Category Archives: Google

Google Android 6 stage update process

So I bought a new HTC Nexus One (brown with US warranty) last week and it came with a custom Vodafone UK ROM with Android Kernel Version: 2.16.405.1 CL223106 release-keys.  Unfortunately, this particular firmware prohibits any OTA updates or even manual updates and it was a nightmare trying to track down the problem.  Luckily I fell upon this user comment on Amazon’s website which led me to this page explaining the upgrade process which calls for a 5 stage process to get to Android version 2.3.3 which allows you to run the 2.3.4 update.

So to summarize, the upgrade process goes something like this where each stage took about 5-30 minutes (depending on download time).

  • Downgrade to 2.2 build FRG33 using method
  • Upgrade to 2.2.1 build FRG83
  • Upgrade to 2.2.1 build FRG83D
  • Upgrade to 2.2.2 build FRG83G
  • Upgrade to 2.3.3 build GRI40
  • Upgrade to 2.3.4 (Google announcement here)

With an upgrade procedure this onerous, no wonder so few devices are running newer versions of the Android Operating System.  The result is that there is an immense level of Android fragmentation leaving 99% of the devices vulnerable to a serious security flaw in the ClientLogin API.  ClientLogin was apparently designed without any encryption such that AuthTokens are transmitted in the clear.

The market share for non-vulnerable versions of Android OS might be a little better than 1% now but not much better according to Google’s statistics.

Image credit: Google

The tablet wars are not a foregone conclusion

Marco Arment spent a hell of a lot of time trying to make the simple point that the tablet wars are a foregone conclusion in favor of Apple.  The thing that stuck out about his review of a review is that it spends so much time frothing at the mouth because someone said something nice about a competing Apple product that’s true. But if Ars says the hardware of the Tab 10.1 is nicer than the iPad and it’s a true statement, what’s the problem?  The Ars review pointed out that the third party hardware support on iPad is still beating Android.

When you get to the bottom line, Mr. Arment’s conclusion like so many pundits is that the tablet wars are over and Apple owns the market due to its dominance in app support.  If these pundits are right, then every other hardware maker in the industry will just have to hang themselves, fire everyone, and close up shop.  Or the more realistic outcome is that everyone else will tighten their margins and start competing on price.  When nicely configured Android tablets are selling for $300 or less on a more mature Android 3.x OS and a maturing app market, they will be competitive on price and value.

Beyond Apple and Google, Microsoft Windows 8 tablets will start showing up with something that looks like a very usable touch interface in the fall of 2012 (3 years after Windows 7).  The third party app market will be thin but it will run existing Windows software and drivers so that you can do things like print without sticking your iPad or Android device in a copier.  Microsoft will likely make MS Office (including Outlook email) usable on a tablet interface and it will be enterprise manageable in terms of maintenance and security.

The Windows 8 tablets whether they’re on ARM or Intel x86 SoCs (without legacy PCI support) will be competitive on a hardware level for the first time.  The main thing that really bothers me is the fact that Windows 8 won’t show up for more than another year and things can change in that period of time, but it doesn’t mean that the market will only support one or two players.  Microsoft is probably very late to the party, but the game is not over by a long shot especially when the value aspect of Windows tablets come into play.  While the PC makers will be reluctant to participate in a “race to the bottom” in profit margins, that is the harsh reality that they operate in.  Windows 8 tablets will essentially be netbooks with capacitive touch screens which means they shouldn’t really cost more than $100 over the price of existing netbooks.  That puts Windows 8 tablets in the $350 to $500 price range which is very compelling to the stingy PC shoppers who aren’t going to buy Apple.

Angry Birds for Chrome browser review

I just noticed that they now have Angry Birds for the Chrome web browser for free.  I own the $5 version for the Intel App store and wanted to see how this version compares so here are my impressions.

The good

  • It’s free.
  • Installs very quickly with a few clicks.

The bad

  • No full screen mode.  Even the “HD” version plays in a relatively small window on my desktop.  Maybe if this were a netbook with limited resolution and you hit the F11 key for full screen browse mode, it might be more full screen but it’s not a true full screen mode.
  • Introduction videos look a little lossy in quality compared to any other version.

The ugly

  • Game play is noticeably jerky even on my quad-core Intel Nehalem desktop system.

Compared to the Intel App store version, the Chrome version is vastly inferior in graphics quality and game smoothness.  I don’t know if there will be more maps available for the Chrome version, but the Intel App store version seems like a ripoff compared to the free Android OS version because you don’t get all the levels.  Moreover, the Intel App store version now crashes on my Netbook and Notebook and that’s after a complicated install process where you have to install the Intel App store which requires a bunch of junk to be placed in your OS startup.  So it’s all a mixed bag and the best experience seems to be on the Nook Color.

Google’s Matt Cutts hypocritical on privacy?

Matt Cutts, who is more or less the “face of Google” to the IT industry, has changed his Facebook profile to not allow his data to be shared with other Web sites with the new Open Graph system. I find this ironic, because Google is just about the biggest “Big Brother” on the Internet. I suppose the difference is that Facebook is sharing your data with other sites and Google keeps it all in-house (like Amazon), but I still think it’s a bit dodgy. Basically, he’s saying that you should trust everything to Google, but not Facebook’s selected partners. Even if Google was an insanely altruistic company (which it tries to be, but isn’t when it interferes with profit), the fact remains that it is now a huge target for hackers and crackers, and it will not be a surprised when it turns out that someone’s ripped off a bunch of their data.


Google probably pulling out of China

This is huge. Google is looking like they will pull out of China. In a nutshell, someone’s been trying to break into the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists (Google won’t say so, but no doubt it is the Chinese government), so Google is looking to shut down in China if the government won’t let them simply scale back to being an uncensored search engine.

Can’t blame them, if the government is trying to hack your system, hard to do business there… too much risk. Of course, Google will spin this a bit as them trying to do the right thing, and admittedly, that may play into it a bit, but the fact is, no one around the world will touch a Google service if they think that the Chinese government is able to and trying to crack it on a regular basis.


What’s so new about the Nexus One business model?

Update – Google ETF is actually $550 on top of the $180 you already paid!  So if you pull out early, you’ll have to pay $730 total!

I know Justin was impressed with the business model Google’s new Nexus One phone, but I really don’t see how it’s any different.  You can buy the phone from Google for $529 without a carrier subsidy, or you can pay $179 with a T-Mobile subsidy.  You buy the phone directly from Google, but how’s that any different than buying an iPhone directly from Apple?

Furthermore, it seems that Google isn’t very honest about the Early Termination Fee.  It’s actually $350 if you break the contract early but Google advertises a $200 ETF.  Verizon honestly advertises a $350 ETF and they’re being persecuted by some members of the FCC and by the so-called consumer advocacy groups who haven’t made a peep about Google’s misleading advertising or the $350 ETF.  Why such an obvious double standard?

The Nexus One is made by HTC and it seems to be fairly impressive with an 800×480 OLED display and a 1 GHz ARM processor.  But according to Michael Arrington, it only gets 1.5 hours of battery life when he games with the display at full brightness.  That’s pretty pathetic considering the fact that a full size laptop gets more than that.

“Google Phone” – a new front in Net Neutrality?

It’s fairly well understood that Google’s idea of “Net Neutrality” is to view the telco as a “dumb pipe” and nothing more. Looking over the barrage of reports of the “Google Phone” that have come out over the last few days, I have come to realize that most analysts are completely blinded by the device itself, and do not see the underlying logic in the strategy. Aside from any technological innovation in the device, aside from any privacy concerns one might have with it, what’s really going on here is that Google is trying to expand their vision of Net Neutrality beyond the basic ISP and into the world of cell phones.

Right now, the cell carriers control the entire user experience, from being able to cut off certain applications (like AT&T can with the iPhone), provisioning other applications (Verizon’s VCAST comes to mind), telling the handset maker what kind of UI it should have (Verizon phones again), what Bluetooth profiles to support, and more. Part of this equation is phone exclusivity. A phone is only sold through one carrier usually. The carrier subsidises the phone, and in exchange for taking the up-front loss, locks a customer in to a 2 year contract where they know they’ll get the subsidy back. Even though the customer is paying a fortune for cell phone service, they don’t care, because otherwise they couldn’t afford the up-front phone cost. I know, earlier this year I had to buy a phone a “full retail price” (I lost the phone I had bought a month after I got it), and I was flabbergasted at the prices of handsets. $100 is the basic minimum for the garbage phone that they give away for free, $300 is the base price to get a phone that you won’t throw out the car window on purpose. How many teenagers, college kids… heck, anyone who isn’t well into “middle class” do you know that can spend $300 on a phone? Even if you are solidly “middle class”, $300 phones are a real deterrent from giving one to your spouse and each of your three kids, that’s $1,500 in phones. Not happening. And this is why the current system works the way it does.

Google is looking to subvert this system with the “Google Phone”. If you read the news reports carefully, you’ll see an interesting tidbit about the sales model. Instead of giving an exclusive contract to a carrier, the carrier subsidizing the phone, and locking the customers into a contract, Google is going with a more European/Asian model. They are planning on selling the unlocked phone directly, and at the time of checkout, pointing the customer to a choice of carriers. Right now, it looks like carriers would be offering discounted plans, to compensate for not having to subsidize the phone. An alternative that I could see as well, would be for the carrier to still subsidize the phone. Regardless, what Google is clearly doing, is trying to shift the balance of power. They controlled the development of the Google Phone without input from carriers. In previous Android phones, the carriers did the work with the handset folks and consulted with Google. This time around, Google did it themselves, in association with HTC. So the phone does not have the carrier’s interests baked into the design (just Google’s, and presumably the customer’s). And along the same lines, the phone is divorced from carrier-specific technologies and features. Is this a new idea? Hardly. It’s the way cell markets work in Europe and Asia. Even in the US, you can buy an unlocked phone to use on the carrier of your choice, but it is too expensive for all but the wealthiest to consider it a viable option (think: $700 phones like the Nokia N97). This is a unique proposition because the “Google Phone” already looks to be a “crave phone” and it’s from a vendor that is currently picking up a lot of momentum in the space.

By offering a choice of carriers, Google is basically saying: “the cell carrier is a ‘dumb pipe’. The only factors left in your choice of carrier are customer service, price, and coverage. You no longer pick a carrier based on the phones they offer (AT&T and the iPhone benefit from this, Verizon usually suffers for it), you pick a phone that you want and then the carriers compete with each other to get your business based on their ability to be a good ‘dumb pipe’.” It’s an interesting idea, and it is one that I fully support.

Does this mean that I am suddenly in favor of the current Net Neutrality legislation? No, because the two ideas are hardly the same. But at the same time, by seperating the phone from the carrier, Google can reinforce in peoples’ minds the idea of a “dumb pipe” cell carrier, which is important in their push on Net Neutrality.


Can Google be trusted with DNS?

So, Google has opened up its own, free, public DNS server. The sales pitch is that their DNS server is faster than your ISP’s, and therefore, you will save a ton of speed browsing the Web using their DNS server. Fair enough. But something occurred to me, just as I was about to change my DNS setup here to use it… do I trust Google to have a history of every DNS lookup I make? Umm… not really. I note that the service’s privacy policy says that my IP address will only be logged for 24 hours (makes sense, given the prevalence of dynamic IPs anyways). But it also says that the service is compliant with Google’s primary privacy policy. And we all know what that entails… “anything and everything”. And of course, Google is always free to change the policy without notice or warning.

So, how comfortable would you feel knowing that every single DNS lookup you do is logged by Google, regardless of whether or not your IP is associated with it?


Snagging YouTube videos from the cache

Update 6-22-2009 – Looks like Google stopped hard drive caching on their 720P content.  Ironically, that’s the content that needs the caching the most but I guess they want to keep people from snagging the 720P clips.

Update 11/20/2009 – The cache for 720P or even 1080P content is working again.

With skyrocketing bandwidth costs due to 640 Kbps “HQ” video and 2.25 Mbps 720P “HD” video, Google is getting a massive bandwidth bill every day to deliver all those YouTube videos.  To alleviate their bandwidth load (and your’s), they now cache all the video content on your hard drive.  Not only does this perform better, but it also makes it easier to snag copies of the videos.

To archive a copy of the videos, watch the YouTube video stream in full and then go to the C:-Users-MyUserAccount-AppData-Local-Google-Chrome-User Data-Default-Cache folder (note that the – represents backslash because I can’t use that character for the web) or whereever your browser stores its cache, and sort the files by date.  Then you can see the latest large file (typically in the tens of megabytes) and copy it out of the cache folder to somewhere permanent.  Then for the higher quality videos, append the file extension .MP4 to the extensionless file and make sure you have something like K-Lite Mega Codec pack installed (Windows 7 will play .MP4 files out of the box) to play the file.  The lower quality videos require .FLV extensions.  I’ve never seen any DRM on the content either so it works on any computer or any device capable of playing the video format.

You could already do this to a certain extent with, but it didn’t always work and the file you grab from the link keepvid provides is often of inferior quality.  Keepvid was also unable to show you the link to the 720P content and this cache copying technique works for 720P content as well.  Just make sure you don’t switch to 720P midstream because the cache doesn’t start from the beginning of the clip.  Make sure you stop the stream and start it from the very beginning to cache the full copy.