The recent release of Google Keyboard and Google+ Hangouts to the Play Store demonstrates a key trend in Android’s evolution. Specifically, apps and services that were once deeply integrated into the OS – like the stock keyboard and the former Google Talk client – are now apps that nearly anyone running ICS and later can download onto their devices. Google is chopping up Android and distributing it to anyone who can access the Play Store. You don’t need a cutting-edge, “clean” Android device to get a “stock” user experience now.
Almost all of the beautiful Holo-UI apps that make up the “stock Android” or Nexus experience can now be loaded painlessly onto the majority of Google-centric Android devices. Along with the trend toward “Nexus Experience” versions of previously OEM-skinned devices like the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4, I think we may have seen (in the white Nexus 4) the last of standalone Nexus hardware. The piecemealing of Android is certainly a driving force behind this trend.
The amount of exclusive territory that Nexus/stock devices have left is shrinking, now that Google has distributed much of the core Android experience (i.e., its own apps) via the Play Store. By my count, stock devices still have the following non-downloadable apps:
- Calculator: serviceable, but lacks a lockscreen widget.
- Camera: the stock camera APK.
- Clock: most notable for its analog widget, which is still inferior to some 3rd-party alternatives.
- Downloads: the downloads manager/lister.
- Email: an email client that looks like a sadder version of Gmail.
- Gallery: the stock photo picker, with integration with G+/Picasa web albums, as well as its own peculiar set of filters.
- Messaging: the barebones SMS client.
- Movie Studio: an unstable but richly-featured video editor, which is somehow one of my favorite Android apps.
- News & Weather: a barebones news and weather client that redirects news stories to Chrome.
- Phone: the Holo-themed dialer.
There are a few other interesting items that could be tossed-in, like the stock iWinn IME (an emoji keyboard) or even the (Android) Launcher itself, which I could almost half-see being relaunched as, ugh, Google+ Home.
Is this a net positive for users? It’s hard to know. Stock Android is pretty, but commercially unimportant. While it has some of the most beautiful UI available on any platform, stock is increasingly an aggressive vehicle for Google’s own services, to the detriment of many 3rd-party developers (and would-be competitors). Google Keyboard? It takes direct aim at both Swype and SwiftKey, the latter having been one of the top-grossing Android apps of all time. Google+ Hangouts? A shot at WhatsApp (one of the most successful Android apps), Tango, Skype, and many others.
I don’t see competition with these 3rd-party devs as something evil, but in the context of Google’s overarching ambition, it is worrisome. They’re trying to run the table, and that mission comes thru even in seemingly innocuous releases like Google Keyboard.
Microsoft has updated Bing so that it now pushes Klout results to the top of its many of its results pages. Ostensibly, this is a move to provide better content and to keep pace with Google’s own efforts at integrating Google+ results into Google Search. It also squares with Microsoft’s generally aggressive commitment to social search, which can be glimpsed in its relationship with Facebook and Facebook’s Graph Search functionality in particular.
“Microsoft believes that content is so powerful that is almost doesn’t matter whether Klout’s “experts” actually have any real expertise. If enough Klout users vote up an answer, it will still likely be a worthwhile addition to Bing results, Ripsher said.”
If one had any doubts about the internet’s objectivity or its “openness” (to use another overused adjective), then this peculiar development should allay them.
“The internet” is often characterized as an almost untouchable, coherent, self-contained system that can provide definitive knowledge and answers. The rise and insane hype around services like Quora and Klout are the current symptoms of this characterization, although it actually began long ago with Google and Wikipedia becoming (for relatively well-off internet users, at least: a relatively small portion of humanity) the go-to resources for queries, and with social networks then becoming echo chambers and in effect new realities for their respective users. As I have mentioned before, onlookers who regard these services in these ways seem to overlook the fact that the internet is actually a manmade thing and not a law of physics or deity.
On the contrary, the sheer volume of information available thru all of these channels in turn has led to the internet becoming, for many commentators, akin to the burning bush on Mt. Sinai, able to dictate authoritative wisdom at will, although it arguably one-ups even God’s favorite flaming plant, since much of that wisdom is “crowdsourced,” too. Now, the so-called crowdsourced structure of many online services – Google’s collection and subsequent application of user data, Wikipedia’s group editing, Reddit’s upvote/downvote system – is a hopeful development not because of the veracity of its content but because it, at the very least, shows that there are human agents who drive the internet, rather than some unstoppable, robotic force of nature that we often vaguely call “the internet.”
So how is that crowdsourcing intersects so snugly with the prevalent narrative of a self-driven internet? How is that search engines (the clearest, most obvious metaphors to a wisdom-producing computer from, say, Star Trek, yet another debt that tech owes to imagination and the liberal arts) are now, in many cases, conduits for social networks and other crowdsourced news? I don’t think it’s odd at all, actually, since it confirms that the internet, as a source of knowledge or truth, is just as subjective and contingent on human inputs as anything else. I mean, let’s look at some of the major drivers of internet content:
-Google: uses proprietary algorithms and integration with proprietary social networks (most notably G+). Results system can be gamed or “bombed” to promote certain results. All of this despite its promotion of “openness.”
-Twitter: proprietary social network that suggests certain celebrities or popular users to follow, primarily because said persons are the best evangelists for Twitter itself (as a tool/service).
-Klout: dependent on mostly amateur “expertise” and opinion, as noted above by The Verge.
So Microsoft is hardly putting anyone or anything newly “under the influence” of amateurs. The entire internet is built around these types of subjectivity that inevitably result from human input and tinkering.
-The ScreenGrab Team
Batteries suck. Before Farhad Manjoo made it cool to point out the conundrum of faster network speeds bumping up against the limits of Li-Po/Li-Ion batteries, I posted my own skepticism about how LTE and other “advancements” in mobile technology were necessarily hemmed in by the relatively poor state of batteries. Even a device as carefully crafted as the Nexus 4 can struggle when confronted with a power-user’s layering of music playback, social networking, news readers/RSS clients, and document/photo processing. And even the iPhone 5, despite Apple’s own claims, is no hero in this regard.
On Android, these battery issues are compounded by the OS’s relatively loose restrictions on what apps can do. Whereas iOS tightly controls what any app can do while active or suspended (in the background), Android apps are often free to continually wake-up the phone even during sleep and in turn tax its already inadequate battery. With that in mind, let’s look at five relatively simple steps for getting better battery life:
1. If You Don’t Use it, Uninstall it!
How many apps do you actually use? The number is probably smaller than the number of apps you currently have installed. If there’s some game that curiously needs access to your call logs, an ad-filled video app, or reader that you haven’t touched in ages, then please, please uninstall it! God only knows what it’s doing in the background while you (and your phone) are sleeping.
2. Use a Battery Manager
These tools are a dime a dozen, and some of them are sketchy. I recommend Battery Widget Reborn, which is a paid app that pins a battery percentage level to your status bar and lets you set automatic “night mode” or Airplane Mode times (it can’t put the phone into Airplane Mode on Jelly Bean or later, so it does a less-comprehensive “night mode” instead, which is similar except you can still receive calls/SMS). It also estimates battery life time remaining and gives helpful statistics about average battery life, as well as deltas for how long it takes for 1% of the battery to dissipate. Also includes a flashlight, in case you ever need that (and don’t have a flashlight app/real flashlight already).
3. Avoid Vibration
There are no Good Vibrations in the battery-life world. Vibration is a gimmick that is both annoying and relatively hard on your battery. But avoiding it isn’t as simple as just changing your ringtone – you’ll also need to disable all haptic feedback and other input-related vibration, which luckily is easy to do on Android 4.0+. Simply open up Settings -> Sounds and disable Vibrate When Ringing, Dial Pad Touch Tones, Touch Sounds, Screen Lock Sound, and Vibrate on Touch, too. Individual apps may also have their own settings for vibration notifications, too, so you’ll need to enable them as well.
4. Don’t be Afraid of 2G
3G (to say nothing of LTE) is a battery hog. It requires a high level of power and is always seeking new signals to optimize its strength. If you don’t need blazing fast speeds for apps like Google Now/Maps or for your Web browsing, then don’t be afraid to enable a 2G-only connection under Settings -> More -> Mobile Networks -> Use Only 2G Networks. This can improve that aforementioned 1% battery delta by an astonishing 2-3 minutes. On AT&T, this means using EDGE, which is hardly “fast” if you’re a speed demon, but does just fine with email or light Web browsing.
5. Pay for Your Apps
This may seem like an odd suggestion, but free apps are sneaky. They trade their low, low price for all sorts of ad-running, tracking, and other inconspicuous means. Facebook is absolutely criminal in this regard: it’s one of the most battery-intensive Android apps out there (Google+ is, too, but is a bit harder to detach from the stock Android experience due to its outstanding Instant Upload and Hangouts features). Twitter is, too, which is why I recommend using a Twitter client if possible, since they refresh less often and don’t require nearly as much sync maintenance. And if possible, you should pay for your apps: paid apps are often higher-quality and more transparent in what types of permissions they require and which tasks they perform.
-The ScreenGrab Team