May 15, 2013

Google unveils latest innovations

The message from Google’s showcase: Let technology do the walking ... and everything else.

Michael Liedtke / The Associated Press

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Meanwhile, Google is streamlining its communications tools, offering a new app to combine its chat and Hangout services. It keeps a record of past conversations, though there's a way to turn that off. It will be available for Android and Apple devices, as well as regular Web browsers on computers. The new application is called Hangouts.

GOOGLE PLUS

Google is adding 41 features to its Google Plus social network as it tries to turn it into a more formidable threat to Facebook. The new features started appearing Wednesday and draw upon the computing power, algorithms and other innovations that have made Google the leader in search.

A new photo-management tool will pick out the best shots from a wide assortment of photos. Just upload a bunch, and Google's machines will reject ones that are blurry or don't have people smiling. Another factor is Google's knowledge of who's important to you -- so family members or close friends are more likely to make the cut.

If the photos don't look quite right, Google is promising to enhance them, taking over a job that typically requires people to buy and master special photo-editing software. Computer-controlled editing tools will automatically remove red eyes, soften skin tones, sharpen colors and adjust contrast. Google offers something similar through an "I'm Feeling Lucky" button on its Picasa editing software.

Another feature promises to stitch together a sequence of photos taken of the same group of people or a panoramic scene. This stitching system can be used to create a single photo that pulls the best shots of everyone featured in a series of pictures. It will also produce an animated clip featuring the motions of people captured in a succession of photos taken against the same background.

Google is also expanding the storage limit for full-resolution photos. Instead of five gigabytes for free per account, you'll get 15 gigabytes.

Other enhancements to Google Plus include a newly designed stream of content, which moves away from the list of posts found on Facebook. It will also automatically add hash tags to identify the main topic being discussed in a post or featured in a photo, and it will use those tags to bring you related posts. Facebook doesn't use hash tags, though Twitter and Instagram do.

ONLINE GAMES

Google is adding leaderboards and the ability to match players in online games to its Android operating system for smartphones and tablet computers. The new features match those available in Apple's Game Center for the iPhone and iPad. Google is also making it possible to save game progress online, so players can pick up games where they left off, even on other devices.

Getting into gaming gives Google an opportunity to participate in one of the most popular activities on mobile devices.

Google says the leaderboards will also be available through a browser on regular computers. Apple's Game Center works on Mac computers, too.

NEW PHONE

A variant of Samsung Electronics Co.'s Galaxy S4 phone will run a pure version of Android. That's the version that Google makes and distributes, not the one modified by Samsung to include a host of features that have been dismissed as confusing gimmicks in reviews by The Associated Press and others.

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