Archive for July, 2011

Android 3.1 update for Motorola Xoom available from today

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Existing users of Motorola Xoom and Xoom WiFi in India will receive an update from Android 3.0 to Android 3.1 over the air on July 29, the handset manufacturer has announced. The announcement concurs with an earlier report of The Mobile Indian.

The most notable of the new features, the 3.1 update activates the SD card slot so users can expand the memory of their Motorola Xoom up to 64GB, with the addition of a 32GB SD card. This update also includes improved multi-tasking, providing instant visual access to a large number of applications as well as resizable home screen widgets for Gmail, Calendar and Browser. Android 3.1 BrowserQuick Controls UI

Android 3.1 improves UI transitions, both within the system and across standard apps, says Google. Examples include an optimized  transition between the Launcher and the Apps list. Color, positioning, and text have all been tweaked for ease of use, and there is now a consistent audible feedback throughout the UI,

In addition, users are now said to be able to customize the touch-hold interval.

On the hardware front, Android 3.1 adds USB host support, as well as automatic hardware detection to support more USB accessories. Users can now attach "almost any type of external keyboard or mouse," and support has been added for PC joysticks and gamepads that are connected over USB or Bluetooth, says the company.

It will also bring, to the Motorola Xoom, support for most PC joysticks and gamepads that connect over USB or Bluetooth.

The Android 3.1 update will also enable the users to transfer picture directly from camera, so users can connect their cameras over USB and import their pictures to the gallery with a single touch.

Android 3.1 adds a WiFi lock feature that enables a continuous WiFi connection even when the device the screen is turned off. This enables users "to play continuous streamed music, video, and voice services for long periods, even when the device is otherwise idle." Besides, the Android 3.1 upgrade promises to bring Adobe Flash Player, as well as File Manager to the Xoom.

Google also announced it is adding movie rentals to Android Market. Starting today, thousands of movies starting at $2 a pop will be available, says the company. Users can rent a movie on their home computers, and then view it on their tablet or phone. Xoom users will get the feature today, and the update will roll out to Android 2.2 and above devices in the coming weeks.

The upgrade will be available over-the-air upgrade, which will trigger a notification window with the option for users to download the update immediately or at a later date. It can thereafter be downloaded manually by going to "Settings > About Tablet > System Updates". The upgrade is about 40MB in size. However, users must note here one thing that service providers do not provide over-the-air update. Hence, users may to upgrade their devices manually through Motorola’s website.

Other countries in Asia Pacific that will receive the same update include Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.

10 Android Apps birthed by the Google’s dying Google Labs project

imageThe Android Market is home to plenty of apps, but a few of the best Android apps you know and love today actually got their start in Google Labs, a proving ground that is being shut down.

Research SVP Bill Coughran announced via the Google Blog that the company would shut down Labs in order to put more wood behind fewer arrows. For those of you who don’t speak metaphor, Google is going to focus its resources on fewer projects in order to make those endeavors stronger and grow faster.

Google’s plan of action is to end all Lab experiments and concentrate on making existing products better. This does not mean that innovation will stop because Googlers will still have time for pet projects and the company will continue to develop new products. However, the Labs program will shut down. “Many of the Labs products that are Android apps today will continue to be available on Android Market,” according to Coughran, and some technology will be incorporated into other products, so don’t worry about losing out.

I can understand why Google would take this course of action. More than a few people have asked why Google has similar products in competition with each other, namely Pool Party and Photovine both having their own photo-sharing services rather than work with Google+ or Picasa.

Regardless of whether you think that’s right or wrong, let’s take a quick look back at some of the Android apps that have emerged from Google Labs, and see how they’ll survive.

1. App Inventor

App InventorThis was the most interesting Lab product in my opinion. Designed to give people a chance to create very basic apps and get an elementary understanding of Android app creation, it originally made me think the Market would be flooded with crap apps. It lives today as just another way to mess around with Android. Play with it for yourself.

2. Finance for Android

Finance for AndroidBack in March 2009, Google decided to remind us all how much the recession was kicking our economic butts with an app that could track stocks, portfolios, and news stories. The app has continued to do that ever since, and now offers real-time quotes for U.S. markets, but hasn’t improved much . I’d like to see this project get some more attention since it’s been stagnant for so long, and some international market support wouldn’t hurt either.

3. Gesture Search

Gesture SearchIn March 2010, Google came up with a way to quickly scroll through contacts by gesturing with an “N” and jumping to the names with an “N” in them. It was available as an app and never integrated into the default contacts app, so I soon lost interest. To be honest, I doubt people really care if this is supported or not, despite the 4.5 rating in the Android Market. A lack of updates makes me think Google doesn’t care much either.

4. Google Goggles

Google GogglesGoogle Goggles was hard to say and even harder to dislike in December 2009. Everyone loved the ability to take a picture of a book, CD, or image and instantly perform a web search on that product, place, or thing. Everyone except me, who thought it was very slow and inaccurate. But I’ve since grown to love Goggles for its ability to scan barcodes, identify wallpapers, and even translate text. I’m fairly confident this is one Labs product that will continue to flourish and get lots of support.

5. Google Listen

Google ListenGoogle Listen arrived in August 2009 as yet another podcast app. What made it special was that users could manage their feeds online and sync, stream, or download episodes. Search was terrible and the controls never got a pretty makeover, but Listen is still a highly popular app thanks to its simplicity and online connection to Google Reader. My money is on this surviving, but I could also see Google eventually using the technology in the Music app or building its own iTunes-like podcast directory into the Android Market.

6. Open Spot

Open SpotOpen Spot seemed like it would be useful when it launched in July 2010. The app helped people in the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands discover open parking spaces, saving them time and gas money by not having to drive all over the place looking for a spot. However, I hardly hear anyone talk much about this and it has received only 10,000 – 50,000 downloads in the Market, which is low for a Google app. Don’t be surprised if this guest gobbled up by the local team and becomes a Layer in the Google Maps app.

7. Places

PlacesOf all the Labs features, Places is the one I think has progressed the most and is likely to get the most support. Though it started as just a points of interest directory in May 2009, it has since grown to become a location finder that integrates deeply with Google services and has check-ins and offers to motivate people to use this over similar apps. This has already achieved big time status at Google and will continue to grow.

8. My Tracks

My Tracks My Tracks remains one of Google’s most useful apps long after its February 2009 debut. If you’ve ever gone cycling, hiking, running, or walking outdoors and wanted a tracking app to plot your course, there’s a good chance you did it with MyTracks. The app continues to be incredibly popular in the Android Market despite some third party applications that are just as good (if not better). I doubt we’ll see many new things come to MyTracks, but it will get bug fixes and maintenance updates.

9. Shopper

Shopper

I wondered why Shopper wasn’t just incorporated into Google Goggles when the app debuted in February 2010. Both were about scanning images or barcodes and performing search. But when you look at the recent changes to Shopper, with its Deals and comprehensive product search features, you can understand why Google choose to separate the app. Obviously this app will continue to get development and lots of changes in the future.

10. Sky Map

Sky MapSky Map was one of the killer apps I used to bring up when mentioning why someone should get an Android phone. I was even into astronomy, but the thought that you could put your phone up to the sky and get information about constellations based on your position in the world blew my mind. Sky Map launched in May 2009 and hasn’t been updated since December 2010, so its probably not going to get much attention. But given its cool factor and the fact that you don’t really need to add anything new to, I’m guessing we can at least count on some maintenance releases.

Google Maps updated to v5.8 – Adds photo uploads, my Places and more

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Another Google Maps update is now available in the Android Market bumping it up to v5.8. This update according to the change log covers some requested features surrounding the use of ‘Places’

  • Upload photos for a Place
  • My Places as a simple way to manage the Places you’ve starred and recently viewed
  • Descriptive terms for Places in search results
  • Add a new Place on-the-go when checking in

Having the ability to add photos to places is great, you can snap a pic and share with everyone what it looks like plus, the ability to add a place just makes a whole lot of sense considering not all places will be covered. In addition to those things, Google also added ‘Bigger text’ to Labs features and ‘Download map area’ has been renamed ‘Pre-cache map area.’ You can find the download past the break.

Android Quick App: Groupon

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For all of the money and time saving tips and tricks that Android gives us, every service deserves it’s 15 minutes of fame. Yes, there’s LivingSocial and Yelp, and even things like our dear friend GasBuddy, right now, the moment belongs to Groupon.

And for good reason, too. Besides the services that Groupon offers to us, like sweet coupons for all sorts of stuff (food comes to mind), they’ve actually developed a pretty strong Android app to let us all carry a bit of Groupon around with us.

For starters, the interface is really, really green and pleasant to look at. Everything is pretty easily laid out, and it’s not hard to get around. Open up the app and once you move past the giant logo, you’re presented with your coupon of the day. Don’t like what you’re being shown? A simple tap on the "More Deals" tab will pull up a larger, longer, and more comprehensive list of all the deals that’ll lighten your wallet (all while saving you some dough at the same time).

If your city is wrong, the top left corner pulls up a list of all of Groupon’s cities, leaving you to find your city of choice.

Quite possibly the coolest feature I discovered (if this has been out for a while, cut me some slack) is ability to find deals that are within a certain time frame, but only today! You can find all of this by clicking the "Now!" tab, and after your phone gets a rough idea of your location, you can see all sorts of different deals, along with their price and time frame you’re allowed to use them in.

You can also (obviously!) log into your Groupon account, and if you don’t have one, sign in with Facebook, if that’s your sort of thing. The settings menu is a bit bare, but it lets you turn on and off Groupon’s notifications, which is really helpful, especially if you’re not planning buying everyday.

It’s completely free to download and install and it runs pretty well, so if you’re a bargain hunter extraordinaire, you know what to do.

Pictures and download links are after the break.

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Samsung Galaxy S II Coming to Verizon, AT&T with QWERTY Slider

Android authority

Probably one of the chief reasons that the major mobile carriers in the United States have been mum about the Samsung Galaxy S II’s arrival on American shores is that the blockbuster Samsung smartphone is not arriving at all as the black slab of beauty and power that the rest of the world has come to know and love. Instead, a Samsung Galaxy S II variant bearing a slide-out horizontal QWERTY keyboard is heading to U.S. mobile carriers–the one that’s heading to AT&T anyway.

The latest word says Verizon will be the first to get its hands on the Samsung Galaxy S II, to be called the Samsung Function, with handsets appearing in Verizon stores as early as August 12. Daryl Deino of Examiner.com quoted Paul Mueller, an industry analyst based in Los Angeles, who tweeted that the Samsung Function “will arrive first on Verizon and then the rest of the carriers within a month. Samsung will market this directly against the iPhone 5.” We have yet to verify whether the Verizon version will be the same variant as AT&T is getting or the same plain candybar as the rest of the world saw.

Meanwhile, photos of the rumored Samsung Galaxy S II slider QWERTY variant expected to reach AT&T next month have cropped up. Tech blog Boy Genius Report has gathered exclusive live images of the handset and its keyboard. The device will take on the name Samsung Attain on AT&T, according to earlier reports, although that currently stays within the realm of rumor and speculation.

QWERTY keyboard

Android 2.3.4 GingerbreadThe leaked photos show the device’s model number as SGH-I927, with Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread onboard. The keys on the 4-row QWERTY keyboard are floating, completely separate from one another, flat rather than domed, and generously spaced apart. QWERTY lovers will probably love the spacing between keys, as that would mean avoiding accidental hitting of two keys at a time.back cover

The back cover has a rubber-like stud-textured finish–not quite like the one on the original Samsung Galaxy S II, whose back cover we find to be more elegant-looking. The camera array is wider than in the original S II and also houses what seems to be the phone’s speakers.

The AT&T variant of the Samsung Galaxy S II will expectedly be thicker than the original Galaxy S II because of the slider keyboard, although Boy Genius Report finds the phone’s depth to be still relatively thinner than other slide-out QWERTY smartphones.

 

imageLinpack AndroidAll the other delicious hardware specs in the original Samsung Galaxy S II seems to be intact in the AT&T variant–that is, the dual-core 1.2-GHz processor (some rumors say the clock speed will be raised to 1.4 GHz, allegedly to take the iPhone 5 head-on), 1 GB of RAM, 8-megapixel primary camera, 2-megapixel secondary camera, and 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus touchscreen.

Reactions about the presence of a QWERTY keyboard on the U.S. variant of the Samsung Galaxy S II have been mixed. Some love it, other’s don’t. What about you? Do you want your Samsung Galaxy S II with or without a sliding QWERTY?

What are you hoping for with Android Ice Cream Sandwich?

Android Ice Cream Sandwich

There is no doubt Google is working hard on their next release of Android, called Ice Cream Sandwich. What we do know is that Ice Cream Sandwich will probably be version 4.0, and it will end the need to have different versions of Android for tablets (Honeycomb) and phones (Gingerbread and below). Google execs said this would be Google’s “everywhere” OS for mobile phones, tablets, and other connected devices. The only other rumor we have heard is that phones will no longer need physical hardware buttons.

Is this all that we can expect? If the answer is yes, then it is going to be a boring release because Honeycomb is cool, but simply bringing that to the phone is not enough. I am pretty sure there is going to be a lot more UI enhancements and features.

There are two things I would like to see with the next version of Android, and that is the ability to log in with different accounts on each device and more cloud syncing.

With devices being shared by more people in the household, it becomes necessary to have different logins or profiles. This need is more apparent with tablets because they are more likely to be shared with more than one person in the house. If your spouse or child picks up the tablet, they should be able to login under their name (Gmail and password), which will give them their profile, apps, and home screen settings. They will have their own contacts, calendar, app settings, and app data available to them as if it were their own device, but when I pick it up, I should be able to log into my account the same way, and have access to my information.

If more than one person wants to play Angry Birds, but the house has one tablet, each person should have their own progress saved. The same goes for other types of apps like newsreaders. Each user may want to follow different news feeds. Then there is Facebook, Twitter, and of course, the ever important Google+. I know that the device manufacturers would rather sell me three tablets for my house, but we are not at that stage yet.

The other important item I would like to see is cloud backups and syncing for app data. For some apps there is the option to back up your data to the SD card, but that is not efficient if you have a lot of apps. It also is not going to work well if you use multiple devices, like a phone and a tablet.

If I just played Angry Birds on my phone, I should be able to go to my tablet and be able to have my game data synced with Google’s servers. This would, of course, be tied to my Gmail address. Going back to my 1st request of user log ins; when I log into the “family” tablet, I will be able to continue Angry Birds from where I left off on my phone. This should work with all apps, but go beyond the data, and backup settings as well. This will also make it much easier when purchasing a new phone or doing a factory reset.

We did a story yesterday about an app called SyncIt which attempts to backup app data with Dropbox. This is a really nice app, but we need something more efficient that all developers can easily add to their apps. Apple announced this type of syncing with iOS 5. We can agree, that Apple copied a lot from Android with iOS 5, but we can also agree that there are elements like this that weren’t. It will be a very useful feature for Apple users, but we need it on Android as well.

I would like to hear from you. These two additions would be nice, but there has to be more. What changes or additions would you like to see with the release of Ice Cream Sandwich? This might be our last chance to tell Google before they put the finishing touches on what might be the biggest Android update ever.

5 great 3D games for Android that are worth checking out

A lot of people buy smart phones like the iPhone with the intent to play some good games when they’re bored or have nothing else to do. As a completely new operating system, Android had very few games a couple of years ago, and was mostly used by software developers and geeks. There were a few arcade games like the ever-present Tetris, but nothing came close to the games selection of the iPhone, for example.

Fast forward a few years and Android is quickly becoming more popular than Windows Mobile and Palm WebOS, with a lot of new handsets running it and a few tens of thousands of apps, a lot of which are free, available on the Marketplace.

Having a Linux core, it is only natural that Android should have good 3D capabilities, and the latest games are using them to their full extent. Here are some of the best 3D games for Android phones that have the potential to make you stop carrying a Nintendo or PSP around.

Wave Blazer

Wave Blazer

This is an excellent game, in which you race some nice, futuristic-looking boats at break-neck speeds in a lot of beautiful locations. This game is like Need for Speed, only on water (though I remember an old desktop game that looked just like it, but I can’t remember the name). The graphics are great, the racing is fun and you can compete with other players using the multiplayer mode.

The only bad thing is that the battery will last quite a lot less than usual (a few hours at most), but this is true for all games, which use all of the available resources and therefore reduce battery life significantly.

 

Armageddon Squadron Raging Thunder

Armageddon Squadron

This is an amazing flight simulator and shooter, which gives you control of some of the most well-known World War 2 fighter planes. You are given missions like bombing ships and bases, finding submarines, dog fighting other planes, and generally unleashing hell on enemies. The weapons arsenal is pretty standard – bombs and machine guns. The game is very similar to the desktop Pacific Warriors, if you ever played it. With this game, time flies as fast as your planes :-) .

Raging Thunder (1 and 2)

These two games (which are very similar, just with different cars and a bit better graphics in the 2nd one) are a great alternative for Need for Speed. It’s beautiful, the racing itself is fun and the controls are good, which is all you need for a good racing experience on your phone. If you like racing games and have an Android phone, you’ll most definitely like this game.

ToonWarz 

This is a very good and fun FPS (First Person Shooter) game, with great graphics that could rival those of Sony’s PS1 and PS2 or even the PSP. It will definitely keep you entertained for a long while. The characters are weirdly fun, the story is simple (which is not necessarily bad) and the controls are good. It does support multiplayer, so you can have a death match with other people. It Quake 3 Arenacosts about $4.50 (the price is 3 euro), and it’s a pretty good investment.

Quake 3 Arena

You may probably ask, “What, THE Quake 3 Arena?”, and the answer will be Yes! The Android OS can run the full version of Q3A, and it’s not a port, but the desktop version itself! This only goes to show how far mobile devices have evolved. Just over a decade ago, I was playing this game over LAN with others using a computer with a 233 Mhz processor and 96 MB of RAM. Now anyone who likes it and has an Android phone can play it anytime, anywhere, with the same graphics and sound quality and childhood memories :-) . The main drawback is that you’ll need a hardware keyboard (Q3A wasn’t made for touch screens), but hopefully, somebody will make it work with any phone.

 

ToonWarz

As you can see, there are a lot of great 3D games for Android, which can keep you entertained for a very long while. Not only that, this year we’ll also see a lot of even better games in the future. The only thing you’ll definitely need to have to be able to fully enjoy them is a powerful enough phone, but that shouldn’t be a problem with the new generation of smartphones.

 

The Best Ways to Listen to Music on Your Android

Transfer iPod Music

Dragging around an MP3 player and a phone in your pocket or briefcase these days just seems silly. There are plenty of applications available for Android that can turn your Smartphone into a fully fledged jukebox, even if you don’t have much space left available on your SD card or internal memory. Whether it’s radio or streaming you’re looking for, Android has apps to help you rock out wherever you are or whatever mood you’re in.Pandora

Pandora:

Pandora is an internet radio streaming service that’s gotten damn good at determing what it is you like listening to and playing more just like it. Pandora works by creating customized stations around a certain band or artist. Pandora plays a song for you from that artist, and based on the thumbs up or thumbs down you give to the song, it bases future plays on your decision. Each song has the ability to be favorite, disliked, or skipped.

These decisions help Pandora really hone in on what you like and don’t like. For Groovesharkan internet radio service, it’s quite possibly the best in the business.

Grooveshark:

At the time of writing, the Grooveshark app is currently out of service. There is rumor that it will be making a return sometime very soon, and that makes us excited. Grooveshark for Android lets you search for anything you want to hear while on the go. Hear a song in the store that you want to jam out to in your car? Search for it on Grooveshark and let it rip. Grooveshark also has customized radios, similar to Pandora, that play songs similar to the one you were already listening to. With apps like Grooveshark that let you build playlists of any songs you want, there’s no need to even havea music library on your phone. Subsonic

Subsonic:

Tired of not being able to listen to that mountain of MP3s you have on your home computer while you’re out and about? Subsonic fixes that problem. A simple application install on your home computer provides instant access to your entire music collection from your smartphone. The Subsonic app is easy to install on your phone and provides you with the ability to play almost any music formats (including obscure ones like OGG and FLAC) streamed directly from your home computer to your phone. Subsonic is just like having your massive iPod with you, but on your phone. The desktop application interface could do with a little redesigning, but otherwise, it’s a fantastic app.

Songbird

 

Songbird:

Lastly, if you’re looking to keep things “old fashioned” and want to play music directly from your phone without using the somewhat shabby preinstalled music player, give Songbird a try. The simple and streamlined look makes browsing your music easy, and with Flickr integration, automatically pulling photos of the band and album from Flickr as you listen to a song, we think Songbird may be our favorite music player out that lets us play tunes straight from our SD cards.

AT&T preps for early to mid-September iPhone 5 launch

 

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BGR has exclusively learned that AT&T has begun communicating launch plans internally for Apple’s next-generation iPhone 5 handset. We have been told that AT&T has begun informing employees across the company, and those who work in retail locations, to finish any sort of employee training as soon as possible. AT&T is asking managers to finish training in order to have employees available for the influx of foot traffic expected in September, a proven source has shared with us. Other reports indicate that Apple is looking to hire additional Apple Store staff to be on hand for “new product launches” during the same period of time, further supporting our information. Apple is expected to announce the company’s next-generation iPhone at the end of August, with a launch to follow in the first half of September.

China officials close fake Apple stores in Kunming city

China has moved to shut down several fake Apple stores found in Kunming city.

Three of the elaborate fake stores, which mimicked the look of the real thing, came to the world’s attention after being exposed on a blog.

Following the publicity, trade officials investigated and found five stores in Kunming posing as official Apple retail outlets.

Two of the five have now been closed as their owners lacked a business license.

The BirdAbroad blog, written by an American woman living in Kunming, wrote about a visit to one fake Apple store which superficially resembled the official outlets.

In the article, the blogger wrote about conversations with staff, many of whom were convinced they worked for the US electronics firm.

Chinese officials investigated the shop visited by BirdAbroad but it was not one of those closed down. It has a license to trade and is selling genuine Apple products.

Apple has said it has no comment to make on the discovery of the counterfeit shops.

On her blog, BirdAbroad described the store as a “beautiful ripoff – a brilliant one – the best ripoff store we had ever seen”.

Apple Store

She describes how convincing the shop was at first glance because so much trouble had been taken to copy key elements of a real Apple store.

For instance, it has a winding staircase, upstairs seating area and employees wearing blue T-shirts and chunky ID lanyards.

Shoddy construction

On closer inspection, wrote BirdAbroad, the store did not seem to be constructed to a particularly high standard.

The stairs appeared to be poorly put together, the walls were not painted properly and, most damning, it had the words “Apple store” written on the shop front.

Staff in fake Apple store“Apple never writes ‘Apple Store’ on its signs – it just puts up the glowing, iconic fruit,” wrote BirdAbroad.

Research by the blogger revealed that the only official Apple stores in China are in Beijing and Shanghai. Staff believe they are working in a real Apple store

A further check revealed that none of the three stores she found are mentioned on Apple’s list of official resellers known to be trading in Kunming.

What was also unclear was where the fake store had got the Apple products on sale – whether they had come from an Apple distributor or a grey market source.

The blog entry mentioning the visit to the fake store has proved hugely popular and has gathered more than 500,000 visits in less than 48 hours.

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