Google Photos and Google Cardboard bring new experiences to the App Store

Google I/O kicked off Thursday with a nearly two-and-a-half-hour keynote about everything from new Android features to Project Loon's Internet balloons. Our sister site Greenbot has all the news, but a couple of the announcements should particularly interest us Apple users: two new iOS apps from Google are now live in the App Store.

Another app called Photos

The first is Google Photos, a free app that was described as Gmail for your photo collection. That is, you get unlimited free storage, and the app has machine learning and image recognition technology to help you find the photos you're looking for, even if you didn't meticulously tag and sort them yourself. Just dump everything in and search for specific people, places, and even things. Photos can find every image you've taken of a beach, or just the photos you took in Jamaica.

Google Photos keeps your images private by default, but when you're ready to show them off, it has tons of sharing features, including Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+ of course, and others, or you can create a web gallery to share with friends. The app even has the automatic editing features that we dig in Google+. And with iCloud Photo Library storage costing a lot more than zero, Google's unlimited free storage makes this worth a look for keeping your entire camera roll backed up.

Read more about the new Google Photos, and then download it from the App Store for free.

Got Cardboard

The other new iOS app is Google Cardboard. Think of Cardboard like an Oculus Rift crossed with that plastic ViewMaster toy you had when you were a kid. It's a DIY virtual reality headset made of actual cardboard, into which you slide your phone running the Cardboard app, to see a stereoscopic 3D image.

Introduced at last year's I/O, Cardboard was exclusive to Android, with dozens of compatible apps Android users could download and see a split image that merges into a 3D image when you put the Cardboard headset over your face. Speaking of headsets, you can make your own from Google's plans, or even buy a kit or a fully assembled version. Dodocase even sells a contraption that lets you strap your Cardboard viewer to the brim of your baseball cap. (Stylish!)

The Cardboard app for iPhone works with the iPhone 5, 5c, 5s, 6, and 6 plus, running at least iOS 8.0. It helps you set up your Cardboard viewer, and has a few demonstrations so you can see the effect in action. Explorer, for example, shows you a museum scene where you can gawk at a 3D-looking dinosaur skeleton, and Kaleidoscope mode is designed to make you go, "whoa." (At least that's what happened to me, before I got hopelessly dizzy and quit the app.)

My headset, courtesy our friends at Greenbot, is from Unofficial Cardboard, and has a magnetic button on the side you can press to select a demo from the menu. (The menu is navigated by tilting the headset with the phone inside.) Going back to the menu is proving to be a challenge, and part of the problem might be that my headset doesn't have a QR code for pairing to the Google Cardboard app. But I was able to pair it anyway by opening the menu, selecting Sync with Google Cardboard, and pressing the magnetic button. Just be ready to force-quit the app if you get stuck, and be sure you're sitting down! I wound up feeling motion sick after just a few minutes, but hopefully your mileage will vary.

Google announced today that Cardboard is part of Google's new Expeditions kit, aimed at teachers, who can control the experience from a tablet while the students use synced-up smartphones inside Google Cardboard to take a virtual tour of the ocean, the Great Wall of China, or even the moon.


Susie Ochs

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