Why doesn’t Google want me to have the nice things?

no_locationOne of the things that I do in my work is to encourage people to be aware of the technological changes taking place around them and try to get ahead of the change; to think about future possibilities for education, for society, for us personally. Part of that involves showing them the astounding capabilities of current technology, of which many are woefully unaware. I’ve reveled in the “oohs” and “ahs” when I show a group of teachers how Google’s Field Trip lets your environment announce itself to you, or showing them how to use Google Now’s location awareness to make life just a little bit (or even a lot) easier. But, no more. Google suddenly decided that we here in Iceland (and various other places in the world) can’t have these nice things. What once worked flawlessly now just results in a “Location reporting is not available in your region.”

As far as I can tell, the location-based services were quietly disabled around the time that KitKat 4.4.3 rolled out. I didn’t notice it right away, so it may have been some other application update that disabled it. However it was disabled, what I do know is that something that I enjoyed and had found immensely useful was taken away from me. What’s more, I could no longer dazzle my less tech-savvy friends and colleagues with demonstrations of the incredible power of the technology that they had right there in their pocket. I could no longer hold a rapt audience with my “This is now – imagine what we’re gonna do in the future!” spiel. What was once a “Watch this…”, then wait for the inevitable stunned expressions moment, became a “No, really, whenever we get this enabled, then we might be able to… Hey, where’d everyone go?” moment. It sort of takes the oomph out of the whole amazing-technology-of-the-future thing.

What frustrates me the most is that I can’t find out why Google decided to take the nice things away from me. It’s not like I’m in some isolated corner of the world lacking infrastructure or something like that. I’m in Iceland – in the middle of the North Atlantic – right at the spot where several high-bandwidth submarine cables slither across the ocean floor – the place with one of the highest rates of broadband adoption in the world – the place with one of the highest rates of smartphone adoption in the world. Heck, there are people Tweeting off remote mountain tops here in Iceland. We’re totally connected! So, I’ve sent Google feedback and emails asking why. I’ve searched the Internet high and low for some explanation. No one will tell my why I can’t have the nice things!

And it’s not just me that wants an explanation. My Mom deserves one, too. My Mom is going on 75 and quite tech savvy but feeling a little overwhelmed with the rate of some of the recent changes. This past year we’ve smartphone-ified her. She enjoys it and definitely recognizes the value in it. But, figuring out how to get at some of the nice things is a little confusing. So, Google’s voice commands are a godsend. She doesn’t have to do the tap-here-tap-here-then-here finger dance. She just says “Okay Google, call my sister.”, and voila! Her phone is ringing her sister. Since smartphone features are increasingly tied to location-based services, a lot of the useful voice commands have been disabled along with the location reporting. No more telling Google to remind you to pick up some milk when you get to the store. No more telling Google to remind you to take your phone charger with you when you leave the house. No more nice things.

I’ve tried everything else, so now I’m shouting.

WHY GOOGLE? WHY CAN’T WE HAVE THE NICE THINGS?

Please tell us. Maybe we can help.

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