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Are folding smartphones practical?

Posted in computers, ipad, mobile devices by commorancy on April 30, 2019

Today, let’s explore folding smartphones. Are they practical? Do they have a place in the market? Will they last? Are they innovative? Let’s explore.

Tablets vs. Folding Smartphone

Looking at the Huawei Mate X and the Samsung Galaxy Fold folding devices, two things become abundantly clear, First, they fold open into the form factor of a tablet. Second, they command a price that’s way, way higher than an actual tablet.

There are also additional problems with these phones. When the phone is folded open, you can’t hold it to your ear and use it as you would a phone. You must fold it closed to regain the phone form factor. Because the larger screen is the primary reason to buy this device, this makes the folding aspect of this device less about being a phone and more about being a tablet. Or, let me put that another way, it’s a gimmick. Why is it a gimmick? Because in addition to the tablet size, you also add creases and marks to the plastic surface each time you fold and unfold the phone. Ultimately, it becomes less about being a tablet and more about the novelty of the folding screen.

For a product that’s supposed to be a premium, top-tier device, I don’t know about you, but I want my surface to be (and remain) pristine. I don’t want to feel surface bumps or lines running down the center of the fold area. I certainly don’t want this stretching and bending plastic to get worse over time. Yet, that’s where these phones clash with…

Materials Science

In other words, this is where these phones meet reality (or physics). To fold any type of material, that material will become marred and marked by the folding action. As the folding continues, the problems will increase with the surface becoming more and more marred. It’s simply the nature of folding something. It’s a limitation of the way physical objects operate when folded. It’s nature.

When applied to a phone’s case design, you will continue to see see the fold area gain marks, bumps and imperfections due to the folding action. To me, this doesn’t say “premium”. It says “cheap”. Plastics see to that “cheapness”. After all, plastics are some of the cheapest materials around today… and plastics are the only substances capable of holding up to any level of folding with a minimum of problems. However, a minimum of problems doesn’t mean zero problems.

The only way this could change is if materials could be made out of a polymer that can heal itself under these folding stresses and stretch and relax appropriately during the fold. To date, no one has been able to produce such a material. This means that folding screen surfaces will inevitably become marked and marred with each fold and unfold action. Over time, it will eventually become a sheer mess of marks… which also assumes the folding action of the OLED screen itself will survive that many folds. Just consider how a paperback book’s spine looks after you’re done reading it. That same effect happens to plastic, even the most resilient of plastics.

OLED Screens and Electronics

I’m not a materials scientist. With that said, I’m also unaware of any specific clear plastic sheet materials that can survive being folded and unfolded many times. Silicone might work, but even then silicone might degrade or break over time. Considering how many times people might utilize a folding screen per day, it could be folded and unfolded perhaps hundreds of times in a single day. If you unfolded the screen just once per day, in 1 year you’d have unfolded the screen 365 times. If you multiply that times 100, that’s likely over 36,500 folds per year… probably more.

While notebook manufacturers have more or less worked out the folding problem with LCD screens (they use flexible ribbon cables), notebooks hinges and components do eventually wear out from regular opening and closing.

In a phone, the problem will be ten times greater. Not only will the phone wear out faster than a non-folding model, the phone will be worth far, far less at the end of your use. No one is going to want to buy a used folding phone that looks like a used paper back book.

Since the hinges on these devices have to be uniquely designed for a smaller phone form factor and to avoid getting in the way of the screen surface, these designs are likely ripe for defects… particularly the first generation phones. And all for what?

A Tablet?

The single unique benefit of the folding phone is to turn the screen into the size of a tablet. While single body phablets worked great when they arrived, this idea of making the screen even bigger in a phone doesn’t make much sense. Yes, it’s unique. Yes, it’s probably a way to make more sales. But, is it really a good idea? Not really.

Tablets already do what they need to do and they do it well. Arguably, the best tablet I’ve seen created by Samsung is the Galaxy Tab S. It had the perfect form factor for watching movies. It fit in the hand nicely. It had a perfect weight. It also had that amazing OLED screen. It had everything you could want in a tablet.

Now, with folding screens comes a whole new paradigm of software to drive the folding action. When unfolded, it’s basically a tablet. When folded, it becomes a phone form factor. To move between the small folded screen and the larger unfolded screen seamlessly between apps, app support must be built. This requires whole new set of OS libraries and software to support that action.

Unfortunately, neither Android nor IOS supports this folding screen usability. Instead, Samsung has cobbled together some early drivers and software for its Galaxy Fold. With the Huawei’s Mate X, it’s not even that far along. If you buy into one of these convertibles, you’re going to be sorely disappointed when moving between the small and large screens within the same app. Some apps might update properly, many more will not.

That doesn’t mean the OSes won’t catch up, but it will take some time. It also means growing pains until the OS technology catches up.

Phone and Tablet Together

Tablets and phones should be married. I’ve said that for quite some time. There’s no reason to carry around two devices when you can carry around one. However, it doesn’t need to fold. Carrying around a tablet as both a tablet and a phone is perfectly fine. Simply marry the innards of a phone into a Tablet and voila, a new device. I’d be perfectly fine carrying around a tablet the size of the iPad Mini as my primary phone. It’s small enough to be portable and large enough to do what I need to do on a tablet. There’s no need to fold it in half.

Gimmicks

Unfortunately, technology has moved away from producing useful new features and has moved firmly into adding gimmicks to sell new devices. From FaceID to the ever growing number of unnecessary cameras to now this folding action. For cameras, one camera is fine. Two borders on a gimmick. Adding three or more cameras is most definitely a gimmick to part you from your money. You don’t need multiple cameras on a phone. One is enough.

Folding is also a gimmick. The idea of folding isn’t new. We’ve had folding books, folding paper and folding binders… heck, there are even “folders” so named to hold paper in filing cabinets.

Folding a phone? Not necessary. Gimmick? Definitely. It’s particularly a gimmick because of the problem with materials science. If you know your phone is going to end up looking like trash at the end of one year’s use, then why bother? I know phones are designed to last one year before buying another, but that purchase cycle is insane. I’ve never fallen into that manufacturing and purchasing trap. I expect my phones to last at least 3 years, sometimes before even needing a battery change.

I’ve always held onto my phone for at least 1-2 new phone release cycles before buying a new one. Lately, it’s been 2-3 cycles because I’m currently invested in the Apple universe and I vehemently dislike the iPhone X’s design. I have an iPhone 7 Plus. I abhor the notched screen. I dislike that Apple invested in a costly OLED screen not only include that notch, but also reduce the color rendition to mimic an LCD screen. If you’re planning on degrading an OLED screen’s rendition, then use the cheaper LCD screen technology. An OLED screen offers a very intense saturated look. Some people don’t like it, but many do. The point to offering a screen capable of that level of color saturation is to make use of it, not hide it.

With the iPhone X, I dislike that there’s no TouchID button. I also dislike that the screen isn’t flush to the full edge of the case. There’s still a small black bezel around the entire screen except near that ugly, ugly notch. I also don’t like the introduction of the rounded display corners. It worked on the Mac back in the day, but not on a phone. Keep the corners firmly square.

Worse, at the time the iPhone X arrived, my iPhone 7 Plus’s screen was still larger than the iPhone X. It wasn’t until the iPhone X Max arrived that we got a comparable screen size to the 7 Plus. I digress.

Gimmicks are now firmly driving the phone industry rather than outstanding design and usability features. The last outstanding iPhone design that Apple produced was arguably the iPhone 7. It solved all of the glass design problems around the iPhone 4, the small screen of the iPhone 5 and the bendgate problems of the iPhone 6. It is arguably, indeed, the best phone Apple has yet designed. Then, they introduced the abomination known as the iPhone X.

At the same time as the iPhone X, Apple introduced the iPhone 8. The iPhone 8 seems much like an extension of the iPhone 7, but with wireless charging. Yes, wireless charging would have been great IF Apple hadn’t cancelled the AirPower charger base they had promised. Now that that product is non-existent, the point to wireless charging an iPhone has more or less evaporated. Sure, you can wireless charge an iPhone with a Qi charger, but at such a slow rate it’s not worth considering.

The AirPower’s whole reason to exist was to charged the phone (and other devices) supposedly faster than a Lightning cable. Perhaps Apple will finally release their fast charging specs to the industry so that Qi chargers can finally build in this faster charging feature and offer similar charging times as the aforementioned, but now defunct AirPower base. But, we know Apple, they’ve just shot themselves in the foot and they won’t do anything about it. Now that the AirPower is dead, so likely too is the hope of super fast wireless charging.

AirPods 2

This whole situation with the AirPower (and really this is more about Apple’s failure to deliver a workable product) is made far, far worse with the release of the the AirPods 2. It’s like Apple has some big sadistic streak towards its customers by cancelling a completely necessary product in one breath, then announce the AirPods 2 “with wireless charging case” in the next.

One of the primary reasons the AirPods 2 exist is for the wireless charging case. Unfortunately, even with Lightning, the charging speed of the AirPods is still incredibly slow. Considering how much slower Qi chargers operate, it will take infinitely more time to charge the case of the AirPods 2. You don’t want this if you’re trying to get out the door to your destination. This means that those who had banked on the wireless charging capability for purchase of the AirPods 2 with the wireless charging (a case that costs $80 separately or adds $40 to the price of standard AirPods) because of the AirPower’s faster performance has now been misled by Apple. Thus, this makes the primary selling point of the AirPods 2 now worthless.

If anything, the cancellation of the AirPower wireless charging pad clearly shows Apple’s failure as a company. Not only did the engineers fail to design and deliver a seemingly simplistic device, Apple as a company failed the consumer by not carrying through with their ecosystem continuity plans. Plans that, if they had come to fruition, could have seen to the existence of a much wider array of wireless devices aided by the AirPower.

The AirPods are pretty much a case of “you-can’t-have-one-without-the-other”. Failing the delivery of the AirPower means you’ve failed the delivery of the AirPods 2 by extension. It’s this double whammy failure that will hit Apple hard.

In fact, it’s even worse than a double-whammy for the future of Apple. It impacts future iPhone sales, future iPad sales, future Apple Watch sales and, in general, any other wireless charging device Apple might have had in its design queue. The failure to deliver the AirPower base is a major blow to Apple’s innovation and the Apple ecosystem as a whole.

Apple’s Apathy

The management team at Apple appears to be apathetic to this wider problem. I can hear them now, “Let’s just cancel AirPower”. Another person says, “But, it’s going to be needed for many future devices”. Another person says, “Don’t worry about that. Just cancel it.”

Apathy is the antithesis of Innovation. These two concepts have no symbiotic relationship. There was a time when Apple (or more specifically, Steve Jobs) would push his teams to deliver amazing designed products with features 5-10 years ahead of their time. Now Apple can’t even deliver a similar product that already exists in the marketplace by other manufacturers.

You can’t run a business on apathy. You can only run a business on doing. If Apple is smart, they’ll announce the cancellation of AirPower, but quickly announce an even better wireless charging alternative that’s even faster than the AirPower. Without a solid, reliable and performant wireless charging system, devices like the now-wireless charging AirPods 2 are left hanging. The Apple Watch is left hanging. And… Apple’s flagship product, the iPhone X is also being left hanging without a net.

Innovation and Gimmicks

While I know I got off on an Apple tangent, it was to prove a point. That point being that gimmicks like wireless charging cases, must have functional sister products to bring that product to life. Without such symbiotic sister products, a half-product is very much simply an on-paper gimmick to sell more product.

Clearly, Apple is now firmly in gimmick territory in its attempts to make money. So is Samsung, Huawei and even LG. It’s more about innovating and making truly new and exciting products we’ve never seen, than it is about adding more cameras, or bigger batteries or making it thinner or adding a pencil or even, yes, folding. These featires are the “accessories” that add value to an innovative product, but these are not primary driving factors.

If you want to wow the industry, you make a product no one has ever seen before. We’ve seen both the Huawei Mate X and the Galaxy Fold before, in tablets and in phones. Marrying the two together doesn’t make innovation, it makes iteration. There’s a substantial difference between iteration and innovation. Iteration is taking two existing concepts and marrying them together. Innovation is producing a product that has never before existed like that ever. Tablets already exist even if they don’t fold.

The iPad as Innovation

The iPad is a game changing, innovative device. The only even close product would have been in the early 90’s with Grid’s GRiDPad. The only similarity between the iPad and the GRiDPad is the fact that they were both tablets by function. Both have completely different philosophies on what a tablet is, how it works and how it looks. The GRiDPad failed because it didn’t know what to be at a time when it needed a clear reason to exist. This is particularly true when such a form factor had never before existed. People need to be able to wrap their head around why a tablet needs to exist. With Grid, they couldn’t.

The reason Apple’s iPad succeeded was not only because of the form factor, but because Apple also put an amazing amount of time and thought into how a tablet form factor works, feels in the hand and how the touch interface works. They gave people the understanding of how and why a tablet is useful… something Grid failed to do with the GRiDPad. It also didn’t hurt that Apple had a solid, robust operating system in MacOS X that they could tweak and use as a base to drive the user interface. Grid, on the other hand, didn’t. They didn’t build an ecosystem, they didn’t have an app store, they didn’t have a proper operating system, they didn’t really even have apps. There was the tablet, but on the other side of the equals sign there was nothing.

Apple’s design thought of nearly everything from top to bottom and from form to function to ecosystem. Apple offered the consumer the total package. Grid got the form down, but not the function. Apple nailed nearly everything about the iPad from the start.

In fact, Apple nailed so much about the iPad from the beginning, Apple has not actually been able to improve upon that design substantially. Everything that Apple has added to iOS has been created not to improve upon the touch UI, but to add missing features, like cut and paste and Siri. In fact, Siri is as equally important innovation to the iPad, but it’s not truly needed for the iPad. It’s much more important innovation for the iPhone, because of the hands free nature that a phone needs while driving. Siri is, in fact, the single most important achievement to create a safer driving experience… something you won’t be doing on an iPad, but you will be doing on an iPhone or Apple Watch.

Steve Jobs

The Apple achievements I mention wouldn’t have been possible without Steve Jobs. Steve was not only a truly masterful marketer, he was also a visionary. He may not have personally designed the product, but he knew exactly what he wanted in the device. He was definitely visionary when it came to simplicity of design, when combined with everyday life.

You definitely want simplicity. You want easy to access software systems. You want intuitive touch interfaces. You want to be able to get in and out of interfaces in one or two touches. You don’t want to dig ever deeper in menu after menu after menu simply to get to a single function. Steve Jobs very much endorsed Keep-It-Simple-Stupid (or the KISS) philosophy. For example, the creation of single button mice. The placing of a single button on the front of the iPad. These are all very much the KISS design philosophy. It’s what makes people’s lives easier rather than more complicated.

Unfortunately, after Steve Jobs’s death in 2011, that left a huge KISS gap at Apple, which as only widened since. Even iOS and MacOS X have succumbed to this change in design philosophy. Instead of adopting KISS, Apple has abandoned that design goal and, instead, replaced it with deeper and deeper menus, with more complicated UI interfaces, with less simplistic user experiences and with buggier releases. The bugs being simply an outcome of dropping the KISS design idea. More complicated software means more bugs. Less complicated software means less bugs.

Some might argue FaceID makes your life simpler. Yes, it might… when it works, at the added cost of privacy problems. Problems that were solved just as simply with TouchID, adding none of those nasty privacy issues.

Samsung and Apple

While Samsung played catch-up with Apple for quite a while, Samsung got ahead by buying into component manufacturing, including the manufacture of OLED screens. In fact, Samsung became one of the leaders in OLED screen fabrication. If there’s an OLED screen in a product, there’s a high likelihood it was made by Samsung.

This meant that most OLED Android smart phones contain a Samsung part even if the phone was designed and produce by LG or Huawei or Google. This component level aspect of Samsung’s technology strategy has helped Samsung produce some of the best looking and functioning Android smart phones. For this same reason and because of the Apple and Samsung rivalry, Apple shunned using OLED for far too long. Because of the ever continual Samsung vs. Apple argument, Apple refused to add OLED screens into their devices… thus stunting Apple’s ability to innovate in the iPhone space for many years.

The OLED screen also allowed Samsung to produce the first “phablet” (combination phone and tablet). Bigger than most smart phones, smaller than a tablet. It offered users a larger phone screen to better surf Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It was an iterative improvement to be sure, definitely not innovative in the truest sense. However, it definitely leapfrogged Samsung way ahead of Apple in screen quality and size. This is where Samsung leaped over Apple and made a serious niche for themselves… and it is also what propelled Android phones front and center. The “phablet” is what firmly propelled Samsung ahead of Apple and it is what has firmly kept them there.

In fact, Apple is now so far behind Samsung that it is now playing continual catch-up with it screen technologies, with wireless charging, with smart watches and with pretty much every other “innovation” Samsung has offered in since 2015.

One might argue that the AirPods were something new an innovative. Sure, but they were simply an iterative improvement over the EarPods (the wired version). The part of the AirPods that are, in fact, innovative is not the ear buds themselves, but the magnetic charging case. This case design is, in fact, the thing that sets these earbuds apart from every other set of wireless earbuds. This case, in fact, is one of the last few KISS design bastions I’ve seen come out of Apple. Unfortunately, as sleek as the case design is, the software behind it is equally as clumsy and not at all KISS in design.

The AirPods pair fast and easy using an instant recognizing system, but actually using the AirPods can be a chore. Sometimes the AirPods fail to connect at all. Sometimes one of them fails to connect. When a phone call comes in and you place an earbud in your ear, the phone still answers on the internal speaker even though the earbud is connected. When you try to move the audio to the earbud, the option is not even available. Sometimes you hear dropouts and stuttering while listening to music just inches away from the phone. Yes, the software is entirely clumsy. It’s so clumsy, in fact, it’s really something I would have expected to see from Android instead of iOS.

Commitment to Excellence

When Jobs was operating the innovation arm at Apple, the commitment to excellence was palpable. Since Jobs’s has left us, Apple’s commitment to excellence has entirely vanished. Not only are their products no longer being produced with the Jobs level of expected excellence, it’s not even up to a standard level of industry excellence. It’s now what one might expect to get from McDonald’s, not a three star Michelin rated restaurant. Apple, at one point, was effectively a three star Michelin-rated restaurant. Today, Apple is the Wendy’s of the computer world. Wendy’s is better than most and they make a good hamburger, but it is in no way gourmet. This is what Apple has become.

Samsung fares even worse. Samsung has never been known for its commitment to excellence. In fact, for a long time, I’ve been aware that Samsung’s products, while pretty and have great screens, are not at all built to last. They have small parts that wear out quickly and eventually break. Sometimes the units just outright fall apart. For the longest time I steered clear of Samsung products simply because their commitment to excellence was so far below Apple (even at where Apple is today), I simply couldn’t trust Samsung to produce a lasting product.

Recently, Samsung has mostly proven me wrong, at least for the Galaxy S5 and the Galaxy Tab S. This smart phone and tablet have held up amazingly well. The OLED screens still look tantalizingly sharp and crisp. The processors are still fast enough to handle most of what’s being pushed out today… which is still much better than the speed of an iPhone 4S or iPhone 5 released around the same time. Apple’s products simply don’t stand up to the test of time. However, Samsung’s older products have. That’s a testament to the improved build quality of Samsung devices.

However, commitment to excellence is not a commitment to innovation. The two, while related, are not the same. I’d really like to see Apple and Samsung both commit to excellence in innovation instead of creating devices based on gimmicks.

Full Circle

We’ve explored a lot of different aspects of technology within this article. Let’s bring it all home. The point is that innovation, true innovation, is what drives technology forward. Iterative innovation does not. It improves a device slightly, but it waters down the device in the process. You don’t want to water down devices, you want to build new, innovative devices that improve our lives, make our homes better, faster, safer, easier… and make access to information quicker and, overall, help improve our daily lives.

We don’t want to fight with devices to hear our voices over a fan. We don’t want to have to guess the phrase to use with Siri through iterative trial-and-error to make it give us specific information. We don’t want to have to flash the phone in front of our faces several times before FaceID recognizes us. We don’t want to dig through menu, after menu, after menu simply to enable or disable a function. That’s not easy access, that’s complication. Complications belong on smart watches, not on phones.

In short, we need to get back to the KISS design philosophy. We need to declutter, simplify, make devices less obtuse and more straightforward. Lose the menus and give us back quick access to device functions. We need to make buttons bigger, rather than smaller on touch screens. Teeny-tiny buttons have no place on a touch screen. We’ve gone backwards rather than forwards with touch interfaces on tablets and phones… yes, even on iOS devices.

Folding phones are not simple. In fact, they are the opposite of simple. Simple is making phone usability easier, not more tricky. Adding a folding screen adds more complication to the phone, not less. Lose the folding. We need to shorten, simplify and reduce. We need to make mobile devices, once again, Steve Jobs simple.

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How To: Killing Apps on iOS and Android

Posted in Android, Apple, best practices, howto by commorancy on September 4, 2018

Kill_AppsHere’s a quick how-to tutorial. This tutorial will show you how to kill running applications on your Apple or Android phone or tablet device. Let’s explore.

Killing Apps

You might be asking, “Well, why would I want to do that?” There are times where apps misbehave or hang leaving a dead app on your phone or tablet. These can drag down the performance of your phone. For this reason, killing an app allows you to restart them to get them working again. Without further adieu, let’s get started…

Apple iOS

To kill apps on iOS 11, it’s simple. For Apple devices that have a home button (this excludes iPhone X), double click the home button. The home button is the button located at the bottom or side of your device (depending on orientation). It’s the only front facing button on the bezel. With the device logged in, double click this home button.

For the iPhone X, the line at the bottom kind of acts like a home button. From the line at the bottom, with your finger drag upwards to minimize the apps into a stacked list. This is similar to double clicking the home button.

Once in the stacked list, kill any specific app or all apps as follows:

  • Press and hold your finger on top of one of the stacked app screens and with a fluid motion, drag your finger to the top of the screen.
    • If you perform this motion correctly, the screen will disappear. The app is now killed.
    • If you notice the screen moving side to side and not up and down, you dragged sideways.
    • Scrolling side to side lets you selectively choose which app to kill. Try again to pull the app screen upwards.
    • If you touch the app screen once, it will bring that app to the foreground.
    • If you touch the background outside of the app, it will bring you to your home screen of icons.
  • To kill all apps, perform this motion on each and every stack app screen until there are no more left.
  • No, iOS does not provide a ‘kill all’ feature. You must kill app separately. Note, you can’t hear the double-clicking of the home button. Here’s an iOS demonstration:

Android

To kill apps on Android 6.x or above, you’ll need to locate the double rectangle button either on the bezel of your phone or on the display of your phone (at the bottom). This double-rectangle button drops you into the screen that shows you all of your currently running apps.

Click this button, then follow along based on the videos:

Obvious isn’t always

Because Apple and Android have both hidden this feature behind cryptic buttons, it isn’t sometimes obvious how to do this. Also note that even if you reboot your device, the apps may still continue to run from the state where they formerly were. To kill an app and start it fresh (particularly on iOS), the only way is to kill the app as described above. I find that, for example, I regularly have to kill Hulu as it likes to hang.

Good Luck!

As always, if you like what you read hear at Randocity, please click the follow button, like and comment below.

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How to create Amiibo cards

Posted in Android, video game by commorancy on July 12, 2018

amiibo-logo[Updated 1/5/2019] For SSBU and Printers. Tired of lugging all of your big plastic Amiibos around with you? Now you can carry them around on flat cards. Let’s explore.

What you’re going to need

Updated for Super Smash Brothers Ultimate on the Nintendo Switch

Super-Smash-Bros.-UltimateIf you happen to have a copy of the Nintendo Switch Super Smash Brothers Ultimate, you’ll need to convert your older Wii U or 3DS SSB Amiibos to use them on the the Switch version. Once converted, you won’t be able to use them on the older SSB games again.

For this reason, creating Amiibo cards is your answer. You’ll want to create the cards before you start using the Amiibos on the Switch SSBU version. This will allow you to use your Amiibos on both games if you want. You can create cards of your current Amiibos and continue to use those cards on the older SSB and convert your actual Amiibos for use on the new Switch SSBU. Of course, creating cards is flexible enough that you could create two sets and use them however you like.

It’s worth noting that a level 50 SSB Amiibo created on the Wii U SSB game becomes a level 12 character on the Switch version of SSB. You’ll need to spend time leveling it up again.

To clear any confusion now that Super Smash Brothers Ultimate has been released on the Switch, TagMo does allow you to level up limited SSB data within the TagMo app as described below. However, this SSB level data is strictly used by the Wii U and 3DS game versions. This SSB data does not apply to the new Switch SSBU version. A new update to TagMo will be necessary to support the Switch SSBU data in the tag. For now, the current 2.6.1 version of TagMo from September 2017 does not support the new SSB data format in use on the Nintendo Switch version of Super Smash Brothers Ultimate.

I’ll also add that to get the in-game level up cards for the Switch’s Super Smash Brothers Ultimate, you’ll want to raise your Amiibos up to level 50 using TagMo before importing them into SSBU. It seems that these level up cards may only appear when an Amiibo is imported at level 50. You’ll also receive support cards for characters that do not appear in SSBU such as the Revali, Urbosa and Guardian Amiibos from Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Why an Android Phone?

Why not a tablet or other Android device? Other than phones, few other devices offer an NFC reader / writer. Some older tablets may have this capability, but the TagMo app may not work if the device is too old. Stick to a recently released phone with NFC (newer than 4 years).

For example, I picked up a Samsung S5, but there are other phones that also support NFC besides this specific model. You can even find budget Android phones (less than $80) that contain NFC capabilities. I specifically chose the Samsung S5 because it’s got an OLED screen (read awesome), fully supports the most NFC formats and it is fully compatible with TagMo and the rest of the software needed.

Why not iOS / Apple?

The TagMo app must be side loaded onto the device rather than obtaining it through a ‘store’.  Because Apple phones are almost impossible to side load apps, these devices are excluded from using TagMo. Sorry Apple fans, no TagMo for you. It’s also very unlikely Apple would ever approve such an app to be in the store… hence, side loading.

This leaves Android as the only platform that has the necessary phone features and also allows for app side loading. If you don’t have an Android phone, then you’re going to need to go get one to use with TagMo.

Installing the App

Before you attempt to download and install the app, you will need to prep Android so that you can install software outside of the app store and side load the TagMo app. This setup is done through security settings.

After having set the security settings, using a browser, go to the app download link above on your phone device. Choose the latest version. Once the file is downloaded, clicking to open it will prompt to install it. You will then need to allow access to parts of your device for this app… specifically, the NFC hardware and anything else it might request. Once installed, the app will appear in your apps list like any other app. You can drag it onto your desktop like in the video above.

Setting up Keys

After the app is installed, you’ll need to set up keys to allow it to read the Amiibos properly. If you don’t perform this step, you can’t backup your Amiibos and create cards from them. The two file names are unfixed-info.bin and locked-secret.bin. You may or may not be able to download these directly onto your Android device from Google Drive. It seems that Google Drive doesn’t download properly with Android devices when the files are not part of your own Google Drive account. Instead, you may need to download them onto a computer, then upload them into your personal Google Drive using the Google account connected to the phone. Then, download these two files from your personal Google Drive account to your phone. Or, alternatively, you can use DropBox or other similarly supported file storage sites.

You can’t USB load or use a zip unarchiver to place them into the download area of the phone. This won’t work because Android requires the DownloadManager service to register the files into the downloads area. This is only done if the files are actually downloaded. If you side load the files via USB or by placing them onto the microSD card remotely, the files won’t be registered in Android and, thus, won’t appear when you click to install them in the TagMo app.

These two files are required to enable TagMo to work with Amiibos. This download task is not hard, but thank Google for making this task more complicated than it should be. I’ll leave it to you to determine the best way to get these two files onto your phone. Once you have the files on your phone after downloading from your own Google Drive, continue to the next step. If you get stuck at this step, please leave me a comment and I’ll help walk you through it.

Once you have the keys ready to go, launch TagMo and your screen should look like so stating ‘Amiibo keys not found’:

AmiiboKeysNotFound

With your keys ready, install the the keys like so:

Scanning your first Amiibo

Now that you have your keys installed, you can scan your first Amiibo. So, the TagMo app should look like the below with the SCAN TAG button now enabled (be sure to have NFC turned on):

Screenshot_2018-07-12-06-17-29.png

Grab any Amiibo you own and click SCAN TAG like so:

Here’s what a scanned tag screen looks like:

Screenshot_2018-07-12-07-22-31.png

To save the tag you’ve just scanned into the phone’s database, click SAVE TAG. Let’s go through the screen above to understand what each button does:

  • LOAD TAG — Loads a tag from the phone’s tag database
  • SAVE TAG — Saves the currently loaded tag to the phone’s tag database
  • VIEW HEX — Not really needed, but let’s you view the HEX value of the tag
  • SHOW QR CODE — Let’s you show a tag QR code for another phone to scan easily through the camera
  • SCAN TAG — Turns on the NFC reader to read an Amiibo (card, figure or NTAG215 stored Amiibo)
  • WRITE TAG — Turns on the NFC writer to write the currently loaded Amiibo shown at the top of the screen to an NTAG215
  • RESTORE TAG — Let’s you restore SSB data from one Amiibo to another, but this only works if it’s the same Amiibo on both tags.
  • SCAN QR CODE — Lets you scan a QR code from another phone and load it into your phone’s TagMo database… for easy sharing.
  • Checkbox “Auto save scanned tags”, when checked, will automatically saved tags when scanned. This Checkbox does not stay checked between application runs. If not checked, you must save the tag manually after it’s been scanned.
  • Checkbox “Allow restore to different tag” — When checked, allows you to attempt to restore one tag on top of a tag with something different. May not work.
  • EDIT SSB DATA — Lets you modify the level and various limited data of your Amiibo before saving it to your TAG. If you want to level up a character to maximum, this is how to do it before writing a new tag out. This means you can fully level up your character without having to grind it.

Amiibo Database

As you scan your Amiibos and save each one to TagMo’s database, you’ll always have them available to create a card at any time. This means you don’t really even need to carry the pre-written cards around with you. You’ll just need to carry around some blank NTAG215 cards. You can then write out any Amiibo stored in your phone’s database at any time.

However, having pre-built Amiibo cards makes using them a lot faster. It also means you don’t have to rely on the phone to create a new card when you need it, especially if you’re borrowing someone else’s phone to do this.

The database screen looks like so:

Syncing the AmiiboAPI Database

Sometimes if you scan an Amiibo, the app won’t recognize it and it will appear on the screen with a red title and labeled as ‘Unknown’. If this happens, simply click the gear icon on the main screen that has the SCAN TAG button, scroll down and select Sync Amiibo info with AmiiboAPI. This setting updates and syncs your TagMo database with what’s in the AmiiboAPI database on the Internet. When you pull down the screen to refresh your Amiibo phone’s database, your recently scanned Amiibo should now show a proper name. If it doesn’t, it may mean the Amiibo is too new and hasn’t yet been added to the AmiiboAPI database.

SSB Data

As mentioned just above, you can edit the SSB data to increase the level and features of your Amiibos. This allows you to customize your backed up Amiibo without having to modify your original. This SSB data feature currently only works with Super Smash Brothers on the Wii U and DS. The currently released version of TagMo can’t manage character level data for SSBU on the Switch. A new update to TagMo will be needed to manage the SSBU character level data.

Amiibos and Backups

TagMo allows backing up and restoring any Amiibo of any type. This includes the plastic figures as well as cards or any other type.

NTAG215 and Reuse

An NTAG215 is simply known as a tag. A tag can be written once with a single Amiibo. If you attempt to write to it a second time with an entirely different Amiibo, this won’t work and will likely destroy the tag. Tags are write-once. Get a new unused tag if you want to write a new Amiibo. With that said, an NTAG215 can write SSB data multiple times because only the values are changing, not the entire character. So, a tag Amiibo will function just like a plastic figure Amiibo on any game that supports them.

Purchasing NTAG215 Tags and Printers

Now that you have the app installed and functional, you’ll need to head over to Amazon and place an order for some NTAG215 tags and some blank white playing cards. Optionally, if you choose to buy a printer, you can print a nice looking image to stick on the card to identify what Amiibo you put onto the tag. The Zink printers are a little expensive at around $99 (or more) + paper, but they do make the cards look and feel a whole lot more professional.

If you’ve read this article before, you may have noticed that I recommended the Polaroid Zip. Because Polaroid recently changed its app quality, I can no longer recommend the purchase of the Polaroid Zip. The newest version of the Polaroid app (Android and iOS) is completely broken and no longer produces high quality prints. Instead, choose another brand of printer with a better quality app. Because devices like the Polaroid Zip and the HP Sprocket entirely depend on a high quality app, Polaroid illustrates the danger of investing in products that only work with a single proprietary app. You should always read the app reviews before purchasing a product that depends on that app. Even then, like Polaroid, the company can burn you by releasing a new app version that completely ruins the functionality of a formerly working product.

If you’re a little more flush with money, you could consider buying NTAG215 plastic cards and a Dye Sub printer for the cards. This will produce very high quality images printed directly on the plastic card. Though, the cards are more bulky than the paper cards. These printers are usually used to produce corporate ID badges, but you could just as easily use them for printing your Amiibo cards. It’s just that these printers are very expensive, starting at $475 and going up from there.

If you’re feeling creative, you can buy some markers or colored pens and draw the character onto the reverse side of the card. I prefer the Zink printer approach as it takes about 2 minutes to print an impressive image of the Amiibo and stick it on the card. The print will then cover over the tag.

Some people have chosen to put their NTAG215 round tags into plastic coin holders. You can do this, but it makes for a jumble of little plastic coins that aren’t easy to read or label and more difficult to carry around. The cards can be wrapped in a rubber band, the plastic coins would have to remain loose or in a case (if available).

You can skip buying the playing cards or any other type of holder. However, without cards, keeping track of your Amiibo tags becomes more difficult and the tags can be easily damaged. The cards help reinforce the tag to keep it from bending and make it easy to scan them into the games. The cards also fit nicely into a card binder. Though, if you really want, the bare minimum to get a functional Amiibo is just the tags.

Types and Sizes of Tags

You may also notice that there are many types and sizes of NFC tags (like NTAG213 and NTAG216) that you can also find on Amazon when searching. You don’t want these as they won’t work. Be sure to buy only NTAG215 tags. The NTAG215s hold a maximum of 540 bytes of data. The other tags are either larger or smaller, but these won’t work as an Amiibo. Only buy NTAG215 tags. Note, some sellers may mix up tags with the wrong size, so be sure to test your tags immediately when you get them. If they don’t work, the seller may not have sent you NTAG215s even if the listing said that they were.

If you’re unsure if a tag will work as an Amiibo, read the listing closely. Most of the listings will tell you if it works as an Amiibo. If not, check the questions and answers section of the listing. If it’s not there, then ask a question or email the seller and ask. However, the link I give here are tags I’ve personally tested and know that they work. I also prefer the smaller physical sized tags over the larger ones. The physical dimensions of the tag don’t matter, what matters is that they are formatted as NTAG215. As I said, I prefer the smaller physical size tags because they fit on the blank playing card better and are more easily covered by a printed Polaroid Zip sticker.

Happy Carding!

If this article is helpful to you, please leave a comment below to let me know. Please click the ‘Follow’ button to receive notifications when new articles are published.

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Google Android: How to fix Speech to Text “Couldn’t Connect” error

Posted in Android by commorancy on April 3, 2012

[UPDATE: 2019-06-25]: Google seems to have retired its legacy speech-to-text (S2T) services for older Android versions including Gingerbread (2.4) and below. If you have Gingerbread and S2T is no longer functioning for you, this is likely the cause. This service retirement likely impacts some newer Android versions, which also rely on this older service. Because Google has retired the service, it will no longer function ever. If you need this feature, you’ll need to upgrade to a device that can run a newer version of Android which supports the “Ok, Google” assistant. It seems that Google is moving forward by replacing this older S2T functionality with its newer “Ok, Google” voice assistant. If you have a Samsung, you may be able to use Bixby. This is Samsung’s own voice assistant. On with the article…

While this isn’t an overly common problem that I’ve found with Android, it is a problem that I have run into that has entirely baffled me.. until now. Note, I am running Android 6.0.1 on my Samsung S5. Even on my S5, the keyboard microphone button links to and uses the “Ok, Google” engine, not the legacy service. Note that this article was written in 2012. Some of the below, particularly as it pertains to downloading keyboard packages likely won’t help older devices. However, the portion discussing why this feature doesn’t work (i.e., Internet) is still valid. If you have an older device, you may find this functionality no longer works even if you DO have Internet available. This is because Google seems to have retired its legacy Android S2T service as of spring 2019.

To use the speech to text functionality (specifically voice search or voice keyboard input), you are required to download a package onto Android initially. After downloading, I thought that I would be able to use this functionality all of the time. Let’s explore why this isn’t true.

Text to Speech Input Troubles

On the Android Keyboard (that is, the non-Swype keyboard input), there is a small microphone symbol. Why this isn’t on the Swype keyboard is anyone’s guess? If you click the little microphone, the microphone feature activates and allows you to speak your text. The phone is then supposed to convert your speech into text. This is particularly handy while driving. Unfortunately, most of the time I always seemed to see the error ‘Couldn’t Connect’ when attempting using this functionality. After all, I had downloaded the necessary packages. At first I thought it had something to do with the microphone. So, I plugged in different headsets and different bluetooth devices, but it still only randomly works. Sometimes it works perfectly and other times not. I also tried restarting my phone thinking there was some kind of service that was not working properly. No luck with any of this. For a while, I had given up on even using it. However, I finally decided to get to the bottom of this issue.

This would seem to be a very handy feature while in the car. And, it is, when it works. In my car, however, most of the time it doesn’t work. I couldn’t figure this one out at all. I kept thinking how lame it is that the one feature you absolutely need while driving is Speech to Text. Yet, it is the single feature that is the most unreliable. However, today I have finally realized why this functionality only intermittently works. It requires the Internet to function.

The Internet?

Why would this service need the internet? Apparently, whatever data was downloaded only enables the feature, but it doesn’t actually do the speech to text conversion in the phone. Apparently, the audio input is sent off to one of Google’s servers on the Internet (can you say, “Privacy Issue”) to be processed and the text sent back to the phone after conversion. The phone doesn’t actually do the conversion.

My Rant

While I understand the audio processing needed to decode an audio file may not be capable within the phone (although, Siri seems to do a great job offline in the iPhone), the phone should at least have some offline capabilities. However, the error message here is just absolutely stupid. It doesn’t explain anything. If the Internet is not available and this service requires it, the phone should pop up a message that either explains that no Internet is available or it should simply remove that functionality from the keyboard (grey it out) until the Internet is available. Why try to allow use of this functionality when the Internet is not available? This is both a confusing and stupid design. Google, you need to fix this design fast.

So, you’re probably asking why it periodically worked in my car? First, my phone is not Internet enabled. Second, I refuse to pay $80 a month for a 3G data plan that’s half the speed of my cable service and offers half or less the amount of data at twice the price. Instead, I pay for an ‘unlimited’ MiFi device that I don’t always turn on in my car. Sometimes it’s on, sometimes it isn’t. That explains why this functionality sometimes works and sometimes not.

I use the MiFi specifically because it works with all of my devices and is not locked to only one device. It allows for more data throughput, due to the plan rate. It is also a non-contract prepaid service, so I don’t have to worry about being stuck in a hugely long contract. If something better comes along, I just stop payment and walk away with no penalties. Specifically, I use Virgin Mobile’s MiFi that is actually using the Sprint 3G Network. I digress.

How To Fix

If you’ve been searching all over the Internet trying to figure out why this functionality only sparsely works and how to fix it, this feature requires the Internet. If your phone is not 24/7 Internet capable and you use WiFi for connectivity in select places, like myself, you will run into this problem when trying to use ‘Speech to Text’ from the Android keyboard while there is no Internet connectivity. To fix this issue, you either need to subscribe to a phone dataplan so you have ‘Always On’ Internet service or carry a MiFi device around with you and turn it on when you want to use Speech to Text. A hassle yes, but complain to Google as they are the ones that designed it to require the use of a Google server to decode the audio.

So, there you have it. Problem solved, mostly. At least, it’s solved for Android 2.2. If your have a later version of Android, your mileage may vary.

[UPDATE: 2012-05-04]

My bad. It appears that Siri does, in fact, require the Internet for Speech to Text conversion just like Android. This also goes for Alexa, Bixby, Cortana and even “Ok, Google”. So, I guess this article applies to the iPhone and all other voice assistant devices as well.

Bad Operating System Design Ideas Part 1

Posted in Apple, Mac OS X, windows by commorancy on November 6, 2011

Here is a new series I am putting together.  While we all need to use operating systems every day, there are lots of stupid ideas that abound on these devices that some developer thought would be ‘cool’.  Let’s explore these design ideas and why they’re stupid.  Let’s start with one company that people seem to think can do no wrong.. Apple.  Yeah, I could start with the easiest target, Windows, but I’ll save the best (er.. easiest) for last. :)

Apple isn’t immune

Spring Loaded Folders

Apple’s OS X most definitely has some quirky and, frankly, stupid design ideas that simply need to go away.  For very good reason, the first on this list is spring loaded folders. This is one design idea that breaks EVERY UI rulebook.  This functionality moves windows around under the cursor to unexpected places during, of all times, when you’re about to drop a file or folder on it.  It’s almost like some kind of bizarre practical joke. I mean, if this isn’t the absolute worst idea, I don’t know what is.  I’m not even sure what they were thinking at the time of conception, but windowing operating systems should never ever move windows or cursors automatically.  Let the user move things if they want them moved.  Worse, the idea of spring loaded folders has nothing at all to do with moving the windows around.  The spring loaded folder is supposed to open a folder when you are dragging and hovering over to the top of a folder name.  While opening a new window in the middle of holding drag-and-drop operation may seem like a great idea, it’s really obvious why this UI concept doesn’t work:  it will lead to dropping folders into the wrong place.  I don’t even want to say how many times I’ve inadvertently lost folders and files as a result of spring loaded folders. Yes, at least you can turn it off and it should be off by default.

Android isn’t immune

There is no easy way to manage running applications (at least not in 2.2) or really any other settings.  You have to dig through the ‘Settings’ area to get to Applications and then manage them from there after a few drill downs.  Same with most settings.  This is a mobile device.  These things need EASY and FAST access.  Digging through 5 menus to get to the Bluetooth area is both wasteful and dangerous while driving.  Let’s get these things front and center with one click.

IOS isn’t immune

Dragging icons from screen to screen to move them is near impossible.  Most times it drops onto the current screen at the edge.  You then have to pick it up and drag it again.  It would be far simpler to show a representation of all of the screens at once and then drop it onto the screen you want it on.  You can then put it in the exact location later.

Windows isn’t immune (but who said it was?)

When you’re hovering over a scrollable area of an Explorer window, you have to click to activate before you can scroll.  The trouble is, there is no empty place to click that doesn’t activate something.  If you’re hovering over the folder area, whatever you click on will activate.  If you’re in the files area, the same thing.  This is magnified when the Explorer window also happens to be a file requester.  So, you’re trying to scroll to the bottom of the files area.  If you click anywhere in the files area, it will fill in the filename with the file you have just clicked.  Annoying.  I don’t know why Windows can’t just realize the mouse pointer is over that area and activate at least the scrolling part.  There really should be no click necessary.

Why Windows can’t remember my folder settings in Windows 7, I have no idea.  Getting rid of the Quick Launch bar, bad idea.  Turning the ‘Start’ button into the ‘Windows’ button, stupid (at least from a support perspective).  Can we at least keep some consistency from one OS to the next?

These are my initial pet peeves.  There are tons more that have yet to be documented.  I will highlight these in part two of this series.

Enjoy (and comment if you have peeves of your own).

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