The Hills Are Greener: Why Maybe the Latest Android Version Isn’t Necessary, But Then Again…

The Hills Are Greener: Why Maybe the Latest Android Version Isn’t Necessary, But Then Again…

Apr 30, 2013

Google Glass running Android should surprise no one – after all, if you’re building a piece of hardware that you want developers to test on, and if you’re spending a lot of money to build an OS, why not make it run Android? The reasons are just too obvious.

What should be surprising is that Google isn’t running the latest version of Android on it – it’s running a build of Ice Cream Sandwich instead of Jelly Bean. Google is usually the company that pushes out the latest and greatest Android versions to their devices, so for them to be 2 versions behind (if you count Jelly Bean 4.1 and 4.2) is a bit shocking.

But is it really necessary? Is there some Jelly Bean feature that Google Glass would be tremendously improved by? For limited-purpose devices such as this, does it really just need a functional version of Android in order to work properly, as opposed to the latest and greatest? Your Android-powered oven doesn’t really need Project Butter, does it? For phones and tablets, user-facing devices, yes, having the latest version should be a goal. But for limited-use devices, is it such a big deal?

Jelly Bean LogoThere is just one problem: Android updates include fixes for security holes. For devices like phones and tablets that have users installing third-party software that can potentially contain malware that exploits these holes, this is why they need updated system software. Right now, holes go unpatched for long periods of time while manufacturers wait to get updates ready, or if they never get them ready at all. Thus, bugs can be fixed quickly, but never actually reach the users who need the protection.

For devices like Google Glass and ovens where their purposes might be more limited, there’s still a potential issue because of the fact that they are still connecting to networks, and with Android’s open source nature, it seems like breaking in would be within the realm of possibility, if not likely.

Now, Google Glass is still a product only for a limited market of developers and early adopters, and as such, probably doesn’t need the kind of security that consumer models will need. But still, to see that even Google doesn’t necessarily care about always getting the latest version of Android out there is a bit distressing.

Google Launches Calendar App on Google Play; Makes It Available to All 4.x Android Devices

Google Launches Calendar App on Google Play; Makes It Available to All 4.x Android Devices

Oct 18, 2012

Google has done a curious move: they’ve released their Calendar app as a standalone app on Google Play, instead of a built-in app. There seem to be two immediately apparent reasons as to why this was done. One: Google wants to be able to easily update the Calendar app, similar to how Play Music and YouTube are available on Google Play. This gives them flexibility to add new functionality down the line.

But the second reason is more important: this allows for Google to get their calendar app on devices where the manufacturer has skinned or replaced the default software. For example, Samsung’s calendar app looks quite different from the default Google app; for people migrating from a Nexus device, this may be quite jarring. This allows for Google to push that standardized Android look, and possibly pressure the manufacturers into using Holo themes and fonts, instead of their own choices. It also gives users an option as to which calendar app they want to use. The app is available now from Google Play.

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.

Samsung’s Galaxy Player 5.8 Redefines Giant Screens

Samsung’s Galaxy Player 5.8 Redefines Giant Screens

Aug 28, 2012

Did you think that the Galaxy Note was just too small? 5.3" of screen just wasn't enough, was it? No, you need something bigger. The Galaxy Note 2 having a rumored 5.5" screen? Still not enough. How about the new Galaxy Player 5.8, recently announced in Korea? It's got a 5.8" screen. It features a design inspired by the Samsung Galaxy S III, just bigger. Sadly, the resolution is only 960×540, so there's a definite drop in PPI. But those are the sacrifices that must be made when going after the biggest, baddest screen. There's no sacrifice of battery life, with a beefy 2500 mAh battery. It also boasts frontal stereo speakers, and in fact this thing's layout may make it optimal as a wifi phone. There's just no word of what's under the hood – sure, it might be able to handle video, but will gaming work well on it? And will the western world, hungry for giant screens, be able to get their hands on this thing soon? And I do mean hands because that screen size is big, yo.

Theme Thursday: Android Version Live Wallpapers

Theme Thursday: Android Version Live Wallpapers

Aug 9, 2012

Note: Regular Theme Thursday columnist Joseph Bertolini is away this week, so editor Carter Dotson is stepping in.

This week on Theme Thursday, it’s all about rocking some wallpapers that are appropriate for that Android device’s OS. I don’t mean in terms of figurative compatibility, but literally. These are live wallpapers that celebrate our various different Android versions!

First up for us lucky folks already on Jelly Bean, is a live wallpaper from the ancient masters of the jelly bean, Jelly Belly. They have released a live wallpaper called Jelly Belly Jelly Beans Jar that turns any phone or tablet background into a jar of jelly beans. Tap on an empty space on the screen to spawn a random jelly bean, then tilt the device to watch them fly around. Gravity can be configured as well!

There are over 50 different jelly beans from the Jelly Belly flavor lineup as well, because what’s a Jelly Belly app without jelly bean flavors like chili mango, pomegranate cosmo, and Dr. Pepper?

Jelly Belly Jelly Beans Jar is a great fit for any device on Jelly Bean, like the Nexus 7. However, it supports 2.1 and higher, so even those stuck on earlier Android versions can feel the Jelly Bean love, staring wistfully at an Android upgrade that unfortunately may never come.

For those a version back on Ice Cream Sandwich, or those that are thinking that while things may be smoother on Jelly Bean, ICS’s logo was the bomb dot com, then there’s a live wallpaper celebrating that robotic dessert. Ice Cream Sandwich 3D Free puts a spinning 3D ICS logo as the wallpaper. As pages of the launcher are swiped through, the delicious-looking Bug Droid (the name of the Android logo guy) spins around. When the tablet is idle, he rotates around slowly. This works not just on Jelly Bean, but also on earlier versions, because ICS is still not on all the Android phones and tablets!

For all those poor souls still stuck on even earlier Android versions, then may I suggest this generic Bug Droid live wallpaper? Use it as a reminder of how cool Android is, even if that manufacturer and carrier won’t push out that update!

Tweet Lanes is a Twitter App Designed for Ice Cream Sandwich Users

Tweet Lanes is a Twitter App Designed for Ice Cream Sandwich Users

Jul 10, 2012

Tweet Lanes is a Twitter app for the 1%. Or at least, the 10% of users on Ice Cream Sandwich. See, this Twitter app is designed specifically for ICS and Jelly Bean devices, made around the design guidelines of Android 4.x. This means that there are the dropdown arrows and action menu featured prominently throughout the app. There’s a carousel of lanes above the timeline, showing tweets, mentions, and various lists that can also be swiped between. Want to reply to a tweet? Just tap on it, and type out the reply in the persistent tweet bar below.

The app is still early: there are no settings at all, the ability to customize which lanes are visible is not implemented yet, and other features need to be added. However, what the app is in its current state is well-designed, and still a good basic Twitter app. There’s not a lot in the way of well-designed Android apps, and over time, this could prove to be a valuable contender in a world where the official Twitter app runs slowly on older phones, and who knows when TweakDeck is going to get updated, much less the original TweetDeck. Tweet Lanes is currently free, and all future features can be unlocked by sending out a kinda-spammy tweet promoting the app.

The Hills Are Greener: Always Look on The Bright Side of Life

The Hills Are Greener: Always Look on The Bright Side of Life

May 21, 2012

I recently made an interesting discovery when researching to see if my favorite custom ROM (really just a stock Ice Cream Sandiwch for the Samsung Captivate) was going to be updated: it was developed by high school kids in their spare time. They were delayed on working on it because of AP tests. Really.

This seems silly, but it’s really just a reminder of how the world of technology is changing: it’s open season for anyone with the ability and desire to work on these phones.

It starts at the XDA forums, where seemingly hundreds of devices – even carrier-specific device variants – are having their code tinkered with by community members, trying to get the experience they want – much to the chagrin of the manufacturers themselves. Viva la GPL!

Remember the story of George Hotz, the college dropout hacker who worked on several exploits to jailbreak the iPhone, then caused major trouble for Sony when he hacked the PS3. He’s currently 22, and had actually worked at Facebook for a short while, which is probably the least of his accomplishments so far.

Even for legitimate app makers, the ability to get an app published on a legitimate platform is there. For those looking to make a living off of it, the market is rough, but for the person that wants to make an app or game that stands alongside the professionals, that opportunity exists.

The tech market is even at a point where relative youth is getting a shot at shaking things up. Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook in college, as everyone famously knows. Josh Buckley, founder of MinoMonsters, isn’t even old enough to legally drink in the US, and yet he’s gotten money from venture capital firms. The tech market, that the mobile market is a huge part of, is open to those with ideas.

Even for those giant multinational corporations, think about what Android offers: an operating system that can be tailored to run on many different types of hardware. It’s something that OpenSignalMaps pointed out even as they delineated the amount of fragmentation out there: Android is everywhere, and people who want an Android device of some kind probably have it. Watches, little thumbsticks that plug into TVs that are Android-powered, who knows, maybe the next toaster I buy will run Android. The open-source nature of the OS makes it possible, and a lot has been done thanks to these possibilities.

So, while there’s a lot of negativity to dwell on – the continued struggle of those who want to make a living, and the potential harm to end-user products that the patent wars may produce – there’s still a lot to sit back and admire. The mobile market, with Android being a part of it, is breaking down barriers and opening up creative technology to all sorts of people who didn’t have access before.

Samsung Galaxy Note Finally Gets Ice Cream Sandwich

There were probably 2 main complaints about the Samsung Galaxy Note at launch: one, that it was too big. Two, it used an outdated version of Android. While Samsung’s hand-enlargening worldwide gas distribution project has hit some speed bumps in development, Ice Cream Sandwich is finally hitting the gargantual phone. This brings a TouchWiz version of ICE to the phone, with the special Galaxy Note apps like S Note, which also features updates to make it work better, along with a new S Memo widget. While this update is long overdue (there’s no reason why it shouldn’t have shipped with Ice Cream Sandiwch in the first place), it’s at least getting the upgrade, which is more than many phones can say.

Still, this should make the phone more attractive to power users who wanted a unique device without giving up the advantages of the latest Android OS. The update is currently rolling out around the world – US Galaxy Note owners may get it later because of the different hardware and because of carriers insistence on testing the OS before release. However, custom ROMs do exist.

Evernote Updated for Ice Cream Sandwich

Evernote Updated for Ice Cream Sandwich

May 18, 2012

Evernote, the app for taking all kinds of notes and syncing them to the cloud, has gotten a massive update for Ice Cream Sandwich.

The app now adheres to ICS design standards. There’s a new action bar using the software ellipses for more actions, along with a dynamic list of commands that is used throughout the app, with the command list disappearing when viewing a note. Swiping gestures have also been implemented throughout the app, to make it easier to switch between adding new notes and viewing the note list. The app has also been visually redesigned to be a better fit with ICS.

Now, many apps that are cross-platform don’t receive the kind of attention to their Android apps as they do their iOS apps – Evernote is the definite exception. Evernote are all about working on many platforms, and the update to their Android app shows that this is important to them. The free update is available now.

Ice Cream Sandwich Adoption: Still Slow, but Improving Slightly

Ice Cream Sandwich Adoption: Still Slow, but Improving Slightly

May 3, 2012

The growth of Ice Cream Sadiwch continues to trudge along, slowly but surely. The numbers are at 4.9% for all Android ICS variants. This is likely being spurred on by the Galaxy Nexus and its continued spread; some tablets like the Motorola Xoom are getting the update, though only on their wifi configuration.

However, considering that Android 2.3.x variants make up 63.9% of devices running Android, and even 2.1 Eclair has more users on it than Ice Cream Sandwich, it seems as if something is incredibly wrong with Android updates if an OS released in 2009 is exceeding the latest versions of Android. It’s not just a question of new smartphones launching with ICS, like the HTC One X – when devices like the Galaxy Note that are getting major marketing pushes are still being advertised, and don’t even have Ice Cream Sandwich, there’s definite signs of an issue here.

The sad thing is that this situation is much improved from February, when ICS only made up 1% of Android users.

Hands on with Android-x86, Which Turns Netbooks into Android Tablets

Hands on with Android-x86, Which Turns Netbooks into Android Tablets

Mar 5, 2012

Have a netbook and want to see what an Android tablet interface would be like on it? Then the Android-x86 project is here to help, and is now available in Ice Cream Sandwich flavor.

This is Android, built for x86 processor architecture, which in layman’s terms means the processors that primarily power desktop and laptop computers. Currently primarily optimized for netbooks like the Asus Eee PC, there are several compatible builds available as ISO files. These can then be installed onto a USB drive that can then be booted from. It’s possible to run Android either as a live distribution, to fiddle around with it, or to install it to disk. It can exist alongside a Windows installation without reformatting.

From there, once the operating system is booted up, Android is perfectly usable on a netbook thanks to the operating system’s built-in keyboard and mouse support. Using a trackpad can be awkward with scrolling, having to click a mouse button or double-tap on the trackpad is not as natural. Some apps handle keyboard navigation very well, though. The camera works, though on my Eee PC netbook the shutter speed is very slow, to put it mildly. System keys like brightness and volume were integrated with this Android build, though it appears as if screen capture through volume down plus power may not work. Battery life did not automatically improve, though hard drive seeking was noticably decreased. Screen locking worked, although there’s a glitch where the power button needs to be hit while the netbook is resumed and the screen faded in order to actually unlock the device.

The problem, of course, is that with x86 being a different processor architecture than many of the current Android devices, many apps and games will not be availalbe from the Market. However, games like INC were available and ran well, and some useful applications were available, including many Google services.

While this is somewhat more of a curiosity project than anything serious, there’s still some potential uses – and it’s definitely very quick, considering that a three-year-old netbook actually has decent specifications for a tablet, and a good amount of RAM (1 GB in a desktop computer will cause it to struggle – 1 GB in an Android tablet is a lot). To experiment with Android-x86, read the instructions from their website.

The Hills Are Greener: Software Upgrades and Ethics

The Hills Are Greener: Software Upgrades and Ethics

Feb 13, 2012

Is it ethical for an Android phone manufacturer to hold back a later software update in favor of their own software? This was a question on my mind when I was upgrading my Samsung Captivate to Ice Cream Sandwich recently. Samsung has ICS developed for the Galaxy S line of phones, and have source code released. It can be compiled and works perfectly fine on the phone – there are multiple ICS roms available. The reason it’s not going to be officially released? Samsung can’t put TouchWiz on it. This appears to be the truth – there’s only about 6 megabytes of ROM space left after installing it.

This just seems wrong. After all, Samsung really just wants to promote TouchWiz, their customized Android experience, not give users the latest version of Android. With most apps supporting the latest release, Gingerbread, this means that the outdated OS shouldn’t be a problem, and the hardware should be outdated well before the OS is an issue. However, maybe this is more innocuous than it seems. Maybe they honestly believe that they provide a superior experience to stock Android, and don’t want to release an OS version without it. Anecdotally, advanced users seem to reject TouchWiz en masse – many custom roms exclude it entirely. Plus, even regular users don’t get the choice to decide which they prefer: stock Android or TouchWiz Android.

In fact, I wonder if the constant re-skinning and re-developing of Android is to blame for the myriad of issues with Android hardware. Despite Android having a stock experience to go on as well, there’s still so many other alternate software implementations. Based on this Engadget article on the launch of the Motorola Atrix, minor hardware and software implementations require massive new amounts of testing. Even new firmware upgrades require extra testing. This is probably a good thing for users, but it slows down the process of updates so much that it’s no wonder that users are constantly left behind thanks to all the bureaucracy. With so many phones to develop and test, is there any wonder that there are so few truly great Android phones?

Apple may have the right idea here with the iPhone. Focus on a limited number of models – their lower-end models are already developed, and they release one new phone a year – and really only redesign it every other year. That, and their control of the software experience, instead of having to essentially play to the carrier’s whims, makes for an easier software update experience. Users can reasonably expect their phone to last them for their contracts, whereas Android phones are outdated from the day they go on sale. It just does not need to be this way. The carriers and manufacturers need to streamline the hardware and software development process, and not be afraid to keep their users happy, even if that means ditching the customized experience when necessary.