Google Maps is becoming more bike-friendly
Cyclists could be the only beings on the planet who still ask others for directions. That’s because there’s a whole lot of necessary bike-specific knowledge that you can only get from other cyclists. What is the slope of this hill? How are the cycle paths on this route? An app usually can’t tell you these things.
Now Google is adding new features to Maps that will be tell you these things. The enhanced view for cyclists includes more cycling route data (if available) that shows where bike lanes are, the level of vehicle traffic, and whether your chosen route includes a steep grade. It can also warn you of stairs along the way or tell you that you have gravel sections to look forward to. The maps will also provide step-by-step instructions designed just for bikes.
Cyclists will now have to find another excuse to talk to each other. Perhaps they can complain about the lack of investment in transport infrastructure.
Google is also adding photorealistic 3D views of landmarks and more nuanced tools for sharing your location with others. Earlier this year, the company launched a Maps feature it calls Immersive View, a bloated Street View setting that lets you zoom in and roam the world with unprecedented freedom. Google’s new benchmarks aren’t exactly that, and the company hasn’t said when the feature will actually release, but it seems like a step in that direction.
Along with the Maps update comes some changes to the Google Play Store, the official repository for apps on Android devices. The updates aim to clean up some of the store’s more disreputable app practices. This includes banning similar apps that try to trick people into downloading them, removing misinformation about vaccines, and limiting full-screen ads in apps. While the company’s changes may help ads be a little less annoying, Google still isn’t ready to completely remove tracking cookies. Almost all Play Store updates will be live by August 31st.
The TikTok game
Clearly, no social platform is more interested in staying in its lane. While every other app tries to be TikTok, the Chinese platform is eager to shake things up on its own. The app began its foray into games last November, when it announced a partnership with game developer Zynga. (You know, from farmville infamy.) Now, as spotted by TechCrunch, TikTok appears to have quietly rolled out a few games to its platform. They’re created by a few different developers, none of them Zynga, at least for now. Games are a tiny part of TikTok’s platform, available if a user taps on videos posted by someone who has attached a game to their download. You play the game right there “inside” the person’s video.
TikTok has not officially announced the feature or commented on whether it will be rolled out more widely. But expansion is certainly possible, even if TikTok has a habit of shelving somewhat promising experiences like its Shop tab.
Yes, YouTube also wants to be TikTok
In September 2020, YouTube launched its Shorts feature, which allows users to create quick video clips that can be played in endless scrolling. It was a fairly successful effort from the video juggernaut, even if it didn’t take over the zeitgeist quite like TikTok. Now YouTube is trying to make it even easier to post short films. On Thursday, YouTube posted an update to its support page saying it was allowing users to convert longer portions of YouTube videos into 60-second clips instead of just creating a short film on its own. Creators can embed links that will redirect viewers to the long version of the video, keeping even more eyes on the platform.
In other “It’s all TokTok now” news…
Instagram gets a reel
Even if you’re not on Instagram much, you’ve probably heard of its controversial Reels feature. It’s a tab full of streaming videos, often from accounts you don’t follow. It’s a blatant TikTok rip-off, even using some of the same songs and sound effects you’ll find on the mega-popular social platform. And now Instagram has announced plans to launch full-screen looping videos.
Last week, Instagram’s parent company Meta said it would change its sites’ algorithms to look more like TikTok. Now it’s found in Instagram and Reels. User response was quick. Reels proved hugely unpopular and even managed to irritate a Kardashian or two. Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg have both defended the TikTokification of their apps, telling users that the company’s usage data shows this experience is what they want. really want anyway. (In an earnings call, Zuckerberg said he expects AI-based recommendations to make up half of your Instagram feed by next year.)
Mosseri pushed back some of his statements just a day later. In an interview with journalist Casey Newton at Platform, Mosseri said that Instagram will “take a big step back, regroup and figure out how we want to move forward.” However, this doesn’t seem to result in a big change of plans and will most likely cause the rollout to slow down slightly, just enough to give the commotion time to die down.