Google Travel adds flight price notifications and a limited time flight price guarantee

tp animation full no zoom alpha 1Google is building out its travel product with more features to convince you to use it to book flights and plan trips directly, instead of having to go anywhere else. The company is adding more sophisticated pricing features, including historical price comparison for specific itineraries – and notifications about when a price is likely to spike or when it’s at the absolute lowest. It’s also offering a pricing guarantee for bookings made in the next couple of weeks, so you’ll get be refunded the difference if Google says a flight price won’t drop and it subsequently does.

For any flights booked through Google that originate in the U.S. (regardless of destination) between August 13 and September 2, for which Google sends you an alert notifying you that the price is predicted to be at its lowest, the company will alert you if it does drop and then send you a refund on the price difference between what it predicted (ie., what you paid) and the lowest actual fare.

It’s an attractive deal, and the limited time offer is probably only even available because this is new and Google wants to make sure people feel absolutely comfortable trusting their predictions. The company likely has the most readily available, cross-airline information about flight availability, route popularity and price in the world, however, backed by some of the most sophisticated machine learning on the planet, so it sounds like it’s probably a pretty safe bet for them to make.

Google Travel is also adding a number of features once you actually book you trip – it’ll suggest next steps for planning your trip, and then help you find the best neighbourhoods, hotels, restaurants and stuff to do. Plus, reservations and other trip details will automatically carry over to the Google Maps app on your iOS or Android.

Overall, it’s clear that Google is making an aggressive play to own your overall travel and trip planning – and it has the advantage of having more data, better engineering, and a whole lot more in the way of design skills when compared to just about every dedicated travel booking company out there.

Google launches ‘Live View’ AR walking directions for Google Maps

Google is launching a beta of its augmented reality walking directions feature for Google Maps, with a broader launch that will be available to all iOS and Android devices that have system-level support for AR. On iOS, that means ARKit-compatible devices, and on Android, that means any smartphones that support Google’s ARcore, so long as ‘Street View’ is also available where you are.

Originally revealed earlier this year, Google Maps’ augmented reality feature has been available in an early alpha mode to both Google Pixel users and to Google Maps Local Guides, but starting today it’ll be rolling out to everyone (this might take a couple weeks depending on when you actually get pushed the update). We took a look at some of the features available with the early version in March, and it sounds like the version today should be pretty similar, including the ability to just tap on any location nearby in Maps, tap the ‘Directions’ button and then navigating to ‘Walking,’ then tapping ‘Live View’ which should appear newer the bottom of the screen.

Live View
The Live View feature isn’t designed with the idea that you’ll hold up your phone continually as you walk – instead, in provides quick, easy and super useful orientation, by showing you arrows and big, readable street markers overlaid on the real scene in front of you. That makes it much, much easier to orient yourself in unfamiliar settings, which is hugely beneficial when traveling in unfamiliar territory.

Google Maps is also getting a number of other upgrades, including a one-stop ‘Reservations’ tab in Maps for all your stored flights, hotel stays and more – plus it’s backed up offline. This, and a new redesigned Timeline which is airing on Android devices only for now, should also be rolling out to everyone over the next few weeks.

Google Maps now shows users discounts from nearby restaurants in India

Google said today that it has started to display discounts from restaurants in its Maps app in India as the Mountain View giant works to expand its ever growing reach and relevance in one of its key overseas markets.

The company today rolled out an update to add three new features to Google Maps app in India. Users can now see a new ‘offers’ option in the ‘explore tab’ that will display promotional offers from local restaurants. Google said it has partnered with EazyDiner, a table reservation platform, to display offers from over 4,000 restaurants. The feature is live for 11 metro cities in India.

Restaurant offers are just the beginning, as the company plans to ink deals with more partners and expand to more categories in future, it said. Users can also book a table to a restaurant directly from the Maps app. Google did not reveal the financial agreement it had with EazyDiner, a five-year-old New Delhi-based startup that has raised more than $13 million to date.

google maps

The new offering comes as Google explores way to make more money off Google Maps. The company maintains a Google Maps Platform for enterprise customers, and has raised access price over the years, but it has yet to monetize the consumer-facing part of the service in a significant way.

As part of today’s announcement, the company has also revamped the ‘explore tab’ in India to “reflect the rich diversity of local neighborhoods and communities,” said Krish Vitaldevara and Chandu Thota, Directors of Google Maps, in a blog post. As part of the fresh paint job, Google said it has added seven shortcuts to give users quick navigation to restaurants, ATMs, shopping, hotels, pharmacy, and of course, offers.

Additionally, there is also an option in the explore tab to get directions to top areas in each city. The company said it has used machine learning to identify these areas. “Besides your own city, you can also look up other Indian cities by just searching the city name — an easy way to get up to speed before you travel,” Vitaldevara and Thota wrote.

The third feature, dubbed ‘For You’, displays personalized recommendations for new restaurants and other trending places. Users in India can now also follow a business and get updates and news on events

“This feature also uses the ‘Your Match’ score, which uses machine learning to combine what we know about millions of places with the information you’ve added — restaurants you’ve rated, cuisines you’ve liked, and places you have visited. The first time you use this feature you can select the areas/localities you are interested in, and get more personalized and relevant recommendations over time,” the executives wrote.

Google continues to bulk up its Maps offerings in India. In recent months, it has added the ability to check if a cab goes off the usual route, and check real-time status of trains and buses, among other features.

The company, which has amassed over 300 million users in India, continues to use the nation as a testbed for many of its services. This approach has helped Google, which operates Android mobile operating system that runs on 98% of smartphones in India, gain wide adoption in the country.

But it has also instilled an antitrust probe on its influence in the nation.

Meituan, Alibaba, and the new landscape of ride-hailing in China

Instead of switching between apps to secure a ride during rush hour, people in China can now hail from different companies using a single app. Some of the country’s largest internet companies — including ride-hailing giant Didi itself — are placing bets on this type of aggregation service.

The nascent model is reminiscent of a feature Google Maps added in early 2017 allowing users to hail Uber, Lyft, Gett and Hailo straight from its navigation app. A few months later, AutoNavi, a maps app owned by Alibaba, debuted a similar feature in China. Other big names like Baidu, Hellobike, Meituan and Didi subsequently joined forces with third-party ride-booking services rather than building their own.

The trend underscores changes in China’s massive ride-hailing industry of 330 million users (in Chinese). The government is tightening rules around vehicle and driver accreditation, leading to a widescale driver shortage. Meanwhile, established carmakers including BMW and state-owned Shouqi are entering the fray, offering premium rides with better-trained fleet drivers, but they face an uphill battle with Didi, which gobbled up Uber China in 2016.

By corraling various ride-booking services, an aggregator can shorten wait time for users. For new ride-hailing players, riding on a billion-user platform like Meituan opens up wider user acquisition channels.

These ride-hailing marketplaces let users request rides from any number of third-party services available. At the end of the trip, users pay directly through the aggregator, which normally takes a commission of about 10%, although none of the players have disclosed how revenue is exactly divided with their mobility partners.

In comparison, a ride-hailing operator such as Didi charges about 20% from each trip since they take care of driver management, customer support and other dirty work which, to a great extent, helps build the moat around their business.

Here’s a look at who the aggregators are.

Google Maps can now predict how crowded your bus or train will be

Google Maps just got a lot more useful for commuters. The company today announced a pair of updates for its mapping application — one that will offer live traffic delays for buses in the cities where it didn’t already provide real-time updates, and another that will tell you how crowded your bus, train, or subway car will be.

The latter is perhaps the more interesting of the two, as it represents a new prediction technique Google has been perfecting for over half a year. Starting in October, the company began to ask Google Maps users to rate their journey if they had traveled during peak commuting hours of 6 am to 10 am. Google asked about how many seats were available or if it was standing room only, in order to identify which lines had the highest number of crowdedness reports.

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Over time, it was able to model this data into a new prediction capability designed to tell transit riders how packed their bus or train would be.

It also used this data to create rankings of the most crowded routes and stops around the world.

Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo dominated the rankings for the most-crowded transit lines, as each city had 3 lines in the top 10. Meanwhile, New York’s L train is the only one in the U.S. to rank in the top 10.

This isn’t the first time Google has used its massive Maps footprint to make predictions about crowds. The company had already introduced similar features for predicting the size of the crowd at restaurants and other retail locations.

In addition, Google today expanded its ability to alert bus riders to delays.

ETTs

In December 2017, the company began offering real-time information provided by local transit agencies to transit riders. But this data wasn’t available in all cities. To address the problem, Google is launching live traffic delays in those markets where the information has been lacking — like Atlanta, GA.

To make its predictions, Google is combining the bus route details with the data it’s collecting from users who have consented to anonymized data sharing. This is the same data collection mechanism it uses to predict the crowds at local businesses today. Essentially, the company is turning Google Maps into a powerful tool to understand the movement of people in the world. But many users may not know they’ve been opted into this data-sharing by default. In fact, they probably will think the transit data is coming from the city — not from the app installed on their phone and millions of others.

In any event, users will now be able to see the bus delays, how long the delay will be, and adjusted travel times based on these live conditions.

Google says the new features are rolling out on Google Maps in nearly 200 cities worldwide on both Android and iOS today.

 

 

Google responds to a WSJ report that concluded there are millions of fake business listings on Maps

After a Wall Street Journal investigation concluded that there are millions of fake business listings on Google Maps, the company has issued a response detailing the measures it takes to combat the problem.

According to estimates from online advertising experts surveyed by the WSJ, there are “roughly 11 million falsely listed businesses on any given day,” with hundreds of thousands more fake listings appearing every month. Many are placed by businesses that specialized creating fake listings for clients that want to boost their information above competitors in search results.

According to a search expert interviewed by the WSJ, a 2017 academic study paid for by Google that found only 0.5% of local searches researchers examined were fake was skewed by limited data.

In the company’s response, Google Maps product director Ethan Russell wrote that of the more than 200 million listings added to Google Maps over the years, only a “small percentage” are fake. He said that last year Google took down more than 3 million fake business profiles, including more than 90% that were removed before users could see them. Google’s systems identified 85% of the listings removed, while 250,000 were reported by users. The company also disabled 150,000 user accounts found to be abusive, a 50% increase from 2017.

Russell wrote that the company is “continually working on new and better ways to fight these scams using a variety of ever-evolving manual and automated systems,” but can’t share more details about them because otherwise scammers might find a way to get around them.

The WSJ report comes as another Google-owned service, YouTube, is under scrutiny for how it fights abuse at scale. YouTube released its first anti-abuse report last year, but problematic content, including hate speech, continues to be a major problem and the platform’s critics say it haphazardly enforces its own policies.

Along with Apple, Amazon and Facebook, Google’s parent company Alphabet is currently facing antitrust investigations by the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department, and its search business is expected to go under scrutiny.

Google ramps up competition with Facebook Pages with new tools for local businesses

Google has been steadily updating its tools for businesses looking to reach more customers across Google’s platforms, including Search and Google Maps. Last year, the company took on Facebook Pages with a feature that let users “follow” and message businesses directly, as well as be updated about promotions, sales and other events. Today, Google is rolling out a host of other tools for Google My Business, focused on attracting customers and encouraging follows.

The suite of tools known as Google My Business was first introduced five years ago as a way for businesses with a Google presence to have a one-stop shop for updating their business information online, adding photos, reading reviews and — at the time — using Google+. While the latter has since shut down, Google is still competing with Facebook in its own way.

But now, instead of building out a vast social network of its own, it’s focused on helping businesses reach customers through Google’s most-used platforms.

Already, customers could “follow” a business to track its updates in the new “For You” tab on Google Maps. It’s very much Google’s version of liking a Facebook Page, then getting updates in a feed. Meanwhile, businesses could use the new Customers tab to read reviews and respond to inquires. They also can post to their business profile on Google.

Today’s update includes a handful of other tools for making those profiles more appealing.

For example, businesses can now add a logo to their profile, upload photos that are then displayed in a new dynamic module on their profile (and soon with captions) and set a profile cover photo. Again, more features to rival Facebook Pages.

Businesses can now also claim a short name and URL for their business so they can more easily direct people right to their profile page.

In a few more months, customers will be able to search Google Maps by these short names, as well.

Also new today are welcome offers. This allows a business to reward a new customer for following them by offering a discount or some kind of deal.

In addition to the new features, Google is today launching a Marketing Kit website where businesses can order free stickers and posters to place at their retail location, and download assets for social posts, among other things.

As a part of this launch, Google is highlighting the top 5% of businesses in a given category, with a “Local Favorite” designation. These businesses will later this summer be able to order digital and physical badges of honor, if they make the cut.

Google says there are now more than 150 million businesses using the Google My Business platform, since its 2014 launch.

“We hope that these more descriptive profiles not only help consumers quickly find the business that best suits their needs, but also help businesses stand out and express what unique about them,” explains Google Business Senior Product Manager Amir Fish in today’s announcement. “We’re committed to helping businesses succeed on Google and are excited to keep improving the experience for all people on Maps and Search,” it says.

Google Assistant comes to Waze navigation app

Ever since Google acquired Waze back in 2013, features from each have been slowly making their way back and forth between it and Google Maps – and today Waze gets a big upgrade with Google Assistant integration, which means you can use the smart voice companion within the app.

Google Assistant in Waze will provide access to your usual Assistant features, like playback of music and podcasts, but it’ll also offer access to many Waze-specific abilities, including letting you asking it to report traffic conditions, or specifying that you want to avoid tolls when routing to your destination.

Google has done a good job of rolling out support for Assistant in its own Android Auto in-car software, and even brought it to Google Maps on Apple’s competing CarPlay system earlier this year. The benefits of having Assistant work natively within Waze are many, but the number one might be its potential to reduce distractions while on the road.

Waze remains a top choice among drivers, and anecdotally most Uber and Lyft drivers I encounter still swear by its supremacy over the competition, including Google’s other own-branded Maps solution.

Google Assistant will be available via a roll-out starting today in the U.S., in English only to start and on Android smartphones. Expect that availability to expand over time.

Google Maps adds ability to see speed limits and speed traps in 40+ countries

Google Maps is gaining some features previously exclusive to Google’s navigation app, Waze. The company confirmed it’s rolling out the ability for Google Maps users to see speed limits, speed cameras, and mobile speed cameras in over 40 countries worldwide — an expansion of its earlier launch of these features, which were previously limited to select markets.

The change was noted earlier by ZDNet and, of course, Reddit.

Google confirmed with TechCrunch the full list of supported countries now seeing the speed cameras, which currently includes:

Australia, Brazil, U.S., Canada, U.K., India, Mexico, Russia, Japan, Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Morocco, Namibia, Netherlands, Norway, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe.

Google had not been quick to integrate Waze’s best features into its own Google Maps app, following its 2013 acquisition of the popular navigation app. Instead, it seems to prefer using Google Maps as a broader platform for helping people find places including — most importantly — nearby businesses and Google advertisers.

Above: Image credit – Android Police

But last year, some people began to spot incident reports as well as crash and speed trap reports appearing in Google Maps. Those features were not broadly rolled out to all users at that time, however.

Now, that’s starting to change.

Google began to roll out the ability for users in more countries to see speed cameras around two weeks ago, we understand. The rollout is taking place on both Android and iOS. But Android users will additionally be able to report mobile speed cameras and stationary cameras, while both iOS and Android users will be able to see those updates during their drive.

The speed limit appears in the bottom corner of the app, while speed traps show up as icons on the roads themselves.

The features will likely appeal to users who want similar functionality as to what’s available today in Waze, but don’t either care for the Waze user interface (which can be overwhelming if you’re not used to it), or the way Waze chooses its routes.

There has been some confusion over where and when these alerts would be available, as Google failed to officially announce the features’ expansion. Adding to the confusion, was the fact that people were seeing the changes appear at different stages of the rollout in different countries around the world.

Despite the usefulness of speed-related alerts, Waze remains the more useful navigation platform due to its ability to crowdsource reports of all kinds — including police ahead, crashes, cars pulled over on the side of the road, gas prices, road closures, obstacles in your path like debris, red light cameras, and more.

We understand Google Maps uses a combination of authoritative feeds along with feedback from Google Maps users in order to locate the speed cameras.

 

Apple has blocked Google from running internal iOS apps after certificate misuse

Apple has blocked Google from distributing its internal-only iOS apps on its corporate network after a TechCrunch investigation found the search giant abusing the certificates.

“We’re working with Apple to fix a temporary disruption to some of our corporate iOS apps, which we expect will be resolved soon,” said a Google spokesperson. A spokesperson for Apple said: “We are working together with Google to help them reinstate their enterprise certificates very quickly.”

TechCrunch reported Wednesday that Google was using an Apple-issued certificate that allows the company to create and build internal apps for its staff for one of its consumer-facing apps, called Screenwise Meter, in violation of Apple’s rules. The app was designed to collect an extensive amount of data from a person’s iPhone for research, but using the special certificate allowed the company to allow users to bypass Apple’s App Store. Google later apologized, and said that the app “should not have operated under Apple’s developer enterprise program — this was a mistake.”

It followed in the footsteps of Facebook, which we first reported earlier this week was also abusing its internal-only certificates for a research app — which the company used to pay teenagers to vacuum up their phone’s web activity.

It’s not immediately clear how damaging this will be for Google. Not only does it mean its Screenwise Meter app won’t work for iPhones, but also nor will any other app for which the search giant relies on the certificate.

According to The Verge, many internal Google apps have also stopped working. That means many early and pre-release versions of its consumer-facing apps, like Google Maps, Hangouts, Gmail and other employee-only apps, such as its transportation apps, are no longer functioning.

Facebook faced a similar rebuke after Apple stepped in. We reported that after Apple’s ban was handed down, many of Facebook’s pre-launch, test-only versions of Facebook and Instagram stopped working, as well as other employee-only apps for coordinating office collaboration, travel and seeing the company’s daily lunch schedule. Neither block affects apps that consumers download from Apple’s App Store.

Facebook has more than 35,000 employees. Google has more than 94,000 employees.

It’s not known when — or if — Apple will issue Google or Facebook new internal-only certificates, but they will almost certainly have newer, stricter rules attached.