Friday, February 8, 2013

Google Now lacking support for Google shipments

Google launched Google Now last year as an addition to the Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) operating system. It displays different snippets of information in the form of 'cards'. The relevance of this information is determined by the user's interactions with different services of Google. This is a great use of all the data mining Google has been doing to study behaviors of its users via different mediums. An example of Google Now cards would be that when you place an order online and you receive a confirmation email (in your Gmail account) with the UPS tracking number, Google Now will retrieve the shipping information from UPS and display a card with this information. It keeps updating the card and the user can access it on his phone (or tablet) without going to the UPS website.
Last week, I ordered a Google Nexus 4 phone as soon as it came back on the Play Store. It was shipped within a couple of days. I got the email with the UPS tracking number and I was following the progress of the package. I expected there to be a Google Now card with the UPS information, because the week before that, I had ordered a couple of things from Amazon and as soon as I got the email from Amazon with the shipping information, there was a Google Now card from where I could track the shipment.
While I was waiting for the Nexus 4 to be delivered, I realized there was no Google Now card regarding the package. It is strange that Google Now is able to determine a UPS tracking number from an Amazon email but not from a Google email!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Photo Sphere for Android

During the last week, I have been testing out the new Photo Sphere on Android. It was a new addition to the 4.2 Ice Cream Sandwich update. Although it has a few limitations, the overall experience is great! I tried using it at home and randomly creating spheres. I decided to try it outdoors, where it would show its true potential. It took a couple of days for me to actually end up using it! I realized there are very few places you actually need to use the feature. Usually, you can either take a picture or a panorama and you're done. You only would want to do a 360 degrees sphere, when you have the time to stand (and rotate) in one place. You also need to be in a place with less crowds, so they don't interfere with it.

I tried taking one at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. For some reason, it ended up rendering it as an abstract photo, rather than a sphere!

Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, MN

I think it had a tough time with the alignment since there were so many people walking around. Then, I tried taking a photo sphere in a park with all the Christmas lights displayed.

Rice Park in St Paul, MN

Apparently, the photo sphere can only be displayed on Google+ or on the phone. Above is a panorama of the sphere. The actual photo sphere can be found here. For some reason, the sphere ended up upside-down! I tried rotating it 180 degrees but the phone automatically converted it to a panorama. You can change colors, but cannot do any rotation on the sphere. With a few Google searches, it seemed apparent that no one has mentioned anything about this. Except for the lack of the rotation ability, I found the Photo Sphere to be a really good experience! Hopefully, there will be more opportunities to create spheres, and more online services to share them on!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Are mobile apps worth more?

I have been using an Android phone (Samsung Galaxy Nexus) and an Android tablet (Asus Transformer Pad) for the past few months. Involved in this ecosystem, I got used to being able to find free apps to do everything I needed. Until recently, I had hardly done any intense gaming on either one of these devices. I used to be an avid PC gamer many years ago. With the Android OS, I usually would play games like Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja or something like that. But all that changed during the last few days when Google Play had their holiday sale. They dropped the prices of games like Need for Speed and Grand Theft Auto to $0.99! These games are usually listed between $4.99 to $6.99.

Being so used to playing games like Angry Birds on Android, I didn't think the devices had enough processing power to handle such intense high-res games like Need for Speed. With a price point of only a $1, I thought I'd give it a try. I was really impressed with the result!! The gaming experience on these devices are on par with PCs. I was so excited by seeing such good graphics, that I even tried new games like Dead Space and Order and Chaos. They were as impressive!

Seeing such good results on those devices, I started to wonder: why are we not willing to pay the price for software on a mobile device which we would willingly pay for PC software? These mobile apps require even more programming to work with different devices and they are much more usable, since we carry our mobiles everywhere (and sometimes tablets too!). On PCs, we would easily shell out $20-$30 for software. It could be even as high as $100+ for software like MS Office etc. But when it comes to mobile apps, we just don't feel like it's worth more than a couple of bucks. The most popular apps in Google Play are either free or $0.99. Maybe it's because we have been too spoilt? With the advent of such cheap apps, we keep trying to find the most suitable app for us within that budget rather than pay $15-$20. There's also very limited choices when you try looking in the higher budgets.

On the other hand, this gives us more variety since we can afford to try different apps and use the ones which best suit our needs. In my experience, I have probably saved a lot of money in the last few months, since I haven't paid for a single app (until I got tempted by the Google sale last few days!). I was even able to get an app like OfficeSuite Pro ($14.99) for free when Amazon featured it as the free app of the day. Currently, the same app is for sale on Google Play for 99 cents!