All posts in “TC”

Android Oreo vs iOS 11: What’s different and what’s the same?


Google just announced Android Oreo and it packs a handful of new features. Some are at the system level and speed up the system and extend the battery life, while others are features that will change the way users interact with their phone.

A lot of these features should be familiar to iPhone and iPad owners. Normally Apple is the one accused of copying Android, but for Android Oreo, Google lifted a handful of features straight from iOS, while a couple of new functions are hitting Android before iOS.

Notifications

Google cribbed iOS for Android’s new notification scheme. In Android Oreo there will be a little dot in the top-right corner of the app’s icon to represent a notification. This has been a staple in iOS since the first iPhone and third-party Android launchers have long featured the scheme, too.

Google even copied how users interact with the notifications, too. A long press on an icon with a notification badge reveals a pop-up menu that presents the user with several tasks — just like an iOS 3D Touch interaction.

In the end, it’s a win to the user that Google copied this system. These dots have survived numerous iOS revisions for a reason: they work.

New emojis

Both Android Oreo and iOS 11 are getting new emojis because emojis are the future of humanity. And Google completely redesigned their take on emojis for Android Oreo. Gone are the blobs and traditional, round emojis have returned.

Google’s new emojis follow Apple’s move to increase the detail found on the little faces. Yet according to a preview by Apple’s Tim Cook, iOS is about to get emojis that are even more detailed.

This tweet by Apple’s CEO shows emojis with a crazy level of detail. Apple has yet to say when the new characters will hit iOS, but it’s logical to expect them in the general release of iOS 11 and High Sierra.

A smarter copy and paste

Android has supported copy and paste functions from the first release and has often led iOS’s implementation of the user interaction. It’s a critical function, yet the small screen size of phones often means copy and pasting is a clumsy affair. Android Oreo now makes it even easier to copy text and perform an action.

Called Smart Text Selection, when a user highlights, say an address, a link to Maps will be displayed next to the standard actions of copy, cut and paste. If a series of digits that looks like a phone number is highlighted, the phone app will be displayed.

This is sort of like how data detectors work in iOS, but Google’s feature looks to be more comprehensive, and it’s powered by Google’s AI for smarter identification.

Picture-in-picture

Apple added picture-in-picture to the iPad in iOS 9 and Android is now gaining the capability, too. But with Android Oreo, phones can get in on the PiP action, too, which is something missing from the iPhone.

Android Oreo’s PiP mode works as expected. It allows users to minimize a video and let it float on top of the screen while other tasks are performed behind it. This video window can be moved around the screen to best position it.

Right now iOS limits this process to the iPad, though that could change in the future.

Autofill

Android Oreo finally brings the ability to have apps auto-fill user information like user names, passwords and addresses. Password manager apps have long performed some of these functions, but through convoluted means. Apps can now implement the Autofill API so the interaction should be much more seamless.

iOS kind of has a similar function, but it’s mostly reserved for a few apps, like Amazon’s, and it’s not nearly as omnipresent as it is in Safari on the web.

Meet Android Oreo’s all-new emoji


The newest version of Android (Oreo, officially) doesn’t bring a ton of new stuff to the mobile operating system, but it does overhaul something near and dear to most smartphone user’s hearts: Emoji. Google has done away with its “blob” style smileys in favor of more traditional-looking (I guess?) smileys, and emoji that in general look more recognizable when compared with their equivalents on other platforms, including iOS.

Google announced its emoji redesign back at I/O, its annual developer conference, so we’ve had time to grieve the blobs, but it’s still going to hurt for some fans of the offbeat Google pictographs. Google also seems to have good intentions for the redesign — it wants to both unify the style for a library that has grown immensely since its inception and Better represent diversity and inclusivity among its emoji set.

One of its stated goals with this huge overhaul was also to improve communication across platforms. Strange as it might seem to old-school phone users who remember when people used to communicate using voice and text, emoji are actually used often to convey real meaning. Google says it wanted to help avoid miscommunication by helping to make sure emoji are as consistent as possible when used across platforms: Those blobs often seemed to mean very different things from their iOS equivalents.

Android O also includes 69 new emoji, as included in the Unicode 10 emoji set. These are focused on better representation of people and gender, as well as some fun fantasy and sci-fi characters and the likely very popular exploding head emoji.

The samples of emoji above are just a small taste of the complete redesign introduced in Android O, which include more than 2,000 characters in total. If you want a full sampling, go ahead and check out Emojipedia for the whole enchilada, which is something there is no emoji for (yet).

Android O is officially called Android Oreo


The latest version of Android is officially here, and it’s called Android Oreo, as most people suspected. Google made the interesting decision to reveal the final name and consumer launch details of Android 8.0 coincidentally with the arrival of the solar eclipse over NYC, which is where it held its launch live stream today.

Google has traditionally used sweet treats for the names of its major Android releases, dating back to Android 1.5, aka “Cupcake.” KitKat (4.4) was the last branded release, with Google typically sticking to generic dessert names wherever possible. Oreo is pretty much the only choice for an “O” dessert that’s broadly and instantly recognizable, however, so it seems like it was almost inevitable.

Here’s what Oreo contains: The foundational cookie sandwich pieces are likely the boot speed and memory improvements Google made by changing the way the operating system works at a basic level to boost Pixel smartphone start times by up to 100 percent, and to improve the efficiency of use of system resources among apps and background tasks.

For the creamy filling, we have picture-in-picture, which allows you to run video apps on top of other tasks, on both phones and tablets. There’s also now Android Instant Apps, which provide access to apps instantly without requiring a download for limited interactivity; notification dots, which tell you when there’s activity within a specific app with a dot in the corner; and autofill for apps, which is like the feature on the web but for individual Android applications.

Android O also ships with more security features, including remote location, locking and wiping with Find My Device, and Google Play Protect, which scans for, detects and automatically deletes malicious apps on a daily basis.

Finally, Google has completely overhauled their emoji set, which is a big change for the primary language of millennial users everywhere.

Android O is rolling out to Pixel and Nexus 5X/6P devices soon, Google says, and anyone on the preview will be updated to the final version, as well. Pixel C and Nexus Player are next up for official updates, too, with other devices to follow shortly.

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin

Markforged announces two 3D printers that produce items as strong as steel


Markforged, a 3D printer manufacturer based in Boston, has just announced two new models – the X3 and the X5. Both of these printers are designed to create carbon-fiber infused objects using a standard filament printing system and both can produce items that can replace or are stronger than steel objects.

Both printers have auto-leveling and scanning systems to ensure each printed object is exactly like every other. Further, the printers use Markforged’s special thermoplastic fiber filament while the X5 can add a “strand of continuous fiberglass” to create objects “19X stronger and 10X stiffer than traditional plastics.” This means you can print both usable parts and usable tools using the same machine and thanks to the fiberglass weave you can ensure that the piece won’t snap on use. For example, one customer printed a custom valve wrench in ten minutes using one of these printers.

Now for the bad news. The X3 costs a mere $36,990 while the X5 costs $49,900. These are aimed at what Markforged calls “local manufacturers.” Luckily you’re not stuck with the printer if you outgrow it. The X3 can easily be upgraded to work with X5’s filament and both are aimed at manufacturing shops that need to product finished products on the fly.

“Customers can now, with ease, print same-day parts that optimize strength and affordability for their specific needs,” said CEO Greg Mark.

These printers are part of Markforged’s effort at creating a real “teleporter.” Thanks to the complex scanning and measurement systems built into these units, users can receive a 3D printer model and print it to exacting specifications. The system also has a failsafe mode that restart at any time as the laser scanner can check to see exactly where the print stopped. The company is also hard at work at some impressive metal printing technologies that turn out parts that are usable in complex machines.

New drone perches on walls like a robotic bird


The Multimodal Autonomous Drone (S-MAD) is a fixed-wing drone that has a few bird-like tricks up its sleeve. You can, for example, fly it like a glider through a room or open space, but when it approaches a flat surface the drone quickly changes configuration and lands flat with its little spiky teeth digging in to keep it from falling. In short, this is one of the scariest robotic behaviors I’ve seen since Big Dog galumphed its way into our nightmares.

The S-MAD uses something called microspines to attach itself to rough surfaces. The spines are essentially hardened steel spikes that grip small bumps in a surface from two directions — “the opposed-grip strategy for microspines is just like a human hand grasping a bottle of water, except that while humans require some macroscopic curvature to get our fingers around both sides of an object, the microspines can go deep into the micro-features of a rough surface and latch on those tiny bumps and pits,” said researcher Hao Jiang of Stanford. These spines are already being used on multi-rotor drones, but this is the first time they’ve been used on a fixed-wing device. The plane now lands on surfaces 100 percent of the time, an impressive feat for such a drone.

With these microspines, the plane can flatten itself against a wall and perch there, gathering data and scanning the environment. When it’s ready to move on, it releases the spines and flies off into the wild blue. Researchers Dino Mehanovic, John Bass, Thomas Courteau, David Rancourt and Alexis Lussier Desbiens from the University of Sherbrooke decided to connect these spines with a fixed-wing drone and had to create a new way to essentially stop the plane in mid-air — something birds are quite adept at — and settle on a surface. The system switches from plane to helicopter in a split second, allowing it to flatten against the wall instantly. From Spectrum:

There are several tricks to this. The first trick is the pitch-up maneuver, which turns the fixed-wing airplane into a temporary helicopter of sorts, relying entirely on the propellor for lift generation (the thrust to weight ratio is 1.5) while the wings provide enough of a control surface to cancel out the torque. At that point, the UAV can approach the wall as slowly as you like (using a laser rangefinder for wall detection), which leads to the second trick: maximizing the “zone of suitable touchdown conditions,” or making sure that the approach is slow enough and steady enough that you can perch reliably with little hardware (sensing and otherwise). And the third trick is having a perching system, legs and microspines in this case, that are flexible enough to achieve a robust perch even if the aircraft isn’t doing exactly what you’d like it to be doing.

This is obviously a proof of concept, but it could be used in situations where long-distance glides terminate in a permanent perch at some high point for data collection. After the data is collected, the plane can essentially fall off the surface and fly back by righting itself, climbing to altitude and gliding home.

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