Monthly Archives: November 2015

Google Photos Will Now Help You Free Up Space On Your Phone

Google’s popular photo management utility, Google Photos, which was spun out from Google+ this spring and soon grew to 100 million monthly active users who have uploaded some 50 billion photos, is today getting even more useful. At least for Android users! The company says that an updated version of the app will now help users to free up storage space on their mobile devices by offering them the option to bulk delete photos from their phone.

Related to this, a “downgrade” image quality option will also be made available on the web version of Google Photos to give users who are approaching their Google storage limits an easy way to free up space on their Google account, too.

Thanks to Google’s ability to more deeply integrate its own Photos application on its Android platform, the “Free up Space” option is fairly seamless.

On the Settings screen, you simply tap the new “Free up Space” button in order to begin the process of deleting photos from your phone en masse. To avoid accidental taps, Google says the app will ask you again to confirm that you want to delete your photos.

In addition, the feature only deletes those photos that have already been backed up online, so you shouldn’t need to worry about inadvertently deleting your only copy of your images.

To highlight this feature’s arrival, Google Photos is also introducing a new “Assistant” card. Assistants are those automated features in the Photos app that do things for you – like turning your photo sets into animated GIF-like images, for example, or building montages.

The new Assistant will alert users to delete photos when it detects you’re nearing your storage limit on your device, says Google. This feature is only enabled for those who back up photos in Original or High Quality.

Along with the release of the “Free Up Space” option, Android users will also receive a fix that will allow them to delete photos from certain SD-card-enabled devices. (A bug was preventing this from happening, and this has now been addressed, says Google).

The other big update is arriving on Google Photos on the web on Wednesday and is aimed at helping users better control how they’re using their storage space on Google’s cloud service. If you had previously been uploading your photos in “Original” quality (meaning, large files in full resolution), you’ll be able to change that to “High” quality to save space. High-quality files don’t count against your Google storage quota.

If you changed your mind about needing the full-resolution images, you’ll now be able to click a new “Recover Storage” option on the web that will then automatically downgrade your photos for you.

The updates are rolling out now to Google Photos on Android and tomorrow, on the web, but iOS users do not yet have the same “Free up Space” option. That means they’ll have to manually delete their photos following a Google Photos backup for the time being, or use one of the numerous apps aimed at helping you reclaim space on your iPhone. Google tells us, however, that similar features are arriving on iOS soon.

Via: techcrunch

Google Maps Gets Offline Navigation And Search

It’s 8am and you’re in your garage. You have to head into a different direction today, but you can’t fire up Google Maps until you’ve left the garage, because you’re offline. You probably pull off to the side of the road until your phone gets connectivity.

Not anymore. Now Google Maps will make itself available offline (search and navigation) for Android, with iOS coming soon. This feature was first shown at Google I/O in May, and it’s pretty damn great.

When chatting with Amanda Bishop, Product Manager for Google Maps, about offline mode she tells me that the reason for pushing towards an offline product were that speeds are slow and data is expensive, especially outside of the US. Then there’s 60% of the world that’s without internet still. Yet even here in the states, we find dead spots on carriers and slow internet on the road.

“10% of the time our users are getting slow or no results.” Bishop told me. That’s not really conducive to being confident about where you’re headed next. I mean, in some spots in Los Angeles you might as well print out directions and drop them on the floor of your car like everyone used to before GPS.

Bishop gave me a demo and it’s pretty impressive. You pre-select an area that you’d like to download for offline use. Mind you, while you’re offline and navigating, you’re not going to get real-time traffic (duh), but you will get transit times that use an average speed based on previous traffic.

Snagging an area to download is really smart, as you probably don’t need most of the maps that Google has to offer. Locally, why download the East Bay if you don’t need it? Once you’ve downloaded, you can give the newly downloaded area a custom description if you like.

The key, Bishop showed me, is the seamless transitions between online and off. If you lose connection, Google Maps for Android doesn’t freak out, it simply settles into offline mode and keeps you going on the route you’re on. “We’re really proud of it because it was really hard.” Bishop shared. You keep getting turn-by-turn directions, you can search for destinations if you need to go somewhere else and get details about places along the way.

Those seamless online to offline transitions sure would make a nice failsafe for autonomous vehicles, too. I mean, you can have backups for backups, but in the case of a real hiccup, it’d sure be nice for your car to still know where you’re going…even if it’s only for a turn or two. Having said that, I imagine that this was a very necessary step for the self-driving car project, as well as for our personal use.

When you hit offline mode, the app subtly reminds you that you’re probably driving through a mountain or a large tarp has been dropped over your vehicle, thus stealing your connectivity. Kidding, but when you drop bars, you’ll know it:

Once you get back online, you’ll get a heads up.

While Bishop tells me that her team took the conservative route to get you download maps, we discussed the app potentially prompting you to download certain areas based on where you go a lot or where you’ve been, which of course Google tracks if you let it. Bishop told me that another signal could be a meeting you have on your calendar. Downloading that location if you haven’t already could happen automatically. The conservative approach is due to the fact that Google doesn’t know your internet situation, whether it’s metered on not. Running up your bill for maps would certainly piss you off.

“We think it’ll dramatically improve your experience.” Bishop told me. She’s right. During my recent trip to Berlin, I screenshotted locations and turn-by-turn directions for all of the places that I needed to go…hotel, office, coffee shop. Had I not? Well, it would have cost me hundreds of dollars in data just like my previous trip did. That was painful.

Via: techcrunch

Xbox One Gains Xbox 360 Backwards Compatibility For 104 Games

Starting on Thursday, you will be able to play 104 games on your Xbox One that were previously only available on the Xbox 360. Games include Fable II, Fallout 3, Gears of War games and more. All of this is free of charge.

Microsoft previously announced this feature at E3, promising a hundred games at first and then a hundred more to follow later. The company is delivering on its promise, even though some popular titles aren’t included in this first batch.

Here’s how it’s going to work. If you bought a game directly on your Xbox 360 in the online store, the game will automatically be added to your game library and become available to download. If you have a DVD version of the game, you can put it in your Xbox One and play the game, like an Xbox One game.

Behind the scene, Microsoft has worked hard to develop patches for each of these games. When you put the DVD in your Xbox One, your console will download a patch to make it playable on your Xbox One.

The company already announced some of the titles in the next batch, such as Halo Reach, Halo Wars, Call of Duty: Black Ops 1, Bioshock, Bioshock 2, Bioshock Infinite and Skate 3.

On Thursday, Microsoft is also releasing a big software update for the Xbox One with a new, faster user interface. There aren’t a lot of new features beside backwards compatibility as Cortana should make it to the Xbox One next year. It will look more like the Xbox app for Windows 10 and less like Windows 8.

It remains to be seen whether backwards compatibility will be a strong argument when it comes to holiday sales for the Xbox One. But it’s nice to see that Microsoft is adding this feature for free.

Here’s the full list:

A Kingdom for Keflings
A World of Keflings
Alien Hominid HD
Assassin’s Creed II
Asteroids & Deluxe
Banjo Kazooie: N n B
BattleBlock Theater
Bejeweled 2
Bellator: MMA Onslaught
Beyond Good & Evil HD
Blood of the Werewolf
BloodRayne: Betrayal
Call of Juarez Gunslinger
Castle Crashers
Centipede & Millipede
Crazy Taxi
Deadliest Warrior: Legends
Defense Grid
DiRT 3
DiRT Showdown
Discs of Tron
Doom II
Dungeon Siege III
Earthworm Jim HD
Fable II
Fallout 3
Feeding Frenzy 2
Gears of War
Gears of War 2
Gears of War 3
Gears of War: Judgment
Golden Axe
Halo: Spartan Assault
Hardwood Backgammon
Hardwood Hearts
Hardwood Spades
Heavy Weapon
Hexic HD
Ikaruga Arcade
Jetpac Refuelled
Joy Ride Turbo
Just Cause 2
LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game
LEGO Star Wars: TCS
Lode Runner
Mass Effect
Metal Slug 3
Metal Slug XX
Might & Magic Clash of Heroes
Mirror’s Edge
Missile Command
Monday Night Combat
Monkey Island 2: SE
Monkey Island: SE
Ms. Splosion Man
Mutant Blobs Attack
NBA JAM: On Fire Edition
NiGHTS into dreams…
OF: Dragon Rising
Pac-Man C.E.
Perfect Dark
Perfect Dark Zero
Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds
Pinball FX
Plants vs. Zombies
Prince of Persia
Putty Squad
R-Type Dimensions
Rayman 3 HD
Sacred Citadel
Sega Vintage Collection: Alex Kidd & Co.
Sega Vintage Collection: Golden Axe
Sega Vintage Collection: Monster World
Sega Vintage Collection: Streets of Rage
Shadow Complex
Sonic CD
Sonic The Hedgehog
Sonic The Hedgehog 2
Sonic The Hedgehog 3
Super Meat Boy Arcade
Supreme Commander 2
The Stick of Truth
Tom Clancy’s RainbowSix Vegas
Tom Clancy’s RainbowSix Vegas2
Torchlight Arcade
Toy Soldiers Arcade
Toy Soldiers: Cold War
Tron: Evolution
Ugly Americans: Apocalypsegeddon
Viva Piñata
Viva Piñata: TIP
Wolfenstein 3D

Via: techcrunch

Banks Should Prepare For The Internet Of Things

It is widely acknowledged that the Internet of Things (IoT) will have a huge impact on nearly every industry, and financial services is no exception. Gartner estimates that connected devices will reach an installed base of 25 billion units by 2020, with an annual compound growth rate of 35.2 percent from 2013-2020.

Insurers are already exploring how the IoT will transform the insurance industry through improved customer dialogue, more precise price models and faster settlements. This is achieved through real-time monitoring, collection and analysis of behavioral data for both P&C and life insurance. This creates many opportunities for incumbents, as well as threats from new entrants like Google.

Although the impact of the IoT on insurance is inevitable and more obvious, an analysis by Deloitte predicts that the IoT has potential in both retail banking and capital markets, as well. While use cases may seem somewhat less obvious, banks ultimately rely on access to data for risk management and credit analysis. Deployment of sensors and M2M communication represent a new array of data sources that may be utilized in a banking context.

In addition to adding new data sources to credit scores, sensor technology could revolutionize loan collateral tracking and balance sheet reporting for both SMEs and corporate clients. Imagine the possibilities for real-time monitoring of inventory or livestock for manufacturing and agriculture segments. This would potentially enable banks to perform automated and near real-time balance sheet reporting.

Paired with the promise of smart contracts, banks could be able to deliver credit and loans at a much lower cost, as well as give existing loan officers efficient tools when reviewing credit portfolios. Access to real-time client data also enables new business models like dynamic installments based on real-time analysis of available working capital and cash flow. Much like iZettle and Square, which offer pre-approved loans based on payment data with installments as a fraction of future sales through their terminals.

When moving on to payments, we are already starting to see the beginning of the use of connected devices and wearables. In addition to Apple Pay though Apple Watch, Visa is collaborating with Pizza Hut and Accenture on a proof of concept for online purchases through connected cars, and MasterCard is enabling payments through the fitness band Jawbone.

Banks are also starting to collaborate with different loyalty companies to reward customers for their purchases in real-time by identifying offers and deals through geo-location. While the IoT raises security concerns, personal biometrics though wearables and connected devices could potentially increase security, if done right.

However, all these solutions are still operating on the premise that an identity is tied to a human. For the IoT to reach its true potential in payments, the concept of identity must also include things. This would also challenge the concept of connecting identity to a bank account, as well as existing card schemes as means of value transfer.

When machines are able to perform transactions with machines in real time at a marginal cost basis, the concept of payments will become obsolete in many use cases as transactions become automated and integrated into other services. As paying for an Uber today is hidden for the end-customer, the car of the future could perform payments to the charging station on your behalf.

While the IoT and M2M communication will render payments invisible as a utility in some cases, banks are also exploring the use of connected devices for increased customer engagement through automated branches and contextual services based on consumer behavior and geo-location.

The IoT is predicted to reshape the world’s economy, and we have merely scratched the surface of some of the potential use cases in banking and financial services. Looking back at the use of big data in banking, few would have predicted it was possible to prove a correlation between correct use of capitalization when writing your name online and your credit worthiness 20 years ago.

Just imagine the possibilities that lie in utilizing real-time data from billions of connected devices in the future. However, with great possibilities comes great complexity and uncertainty, and as Machiavelli said, “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.

Via: techcrunch

Amazon Brings Restaurant Delivery To L.A., Will Expand To All Prime Now Markets In U.S.

Amazon’s debut of its restaurant delivery service through its one-hour delivery app Prime Now, is no longer looking like an experiment. Since its debut in Seattle this September, the company has been adding support for new cities at a rate of about one per month. Last month, restaurant delivery arrived in Portland, and today it’s going live in L.A. We understand that Amazon is planning to continue a rapid expansion for the service, with more markets coming online later this year and a busy Q1 2016 already in the works. The company’s plan is to bring restaurant delivery to everywhere Prime Now is available.

Prime Now, which offers free, two-hour delivery in major metros, as well as 1-hour delivery for $7.99, is live today in a number of cities across the U.S., including  Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, L.A. & Orange Country, New York, Miami, Minneapolis & St. Paul, Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Francisco Bay Area, and Seattle & Eastside.

For Amazon, the new restaurant delivery service is ultimately about making the Amazon Prime membership program more appealing to consumers.

The $99 per year program offers free, two-day shipping on more than 20 million items, and now makes more than a million of those items available for free, same-day delivery in these major U.S. cities and surrounding metros. Over the years, Amazon has added a range of exclusives for Amazon Prime members, like free e-books for borrowing, unlimited photo storage in the cloud, a Netflix-live service with free TV shows and movies, a free streaming music service, various deals and discounts, including early access to Black Friday specials, and more.

Restaurant delivery, then, is just one more perk.

In the markets where it’s live today, Seattle and Portland, Amazon has seen a steady increase in repeat usage from Prime members. But more importantly, it hasn’t just seen Prime members adopting the new service – it has also encouraged others to sign up for Amazon Prime.

For the time being, restaurant delivery by itself isn’t a huge boost to Amazon’s bottom line – to encourage sign-ups and use, Amazon is making delivery free for Prime members for a limited time. The service also doesn’t mark up menu item prices, or tack on hidden fees. However, while Amazon aims to keep the service free for some time, it may in the future add on a yet-to-be disclosed fee. Amazon also makes some money through a rev-share model with restaurants, but it doesn’t disclose how much.

The service has a lot of competition in the restaurant delivery space, with Seamless/Grubhub, UberEasts, Eat24, Caviar, Postmates, Sprig, Munchery, and many others. However, what’s more important than beating the competition, is getting customers to join Prime, Amazon believes.

That’s why it keeps adding perks to Prime, and why it hosts big sales events like Amazon Prime Day, its own take on Black Friday sales. Getting Amazon shoppers to convert to Prime customers is the real end game here – analysts have reported previously that Prime members may spend more than double that of non-members. Some believe Amazon may have up to 50 million members worldwide, including 30 to 40 million in the U.S. alone.

In L.A., which launches restaurant delivery today, customers can order from Umami Burger, Baby Blues BBQ, Wokcano, Hurry Curry of Tokyo, Feast from the East, John O’Groats, and others, in addition to Amazon products and grocery items and more from local stores like Sprouts Farmers Market, Bristol Farms, Sprinkles Cupcakes, Erewhon Organic Grocer and 99 Ranch Market.

The L.A. service is live now in select zips, including Santa Monica, Culver City, Venice and west L.A., but will expand to more neighborhoods in the coming days, as well as expand to more restaurants.

Via: techcrunch

Google Will Stop Supporting Chrome For Windows XP, Vista And Older Versions Of OS X By April 2016

Earlier this year, Google announced that it would still support Chrome on Windows XP through the end of 2015. The end of 2015 is getting closer and as Google announced today, so is the end of Chrome support for Windows XP. Starting April 2016, users who still use Chrome on XP (and at this point, there’s really no excuse for running Chrome on XP) will no longer get updates and security fixes.

Ending XP support is not a massive surprise, but as Google also announced today, Windows Vista and Mac OS X 10.6, 10.7 and 10.8. will also no longer be supported “since these platforms are no longer actively supported by Microsoft and Apple.”

As Google director of engineering Marc Pawliger points out in today’s announcement, “such older platforms are missing critical security updates and have a greater potential to be infected by viruses and malware.”

Google, Microsoft and others have long continued to support their software on some of these old platforms long beyond their useful life because they often became vectors for viruses and malware — and with unpatched versions of Chrome or Internet Explorer running on them, they would have become even more dangerous.

The good news is that Windows XP is now getting close to under 10 percent of global market share according to Net Market Share. Vista, which never quite caught on, is down to under 2 percent. OS X users tend to update their machines relatively quickly, so dropping support for older versions of Apple’s desktop operating system probably won’t affect all that many users.

It’s worth noting that back in 2013, Google already announced the end of Chrome’s support for Windows XP for April 2015. That deadline came and went, but this time around, it seems the company is quite serious about cutting off those pesky XP users from Chrome updates once and for all.

Via: techcrunch

T-Mobile Stops Counting Netflix, HBO, Hulu, And Other Video Streams Against Your Data Usage

Watching Netflix on your phone is a great way to blast through some spare time — but it’s also a great way to blast through your monthly allotment of data in no time flat.

T-Mobile is using this as a competitive advantage. From this Sunday on, T-Mobile will no longer count Netflix (and a few other video services) against your data plan.

T-Mobile calls the new feature “Binge On”, playing on the fact that people often refer to blasting through a zillion episodes of something in one sitting as “binge watching”.

One caveat: streams on “binge on” will drop down to non-HD res of 480p, a considerably lower quality than the crazy high-def streams that most people are accustomed to getting. That won’t look too terrible on most palm-sized phone displays — but you’ll probably notice the difference.

Here’s the list of sites that no longer hit your data plan:

  • Netflix
  • Hulu
  • Showtime
  • Starz
  • Crackle
  • Encore
  • ESPN
  • Fox Sports
  • Fox Sports GO
  • HBO Now
  • HBO GO
  • MLB
  • Movieplex
  • NBC Sports
  • Sling TV
  • Slingbox
  • T-Mobile TV
  • Univision Deportes
  • Ustream
  • Vessel
  • Vevo
  • VUDU

It’ll be curious to see how — or if — other carriers respond to this. T-Mobile made a similar move with music services like Spotify/Pandora/etc. back in June of last year, and no other carrier followed suit.

Music services don’t use that much data, though — but video streaming sites? Thats a whole different story. I’d imagine this move will make a considerably bigger impact.

But wait: what about YouTube? That seems like quite the omission.

Via: techcrunch

Xiaomi’s Second Wearable Device Tracks Your Sleep, Steps And Heart Rate For $15

Xiaomi’s much-speculated second wearable device is now official, after the Chinese company unveiled the Mi Band Pulse.

A report from Canalys earlier this year speculated that the Mi Band, the company’s debut wearable, made Xiaomi the world’s second largest seller of wearables behind only Fitbit. That was before the Apple Watch went on sale, of course, but this follow-up builds on that potential.

Beyond tracking your steps and sleep, alarms and some notifications, the Mi Band Pulse includes a heart rate tracker, as previously speculated. That addition — the device uses PPG to measure your heart rate — has made it slightly larger than its predecessor. The original Mi Band took a little time to add iPhone support, but Xiaomi’s website confirms that the wearable will work with both Android (4.4 or later) and iOS (iPhone 4S / iOS 7.0 upwards) from the get-go.

Most importantly, the device has retained a low price tag. That’s 99 CNY, or around $15, this time around. The original Mi Band will still be available for those seeking something more basic, with a  slightly lower price of 69 CNY, or around $11.

Fans of Xiaomi and its low-priced tech gadgets may be disappointed to hear that the wearable will go on sale in China only initially, as part of the country’s massive 11/11 Singles Day online shopping festival.

Xiaomi told us that it doesn’t yet have anything to say about international sales. However, we expect the Mi Band Pulse to be available outside of China soon, since the Mi Band itself retails in India, Europe and the U.S. too via Xiaomi’s global store.

I bought a Mi Band recently as an inexpensive way to test whether fitness tracking is something that I want to take seriously. With the addition of a heart rate tracker, Xiaomi just made dabbling in this area more compelling — although we haven’t tested the Mi Band Pulse out yet.

Via: techcrunch

Trim Will Find Your Subscriptions, Cancel Those You No Longer Want

Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Birchbox, Spotify, HBO NOW, newspapers, box of the month clubs, meal services, and more: The rise of subscription-based commerce means consumers now pay for a number of items on a recurring basis. But even a few dollars spent here and there have a way of adding up, and eating into your household’s budget. A new startup called Trim wants to help you better track all the subscriptions you pay for, and easily cancel those you don’t need. And it does all this over text messaging.

The idea for the startup comes from two Yale grads, Thomas Smyth and Dan Petkevich, whose backgrounds include time spent at Redfin, the Climate Corporation, and in venture investing.

Co-founder and CEO Smyth previously worked as an investor at Core Innovation Capital, which invests in finance technology companies like NerdWallet, CoverHound, Ripple and others. The experience had him spending a lot of time thinking about personal finance, he says.

But like many founders, the longtime friends experienced the problem they wanted to solve firsthand before starting Trim.

One day, while comparing their credit card statements, they realized that they were paying for a number of services they no longer wanted or needed, including a WSJ subscription and even renter’s insurance from an apartment that Petkevich hadn’t lived in for years.

They realized that a lot of people probably sign up for recurring subscriptions, too, and then forget about them. And while consumers may like to cancel some of these subscriptions (if they could remember what they’re paying for!), sometimes the money saved isn’t worth the hassle of figuring out how to cancel.

So the founders decided to solve the problem with software instead.

Powered by the API platform Plaid, Trim is able to integrate securely with 15,000 financial institutions across the U.S. to pull in credit or debit card data, or roughly 98 percent of the market. Trim pulls in your data, then identifies your subscription payments by finding those that are the same amount, or nearly the same amount, and billed on a regular basis. The software is smart enough not to pick up things like Starbucks, even if you have a daily latte that always costs the same, though.

After it identifies a consumer’s subscriptions, it offers an easy way for you to unsubscribe.

In practice, how this works is via text message. First, you’ll get a texted list of your subscriptions, followed by instructions on how to unsubscribe from those you don’t want to pay for any longer. For example, you can just reply to the text “Cancel Hulu” to cancel your subscription to the TV streaming service.

And that’s really all there is to it.

The founders say they tested the SMS service with 100 customers during a private beta, and found that almost everyone was surprised to find some subscription on their list they won’t have otherwise remembered. One of the worst offenders was Experian’s Credit Report, as it turned out, which had a 100% cancellation rate.

Assuming Trim takes off, there’s the potential to develop the product further by adding features like a web-based dashboard, a “pause” button for when you’re traveling, and even a premium version that helps users not just with their subscriptions, but with their budgets and finances, too.

This future version of Trim would be like the reverse of “We see ourselves as moving from pie charts to actions. Rather than having us tell you what to do in your financial life, we’d have you tell us what to do for you,” says Smyth. But for now, he says, the focus for the team is on growing Trim’s text messaging-based service.

The company has an undisclosed amount of angel financing, including from the partners at Core Innovation Capital.


When trying Trim for myself, as someone fairly responsible with my money, I wasn’t caught off-guard by any of the services. However, it does pull in things like gym memberships, which often have to be cancelled in person.

My list seemed shorter than I’d otherwise think – which is when I realized that a number of my subscriptions are actually paid for via a second credit card. (Trim, at least, lets you add more than one. And be sure to add the card you use for iTunes subscriptions, because those, too, are easily forgotten.)

Trim is not perfect. It only pulls in subscriptions billed in the last 90 days, so it could miss those you pay for on an annual basis. However, as an SMS bot, it’s dead-simple to use, and can save you a little money and a lot of time.

Trim is free to use, but may add a waitlist, based on demand.

Via: techcrunch

Fb Messenger’s Facial Recognition “Photo Magic” Reminds You To Send Friends Photos Of Them

We are busy and lazy, so we forget to send friends the photos we take of them. But Facebook Messenger‘s newest feature Photo Magic scans your newly taken photos with facial recognition, and immediately notifies you with an option to send pics to friends that are in them. The test is rolling out in Australia today on Android and later this week on iOS, before reaching other countries if people enjoy it. Chief Messenger David Marcus says it will be available in the US soon.

“What we’ve seen is that private sending of photos in Messenger is really popular. About 9.5 billion photos were sent inside Messenger in the last month” Director Of Product Management Peter Martinazzi tells me. “It’s growing even faster than Messenger over all, which is growing really fast.” It’s an especially important use case for Messenger because it directly competes with one of Facebook’s few true rivals in social: Snapchat.

So Facebook used the same facial recognition technology that powers its photo tag suggestions and standalone Moments app to stoke this trend with Photo Magic. If you don’t want to be recognized, you can opt out with the same privacy control to turn off tag suggestions.

But if the tests rolls out more widely and people leave it on, the feature could kick off conversations with a photo. This gives people a rich way to connect while drawing them into Messenger and away from SMS or other chat apps. That in turn drives lock-in for Facebook’s ecosystem, boosting the likelihood that people use its main app where they’ll see News Feed ads.

Selfies, What’s Up, And Friends

Facebook researched the most common types of photos people were sending through Messenger, and they broke down into three main categories:

  • Selfies – where people give their current status or emotional reaction to a message by sending a photo of themselves
  • What’s Up – in which users snap a quick pic of what’s going on around them, giving someone a window into their world
  • Friends – where people take a photo of their friends and then share it to those people so they have it too

But it’s that last category that involves Facebook’s arch-nemesis: friction. Because we’re with friends, we’re often distracted and want to keep living the moment. We put off going through the hassle of opening the camera roll, selecting the photo, passing it over to a messaging app, manually selecting the people in the pic as recipients, and sending it.

Martinazzi gripes that this flow meant “I have to pause whatever i’m doing.” Product manager Lexy Franklin says the team asked “How can we make this faster and simpler? What’s magical is what it’s like in the real world.”

Making Friction Disappear

When users first see the funny little Photo Magic elves introducing the new feature and turn it on, Facebook gives them a wet onboarding experience to show them how it works.

Facebook will scan back in their camera roll until it finds a photo that includes their friends, and suggest they send it to those people. A preview window with the photo, the recipients, and an option to include an accompanying message appears with buttons to send or cancel. If sent, Photo Magic sends the photo as a Messenger group thread to everyone in the pic.

From then on, Messenger will pop up a push notification within seconds of a user taking a photo that includes their friends. They can send right from the alert, or dig in before deciding to send the photo or ignore the message. Android’s more flexible system architecture means the notifications will always happen instantly. On iOS you might have a few minutes delay if you take a photo of friends but haven’t opened Messenger recently so it’s not running in the background.

Last weekend, Martinazzi himself proved just how bad people are at sharing photos. Him and his roommate decided to cut each other’s hair and take photos along the way, but Martinazzi never got the shots of his mangled locks because his buddy “still had the razor in hand”. Photo Magic would have let his roommate share each photo with one tap and get back to playing barber.

Franklin insists that “we really built the entire Photo Magic experience so you’re in full control.” You can opt out of having your face recognized, or turn the notification off. That’s one benefit of Facebook’s standalone app strategy: it can pull the best features back into its core Facebook and Messenger apps with an idea of how people will want to use them.

Yes, Photo Magic will only save a few seconds at a time. But if you want a staggering gut check about Facebook’s scale, think of it this way. Even if Photo Magic only saves 5 seconds per photo on one third of the photos sent through Messenger, it would save people 500 years of time per month.

Engineering Cool

Facebook launched its Moments app in June, which scans all your old photos with facial recognition, bundles them up by who is in each, and suggests you send people all the photos you have of them. Photo Magic is more temporal, dealing only with the last photo you took.

But through Moments, Facebook learned about how private photo sharing should work, and that ensuring no one gets sent the wrong photos is a top priority. It’s a coming of age moment for Messenger and its 700 million users. Once upon a time, when Messenger was considered a supplementary app, Facebook cribbed features from it like Stickers for its main app. But now Messenger is mandatory on mobile, and it’s getting features from Facebook’s farm team of younger standalones.

Photo Magic does have limitations. Many people use burst fire or shoot a stream of photos and send the best ones. Photo Magic will only scan and suggest you send the last one. One worry is that Photo Magic might annoy you with notifications while you’re continuing to shoot photos, but the team says its thinking about how to improve these situations, such as by holding back notifications when appropriate.

Fast-photo sharing is one thing SMS is terrible at. While Facebook might have competitors in messaging, none are as strong as the old default. Photo Magic makes it clear that people should be communicating with something more modern.

And though Snapchat has become THE visual communication method for a younger generation, and Google Photos makes storage free, Facebook is leaning on its strengths engineering and personal data to fight them off.

Google might know what is in your photos, but it doesn’t know who. Snapchat might be cool, but it can’t tie together names, faces, and social connections. Facebook is using these advantages to make photo sharing less interruptive. And really, what’s cooler than getting back to real life?

Via: techcrunch