Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Pebble Time

The folks over at Pebble have just announced the next version of their smartwatch. The new watch comes with a colour e-ink display, microphone and completely new software that revolves around their "timeline interface".

You can check out the launch video over at Kickstarter. The new watch looks like it is a fairly significant upgrade to the original Pebble and the Pebble Steel in terms of usability and styling. The video shows that the team has been working on some great new animations to go along with the new colour display and software, it seems as though it is really a much more lively device than the previous attempts. The Kickstarter page shows that the highlights of the new device are:


  • We're announcing a new watch called Pebble Time with a new timeline interface.
  • Pebble Time features a new color e-paper display and microphone for responding to notifications.
  • No compromises on what you love about Pebble: up to 7 days of battery life, water resistance and customizability.
  • Pebble Time is fully compatible with all 6,500+ existing Pebble apps and watchfaces.
  • Three colors available exclusively on Kickstarter. Pebble Time starts shipping in May.
  • Extra special engraving for our original Kickstarter backers who support us again ♥♥♥
So it looks like the team has delivered a great new device, maintaining the factors that people love about the original pebble (7 day battery life, Android and iOS compatibility, water resistance and customizability) while adding a couple new features that should offer a greatly improved experience over previous models (colour display and microphone response). You may be thinking, what about my original Pebble or Pebble steel? Well the Pebble team says that they will be working hard to get the new software experience to the older versions (though I am sure that they will have to strip down some of the fun animations). I have the original Pebble and do love the usability and battery life of it, though the lack of microphone and colour do hold it back. I also have the Moto 360 which has very little functional difference over the Pebble other than the touchscreen and microphone which I find to be extremely nice, oh and the styling is a thousand times better.

If you are interested check it out over on the Kickstarter site, it may be just the watch you have been looking for. I however will be sticking with my Moto 360.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Canada's biggest telecom company now requires warrants for customer info

 Rogers has announced that it will require a warrant if police want to identify its users reports the Globe and Mail.
“After hearing feedback from our customers and reviewing the Supreme Court ruling from last month, we’ve decided that from now on we will require a court order/warrant to provide basic customer information to law enforcement agencies, except in life threatening emergencies,” Rogers spokeswoman Jennifer Kett said in an e-mailed statement. “We believe this move is better for our customers and that law enforcement agencies will still be able to protect the public.”
Rogers is one of the first Canadian telecom providers to publish what is known as a “transparency report.” In a brief report it made public in early June, the company revealed it received a total of 174,917 requests for customer information in 2013. It did not specify how many of those requests were fulfilled.
 This announcement comes as a response to the R. v. Spencer decision laid out by the Supreme Court of Canada on June 13. The Court determined in the case that internet users have an expectation of privacy in their online persona and request for personal information from an ISP constitutes a search for Charter purposes.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What I want from Google I/O

The most exciting day of the geek calendar after March 14 and May 4 is tomorrow, Google is taking the stage for its annual developers conference Google I/O. I have been looking forward to this for a long time now and there are a few things that I am hoping to see tomorrow during the keynote.

First up, Android Wear.

Android Wear is Google's wearable platform to be used in everything that can be attached to a human body, the first products that will benefit from this is the smartwatch. I want to see Google on stage running through everything that can be done with Android Wear, and get some more information on actual products. The rumour is that the LG G Watch will be the reference design akin to the Nexus line for Android proper. I expect that we will see this in full glory including release dates for at least the US and pricing. I would also love to see the same information from Motorola regarding the Moto 360. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Moto 360 onstage as well as it seems to be the reference device for the round version of Android Wear as opposed to the simple rectangle. There are rumours about another device, possibly from Samsung, that will be unveiled during the keynote. If we do see the Samsung device I expect it to look almost identical to the Galaxy Gear 2, or the Gear 2 Neo. This is probably what I am most excited about for the entire keynote is finding out release dates and more hands on with these devices.

Second, Android.

The last few weeks have seen 2 OTA's from Google for the Nexus line, I don't think we will see even an incremental update to Android, let alone a full letter release. What it seems like we will see is a preview of the next Android update, the "L" release of Android that should be ready for the fall, this is based on a statement by Sundar Pichai the head of Chrome and Android that was found in a Business Week article today. Since we won't see a new Android release we will not see any new Android hardware. What I want to see with this 'preview' is some more information about the rumoured 'Hera' project and what that will entail, as well as the new design language we will see in the future release. I am hoping that there will also be the announcement of some sort Beta program to allow people to test it out and give feedback, though I don't really have any reason to think that they would do this. Something that I would like to see in addition is a way to completely backup my phone rather than just a nandroid backup.

Third, Design.

This I/O has a very heavy emphasis on design and cross platform design. I am hoping to see the redesigns of Gmail and Calendar properties that should be consistent across Android and the Web. I think we will see this roll out shortly after tomorrow to everyone that opts in while allowing users to stick with the old web view for a little while. I think this could be very interesting as Google has never been the best in terms of design and this new direction could be promising.

Fourth, Chrome.

I expect we will see some announcements from the Chrome group regarding new updates to the javascript engine used and some of their programming languages. I think we will see a preview of an upcoming redesign to Chrome OS that brings in the ideas of bringing Android and the Web together. Since we won't see new Android hardware I would not be surprised to see new Chromebooks though I seem to be in a minority on this one. I wouldn't be surprised to see some updates to Chromecast but I can't see a ton of new functionality being announced other than Android screen casting.

Fifth, Hangouts.

I do not think we will see many updates from the Google+ related properties other than Hangouts. I very much hope that we see full integration of Google Voice into hangouts allowing SMS to be integrated and usable on the web version of Hangouts. This is really the only thing that I want from Hangouts other than extensibility which I do not see happening.


I hope we see some cool 'moonshot' ideas or upcoming products as a glimpse into the future of Google to see what Google thinks is the future.

I do not know if I will be able to sleep tonight as I am so excited to see what happens tomorrow, it is like Christmas Eve for me and other Google fans. Hopefully Santa delivers!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Motorola and the Race to the Bottom

Motorola has been adjusting course for a while now and since August of 2013 we have seen them start to regain the admiration of the tech community that they used to take for granted. Motorola has a long history that includes numerous firsts in the telecommunications industry and until recently has been an American company. Motorola's mobile phone division was purchased by Google a few years ago and we are just starting to see the products that were fully designed under the eye of Google. The Moto X launched last August to great reviews in the tech community even though the tech specs were considered to be last generation. The Moto X won over the community through its great build quality, large 4.7" Super AMOLED screen in a small chassis (only slightly bigger than an iPhone 5), snappy performance, active display, touchless controls and Moto assist features. Motorola was able to take the stock Android experience and make it theirs simply by adding a few value added apps to the phone, something that Android lovers have been asking manufacturers to do for years. They did all of this and asked for the standard flagship price, around $600 however it was not long before the price dropped significantly and now it is not hard to find the Moto X for $300-$350 brand new and off contract. This is a great price for a great phone no matter how you look at it. The Moto X was the first new phone in a long time that was made by Motorola that made the tech industry take note, however it can be argued that this flagship was not the most innovative device Motorola has launched in the last year. 

In November Motorola announced the Moto G, a lower cost sibling to the Moto X that maintained much of the design language that people loved about the Moto X but cut costs in many places to deliver what many consider to be the best low cost phone around. The Moto G has a lower end 4.5" LCD panel, a lower end camera, a much bulkier case and a removable backplate to allow changes in colour. What people like about the Moto G is that even though it cut costs it is still running on a quad core Snapdragon 400 SoC which makes it quite snappy, along with the enhancements that Motorola has made to the Android experience there is little lag in the device. The Moto G costs about $180 dollars, unlocked and without a contract which is pretty incredible when you consider that Samsung is still selling the Galaxy SIII Mini for $199 off contract. In February Motorola's VP of Product Management stated that the Moto G was Motorola's best selling smartphone ever and that they still make a profit of off each device sold. This is a testament to the fact that the lower end smartphone market is currently underserved, and that there is lots of money to be made in that market if smartphone manufacturers can nail the combination of price and quality. With the Moto G Motorola was hoping to get into the lower end of the market and it appears they have been able to do so. So what do they do next? They go even lower. 

Last week Motorola announced two devices, a refresh to the Moto G that added an SD card slot and LTE for $219, and the brand new Moto E that will retail for $129. This phone still has the same design language as its more expensive siblings but cuts the costs even further to attack the prepaid market. The phone has a slightly smaller 4.3"qHD display, a Snapdragon 200 SoC clocked at 1.2 GHz, 5MP Camera without flash and 1GB of Ram. That is not a bad phone for the price when you consider the other phones in the price range, such as the Nokia Lumia 520 and the Blackberry Curve 9320. Even a flip phone will cost about $50-$60 and will not give you anywhere near the experience of a low end smartphone. Motorola has been attempting to go after the low and mid range market that they other large manufacturers seem to be forgetting. They are bringing more innovation to the low end of the market than we have seen in along time, and it seems to be paying off so far. 

I have a friend who was looking for a low cost phone to replace his Blackberry and I suggested the Moto G, he loves it, he can't believe how good the phone is. He is not someone who particularly cares about the features of a phone, just wants it to work well and be cheap, the Moto G is the perfect phone for him and it has already changed how he uses his device. The Moto G is now my go to suggestion for people that want something extremely cheap, and it is a debate between the Moto X and the Nexus 5 when I talk about higher end devices. 

Check out Android Central for some great video of the Moto E. 

Samsung Galaxy S5 Prime

Phone Arena has snagged some pictures and video footage of the alleged Galaxy S5 Prime that has been rumoured for a while now. I have to say I am not all that impressed with how it looks, I wasn't particularly impressed with the GS5 to begin with as it seems like a step backwards from the GS4. I think that the GS5 looks like they increased the size just because they could but did not think about making the body smaller, the bezels on the sides of the screen just scream cheap because they are so large. I do think that they made some of the right choices in their new materials even if it does not look all that great, but all the extra "features" they have thrown in just weigh the whole experience down. The Prime is looking to capitalize on the success of the past Galaxy phones while attempting to achieve a higher build quality utilizing metals instead of plastics, along with some bumped up specs. I can see some people that have already bought into the GS5 being a little upset if we get more than just a new backplate on this one. It would be nice to see Samsung try out some new design languages and find a way to improve the build quality of their devices though. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Apple stepping back from the "thermonuclear war" with Google

In a surprise turn of events on Friday Apple and Motorola (still technically owned by Google) have agreed to dismiss their lawsuits against each other in Washington State. The two filed a joint application for dismissal with the court and this comes as Apple and Google have apparently decided to bury the hatchet in their ongoing patent disputes with each other. The two released a statement on Friday stating that they will drop their ongoing patent disputes with each other and their subsidiaries, and that they will now work together in attempting to reform the state of the patent system. This sounds like it is a great move for both companies and hopefully means that we will see them working on the problems together rather than going to court over disagreements. It also means that maybe we might not see the Steve Jobs "thermonuclear war" quote as much anymore. We will still have to see what happens with Apple and the other Android manufacturers that are still battling in court, my guess is this type of agreement won't be made with Samsung any time soon.

You can read the court document over at the Apple Insider.

(I also thought it was interesting that NeXT Software was a party to this case, I had not realized that Apple had continued to operate this as its own entity, I figured they had just subsumed it into the corporation itself back in the 90's)

Android Silver

So recently the buzz going around the Android blogosphere is that Google will be dropping the Nexus line in favour of something called "Android Silver." This program sounds very similar to what is going on with the Google Play Edition devices allowing for hardware manufacturers to install Google's version of Android on their phones. The program is rumoured to be available not just in the Google Play store but also at physical retail outlets for people to check them out. It seems as though Google is working with its OEMs to release high end devices that will either be the same as the flagship devices form the carriers or in some cases devices that are built specifically for the program. There has been a number of posts on this recently and I wasn't sure if it was going to be a real program at first, I mean the Nexus line is a great avenue for Google to showcase its version of Android and make it available at a low price point to allow for developers to use the Nexus line as a reference platform. I have had a few of the Nexus devices myself and really enjoy the experience, and the hardware as designed by Google and its partners. I am curious to see what will happen with the Nexus line and I am still somewhat weary of stating that it will go away completely, at the very least I am sure that we will see a flagship model to be used as a reference, though it may have competition with other high end devices. The incomparable Evleaks has posted on his website that there will be no Nexus 6 and that Silver will be coming early 2015. I find this disappointing personally but I think that it could be an interesting time for Android as it is clear that Google is attempting to take more control over the OS and allow for faster updates to all of the phones running Android. I hope we will still see some devices that Google has some design control over as they are very rapidly getting good at designing products, who knows maybe the acquisition of Nest will put them into the device manufacturing world. For now it sounds like what we will see from Silver is a cross between the Nexus line, the GPe devices and the software on the new Motorola products that have very minimal additions to stock Android. From what I have read so far this is applicable to phones only so far, so maybe we will see the Nexus line continue in the tablet space. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Google I/O Schedule

Well the time is almost here for the annual Google I/O Developer conference. Today Google put out the schedule on the I/O website. Take a look, there is some pretty interesting stuff on there for developers and designers. Typically with these schedules they put some blanks in to allow for them to cover some stuff in the keynote and have sessions for it afterwards, this year there does not seem to be any listed TBA sections. This could be that they aren't announcing anything that requires specific sections or it could just be that they have them unlisted, though this would probably cause problems for the devs who go and have their schedule planned out in advance. In my opinion the interesting things to note about the schedule are the overarching themes. First off there are numerous sessions on the design focus of applications this year, with a huge emphasis on designing across devices and platforms. I imagine this has implications for wearables (there are specific wearable sessions) but also for the use of cross platform web applications. It is interesting to note the number of cross platform web sessions as there have been reports that Google is working on "Project Hera" which would see HTML 5 apps running on Android that can pick up where you left off on your computer or tablet. The second key focus seems to be on speed, this is not surprising as Google has always focused on getting things done as quickly as possible, which is why you see how long your search took on the search page. This focus is great as many applications need to improve in this respect. Finally there is also a section on "What's new in Android" which indicates that we will see at least some new API's for the Android platform if not a full new release. I would bet that we see a release that is relatively minor (4.5) in June and probably a fuller revision in the fall that incorporates more of the rumours that have been floating around about larger redesigns of apps and the core functionality. 

It is also nice to see that they do not plan for another massive keynote this year, just 2 hours, which will hopefully keep it concise and to the point. I can't wait to see what they have in store for us this year, and maybe some new hardware though I would not bet on that for this I/O.

Blackberry going to make changes in 10.3

The mobile world is dominated by iOS and Android, you cannot go out in public without seeing someone using a device running these two operating systems. Every once in a while you see someone rocking a device using something else, it is like seeing a unicorn. On the rare occasion that you see someone using a Windows Phone device or a Blackberry device you often wonder what they were thinking when they decided to choose the underdog rather than one of the more dominant platforms. Living in Canada I typically run into the later far more often than the former and it makes me smile knowing that they are supporting a great Canadian brand. Blackberry (formerly RIM) has finally awoken to the importance of touch screen devices and has created a fantastic new OS in BB10. 

Blackberry was very slow to change when it was managed under the founders and this caused them to lose massive amounts of market share. The once ubiquitous Blackberry brand has fallen and is teetering on the precipice of obscurity, but they still have some tricks up their sleeves. In 2010 Blackberry purchased the QNX Software Systems company which gave them control of the QNX operating system. This system utilizes microkernel architecture which allows it to continue to operate even if one part of the OS crashes or selectively using only one part of the OS as required. The microkernel architecture makes the OS extremely flexible and reliable which is why it is used heavily in manufacturing, air traffic control, shipping navigation systems and many more systems that would be disastrous if they crashed. The QNX software also gave Blackberry the tools required to create a brand new mobile OS to power them into the future rather than relying on the decade old OS that had been powering the brand previously. The first demonstration of QNX on a mobile devices was launched on the Blackberry Playbook, a powerful but ill-received tablet that allowed for true multitasking and a new impressive experience for Blackberry users. Eventually Blackberry made the decision to switch their mobile phones over to the QNX based OS branding it Blackberry 10 (BB10 for short). After a few delays they were able to launch the OS on the Z10 in 2013 to promising reviews. The hardware of the Z10 and the subsequent Q10 were generally favourable and reviewers liked the software, the major limitations were based on the lack of applications that were being produced for the platform in light of the iOS app store and Google Play on Android. Some Blackberry loyalists were thrown off by BB10 as well seeing some parts of the old Blackberry OS fall by the wayside and changing their workflows. Since the launch Blackberry has been making substantial improvements to BB10 and has been listening to their customers criticisms returning some of the great features from the old platform into BB10. 

Now they are getting ready to release their third major revision of the OS since launch just over a year ago with version 10.3 of BB10. This release not only adds more functionality but is giving the OS a bit of a UI overhaul to bring it more in line with the other major operating systems. They have eliminated the ugly rectangular boxes around app icons and given them a clean new look, revamping some the first party icons to a flatter design that is all over the mobile industry these days and allowing for more icons to appear on the screen at one time. They have created a persistent home screen that previously only appeared when there were apps running in it. 

There is a new 'Signature Action' button in applications that emphasizes the main use of the app by creating a large target for the user to hit. The update also brings along unlimited folder sizes. A big usability update is access to the quick settings menu from any screen by dragging down from the top. 

The Blackberry brand has always been about efficient communication and access to information. The 10.3 update brings big updates to the calendar app allowing for tasks to integrate into the calendar and giving a weekly agenda view. There is also the option to have your phone enter silent mode when you are in a meeting based on your calendar. 

Blackberry is clearly attempting to meet current market demands and is starting to emerge from the initial growing pains of a new OS. They luckily have the dominant mobile OS manufacturers to look to for inspiration and they have hopefully learned from their past mistakes. The usability of BB10 is fantastic, swiping around the OS feels fast and really like you are using software from the future. I would love to be able to use this platform as my personal every day device however there are features of Android that I just can't live without. If Blackberry were to enter into an agreement with Google to allow for the use of the Google Play store and the accompanying services frameworks I would switch in a second. Blackberry is certainly in the shadows right now but they seem to be headed into the light, I hope that they can continue to move quickly and improve so that some day we can have another thriving ecosystem to battle Android and iOS.

There is also an update to the Android Runtime in the 10.3 update that will allow for Android apps up to the 4.3 level to work. It also allows for access to Bluetooth LE, NFC, and better account support.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Vic Gundotra is leaving Google

Re/Code is reporting that Vic Gundotra, yes the Vic Gundotra is leaving Google. Vic has been in charge of Google+ for the last few years and has transformed Google into a social beast. The 'social backbone' of Google has been ramping up for the past few years and has become a remarkable tool for interaction, whether you use it to communicate with the public, hangout with family and friends or just need a place to backup photos and make them awesome. Vic was always dropping fun tidbits about upcoming releases or at least saying how excited he was to unveil some new feature. He has been the face of Google at many of their recent presentations and events and I know I will find it strange not seeing him on stage at I/O this year. I hope that the rest of the Google+ team who will be reportedly be working under David Bresbis will have the same passion and exuberance Vic displayed. I hope the team can replace their champion and further develop what I consider to be a great product. Wherever Vic goes in the future will have an extremely valuable asset.

UPDATE: Vic has posted a heartwarming sendoff on Google+, I can't wait to hear the next 'and then'