March 5, 2014 By: Will Verduzco
It’s become quite the routine to see nearly weekly application updates to Google’s major first-party Android apps. And with so many entries in their Android app portfolio, this is quite a commendable accomplishment. Just last week, we saw Google deliver a massive update to its Google+ app, giving it much improved photo editing capabilities straight from their Snapseed acquisition. Now, Google has delivered major updates to Chrome Beta, their TTS engine, and Google Play Games.
Perhaps the most significant update this is Chrome Beta version 34, which now offers hidden Chromecast streaming support for HTML5 video. Streaming is still not available by default, even in Chrome beta, but it can be enabled by going to about://flags/#enable-cast on your mobile device. Then after a reboot, you should be able to Cast videos from any HTML5 video player, just like you would through your desktop browser. However, the results aren’t always perfect. While this generally works flawlessly on YouTube, other video sites don’t always work as they should. Perhaps this is why this feature must be enabled via flags.
Next up is Google TTS version 3, which brings higher quality voices and a few minor UI tweaks. Loading the app’s voices list, users will now see new options for “high quality” voices. Rather than the standard voices that range from 3-6 MB, these higher quality voices are often well over 100 MB. They do offer a notable improvement, but since the standard quality voices were already better than the competition, this is more of a luxury item.
Finally, Google Play Games version 1.5 brings a few new features that are slated to improve your multiplayer mobile gaming experience. With 1.5, you are now able to see who in your Google+ circles happens to play a particular game. You can now also view all invitations for multiplayer games from within the Play Games app.
You can get in on these application updates by visiting the Google Play Store listings for Chrome Beta, Google TTS, and Google Play Games. But since these updates are coming in the form of a staged rollout and since not everyone has access to the Google Play Store, we’ve gone ahead and mirrored the APKs over on our DevHost account.
Google Play Store Listings:
DevHost APK Mirror:
[Many thanks to XDA Senior Member kautionwirez for the tip and APKs!]
February 27, 2014 By: Will Verduzco
It’s become quite a routine occurrence to have at least one of Google’s major first-party Android apps updated per week. This time, the latest “victim” is Google+, which received its update to version 4.3—and with it, a plethora of new photo-related options for your shutterbug pleasure.
The most significant update is in the new photo editing menu. Borrowed from Google’s recent Snapseed acquisition, G+ Photos now presents the user with many more photo editing tools. In addition to the standard crop/rotate/auto tools, you can now apply various image tweaks such as brightness, contrast, saturation, and sharpness through simple swipes. Vertical swipes select between tools in any given mode, whereas horizontal swipes adjust each option’s parameters. In addition, these tools can be applied to specified tool hot zones, as shown in the screenshot with the red circle.
In addition to simply offering more tools to appease your photo editing OCD, the latest version of G+ also allows for non-destructive editing across devices. In other words, you can make edits on one device, and then continue editing, revert changes, or start from scratch at any point on another devices. Finally, the auto photo backup was given a bit of a tweak, now allowing users to backup all local folders, in addition to just those taken by the device camera. This is especially handy if you use other photo apps with different default folders. Unfortunately, this feature does not yet allow users to select which folders are to be backed up—but we can hope that Google will rectify this simple oversight in future versions.
The update is being released in the form of a staged rollout. And while the Google Play Store listing shows that the application has been updated, it may not hit your device immediately. As such, we have mirrored the APK over on DevHost so that you can get in on the action a bit early.
Are you a fan of the Snapseed-inspired photo editing tweaks? Let us know in the comments below!
[Many thanks to XDA Senior Member kautionwirez for the tip!]
November 7, 2013 By: Will Verduzco
Just last Thursday, we were graced with Android 4.4 KitKat alongside the release of the Google Nexus 5. Along with the host of improvements inherent to the new OS, early adopters were also treated to the new version of Google Hangouts that was announced at last week’s Google+ event, as well as a refreshed keyboard. Now, these are available for all to enjoy, directly on the Google Play Store.
As a refresher, the Hangouts update brings the SMS integration, as well as support for animated GIFs, location sharing, and a few other key features. Hangouts is available for devices running Android 2.3 or later. The keyboard update, which is available for devices running Android 4.0 or later, brings a refined UI, bereft of the old Holo blue accents. It also incorporates support for multiple word swiping gestures, similar to what we’ve seen previously in Swiftkey Flow.
As promised, the first in our series of “Say Sayonara to Google” articles is about the Play Store. Love it or loathe it, the Play Store is popular. It is so popular, in fact, that it is often berated for the poor quality of apps contained within. While Google is making strides to improve this via their Bouncer malware screening platform, at the end of the day, the Play Store is built on fairly shaky security grounds.
The first security issue with the Play Store is that of remote control. Imagine someone told you the following:
I am able to remotely install arbitrary software to your phone or tablet, which can make use of any permissions available to an app, without prompting you on your device. So I can get access to your GPS location, or access files on your SD card, or access your contacts, and upload all this through the internet
If that were said, I’d hope you would be rather concerned. It’s also true; anyone with access to your Play Store account (i.e. your Google Account) can remotely install software onto your phone from the web interface. And while the Android platform itself has some precautions recently put in place (e.g. since ICS, apps cannot trigger themselves to run until you (the user) have run them once), this is hardly foolproof. Simply install a rogue app with the same icon and title as an app the user already uses, and you have a 50% chance they will open it. Most users would not panic at seeing a second copy of the icon, with power users presuming it a launcher bug.
The attacker who has access to your Play Store web account also knows what apps you have installed (making identification of a suitable app to spoof trivial). While this remote install feature can also be handy if you lose your pre-ICS phone, the ability to remote install software onto your Android device should probably raise a few concerns in the security-conscious mind.
F-Droid is a catalogue of alternative applications, all FOSS (Free, Open Source Software). By default, F-Droid doesn’t contain any applications with ads or attempt to make use of user tracking via analytics engines and the like. It also hides applications that encourage non-free add-ons, and even which promote or make use of non-free network services or require such other applications in order to function.
Applications you download from F-Droid are (for the most-part) compiled from sources by the F-Droid servers, directly from the source code repository provided by the project. While this does entail a level of trust (though again it is worth noting all the F-Droid server software is fully open source too!), it’s also easy to download the application directly from the developer, or to compile it yourself from source (a link is given to the source).
You can see what is available in the F-Droid catalogue using their web interface, and take a look at what’s available. While the variety of apps available is nowhere near that available on Google Play, the quality of Open Source equivalent apps is often well in excess of their commercial rivals. Some apps worth a look include K9 Mail Beta (which has been recently updated to Holo UI) and Agit (an Android git browser).
Either way, the choice of free, Open Source applications is not to be sniffed at, with F-Droid offering an ever-expanding variety to choose from, all delivered using the open source client and built on the Open Source server. If you are a developer who makes Open Source applications, perhaps consider adding your app to the F-Droid repository.