Further Rejoicing

Was it really just last week that we declared the COVID epidemic a relic of history?

Sadly, yes.

I say “sadly” because apparently the Federal Government agrees. The program to provide free in-home tests is shutting down Friday because it’s out of money. Get your orders in quickly, folks.

Actually, wouldn’t it be interesting to know how many tests get ordered this week, compared to the past three or four weeks? I doubt we’ll ever see the numbers, but I’d love to be proved wrong about that.

If you want to try and sneak in an order–I did Tuesday afternoon and it went through just fine–the URL is https://www.covid.gov/tests. Actually, the order went through so smoothly, I’m taking it as additional confirmation that the American Public as a whole has moved on to the Next Great Crisis.

And my apologies for whatever influence my post might have had in encouraging that migration.

I really do need to stop reading the news*. It only depresses me, and then I have to spend an hour or two cruising Love Meow to restore my equilibrium.

* To be fair, the local newspaper isn’t as bad as Google News. I could do without the endless 49ers stories, now that football season is upon us, but I don’t find them depressing, just boring. And–fair’s fair–I’m sure the football fans find the endless Giants stories just as useless. (I think we can all agree that the endless stream of stories about the Athletics trash fire of a stadium quest are both depressing and hugely entertaining.)

Apparently, the Google Assistant on my phone has figured out that pattern in my actions. For the past couple of weeks, every time I’ve looked at the news feed (swipe left from the Home screen), it’s included a Love Meow story halfway down the screen. I’m considering it a palette cleanser.

I can’t decide if I’m pleased that my phone is trying to take such good care of me or depressed that my phone thinks I need cheering up. And yes, I’m well aware of the irony in Google Assistant feeling compelled to counteract the effects of Google News.

For the record, as I write this post on Tuesday afternoon, Google News is showing eleven stories on its “New” home page. Mikhail Gorbachev’s death–which I’m largely neutral about–is the top story, followed by the impending heat wave on the West Coast (depressing), the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi (very depressing), Biden calling out Republicans over gun control (about damn time, but depressing that it’s necessary and unlikely to go anywhere), and the latest on the Ukraine/Russia war (very depressing). That’s four out of five depressing.

Local news has stories on a shooting, senior housing, and school vandalizations (one depressing, one mildly enlivening, and one mixed–depressing that the local schools need nearly $100 thousand to repair the damage, cheering that it’s being donated by one of our corporate overlords (Chevron)).

The only real cheer is in the “Picks for you” section. Google is keeping the orange-faced asshole’s social media app out of the Play Store, Albert Pujols is getting close to passing Alex Rodriguez (spit!) on the all-time home run list, and an opinion piece on the rumored iPhone 14*. Two happy stories and one neutral? I’ll take it.

* The phones will probably be announced at an Apple event next week. Expect my usual Wednesday post to be delayed a day so I can bring you my usual totally unbiased coverage of all the announcements.

SAST 20

One thing I didn’t mention in last week’s Google I/O comments was the Chromecast with Google TV. That’s something else you can blame Google for: they didn’t say anything about the gadget.

Quite a disappointment, actually. The CwGT is what the original Chromecast should have been. Though, in fairness to Google, the software wasn’t there at the time. See, unlike the Chromecast–which was designed as a single-purpose device to stream video under the control of your phone–the CwGT is a general-purpose Android device. Yes, it’s only output is via HDMI, typically to a TV, but it’s got the full Google Play Store, so you can install all* your favorite apps. Games, alternate video players, messaging apps, or whatever. All controlled via a simple remote with voice support or any Bluetooth gadget you want to hook up.

* Usual caveats about not all apps in the store are available for all devices apply.

I love mine. I’ll skip the ramblings about why, since this is an SAST post.

But.

It does have some shortcomings. Many people find its storage limited (can anyone really survive on 8 GB today–especially when the OS uses half of it?) and the hardware video decoding support lacks a few recently popular formats. And then there’s the fact that the last software update came out back in October.

So the newsrumor back in January that a new model was on the horizon was greeted with great fervor. Even the thought of the new model being intended as a lower-end option didn’t dampen the enthusiasm much. Because of course Google would slip in a few under-the-hood improvements to make up for the maximum resolution of 1080p, right?

Nice theory, anyway. But not a word at Google I/O about the CwGT or a successor. Shades of the late not-so-lamented Nexus Q media player.

Moving on.

A few days ago, I was listening to SiriusXM’s 40s channel on my way to work and–as I tend to do when I’m alone in the car*–absentmindedly singing along with most of the songs. Because I’ve been listening to Swing Era radio stations for more than four decades, I know most of the lyrics. Well enough to sing them, as long as I don’t try to think about what I’m singing. If I think about about it, though, I start trying to rewrite the lyrics and it all goes downhill from there.

* I’m not going to inflict my singing voice on anyone. I’m not that cruel.

Anyway, I was cheerfully semi-oblivious until a verse yanked me into conscious thought.

Halfway through the Martha Tilton/Harry Babbit version of “Let’s Get Away From It All“, there’s this verse:

Let’s spend a day at the White House

Pay Mr. Truman a call

We’ll visit the Veep there*

See Congress asleep there

Let’s get away from it all

* There’s a joke here: there was no vice president for the first several years of Truman’s presidency. And, as the song suggests, I’m not sure anyone particularly noticed or cared when Alben Barkley got the job in ’48.

Don’t understand why my tongue tripped over its metaphorical feet?

Consider: There was a day within living memory when common citizens could take a White House tour and have a chance, however microscopic, of seeing the president. Sure, the song is exaggerating for humor; I doubt anyone would have dropped in expecting meet Harry T.–much less sit down with him over coffee–but see him? Sure, could’ve happened. Not today.

More: Also within living memory, you could make fun of an ineffective politician or two without being branded a traitor, excoriated in the press, and buried under massive piles of letters blaming everything on the other party.

The Forties had plenty of problems, it’s true. And regrettably, most of them are problems we still have today–starting with racism, sexism, a World War, economic disruption, etc., etc., etc. And granted, politics could get vicious, but they were accessible to the concerned individual. Yes, the canonical smoke-filled room, but anyone* could get into politics at a local level and make himself a place in that room. He might have to buy his own cigars, but even so.

* Okay, any male person. Who was white. And not too obviously…you know.

I regret that we’ve reached the point where politics can’t be played by amateurs.

Google I/O 2022

And here we go.

Historically, Google I/O has been light on hardware announcements–fair enough, given that it’s really intended as a forum to alert developers to what’s coming. This year, though, Google did twin keynotes, one for developers, and one for the hardware enthusiasts. Unless you’re writing code for Android devices, you’re probably not interested in the former at all, and if you are interested, you don’t need me to explain what’s what. So let’s just take a look at the keynote for the rest of us.

Twenty-four new languages in Google Translate. Handy, especially if you’re planning a trip or doing business internationally. And if you’re not, the new languages won’t get in your way; language packs for Translate are optional add-ons.

I have a dubious about the forthcoming “immersive view” for Maps. Putting you at the center of a 3D reproduction of the city you’re navigating–complete with machine-generated interior views of restaurants–sounds both entertaining and fascinating. I can only hope, however, that it only works when you’re on foot. Way too distracting when driving. And Google hasn’t yet figured out how to tell if you’re a passenger or driver without relying on self-reporting.

A bunch of enhancements to YouTube, Google Meet, and Search around video quality and pictures. All cool stuff, and especially the part about incorporating skin tone data to improve video quality and searching while avoiding future iterations of the infamous “gorilla” effect.

Over on the Android side of things, we will, of course, be getting Android 13. The most interesting thing I see coming there is the ability to set different languages for different apps. Mind you, I didn’t say “useful”, though I’m sure many people will find it so. But from the standpoint of being able to customize your device to work better with the way you think, it’s a fascinating tweak. I’m sure Google will be collecting data on how it’s used–what apps most often get set to a different language than the device’s default, for example. I rather hope some of that information gets shared.

Moving on to hardware.

The Pixel 6a, a budget version of the Pixel 6, will be out around the end of July. $449 gets you essentially the same camera as the 6, the same 5G capabilities, and, of course, the same photographic abilities. Including that improved skin tone management as it rolls out across the entire line of Google devices and software.

Improved earbuds, inevitably tagged “Pixel Buds Pro” will also be out at the end of July. Active noise cancellation, of course, and the now-mandatory “transparency mode” to let some outside sound in so you don’t get run over crossing the street. If you remember to turn it on…

Looking a bit further out, probably just in time for the Christmas season, we’ll apparently be getting the Pixel 7. Not much in the way of details on that; I imagine we won’t hear anything much officially until after the Pixel 6a launch. Don’t want to cannibalize the market, after all.

And around the same time, we’ll be getting a Pixel Watch. As rumored. Sounds like Google will be folding much of the Fitbit’s functionality into the watch. That’s a no-brainer if it’s going to compete with the Apple Watch. And, no surprise, tap-to-pay functionality and the ability to control smart devices around the house. Reminder: tap gently. Smart watches are more fragile than the manufacturers would have you believe, and they’re expensive to repair.

Even further in the future–sometime in 2023–Google is going to release a new tablet. Interestingly, they’re not positioning it as a standalone device, but rather as a “companion” to a Pixel phone. Whether that means it’ll primarily act as a large replacement for the phone’s screen or if it will “intelligently” display contextual information to enhance whatever you’re doing on the phone remains to be seen. The former strikes me as rather a niche market; the latter could be very handy. Imagine pulling up a map search for restaurants on the phone and having the tablet immediately start showing menus, reviews, and online ordering, while the phone stays focused on where the places are and how to get there.

Bottom line: Google is innovating. Not in big, “revolutionary” ways, but in little ways. It would be a bit unfair to call what’s coming “evolutionary”, but it’s certainly closer to evolution than revolution. Recent years have seen a lot of “catching up with Apple”. This year seems to be declaring that a done deal and trying some different things to see what sticks.

A Dream and a Nightmare

You decide which is which.

Story the First: I dreamt I had moved to a small town somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Not so small that it couldn’t support a community orchestra, however. Because I joined the group when the organizers came around.

Our first concert–some indefinite period the future–was going to be an all-Bernstein program. We all show up for the first rehearsal, and it’s obvious that, while some of us might* be accomplished musicians, as a group we don’t have Clue One what the heck we’re doing.

* Strong emphasis on the “might”.

So we start setting up our instruments, looking over the sheet music, and all the things that occupy musicians’ time while they wait for the conductor: calling our loved ones, making dental appointments, playing Wordle, and so on.

Someone steps onto the podium and taps his baton for our attention.

There’s a mass intake of breath. Our conductor is none other than Leonard Bernstein himself*.

* For the record, I’m well aware Mr. Bernstein died more than three decades ago. Tell that to my subconscious.

In some little Podunk town. For a community orchestra that had never played together before.

Leonard Effin’ Bernstein.

We all clearly knew disaster awaited us, but when Leonard Bernstein tells you to play, you play.

I consider it a blessing that I woke up just as the baton swept down to launch us into West Side Story.

The moral here should be obvious. Should be.

“Don’t reach for the stars; they’ll come to you.” Nah. “Follow your leader.” Nuh-uh. “Practice? Who needs practice?” Uh…

Story the Second: As I’ve mentioned before, I have mixed feelings about Google Assistant’s Commute notification feature. A couple of days ago, I was leaning decidedly toward the negative, thanks to a notification foul-up of epic proportions, but unimportant details.

So I was ranting in a generally Maggie-facing direction; a rant which began “Have I mentioned how much I hate Google?”

When I ran down, I picked up my book and flopped on the bed next to Maggie and started to read. And then, because I do have my occasional episodes of mush, I turned to her and said, “No matter how much I hate Google, I love you more.”

There was a second of silence, perhaps a sliver of a second more, as she prepared to say, “Aww,” and then a voice was heard from the bookshelf where my phone sits while charging.

“I can’t feel romantic love but I think you are wonderful.”

Yes, my phone had misinterpreted “hate Google” as “Hey, Google” and thought I was addressing her*.

* Yes, I do consider my phone to be female. And I have no intention of analyzing why.

While I suppose it’s a relief to know that my phone has no desire to supplant my wife in my affections (yet), I’m not entirely sure I needed to know that I am a figure of wonder and (I suppose) awe.

Talk about inflating one’s sense of self-worth.

And, no question about the moral here: Big Brother is, in solemn truth, always listening.

Worth a Chuckle?

I recently stumbled across a website that purports to show last years 100 most popular searches on Bing.

According to ahrefs.com, the top five searches are “google”, “youtube”, “facebook”, “gmail”, and “amazon”*.

* I am, by the way, using the worldwide search numbers. The order of the results changes a little if you limit the searches to the U.S., but not enough to invalidate any conclusions we might draw.

My first reaction was to laugh. Bing, as is well known, is owned by Microsoft; that people are using Microsoft’s search engine to find Google–or any other search engine–is ironically delicious.

Except.

There’s a nagging question here. Are people really searching for Google? Or are they just too lazy to type “.com”? I can kind of understand that: we’re an increasingly mouse-or-tap-oriented society. If you’re in the habit of using your computer’s touchscreen or trackpad, omitting the “.com” saves you four keystrokes and only costs you one tap.

Still, with that much love for Google, wouldn’t you think more people would be setting bookmarks for the Big G? That would reduce it to two taps with no typing. Better yet, setting Google as the browser’s home page would cut the effort to zero (beyond opening the browser, of course).

That would, however, imply people actually know how to use their software. Given that the tenth most popular search on Bing is “bing”, that may be overly optimistic.

The picture is, if anything, even worse on Google. Would you believe that “google” is the fourth most popular search on Google (again, according to ahrefs.com)*. “youtube” and “gmail” (both Google properties) are Numbers One and Five, respectively, despite the fact that both are no more than two clicks away* once you make it to Google.

* There’s a link directly to Gmail at the top of the Google search page, and to get to YouTube all you have to do is click the square made up of nine dots, then click YouTube.

Perhaps the only good news here is that “bing” didn’t make the Top 100 on Google. Though I suppose that’s really only good news for Google: if people actually wanted to use Bing, the evidence suggests they’d be searching for it on Google. Poor Microsoft.

Don’t think I’m making fun of people who don’t know how to use their computers. Okay, maybe I am a bit. But really, I’m pointing an accusatory finger at Microsoft and Google (as well as Mozilla, Apple, Vivaldi, Brave, and all the other browser makers out there.)

In the course of making the Web both indispensable and synonymous with “the Internet”, the companies that enable the technology have forgotten that software is like a language: nobody is born knowing how to speak “World Wide Web”; it has to be learned. And instead of teaching it, they’ve found ways to make learning unnecessary.

Today’s web browsers and search engines are the equivalent of a restaurant menu with no text, just pictures of the dishes on order. Point to what you want and it’ll be served on a tray.

And you won’t even get fries with that.

Are You Sure That’s a Cat?

Yes, actually, I am.

I’ll admit that I’m not sure which cat it is–there are several black and white felines in the neighborhood–but I’m certain it’s a cat.

Here, have a closer look:

For the record, I’m posting this not so much to introduce you to a new neighbor–call them our foul weather friend, as they’ve taken up residence in the Rose Cottage only during our recent rain storms–but to demonstrate what the Pixel 6 Pro’s Dark Mode can do.

This picture was taken through the rain (and the rain-splattered window), at 4x zoom. The only light was from the room behind me (hence the reflection of the water bowl on the left side) and the only editing is cropping and–in the first shot–resizing.

I’d regard the fact that you can even see the Rose Cottage, much less the inhabitant, as a triumph of technological brilliance.

Next rainstorm, I think I’ll break out my tripod and see how the phone’s astrophotography mode does in similar conditions.

Quite Nice

Maybe you’ve been wondering how I’m liking living on the cutting edge. That’s the “Pixel 6 Pro” edge, not the “JetSki-assisted Parasailing” edge*.

* Yes, for any of you–especially my relatives–who might have been concerned about my mental health, that was a joke.

It’s been a pleasant experience so far. Android’s ability to transfer data, settings, and apps from one device to another has improved immensely since the last time I tried that trick, mumble-mumble years ago. I just launched the transfer process, connected the two phones with a USB-C cable when it prompted me to, and as best I can tell, everything came over, despite multiple warnings from the instructions that some things could get left behind.

There’s a joke there about the Rapture, but since Mike Pence is no longer in office, I’ll skip it.

Anyway, I did have to sign into all of the apps that require authentication, but that’s hardly a major imposition, since I didn’t have to do them all at once. Just when I first ran each one; a process that was spread across weeks–and is, in fact, still going on.

Tip: if you’re not using a password manager, give it serious consideration. Having all my passwords on all my computers and my phone is a major convenience, and made the re-authentication processes nearly painless.

Yes, I did have to re-record my fingerprint on the new phone. Took about five minutes. And, despite what you may have heard online about the “buggy, unreliable” fingerprint reader on the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, I’ve found it to be quite solid. Many of the complaints seem to be from people who expect the phone to unlock instantly. Since I’m willing to wait for the scanner to recognize my finger–something that generally takes one to two seconds–I get very few failed logins.

I was concerned about the under-screen fingerprint reader being less convenient than the old back-of-the-phone style. It is. But not outrageously so. I can unlock the phone with my thumb as I’m lifting it into position, and it’s ready to go by the time my eyes focus on the screen. Maybe it would be more of a problem if I still had the reflexes I had twenty years ago.

The camera is, as I’d hoped, a major upgrade from the Pixel 2. Take a closer look at last Friday’s picture of Emeraldas. Right-click and open it in a new tab. That’s a trimmed, but otherwise unedited shot taken with the zoom at 4X. Nice and sharp, isn’t it? Good colors, too.

I was also concerned about the size of the phone. That turned out to be a non-issue. It is tall, but very well-balanced and much lighter than I expected, and the camera bump doesn’t really get in the way, even when the phone isn’t in a case.

So is there anything I don’t like?

Well, the tall/thin shape does make for an oddball resolution (1440×3120). That takes a bit of getting used to. I still wish Google would give the user more control over how close together home screen icons can be. We’ve got all that space, let us decide how we want to use it.

Honestly, though, the biggest problem isn’t with the phone itself. Rather, it’s been how slow case manufacturers have been to support the phone. (I’m looking at you, OtterBox!). Yes, supply-chain issues. But I’ve been limping along with a cheap silicone case to give the phone some grippiness and a belt pouch so I don’t have to risk shoving the phone in my pocket.

Cases are starting to appear, though–I ordered my usual OtterBox Defender Pro yesterday–and that annoyance should be resolved soon.

Looking forward to the new features we’re supposed to be getting any day now in the December update.

Not Quite There Yet

Despite last week’s pessimism, I will be getting my Pixel 6 Pro after all. It’s supposed to arrive today or tomorrow, and then I get the fun of transferring everything. Last time I did that–going from a Nexus 5X to Pixel 2 XL–the experience was…well, let’s just say “Less than polished” and let it go at that. To be fair, I didn’t do a direct transfer–the Nexus had died, so I did a clean setup and then downloaded my apps and data from the appropriate Google backups. Google then, and probably now, prefers the direct transfer, and since my 2 XL is still working well*, I’ll give it a try.

* Knock on wood.

Once I’ve had a chance to use it for a bit, I will, of course, share my thoughts. But that’ll be a couple of weeks away. In the meantime, I’d like to talk about a feature on the current phone that comes off as only partly baked.

The feature is simple in concept: if you’ve entered your home and work addresses in Maps, you’ll get notifications about the travel time between the two. These pop up during commute hours–home to work in the morning, and the reverse in the evening.

It’s actually quite handy. I don’t know that I need to know when the trip to work is going to take two minutes longer than usual, but I definitely want to know if I’m going to be stuck in traffic for half an hour.

But there are some weird omissions in the system, leaving it feeling unfinished.

For example, there are two routes I can take; on a typical day, the travel time between the two differs by less than five minutes. I almost always take the one that minimizes my time on the freeway because–Richmond Parkway notwithstanding–I prefer the scenery on that route.

Isn’t the Google Assistant supposed to learn your habits over time and improve the information it gives you? If so, it hasn’t been tied into the drive time feature, because the phone always gives me the travel time for the other route.

Then there’s the question of when the notifications appear. As far as I can tell, there’s no way to tweak the schedule. Mine, for example, is not a simple 9-5, M-F routine. The days vary, as do the hours. I’m not sure which is more annoying: not getting a drive time notification for a Saturday commute, getting a notification on a Tuesday when I’m not working, or getting the “going to work” update at 8:00 am on a day when I don’t start until noon.

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could tell whatever piece of the Google Assistant is responsible for these notices what my schedule is? Better yet, what if I could tell it to look for events on my calendar to clue it into the schedule automatically? Heck, I have a calendar conveniently named “Work”; I imagine I’m far from the only person who tracks their schedule that way. Wouldn’t it be awesome if the Google Assistant saw that calendar and asked if I wanted it to use that to show me relevant commute information?

Bottom line: a useful feature held back by what feels like an incomplete implementation.

But perhaps I’m doing the designers an injustice. There’s nothing wrong with building a tool to meet your own needs, and the current functionality is just fine if you (a) follow Google’s recommended route religiously–or have a shuttle driver who does–and (b) you’re always working–or work from home.

And, for all I know, the current limitations of the system are because my 2 XL is on Android 11 (and can’t be upgraded beyond that point). Perhaps that shiny new 6 Pro with Android 12 will add some controls so I can tweak the notifications to my needs.

Twofer

It’s technology week!

Okay, not really. But both Apple and Google decided the time was right to show off their upcoming toys.

Apple went first, announcing their goodies on Monday. Probably just as well, as they had much more to talk about.

They started by talking up improvements to Apple Music. Question: does anyone actually let Siri provide the music for their life? Apple claims they do, and so they’re improving Siri’s selection abilities. How? By turning the job over to human beings. You read that right. Humans will create mood-based playlists, and Siri will pick a playlist based on what you ask for.

Do we really need a voice control for that?

New colors coming for the HomePod mini. Great if you insist on color-coordinating your décor. The rest of us? Ho-hum.

New AirPods with support for spatial audio. Inevitable, but not exactly exciting for anyone who doesn’t use their iPhone as a movie theater. And you’ll still be able to buy the previous generation. I foresee great confusion down the road.

Of course, what everyone was really interested in was the new Macs. Because everyone wants an improved M1 chip. Well, everyone who wants a Mac, anyway. Let’s not make assumptions about just how good Apple’s brainwashingadvertising has gotten.

Up first, the new MacBook Pro. Built around the M1 Pro, which can have as much as 32GB of RAM–a big jump from the M1’s 8GB limit–and able to move data in and out of memory twice as fast. The result is a system 70% faster; twice as fast at graphics-related tasks. Impressive.

But if you really need power, you’re going to want the M1 Max. That basically doubles what the M1 Pro can do: twice as fast at memory operations, up to 64GB of RAM, and twice the graphics processors. Curiously, it’s only got the same number of CPU cores; wonder why they didn’t double those as well.

So the new MacBook Pro will, to paraphrase Apple’s hype, wipe the floor with the old MacBook Pro, to say nothing of all those awful Windows machines. Not that they’re gloating or anything.

Anyway, the new machines bring back all the ports the M1 MacBooks left out: HDMI, headphone, SD card reader. They are losing the Touch Bar, which disappoints me not a bit, but will no doubt annoy many loyal Apple fans. Nice touch: a new and improved MagSafe port for power, but you can still charge ’em with the Thunderbolt ports.

There’s a notch at the top of the display for the camera. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about that, but I kind of like the idea. Gives more physical space for the screen, and if you’ve got so much stuff in your Menu Bar that it runs into the notch, you probably ought to slim things down a bit anyway.

Preorders started Monday, first deliveries next week. Depending on the model and specs, you’ll be paying anywhere from $1999 to $6099.

From a technical perspective, I’ll admit to being impressed. Fiscally, too, but the numbers really aren’t that far out of line for a similarly specced Windows laptop.

But people are easily bored. Camera notch aside, I expect the complaints to start before Halloween. “It’s not fast enough for my workload.” “I need more Thunderbolt ports.” “When do we get a desktop with the M1 Max?” “Where’s the M2?”

Moving on to Google’s Tuesday announcements.

A much briefer announcement. Only two products (plus accessories): the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro.

Of course, most of the information leaked out earlier: new, Google-designed CPU, hugely improved cameras, etc., etc. The only really new information is the price point ($599 to $999 depending on model and storage) which is several hundred dollars below similarly specced iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones.

Oh, and one other new bit of information: Google is shifting to go head-to-head with Apple on services. They’ve got a bundle called “Pixel Pass” that gives you time payments on the phone, YouTube Premium, YouTube Music Premium, Google One storage, and Google Play Pass. A discount on Fi service. Accidental damage coverage is included as well.

The phones sound impressive, and Pixel Pass could be an excellent deal, especially if you were planning on buying the phone on time or were already paying for any of the premium services.

To nobody’s particular surprise, the Google Store is struggling. Preorders are (nominally) open with delivery around the end of the month, but as I write this on Tuesday afternoon, the store is up, but not able to process checkouts–assuming it doesn’t list all phones as out of stock. At that, it’s doing better than earlier in the day, when it was bouncing up and down like very erratic clockwork.

I’m very interested in the new phones. My current Pixel 2 XL is still working well enough, but the Lure of the New is getting to me–and I really want to see what kind of cat pictures I can take with the new cameras. I’ve been trying to preorder a Pro for the past hour, but I’m starting to suspect it’ll be at least a couple of months before I can actually get my hands on one.

Google I/O 2021

Sorry about the late post. I’ve been trying to get a handle on all of the critical news coming out of yesterday’s Google I/O keynote. Unlike years past, nobody’s done a live-blog of the presentation–not unreasonable, considering that it’s online for anyone to watch, but annoying for those of us who don’t want to be limited to realtime speed. (I don’t know about you, but I read a lot faster than I watch, and I don’t have much patience for videos that are, in effect, advertising.)

Anyway.

Google wants to be helpful. Well, Google wants to make lots of money, but if they can do it by being helpful, why not? So they’re introducing features like Google Maps routings that are optimized for fuel efficiency or weather-and-traffic safety. Seems like a useful initiative. I don’t have any more qualms about it than I do over any use Google makes of the information they’re gathering about us.

Google Workspace–the business-oriented set of tools that includes Docs, GMail, Meet, and so on–is getting something called “Smart Canvas”. It’s supposed to allow for better collaboration. For example, having a Meet video conference while collaboratively editing a Sheet document. Again, useful, at least for that subset of the world that needs it. And not hugely more intrusive than any of the individual tools alone.

Here’s one that really looks good: Google is adding an automatic password change feature to Chrome. This builds on the existing feature that alerts you if your password has been exposed in a data breach. Now it’ll have an option to take you to the site and walk through the password change process for you. I do wonder if you’ll be able to use it to change your Google password periodically; that’s something you should do anyway, and especially if you’re using the password manager built into Chrome. Speaking of which, that Chrome password manager will soon be able to import passwords from other password managers. Handy if you’re using Chrome everywhere, but those of us who use other browsers occasionally will probably want to stick with a third-party manager.

Some privacy additions here and there. A locked folder for Google Photos is a natural; we should have had that years ago.

Then there are the counter-privacy features. The keynote highlighted updates to Google Lens that will let you take a picture of somebody and find out where their shoes are sold. Because that’s not creepy at all.

What else?

New look and feel in Android 12–which will probably be released in the Fall–and some iOS-catchup features. Showing on-screen indicators when an app is using the camera or microphone is worthwhile, but they’re also introducing one of my least-favorite iOS features: using your phone as your car key. That’s coming first to BMW, which somehow doesn’t surprise me a bit. I suspect Lexus won’t be far behind. But I digress.

One useful update (for a small subset of users) is the ability to use your phone as a TV remote control. Mind you, it’ll only work with devices running Android TV OS. That does include the Chromecast with Google TV and NVidia Shield devices, so there’s a decent pool of users, but it’s unlikely to replace all your current remotes. There’s an opportunity here for somebody to step up and fill the universal remote void that Logitech’s decision to stop making Harmony remotes is leaving.

And that’s pretty much it. No hardware announcements. We’ll probably get those sometime in late summer, when we get close to the Android 12 release.