Last week Facebook wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg and HTC’s Peter Chou announced the arrival of Facebook Home. It turned out not to be, in spite of a slew of rumors to the contrary, a Facebook phone, but rather a series of Facebook apps that “turns your device into a Facebook phone.” An app called Coverfeed overhauls both the home screen and the lock screen, which provides a constant stream of full-screen photos and newsfeed updates, in addition to a notifications interface that doesn’t feel bulky or in the way. According to David Pierce of The Verge, “it feels incredibly native”.
Another feature incorporated into Facebook Home is called “chat heads,” which is essentially a messaging service that allows you to keep tabs on all your conversations by tapping on little round icons of your friends’ faces. Keeping true to its new philosophy that smartphones should be about people, and not about apps, chat heads works both with your phone’s native SMS messaging software as well as with Facebook messenger itself. In other words, the most important thing is the conversation itself, not the platform that’s providing it.
As with any new tech product or service, of course, a great deal of criticism accompanied Facebook’s announcement. Naturally, we have to bear in mind that every tech company wants you to spend more time with their product, but as Huffpost Tech remarked, Facebook “just invited itself to be the DNA of your most personal device.”
With Facebook Home installed on your smartphone, it’s going to take an extra gesture or two for you to access all those things your phone does that aren’t Facebook: work e-mails, news aggregators, fitness trackers, etc.
Of course, no one’s holding a gun to anyone’s head, so if you’re not interested in Facebook Home, then all you have to do is not download it. Facebook Home is only being included (for now) on a single device, the HTC First, and Mashable confirmed that users can easily disable it should they choose to do so.
In any event, with this announcement there’s no longer any question as to whether Facebook is taking mobile seriously or not, but we’ll have to wait a few weeks before we’ll really know what Android users as a whole really think about it.
In spite of the fact that Android phones far outsell their main competitor, they still catch a lot of flack. Depending on whom you ask, Android users are cheapskates, with about 4,000 different Android devices the fragmentation problems are debilitating, businesses prefer iOS over Android, etc. Today, however, we thought we’d take a look at what Android does better than iOS, and it turns out that includes quite a lot. Even Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak thinks so.
- Alerts: Smartphone alerts give you timely updates of important information, and if they’re well implemented they go a long way to making you more productive. Android’s alert system is considerably superior to the iPhone’s mostly because of its “immediate glance-ability,” that is, the display that lets you know as soon as you turn it on if you have e-mail, if you’re being talked about on social media, or even if there’s a hurricane coming your way.
- Near-field communication: NFC capability is what allows Android users to share photos, playlists, contacts, and videos just by tapping their phones together. It’s also integral in mobile payment systems and a few Android-only mobile apps. And for now, anyway, it’s not available on iOS hardware.
- Screen size: As you probably already know, Apple recently expanded its screen real estate from 3.5 inches to 4. But because it has so many different hardware options, Android users can get a wide range of screen sizes going as high as the 6.3 inches from the Samsung Galaxy Note III.
- Cables: If you recently upgraded to the iPhone 5, the sticker price wasn’t all you had to worry about. You either had to shell out for new cables, or for new adapters for the old cables with which your 4S was compatible.
- Keyboard options: iOS auto-correct humor sites are a lot of fun, but the fact that there’s only one keyboard to choose from can be a little frustrating. Not so with Android, which allows, indeed even encourages, keyboard customization apps like SwiftKey and Swype.
So while Android’s vast array of hardware options certainly can lead to a few problems, bear in mind that there are still a lot of things that it does awfully well.
Last week we took a look at some of the exciting new features of Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S4 smartphone, which was almost immediately eclipsed by rumors of a miniaturized version of the same. When it comes to smartphone rumors, nothing is quite as prolific (and sometimes downright insane) as those associated with the iPhone, but now that the Galaxy S4 mini has been “spotted” – like Bigfoot – Android users can also have some fun.
Reeling as it is from having “stolen” the idea of squares with rounded corners, perhaps Samsung leaked its new hardware to avoid being accused of stealing the idea of an affordable smartphone. In any event, from the little we know so far, the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini seems indeed to be just a scaled-down version of its bigger, better-performing big brother.
The Galaxy S4 mini is expected to be launched this summer, either in June or July. Samsung’s new smartphone will have a diminutive 4.3″ display with a pixel density of 256ppi running on Android 4.2.2. The Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini comes in a dual-sim variant as well, making it available in two variations. The device itself looks a lot like the Galaxy S4, and it would be hard to tell which is which if they weren’t standing next to one another.
Of course, there are some out there who suggest that Samsung’s penchant for bigger-is-better hardware is alienating many consumers who would really prefer a small-but-beefier smartphone, while others contend that it will “fit perfectly with people who don’t want large screens” because while it may be small, “it can still handle anything you choose to throw at it.” Of course, since nothing official has yet to be revealed, apparently we’re all just going to have to wait.
And while we’re waiting, we can always prognosticate as to what Samsung’s much-anticipated new smart watch might portend.
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.