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Category Archives: android

My Tracks: The real reason Google is shutting it down

The Android app My Tracks is being killed on April 30, 2016.  It’s not just be abandoned, to never receive another update.  It’s being killed.  It will no longer operate past the above date. This is a rather strong move by Google.  Why are they doing it?  This is their given reason:

After April 30, 2016, My Tracks will no longer be available. We apologize for the inconvenience this might cause My Tracks users. We’ve made the tough decision to invest our efforts into other, more wide-reaching, mapping projects. Below are some resources to help you manage or export your data and find other apps to continue tracking your activities.

This is the bullshit reason.  The real reason might make you angry, if you are a user of My Tracks.

My Tracks lets you record information about walks, runs and other physical activity.  It does so with the GPS on your phone and records it to your phone.  You have the option of uploading that data to your Google account. It’s your data and Google doesn’t have access to it.  There’s no “save to the cloud” or “share with your friends” or anything like that. In other words, there’s no way for Google to monetize (i.e., make money off) your data.

Google has pointed to several applications that are good replacements for My Tracks. Google Fit being one.  The difference between all of them and My Tracks is clear: they all are social applications which store your data in the cloud, so they can do what they want with it.  The Google app, Fit, is clearly designed like this.  The non-Google apps are, too, and many of them, while free, have in-app purchases for sharing features, etc.

My Tracks was killed because it directly competed with Google Fit.  My Tracks was killed because Google cannot make money off you when you use it1, unlike Google Fit.

So why does this matter?  Why am I so sensitive about my data being in the cloud and used by others for monetary gain?  1) They aren’t being honest about what they are doing. Period. 2) We’ve already given up so much privacy by carry smart phones, and I don’t want to give up anymore of it. My walks are my private business. Something stored in the cloud can be accessed or stolen by others. I don’t want my regular activities to be known by people other than my family.

You might say, it’s open source software, so someone else can maintain it, if Google doesn’t want to, right?  Wrong.  Google removed the source code from public view more than a year ago:

We no longer update the open source version of My Tracks, and we will remove these sources after 1/1/15.

They planned well ahead, making people think they were merely abandoning the software, so that when they did kill it, it was less likely someone would have the source code.  Also, the source code, at the time they killed it, would be quite out of date (having been updating it for more than a year from the time the source code went private).

I’ve been a long-time user of My Tracks.  I started using it with my OG Droid, an early Android phone by Motorola.  Through all the upgrades, I’ve used My Tracks to record walks.  It’s a great tool and I really enjoyed using it.  I spent a few hours looking for an alternative app that won’t have access to my data and I failed to find one.  Should a reader of this post know of one, please let me know.

I know what I’ll do on April 30, 2016.  I’ll uninstall My Tracks and not install any of the suggested alternatives.  My phone will be a little less fun to me, and that is the fault of Google.

1Whether Google does now, or will at some point in the future, monetize your Google Fit data is irrelevant. We, as users of Android phones, cannot know what Google monetizes. We know they monetize a lot of our data, and it makes them a lot of money. There’s a saying: If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold. That certainly applies here. I would be happy to pay for a My Tracks app, so I am the customer.

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My favorite Android apps (Nov 2013 edition)

Many of these apps I paid for.  In every case, it was well worth the cost.

My current phone is a LG Nexus 5.  My previous phone was a Samsung Galaxy Nexus.  All these apps worked on both.

In no particular order:

  • Twitter client: Plume for Twitter – I evaluated a lot of clients, and I hated them all for one reason or another.  This one has made twitter bearable for me, mainly because I can mute certain types of posts to make my stream smaller and more manageable.
  • podcast player/manager: DoggCatcher – very nice for podcasts, both for playing and downloading.  It’s a set it and forget it type of thing.
  • music player: DSub and Google Play Music – I prefer to use DSub, but it’s been giving me problems lately so I’ve switched to Google Play Music.  I uploaded my entire music collection to Google’s cloud and I can stream it to my phone from anywhere.  DSub is a client for Subsonic, which is a server that runs on my machine at home (where I keep my music).
  • anti-theft: Cerberus anti theft – for when I lose or get my phone stolen… peace of mind.
  • utilities:
    • Light Flow – LED&Notifications – allows for the control the notification LED on my phone.  I love it, but I’ve had trouble since I updated to 4.4 (Kit Kat).
    • Setting Profile Full – allows for changing settings of the phone based on location.  I mainly use it to turn on Wi-Fi when at home or work.
    • Timeriffic – allows for changing ringing characteristics of the phone based on time.  I mainly use it to mute my phone at night and during scheduled meetings.
  • games: Solitaire MegaPack – for my fix of various card games.
  • keyboard: SwiftKey Keyboard – a good standard keyboard replacement.  I don’t know if it’s the best, but I like it.
  • exercise companion: My Tracks – allows me to record walks and gives me stats (elevation changes, distance, speed, etc).
  • launcher: Nova Launcher – I love this replacement launcher/home screen manager.  Lots of cool features.
  • productivity: Remember The Milk – todo list manager that I can access from a browser.  Full featured. Easy to use.
  • backup: rsync backup for Android – allows an rsync backup of my sdcard to a remote machine.  Indispensable in case my phone gets lots or I accidentally wipe it (yes, this happened).  The setup of this app  is complex and not for the non-techie.
  • banking: USAA Mobile, Capital One® Mobile – The USAA app is much better than the Capital One® app.  Capital One bought Ing Direct.  I fully expect some day I will need to close my Capital One® account because they’ll screw up everything that was good about the old Ing Direct.  At least I have USAA to fall back on.  I originally got the USAA account/app to be able to deposit checks via my phone (by taking a picture of the front and back of the check).  Now, many banks allow this.  USAA is still the best, mainly because the interface is easier.  Also, the daily limit is $10,000 instead of $3,000 for Capital One®.  This isn’t an issue very often, but it’s come up twice.  One problem with USAA, you need a connection to the military to get an account.  I used the fact that my father had served in the Army.

Once it gets fixed for Kit Kat, I’ll add this back:

  • utility: MoreQuicklyPanel – allows access to a bunch of features from the notification area.  Currently broken on Kit Kat.

Why I’m abandoning my pre-paid cell plans (and moving to post-paid)

I used to pay Verizon more than $160/month for the three cell phones my family has.  For the last 13 months the family has been on pre-paid T-Mobile service, for a total cost of $95/month (no taxes on that, either).  It should have been $75/month, but I chickened out and got my wife a $50/month unlimited talk/text plan.  I should have gone with the $30/month unlimited text, 100 minutes of talk that I have.  My son’s feature phone is $15/month.

Next month I’m moving to post-paid when my re-up is due for the pre-paid.  Here’s why:

  • VoIP (voice calls over the data network), which I was using to stay below 100 voice minutes on my phone, doesn’t work very well on Android.  I tried the built-in VoIP and that really sucked.  Very laggy conversations.  I tried all the VoIP apps I could find and finally settled on GrooVe IP.  It uses your Google Voice number and hooks into Google Talk.  It’s better than the native Android VoIP but it still isn’t as good as the voice network for voice calls.  Here are the problems:
    • When answering a call, there is a delay of 4-5 seconds where the other person can’t hear me.  They inevitably start saying “hello?” and the beginning of every conversation is a back-and-forth of hello’s.  That’s pretty annoying.
    • There is still a good amount of lag and drop outs.  Basically, the quality of the conversation is pretty bad, even when on Wi-Fi with a strong signal over a really fast internet connection.
    • VoIP calls get dropped when transitioning from Wi-Fi to 3g/4g and vice versa.  It’s very difficult to remember when you’re leaving work (connected to Wi-Fi) to not stray too far or get into the elevator to get home.  Otherwise, the call will be dropped.
  • I really like having Google Voice handle my voicemail, however it doesn’t work with pre-paid.   So, sometimes I get voicemails in Google Voice and sometimes in T-Mobile’s voicemail.  That’s annoying.
  • You can’t have more than a single phone in a pre-paid account, so I have three separate accounts.
  • The T-Mobile website doesn’t work at all in Chrome.  I have to use IE.

T-Mobile’s post-paid doesn’t require a contract and the price will be about the same ($50 + $30 + $10 + taxes).  It’ll be nice to get off the pre-paid train.

Google doesn’t really care about the horrible bugs that cause you pain

In the earlier days of using Google wares, I feel they were responsive to feedback and would fix serious problems in their services or products.  These days, not so much.  Witness the Nexus 4.  Their flagship Android phone, the Nexus 4 should get the best Google has to offer.  So, why would they allow serious software defects to mar the experience of owning a Nexus 4?

Notifications over Wi-Fi don’t work when the phone goes to sleep!  This is a horrible, horrible bug.  It means you won’t get notified of emails or texts when your phone is sleeping.  Which is most of the time, as we all know.  This bug is been around since the N4 came out.  Still unresolved, though this issue is marked “Closed” and “Status: FutureRelease,” the latter of which presumably means it will be fixed in the future.

Bluetooth often stops working and requires the phone to be rebooted to fix it!  Bluetooth is an essential feature for many, and having to reboot your phone (which takes minutes!) is not a viable workaround.

Originally reported on 1/3/2013, these are just two of the bugs on the N4.  However, they are both serious enough to warrant an immediate Android update.  Android 4.2.2 was released since Google was made aware of these bugs, and they were not fixed in that release.  Android 4.3 was released yesterday, so we’ll see if Google has decided to fix these major defects, or not.

These are not the only serious defects that Google is ignoring.  Another example is my Chromebook: for nearly a month Google Docs didn’t work on the thing.  Then, one day, it magically started working again.  A Chromebook without Google Docs is pretty useless.  Can you imagine Microsoft breaking Office for a month?  Can you imagine the cries for the heads of Microsoft executives you’d hear on the internet?  I found other users in my same boat, but I saw little else.

These issues all illustrate my point that Google doesn’t  care about you or your user experience.  You are a product to Google, you are not the customer.  I don’t know who said this, but it bears repeating: if you aren’t paying for a service, then you are the product not the customer.

I’ll end with this: I have a Galaxy Nexus and I was waiting to upgrade to the next Nexus device.  At this point, I’m not sure I want to stay with the Nexus line.  There are many benefits, but the drawbacks are getting dramatically worse with each new Nexus device.

UPDATE 7/26/2013: It appears at least the Wi-Fi bug is not fixed in the newly released 4.3.

UPDATE 7/28/2013: I’ve noticed this on my phone: search sometimes doesn’t search.  I get the feeling Google just doesn’t do much testing.

UPDATE 8/9/2013: The Bluetooth bug is fixed in 4.3.