February 28, 2014 By: Jimmy McGee
Android 4.4.2 KitKat for the AT&T Samsung Galaxy S 4 has been released! That and much more news is covered by Jordan, as he reviews all the important stories from this week. Included in this week’s news is the announcement that the United Stated House has passed the Consumer Cell Phone Unlocking Bill and the Nokia Store has already been ported to other Android Devices! That’s not all that’s covered in today’s video!
Jordan talks about the other videos released this week on XDA Developer TV. XDA Developer TV Producer TK released an Xposed Tuesday video for Google Experience Launcher Settings, Jordan talked about all the cool mobile phones announced at Mobile World Congress, and finally TK gave us an Android App Review of Castaway. Pull up a chair and check out this video.
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!]
February 25, 2014 By: Jimmy McGee
If you are a frequent visitor here at XDA, you more than likely enjoy Android, and probably “stock Android” without all the crap OEMs or carriers like to add. On their “stock Android” Nexus 5, Google launched the Google Experience Launcher. But to some, the experience is similar to OEM experience because you can’t fine tune the settings as much as a power user might like.
In this episode of XDA Xposed Tuesday, XDA Developer TV Producer TK reviews an Xposed Module that allows you to control your Google Experience Launcher settings in more detail. XDA Forum Member theknut created the GEL Settings Xposed Module. TK shows off the module and gives his thoughts, so check out this Xposed Tuesday video.
February 16, 2014 By: Will Verduzco
Google has been on a roll with a few high profile acquisitions and sales in the past month. Not too long ago, we talked about how the company had acquired the smart thermostat and carbon monoxide detector manufacturer Nest for $3.2 billion, and how this could signal the coming of future home automation products from the Mountain View company. Then, we were all relatively surprised when we saw Lenovo take money pit Motorola from their hands for a cool $2.91 billion. Now, Google has gone ahead and acquired the SlickLogin team.
For the unaware, Israeli-based SlickLogin pioneered a unique authentication method designed to make traditional security measures a thing of the past. Rather than using traditional passwords or identifiable biometrics, SlickLogin’s method utilized ultrasonic sounds emitted from a user’s computer, which are then used to authenticate that the person trying to gain access is indeed you. Needless to say, this falls inline with Google’s continual push to encourage stronger passwords and two layer authentication.
The details surrounding the acquisition are unfortunately sparse at present, but we will update this article as soon as more information is known. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
February 11, 2014 By: Will Verduzco
Google Search has grown into quite a wonderful tool. Over the course of dozens of application updates and quite a few back-end improvements, Google’s virtual assistant has evolved into a solution that simply outclasses Apple’s Siri in the vast majority of cases.
Despite Google Search’s general superiority, there are a few situations here and there where Cupertino’s offering is slightly better. One example comes in the form of those cute little Easter Eggs and snarky replies (though we’re catching up!). Another is the lack of relationship-based awareness in voice commands. Thankfully, Google has now alleviated the latter with a new update to Google Search.
Starting today, asking Google Search to call your girlfriend (or wife or mom or dad, etc) will actually result in success. And as can be seen in the screenshot to your right, if no such contact exists, Google will prompt you to fill in the blanks in its database.
What are your thoughts on Google Search’s growing capabilities? On one hand, it’s nice to see progress in making Google Search smarter. However, this also brings up the question of how much of your personal information you really want Google to know. Don’t hesitate to let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
February 10, 2014 By: Will Verduzco
Google is known for shaking things up quite a bit in its first party Android apps. Over the last few months, we’ve seen more than a few major updates delivered in droves for these applications. Despite this, we haven’t seen much in the way of mobile web-app updates—at least not when compared to the dramatic changes to its native apps.
Now, Google has issued a major update to its YouTube mobile web-app, bringing it inline with Android’s latest UI paradigms. The updated mobile website features many UI traits previously seen in the native Android YouTube app. These include a card-based video suggestions and the now ubiquitous “hamburger menu” that has all but eliminated the need for dedicated menu real estate.
This isn’t really a big deal for most of us. Let’s face it, we all have the native app installed for our nyancat pleasure. However, it is nice to see Google unifying its various UIs across the board. To check out the new page, simply head over to the source link below using Chrome browser on your Android device. Then don’t be shy—let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
January 27, 2014 By: Jimmy McGee
Look Out! There is a piece of Windows malware that can infect Android devices! Thankfully, there are two easy steps you need to follow to protect yourself! That and much more news is covered by Jordan, as he reviews all the important stories from this weekend. Included in this week’s news is the announcement that Google has acquired the Artificial Intelligence startup DeepMind and Button Savior Non-Root has received an overhaul! That’s not all that’s covered in today’s video!
Jordan talks about the app ClearFocus, which allows you to keep your focus. Jordan talks about easy PC file access with AirStream. Finally, use a second device as a receiver with My Second Device. Also, be sure to check out the other videos on XDA Developer TV like XDA Developer TV Producer TK’s comparison of the Omate TrueSmart smartwatch 2.0, the Samsung Galaxy Gear, and the Pebble. Pull up a chair and check out this video.
January 26, 2014 By: Will Verduzco
Just under two weeks ago, we talked about one of Google’s latest acquisitions, the smart thermostat and carbon monoxide detector manufacturer Nest. Now, news has just gotten out about another Google acquisition in progress. And this time, the implications are potentially more far reaching than streamlining your home automation.
The startup in question is the London-based artificial intelligence startup DeepMind, which is reportedly being acquired for $400 million USD. Unlike the Nest acquisition, which is for a company already shipping products, this purchase can be seen as largely a talent acquisition for a team of neuroscientists including Demis Hassabis, Shane Legg, and Mustafa Suleyman. And so far, rumored implications include AI-based approaches for e-commerce recommendation engines and the like.
While this may seem like a bit of a strange move for Google, it’s not a far leap to imagine this merging with Google’s current efforts in machine learning and other AI-based approaches for advertising and content delivery. What do you think of where Google is heading? Are you happy that your Google products may become smarter, or are you afraid that Skynet has just become self aware? Let us know in the comments below!
January 13, 2014 By: Will Verduzco
Ever since Google first teased its Project Tungsten back at Google I/O 2011, we knew that Google wanted to make a splash in the home automation space. We then saw the release of the Android Accessory Development Kit, which was aimed at ushering in a wave of Android-connected appliances and accessories. But unfortunately, 2011 came to an end, and there was no Android-powered home automation to be found.
But then a couple of weeks ago, several leaked images appeared that indicated Google’s interest in taking over your home thermostat—a space that is currently dominated by niche device maker Nest. However, one main item differentiated their two approaches: While Nest’s business model focuses on selling you hardware, Google’s rumored EnergySense is more of an Android-powered software solution.
Now, let’s fast forward to earlier today. Google just announced that it has entered an agreement to buy Nest Labs for $3.2 billion USD. Neither company has made any specific mention of Google’s leaked EnergySense app and how that fits into the Nest family, but a Q&A on the Nest blog indicates that something may be in the works for release at a later date:
Will Nest and Google products work with each other?
Nest’s product line obviously caught the attention of Google and I’m betting that there’s a lot of cool stuff we could do together, but nothing to share today.
While previous Google attempts at home automation have failed, the Nest acquisition incorporates an already functional business model into Google’s arsenal. What are your thoughts on Google’s increasing home automation ambitions? Are you content with Google’s renewed interest in completely taking over your life? Let us know in the comments below!
December 30, 2013 By: Will Verduzco
Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt has been known to give his predictions on the future of technology from time to time. Over the years, he’s made predictions relating to the future performance of Google’s products—some of them eventually came true, others, well… not so much.
Now, the Schmidt hits the fan once again, as Google’s Executive Chairman gives his predictions for 2014 and the future of mobile technology. He starts by stating the continuing trend of consumer smartphone adoption, and how their connectivity leads to a whole new generation of Cloud-connected applications that we’re already enjoying today. He also proclaims that “mobile has won” over traditional computing, as more tablets and phones are purchased and used than desktop and notebook computers.
In addition to purely talking about the future of mobile, Schmidt also anticipates the growing usage and power of machine learning algorithms and how this changes many different business models. He also mentions how personal genetics testing may lead to many important discoveries in the future.
It’s not all good Schmidt, though. In the video, Schmidt also talks about dropping the ball with social networks, and how Google intends on rectifying this in the future.
What are your thoughts on all this Schmidt? Share your thoughts in the comments section and dive into deep Schmidt by watching the full video below:
I am, and have always been, an early adopter of a lot of things, particularly when it comes to technology. My cell phone voyage started back in the year 2000 with a Nokia 5110. Back then, only a handful of people had phones, and seeing someone on the street with one was a somewhat rare sight. Nowadays, the same cannot be said. Cell phones have become a massive commodity—one that gets a lot of attention, and certainly one that is likely one of the most profitable industries in the world today (in the tech sector anyways).
Every Joe Schmuck and Jane Doe sport the latest Galaxy devices or one of Apple’s latest iconic iPhones (just to mention a few manufacturers). Sure, they all have a somewhat interesting appeal, and many of them are loaded with more unique functions and capabilities that (in theory) make life a lot easier. However, looking at the overall market and trying to overlay an innovation line through the timeline from the early 2000′s (when Nokia reigned supreme) ’til today, we can easily notice a few trends that are worrying and don’t necessarily correlate with what anyone would expect from “progress” or “development.”
Going back to the very beginning of my article, I mentioned owning a dinosaur of a phone, the Nokia 5110. The device was a jewel, and it did exactly what it needed to do (and far more). The device was relatively cheap to get with a 2-3 year agreement. So, the device manufacturer (again, in this particular case, Nokia) knew that in order to have a good customer base, the devices needed to last that long. After all, not everyone could spend $400-600 USD on a phone upgrade while still being locked in the middle of a contract, nor were they willing to do so either.
Nokia designed the 5100 series with a few crucial engineering concepts in mind: good battery, reliable, easy to service, and durable. I had my device for the length of my contract before I decided to upgrade (mainly due to swapping carriers). I have to admit that it must have been one of the best cell phones I have ever had the pleasure of using. Not because of the usage per se, but rather how the device gave me 0 issues in the course of 3 years of ownership. Needless to say, the thing was built to last, as the body was virtually indestructible (exaggerating a tad here, but it was a tough device). When I upgraded, I went with a Nokia 8210. They had done a good job because with their mindset, they created a device that prompted me to want to see what else they could come up a few years down the line—all that without compromising my ability to enjoy the one I currently had. Ah, those were the days.
Fast forward to 2007 (big jump, I know). The iPhone was released and the (back then) current king of smartphones, Windows Mobile HTC devices and Blackberry, were dethroned. Because of silly mistakes, loads of bugs, and a simple yet effective marketing strategy to get people to buy more, the iPhone 1G sees a successor not much later down the line. Seeing how many other manufacturers were now jumping into the bandwagon, stable and decent cell phone manufacturers saw themselves in dire need to release more products in a shorter timespan. This was primarily done to keep up with their competitors, who were quickly gaining market share due to shorter intervals between new products. The next thing that happened (and still does to this day), new models are released every 6-9 months, each one promising to be “better” than their predecessor(s). This last statement is the cornerstone of this entire article. Why are manufacturers releasing devices that are NOT designed to be the best they have to offer? It isn’t that they develop new tech for newer versions. Rather, they make enough (in)significant changes to the existing one, such that it can be labeled the “next best thing.”Does any of this sound familiar?
I myself am an engineer, as many of you are as well (or studying to become). It honestly makes my blood boil when I consider the engineering teams behind the product development of some of these devices. No longer are devices durable. Rather, they have gone entirely to the other end of the spectrum and have become practically disposable. I simply cannot believe that a $500-1000 USD item becomes “irreparable.” Product design basics dictate that any engineered product is designed to have a certain life expectancy under normal conditions, tear, and wear, and even leave some leeway for accidents. If products need repair, they should be perfectly serviceable by the manufacturer without having to charge the consumer exorbitant amounts of money to get the product back in working order. Needless to say, whenever a phone does break this day and age, sending it in for repairs is a fruitless ordeal due to the fact that more often than not, the device will be deemed as “not repairable” due to directions coming from engineering design teams.
Make the world a better place through the application of science? That is what product engineering should be about. Squeezing every last drop of sweat over your own design and making sure that you put your very best efforts into making something that people will have for years (not months) to come is what every engineering company should strive for. Unfortunately, this was quickly replaced with “ooh, look how shiny this new toy is,” which is then followed by “oh, your old one? pfft That is so 3 months ago…. you won’t get two pennies for it on eBay, and don’t even think about repairing it.”
We as consumers have allowed these companies to throw basic engineering practices out the window so that they can squeeze more juice out of us. Now, I have no issues with companies trying to make money. Hell, that is what they do after all. But when greed takes over your most basic principles, I simply have no sympathy. I still recall our friend XDA Senior Recognized Developer AdamOutler doing an unboxing of the new Droid Razr when it came out. His words have been stuck in my head ever since. “Motorola made this device to be disposable.” Why? What was the point of making the device “disposable?” Why did such an important part of engineering a new product (ease of service) gets tossed aside like this? Would it kill you to make your device fixable? Another example: I tried to fix the digitizer of my HTC Titan a few days ago, but ended up destroying the LCD entirely. Why would there be any need to superglue both LCD and digitizer and superglue that combo to the device’s body? To keep them in place you say? There are small, low profile screws that will do the job just as well without jeopardizing the serviceability of the device or its overall design (read: they will not make it any thicker).
The entire world has been sucked into a game that the companies play on a large scale. They are trying to see just how much they can shove down our throats, all while expending the least amount of effort in doing so. These practices not only have the effects mentioned earlier, but they can also have dangerous consequences (bulging exploding battery of SGS2 devices anyone?). The core activities here on XDA-Developers actually somewhat put a damper on this, as the allure of “a new OS version exclusive to a device” is now mitigated. But unfortunately, software is just but a small part of the overall equation.
Next time you are out there shopping for a cell phone, just think about a very important thing that goes beyond specs or pretty colors. Just think about how well the product you are about to purchase was engineered. Let that be your deciding factor, and don’t simply fall in line with the rest of the masses who will jump at anything shiny like fish in heat. There are manufacturers out there that still care about trying to keep their core engineering values. To these companies, kudos. To the ones like HTC, which used to be like this (my HTC Wallaby that I bought in 2003 and that has been through hell and back still works), look at your early years and try again. Get off the path you are in right now because you will lose this race. And to the companies that simply don’t give two flying feathers about engineering, progress, and making the world a better place (looking at you Apple), I sincerely hope that your lack of engineering values comes back with a vengeance and bites you where the sun doesn’t shine.
If I have to choose between a phone that is 0.0001 mm thick but that will break upon looking at it without any way to fix it or my old 5110, I’ll take my old Nokia any day of the week. At least, that has engineering at heart.
It should come as no surprise that here at XDA, we are always calling on the OEMs to do a better job of removing the bloat of their custom UIs (Samsung – we’re looking at you and your now insane TouchWiz size) and improving the overall user experience. What may come as a shock to some, though, is that a recent study by researchers at North Carolina State University says that those same OEMs, and their incessant need to have a custom UI as some sort of “branding,” are directly responsible for most of the security issues found with Android. Cue Home Alone face.
In all honesty, we really shouldn’t be all that surprised. XDA Elite Recognized Developer jcase gave a great talk at XDA:DevCon13 where he discussed “Android Security Vulnerabilites and Exploits.” There, he identified how OEMs (LG was his main example) are directly responsible for many of the vulnerabilities and exploits he finds.
The researchers at NC State found that 60% of the security issues were directly tied to changes OEMs had made to stock Android, specifically related to apps requesting more permissions than were necessary. They looked at 2 devices from each 4 different OEMs (Sony, Samsung, LG and HTC), with one running a version of Android 2.x and another running 4.x from each OEM, along with the Nexus S and Nexus 4 from Google.
Here are a few of the findings:
For the user, this should be a warning to pay attention to the permissions used when you install an app and take steps to protect yourself, like with the Xposed module XPrivacy. For OEMs, shame on you. Consumers place trust, no matter how unfounded and risky that is, on you. For you to be breaking that trust by not being responsible and open in your dealings and development is just plain careless.
The full study, presented yesterday at the ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security in Berlin, is definitely a good read, with specific case studies done on the Samsung Galaxy S3 and LG Optimus P880.
Source: MIT Technology Review
[Thanks to XDA Elite Recognized Developer toastcfh for the tip.]
31st of October. It’s a date millions of young boys and girls will remember as a fun-filled occasion of candies and sweets, ghosts and ghouls, and jack-o’-lanterns. On the other hand, Google and Co. will remember it as the eventful day when they were massively trolled.
Much like the history of Halloween, the developments leading towards this nuclear-level, momentous event is just as interesting, gripping, and downright peculiar in the world of tech and law. Back in 2009, Canadian-based, telecom company Nortel went into liquidation in 2009, auctioning off its biggest asset, a portfolio of mobile, networking, and telecom innovations, to some of the biggest players of the industry of today, including Google, Microsoft, Apple, RIM, Sony, and Ericsson. The latter four operated under the name “Rockstar Bidco.” In the end, the ‘coalition of the 5′ won with a bid of $4.5 billion.
And that should’ve be the end of that. Except it wasn’t.
On the 31st of October 2013, Microsoft, Apple, RIM, Sony, and Ericsson went all out, filing a plethora of lawsuits against Google and a number of Android manufacturers including Samsung, HTC, LG, Huawei, and Asustek on the case that Google had, and is still continuing to, infringe a multitude of patents. Such ‘patent-trolling’ is of course not new to the tech world, as we’ve seen Apple, HTC, Samsung, and even Google and Motorola themselves having taken it to the courts to settle what can’t be settled with fair competition, innovation, and a bit of humility and tolerance.
What turns this up to ‘nuclear’ level, as interpreted by commentators, lies within the patents themselves, one of which is United States Patent No. 6,098,065 dating all the way back to 1997. What does it constitute? “Matching search terms with relevant advertising”. In fact, this patent is just one of a family of patents, all collectively titled as “associative search engine.” Most of us would know just exactly what this means. If Google is to be ruled as unlawfully infringing on such patents, they’re about to lose big time. As VentureBeat states, “It’s genius, really. Why attack your enemy’s toes when you can go straight for the heart”. And it’s true. Rather than trolling around on the ambiguous rectangular shapes of phones, or suing someone because they changed their twitter handle, Rockstar aimed directly at Google’s advertising ventures.
As a post-modernist would fervently preach, there are multiple ways to interpret this. One who looks at the 81% global market share of the Android operating system in Q3 of 2013, who compares it with Apple’s 13.4%, Windows’ mere 4.1%, and Blackberry’s pitiful 1%, and who most likely also uses an Android device, will probably see such patent-trolling as the venting of the hormone-raging adolescent fits of frustration, anger, and jealousy, and understandably so. The plaintiff, Rockstar, ‘coincidently enough,’ house all the ‘losers’: Apple, Microsoft, and RIM, and the only way for them to have a fighting chance when backed into a corner is to chuck lawsuits here, there, everywhere. Hell, despite the irony of Sony and former Android manufacturer Ericsson also joining them at the plaintiff stand, it’s still not surprising considering the small market share they command. Furthermore, one may even claim that Rockstar is truly undermining the ethical standards of the industry. How? “When Wired visited Rockstar’s Ontario headquarters, it found 10 reverse-engineering experts, working daily to take apart products and to find patent infringement” [arstechnica]. In doing so, Rockstar hopes to blackmail as many technology companies to pay licensing fees. “It’s patent trolling gone corporate.”
But as Polybius once stated, one must also see “the rationality of the reverse.” Google isn’t the innocent victim of the schoolyard bullies, or at least not to the extent many may interpret them as. Motorola, a wholly-owned Google subsidiary, has filed patent lawsuits against Apple numerous times, calling for an import ban on some of the fruit’s most popular products in the US. Baseless or legitimate is besides the question, as so far it seems as though Rockstar’s patent lawsuits do have a pretty convincing case. This is evident with their argument that Google was knowingly and willingly infringing such patents with:
“Google was aware of the patents-in-suit at the time of the auction.
Google placed an initial bid of $900,000,000 for the patents-in-suit and the rest of the Nortel portfolio. Google subsequently increased its bid multiple times, ultimately bidding as high as $4.4 billion. That price was insufficient to win the auction, as a group led by the current shareholders of Rockstar purchased the portfolio for $4.5 billion.
Despite losing in its attempt to acquire the patents-in-suit at auction, Google has infringed and continues to infringe the patents-in-suit.”
In fact, Google has even been found guilty of FRAND abuse, with a federal judge back-handing them with a $14.5 million payout to Microsoft as recently as September 2013. Additionally, Google dun goof’d strategically when they underbid for the Nortel patents with $4.4 billion, which basically started this whole mess. So did Google call this upon themselves? Maybe.
What does this mean for us? Well, we’re stuck in the deep end no matter how you look at it. If Google loses, don’t be surprised when Android doesn’t stay as ‘free’ as it currently is. The millions of dollars Google has to dish out in fines, as well as the additional millions in patent payments and licensing fees will inevitably impact the rest of the Android ecosystem. If Google wins, tens and hundreds of millions of dollars will accumulate as litigation costs, directing funding for research and design to the pockets of lawyers.
It’s unfortunate really, that the state of the industry has degenerated to such depths, that companies are now in essence scraping the dregs of the barrel. In the end, this reveals the ugliness of the tech world, which seems to be increasingly following the philosophy: “If you can’t beat them on your own and with your own devices, take them to court and cross your fingers.”