Ever logged into Gmail, Google Docs, or any other Google product and thought, “Whoa, when did they add that new feature?” Google is constantly making updates to their products, but you’d never know without regularly digging through their many project blogs and Google+ posts. So every week (or two) we like to find out what the company’s been working on, then condense it all into one convenient post. This time around one of the best extensions for Chrome OS has come to regular Chrome, Google Docs for Android added real time collaboration, and Google Map Maker launched a university campus mapping contest.
Here’s all that in detail, plus a quick rundown of some minor posts.
Chrome Chat Extension Drops the “Chromebook Only” Tag
There are lots of ways to access Google’s chat service, from the full desktop client to the web-based versions in Gmail, iGoogle, and Google+, but none are as elegant as the chat found on Chromebooks. The Chrome OS “panel” feature allows Google Talk to run permanently docked in the lower-right corner of the screen no matter what tab is in view—so no switching back to Gmail just to answer a new message. This week Google finally updated their chat extension to work in regular versions of Chrome, so now everyone can enjoy one of the cleanest chat implementations we’ve seen.
The extension is surprisingly full-featured for a first-run Google products. Voice/video chat and file transfer are built in, and there’s a button to quickly launch a Google+ Hangout. The docked chat windows stay up when Chrome is minimized or even closed, so the extension could easily replace the full desktop client. We really like the cleanliness of the panels, but if you prefer your chat windows to be free-floating you can turn them off in the options. We do miss Gmail’s handy SMS feature, but hopefully that will be added in a later update. And since the extension can run without any tabs open, we'd love to see a way to launch it without having to launch the full browser first.
Docs for Android Starts Collaborating
Ever since the dedicated Google Docs app for Android released, the team has been pushing to get it up to speed with the full web product. The latest version adds some big improvements, most notably support for one of Google Docs’ slickest features: real time collaboration that shows updates as they are typed. The update also includes pinch-to-zoom support, which lets users slide out to full document view or down to an individual word, as well as rich text formatting like color, lists, and other commonly used options. Overall the this is a really nice update to the Docs app that makes mobile editing significantly more robust.
Map Your Campus for Prizes
Google Map Maker is the company’s attempt to crowdsource more detail into Maps, and lately they’ve been focusing those efforts on college campuses. Earlier this month they launched the Map Your University 2012 Competiton, which promises prizes like Android tablets/phones, GPS devices, and more to teams that thoroughly and accurately update their campus in Map Maker. The contest runs through March 9, and if you’re interested in getting a team together you can register through the contest website.
Odds and Ends
- Following the release of Chrome for Android, Google has released a Chrome to Mobile extension that lets users send live pages from their desktop to their phone. The Chrome to Phone extension has provided the same capability for some time now, so we’re curious whether the new extension will eventually take over for it.
- The Google+ iOS app has been updated to include instant upload and the What’s Hot stream.
- Google Maps now saves starred locations, places you’ve rated and checked-in, saved custom maps, and recent searches under the My Places button.
- The revamped presentations editor in Google Docs is now enabled for all new presentations.
- Google Earth 6.2 (and 6.2 Pro) has been released, and features a streamlined search interface.
- The Chrome Web store has added subcategories to make finding apps easier.
- In Soviet Russia, Street Views you! (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
- Google Search now shows concert information for music searches, and possibly-related medical conditions for symptom queries. Image search has also been updated with a handy “Related searches” feature. Results pages now suggest alternate searches along the top, and when you hover over one of them you’ll get a pop-up of the top results for that query.
- Google TV has updated its YouTube experience to work faster with smoother navigation.
- Flight Search is now available when searching on Android and iOS devices.