Tech Blog :: android

Apr 30 '10 9:00am

Trying CyanogenMod

I've been using the DroidMod ROM on my rooted Droid for a few months now. I got it because I was tired of waiting for Motorola to release 2.1, and DroidMod has several 2.1 features, plus wireless tethering and some other stuff. Since then the official 2.1 came out, but DroidMod is still technically 2.01, so apps like Google Earth don't work. And DroidMod is buggy: it force-closes apps too often (although wiping the cache partition helped).

A few weeks ago, I installed ROM Manager, a more general app than DroidMod's DM Updater. I thought about ditching DroidMod, but switching ROMs requires an app/settings wipe, which takes some time to restore. Yesterday I decided to do it anyway, and installed CyanogenMod It installed with no problems, and I like it better than DroidMod so far: it's real 2.1, I haven't had any force-closes yet, and it adds some nice UI effects. I still haven't restored all my icons, but needing to reinstall my apps let me pass on ones I don't really use.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend using a custom ROM (it voids your warranty, for one thing), but if you do, I'd recommend avoiding DroidMod. I haven't tried the others - Bugless Beast, Smoked Glass, Ultimate Droid, etc - but CyanogenMod seems pretty good so far.

Apr 12 '10 9:41am

Mint app for Android screenshot

Justin Maxwell at Mint posted a screenshot of their Android app, launching any day now:

Apr 9 '10 8:51am

Netflix coming to Android

Netflix is looking to hire an "Android video playback expert."

Mar 24 '10 11:16pm

Mint app for Android coming very soon!

Looks like the Mint app for Android is coming out in the next few weeks... it looks great!

Mar 21 '10 12:16am

Rooting my Droid

I decided to take the plunge and root my Motorola Droid. (I'm tired of waiting for Motorola to release the official 2.1 update.) I followed the instructions here, using DMUpdater. I backed up first with MyBackup (30 day trial) and manually backed up the SD Card. The DMUpdater instructions worked perfectly, rooting and then flashing the new ROM. The latter step wiped the desktop icons (and I'm not sure what else) - I figured that would happen but it'll take some time to get it all back.
Wifi tethering works great, getting 2.5 Mbps (and I can delete PDANet now).
The backlight (on keyboard and buttons) didn't work initially, but turning Automatic Brightness off and back on seems to have fixed it.
I'm not sure yet what else is new with the update, I'll write more as I find out.

Update: The brightness issue returned, but was fixed again with the "Bright Control" app added by DMUpdater.

Update: The official 2.1 release is delayed again.

Also: The update seems to have disabled auto-sync (turned back on in the settings). And apps in the Market that should work on the Droid, like the new Dropbox app, don't appear, so I wonder if the ROM/OS version is messing that up.

Feb 21 '10 1:12pm

- My first Android app!

Jan 28 '10 5:13pm

50 Android Games

via Engadget, 50 Android games demonstrated in one video -- who says Android can't game?

Jan 28 '10 10:42am

Apple needlessly expands its walled garden

I followed yesterday's Apple event live like everyone else, and I was very impressed, but also underwhelmed, and a little troubled.

First the positives: it's a beautifully designed device, apparently feels very sturdy, fun to use. It's clearly a Kindle killer, with its super-sharp resolution, ePub book support plus the existing Kindle-iPhone app. It's fast, the apps demonstrated are great, it's a great device for sitting on a couch or bed.

But in the end, it's really just a big iPhone. There was no revolutionary interface as expected, just more context menus added into the new real estate. The keyboard was supposed to have some kind of tactile feedback. It still doesn't multitask - a limitation I can't understand, since multitasking is so basic to the way I use computers and my Droid. This could have been an amazing videoconferencing device, but it doesn't have a camera.

And I'm troubled by the lack of open standards. Google has been pushing for a browser-centric digital experience: open standards, allowing common experiences across multiple platforms and devices. Special interface features like multitouch, gestures, and location could be built into this open web (and Google is promoting that approach).

But Apple's taking it in the opposite direction: the interface is proprietary and closed-source, and revolutionary UIs need apps filtered through their closed App Store. Sports Illustrated can have its 21st century experience, but it'll only work on the iPad. Competing tablets will need their own special versions, and content distribution will become fragmented.

I understand Apple's business logic: for years, they kept their hardware and software tightly coupled and were criticized for not opening up the way Microsoft did. This coupling made even more sense with the iPhone, where device-specific functionality - touch, GPS, lack of multitasking, etc - made device-specific development a reasonable approach. And now with the iPad, if you want the new all-in-one experience, not available anywhere else, you have to buy their product (and Microsoft is looking increasingly obsolete).

But the advantages of closed-app over open-browser don't need to apply to tablets. The iPhone and its progeny popularized functionality not found on regular computers (touch, GPS, phone, lack of multitasking, etc), so it made sense for developers to target each device's unique capabilities. But tablets are in a space in between laptops and smartphones, so Apple had a choice: They could have decided to build on (and enhance) existing web standards to achieve the same interface experience, or enlarge the walled garden of iTunes/AppStore and contribute nothing to the open web. Rather than think of phones and tablets as new types of computers, they chose to make the future of computers more like phones. I think that's a mistake.

I'd like to see Android-based tablets (or laptops with touch screens) that derive revolutionary uses from open standards. Then Apple (or someone else) can add iPad support for those standards, content creators will be dissuaded from building platform-specific experiences, and we'll all be better off.

For now, I'm perfectly happy with my Kindle for most books, my Droid is great for mobile computing, and my MacBook is great for everything else - so an iPad isn't on my wish list just yet. I also think Android's open approach is inherently more beneficial to technological advancement, so while I love the design and innovation of Apple products, I'm still much more of a Google fan at heart.

Jan 8 '10 10:13am

Android-Drupal Mashups

I'm interested in using/exploring/developing Android-Drupal combinations, for mobile blogging, site admin, etc.

There is an Android module (created by Israeli firms Linnovate and CodeConfidence), but the last (and only) release was in March, and the Android app side of the package, called DroidPal, has no actual app to download, just code, (and the name conflicts with another (unrelated) app in the Market). I'm not yet at the point where I can compile code into a working Android app, so this is useless for me. (As a proof of concept, though, their demo of instant comment updates and moderation is cool.)

I've emailed Linnovate to ask if they're planning any more work on the project.
In the meantime, I'd like to at least set up an Android-friendly mobile theme on my site (long overdue), and work from there.

Dec 21 '09 5:45pm

Favorite Droid podcatcher: BeyondPod

One of the reasons I wanted a Droid was an improved podcast-listening experience. I have a long commute each day, made pleasant [enough] by WBUR on the radio and podcasts (All Songs Considered, This American Life, RadioLab, This Week in Tech, etc) on my mobile. Previously this involved downloading the podcasts to iTunes, then plugging in my former-phone-which-shall-not-be-named, and either syncing with the vendor's media sync tool or (more reliably) dragging the files by hand. This took a long time and frequently failed to work, so it had to be done the night before or not at all (and it's a good thing WBUR was always there for Plan B).

Not anymore! I tried three "podcatching" apps on the Droid that looked promising: Google Listen, MyPOD, and BeyondPod. My requirements were:

  • Ability to download and stream directly to the device, with smart controls for WiFi availability
  • Slick, intuitive UI
  • Cheap or free
  • Ability to add or find any feed easily
  • A generally comprehensive feature set

My conclusion is that BeyondPod is the best overall of the three. I especially like the way it handles downloading and streaming, categories, and its UI generally. It costs $7 for an "unlock key," but that seems a reasonable price for what I expect will be many hours of convenient listening.

Being able to stream a podcast via 3G to the car is pretty awesome. For the big files, I try to download them first via Wifi, which the settings make easy. Hopefully I'll be able to cut iTunes out of my podcast routine altogether.