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2 years ago

Pro tip: Avoid unsightly contextless crotch shots on the Google+ app with better descriptions

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No, Google+ app. Not "this." Because "this," being a comic-drawn crotch shot, is not what I wanted folks to focus their attention on when I linked to Peter Ha's TechCrunch piece debunking the Bloomberg story that Microsoft had "shut out" HTC from manufacturing Windows 8 devices. My only comment -- "This."

(BTW, Bloomberg's is a fairly ridiculous story, led by the all-too-familiar "people with knowledge of the matter." If you didn't bite on it, kudos.)

But if you'd seen my post from the Google+ app, all you'd know is that apparently I like cartoon pr0n. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, I suppose.)

This all stems, of course, from Google's recent redesign of the Google+ app. And for the most part, it's a beautiful redesign. Images are large. Posts are easy to follow -- so long as you don't actually link to anything. It's something I noted at the outset but apparently forgot because I'm using G+ on the desktop side most of the time. It's also a step backward. The app used to have this problem, then it got fixed in April. Now? It's gone again, at least in the stream view.  (Tap into the post and things look better, with headlines and summaries.)

I've learned my lesson. This'll put an end to the one-liners. I'll use 20 words when only one is needed. Or Google could just add back a little beta of metadata.

Regardless, learn from my mistake. Only you can prevent inadvertent contextless Google+ crotch shots.

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2 years ago

Android A to Z: What is an IMEI?

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The IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number is a unique set of 15 digits used on GSM phones to identify them. Because the SIM card is associated with the user and can  be swapped from phone to phone, a method is needed to keep track of the hardware itself, and that's why the IMEI was developed. Math nerds will enjoy the way they are calculated -- the first 14 digits are decided by the GSM association, and the final check digit is computed using what's called the Luhn Formula -- crazy base-8 math that mere mortals like most of us don't understand, nor want to understand. You can see the IMEI of your Android phone by looking in settings > About phone if you're curious. (Or on the box if you still have it. Or under the battery or on the phone itself.

What is this number used for? That's the real question, isn't it. Like the MEID number on CDMA phones (think Sprint and Verizon), the IMEI is used for network control. It's not very common, but your mobile operator can block a phone based on it's IMEI in cases where it's been reported stolen or someone didn't pay the bill. Because it's not easy to change the IMEI of your phone (and maybe even illegal -- check your local laws) it's also used to keep track of phones that were involved in criminal activity, and the UK in particular has a handy database of phones used for these purposes. The IMEI number is also used to specify a phone for wiretapping by federal governments worldwide.

On a lighter note, Android apps can also use your IMEI number. The app will declare that it has access to your personal information, and the IMEI can be used to keep track of the device in a remote database. This sounds pretty scary, but it's an easy way (though not necessarily the best way) for app developers to keep a settings database online for your phone, in their app. Let's say you mark a bunch of favorites in a wallpaper app. Those favorites are kept in a small database file online, and when you reconnect to the app it reads your IMEI number to find your preferences. Not an ideal method, but it's easy.

One last thing -- now that we know a little more about IMEI numbers, they will soon be changing to IMEISV numbers. The use-case scenarios are the same, but the data structure and method of calculation is different. An IMEISV gets rid of the check digit (and its complicated Luhn formulated calculation) in favor of two digits used for software version numbering. Like everything else in the mobile space, network identification changes rapidly.

Check out the complete Android Dictionary

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2 years ago

Android A to Z: Haptic feedback

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We're back with another installment of Android A to Z, and this time we're looking at haptic feedback. It's one of those little things that can make a big difference, and something we never really think about. Simply put, haptic feedback (commonly referred to as haptics) is the use of touch feedback to the end user. You know how your Android phone vibrates a tiny bit when you tap one of the navigation buttons? That's haptics at work.

Since the screen on your Android phone or tablet is pretty much just a smooth sheet of glass of some sort or another, it's difficult to register any sort of tactile feedback to our fingers. When we type on a computer keyboard, we know when our fingers have pressed a key down. Our mouse (and some trackpads) do the same thing with a healthy click when we press the button. On a smartphone, we just have to trust we've done something, and wait for it to happen. Haptics helps here. The short and light vibration when typing out a message with an on-screen keyboard can make a big difference for many of us, and I can see myself being pretty frustrated if an on-screen button didn't let me know I had pressed it.

Haptics go beyond navigation and the keyboard though. They can be a very important part of mobile gaming. Gunning your way through an enemy horde is much more satisfying when you feel every shot from your rifle, and nothing lets you know you've hit the wall in your favorite racing game like a harsh vibration from your phone or tablet. 

Probably the best thing about haptic feedback on Android devices is the way it can be customized. The OS itself is open, meaning OEM and developers can adjust things to get them just the way they like, including leaving the settings wide open to the user like we see in CyanogenMod ROMs. More importantly, application developers have access to the hardware controller to customize haptic feedback for their products. It goes one step further with the addition of things like the Immersion haptic SDK to the mix, where developers have an almost unlimited way to make their applications register with your fingers as well as your eyes and ears. Sometimes, the little things mean a lot.

Check out the complete Android Dictionary

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2 years ago

Android A to Z: Google Play

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Today on Android A to Z we're going to talk about Google Play. If you're new to Android, you see us throw it around a lot when talking about downloading apps, but there's a good bit more to it, and we think there's even more planned. It's much more than a name for Android's official application store, and it's worth having a good long look at it.

Looking at the Google Play store on your phone or on the web, you'll see categories of the different types of media Google has to offer. There are Music, Apps, Books, and Movies -- and one more treat we'll get to in a minute. At each section of the Play store you'll find media for your Android device, sometimes free, sometimes not free. For the things you'll need to pay for there's Google Wallet (the service, not the Android app) and if you're downloading from your Android phone some carriers support direct billing. Shopping is pretty straightforward, you browse the sections by category, and when you find something you want, you simply tap a button and it gets downloaded to your device. As long as the content is available in your region (that's a sore spot Google needs to work out), and you have the correct application (Books and Movies use an Android app you can get free from the Applications section of the Google Play store), things are pretty instant and pretty simple.

One really cool thing we never seem to remember to talk about is downloading apps from the web on your computer directly to your Android device. Using a regular hyperlink to the Google Play store, like this one for Dropbox, you'll find a handy install button you can click to install it to your phone or tablet. If you have more than one Android device, you'll get to choose which on to install it to. Books, Movies and Music work the same way -- once installed from the web they are instantly available on your Android device(s). This type of integration between the web interface and the phone version is pretty awesome, and makes for easy shopping.

There's one more section of the Google Play store. You won't see it from your phone, and it's the latest (and most exciting) section of Google Play. It's the Devices section. Right now you can buy a factory unlocked Galaxy Nexus, as well as a few accessories, direct from Google. The cupboards looks pretty bare now, but we have a feeling it may soon have more to offer, and we'll see phones, tablets, Google TV units and related accessories there for sale.

Google seems pretty dedicated to their new Google Play branding, and so far it's worked well. Android is turning into it's own ecosystem, and as dedicated Android enthusiasts we're excited to see how it all plays out!

Check out the complete Android Dictionary

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2 years ago

Android A to Z: F is for Factory Reset

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A factory reset is the ultimate cleansing of your Android device. It's usually either a last resort to fix a problem, done before you sell it, or because you like to flash ROMs. When you perform a factory reset you're essentially wiping out everything you've ever done to the phone and restoring it back to the basic manufacturer software. As we've mentioned before, it doesn't uninstall any software updates you've received from the folks who made your phone, but it does wipe out any core application updates you've grabbed from the Google Play store. The technical details are as follows:

  • /system is untouched, because it's normally read-only
  • /data is erased
  • /cache is erased
  • /sdcard is untouched

When your phone or tablet reboots, it's like it was when you opened the box as far as apps and user data goes, except for your data on the SD card partition (either a real, physical microSD card or a partition named sdcard). 

Doing a factory reset is easy -- open the settings, do a little digging (different manufacturers put it in different places, but start with privacy or storage), select it and confirm. Your device will reboot into the recovery partition, erase everything, they reboot into the setup again. One thing to note though -- if you've rooted and ROM'd in any way, you should never do a factory reset from settings. Often times it works just fine, but some devices and some ROMs are so different once hacked that you'll end up with a bricked phone. We hate bricked phones around these parts. Follow the instructions from the folks who developed the software you're running instead, and use the reset method they recommend. 

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2 years ago

Android A to Z: End of life

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End of life is a term none of us ever want to hear. We envision it means the death of our phone, and we should just throw it away and get a newer model. After all, it's at the end of its life, right? Not really. End of life means something different to carriers and manufacturers than it does to enthusiasts like us. The easy way to look at it is that when the folks in suits get together and decide that a phone isn't going to make enough money so it's worthwhile to keep producing it, it has reached the end of its life. That may mean a refreshed, newer model (like the Droid RAZR MAXX), or a shift to a newer model with new, and arguably better, features like the EVO 3D. We have to remember that the folks who make these phones do it so they can make money, and like any good business they want to maximize their profits.

But what does end of life mean in the real world? First off, it means that once the current stock sitting on the shelves is sold there won't be any more new ones to replace them with. There may be refurbished units floating around, but no more new phones of that model are being made. It doesn't mean that the phone is done getting updates, but don't expect too many new features to come along -- things are in maintenance mode and bug fixes and security patches are the only things that will be addressed. It also doesn't mean your warranty is affected in any way. Even if you were to buy a brand new phone that has already reached the end of life status, you'll still get the full manufacturers warranty.

Most importantly, it doesn't mean that the phone is going to stop doing anything it already does today. The HTC EVO 4G is a great example. It was a huge hit for HTC and Sprint, and actually stayed in production longer than any of us would have thought. Some places are still selling them new (although they're getting harder to find), and those EVO 4G's sold new today are every bit as good, and have the same warranty from HTC, as the ones sold in 2010. Sprint still offers customer service, and it's still one heck of a phone. 

Don't be put off by the words end of life. While we wouldn't recommend you search out a new phone that's already been discontinued, they still perform as they should and you'll find lots of folks who still love them. 

Check out the complete Android Dictionary

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2 years ago

Android A to Z: DLNA

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DLNA, or the Digital Living Network Alliance is an organization set up by Sony in 2003 that determines a universal set of rules and guidelines so devices can share digital media. The devices covered include computers, cameras, televisions, network storage devices, and of course cell phones. The guidelines are built from existing standards, but manufacturers have to pay to use them and have their device join the DLNA.

With DLNA devices, you can share video, music and pictures from a Digital Media Server (DMS) to your Android phone or tablet. A DMS could be your computer, a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device, a television or Blu-ray player, or even another Android device. Anything that has a DLNA server, or can have one installed will act as a DMS. Fun factoid: when a DLNA server is installed on a cell phone, tablet, or portable music player it's called a M-DMS -- the M stands for Mobile.

Once a DLNA server is in place, our Android phones usually have two functions -- to act as a Digital Media Player (M-DMP) or a Digital Media Controller (M-DMC). The player is easy enough to figure out, it finds content on a DLNA server and plays it back. A DMC will find content on a DLNA server, and push it to another connected player. For example, my television has a DLNA player, and my laptop has a server. With the right software, I could use my Android phone to find the content on my laptop and play it on my television. DLNA can really be fun if you have all the right equipment.

But chances are Android (and eventually other mobile devices) will be moving away from DLNA. With Ice Cream Sandwich, Wifi Direct is part of the operating system and has the potential to do everything DLNA can do, and more. We already have seen it replace DLNA streaming in the HTC One series with the Media Link HD receiver, which streams content from a Sense 4 device to a monitor with HDMI input. It uses native Wifi Direct, and by all accounts works really nicely. Or Samsung, who is using NFC to kick off a Wifi Direct session for fast data transfer on the Galaxy S III. We'll have to wait and see what manufacturers do with Wifi Direct, because having it built into the OS is a big plus -- even for a company like Samsung who makes millions of DLNA devices each year. 

Check out the complete Android Dictionary

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2 years ago

Android A to Z: ClockworkMod Recovery

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We're getting a little hacky in this round of Android A to Z, and we're going to have a look at ClockworkMod recovery -- the de facto standard of custom recoveries for Android. It's open source, based on the stock Android recovery, and brings a ton of options to the table that aren't possible otherwise.

First, let's look at why anyone would use a custom recovery. The standard Android recovery can do two things for the user -- flash system files that have been signed and verified as coming from the correct source (either Google or an OEM), and wipe away user data and cached information. Both these operations are pretty important, but there's more many users want and need from the recovery mode of their phone. Things like backing up all user data into image files that can be restored easily, or flashing software that doesn't come from Google or the OEM -- like custom ROMs -- and wiping some residual data to troubleshoot things like file permission errors. It's pretty advanced stuff, but it's very handy to have it for many of us.

ClockworkMod recovery (we'll call it CWM from here on out) does all this, and does it very well. It's provided free, and has a pretty handy wrapper around it so it can be used while the phone or tablet is up and running. We're talking about Rom Manager, of course. With CWM you can erase the user data from your system completely -- including that extra data that may cause an issue, selectively erase portions of it (a godsend for troubleshooting), create a restore image of the running system, and flash custom firmware at will. If you're running a custom version of Android on any newer phone or tablet, you're probably using it right now. If you're thinking about trying your luck with a custom ROM or tweak, CWM is where you'll get started.

Check out the complete Android Dictionary

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2 years ago

Android A to Z: Bloatware

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When you think of Android phones, you think of bloatware. We wish it weren't so, and not every phone comes with, but the majority of Android phones out there come from carriers and are chock full of bloatware. We've complained about it, and found ways to remove it, but what exactly is it?

Most folks consider any applications that your carrier (or the folks who built your phone) pre-installed to the system as bloatware. Usually, these applications are a front end to some service or content that you'll have to pay for, and usually it's something you would never download and use on your own. All the carriers, and all the manufacturers, are guilty of including it, and we tend to hate it all equally. When you open the app drawer on your new phone, and see City ID staring back at you, just waiting for you to click it, you can't help but hate it. 

But why is it there? It's one down side of Android's open nature. Google gives Android away to anyone and everyone, but realistically only a very few companies can afford to make cell phones. And they don't make them with you and me in mind as their customer. HTC, or Samsung, or LG (you get the picture) makes Android phones for the carriers. They work out deals to decide hardware and software  they want to include, and part of those deals are these "value-added applications" we lovingly call bloatware. Verizon and HTC love you, but they still want you to click the app and send in the money. Because Google isn't involved and doesn't make any rules about it, they can include any app they like in your new phone. Nobody likes it, but it is the side effect of being open.

Thankfully, Ice Cream Sandwich brings along the ability to disable (most of) these apps without rooting or tinkering with the system files on your Android device, and that provides the best solution we can think of. Certainly there are some people who found a use for City ID or VZ Navigator, and they should have the opportunity to use those apps if they like. And we can disable and hide them, and forget they exist.

Check out the complete Android Dictionary

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2 years ago

Android A to Z: What is the AOSP?

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AOSP is a term you'll see used a lot -- here, as well as at other Android-centric sites on the Internet. I'll admit I'm guilty of using it and just expecting everyone to know what I'm talking about, and I shouldn't. To rectify that, at least a little bit, I'll try to explain what the AOSP is now so we're all on the same page.

For some of us -- the nerdly types who build software -- the full name tells us what we need to know. AOSP stands for Android Open Source Project. The AOSP was designed and written by folks who had a vision that the world needed an open-source platform that exists for developers to easily build mobile applications. It wasn't designed to beat any other platform in market share, or to fight for user freedom from tyrannical CEOs -- it exists as a delivery mechanism for mobile apps -- like Google's mobile apps, or any of the 400,000+ in the Google Play store. Luckily, Google realized that using open-source software would ensure that this operating system/mobile application content delivery system is available for all, for free. And by choosing the licensing they did, it's also attractive to device manufacturers who can use it as a base to build their own mobile OS. 

The premise plays out rather nicely. Google writes and maintains a tree of all the Android source code -- the AOSP. It's made available for everyone (you, me, manufacturers you've never heard of and not just big players like Samsung or HTC) to download, modify, and take ownership of. This means the folks at CyanogenMod can add cool stuff like audio profiles. It also means folks like HTC can change multitasking in ways that many of us don't like. You can't have one without having the other. The big players then use their modified version of this source to build their own operating system. Some, like Amazon, radically changed everything without a care to use Google's official applications and keep their device in compliance with Android guidelines. Some, like HTC radically changed everything yet followed the Android Compatibility Program (ACP) so they could include Google's core application suite -- including the Google Play store. Some, like the folks at CyanogenMod, enhance the pure AOSP code with additions but don't change the overall look and feel. Again -- that's how this open-source thing works. You can't have it without allowing folks to change it as they see fit, for better or worse.

Any of us can download and build the AOSP. We can even stay compliant with the ACP and contact Google about including their applications. Yes, any of us could build our own device using the AOSP code in our garage or basement with Google's full blessing. That's the beauty of the AOSP, and we wouldn't want it any other way. 

More: Android Open Source Project;  Android Compatibility Program
Check out the complete Android Dictionary

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