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Google to let anyone add to Street View, starting with Insta360’s Pro camera

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Google has a new program called “Street View ready” which will make it possible for anyone with the right hardware to contribute to its Street View imaging database, typically assembled using Google’s official 360-degree camera-toting Street View cars. The first camera officially designated ‘Street View ready’ is Insta360’s Pro camera, the 8K 360 camera which captures still images at up to 5 frames per second, and which has real-time image stabilization built-in.

Google will make it possible to control the Insta360 Pro from directly within the Street View app, and will also be allowing device to capture photos and videos and upload them from the official Insta360 Stitcher software. The Pro’s 5 fps 8K shooting mode is a new feature being added to the camera via software update tailor-made for capturing Street View content, and a new USB hardware accessory will also be shipping from Insta360 to attach GPS data to captured imaging data automatically.

This sounds like a very cool way to let adventurous individuals contribute to the Google Street View imagery database, and it’ll help Google cover territory not necessarily easily reached by its own teams, including terrain accessible to specific organizations who want to document it for research purposes. Google has done limited contributions with third-parties in the past, including Fore Islanders with its “Sheep View” project, but this could cast a far wider net – provided, of course, contributors are willing to pony up for the expensive Insta360 Pro hardware.

The camera retails for $3,499, and it’s the only hardware currently ‘Street View ready’-certified by Google. But Google will also be making it available as a loaner to qualified individuals and organizations, which should put it more within reach.

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What to expect from Google’s October 4 Pixel 2 event

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Google’s big hardware event is coming up fast – it all goes down next Wednesday, October 4. But we already know (or think we know) a fair amount about what will be revealed, including brand new Pixel smartphones with some big upgrades, and some devices that will flesh out Google’s broader hardware portfolio considerably.

Here’s a list of what we can expect when Google takes the stage in San Francisco next week:

Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL

The headline devices are likely to be the new Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones, sequels to the first smartphones Google designed itself in-house, which it released last year. Judging by Google’s first attempt, the follow-up should be a very compelling set of of devices.

The Pixel 2 XL is supposed to be the bigger deal of the two new devices, in a few different ways: Unlike last year, Google will differentiate its larger-screened device with some improvements over the smaller, including a design with much slimmer bezels. It’s also said to have a QHD screen, and both front and back cameras with optical image stabilization. Android Authority also reports it’ll have an electronic sim slot, as well s IP67 dust and water resistance and new, tougher Gorilla Glass 5 for the display. It may also feature “squeezable” sides, which would allow users to press in while holding the device to trigger actions, like launching Google Assistant.

As for the Pixel 2, it’ll have a lot of the same internal specs, but it is said to have larger bezels, and a FHD screen instead of QHD – reports also claim it won’t get the same wide color gamut of the Pixel 2 XL.

Both devices sound like they should be compelling follow-ups to the original Pixel. Google’s first smartphone also had one of the best cameras in the industry, powered in large part by Google’s software smarts, so expect this device to win accolades in that regard, too, and go toe-to-toe with the just-launched iPhone 8 and 8 Plus on camera quality.

Google Home

It’s smart voice assistant season, with Amazon introducing a whole bunch of new Alexa and Echo devices. Google’s bound to follow suit with some updates to Home, the smart speaker it debuted at I/O last year and started selling in 2017.

We’ve seen rumours that there could be a mini version of Home, to compete with Amazon’s Echo Dot at round the $50 mark, and that it could also be putting out a larger, more premium version. If there’s one thing Home could use, it’s a version of the hardware with better sound – especially with Apple’s HomePod on the horizon and set for a launch by end of year.

I’d also expect some updates on Home’s progress thus far, and on some software updates for existing devices.

Chromebook Luxe

One of the more interesting rumors about this event for me is talk of a return for Google’s high-end Pixel Chromebook line. We’ve heard that a Pixelbook is in the works, with a price tag more in line with entry-level MacBooks than with most Chromebook devices, and with a stylus accessory.

The leaked PIxelbook has been captured in leaked photos, and looks to have a flip around screen for full tablet conversion, and that pen which will retail for around $100 separately.

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Ring launches Protect, its own $199 connected home security system

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Ring, maker of one of the original (and still likely the best) connected video doorbell, has launched a comprehensive home security system called Protect, which retails for $199 and includes a base station, keypad (for arming and disarming) a contact sensor for a window or door, a passive infrared sensor for detecting motion and a Z-Wave extender for adding range to smart home devices that use the standard.

The security system from Ring comes just a couple of weeks after connected home rival Nest launched its own security system, Nest Secure. I asked Ring CEO Jamie Siminoff whether Ring’s product was a response to Nest’s, but he said he believes it’s actually quite the opposite.

“We had this pretty much set out, but because we got sued by ADT, because we’re doing something so competitive to them that they had to try to step in our way, which I think is a complement, it released a lot of information about this. I believe that’s why you saw a half-baked announcement that came from a competitor that didn’t even have full pricing and shipping dates on everything. I think it was kind of the opposite; it’s amazing that a competitor that size is reacting to us, and I’ll take that as a complement, too.”

Also, Ring thinks it can do more than others in this space because of its overarching mission, which has focused much of its product development to date: Creating a so-called “Ring of security” that extends across the home and into the neighbourhood. Protect is a big part of that plan, because it deepens the relationship that Ring has with its customers, and allows it to gather data to help truly hone and personalize its alert system and monitoring services.

“Where we’re going with it is once we know this, we can then do things in our network which include, you know if someone’s walking around your house at 3 AM in the morning and your house is on stay mode, then we can do a different type of alert or sort of raise the alert level on that camera,” explained Siminoff. “And then we do things like deliver presence saying ‘How can I help you, what are you doing?’ and so really taking that presence and that interactivity, and that pre-crime thing that Ring is so good at and take it to the next level by knowing the status.”

This, according to Siminoff, is one of Ring’s key differentiators over home security industry stalwarts like ADT. He repeatedly called ADT and its ilk “marketing companies” on our call, whereas Ring is a product and “mission” company. The goal of most home security providers is to market safety and security and sell that marketing as a product with a lucrative recurring subscription, is the implication, whereas Ring is focused on an overall goal of making neighbourhoods more secure, per Siminoff.

“All the other companies in this space are thinking about how to maximize value out of each person, and the prices show that. If you look at what Ring is charging for this, in terms of the $10 per month and $100 per year, we are breaking the sound barrier on pricing around home security.”

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Siminoff’s point is well-made: That subscription fee includes all video storage and monitoring, as well last 24/7 professional monitor by trained personnel. Nest’s 24/7 monitoring pricing isn’t yet fixed, and it’ll be separate from its Nest Aware subscription which is already around $10 per month.

Ring Protect retails for $199 for the basic hardware, which is also less than Nest Secure’s $399 entry price. The system also works with all of Ring’s existing products, and will be rolling out support for third-party connected devices over time, too. On its own, it operates as a self-monitored connected security system, sending you alerts while you’re away. The Protect plans starting at $10 monthly include 24/7 monitoring by professionals, as well as unlimited cloud storage for recording from an unlimited number of Ring devices, as well as a 10 percent discount on future Ring hardware purchases.

The Ring Protect system is available for pre-order now, and should arrive in physical stores later this month.

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