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.
About fifteen years ago a company called BioWare released a game called Baldur’s Gate that would generate unanimously positive reviews and win just about every video game award under the sun. Digital technology vastly improved since Baldur’s Gate’s release date in 1998, but most game developers spent their energy trying to render more realistic water features instead of developing an engaging storyline. To be sure, Baldur’s Gate isn’t the most visually sophisticated game on the market, and its original iteration required switching out the CDs every time you wanted to enter a new zone on the map. But since good graphics require considerably more power than good writing, some enterprising game developers decided to make the title available for tablets.
It’s called “Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition”, and it should be released for Android users at some point in the next couple months. It’s likely to do quite well among nostalgic thirty-somethings, but more importantly, it might signal a trend in game apps for tablets. Technology evolves at a frankly unbelievable pace, and games that once upon a time required eight different CDs now fit quite comfortably on an Android tablet. (If you find that hard to believe, consider this: remember the computer from the film WarGames that became sentient and threatened the world with global thermonuclear war? It’s five hundred times slower than an Xbox.) If this game gets enough traction, there’s a pretty good chance we’ll see other award-winning titles made available for tablet consumers. (Personally we’d love to see a downloadable version of Deus Ex.)
In spite of all appearances, then, it seems there’s quite a lot of untapped potential in the tablet gaming market. Sure, if you want three-dimensional enemies to flop around realistically when they’ve been stabbed or shot or whatnot, you’re going to need hardware with a little more muscle than a tablet can provide, which is why a lot of developers focus on repetitive, time-wasting games like Angry Birds. But if you enjoy an engaging story and an immersive gaming experience, then the tablet may become your platform of choice.
In addition to the great deals shoppers can find, one of the other benefits of Black Friday is that all that running around from store to store carrying heavy packages can help you work off some of the turkey and stuffing from the day before. Of course, sometimes Black Friday can get a little rough, but fortunately there are a few Android apps out there that can help you get through the day. Here are a few of our favorites:
- TGI Black Friday: In addition to its comprehensive list of Black Friday deals, this app provides coupons and sales advertisements, allows you to customize your shopping lists, and comes with a local search function that can help you find products and prices in your area.
- GoodGuide: Developed by a Berkley professor of environmental and labor policy, this free app is for the conscientious shopper. When you use the app to scan a product barcode, it will give you ratings for that company’s overall health, environmental impact, and societal impact. It will also tell you the product’s ingredients – while preparing this blog post we discovered that our favorite brand of deodorant contains butylated hydroxytoluene, so it’s probably not going to be our favorite for much longer.
- Shopkick: Cyriac Roeding’s popular shopping app earns you points, or “kicks,” just by turning it on and walking into a participating retailer. There’s no need to purchase anything, but users can redeem those points for any number of goodies, from gift cards to Starbucks drinks to movie tickets. Also, it just got an update, so if you plan your shopping ahead (by selecting the product you want to purchase and identifying the retailer), you can earn even more points redeemable for even more free stuff.
Of course, if you’re not keen on having to body-check your fellow shoppers in order to maintain your place in the long, cold lines, there’s nothing that says you have to set foot out of doors at all. There are plenty of apps that allow you to purchase your items directly from your phone and have them delivered to you, so if you’d rather lounge around and eat leftovers on Black Friday, give one of those a try.
It seems like China only makes the front page news when it’s doing things we don’t like much, like lending us money or being communists, so sometimes we tend to forget about the unassailably awesome things that China does, like egg rolls and the Great Wall and Jet Li.
They also buy Android phones. Lots of them. In fact, Android owns just over ninety percent of China’s smartphone market. What’s even more astonishing is the fact that that number is seven percent higher than it was only three months ago. Of course, percentages don’t mean much out of context, so consider this: in the second quarter of this year, of the 158 million smartphones shipped worldwide, 42 million of those went to China.
While China is thus currently the world’s largest smartphone market, iOS is still doing quite well there in terms of mobile app consumption. This could change quite quickly if Android developers begin to exploit that market as vigorously as the smartphone manufacturers do. Making mobile apps available to the Chinese market is certainly not without its challenges: Chinese consumers have less disposable income than their Western counterparts, which raises questions of monetization. But Android users have always been cheapskates when it comes to paying for mobile apps, and thus freemium and advertising monetization models are likely to do quite well.
The second and perhaps greatest hurdle is a question of language. Contrary to popular belief, everybody doesn’t speak English, and even some of those who do aren’t necessarily willing for their apps to be in a foreign language, whether they understand it or not. While hiring a Chinese translator will add an item to the app development budget, the potential rewards for marketing an app to a country of over a billion people whose appetite for mobile technology is growing at breakneck speeds is well worth the cost. If you decide to take that route, however, make sure you don’t lowball your translator; you never know what you might end up with.
We’ve been around the block often enough to know that anything billed as an “iPad killer” very definitely isn’t. Hilariously, some are even going so far as to suggest that the newest “iPad killer” is in fact the iPad Mini, or at least it might be once Apple throws in the retina display. In any event, consumers are becoming increasingly less willing to switch to a new operating system, since doing so would mean having to download your favorite apps all over again, which for some mobile junkies might even double the cost of a new device.
All that said, with the sleek new Nexus 10 Google appears to be striving for the same overall user experience that Apple has been boasting about for years. At first glance, the size of the rounded corners call to mind a 1950s television set, and its light weight makes it feel somewhat “cheap and insubstantial.” Once you spend a little time with it, however, it’s clear that the Nexus 10 is indeed a “high-end device.” The quality of the graphics outstrips those of the newest iPad by far, and all the newest whistles and bells of the Android Jelly Bean’s latest update make for a seamless and hassle-free user experience. As J.R. Raphael of Computerworld put it, “when it comes to experience, man, does this thing shine.”
If the Nexus 10 has anything working against it, it’s the fact that it’s not quite as business-friendly as it could be. The Nexus 10 lacks standard management tools like remote wipe or control, app blacklisting, camera disable, et cetera, and while much of these functions are available through third-party vendors, that’s probably not likely to lead too many companies to switch out all their devices.
So while the Nexus 10 probably isn’t going to inspire many to give up their iPads, it’s nice to know that Android users have access to an alternative that’s every bit as good as the competition.
With Sandy’s tempestuous arrival and the havoc she’s wreaked dominating the news for the last few days, you might not have heard about the recent 4.2 update to Android’s operating system, Jelly Bean 4.2. Today we take a look at the new features and see what improvements are coming to Android devices.
- Photosphere: We have to admit, the new capabilities for panoramic photos are unassailably cool. Your device will actually tell you where to point so that you can fill in the missing bits of your photo, and the result is something like your very own Google street view.
- Gesture Typing: In addition to improving the camera, Google’s also decided to make typing a little bit easier. You glide your finger over the keyboard, and only lift it once you’re done, and Google’s let everyone know that it’s predictive text capabilities are better than ever. Dictionaries and voice-to-text functions were also upgraded.
- Multi-User Support: This only works with Android tablets, but if you use that tablet to keep your kids busy from time to time, this function will be very welcome. Individual users can customize apps (among other things), and shifting from user to user is easy.
- Miracast: If you were impressed by iOS’s Airplay mirroring capability, this’ll blow your socks off. You can now stream directly from your device to any TV, DVD-player, or other media device that supports Miracast.
- Security: Android’s open source operating system gets a lot of (mostly undeserved) flack over security concerns, and at long last Google’s done something that allows users to be proactive about their mobile security. Android 4.2 comes with a real-time app scanning service that can help you ferret out malicious software in the (unlikely) event it ends up on your device.
And of course, if you’ve got an idea for a mobile app that might be able to exploit any of these new functions, give us a call and we’ll get you started with three free quotes from reputable developers.
Google’s not known for doing anything in half measures, so when it decided to add in-app subscription billing last May, it was perhaps only a matter of time before the possibility of a trial period for subscription apps became a reality. That time is now, as it turns out, and while the system is only in its infancy, any feature that offers Android users more control over their mobile app consumption is good news indeed.
It works like this: for any mobile app that uses subscription billing, Android users can “purchase” it from the Google Play store. Users may then test-drive the app for seven days, though that period can be extended at the individual app developer’s discretion.
The consumer’s billing information has to be provided up front, and while no money actually exchanges hands at that point, the total subscription fee will be rendered automatically at the end of the trial period. Additionally, the trial period ends the moment the user cancels the subscription. In other words, if you’re the sort of person who begins a trial period and then immediately cancels it just in case, then you won’t have access to the content. This is, perhaps predictably, raising some hackles among some mobile app users, but it’s worth remembering that Google Play is in the business of providing a high quality mobile experience, and is not in the business of ensuring that each and every one of its customers is protected from their own forgetfulness.
When it comes to the overall mobile experience, iOS generally tends to get higher marks than Android, while at least some Android devices fare better in head-to-head hardware comparisons. (Samsung’s recent ad campaign for the Galaxy Nexus is based entirely on the principle of superior hardware.) However, with features like these, it’s clear that Google is not insensitive to the issue and is doing its level best to bridge the gap. Apple offers no trial period for its apps, and has no plans to do so, so it’s nice to see Android users having the sort of options that might make the operating system more appealing to its users.
No news organization ever went broke trying to scare the hell out of everybody, and stories of Android devices and their security issues are no exception. Of course, security is always going to be a concern for open-sourced software, but while it’s highly unlikely your device might be compromised, that doesn’t stop some media outlets from hinting that there are cybercriminals behind every corner, waiting to wipe your phone, steal all of your data, and empty your bank accounts. These days Android even comes with its very own FBI warning, complete with ominous threats of “stalkers,” “malicious actors,” and “rogue access points.”
There’s good news on the horizon. According to the folks at Android Police who conducted some forensic work on the string file of the recently updated Google Play store, it looks as though a built-in malware scanner will be made available in a future Android operating system. It appears as though this might come with two distinct security features: one that checks your existing apps for malware, and another that warns you whether apps you’re planning on downloading “may harm your device.”
Last February Google unveiled Bouncer, which was designed to scan the Google Play store and ferret out misbehaving mobile apps that might cause problems for users in the future. And although Bouncer led to a 40% reduction in potentially malicious apps on the market, a few security analysts spent some time determining that it wasn’t perfect and that talented cyber criminals could bypass Bouncer if they put their shoulders into it.
Bouncer was primarily a company and developer tool. At first glance, the malware scanner that’s in the works will be available on the client side. We feel comfortable predicting that some enterprising techie will discover that the new security measures aren’t perfect either – since no security system is, including Apple’s – but the fact that Google is taking these measure to protect its clients from potential Android malware bodes well for the future.