Turning Your Smartphone Into a Laptop

Posted by on May 24, 2013 in Blog | No Comments

This will fall squarely into the category of “first world problems,” but many of us find it something of a hassle to have to manage our phones, tablets, and laptop computers.  There are almost always synching issues, which often lead to that sinking feeling you get when you wonder if the device in your briefcase is the one containing the files you’re going to need at work that day.  It’s a bit like trying to remember whether or not you left the iron on, and it’s fantastically unpleasant.

Enter Casetop, a Kickstarter project that’s meant to streamline this very hardware problem.  Casetop is essentially a laptop that uses your smartphone (any smartphone, whether Android, iOS, Windows, or even Blackberry) as its hard drive.  In addition to giving your smartphone the benefit of a larger screen and a proper keyboard, Casetop boasts of its “mythical” battery endurance (30+ hours) as well as the ability to charge the phone to which it’s attached.

Priced at $250, the benefits of such a device would be legion.  First, it would allow you to watch videos on a decently sized screen without having to shell out for a tablet.  It already comes with a Bluetooth keyboard and has the capacity to add a Bluetooth mouse.  Additional hardware plug-ins like, say, a projector, would make presentations a considerably easier affair than they are now.

All that said, we’re not making a plug for the device itself; there’s a possibility that the Casetop might not even hit the factory floor; as of this writing, it’s only achieved $76,000 of its $300k funding goal, with twelve days to go. What we’re more impressed with is the potential of the technology, and what it might change when it comes to consumers’ hardware demands. And naturally, we’d be interested to see how particular, third-party apps, especially game apps, function on a device with different resolutions and specifications than the one for which it’s intended.  Android users are no strangers to fragmentation, of course, but that’s not the case for users of other smartphones.

Android Apps on Blackberry

Posted by on May 17, 2013 in Blog | No Comments

It appears as though the news of the Blackberry’s demise were exaggerated.  In spite of the lukewarm reception to Blackberry’s reboot, forward-thinking executives realized that to remain competitive in the smartphone market, not only was it going to have to provide a wide selection of apps, it was going to have to do so very quickly.

According to TechCrunch, the new Blackberry has been successful.  At the moment, Blackberry boasts about 120,000 mobile apps, and about 20% of those were ported over from Android.  This is obviously a significant number, and bodes well for the future of Blackberry.

Of course, not all the news is good.  Blackberry’s decision to favor quantity over quality has had some significant negative impact in the short run.  Most important among these is the fact that Blackberry users don’t like the Android apps very much.   The problem lies in how the apps themselves are configured.  Android apps are certainly available on the Blackberry, but that doesn’t mean they’re performing as well as they would on a smartphone running an Android operating system.  Many of the apps’ key features remain unavailable because of hardware compatibility issues, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by Blackberry’s customers.

What’s worth bearing in mind, however, is that by allowing Android apps to be ported to Blackberry’s platform, it is not in fact the users that Blackberry is trying to woo.  Blackberry’s straits have been sufficiently dire in recent years such that it’s betting its future on gamble after gamble after gamble – which is rather fun to watch, in the aggregate – and in this case Blackberry is doing its level best to seduce Android developers.  It takes about five minutes and no money to port an Android app over to Blackberry, which allows the developers to kick the tires, but ultimately what Blackberry hopes to do is to seduce them into developing native apps for the new platform.  Provided Blackberry stays afloat, this could open a lucrative new market for Android developers.

Amazon v. Google Play

Posted by on May 10, 2013 in Blog | No Comments

The most recent report from the mobile app analytics firm Distimo provides some interesting information about the Amazon Appstore, the largest third-party app store for Android.  The number of downloads of free applications is considerably higher in Google Play than in the Amazon Appstore.  This is no big surprise, considering that Google Play is slightly more than ten times bigger than Amazon’s U.S. Appstore.

That might make Amazon’s app outlet seem like small potatoes in comparison to Google Play, but Amazon is clearly thinking ahead.  Two years ago, Amazon’s Appstore was only available in the United States, but last year it added the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Spain.  Additionally, Amazon announced that it planned to expand to over 200 more countries in 2013, many of which – Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, India, South Africa and South Korea – maintain healthy levels of demand for mobile applications.

So while the number of free applications downloaded remains considerably higher in Google Play than it does in Amazon’s Appstore (and probably will for the foreseeable future), that number doesn’t tell the whole story.  Paid applications, for example, performed quite well in comparison to Google Play, and some apps even outperformed Google Play, in spite of the considerably smaller current customer base.

Amazon’s relatively new to the mobile application scene, and it’s certainly going to be a while before it can be considered one of the bigger kids on the block.  But its impressive performance thus far, in addition to its aggressive expansion plans, certainly seem to suggest that Amazon’s Appstore will be a major player by and by.  Distimo certainly thinks so, at any rate:  “The Amazon Appstore is rapidly becoming more and more competitive with Google Play. The number of applications in the Amazon Appstore has grown significantly in the last year, especially in terms of paid applications where the Amazon Appstore and Google Play are nearly neck and neck in terms of downloads.”

Android in Orbit

Posted by on May 3, 2013 in Blog | No Comments

Smart phones began to outnumber “dumb” phones last month, which tells us something about the pervasiveness of mobile technology in the twenty-first century. In fact, the versatility and usefulness of the smartphone is getting to the point where we think there isn’t much it can’t do, and this is of course the moment when NASA steps in and turns it into a satellite.

A “nanosatellite” or “PhoneSat,” to be more precise, but in either case they’re unassailably cool. To be fair, it’s not as if NASA merely shot some phones into space and watched them spin about the earth a few times before

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their orbits decayed and they melted on re-entry. Rather, NASA is using the phones – all Google HTC Nexus Ones – as the satellites’ onboard computer. The smartphones themselves are encased in four-inch metal cubes and are hooked up to external lithium-ion battery banks and more powerful radios for sending messages from space. Still, the total price tag for each individual unit is in the $3,500-$7,000 range, which is, we assume, the cheapest satellite ever put into space.

NASA is able to reduce costs so drastically because the off-the-shelf components that run these new satellites include most of the technology that their regular, multi-million dollar kin are kitted with: faster processors, a virtual OS, multiple sensors, high resolution cameras, and a number of different radios.

Of course, these nanosatellites won’t be doing anything too terribly useful on their first run. The primary mission is to stay in orbit for as long as possible while transmitting images captured by the camera as well as data relevant to the smartphone’s state of orbital and mechanical health. Ultimately, NASA hopes to use these smartphone-powered satellites to test their usefulness, to qualify new technologies for space flight, to reducing costs, and perhaps most importantly, to conduct heliophysics missions – that is, to keep tabs on what our sun is up to, which is pretty important, considering it has both the power and the habit to disrupt our technologies on a global scale.

New KALQ Keyboard Coming to Android

Posted by on Apr 26, 2013 in Blog | No Comments

Since the typewriter was invented in 1867, human thumbs have been relegated to the unglamorous task of occasionally tapping the space bar. The QWERTY keyboard layout was invented only a few years later, but since most of us are holding our keyboards in our hands rather than on our desks these days, it’s strange that nothing’s been done to update our hardware.

Until now, that is. A research team at the Max Planck institute developed a new keyboard layout called KALQ that enables faster thumb-typing on mobile devices. The new layout consists of a split keyboard with sixteen keys on the left, and twelve on the right, including all the vowels. The layout is specifically designed both to reduce the movement time of thumbs, as well as to maximize the alternation between each of the sides. Its name is derived from the “home row” on the bottom of the right side of the screen.

Of course, alternatives to QWERTY are nothing new, and mobile users are used to falling back on predictive text and autocorrect to make up

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for its shortcomings on phones and tablets, often with hilarious results. KALQ, however, represents the first significant advance in typing speed on mobile devices. How fast? With the current QWERTY configuration, average users manage about 20 words per minute, whereas with just a few minutes of practice, KALQ users pumped out an impressive 37 wpm, a 34% increase in typing speed. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the testing was conducted using non-native English speakers, so it’s conceivable that a native user could rise as high as the 49 wpm predicted by the model.

Of course, one of the benefits of using Android devices is that the gatekeepers of the mobile app stores allow developers to monkey around with the native software, which isn’t the case for iOS. And since a KALQ app will be available for Android some time this month, Android users will be outpacing iPhones in typing speed (at least for a while).

A Facebook Facelift for Android

Posted by on Apr 19, 2013 in Blog | No Comments

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’ve got 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.

Mobile Apps & Peripherals – What’s Ahead for Humanity

Posted by on Apr 18, 2013 in Blog | No Comments

It’s hard to believe that Apple introduced their iPhone Software Developer Kit only five years ago.  Since then, an entire new segment of the global economy has exploded, and brought what would have been considered the stuff of science fiction to the devices just about everyone carries around in their pockets.

We haven’t yet reached the full potential of smartphone technology, but one of the more exciting avenues that lies ahead involves peripherals.  And if you thought your smartphone could do some pretty cool stuff now, just wait and see what happens when it’s working with other devices.

This isn’t a blog post about the iWatch or Google Glasses, which seem to be hogging all the press lately.  Consider, for example, the smart thermostat NestAs tech guru Bill Campbell pointed out recently, “You would think that people would yawn at something as boring as a thermostat,” Campbell said. “So, I’ve been surprised at how it has done and is doing.”  Not only does Nest allow you to control your thermostat from your iPhone, but it also learns your habits and patterns and creates a temperature-setting schedule based on them.

Or consider the TED on health care delivered by Eric Dishman.  Dishman was diagnosed with two rare kidney disorders and was told (twenty years ago) that he had at most three years to live.  Dishman talks a lot about innovating health care, and one of his mainstays involves mobile peripherals.  With the right attachments, an iPhone can detect malaria in the blood, act as a stethoscope, monitor blood pressure, or even provide an ultrasound.  The very obvious (and necessary) benefit here is not only for people in remote locations; if simple, relatively cheap devices can perform as well as advertised, it will vastly reduce health care costs across the board while increasing the quality of care.

The potential for simple mobile technology is impressive in its own right, but once peripherals are brought into the mix, that potential is nearly limitless.

A Facebook Facelift for Android

Posted by on Apr 12, 2013 in Blog | No Comments

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.

5 Things Android Does Better than the iPhone

Posted by on Apr 5, 2013 in Blog | No Comments

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4.  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.
  5. 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.

Samsung Rumors: Galaxy S4 Mini on the Way?

Posted by on Mar 29, 2013 in Blog | No Comments

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

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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.