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Michael James Williams

Michael is a writer, editor, and web developer. He is the editor for Android.AppStorm and Activetuts+, and writes AS3 game development tutorials on his blog. You can find him on Twitter, too: @MichaelJW.

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Whenever Facebook adds a new feature, I am the first to roll my eyes at the tirade of angry posts shouting that Facebook has become the new MySpace, or has become too complicated, or is now designed for stalkers. People were saying all these things when the News Feed first appeared, and it’s hard to imagine Facebook – or any social network, really – without that now.

I feel the same way about the inevitable complaints I’ve seen regarding Twitter’s reorganisation and new features, in the form of Discover, Connect, and so on. They haven’t wowed me, I don’t see the need for them yet, and I’m a little disorientated, but I’ll give them a chance; I’m not going to proclaim the death of the service just yet.

The new apps are a different matter. I use Tweetdeck for Chrome on the desktop and the official Twitter app on Android, and the new versions have less functionality than the ones I was using a week ago.

Tweetdeck no longer lets me choose a default account to tweet from, has replaced “RT:” with “quote Tweet”, and won’t let me delete my own tweets from within the app. Twitter for Android makes wastes a lot of screen estate, doesn’t allow me to see the conversation I’m replying to, and (bizarrely) insists on displaying my old avatar from over a thousand tweets ago.

I freely admit that these are small hassles that I’ll probably get used to eventually – and hey, if I don’t, there are plenty of alternative Twitter apps. But for now, I’m stumped as to why they would remove good features.

For two different opinions on the new Twitter app, check out Ashish Bogawat’s post, New Twitter for Android: Just What I Needed and Rita El Khoury’s post, New Twitter: What I Hate About It.

What do you think? Vote in the poll and comment below to let us know.

This week, the number of apps downloaded from the Android Market passed 10 billion. 10 billion! It’s an incredible milestone, made even more incredible by the fact that the last billion downloads were all during the last month.

To celebrate, Google are running a sale, where they’re selling a selection of apps for just $0.10 each (or £0.10, if you’re in the UK, and I assume similar prices elsewhere). And they’re really good apps, in my opinion! I hesitate to mention which, since by now you’ve already missed them, but we’ve seen SwiftKey X, Flick Golf, and doubleTwist, to name just three.

To check the apps out for yourself, head over to market.android.com and click the banner on the front page. The apps change every day for ten days (we’re currently on Day 3), so check back repeatedly over the next week!

Samsung’s latest TV ad focuses on a group of hipsters queuing up to get the latest iPhone. (Okay, that’s not explicitly stated, but it’s very strongly implied.)

The advert points out a couple of features where the Galaxy S II trumps the iPhone: 4G service, larger screen. But more than that, it pokes fun at the stereotypical image of an iPhone user:

“I could never get a Samsung. I’m too creative.”
“Dude, you’re a barista.”

“If it looks the same, how will people know I upgraded?”

As a sketch, it’s pretty funny, but as an ad… I’m not so sure. I always found the “I’m a Mac” “…and I’m a PC” adverts obnoxious, and the current “If you don’t have an iPhone – well, you don’t have an iPhone” adverts smug and misleading.

What do you think? Vote in the poll (you can select more than one option) and leave us a comment to let us know.

Google Music is out of beta! …although it’s still only available in the USA.

This week, Rita El Khoury covered the service in general, and Rahsheen Porter reviewed the Android app in detail. Be sure to check those out for the full story.

In brief, Google Music now includes a digital music store, cloud streaming ability, and Google+ integration: you can let the people in your circles listen to one free play of tracks that you share.

It’s all good news, and I’m curious to know how many of you have started using it since the announcement, or perhaps even when it was in beta. Vote in the poll and leave a comment to let us know!

You’ve probably heard by now that Adobe will no longer support Flash Player for mobile devices. (If you hadn’t, check out James Cull’s recent post for the details.)

It was only in last year’s Google I/O keynote that Vic Gundotra said Android was committed to having “the world’s most comprehensive browser”, and noted, “it turns out that, on the Internet, people use Flash“. You’ve probably seen adverts for Android handsets and tablets that mention “the full web”. Flash Player has been one of Android’s checklist selling points… but was it deserved?

I’ve been disappointed with Flash Player on mobile. It runs at a fine speed, but sites often don’t optimise for it; even when trying to watch a simple video, I’ll find that it’s jerky, or that the video can’t be made full screen, or that there’s some other problem that makes the overall experience frustrating. I won’t miss that – at least not on my handset (tablets are a different matter).

I know people have strong opinions about Flash anyway, and would like to see it die out on desktops, too; Steve Jobs’s Thoughts on Flash, with its lies and half-truths, helped to fuel that fire. HTML5 is being hailed as the One True Answer to developing browser-based apps, and it’s true that it has amazing capabilities, and will soon be able to do everything that we currently use Flash for.

But Flash isn’t just a tool for streaming videos and the reason for countless annoying banner ads: Flash does what HTML can do, before HTML can do it. YouTube exists because Flash Player allowed cross-browser streaming video, and it’s only now, six years later, that plugin-free HTML is reaching the same capabilities. In the mean time, Flash has moved on, now focusing on 3D and games, and we’ll have to wait a while longer for HTML to catch up.

So, like I said, for practical purposes I won’t miss Flash Player on my handset. But looking at the broader picture, I feel it’s a great shame that we’ll be restricted to HTML alone on our mobiles and tablets.

When I got my first phone with a data-plan, about four years ago, I used every online feature I could: watching videos, checking Facebook, reading news, keeping up with RSS and so on. (Amazing how tame that list sounds when you consider what phones do now.) I also had all my email accounts set to check for new messages every thirty minutes, during the daytime, and notify me upon any arrivals.

Since then, instant email notifications have become ubiquitous – no need for the app to manually check the inbox every X minutes – and I’ve gained a couple of new accounts. For a long time, I had all my accounts set to alert me as soon as a new email came in, because it felt like the natural thing to do. But one day, my phone broke, and I was without email notifications for a little while.

Wow, that felt liberating.

I’ve since realised that there’s no need for me to be instantly up-to-date with every single note that hits my inbox. What’s more, the constant dings of notifications are a huge drain on my productivity. Oh sure, it feels like I’m only losing 30 seconds to check what’s been sent, but it so often leads to 30 minutes of writing replies, chasing up old emails, heading over to news sites… and even on the occasions where it does only take a moment, that’s still enough to break me out of flow.

As if those reasons weren’t enough, I found that, being self-employed, having these emails on all day long made me feel like I was at work all day long. That’s perhaps a useful mindset when starting a business, but it’ll drive you crazy after a while.

The only exceptions I’ll allow myself to make are in emergency situations, like when gearing up for a big launch, or attempting to fix a high-priority bug, or waiting for confirmation of something very important. Otherwise, work emails stay on the computer.

How about you?

I expect you’ve seen DamnYouAutoCorrect before. (NSFW, in case you haven’t.) Screenshot after screenshot of embarrassing typos, all due to the auto-correct feature on the phone’s keyboard.

But why are most of the screenshots taken on iPhones?

Maybe the iPhone’s auto-correct is more prone to errors. Or mabye Android users don’t know how to take screenshots. Maybe Android users make even more typing mistakes than iPhone users, but they’re not usually very funny.

Personally, I find that I almost never make a mitsake when using the Gingerbread keyboard – or, at least, I never make a mistake that gets through to the other person. (I quite often hit “L” when I mean to hit backspace, though.) My iPhone-owning friends have told me that they often make errors because they don’t actually look at their messages before they hit Send. I guess they’re really in a hurry?

We do have a wealth of keyboards to choose from on Android, though I’m not sure whether that helps or hinders – I went through a period where I switched keyboard every few weeks, just after I’d got used to each, and that can’t have been good for my efficiency.

I’d like to know about your experiences here. Do you make a lot of mistakes? If so, are they with the stock keyboard, a hardware keyboard, or some special app? Vote in the poll and comment below to let us know!

All the buzz about Siri has got me thinking about Google Voice Actions. Remember those? Hold Search for a couple of seconds, and a dialog box will appear; you can then say something like “send text to Joe Bloggs: running late, meet you outside”, or “listen to: the Beatles”, or “note to self: pick up milk”. Here’s an article and video explaining how to Voice Actions, from August 2010.

Sam Cater talked about Iris – a proof-of-concept Android clone of Siri knocked together in a few hours – in this morning’s Opinion post. Iris is more proof (if proof were needed) that voice control is not a holy grail of technology, or even particularly hard to achieve these days. ViaVoice and Dragon NaturallySpeaking, two pieces of desktop software that allow speech transcription and voice-activated computer interaction, were first released in 1997.

It seems that this is a recurring fad; every now and then, pundits get super-excited about the potential future of this type of interface… and then all excitement fades away for another year or so. But is this because voice control is an idea that sounds better in theory than it is in practice, or have developers just not managed to do it right yet? (In which case, perhaps Siri will be the first to meet that potential.) Vote in the poll, and let us know in the comments why you do or don’t use Google Voice Actions. (Personally, I find it simpler to tap, swipe and type. Well, also, the phone has difficulties understanding my British accent.)

I take it you caught this week’s big Android announcement? If not, check out my big overview from yesterday, in which I cover the news about the next version of Android and the new flagship phone.

What did you think? I quite like the look of the Galaxy Nexus, though it doesn’t seem like a world-beater to me. I guess that’s not the point, though – if it were leaps and bounds ahead of all other handsets, it wouldn’t make a very good flagship phone. Still, that’s not a huge criticism; it’s miles better than my HTC Desire, and looks like it’ll be a solid phone for a long time coming – in short, it deserves the Nexus name.

I’m very excited for Ice Cream Sandwich, though. The new concrete features are a little gimmicky and honestly not much that we haven’t seen before through custom apps, but the subtler changes – the new interface design, the approach to gestures, the way that even more parts of Android are opened up to developers – those are great.

What do you think? Vote in the poll and leave a comment to let us know!

Do you love Android apps? Are you always on the lookout for the latest and greatest utilities, mobile tips, widgets, or ROMs? You sound like the type of Android expert that we’d love to have on our team!

We’re always on the look out for fantastic new writers across the AppStorm network, but we’re particularly wanting to find a few new contributors to Android.AppStorm over the next few days. All our writing positions are paid, and we’ll work with you to choose apps to review and suggest article ideas.

If you’re interested, we’d love to hear from you. Find more info and register your interest here, and we’ll be in touch!

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