• Commentary and Analysis

    by Published on 04-13-2018 06:30 AM
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    If you needed another reason to be angry at your Android device maker, here it is. According to a new feature in WIRED some OEMs have been flat-out lying about their security patches. The table above is a summary of missing patches found in Android builds across thirteen manufactures. Google and Samsung, as one would hope, are fairly honest; on the other end is TCL and ZTE, each with more than four patches missing from their "updated" devices.

    For the past two years the German security firm SRL have been reverse-engineering software on hundreds on Android phones, investigating what they call "patch gap". The research will be presented today at a conference in Amsterdam.

    With so many Android hardware makers there's no single reason for missing security patches. Sometimes it's an honest mistake and, to quote someone from SRL, sometimes not so much:

    "Sometimes these guys just change the date without installing any patches. Probably for marketing reasons, they just set the patch level to almost an arbitrary date, whatever looks best."
    Whenever a security firm presents bad news like this there's often a solution being peddled to address it. And sure enough, SRL has SnoopStitch, which runs a local test on your device and supposedly informs you of any missing patches. I tried it on my OnePlus phone but the results were inconclusive, possibly because I'm on a beta channel of the software for that device.

    Read more about SRL and patch gap at the links directly below.

    Source: WIRED via XDA

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    by Published on 04-06-2018 08:00 AM
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    2. Commentary and Analysis,
    3. Apps



    There's already mounting evidence that we've reached peak smartphone growth—see Exhibit A here and Exhibit B here; now we have our first indication that smartphone app growth has also peaked. The analytics company appfigures makes its case in this chart:



    According to their research, the number of titles in Apple's App Store declined for the first time in 2017. So how do you explain the continuing growth of Google's Android equivalent? Well, there's a chart for that, too:



    As most Android users already know, the majority of apps are developed for iOS first, then ported to Android later. So while the number of titles published in Google Play saw continued growth last year, a similar contraction is likely to occur at some point.

    What does all this mean? Less apps, obviously, but hopefully better ones.

    Source: appfigures via Android Police, TechCrunch

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    by Published on 04-05-2018 07:30 AM
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    2. Commentary and Analysis,
    3. Reviews and Hands-on



    David Ruddock, the managing editor of Android Police, has just completed a two-week test drive of Android P Developer Preview 1. I've already covered the visual overhaul of the UI in a previous post; today I present to you a quick summary of David's thoughts on other aspects of this first test build.

    1. Theming is Hard

    ... Especially without user-selectable controls. On other Android devices, like ones from OnePlus and Samsung, theming is actually pretty easy. But for some reason Google will only give you a dark theme if you select a dark wallpaper, and even then your notification cards and Google Feed will remain their regular garish white.

    2. Smart Rotate is Neat

    If you find auto-rotate annoying and keep your phone locked in portrait mode then you'll surely appreciate this new feature. When you rotate your phone to landscape a button will magically appear in your navigation bar so that you can rotate your screen manually to match. Smart!

    3. Screenshot Editors are Handy

    Android P now has a native screenshot editor. There's nothing especially groundbreaking here; Android ROMs from other OEMs—again, like OnePlus and Samsung—have offered this functionality for quite some time.

    Indeed, nothing I'm seeing in this Android Police report has me terribly excited about Android P. Not so long ago a new version of Android meant new features and commits to AOSP that every device builder could use; nowadays it seems like Google is just playing catch-up to other OEMs.

    Source: Android Police

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    by Published on 03-21-2018 08:45 AM
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    2. Devices,
    3. Commentary and Analysis,
    4. Apps



    It's been almost a week since Google officially rebranded Android Wear to Wear OS, and tech blogs are unimpressed. Today I'll highlight two recent editorials on the subject, one with helpful but misguided suggestions for Google, and the other with some shade-throwing that, quite by accident, pretty much nails what I believe to be Mountain View's master plan.

    Android Central: Android Wear needs way more than just a Wear OS rebrand

    AC's editorial has two recommendations for Google: overhaul Google Fit and make a Pixel watch.

    While it's probably true that Google Fit is somewhat lacking for the hardcore fitness enthusiast, the article conveniently ignores the existence of third-party apps like Endomondo, Runkeeper, Strava and many more—all of which work with Wear OS. Google Fit is perfectly fine for the fitness dilettante, like myself.

    As for a Pixel watch, that would be almost certainly be a gift from the heavens for Pixel zealots, and of no consequence to the wider addressable audience for wearables. Remember that Nokia-powered Android phones, barely available in North America, outsold their Pixel counterparts last year. Would a Pixel-branded smartwatch do any better? I don't see how.

    Gizmodo: Google's Smartwatch Program Is a Mess, and a Name Change Won't Fix That

    Gizmodo's anti-Ware OS screed spends a lot of time looking down its nose at Fossil Group and other traditional watch OEMs:

    Almost all of the big Android Wear device makers such as Motorola, LG, and Asus have given up on the platform, leaving Android Wear in the hands of fashion brands that neither have the vision nor the technological know-how to advance smartwatch tech.
    Well, there's certainly one thing that fashion brands know how to do: design a timepiece that doesn't look like a gadget. Looks are entirely subjective, of course, but put any of the aforementioned Asus, LG or Motorola smartwatches beside anything from a traditional watchmaker and you can immediately see which one was designed by an electronics company.

    I've said this before and I'll say it here again: the future of Wear OS is under the hood of a Casio, Fossil, TAG Heuer or whatever your favourite watch brand happens to be. For the present, it arms these watchmakers with an alternative to the Apple Watch; for the future, it gives every watch-wearer to ability to see notifications on their wrist. The Wear OS rebranding is ultimately just marketing, and that's fine with me. It's a less-geeky way to pitch the tech under that pretty watchface.

    Links: Android Central, Gizmodo, Wareable

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    by Published on 03-08-2018 07:30 AM
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    This isn't a screenshot of Android P, but it might as well be. The image is actually from the Play Store listing for the Flux White Substratum Theme. I was a big fan of the original Flux for Cyanogen not so long ago, and Google could certainly do worse than to copy this particular designer's fine efforts.

    Feel free to compare what you see above with some screenshots of the actual developer preview from Android Police. The resemblance is uncanny, isn't it? It's also perhaps a little bit ironic, because according to XDA custom overlays—including Substratum themes—can no longer be used with Android P, at least in its current state.

    The last time I had checked on Substratum it required root, but apparently there is also a rootless variant. It doesn't ultimately matter because root access to your device won't help you anyway, thanks to changes Google has made to a file called framework.jar

    Custom ROMs will likely be able to patch this file, and there might soon be a Magisk module that does the same. But if you're running a stock ROM that doesn't already support theming, prepare to be blinded by Android P.

    Sources: Android Police, reddit, XDA

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    by Published on 03-06-2018 07:15 AM
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    2. Devices,
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    If you frequent either Amazon.ca or Amazon.com you'd be forgiven for thinking that they were already here. But China's number two smartphone OEM has plans far beyond grey market imports; according to the Wall Street Journal they're planning to raise up to a hundred billion dollars in an IPO on U.S. markets, and shortly afterwards will start selling their Android-powered phones and other gear through an official North American sales channel.

    Based on Huawei's recent troubles I wouldn't expect any carrier partners for Xiaomi phones, either; fortunately there's not so much sticker shock when it comes to their hardware, so carrier financing and/or subsidies aren't as critical to sales. That's my big hope here, that Xiaomi will have enough success with sub-$1,000 devices that Samsung, Google and Apple will take notice.

    Apple in particular might also take notice of MIUI, the inspired-by-iOS ROM developed at a time when other versions of Android lacked polish. But there are plenty of other Android OEMs also blatantly copying iOS, and they haven't been sued yet. We'll have to wait and see, I guess.

    By the way, the WSJ source lives behind a paywall, and my Google search trick to break it no longer seems to work. Fortunately, a helpful redditor on r/Android has done us all a favour and copy/pasted the text of the article right here.

    Source: Wall Street Journal via r/Android

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    by Published on 03-05-2018 06:30 AM
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    2. Devices,
    3. Commentary and Analysis



    With another Mobile World Congress come and gone it's time to get caught up on other smartphone-related stories of note. Almost two weeks ago Computerworld took a deep dive into the muddled waters of software updates, grading six Android OEMs on their Oreo OTAs and communication with their customers. To quote the author, such upgrades are basically "a big, hot mess".

    Here's a summary of the report card, ranked from best to worst:

    Google: A (94%)
    Current flagship upgraded in 9 days (60/60 points)
    Previous flagship upgraded in 18 days (29/30 points)
    Mediocre communication (5/10 points)

    OnePlus: D (65%)
    Current flagship upgraded in 138 days (41/60 points)
    Previous flagship upgraded in 91 days (24/30 points)
    Poor communication (0/10 points)

    HTC: F (49%)
    Current flagship upgraded in 99 days (47/60 points)
    Still waiting for upgrade to previous flagship (0/30 points)
    Poor communication (2/10 points)

    Motorola: F (45%)
    Current flagship upgraded in 124 days (43/60 points)
    Still waiting for upgrade to previous flagship (0/30 points)
    Poor communication (2/10 points)

    LG: F (0%)
    Still waiting for upgrade to current flagship (0/60 points)
    Still waiting for upgrade to previous flagship (0/30 points)
    Poor communication (0/10 points)

    Samsung: F (0%)
    Still waiting for upgrade to current flagship (0/60 points)
    Still waiting for upgrade to previous flagship (0/30 points)
    Poor communication (0/10 points)

    You can read the whole story at the link below. And feel free to add your own upgrade experience with any OEM not listed here.

    Source: Computerworld

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    by Published on 02-23-2018 06:45 AM
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    If memory serves me correctly I first introduced the concept of "peak smartphone" last October, when I linked to a story about someone who had tracked Google searches for Apple and Samsung devices and found that interest in both of them had, well... peaked.

    This week TechCrunch is running a story with further evidence of slowing smartphone sales worldwide. A new report by Gartner claims that Q4 numbers were down 5.6% from the previous year; Apple moved 5% less iPhones and Samsung 3.6% less units over the holidays. And if you thought the world's largest smartphone market would be safe, think again: recent research by Canalys suggests that sales in China dropped by 4% in 2017, and were down 14% in Q4 alone.

    Back to Gartner, here's what they think is going on:

    Gartner says two main factors led to the Q4 sales drop: A slowing of upgrades from feature phones to smartphones due to a lack of quality “ultra-low-cost” smartphones; and existing smartphone owners selecting quality models and keeping them for longer, lengthening the replacement cycle.
    I would add that smartphones are getting too expensive, and that customers are passing over models without headphone jacks, but what do I know...?

    Sources: TechCrunch (1) (2)

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    by Published on 02-09-2018 12:26 PM
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    Article Preview


    Besides “the notch” the other X’s other distinguishing feature (aside from the heart stopping price tag) is its facial ...
    by Published on 02-08-2018 10:10 AM
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    One of the iPhone X’s most controversial features is its screen or rather, the fact that parts of it are missing.

    Yes, I’m talking about the “Notch”.

    While previous iPhones had large bezels at the top and bottom of the phone, the X’s design features a display that takes up the entire front of the phone. That means the iPhone’s most iconic feature; the home button is a thing of the past.
    ...
    by Published on 12-07-2017 07:45 AM
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    If you were planning a visit to your local Verizon outlet today, there's something you should know: "Team Internet", a coalition of the activist groups Demand Progress, Fight for the Future and Free Press, is planning a national day of action at Verizon stores around the country. Participants will be protesting the FCC's planned repeal of net neutrality protections in the United States.

    On November 21st FCC Chief Ajit Pai formally revealed plans to reverse the commission's 2015 net neutrality order, more specifically the Title II protections for broadband and mobile Internet traffic. The worry is that without Title II there will be nothing to stop Internet service providers from prioritizing, for example, their own video streaming services over Netflix or YouTube. Pai, on the other hand, claims that Title II has stifled innovation and investment in network infrastructure.

    The FCC will vote on Pai's plan on December 14th; the repeal is expected to go through with commissioners voting 3 for and 2 against, along party lines. What today's protests are expected to accomplish beyond raising awareness is unclear. Depending on where you stand on this issue it could be either a minor annoyance or something you'll very much want to be a part of.

    Link: VerizonProtests.com

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    by Published on 11-27-2017 06:45 AM
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    What we're looking at here is the logo for the εxodus privacy auditing program, a French nonprofit which, with help from the Yale Privacy Lab, has published a database of trackers found in popular Android apps. And there are a lot more of them than you'd expect.

    Most people would understand that an app like Uber would need to track you in order to ascertain your location when you request a car. And since the Uber app is downloaded from the Google Play Store it's not much of a reach to imagine that Google too is tracking downloads of that app, and likely taking stock of the other apps installed on your Android device as well. But what you might not expect is that Uber is also very much in the business of reselling your location history and other data via third party trackers.

    Some of the offenders mentioned by name in The Intercept's coverage of this project include AccuWeather, Lyft, Microsoft Outlook, Skype, Spotify, Tinder, Uber and The Weather Channel.

    Any iPhone users reading this should resist any urge to feel smug; as Cory Doctorow reports, these same trackers almost certainly exist in the iOS versions of the same apps, but it's illegal to break Apple's DRM to prove it.

    Links: εxodus, Cory Doctorow, The Intercept

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    by Published on 11-23-2017 07:15 AM
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    This is what it's been like to be a Canadian on the Internet this week...

    In the United States Ajit Pai's FCC is moving forward on plans to remove Title II protections for home and mobile Internet users; meanwhile, in Canada, such protections have arguably never been stronger. When it comes to wireless, net neutrality inevitably ends up focusing on zero-rated data. Fellow Canadian forum readers may remember your very own Ben Klass who, in a 26-page complaint to our CRTC, convinced our regulator that Bell's zero-rated mobile television offering was in violation of this country's Telecommunications Act.

    Earlier this week Ars Technica posted a deep dive into exactly how the CRTC deals with zero-rated data offerings. Ben Klass already knows that the regulator has a complaints-based rather than blanket policy in such matters; there are, in fact, four criteria considered with every complaint:

    1. The degree to which the treatment of data is agnostic (i.e., data is treated equally regardless of its source or nature);
    2. Whether the offering is exclusive to certain customers or certain content providers;
    3. The impact on Internet openness and innovation;
    4. Whether there is financial compensation involved.

    For more insights into net neutrality in Canada vs. the USA, plus zero-rated data as treated by the CRTC vs. FCC, see the link immediately below.

    Link: Ars Technica

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    by Published on 11-15-2017 07:30 AM
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    More bad news for OnePlus... on the eve of a new product announcement they've been accused of backdooring their devices, allowing an attacker with physical access to gain root access without having to unlock any bootloaders— which we all know would wipe any and all sensitive data from your phone, right? Anyone? Bueller...?

    Anyway, as privacy scares go, this one has been blown out of proportion just a bit. It's still bad, but nowhere near as bad as the data that OnePlus was caught harvesting last month.

    The "backdoor" here is actually a Qualcomm testing app called EngineerMode. With the correct password (which has already been reverse-engineered) it will indeed grant root access via the Android Debug Bridge (ADB). What it won't do is allow malicious software with root privileges to be installed on your device. In fact, XDA has put their own spin on this vulnerability, citing it as a great new way for modders to root their OnePlus device.

    OnePlus absolutely should have removed this app before shipping out hardware to their customers. As to why they didn't, signs point to laziness rather than something more nefarious. Oh, and by the way, some ASUS and Xiaomi phones were also sold with the same Qualcomm testing app on board.

    Sources: Android Police, OnePlus Forums, XDA

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    by Published on 11-08-2017 07:30 AM
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    So apparently Android celebrated its 10th birthday this past Sunday. TechRadar did up a little slideshow detailing ten (actually eleven) notable events in the history of what is now the world's most popular computer operating system, mobile or otherwise. This Android fanboy didn't agree with all of their choices so I replaced them with some of my own:

    November 5th, 2007 - Android is born

    October 22nd, 2008 - The first Android phone (HTC Dream / T-Mobile G1)

    July 1st, 2009 - First public release of CyanogenMod (for HTC Dream, Magic)

    January 5th, 2010 - The first Nexus phone

    June 4th, 2010 - The first Samsung Galaxy S

    December 6th, 2010 - Android 2.3 "Gingerbread" released

    October 29th, 2011 - The first Samsung Galaxy Note

    January 7th, 2015 - Nokia switches to Android (N1 Tablet)

    May 27th, 2015 - First citation of Android as world's dominant OS

    November 6th, 2015 - BlackBerry switches to Android (Priv)

    Ten years ago BlackBerry was the dominant smartphone OS in North America, while Nokia's Symbian ruled Europe and Asia. I wonder where we'll be another ten years from now...

    Links: New York Times, TechRadar, Wikipedia (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

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    by Published on 11-07-2017 06:30 AM
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    Kudos to Sascha Segan at PCMag for his enlightening editorial explaining why Broadcom, Ltd.'s unsolicited $130 billion bid for Qualcomm, Inc. is bad news for all mobile users.

    On the surface it doesn't seem like a bad idea at all. Broadcom makes Bluetooth and WiFi chips; Qualcomm makes chips for mobile phones. Having all this manufacturing expertise under one roof should be a win-win for both parties. I think marketing types call it "synergy"?

    The problem, as Sascha points out, is that Broadcom isn't really Broadcom:

    "Broadcom" is actually a company called Avago, a spin-off of Hewlett-Packard that, in recent years, has spent as much time and energy buying, dismembering, cutting costs on, and selling off parts of other companies as it has inventing things. This has resulted in great financial performance, but not so much in the way of innovation.
    In stark contrast, Qualcomm, Inc. is described by Segan as a thin layer of marketeers keeping a hoard of geeks focused on running a successful business. And there's no denying the success of Qualcomm; the company has a target on its back only now, and only because ongoing legal battles with Apple have put them in a financially vulnerable position.

    For the whole story check out Sascha's excellent screed at the second link directly below.

    Links: MarketWatch, PCMag

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    by Published on 11-06-2017 07:00 AM
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    Canada's public broadcaster has used the 10th anniversary of the iPhone as an impetus to take a deep dive into the distraction—even addiction—of the modern smartphone app. It's published an entire half-hour episode of its popular Marketplace series on YouTube, and a feature piece on CBC News as well.

    The TL;DR is that the modern smartphone app is addictive by design. One example provided is a popular technique called variable reinforcement. It involves three steps: (1) a trigger, like a notification on your phone, (2) an action, as in tapping on the notification to open the app and (3) the reward—a "like" or share of something you've previously posted. Because the reward itself isn't predictable, the action of seeking the reward becomes compulsive.

    For the purpose of this CBC investigation it does seem that "app" is rather narrowly defined as a smartphone portal to a messaging service or social media network. It also seems that teens are especially vulnerable to this addictive behaviour.

    As a Generation Xer (Nirvana rules!) I myself am not a digital native, and therefore have no trouble putting my smartphone down and immersing myself in some other leisurely pursuit for extended periods of time. And though I'm also a childless monster I can't help but wonder if using messaging apps is fundamentally any different for teenagers than tying up a landline phone for hours on end in those dark ages before smartphones, or even the Internet, existed.

    Any parents care to weigh in on this...?

    Link: CBC News

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    by Published on 11-01-2017 06:30 AM
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    2. Devices,
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    On the left, an iPhone 8 Plus. On the right, an iPhone X. The fastest to unlock? Not what you might think!

    The GIF above was generated from an AppleInsider review on YouTube, which came to my attention via r/apple on reddit. It clearly demonstrates that getting to your home screen on an iPhone with Touch ID is faster than with the retina-scanning Face ID on the newer model.

    To be clear, there's nothing wrong with the Face ID here; it's just how the technology has been implemented. Unlocking the iPhone X will take you to your home screen notifications, requiring an additional swipe up to get you home. The iPhone 8 Plus, on the other hand, has a raise-to-wake feature that activates your lock screen—and notifications—just by lifting it, and a slight tap of the Touch ID sensor instantly takes you to your home screen.

    You could argue that Face ID is more secure, as by default it protects your notifications from prying eyes. You could also argue that Touch ID is much more convenient, as it quite obviously gets you to your home screen faster.

    If nothing else, let this serve as a simple visual reminder that "newer" doesn't necessarily mean "better"...

    Source: reddit

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    by Published on 10-27-2017 06:45 AM
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    2. Commentary and Analysis,
    3. Off-Topic



    This post isn't really about mobile tech, but Google's "AI" Assistant is also available on Android phones. So there's that.

    Last night, on a post-dinner stroll past The Eaton Centre, the girlfriend and I happened upon this pop-up Google Home Mini Donut Shop. It was closed for the night but will be open again today if you're planning a visit to downtown Toronto. If you are then there's two things you should know: (1) the foodie verdict is that the donut supplier, Jelly Modern Doughnuts, is terrible, with baked goods better suited to Instagram than your actual mouth; (2) what's ultimately being peddled here is of dubious value to you and I.

    The upside for Google is obvious. Their cheap and cheerful Home Mini plants a permanent microphone where you live that's always listening—at least for the trigger phrase that activates its software assistant. Massive implications for your privacy aside, I just don't get the point of Google Assistant at all, if there even is one. Like I said, I've got it on my phone, and to me so far it seems like a more cumbersome version of voice search. I don't really need my phone talking back at me when there's already a beautiful HD screen in front of my face that can show me the same information in a better way.

    It took the better part of a decade to sway people from talking on their phones to typing on them. In that way Google Assistant—and Siri, too, for that matter—feels like a regression.

    Back to Google Home, I've an old high school friend who swears by his. He's constantly telling it to set reminders, read him the news, change the volume on his Google Home... Hearing him gush over it honestly perplexes me, and certainly keeps me from wanting to drop by his place for a visit. I suppose I could see some value in it for people with mobility issues, but here's a thought: the more people rely on these things the more they risk ending up with mobility issues of their own making, if you get what I'm saying.

    So someone, anyone, please enlighten me as to what I'm not getting about Google Home. Or Google Assistant. Or HomePod, Alexa or whatever else. And in the meantime enjoy your free donuts in Austin, Brooklyn, Chicago, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Madison, Manhattan, Oklahoma City, San Francisco, St. Louis and Toronto. Check the Android Police link below for dates and times.

    Links: Android Police, blogTO

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    by Published on 10-26-2017 06:30 AM
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    One of the many benefits of open source software is that the code is freely available for anyone to pore through to their heart's content. And that's just what XDA has done, uncovering some more details about muskie, the forgotten HTC-made device that was once pegged to be this year's Pixel 2 XL.

    Of particular interest in the muskie-related AOSP commits for Android 8.0 is this line:

    Code:
    <item name="battery.capacity">3830</item>
    Yup, that's right, HTC's pitch for the Pixel 2 XL was to have a massive 3,830 mAh battery, putting the LG version's paltry-by-comparison 3,520 mAh to shame. Unfortunately that big battery would quickly prove to be the device's downfall—last June someone told 9to5Google that the cell wasn't performing as expected, and that muskie's development had been halted.

    Had the device made it into production users would likely have had to content with a large forehead and chin, similar to the HTC-made Pixel 2. However, the disaster with LG's POLED screen would have been averted. Something tells me that if Google had a do-over they might have put a bit more effort into bringing muskie to market.

    Source: XDA

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