Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Boot up: closed Android?, iOS 8 widgets explained, colonial .io

WWDC IOS 8 presentation Craig Federighi demonstrating an element of iOS 8. It’s not widgets.

A quick burst of 9 links for you to chew over, as picked by the Technology team

Andrew Cunningham:

Talking with Google engineering director David Burke confirmed that all of the new Android initiatives announced at the keynote this week--Android Wear, Android Auto, and Android TV--will have user interfaces and underlying software that is controlled by Google, not by the OEMs. "The UI is more part of the product in this case," Burke said to Ars of Android TV in particular. "We want to just have a very consistent user experience, so if you have one TV in one room and another TV in another room and they both say Android TV, we want them to work the same and look the same... The device manufacturers can brand it, and they might have services that they want to include with it, but otherwise it should be the same." ...The flipside of this is that the Wear, Auto, and TV components probably won't be things that people can download source code for and build on top of. If you want to build an Android watch or a set-top box of your own design, you'll have to do what Samsung did with the first Galaxy Gear or what Amazon did with the Fire TV--take the standard Android Open Source Project code and do all the UI work and form-factor-specific optimization yourself.

Closed-source and uncustomisable.

You know the scenario: friends come over, want to use your Wi-Fi, and expect you to just hand over the password. I don't know about you guys, but I'm pretty weird about just giving my password to everyone who walks through the door, regardless of how well I know them. Most of time I opt to type my password in for them, but there is an easier way: store your Wi-Fi info on an NFC tag. Then all it takes is one tap (assuming their phone has NFC, of course).

Of course.

The explanation comes after this part, which is instructive in itself:

The original iPhone was supposed to include a version of OS X-style Dashboard widgets, namely Weather and Stocks. They wouldn't have looked or acted any differently than any other full-screen iPhone app, but they would have been built like Dashboard widgets, using Apple's web technologies instead of native Objective-C. Since the presentation was to be no different, and the limits of WebKit at the time meant performance wasn't as good as native apps, they were ultimately rewritten in Objective-C anyway. Other platforms, including Nokia (pre-Windows Phone) and Android went ahead with widgets. What's more, they distinguished them from full-screen apps by making them smaller and letting them live on the home screen, amid the app icons. Power users loved them, but few mainstream customers embrace them. According to HTC, a prominent vendor of Android devices:

"Widgets [on HTC phones] aren't widely used - weather, clock and music are the most used and after that, fewer than 10% of customers use any other widgets. "Most of you don't modify your home screens much. In fact, after the first month of use, approximately 80% of you don't change your home screens any more."

David Meyer:

The .io country code top-level domain is pretty popular right now, particularly among tech startups that want to take advantage of the snappy input/output reference and the relative availability of names -- Fusion.io, Wise.io and Import.io are just a few examples. But who benefits from the sale of .io domains? Sadly, not the people who ultimately should. While .tv brings in millions of dollars each year for the tiny South Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, and .me benefits Montenegro, the people of the British Indian Ocean Territory, or the Chagos Islands, have no such luck. Indeed, profits from the sale of each .io domain flow to the very force that expelled the Chagossian or Ilois people from their equatorial land just a generation or two ago: the British government.

"Let's see what works from letting the people in the field -- the teachers, the students and the parents -- tell us what works," said Thomas Rubin, a consultant for a committee that oversees the spending of school-construction bonds. The initial money to pay for the technology is coming from voter-approved bonds. Officials have not yet identified funding to sustain the $1-billion-plus effort. Three of the laptops being tried in the high schools are likely to cost more than the iPads. A different style of laptop, called a Chromebook, would cost less. Teachers and students at the high schools sent delegations to try out devices and meet with vendors at district headquarters. It wasn't a perfect process. The curriculum, for example, was hard to assess in a process akin to speed dating, said one participant.

Microsoft reportedly has called off a plan to mass produce its small-size Surface Mini tablet because of fierce compeition in the small-size tablet segment, as well as negative responses from its brand vendor clients, according to sources from the upstream supply chain. Microsoft has finished developing the Surface Mini and also completed the product tests; however, mass production did not start as scheduled in May, the sources said, adding Microsoft still paid the costs for the module development and production equipment, the sources said.

"Brand vendor clients" probably meaning Dell, one suspects. Non-brand tablets prices simply make a Surface Mini a non-starter, the story suggests.

Peter Bryer:

Paul Eremenko, Google's visionary head of Project Ara, wants to further this by enabling a hardware bazaar of interchangeable gadgets that sit snugly on a Google-made "endoskeleton". Mr Eremenko spoke last week about his long-term ambitions for modular phones. He expects the devices to disrupt the smartphone industry entirely, bringing the basic building blocks to users and enabling them to add to these according to their needs and budgets. Mr Eremenko expects that Wi-Fi-enabled endoskeletons will be available from Google for $50 from as early as 2015. A beta version of the Module Developers Kit is already available for download, and the company is offering a $100,000 prize for what it judges as the most innovative Project Ara module. This is impressive forward momentum, but CCS Insight believes that the economic and logistical challenges of modular phones will be difficult to overcome (see Google Launches Build-Your-Own-Phone Project Ara) and that Google's energies to bring connected devices to another 5 billion users could be better spent. We understand that certain new technologies (such as functional 3G printing) are interesting developments for the industry, but the efficiency of mass-produced phones built with standardised components will be the greatest competitive hurdle for modular devices to overcome.

And, as he points out, it's now competing also with Android One. Any benefits from this most likely won't accrue in smartphones. In which case, what is Google's real plan?

Joseph Linaschke runs the site:

Apple does care about photographers -- even professional ones. They care deeply about them. I'm not saying this because I want to believe it, but because I know it. I got the call personally from Apple for two reasons yesterday -- because I run this site, and because I'm a professional photographer. Lots of pro 'tog friends got calls yesterday too. This decision didn't come lightly, it isn't personal, and no it wasn't made because they hate you, dear reader. It's a business decision and a technology decision and they are going to do everything possible to support the pros as much as feasible. Will Photos.app be the right solution for every pro out there? No, but neither was Aperture. Neither is Lightroom, or any other app you can name. So why am I so sure that Apple does care about photographers? Look at how much of the keynote and sessions at WWDC (the recent Apple World Wide Developers Conference) was dedicated to photography.

The benches, to be located in various parks, will allow residents to take a load off their feet -- while plugging in and recharging their cellphones. "Your cellphone doesn't just make phone calls, why should our benches just be seats?" Mayor Martin J. Walsh said in a statement Friday. The high-tech benches were invented by MIT Media Lab spinoff Changing Environments, a Verizon Innovation Program. The benches also connect wirelessly, using Verizon's network, to the internet to upload location-based environmental information, such as air quality and noise-level data. City officials said the first units in Boston will be funded by Cisco Systems, a leader in development of smart city solutions, at no cost to the city.

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