iPhone to Android Part 3: Operation

I’ve been using the Google Nexus S for a few weeks now. It comes with Andriod 2.3 (Gingerbread) but as I’ve never used the Android operating system before, I have no idea how much of a leap 2.3 is above what has gone before.

The first thing you realise when you get to using the phone is that there are some additional concepts to get used to over and above what you’re used to on iOS. Firstly, the screen you are presented with is different on Android than it is in iOS. On iOS, your initial screen has the now familiar grid of application icons. Press on an app, and it launches. Get more apps than there is space on a page and you get to create more pages. However, Android adds a layer of customisation over the top of the apps screen. You can access your apps by clicking on a small grid icon that stays at the bottom of the screen when not in an application.

Android’s home screens are available for you to customise as you see fit. In practice, this means that you can “pin” shortcuts to your favorite apps to the screen, but you also have the option to pin “widgets” to the screen as well. These widgets are generated by applications and enable you to add live functionality to your screens. It’s probably easier to explain this with a few examples. And for this example, I’ll use Twitter.

When you install the app, it appears in your app screen, but it’s also possible to pin the icon for the app onto your home-screen. But you also have the option to add twitter as a live widget to the screen. This live widget shows the latest tweets in your stream right on the home-screen, without the need to launch the app. This home-screen idea is really nice in reality – it a little less obvious for a new user. It makes it possible for you to get quick updates without the need to load up applications.

The other major concept that’s different on Android, is the addition of more buttons! OK, so these buttons are only soft-buttons on the Nexus S, but you get a back button, a menu button, a search button and a home button. These are contextual, and apps may use them for what ever makes sense within the app. So, the back button in the browser will take you back through your history. If you open a dialogue box, it offers a way to close that dialogue without having to submit etc. The menu hides away customisable features of apps in a nice consistent place. You don’t have to go back to global settings like you do on iOS and the added flexibility that these simple 4 buttons adds is refreshing – even if it does take a short while to get used to their availability!

The Android OS has the concept of multi-tasking built right in. In fact, it’s the hardest to grasp concept that’s introduced. When you have ultimate multi-tasking flexibility, it means that everything gets just that bit more difficult to feel in control of. Apps will routinely set themselves up a background process that can be exceptionally useful, and powerful. However, it also gives you the feeling that you don’t really have a say in what’s running and what’s not. I can completely understand why Apple were so reluctant to offer this ability and why, when they did, they did it in a restrictive way. However, once you learn how to kill running tasks, the additional multitasking ability of the handset is great. I’ll be looking at useful applications in a future article, but there will certainly be a task killer as one of those applications!

Notifications in Android are also very flexible. All notifications appear at the very top of the screen. You get an audio cue every time a notification takes place and these can take on any number of forms. Essentially, it’s up to the applications to define notifications. In practice, you’ll receive messages for text messages, missed calls, voicemail, email and the like. If you turn on push notifications in apps, then you’ll receive these as well. However, this is something that I quickly disabled – for two reasons. Firstly, it gets manic! I was finding too much going on with a bong every time that you get an email, tweet mention etc. It’s distracting. Secondly, turning off push notifications also means that you save on your battery life! With notifications on, it seems that the constant chatter between your phone and the network sucks the phone dry. Not unsurprising really as the network radios are probably the most expensive as far as power goes. With notifications on, battery life was around the day that I was used to on my old 3GS. Accidentally not charge it and you’d be in trouble the following day. However, with notifications off, I have found the battery life to be excellent. Perhaps 3 days of light use 4-5 days if not really pushing things too much.

I’ll normally stick it on charge every other day now just to be safe if I need to nip off unexpectedly. The GPS also seems less power hungry in Android. It will happily take a couple of hours a day of use without really making a noticeable impact on battery life. Another lovely feature of the operating system is the ability to see exactly what has used your battery and for how long. Nice eh!

So, a summary then. My experience has been one of familiarity with basic concepts. They remain largely similar across iOS and Android. Pressing an app icon opens an app. Pressing home takes you have to your home screen. However, the additional flexibility of the Android OS means that there are a lot more settings hanging around that are your responsibility to look after. It takes time to feel like you control your phone and understand what it’s doing. However, with time, that feels more open, free and flexible. For a willing geek, it’s a great thing. For a retiring technophobe, it could be more than a little intimidating.

Next up in the series will be a look at applications on the Android OS – covering some great utilities that all Android owners should really have installed.

DigitalOutbox Episode 79

DigitalOutbox Episode 79
In this episode the team discuss the iPad 2 announcement.

Listen via iTunes
Listen via M4A
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1:39 – Google Tweaking Search Algorithm
– in the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking—a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries—and we wanted to let people know what’s going on. This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.
– We can’t make a major improvement without affecting rankings for many sites. It has to be that some sites will go up and some will go down. Google depends on the high-quality content created by wonderful websites around the world, and we do have a responsibility to encourage a healthy web ecosystem. Therefore, it is important for high-quality sites to be rewarded, and that’s exactly what this change does.
– Doesn’t use Personal Blocklist chrome extension I picked last week
– If it reduces the content farms and spam sites it will be a welcome update
4:37 – GMail Outage
– Thousands lose all their e-mail
– Affected 0.02% of users but GMail has a LOT of users
– a storage software update that introduced the unexpected bug, which caused 0.02% of Gmail users to temporarily lose access to their email. When we discovered the problem, we immediately stopped the deployment of the new software and reverted to the old version.
– Google had to go to backup tapes to get the e-mail back
– Lesson – backup your data, even if it is on the cloud
– Have another way if accessing your mail – IMAP, forward mail onto another provider – dual access
6:18 – Google Uses Kill Switch on Android devices
– 58 malicious apps downloaded to 260,000 Android smartphones
– late Saturday night, Google remotely turned on its kill switch, which is able to remove those errant applications from the phones.
– The kill switch is actually software that’s downloaded onto an Android smartphone and installed automatically, removing the apps in question with no user action required
9:46 – Ofcom challenging broadband speeds
– Data released by Ofcom, the communications watchdog, shows that the average broadband speed is still less than half of the average advertised speed.
– The report, published on Wednesday, says that Britons get an average broadband speed of 6.2 megabits per second (Mbps) – less than half the average advertised speed of 13.8Mb.
– Ofcom is pushing for a change in the way internet providers, including BT, Sky and O2, advertise “up to” broadband speeds, which most customers are unable to receive.
– The only ISP delivering close to the maximum speed advertised, according to Ofcom, was Virgin Media, with the advantage of a relatively new cable network in many urban areas.
– The typical broadband speed received by customers was much closer to the advertised speed with fibre-optic cable packages, such as the those delivered by Virgin Media and BT’s Infinity package. However, only 22% of Britons have fibre-optic connections, with 77% of the population using copper-based DSL phone lines.
13:07 – Harper Collins introduces Library re-buy fee
– After 26 checkouts from libraries of an e-book, Harper Collins is forcing libraries to rebuy the e-book
– Their rational – physical books wear out and have to be rebought so that should apply to e-books as well…even though they don’t wear out or cost money to repair
– Oklahoma’s Pioneer Library system posted a video showing that for 5 random books that haven’t required a repair or replacement they would be forced to re-buy the e-book 12 times to cover the amount of loans
– Old media strikes again
18:56 – Ford Sync coming to UK in 2012
– Sync finally coming to UK next year
– Ford sync is Fords in car entertainment system that takes advantage of your smart phone
– Hands free calling (Neuance voice recognition)
– Audible text messages
– Playback music, podcasts etc
– Traffic, maps etc
20:48 – IE6 countdown
– IE6 is still prevalent around the world especially in large companies
– MS have refused to target IE6 and actively help to kill it…until now
– Friends don’t let friends use Internet Explorer 6. And neither should acquaintances. Educate others about moving off of Internet Explorer 6
22:56 – Macbook Pro Updates
– Sandy Bridge, AMD Graphics and Thunderbolt
– Same design, lots of drive options
– Fast – outperforming last years Mac Pros
– Thunderbolt
– http://www.engadget.com/2011/02/24/intel-thunderbolt-a-closer-look/
– Thunderbolt’s a familiar-looking port, a brand-new chip, and a cord, which allows devices to pipe two data streams simultaneously — in both directions — over a single cable at up to 10 gigabits per second to start, primarily using PCI Express x4 for data and DisplayPort for video
– Will charge and daisy chain
– Lacie and Western Digital on board – Lacie drive later this summer
– 4 ½ gb – less than 15 seconds to copy file over Thunderbolt
– Playing 4 1080p streams at the one time
– Not an Apple exclusive but they have a headstart
27:47 – OS X Lion Preview
– Newest version of OS X, Lion will debut this summer but Apple on Feb 24th released a developer preview
– Released via App Store – sign of things to come?
– New details released – Auto Save, Versions, Resume, Mail version 5 (with a new threading feature called “Conversations”), AirDrop, and Lion Server (which itself has its own features).
– This is bringing the iOS features back to the mac – looking a good update
– http://www.engadget.com/2011/02/28/mac-os-x-lion-hands-on-preview/
– What happened to NDA?
35:08 – iPad 2
– Steve Jobs presents – a big FU to National Enquirer
– We’ve been working on this project for a while, and I just didn’t want to miss this
– Thinner, faster, camera’s, same battery life, same price, white or black
– A5 chip – dual core – Performance twice as fast, graphics 9 times as fast
– Front and read camera’s – Touch not iPhone equivalent
– HDMI dongle – 1080p output, all apps, mirroring – very nice
– Enlarged speaker grille
– 33% thinner – thinner than iPhone 4, and a bit lighter
– Smart cover
– Multiple covers
– Plastic or leather
– attach to the iPad with a self-aligning magnetic hinge and can also be folded into a triangle and used as a stand
– they’ll automatically wake or put your iPad to sleep when you open or close the cover, and they even pack a microfiber lining that cleans your screen each time you flip it open
– iMovie and Garageband for iPad – both $4.99
– iMovie – precision editor, multitrack audio recording, new themes, Airplay support
– Garageband – touch instruments, guitar amps and effects, 8-track recording/mixing, 250 loops, compatible with Mac version
– March 11th US, March 25th UK
– £100 off current gen iPad – there goes the eBay prices 🙂
– First video’s – really fast now compared to iPad 1
– iOS 4.3 out March 11th
– Faster javascript engine
– iTunes Home Sharing – play content from desktop iTunes over wifi
– Airplay – Apps now support video
– Pick rotation lock or mute for side switch
– Personal hotspot
– Facetime and Photobooth
– Steve Jobs – This is worth repeating. It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology is not enough. It’s tech married with the liberal arts and the humanities. Nowhere is that more true than in the post-PC products. Our competitors are looking at this like it’s the next PC market. That is not the right approach to this. These are post-PC devices that need to be easier to use than a PC. More intuitive.
– Post pc products…that need a pc to work
58:27 – Xoom UK Pricing
– £500, out April 9th – Pc World – may have to take a trip in to test it
– £600 for 3G version form carphone version – available now, shipping 1st week April!?
1:00:30 – Galaxy Tab Rethink
– We will have to improve the parts that are inadequate,” Lee Don-joo, executive vice president of Samsung’s mobile division, told Yonhap News Agency. “Apple made it very thin.”
– pricing is cause for concern when Samsung releases a larger screen model.
“The 10-inch (tablet) was to be priced higher than the 7-inch (tablet) but we will have to think that over,” said Lee.
1:01:44 – Microsoft Tablet Strategy
– Windows 8 will be the platform
– Testing end of this year
– Release mid to end 2012
– 18 months to go

Damn You Auto Correct
– Very funny examples of auto correct letting it’s users down
Full Text RSS Feed
– A very handy tool for converting headline only or restricted feeds to full fat
– I do wish people would use full feeds, but this is great for when they don’t
Tiny Wings
– My current most played game on the iPhone
– Lovely graphics, simple gameplay mechanism but very addictive

Google Personal Blocklist

A common complaint when using Google or Bing is that search results are becoming increasing less reliable. Spam sites and content farms are scraping content from original sites and using SEO techniques to ensure their sites are being returned by Google, sometimes higher in the results page than the actual original content. It’s also frustrating when searching for anew product like a TV or tech gadget and finding spam sites returning ahead of the actual manufacturers pages.

To help combat this Google is adjusting it’s algorithms but has also released an extension for Chrome called Personal Blocklist.

Once installed the Blocklist is accessed via your Chrome toolbar via the icon highlighted above. This will show you the sites that you’ve blocked, and allow you to edit the URL or unblock a site. Blocking only takes place via Google search results. The extension adds a ‘block domain’ link to each search result.

Click on the link and the site will be added to your blocklist and results will be removed from your search results.

Personal Blocklist is a very simple but powerful way to filter out the noise in Google searches. At the moment Google will not include user’s blocklists as a weighting in it’s own algorithms but surely over time this will be a great way for them to improve the quality of results for everyone? I expect if they do start to use the findings we’ll see some legal action take place. So many businesses have relied on Google to drive their business model so there is a lot of money at stake.

Over time you will build up quite a list of sites but to get you started there’s a great list on jongales.com of known content farms and spam sites. The list has been updated a few times and also links to a Google search for the site so it’s easy then to add the site to your own blocklist.

It’s extensions like Personal Blocklist that have made me switch to Chrome as my primary browser. Fast and stable and doesn’t chew up every available bit of ram unlike Safari.

iPad Stylus Round-Up

Ok, round-up is a bit of an exaggeration but over the last 10 months I’ve tried three different stylus solutions and one has come out as a definite favourite. The first one I tried was recommended almost everywhere after the iPad had come out – the Pogo Sketch from Ten One Design. It was fairly inexpensive at around £12 as I had it shipped from America.

The stylus felt good in the hand but I never felt comfortable with the nib. It was like a piece of polystyrene had been painted black and stuck on the end of a nice thin metal tube. The Sketch was accurate and was better at certain tasks than my fat fingers but I never enjoyed using it. The design really irked me.

So the next stylus I tried was the Boxwave iPad stylus. This was a much improved design and featured not only a clip so you could attach the stylus to an iPad case (worked well with the default iPad case) but also a small plastic attachment that fitted inside the 3.5mm headphone jack so the stylus could be attached to the iPad. Over time I found the headphone attachment got in the way but it’s easy to unclip from the stylus. The nib was also made os soft rubber which was a lot better than the Pogo Sketch. I really liked the weight of the Boxwave and it’s design but I had one issue. There were certain times that my inputs wouldn’t be recorded on screen. I’m not sure why but it would work 95% of the time and the other times I would draw a line, squiggle or text and when I lifted the stylus, the whole input disappeared. Very odd and quite annoying.

Still not happy I then tried another stylus and finally found one that worked accurately and also felt great in the hand due to it’s design an weight. The Just Mobile AluPen is far chunkier than the other two products I tried and features a soft rubber nib similar to the Boxwave.

I just love the look of AluPen and find it very comfortable in the hand. The weight is also just right and despite the angular design it never gets awkward. Despite the size the nib allows for fine control and drawing on the iPad and unlike the Boxwave it works every time. Joy. One point to watch though is that the price is higher than other similar solutions. The official website has the ALuPen and it’s colour variants priced at over ¢30 but I picked up the silver AluPen for £14.99 from Amazon. Colour versions were all higher priced – the red looks really good and reminds me of the Ironman colours.

So the AluPen has become my favourite stylus for the iPad and very handy for the times where I want some slightly better control than my finger offers.

DigitalOutbox Episode 78

DigitalOutbox Episode 78
In this episode the team discuss Apple and Googles Subscription battle, the HTC Flyer and Plex for Windows.

Listen via iTunes
Listen via M4A
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1:00 – Android Market Share
– So last time we said Android was popular
– According to a chart making the rounds from UK-based research firm IHS, Android Market revenues in 2010 came in at an estimated $102 million, up from $11 million the year before.
– And how did that compare to revenues from Apple’s App Store? Apple App Store revenues came in at an estimated $1.7 billion in 2010, almost 20 times bigger than Android. And Apple App Store revenue grew at a not-too-shabby 131.9 percent rate.
– More importantly, Apple accounts for 83 percent of the total estimated app store revenues.
– iOS also dominates Euro smartphone usage
– http://www.reghardware.com/2011/02/21/uk_europe_smartphone_usage/
– In the UK, Apple and Research in Motion are the two key smartphone players, each battling the other, with one’s rise accompanies by the other’s fall, oscillating about a line at 42 per cent.
– These numbers broadly mirror over-the-counter sales.
– Android usage is growing here too, but it’s still below 15 per cent and has only just begun to get clear space ahead of its nearest rivals. But it is rising, and that will push down the line over which iOS and BlackBerry are fighting.
5:39 – Microsoft Update Goes Awry
– MS started to roll out their first update for Win MO FO 7 – then had to stop
– It was at best causing problems, at worst, bricking samsung handsets with slightly older firmware….
– oooooppppssss.
8:59 – Apple Launches Subscriptions for Content Publishers on the App Store
– When Apple brings a new subscriber to the app, Apple earns a 30 percent share; when the publisher brings an existing or new subscriber to the app, the publisher keeps 100 percent and Apple earns nothing. We’ve pasted the release below.
– Apple also says that if publishers are selling a digital subscription outside of the app, that same subscription offer must be made available, at the same price or less, to App Store customers (which we had previously reported). In addition, publishers may no longer provide links within their apps that would allow the customer to purchase content or subscriptions outside of the app.
– So in app subscriptions now offered from within Apps and managed easily from within iTunes. Easy for consumers, easy for publishers to offer
– Apple betting that publishers will be willing to pay the 30% in return for Apple dealing with customers and payments and the customer base/ease of use that iOS brings
– So this impact Amazon, Book, Magazine and Newspaper publishers. So Guardian will be affected as will The Times etc. Also impacts on streaming music services – Rhapsody, Last.fm, Spotify. What about Netflix and Hulu Plus – affects them too.
– What about Dropbox, Evernote, Remember the Milk which offer paid for premium options on top of the free client deals?
– What about iPlayer – I need a TV licence to legally watch iPlayer content. To stay within rules will the iPlayer app need to offer an option to buy licence fee from within the app?
– Great post from MG Siegler – http://techcrunch.com/2011/02/15/apple-in-app-subscriptions/
– This new subscription system is great for Apple as they’ll make a lot of money and create a new, better experience for their customers (and maybe publishers too). But if it backfires, they could lose a significant part of their ecosystem support. And if some companies pull their apps, consumers may start to leave.
– The new system is awesome for customers as Apple has enabled a way for them to easily get new content on their devices at a fair price. But if companies back out of the App Store as a result, they will be shafted.
– This new system sucks for companies that provider subscription services, as they’ll now be forced into Apple’s way of doing things and must pay them 30 percent for it. But if it leads to a massive amount of new customers, it could actually be a very good thing.
– Magazines show up supporting in app subs – Elle, Popular Science, T3
– Later Tuesday, Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller confirmed that those rules apply not only to newspaper and magazine publishers, but also to content sellers like Amazon.com, which offers a Kindle app for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.
– To meet Apple’s guidelines, Amazon must remove its “Shop in Kindle Store” link from its Kindle application. That link, which opens the iOS browser and displays Amazon’s Web-based e-bookstore, is currently the easiest way for Kindle app users to purchase new books.
– Rhapsody – new iOS subs are economically entenable – http://musically.com/blog/2011/02/16/apples-new-ios-subscriptions-is-economically-untenable-says-rhapsody/
– An Apple-imposed arrangement that requires us to pay 30 percent of our revenue to Apple, in addition to content fees that we pay to the music labels, publishers and artists, is economically untenable,” says the statement.
– “The bottom line is we would not be able to offer our service through the iTunes store if subjected to Apple’s 30 percent monthly fee vs. a typical 2.5 percent credit card fee.”
– The statement also makes menacing legal noises. “We will be collaborating with our market peers in determining an appropriate legal and business response to this latest development.”
– As the fury dies, news that Readability app has been rejected – http://techcrunch.com/2011/02/21/readability-app-rejection/
– http://blog.readability.com/2011/02/an-open-letter-to-apple/
– Reason – 11.2 Apps utilizing a system other than the In App Purchase API (IAP) to purchase content, functionality, or services in an app will be rejected.
– Wow – so they really are chasing after everything?
– Allegedly subscriptions apply to ‘publishing apps’ only – e-mail attributed to one Steve Jobs
– Ian’s thoughts – Wed 16th – Step too far from Apple. This is evil. Android is now compelling enough to replace iOS for me. I won’t be moving from Mac anytime soon but if I see magazines, books, music only available on everything but iOS then I’ll move. Yet again it’s Apple changing the goalposts. I can’t believe people are saying this is what Apple have been saying all along. If so, why the change in dev guidelines. Again. Whats next? What if Apple say it’s not 30% but 40%. 50%? Then again, is this to force people OFF the platform so that everyone buys via iTunes, iBooks? Are they wanting to remove streaming music options so a future offer from Apple is more desirable? Long game at play and things will change – Amazon did use to charge 70/30 in there favour for Kindle originally. What I’m not sure is how much of the cover price of a magazine goes to the publisher and how much go to the newsagent? Thats why they can offer sub’s at lower price i.e. wired is half price to subscribe to. Looking online it’s 70-75% of the cover price goes to the publisher.
Chris – As consumers, there’s a lot to like about Apple’s stance. Everything wrapped up in the one ecosystem and the knowledge that they may as well buy in-app because they can’t get their subscription cheaper elsewhere. But this is a MASSIVE deal for companies with subscription models (a business model that is essential to companies today). 30% is a massive cut – and impossible to cater for in highly competitive and/or restrictive markets (like the music industry for eg).
Apple’s rolling the dice here a bit and, perhaps rightly, have come to the conclusion that their phone/tablet ecosystem is strong enough to force developers through it. But is Amazon really going to give away 30% of it’s book sales…???!!! Not without a fight I wouldn’t imagine.
It’s also worth noting that if this move is successful, it is consumers who will end up paying for the Apple tax… so it’s certainly an issue that should be paid close attention to.
24:18 – Google One Pass
– a service that lets publishers set their own prices and terms for their digital content. With Google One Pass, publishers can maintain direct relationships with their customers and give readers access to digital content across websites and mobile apps.
– Readers who purchase from a One Pass publisher can access their content on tablets, smartphones and websites using a single sign-on with an email and password. Importantly, the service helps publishers authenticate existing subscribers so that readers don’t have to re-subscribe in order to access their content on new devices.
– With Google One Pass, publishers can customize how and when they charge for content while experimenting with different models to see what works best for them—offering subscriptions, metered access, “freemium” content or even single articles for sale from their websites or mobile apps. The service also lets publishers give existing print subscribers free (or discounted) access to digital content. We take care of the rest, including payments technology handled via Google Checkout.
– No mention on cut but The Wall Street Journal said Google will take 10 percent of the revenue. That makes sense because One Pass rides atop existing websites and web apps. But it’s also smart in that it gives publishers more of the margins they expect for their content. Google said it expects periodicals will be the first customers of this, but it could extend to other properties that want to use micro-transactions. Google One Pass is currently available in France, Germany, Spain, the UK, the US and Canada.
– Provides alternative to Apple’s model and far less of a cut – interesting
– Also, by default Google will share your information with publishers which can be switched off. With the Apple deal, Apple will only share this info if you allow it – it’s off by default. Google One Pass is far more publisher friendly – could see a real shift from iOS to Android
29:56 – Kindle Publishing Costs
– Amazon charges 10p per MB for delivery of newspapers and magazines in the UK. By Amazon’s own estimates, a “typical newspaper” with 100 articles and 15 to 20 images would have a file size of between 0.5MB and 1MB – or around 10% of the overall revenue, considering most newspapers sell for 99p per day. It would be an even greater share of the publisher’s profits if users signed up for a cheaper subscription.
– Applies to delivery over 3G
32:07 – New Chrome Beta
– The latest beta release of chrome now has settings and options appear in browser tabs rather than popup windows. Makes sense and feels natural.
– Also reports that they could do away with an address bar!
– Well, they are looking at the possibility of rescuing yet more vertical space by having the address bar as a tab. Clearly those 30px are important!
35:16 – HTC Flyer
– Best specc’d 7” Android tablet?
– Not running Honeycomb – Gingerbread with HTC Sense on top
– Comes with OnLive service built in
– Stylus (pressure sensitive) with Scribe technology for recognizing hand writing
– Standard screen res, fast processor and good camera – aluminium unibody style design
– $730 so not bad
38:59 – Plex for Windows
– Plex Media Server launched for Windows
– Plex for Android also launched
– Watch content from your Plex library on Android devices
– Cheap media pc with blu-ray player and Plex is best solution for under the TV

– One of the gotcha’s with T-Mobile is that they (criminally) don’t include calls to their voicemail system inside your monthly allowance. However, a quick search around pointed me to the free HulloMail service. Essentially, this takes over from your carrier default voicemail service and the numbers you access the messages through ARE included in your monthly allowance.
– Signing up on Nexus S was as simple as downloading the app, creating an account and clicking “Apply Settings”. I’ve been running with it since Fri evening and it’s been great.
– The default application is free, but add supported. You can buy a year add free version for around £3.
Google Personal Blocklist
– Chrome extension that allows you to block a domain from being returned in your search results
– If installed, the extension also sends blocked site information to Google, and we will study the resulting feedback and explore using it as a potential ranking signal for our search results.
– Can edit your blocked sites to unblock them
– Early test but a must have extension

iPhone to Android Part 2: Infrastructure

Whatever you think about Apple, you have to admire their wholesale approach to their product line. As many arguments as there are against the all encompassing combination of iDevice + iTunes, it means that Apple control everything about their products from start to finish and this control gives them the ability to direct the user experience fully.

It may sit uncomfortably when they make decisions that you don’t agree with, but the strength is that, so long as you don’t want to use your device outside their software/hardware combination, everything is sorted for you. You don’t need to make decisions about where you store your music – it’s got to be iTunes. You don’t get a choice of where to make payments – it’s through Apple. You don’t get a choice of where to get your Apps from – it’s through the App store.

You become embedded and, more importantly, invested in the Apple way. If you keep on the Apple upgrade path, all of that investment stays with you. Move away however and it’s all gone. You can’t sync your iTunes library using iTunes with your other devices. You don’t get to take your Apps with you. This is the reason that it feels such a big step to move away from the Apple fold.

So, let me outline the infrastructure that I have come to use on my iPhone 3G and those aspects that I have aimed to recreate on the Nexus S.

  1. Music Library Syncing
  2. Podcast search/subscription/download/syncing
  3. Car holder
  4. FM Transmitter to play music through car speakers
  5. Sat Nav
  6. Applications (Key and supplemental)
  7. Music purchase

Let’s deal with the first 2 items first. Android doesn’t come with the pre-requisite of sync software installed on your PC. You can simply copy over your music collection files to your device. However, although I hate the BloatWare that is iTunes, I do love the fact that it lets me keep my music in sync and especially rely on the ability to subscribe to podcasts and have all un-listened to episodes synced to my phone. This was one area therefore that I was particularly worried about in the move from iPhone to Android. However, where needs arise, there are always those willing to fill the hole. And so in steps doubleTwist.

doubleTwist is effectively iTunes for all devices outside the Apple empire. It keeps things refreshingly simple. It allows you to connect up your device as a USB storage device and then sync your iTunes library/Windows media library onto your phone. It offers options to sync specific playlists or your whole collection. It allows syncing of your photos and videos as well. The software deals with any necessary file conversion to ensure your media plays OK on your phone. A solution then! Indeed.

It has been working well for me over the past few days with very few problems… apart from not being able to play DigitalOutbox through the in-built player on the desktop! Oops.

However, the story doesn’t end there. doubleTwist also integrates with the Android Market for apps and, if you live in the US, the Amazon MP3 store and as well. Apparently they are looking to have a UK MP3 store in place in the future. They have a free doublTwist player for your device and, if you’re willing to part with £3.10, you can also have AirSync and sync to your phone without the need to tether your device! The choice is yours, and isn’t it nice to have that choice!

The lack of integrated MP3 download isn’t such a big deal in reality as the UK Amazon MP3 store is easily available via the web and also as an app on the phone should you wish.

Straight away then, with doubleTwist things start feeling more like your iPhone you’ve walked away from. Perhaps going forward, this method of syncing will seem over engineered and drag-drop will seem more sensible but in this transfer period, it’s nice to have similar methodologies to rely on. There may be alternative software out there but as I hit on this on my first search and it did what I wanted, I haven’t really looked around more!

We’ve already ticked off a good selection of the infrastructure with doubleTwist. But how about car use? With my iPhone, I had a lighter mounted Belkin FM Transmitter II which combined the ability to hold the phone, charge as you travel and also output the audio to the stereo (as my car doesn’t have an aux in.)

When it comes to accessories, the iPhone is king. With the Android market being split over so many different devices, the accessories are far more limited. There isn’t an equivalent FM Transmitter/Holder for the Nexus S yet so, instead I have had to look for separate solutions.

When it comes to holders, my go-to manufacturer is Brodit. They make great attachments for an incredible variety of cars (Brodit Pro Clips) and these offer a solid platform into which to screw in their range of holders. To get the charging up and running, I’ve gone for an active holder, which plugs into the lighter socket in the car.

The best deal I found online was with www.mobilefun.co.uk and as their online reviews where very positive – they were a good bet. Great website and service so top marks from me as well although I would have liked to see the holder packaged up a little more. The holder is sturdy and the Nexus S slips in and connects with the charging port without issue. I would have liked the charging cable to be slightly longer, as it is a little bit of a stretch for my placements but it’s not a show stopper.

That leaves the FM Transmitter to get the device sound through the car speakers. I’ve had very mixed experience of FM Transmitters. The FM band is so crowded with stations that it is almost impossible to get a clear signal to transmit your content on. Normally, holding the signal at the extremes of the band is most successful. There are some exceptionally cheap devices out there, but they come with certain quality issues. You can’t go too far wrong with them as they don’t cost any real money (the cheapest come in at £5 or so). Still, I’ve given myself a little more chance for a longer life device and also got some neon blue lights by going with the Cygnett GrooveRide Touch.

It plugs into the jack out of the phone, and the Brodit holder leaves a small grove in the base of the unit, just enough to get the small end of the 3.5mm jack supplied with the GrooveRide though. When the phone is in the holder, it is a little fiddly to get the jack in the audio out but not a huge issue.

In practice, the sound you get through the stereo is adequate. There is more hiss on the the GrooveRide than there was with my Belkin and the band extremities were a little wider as well, giving a clearer spectrum to use. For Audiophiles, the hiss will be a game stopper. I tend to listen to podcasts in the car, so it’s not such a biggie. As ever though, a car stereo with an Aux in is a much better bet overall.

Navigation on Android devices is a no-brainer. Android (in its more recent forms) comes with in built Google navigation that’s free. It hooks into Google maps data (now vector based on Ginderbread) and voice is computer generated. In practice, the Nexus S picks up GPS extremely quickly and there were no issues with typing in locations – and because it hooks in with Google data, you don’t have to know postcodes, you can type locations – even down to specific pubs / attractions. I did have a little play with trying to use the voice control features – where you just tell your phone to “navigate to …”. However, I didn’t find this particularly accurate, even when I tried to use my bestest talking. I will look more into the voice aspects of the phone in the future to see if there’s a way to make things more accurate.

As the navigation is cloud based, you do need a data connection to make the most of the service, although the move to vector based data does mean that there is potential to store your route when you have a connection and use this cached version if it drops. I haven’t tested out/researched these capabilities but I had no problems during the real-world testing I did.

The last piece of my infrastructure puzzle is that of apps and software. I am going to cover this in another part of the series so watch this space!