Monday, September 22, 2014

Why iOS 8 Is A Big Deal

Apple just recently debuted the newest version of their mobile operating system; iOS 8 last week alongside the launch of the iPhone 6 & iPhone 6 Plus. In iOS releases of years past, users were greeted with improved performance, UI element changes and a feature or two here and there. But iOS 8 brings much more than that.

This is the first release of iOS where it seems that Apple has relieved some tension in their iron grip of their walled garden approach. Users are able to take advantage of features such as:
  • Predictive text on the Apple Keyboard
  • Third party keyboard support
  • Interactive Notifications
  • Widgets
  • Touch ID Integration
  • NFC
  • Inter-App communications (Probably the biggest feature to date)
The above listed features are long overdue and many might argue that they finally bring iOS 8 somewhat to feature parity with Android. I would tend to agree. Some of those features (or lack thereof) were considered deal breakers for myself which meant I could not use an iOS device as a daily driver. That sentiment has now changed somewhat. I'll give a brief explanation of what each feature means:

Predictive Text Support
Android and BlackBerry on-screen keyboards have long since offered predictive text support on their stock keyboards. This is a feature that Apple refused to implement until now for unknown reasons. Predictive text greatly assists a users keyboard input by providing suggestion for words that might come next in a sentence. It helps to reduce the time it takes to input text while using your apps.
(Image: Top keyboard is with predictive text. Bottom keyboard is without.)

Third Party Keyboard Support
This is a feature that existed on Android for a very long time now. Many iOS users have been wishing for this feature for many years. It allows the user to download and install a variety of keyboards created by third party companies. These keyboards are offered in the App Store and can add functionality not available on the stock iOS keyboard. These features include: Swipe input, themes, multiple language input and predictive input (which is now available natively as well). Some popular third party keyboards include: SwiftKey, Swype & Minuum.

Interactive Notifications
The notification center has been a great feature for glancing at incoming alerts without having to open each individual app. This functionality has now been expanded to include the ability to action those alerts. For example, if a user receives a text message, he/she can now instantly reply directly from the Notification Center rather than having to open the SMS application. This functionality surpasses that of Android's Notification Shade.

Widgets are an entirely new feature for iOS. They provide glanceable information from various apps that support widgets so you don't have to open those same applications as often to see refreshed data. This is useful for things like sports scores, stocks, upcoming appointments, etc.  Android users are familiar with widgets but the implementation of them in iOS is not what you would expect. The widgets can only live in the Notification Center. This means that they cannot exist on home screens like they do in Android. It's a limited approach but it's a start.

Touch ID Integration
Touch ID was previously only available to be used to unlock the phone and with Apple created apps. Now developers have the ability to extend Touch ID integration with their own apps. This means you can use apps like 1Password, PayPal, Amazon, etc and just use your fingerprint to log into those services rather than having to remember individual passwords. This will bring a whole new ease of use to many apps and services.

Apple has finally adopted the Near Field Communication standard with the introduction of NFC on the iPhone 6, 6 Plus and Apple Watch. The NFC radio will only be used for Apple Pay, the company's own mobile payment solution (at least at first). This service is comparable to Google's Wallet offering on select Android devices/carriers. It will allow users to link their credit cards with their Apple account and simply tap their phone or Apple Watch on a retailers NFC reader to complete a transaction. The details of the transaction are invisible to the retailer so that your credit card information should not be compromised. This is a big move forward for Apple. NFC payments have not really taken off due to many competing standards but now that Apple has released their own iteration this should help the adoption rate climb. The Apple Pay system is expected to launch in October 2014 in select regions.

Inter-App Communication
Personally, I have been waiting for this functionality to hit iOS for a very long time. It's one of the most used features of mine while using Android. To put it simply, this feature allows a user to share data from one app to another. For example if I took a picture using a camera app and wanted to share it to Facebook, previously I would have to exit the camera app, open Facebook and then manually share the image. Now you can simply share directly from the camera app directly to Facebook without having to manually do so. Developers will have to update their apps to include this new functionality.

In conclusion, I believe all of these newly announced features will bring renewed interest into iOS. I would even say that it will lure some Android users over to the "dark side" as it were. Apple has played a lot of catch-up with Android and from an Android power user such as myself, I wouldn't mind giving iOS a second chance. I still can't customize iOS to the same degree I do my Android devices but the iPhone would make for a much more useful daily driver device compared to previous years.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

How To: Run The Google Play Store On BlackBerry 10 Devices

So you own a BlackBerry 10 device and suffer from the lackluster BlackBerry App store. Are you still holding out hope that developers will start developing some of the most popular apps for your device? If so, you'll likely be hoping forever. BlackBerry advertises that their App Store has over 100,000 apps but what they don't tell you is that a very large percentage of that number are just web url redirects and "crapware".

But there is hope! If you are running BlackBerry OS version 10.2.1 on your device, you can sideload an application called Snap that will allow you to access the Google Play Store on your BB10 smartphone. This will allow you to download any Android app (barring any unforeseen limitations) from Google Play onto your BB10 device just the same as you would via the BlackBerry App Store. Snap acts as a portal to help your device appear as a supported device into Google Play. This opens the world to about a million or so apps that you likely couldn't download before.

In order to install Snap, you'll have to complete the following:

1. Download the latest version of Snap from here
2. Sideload the newly downloaded .bar file to your BlackBerry 10 device by following these instructions
3. Launch Snap and enjoy your new-found world of great apps!

Source: Snap

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

iOS 7.1 Update - What To Expect

Apple has just seeded iOS 7.1 Beta 4 to developer accounts just a few days ago. There are a few key issues that the update should address once it reaches the Golden Master build and is pushed to all supported iOS devices. There are also new features that may be featured as well. Many of the changes will be to the GUI.  For a sample of these changes, click here.

Bug Fixes:

One major bug plaguing users right now is the crashing of the home screen. The device randomly crashes and displays a black or white screen (depending on your iPhone's colour) and requires the user to wait for it to reload itself. This is becoming a very widespread issue as per Apple's support forums.

Safari crashes are also a highly reported issue with iOS 7 across all supported devices. This will hopefully be remedied in the pending update.

Added Features:

iOS In The Car - This is an upcoming feature of the iOS feature set. It will allow iOS devices to integrate directly into a cars in-dash screen and output an iOS interface in place of a traditional vehicle navigation system. The driver/passenger will be able to access Apple's Maps, Music, Phone and possibly other applications. This feature will work on compatible vehicles which are scheduled to be debuted sometime in 2014 in certain Audi, BMW, Acura, Chevrolet, Honda vehicles. There is a possibility that iOS In The Car will not debut until OS 7.2, but there are many hidden hints to it in the current 7.1 Beta versions.

This post will be updated as new information is discovered.
Source: 9to5MacMacRumors

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

BlackBerry Finally Decides To Sell Its Excess Waterloo Real Estate Holdings

BlackBerry owns and leases somewhere in the ballpark of ~25 buildings in Waterloo. They have announced that they will finally be selling some of these properties by partnering with CBRE Limited. This is a long overdue move for the company since beginning their mass layoffs in 2011.

"In partnership with CBRE Limited, BlackBerry intends to strategically divest the majority of its commercial real estate portfolio through a combination of sale-leaseback and vacant asset sales. The properties to be offered for sale comprise over 3 million square feet of space."

BlackBerry recently opened up their Northfield campus in recent years at the corner of Northfield Drive E. & University Avenue E. in Waterloo. It comprised of 4 buildings with parking garages. These buildings were barely populated before the company started with the mass layoffs and left them mostly vacant. Although a large portion of the company's talent commutes/commuted from the GTA into Waterloo each day, BlackBerry refused to expand their GTA presence for reasons unknown. The land in Waterloo is soft and can only accommodate buildings varying from roughly 3-6 stories high. This meant more buildings needed to be built and thus more expenses incurred. These facilities needed more security, utilities, landscaping and overall maintenance. I can only speculate that the city of Waterloo was providing BlackBerry with tax incentives to keep their presence localized but this did not make sense after seeing the number of employees who had to commute in.

So after a lot of money spent on facilities which have to be sold and leases that may have to be broken early and penalties incurred, BlackBerry is finally doing something which should have been done a while ago which is to consolidate its real estate holdings and stop bleeding money for operating costs. John Chen, the new CEO of BlackBerry is making some great moves, hopefully the company will start to turn around under his leadership, something which Thorsten Heins could not accomplish.

Source: Marketwired

Monday, January 20, 2014

PSA: Windows XP Is Going End-Of-Life This Year

Windows XP, which debuted in 2001 is finally hitting its end-of-life status as of April 8, 2014. What this means is that there will no longer be technical support or Windows updates available from Microsoft. Support for Windows XP has been going for the past 12 years and it is now time for XP to join the ranks of Windows 2000, ME, 98, 95, 3.1, etc. If you weren't thinking about updating your PC, now might be a good time to explore your options via the way of Windows 7 or the not-so-well received Windows 8 OS's.

Source: Microsoft

How To: Get 50GB Of Free Cloud Storage Space on iOS Devices

Cloud storage provider Box is offering iPhone and iPad users 50GB of free cloud storage if you download the new iOS app within the next 25 days. Box recently redesigned their iOS app and wants you to download it. In return you will be given 50GB of free cloud storage space for you to save all of your important documents, photos, videos and more!

All you need to do is download the app via the iTunes store: Box for iOS and register or login if you are already a user.

Source: Box Blog

BlackBerry 10.2.1 OS Leaks For Manual Loading

Are you using a BlackBerry 10 device? Are you familiar with flashing OS's manually? Would you like to try BlackBerry 10.2.1 and take advantage of native Android APK side loading? Well here's how.

Thanks to the users at CrackBerry, OS is available for side loading on select Q and Z series BlackBerry 10 devices. This is not for those of you who are unfamiliar with flashing OS's manually. If you are not careful you can risk soft-bricking your device and require additional help to undo the damage. Please also keep in mind that this is a pre-release build of 10.2.1 and may be subjective to bugs. Do not attempt to flash if you cannot accept the possibility of issues or non-functioning features. It is wise to read through the CrackBerry thread comments to get an idea of the stability.

Check out the source for the packages for each supported device.

Source: CrackBerry BB10 Forums

Android 4.4 KitKat Upgrade "Coming Soon" To Rogers Moto X Device

Rogers has just recently added an entry on their community forums for the Moto X stating that the Android 4.4 KitKat update is "Coming Soon". Although this is a vague statement, it is an indicator that they will be ready for release in the coming weeks. The Moto X is exclusively sold on Rogers & Fido in Canada and is among the last to receive the 4.4 update. The major US carriers have already pushed the update out weeks ago to their respective Moto X devices.

The update should be pushed to the Fido variant of the device as well as this is usually the case for devices that exist on both Rogers & Fido due to both companies being owned by Rogers Communications Inc. And lastly, as usual, "Release dates are subject to change".

Source: Rogers

Monday, November 4, 2013

Thorsten Heins To Depart BlackBerry After The Fairfax Deal Falls Through

Thorsten Heins, the president and CEO of BlackBerry will reportedly be exiting BlackBerry following the collapse of the $4.7-Billion dollar Fairfax Financial deal that was scheduled to complete today. There will also be changes within the current Executive and Director teams. It is reported that John Chen has been selected as the new interim CEO of BlackBerry. Chen is formerly the CEO from Sybase and will serve BlackBerry until a new CEO is appointed. Outgoing CEO Thorsten Heins will receive a more than generous ~$22-Million dollar golden parachute based on previous reports.

BlackBerry plans to raise $1-Billion dollars by selling convertible notes to investors. Former CEO Mike Lazaridis coupled with Cerberus Capital Management and Qualcomm Inc. were rumoured to be combining their efforts towards a joint bid for the company as well.

This story is still developing.

Source: Globe & Mail

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

NSA Has Tapped The Fiber Lines Between Google And Yahoo's Respective Data Centers

It has just come to light that the National Security Agency has been tapping the fiber lines that connects Google and Yahoo's data centers around the world. This revelation was made by Edward Snowden and other sources familiar with the matter.

The NSA has positioned itself to collect unencrypted data from millions of individuals from both Google and Yahoo. This data ranges from emails, documents, maps and more. The NSA conducted this violation of privacy and rights under a program internally referred to as MUSCULAR. This differs from PRISM in such that with PRISM they used court orders to request information from companies. MUSCULAR just involved tapping into what were believed to be secure data links. The image featured in this article is a crudely drawn NSA diagram outlining Google's private cloud, how it interacts with the public Internet and where they would be able to intercept data.

This is considered to be a huge breach in security, rights and privacy. I tend to agree. The US government has been casting doubt upon its own citizens and other countries around the world as of late with their shady policies and spy programs. There's no telling what else is happening behind the curtains and how many more liberties are being violated.

Google has stated that they will be encrypting data that travels between its data centers going forward. Yahoo has not made any such statement as of yet.

Source: The Washington Post