Get Mobile Notification on your PC with PushBullet

Pushbullet-640x401 Everything has been done to death so when someone thinks of something so simple and yet so useful, well, you gotta hand it to them.

PushBullet is one of those apps that resides both on your mobile and your Desktop PC that deserves attention. Why? Coz for the longest time, everyone wanted something like this but no one bothered to do it as it just seems…well too simple to be of any serious use.

There are other ways to achieve what PushBullet does, but as a complete package, there are no competitors.

The Great Mobile Disconnect

Push notifications on your mobile reside on your mobile, and each time  you get a notification from your mobile app, you have to pick up your device to reply and read those messages.

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While on the desktop, you could be looking for some information and when you find a link you need to pass on to your mobile device, you can’t because the only way is to use Evernote or Google Keep, pasting the URL, and getting that on your mobile device.

How about the time you wanted to pass on an image from your mobile to your desktop? The fastest way was actually to save it to Dropbox and have that file saved back locally on your desktop PC hard drive. That’s like taking the scenic route to the book store.

PushBullet can do this and more. It can also make use of your mobile functions like replying your SMS from your desktop computer as long as the two are connected.

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Currently, it supports browsers such as Safari, Opera, Chrome and Firefox. The sharing of links and files is pretty solid except for maybe large files which will take a while to send over to your mobile device. There is another app, Caast.me, which is similar but uses a QR code to connect your mobile to your PC browser.

For Pushbullet, the connection is done only once on your computer, that is once you link your mobile to your account, it will forever be there. To add more desktops, tablets and phones, you just click to add on your profile dashboard and you’re done.

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What’s more you can also message your friend who are PushBullet users. If they are not PushBullet users, they will be notified to join up. I know this sounds kinda lame, since IM is probably the most abused and misused feature on mobile these days and with so many providers already offering IM services, it cease to be a unique selling point. But when integrated as a package, I can see the difference in the overall workflow experience.

PushBullet Workflow

This is what sets everything apart. As a stand alone app on your mobile, you can say that it is pretty useless as the only feature it has which differentiates itself from the rest is the news channel subscriptions.

There are several news channels or news aggregators which you can subscribe to for free—allowing you to periodically receive the latest news on the Internet. It doesn’t have proper news channels like CNN or NYT but it does support a host of industry channels from gaming to tech happenings. Beyond that, it offers nothing else for mobile users.

However for people who work from desktop PCs and mobile devices, this is a very handy tool as files and links gets passed around easily and shared with people on your IM list.

What’s more, you can also have project group mates who you might want to send URL links to instead of writing them an email. And who reads emails these days? When you get 100s a day, it gets pretty lame trying to sieve through them, and these are work emails and not the spam variety you find on supermarket shelves.

The UX is very well thought out. On mobile, it sits there as any standard app without IM capabilities. So there is no fussing around. You can also turn off the pushed notifications whenever you like or have them pushed ONLY while you are connected on WIFI.

The folks at PushBullet are still building this beast of a service in the hope of being bought out. I think they have done a great job coming this far. Lets hope it stays that way. I can already the hawks in the Internet industry descending on them to take them out. What they provide is inherently very simple but it is the way that it is delivered that makes them world class.

 

Hola Browser for Android VPN Beta is FREE for Now

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I live outside of the US and love using VPN to mask my actual location, but not for safer browsing but for region coded content found on the Internet.

I have in the past written about VPNs for use in many situations, least of all for posting to Facebook while in China. But for us who live outside of where the content is region coded, then it becomes a censorship problem. Web censorship is real. Everywhere you go, there is some form of censorship where URLs are blocked for political or religious reasons. But for some of us, we just want to enjoy free content which has been region restricted. For example, YouPorn.com is blocked in many countries and if you happen to love watching free internet porn, you have come to the right place. Hola will satisfy all your desires….for free!

P2P VPN is here…at a Cost

All things free isn’t what it is believed to be, so here’s the stuff Hola won”t tell you. Hola VPN doesn’t make use of a secure connection but a mix of P2P/CDN. Think of it like TOR, the secure network used by Edward Snowden, every computer becomes an exit node, so if you are a user based in China, Hola lets you access Facebook via someone’s exit node in the USA where Facebook isn’t blocked.

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Browsing YouPorn from Singapore? You gotta have Hola!

Hola relies on YOUR data download and upload bandwidth when you use their VPN to serve other users. So if you happen to have a paltry bandwidth limit on your mobile and keep Hola running all day long, you will exhaust your data limit in a day or two. This can happen if more people choose to browse from the country where you reside. Inside the mobile app, you have a long list of country to choose from, and from it, pick a country you wish to browse from. Hola also operates a CDN, content distribution network, which caches popular content for user to download and stream.

Hola is a free Android app that you can download right now and I suspect that the app is still in Beta. But don’t let that deter you as it works pretty much like a web browser with VPN access. The VPN service is unlimited and is automatically switched on when you launch the app. Hola is still adding more content sources and sorting out the bugs within the app. Even their latest update was very buggy (Feb 18).

How Hola Aims to Change Your Browsing Habits

The P2P network protocol used by Hola is pretty vague at the moment. By opening your own Internet connection to others, you are letting dudes like the NSA come through your browser and into your computer or mobile device. Data leeching can happen since you can’t tell if they are real users or data mining bots. The only security control is to bypass this is to sign up for their premium plan where Hola is prevented from using your computer or mobile as an exit node. Hola could change the way you browse the Internet in China but Chinese URL blockers will eventually find a way around it once they determine the exact DNS Hola operates from. For now, it is a free for all for everyone.

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However if you are hoping to browse for content from the US, well you are in luck. Hola works perfectly. With it, you can pretend to surf from the US or for that matter Australia, Britain or Iran for that matter….the choice are up to you but if you are looking for content, just stick to the old time favs.

Hola integrates several streaming services with its own app, such as Pandora, Hulu and Netflix. For Netflix, you need a paid account to get access but you can fib your way to a free one month trial by signing up (with a credit card). I didn’t need to test Facebook or for that matter Google Plus since those are not banned from where I was. But it would be of interest to those who are heading to China.

There is a desktop plug in for PCs, created for Firefox and Chrome and the moment you install it, you will notice some slowdown when you browse using Hola. It could be using your connection as an exit node. To avoid people piggy backing on your bandwidth, you can sign up for Hola premium.

On Android, Hola app pretty much uses a default USA setting for streaming media so you have to change it to the UK if you happen to use it to access BBC content.

For now, Hola for me is the place to go to for all my TV shows on Hulu. My only regret is that I don’t have a Hulu Plus membership to get to all the episodes I want to watch.

Hola for iOS is NOT Free

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Please don’t ask me why but you only get a 7 day trial after which you have to pay as long as you are a Apple user. iOS has never had it this good as users are generally considered richer than their Android cousins thus Apple iPhone users have to pay to get access after seven days. This is the premium sign up. So you don’t get people hogging your bandwidth. It is the perfect solution for iPhone users who love using their phones all the time.

Android to be Fragmented by the Big Guns of Mobile?

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Recently, Microsoft was reportedly an investor in Cyanogen, the rogue Android operating system that Google hopes to kill one day. With the investment, Google probably has to deal with another camp within Android that will split their control over the OS.

This is not the first, Amazon was the big player who decided to go its own way with the Kindle and launched a competing version of Android that has no relations with the Google version. Then came Nokia’s X series, which Microsoft decided to kill off upon taking control on the Finnish company.

Windows Mobile is still a struggling OS. Blackberry isn’t much of contender unless you’re the Snowden type so for the rest of us, it’s just Android and Apple iOS. The others like Tizen, Ubuntu and Sailfish OS have yet to deliver a viable competitor to the old time favorites. So Cyanogen seems to be a good bet, or so it seems. But the folks at Mi (rice in Chinese) have a better idea, why not take Cyanogen and skin that to their ecosystem?

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Cyanogen have been given a fresh start with a capital injection rumored to be around 70 million from Microsoft. It was struggling under its own open source weight and could not get enough geeks to support the numerous devices listed on its site. When Cyanogen decided to go commercial, they were not prepared for the task at hand so the money from Redmond will help sort out its own mess. Oppo has partnered Cyanogen in the past with the N1 variant but Oppo has since taken on itself to move forward into the Global market with a Google approved version.

MIUI Alternative

Hugo Barra may have left Google for greener pastures  in China. In Silicon Valley, he’s just another tech guy but at Xiaomi, he’s driving both MI phones and operating system to global markets. Xiaomi is an ass kicker in China. It runs and supports its own eco-system which emulates what Apple has done to some degree.

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For example, Xiaomi’s own MiMarket, which is just like Google’s Playstore, operates on the same principle as Apple’s Appstore in that it weeds out malware apps before listing it on its own store. However MiMarket is predominately in Chinese and is a hindrance to the English speaking world. Even though Mi user interface on Android have been floating around for people to download and install — many still do not know of its existence. MiUI isn’t exactly an ecosystem, what Xiaomi has done is to use the MIUI on Cyanogen Mod for people to experience what they have created on HTC, Samsung and Motorola.

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This means there will be bugs though the support forum is relatively active to stamp those out. MiUI has its own channels in China that supports group buying, videos, music and games. It does not however offer Google type services such as Playstore and Gmail. Your MI account only gives you additional benefits such as a Cloud hosting account but beyond that, it’s pretty much the same.

Licensing Agreements with Google

Whenever a phone manufacturers wishes to use stock Android, it has to sign an agreement and pay a license fee. That fee is paltry, but you must offer standard Google services such as Maps, Playstore, gmail, etc before you can distribute it.

MIUI in China skips this process by breaking the stock google OS and installing its own with access to M i Market. So this means MIUI is a rogue Android OS just like Amazon’s. A rogue OS works best when you craft your own code into it—allowing you to access MIUI APIs that are proprietary. By doing so, it can also break certain app functions that adhere to strict Google standards—making them less likely to work when the app calls certain hardware routines. MI has a team monitoring the MI forums for bug reports and responds to them accordingly. So far, it’s been pretty good at handling concerns for MIUI for MI devices but but there is always a lingering concern that brands other than MI will not be entertained. There are loads of hardware issues that are not addresses and this has to do with Cyanogen Mod since MIUI doesn’t quite include the support for running its skinned OS on Samsung or HTC devices. MIUI is a good alternative to HTC Sense or Samsung Touchwiz but that’s generally where it ends.

Global March is a Slow One

Mi’s primary market is still China. Although Hugo Bara is spearheading its spread to third world nations, the problem with this march is that it is making baby steps instead of giant leaps, MIUI isn’t quite ready to offer the same eco-system that Apple does on a global scale. It is nice to see that Xiaomi has plans for global domination but it probably needs the necessary funding to go global at a more rapid pace.

What’s more, Xiaomi’s current Redmi Note 4G hasn’t got spectacular hardware specifications. 8GB internal storage along with 2GB RAM barely cuts it these days as more Google apps seem to occupy more storage space than ever. To think that the specs will last you 18 months into the future will be a gamble. Apps are getting more storage hungry and by this, you have to get a warehouse of sorts to keep them at bay. Every update of an App seems to swell in size and in the end, it just won’t hold all that without you first deleting and managing those that you seldom use.

Should I or Shouldn’t I?

To be frank, I hated the bloatware that came with Samsung devices. It tired to blend in a complete eco-system but failed at launch due to its lack of interest in competing with Google. As such, much of what you get on the Samsung app market is the same as those you get on Google Playstore. Trashing the Samsung bloatware is the main attraction for me at least.

The only difference is for the Galaxy Note series, where a series of apps were released to support the stylus input through Samsung’s own Appstore. Beyond that, Galaxy device users will find it very difficult to maintain those Samsung bloatware. Bloatware such as health apps and Samsung video and media centric apps cannot be erased.

Microsoft is in a very good position to hijack Android and splitting it from Google’s paws. It has the financial clout to pull it off and even make proprietary versions of it just like Amazon and Xioami in China (Xiaomi’s global march will be powered by an official version  of Google’s Android with MIUI 6 on Lollipop).

With the new investment in Cyanogen, Microsoft has to learn to find the right balance. Cyanogen opens the doors to users from HTC and Samsung that could be Microsoft centric—puffed up with a slew of Microsoft own services from Outlook mail, Bing Maps, Bing Streetview, Office 360 and Bing Search. Such a underhanded tactic could well destroy Google’s hold on Android. Will Nadella take this swipe at a rival after coming onboard as CEO? Only time will tell. Xiaomi does not have the clout to fight off patent lawsuits that will start flying when it enters global markets but Microsoft is already a patent leader in mobile technologies. As a matter of fact, Microsoft makes more money from mobile based patent royalties than it does from Windows Mobile licensing.

The long term view here is that Xiaomi will just be another User Interface for the rest of us while Microsoft could have its own ecosystem embedded in future releases of Cyanogen. That would be, in short, the worst nightmare for Google.