Android 4.2: A Major “Minor” update….

I am a daily user of the current versions of iOS (on an iPad) and Android (on a Nexus 7 tablet.) The newest version of Android, the 4.2 update to Android Jelly Bean, has been described as a “minor” update — not even worthy of a new dessert/confection nickname! But it includes several significant features, including THE most basic feature missing on both iOS and Android until now.

Most reviews of 4.2 I’ve seen have focused on features like the camera app, Google Now, or Gesture Typing. I do like them but they’re mostly notable in comparison to competing products (i.e., PhotoSphere vs. iOS’s panoramas, Gesture Typing vs. Swype.) They are either feature-matching or one-upmanship.

The basic problem Android 4.2 solves is tablet sharing. Smartphones, by their very nature as personal communicators, and less likely to be shared. Tablets, on the other hand, in many families will be shared devices. And who wants to pass over to their teenager the keys to their work email account? Or, trust issues aside, wouldn’t it be nice for you and your significant other to be able to BOTH access your email, work email, browser favorites, and other apps and preferences? Maybe without spending several hundred dollars for a separate device for each person in the house…. Native multiple user accounts — like you’ve had for, well, a couple of decades on your desktop computer.

As you can see at the bottom of the screenshot above, each user
has a profile photo, with the selected profile being larger.

In Android 4.2 Google has delivered this and in its first release has done a decent job implementing it. Adding a user is easy, and if you can see at any time whose account you are using by opening the Quick Settings panel (swipe from the upper right of the screen), without having to go through multiple touches or screens. When you create a new user, they have their own screens, initially the default Android home screen, not a duplicate of the screens and apps of the other user(s). However, add an app that is already on the tablet and it will instantly “install” without a download and seems to have very little overhead on the tablet’s storage. Overall storage usage will depend on how much media, email, etc. the user has, but on my Nexus 7, adding an account and email for my wife only used about 50 megs additonal space (see below).

You also have the range of security settings available, so that each user can keep their account secure. You could also, of course, create separate “users” for your work and home life.

This is a turning point in the evolution of tablets. The next step will be to super-size that “personalization” of the tablet to an entirely virtualized environment. Soon, you will be able to walk into a restaurant, office, or hotel and login and access all your apps and personal data just as securely as if on a device you own. That is certainly a ways off, but probably not as far as we would think.

For now, it’s great that Android 4.2 is bringing the first step on the journey, tablet sharing. For couples and families this somewhat unheralded feature of a “minor” release is useful, welcome, and, frankly, overdue.

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More on “Metropolis”

“Metropolis” has been one of my favorite films since I first saw it in college.  So I was very excited when a near-complete print was discovered a few years ago in South America and a restored version with 20+ minutes of missing footage was released in theaters and on DVD last year.

This wasn’t just the typical deleted scenes added to pad DVD’s, the film had been severely cut shortly after release, removing key scenes that crippled understanding of the plot.  The footage had deteriorated somewhat, but finding it at all was one of those minor miracles and triumphs of film preservation.

A side effect of this, of course, has been a renewed interest in the film.  The always wonderful “Paleofuture” blog at the Smithsonian website has a post featuring a 1927 “Science and Invention” magazine article about “Metropolis” called, “A Movie Based on Science.”  This is a contemporary account of the making of the film, showcasing the then-amazing technology used to achieve its special effects.   The blog post includes illustrations from the article which are worth clicking through to, even if you don’t read the full text of the post.


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Ray Bradbury & June in Seattle

When I was in junior high, Ray Bradbury was one of my favorite authors.  More than any of the other science fiction authors I was reading then, he created worlds that were equal parts challenging concepts and vividly alive with character and description.

With his death this month, I found myself revisiting some of those stories and images that I  had enjoyed so much.

Today was one of those days, gray and rainy.  Just another June day in Seattle.  While most of the rest of the country is sweltering, we had our first two days over 70 degrees this week?  But that was yesterday.

And that takes me back to Ray Bradbury again, via his story, “All Summer in a Day.”  It’s science fiction, for sure, set on Venus at some time in the future.  Venus, it turns out, is more rainy even than Seattle.  The rain is constant, with literally only a couple hours of sunshine every several years.

All of which begs the question of what happens when the sun comes out.  Bradbury sets the story in a school, where the children have literally never known anything but rain.  Without entirely spoiling the story, Bradbury uses this sci-fi setting to tell a very contemporary sounding tale about how kids treat each other and the aftermath of their behavior.

And that was what was often so special about Bradbury’s writing, that it was not just amazing science fiction about strange worlds, but at its core it was about the people who lived in those worlds.

As I look out the window on this rainy Seattle day, I am silently happy, reminded of Ray Bradbury.


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