Designing SMS apps for mobile Africa

Monday, June 29, 2009 | 10:45 AM

As is well known, our mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. We aim to do this through technology, and in Africa, that means developing tools for the mobile phone. Africa has the world’s highest mobile growth rate. Mobile phone penetration is six times Internet penetration -- one third of the population owns a mobile phone and many more have access to one. Most of these devices only have voice and SMS capabilities, which is why we have chosen to focus our initial mobile efforts on SMS.

Today, we are releasing Google SMS in Uganda. Google SMS is a suite of mobile applications which provides access, via SMS, to information on a diverse number of topics including health and agriculture tips, news, local weather, sports, and more.

The suite also includes Google Trader, a marketplace application that helps buyers and sellers find each other. Users can find, "sell" or "buy" any type of product or service, from used cars and mobile phones to crops, livestock and jobs. Google Trader has been designed to help make markets more transparent. Many people in Africa lack access to information and markets beyond their immediate business and social networks. Google Trader allows sellers to post items for sale via SMS, and for buyers to search for such items.


Google SMS Tips is an SMS-based query-and-answer service. After you text a free-form query, Google algorithms restructure the query to identify keywords, search a database to identify relevant answers, and return the most relevant answer. SMS is a very limited medium: each SMS can be no longer than 160 characters, and, unlike the web, allows for one result to be returned in response to a query. Short or ambiguous queries are particularly challenging. For example: we've received queries as brief as "hiv". What exactly is someone asking for: symptoms? Causes? Prevention? Treatment? We not only have to discern intent in order to identify a relevant answer, but we also have to convey information back to the user within the confines of SMS. The challenge is further complicated by the fact that people must pay for each individual SMS message.

These are the sorts of technical challenges that have surfaced in developing SMS Tips, so please don't view it as a finished product. We need to greatly improve search quality and add to the content that we have in the Health and Ag focus areas. Now that Google SMS is live, we're working on improving search quality and the breadth, and depth, of content. As for Tips, we will work to add more focus areas.

Clearly, we're just beginning; there's still much to be done. If you're curious about what Google is doing in Africa, visit the Google Africa Blog. And here's a video about the broader effort initiated by the Grameen Foundation to introduce mobile applications to under-served communities.



Google Voice rolling out new invites

Thursday, June 25, 2009 | 10:51 AM

In March of this year we announced the launch of Google Voice for existing GrandCentral users. Google Voice helps you manage your phones and voicemail by unifying all your telephones - including mobile, home, and work phones - with a single phone number and letting you access voicemail via phone, email, or the Web. Today we're pleased to announce that invitations for Google Voice are starting to roll out to everyone who requested an invite. Check out more details on the Official Google Blog.

Announcing the AdSense for Mobile Applications beta

Wednesday, June 24, 2009 | 10:44 AM

(cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

You don't have to be a mobile expert to see how smartphones are revolutionizing our daily lives. Lower prices, faster network speeds and unlimited data plans mean that people often reach for their cell phone rather than their computer when they are seeking information. As a result, mobile applications have become more and more popular, helping people find music, make restaurant reservations or check bank balances — all on their phone.

We want to contribute to the growth of these mobile applications, which is why we're happy to announce our beta launch of AdSense for Mobile Applications. After all, advertisers are looking for ways to reach potential customers when they are engaged with mobile content, and application developers are looking for ways to show the best ads to their users. We have already had a successful trial of this service with a small number of partners, and are excited that we can now offer this solution to a broader group.

AdSense for Mobile Applications allows developers to earn revenue by displaying text and image ads in their iPhone and Android applications. For our beta launch, we've created a site where developers can learn more about the AdSense for mobile applications program, see answers to frequently asked questions and sign up to participate in our beta. Advertisers can also learn about the benefits of advertising in mobile applications.

We're excited to open up this beta to more developers, and look forward to offering new features for our mobile advertisers and publishers in upcoming releases. We also want to say a big thank you to the partners who worked with us on the trial stages of this project including Backgrounds, Sega, Shazam, Urbanspoon and more.

Check out this short video of Howard Steinberg, Director of Business Development at Urbanspoon, discussing his experience with AdSense for Mobile Applications.



Posted by Susan Wojcicki, Vice President, Product Management

The Iterative Web App: Swipe-to-Archive and Expanded English Language Support

Tuesday, June 23, 2009 | 11:42 AM

On April 7th, we announced a new version of Gmail for mobile for iPhone and Android-powered devices. Among the improvements was a complete redesign of the web application's underlying code which allows us to more rapidly develop and release new features that users have been asking for, as explained in our first post. We'd like to introduce The Iterative Webapp, a series where we will continue to release features for Gmail for mobile. Today: Swipe-to-archive and expanded English language support. --Shyam Sheth, Product Manager, Google Mobile.

When we first released the new Gmail for mobile web app, we designed the floaty bar to make it easy to quickly manage your inbox and take action on multiple emails at once. However, we wanted to make it even easier to perform one of the most common actions: archiving.

After reading the subject of an email and the first line of the message, I often know if I don't need to open the email to read the rest. With swipe-to-archive, I can simply swipe my finger across the email in the inbox, either from left-to-right or right-to-left, and then tap on the red 'Archive' button when it appears. Please note, this feature is only available for the iPhone.


We've also expanded the availability of the new Gmail for mobile app to English users in the United Kingdom as well as India. To try out swipe-to-archive and Gmail for mobile, visit gmail.com in your device's browser. To easily access your Gmail account, try creating a home screen link.

Posted by Bikin Chiu, Software Engineer, Google Mobile

YouTube Mobile Application in more languages

| 6:49 AM

A few months ago, we launched the YouTube Mobile Application for Windows Mobile and Symbian Series60 phones in US English. Today we're excited to release the app in French, UK English, Italian, Spanish, German, and Dutch. YouTube users who speak these languages can now enjoy features such as faster app start-up and search, faster video streaming, and easier viewing. So now when you watch your favourite videos like Charlie bit my finger, you'll know the interface around them will be spelled properly!

Search by voice and transit directions come to Google Maps on Android

Sunday, June 14, 2009 | 4:23 PM

Today we're releasing an upgrade to Google Maps for Android-powered phones. We've added a whole host of new features and fixed a few issues with Google Latitude.

You can now search Google Maps for Android using your voice, making it easier than ever to look up places while on the go. Whether you're searching for an address, a business, or nearby windsurfing spots, just speak your query and Google Maps will find it. Our voice recognition engine currently understands English in American, Australian, and British accents. After you search, you'll see a map of places. To help you decide where to go, we've improved our business listings to include content such as store hours, prices, ratings, and reviews.

We also added transit and walking directions to Google Maps for Android. You can now get directions using public transportation in over 250 cities, including New York City and San Francisco. If you're looking for the best route on foot, use walking directions to take advantage of pedestrian-only pathways and to avoid one-way restrictions - just in time for summer!

Google Maps for Android includes some big improvements to Google Latitude. We fixed an issue that caused background location updates to periodically stop for some of you. Now, once you select "Detect your location" from the Latitude privacy menu, your location will continue to update as long as your phone is on.

You may also notice a new experimental feature called Updates that lets you communicate with friends and post messages. Start Latitude and click the "Updates" tab to shout out updates at friends when they're at interesting locations, start a conversation when you're at your favorite restaurant, or just add more details to your Latitude location for your friends to see. Your friends will also need to download this new version of Google Maps for Android in order to use this experimental Updates feature -- they will not get your messages otherwise.

Unlike past Android software updates for the T-Mobile G1 or HTC Magic, the new Google Maps release won't be automatically pushed to your phone over the next few days. Instead, the upgrade is available for download in the Android Market. Just search for "Google Maps" and install today.

UPDATE: For those of you looking for Street View in Google Maps on Android, you'll find that we've integrated it more tightly with the rest of the app. Street View is no longer its own map mode. You can now check out Street View directly from any search result where imagery is available. You can also long-press any point on the map, in map view or satellite view, and you'll see a Street View thumbnail wherever imagery is available.

By Ole CaveLie and Chandan Pitta, Software Engineers

Snack time with the new iGoogle for Android and iPhone

Thursday, June 11, 2009 | 8:55 PM

We like iGoogle because it lets us "snack" on interesting information all day long. We can read a little bit of news here and there, glance at finance portfolios, take a look at the weather forecast, and then do a Google search. It doesn't require a big commitment of time and energy — it's simply there for us whenever we need it. This kind of availability is even more important on a phone, where it can take a long time to surf. That's why iGoogle is so convenient on mobile devices. When you're waiting in line, you can check iGoogle on your phone for a quick "info snack" — even in areas with mediocre network coverage.

But speed isn't everything. Many of you have told us that you wanted to use more of your iGoogle gadgets on your phone. You wanted to see your tabs, too. We read your blog comments and forum posts and put your requests at the top of our to-do list.

Today, we're excited to roll out an improved beta version of iGoogle for the iPhone and Android-powered devices. This new version is faster and easier to use. It supports tabs as well as more of your favorite gadgets, including those built by third-party developers. Note that not all gadgets — like those with Flash — will work in mobile browsers.

One of our favorite new features is the in-line display of articles for feed-based gadgets. That means you can read article summaries without leaving the page. You can also rearrange gadget order or keep your favorite gadgets open for your next visit. None of these changes will mess up the layout of gadgets on your desktop computer, so feel free to play around and tune your mobile experience.



The new version of iGoogle for mobile is available in 38 languages. To try it out, go to igoogle.com in your mobile browser and tap "Try the new Mobile iGoogle!" Bookmark the page or make it your home page so you can return to it quickly. Finally, please fill out our survey by clicking on the "Tell us what you think" link at the top of the new home page. We'll continue to use your feedback to make iGoogle even better.

Update on 6/12 @ 8:35 AM: Video added. Check it out!

Display your public Latitude location on your Google Profile

| 3:22 PM

Last month, we launched the new Google public location badge, which lets you publish your Latitude location to your blog or website. Starting today, you can choose to display your badge location on your Google profile. Your Google profile can include online photos, links to your blog or other online profiles, and ways for people to contact you. It also gives you greater control over what people find when they search for your name on Google. Don't have a Google profile? Go to www.google.com/profiles to get started.



To add your location to your Google profile, you first need to enable the Google public location badge. Please keep in mind that your location will be shared publicly with anyone who visits your public profile page, for as long as the badge is enabled. Once you've enabled the Latitude badge, go to the Edit profile page and check the box next to 'Display my Latitude location.' Your Google profile will now display your most recent location if it was updated in the last 24 hours. Note that only your location, not the badge itself, will appear on your profile.


The badge is currently only available in the US, but will be available in more countries soon.

Posted by Peter Harbison, Product Marketing Manager

The Iterative Web App - Faster Address Auto-complete and Keyboard Shortcuts

Wednesday, June 10, 2009 | 9:54 AM

On April 7th, we announced a new version of Gmail for mobile for iPhone and Android-powered devices. Among the improvements was a complete redesign of the web application's underlying code which allows us to more rapidly develop and release new features that users have been asking for, as explained in our first post. We'd like to introduce The Iterative Webapp, a series where we will continue to release features for Gmail for mobile. Today: Faster address auto-completion and keyboard shortcuts. --Shyam Sheth, Product Manager, Google Mobile.

At Google we're always looking for a way to do things faster. Today, we're announcing two improvements that will speed up your Gmail for mobile experience.

The first improvement is faster address auto-completion. This means that as you begin typing the first few letters of your friend or colleague's name or email address, Gmail for mobile will quickly display possible contacts. We sped up this process by reusing previously fetched matches in subsequent searches.

The second improvement is that we've enabled keyboard shortcuts for Android-powered devices with a physical keyboard. Now you can use all those familiar Gmail keyboard shortcuts to quickly move through your inbox. For example, if you're reading an email you can press 'u' to return to the inbox or 'n' to move to the next conversation.

To try out Gmail for mobile, visit gmail.com in your mobile browser. This version of Gmail for mobile supports iPhone/iPod Touch OS 2.2.1 or above, as well as all Android-powered devices, and is available for US English only. To make it easy to access your Gmail account, try creating a home screen link.

Posted by Matthew Bolohan and Andrew Grieve, Software Engineers, Google Mobile

Palm Pre launching with Google Search, Google Maps, and YouTube

Friday, June 5, 2009 | 7:00 AM

As mobile technology geeks, we're really excited to see a new smartphone launch from our friends at Palm. Palm Pre phone's webOS works great with Google Search, Google Maps, and YouTube, which are built into the device. You can also easily sync your Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Contacts to Palm Pre.

We're big fans of Palm Pre phone's universal search feature. Just start typing a query from the home screen (no need to launch the browser). If your query doesn’t match any contact info or the name of an application on your phone, you’ll be prompted to search either the web with Google, local places on Google Maps, articles on Wikipedia, or Twitter.



What's neat about launching Google Maps in this way is that it will use your location to conduct a search for nearby businesses and points of interest (if you choose to allow Location Services, of course). Similar to some other mobile phones, Google Maps is built into Palm Pre phone's operating system -- you'll notice a Google Maps icon amongst the phone's built-in applications. However, the implementation of Google Maps on Palm Pre is actually very different from how we built Maps on platforms like Android or BlackBerry. Palm is calling its operating system webOS for good reason -- all applications running on webOS leverage a WebKit-based rendering engine for content, which made it easy to port Google Maps to the platform. You can use familiar Google Maps features such as My Location, local search, driving directions, and traffic.



Palm Pre also includes a YouTube application that Palm built using Palm’s Native application MoJo SDK, and much like a web app, it uses HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. YouTube on Palm Pre makes it easy to watch your favorite videos. When you play a video, it auto-rotates to landscape orientation to take full advantage of the phone's screen.



Palm Pre wouldn't be complete without productivity functions and we're happy to report that Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Contacts work well on the device. Simply enter your account name and password and Palm Pre will sync your email, calendar events, and contacts to the device. Palm Pre supports the IMAP IDLE protocol so you can enjoy push Gmail.

This is just the beginning for Google applications on Palm Pre. The good news is that since our applications are built using web standards along with Palm's MoJo SDK, we can iterate quickly and provide new functionality, often without requiring you to install anything new. We look forward to rolling out new features for our mobile applications at a rapid clip.

Update 6/8/09, 05:04pm - If you're interested in learning how to set up your Pre with your Gmail, Google Mail or Google Apps for Your Domain account, please visit our help center to learn more.

Introducing the orkut Mobile App

Thursday, June 4, 2009 | 10:31 PM

About a year ago, we introduced the orkut mobile site to help everyone on orkut stay in touch on the go with scraps, status updates, and photo viewing. Shortly after that, we optimized the orkut mobile experience for S60 phones, allowing photo uploads and click-to-call features. Now, we're excited to introduce the first downloadable orkut mobile app, with even more features to keep you connected to your orkut friends and phone contacts.

The orkut Mobile App, available for most Java-enabled devices, offers some fun new ways to interact:

- Take a photo on your phone and upload it right to your orkut album.
- Share photos with orkut friends or SMS the photos to phone contacts not yet on orkut.
- Call or SMS any of your orkut friends or phone contacts without leaving the app.
- View scraps, updates from friends, and photo albums in offline mode.

    


 

Of course, you'll still have all the features of orkut mobile at your fingertips, including writing/reading scraps, updating your status, searching for users, viewing/accepting friend requests, and more!

To install the beta version of the app, visit m.google.com/orkut on your phone. While the app is free to download and use, your mobile provider's regular data charges will apply. Check out more details in our help center, and feel free to leave feedback about your orkut mobile experience in the orkut Help Forum.

Hope to see you in orkut soon, and don't forget to keep your orkut profile updated with your mobile number!

The importance of being immediate - Google Mobile App now for Nokia S60 smartphones

Wednesday, June 3, 2009 | 11:06 AM

As a user experience designer I like to take every opportunity to better understand the issues that get in the way of people making the most of their mobile phones. The development of Google Mobile App for Nokia S60 smartphones, which launched today, has provided an opportunity to address three aspects of an issue we hear about on a regular basis: immediacy.

1. Immediacy of access

We know from our users that navigating through menus introduces an unwanted delay. Our quick key mechanism launches the application directly from the home screen, making search, Google Maps, Gmail, and other Google mobile services available immediately.


The quick key reminder (left) and the app showing your current location (right)


2. Immediacy of location
Google Mobile App for Nokia Series 60 smartphones comes with location awareness built in. If you use the My Location feature, you'll get local search results that relate to where you are. You can opt in or out of this at any time, via the Settings menu.


Search suggestions that combine with your location to give local search results


3. Immediacy of query formulation

We have adopted a dual approach to help make query formulation quick and efficient. First, your search history is readily available so that it's easy to repeat queries. Second, we offer query suggestions based on what has been entered so far to get you to your results as quickly as possible.

Search history (left) and search suggestions (right)

Additionally, we like to work with feedback about earlier versions of our products, such as the quick key launch feature. We found that some users didn't need a home screen reminder, while others liked having it there. So in Google Mobile App, we added an item in Settings to let people choose what best suits them.

Google Mobile App can be downloaded from http://m.google.com on your phone's browser. Give it a try and please keep all the feedback coming - your input is invaluable to making sure we get products and features right.

Places Directory app for Android

Tuesday, June 2, 2009 | 11:58 AM

As an engineer based in Taipei, I frequently travel to Google headquarters in Mountain View. When I'm there, I'm always looking for local businesses to try out, like coffee shops and restaurants. I also forget where the banks and ATM's are. While Search and Maps can help me find the information I need, it's nice to have the option to browse a directory of places, as well. For instance, if I need some money, do I search for an ATM or a bank? If I had a short list of business categories to choose from, I could just scan it to choose the right one. After talking to some colleagues, we decided to devote our 20% time to building an Android application that figures out what places are nearby and arranges them in a directory format. Friends and colleagues tested the app and found it handy, so we decided to launch "Places Directory" on Android Market as a Google Labs product.

As the name implies, Places Directory allows you to browse nearby places in categories like Restaurants, Movie Theaters, Hotels and Banks. You'll see distance and directions to the destination, and if you tap on the listing, we'll show ratings and photos. You can also call the business or view its location on Google Maps.



To download Places Directory to your Android-powered phone, search for "Places Directory" on Android Market. We currently support US English and Chinese. Try it out and let us know what you think by providing feedback in the comments below. In the meantime, I look forward to going back to Mountain View and finding some good local restaurants.