Top 12 Google Labs experiments

When you've got thousands of the world's most brilliant engineers spending 20% of their time on whatever takes their fancy, cool software is the result.

Google Labs

Take thousands of the world's most brilliant engineers and tell them to spend 20% of their time on whatever takes their fancy. Then give them a home for the results. That playground exists at Google Labs.

Some of the experiments slink away into obscurity (anyone remember Google X or MyTravelGoogle.com?). Others take wing and “graduate” to become fully supported features or services. Google Maps, Google Docs and Google Reader are all alumni of this no-holds-barred, no-fear-of-consequences toy store. Here are our current picks for the 12 coolest experiments in some stage or another from the Labs right now. 1. Google Cloud Print for MobileWhat it does: Google Cloud Print lets you print documents over an Internet connection without downloading printer drivers, even from your smartphone/tablet.

Why it’s cool: We don’t live in a paperless world (yet), but most of us can’t carry our printers with us. If you can view and edit the document on the road (or the coffee shop), why not finish the task and have the hard copy waiting in your office. Or better still, let it show up on your boss’s printer so you can order a second cuppa Joe.

Google Cloud Print

2. Google Body What it does: Explores the human body in a 3D image that lets you peel back anatomical layers, rotate, zoom in, and navigate to various parts inside and out.

Why it’s cool: Google Body does for the human form what Google Earth does for the planet. Even cooler is that it serves as one of a number of Google experiments for the newly minted 3D browser rendering standard, WebGL, which hit “final draft” status on Feb. 7 and arrived fully supported a few days later in Chrome 9. Google Body already has its own Chrome extension, which gives it added features.

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3. App Inventor for Android

What it does: Programs an Android App through a GUI interface in your browser that requires no programming knowledge to use.

Why it’s cool: Anyone with the patience to sit through a few tutorials can create their own Android app. While designing through a live connection between PC and phone, the app appears live on your phone so you can see how you are doing in real time.

Android App Inventor

4. ‘Where in the World’ Game for Google Maps

What it does: This game uses Google Maps to tests your geographical knowledge by giving you 10 seconds to correctly name the location where a pin has been placed.

Why it’s cool: The Where in the World game is nowhere near as useful as some of the other Map options from the Map Labs (like distance measuring). But it is way more fun. The geography questions get harder as your score rises. Your kids will love it.

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5. CaptionTube YouTube captions editorWhat it does: Allows you to add captions to your YouTube videos with far more precision than using a text editor. Adds features such as creating multiple language tracks.

Why it’s cool: Videos with captions are just plain better. But maximum hilarity requires perfect timing and this free tool gives you options like a scaleable timeline. If you gaffe and need to edit, changes to your captions can be immediately previewed. How cool is that? Or should we say, ¿No es genial?

CaptionTube

6. Social Graph and FollowfinderWhat it does: Social Graph is an API for adding social connections to applications. Google has created some sample apps from it, like Followfinder, that are useful in their own right.

Why it’s cool: Yes, there are an endless number of “follow-management” apps for Twitter. Followfinder is cool because it’s extremely easy to use. The other sample apps are even cooler. For instance, there’s an app that searches out all those linking to your blogs “claiming to be you.”

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7. Sketch and Chrome Experiments

What it does: Sketch lets you draw in 3D using animated lines. Draw your picture then rotate it to see the other sides.

Why it’s cool: Drawing is fun. Drawing in 3D without having to learn a many-widget software program is even more fun. You can even take an existing 3D drawing and modify it to your liking. Plus, once you are done with your Sketch, you can head back to the Chrome Experiments page and find a hundred other entertaining ways to kill time. It’s a catch-all site for cool little applications that use the latest, greatest features in the Chrome browser like HTML5, Canvas, SVG and WebGL.

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8. Google Squared What it does: Type in a search term on a broad subject, and Google collects all the data, organizes it and posts it in a spreadsheet format for you.

Why it’s cool: Google Squared is simply a brilliant way to go about researching a big topic, such a major purchase decision. Type in a general topic, say “Android Tablets” or “Windows 7 tablets” and voila! You have built a “square” that lists them all, with pictures, description, prices, and other attributes. And you can add your own columns based on any criteria you want, such as weight, for instance. You can research any big topic this way - horticulture, hurricanes, hurricanes, history.

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9. Google Social Circle

What it does: Allows you to customize your search to the people and newsfeeds that you follow.

Why it’s cool: This is the Google equivalent to LinkedIn – only for search. Your social circle consists of your direct social media connections plus the people they follow, based on contacts in Gmail, Contacts, Friendfeed, Twitter, Reader and other such tools. Quickly discover what your preferred sources say about any topic, a travel destination, the big game, with no risk of offending them if you disagree.

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10. YouTube LeanBack

What it does: Watch Web videos sized to fit on your screen, be it a big-screen TV or a PC, while sharing them with friends on sites like Facebook.

Why it’s cool: YouTube Leanback is a tool in that new category called the connected TV. It works with Google TV or any TV connected to a home server or computer. Google clearly intended it to make renting movies from YouTube more appealing, but since it works with any YouTube video, it’s a nifty all-purpose tool. Watching funny videos with friends without having to feed them or clean the house to have them over - that sounds like a perfect Tuesday night.

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11. Google Walking Tours

What it does: Fire up this option in Google Maps and get a walking tour of a city planned for you. Tell it your starting location and the time you have to spend and it does the rest.

Why it’s cool: Find yourself with a free afternoon – or longer – on a business trip? Unless you’re the kind of person who chats with the bellhop, you may never know that there’s a fabulous used book store one block from your hotel, or an art museum and the city’s best brew pub. It beats sitting inside watching pay-per-view.

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12. Google Code Playground

What it does: This lets you experiment with the tools for embedding a Google app into your Web app. Pick a Google service, pick what you want it to do, adjust the code and see the results in real time.

Why it’s cool: Tinker with Google’s application APIs and debug them in realtime. Who hasn’t been drawn into building a Web site for a favorite non-profit (school, house of worship, Scout troop)? Sooner or later someone will want to add a calendar, a map, a blog. Playground eliminates the learning curve for using APIs for Google’s most popular services like Translate, Blogger, Blog Search, Book Search, Calendar, Earth, Friend Connect - you get the idea.

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Want more? Here’s our original picks from 2010:

You still want more? Check out our slideshow: The Mad Science of Google Labs

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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