The Hills Are Greener: Google Solving Its Software Update Problem

The Hills Are Greener: Google Solving Its Software Update Problem

May 27, 2013

Google is well-known for having issues getting software updates out to users. Look at all the devices still on Gingerbread, after all. But what Google recently did at I/O was a big step forward for them: they’re making Android version updates a much smaller issue than they ever were thanks to shifting important feature usage through app updates and common SDKs, not through Android version updates.

Contrast this strategy with what Apple does: big new features are part of mandatory software udpates. This was a problem when Game Center launched, because for users to log in and use the social gaming service, it required iOS 4.1, which released in the days when users had to connect to iTunes to install iOS updates, and it came to the iPad even later in version 4.2. As such, it had a slower buildup, not becoming a universal feature for games until about a year later.

Google Play Game Services may take a while to take off, sure, but it has the advantage of not requiring an Android system update to use. This way, anyone with a compatible device (Gingerbread and later) can take advantage of it. Developers can integrate the SDK without worrying about excluding users. And thanks to the fact that third-party services never really got a great foothold – even OpenFeint never reached critical mass the way it did on iOS – there’s little reason for it to not be adopted by anyone releasing on Google Play.

hangoutsThat they’re also pushing updates for Google Talk as Hangouts and Google Music All Access. That they’re pushing new features as app updates is important – they’re showing that they are recognizant of the Android landscape: providing features needs to be done in light of the fact that not everyone is on equal footing.

Of course, what Google really needs to be able to do from here on out is to be able to push important security updates quickly to users. That’s the biggest issue now for users on earlier versions – many are on OS versions still susceptible to malware, which often goes un-fixed due to the fact that manufacturers and the carriers are unwilling to get updates out in a timely fashion. If Google can make it so that they can get a quick patching system in place, either through partnerships with the manufacturers and carriers, or even through software, they can make the issue of software updates almost a non-issue.

98.8% of Android Devices Are Running Outdated Software When Over 25% of iOS Users Have the Latest Already

98.8% of Android Devices Are Running Outdated Software When Over 25% of iOS Users Have the Latest Already

Sep 24, 2012

Google really has something of a mess on their hands with OS upgrades. iOS 6 recently released, and after 24 hours, it reached 15% penetration rate among iOS users, and 25% after 48 hours. Jelly Bean, released in July, has a 1.2% penetration rate, many of whom are likely Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 7 owners. Ice Cream Sandwich is at 20.9% for all versions, and it was initially announced and released in October 2011. Gingerbread, released in December 2010, is on 57.5% of all devices.

Now, the Android situation is different from iOS, as Apple usually announces their major OS update and its new features several months before its final release, and Apple has fewer devices to support: including the iPhone 5 and iPod touch 5th generation, 8 devices in total will run iOS 6, compared to the thousands running Android. Granted, the onus for updates does fall on the hardware manufacturers to provide them, and carrier testing proves to be a roadblock, but it still means that users are overwhelmingly using outdated software. Heck, even Honeycomb, only available for tablets, is out-pacing Jelly Bean at this point, 2.1% to 1.2%.

That users are still buying phones with outdated software versions, as even the latest and greatest phones are a version behind, if not 2 versions at this point, thanks to the software customizations that manufacturers feel compelled to add, it’s a mess with no solution for Google other than to dominate with Nexus and AOSP devices, or to find a way to get manufacturers to release software updates sooner rather than later. Until then, with Gingerbread phones still being sold, Android remains a fragmented mess, and that’s bad for everyone who uses the platform.

Face Unlock Comes to All Android Devices with FaceLock

Face Unlock Comes to All Android Devices with FaceLock

Feb 15, 2012

Jealous of the Face Unlock functionality that the Galaxy Nexus has? Want to use it to protect apps as well? Then FaceLock is the solution. What this tool does is that it emulates Face Unlock from Ice Cream Sandwich, but uses it primarily for apps.

Users begin by training FaceLock to recognize them by taking a minimum of seven photos for it to learn what the user’s face looks like. More than seven can be added, which is best because of all the various lighting scenarios that are out there. It is possible to use the front-facing camera, but because it’s much harder to line up one’s face, this is decidedly more inconvenient. Use this only on a device with a front-facing camera.

So, does FaceLock work? Yes! It works remarkably well, recognizing faces rather quickly in decent lighting conditions when testing on the Motorola Xoom. When testing in lower light, when the Xoom’s camera gets notably fuzzy, the facial recognition tended to fail. It’s not a matter of caputring faces in low lighting situations to make it work better – the facial recognition just did not work at all. This could be an issue with the Xoom’s front-facing camera in particular though. The app does support password input as a fallback if facial reocgnition does not work. The locking can be set to be required each time the app is opened, to have it disabled once it’s been unlocked and the screen remains on, or to set it on a delay before it re-locks (only available in the pro version).

FaceLock comes in free and paid varieties. The free version locks Settings, Market, Task Manager, and one custom app. The pro version supports enabling locking for any app of the user’s choice. As well, a PIN can be entered instead of a password, and best of all: it can be used as the lock screen, emulating Face Unlock completely. Both Free and Pro versions are available now from the Android Market, and require Android 2.3 or later devices.

Intel E6XX Processors to Get a Taste of Gingerbread

Intel E6XX Processors to Get a Taste of Gingerbread

Sep 13, 2011

The internet is once again buzzing with Android news, and this time it comes from a big name processor manufacturer. Intel recently published a video on their new E6XX processors, and that video had a funny little slide boasting Android support. Upon further digging, it turns out Intel will bring Android 2.3 Gingerbread to the new Atom E6XX processors in January 2012. This is both exciting, and concerning at the same time.

First, the concerning bit. Google is slating its next major OS release, Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), for a October/November release. This version of the operating system is designed to run on multiple form factors, thus finally uniting tablets and phones under one umbrella. This also means that Intel is choosing to use an old platform for their new low-voltage processors. With so much market segmentation already happening, is it truly wise for Intel to go with an older OS as opposed to utilizing something that is being designed to be more universal?

Now the exciting bit. Intel has been struggling to release an Atom processor with a low enough voltage requirement to make it a viable phone/tablet contender. Intel has been stuck in the set-top box and netbook area for many years, until now it seems.

While Intel claims this new processor is not for the smartphone, they are marketing them towards retailers, fitness equipment manufacturers, in-vehicle navigation systems, and more. What does this mean for you, the consumer? Imagine a refrigerator that tracks your calories and syncs up with the treadmills at your fitness club to help you optimize your workout, or if you don’t like the navigation app on your car, simply change it to something you like. We could see Android start to penetrate every aspect of our lives, and Intel could be a driving force behind it.

While it is still early to see how this will fully play out, the future is exciting. Who knows, maybe our phones will one day start becoming the new laptops, with only a docking station and external monitor becoming necessary. Skynet is just around the corner!

Netflix Now Available on All Froyo and Gingerbread Devices; Honeycomb Users Left Out

Netflix Now Available on All Froyo and Gingerbread Devices; Honeycomb Users Left Out

Sep 12, 2011

Good news, everyone! Netflix is now available on even more devices than ever before! The app now supports all devices running Android 2.2 or 2.3, instead of the selective list of devices it once supported. While getting Froyo or Gingerbread on one’s device is sometimes an issue thanks to lackadaisical carrier support, at least now there are far fewer limiting factors than there once were. For those Android owners who now have the ability to watch streaming Netflix shows and movies anywhere, may I suggest Breaking Bad, which is now available on Netflix? No, I can’t, I can only order you to watch it.

Unfortunately, Honeycomb tablet owners appear to be still left in the dark, as tablets like the Motorola Xoom can’t install the app directly from the Market; while some sideloading tricks may still work, this is still a step away from Netflix being as ubiquitous on Android as it is on iOS.

Gingerbread Not Coming to Users and It’s Largely the Carriers’ Fault.

Fragmentation is the most overplayed issue on Android, with frequent press pushing the issue. This is more of that, but not because of hardware issues; no, this covers an actual serious issue with Android, namely the lack of recent software updates for many devices. Android and Me reports that many devices are not yet running the latest version of Android available for phones, Gingerbread (2.3). While manufacturers in the Android Update Alliance are providing updates to many of their phones, carriers are not offering these updates in large quantities to their users.

The problem is likely twofold. First, because Google does not have the ability to deliver software updates directly to user’s phones, they cannot push updates like Apple can; not having desktop software like iTunes to help this process is also a hindrance. The second problem is that there’s a bottleneck among the carriers and manufacturers with providing updates. The manufacturers have to develop updates for these phones because of the various hardware in them. Manufacturers may be hesitant to develop them because they are consistently working on new phones, and may be trying to just develop for the new phones they make. As well, they often have to deliver these updates to the carriers, and they have been lackadaisical in providing them to users. As well, there has been conflict in the past with manufacturers trying to get more money from the carriers because they feel like they should be compensated for providing feature updates. In short, because of all these factors, it has made it more difficult for users to get the latest updates.

By not having these updates, users are having to use devices that are not as secure, and are obviously lacking features because they are on earlier updates. This ultimately harms the Android experience, and it is in both the carriers’ and manufacturers’ best interests to make sure that their phones are on the latest versions, because offering users an inferior experience makes them more likely to jump into the arms of Apple and iOS. Apple has been much more hostile to carrier interference than Android manufacturers have, and carriers could risk losing control of their own networks if users will not support smartphone alternatives to iOS. While the risks of mass defection are low, it’s still something that seems like the carriers should not risk.

Skype Video Calling Now Available on More Android Devices

Skype Video Calling Now Available on More Android Devices

Aug 4, 2011

Skype has been slowly bringing video calling to Android devices. The device support has recently been expanded to officially support a variety of new devices, including some popular Android models, and even the Samsung Galaxy Tab. The full list is available on Skype’s blog. Some of these devices, like the Samsung Galaxy S, do not have front-facing cameras on some of their models; if these devices are on Froyo (Android 2.2) or higher then they can use their rear-facing cameras for video calling, at least.

What’s most interesting about this update for most users is that Skype has activated video calling for potentially all Android devices, not just ones that are officially supported. All devices on Froyo or higher can check in the settings of the app to see if the ability to enable video calls is available; if so, then video calling may work on the device. In order to use the front-facing camera on these unofficially-supported devices, the device needs Gingerbread (Android 2.3) in order for Skype to have access to the front-facing camera, otherwise only rear camera access will be available. Video calling between two people works well, even when calling users on various other platforms that support Skype video calling, meaning that this will work to call iOS Skype users. Finally, the bridges that have divided us for so long will be repaired!

Not all devices with front-facing cameras will be able to make video calls from the new Skype for Android update. Tablets may or may not work at this point, as video calling was not available on the Motorola Xoom running Android 3.2 after the latest update was installed. Skype should be adding more devices to the supported device list, and hopefully better tablet support is on its way. Skype for Android with expanded video calling is now available for free from the Android Market.

CyanogenMod 7 Brings Gingerbread to Many Phones for the First Time

CyanogenMod 7 Brings Gingerbread to Many Phones for the First Time

Apr 19, 2011

One of the most prominent names in the Android custom ROM scene is CyanogenMod, helping to provide a less cluttered and more customizable user experience than what many stock versions of Android provide. The latest version of CyanogenMod has been released by the CyanogenMod team, CyanogenMod 7 Final. This version of CM runs Android 2.3.3, better known as Gingerbread, which is the latest version of Android available for phones. Installing CyanogenMod requires root access and an app like ROM Manager from the Android Market – if you’re interested in installing CyanogenMod 7 Final for yourself, granted that your device, including a variety of popular phones, and tablets like the Nook Color, is among one of the 24 models (not including sub-variants, like the various Galaxy S models) that CyanogenMod is compatible with, search for how to root your phone, or visit the helpful XDA-Developers forum, find your phone, and you can find instructions on how to root your phone and how to install a custom rom on your phone.

The interesting thing about CyanogenMod is that this is going to be many users’ first taste of Gingerbread on their phones. In fact, CyanogenMod even beat some of the manufacturers to Gingerbread support, like with the Samsung Galaxy S. The source code for Gingerbread for the Galaxy S was released after CyanogenMod 7 was released in an unofficial, user-supported variant. The Android user community is very willing to support their devices to do what they want on them, without being reliant on what the manufacturers are willing to do.

Now, the custom rom experience is only recommended for users who are willing to tinker with their phones and aren’t afraid to violate their warranties. However, if you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty, and improve the experience of your phone, then a custom rom like CyanogenMod 7 is a good choice, but note that most phones will have a wide variety of custom roms available. My suggestion is to play around with a few, to find what works best for you. However, if you want Gingerbread on your phone right now, CyanogenMod may be your only choice right now.