Thursday, 16 May 2013

Life after Hangouts: Google Breadcrumb Trail, Google Popcorn, Google Bla Bla Bla, and the end of Android as we know it

Hangouts in the Play Store

Google released their messaging app called Google+ Hangouts. It's available for download for all Android devices except those that run really old Android versions.

Hangouts bundles Google Talk and Google+ chat. Some call it an integrated chat app, but for a real integrated chat suite the messaging features of Hangouts need to get built into a multi-network chat client like imo so you can hang out on Google, Skype, and Facebook at the same time.

What's in a name?

Why Hangouts?

Because it fits in the new naming philosophy that Google adopted when it launched the Play Store.

We all know the story of the Play Store, right? Android Market didn't cut it, so that stale and rusty name had to go. Let's face it, if you want your employees to download a spreadsheet app for their company-provided tablets, the best way to tell them you mean business is to send them to a place called Play Store. By renaming that old app store Google finally got its foot in the door of the corporate world.

Calling a messaging app something with chat, talk, or messaging in it was not a good idea either. Google saw the errors of their ways and promised to change. It was about time, with WhatsApp sitting on the top spot and Blackberry Messenger about to creep into Android this summer. That's why the marketing department at Mountain View pushed the Google Talk update as Google+ Hangouts. They had no choice. Any other name and you'd confuse it with a social network, a chatroom, or an online street corner next to the mobile liquor store.


All your Hangouts chats are stored in the Google cloud, so you can sync 'em across all your gadgets. You can switch chat history off, but only per chat. There's no "set and forget" switch to turn it off once and for all. You can't appear offline either. If your Android is online everyone can see you're ready to receive messages. If you don't want to hang out with your boss and your ex you'll have to block them.

Want to use Hangouts for a VoIP call? You can, but video is switched on by default. You have to mute the video part of video chat if you just want to talk. Hangouts doesn't do SMS yet, but Google will throw it into the mix later on.

When I opened Hangouts for the first time it populated its "frequently contacted" list with lots of people that I never ever texted, called, or hangouted in any way. With 25 entries that frequently contacted list is way too long, it takes a lot of scrolling to get to the main contact list.

On the bright side, Hangouts lets you hang up. The sign out option is buried deep down in the settings screen, but where WhatsApp and Viber refuse to add an off switch Google Hangouts lets you go incommunicado when you don't have time to chat. You can also "snooze" Hangouts, but you have to choose from a list of six preset durations in excessively large increments. Snoozing leaves you connected, but there'll be no notifications to wake you up. Hangouts won't let you switch off its autostart trigger, but on a rooted phone you can tame it with an autostart manager.

Hang on for more

Next victim candidate for the Big Renaming Operation (BRO): Google Maps.

Because a map sounds like something that your grandfather used back in 2007, and who wants to be seen with that? To regain street cred for their app that navigates the streets, Google decided on Google Breadcrumbs. Point it to a location (like an old skool hangout) and the new updated navigation app will fill your screen with tiny dots that morph into little crumbs of bread when you pinch to zoom in. Be careful though, because you'll end up hopelessly lost if your breadcrumbs get eaten by some Angry Birds.

Want to watch movies on your Android? In a few months Google will merge Androids video player with the movie store from the Play Store into a new movie app called Google Popcorn.

The biggest news comes last. When Google Voice goes global it will be rebranded so that everybody in all 200+ countries on the planet will instantly recognise what the app is for and how it should be used. After months of brainstorming, crowdthinking, and the combined efforts of the worlds ten biggest marketing firms Larry Page himself descended from the cloud to announce that the new ├╝berVoIP app will be known in the entire Galaxy (including the Galaxy S4 mini) as Google Bla Bla Bla. According to Google's Android development team they're aiming for a strong brand that elegantly catches the main use of all mobile voice options out there.

And it's not just apps. There's an entire operating system waiting for a new identity. The days of Android are numbered. But what will be its new name?

Hangouts in the Play Store

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Thursday, 9 May 2013

Small step towards integration: Google Earth adds Street View

Even though Android has a share menu to make apps talk together, things are not very integrated. Most Android apps do one thing only, and you usually need a collection of apps with overlapping functions to do related things. A handful of Google messaging apps, a bunch of different search apps, an email app and a Gmail app, and a bunch of alarm clock/countdown timer/stopwatch/time zone/clock synchronization apps instead of a single integrated time app. For chat and VoIP you need an entire homescreen!

And then there are the Google Earth, Google Maps, Street View, and Sky Map apps where a single integrated map and navigation app could have done the job. Google Maps doesn't even have a share menu, so you can't switch from a map in Maps to a birds eye view in Earth. Google Earth has a share menu, but you can't use it to jump from Earth to Maps. It looks like these apps were made on different planets in not-so-parallel universes.

But now Street View is cheating on Maps by sleeping with Earth. The new edition of Google Earth zooms down all the way to street level. It's still slow as an alien sloth, it still crashes as fast as a North Korean rocket, it's still not in the same galaxy as Google Maps, and it still doesn't let you swipe upwards to get a seamless view of the sky over the earth. But maybe a future update will launch Google Earth into space?

Google Earth

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Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Viber now VoIPs on Windows and Mac, adds video messages, forgets off switch again

The Color Purple

VoIP and messaging app Viber added a few new weapons to fight Skype.

But first things first: Viber is still ugly like hell, even with the new looks that come with the latest update. Holo looks or not, the Viber purple is only good for the color blind. The new icon is no beauty either. Now that it looks like a text balloon and its corners got rounded it looks a little bit more like WhatsApps icon. Well, the shape does. The color...

OK Computer

And now the purple beast attacks your computer too. Viber made versions for Windows and Mac (no Linux version yet), so Skype faces competition on even more devices.

Viber messages on computers sync with those on phones, and vice versa.

Viber can transfer calls from your phone to your computer or the other way 'round. If you started a call on your computer, you can switch it through to your phone and walk away from your desk. If your battery is about to run dry you can send the call to your computer. Pingponging live calls between phones and computers can be useful, sometimes.

Viber now lets you send video messages too. That doesn't mean its messaging feature can compete with WhatsApp yet, though. But they're inching a little closer. You can make video calls too, but only from your computer. Your phone only Vibers plain old speech.

You Talk Too Much

Too bad the off switch is still broken. If you want to be incommunicado for a while but keep your phone connected to the internet, you have to play with the autostart options on your rooted phone. There's no other way to make Vibers cloud-to-device-messaging service shut up. Same thing if you don't want Viber to autorun when you boot your phone, because Viber doesn't want your phone to run Viberless ever. When will Viber learn that when you're roaming abroad you don't mind a few bytes from WhatsApp, but you're not gonna spend a fortune VoIPing on a horribly expensive international data connection. Simply ignoring incoming calls is not an option, because you can't silence Vibers ringtone.

You can't block contacts on Viber either, so anyone who has your phone number can Viber you, even if you block normal calls in your contacts app.

The new update improved Viber a bit, but apps like Skype and Vonage still have lots of things that Viber doesn't have. It's time for Viber to release a public API so the developers at the xda forums can make custom Vibers for different tastes.


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Thursday, 2 May 2013

Google Googles stops taking the long way but keeps making noise

picture from Wikipedia
Google Googles is a great picture identifier, a good text and business card scanner, a useful translation app, a quick'n'dirty barcode scanner, sudoku solver, and a few things more.

But it has two things going against it.

A couple of updates ago Goggles got a start screen with picture shooting as an option. That extra screen meant you couldn't shoot pictures straight after opening the app anymore. The last update removed the extra screen, so you can start shooting without delay. Just like you could do with the very old versions of the app.

They didn't fix second flaw yet. When you shoot a picture and send it to Google, the Goggles app spits out a very loud and annoying beep. There's no way to switch it off, short of decompiling the APK and hunting down the code that generates that horrible beeping noise. Even if you put your phone in silent mode Goggles keeps screaming.

Time for Google to ditch the beep. While they're working on the app anyway, they can integrate it with their other Android search apps. Search, voice search, gesture search, and Goggles all in a single super search app, why didn't Google make this already?

Google Goggles

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