In Celebration of All That is Cheap

In Celebration of All That is Cheap

Jun 27, 2016

You get what you pay for.

It’s a maxim that more or less rings true. Better made products created from better sourced raw materials tend to command higher prices than competing merchandise made with less care, exacting standards or less exotic materials.

Other things come into play of course. Some brands command more of an asking price than others, be it based on reputation, or location, or an immeasurable metric held in esteem by the purchasing public — doesn’t really matter; positive mindshare is like gold. Nordstrom acolytes are used to hearing the fable of the returned automobile tire, and it’s the basis of Nordy’s legendary customer service. Just as well, because the stuff on its racks ain’t exactly cheap.

But it arguably has earned that privilege.

Still, I love getting a lot for a little. Ethically, though. It’s so enjoyable to find legitimate discounts and special sales… heck, even previously owned gadgets and make the most of saved cash. I feel an unquenchable joy that, for instance, I am typing up this article on a cheapie RCA tab with keyboard case, and will be doing the heavy lifting editing on an Unbranded (no, this is the true brand name) Windows Tablet. Both cost less than $100 together (albeit with Swagbucks and Bing-derived Amazon credits).

But that’s where Android really made headway. The open nature allowed (and continues to allow) OEMs to look to pack in a lot at bargain prices. The result is an OS with a true range of hardware across a competitive range of prices.

It’s a mixed bag, of course. There are some devices that are not worth pennies, and others that are wildly over-priced. Still, for folks who are willing to look hard to gain a lot, Android almost has to be the platform of choice.

Got to run. Slickdeals is humming…

Android? Why?

Android? Why?

Sep 15, 2014

Talk about first world problems…

I was faced with a problem recently. I had an upgrade to burn, and I didn’t feel like burning it. Now, to give some context here, I love mobile technology. If I could afford it, I would buy EVERY mobile device on EVERY platform. Literally. Just to play with ’em. I love my technology that much.

I’m a bit more circumspect when it comes to my daily driver. For a device to earn that honor, it has to do a lot, as I am a picky boss. I could go on and on about my specific mobile needs, but that is a post for another day. Suffice to say, my HTC EVO LTE 4G was getting a bit long in the tooth, I had been due for an upgrade for about 12 months and I couldn’t decide if I wanted to upgrade devices, much less what I wanted to upgrade to.

I faced the same issue when I was looking to replace my original HTC EVO 4G.  No horrible need to get new hardware… and eventually I did the easy thing and stayed with the new EVO. Like the original, this one was unlocked and rooted within minutes of getting home, and I went ahead and immersed myself in the glories of refreshed hardware and newer custom puzzle

When its all said and done, I like holding on to devices. I skipped the HTC One M7, not because it was not a fantastic device, but because it wasn’t enough of an increased value proposition for me at that time. Free and clear? It might have tempted me, but I didn’t see myself spending the cash for what wasn’t enough of an upgrade for my needs at that specific time.

Part of the problem is that since I review hardware, formally and informally, I’ve developed a “what’s next” syndrome. Can it be that I have unconsciously insulated myself from the lure of the never-ending new Android devices? Maybe. I’d be insolvent otherwise.  At this point in the game, when all the features are measured, it just feels like there is a serious degree of parity. And I believe that in the end, this is Android’s hidden strength: the OEMs are forced to shoot for the stars while simultaneously dragging each other on an upward trajectory. this is why, for me at least, picking a new device is delightfully difficult. Look at all the choices, and the competitive prices. We can choose to be very, very picky.

So, in the end, it boiled down to a very simplistic reason. Most current-ish devices can do what I want the way I want them; most are sleek, and several have a lot of third-party accessories.

So what ended up being the choice maker for me?  Wait for it… I liked the aluminum uni-body of the HTC One M8. So there.

Don’t judge me. Android allows folks to be frivolous.

[Image courtesy of Tsahi Levent-Levi via Flickr Creative Commons]

Nvidia’s Cutting the Shield’s Price and Offering Exclusive Content, but Selling Games and Devices May Not be Their Future

Nvidia’s Cutting the Shield’s Price and Offering Exclusive Content, but Selling Games and Devices May Not be Their Future

Mar 31, 2014

The Nvidia Shield and what the company is doing with it is really quite intriguing as the Tegra 4 and Android gaming flagship device nears its first year of public availability. Nvidia’s continuing to promote the handheld with price cuts and now quasi-exclusive content to try and sell it. But based on the context of the device, the news, and what I’ve seen and heard straight from Nvidia, the Shield seems to be more Nvidia hammering down the nail for their efforts with internal hardware and services, by providing consumer products that showcase it.

This runs much in contrast to Intel’s efforts with Android, which they were happy to talk about at GDC 2014, but were lax to discuss in a consumer context, it seemed. Sure, there are Intel-powered phones and even the that they promoted at their booth. But there’s just no flagship Intel Android device, one that screams “This is an Intel Android device!”

Nvidia has been in that lofty position before. The Tegra 3 was ubiquitous for a while in 2012, and while it felt like the Tegra 4 has been less-used, or at least more under the radar, there are still devices that use it. The most prominent, of course, is the Shield. And it may not just be a one-off device if all the continued promotion is a sign.

Nvidia decided, probably quite smartly, to save two of their big announcements for the Nvidia Shield for after GDC, what with all the announcements regarding game engines, VR headsets, and the like. First, the Shield has gotten a price cut to $199 from its current $249 price point, putting it well within the price range of other Android tablets but also the Vita and 3DS as the hardware relatively ages.

But what’s really fascinating is that Nvidia seems to be really pushing for console-quality content on the Shield – or at least Android as large. This isn’t just with the announcement of Portal for the Shield, which is a rather cool game to have on mobile, being one of the best games of this millennium, and one that as many people as possible should play, even if many already have.


But Nvidia is also dipping their toes in game streaming, and their GDC booth flaunted it. They had what looked like Ultra Street Fighter 4 being played on a big screen TV and a couch, with a Shield hooked up. Various Shield units were streaming games, including one example where one of the Batman Arkham games was being streamed from a local machine with imperceptible latency, and another Shield streamed the same game from over a machine in Houston via Moscone Center’s wi-fi. There was perceptible latency, but not so much that the game was unplayable, a minor technological miracle given the situation.

Nvidia of course has announced their Grid technology for streaming games over the cloud as well, but representatives indicated to me that they want this to be more of a backend service than one that they provide themselves, even though they are doing so for the beta.

And really, it seems that their approach is just that: they want to be the man behind the curtain, but they’ll bring down the hammer on their efforts in public when necessary – and exclusivity is only a limited option. After all, The Shield is functionally not much different than an Android phone in a clip on a MOGA controller. Portal was announced for Tegra devices, not just the Shield. Even WayForward’s recent Shield-exclusive release was more “it’s optimized for Shield and Tegra 4, anything else is gravy.” The Shield controller uses the HID protocol that they helped develop.


Really, there’s no reason why Nvidia has to make hardware at all other than to be reference hardware, like with the Tegra Note. But it helps to have these devices that are out there that have actual, real-world consumer applications.

It’s a fascinating approach because Nvidia seems to want to have their cake and eat it too, while being perfectly fine to just have the cake, they’ll only eat it if they feel the need to. It’s a metaphor that doesn’t quit pan out. But their goal seems to be to elevate Android gaming by any means necessary: by providing the hardware from the internals, to the externals, to the peripherals, from software solutions to software itself. And perhaps that’s what’s necessary: it’s easy to be like Intel and talk a big game, but Nvidia is ready to talk and play the game when it comes to powerful gaming on Android.

Why Higher-Resolution Displays in Phones are a Marketing Gimmick, Not a Functional Feature

Why Higher-Resolution Displays in Phones are a Marketing Gimmick, Not a Functional Feature

Jan 31, 2014

So, the rumor has it that the Galaxy S5 will have a 2560×1440 screen. Frankly, this is absolutely ridiculous. There’s no good reason for this to exist, because there’s such diminishing returns from a high-resolution screen. It’s time for Android manufacturers’ obsession with resolution to stop.

Now, getting up to 1080p was an acceptable idea, if not perhaps excessive in and of itself. After all, 1080p is a very standardized resolution in monitors, TVs, and entertainment, especially video content. Exceeding requires a particularly good reason. Monitors can make do of extra pixels in order to put more items on screen, and the “retina” movement hasn’t hit in a widespread way yet. As well, tablets going for “retina” resolutions often need to exceed 1080p.

But see, there’s a certain point where this all these extra pixels get to be too much. The push for 4K TVs are one example: for most people, even 1080p TVs are unnecessary because the eye can’t resolve detail beyond a certain point. Only in very, very large rooms will 4K TVs make a difference. For the average person or family, the TV they have right now is of high enough resolution. Doubling the vertical resolution won’t cause a noticeable quality bump. It’s all just a marketing push to sell new TVs because there was a successful push to get people to buy new TVs about 10–15 years ago. Of course, that worked out of necessity. 4K won’t because there won’t be any good reason for it.

This is a very similar situation with smartphones. Apple calls it a “Retina Display” because it’s said that the screen is at a pixel density where the human eye can’t resolve anything more detailed than that – at least for the expected use case of the device. For example, the iPhone, which is held closer than an iPad, has a higher pixel density than the tablet.

The iPhone 4's pixel doubling made sense - anything beyond that would likely be imperceptible.

The iPhone 4’s pixel doubling made sense – anything beyond that would likely be imperceptible.

What’s happened is that others have started making higher-resolution screens to match the Retina Display, but much like TVs, they’ve started making higher and higher resolution displays because hey, that’s a sexy bullet point. Now, stopping at 1080p makes sense. Again, 1080p is a very standard resolution. Advancing to 2560×1440 on a phone makes no sense. The human eye will only perceive a slight difference if any at all from 1080p at a 5" screen size.

As well, this will require even higher-resolution art assets from developers, which will bloat up app sizes and spend more data, which isn’t necessarily getting increased limits. Video content will now be upscaled on smartphones for no good reason. And games will particularly suffer: instead of being able to take full advantage of any power boost, now the games must also deal with pushing extra pixels. This can make a big difference, as anyone who plays PC games can tell you. Even small jumps can cause big performance hits.

And this is all isn’t for any good reason, either – it’s basically to get a sexy bullet point. OR to say that “we have twice the resolution fo the iPhone.”

While perhaps the march of false progress will continue unabated, consumers can make smart decisions. They can look beyond useless features for actual value, and realize that resolution isn’t everything. Just as a camera’s megapixels alone don’t determine quality, but the quality of the sensors plays a bigger role, consumers need to be smart and realize which numbers are important, and which are just there to seem more important.

Opinion: Why King Has Both a Moral and Legal Obligation to Gaming in Defending its “Candy” and “Saga” Trademarks

Opinion: Why King Has Both a Moral and Legal Obligation to Gaming in Defending its “Candy” and “Saga” Trademarks

Jan 23, 2014

Editor’s Note: This piece solely represents the opinion of the author.

There’s a big difference between doing what is legal and what is right, and King, though they may be in the legal right with their trademarks for “candy” and “saga” that they have registered, proof that they are in the moral right is not forthcoming.

For those who haven’t followed King and the candy trademark saga of the past week, here’s a short rundown:

Gamezebo reported that King is trying to trademark the word “Candy” in reference to video games and other products, and is threatening other developers who use the term “Candy” in their titles.

As well, it was revealed that they have filed for the trademark for the term “Saga” and are opposing the trademark application for the game The Banner Saga, which is about vikings – and not a casual puzzle game.

A screenshot of The Banner Saga. As evidenced, not Candy Crush Saga in the slightest, but seemingly, that legally irrelevant.

A screenshot of The Banner Saga. As evidenced, not Candy Crush Saga in the slightest, but seemingly, that is legally irrelevant.

Now, as Polygon’s article on the issue points out, trademark holders have a duty to protect trademarks or else they can lose them. “Aspirin” used to be a brand name in the US, owned by Bayer, until it fell into common use as a genericized term and now anyone can legally use the word aspirin. King themselves have used this defense in a statement on the opposition to The Banner Saga trademark.

And even this isn’t anything new: plenty of other generic words have become copyrighted in specific instances. Apple is a good example. Even Android is a trademark of Google. But that doesn’t mean that Apple can restrict the use of the word “apple” to describe the fruit, or for companies outside their business, and Google can’t restrict the word android to mean a humanoid robot. Trademarks are not unlimited. But for games, they often do represent the entirety of gaming, even though the games King makes are different from what other companies make.

Candy Crush Saga 1

It’s all a complicated situation, but King deserves at least some credit for having released statements regarding these issues. But there are two reasons why there should not be any tears shed for King, and why developers are being hurt:

King’s goal has been quite explicitly to make money and a lot of it. Their games are designed in such ways that they are meant to be popular and to allow players to spend unlimited amounts of money. And spend they have. Candy Crush Saga has been one of the most lucrative games of the past 12 months across iOS, Android, and Facebook. King quite simply wanted to be in this situation where they would be so popular that they would have products others would want to exploit for their own financial gain. They made this bed they’re lying in now.

The other thing that being rich and successful provides is the opportunity to pay for lawyers – good ones at that – and have them be merely a drop in the bucket in terms of expenses. Compare this to the average financially-solvent independent developer that has merely a barebones legal budget if anything. They can’t fight King. This allows King to effectively enforce their will merely by existing.


See the case of Rocketcat Games’ Wayward Saga. They may have to change the name of their upcoming game solely because they feel like they could not fight King’s lawyers.. And King is legally compelled to do so.


And the name change comes at a cost: their game has been reported on as being Wayward Saga. They’re now causing brand confusion before release. This impacted Vlambeer, where they changed the name of their early access game Wasteland Kings to Nuclear Throne due to potential trademark confusion with InXile, creators of the Wasteland series. This came after its highly-publicized announcement as Wasteland Kings.

Anecdotally, I have discussed Nuclear Throne with multiple people who follow gaming, but they didn’t know what I was referring to until I let them know it was formerly Wasteland Kings. While this issue has smoothed out over time, it was a problem.

But here’s the thing with the Wasteland Kings situation that King has yet to do: InXile reached out to Vlambeer in a personal level to let them know their concerns. And Rami Ismail said it best: “We’ve been through a lot of trouble with people riding on things of ours, and we understand that American trademark law is pretty strict in that not defending a trademark weakens it. We realize that both games are set in a similar setting, that the names are similar and that InXile obviously felt the need to reach out. Although we aren’t sure Wasteland Kings and Wasteland are confusing enough for this to be an issue, both us and InXile really don’t want to spend development time on arguing over trivialities.”


“Most of all, we appreciate that the first contact between us was by a normal employee, and not a lawyer. There was no extravagant Cease & Desist-letter, nor a threatening letter in an envelope labelled ‘URGENT’. The e-mail we received was short, amicable and to-the-point. It was followed up by a quick conversation on Skype, in which we established that it would be the right thing for us to change the name.

This is the way business should work nowadays: between people, not companies, not lawyers, not departments. There’s so much paperwork between one and another that it’s easy for people to forget that they’re dealing with people instead of numbers and dossiers. Things can be friendly, rather than formal for the sake of formality.”

And that’s how King needs to approach this, not just as the billion-dollar corporation that solves its problems with lawyers and statements to the press, but as humans. Yes, they have valid reasons for defending terms like “Candy” and “Saga”, especially the latter which is used as a brand by them for multiple games. But trademark coexistence agreements do exist. And King could take steps – and public ones at that – to balance their duties of defending their trademark against actual scammers, while allowing for reason to rule the day.

No one will confuse The Banner Saga or Wayward Saga with Candy Crush Saga. So King could instead make sure that those games can exist, while also protecting themsevles from the actually malicious.

It can be done. And King, by being a company that wanted to become rich and powerful – and succeeded – has no reason to not dedicate some resources to be a good citizen, instead of using lawyers to solve everything.

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, King. And right now, that is the head of a misguided tyrant, threatening those who do not truly stand in their way. But it’s time to become a benevolent monarch. Trademarks are important and have valid uses, but legality and morality are entirely different things.

The Hills Are Greener: Who Would Want to Steal From a Gentleman?

The Hills Are Greener: Who Would Want to Steal From a Gentleman?

Jul 22, 2013

I’ve ranted a lot about piracy and the benefits of Android’s openness recently. However, a recent revelation from developer Lucky Frame seems to underscore how bad the problem is: their new game Gentlemen! had 8 paid downloads with 2,462 pirated copies downloaded as of this past Friday, a couple days after release. Ouch.

Now, my initial reaction is that this is a disgusting thing, that Android gamers need to support original paid content on the platform. But I think there’s other factors in play here besides “Android users are filthy pirates.”

Consider the “8 copies” number and the nature of Gentlemen!: it’s a same-device multiplayer game for tablets only, priced at $4.99. Yeah, that’s not exactly a recipe for success on Android. Paid apps can sell on Android, but this kind of app seems like a hard sell.


I’d all but guarantee that the game’s pirated downloads were almost automatic by nature, from a community that probably just pirated the game because, hey, new release. The 30000% piracy rate is unsustainable.

The release wasn’t a serious endeavor, it seems: the game was built in Unity, and it was kind of released on Android just because it was possible. So, this isn’t a story of heartbreak, thankfully. Though I wouldn’t blame Lucky Frame if they decided to skip Android in the future.

What this does underscore that the Android market is different. Yes, Android’s technical nature makes it easier to pirate apps versus iOS, so it’s likely that Android apps will always have a higher piracy rate. But maybe it’s different in that certain games just won’t sell as well on Android, either. Thanks to Apple’s marketing, an iPad feels like a ‘concept’ as much as it does a product, and Android just doesn’t have that in quite the same way. So marketing for ‘tablets’ isn’t going to feel the same. Especially at a $4.99 price point, a tough sell on any mobile platform.

So sure, would I like to see piracy rates not be so bad for developers launching on Android? Sure. Would I like to see games from creative developers like Lucky Frame succeed on Android? Sure. But some realism needs to be considered when looking at why a game may or may not be doing so well.

The Hills Are Greener: DRM and Piracy Still Aren’t Dead on Mobile, Even in 2013

The Hills Are Greener: DRM and Piracy Still Aren’t Dead on Mobile, Even in 2013

Jul 15, 2013

Piracy in the mobile space is a story that has remained latent over the past couple years, what with free-to-play making the issue moot, largely. But it hasn’t gone away entirely, as seen by Deus Ex: The Fall’s release this past week on iOS. Namely, the game made it initially so that users with jailbroken devices couldn’t fire their weapons at all. Which, of course, is a slight problem in a first-person shooter.

Now, on iOS, jailbreaking is a direct precursor to piracy at this point: you need to do it in order to pirate apps, but all jailbreakers are not necessarily pirates. It’s a square and rectangle thing. As well, there’s a real problem with giving legitimate purchasers of a game the shaft just because they’re jailbroken. Thankfully, Square Enix seems to have recognized that this is a problem and is going to correct it.


However, it shows how DRM continues to create problems: it’s possible to use it in an unobtrusive way that doesn’t hurt those who legitimately purchase a game. Too many systems are being built that hurt legitimate users. And they exist on Android too. The license activation on apps that requires an internet connection before launching is something that has affected me. Namely, one time when I was playing Towelfight 2: The Monocle of Destiny from Butterscotch Shenanigans. I wanted to play the game on my Nexus 7 after having legitimately purchasing it, and I suddenly discovered that I had to connect to the internet in order to play it. Just one problem: I was on an airplane without wi-fi. I was left without playing their game because I couldn’t confirm that I actually bought it.

While this sort of DRM is annoying, I totally understand why Butterscotch Shenanigans did it, in part because they eventually released the numbers on it: 34,091 Android pirates to 1538 sales of Towelfight 2, which is a much higher ratio than iOS, which was close to 1:1 with purchases just outweighing sales. They actually decided to go free-to-play with their next game Quadropus Rampage, which has at least left the company in a much better position financially going forward.

And in many ways, it’s hard not to see this sort of thing as a microcosm of the industry at large: players rejecting paid apps to the point of piracy has created this market where free-to-play is seemingly required to draw players in and make money off of them. The market gets what it asks for, which is free games. Of course, for those who like paid experiences, they’re getting somewhat hosed by the pirates. But that’s such how the DRM dance goes: those who play by the rules wind up getting the short shrift when the rules change against their favor by those who would break them anyway.

So, while I wish that DRM would go away, and abusive free-to-play disappear, especially in the mobile space, when people still refuse to pay for content, it’s hard to be critical of those who decide to play by the new rulles. I just sigh because there’s a better way.

The Hills Are Greener: Android as the Future of Laptops? But do Laptops Have a Future?

The Hills Are Greener: Android as the Future of Laptops? But do Laptops Have a Future?

Jul 1, 2013

Samsung has announced a new laptop that features an interesting form factor, albeit one seen before: Windows and Android hybrid devices. The Ativ Q is a convertible that can run in both Windows 8 mode and as an Android tablet. Interestingly, it is possible to share files between the two separate OSes, so ithis isn’t just a case of “two devices in one”, these are meant to be interoperable in some fashion.

However, there’s a very interesting side effect here of these moves: it’s manufacturers admitting that Windows 8 just isn’t a tablet OS. I own a Surface Pro, and more often than not, I use it as a laptop. Having the tablet functionality is nice periodically, but Windows 8 just is not a very touch-friendly OS when working with actual desktop applications, aka “the very reason one would use Windows for.” So having Android available is just a huge step forward for these devices. IS anything bigger than ~10 inches probably overdoing it for a tablet? Sure, but at least they exist.

As the Windows tablets start to enter the 7-8″ space that seems to have the most momentum for the tablet space at the moment, it will be interesting to see if anyone attempts dual-OS functionality as well. There are few laptop manufacturers even attempting to do the 10-11″ space seriously, so these devices may be just interesting curiosities.

Still, for hardware manufacturers trying to make their touch interfaces better, it’s interesting that there’s at least some movement in the direction of Android on PCs, and not the other way around. It’s easy to see where, as this expands, that Android could be powering a laptop at some point. There’s at least one example of a gaming PC that runs Android. So why not a laptop? It will be interesting to see where this goes. Windows is vulnerable, and it could be Android, not Mac, that is what ultimately destabilizes it.

Of course, in the world where iPad is still the accepted leader of the tablet market, what does this do? Bill GAtes said that people would be using Windows tablets down the road, yet they have little to no momentum. Perhaps the tablet future is doomed to be one where the tablet feels just out of reach of what the PC can do, or until the market decides that they need to truly adjust to what users do with their tablets. Something has to give, but when Android, once maligned for its incompatibility with tablets, is becoming a superior tablet OS to Windows, what does that truly say?

The Hills Are Greener: Is a Fresh Coat of Paint Really Innovating?

The Hills Are Greener: Is a Fresh Coat of Paint Really Innovating?

Jun 17, 2013

Last week at WWDC, Apple made their big reveal of iOS 7, the massive visual overhaul spearheaded by Jony Ive. Most notably, the OS has been flattened like a steamroller. There’s definitely still some three-dimensional elements and hints of skeuomorphism, but this is a fresh new coat of paint for the OS. But really, in comparison to Android, that’s largely all it is: a new coat of paint. The core product underneath is still the same, and still lacking in certain areas.

It’s easy to accuse Apple on a macro level of stealing ‘flat’ design from Android and Windows Phone 8, both of which used this kind of design first, and it’s right in a certain sense. Apple is playing follower here. But then again they weren’t the first with a touchscreen phone, either.

However, much like how Android and WP8 don’t really look alike, iOS still has its own individual look. It’s basically a more abstract version of iOS, with no more buttons. There’s lots of color gradients too. Looking at the OS, it still looks different. There are natural similarities, but many things that separate all three OSes still.

In fact, really, iOS 7 is so familiar because all that really appears to have changed is the look of it. It’s largely a fresh coat of paint, the structure is still largely the same. The most drastic change was gutting of Game Center into something way different. But the massive feature overhaul that iOS 7 could really use at this point just isn’t there.

iOS7 Game CenteriOS7 Home Center

Customization is still largely left to just wallpapers. All apps still clutter the homescreen, and default apps can’t be hidden away from view, like how Android allows for users to choose what they want on homescreens. Widgets are still not an option, though I personally am not the biggest proponent of them. Most of the changes are minor feature tweaks. It’s still largely the same OS that it was back in 2007. Sure, it’s a lot better now with the added features, and I still overall like my iPhone (reviewing a lot of iOS games will make you go down crazy paths like that) but it just still doesn’t feel like the ideal mobile OS experience.

Google has been far less conservative, having overhauled Android not just visually but also making major feature changes with Ice Cream Sandwich and later Jelly Bean. The spirit of the OS has remained the same, but stock Android proves that there doesn’t have to be a compromise between design and functionality. And I believe that more changes will be on the way with the next big Android update.

Microsoft can’t be accused of resting on their laurels with Windows Phone, either. These operating systems just feel more…modern. iOS looks more modern, but at the end of the day, it’s still a closed and cluttered OS. There are advantages to Apple’s approach, but their strength remains as much the developer community around iOS as much as the OS itself. A new coat of paint can’t really change that.

The Hills Are Greener: Death to SD Cards?

The Hills Are Greener: Death to SD Cards?

Jun 10, 2013

It’s a little feature. Literally, it’s tiny. However, it’s one that Google seems to foolishly be abandoning in their new devices: microSD card support. For whatever reason, Google’s Nexus devices are abandoning the extended storage offered by external cards, and are instead going with flash storage only.

Now, Google has some technical reasons for doing so, or so they claim: one is that Android only needed SD card support because many early Android devices only had limited flash storage, so SD cards were a way to extend on it, and aren’t necessarily needed any more.

But consider the benefit that Google gets: when you can sell 8 or 16 GB of more space, far more than the going rate for flash storage, then that’s just profit. Also, it’s a good way to make sure that people use cloud storage services more often, which hey, Google just so conveniently offers for music, videos, and files!

Nova 2 1But here’s the problem with dumping SD card storage: games. They’re getting bigger in size, particularly as the need for higher-resolution assets comes in to play, and as titles that take advantage of the more advanced hardware become available. They’re evolving, and yet phone storage sizes haven’t. 8 GB was the standard a couple years ago and now 16 GB is, which is still hardly enough for what most people likely need. For people to have enough storage to keep their favorite apps around, storage sizes need to increase to 32 GB or bigger, or SD cards need to be standard again.

It’s the thing that I dislike most about the Nexus 7 – I foolishly bought the 8 GB version when it came out. And because there’s no SD card support, I frequently have to delete apps. It’s frustrating and it doesn’t have to be that way. Consider that microSD cards with the SDXC protocol are getting bigger and more cost-efficient: 64 GB can be had for around US$50-55 and 128 GB cards are on the horizon. Surface Pro owners are eating them up, for one! I imagine 80-96 GB of storage is enough for most any Android user, though.

But because the feature is somewhat dying out, and Google shows no interest in continuing it, this future of never deleting an app will only come when cloud-based app usage happens. Which it won’t because OnLive is a failure, and data plans are still limited.

It’s all very Apple-like in the worst way. Apple has famously refused to put extended storage on their devices, and it’s frequently been a negative. After all, when they can charge $100 more for the next step up in storage, why put a card slot on there? It’s largely just profit-grabbing, and it’s something that I’d rather not see Android manufacturers be tempted to do. But if Google’s doing it, then why wouldn’t they? And app makers and users are the ones who suffer.

The Hills Are Greener: Android the Solution to Windows’ Tablet Problems?

The Hills Are Greener: Android the Solution to Windows’ Tablet Problems?

Jun 3, 2013

While Android has largely been the domain of phones and tablets, its open source nature is leading it to expand out to other devices, be it game consoles, appliances, or even…PCs? Well, that seems to be the start.

Companies are starting to bring Android to new places. Acer makes a monitor that runs Android. Asus is making PCs that run both Windows and Android simultaneously. There’s the Transformer AiO P1801, an 18.4″ tablet with dock that runs both Windows 8 on an Intel Core processor, and Android on a Tegra 3 also in there. Both operating systems can be used simultaneously, and swapped with the press of a button. More realistic is the Asus Transformer Book Trio which features a similar setup, but in an 11.6″ device.

These companies may be on to something by using Android as a complement to their Windows PCs. I have a Surface Pro, and while I really like the idea of the laptop-tablet hybrid still, Windows 8 at this point is not the OS to make it work. Windows is perfectly fine as a desktop OS, but there’s a reason why Microsoft included a Wacom digitizer: the pen is needed for the desktop environment without a mouse or trackpad in use. Like, in tablet mode.


Right now, Windows lacks a lot of great tablet apps to justify ever using it in tablet mode. Oh, and there’s far too much mingling between the “Modern” interface that’s tablet-friendly and the Desktop interface to where certain settings are only in certain interfaces, and there’s visual and usability clashes.

So, why not combine the great strengths of the two operating systems? Use Windows for standard computing tasks. Then, when primarily using the touchscreen in tablet mode, have an OS there designed for it: Android.

Of course, it’s not a perfect solution, as it basically requires two different devices just in one case. Plus, it doesn’t actually address the issues of Windows being tablet-deficient and Android being perhaps desktop-deficient.

But Android’s deficiencies may be easier to address. Android is much friendlier to the PC environment with input and with file handling, so it’d just be a question of getting the kind of functionality that users have on desktop OSes, but on Android. Windows basically has to build up its own new interface and library of apps to be tablet-capable, and it’s been a slow start so far. Windows is a desktop OS, and it might not work as a tablet one. But Android can certainly work by moving up.

Certainly, it’s still something of a niche idea. Time will tell if Android actually makes headway into the desktop market. But even just as a way to make tablets actually work as tablets, while not being crippled when they need to work as full-fledged computers, Android holds a big advantage here, at least while Windows continues to flail about in the tablet market. Android could easily find a way to wedge in and make these hybrid devices a realistic possibility by solving the problems that Windows alone fails to address.

Of course, there’s also Apple to consider. They have yet to show any signs of making a hybrid device, and if Apple decides to keep OS X and iOS segregated on the iPad side of things, Android could have room to create a market if done well here.

The Hills Are Greener: Android’s Greater Mission

The Hills Are Greener: Android’s Greater Mission

May 6, 2013

One of the beautiful things about Android is how open it is for developers. It’s possible for anyone to make an app and put it out there to the world. One may say that the second part is true as well, but this has been difficult thanks to the regulations of the popular distribution mechanisms. However, there remains one big philosophical difference between the two platforms: Android allows unapproved software to live, Apple does not.

The thing that reminded me of this was learning of the existence of a store called F-Droid. Does the world need another app store? Probably not in most cases, but this store’s hook is interesting: it’s all free and open source software. There’s a wide variety of apps, many of which are on popular stores like Google Play as well, but their featuring here is in support of a greater mission. The store has limited regulations, largely regarding the open source nature of projects and the privacy of the data that apps should use.

fdroid-135Is this store going to change the world? No, and it doesn’t have to. It just has to exist as a way of showing that apps that believe in the free distribution of software can exist on a platform built on those principles. Google may have their own restrictions and regulations for Google Play, some of which are solely self-serving, but ultimately, their decisions are always tinged with the ultimate reminder that “just because we reject something, doesn’t mean it can’t exist.”

This is the thing that has always annoyed me about Apple’s policies. They take many steps to remove apps that they disapprove of either due to silly policy reasons, or even due to outright censorship. Now, when Google rejects an app, it’s not the end. On Apple, it very much is so. Jailbreaking is not an acceptable alternative when Apple goes to such lengths to shut it down. The culture has also led to that scene to be as much about going against what Apple wants rather than just as a way to openly distribute software in alternative ways.

Such is the thing that annoys me about iOS. Apple’s OS is so patently against openness that it gives me pause. It’s all in the name of making the OS work in the way Apple wants, but surely there has to be a balance between that and having a platform that ultimately serves a greater good? Android’s openness, part of its very nature, means that it will likely be the OS, or at least spearheading a greater Linux movement, to be part of many different technologies. Our appliances, wearable technologies, people can make them smart with free software and while Google’s track record is not perfect in this respect it’s light years ahead of what Apple does and continues to do. Apple is out to make Apple and their products better. Google is looking to do that as well, but even as just a byproduct of their mission with Android, they’re promoting something greater.