Enter… The Firefox OS

Do you know what’s interesting about the current free-for-all for mobile operating system dominance? You guessed right! New entries! We are sure you have heard of The Firefox OS by Mozilla? Sure you have!

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Launching a new mobile OS is a difficult project since the market leaders, Android and iOS, have such a big lead. Even Microsoft, with its near-infinite financial resources and vast ecosystem of complementary products, has struggled over time to gain traction. With the rising standards technology giants have set for themselves as they duke it out for market dominion, new entrants will have to face what I call a chicken-and-egg problem: developers don’t want to write apps for a platform without many users, while users don’t want to buy a phone without many apps.

First off, to sustain any early momentum, Mozilla will need to convince developers to build Firefox OS apps. Firefox OS apps will be built entirely using HTML5. According to Mozilla, the thousands of developers who already know how to build Web apps will be able to build Firefox OS apps with minimal additional training. And because they’re built on open standards, Mozilla hopes that Firefox OS apps will work reasonably well on other platforms that support HTML5—which is to say, all of them.

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Thanks to ArsTechnica, we know the Firefox OS architecture has three layers, dubbed “Gonk”, “Gecko”, and “Gaia”. Gecko is the rendering engine at the core of the Firefox browser. Below Gecko sits Gonk, a bare-bones Linux distribution derived from Android. Above Gecko sits Gaia, a touchscreen user interface not too different from those found on other mobile operating systems. It makes sense that Mozilla would choose to make Gonk a derivative of Android because many device makers already know how to make devices that run Android. According to Mozilla “If you’re an OEM, you already have basically all the capabilities to run our system.” It is also worthy to note that since Firefox OS apps are essentially just Web apps, app developers are not required to use Mozilla’s app store at all. A developer can distribute a Firefox OS app as a “hosted app,” delivered from any Web server.

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Firefox OS looks familiar to anyone who’s used Android and iOS: when you turn it on, you’re faced with the familiar grid of apps. Swiping left and right slides in other pages of apps. And across the bottom of each page is a fixed set of four apps: the phone dialer, a text-messaging app, the Firefox browser, and the camera app. As with iOS, swiping to the leftmost screen launches a search app. But unlike iOS, this search app is wired not just to your own apps but also to the Firefox Marketplace and to the Web at large — remember, this is a browser-based OS. If you find an app you like in the search results, you can pin it to one of your screens for easy future access. Firefox OS comes with a range of built-in apps such as Facebook and Wikipedia, and even mapping services. A long-press on the home button invokes a task switcher so you can juggle among open apps.

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A contacts app lets you open up a screen full of information about people you know. It serves as a hub to phone them, send e-mail or text messages, or check their Facebook walls. Facebook integration also lets people import their contacts; Mozilla plans to add import mechanisms for services like Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and Hotmail — something it knows how to do by virtue of its Thunderbird e-mail software for PCs.

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A camera app, which also is accessible from the lock screen, has tabs for taking photos or videos, and it’s got a link to the built-in gallery app. That app lets you crop photos, apply some basic color filters, adjust contrast, and take actions like sharing photos on Facebook or by Bluetooth wireless networking.

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It feels so much like an earlier version of Android. It’s definitely good, though, that Firefox OS can get a running start in the app ecosystem by mobilizing the vast army of Web programmers — programmers who might well be happy they can reach Firefox OS customers without having to jump through nearly as many hoops as the Apple App Store or Google Play present. It is already available of several phones such as the ZTE Firefox Phone, Keon and Peek by Geeksphone. Firefox OS should be fully open to all by 2014 and if successful, it should change the way we use the Web. We are used to visit websites but Firefox OS will bring an era where we will be using Web apps more than Websites. Ubuntu for Phones will also support Firefox OS to help bring in this change.

IPhone 5c and 5s reviews: The Changes and The Obvious

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After weeks of rumors, speculations, leaked photos and parody videos, Apple’s new iPhones were finally revealed on September 10 and as widely expected, the company announced two devices – the iPhone 5C and the iPhone 5S.

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Apple has discontinued the iPhone 5 for the iPhone 5c, which sports a 4-inch display, as well as the same A6 chip. The company has gone for the cheaper option in producing the “next generation” iPhone as it now features a plastic wraparound back which comes in five colors — green, white, blue, red, and yellow — with matching screen wallpapers to complement the exterior. The color set has been commented on as being similar to that of the Nokia Lumia series but we would leave that opinion for you to explore. Yes, after these, there is not much to say about the iPhone 5c; it even has the same 8 Megapixel camera and 2 Megapixel on the front. You might as well tag it as a “plasticky” colored version of the iPhone 5 and to be honest, when I think about iPhones sometimes, I cannot help but also ponder about the native proverb that says that only a mad man does the same thing and expects a different result.

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iPhone 5s

Apple’s new flagship iPhone 5s which Apple “humbly” calls the “most forward-thinking phone anyone’s ever made,” sports a 64-bit A7 chip making it to the history books as the world’s very first 64-bit mobile phone. It’s made of high-grade aluminum and comes in silver, gold, and  gray.  For networking it has a dual band 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 which was also available in the discontinued iPhone 5.

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The general features are pretty much the same, except for the new Touch ID fingerprint sensor that grants up to 5 fingerprints to access the phone. This feature takes phone security to a whole new level. The touch sensor, located under the traditional home button also links you to your Apple account which defeats the sometimes annoying type password feature.

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The iPhone 5s sticking with the 8 Megapixel camera is a letdown. However, a few changes made quite a difference compared to previous iPhones. First off, the size of the image sensor has increased which leads to a significantly higher low-light performance and somewhat better pictures; even in poor lighting conditions. More interesting is the dual-color LED flash, which monitors the prevailing light and tries to provide a better color mix by providing the right mixture of lights (like more yellow or more blue, depending on the conditions). This leads to a consistent and greater quality of photos than its predecessors. Neither the HTC One nor the Samsung Galaxy S4 has this feature so, let’s not get too hasty to conclude that the camera is “vaguely similar.”

The iPhone 5S also offers a new “burst mode” for the still camera (taking 10 shots per second), where you can hold the button down and it will take the pictures – and then present the single shot it thinks is the best from the series. (You can still choose from among the set, and keep as many as you want). There is a “slo-mo” option for video recording where you can choose which parts which can be slow and which are fast in a simple editing function.

Some people worry about how there can be a balance between the powerful 64bit A7 processor and battery life. Apple’s solution is the co-processor called the M7 which is specially designed to collect data from the phone’s various sensors, including the GPS and accelerometers. This M7 chip is suspected to be Apple’s flagship idea for a possible wearable computing future so expect to hear about it later on. The iPhone 5s’ battery life lasts about 10 hours of 3g talk time and LTE browsing .

A saddening conclusion is that there really is not a total mind blowing experience between these iPhones and what we already have. But smartphones are not just about hardware; the user experience is also as important as security and Apple does deliver that. Combined with the new iOS 7, positive results on sales would not surprise me one bit… as well as the otherwise. 😛

A Layman’s Guide To Understanding The Update Called Windows 8.1

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There have been many reactions to Microsoft Windows 8 and most of them were unsatisfactory in several ways. With an obviously demoralized desktop market and struggling tablet sales, Microsoft has been tasked to come up with a solution to stay faithful to its numerous customers. Windows 8.1, Microsoft’s soon to be released update to the already existing Windows 8,  aims to be a clear improvement over Windows 8 in virtually all aspects. It also promises to be more robust than it’s predecessor. It is not another operating system.  But as you would soon see, Microsoft has come with a rather interesting solution to the mobile app hating Windows users. windows_81v2-590x327

Here are the some relevant changes you should take note in Windows 8.1:

1. The re-introduced Start button

Change seemed to be the central focus of Microsoft Windows 8 and as much as change is needed and inevitable in life, in technology, there is also the secondary debate of knowing what to change… and at which time. So when the native Windows Start button was gone, it was a startling surprise to many about the interface blunder and the question was whether it would be missed or not. Well, judging from the fact that the start button has been installed in Windows 8.1, should we guess it probably was?

In my opinion, it was a good thing that Microsoft reconsidered the start button. But better still, it came with a number of welcome additions which is centered around a more native “desktop-ish” experience of Windows 8. I am one of the many users who just found it rather annoying that Windows booted every time to the Metro interface while I just used the desktop mode. Anyways, you now have the option of booting to the desktop rather than the Windows 8 metro interface with the live tiles. Also, the start menu can send you to the Apps screen, which shows ALL of your installed desktop and Windows 8 apps, rather than that UI based start screen. Thumbs up for that!

2. Search everywhere

Well… what can I say? The search function in Windows has gotten broader. You can now search globally, or limit searches to files, system settings or media from the web. A global search combines your local search results with Bing results. Whether that is exciting or not only depends on you.

3. Live tile control

Remember how frustrating it was when you had a larger number of apps downloaded from Windows Store, and it ended up with you scrolling all over the place to find the app you were looking for on the metro interface? Windows 8.1 now offers a possible solution to organize your tiles by arranging them in groups. You can assign group names and re-size live tiles. I guess that makes life less stressful right?

4. Expanded Snap-in multitasking

The snap-in function of Windows 8 featured the ability to run two Windows Store apps simultaneously on the same screen by “snapping” one of them to the side to initiate a rather interesting split screen experience. You were allowed to only “snap-in” two apps, but Windows 8.1 allows 4 snap-ins. Keep it in mind though that snapping in 4 apps on the foreground drains battery life rather densely.

5. 10 now becomes 11

Sometimes, you cannot pull out the difference between a ten and eleven year old child (except for the age number) and with Internet Explorer, do not expect anything different. Although Internet Explorer 11 claims to have better stability ad faster browsing, it is most likely that it would still be the last browser you would ever open when you have sampled the likes of Firefox, Chrome and the others… or for some reason, you do not know any other browser but Internet Explorer.

6. Windows Store redesign

As if the slow paced, “developing” status of the Windows Store wasn’t an issue, it did not offer a good solution to prioritizing apps that mattered. It only featured an endless scroll of apps in small icons and some not very useful ratings and descriptions. Windows 8.1 has a redesigned Windows Store… but well… that’s pretty much just it apart from the little need for you to manually update apps to be sure you’re on the latest version.

7. Redesigned Settings App

The PC Settings facility in Windows 8.1 offers your system controls in a savvy, modern graphical interface. This matters to those who probably found the regular native Windows desktop Control Panel rather tiresome.

Windows 8.1 is pretty much nothing more than an update… not an upgrade. Microsoft hopes that Windows 8 won’t be around for long after Windows 8.1 comes out and that everyone using Windows 8 will upgrade, just as it hopes we’re all using automatic updates to keep our PCs up to date… lol!

Selling an “excellent” keyboard: A BlackBerry Q10 Review

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Okay. Here comes a second phone that runs the BlackBerry 10 OS: the BlackBerry Q10.

The BlackBerry Q10 is a sister phone to the BlackBerry z10 released earlier in the year; but there are very obvious differences between the two smartphones. Very much unlike the Z10 which adopted the full touchscreen idea which seemed to be the norm for smartphones these days, there’s no mistaking the fact that the Q10 is a BlackBerry handset.

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The keyboard says it all, with distinctive rows of keys separated by bands of silver, and the shaping of the keys themselves, giving all the clues you need. BlackBerry has quit on the curved keyboard design of the earlier models to a straight one; possibly to maximize space. The keyboard may seem to the smartphone connoisseur as an overhauled cliche but it is actually commendable… especially compared to the older generations of the BlackBerry handsets. Keys are easy to find under the fingers thanks to their center ridges, and even click a little when pushed. There’s a small nubbin on the D key whose second function is the number 5, helping you find the number keys by feel easily. The design is the first from BlackBerry without a section between screen and keyboard offering shortcut buttons and some sort of screen navigation device. This multi-use is welcome, but it makes the positioning of the Micro-USB port and a Micro-HDMI connector on the left edge of the phone rather irritating.

The BlackBerry Q10 features a dual-core processor running at 1.5GHz and 2GB of RAM which is a suitable entry for this generation of mobile devices. The BlackBerry Q10 supports LTE, HSPA+ and EDGE with its microSIM sitting under the backplate. The backplate provides protection for a MicroSD card, which thankfully you can access without removing the battery. This can be used to augment the 16GB of internal flash storage, some of which is taken up by the OS and preinstalled apps: fresh out of the box, leaving about only 11GB free. The 2,100mAh battery, incidentally, is rated for up to 13.5 hours’ (3G) talk time and up to 14 days on standby. The Q10 supports Near Field Communication (NFC) and GPS and has a full set of sensors — accelerometer, magnetometer, proximity sensor, gyroscope and ambient light sensor.

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The BlackBerry Q10’s 720p display pumps out great looking colors and clear images with the help of Super AMOLED technology and a tight pixel density of 328 dpi — but, it’s a 3.1-inch square! While it may look good, even in direct sunlight, what you can do with such a small screen is a different story; and watching a movie would make quite a formidable example. Web surfing is another good example: surfing the web on a BlackBerry Q10 is quite a pain. When using a “business oriented” spreadsheet in Quickoffice or any MS Excel lookalike, you may have to agree that small screens and business software do not fit too well.

rolloverAn interesting feature for corporate users is the new BlackBerry Balance which keeps business apps, services and data separate from the user’s personal information. Anyone interested in speedy text-based communication will appreciate the feature called ‘Type and Go’. This builds on the universal search concept that lets you find apps, map locations, do web searches and more simply by typing on the keyboard then tapping the app or URL icon that appears. As long as you’re on a main screen and not in an app, you can type to make something real happen. Type “SMS Jack” and you can send a text if Jack is in your address book. Even typing “Email My Wife” will do a similar job. The phones main 8-megapixel camera at the back shoots 1080p HD video, while the front facing 2-megapixel camera can handle 720p. Both shoot in 1:1 (square), 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratios, which are easily switchable via on-screen icons.

A big issue BlackBerry users may have is The Blackberry App World’s rather small library of applications and tweaks compared to iOS and Android. So, you don’t get to do too much random stuff with your Blackberry phone. Although being mission specific and business critical does seem like a good approach, it may just end up being boring as a whole when the hype is over. There are a few tasks that the Blackberry Q10 excels at; but these are those that it is designed for such as chatting with your Blackberry contacts, email functions and other “business” needs. It looks good as a Blackberry phone though; so if all you are after is a better BlackBerry then, the BlackBerry Q10 would work for you.  The BlackBerry 10 OS would seem refreshing to almost anyone, and the BlackBerry Q10’s well balanced keyboard should impress; but for just a while… and then later, you might realize that the BlackBerry Q10 remains just another significant entry to the slow evolution of Blackberry phones.

iOS 7: A brand new look

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We don’t know if there is anyone like us out there but whenever we update iOS to a new firmware, We have always secretly wished for and ultimately been pissed at the lack an important feature that usually makes things seem new and exciting with software such as operating systems: A COMPLETE VISUAL MAKEOVER!!

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Microsoft Windows at one time used Windows 95 and then at the release of Windows XP, the new looking interface was a winner. Windows Aero was released with Windows Vista and has been a continued standard even with the newest Metro interface for Windows 8. It is true that functionality and stability are essential, uncompromisable qualities of good operating systems but nobody would complain if a good looking graphical user interface came along with it. Sure! Thanks to jailbreaking, Cydia allows us to make some color (and even complete) theme changes but something new had to come out some time from Apple at least some day-y-y-y! That being said, it’s not like Apple’s iOS actually looks ugly; but maintaining the same general outlook over more than 10 updates and over 5 versions would have to become more or less a tiring rhetoric, a trite expression or well… in plain English… rather boring.

Apple, finally releasing its beta version of iOS7 earlier this month for developers has finally showed us that their new update is none of that. Apple has finally worked at changing just about everything, but like the Windows 8 OS to which iOS 7 is now drawing comparisons, thanks to the bold colors and straight lines, it feels a little too much, too soon. But nevertheless, iOS 7 just for that, is welcome and iOS 7 would be released this fall. From previous experiences, beta versions of Apple software are bound to change a great deal before they get approved for consumer devices. So far so good though; iOS7 has been said to deliver pretty much what we already know about iOS and even more.

There’s a lot of new stuff to love about iOS7. There is now a Control Center which gives you quick access to the controls and apps you have been using. With just a single upward swipe on the screen, the Control Center can also turn toggle Wi-Fi, adjust screen brightness and start a flashlight.

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The Multitasking app-switcher has also been completely revamped with new features. There is a new lock screen, a revisited notification Center, a super-charged Siri, a new, easily-accessed quick settings bar, and pretty much every app you can think of has been revamped and stripped down to its essence. There is the new AirDrop which allows near field communication between iOS devices around. Can somebody shout hallelujah to that? You can finally share photos, videos and contacts using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth – but with iOS devices.

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At every level, iOS 7 is a slick revitalization, rejuvenation and resurrection of the core iOS experience. Even Safari gets a brand new look with a refreshed tab view and a unified search field. Safari can also suggest passwords for you but we sincerely wonder how much use that would be. The music and photo apps have also been revisited to make things more exciting and savvy. iOS 7 will not be compatible with iPhone 3gs as expected but will for the newer models inclusive of iPhone 4.

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For those who may have seen a link to download the beta version and cannot wait to have a go at Apple’s latest makeup session would have to be careful. This version of iOS 7 is intended only for installation on development devices registered with Apple’s Developer Program and attempting to install this version of iOS in an unauthorized manner could put your device in an unusable state, which could necessitate an out of warranty repair. And even though there are posts out there that mention a possibility of downgrading to iOS 6, on our opinion, we would recommend you DO NOT do the upgrade till the final version is released; unless you are a part of the Apple Developer Program.