Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Being Anonymous on Google+

Anonymity online has been a staple of the Internet community since it's conception, and although Google+ feels like it forcibly identifies you to the world, you can actually use it anonymously. One of my favourite tips for new Google+ users is to embrace the opportunity to be anonymous on it. You may be looking for gift advice for your someone's birthday and you don't them to find out. Or perhaps you're discussing something politically sensitive, and you don't want anyone to know your opinions. It could be something as innocent as wanting to write about something deeply personal, that Google+ Communities could give you support with.

[EDIT: Don't do this, as it may be against Google+ policies]
Create a separate Google account
The easiest way to be anonymous is to sign up for a whole new Google account. Google does not have any process for verifying that the name you use is correct and factual - the most important thing to them seems to be how your social graph works around you, so that you can get the right information at the right time. The main downside to this approach is that when you want to be in "anonymous mode", you have to logout and log back in (although you could try using Chrome profiles to get round this).

Creating a Page within your existing Profile

This option creates a Page for you, to which you can switch without logging in and out every time you want to switch to your anonymous identity.

1) First, go to your sidebar and choose Pages.

2) From here, you can click Create a page to begin setting this up. I've blacked out my anonymous identity, but you can see my Test Page here as an example.

3) For your category, choose Other.

4) Finally, choose your name and determine the appropriate age restriction for your Page.

To use Google+ as your new page, you just need to click on your profile photo in the top right.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Google Play Music beats Spotify for music discovery


I've been discovering and listening to more music since switching from Spotify to Google Play Music. I boil this down to three reasons:

1) The idea of building a Library of music without having to create Playlists. There's a difference, and it matters.

2) Google Play Music makes it significantly simpler to download albums and singles to your device by taking out the playlist step that Spotify forces.

3) The radio on Google Play Music actually plays the song you chose first. This means I actually use it, and discover new music this way.

On the other hand though, Google Play Music's big missing piece is still an iOS app - wtf Google? Close this gap, and there's no debate to be had. Since Google have consistently supported both iOS, Android and Web with almost all major services, we have to wonder what is happening behind the scenes to create this issue.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Should I Go Android?

The decision to leave your iPhone and join the world of Android is not easy. For many people, it may not even be the right thing to do. I think it all boils down to three questions you can ask yourself. By answering these you should know the truth about which ecosystem you'll be happiest in.

1) Do you want to customise your user interface?

The easiest difference between Android and iOS to notice is that Android allows a ton more options to customize the user interface. This goes further than just icons and widgets however. Android opens up the opportunity to replace your keyboard, replace stock apps, and of course use widgets to view app content, change settings, amongst other things. Take a look at some creative home screen customizations below, and decide if this would appeal to your tastes. I took these from the last few days in the Android Themes community on Google+, but the creative options are virtually endless.

2) Do you use Google often?

Do you use Google Now? Calendar? Gmail? Google services are born and bred on Android, and while on rare occasion the iOS experience is stylistically better, the Android version is typically a step ahead and a step more functional. A lot is said in the tech community about Google getting better at what Apple is good at, faster than Apple is getting better at what Google is good at. The meaning of this statement is ultimately that today an Android phone isn't far off the "perfection" of the iPhone, but the cloud services Google supports it with are stronger. If you use Google's services more than the competition, Android will bode well for you.

3) How much do you love mobile games?

This is a question to swing you back in the opposite direction, and I feel it's important. While the tides may slowly shift as Google improves its strengths here too, today games are still better on iOS. They tend to launch first on iOS (think Temple Run, amongst many others) if they launch on Android at all (think Kingdom Rush - my favourite mobile game, only available on iOS). The only exception to this seems to be Angry Birds, which is generally cheaper on Android (at one point a version of Angry Birds was free, but $4.99 on iOS. I forget which and when.) For the time being if you think of your device as a gaming device before all else, you might stick with iOS for the time being. That said, I love playing mobile games, and waiting a little longer for major titles hasn't bothered me much. There is a large app store full of indie games waiting to be discovered on Android, as well the opportunity to install an emulator, so you can replay those classics!

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Google+ Photos: An Offline App to Replace Your Gallery

Image from
Earlier this week I had a conversation via Hangouts with my mum and sister, both users of Google+ since I talked them into it. We were talking about our photos, in particular the ones we had taken on our vacation in India last month. (It was awesome, by the way!) During the conversation, my mum asked a peculiar question, which was, 'Can I view our Google+ photos offline?'

In our modern, super fast internet world, this question had never come up in my mind. At home and work I have a fast wireless network. But when I heard this question I immediately felt the value that we could harvest from this app. This 'Google+ Photos' app.

Let me talk about two services where their value propositions offer great user experiences - values that a Google+ Photos app would bring to Google+.

Spotify Premium

When you have a phone or iPod Touch that you use as your primary music device, Spotify Premium's download option is indispensable. Even though I exist in my wireless networks most of the time, having my favourite playlists and albums on my device all the time gives me the comfort that wherever I am, I can listen. Shouldn't this be the same with photo albums? It's an even bigger issue for photo albums actually, because a lot of the time you want to get them out you are showing them to other people, when you're in other places. You just want them to open and be displayed - no one wants to sign into their friend's WiFi just to show a few quick snaps.


Of course, the above point seems ridiculous when the photos are actually stored on your device anyway. Often times you took the pictures on your phone, so you just open your phone gallery. Firstly however, this isn't always the case. If you use another camera, you still want to reach those albums, and they won't be on your phone unless you download them. Dropbox is a cloud service that does file backup in an intimate and close way on your computer - it acts like a local folder. On a Mac or on a Windows device, Dropbox creates a folder that feels at home and comfortable to use. Why should you have a gallery app here, and Photos in this other app over there? Google+ Photos should bring you the feeling of your albums and memories being local, while utilising the cloud too. Think about an app that retrieves +1s and comments when connected, and keeps them even when offline. The key value of DropBox is that it makes you forget about the difference between your machine and the cloud.

So, Google+ Photos. In my vision I see a separate app, to replace your gallery app, where when connected you can view albums and pictures shared with you and shared by you. When you come across albums you love and want to keep local, you select an option to do so, just like you can on Spotify. It doesn't download these files into some abstract folder on your device, but like Spotify, it simply marks them as available offline, and like DropBox, you can forget about the difference between cloud and local.

What's in the way of Google Glass?

When it was first shown to the world, I was amazed by Google Glass. With some time however, I became a little fatigued by seeing so much press and hype, but no consumer product. Eventually I realised that Google Glass in it's current form isn't all that great. There's a long way to go, but I saw a video today that revived my interest in Glass, and the future it lays ahead for us.

The above YouTube video completely blew me away. For the past few months the media's interest, in the product has somewhat dwindled. Hands on videos of the product are interesting, but where most people see something they find cool, they don't seem to see something they wish to buy and own.

Glass is young. Watching this video, I saw a clearer vision of what potential lies ahead on the road that Google is paving. I saw a future where a blind man that speaks Italian had a face to face conversation with a deaf woman that only understands French. And why not? All the tools we need exist - we just need to refine the technology, develop the platforms, and wait for time to do it's thing.

The biggest technical issue holding Glass back at this point is the battery. Powerful abilities like those shown above can only be leveraged in day to day lives if the device is able to be constantly on, watching and listening. This is just a technical limit though, and improvements in technology are likely to solve this problem with time. The difficult part is their privacy issue - one that will only get harder with time.

The Moto X phone that Motorola and Google have just released will be a decent test of where the public's privacy opinion lies right now. The future we're heading to will require a lot of consumer confidence in Google and other tech companies to protect data. I'm very curious to see how Moto X's 'always listening' ability plays out once it's available. For the time being, the tech bloggers seem to love it.

Having said that, always watching seems to be a whole different ball game. We can't say people completely hate the Xbox's new eyes, but reaction to the Xbox One's always watching Kinect has been a little resistant. Who wouldn't be a little freaked out by a device that is so sensitive it can see your heartbeat? All the time.

Will we tolerate a Glass device that is constantly recording, I wonder? If not, what does Google need to do to convince users that this is beneficial. The advantages will be impeccably clear, as this video above can demonstrate (a visually impaired worker can be given prompts about what lies ahead, without any interaction with the device), but the privacy concerns might raise a solid brick wall for them to negotiate.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

ICE on Emirates: Information, Communication, Entertainment, Amazement.

I must have serious technophilia right now if while on my holiday in India, the first thing I want to blog about is the in-flight entertainment system! But I do, and I can't help it.

The ICE system on Emirates (an acronym for Information Communication and Entertainment) continues to exceed my expectation of what's reasonable. A small bit of background - I've been flying Emirates for years, since their connections to different Indian destinations are fantastic. They are frequent, comfortable flights, and have always had incredible entertainment.

Today, ICE features what looked like an 11" touch screen with the same collections of big Hollywood blockbusters, classics, international movies, TV shows, music etc. I'm used to being spoilt for choice, but I was not expecting the high level hardware that houses this service. The screen was responsive - more like an iPad that what you'd expect on-board a flight - and the interface was intuitive and simple. I remember being amazed by the choice of ICE in it's early days, but the UI was difficult so I often opted for my laptop instead. Now I find myself wondering what use my iPad and computer possibly serve on a plane.

Below the main screen was another new addition - a touch screen controller styled like a games controller. It's not a necessity, but when hoisting your arm to navigate the main screen starts to ache, you thoroughly appreciate the easy of use this remote device offers. Solid feeling buttons, a nice screen again, and a surprisingly well designed mobile UI of the main OS.

If all this isn't enough, seats on this Emirates flight came with mains power and USB ports too. This means little to most, but my phone battery was a genuine concern for me, till sitting on the plane. I've recently become somewhat of a shutter-bug with my phone camera, and like to keep GPS tagging on when on holiday. This had me whipping out the charger at the departure gate, desperately trying to keep enough juice in my phone to get me to Hyderabad and last me a little while there. That's all I hoped for, but I landed in Dubai on a full charge, and played Temple Run for hourrrs throughout the flight.

I'm amazed, and so excited for the next wave of improvements. The bar that Emirates sets is one of continual improvement, so I have to look into the future. Internet is notably missing, although some micro updates are being delivered in the form of news headlines (I kept up with the Murray match at Wimbledon). Emirates have nailed the hardware and software,  so if their next iteration can deliver even simple social media access and YouTube, I'd be thrilled. Some airlines now offer wi-fi too, although I'm not convinced this is worth doing until it is reliable and fast enough. To me, simple internet apps and integration is the obvious next step. I'm thinking a 'Share' button: "El Kanagavel is watching Life of Pi on his Boeing 777, Emirates flight to Hyderabad - with Stacey Cass", complete with location tagging and relevant links. A bit of polish and design and you've got a compelling and engaging social media marketing tool. Regardless, however Emirates choose to further improve ICE and the tech that goes with it, they can count on me being there to see it!

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Is It Time for a Google Watch?

Less than a month ago, I wrote a piece about why I'm more excited about the rumoured iWatch that Google Glass. Today, +Mike Elgan, a globe trotting technology blogger, wrote an article for (link) that came to similar conclusions, but focused heavily on what a Google watch might be like, and what specifications it might have.

Although I agree with his sentiment that a watch and Glass are just two parts of the unfolding next era in mobile (wearable) computing, I disagree with his idea that a wearable computer has to do everything that the computers that came before it have to do.

When we moved from desktop to mobile, the biggest problem for developers, publishers and advertisers was the impossibility of a big screen with lots of space for information. But even though our phones had less on them, we still expected a lot from them. That's because we live in a time where devices are still expensive, and we demand complete experiences from them. We've moved considerably far down this road, and many of us now have a powerful computer in their mobile device. I can't imagine spending another €400-600 on a device like Glass, or even €100-200 on a device like Elgan's watch, when my phone already serves these essential purposes.

For one thing, a watch does not need a camera. Can you imagine how weird you would feel taking a picture with your wrist, when your phone (or even your Glass) will definitely be more (or just as) convenient and higher quality? What the watch does need to do, is keep things really simple, and just tell me the really important things happening in my cloud.
  • Message or call notifications, with haptic feedback
  • Navigation, using the GPS from my phone
  • Google Now, using the data from my phone through bluetooth (I don't believe in any need for WiFi or cellular here)
  • Some app functionality - Spotify can tell me what song is playing, with few buttons; Facebook can tell me if I'm tagged in something; no apps should try and mimic the mobile features my phone can do. I don't want to post things, I don't watch to record things, I don't want to "like" or "download" or read anything for longer than 3 - 5 seconds. 99% of the time, things on my watch should be 'see and dismiss'.
If a Google watch takes voice commands I'd be truly disappointed. Voice is great for Glass, and I get why it's there. But on a watch where we have a touchscreen and a free hand of fingers, Google need to think about making very little to interact with. What would Jobs do? Remember how he said a device is a collection of decisions about which features you want and which you don't? I think voice control is best left on the phone, or on Glass, if you're lucky enough to own one.

Elgan is thinking too much about a smartwatch bringing another computing leap with it, with tonnes of features and functionality, and all the gizmos and flashing lights. I think the watch should be simple, with minimal UI, minimal functions, and minimal tech. It should market cheap, as a neat accessory to your phone. As long as it does a great job of delivering my cloud services, we'll have something that I can buy into.