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Revealed: Inside Google's research labs

Google rumours, are they fact or fiction?

As one of the biggest players in the tech industry, its hard to keep track of every new venture Google announces. Here we've put together a round-up of its current projects and aimed to sift out the rumours from the truths.

Google is probably the most active technology company around today, but it's hard to keep abreast of every venture and new technology it turns its hand to.

Of course, not everything has worked out for Google, as these flubs, flops and failures illustrate. JupiterResearch analyst Michael Gartenberg, for one, isn't put off by the wide range of directions the company has taken and occasional miscues.

"The whole Google empire started as a research project, and it's a core in their DNA to try and discover new things and figure out how to monetise them," he says.

"When you have a market cap like they do and the cash cow in the guise of paid search, they can keep experimenting. You need the financial wherewithal to support these projects, and plenty of smart people to carry them out. Google does not seem short on either."

Truth and rumours

Here's an update on some of Google's most interesting projects, including some new details about Android, energy initiatives, language translation and a new facial-recognition search technology.

Also, the web is rife with wild rumours about clandestine Google projects, so we asked the secretive company to comment on some of the more prominent ones to try to find out what's really going on.

Android

Although the 'gPhone' never materialised, the company has been planning something better: an operating system for phones called Android. It's partly a direct competitor to Windows Mobile and partly an experiment in open-source development. Recently, the company held a contest for third-party developers to create innovative apps for Android. 1,700 programmers took up the challenge.

Examples from the contest include wayfinding apps that tap into the handheld's Global Positioning System chip. One application lets users find a taxi based on where they are.

Another app lets users find their friends' locations and what they're doing and lets them create plans with them, with all the information tracked in real time. Some of these apps sounds a bit theoretical at this point, the platform and phones will ship in the second half of 2008 but Google did post a PDF that shows the top 50 winners in the first round of the challenge, along with screenshots.

Erick Tseng, Android product manager, says it's a massive shift in thinking from the phone dictating what you can do to the device being open to any kind of content, service, provider and media.

"There are clear benefits to the ecosystem, not just [for] the users, but [also for] developers, carriers, providers," Tseng says.

"Whatever phone you use today, think about the difficulty of getting content, Android has unfettered access to content. You never have to think about, because I am on this service or this provider I can't get certain content."

Not everything has gone smoothly for Android, however. Charles Covin, a Forrester Research analyst covering Android, says: "I think the Android platform is a long-term play, and its short-term hiccups are no surprise.

"Google is intent on reaching consumers wherever they can, and it's clear that, while internet use on mobile phones is still limited, it is the next venue where Google can expect to interact with its customers."

NEXT PAGE: Facial recognition search

  1. Sift out Google truths from Google rumours
  2. Facial recognition search
  3. Energy initiatives and universal search
  4. Google's comments on just some of the many rumours

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