Google Hopes Android Wear is Spot On

Google has announced Android Wear, which according to them is “a project that extends Android to wearables.” Up until this announcement Google Glass has been the company’s wearable computing focus, but Android Wear appears to be focused on smart watches.

Ever since Dick Tracy, it seems we have had a fascination with small computing and communication devices on our wrist. Smartphones have received most of the focus of portable computing, but smart watches actually have had as long a history as smartphones.

If it becomes a market success, smart watches will be another blow to Microsoft. In 2004 Microsoft introduced SPOT watches, which were watches with LCD screens that displayed small bits of content along with different watch faces. Microsoft was able to get watch manufacturers like Fossil to make them, and they gave it a “college try” before putting an end to the product in 2008.

SPOT is an acronym that stands for Smart Personal Object Technology, and included a wireless communication integrated with MSN Direct. Microsoft intended SPOT to be used in a variety of devices including coffee makers and weather stations, but the watches from Fossil and Suunto were the most sold of the products.

SPOT watches did not integrate direct with any computing device, be they smartphone, PDA, or notebook computer, but the wireless technology behind it enabled it to stand alone. Perhaps one of its most interesting features, the wireless technology of SPOT utilized open space in the FM wireless spectrum. Users were not charged for using the wireless communication, although there was a yearly subscription. Amazon’s WhisperSync most reminds me of how SPOT worked, the wireless communication was so integrated that users really did not need to know anything about it.

One of the difficulties with SPOT is that it didn’t integrate well with your personal information. If you integrated Outlook with MSN Direct you might be able to get your appointments to display on the watch, but none of your other personal information was accessible.

At the time, the reason why one choose to wear a SPOT watch is that they provided “glanceable information“, not too unlike the notifications we are now familiar with on smartphones. For example, I had a sports channel on my watch that showed the latest scores of my favorite team’s games as they were being played. I also got weather and stock updates.

The biggest problem with the SPOT watches was that they were much larger and clunkier than regular watches. Later iterations of the watches had better designs, but still wouldn’t be desirable for anyone with small wrists.

Another problem is that the phones had to be re-charged, about every five days or so. The watches used inductive charging and came with a charging cradle, but if you traveled you had to carry the charging cradle. Battery charging will continue to be an impediment for smart watches. People who still wear watches are not used to having to charge them at all as most have batteries or some built-in form of charging.

It’s interesting to me that so much energy has been spent on smart watches. With the emergence of smartphones, fewer people are wearing watches today, most simply check the time on their phone, which they always have on their person. Further, the new smart watches need to connect to a smartphone for wireless data and communication purposes meaning you now need both on your person at all times.

One difference between 2008 and now is the increase use of fitness bands like the Jawbone UP. More people are wearing these devices to track their activity and sleeping, and Android Wear will support that data collection too, however, I won’t wear a full size watch when I sleep at night. I’ve barely become used to wearing the UP band.

Pictures of potential devices show that the manufacturers are aware that design matters, but any watch that has a face is going to be larger that the fitness bands on the market today. Right now the smart watch category has not really been market tested. The Pebble is probably the most successful smart watch on the market right now, and so far I haven’t seen anyone who wears one, have you?

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Pocket Casts Interruptus

Up until recently I have been very happily using Pocket Casts for listening to podcasts on my HTC One. Something has changed, with either my phone or with Pocket Casts that has been driving me crazy for the last several months. For some reason, Pocket Casts is automatically pausing playback of podcast episodes and it is occurring whether I am in a car or sitting in my house.

  • Update: I’ve received an email from Shifty Jelly that this is a known bug that will be fixed in their next update.

Frankly, the problem is driving me crazy because I have not been able to find a logical reason for it to be occurring. The problem seems to be accelerometer related because it happens at slower speeds rather than at faster speeds.

The most common way I use Pocket Casts is to listen to podcasts in my vehicle during my commutes to and from work. I have a 2013 GMC Terrain that supports Bluetooth connections to cell phones, and my phone connects automatically to the car once I get inside and turn it on. I use the GMC MyLink entertainment center in my car to select Bluetooth audio, and I can configure Pocket Casts to send the track information and support external controls on the entertainment center.

Pocket Casts Respond to External Controls

Of course, I’ve tried a variety of combinations of Pocket Casts settings to resolve the problem, none of which is a fix. Further, I also experience the problem simply listening to a podcast when at work or at home, which means to me the problem is not related to my car. I can sit and watch the Pocket Casts playback and watch it “automatically” pause and if I wait a few minutes, playback will resume. If I force playback to start, it does, but the pausing does not stop.

Now the weird thing is, that in my car, once I reach a certain speed, usually over 50 miles an hour, the pausing no longer occurs. If I slow down, the pausing resumes. I cannot think of what other troubleshooting steps to try, and I have reviewed the apps on my phone to remove the ones that may be interfering. If anyone has ideas for what I can try, please send them to me.

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Jawbone ERA Is My New Headset

The first Bluetooth headset shipped in 2000, and it seems as though ever since I have been on the hunt for the “perfect” headset. After trying several different ones, I believe Jawbone makes the best and their latest, the ERA affirms that opinion.

Jawbone last released a headset in 2011, so the new ERA has been nearly three years in coming. The slow release of a new version seems to mimic a view of Bluetooth headsets falling out of favor. Many people cringe at the thought of a small plastic object attached to their ear and the memories of people who appear to be talking to themselves.

Frankly, I think using a speaker phone in public to be much more rude than using a headset. However, I expect many who will buy the new ERA will be like me, headset users looking for an upgrade rather than those buying a headset for the first time.

Most of my phone calls are for work and can be very long, making a headset a required accessory. My hearing is not the best, and I am deaf in my right ear, so I have more demanding requirements. The headset must work in my left ear and I must be able to hear conversations clearly.

The new Jawbone ERA meets my requirements, even though it has a bias towards people wearing the headset in their right ear. Presumably right-handed people prefer wearing headsets in their right hear, and the ERA reflects this bias by shipping with three right earbuds: small, medium and large, and one left earbud: medium. Jawbone plans to sell small and large left earbuds on their website, but so far they are not available.

  • UPDATE: Jawbone has begun selling the Type C earbuds for both ears on their web site. You can order a variety pack that provides one earbud of each size, left and right ears, or six earbuds of a specific size and ear for $9.99.

The ERA earbuds are designed to fit snug in the concha of the external ear so that the headset is firmly in place and does not move. A small part of the bud goes into the entry of the ear canal. I am able to wear the medium left earbud but it feels a little large, pressing against the top part of the concha, making it painful to wear for long periods of time. It may be that the rubber needs to be broken in, but I suspect the small earbud may be a better fit for me.

  • Professional wireless and wired headsets used by musicians and television personalities are custom fitted to a person’s ear so that they stay put and are comfortable for long periods of time. The ERA earbuds use a similar design but are obviously not custom fitted.

One problem I had with the Jawbone ICON I had been using is that it has a round earbud and a ear loop that I have to use to keep the headset in place. I wear glasses and the ear loop tends to conflict with the glasses, so I am happy to find a headset that I can wear without an ear loop.

Phone conversations are very clear with the Jawbone ERA, and so far no one with whom I have had conversations with have complained about how I sound. Speaker and microphone quality have always been a strong suit for Jawbone due to the audio technology they call NoiseAssassin. NoiseAssissin utilizes multiple microphones and audio processing to filter out background noise. You must wear the headset against your face as it utilizes bone conduction to capture your speech.

Besides the dork factor that causes many to avoid using Bluetooth headsets, a real problem for many is the need to keep them charged. You might have to remember to carry a wired headset, but at least it always works. Jawbone sells a charging case for the ERA so that you can top off the headset’s battery will carrying it.

Jawbone ERA in case

The earbud extends outside the case, so I don’t think it provides much protection, but I do like the idea of topping off the headset battery. The case has a micro-USB adapter that you plug the headset to, and you use another micro-USB port on the case to charge it. The case provides one additional full charge to the headset.

Battery life can be a problem, the headset has four hours of talk time. If you are a real heavy user you will need to remember to put the headset in the case for top-offs between conversations. Heavy users at least need to remember to charge the headset each night.

For most people battery life is the biggest impediment to using a Bluetooth headset, and so far this is a problem no manufacturer has solved. The headsets need to be small and light, which means they can’t have large, heavy batteries. By creating the charging case, Jawbone is showing how little battery technology has evolved forcing us to seek acceptable workarounds. I would rather see improvements in battery life, but the charging case is a good workaround.

Purchased together, the ERA headset and charging case cost $129, or you can purchase the headset alone for $100. For someone like myself who needs the best sound quality, I think the $100 is money well spent. Unfortunately, for now I recommend that if you must wear the ERA in your left ear wait until Jawbone starts selling the additional earbuds on their web site. If you can wear the ERA comfortably in either ear, I think you will be very happy with this headset.

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Happy Birthday Macintosh

Today, January 24, 2014, is the 30th birthday of the Apple Macintosh. It also may be the birthday of a phenomena known as tech lust, which still prevails to this day. Today across the web people are writing about the first time they saw, and began lusting for, the Apple Macintosh. Here is my story.

I was a high school senior on January 24, 2014 when the Macintosh was introduced and most of us saw that Super Bowl ad. The first time I saw the Mac in person was in the computer science lab at Michigan Technological University in the fall of my freshman year.

Apple donated six Macs and an ImageWriter to the computer science department, who put them in a lab. My work study job was to baby sit the lab to make sure nobody ran off with the computers. Tech went so far as to teach Pascal programming using those computers with one class of students. To my knowledge it was the first programming class taught at Tech using personal computers, all other classes used mainframes. (My first programming class was in Fortran on the mainframe.)

Imagine being in a class of about twenty students and being told the computer you are going to use for your classes, in which you had regular programming assignments, was one of these new computers called a Macintosh. Exciting, until you learn there are six computers to be shared with 20 students.

It gets worse. These were the original Macs that had no hard drive, the computer booted from a floppy disk, although much of the operating system was in Read Only Memory, you then loaded the Pascal programming environment from floppy disk, and then once it finished you swapped out that floppy for the disk on which you stored your programs. Bad enough you were constrained to only six, bleeding edge computers, but then you also had to use a new and buggy development environment. Frankly, I am glad that I was not in that class.

My job, however, did give me the opportunity to use the Macs whenever they were not being used by students, and they came with the MacWrite and MacPaint programs. I fell in love with the What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) word processing and the ability to pick and choose fonts. The ImageWriter printed out whichever font you chose rather than the familiar doted letters of the dot matrix printers. The Mac and ImageWriter made it easy to write and publish really cool looking documents.

In 1984 computers were not cheap, and the fully loaded Mac cost nearly $3,000, well beyond my means to purchase. I deeply desired a Macintosh of my own and for several years wished that the university book store, which provided a way for students to buy IBM PCs on installment payments, would do the same for a Mac, but they never did until much later.

In my second year in college I scrapped together enough money to buy my first computer, an Atari 800 XL, along with a monochrome monitor, Epson printer, and 1200 baud modem. My programming classes were all done on mainframes or mini computers, so I was able to use the modem and a VT-100 terminal emulator on the Atari to do all of my programming class work, and I had a word processing application for writing papers.

The Atari 800 XL served me well through all of my remaining college years and was my main computer right up until I started working for EDS in 1989. While the Atari met my functional computing needs, I kept using and desiring the Macs on campus. One time, after seeing an advertisement by a store that offered loans to purchase anything they sold, including the Macs, I drove 100 miles from where I lived to apply for and be denied the loan.

Even in 1990 a Mac cost thousands of dollars, and while I then had a job, the cost of a Mac was well beyond the means of my disposable income. I could afford the next best thing at the time, an Atari 1040ST.

The STs where Atari’s answer to the Mac’s graphical user interface and Atari’s last gasp at remaining a viable computer company. Atari and Commodore, who sold the Amiga, which was the other computer on the market with a GUI, fell victim to the growing number of PC clones and to Microsoft Windows.

In 1993 I bought my first Apple product, the Newton Messagepad. I used Windows at work, and so the practical side of me led me to buy computers that ran Windows, first a Packard Bell, later a Dell, and even one home built kit.

Finally, in 2003 I bought my first Macintosh, the 12-inch Powerbook G4 with an aluminum case, and I wrote two editions of my book using that notebook computer, which I still have. The Powerbook and Mac Mini that I have owned has since been replaced by the 13-inch Macbook Air, which is by far the best computer I have ever owned. I bought the Macbook Air on my 45th birthday, you can call it a geek’s mid-life crisis purchase, the culmination of tech lust that began from my first encounter of the Mac in 1984.

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Improve Battery Life With Galaxy Note 8

Ever since I upgraded my Galaxy Note 8 to Android 4.2.2 I have been unhappy with the battery life. The most concerning issue is that with the Note 8 sitting unused battery life was decreasing by one percent every six to eight minutes. A device sitting unused ought to be able to go at least a few days between charges, but at that rate the Note 8 will be dead in about 7 to 9 hours.

The Solution: Assign A Static IP Address

The solution for me was to configure my Galaxy Note 8 to use a static IP address when it connects to my home network. While I provide some instructions below for how to configure the Note 8 to use a static IP address, the process requires some knowledge of how wireless access points work.

If you are not familiar with the settings of your home wireless access point, you will want to find someone who can help you with these changes. With so many different brands of access points, I cannot provide instructions for how to use the settings of each to obtain the information need to make this configuration change.

The Problem: wlan_rx_awake Kept My Note 8 Constantly Awake

BetterBatteryStats showed the Note 8 to be awake almost the entire time it was unplugged, instead of of being in Deep Sleep. The following screenshot shows a better depiction of what you should get, with the device in deep sleep at least 75% of the time while it is not being used.

Better Battery Stats Galaxy Note 8

The problem, according to BetterBatteryStates was wlan_rx_awake, which was keeping my Note 8 awake almost the entire time. After some research, I learned that wlan_rx_awake is caused due to the device constantly needing to respond to DHCP requests on the wireless network.

Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP)

Like most people, have I a home wireless network and use Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, DHCP, to automatically assign IP addresses to the devices that connect to the network. If you have a home wireless LAN, most likely you are using DHCP as that is the default configuration for all of the home wireless access points.

DHCP is also used at most businesses as it greatly simplifies administration of local area networks. The alternative is to assign an address, providing what is called a static IP address, by manually changing the configuration of the device.

If a device is configured to use DHCP, each time it connects to a network it makes a request for an IP address. DHCP server software, which is available in almost all wireless access points, provides an IP address to devices when they connect to the network.

DHCP assigns IP addresses for a specified period of time, after which the address expires and the device has to request a new address. You can change the length of time before an address expires, and on my network I have addresses set to expire after one day.

Normally, after 24 hours passes, the devices on my network make a new DHCP request for an address. DHCP also normally keeps assigning the same address to the same devices as long as it maintains a connection. Something has been causing my Note 8 to constantly request an update to the address regardless of how I have the router configured.

Troubleshooting Steps

To solve the problem I first upgraded the firmware on my access point after I discovered it was more than a year old, but that did not solve the problem. I didn’t expect it to as the same router was in use before the 4.2.2 upgrade and I didn’t see this problem.

  • Some message boards posts that I have read about this problem suggest the issue has to do with the wireless router and not the device. In my case, however, I am seeing the problem when my Note 8 connects to my home network and when it connects to the wireless LAN at the office. Odds are the problem is with the Note 8 and not with both networks.

My next step was to configure the DHCP server on the access point to assign a specific IP address to the Note 8. Normally, addresses are randomly assigned from a pool so there is a possibility for the address to change between reboots. If you need a device to have the same address you can configure DHCP to do so by associating an IP address to the MAC address of the device. Unfortunately, this too, did not solve my problem.

Assigning A Static IP Address To A Galaxy Note 8

The final step to solving the problem was assigning a static IP address to my Note 8. To do this I had to go in to the Wi-Fi setting on the Note 8, tap and hold on the entry for my home network and select Forget, then tap Add Wi-Fi network, and complete the dialog shown in this screen shot:

Galaxy Note 8 Wi-Fi settings

You need to tap the Show Advanced Options check box to expose the Proxy Settings and IP Settings fields. Leave Proxy Settings to None, change IP Settings to Static, which exposes the IP Address field, and then enter the IP Address and Gateway addresses in the appropriate fields of the dialog box. The fields have an example of an IP address but you need to enter the information as those are just examples and not actual values.

The DHCP servers for most home wireless networks assign addresses using a 192.168.1.x network, with 192.16.1.1 usually assigned to the wireless access point, which also known as the Gateway to the public Internet. You need to entire the IP address for your access point in the Gateway field of the dialog box shown above.

You will find in the access point’s settings the number of devices DHCP is configured to support and the range of addresses it uses to assign to those devices. For example, on my network, DHCP assigns addresses in the range of 192.168.1.100 to 192.168.1.149, so you do not want to use an address in that range for the static IP address of your device. If your home network is like mine, you have plenty of addresses available to use starting with 192.168.1.2 up to 192.168.1.99.

You also need to provide DNS server addresses in the DNS1 and DNS2 fields, but you can use the 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4 addresses provided as examples, those are the addresses to Google’s DNS servers that you can use.

After I configured my Galaxy Note 8 to use a static IP address, the battery discharging speed improved dramatically up to ~20 minutes per one percent of life, or put differently, I should now be able to get nearly two full days between charges, assuming normal usage. If you don’t seem to get as much battery life out of your device as you would expect, you may want to try changing to a static IP address to see if it makes an improvement.

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