Category Archives: Android

How to send your Android device’s photos to Apple iPhoto with Dropbox

android-logoA friend of mine recently got his first smartphone, and it happens to be an Android phone. He asked me how he could get his photos and video off of the phone and into iPhoto on his Mac. I had no idea, so I told him to try to connect the phone to the Mac via USB and see if it shows up in iPhoto like a camera. Unfortunately, that would be too easy and did not work.

The Dropbox solution

After researching the problem on the Internet I determined that the easiest method would be to use Dropbox and its automatic photo upload feature.

Step 1: Install Dropbox on your Mac

Before getting started you need to have a Dropbox account, if you don’t have one already. An account is free and comes with 2GB of storage (with ways to get more free storage through referrals and more). You then need to download and install Dropbox onto your Mac. The application will download automatically when you set up an account. You will need you login information when you install Dropbox on the computer.

Step 2: Install Dropbox on your Android phone and enable automatic photo uploads

Once the account is set up and Dropbox is installed on your Mac, you will want to install the Dropbox app from Google Play on your phone. Once installed on your phone, open the app and follow the steps to set it up using your account information. At one point in the setup you will be given the option to turn on the ability to automatically upload photos from your phone to Dropbox. You want to do this. There will also be an option to only enable this feature over WiFi. If you are on a limited data plan you will want to use the WiFi only option. Uploading photos uses data and you do not want to burn up your plan sending photos to Dropbox. Let the phone do this when you are connected to WiFi instead. If your plan is unlimited the choice is up to you, since you don’t have to worry about a data limit.

Once you complete this step, the phone will begin uploading the images already on your phone to your Dropbox account to a folder called Camera Uploads. It will also automatically upload any photo and video you take to Dropbox from this point forward.

Now you want to go back to your Mac and open your Dropbox folder . The easiest way to do this is to go to the Dropbox icon in your menu bar and click “Dropbox Folder.” The folder will open and you should notice a folder called Camera Uploads. This is the same folder that the phone is not loading your photos and videos into. If you open it you should see all of you content appearing.

dropbox

Step 3: Add your photos to iPhoto

Now you have to get those photos into iPhoto. To do this make sure you are in the Dropbox folder. Drag and drop the Camera Uploads folder to iPhoto in your dock. All of the content in the folder will be placed into an event in iPhoto and you are free to edit and share from iPhoto.

Step 4: Manage your limited Dropbox space

There is one final and important step. Your Dropbox account is not unlimited storage. You want to empty the Camera Uploads folder each time you import into iPhoto and free up that space. To do this open your Camera Uploads folder and choose “Select All” from the Edit menu. Next choose “Move to Trash” from the File menu. At some point you will want to empty the trash, but that is not required right now. This will empty the folder and free up that space. Keep in mind that this only deletes the photos from your Dropbox account. It does not delete them off the phone.

If you followed these steps correctly you are set and able to take photos and video off your Android phone and import them into iPhoto thanks to some help from Dropbox.

Android fragmentation may not be a bad thing after all

Android Fragmentation

Each month, more mobile device designers announce the release of one or more Android devices. Out of 682,000 unique device downloads of the OpenSignal cellular coverage app, the organization recorded 11,868 unique devices, a staggering improvement from the mere 3,997 recorded in the previous year. With the diversity comes the headache of creating apps that work well with the hardware specification variations.

Buyers Can Enjoy Device Flexibility and Feature Sets

As if the hardware specific fragmentation is not enough, Google, the custodian of the open source operating system, further agitates the fray by releasing new versions of the operating system every now and then. By factoring in the variation in operating systems, the number of unique devices in the market is no doubt going to increase. Many people critique this uncontrolled development and view it as a disaster in the making while others believe that it actually works for the best.

To some consumers, the fragmentation is highly welcome since it places thousands of devices on our hands. This gives us the power to make tradeoffs between hardware performance and cost of the device. You can satisfy your smartphone or tablet taste with different feature combinations. This flexibility will let users get no more than what they need from their Android devices and applications.

Developers Can Build Optimized Experiences

Android Fragmentation 2However, developers will most probably not welcome this idea of diversity. Most face the problem of having to scale their applications to accommodate the software and hardware diversities. To avail an application to several devices and OS versions, developers have to go an extra mile and make accommodations that either make their applications bulkier or even take a completely new approach and develop different applications for each unique device.

If developers decide to design different apps for different devices, users will download applications tailored to leverage the strengths their devices have on offer. Even though applications might not be the same in the app stores, users will always have access to an optimized application that works effectively on the device they have at hand.

A Chance for Us to Exercise our Human Resilience

What many people view as the downside of Android fragmentation might actually be a strength. With so many devices in question, there will always be something new to do regardless of the native operating system of firmware a manufacturer loads into their phone. This is evident in the many efforts freelance developers put into the development of customization apps and ROMs. This encourages the birth of new ideas in bid to make inferior devices and operating systems match their high-end counterparts.

As the number of unique devices jumping into the bandwagon increases by the day, developers and buyers just have to look for a way of making the best of this unstoppable event. It is an opportunity to exercise human resilience by converting shortcomings into strengths and scaling the hardware and software shortcomings to deliver applications that do more or less the same tasks regardless of what device they run on.

Distributed computing comes to Android with BOINC

Our understanding of the world around us has grown by leaps and bounds since the invention of the computer. The simulation of complex systems in particular involves crunching a ton of numbers, a task computers excel at. Unfortunately, the very best number crunchers happen to be extremely expensive, both to buy and to maintain. Through a system known as distributed computing large, complex tasks can be completed without the hassle of managing a supercomputer.

boinc_star
Image credit: NASA

In distributed computing, a central server offloads small tasks to the computers connected to its network. Each computer completes its task and sends the results back to the server. By utilizing the spare CPU cycles of tens of thousands of volunteer computers, a project like Folding@Home can complete vital research without needing to buy pricey supercomputers. Distributed computing networks exist for a vast array of scientific pursuits, including disease research, the factorization of large integers, and even the search for extraterrestrial life.

Major distributed computing platforms have been available for the desktop computer for more than a decade, and a Folding@Home app can even be installed on the PS3, but until now the mobile market has remained largely untouched. The Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC) has changed that with the recent release of their Android app.

boinc_settings

Upon first opening BOINC’s app you’ll be prompted to select a distributed computing project to contribute to. A brief overview of each project’s goals can be found on BOINC’s website or by selecting a project in the app. After selecting a project you’ll need to create an account to track your computing progress. Once you’ve created an account, BOINC is ready to do its work.

You’re probably thinking that an app of this nature would quickly drain your phone’s battery, and you’d be right if the BOINC app ran continuously. Thankfully, it isn’t configured to run continuously. By default, it only runs when your phone is connected to power, and even then only when the battery is charged to at least 90%. These settings (and others) can be fine tuned in the preferences menu. I highly recommend changing the max used storage space option to something much lower, as the default setting is absurdly high.

The computing power of a current generation smartphone might not compare to that of even a meager desktop computer, but combined with thousands of other phones that power becomes much more substantial. Every little bit helps.

BOINC is available for Android and can be found on the Play Store. Clients for Windows, Mac, and Linux can be found on the BOINC website.

4 ways to make your Android phone’s battery last longer

Android PowerageOne of the reasons why Android operated devices are highly welcome in the market is their exemplary multitasking capabilities. However, there is a price to pay for this. To maintain a good number of applications running in the background and on demand, the processor has to constantly keep a record of running apps and actively swap every now and then. As the number of services accomplished by the processor increase, so does the devices power consumption.

However, there are a couple of things that you can do to reduce your gadget’s power consumption. This freedom draws from the characteristic customization capabilities that Android devices possess. You can shut down some services and functionalities that you do not need and reduce the hardware performance to save battery juice for a nobler course.  Below are some of the basic tricks to help you accomplish this.

1. Turning off Unused Features

Most of the services and applications bundled into our Android devices do not have to run 24/7. For instance, you will not use you Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and data connection continuously. Even though these services make the device more functional, they also consume a good amount of power whenever they run, whether on active or idle mode.

To save on power, only turn on wireless connectivity when you intend to use it. Additional functionalities that may look cool but are unnecessary and power consuming include vibrations. Only use haptic feedback where necessary to conserve power.

2. Filter your notifications and reduce the number of apps that can ‘Auto-sync’

In bid to keep smartphones smart, most designers give them the power to ‘talk’ to the internet. The basic idea behind this is to allow the phone to access and process data on your behalf. However, such powers would be useless in some instances.

To ensure that your phone does not consume power processing unnecessary notifications or accessing the Internet every now and then for futile synchronization, you could turn off auto-sync and report generation for most of the apps and only let the most important applications retain this capability. This will help your device will stay alive for longer due to reduced power consumption.

3. Make Use of Power Control Widgets and Task Apps

Even though statistical reports show that the number of people purchasing smartphones is on the rise, not all of them know how to optimize their power settings. Developers seal this gap by releasing applications that help you regulate the number of processes your phone executes per unit time and the speed of execution to cut down on power consumption.

With a swift and convenient way to access most of the native setting from under the same roof, you are in a position to optimize your device to best suit your environment and requirements. The most basic things that you can change using these applications include screen brightness, processor frequency and allowed limit of process per unit time.

4. Power Efficient Customization Techniques

As device manufacturers struggle to create better display units, the power needed to run the high-resolution screens increases exponentially. Rendering high quality graphics on the screen at high brightness levels consumes more power than rendering still and dull graphics. When selecting your wallpaper and themes, go for something dull and simple to cut down on power hogging.

These are just some of the things that you can do to your smartphone in a bid to cut down on its power consumption. Though these measures might reduce your device’s performance, they are helpful especially if you do not have the opportunity to recharge every now and then.

Why are unlocked smartphones so expensive?

locked iphoneWhen signing a new contract plan, users can walk away with a brand new phone for only a couple hundred dollars. With the right options, rebates, and carrier, users may end up with a free, or nearly free version of their favorite smartphone. But it’s the stipulations that provide a good deal. Factor in contract fees and a lack of flexibility, and there’s very little room for wiggling.

Enter the super expensive “unlocked” phone. Phone service providers saw that their customers needed the option to come and go as they pleased, and they decided to let them. By charging them exorbitant amount. Purchasing a new, unlocked iPhone 5 will cost a hefty $649.99 – $600 if buying from a private party. And that doesn’t even include any service to go with it, phone or Internet. In contrast, signing a two-year contract will bring the same phone to $199.99.

What Gives?

A computer can easily be purchased for the price of an unlocked smartphone. It may not be the best or biggest, but it’s still a computer with all its working functions, software, available updates, and whatever else that makes electronics so expensive. Tablets – the fancy ones – even cost less than an unlocked smartphone. Therefore extra fees can’t be chalked up to hardware, parts, or even display.

So why are such large price tags being slapped on our phones? Many argue that users actually pay more over time with their contract deals, as there is a monthly fee built into service agreements. But unless that charge is named “sales tax” or “4G service,” most users would argue against said claim. Others state that the cell phone companies are subsidizing phone company expenses. True or not, this doesn’t account for why phones cost so much more than tablets and computers. If simple cell phones are given away, it can’t be the calling feature racking up the fees, right?

Is it really just about convenience? Even after one’s contract has been fulfilled, the phone belongs to Verizon, or AT&T, or whatever other service provider has stolen the device’s soul. Users aren’t locked into that phone indefinitely, per say, but without some possibly illegal adjustments, the devices are.

While the public may not understand these serious price hikes, it doesn’t look as though they’re going to reduce anytime soon. Fans of the iPhone simply have to decide whether it’s worth paying a few extra dollars, or sitting heavily under someone’s thumb.

An introduction to developing software for Google Glass

glass development

Now that Google Glass is quickly becoming a mainstream product, have you wondered how you can develop for Glass? Well, you don’t have to wonder anymore because Google has made available the Google Mirror API to help developers build web-based services that interact with Google Glass.

The developer guide gives a detailed explanation of how to develop timeline items, menu items, create subscriptions, enable location data, access to contacts and enable authorization. However, despite the ease of development for Glass, Google has also published developer guidelines to ensure that developers create applications that offer the desired user experience.

Timeline Items

Timeline items or cards, display content on Glass and can either be swiped forwards or backwards to reveal more cards in the past or future. The guideline shows how to insert, attach update, read, and delete timeline cards.

Menu Items

In order to make your services interesting, you need to allow users to interact with timeline cards. This can be done through menu items where users can tell glass to read a card aloud, navigate to a location, share the card contents, or reply to a message. Menu items can populated from a list of built-in items or custom created.

Subscriptions

When a user takes specific timeline actions or changes location, you can subscribe to such notifications. There are different notification types for different events. Some of these notification payloads include Shared timeline item, a reply,  a delete notification, a custom menu item selected, or a location update.

Location

User’s location be requested using the Google Mirror API including their last known location and periodic location updates. The API can also render maps and overlay makers and lines to signify important places and paths.

Contacts

The Glass API can allow users to share your timeline items with other contacts by allow them to tap a share menu item which displays a list of possible contacts to share with. It can also allow users to share timeline items with Glassware where you create a contact that represents Glassware and allow users to share with this contact. This can be declared to limit sharing for only specific cards.

Authorization

All requests to the Google Mirror API must be authorized using OAuth 2.0 credentials. When users load applications for the first time, they are presented with a dialog to grant permission to access their Google Glass account.  This one-time authorization is all that is needed even when your app is being used offline.

Developer Tools

Google has made available developer tools to help you get started with Glass Apps. The Google Mirror API Playground lets you experiment with content display while the Subscription Proxy can be used to subscribe to notifications in a production environment.

Vine continues to explode after Android release

vineNow that Vine for Android is a few weeks old, users are finding more and more uses for the six-second video app. Owned by Twitter and essentially creating the video form of tweets, Vine is taking the app market by storm. At a year old, Vine even topped Instagram for the most downloaded app among Android users. And the more users that are signing up for the app, the more uses that have been found for this handy little app.

In fact, it’s being used for almost everything. Entertainment, creative resumes, just-for-fun posts, even educational ventures, like sharing recipes or cooking instructions. By using the record feature only when it’s necessary (for instance, to show ingredients or important work history), viewers are able to fill in the gaps between shots. This cuts down on share time while creating unique and creative effects. The hold-when-necessary also provides a unique GIF-like appearance, showing the effect of jerky camerawork without giving viewers motion sickness.

Using the Vine

Because of its unique features – which include sound, stop motion, time restraint, and the ability to share directly to social media sites – Vine has been used for a number of creative video ventures, even more so than its competitors. Reporters are even using the app to share news events as they happen; while video can be recorded, emailed, and posted online, but why not upload a Vine recording directly to Twitter? This feature allows the timeliest of news to be shared while eliminating minimal technology delays.

Like Twitter, users cite one of the biggest perks is the time restraint. Users are becoming far more creative with their time without the ability to drag out pictures or instructions. For instance, with cooking-related Vine videos – ingredients are shown in sequence, along with the recipe in progress, until the final project is reached. During a cooking show, a viewer would have watched 30 minutes of program to see the finished product. But with Vine, instantaneous cuts down on all of the in between nonsense, like rambling or commercials.

Whether you sign up for Vine for a creative new way to explore social media or you’re looking for a trendy way to share information, this app seems to have something for everyone. Just click, record, and share.

To find out more about Vine or to start creating your own stop-motion videos, check out the app on Android and iOS.

An introduction to mobile app testing

Testing Apps

By now, it should be evident that smartphones are the next big thing. The explosion of consumer apps can be seen in just about every industry. Location intelligent mobile commerce apps, magazine apps, real-time trading apps, and gaming and social networking apps are just a few of the industry verticals experiencing this shift.

Mobile adoption has been experiencing exponential growth in the last few years and the trend does not seem to be stopping. This means that mobile apps will continue to become ever more critical to the success of businesses and companies. As such, what steps are you taking to prepare yourself for this technological revolution that is already unfolding?

One way to do this is to make sure your mobile apps are optimized and ready to go when users need them.

Apps on Mobile

According to a recent study, 60 percent of mobile users will only give your website or app three seconds to load otherwise they will abandon you. If you thought this was tough, then consider that out of those users, 43 percent do not intend to ever return to your app or site – EVER.  How then can you ensure that your app works the way its supposed to on multiple OS platforms? Should you test in-house or outsource? Can testing increase app store ratings? What are the challenges of app testing?

Lets get some answers to these questions…

Functional Testing

This includes checking the screen real estate, finding device specific bugs, normal use test, and idle run test. Exploring the application in a number of devices will help in locating usability problems. Device specific bugs can be identified as such when they are not reproducible on a desktop browser.

It is also imperative that you test battery usage by running the application 6-12 hours using an automated testing tool.

Usability Testing

apps_v14

This includes testing the functionality, layout & design, as well as the application interaction flow. This level of testing tries to make sure the user can complete tasks easily and without becoming frustrated.  Usability testing will also include ensure that apps are not crammed with so many features that they leave the users feeling overwhelmed. The goal should be to focus on immersive use that allows users to gain mastery of the content as opposed to quick hits that dilute app usability.

Load, Performance and Localization Testing

Performance issues such as crashes and hangs are common user complaints. These need to be addressed early before consumers divert to competitor apps and services. Your app should also support features unique to specific markets.

We can be sure that mobile apps are not going anywhere anytime soon, which means that when you spend time perfecting your app through testing, you are not losing anything but investing in the future of your company or business.

A look at Gmail’s new inbox with automatic email sorting

Gmail LogoI recently enabled the New Gmail inbox, and I have to say that this new update has me scratching my head.

(To experience the new Gmail Inbox, you have to simply click on the gear icon in your top right window just above the chat and choose “Configure Inbox.” From here, you can choose from the variety of tabs that Google has given to you.)

I understand that Google is known for frequently updating its products, regardless of whether or not an update is really necessary. It has become something of a corporate culture, and perhaps serves to show people that they really are putting the work in to improve their products.

However, was this recent update just a minor adjustment or a useful update to how you use Gmail?

Introducing the new Gmail Inbox with categories

2013-06-06_11h15_26

The way that the new Inbox is laid out is that instead of one Inbox that has the priority tags, there are multiple tabs on the top of your window. They are similar to tabs in a browser, and by clicking each one you access a different view of your inbox. The default ones that are selected are Primary, Social, and Promotions. If you would like, you also have the options to add Updates and Forums to your tabs as well.

Here are how Google defines each option:

  • Primary – Person-to-person conversations and messages that don’t appear in other tabs.
  • Social – Messages from social networks, media-sharing sites, online dating services, and other social websites.
  • Promotions – Deals, offers, and other marketing emails.
  • Updates – Personal, auto-generated emails including confirmations, receipts, bills and statements.
  • Forums – Messages from online groups, discussion boards, and mailing lists.

After you have chosen your tabs, you will notice that your email becomes all jumbled. Gmail automatically goes through all of your emails and places things where they “belong.” For example, anything that is an email generated from a forum comment will go into Forums, any recent email about a great deal will go in Promotions, etc. The idea here is that when you want to look for social emails, you go to social. When you want your updates such as bills and receipts then you go to Updates. I like the idea, and automatic sorting really makes using it literally effortless.

So what’s wrong with the new layout?

For me, I was immediately confused and a bit shocked to see that the “primary” option is exactly as it states. It is for emails that haven’t shown up in other tabs. What this meant took me a moment to process because I was so surprised and assumed it couldn’t be true. What this means is that there is no longer a unified inbox where you can go and just see ALL your email in one date sorted list. So if you don’t see it in primary, go to social. If it isn’t in there, try promotions, etc. This was immediately a deal breaker for me because this completely makes you rely on the automation process which would have to be flawless.

Is Google good enough to sort it out?

The answer to this is yes and no. Fortunately, Google is great at recognizing content in your emails (yes, that is creepy), but the built-in safety is that it will actually learn from you as you move your emails around. So for example, if you get an update in your Updates tab that you would prefer to be in your Social tab, you can simply drag them email onto the Social tab and Gmail will ask you if you would always like to do that for this sender. If you choose yes, then that senders email will go into the tab you chose.

The biggest problem I see with this is that it is essentially creating “rules” much like you would in Outlook or Apple mail. Yes they can be powerful, but not when they are the only choice across your whole email system. The fact is that a machine, although they have made incredible leaps and bounds, is not yet ready to determine exactly where I want my emails. Granted, the existence of one unified inbox that just shows you everything would be a great safety net that would make this whole experience much easier in my opinion.

Limited categorization options

I think the confusion and the difficulty now is that you can’t create your own tabs, and stuffing your email into these pre-created tabs is… well, hard. I immediately ran into questions that I just didn’t want to answer! Isn’t this forum response from a local club a social event? Is this marketing email also the address that sends me blog updates that I actually like to read? Is my second or third communication with a doctor, job, etc. considered an update or just in primary? They are technically updates to a situation right? All in all, it was just too confusing with too many questions that to be honest, I didn’t care to answer.

I don’t get seven thousand emails a day, a nice list of my emails with the occasional folder sorting would be fine for me. I know that for many people, that may not be the case.

New mobile apps

iOS appAnother huge problem I have with this system is the mobile Gmail app. Although I don’t have access to the Android version, the iOS version basically works so that you see each tab and have to tap into the side menu to switch between your tabs. That is two taps to switch between tabs, and I can see it being a huge pain to look through when you aren’t sure exactly where an email went. If the default was to see all your messages, then look at them in the tabs when you wanted, I would be ok with that. You would have a safe ground in some way.

Will it get better?

I have complete faith that Google will improve this system, and even just the added ability to create your own tabs will do wonders. Whether they put in one inbox that shows you everything, I’m not sure, but without it I won’t be using the new inbox. Google also has a reputation for quickly axing a change they made, and it just all of a sudden disappearing from your options. Perhaps this new tab system will go that way!

I think what it comes down to is: how complicated does your inbox need to be? For some people, simpler and straight forward is the way to go, and I think this new update pushes into complicated territory. For power users that love to organize, it may be a nice change, but for others it is a head scratching nuisance.

Google Keep: Note-taking from an Android’s perspective

Considering the sheer vastness of the Google Play marketplace, one can assume that there are countless apps that cover the realm of note-taking and to-do lists.  So it is not surprising that Google would try to architect a note/task app in their own fashion.  The result of this endeavor is Google Keep; an Android app that is a depository for ideas, notes, and to-do lists.

The app can be found (as expected) on the Google Play Store.  Here’s a breakdown of its inner-workings:

Google Keep

googlenote

The main application menu at first appears like the picture on the left: empty.  The simplest way to add a note in Google Keep is by using the “quick note” option at the top.  Once the note is created, it will appear on the main menu.

Left to right: To-Do List, Photo, and Voice Note
Left to right: To-Do List, Photo, and Voice Note

Underneath the quick note option are the buttons for the four main note types in Google Keep: a simple note, a to-do task list, a voice-to-text note, and a picture caption note.  Each of them are self-explanatory by namesake, so the minor details regarding their operation shall be skipped.

archived
Save those notes for later…
googlekeepdelete
…or not.

As notes get composed, they will fill up the main menu screen.  Existing notes can be modified by tapping once to open them or by holding to select (they turn blue).  Once one or more notes are selected, one can choose to delete them, share them, or archive them for future reference.  Notes that are in the archived folder can return to the main screen by holding and selecting it again and hitting the archive button again in the top right.

googlekeepcolors

If white seems a bit drab for a note color, do not fret; they can be colored to one’s liking.  Google Keep can also be placed as a widget on a home screen for quicker viewing and editing of notes.

The Google Drive Bit

googlekeepbrowser

Now colors are nice and all, but what else does Google Keep have to offer?  Well, very time a note is created, modified, or destroyed inside the Android app, it automatically syncs the changes with your Google account and placed them in Google Drive.  Because of this, notes can be accessed via a browser anytime from this web link here.  Likewise, if notes are modified while on the browser webpage, they are automatically updated when Google Keep is accessed again on Android.

Conclusion

Got a random thought or task that needs retention?  Let Google Keep help you with that.