Monthly:January 2020

Bots in Hangouts Chat: How they can help developers change the conversation

With chatbots growing in popularity, more and more teams are relying on them in the workplace to help them communicate and collaborate faster. As teams that use G Suite increasingly adopt Hangouts Chat as a primary communication method, bots represent an opportunity for developers to deliver unique and impactful experiences directly where users are engaged. In this blog post, I’ll provide a brief overview of what bots inChat are, and what you can do with them.

What are chatbots

Chatbots are computer programs that create human-like interaction experiences  primarily through text or voice commands. You might have encountered one while using chat support on a website.  And you likely ‘talk’ to bots via your favorite smart devices at home or on the go e.g. Google Assistant, Siri or Alexa. 

But why should this trend matter? Both as users and developers, bots present a compelling opportunity to significantly improve the way we collectively work. 

For users, it’s the opportunity to blend conversations with actions, to quickly connect with colleagues to accelerate teamwork, to get more done without switching between work streams and tools, and to stay informed right within a core communication tool.

For developers, it’s an opportunity to build solutions that surface where a growing number of users work more and more, to reduce friction between collaborating and performing tasks, to connect a myriad of back ends and processes directly within a familiar and increasingly popular front end user experience, and to capture user mindshare by connecting to their own apps and services.

Changing the way we work

Messaging apps aren’t new; they have been in the consumer space for many years. But messaging apps, aka chat apps, haven’t always been embraced by the enterprise. This is partly due to the fact that enterprise needs—for example, management controls, security, regulation, data protection, and governance—often supersede what many consumer-centric chat apps offer. It’s also partly because email has been so dominant as the de facto form of collaboration in the enterprise space, resulting in less of a need for chat adoption.

However, that’s changing along with users’ expectations. While email may remain the main source of “record” for work communication, chat has emerged to serve naturally conversational, typically informal, expectantly instantaneous and dynamic team-based communications. And as a result, Chatbots in Hangouts Chat are becoming the new frontier for next generation user interfaces for the better connected enterprise.

Bots in the enterprise

So what does a chatbot in the enterprise look like? While the use cases are virtually unlimited (it’s essentially just a new UI paradigm after all), there are a few common high-level categories bots can deliver broad impact for enterprise users.

Enhancing teamwork—If Hangouts Chat is aimed at making communications more fluid, bots in Chat can ratchet that up by making teams even more productive. A chatbot can speed up actions teams need to perform without switching context. For example, imagine your team chatting about a project you are working on, and collectively you want to review a list of outstanding action items or update completed tasks in real time. Why not just do that in-line conversationally as the discussion flows in chat? Well you can! Users can leverage bots in Hangouts Chat that handle common actions like managing task lists, pulling status reports or updating to-do item ownership, all without switching context to another service or tool. The ability to take action as a team, or even individually like request a vacation day or update your HR info from Chat, is a great way to enhance productivity of everyone across an organization.

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Delivering information—Chat is great for real-time communications between individuals and teams, but it’s also a great way to deliver pertinent information to users without requiring they actively request it or seek it out. Bots can deliver asynchronous notifications that keeps users up to date on topics that matter to them personally, in a format that is easily accessible with a higher probability of being consumed (than say getting lost in email or overlooked on a portal). With users spending more time in Chat, the chance that your information reaches them increases making asynchronous bots really interesting. Here’s just a few ideas that may interest users:

  • Notification of changes to customer opportunities for sales professionals (e.g. Deal Closed! Or Deal Lost!)

  • Warnings about inventory levels or shipping status of products

  • Push updates on milestones for team projects

  • Automated reminders on HR deadlines or policy changes

  • Announcement of new team members (great way to inspire interactive introductions to replace the obligatory, outdated email pushed from managers)

  • Immediate notice of fluctuations in your company’s stock price, or a regularly scheduled update at the close of the trading day

The list is essentially endless and of course varies based on organizational needs. But the common thing about asynchronous bots is that they are easy for users to discover, to opt-in or opt-out, and the entire process can be automated to create a timely, noninvasive, highly efficient channel for connecting users to relevant information.

Connecting systems—If you are a developer or an enterprise technology practitioner, chatbots in Hangouts Chat are ideal for connecting users with your applications. Whether you simply want to enable users to directly query information from your app, update data, or kick off actions and workflows that drive your app(s), bots are a great way to simplify connecting users where they work with your app. Users can reach your apps in context individually or as a team, with a simplified experience from a unified logon to enhanced interaction with natural language commands using driven by Dialogflow. Bots provide a new entry point into your app(s) that will likely increase user reach, engagement and satisfaction with frankly little effort (in most cases—bots aren’t overly complex). 

A number of third party vendors have already built Hangouts Chat bots doing just this and are worth taking at look at for your organization to use or get ideas from. Check them out here.

Looking ahead

This post has been about profiling one of the best kept ‘secrets’ of the G Suite platform. Chat bots aren’t brand new—they were actually available early in the launch of Hangouts Chat itself around mid 2018—but they are totally worth exploring if you haven’t yet.  I personally discovered them first as an ‘excited user’; and now I want to encourage developers to build their own bots. My goal here was to quickly introduce you to the concept of bots though, and of course the details are way beyond this post, so check back here as I cover more about what Hangouts Chat bots can do and how to build them in future posts. 

To learn more, and get started on your own building bots for Google Chat, visit https://developers.google.com/hangouts/chat.

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Google Search News for January 2020

We hope the year 2020 has started off well for you, and wanted to bring a brief update of some of the changes around Google Search since our last episode. We aim to do this in our YouTube Series called Google Search News.

In the January 2020 episode, we cover:

We hope you find these updates useful! Let us know in the video comments, or on Twitter, if there’s something we can improve on.

Posted by John Mueller, Google Search-Relations team, Zurich

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Say hello to OpenSK: a fully open-source security key implementation

Posted by Elie Bursztein, Security & Anti-abuse Research Lead, and Jean-Michel Picod, Software Engineer, Google 

Today, FIDO security keys are reshaping the way online accounts are protected by providing an easy, phishing-resistant form of two-factor authentication (2FA) that is trusted by a growing number of websites, including Google, social networks, cloud providers, and many others. To help advance and improve access to FIDO authenticator implementations, we are excited, following other open-source projects like Solo and Somu, to announce the release of OpenSK, an open-source implementation for security keys written in Rust that supports both FIDO U2F and FIDO2 standards.

Photo of OpenSK developer edition: a Nordic Dongle running the OpenSK firmware on DIY case

By opening up OpenSK as a research platform, our hope is that it will be used by researchers, security key manufacturers, and enthusiasts to help develop innovative features and accelerate security key adoption.

With this early release of OpenSK, you can make your own developer key by flashing the OpenSK firmware on a Nordic chip dongle. In addition to being affordable, we chose Nordic as initial reference hardware because it supports all major transport protocols mentioned by FIDO2: NFC, Bluetooth Low Energy, USB, and a dedicated hardware crypto core. To protect and carry your key, we are also providing a custom, 3D-printable case that works on a variety of printers.

“We’re excited to collaborate with Google and the open source community on the new OpenSK research platform,” said Kjetil Holstad, Director of Product Management at Nordic Semiconductor. “We hope that our industry leading nRF52840’s native support for secure cryptographic acceleration combined with new features and testing in OpenSK will help the industry gain mainstream adoption of security keys.”

While you can make your own fully functional FIDO authenticator today, as showcased in the video above, this release should be considered as an experimental research project to be used for testing and research purposes.

Under the hood, OpenSK is written in Rust and runs on TockOS to provide better isolation and cleaner OS abstractions in support of security. Rust’s strong memory safety and zero-cost abstractions makes the code less vulnerable to logical attacks. TockOS, with its sandboxed architecture, offers the isolation between the security key applet, the drivers, and kernel that is needed to build defense-in-depth. Our TockOS contributions, including our flash-friendly storage system and patches, have all been upstreamed to the TockOS repository. We’ve done this to encourage everyone to build upon the work.

How to get involved and contribute to OpenSK 
To learn more about OpenSK and how to experiment with making your own security key, you can check out our GitHub repository today. With the help of the research and developer communities, we hope OpenSK over time will bring innovative features, stronger embedded crypto, and encourage widespread adoption of trusted phishing-resistant tokens and a passwordless web.

Acknowledgements

We also want to thank our OpenSK collaborators: Adam Langley, Alexei Czeskis, Arnar Birgisson, Borbala Benko, Christiaan Brand, Dirk Balfanz, Dominic Rizzo, Fabian Kaczmarczyck, Guillaume Endignoux, Jeff Hodges, Julien Cretin, Mark Risher, Oxana Comanescu, Tadek Pietraszek

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From pop quiz to final exam: Chromebooks pass the test

Chromebooks help teachers stay organized, jazz up their lesson plans, and collaborate with students. But did you know they can improve the way schools administer assessments? With a secure platform, Chromebooks are ideal for formative assessments, like state exams, or pop quizzes throughout the year. While testing is key in tracking students’ progress, it often only happens at the end of the year, semester, or unit. While that’s often too late to fix a concept that students don’t understand, educators can help by using Chromebooks to check in along the way.

Many testing solutions, one device

Let’s check out three ways instructors and schools can use Chromebooks for better assessments – and how you can now use accessibility apps and extensions to support all learners while test taking.

1. Helping to cut distractions during test time 

Many instructors use Google Forms Quizzes for formative assessments and understanding student progress. But we’ve heard instructors worry it’s too easy for students to get distracted, browse the web for answers, or chat with classmates on Hangouts. To keep pupils focused on the assessment—and put educators at ease—we created locked mode in Quizzes. Locked mode takes over the screen so students can’t navigate away until they submit their answers. And if a student exits the quiz, or opens any other tab, the teacher receives an email letting them know. Once the student hits the submit button, they can resume normal use of their Chromebook.

“Locked mode allows me to assign a quiz to a set of students and then not worry about them going to other sites or access content that they shouldn’t,” says Chris Webb, High School Math teacher in Montreal, QC and Google Certified Trainer and Innovator. “It has exceeded my expectations and has allowed me to administer math quizzes without worrying that students will try to use Google or other tools to find the answer.”

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Locked mode in Quizzes in Google Forms, only on managed Chromebooks

2. Turning devices into secure high stakes testing tools

Kiosk mode lets administrators use Chromebooks for high stakes testing by enabling the exam app to run in full-screen mode on the device. And kiosk mode is simple to set up – once enabled, it stops students from accessing the web or external storage, taking screenshots, or printing. Learn more about using Chromebooks for assessments. 

3. Supporting better testing for all types of learners

All students learn, and show what they know, in different ways. Last year, we shared that you can use apps and extensions like Texthelp and Don Johnston, as well as Chromebook accessibility features like Speech To Text and Word Prediction, when using locked mode in Quizzes in Google Forms. And today, we’re partnering with Pearson to provide integrated extensions for its online test delivery platform, TestNav. 

Texthelp® works in Google Forms Quizzes as well as Pearson’s TestNav so students can use Read&Write for Google Chrome and EquatIO® for Google. These tools help with reading, writing, and creating mathematical equations. They give students a little extra support if they need it, so they’re empowered to demonstrate their knowledge. 

Don Johnston’s apps Co:Writer and Snap&Read integrate with Chrome, even in locked mode, and with Pearson’s TestNav. Co:Writer provides word prediction, translation, and speech recognition, while Snap&Read offers read aloud, highlighting, and note-taking. These integrations allow students to get real-time writing and reading help while taking tests. 

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So whether you’re giving an exit ticket, formative assessment, or final exam, Chromebooks can help. Get started with Quizzes in Google Classroom, locked mode, accessibility tools, and Chrome kiosk appstoday.  

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Space out with Google Earth on mobile

Stars are magical. Van Gogh painted them. Shakespeare wrote about them. We make wishes on them. 

On the Google Earth team, we understand people’s desire to see stars just as much as they want to see Planet Earth. The Google Earth mobile app now offers wide views of our starry universe, just as Earth for the web and Earth Pro have done for some time.

As smartphones and tablets have become more powerful, we’ve been able to bring the quality of Earth’s web and Pro versions to most smartphones. You can now see a view of the stars as you zoom out from Earth on your phone. Rotate the globe and you’ll see images of the beautiful Milky Way, collected from the European Southern Observatory, depicting the stars as they’d appear to a space explorer at a point some 30,000 miles above the planet. 

Stars in Google Earth on a tablet device.png

Before we added the star imagery, the sky around the “big blue marble” view in Google Earth was simply black, which wasn’t very realistic. Realism is important to us—we want people using Google Earth to see our planet in context with our place in the universe. 

That’s also why we recently added animated clouds that show weather patterns around the globe, and feature space themes, like Scenes from Space and Visit the International Space Station, in our guided tours on Google Earth’s storytelling platform, Voyager.

All kinds of people use Google Earth: scientists, environmentalists, government and nonprofit workers, and global citizens who simply love exploring the planet. Whether they want to zoom in and explore Earth close-up or zoom out and see the big picture, we hope people using the Google Earth app will enjoy this new opportunity to stargaze. 

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Five (of many) new emoji coming to Android this year

Each year, the Unicode Consortium reviews a seemingly infinite number of proposals that result in a list of emoji to be added to smartphones. Then companies like Google design the emoji for their operating systems like Android. 

This week, Unicode announced their 62 new emoji, along with skin tone and gender variants, for 2020. The list has us feeling 🤗, because five of the approved designs were proposed by the Android team. They’re also part of our ongoing effort to create an emoji keyboard that’s more inclusive. Here’s a look at all five:


More representation for a variety of families

Until this year, the only emoji that depicts childcare is the “breastfeeding” emoji. Since an inability to breastfeed doesn’t preclude you from nurturing your child, we proposed First, “person feeding baby with a bottle”—an emoji that everyone can use. (Though in my opinion, as a mother of twins, parenthood is already representable with🌪️💩.)

Bottle Feeding emoji

Emoji design for “person feeding baby with bottle” 

We also proposed support for all gender variants for “person in veil” and “person in tuxedo,” because our technology should be inclusive of people’s experiences around the world ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜

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“Person in veil” and “person in tuxedo”

More ways to show empathy

With a new appreciation of how people use emoji, we’ve also been looking into emoji that can communicate empathy, which is often lost when not speaking face to face. That’s part of the thinking behind “two people hugging” and a “slightly smiling face with tear.” 

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New emoji to show empathy

“Slightly smiling face with tear” is a visual metaphor for feeling simultaneous appreciation and relief—goodness with a dash of sadness. It might come in handy when thinking fondly of the past (#tbt), experiencing the present and not taking moments for granted, or looking hopefully into the future.  

Visibility for the transgender flag 

In addition to the five emoji above, we also lent support to the Transgender flag proposal alongside Googler Tea Uglow and many dedicated individuals. We hope this addition gives the trans community a way to be out and proud, and others a way to provide visible support. 

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These five emoji, along with the other new emoji approved by Unicode, will become available for Android users later this year 🥳

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Gear up for the Big Game with Search and the Assistant

Huddle up, football fans! It’s almost game time. This Sunday, people around the country will gather to watch Kansas City and San Francisco face off in the biggest football game of the year. We took a look at Google Trends data to see the top questions, recipes and topics people are searching for. Fun fact: Search interest in Roman numerals spikes every year at this time (and this year roman numeral LIV is no exception) .

While the teams get ready to go head to head, Search and the Google Assistant can provide  information about Sunday’s showdown, help you prep your game day appetizers, give you fun ideas for your watch party, and keep you updated with the latest plays during the game. Score!

Football fan face-off

Our two conference champions are causing chatter across the U.S. Search interest in both San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs have reached an all-time high. What team will you cheer for this Sunday?

Most Searched Teams.png

And football isn’t the only thing we’re excited for. This year’s halftime artists are ready to “Get Right” and put on an amazing show—here are their most-searched songs in the U.S. over the past five years.

Most searched Jennifer Lopez songs

  • I’m Real

  • Get Right

  • Dinero

  • Waiting for Tonight

  • Ain’t Your Mama’

Most searched Shakira songs

  • Waka Waka

  • Try Everything

  • Chantaje

  • Whenever, Wherever

  • She Wolf

For some nostalgia, we took a look at the most-searched halftime performances in the U.S. since 2004. Talk about a top-notch lineup. 

  • Bruno Mars

  • Janet Jackson

  • Maroon 5

  • Lady Gaga

  • Beyonce

Game Day goodies

From white chicken chili to football cookies, this year’s most uniquely-searched game day recipes in each state will have your mouth watering. And with the Google Assistant, you can get step-by-step help cooking on Smart Displays, like Nest Hub Max. Get started by saying, “Hey Google, show me recipes for seven layer dip.”

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Uniquely-searched recipes per state as compared to the U.S.

No matter what team you’re cheering for, yummy food is something we can all agree on. Here are the top five most-searched game day foods since 2004 (buffalo chicken dip is the G.O.A.T. of snacks!).

  • Buffalo chicken dip

  • 7 layer dip

  • Chili

  • Spinach artichoke dip

  • Taco dip

Get in the game with the Assistant

The Assistant can keep you updated on the event or bring more fun to your watch party. Start by asking, “Hey Google …”: 

  • “Watch FOX on YouTube TV” to have your Assistant play the big game on Smart Displays, like Nest Hub Max.

  • “Who do you think will win the big game?” to hear the Assistant’s prediction.

  • “Help me talk like a football fan” for tips to sound like a pro—even if you don’t usually watch football. 

  • “Tell me a football joke” for a few laughs.

  • “Touchdown!” to add to the celebration when your team scores.

No matter what you’re searching for, Search and the Google Assistant can be your game day champion. For the latest on what people are searching for this weekend, see our Google Trends page

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Partnering with UPS to deliver on our mission

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We’ve built the Waymo Driver so that it can be deployed across a variety of vehicle platforms, as well as business applications that encompass not only transporting people, but also transporting goods. At Waymo, our mission is to make it safe and easy for people and things to get where they’re going so it’s important that we focus on creating a safer driving experience for all types of vehicles, including those that deliver goods to our homes and businesses each day. The Waymo Driver can power a range of use cases from ride-hailing to trucking and logistics, to delivery, to public transportation and even personal cars (down the road!).

For instance, we extended our partnership with AutoNation last year to include an autonomous parts delivery pilot. Through this pilot, AutoNation now delivers car parts that fit safely and securely in our Waymo Chrysler Pacifica minivans, on demand.

In our efforts to continue expanding our delivery business, we’re excited to announce a new strategic partnership with UPS, starting with a first-of-its-kind deal for the Waymo Driver to deliver packages on behalf of the national parcel delivery carrier. Our self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans will shuttle packages from UPS Stores in the Metro Phoenix area to the UPS Tempe hub as part of a pilot that will explore customer and operational benefits and illustrate how the Waymo Driver can deliver on behalf of clients safely, efficiently, and, eventually, at scale. The pilot will begin this quarter and our team will work closely with UPS to with the goal of jointly developing a long-term plan.

For this pilot, Waymo vehicles will drive autonomously with a trained operator on board to monitor transportation operations.

We’re confident this strategic partnership with UPS will help us deliver on our goal to improve customer service and network efficiency, and ultimately, make roads safer.

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Can your smart thermostat be smarter?

As a lifelong thermostat-turner-upper, I distinctly remember a day in high school when I made a beeline to crank the heat in my family home. Instead of the quiet rumble of the heater turning on, it was silent. I bundled myself in blankets and waited to tell my parents the news: We were going to freeze. Clearly I was being dramatic, but I remember my parents’ frustration nonetheless with the broken furnace. 

Not to date myself, but this was before smart thermostats existed. Our thermostat wasn’t tracking any minor issues that could become big ones, and it certainly couldn’t alert us about them. Fortunately, homes are getting smarter: Starting today we are testing a new Nest thermostat feature that can help alert you to some heating and cooling system (HVAC) issues. With this new feature, Nest is learning how to identify unusual patterns related to your HVAC system, and can alert you to a variety of potential issues. Most of us don’t have an HVAC pro on speed dial, so we’re also testing out the ability to help customers connect with a professional who can help, starting in select cities.

Get HVAC alerts

Based on information like your thermostat’s historical data and current weather, Nest will learn to detect some unusual HVAC patterns that might indicate something is wrong. If it’s taking longer than normal to heat your home, for example, there might be a problem with your heating system—even if you haven’t noticed anything. 

If your thermostat notices a potential issue we are testing, we’ll send you an email alert telling you what your thermostat noticed and which system (heating or cooling) may be having a problem. There will be issues that your thermostat won’t catch—but over time and through your feedback, Nest thermostats will get smarter and better at detecting more and more possible problems.

Book a pro

If you receive an HVAC email alert, you may want to have a professional take a look at your system. If a Nest Pro installed your thermostat or previously serviced your system and you want to hire them again, you can often find their contact information on your Nest thermostat or in the Nest app.

As part of this feature test, we are also partnering with Handy, a platform that connects qualified professionals with customers who need their services, to make it easy to find and book an HVAC pro with set pricing. Booking through Handy will initially be available in over 20 metro areas, including Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Las Vegas, and San Diego, and expand to additional regions throughout the testing period.

How do I get alerts?

Sign up to get your Nest Home Report, and you’ll automatically receive these new HVAC alert emails. You can also opt out of getting these HVAC alerts at any time. With this new thermostat feature, you now have more insight into your heating and cooling system, to help you look after your home. 

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Rethinking Payment Request for iOS Chrome

The Payment Request API is a web standard to make it easier for web developers to build low-friction and secure payment flows. The browser facilitates the flow between a merchant website and “payment handlers”. A payment handler can be built-in to the browser, a native app installed on the user’s mobile device, or a Progressive Web App. Today, developers can use the Payment Request API to access several payment methods, including “basic-card” in Chrome on all platforms, Google Pay in Chrome on Android, and Apple Pay in Safari. The Chrome team continues to work with other browser vendors and digital wallet developers to make more payment handlers available with this new standard.



Shipping the Payment Request API over the last two years helped us better understand the challenges in building payment flows on the web. We learned that UX is critical for building user trust with a payment app, and new technology such as tokenization has made great strides in protecting users from online fraud by never exposing a user’s credit card number to a website. Unfortunately, Chrome’s built-in payment handler for “basic-card” falls short on both regards. As we considered solutions, we realized that the best way to enable more seamless and secure payments on the web is to enable an interoperable ecosystem, where digital wallets can bring their best experience to the web. This means shifting focus to the Payment Handler API, which is an emerging W3C standard that allows 3rd party payment handlers, which can be either native mobile apps or progressive web apps, to integrate with the browser to handle Payment Requests. This enables users to complete one-click payments anywhere on the web using their wallet of choice.



This shift in focus means that we will eventually sunset Chrome’s built-in “basic-card” payment handler. We will start by removing “basic-card” support from iOS Chrome, where this feature has the least usage. This change is coming in M81. In its place, we are investigating how to enable native apps on iOS to integrate with Payment Request API in Chrome. The “basic-card” payment method remains a W3C standard and developers can build compatible payment handlers using the Payment Handler API by setting method to “basic-card” when registering a payment handler with the browser.



This M81 change will deactivate Payment Request API on iOS Chrome because “basic-card” is the only supported payment method and because payment handlers are unavailable due to the lack of Payment Handler API support in WKWebView. If you’re a developer that uses Payment Request API, please make sure you use feature detection and provide a suitable fallback to ensure iOS users continue to have a working alternative. This is also needed to ensure your website works as expected in browsers that don’t yet support Payment Request API.





If you have feedback on Chrome’s web payments implementations, you can reach us at paymentrequest@chromium.org. If you have feedback on the web payment API specifications, find us at the W3C Web Payments Working Group.


Posted by Danyao Wang, Web Payments EngineerRead More