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The object-oriented state machine operating system
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-09-04 22:46:54

OOSMOS stands for Object-Oriented State Machine Operating System. It is a new type of operating system where the fundamental contextual unit is the object, not the thread as it is in traditional operating systems.

Because there are no threads, there are no thread stacks, so OOSMOS is ideal for use in memory constrained environments where a traditional thread-based operating system is not a viable option.

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The cheap phones quietly winning the U.S.
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-09-04 22:45:20

ZTE is quietly becoming a force in the U.S. by selling good enough phones at low prices - smaller prepaid smartphones for $30, basic phones with QWERTY keyboards for about the same, and so on. The Chinese company's products are among the cheap phones of choice at three of the big four U.S. carriers. (Verizon doesn't carry them.) ZTE claimed about 8 percent of America's smartphone market in the second quarter of this year, says researcher IDC, up from 4.2 percent in the first quarter of 2014. That ranks the company fourth among smartphone makers overall, behind Apple, Samsung, and LG. "We came from nowhere, and now we are a solid force," says Lixin Cheng, head of ZTE's U.S. operations.

For many people, their phone isn't a status symbol, or it's just something they don't care about at all - as long as it makes calls and pulls some light duty, they're happy. I really dislike how these phones and its users tend to be portrayed in the media - almost as if these people are stupid, silly, or dumb for not wanting the latest iPhone or Galaxy phone. Elitist nonsense.

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The scales are tipping
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-09-04 15:13:29

For the past few years, we've been in a relatively healthy balance when it comes to our smartphones. Both Apple and Google provided us with relatively decent platforms that were pretty straightforward to use, provided us with interesting and useful functionality, and at mostly decent price points. In return, we accepted a certain amount of lock-in, a certain lack of control over our devices and the software platforms running on them. I felt comfortable with this trade-off, whether I was using an iPhone or an Android phone at the time.

Recently, however, I've been feeling like this balance in iOS and Android is tipping - and not in the right direction. The users' interests have taken a decided backseat to corporate interests, and the user experiences of the two platforms in question have, consequently, suffered, and I see little in the future to counteract this development


Read more...
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New Android phones from Sony, Lenovo, and a former Apple CEO
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-09-03 19:20:36

Like I said, it's Android week in the technology world right now, but I'm not going to write a new post for every Android phone being thrown onto the world stage to be forgotten in a week. Instead, I'm going to focus on a few that I think are particularly interesting, and I'm going to start with Sony. The company has unveiled its Xperia Z5 line and it has to be said - the Z5 Compact, the Z5, and the Z5 Premium are absolutely gorgeous.

In terms of essential specs, the three Z5s are pretty similar. (The main differences are size, materials, and screen resolution.) There’s the same Snapdragon 810 64-bit processor powering each of them, with both the Z5 and Z5 Premium sporting 3GB of RAM while the smaller Compact gets 2GB. All three devices are dust-tight and waterproof with capless micro USB ports, offer up to 32GB of internal memory (expandable up to 200GB with microSD cards), and have enough battery to last for up two days' use, says Sony.

The Z5 Premium is a monster of a phone - it has a 4K display, which equates to 3840x2160 pixels and a ppi of 806. Pure insanity. Sony claims all three phones - even the Premium - get 2 days of use on a single charge. They look fantastic, but for some reason, nobody seems to buy Sony smartphones.

Moving on, Lenovo unveiled a bunch of smartphones, and I think one of them might be of interest to many of you.

The Vibe P1 and P1m slot in underneath the S1 just slightly, and they're all about simple features and battery life. The Vibe P1 is an all-metal affair, with a 5.5-inch 1080p display, Snapdragon 615 processor, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, 13MP rear camera and an absolutely huge 5000 mAh battery. That battery enables reverse charging of other devices over USB, and sports quick charging capabilities.

That's a positively huge battery, and should enable some major battery life.

Lastly, there's a new company - lead by former Apple CEO John Sculley - who also unveiled two brand new Android smartphones. The company's called Obi, and their first two phones are the SF1 and SJ1.5. I'll be honest here - I want these phones' babies. They look fun, quirky, and different, and represent a welcome change from the boring, metallic, cold, hospital-esque stuff we get from other phone makers. They got decent specs, too.

That being said, it's a startup - big name co-founder or no - and there's no information on availability and pricing yet, so for all I know, they're never going to be heard from again. Also, as with all the phones mentioned in this post, they're not running stock Android, so don't expect timely updates.

Still, these are some interesting phones.

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'Samsung's Gear S2 is its best-looking smartwatch yet'
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-09-03 18:14:20

I can't believe I'm going to say this, but I'm actually a very tiny, tiny little bit 'excited' about Samsung's (...eh) new smartwatch, the Gear S2. It looks pretty decent, seems to have a better input method than laggy touch (Wear) or a finicky jog dial nobody uses (Apple Watch), and the software - that's Tizen, so an alternative operating system! Right? Right? - looks nice, and seems to work well too.

The impressive things with the Gear S2 don't end with its new design: Samsung's actually figured out a really smart interaction model for smartwatches that I'm shocked no one else has done yet. There's the touchscreen, yes, just like most other smartwatches, and the Gear S2 has a couple buttons on its side for home and back. But its real trick is in the rotating bezel, which lets you quickly and easily scroll through lists, apps, watch faces, and whatever else you might be looking at on the screen. It's more predictable and intuitive than the Apple Watch's Digital Crown and is a joy to use.

I can't believe that upon first inspection, this Gear S2 actually seems like a really well-designed and well-thought out product, considering we're dealing with Samsung here. This thing still isn't watch enough for my personal taste, but there's no denying that Samsung seems to have done a decent job here.

I hope I get to play with one soon.

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New Moto360 unveiled
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-09-03 18:06:34

There's a technology conference going on - IFA - and there's lots and lots of Android-related news. First, a lot of Android Wear smartwatches - including the brand new Moto 360.

If you were hoping for a radically different design from Motorola this year, you're barking up the wrong tree. As we saw in the leaks, Motorola has kept the imperfect circle design from the original Moto 360 and added lugs on the top and bottom instead of hiding the strap connectors inside the casing itself. This change makes it significantly easier to swap out the strap with whatever you want, but also makes more room in the casing for things like a beefier battery. The single button on the side of the watch has moved to the 2 o'clock position, making it significantly easier to reach for and use. Curiously, this button now has the Motorola M emblazoned across it.

Other new Wear watches are the Huawei Watch and the Asus ZenWatch 2. There's really not much to say here - they all have the exact same software as the current (or now 'previous', I guess) crop of Wear devices, so if you weren't impressed then, you won't be impressed now.

If you're looking for something different, I suggest you read the next item I'm about to post.

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The limits of language
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-09-02 08:47:59

The best class I took in college was on the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Until that point, I had avoided philosophy of language as simply being too esoteric and hermetic to be of use. David Pears, a prodigious yet modest and approachable figure visiting from Oxford, changed my mind. In large part because of Pears' instruction, Wittgenstein's philosophy has been directly relevant to my thinking about computer science, artificial intelligence, and cognitive science. When other scholars were thinking that language and thought could be reduced to a universal, logical language, Wittgenstein turned the matter to practical questions and raised incredibly inconvenient questions that gained traction in artificial intelligence in the 1970s, 40 years after he was working on them.

Great article. I found this paragraph especially interesting:

Here's one example. The French equivalents for here and there are ici and là respectively. But if I point to a pen and say, "The pen is here," the French equivalent is not "Le stylo est ici," but "Le stylo est là." In French, là is always used to refer to a specific place or position, while in English here or there can both work. This rule is so obscure I never learned it in French classes, but obviously all native speakers learn it because no one ever uses it differently. It could just as easily be the other way round, but it's not. The situation is not arbitrary, but the way in which language carves up the interaction between mind and world varies in such a way that French speakers recognize certain practices as right or wrong in a different way than English speakers do. This may seem a trivial point, until you have to program a computer to translate "I pointed to Paris on the map and said, 'She is here.' " into French - at which point it becomes a nightmare. (If you are a translator, on the other hand, this is great news.)

Aside from the obvious fact that I can relate to the remark about translators, the author touches upon something that I benefit from every day. I always feel that being multilingual (just Dutch, English, German, some French, and a basic grasp of ancient Greek and Latin - relatively limited when compared to true multilinguals) makes it easier for me to express myself. Being able to use words, concepts, ideas, structures, and conventions from foreign languages and incorporate them into my Dutch - even if only in my inner monologue - allows me to describe objects, concepts, and situations in a more fine-grained, and therefore, more accurate manner (accurate to my perception, which does not mean "more correct" in more absolute terms).

I appreciate how ridiculously pretentious this sounds, but I do firmly believe this is true: being able to understand, read, write, and speak multiple language makes me better at language.

I'm no programmer - something I like to repeat as often as I can to make sure everyone knows where I'm coming from on the subject of programming - but I get the idea that programming is not very different in that regard. That is, being able to program in multiple programming languages will make you better at programming, and not just in the sense that you will be useful in more situations (you can find a job both as a Java and an Objective-C programmer, for instance), but also in the sense that knowledge and experience in programming language Abc will give you new and different insights into programming language Xyz, allowing you to use a certain language in more unconventional ways that people with knowledge of fewer languages might not.

As much as language is an expression of culture, a programming language is an expression of how a computer works. Both contain within them invaluable knowledge that cannot be easily expressed in other languages - and as such, they are invaluable in preserving knowledge, both culturally and digitally.

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Nextbit's Robin is an Android phone that never runs out of storage
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-09-02 08:09:24

Nextbit, a company founded by former Android engineers from Google, HTC, and others, has unveiled its first smartphone. The Robin has a pretty unique and fun design, but the major selling point - they claim - is that the phone intelligently manages its limited storage by offloading lesser-used or unused stuff (content and applications) to the internet. An interesting strategy in the current climate of privacy wariness - especially since these more boutique Android phones tend to be for technologically inclined users, who will be more aware of these issues. One also has to wonder how well this will work and how reliable it'll be, considering the company's young age.

As for specifications:

Speaking of hardware, the Robin is a uniquely designed mid-range Android phone. Nextbit tapped former HTC designer Scott Croyle as its head of design in 2014, and set out to make a phone that stands out among the sea of similar looking phones. The result is a device that's starkly rectangular, but with circular details throughout. The Robin's all-plastic chassis houses a 5.2-inch, 1080p display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor, 3GB of RAM, a 2,680mAh battery, and 13-megapixel camera. Unique additions include a USB Type-C charging port and fingerprint scanner embedded into the side-mounted power button. The Robin is completely carrier and bootloader unlocked and is compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile LTE.

Decidedly midrange for a phone that's on Kickstarter right now and will (supposedly) ship in January.

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Visual updates to Search and Now cards
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-09-02 07:57:20

The web and tech journalists were all afire yesterday. A major new innovation? A brand new software release? Nope - Google has a new logo. Yeah. That's the hard-hitting tech news deserving of totally unbiased and very unpredictable hot takes.

There was actually real Google news too - the company made some changes to how search is displayed on mobile.

With mobile devices in mind, we've also made some changes to our search results page to help you more easily find what you need and dive into diverse content such as images, videos, news stories and more - by simply swiping and tapping.

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Microsoft, Google, Amazon, others, aim for royalty-free codecs
By Thom Holwerda, submitted by ddc_ on 2015-09-02 07:30:11

Microsoft, Google, Mozilla, Cisco, Intel, Netflix, and Amazon today launched a new consortium, the Alliance for Open Media. The group plans to develop next-generation media formats - including audio and still images, but with video as the top priority - and deliver them as royalty-free open source, suitable for both commercial and noncommercial content.

The problem is that the supposed next-generation codec, HVEC, is going to be a lot more expensive, whereas other initiatives, such as Google's VP9/VP10, would surely face patent trolling from the other major players. By coming together like this, all these players can have a say, without fear of them suing each other. That being said, smaller players will still want to sue, but at least the united front should make that a little harder.

And, unsurprisingly, one major player is not part of this new initiative. I guess they didn't like the open and royalty-free part.

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