G Suite is now Google Workspace

Google is rebranding G Suite, its set of online productivity and collaboration tools for businesses that include the likes of Gmail, Drive, Docs and Meet. The new name is Google Workspace, a name the company already hinted at when it first introduced a set of new collaboration tools and Google Meet integrations for the service earlier this year. Now those new tools are coming out of preview and with that, the company decided to also give the service a new name and introduce new logos for all the included productivity apps, which are now being used — and paid for — by more than 6 million businesses.

Image Credits: Google

G Suite, as the brand for Google’s paid offering, originally launched in 2016. In a press briefing ahead of today’s announcement, Google’s Javier Soltero, the company’s VP and GM for what is now Google Workspace, noted that the company wanted to ensure that the service that people use is the same thing that people buy.

Image Credits: Google

“By selecting Google Workspace, we get the brand association with Google, which is really important to us,” he said. “These products are flagship products for Google itself — and the ability to actually describe the product in the same way, whether it’s to a buyer or to a user.” Google, he added, wants its customers to see Workspace as a product that brings together all the tools they need to get their work done.

What’s maybe far more important than the brand, though, is that Google is also launching a few new features for G Suite Workspace today. For the most part, these are the Meet, Chat and Rooms integrations the company already announced earlier this summer. Google is now integrating all of these collaboration tools across its applications, with Gmail currently being the one service where they all come together.

Image Credits: Google

Among the new features that are coming soon are the ability to create and collaborate on documents with guests in Chat rooms and to preview linked files in Docs, Sheets and Slides without having to open them in a new tab. Whenever you @mention somebody in a document, Workplace will also pop up a smart chip, as Google calls it, to show you contact details and suggest actions (think starting a video call or chat — or to email them if you’re old school).

Gmail and Chat already feature a picture-in-picture mode that allows you to have Google Meet video calls in those services. This feature will roll out to Docs, Sheets and Slides in the coming months, too.

Pricing will mostly remain the same, though the naming is changing here a bit, too. The cheapest plan, Business Starter, starts at $6/month and users who need more storage and support for larger meetings can opt for the Business Standard plan for $12/user/month. What’s new is the $18/user/month Business Plus plan that includes additional security features and compliance tools like Vault and mobile device management capabilities.

Google Meet and other Google services go down (Updated)

Google’s engineers aren’t having a good day today. This afternoon, a number of Google services went offline or are barely reachable. These services include Google Meet, Drive, Docs, Analytics, Classroom and Calendar, for example.

While Google’s own status dashboards don’t show any issues, we’re seeing reports from around the world from people who aren’t able to reach any of these services. Best we can tell, these issues started around 6pm PT.

It’s unusual for this number of Google services to go down at once. Usually, it’s only a single service that is affected. This time around, however, it’s clearly a far broader issue.

We’ve reached out to Google and will update this post once we hear more about what happened.

Update (6:30pm PT): and we’re back. It looks like most Google services are now recovering.

 

Gmail, Google Drive, Google Meet hit by outage

Having trouble accessing your Gmail, Google Drive, or Google Meet? You’re not alone. Thousands of users, mostly in India, parts of the U.S., Australia, Japan, and Malaysia are reporting that they are unable to access the aforementioned Google services.

Third-party web monitoring firm DownDetector has corroborated the reports that began pouring in at around 04:40 GMT. Google has acknowledged the existence of this outage, saying it is investing the issue. “We will provide an update by 8/20/20, 1:30 PM (IST) detailing when we expect to resolve the problem,” it wrote.

DownDetector estimates the regions that are facing the Gmail outage

Google’s Sundar Pichai grilled over “destroying anonymity on the Internet”

Google’s Sundar Pichai faced an awkward line of enquiry during today’s House Antitrust Subcommittee hearing related to its 2007 acquisition of adtech platform DoubleClick, and how it went on to renege on an original promise to lawmakers and regulators that it would not (nor could not) merge DoubleClick data with Google account data — automagically doing just that almost a decade later.

By linking Internet users’ browsing data, as harvested via the DoubleClick cookie, to Google accounts it was able to join the dots of user identities, (Gmail) email data, search history, location data and so on (Google already having collapsed the privacy policies of separate products, to join up all that activity) with its users’ wider Internet browsing activity — vastly expanding its ability to profile and target people with behavioral ads.

Agency for Google users to prevent this massive privacy intrusion, there was none.

Rep. Val Demings contended that by combining DoubleClick cookie data and Google account data Google had essentially destroyed user privacy on the Internet. And — importantly, given the domestic antitrust scrutiny the company now faces — that that had only been possible because of the market power Google had amassed.

“When Google proposed the merger alarm bells were raised about the access to data Google would have — specifically the ability to connect a user’s personal identity with their browsing activity,” said Demings, before zooming in to hammer Pichai on another tech giant broken data privacy promise.

“Google… committed to Congress and to the antitrust enforcers that the deal would not reduce user privacy. Google chief’s legal advisor testified before the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee that Google wouldn’t be able to merge this data. Even if it wanted to, given contractual restrictions. But in June of 2016 Google went ahead and merged this data anyway — effectively destroying anonymity on the Internet,” she explained.

Demings then pressed Pichai on whether he personally signed off on the privacy-hostile move, given he became CEO of Google in 2015.

 

Pichai hesitated before attempting a bland response — only to be interrupted by Demings pressing him again: “Did you sign off on the decision or not?”

“I — I reviewed at a high level all the important decisions we make,” he said, after a micro pause.

He then segwayed in search of more comfortable territory, starting into Google’s usual marketing spiel — about how it “deeply cares about the privacy and security of our users”.

Demings was having none of it. The U-turn had enabled Google to combine a user’s search and browsing history, location data and information from emails stored in Gmail, she said, blasting it “absolutely staggering”.

She then referenced an email from a DoubleClick exec who had told the committee it was “exactly the kind of user reduction in privacy that users’ founders had previously worried would lead to a backlash”.

“‘They were unwavering on the policy due to philosophical reasons. Which is Larry [Page] and Sergey [Brin] fundamentally not wanting users associated with a cross-site cookie. They were also worried about a privacy storm, as well as damage to Google’s brand’,” she said, quoting directly from the email from the unnamed DoubleClick exec.

“So in 2007 Google’s founders feared making this change because they knew it would upset their users — but in 2016 Google didn’t seem to care,” Demings went on, before putting it to Pichai that what had changed between 2007 and 2016 is that Google gained “enormous market power”.

“So while Google had to care about user privacy in 2007 it no longer had to in 2016 — would you agree that what changed was Google gained enormous market power?” she asked.

The Alphabet and Google CEO responded by asking for a chance “to explain” — and then rattling off a list of controls Google offers users so they can try and shrink how it tracks them, further claiming it makes it “very easy” for people to control what it does with their information. (Some EU data regulators have taken a very different view of Google’s ‘transparency’, however.)

“We today make it very easy for users to be in control of their data,” claimed Pichai. “We have simplified their settings, they can turn ads personalization on or off — we have combined most of activity settings into three groupings. We remind users to go do a privacy check up. One billion users have done so.”

Demings, sounding unimpressed, cut him off again — saying: “I am concerned that Google’s bait and switch with DoubleClick is part of a broader pattern where Google buys up companies for the purposes of surveilling Americans and because of Google’s dominance users have no choice but to surrender.”

She went on to contend that “more user data means more money” for Google.

Pichai had a go at denying that — starting an answer with the claim that “in general that’s not true” before Demings repeated the contention: “So you’re saying that more user data does not mean the more money that Google can collect?”

That was easier for Pichai to sidestep. “Most of the data we collect is to help users and provide personalized experiences back”, he shot back, neatly avoiding the key point that the access Google has given itself to people’s data by cross linking their web browsing with Google IDs and product activity enables the tech giant to generate massive profits via targeting them with creepy ads, which in turn makes up the vast majority of Alphabet’s profit.

But with that Demings’ five minutes were up — although the hearing continues. You can tune in here.

Google brings Meet to Gmail on mobile

Google today announced a deeper integration between Gmail on mobile and its Meet video conferencing service. Now, if you use Gmail on Android or iOS and somebody sends you a link to a Meet event, you can join the meeting right from your inbox.

That obviously isn’t radically different from how things work today, where Gmail will take you right into the Meet app, but the major difference here is that you won’t have to install the dedicated Meet app anymore to join a call from Gmail.

The second and maybe bigger update — and this one won’t launch until a few weeks from now — is that the mobile Gmail app will also get a new Meet tab at the bottom of the screen. This new tab will show you all your upcoming Meet meetings in Google Calendar and will allow you to start a meeting, get a link to share or schedule a meeting in Calendar.

If you’re not a Meet power user, then you can turn this tab off, too, which I assume a lot of people will do, given that not everybody will want to give up screen estate in their email app for a dedicated Meet button.

It’s interesting to see that Google is trying to bring Gmail and Meet so closely together. The act of moving between two different apps for email and meetings never felt like a burden, but Google clearly wants more people to be aware of Meet (especially now that it offers a free tier) and remove any friction that could keep potential users from using it. The company already integrated Meet into the Gmail web app, where it felt pretty natural given that Gmail on the web long featured support for Hangouts (RIP, I guess?) and its predecessors. On mobile, though, it feels a bit forced. Hangouts, after all, was never a built-in part of Gmail on mobile either.

Superhuman CEO Rahul Vohra on waitlists, freemium pricing and future products

The “Sent via Superhuman iOS” email signature has become one of the strangest flexes in the tech industry, but its influence is enduring, as the $30 per month invite-only email app continues to shape how a wave of personal productivity startups are building their business and product strategies.

I had a chance to chat with Superhuman CEO and founder Rahul Vohra earlier this month during an oddly busy time for him. He had just announced a dedicated $7 million angel fund with his friend Todd Goldberg (which I wrote up here) and we also noted that LinkedIn is killing off Sales Navigator, a feature driven by Rapportive, which Vohra founded and later sold in 2012. All the while, his buzzy email company is plugging along, amassing more interested users. Vohra tells me there are now more than 275,000 people on the waitlist for Superhuman.

Below is a chunk of my conversation with Vohra, which has been edited for length and clarity.


TechCrunch: When you go out to raise funding and a chunk of your theoretical user base is sitting on a waitlist, is it a little tougher to determine the total market for your product?

Rahul Vohra: That’s a good question. When we were doing our Series B, it was very easily answered because we’re one of a cohort of companies, that includes Notion and Airtable and Figma, where the addressable market — assuming you can build a product that’s good enough — is utterly enormous.

With my last company, Rapportive, there was a lot of conversation around, “oh, what’s the business model? What’s the market? How many people need this?” This almost never came up in any fundraising conversation. People were more like, “well, if this thing works, obviously the market is basically all of prosumer productivity and that is, no matter how you define it, absolutely huge.”

Gmail finally makes it easier to search your email

Gmail’s search is getting a significant update that will allow users to more easily narrow results to help them find a specific email. Before today, users could type in search filters by hand (e.g. label:work, has:attachment, from:[email protected], etc.) or use the drop-down box to perform an advanced search. But these options were less obvious, cumbersome and therefore under-utilized by many Gmail users. With the upgraded version of Gmail search, new filters — which Google calls “search chips” — will appear directly below the search box for simple, one-click access.

At launch, there are a variety of filters available, including those that will help you narrow down emails by sender, whether or not emails have an attachment, by time frame, and more. You also can use the new filters to exclude certain types of search results — like those that are calendar updates or chats, for example. And you can specify emails by attachment type, such as text, spreadsheet or PDF.

The filters can be used in combination, helping you to narrow down searches as you go. For instance, you could search an email with a colleague’s name, which included a PDF, and was sent last month, using just a few clicks on the filters.

As anyone who’s ever tried to dig up an email from their Gmail inbox knows, Google’s search system has needed improvement. Even Google acknowledged this was true, noting in an announcement that it had heard from users that searching Gmail “could be faster and more intuitive.”

Using search filters has for years felt like a power user Gmail hack, rather than something that should be accessible to everyone — including those who don’t think like engineers.

The Gmail update is rolling out starting today, February 19, to G Suite users, and may take up to 15 days to complete, Google says.

G Suite is often the first to get a new feature, but Google confirmed to TechCrunch the plan is to bring these new filters to consumer Gmail after the G Suite rollout completes. The company doesn’t have an exact ETA for the consumer launch, but doesn’t expect it to be too long after, we’re told.

Before:

 

 

After:

 

Smart Compose is coming to Google Docs

At its Cloud Next event in London, Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian today announced that Smart Compose, the AI-powered feature that currently tries to complete phrases and sentences for you in Gmail, is also coming to G Suite’s Google Docs soon. For now, though, your G Suite admin has to sign up for the beta to try it and it’s only available in English.

Google says in total, Smart Compose in Gmail already saves people from typing about 2 billion characters per week. At least in my own experience, it also works surprisingly well and has only gotten better since launch (as one would expect from a product that learns from the individual and collective behavior of its users). It remains to be seen how well this same technique works for longer texts, but even longer documents are often quite formulaic, so the algorithm should still work quite well there, too.

Google first announced Smart Compose in May 2018, as part of its I/O developer conference. It builds upon the same machine learning technology Google developed for its Smart Reply feature. The company then rolled out Smart Compose to all G Suite and private Gmail users, starting in July 2018, and later added support for mobile, too.

Plant-based dairy replacements are coming to ice cream pints in San Francisco and New York

Plant-based replacements are so hot right now, they’re even hitting the coolest thing in food — ice cream.

The new plant-based dairy replacement maker, Eclipse Foods, has just signed a deal with hipster ice cream brands Humphry Slocombe and Oddfellows to put its dairy replacements into their mixes.

Unlike other plant-based products which provide an alternative to dairy without mimicking its texture and taste, the folks at Eclipse Foods say their product is indistinguishable from milk from animals — and made using allergen-free ingredients.

Starting on Saturday, store shelves in New York and San Francisco will be stocked with the OddFellows and Humphry Slocombe artisanal ice cream brands made from plants.

The company has raised $3.5 million from investors including Alexis Ohanian and his Initialized Capital investment firm, Gmail creator Paul Buchheit and the former chairman of Daiya Foods, Eric Patel.

“I’m excited to be investing in more plant-based foods,” said Ohanian, in a statement. “Aylon and Thomas were immediately impressive as accomplished experts in food science and the quality of the ice cream is already near indistinguishable from its dairy counterpart and it’s only going to get better. This is filling a need in the surging plant-based food space that is competitively priced, sustainably produced, and — most importantly –delicious.”

Compared to some of its competitors, the Eclipse Foods path to market is relatively straightforward — since it’s not using any genetically modified ingredients to make its dairy replacements. It’s more like the Beyond Meat than the Impossible Foods of the dairy industry.

“We’re not using any expensive biotech to get to where we’re going,” says Aylon Steinhart, the company’s chief executive. “We take plants and we use our world class expertise in functional plant proteins and how they work to blend plants together in a quite simple way.”

Founded by Steinhart a former expert at the Good Food Institute, a non-profit focused on plant-based food innovation, and Thomas Bowman, the former director of product development at JUST, Eclipse Foods launched from Y Combinator’s famed accelerator in March of this year.

The low-cost inputs that the company says it uses, including corn and cassava, means that it won’t require as much capital to scale up, says Steinhart.

For now, the company is pursuing the roadmap laid out by Pat Brown’s Impossible Foods and replicated by dozens of other startups going after plant-based or lab-grown replacements to traditional proteins. That means partnering with famous chefs and artisanal brands whose products sell at a higher price point than your McDonalds or Burger King soft serve ice cream cones (or Wendys ultra-delicious Frosty).

Instead of plain vanilla, Eclipse Foods plant-based liquid ice cream base will be showing up in flavors like OddFellows‘ Miso Cherry and Olive Oil Plum ice creams or Humphry Slocombe‘s spiced Mexican Hot Chocolate.

Ultimately, the company has plans to go down market and sell into the same kinds of stores that are offering Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods burgers and patties.

If every Burger King has an Impossible Whopper and every Carls Jr. has a Beyond Famous Star, then every restaurant should have a dairy-free ice cream offering,” says Bowman. “It’s got no allergens. No GMOs … no gums no gels and no stabilizers.”

Google picks up Microsoft veteran, Javier Soltero, to head G Suite

Google has hired Microsoft’s former Cortana and Outlook VP, Javier Soltero, to head up its productivity and collaboration bundle, G Suite — which includes consumer and business tools such as Gmail, Hangouts, Drive, Google Docs and Sheets.

He tweeted the news yesterday, writing: “The opportunity to work with this team on products that have such a profound impact on the lives of people around the world is a real and rare privilege.”

 

Soltero joined Microsoft five years ago, after the company shelling out $200M to acquire his mobile email application, Acompli — staying until late last year.

His LinkedIn profile now lists him as vice president of G Suite, starting October 2019.

Soltero will report to Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian — who replaced Dianne Green when she stepped down from the role last year — per a company email reported by CNBC.

Previously, Google’s Prabhakar Raghavan — now SVP for its Advertising and Commerce products — was in charge of the productivity bundle, as VP of Google Apps and Google Cloud. But Mountain View has created a dedicated VP role for G Suite. Presumably to woo Soltero into his next major industry move — and into competing directly with his former employer.

The move looks intended to dial up focus on the Office giant, in response to Microsoft’s ongoing push to shift users from single purchase versions of flagship productivity products to subscription-based cloud versions, like Office 365.

This summer Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, announced that its cloud business unit had an $8 billion annual revenue run rate, up from $4BN reported in early 2018, though still lagging Microsoft’s Azure cloud.

He added that Google planned to triple the size of its cloud sales force over the next few years.