Saturday, April 8, 2017

Samsung's Galaxy S8 is (almost) here. It's a beautiful hardware package, if you ask me. And it runs Android. Google's Android. Why does such a large manufacturer still rely on software made by a different company?

Friday, January 6, 2017

There have been rumors about a new OS, Andromeda, all throughout 2016. Andromeda would be a combination of Chrome OS and Android, but Google has always denied something like this was going on. Hiroshi Lockheimer, responsible for Chrome OS, Android and Google Play told The Guardian last month that a merge of code would not be happening, “ but we are doing is to bring the best of both systems to each other.”

The Samsung Chromebook Plus and Chromebook Pro seem to do exactly that. For a while, select Chromebook models were able to run Android apps, but these new devices, which Samsung developed in partnership with Google, are built around this possibility. They are convertible from laptop to tablet, have a touchscreen and a built-in pen.

I wrote about Chrome OS before and I also tested Remix OS, which is essentially Android for PCs. I then thought that Android was a little limited as a full desktop OS, especially when using an app like Chrome, which doesn’t have extensions on mobile. With a device like this, you get both all your favorite Android apps + a full version of Chrome.

Actually, I think this might also be the best Android tablet, because Chrome OS is simply suited better for a larger display than Android these days. So, I’m wondering where Google takes this in 2017.

Chrome OS already was perfect for most average computer users. A lot of people buy expensive Macbooks while all they do is reading email and watching Netflix. Convertible Chromebooks might be — just like Microsoft’s Surface — a good replacement for both a tablet and a laptop.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Yesterday Instagram launched live video and an option to send disappearing videos and photos to your friends. This sounds oddly familiar of course, especially combined with Stories, which launched in August.

Yes, Instagram now has most of things that make Snapchat popular (they didn’t copy lenses.. yet). But they didn’t just copy those features, they made them better. I can only speak from an Android perspective, but I know many people will agree with me when I say that Snapchat is a horrible app. It just feels slow. It doesn’t even take proper photos, but just a “screenshot” of the viewfinder. Evan Spiegel uses an iPhone and you can tell by looking at his own Android app.

In terms of UI I don’t think I have any app on my phone that’s worse than Snapchat. I do believe Snapchat wants to be an app that is as easy to use as possible and I think that might have been the case in the early days, despite its unconventional interface (not following guidelines). But Snapchat has received many new features over the years and instead of rethinking how all of those would fit in the app they just added another layer of unnatural interaction. They’ve made some improvements in the form of animations, but generally a lot of things are hidden behind swipes and there is no indication whatsoever that they exist.

left: Snapchat | right: Instagram

Take a look at the chat screen for example. Snapchat shows a mixed list of text, photo and video chats, but you’re able to initiate a text chat with all of them. Instagram splits photos/videos and text messages.

Snapchat also recently changed the way you watch stories and people hated it. It appeared they hadn’t looked into how people used the app at all.

I have yet to decide whether or not I like the changes Instagram is making. What I mean by that is that I liked Instagram the way it was as a photo sharing app. But I have to admit the new additions feel natural, because I think they’re implemented in a good way. One other important thing is that I only open Snapchat when I receive a personal snap. I check Instagram 100 times every day, because I always know there’s something new in my feed. I follow more people on Instagram and have more followers compared to friends on Snapchat. Interestingly, some people who are my Snapchat friends don’t follow me on Instagram and vice versa, but the amount of people that see my Instagram Story vs my Snapchat Story is about the same.

Instead of improving Snapchat, Snap decided to sell goofy glasses. And why wouldn't they? The whole world is using Snapchat already anyway. Maybe they get away with it, but maybe not now there is a viable competitor.

Facebook has tried to copy Snapchat many times by implementing sort-like features in Messenger and releasing it in countries where Snapchat isn’t that popular yet. Remember Slingshot? That app was launched in 2014. But now, 2 years later it finally found the right place: its hugely popular photo sharing app Instagram. And it found the right man in Kevin Weil, former VP of product at Twitter who joined in January.

It turned out Snapchat is a great concept, but the company left room for improvement. And if you do that, another company will take it and make it better. If Spiegel didn’t already know this, he does now for sure.

Friday, August 26, 2016

I wake up next to a broken down spaceship, like everyone else who decided to buy No Man’s Sky after years of hype and anticipation. While the opening sequence is the same for everyone, the location isn’t. Every single player gets to start on a unique planet, where no other player has ever been before, in a massive procedurally generated universe. It’s this crazy idea — that every single star system, planet, animal, plant, cloud, everything was created by a mathematical super formula, based on some rules given by the developers and designers of Hello Games — that kept me interested since that first trailer at VGX in 2013.

I think I’ve read and watched almost every interview with Hello Games founder Sean Murray, who speaks about NMS as if it’s always been the game he wanted to play as a kid. Sometimes I wonder if they randomly decided he should be Hello Games’ “PR guy”, because he can be a little awkward at times, but this game really came straight out of his mind.

That’s certainly one of the things I admire in the team at Hello Games. If you’re working with such a small team you are not part of the game, you more or less are the game. Surviving and sticking to your own original ideas and plans in the circumstances NMS has been in is an incredible journey and accomplishment on its own.

Very few people get the chance to reach so many people with their creativity, let alone make money with it, especially at this worldwide scale. The only people I can think of are 17th century painters, but they were mostly long gone before the fame came.

I think many creators struggle with it at some point: I have an audience. People are following me on Medium or subscribing on YouTube. I now have the duty to make things they like.

In a way I think that’s No Man’s Sky’s and Murray’s most important lesson: It’s possible to stay true to yourself and your ideas even if you have a (very large) audience. People started following you because of you and your creativity and ideas in the first place.

NMS isn’t for everyone, but apart from sunlight and air what is? And if you are one of many who are not interested in this game, let it and its creation process at least be an inspiration.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

In a TV interview Tim Cook said he “couldn’t disagree more” with Toni Sacconaghi, who said to New York Times that “there’s no question that Apple’s best days are behind it.” But when was the last time Apple was innovative?

Maybe it was in 2010, when it introduced the iPad and kickstarted the tablet market. Or maybe it was in 2007 when Steve Jobs announced an iPod, a phone and an internet communicator, all in one device. What about the Watch? The iPhone and iPad did something radically new, but the Watch came at a time when some companies already released their second generation. Apple’s Watch did nothing different or better and fails to find an audience like every other smartwatch.

For a long time, the iPhone was arguably the best mobile camera out there, but phones from Samsung and even Google’s Nexus devices, which are generally known for having cameras that are below the standard, now have comparable or sometimes better offerings. It’s hard to find a new gimmick, since other companies already tried dual lenses, laser auto-focus and larger pixels.

Apparently, a lot of people still like smaller iPhones and did not upgrade to a larger iPhone 6 or 6s. But Apple failed to give them a smaller iPhone 6s. Instead, it recycled its iPhone 5s design and updated the internals. But the worst thing is that it’s selling only 16 and 64GB configurations, which roughly translates to something like “screw you, customer”. Apple did something similar with the new iMac they released last year. The base model comes with a 5400 RPM HDD, which already was a total rip off in 2012.

Speaking of Mac, Apple recently updated its new MacBook line right after HP announced a laptop that’s not only thinner, but also has a fast Intel Core i processor. Apple’s new version still has the slower M processor and still has one freaking USB C port.

It’s also been a while since the MacBook Pro saw a design refresh. Meanwhile, Dell managed to get a 13-inch screen in the package of an 11-inch laptop, thanks to its virtually borderless display.
And I don’t have to say much about the charging port on the Magic Mouse 2…

But the biggest sign that tells me Apple is done innovating is this battery case, remember?

Is it because of patents they couldn’t do it in a different way? Maybe, but something tells me that Jobs rather had not done it if it couldn’t be done the right way. Besides, this is a cheap way of solving the battery problem. Perhaps you cannot expect Apple to come up with some kind of revolutionary battery, but they could at least try something (free pro tip: make the damn phone thicker).

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Not every year, a new browser is born, but it looks like 2016 is going to be very special. Not one, but two browsers will hit version 1.0 soon (edit: Vivaldi is out now). Both Vivaldi, from Opera co-founder Jon S. von Tetzchner, and Brave, from JavaScript creator Brendan Eich, are based on Chrome (Chromium), but they are not the same.

Vivaldi is more of a re-skin of Chrome, with a lot of customization options and a bunch of additions (some of which are on the way, like mail). There is still a lot of Chrome code left, not sure if they will ever get rid of that. Personally, I don’t mind, because it makes it makes the switch easier. Also, Vivaldi currently only has a desktop version.
Vivaldi grew out of a frustration some of the early day Opera employees had. Opera rebooted itself a few years ago, ditching a lot of features including its own Presto rendering engine. The new browser was based on Chrome, but was also much simpler than Opera 12. A lot of users didn’t like this new direction. Vivaldi hopes to be a browser for “power users”.

Brave is on desktop, Android and iOS and while the desktop browser is based on Chrome, the iOS version is based on Firefox. On Android, Link Bubble forms the base and allows you to load sites in a bubble and open them when they’re finished, which means that the user spends less time waiting for sites to load. The experience of using the browser will be kinda different on every platform, but at the same time, I think a modern browser should adapt to specific use cases.
Something all versions have in common is tracking protection and ad blocking/replacing. Brave plans to get rid of normal ads that may violate our privacy and replace them with ads that are based on what the browser sees about you, but then anonymously.
Brave seems to be a much more stripped-down version of Chrome; there probably isn’t really a way you can tell it’s based on Google’s browser. Unlike Vivaldi, Brave is completely open-source.

Vivaldi and Brave took a very different approach when it comes to getting it out the door. Vivaldi went through a long technical preview phase that saw a couple bigger releases, as well as regular snapshots. It’s currently in beta and will see a stable release “when it’s ready”. Brave released on all major platforms around the same time, maintaining the momentum of the announcement, but the desktop version is at an 0.7 dev release right now, meaning that it probably isn’t ready for daily usage.

In terms of features, Vivaldi has a lot more than Brave right now, but Brave appears to load pages really fast, beating Chrome in JavaScript benchmarks in my tests (probably not a surprise, huh).
The main idea and goals behind the browsers are different. I’ve been using Vivaldi every now and then for quite a while and it’s probably going to be the browser I will use the most. But I’m also someone that has about 10 different browsers installed, so I’ll be switching a lot nonetheless.

Microsoft Edge

Then there is also Microsoft Edge. Although the browser isn’t exactly new in 2016, it still misses a lot of features that other browsers have (even Internet Explorer has extensions). The only thing that pleases me right now is the fast startup time, but other than that, there isn’t a lot of exiting stuff. Sure, you can draw on pages and there is a reading mode, but without extensions like password managers and adblockers, I don’t expect many people to switch from Chrome or Firefox.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

While the world’s most popular mobile operating system is quite powerful, porting it to PCs doesn’t sound like a great idea right away. But Jide, a new Chinese company, took a chance.

After two successful Kickstarter campaigns — one for a “laptop experience on a big Android tablet” and an Android mini PC, that was even more successful — Jide is selling devices running Remix OS and it just released a first developer alpha version of its software, which you can download for free. Reviewing a very early alpha version doesn’t really sound fair, so it’s more something like a first impression.

Jide didn’t just make stock Android running on PCs, Remix OS is based on the open source Android-x86 project, which, for now, is Android 5.1. It runs on a USB flash drive (2.0, but 3.0 is preferable because of speed), but you need some knowhow of what a BIOS is in order to run it, although it’s really not that hard. Once you’re in, you see a desktop environment that you recognize from other PC systems. The first version I tried came with the Google Play Store, but newer versions do not have that included yet. However, you can install any APK and there is a one-click way to get the Play Store.

Besides the expected desktop there is a taskbar and a Windows like start button and menu, comparable to the app drawer on your phone. There is a notification area on the right side as well as status things like wifi and a clock. It also comes with a real file manager.

While Android has multitasking built in, it’s not really multitasking. But in Remix OS you can open multiple apps at the same time and resize the windows to position them. An app auto-snaps to the side when you drag it towards it. It all works really intuitive. Having Wikipedia and a document open at the same time opens up new possibilities, not found in regular Android.

The OS itself is actually quite minimal, but has a consistent and nice design, from the file manager to the settings menu. It feels very user-friendly, especially with the Play Store installed. I was surprised how well it worked with my hardware, considering that it wasn’t specifically optimized for my laptop. It immediately found wifi networks — something I can’t say of all Linux based operating systems — the mouse and trackpad work well, although scrolling with the mouse isn’t perfect, so I prefer using the trackpad, which even recognizes multi-touch. Right-click on the mouse works and even well-known keyboard shortcuts like alt+f4 and ctrl+f are supported.

But, like I said in the beginning, it’s an early alpha version, so of course there are going to be bugs. Coming out of sleep mode made the screen flash and sometimes that meant that I had to restart the system. Also, for some reason, it altered the clock in Windows. But most of the bugs I encountered are probably easy to fix before a stable release is out.

But… why?

But why would you want Android on your PC? Good question. I think it really depends on how much of an upgrade you want your PC to be over your phone and tablet. Yes, Chrome is faster than on your phone and yes, you have better multitasking, but it’s still just the mobile version of Chrome. That means that there are no extensions. Of course there are Photoshop apps on Android, but it’s not exactly anything like Photoshop on Windows and OS X. If you can do everything you need to do in apps, this might be for you. But consider that not all apps are optimized for 11 to 17 inch screens. Some are still just stretched mobile versions (I’m looking at you, Twitter).

There are (denied) rumors that Google might be merging its Chrome OS and Android, but Remix OS does not convince me that Google should completely ditch Chrome OS. Mainly because of the full desktop browser. Android apps can run on Chrome OS and for now, I think, for Google, that’s the best way to do it.
Early verdict

It’s still a bit too early to judge, but so far I’m really impressed with how well this alpha runs. Will I be using it on a daily basis? Well, I will probably use it every day just to try out new things and because I find it useful to have some apps on my laptop. I like easy-to-use OSes, but because of the things I need to do on my laptop, it’s not a full replacement for me.



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