Given the open nature of Android, users tend to experiment, slowing down the device after some time. Here are six tips to get your Android device back in tip-top shape without too much fuss.
Free up storage space
Over time, your device’s internal storage gets occupied by cache files, apps and files leftover when you remove apps. One of the simplest ways to get this storage space back is by moving apps to the microSD card. We recommend the free AppMgr III app as it supports batch moving of apps from internal storage to microSD card and vice versa.
Also, camera images eat up lot of storage, so move your existing images to the memory card. In camera settings opt to save images on the memory card to save internal storage space.
Free up RAM
All running apps take up some amount of RAM. You don’t need this step if your device has 2GB or more of RAM, but with 1GB or less — you will notice slowdowns if you install too many apps. Some apps (system apps for instance) need to stay on for the device to work, others don’t.
Clean Master (by KS Mobile) is a great app that can keep your Android device in peak condition. Not only does it free up device RAM, it can also clean up internal memory, help with app uninstalls and remove temporary files. A one-click ‘boost’ button widget is automatically added to your home screen.
Boost the performance
After a few months, most Android users notice a drop in performance. It may become slower to navigate, take longer to open apps while games and video playback shows random frame drops. To regain lost performance, there are a number of things you can do. Remove any unwanted apps and widgets as they eat up your resources by running in the background. You can also stop all the fancy menu animation effects (usually in Settings > Developer options > Window and Transition Animations).
You can also use a task killer such as Super Task Killer Free. It kills running tasks after a set period of time or via the desktop idget to speed up phone performance. Using launchers like Nova, Nemus or Lightning will also make your device a lot faster. These launchers consume fewer resources and are highly customisable to suit a user’s requirements. You can even use the free AVG Antivirus app to boost performance. It has a built-in task killer, battery optimiser and a data usage monitor.
Bloatware is the collective term given to pre-installed apps on your device that you never asked for (and you may never use). Unfortunately, these apps remain on the device even if you perform a factory data reset. This may include apps from the device manufacturer itself, third-party (sponsored) apps or even Google apps that you don’t use. You can’t uninstall them, but one simple method to make sure that these apps don’t bother you is to disable them.
Head to the application manager in Settings, click on all and click on the apps you want to disable. The only available option to completely remove them is to root the device and use an app like Titanium Backup. Even flashing a custom ROM to replace the original Android OS will remove all bloatware. However, rooting and custom ROMs will void warranty.
Fix random crashes/freezing
There are a number of ways your Android device can get infected by malicious apps that slowdown your device and lead to random apps crashes. Direct download of apk files from websites /forums and at times fake apps from the Play Store itself (remember the fake BBM apps a few weeks back?) can corrupt your device. Install the free Clueful app and run it to identify the risk levels of apps installed on your device.
The app classifies apps according to high, moderate or low risk — you can uninstall the high-risk apps immediately to get rid of any conflicts the app is causing. The mobile Security and Antivirus app by Avast comes with a Privacy advisor along with a powerful virus /malware scanner. It identifies and provides detailed information about apps installed on your device to help identify a reason for crashes.
Improve battery life
It’s unfortunate that battery technology has simply not kept pace with hardware. Given limitations of weight and size, most manufacturers use batteries that should last most users a day (roughly 10 to 12 hours of use). You may find that over time, battery life does decrease — partly because of normal battery wear & tear and partly because of your usage.
An app called Battery Doctor (by KS Mobile) has enough options to satisfy both casual and power users. You can better manage remaining battery life using the included widgets. Advanced users can configure various battery saver modes and schedule functions to save more power. If this doesn’t work for you, try Easy Battery Saver (by 2Easy Team).
Virtual key board for smartphones improves your typing.
Advantage of virtual keyboards is they can be swapped or altered for one you like better. Sometimes all it takes is a change in your settings. At most, it requires buying an app. Here’s a sampling of tips and apps.
Turn on predictive text. Device will predict what word you are typing after filling in only a letter or two. Choosing the full word takes just a single tap. The predictions usually improve over time, as the device learns which words you prefer. So the more you use it, the more time it will save you.
Fleksy, a free iPhone app meant to help the visually impaired, can help you type without looking at all. Just tap where you think letters belong on a keyboard. When you have completed a word, flick the screen to the right.
Fleksy will read its guess aloud. Flick down for it to guess similar words. The sloppier you are the better it seems to work. But as with other auxiliary iPhone keyboards, it can’t completely replace the standard keyboard.
Typing expansion is built into Apple products and the free Android app Google Keyboard. For Apple products, go to Settings, then select General and then Keyboard. Click Add a New Shortcut, then enter the abbreviation and phrase you want it to become. In Google Keyboard, open the app and go to Personal Dictionary. Touch the plus sign and then add your abbreviation and phrase. Press done and the back button.
8 skills you can learn online for free
The internet has revolutionised so many aspects of our lives. A new language, coding, designing, art, cooking — things you would normally expect to pay for – are all available online for free.
To get started with the basics of photography, you should visit photographycourse.net. This is a site without any distracting ads and with content neatly laid out by skill level.
At photo.net/learn, you’ll find a handy collection of (regularly updated) articles and tutorials from photo professionals. And when you need to brush up on your photography jargon, the ever-popular DP Review has a comprehensive listing at www. dpreview.com/glossary.
On the app side, Photography Tutorials (by Anton Gregory) is a great free app for Android devices. This app curates and organizes a large list of photography tutorials from around the web — practically any beginner or advanced technique that you need to know about is here.
You get access to various tutorial videos for learning, which are constantly updated with new updates. As you move ahead in the course, you have to take a regular quiz and complete interactive challenges.
A new language
Depending on what you currently speak, some languages are easier to learn than others. For instance, if you know English well, it’ll be easier for you to pick up Spanish rather than Russian.
The courses hosted on http://www.openculture.com are a pretty good place to start. Duolingo is another great place to learn Spanish, English, French, German, Portugese or Italian. Duolingo ‘gamifies’ the process with rewards. They also have free apps for iOS and Android.
Other popular services include Live Mocha and Lang-8. While you learn, you also act as an editor for someone learning your native language — this keeps everything free.
Cooking is a fine art — any seasoned chef or homemaker will tell you that cooking is not just about combining ingredients — it’s also about applying hundreds of little tricks and techniques that usually take years to master.
Luckily, you can find a lot of tips on basic cooking techniques at simplyrecipes.com (they also offer free apps). Over at reluctantgourmet.com, the ‘How to cook’ tab will help you brush up on roasting, poaching, grilling, frying, braising, baking and everything in between.
A handy cooking converter at the bottom of every page can help you convert quantities: tablespoons to teaspoons, litres to pints and so on. For apps, two of our favourites are All Recipes and Epicurious (free, for all platforms). They’re easy to use, attractive and customised for each platform.
It’s possible to learn art at any stage as long as you have the motivation. To learn the basics (colours, drawing techniques, perspective and so on), head to artyfactory.com.
Meanwhile, at thevirtualinstructor.com you can find a list of art lessons, tutorials, articles and videos curated from around the web. When you want to do more, head to instructables.com — where you can learn how to do stuff as diverse as watermelon carving, making jewellery, puppets, and costumes.
You’re also welcome to share your ideas with the community. On the apps side, How to Draw by ArtelPlus (for iOS and Android) is a good place to start. There’s also a huge range of apps available in the ‘How to Draw’ series — each app teaches something specific.
You won’t be able to learn advanced self defence techniques or master a competition, but you can easily pick up and practice basic martial arts and self defence with some online help.
Lifehacker has a great, one-page guide to basic self defence that can get you out of a sticky situation. This includes tips on vulnerable parts of the body, how to attack, leveraging your weight, basic kicks/punches and how to administer/get out of basic holds. You can find the guide here — goo.gl/gsFUBn. For apps, you can try the Self Defense Trainer by Bizapp Media.
Unlike most others on this page, dancing needs you to ‘do’ more than read or look up. That’s why tutorial videos on various dance forms on YouTube are the first place you should look.
Next, head to dancetothis.com and you can start learning different dance moves and styles (hip hop, pop, street, break dance, krumping, ballroom and so on). Beyond that, practice is what you need.
Free courses from top universities
Prominent names like MIT ( Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Harvard, Berkeley, University of Texas and University of Toronto offer free online courses that anyone can access.
You can either visit the individual websites of these institutions or head to edx.org. Edx accumulates all free courses offered by institutions across the world across subjects.
Choose a subject of your choice, select the institution you want to learn from and join a course. There is no prerequisite knowledge required for most courses and you get access to various videos, transcripts and notes. You can even earn yourself a certificate of course completion from Edx if you do all the homework and pass the exam for a particular course.
7 Android tweaks.
The open nature of Android is a boon when it comes to modifying it to suit your specific needs. Here we list all the apps, accessories and devices that make it ideal for people with disabilities
Android , more than any other mobile operating system, should be the defacto standard for anyone with certain types of visual impediments. Not only can you choose from multiple devices (with different screen sizes), you can do simple modifications like change the launcher, easily automate routine tasks, use many different types of voice assistants, voice commands and voice-activated apps.
Make everything larger
People with myopia (shortsightedness) might have trouble reading small fonts, differentiating between icons and even typing on the onscreen keyboard. You can choose to go into the Accessibility settings and enable the ‘Show Magnifier’ function that lets you enlarge the text in a virtual magnifier, but its use is very limited. Thankfully, there are dedicated apps that can help. A free app called BigFont lets you increase the default font size by up to 300% for easy viewing.
It works on phones running Android 2.3 and above and shows a preview of the increased font size before you decide to use it. Samsung smartphone users can also try the free iFont app, which not only lets you increase the font size, but also allows you to install custom fonts on the phone (for better legibility). If you feel that the icons on your device are too small, get an app called Giganticon. It lets you place your favorite app icon on the homescreen and increase or decrease its size. For the onscreen keyboard, an app called Big Button replaces your stock keyboard with one that has large keys for each alphabet — this makes it a lot easier to see and tap the keys.
Customise your experience
One of the great things about Android is the unbelievable amount of customisation options you have. There are various launchers available for Android that completely change the look and feel of your device. Some launchers even let you customise the app drawer, fonts, icons and various other things. However, to just make everything larger, try Big Launcher. It has a free version with limited functionality.
If you like it, get the paid version for Rs 500. The ease of use that it offers is well worth the price — it replaces your home screen with large, easy-to-read tiles. It even changes the app drawer layout to make it easier to view. Your phone dialer, call logs and SMS inbox are overhauled with larger fonts. You can also customise the launcher with high contrast colour schemes and choose from three-font sizes to suit your vision.
Use more voice
It may take some time to properly configure and train your device, but using voice is a great way to control Android. You can launch apps, make calls, write text messages, set reminders and even capture photographs with just the sound of your voice. Google has its own free Talkback app for vision-impaired users (activate it from accessibility settings). This reads out the selected function or action performed on the touchscreen. There’s also Google Now (Android 4.1 +), a voice assistant which lets you search, dial numbers or send messages using voice. There are many other free apps with voice control.
Most of them require internet connectivity for voice analysis. We recommend a free app called Robin — one of the most responsive and intelligent apps we have seen. The app even alerts you of incoming messages and asks if you want them read aloud to you. If you want an app that works offline, check out a free app called Utter. You can control various functions of your device apart from the usual calling, launching apps and creating various custom voice commands Samsung has its own S-voice assistant that is preloaded on select Galaxy devices. It has fantastic voice recognition ability — you can use it to launch apps, compose and send texts, answer incoming calls and update social networks.
Not everything on Android needs a button press or a voice command — if there are certain things you do by routine, why not automate them? Automation involves certain conditions or triggers. For instance, you could automatically switch on your device’s Wi-Fi when you reach home/office or reduce screen brightness as the battery level lowers beyond a point. There are various ways to do this – Tasker (Rs 200) is the most popular app that you can use to get started. There are various online guides and videos to help you create your own tasks.
If Tasker seems too complex, you can try Automagic (Rs 200) which simplifies the trigger-consequence sequence using a flowchart – it also has a pretty handy tutorial built in. However, the beauty of Android is that if you would rather not spend money on apps, youll usually find án app that does the same thing for free. In this case, AutomateIt is a free automation app (although there is a paid ‘Pro’ version with more features for Rs 120). The kind of things you can do with automation is immense. Some of the triggers include connecting the charger, Bluetooth on/off, battery level, WiFi on/off, a particular time of the day, USB connected/ disconnected, outgoing calls, incoming SMS and so on. The actions that can be performed range from playing a sound, adjusting speaker volume, launch/kill an app, dial a number, send an SMS, shutdown or simply speak out the text on the screen.
Even on large screen devices, individual buttons on the keyboard can be hard to see. The best way to easily type text is with an external keyboard – not only are the physical keys larger but computer users will also be used to the placement of keys.
You can use any Bluetooth keyboard with Android devices. If your device has a USB host port, you can also use any commercially available (and inexpensive) USB keyboard.
If you’re short sighted, the best way to see everything clearer is on a larger display. You can use any HDMI monitor or flat panel TV as a larger display — just make sure that your device has TV out functionality first. Many Android tablets have HDMI (or mini/micro HDMI) output built in, so you only need a cable. Smartphones with TV out tend to have MHL ports (for both USB and HDMI). In this case, you will need an MHL to HDMI adapter and HDMI cable.
Don’t underestimate the usefulness of the good old magnifying glass to help you see better. To make it easier to carry around, this Bausch & Lomb 2x magnifier is foldable, made of unbreakable acrylic and comes with a carry pouch.
The best part is that it can do double duty – use it with digital screens and when you need to read small text in print, it has a built in LED light. You can get it for Rs 4,800 from eBay Global Easy Buy.
Apps developers queer ways to woo game players.
It’s no surprise that the biggest struggle for app developers in 2013 is monetization. The industry evolves year by year, but little has changed since the app stores launched. Apps have flirted with different monetization models (premium, paywall, and subscription) before finally settling on freemium.
As the name suggests, freemium is a model wherein developers give away their app for free, and it’s far and away the most successful these days. Thirty-eight of the 50 Top Grossing apps on iOS use the freemium model, compared to 8 nongame subscription models (the New York Times, Major League Baseball, and such), and four conventionally purchased games. On Android, 48 of the 50 Top Grossing are freemium games, with one subscription-based game and an equally lonesome premium game.
So, how can freemium games so reliably top the grossing charts? These games bring in revenue through a combination of payments for virtual currency and goods.
The most difficult part of any monetization model is getting people to convert to paying customers. At NativeX, a leader in native in-app advertising, we’ve seen that in most games only 5 percent of players will ever make an in-app purchase. How do developers monetize the remaining 95 percent? That’s where ads come in.
Unfortunately, the problem with in-game advertising is that most of it is genuinely bad. We’ve all experienced an app that constantly prompts you to buy more coins, run a credit check, or buy something you don’t need. Mobile ad networks make the problem worse by finding new ways to spam users with push notification ads and icons plaguing the home screen. It’s no wonder consumers and developers are fed up with ads!
I suggest that when done correctly, consumers are willing to tolerate—and in some cases even enjoy—advertisements. But what does “correctly” mean? Here’s our take:
1) Avoid spammy networks. High click-through rates with push notifications are meaningless, as app uninstall rates will also shoot up in the long run. Most consumers will immediately remove the offending app once they’ve notice its icon undergoing download. Consumers are willing to tolerate in-game ads for free content, but ads that start showing up outside of the game are crossing the line. Google agrees; late last year the company banned intrusive advertisements.
2) It starts with relevance. Showing Viagra pills to a teenager and hiking expeditions to a 90 year old is stupid. Unfortunately, that’s how sophisticated today’s average mobile ad network is. They have no idea who that user is, what they’re into, and which types of apps they enjoy. Yet the mobile advertising industry is slowly evolving. For example, NativeX recently announced new demographic targeting giving advertisers the capability to advertise through specific apps based on the demographic they are known to attract: age, gender, income, education, ethnicity, and so on. With NativeX, advertisers can put their ads in front of the right audience.
Despite the depth of insights provided by NativeX, the technology is built on anonymous self-reported surveys that compile information on a given game’s audience. Moreover, Native X never collects or shares personally identifiable information.
3) Evolve your advertising. Native advertising on the web is all the rage these days. Publishers like Hubspot, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times have all integrated native advertising and seen CTRs increase by 200 percent to 300 percent as a result. Consumers are also 53 percent more likely to view native advertising than traditional display ads. As the new marketing buzzword of 2013, there is a lot of confusion as to what native advertising actually means. Rebecca Lieb, a digital advertising and media analyst at Altimeter Group, sums it up:
“Native advertising lies somewhere in bridging the divide between content marketing (a pull strategy) and plain, old-fashioned advertising, which is interruptive. Somewhere in its definition is probably the fact of paying for space or time (the “advertising” part). The “native” part means it is organic, conducive to the user experience, non-salesy, and offers some sort of value in and of itself as an ad (entertainment, education, or utility, for example).”
But what does native advertising look like in mobile? How can publishers create value with scale? Here are a couple successful examples:
Initial tests with Deal or No Deal have shown consumers click 54 percent more and iWin earned 511 percent more.
Initial tests with Battle Bears Gold have shown consumers click 378 percent more and SkyVu earned 2,157 percent more.
When in-game characters are brought into the advertisement, it ceases to feel like an ad. The positive response to these campaigns offers a glimpse into native advertising’s potential. Imagine when in-game characters begin speaking audio ads to the user?
Developers have always had a love/hate relationship with advertising. They love the dollars it brings in but hate the experience it creates for the user. By steering clear of spammy implementations, targeting your demographic, and evolving the ad experience, developers can find the illusory “win-win.” While some may not be convinced, there remains a lot of money for those willing to think strategically about monetizing the 95 percent.
10 useful apps for long distance lovers.
Geographical distance has become a big barrier that separates lovers in an increasingly shrinking world. Thank god there are smartphones. Youngsters, particularly in urban areas, comprise most of the user base for smartphones and tablets.
Just as they cannot stay away from their lovers, friends and families, separation from their smartphones too is unthinkable for Gen Y. But these nifty modern devices go far beyond just powering conversations. There are the obvious and ubiquitous apps like Facebook, Whatsapp, Viber and Skype that almost every smartphone user installs.
But here are 10 lesser known apps that can help geographically distanced lovers spend some quality time together virtually and extend the concept of sharing.
Couple is an awesome way to stay connected to the person you love. The app makes it easy to share life’s simple things and moments with each other. Couple creates a separate timeline where lovers can post videos, pictures and messages.
The app offers multiple outlets to bond including in-app games. An interesting but a relatively less popular app, is quite a boon for all lovers separated by distances. It is available on both Android and iOS.
The app is enabled with shortcut buttons that make calling and messaging each other an easy affair. Long Distance also pares the distance between the partners. Long Distance is a paid app available for Rs 55 in iOS App Store worth that’s worth every single rupee.
Evernote also allows users to plan surprise parties and visits, or just put down thoughts that one would like to share at a later time. Available across almost all three major stores like Android, iOS and Windows, Evernote is always more than a handy tool.
A neat interface and some extraordinary results, this app is a must have for all of you who suffer from the long-distance syndrome. It is an extension of the F&P’s physical business that is more than a virtual florist.
You can use this app to make voice calls, video calls, as well as send instant messages. To make things more exciting, you can use its Drift Bottle feature to send private messages, share photos via Moments or express yourself using the wide range of emoticons it offers.
As any Android power user will tell you, those thousands of contacts, messages & files can be quite hard to manage from the device itself. Here we round up some of the free tools that make Android management a breeze.
Airdroid is our favourite app when it comes to managing your Android device from the PC. You get access to your entire phone from a browser window, even if your phone and PC are not on the same WiFi network. You can read & send SMS, reject incoming calls, manage contacts, transfer files, push URL links to the phone, install and remove apps, create ringtones and even locate your phone.
What’s more, you can remotely view a live feed from your phone’s front/rear camera. We love it because you don’t need to install drivers on your PC or hunt for a cable for the phone.
You can also backup your entire Android phone to the PC and restore it in case of software issues or when switching to a new device.
One of the most powerful desktop managers, Moborobo works with both Android & iOS devices. You can view the number of contacts, SMS, apps as well as multimedia files on your device through the main window along with details on battery level, firmware and available storage. You can easily take a screenshot of the connected device’s screen and save it on your desktop too.
Using the software you can send and reply to SMS, install and remove apps as well as easily switch data between multiple devices. There’s also a backup feature (iPhone needs to be jailb
You can view details about your device, send text messages, install updates on your device from the PC and transfer files between the PC and smartphone. The paid version (Rs 1,619) lets you remove duplicate contacts, take automatic backups.
You can install and remove apps, view and edit phone contacts, send and receive SMS as well as transfer files between the smartphone and PC. Additionally, SnapPea can also import music from your ITunes library and sync it with the Android smartphone seamlessly.
This open source Android management software is available for Windows, MAC and Linux. It has a very basic interface but it provides similar features to the other desktop managers. You can manage contacts, read/ send messages, take a screenshot of your device’s display, transfer data and even install or remove apps on your phone from the PC.
What makes this one stand out is that it offers the option to flash custom roms to your device . You can wipe, root, load a custom rom and boot into recovery mode on any connected Android device.
Once connected, you can manage contacts, read/send SMS and transfer photos. Additionally, it also lets you locate your device on a map, lock it and view a live feed from your phone’s rear camera.
MokiMobility lets you manage all your devices from a single device.
Thanks to the magic of apps, tablets and smartphones are now cash registers, kiosks, demo stations, public calendars, and more. Thanks to the magic of management, that tablet or smartphone in your organization could be mine, yours, or some company’s.
And now, for the first time, they can all be managed from one iPhone.
“Mobile is just fundamentally different than the PC world was,” Tom Karren, the CEO of MokiMobility, told this morning. “We’re seeing that mission critical apps need to be delivered where there’s no ownership of the device.”
That’s popularly called BYOD, or bring your own device, but reality is more complicated than that.
In fact, what MokiMobility sees is a world in which sometimes a company owns all of the devices it needs, sometimes its employees, agents, or affiliates own them all, and everything in between. That means that if you want to manage multiple devices for mobile cash registers, sign-up consoles, kiosks, or customer relationship management systems, you probably need a solution that handles all the alternatives.
And on both major mobile platforms.
“If you have iPads or if you have Android tablets, you can use the Moki system,” Karren said. “If you have a mix you can use the Moki system … and we have the capability to run the app-level controls and device-level controls separately.”
In other words, you can now manage your company’s cash register on your employee’s iPad at the app level, or manage your company’s cash register on your company’s Galaxy Tab at the device level.
Or vice versa — your pick.
The app-level control is not only important for companies but also for organizations and nonprofits that might have volunteers running events or promotions. While the nonprofit will likely never get to the point where it can offer devices to all its volunteers, now the participants can simply download the organization’s app, accept a few permissions, and be a part of the official team, with full managed access to the organization’s data inputs and outputs.
MokiMobility is a multitenant software-as-a-service app which has been available online for some time. What’s new today is an iPhone app that enables you to manage your mobile mob right from your own device.
That means that from comfort and accessibility of your own smartphone, you can add profiles for new users, monitor usage, check network connectivity status for remote workers, refresh or reset apps or even full devices, and manage security for all devices simultaneously, or separate devices individually. All without worrying about whether the devices are yours or not.
“We’re seeing that mission-critical apps need to be delivered where there’s no ownership of the device, so we have a solution that works both ways,” Karren told.
“You can have complete control, full stack, or you can do it at the app level.”
MokiMobility says that its new iPhone app is the first device management mobile app for iPhone.
“Given the importance of securing and monitoring mission-critical deployments, we wanted to provide administrators the right tool to be able to respond immediately to issues with their devices,” Ty Allen, MokiMobility’s president, said in a statement. “Now administrators can reconfigure a device quickly from digital signage to an mPOS device with a few taps.”
Predictive search, a new infusion in technology.
In Hollywood, there are umbrella holders. Outside corner offices, there are people who know exactly how much cream to pour in the boss’s coffee. In British castles, royals have their valets.
And then there is Silicon Valley, where mind-reading personal assistants come in the form of a cellphone app.
A range of startups and big companies like Google are working on what is known as predictive search – new tools that act as robotic personal assistants, anticipating what you need before you ask for it. Glance at your phone in the morning, for instance, and see an alert that you need to leave early for your next meeting because of traffic, even though you never told your phone you had a meeting or where it was.
How does the phone know? Because an application has read your email, scanned your calendar, tracked your location, parsed traffic patterns and figured out you need an extra half-hour to drive to the meeting.
The technology is the latest development in Web search, and one of the first tailored to mobile devices. It does not even require people to enter a search query. Your context – location, time of day and digital activity – is the query, say the engineers who build these services.
Many technologists agree that these services will probably become mainstream, eventually incorporated in alarm clocks, refrigerators and bathroom mirrors. Already, Google Now is an important part of Google’s Internet-connected glasses. As a Glass wearer walks through the airport, her hands full of luggage, it could show her an alert that her flight is delayed.
Google Now is “kind of blowing my mind right now,” said Danny Sullivan, a founding editor of Search Engine Land who has been studying search for two decades. “I mean, I’m pretty jaded, right? I’ve seen all types of things that were supposed to revolutionize search, but pretty much they haven’t. Google Now is doing that.”
But for some people, predictive search – also in services like Cue, reQall, Donna, Tempo AI, MindMeld and Evernote – is the latest intrusion into our lives, another disruption pinging and buzzing in our pockets, mining our digital lives for personal information and straddling the line between helpful and creepy.
“To the question of creepiness, the answer is it depends who you ask,” said Andrea M. Matwyshyn, an assistant professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, who studies the legal implications of technology. “What works for a group of 30-something engineers in Silicon Valley may not be representative of the way that 60-year-old executives in New York tend to use their phones.”
Many software programmers have dreamed of building a tool like this for years. The technology is emerging now because people are desperate for ways to deal with the inundation of digital information and because much of it is stored in the cloud where apps can easily access it.
“We can’t go on with eight meetings and 200 emails a day,” said N. Rao Machiraju, co-founder and chief executive of reQall, which sells its technology to other companies to make their own personal assistant apps. “We have a technology that isn’t waiting for you to ask it a question but is anticipating what you need and when is the best time to deliver that.”
The services guess what you want to know based on the digital breadcrumbs you leave, like calendar entries, emails, social network activity and the places you take your phone. Many use outside services for things like coupons, news and traffic.
Google Now, which came to some Android phones a year ago and iPhones in April, tells you when it is time to leave for a dinner reservation. That is because it noticed an OpenTable email in your Gmail inbox, knows your location from your phone’s GPS and checked Google Maps for traffic conditions.
A couple days before you travel, it will show you weather in your destination, and when you arrive, currency exchange information and the time back home. Ask aloud that Google Now remind you to pick up milk next time you step in a grocery store, and an alert will appear when you are at Safeway.
Successful predictive search, though, is as complicated as real life. If you are in London on business, which an app would know from the events on your calendar, you probably want a PDF related to work. But if you are there on vacation, you might want directions to Big Ben.
“By the time you search, something’s already failed,” said Phil Libin, chief executive of Evernote, a note-taking app that actively shows previous entries related to current circumstances.
Many of the apps use machine learning to get to know people over time.
ReQall’s service, for instance, can block calls from interrupting you during meetings. But one day, the young son of reQall’s co-founder, Sunil Vemuri, was sick at home with Vemuri’s father, who was urgently trying to reach him with a medication question. Because he called more than once and reQall knew the two had the same last name and spoke often, the app interrupted the meeting.
The goal is to move beyond logistical help to sending you anything you might need to know. Google recently added book, movie and music recommendations, for instance.
“You can just imagine several years down the road, if that personal assistant was an expert in every field known to humankind,” said Amit Singhal, Google’s senior vice president for search.
Ads are not far off.
“The better we can provide information, even without you asking for it, the better we can provide commercial information people are excited to be promoting to you,” Larry Page, Google’s chief executive, told analysts in April.
Some skeptics say pushing ads and other unwanted information could be annoying or even a violation of privacy as the apps extract information from your private online files. If you watch a movie trailer on YouTube, for instance, Google Now might send local showtimes when the film arrives in your city. But what if you hated the trailer?
“People could find the interface disruptive rather than helpful,” Matwyshyn said. “It may not be the information you need just at that moment, because of the unpredictable rhythm of your life.”
Baris Gultekin, a product management director at Google who helped invent Now, said the company is aware of that risk and is “very conservative” with what it shows people.
Daniel Gross, co-founder of another personal assistant app, Cue, said that is why it has started with alerts in which a person has signaled interest, by creating a calendar entry for example.
“It’s a really tricky problem, because on one hand you really want to give someone the best experience you possibly can,” he said. “And on the other hand, you don’t want someone to have this uncanny valley type of moment: ‘Oh my gosh, this feels too good.'”
ME AND MOBILE looks at as to why all apps seems like the mirror image of each other.
You’ve probably realized deep down inside that while our smartphones are capable of providing amazing experiences, dozens of our most-used apps are beginning to feel like clones of each other.
With 100 billion downloads and 1.6 million apps available in the Google Play and Apple App Store, you’d think this homogenization of app features wouldn’t be an issue. Yet, anyone who follows the mobile market will admit that a plethora of popular apps liberally ‘borrow’ cues from others. And that trend’s not slowing down. A growing number of developers are producing near identical core functionalities, save for slight nuances in aesthetics and branding. A few guilty parties:
- Overkill #1: “Pull down to Refresh” – Main Perpetrators: News Apps
- Overkill #2: “Swipe to Reveal” – Main Perpetrators: Social Networking Apps
- Overkill #3: “Slide to Delete” – Main Perpetrators: Mail Apps
Where does it come from?
So what has caused this? Have developers become bored with the design process? Is there no further need to explore mobile interfaces? Have we gotten to a point where we’ve reached the pinnacle of app design and user experience? Probably not, but here are some key causes to consider:
- Timing: Unlike the desktop market, which had close to 30 years to create, evolve, and refine user experience on PCs and laptops, the mobile app market has existed for essentially five years. Developers haven’t had the luxury of taking chances with non-proven UI methods for fear of becoming quickly obsolete in the rapidly evolving industry.
- Platform UI Kits: Google and Apple have done well to create stock interface components and experiences, enabling developers to ride on the shoulders of their IDEs of choice rather than venture out further into the unknown.
- Screen size: The ability to create new modes of interaction is consistently hampered by the fact that developers only have a 3” x 4.5” area to play around with, making it tough to alter information density, layouts, and the like.
But, by and large, these are relatively external-facing issues, ones that developers and app design firms aren’t in control of. So, what is it that they can control to create fresh experiences for mobile app users? The answer is touch.
A [Touch] friendly gesture
The lack of touch and multi-touch innovation have created a stagnant state in app design. More specifically, the lack of experimentation with custom touch gestures contributes to a confined, limiting experiences on mobile.
Android and iOS depend on taps, flicks, drags, and pinches to artificially create more real estate within their environments. And judging from the early days of PalmOS and Windows Mobile, apps would admittedly be nowhere near as revolutionary without these interaction models. Yet, recently there has been little to no change in how we articulate with our fingers. It seems that every once in a while, a new gem, like Pull to Refresh comes along, only to be adopted by everyone else that can find a way to apply it. But they come along far too infrequently.
True touch and gesture-based improvements create revolutionary experiences, and oftentimes, the evidence lies in consumer adoption. Take an outstanding example of touch innovation, ‘paper’, which has become a best seller by reimagining what can be done with a touch interface. The iOS sketchpad app incorporates a custom gesture that replaces the traditional ‘undo’ button with a two-finger counter-clockwise rotation, a unique take that makes the need for the extraneous and cumbersome button completely obsolete. Today, Paper has raised millions in funding and aims to reinvent mobile productivity on a much larger scale.
In a rapidly evolving industry like the mobile market, while design innovation is admittedly difficult, it’s not impossible. And while there are clear examples of companies inventing new ways of human computer interaction, they just don’t seem to happen often enough.