Android Holo User Interface Craze

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When one speaks of design, the Android platform is a wild place. I have written previously about getting custom ROMs and launchers for your device but the one that stumps people most these days is the use of the term ‘holo’ for User Experience (UX) and User Interface  (UI) Design. The UI is open to manufacturers to determine, thus you have TouchWiz, Sense UI and even Xperia UI just to name a few.

Google on the other hand presents its own stock standard UI which is still evolving and one of the design principles behind the UI is the Holo design theme. You can browse this site to find out more about how the Holo theme is implemented by third party app developers. You can also add your own custom Holo theme app from some weird folks who just ‘skin‘ a current app by taking it apart and reapplying the Holo theme but do beware, these have to be downloaded outside of the Playstore so you have to enable app installations from a third party in your settings menu.

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Note the icon changes and tiny design modifications to the official Instagram App

How Holo can it Be?

Design fragmentation is a bad thing but not entirely so. You get a personalized look and feel and it makes it pretty unique except that Google doesn’t like it. Since ICS 4.0, Google has added pressure on manufacturers to conform to certain design rules. These Holo design rules are to be applied across board to any manufacturer that ships Google Android with the official Playstore. The Holo design API is standard with the SDK and cannot be removed by manufacturers so any app developer can make use of these design APIs to create a Holo-fied app.

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Holo is very similar to Apple’s iOS 7, and Jonny Ive was reported to have ripped design elements from Android to fit the new Apple UI. Chief among the elements is the flat design look, where colors are muted and cooler in appearance.

Custom ROMs are not Spared

Even custom ROM developer, Paranoid Android is moving to that sphere with design elements implemented using Holo Theme. These guys rock. They have redesigned the whole UI to give a different experience to the user. The main difference as you can see here is the use of a PIE type navigation where you can touch and hold the screen to bring up a PIE type navigation wheel.

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But before you jump in to download this particular custom ROM, let me remind you that it is only applicable for the Google Nexus line of devices. Putting it into your Galaxy or HTC device will probably brick your set.

Changing the Look and Feel

There are still  other ways to change the look and feel of your User Interface without resorting to a custom ROM job. The folks at mycolorscreen.com have a beta app which is nearing completion. It has a tonne of User features for your home screen to give it a more personal touch with the Themer App. Zooper Widgets, which are highly popular and customisable, has been integrated into the Themer App fold. So you can literally design a Zooper widget to fit any Android screen and sell it as your own on the Playstore.

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So far, the app has yet to exit Beta testing after a copyright claim from Apple threw a spanner in the works. Apparently someone had ripped off icon elements from iOS7 in one of the home launchers and Apple took action. There are plenty of Holo type home screen launchers available but you have to wait till the Themer app goes prime time. Until then, your best option for a custom UI is to flash a custom ROM.

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VPN: Do you really need it?

InternetAccessVPN_thumbVirtual Private Network or VPNs have been around for ages. During the dawn of the Internet, VPNs were the only way to access the Internet for countries that didn’t have such a service. You paid a subscription and dialed in to a local number to get Internet access.

These days, it is much simpler. You can subscribe to a VPN and use the given IP address to log in.

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Why VPN?

Since the Snowden affair, some parties are getting very anxious that maybe some of their emails have been compromised, these bunch of folks include lawyers, politicians, arms dealers, bankers, stock traders, drug dealers, money launderers, pedophiles  and pretty much everyone else in the world who have something to hide.

If you happen to fall into one of the said categories, please read on. For everyone else, you can skip this post and wait for the next.

Not all VPN will Protect You

A VPN may help you get around unnoticed but I am sure the NSA has a back door to accessing your stuff even if you tried to hide it. That’s because FISA can subpoena an Internet host to surrender any emails or messages as long as the server is located on US soil. VPN services based out of the US need not obey this court order so you’d be better off with a Malaysian VPN.

VPN on Mobile

Of late, there is interest on how secure your communications is with the outside world on a mobile device. 8

Personally, I think that VPNs are good only for corporate use. It is a savvy way to monitor the online presence of staff members to ensure they are using a secure channel to communicate with the world. This is relatively easy to set up, and even if you don’t belong to the shader side of world economy, you could still use a VPN by subscribing to a service.

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VPNs are available for iOS and Android via the settings tab so be sure to look out for them.

VPNs for other Naughty Things

Yea, I am aware that some of you are browsing location specific content from the US or UK. That said, you need a VPN or Proxy Server to give the impression that you are from the same locality.

There are a few ways of doing this which I will narrow down to two.

  • Use a Proxy Server Setting that Spoofs any location login
  • Use a VPN to spoof a location Login

It works for the Google Playstore but you have to remove your SIM card as that is tracked by Google. You cannot buy apps from the specific country store unless you have authorized payment for that country.

To spoof your IP location just to watch movies, well it’s easier. I have done this successfully with TunnelBear VPN, which is really neat to use.

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Say you have Hulu or Google Play on your device and you need to spoof the IP from legit location. You can fire up Tunnelbear to give you a fake login location in the US or UK and stream your media to your Android device.

Tunnelbear is free for the first 500MB and gives you a further 500MB if you tweet about them. Beyond that, you need to get a subscription. Hotspot Shield is another service you could try. So far, I have not had the time to test them all but I can assure you they work as I have streamed TV programs from the US through Hulu on desktop. The mobile version shouldn’t be any more complicated. You will need to pay to subscribe to the service after the trial runs out.

How Secure is Secure?

There are four different VPN platforms, the most popular for mobile use is Open Connect, which offers point to point protection of data. You need to connect to a compatible network to secure any communication channel. There are three other VPN platforms to choose from so knock yourself out if you don’t think Open Connect is for you.

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If you want secure, look for the encryption level. 256-bit is the best foot forward.

Encryption Technology  Summary (Geek Porn)

With the NSA prowling the Net for juicy bits of data, people have been asking how does the NSA beat the encryption technology used today. Well, apparently they know it takes far too much computation power so they decided to use a back door by forcing ISPs to surrender their data instead. For trivia, here’s what I found out.

A 128-bit key cypher would require 3.4 x1038 operations to reliably break.
In 2011 the fastest supercomputer in the word (the Fujitsu K computer located in Kobe, Japan) was capable of an Rmax peak speed of 10.51 petaflops. Based on this figure, it would take Fujitsu K 1.02 x 1018 (around 1 billion) years to crack a 128-bit AES key by force.
In 2013 the most powerful supercomputer in the world is the NUDT Tianhe-2 in Guangzhou, China. Almost 3 times as fast as the Fujitsu K at 33.86 petaflops, it would ‘only’ take it around a third of a billion years to crack a 128-bit AES key. That’s still a long time, and is the figure for breaking just one key.
A 256-bit key would require 2128 times more computational power to break than a 128-bit one as 265-bits is roughly equal to the number of atoms in the universe!

VPN for Facebook in China

This is bound to crop up. Facebook is banned so you want to find out which service to use while in China to post? Unfortunately, Tunnelbear and Hotspot Shield is blocked in China, so no point trying.

The Chinese authorities are constantly looking for new VPNs to block and the free ones are the first on their list. There are two VPN services that offer this service but at no time would there be a guarantee that it won’t be blocked by the time you read this. So I am not giving any links here for good measure.

It would be easier if Facebook sold to China and that would solve the problem for good. Right now subscriptions to VPNs cost between US$10 to US$20 a month. Now if you are willing to pay that much just to access Facebook in China then you have a very serious social media addiction. I’d save that money for some social  therapy instead of having to ante up on a VPN.

Let’s Try Tor!

No, it’s not about summoning an old Norse God with a Sledgehammer to unblock an IP but rather rout your data to secure Tor channels that exist in China. Tor uses a bridging system to connect data to the outside world and for the system to work, you need to root your device. There are several Tor apps on the Playstore but you need to root your Android device for it to work.

tor_in_chinaTor is very slow. It bounces data all over to confuse the ‘enemy’ and if you are ever thinking of streaming TV shows and movies illegally, you better forget it. Edward Snowden uses this all the time to get around data detection by the NSA. So if you happen to wear the same shoes, well this could be an option for you.

Cyanogen Mod Mac Installer goes Beta

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Android jailbreakers take note. Cyanogen Mod has finally landed on the Mac, well at least in Beta. As Guy Kawasaki once said, it is Beta than nothing.

You need to join the group of guinea pigs or large Capybaras to be allowed into this highly secret cabal of testers. They can be found here. From the forum, you can see how others are doing and sad to say, there isn’t much to offer for International users.

Most of the rants are on the Installer failing. Why should it? It is in Beta and that is why you downloaded it. So far, no one has bricked their device, though that is highly probable.

Two Step Processing to One Step

Installing and flashing your device use to be a complicated affair, it is so complicated that only geeks did it in their free time. By releasing Cyanogen Mod with a client software that runs on both PC and Mac, the dudes with code made it into a one step process.

All you need to do is run the Mac installer, plug in your device and things will be done automatically. Please don’t fret, if your device is not supported, it will tell you that it isn’t but unfortunately for Beta versions, this one doesn’t always work but it doesn’t mean you could install a wrong firmware.

Why My Device isn’t Supported?

As I have said before, CyanogenMod is staffed by geeks who in their free time tinker with the Android OS and frees up some of the bloatware that comes with it. It is not a paid profession. Since the launch of Cyanogen Oppo N1, talent has to be diverted to things that need focus, thus don’t expect all of your devices listed as mod-able.

Another problem is the Global version of your firmware. Many ‘modders’ have access to firmwares that is released in their country, this means those with a global or international version will be left out. For now, most country specific firmwares are available while International versions are left out. Local language supported firmware is also missing so if you happen to be Chinese or Korean, chances are there isn’t one for you.

Trial and Error

I have been monitoring the forum on the G+ group and there is good feedback on what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes, you just need to wipe clean your device before modifying it to use the CyanogenMod installer. Most of the devices are US centric, some may even have European firmwares but not all of them are supported.

If you can’t wait to kick ass your device into hyper speed, I suggest you wait till the Mac installer software is more stable, but if you can’t, heck, just give it a shot now.

Cyanogenmod: The begining of the End?

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Cyanogen Mod is a great little addition to a rooted device, but it never really worked well. You have to understand that Cyanogen Mod was never really intended to be commercial, at least until now.

Oppo, the branded Android gadget from China has made its debut in USA. That said it is a commercial grade release under the Cyanogen Mod brand name. Hardware wise, the Oppo rocks, but I really have no idea if the Cyanogen brand name will stand up to scrutiny.

Why do the Mod?

Speed, performance and removal of bloatware. What started out as a forum for would be geeks to tinker with Google Android code led to the development of Cyanogen ROMS, which has to be flashed onto your hardware device. What’s the advantage?

Pros

  • Remove unwanted programs (“bloatware”) installed by your carrier
  • Receive more frequent security updates (ie, get the latest fixes from Google in the newer OSes)
  • Having access to the most current version of Android available (including new features)
  • Better performance
  • Extra features

Cons

Common concerns include the following:

  • Some device manufacturers or mobile providers may offer a limited or voided warranty after modifying
  • It is possible that by installing a rooted operating system, you may be introducing new potential security issues (although this argument could be switched– older operating systems may be insecure as well…)
  • Non-stock firmware could contain malicious code – which is a good argument for making sure you download custom ROMs from a trusted source, or even better, learn to build it yourself!
  • Stability issues may arise when using an experimental operating system. However, for many people, CyanogenMod has proven to be more stable than most ‘official’ ROMs.

I would like to highlight the claim on the last line “CyanogenMod has proven to be more stable than most ‘official’ ROMs”.

This is not true. Any firmware modification will affect the performance of the hardware. Some of the most frequent complaints are that the device camera or Wifi connection doesn’t work. Still it hasn’t stop legions of followers from rooting their devices.

Rooting for Freedom

Android has many variations, those from Samsung and HTC are similar in operation but are different in design. Think for a moment about the Google stock standard camera app and you’d know what I mean. Google released its Photosphere feature with a 4.3 update but this was not featured in updates by Samsung for obvious reasons. If you are still keen to get a Mod, you can get it here.

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This app isn’t just for anyone so please read the following section before installing.

The Dark World of Rooting

In the iOS world, the art is known as Jailbreaking, but for Google Android it is known as rooting. Like Yin and Yang, they both co-exist in the app ecosphere. Android however has one advantage, you can choose to install apps outside of the appstore if you so dare whereas Apple absolutely forbids it.

Google recently removed the OneClick app for Cyanogen installs from the Playstore. As a competing operation system, it was expected that they get the thumbs down.

Not all devices have rooted ROMS. The OneClick app made it much easier to install and flash your ROM but it is your responsibility to find out the common issues (bugs) associated with the release. They do not guarantee you a glitch free buttery smooth operation even though there are certain advantages to removing the bloatware.

Telcos often include a host of stuff, sponsored none the less by conniving brands that occupy space in storage and RAM. Samsung on its own loads it up with WTF ? apps which you won’t bother using but can’t remove. This again occupies the limited internal storage space and there are no avenues to move it to external storage.

Older Devices to Benefit from Cyanogen Mod

This is true. Devices with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage with no access to external SD card are prime targets for rooting. Dealing with the bloatware will be a welcomed move and there is no two ways about it.

With newer devices, with between 2GB to 3GB of RAM, the attraction of rooting your device diminishes with the amount of internal storage you have. 16GB is probably quite ok as long as it is supplemented with external card storage.

So if you have an old device that needs a breath of fresh air, you can do no wrong by heading down to Cyanogen Mod and installing the OneClick app.

Cyanogen’s move to a more commercial platform like Oppo will ultimately mean one thing, a signal to an end for Cyanogen Mods for other devices. Software engineers who have tinkering with it for fun will have to be paid and resource will be focused on Oppo style Cynanogen Mods of commercial quality.

So this will be the End for Cyanogen Mod and the beginning of Oppo Cyanogen Mods.