Apple introduced the concept of private browsing way back in 2005; however, this feature became mainstream only about three years back. When surfing in private browsing mode, the browser covers your tracks. Browsing history is not recorded, and cookies are automatically deleted once you end the session. Currently, all major browsers support private browsing. However, the implementation varies from browser to browser. Opera, which was the last major browser to support this feature, has the best implementation. It supports not only private windows, but also private tabs. Chrome and Internet Explorer on the other hand support private windows, but not private tabs. Firefox’s implementation is currently the most limited one. It supports neither private tabs nor private windows. If you enter private browsing mode, your current session is halted, all existing tabs are closed, and a new private session is created. However, this is set to change soon.
Mozilla has been working on re-writing its private browsing implementation for the past 19 months, and is finally ready to showcase its progress. A new experimental build is now available, which features support for private windows. You can now begin a private browsing session in a new window while retaining your existing session. The experimental build is available for Winows, OS X, and Linux. This feature will make its mainstream debut in Firefox 20, which is scheduled to be released in March/April 2013.
[ Download Firefox with Private Windows ]
Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4 and Samsung’s Exynos might be the current champions of performance in the mobile arena; however, if leaked slides are to be believed, their reign might not last long. Nvidia’s Tegra 4 will be six times as powerful as the Tegra 3 and feature as many as 72 GPU cores.
Tegra 4, which bears the superhero-themed codename Wayne, will use 28 nanometer process that is already being used by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon and Apple’s A6X. The improved 28nm architecture should lower power consumption, but will require enhanced heat dissipation. Nvidia is also updating its mobile powerhouse to ARM’s Cortex-A15 design. The Tegra 4, will retain the quad-core CPU setup, with an additional power saving core. The chip will be capable of powering displays up to 2,560 x 1600, with 1080p output at 120Hz. The slide also mentions 4K or Ultra-HD (UHD) output. The other exciting development is the inclusion of support for USB 3.0, which should give a bump to read and write speeds.
If the leaked slide is accurate, then Nvidia will again jump to the front of the pack and raise the bar for mobile computing. We will know for sure within a couple of months it is almost certain that Nvidia will show off its newest creation at either the CES or the MWC.
2012 hasn’t exactly turned out to be a great year for Sony Mobile. The Japanese manufacturer has been struggling to simply keep up with the competition. Months after HTC and Samsung released its flagships, Sony is yet to release anything that can compete in pure specs as well as performance. However, 2013 is shaping up to be a much more impressive year for Sony.
Several smartphones from Sony’s 2013 lineup have already been leaked. Odin (C650X) and Yuga (C660X) are likely to be the Sony flagships for next year. While we don’t know much about Odin, last month, we got our first look at Yuga. Now, Eldar Murtazin from Mobile-Review has managed to get his hands on Yuga. As previously reported, the phone boasts of a 5” full HD (1080p) LCD dispay, and is powered by a Snapdragon S4 Pro. Elder was impressed with what he saw, and termed the powerful processor and the large display as a “fabulous combination”. However, he also noted that the device tends to get “warm as a stove”.
Another new device, which currently goes by the codename HuaShan (C5303X) was spotted on AnTuTu. HuaShan will probably be a budget device sporting a 1.7 GHz dual-core CPU. The other two Sony Mobile smartphones that we know of are unnamed devices bearing the code numbers C150X and C160X. They will be entry level offerings powered by a 1.0GHz single-core Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM7227A chipset with Adreno 200 graphics.
Windows 8’s new Modern UI (Metro) hasn’t exactly wowed users as Microsoft was hoping it would. For me, the biggest annoyance with Windows 8 is its jarring and conflicting nature. I had detailed my frustrations with the Metro UI more than a year back. Unfortunately, not a lot has changed since then. The full-screen app layout might make a lot of sense on smaller form-factors; however, it feels crippled on a laptop. Windows, which was one regarded as the king of multi-tasking, sacrificed one of its biggest features in an attempt to become modern.
To be honest, not everything about the Modern UI is bad. The Start screen is definitely a big improvement. It’s not only beautiful to look at, but it is also pretty productive. The Market is something that Windows should have received a long time back. And, SkyDrive integration is really handy. However, if you feel that the Windows 8 Metro UI is more trouble than it’s worth, then you can easily nix it.
A new portable Windows 8 application called Ex7ForW8 (Explorer 7 for Windows 8) allows you to enjoy all the performance and security benefits of Windows 8, while removing the Modern UI. Ex7ForW8 is actually a wrapper to the Windows 7 explorer.exe. Once installed, it will automatically launch Windows 7’s Explorer on boot and hide all traces of the Metro UI. It doesn’t actually modify any system and protected registry entries. So, you can easily switch back to the old UI by switching shells from the app. The app itself works as advertized, with the only drawback being that you will need to supply the WIndows 7 explorer.exe as the app doesn’t include one in its package.
[ Download Ex7ForW8 ]
Google rolled out an updated YouTube layout a couple of days back. The new design makes YouTube more consistent with other Google properties. While the reaction to the new design has been mixed, one aspect of the new YouTube has drawn almost universal ire. YouTube is now left-aligned, much like Google Plus. On high-resolution displays this results in loads of white space on the right of the screen, and makes the YouTube surfing experience extremely jarring.
Fortunately, it’s rather simple to fix this design issue. All you need to do is install the “Youtube Center Aligned” user script. The script works on Firefox, Chrome, and Opera. You can get the installation instructions for Firefox and Opera at UserScripts.com. To install in Chrome, simply download the userscript, open the extensions manager (Tools –> Extensions), and drag-and-drop the downloaded script onto Chrome. Alternatively you can install the Tampermonkey extension for Chrome, and then install the userscript.
Even with this script, there is a lot of wastage of screen real-estate. My favorite YouTube userscript is Unique Youtube Skin, which automatically resizes the video to make full use of your screen.
[ Hat-tip: Atul Varaskar ]
Back in October, we blogged about a new Android keyboard called SwiftKey Flow. Android already has several dozen keyboards, so a new keyboard is hardly newsworthy. However, SwiftKey Flow had us salivating, simply because of the folks behind it. SwiftKey’s other keyboard – SwiftKey X, has the best prediction engine in the market. Once it gets used to your typing style, it often manages to effortlessly predict word after word. In spite this, SwiftKey never managed to cement its position as the default keyboard on my phone. The sole reason for that is its lack of support for gesture typing. Gesture typing, pioneered by Swype, is the best way to type on touchscreen mobile devices. It’s not only a lot faster, but it also takes a lot less effort, and requires only one hand.
SwiftKey Flow promises the best of both worlds. It boasts of SwiftKey’s renowned prediction engine, and supports gesture typing. After teasing us for months, SwiftKey announced the open beta of Flow a short while back. Like the original SwiftKey, the new Flow keyboard also can scan your messages, Facebook and Twitter posts, and Gmail conversations to learn your typing pattern and build up its dictionary. Flow also keeps on learning as you type. So, the longer you use, the better it gets. The Flow is meant for both tap-typing and gesture-typing. While gesture-typing is identical to Swype, it doesn’t seem to support all the bells and whistles of Swype. However, Flow does have a couple of unique tricks up its sleeve. It features instant predictions, which keep on changing as you keep swiping. And it supports continuous typing, which SwiftKey calls “Flow through Space”. You can type entire sentences without lifting your finger, by simply gliding over the space key to begin a new word.
It’s hard to review SwiftKey after using it for less than six hours. However, one thing that’s amply clear is that SwiftKey still has a long way to go because it can match Swype’s accuracy. Gesture typing often leads to wrong guesses, and since the prediction engine tries to predict the next word, going back and correcting mistakes is annoying. I also missed Swype’s convenient single tap replace while using SwiftKey. SwiftKey Flow’s biggest challenge is that it is trying to tailor itself for both tap typing and gesture typing. Right now, its split personality is holding it back.
[ Download SwiftKey Flow ]
E-commerce in India has been experiencing rapid growth over the past few years. It’s estimated to be worth $1.6 billion in 2012 (Forrester Trends Report), which is not a huge number by global standards, but is impressive considering the demographics. However, still many Indians shy away from buying stuff online. Trusting retailers who are probably located several thousand kilometres away to deliver goods that one hasn’t checked first-hand is a scary proposition for many Indians.
Google is trying to break the shackles and initiate more Indians to online shopping by leveraging its brand name and deep pockets. The online giant is organizing a “Great Online Shopping Festival” on Dec 12. It has roped in most of the biggies in the Indian e-commerce space, including Flipkart, Myntra, Snapdeal, Pepperfry, and Jabong. Google has also partnered with classifieds, matrimonial services, job portals, and real estate agencies. You can avail attractive discount on premium memberships for services like Bharat Matrimony and Monster.com.
In addition to leveraging its online assets and getting the buzz going on social media, Google is also campaigning on radio channels. The target is obviously the middle class that has so far stayed away from e-commerce. It has even prepared a handy collection of tips for new shoppers. Unlike in most western countries, winter shopping is not a big deal in India. It will be interesting to see if Google can help change that with its Cyber Monday-esque shopping festival.
[ Visit Grand Online Shopping Festival ]
Flexible, wearable phones – stuff from sci-fi flicks that we have all drooled over, might show up in the market as early as next year. Flexible OLED displays have earlier been demoed by several display manufacturers including Samsung, LG, and Sony. Some of them, like Sony, have been researching on bendable displays for nearly a decade; however, none of them have been able to simplify the process to make them suitable for manufacturing in bulk.
Now, reports from BBC and WSJ suggest that Samsung might be in the last phase of development of flexible OLEDS. Devices using these next generation displays will be extremely light and unbreakable, as they will be using plastic instead of glass. Lee Chang-hoon, Vice President of Samsung’s display unit, confirmed that the company is currently sampling the displays with a few customers. A big challenge in creating flexible phones is that the entire assembly, including the display, battery, chipset, and the housing needs to be flexible. Mass producing such units have so far proved to be prohibitively expensive.
Reports suggest that the new flexible phones will be showcased in the first half of 2013. If that pans out, then chances are that Samsung might reveal something exciting in next year’s CES and MWC.
2012 is probably going to go down as the year crowd funding grew up. Kickstarter projects reached unprecedented levels of success as the crowd funding service gained steam. Elevation Dock for iPhone became the first project to cross the million dollar mark in February 2012. Soon after, Pebble watch shattered all records and went on to raise more than $10 million, which was over hundred times its initial goal. Since then, we have seen numerous projects like Ouya, and Project Eternity surge past the million dollar milestone with ease. While initially most Kickstarter projects belonged to the art and media segment, this year saw hardware and software projects take the lead. Now, even established projects like VLC are also taking to Kickstarter to meet their goals.
The VideoLan team has started a funding drive on Kickstarter to back the development of Windows 8 User Experience (Metro) app for VLC. The team already has already built a working prototype with minimal features and is looking to raise at least £40,000. VLC is aiming to release a Windows Store compliant Metro app that will run on both Intel and ARM chipsets. The new app will be completely rewritten with the WinRT APIs and feature a touch optimized user interface, while retaining most of the best features of VLC including full-fledged equalizer, video filters and superior support for subtitles. Unlike the built-in media player, out of the box support for CDs, DVDs, as well as unencrypted Blu-Rays is also planned. VLC is hoping that the fund-raiser will allow it to hire professional designers to build a beautiful and clean user interface, in addition to allowing many of its experienced developers to work full-time on the project.
VLCs fund-raising drive will continue for a month, and you have a chance to get your name in the application by pledging as little as £3. If the fund-raising goal is met, VLC app for Windows 8 is expected to be released in the first quarter of 2013.
It’s been just about a month since Windows 8 was released, but Microsoft is already hard at work on its successor. Of course, this isn’t really surprising. However, what is surprising is that Microsoft might be gearing up to launch Windows 8’s successor as early as next year.
The Verge is reporting that Microsoft plans on ditching its traditional big-bang release cycle in favor of a more iterative annual release cycle. The next Windows OS, which is currently going by the codename ‘Windows Blue’, is slated for launch in mid-2013. It will reportedly include UI changes and alterations to the entire platform. The Windows SDK will also be updated, and in a move that will surely infuriate developers, once Blue is released, Microsoft will stop accepting apps coded using the Windows 8 SDK in the Store. Thankfully, Blue will be fully backward compatible, and will be capable of running Windows 8 apps. The most interesting thing about Blue is that Microsoft plans on making the upgrade extremely cheap or even free for current Windows users.
Although Windows Blue is a dramatic departure from the tradional Windows release cycle, it does make a lot of sense. While previous versions of Windows were tasked with simply maintaining or improving Microsoft’s dominance in the PC market, Windows 8 has the additional burden of making Microsoft competitive in the tablet segment, where it is a late-entrant and an underdog. Without rapid iterations, it will be virtually impossible for Microsoft to remain competitive with Android and iOS, both of which offer free, annual upgrades.