I’m sorry I can’t play that music….

I have been messing about with a few voice assistant hub including the Amazon Echo.

One feature of these devices is the ability to ask them to play music, either an individual track, an album, an artist, a playlist or even just a genre or decade.

If I ask Alexa to play a particular song, she delves not just into my personal music collection on the Amazon Music app but also what is available through my Prime subscription. If the song isn’t available I could either subscribe to Amazon Music streaming service, or purchase the song. The Alexa ecosystem is built around my Amazon account and the services available to me as a Prime subscriber.

What Alexa doesn’t know that I have quite a large music collection on iTunes. She can’t see it, access it or play it.

With Google Home I have connected a free Spotify account to it. This is one of the key features of these devices that you can connect services you already subscribe to, so you can control them via voice. Of course the reason I have a free Spotify account is that Google Home would much prefer I was connected to Google Music, and it certainly won’t let me connect to either my home iTunes library (where virtually all my music is) nor to Amazon Music. So when I ask Google Home to play a particular music track, she gets annoyed and says that she can’t as that is only available on Spotify Premium. Now Amazon Echo can play from Spotify, so some overlap there.

This is one of the challenges of these devices that they are quite reliant on subscriptions to other services. Apple’s HomePod only really works if you have an Apple Music subscription. You can stream Spotify to the Homepod using AirPlay, but you couldn’t use voice control to say “Hey Siri, play my favourite Spotify playlist”. That wouldn’t work.

So at the moment my main focus is on the Amazon Echo and linking it into Amazon Music through my Prime subscription.

I like the concept of voice control and for many features these devices work well, but they do tie you into their ecosystems.

Google Glass is Dead, or is it…

Google Glass is Dead, or is it…

Yesterday Google announced that they were to halt sales of Google Glass Explorer Edition. It’s only been on sale in the UK for less than seven months, and many expected that it would be followed by a full consumer launch. Another expectation was that the existing Explorer Edition of Glass would be replaced with an updated, cheaper retail version.

So why have Google pulled Glass, there are probably many reasons for this, the official line from Google, according to BBC News is:

The company insists it is still committed to launching the smart glasses as a consumer product, but will stop producing Glass in its present form. Instead it will focus on “future versions of Glass” with work carried out by a different division to before.

You can interpret this response, that this was a planned approach to Google Glass by Google. They had always planned to stop selling Google Glass at some point. There is the possibility that there is a planned consumer or retail edition of Google Glass. However the way in which Google Glass has been “killed” by Google does make me think the possibility if this is very unlikely.

You can of course also interpret this, that with all the issues that Google were facing with Glass, they decided to pull the product and in order not to annoy those people who spent their cash on Glass, placated them with talk of support and future products.

There are many reasons that Google have stopped selling Google Glass. Though they’ve not been too open about these reasons, we can speculate about the cost, privacy and looking downright weird!

One reason is cost, at a £1000 per pair and the additional cost of £500 for a smartphone to work alongside it. This wasn’t a product that could be considered an impulse purchase, or a “nice to have”, for most people this was a significant investment. Though Google Glass was an innovative product that had lots of benefits, was there £1500 value in those benefits? We don’t know how well or how badly it was selling, what we do know that it wasn’t been sold on the high street in retail chains akin to other high value devices.

Another core reason was the negative response that Google Glass got in terms of invasion of privacy, there was lots of press and comment on how the use of Glass would invade people’s privacy, though how was this was that different to the use of cameraphones. Yes using mobile phones is more in your face, than Glass, the look of Glass wasn’t that prominent, you could mistake it for a pair of reading glasses, however after all the negative press, those people who were worried about privacy knew exactly what Glass looked like.

The “you look weird” reason has to be up there near the top. One wearable technology that has been around a while has been the Bluetooth headset for mobile phones, but though an useful technology, the reality is that for most people they would never wear a Bluetooth headset and those that wear them all the time, well, they look for a lot of people either geeky or just plain silly. Similar arguments can be had with those wearing and using Google Glass. It’s one thing to use it an environment such as a workshop or a tech conference, it’s something quite different to wear it on the tube home.

Another reason is what did it bring to the party, that a device we had already, couldn’t do. Maybe a mobile phone wasn’t as clever or as smart as Google Glass, but it could take videos, it could take photographs, it had web access, it notified you, it had a better battery life and you didn’t need to wear it. Yes there were scenarios where not holding a phone and wearing Google Glass would be advantageous, but for most people or most of the time their mobile phone was probably easier.

As I said above, the the in which Google Glass has been “killed” by Google does make me think the possibility of a new consumer retail version of Glass very unlikely. It also raises the question of whether the attraction and functionality of wearables such as smart watches, Google Glass, Apple Watch and other similar devices will have a strong enough pull with consumers to make them a commercial success? What do you think?

Tethering

Nexus One

One of the reasons I like and still use my Google Nexus One, despite it’s age, is that I can use it for tethering. I am also lucky to have a legacy mobile phone contract that means tethering is included as part of my monthly payment.

I actually thought that I had unlimited data, but when I was on holiday and I did a fair bit of video streaming over 3G I did for the first time ever get a text from my phone company telling me I was reaching my fair usage data limit. This actually surprised me as I didn’t think I had a data limit.

Generally the connection is very good with very little latency. I have encountered a couple of issues that happen enough to be annoying.

The first one is when the connection just seems to stop. I am assuming that this is something to do with the 3G connection, and usually very quickly it comes back. Can be annoying when streaming video or if you are in the middle of posting a blog post.

The second issue is that the 3G connection just dies and stops working. The only resolution is to reboot the phone and start all over again.

It is only a 3G connection and until there is a lot more 4G (and it is a lot cheaper) I think I will continue with my current solution. Battery life isn’t perfect, but it generally lasts me for my daily needs and when I need more juice I plug the phone via USB into my laptop.

I like tethering over a dongle as a dongle can only be used by a single laptop, whereas with my phone, my laptop and iPad can be used at the same time, really aids productivity for me.

Adding Apps to Google Drive

If you are a regular user of Google Docs (sorry Google Drive) you will know how useful it is. What I didn’t know, well didn’t register with me, was the way that you can integrate a whole range and variety of apps making it much easier to create stuff.

On a regular vanilla Google account when clicking Create you see the standard document formats that we are all use to. However at the moment if you look down you can see Connect more apps.

Connect with apps

Click this and you will bring up a new dialogue with lots of different apps.

Connect with apps

I do like Draw.io which makes it very easy to create diagrams.

Draw.io

Movenote is a very nice presentation tool that combines video with a document, making it very simple to create short learning objects.

There is also MindMeister mindmapping.

MindMeister

As all the files are stored in your Google Drive you can access them from any computer with a modern web browser.

I am still exploring the different apps available, but if you are already using an app, drop me a comment about which apps you are using.

Update: Just a quick thank you to Yousef Fouda @YFouda who showed me this at the AOSEC meeting today.

Google Reader is Dead

Google Reader is Dead

Google have announced that they are retiring Google Reader in July.

Retiring implies that Google Reader will be taking life a little easier, spend a little more time in the garden, visit National Trust sites, watch Countdown. Retiring implies that we might actually see more of Google Reader as they will be less busy than they were before.

No Google is trying to tone down the reality, the reality of course is that Google are going to kill Google Reader dead!

I’ve used Google Reader for many years, but probably like most people in recent years I’ve not used Google Reader natively, I have used it to deliver RSS feeds into services such as FlipBoard. This has to be one of the reasons why Google are probably retiring the service, the main reason of course is Google+, however another reason must be that we used the Google Reader service (and API) but we rarely visited the actual Google Reader service on the web. This gave Google very opportunities for monetisation compared to other things they do such as Gmail.

There is some concern that the death of Google Reader will actually result in the death of RSS. The reason for this thinking is that curation and sharing of news has moved from RSS onto social networking sites such as Facebook and the Twitter.

Interestingly ask yourself where did you hear about the death of Google Reader first? Was it in Google Reader, or was it on the Twitter? For me it was on the Twitter, and this says a lot about why we are now using social networking sites for sharing news and moving away from RSS.

I do like RSS, it makes sense to me, an easy way to push content to people. However it never really made the mainstream, as a background tool it was perfect, but is (I nearly wrote was) reliant on good tools for making RSS user friendly.

I still want to curate and collate RSS feeds from various sources so I am now looking for a similar alternative, what are you going to do?

Graveyard Photo Source

Don’t be a Fanboy!

Me by Heloukee

I do get very disappointed with people who get so agitated by fanboyism, so much so that they ignore potential solutions as they are not made by their favourite “manufacturer”.

Often I get accused of being an Apple fanboy, which is not too surprising when I sit there at an event with my iPhone, Macbook and iPad. I must be, I am using all Apple equipment…

Uh no…

I use what I think is the best equipment for me in the context of budget, where I am, what I need to do, etc…

What I don’t do is constantly defend Apple regardless of the context. Likewise I don’t “attack” other companies on their products. It doesn’t achieve anything and isn’t helpful.

So what is the difference between constructive criticism and fanboyism?

If you hate everything that Apple makes then you are a fanboy. If you would never touch Windows or Android, then you are a fanboy. If someone criticises a product and the criticism is a valid criticism, and you defend that product regardless, then you are a fanboy. If you choose one company for everything you use (and importantly recommend too) and then attack everyone else for using different things then you are probably a fanboy.

I remember back in the first few years of the 2000s I was telling people about how I liked using OS X, but was told many a time that we shouldn’t be using OS X in education as Windows XP was the industry standard and used by businesses, therefore education should only use OS X. What I found rather amusing was when it came to choosing tablets, those same people who said we must use the “industry standard” of Windows XP, said we shouldn’t use iPads as they were a closed proprietary product… even though by most measures they were the industry standard! The true colours of those people as Microsoft “fanboys” came out.

There isn’t anything really wrong with choosing products from a single company, the reality is if you then spend time attacking choices by others, or defending the company’s products all the time, then that’s fanboyism.

At the end of the day, I will choose and use products that make my life easier, I will write and talk about those products, and I will also make valid criticisms about products I and others use. I am writing this blog article (in draft) using a MacBook and Pages (from Apple). I will publish it online using WordPress (open source) and using a 3G connection via an Android powered Google Nexus One phone. I know people will be able to read it using a variety of platforms and browsers.

So are you a fanboy?

Photo via Heloukee

Google Play, Fun, Games and Pirates

The Pirates

One of the benefits of buying the Google Nexus Seven was getting £15 worth of credit for the Google Play store. The reason behind this was simple, from Google’s perspective, in getting you use to buying stuff from Google Play, so in future after exhausting the credit you’ll buy more.

I wanted to get a good idea of how everything worked… however here in the UK we get nowhere near the quality and quantity of stuff you can get in the US. So it was actually quite hard to find things. True apps were easy and I had already bought apps for my Nexus One phone, so the majority of these could be installed on the Nexus Seven without buying them again. One app I did install was Doubletwist which as well as allowing me to very easily copy music over to the Nexus Seven from iTunes on my Mac, can also stream video using AirPlay to my AppleTV. After installing I did test it out and I was pleased with how it worked. I used a clip that I had recorded using EyeTV and encoded for the iPhone as it happens. No it wasn’t 1080p HD, but the video quality was certainly acceptable and the wireless streaming worked well.

I did buy a book to try out the reading experience and was quite pleased. It was a similar experience to reading on the iPad, but the size of the device, been lighter than the iPad, made the reading experience easier, whilst the bigger screen made it a much nicer experience than reading on a phone. Of course, unlike Kindle books, it wasn’t possible to move around devices as you can with Kindle apps and devices.

I also wanted to try video from Google Play, alas you can’t buy films, only rent them (and no television programmes). I really can’t see Google Play replacing iTunes for me, as it doesn’t have the content that you can get on iTunes. Having decided to rent a film, I made the decision to rent Pirates from Aardman.

The Pirates

Having initially clicked “buy” on the Nexus Seven I could have started watching straight away… knowing the (poor) speed of my ADSL connection I decided not to. You could download your rental, so decided that would be more sensible than streaming. I set the Nexus Seven to download overnight and when I checked the next morning it was all fine.

With renting, you have 30 days to watch the film, and once you start watching you just have just two days to watch it. So though I was tempted to have a glimpse to see video quality I knew if I did that I would probably never to get to see the rest of the film.

When we got round to watching it, I spent a fair bit of time working out how to stream the film from the Nexus Seven, via AirPlay through the AppleTV to my TV. Hmmm though it is possible to do this with video you put on the device, alas DoubleTwist does not allow you to stream videos protected by Google Play DRM. There is no HDMI out, or any other video out for the Nexus Seven, making it nigh on impossible to view the video on a screen other than the Nexus Seven screen. In the end we watched Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs on Netflix instead straight from the AppleTV.

Not wanting to try and all crowd round the 7” screen of the Nexus Seven I tried to think of a solution. In the end it was quite easy. I went to Google Play on Chrome on my MacBook Retina which has an HDMI slot, connected it to the TV direct. Initially I wasn’t allowed to stream as I had downloaded it on the Nexus Seven… I found if I removed that downloaded file from the Nexus Seven then Google Play would stream from Chrome on the laptop.

Doing this allowed me to change the resolution to 480p. I was initially worried that my slow ADSL connection would cause buffering issues, however in the end we didn’t have single buffering problem.

Doing this allowed me to change the resolution to 480p. I was initially worried that my slow ADSL connection would cause buffering issues, however in the end we didn’t have single buffering problem.

I was impressed with the quality of the video, it looked great on my 40” TV. My only disappointment was that I was forced away from the Nexus Seven to watch it and use another device. As a personal device, the Nexus Seven is great for watching video, but if everyone in the family wants to watch the video then unlike the iPad the Nexus Seven didn’t work for us.

It’s quite good really…

Let’s get a few things straight, though I may have a reputation for been something of an Apple fanboy, the reality is somewhat different.

Yes I have the iPad, yes I use an iPhone, true the MacBook Air does spend a lot of time with me when I am out and about, also true that the iMac at home (and the one in the office) are well used. You might think that I am an Apple fanboy and I only buy Apple?

The truth is more complicated. I like products for what they do and how they make my life easier, better, quicker and more efficient. Over the last few years the end result has been that I have been buying more and more stuff from Apple.

When the iPhone first came out in 2007, I didn’t like it, no real apps, no decent camera and importantly for me no 3G. At that time I was using the Nokia N95 which was, though somewhat chunky, was a great phone with a decent camera. With wifi and 3G I could use it as a portable wireless hotspot. Though with the iPhone 4 that became a possibility, the reality today is that I use my Google Nexus One for tethering over the iPhone. It is more reliable, it keeps the connection live and the impact on battery life is minimal – that was the one downside of using Joikuspot on the N95 it killed the battery life.

I do like the Apple laptops, but before getting a G4 PowerBook I was sold on Sony laptops, especially the compact ones. These, with their extended batteries, lasted all day and were small and light. I think it was Windows Vista which really moved over to OS X in the end. The constant updating and permissions issues made using Windows such a drag that using OS X was always like a breath of fresh air.

Even today, having used an Airport Extreme as my main home network router, having gone back to Netgear as I have reverted back to ADSL from FTTC I have found that the routing side is less than perfect and I have had a few network issues. True not all my Apple networking stuff has worked all the time.

So going back to the blog post title, “It’s quite good really…” am I talking about a new Apple device, no it’s the Google Nexus 7. I’ve had it two days so far and I am really impressed.

Google Nexus 7

For a tablet that costs just £159 it has the responsiveness and speed that I would expect from a tablet costing two or three times as much. Google have put a lot of work into it and the new Jelly Bean Android OS to give the end user a great experience. It is that great experience which counts as I am sure that is the reason that the iPad has cornered the tablet market even though it has its limitations. I am in the process of writing a full review of my experiences so that will come later. The Nexus 7 does have some limitations and issues, but overall I am really pleased with it and liking it a lot. It’s quite good really…