PDF is not e-book

Often I find it difficult to explain why reading should be done through e-books and PDFs are not supposed to be considered as books. However, when I tried to explain, people showed no patience to understand. There is an old saying, ‘while in conversation, most people are way too keen to hear the other person only to react and not to comprehend”. Therefore I will try to explain why PDF is  not a recommended choice for avid reading. Before I start, here is the declaration: I still like physical, hard copy books and hence in digital world I need those functionalities and any additions for better.

What is PDF (Portable Document Format)? A simple Google search gives this answer “a file format for capturing and sending electronic documents in exactly the intended format”. One more definition, from derived straight from Wikipedia, “Portable Document Format is a file format used to present documents in a manner independent of application software, hardware, and operating systems. Each PDF file encapsulates a complete description of a fixed-layout flat document, including the text, fonts, graphics, and other information needed to display it.”  Both definitions give similar functionality assessment – the format is expected to behave constantly irrespective of hardware and software. So the very objective of PDF is to retain its original format, and make sure only that is retained as far as possible, independent of devices. We have numerous screen sizes and various applications that can support PDF view. All the time it shows up the same way, except for zoom in and out, while accommodating a bit of annotation. Is that sufficient for reading? Probably yes for a few but never for me!

Let us look at couple of prominent e-book formats that are freely available on the market. One is Amzon’s Kindle which supports proprietary .mobi format, while other readers, including Apple’s iBooks application, support .epub format. Because hardcopy books preceded digital books in terms of human invention – we tend to compare everything with what we previously experienced. So we need to make short notes, highlight, underline, bookmark and so on. If we want to migrate away from hardcopy to soft copy, we should be able to retain such features and should be able add a few more. Therefore, any software (or combination of applications) that lacks such functionalities should not be called ‘book’ (rather e-book). I consider the software that can support .mobi and .epub formats – Kindle and iBooks (there are other apps which can support e-books too). File organisation has not been a problem either on PDFs or e-books. However once we open an e-book, we can browse through index pages and based on selection of the topic. The reader can reach to desired page, and topic in a single click using index page. This very function is not possible in most PDFs. Even if the index pages have links to topic title page, coming back is not one click. And this navigation becomes painful in touch devices, because of unavailability of mouse cursor/pointer based navigation.

We would like to make short notes while we read, and it often happens on hardbound books. Same can be done on PDFs through annotation capabilities of various apps. However, e-books can show all the notes in one place, and a single tap/click can take the user right on to the page where notes were written. Highlights, bookmarks and underlines are quite obvious options available on e-books and they also can show up in a summary! These are the functionalities from real world, while e-books made the navigation really convenient. iBooks can change the page orientation to two pagers, single page and even the continuous run down or scrolling view. Imagine you would like to read while lying on the bed and your spouse wants to sleep and hence switch off the light. It is the best experience to read with night mode on – and I really want to know how many apps can switch amongst multiple PDF themes (of course night mode is available in Adobe Reader). Then comes change of fonts both family and size – which is at least not a designated property of PDFs. Paragraph styles, margins and line-spacing can also be adjusted for e-books but I need to know how many apps can do these functions on PDFs. Moreover, Kindle and iBooks can offer adding dictionaries, sharing right from the app, showing remaining number of pages in the chapter, going back to previous location in the book over and over, etc. Most important of all – the skeumorphic feel of page navigation, I need to see how many apps can do that on PDFs.

Is there anything that PDF handling apps do that can not be done on e-books? That could be about saving those annotations or highlight related edits and send to someone else. This also can be done on .epub or .mobi but requires a bit of advanced skills. Next option was – OK, let us convert the PDF to either of the e-book formats. Obviously, file conversions never help and the whole (converted) e-book gets messed up with pages, index all over. You may recall the definition of PDF on second paragraph of this article. If you want to read  digital format – buy original e-book and select the format based on the app available on your device. PDF is not e-book.

Apple Juggernaut, now with IBM

Lots of news from technology world over the past weeks and biggest of them was about Apple and IBMpartnership, exclusively for iOS devices.It is surprising and exciting to think how this could unfold opportunities for Apple and IBM. Let us be honest, Apple has services that could compete with Citrix, then the server business, business purchase programme, and so on. But as a company, Apple has a very minimal presence in enterprise market. Steve Jobs in one of the AllThingsD conferences said, “(In the consumer market) every person votes for themselves”. “If enough of them say yes, we get to come to work in the morning.” In the enterprise, he said, not so much. The people that use the products aren’t the ones that choose which products are used, and the people that make those decisions, Jobs said, “are sometimes confused.” Apple is all about simplicity, elegance, user experience, which are all very vital for consumer market success. The famous WinTel era helped Microsoft the push Apple out of the big enterprise business. However, ever since iPad launch, Apple has dedicated fair bit of resources that can help iOS device deployment in business organisations.

iOS and Android devices have redefined the word productivity. The person who is a data driven decision maker need not deal with large chunk of data anymore. Analytics is taken care by data experts, they put that in cloud and decision are taken using interpretation that can happen on four-inch handheld device. This made PC usage for back end big data analytics and devices like iPad for front-end decision-making. Steve Jobs’ another famous quote about PCis worth mentioinig here, “…PCs are going to be like trucks. They’re still going to be around, they’re still going to have a lot of value, but they’re going to be used by one out of X people.” If I am a fund manager looking to analyse, I need not sit in front of a PC, put 100s of thousands of data into spreadsheet, create my own charts, make complicated pivot tables to arrive at a dashboard. Rather these all can be done over the cloud and an iOS app like IBM Cognos Mobileor Numericscan handle my meetings with external clients as well as my internal analysts. I have written about how Microsoft Excel is no longer the only way out for productivity. Everyone exulted for Microsoft Office suite on iPad but I was not. Every software has been written for solving a problem, Apple had sold 200+ millions of iPads without an option for Microsoft office.

Apple has been emphasising on productivity through iOS devices for a couple years already, and touted 98% usage of iOS devices in Fortune 500 companies. However, big enterprise businesses had already invested in technology and processes already. Apple definitely enjoys fan following in consumer market but enterprise IT wouldn’t bother for one. The deployment of iOS devices calls for change in process of workflow as well as investment of financial and human resources. Most important of all, enterprises need support from other channel partners too, and this is exactly where IBMcan come into picture. They have an established presence in large enterprise business in various segments such as big data analytics and software services. Looking at the IBM Annual Report 2013, couple of things caught my attention:

"Thanks to a proliferation of devices and the infusion of technology into all things and processes, the world is generating more than 2.5 billion gigabytes of data every day, and 80 percent of it is “unstructured”—everything from images, video and audio to social media and a blizzard of impulses from embedded sensors and distributed devices.
This is the driver of IBM’s first strategic imperative: To make markets by transforming industries and professions with data. The market for data and analytics is estimated at $187 billion by 2015. To capture this growth potential, we have built the world’s broadest and deepest capabilities in Big Data and analytics—both technology and expertise. We have invested more than $24 billion; including $17 billion of gross spend on more than 30 acquisitions. We have 15,000 consultants and 400 mathematicians. Two- thirds of IBM Research’s work is now devoted to data, analytics and cognitive computing. IBM has earned 4,000 analytics patents. We have an ecosystem of 6,000 industry partners and 1,000 university partnerships around the world developing new, analytics-related curricula.
An IT industry remade by cloud: At the same time that industries and professions are being remade by data, the information technology infrastructure of the world is being transformed by the emergence of cloud computing—that is, the delivery of IT and business processes as digital services. It is estimated that by 2016, more than one-fourth of the world’s applications will be available in the cloud, and 85 percent of new software is now being built for cloud.
Engagement in a world of empowered individuals: The phenomena of data and cloud are changing the arena of global business and society. At the same time, proliferating mobile technology and the spread of social business are empowering people with knowledge, enriching them through networks and changing their expectations. This leads to IBM’s third strategic imperative: To enable “systems of engagement” for enterprises…"

IBM has been touting EPS of $20 by end of 2015, and they are facing tough competition by many large (SAP, Intuit) and many small companies engaged in big data and SaaSbusiness. They need someone not only who has presence in the market but also very efficient at executing a plan. Apple has been the best vertically integrated companyby way of its product offerings. With iOS 8 they have done several things that could help deploying iPhones and iPads in enterprises. There are a few key points IT teams look at, while deploying new technology or devices: Security, OS Support, Collaboration and management.

Apple does take security very very seriously. In February this year, they showcased their commitment to security with a white paper,and for me the architecture looked awesome. On the contrary, Android continues to be targeted by sophisticated malwareattacks. Later on, in iOS 8 they doubled down on the security and I am fortunate to come across a fantastic researchby Luis Abreu, a UK based UX and UI designer. There is plenty of stuff and I felt this is what worth mentioning from his report:

"Account Privacy
CloudKit does not give Apps access to the real user’s Apple ID or data from other apps, instead, CloudKit creates a Random User ID on a Per-App basis, and there’s no access to private data outside of your app’s CloudKit Drive Container.”

 

Then comes OS support, and Apple has done a tremendous job by accounting for future software updates. Generally a new generation device gets three further software updates, and that software up-gradation is provided without additional charges to the user. But Apple needs to invest resources for development, deployment and maintenance, which is an outlay for the company. So Apple accounting system is quite fascinating and forward thinking, they announced subscription method of accounting way back in April 2007 Q2 earning call. iOSusers have always enjoyed the latest possible OS updates,thereby latest apps when compared to any other operating systems. In comparison, Android, the major player in consumer market still suffers from fragmentation and enterprise IT may not be interested-intaking such risks.

Not everything is safe, for work!
Not everything is safe, for work!
Software Update Status as of Nov 2013
Software Update Status as of Nov 2013

Even though most analysts, and tech press ignored 64-bitarchitecture as a marketing gimmick, biggest advantagecame in the form of encryptionand decryption efficiencyin iOS devices (iPhone 5s, iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina Display). Even though Apple has not been best known for helping enterprise ITadoption, they did a remarkable yet an unnoticed job.

iOS 8 and IBM partnership really showcases the workthat went on behind the scenes. Features like Find my iPhone are really understated ones, but Apple continues to advance the feature with some of the unique mechanisms.Even with so much of excitement there is a bit of scepticism from a few corners. Apple and IBM had a few less successful partnerships previously, recent one was Power PC.Unlike this time, all the time, they were competing in the market for some other businesses. IBM now needs someone with whom they can assure their clients about the quality of devices, software updates, etc. For Apple, it is a market in which company lacksdepth. Apple’s iPad business showed no positive growth for two successive quarters. Apple did not announce new product categories as of this writing but there seems to be lots of new strategic partnerships being worked out. Am I predicting the success of this partnership? No, time will tell. But ever since Tim Cook took over as CEO, the company is not a ‘rebellion, take on the world’ types. Instead they behave more matured, they open up to the public wherever possible, and Tim Cook is the guy showcasing the company values.

I Sold My Smartphone

I sold my smartphone, and now I do not even have a phone that has camera in it. I sold my Nexus 4 on 13 February 2014, knowing that I will live without a data connectable mobile phone for a foreseeable future. I used a low-end Xperia tipo and a decent Nexus 4, in total for 17 odd months. Everyone around me started to ask why did I sell, and what next? Answer is, I would like to be in the Apple ecosystem, at least until the present executive team remains to run the company. However, for now I choose not to buy a smartphone as I have a cellular iPad, along with an iMac which my brother (@prabhakarbhat) uses for programming. We do have a Sony Vaio Ultrabook that runs (crawls?) Windows 8, but for now let us continue with mobiles.

I was less aware of mobile technology until the first half of 2012. Living in India, Apple was (and is) most aspired brand for some, and a hated consumer technology company for others, probably because of the price tag. I went with the tide and ended up purchasing a low-end android phone that could do some basic functions like emails, map navigation and run social networking apps. Even though I was not a programmer per se, I liked software apps to be up to date. But after buying Xperia tipo, I realised updates weren’t the only problems. Even in 2014, India has one of the slowest mobile and broadband speeds in the world. Obvious issues I faced with low-end smartphone were two — 1) random data disconnection which wouldn’t come back unless the device was restarted; and 2) the phone simply wouldn’t respond to some basic functions such as opening the address book and dialing a contact. In addition, I realised that most apps were not compatible to install, while a few of the updates would not work! Sony said, ‘no upgrade to Android Jelly Bean version’. So I sold the device to a college student in an online marketplace.

Meanwhile, I and my brother had been using iPad since November 2012 and immediately fell in love with it, both in terms of hardware and the lovely skuemorphic iOS 6. We really loved the iOS apps that were far better at user experience. It was in June 2013 that I decided to sell Xperia tipo, when Apple was showcasing iOS 7 in its annual developer conference, WWDC. Having seen android and iOS 6, I simply could not take iOS 7 (even today I do not like a few design inconsistencies in iOS 7). So, I decided to buy LG Nexus 4, which promised software updates. The other reason to buy Android device was, android app testing requirement of my brother. Looking at the lack of aesthetics in iOS 7 we were skeptical about the responses from developer community because most apps had to be completely redesigned. Statistically, android’s running on more devices and hence my brother and I decided to buy android that has OS updates. We liked Nexus lineup because it resembled Apple style in android world — no battery exchanges, no external memory card and so on.

I did not experience the data connection and app compatibility issues. Within a couple of months usage, Nexus 4 started heating up too much! I could not speak over the phone without headphones for more than two minutes. Guess what, I could not even carry it in my pocket just after unplugging from charging! The phone was not rooted, hardly had any games in it, but still was problematic. I took backup of the device on a highly rated app and showed it at LG service centre. LG had service centre experts who did not know about Android 4.4 KitKat which was already running on my Nexus 4! They did a factory restore but my backup failed and hence I literally downloaded every app, put media files back for about a day. The device worked fine, however I realised there’re many issues with android as an OS (I wrote about them before during my spare time hereand here). Biggest irritating ones were — home screen not deleting app shortcut when app was uninstalled, all home screen settings vanishing randomly, adding blank home screens while adding widgets, display not waking up from sleep to attend calls, randomly becoming a brick, etc.

My brother had already developed an iOS app (Chanakya Neeti) which heported to android in December 2013, having thoroughly tested on my Nexus 4. Of course, we did not have any promotion budget for either of the platforms. Chanakya Neeti was all about an Indian philosopher whilst iOS presence in India was way too limited. So what would I expect? I expected Android app to overtake iOS in terms of installations so also ad revenue. Within no time we were in for a shock — Chanakya Neeti app was responding differently in every device! Why? Simple, every device had a different touch sensitivity! We decided to be patient and fixed whatever problems we could. But as of this writing, the android version’s yet to earn first complete dollar of ad revenue and also yet to reach 200 active installations. The app ranks 12th in Google Play search with 4.61 average rating. It is OK if we did not make money but question is not about the apps but about the myths. Comparatively, iOS version has been earning revenues and we see 100s of new installations.

Most people around say becoming a developer for Apple is costlier than Google. Here is our experience. You need to pay $99 every year to be a developer for iOS. If you are developing a basic app like Chanakya Neeti, you might get away without even buying an iPhone. Simulator was flawless for our requirement. On the other hand, you need to own at least 15 latest high/low-end devices to develop a simple app like Chanakya Neeti for android. Simulator in Android was nearly useless. But still, let’s assume that you develop an app that is compatible with most devices. But android is not a place for the one who likes to showcase someone else’s ads. It is good for the one who wants to propagate his own products through ads. Chanakya Neeti on iOS is not a success by any stretch of imagination yet. But the app has more active users — iOS users use their device. In most business cases, population number does not matter. What matters is interaction! People aren’t watching ads on TV because it is so passive. Power users in android platform are happy to root, customise ROMs while normal users do not go beyond whatsapp and Facebook! Intermediate users love to play with a few free apps or APKs (check out Chair Entertainment’s Infinity Blade creators). I am really interested to know how many stories are there like the ones we see on Apple website.

Obvious curiosity was, I could have continued to use Nexus personally, instead of selling it within eight months of usage. Call me a fanboy or an iSheep, Android can not make me fall in love with its design language and UX. Moreover, it is not always about adoption of latest technology, it is also about the infrastructure. India just finished auctioning for 2G spectrum in February 2014. As a country, India lacks technology infrastructure. We all know, original iPhone didn’t have 3G because infrastructure wasn’t ready, and Apple introduced LTE only on iPhone 5 which was soon after 4G network became mainstream. 3G connectivity in India, especially in Bangalore, is too unstable. Inconsistent network drains battery quite fast. I do not want to use a real smartphone, paying $850, with such infrastructure. Rolls Royce on Autobahn is apt but not probably at countryside roads. I love that Steve Jobs theory — looking at the world in a binary view. A real smartphone is the one which can have apps likeConvertible, Infinity Blade III, iMovie, Garage Band, etc. Such ecosystem is definitely worth it. I would like to use a technology product that is best (in my affordability and priority) and can last for at least three years with latest software support. Most intermediate quality devices end up eating my time for fixing issues forever, without actually helping for productivity or entertainment. Google provides support for Nexus lineup for only 18 months. I do not expect next or next to next version of Android to be supported on Nexus 4. Android world continues to gadget spam with ‘new’ devices every week. No one cares about user experience, it’s just the spec competition. Moto G launched in India, so also Nexus 5. My Nexus 4 would not fetch anything once it completes it’s warranty period in coming June. So I sold it to reduce my losses!
(PS: I wrote this whole story on iPad using iWriters — an amazing app!)

Year in Review: 2013 – Contribution to Future

We are through with an eventful year 2013. I didn’t manage to write the whole thing about year end review, here is a kind of look back. Usually, we cannot understand the possibility of a revolution within a span of six to eight months, and hence it’s better to ascertain the contribution to future. Lots of attempts have been made to revolutionise consumer electronics last year by various technology companies. However, not all worked well and hence we can take a look at them by events and attempts.

Biggest disappointment of the year came from Microsoft with Windows 8, and Surface line of tablets. The company took a write down of $950 millions. However the company did not give up its hardware attempt when it announced sequel to Surface line up and also acquired its Windows Phone partner Nokia in a $7.5 billion. They brought in ‘Visual Studio Anywhere’ and also a few more advancements to help programming community. In addition, Windows 8.1 was released with the start button amidst helping better hardware integration. Microsoft didn’t manage to turn search business, Bing, profitable. Windows Phone OS could not attract enough competitive developers and hence device sales numbers were relatively higher at the low end market segment only. The company failed to negotiate with Google for services on Windows Phones and hence as users are still waiting for Google maps, YouTube, Gmail, etc. Microsoft restructured itself with an objective of becoming services and devices company, like Apple. Sometime in 2014, the company will find a new CEO as Steve Balmer will leave. PC market has had another troublesome year, while recently introduced Windows 8 interface, which combined desktop as well as handheld device UI, was a major turn off amongst majority of the users. Overall, 2013 did not see much from Microsoft that could really contribute to future.

Wearable tech became a fashion especially with Apple related rumours, even though Apple did not introduce anything in the segment. Google finally introduced Google glass but the price tag of $1500 to begin with. Even with the limited availability, developers were interested for sure but either success or failure of this whole thing is definitely in years to come. Another rumour was about so called iWatch from Apple which again never materialised. However, Samsung jumped into the fray too soon with Galaxy Gear – so called smart wrist watch (in addition to gadget spamming throughout the year). However, poor implementation lead to bad press from the moment review units were distributed. Indeed there were other companies like Sony and existing player Pebble, with their version of smart watches but until now none of them are able to add realistic value to consumers. Of course, future could be bright for wearable consumer electronics with technological advancements, but nothing substantial has been in the market yet.

Curved and flexible displays in consumer electronics were introduced in 2013 by a few of the big names like Samsung, LG, etc. Unfortunately, they had no value addition to consumers and hence just came and went. Samsung Galaxy Round and LG G Flex were not technically deemed dud but found hardly any takers. Samsung continued to gadget spam the market with continuous push into new smartphones and tablets. Premium devices like Galaxy S4 and Note III received incremental updates along with bloated features such as gesture controls. Gesture controls are yet to be adopted by mass smartphone OEMs, as Android phones continued to target so called ‘mass market’ with lower price tags. Google indeed put the step forward in the right direction by announcing Android 4.4 KitKat that is designed to work well enough on 512 MegaByte RAM. The latest version of Android launched with Nexus sequel was appreciated in tech press but new products are yet to arrive from other OEM partners. There were no signs of Google looking to exercise stricter norms on Google Play and security as well as privacy concerns remained.

Apple did not get into a new category and innovation dead at Apple were making headlines nearly every week. Supply chain leaks and many other leaks weren’t really accurate. iOS 7 came out with its all new design and many handy features. Apple ignored NFC but introduced iBeacons in iOS 7. iBeacons far better than GPS and hence expected to boost location based alerts, mainly useful in shopping malls and stadiums where pinpoint accuracy is desired. The best thing about iBeacons is, the usage of BLE rather than traditional GPS. In addition, Apple introduced a new chip in iPhone 5s dubbed motion coprocessor. The chip is designed to track the movement of the device. Best case scenario are health and fitness based applications. The chip is indeed so advanced that, it can track motion of the device without draining out the battery, such as trying to catch nearby wifi when the person with iPhone 5s is travelling by car in city. Apple did couple more things with iPhone that benefits are likely to be in the coming years. Their SoC A7 is a 64 bit desktop architecture. Right now, there aren’t really too many apps that can take advantage of it. But because they’re using same SoC for iPad, the developer community can start building apps for the future. OpenGL 3 support and multi path TCP were couple more things that can help users for long time. Radical new design of Mac Pro is definitely the best consumer PC available now and it is the cheapest when compared to assembled PCs. However, not all Mac Apps are ready yet to take advantage of phenomenal performance offered. MacBook Air got a nice little processor bump that enables it last 12 hours on a single charge. iPad Air and Retina iPad Mini are the most advanced tablets around and they’re gorgeous as well. New wifi technology MIMO also enables them to transfer at substantial speed. Apple also started offering iWork and iLife suite free for all new iOS and OS X device purchases. Best of them was free upgrade to OS 10.9 Mavericks.

All in all, there were not many ground breaking announcements in 2013. But most companies continued to stick to their own methods. Google brought in lower hardware configuration for Android OEMs while Samsung continued to throw in everything to market. 2014 will be fantastic if the companies continue with their momentum they created in last 18-24 months.

Android 4.4 KitKat: Good, Bad and Ugly

Android updates are precious, simply because they’re quite rare! But most Nexus 4 mobiles may already have received one. I have been using Android KitKat 4.4 for a couple of weeks now and hence time for exploring good, bad and ugly of the latest OS on Nexus 4. Before diving into the OS, a brief on Nexus 4. I have been using the device as my primary smartphone ever since I bought it in late June, 2013. Of late, the device started heating up so much that, it would resemble an iron box after five minutes of any (call, video, browse) usage! I checked with a few of my acquaintances who happened to use Nexus 4 and their device did not have such problems. Therefore, I wanted to see how 4.4 would do on my device, before taking to customer service centre. LG service center guys reset my phone couple weeks back, and since then I have been using Android 4.4 KitKat.

Android OS update 

Unlike iOS, Windows or OS X, I did not have the choice to cancel the OTA upgrade downloads on the device. Fortunately 239 Megabyte downloaded over Wifi and asked for me to update. However, one of my acquaintance did not have Wifi at home, (hence his previous updates were all on cellular data) could not initiate the download manually on his Nexus 4. Another Nexus 4 user whom I know personally, could not prevent the OTA download that automatically got initiated! Worst part was, at the end of the download an error message showed up, and download started all over again, from the beginning. Android is known for control and options to the users but three different experiences for three devices of same Nexus model looked ridiculous especially when the Nexus line-up is completely controlled by Google. iOS 7 and Mac OS 10.9 were available for download instantaneously across the globe, but Android 4.4 was not available for everyone, even in same city (Bangalore, India) on same cellular network on the same day. I checked a bit more and found that my acquaintances had different Build number (JWR66Y) than mine (KRT16S). Device build number is available at Settings > About Phone > Build Number.

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KitKat 4.4 on Nexus 4: Look and feel

Installation happened smoothly but it had a surprise for me – brand new Android 4.4 looked nearly identical to Android 4.3! I was waiting for the UI and UX makeovers such as setting wallpaper without being asked to crop. I hated the ugly and black app drawer because the very essence of having wallpaper was defeated until 4.3. Similarly, widgets section next to apps in the app drawer was clunky. But KitKat update did not change the look and feel, except for phone and camera app. So if you have upgraded and wanted the look and feel of 4.4 you need to search an APK from Google! I could never understand the logic here. Imagine you have an iPhone 5 running iOS 6, and after upgrading to iOS 7, OS still retained the old UI and UX while iPhone 5s got all the brand new design and UX. Why on earth all Nexus OSes wouldn’t not give uniform design and UX? Eric Schmidt talked about migrating from iPhone to Android as well as Android being secure. What if that Google launcher APK file had mall-ware or if there were identically looking APKs? So additional launcher means one more way to get your settings screwed up. Sometimes, choices are too bad, and this whole thing tells that, Google does not give a damn about users. Anyways, I have been using the Google Experience Launcher  since the day I upgraded to 4.4.

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Wallpaper settings

Wallpaper option for Nexus in 4.3 and prior was awful. It compulsively asked for crop to a very small size  and then zoom in so that best image would look ugly and stretched. KitKat with Google Experience Launcher solves this problem by giving an option to zoom in/out and scroll to desired portion of  the picture if the image is bigger than the device height/width. Interestingly the whole crop option is removed from the wallpaper setting process. This is weird because, most users would not know to crop/edit the photo according to the device dimension which is altogether a different function within the device. In addition, if you had a perfectly fit wallpaper set on Google Experience Launcher and switch to old launcher (Home) the whole UI gets screwed up. Thankfully, if you switch back to Google Experience Launcher again wallpaper would get fixed automatically.

 

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App Installation, Updates and Notification

After installing an app, tap on the Notification area you can directly open the application that’s installed. Earlier this would have opened Google Play Store page of the particular app. However, this issue remains for app updates. Even though there’s an incremental advancement in actionable notification, what I still miss is iOS like notification management. It is quite easy to manage app badge notifications, notifications at the folder level, control center notification and lock screen notifications in iOS. Of course these could be managed by installing apps in Android but Google should have made such elementary settings part of the OS itself.

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Home Screen and App Drawer

Google Experience Launcher gives an improved look and feel for the home screen. Icons are larger the folder layout feels modern. Touch and  hold brings back the widgets, screen switching, wallpaper settings as well as Google Now settings. Effectively, touch and hold anywhere in the home screen you can access Google Now settings. If you want to add more horizontal scrolling screens, simply drag an app short-cut. You can switch the different home screen positions too. Dock does not have the typical line separation. App drawer also has larger icons, faded wallpaper replaces black background, no more widgets section, and paginated display are all quite helpful. Overall look and feel is great with Android 4.4 KitaKat provided you have Google Experience Launcher.

Phone, Hangouts and Google’s Emoji
Phone App is improved, essentially works like True Caller with Google’s own database for all business listings. Once you open the Phone app you are presented with a search field at the top of the screen and rest include your favorite people whom you contact often.Once you reach call log through navigating from the bottom of the screen, to come back you can either hit ‘back’ at the bottom or ‘History’ at the top of screen. It takes longer to reach to ‘All Contacts’ or you may not even understand how to reach there in the first place. ‘People App’ has a colour makeover but by and large works identical to previous one. Hangouts now follows iMessage by combining SMS and Google chat (previously Gtalk).Swipe from right to left archives the conversation but swiping from right edge of the screen takes to ‘New Hangout’ option with all your contacts listed. The ‘+’ option would also lead to ‘All Contacts’. If you click on a contact, you are ready to chat. But in my testing it is by default set for chat, and you may have to tap on the contact name displayed at the top of the screen to get to SMS option. Old SMS app is also bundled with the OS, instead it could have been a downloadable option so that if someone does not want to merge SMS and Hangout chats. Biggest disappointment is Google’s default emoticons. First of all, they are ugly, clunky and ridiculously designed at best. In addition, notification centre takes over Google style icons irrespective of app’s icon style. So if you are on Nexus, Google stamp everywhere – some good and some disappointing ones.

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Clock, Calendar

Clock app has a cleaner and consistent font now. However, setting Alarm is not easy because you are presented with scroll for everything. If your device is in 24 hour format, inside scrolling on the app will give you AM and peripheral scroll will give you PM (in the first attempt it took a bit of learning for me). Users are made to scroll through minutes, which looks like a painful imposition. Of course, there’s an amazing alternative in Timely. Calendar app is quite confusing to find out today’s date, in the month view, unless you notice tiny number at the right top corner. ‘Today’s Date’ is highlighted in brighter white and the next month dates (at the end of the current month view) are also highlighted in brighter and white display. The whole calendar is white and bright and there is no consistent intuitive contrast, and therefore app is generally not interesting to use.

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Play Newsstand and Play Games

Play Newsstand is a good addition to the bundled apps list which works like a combination of iOS Newsstand and Flipboard. You can subscribe to magazines, the news feeder can be customised and so on. However, I could not understand the logic of having Google Current, News and Weather as well as Play Newsstand all bundled together (of course I disabled both Google Current and News and Weather). Play Games is supposed to be the option which imitates iOS Game Centre. When I opened the app, it showed up the games I previously installed. However, in ‘Players’ section there were a few of my contacts who had Gmail account but didn’t ever buy an Android device! Later on I realised that, names show up based on Google Plus. I did not understand why I would be so ‘restricted’ to Google Plus to compete through Android games, virtually.

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Settings, Battery and rest

Data management option remains unchanged but the overall OS back-end data consumption seems to be reduced with Android KitKat. However, Google has not bundled SMS and call counters with the OS yet. The apps that monitor SMS and call controls usually grab the user’s personal data. More apps users install on system management, more personal data is at risk. Even though device heating while charging is reduced, I did not see any improvement in terms of battery. Ever since installing Android 4.4 I have no games installed. Battery lasted about nine hours which did not include even four hours of actual usage, without vibration. I have provided the details of how battery gets consumed on a device that is completely controlled by Google. There are always claims about Android phones being superior but such claims should be backed up with screenshots as below. Quite a lot of times, 30% battery at night 11 did not last till morning even after switching off 3G cellular data! I checked out a Micromax device that one of my friend owns and he happened get the battery life of over six hours even with more than double the number of apps installed. I could not check the immersive reading mode which I would have liked to. I have Kindle and Aldikoreaders and none of them have taken advantage of this feature, as of writing this review. Screenshots continue to include soft buttons and I have no idea if I have to install a new app for that too! Google Now is not swipe from left on home screen if you are using Nexus 4, running Android 4.4. Almost all major apps do not retain the status and get refreshed each time when switched in between the open apps.

Final thoughts:

Good

  • Feels light and fast
  • Improved font, larger icons, better home screen, dock and paginated app drawer layout
  • Integrated app for SMS and chat, improved phone app
  • Better OS level cellular data handling
  • Wallpaper settings
  • Designed to run on lower hardware configuration

Bad

  • Cannot create a folder and re-arrange apps in app drawer
  • Cannot customise notification and controls
  • SMS hangouts group messaging is confusing, and no easy backup of text messages, app notification
  • App specific notifications are not customisable like iOS
  • Play Games looks like a lazy attempt

Ugly

  • OS updates are not manageable, they start automatically
  • Stock apps are no way intuitive to operate for most users
  • SMS and Hangouts both exist so also Google Currents, News and Weather as well as Play Newsstand
  • Google Experience Launcher APK installation is inevitable but not bundled
  • Home screen is buggy to add and manage, app shortcuts failed after reboot
  • No iOS like move to the top or reader mode option in chrome
  • Cannot disable notification centre gesture in full screen apps like Yahoo Weather
  • Cannot turn off phone vibration for swiping to attend the call (not sure if this is just a bug)
  • After entering the passcode still need to hit ‘enter’ on lock screen
  • Google emoji stickers are ugly and they overwrite app specific icons in notification center
  • Battery life did not improve
  • No universal search as against iOS spotlight search
  • Browsing in gallery from oldest to latest photos can annoyingly switch to camera itself
  • Google Now is not a capable voice assistant rather a voice search, unlike Siri or even Samsung’s S Voice

I had a discussion with one of my close mates regarding the simplicity of iMessge application on iPad. He said something marvellous ‘people use Android or Windows and they keep experimenting with it. They do not really make any productive use out of it, rather they are happy to explore the software crash and bugs. On the other hand, iOS or OS X devices do not allow too much user meddling and that itself is the reason why Android and Windows users do not find those interesting. Such users do not consider technology to be part of their life, and don’t bother getting better results in their routine. They simply want to meddle with some cheap devices and be proud of achieving something, without any productive usage’.

 

Touch Screen Latency Debate

Ever since Agawi TouchMarks revealed the screen latency test results, a few of the android fans seem to question the methodology itself. From the TouchMark’s blog, “…our latency experts are using their knowledge to introduce the first quantitative and objective benchmark of app response times: TouchMarks. By introducing TouchMarks to the market, we hope to bring more rigour to discussions around touchscreen response times, device lag, streaming latency and other topics related to how responsive an application feels on a mobile device”. Throughout this article, I have mentioned content straight from the iOS devices seem to fare really well in touch responses and hence most users seem to like the interaction with iPhone, iPad, etc. Below graph vindicates the same.

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In addition, Microsoft Research visually (as well as technically) shows us if such issue exist and does it affect any touch device user at all.

These days, people do not believe such results as fanboy element creeps in to most results. Let us see from the comments section of TouchMarks website itself, if there are any valuable points.  First comment from @craigsg said “No one should confuse you for scientists. You have an agenda and preconceived notions” But this reply was quite interesting from @Ian “@craigsj . With regard to perceived latency, we are working on an app where accurate timing is critical to the proper functioning of the app. On iOS we have it working great, on android we are contending with high audio latency + high touch latency. It virtually makes the app not doable on android, without some fairly hacky latency subtractions. We need to be able to measure a touch to within 200ms of an audible cue. With audio latency of 100-400ms and touch latency of >100ms you can see the problem.”

People are good at finding problems in every outcome, I was obviously surprised to hear a comment wherein, the question was about non-selection of stock Android devices. Moreover, visitors felt that, TouchMarks is positively biased towards Apple. @Rohan’s reply was interesting, “Hi Adam, We picked flagship phones from each manufacturer that we had available to us- unfortunately we didn’t have a Nexus 4. The Moto X is pretty close to a stock Android experience though (and it’s actually my personal phone, contrary to most people’s belief I’m an iPhone user now). We did kill the background processes, but didn’t put the phone into airplane mode. It’s an interesting theory though, I’ll test it on a few devices and see if there’s a difference”. People love their devices is not a problem, world is never flat and each individual has different choices and tastes. I would never bother to comment on them. I have been loving Apple devices not because I am a fan of the company, but the products seem to work well every time as per my expectations that includes feel of experience which could vary. I like snappy fluid scrolls but that itself is relative. These researches try to convert subjective remarks to numbers and I am happy to see the effort put by TouchMarks. I guess following remarks best conclude the whole thing:

@Ritesh “Almost all high end Android phones since 2012 have the touch layer fused with the glass. That includes all the Android phones in this test and many more like the One X, GS3, LG OG, Nexus 4 from 2012. You’re probably talking about cheaper/older Android phones. LG and Samsung make the displays/touchscreens for Apple, so it’d be really odd if their own devices didn’t use the same. Hardware is not the issue here. Software is.

I’m an Android user and also an audio engineer+producer. I know first hand how bad latency on Android is. It does not affect daily usage but it definitely sticks out like a thorn when it comes to realtime apps such as midi controllers and synths. For audio apps, I use LivKontrol and TouchDAW on a Nexus 10 and LivKontrol and TouchOSC on an iPad 3. The difference in response is pretty noticeable.

Having said that, Android is getting a lot of work done in the audio latency department and the next version will have major improvements with an option for a realtime kernel. Once that arrives, I’m sure Agawi would do the tests again.”

This App is incompatible with all of your devices

Yesterday I was browsing on the net, my flipboard app is amazing for that. I usually go through what I want and they include business news, technology and stuff like that. Happened to see that, there was an app that did exactly what the brand new Moto X could do – listen to your command “OK, Google Now’, your phone’s up and running for rest of the commands. Searched that on my Nexus 4’s Google Play found some crappy apps but not what I wanted. Signed into Google Play on the web saw the features again, hit ‘install’.

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Here you go, ‘this App is incompatible with all of your devices’ showed up and I could not install that. Why so? It is because, application is not optimised for Nexus and so many millions of android mobile hardware specs and mostly customised android versions. So what is my problem? My problem is companies like Samsung advertising here in India for an entry level android phone, boast about 700,000 apps on Google Play. I had this issue with my old phone as well. It is quite frustrating when people boast about a cheaper and equal alternative to iOS device is android. I had this issue when my old Xperia tipo refuse to install apps like ‘fruit ninja’. Worst thing was, it used to download complete file but to tell downloaded file was not compatible. Most of the premier apps do not work on all devices which is understandable from developers point of view.
Most of us do give away irritation at free of cost after buying a product. I still remember the amount of frustration I had to go through when I could not make a call while an app called ‘My Tracks’ was running. I am not even talking about the android apps that are not making use of higher screen real estate in 7″ or above tablets. It is so pathetic when the best app is not compatible for your phone but you compare the cost and some customisation features all the time.