Android Wear 5.1.1: WTF update and why Bubble Cloud Launcher is still needed

The big stream, little pipe problem

My Coffee interface. Four important people.

My Coffee interface. Four important people.

Android wear is actually version 1.3.0.2166028, but most folks refer to the Android OS version that’s pushing it – currently 5.1.1. In an earlier post about Wear, I complained about the lack of options for responding to tweets and SMS messages. Those issues are still valid, but so are the solutions. I use Coffee extensively for SMS, though I’ve given up trying to deal with tweets via Wear. Tweetings splits out mentions and  reading that feed is easy enough as there are only a few per day (if I’m lucky). But trying to look at my entire timeline is too much for the Bluetooth connection. Loading is often painfully slow, and the app doesn’t let me select on one of my lists to view. I have a number of very focused lists, like Technology, that aren’t going to be filled with the usual chatter that swells the banks of the Twitter river. That would make scanning Twitter a whole lot more practical. Scanning by conversation would be cool too (and Tweetings does that on the phone app with their stacked timeline).

The animatronic Norm Crosby

Perhaps a newer watch would handle the Twitter load better (I have the Moto 360, which famously has an older CPU in it) but then I hit trouble crafting responses. The voice transliteration of Android Wear is pretty good, but just try to tweet about ‘The Balvenie’ (a brand of Scotch) or even ‘Android Wear’ (which comes out ‘Android where’ — hello, Google, you know that’s a product of yours, right?). The results are unintentionally comical and remind me of an old-school comedian, Norm Crosby. Norm made a career out of malapropisms — like this schtick, in which he explains (in an inadvertent call-out to the horrendously sexist scene that just passed) that Dean Martin treats his bevy of beauties with ‘tenderness and affliction.’ You can just imagine your tweet going out with such a malaprop. Coffee avoids that with providing a raft of well-organized responses you can customize on the fly by adding a word or two to a stock phrase.

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Moto 360 repair report

UPDATE: I’ve had TWO other Motos since this post. The first refurbished Moto would not sync with Google play music — it kept getting a ‘Watch disconnected’ error from the Google Play app on the watch, and the new 5.1.1 feature on the Google Play phone app would never resolve for “Manage Wear downloads.” So I complained about that, and they RMA’d it. That got me a new watch (not a refurb), which got stuck in a “Gapps failed” error loop on first initialization. That went back, and now I have another new Moto360. Turnaround was quick, from the time I sent the old one back to getting the new one was 12 days. This one appears to be back to the original error with Google Play, so obviously there is something in software that is screwy there.

In my recent post about Android Wear (my field test), I mentioned some damage noticed at the end of the trip. Here’s my experience with Motorola in fixing my watch.

Moto360 containment broken!

Moto360 containment broken!

When I returned from New York, I took off my watch to recharge and noticed there were two cracks across the back. These were not minor cracks, the backing was split completely through (photo). I was wondering what might have caused this and checked the forums at Android Central. Apparently the problem is common and there are a couple theories about what causes them: Either third-party bands are too thick and thus press up against the backing, or the cracking is caused by heat during recharge. Certainly, some third-party bands are thicker (the Moto will take a standard 22mm band). Well, I was using a third party band, the Tylt (review here), but the Tylt is advertised as being designed specifically for the Moto 360.

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Field report: Android Wear/Moto360 field test

What could be a greater test of the usability of Android Wear than a hectic trip to the most hectic place in America – Manhattan? We’ll rate the usefulness of the OS and share the resulting Battle Damage Assessment of the hardware.

Usefulness

This is the crucial test for Android Wear: in a strange city, did it make my life easier, or needlessly complicate it? Did the battery make it through? Was I hung up with any data issues in the notoriously cell-unfriendly big city?

Communications

Let’s start off with the basics: keeping in touch. My Wear device linked to a HTC One which is my personal phone. I left my work phone at the hotel. It was a mad trip—we walked 65 miles in seven days, visited five major museums,  took in two Broadway shows and went to three fancy ‘destination’ restaurants (hey, it was a big-number anniversary…we blew it out). All week, I never missed a call or text from my kids or my mom. I could read emails from my airline and my dentist. Nice. Twitter and WordPress kept me apprised of blog-related activity. On-wrist notification is superb when you are on a crowded sidewalk or subway and you don’t fancy having your $500 phone knocked to the pavement by bustling commuters. +1 point.

Mapping the route

Busy as bees we were, and this isn't even all of the flowers we visited.

Busy as bees we were, and this isn’t even all of the flowers we visited.

We went to a lot of places, every day, and the weather was great (in late June? wow!) so we walked a lot. We had to see Central Park (big!), all the big department stores, FAO Schwartz (before it closed, sad face), Central Park, Dean and Deluca’s, some nutty place called Momofuku, the High Line, several Villages, it goes on. My approach: ‘favorite’ the places we panned to visit the night before for quick navigation–Google maps is superb for that. Next day, I would click on the fave, click the walking man icon, and throw the phone in the pocket. The watch guided. Tres cool. +1 point.

What’s the weather up there?

Face it, June in NYC, you don’t expect it to be nice. After being in a museum for four hours it was great to know what the weather was doing out there, if rain was imminent (we only got hit once), what was happening tomorrow (while we huddled over sandwiches in the tiniest Pret A’ Manger ever). +1 point.

Wrist action

I got the 5.1.1 update just before we left, so I was able to do the wrist flick to activate the screen, then the slow roll and flick to move through cards. (See video here). But unlike the techno buffalo reviewer, who tested the feature sitting on his butt, I was on a subway, holding on for dear life. Being able to scroll through notifications one-handed is cool and I have used that feature a number of times—on walks, while carrying a water bottle, on my bike, etc. Nice move, Wear. We still need a motion to dismiss cards. See Annoyances. +1 point.

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Tylt watch bands for Moto 360

Tylt Packaging. Makes you feel all cheery, doesn't it?

Tylt Packaging. Makes you feel all cheery, doesn’t it?

I like the standard black leather watchband for the Moto 360. It’s comfortable and reasonably stylish. That band was a major reason I found the Moto one of the most comfortable watches I have owned. I’ve got a number of watches, not a crazy amount, but I like a good watch and my previous favorite for comfort was from Junkers. That got stolen a long time back and I never got another one quite like it.

I was glad to find the Moto 360 so comfortable, so much that, having satisfied myself that MotoBody was as accurate as my Fitbit for counting paces, I ditched the Fitbit. The Fitbit’s band is a grabby silicone which really annoyed my wrists, especially my RSI. If you’ve fought tendinitis as I have for decades, you can appreciate the importance of a non-binding band.

So, I was happily pacing, and running, with greater comfort an no worse accuracy. (Which BTW, is a reason not to use Google Fit’s pace counter. It is accurate most of the time, but occasionally assigns me thousands of steps I have not taken. I get to breakfast, and I’ve taken 2300 steps. Really?! What, did I move to Jay Gatsby’s house? Use Moto Body if you have the ‘360.) Why replace the band? I do a lot of walking, and running, and riding of bikes, and as the weather warmed up, I was not only sweating a whole lot more but also dousing myself more often with water to cool off. Neither is optimal for a leather band.

Given how comfy the ‘360 was with the original band, I faced replacement with some trepidation. First of all, there were a lot of reports from the early days of the Moto 360 of generic third-party bands causing splits on the back of the watch. Folks were trying to cut down silicone bands in hopes of making them work, and sometimes ruining the band, other times, ruining the watch. A bit frustrating, Moto having made a standard-sized watch lug that was prone to cracking. Then there was price. You can spend a lot of coin for a good-looking watchband. The cheap stuff at the drugstore was not going to work for me (I’m a watch guy after all…)

Yet I needn’t have worried. My search lasted about 30 seconds. My hit came up from the Moto web site, for the Tylt band. Silicone, stainless fittings. Looked a likely choice. And only $27. Not bad! I was not expecting much, however. I have bought watchbands n that price range before and been disappointed.

Tylt clasp mechanism

Tylt clasp mechanism

As you can see from the photo to the upper right, it arrived in a cheery green-detailed box with Moto 360-specific markings. That alleviated some concern about a group of unscrupulous re-branders releasing a generic band for the picky Moto. This looked like the real deal. Inside the package are replacement springs and the little watch tool you need to replace the band. I already had that, but most folks don’t and the tool makes all the difference in replacing a watch band. It grabs those little springs and holds them tight. I had the new band on in a couple minutes, and slipped it on.

I demand good looks and comfort, and the band delivered on both from the beginning. The band is scalloped, not just a plain strap of silicone, and the fittings are thick stainless steel, well-finished with precise bevels. They look classy.

The photo here is from a week on, so there are a few spots of dust and such, but the stainless fittings, especially the etched ‘TYLT’ logo, give the watch a bit of class and hold up well to wear and tear. I’ve had the band for a few weeks since that photo and I wear the Moto daily, all day, whether working, gardening, puttering around, anything but really high-risk activities. It gets knocked around. No scratches.

Better than that, the silicone has a nice silky feel which does not bind or grab. ON hot days, or running, it does not get slimy or slick. I don’t notice it hanging on to me like I do the TomTom Multisport (which has a really stiff, wide strap). This band is comfy. The band itself holds up well; there is a little patina on the edges of the band itself as the silicone wears, you can just make it out in the picture. But, all in all, a win, hands down.

You can get them here. I see they are a few more $ now. Still worth it.

P.S., I found, bought and wore the product with no consideration from the manufacturer, Motorola, or anyone else.

Black band, black watch. They have other colors, too.

Black band, black watch. They have other colors, too.

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Thought-reading patents increasing

Strangely, just a few days after writing my mind-reading post, I see this headline: “Surge in US ‘brain-reading’ patents” in my BBC news feed. (Yes, I read the BBC.) Serendipity? Who knows, the wife thinks I can read minds. Anyway. turns out this is a pretty hot area. The article states that Nielsen (the ratings guys) have 100 patents, and Microsoft is not far behind: “Microsoft holds 89 patents for software that can assess mental states” — no doubt, given all the angst the damn ribbon has caused over the years. Not to mention MS Word style sheets. Neuro tech is going ‘non-medical’ — which means, forget therapeutic applications, companies want to read your mind.

Do you ever wander into the grocery store and stand goggle-eyed at, say, the 15 varieties of Greek yogurt? (BTW, can I get a break from this stuff? Where is the old damn yogurt, anyway? This Greek stuff is like Spackle…thick, viscous, and tastes like chalk.) Nowadays, all the vendor can do to influence you is to pretty up the package (happy Greek lamb prancing through daisies) and buy primo shelf space from the grocer (that’s right, the grocer has sold the shelf…what you pay for the item is becoming immaterial). Imagine in the future, the winning vendor has:

  • Paid to access data the store is gathering by reading the RFID tags in the products you’ve placed in the cart
  • Paid the store for your past purchase history (remember the rewards card you swipe every time?)
  • Paid the store to install a mind-reading sensor in their shelf, so they know how you’re leaning

That third point is not so far-fetched. They’ll be able to determine the image of the package you are staring at, and if it isn’t the happy little Greek lamb but an Icelandic Hair Cow (trust me, Icelandic yogurt is the only stuff worse than Greek), they’ll spurt a scent into the air, flash a holographic ad, or toss all that, reach directly into your mind and nudge you gently towards the happy Lamb Greek spackle-yogurt.

You doubt me, oh skeptical reader? It may be ‘rubbish’ now, but (from aforelinked BBC article) “there are a massive number of neuro-marketing companies that have sprung up in the last few years….they all seek to define their [unique selling point] and intellectual property (ie patents) based on their fancy analysis techniques and claim to measure things like ‘engagement’ or ‘interest’ from EEG signals.”

In the original Bedazzled, the Devil explains to his rube that since the Seven Deadly Sins, the only new evil he’d thought up was Advertising. That was 1967. Since then, the devil has been busy shaping up Marketing to stand up there with the other deadly misadventures we humans get up to..

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Why I get my news from the BBC

Yes, I am an American and I use the BBC for my news. You get a better quality of writing than in the US (save perhaps the New York Times and WSJ) and it also provides a filter for American hype. The Beeb is somewhat conservative for a British news organ, but it’s a more left-leaning country so it’s more balanced than most US news outlets. Furthermore, since they have less skin in our game, there is far less partisan yellowing of the coverage. The BBC has a moderately good immunity against trash-sensationalism, to which the US news outlets are prone. With that immunity we also get the occasional wry reference to the propensity to be over-concerned with ourselves here in America. And you get a healthy leavening of world news, which IMHO would help a number of my countrymen get a better feel of how the U.S. fits in the rest of the world. The rest of the world being a place where most of the world lives, and from which come many good ideas. Both of these latter qualities I think make for a better citizen. Not just better informed, but also with a more complete point of view.

Last of all, the BBC has a great news app for iPhone and Android. So does the Economist. The Economist is also a fantastic news magazine, and you can think of them as the TL:DR version of the BBC: extremely well-written, reasonably balanced, and even self-aware where they are biased. Also, the Economist is useful for, get this, gauging the economy: they do data-driven coverage of economic trends (along with a lot of general news) and they do it well, with charts that make sense and do not insult the reader with stupid, cartoony visualizations like you find in USA Today.

So sue me, I’m a news snob. But get this: I know who Mario Draghi is, not to mention the UK Prime Minister (most Americans stopped on the street have no idea) and I can find Yemen on a map. Maybe you say that is not so useful to know. But get this: a year before the US property market blew up, the Economist ran an article on the overheating housing markets in the US, Spain and the UK, illustrated with a single, succinct line graph of housing prices. IIRC, they also showed wage growth (far below housing increases). The geometric increase in home prices was clearly unsustainable. At that time I told various relatives who had real estate investments (or ready to unload their home to downsize for retirement) to sell. They didn’t listen.

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In the future, Big Brother will know your thoughts

I was listening to a podcast a few weeks back, Ira Flatow’s SciFri, in which a security researcher was describing experiments in which consumer-grade EEGs could be used to guess your birthday, or your PIN, just by showing you an image which would prompt you to think of that information. A quick scan of the ‘net shows the Japanese had people driving wheelchairs with brainwaves way back in 2009, and in 2013, we had a guy walking with a prosthetic leg using brainwaves.

That, I would say, is mind reading.

Compared to what everyone else is all a-Twitter about, wearable technology, mind-reading is big, really big, and I don’t see anyone getting too worked up about it. Sure, you may think, they had to strap a helmet to your head for the mind-reading experiment, same for the wheelchair project. Yeah, they did, but that’s because it’s early days in brainwave detection. You don’t think they’ll develop remote brainwave detection? Let’s look at some advances in wave detection over the years.

Early radar sets, used in WWII, were 50 feet tall and had power requirements of 15 to 20 kilowatts. As they advanced the detection technology, by the middle of the war radar was mounted on aircraft, which obviously had lower power resources, and sets using several hundred watts were in use. The radar sets used for keeping your blind grandma’s Volvo from sideswiping innocent drivers run on 12 volts and use at most 75 watts. The ability to detect long-wave light has improved a bunch. But that’s nothing compared to the delicacy of bluetooth, or GPS.

GPS signals have about 50 watts of power and travel over 11,000 miles, penetrate the atmosphere, clouds, dust, all the crap we throw into the sky, and then some light tree cover (or your car windshield), and are read by a mobile device using ridiculously low power — your phone. That’s where we are with wave detection today. It’s amazing.

Various web sites estimate your brain uses about 20 watts of energy, but the amount of that generated as signal is far lower. Maybe your brain has 1/1000 the strength of GPS…but the mind-readers don’t need to detect it from 11,000 miles, maybe just a few feet, as you stumble into Safeway after a long night partying. Within seconds, the store’s computers are displaying the location of coffee, Pepto-Bismol and Tylenol in an overlay map of the store in your Microsoft HoloLens shades. You don’t think so? The tin hatters like to quote Patent 3,951,134, which describes a way to remotely detect your thoughts. And that was using old tech, the seventies. Hell, they still had dial phones back then. Ethernet was only two years old and still in the lab. We can do a lot better now. We can scribble 3-d emojis and send them to our loved ones from a little slab running a tiny CPU using maybe .33 watts. Kind of useless, but impressive.

Mind-reading. It’s not so far away. I can just imagine, after a dash of road-rage flaring up after a hot day in heavy traffic, you park and step inside to cool off with a cold beer and an episode of Game Of Icy Fire, but you’ve forgotten about your hi-tech apartment’s entry scanner…your crime, of homicidal thoughts, flashes onto your GlasLinqs, and you sigh, remembering the repeal of the Fifth Amendment back in 2017, when America was running scared of DISIS (domestic ISIS). So you slink back outside and wait for the men in white coats to drive up and take you away, for just thinking of what you’d like to do to that rat-bastard…

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Still working on tech, drop by the Albino tree site for some culture

I’m working slowly today, as my back is still complaining about Saturday’s gardening efforts. I did get a little walk in, and a post up which i had been working on at the ‘culture’ site, Albinotree.net. It is my little ramble about why no one in Game of Thrones has the sense to wear a hat. And here is a nice shot (below, click for mo’ bigger) from the walk this morning to tide you over. And you can see more from Portland’s lovely neighborhoods here.

Mural, just off of 40th & SE Hawthorne

Mural, just off of 40th & SE Hawthorne

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Overdoing it in the garden again

Today’s post was to be covering some more Android Wear watch faces, as well as some hints for using the bubble cloud launcher. However this morning’s effort to turn the characteristically heavy clay soil in my garden plot resulted in back strain for your humble blogger, who is now even more humbly lying on the floor and trying not to be too pathetic, lest the tribe chuck him out to the curb. Hopefully a night’s rest will set me to rights.

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Game on in wearables: Apple Watch vs. Android Wear

I’m a watch guy. I have several nice watches that cost more than an Apple watch, and I consider them fashion statements. None of them will be outmoded anywhere near as quickly as a modern ‘smart’ thing, which have lifecycles as short as one year. Yet, I have a smartwatch — a Moto 360. And all of us watch+tech heads have been anticipating what Apple will deliver, as they are the 600-lb gorilla of the tech space. With reviews of actual product out, I’m intrigued at what Apple has brought to the party. With some comprehensive reviews out on (among others) CNet and the Verge, we now have a good idea. In the typical Apple approach, it is heavy on style, closed, and minimal, even simplistic in the interface.

No, wait.

The UI is going to boggle some minds

That last bit is just what apple usually brings — scaled-down interfaces, simple ways to get complex things done, though with less adaptability than you would find in Windows or Android. But not with the A-watch. I’m amazed, really, that they’ve broken up the interface to their wearable into four pathways:

– The crown, which is used to scroll lists, or zoom. Or you can press it to bring up the app launcher (a tool Android Wear forgot).

– A button – press for the Contacts screen (another Wear miss), double-press for Apple Pay.

– Touching and swiping for notifications and app fragments.

– Force touch – pushing harder than normal.

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