Tag Archives: smartphones

Everything You Need to Know About Google Duo

This article from theverge.com discusses the ins and outs of Google Duo, the latest and greatest FaceTime-rivaling app. Read all about it here:

Device Pitstop Google Duo on smartphones

Google Duo arrives to take on FaceTime

A relentlessly focused mobile video chat app

By Dieter Bohn

Google Duo, a new video chat app that works exclusively on phones, is getting released today. I’ve been using it for about a week and I can tell you that it’s fast, easy to use, and devoid of complicated bells and whistles. You tap on the face of the person you want to call, they answer, and you have a one-on-one video chat going. Nobody who uses this app can say that Google didn’t achieve its goal of creating a video chat app that’s relentlessly, explicitly designed solely for phones.

That effort is so single-minded I can’t decide if it’s timid or bold.

First, a bit about how Duo works. It’s available on both Android phones and iPhones. When you sign up, the app checks your phone number from your SIM and then sends you a confirmation text. That’s the whole setup process — there are no accounts to create nor friend lists to maintain. It’s tied directly to your contacts list and your phone number.

That’s great for simplicity, but bad if you want to use Duo on anything other than your phone. It’s also unable to make conference calls, put Hangouts-style funny pirate hats on your head during a call, or offer just about any other fancy feature you might expect from a video conference app.

Duo’s radical simplicity is by design, says vice president of Google’s communications division, Nick Fox. “By being laser-focused on mobile,” he says, “it enables us to just make sure that we were doing a great, wonderful job on that case. … For us, we thought ‘amazing on mobile, nothing on desktop’ was the better approach.”

There is one feature in Duo that feels genuinely new: it’s called “Knock Knock.” When you receive a call on Android (it doesn’t work on the iPhone), your entire screen starts showing the live video from your caller before you even answer. It lets you see who’s calling — and lets the caller make funny faces to try to entice you to answer. Google’s promo video for Duo emphasizes it heavily:

In my testing, Knock Knock worked very well — and it has the added benefit of making the call start immediately. The video call is already running the nanosecond you swipe up to answer it. “Instead of the call starting with frustration and confusion,” Fox says, “you start with a smile because you know it already works.” I don’t know about the smile, but I do know that Duo calls started without all the “Hello, are you there?” that I typically experience with most other video and audio calls.

For those worried about people hijacking their screen with a video feed while they’re at dinner or a meeting, a few notes to ease your mind. First, Knock Knock only works with people you already have saved in your contacts — so random people won’t show up. Second, you can block a caller if you like — but take note that since Duo doesn’t have its own independent friends list, blocking a caller on Duo blocks them everywhere. Last, you can turn the feature off entirely if you don’t like it.

Google also has done a lot of work on the back end to make things feel immediate. It’s based on WebRTC, with some added technical underpinnings to make the call automatically ratchet the quality up or down depending on your connection quality. It’s even able to maintain the call when you switch from Wi-Fi to cellular. After a very brief hiccup, the call just keeps on going.

I mostly tested Duo on a Nexus 5X (running the latest Android Nougat Beta), where call quality was mostly good — better on Wi-Fi, but never so bad that it dropped completely. On the iPhone 6S, call quality was equally good. However, because Google doesn’t have the same ability to integrate on iOS as it does on Android, there are a few hassles: no Knock Knock, and you have to unlock the phone before you answer the call.

Duo is the second of the two apps Google announced at its developer conference this past May. The other is the AI-enhanced text messaging app Allo, for which Google hasn’t yet announced a release date. That’s odd enough, but perhaps not as confusing as Google’s overall strategy with communication apps: instead of fixing its unified solution, Hangouts, Google has opted to release two different (but slightly related) messaging apps: one for video and one for text.

Neither app is designed to replace Google’s other video and messaging app, Hangouts. Instead, Hangouts will continue to exist with a more tightly focused mission: serving enterprise users, where Fox says we can expect “it will increasingly be more integrated with Google Apps suite.” It will still be available for consumers, of course, but those users won’t be the focus of future product development.

And Fox is also not especially concerned that Google is offering a multiplicity of communication apps. He sees Google’s products as split broadly into three bands: Allo and Duo for consumers; Hangouts for the enterprise; and services that are more carrier focused — like SMS, RCS, and even the Phone app. Fox believes that consumers simply aren’t confused by a multiplicity of messaging apps — whether they’re made by Google or not — “People use the apps that their friends are using,” he says. And he’s excited to see Duo (and, later, Allo) compete with all of them head-to-head.

How Duo will actually compete was (and is) one of my biggest questions. Why use Duo when Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, FaceTime, Hangouts, and any number of other options exist? Is Google going to leverage the massive power of the Android install base somehow? Will Duo be part of the standard suite of Google Play apps preinstalled on the vast majority of Android phones (outside of China)? “We haven’t made decisions on that yet,” says Fox. “We want to get it out there, see how it does, and then I see distribution as the next step rather than the first step.”

When I said up top that I couldn’t decide whether Google’s strategy with Duo was bold or timid, this is what I was referring to. It’s not going to be the automatic default for all Android phones, replacing phone calls in the way that iMessage replaces SMS. Google isn’t ready to go there just yet, which feels timid.

But it’s also bold. In this incredibly crowded marketplace, Google is forcing Duo to compete on its own merits. You can invite somebody to use it by sending them a text from inside the app, but otherwise the plan seems to just be to see how it is received in the marketplace. I asked some variant of “how are you going to get users for this thing” no fewer than four times in my hour with Fox, and every time the answer boiled down to this: “We’re focused on building great apps that people love and distribution will follow that.”

I have no idea if that plan will work: sometimes boldness is just naiveté. But I can’t help but respect the clarity of purpose behind the creation of Duo. It’s aggressively, obsessively focused on making the best possible mobile experience for video chat, at the expense of all else. He said no to desktop, no to conference calling, no even to allowing the same account to work on multiple devices. For the Duo team, getting “mobile first” right meant demanding it be “mobile only.”

Duo does one-on-one video chat very well, which is what Google set out to make it do. The question now is whether or not that’s enough.

Click here to see more from theverge.com.

Don’t Leave Your Phone Charging Overnight!

This article from businessinsider.com explains several ways that we’ve been charging our smartphones wrong. See what businessinsider.com says you should do instead to preserve your smartphone battery.

You’ve been charging your smartphone wrong

Device Pitstop photo of smartphone charging
Photo by r. nial bradshaw/Flickr

By Antonio Villas-Boas, Tech Insider

Yes, we know. Our smartphone batteries are bad because they barely last a day.

But it’s partially our fault because we’ve been charging them wrong this whole time.

Many of us have an ingrained notion that charging our smartphones in small bursts will cause long-term damage to their batteries, and that it’s better to charge them when they’re close to dead.

But we couldn’t be more wrong.

If fact, a site from battery company Cadex, called Battery University, details how the lithium-ion batteries in our smartphones are sensitive to their own versions of “stress.” And, like for humans, extended stress could be damaging your smartphone battery’s long-term lifespan.

If you want to keep your smartphone battery in top condition and go about your day without worrying about battery life, you need to change a few things.

Don’t keep it plugged in when it’s fully charged

According to Battery University, leaving your phone plugged in when it’s fully charged, like you might overnight, is bad for the battery in the long run.

Once your smartphone has reached 100% charge, it gets “trickle charges” to keep it at 100% while plugged in. It keeps the battery in a high-stress, high-tension state, which wears down the chemistry within.

Battery University goes into a bunch of scientific detail explaining why, but it also sums it up nicely: “When fully charged, remove the battery” from its charging device. “This is like relaxing the muscles after strenuous exercise.” You too would be pretty miserable if you worked out nonstop for hours and hours.

In fact, try not to charge it to 100%

At least when you don’t have to.

According to Battery University, “Li-ion does not need to be fully charged, nor is it desirable to do so. In fact, it is better not to fully charge, because a high voltage stresses the battery” and wears it away in the long run.

That might seem counterintuitive if you’re trying to keep your smartphone charged all day, but just plug it in whenever you can during the day, and you’ll be fine.

Plug in your phone whenever you can

It turns out that the batteries in our smartphones are much happier if you charge them occasionally throughout the day instead of plugging them in for a big charging session when they’re empty.

Charging your phone when it loses 10% of its charge would be the best-case scenario, according to Battery University. Obviously, that’s not practical for most people, so just plug in your smartphone whenever you can. It’s fine to plug and unplug it multiple times a day.

Not only does this keep your smartphone’s battery performing optimally for longer, but it also keeps it topped up throughout the day.

Plus, periodic top-ups also let you use features you might not normally use because they hog your battery life, like location-based features that use your smartphone’s GPS antenna.

Keep it cool

Smartphone batteries are so sensitive to heat that Apple itself suggests you remove certain cases that insulate heat from your iPhone when you charge it. “If you notice that your device gets hot when you charge it, take it out of its case first.” If you’re out in the hot sun, keep your phone covered. It’ll protect your battery’s health.

Click here to see more from businessinsider.com.

Samsung Ships the Most Smartphones

Price plays a major role in which smartphone consumers are buying these days. Check out this article from cnet.com to learn more about the brands that ship the most smartphones across the globe.

Device Pitstop woman using smartphone

Samsung, Oppo shine in a weak phone market

While the market flirts with bottoming out, Samsung clings to the top spot, Apple slumps and China’s Oppo rockets upward.

By Lance Whitney

As smartphone shipments sputter and stall, an upstart is shooting forward from the back of the pack.

China’s Oppo saw shipments of its phones more than double — the precise gain: 137 percent — in the second quarter of 2016, compared with the same period a year earlier.

That was good enough to put Oppo into fourth place, according to new reports from market researchers IDC and Strategy Analytics. The company has been aggressively expanding beyond its home base in China to India and other emerging markets.

Samsung held onto the top spot during the second quarter. Its modest rise in shipments kept it well ahead of second-place Apple and third-place Huawei.

Overall, phone makers shipped a total of about 340 million smartphones during the quarter, up no more than about 1 percent from the year-earlier period.

That paltry gain has a lot to do with phone fatigue in established markets, where most people who want phones already have them and aren’t seeing enough pizzazz in new models to spring for them. At the same time, carriers have been putting the kibosh on subsidized plans, confronting consumers with the hard reality of having to pay full price for new phones.

On the plus side, the worldwide smartphone market may have reached a bottom during the first half of the year, according to Strategy Analytics.

“The growth outlook for the second half of this year is brighter due to multiple big new product launches from Samsung, Apple and others,” said Linda Sui, director of Strategy Analytics, in a statement.

Apple is widely expected to unveil its iPhone 7 in September. Samsung is expected to introduce its Galaxy Note 7 next week.

Though Apple’s iPhone shipments slumped during quarter, the company did win people over with its moderately priced new iPhone SE, IDC said.

Samsung remained top dog in large part because of the popularity of its Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge phones. It shipped 77 million phones during the quarter, nearly twice as many as Apple and well over three times more than Oppo.

Price will continue to be a critical factor in reigniting sales among wary consumers.

“Outside of Samsung’s Galaxy S7 flagship, a majority of vendors, including Apple, have found success with more affordable models compared to their flagship handsets,” said Anthony Scarsella, IDC’s research manager for mobile phones, in a statement.

Click here to see more from cnet.com.

How To Protect Your Eyes From Computer Vision Syndrome

It’s no secret that hours spent looking at computer, smartphone, TV and other digital screens every day strains our eyes. But there are ways to prevent the painful symptoms such as headaches and dry eyes. Read the article below from the American Optometric Association for some great tips to protect your eyes from Computer Vision Syndrome.

Click here to see the article on the American Optometric Association website, aoa.org.

Computer Vision Syndrome, also referred to as Digital Eye Strain, describes a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader and cell phone use. Many individuals experience eye discomfort and vision problems when viewing digital screens for extended periods. The level of discomfort appears to increase with the amount of digital screen use.

The average American worker spends seven hours a day on the computer either in the office or working from home. March is Save Your Vision Month and the American Optometric Association is working to educate both employers and employees about how to avoid digital eye strain in the workplace. To help alleviate digital eye strain, follow the 20-20-20 rule; take a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away every 20 minutes.

Device Pitstop info graphic that says 20, 20, 20
Infographic courtesy American Optometric Association.

The most common symptoms associated with Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) or Digital Eye Strain are:

  • eyestrain
  • headaches
  • blurred vision
  • dry eyes
  • neck and shoulder pain

These symptoms may be caused by:

  • poor lighting
  • glare on a digital screen
  • improper viewing distances
  • poor seating posture
  • uncorrected vision problems
  • a combination of these factors

The extent to which individuals experience visual symptoms often depends on the level of their visual abilities and the amount of time spent looking at a digital screen. Uncorrected vision problems like farsightedness and astigmatism, inadequate eye focusing or eye coordination abilities, and aging changes of the eyes, such as presbyopia, can all contribute to the development of visual symptoms when using a computer or digital screen device.

Many of the visual symptoms experienced by users are only temporary and will decline after stopping computer work or use of the digital device. However, some individuals may experience continued reduced visual abilities, such as blurred distance vision, even after stopping work at a computer. If nothing is done to address the cause of the problem, the symptoms will continue to recur and perhaps worsen with future digital screen use.

Prevention or reduction of the vision problems associated with Computer Vision Syndrome or Digital Eye Strain involves taking steps to control lighting and glare on the device screen, establishing proper working distances and posture for screen viewing, and assuring that even minor vision problems are properly corrected.

What causes Computer Vision Syndrome or Digital Eye Strain?

Viewing a computer or digital screen often makes the eyes work harder. As a result, the unique characteristics and high visual demands of computer and digital screen device viewing make many individuals susceptible to the development of vision-related symptoms.

Uncorrected vision problems can increase the severity of Computer Vision Syndrome or Digital Eye Strain symptoms.

Viewing a computer or digital screen is different than reading a printed page. Often the letters on the computer or handheld device are not as precise or sharply defined, the level of contrast of the letters to the background is reduced, and the presence of glare and reflections on the screen may make viewing difficult.

Viewing distances and angles used for this type of work are also often different from those commonly used for other reading or writing tasks. As a result, the eye focusing and eye movement requirements for digital screen viewing can place additional demands on the visual system.

In addition, the presence of even minor vision problems can often significantly affect comfort and performance at a computer or while using other digital screen devices. Uncorrected or under corrected vision problems can be major contributing factors to computer-related eyestrain.

Even people who have an eyeglass or contact lens prescription may find it’s not suitable for the specific viewing distances of their computer screen. Some people tilt their heads at odd angles because their glasses aren’t designed for looking at a computer. Or they bend toward the screen in order to see it clearly. Their postures can result in muscle spasms or pain in the neck, shoulder or back.

In most cases, symptoms of CVS or Digital Eye Strain occur because the visual demands of the task exceed the visual abilities of the individual to comfortably perform them. At greatest risk for developing CVS or Digital Eye Strain are those persons who spend two or more continuous hours at a computer or using a digital screen device every day.

How is Computer Vision Syndrome or Digital Eye Strain diagnosed?

Computer Vision Syndrome, or Digital Eye Strain, can be diagnosed through a comprehensive eye examination. Testing, with special emphasis on visual requirements at the computer or digital device working distance, may include:

  • Patient history to determine any symptoms the patient is experiencing and the presence of any general health problems, medications taken, or environmental factors that may be contributing to the symptoms related to computer use.
  • Visual acuity measurements to assess the extent to which vision may be affected.
  • A refraction to determine the appropriate lens power needed to compensate for any refractive errors (nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism).
  • Testing how the eyes focus, move and work together. In order to obtain a clear, single image of what is being viewed, the eyes must effectively change focus, move and work in unison. This testing will look for problems that keep your eyes from focusing effectively or make it difficult to use both eyes together.

This testing may be done without the use of eye drops to determine how the eyes respond under normal seeing conditions. In some cases, such as when some of the eyes’ focusing power may be hidden, eye drops may be used. They temporarily keep the eyes from changing focus while testing is done.

Using the information obtained from these tests, along with results of other tests, your optometrist can determine if you have Computer Vision Syndrome or Digital Eye Strain and advise you on treatment options.

How is Computer Vision Syndrome, or Digital Eye Strain treated?

Solutions to digital screen-related vision problems are varied. However, they can usually be alleviated by obtaining regular eye care and making changes in how you view the screen.

Eye Care

In some cases, individuals who do not require the use of eyeglasses for other daily activities may benefit from glasses prescribed specifically for computer use. In addition, persons already wearing glasses may find their current prescription does not provide optimal vision for viewing a computer.

Eyeglasses or contact lenses prescribed for general use may not be adequate for computer work. Lenses prescribed to meet the unique visual demands of computer viewing may be needed. Special lens designs, lens powers or lens tints or coatings may help to maximize visual abilities and comfort.

Some computer users experience problems with eye focusing or eye coordination that can’t be adequately corrected with eyeglasses or contact lenses. A program of vision therapy may be needed to treat these specific problems. Vision therapy, also called visual training, is a structured program of visual activities prescribed to improve visual abilities. It trains the eyes and brain to work together more effectively. These eye exercises help remediate deficiencies in eye movement, eye focusing and eye teaming and reinforce the eye-brain connection. Treatment may include office-based as well as home training procedures.

Viewing the Computer

Proper body positioning for computer use.

Some important factors in preventing or reducing the symptoms of CVS have to do with the computer and how it is used. This includes lighting conditions, chair comfort, location of reference materials, position of the monitor, and the use of rest breaks.

Location of computer screen – Most people find it more comfortable to view a computer when the eyes are looking downward. Optimally, the computer screen should be 15 to 20 degrees below eye level (about 4 or 5 inches) as measured from the center of the screen and 20 to 28 inches from the eyes.

Reference materials – These materials should be located above the keyboard and below the monitor. If this is not possible, a document holder can be used beside the monitor. The goal is to position the documents so you do not need to move your head to look from the document to the screen.

Lighting – Position the computer screen to avoid glare, particularly from overhead lighting or windows. Use blinds or drapes on windows and replace the light bulbs in desk lamps with bulbs of lower wattage.

Anti-glare screens – If there is no way to minimize glare from light sources, consider using a screen glare filter. These filters decrease the amount of light reflected from the screen.

Seating position – Chairs should be comfortably padded and conform to the body. Chair height should be adjusted so your feet rest flat on the floor. If your chair has arms, they should be adjusted to provide arm support while you are typing. Your wrists shouldn’t rest on the keyboard when typing.

Rest breaks – To prevent eyestrain, try to rest your eyes when using the computer for long periods. Rest your eyes for 15 minutes after two hours of continuous computer use. Also, for every 20 minutes of computer viewing, look into the distance for 20 seconds to allow your eyes a chance to refocus.

Blinking – To minimize your chances of developing dry eye when using a computer, make an effort to blink frequently. Blinking keeps the front surface of your eye moist.

Regular eye examinations and proper viewing habits can help to prevent or reduce the development of the symptoms associated with Computer Vision Syndrome.

Click here to see more from the American Optometric Association.

Devices for Business and Education

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