Thursday, 23 May 2013

Google updates

It's been just over a week since Google I/O, the conference where traditionally a load of new Google products and services are announced. Since then I keep discovering lots of new little features in things like Google+, Play Music and Hangouts. Then today we got a major update to the Google Drive app. As a University that uses Google Apps we use Drive an awful lot so it was interesting to see what was in the update.

The first thing that caught my eye was the OCR. I previously used a separate app called CamScanner to take pictures of documents and use Optical Character Recognition to pick out words in them and make them searchable PDF's. Drive now has this functionality built in.

Also added is the ability to make a lot more changes to spreadsheets on the move. You can now make a number of changes to cells and fonts from the app.

As with all the recent Google product updates, the Drive layout has changed to a gridview (or card-view if you prefer). I have not been sold completely on the style changes on the whole. I still haven't got used to the new Google+ layout, you either have to hop around to read the posts in order or have most of the screen empty white space. The scrolling too can be annoying, especially when a bar keeps popping across the top the way annoying ads used to before pop-up blockers.

On the other hand it can be very clean and Google will want to unify the look across the product range. I thought the Google Now card style looked so tidy I even changed my work phone to mimic it (screenshot below - I also have cards for maps/navigation, calendar and weather).


A few other little annoyances are that the Hangouts app doesn't tell you who is online (the way Google Talk used to before Hangouts replaced it) and that the 'shuffle all' option has gone from Google Play Music. I think Play Music is an excellent product but it is annoying now having to 'queue' songs or just play from a pre-arranged or Google-defined list. I like the option of having a random selection from my collection.

I have replaced Google Reader with Feedly on my desktop and mobile. As it is being closed on 1st July. Since I first looked at Feedly I have seen a number of improvements and can recommend it highly. However, it does struggle sometimes finding feeds that Google Reader would add with ease.

A quite clever little addition I only recently noticed was in Google+, if you are sharing your location with someone, when they look at your profile and hover the cursor over your location, it changes their huge banner picture on their profile to a Google Map showing where they are. You can also see this information on mobile by scrolling left to the menu and then picking 'Locations'. This can then display all the people who are sharing their location data with you on a map.

Overly-attached-girlfriend's take note!

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