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Friday Briefing: Google Maps Overhaul and Nuance’s Latest Voice Innovation

It’s Friday! Time to skip the longer technology articles and breeze through a short breakdown of some of the week’s hottest tech trends.

Remember to cast your vote in the survey at the end. This lets us know which story has you tuned in the most, so we can get to know what makes you tick. And if one story gets an unusually high amount of votes, I’ll expand it into a full article next week. (Just like I did on Monday.)

So here goes…

Tech Trend #1: Google and (Possibly) Apple are Revamping Maps

Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) announced a major upgrade to its Maps application on Wednesday. The biggest attractions were offline maps, a portable Street View camera and 3-D maps.

Essentially, offline maps do exactly what the name suggests – allow you to view certain areas of Google Maps without the need for a data or cellular connection. The usefulness of such an upgrade goes without saying. It’s worth mentioning, though, that a similar feature’s been available in the Labs section of Google Maps for a while now. But this seems a bit more polished.

Additionally, a new backpack Street View camera will allow Google’s team to explore and record images of areas that aren’t accessible to the company’s fleet of Street View cars. Like museums, national parks, a train in the Swiss Alps and the Grand Canyon.

By far the coolest (if not the most useful) new feature is 3-D maps. The company is sending out camera-equipped private aircrafts to capture images of just about everything from multiple angles. Then the pictures go through an automated process known as stereophotogrammetry, which involves piecing the best images together to create three dimensions.

Plus, The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) is working on a maps application of its own, which will include its own 3-D mapping technology. The news has some concerned that the move would have a devastating impact on Google’s mobile ad revenue, since iPhone users now rely solely on Google Maps.

Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster thinks otherwise. He estimates that 40% of Google’s mobile search revenue will come from Apple this year. And a new maps app from Apple shouldn’t change that. The problem is that his confidence hinges on the assumption that Google Maps is going to remain in the Apple App Store. If it doesn’t, look out below.

We’ll likely learn more at Apple’s WWDC conference in San Francisco next week. And I’ll keep you updated on any new developments.

Tech Trend #2: A Cancer Drug That’s Too Good for Clinical Trials

Johnson & Johnson’s (NYSE: JNJ) Zytiga was already approved by the FDA for patients with metastasized prostate cancer who were undergoing chemotherapy. A new study has shown that the hormone treatment works on patients who aren’t going through chemo, too. In fact, it was so effective at doubling the amount of time it takes for the disease to advance that “researchers stopped the clinical trial early to give all patients a chance to receive the life-extending medication,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

This is a big step forward for prostate cancer treatment, since “it will really change the standard of care in advanced prostate cancer away from chemotherapy toward a well-tolerated, oral therapy… It opens up the possibility of this life-prolonging therapy being given to a larger population of patients,” says Dr. Charles Ryan of the study.

Of course, a favorable outcome with the FDA would also be good news for Johnson & Johnson, a company that Louis Basenese already calls “the most defensive healthcare stock” to buy right now.

Tech Trend #3: Nuance is Breaking New Ground in Voice Recognition

We already know that Nuance Communications (Nasdaq: NUAN) provides the backbone to Apple’s Siri voice control personal assistant and recently announced the new Dragon Drive! voice-activated car system. Now, the company is taking its voice recognition technology to another level with Dragon ID.

Basically, Dragon ID not only deciphers what you’re saying, it actually knows who  is saying it, too. So unlocking the phone is as simple as saying, “Hello Dragon.” The application identifies your unique voice, allowing you to unlock the phone hands-free.

The company has shown that the recognition technology carries over into other applications, as well, including mobile payments. That way, when you’re in a checkout line, you don’t need to free up a hand to enter a PIN code. Just saying hello to the cashier should sufficiently unlock a mobile payments app.

Seems cool, but I think I’d like to see how it stacks up against biometric security systems before using it to unlock Google Wallet anytime soon.

Cast Your Vote!

Let us know which topic interested you the most…

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That’s all for today. Have a great weekend!

Good investing,

Justin Fritz

Justin Fritz

, Executive Editor

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