Chromecast and Android Limitations

March 20th, 2014

chrome.pngAs you probably know, Google have made Chromecast available in 11 more countries (Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the U.K). The SDK is available for Android and iOS developers. The idea is that developers add the SDK libraries to existing apps to allow content to be viewed on the TV. More information is available in the Developers Guide.

One of the advantages of Chromecast over Apple TV is that the latter only works with Apple devices. Chromecast works from iOS, Android and the Chrome browser in laptops/desktops (Mac, Windows and Linux). This offers a new wide-ranging outlet for media owners.

Surprisingly, Chromecast on Android is more limited than on the other platforms. The Android SDK relies on Google Play Services (4.2+) which means Chromecast apps won’t work on AOSP (non-Google sanctioned) devices. This means it won’t work on forked versions of Android such as the Kindle Fire, Nokia X and many inexpensive Chinese tablets. Media owners such as the BBC are concerned about this and say, particularly of the Kindle…

"We recognize that the Kindle is an important device for BBC iPlayer in terms of usage and we have, on behalf of our users, asked Google to do what they can to support this platform." 

It’s an interesting dilemma for Google. Should they relax access to Chromecast thus enabling the types of device, the use of which, they wish to discourage. I suppose the answer comes down to this - What’s more important for Google, Chromecast or Android?

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Android Wear

March 18th, 2014

android.gifGoogle have just announced Android Wear. There are details on the Motorola 360 on SlashGear and the LG G Watch on Engadget. Developers can sign up for the preview SDK. There’s also a Google+ community.

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While the watches look fun to develop for and I’ll probably end up owning one, I am not sure they are going to be a big hit beyond developers and a few gadget fans. To date, programmable/smartphone-linked phones haven’t taken off due to their high cost combined with the mass market perception that they are for geeks.

I think this might have been more successful had it been launched by Apple. Apple users have the disposable income for these toys and wearing an iOS ‘piece of jewellery’ would have been seen to be far more ‘awesome’ (hate that over-used word) than owning an Android watch. It’s even called ‘Android Wear’ as opposed to ‘Google Wear’ sacrificing some ‘coolness’ (hate that word as well) for increased Android brand visibility.

$60 Android Single Board Computer

March 17th, 2014

marsboardlogo.pngAre you thinking of creating a custom product based on Android or are you a hobbyist who wants to experiment? There’s a new MarsBoard RK3066 $60 dual core 1.6MHz development board that offers 4GB flash, MicroSD, 1Gb memory, USB, HDMI, Ethernet and runs Android 4.1.1. There’s also an optional 800×480 screen for $35.

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There’s a Wiki, download pageforums and shop for more information.

Quality, Cost and Speed

March 13th, 2014

I find it fascinating that most app development enquiries I receive seem fixated on cost. This is usually because all developers are initially seen as being equal and will produce the same final app which are false assumptions.

Noone asks me where I sit in the spectrum of quality, price and cost. Likewise, developers such as myself never ask clients where they want their product to lie as regards quality, price and cost. In practice, developers tend to assess their prospective client and quote/develop accordingly.

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Interestingly, once I have developed something for a client, cost tends to become secondary and speed and quality become more important for ongoing development.

What people don’t realise is that if a developer develops something quickly/cheaply then it usually has technical debt that is going to make further ongoing development (and usually end user support) more time consuming and costly.  

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How to Fix WhatsApp

March 12th, 2014

whatsapp.pngIf you read the tech news you will know Facebook intends to buy WhatsApp. One of WhatsApp’s USPs and appeal is privacy of messages. However, as Bas Bosschert showed yesterday, it’s very easy for any other app to read the WhatsApp database.

So what did WhatsApp do wrong? For some strange reason they decided to store the database outside the private app specific directories and on the sd card. The only reason I can think the developer did this was to make the database more readable during development. In later releases they encrypted the database. However, they seem to have made the decryption key easily available (hardcoded in code?) which means Bas was able decompile to extract the key and re-use to easily decrypt the database.

What can WhatsApp do? 

1. Store the database and all data files in the private directory space where they are inaccessible to all but rooted devices.

2. They can still encrypt the database and files. Take a look at Conceal and/or SQLCipher.

3. Store the decryption key where it’s less easily read. In the private directory space is better than in code, fetched online via SSL even better and not stored at all (generated from a user password entered each session) the best.

UPDATE: It’s entertaining that TheGuardian implies this is a problem with Android. As with a previous article, they seem to blur the truth.

Sessions Across Devices

March 11th, 2014
gfk.pngThe GfK blog has information on some research commissioned by Facebook on multi-device use across over 2000 people in the US and UK. Switching devices is common with more than 40% of people sometimes starting an activity and completing it on another device, usually to use a larger screen or to type easier.

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The results of the study have implications for developers of types of apps that can be categorised as content creation rather than content consumption. Such apps need to quickly and easily sync/save the context so that sessions can be continued on another device. A great example of this is Gmail which happens to be one of the most-used apps mentioned in the study. Gmail automatically ’saves as you go’ allowing drafts to be picked up and completed on another platform.

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Android All-In-Ones

March 7th, 2014
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There has been a recent increase in the number of manufacturers producing Android All-in-ones (AIO). Examples include in the Acer TA272, Philips S231C4AFD and HP Slate 21-k100 All-in-One. For some reason there hasn’t been much marketing around these products and few people know they even exist.

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They are effectively large touch screen monitors with Android built-in. While they look fun and I am tempted to get one I am not sure how they satisfy a typical consumer’s needs. They are in between a desktop and a tablet and it’s likely most consumers will already have both of these. It’s less portable (and more expensive) than a tablet and less functional than a desktop (Mac or PC).

However, where I can see AIOs being used is in more vertical and business applications. Many in-store, hospitality, vending, ticketing and other such specialist one-use situations would benefit from a single box, large screen solution that users can touch to interact. I believe there are many opportunities in this area waiting to be explored.

Gartner Tablet Sales

March 3rd, 2014

gartner136.gifGartner’s latest tablet sales numbers show that Android tablets sales exceeded iOS tablet sales for the first time in 2013. Android now has a 61.9% market share while iOS market share has decreased from 52.8% to 36%.

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As with smartphones, Gartner says smaller low-cost (7") tablets are driving growth. Apple say they won’t go this small because this small size doesn’t make for a good product.