After much fanfare, including a delightful tap-dancing flash mob, Samsung finally unveiled the new Galaxy S IV (a.k.a. Galaxy S4) last Thursday. And in spite of the tiresome, unproductive, yet perfectly predictable discussion as to whether Samsung’s latest device will be an “iPhone killer” (including our favorite from the Salt Lake Tribune, which hails the S4 as the “next” iPhone killer), the Galaxy S4 is an impressive piece of hardware that is very definitely going to turn some heads.
The Galaxy S4 weighs in at 130 grams and sports a 5-inch display. While it’s only slightly taller and wider than its predecessor, it packs a lot of punch in such a small package. Both the front and rear cameras were significantly upgraded and can do all sorts of fancy things, such as the “dual camera” feature that takes a photo with both cameras simultaneously, and the “drama shot” that fires off 12 pics in succession to create a time-lapse effect.
These certainly aren’t the only innovations. Android’s long been known for excellent hardware, but some of the toys added to the Galaxy S4 are very welcome indeed. “Air gestures” allow you to control the phone without touching it (to skip music tracks, switch between apps, etc.), and “Air view” works a lot like the mouse-over function on a traditional desktop; hovering over an e-mail, for example, will show you the first few lines, and hovering over a calendar will give you a quick view of the day’s events.
And that’s not all, folks! “Samsung Smart Pause,” one of the new features on the Galaxy S4, seems straight out of the pages of a science fiction novel. If you’re watching a video, your phone will use the front camera to detect when your eyes move away, and will automatically pause the video. Yes, you read that right: your phone now knows when it’s being watched.
There are plenty more features packed into that 5 inch device, and you can see the full list of them here. It’ll certainly be interesting to see what Android app developers can do with hardware of this quality.
Most of us are aware of the often life-threatening danger involved in texting while driving, even if we continue to do it from time to time (a piece of advice: Don’t. It’s really, really dangerous). What we’re less aware of, however, are the dangers involved in texting while walking. It’s a phenomenon that’s becoming more common, however, to the point where there’s even a word for such people: “pedtextrians”.
If we’re aware of it, or if it’s happened to us, it’s probably because we’ve bumped into a parking meter or another pedestrian, or have seen someone who has. But the fact of the matter is that it can be every bit as dangerous as distracted driving. Consider, for example, the woman in China who fell into the sink hole she didn’t see, or the man in Philadelphia who wandered onto subway tracks, or – get this – the man who nearly walked into a 400-pound black bear in an alleyway.
Now, we’re not suggesting that texting while walking will inevitably lead to a bear attack, but the problem is serious enough to warrant concern. Distracted walker injuries quadrupled in the last seven years and, in addition to public awareness campaigns, several states tried (and thus far, failed) to make walking while texting a misdemeanor. As an April Fool’s Day gag, the city of Philadelphia set up an “e-lane” for pedtextrians; when they removed it the following day, said pedestrians got very upset because they really wanted it to be real.
When it comes to mobile apps, we often advise our clients to think of a need a mobile app might meet, and the developers at theSOULwithin did precisely that. Their Android app Sidewalk Buddy opens a floating window with a live video feed from the device’s camera so you can always see what’s in front of you. Unfortunately for iPhone users whose devices won’t run more than one app at a time, Sidewalk Buddy is only available on Android devices, so if nothing else, Android users just became slightly less likely to be attacked by a bear.
The 2013 Mobile World Congress, the largest mobile phone trade show in the world, wrapped up at the end of February in Barcelona. If the products and services showcased there are any indication, it’s going to be an exciting year for mobile tech.
First off, a new competitor entered the scene. Firefox unveiled its new mobile operating system, opening up new avenues for mobile app developers and generally making a splash. And in spite of the fact that the browser giant will be going head-to-head with iOS and Android, Google’s Andy Rubin actually welcomes the competition.
More importantly, the hardware displays at the Mobile World Congress seemed to demonstrate that we’re all looking for more screen real estate with our mobile devices. We’ve all gotten pretty used to the vocabulary of mobile hardware, neatly dividing up devices into the “smartphone,” “tablet,” and “phablet” categories, but new tech like the Asus FonePad with its 7.1 inch screen and full phone capabilities, are beginning to blur the distinction. The Huawei Ascent Mate was also on display, and at a massive 6.1 inches is the largest non-tablet smartphone on the market. Another innovation to hit the floor of the Congress is the Yotaphone, a dual-screen device that doubles the amount of screen space without increasing the size of the phone itself. The Yotaphone has two 4.3 inch displays, one a standard LCD and the other an electronic paper display that’s e-reader friendly, and given the innovation of its design, it’s even got some of its very own mobile apps.
And naturally, just to show that bigger isn’t always better, Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Young, a kid-friendly smartphone boasting a diminutive 3.2 inch display, making it the smallest smartphone seen at the show.
Perhaps the most important conclusion we can draw from the Mobile World Congress is that Android manufacturers really are pushing the envelope when it comes to innovations in mobile hardware. Android’s open-sourced, fragmented ecosystem definitely has its drawbacks, but the development of exciting new hardware products certainly isn’t one of them.
When it comes to mobile apps, the big developers hoard most of the headlines. Whether it’s Google Maps or Facebook or the latest iteration of Angry Birds, most media outlets tend to focus on the apps that are on just about everyone’s phones. However, one of the first pieces of advice we provide to prospective developers is this: if you want to create a successful mobile app, one way to go about it is to identify a simple need, and then meet that need.
In fact, there are a lot of great mobile apps out there doing just that, but since they’re only doing them locally, they don’t generate the numbers that larger app developers might. Take, for example, Park.It, a new mobile app that can help you navigate the stressful process of finding a parking spot in San Francisco without having to worry about getting a ticket. Mashable featured a number of similar, localized apps last year, and other traffic-related apps like Boston’s Street Bump, which allows motorists to passively report potholes, are also making things easier on city streets.
Of course, it’s not just about driving and parking. If you’re in need of some quick, hassle-free labor, services like TaskRabbit, PostMates, and Cherry can connect you with locals who can meet your needs. Libraries are creating mobile apps that allow you to check books out online, EcoFinder in San Francisco can direct you to the nearest recycling station, and if you need strangers to pray for you and yours in Houston, yep, there’s an app for that.
Unfortunately most of the global/local apps like Yelp and Open Table tend to focus on food services, and the app stores take local apps about as seriously as the press. Google Play has a Travel and Local category, but it doesn’t filter the apps in that category based on the user’s physical location. Hopefully that will change soon, but in the meantime, if you’re thinking about developing a mobile app, going local might be for you.
Google’s planning on opening up retail stores by the end of this year, just in time for the holiday season. This initially struck many as something of an odd choice, considering that Google doesn’t manufacture a great many hardware products. However, in their announcement, Google promised points-of-sale for Nexus devices, Google Chromebooks, and, curiously, “future devices that have yet to be released.” We’re not sure whether that means they’ll have enough real estate for a showroom designed to house the infamous driverless car, but if nothing else we can probably expect a kiosk of 21st century optometrists peddling Google Glasses.
Comparisons to the Apple Store were to be expected, we suppose, with at least one blog suggesting that Steve Jobs is “going thermonuclear in his grave”. Of course, Google might try to one-up its fiercest competitor by calling its customer service representatives “super-geniuses,” but we’re pretty sure that Apple doesn’t have much cause to complain, considering they haven’t copyrighted the existence of the retail outlet (yet, anyway). And considering that Apple Stores generate on average $50 million in annual revenue—more per-square-foot profit than Tiffany’s—it’s easy to see the appeal of Google’s latest move.
Google’s decision to go retail does, however, signal a fundamental shift in the company’s mission. Google historically favored automation and online points-of-sale to human labor, but the fact that they’re implementing this tectonic shift signals a long-term commitment to hardware manufacturing. The idea is not only to move Chromebooks off the shelves, of course, but to put a human face on existing Google products like Google+ and Wallet, as well as various Android devices, glasses, and anything else their research and development arm might happen to dream up.
If nothing else, it’s nice to see Google putting an approachable human face to its traditionally virtual presence, and Apple’s certainly going to have to keep looking over its shoulder once Google’s stores open up for Christmas.
Most of us still use the good, old-fashioned desktop to conduct most of our searches, and as it happens, that’s where Google makes its money. Unfortunately for Google, however, the profits from that particular revenue stream have declined for the last five quarters in a row.
Of course, Google’s still making money hand over fist, and it certainly hasn’t been blindsided by the innovations wrought by mobile technology. What Google couldn’t foresee, and what many of us still can’t manage to figure out, is why Android users really don’t like spending money. In an effort to bolster its advertising revenue and make it more inclusive of mobile tech, last week Google announced a major overhaul to its AdWords program called “enhanced campaigns.”
Previously, advertisers were obliged to create separate ad campaigns that targeted specific devices and specific audiences. Now, however, Google (quite rightly) believes that the lines of demarcation between fixed and mobile devices is blurred, and thus that the targeting of ads should be based not only on the nature of the device, but also location and time of day. To put it more concretely, someone searching for “pizza” from their home or office is more likely to be interested in ads for pizza delivery than, say, someone searching for “pizza” in a city district teeming with restaurants at dinner time. The first might want a click-to-call option, and the second walking directions to a nearby pizzeria. In fact, it turns out that the type of device on which the search is conducted shouldn’t necessarily determine the nature of the ad. A family hankering for pizza in the middle of movie night will probably conduct that search on their phone from their couch, since the next step in the process will be to call the restaurant to place the order.
Not everyone’s happy about this, of course. The new system is simpler and more streamlined, but advertisers now have to retool their campaigns at potentially higher prices. This takes time and money, but Google’s betting that the update will prove more effective in the long run.
Punxsutawney Phil didn’t notice his shadow this year, and that means spring, and spring means love is in the air. And if you’re not yet ready with your rose petals and chocolates and scented bath candles, these Android apps can help you prepare for the 14th.
- Countdown to Valentine’s Day: We’re working under the assumption that you’re not interested in Valentine’s Day trivia or apps with other people’s love poetry, and while we’re not generally inclined to recommend wallpaper apps, you’re going to want to know your deadline, and this app will help.
- Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas: Having lover’s block over what to get your sweetheart for Valentine’s Day? Then download this free app to get a little help with your brainstorming. This app goes way beyond the three C’s (candles, cards, and chocolates), with 100 different ideas for your Valentine’s Day festivities.
- OpenTable: The last thing you want to do on Valentine’s Day is have to wait for a table. With OpenTable you can not only find recommended restaurants near you, but you can also reserve a spot directly from your Android phone.
- Find Chocolate!: Sophisticated chocolate aficionados can spot low-grade chocolate from a mile away, but with this app you’ll be able to spot high quality confectioners in your area, complete with driving directions.
- Ambient Fireplace: Not everyone has access to a working brick fireplace, so if you don’t, download this fun little app to set the mood for the evening. Sure, it’s silly, but anyone who says love’s never silly has clearly never been in love.
- Closer ToGetHer: Modesty prevents us from telling you explicitly what this particular Android app does, but we will say that if you can’t be with the one you love on Valentine’s Day, give this app a try. Click here for the Android download.
- OKCupid: Not everyone has a special someone they can shower with gifts this Valentine’s Day…yet. If you’re alone and don’t want to be, set up a profile with OKCupid’s free Android app to meet that special someone.
Venturing into the comments section of most internet sites requires superhuman levels of patience and a strong stomach. The anonymity of internet trolling facilitates “fetid waves” of “racist, cruel, idiotic, nonsensical, and barely literate” interjections by a segment of humanity that is almost implausibly awful. When it comes to mobile apps, however, developers’ success can often hinge on the content of such reviews, as users often spend a lot of time reading reviews before deciding to download an app. The good news is that Google will soon allow all developers to respond to them.
Android’s open-source ecosystem is a point of pride for Google, and this latest move will further democratize the Google Play app store. Google already removed the cloak of anonymity from its review sections by requiring users to log in with a Google+ account, but the fact of the matter is that the customer isn’t always right, and oftentimes errors and glitches that users report have nothing to do with the apps themselves, but are related to problems stemming from hardware or the operating system. Developers will soon be able to address those concerns personally, as well as to enter into dialogue with more thoughtful users with good ideas for tweaks and improvements.
The change isn’t entirely new. Google previously allowed those with top developer badges to respond to comments. With the upcoming update, the doors will be open to smaller start-ups and individual entrepreneurs who wish to engage directly with their customers. As Google told reporters, “The feature originally rolled out to top developers, and we’re gradually expanding it to additional Google Play developers.” This is yet another way in which Google is seeking to differentiate itself from mobile app command economies like Apple’s, where the company maintains an iron-clad grip on all content and comments pertaining to its products.
There’s a cheeky meme making its way around the Internet, inspired by the following exchange on Reddit:
Question: If someone from the 1950s suddenly appeared before you, what would be the most difficult thing to explain to them about life today?
Answer: I possess a device, in my pocket, that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get in arguments with strangers.
It’s funny because it’s at least a little true, and highlights the extent to which we take the marvels of our smartphones for granted in the digital age. But how easy is it to live without one?
Alexon Enfiedjian of Talk Android recently attempted to answer that very question. Rather than going cold turkey and giving up all his mobile connections, however, Enfiedjian hit on a novel solution for those tethered to their smartphones and suffering under the surfeit of instantly available information, twenty-four hours a day. Rather than disconnect altogether, Enfiedjian decided to downgrade to a “dumb phone” and only plug in with a tablet when he really needed to. The idea was only to engage with his mobile device actively, rather than passively, “mindlessly flicking through home screens, even if there is nothing to look at.”
We certainly share Enfiedjian’s opinion that smartphones should enhance our lives rather than rule (or ruin) them, but unfortunately for those who can’t seem to put down their phones long enough to stop and smell the flowers, smartphones do have uses that Wifi-only tablets can’t meet. Unless you’re willing to shell out the cash for cell phone connectivity (which wouldn’t solve the addiction problem), tablets are perfectly useless, say, in a weather emergency, or if you’re in dire need of directions on a dark and unknown highway.
In short, being disconnected is a good thing, until it isn’t, and the cure isn’t artificial deprivation, but rather just a bit of self discipline.
In 2011, 23% of all accidents (that is, twenty-three million crashes) on our highways and by-ways involved cell phones. When you’re texting while driving, on average your attention is drawn away from three to five seconds, which means that if you’re rolling along at 55mph, you’ll have crossed the distance of a football field without looking up. In this country, someone is either killed or injured as a result of an accident involving a distracted driver. It goes without saying that texting while driving is a real problem with potentially catastrophic consequences.
AT&T nobly decided to do something about it. The It Can Wait campaign requests that drivers take a life-long pledge never to text while driving. Thus far, about half a million users have taken the pledge, and AT&T helpfully produced a documentary video that outlines the dangers of distracted driving. You can have a turn at the It Can Wait simulator to get a better feel for the risks involved when you choose to text while driving.
And of course, there’s an app for that. It’s called DriveMode, and essentially what it does is to send an “out-of-office” reply to incoming texts, e-mails, and phone calls when the phone is moving faster than 25mph. Additionally, the app creates an “Allow list” that accepts calls from pre-selected contacts. Of course, since smartphones are pretty useful in automobiles, the app still allows the use of music and navigation apps, and has a permanently accessible 911 option. The app itself is only available for Android and Blackberry for now, as Apple’s terms and conditions won’t allow mobile apps to tamper with iOS hardware, which this app does.
To promote the It Can Wait campaign, AT&T partnered with Android Police to give away some pretty nifty stuff. Not only can participants win all kinds of promotional materials, most importantly there’s a Galaxy S III in the mix that’s going to make one participant very happy indeed.
Of course, you shouldn’t need incentives when your safety is on the line, so if the text you need to send absolutely can’t wait, pull over. No text is worth your life, or anyone else’s.