Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Rethink Mobile Typing with Minuum

Whirlscape is a new company founded by recent graduates. Their idea started when they had to find a better way to type on touchscreens without looking. There are quite a large number of star-tups that seem to start through a school project. What this group came up with is called the "Minuum Keyboard Project".

Minuum is an entire product line idea - starting with smartphone keyboards. The idea is simple - keep the functionality of a full qwerty keyboard, but use up less precious screen space. How they've accomplished this is by rearranging the keyboard to fit onto a single line. The software is expecting you to be extremely sloppy, and because it's expecting you to make tons of errors it's got a head start on other keyboards that are expecting precise typing.

The truly unique idea they have is that this Minuum technology has the potential to allow you to type on future devices - smartwatches, wearable technology (such as Google Glass).

This is an idea that's generated lots of interest: 2 days in they generated 4X what they expected. 1 week in they reached their "stretch goal" which would allow them to make a Wearable Development Kit. They still have 22 days to go, and it looks like this thing isn't losing any traction.

Their first venture will be to Android phones in June because it natively supports third party keyboards, but they will make dedicated keyboards which can be hooked up to any phone, tablet, wearable tech...

Currently, there is an Indiegogo Project where you can financially help them start up, and they will give you certain perks at each donation level. Perks start at $5 (for an early beta version, and also future premium versions) and go to $500 (VIP access, a set of poetry fridge magnets, a profile on their website and more).

I've already pledged, and as soon as it becomes available you guys will be the first to hear about it!

Monday, March 25, 2013

[Android App] Color Oil

Color Oil [Android App Review]

Color Oil is a logic game with a unique idea, and chill music. It's easy enough to get through the levels, but difficult to get 3 stars on each. It's a fun, yet challenging game.

On the screen is a grid of colored oil spills, and the object of the game is to  assimilate all of the oil into your starting blob. The starting blob is labeled with an "S", and touch the buttons on the bottom to change the color of your starting blob. In the picture above, by pressing yellow your blob will assimilate all yellow oil dots touching it (vertically or horizontally, not diagonal). Because the "S" blob is touching all of the yellow dots, they would all be assimilated into the "S" blob which is now yellow. Then, since your "S" blob is touching all of the red dots, change the color to red, leaving only light blue dots.

You will be awarded stars based on the number of steps it took you to complete the level - 3 stars for doing it the most efficient way, 2 stars if you used 1 extra step, 1 star if you used 2 extra steps, and if you used 3 or more extra steps you will need to replay the level. The image above is an example of one of the easiest levels, while the image below comes from the Atlantis stage - the most difficult. Don't worry too much though - you are allowed more steps on harder levels.

No single strategy will work all the time, but using a mix of 2 strategies would generally yield positive results.

1) Find a color that is close to the "S" blob so you can eliminate it. Doing this allow you to focus more on the other colors, and whenever you assimilate dots you gain further reach, expanding your reach to other dots.

2) Get as much outreach as possible. If there is a long series of dots close to the "S" blob, go for it. Odds are more colors are touching this newly assimilated series of dots, which means that each color you choose will likely influence more dots, getting you closer to clearing the level. The picture below is a great example of using the outreach strategy.
 I found Color Oil to be a fun game, yet challenging enough to not get bored with it. If you are more of an intellectual than I am, you might just breeze through and beat the game before I've finished a single stage. On the opposite end though - logic games aren't for everybody and some will find this difficulty too much. For my use though, they nailed the difficulty level. I would highly suggest at least trying the free version.

You can find Color Oil on the Google Play Store for free (ads are unobtrusive), or there is also a paid version for $2 which includes more levels, solutions for all the levels, and is ad free. You can also see the Dev's site here, where they have another game, Reball, for iOS or BB.

Friday, March 22, 2013

[iOS&Android]: Google Maze, a browser game bridging mobile and desktop

Yesterday Google Japan released a game that turns any website into a playable maze game. The coolest part? You use your phone as a controller. I'll take you through everything you need to know, with special emphasis on how to set it up as most of the instructions are in Japanese.

What is Maze?
Google Maze takes any website, renders it flat, and then adds collectable blue dots which act as points. You have a 300 second time limit to reach the end of the webpage, but this is often very generous.

How do you control it?
After you've synced your phone and desktop browsers, you use your phone as a controller. Hold your phone in landscape mode at a 'normal' angle when starting, as this is when it calibrated the phone's sensors as to which way is up. Then, on the bottom left press the "power" button and tilt your phone. This will cause you to move. The ball will not move if you aren't holding down the power button. On the bottom right is a "jump" button which allows you to jump over obstacles. Careful though, you will bounce on the way down and you could fall off the map and lose a life.

You have to get from the starting point of the webpage to the end of the webpage. The entire way has railings around it (thank goodness) because there is certainly a delay between the  input and the action. You have 3 lives, and 300 seconds to do it in, and the time does reset after each death.

Is Maze part of Google's agenda?
Google has been well known to do random odd things in order to achieve something. When they acquired YouTube, it was all about ad revenue and search databases. Ingress was a game meant to help gather maps data. Android was more or less to get a foot into the mobile door. It is yet unclear if Google Maze has a purpose or if it is purely just trying to bridge the gap between mobile and desktop. It could also just be an incentive to install Google Chrome onto both a desktop and mobile phone, and force users to setup the tab sync function. Only the big G knows.

First, you will need to open up Chrome on your desktop and login. Then go to http://www.chrome.com/maze/. Next, open up Chrome on either your Android 4.x device or iPhone running iOS 5 or newer, and log into that Chrome as well. From there, ensure tab syncing is turned on (on Android go to the menu button, settings, and touch on your gmail account. Sync options are right there. I apologize, but I don't actually have a compatible iOS device to find the address on). Then, under Chrome settings (again), press on the "Other Devices" button. Assuming you also have sync turned on your desktop/laptop, you should see the "Chrome World Wide Maze" tab open. Click on that, then hit "start". You can also skip the intro because I'm going to walk you through every detail.

Once everything is connected, your phone should show the URL g.co/maze and a 6 digit code. On your desktop navigate to that address, and enter your code. Then hit "connect" on your desktop. After that, it's time to select the webpage you will be navigating. You can search the web for any page, or use one of Google's pages shown on that site, which of course are all different Google products (Google+, Locations, and the Nexus 4 page). The page will then render, and then it's important to have your phone is a "normal" position so it will calibrate properly.

BugsI haven't been able to get any sites working besides the sites Google has listed on it's page. If you have any tips please let me know in the comments.

Also, because your phone is the controller, the actions on the screen will be delayed (your phone registers your tilting it, sends it through the internet to Google's servers where it then sends it to your desktop. Even at the speed of light there will be some delay).

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Android Game review: Gravity Racing Madness

A wile ago I stumbled on an app made by a Redditor and I gave it a shot. Now that it's more complete (out of beta), it's time to give it some recognition. Sure, it may not be a completely original idea - gravity reversal isn't a new game concept - but GRM does a very good job making a fun casual game out of it.

The controls are as easy as they come: just touch the screen to invert gravity. The landscape is a series of crests/troughs, and the ball will follow gravity. When you are going downhill, you will speed up. If the ball starts rolling uphill, it will slow down. Simple, right?

Along the track are "buzz saws" which will violently rip the ball apart. When (not if) you touch one of them, you will have to restart from the last checkpoint.

On the ball itself is a number which counts down. The counter on the ball will replenish when you cross a checkpoint. If this counter ticks all the way down, you can start again from the last checkpoint. It's great to have a fun, casual game that doesn't make you start over every time you die :)

After you've reached the end of the 'level', your direction will reverse onto a randomly different landscape which will be harder to maneuver. 

This game is free, and can be found on the Google Play Store. It has less than 100,000 downloads, and an average rating of 4.4/5. You can watch the Gameplay Trailer on YouTube.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Why Did America Get Left Behind on the New Release of Blackberry?

Source: Verizon Wireless

Blackberry currently has a user base of 77 million users world wide.  According to Blackberry's 2012 annual report (Financial Report for 2012) "Sales outside the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada comprised approximately 60% of the total consolidated revenue during fiscal 2012. Sales in the United States represented approximately 23% of total consolidated revenue during the year. Sales in the United Kingdom represented approximately 10% of total consolidated revenue and sales in Canada represented the remainder".

A little over half of blackberry revenue comes from areas outside of the US, UK, and Canada. If you go strictly by the numbers if I am releasing a new product I want to try to raise revenue in the least producing areas. Which is why Canada and UK got the phone before the US did.

I also think the late US release is due to US carriers. As I have not lived or traveled outside the US, I am uncertain as to other countries carrier situation. I would assume the process for getting a new phone is different as well as the state of the mobile phone market.

Sprint is already locked a deal to sell so many iPhone's so that is all they're worried about. Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile all offer pretty much the same phones and they are in a good position with their current line up to take their time pushing out a new phone.

Unfortunately the state of the mobile phone market very cut throat between Apple and Android vying for number one. No one sees Blackberry as being in the mix so they aren't as rushed to get the phone out to consumers.  So I will just continue siting here in anticipation until I get my hands on a extremely good physical keyboard smartphone.  

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Android Customization: Nova Launcher

Android allows a lot in terms of customization, so may as well make the most of it. This post is all about Nova Launcher - one of android's most popular launchers, and how you can set it up to both make your home screens look amazing, and still be fully functional.

What is a launcher?

A launcher is basically a home screen replacement in the form of an app - you download a launcher from the Play Store and then set it as the default action when the home button is pressed. Once you've started using a launcher, you can go into multitasking and kill the default launcher on your phone. The main reason to install a launcher is that you a) want added functionality, b) want more customization options, or c) would rather anything than the manufacturer's UI.

Home screens

Nova Launcher allows you to set the number of home screens, the animation shown when you scroll through them, change the grid of icons, allow you to change the size of ALL widgets, let the dock scroll, add gestures, and a ton more.

As far as gestures on the home screens go, you can set a swipe down to pull down the notifications (no more reaching up to the very top), a swipe up to open the app drawer, double tap to quick launch an app...in all there are 9 gestures which can each be set to perform an operation.

Under "Look and Feel" you can change the icon theme, color theme, and different animation speeds.

With Nova Launcher you get the option to make more of your home screens. When you touch and hold on an app icon on the home screen you will get 4 options: Edit, Remove, App info, and Uninstall. When you touch and hold on a folder, you get the options to Edit, or Remove. What does "edit" let you do? In the second image on the left is a screenshot of the edit shortcut screen for a folder (same as an app except with the toggle box to open folder via swipe). Tap on the icon to change it (I've already set my games folder icon to a single image - the game controller - instead of the stock "fan" of apps). Every icon can also have an added "Swipe Action". If you set a swipe action, when you swipe up on an icon it can perform a different action. For example, touch on the Games folder icon to see the folder, but swipe up on it to immediately launch Angry Birds. That's pretty useful.

The third image on the left is my single home screen. The widget is Daskclock (which I recommend looking into), and the background is Exodus for those of you who are wondering. "Info", "games", "social", and "Productivity" are all folders with icons I have switched, and on the dock is SMS, the gallery, music and the internet. In the middle of the dock is a circle with an android in the middle which I use as my app drawer icon.

Almost every icon on my home screen has a Swipe Action - which allows me to only have to use 1 home screen. I have the camera app set as a Swipe Action on the gallery, a music downloading app as the Swipe Action on the Play Music icon...you can really do a lot more with Nova Launcher than you can with any stock software that came with your phone.

I've played around with many launchers, but Nova Launcher is the one I consistently come back to. I find it gives me all the options I need without any overkill. There is also a paid version ($4) which I'd suggest thinking about getting if you like Nova Launcher. You can find the paid version here.