Google Now is so yesterday, since there is now Google Assistant.
Last week Google held its Developer Conference, Google IO, in Mountain View, California. While no new products were released to coincide with the conference, Google showed a number of products that will be coming out this summer and others later on.
There were a few items that hopefully will make family life a bit easier.
Full two hour version of Keynote
Twelve Minute edited version of keynote
Google Now, Google’s interface for talking to your Android or iPhone, is now called Google Assistant. You can now carry on a conversation with Assistant more than in the past.
In the keynote speech, Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai asked, “What’s showing nearby” and was shown a list of movies. He said: “We want to take the kids” and the list was amended to show only family-friendly films.
The Assistant asked, “Would you like tickets to any of these?” and he answered, “Jungle Book.” The app bought tickets online and had them waiting at the theater.
You can ask Assistant, “Who is Brad Pitt?” and it answers verbally and shows pertinent web pages, like his entry in Wikipedia and IMDB.com. If asked, “How old is he?” it knows I meant Brad Pitt. I didn’t have to repeat the name. Google understood I meant the person I’d last asked about and answered correctly.
Google Assistant learns about you as you use it. Plus, if you use other Google services like Gmail, Calendar and the like, it knows what is in them. And, if you have location tracking turned on, it knows the routes you take to work. While that might bother some people, you get benefits from Google knowing so much about you.
Google also announced a new hardware product, Google Home, its version of Amazon’s Echo. Both products are small devices that sit in your home and listen for you to call to them.
Home can answer any question Google Assistant can answer. It also has a built-in speaker so it can play music from many music services, or you can send it music stored on your phone.
I do not know its ship date or cost yet. Amazon’s Echo is $179, so I’m certain Home will be competitive.
Google also upped its game in Virtual Reality. At its conference two years ago, Google gave out Google Cardboard, a device with lenses, a switch and Velcro, literally made of cardboard. It held your phone and coupled with an app, gave you a wonderful introduction to VR. Links to buy your own are on this week’s link post at FamilyTechOnline.com.
At the conference, Google announced its upcoming Android N operating system will have VR features so manufacturers can build VR devices and not have to create their own software. And Google showed a reference design for a VR headset and controller called Daydream.
Manufacturers are free to build devices using that design, and Google may itself build and sell a Daydream device. In the near future Android phones will also have VR enhancements built in.
Google showed Allo, an innovative chat app. It does all the things we expect: chat, emojis, stickers, photos, etc. It lets you whisper or shout a line of your message by sliding a bar to enlarge or reduce the text. And, you can draw over a photo to accentuate it.
Google has tied its artificial intelligence abilities to Allo. If someone mentions in the chat going to a Chinese restaurant, Google will offer to show you nearby Chinese restaurants. Once you’ve agreed to meet at one, the app can make a reservation for you.
And there is Duo, a one-to-one video-phone messaging app. It switches seamlessly from wifi to cell data and has an innovative Knock feature. When you get a Duo call, you see the caller and what they are doing, although they don’t see you until you answer.
Both Allo and Duo do not require a Google account.
Allo and Duo have tough mountains to climb. WhatsApp and Facebook’s own Messenger have billions of users already. If your friends don’t use Allo or Duo, you won’t have anyone to chat or video call.
And a caveat, some announced products may never appear. Previous IO conferences have shown products that never saw the light of day.
Check out this week’s Link post at www.FamilyTechOnline for videos showing these apps, devices and services.
Your home likely has its own facilities manager – the person whose job it is to make sure the heater filters get changed, the outside water is turned off for the winter – that sort of thing.
Your home also likely has someone who has central oversight of the technology – or should.
Back when technology in the home meant one personal computer, that computer was in the family room for all to share. More or less, one person was in charge and made sure there was enough disk space for all, and would do updates to the operating system periodically.
But as computers became cheap and many families got one for every member, or some may have abandoned using a PC in favor of tablets or phones, central control was often lost.
Yet a level of oversight is still needed. All the devices in the home likely use wi-fi, so someone needs to make sure it is working-- as well as knowing how to reboot it if needed and when that is needed. That person needs to be the one to contact the internet service provider if there is a problem.
If you decide to appoint someone as the family IT director, the first thing that person should do is create an inventory of all devices, their model numbers, purchase dates and who uses them.
That person also needs to know what version of the operating system the devices use, if they are actively used and even if they still work.
Capture the serial numbers and any other necessary information, such as if there is a service agreement, and keep all this on a spreadsheet.
If you have devices no one uses, consider selling them on sites like Gazelle, eBay or Craig’s List.
For PCs, the family IT director should check to see that antivirus software had been installed and that scans are being done regularly – at least once a week. That person should check to see if there are any viruses or malware on them that need to be dealt with.
Often if someone does not know how to deal with a problem, they’ll let it ride and hope for the best. But a virus on one PC could spread to others on the home network.
The IT director should have a regular schedule for auditing a device to make sure scans are working, backups are being done and there is still adequate hard-drive storage. If it is a child’s PC, have them sit there with you so they know you are not snooping, and they will learn what you are doing and why.
If there is any mission-critical data on the PC that should be backed up regularly, the IT director should put a backup process in place for all PCs, and make sure all phones are automatically backing up photos to somewhere like Google Photos.
Updates to apps and the operating system not only give you new features but also apply critical security patches.
The IT director should ensure everyone is educated about safe computing. They need to know not to open attachments on emails unless they are certain who sent them and the attachment is something they would send. Schools now teach digital citizenship as early as kindergarten as part of their technology curriculum. Ask your child to show you what they have learned.
Ramsonware, harmful software that encrypts your data and demands big payments, often comes as an attachment on an email designed to look like something important from your bank, the IRS or some other entity.
Know how old your devices are and if they are due for a replacement. If you have a PC still running Windows XP, it is too old. Eight years is old for a PC. If a PC is too old for an upgrade to Windows 10, it’s time to think about a new PC.
Likewise with phones. One more than 3 years old will not support the most recent versions of iOS or Android, and that could lead to security problems.
It’s a thankless job being the family IT guy, but future columns will try and make it a bit easier.
The Prince William Newspaper publishes Family Tech in its Lifestyle section. This week they have renamed the newspaper to InsideNova-Prince William, and have revamped their Lifestyle section. They will be carrying Family Tech every other week. So look for the text Family Tech to post here on Saturday May 14th at 9 AM.