Google Maps becomes more suitable for bicycles

Cyclists could be the only beings on the planet who still ask for directions from others. This is because there is a lot of bike specific knowledge needed that you can only get from other riders. How steep is that hill? How are the cycle paths on this route? An app usually can’t tell you these things.

Now, Google is adding some new features to Maps that want tell you those things. The improved view for cyclists includes more cycle route data (if available) showing where cycle paths are, how heavy the vehicular traffic is and whether the chosen route includes a steep hill. It can also warn you of stairs along the way or tell you that you have a few sections of gravel to wait. The maps will also provide turn-by-turn directions made just for bikes.

Cyclists will now have to find some other excuse to talk to each other. Perhaps they can complain about the lack of investment in transport infrastructure.

Google also adds 3D photorealistic views of landmarks and more nuanced tools to share your location with others. Earlier this year, the company unveiled a Maps feature it calls Immersive View, a souped-up Street View setting that lets you zoom in and pan around the world with unprecedented freedom. Google’s new benchmarks aren’t quite that, and the company hasn’t said when the feature will actually come out, but it looks like a step in that direction.

Along with the Maps update, some changes are coming to the Google Play Store, the official repository of apps on Android devices. The updates aim to clean up some of the nastiest app practices on the store. This includes banning similar apps that try to trick people into downloading them, removing vaccine misinformation, and limiting full-screen ads in apps. While the changes the company made may help ads be a little less annoying, Google isn’t quite ready to get rid of tracking cookies altogether. Almost all Play Store updates will be available by August 31st.

TikTok has the game

Clearly, no social platform is interested in staying in its lane anymore. While every other app is busy trying to be TikTok, the Chinese platform has been eager to shake things up on its own. The app began its foray into gaming last November when it announced a partnership with game developer Zynga. (You know, of Farmville infamy.) Now, as TechCrunch noted, TikTok seems to have quietly launched a few games on its platform. They are made by a few different developers, none of them Zynga, at least for now. Games are a small part of the TikTok platform, available if a user taps videos posted by someone who has attached a game to their upload. You play right there “inside” the person’s video.

TikTok did not officially announce the feature or comment on whether it would be launched more broadly. But expansion is certainly possible, even if TikTok has a history of shelving somewhat promising experiments like its Shop tab.

Yes, YouTube also wants to be TikTok

In September 2020, YouTube launched its Shorts feature, which allows users to make short video clips that can be played in an infinite scroll. It was a fairly successful effort by the video giant, even if it didn’t take over the zeitgeist as TikTok did. Now, YouTube is trying to make short film publishing even easier. On Thursday, YouTube posted an update on its support page that allowed users to convert longer portions of YouTube videos into 60-second clips instead of creating a short film on their own. Creators can embed links that will take viewers to the longer version of the video, keeping even more eyes on the platform.

In other news “everything is TokTok now” …

Instagram gets reel

Even if you’re not much on Instagram, you’ve probably heard of its controversial Reels feature. It’s a card full of streaming videos, often from accounts you don’t follow. It’s a blatant TikTok rip off, even using some of the same songs and sound effects you’ll find on the mega popular social platform. And now Instagram has made it known that it plans to go all-in on full-screen looping videos.

Last week, Instagram’s parent company Meta said it would change its sites’ algorithms to make them more like TikTok. Now, this has spilled over to Instagram and Reels. The backlash from users was quick. Reels proved extremely unpopular and even managed to annoy a Kardashian or two. Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg both defended the TikTokification of their apps, telling users that the company’s usage data shows that this experience is what they really want anyway. (In an earnings call, Zuckerberg said he expects AI-powered recommendations to make up half of your Instagram feed by next year.)

Mosseri went back a few his statements just a day later. In an interview with journalist Casey Newton a Platform, Mosseri said that Instagram “will take a big step back, reorganize and find out how we want to move forward”. This doesn’t seem to translate into any major plan changes, however, and will most likely result in a slight slowdown in launch, just enough to give the turmoil time to subside.

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