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.

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.