Google’s Santa Tracker can help you keep track of the Big Man on his deliveries on Christmas Eve, and don’t forget to use Google’s cool Santa Call service, too.
Google Maps’ Santa Tracker is ready to be used by Santa Claus fans around the world as they track his Christmas Eve trip that has him delivering toys and gifts to good children and to well-behaved techies.
And that’s not all. For the first time, Google Chrome users can install a special Chrome extension in their browsers so they can watch all of Santa’s travels live while they simultaneously surf for other information without having to open another Chrome tab.
Both features were announced this week by Eric Bidelman, a Chrome developer elf, in a post on the Google Chrome Blog.
“On Christmas Eve, as Santa makes his way across the world, you can follow his progress and keep tabs on how many presents he’s delivered with the Google Maps’ Santa Tracker,” wrote Bidelman. “And this year Santa’s developer elves went a bit further. They created a Chrome extension that enables you to simultaneously browse the Web on your Chrome Browser and follow Santa along his route.”
The Santa Tracker Chrome extension can be downloaded from the Chrome Web Store.
That extension has a long list of other fun activities to explore, wrote Bidelman. “Before Santa takes off on Christmas Eve, you can also use the extension to follow the countdown to his departure, play around with his blimp, elf bus, and write messages on a frosty browser window.”
Santa fans can also use Google’s Santa Call feature to ask Santa to make a personal phone call to someone special this Christmas. The animated free service is interactive and asks the user to give some basic information about the recipient so that Santa can make a fun, personalized call to a phone or email address.
Google Maps engineers were the ones who were hard at work building the wizardry that delivers Santa’s magic on computer screens and mobile devices around the world.
“While we’ve been tracking Santa since 2004 with Google Earth, this year a team of dedicated Google Maps engineers built a new route algorithm to chart Santa’s journey around the world on Christmas Eve,” according to a post by Brian McClendon, vice president of Google Maps and Google Earth, on the Google Lat-Long Blog. “On his sleigh, arguably the fastest airborne vehicle in the world, Santa whips from city to city delivering presents to millions of homes. You’ll be able to follow him on Google Maps and Google Earth, and get his stats starting at 2 a.m. PST Christmas Eve” using the Santa tracker.
Visitors can also check out Santa’s Village to watch the countdown clock to Christmas Eve and to observe the elves and reindeer in their preparations.
In past years, Google also powered the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD’s) annual Christmas Eve Santa Tracking site, but this year NORAD moved those responsibilities to Microsoft, where they’ve also deployed an official Windows 8 Santa tracking app, according to an article by SearchEngineLand.
NORAD had been tracking Santa using Google every year since 2007, using Google Maps and Google Earth, according to the story.
NORAD’s Santa tracking service will still use Google’s YouTube channel to offer videos of his package-delivering exploits.
Google announced on Wednesday the launch of an application in its Chrome browser to help children and adults track Santa as he travels the globe distributing presents on Christmas Eve.
Santa Tracker enables users of Chrome to both browse the internet and follow Saint Nick and his
reindeer entourage on their journey around the world.
Users of the app can also see the countdown to Santa’s departure, play with his blimp and elf bus and write messages to the bearded red suited one on a frosty browser window.
Download the app via the Chrome store at chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/santa-tracker/iodomglenhcehfbhbakhedmbobhbgjcb.
Those not using Chrome can follow Santa and his sleigh via NORAD’s Santa tracker at noradsanta.org. NORAD recently announced that it would no longer be operating the Santa tracker in conjunction with Google Maps but would, instead, work with Microsoft and Microsoft’s search engine Bing.
Google Maps returned to the iPhone with a bang over the weekend, garnering 10 million downloads in its first 48 hours on the Apple app store. In the three months since Apple released iOS 6, including its own maps, the company has been mocked and vilified for a product that many have found inferior. The controversy, which was probably overblown, might have taking some of the polish off Apple’s reputation, but Google’s rapid and fairly spectacular response is a story unto itself.
A couple of things to get out of the way first. The new Google Maps on the iPhone is terrific, as is Google Maps everywhere else. In fact, Google Maps on iPhone is currently better than it is on Android. I’m not the only person who feels that way. And, just to clarify, the “better part” here is the fit-and-finish of the app. As far as functionality and ease of use, Google Maps and Apple’s app are pretty similar. Google trumps Apple on accuracy and richness of data, which makes sense given Google has more than 7,000 people working on making those maps great.
When you consider just how many people that is — it’s nearly twice as many as all of Facebook — you get a sense of the strategic importance of maps to Google. (Maps remain important to Apple as well, which is rumored to be in talks with Foursquare to improve its local data.) As more and more of search goes mobile, Google has seen average revenue per search decline. The good news, however, is that people on the go are always looking for something and that’s why maps are so important to Google. It should surprise no one that it took less than three months to produce a beautiful, polished Google Maps app for the iPhone.
And while the team behind the maps is pretty far removed from the group that produces the Nexus line of tablets and smartphones, it’s worth comparing the success of Maps for iPhone with Nexus. Last month, Google released a moderately well reviewed phone called the Nexus 4, that oddly lacked state-of-art 4G LTE data. Apparently building few, the phone sold out quickly and has been essentially unavailable ever since. Google let it be known that the supply problems are the fault of LG, made few explicit promises of better supply anytime soon and left it at that.
Given that this is a Google-branded product, sold on its own website, you might expect it would get better treatment from the mothership than “we’re sorry you don’t have it yet, but we can’t do much for you”, but the truth is the Nexus products just don’t matter very much to Google. They are supposed to light the way in the Android market as “best in class” devices, but even when they get it right the effect is often muted. Consider Google’s new tablets, the Nexus 7 and 10. The smaller one, in particular, is almost universally praised, more so even than the aforementioned Nexus 4 phone.
NORAD has been using Google Maps since 2007, but earlier in December, it ditched Google for Bing Maps to track the man in red this year. On Wednesday, Google announced its own Santa Tracker anyway, which you’ll be able to use to follow the big buy on Google Maps and Google Earth starting at 2:00AM PST on Christmas Eve over at Google.com/SantaTracker.
The fact Microsoft managed to sway the NORAD Tracks Santa project to its side hasn’t deterred Google. The company says it has put together a team of dedicated Google Maps engineers to build a “new route algorithm” for tracking Santa’s journey around the world on Christmas Eve.
Here’s how it will look when it’s working next week:
Here’s how it currently looks:
The countdown site is full of Christmas surprises for the kids and anyone else who enjoys keeping a tab on Saint Nick. The company claims you can even ask Santa to call a friend or family member.
If you were wondering, it’s powered by Gmail (sample message):
Google naturally sees this as an opportunity to get into the spirit of the holidays:
On Christmas Eve we’ll be proudly showcasing a preview of Santa’s dashboard — the technology that powers his sleigh during his around-the-world journey. We’ve received this special preview from one of Santa’s many developer elves, who are hard at work in the North Pole helping Santa prepare for his big day. Santa’s dashboard – featuring the latest and greatest in Google Maps technology and sleigh engineering – will allow you to follow his progress around the world, and also learn a little about some of his stops along the way.
All that technology means Google has been able to build a few more tools to help you track Santa from wherever you are: a Chrome extension and an Android app. You’ll also be able to get updates from Google Maps on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter, of course.
Here’s the Chrome extension in action:
It looks to us like the Microsoft-Google war has now even expanded to Santa. On the one hand there is NORAD with official apps for Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and even Windows 8. On the other there is Google with its own site, Chrome extension, and Android app. It’s almost too much, but the kids will undoubtedly love it all.
Image credit: Marcelo Graciano
Samsung has added another 5-inch screen phone to its Galaxy line-up, introducing a new device with a mid-range price.
The South Korean company announced the Galaxy Grand early Tuesday morning. The phone is similar to the Samsung Galaxy Note II, the company’s 5.5-inch-screen phone that is available from most U.S. carriers for $300 on a new contract.
Samsung declined to say how the device would be priced, but mid-range smartphones typically sell for about $100 to $150 with a contract.
Although the Galaxy Grand has a large display, many of its specifications fall short compared with the Galaxy Note II, as one would expect with a mid-range phone.
For starters, the phone’s WVGA display isn’t HD, with just an 800-by-480-pixel resolution. The Galaxy Grand’s 1.2 GHz dual-core processor is also less powerful than the Galaxy Note II’s, and the Galaxy Grand doesn’t come with the S Pen stylus.
The phone, however, does run on Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, and it features an 8-megapixel rear camera. Additionally, the Galaxy Grand has 8 GB of storage, which can be expanded with a microSD card.
Samsung did not provide details regarding when the phone might come to the U.S. or which network will carry it.
It looks like Chrome users, not just
Android users, will get access to Google Now, the search giant’s technology for bringing weather reports, trip departure reminders, birthday alerts, nearby restaurant reviews, and more to the attention of Android users.
Google Now integration into Chrome gives Google a new way to connect people closely to online services that Google judges to be relevant depending on time and location. Francois Beaufort, who keeps a close eye on the Chrome source code, spotted the move.
Google confirmed that it’s working on the project but stopped short of committing to it. “We’re always experimenting with new features in Chrome, so have nothing to announce at this time,” spokeswoman Jessica Kositz said.
The move reflects the growing maturity of Google’s operating system strategy. In mobile, it steers people to Android, and on personal computers, it steers them to Chrome or Chrome OS. Though Chrome isn’t an operating system, strictly speaking, browsers are absorbing more and more OS abilities, and Chrome OS systems of course can’t run anything but Web apps.
Whatever OS a person is using, Google is designing it as a mechanism to reach Google services: search, Google Maps, YouTube, Google Apps, Gmail, Google+, and more. These services are where Google makes its money.
And Google can show some Google Now-like services sometimes in search results, too. Drawing from Gmail messages, Google shows upcoming flight information and birthday reminders to users who have opted into the system.
Update, 12:58 p.m. PT:
Adds comment from Google.
Google screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET)
Google’s Eric Schmidt is a very busy man.
But he still found the time to interview fellow political philosopher Stephen Colbert, when the latter appeared at Google this week.
You might imagine that Colbert would be au fait with all of Google’s services before presenting himself before an audience of Googlies.
Colbert was there to push his masterwork “America Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t.” He wanted people to go to their local bookstore or to the “one that’s named after the rain forest.”
Schmidt, ever the subtle salesman, explained to him that his book was for sale not merely on Amazon, but on Google Play.
“What does that mean?” asked a bemused Colbert.
Patiently, Schmidt explained that the Google hydra had a book-selling arm too.
Colbert still worried that — Google being Google — it would only sell e-books. He was stunned to discover that there might even be the possibility to buy a physical book too.
Yet he still had brand recognition problems. Shortly afterward, he appeared to forget the name again altogether.
When he learned his book would be for sale on Google Play at list price, Colbert said: “So go to Google Plus for no deal!”
How extraordinary that despite Google becoming one of the bigger tech spenders in advertising, there is still work to be done.
The whole interview embraced vast numbers of topics. Many will enjoy Colbert telling Schmidt that Google Maps are phenomenal. Schmidt agreed. “Ask an Apple user,” he said.
Should you be keen to hear someone say “bulls***” to Eric Schmidt, then I recommend the 19th minute.
Google’s new Apple iOS Apps map (right) is on par — and in some ways better — than its own Android version (left).
Maybe that unnamed Google employee was just playing a sales-and-marketing role, talking the app up to generate interest, but it’s still a shocking statement.
Product ecosystems are one of the most fiercely competitive areas of tech right now. Companies like Amazon, Google and Microsoft generally keep the best features of their products for themselves and deliver merely adequate iterations for other platforms.
So is the Google Maps app for Apple’s iOS really better than Google’s baked-in, native version for Android?
It depends on what it’s used for. Those who expected the Apple app to be a lesser version of Android’s software are wrong — but those expecting a carbon copy of the Android experience are also sorely mistaken.
The basic, core experience is essentially identical. Maps are the same, as are search results.. Both provide walking directions, public transit routes and voice-guided, turn-by-turn navigation. Street view and 3-D maps are included. There’s no critical flaw in either app that makes one significantly better or worse than the other.
But make no mistake: these are different apps.
The Apple (Fortune 500) iOS version quickly and cleanly delivers the needed navigation data. From the very first screen, the experience is simply more intuitive. Instead of a search button in the bottom corner of the screen, the iOS app has a search bar along the top, instantly guiding people to the most frequently used feature of a maps app. ,
Next to that is a button taking users to a menu where they can choose among preset locations for home, work and other saved locations. That saves you from repeatedly entering the same addresses. The Android version has this feature, but it’s buried in a layer under the app’s home screen, obscuring it from the sight of less savvy smartphone users.
And then’s the info cards. When a user searches for a point of interest and taps on a pin, the information pops up in a bar at the bottom, instead of as an overlayed box on the map. Tap that box and it moves up, occupying 2/3 of the screen (leaving the last 1/3 for the existing map). You can swipe left and right to move between different search results, and can dig into business info, Zagat ratings and navigation options. When you’re finished, you simply swipe down and you’re back at the home screen.
It’s far cleaner and more intuitive than what the Android version offers.
But that’s not to say that the Android app doesn’t have its own advantages. Android is all about raw functionality. Offline maps are an exclusive perk, along with the less-essential but still intriguing indoor maps, terrain maps and bicycle-route overlays. And, by virtue of Apple’s fickleness, it enjoys the benefits of optimizations that come from being built straight into the operating system: smoother panning and zooming, enhanced functionality while running in the background, and default maps-app status.
There’s deep integration with other Google (Fortune 500) services, which can’t be found in the iOS version. Access to local recommendations, offers, Wikipedia overlays and recently checked-in locales can all be accessed through the Android software. ,
The distinctions make sense. That Google chose to make any aspect of its product superior on another platform seems nuts until you look at the context in which the two different platforms are used.
Apple’s iOS is manically focused on delivering an intuitive user experience, so it got a better user interface (which will probably work its way into the Android version someday). Android prioritized customization and power-user functionality since day one. Anyone who immerses themselves in Google’s services — and therefore wants deep integration with them — probably has an Android phone.
Releasing an equally high-quality product on a competitor’s platform is a smart, insightful move. It’s great for consumers, and in the long run, that’s great for Google.
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Among the smartphones available today, the Samsung Galaxy S III and the iPhone 5 sit at the top of many wish lists.
Both of them are the best-available iPhone and Android phone, respectively. But how do you choose whether to buy an Android smartphone or an iPhone?
The truth is, the differences aren’t all that significant, short of access to a few applications per device. You’ll find the mission-critical apps like Facebook and Google Maps on both. Case-in-point: Google held a major advantage on Android with a superior Maps application, but that was released for the iPhone just yesterday. When it comes to major apps, the line between Android and iPhone is starting to blur rapidly.
When deciding on which smartphone to buy, be sure to check out the Digits guide to picking a smartphone. As earlier indicated, the most important choice initially is your carrier, which will determine the availability of certain smartphones. That being said, there’s a healthy availability of Android smartphones and iPhones on most major carriers.
While the operating systems are similar, there are some differences, and it’s important to know the most significant ones when picking an ecosystem. Once you select a platform and start buying apps, you are more or less locked in — meaning switching from iPhone to Android will require you to purchase apps again in the Google Play store, and vise versa for the Apple App store.
Here are some of the biggest differences between the two. Choose wisely:
The biggest advantage the iPhone has over Android phones is its massive app ecosystem. It was the first major App Store, and as a result most developers will opt to build their applications for the iPhone before any device. For example, Instagram was available only on the iPhone for a very long time, and Facebook redesigned its app for the iPhone before finally upgrading the Android application. Apple said during its last earnings presentation that it had more than 700,000 apps on the App Store.
The iPhone has very deep integration with Twitter and Facebook, making it easy to post status updates to either from directly within the operating system without having to dig too deep into the customization of the app.
Apple also has some iPhone-specific apps, like Passbook — which a lot of major app developers, like mobile payments company Square, have chosen to support — that removes day-to-day annoyances like carrying around gift certificates and boarding passes. It takes some time to set up and is still limited for now, but the upside is huge.
Most importantly, the user experience is locked down. That means there isn’t a lot of significant modification you can make to the experience, such as changing the keyboard. But for the non-tech savvy crowd or those not looking for a lot of customization, this can be a plus, because Apple does know what it’s doing when it comes to user experience. You will know exactly what you are getting.
The first thing you will notice when shopping for an Android smartphone is the massive hardware selection. It can be daunting, given that there are many major smartphone manufacturers, and all of them have an exceptionally good Android smartphone. The go-to options will be the Samsung Galaxy S III or the Nexus 4, depending on your situation, but there is a wide array of cheaper Android phones (check out our guide to picking a smartphone for the best option).
In addition, Android phones are highly customizable. For example, one of the top apps on the Google Play app store is an app called SwiftKey, which modifies your Android smartphone’s keyboard, making it easier to type by predicting your next word after synchronizing with your Google and Facebook accounts among others. The possibilities of tweaking the Android ecosystem are nearly endless.
You’ll also find unique apps you won’t find on the Apple App Store. While the converse is true for the Apple App Store because many developers consider it a first option, but realistically Apple will likely not approve a lot of the more fringe-level apps on the Google Play store: For example, SwiftKey, or apps that emulate older gaming consoles. It gives your Android smartphone a little more functionality at the cost of being more complicated.
Google’s app store has also caught up to Apple’s in size. In October, Google Play said it also had more than 700,000 apps.
The user experience will be more varied depending on the smartphone you pick, as most major manufacturers have their own custom skin on the device. For example, the Nexus 4 is a stripped-down pure Android experience managed by Google, while the Samsung Galaxy S III has some Samsung flair to it.
That being said, because of the massive number of phones and proliferation of technology, apps likely won’t come to Android devices first if they aren’t launching at the same time on the Apple App Store. It will also take some time to learn your way around an Android smartphone, because of how deep the customization options are.
The two other major smartphone platforms — Windows Phone and BlackBerry — also have individual perks, but realistically it is too early to call whether they will be successful because they haven’t reached the level of app proliferation of Android smartphones and the iPhone. You can check out the Digits guide to smartphones for the individual advantages of those two platforms, but in short, the best option might be to hold off on buying these phones.
PHOENIX – Ask an Apple fanboy and they’ll probably tell you this week’s annoucement about Apple iOS 6 was revolutionary. Ask an Android fanboy and they’ll probably tell you Apple is playing catch-up. I think the truth actually lies somewhere in the middle.
This week, Apple laid out many of the key features that will be showcased in the next version of iOS 6 when it is released this fall. iOS 6 is the software behind iPhone, iPod Touch and the iPad. Apple has an entire page listing some of the changes, have a look . The biggest changes include:
- A complete re-do of the maps app. Apple is no longer using Google Maps, it has built its own app including (FINALLY) turn-by-turn navigation.
- An improved Siri including sports, restaurants and movies. Siri will also now be available on the new iPad.
- Facebook integration. Apple integrated Twitter with iOS 5 and has finally sorted out its differences with Facebook to add a similar feature in iOS 6.
- Facetime will now work over cell connections as well as Wi-Fi. Previously the service was limited to Wi-Fi only.
The way I look at it, the smartphone world is a lot different than it was in 2007 when the first iPhone was launched. Then, most of what Apple was doing was revolutionary. The company single handedly changed what people expected from a smartphone. Now, Android has a fast growing market share and is adding features as fast as Apple and in some cases, faster.
Sure, there is some catch-up going on. Google has offered turn-by-turn navigation as part of Google Maps for a while. It’s included on most Andriod phones. Apple has been stuck on the Google Maps app that launched 5 years ago (with some minor changes here and there). Facebook sharing has been integrated into Android since the beginning. Android is built to allow any app to integrate their sharing service without Google having to add it. Facetime over cellular is great but Skype has been doing it for years on both iOS and Android.
As for Siri, it doesn’t matter… yet. It will, but for now it doesn’t. It’s not good enough and I have a hard time finding any iPhone 4s owner who actually uses it on a regular basis besides Samuel L. Jackson . It’s fun to show your friends but isn’t reliable enough in real life. Someday it will change the way we use our phones. That day has not come yet.
While I just pointed out some of the catch-up that is happening, let me point out why it’s different than other companies. When Apple does something, they typically do it right and with some flair. Their map app does turn-by-turn by also does helicopter flyovers! The navigation looks slick and it seems Apple has done a solid job with this app.
Facebook sharing on Android is there but it’s not always pretty. It essentially sends you to the Facebook App with the information that you want to share. Apple has built deep Facebook integration. The interface and experience will be the same no matter what app you are sharing from. This creates a great user experience. This is what Apple is all about. I expect Android to play some catch-up with this if Facebook is willing to play nice.
Facetime may just now be coming to cellular but it’s all about experience. Facetime on Wi-Fi is the absolute best video calling service I have ever used (and I’ve tried almost all of them). It simply works and works really well. Apple refused to allow it to be used on cell networks until the company could guarantee it would work well. I commend them for that. I haven’t tested it out yet on a cell network so I hope they figured out a way to keep the quality up. If you haven’t tried Facetime over Wi-Fi, you should. It makes you wonder why people use Skype on their smartphones.
In the end, there is some catch-up happening here and there is some innovation. I expect to see a few more features added to iOS 6 before its official release later this year. With increased competition from Google, the pressure is on more than ever before to figure out what the next “must have” feature is. I can’t wait to see it.
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