Monday, August 30, 2010

Android: Fragmentation? Or choice?

I've seen some articles and blog posts around advancing the view Android is "fragmented" and the telcos are ruining it by putting their own user interfaces on their phones. I suppose might look that way to some, particularly those used to the Apple iPhone paradigm: One phone. It's black.

I thought it might be fun to see how one might "spin" the reality of many versions of Android on a wide variety of phones from several different phone makers, as well as the issue of telcos offering their own user interfaces with their phones. I'll try to keep it brief.

First, "Fragmentation". What is fragmented? Yes, there are phones selling today with one of Android v1.5, 1.6, 2.1 and 2.2 loaded. Each new Android release has offered new functionality and features. There are good reasons to want to own a phone with the latest release. But that comes at a price. You need to buy a phone with enough memory and a fast enough processor to run Android v2.1 or v2.2.

What if you just want to make a cheap phone and push the smart phone boundary well down into the "feature phone" range? Then you have to load up Android v1.5 or v1.6 as they cope very well on slower phones with less RAM. Like the LG GT540 Optimus for NZ$399? It's an incredible phone for that price..and runs Android v1.6.

I own an Eken M001 tablet with 128MB of RAM and a processor that *barely* does 300MHz. It runs Android v1.6. It can't really run anything later. It's just too low-spec. It also has no GPS, no camera and no accelerometer. I bought it to see just how BAD it could be. Blow me's not bad at all. It's actually quite good. It happily runs virtually every Android app there is that doesn't need those things. Any limitations aren't in the OS, they are in the device itself and what the hardware can't do. But I got it for NZ$120 (US$80-ish) and for all intents and purposes I have a touchscreen netbook for that paltry sum. What a bargain.

So is that "fragmentation"? Or is it Android demonstrating it can offer a powerful functional platform at many price points on diverse hardware? Buy the one you want. You can't really go too far wrong as almost all the apps will run on any of them. Where some see "fragmentation" my blurry eyes have so far only been able to discern choice...and lots of it.

Can Google stop this? Why would they want to? Android is infesting every nook and cranny of the handheld device paradigm. It's Open Source. Anyone can take the source for ANY released Android version and deploy it on whatever device they care to port it to. Remember, the apps will run on anything - separate from the underlying hardware. That's been a computing Holy Grail for decades. Why would anyone want to stop that now that we've finally - almost - arrived?

Secondly, the telco user interfaces. Yeah...I find that annoying. But it only becomes unbearably annoying if it prevents me from downloading and installing one of the dozen or so Home apps available in the Market...thus replacing whatever the telco put on with something I like better. Open Home, aHome, GDE, DxTop, Panda Home, Home++, ADW.Launcher, Launcher Pro, Helix Luancher....and so on. I've run them all at one time or another. Whatever the telcos put on, I don't care as long as I can download one of these - or some other - and have whatever UI I want on my phone. I've owned an HTC Magic, an Acer Liquid and a Nexus One. I could make any of them look like whatever I wanted it to look like. That's one of the cool things about Android. If you want your phone to look and act like every other phone, then get an iPhone. There's only one model and it only comes in black. Would you buy a car that way? Or do you want 2-door or 4-door? 1.3L or a honking great V8? Hard top or convertible? that car 'fragemntation" that confuses the poor old car buyers? Maybe all they wanted was the Model black. :-)

So I don't really understand the UI confusion thing if one ofthe best aspects of Android is allowing the user to replace the UI almost completely with one of many apps created to do exactly that.  Where others apparently see eyes see choice and flexibility and more power for me, the phone owner.

The bottom line is the same apps run on almost all the phones - with the exceptions being more a function of the hardware in the device itself (phone versus tablet vs netbook) and the progression of capability that occurs from the lower end of the market toward the top end.

I can't really see Google being unhappy with an eco-system that lets anyone run Android on anything...and virtually all the apps work if the device itself can support it.

I've so far only been talking about stock, un-rooted phones. It's worth bearing in mind that almost every Android-bearing phone released so far has been rooted and each phone owner can gain system-wide access to their phone if they wish to go that route. Many of the more popular phones have very active communities of independent (and competent) developers creating their own versions of Android from the publicly available source code for the system itself. So if you *really* don't like what the telco did to your phone (but you bought it anyway), you don't have leave it that way. You have choices.

Android 3.0? Bring it on! I'm sure I'll find something to run it on.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The real reason Google stopped selling Nexus One online?

The story everywhere with respect to the Nexus One is shortage of supply due to lack of availability of the Samsung-sourced AMOLED screens used with the phone.

Google would almost certainly have been informed of the coming supply crunch weeks ahead of the wider market. They announced on May 14th that Nexus One availability was about to change. It was, after all, the only product sold in their online store. Google appear to have tried to reserve their remaining stock for developers as the phone is the reference platform for development of Android v3.0. Those have now sold out, too.

Looking in the rear-vision mirror, it looks like a case can be made for Google having decided to pull the plug on the online store at least in part because they knew they would soon face a supply crunch that would last months.....if it didn't last until the EOL for the phone itself.

Samsung are spending US$2.1 billion on a new screen factory that will allow them to almost double their annual capacity from 35 million units to 65 million units. Meanwhile, HTC have moved their phones to SONY's Super LCD.

Make sense?

Maybe we'll see a Super LCD Nexus One?

Friday, August 6, 2010

My fave Android apps right now

One comment: I don't really use task killers as Android does a very good job of managing tasks and memory. But - occasionally - I do resort to killing an app I specificially do not want running at all. In that case, I use Advanced Task Manager (paid).

My fave apps:

AndFTP and SwiFTP - the first is an FTP client and the second is an FTP server. A great pair for easily moving files between devices of *any* kind as long they have either an FTP client or server. Both free.

Estrongs File Explorer - a great file manager, but can also access Windows / samba file shares in a non-domain setting. Free.

AndroZip - A general archive management (rar, zip, whatever) utility that doubles as a very useful file manager. Free.

Rock Player - the only media player I know that can play Xvid AVI files on Android. Free or paid.

Meridian Pioneer - my favourite all-round music / media player. Free or paid.

Antropia - An media player and streaming Internet radio app. Average UI but *key* feature is that it buffers what you're hearing to the sdcard and you can save it as an mp3 if you liked it. Free (I think...not sure).

Beautiful Widgets - A Sense-like skin-able (loads!) clock and weather widget plus many other functional widgets (wifi, GPS, Bt, etc...etc..) Paid app

Handcent SMS - best SMS app. Period. Free.

"Maps and Nav [brut]" - turn-by-turn GPS nav. Hacked version of Google Maps. Effectively separate app. Exists alongside and does not conflict. Works really well. Free. Can be obtained via XDA-Developers and various web sites. A must have if you want GPS Nav for free.

AndCam3D - take 3D photos (stereo or anaglyph)

SlideIt keyboard - paid app. It's a slide-ya-finger-to-type keyboard. Easily as good as "Swype"...and not beta. It's a finished product and you can buy it. Better than ShapeWriter. I love this app. It makes mot typing easy and one-thumb, one-handed typing becomes possible and practical.

Chrome to Phone - get the Chrome browser extension and the Android app (free)...and send interesting web links to your phone from your Chrome browser. Click "send to phone" on the PC in Chrome...and then open the browser on the phone and the page you sent will come up on your phone.

SMS Mail Monkey - "Thanks for your txt. I'm not in right will. Will text you back!" - or whatever. Answer phone for txts.

Backup to Gmail - backs up txts, MMS and your phone's call log to your gmail account, filing each under an appropriate label. Love this app.

Better Terminal Pro - the best linux shell / terminal app for Android.

Wifi Tracker - paid app. Walk or drive along with the app running and GPS enabled...and it detects, locates and logs all wifi it sees. You can export CSV, KML (Google earth) and another the sdcard or to email. The Google earth files are awesome. You load the file and all the wifi is geo-located with clickable tags that dispay all attributes.

Camera ZOOM FX - loads of effects and props. A major extension of function beyond the default camera. Paid app.

Picsay Pro - take a photo, "share" it to PicSay Pro -> add a caption, effects, titles, adjust images properties (brightness, conrast, etc..)...and then save to SD or "share" it onward to any app thqat can receive a share -> gmail, twitter apps, printershare....*whatever*. Paid app, but I love it.

Printer Share - print stuff from your phone to any printer connected to a PC with the Printer Share PC app on it. Eg. - Can print on printer at home from phone anywhere. First 100 pages free.

Clipbot - supplements phone's clipboard. When the collector is on it captures and keeps all cut or copied text for individual or group selection later from the Clipbot app. Very useful when trying to copy / paste several pieces at once in stead of treating each individually.

SPB TV - Paid Internet streaming TV app. Must be over 100 channels from all parts of the world. Beware the Polish shopping channel that plays porn ads all night - in Europe. Includes Bloomberg, Euronews and many more.

TransDroid - Easy, simple app for remotely managing a bittorrent client / server.

AppMonster Pro - I use this for backing up the APKs for non-protected installed apps.

Ping - free. It pings things.

JetFlicks - subscribe to on-demand streaming of many of the most popular TV series of recent years. Usually multiple seasons available.

Adobe Flash Player - free. Needs Android v2.2. Works great with TVNZ OnDemand. Doesn't work with TV3's on demand. (Can see the ads....but the show never comes up).

Last but not least: Skyfire browser. Allows you to watch flash video on phones that can't yet support the Flash. I use d it mainly to watch video clips on the BBC News web site. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Eken M001 video: Is this fast enough for you?

The intention here is to show you what an Eken M001 looks like running custom firmware and set up to perform as well as it possibly can. To me, this is much faster and more responsive than the software that comes pre-loaded (v1.7.2) or the official v1.7.4 update.

  • ECOTOX v1.1.1 (based on Eken official v1.7.4 / Android v1.6) custom firmware (comes pre-rooted)
  • Home++ launcher / home app
  • 96MB Linux swap partition on sdcard

I didn't make a video of the official software as I didn't have enough battery. I left the charger at work tonight. Oops! In any case, I leave it to you to decide whether or not what you're seeing is fast enough.....whether you've seen any other flavour or not.

Bear in mind this is a very cheap, low spec device. I got it on TradeMe for NZ$156 (US$112 approx). It can be had for less.

I was looking at the M001 through the viewfinder on my SONY camera, so had a little finger trouble with fine movements on the screen as I couldn't see it very well.