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Project Ara MDK tells OEMs how to design modules

Posted by wicked April - 10 - 2014 - Thursday Comments Off

We are just a week away from the first ever Project Ara Developers Conference and the marketing wheel behind the modular smartphone is heating up. This latest bit of information comes directly from Google, who has just released a preview of the Module Developers Kit or MDK.

Unlike most development kits, which commonly address the software side of gadgets, the MDK primarily targets hardware manufacturers or OEM’s who will be creating compatible modules. Google itself has no or little plans to create modules, probably outside very basic ones, and will instead be licensing the modules. It will, however, be creating the officially approved endoskeleton or “endo” that provides the frame and core connections of the module smartphone.

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There are two main groups of modules. Front modules, like those for displays, speakers, etc, take up the entire width of the device and are only limited from one up to three modules at a time and nothing more. Rear modules, on the other hand, have more variety and come in three sizes of 1×1, 1×2, and 2×2. The endo dictates the placement of the modules and the MDK states the sizes for officially sanctioned ones, though it gives certain exceptions to very specific modules. At the moment, Google isn’t supporting third-party modules, though it’s not hard to imagine some of them popping up in the market when and if Project Ara truly takes off.

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The MDK goes into great detail about the design of the endo itself in order to give OEMs an idea of how to design their modules. As mentioned in previous reports, Google is aiming for three size categories of mini, medium, and large. The size of the endo naturally determines how many rear modules can fit. The smallest can only fit 6 of them in 1×1 and 1×2 combinations while medium ones can have 8 of all three module sizes. The phablet-sized large configuration still isn’t well-defined but is indicated to allow for 9 modules of 1×2 and 2×2 sizes. There are, however, other endo variations possible, but Google notes that modules conforming to the specifications will have no problem fitting in any of those.

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On the front, you have different possible combinations of one to three modules. A single-module setup will only have a display with, say, a front-facing camera, while a two or three piece setup can have room for stereo speakers or other front facing sensors. Interestingly, Google has included a configuration that includes a T9 or QWERTY keypad.

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The MDK is still version 0.10 and Google notes that it is still a prototype version. Nonetheless, it is an important step in defining the future of Project Ara. The modular smartphone’s success relies heavily on the number, quality, as well as price of available modules, which, of course, relies on the cooperation of OEMs and even third-party manufacturers. We will get a chance to see just how many of those are interested when Google launches the Project Ara Developers Conference next week.

SOURCE: Project Ara
VIA: SlashGear

Google Play Developer Program Policies get updated, user experience and security take focus

Posted by wicked March - 29 - 2014 - Saturday Comments Off

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Google is pushing out an update to the Play Developer Program Policies in an effort to protect users and help shape the user experience. The update contains some new policies and some updated wording that addresses annoying trends we have seen in apps and helps maintain a positive, and family friendly, experience for users of the Play Store. Here are the main changes, via the folks at Android Police.

Updating the Sexually Explicit Materials section, “apps that contain or promote pornography are prohibited; this includes sexually explicit or erotic content, icons, titles or descriptions.” The real change here is the addition of “erotic content,” which may not result in any changes to currently available apps, but it certainly gives Google a little more wiggle room to take down apps with ‘sexy girl wallpapers’ and the like.

In the Dangerous Products section, Google has added that linking to viruses, worms etc is now against the rules. Previously, developers were simply not allowed to transmit viruses etc. This certainly feels like a simple clarification of the policy, but interesting enough, it relates to the Android 4.1 and under webview bug that allows apps to link to viruses, learn about that here.

The System Interference section is also a small, but important change. “Apps and their ads must not modify or add browser settings or bookmarks, add homescreen shortcuts, or icons on the user’s device as a service to third parties or for advertising purposes.” Disallowing the modification of browser settings and bookmarks will help prevent users from experiencing the same sort of issues that have been common on PC browsers for years. This section goes on to explain that users must be able to easily identify and revert back any changes to the system that an app makes, and app un-installation should also revert the changes.

An entirely new section called App Promotion has been added. This section pertains to external advertising, as much as anything. Developers are not allowed to use deceptive ads on websites or other unsavoury methods of advertising, or attempt to force install their app through the store. Let’s look at the full section:

Apps published on Google Play may not directly or indirectly engage in or benefit from the following behavior:

  • Promotion via deceptive ads on websites, apps or other properties, including simulated system, service, or app notifications or alerts.
  • Promotion or install tactics which cause redirection to Google Play or the download of the app without informed user action.
  • Unsolicited promotion via SMS services.

It is your responsibility to ensure that no ad network or affiliate uses such methods to direct users to pages that make your app available for download.

Google is taking further steps to help users understand in-app payments with the Paid and Free Apps section. “If your product description on Google Play refers to in-app features to which a specific or additional charge applies, your description must clearly notify users that payment is required to access those features.” It used to be a common courtesy for developers to explain to users what features are free, and what ‘premium’ features are unlocked by an in-app upgrade – a full description is now mandatory. Of course, this covers all in-app payments, such as in-game upgrades, not just premium feature packages.

Last, but not least on our list, the Ads Context section is appended with, “It must be clear to the user which app each ad is associated with or implemented in.” This is added to the statement that ads may not simulate or impersonate the user interface, in an effort to further protect the user from malicious advertising.

All in all, these updates should serve the users well. Feel free to check out the full Google Play Developer Program Policies for more information. The changes go into effect for a developer’s next app update, or within 15 days of the notification email that was sent out yesterday, whichever happens first.

Do you think these changes are enough to protect users from malicious apps in the Play Store? Developers, do these new policies negatively affect you?


    







OUYA to end free-to-try requirement

Posted by wicked March - 20 - 2014 - Thursday Comments Off

In trying to woo game developers, OUYA is making a move that might not sit well with a number of gamers. In the coming weeks, OUYA will be removing the hard requirement for developers to follow a free-to-try model and let them decide whether to ask for payment upfront or not.

The previous business model adopted by the the startup was, to some extent, more favorable to gamers and buyers. It calls back to a time when games had demos you can try out first before deciding whether it’s worth buying. In the mobile gaming world, particularly on Android, games are mostly split between free-to-play with in-app purchases, or pay-to-play, sometimes with in-app purchases as well. Apparently, many game developers targeting the OUYA platform didn’t like being forced to straddle the middle ground.

Various reasons came over over the course of OUYA’s existence that pointed to difficulties in the required trialware model. Some simply do not know how to make a good demo version, while others don’t have the resources, financial or human, to make one. Some games do no lend themselves to be tried before playing and others simply appeal to be given the freedom to choose the business model they want. OUYA has finally heard their cries and will be waiving that requirement. Developers can still offer a free-to-try system, but they will no longer be forced to do so if they don’t want to.

OUYA explains that this decision is all about choice and that it has always worked to empower developers, which in a business would also mean helping them make money. And since the strength of a gaming console lies heavily on the games available for it, OUYA really needs to entice more developers to its platform. Whether majority of games on OUYA suddenly turn pay-to-play, and whether it will still well with gamers, only time can now tell.

SOURCE: OUYA

Google Play Services 4.3 inducts new API into the family

Posted by wicked March - 18 - 2014 - Tuesday Comments Off

This week, Google is cuddling developers. After really announcing new features for its Google Play Games services, the company is now rolling out a new version of Google Play Services, featuring three new sets of API as well as improvements to old ones.

Although Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager have been around for a while, Google is now pushing them to the forefront. Most developers might already be familiar with how the Analytics API can be used to get deeper information on how their audience use their apps. Google Tag Manager might be a bit harder to guess but it is a feature that lets developers modify parts of their apps on the fly, without having to roll out an entire app update, which might take some time. New to most ears will be the Address API which, as you might have guessed, gives developers access to addresses. This offers users the convenience in filling out forms without having to rely on Location data, which might not be the same as the address they want to use.

There are also some additional features to existing API as well. As reported earlier today, the Google Play Games gets support for virtual gifting, multiplayer on iOS, and the Unity game development platform. Coming by way of this update are improvements to the Drive API which was just released in last month’s update. New features include the ability to pin folders for offline access, creating folders that is invisible to users and are only accessible by the app, as well as callback notifications so that developers won’t have to manually query Google Drive just to check if a file or folder has changed.

End users need not worry about this update, as everything will be updated in the background, no intervention necessary. Developers in the crowd might have to wait just a wee bit for the rollout to complete before they start downloading the new Google Play Services SDK.

SOURCE: Google

Google accidentally reveals new Google Play Games features

Posted by wicked March - 17 - 2014 - Monday Comments Off

It happens every so often that one pushes just the wrong button and unintentionally reveals some things meant for some other day. That seems to be the case behind Google‘s premature announcement of new features to its Google Play Games services.

To be clear, these features are mostly intended for developers. After all, the Play Games services is Google’s cross-platform game service and SDK that adds things like achievements and cloud saves to games. But of course, whetever benefits developers also benefits users in the long run, to some extent. The upcoming version of the service features game gifts, a service that will let players, and developers, send virtual in-game objects to other players of the same game or to anyone in their Google+ circles. Before you start getting excited, this isn’t game or app gifting. It’s just a more convenient way to send out gifts (or bribes) to keep players from leaving your game.

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Game developers and publishers will most likely find the other features quite enticing. First, multiplayer support will be coming to iOS, which is one of the platforms officially supported by Google Play Services. Google is also rolling out a Unity Plug-in to help those using one of the most popular game development tools around. Enhanced Play Games statistics on the developer console as well as Google Analytics in the AdMob interface will help developers get deeper insight into how users interact with their games as well as in-game ads.

Google has now taken down the blog post that was mistakenly published ahead of schedule, so there’s still a chance that more, or maybe even less, will be announced later on. Google has scheduled some of these features to go live at the Game Developers Conference 2014 this week, specifically on Tuesday, March 18. Game developers in the crowd might want to keep an eye out for their YouTube livestream as well.

Amazon AppStream now open for app and game developers

Posted by wicked March - 13 - 2014 - Thursday Comments Off

After a four-month incubation and testing period, Amazon is finally opening the doors to its brand new AppStream service. This cloud-based and cloud-hosted framework will ease the burden of developing, distributing, and running not just mobile apps but those for the desktop as well, and even games.

With AppStream, Amazon wants to redefine the entire software world after its own cloud-based image. Web apps are definitely nothing new but they only represent a fraction, albeit a growing one, of software in the world. If Amazon has its way, all software that you’ll ever run will be run from the cloud, turning mobile devices or even desktops into thin clients. This AppStream-enabled world includes even games.

What Amazon AppStream brings to the table isn’t just processing power or remote storage. It includes resources such as a GPU as well. Basically everything you need to have a complete running graphical program, except that the graphical user interface is being streamed to a device located somewhere else. For game developers, this might be a very tempting offer. For one, they no longer have to worry about burdening users with large downloads, as seems to be the case with modern games of late. They also no longer have to worry about the hardware capabilities of the client device, since all processing and rendering is done in the cloud.

That’s not to say the client app won’t be doing anything anymore. For one, it still has to initiate the conversation with the AppStream through an Entitlement Service to authenticate the session. Once authorized, it is the client’s responsibility to actually route input events, whether from the keyboard, mouse, touchscreen, or game controller, to the application.

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Since its initial announcement in November last year, AppStream has gained some new features based on tester feedback. A new OS X SDK has been made available to facilitate writing client apps on Macs and all clients have been upgraded to support game controllers. AppStream will also be able to detect the specific SDK version used to develop the client and run the compatible services as needed. AppStream clients can be developed to run on multiple operating systems including, of course, Android and Amazon’s FireOS version.

SOURCE: Amazon
VIA: VentureBeat

Pebble App Challenge launched for a developer battle royale

Posted by wicked March - 11 - 2014 - Tuesday Comments Off

Developers hear ye, hear ye! To celebrate the inauguration of the Pebble appstore on Android, Pebble is summoning app developers from all corners of the known world to partake of the ultimate app making challenge for one of the most popular smartwatches in the market.

The mechanics of the competition sounds more like a face-off than an outright contest, with a dose of audience voting added. Participating developers have up to March 23, 5 p.m. PST to submit their entries. Then from the 24th to the 27th, both users and developers will whittle down the list to the top 16. Then starting the first week of April, the finalists will be paired and one app per day will face off with its rival, and users will get to vote on who lives to fight another day.

The qualifications for entry are quite low. Any developer can enter any number of apps, ranging from watchapps, watchfaces, or even companion apps. The only hard requirement is that the apps make use of the shiny new Pebble SDK 2.0, and be available on the Pebble appstore as well. Even already existing apps need not be a stranger. Developers can enter paid apps into the contest, but since the users will be to the ones to decide its fate, that might not be a bright idea just yet.

The competition might be tough, but the rewards might be worth it. The grand prize app, and its developer, of course, will be awarded $5,000. But losers need not go home empty handed as each of the top 16 finalists will receive their very own Pebble Steel in the end.

SOURCE: Pebble

Google to release Android-based SDK for wearable devices end of March

Posted by wicked March - 10 - 2014 - Monday Comments Off

It might not be the Google smartwatch revelation that some might have been waiting for, but it might be the next best thing. Google SVP Sundar Pichai announced at SxSW that the company will be making available in two weeks a sofware development kit (SDK) based on Android that manufacturers and developers can use for their next hit smart something.

The description of the SDK is pretty generic and pretty vague. All Pichai says about it at this point is that it will help developers to take a couple of sensor data and combine them into something more usable. If that sounds like it could cover a wide range of sensors, applications, and devices, it is precisely because Google isn’t limiting its vision to smart glasses and smartwatches alone.

The wearable device market is still in its infancy and there is still a lot of room for innovation. We have seen some of those at work, like contact lenses that assist diabetics monitor their sugar levels, shirts that help athletes keep track of their heart rates, or even clothing and accessories that alert parents to their baby’s needs. None of these are devices you strap to your wrist or put on your head.

Google will be leaving it up to other parties to think of the use cases the SDK will be applied to. There is, however, still some lingering questions whether Google will be eating its own SDK dogfood for its rummored smartwatch or if it will use a slightly different software based on Google Now, as some rumors put it.

VIA: Re/code

Samsung wants to venture deeper into software and services business

Posted by wicked February - 18 - 2014 - Tuesday Comments Off

Planning the next steps in total world domination, Executive VP for Samsung Electronics David Eun revealed that the company is expanding into software and services. This, of course, is in addition to the growing number of devices that the software will run on, ranging from smartphones to smart TVs, and even maybe smart appliances.

That Samsung is eyeing a deeper relationship with software seems only natural. It has practically inundated the market with its hardware, especially smartphones. Although Samsung will naturally deny it, innovation on hardware has slowed down a bit and the game seems to have switched over to the software arena.

Samsung is quite confident that it will equally be successful in software as it is in hardware, despite detractors saying that the company is a bit clueless when it comes to software and services. In its mind, Samsung already has the needed network of people, companies, partners, and users to make it all happen. Sure, it has some experience in software development when you take a look at how far Samsung goes into modifying its Android devices. But it might sound just a wee bit too optimistic to see Samsung as the next big software brand. And it isn’t really aiming that high and sees software simply as a necessary stepping stone for keeping their hardware products at the top.

That Samsung will be strengthening its software thrust might cause a bit of anxiety in the Android community. Despite being one of the top manufacturers in Android charts, Samsung hasn’t really been popular for how much it diverges from the standard Android path. A recent patent licensing agreement between Samsung and Google has kindled renewed hope that the Korean manufacturer would start to fall in line. This news, however, might serve to worry those who fear Samsung going off on its own path again.

SOURCE: Wall Street Journal
VIA: BGR

Android 4.4 discovered to restrict apps from writing anywhere on external storage

Posted by wicked February - 18 - 2014 - Tuesday Comments Off

Considering how long Android 4.4 has been out in the wild, this might not actually be a new feature, or misfeature if you prefer. But it was only recently noticed that Android’s latest external storage policy has been updated and will basically limit apps in writing to external SD cards.

Filesystem access has been a rather thorny subject and has usually split the lines not only between Android and iOS but even between Android users themselves. On one hand, it seems almost inconceivable how iOS users have survived this long with very limited access to their own files. On the other hand, there are those who consider this desktop-like access to files and folders not only messy but also highly prone to errors and damages. The situation on Android is exacerbated by the fact that Android supports external storage, normally SD cards, unlike iPhones or iPads. Google itself seems to be leaning towards a “one internal storage to rule them all” stance, as evidenced by its Nexus devices.

Google did concede and allowed access to external storage, since Android 1.0 even, but write access has been limited with the special WRITE_EXTERNAL_STORAGE permission. In Android 4.1 it also limited even read access with a new READ_EXTERNAL_STORAGE permission. Now it seems that Google is tightening the reins even more. Starting Android 4.4, WRITE_EXTERNAL_STORAGE has been modified to severely limit what apps can do on an external storage device. Now the permission will allow apps to write on an SD card only within its own app-specific directory.

The WRITE_EXTERNAL_STORAGE permission must only grant write access to the primary external storage on a device. Apps must not be allowed to write to secondary external storage devices, except in their package-specific directories as allowed by synthesized permissions

To clarify, Google calls SD card storage as “secondary external storage” and what users usually think of as internal storage is technically called “primary external storage”.

In essence, this means that apps are severely limited in what they can accomplish on external storage. They are, of course, free to do whatever they want, both read and write, within their own app directory on the SD card. This is also a bit of security measure, as one app cannot write into the files and folders owned by another app. Unfortunately, this also means certain apps, particularly file managers, are no longer free to create, delete, or rename files in arbitrary locations on the SD card.

It remains to be seen how this restriction, now that it has come to light, will be taken by the Android community, though initial reaction has already been very negative. Given Google’s exertion of more control over certain parts of Android, it is likely that manufacturers will just comply. Surprisingly, it has been reported that one of those implementing this is Samsung, hardly a poster boy for Android compliance. There might other ways to get around this restriction, like rooted devices for example, but regular users might be just forced to adapt to a new paradigm, for better or worse.

SOURCE: +Tod Liebeck, Google

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