Google Maps Now Shows Real-Time Transit Information in Select Regions

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While Google Maps already showed us the scheduled metros, bus routes along with the time of arrival for each bus and other public transit information since 2007, it has now been given the ability to deliver real-time public transit information in select cities and countries on Android.

From Tuesday, users will see a slightly revamped interface that will let users know at a glance at how long they will have to wait, and alternative options. The new Google Maps’ real-time transit info however is initially being rolled out to six regions, and will give live arrival timings of buses, trains, and subway systems. The feature will help users know when the next bus or metro would arrive in case they missed the previous one, and, also sends alerts for cancelled routes.

Google has brought on board over 25 new partners in the UK, the Netherlands, Budapest, Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle for the initial rollout of real-time transit info, in addition to the over 100 partners it already has worldwide. Google has not yet detailed when it would roll out the real-time transit information to other regions in the world, or for the iOS app.

The search giant says it offers public transit information in 18,000 cities and towns in 64 countries across six continents. In addition, the transit feature by Google is being powered by the help of over 6,000 transit authorities, which cover 2.5 million train stations, bus stops and ferry terminals across the globe.

The Mountain View firm at Google I/O 2015 recently said it would soon be bringingoffline search to its Google Maps app. The app will also feature complete voice-based turn-by-turn navigation while in offline mode. Both features will be made available sometime later this year. The new offline features announced for Google Maps are aimed mainly for “emerging markets” where mobile Internet coverage is spotty, and data charges expensive, as navigation via GPS is independent of mobile networks.

AMD Launches Sixth-Generation ‘Carrizo’ APU Architecture at Computex 2015

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AMD has launched its sixth-generation A-Series APU line, codenamed Carrizo, at an event alongside the 2015 Computex trade show in Taipei, Taiwan. AMD will be targeting mainstream notebooks with the promise of extended battery life, as part of its efforts to claw itself out of the low-margin budget ends of the PC and notebook markets.Carrizo will be the company’s first SoC (System-on-a-Chip) design, integrating functions including CPU cores, GPU cores, cache memory, IO controllers, a hardware HEVC video decoder, a security core, and other functions on a single processor die. The architecture is also the first to be compliant with AMD’s industry-spanning Heterogeneous Systems Architecture (HSA) effort, which aims to drastically improve performance by allowing a system’s CPU and GPU to contribute to workloads more easily through a common memory pool, rather than repeatedly copying data from one dedicated memory pool to another.

Carrizo’s four CPU cores are based on the new Excavator architecture, and are accompanied by eight GPU modules based on the Graphics Core Next 1.2 architecture derived from the company’s discrete Radeon GPU line. The integrated GPU is DirectX 12 ready and discrete graphics chips are supported as well. The chip is fabricated on the relatively old 28nm process but AMD says its engineers have been able to squeeze more efficiency out of their designs, and Carrizo thus stays within a 15W TDP envelope.

The company has not disclosed how many SKUs will be available, or what clock speeds they will run at. There is also no target window for when devices based on Carrizo APUs will be available in the market.

According to AMD, the mainstream notebook segment accounts for two out of every five notebooks sold, and is the largest share of the overall PC market as well. Intel has dominated this market for years and AMD has been forced to compete by cutting prices. The company has identified workloads that users typically expect their computers to be good at today, such as video streaming and online gaming.

The HEVC block is an example of measures taken to perform these tasks while still lasting all day on a single battery charge. AMD claims over twice as much video playback time on a Carrizo APU than on its predecessor, Kaveri, thanks to decreased CPU core utilisation.

The security core, which AMD calls TrustZone, is actually an ARM Cortex-A5 which enables secure boot and resume, network connectivity while in sleep mode, drive encryption, and application security – all of which will appeal to business customers.

US President Obama Signs Bill Reforming Government Surveillance Program

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President Barack Obama signed into law on Tuesday legislation passed by Congress earlier in the day reforming a government surveillance program that swept up millions of Americans’ telephone records.Reversing security policy in place since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the bill ends a system exposed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. The spy agency collected and searched records of phone calls looking for terrorism leads but was not allowed to listen to their content.

Passage of the USA Freedom Act, the result of an alliance between Senate Democrats and some of the chamber’s most conservative Republicans, was a victory for Obama, a Democrat, and a setback for Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

After the Senate voted 67-32 on Tuesday to give final congressional approval to the bill, Obama used his Twitter account, @POTUS, to say he was glad it had passed. “I’ll sign it as soon as I get it,” the tweet said.

Before voting, senators defeated three amendments proposed by Republican leaders after they reversed themselves and ended efforts to block it. The House of Representatives passed the measure overwhelmingly last month.

In the end, 23 Senate Republicans voted for the Freedom Act, joining 196 who backed it in the House. In a rift between Republicans, who control both chambers, House leaders had warned that amendments proposed by McConnell would be a “challenge” for the House that could delay the bill.

A federal appeals court on May 7 ruled the collection of “metadata” illegal.

The new law would require companies such as Verizon Communications Inc and AT&T Inc, to collect and store telephone records the same way that they do now for billing purposes.

But instead of routinely feeding U.S. intelligence agencies such data, the companies would be required to turn it over only in response to a government request approved by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

The Freedom Act is the first major legislative reform of U.S. surveillance since Snowden’s revelations two years ago this month led to debate over how to balance Americans’ distrust of intrusive government with fears of terrorist attacks.

Along with the phone records program, two other domestic surveillance programs authorized under the 2001 USA Patriot Act have been shut down since Sunday.

Missed deadline
After Republican Senator Rand Paul, a 2016 presidential candidate, blocked McConnell’s efforts to keep them going temporarily, the Senate missed a deadline to extend legal authorities for certain data collection by the NSA and the FBI.

McConnell made an unusually strong last-ditch argument against the Freedom Act after his amendments failed. “It surely undermines American security by taking one more tool from our war fighters, in my view, at exactly the wrong time,” he said in a Senate speech.

Telephone companies had been less than thrilled about potentially overhauling their record-keeping systems to become the repositories of surveillance records.

Together with civil liberties groups, they opposed specific requirements for how long they must retain any data, which were proposed in some amendments that were later defeated. A Verizon official, for instance, spoke in support of the Freedom Act, without such a mandate, in a Senate hearing last year.

After the vote, Microsoft Corp General Counsel Brad Smith praised Congress. “Today’s vote by the Senate on the USA Freedom Act will help to restore the balance between protecting public safety and preserving civil liberties,” Smith said in a statement.

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, a leading Senate privacy advocate, voted for the Freedom Act. He pledged that he and his allies would continue pushing for more limits on surveillance.

“This has always been about reforming intelligence policies that do not make America safer and threaten our liberties,” Wyden told reporters.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the Freedom Act was a milestone, but did not go far enough. “The passage of the bill is an indication that comprehensive reform is possible, but it is not comprehensive reform in itself,” ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer said in a statement.

A senior U.S. intelligence official said the bulk telephone data collection system had been shut down since shortly before 8 p.m. (midnight GMT) on Sunday.

It was not immediately clear how soon the NSA program would be restarted. The Freedom Act allows it to continue for six months while the new system is established.

The White House said the administration would move quickly to get it up and running again.

With Obama’s signing of the bill, the executive branch will have to apply to the surveillance court for reauthorization.

Instagram Takes Steps to Open Platform to Advertisers

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Instagram said on Tuesday that it is taking steps to make its ads available to all types of businesses, not just hand-selected brands.Starting in June, Instagram this year is rolling out to advertisers the ability to more closely direct campaigns by zip code and other data sets like interests in the same ways that brands can target consumers on its parent company Facebook Inc.

In addition it will let advertisers link to external websites or app stores with buttons such as “shop now,” “sign up,” “learn more,” and “install now.”

Currently, it works closely with only a handful of brands like Levi’s, Banana Republic and Ben & Jerry’s. Ads can only be targeted by gender, age and country.

“The quality of the ad experience remains a very important point of differentiation for us,” Instagram’s global head of business and brand development James Quarles said in an interview.

The move to widen and sharpen the ad platform is a significant one for the popular mobile photo app that has more than 200 million daily active users across the world. It has carefully allowed advertising on its platform starting a year and a half ago.Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion in 2012.

Quarles added that making ads more relevant and delivering them to the right target is the next stage of development.

Still, by opening up to all advertisers, including hundreds of thousands of small businesses, Instagram risks losing quality control of campaigns and potentially irking users.

“People are used to seeing beautiful brand imagery in their feeds,” said Debra Aho Williamson, principal analyst at eMarketer. “Now they will see some direct response ads and we all know the baggage that comes with that.”

Still, Williamson expects a “strong ramp-up” from advertisers long eager to do more with the platform.

Facebook does not break out Instagram revenue but Pivotal Research estimates it is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Kfir Gavrieli, co-founder and CEO of Tieks, an online-only retailer known for its ballet flats, said it’s currently “clumsy and awkward” for an Instagram user to get from a post to a landing page.

“The shop now button,” he said, “will be much more seamless.”

Study Finds Why We Browse Facebook When We Feel Like Taking a Break

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Scientists claim to have found why social networks such as Facebook are such a popular diversion for people who feel like taking a break.

Even when we are resting, our brains are preparing us to be social, according to a new study by psychologists from the University of California, Los Angeles.

The study sheds light on why social networks such as Facebook are such a popular diversion for people who feel like taking a break, researchers said.

“The brain has a major system that seems predisposed to get us ready to be social in our spare moments,” said Matthew Lieberman, a UCLA professor of psychology and of psychiatry and biobehavioural sciences.

The research, published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, shows that during quiet moments, the brain is preparing to focus on the minds of other people – or to “see the world through a social lens,” said Lieberman.

In experiments at UCLA’s Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center, the researchers showed photos with captions to 21 people, and tracked their brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI.

Most of the photos showed people performing actions in a social setting and expressing a certain emotion. In one set of 40 photographs, images were paired with captions that reflected the person’s mental state.

The second set of photos had identical images, but with captions that merely described what the person was doing – “He is resting his head” or “She is looking to her side.”

A third set of images depicted a number accompanied by a simple mathematical equation.

Participants were asked to judge whether the captions accurately expressed what the images showed.

The same regions of the brain that were active during the brief times that subjects were not looking at photos were also active when the participants were considering the photos with captions about people’s emotions.

But those areas of the brain were not active when the participants were viewing the cards with captions about the person’s physical activity and those with the math equations.

Sometimes, a part of the brain called the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex was more active during the rest period immediately before participants were asked to look at photos.

In those cases, the participants made significantly faster judgements if the next photo they saw presented a statement about the person’s mental state.

The findings suggest that the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex might turn on during dreams and rest in order to process our recent social experiences and update our assumptions and understanding of the social world, Lieberman said.

So although Facebook might not have been designed with the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex in mind, the social network is very much in sync with how our brains are wired, he said.

“When I want to take a break from work, the brain network that comes on is the same network we use when we’re looking through our Facebook timeline and seeing what our friends are up to,” said Lieberman.

Nvidia Launches GeForce GTX 980 Ti GPU; Promises 4K Gaming and Improved VR Optics

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Nvidia has taken the wraps off its GeForce GTX 980 Ti, a scaled-down version of the GeForce GTX Titan X which was launched earlier this year. Graphics cards based on the new GPU will be priced significantly lower than Titan X cards and will have slightly lower specifications. The onboard RAM has been reduced to 6GB from 12GB and two of the 24 SMX clusters are disabled. Base and peak clock speeds remain the same, at 1002MHz and 1075MHz respectively.Zotac was the first to announce pricing in India, with a model based on the reference design at Rs. 55,249 all the way up to Rs. 69,999 for a factory-overclocked model with a hybrid cooler featuring a copper water block. The cards will be available in retail starting from June 6. The older GTX 980 has officially gone down in price by $50 following this launch, but prices here are not expected to go down as much and it will be a few weeks before current stocks are cleared from the market.

The GeForce GTX 980 Ti is based on Nvidia’s energy-efficient Maxwell architecture and has a rated TDP of 250W. The company expects that gamers upgrading from cards one or two generations old will be looking to play the latest games at 4K with high quality settings, and says the GTX 980 Ti can provide up to 3x the power and 2.3x the relative performance per Watt of a GTX 680.

nvidia_vr_viewports_980ti_nvidia.jpgThe GTX 980 Ti also supports DirectX 12 Feature Level 12_1 which adds improvements in efficiency and quality. Another improvement is a new VR optics system which gives users a better field of view by eliminating the fisheye filter required to make images focus when projected so close to the eye. Instead, frames are split into nine segments so that the centre is focused normally and the sides and corners are warped in such a way that no part of the frame is lost. The Maxwell architecture allows all nine segments to be rendered in a single pass even though the perspectives are different, which was not possibile on previous architectures.

Nvidia also announced expansions to its G-Sync platform to support variable refresh rates across a wider range of panels, including notebook panels for the first time. Responding to criticisms, Nvidia disclosed new information about how it manages minimum as well as maximum frame times and stated that G-Sync does not introduce any latency.

G-Sync will support games running in windowed mode and will soon be available on notebooks as well. The first notebook LCD panels with refresh rates greater than 60Hz will roll out soon from Asus, Gigabyte, MSI and Clevo.

Google’s Project Soli to Bring Radar-Based Gesture Recognition to Wearables

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One of the big problems with wearable devices right now is inputs – there’s no simple way to control these devices. At Google I/O 2015 the company unveiled Project Soli – a radar-based wearable – that can be used to control all kinds of devices. Developed by Googles Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) team, Project Soli can be incorporated into a range of different devices.

It’s a gesture based system that can track small movements like waving your fingers – it could be an easy way to control wearables, or even give you have hands-off control of your phone. It could also allow you to enter text on a smartwatch without restricting you to the small screen.

Essentially, Project Soli is a radar system that’s small enough to fit into a smartwatch. It can pick up on movements in real time, and the movements you make alter its signal. It can detect swipes, or making a fist, or crossing fingers.

You can see the full explanation in the video below:

Using your hand to interact with a device is typically much more accurate than working with voice recognition – and according to this video, Project Soli is sensitive enough to track “micro-motions” – unlike something like Microsoft’s Kinect technology, which is not as precise. Unlike other systems that use cameras, Soli uses radar which has much higher sensitivity, so it could be used for gestures like pressing a button, moving a slider, or turning a knob.

We’re still in the early days of this technology, and it will take a couple of years before it is available commercially, but it could eventually replace voice commands as the best way of interacting with devices.

Your Credit and Debit Cards Are About to Change – Here’s Why

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The plastic we carry in our wallets will be quite different in the near future. The big change is seemingly innocuous — a microchip embedded right above the first series of numbers on the card.

But that small metal stamp is the foundation of a system that promises more robust security for all parties involved in a transaction. Chip cards have been the norm for years in other countries, but they’re only now starting to see full-scale rollout here in the U.S. And it’s about time, too.

Old Technology in a New World

The traditional credit and debit card in this country packs its data onto the magnetic strip on the back of the plastic — an innovation that dates from the 1970s.

This isn’t particularly secure, since criminals need only possess the card and approximate the holder’s signature when making a purchase. Also, with the right equipment, it isn’t difficult to “skim,” or copy, that data directly from the stripe.

As a result, America is a haven of card fraud. According to statistics compiled by The Economist, in 2012 total losses from the activity worldwide amounted to over $11 billion. The U.S. was responsible for nearly half of that figure.

In contrast, a card embedded with an EMV chip — “EMV” stands for the members of the consortium that came up with the standard: EuroPay, MasterCard (MA) and Visa (V) — encodes the card’s information.

In most of the world, chip cards feature an important extra wall of security — a PIN number. This must be input by the cardholder in order to complete the transaction.

This “chip-and-PIN” setup is clearly more secure … at least for “card present” (face-to-face transactions where the customer presents the plastic) interactions. According to research by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, in the first year (2004) of large-scale chip-and-pin implementation in the U.K., total fraud losses stood at 505 million pounds ($767 million). By 2010, that number had dropped by nearly 30 percent to 365 million pounds ($556 million).

The difference would be more dramatic if it weren’t for “card not present” transactions, such as the ones made by phone or online rather than face-to-face — after all, without a PIN reader, it’s not possible to use the PIN for verification (solutions are being developed, but none have yet found widespread adaptation). Fraud losses for CNP transactions actually rose over the same period, to 227 million ($352 million) in 2010 from 151 million pounds ($234 million) six years earlier.

Nevertheless, the big credit card companies — Visa, MasterCard, Discover Financial Services (DFS) American Express (AXP) — have set a date of Oct. 1 for merchants to implement the technology that can process chip card payments.

After that, according to the terms of their respective merchant agreements, the costs of compensating for fraudulent card-present transactions will be paid by the party least compliant with EMV transaction standards — in other words, the merchant who hasn’t properly upgraded its system to handle the new cards.

PINned to an Upgrade

Although certain nationwide retailers such as Wal-Mart (WMT) have upgraded their systems to take chip card payments in their stores, many smaller enterprises have yet to do so. This, of course, is a matter of resources. A smaller store or chain of stores might not have the capital to buy and install the necessary equipment..

Compounding this, some merchants have complained about delays in obtaining chip card readers due to backlogs from manufacturers. Apparently, the latter can’t make a sufficient number of the machines quickly enough.

The credit card giants probably took this at least some of this into account; the full implementation is going to be slow and gradual. The chip cards the major issuers have been sending out still have that old-fashioned magnetic strip on the back of the card, in addition to the chip. So they’ll still work in terminals not equipped to handle chip transactions.

Even at the points of sale that can crunch chip purchases, a PIN will not (yet) be required — like chip technology to begin with, adding PIN verification requires extra technology in place to process the transaction. Instead, the cards being made and sent out these days are “chip-and-signature” products, requiring only an autograph from the cardholder for user authentication… exactly like those vulnerable strip-only cards.

Your Card Is in the Mail

Many card issuers are already well into the chip era. Bank of America (BAC), for one, has had the metal square on several of its card products for some time now. American Express began sending out its chip cards in 2013.

All told, around 575 million chip debit and credit cards are expected to be in the possession of cardholders by the end of this year. For cardholders, this transition will be automatic and largely painless: Issuers will replace expiring magnetic-strip-only cards with chip cards.

According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, by the end of this year around 75 percent of credit and 40 percent of debit cards should be chip cards.

Although these products will eventually be more secure than mag-stripe-only ones after full chip-and-PIN technology is implemented, as a card owner, you should always remain vigilant and continue to check your card activity on a regular basis. If any unauthorized charges have been made, contact the card’s issuer right away.

It’s early days yet, and there will certainly be hiccups on the way to America getting up-to-date on payment card technology. But it’s the right direction to move in, and every key party involved in credit card commerce — issuer, network operator, merchant and cardholder — ultimately stands to benefit from a safer system.

Don’t Be Surprised if Starbucks and Spotify Fall Out of Tune

Spotify Chief Content Officer Ken Parks News Conference

Starbucks (SBUX) turned heads earlier this month, striking a deal with streaming-music darling Spotify. The partnership will allow Spotify’s premium subscribers to earn reward points that can be redeemed at the leading premium coffee chain.

It’s a pairing that makes sense in theory. Spotify has more than 60 million active subscribers worldwide, with more than 15 million of them on board as paying members. If Spotify is paying for the right to issue Stars — the points issued in the My Starbucks Rewards program — as a tool for attraction and retention, it could be a win-win move.

However, then we get to an interesting wrinkle in this partnership. Spotify users will be able to suggest songs from Spotify to include in the music playlist of their preferred Starbucks store. That seems pretty inspiring, until you begin to wonder if walking into a store will result in the awkward aural transition of going from Skrillex to Kanye West to Florida Georgia Line between sips of your Caramel Brulee Frappuccino.

Sure, that will never happen. Starbucks is trying to cultivate a specific premium user experience, and sonically speaking, that involves a steady flow of smooth indie tunes. However, if your favorite store ignores your Spotify suggestions — and that’s what will probably happen, as the Top 50 playlist on Spotify is far removed from the hipster sets that currently play at Starbucks — it will lead to disillusioned customers who were duped into thinking that they actually had control of the jukebox.

Once again, Starbucks will get it wrong when it comes to music.

The Long Divide Between Java and Jams

Starbucks has always wanted to be a tastemaker in the world of music. Walking into a store opens up access to its Pick of the Week, which is available as a free iTunes download. Starbucks used to hand out promo codes for the iTunes downloads until it improved its in-store Wi-Fi.

Starbucks has even put out its own musical releases. Did you know that it was Starbucks that released Paul McCartney’s “Memory Almost Full” CD in 2007? It was the initial release on the Hear Music label that the coffee giant launched that year — and if the “Hear Music” moniker sounds familiar, it’s because it was also the name of the coffee-centric music store that Starbucks tried to roll out a few years earlier.

Hear Music was a chain of five CD stores that Starbucks acquired in 1999. It went on to open three more flagship stores, incorporating the signature premium brews of Starbucks into a dynamic music environment with listening stations and music sales. It never truly took off. CD sales were peaking. However, this has never stopped Starbucks from trying to score the soundtrack of its customers.

Sometimes it works. Starbucks earned props for unearthing early recordings of Ray Charles and Bob Dylan, and countless music icons got an early boost from iTunes promo codes at its stores. However, there are also lines that shouldn’t be crossed. Giving Spotify listeners the ability to earn reward points that can be exchanged for steaming beverages at Starbucks makes sense, but pretending that it’s going to let customers play DJ for individual stores is never going to fly.

Get Ready for ‘Buy’ Buttons on Google Searches

Google Stock Split Settlement

Google (GOOG) is apparently gearing up to populate product searches made on mobile devices with “buy” buttons. The Wall Street Journal reported this month that the new graphical buttons would be available to advertisers, helping them stand out even more on Google’s popular search engine.

This would be a controversial move if consumers weren’t already inundated with “buy” buttons on leading e-commerce sites including Amazon.com (AMZN) and eBay (EBAY). Google going this route, particularly on smartphones and tablets, where advertisers have been reluctant to pay as much as they do to reach Google users on PCs, makes a lot of sense.

Consumers will just have to be smart enough to realize that the new buttons are a monetization tool for Google, and limiting its use to existing sponsors will mean that there might still be cheaper ways to buy these particular products.

You’ve Come a Long Way, ‘Buy’ Button

Google isn’t the first non-e-tailer to go this route. Twitter (TWTR) began testing similar buttons last year, giving advertisers more bang for their marketing buck.

Introducing the feature to consumers on mobile devices makes sense. It’s an area where Google usage is growing at a faster clip than traditional access through desktops and laptops, but the rates that the global search engine leader is commanding are lower than on PCs. The disparity between what advertisers are willing to pay for PC users versus mobile users is explained by the fear that folks on smaller screens aren’t as likely to complete transactions as they are on larger computers. A big reason that cost-per-click at Google and other search engines has been declining is that advertisers are paying less for leads generated through smartphones and tablets.

We saw the number of leads generated by Google climb 13 percent over the past year during the first quarter, but the aggregate cost per click declined 7 percent as most of Google’s growth came from access on smaller wireless devices.

The “buy” button can help. It’s probably not a coincidence that eBay, Amazon, and most e-commerce sites incorporate action buttons. It also could only help if Google’s product pages with the new buttons lead to checkout platforms with existing payment information already entered. It would make it that much more conducive to finalizing a transaction.

Push the Button

The “buy” button could be just the beginning, of course. If the e-commerce wrinkle is successful, why wouldn’t Google turn to an “get more info” button that would automatically send relevant information by email to the user? There could also be a “save” button to square things away for future consideration.

Growth is slowing at Google. Analysts see earnings per share and revenue climbing in the pre-teens this year. The monetization challenge has been eating at margins, and Google has missed Wall Street’s quarterly profit targets for more than a year.

As long as consumers don’t react negatively to the “buy” button — and they shouldn’t since it will appear in search engine results that are already clearly labeled as sponsored entries — Google could be on to something here.