Basics vs Features

Basics vs Features

I have repeatedly screamed at software designers to get the basics right before adding features. So let's go over what's wrong with Android.

Screen brightness control - you have two choices - set the screen brightness or turn over control to Android. If you set the brightness then you have to keep resetting it depending on the ambient light - that's a pain. So you can turn over control to Android, but then it's too bright in dark places (this obviously depends on the phone and user). And the brightness makes large steps with small changes in screen angle - very annoying when reading, especially with a white background.

How about a screen brightness versus ambient light function that lets you set a baseline at typical room light and adjusts the entire curve based on this point. Then reduce the step level and average ambient light readings over a longer time.

I use Lux to control the screen brightness, which doesn't have these issues, but it has its own problems.

Audio equalizer - this is important for music enjoyability and speech recognition. Android has a built in equalizer that can be accessed by apps, but there is no built in access for users. This would be okay, there are many apps for adjusting it, but many apps don't send their audio through the equalizer. Many music players access it, but I Heart Radio doesn't. Why can't I force all audio output to go through the equalizer?

Accessibility of navigation icons and notification bar - why are apps allowed to cover the notification bar and navigation icons? Maybe that's okay for some people. Not me. Why not make it a setting?

Pointless icons on the lock screen - the lock screen with always on displays includes notifications. Good idea. But all that counts here is missed phone call, voice messages, text messages, and email. The others just clutter the screen and make the others less noticeable.

Pause in Maps - I often pause when taking a road trip, food, rest, gas, bathroom. I would bet that most people do. Why doesn't Google Maps have a pause button? The moment I leave the highway my phone starts chattering at me how to get back on my route. Grr. Maybe, on a car based route, automatically pause when I'm going less that five miles per hour.

Meanwhile (June 6, 2018) a Yahoo Technology headline reads "Android P Beta 2 brings updated system images and 157 new emojis". I don't know - maybe the new emojis will solve the world's problems. Meanwhile my head has been boggled.


Wireless Earphones for Smartphones

Wireless Earphones for Smartphones

I was skeptical about adopting wireless/Bluetooth earphones for my phone. My past experience with Bluetooth was clunky startup - slow or no connection. Plus it is expensive to get multiple sets so I've got to keep the one pair with me.

After my Google Nexus 5 died unexpectedly, I got a Google Pixel 2, which has no headphone jack. So I jumped back into the Bluetooth world.

First I eliminated all of the products with flexible ear seals - I find these very uncomfortable. I thought that just left Google Pixel Buds, so I got a set. These are GARBAGE. I didn't even get to pairing them. They don't fit in my ears. It looks like they would fit if I cut the cord (a cord connects the two earpieces). They also look like the weight distribution will cause them to fall out if they fit in. The recharging box is clunky and big compared to the AirPods case (I didn't know this until I replaced them with AirPods).

I looked for more options and discovered that Apple AirPods are just Bluetooth earphones with some extra function that only works with Apple phones. Verizon made the trade from Pixel Buds easy - no paperwork, two cents credit to my account, and I walked out with them.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE! AirPods fit in my ear, are comfortable, and do not fall out. They feel just like Apple's old corded earphones, which have always worked well for me. After a little problem pairing them with my phone (I had to reboot), they are now paired and whenever I take them out of their recharging case, they are connected to my phone in a few seconds. You can can use either one or both. They sound fine. I don't care about any missing function dealing with digital assistants. The case is nice and includes a battery, so it can recharge the ear pieces even when it's not plugged in. It looks a lot like a dental floss case, so there could be an identity crisis on the horizon.

Apple - please keep your hands off of this superb design. I can't think of a design change that will make it better - it can only get worse.

A note from days later - rebooting the phone kills the pairing. Pairing is not hard, but requires the case. So not as convenient as I thought, but then I don't reboot the phone very often.

Google - you need to fire the people that designed Pixel Buds and everyone in your organization that approved the design.


Roku and Other Streaming Entertainment

Roku and Other Streaming Entertainment

The controls on my Roku stick, at least when used with Amazon Prime are awful.

Hit the circular go back button (again - how do you talk about icons when they don't have an obvious name?) and the show backs up 10 seconds. Sounds very useful. Hit again quickly and the show goes back to the start. If I want to back up 30 seconds, I generally end up at the start, with no easy way to get back to where I was. Grr.

There is no stop button. There is a pause button. But if you pause, go back to antenna TV, then return a few hours later, you are likely to find that you have played several episodes of the show and lost your position in what you were watching and lost your position in the episode tracking.

The left arrow button (the straight go back button?) often takes you back to where you came from. But if you are watching a show, you have to hit it three times to make the show truly stop.

But what really annoys me applies to all of the the entertainment services that I have used, Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, I Heart Radio - PLEASE STOP with the idiotic recommendations for what I will like. You don't have a clue.

You have no idea why I like the shows that I watch. When I watch an entire series it probably means that I like a watching a certain character or maybe I like the plots or the writing. It doesn't mean that I will like anything else of that genre.

When I accidentally start a show because your control lag is so bad, then stop it almost immediately, that does NOT mean that I like the show.

When I start watching one episode of a show and stop halfway through, that does NOT mean that I like the show.

When I watch one episode of a show and then never watch another episode, that does NOT mean that I like the show.

I Heart Radio - when I delete a music theme from your recommended themes, that means I don't want to hear it. It does NOT mean that you should keep recommending it.

When you recommend a number of shows and I don't watch them, that's a clue. You are NOT getting it right. Give up and STOP ANNOYING ME.


Smartphones Revisited

Smartphones Revisited

Janet got a Google Pixel 2 recently. It has an aluminum back, but the top inch is glass. I think that is for wireless battery charging or maybe an internal antenna. It wasn't long before the glass was broken and the paint was chipped to reveal the aluminum (due to impact against the floor). Why was this piece glass? Do people hate plastic so much that they would rather deal with broken glass than have a plastic piece on their phone? Does almost blue paint with aluminum spots look better than plastic? My current phone has a plastic back (Nexus 5X) that does it's job and has survived repeated falls.

Groupthink is the enemy of inovation and it abounds in smartphones - must make the bezel smaller, must get rid of the headphone jack, must round the edges, metal and glass - no plastic, must have an "intelligent" assistant, must have gesture shortcuts. I don't like any of these "must haves".

No matter how much you hype Gorilla Glass, for opaque surfaces, you can find a better thermoplastic.

I haven't figured out what is the big deal about paying via phone. It just doesn't seem that hard to take my credit card out of my wallet. Don't want to carry a wallet? What about your driver's license, passport card, health insurance card, cash for places that only take cash?

EBooks and EBook Reader Apps

EBooks and EBook Reader Apps

I have not read paper books in years now. I started ebooks with a second generation Kindle, reading The Hunger Games trilogy. Then I tried it on my phone and never used the Kindle again. I always have my phone with me. It is small and light. And it has very sharp text. At the time, Amazon's Android Kindle app was very good.

I almost never know the title of the book that I am reading. I never see the cover and the title never appears on the pages that I am reading.

And one more issue, in general, why does it take so long to open the app and get started reading? Even if the book has been downloaded to the phone the app appears to be contacting the cloud. Fear of cheating is more important than giving me a good experience, I guess.

Through the years, the Kindle app has gotten worse and worse as they added useless features and bugs.

The current version fails to start up on the page that I last displayed. I have to be sure to bookmark my page before exiting.

Touching the upper right corner of the screen sometimes produces a bookmark, sometimes does nothing, and sometimes displays the next page. Very annoying.

Touching a word marks the word and brings up the first line of the definition of the word. Huh? It used to display the whole definition.

These aren't transient bugs. I reported them months ago. I believe that Amazon doesn't consider them to be bugs.

I tried Nook. When I stopped reading at the start of a new chapter, when I returned, the page would be blank. To get it back I had to do something like change the font size and then change it back. I couldn't detect any attempt to fix the problem.

Next I tried Google Play Books. I haven't found any bugs, but there are two annoying features. First, there is some gesture that is easy to invoke, although I don't know exactly how, that dramatically increases the font size. I can't find any way to turn it off. And there is no setting to leave the Android status and action lines (at the top and bottom) visible. So I have to back out of reading mode to see the time or hit the home button.

I tried Kobo too. As I recall, it had an option to always display the Android status line, but the option didn't work. I stuck with Google.

I wonder what plans the self driving automobile developers have to avoid bugs like these and to not introduce new bugs in software updates.


Things that Should Be

Things That Should Be

Mice (the ones used to control a computer) - often I want to go only horizontal, or only vertical, or very high resolution. Maybe just two buttons - horizontal or vertical only and high resolution. Instead we get 100 different mouse shapes and sizes and "programmable" extra buttons - why can't they add something truly useful?

Google Maps during navigation - how about a pause button? Let me get food, gasoline, etc. without being constantly told how to get back to my route.

Car signals - we have left turn, right turn, get out of my way, and emergency. What about U turn? How about "sorry" - imagine how much road rage could be reduced with a simple sorry signal. How about "thank you" - imagine how much nicer drivers might be if they were occasionally acknowledged for being nice. How about "the light is green" - just a short horn tap would do, but most horns are very hard to tap, they are either silent for full blast. These could all be color coded lights on the front and back or the car.

Cookies (the kind that you eat) - mandatory labels for cookies - crispy, soft, chewy, maybe others like crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. All of these cookie types are completely different things. Why are they commingled on the grocery shelf? Why aren't they labeled when displayed without packaging.

Same thing with chewy versus soft caramel. I don't like soft caramel. "Turtles" - caramel, pecan, chocolate are wonderful with chewy caramel, garbage with soft caramel. LABEL your product please.

My current car has four cup holders in front and four in back. I don't generally need all of those, but they make handy, if very small, trash containers. But why is there no good place to put my phone? I tried a number of addons phone holders - all deficient. They block views, put the phone in places with poor visibility, are a pain to get the phone in and out of, put the phone in front an air vent. Why don't we have phone holders built into the dash - just a small padded slot to hold the phone upright, in a good viewing position, with a cutout to attach a charging cable? Of course the new bezel-less phones would have trouble with the slot suggestion - maybe someone could offer a half inch extension for the bottom of these stupid designs.


Things that Should NOT Be

Things that Should NOT Be

Manufactured scents are gross - laundry detergents, dishwasher detergents, dish soap, shampoo, hand soap, and maybe worst of all air "fresheners". They stink. They provoke allergic reactions in some people. They have no redeeming attributes.

Manufactured trans-fats, also known as (partially) hydrogenated oils, have been shown to be very unhealthy, associated with heart disease and strokes. There have been some trans-fat bans and a lot of companies have reduced or eliminated trans-fats in their products. It's time to make them illegal.

Touch screens in cars are a menace. They divert attention from driving. They are ergonomically horrible because you must look at the screen to operate it and transient vibration from the car can easily cause you to miss the desired button. There is no physical feedback and no good way to anchor your hand in preparation for a button press.

Air blower hand dryers are viciously loud and dry leaving whatever was in the water on your skin. Why do people use these? If there are no paper towels available or if I feel guilty about using them, I just use my shirt (cotton), the water is clean and evaporates quickly.

Tanning beds - no redeeming value and a significant health risk. Why do these exist? Why are they allowed to be used?

Shower control that only controls the hot/cold ratio. It is such a waste to not be able to control the amount of water.

Colgate toothpaste - have you ever tried to buy Colgate toothpaste? How did you choose which type? Ignoring kid's stuff and sensitivity reducing toothpastes we have - Baking Soda and Peroxide Whitening Bubbles, Baking Soda Whitening, Cavity Protection Enamel Health Whitening, Fluoride, MaxClean Smartfoam, MaxFresh Knockout, MaxFresh with Mini Breath Strips, Optic Express White, Optic White, Optic White High Impact White, Optic White Radiant, Optic White Stain Fighter, Optic White Stain-Less White, Sparkling White, Tartar Protection with Whitening, Total Advanced Deep Clean, Total Advanced Whitening, Total Clean in Between, Total Clean Mint, Total Daily Repair Toothpaste, Total Whitening, Triple Action and I'm sure that I missed a few. Do they want you to buy one of each and evaluate for yourself? If I want the whitest teeth possible, one of these should do - Optic White Radiant, Optic White High Impact White, or Sparkling White. But which one?

Thankfully the car makers have quit putting "wings" on family sedans. But they are now in a hotly contested race to see who can make the ugliest grill. Nissan, Honda, and Lexus, are currently tied for second and Toyota has taken the lead with two equally horrible grills for the regular and sport version of the Camry.

I'm sure that I have missed a few other things that should not be. Oh - SNOW IN APRIL.