Monday, May 7, 2018

Alexa now available as a default assistant on Android →

Redditor itsallaguesswork discovered a new setting on his Pixel 2 this weekend that allows the selection of a default smart assistant. Most notably, Alexa is one of the new choices. Simply download the Alexa app and select your preference in the appropriate settings menu (depending on your device). Once done, you can invoke Alexa by name or by holding the home button.

Google Pixel 2 settings menu. Credit: Redditor itsallaguesswork
Google Pixel 2 settings menu. Credit: Redditor itsallaguesswork

This is a small change, but one that could potentially have huge ramifications. Starting today, Alexa has essentially escaped the confines of the living room and can be triggered on a phone without the hassle of diving into an app. It will be interesting to see how many people switch from Google Assistant and Bixby.

Friday, April 20, 2018

ZTE Exports Ban May Mean No Google Apps, a Death Sentence for Its Smartphones →

Ron Amadeo for Ars Technica:

ZTE was caught violating US sanctions by illegally shipping telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea. The company then made things worse by “making false statements and obstructing justice, including through preventing disclosure to and affirmatively misleading the US Government,” according to the Department of Commerce. The company reached a settlement with the government, agreeing to pay up to $1.2 billion in penalties and discipline the employees involved in the sale.

Recently, the Commerce Department found ZTE was not complying with this settlement, which triggered the next part of the agreement: a seven-year ban on US exports to ZTE. The company is no longer allowed to use US components and, possibly, software in its devices.

On the ZTE Temp Go, the first Android Go smartphone:

The $80 Tempo Go went on sale on March 30 and quickly sold out in about a day. Since then, the device has been listed as “Out of stock” on ZTE’s website. Since the devices use a Qualcomm SoC and Google software, is the Tempo Go dead after a single day on sale?

Damn. Cold blooded, but fair. Hopefully returns will be in order for Temp Go owners.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

HTC, Motorola claim to not throttle CPU performance as phone batteries age →

Jacob Kastrenakes for The Verge:

In emails to The Verge, both companies said they do not employ similar practices with their smartphones. An HTC spokesperson said that designing phones to slow down their processor as their battery ages “is not something we do.” A Motorola spokesperson said, “We do not throttle CPU performance based on older batteries.”

The Verge also reached out to Google, Samsung, LG, and Sony for comment on whether their phone processors are throttled in response to aging batteries. A Sony spokesperson said a response would be delayed by the holidays, and a Samsung spokesperson said the company was looking into it.

Effortless, positive PR for HTC and Motorola, but also Android as a whole. Most people will see this as Android versus Apple, not Apple vs. HTC vs. Motorola vs. LG vs. Samsung, et al.

Though I still don’t agree with how Apple carried out their throttling, I’d take a slowed-down iPhone over an Android device any day. In fact, I’d be curious to compare real life results (read: not quantitative benchmarks) between a throttled iPhone 7 and a comparable Android device.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Google collects Android users’ locations even when location services are disabled →

Keith Collins for Quartz:

Since the beginning of 2017, Android phones have been collecting the addresses of nearby cellular towers—even when location services are disabled—and sending that data back to Google. The result is that Google, the unit of Alphabet behind Android, has access to data about individuals’ locations and their movements that go far beyond a reasonable consumer expectation of privacy.

Quartz observed the data collection occur and contacted Google, which confirmed the practice.

Explanation by Google:

“In January of this year, we began looking into using Cell ID codes as an additional signal to further improve the speed and performance of message delivery,” the Google spokesperson said in an email. “However, we never incorporated Cell ID into our network sync system, so that data was immediately discarded, and we updated it to no longer request Cell ID.”

Don’t be evil [and get caught]. ™

On a serious note, when location services are disabled, nothing better be using or logging my whereabouts. Furthermore, who is to say the data they collected was really discarded? Caveat emptor.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Fake WhatsApp on Google Play Store downloaded by over one million →

Swati Khandelwal for The Hacker News:

Yesterday some users spotted a fake version of the most popular WhatsApp messaging app for Android on the official Google Play Store that has already tricked more than one million users into downloading it.

The app maker added a Unicode character space after the actual WhatsApp Inc. name, which in computer code reads WhatsApp+Inc%C2%A0.

However, this hidden character space at the end of the WhatsApp Inc. would be easily invisible to an average Android user browsing Google Play Store, allowing this dodgy version of the app to masquerade as a product of WhatsApp Inc.

According to Redditors, who first spotted this fake app on Friday, the app was not a chat app; instead, it served Android users with advertisements to download other apps.

What a total shit show. Google removed the app from the Play Store, but not before it was downloaded by one million people. Think about how damaging this could be to the WhatsApp brand. I also wonder how vulnerable this makes Google to a lawsuit.

Google has touted advanced malware scanning as a feature of Android 8.0 Oreo, dubbed Google Play Protect. That’s nice and all, but this protection should be baked in to the Play Store for everyone, not only for operating systems with a .2% market share. Turns out the often-complained about walled garden that is Apple’s App Store has its benefits.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Former Google SVP praises iPhone camera over Android →

Linking to Business Insider’s coverage of this story.

Vic Gundotra, former Google SVP of Engineering, posted the following on Facebook yesterday in reference to recent shots taken of his family with an iPhone 7 Plus:

The end of the DSLR for most people has already arrived. I left my professional camera at home and took these shots at dinner with my iPhone 7 using computational photography (portrait mode as Apple calls it). Hard not to call these results (in a restaurant, taken on a mobile phone with no flash) stunning. Great job Apple.

In a later comment, he goes on to explain why other phones trail behind. Here it is in its entirety, because it’s fantastic:

Here is the problem: It’s Android. Android is an open source (mostly) operating system that has to be neutral to all parties. This sounds good until you get into the details. Ever wonder why a Samsung phone has a confused and bewildering array of photo options? Should I use the Samsung Camera? Or the Android Camera? Samsung gallery or Google Photos?

It’s because when Samsung innovates with the underlying hardware (like a better camera) they have to convince Google to allow that innovation to be surfaced to other applications via the appropriate API. That can take YEARS.

Also the greatest innovation isn’t even happening at the hardware level – it’s happening at the computational photography level. (Google was crushing this 5 years ago – they had had “auto awesome” that used AI techniques to automatically remove wrinkles, whiten teeth, add vignetting, etc… but recently Google has fallen back).

Apple doesn’t have all these constraints. They innovate in the underlying hardware, and just simply update the software with their latest innovations (like portrait mode) and ship it.

Bottom line: If you truly care about great photography, you own an iPhone. If you don’t mind being a few years behind, buy an Android.

Damning words by Gundotra. If you have ever scoffed when Tim Cook says “this is something only Apple can do”, remember this post. It all goes back to owning as much of the technology stack as possible (hardware and software). As Gundotra points out, Apple has virtually no limitations when it comes to innovating because of this. Also for good measure, and because it’s so true, here’s Alan Kay’s legendary quote: “People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.” Google has just begun to do this with their Pixel phone line, but they’ve got a long way to go to execute at the level Apple does.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

'Something big' coming May 30th from startup founded by Android co-founder Andy Rubin

Andy Rubin is one of the co-founders of the Android Operating System, which was purchased by Google in 2005. Back in October 2014, Andy left Google to pursue a new startup we have come to know as Essential.

This past March, Andy tweeted out the following teaser.

Today, the @essential account tweeted this.

Followed by…

The above image has been enhanced by others in an attempt to identify the top device sticking out the phone. Here’s one representation.

Augmented Reality and enhanced cameras are something the industry is pushing towards very rapidly, and the device sticking out of the phone definitely looks like it has something to do with a camera.

Not too much else is known about Essential or this new phone they are teasing, other than Eric Schmidt (Executive Chairman, Alphabet) essentially1 confirming it will run Android (see below). We also know it will have a rounded screen and small bezels, based on the first tweet above. This is definitely on par with the latest design trend (Samsung Galaxy S8 and the rumored iPhone 8).

It will be interesting to see if Essential will be able to differentiate themselves beyond the rounded-rectangle, glass, and aluminum standard that is the smartphone world.

One thing’s for sure, though. I fully support the ‘war on bezels’, and 2017 is shaping up to be the year we make substantial progress.


  1. Pun totally intended.