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Florence Ion

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Florence Ion


What if you could privately use an application and manage its permissions to keep ill-intending apps from accessing your data? That’s exactly what Steve Kondik at CyanogenMod—the aftermarket, community-based firmware for Android devices—hopes to bring to the operating system. It’s called Incognito Mode, and it’s designed to help keep your personal data under control.

Kondik, a lead developer with the CyanogenMod team, published a post on his Google Plus profile last week about Incognito Mode. He offered more details on the feature:

I've added a per-application flag which is exposed via a simple API. This flag can be used by content providers to decide if they should return a full or limited dataset. In the implementation I'm working on, I am using the flag to provide these privacy features in the base system:

  • Return empty lists for contacts, calendar, browser history, and messages.
  • GPS will appear to always be disabled to the running application.
  • When an app is running incognito, a quick panel item is displayed in order to turn it off easily.
  • No fine-grained permissions controls as you saw in CM7. It's a single option available under application details.

The API provides a simple isIncognito() call which will tell you if incognito is enabled for the process (or the calling process). Third party applications can honor the feature using this API, or they can choose to display pictures of cats instead of running normally.

Every time you install a new application on Android, the operating system asks you to review the permissions the app requests before it can install. This approach to user data is certainly precarious because users can't deny individual permissions to pick and choose what an application has access to, even if they still want to use that app. Incognito Mode could potentially fix this conundrum, enabling users to restrict their data to certain applications.

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Florence Ion

Sometimes, we're not always satisfied with the experience that Android offers us. However, the beauty of being an Android user is that you can make a choice to do something different. Before you head off into the weekend, check out Everything.me and its unique Home screen experience. Or, if you've been envious of Facebook's Chat Heads and wish they existed for other apps, download Floating Notifications to get a similar experience.

The Google Play store is chock full of applications that allow us to customize our phones, tack on new features, or just check the score for our favorite team. Here are just a few of those apps we discovered this week that can make those things happen.

Everything.me, Free

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Florence Ion

We spent the week at I/O sitting in sessions, walking around the show floor, and congregating with developers. After the keynote, things got quieter on the news front but there was still plenty to learn about. This conference is about community, bringing together developers of all types, and connecting people with similar interests and backgrounds. It's also about adorable little Androids, which absolutely overwhelmed downtown San Francisco's convention center, the Moscone Center.


The Google Store

A Google Store employee models the Android Superhero costume, available for a mere $32.80. There was no word on compatibility with the YouTube Socks.

Sean Gallagher

14 more images in gallery

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Florence Ion

SAN FRANCISCO, CA—Although Google's keynote at the I/O conference this week focused heavily on the APIs and behind-the-scenes development of the Android operating system, it looks like there's a lot more in store. This idea was especially apparent in a panel discussion today involving eleven members of the Android development team. The team sat for a forty-minute question and answer session, and while they dodged most inquiries about forthcoming features for Android, they did offer a bit of insight into what the future of Android might look like, what developers could do to help further the platform, and what they’ve learned from their journey thus far.

The conversation began with a question relating to whether or not the Android team would have done anything differently from the beginning. Senior Android Engineer Dianne Hackborn said the team "should have had more control over applications. A big example is the whole settings provider, where we just let applications go and write to it... it was a simple thing that we shouldn’t have done." Ficus Kirkpatrick, one of the founding members of the Android team and the current lead for the Google Play Store team, added that “you’re never going to get everything right the first time. I don’t really regret any of the mistakes we’ve made. I think getting things out there at the speed we did…was the most important thing.”

The team also briefly touched on fragmentation and how they’re working to combat the issue—it was even referred to as the “F” word. "This is something we think about a lot,” said Dave Burke, engineering director of the Android platform. He explained that many silicon vendors take the open source code, break it apart, and create their own Board Support Packages (BSPs) to make their hardware compatible with the software. To streamline the process, the Android team made the code for the platform more layered, so if a vendor needs to make changes, they have a clean abstraction layer to do so without affecting the entire operating system.

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Florence Ion

Mobile gaming can be a finicky thing. Not only does any title have to account for varying screen resolutions and multiplayer play, but with such a saturated device market, being able to take a game cross-platform entices both the developer and the player. For example, switching back and forth between iOS and Android can be difficult for some mobile gamers, especially if there are in-app purchases and achievements worth hoarding. As mobile ecosystems grow so do the users’ needs.

Google apparently realizes this since the company is making big strides to ensure that game developers are on board with its mobile ecosystem. It’s introduced a suite of APIs that will enable cloud saves, leaderboards, multiplayer game play, and achievements—all things that will benefit mobile gamers. “The opportunity that exists here is phenomenal for both developers and players looking for interesting and entertaining games,” said Greg Hartell, product manager for Google Play game services. “What it’s really about is creating a cross-platform environment that allows you to build a community of players across different screens.”

At first glance, Google’s Play game services appear to be a response to Apple’s Game Center functionality. On iOS the Game Center is featured as a standalone application for players to check on achievements and hook up with friends to play a game. Game Center is also integrated into the games that support it. The Play game services work similarly: users log in with their Google Plus account on the titles that support it.

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Andrew Cunningham

Aurich Lawson / Thinkstock

Welcome back to our three-part series on touchscreen technology. Last time, Florence Ion walked you through the technology's past, from the invention of the first touchscreens in the 1960s all the way up through the mid-2000s. During this period, different versions of the technology appeared in everything from PCs to early cell phones to personal digital assistants like Apple's Newton and the Palm Pilot. But all of these gadgets proved to be little more than a tease, a prelude to the main event. In this second part in our series, we'll be talking about touchscreens in the here-and-now.

When you think about touchscreens today, you probably think about smartphones and tablets, and for good reason. The 2007 introduction of the iPhone kicked off a transformation that turned a couple of niche products—smartphones and tablets—into billion-dollar industries. The current fierce competition from software like Android and Windows Phone (as well as hardware makers like Samsung and a host of others) means that new products are being introduced at a frantic pace.

The screens themselves are just one of the driving forces that makes these devices possible (and successful). Ever-smaller, ever-faster chips allow a phone to do things only a heavy-duty desktop could do just a decade or so ago, something we've discussed in detail elsewhere. The software that powers these devices is more important, though. Where older tablets and PDAs required a stylus or interaction with a cramped physical keyboard or trackball to use, mobile software has adapted to be better suited to humans' native pointing device—the larger, clumsier, but much more convenient finger.

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Florence Ion

Losing your phone or having your tablet fall to its death can be hard on anyone, especially in this day and age where mobile devices have become an essential part of our lives. Just like with any computer, backing up your mobile apps and data can prove worthy when disaster strikes—or just after you’ve purchased a new phone and simply need to migrate data.

Thankfully, there are a plethora of applications in the Google Play store that provide backup services for devices of all types, but only a few we thought were worth considering. We tried to pick out the ones that stood out to us the most and offered what we’d want from a backup suite for our non-rooted devices. If you have any suggestions of applications you’ve used to back up your Android device that aren't listed here, feel free to tell us about it in the comments. We’ll do a follow-up in next week’s Android app roundup with your suggestions.

G Cloud Backup, Free

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Florence Ion

There's no better way to start off the afternoon than coming to terms with your mortality, which you'll need to do if you want to take advantage of Google's new Inactive Account Manager. Google launched the service on its account settings page to give users options with their account should it remain inactive for an extended period of time.


It's simple to set up: choose a timeout period—three, six, nine, or twelve months of inactivity—and from there you can direct Google on what to do with your Gmail messages, Blogger posts, Contacts, Google+ account, Google Voice, and YouTube accounts. (Basically, any Google services you've used in the past.) After that time period of inactivity, Google will send out a text message and e-mail the secondary address you provide. If you don't respond, it will assume... well, the worst. "We hope that this new feature will enable you to plan your digital afterlife," Google concluded in the blog post.


If you have intentions of allowing a friend or family member to have access to that data, you can set up the service to notify up to 10 people that your account has been inactive for the time you've specified. Google will then ask for verification details for the listed people, like a phone number and e-mail address. When you're ready, you can send out an e-mail to those people you've entrusted with your data should anything happen to you.

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Florence Ion

If you've ever needed a temporary phone number for whatever reason, there are several apps out there that you could turn to. Last summer, we wrote about Burner, an application on iOS that enables users to take on another phone number for a small fee. Unlike Google Voice or Skype, the app can assign your mobile phone a new number with just the touch of a button. Today, Burner has made its app available to Android users.



To make a burner phone number with the app, select the “Create Burner” button to choose an area code and then input the number the burner should forward to (it will automatically default to the number on your mobile phone). Unfortunately, you can’t use a land line as the callback number, because the number requires text message verification. You can then pick from a variety of burner options, with the most standard being the Mini Burner for $1.99, which offers a number valid for a week, 20 minutes, or 60 texts. After that, the number is effectively disposed of. There are also payment tiers: eight credits for $4.99, 15 for $7.99, or 25 for $11.99.

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Florence Ion

Aurich Lawson / Thinkstock

It's hard to believe that just a few decades ago, touchscreen technology could only be found in science fiction books and film. These days, it's almost unfathomable how we once got through our daily tasks without a trusty tablet or smartphone nearby, but it doesn't stop there. Touchscreens really are everywhere. Homes, cars, restaurants, stores, planes, wherever—they fill our lives in spaces public and private.

It took generations and several major technological advancements for touchscreens to achieve this kind of presence. Although the underlying technology behind touchscreens can be traced back to the 1940s, there's plenty of evidence that suggests touchscreens weren't feasible until at least 1965. Popular science fiction television shows like Star Trek didn't even refer to the technology until Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted in 1987, almost two decades after touchscreen technology was even deemed possible. But their inclusion in the series paralleled the advancements in the technology world, and by the late 1980s, touchscreens finally appeared to be realistic enough that consumers could actually employ the technology into their own homes. 

This article is the first of a three-part series on touchscreen technology's journey to fact from fiction. The first three decades of touch are important to reflect upon in order to really appreciate the multitouch technology we're so used to having today. Today, we'll look at when these technologies first arose and who introduced them, plus we'll discuss several other pioneers who played a big role in advancing touch. Future entries in this series will study how the changes in touch displays led to essential devices for our lives today and where the technology might take us in the future. But first, let's put finger to screen and travel to the 1960s.

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