can use Spanish to speak with Assistant on the Home, Mini and Max. To hear about your schedule and appointments for the day, you can say, “¿Cómo será mi día?” Or to turn down the temperature, simply tell the Assistant, “Sube la temperatura del termostato.”

These features are available today on the afore mentioned Google Home hardware. If you’re using Google Assistant on Android, the service has been available in Spanish to speakers in the US, Mexico and Spain since last November.

Tech News

Google Assistant no longer needs every 'hey' and 'OK'

June 21, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Reuters

At last, you don’t have to call out Google Assistant by name every time when you want to issue a command. As promised at I/O, Google has made Assistant’s Continued Conversation available for US English speakers using a Home speaker. Enable it in your preferences and you don’t have to use “hey Google” or “OK Google” for follow-ups, even if you have multiple requests. Ask if it’ll be sunny tomorrow and you can both remind yourself to go the beach and put sunscreen on your shopping list, all without having to start the chat from scratch.

The approach works by leaving Assistant active for no more than eight seconds if it doesn’t hear speech. It’ll stay active as long as it believes that you’re talking, and will keep the LEDs lit on your Home speaker as long as it’s listening for your voice.

This doesn’t include Google’s vaunted multiple actions (where you can perform multiple commands at once). There’s also no word on when other languages will work with Continued Conversation. All the same, it’s an important step toward making Assistant feel more human-like. That, in turn, could make it welcoming to users who might be put off by the robotic language they’ve had to use with Assistant in the past.

Tech News

Google Podcasts is pretty but basic

June 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

podcastinline2.png

Google has a long and disappointing history with podcasts. With Apple and iTunes, they were always an integral part of the experience. For Android, though, it was an afterthought. Google Listen was barely usable, but basically the only option for getting podcasts on early Android phones. Two years ago podcasts made their way to Google Play Music, but they always felt shoehorned in and poorly thought out. Not to mention there were some pretty glaring holes in its library, including hits like Serial and S-Town. Now the company is taking another stab at getting podcasts right and, unfortunately, I feel confident in saying it has failed yet again.

The aptly named Google Podcasts is pretty. It looks almost exactly like the secret podcast app that’s been hiding in Google Search. (In fact, if you’ve been using that, you’ll notice your subscriptions already waiting for you here.) But it’s also pretty barebones, functionally.

The main screen is plain white with a grid of cover art for your subscriptions up top. Below it is a “for you” widget that alerts you to new episodes, shows what is in progress and downloaded locally. Below that is a series of short lists (10 entries at most) of top podcasts in various categories and recommendations based on what’s popular among others who subscribe to the same podcasts as you.

If you tap on the bar at the bottom that shows what you’re listening to, a shade pops up where you can scrub through the episode, jump back 10 seconds or forward 30, and change playback speed (from 0.5x to 2.0x).

If you click through to a show you can subscribe, play back specific episodes without subscribing (looking at you, Pocket Casts) and interestingly, even donate to some shows, like Song Exploder.

And … that’s basically it.

That may be enough for someone who subscribes to only a handful of shows and is always caught up. But it really only covers the basics. There’s no way to automatically download new episodes. And you can’t build a playlist if you like to queue up multiple shows.

When one episode ends, it automatically goes on to the next. And if you happen to be listening to the newest one, playback simply stops. Honestly, if audio playback just stopped at the end of every episode that would be preferable. Instead, if I fall asleep trying to catch up on Welcome to Nightvale, I’ll have to remember when I passed out and go back and mark all the episodes I missed as unplayed.

Oh, and there’s no quick and easy way to download an episode or mark it as played or unplayed. Google makes you tap through to individual episodes, rather than putting those controls in main show page. It makes banking a bunch of episodes of Dissect for a long plane trip a royal pain in the ass.

Discovering new shows is also unnecessarily difficult. While Google

Tech News

Google will fix Home and Chromecast bug that reveals your location

June 18, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Chris Velazco/Engadget

Don’t look now, but your Google Home speaker or Chromecast could give away your whereabouts… for a little while, that is. Google has promised a fix for an authentication vulnerability that lets attackers obtain your location using the company’s devices as a conduit. While the necessary Home app on your phone normally performs most tasks through Google’s cloud services, others (such as setting a device name and WiFi connection) are sent directly to the Home or Chromecast without authentication. If you use domain name system rebinding software, you can exploit this to obtain nearby wireless networks and use Google’s location lookup services to obtain a position to an accuracy of a few feet.

An intruder doesn’t need to be connected to your local network — they just need to prompt you to open a link while you’re connected to the same network as one of Google’s affected devices. You also need to keep that link open for roughly a minute (the amount of time it takes to get a location), but that’s not necessarily difficult if there’s enough content to distract the target.

The fix is expected to arrive in mid-July. In the meantime, though, there’s a risk this could be used to add seeming legitimacy to phishing and extortion campaigns. A scammer could target you by focusing on your exact address or neighborhood, for instance, while a blackmailer could find out where you live and use that as part of a threat to release private info. No matter what, this is a reminder that smart home gadgets still have a long way to go before they’re truly secure. You have to assume that even mildly sensitive info transmitted in the clear can serve as an avenue for attack, and Google has learned that lesson the hard way.

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Tech News

Google Home now handles three requests at the same time

June 12, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Chris Velazco/Engadget

Google Home speakers can already perform two commands at the same time. But what if you live in a particularly connected household, where you may need to juggle more tasks? The company has an answer: support three simultaneous requests. So long as you form full queries with “and” in between, you can multitask like a pro using only the spoken word. This could be particularly helpful if you want to turn on the lights, increase the temperature and play some tunes without having a Routine in place.

The feature is only available in predominantly English-speaking countries (Australia, Canada, the UK and the US) at the moment. Google told TechCrunch it’s looking “forward” to supporting more languages, but there’s nothing more it can say.

Even so, this arguably represents the next step for smart speakers: handling whatever you ask of them when you ask for it, not just one or two items at a time. Your computer and phone can multitask, so it’s only fair that your voice assistant should do the same.

You’re not the only one who can multitask. Now Google Home can perform up to three queries at a time, so you can get more done. pic.twitter.com/7jTd97Evus

— Made by Google (@madebygoogle) June 11, 2018