Is it time to stop assuming users have Flash installed?

Remember when the iPad first came out in 2010, and the first thing everybody said was it was doomed because it didn’t have Flash? Well, it turns out most web site owners were able to accommodate this requirement, and these days even Android tablets and phones lack the once ubiquitous browser plugin. Yet, if you’ve ever browsed the web on an iOS device or an Android device (the chances are you have) you’ll know that in the vast majority of cases, everything has continued to work as normal. Staples of the Internet from BBC News to YouTube keep on working – when it comes to video at least (if you want to run Farmville sans plugin then you’re out of luck).

So when setting up my MacBook with a clean installation of OS X 10.9, I decided to see if it was possible to live without Flash. My guess was it would be, and why not? One less thing installed on your system means a reduced attack surface for malware, fewer processes running and hence better longer life, and in my experience, fewer browser hangs. I was wrong however – instead of using “feature detection” (as good web developers should) to determine whether the browser supports the Flash alternative to video, “HTML5 Video”– it seems the vast majority of sites employ user agent sniffing and will only show you the non-Flash version if you’re on a known mobile device. I kept on being asked to install Flash, even though my iPad works just fine without it. User agent sniffing is the reason why sites designed for IE6 will ask you to “upgrade” if you visit in IE11 –I can forgive any web developer working back when IE6 came out in 2001 for following what was then a standard industry practice, but User Agent Sniffing is now generally considered outdated, so why are so many sites still doing it when it comes to playing video?

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The Tile App

Wow, as someone who is always loosing my keys this looks right up my street. I look forward to trying it.

Interesting that they only support iOS at the moment, and say that lack of Android support is because of their unstable Bluetooth 4.0 stack.

The Tile App

 

o2 Aims to Make Your SMS Allowance Relevant Again With New App

Tu Go is a a great idea. It can turn your iPod, iPad, laptop, or Android Tablet into a phone. Call people as if you’re calling from your mobile, and have up to 5 devices ring when you receive a call, send and receive SMS messages and see a list of voicemails. 

Unlike Skype, there’s no ‘free’ calls if you call someone else using the app, all calls are charged as if you made them on your phone, as are messages.

To me this is less of a challenge to Skype, but might have more of an impact on people using iMessage, BBM or Google Talk for messaging across their devices. Now instead of being locked into your device operating system vendor’s ecosystem (iOS, Android, Blackberry), you can be locked into your network operators (albeit far more interoperable) system instead. This is a nice idea, since SMS messages sent from this app can still be receive by someone with an old phone. I do like iMessage, the typing indicator is particularly useful for knowing whether to keep you phone out because you can see the other person is about to respond but I am seriously considering switching to this since my contract gives me unlimited SMS anyway.

It remains to be seen how this app will affect battery life. On iOS at least, VOIP apps get launched on system boot and can poll their sever a minimum of every10 minutes. On Android anything goes with regards to background activity. Of course users without a cellular network connection (most iPads sold) will only be able to receive calls when they’re in a WiFi area. If it had a big impact, I probably wouldn’t use it.

What this does blur the line between what a phone is, and what a tablet is. How long before we just buy a device with a 3G/4G connection, and download our favourite VOIP app for making calls with? With a Bluetooth headset, could the iPad mini be your next phone?

Google Glasses: Something Microsoft Would Have Done (Ten Years Ago)

Google Glasses reminds me of something Microsoft would have released in the early to mid 00’s. The idea has merit, but it strikes me as not being thought through properly. Think Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, or the Origami.

Yes it’s a cool idea to be able to see a computer screen on a pair of glasses, as well as take video from your personal perspective – but will people really want to a) wear glasses all the time (for this to make sense, you need to wear it every waking hour of the day) b) interact with other people who may or may not be busy using their glasses while you talk to them c) interact with people who may or may not be videoing you while you’re talking to them.

Just as people didn’t want to prod a Desktop PC interface with a stylus, I can’t see these glasses being accepted by the masses in their current form. I think the idea does have merit, and would love to see something less intrusive that somehow manages to overcome these social barriers.

Google adverts for the glasses are an example of your typical “geek trying to make themself look overly extroverted to make up for being a geek” syndrome. How many people go skydiving that often? How many people if they did would wear such an expensive pair of glasses? Most normal people (like me) whose daily routine doesn’t involve jumping out of a plane, walking down a catwalk or juggling with fire will struggle to find a use for such a device.

Still, kudos to Google for putting them out there, just as with the Tablet PC in 2002, someone else might just make it work by 2023. Also I admit I haven’t tried them, so I might yet be converted. Better start saving…

Size doesn’t matter, it’s what you do with it that counts

Apple seems to be getting a lot of bad press recently because of their refusal to release a larger iPhone. That and the fact that iOS is apparently getting 'stale' because hasn't changed much since its release in 2007.
I completely disagree with this criticisms – and here's why: Firstly, when it comes to a phone, I don't believe bigger is better. What matters to me is the portability of the device, coupled with software which is of a high standard and turns this 'black mirror' into something useful. If anything, quality and resolution of the screen matters far more than the dimensions.
When people start talking up screen sizes, it reminds me of the TV market, where people routinely buy the biggest screen they can get for their money, even if it means the screen will disproportionately intrude into their living room. There hasn't been much innovation in TVs in the past 6 years, we've seen half-hearded attempts at 'app' ecosystems, but ultimately people just want to sit passively and watch stuff, not mess about with apps. Since the iPhone was released in 2007, introducing multitouch, inertia scrolling and a touch screen that didn't need a stylus, we haven't seen any other big changes in paradigm. The iPhone 4 got a super high resolution screen that made reading text all the more pleasurable. Apart from that, in terms of hardware at least, we've gotten thinner, lighter and faster and that's all.
With phones, the quality of the apps and ease of use is what makes the difference – not the size of the thing. Price also plays a part – a big part. Having used Android for the past 18 months (HTC Desire S, and a Nexus 7) I can't help but be drawn back to iOS, purely because th software is so much better.
 

 

Goodbye HTC Desire S, Hello iPhone

Did you read that right? Yes I posted to this blog in 2010 when I replaced my old iPhone 3GS with HTC’s Desire S. and 2 years before that when I replaced my Nokia N95 with the iPhone.

At the time of getting my Android phone I wasn’t too happy about the state of the iOS ecosystem. Apple was banning apps left right and enter, and the iPhone 4 didn’t excite me much. I took the plunge and switched to Android, and was immediately pleased with what I got. Over time however I came to regret that decision. What I took for granted in iOS was missing from Android – quality.

Quality is a difficult concept to describe. We all know it when we see it, but it isn’t always obvious to see when you’re looking for it. In the case of my HTC Desire S, quality means the small details in the user interface that you would never notice until you have to do without – take for example making a phone call to someone who isn’t available, I’d go to my recent contacts list (3rd in the list), tap their name, and wait while it rings. After 20 seconds it would hit voicemail. This was an urgent call, so I wanted to call back straight away. I hit ‘Hangup’ and went back to the recent call list, thinking to tap the name – still 3rd in the list. Just as I tap it however, it moved from 3rd in the list to 1st, and I end up calling someone else instead. The phone was just slow. It may have been dual-core compared to my single-core iPhone 3GS, but that comparison is like sitting a motorbike and a lorry next to each other with the same engine, and expecting them to hit 60 at the same time.

Then there was the lack of updates – it took a year for me to get Android 4.0 and when I  finally did it was through a HTC developers site (and made the phone even slower).

The on-board software was buggy and confusing. There seemed to be 2 of everything. A HTC Twitter app, the official Twitter app. A HTC mail client, and GMail, HTC Facebook and well, you get it. On the other hand with iOS you get minimalistic software that actually does useful stuff.

It wasn’t all bad of course, as by original blog post stated. You do get a lot more freedom, but I found myself not caring since Apple seems to be far more reasonable these days when it comes to App Store Approval (and I actually quite like the fact that Apps can’t take over system functions so easily).

So, I am glad to be back Smile

5 Must have mobile apps for Android

I thought I’d share with you some of the apps I use most often on my phone (a HTC desire S). Here are a few links to some “must have” apps (non-games).

Audible

I enjoy listening to Audiobooks while at the gym or driving, and this app makes it so easy. You can download any books you’ve purchased from Audible and the 30s rewind button and sleep timer are excellent additions. The ability to bookmark is also nice. Being owned by Amazon, I’m surprised your position and bookmarks are not backed up to the cloud (as they are when reading a book using the Kindle app) – so this means when I launch the app on my iPad I’m not in sync. Great app and great service.

Call Filter

I don’t like answering calls from anonymous callers – it’s usually someone trying to sell me something I don’t want. This handy little app silently sends anonymous incoming calls to voicemail, meaning anyone who does actually want to contact you can still leave a message for you to call back.

Dropbox

A while back I blogged about a rather convoluted way to mimic the excellent Photo Stream feature found on iOS on Android. That just got much easier thanks to the latest update to Dropbox which can now automatically synchronise photos and videos to your Dropbox account. No more plugging in your USB cable to download all your photos, and if you loose/wipe your phone your precious memories are safe.

IM+ Pro

A great chat application that lets me sign into MSN Messenger, Google Talk and Facebook all at once. The app cleverly maintains your sessions on their servers, and uses a highly efficient Push connection to keep you connected – meaning you can be signed into all your accounts and your battery won’t even notice. (Also well worth getting for iPad)

Dogcatcher

I love podcasts, and Dogcatcher is a great player for Android. I wouldn’t say it has the nicest User Experience I’ve ever seen, but functionality it has everything I could ask for from a mobile podcast player – including automatic downloading of new episodes (you can specify WiFi or Plugged in only). iPhone users should checkout Podcaster which provides similar functionality.

 

Hope you find this useful, let me know if you have any favourites.

Photostream in Android with Dropbox

Windows Phone 7 has always had the ability to automatically upload your photos to Skydrive, and iOS recently gained this feature with iCloud’s photo stream. But how can you do this on Android? The answer is by using a great little app called Real Sync to synchronise with Dropbox.
 
 
Simply add your dropbox account, then set Real Sync to immediately mirror the contents of your SD card’s DCIM folder (you can add rules to ignore large files if you like).

Desire S Review (part 2)

Having been using the phone over a month now (nearly 2), I have a good idea of what I think of it and how it compares to the iPhone.

User Experience

The user experience is no where near as good as the iPhone. A good example of this is when I enter the contacts app and press the Search key. The search field does not automatically get focus so I have to tap at the top of the screen (having just pressed the search key right at the bottom), and then move back down again to begin typing. It feels awkward and unpolished. Then there’s the bundled apps. Like a new laptop, the phone was bundled with lots of OEM crapware, it seems HTC want me to use their Twitter client and there’s no way to delete it (or even remove the icon). What is it with hardware manufactures being wannabe software companies? Just like those pointless Wifi utilities or Launcher bars the likes of Acer and HP used to bundle in with their laptops (HP even made their own Media Centre, the  Me Too Edition). Anyway, it’s a small annoyance but the abundance of so many icons is sure to confuse a lot of people.

Battery Life

The battery life is abysmal. It will last a day if you don’t use it much, but if you do use it frequently then you’ll need to take a charger around with you. The iPhone wasn’t great, but the battery would always last a day and have plenty left over. On the other hand, this is the price you pay for having a much more powerful device in your pocket, one that actually can multitask (The iPhone currently just pretend to, save for a few limited tasks) and once you get used to that, I think it would be hard to go back to a single-task based system. Being able to have the phone download new podcasts automatically every night, update Google Reader on schedule is a breath of fresh air for anyone who used to do that 5 years ago on their Symbian or PocketPC based phone – and then (like me) switched to the iPhone when it was the big thing. There are numerous ways to improve battery life, the best is to turn off background data – which kind of defeats the point of having such a phone, but it’s nice to know you could i theory get a couple of days out of it if needed, great if you ever go camping at a festival (although the camera sucks the battery a lot too).

Missing iOS?

For all it’s UX faults, I prefer Android. You want Wifi Music Sync? There’s an app for that. Free SatNav? There’s an app for that. Tethering over Wifi? There’s an app for that. Want to download the latest albums? Guess what, you can do that too. In fact, there’s an app for almost anything there is on the iPhone, and the Android version is nearly always less restricted and cheaper. The exception here is games, but I’ve still found a number quality gems, just less of the big names. So I can’t say I miss iOS much, except for the eye-candy. Maybe iOS 5 will sway me next time.

A highly recommended phone.

Goodbye iPhone, Hello HTC Desire S

So it’s nearly 2 years since I got my iPhone 3GS, and I decided I wanted to change. Not because the old 3GS was feeling old – it still felt snappy and the battery lasted 2 days. What made me change was those ever-so-annoying “if you don’t have an iPhone” adverts. The thought of being associated with a brand that came across as self-obsessed and narcissistic had slowly been eating away at me, and when I read this story my decision was made.

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Compared to iOS, Android has a very “home brewed” feeling to it. The interface is much more complex and far less intuitive. On the flip side however, that means everything is a lot more configurable. In this respect, Android reminds me of Windows Mobile and Symbian more so than it does iOS, I can schedule my work email to only push new items during work hours for example – something I missed from my Nokia, that the iPhone did not offer. The home screen is far superior to that of the iPhone, but it falls down on simple things: Renaming a folder was surprisingly difficult to work out, it turned out I needed to click and hold on the folder name in the folder’s popup. Dragging widgets is awkward as you can’t seem to have more than one floating at once, so rearranging them when the screen is full is impossible.

Unlocked Doors

While the software does have a “rough and ready” feel to it, this has benefits as there is virtually no vendor lock-in. I managed to stream music from my DLNA NAS box quite easily. Apple will let you do this, but only within their ecosystem. There is free satnav (although the phone doesn’t come with a carkit), voice input and a whole host of good quality apps available from the app store. One really useful feature is HTC Sense Online, which lets you locate your phone, make it ring, and lock it remotely – great when you think you may have lost it.

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Battery Life

I am disappointed with the battery life. My iPhone (when new) would be at about 70% at 5:30pm when I left work, with average use. The Desire S was at about 40%. It is doing a lot more however, and just proves how little battery technology has improved in the last few years.

Part 2 of review to come soon.