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Monday, November 05. 2012
Android 4.2 Announced: Photo Sphere, Gesture Typing, Multi-User, TV Connect, Quick Settings, and Much More!
Via xda developpers
Retaining the code name from Android 4.1, 4.2 is a revamped version of Jelly Bean. Despite the lack of name change, 4.2 offers various new and exciting features. Join us as we take a closer look at some of the highlights!
Photo Sphere and Camera UI Improvements
Not too long ago, Google gave us native support for panoramic photos with the launch of ICS. However, in their eyes, a standard panoramic shot doesn’t properly convey the feeling of actually being there. Photo Sphere takes us one step closer.
Once Photo Sphere mode is enabled, the app first guides you as you move your device to capture the entire scene. By using the same technology employed by Google Maps Street View, Photo Sphere then stitches the shots into a 360-degree view that allows you to pan and zoom, as you would in Street View. Those wishing to look at photo spheres from photographers around the would can do so as well.
In addition to Photo Sphere, the Camera app’s UI also been updated with gesture controls. Thanks to the gestures, the interface no longer obscures the photo being taken with various controls. Instead, the app now makes full use of the screen real estate so that you can take better photos.
Taking a page from Swype’s play book, the new keyboard built into Android 4.2 has slide gesture functionality. The heavily revised keyboard differentiates itself from current versions of Swype, however, by showing predictions in real time, as you slide around your fingers.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen real time gesture recognition—dubstep aside. That said, the interface looks to be better on Google’s latest offering, but the real test will be in actual day to day usage. The dictionaries have also been updated, as has voice recognition.
Well, it’s finally here. Multi-User support has finally made its way to the OS officially. Each user is given his or her own personal space, complete with a customized home screen, background, widgets, apps, and games. While we don’t have access to the source code to verify, this is likely accomplished by sectioning off the /data partition between users. Interestingly, switching between user profiles is done via fast user switching, rather than completely logging in and out.
Naturally, this feature is only available / practical on tablets, but you can bet your bacon that this will find its way to phones in the coming months, after 4.2 is released to AOSP.
Many were disappointed to learn that the Nexus Q was only able to stream Google Play content rather than supporting full device mirroring. Problem, no more. In Android 4.2, users will be able to wirelessly mirror their displays to various supported devices.
While we can’t speak in regards to additional functionality for Google’s enigmatic black orb, we can say that this will truly be a useful feature if executed properly. The underlying technology is the new industry standard Miracast, which was created by the Wi-Fi Alliance, and is based on Wi-Fi Direct.
A fun, new feature present in 4.2 allows your device to display photo albums, news, and more when your device is docked.
Remember AP’s video showing the “future site of quick settings?” It’s finally here. Google has now added a separate panel to the notification bar that can be accessed by a two-finger swipe from the top of the screen or simple button tap in the upper right corner if the notification tray is extended. Once summoned, it gives you quick access to user accounts, brightness, device settings, WiFi, Airplane Mode, Bluetooth, Battery, and Wireless Display.
Lock Screen Widgets
Much as we have seen in third party applications, Android now natively supports widgets on the lock screen. In fact, you can now add several pages of widgets to your device’s lock screen, essentially giving you a home screen—before you get to your home screen. Memetastic.
Enhanced Google Now
Google Now was also updated with more cards. A good example of this is how the software can pick out shipping updates and flight details from your email, and display them in a context-relevant manner. This, however, is not exclusively tied with the updated OS, as those with devices running 4.1 can access the update today.
Monday, October 08. 2012
They told us, but we did not believe them: The Oct. 5 print edition of Entertainment Weekly, which features a one-of-a-kind digital ad running video and live tweets, actually has a smartphone inside of it. A real, full-sized 3G cellphone inside a print magazine.
The digital ad is designed to promote the CW network’s fresh lineup of action shows (The Arrow and Emily Owens, M.D.) and, when you open the magazine to the ad, the small LCD screen shows short clips of the two shows and then switches to live tweets from CW’s Twitter account.
When we spoke to CW representatives earlier this week, they did tell us that “the ad is powered by a custom-built, smartphone-like Android device with an LED screen and 3G connectivity; it was manufactured in China.” This is all true, though the device is far more than just “smartphone-like.”
During our teardown, we discovered a smartphone-sized battery, a full QWERTY keyboard hidden under black plastic tape, a T-Mobile 3G card, a camera, speaker and a live USB port that will accept a mini USB cable, which you can then plug into a computer and recharge the phone. We could also see from the motherboard that the smartphone was built by Foxconn. You may have heard of it.
Once we extracted the phone from its clear plastic housing (which was sandwiched between two rather thick card-stock pages), we were able to use a screw driver to close the open contacts on the touch pad and access the on-screen Android menu, which has a full complement of apps. It wasn’t easy, but we even made a phone call.
That’s right, there’s nothing wrong with this phone, other than it being old, under powered and partially in Chinese. Oh, yes, and the fact that it’s jammed inside a print magazine.
Mashable Senior Tech Analyst Christina Warren, who assisted in our teardown, did some research (including using the number on the motherboard) and is now fairly certain that guts come from this $86 ABO smartphone. Don’t worry, it’s unlikely that it cost the CW anywhere near that much.
Entertainment Weekly is only producing 1,000 of these digital advertising-enhanced issues, so if you want a nearly free smartphone that, with a good deal of nudging, actually works, you better run, not walk, to your nearest newsstand.
In the meantime, we’ll keep playing with the phone to see if we can make it perform other tricks, like calling the phone number we desire and crafting our own tweets. We did finally get the camera working, but without a lens over it, the images are a blurry mess. More challenges for what I’m officially naming our Entertainment Weekly Digital Ad/Smartphone Print Insert Hackathon!
Thursday, June 14. 2012
By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols
There’s no doubt about it. Android, especially Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), version 4.0, already offers more than what is coming in Apple’s forthcoming iOS 6. But, Android has its own flaws.
True, as Tom Henderson, principal researcher for ExtremeLabs and a colleague, told me, there’s a “Schwarzschild radius surrounding Apple. It’s not just a reality distortion field; it’s a whole new dimension. Inside, time slows and light never escapes– as time compresses to an amorphous mass.
“Coddled, stroked, and massaged,” Henderson continued, “Apple users start to sincerely believe the distortions regarding the economic life, the convenience, and the subtle beauties of their myriad products. Unknowingly, they sacrifice their time, their money, their privacy, and soon, their very souls. Comparing Apple with Android, the parallels to Syria and North Korea come to mind, despot-led personality cults.”
I wouldn’t go that far. While I prefer Android, I can enjoy using iOS devices as well. Besides, Android fans can be blind to its faults just as much as the most besotted Apple fan.
For example, it’s true that ICS has all the features that iOS 6 will eventually have, but you can only find ICS on 7.1 percent of all currently running Android devices. Talk to any serious Android user, and you’ll soon hear complaints about how they can’t update their systems.
You name an Android vendor-HTC, Motorola, Samsung, etc. -and I can find you a customer who can’t update their smartphone or tablet to the latest and greatest version of the operating system. The techie Android fanboy response to this problem is just “ROOT IT.” It’s not that easy.
First, the vast majority of Android users are as about as able to root their smartphone as I am to run a marathon. Second, alternative Android device firmwares don’t always work with every device. Even the best of them, Cyanogen ICS, can have trouble with some devices.
Besides, while Cyanogen supports many smartphones and tablets, it doesn’t support all of them.
Another issue is consistency. When you buy an iPhone or an iPad you know exactly what the interface is going to work and look like. With Android devices, you never know quite what you’re going to get. We talk about ICS as if it’s one thing-and it is from a developer’s viewpoint-but ICS on different phones such as the HTC One X doesn’t look or feel much like say the Samsung Galaxy S III.
A related issue is that the iOS interface is simply cleaner and more user-friendly than any Android interface I’d yet to see. One of Apple’s slogans is “It just works.” Well, actually sometimes it doesn’t work. ITunes, for example, has been annoying me for years now. But, when it comes to device interfaces, iOS does just work. Android implementations, far too often, doesn’t.
So, yes, Android does more today than Apple’s iOS promises to do tomorrow, but that’s only part of the story. The full story includes that iOS is very polished and very closed, while Android is somewhat messy and very open. To me, it’s that last bit-that Apple is purely proprietary while Android is largely open source-based-that insures that I’m going to continue to use Android devices.
Now, if only Google can get everyone on the same page with updates and the interface, I’ll be perfectly happy!
Friday, March 23. 2012
Thursday, March 15. 2012
Via Slash Gear
Back in January, we talked a bit about the new MIT App Inventor software aimed at helping people that aren’t developers to build their own apps. MIT promised to have App Inventor available in Q1 of 2012. The first quarter is quickly winding down, and it was looking a bit like MIT might not make its self-imposed deadline.
MIT has now announced that it is meeting the goal of making App Inventor available as a public service in Q1. The App Inventor software has been in closed testing the last two months with 5000 users. The App Inventor software is now available in open beta to anyone who has a Google ID to login, such as a Gmail account.
MIT points out that the software is suitable for any use, but users need to be aware that this will be the first time the system is loaded so heavily, which could cause issues. MIT suggests that users make backups of important apps as the service ramps up with more and more users, in case there are issues. MIT also notes that it is still working on fixing remaining glitches and other errors.
Thursday, February 16. 2012
If you’re a fan of Google’s augmented reality astronomy app Google Sky Map, I’ve got good news and bad news for you. Google announced that major development on the app has ended, so there will be no more major official releases from the company. On the plus side, they’ve decided to release the open-source code for Sky Map, so given enough developer interest it should be around for quite some time.
Sky Map started as one of Google’s famous 20% projects, which six of its employees launched by working in their company-sponsored spare time. The application was one of Android’s first showpiece apps, combining basic astronomical data overlaid on a smartphone camera to easily identify constellations, planets and other heavenly bodies by simply pointing the phone towards the sky. The free app has been downloaded over 10 million times from the Android Market.
Google is working with Carnegie Melon University so that its students can continue direct development. The company didn’t say if direct updated with computer scientist students’ code would make it into the android Market, but it’s a pretty safe bet. If you’ d like to give it a try for yourself, you can download the open-source code here. I fully expect a Star Trek themed version of Sky Map in the next few weeks which will allow me to view the Alpha Quadrant from my smartphone – get to it, devs.
Friday, January 20. 2012
Another day, another set of Android fragmentation stories. And while there’s no doubt that there is wide fragmentation within the platform, and there’s not real solution in sight, I’m starting to wonder if Google ever had a plan to prevent the platform for becoming a fragmented mess.
How bad’s the problem? Jon Evans over on TechCrunch tells it like it is:
He then goes on to deliver the killer blow:
And that’s the core problem with Android. While there’s no doubt that consumers who’ve bought Android devices are being screwed out of updates that they deserve (the take up of Android 4.0 ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’ is pretty poor so far), the biggest risk from fragmentation is that developers will ignore new Android features an instead focus on supporting older but more mainstream feature sets. After all, developers want to hit the masses, not the fringes. Also, the more platforms developers have to support, the more testing work there is.
OK, so Android is fragmented, and it’s a problem that Google doesn’t seem willing to tackle. But the more I look at the Android platform and the associated ecosystem, it makes me wonder if Google ever had any plan (or for that matter intention) to control platform fragmentation.
But could Google have done anything to control fragmentation? Former Microsoftie (and now investor) Charlie Kindel thinks there no hope to curb fragmentation. In fact, he believes that most things will make it worse. I disagree with Kindel on this matter. He also believes that Google’s current strategy amounts to little more that wishing that everyone will upgrade. On this point we are in total agreement.
I disagree with Kindel that that there’s nothing that Google can do to at least try to discourage fragmentation. I believe that one of Google’s strongest cards are Android users themselves. Look at how enthusiastic iPhone and iPad owners are about iOS updates. They’re enthusiastic because Apple tells them why they should be enthusiastic about new updates. Compare this to Google’s approach to Android customers. Google (or anyone else in the chain for that matter) doesn’t seem to be doing much to get people fired up and enthusiastic about Android. In fact, it seems to me the only message being given to Android customers is ‘buy another Android handset.’
I understand that Google isn’t Apple and can’t seem to sway the crowds in the same way, but it might start to help if the search giant seemed to care about the OS. The absence of enthusiasm make the seem Sphinx-like and uncaring. Why should anyone care about new Android updates when Google itself doesn’t really seem all that excited? If Google created a real demand for Android updates from the end users, this would put put pressure on the handset makers and the carriers to get updates in a timely fashion to users.
Make the users care about updates, and the people standing in the way of those updates will sit up and pay attention to things.
Google with Android OS is now in a similar place than Microsoft with Windows, and blaming Google to have this disparity of OS versions would be the same than blaming Microsoft on the fact that Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 are still co-existing nowadays. One reason Android got that 'fragged' is that it has to face a rapid evolution of hardware and new kind of devices in a very short time, somehow having a kind of Frankenstein-like experience with its Android creature. Many distinct hardware manufacturers adopt Android, develop their own GUI layer on top of it, making Google having a direct control on the spread of new Android version quite impossible... as each manufacturer may need to perform their own code update prior to propose a new version of Android on their own devices.
The direct comparison with iOS is a kind of unfair as Apple do have a rapid update cycle by controlling every single workings of the overall mechanism: SDK regular updates push developers to adopt new features and forget about old iOS versions and new iDevice's Apps request the end-user to upgrade their iOS version to the last one in order to be able to install new Apps. Meanwhile, Apple is having control on hardware design, production and evolution too, making the propagation of new iOS versions much easier and much faster than it is for Google with Android.
Then, mobile devices (smartphones or tablets) do have a short life timeline and this was already true prior Google and Apple starts acting in this market. So whatever your name is Google or Apple, considering not proposing the very last version of your OS on so-called 'old' or obsolete hardware is a kind of an obvious choice to do. This is not even a 'choice' but more a direct consequence of how fast technology is evolving nowadays.
Now, smartphones and tablets hardware capabilities will reach a 'standard' level to become 'mature' products (all smartphones/tablets do have cameras, video capabilities, editing capabilities etc...) which may make easier for Android to spread over on all devices in a similar version while hardware evolution observes a pause. Already Apple's last innovations are more linked to software than real hardware (r)evolution, so Android may take benefit of this in order to reduce the gap.
Wednesday, December 07. 2011
The gist of the problem boiled down by Munn:
Munn also broke it down in real world terms by providing the example that if you put your finger on the screen of an iPhone or iPad and move it around when it’s halfway through loading a complex web page like Facebook, all rendering stops instantaneously. The website will literally never load until your finger is removed, and this all boils down to the fact that the “UI thread is intercepting all events and rendering the UI at real-time priority.”
There are also some other reasons, like inoptimal hardware. The NVIDIA Tegra 2 CPUs ubiquitous to many Android 3.0 tablets and some phones suffered from low memory bandwidth and lacked NEON media instructions, both of which ultimately presented a bottleneck to the Android user interface and experience. However, Android 4.0 remedies this by having graphics hardware acceleration, although as long as graphics aren’t given top priority (a la real-time), platforms like iOS or Windows Phone 7 are always going to be more fluid.
Monday, November 21. 2011
The rush to make computers smaller and smaller has been going on for some time now, but we may have a winner–at least for now–in terms of the small computer race. It’s called the Cotton Candy from FXI Tech, and though it just looks like your standard USB thumb drive, it turns out it’s packing an entire very small computer in its tiny packaging.
The specs, admittedly, aren’t anything truly spectacular, offering up a dual-core ARM Cortex A9 on the processor end, backed up by an ARM Mali-400MP GPU, wi-fi and Bluetooth connectivity, a USB plug and a microSD card slot as well as its own Android operating system. But when you consider that it’s all encased in a device that’s the size of a basic key chain, well, suddenly the whole picture looks a lot more interesting.
What this is designed to do is hook into much larger displays, thanks to that HDMI plug, and allow you to perform many of your basic computer functions. You’ve got Bluetooth for the peripherals, microSD for the storage, cloud access from the Android app…it’s a very simple, very basic, but extremely portable setup. And, you can even hook it into another computer with the USB plug included, which in turn will let you borrow the peripherals hooked into that computer (great if you needed to print something, I’d say) to do the various jobs you want done.
And if you want an ultra-small computer to take with you most anywhere you go, Cotton Candy should be on hand in time for Christmas 2012, and the pricing is expected to land at the $200 mark, which isn’t half bad. Though it does make me wonder why most wouldn’t just buy a full on laptop for not too much more, especially if they buy used.
Still though, an ultra-small PC for an ultra-small price tag is in the offing, so what do you guys think? Will the Cotton Candy catch on? Or will we be seeing these go for half that or less just to clear them out? No matter what you think, we love hearing from you, so head on down to the comments section and tell us what you think!
Thursday, October 27. 2011
The announcement that Nexus One users won’t be getting upgraded to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich led some to justifiably question Google’s support of their devices. I look at it a little differently: Nexus One owners are lucky. I’ve been researching the history of OS updates on Android phones and Nexus One users have fared much, much better than most Android buyers.
I went back and found every Android phone shipped in the United States1 up through the middle of last year. I then tracked down every update that was released for each device - be it a major OS upgrade or a minor support patch - as well as prices and release & discontinuation dates. I compared these dates & versions to the currently shipping version of Android at the time. The resulting picture isn’t pretty - well, not for Android users:
Other than the original G1 and MyTouch, virtually all of the millions of phones represented by this chart are still under contract today. If you thought that entitled you to some support, think again:
Also worth noting that each bar in the chart starts from the first day of release - so it only gets worse for people who bought their phone late in its sales period.
Why Is This So Bad?
This may be stating the obvious but there are at least three major reasons.
Consumers Get Screwed
Ever since the iPhone turned every smartphone into a blank slate, the value of a phone is largely derived from the software it can run and how well the phone can run it. When you’re making a 2 year commitment to a device, it’d be nice to have some way to tell if the software was going to be remotely current in a year or, heck, even a month. Turns out that’s nearly impossible - here are two examples:
The Samsung Behold II on T-Mobile was the most expensive Android phone ever and Samsung promoted that it would get a major update to Eclair at least. But at launch the phone was already two major versions behind — and then Samsung decided not to do the update after all, and it fell three major OS versions behind. Every one ever sold is still under contract today.
The Motorola Devour on Verizon launched with a Megan Fox Super Bowl ad, while reviews said it was “built to last and it delivers on features.” As it turned out, the Devour shipped with an OS that was already outdated. Before the next Super Bowl came around, it was three major versions behind. Every one ever sold is still under contract until sometime next year.
Developers Are Constrained
Besides the obvious platform fragmentation problems, consider this comparison: iOS developers, like Instapaper’s Marco Arment, waited patiently until just this month to raise their apps’ minimum requirement to the 11 month old iOS 4.2.1. They can do so knowing that it’s been well over 3 years since anyone bought an iPhone that couldn’t run that OS. If developers apply that same standard to Android, it will be at least 2015 before they can start requiring 2010’s Gingerbread OS. That’s because every US carrier is still selling - even just now introducing2 - smartphones that will almost certainly never run Gingerbread and beyond. Further, those are phones still selling for actual upfront money - I’m not even counting the generally even more outdated & presumably much more popular free phones.
It seems this is one area the Android/Windows comparison holds up: most app developers will end up targeting an ancient version of the OS in order to maximize market reach.
Security Risks Loom
In the chart, the dashed line in the middle of each bar indicates how long that phone was getting any kind of support updates - not just major OS upgrades. The significant majority of models have received very limited support after sales were discontinued. If a security or privacy problem popped up in old versions of Android or its associated apps (i.e. the browser), it’s hard to imagine that all of these no-longer-supported phones would be updated. This is only less likely as the number of phones that manufacturers would have to go back and deal with increases: Motorola, Samsung, and HTC all have at least 20 models each in the field already, each with a range of carriers that seemingly have to be dealt with individually.
Why Don’t Android Phones Get Updated?
That’s a very good question. Obviously a big part of the problem is that Android has to go from Google to the phone manufacturers to the carriers to the devices, whereas iOS just goes from Apple directly to devices. The hacker community (e.g. CyanogenMod, et cetera) has frequently managed to get these phones to run the newer operating systems, so it isn’t a hardware issue.
It appears to be a widely held viewpoint3 that there’s no incentive for smartphone manufacturers to update the OS: because manufacturers don’t make any money after the hardware sale, they want you to buy another phone as soon as possible. If that’s really the case, the phone manufacturers are spectacularly dumb: ignoring the 2 year contract cycle & abandoning your users isn’t going to engender much loyalty when they do buy a new phone. Further, it’s been fairly well established that Apple also really only makes money from hardware sales, and yet their long term update support is excellent (see chart).
In other words, Apple’s way of getting you to buy a new phone is to make you really happy with your current one, whereas apparently Android phone makers think they can get you to buy a new phone by making you really unhappy with your current one. Then again, all of this may be ascribing motives and intent where none exist - it’s entirely possible that the root cause of the problem is just flat-out bad management (and/or the aforementioned spectacular dumbness).
A Price Observation
All of the even slightly cheaper phones are much worse than the iPhone when it comes to OS support, but it’s interesting to note that most of the phones on this list were actually not cheaper than the iPhone when they were released. Unlike the iPhone however, the “full-priced” phones are frequently discounted in subsequent months. So the “low cost” phones that fueled Android’s generally accepted price advantage in this period were basically either (a) cheaper from the outset, and ergo likely outdated & terribly supported or (b) purchased later in the phone’s lifecycle, and ergo likely outdated & terribly supported.
Also, at any price point you’d better love your rebates. If you’re financially constrained enough to be driven by upfront price, you can’t be that excited about plunking down another $100 cash and waiting weeks or more to get it back. And sometimes all you’re getting back is a “$100 Promotion Card” for your chosen provider. Needless to say, the iPhone has never had a rebate.
Along similar lines, a very small but perhaps telling point: the price of every single Android phone I looked at ended with 99 cents - something Apple has never done (the iPhone is $199, not $199.99). It’s almost like a warning sign: you’re buying a platform that will nickel-and-dime you with ads and undeletable bloatware, and it starts with those 99 cents. And that damn rebate form they’re hoping you don’t send in.
Notes on the chart and data
Why stop at June 2010?
I’m not going to. I do think that having 15 months or so of history gives a good perspective on how a phone has been treated, but it’s also just a labor issue - it takes a while to dredge through the various sites to determine the history of each device. I plan to continue on and might also try to publish the underlying table with references. I also acknowledge that it’s possible I’ve missed something along the way.
Android Release Dates
For the major Android version release dates, I used the date at which it was actually available on a normal phone you could get via normal means. I did not use the earlier SDK release date, nor the date at which ROMs, hacks, source, et cetera were available.
Outside the US
Finally, it’s worth noting that people outside the US have often had it even worse. For example, the Nexus One didn’t go on sale in Europe until 5 months after the US, the Droid/Milestone FroYo update happened over 7 months later there, and the Cliq never got updated at all outside of the US.
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