Earlier this week, Android Police reported that the company was once again giving away Google Home Mini speakers to subscribers of its Google One storage service. Users with paid plans of over 2TB said they received an email offering them a free home speaker. Google also offered this perk to Google One subscribers earlier this year.
Google has been pushing the compact home speakers, likely in a move to expand market share in the voice assistant space. The company partnered with Spotify to give away free Google Home Minis to premium family plan members and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation in a donation to 100,000 patients living with paralysis, along other giveaway promotions. Morgan Stanley analyst Brian Nowak has suggested the company go a step further – offering a free Google Home Mini to every U.S. household. Google has not taken that advice – yet.
While Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant remains the clear market leader in the smart speaker market – Google Home has made inroads over the past few years, now possessing about 25 percent of the U.S. market.
The speaker retails for about $49 – although interested buyers (who do not receive one for free) may find one at a reduced price through a third-party retailer.
I asked Google for comment, but did not hear back. I will update the article if I receive a statement.
I’m a Los Angeles-based contributing writer for Forbes covering Google and Alphabet. I’m also a writer and curator for Inside.com, where I have covered a variety ot topics, ranging from automotive to Google. Send tips, pitches or notes via email (email@example.com), on Twitter (@dudejohan) or on Signal (714-331-5730).
India is the world’s largest market for motorbikes, with two-wheelers making up 70% of all vehicles registered by its 1.3 billion residents. It’s these motorbike drivers, more so than car owners, that Google needs to please as it competes for mindshare in this emerging market. So when user research showed that motorbikers in India didn’t find Maps useful, a team in Google’s Seattle office was tasked with figuring out how to change it.
A dive into the data revealed that motorbike drivers would only open the app for about 30 seconds and then close it. The team of product experts hypothesized that drivers needed more guidance on their route, so they spun up a prototype that would provide more in-ride prompts. But when they tested it with users in Jaipur, the largest city in the Indian state of Rajasthan, the prototype flopped.
The trials and errors to make Maps work better in India were a wake-up call, says Lauren Celenza, lead designer on Google’s two-wheeler project. As Google aims to reach more users in emerging markets like India, South East Asia, Africa and Latin America, the company needed to better integrate user research with product design.
“Opening up of the process beyond the walls of our offices is a playbook that we’re looking to for future projects,” Celenza says.
After actually spending time in India talking to people, the product team realized that the exact opposite of their initial assumption was true: Motorbike drivers didn’t want to look at or listen to their phones at all as they navigated the crowded and often chaotic roads. Instead, they wanted clearer guidance before starting out.
That initial design process highlights the too common tech industry hubris wherein companies launch tools for people far away without proper preparation or understanding of regional wants, needs or cultural differences. At its most anodyne, this approach leads to unpopular products. But it can also fuel real-world crises, like fake news and hate-speech going viral in Myanmar because Facebook didn’t have enough Burmese-speaking moderators.
The Google Maps team on the project ended up building a “two-wheeler mode” with customized routes for motorbikes that simplifies the maps and highlights landmarks to make it easier for drivers to understand and memorize the way before starting out. Since that product launched about a year and a half ago, its usage has grown from one million daily users to 5 million, and Google has launched the feature in more than a dozen new markets.
Two-wheeler mode falls under the domain of what Google calls its “Next Billion Users” initiative to reach users in emerging markets, either by launching new products or adapting old ones. For example, Google launched data-light and offline versions of Search, YouTube and Maps, and created an India-specific payments service called Tez.
“We need to do a lot more work to make sure our technologies and our services actually work really well for these users, including designing the right products for their unique needs,” Caesar Sengupta, vice president of Google’s Next Billion Users group, tells Forbes. “The amount of work we have left to do is still huge.”
In the past year, Google has faced a handful of controversies about how it cooperates with foreign governments. In August, the Intercept reported that the company was working on a version of its search engine in China that would comply with the country’s strict censorship laws. U.S. politicians, human rights activists and Google employees criticized the project, describing it as a tool for oppression and a slap in the face of Internet freedom. Google eventually told Congress in December that it has “no plans” to launch a search engine in China.
“The world is evolving fast,” he said. “We need to be constantly looking at what we’re doing and what are the right ways to be doing something.”
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Ahead of the annual Google I/O developer festival opening its doors on Tuesday, Google has already made one major announcement: it will soon start deleting your data automatically.
Writing in the official Google safety and security blog, David Monsees and Marlo McGriff, the product managers for Google search and maps respectively, say that the company is responding to user feedback asking to make managing data privacy and security simpler. “You can already use your Google Account to access simple on/off controls for Location History and Web & App Activity,” they say, “and if you choose, to delete all or part of that data manually.” What’s new is the soon to be rolled out “auto-delete controls” that will enable users to set time limits on how long Google can save your data.
Said to be arriving within weeks, the new controls will apply to location history as well as web and app activity data to start with. Users will be able to choose a time limit of between three and 18 months after which the data concerned will automatically delete on a rolling basis. You can already delete this data manually if you want, but the ability to have it deleted automatically is long overdue in my never humble opinion. Especially given reports last year that suggested Google was storing location data even when users had turned off location history and considering the somewhat arduous manual deletion process.
Not that everyone will want to delete this data of course. As with most things online these days it comes down to a choice between privacy and function. Actually, make that a balance between the two as it’s rare for anyone to be totally binary when it comes to such matters truth be told. Google says that this data “can make Google products more useful for you, like recommending a restaurant that you might enjoy, or helping you pick up where you left off on a previous search.” If you are of the don’t store any of my location data thank you very much persuasion, then disabling location history altogether would seem like a better option given that some mobile apps can track location data when they aren’t running. For everyone else, the new auto-deletion controls will be a welcome weapon in the “taking back control of at least some of your data” arsenal.
Keep checking the Data & Personalization section of your Google account settings, specifically the “Manage your activity controls” option I would imagine, to see if the function has rolled out for you in the coming weeks.
This may go down in history as the week the mobile web became the web. On Monday, Google began indexing and ranking pages on its search engine based on the mobile versions of websites rather than the desktop ones, the company announced. The change may seem minor, but it underscores how Google views and presents the web to the world—as mobile first.
Google has a single index that serves search results on mobile and desktop, the company said, so desktop search results will be fed by the mobile-first index, too. Webpages that only have desktop versions will continue to be included in the Google’s index based on their desktop sites. It added that content gathered through mobile-first indexing will have no ranking advantage over desktop or mobile content that’s not gathered in this way yet.