Android Fragmentation: A Real Problem or A Hyped Non-Issue?

If there’s one topic surrounding the Android OS that comes up time and time again, it’s the issue of fragmentation. With so many devices and variations of the OS, developing for Android can be difficult. Before deciding if this is a real problem or simply a non-issue, let’s take a step back and define what we’re talking about.

Put simply, Google developed the core code for Android and has allowed device manufacturers such as Motorola, Samsung, and HTC to create custom variations of this code. Google likes this because it gets their OS on a wide variety of handsets. The device manufacturers like this because the bulk of the software work is done for them and they can focus on customizing the OS. End users like this because they have a plethora of choices, all with the same basic features that they’re looking for. Developers, on the other hand, aren’t as keen about the whole situation.

Back in October, the popular Twitter client, TweetDeck, shared some information regarding the variety of devices and OS’s that their app was currently running on.

Img Credit: TweetDeck

At first glance, there are quite a few OS versions to support. That said, looking at it differently you could conclude that a good 80% of users are on Android 2.1 and above. If you write an app to support OS 2.1 and higher, you can expect it to work on the majority of Android handsets with very little issue, right? Well, maybe. For some applications, this is entirely true.

For others, however, writing an application that works is far different than writing one that works properly. With all the custom variations of the OS, an application may not behave as expected. If you’re a developer writing for Android, guaranteeing that your app works on all Android device means buying dozens of devices to test it on. For most developers, this simply isn’t feasible.

I think we can all agree that fragmentation on the Android platform exists. So the question becomes “is it a problem?” In my opinion, almost. What I mean by this is that unless it’s addressed, it could spiral out of control to the point that it simply isn’t manageable. It may get to the point that certain apps only work on certain devices. Want to play Angry Birds? Get a Samsung phone.

That said, I don’t think it will get that far. In fact, Google has already released a tool to help curtail the issue, and they recently partnered with manufacturers to help ensure devices are kept up to date. Is it enough? Maybe for now, but it’s not a complete solution. So how does Google minimize the imminent fragmentation problem while maintaining the openness that many of us love about the Android platform? Well, that’s the big question, now isn’t it?

RIM Introduces BlackBerry Balance

Image Credit: RIM

Just the other day, Research In Motion (RIM) announced a new feature coming to BlackBerry smartphones: Balance. Balance is a technology that allows companies to define what’s work and what’s personal, then act on that information. For example, Balance can be setup to restrict a user from copying text from a business email into a social networking app. The ultimate goal, of course is to give the company more control over secure data while allowing employees to use one device for both work and personal needs.

At CompanionLink, we’re big fans of keeping your business data separated from your personal data. We’ve written recently talking about how you can use CompanionLink and DejaOffice to do just that, making it much easier for you to use your phone at work and at home. Balance does not appear to offer the same types of features as we discuss, but rather focuses on making a personal device more secure. Initially, the direct benefit to the employee may seem low. However, it is important to remember that, for many, Balance will be the key that finally allows them to carry just one device!

How do you keep your business and personal data separated? Will Balance change things for the better for you? Let us know in the comments!

The Sidekick 4G: Now With More Android!

Historically, the Sidekick was always a fairly popular phone. Of course, since the Danger debacle and recent shutdown notice, we’ve seen this popularity fade away to some degree. Don’t expect the slump to last, however. The Sidekick is back and it features some solid specs, including 4G data.

The biggest news, however, is that the Sidekick 4G will be running Android. This opens the door for a lot of potential. Business users who want to move away from BlackBerries, but still want a solid physical keyboard will want to take a look at the Sidekick and its great keyboard design. Those who know a little about the previous Sidekicks might balk at this suggestion, claiming that the Sidekick is not designed to be a business device. Admittedly, it is marketed more towards a younger crowd. However, the Sidekick 4G features a few nice additions, such as WiFi calling and “cloud-based” texting that serve to extend the phone’s functionality and maximize productivity when you’re away from cell signal or at the computer. And, of course, after downloading a few business-focused Android apps, like DejaOffice, the Sidekick can be just as productive as any other Android available today!

Looking for information on how to sync the Sidekick 4G with Outlook and other popular databases. Click here!

How To Do Contacts, Calendar, Tasks and Notes on the BlackBerry PlayBook

BlackBerry PlayBook by RIM

To be fair, this is not a review of the PlayBook. We haven’t had the chance to get our hands on one yet (though we’ll be getting ours tomorrow). That said, we cannot help but wonder why the PlayBook is shipping without any sort of native email or Personal Information Manager (PIM) applications, such as contacts, calendars, etc.

Yes, it is possible to “tether” your PlayBook with your BlackBerry phone to get this PIM data on the tablet, but that’s not a complete solution. While many of those who buy the PlayBook will have BlackBerries, not all will! For those users, the only option is a browser-based solution, like Google.

Of course, in the long term, there will be other solutions. For one, RIM has stated that native applications will be coming. As to when exactly that is, we don’t know. For users who are getting their PlayBook tomorrow, though, this feature can’t come soon enough!

The other solution is Android. RIM has announced that the PlayBook will be able to run Android apps, like our own DejaOffice. This capability is expected to arrive via software update this summer. We’ll have more information for you on this as soon as we know more ourselves. That said, at this point we are expecting to support DejaOffice on the PlayBook via Android.

In the meantime, we’ll be getting our PlayBook tomorrow and exploring our immediate sync options. We’ll keep you posted!

DejaOffice Now Available In The Amazon Appstore

Amazon has worked hard to help widen and curate the distribution of Android apps. Amazon has their own app acceptance process, which they say will guarantee that only meaningful and legit apps will be distributed on their Appstore.

We want to make it easy to download DejaOffice, no matter which app store you prefer using. Therefore, we’re pleased to report that DejaOffice is now available in the Amazon Appstore!

DejaOffice in the Amazon Appstore is, of course, free and can be downloaded by clicking here. We do want to make you aware of one thing: if you download and install DejaOffice via the Amazon Appstore, you need to continue to use the Amazon Appstore in the future to update DejaOffice to the latest versions. You will not be able to update the app from the Android Market (it will fail to install – you can get around this by deleting DejaOffice and reinstalling from the Android Market if you need). This is due to the way that Amazon handles app installs and is not unique to DejaOffice, so take note for your other apps as well!

We hope you’ll find the increased availability of DejaOffice useful, and we want to hear your feedback. We’d love for you to leave us a review in the Amazon Appstore! It helps us to constantly improve our app, as well as where we distribute it.

Android’s Popularity Continues To Rise

Android, as a platform, has seen growing popularity since its inception. Before Android, Apple had a tight grip on the changing smartphone market. They were one of the first, and certainly the most influential, to transform the smartphone into what it is today. But, as we all know, Apple’s OS only works on Apple devices. That’s where Google stepped in. They created an open source OS that existing phone manufacturers could use. The use of Android as an OS spread rapidly, catching up with Apple’s market share in little time.

Today, that popularity continues to rise. A recent survey by Market Force shows that 34% of those surveyed would like to buy an Android phone, while only 21% indicated they wanted an iPhone. This is no surprise to us – we can see a similar trend among our customers.

Why is this?

Arguably, one of the reasons is that Android runs on more devices. But I think there’s more to it than that. Android is an open platform that’s designed to allow users great customization and flexibility. People like to own their experiences. The Android platform allows them to do just that. With it, you can make your phone as fun, simple, extravagant, or productive as you like! The very same device can be a portable arcade as easily as it can be a mobile productivity hub.

Now, obviously this is just one survey. New Android phones will continue to be released, and Apple is likely a few months away from releasing the iPhone 5 and iOS 5. How this will affect people’s buying decisions remains to be seen. For now, it’s safe to say that Android phones aren’t going to go away any time soon!

Why All Sprint Customers Should Go Sign Up For Google Voice

Google recently announced complete integration between Google Voice and Sprint phone numbers. In my opinion, this is huge news. Sprint customers will be able to link their number to Google Voice and instantly take advantage of all the great features that Google Voice offers. This all works seamlessly, without requiring an app of any kind on the phone.

As a Sprint customer using Google Voice, you’ll be able to forward calls to other phones, take advantage of voicemail transcriptions, send (and archive) texts online, make calls from your Sprint number via Gmail, and more. Having such easy and ubiquitous access to your call history, text messages, voicemail, and more can be a huge productivity boon. For some time now our phones have been able to augment our computer use. It’s about time our computers truly do the same for our phone use!

If you’re a Sprint customer ready to integrate with Google Voice, head over to https://www.google.com/googlevoice/sprint/ to get started. If you’re on one of the other networks (like myself), well, you’ll have to wait patiently and hope that the other carriers follow suit!

Go Ahead, Make The Switch!

The HTC Thunderbolt is (finally) launching tomorrow. As such, I felt it would be appropriate to touch on the process of switching phones. With 4G data speeds, a 4.3” screen, an 8 megapixel rear facing camera, a front facing camera for video calls, a 1GHz processor, and more, the Thunderbolt should prove to be quite popular, causing many customers to trade in their current phone. Of course, this means going through the process of backing up and transferring all your data will become a top priority.

Switching phones used to be quite a pain. Often, you’d find yourself re-entering all your data, which could take a very long time, especially if you used your phone for business. These days, many phones include some kind of sync to help you get most of your data moved over, but it’s not always so easy. A user hoping to switch from an iPhone to the Thunderbolt, for example, will likely run into some roadblocks. Getting contacts, calendars, tasks, memos, and more transferred over isn’t as simple as it is if you were to simply upgrade to a new iPhone. Unless, of course, you use CompanionLink and DejaOffice!

We’ve developed our products in such a way that you can move to a new device quickly and easily. After installing DejaOffice on a new device, you’re just a quick sync away from having all your important contacts, calendars, tasks, and memos back at your fingertips. After all, it’s your data – you should have easy access to it no matter what device you prefer to use!

For more information on how to sync the HTC Thunderbolt with your PC, click here.

Tablet Faceoff: Motorola’s Xoom vs. Apple’s iPad 2

By now, you’ve no doubt seen countless reviews and comparisons of the Motorola Xoom and Apple iPad 2. They talk about the size, the weight, the features, etc. and post galleries of images for your viewing pleasure. By all means, they are certainly providing helpful information.

That said, I want to compare the two from a productivity standpoint. I want to take a look at the two devices and answer the following question: Which device will allow you to be more productive while on the go?

In order to accomplish this, I’ll be looking at three distinct areas:

1. Tech Specs: Battery life, speed, screen size, etc
2. Usability: Interface design, intuitiveness, etc
3. Compatibility & Expandability: Will it work with my system?

Tech Specs:

The Xoom and iPad 2 aren’t drastically different when it comes to hardware. Both devices have a screen size of ~10” (though the Xoom has a higher resolution), both are running dual-core 1GHz processors, both have front & rear facing cameras, both feature batteries that will last all day, and both share similar dimensions & weight. When it comes down to it, neither device is especially better than the other in terms of tech specs. The Xoom’s screen resolution is a bit higher, its cameras are a bit better, and it will soon support 4G speeds and Adobe Flash. The iPad 2 is thinner, lighter, has higher built-in storage options, sells for less money, and is available on multiple networks.

The Verdict: From a technical specification standpoint, the devices are quite similar when considering mobile productivity. They both offer large screens, they’re both quite portable, and they both have plenty of power to run your mobile office. Everything else aside, it really comes down to personal preference.

Usability:

I am quite impressed with how far Android has come lately. Many of the features found in Android 3.0 are impressive, and the level of customization the device allows is great. Widgets offer at-a-glance information, the freedom to arrange home screens at will allows better organization. Overall, with a small investment of time, the Xoom can be setup to make you extremely efficient on the go. However, it feels surprisingly slow when compared to iOS 4.3 on the iPad 2 – and that’s saying something. I would never have called the Xoom slow before, but setting them side by side shows just how well Apple has optimized their iOS to take advantage of the hardware.

The iPad 2 does not introduce many new features when it comes to usability, but rather optimizes existing ones.  Everything feels even faster than before. Anything that involved more intensive graphics power simply screamed on the iPad. Early testing seems to agree that the iPad 2 is around 2x faster than the Xoom when it comes to graphics power. As a result, everything the iPad does quickly it does beautifully as well, with smooth animations and transitions. It is clear that Apple has invested a lot of time perfecting the experience. This unique experience often translates into a higher level of productivity.

The Verdict: It’s a close call, again. Many users will prefer the level of customization and organization that the Xoom offers. Being highly organized is a crucial part of being productive on the go. On the other hand, the speed that the iPad 2 manages to handle everything you throw at it easily makes up for its more basic organization options.

Compatibility:

Android sets up via Google. iOS, via iTunes. The different setups mean different levels of compatibility, whether with other devices or programs. That said, it’s the apps that can make all the difference.

The iPad 2 supports all existing iOS apps right out of the box. Essentially, if your setup works on an iPhone, iPad 1, or iPod Touch, it will work just fine on the iPad 2. The Xoom has a little catching up to do in this area, simply due to the fact that it’s the first tablet with Honeycomb. Since Honeycomb is the first official tablet version of Android, the platform has some catching up to do. That said, existing Android apps work (even if they’re not optimized for the tablet) and, as such, the Xoom supports most existing Android solutions.

At the end of the day, the more popular solutions will work just fine. For example, DejaOffice works great on both the iPad 2 and the Xoom. A quick install of the app is all it takes to start getting all your contacts, calendars, tasks, and memos over to the tablet.

The Verdict: The iPad 2 wins when it comes to sheer numbers, but the Xoom and Android are quickly catching up.

So Where Does This Leave Us?

It’s actually a close call. Both the Xoom and the iPad 2 have their strengths. So what tablet should you get? Ultimately, the decision is up to you, but in my opinion the winner is the iPad 2. The Xoom is a great product with its powerful customization options and 4G data speeds, and Android 3.0 will only continue to get better. However, I’d have to say that overall the iPad 2 is simply the best tablet currently available. With it’s incredible speed, sleek Apple design, lightweight form factor, and intuitive UI, it has set the bar high for mobile productivity in the tablet market and has left competitors playing catch-up.

Of course, that’s my opinion – I’d love to hear yours in the comments!

Do You Own Your Data?

If Google were to completely shut down right now, would you lose anything? There’s no doubt that many of use would lose thousands of important contacts, calendars, emails, and more! In fact, many of us would be left digitally crippled, with irreplaceable information suddenly gone.

Of course, nobody is expecting this to happen. Then again, 3 years ago few Sidekick users would say they expected their service to disappear either. Unfortunately, T-Mobile recently confirmed that on May 31st all Sidekick services will, in fact, be shut down. When this occurs, Sidekick users will no longer have access to the cloud-based system that defined their devices. Users will no longer be able to access their contacts, calendars, notes, and more. Of course, T-Mobile will be offering solutions for migrating this data to other devices, so all is not lost. However, the news brings up an important point: Owning your data is crucial!

While this may not have been true 3 years ago, I’d be willing to bet that many Sidekick users have come to expect this news more recently. Gmail users, on the other hand, don’t expect to lose their data at any time. But that is exactly what happened just a few days ago. Thousands of Gmail users woke up to an empty inbox. While their data has since been restored (thanks to Google’s redundant backup system), many were without access to important information for days. A hit like that can have a serious effect on your productivity, especially if you rely on services like these for work.

All this said, I don’t want to say cloud-based services are bad. On the contrary, I believe they can be amazingly useful. What is bad, however, is entrusting them with the only copy of your data, because at that point it’s not really your data! In order to access it, you need to be connected to the cloud. In the event of service downtime, you are without access to your data. If you can’t access something when you want to, do you really own it?

Whether you decide to simply back up the information or sync your data to another source, I highly recommend taking the steps necessary to make a copy of your cloud-based data. Hopefully you’ll never need it, but if you do you’ll be extremely grateful for the offline copy! So what are you waiting for? Choose to own your data!