Posted by Alan Buckingham at 6:27 AM on September 24, 2012
This morning DVD and video streaming giant Netflix announced major changes to their popular Android app. Netflix Director of Product Innovation Chris Jaffe, who made the official announcement, called the update “a completely new Netflix experience for Android-powered phones.”
The Android phone app is now much like their tablet app, which has been available for some time. It now displays more titles and galleries than ever before. The title bar features the ability to pick up watching TV shows and movies where you left off and the home screen now features the Instant Queue and TV show and movie recommendations. Tap on any title to find out more information about it and double-tap to begin playback.
“Tapping the browse menu gives you access to an extensive list of genre galleries that show even more titles organized into categories. Parents–like me–will really appreciate the children and family gallery with many titles organized by age.”
The new features require users to be running Android version 2.3 (Gingerbread) or newer. It will apparently be rolling out today, although the Google Play Store doesn’t yet reflect the update as of this writing. To find out more you can watch the demo video below and also head over to the Netflix announcement.
Posted by Andrew at 12:10 AM on September 24, 2012
Custom-fit earbuds and headphones can be scarily expensive because the price often includes high quality sound drivers as well as the custom moulding. Advanced MP3 Players have come up with a product that solves this problem by adding a molding to already-owned earbuds – the Sharkfin Self-Molding Earbuds.
Inside the somewhat Spock-esque package are two small pots of self-molding silicone that when mixed together will set in about 5 mins. There’s a choice of two colours at the time of purchase, white or gray.
The idea is that you mix the silicone together, wrap a small roll of the material round the outer part of the earbuds, pop the earbuds in your ears, then knead the silicone into the auricle (or pinna) of the ear, before leaving to set. Here’s a video of the process.
Once set, you have a pair of earbuds or headphones customised perfectly to your ears that stay in place even when you are working out.
Naturally in the interests of research for the readers of GNC, I used the Sharkfins on a pair of Sennheiser earbuds. There’s sufficient molding material to do three fittings, so if the first one doesn’t work out, you get a second chance….which you’ll probably need. On the first one, I didn’t get sufficient coverage on the earbud itself and the molding came away from the earbud. The second time I was more successful.
Here’s a picture of my earbuds with the molding in place. I admit it’s not that pretty and it would have looked better with white earbuds but they definitely stay in your ear. I never knew my ear was so wiggly!
Another tip from the fitting would be to keep them in your ears a bit longer that the suggested 5 mins. The silicone was still quite soft at 5 mins, but had firmed up nicely by 10 mins. Leave for a few hours to make sure it really sets.
Any downsides? Depends on your point of view….I think I might be too self-conscious to wear these in any circumstances other than at the gym or running. Putting in the expanded earbuds takes a little getting used to, but once they were in, they were in. Finally, the silicone didn’t stick to my earbuds which meant that the moulding was easy to remove when I wanted my earbuds back to normal. That may be a positive or negative.
The Sharkfin Self-Molding Earbuds cost just £4.99, which I think is a good deal. If you try them out and don’t like them, you aren’t out a lot of money. Similarly, if you break your headphones at the gym, it’s not going to cost much to replace them.
Overall, a good idea at an excellent price that suffers aesthetically but if function wins out over form, these are for you.
Disclosure – the Sharkfin Self-Molding Earbuds were provided free of charge by Advanced MP3 Players.
Today I was relaxing in a cafe, taking it easy on Sunday. As I looked around the other tables, everyone else was either looking at a smartphone or else had one resting on the table. They weren’t students or young professionals either; these were mums and dads, grandmas and grandpas.
Getting away from “my phone is better than your phone”, what might this highly unscientific observation say about the mobile communications market, at least in the UK?
First, it’s diverse. While Nokia and Windows Phone is nowhere to be seen, the three other operating systems seem to be pretty much holding their own.
Second, Apple has iPhones and RIM has Blackberries. Is the Samsung Galaxy now the de facto Android brand? The popularity of HTC seems to have fallen dramatically with the rise of Samsung.
Third, no-one was actually using their phones to make phone calls. In all the time I watched, there wasn’t a single call made or received but there was plenty of reading, swiping, tapping and pecking. It always seems that the PDA was lost in the convergence with the mobile phone, but the reality is that the PDA won the battle and “voice calling” is one feature among many.
Fourth and finally, smartphones are now ubiquitous and cross-generational. There wasn’t single ordinary phone to be seen and the range of the users suggests that age is no longer a discriminating factor.
As I said, entirely unscientific but still an interesting snapshot in the evolution of the smartphone.
Posted by JenThorpe at 3:50 PM on September 22, 2012
There is an app called MicroCells that has become my newest addiction. The game is made by a company called Bootant, is simple to play, and is a “kid-friendly” game.
You start with three MicroCells scattered randomly on the board. Click on one, and move it anywhere. This triggers the game to put three more MicroCells somewhere on the board. It will do this after each turn. Eventually, the game will start adding four new MicroCells after each move, (instead of three).
The goal is to make at least six of the MicroCells that are the same color sit next to each other, or to connect. When this happens, the six will disappear, and you will score some points. This frees up some space on the board, so you can (hopefully) connect up more matching MicroCells. I like that the game won’t add any more MicroCells after a turn that resulted in making a group of them disappear.
The game is addicting! The MicroCells are adorable, and remind me of the Giant Plush Microbes from ThinkGeek. When you manage to put a MicroCell next to one that is the same color, it smiles. The ones surrounded by MicroCells that not their color will frown, look angry, or look depressed. After the board fills up, the game will automatically refresh with a new, clear, board, that only has three MicroCells on it. It keeps going and going and going.
The only thing I didn’t like about this game is that it did not fit nicely on my computer screen. I normally have my display set at 720p. This setting means that I cannot see the bottom row on the game. I have to change my display to the 1080p setting every time I want to play. MicroCells is the type of game that you cannot “win”, because the screen will eventually fill up and end the game. I think this might annoy some people, but it does not bother me.
Posted by Alan Buckingham at 2:56 PM on September 22, 2012
The Google Play Store, formerly known as the Android Marketplace, has finally launched it’s own Twitter account. It may sound like a pretty minor event, but it could actually be a fairly big deal for all of the Android device owners out there. Many businesses today have not only taken to Twitter to answer customer questions and handle complaints, but also to run promotions.
The latter is exactly how Google plans to use their new @Googleplay handle. According to Alex Dumitru over at Android Geeks the Mountain View company “will begin tweeting special promotions, updates and exclusive contents through its official Twitter live channel.”
The Play Store account already has over 28,000 followers, despite having posted only two tweets, and no deals, so far. It”s actually a bit surprising that it took Google this long to set up something that the Amazon App Store had from day one. Regardless, it’s better late to the party than never.
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Posted by Alan Buckingham at 12:50 PM on September 20, 2012
Anti-virus software is a necessary evil in today’s world, thanks to the proliferation of hackers, malware and botnets. Unfortunately, the software can frequently cause high profile problems like locking users out of their computers and causing endless reboots by deleting necessary Windows system files. Perhaps no problem has been more embarrassing than the recent Sophos debacle. The security software flagged it’s own files as malicious and proceeded to delete them.
For the most part, it’s better for these programs to err on the side of caution than risk allowing a user’s system to be infected. However, Sophos went a bit far with their most recent update, when it flagged the Shh/Updater-B file as malicious. Although the problem was worldwide, thankfully Sophos allows users and administrators to choose what happens when threats are detected. If your settings called for simply denying access to the file then there was little harm. For those who set their computers to delete offending files the program proceeded to cripple itself by deleting it’s own updater. That made the process to undo the damage a bit more time consuming and difficult than simply waiting patiently for an update to trickle down.
Sophos has since fixed the issue by pushing an update. Kudos to the company for acting quickly in this matter, but it illustrates the problems that have plagued this type of software. With Windows 8 now looming on the horizon these problems may become less widespread thanks to the built-in Windows Defender that handles most of this duty, much to the dismay of third-party software makers.
Nearly 700 pictures were submitted to Flickr for 2012 and you can see them all in the Flickr Group Pool for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year. There’s an endless supply of background images when you include the previous year’s entrants.
Photograph by Rick Whiteacre. Licensed under Creative Commons.
The BBC is showing off some of the photographs from the competition in a narrated presentation that’s well worth a watch as well.
The photographs are on show at the Royal Observatory through to 17 February 2013.
Posted by Mike Dell at 7:31 AM on September 20, 2012
Yesterday, I hurried home to upgrade my iOS devices to iOS 6, expecting it to go smoothly. I have an iPad (3rd Gen) and a 4th Gen iPod touch. I did the iPad first and was very happy to learn that Siri is now enabled. I spent some time playing with that on the iPad while my iPod updated. I knew I wasn’t going to get full blown Siri on my iPod, but I wasn’t expecting what I did get.
Let me backtrack a bit. I am an avid podcast listener (mostly audio podcasts). I drive a lot. I’ve put 10,000 miles on since June this year for a new business I’m involved with. So I have a lot of windshield time. That time is spent listening to podcasts and audio books. I bought the iPod touch because my old 30gig iPod just wasn’t cutting it anymore with a weak battery and lack of control though my car audio system (which has an iPod dock connection). The new iPod was perfect for my use. I would go though my podcasts that had been downloaded to my Mac and pick out the episodes I wanted to listen to that day and put them in a playlist. Then when I was plugged into the car, I would hit play and they would play, one by one, in the order I wanted them to. When I got out of the car, the playback would stop. When I got back in the car the playback would resume without me having to touch anything.
Much to my surprise, iOS 6 removed podcasts from the music app completely. At first, I didn’t think that would be a problem since they did include the new “podcasts” app. Surely Apple wouldn’t screw up podcasts! Well, they did. The problem with the new podcasts app is there is no way to do playlists. You can set it up to play all the episodes of a particular podcast (In the wrong order I might add) but there is no way to setup a playlist of episodes from different podcast feeds. The new “podcasts” app is NOT a great app. It looks like, to me, that Apple decided to force everyone to use this app instead of how iPods have worked since they added podcast support back in 2005.
Another thing wrong with the Podcasts app, for listeners, is that if the podcast isn’t listed on iTunes, and there are 1000’s of them that are not for one reason or another, you cannot easily find or subscribe to them inside the app. There is a way to do it, but it’s not easy. This is going to make it even harder for people to consume podcasts. This has been a problem from the beginning of podcasting and now, at least in the Apple world, it’s even worse.
In my case, I am trying out Downcast, a podcast downloading and listening app for iPod touch, iPad and iPhone. It still doesn’t have individual episode playlists, but it does allow me to make a playlist of the unplayed episodes of selected podcasts which should be OK. I will be testing this over the next few weeks and I’m sure I will find a way to do it the way I want.
I get the feeling that Apple wants to make it harder to consume free content on their devices in favor of the paid content they have in the itunes store. Shame on you Apple!