DroidCon London 2014

This week I attended DroidCon London 2014 conference representing my employer, Skyscanner.
The event was extremely informative and entertaining. Day 1 was mostly BarCamp format. Later in the afternoon there was a DemoCamp event where I demoed the Skyscanner Hotels app for Android on stage and then the closing talk in the auditorium was delivered by Chet Haase of Google.

Day 2 was opened by Chet Haase who showcased what is new in Android 5.0 Lollipop, and then a series of more structured and formal talks.
My key takeaways from the conference can be summarised here:
  • Intel are throwing a the kitchen sink at Android and working very closely with Google and OEMs. Devices running on Intel should get prompt updates to new versions of Android as Intel will be updating drivers within 30 days of Google releasing the OS source code. 
  • Companies large and small throughout Europe are conceptualising and developing apps and services and ensuring their presence on the Android platform is significant.
  • Testing and test methodologies, particularly with regards to automation, are of great interest and concern to the Android developer community.
  • Android 5.0 Lollipop is going to sweep through the world like wildfire and Material Design, Google's new design language, is going to be adopted widely even on older (4.0.+) versions of the OS.
I really enjoyed my time at DroidCon London 2014, and interacted with some of the top people involved in the mobile industry. Thanks to everyone who participated and organised, it was an extremely enjoyable experience. I hope to attend again next year.

Diaspora* Will Now Be A Comunity Project

Diaspora*, the free, distributed and open source social network, is now a community project.
In an email to Diaspora* users and people who had signed up to people who had signed up at www.joindiaspora.com, Daniel Grippi, one of the founding members of the Kickstarter and project, announced the plans for the Facebook/Twitter FOSS competitor.

Here's the email text:
Dear Community,

We have been overwhelmed with your support the past week after our annoucnment of Makr.io and the opening up of signups on joindiaspora.com.  This week, we are excited to share with you some important Diaspora announcements.

When we started Diaspora two years ago, the project kicked off with amazing reception and support from people that believed in our ultimate goal: giving users ownership over their data. It's a powerful idea, one that captured the imaginations of millions of people across the world. This vision has expanded and evolved over the past two years that we have been working on it as the project has grown.

Diaspora* began when we were still at NYU—just four guys trying to scratch our own itch. We had an idea about how social networks could work in a new and exciting way. We intended to be done over the course of a summer, and with an expected budget of $10,000 from our Kickstarter campaign. The reception of this idea was so good that we managed to reach 20 times the expected amount in donations, and the project expanded to cover far more than just a summer. It's been over two years now, and we are proud of what Diaspora has become.

Today, the network has grown into thousands of people using our software in hundreds of installations across the web. There are hundreds of pods that have been created by community members, and it has become one of the biggest Github projects to date. It has been translated to almost fifty languages, with hundreds of developers worldwide contributing back to the project.

Diaspora has grown into something more than just a project four guys started in their office at school. It is bigger than any one of us, the money we raised, or the code we have written. It has developed into something that people all over the world care about and are inspired by.  We think the time is right to reflect this reality, and put our code where our hearts lie.

Today, we are giving control of Diaspora to the community.

As a Free Software social project, we have an obligation to take this project further, for the good of the community that revolves around it. Putting the decisions for the project’s future in the hands of the community is one of the highest benefits of any FOSS project, and we’d like to bring this benefit to our users and developers. We still will remain as an important part this community as the founders, but we want to make sure we are including all of the people who care about Diaspora and want to see it succeed well into the future.

If you look around, you’ll see that we’ve made an effort to open up to the community more to help better serve it. We’ve opened up our Pivotal Tracker for community developers help join in (You can sign up here), we’ve launched a tool that deploys one-click installations to the Heroku app hosting service, and we’ve updated joindiaspora.com to be more community-centric, showcasing other pods a user can join.

This will not be an immediate shift over. Many details still need to be stepped through. It is going to be a gradual process to open up more and more to community governance over time. The goal is to make this an entirely community-driven and community-run project. Sean Tilley, our Open Source Community Manager will spearhead community efforts to see that this happens.  Stay tuned to our blog for a message from Sean concerning next steps, as well as ways to get involved in helping with the transition process.

This is a new opportunity for Diaspora to grow further than ever before.  We can’t wait to see what we can do together.

Daniel and Maxwell

PS. We also want to give special thanks to a few people who recently, and over the past few years, have shown us what a special community we have. It is by no means complete:
Mr ZYX, sean tilley, David Morley, Jan-Christoph Borchardt, Joe Braun, David Morley, Hans Fase, Florian Staudacher, Movilla, Stephan Schulz, Sarah Mei, Tom Scott, kinky joe, denschub, justin thomas, Steven Hancock, Diasp, Jason Robinson
So there you have it. In my view this is the project up on its feet and ready to roam the FOSS world and Internet. I am on Diaspora*, but don't use it much because nowadays I find Google Plus more interesting and to have more features.

With Dalton Caldwell's App.net starting to move and grow after his successful Kickstarter-like effort, and Diaspora*, Google Plus and other social networks, there seems to be much more choice for people than there was 18 months ago. Maybe Facebook should be worried about erosion of their users and users loyalty via small chipping rather than one large direct competitor.

As usual, feel free to leave comments and/or questions.

Picplz Shutting Down

Picplz was a photo sharing service similar to Instagram which had an Android client long before Instagram started being ported to Android. I have been using Picplz for years now, and am sad to find out that the service will be shutting down on July 3rd 2012.
The people running Picplz have very kindly set up a download service so you can download all your content from the site easily. Just go to Picplz.com and log in, follow the prompts and you will be able to download all your photos as a single .zip file. In my case there are 245 images, so the zip file was quite large clocking in at over 200MB.

It is a shame Picplz has reached the end of its service, I found it a useful way to avoid issues with rights to intellectual property (Facebook cough cough!), and to post images to almost all my social networking services at once (Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter etc...). I'm not totally bought into Instagram even now that there is a full Android client, and sharing through Skydrive from my Nokia Lumia 710 is a bit iffy.

I'll let you know how I get on finding a replacement photo sharing service as time goes by. As usual, feel free to leave comments and/or questions below.

Social Networks Change Faster Due To Competition

Google Plus is now in Beta, which means anyone can sign up and start using Google's social network. Just go to Google.com and you should see the Doodle promoting Google Plus.
The Google doodle promoting Google Plus Beta

Once you are on Google Plus you get all the excellent features the new social network offers.
Google Plus Homepage
Facebook has just revamped and reorganised its homepage and layout. Many commentators on the interwebs claim that this is a knee-jerk reaction to Google Plus. This concept is pretty plausible and I'm inclined to go with it considering how many new "features" Facebook has rolled out since Google Plus's launch into field trial status. (excuse the pun, it was just too easy!)
The New Facebook Homepage
Identi.ca and StatusNet have had a major upgrade since the weekend too! There were massive changes to the UI, to the APIs and social network. As well as updating your status, you can now post bookmarks, events, polls or questions. It's pretty sleek and an impressive step forward. Well done to Evan Prodromu and everyone involved in the upgrade.
The New Identica Homepage
Twitter hasn't changed much in the last few months. Twitter's users are still getting used to all the "new" fancy UI and features so it may be a while before they change anything.
Twitter's "New" Hompepage
Meanwhile more and more interweb users have never heard of or have forgotten about Myspace, Bebo and Friendster. I believe that Apple's social network is some sort of secret society that even Apple Fanboys and Fangirls have never heard of. Ping?!
Ping. It's a bit like a Secret Society.
As usual, feel free to leave comments and/or questions below. If you "liked" this blog post, why not "+1" it? (yes I do find it funny)

INQ Cloud Touch [Review]

As many regular readers of this blog know, I'm a big fan of budget Android devices. Google's Android OS is an open source operating system that manufacturers (and users) can modify to their liking and adapt to needs and/or devices. Many of you may have heard of or seen HTC Sense, HTC's take on Android's UI, or Motorla's Motoblur, or Samsung's TouchWiz. In a similar fashion to how these major players in the smartphone market skinned and adapted Android for their smartphones, INQ did so to create a new Android experience on the INQ Cloud Touch.

The INQ Cloud Touch is a relatively inexpensive Android smartphone which has social media and the mobile internet at its core. Facebook passes from being an application (and/or web app) to an integral part of the device. People who use/live on Facebook will feel right at home with the INQ Cloud Touch as it is probably more of a "Facebook Phone" than the HTC Cha Cha or the HTC Salsa in my opinion.
The Main Homescreen - Facebook Rules!
The main homescreen of the INQ Cloud Touch is comprised of a group of custom Facebook widgets: a large Facebook News Feed (browsable) and above it a widget of your favourite Facebook contacts, one of your integrated Facebook and Google Calendar, one for your Facebook notifications and one for Facebook Places (Facebook's answer to Foursquare and/or Google Places). At the bottom of the homescreen there is a static dock that appears on the other homescreens you can slide through. The other homescreens are customisable but come pre-populated out of the box with a Spotify widget and the most popular pre-installed apps (Twitter, Windows Live Messenger, Facebook Messaging, Youtube, GMail).

Facebook is not the only service that INQ wove into the DNA of the INQ Cloud Touch. I was pleasantly surprised to find Spotify as the default media player on the INQ Cloud touch. As well as playing media files stored locally you can also stream your Spotify playlists if you have a Spotify Premium account.
Spotify Playing TWiG (local file)
Plugging my favourite headphones into the INQ Cloud Touch wasn't a problem as the device has a standard 3.5 mm headphone jack. In the funky box you also get a very iLike white set of headphones with microphone. I definitely liked the headphones that come with the INQ Cloud Touch as they are earplug style ones. They even come with size adapters for the plugs!
The INQ Headphones Bundled With The Cloud Touch
Sadly I can't afford Spotify Premium at the moment, so all my cheesy Spotify playlists have been there in the Spotify media player reminding me of their existence (and teasing me as well as tempting me to subscribe to Spotify Premium).
Tempting, oh so tempting. Spotify Premium Needed!
Battery life was pretty good on the device. In my day to day use it lasted long enough to get me through the average day. Mainly I use the device for social networking (Google Plus, Facebook and Twitter), Email (GMail), IM (GTalk) and as an mp3 player for listening to podcasts while I walk to work. Managing battery life was easy with the power and service monitor launched by the dedicated button on the left hand side of the phone.
The Power Control Screen (Launched by Info button)
As well as everything that comes set up and ready to go on the INQ Cloud Touch, it is an Android phone, so installing your favourite apps and games from the Marketplace is easy peasy. Angry Birds played smoothly and was entertaining on the INQ Cloud Touch. I must admit that I have almost stopped using Facebook and reduced my usage of Identica and Twitter since the launch of the Google Plus field test. As well as the Google Search widget, I installed the Google Plus widget and a few more apps such as Foursquare. Performance of all these apps was great and I didn't really have any problems with them.

I have now been using the INQ Cloud Touch for more than two weeks as my primary smartphone and have not really had the want (or need) for anything more powerful (or expensive) than the Cloud Touch apart from in the camera department.
The shiny red back of the INQ Cloud Touch with 5MP camera.
On the shiny red back of the INQ Cloud Touch there is a 5 Mega Pixel snapper (without flash of any kind). I didn't like the results of the camera and the lack of flash for it is definitely a negative point. The nightclub frequenting iPhone or Blackberry user (who Frank Meehan mentioned...) wouldn't be able to take very good pictures if they were to upgrade to an INQ Cloud Touch. Sharing and sending the pictures would be extremely easy with whichever service you please. Google Plus Instant worked a dream with the pictures taken, but sadly not many were worth sharing.
A Picture of @fatoldgingercat taken in optimal light conditions with the INQ Cloud Touch
Here's the geeky technical paragraph of the review you can skip if tech specs don't rock your boat: the INQ Cloud Touch runs on a 600 MHz processor, which is pretty smooth and responsive on Android 2.2. The crisp 480x320 screen is encased in solid feeling plastic and the chin at the bottom of the screen has three buttons (Menu, INQ Home and Back). The smartphone comes with a 4GB MicroSD card and you can expand the storage on the INQ Cloud touch up to 32 GB (I tested it with my card and it worked fine). The smartphone is a quad-band GSM device so it will happily work in the US of A on GSM networks too, and it also does HSDPA (3.5G for us Europeans, 4G for Yank marketers...). The speaker on the back and speakerphone performance are excellent. The INQ Cloud Touch is available in red (as my review unit is), white and black.

Right then, time to wrap up this long review with some sort of conclusion. I have been a fan of INQ since my experience with the INQ Mini 3G. I liked using the INQ Cloud Touch and enjoyed using it as my main smartphone. Battery life was good, performance was good and once I got used to INQ's UI I forgot I was reviewing a phone most of the time. If you are a Facebook addict or someone who is afraid of technology but are used to Facebook, this is definitely the phone for you. The INQ Cloud touch is easy peasy to use and a fantastic first smartphone. It is affordable, fashion conscious and powerful enough to last a while. I'll be sad to send the INQ Cloud Touch back.

Quick disclaimer: the INQ Cloud Touch I have been using is a review unit provided to me on loan by the friendly people at INQ. I received no payment for this review and remained as impartial as any INQ fan can when reviewing their products. Leo Laporte vs Mike Arrington moment averted...

Find out more about the INQ Cloud touch here.

As usual, feel free to leave comments and/or questions. If you liked this review please Google +1.

INQ Mini 3G [Blast From The Past]

Here's a small blast from the past: almost two years ago I got an INQ Mini 3G phone from a Three store in the UK. It was cheap (£39.99 at the time) but what interested me about the device was how easy it was to use Skype, Facebook and Twitter on it. In the second half of 2009 Android was still in its infancy and a Nokia was still my main handset (the mythical E71). The INQ Mini 3G offered easy access to Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Windows Live Messenger and GMail. It was cheap and when used with my Three UK SIM card didn't cost me anything extra on data charges.
The INQ Mini 3G's front

In the second half of 2009 using Skype on a mobile phone was not as easy as it is today. The network operator Three UK made it simple by having their own system which used a normal voice call to a portal that then did all the clever VOIP stuff. If you wanted to use Skype (and I used it a lot) Three was the network to go with and usually relatively expensive Nokias were the handsets to go with. That's why the INQ Mini 3G caught my attention. Skype was just as easy to use on the INQ Mini 3G as it was on the much more expensive Nokia E71.
The INQ Mini 3G's back
The INQ Mini 3G is a simple candybar with a QVGA screen, a numeric keypad and a bright red back cover. I enjoyed using it and it was one of the devices that helped me get away from Facebook use and more into Twitter. It served me very well for a long time before being passed on to my parents who now use it when they visit the UK (Free Three to Three calls rock!).
The INQ Cloud Touch
Now INQ Mobile have moved onto making and selling inexpensive Android smartphones with deep Facebook integration, easy access to Twitter and Spotify. Soon I will publish my review of the INQ Cloud Touch here on Todoleo.com, so be keep your RSS reader and eyes peeled for the upcoming review!

"Like" for Murrayburn On Facebook Please!

Here's a clever marketing scheme that actually gives out something useful to a community: Ronseal UK's Project Playground. On Facebook, Ronseal UK is running a competition for schools. Whichever school playground in their photos gets more Facebook "Likes" wins a £30000 playground makeover.

Here's the official speil from Ronseal UK:
"We have teamed up with the market leader in play equipment manufacturing, Timberline, to give one lucky primary school or nursery in the UK the ultimate playground makeover. If you don’t currently have an outdoor play area or think your play equipment is in need of attention, we want to hear from you. With hundreds of schools suffering as a result of Government spending cuts your current playground may be affected. Whether it is tired and outdated or there simply isn’t enough to keep everyone occupied at playtime, whatever the problem Ronseal, in partnership with Timberline, is here to help."

This is, in my view, a very opportunistic, clever and low cost marketing scheme. Parents, children and entire communities have been very involved in getting it to go viral on both Facebook and the rest of the web. 

Usually I discourage people from using Facebook's "Like" button, for various reasons. In this case I encourage you to do so because I am personally supporting one of my local schools: Murrayburn Primary School, Edinburgh.
If you are a Facebook user and would like to help Murrayburn Primary School, please go to the Ronseal UK Facebook page and "Like" it. Once you've done that, please also "Like" the picture of how Murrayburn Primary School's playground currently looks. (It's the third image in the album) This counts as a vote.

Please place your vote for Murrayburn Primary School as soon as you can, the voting closes on July 15th 2011 at midnight in the UK. Thanks in advance!

As usual, feel free to post comments/questions and Google +1 this article...

Google+! I'm awaiting an invitation...

Well well! The news has broken! Google's efforts to launch a social network have come out of the cover of the Googleplex and hit the public parts of the web.
The Google+ project webpage.

I visited the Google+ project page and got all excited when I followed the link through to the Android Market and installed the application on my HTC Wildfire S. The installation was smooth, and I ended up with a few new application icons in my Android app drawer.

Sadly, once launched, the Google+ app asked me to select a Google account I want to use to sign in and I ended up with this message:
Google+ is still in active development and not yet available to everyone. You need an invitation to sign in. Please check back later.
If anyone reading this post who can send me an invite would, I thank them in advance. I'm really looking forward to using this social network layer to Google services which should make Facebook become the next MySpace and Friendster. I'll update this post as things develop.

Feel free to send me an invite to Google+, and as usual to leave comments/questions as well.

Tesco Mobile Mojo Chat - Fail!

This is a handset that I was really excited about: the Tesco Mobile Mojo Chat...

On paper it looked really good: QWERTY keyboard, 1.3 MP camera, colour LCD screen, Facebook and Twitter and a memory card to use as storage for the inbuilt Mp3 player. I was expecting to have the holy grail of "feature phones" (or for the less politically correct: "dumbphones"). All this cheap awesomeness for £24.97 without having to buy a credit top-up (I was going to use my Tesco Mobile Pay Monthly SIM-card).

Sadly all my expectation that had been built up by the delayed release of the handset was deflated within minutes of turning the device on. The clickety keyboard I could have lived with, but the performance on the mobile web and the Java apps I wanted not working were so disappointing I almost went shopping at Iceland for a large tub of ice cream and torrented Field of Dreams. I felt like crying.

The user interface is not terrible at higher menu level, as long as all you want to do is make voice calls and send text messages. The camera is pretty intuitive to use as well, so not all is bad. Sadly the results with the camera are. Here's a sample of the snappers imaging capabilities:
It looks as if Wobbles (@fatoldgingercat) has been painted by an impressionist.
One of the most important things I wanted to do with the Tesco Mobile Mojo Chat was keep up to date with Twitter (and if possible Identi.ca too). I wish I hadn't wasted time trying to do that. The Twitter icon in the main menu raised what was left of my enthusiasm just enough to make me feel the disappointment even more.

Clicking on the Twitter icon in the main menu takes you to the mobile Twitter website on the phone's web browser. Once I had found the "Sign In" button on the terrible screen and clicked it, 3 times out of 5 I got an error message. The 2 times out of 5 I did get through to signing into Twitter I then got a message telling me that the website was not supported or that the connection had been interrupted by the host. This was the "deal breaker" for me. (thanks Liz Lemon!)

I tried to salvage the situation by installing Opera Mini on the Mojo Chat. It was simply not possible through the web browser on the device, so I tried loading the java file on the microSD and installing form there. As you can probably expect with the way this review is going, it was not possible.

I made a last effort and tried installing the GMail java application because the Mojo Chat seems not to have an email client. As with Opera Mini, getting GMail installed didn't work both through the browser and sideloading it through the microSD card.

I really wanted to like this device. I really, really did. I had hopes this device would be similar to the INQ Mini Chat. Sadly the Tesco Mobile Mojo Chat has disappointed me. In terms of usable functionality it is on a par with the Royal Wedding phone. When it makes an attempt at doing cleverer stuff it fails miserably. If you want a phone that just makes calls and you you use lots of texts, this may be an affordable option with a QWERTY keyboard. The Tesco Mobile Mojo Chat is not for me. Tomorrow morning it's being returned to the Tesco Phone Shop.

Feel free to leave comments and/or questions.

How To: Set Up Identi.ca On Seesmic For Android

This "How To" should guide you through setting up an Identi.ca account on Seesmic for Android in three easy steps. I'm told that Seesmic for iPhone and Blackberry have similar settings so it may work in the same way there.

Identi.ca is an open source social networking and micro-blogging service. While similar to Twitter in both concept and operation, Identi.ca provides many features not currently implemented by Twitter, including XMPPsupport and personal tag clouds. In addition, Identi.ca allows free export and exchange of personal and "friend" data based on the FOAF standard; therefore, notices can be fed into a Twitter account or other service, and also ported in to a private system similar to Yammer.

I find Identi.ca is a great micro-blogging service, and usually post my status updates there. Identi.ca then posts my status to Twitter and Google Buzz pulls the status update from Twitter. To simplify things: I post once to Identi.ca, and maintain a presence on three separate social networks. [I deleted my Facebook account earlier this year, but you can set up Twitter to push your status to Facebook as well].

Seesmic For Android is a native microblogging client, that supports Twitter and Google Buzz. If this tutorial is successful you should be able to use Identi.ca from the Seesmic application too. [Seesmic is also available for Windows Phone 7, iOS and Blackberry on mobile devices, as well as for computer desktops and as a web client]

Before starting this "How To", there are a few things you should have set up:

  • An Android phone with Mobile Data / WiFi
  • The Seesmic for Android application [Available in the Android Market and from Seesmic]
  • An Identi.ca account [Register here]
I hope this tutorial makes sense and is easy to follow. Please let me know if there are any problems with it through the comments section at the end of the post, thanks!

Step One: Open The Seesmic for Android Application

You should be presented with a screen like this if you have not used Seesmic before and have no accounts set up. Proceed by tapping the "Add Twitter account" onscreen button. 

If you are already using Seesmic for Twitter and/or Google Buzz: [ Menu > Accounts > Add Account > Add Twitter account ]

Step Two: Enter Your Identi.ca Credentials

Enter your Identi.ca username and password, but DON'T sign in. Tap the "Advanced" drop down menu button under the "Make this my default account" tick-box.

Step Three: Set Up the Identi.ca REST API server Details

Under "REST API server" option type in identi.ca/api/ as shown in the picture above.

Then untick the tick-box called Use XAuth. Your final screen should look like this:

All done! You should now be able to sign in and use your Identi.ca account through the Seesmic for Android client. Enjoy!