Google Maps Dark Mode and More Useful Android Features Are Rolling Out Today

Illustration for article titled Google Maps Dark Mode and More Useful Android Features Are Rolling Out Today

Image: Google

While we wait for Android 12 to officially go live later this year, Google has a bunch of tweaks and updates coming to Android this spring.

Following the 2019 update to Chrome, Google is now bringing Password Checkup to Android to help alert you about potential leaks or data breaches that may have exposed your existing passwords to hackers. Password Checkup will be rolling out to devices with Android 9 and above, and will automatically check passwords already saved in Android along with any new ones. If Google detects that your password has been exposed, you’ll get an alert strongly suggesting you change it.

Gif: Google

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Password Checkup is important, but let’s get down to the good stuff: Google Maps is finally getting the long-awaited official dark mode. And in Google Messages on Android 7 and above, Google is adding the ability to send scheduled messages, similar to Gmail’s scheduled email feature. All you have to do is write a message as normal, and then hold the send button, which makes a new menu appear allowing you to set an exact time for when your text will go out.

Even the Google Assistant is getting a small upgrade, with the ability to make calls, set timers and alarms, and play music on your phone using voice commands. This means your Android phone can now kind of double as a smart speaker, and helps expand the role of the Google Assistant as something that simply answers questions with these additional automation features.

Finally, an official dark mode for Google Maps.

Finally, an official dark mode for Google Maps.
Image: Google

Android Auto is also getting a refresh. Google added new car-inspired backgrounds and voice-activated games like Jeopardy to help those long road trips go by a little faster. And to help make things like contacts easier to access, Google is also adding shortcuts to Android Auto, and cars with widescreen displays get a new split-screen mode so you can see Google Maps and your media controls at the same time.

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Finally, for folks who are blind or have low vision, Google is also releasing a new version of its Talkback app featuring a redesigned menu, more intuitive gesture recognition, improved reading controls, and more.

Here’s what the new scheduled sending options will look like in Google Messages.

Here’s what the new scheduled sending options will look like in Google Messages.
Image: Google

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Google’s new Android software updates will start rolling out today, with Talkback version 9.1 available now in the Google Play store and the update to Android Auto expected to be available “in the coming days.”

Zoom Is Reportedly Prepping for the Incoming Video-Conferencing Crash with… Email

Illustration for article titled Zoom Is Reportedly Prepping for the Incoming Video-Conferencing Crash with... Email

Photo: Sam Wasson (Getty Images)

First Microsoft and Google incorporated classic Zoom features like breakout rooms into their own video-conferencing services. Now Zoom is reportedly challenging the tech titans by developing its own email and calendar apps, according to a report from The Information.

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Thanks in large part to millions of people going to school and working from home, Zoom shares have climbed 500% since the beginning of the year. This signals room for growth for the video-conferencing platform, but also the need to diversify—once students return to in-classroom instruction and workers start returning to the office, our collective dependence on Zoom will fade, The Information notes.

According to sources who spoke with the publication, CEO Eric Yuan envisions “broadening the company’s videoconferencing service into a full-fledged platform that would include email, messaging and other productivity tools.” Zoom can already integrate with a number of different programs, like Microsoft Outlook, Google Calendar, Dropbox, and Asana.

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Part of Zoom’s popularity is its ease of use, but schools in particular latched onto the platform early on because it removed the 40-minute time limit on free basic accounts for educators and students affected by covid-19, which will likely remain the case until schools fully reopen for in-person instruction.

It could be advantageous for Zoom to develop its own services to complement its video-conferencing software, considering a massive drop in use is likely once the world returns to “normal.” However, Yuan reportedly told senior leadership that Zoom needs a strong messaging product if it has any hopes of competing with Microsoft and Google for large corporate contracts.

Anything new Zoom rolls out is sure to be met with scrutiny, too. The road to popularity hasn’t been a smooth one: The company finally added end-to-end encryption to video-conferencing meetings in October. Last month, it settled with the FTC for allegedly lying to everyone about said encryption. And just a few days ago, a Zoom executive was accused of censoring video calls at the request of the Chinese government. Did we mention all the Zoombombings?

But it’s unclear whether an email or calendar service is the smartest play here, given that corporations and individuals already have their preferred services and the competition is well established. A messaging app to complement and integrate with the video-conferencing component—and compete with Slack—might be a better move. Either way, Zoom execs should probably move quickly; with the covid-19 vaccines rolling out now, the company’s window of opportunity to capitalize on its ubiquitousness may be closing.

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How to Stay Productive When Google’s Services Go Offline

Illustration for article titled How to Stay Productive When Googles Services Go Offline

Illustration: Pavlo S (Shutterstock)

As much as you might hope your internet connection, games, and services will be there for you when you need them, guess what? Shit breaks. Facebook goes down. Gmail stops delivering. Slack pushes everyone offline and into (blissful) workplace silence. And every time this happens, I think to myself: “Why didn’t I have a backup plan before this happened.”

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That’s especially true when it comes to Google’s services—probably the most essential, widely used productivity tools on my meager list. You can’t predict the next time Gmail is going to disappear for an hour or two, but you can take steps to ensure you can still access your email—or the contents of many other Google services—before they randomly disappear. And this is something you should look into right now, since my suggestions won’t do you much good if a service is already offline.

How to set up Gmail’s Offline mode

The best and easiest way to access your email when Gmail goes offline is to connect your Gmail account to a third-party app, such as Thunderbird (or one of the many alternatives). As long as you’re using IMAP, which most people should be, any changes you make offline should be reflected in the live version of Gmail once it (or you) pop back online and your desktop client syncs up.

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You can also enable “offline mode” directly within Gmail itself, which should let you access your messages via your browser when Gmail goes offline. You’ll find the option for Offline mail under Gmail’s settings, and you can configure it a few ways:

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Screenshot: David Murphy

I find this implementation can be a little fussy. Generally speaking, if your browser loses an internet connection while you have Gmail open, you should be fine. But I’ve encountered issues previously when opening a new browser window to access Gmail, so I tend to stick with the third-party-app technique if I know I’m going to need to access my Gmail when I’m away from an internet connection.

How to access Google Drive files offline

Second verse, same as the first: Google Drive has a desktop appBackup and Sync—but don’t assume that’s going to give you offline access to all your files. It functions like a typical cloud-storage synchronization app for anything that isn’t a Google Drive file, e.g. Google Docs or Google Sheets creations. Double-clicking on those from your desktop will give you nothing if you don’t have a connection to the internet (or if Google Drive is down).

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Instead, you’ll need to go to your Google Drive settings and enable offline mode. However, there’s one catch; you need to use the Chrome browser to see the option. You won’t be able to turn on offline mode if you’re using any other browser, even Edge Chromium.

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Screenshot: David Murphy

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Once you’ve enabled this setting, you should be able to pull up Google Drive even when the service is offline—whether that’s your fault or Google’s.

How to see where you’re going when Google Maps is offline

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Screenshot: David Murphy

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Odds are good that you’ll always be able to access Google Maps—unless the service goes down on Google’s side, that is, but I can’t recall the last time that ever happened. Still, a little prevention never hurt anyone.

In case you ever lose a signal, or Maps messes up, you can still access navigation offline. Pull up Google Maps in iOS or Android, search for a location, and swipe up until you see the triple-dot icon in the upper-right corner. Tap it, tap on Download offline map, and pinch to zoom in and out of whatever location you selected. Once you’ve picked the area for your map, make sure you’re connected to wifi and tap Download to start the process.

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Now, if you’re ever without a signal (or Google Maps is down), you should still be able to figure out where you are and how to get wherever you were going. You might have some issues starting new turn-by-turn navigation, but you’ll at least be able to keep yourself from getting lost.

How to view your Google Calendar events offline

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Screenshot: David Murphy

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This one’s easy. Google Calendar used to have an offline mode, but it went away around a year or so ago. I’m going to assume that in the modern era, almost everyone uses some kind of app to manage their calendar, whether that’s the calendar app that comes built into your desktop OS or any number of calendar apps you can use on your mobile device. Simply link your Google account to one of these, and you’ll be able to see your appointments if Google Calendar—or you—should happen to go offline.

How to save YouTube videos for offline viewing

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Screenshot: David Murphy

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Open your YouTube app on your Android or iOS device and pull up the video you want to make sure you can access later (up to 48 hours later, that is). If the video’s creator allows it, you’ll see a download link. You’ll have to be a YouTube Premium subscriber to download the video to view offline—sigh—but it’s the best you’ll be able to do short of using a third-party tool to, say, download any YouTube video you want onto your desktop or laptop.

Bill Resurrected to Stop Feds From Reading Your Old Emails Without a Warrant

The FBI headquarters building is viewed on July 5, 2016 in Washington, DC.

The FBI headquarters building is viewed on July 5, 2016 in Washington, DC.
Photo: Yuri Gripas (Getty Images)

Decades before cloud computing was invented, the government decided it should have the power, after 180 days, to read anyone’s emails, and that it shouldn’t need a warrant to do this. While no lawmaker today would seriously suggest passing such an incredible invasive law, Congress has found itself incapable of closing this privacy loophole for years. But now it has its chance. Again.

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When Congress passed the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) in 1986, commercial email services like Gmail didn’t exist. Fewer than 15% of U.S. households even owned a computer. Most unread emails were routinely deleted within a few months’ time if for no other reason than a scarcity of storage space. Hardly if anyone outside the realm of science fiction had really considered the idea of corporations stockpiling—outside the constitutional embargo on unreasonable police searches—decades’ worth of private letters belonging to hundreds of millions of people.

At the urging of civil liberties experts, a slew of bills have been introduced in recent years to address this excessive police authority. Yet they’ve been crushed at every turn by a handful of high-ranking senators; some of them intent on opening Americans’ privacy up to equally intrusive measures, according to the same experts.

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On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers reintroduced one such bill aimed at closing the 180-day loophole without arming the government with some new unchecked surveillance authority. The Email Privacy Act would force the government to demonstrate probable cause in court before reading someone’s old emails, helping to align current federal laws around the compelled disclosure of Americans’ communications held by third-party companies.

It would further align it with a 2010 Six Circuit appellate court decision, which found the content of emails are subject to Fourth Amendment protections. Despite messages being handled electronically by a third-party, users maintain a legitimate expectation of privacy when it comes to email, the court ruled.

“When laws protect a letter in a filing cabinet more than an email on a server, it’s clear our policies are woefully outdated,” said Rep. Suzan DelBene, Democrat of Washington. “The Email Privacy Act is a powerful step forward toward enhancing Americans’ civil liberties.”

DelBene is joined in reintroducing the bill by fellow Democrat Jerry Nalder, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Republican Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner and Rodney Davis.

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The House passed the Email Privacy Act in 2016 unanimously and again in 2017. But Republican supporters of broad national security exemptions, Sens. Lindsey Graham and John Cornyn chiefly, torpedoed any further consideration by the Senate.

In 2018, the House again voted to pass the Email Privacy Act, this time as an amendment to the government’s annual defense budget. But it was neutralized once again by the Senate.

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Google Is Dropping a Bunch of New Widgets for iOS 14

Illustration for article titled Google Is Dropping a Bunch of New Widgets for iOS 14

Image: Google

Did somebody say Gmail widget?

I have become something of a widget addict since they were introduced to iPhone users with iOS 14. A big weather widget now takes up three-quarters of my home screen and helps me keep track of when to water my garden; my fitness-tracking widget gives me a bird’s eye view of where I’m at for the day; and a trio of election polls widgets, well, those were definitely a mistake. Now, Google is rolling out a bunch of new iOS 14 widgets and updates for everything from Gmail to your Calendar and Drive.

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The company announced Thursday that new Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Fit widgets will begin appearing for iOS 14 users in the next few days. The Gmail widget will allow users to quickly search their inboxes, view unread messages, or compose a new email without having to open the app itself. Google Drive will surface relevant documents and allow you to easily search your files, again, without having to go to the trouble of digging through Docs or Sheets or manually opening Drive. And much like Apple’s Fitness widget, Google Fit will help you track your activity with at-a-glance Heart Points and Steps data.

Illustration for article titled Google Is Dropping a Bunch of New Widgets for iOS 14

Image: Google

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Additionally, the company said that a new Calendar widget should be arriving “in the coming weeks,” while a Chrome widget—which includes Search, Incognito, and Voice Search capabilities—is slated for wide release in early 2021.

To enable these or other widgets on your device, make sure that you’ve got the necessary app installed (even if it’s been banished to your App Library) and that your software is up-to-date. Then long press anywhere on your home screen and select Edit Home Screen. From there, select the + button in the upper-leftmost corner of your screen to launch Widgets. You should find Google’s new widgets here. They weren’t immediately available for me on Thursday, so keep an eye out in the coming days if you don’t see them right away.

Now can I get a Hue or Planta widget, please? Anyone?

You Don’t Have to See That Horrid New Gmail Logo If You Use a Mail Client

Change is hard. I get that. Judging by the dismay on Twitter over the Gmail logo change, few people are happy with the multi-colored M. Some have blamed the email logo change for missing important missives. Others complain it’s now visually indistinguishable from Google’s other app logos. To everyone in the throes of an extremely first-world mental breakdown over a largely inconsequential thing, I have a simple solution: Get an email client for desktop. If you use Gmail’s mobile app, get a different mail app.

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“B-b-b-ut Gmail! My whole life is on Gmail!” You say, clutching your imaginary pearls, as if Gmail and its stranglehold over email is something you have to give up. It’s not. I simply don’t understand the madness of keeping a dedicated tab open at all times to access your email. Chrome is already a RAM hog. If you, like me, have an egregious number of tabs open at every single waking moment, tabs for each of your email accounts are an unnecessary eyesore. If you only have one email, you can get away with it, sure. I have five emails that I monitor at any given time. Pfffffft I can’t dedicate five tabs at a given time to an open web browser. I’m not a maniac.

Email clients are beautiful that way. A neat little program on your desktop (or laptop) that can organize and manage every single one of your inboxes for you. Now you only have one program. Granted, it too will take up RAM but never to the extent that I’ve felt my laptop slow down or lose performance. And even if it did, the benefits of a desktop mail client are worth it.

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It may be personal preference, but once you gain the infinite power of seeing all your emails in one program at once, going back to one email account per tab is unbearably annoying. You also don’t lose out on features like snoozing emails. If anything, your customization options are enhanced. It depends on the client. Each comes with their own feature set and some may be better suited to your personal needs than others. Many have “smart inboxes,” which automatically filter based on your usage what’s spam and what likely needs your attention. Others give you the option to aggregate all your inboxes into one mega-inbox, while also providing settings so you respond from the correct address.

I use Spark and that integrates with Todoist—another to-do list app I use. If instead of snoozing, I want a concrete reminder to reply to an email, I can just export it to my to-do list, complete with a link to that exact email. Alternatively, I can right-click and select “Search Email by Sender” to bring up every email that person has ever sent me—without having to go to the search bar. Again, this just happens to be the client I’ve settled on as it works best for my needs. There’s a crapton of free and paid options out there that I assure you, offer a better experience than Gmail in multiple web browser tabs.

The other benefit of an email client on your desktop? You already, instantly, get an offline backup of all your emails. Perhaps it’s a morbid, paranoid thought but in the event you suddenly get laid off, there’s no scramble to run to your computer and save all your contacts or documents. You already have a searchable copy.

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But what about mobile? I’ll get a lot of shouting in my inbox for this, but Gmail’s mobile app is a steaming pile of donkey shit. I keep downloading it thinking that this time is the time I’ll understand the best way to use it, since it keeps popping up on “Best Email App” lists. But alas. While it’s okay for managing a single account, it’s clunky as hell if you want to check up on three or more email accounts at a time. There’s no good, easy way to see at a glance how many unread emails are in each of my inboxes.

Alternatively, I’ve got no way to view every “Important” email from all my accounts in one place. Again, I have to switch accounts. Sometimes, because I am old and my memory is shriveled, I don’t remember which account the important email is in. I don’t have time to manually check one folder for a single, potentially mythical email. Or, if I have multiple accounts in the Gmail app, I can’t search all of them at once. My option is assaulting my eyes with the All Inboxes view, or manually switching between accounts. When it comes to notifications, I’ve found that Google’s “High Priority” settings are less than foolproof and I’d rather die than get notifications for every single email I get. Actually, that’s true for most settings. Apple’s iOS Mail client is also stinky garbage, and if you have an iPhone, you can do better.

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All of these quirks are nonexistent in my Gmail app-free life, and yet, I have even more freedom over email experience. The Spark app lets me pre-load templates in case I just have to shoot off a quick email like “I’m not near a keyboard right now but I’ll get back to you ASAP.” I can manage settings for all my emails accounts in one place. The smart notification filters mean I only get notifications from people I know and have interacted with. Most importantly, I’ve made it so there’s never a goddamn red bubble, regardless of how many unread emails I may have.

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You don’t have to use the client I do. In fact, there’s a good chance it may not be the best for your needs. But there are dozens upon dozens out there, many of which have figured out how to streamline and customize the whole email thing in ways that Google has continually failed to do. You can pay if you want, but you absolutely don’t have to. The best part is, you don’t have to ever look at that infernal Gmail logo ever again.