Something of a quieter week this week -- perhaps because of Independence Day and preparations there for. Still, there was plenty of news to keep us busy, including the NSA releasing a transparency report -- for what it's worth. Facebook found itself in the firing line after it transpired that the social network had been conducting psychological experiments by meddling with users' newsfeeds. Security is an on-going concern in technology, but it's something we have tendency to think about only in relation to computers and smartphones. One of the latest targets for malware and attacks is the power grid, and it's hard to tell what sort of havoc could be wreaked.
Microsoft tried to do its bit for security -- arguably in a misguided fashion -- by taking control of dynamic DNS service No-IP, and accidentally taking out a number of legitimate sites in addition to those malware-related ones -- the intended targets. In more positive Microsoft news, enhancements were made to Office 365's collaboration options. Windows Phone is still struggling in the smartphone market, but Microsoft will be hoping that this month's launch of Windows Phone 8.1 will help to improve things -- will the addition of folder support be enough? Looking further into the future, Joe pondered what Microsoft should do with Nokia. He also decided to give Windows another chance, helped along by his new Surface Pro 3.
It is hard to get excited about an Android smartphone nowadays. There are simply too many similar devices on the market. Slightly faster processor? Slightly larger screen? Yawn. At this point, Android is simply evolution rather than revolution. Hell, Google I/O 2014 was rather boring. While the proposed changes to Android "L" are nice, it is hardly anything to get excited about.
Instead, it seems that true innovation is coming from the manufacturers, rather than Google. There have been many cool additions to Android by Samsung, LG and HTC to name a few. Samsung in particular has enhanced the OS immensely with its tweaks and features. Sadly, many critics have lambasted that manufacturer for cluttering the user experience with too many features. While I understand the "less is more" philosophy, I refuse to fault any company for being too ambitious. For the past couple weeks, I have been testing Samsung's ambitions with the Samsung Galaxy S5 (Verizon) and I would like to share that with you.
Not to be overshadowed by the World Cup, this Saturday professional cycling's biggest event kicks off. The season may run February to October, but nothing compares to the month of July. That's when the world's best gather in France -- well England this time, at least for a couple of days -- to participate in the spectacle that is the Tour de France.
While almost 200 riders take to the starting line, very few have a real shot at winning the race -- it takes all-around skill, including climbing, time trialing, and staying out of trouble in general, as accidents have ruined the chances of favorites many times.
Google gains some control over the distribution of Android updates by pushing new features and changes directly through Google Play, quickly reaching a significant part of the user base without getting manufacturers and mobile operators involved in the process.
This is how Google Play Services 5.0, announced late last month at the I/O 2014 conference, is also making its way to Android users. The upgrade, which is rolling out now, targets both end users and developers, introducing new tools, features and APIs.
Last month, at its yearly I/O developer conference, Google introduced Android Wear, a version of the popular open-source operating system designed for wearables, like the LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live smartwatches. Connecting such devices to Android handsets is, as usual, a companion app, that Google just launched.
The app, called Android Wear, gives users the ability to manage their wearables, allowing them to adjust the preferences for voice commands (which play a key role in the Android Wear user experience), tweak notification settings (which, again, is an important feature for the platform), and of course configure the devices from the comfort of their Android handsets.
As we have come to expect from Samsung in the past couple of years, shortly after launching a new flagship Android smartphone, the South Korean maker will also introduce a smaller model sporting similar design traits and less powerful hardware (and, of course, a lower price tag).
This year is no exception as today Samsung takes the wraps off its new Galaxy S5 mini. The smartphone does not push the boundaries of what mini stands for, featuring a decently-sized 4.5-inch Super AMOLED display and physical dimensions on par with comparable handsets. It also does not skimp on Galaxy S5 features, coming with a fingerprint reader on the front and heart rate monitor on the back.
Samsung Galaxy S5 may face stiff competition from the likes of HTC One (M8), LG G3 and Sony Xperia Z2, but it is doing quite well sales-wise in major markets, according to a report released today by Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. Apple's older iPhone 5s, however, still edges ahead.
"In the USA the Samsung Galaxy S5 was the second highest selling smartphone in May just behind the iPhone 5s", says Kantar Worldpanel ComTech global strategic insight director Dominic Sunnebo. "Apple loyalty is high in the US, with former iPhone owners making up just 8 percent of Galaxy S5 sales. The majority of those switching to Samsung were LG and HTC users".
In a matter of months, a rumbling schism has developed in the Android camp. On one side sits HTC, churning out gleaming handsets of jaw-dropping design ingenuity. On the other sits Samsung, which seems content to slather everything in plastic, too busy beefing up its smartphones' specs to turn its attentions to ground-breaking design.
LG occupies the hallowed middle ground between the two, having packed impressive specs into a well-crafted handset. The LG G3 is the flagship weapon gunning for the Android top spot against Samsung and HTC -- and we have to say it's putting up quite the fight.
Google had lots of announcements at last week's I/O conference, though most seemed to have been overshadowed by Android Wear. However, that doesn't mean that the other things weren’t important. One of the items shown was Android TV, though it may lend as much confusion as it does clarity to Google's living room strategy.
There are a couple of reasons for that. First is that the company already has Google TV, which also runs Android, though the set-top boxes based on the platform have failed to gain much traction in the market. The other, and perhaps much more pressing issue, is Chromecast.
Plex is perhaps the best media server available for customers these days, though that will certainly vary by individual tastes. The server and apps are capable of running across almost any platform, and Google will apparently not provide a stumbling block for that.
The company is announcing it will be ready when Android TV launches later this year. The platform, which had been rumored for sometime, was announced this past week at the Google I/O conference.
The battle for dominance between Microsoft and Google continued, with Microsoft offering a huge storage boost for Office 365 and OneDrive users. This was quickly trumped by Google later in the week at 1/0 2014, when the company announced unlimited storage for Google Drive for Work users. Microsoft is basking in the glory of being heralded as cooler than Apple by Joe -- and stunts like offering cashback deals to sway MacBook Air owners into switching into Surface Pro 3 certainly helps. Microsoft opened a new store on Long Island, while Google branched out into new territory with a trial run of a new domain registration service. Microsoft also ventured into new waters with its first Android smartphone, the Nokia X2.
In something of an interesting twist, Microsoft opted to use Opera Mobile as the default web browser. Opera is also returning to Linux after the surprise release of Opera 24 Developer. Linux Mint 17 "Qiana" KDE was also released. Linux also managed to hit the headlines for facilitating the hacking of Google's Nest thermstats. If this hasn’t put you off, Logitech added support to its Harmony remotes.
Many Google fans and developers are still excited in the wake of an eventful Google I/O 2014. From a transcendent show-opener where a metaphor-heavy Rube Goldberg device crossed through the physical and digital space to more discussion on the expansion of wearable technology, there was something for everyone at this developer conference.
The US tech giant's big hitter of this year was an emphasis on improving the integration of Android apps more seamlessly into users' everyday lives. Conference attendants were also granted an unprecedented look at the figures behind Android users' buying habits in the Play Store.
At the I/O 2014 conference, Google showcased the latest version of Android, known only as L until its official launch later this year. Compared to its predecessor, KitKat, it comes with 64-bit support, design changes, the ART runtime running the show, tightened security, battery life and performance improvements, notifications tweaks, new APIs and more.
Android L may not yet be ready for prime time, but a preview version is now available for Nexus 5 and Nexus 7 (2013 Wi-Fi model), giving users the option to get comfortable with the slew of changes it introduces. Here is how you can download and install it.
Taiwanese maker HTC is now, undoubtedly, at the pinnacle of timely Android upgrades. It was among the first to announce and deliver KitKat, and now it is stepping up to the plate once again by revealing its Android "L" plans.
HTC says all of its One (M7) and One (M8) smartphones will receive Android L within 90 days of getting the final bits of code from Google. That means both unlocked and mobile operator-branded versions of its two most-recent flagships; One (M7) -- as the original One is referred to by HTC now -- arrived more than a year ago, while One (M8) was launched in late-March, 2014.
Google I/O 2014 started yesterday and, thanks to a lengthy first-day keynote, the search giant has already made plenty of headlines one after another. And for good reason, as it unveiled new software, new hardware (albeit none of it was Nexus-branded) and a number of sweeping changes to its portfolio. Say what you will, but Google sure had plenty of interesting things to show without even announcing a new Nexus tablet (as we were used to in the past two years).
The amount of information from the conference is overwhelming, so here is the tl;dr version.