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Google IO 2011 Recap

Android

  • Honeycomb 3.1 was announced, it includes many bug fixes, optimizations, resizeable widgets, USB Host capability, a new quick control menu and an updated android market.
  • Google TV will receive a Honeycomb upgrade complete with apps.
  • Ice Cream Sandwich was also announced and will be available by the end of 2011. It will replace both Gingerbread on phones and Honeycomb on tablets as the single unifying OS, hence Ice Cream Sandwich.
  • Google demoed Cordy on the Motorola Xoom running 3.1 being controlled by an Xbox 360 gamepad.
  • Google will implement time guidelines in Android update cycles with oems and carriers. Unfortunately it’s not a requirement and instead an opt in. Thankfully the support is good and they will be required to update devices for at least 18 months.
  • Google announced the Android open accessory API allowing all Android devices to work with third party accessories. Any accessory designed using the API will be compatible with any Android phone or tablet with no cost or approval from Google allowing third party manufacturers to implement it any way they wish.
  • Google announces Android@Home which will be used to bring home automation courtesy of Android.
  • A new Nexus phone is in the works and should launch with Ice Cream Sandwich at the end of the year according to Andy Rubin.
  • Currently Google offers 50MB for in market APK’s on the Android Market and will now provide an additional 4GB of storage for larger Apps. This is huge for smaller developers who want to go big. Currently they would have to provide their own additional storage which can be costly, especially when considering piracy.
  • Google is adding new categories to the Android Market. Top Grossing, Top Free & Paid, Top New Free & Paid, Just In, Trending, Editors Choice and Top Developers list to the Market.
  • Android Market will soon be available in 99 new countries, bringing the total to 131 countries. This will most likely result in much bigger revenues for developers and an increase in Android hardware sales worldwide.

Chrome

  • ChromeOS finally gets a file browser and media player and is starting to looking more and more like a full fledge OS
  • Google will charge 5% for in app payments from the Chrome Web Store
  • Google will launch two Chromebooks on June 15th, one from Samsung and one from Acer in the US, UK, France, Germany, Netherlands, Italy and Spain.
  • Google will also be releasing a Chromebox mini-desktop targeted at businesses.
  • Chromebooks by monthly subscription, cost per user; $28 for businesses and $20 for schools with free software and hardware upgrades. This could be very popular for Businesses and schools. No up front cost, no OS upgrade costs, no hardware upgrade costs and requires less employees to maintain the computers.

Music Beta

  • Currently only available in the US and by invitation only.
  • They do not have deals with any labels, so it is merely a cloud storage option.
  • Install the app on your computer and it will upload your music and playlist to the web for playback from any web browser, ChromeOS and Android device.
  • It can handle MP3, MPA, WMA and FLAC which still leaves a few holes but is superior than Amazon’s cloud storage.
  • The service currently offers free storage for up to 20,000 songs, no mention of actual storage space but it’s probably 80GB.
  • There is no mention of price but Google’s current pricing for storage is $5 for 20GB, $20 for 80GB, $50 for 200GB, $100 for 400GB, $256 for 1TB per year.

Movie Rentals

  • Google launched 3000 movie rentals from all the major studios.
  • Available from YouTube or the web based Android Market and Android devices with the movie app.
  • The rental is attached to your gmail and can be viewed from any of your devices.
  • Rentals are good for 30 days from purchase and 24 hours from first viewing.
  • The movies can be downloaded to your device for offline viewing.
  • Movie rentals are only available in the US and no mention of making the jump to other countries.
  • Pricing varies from $3.99 for new releases, $2.99 for movies older than several months and $1.99 for movies older than a year or two.

No Netflix, No Hulu… No Problem

by Dave Loft

The studios just don’t get it, if you don’t make the content available legitimately, people will find another way to get it. So far there isn’t an option for Android users looking for a way to watch Hulu or Netflix on their device. The reason for the delay has been blamed on concerns of DRM. The reality is that no matter how DRM is implemented, it will eventually fail. Then theres the other question and arguably the more important one. Who is going to use an Android app that requires a monthly subscription as a means to steal content and share it on the web? It’s far more likely to be done using a cable box and a PC.

Now at least in the US Amazon has an option for Android users to buy and stream videos to their Android device. Unfortunately in Canada, the only option for Android users is to buy a DVD and rip it into a format the phone can play. Which is a rather time consuming process and in the age of digital distribution, rather ridiculous.

I stopped buying physical media a long time ago. I get my music from Rdio, my comics from Comixology, my books from Kobo, my TV from Hulu and movies from Netflix. I try to stay as legitimate as possible but when it becomes more difficult to use, or worse it’s just not available, I tend to head to the types of sources the studios wish never existed.

Rdio, Comixology and Kobo have apps that allow me to enjoy my content on the go. But since the movie and television studios haven’t yet learned what the music labels learned several years ago, they are currently hurtling towards a cliff in Bugatti Veyron at 407 KMH with the brakes from a Volkswagen Jetta. Subsequently customers are being lost in the very holes they created by not offering a competing service.

So what do I suggest for TV on the go? TV Shows Stream, which is available on the Android Market for a one time purchase price of $5 from Loading Home. TV Shows Stream provides as the name suggest a method for streaming TV and it offers more content than Netflix and Hulu ever could.

When you click on the show you like, it will give you some general information about the show as well as a link to IMDb and the option to Add or Delete Bookmark. It’s really easy to use and and is a necessity considering every letter of the alphabet has hundreds of show listings. At the bottom will be a list of seasons with each episode name and number listed inside. Once you click on the episode you want you will be given a list of links to watch from. On occasion some of the links will be dead, hence the reason to have several to choose from.

For fans of Megavideo, TV Shows Stream offers an option to login to your account from the homepage. Without a Megavideo account, you will be limited to 72 minutes of streaming video from their links. For anyone who doesn’t have a Megavideo account I would suggest using Karambavidz or Loombo videos. They offer excellent quality, no time limit and can be loaded into an external video player, rather than played within the browser using flash. The battery life and playback controls on your Android video player is definitely better than the browser.

For anyone looking for movies, I would suggest MegaViewer Movie Streamer Pro. It’s not quite as good as TV Shows Stream. While TV Shows Stream’s UI is very sparse, it’s also very usable. MegaViewer Pro is just badly designed and lacks any options whatsoever. But the biggest issue is the inability to bookmark your position in the movie to save it for later. This issue is made worse with the players inability to fast forward or rewind. But even with those issues as it stands, it’s still the best option for streaming movies to your Android device. MegaViewer’s selection doesn’t have everything, but what it does have blows away what Netflix can offer.

Now the nitty gritty. The act of streaming movies and TV shows you haven’t paid for is not exactly legal, yet it isn’t illegal either. It currently lives in the gray area of the internet where major corporations have yet to sway governments into changing laws with which to prosecute anyone who partakes in it. Currently it comes down to the act of sharing content that will get you in trouble. So wither these apps are OK to use or not really comes down to your personal beliefs and morals. But if you pay for cable, satellite, Netflix, Hulu or any other video distribution service that fails to offer an option on your mobile, you now know of your alternatives.

It’s interesting to see the studios doing just what music labels did ten years ago. They don’t provide an option so an illegitimate option takes it’s place. Then by the time they figure it out and make something available they have to convince people who have gotten used to the free alternative to start paying again. The funny thing is the free alternatives may never have even existed had the studios made their content available from the beginning. It will be at that point that the studios turn to lawsuits to solve the problem they created in the first place rather than try to innovate.

So for now enjoy the freedom while it lasts and give these apps a try. If your interested, bear in mind they do require Android 2.2 and slow phones need not apply. Also don’t expect the longest battery life if you plan to watch a lot of video. With the display on, a data connection in constant use and a heavier CPU load it’s really no surprise to see a significant drop after finishing a movie. So if the morals and stiff requirements don’t scare you away, MegaViewer Pro and TV Shows Stream are truly great alternatives to Hulu or Netflix.

9 Essential Apps to Keep in Sync

by Dave Loft

Living part of my digital life on a desktop and the other on a smartphone has presented itself with a few difficulties. The question is how to keep what you do in sync between your devices? Sure you can plug it in with a cable and sync your files but who wants to use a cable, especially in 2011. Theres also limitations in what can be done with software like iTunes or even just transferring files in file explorer. Because it’s really more than just files that need syncing. It’s also places, ideas, thoughts, notes and experiences that needs a solution that bridges the gap. In the following article you will read about the 9 apps I use everyday to keep in sync.

The first app I will showcase is Chrome to Phone, it’s a Google app that can be installed on any Android device with 2.2 or higher. It requires a extension in browser to function. If your on your desktop or laptop reading an article and you want to finish reading but you have to leave, just click Chrome to Phone and the site will automatically load on your phone. This app also works with YouTube videos and Google Maps. If you prefer looking up directions before you leave this app is very useful. Hit up Google Maps to chart your route then push it to your phone, saving you from having to map it on the smaller screen.

There is only one thing Chrome to Phone doesn’t do and that’s push links from the phone to your computer. So that’s why Paddy Foran created android2cloud. When browsing on my phone I often come across videos I want to watch, it allows me to push it to my desktop or media center PC so I can watch it on the bigger screen. It’s really the ease of use and how natural it works that it becomes so natural to use.

When I first got my Android phone I really wanted a way to sync my desktop bookmarks to my phone. I downloaded an app to do it but shortly after I realized what a terrible idea it really was. Many of the bookmarks I have saved were just not useful at all on my mobile phone. After some searching I finally found what I really wanted, which was to store the articles I came across. I would use this service to bookmark links that I wanted to read but did not have time too. Chrome to Phone was great for the right now experience but this app was perfect for saving it for later.

The app I speak of is aptly called Read it Later. When I’m on my phone and I come across an article I want to read later, I use Android’s share function and hit Read it Later. The app on the phone actually downloads the text of the article so even if I’m on the subway, it’s still accessible. It also adds the article to my Read it Later online profile. So from the comfort of my desk, I can actually finish the article. Once read I can check it off my unread list and it gets moved to a list of read articles. I also have a plugin in Chrome called ChromeItLater which allows me to store articles for later right from desktop. This app has literally transformed the way I read.

For anyone interested in moving files between the phone and the computer I have two suggestions for you. The first is Dropbox, which allows you to store 2GB’s of data in the cloud for free. You can download the app to your desktop OS to automatically keep a folder in sync with their servers. From any computer you just need to go to dropbox.com where you can download or upload any file you wish. I have dropbox installed at home and at school keeping my class files in sync and with me wherever I go. When I’m on my phone its very easy to upload files to dropbox using Androids share function. To download just load the app and select the file you want, it’s easy to use and has completely replaced my USB drive.

If your looking for a more direct way to transfer a file to and from your Android phone I highly recommend giving Samba Filesharing by FunkyFresh a try. This app requires a rooted phone but is such a good app that it’s worth rooting just for this. The app is dead simple to use, you just need to set a username and password and then your good to go. Once running it will list the address you need t to type on your computer to access the drive. But from a Windows 7 desktop I only had to select network from the file explorer and within a few seconds of scanning the network it will show Android on the list. Once connected you will have full read andwrite access to your SD card to do as you wish.

The next piece of software is 1Password by Agile Web Solutions. This app allows me to have one place for storing your account logins, banking, product keys or anything else you want to keep private. The desktop application is required to create entries and is unfortunately quite costly. But I have tired half a dozen applications that do what this app does and none of them work as well as 1Password. The key to it’s success is utilizing Dropbox to keep the phone and desktop in sync. This app has allowed me to use wildly long and difficult passwords for all my logins I use throughout the day. With this app I just need to remember 1 password to retrieve them, hence the name.

The next app is for the worker on the go. The business man who lives and breathes office software. Word, Excel and PowerPoint editing is not very well represented on Android. So far Google has only made the web based version of Google docs available for editing on the phone. So it’s come to the third party developers to offer an alternative and I have found my favorite in Documents to Go by DataViz. There are three ways to get your documents on your phone and working with Documents to Go. With the first requiring a cable I’m just going to ignore that one and talk about the other two. The second option requires another app, as I mentioned before I suggest Samba Filesharing or Dropbox. The third option is the one I use, Google Docs.

I have completely got rid of Office on my desktop and just use Google Docs for everything now. It’s easy to setup Documents to Go with Google Docs and once done the option for it is accessible right on the home page. This is not an app I use everyday but it’s an app that’s there when needed and it’s a life saver. For the everyday simple note taking a streamlined quicker to get in and out app is recommended. I have tried many note taking applications on my phone and the more I try the more I appreciate Evernote. It’s well polished, quick, efficient and everything I write is available from my account online or my desktop.

Evernote makes an extension for Chrome that I use if I want to take notes about any article I’m reading. When using the app on the phone you can also clip files, pictures of voice recordings to the note as well. The desktop app makes using the service a better experience, especially if you don’t always have a net connection.

The only downside to Evernote is its list making ability. A good way to make to-do lists, grocery lists or any other list your heart desires requires another app. I use CloudList for all my list needs and what I love about it is the syncing and sharing feature. I have a grocery list I share with my wife. We can both add to the list and whoever goes and get’s the groceries can check off the list.

All of these apps will allow you to have a cohesive experience between a phone, tablet, netbook, laptop and desktop. Which as a result frees you up to just use your device and enjoy it any way you will.

Valve announced a new Steamworks feature called Steam Guard today

by Dave Loft

According to Valve’s Gabe Newell,  their number one support issue relates to account phishing and hijacking. So in response to those issues Valve is implementing a hardware based security system called IPT provided by Intel to help protect users accounts. It’s definitely an added benefit to users to help secure their accounts as Valve currently offers over 1200 games and an account with a couple hundred games can easily be worth thousands. As long as it doesn’t get in the way of using the service I’m all for it. Hit up the press release below for more info.

Press Release

March 3, 2011 — Valve announced today a new Steam and Steamworks feature called Steam Guard, which gives users greatly increased account security.

Steam Guard allows users to link management of their account to a specific PC. Attempts to modify or change account settings by any other PC won’t be possible without the user’s approval.

Steam Guard will take advantage of upcoming Intel® Identity Protection Technology (Intel® IPT), an encrypted, hardware-based feature available with the new 2nd Generation Intel® CoreT and Intel® CoreT vProT processors. IPT generates a new numerical password every 30 seconds, integrating into the processor functionality that previously required a separate card or key fob.

Users will also be notified if any PCs other than those authorized by them attempt to log into or modify their account settings.

Steam Guard is available to third parties to incorporate into their own applications through Steamworks.

“Account phishing and hijacking are our #1 support issues,” said Gabe Newell, President of Valve. “With Intel’s IPT and Steam Guard, we’ve taken a big step towards giving customers the account security they need as they purchase more and more digital goods.”

“We expect to see widespread adoption of hardware-based security like Intel IPT by other service providers,” said Doug Lombardi, Valve’s Vice President of Marketing. “If as a customer you are buying movies, music, games, or digital goods, you want to know that they are more secure than your physical goods.”

“With over 30 million accounts worldwide, Steam is an ideal platform for Intel IPT,” said George Thangadurai, General Manager of PC Client Services at Intel. “Those running Steam are investing in a robust digital collection of PC games. By adding hardware-based protection to these investments, we hope to bolster the amazing success of platforms such as Steam.”

For more information, please visit www.steamgames.com

Steam ‘big picture’ mode announced

by Dave Loft

So it looks like Valve will be making Steam a little more couch an controller friendly. As someone who connect’s their PC to their HDTV I have to say it’s about time. I currently sit on the couch with my gamepad to play the kind of games most people say ‘require a console to play’. I always wanted a way to interact with steam using the gamepad. A more intuitive way to use steam will make it more accessible. But I think there is more to this story than just that.

I always thought Valve should release a Steam console. But they haven’t made all the improvements and additions required to be successful in the console domain. You can’t sell a box that connects to an HDTV today without offering a comprehensive multimedia component. Their are also other competitors currently in the market that just do multimedia like Google TV, Apple TV, Roku and more. Just as consoles grew started to offer multimedia, the media boxes will need to start offering applications and games to compete for space beside your TV.

Going a few years down the road Google TV and Apple TV will most likely be established boxes beside the Xbox 360 and PS3 and it will be due to opening their platform’s up and offering an app market. Surprisingly application may be the key to Google and Apple taking the living room over from Microsoft and Sony. For hardcore gamers the choice will be easy but for everyone else a smaller, a quieter and less expensive device with a user experience similar to a smartphone will be very compelling.

For Valve to truly compete with a standalone box they will need to sell more than just games. They will need to sell or partner with someone who can provide them with music, television, movies, games, apps and a web browser. It wouldn’t be worthwhile running a full windows OS on the box, so they would most likely have to build on top of Linux. It would also be fairly unlikely that all games currently available on Steam would work on their standalone box. The work required to make this happen is truly daunting, but do they have a choice?

OnLive is increasingly becoming a strong alternative in the market to not just Steam on the PC but also dedicated home consoles. OnLive is poised to become the Netflix of gaming. At CES it was announced that OnLive would be available on Vizio televisions in addition to Mac, PC and the OnLive micro consoles. At MWC, HTC announced an investment of 40 million dollars into OnLive. They also showed off OnLive gaming on their upcoming Flyer 7″ tablet.

Looking at the field of competition it is clear that Valve has work to do. They will need to step up and increase the rate at which they add new features and capabilities to Steam. Their dominance of PC digital distribution sales has left them with little need to innovate. Let’s hope their push into the living room will provide the competition to do better and bring Steam fans, new and old an even better service.

Backup Your Digital Life

by Dave Loft

Google recently had a hiccup and lost 150,000 Google accounts including email, contacts calender and any files stored within it. I would also assume that this would include any app purchased for their Android device as well. Even though they say they will be able to restore all of them over the next few days, it did make me think about that possibility of losing my data. So I went searching for a way to backup my Google account and came across backupify.

Backupify allows you to backup all of the accounts listed below:
Facebook (Profile) Facebook Profiles and Fan Pages
Google Contacts Google Contacts, Calender, Docs, Gmail, Blogger, Sites, Picasa
Flickr Flickr
LinkedIn LinkedIn
Twitter Twitter
Zoho Zoho

They offer a free personal account which allows you to link to 5 social media accounts and store up to 2GB of data. This account will only be good for people who don’t actually delete emails. If you just let your email account run wild like me you will most likely need several gigabytes of storage. Also if you have Google Apps domain account you will need to get a paid account.

For $5 a month the Pro 100 account allows you to link to 25 social media accounts, 5 Google Apps domain accounts and store up to 20GB of data. For $20 a month they offer a Pro 500 account which allows you to link an unlimited amount of social media accounts with an unlimited amount of data. It also includes backup for up to 10 Google Apps domain accounts and extra accounts can be added for $3 each.

I’m currently using a free monthly trial for the Pro 100 account and I am quite happy with how it works. Once setup and linked to all your sites you don’t have anything else to do, everything is automatic. If in the future your Google account is lost you can easily use Backupify to restore it. The only thing they need to do to improve their service is add support for more services, Hotmail, Yahoo and WordPress would all make great additions. But if your like me and your life is stored online, you really should consider backing up your data. Far too often people don’t think to backup till it’s too late.

Backupify.com

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