It's the most wonderful time of the year... the time when it's almost over. But it's also that turn in the calendar when a couple of billion people look forward to celebrating Christmas, and the youngest portions of that subset start improving their behavior in an avaricious desire for more presents. Google's taking part in its yearly ritual too, indulging whimsical parents and obsessive-compulsive children with its Santa Claus countdown-slash-tracker app.
Google Maps is one of those apps that will always have an enormous number of potential new features, so it's interesting to see the things Google is focusing on with each new release. We just saw an update to v9.2 with new navigation settings and auto-correct for searches, but there are plenty of other really interesting additions in the works. Let's take a look at some of the features we might have to look forward to. It's time for a teardown.
Disclaimer: Teardowns are, by their nature, speculative and based on incomplete evidence. It's possible that the guesses made here are totally and completely wrong.
Yesterday we reported on the appearance of several redesigned emoji in the keyboard Google's rolling out with Android 5.0. In the piece, I concentrated on the improved consistency brought in by the tweaks. As it turns out, there was one more change hidden in plain sight among the others, and its importance shadows all others. Google has quietly addressed a bug report that has lingered for years.
Let's take a look at the issue at hand here. These are two of the images included in yesterday's post. On the left, we have the old set of emoji. On the right, we have the new ones included with Lollipop's version of Google Keyboard.
Have you been wondering how you'd keep up with Santa's comings and goings this year? I know I have been losing a lot of sleep over it, but fear not – Santa has a special place in Google Maps today only.
If you tap the search bar in Google Maps, there will be a "Where's Santa" banner. Tap on that, and Maps will take you to the sleigh's supposed coordinates. You can get the same thing by searching for "Where's Santa" in the app and on the desktop.
This is all separate from Google's Santa Tracker website and app, but it's relaying the same totally real data on the location of a magical dude who delivers billions of presents in one night.
Santa Claus is one of the few people on this planet that can be tracked without stirring any moral outrage from anyone, and few are as equipped for the job as Google - after all, the company's been doing this for a while now. This year's version of Google's Santa Tracker has made its way into the Play Store, and you would be wise to grab it before the night of December 24th if you want to know when jolly old St. Nicholas will pay your home a visit.
When you first fire up the app, it presents you with a countdown until Santa's departure time, one that looks largely identical to Google's Santa Tracker website.
Man, Google. You just can't stop screwing with Christmas, can you? First you cancel December, and now this? In a very real and totally serious bug report over on Google Code, one user is reporting a serious flaw in Android: If you use the Emoji keyboard to enter a Santa face, he looks decidedly unhappy. Emotionless at best. But, as everyone knows, "Santa should be jolly."
Okay, yes, so Google did fix that Calendar problem, and even went out of its way to build a special Santa Tracker, after Norad hired that other search engine.
You've gotta hand it to the folks in Mountain View. When NORAD decides to pass Google over for Santa tracking data, the company isn't one to sit on its hands and let someone else handle Christmas. This isn't the first year that the data giant has kept you up to date on the comings and goings of everyone's favorite fat bearded man in a red suit, but this Santa tracker may just be the best yet.
The desktop interface is alive and kicking, as it has been in Christmases past. This new iteration brings new and familiar features like Reindeer games for the kids to play, customized voice messages from Santa and, when the clock strikes 2AM PST on Christmas Eve, kids and parents alike will be able to follow His Jollyness around the world.
When you think of the legendary icons of rock, who comes to mind? KISS? Queen? Santa Claus? AC/DC? All good answers, but only one of them is the subject of today's amazing game: Santa Rockstar. This rhythm game, a la Guitar Hero, puts you behind the reins of the sleigh, and you have only one hope to bring cheer to all the head-banging girls and boys: pick that ax like Christmas depends on it. Because it does.
If you've ever played a rhythm game, you know how this goes. Hit the notes as they come down the line. I know what you're thinking.