Tag Archives: Android

The Mobile App Gap



The history of mobile applications dates back to simple games such as Snake, Pong, Tetris, and Tic-Tac-Toe included with candy bar phones.

As phones became “smarter,” Windows Mobile phones of the mid-2000’s and others included the ability to install third-party software, both paid and free.

Next came the era of the high noise level platform app stores that we know and love/hate today. There are tons of both free and paid apps. Some apps are useful to accomplish very specific, pointed tasks with high efficiency. Others apps are arguably less than useless. The good and the bad, the useful and the useless are packaged together in a cacophony of brightly-colored graphics and flowery sales language, all on equal footing and demanding attention. App discovery is often painful, unpleasant and risks device app bloat.

Mobile device ownership and management requires a learning curve. In phase one, the mobile device novice is at high risk of downloading seemingly every app encountered, while actually making use of very little of that which has been installed.

Phase two of the learning curve is typically marked by out of storage memory errors.

Phase three requires the user to decide which useless apps should be deleted so that the mobile device can continue to be updated and/or functional. When deleting apps, there is a tendency for the user to hang on to installed apps if there’s even the most remote of chances that the user might conceivably use the app.

The key test to determine whether a particular app should simply be deleted is to ask yourself whether or not you would reinstall it after a factory reset.

It should be noted that apps that the user has paid for will tend to have a higher psychological value placed on them, regardless of whether they are actually useful or not.

In this noisy mobile app jungle, where crap is right alongside cream, people are trying to squeeze the most out of their mobile devices, to extract the maximum productivity.

Mobile devices make great content consumption devices. Proof is all around us. At any given moment when people are around, how many of those people are absorbed with their mobile devices?

As mobile devices become ever more powerful, the next step in the evolution of the mobile device usage learning curve is revolving around increasing demand to accomplish real-world productivity tasks. While some productivity tasks can be accomplished, others are difficult or impossible – not because of computing power limitations – after all, today’s mobile devices often have quite powerful processors – no, because of software limitations.

Mobile device operating systems have grown larger and more sophisticated along with the more powerful processors. However, there is a problem plaguing both iOS and Android in the form of an app gap. Apps are wannabe pretenders when it comes to genuine software sophistication. No mobile device apps can compare on equal footing with desktop computer software. Both major platforms – iOS and Android – suffer from this problem.

There is nothing stopping software vendors from developing highly sophisticated mobile software, other than the fact that it’s typically just not worth it. For whatever reason, mobile device owners have a pervasive “it has to be free or very low cost” mentality. We are willing to spend upwards of a thousand dollars or even more for a high end mobile device, but balk at the idea of having to pay more than a few dollars for single apps.

If you have ever tried to push a mobile device to better take advantage of its powerful processing capabilities, you quickly run into a problem. Go beyond a certain level of task sophistication, and the apps typically fall flat very quickly. The ultimate test for mobile apps is to take a mobile device and plug it in to a 1080p or higher monitor. Attach a keyboard and if it’s an Android device, attach a mouse or trackpad. Try to use the mobile device and the installed apps like you would a full computer. For example, try to push the experience to its limits by editing a long, complex video and see how well it goes. The mobile software will play back high resolution videos without any trouble at all, but try to do something really productive and things quickly fall apart. The problem isn’t the processor, but the software.

The mobile app gap situation doesn’t look as if it will improve anytime soon. In the meantime, as mobile device owners and users there are a lot of questions we should be asking ourselves.

How much are you willing to pay for mobile device apps? What has been your experience? Have you ever paid for an app and then realized later that it was a waste of money? What is the most you have ever paid for a mobile app and why?

Why are people willing to pay sometimes hundreds of dollars for sophisticated commercial desktop class software without batting an eye, yet close their wallets when it comes to paid apps for mobile devices? Do people perceive mobile devices to have as big of a potential payoff as a desktop or laptop? If mobile computing devices don’t have the same payoff potential as a desktop or laptop, then why not? What is the difference between the two systems? What can be done to increase the potential payoff value of mobile computing devices?


ArtRage Touch



artrage4-logoThe Surface Pro 3 I purchased a few weeks ago came with the bundled Microsoft Pen, which is a fancy name for a stylus. At first I didn’t make much use of the stylus, but after a while I decided it was time to experiment with it and see what it could do. Unlike the fat stylus’s for sale that will work on any capacitive touchscreen, the Microsoft Pen will work only with Surface devices and offers extreme precision.

The Surface Pro 3 with preinstalled Windows 10 comes with a program called Fresh Paint, and I played around with that for a while. Then I started looking in the Windows App Store and found ArtRage Touch which sells for $9.99. I was already familiar with the iOS version of ArtRage on my iPad, so after playing with the trial version in short order I ended up buying the full version.

ArtRage Touch has a very similar interface across all versions. There are full desktop versions of ArtRage for both Windows and Mac, as well as iOS and Android versions.

ArtRage Touch for Windows is similar to the iOS version, but perhaps somewhat abandoned. The most notable shortcoming is with the lack of much ability to save creations. While it is possible to save creations to the standard ArtRage PTG file format, there are apparently zero non-ArtRage applications that can open these files. If you do a direct share to Facebook, ArtRage Touch simply shares a screen capture including the ArtRage interface. I found an acceptable work-around by “printing” the file I want to a PDF format file, making sure that I have the paper size adjusted to landscape and to “print” the entire image to a single page. Then, I open the just-exported PDF file in Adobe Photoshop Elements and export the image as a standard JPG file. This lack of the ability to export directly to JPG is a major shortcoming, so would-be buyers beware.

The ArtRage website itself doesn’t even list ArtRage Touch as a version for sale, though they still sell ArtRage Touch in the Windows App Store.

If I ever were to become a more serious artist, I would consider buying the full version of ArtRage 4 for desktop machines, which sells on their website for $49.90.

Setting aside the problem of how to share creations with ArtRage Touch, it is a lot of fun to play with digital draw and paint tools. Digital versions of various paints, airbrush tools, pencils and papers can create extremely realistic effects with no wasted paper or messy, expensive paint supplies to futz around with.

On larger touch screens, “digital gloves” are available that allow the side of the drawing hand to be rested directly on the screen without interacting, though obviously many other types of open-finger gloves or even a piece of cloth would likely have the same effect of preventing capacitive contact with skin. The Surface Pro 3 has excellent palm rejection with native apps such as OneNote and others, but even so the appropriate digital gloves would seem to be a no-fuss solution with larger-screen devices. It is very tiring to try to hold and use a stylus on a large touchscreen device without anything to rest the side of your hand against.

Every version of ArtRage includes the ability to pre-load another image, typically a photograph, that allows a “trace” layer(s) to be placed on top. Thus, it is possible to accurately trace out the lines of an image and then paint it afterwards, which can result in some interesting, and sometimes hilarious images.

There are also many serious video producers on YouTube that lay out extremely good “learn to draw” lessons that can teach you how to draw if you follow along.

Once purchased, ArtRage Touch can be installed on up to 10 Windows devices.


OnePlus X Smartphone



OnePlus LogoOnePlus are back in the limelight with a new phone, the OnePlus X. The first device in a new product line, the X isn’t an out-and-out powerhouse but focuses on high quality materials and great design.

The OnePlus X comes in two variants, the Onyx and the Ceramic. The Onyx consists of jet black glass with a darkened silver aluminum frame and a slightly curved screen. The Ceramic has the same design but is composed of zirconium dioxide ceramic that has been moulded and baked in a 25-day process. As the press release says, “It’s a material that very few have attempted to use in a consumer device and even less have mastered.”

OnePlus X

Specwise the OnePlus X is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 2.3 GHz processor with 3 GB RAM and an Adreno 330 GPU driving a 5″ 1080p AMOLED screen. There’s 16 GB of storage plus a microSD slot. Unlike the OnePlus 2, the X sticks with micro-USB rather than moving to USB C.

As usual with OnePlus, there’s an invite system to order the phone but in a change to the process, this will last for only a month before the X goes on general sale. Invites will be pushed out from 5 November (depending on region) and pricing appears to be US$249, GB£199 or 269€, but there’s an extra premium to pay for the limited edition Ceramic version.

Not sure if X is the letter or 10 in Roman numerals but either way it’s a sweet looking phone at a great price. With luck, GNC will get some hands-on time in the not-too-distant future.


OnePlus 2 Open Sale



OnePlus LogoIf you’ve been thinking about a OnePlus 2 but you’ve been put off by the invite queue, there’s an opportunity to grab the new phone in a series of open sales on Monday 12 October. Spread across four timezones, each sale will be open for only an hour.

OnePlus Open Sale

Asia: 12:00-13:00 HKT
Inda: 12:00-1:00 pm IST (via amazon.in)
Europe: 12:00-13:00 CEST
North America: 12:00-1:00 pm PDT​

I’m currently rocking a OnePlus 2, which I bought with my own money, and I like it. The phone itself is beautifully made, the camera is great and the fingerprint scanner works well. While there have been issues with OxygenOS, OnePlus’ Android fork, the company has regularly rolled out updates (three since launch) which have steadily eliminated problems. Set your alarms for 12 noon!


Android 6 Marshmallow – Meh!



Marshmallow LogoGoogle’s new motto might be “Do the Right Thing” but after loading Marshmallow on my Nexus 9 tablet last night I’m wondering if Google did anything at all. With a 700MB download I was expecting something new and fresh from Google but I can’t tell the difference between the previous version Lollipop and Marshmallow.

Both Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0) and Lollipop (5.0) introduced a new look at the same time as the upgrade but with Marshmallow (6.0) the only difference I can see is that the app drawer scrolls vertically instead of paging horizontally. It’s still Material Design and that scrolling comes as part of the launcher, not the OS itself.

Google has improved the volume controls and Google on Tap is interesting but it’s not a killer feature and needs work. Too often it picks up on the wrong thing. I’m sure it’ll get better over time but right now it’s uninspiring.

Overall, Marshmallow is to Lollipop what Jelly Bean and KitKat were to Ice Cream Sandwich. There’s not enough to Marshmallow to justify a full version number upgrade and there would be no beef if Marshmallow was 5.2 rather than 6.0. It’s a fine incremental update though labelling it as 6.0 sets unrealistic expectations as to what it delivers. Meh!

If you’ve got Marshmallow on your Nexus, what do you think?

For reference, here are the Android versions with monikers and year of release. It’s come a long way in five years.
2.2 Froyo (2010)
2.3 Gingerbread (2011)
4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (2011)
4.1, 4.2 & 4.3 Jelly Bean (2012-2013)
4.4 KitKat (2013)
5.0 & 5.1 Lollipop (2014-2015)
6.0 Marshmallow (2015)


Roku 4 Delivers 4K for UHD



ROKU LogoApple, Amazon and Google have all recently announced their refreshed streaming TV media players and today market leader Roku has responded with the latest iteration in the Roku series, the Roku 4. In a happy numbering coincidence, the Roku 4 will deliver UHD 4K content for the latest ultra high definition TVs. As you’d expect given the relative rarity of UHD TVs and content, the Roku 4 will work well with normal HD TVs too.

Key features of the new Roku include a quad core processor to drive 4K streaming at 60 Hz. HDCP2 2.2 is supported and there’s optical audio out for the AV amplifier. For connectivity, there’s a gig network port along with 11ac MIMO Wi-Fi.

Roku 4 Streaming Player

The Roku 4 will run Roku OS 7, the latest update to the streaming OS which boosts previous features, particularly the Roku Feed and it now allows owners to track films, TV shows, actors and directors to receive automatic notifications about pricing and availability. In a response to a much requested feature, OS 7 can now work with wireless networks where login credentials are required.

At launch, there’s a handful of 4K channels including Netflix, M-Go, Amazon Instant Video, ToonGoogles, Vudu and You Tube, though there will be some variation depending on geographic region.

The Roku remote control has the previously-seen voice search and a headphone jack, but new to this version is the remote finder, which will help owners find the remote when it’s stuck down the back of the sofa. It’s worth buying for this feature alone!

The Roku mobile app for Android and iOS has been updated too, offering full device control including playing photos, videos and music on TV from the smartphone. A big bonus for me is “pinch to zoom” on photos which will bring out the detail from the snaps. The new app offers other Roku features such as Search, Feed, Remote Control and Play on Roku.

The new Roku 4 goes on pre-order today at roku.com for US$129.99 with delivery later in October. Pricing for other countries has not been announced yet.

If you are already a Roku owner, OS 7 will roll out to current-generation Roku players in the U.S., Canada and the UK, and Roku TVs in the US and Canada through a software update beginning in mid-October and is expected to be completed in November.


Google, There’s Something Wrong With My Nexus



Google LogoThis morning I discovered Google has changed the way the app drawer works on Nexus devices without any warning. Instead of scrolling horizontally in pages, the drawer now scrolls vertically in a single large page. Yesterday it worked the old way, today it works the new way. Google sneaked this in via the Play Store’s auto-update feature.

Note the scroll bar now on the right rather than the dots at the bottom.

New Google Drawer

Seriously, Google, what were you thinking? This is a key part of the user interface and you just changed it. There’s no “Excuse me, here’s a new feature you might want to try out” or apparently any option to change back. It doesn’t matter if it’s better or not, you should have asked. That’s arrogance Apple would be proud of.

It’s the Google Now launcher that’s changed so let’s check what’s waiting in Google Play on another device. Here’s some Google stuff waiting but it’s not the Now Launcher. Checking anyway… nope, no mention of the change there.

Screenshot_2015-09-26-11-39-59  Screenshot_2015-09-26-11-40-30

Google, if you want people to have auto-update turned on in the Play Store, you have to be trusted not to do something stupid and push an unwanted update that materially impacts on the way they use the device.

If anyone wants a new launcher, check out Nova Launcher. It’s much better…


Cortana arrives on the Android platform



Cortana-image-3-576x1024Apple has Siri, Google has, well…Ok Google — a less clever name, but it works well enough. Then there’s Microsoft, which has Cortana. It began life on Windows Phone, but then it spread to the new Windows 10. Now it spreads further, expanding on Google territory with a beta version for Android phones and tablets.

So which service do you want to use? I installed Cortana on an LG G4 and it worked flawlessly, though it requires a bit of setup. It will ask a series of questions, though they are easy to answer.

Microsoft claims “The Cortana app can do most of the things Cortana does on your PC or on a Windows phone. With the app, you can manage your hectic lifestyle by setting and getting reminders, searching the web on-the-go, tracking important information such as flight details as well as starting and completing tasks across all of your devices”.

This open beta also improves on the closed one that previously existed. You can now set Cortana as your destination when you press the Home button.

“You will also see a few differences between what Cortana can do today in her “native” environment (Windows) and in the app on Android. For example toggling settings, opening apps or invoking Cortana hands-free by saying “Hey Cortana” are only available on Windows for now. As with all betas, we are continually improving the experience and will incorporate feedback along the way”, Microsoft claims.

You can grab the app here. It’s not compatible with all devices, though, so pay attention.


Android Wear smatwatches get new interactive faces



Android LogoOn the heels of today’s Pebble Time update, Google will not be outdone. The search giant is continuing to try and improve on its Android Wear line of smartwatches. LG, Motorola and others have leaped into this market and Apple is there now as well.

One of the big things is watchfaces. They can be handy, especially when they show current temperature and conditions as Pebble does.

Now Google is rolling out a new line of them, bringing all sorts of features to your wrist. “Today, we’re launching interactive watch faces, making it easier (and more fun) to stay connected, right from your wrist. Now, with just a tap, your watch face can change its design, reveal more information, or even launch a specific app”.

The new updates are coming now. Google states “Today’s updates are rolling out to all Android Wear watches in the coming weeks. So pick your favorite watch face, or pair up with your favorite person, and start wearing what you want”.

So which smartwatch, if any, will you choose? I’m personally using Pebble, but considering a possible change to either upgrade, or switch altogether.


OnePlus 2 Unboxing



Never SettleMy personal phone has been the OnePlus One for nearly a year and I’ve liked it a great deal. In terms of performance, screen, storage and price, it’s hard to beat. I was never a great fan of the styling, particularly regarding the flat metal trim round the screen, so when I saw the OnePlus 2 had really upped the design, I was in straightaway for an early invite…

…and the new 2 arrived a few hours ago. I restrained myself enough to take a few unboxing photos as I went for GNC readers tech gratification.

Unlike the original One, which came in a flat slip case, the 2 comes in a more traditional shoebox style case. OnePlus has stuck with the vibrant red.

OnePlus 2 in box in wrap

Let’s whip the shrink wrap off.

OnePlus 2 in box

Opening the box reveals the OnePlus 2 itself.

OnePlus 2 box open

Taking the phone out, there’s a “Getting Started” guide underneath and below that is the charger (UK model) and the flat USB cable.

OnePlus 2 under tray

Looking more closely at the USB cable, it’s fully reversible with USB A on one end and new-fangled USB C on the other.

PICT4632

A few gratuitous close ups. Here’s the rear camera.

OnePlus 2 Rear Camera

The Alert Slide. Best idea ever. Hold on, didn’t the Palm Treo 650 have one of these?

OnePlus 2 side

The fingerprint sensor and the USB C port at the bottom of the phone.

OnePlus 2 USB C

Top of the phone and the audio jack socket.

OnePlus 2 Top

I bought a case too. I really wanted a yellow one but it was out-of-stock. :-(

OnePlus 2 Case

The cases replace the rear cover using OnePlus’ StyleSwap feature. The case and rear covers have little clips that click into the back of the phone. Anyone who had a Nexus 10 and genuine flip cover with recognise the way it works. It’s neat and means that rear covers don’t add any bulk and cases become an integral part of the phone. You can also see the dual SIM carrier.

OnePlus 2 StyleSwap

Finally, here’s the OnePlus 2 snug in its new case, ready for setup.

OnePlus 2 in case

That’s it for now. I’m still loading all my apps and getting it configured the way I like it. I’ve still to get my SIM card swapped to a nano SIM too. Early impressions are good, especially in terms of the styling. Fingerprint sensor is pretty cool.

Disclosure – this was a personal purchase though the early invite was enabled by OnePlus’ PR team.