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‘Tis the season for tree trimming, gift giving, recipe sharing and catching up with loved ones over a cup of eggnog. For families that are spread out over cities or even countries, it can be a challenge to get everyone together during the holidays. This year, we’ve teamed up with the creators of Wallace and Gromit to add a little extra holiday magic to Google+ Hangouts with a custom invitation builder and a Holiday Effects app.

Click this link to schedule your holiday family hangout and we’ll send all your invitations out with a custom Wallace and Gromit video. Since Hangouts let up to 10 people video chat at once, right from Google+ or Gmail, you can invite the whole family to join—and maybe a few friends too.

Don’t forget to put on a Santa hat, reindeer antlers or even wear Gromit’s ears by adding the Holiday Effects app to your family hangout.

Happy holidays from the Google+ and Gmail teams!

(Cross-posted on the Gmail Blog)

The Official Google Blog

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Unicode over 60 percent of the web

Computers store every piece of text using a “character encoding,” which gives a number to each character. For example, the byte 61 stands for ‘a’ and 62 stands for ‘b’ in the ASCII encoding, which was launched in 1963. Before the web, computer systems were siloed, and there were hundreds of different encodings. Depending on the encoding, C1 could mean any of ¡, Ё, Ą, Ħ, ‘, ”, or parts of thousands of characters, from æ to 品. If you brought a file from one computer to another, it could come out as gobbledygook.

Unicode was invented to solve that problem: to encode all human languages, from Chinese (中文) to Russian (русский) to Arabic (العربية), and even emoji symbols like or
; it encodes nearly 75,000 Chinese ideographs alone. In the ASCII encoding, there wasn’t even enough room for all the English punctuation (like curly quotes), while Unicode has room for over a million characters. Unicode was first published in 1991, coincidentally the year the World Wide Web debuted—little did anyone realize at the time they would be so important for each other. Today, people can easily share documents on the web, no matter what their language.

Every January, we look at the percentage of the webpages in our index that are in different encodings. Here’s what our data looks like with the latest figures*:

*Your mileage may vary: these figures may vary somewhat from what other search engines find. The graph lumps together encodings by script. We detect the encoding for each webpage; the ASCII pages just contain ASCII characters, for example. Thanks again to Erik van der Poel for collecting the data.

As you can see, Unicode has experienced an 800 percent increase in “market share” since 2006. Note that we separate out ASCII (~16 percent) since it is a subset of most other encodings. When you include ASCII, nearly 80 percent of web documents are in Unicode (UTF-8). The more documents that are in Unicode, the less likely you will see mangled characters (what Japanese call mojibake) when you’re surfing the web.

We’ve long used Unicode as the internal format for all the text Google searches and process: any other encoding is first converted to Unicode. Version 6.1 just released with over 110,000 characters; soon we’ll be updating to that version and to Unicode’s locale data from CLDR 21 (both via ICU). The continued rise in use of Unicode makes it even easier to do the processing for the many languages that we cover. Without it, our unified index it would be nearly impossible—it’d be a bit like not being able to convert between the hundreds of currencies in the world; commerce would be, well, difficult. Thanks to Unicode, Google is able to help people find information in almost any language.

The Official Google Blog

Research In Motion (RIM) has raised eyebrows in Southeast Asia after announcing that it has chosen Malaysia as the site for its regional BlackBerry manufacturing centre.

The move has shocked many in Indonesia who, given the significance of the market for RIM, had expected that the firm would tap the Southeast Asian giant – whose population exceeds 220 million – to further strengthen its brand and market position whilst generating jobs and investment in the country.

Statistics from BlackBerry Cool suggest that, while Malaysia may have stronger infrastructure and more straightforward legal steps, its smartphone market is dwarfed by that of its neighbour Indonesia.

Indonesia represents a much higher volume of downloads and interest in BlackBerry products than Malaysia. In terms of device sales, it’s clear that Indonesia is the bigger market. Sales of BlackBerry smartphones in Indonesia [are] expected to reach 4 million units with a [total] value of US$ 300 per unit next year. This is compared with the annual sales of 400,000 units in Malaysia.

RIM isn’t alone in selecting Malaysia for a key site. January saw search giant Google chose Kuala Lumpur as the site for its second regional office, in addition to Singapore, to develop its presence in the region.

Google Southeast Asia chief Julian Persaud hinted that superior infrastructure was behind the decision, telling AP that Malaysia’s online landscape was “growing rapidly with significant developments in both broadband Internet access and e-commerce activities” with a talent pool of “the highest quality”.

Added to these set backs, Indonesia has watched as Google opened an office in Thailand last month too – so why is the country continually overlooked?

Setting up office in Indonesia is no easy task, foreign companies must go through significant processes which are comparatively lengthier than those in Malaysia.

As the Jakarta Post revealed back in July, Google – and Erich Scmidt no less – has pledged to open an office in Indonesia before 2012, however there is some way still to go.

[Google is] involved in serious talks with the Communications and Information Technology Ministry regarding its business plan and would soon prepare a memorandum of understanding with the government.

Presumably, this long process coupled with Malaysia’s infrastructure were key reasons for RIM, like Google before it, selecting Malaysia. But what repercussions could this have on the ailing giant’s marketshare in Indonesia, one of its key strongholds.

With Android pushing BlackBerry for entry-level, budget smartphone sales in the region it could be suggested that RIM has missed an opportunity to strengthen its presence in the country.

Android is rivalling Apple, RIM, Nokia and other smartphone giants hard in many global markets. While RIM still enjoys a strong presence in Indonesia, it can’t count on things remaining the same forever.

For example, the pressure on networks to delivery a quality service could cause Android to find greater popularity in the market, as this BBC recently pointed out. While even BlackBerry-mad Indonesia is not immune to the appeal of Android which boasts a huge range of devices, covering different budgets, designs and handset manufacturers.

Another way to assess the possible impact is to look at what locating its manufacturing centre in Indonesia could have done for RIM, as BlackBerry Cool speculates.

If RIM chose to make the manufacturing center in Indonesia, it would certainly guarantee a very large Indonesian market for the foreseeable future as Indonesians would see the product as a local smartphone.

Perhaps this investment alone would help RIM weather any poor sales in other regions as the country’s population is young and would continue buying the devices over a long period.

Also, it leaves the possibility of another smartphone opening a manufacturing plant in Indonesia which could shift the market and RIM would lose an enormous customer base.

Tech-crazed Indonesians will be disappointed at missing out on another giant, only time will tell if this decision has a long-term impact on RIM’s position and success in the country.

The effects will soon be felt by the Canadian giant with the Indonesia government planning to “impose additional tax on imported BlackBerry devices”, as Daily Social reports.

TNW Aggregated Feed

We’re always trying to make it easier for people to connect—whether that means sending an email, chatting or video chatting, you can reach the people you care about from right inside Gmail. Last year, we made it possible for those of you in the U.S. to call any mobile phone or landline directly from Gmail and starting today, we are making this available to many more of you who use Gmail outside the U.S. by offering calling in 38 new languages.

You can now buy calling credit in your choice of four currencies (Euros, British pounds, Canadian dollars or U.S. dollars) and there are no connection fees, so you only pay for the time you talk.

To help reduce the cost of staying connected, we’re also lowering our calling rates to over 150 destinations around the world. For example, it’s now only $ 0.10 (or €0.08) per minute to call mobile phones in the U.K., France or Germany (landlines are $ 0.02/min), $ 0.15/minute to call mobile phones in Mexico and $ 0.02/min to call any phone number in China and India. The complete list is available on our rates page.

We’re rolling out this feature over the next few days, so if it’s available in your country you’ll see a little green phone icon show up at the top of your chat list and you’ll be ready to make calls (you’ll need to install the voice and video plug-in if you haven’t already). If you’re a Google Apps user, your domain administrator must have Google Voice and Google Checkout enabled in the administrator control panel in order to be able to use this feature.

Calls to the U.S. or Canada placed within those countries will continue to be free at least for the rest of 2011. Calls to the U.S. or Canada placed from outside these countries will be charged $ 0.01 per minute (or €0.01, £0.01, C$ 0.01 per minute).

The Official Google Blog

HTC’s legal wrangle with Apple took a turn today, when the Taiwanese mobile phone maker said it was willing to negotiate with its Californian counterpart in the ensuing patent fight.

As we reported two weeks ago, the US International Trade Commission ruled that HTC had violated two of Apple’s patents, relating to data-detection and data-transmission technologies.

In a twist, HTC bought out S3 Graphics Co. for $ 300m earlier this month, just after S3 Graphics had won a similar patent infringement case against Apple, and this buy-out was viewed as HTC beefing up its patent arsenal in its ensuing war with Apple.

And today, as reported on Bloomberg, Winston Yung, Chief Financial Officer at HTC suggested that his company is open to discussing matters with Apple. He says:

“We have to sit down and figure it out. We’re open to having discussions. We are open to all sorts of solutions, as long as the solution and the terms are fair and reasonable. On and off we’ve had discussions with Apple, even before the initial determination came out.”

Whilst it’s thought that there hasn’t been any formal talks between the companies following the two separate patent rulings this month, HTC will have to come out all guns blazing if its to protect its share of the mobile phone market.

As we reported earlier this month, HTC hit record revenues for the third month running in June, but as Bloomberg notes today its shares fell 8.2% after it announced it was buying 3S Graphics on July 6th, from a fund controlled by HTC Chairwoman Cher Wang and VIA Technologies Inc. (2388), which is also chaired by Wang.

HTC is currently paying Microsoft $ 5 in patent fees for every handset it releases with the Android operating system on it, so the Taiwanese firm will be keen to avoid paying any more in patent fees. But given that the ITC ruled against Apple at the start of the month, finding that it violates two 3S Graphics patents relating to compression technology, HTC will now be in a stronger bargaining position with the iPhone makers.

TNW Aggregated Feed

If you’ve recently looked at your Website Optimizer reports you may have noticed something different. Today we launched another new feature designed to help you better understand the performance of your variations: over time charts.
With over time charts you can see the cumulative conversion rate of each combination over the life of an experiment. This can give you a better understanding of how your site is performing. The new charts are available for all Website Optimizer experiments, and you’ll find them on the reports page.
We’d like to give a special thanks to Dennis Huo, who interned with us this past summer and built over time charts as part of his work here. Thanks for the charts, Dennis!

Google Website Optimizer Blog

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