And the strangest pointer I've ever shared
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Android Intelligence
 
 
IN THIS ISSUE:
 
  The Big Idea: Move over, Google: Microsoft's the new Android trailblazer
  3 Things to Know This Week: More Google messaging messiness, an Amazon app shadiness alert, and Motorola's "bumps and lumps" warning
  3 Things to Try This Week: Hidden Maps tricks, Android's new angles, and advanced Android improvements
  Plus: The strangest pointer I've ever shared
 
 
 Just Between Us...

If you had told me 10 years ago that I'd one day write a story about how Microsoft — Microsoft! — was coming up with more interesting Android improvements than Google, I'd probably have made some lame joke about the Kin phone and then declared you to be crazy.

 

I mean, back in 2010, the idea of Microsoft having anything to do with Android was downright laughable. Heck, even five years ago, the company was still just barely starting to pretend to care about our cozy little platform (and doing a pretty shoddy job of it, too).

 

And yet, here we are, at the start of 2020, and the organization once best known for creating Clippy is now orchestrating what looks to be the most consequential advancement Android's seen in ages. And, as I explain in this week's Big Idea, below, its efforts could have an impact that stretches beyond any single device or platform.

 

What a weird, wild world we live in. Clippy would be proud.

 
JR
jr@androidintel.net
 
 
INSIGHT
 The Big Idea
 
Move Over, Google: Microsoft's the New Android Trailblazer

 The Short Version: After spending some time delving into the developer tools for Microsoft's upcoming dual-screened Duo phone, I'm convinced the company is about to push Android into some exciting new territory — a move that could have huge implications not only for the future of the platform but also for mobile technology in general.

 

 Know More: While other companies are coming out with pointless foldables, Microsoft is cooking up a smarter twist on the concept — and coming up with a genuine reason for it to exist. Microsoft actually took a thoughtful approach to how an extended-screen setup should work and precisely what sort of real-world, instantly relatable value it should provide. And what we're seeing now is almost certainly just the beginning.

 

 Read more: The full column is here.

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PERSPECTIVE
 3 Things to Know This Week
 
1. Google's mess of messaging apps is about to get even messier

 The Short Version: Google's reportedly working on yet another new communication service — one that'd somehow bring a bunch of existing apps together into a single streamlined package for business users.

 

 Know more: I swear, it was pure coincidence that this info came out 39 minutes after I posted a column about the coming confusion in Google's messaging app lineup. But really, you couldn't ask for better comedic timing. Already, Google's gearing up to start phasing out its original Hangouts service this year and start pushing anyone who still uses that program over to the newer Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet apps instead (despite the fact that, y'know, those apps were supposed to be enterprise-focused and that Messages and Duo were supposed to be the main messaging apps for consumers). And now, we've got this new enterprise-aimed addition apparently coming into the mix as well. Maybe it'll be great. Who knows? But the constant change and lack of consistent focus in this area is really starting to make Google look silly — and make us, its users, hesitant to commit to any new product.

 

 Read more: The original report about the new service is behind a paywall at The Information, but you can get a decent summary of the info here.

 

 Dive Deeper: For more context on the absurdity of this whole situation, get riled up with me in my aforementioned column: "Welcome to Hangouts Hell."

 
 
2. Amazon's Ring app is sending user data to marketers

 The Short Version: A new investigation finds that the Ring Android app is recording everything from names and email addresses to sensor data and then passing it all on to a handful of third-party agencies. Lovely!

 

 Know more: All those bits of info may not seem like much in and of themselves, but taken together, they're enough to create a pretty detailed profile of who you are and what you do on your device. And worst of all, Amazon doesn't appear to make any of its data-sharing activity apparent to its users (all of whom, in this case, are actual paying customers!). Much like with the situation surrounding Samsung's data-selling practices that we talked about last week, the distinction between the secretive selling of personal data to external companies and the upfront using of data for internal ad profiling (as Google does) is critical. What Amazon is doing here seems shady as hell, no matter how you look at it — and combined with all the other shadiness we've seen from Ring over the past several months, I honestly don't see how anyone can justify continuing to use those products.

 

 Read more: You can get the full nitty-gritty on the new app investigation at the Electronic Frontier Foundation — and for a broader overview of all the recent Ring hijinks, see this Recode explainer.

 
 
3. Motorola says "bumps and lumps" are to be expected on its new Razr phone's screen

 The Short Version: In a new video about "caring for" its upcoming foldable phone, Motorola advises owners to take caution in handling the device — and warns that, yep, "bumps and lumps are normal" and no cause for alarm.

 

 Know more: First of all, I issue that same warning to my wife on a weekly basis (hey-oh!). But second, what makes this story particularly amusing is the fact that a mere couple of months ago, Motorola was waxing poetic about the durability of its foldable display, telling The Verge it was confident it'd last "for the average lifespan of a smartphone" and going on to boast: "We're not going to go out there and say, 'Consumers should be cautious of how they use the phone.'" Uh, yeah. So much for that. Look, all justified jabbing aside, the take-home message here ties back into what we were just discussing a second ago with the whole Microsoft-Android thing: Foldable phones, at least in their current state, are simply not advisable for most people to buy. Despite its initial crowing to the contrary, it isn't looking like Moto's first effort will be any different.

 

 Read more: You can see the "Caring for Razr" video for yourself on YouTube and read more about the whole thing at The Verge.

Productivity
 3 Things to Try This Week
 
1. Turn to Maps to avoid a crowd

I always forget just how much useful stuff Google Maps can do. A perfect example is the app's ability to measure crowds at different businesses — everything from the deli to the DMV — and then tell you what time is your best bet to avoid a line.

 

Here's how to tap into the app's mob-eluding powers:

  • Search for whatever place you want in the Maps app on your phone.
  • Once you've found and selected your spot, tap the business's name in the white bar at the bottom of the screen.
  • Scroll down and look for the section labeled "Popular Times."

And there ya have it: Right before your moist eyes, you should see a graph of typical crowds at the current day and time. You can tap any other time of day to get detailed info about its projected crowd level, and you can scroll left or right on the graph to jump to a different day to see how it compares.

 

That's just one of the many magnificent Maps tricks I found in my latest Google app exploration. If you want to learn even more off-the-beaten-path things everyone's favorite navigation genie can handle, check out my complete collection of incredibly useful Maps features.

 
 
2. Master Android's invisible new angles

This is a good one (and if you don't have Android 10 on your device yet, hang onto it for when you do!): One of the most annoying quirks with Android 10's new gesture navigation system is the way the system-level Back command — which takes you back a step anytime you swipe in from the side of your screen — overlaps with in-app menus like the ones in Google Docs and Gmail.

 

Basically, when you swipe in from the left side of your screen, your phone doesn't know whether you're trying to go back or to open the app's slide-out menu, which also uses that same gesture. No bueno! But there's an easy fix.

 

When you want to go back, swipe in like you normally would — straight across from the edge of the screen, in a horizontal line. And when you're trying to open an app's menu, either swipe in at a 45-degree angle — moving your finger down diagonally instead of straight across — or swipe in from the side of the screen using two fingers. Either way, you'll get the menu instead of activating the Back command every single time.

 

You'll find more tips like this in my new Android 10 tips collection, should the urge for more know-how ever strike.

 
 
3. Tap into advanced Android improvements

We spend tons of time talking about ways to add new features and interface options onto our phones — but sometimes, the most effective tweaks of all are the ones that improve existing elements. I mean, let's face it: Google makes some questionable decisions sometimes — or maybe just fails to give us the most advisable options by default — and whether we realize it or not, we're the ones stuck living with the consequences.

 

That's why I thought this week, it'd be interesting to look at some of Android's most advanced and out-of-the-way improvements — including what could be the most simple yet consequential change you'll ever make on your device.

 

You can find all the info in this week's Platinum Power-Up — my weekly guidebook of subject-specific tips. I go over easy ways to turbocharge your phone's hotspot speeds, stop one of Android's least useful (and most wasteful) built-in features, and immensely improve your Android Gmail experience. Plus, I pass along an app recommendation for undoing one of Google's most annoying feature changes.

 

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 And Just For Funsies...
 

I recently stumbled onto one of the dumbest but also most fascinatingly irresistible websites I've ever visited.

 

It's called PointerPointer.com. Have ya heard of it?

 

Its entire purpose — all it does! — is to load a real photo showing an actual person pointing at whatever precise area you tap on your screen or hover over with your mouse.

 

 

And it works — like, almost frighteningly well.

 

 

No matter what specific place you tap or hover, it always finds a photo of someone pointing to that exact location — and more often than not, it's a hilariously 90s-looking party pic, which makes it even more spectacular.

 

 

So what's the point? It's honestly kinda tough to put your finger on it. But as a guy who loves passing tips along, this was one pointer I just couldn't resist sharing.

 
Ta-Ta For Now

Well, wouldya look at that: YOU DID IT! You made it all the way to the end of this week's newsletter. Go grab yourself a cookie (preferably chocolate, not browser-based) to celebrate.

 

Thanks for having me over to your inbox, as always. Have yourself a dazzling several days, and I'll see ya right back here next Friday.

Thoughts
JR

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