Google Play Instant lets you try games without having to install them

Last year, Google launched Instant Apps, a way for developers to give users a native app experience that didn’t involve having to install anything. Users would simply click on a link on the search results page and the instant app would load. Today, the company is extending this program to games. Thanks to this, you can now see what playing a level or two of Clash Royale, Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire or Panda Pop is like without having to go through the usual install procedure. Instead, you simply head for the Google Play store, find a game that supports this feature, and hit the “Try now” button. Google Play product managers Jonathan Karmel and Benjamin Frenkel told me that the team learned a lot from the experience with building Instant Apps. For games, though, the team decided to increase the maximum file size from 2 MB
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Google introduces ‘Shopping Actions’ to help retailers in their battle with Amazon

Google announced this morning a new plan to help retailers take on Amazon – and give Google a cut of their sales in the process. The search giant will allow retailers to list their products across Google Search, in its Google Express shopping service, and in the Google Assistant app for smartphones and on smart speakers, like the Google Home. The program offers online shoppers a universal cart whether they’re shopping on mobile, desktop or via a voice-powered device. That latter item is especially important to retailers, given that Amazon has tied voice shopping to its Echo devices, and has claimed the majority of market share in smart speakers for the time being. And you aren’t able to shop Walmart from an Echo, of course. Google is working with a range of top retailers on the new effort, including Target, Walmart, Ulta Beauty, Costco, and Home Depot. Some of these
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VR, presence and the case of the missing killer app

Compelling virtual reality shipped to developers and consumers nearly two years ago. The first flagship headsets arrived from Oculus and HTC back in the spring of 2016, offering enough resolution, frame rate, field of view, latency mitigation and position-tracking to produce believable visual immersion.

But no one seems to know what to do with it. To date, no killer app has extended the promise of VR from a novelty to a sticky experience or utility that reaches beyond enthusiasts to resonate with the consumer center of mass.

This isn’t to say that great experiences don’t exist. Apps like Tilt Brush, Elite: Dangerous and Google Earth VR have earned rave reviews and plaudits from enthusiasts. But we have yet to see a household phenomenon like Halo or Lotus 1-2-3 — applications that single-handedly propelled their respective platforms to wide use. At CES 2018, one industry analyst referred to VR as “

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Google adds a wheelchair-accessible option for transit maps

Google Maps has a pretty solid set of data for taking transit from here to there, but anyone with a physical disability knows it isn’t quite that simple. Some stations may be wheelchair-unfriendly, have out-of-service elevators, that kind of thing. A new update to the service adds an option for you to specify a wheelchair-accessible route — though that’s just a start on what’s really needed. Transit riders in London, New York, Tokyo, Mexico City, Boston and Sydney will now have the option to select “wheelchair accessible” in their route options in the same way they might opt to have fewer transfers or minimal walking. More are on the way. No doubt this will make life easier for disabled folks, people with strollers or even anyone lugging around something heavy. But maps, even Google’s extremely detailed ones, are still extremely short on information critical to anyone with a physical disability.
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Google spent about $270K to close pay gaps across race and gender

Google says there are currently no “statistically significant” pay gaps at the company across race and gender. This is based on the company’s most recent pay analysis, where it looked at unexplained pay discrepancies based on gender and race and then made adjustments where necessary, Google wrote in a blog post today. In total, Google found statistically significant pay differences for 228 employees across six job groups. So, Google increased the compensation for each of those employees, which came out to about $270,000 in total before finalizing compensation planning. That group of 228 employees included women and men from several countries, including the U.S., as well as black and Latinx employees in the U.S. In its analysis, Google says it looked at every job group with at least 30 employees and at least five people for every demographic group for which Google has data, like race and
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Android Wear is becoming ‘Wear OS by Google’

Android Wear hasn’t exactly been the rocket ship of success Google was no doubt banking on when it was launched four years ago this week.

After a slow start, the company issued a 2.0 refresh of the wearable operating system in early 2017 — but the update was fairly minimal and didn’t appear to move the needle. A few months after the new version was announced, Tizen overtook Wear in global market share, courtesy of Samsung’s adoption of the open operating system.

Perhaps Wear needs a new coat of paint — or at the very least, a new name. It’s getting the latter today. Google announced via blog post that Android Wear is now Wear OS. Or, more accurately, Wear OS  by Google.

“We’re announcing a new name that better reflects our technology, vision, and most important of all—the people who wear our watches,” Wear OS Director of

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Google is launching playable in-game ads

Maybe you’ve seen this kind of ad in a game you have played: your character dies and then the game asks you to watch a short video ad in return for an extra life. That’s actually a feature of Google’s AdMob advertising service, and today it’s extending this with playable ads, a new type of ad that fits far better into a game. Google calls these types of ads “rewarded ads” and with the Game Developers Conference coming up next week, this is the perfect time to launch these new playable ads. More than 45 percent of AdMob’s top 1,000 gaming partners already use rewarded ads to monetize their apps, and the new playable ads will work just like rewarded video ads. In return for playing a mini-game — and either doing well in that or potentially installing the full game — players can get an extra life or maybe
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