Google Roundup: July's Best New Features For Google's Apps And Devices

July 29, 2018 12:00 pm

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What’s new for Google’s apps and devices.Credit: Alexas Photos/Pixabay

Google is always modifying its apps and devices with upgrades and new features. The pace of change is so relentless that trying to keep track can be overwhelming. In case you missed them, here are some of the best new features Google introduced during July.

Site Isolation for the Chrome browser

Site Isolation a major security update for the Chrome browser that protects users from malicious websites that steal sensitive data like passwords and encryption keys. Site Isolation puts content from a website’s domain in a sandboxed process that is prevented from sharing memory with other domains. Malicious websites and threats like Spectre can’t steal what they can’t access.

Site Isolation can increase memory overhead by 10 to 13% in some cases. This change produced a flurry of misleading headlines implying the memory increase is some kind of major problem. It isn’t. The increased memory demands are only likely to result in a performance decline for some users in some circumstances. If you’re a Windows user, it’s a simple matter to find out if Chrome is stressing your system memory with the Task Manager. If it is, easy solutions range from closing some tabs to using any one of a number of Chrome extensions that put background tabs to sleep.

Site Isolation is currently operating in Chrome for Windows, Chrome OS, Mac and Linux. Google estimates that 99% of Chrome users on these operating systems are protected. More information about Site Isolation can be found here.

Chrome 68 labels HTTP websites “Not Secure”Credit: Google

Chrome 68 arrives

Site Isolation wasn’t July’s only security enhancement for the Chrome browser. Warning labels were attached to unsafe websites and users were protected from malicious redirects in Chrome 68 which rolled out several days ago.

While most websites have migrated from the unsafe HTTP network protocol to the much safer HTTPS, some haven’t. Data is sent in clear text over HTTP which means anyone who intercepts it can read it. This is not good if, for example, you enter your credit card information when you buy something online. HTTPS is a secure version of HTTP. Communication between the website and the browser is encrypted and if it is intercepted, it can’t be read without the encryption key.

Chrome 68 adds a “Not secure” warning label in the URL bar at the top of the page on websites that still use HTTP. If you see the label, be aware that any communication with the website is easily stolen.

A website redirect sends the user to a different website or pops up a new window when the user opens a page. Redirects have many legitimate uses, but they are also commonly employed to pop up annoying ads or surreptitiously send users to malicious websites. Chrome 68 interferes with redirects that are frequently used for malicious purposes by opening a window that gives the user the option of moving to the new website or staying where they are.

More information about Chrome 68 can be found here.

The For You tab in Google MapsCredit: Kevin Murnane

Google Maps adds personal recommendations and neighborhood tracking

Google Maps now surfaces information tuned to your tastes and interests with a redesigned Explore tab and a new For You tab. For You also lets you keep track of what’s going on in the neighborhoods where you hang out. Here’s what’s new.

  • The Explore tab gives eating and drinking recommendations for any location you choose. Recommendations can be filtered by type of food.
  • If you’re trying out the places on a trending list, Maps will keep track of the ones you’ve visited and the ones you haven’t.
  • Explore also surfaces upcoming events and activities that can be filtered for the kind of thing that interest you in an area of your choosing. 
  • Restaurants and bars have a numerical rating that reflects Google’s best guess about whether you’ll enjoy the place. The ratings are ennabled on Android but not iOS and location sharing has to be turned on.
  • For You lets you track establishments and neighborhoods. It’s a great way to find out if a new place that caters to your interests has opened in your neighborhood or if something about one of your favorite places has changed.

The revamped Explore tab is available for Android and iOS worldwide. For You is only available for Android in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and Japan.

Visual Snapshot brings personalization to the Assistant

Maps wasn’t the only app that received enhanced personalization features in July. Visual Snapshot brings the defunct Google Now’s summary of information that helps you navigating through your day to the Assistant.

Visual Snapshot adds reminders, weather and traffic reports, events on your schedule and more to the Assistant app. It can interact with both Google and third-party apps to corral information from a variety of sources into one convenient location. Visual Snapshot is accessed through an icon that looks like a radiant inbox in the upper right corner of the Assistant app. Tap the icon to see what the Assistant can tell you about the rest of your day.

The perimeter and area of the National Mall in Washington DC.Credit: Kevin Murnane

Google Earth adds a measurement tool

How long is the route you take when you walk your dog? How many acres is your property? What’s the difference between the straight-line distance from your home to your job and the route you actually take to get to work? You can answer all of these questions with Google Earth’s new measurement tool.

Place an anchor on any two points and Google earth will return the distance between them. You can drop a string of anchors on corners and along curves to measure route distances. Enclose a space and Google Earth gives you both the perimeter and the area.

Google Earth’s new measurement tool is available on the web and Android with support for iOS promised sometime in the future.

Waze added to the Android Auto app

Waze was added to Android Auto for in-car displays last July and now it’s finally available for the Android Auto app on phones. Whether you’re using Android Auto on a head unit or a phone, Waze lets you

  • Launch navigation by tapping on a pre-programmed destination or by saying “OK Google” to wake up the Assistant.
  • Get video and audio alerts about upcoming problems and find alternate routes on a large map.
  • Access your personalized Waze experience and view your ETA panel.
  • Report accidents, road hazards or traffic jams through a visual report menu.

Waze for Android Auto is available for Android 5.0 (Lollipop) and up and is optimized for use with a car dock.

Continued Conversation arrives for Google Home devices in the US.Credit: Google

“OK Google” no longer needed before every interaction with a Home device

Google rolled out Continued Conversation in late June but it’s such a huge improvement in ease of use for the company’s Home devices that I had to include it here. With Continued Conversation you don’t have to repeat the wake-up phrase before every subsequent command or query once you’ve begun an interaction with the Assistant in Home. The Assistant has an eight-second window during which it will respond to another input without hearing the wake-up phrase. If it doesn’t hear a command or query after eight seconds, it shuts down. The Assistant will also shut down if you say “Thank you” when you’re finished. Talking to the Assistant in Home feels much more like having a conversation than it did before.

Continued Conversation is toggled off by default. You can turn it on through either the Home or Assistant apps on a smartphone, tablet or Chromebook. More information about continued Conversation can be found here.

These seven new features were the most useful for me, but Google added a lot more during July and you may discover something different that makes your life easier or more enjoyable. Take a look at these articles for more of the new features Google added to it’s apps and devices in late June and July.

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