Tag Archive | "google"

Google Re-designs Android Device Gallery

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Google has relaunched and redesigned their database of ‘official’ Android devices. Previously found at google.com/phone, Google has moved the gallery under the Android domain; it can now be found at android.com/devices. Along with the domain move, the gallery has recieved a visual overhaul which uses cues from Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.

Obviously this move was partly motivated by Google wanting to show that the scope of Android is greater than just phones. By moving away from the google.com/phone domain, and calling it the ‘Android Device Gallery’ rather than ‘Android Phone Gallery’, Google has made it clear that Android is an all encompassing mobile OS.

You won’t find ‘unofficial’ devices (those running the open-source version of Android which lacks the Android Market) in the Android device gallery. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that the Android device gallery is all inclusive at this point — even for official devices. Some of the hottest Android devices currently on the market can not be found in Google’s android device gallery. Take for instance the Galaxy Tab 7.7, Galaxy Note, Galaxy Tab Plus, the Archos G9 tablets, and quite a few others — none of these are currently in the Android device gallery, but of course you’ll be able to find these in our very own device database.

One of the nice things about the Android device gallery is that you can sort by carrier, making it easy for those under contract (most of us!) to see which devices are available to them.

Chrome for Android Ups the HTML5 Ante; Now Scores Highest of Any Mobile Browser

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Chrome Beta for Android phones and tablets was launched just last week by Google. Unfortunately, it’s restricted to Android 4.0 and beyond, which means in all likelihood, only about 1% of you currently have access to it. Although the default Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich browser is Chrome-like in many ways, the Chrome Beta brings the Chrome aesthetic to the Android platform along with an emphasis on synchronization and a big boost to web-standards compatibility.

In addition to syncing your bookmarks from desktop to mobile and back, Chrome for Android also lets you open tabs on your phone or tablet that are currently open on your computer. Unfortunately, this isn’t a two way street (you can’t access tabs currently on your phone/tablet from the desktop browser). You can also command pages to open on your phone using the Chrome to Mobile Beta extension, although this feature has always been possible with the older Chrome to Phone extension which only requires Android 2.2+ to use.

With Chrome for Android, your familiar omnibox comes with you as well. If you frequently visit a site through Chrome on your desktop, your omnibox will pick up on those queues on your mobile as well, helping you get to the site you want more quickly. There’s also incognito browsing on Chrome for Android, but this feature is present in the default browser as well, so it won’t be anything new if you’re already on Android 4.0+.

Chrome for Android actually makes perhaps its biggest stride in a mostly invisible, but utterly important area: web compatibility. Just the other week I published a story showing which mobile browser had the best compatibility with the still-evolving  HTML5 standard. At the time, RIM’s in-development browser was at the top of the list with a score of 329 from HTML5test.com, while the highest scoring currently-released browser was mobile Firefox (available for multiple versions of Android) with a score of 313. Although Chrome for desktop has long led or been consistently among the top most compatible HTML5 browsers, the default browser on Android was actually far behind the curve with a score of only 256 for the Android 4.0 ICS version of the browser, and just 182 for the Android 2.2/2.3 version of the browser which the vast majority of smartphones are running.

With the release of Chrome for Android, Google has make a significant improvement to HTML5 compatibility over the default browser, improving by 87 points over the Android 4.0 ICS browser and a whopping 161 points over the Android 2.2/2.3 version. At 343 points, Chrome for Android now stands as the #1 most compatible HTML5 browser. This isn’t quite as high a score as the desktop counterpart, which currently scores 373 in the test, but it’s a good sign of things to come.

Chrome for Android uses the same rendering engine as the default Android browser as far as I can tell, so you likely won’t see any major performance gains (although I am noting a ~200ms improvement in Sundspider between the default browser and Chrome). However, the user interface is more interactive and offers many improvements over the default browser (especially if you’re using the pre-ICS browser). Another new feature is a link preview box which automatically pops up when Chrome is unsure which link you’ve clicked (where there are many links close together). You’ll see a little box pop up which magnifies the links and makes them easier to click. This is handy, but half the time I can’t even get it to come up on purpose which makes me question how well they are able to detect when it will be needed.

I’ve got the Galaxy Nexus on hand and I’ve been trying Chrome for Android since it came out. While I’ve got issues with a few user-interface inconsistencies and a stalling omnibox (hopefully to be fixed post-beta), it’s undeniable that Chrome for Android can provides a much richer and more ‘hands-on’ experience thanks to a rethought UI.

I don’t have a tablet running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich handy so I haven’t been able to get a feel for Chrome for Android in that form. Fortunately, our pal Ritchie from Ritchie’s Room has the Asus Transformer Prime (now upgraded to Android 4.0 ICS) and put together a great video showing what the experience is like (his written thoughts on the browser are here):

As you can see, it looks very much like Chrome on the desktop. This is a great thing because it really extends the Chrome browser experience across multiple platforms; not just in terms of synced bookmarks, but also in look and feel. Imagine how close to a desktop experience you’d get if you were running Chrome for Android on a tablet hooked up for use as a desktop computer!

One thing I wish Chrome for Android would do is sync your ‘Most Viewed’ sites that are shown when you open a new tab. At the moment, the ‘Most Viewed’ section exists on Chrome for Android, but it only considers sites that you’ve viewed on your phone, not those on the desktop as well. This may be intentional (as one might browse differently when on desktop or mobile), but it also might be attributable to the ‘Beta’ tag currently adorning this initial release of Chrome for Android. Also not currently functioning in the browser is Flash. Again, this might be a beta thing, or perhaps Google is putting the final nail in the coffin.

It’s unclear if Google intends to eventually turn Chrome into the default browser for Android, but I think you’ll agree with me in saying that it would make a lot of sense. The boring default browser has long lacked any thoughtful tab management or much of a user interface; Chrome for Android feels like a big (overdue) step in the right direction. It would be odd if Google maintained two separate mobile browsers for Android, but it isn’t outside the realm of possibility – it likely depends upon the organization and cooperation of the Android team and the Chrome team within Google.

If Google treats the Chrome Beta like most products they’ve ever labeled with ‘beta’, be prepared to see that beta tag for years to come!

Samsung Galaxy Nexus: The Closest I’ve Come to Switching to Android

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I’ve been using the iPhone for three generations now — starting with the iPhone 3G, then the iPhone 3GS, and finally the iPhone 4 which is my current companion. I’m finally due for an upgrade and I must say that I’ve come closer than ever before to picking an Android phone (specifically the Galaxy Nexus) over an iPhone, but it just wasn’t meant to be and I’ll explain why. Be sure to note that what’s important to have in a phone for me might not be the same for you; I’m just laying out my thoughts here as to why the Galaxy Nexus has been the phone that has come the closest to tempting me over to Android.

Android 4.0

Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich feels like the first truly full package in the history of Android. Finally there’s good hardware acceleration and enough performance for a nearly smooth home screen. This hasn’t quite translated over to all apps just yet. Android finally seems to have all of the vital default apps and has long included a turn-by-turn navigation app that blows Apple’s Maps app out of the water. Google just launched the Chrome Beta browser which offers a rich browsing experience which should have been included in Android long ago. Photos can now be robustly edited right in the gallery without scouring the Android Market for the right app. Home screen folders are extremely fast and a pleasure to use, while resizable widgets further the level of flexibility and customization. There’s better battery and data analysis, and much more. This has all come together in bits and pieces over the last few years as Android has grown, and 4.0 is the first time it feels like a complete package to me.

The saddest part about all of this is how hard it is to get your hands on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Google has crafted this seemingly complete package, but less than 1% of users have access to it right now! I’m actually limited to the Galaxy Nexus if I want a top-end phone that also runs Android 4.0 at the moment.

Camera

The camera app in Android 4.0 is super fast in both launching and taking consecutive photos. Unfortunately, I still find that all Android handsets that I’ve tested have lacked in camera quality (for both stills and video) when compared to the iPhone 4, often despite higher megapixel ratings. For me, camera quality is more important than speed. The new panorama mode in the Android 4.0 camera app is neat, but I find that I can achieve better results by taking individual photos, then stitching them together on the computer. It’s a shame that Nokia never got into the Android ecosystem as they’ve long been heralded as having some of the best optics in the mobile industry.

The iPhone 4S camera is supposed to be even better than the iPhone 4 camera with 8MP instead of 5MP and reworked optics. If I can achieve photos like the following with the iPhone 4, then I’m looking forward to what the iPhone 4S has to offer:

Notification System

I’ve said it before and I think it’s still true today: Android is the best at managing notifications, while iOS is the best at delivering them. Between Android 4.0 and iOS 5.0, Android absolutely wins when it comes to managing notifications — you can toss away individual notifications or dismiss them all at once if you’d like. Tapping on a notification takes you directly to the item you are being notified about. All of this is better than how iOS does it. However, Apple’s push notification system is best in class. I don’t understand why Google doesn’t have push Gmail through the official Gmail app. Side-by-side with the Galaxy Nexus, my iPhone 4 shows changes to my inbox almost instantly, while the Galaxy Nexus doesn’t do anything until significantly later, unless manually refreshed. I can literally receive, respond to, and be done with an email on my iPhone 4 before it even arrives on the Galaxy Nexus. For some people, getting notifications instantly isn’t a big deal, but as someone who works on the web it’s a big advantage and one that I can’t easily give up.

Screen Size

If you follow Carrypad regularly, you’ll know that I’ve got some gripes with 4″+ screens. One-handed usability is important to me because I’m frequently on the go. The 3.5″ screen of the iPhone (all versions of it) is far more comfortable in my hand than anything 4″ and above. The Galaxy Nexus, at 4.65″, is just too big to be used comfortably in one hand for me. Everyone’s hands are different sizes, so everyone has a different limit, but with the massive-screen fad that’s been growing in Android over the years, it’s almost impossible to get a top-end Android phone in a size less than 4″. If the Galaxy Nexus came in any size 4″ or less, I’d be far more inclined to pick it over the iPhone 4S.

Customization

This is one of Android’s greatest strengths, but it always runs the risk of being over-complicated. I’m the kind of person who loves to tinker with their gadgets and get them to work just the way I’d like. On the iPhone, this urge is satisfied with jailbreaking, which enhances the customizations you can make on iOS, but it’s not much compared to what you can do on Android. With Android 4.0 on the Galaxy Nexus, I can fit tons of apps efficiently on one page with folders. On other screens, I’ve got at-a-glance access to my calendar, weather, inbox, and music player. It’s nice to be able to do much of what I need to right from the homescreen instead of jumping through hoops between apps. This category is a major win for the Galaxy Nexus.

Apps

There’s no denying that there are some great apps on Android, but Apple’s iOS App Store still has a greater number of apps than the Android Market. When we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of apps in each store, the aggregate hardly matters. Where iOS has the real advantage is in quality and consistency. Because Apple has strict guidelines, most apps are intuitive and work well without crashing. When it comes to apps from the Android Market, you might have two great apps, but they might have two completely different interface approaches — one app trying to emulate an iOS-like ‘everything on screen’ style and the other trying to do the Android thing by hiding features away in long-presses and hidden menus. Alone, each of these is arguably as good as the other, but when you have to jump between apps that go back in forth in their interface approach, the user interaction aspect of it becomes increasingly convoluted, and this is something I quite dislike.

Availability

If everything above held an advantage for the Galaxy Nexus, there would still be one huge issue for me choosing it over the iPhone 4S — availability. I’m on AT&T, and the Galaxy Nexus is decidedly not available for purchase. AT&T has not one Android 4.0 ICS phone available at the moment, which means the best I could do is buy one of the top-end Android phones then wait and hope that it would receive an ICS upgrade. If Google thinks the Galaxy Nexus and Android 4.0 is such a great pair, they’ve got to do a better job of making it available for people to actually purchase it. The only way for me to actually get my hands on the Galaxy Nexus would be to switch carriers or buy an expensive unlocked version of the phone without a subsidy from my carrier.

So, Google, you almost had me on this one, but unfortunately I’ve made up my mind to continue with the iPhone — for now anyway. Fix the stuff above that needs it; you’ve got two years to work on it before there’s another chance to convert me.

What Happened to the Android Update Alliance? Less Than 1% of Devices Running Latest Version of Android!

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At last year’s Google I/O, a great new program was announced — Google was working with a group of equipment manufacturers to create a sort of ‘update guarentee’ which would explicitly inform customers how long they could expect their shiny new Android device to receive updates, and how quickly they could expect those updates from carriers or manufacturers. Google never named the program as far as I can tell, so I gave it one (after all, it needs a name if we’re to talk about it); the Android Update Alliance.

I was very excited to hear this news initially out of Google I/O. We’ve all heard the horror stories of companies quickly dropping software support for nearly-new devices, or leaving customers waiting months with no news about when (or if) they would receive the latest vital updates — updates which could improve both the performance of their device and the security. I thought we’d finally see companies and carriers taking responsibility and offering guaranteed and reasonably long-term support for the latest Android gadgets. After all, no one wants their brand new phone or tablet to be completely unsupported 6 months after launch.

In July, I encouraged Google and its partners to market the Android Update Alliance smartly to benefit themselves and consumers. Some suggestions included attaching a catchy name to the program, and using an exclusive logo on device boxes and in advertising so customers would know at a glance if the device they are considering is backed by the Alliance.

The Android Update Alliance announcement was made 9 months ago, and contained many of the major industry players, including Verizon, AT&T, Samsung, HTC, Spring, LG, Motorola, and others. How much progress has been made in implementing the program? Well, just about none at all as far as I can tell. I haven’t heard a single bit of news about the program since Google I/O 2011 in May, and I’ve reached out to Google for comment on several occasions and heard nothing back, except to say that there is no official webpage for information about the program and that Google has nothing further to share about it at this time.

What’s the deal Google? You didn’t even manage to name the program! The original announcement said that the initial partners agreed to support devices with updates for 18 months, but the group was apparently still deciding how quickly they could guarantee that users receive those updates. Google asked us to “stayed tuned” for more on the program, but there’s been no information at all from the company. None of the companies announced in the partnership have yet implemented any of the suggested support guarantees. It seems that the Android Update Alliance was just conceptual in nature.

Sadly, in terms of devices running the latest software, things might have gotten even worse then before the Android Update Alliance announcement. To date, less than 1% of Android devices are running the latest version of Android — and that’s being generous and grouping everything above Android 4.0 together. If you want to talk about devices running the honest to goodness “latest” version of Android (4.0.3), then we’re talking just 0.3%. Android 2.3 is currently the most widely installed version of Google’s mobile operating system, by a wide margin, being found on 54% of all Android devices to have accessed the Android Marketplace over a 14 day period. The next largest install-base is not the next version after Android 2.3, but actually the one below it; Android 2.2 with 30.4%. This means that many devices are still transitioning from Android 2.2 to Android 2.3 the exodus from Android 2.3 to the next version up has scarcely begun.

Official Data From Google

It amazes me that Google makes a big deal about Ice Cream Sandwich when such a tiny, minute, fraction of Android users even have access to it.

So, Google, my question stands: what the heck happened to the Android Update Alliance?

Update: I wanted to point out this excellent piece from Michael DeGusta which paints a stark picture of how Android and Apple after-sale software support compares. Of all 18 Android smartphones released since the beginning of Android through Q2 2010, Michael found the following (note that this was written before the release of Ice Cream Sandwich, which means most phones on the list are one more major version behind):

  • 7 of the 18 Android phones never ran a current version of the OS.
  • 12 of 18 only ran a current version of the OS for a matter of weeks or less.
  • 10 of 18 were at least two major versions behind well within their two year contract period.
  • 11 of 18 stopped getting any support updates less than a year after release.
  • 13 of 18 stopped getting any support updates before they even stopped selling the device or very shortly thereafter.
  • 15 of 18 don’t run Gingerbread, which shipped in December 2010.
  • At least 16 of 18 will almost certainly never get Ice Cream Sandwich.

Changing Ecosystems From iOS to Android (and how iOS 5 could tempt me back)

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ios to androidRitchie Djamhur is a macchiato-addicted IT Buyer based in Sydney, Australia and also posts his thoughts on technology, music and anything else that keeps him up at night on www.ritchiesroom.com.

The iOS Family

My name’s Ritchie and I am a phoneaholic, of the smart variety. I’ll admit it, on most nights I have my smartphone safely tucked under my pillow, in case I stir restlessly out of sleep and feel compelled to check Facebook updates, Twitter messages and lists, LinkedIn news, or my WordPress stats. Sound familiar to any readers?

Up until recently, I had not strayed far from the iOS family. I have owned a few iterations of the iPhone, and have seen its evolution in hardware along with the massive growth of the app store. And for the most part, the iPhone has fulfilled my needs, and indeed surprised me with functions that I didn’t realise I could do with.

iTunes makes upgrading your phone terribly easy. When the next version of an iPhone is released, you simply back up your old phone, connect and register your new iPhone, and everything, including settings, email, photos, and messages will be loaded onto your fresh iPhone. That upgrade path makes it hard to break the cycle and look beyond the iPhone at alternatives that may in fact be better suited to your needs.

The iPhone 4 is a great smartphone, and it’s always been a reliable partner in my business and leisure life. The ability to print wirelessly, read books, take casual photos, use social networking apps with ease, play some great games during downtime and use Facetime to see my extended family at a moment’s notice have all made the iPhone highly regarded in my household.

There are a few things that have made my eyes wander of late, and I realised that unless I wanted to jailbreak my phone, there were a few things that I couldn’t do efficiently. For example, turning WiFi and bluetooth on/off, changing brightness or orientation settings take a fair few steps within the settings panel.

On the other hand, widgets are a standard feature on Android phones, so I could see a good reason to move across just because of that – instant access to functions I wanted regularly. But could an Android phone match or exceed what the iPhone and its associated ecosystem has delivered to me over the years?

I Want Android @ Home… In My Car

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android @ homeBack at Google I/O 2011, Google announced something called Android @ Home, which seeks to allow a huge range of accessories and appliances to interact with Android devices. I want my vehicles to be Android @ Home accessible more than stuff in my home, and I’ll tell you why.

Google did some brief demos on stage showing rudimentary integration between an exercise bicycle and a phone, and they also show how you might be able to automate your home by controlling lights, the thermostat, perhaps your coffee maker, etc. Watch the following starting at 6:15 to get a brief idea of the vision behind Android @ Home:

Where I really want to see Android @ Home though is, (oddly enough) not in my home at all, but rather in my cars.

We have 7 drivers in my family, and we’ve got three cars to get us all where we need to go. Between jobs, appointments, vacations, etc. organizing all of those cars is a serious task. It’s not fun getting off the phone with a friend and saying “sure I’ll be right there” only to go out to the driveway to find that all of the cars are gone! Then you’ve got to call around to various family members to find out who is where and who will be home first. Equally frustrating is getting into the car to go somewhere only to find that the tank is completely dry and that you’ve got to add a stop at the gas station to your itinerary. Android @ Home could easily fix all of these problems, and more.

If all of our family cars were Android @ Home enabled, not only could they report their positions to an app that everyone in the family has access to, but they could also report their gas levels.

People want their privacy sometimes, so you could always set the app to not report exact car positions, but rather just say whether or not they are in the driveway. This way, I wouldn’t have to peek inside the garage or in the driveway to see if any cars are available.

If I needed a car, I could select the car I want and query the car for its distance so I would be able to easily see which car is nearest, and who I should call to ask them to return the car.

With gas indicators within the app for all cars, you’d easily know if you needed to fill up before running to your appointment, rather than being surprised at the last minute and being late because of a surprise empty tank. Thanks to the connected nature of our devices, the app could even tell you how much gas costs at your local station so you know exactly how much cash you’ll be putting in the tank.

And who likes getting into the car in the summer and sweating until the AC really gets going, or freezing in the winter until the heat turns on? Android @ Home enabled vehicles could cool or warm the car before your morning commute.

And how about running out in the pouring rain to close those windows that you left open? This could easily be done from an app.

Ah! The possibilities are nearly endless and all very useful!

We’ve got the technology to make this happen, and Google’s Android @ Home project makes it easy to integrate. Here’s to hoping we see this sort of smart-automation at a consumer-available level in the next 5 years.

It would certainly make my life easier. How about you, what feature would you want the most from an Android @ Home enabled car? Brainstorm away!

Tiny USB Hubs for Your USB Equipped Honeycomb Tablet

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With a number of already available or soon to be launched Honeycomb tables equipped with full-sized USB ports, I’m hoping that we’ll see the trend continue. Current devices have an issue though; only one USB port! For devices like the Slider, which lacks a trackpad or other form of mouse, that one USB port is likely to be taken up by an external mouse for a desktop-like experience, leaving no room for other peripherals such as external HDD’s, flash drives, game controllers, etc.

Thankfully, Google is rather smart and built a lot of standard connectivity into Android 3.1+ which means a bunch of USB accessories work without modification, including USB hubs for connecting multiple USB devices through a single port.

Jerry was kind enough to test a number of USB hubs with his Acer Iconia A500 and here’s what he found:

Note: USB 1.x hubs don’t seem to work with Honeycomb!

Tested

Targus Ultra-Mini ACH7401US, 4x Ports ($11)

targus ultra mini

 

 

 

 

 

 

6.1 ounces

Tested with:

  • Keyboard
  • Mouse
  • Flash drive

Find it at Amazon

CP Technologies CP-U2H-01, 4x Ports ($22)

cp technologies

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tested with:

  • Mouse
  • Flash drive (tested up to 32GB)

Find it at Amazon

Targus Ultra Mini, 4x Ports ($10)

targus

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 ounces

Tested with with:

  • Mouse
  • Flash drive

Find it at Amazon

Mobile Edge Slim-Line, 4x Ports ($30)

slim line

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tested with:

  • Keyboard
  • Mouse
  • Flash Drive

Find it on MobileEdge

I also came across a super small 4-port hub which looks like it would be perfect to throw in a bag along with your tablet. We haven’t tested it, but it’s USB 2.0 which all of the tested USB hubs are.

This site calls it the “World’s smallest USB 2.0 4-port hub” though in the description they say it’s “Probably” the world’s smallest. Nevertheless, it is indeed tiny! Check it out:

worlds smallest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s also only $10, find it here.

Android 3.2 Released — How Long Before it Actually Matters?

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On the 15th of July, Google announced their most recent version of Android, version 3.2. This represents the continuing evolution of the Honeycomb branch of the OS. Chief amongst the improvements  were features that enhance the OS’ scalability across different target hardware platforms. Concurrently, updated revisions of the associated SDKs were also released. Packages are available for Windows, Mac OS X, and LINUX. A nice touch, Google has implemented the SDK as a slipstream, so you do not need to download a new SDK starter package. Just download the individual elements to support the new version, and then continue developing away in your same development environment.

While I give kudos to Google for this approach, it is admittedly necessary due to the multiple variants of Android that are on the street. While 3.2 has been released, some developers will need to continue supporting and releasing apps for Android devices stuck at version 2.1. So keeping tools that stretch across Android branches is actually a necessity for Google to robustly support its army of Android developers.

In fact, Android 2.1 is the third most prevalent version of Android in use. Taken from the version tracking site, which aggregates data based on instances of the Android Market being accessed over a 14-day period, Android 2.1 ranks in at 17.5%. I call this group the left-behinds. They are the collection of devices, some of whose manufacturers promised updates for them that were never delivered; others were sold with 2.1 with no intention of being supported with later versions of Android. If only they had the update guarantee!

Android 2.2 and 2.3 are the first and second ranked versions, coming in at 59.4% and 17.6%, respectively. My own Dell Streak 7 is in the fat stratum, although I pray every day that Dell will reward the few of us who went with this uber-Streak with a 2.3 update. It would be even better if they grabbed 3.2 because it was specifically deployed to handle the variation in app appearance and behavior that has been occurring when apps are loaded onto a device with a display size that they were not originally designed for.

Android Honeycomb Market access has only combined for a total just shy of 1% in the last two weeks. The main takeaway here is that while Google continues to evolve the Android OS forward, and release the development tools that support it, user and developer adoption of the most advanced versions trails significantly far behind the releases. I think Google is on the right track moving to scalable OS’, but it is likely that they will be investing in this development for quite some time before hardware deployments that support it catch up.

For those who consider this news meh because you are hanging on for the real leap forward that will be represented by the release of Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), Google is maintaining the company line of a 4th quarter 2011 release. Readers would be well served moving their expectation window to the right into the 1st half of 2012. Either way, word on the street is that the first device to see ICS will be the Nexus 4G, currently available on Sprint. At last check, Sprint lagged behind Verizon in its deployment of Android updates. However, it has been getting them out faster than T-Mobile and AT&T, at least through the bottom half of last year.

My own Motorola Xoom (Verizon 3G version) has yet to receive the push of the update to 3.2. Has anyone else received the push? If so, please put some comments in and tell us about your experience so far. Key features included in the 3.2 update are listed here.

Source: Android Developers Blog

Dear Google, Market Your Android Update Guarantee Intelligently and Give Customers Confidence in Their Smartphone Purchase

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Back during Google I/O 2011, Google announced a list of partners that it was working with to “create new guidelines for how quickly devices will get updated after new Android platform releases”. Similarly, they wanted to ensure that devices are guaranteed a reasonable update lifespan so that they wouldn’t stop receiving updates 6 months or so after release.

So far Google and the founding partners, which includes a number of carriers and device manufacturers, have agreed stated that future devices will receive Android updates for 18 months after their launch. When this program will begin (and which devices will abide by it) has not yet been announced.

When it does launch, Google needs to be smart and really market it. Promising updates for 18 months after a device is launched is great for consumers, but it means nothing if consumers don’t know which device manufacturers or carriers are part of the program at the time of purchase

Google should come up with a simple name and an eye-catching logo that they can hand out to the partners of the program and those partners can slap it on the boxes of their products to show users that the phone will receive guaranteed updates for 18 months.

Something like the ‘Google Update Guarantee’ (GUG for short!), or ‘Android Update Alliance’, or even just ‘Update Guarantee’ with a cool logo would work wonders for consumers.

Imagine someone walking into a Best Buy or RadioShack and holding two phone boxes in their hands. Both are nearly identical in their specs, but only one has the Update Guarantee. The decision for the consumer is simple because one glance at the box tells them that only one of those phones is guaranteed to be updated for a reasonable amount of time.

Better yet, crowd-source the logo by starting a competition to design the logo and offer a cool prize. Let people online vote on which one they like best. Not only will this drum up interest and spread the word about the guarantee on the web, but it’ll also let the people, who will actually be purchasing the devices with the guarantee, feel like they got to be part of the selection process and this will make them feel even more connected to the logo and the devices that use it (which is good for the partners of the program).

Not only does this help the consumer in the store, but the same thing would apply online. The same way that I frequently filter Amazon product searches by what is available to be shipped with Amazon Prime, customers may begin filtering their Android phone/tablet searches to see only those with the Update Guarantee.

By allowing only partners on the list access to the logo for the program, other companies are going to want to jump on board to get access so that they too can market their products with the appealing guarantee logo. Every partner that joins the program means an overall increase in the quality of the Android-device market because it means more devices will be updated to the latest version of Android for a longer period of time.

I really hope Google takes a proactive approach similar to what I’ve suggested. Such a guarantee adds confidence to a customers purchase, which is currently something that’s completely absent from current smartphone purchases. Not even Apple has a guarantee in place for how long they’ll update a given iOS device.

Google Maps for Android Update Adds Offline Access and Transit Directions, Is Still Lightyears Beyond Maps for iOS

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mapsOn Wednesday Google updated their awesome Maps for Android application to include the ability to download portions of the map for offline access, and full-featured transit directions. With these updates and other features that Maps for Android has had for a long time, the Android version of the application is lightyears ahead of Maps for iOS, read on to find out why.

Google Maps is now running version 5.7 on Android devices, and users now have global access to transit directions. Just pick an address and Google will tell you how to best get there through a combination of public transit options – trains, busses, subways, etc. Here’s how it works:

In addition to transit directions, which are immensely useful when you’re within city limits, Google has added a new feature to the Labs section of Google Maps for Android: Download Map Area.

Download Map Area allows you to download the map in a 10 mile radius around any location that you choose.

To enable the ‘Download Map Area’ feature, launch Maps 5.7 on your Android device. Press the menu button while you’re looking at the map view then press the more button then press Labs. Scroll to the bottom of Labs to find the ‘Download Map Area’ item and click on it to enable it. You will see a green check mark next to the item letting you know that you’ve enabled it.

To use the feature, go to any Places page (places pages are the informational pages about a location that you find when you search through Google Maps. At the bottom of the Places page, you’ll find the ‘Download Map Area’ button which. when pressed, will initiate a download of the entire area within 10 miles.

You can also download the area around any location, even if you can’t pull it up through search. Just press-and-hold any location on the map to bring up a location marker, then press the arrow button on the right of the marker. You’ll find the same download option at the bottom of the list.

map download areaThanks to vector tiles which were implemented with Google Maps for Android 5.0 back in December, a brief download gives you all the data you need to see street-level detail within the downloaded area, even if your phone is in airplane mode. The map will show an outline of the area that is available for offline access.

Google Maps for Android Dominates Google Maps for iOS

I’ve been an iPhone user since the iPhone 3G. Through the iPhone 3G, 3GS, and 4, Google Maps has been one of my most consistently used applications. Still, I’ve always been jealous of Google Maps on Android. These recent updates to Maps for Android just put it that much further beyond Maps for iOS.

One Reason Why Maps for iOS is Behind

Maps on iOS works very well, but is seriously lacking in the features department and lacks a crucial component that Maps for Android has: updatability.

Back in the early days of Android, core applications like Maps could only be updated through firmware releases, which were relatively far between. Later changes to Android allowed core applications to be updated through the Android Market just like any third-party application. This meant that the Maps for Android team could push updates through to Maps for Android whenever they wanted, rather than waiting for entire firmware updates. This has been key in keeping Maps for Android lightyears ahead of Maps for iOS.

It’s unclear whether or not Maps for iOS can be updated through the App Store like third-party apps, but what is clear is that Apple has never pushed a single update to Maps in this manner. They appear to be stuck updating Maps whenever major firmware updates are released, which are few and far between (perhaps once per year).

No Turn-by-turn Directions, Co-pilot Mandatory

Google’s completely free Navigation app for Android provides best in class turn-by-turn navigation to any Android device that has GPS. It’s arguably even better than most dedicated GPS road units.

Maps for iOS will obligingly give you great walking, driving, or transit directions, but there is no turn-by-turn navigation. When finding a route on Maps for iOS you also have no option to view alternate routes, no option to avoid toll roads, and no way to automatically route around traffic.

The best you get is a visual map of your route, or a list of directions. Trying to following directions on Maps for iOS while driving by yourself is dangerous because of the total lack of turn-by-turn guidance. In these situations, having a co-pilot to track your progress on the route, tell you which turns to take, and when you should be turning, is a must. For me, this is the biggest weakness of Maps for iOS.

Missing Features

Simply put, Maps for Android does a whole lot more than its iOS counterpart. Here’s just a short list of the things that Maps for iOS is lacking.

Vector tiles: Maps 5.0 for Android introduced vector tiles which have a number of advantages. Here’s what we wrote about Maps 5.0 from our review of the first device that got that update, the Nexus S

The latest version of Google Maps looks quite similar to the old, but the underlying system is vastly different. Instead of using static image tiles at varying zoom levels, Maps is now using vector tiles which boast a number of advantages. Vector graphics can be dynamically scaled to any resolution and still retain their sharpness. Now, instead of downloading one tile for each zoom level, you may only have to download one tile for a particular area and then it is scaled to any level of zoom. This means less downloading (less data usage) and easier caching (storing for use later/offline)

Vector graphics also allow the map text to stay right side up even as you rotate the map. Additionally, you can now use two-fingers to tilt the map to get a different angle (again, thanks to vector graphics). And you’ll be able to see 3D buildings in places where it’s supported.

Latitude Built-in: Maps for Android puts your Latitude friends right there on the map, and allows you to ping other Android phones for quick location updates. Maps on iOS lacks Latitude entirely. Latitude does exist as a separate app, but using the two interchangeably (ie: getting directions to a friend’s location) means switching back and forth between the apps, and the Latitude app on iOS doesn’t support quick location updates between you and your Latitude friends.

Topographic Maps: Maps for Android will give you terrain maps of pretty much anywhere. Not only can they be interesting to look at, but they are also useful for planning hikes and other trips.

Biking Directions: Maps for iOS provided public transit directions a long time before Maps for Android, but now that Maps for Android support transit directions, it can give you directions in every way that Maps for iOS can, and in one way that Maps for iOS can’t – biking directions. When finding biking directions, Google specifically looks to use bike trails or lanes on your route, and uses terrain data to avoid big hills whenever possible.

No Google Account Integration: When you launch Maps for Android, everything is in sync with your Google Account. I can pull up custom maps and routes that I’ve made on the computer, all of my latitude friends are there, and I can see the places that I’ve starred. Maps for iOS doesn’t even consider your Google account, and in fact may not even know that such a thing exists.

Offline Access: And now, as we’ve seen, Maps for Android has offline access, allowing you to choose precisely where you want to download the maps for offline use. Offline map access in Maps for iOS is fickle and unpredictable. Despite the iPhone 3G and beyond having built-in GPS, the phones often act as though they don’t have no idea that they posses GPS chips when they lack a data connection. This is really bothersome when you’re in and out of data coverage, especially when hiking.

And that’s just a few of the big items! Here’s a list Google cooked up comparing Maps for Android to Maps for iOS:

ios maps vs android maps

All these things combined put Maps for Android lightyears ahead of Maps for iOS in my book (even though it works well for what it does), and is definitely the #1 thing I’m jealous of as an iPhone user.

Android Honeycomb 3.1 Overview, Coming to Google TV This Summer

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At Google I/O 2011, Honeycomb 3.1, which brings a number of user and developer enhancements, has been officially announced and detailed. Google also says that Honeycomb 3.1 will be making its way to Google TV powered devices this summer; very exciting news as it means that Google TV devices will now have access to apps from the Android Market!

Android 3.1 is rolling out now to Motorla Xoom [tracking page] devices on Verizon’s network, however our Xoom still has no idea that an update is available, so it’s likely coming in waves. Nicole Scott of NetbookNews.com has a tip for forcing your Xoom to check for the update (though checking for it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll find it!).

Honeycomb 3.1 Major Changes

honeycomb logoResizable Widgets and UI Changes

resize widgetIn Android 3.1, widgets have support for dynamic resizing which is a great feature as I can only currently see a pathetic three emails in the Gmail widget. Google notes that it is really painless for developers to add dynamic-size capability to their widgets with just a few lines of code.

There has also been a number of minor adjustments to the UI. Google says that “UI transitions are improved throughout the system and across the standard apps” which will hopefully make homescreen swiping more smooth. I’ve been unimpressed with the fluidity of homescreen swiping (and general UI performance) thus far.

Other changes are aiming to make the experience more intuitive – something that Honeycomb desperately needs. Android 3.0 is really not the intuitive experience that you hope it would be. From my own observations, novice users have a hard time using the device because of this. Sometimes I too am unsure as to where to look for a particular button or function within an application because it just isn’t clear what certain buttons will do. Trial-and-error should not be the underlying philosophy of your interface. Any changes toward making the operating system “easier to see, understand, and use”, as Google says, will be an improvement to the OS.

Accessibility has also been enhanced, and I’m always happy to see that the industry is not skimping in this department. From Apple’s iOS to Android, accessibility options are there to help as many people as possible make use of these devices. Android 3.1 enhances accessibility with consistent voice-feedback throughout the UI.

The recent-apps button, which Google implemented in 3.0 to take place of the home-hold gesture in Android for phones, has been extended to show a greater number of recently used applications (rather than just 5) by allowing the user to scroll through the list.

USB Connectivity

Android 3.1 brings along robust USB-host support for peripherals and accessories. Google is touting support for keyboards, mice, game controllers, and digital cameras. Developers are also free to build on the USB support to add compatibility with additional devices for applications – great for more obscure USB devices, or support for specific types of devices (such as a game controller with proprietary buttons).

This also opens up the realm of controlling any number of USB accessories for more interesting uses. Google lists “robotics controllers, docking stations, diagnostic and musical equipment, kiosks, card readers, and much more,” as examples of such devices that could be controlled and interacted with using an Android device thanks to this new USB support.

Hopefully the Honeycomb 3.1 update will fixed the crashes that Chippy has been seeing when using the Acer Iconia A500 with a USB keyboard/mouse combo.

Updated Apps

Honeycomb 3.1 is also improving a number of built-in applications.

quick controls 3.1The browser’s “Quick Controls” have been improved. The well received Quick Controls, enabled through the labs section of the browser settings, allow the user to slide in from the left or right of the screen to get a radial menu that allows them to control the browser. Most notably, tab management has been moved into the Quick Controls which should free up even more space for web content and allow almost all browser functions to be performed from one place.

Some standards related enhancements have been made to the browser such as support for CSS 3D, animations, and CSS fixed position. There’s also support for embedded HTML5 video, and Google says that performance when zooming has been “dramatically” improved – I’m looking forward to that!

The Gallery app now supports something called Picture Transfer Protocol which will allow users to plug a USB camera into their 3.1 device and import photos directly into the Gallery app.

FLAC Support

flac logoExciting news for audiophiles: Android 3.1 now supports FLAC, the lossless audio codec (hat tip to Android Police)! I’m not sure whether or not the soundcards in most Android devices are really up to this task yet, but it’s good that the option is now available.

On the Xoom particularly, I hear a whole lot of popping and hissing coming from the device, even when no sound is playing. Even with lossless audio playback, the audio-bottleneck may well end up being the sound hardware. Perhaps we’ll see tablets pushing higher quality audio equipment to make use of FLAC and differentiate themselves from other devices down the road.

If you’re interested, here’s the technical bit that I am in no position to comment on:

Mono/Stereo (no multichannel). Sample rates up to 48 kHz (but up to 44.1 kHz is recommended on devices with 44.1 kHz output, as the 48 to 44.1 kHz downsampler does not include a low-pass filter). 16-bit recommended; no dither applied for 24-bit.

This would be a “take that!” moment from Google to Apple, but Apple has had lossless audio support in their iOS devices for quite some time. The format is a proprietary ALAC, which only serves to lock users further into the Apple ecosystem; still, Android isn’t the only lossless game in town.

The Rest

That’s the major stuff for now. We did bypass a few enterprise enhancements – if you’d like to check those out and/or geek-out with some developer improvements, be sure to swing by the official platform highlights section from Google.

Android Honeycomb 3.1 on Google TV

gogole tvIn an effort to un-fork the Android OS, which currently operates three builds (phone/tablet/TV), Google is bringing Honeycomb 3.1 to Google TV through an OTA update to existing devices this summer. This will open up the world of apps from the Android Market onto Google TV-powered devices which is exciting news for developers and users alike. New Google TV units are also in the works from Sony, Vizio, Samsung, and Logitech.

Availability

As mentioned, the Motorola Xoom on Verizon is the first device to get the 3.1 update. Google hasn’t made it clear when the rest of the world will see 3.1, and even the WiFi-only Xoom is left out in the rain at the time of writing. According to Engadget, Google has said that 3.1 would be hitting the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10 (which was given to attendees of Google I/O) in the “next couple of weeks.” There’s some hope that all Honeycomb devices will have access to the update at that time, depending on the whims of individual carriers and OEMS.

Google Working with Partners to Ensure Android Update Speed and Longevity… It’s About Time

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update partnersAndroid is a wonderful phone OS, but Google’s choice to leave the pushing of updates in the hands of OEMs or carriers is a real sour-point for the otherwise praised mobile OS. Hopefully, that’s about to change.

Time and time again we’ve heard stories of devices that have been waiting to get major Android updates for months after Google officially releases the update. In many cases, promises are made by carriers or OEMs and then broken, leaving users clueless as to when (or if) they’ll be seeing the latest Android version on their device.

At Google I/O 2011, Google has announced that it is now working with a group of partners to “create new guidelines for how quickly devices will get updated after new Android platform releases.” Google also says that they’ll be agreeing on, not only how quickly devices get updated, but also for how long they’ll be guaranteed to see Android updates. At the present, Google and the partners are announcing that devices will receive Android updates for 18 months after launch. This is great news with one caveat: Google mentions that the 18 month update-guarantee only holds water “if the hardware allows.” It’s unclear exactly who will determine whether or not the hardware will “allow” the update. Surely there will be situations where you might not want a particular build of Android to be pushed through to a certain piece of hardware for performance considerations. But it its up to carriers and OEMs, they may pull the “we aren’t updating this device because performance is not optimal” card, even when it might perform well enough for those who want it.

It sounds as though the group has yet to agree on how long they’ll be expected to push the latest Android version after it is released, and Google is asking us to “stay tuned” for more information about.

The partner-list is impressive so far and hopefully we’ll see more companies getting onboard. Here are the founding members:

  • Verizon
  • HTC
  • Samsung
  • Sprint
  • Sony Ericsson
  • LG
  • T-Mobile
  • Vodaphone
  • Motorola
  • AT&T
  • (and of course) Google

This is great news for users and developers. Presently the most popular Android version is Android 2.2 with 65.9% of devices accessing the Android Market over a 14-day period. Version 2.1 still holds a strong portion of the version market with 24.5%, with the remaining 9.6% of devices being spread across five other versions of Android.

android version graph

For a developer, this is a nightmare. Optimally you’d like to have every device using the same firmware so that you know that every device has the same capabilities on the software level. You’d also like to have all of the devices on the latest version of any given software, but it turns out that only 4.3% of Android devices are running 2.3+.

For the user, guaranteed update speed and longevity is an obvious bonus because it means that you won’t get left in the update-dust after six months of owning a new device. You also won’t be left waiting months to get the latest speed enhancements and innovations that other devices enjoy from the day that a new version is released.

I hope Google is smart enough to come up with a nifty name for the group that’s agreeing to these guidelines, and a shiny logo that they can slap on the box of participating devices so that customers can easily identify which devices are guaranteed to get this special update treatment.

Here’s to hoping that this greatly changes the Android update-landscape as we know it today.

Google Talk Now Includes Video Chatting… Currently Only Available to 2.2% of All Android Users

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An announcement on the Google mobile blog tells us that Google Talk with video and voice chat will be released to Nexus S [product page][review] devices in the next few weeks as part of the Android 2.3.4 update. This is great news in itself, but once you realize that it’s only for Android devices running Android 2.3 or higher, you’ll see why it’s actually sort of upsetting.

According to data released from Google Android 2.3 only represents 2.2% of current Android devices so it may be a while before we see it on the majority of devices out there. Froyo (2.2) is currently the most popular Android version with 63.9% of devices.

Some neat features include: while video chatting, any text chats from that person will also appear overlaid on the video; also when switching to a different application while video chatting, video is paused but audio continues to run in the background. Unlike Apple’s Face Time, the Google talk video works over Wi-Fi and 3G which is nice. The app will work with desktop users (which includes Mac/PC/any platform that has a browser than can access the webcam) by enabling video chats from within Gmail.

For Android users it seems like this might be a good option if you need video calling functionality for your device, PC, tablet or smartphone, but it’s a ways away for the majority of users out there. There’s still no real news on when Skype will add video calling support for Android and indeed it’s hard to think what to make of the recent announcement that Qik was purchased by Skype for around $100 million.

Google has a short video showing Video Chat in action:

Google Announces the Nexus S 4G and Google Voice Integration for Sprint

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nexus s 4gToday, Google is introducing the Nexus S 4G for use on Sprint’s network, and also some exciting Google Voice integration for Sprint customers. Let’s talk about the phone first.

The Nexus S 4G is the same Nexus S that you’ve seen in the past [tracking page], but this time around it supports Sprint’s 3G and “4G” network. It’ll run you $199 on-contract and come pre-baked with Android 2.3; it’s “coming soon”.

nexus s 4g phone

Then there’s the Google Voice integration that’s coming to all Sprint customers (not just Nexus S users). Sprint customers can now use their Sprint number as their Google Voice number instead of having to get a separate number for their phone. Or, if you’ve already got a Google Voice number, you can use that as your Sprint number:

Some of the benefits of Google Voice:

  • One number rings multiple phones (if you choose). Think: office, mobile, home, etc.
  • Unlock your voicemail! Since the inception of the cellular phone, voicemail has been stuck inside your phone. With Google Voice, you can access your voicemail from the web, and even get voicemail transcripts emailed or sent to your via text.
  • Personalized voicemail for individual callers
  • Cheap international calling

Google says that Google Voice and the Nexus S 4G are coming “soon”, and if you’d like to be notified when Google Voice is rolling out to Sprint customers, you can sign up for a notification here.

Samsung/Google Nexus S Review

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DSC_3851Google’s Nexus phone program aims to combine top-end hardware and the latest Android software to create a flagship Android smartphone (and arguably, a developer phone). The first phone from the Nexus program was the Nexus One (HTC). Just recently Google has partnered with Samsung to bring the intuitively not intuitively named Nexus Two Nexus S to market. Does Google + Samsung = Success, or is the Nexus S being quickly superseded by other devices, even if they aren’t yet running the latest Android built? Step inside to find out.

All About Updates

gingerbreadThere’s one thing we should talk about up front. Google’s Nexus phones offer updates to the very latest Android built right as it’s released regardless of the carrier or manufacturer. On pretty much every other Android phone/device, updates are pushed through the carrier or OEM. This means that if users want the latest enhancements for Android (and who doesn’t?) they have to wait for a middle-man to get around to setting everything straight before they get the update. Unfortunately promised updates have failed to come to fruition in a number of cases, leaving users without important feature updates and performance improvements. And even when promised updates do eventually come through, they aren’t always as simple as upgrading right on your phone, making updates unobtainable for those less versed in the computer world.

With the Nexus program, Google provides access to the very latest Android software. Updates always come as soon as they’re released from Google, and they install straight through the phone. This gives any of the Nexus devices an advantage over most other phones. The Nexus S is one of the only [perhaps the only] devices on the market today that comes out of the box with Android 2.3 installed. And, even then after powering it on, the phone will ask to install several incremental upgrades that have been made since the initial Android 2.3 release.

And now back to our regularly scheduled reviewing!

Hardware

DSC_3812Let’s has a quick look at the specs of the phone and a tour around the device. As usual, you can see detailed specs, links, photos, and even compare devices with the Nexus S at it’s tracking page in our device database.

Briefly, before we get to the aforementioned, you might be interested in having a look at our Nexus S overview video:

Specs:

  • Android 2.3
  • Cortex A8 (Hummingbird) CPU @ 1GHz
  • 4” curved Super-AMOLED capacitive touchscreen @ 800×480 (1.67:1 aspect ratio [non-standard])
  • 512MB of RAM
  • 5MP rear camera (only capable of 720×480 [DVD quality] video recording) with single-LED flash
  • 0.3MP front camera (640×480)
  • 16GB of internal memory
  • WiFi b/g/n & Bluetooth 2.1
  • GPS & digital compass
  • 129g (0.284 pounds)
  • NFC (near-field-comm) chip, acelleomoeter, light sensor, proximity sensor, 3-axis gyro

Hardware Tour:

DSC_3808 DSC_3809

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DSC_3818

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DSC_3820

And that’s all! Yup, it’s a pretty simple phone.

Nexus S Gallery

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We’ve had our hands on the Samsung/Google Nexus S [tracking page] for a few days now and are putting the phone and the OS (Android 2.3) to the test. You may have caught the overview video already, and now we’ve got a bit more to tide you over until the full review, a full gallery! A few choice photos are below, but be sure to swing by the gallery itself if you’re interested in the Nexus S. And while you’re here, let us know in the comments if there’s anything specific that you’d like to see covered in the review.

IMG_4873

IMG_4879

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IMG_4883

Google Working on “Digital Newsstand”, Kindle Coming to Tablets

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news_logo_rgb_web

Vic Gundotra, VP of Engineering for Google, explained at Google I/O last May that Google intend to deliver a whole lot more than just applications on the Android Market by demonstrating a Android music download service. It seems Google don’t plan on stopping with just music downloads as a recent report in The Wall Street Journal explains that Google are trying to lure publishers into supporting a “digital newsstand” service for Android.

Sources say that Google’s newsstand service will provide apps from publishers that allow Android users to view newspapers and magazines on phone and tablet devices. With Android now activating over 300,000 Google branded devices per day it seems only inevitable that publishers will eventually jump on-board.

Google are supposedly in contact with Timer Warner, Condé Nast and Hearst, three large publishers, regarding the service however “details of the newsstand venture and its timing remain vague”. Apple already provide publishers with the ability to sell periodicals through their iTunes service so expect competition to intensify if Google can get their newsstand product off the ground.

Amazon also made a big announcement today with their Kindle service as they intend to launch Kindle applications for both Android and Windows tablets. Amazon previously announced that they have a Windows Phone 7 Kindle app in development and already have a Android app that is designed for smartphones but the applications announced today specifically target tablet devices.

Sources: WSJ, Downloadsquad

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