Not Quite There Yet

Despite last week’s pessimism, I will be getting my Pixel 6 Pro after all. It’s supposed to arrive today or tomorrow, and then I get the fun of transferring everything. Last time I did that–going from a Nexus 5X to Pixel 2 XL–the experience was…well, let’s just say “Less than polished” and let it go at that. To be fair, I didn’t do a direct transfer–the Nexus had died, so I did a clean setup and then downloaded my apps and data from the appropriate Google backups. Google then, and probably now, prefers the direct transfer, and since my 2 XL is still working well*, I’ll give it a try.

* Knock on wood.

Once I’ve had a chance to use it for a bit, I will, of course, share my thoughts. But that’ll be a couple of weeks away. In the meantime, I’d like to talk about a feature on the current phone that comes off as only partly baked.

The feature is simple in concept: if you’ve entered your home and work addresses in Maps, you’ll get notifications about the travel time between the two. These pop up during commute hours–home to work in the morning, and the reverse in the evening.

It’s actually quite handy. I don’t know that I need to know when the trip to work is going to take two minutes longer than usual, but I definitely want to know if I’m going to be stuck in traffic for half an hour.

But there are some weird omissions in the system, leaving it feeling unfinished.

For example, there are two routes I can take; on a typical day, the travel time between the two differs by less than five minutes. I almost always take the one that minimizes my time on the freeway because–Richmond Parkway notwithstanding–I prefer the scenery on that route.

Isn’t the Google Assistant supposed to learn your habits over time and improve the information it gives you? If so, it hasn’t been tied into the drive time feature, because the phone always gives me the travel time for the other route.

Then there’s the question of when the notifications appear. As far as I can tell, there’s no way to tweak the schedule. Mine, for example, is not a simple 9-5, M-F routine. The days vary, as do the hours. I’m not sure which is more annoying: not getting a drive time notification for a Saturday commute, getting a notification on a Tuesday when I’m not working, or getting the “going to work” update at 8:00 am on a day when I don’t start until noon.

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could tell whatever piece of the Google Assistant is responsible for these notices what my schedule is? Better yet, what if I could tell it to look for events on my calendar to clue it into the schedule automatically? Heck, I have a calendar conveniently named “Work”; I imagine I’m far from the only person who tracks their schedule that way. Wouldn’t it be awesome if the Google Assistant saw that calendar and asked if I wanted it to use that to show me relevant commute information?

Bottom line: a useful feature held back by what feels like an incomplete implementation.

But perhaps I’m doing the designers an injustice. There’s nothing wrong with building a tool to meet your own needs, and the current functionality is just fine if you (a) follow Google’s recommended route religiously–or have a shuttle driver who does–and (b) you’re always working–or work from home.

And, for all I know, the current limitations of the system are because my 2 XL is on Android 11 (and can’t be upgraded beyond that point). Perhaps that shiny new 6 Pro with Android 12 will add some controls so I can tweak the notifications to my needs.

Twofer

It’s technology week!

Okay, not really. But both Apple and Google decided the time was right to show off their upcoming toys.

Apple went first, announcing their goodies on Monday. Probably just as well, as they had much more to talk about.

They started by talking up improvements to Apple Music. Question: does anyone actually let Siri provide the music for their life? Apple claims they do, and so they’re improving Siri’s selection abilities. How? By turning the job over to human beings. You read that right. Humans will create mood-based playlists, and Siri will pick a playlist based on what you ask for.

Do we really need a voice control for that?

New colors coming for the HomePod mini. Great if you insist on color-coordinating your décor. The rest of us? Ho-hum.

New AirPods with support for spatial audio. Inevitable, but not exactly exciting for anyone who doesn’t use their iPhone as a movie theater. And you’ll still be able to buy the previous generation. I foresee great confusion down the road.

Of course, what everyone was really interested in was the new Macs. Because everyone wants an improved M1 chip. Well, everyone who wants a Mac, anyway. Let’s not make assumptions about just how good Apple’s brainwashingadvertising has gotten.

Up first, the new MacBook Pro. Built around the M1 Pro, which can have as much as 32GB of RAM–a big jump from the M1’s 8GB limit–and able to move data in and out of memory twice as fast. The result is a system 70% faster; twice as fast at graphics-related tasks. Impressive.

But if you really need power, you’re going to want the M1 Max. That basically doubles what the M1 Pro can do: twice as fast at memory operations, up to 64GB of RAM, and twice the graphics processors. Curiously, it’s only got the same number of CPU cores; wonder why they didn’t double those as well.

So the new MacBook Pro will, to paraphrase Apple’s hype, wipe the floor with the old MacBook Pro, to say nothing of all those awful Windows machines. Not that they’re gloating or anything.

Anyway, the new machines bring back all the ports the M1 MacBooks left out: HDMI, headphone, SD card reader. They are losing the Touch Bar, which disappoints me not a bit, but will no doubt annoy many loyal Apple fans. Nice touch: a new and improved MagSafe port for power, but you can still charge ’em with the Thunderbolt ports.

There’s a notch at the top of the display for the camera. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about that, but I kind of like the idea. Gives more physical space for the screen, and if you’ve got so much stuff in your Menu Bar that it runs into the notch, you probably ought to slim things down a bit anyway.

Preorders started Monday, first deliveries next week. Depending on the model and specs, you’ll be paying anywhere from $1999 to $6099.

From a technical perspective, I’ll admit to being impressed. Fiscally, too, but the numbers really aren’t that far out of line for a similarly specced Windows laptop.

But people are easily bored. Camera notch aside, I expect the complaints to start before Halloween. “It’s not fast enough for my workload.” “I need more Thunderbolt ports.” “When do we get a desktop with the M1 Max?” “Where’s the M2?”

Moving on to Google’s Tuesday announcements.

A much briefer announcement. Only two products (plus accessories): the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro.

Of course, most of the information leaked out earlier: new, Google-designed CPU, hugely improved cameras, etc., etc. The only really new information is the price point ($599 to $999 depending on model and storage) which is several hundred dollars below similarly specced iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones.

Oh, and one other new bit of information: Google is shifting to go head-to-head with Apple on services. They’ve got a bundle called “Pixel Pass” that gives you time payments on the phone, YouTube Premium, YouTube Music Premium, Google One storage, and Google Play Pass. A discount on Fi service. Accidental damage coverage is included as well.

The phones sound impressive, and Pixel Pass could be an excellent deal, especially if you were planning on buying the phone on time or were already paying for any of the premium services.

To nobody’s particular surprise, the Google Store is struggling. Preorders are (nominally) open with delivery around the end of the month, but as I write this on Tuesday afternoon, the store is up, but not able to process checkouts–assuming it doesn’t list all phones as out of stock. At that, it’s doing better than earlier in the day, when it was bouncing up and down like very erratic clockwork.

I’m very interested in the new phones. My current Pixel 2 XL is still working well enough, but the Lure of the New is getting to me–and I really want to see what kind of cat pictures I can take with the new cameras. I’ve been trying to preorder a Pro for the past hour, but I’m starting to suspect it’ll be at least a couple of months before I can actually get my hands on one.

Google I/O 2021

Sorry about the late post. I’ve been trying to get a handle on all of the critical news coming out of yesterday’s Google I/O keynote. Unlike years past, nobody’s done a live-blog of the presentation–not unreasonable, considering that it’s online for anyone to watch, but annoying for those of us who don’t want to be limited to realtime speed. (I don’t know about you, but I read a lot faster than I watch, and I don’t have much patience for videos that are, in effect, advertising.)

Anyway.

Google wants to be helpful. Well, Google wants to make lots of money, but if they can do it by being helpful, why not? So they’re introducing features like Google Maps routings that are optimized for fuel efficiency or weather-and-traffic safety. Seems like a useful initiative. I don’t have any more qualms about it than I do over any use Google makes of the information they’re gathering about us.

Google Workspace–the business-oriented set of tools that includes Docs, GMail, Meet, and so on–is getting something called “Smart Canvas”. It’s supposed to allow for better collaboration. For example, having a Meet video conference while collaboratively editing a Sheet document. Again, useful, at least for that subset of the world that needs it. And not hugely more intrusive than any of the individual tools alone.

Here’s one that really looks good: Google is adding an automatic password change feature to Chrome. This builds on the existing feature that alerts you if your password has been exposed in a data breach. Now it’ll have an option to take you to the site and walk through the password change process for you. I do wonder if you’ll be able to use it to change your Google password periodically; that’s something you should do anyway, and especially if you’re using the password manager built into Chrome. Speaking of which, that Chrome password manager will soon be able to import passwords from other password managers. Handy if you’re using Chrome everywhere, but those of us who use other browsers occasionally will probably want to stick with a third-party manager.

Some privacy additions here and there. A locked folder for Google Photos is a natural; we should have had that years ago.

Then there are the counter-privacy features. The keynote highlighted updates to Google Lens that will let you take a picture of somebody and find out where their shoes are sold. Because that’s not creepy at all.

What else?

New look and feel in Android 12–which will probably be released in the Fall–and some iOS-catchup features. Showing on-screen indicators when an app is using the camera or microphone is worthwhile, but they’re also introducing one of my least-favorite iOS features: using your phone as your car key. That’s coming first to BMW, which somehow doesn’t surprise me a bit. I suspect Lexus won’t be far behind. But I digress.

One useful update (for a small subset of users) is the ability to use your phone as a TV remote control. Mind you, it’ll only work with devices running Android TV OS. That does include the Chromecast with Google TV and NVidia Shield devices, so there’s a decent pool of users, but it’s unlikely to replace all your current remotes. There’s an opportunity here for somebody to step up and fill the universal remote void that Logitech’s decision to stop making Harmony remotes is leaving.

And that’s pretty much it. No hardware announcements. We’ll probably get those sometime in late summer, when we get close to the Android 12 release.

Google and Microsoft Hardware

So I could get all schadenfreudian, but what would be the point? You all know what I’d say, he isn’t going to care, and besides, there’s no telling what new nonsense he’ll perpetrate between Tuesday night (when I’m writing this) and Wednesday morning (when I post it).

Instead, let’s talk hardware. After all, I gave Apple some airtime. It’s only fair that I do the same for Google and Microsoft, right? Right.

Google announced new hardware last week. Two phones, the “Pixel 4a with 5G” and the Pixel 5. A new take on the now-venerable Chromecast, the “Google Chromecast with Google TV”. And the “Google Nest Audio”, yet another smart speaker.

The phones are, well, whelming. Certainly not overwhelming, but not especially underwhelming. They’re there, they’re an improvement over the previous generation, but not by a huge amount. They’re arguably overpriced and underperforming–especially the 5–if you compare them with other flagship phones, but the value looks better when aligned against other phones with similar performance.

Frankly, I think a large part of the bad press they’re getting is due to unhappy reviewers who were hoping for another big step forward in camera technology. Which was, IMNSHO, a misplaced hope: Google has made it clear that they’re focused (sorry) on improving their phones’ cameras through the software, rather than the hardware.

Bottom line, I don’t think anyone’s going to be selling their current phone just to get a P5 or P4w5G. But if they’re in the market for a new phone anyway, the new Pixels are well worth considering.

The speaker is a smart speaker. Louder and with better sound quality than Google’s previous generation, but overall, it’s a forgettable entry in a forgettable category.

Then there’s the new Chromecast. The highlights here are that you no longer need to use your phone to control the playback and if you set up multiple media sources (Netflix, YouTube TV, and so on), you can see an overview of what’s available across all of them without digging into the individual apps.

That latter is a slick idea, but it’s a convenience, not a gamechanger. And if Google had come out with this device a couple of years ago, it would have been a fabulous advance over the original Chromecast family. But today it has a distinctly “me too” feel: “Hey we’ve got to keep up with the Rokus, Fire TVs, and Apple TVs.”

Moving on.

Microsoft also rolled out new toys last week.

A few accessories–keyboard, mice , wireless number pad, and a gadget to mirror your computer screen wirelessly to a TV or other HDMI-equipped display.

That last could be handy, as long as your computer supports the Miracast standard. If your phone does–and some Android phones do–that could make it very handy for both business and pleasure.

There’s an updated version of the Surface Pro X–Microsoft’s ARM-based laptop. Which has not, I suspect, sold in the kind of numbers Microsoft was hoping for. Not too surprising, since it’s not hugely cheaper than the Intel and AMD laptops it’s competing with.

The interesting device out of Redmond is the new Surface Laptop Go. As the name implies, it’s a smallish device–about halfway between the Surface Go and a cheap Chromebook–with a CPU suited to a standard laptop.

With a price similar to the Surface Go (and to a high-midrange Chromebook), it’s an easy choice if you need a highly portable machine that can also function as your main machine with a USB-C docking station.

Yes, granted, I’m still using my Surface Go as my daily machine. Beside the point. I’m talking about suitability for people who don’t have my patience for a slower computer.

I’ll be very interested to see how the Surface Laptop Go fares once people get their hands on them. If the keyboard is good and the screen doesn’t wobble unpleasantly, Microsoft might just have a winner.

SAST 17

You Know Who has never been subtle, but even by his standards, the paired assault on the Post Office and on mail-in ballots is crude and obvious.

Fortunately, the counter move is just as obvious. To misquote Pogo, vote early and vote widely.

Fill your ballot out as soon as you get it*–you know who you’re voting for–and get it in the mail immediately. Better yet, if your state offers a way to drop off ballots in person in the days or weeks preceding Election Day (California does; I’m sure others do as well), use one. They generally have a shorter wait than actually voting, and they often keep longer hours than polling places. Best of all, they avoid the Post Office completely.

* And if it hasn’t shown up within a couple of days of the mail-out date, use whatever process your state has for dealing with lost ballots. Don’t wait around, hoping it’ll show up.

And vote in every contest on the ballot. And vote Democrat. This is not the time for a protest vote, much less a no-vote protest. It’s not the time for voting for a third party candidate. Anyone who runs as a Republican is automatically complicit with You Know Who. Defeat ’em all.

Moving on.

Watching baseball on TV doesn’t feel quite real.

It’s not the fake crowd noise–or fake crowds–though those don’t help. Nor is it the omnipresent threat of a sudden end to the season. It’s not even the universal DH or the fake baserunners in extra innings.

What it really is, is the contrast with everything going on outside the stadiums. Defined beginnings and endings. Rules known to everyone and largely accepted, however grudgingly. Even, Goddess help us, leaders–team captains, coaches, managers–who lead.

Still, I don’t let the fantastic aspects stop me from watching. Heck, I write fantasy; I can deal with a universe totally unlike the real world.

Aspirational? Sure. Achievable? Probably not–but we can dream.

And moving on again.

In a move that surprised absolutely nobody, Google announced their latest phone, going head to head with Apple’s announcement of a few new models of computers.

I’ve been trying to get excited about any of the forthcoming gadgets, but it’s touch. None of them, Apple or Google, is radically new. They’ve all got minor advancements over the previous generation, but nothing to make anyone want to rush out and buy one.

Which seems weirdly appropriate for today’s universe.

Apple is nominally targeting the Back-to-School audience, but with so many schools being virtual, there’s not much scope for the usual implied message of “be the envy of your peers”.

Google, on the other hand, seems to have announced the Pixel 4a solely because it was already developed and in production. Might as well push it out there, collect a few news stories, and prepare the way for the Pixel 5, possibly as soon as a couple of months from now.

Maybe if Microsoft ever gets around to releasing their dual-screen Android phone, we’ll have something to get excited about. Right now, though? Gadgets: boring.

Time Out

Google I/O has been canceled for this year, for health reasons. Well, the in-person version has been canceled, anyway. Google plans to have some form of streaming conference instead. Interesting notion. Shouldn’t be a problem for presentations–I’ve always thought the keynote address worked better as a live stream than a butts-in-seats show–but people are going to miss the opportunity to get their hands actual devices.

And now Apple is under pressure to do the same for WWDC. Last I heard–Tuesday mid-morning–it was still on, but with Santa Clara County banning large gatherings, Apple may not be able to go ahead even if they want to.

Does anyone else find it amusing that we’re being asked to tune in via computers and smartphones to find out how the big names are going to make our computers and smartphones obsolete?

Given the current difficulties in getting hardware from Asia, I’d like to see Apple and Google (and even Microsoft* and Amazon) take a step back. Don’t release new hardware this year**. Concentrate on improving what’s already out there.

* Much as I’m intrigued by the Surface Duo and Surface Neo, and despite my difficulties with delayed gratification, I have to admit that my life won’t be measurably worse if I don’t get to play with them this year.

** It’s too late to make the same plea to Samsung. The S20 is out.

Hold off the Pixel 4a devices. And we don’t really need huge bunches of new Chromebooks. Ditto for Apple. Using part shortages as an excuse to jack up the price of an iPhone 12 would be tacky. And, while I’d love to see a new MacMini–preferably at a lower price point–I haven’t been holding my breath for it.

Give us Android 11 if you must. Ditto for iOS and iPadOS 14, as well as MacOS Catalina+1. And the next iteration of Windows 10.

Take some of the people off the hardware side, let it sit for a while, and put those people to work on usability. Hook them up (online, naturally) with people who have not been using your products every day for the last five years. Find out where the pain points are in getting started with [insert your OS here]. Do a deep dive into your update process (I’m looking at you, Microsoft). Amazon, take a good look at your pricing model and honestly answer (if only to yourself) whether it’s sustainable: is it bringing in enough to pay writers, actors, and other content producers enough that they can continue to write, act, and lay salable eggs?

Then bring out new hardware next year.

It’ll never happen, of course. The industry is too tied into “new hardware every year is the only way to keep people interested” and “as long as we make a profit while I’m alive, who cares what happens when I’m not?”

But dreaming about it keeps my mind occupied while I build a disease-proof plastic bubble around the house.

Overlooked

I feel a rant coming on. Bear with me: it’s not political, nor does it have anything to do with television.

Recently, I was talking to an acquaintance about gadgets. He’s, well, let’s say, behind the times, technologically speaking. He’s got a computer, a five-year-old laptop, that he uses two or three times a month, mostly to do banking-related things. He does have a cell phone: it’s a flip-open model with a four line LCD display.

He told me the phone was on its last legs, and he was thinking about getting a smartphone to replace it. “Which would be better for someone like me, an Apple or a Samsung?”

And I realized the only possible answer was “Neither”.

Remember when the first iPhone came out? The idea of a touchscreen in a phone wasn’t exactly new, but the focus on ease of use and a consistent interface was. Learn to use one app–which took about five minutes–and you could use all of them. Granted, it was a limited selection, but that’s beside the point. They were simple and consistent.

Today, not so much. Want to delete something? Do you select it with a tap-and-hold or by tapping a selection indicator? Or do you first have to tap an Edit button, swipe to the left, or swipe right?

Let’s not even consider the number of times Apple has changed the way we get to the Control Center. Or the fact that there are two mutually-conflicting ways to change the font size on an iPhone.

Android is no better, whether you’re talking about “pure” Android or Samsung’s customized version. Has anybody ever figured out exactly how the Back button works?

And Google’s hands-off approach to the apps going into their store means every designer gets to come up with their own interface. Want to turn off the sound effects in that new game? Maybe there’s something in “Settings”. Or “Controls”. Maybe there’s a dedicated “Sound” menu–if you can find it.

There’s no way a rookie can jump in to a modern device and expect to use it without spending hours learning to do the most basic tasks. Be honest here and take a look at your phone. If you were seeing it for the first time, could you figure out how to call someone, hang up at the end of the call, and save the phone number so you could call them again?

I finally told my acquaintance to check into the phones marketed to seniors. They come with a strictly-curated list of apps designed to work together and work consistently. They’re simple and they work. They’re cheap, too.

And the stigma of using one is so great that nobody younger than seventy-five considers them as their first phone.

Now Listening

Yes, I know I’m a couple of years late on this one, but I’ve got an excuse.

I’m talking about the “Now Playing” feature on Pixel phones.

For those of you who don’t have Pixels, “Now Playing” runs in the background and identifies music playing nearby. When the phone is locked, it will display titles and performers on the lock screen.

Sure, it’s a minor feature, but it’s got its uses–which is part of the problem. Not all of those uses are necessarily for the good of the phone’s owner. But I’ll get back to that.

“But, wait,” someone out there is undoubtedly saying, “hasn’t Casey had a Pixel for over a year? Why’s he only now getting around to ‘Now Playing’?”

Simple: Until a few weeks ago, I kept the phone in a belt pouch. It couldn’t hear a thing unless I took it out. However, I’ve now switched to a phone holster-and-case combination for convenience and protection. Now “Now Playing” can hear much better.

And I’m starting to wonder about the ethics of feature.

A quick digression: According to Google, they don’t see any. The phone periodically downloads a database of songs, all recognition is done on the device, and the history is only stored locally.

The database comes from Google Play Music–it’s based primarily on what tracks are being played there. This naturally means that “Now Playing” can only recognize popular music (for some values of “popular”). (According to one source, the database is also tuned to accommodate regional preferences, based on where the phone was purchased.)

The history on my phone suggests that to be an accurate description. Many of the songs I hear on the radio in the car show up on the list, as does much of the music that other people are playing at work.

A few anime opening and closing credit songs show up. But only for very popular shows; nothing from the current season. Snippets of background music from TV shows turn up in the history.

My tastes in radio tend toward oldies channels. Not much swing shows up in my “Now Playing” history. Most of the music from the 70s and 80s does show up–but primarily the tracks that charted at some point. Fringe material, not so much. Case in point: the Dark Wave show on SiriusXM features “goth, post-punk, and industrial”. Not a single track from last week’s episode made it onto my phone. (Correction on deeper inspection: a few show up in misidentified form.)

I’m inclined to think the failures are a good thing. To some extent, some inaccuracy improves the security of the system.

Let’s face it: how willing are you to believe Google doesn’t have access to your history? Because any sort of halfway competent Big Data miner could match up that history with radio station playlists, Muzak tracklists, and other data to create a profile of your musical tastes and physical movement, especially when paired with data from Maps. Whether that would give an accurate impression of your other tastes is a matter of opinion, but how many advertisers would be willing to buy that information? Quite a few, I’d bet.

Nor does Google make it easy to clean up the history. Once you find it–buried in Settings, not in an app–you can delete individual tracks or wipe the entire history. But there’s no way to search and remove those embarrassing low points. Want to get rid of last month’s early Madonna binge? You’ll have to do it one song at a time or nuke the whole historical record.

No provision for a timed delete (“On the first of the month, delete everything older than two months.”) Not even “Wipe the entire history once a month.”

And don’t forget: it’s always listening. Well, okay, popping in once a minute or so. I imagine certain political figures would love to get their hands on a list of people whose phones are hearing a lot of Latin pop. There are all sorts of interesting, non-advertising ways to use that kind of data.

Come to think of it, Google must know at least which phones are pulling down track databases from, let’s call them “countries of interest”. Would that be data that DHS could requisition, either legally or covertly? They’d certainly find uses for it.

Sure, I’m a bit paranoid. These days that’s a survival trait.

Not paranoid enough to turn off “Now Playing”. Not yet, anyway.

Google Looks to 2018

A couple of weeks ago, we looked at Microsoft’s hardware announcements. This week, it’s Google’s turn. Where Microsoft was looking ahead to 2020, Google seems to be looking backward. Think I’m kidding? Consider the evidence:

New “Pixel Buds,” true wireless headphones that–in addition to letting you listen to music and made phone calls–allow you to talk to an electronic assistant. Regardless of your feelings about Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and HeyGoogle, these earbuds would have been revolutionary a couple of years ago; now they come off as “We’re going to jump off the same bridge as all of our friends.”

Then there’s the Pixelbook Go. Hmm. Where have we heard the word “Go” in a computer name lately? Microsoft used it for a machine that focused on portability. Sensible, even logical. Google uses it for a computer that, uh, has long battery life and was “thin”.

I don’t see the connection. (Google’s Go, by the way, is approximately twice as heavy as Microsoft’s.)

And, let’s be frank here. People didn’t buy zillions of the earlier Pixelbooks because they were too heavy. They didn’t buy them because nobody saw the benefit of a ChromeOS device at that price point. The Pixelbook Go will be cheaper, but it’s still at the upper end of the Chromebook price range.

Moving on, we have a new incarnation of the Google Home Mini. It’s now the Nest Mini, comes in a new color–blue–and has a wall mount. Supposedly it also has twice as much bass (which at least answers one of the major concerns about a device that small designed for playing music) and an additional microphone so it can eavesdrop on you more accurately.

After the “Apple is listening to you having sex” scandals, does Google really want to be promoting its enhanced listening capabilities?

The changes really feel like Google is repairing the deficiencies of something that wasn’t all that exciting or original in its first incarnation.

Of course there has to be an update to the mesh Wi-Fi gadget. The new version looks cooler. Slightly. It’s got Google Home built in, so your Wi-Fi network can listen in on youplay music and answer questions. Isn’t that what the Nest Mini and your phone are for?

Is it any faster than the previous generation? Able to support more simultaneous users? Dunno. Google didn’t say.

Again, incremental tweaks to a “me too” gadget.

And, finally, there’s the Pixel 4.

That actually has a unique feature: a radar sensor. No, not for detecting speed traps. For registering nearby motion so you can control it with hand gestures without picking it up.

I can see so many uses for that. Like changing the volume when listening to music while driving. Dismissing notifications while driving. Pausing videos while, uh, driving. Um. Let me get back to you on this one.

I’ll admit the new audio recorder with built-in speech recognition to transcribe lectures sounds neat. I do have to wonder how long it’ll be before they get hit with a lawsuit because someone figured out how to use it to transcribe song lyrics.

And, of course, there are the usual highly touted improvements to the camera, some physical and some in the software.

Granted, better and better cameras are, IMNSHO, a more useful arms race than bigger and bigger screens, but still, I have to wonder who the audience is. How many people use their phone camera in anything other than full automatic mode? Do the majority of us really need control of Google’s HDR algorithms? Or would we be better off with a cheaper phone that takes decentish pictures, while the few who actually need total control of their photos put the money they save on the phone toward a better lens for their DSLR?

The End of an Era

The mystique has come to an end.

According to multiple reports, Android will no longer have sweet-themed release names.

If this is true, Pie is a good way to go out, but it’s an interesting decision on Google’s part. Not only do they lose a wildly popular bit of their brand, but the stated reasons for making the decision don’t quite add up.

It’s a rare corporate decision that can’t be revisited. Change your logo and lose sales? Change it again to something closer to the original. Refocus on a new target market and take a bath? Bring back an old corporate spokesperson to re-engage with the original buyers (anyone remember when Snap, Crackle, and Pop vanished, only to return?)

But this is a decision Google can’t take back. If, a year from now, they announce that Android R will be named “Rice Pudding,” then retroactively the “Android Q” move will seem like a ploy to get free advertising from the media. Nor would (ahem) sugar-coating the news by claiming that Q was named Quisp (or Quince, or anything else really) within the company improve the look.

Why are they doing this? I’ve seen two claimed reasons.

The media focuses on the name rather than the new features. So? As long as users use the OS and manufacturers license the Google apps, do you think Google really cares whether the free advertising focuses on the name or the spiffy new Back button functionality?

People complained that the names weren’t inclusive enough. People switch phones for a lot of reasons, but I really doubt Google was losing business to iOS over the code names. But if I’m wrong about that, Google could improve the naming process. The company is already in the spotlight over diversity issues; improving representation in the group that chooses Android names would fall right in line with their efforts to do more improve representation throughout the company.

Of course, the reports could be wrong. Android Q will be out next month, possibly as soon as next week. Maybe we’ll find out that it’s actually named Quinoa–hey, if you can make rice pudding, why not a sweet quinoa-based cake?