Tag Archives: iphone

Wind up your iPhone–this is not a wind up!

I have long thought that the solution to the difficulties we have keeping mobile devices charged is to make more use of the energy created by our bodies as we move around.

Once long ago I had a mechanical watch whose automatic winding worked perfectly; I never had to think about it.

Today I received news of something which is not quite that, but which still sounds useful. An iPhone case equipped with a dynamo so you can turn a handle to recharge it.

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Claiming to be the “World’s first dynamo-powered iPhone case”, the AMPware Power Generating iPhone case offers up to 2 hours phone use from “10 minutes of winding”.

Let’s note that 10 minutes of winding feels like a long time when you are doing it. However, if you are stranded without power it could be most useful.

Currently the case is for iPhone 6 and 6S only. Cost is £69.99 from The Fowndry

Make your iPhone a close-up or wide-angle camera with Olloclip

Here’s a gadget I came across at Mobile World Congress earlier this year. The Olloclip is a clip-on supplementary lens for the iPhone or iPod Touch, giving it three new modes: wide-angle, Fisheye, and Macro.

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In the box you get the reversible lens with covers for each end, an adapter clip for the slimmer iPod Touch, and a handy bag.

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The lens clips onto the corner of the iPhone, covering the on/off button. There are different models for the iPhone 4/4S and iPhone 5, which is a drawback. Every time you upgrade to a new iPhone, you will have to buy a new Olloclip, or do without it. You also lose use on the on/off button when the Olloclip is attached.

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Still, that is a small price to pay if you get amazing new photographic capabilities, and to some extent you do. I was particularly impressed by the macro mode. Here is my snap of a coin getting as close as I could quickly manage with the iPhone 4 alone:

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Snap on the Olloclip, and I can capture a world of detail that was previously unavailable.

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I also tried the wide-angle and fisheye modes, both of which work as advertised.

The twist here is that the Olloclip gives your iPhone camera features which your purpose-built compact camera may not have. If you want or need to take the kind of shots which the Olloclip enables, it is a great choice, spoilt a little by the inconvenience of clipping and unclipping the lens.

   

RØDE Mic: High quality recording with iPhone or iPad

Interested in high resolution recording with an iOS device? It may be worth checking out the RØDE iXY which for $199 gets you a pair of cardiod capsule microphones which attach to the docking port on your iPad or iPhone (note that you will be holding your device upside down though it hardly matters).

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Using the associated app you can record at 24-bit/96Khz – good enough to allow some further processing while retaining high quality.

Suggested uses are recording concerts, broadcasting, or attaching to a camera for video with superior sound (though it might be easier to use a conventional external microphone).

Currently I travel with a separate device for recording so something like this is interesting. On the other hand, the recorder I use is small and light, the batteries last for days, and I can plug in any external microphone or use the one built-in. Still, an advantage of the RØDE iXY approach is that you get to use a lovely colour app for recording, and have one less device to keep charged up on the road.

Review: Broadway 2T network TV streamer for PC and iPad or mobile device

If you feel like watching TV on your PC or mobile device, there are a host of options, including live TV on the internet, or add-on TV cards or USB devices that attach to a PC or Mac. Once you have TV playing on your computer, there are apps which will let you stream it to a mobile device such as an Apple iPhone, iPad or Android tablet.

Another option which I saw at the recent Digital Winter event in London is Elgato’s eyetv, which attaches to an iPad port, and the portable tivizen which streams TV over wi-fi.

Lots of options; but also plenty to go wrong. Most of the devices use DVB-T digital TV, which in the UK enables all the Freeview channels, but getting a good enough signal from a portable aerial is a challenge. Installing a PC card works well if you connect it to a rooftop aerial, but it does mean messing with drivers and application software; and then further hassles if you want to watch elsewhere in the house.

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Broadway 2T, from pctv systems (part of Hauppauge Digital Inc) takes a more flexible and potentially hassle-free approach. This is a TV card (not HD) with internet streaming software in a wi-fi connected box. Plug-in, and you can stream TV on any device round the house, or even over the internet when you are out and about.

That is the idea anyway, and I put it to the test with a review unit. It is a box about the size of a stack of 4 CDs, with twin aerials for wi-fi connection.

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On the back are a range of ports, including wired ethernet, TV aerial, inputs for analog CVBS and S-Video and audio, two USB ports and an IR blaster connection.

There is also a USB port on the front; but all the USB ports are documented as “for future use”. It would make sense if in some future version you could connect directly to a PC over USB; but why three ports will be useful in future is something of a mystery.

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There is also a collection of cables: power, internal aerial, ethernet, IR blaster marked “For future use” but now enabled, and screws for wall mounting.

I have what is probably the ideal setup for Broadway 2T: a rooftop aerial connection and wired ethernet with a wi-fi access point. The internal aerial is unlikely to be much use unless you live in a area of particularly strong signal.

I connected the unit and fired up a web browser. If you browse to http://distan.tv/ the remote web site runs a script that detects the local PCTV, so it is no trouble to find on the network. I ran the setup wizard, including a channel scan and setting passwords for admin and TV access, and was rewarded with 44 channels found.

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Next, I browsed to the page on iPhone, iPad and PC and was able to select a channel and watch straight away. No drivers needed; and the Flash video on a PC is replaced by an iOS-friendly H.264 stream automatically when needed.

Here it is on an iPad; PC is similar.

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and on iPhone

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Of course there is a full-screen view.

You can also get at all the settings from any web browser.

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So far so good; but one flaw is that there is no program guide in the web view. You have to discover what is on elsewhere.

The next step was to install the PC software (Windows only) which adds features including a program guide, pause/resume and recording. This involves installing an application called TV Center from the supplied CD.

At this point the hassle-free experience disappeared. The software installed but while it detected the Broadway 2T, it could not find any channels. I also puzzled over the settings. Did my unit have an Antenna, or an Aerial system? Why was the Antenna Configuration option disabled?

The CD also installs a driver for Windows 7 media center, and I tried that too. Again, the unit was detected, but no channels found.

Eventually I discovered that you need to install a patch from the PCTV web site before the PC software or Media Center will work with Broadway 2T firmware above 2.5. After that, the TV Center application worked, but I still found it unpredictable and not much fun to use. Sometimes it opens as a transparent window, and has to be coaxed into displaying TV by twiddling with the settings.

Microsoft’s Media Center software is nicer to use, though it is really designed for use with a remote. A bonus though is that if you do not mind keeping your PC on, you can use the Media Center nicely from an Xbox 360.

The Broadway 2T has dual DVB tuners, which is meant to mean that you can record one channel while watching another, or watch different channels on different devices. This does work, but I found the unit reluctant to let go of a channel even when not actually playing, which causes errors.

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I feel that the application could handle this better. For example, why not show a list of which channels are in use and give an option to turn one off? On occasion I resorted to rebooting, which you can do through the browser.

Overall the software is indifferent in quality and lacks polish.

If you want to view over the internet while out and about, you can do this by forwarding a port on your router to the Broadway 2T box. It would be best to reserve its IP address or use a static IP before doing this. The port is 80 by default, but can be changed. Remote viewing works fine provided that you have a good wi-fi connection. If you succeed in watching over 3G, beware the high data transfer as well as poor quality if the connection is weak.

The IR Blaster lets you use Broadway 2T with a set-top box such as satellite TV. Connect the output from the box to the input on the Broadway 2T, then connect the IR Blaster cable so that the Broadway 2T can control the set-top box by emulating the commands of a remote control. I did not try this feature.

Summary and verdict

I enjoyed having live TV available on any network-connected device around the house, and this combined with easy setup of the browser-based streaming is the main advantage of the Broadway 2T. Viewing TV remotely is a bonus.

The poor quality of the Windows-only software counts against the unit though, and I would have preferred a better browser-based app and to forget the PC application.

It is easy to imagine how this could be improved. Attach some USB storage, improve the server app, and there is no reason in principle why this box could not handle PVR (personal video recorder) functions as well as supporting an EPG (Electronic Program Guide), though I have no idea what PCTV has in mind for those spare ports.

Nevertheless, this is a useful device even with its current limitations.

Bridge for Apple iPad and iPhone: FunBridge upgraded, no longer free

GOTO Games has updated Funbridge for iOS to version 3.0, adding many features and introducing a per-game fee.

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FunBridge is a Contract Bridge app in which the play is always online. You play against the computer but compare your score to that of others. In this new version the game engine seems little changed, but interaction with others is much greater, making it more like the web version.

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In the earlier release, you could see your ranking and which users were in the top 10 for a tournament of 10 games, but you could not discover anything about another user beyond the username. Now there are user profiles and you can see another user’s overall ranking and, if they choose to provide it, name, age, location and About me notes.

Tournaments no longer stand alone, but are grouped into series which match you with players of similar standard. Rankings are decided after each period of a week, based on the results from short 3-game tournaments, provided you play at least 5 during the period. There are 35 series, and after each period the top 25% are promoted and the bottom 25% demoted from each.

You can also play in old-style Daily Tournaments, which are now more frequent than before with a new one every two hours, but these are not grouped into series. You can also play practice hands. The Daily Tournaments and practice hands are scored with IMPs (International Match Points), whereas the Series Tournaments are scored with pairs-style percentages; if you score just slightly more then others, you get 100%, and even a good score can get you 0% if everyone else made an overtrick.

The other big change to mention is that play is no longer free, though you get an introductory 100 games.

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Games cost from 3p each falling to 1.75p if you purchase 1000 at a time. FunBridge will give you 5 games free if you reveal your birthday and another 5 for your city. Is your birthday worth more than 15p?

This makes FunBridge expensive compared to most iOS games. It is a different model to the web version, where you pay €9.90 per month (a bit less if you subscribe for a year) for unlimited games. That would buy around 400 games on the iOS version so you win or lose depending how often you play.

The game itself truly is a lot of fun, though I have found a few frustrations. The play is generally good, though eccentric occasionally. The bidding can be perplexing, especially as the bidding conventions are not described in detail, so you have to guess exactly which variant the computer is supposed to be playing. There is help for the meaning of simple bids, but this does not always match the selected convention and cannot be trusted.

Still, everyone is in the same situation so it is fair!

Hands seem to be tilted towards interesting deals; I have never seen a 10-card suit in one hand in regular bridge but I have in FunBridge.

Gameplay can be annoyingly slow even on a good connection; though perhaps when everyone has played all their free games this will improve!

A fun game; but with the new subscription model I wonder if we will see some alternatives at lower cost. It would also be good to see a version for Android and other mobile operating systems.

Kingston Wi-Drive extends iOS storage, but not hassle-free

I have been trying out the Kingston Wi-Drive, which expands the storage of an iOS device using a pocketable wireless solid-state drive.

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The unit is about the size of a mobile phone, but smoother and lighter, and available with capacity of 16GB or 32GB.

The drive comes with a minimalist instruction leaflet which tells you to charge it by attaching the USB cable to a PC or Mac, add content by accessing it as an external drive, and then when charged, download and run the free Wi-Drive app on your iPad or iPhone.

I got this working without too much trouble. I added a movie to the drive and was able to watch it on an iPad, which is handy given that there is no DVD drive, though if it was sourced from a DVD you have to work out how to rip the DVD to a file first. I also added some documents and pictures, and was able to view these on iOS without any issues.

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The app seems to be designed primarily for iPhone, which means it looks a little odd on an iPad, though it does run full-screen. There is a thumbnail view, for images, and for documents there is an option to open them in apps that understand the file format. For example, I could open a Word 2010 document in Pages.

So far so good; but I found some annoyances. The first is that when you connect to the Wi-Drive, you are no longer connected to the Internet unless you also have 3G. The solution is to go into the Wi-Drive settings and configure your normal wi-fi connection as a bridge. The leaflet does not mention this, but it is explained here.

The bridge did not work at first. I had to change my Netgear router so that it is WPA 2 only, rather than supporting both WPA and WPA 2. This is mentioned in the FAQ:

Wi-Drive’s bridge function supports a single security protocol only: WEP, WPA, or WPA2. These may also appear as WPA ONLY, WPA2 ONLY, etc. Wi-Drive does NOT support mixed mode.

I also configured security on the Wi-Drive wi-fi connection. By default, it is wide open to your neighbours; and if you have the bridge enabled, bypasses the security of your home wi-fi connection as well. On the other hand, the fact that up to three users can connect is a good thing if, for example, you wanted to share some files with friends or colleagues at a meeting.

If you are using the device on the road, in a cafe or airport for example, it would be difficult to connect to the internet as well as to the drive. If you are flying, the airline will probably not allow you to use the Wi-Drive.

Most annoying is that when the device is connected to a computer, the contents become inaccessible. Even connecting to a USB charger seems to be enough to disable it. When it is not connected to a computer, the battery starts running down; it only lasts 4 hours.

This means that you should not think of the Wi-Drive as permanently attached storage. Rather, think of it as something you can switch on when needed.

Poking around on the drive, I noticed that it has the Apache web server installed. When the bridge is operating, you can browse to the device from a web browser on your computer and access the contents or change the settings.

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This is a handy device; but it could be better. I would like to see a memory card slot – and Kingston would benefit as it sells memory cards – as well as a longer battery life. Kingston also needs to fix it so you can use it on iOS while it is connected to a computer and charging. The Wi-Drive app could do with a bit more polish too, particularly the iPad version.

As it is, the Wi-Drive is great if it exactly fits your need, but make sure you can live with it before parting with your money.

Review: Audéo Perfect Fit earphones

Audéo Perfect Fit earphones are designed to replace the set you got bundled with your smartphone or music player. The earphone set includes a microphone and a standard multi-function button, so that on an iPhone or many other phones you can answer or decline calls, pause and resume music, or skip to the next track.

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There are a few unusual features. One is the shape of the earbuds, which have a distinctive “leg”. In order to fit them you first attach one of a range of silicone or foam ear tips. Then you place them in your ear with the legs pointing up and forward, and the cable draped over the back of the ears. It sounds fiddly, but it is easy enough in practice, and gets you a secure and comfortable fit.

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The supplied manual does an excellent job of explaining fitting. There is also an optional ear guide which adds a shaped cable clip that hooks over your ears. This was not supplied with my review package, the PFE 02x, but does come with the more expensive PFE 12x or can be purchased separately. I found the fit was fine even without the clip.

The extra accessories, including the audio filters described below, are a point of confusion, as the manual in the PFE 02x lists them under “Package contents” even though they are not supplied. No doubt some customers complain that parts are missing; I would have done the same, except that I checked the product web site and external packaging which correctly shows that the only accessories in the PFE 02x pack are the silicone ear tips.

The next special feature is that each earbud is fitted with a passive audio filter, which can be changed according to preference. The PFE 02x comes with a single green filter, which you can see in the picture above, while the PFE 12x comes with gray and black filters and fitting tool.

The colours are significant. The black filters are said to amplify bass and high frequencies (what audiophiles call boom and tizz). The gray filters are meant to emphasize mid-range frequencies, while green are described as offering “perfect bass”.

According to Audeo:

In-house studies have shown that, when headphones exactly reproduce the response curve of the unobstructed ear, most people hear the sound as being very aggressive.

The response curve of Audéo PFE in-ear earphones is a compromise between a frequency range that compensates for the curve of the unobstructed ear and one that emphasizes bass and high-frequency sounds. This is what most people prefer.

In order to cover the widest possible range of user preferences we offer three audio filters.

Unfortunately the only filter I have tried is the green one supplied with the PFE 02x. However I am a little doubtful about the above explanation. The goal of hi-fi reproduction is neutrality, so that you hear whatever the musicians and engineers who created the sound intended. I appreciate though that when it comes to earbuds used on the move in all sorts of noisy environments, it does not makes sense to be purist about such things. Further, it is not realistic to expect earbuds to deliver the kind of bass you can get from full-range loudspeakers or even from high quality over-the-ear headphones, and indeed this is not the case with the Audéo. Still, what you care about is not the theory but the sound. How is it?

I carried out extensive listening tests with the Audéo earphones, comparing them to a high quality Shure earbuds as well as to a standard Apple set. My first observation is that the Audéo earphones do fit more snugly and securely than either of the others I tried, when fitted correctly, and that this close fit goes a long way towards obtaining a better and more consistent sound.

Second, I soon identified a certain character to the Audéo sound. In comparison to the Shure, the Perfect Fit earphones are slightly softer and less bright. On some music this was a good thing. I played My Jamaican Guy by Grace Jones, which has a funky beat and bright percussion. On the Shure the track was a little harsh, whereas the Audéo tamed the brightness while still letting you hear every detail. With Love over Gold by Dire Straits though, which is already a mellow track, I preferred the Shure which delivered beautiful clarity and separation, whereas the Audéo (while still sounding good) was less crisp. Daniel Barenboim playing solo piano sounded delightful though with slightly rolled off treble.

I did feel that both the Audéo and the Shure improved substantially on the Apple-supplied earphones, as they should considering their price, though even the bundled earphones are not that bad.

The strength of the Perfect Fit earphones is that they never sound bright or harsh; I found them consistently smooth and enjoyable. The sound is also clean and well extended, considering that they are earbuds. Isolation from external sounds is excellent, which is important if you are a frequent traveller.

The weakness is that they do in my opinion slightly soften and recess the sound.

That said, it may be that the other filters give the earphones a different character, and if you have the pack with a choice of filters it would be worth trying the variations to see which you prefer.

I may have been imagining it, but I felt that the earphones sounded particularly good with Apple’s iPhone.

Conclusion: a good choice, especially if you like a slightly mellow and polite presentation. If possible I recommend that you get the more expensive packs that include a case as well as alternative filters and the optional ear clips.

   

Kingston Wi-Drive: portable storage expansion for iPad and iPhone

Kingston has announced availability of the Wi-Drive. This product addresses an annoying limitation of the Apple iPhone and iPad: no USB port for external storage devices.

The Wi-Drive overcomes this by connecting wirelessly. It offers 16GB or 32GB of solid-state storage, with USB for charging and for access to the files from a PC or Mac. When you are on the go, you can put the Wi-Drive into your pocket. A free app on the iPhone, iPad or iTouch lets you access the files. The use of a network bridging means you can still access the internet. Battery life is said to be up to 4 hours, so I hope you can switch it off when not needed. You can also share the drive with up to three other users.

Example prices are £89.99 for the 16GB or £124.98 for the 32GB version.

It is a clever solution. That said, I have a couple of reservations. One is that the price is high compared to a simple USB device of the same capacity. That is not unreasonable given the extra technology needed, but it means it will only sell to users who really need it.

And do you need it? If you are on the internet, you could use a file synchronization service like Dropbox, or Apple’s own iDisk or forthcoming iCloud, to extend storage instead.

A second problem is that iOS does not expose its file system to the user. This means that external storage is less convenient on iOS than on other systems. Want to save a Pages document from iOS to the Wi-Drive? You probably cannot do so directly; there is no way to save direction to Dropbox either.

The Wi-Drive only exists because of Apple’s desire to control and supposedly simplify the operating system. It is a workaround, but not a perfect one, although that is not the fault of Kingston.

That said, I have not yet tried a Wi-Drive; I hope to bring you a proper review in due course.

An iOS security tip: tap and hold links in emails to preview links

Today I was using an iPad and received a fake email designed to look as if it were from Facebook. It was a good imitation of the Facebook style.

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In particular, the links for sign in look OK.

Outlook on Windows displays the actual link when you hover the mouse pointer over the link. As you can see, in this case it is nothing to do with Facebook:

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How do you do this on iOS? There is no mouse hover (though it could be down with a proximity sensor) but if you tap and hold on the link, iOS pops up a dialog revealing the scam:

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Worth mentioning as tapping and holding a link to inspect it is not obvious and some users may not be aware of this feature.

The iPad is still worse than Outlook for email security. Outlook does not download images by default. Downloading the image tells the spammer that you have opened the message:

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The iPad mail client downloads all images.

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In mitigation, most malware on web sites will not run on iOS. However you could still give away your password or other information if you are tricked by a deceptive web page or fake login.

Hiding links is a feature built into HTML. The designers of HTML figured out that we would rather see a friendly plain English link than a long URL. Unfortunately this feature, and related ones like the ability to make an image a link, play into the hands of the scammers and it is necessary to look at the real link before you follow it.

A better solution would be authenticated email, so that fake Facebook emails would be detected before they are displayed. Unfortunately we are still a long way from using authenticated emails as the norm.

Google seeks to automate the home

Google made a bunch of announcements at its Google I/O keynote today. It showed off the next version of Android, called “Ice Cream Sandwich”; it announced its Music Beta, a service which looks a lot like Amazon’s Cloud Player, in which you upload your music collection to the cloud; it announced movie rentals.

The most intriguing announcements though were about how Android devices will be able to connect to other devices in future. The Open Accessory API lets manufacturers create devices which talk to Android over USB, and in future over Bluetooth, in a standard manner. The idea is that if you have an Android-compatible device – Google demoed an exercise bike – you can attach your smartphone and do some clever stuff, such as controlling it, analysing its data, or whatever is appropriate.

A related idea is called Android@Home. Google has developed a new lightweight wireless protocol which will let manufacturers create household devices that can communicate with Android:

We previewed an initiative called Android@Home, which allows Android apps to discover, connect and communicate with appliances and devices in your home.

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The automated home is a grand concept where almost any device, from a light to a coffee maker to a fridge or a door becomes available to control and program. However, the examples Google gave were not exciting: playing a CD by waving it at a player, coding an alarm clock to turn the light on gradually. Big deal.

It is not really a new concept. Sun had ideas to develop Java as a universal runtime and language to automate the home. Microsoft has similar thoughts, maybe using the .NET Micro Framework. So far none of these efforts have come to much – will Google’s initiative be different?

Probably not; but there is something else going on here. I travel a bit, and it is now common to find an iPod dock in your hotel room. If you have an Ipod or iPhone you just plug in and go; if you have a non-Apple device, you are out of luck. That is a kind of pressure exerted on every guest, a hint that they might be better off with an Apple device.

Google wants to do the same for a variety of other devices, but with respect to Android. Here is a refrigerator, and by the way, if you have an Android device you can do this other clever stuff like, I don’t know, alerting you if the temperature goes too high, or letting you peek at the contents from your smartphone so you can see if you need to buy milk.

Same with the Open Accessory API. If Google can sign up enough manufacturers, it will be increasingly difficult for non-Android devices to compete.

That said, we did not hear much about Google TV at today’s keynote. Why? Because it has flopped; a reminder that not all Google’s efforts succeed.