Google Maps Gets More Bike-Friendly

Cyclists can be the only beings on the planet who still ask others for directions. That’s because there’s a lot of bike-specific knowledge that you can only get from other cyclists. How steep is this hill? How are the bike lanes on this route? Normally, an app can’t tell you these things.

Now, Google is adding some new features to Maps will tell you these things The enhanced view for cyclists includes more bike route data (when available) that shows where bike lanes are, how heavy vehicular traffic is, and whether your chosen route includes a steep hill. It can also warn you about stairs along the route or tell you that you have some gravel sections to look forward to. Maps will also provide turn-by-turn directions made just for bikes.

Now the cyclists will 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 showed off a Maps feature it calls Immersive View, an enhanced Street View setting that lets you zoom and pan around the world with unprecedented freedom. Google’s new benchmarks aren’t exactly that, and the company hasn’t said when the feature will actually roll out, but it looks like a step in that direction.

Along with the Maps update, some changes will come to the Google Play Store, the official repository of apps on Android devices. The updates aim to clean up some of the more unpleasant app practices in the store. 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 make ads a little less annoying, Google isn’t ready to completely eliminate tracking cookies just yet. Almost all Play Store updates will be available on August 31st.

TikTok’s Got Game

Clearly, no social platform is interested in staying in their lane anymore. While every other app is busy trying to be TikTok, the Chinese platform has been eager to shake things up for itself. The app began its foray into gaming 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 released some games on its platform. They’re made by a few different developers, none of them Zynga, at least not yet. Games are a small part of the TikTok platform, available if a user taps on videos posted by someone who has attached a game to their upload. You play the game right there “inside” the person’s video.

TikTok has not officially announced the feature or commented on whether it would be rolled out more widely. But expansion is certainly possible, even if TikTok has a history of somewhat promising experiments like its Store tab.

Yes, YouTube also wants to be TikTok

In September 2020, YouTube launched its Shorts feature, which allows users to make quick video clips that can be played in endless scrolling. It’s been a fairly successful effort from the video juggernaut, though it hasn’t taken hold of the zeitgeist like TikTok has. Now, YouTube is trying to make it even easier to post shorts. On Thursday, YouTube posted an update to its support page that allowed users to turn chunks of longer YouTube videos into 60-second clips instead of making a short one on its own. Creators can insert links that will take viewers to the longer version of the video, keeping eyes on the platform even more.

In other news “it’s all TokTok now”…

Instagram gets Reel

Even if you’re not on Instagram much, you’ve probably heard of their controversial Reels feature. It’s a tab full of live videos, often from accounts you don’t follow. It’s a blatant rip-off of TikTok, even using some of the same songs and sound effects you’ll find on the mega-popular social platform. And now Instagram has announced that it plans to do it all in full-screen looping videos.

Last week, Instagram’s parent company, Meta, said it would change its sites’ algorithms to be more like TikTok. Now, this has bled over to Instagram and Reels. User reaction was swift. The reels have proven to be very unpopular and even managed to upset a Kardashian or two. Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg have defended the TikTokification of their apps, telling users that the company’s usage data shows that this experience is what they really want. (In an earnings call, Zuckerberg said he expects AI-based recommendations to make up half of your Instagram feed by next year.)

Mosseri walked again their statements just a day later. In an interview with journalist Casey Newton a platform, Mosseri said Instagram is “going to take a big step back, get together and figure out how we want to move forward.” However, this doesn’t appear to result in any major changes of plan, and will most likely slow the rollout slightly, just enough to give the fuss time to die down.

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