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Google Shopper Prices Products by Image, Bar-Code, or Voice Search [Downloads]

Android: Google's already got Goggles for visual search, and Google Shopper's mobile site can run bar-code scans. Google Shopper, then, is a free app that combines some of those features together in one package for those who love to find a deal.

Unlike Goggles, which aims to provide a greater search by image functionality, Shopper only wants you to take pictures of "cover art"—books, CDs, DVDs, and other items with consistent images and iconography. It can also perform bar-code scans when it doesn't quite get the picture, and if neither of those are working, you can simply type in the name of the product, or just say it for Google's hard-working voice-to-text translator.

In a test on a few objects this morning, Shopper was pretty impressive when it came to books and CDs. It was fast and efficient, too, over a (T-Mobile) 3G connection, bringing back results almost instantly. In the example pictured up top, the result was slightly askew—an audiobook CD instead of a paper book—but the results included the right product. Those results arrive in the form of a simple item-store-price list, though, and could be a bit more helpful. For our money, ShopSavvy offers a greater convenience, when it works, because it provides local prices, gives directions to get to the store with the better price, and has a more robust history and wishlist functionality.

Android's Budget Future, Now: Droid Eris Free On Contract [Dealzmodo]

Super-spec'd premium phones like the Droid and Nexus One are only part of Google's long term plan for Android. What we have here is a glimpse of Android's other future: Free. Android handsets are the new flip-phones! Sort of!

Today's Motorola Devour launch at Best Buy Mobile brought some extra goodies, including an awkwardly priced Droid, which seems to render its new stablemate kind of unbuyable, and this little surprise: A Droid Eris, which is Verizon's version of the Sprint Hero, priced for free on contract. Not a single dollar! (Except for the 60 of them you'll have to pay out for two years, but who's counting that money, right? Right.)

Point is, budget Android phones are a verifiable thing right now, and even if they're sometimes loaded with out of date version of Google's OS or terrible custom interfaces, they are categorically better than virtually any feature phone. And as data plans become more ubiquitous and (dear god please) cheaper, always-connected, internet savvy smartphones will graduate from the massive trend to the status quo.* And Android, without any licensing fees for carriers or handset manufacturers, will play a huge part in this.

Google Earth Comes to Android Devices [Downloads]

Android: Google's globetrotting 3D mapping application Google Earth has been around for iPhone users for over a year, and today the killer mapping app makes its way to Android devices.

In addition to all the other features you've come to expect from Earth, the release also takes advantage of Android's voice-recognition capabilities, so you can say something like "Empire State building" and watch Earth zoom to your request. Unfortunately Earth is only available on Android 2.1 devices.

Android's Dude Problem [Android]

73% of Android users are men, compared to the rest of smartphone platforms, which skew only slightly manward. But really, we should have expected this. (And not in a sexist way!)

The statistic comes from AdMob's January Mobile Metrics report, which is littered with fascinating little nuggets. Like, did you have any idea 65% of iPod Touch users are younger than 17? (For the iPhone, that's 13%, and for webOS, just 2%.) Or that free app downloads across all platforms outnumber paid downloads by nearly 10 to 1? Or that Android users are the stingiest, with only 21% of users purchasing apps on a monthly basis, as compared to the iPhone's 50%? Well now you do! So let's get back to the lady business.

The first impulse for a lot of people will be to make a dig against Android for being too nerdy to appeal to women—an implicit dig against women for not being nerdy or technical enough to appreciate Android, or something. Though there's something to be said for Android's geek-centric rep, that's not the main issue here.

The Droid, as far as Android phones go, is hugely popular—it's far and away the platform's breakaway hit, and represents a large proportion of its mobile web traffic. As such, it could skew any survey like this to the point that Android users stats are almost fully inline with Droid user stats. And the Doird was marketed

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When It Doesn't Pay to Be Google's Guinea Pig [Rants]

Besides a killer algorithm and brand-name recognition, Google's greatest strength is its speed at releasing new products. We get to play with new, cool, and ever-improving tools for free. Recently, though, we've seen that being unwitting lab subjects can kind of stink.

Note: This subjective post isn't short, and lacks funny video embeds. It's a rant about a few aspects of an otherwise impressive firm that I would love to see improved. Want to skip to the rant-y part? Here's the gist.

"Labs" we love: Gmail & Google Wave

Google has practically reinvented how web applications and software are developed with their overriding love of "Beta," a term that used to indicate a product that was functional and mostly stable, but not quite something the company would stand fully behind or "publish," whatever that means now.

Gmail, arguably Google's greatest popular success (meaning not flush with advertising cash) outside of web search, started out as an invitation-only service on April 1, 2004, and rolled out to the public in February 2007. Even after those nearly three years of controlled growth, Gmail stayed "in beta" for two more years. Google ultimately admitted the "beta" tag had little, if anything, to do with where the product stood in the perceptions of its developers or users. While Gmail was still "in beta," the service also introduced a Labs section, where the type of people who explore their apps' settings could turn on cool features Google wasn't quite sure everyone would use, or like the looks of, but that the development team felt were pretty neat additions.

That strategy works. The sense of being in on the ground floor of a smart company's ever-improving product made evangelists out of the early adopters, and Google was spared the anguish of having to hear the masses' feedback on every keen idea their developers had—if you didn't like something, just don't turn it on. More than that, though, the constant tweaking didn't hurt the product's core offering. No matter what, your email arrives, a surprising amount of spam is blocked, and the search, filter, and label functionality are rock solid. If you want more, you could cherry-pick it from the Labs section or, as many of us did early on, find browser add-ons and user scripts to fill your needs.

For a lot of Google's other products, this model works just as well. Maps gets you from A to B, but it has its own Labs to play with. New features on Google's search and results pages go out first to a semi-random group of users, and some of the most bold changes that get finalized—SearchWiki, personalized searches—can still be turned off.

Let's not forget the news and hype value of roll-outs, regular iteration, and open secrets. This site is as guilty as any of giving Google a lot of attention for their little changes, because they're constantly occurring and widely covered—a chicken and egg dilemma we're well aware of. Even when Google wants to keep something "secret," it's at best half-hearted. They denied their development of a directly-approved-and-sold cellphone with misdirecting quotes, and asked thousands of employees at one of the world's most connected companies not to talk, tweet, or blog about the brand new phone they all received as a holiday bonus. Even if the Nexus One hasn't broken any sales records, it certainly grabbed attention and over-wrought headlines.

For Google Wave, a product that might actually be a potential revolution, a slow roll-out with eager test subjects makes sense. Developers and power users can report the problems and suggest solutions, see how their own dreams might fit in, and figure out real-world use cases. Aside from some initial "What's it do?" skepticism, the expectations of both Google and its users seem fairly compatible in the great Wave sandbox, and everybody's free to walk away with no harm done.

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