Early this morning (or early afternoon depending on your west/east coast orientation), the world got an invite to either attend live or participate in a live streaming event in San Francisco that Google pulled together to discuss Google+. At least 44,000 folks participated on the streamed end of things. The event started out with a power outage of all things but once the power returned things got underway. Google senior vice president Vic Gundotra - who sent out the Google+ invite early this morning - took the stage. Gundotra handles, among other things, Google+ and all things having to do with it, Hangouts, and photography and video editing, processing and management. We’ll provide the top level highlights here and provide details separately later this week.
So it was certainly no surprise then that these are exactly what Gundotra primarily focused on. He began his presentation by first noting, however, several things of s statistical nature. He underscored that Google+ has only been around since September 2011. He next noted that back in May 2013 at the Google I/O developers’ conference, Google+ already had 390 million 30 day active users (that is, using Google+ at least once a month). And today that number has jumped to 540 million. Meanwhile Google+ has leaped to 300 million regular active users. Gundotra and Google refer to these users as, “active users in the stream.” The numbers are impressive considering how long (or rather how little) Google+ has actually been on the scene but of course are a far cry from Facebook numbers.
Gundotra then mentioned that today Google+ users are uploading 1.5 billion photos each week and that the rate of upload is growing. Users heavily focused on photography and videos seem to have migrated in great numbers to Google+ and Google has noticed. That’s why the company held the live event in a cavernous hall whose walls had been covered over with photographs taken by very active Google+ users. Gundotra also noted that the photos that were on exhibit had very special stories behind them - all of which are now available on the event’s Google+ Hangouts page.
According to Gundotra, Google+ is constantly being updated, typically without any real notification. But today Gundotra decided it was time to go public with some of 18 new updates that Google has deemed particularly worthy of mention. Indeed they were. Before getting into the nuts and bolts of the new photo and video goodies, Gundotra took some time out to note new updates to Hangouts – with a new version of the app becoming available in a few days time.
SMS is now being completely integrated into Hangouts. This essentially means that users no longer have to use the SMS application included on your phone (and outside of Hangouts) - text messages will simply and quite conveniently be delivered to Hangouts the same way instant messages are. Gundotra also announced support or animated GIFs (odd we think that these are making such a comeback!) and location sharing. Built-in location sharing means that with a simple button tap you will be quickly located on Google Maps, and the location will just as quickly be provided within your open chat session. Very handy!
Hangouts is getting Google’s Auto Enhance capabilities to Hangout video calls. Hangouts will automatically look to fix issues with the video stream coming your way. So if, for example (among many different potential issues), a user shows up as a shadow face due to poor lighting Hangouts will now automatically (or automagically) fix it for you. Video calls will now also be provided in HD video whether you are using your desktop or our mobile device.
Hangouts on Air is also getting updates that will launch over the next several weeks. Not sure what this is? Best go over to Google+ and find out as we don’t have time or space here to elaborate on it. When a user schedules a broadcast a dedicated landing page will be created that integrates with Google+ events, hosts a countdown timer and lists RSVPs. If you are the host for such a broadcast you will also be able to post a trailer or run pre-show Q&A sessions. There is more, but we’ll leave it here. The point is that Google is making a push for Hangouts on Air to become a serious mainstream tool.
Photo and Video Enhancements
Google introduced Auto Awesome at Google I/O (in fact it was at Google I/O that Gundotra introduced a great deal of new photo editing and management capabilities). This all-encompassing feature provides extensive editing features but we refer you back to the Google I/O article we’ve highlighted here for details.
The first thing users will get is further improvements in the backup of your photos. All photos will be uploaded and backed up at full resolution. Next Google will provide a richer means to selecting photos or groups of photos from much larger collections. Google+ will choose the best photos by getting rid of duplicates, fuzzy photos, and emphasizing landmarks and people. These are all things that were announced at Google I/O as well. Of significant convenience, users will now be able to search for photos using roughly 1,000 available terms (dog, cat, sunshine, beach, sunrise, sunset, and so on).
Photos do not need to be tagged – Google will use its rich algorithms to simply uncover your life as you look for it. That last phrase is ours but it is essentially the underlying theme of the event and the photo and video upgrades. Terms can also be combined, such as find dog at beach at sunset. If it all really works well it will be truly
Auto Enhance is available and Google is adding but the ability to scale the amount of various features up or down (higher or lower saturation, etc). If you familiar with the very cool Google platform Snapseed, an awesome editing app that Google now owns, it will also be available for use. If you don’t know Snapseed, head over to either Google Play or the App Store and check it out right now!
A new filter dubbed HDR Scape is also being provided. HDR combines a range of exposures to create a single best image. Gundrota underscores that Google is using advanced pixel edge contrast here – we won’t go into details – just take out word for it – it works. There are photo editing apps that do this sort of thing already but Google is now making it available for everyone – you need not be a photo editing junkie any longer to gain use of it. Gundrota showed this feature in action and it will deliver significant improvements to typical photos.
Then there is the very high end Nik Collection of editing tools, which can be added $149. Only serious photo buffs need apply here however.
Auto Awesome – which is easily able to automatically create animated GIFs from a series of photos shot close in time to each other (a clear sequence), has been enhanced to also deliver two additional capabilities. (Forgive us if we think some of these begin to sound a bit like Samsung Galaxy S4 features). The first combines a series of moving photo to create a single image of the movements contained in the photo – it is sort of the opposite of creating an animated GIF. It is also possible to turn all but the latest image taken into ghost images.
The other – hey, yet again we recall Samsung’s Galaxy S4 – is a new Eraser feature. That’s right, it will let you erase whoever you didn’t want in your photo in the first place. We’re simplifying a bit, but you get the idea.
Now we can wrap up by noting the new video capabilities. There is a new ability to auto create movies from your video clips. The capability will even automatically select and match music for you. Different filters can be applied to videos, and the user can easily determine length – which is not limited to exactly a maximum number of seconds. Pick your time frame and everything will automatically be adjusted. And if you don’t like the music Google picked out for you? Relax, you can change it!
We’ll stop here. As we noted earlier, it is literally all about helping you discover or life as you live it. But more specifically it is all about discovering your life as you live it on Google+ - and that is the bottom line here. Is it all good enough to leave Facebook behind? We doubt it, but if you are photo savvy you just may need to consider it.
Gundotra demands nothing less of you!
TechZone360 Senior Editor
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