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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Perhaps you haven’t noticed (in which case I must assume that you are not on Twitter), but iOS 5 was released within the last 24 hours. Okay, so the new features not looking all that new to us Android users, but it is still a new OS, and that’s got me yearning for a new version of Android.

(Well, beyond CyanogenMod 7.1, which was also released this week.)

It seems that James Cull is thinking along the same lines, as evidenced in his recent post, 8 Things I Want in My Ice Cream Sandwich. He makes some great points (though I do disagree that Android is significantly worse looking than iOS) – check out the article if you haven’t read it already.

Personally, from his list, I’d most like to see:

  • Improved OTA updates – I remember having to wait a very long time to get Froyo, before I rooted my phone.
  • Better look – even though I quite like the way I’ve themed my phone, it’d do Android wonders to improve their default skin.
  • Easy screenshot ability – I use Screenshot ER 2 for this (just long-press the Search button to snap), but this requires rooting. If this functionality was built in, it’d make things much easier for the non-rooted writers on my team!

What about you? Vote in the poll (you can pick more than one item), and post your own ideas in the comments.

Last month, Darren Meehan wrote a couple of great opinion pieces explaining how you readers can help your fellow Android users, and the developers who make apps and ROMs for us.

He covered some great ideas, though I’m sure he would agree that there are even more ways, beyond what he could include in his articles and I what included in this poll.

A lot of Android users are fanatical about their choice of platform – though perhaps not to quite the same extent as the stereotypical Apple user – but beyond that, I think many people (particularly geeks) genuinely love Google and want to help their efforts however they can. It’s really cool to see such a lot of users contributing: some in small ways, some in big ones.

But let’s be clear: there’s no need to feel guilty if you’re not devoting time and money towards supporting Android. we’re not talking about a charitable organisation or a religious movement or a band of plucky young open-source developers trying to take a stand against The Man; Android is a profitable division of one of the most successful and well-known companies in the world. I wouldn’t suggest for a moment that you don’t deserve to call yourself an Android fan if the only option you can click is “I bought an Android device”. Be proud 🙂

I’m just curious, that’s all. How many of you like Android so much that you’ll spend your own effort to help it out? Vote in the poll and let’s find out.

Last week, Facebook hosted their latest F8 Developers Conference, where they showed off a bunch of changes they were planning to make and that they had made recently. If you use Facebook, you’ve seen some of these already (most likely, your News Feed was briefly full of people complaining about them), like the Ticker at the top-right of the News Feed and the blue triangle on the corners of posts Facebook thinks you will like.

A bigger change that has slowly been rolling out (I believe today is the big official launch) is Timeline, which replaces your profile with a scrapbook of your whole Facebook life: photos, wall posts, graduations, and whatever other information you’ve let Facebook know.

What you may be less aware of is Facebook’s new Open Graph apps. Have you tried Foodspotting for Android? When you’re out at a restaurant, you take a photo of whatever you order, write a short description or give it a rating, and upload it to the Foodspotting database via the app. The hook is that other people can see what dishes are actually available at the local places to eat by doing a location-based search – but that’s not relevant here.

See, you can also share a photo to Facebook. Not a big deal; you’ve seen that before. Most apps (particularly photo apps) have a Share button, which ties in to all your other sharing apps, like Twitter and Google+. At the moment, when you share the photo, it just gets posted to your wall with a “via Foodspotting” tag. But Facebook’s vision for this is larger.

Soon (already, actually), with your permission, apps will be able to share this data with Facebook automatically; whenever you take a picture of your meal using Foodspotting, it’ll go into the Facebook database. Maybe it won’t be posted to your wall, but your friends will be able to view everything you’ve snapped via a box on your profileTimeline.

More interestingly, it’ll look out for “real-time serendipity”: if a friend goes to the same restaurant a few days later, it’ll let you know, and post that fact to the News Feed (“Fred and Joanna both ate at Wagamama’s this week”). Imagine this scaled to all your apps: the books you read on Google Books, the music you listen to on Spotify, the blogs you visit with your RSS reader… all shared with Facebook, so it can look for trends with your friends.

Some find this creepy. What do you think?

Google Wallet was launched this week! Just as Gmail is Google’s take on email and Google+ is Google’s latest take on social networking, Google Wallet is Google’s take on paying for stuff. (For more about the technology that powers it, check out this morning’s post, Is NFC Really the Future of Payments?)

The idea is, instead of swiping a card or handing over cash to pay for something in a store, you can tap your phone on a special reader device, which will send the payment from whatever credit card you’ve authorised on your phone.

It’s very early days for this: so far, it’s only been rolled out to Sprint users, in the USA, with a Nexus S 4G (if that’s you, then your latest OTA update will include a new Wallet app), and the only credit card that can be used with it is the Citi MasterCard – though you can use a Google Prepaid Card instead, and top it up with new funds via any other credit card. Plus there are only a handful of places that accept this method of payment for now.

Personally, I’m not overwhelmed with excitement for it as it stands – I’ve no plans to move to the USA and buy a new phone just to try it out. And I’ll admit that, on paper, it doesn’t sound like a big deal: you’re just tapping instead of swiping.

It’s the first stage in a bigger movement, though. If you have a Kindle, you’ve probably seen how convenient Amazon’s 1-Click payment is when you want to buy a new e-book; it’s not that much faster than getting your credit card out and typing in the details, but it’s just that bit easier.

More exciting is the idea of consolidation: a credit card is just a piece of plastic with some basic data stored in it, but an app holds so much more potential. When I go to the supermarket, I swipe my loyalty card and my credit card separately; if I’ve received any loyalty coupons I have to remember to take them with me and swipe them as well. If all that’s stored on my phone, then presumably I’d take care of that with a single tap-to-pay.

I expect that some clever developers will write apps to let you keep track of how much you’re spending, on what, and where – like Mint, but without necessarily knowing everything about the contents of your bank account. This will be great for managing personal finances.

All that is a few years off, though, even assuming that Google are on the money with this one (it wouldn’t be the first time they’d poured a lot of time and research into a new “solution” for some problem that eventually failed).

So, I remain interested, but not too excited for now. What about you?

This week, we highlighted the new release of the popular to-do list manager Wunderlist.

Of course, this isn’t the only to-do app on the Market – far from it. We’ve seen Todo.txt Touch and Extensive Notes (and its sister app Classic Notes), and looked at a lot of similar apps in this productivity roundup. Heck, just search the Market for “todo” and you’ll see there’s no shortage.

But do you actually use them?

In the first roundup on this site, I mentioned Astrid as “my favorite task organizer”. Back then, I used it a lot; now, I’m not sure I even have it installed. But that’s not because it’s a bad app – it’s actually really well designed, with an easy way to enter new tasks and see your current priorities at a glance – it’s because I find paper so much more effective.

I still use my phone to keep track of some tasks; Google Calendar is great for entering appointments and due dates that are any further away than the next 24 hours, and Extensive Notes is useful for tapping out a quick reminder to myself. But I get so much more done with my current, analog to-do list: a narrow notebook, on which I enter all of the following day’s tasks at the end of every evening. (From the top down, I write the things I have to do today; from the bottom up, I write the things I have to do in the near future.) Maybe it’s because I have to restrict each task to a few words; maybe it’s because the list is always visible on my desk (rather than hidden away behind a lock screen and a shortcut); maybe it’s just because crossing a task out with a pen feels better than tapping a checkbox.

Other people swear by their digital methods, though – so what about you? Vote in the poll, and share your task management methods in the comments below!

Today, Dean Sherwin gave his opinion about HTC’s recent announcement that they would team up with Dr. Dre’s Beats Electronics to add its sound capabilities to their phones.

Brendan has strong opinions on this topic, but I suspect these are not shared by all of our readers. It’s important to clarify the question, though: yes, many people use their smartphone as their only portable MP3 player, so it makes sense to improve the sound capabilities (much like how phone cameras get better and better which each iteration). But is that the only reason for HTC’s new arrangement?

I don’t personally draw an immediate connection between HTC and Dr. Dre; “quietly brilliant” and “**** tha Police” don’t quite gel. This is largely where the calls of “sellout” come from: HTC partnering with someone they wouldn’t usually be associated with, to generate publicity and reach a larger audience. If they had simply announced that they were working on improving their audio technology because they thought that mobile users would appreciate it, they would not have received as much attention.

But perhaps I’m being unfair. Maybe HTC did decide that audio was their next important area to tackle, realised they’d be better off partnering with an existing technology company than trying to develop something from scratch, and found that Beats was both high quality and willing to do business. What do you think? Vote in the poll, and leave your opinions in the comments.

Rumors about new tablets from Amazon and Sony have been floating around for a while, but — perhaps due to IFA 2011 kicking off this week — we’ve seen a lot of new information released.

First up are the two new Sony tablets (pictured above; more images here): the wedge-shaped S1 and the hinged S2. According to CNET UK, the S1’s doorstop shape makes it easier to read lying down on a desk, but apart from that it seems par for the course. The S2, on the other hand, has two 5-inch touchscreens in a clamshell design, which makes it quite different from other tablets; for example, the keyboard, when activated, takes up the entire bottom screen. (Sounds like Sony’s been taking tips from the Nintendo DS range.)

Both tablets run Honeycomb, though the S2’s version is obviously modified to cope with its unique design, and are “PlayStation Certified”, like the Xperia Play handset. Neither are really trying to compete on price; the S1 is the same price as the iPad 2, while the S2 is set to cost £100 more in the UK (which usually translates to around $100 more in the USA).

Then there’s Amazon’s new tablet. Okay, this hasn’t been officially announced, but the rumors are so numerous that it’s fair to assume they’re working on something. PC Advisor’s rumor roundup suggests that there’ll be both a 7-inch and a 9- or 10-inch model, with built-in support for Amazon’s Android Appstore and its Cloud Player, and will be priced far cheaper than other comparable tablets on the market. Presumably this, along with the great reputation of the Kindle, will help sell huge numbers of tablets.

Other recently-released tablets may have flown under your radar, like the Eee Pad Transformer with its detachable QWERTY keyboard. Keep an eye on the site for our official review!

All of this is pretty much the same story that we see in the mobile industry: Apple has one current device at any given time — which is incredibly popular — and Android has a wide range of devices with different designs, features, and capabilities. It works well in the mobile industry, but perhaps that’s because everyone wants a handset; can this strategy scale to the luxury market of tablets? Vote in the poll and leave a comment to let us know what you think!

I never took my last smartphone on holiday. I was too scared that I’d accidentally hit the Internet button and end up paying more than I spent on the holiday. (I live in the UK, so going on holiday often means going abroad, which in turn means paying data roaming fees.) I used to stick my SIM card in a spare phone that couldn’t handle anything more than WAP and take that instead.

Thanks to airplane mode, hotels with WiFi, and a widget that lets me quickly disable data sync, I’m comfortable taking my Android abroad. It’s weird not to be free to quickly Google directions to a place I want to go, though — although I suppose if I plan ahead that’s not an issue, since Google Maps now caches local data.

Of course, bringing a mobile phone does mean being tethered back home, to some extent. I’ll still get my emails when I’m at the hotel, and I’ll still check Facebook and Twitter and Google Plus, just out of (bad) habit. Some people leave their phone at home, or force themselves to switch it off, and I can see the appeal of that — though it’s nice to be able to snap a quick photo of the surroundings and post it to my friends from the nearest café with WiFi, just to say, “Wish You Were Here”. Or perhaps more accurately, “Don’t You Wish You Were Here?”

What about you — do you take your phone? Do you take your tablet? Vote in the poll, and give us the details in the comments.

As an observer, I find all these machinations around patents fascinating to watch: how the tech companies are buying patents from other companies to use as negotiating chips; how Apple is apparently suing everyone Android-related apart from Google themselves; and how Google are fighting back by buying Motorola Mobility (and their array of mobile patents).

In the last few days we’ve also seen allegations that Apple tampered with evidence in their case against the Samsung Galaxy Tab (albeit just one image in a whole case, as @Leonick91 pointed out on Twitter), and HTC suing Apple for infringing on their patents. Like I said, fascinating to watch.

However, as a consumer, I’m finding it all a bit tiresome. I just want companies to be able to make awesome products for me, without having to worry about whether their black rectangles look a bit too much like another company’s black rectangles.

What do you think? Vote in the poll (you can pick more than one option) and add your comments below!

There’s a certain topic on Android.AppStorm that keeps getting traffic week after week after week: customisation.

This is an area where Android really shines; here are some examples of what you can do that we’ve covered in the past:

It’s all fun to play with, and I spend a lot of time fiddling about with my Android to make it suit me. And yet, some people I know are content to leave theirs as it is, with one or two minor alterations so they can pick it out of a line-up.

How about you? Vote in the poll, and leave a comment to let us know how much you obsess over your phone’s appearance 😉

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