A Morning With Google Plus, Hangouts, and Autoawesome
For those who missed A Morning With Google+ Tuesday morning (4:30pm zulu time) held by Vic Gundotra, allow me to recap a bit of it to fill you in. Technically, while the event was supposed to start at 4:30 zulu, it got off to a late start due to a power outage. Half an hour later, and after obtaining a generator, the awaited event was under way. I got started a bit late myself due to trying to get it to show on my big screen. After giving up and watching it on my mobile phone, the notes began.
A few new things are coming to Google Plus that can only enhance the experience. Gundotra spoke mainly of photo and video enhancement and editing (more on that in a moment), but one thing that has people smiling is the fact that SMS is coming to Hangouts. Even better, it’s beginning its roll out today! Many users have already been using other SMS apps such as Textra and the latest BBM release for Android. This new Hangouts update, however, allows users to centralize their chat/text experience into one application negating the need for yet another third-party app.
While I am not a huge fan of animated GIFs, there are many who are and this is actually a big step for Hangouts. Yep. That’s right. While you can currently post images to Hangouts, Google is allowing animated GIFs as well. This includes shared GIFs, home-made GIFs, and those created by Auto-Awesome. All I can say is, “Great! Now my Hangouts is going to be inundated with annoying motion images that do nothing but use resources.” But I’m a cynic.
One thing that I really look forward to as an Ingress player is Location Sharing. You can now share your location through Hangouts which is a bigger deal than you might realize. For those who play Ingress, have you ever been sitting on Intel and wondering exactly where your team was so you can direct them to the nearest/most strategic portal for your op? Worry no more. With your team’s Hangouts channel open and with Location Sharing turned on (on their end, of course), you can now track their location to perfect an otherwise haphazard operation. Of course there are other uses for this feature, but they’re hardly as important. This feature in and of itself can seem a bit creepy and the paranoid in me agrees. However, Google has always been forthright and transparent about how they use the data and tracking and has been really good about not only giving the user an on/off option, but enforcing the user’s choice.
Let’s move on to some other great enhancements that were discussed. Gundotra spoke a while about photos and video. There are some really interesting things coming to the table in this realm of media use. A lot of what was discussed regarding enhanced photos, many of us are already aware. For example, auto-enhance has been available on the newer devices already. But there are a few changes coming to this. You can already turn auto-enhance on or off, but the update allows a low to high setting as well which enhances by implementing a vignette (to use a term by Gundotra). Simply put, it reads the contrast of the image and creates an enhanced image, almost framing in the focal point of the image by manipulating the surrounding contrast. Also, you can now auto-enhance album by album. So if you want album A to be auto-enhanced but not album B, you can do that. My personal opinion is that the vignette’s are a bit… ‘too’ enhanced; even on low setting. But that’s personal taste.
He also mentioned another app (already available but getting a make-over) called SnapSeed. I haven’t any experience with this one, myself, but I do like what was being said about the HDR feature. The new HDR filter acts like a more true HDR. Rather than simply tone-mapping (which is how it functions on your device default), SnapSeed uses a pixel edge contrast whereby it compares the lights and darks pixel by pixel to find the most accurate overall contrast for the image. I was rather floored by the result of this one as it was demoed. It seems it would take a bit of tweaking, but the result is night and day (no pun intended).
Gundotra then went on to talk a bit about “The Nik Collection”. The Nik Collection is a series of plug-ins available for download at a cost. How much? Well, according to Vic, the cost has been lowered to about $100. I would say that’s affordable for a professional photographer, but not so much for the amateur. But he did talk a little about the Analog Efex Pro. This is a nice piece of software. Photo manipulation is simple, clean, and responsive. There are various editing controls that allow you to change the entire mood of the image if you wish. If you can afford the collection and you want to do a bit more with your images, I would recommend giving it a look.
And now we go back to G+. Auto-Awesome. Any G+ user is familiar with (or at least aware of) Auto-Awesome. This is a function within G+ that takes your images and performs a plethora of functions. It automatically creates animated GIFs from your sequential images. If you take a sequence of action shots, it takes all those pictures and puts the object in one frame in sequential positions. In other words, you want to take pictures of your baby’s first steps? Take a sequence of photos (say five of them) and Auto-Awesome will put the five images of your child onto one image in sequence, eluding to the action involved.
He also announced a new “Eraser” function. Let’s take the same example. Just for sake of argument, let’s say there are a dozen people milling about while your child is taking his/her first steps. There’s all this motion going on from the surrounding people smiling, cooing, ignoring, walking away, or drinking their depression away. Well, select the eraser function and >POOF<… they’re all gone, leaving you with the focal point and intent of the picture. Note, it does not erase the background of the image, just the people moving about (sans the walking child).
Auto-Awesome GIF Creator
Toward the end of the video, Vic got into something I thought was pretty slick. He mentioned that since the release of Google Plus, video uploads have increased 20%. Because of this, Auto-Awesome is getting Auto-Awesomer (it’s a word now… don’t argue with me). Auto-Awesome is coming to video with “Auto-Awesome Movies!” Let me break down how incredible this is (providing it works as advertised).
First, everything that Auto-Awesome does with images can now be done with video as well. But that’s not the half of it. Let’s say you take video and around the same time of the video are related still images. Auto-Awesome Movies will take those stills and place them in the proper sequence within the video. It will also take multiple videos and turn them into one automatically edited sequence. And in the immortal words of TV infomertials, “But wait! There’s more!” It will additionally select an appropriate music track and not only put the video to music, but will make sure the video footage lines up with the timing of the music. This one, I am actually mildly skeptical of because I can foresee some music cutting out in order to ensure proper timing with the video. But who knows, right?
Also, if any of you have seen my videos when I am trying to record a helicopter taking off or landing near me, things can get a bit shaky… literally. Auto-Awesome Movies has a video stabilization in place to alleviate vid-shake.
And if you don’t like any or all of the edits that Auto-Awesome Movies placed into your video, that’s not an issue either. You can easily manually edit the videos with a simple swipe of the finger (on touch screen devices, obviously) to remove or add frames. But you can actually select the edit function in the upper right of the screen to open up a more in-depth editing feature. And then, again with the swipe of a finger or tap of an option, you can edit the music, the contrast, trim the video, add or delete scenes and/or images, and alter the overall duration of the video. Regarding the music selected, if it selects a track you don’t like, you can change it. I assume you can use any tracks currently on your device, but add to that numerous licensed tracks that are available for use specifically for and with Auto-Awesome Movies.
All in all, I think the event was a success. There are by and large quite a few interesting things coming to Hangouts and to image/video media. As a theatre lighting designer who often has to manipulate images (due to the fact that I am a designer, not a photographer), I know I will be getting quite a bit of use out of these newer features and I look forward to trying them out. I turned off my Auto-Awesome previously just because I didn’t really see a need to use it. Since the event, I have turned it back on and will be testing the new waters very soon. As for the SMS, I don’t know yet. I will definitely try it out, but I really like my HandCent. I’ll just have to see how the two compare and the ease of transition. Sometimes, Google gets carried away with unlabeled icons that make no sense unless you use them often enough. As long as that’s not the case here, I can see this option being a huge success. There is already much rejoicing (insert Monty Python “Yaay…” here) in my circles on G+ over this option alone. When all is said and done, Google has always been an innovator. But it seems that lately, they are exploding with concept to reality implementations that just continues to keep them ahead of the game. Well done, Google. And well done Vic Gundotra.