Saturday, 21 September 2013

Hands-On With Android 3.1 On The Motorola Xoom

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Google announced Android 3.1 earlier today at I/O. More surprising than the OS itself (which was expected, really) was that it was rolling out to Verizon Xooms today. Google failed to announce when it was hitting other devices beside Google TV, which will get it this summer, and the Galaxy Tab 10.1, which will get it in the next few weeks.

As announced, the UI is much the same. You can’t tell 3.0 from 3.1 visually. One of the only noticeable differences is that the widgets can be resized. Previously, widgets such as email and bookmarks had a preset size — now they can be stretched and morphed to better fit a user’s preferences. The home button also returns you to the previously selected homescreen rather than the main center one.

It seems many of 3.1′s changes are under the hood. The Xoom I’m using is noticeably faster. The app screen loads nearly instantly, as do many apps. I’m no longer looking at a black screen while switching between apps, either. But the Quadrant benchmarking app disagrees. My 3.0.1 Xoom scored 1824 while the 3.1 scored 1580. The easy answer is perhaps that Quadrant needs to be recompiled for 3.1.

3.1 also addressed many issues with the browser. It now supports HTML5 video, enhanced CSS 3D, as well as now being able to save pages for offline viewing. But I don’t really care about those features. All I care about is that it’s quicker, and pinch-to-zoom is as smooth as the iPad’s. Really, the browser is a star performer now.

Previously, 3.0 supported USB keyboards; USB mice are now supported as well and work in single button mode. Scroll wheels are apparently supported as well but I have no way of testing that as the Xoom does not feature a USB host.

Google Videos was also one of the big announcements at I/O 2011, and comes preinstalled with 3.1 — it’s just called Videos, of course. The interface is sparse, with a two row interface. Up top are your rentals, with thumbnails occupying the bottom. You don’t actually rent anything directly from the app — it’s actually more of a management app. The thumbnails direct you to the Android Market app. It’s from there you click to rent with most titles costing $3.99.

There are other small, honestly trivial changes in 3.1. The buttons now look a bit different and there are a few new baked-in wallpapers. It’s a bunch of small things that add up to a more pleasing experience. It actually feels more like a 3.0.x update than a whole new platform, but I’ll dig into the system and see if there is anything else new. Oh, and yeah, 3.1 still doesn’t bring microSD support to the Xoom.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Google Confirms It Has Acquired Android Smartwatch Maker WIMM Labs.

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WIMM smartwatch

Google has confirmed it acquired WIMM Labs last year, a company that previously made an Android-powered smartwatch before shuttering operations in 2012. At the time a message on its website said it had entered into an exclusive partnership without releasing further details, but it’s now clear that partner was Google, rather than Apple as some had initially speculated. Google’s WIMM Labs acquisition was reported earlier by Gigaom.

Google is rumoured to be developing a smartwatch of its own, with patents turning up earlier this year (filed in 2011), and a report by the FT that claimed Google’s Android team was in the process of developing such a device. Google has also hinted at Android powering a range of wearable devices in the past, when CEO Larry Page let slip during a quarterly earnings call this year that Glass runs on its smartphone and tablet OS, and that Android is “pretty transportable across devices”. Google has also long had bigger ambitions for Android than just pushing it onto phones and tablets, with TV set-top boxes, in-car tech, home automation and wearables all areas where it’s actively encouraging Android to spread.

WIMM Labs started out building Android-based platforms for wearable displays, akin to Google Glass, and then created the WIMM One in 2011: a smartwatch powered by Android 2.1 that was aimed at developers as a sort of concept flagship ahead of a broader consumer launch. The WIMM One used Bluetooth and Wi-Fi 802.11b/g for connectivity, had 256 MB of RAM plus a 667MHz processor, and used a screen design that refreshed once per minute to conserve battery life. It also supported apps via a “Micro App Store” — installed and managed by users via a web-based dashboard. Android developers were offered custom APIs for adapting their software to the WIMM One’s tiny, 16-bit colour screen.

Google is not commenting further on the acquisition at this point, beyond providing confirmation that it picked up WIMM Labs in 2012. If Mountain View is building its own smartwatch it’s unlikely to beat its Android OEM partner Samsung to a launch, as the Korean company’s Galaxy Gear device is probably going to be unboxed next week in Berlin at a September 4 event. Plenty of other Android-powered smartwatches are also entering the frame via crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, and also cropping up on the roadmaps of other Android OEMs. Meanwhile Apple’s rumoured iWatch remains elusive.

If Google isn’t building its own smartwatch hardware, acquiring WIMM Labs could be a way to help it develop a custom version of Android designed for wrist-mounted wearables, which it could then provide to OEMs the same way it currently does with Android proper. Given the amount of interest in smartwatches from OEMs big and small, that could be the better strategy for long-term platform growth.


Thursday, 12 September 2013

Zuckerberg’s Manifest Destiny: Connecting The 5 Billion People Without Internet

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Facebook didn’t stop when it hit 1 billion users. And it won’t stop even if it connects everyone with web access. ”To make the world more open and connected” really means the world — every human regardless of location or income. That’s why CEO Mark Zuckerberg says he’s “retooling the company to take on a lot of harder problems” — specifically spreading the Internet itself.

Last month, Zuckerberg launched with a 10-page whitepaper he wrote himself. It’s a web access initiative and partnership with six telecommunications and mobile companies. Together, they’ll build new data-compression technologies, network infrastructure, and business models that make it possible to not only get everyone a smartphone, but make the data that powers them affordable. This is critical because most of the cost of owning a smartphone is the data, not the hardware.

Some will say it’s simply Facebook’s plot to get more users, but at its core, the mission is truly altruistic. Internet access leads to education, empowerment, and economic mobility. Everywhere it’s come it’s increased GDP and helped people stay in closer touch with those they love. Could it earn money for Facebook? Sure. But that doesn’t make it the driving motive.

Though Zuckerberg is championing the cause, it won’t just be some hobby of his. It’s Facebook’s new mandate. But really, it’s an extension of what the social network been doing since 2004.
“The tactics change all the time”,  but not the mission, Mark Zuckerberg said on stage. You can watch the full interview below.

The still-young CEO discussed how businesses break down into two categories. “There are companies that define themselves by the way they do things, and companies that define themselves by a concrete way they change the world.” The latter is preferable to him. It’s why Zuckerberg grew up idolizing Bill Gates and his mission to put “a computer on every desk and in every home.”

Creating a mission that matters requires doing something audacious, and the values that get you there aren’t always universally popular. “I’m of the belief that values are only useful if they’re controversial,” said Zuckerberg. He chided companies for posting hollow lists of values like “be honest,” saying of course you have to be honest.

Facebook’s controversial value has been “Move Fast And Break Things.” Employees are encouraged to build, experiment, and iterate rather than sit on new products until they’re perfect. Zuckerberg laughed. “It gets us into tons of trouble,” and he admits it’s still important to “slow down and fix your shit.” But the philosophy has helped Facebook evolve quickly and avoid being disrupted
Zuckerberg Connect The World

It’s also led Facebook to 1 billion active users. But Zuckerberg says “A billion isn’t a magical number. No one wakes up and says ‘I want to get one-seventh of the world to do something.’”

Yet in a moment of humility, when Michael Arrington asked if Zuckerberg wants everyone on Facebook, he said “Of course we do, but I don’t think that’s realistic.” There will always be people who don’t like a particular tool. You don’t have to look far on the Internet for people who hate Facebook, yet we’re wired to share. Whether its via SMS, email, Twitter, or its own social network, and Facebook’s task is to give people access and let them choose how to communicate.

All humans want to be connected, Zuckerberg concluded. And with a glint in his eye about his own purpose on this planet and that of his company, Zuckerberg exclaimed, “That’s why we’re here.”
 ( Orignally posted at +TechCrunch )

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Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Chrome 30 Beta For Android Brings WebGL And New Swipe Gestures

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 Google today launched the latest beta of Chrome for desktop and Android. This release marks the first time Chrome for Android supports WebGL by default. Previous versions of the beta for Android already made WebGL the standard for rendering interactive 3D and 2D graphics in the browser, available behind a flag. It’s now enabled by default on all mobile devices that feature a relatively high-end GPU, including those found in the Nexus 4 phone and Nexus 7 tablet.

While virtually every modern desktop browser already supports most aspects of the WebGL API (with the exception of Internet Explorer, which will support it in the next version), mobile browsers have mostly lagged behind. While the BlackBerry 10 browser, Opera Mobile and Firefox for Android now support it, the mobile web is only now starting to catch up with WebGL. iOS for Safari still doesn’t support it, but the popularity of Chrome on Android will likely give more mobile developers the confidence to start experimenting with it.

If you have a compatible phone, give WebGL a try with this demo.

New Swipe Gestures

Google is also bringing a number of new swipe gestures to Chrome. You can now, for example, swipe horizontally across the top toolbar to switch between tabs and drag vertically down from the toolbar to enter the tab switcher view.
With today’s update, Google is also introducing the device motion part of the Device Orientation API in the Chrome for Android beta channel. That sounds pretty dry, but it allows developers to get information about the device’s acceleration and rotation rates. This feature has long been part of the API, but it looks like Google only got around to implementing it now. You can give it a try here.
Screen Shot 2013-08-21 at 11.20.42 PM
The only other major new feature for developers is support for the MediaSource API in the beta channel for devices running Jelly Bean or higher. This, Google says, makes it easier to enable adaptive streaming and time-shifting live streams in the mobile browser.

Chrome Apps are also getting some goodies in today’s update, including APIs for webview.request and media gallery write and download support. Chrome Apps, Google says, will now also be able to use Chrome Web Store managed in-app payments.

Chrome 30 Beta For Desktop

The desktop version isn’t getting too many new features, but Google is now making it easier to search for a given image right from Chrome. Just right-click on any image on the web, select “Search google for this image” and see Google’s search results within a second.
The other interesting new features on the desktop is support for the WebRTC Device Enumeration API, which allows users to switch between microphones and cameras (just like in Skype) without having to restart the WebRTC call.
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