There are not many options for TV out there at the moment, cable, Google TV, Apple TV, Xbox. But all these options are pricey, requiring the user to make a heavy investment up front. Google’s new answer to this problem is the Chromecast. Google’s previous attempt into the TV did not take off due to poor reception. They did not manage to get very much support from TV operators, and it was expensive.
Chromecast avoids the price issue completely by setting the price at $35. This price point makes people confortable at purchasing the Chromecast even though it is only in its first iteration. Furthermore, for its functionality (further information on this below), it is well worth the price. Ultimately, the Chromecast works similar to a wireless HDMI cable, and the price point of $35, is priced competitively again the price of HDMI cables.
Another issue the Google TV had was that it did not have very many operator support, hence made it difficult to get many users to adopt the system, due to the lack of things to watch. Chromecast avoids this issue by allowing anything that can possibly be watched on the Chrome browser, or computer, be shown on your TV as well. The operators that Chromecast is partnering with, such as Netflix, are also channels that many people are already users of.
Chromecast allows you to stream anything on the Internet onto your TV, be it a website, or a Youtube video. However, this can be done not only from your computer, but also mobile phones and tablets of any brand (as long as they have a Youtube App). This is an immediate advantage to Google as it does not tie users to only one ecosystem.
Chromecast is simple to use, and thanks to it, the TV is used a lot more. I look forward to future iterations of this product. You should take a look at it on the Chromecast website.
There are many easy and intuitive graphical user interface methods of learning the basic concept of programming currently. Some of them include MIT’s Scratch, or MSW Logo. Google Blocky is Google’s entry into the already crowded area, at the benefit of the consumers; people who want to learn the simple concept and idea of programming.
Google Blocky, very much like Scratch, provides a “web-based, graphical programming editor” for people. It lets people to create simple programs without typing anything. Just like Scratch, users drag blocks and assemble them together, then run the program and see what happens. However, unlike scratch, Google Blocky is not able to create graphical content, like games. But, maybe Google Blocky will improve, as it stays longer in Google Code playground.
Over the past few months, there has been a lot of development in the consumer cloud front. Whilst previously the common people were limited to a few user-friendly cloud services such as Dropbox, users now have a wider variety of choices, like Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive.
In my opinion, one of the most important features needed in a consumer cloud drive is the ability to have a designated folder that automatically syncs with the cloud services without any user interaction. Speaking from the perspective of a common user, no one likes having to think about backing up files, and having a folder that backs up without thought is a real benefit. Furthermore, when a disaster happens, such as a corrupt file or undo-able errors, users should have the option to roll back to a previous version of a file and continue working.
Because of the above consideration, the cloud service that I used most previously was Dropbox, as it was the only cloud drive with that feature. Dropbox provides users with 2GBs of free space, which can be increased up to 16GBs by referring friends to Dropbox. There is also a Dropbox application available for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android, which provide easy access to view and change files. Files can also be downloaded and uploaded through the website. The only main mobile operating system that is not supported at the moment is the Windows phone, however I expect that to be supported as soon as the platform gains traction. Besides the free space, users have a wide selection of plans to choose from to upgrade their account. The biggest memory sized plan gives a maximum of 1TB worth of memory. Dropbox also have a variety of plans for business and educational use. On the Mac, Dropbox also works very well with Growl and it notifies the user when files have been updated, giving users an added sense of confidence that their files are safely backed up.
Even though Google Drive sounds new, it is actually only a rebranding of an existing Google product, Google Docs. Google Docs previously permitted users to upload documents to be stored – this was very similar to Dropbox, but using the website only. With the rebranding, Google Drive now provides a computer folder that automatically synchronizes with Google Drive. Google Drive, at the moment only supports Windows, Macs, and Android — iOS support is in development. Google Drive users start off with 5GBs of free space. Users can upgrade their memory with a wide selection of decently priced plans up to a maximum of 16TBs. Only documents that users upload will be counted against the memory. Google Docs does not count against the users storage. Furthermore, the 5GBs free is only the memory for Google Drive. Users still have their 10GBs of free email storage. Music (10,000 songs) stored under Google Play also does not count towards the Google Drive memory. Image storing in Picasa is also separate. Combining all of Google’s services provide a lot more than 5GBs free for users.
Although Microsoft’s SkyDrive is not new, it has been greatly improved, making it simpler for users to access and store files. With the latest upgrade, Microsoft SkyDrive now syncs folders on a users computers instead of relying users to remember to upload files onto the website. Microsoft supports the operating systems Windows, Mac, iOS, and Windows Phone. At the moment, Android is not officially supported. Whilst other services do not have an upload limit on the application client, SkyDrive has a limit of 2GBs. SkyDrive users start off with 7GBs free. However, if you jumped on the SkyDrive bandwagon before the upgrade, it is possible for you to get 25GBs free. Microsoft provides 3 plans for users to upgrade their memory. Users can get a maximum of 125GBs of storage. Similar to Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive users are also to create Microsoft Office documents through the website. However, unlike Google Drive, these documents do take up space in memory. If a consumer is only starting a cloud service, SkyDrive may be the way to go as it offers the most free space initially.
Although this article is a review of the cloud services, I have not gone into detail about all the cloud services, as I have not used them all enough to give it a fair review. However, some other cloud services that should be considered are: Amazon Cloud Drive, Box, iCloud, SugarSync and many more.
Previously, I would have definitely chosen Dropbox as the best cloud drive. However, with the upgrade to Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive, I feel like the best solution is to use all three concurrently to maximize the amount of online storage available. Especially since all three services now automatically synchronizes, and all also have version history. Furthermore, experiment to see what combination of file types work better with each storage space. For example, it may be more appropriate to store large quantities of Microsoft documents in SkyDrive because it can be edited with the online version of Microsoft Office. If only a small amount of storage space is required, I still recommend Dropbox as the cloud storage solution as it supports the most platforms.
Internet Explorer users have had a undeniable reputation for not upgrading to the latest version of the browser. Many campaigns hosted by various web designers and even Microsoft themselves had to urge users to stop using Internet Explorer 6 due to major security risks and lack of support of the latest web technologies such as HTML5 and CSS3. Part of the reason most of the users previously insisted to stay on Internet Explorer 6 was because Microsoft never forced users to upgrade, it was always optional. However, starting from 2012, Microsoft will help users upgrade to the latest version of Internet Explorer possible automatically.
This move reflects the moves taken by competing browsers such as Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome. Mozilla, like Microsoft, prior to version 4, never automatically updated user’s browser, however, it caused a lot of fragmentation. Google Chrome has been updating user’s browsers to the newest version whenever the chrome is restarted from the very beginning.
Microsoft is expected to release the latest version of Internet Explorer 10 with Windows 8, but Internet Explorer 9 is still available for download. Google Chrome is currently on Version 17, and Mozilla Firefox is on version 11.
The automatic updating in future will cause the competitiveness of browsers to increase, making better browsers for the users by adopting the newest web technologies.
Since the launch of their latest social networking attempt, Google+, Google has been pushing a redesigned interface on many of their products such as Gmail, Google reader, and even Google Search. One of the main reasons for the new design, is to unify the colour scheme and user interface throughout all Google products. A unified design can represent a company, for example, all Apple products look similar and all have the Apple logo hence people can recognised that they are designed by the same company, even from far away. Google is changing the interface on most programs to make the experience more similar hence making any transition between products easier.
One of the changes includes creating a interface that scaled to fit the window of the browser. This allowed it to fit to a range of screen sizes comfortably. Users were also allowed to change the information density for Gmail with three settings: comfortable, cozy and compact.
Search in general has always been one of Google’s strengths, and searching email within Gmail was already pretty good. With the redesign, Google further improved their search feature by integrating advance search and filter creation directly into the search box.
Part of the way Google is unifying the experience between all product sites is by unifying the colour scheme. Red buttons is used to signify content creation, whilst blue buttons represent search.
Besides Google, Microsoft is also altering their image, changing it to the metro UI first introduced in the Windows Phone 7.
For a full list of what Google changed in Gmail, visit Gmail’s Blog.
Gmail has offered users to switch over to the new Gmail with a button at the bottom right corner. Many other websites have changed already such as Google maps, Google reader, Google docs, and many more.
It is often debated whether or not Android is a fragmented ecosystem. Some Android users believe that the fragmentation is media FUD. Some users believe that the fragmentation is irrelevant to consumers but to the app developers. And some other users believe the opposite and believe the fragmentation a big problem towards the consumers compared to the developers. Android fragmentation can also be split into two perspective: is it a hardware fragmentation caused by the different screen size, device types and button configuration, or a software fragmentation caused by the different modifications Android phone manufacturers do to make their phones stand out? Besides individual modifications, there was a branch in the Android ecosystem with two different versions being the dominant version: Android Froyo 2.2 and Gingerbread 2.3.x for mobile phones, and Android Honeycomb (3.x) for tablets. Google’s newest Android OS Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), announced early October in Hong Kong, aims to tackle and solve the fragmentation problem.
Android runs on mobile phones, tablets as well as Google TV. Screens of all different sizes: from 2.5 inch to 4.3 inch mobile phone screens; from 5″ to 10.1″ tablet screens; and much bigger screens for Google TVs. Does this difference in range of screen size makes creating applications more difficult for application developers? Games like Paper Toss all scale well to the different screen sizes. Although it may not be a significantly more difficult, it creates more phones for developers to test against.
There is also fragmentation caused by the different device manufacturers. Although, fragmentation in this sense is good, as it gives consumers more choice in product, allowing them to choose until they find a perfect phone for themselves. Unlike Apple, which only have colour choices and memory choice, Android phones have manufacturer choice (Motorola, HTC, Samsung, Sony Ericsson etc.), phone style (keyboard, screen size, stylus, shape, colour etc.), and memory (internal and external micro SD expansion). There are also a range of phones that are only released for certain geographical markets, creating phones suited for the users of that area.
Besides the range of phones, mobile phones from the same manufacturer or series also do not use a consistent button configuration. Some mobile phones have 3 hardware buttons at the front, some have 4, some have capacitive buttons, some have a scroll wheel and many more variations. Not only does this create confusion between Android users, users may need time to get used to the button configuration. Below is a picture (from: engadget) that demonstrates the button fragmentation between the different mobile phones.
Google aims to fix the problem of button fragmentation by removing the need for hardware buttons and replacing them with standard software buttons embedded inside the Android ICS OS (from techradar):
Android fragmentation is also apparent in the software OS level. Besides hardware differences between manufacturers, each manufacturer also modifies the OS UI to stand out from the standard Android OS, and to unify the range of phones from the same manufacturer. Below is a picture demonstrating different skins applied to the default Android OS:
On the left is the Sony Ericsson Xperia (X8/X10) skin, the middle the default Google Android skin (Nexus), and the right is the HTC skin.
Besides slight modifications to the OS, sometimes changes are made to the Android OS that causes it to not resemble Android at all, for example the Amazon Kindle Fire. The Kindle Fire runs on Android, but does not even have the Android marketplace.
Because of the different modified skins, new versions of the OS are not given to users as promptly as iOS updates are given to iPhone users. This is because the manufacturer has to test and modify the skin to work for the new version of the OS. This causes a delay in releasing the OS for existing phones. This sometimes causes phones to becoming several versions out of date as shown by the diagram below (from theunderstatement):
Most Android phones are at least one version behind, compared to the top of the chart, which shows iPhones consistently being on the most current version. Google also is not shown to advocate long term support for their phones as the Google Nexus One will not support ICS (as demonstrated by the chart). Comparing the Apple’s support cycle, the original iPhone was supported and updated by Apple for much longer time than the Google Nexus One.
Besides manufacturers being slow to adopt update cycles for their phones, it is not necessarily in the best interest of the manufacturer and carrier to push out updates. Although pushing out update will increase customer satisfaction, it is more profitable for manufactures and carriers to have customers buying a new phone. Once a phone is sold, manufacturers and even carriers to some extent do not earn any more money, hence it is more beneficial to them to get a new phone. This is not the case for iPhones, as Apple earn money from the apps used on the phone, and users will only be able to use the apps if they have the most recent OS update, creating an incentive for Apple to create support for previous phones for at least one data plan contract.
Besides manufacturer modifications and update problems, Android had two major versions, Android Froyo (2.2) and Gingerbread (2.3) for phones, and Android Honeycomb (3.x) for Tablets. Google created fragmentation between phones and tablets as the UI is very different between the two versions. Furthermore, Honeycomb introduced many new and updated many old features that greatly enhanced the usability of Android, such as multitasking. The two versions also look significantly different and hence reducing a unified Android experience. Android ICS aims to unify the mobile phone and tablet, as ICS will run on both phones and tablets.
Overall, there is no denying the fact that fragmentation definitely exists. However, frequently Android fragmentation is greatly over exaggerated in the media. Despite fragmentation happening, the experience is still pleasant and friendly, especially in the tight integration with Google products. Furthermore, Google is now starting to take measures to reduce fragmentation with ICS. Since ICS has yet to be released on a phone yet (Google and Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus soon), it is not possible to judge if ICS solves the problems of fragmentation.
Within this month, Google opened its first ChromeZone kiosk inside an electronics store in London. This would be Google’s second attempt into the retail business. Whilst the main item on sale in the ChromeZone are Chromebooks, Google is attempting to sell more than physical objects, by trying to sell the experience of using Google products. The Google ChromeZone is designed with the Google colours in mind.
The first time Google attempted to bypass the phone providers and sell to consumers directly, Google sold the Nexus One through a dedicated website without a phone plan and completely unlocked from any phone providers. Although the idea was very appealing, the main problem was that potential customers were not able to physically test and touch the device, furthermore, there were no sales people to sell the idea promote and persuade, and to answer questions.
Besides setting up ChromeZones in the UK, Google has also created partnerships with Virgin America to allow users to borrow a Chromebook for the ride on the airline to test and try it out. During the pre-release tester period, Google sent tester units to many tech enthusiasts and surprised many Google fans. This provided lots of physical reviews of products.
Although ChromeZone does not have as much fanfare as the opening of Apple Stores, it will create a new experience for consumers to interact with Google products. There will be many more ChromeZone opening in the UK. This will be a new experience for everyone.
The Samsung Galaxy Ace smartphone is Samsung’s new mid-range phone that they announced and released early this year. This phone is known to have a fast 800MHz processor with Android 2.2.1 Froyo installed. Although we have no notes as to when Gingerbread will available, it is still very respectable that this phone is offered at a low price of HK$2,400, without a contract. Below is the unboxing video of the phone:
- MP4/H.264/H.263 player
- MP3/WAV/eAAC+ player
- Document editor
- Image editor
- Google Search, Maps, Gmail,
YouTube, Calendar, Google Talk, Picasa integration
- Voice memo/dial
- Predictive text input (Swype)
Standard battery, Li-Ion 1350 mAh
Up to 640 h (2G) / Up to 420 h (3G)
Up to 11 h (2G) / Up to 6 h 30 min (3G)
A full review of the phone will be coming very soon, so make sure to check out our YouTube channel at STUDIOaraikenta or by searching plomonet.
About the Author: Kenta Arai is a tech enthusiast who was born in Japan, and grew up in Hong Kong. He is very passionate towards technology and he became one of the most enthusiastic technophile student in his high-school, and was also well-known for consulting many of his school-mates when purchasing new computers.
Google+, launched a few weeks ago is Google’s “another” attempt to go into the social space, since their failures in the past with services such as Google Buzz and Google Wave. Many say that it is also Google’s attempt to kill the social giant, Facebook. Google+ has been available through the web on any platform, however it was, and still is, only available to users with invites. Google has also confirmed that a native Google+ app is on its way to the App Store for the iOS platform, and it has just landed and is available for download for free.
Google+ is distinctive and unique in some ways if compared directly with Facebook. Google+ features Circles, where you can group your friends, families and even people you like to follow, in separate groups in which you can name. This is similar to Facebook’s List feature, however this feature on Facebook has not been such a hit as Facebook is not promoting this feature majorly.
Below is Google’s description about Google+:
“Google+ for mobile makes sharing the right things with the right people a lot simpler. Huddle lets you send super-fast messages to the people you care about most. And no matter where you are, the stream lets you stay in the loop about what your friends are sharing and where they’re checking in.
Features: * Circles let you share the right things with just the right people. * Stream is where you can get updates from your circles or see what people are saying about things nearby. * Huddle is super-fast group messaging for everyone in your circles.
Google+ is only available for users 13 and older.”
There are many other features on Google+, which we will not talk about yet, as a full review of Google+ is coming on both our YouTube channel (STUDIOaraikenta) and here at plomonet.com.
About the Author: Kenta Arai is a tech enthusiast who was born in the Kanagawa Prefecture of Japan. His passion towards technology began to develop as he grew up in Hong Kong, where technology had its solid place in the mass market. Arai became one of the most enthusiastic technophile student in his high-school, and was also well-known for consulting many of his school-mates when purchasing new computers. His expertise in the tech industry is focused on Apple Inc. and Google Inc.
Google has pretty much filled this week’s tech news with their announcements from the Google I/O, held in Moscone West in San Francisco. In their 2 day keynote, they have announced an update to their Android OS Honeycomb (3.1) with new features like re-sizable widgets. They have also announced the next generation of Android called Ice Cream Sandwich. This OS is said to be universal and will run on both phone and tablet devices. On the same day, they have also announced their new cloud based music service, oddly name, Music Beta by Google. This allows users (invited users only at this point) to upload their entire music library onto their servers, and can access and listen to them from any computer, or from Android devices. Android@Home was also discussed where your Android device becomes the remote of home accessories, such as lights.
On the next day, Google has discussed about their Chrome OS. Chrome OS laptops, named Chromebooks, will be coming to the market on June 15th. The first manufacturers will be Samsung and Acer.
Here are my thoughts on Google Android and Chromebooks. We apologize for the mismatched syncing of audio and video.
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About the Author: Kenta Arai is a tech enthusiast who was born in the Kanagawa Prefecture of Japan. He passion towards technology began to develop as he grew up in Hong Kong, where technology had its solid place in the mass market. Arai became one of the most enthusiastic technophile student in his high-school, and was also well-known for consulting many of his school-mates when purchasing new computers. His expertise in the tech industry is focused on Apple Inc. and Google Inc.