Category Archives: Google

Android 4.0 – Ice Cream Sandwich: Hot or Cold?

After watching Google’s Ice Cream Sandwich / Samsung Galaxy Nexus launch live on YouTube last night (and providing running commentary in my Google+ Profile all the while), I’ve come to one conclusion: Android 4.0 (“Ice Cream Sandwich”) will be awesome. But, to that end, did anybody really expect it to be worse than what we’ve seen before? That would have been more of a surprise.

With any luck, carriers will push out the long-awaited OS update to capable devices within a short matter of time (and short, in this case, is extremely relative). It’s difficult enough for the average consumer to keep up with the cavalcade of new Android devices that seem to drop every other month; why must carriers further burden a customer’s decision-making process with a questionable software update calendar / no OTA updates?

So, yes – the bottom line? If you can get a phone with Ice Cream Sandwich on it today, you should absolutely do it. With it will come countless new features and refinements:

  • Easier way to manage your widgets
  • iOS-like folder creation
  • The ability to add “people” directly to your home screen
  • A Calendar app that enables you to zoom in to reveal appointment details
  • “Visual Voicemail” with an audio-speed slider
  • Easy screen shots (finally)!
  • Closer-to-real-time voice dictation feedback
  • Get up to 16 “tabs” in Browser.
  • Deep-level data usage charts
  • Android Beam – allowing you to share data with another Android Beam user

And Dan Morrill further goes on to highlight Upload Settings, Disabling Apps, Camera Controls, Improved Download Manager, Support for Encryption for Phones, and Audio Effects. Is that all? Hardly.

I hesitate to speak too much about the Samsung Galaxy Nexus – since I haven’t touched it or tried it, and I’d be hesitant to trust opinions from those who also have not – but the screen sounds delicious: 1280×720 resolution at 316ppi! Compare that to the iPhone 4/4S’s resolution of 960×640 at 326ppi. To quote Yoda: “Size matters not.” He never said anything about resolution or pixels per inch, though – and that’s what really matters with these pocket computers. That’s right: I called ’em pocket computers. If you’ve got a problem with that, take it up with the definition of “computer” and “pocket.”

For a healthy marriage, hardware and software must work together seamlessly. Theoretically, this is possible. What works well for some seemingly does not for others. Consider this thorn from ThisIsMyNext (don’t shoot the messenger with bigotry):

As to overall performance, we saw a good deal of stutter in the Galaxy Nexus before us. Taps were not always recognized and there were occasional delays in performing an instruction, though in Google’s defense, it was a phone fully loaded with running tasks and the software is being continually improved and optimized (i.e. it’s not yet fully baked). That having been said, it unfortunately remains the case that Android isn’t as swift and responsive as iOS or Windows Phone (or even MeeGo Harmattan on the N9). Or at least it wasn’t on the demo phone we got a look at. The subtle, pervasive lag that has characterized the Android UI since it inception is still there, which is not a heartening thing to hear when you’re talking about a super-powered dual-core device like the Galaxy Nexus.

Let’s hope they keep tweaking it to perfection. This industry needs healthy competition, and I’m happy to see Ice Cream Sandwich looking like a more-than-viable option.

Does iOS 5 Bridge the Gap Between Android and the iPhone?

Apple’s new iOS 5 is expected to bring a lot of new features in, many of them inspired at least partially by their competition. From Android’s notifications to Blackberry’s messaging system, the latest version of iOS appears to bridge the gap between iOS and their biggest competitor, Android. But does it, really?

First, I’m a strong believer in experience over everything else. I’ve been extremely happy with Apple and the iOS since prior to the App Store and so many other developments throughout its history. Android has never appealed to me as much as iOS in terms of being something I would see myself using as my primary mobile platform. As with many things, there are some obvious pros and cons to it and any operating system that make it more appealing. iOS 5 has made great strides towards bridging the gap between it and its biggest competition, and several of the key features that bring many users to Android and Blackberry are finding their way to the iOS – at least in a similar form, function, and purpose.

One feature that remains virtually exclusive to Android phones (some of which have it on by default) is Swype. Through Swype, users are able to type in entire words using a single touch gesture. For some Android users, this is a must-have feature that makes sending out quick messages a snap. While there is a learning curve, several members of the community have commented at one point or another how easy it makes typing things out on the go, especially on such a small surface. iOS 5 doesn’t include this functionality, at least not yet. For now though, you are able to take advantage of Swype-like input if you have a jailbroken device through apps like iSwype.

Another feature Android has that isn’t currently present on the iPhone are widgets. Widgets allow you to see a limited display of information from apps without having to actually enter the app and make it fill the screen. For some applications such as search, weather, and Twitter, this can certainly serve a useful purpose. This experience can be hampered a bit by the combined processing power used to power these widgets. Where you might otherwise enjoy a fluid and fast transition between pages and/or apps, a screen leaded with widgets has the potential of bogging down the experience. Again, this depends entirely on what exactly those widgets do and how well they’re optimized for the operating system.

Admittedly, Android users still have a more open development environment allowing their developers the freedom to create apps that bend the rules of the OS. This can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on how you look at it. While one person might say this environment inspires creativity and ignites the passions of their development community, another might say it opens the door for 100 bad apps for every 1 good one.

Apple’s new iOS 5 is on its way and ultimately it’s up to the consumers to decide if the changes made are enough to drive more people to (or back to) iOS devices from the alternatives. It’s been said time and time again on this blog and others that competition drives innovation. I’m curious to see where this will take the industry, moving forward.

How to Install Chrome OS Using Parallels

Parallels is a popular virtual machine software for the Mac that allows you to operate a virtual Windows, Linux, or in this case Chrome OS system within your primary operating system. In the case of Windows, many tools are available to allow you cohesion between the two operating systems to create a more seamless experience for the user. In this instance, I decided to install Chrome OS using Parallels.

The first thing you’re going to need to do is pick up a copy of Parallels Desktop 6.

While you could install Chromium OS (the open source project behind Google’s Chrome OS) through Boot Camp, having such a trimmed down operating system running in the sandbox environment Parallels (or other virtual machine software such as VMWare Fusion or VirtualBox) provides can make removing or reinstalling Chrome OS much easier should something go wrong.

There are also features in Chrome OS that aren’t available in most builds of Chromium as the open source project is primarily geared towards developers that risk having their work lost from automatic updates on reboot.

Alright, so you have a Mac and Parallels is installed. Here is what you need to do to install Chrome OS in a virtual machine:

  • Launch Parallels.
  • Open the Virtual Machines List form the window menu.
  • Click on the drop-down arrow next to the plus sign at the bottom of the window.
  • Select “Download Chrome OS” from the menu.

That’s it, you’re done. Chrome OS will download and install automatically. All you need at that point is a Google login and password. Once set, you should be ready to browse the web on a sandboxed Chrome OS machine. This is one way to safely browse the web without worry of malicious malware or other problems to affect the rest of your system. If you’re satisfied with your experience on Parallels, you can seamlessly transfer over to a Chromebook or other Chrome OS device through sync.

Can Google+ Beat Facebook?

Can Google+ beat Facebook? That’s the question I’ve been asked again and again as early adopters are beginning to understand what Google+ has to offer its users. A full analysis of its potential won’t be possible for some time, as features are just not beginning to really take form and bugs are being worked out. In order to “beat” Facebook, Google+ would have to have a larger user base using it as their primary social network. That’s a tall order, considering Facebook’s 750 million users. The fact is, Google+ has the potential of “beating” Facebook, if they concentrate on a few key points moving forward.

First, Circles is an incredible feature that allows you to create groups of contacts in order to allow you to decide who in your social graph receives specific updates. This can come in handy when you’re sending out information to your close friends you wouldn’t necessarily want your parents to know, and so on and so forth. Where it may concern some users, LockerGnome’s own Kelly Clay included, is in the clique atmosphere it can foster. Even if you are sharing information with someone, that doesn’t mean they have to share it back to you. In fact, you could be missing information shared with a special few and not even know it. This kind of interaction isn’t preferred by some social network users, and it all comes down to personal preference. When it comes down to it, Circles is the most defining feature of Google+. This system determines who sees what. When they open their doors and the network begins to fill up with non-geeks, we’ll have a much better idea as to whether or not the perceived clique atmosphere will drive traffic away, or be met with a shrug.

Sparks is, at the present moment, not entirely useful. The information it provides is somewhat accurate, but that doesn’t stop completely unrelated information from propagating on a regular basis. The difference between it and the iGoogle home page is that you don’t have the inherent ability to select individual sources to pull from. With some work, it could become slightly more usable. It may be the perfect solution for casual Internet users that don’t have a lot of time to check various sources for the daily scoop on something they’re interested in. This isn’t a killer feature, and it probably won’t have much impact on users switching over from Facebook. If anything, this is an extra that is worth keeping an eye on for the future.

The Google+ photo management scheme is right on target. By integrating Picasa, Google has found the ideal compliment to the network without having to build a photo management system from scratch. The interface could use a bit more polish, but I think at this stage in beta they’re heading in the right direction. Facebook has a solid and recognized photo management system in place itself. Picasa is a system that I’ve recommended in the past and enjoy using myself. It’s cross-platform and in many ways it surpasses iPhoto. Integrating it in to Google+ was a good move on their part. Is this the feature that draws users away from Facebook and over to Google+? That depends largely on how important their photo collection is to those users.

Hangouts is the real innovation behind the network. Google has managed to take something that has been, until now, mostly 1 on 1 and opened it up to groups in a very socially forward manor. I can create a hangout and anyone in the public (or a defined circle) can join in with a single click in their activity stream. This is a great way to meet new people on a level that comment threads just doesn’t compare to. Hangouts have given me a new way to connect with the community and get their take on various topics. If there is one feature that brings Google+ in to the running against Facebook and other social networks, it’s probably Hangouts. Facebook’s Voice Calling is a wonderful feature, but until it becomes a socially open group activity, the edge has to go to Google+.

To say that Google+ will have a lot of catching up to do is an understatement, but it doesn’t hurt that it’s being supported by what amounts to the most powerful driving force of traffic on the web. For many users, Google is the Internet. Google+ is being built in to the Google experience for its users. It’s still in beta, and while early adopters are clamoring at the gates for invitations, the real test is in how the general public accepts the network. Will it have enough going for it to become the new primary social network for a significant number of Facebook’s users?

Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.

Reports: Blogger and Picasa Will Become Google Blogs and Google Photos

Two of Google’s best-known products are being renamed, according to some reports. Picasa is set to become Google Photos, and Blogger is potentially being rebranded as Google blogs. This is part of an overall strategy to bring their social properties together under Google+ to build a more well-rounded platform around the new social network.

In a recent Q&A thread on Google+, Jorge asked, “What do you think about Google rebranding Picasa and Blogger?”

At this point, several sources appear to have conflicting information. ZDNet, for example, has reported that while Picasa’s fate is uncertain, Blogger will retain its name.

Personally, I believe this is move makes absolute sense. Google+ creates a more social environment for their already socially-inclined services. Bloggers on Google Blogs will no-doubt benefit from the larger potential audience as integration in to a social network can make it easier to find you and your content than relying on Google Search alone.

Picasa is one of my most recommended photo management programs. In many ways, it’s superior to even iPhoto. Yes, you read that right, I’m recommending something over Apple software. It happens in cases like this when a company creates a photo management tool that works consistently.

Rebranding these properties and integrating them in to Google+ is a smart move for Google. In order to create a reliable social network, they needed to integrate the ability for users to upload and manage photos. Instead of starting anew and competing with their own product (Picasa), merging the two creates a cohesive environment where they can both flourish.

Bloggers often struggle with a way to find their audience. If you have a tech blog, for example, you’re one of thousands and thousands of others trying to find enough of an audience to hone in on their needs and find that niche you need to target. This integration has immediate benefits in terms of creating conversation with your readers. By doing so, readers can better interact with you as the writer and connect on a level most blog comment threads simply can’t provide.

It’s clear that Google has an overlying strategy in place. They have turned what many, including myself, assumed would be another half-hearted attempt to create a social network in to a feasible competitor to Facebook. By bringing in their various services and creating seamless integration, they may even be on the road to redefining how many current Google users think of the Internet.

What do you think?

FriendFeed vs Twitter vs Facebook vs Google+

The inspiration for this post came from Jason Huebel, having written about leaving FriendFeed behind for Google+ engagement.

Google+ is the new black.

So, is anybody else abandoning FriendFeed, Empire Avenue, Facebook, etc. for Google’s latest social effort? Do you see yourself decreasing the amount of time you spend on any other platform over the coming weeks? To me, I suppose, it’s a balancing act – and each silo has its merits. No doubt, I’m very happy with Google+ right now.

Twitter – “Everybody” is there, but every tweet is a flash in the pan. It’s always been next to impossible to establish a conversation there (and I’ve always resented people who called Twitter a conversation). It used to be a great way to drive attention, but that attention potential is watered down with every person who joins. You could have a million followers and less engagement than someone with a thousand.

Facebook – “Everybody” is there, but not all of your updates are seen by those who “Like” you. The privacy policy seems to change every other month. If you can look past the pokes and app invites, there’s nothing particularly agitating about Facebook (enough to drive millions away in droves). It’s also important to note that Facebook is like a data roach motel – you can get it in, but good luck getting it out.

FriendFeed – “Nobody” is there anymore, but those who are sticking to it are really active. Google+ reminds a lot of people (myself included) of the FriendFeed heyday, and it didn’t shock me to learn that Jason’s finally putting this network behind him. I took this screen shot of a Google+ Hangout with Jesse Stay this afternoon – another fan of FF:

Google Buzz – If you think about it, Google Buzz is / was really close to FriendFeed. People pumped-and-dumped their feeds into it and then abandoned the platform when “nobody” was actively using it. That said, Buzz isn’t dead yet – it’s still there as a Google+ sub-tab at the moment.

Empire Avenue – I really think Dups and his team really need to adapt their model very QUICKLY. It’s been great for discovery and engagement, but to increase awareness, they need to surface the social media engagement intelligence they’re collecting in a more cohesive fashion (allowing people to see their scores without necessarily putting themselves on the Market). It’s done a lot for my engagement and discovery acceleration, but the learning curve is still too high for the average user (who really would fall in love with the underlying statistics that EAv can bring).

MySpace – Well, let’s just see what Timberlake does with it. 😉

Which brings us to…

Google+ – “Everybody” will be here, guaranteed. With the right integration, your resonance-prone activity will be seen by more people. They need to address the noise, accommodate conversation threading, eliminate content duplicates, and a lot more – but they’re off to a damn good start.

Your thoughts on where Google+ sits in today’s social media landscape?

How to Disable Animated GIFs in Chrome

I admit it: I’m a huge fan of the animated GIF. Don’t worry, though – I’m not going to embed any in this post, because the chances of you wanting to see an animation after reading that headline are slim.

There’s nothing wrong with the GIF image file, itself – it’s just that when frames are spliced together into a single GIF file, the resulting animation may be jarring to some (especially when used as a web page background).

In most browsers, you can simply tap the ‘Esc’ key to halt the sequence (since turning off support for GIFs altogether is never advised). Google Chrome, however, doesn’t currently support such a feature – so, until that happens within the browser itself, there are a few Google Chrome Extensions you might try using:

If you care to test any one of these scripts, here’s a page with a simple animated GIF to try. Did the extension work for you?

I was prompted to assemble this post after one too many people complained that they didn’t want to see any more animated GIFs cluttering up their Google Plus experience. They may still appear in My Google+ Profile from time to time, but that shouldn’t stop you from following me (especially with these extensions installed).

How Can Google Improve Hangouts?

If you’ve been following my commentary and experiences with Google+, you’re probably not surprised to find out that Hangouts is one of my favorite features. The ability to create a spontaneous group video conference with people you’ve connected with online takes the casual chat and comment conversations to a new level.

There are, however, a few points on which Hangouts can improve in order to make it an even more powerful draw to bring people’s attention to Google+ and away from Facebook in the long term.

As the person that creates a hangout, I should be given some administrative abilities. In addition to being able to set topics and moderate chat, the power to kick and boot parties that aren’t playing well with others would also be a welcome addition. Having one troll enter a room can ruin the experience for everyone in the Hangout. Not every room has to be moderated. It just would be nice to have the option.

While you can broadcast the hangout to specific circles, though it would be nice if you had more control over who could and couldn’t join. If someone from the public circle is a repeated offender during public hangouts, it would help to have the ability to block that person from joining while allowing the public access to the conference call.

Another feature I’d like to see is the ability to record video from Hangouts built-in to the interface. These recordings could be dropped directly in to the videos section of your profile and made available once the recording is complete.

Don’t get me wrong, Google Hangouts is very good in its present form. There are always minor improvements that can be made to make any piece of software better. These were my suggestions.

What would your most wished for feature in Google+ be? Is there some missing feature that would convince you to make the move if it were to be implemented on a future update?

Talking to Google Voice Search Through Arduino

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Google. All opinions are 100% mine.

Imagine asking your computer a question verbally and having it give you an answer, or at least help you find the answers you’re looking for. This one of the founding principals behind Google’s new “Voice Search” project available to users of the Google Chrome browser. While we may still be some time away from recreating Tony Stark’s JARVIS system, the potential of building something like it may be at hand.

With the Android operating system, Google introduced a form of hands-free search by integrating speech recognition into the keyboard and search bar. This allowed users to enter in large amounts of data or search for something very specific without having to deal with the hassle associated with the smaller keyboard available on a mobile device.

This isn’t the first time speech recognition software has allowed users to interact with their software. Nuance (the makers Dragon speech recognition software) has dominated that realm for some time, with Microsoft making great strides itself with the technology in Windows 7. The one trend they have in common is the need to be trained in order to properly interpret words in to text. Late in 2010, Google added speech training to their voice search feature on Android in order to improve recognition in cases where accents and personal inflections require tweaking on the part of the program. For the most part, Google’s preset speech patterns work surprisingly well, and they’re getting more accurate as time goes on.

More recently, Google has moved their popular speech recognition platform to the desktop by adding the familiar microphone logo to the Google search bar. Currently, this feature is only supported for users of the latest version of the Google Chrome browser. It works by using your default microphone to allow you to say what you’d like to search for rather than requiring you to type it in. This can come in handy in cases where difficult spellings or lengthy search strings may otherwise hinder your results.

So, does it work? Surprisingly, it works very well – even when the microphone is a significant distance away from the person giving the command. No training of the voice search is necessary and the search is completed just as fast as it would have been if I had typed the string in myself. Unfortunately, Voice Search is currently available for users speaking U.S. English; if that’s not your native tongue, you may be waiting for Voice Search. It may also have difficulty working in cases where the user has a particularly thick accent or a high amount of background noise. The technology isn’t perfect, but it’s a good start.

So, how can we expand on this technology and make it work for us in more interesting applications? The folks over at BreakfastNewYork have adapted this open source technology in a way that allows them to create some rather interesting and unique object-based hacks. The Verbalizer is an open source board designed to work specifically with Google’s Voice Search for desktop. In a sense, they went out of their way to make voice search more fun – and it looks like they may be on to something.

This board allows you to try your hand at making something physical to interact with Voice Search. It connects to the system through Bluetooth. When triggered, it opens a new tab in the Google Chrome browser and activates Voice Search. An on-board mic picks up your speech and sends it over to Google, completing the search. The board is Arduino (an open-source electronics prototyping platform) compatible, which means it is fairly easy to find guides on how to modify and expand with a design of your own. If you want The Verbalizer, you can actually sign up through their web site and download the necessary software, documents, and schematics to get started on your project.

Cloud-based speech recognition software is certainly showing signs of its massive potential. Where the technology goes in the short and long term will no-doubt be determined by how users choose to support it. Natural interaction with our computers is another step in the evolution of technology that could lead towards that perfect science fiction scenario where talking to your computer will feel as natural as having a conversation.

Google+ Beta First Impressions

Google began testing their Google+ project in a closed invite-only beta. I’ve managed to get in before they closed their doors to new participants.

At first glance, Google+ looks a lot like a rough copy of Facebook. Google+ holds true to the minimalist style Google is known for with a very simple white background and text-dominated interface. However, this doesn’t keep it from appearing cluttered when you’re navigating around. In a sense, it’s both clean and cluttered at the same time.

Hangouts works fairly well. A video conference with up to eight people using nothing more than a browser seems difficult to pull off, but it works. Don’t expect the same audio/video quality you might enjoy with services like Skype and ooVoo. This may change as things progress, but for now it’s passable considering what Google is trying to accomplish.

Google+ allows you to sort your friends, family, and coworkers in to different circles. This allows you to send some photos, videos, and updates to your family while content you don’t want them to see can be sent directly to your friends. While it would be ill advised to post anything you don’t want the world to see on a social network, this does give you some extra sense of control over who does and doesn’t have access to certain content.

Overall, Google+ is a start. They certainly have a lot of work ahead of them if they plan to really take Facebook on and capture a sizable portion of their user base.

Bottom line, Google is a company built around targeted advertisements. Knowing more about their users can help them feed more targeted ads their way. It’s in their best interest to make the experience as easy and simple as possible. One way they are accomplishing this is by integrating several Google services users are already taking advantage of. Whether or not they will have what it takes to make Facebook the next Myspace is anyone’s guess at this point.