Google’s Contact Lens is Now With You

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Welcome to this morning’s edition of “First To Know,” a series in which we keep you in the know on what’s happening in the digital world.

VISIT ALSO:Now Your Classes into Google Glasses

Today, we’re looking at three particularly interesting stories. Google is fighting the good fight against diabetes in true Google style. The company announced a smart contact lens project on its official blog, and even included a photo of the prototype device. According to a report onRe/code, Twitter could be launching an attack on e-commerce sites like Amazon and eBay. And, according to 9to5Mac, Apple is making it easier and less expensive for users to have their broken iPhone screens repaired.

Check out the video above for more on these stories.

Ask Professional; For Designer/Developer Roadmap

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Developing apps requires many people, so it’s crucial to establish a workflow to organize the parties involved.

The latest video in our Ask a Dev series looks at ways developers and designers can collaborate. Android director Ajay Pall says teamwork and communication are key when developing applications.

“This ensures fleshing out of concerns from both developers and designers, which enables the team to deliver the application successfully,” he says.

The video, above, also looks at how developers can create links in their applications that open a second application. Pall explains that this function is handled with the intents system on Android.

Similarly, deep linking is another way to link to your app. In deep linking, search results that appear in Google Chrome on an Android device can be linked with a native application. For example, when searching for a movie online, a result using deep linking would automatically launch a movie app instead of its mobile web page.

The deep linking feature is new and available to only a small number of test developers. However, Pall recommends studying the system now, so developers can be ready to use the tool once Google rolls it out to a larger audience.

Our developer experts are from Mutual Mobile, a leading development and design firm that builds mobile strategies for top companies such as Audi, Google and Citigroup. The team is eager to answer your questions about mobile, so ping us with your top queries on Twitter, using the hashtag #AskaDev. Don’t forget to check out our Ask a Dev YouTube channel and subscribe.

Google’s Fiber Project Backbones Increase Internet Speed

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Google is creating a fiber optic network to bring faster connectivity to one of Earth’s biggest, yet somehow most internet-disconnected, continents: Africa. With Project Link, the search giant is offering Uganda’s capital city a reprieve from dial-up speeds and shoddy uplinks by offering local internet providers and mobile carriers access to its broadband network, which they can in turn offer to their respective customers. According to Mountain View, only 16 percent of the continent’s some billion residents are online; hopefully this initiative is the start of bumping that number significantly. Still, the implementation is in the hands of Kampala’s data providers — we’re crossing our fingers that they don’t muck up Google’s graciousness with greed and high prices. As it stands though, this seems like a much more, ahem, grounded method for bringing the internet to remote areas than balloons ever did.

VISIT ALSO: Now Your Classes into Google Glasses

Way you can balance your personal and professional life

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Google has built an empire with a search engine that answers your questions, and now the company hopes humans can do the same.

Google on Tuesday announced Helpouts, a new tool that connects users via live video chat with experts who can help them with questions about home improvement, cooking or even medical advice. Helpouts serves as a Google-vetted marketplace where approved companies such as Sephora, One Medical and Rosetta Stone can offer their services to interested parties in real-time over live video.

VISIT ALSO: Now Your Classes into Google Glasses

So far, Google has invited 1,000 companies to participate, and plans to keep the marketplace “invitation only” for now.

Vendors can set their own prices, charging users either by the minute or by the session, but Google anticipates a number of services will also be offered for free. (Google takes 20% of each transaction.) Users can choose to set up an appointment with a particular company, or if someone is available, speak to them instantly via video.

“With [Google Helpouts], we can open the whole world to everybody,” said Udi Manber, Google’s vice-president of engineering. “Most of the world’s most useful information [still] resides in people’s heads.”

The new service works in a way that highlights many of Google’s other products. The actual video conferencing is done using Google Hangouts; vendors and experts are found using Google search; payments are accepted only through Google Wallet; and users must have a Google+ profile in order to join a Helpout, creating a safe environment in which they can interact using their real identities, Manber said.

The issue of safety is magnified when users are not only connecting with strangers over video

The issue of safety is magnified when users are not only connecting with strangers over video, but also paying them for their services. Google has enforced a handful of safeguards in hopes of preventing any issues. For example, users can immediately exit a video call, and report a vendor or user if there is any form of harassment or inappropriate behavior. Manber also said he has no plans to allow “adult uses” of the service.

Google must invite each company that offers a service to the platform, and all professionals are vetted and checked, according to Osi Imeokparia, Helpouts’ director of product management.

Users are asked to leave feedback after a connection ends, meaning the marketplace will be regulated in many ways by customer reviews. Users who feel their experience left them shortchanged can request a full refund, with Google picking up the tab. If a vendor is more than five minutes late to an appointment, or claims they are available but do not connect to the video conference, the session will be free.

The biggest privacy concern may come from users who want to use Helpouts for health and wellness purposes, including sessions with a clinical psychologist. Google said that Helpouts is HIPAA-certified already, which means the platform has the necessary safeguards in place to ensure the online privacy of patient information and medical records.

Despite all the areas that Google has addressed, the new tool is in its infancy, and leaves the door open for other integrations later on. For starters, YouTube is already full of self-help videos that offer instruction on everything from tying a tie to learning to play clarinet. In the future, users who find a particular teacher they like may be able to request that instructor for a Helpout straight from the YouTube page.

Helpouts hasn’t partnered with any medical-insurance companies, which means users can’t get the free or reduced coverage through Helpouts that they might get by walking into a clinic. Helpouts only accepts Google Wallet, too, so users need to either create a wallet or stick to free services.

As with all new products, Helpouts should continue to evolve with user feedback.

“If there’s one reason that I think the Internet is so powerful and successful, it’s that it brings a completely new level of efficiency and convenience,” Manber said. “And efficiency and convenience always win in the end.”

Helpouts launched at 12:00 a.m. ET Tuesday, and is also available in the Google Play store for Android mobile users. An iOS app will come eventually, but no timetable has been set, according to a Google spokesperson.

Let your Instrument get Composed, Car Routed with Google Glass

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Google Glass’s voice commands could extend far beyond “OK Glass,” the device’s firmware suggests.

Android Police reviewed the latest firmware update and found a long list of potential new features, including voice commands such as “call me a car,” “translate this” and “tune an instrument.”

SEE ALSO: Now Your Classes into Google Glasses

Android Police explains that certain commands may work with specific applications, much like how Glass’ current “take a note” command allows a wearer to virtually jot down thoughts within Evernote.

For example, the newly discovered “find a recipe” command could be used with “KitchMe, an app that currently allows Explorers to send recipes to Glass,” Android Police writes. Likewise, the firmware includes a “play a game” voice command, which could be used with existing Glass apps and inspire more development for games in the future.

In total, Android Police found 19 new voice commands: add a calendar event, call me a car, capture a panorama, check me in, created a 3D model, find a recipe, learn a song, play a game, play music, record a recipe, remind me to, show a compass, start a bike ride, start a round of golf, start a run, start a stop watch, start a timer, translate this and tune an instrument.

In addition to new voice commands, the firmware features new eye commands, too.

“They’ve added a ‘double blink’ detector, potentially for control by blinking twice in rapid succession,” Android Police reports.

We’re not sure what utility a double blink would command, but Glass already allows users to take a photo by winking.

The review also shows an expanded emphasis on music. There’s now a layout for album art, album names, track names and artists’ names, which pairs nicely with the new “play music” voice command in the updated Glass firmware.

Now Your Classes into Google Glasses

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“I’m not really sure whether my dog helped me become a Glass explorer,” Dr. William J. Ward, a social media professor at Syracuse University, said. He was being serious. “In my pitch to Google to be part of its Glass Explorer program, I said I would share the social global classroom. But I also said I’d bring my dog — Ty the Wonder Dog — into it.”

Ward is making good on that pitch to Google and teaching two classes this semester, Social Media for Communicators and Social Media Theory and Practice, in which Google Glass doesn’t just augment learning — it’s the focus of the curriculum.

VISIT ALSO: Now Your Photos are Into Paint Chips with Google Glass Apps

The class involves one semester-long assignment: Try out Google Glass, dream up ideas for useful apps, develop those ideas in teams and use social media to garner votes for the best concepts. The winning ideas will be developed into actual Google Glass app prototypes.

Last week, students had 10 minutes each to pitch their Glass app ideas before a panel of expert judges, comprised of startup founders and professors, who offer constructive feedback. One app promised to help children with autism learn through videos; another would interface with restaurants to find out accurate wait times; yet another would allow “time travel,” to show what an area looked like 50 years ago (“ meets real life,” the student developers called it).

Now, students are refining their concepts and preparing to launch them on a slew of social networks to see which ideas gain traction and which ones flop.

This feedback, from millions of strangers on Twitter, Vine, InstagramFacebook and Google+, will be the ultimate determining factor of success. Ward puts great faith in the wisdom of the crowd.

“Companies are trying to figure out Glass and mobile, and here are students figuring out solutions and solving problems on their own,”

“Companies are trying to figure out Glass and mobile, and here are students figuring out solutions and solving problems on their own,” Ward said. Glass is expected to be a $3 billion-plus market. “Hopefully, that experience helps them prepare to jump into a company grappling with those issues — or start their own business.”

The class then rallies around the “winning” apps — the ones that receive the most positive feedback, Likes and shares on social platforms — and helps to build them into prototypes, perhaps eventually launching them on Kickstarter. (At that point, Ward said, they’ll reach out to alumni to help with funding.) App development takes up the rest of the semester; a developer at the university will provide coding assistance.

But this doesn’t mean a ton of tweets equals an A for the semester. Grades aren’t based on the final product; students’ projects are scored along the way.

“They’re rated on how well they tell [their app’s] story,” Ward said. “If you can’t convince people of your idea’s merits, you’ll never get it off the ground.”

Now travel made easier by Google Map’s Features

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Even as Apple has been trying to rework its maps efforts — with a radical new redesign for iOS 7 and Hopstop acquisition — Google has been consistently adding features in its Google Maps app after it came back on iOS in December 2012 and quickly surpassed 10 million downloads. Google has since rolled out update after update, like live traffic alerts and transit updates in major cities. It bought traffic navigation app Waze in June.

Now, it is adding four small features to the new beta of Google Maps (launched three months ago) that hints at its strategy in travel, beyond its main search additions:

Directions for multiple destinations: This seems like an obvious feature to have, and after stripping it out initially, it is back. And it is available for driving, walking and biking directions.

Multiple destinations for city attractions: A subset of the above feature, this allows users to add museums, historic squares and other attractions by dragging and dropping in the order desired, and it adds the Views carousel in the bottom right corner, a way to preview Street View, Photo Tours and other imagery.

Seeing pre-booked flight, hotel and restaurant reservations right in Maps: This is potentially the biggest out of the four, and it’s borrowed from Google Search. Users can find their existing flight, hotel and restaurant reservations right in Maps, using airport codes or names of dining destination, and it’ll instantly show your upcoming plans. This info is only available when a user is signed into Google, and only they can see it for privacy reasons. This feature is currently rolling out to Maps users in the U.S. and is available in English only.

Search for upcoming events: Adding events information based on venues. For example, searching for Radio City Music Hall or the O2 Arena and clicking on the Upcoming Events card shows a schedule of concerts, sports matches and other events happening near the users. Or users can start with a more generic search like “music venues.”

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