Tag Archive | "google"

Google Pixel C 10-inch 2-in-1 launching at a price too high.

Tags: , , , ,

Google has officially launched the Pixel C, a 10.1-inch Android tablet running on a Tegra X1 platform. They’ve also developed a magnetically attachable Bluetooth keyboard and the combo is said to offer a “great touch typing experience.” The price is extremely high for a 10-inch dockable though.

Google Pixel C tablet and keyboard.

Google Pixel C tablet and keyboard.

Read the full story

Vault is a MicroSD card hardware security device, from Google.

Tags: , ,

Google’s ATAP team has announced Vault, a hardware-based, cross-platform microSD card based solution for encryption of data both at rest or in transit.

Google Vault MicroSD Hardware

Google Vault MicroSD Hardware

ATAP is a Google unit that looks at Advanced Technologies and Products and among a number of their announcements on the Google IO stage in San Francisco was project Vault. With the help of former L0pht member .mudge ( Peiter Zatko) the team has developed a hardware encryption device that they think anyone, and any system can use. Starting with a developer kit and a business-focused customer based the team aims to solve the problem of encrypting communications by having a simple hardware unit (inside the MicroSD card) and a simple file system based input and output mechanism. The open-source developer board was demonstrated on stage.

vaultdemo vault

It looks simple, and that’s good because people and business don’t use security methods properly if they are too complex and time-consuming but inside there’s a “suite of cryptographic services” along with an NFC chip, a hardware random number generator and 4 GB of isolated sealed storage. “Two Vault users can communicate end-to-end without exposing any cryptographicly sensitive data to the host systems” says Zatko. Vault is operating system agnostic.

You’ll obviously need to trust Google though but with the development kit being fully open-source, including the CPU and the software this might become the best solution, even if you don’t trust Google. Don’t expect peer reviews to be done in a week though!

We haven’t found a Google page for the ATAP Vault project yet but the ATAP page (which redirects to project Tango) is here.

Similar: This isn’t the first MicroSD-based security solution on the market. Blackberry’s Secusmart unit has a similar solution for governments.

What Happened to the Android Update Alliance? Less Than 1% of Devices Running Latest Version of Android!

Tags: ,

At last year’s Google I/O, a great new program was announced — Google was working with a group of equipment manufacturers to create a sort of ‘update guarentee’ which would explicitly inform customers how long they could expect their shiny new Android device to receive updates, and how quickly they could expect those updates from carriers or manufacturers. Google never named the program as far as I can tell, so I gave it one (after all, it needs a name if we’re to talk about it); the Android Update Alliance.

I was very excited to hear this news initially out of Google I/O. We’ve all heard the horror stories of companies quickly dropping software support for nearly-new devices, or leaving customers waiting months with no news about when (or if) they would receive the latest vital updates — updates which could improve both the performance of their device and the security. I thought we’d finally see companies and carriers taking responsibility and offering guaranteed and reasonably long-term support for the latest Android gadgets. After all, no one wants their brand new phone or tablet to be completely unsupported 6 months after launch.

In July, I encouraged Google and its partners to market the Android Update Alliance smartly to benefit themselves and consumers. Some suggestions included attaching a catchy name to the program, and using an exclusive logo on device boxes and in advertising so customers would know at a glance if the device they are considering is backed by the Alliance.

The Android Update Alliance announcement was made 9 months ago, and contained many of the major industry players, including Verizon, AT&T, Samsung, HTC, Spring, LG, Motorola, and others. How much progress has been made in implementing the program? Well, just about none at all as far as I can tell. I haven’t heard a single bit of news about the program since Google I/O 2011 in May, and I’ve reached out to Google for comment on several occasions and heard nothing back, except to say that there is no official webpage for information about the program and that Google has nothing further to share about it at this time.

What’s the deal Google? You didn’t even manage to name the program! The original announcement said that the initial partners agreed to support devices with updates for 18 months, but the group was apparently still deciding how quickly they could guarantee that users receive those updates. Google asked us to “stayed tuned” for more on the program, but there’s been no information at all from the company. None of the companies announced in the partnership have yet implemented any of the suggested support guarantees. It seems that the Android Update Alliance was just conceptual in nature.

Sadly, in terms of devices running the latest software, things might have gotten even worse then before the Android Update Alliance announcement. To date, less than 1% of Android devices are running the latest version of Android — and that’s being generous and grouping everything above Android 4.0 together. If you want to talk about devices running the honest to goodness “latest” version of Android (4.0.3), then we’re talking just 0.3%. Android 2.3 is currently the most widely installed version of Google’s mobile operating system, by a wide margin, being found on 54% of all Android devices to have accessed the Android Marketplace over a 14 day period. The next largest install-base is not the next version after Android 2.3, but actually the one below it; Android 2.2 with 30.4%. This means that many devices are still transitioning from Android 2.2 to Android 2.3 the exodus from Android 2.3 to the next version up has scarcely begun.

Official Data From Google

It amazes me that Google makes a big deal about Ice Cream Sandwich when such a tiny, minute, fraction of Android users even have access to it.

So, Google, my question stands: what the heck happened to the Android Update Alliance?

Update: I wanted to point out this excellent piece from Michael DeGusta which paints a stark picture of how Android and Apple after-sale software support compares. Of all 18 Android smartphones released since the beginning of Android through Q2 2010, Michael found the following (note that this was written before the release of Ice Cream Sandwich, which means most phones on the list are one more major version behind):

  • 7 of the 18 Android phones never ran a current version of the OS.
  • 12 of 18 only ran a current version of the OS for a matter of weeks or less.
  • 10 of 18 were at least two major versions behind well within their two year contract period.
  • 11 of 18 stopped getting any support updates less than a year after release.
  • 13 of 18 stopped getting any support updates before they even stopped selling the device or very shortly thereafter.
  • 15 of 18 don’t run Gingerbread, which shipped in December 2010.
  • At least 16 of 18 will almost certainly never get Ice Cream Sandwich.

Changing Ecosystems From iOS to Android (and how iOS 5 could tempt me back)

Tags: , ,

ios to androidRitchie Djamhur is a macchiato-addicted IT Buyer based in Sydney, Australia and also posts his thoughts on technology, music and anything else that keeps him up at night on www.ritchiesroom.com.

The iOS Family

My name’s Ritchie and I am a phoneaholic, of the smart variety. I’ll admit it, on most nights I have my smartphone safely tucked under my pillow, in case I stir restlessly out of sleep and feel compelled to check Facebook updates, Twitter messages and lists, LinkedIn news, or my WordPress stats. Sound familiar to any readers?

Up until recently, I had not strayed far from the iOS family. I have owned a few iterations of the iPhone, and have seen its evolution in hardware along with the massive growth of the app store. And for the most part, the iPhone has fulfilled my needs, and indeed surprised me with functions that I didn’t realise I could do with.

iTunes makes upgrading your phone terribly easy. When the next version of an iPhone is released, you simply back up your old phone, connect and register your new iPhone, and everything, including settings, email, photos, and messages will be loaded onto your fresh iPhone. That upgrade path makes it hard to break the cycle and look beyond the iPhone at alternatives that may in fact be better suited to your needs.

The iPhone 4 is a great smartphone, and it’s always been a reliable partner in my business and leisure life. The ability to print wirelessly, read books, take casual photos, use social networking apps with ease, play some great games during downtime and use Facetime to see my extended family at a moment’s notice have all made the iPhone highly regarded in my household.

There are a few things that have made my eyes wander of late, and I realised that unless I wanted to jailbreak my phone, there were a few things that I couldn’t do efficiently. For example, turning WiFi and bluetooth on/off, changing brightness or orientation settings take a fair few steps within the settings panel.

On the other hand, widgets are a standard feature on Android phones, so I could see a good reason to move across just because of that – instant access to functions I wanted regularly. But could an Android phone match or exceed what the iPhone and its associated ecosystem has delivered to me over the years?

I Want Android @ Home… In My Car

Tags: ,

android @ homeBack at Google I/O 2011, Google announced something called Android @ Home, which seeks to allow a huge range of accessories and appliances to interact with Android devices. I want my vehicles to be Android @ Home accessible more than stuff in my home, and I’ll tell you why.

Google did some brief demos on stage showing rudimentary integration between an exercise bicycle and a phone, and they also show how you might be able to automate your home by controlling lights, the thermostat, perhaps your coffee maker, etc. Watch the following starting at 6:15 to get a brief idea of the vision behind Android @ Home:

Where I really want to see Android @ Home though is, (oddly enough) not in my home at all, but rather in my cars.

We have 7 drivers in my family, and we’ve got three cars to get us all where we need to go. Between jobs, appointments, vacations, etc. organizing all of those cars is a serious task. It’s not fun getting off the phone with a friend and saying “sure I’ll be right there” only to go out to the driveway to find that all of the cars are gone! Then you’ve got to call around to various family members to find out who is where and who will be home first. Equally frustrating is getting into the car to go somewhere only to find that the tank is completely dry and that you’ve got to add a stop at the gas station to your itinerary. Android @ Home could easily fix all of these problems, and more.

If all of our family cars were Android @ Home enabled, not only could they report their positions to an app that everyone in the family has access to, but they could also report their gas levels.

People want their privacy sometimes, so you could always set the app to not report exact car positions, but rather just say whether or not they are in the driveway. This way, I wouldn’t have to peek inside the garage or in the driveway to see if any cars are available.

If I needed a car, I could select the car I want and query the car for its distance so I would be able to easily see which car is nearest, and who I should call to ask them to return the car.

With gas indicators within the app for all cars, you’d easily know if you needed to fill up before running to your appointment, rather than being surprised at the last minute and being late because of a surprise empty tank. Thanks to the connected nature of our devices, the app could even tell you how much gas costs at your local station so you know exactly how much cash you’ll be putting in the tank.

And who likes getting into the car in the summer and sweating until the AC really gets going, or freezing in the winter until the heat turns on? Android @ Home enabled vehicles could cool or warm the car before your morning commute.

And how about running out in the pouring rain to close those windows that you left open? This could easily be done from an app.

Ah! The possibilities are nearly endless and all very useful!

We’ve got the technology to make this happen, and Google’s Android @ Home project makes it easy to integrate. Here’s to hoping we see this sort of smart-automation at a consumer-available level in the next 5 years.

It would certainly make my life easier. How about you, what feature would you want the most from an Android @ Home enabled car? Brainstorm away!

Tiny USB Hubs for Your USB Equipped Honeycomb Tablet

Tags: ,

With a number of already available or soon to be launched Honeycomb tables equipped with full-sized USB ports, I’m hoping that we’ll see the trend continue. Current devices have an issue though; only one USB port! For devices like the Slider, which lacks a trackpad or other form of mouse, that one USB port is likely to be taken up by an external mouse for a desktop-like experience, leaving no room for other peripherals such as external HDD’s, flash drives, game controllers, etc.

Thankfully, Google is rather smart and built a lot of standard connectivity into Android 3.1+ which means a bunch of USB accessories work without modification, including USB hubs for connecting multiple USB devices through a single port.

Jerry was kind enough to test a number of USB hubs with his Acer Iconia A500 and here’s what he found:

Note: USB 1.x hubs don’t seem to work with Honeycomb!


Targus Ultra-Mini ACH7401US, 4x Ports ($11)

targus ultra mini







6.1 ounces

Tested with:

  • Keyboard
  • Mouse
  • Flash drive

Find it at Amazon

CP Technologies CP-U2H-01, 4x Ports ($22)

cp technologies







Tested with:

  • Mouse
  • Flash drive (tested up to 32GB)

Find it at Amazon

Targus Ultra Mini, 4x Ports ($10)








3 ounces

Tested with with:

  • Mouse
  • Flash drive

Find it at Amazon

Mobile Edge Slim-Line, 4x Ports ($30)

slim line









Tested with:

  • Keyboard
  • Mouse
  • Flash Drive

Find it on MobileEdge

I also came across a super small 4-port hub which looks like it would be perfect to throw in a bag along with your tablet. We haven’t tested it, but it’s USB 2.0 which all of the tested USB hubs are.

This site calls it the “World’s smallest USB 2.0 4-port hub” though in the description they say it’s “Probably” the world’s smallest. Nevertheless, it is indeed tiny! Check it out:

worlds smallest











It’s also only $10, find it here.

Android 3.2 Released — How Long Before it Actually Matters?

Tags: ,

On the 15th of July, Google announced their most recent version of Android, version 3.2. This represents the continuing evolution of the Honeycomb branch of the OS. Chief amongst the improvements  were features that enhance the OS’ scalability across different target hardware platforms. Concurrently, updated revisions of the associated SDKs were also released. Packages are available for Windows, Mac OS X, and LINUX. A nice touch, Google has implemented the SDK as a slipstream, so you do not need to download a new SDK starter package. Just download the individual elements to support the new version, and then continue developing away in your same development environment.

While I give kudos to Google for this approach, it is admittedly necessary due to the multiple variants of Android that are on the street. While 3.2 has been released, some developers will need to continue supporting and releasing apps for Android devices stuck at version 2.1. So keeping tools that stretch across Android branches is actually a necessity for Google to robustly support its army of Android developers.

In fact, Android 2.1 is the third most prevalent version of Android in use. Taken from the version tracking site, which aggregates data based on instances of the Android Market being accessed over a 14-day period, Android 2.1 ranks in at 17.5%. I call this group the left-behinds. They are the collection of devices, some of whose manufacturers promised updates for them that were never delivered; others were sold with 2.1 with no intention of being supported with later versions of Android. If only they had the update guarantee!

Android 2.2 and 2.3 are the first and second ranked versions, coming in at 59.4% and 17.6%, respectively. My own Dell Streak 7 is in the fat stratum, although I pray every day that Dell will reward the few of us who went with this uber-Streak with a 2.3 update. It would be even better if they grabbed 3.2 because it was specifically deployed to handle the variation in app appearance and behavior that has been occurring when apps are loaded onto a device with a display size that they were not originally designed for.

Android Honeycomb Market access has only combined for a total just shy of 1% in the last two weeks. The main takeaway here is that while Google continues to evolve the Android OS forward, and release the development tools that support it, user and developer adoption of the most advanced versions trails significantly far behind the releases. I think Google is on the right track moving to scalable OS’, but it is likely that they will be investing in this development for quite some time before hardware deployments that support it catch up.

For those who consider this news meh because you are hanging on for the real leap forward that will be represented by the release of Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), Google is maintaining the company line of a 4th quarter 2011 release. Readers would be well served moving their expectation window to the right into the 1st half of 2012. Either way, word on the street is that the first device to see ICS will be the Nexus 4G, currently available on Sprint. At last check, Sprint lagged behind Verizon in its deployment of Android updates. However, it has been getting them out faster than T-Mobile and AT&T, at least through the bottom half of last year.

My own Motorola Xoom (Verizon 3G version) has yet to receive the push of the update to 3.2. Has anyone else received the push? If so, please put some comments in and tell us about your experience so far. Key features included in the 3.2 update are listed here.

Source: Android Developers Blog

Dear Google, Market Your Android Update Guarantee Intelligently and Give Customers Confidence in Their Smartphone Purchase

Tags: ,

Back during Google I/O 2011, Google announced a list of partners that it was working with to “create new guidelines for how quickly devices will get updated after new Android platform releases”. Similarly, they wanted to ensure that devices are guaranteed a reasonable update lifespan so that they wouldn’t stop receiving updates 6 months or so after release.

So far Google and the founding partners, which includes a number of carriers and device manufacturers, have agreed stated that future devices will receive Android updates for 18 months after their launch. When this program will begin (and which devices will abide by it) has not yet been announced.

When it does launch, Google needs to be smart and really market it. Promising updates for 18 months after a device is launched is great for consumers, but it means nothing if consumers don’t know which device manufacturers or carriers are part of the program at the time of purchase

Google should come up with a simple name and an eye-catching logo that they can hand out to the partners of the program and those partners can slap it on the boxes of their products to show users that the phone will receive guaranteed updates for 18 months.

Something like the ‘Google Update Guarantee’ (GUG for short!), or ‘Android Update Alliance’, or even just ‘Update Guarantee’ with a cool logo would work wonders for consumers.

Imagine someone walking into a Best Buy or RadioShack and holding two phone boxes in their hands. Both are nearly identical in their specs, but only one has the Update Guarantee. The decision for the consumer is simple because one glance at the box tells them that only one of those phones is guaranteed to be updated for a reasonable amount of time.

Better yet, crowd-source the logo by starting a competition to design the logo and offer a cool prize. Let people online vote on which one they like best. Not only will this drum up interest and spread the word about the guarantee on the web, but it’ll also let the people, who will actually be purchasing the devices with the guarantee, feel like they got to be part of the selection process and this will make them feel even more connected to the logo and the devices that use it (which is good for the partners of the program).

Not only does this help the consumer in the store, but the same thing would apply online. The same way that I frequently filter Amazon product searches by what is available to be shipped with Amazon Prime, customers may begin filtering their Android phone/tablet searches to see only those with the Update Guarantee.

By allowing only partners on the list access to the logo for the program, other companies are going to want to jump on board to get access so that they too can market their products with the appealing guarantee logo. Every partner that joins the program means an overall increase in the quality of the Android-device market because it means more devices will be updated to the latest version of Android for a longer period of time.

I really hope Google takes a proactive approach similar to what I’ve suggested. Such a guarantee adds confidence to a customers purchase, which is currently something that’s completely absent from current smartphone purchases. Not even Apple has a guarantee in place for how long they’ll update a given iOS device.

Google Maps for Android Update Adds Offline Access and Transit Directions, Is Still Lightyears Beyond Maps for iOS

Tags: , ,

mapsOn Wednesday Google updated their awesome Maps for Android application to include the ability to download portions of the map for offline access, and full-featured transit directions. With these updates and other features that Maps for Android has had for a long time, the Android version of the application is lightyears ahead of Maps for iOS, read on to find out why.

Google Maps is now running version 5.7 on Android devices, and users now have global access to transit directions. Just pick an address and Google will tell you how to best get there through a combination of public transit options – trains, busses, subways, etc. Here’s how it works:

In addition to transit directions, which are immensely useful when you’re within city limits, Google has added a new feature to the Labs section of Google Maps for Android: Download Map Area.

Download Map Area allows you to download the map in a 10 mile radius around any location that you choose.

To enable the ‘Download Map Area’ feature, launch Maps 5.7 on your Android device. Press the menu button while you’re looking at the map view then press the more button then press Labs. Scroll to the bottom of Labs to find the ‘Download Map Area’ item and click on it to enable it. You will see a green check mark next to the item letting you know that you’ve enabled it.

To use the feature, go to any Places page (places pages are the informational pages about a location that you find when you search through Google Maps. At the bottom of the Places page, you’ll find the ‘Download Map Area’ button which. when pressed, will initiate a download of the entire area within 10 miles.

You can also download the area around any location, even if you can’t pull it up through search. Just press-and-hold any location on the map to bring up a location marker, then press the arrow button on the right of the marker. You’ll find the same download option at the bottom of the list.

map download areaThanks to vector tiles which were implemented with Google Maps for Android 5.0 back in December, a brief download gives you all the data you need to see street-level detail within the downloaded area, even if your phone is in airplane mode. The map will show an outline of the area that is available for offline access.

Google Maps for Android Dominates Google Maps for iOS

I’ve been an iPhone user since the iPhone 3G. Through the iPhone 3G, 3GS, and 4, Google Maps has been one of my most consistently used applications. Still, I’ve always been jealous of Google Maps on Android. These recent updates to Maps for Android just put it that much further beyond Maps for iOS.

One Reason Why Maps for iOS is Behind

Maps on iOS works very well, but is seriously lacking in the features department and lacks a crucial component that Maps for Android has: updatability.

Back in the early days of Android, core applications like Maps could only be updated through firmware releases, which were relatively far between. Later changes to Android allowed core applications to be updated through the Android Market just like any third-party application. This meant that the Maps for Android team could push updates through to Maps for Android whenever they wanted, rather than waiting for entire firmware updates. This has been key in keeping Maps for Android lightyears ahead of Maps for iOS.

It’s unclear whether or not Maps for iOS can be updated through the App Store like third-party apps, but what is clear is that Apple has never pushed a single update to Maps in this manner. They appear to be stuck updating Maps whenever major firmware updates are released, which are few and far between (perhaps once per year).

No Turn-by-turn Directions, Co-pilot Mandatory

Google’s completely free Navigation app for Android provides best in class turn-by-turn navigation to any Android device that has GPS. It’s arguably even better than most dedicated GPS road units.

Maps for iOS will obligingly give you great walking, driving, or transit directions, but there is no turn-by-turn navigation. When finding a route on Maps for iOS you also have no option to view alternate routes, no option to avoid toll roads, and no way to automatically route around traffic.

The best you get is a visual map of your route, or a list of directions. Trying to following directions on Maps for iOS while driving by yourself is dangerous because of the total lack of turn-by-turn guidance. In these situations, having a co-pilot to track your progress on the route, tell you which turns to take, and when you should be turning, is a must. For me, this is the biggest weakness of Maps for iOS.

Missing Features

Simply put, Maps for Android does a whole lot more than its iOS counterpart. Here’s just a short list of the things that Maps for iOS is lacking.

Vector tiles: Maps 5.0 for Android introduced vector tiles which have a number of advantages. Here’s what we wrote about Maps 5.0 from our review of the first device that got that update, the Nexus S —

The latest version of Google Maps looks quite similar to the old, but the underlying system is vastly different. Instead of using static image tiles at varying zoom levels, Maps is now using vector tiles which boast a number of advantages. Vector graphics can be dynamically scaled to any resolution and still retain their sharpness. Now, instead of downloading one tile for each zoom level, you may only have to download one tile for a particular area and then it is scaled to any level of zoom. This means less downloading (less data usage) and easier caching (storing for use later/offline)

Vector graphics also allow the map text to stay right side up even as you rotate the map. Additionally, you can now use two-fingers to tilt the map to get a different angle (again, thanks to vector graphics). And you’ll be able to see 3D buildings in places where it’s supported.

Latitude Built-in: Maps for Android puts your Latitude friends right there on the map, and allows you to ping other Android phones for quick location updates. Maps on iOS lacks Latitude entirely. Latitude does exist as a separate app, but using the two interchangeably (ie: getting directions to a friend’s location) means switching back and forth between the apps, and the Latitude app on iOS doesn’t support quick location updates between you and your Latitude friends.

Topographic Maps: Maps for Android will give you terrain maps of pretty much anywhere. Not only can they be interesting to look at, but they are also useful for planning hikes and other trips.

Biking Directions: Maps for iOS provided public transit directions a long time before Maps for Android, but now that Maps for Android support transit directions, it can give you directions in every way that Maps for iOS can, and in one way that Maps for iOS can’t – biking directions. When finding biking directions, Google specifically looks to use bike trails or lanes on your route, and uses terrain data to avoid big hills whenever possible.

No Google Account Integration: When you launch Maps for Android, everything is in sync with your Google Account. I can pull up custom maps and routes that I’ve made on the computer, all of my latitude friends are there, and I can see the places that I’ve starred. Maps for iOS doesn’t even consider your Google account, and in fact may not even know that such a thing exists.

Offline Access: And now, as we’ve seen, Maps for Android has offline access, allowing you to choose precisely where you want to download the maps for offline use. Offline map access in Maps for iOS is fickle and unpredictable. Despite the iPhone 3G and beyond having built-in GPS, the phones often act as though they don’t have no idea that they posses GPS chips when they lack a data connection. This is really bothersome when you’re in and out of data coverage, especially when hiking.

And that’s just a few of the big items! Here’s a list Google cooked up comparing Maps for Android to Maps for iOS:

ios maps vs android maps

All these things combined put Maps for Android lightyears ahead of Maps for iOS in my book (even though it works well for what it does), and is definitely the #1 thing I’m jealous of as an iPhone user.

Android Honeycomb 3.1 Overview, Coming to Google TV This Summer

Tags: , , , ,

At Google I/O 2011, Honeycomb 3.1, which brings a number of user and developer enhancements, has been officially announced and detailed. Google also says that Honeycomb 3.1 will be making its way to Google TV powered devices this summer; very exciting news as it means that Google TV devices will now have access to apps from the Android Market!

Android 3.1 is rolling out now to Motorla Xoom [tracking page] devices on Verizon’s network, however our Xoom still has no idea that an update is available, so it’s likely coming in waves. Nicole Scott of NetbookNews.com has a tip for forcing your Xoom to check for the update (though checking for it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll find it!).

Honeycomb 3.1 Major Changes

honeycomb logoResizable Widgets and UI Changes

resize widgetIn Android 3.1, widgets have support for dynamic resizing which is a great feature as I can only currently see a pathetic three emails in the Gmail widget. Google notes that it is really painless for developers to add dynamic-size capability to their widgets with just a few lines of code.

There has also been a number of minor adjustments to the UI. Google says that “UI transitions are improved throughout the system and across the standard apps” which will hopefully make homescreen swiping more smooth. I’ve been unimpressed with the fluidity of homescreen swiping (and general UI performance) thus far.

Other changes are aiming to make the experience more intuitive – something that Honeycomb desperately needs. Android 3.0 is really not the intuitive experience that you hope it would be. From my own observations, novice users have a hard time using the device because of this. Sometimes I too am unsure as to where to look for a particular button or function within an application because it just isn’t clear what certain buttons will do. Trial-and-error should not be the underlying philosophy of your interface. Any changes toward making the operating system “easier to see, understand, and use”, as Google says, will be an improvement to the OS.

Accessibility has also been enhanced, and I’m always happy to see that the industry is not skimping in this department. From Apple’s iOS to Android, accessibility options are there to help as many people as possible make use of these devices. Android 3.1 enhances accessibility with consistent voice-feedback throughout the UI.

The recent-apps button, which Google implemented in 3.0 to take place of the home-hold gesture in Android for phones, has been extended to show a greater number of recently used applications (rather than just 5) by allowing the user to scroll through the list.

USB Connectivity

Android 3.1 brings along robust USB-host support for peripherals and accessories. Google is touting support for keyboards, mice, game controllers, and digital cameras. Developers are also free to build on the USB support to add compatibility with additional devices for applications – great for more obscure USB devices, or support for specific types of devices (such as a game controller with proprietary buttons).

This also opens up the realm of controlling any number of USB accessories for more interesting uses. Google lists “robotics controllers, docking stations, diagnostic and musical equipment, kiosks, card readers, and much more,” as examples of such devices that could be controlled and interacted with using an Android device thanks to this new USB support.

Hopefully the Honeycomb 3.1 update will fixed the crashes that Chippy has been seeing when using the Acer Iconia A500 with a USB keyboard/mouse combo.

Updated Apps

Honeycomb 3.1 is also improving a number of built-in applications.

quick controls 3.1The browser’s “Quick Controls” have been improved. The well received Quick Controls, enabled through the labs section of the browser settings, allow the user to slide in from the left or right of the screen to get a radial menu that allows them to control the browser. Most notably, tab management has been moved into the Quick Controls which should free up even more space for web content and allow almost all browser functions to be performed from one place.

Some standards related enhancements have been made to the browser such as support for CSS 3D, animations, and CSS fixed position. There’s also support for embedded HTML5 video, and Google says that performance when zooming has been “dramatically” improved – I’m looking forward to that!

The Gallery app now supports something called Picture Transfer Protocol which will allow users to plug a USB camera into their 3.1 device and import photos directly into the Gallery app.

FLAC Support

flac logoExciting news for audiophiles: Android 3.1 now supports FLAC, the lossless audio codec (hat tip to Android Police)! I’m not sure whether or not the soundcards in most Android devices are really up to this task yet, but it’s good that the option is now available.

On the Xoom particularly, I hear a whole lot of popping and hissing coming from the device, even when no sound is playing. Even with lossless audio playback, the audio-bottleneck may well end up being the sound hardware. Perhaps we’ll see tablets pushing higher quality audio equipment to make use of FLAC and differentiate themselves from other devices down the road.

If you’re interested, here’s the technical bit that I am in no position to comment on:

Mono/Stereo (no multichannel). Sample rates up to 48 kHz (but up to 44.1 kHz is recommended on devices with 44.1 kHz output, as the 48 to 44.1 kHz downsampler does not include a low-pass filter). 16-bit recommended; no dither applied for 24-bit.

This would be a “take that!” moment from Google to Apple, but Apple has had lossless audio support in their iOS devices for quite some time. The format is a proprietary ALAC, which only serves to lock users further into the Apple ecosystem; still, Android isn’t the only lossless game in town.

The Rest

That’s the major stuff for now. We did bypass a few enterprise enhancements – if you’d like to check those out and/or geek-out with some developer improvements, be sure to swing by the official platform highlights section from Google.

Android Honeycomb 3.1 on Google TV

gogole tvIn an effort to un-fork the Android OS, which currently operates three builds (phone/tablet/TV), Google is bringing Honeycomb 3.1 to Google TV through an OTA update to existing devices this summer. This will open up the world of apps from the Android Market onto Google TV-powered devices which is exciting news for developers and users alike. New Google TV units are also in the works from Sony, Vizio, Samsung, and Logitech.


As mentioned, the Motorola Xoom on Verizon is the first device to get the 3.1 update. Google hasn’t made it clear when the rest of the world will see 3.1, and even the WiFi-only Xoom is left out in the rain at the time of writing. According to Engadget, Google has said that 3.1 would be hitting the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10 (which was given to attendees of Google I/O) in the “next couple of weeks.” There’s some hope that all Honeycomb devices will have access to the update at that time, depending on the whims of individual carriers and OEMS.

Google Working with Partners to Ensure Android Update Speed and Longevity… It’s About Time

Tags: ,

update partnersAndroid is a wonderful phone OS, but Google’s choice to leave the pushing of updates in the hands of OEMs or carriers is a real sour-point for the otherwise praised mobile OS. Hopefully, that’s about to change.

Time and time again we’ve heard stories of devices that have been waiting to get major Android updates for months after Google officially releases the update. In many cases, promises are made by carriers or OEMs and then broken, leaving users clueless as to when (or if) they’ll be seeing the latest Android version on their device.

At Google I/O 2011, Google has announced that it is now working with a group of partners to “create new guidelines for how quickly devices will get updated after new Android platform releases.” Google also says that they’ll be agreeing on, not only how quickly devices get updated, but also for how long they’ll be guaranteed to see Android updates. At the present, Google and the partners are announcing that devices will receive Android updates for 18 months after launch. This is great news with one caveat: Google mentions that the 18 month update-guarantee only holds water “if the hardware allows.” It’s unclear exactly who will determine whether or not the hardware will “allow” the update. Surely there will be situations where you might not want a particular build of Android to be pushed through to a certain piece of hardware for performance considerations. But it its up to carriers and OEMs, they may pull the “we aren’t updating this device because performance is not optimal” card, even when it might perform well enough for those who want it.

It sounds as though the group has yet to agree on how long they’ll be expected to push the latest Android version after it is released, and Google is asking us to “stay tuned” for more information about.

The partner-list is impressive so far and hopefully we’ll see more companies getting onboard. Here are the founding members:

  • Verizon
  • HTC
  • Samsung
  • Sprint
  • Sony Ericsson
  • LG
  • T-Mobile
  • Vodaphone
  • Motorola
  • AT&T
  • (and of course) Google

This is great news for users and developers. Presently the most popular Android version is Android 2.2 with 65.9% of devices accessing the Android Market over a 14-day period. Version 2.1 still holds a strong portion of the version market with 24.5%, with the remaining 9.6% of devices being spread across five other versions of Android.

android version graph

For a developer, this is a nightmare. Optimally you’d like to have every device using the same firmware so that you know that every device has the same capabilities on the software level. You’d also like to have all of the devices on the latest version of any given software, but it turns out that only 4.3% of Android devices are running 2.3+.

For the user, guaranteed update speed and longevity is an obvious bonus because it means that you won’t get left in the update-dust after six months of owning a new device. You also won’t be left waiting months to get the latest speed enhancements and innovations that other devices enjoy from the day that a new version is released.

I hope Google is smart enough to come up with a nifty name for the group that’s agreeing to these guidelines, and a shiny logo that they can slap on the box of participating devices so that customers can easily identify which devices are guaranteed to get this special update treatment.

Here’s to hoping that this greatly changes the Android update-landscape as we know it today.

Google Talk Now Includes Video Chatting… Currently Only Available to 2.2% of All Android Users

Tags: ,

An announcement on the Google mobile blog tells us that Google Talk with video and voice chat will be released to Nexus S [product page][review] devices in the next few weeks as part of the Android 2.3.4 update. This is great news in itself, but once you realize that it’s only for Android devices running Android 2.3 or higher, you’ll see why it’s actually sort of upsetting.

According to data released from Google Android 2.3 only represents 2.2% of current Android devices so it may be a while before we see it on the majority of devices out there. Froyo (2.2) is currently the most popular Android version with 63.9% of devices.

Some neat features include: while video chatting, any text chats from that person will also appear overlaid on the video; also when switching to a different application while video chatting, video is paused but audio continues to run in the background. Unlike Apple’s Face Time, the Google talk video works over Wi-Fi and 3G which is nice. The app will work with desktop users (which includes Mac/PC/any platform that has a browser than can access the webcam) by enabling video chats from within Gmail.

For Android users it seems like this might be a good option if you need video calling functionality for your device, PC, tablet or smartphone, but it’s a ways away for the majority of users out there. There’s still no real news on when Skype will add video calling support for Android and indeed it’s hard to think what to make of the recent announcement that Qik was purchased by Skype for around $100 million.

Google has a short video showing Video Chat in action: