Thursday, March 28, 2013

Roundup of the latest Facebook and Google+ changes

Facebook and Google Plus seem to be churning out new features every day in a bid to keep users from abandoning the social networking sites. This is the roundup of all the latest features rolled out by both.

Facebook gets Reply button
Despite Facebook's huge user base, brands and public figures have trouble leveraging Facebook to engage with their followers. Currently comments on a post are sorted chronologically and by the time you reply to a particular comment, there are already few more in between; resulting in a chaotic mess. Finally Facebook has realized that it is power users like brands and public figures who keep the social network buzzing and has  added a Reply button for pages and people with more than 10,000 followers for now. The Reply button sits alongside the Like button and lets a person to respond to a particular post and carry on a separate sub-threaded conversation. This is a much better way to have a meaningful one-to-one conversation than the typical Comment option.

The Reply feature is currently available only in the desktop site and maybe rolled for mobile users hopefully soon.

Google+ gets some retro filters
Lately photos are taking the center-stage in all the social networks(as was seen in the recent Facebook Timeline update and Google+ Profile update) and Google+ doesn't want to be left behind. In the recently unveiled Facebook timeline change, users are provided an option to sort their Feeds based on various filters and an option to see just Photo updates from friends. Now Google+ has a similar option to sort the search results that contain only photos.

Not to be left behind the Google+ mobile app too gets a few goodies - retro filters(Warm, Cross, B&W, Cool, Contrast, Retrolux, and Drama) and a few basic image editing options courtesy of the Snapseed acquisition by Google. You also get adjust saturation, contrast, brightness and lots more by sliding your fingers up-and-down, then left-and-right. Why should Instagram users alone have all the fun. Go on, click some snaps and apply some crazy filters and keep sharing!

Image credit: ZDNet,GPlusProject

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Monday, March 18, 2013

Launcher8 brings some Windows Phone goodness to Android

Platform: Android

Rating: 4.5/5

Bottom line: Brings together the best of both worlds - Windows Phone and Android

Love your Android phone but wish you could have the tacky tile interface found in Windows Phones. Well don't wait any longer; Launcher8 does just that by delivering a tile based homescreen found in Windows8 devices to Android. Once the app is installed, the next time you press the Home button, you will be prompted to select the launcher - the stock launcher that came with the device or Launcher8 and you are all set.(On a personal note, it is better to restart the device after this step, since pressing the back key from some apps lands you in your phone's stock homescreen. Probably just a minor bug but it goes away once you restart the device)

Windows Phone OS has been lauded for the slick response even on low powered handsets and this launcher does justice to it by being slick and as fast a Windows Phone would have been. The app not only changes the default homescreen but also the lock screen, so now you have to scroll from bottom-up to unlock the device. The default homescreen has quite a few live tiles for all the necessary functions. Each tile is mapped to a particular application like the Messages, Email, Contacts, etc. There are also options to add more tiles, customize the existing ones by changing the text, background color, icon, animations, the app to be launched when it is clicked and a plethora of various other goodies.

Normally Windows Phone homescreen has an arrow on the right corner to guide the users to the list of installed applications. That arrow is missing here but nevertheless swiping to the right brings up the list of installed applications sorted alphabetically. There is also a search icon to do a start menu-esque search for an app. Personally I found this an easier way to locate an app as compared to a typical Android homescreen  which becomes a nightmare to navigate when you have lots of applications installed.

Overall the app runs smoothly and it hasn't crashed in the past one week that I have been using it. The only shortcoming I could find in this app is notifications are not updated on the lockscreen. This can be a bummer at times when all you want to do is just peek at the messages or emails you have got. Also the Android's notification tray is accessible only after the device is unlocked.

People bored with their existing launcher or those who want to check out the Windows Phone user interface can give this app a spin.

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Monday, March 4, 2013

Yahoo takes out some trash this spring

The furore over Yahoo's decision to ban work from home is not yet over but CEO Marissa Meyer is already ruffling some feathers by killing off over half a dozen apps including the Yahoo! app for Blackberry as a part of the 'spring-cleaning' process. Ouch! Marissa Meyer earlier said in one of her interviews that "Yahoo needs to cut down the number of apps from 60 to 12 to better focus on its users needs and "daily habits" of checking sports, news, stocks, and email" and looks like she is right on track. Over the past few years Yahoo has had trouble making out if it was a technology company or a media company, but Marissa has made it clear that Yahoo will be once again be known as a technology company.

The most high profile app that will be axed is the Blackberry app. While the app will no longer be available for download from April 1st, it will continue to work for users who have already installed it. Some of the apps sound familiar but some like the Yahoo! Clues or Yahoo! Avatars don't ring a bell at all. It makes a lot of sense to drop support for the apps that are rarely used and don't bring in any revenue for the company and instead focus on providing a better experience for the Yahoo! services that are more widely used.

When companies grow, they try to get into every business and end up in a messy situation like Yahoo currently is. So it is now time to trim the fat and get going.
Here is the complete list of products that will be axed soon:
Yahoo! Avatars Effective April 1, 2013, we will no longer support Yahoo! Avatars across our properties. If you like your existing avatar and want to keep it, please go to the Avatars download page, pick a picture size and format, and click the appropriate download button. Similarly, if you want to edit your avatar, you can download the image and then use a photo editing service of your preference. If you want to continue using your avatar with our products, go to Yahoo! Profile and upload the avatar you downloaded. For more details, please click here. Additionally effective April 1, we will no longer support the Avatars YQL table.
Yahoo! app for BlackBerry Effective April 1, 2013, the Yahoo! app for BlackBerry will no longer be available for download. For those of you who have already downloaded the app, you can continue to use it but it will no longer be actively supported. 
Yahoo! Clues (beta) Effective April 1, 2013, Yahoo! Clues (beta) will shut down. 
Yahoo! App Search  Effective April 1, 2013, Yahoo! App Search will shut down. 
Yahoo! Sports IQ  Effective April 1, 2013, Yahoo! Sports IQ will shut down. Your final lifetime Sports IQ score and rank will be automatically transferred to and preserved within your Yahoo! Fantasy Profile.
Yahoo! Message Boards website Effective April 1, 2013, the Yahoo! Message Boards website will shut down. Our message boards on individual properties (like Yahoo! Finance and Yahoo! Fantasy Sports) will remain active. We also encourage you to ask and answer questions on Yahoo! Answers, and discuss issues in the comments section on Yahoo! News.
Yahoo! Updates API As of April 16, 2013, we will no longer support the Yahoo! Updates API.
Image credit: Tech Blog

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Friday, March 1, 2013

Google finally launches eBooks in the Google Play(India) store

Google has finally started selling e-books via the Google Play store in India after rolling out the Play store to purchase books, movies and songs in US and certain other countries a couple of months back. Google is quite late to the market, coming three months after Apple opened the iTunes store in India. This is ironic considering the fact that Android phones have a high penetration in India compared to the iPhone. However Apple currently sells only music and movies and not books and guess Google is just testing the waters with the e-books.

There is a wide variety of books available and books by almost all the famous Indian writers are listed on the Play store. The prices are listed in INR, as is done in the case of purchasing apps. Once a book is purchased it can be downloaded on any number of Android devices through the Google Play Books app, which is quite similar to the Kindle app by Amazon. The one interesting  feature is Google allows users to read the book via the browser too. The recently released Oath of Vayuputras(the final part of the Amish Tripati's Shiva trilogy) was available for a nice deal. Once you start reading a book on the phone and then open in a browser, it automatically opens in the last page you read on the phone!

The Android app has options to adjust text size, theme and other display options. There is also an option to 'Read Aloud' but the voice sounds so mechanical, you wish you didn't choose it. There is also an option for 'High-quality voice' which is slightly some human. But it requires internet connection and slows down even when connected via WiFi network.

Finally the Indian consumers seem to be getting some choice for consuming digital media. The market is still in its infancy. Apple is still taking baby steps and ative players like Flyte(owned by Flipkart), Gaana, Dhingana, Saavn, etc are also coming out with interesting contents . Now is the time to go and get that popcorn.

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).