Archive for the ‘Android’ Category

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Note Upgrade Still Impending

April 8, 2013

Vista busy cursor  It is months since Samsung updated their micro-site for the original Galaxy Note promising an upgrade to Jelly Bean and adding key features from the Note II such as split-screen multi-tasking. I have the international version of the Galaxy Note, the GT-N7000, but so far no sign of any update.

I have no doubt at all that the fault lies entirely with my carrier, T-Mobile, latterly rebranded as Everything Everywhere following their merger with Orange. Nothing Anywhere would have been more apt, or perhaps No Upgrade to Anything.

I remember exactly the same thing happening with the Froyo upgrade to my previous phone which was the Samsung Galaxy S. There again T-Mobile kept users waiting for months, supposedly testing the ROM out before deeming it safe to roll out. It is almost enough to drive one to a Nexus device, but even then upgrades are not instantaneous. Also, I like the idea of some of the Samsung added in features, such as the split-screen multi-tasking, which are of course not available with a stock Android ROM.

If it comes to it I will install the Jelly Bean ROM for my phone manually. It has been available from say the SamMobile site for some time. All that is stopping me is the risk of bricking my phone. The detailed procedures are set out in detail and the danger of an irreversible disaster is probably quite low, but I still have the thick end of a year to go on my contract so sensible caution dictates that I allow T-Mobile just a little longer before I take the plunge.


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Impending Upgrade Noted

December 28, 2012

Vista busy cursor  Samsung have just updated their micro-site for the original Galaxy Note with details of a Premium Suite upgrade which incorporates many of the features hitherto only available on the Note II, for example multi-screen.

The upgrade details also confirm that the original Note will be getting Jelly Bean (Android 4.1). This is not really news – the original Note was one of the models slated for Jelly Bean a good many months ago. What is news is that there is at last some prospect of Jelly Bean arriving in the very near future, not that Samsung have promised anything around timing. They are in any event beholden to the carriers. My Note is on EE (T-Mobile) which does not augur well; they always seem to take far longer than anyone else to release updates.

All in all, the Jelly Bean upgrade for the Note has been a long time in coming. I will be lucky if it arrives within a year of my first acquiring the phone (mid-February). It probably comes down to Samsung deciding to package up Jelly Bean for the Note with a port of the multi-view, popup note, photo note and other features from the Note II which is very sweet (suite?) of them but has added considerably to the delay.

It will have been worth it, and would have been for multi-view on its own. It almost turns the Note into a Note II. Let’s just hope EE don’t spin out the roll-out for months and months.


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Making a Scene over a Power Cut

December 26, 2012

Vista busy cursor  Last Sunday we woke early to find the power was out, and clearly had been for hours. It wasn’t just the house circuit-breaker which had tripped; the whole street was dark. I used my phone to check the Scottish Power website and found that the problem was known about and a fix expected by around 10am. In the event the power came back on a little earlier than that.

There was no harm done; the outage was not long enough for food in the freezers to start thawing.  All the same, I wondered if there might have been some way I could have been alerted earlier. It is not as if we get power cuts every other week, but this happens two or three times a year and an outage just after we had gone to bed might go unnoticed until the morning, easily long enough to risk problems with the food in the freezers.

A thought had come to me as I picked up my phone to check the power company’s website. My phone was plugged in to the charger, as it is every night. At the hardware level, the circuitry would have detected that the battery was no longer charging when the power cut out. Could this not have been intercepted programmatically and made to trigger an audible alert?

plug

I searched the Google Play Store for apps that could be used to detect power cuts. I only found two of note. One was a paid app designed to detect outages on key circuits, e.g. the circuit that powers the freezers, at a holiday home or business – in any event somewhere remote. It would send a text to a chosen mobile number to warn of an outage. But I did not want to be alerted by text; I just wanted a simple audible alarm to warn of a local residential area power cut. This app could not do that.

There was another app which did have the audible alert functionality I was after. Except that it was very poorly written. Once the alarm had started sounding, there was no way to stop it without rebooting the phone! Both apps were uninstalled in double quick time.

For a short period I seriously thought of writing my own app to do the job properly, maybe marketing it.  I have been dabbling in Android app development and am well up to the task. Then I had my second lightbulb moment. I could probably program the Tasker app to provide the functionality I wanted. Tasker is a wonderful app which can be used to customise the behaviour of Android phones in any number of creative ways. I’ve written posts about Tasker before, for example the profile I created to ensure notification sounds were muted at night time. To use Tasker you specify “what” should happen and “when”. The “what” will be some specific action you wish to happen automatically, such as a change in notification volume, turning on the wi-fi or the sounding of an audible alarm. Determining the “when” consists of creating “profiles”, descriptions of particular statuses, such as proximity to a particular geographical location, the period between specified hours of the day, etc. One of the options for profile is “on AC power”, so Tasker can be programmed to trigger actions when the phone is plugged in to the mains and when it is disconnected. Note that from Tasker’s perspective there is no difference between unplugging the charger and a power cut. Either way, the hardware detects that the supply of AC power has stopped.

It is very easy to create a Tasker profile which detects when AC power is disconnected and sounds an alarm. Unfortunately, that would cause the alarm to sound every time I disconnected the charger in the morning. I needed something a bit cleverer – maybe arrange for the sounding of the alarm to be deferred for a minute or so and meantime display a dialog box which the user would press to cancel the alarm. That way, each morning when I took the phone off the charger I would see the dialog box and tap to prevent the alarm going off. If, on the other hand, there was a power cut during the night I would sleep through the display of the dialog box and be awakened by the power cut warning alarm a minute later. The question is whether Tasker was clever enough to make such a solution possible.

The answer is yes. At one time it would not have been. What has made the difference is the introduction of “Scenes” into its functionality around a year or so ago. When Scenes were first announced, I was not sure what to do with them. I had a brief play but did not really “get” them so left them be. It was only when I started thinking about Tasker and power cuts that I realised I could use a Scene to add the dialog box functionality that would make the whole idea workable. The Scene I created is a dialog box occupied in its entirety by a button. When the phone exits the “on AC power” profile, it kicks off a series of actions.  The first is to display the dialog box with its button, labelled “Cancel Disconnection Alarm”. The second is to set a “user variable” named %POWERCUTALARM to status ON. It then performs a 60 second “wait” operation and the third is to play an mp3 file (the power cut alarm) but only if  %POWERCUTALARM is still set to ON.

Should the user have tapped on the button in the dialog box before the 60 second wait had run its course, this would have triggered the execution of Tasker commands to set %POWERCUTALARM to OFF with the result that the alarm mp3 would not play. 

I have tested all this with a simulated power cut, the simulation taking the form of switching the mains off at the socket where the charger is plugged in. It may be a while before we get a real power cut to test with, but I’m happy if that does not happen for months and months.

There is a postscript. Another idea, but less of a lightbulb and more a slap on the head.  This is to do with the Tasker profile which mutes notifications at night. I had this originally set so the profile would be active at specific times of the day, e.g. coming on at midnight and off at 8am. Those times proved to be too rigid, so I later moved on to switching the profile on and off manually by linking the profile to a button on my phone’s desktop. But the best solution is to have notifications muted when the phone is on AC power, because that corresponds exactly to when I am in bed asleep. But until the power cut incident I had never thought to check whether Tasker could respond to changes in mains power connection status. I have now adapted the Tasker Power Cut profile to also control muting of notification sounds.  All obvious in hindsight.

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iCloud iNightmare

October 15, 2012

Vista busy cursor  It has taken days of anguish bordering on despair to resolve an iCloud crisis which has seriously soured the arrival of my wife’s new iPhone 5 and at times threatened to raise the spectre of divorce. Contacts disappearing time after time, replaced on each occasion by someone else’s, text messages going to the wrong person …. all guaranteed to stress everyone out. I cannot deny it was my own error that triggered the panic, but the horrors endured in righting it reflect very poorly on the way Apple have implemented Apple IDs in general and the iCloud in particular.

For some months, my mother in law (Pauline) had been using my eldest son’s old iPhone 3GS, with an O2 PAYG SIM. He had wisely carried out a factory reset before handing it over to her and I had (in hindsight unwisely) hooked it up to the long-standing Apple ID which had been set up for iTunes purchases on the family desktop PC years ago, certainly long before the advent of the iPhone. My wife (Naomi) was using the same Apple ID with her own iPhone 4 but there was no real conflict as Pauline does not buy music and only downloads a few free apps.  

I knew I should really have set Pauline up with her own Apple ID but that meant having her go through the full Apple ID creation process including entering payment card details and all the rest of it.  It seemed an excessive bother given she does not have her own computer and does not actually buy anything off the Apple ecosystem.

The extent of my folly started to come to light when Naomi’s new iPhone 5 arrived.  Her existing iPhone 4 (which had very recently been upgraded to iOS 6, complete with iCloud) had been promised to Pauline.  As the family tech-savvy person it fell to me to deal with the handover practicalities, even though I am not an iPhone user myself. My first task was to obtain a new micro SIM for the iPhone 4 and arrange for O2 to port her existing phone number across, since the SIM she had been using with the 3GS was the wrong size.  That part of it went fine.

The next step was to move her contacts across. In practice these were all on her (first generation) iPad and I used the bump app to “bump” the contacts over from iPad to iPhone 4. I had foolishly not first carried out a factory reset of the latter, so all of Naomi’s contacts were still on the phone.  Naomi manually deleted most of those before handing her mother the phone.

Everyone was then happy … at least until the next morning when all of Naomi’s contacts disappeared off her new iPhone 5 to be replaced with her mother’s. She was at work and some key colleagues’ numbers were now not available. I will leave it to you to imagine how delighted she was and who she decided was to blame, in fairness quite rightly.  I made the most convincing reassuring noises I could think of and that evening restored Naomi’s contacts off a backup of the iPhone 4 made just before the iPhone 5 arrived. Smiles all round … until the next morning when again all Naomi’s contacts were replaced by her mother’s. The annoyance factor was starting to take on alarming proportions, and aggravated because the restore had unset Naomi’s pairings on our car bluetooth systems and she had to set up all her speed dials from scratch. My popularity rating was very much on the decline.

I had been puzzled about how Pauline’s contacts had ever found their way to the iPhone 5 when the latter had not been involved in the transfer of contacts in the first place.  All I could think of was that maybe iCloud (which I was aware of but had little concrete knowledge of)  might be implicated. It looked like Naomi’s iCloud now held Pauline’s contacts and regarded them as more up to date than the backup I had used. So I looked in the iPhone 5’s settings, found the iCloud settings and disabled iCloud contact sync.  I felt sure that would put an end to the disappearing contacts. I was still left having to reinstate Naomi’s contacts from backup with the loss of bluetooth pairings and all the rest of it. My marriage had not been under such strain in some while.

To be on the safe side, I brought Pauline over to my home and at last arranged for her to have her own Apple ID. I switched her Apple Store and iCloud settings to work with the new ID. I now felt sure that the unwanted links between iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 had been broken.

I was still puzzling over how to reactivate iCloud on Naomi’s new phone without losing her contacts when another bombshell struck. Our daughter who is away at University sent Naomi a text message from her iPhone and Pauline unexpectedly received the message too.  There was nothing secret or private about the message, but there might have been and when Naomi found out she started to panic.  She had lost all trust in her new phone and more so in my tech skills.  

It turned out that the text in question was an iMessage, because all three iPhones involved were on wifis. All I could think was that Pauline’s phone was still linked to the original Apple ID at least for iMessage. I could try to track down and fix that setting, but how many more hooks to that ID might still be left in place? In desperation I carried out a factory reset on Pauline’s phone – I had to explain the situation to her and, bless her, she was very understanding and patient. This cost her all her contacts, but no way was I going to risk a backup and possibly reinstate some links to the Apple ID used by Naomi. I just used bump again with the iPad and all was well.

Finally the cord had been severed.  And finally I was able reactivate Naomi’s iCloud contact sync in a way which merged her contacts with the ones on her iCloud, and she was able to pare them down to the ones she wanted after that.

Crisis and marriage were saved but I was left thinking that I had suffered disproportionately for the simple innocent shortcut I had taken with Apple IDs. The issue for me is that iPhones appear to have lots of distinct connection points to Apple IDs such that one phone can use different Apple IDs for different purposes; music/video purchases, iCloud, iMessage and maybe more. My own phone is on Android where everything works off my identity expressed as my gmail account.  There is no need for explicit backups or restores. When I get a new phone I enter my gmail account once and it becomes my phone in every sense, with all my contacts, apps, calendar and everything else there for me. No confusion, no ambiguity.

I was surprised that there was no way to enforce the “direction of syncing” with the iCloud. Clearly we had a situation where the contacts in the iCloud were wrong but still took precedence over the contacts from the backup because they had a later time-stamp.  There should have been some way to “tell” iCloud to respect the data from the backup, rather than just keep overwriting it. Another frustration was that restoring is itself an all or nothing process.  It would have been handy to be able to restore just Pauline’s contacts from a backup if I could be sure I would not also be restoring any settings. I was desperate to avoid any action which might reinstate links between Pauline’s phone and Naomi’s iCloud.

Of course it would all have been different if I had gone to the trouble of ensuring Pauline had her own Apple ID from the outset and factory reset Naomi’s iPhone 4 before handing it over, but Apple’s implementation of ID and iCloud turned a mere drama into a full blown crisis. I thought that Apple’s guiding principle was that things were supposed to “just work”. If even a reasonably technical minded person can fall into that trap then I fear for the less geeky among us.

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Adding a YouTube show as a Podcast Feed

April 25, 2012

Vista busy cursor  The Sword & Laser podcast  is on the Frogpants network and features Tom Merritt and Veronica Belmont talking about sci-fi and fantasy books.  It was audio only for approaching 100 episodes, but recently a video variant was launched as part of Felicia Day’s Geek and Sundry YouTube channel.

I’m used to having the audio episodes delivered weekly to my Android phone over the air using the Doggcatcher podcast app, and hoped I might be able to get the video episodes in the same way. That is, I would like Doggcatcher to alert me automatically to a new episode and have it right there on the phone waiting for me to watch.  But the video episodes, being on YouTube, can only be streamed. They are not for download and not associated with any convenient RSS feed. On the face of it I can’t use Doggcatcher to help me at all. The best I can do is to subscribe on YouTube, to get email reminders. Worse, I am only offered the option to subscribe for the geekandsundry YouTube channel output as a whole, not just the Sword & Laser show.

The good news is that there is a solution of sorts.  Not a complete solution – there is no practical way around the inability to download the shows – but there is a way to use Doggcatcher to manage access to and consumption of the video episodes more or less in the same way as a conventional podcast.

The partial fix involves use of Yahoo Pipes. Yes, it still exists.  Thankfully, the implementation is trivial as explained below. And I didn’t even have to create a new Pipe –  I found an existing Pipe which does exactly what I need. The Pipe in question is “YouTube tags to RSS” by Eric. When the Pipe runs, it takes  a series of keywords as inputs, picks out only those YouTube videos having tags which match the keywords, and presents those videos as an RSS feed.

I found the first episode of the Sword & Laser show on YouTube and picked out all those tags which would not vary from episode to episode (I picked “Geek and Sundry”, “Sword and Laser”,” Veronica Belmont” and “Tom Merritt”), used them with the Pipe and selected “Get as RSS”. I used the URL of the resulting RSS feed to define a new feed on Doggcatcher.

This is the URL:

http://pipes.yahoo.com/pipes/pipe.run?_id=qLeMq8782xG2oyVwCB2yXQ&_render=rss&tags=Geek+and+Sundry+ Sword+and+Laser+Veronica+Belmont+Tom+Merritt

(If you copy and paste it make sure you eliminate any stray spaces)

All I can say is that it worked, and the exact same URL should work just as well for anyone. The tagging was clearly right because the only items in the feed were the pilot episode, first episode and bonus interview episode from the new Sword & Laser show, and the three episodes were added to the “downloaded video” queue where they appear together with the normal run of video podcasts.  The only difference is that the Sword & Laser video items are presented as stream only items, reflecting that they are on YouTube not actually downloaded to the phone.  When selected, they open automatically in the YouTube app and play.  This is nearly as good as if they were normal video podcasts except I have to be somewhere with connectivity before I can actually watch them.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that this approach somehow magically turns a YouTube show into a genuine podcast. What it does is allow me to use a single app to capture the availability of new material relating to both both true podcasts and YouTube shows, and to launch them both from that same app. This is far more convenient than the alternatives.

The same idea would work with any YouTube show that can be uniquely identified through tags.  You don’t even need to go into Yahoo Pipes as such. You just need to provide the podcatcher app with the right URL.

Start with the URL below:

http://pipes.yahoo.com/pipes/pipe.run?_id=qLeMq8782xG2oyVwCB2yXQ&_render=rss&tags=tag1+tag2+tag3

Replace tag1, tag2, etc with the relevant tags to identify the show.  You can use as many tags as you need.  Just paste the edited URL into Doggcatcher, or other preferred podcatcher app, when setting up a new feed. When it updates the feed, the podcatcher will run the Pipe and pick up any new items.


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Six weeks with the Galaxy Note and I’m in Love

April 1, 2012

Vista busy cursor  Well it has been six weeks since my Galaxy Note arrived but I was hooked after 6 minutes. I really do not care if reviewers think it is too big for day to day use as a phone. The display is gorgeous. Performance is way better than my old Galaxy S and so is build quality.

The size is noticeable but does not stop me enjoying the phone. It fits in my jacket or trouser pocket. The worst it gets is that it can be a bit uncomfortable in my trouser pocket if I am tying up my shoelaces or sitting in the car. In the latter case I just leave it on the console while I’m driving.

People complain you can’t use it one handed. I can, just about, with care, but very rarely need to. I was well used to using my old Galaxy S with both hands anyway. I prefer to use it that way.

All in all, the downsides to the size are way more than offset by the benefits. I think all the furore about the size comes from iPhone users who have been conditioned by Apple to regard a 3.5″ screen as the “right” size for a phone and have never had the experience of living with anything bigger. It is not an Apple product and Apple does not offer anything comparable so they feel obliged to make fun of it. People who actually try the Galaxy Note tend to fall for it. The 5 million sales in 5 months show there are enough people who have cottoned on to how good it is.

The big wins for me are:

Video – the screen size and quality mean I can really enjoy films or video podcasts very conveniently, say on the train or a plane, without having to worry about bringing a full size tablet or setting up a laptop.

eBooks – the Note’s screen is only a little bit smaller than say a Kindle Keyboard, and just as easy to read.  Even in bright sunlight because the screen can be turned up very bright, and all from within the Kindle Android app. I have a Kindle Keyboard but no longer really need it.

Note taking – is for real, not just an excuse to give the phone a catchy name. I use the S Pen a lot more than I expected to. On my recent cruise I was using it to take screen caps of the ship’s GPS position on Google Maps and annotating the map so I could identify where my pictures were taken and suchlike.  I used it to take and organise notes at port lectures before each port of call.  And more mundane things like handing the phone to fellow passengers so they could write down their email address for me.

And all the attention the phone gets from other people. No-one bats an eyelid at an iPhone any more, but people get excited about the Note.  This ranges from waiters in the bars on board ship to security staff at airports. The final leg of my journey home was a BA flight from Heathrow to Manchester and I was using the BA Android app to display my boarding card.  This meant handing the phone to BA staff who tended to want to play and ask interested questions before handing the phone back.

The Note is a winner and deservedly so. Say nay to the nay-sayers.


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Android Upgrade Process: Galaxy S to Note

February 15, 2012

Vista busy cursor  Yesterday I ordered a new Samsung Galaxy Note as an upgrade, to replace my Galaxy S.  It should arrive sometime today and I need to prepare. I want my new phone to be set up with everything I need as quickly as possible and as painlessly as possible: my apps, my email, my contacts, my calendar, my various customisations. This should not be a major planning exercise but does need a little bit of thinking ahead and a few preparatory steps.

Contacts, Email & Calendar

Trivial. My contacts, email, calendar are all tied to my Google ID. I use gmail and other Google services for everything. Once I have logged into Google on my new phone all these things will just be there. No help from Yoda do I need.

SMS/MMS history, call log, browser bookmarks, alarms

Do I actually need this? I have kept my texts from when I first had the phone, but rarely had occasion to look at old texts. I can think of one occasion – my son had texted me the postcode for his flat in London. I wanted to mail him something and had no other record. So there is little harm done if I start with a blank SMS history but as an experiment I am going to try to transition it to the Note.  I’m using  myBackup Pro to back up various items to the cloud: Call Log, Bookmarks, SMS, MMS, Alarms.  I will attempt to restore these into the Note.  Could be interesting. The bookmarks won’t be complete as I have taken to using the Dolphin browser which has a separate bookmark system.

Done it. Backup uploaded.  The app helpfully has a facility so you can email yourself the access details for later retrieval of the backup from the cloud.

Apps

Also easy. I installed AppBrain and used it to create an on-line record of all my apps. I should be able to rely on the Android Market to recover all my paid apps but possibly it won’t have the free apps.  I currently have around 80 apps in total, most of them free ones. That’s where AppBrain comes in; I should be able to install them one by one from there. Time to do an AppBrain sync.  Done.

I installed Google Currents from the apk as it has not officially been released in the UK.  I still have the file as an email attachment.  It is out of date now but still works.  That one will have to be done manually.

Photos and other media

I’m just going to copy the entire accessible file system, both on-board and on micro SD card, to my PC.  I can copy as many of my media files as I want on to the new phone. Quite a lot of music.  Some photos. I will in any event take the opportunity to back my photos up the the cloud.

Tasker

I use the Tasker app to customise the behaviour of my phone. This includes handy buttons to turn brightness up to max (handy if you are out in the street and can’t see your screen), auto switching of wifi on and off depending on whether I am at home, switching off notification sounds at night time, etc.

In practice the most reliable way is to have Tasker email the XML for each behaviour profile to my gmail. I can load the profiles back into Tasker later in the new phone.  Done.

Just realised that this approach does not save the individual task definitions that are used to power the icons for max brightness, silent, quiet, SMS reader on etc.  So I have turned on Tasker’s autobackup to create a file with the complete user data in XML.  This gets copied to the PC with the other files and will be available for restore in the Note.

GO Launcher Ex

Nearly forgot! I have a lot of customisation built into my launcher settings. But there is a backup option.  I have just run the backup and the file will be copied to my PC with all the other files.

I think I am good to go when the new phone shows up.


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