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Weekly Poll

In the last week or so, we saw the launch of Google+, alongside a truly excellent Android-only app for the service; Facebook announced their new Skype integration, allowing for video chat directly in the website; and President Obama answered a few questions that were submitted via Twitter.

It’s no surprise I’ve got social networking on the brain.

I use it a lot. I’m on Twitter and Facebook (as is Android.AppStorm), and Google+, and that alone takes a lot of my time. But I know some people use even more, like Tumblr, or SoundCloud (which we reviewed earlier today).

It’s awesome to be able to post a quick question to Twitter while on the move, or snap a photo of something in town and share it with my local friends via Facebook. At least, I think it is. How many of you agree? Vote in the poll to let us know! And if you want to connect with other Android.AppStorm readers, leave your Twitter IDs, Facebook URLs, Google Profile links — or whatever else you use — in the comments below.

I’ve been using touch-screen phones for about four years now, since I got a Sony Ericsson W950i. That was a hybrid: touch screen (with stylus), and keypag (numbers, not QWERTY). After I switched to an HTC Desire, I didn’t miss the physical keyboard at all — in fact, I greatly prefer the larger screen. I do miss the stylus, but that’s a topic for another day.

Connor Turnbull gave his opinion on the issue earlier this week, in his article, Why Are We Still Using Hardware Keyboards?. Readers made great points in the comments: hardware keyboards either take up screen space or make the phone thicker; software keyboards don’t have potential hardware issues; hardware keyboards can be faster to type on.

Personally, I don’t feel that I type as fast with a software keyboard as I could with a hardware keyboard, but I do feel the typing is more natural. Gingerbread’s keyboard has great auto-correction, so I barely have to worry about typos, and Swype is fun to use (and impressive to anyone who watches over my shoulder as I text). There’s not enough value in a built-in hardware keyboard to be worth the trade-off.

Gabriel, who commented on Connor’s post, suggests that phones could be built to allow a Bluetooth keyboard to be attached, thus letting you have a slim phone with a big screen that can optionally transform to a thicker phone with a big screen and a hardware keyboard. I love this idea!

But that’s just a fantasy for now. I’d like to know what you’re using today, and whether you’re happy with it. Vote in the poll and share your thoughts in the comments.

Back in September 2010, Wired Magazine claimed, “The Web is Dead”. Yesterday, posted “proof” of this statement: stats from Flurry, an analytics company, showing that as of this month, people in the USA are spending more time each day using mobile apps than they are browsing the web.

While I feel these claims of the Web’s death have been greatly exaggerated, I was still surprised to see that app time outranked web time by about 10%. I use my Android a lot, as you can imagine, but I don’t believe I use apps for longer each day than I use my desktop and mobile browsers.

How about you? I mean, here you are, reading a web site focused on Android apps. Do you use them more than the web itself? Let us know by voting in the poll and sticking your thoughts in the comments below.

I read a fascinating article on one of my favourite blogs, Rands In Repose, recently: The Anatomy of a Notification. Rands comes up with five defining features of a notification, of the kind we see on Android’s drag-down bar. I’ll quote:

  • Human Consumable: built for a human to assess, not for a machine.
  • Brief & Relevant: the content inside of a notification takes only a smidge of your attention in order to assess a next step.
  • Portable: a notification stands on its own; you need no additional external application to assess it. They stand outside of the data or application they might represent.
  • Disposable: if for some reason the notification doesn’t get to you, you have an obvious means of recourse to find the data.
  • Timely: the usefulness of a notification decays as a function of time. Late notification arrival incites nerd rage.

Text messages, phone rings, Tweets, and an alert to let you know that your photo was successfully uploaded to Facebook: these are all notifications, according to Rands’s definition, and they all fit nicely in the Notifications section of the pull-down bar at the top of any Android phone (or bottom of a Honeycomb tablet).

However, some developers are using the Notifications section for other things; the biggest example I’m aware of is AirPush, a service we covered earlier this week, which allows apps to show an advert in that area. It’s caused a lot of controversy because people feel like their Notifications area is sacred and shouldn’t be tampered with — I believe it’s because these ads are neither Relevant, Disposable, nor Timely, in Rands’s terms.

Is it a bad thing for developers to use the Notifications section for other purposes? I’m automatically against it, but perhaps I’m being too harsh. After all, one of the great things about Android is the openness of the platform, and the way that new ideas such as this can be explored. What do you think?

I’ve had games on the brain this week. Connor Turnbull started the week off with a look at this spring’s developments in Android gaming — and then, of course, it was E3.

Some relevant highlights:

  • Sony talked about the PlayStation Suite, which will allow certain Android phones and tablets (including the Xperia Play) to run PlayStation games.
  • Sony also showed off their new upcoming handheld console, the PlayStation Vita. This has buttons, like the PSP, but also features a full touchscreen. In fact, the back of the device is touch-sensitive, too!
  • Nintendo announced the WiiU, whose new controller is like a tablet with extra buttons. As well as being able to display games on its own screen, it can also act as a secondary screen for games being played on a TV, showing extra data or a different view.

But why do two new consoles that don’t run Android make me more excited about Android gaming? Because they have plenty in common with our favourite mobile platform, and that means game developers are going to have to learn how to make games that are perfect for Android.

Check out this video of Uncharted: Golden Abyss running on the PS Vita; the game has been designed to be played with touchscreen controls, without resorting to an on-screen joystick. (Okay, okay, it helps that there’s an off-screen joystick, but you see my point.)

With the announcements from this year’s Google I/O about Google TV, Google At Home, and the APK, I have to believe that Android tablets will be technically capable of doing much of what WiiU can do.

I assume that Android game developers will take advantage of all this, and use the new gameplay mechanics that pop up on these new consoles to make Android games that truly fit the hardware. But will people want to play them? That’s what I hope to find out with this poll.

In the past week, James Cull talked about his unlimited-but-not-really phone contract, while Connor Turnbull has expressed confusion over why people are so keen on BlackBerry Messenger when phone contracts usually provide more free SMSes then you’ll ever use.

Do you think you’re getting decent value for money with your current phone contract?

I pay £25/month for mine on a two-year contract, and I get 2,000 minutes of voice calls to any network, 5,000 minutes of voice calls to people on the same network, 5,000 texts (to any network), and 2400MB of data (though I think that’s actually increased recently). I also got my handset, an HTC Desire, for free — and this was back in early 2010, in the first month it was available in the UK.

So that’s costing me £600 in total over the length of the contract; considering that the handset alone cost over £400 at the time I got it (and is roughly £300 now), I feel that this is good value. I can think of it as paying about £10/month for the calls, texts, and data, which is roughly what a mobile broadband dongle would cost.

However, before that, I was paying £40/month to the same carrier for less goodies: 1,000 minutes, 3,000 texts, 1GB data. I’d got lazy and not bothered to call and switch to a new price plan after my old contract expired, and of course they weren’t going to call and ask if I wanted to pay less! Even so, this was a great price when I signed up for it about four years ago.

Thanks to services like Skype and Google Voice, we’re getting closer to the point where we can ditch voice calls and texts and use all the features of a phone with just a data plan, but I don’t think we’re there yet. I’m happy to keep paying the current prices for now; are you?

We’ve covered a lot of Android photography apps, from cameras to editors to social photography apps. I want to know how many of you actually use more than the stock camera, though. Do you add filters and frames and special effects, or do you not even crop your pictures before sticking them on Twitter?

Vote in the poll, and let us know what you do in the comments below!

This is one of those arguments that keeps coming up: “Android is ugly”. Well, okay, it’s usually framed as, “Android is ugly compared to iOS“, as in Connor’s recent article.

But you know what? I don’t think that Android, as a platform, is so hideous that we should be embarrassed about getting a Desire out in the same room as an iPhone user.

Okay, vanilla Android is a little plain — so install a new launcher, get a decent wallpaper, and replace the stock apps.

I’ve seen a lot of comments about Android apps being less attractive than their iOS counterparts. On paper, I guess this is annoying, but to be honest, I don’t care. None of the big apps I use every day (like Facebook, Twitter, and Evernote) look ugly to me on their own; it’s only when I actually compare them to the iPhone versions that I see why people complain. I do consider some of the apps I use regularly to be unattractive, like iSyncr and Titanium Backup, but their features more than make up for this. Maybe I just have bad taste?

So my question to you is: do you think Android is so ugly that it’s actually a problem?

Missed what’s been announced at Google I/O this week? Check out our overview!

There are lots of reasons to be excited about Google’s announcements, but what were you most happy to hear about? Vote in the poll and let us know your reactions in the comments.

Back at the end of 2010, Rovio’s Peter Vesterbacka said:

…paid content just doesn’t work on Android.

He was speaking from his experience in the mobile games market. (Rovio, in case you can’t place the name, makes Angry Birds.) I wonder if he’s changed his mind now, with the paid versions of Angry Birds and Angry Birds Rio available exclusively on the Amazon Appstore.

Anyway, this post isn’t about his experiences, it’s about yours. Have you ever paid to play an Android game, either to get the game itself from the Market, or to buy something within the game? Let us know via the poll and the comments.

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