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Playing with GPS

The one thing you can guarantee upon with an Android phone is that if you want to moan about how slow and crappy your GPS is, it will lock in and provide you with a position in about twenty seconds. However, when you actually want to use it, the sync will take something in the order of five to ten minutes.
Therefore, it was with some interest that I found an app that would connect to a Bluetooth GPS receiver and use the fake locations system to read the GPS data from the receiver and push to Android.

While it might seem strange to use a GPS receiver when the phone has one built in, a stand-alone GPS receiver offers numerous benefits. Firstly, they usually lock on a lot faster than a phone (and that's even considering that they don't have A-GPS capabilities). Secondly, they are designed to do one job, and to do it well. This translates to better accuracy. Thirdly, related to the one-job thing, the battery of a GPS unit lasts for quite a long time. It is my experience that using GPS on a phone can cause it to become alarmingly warm and it will eat up battery faster than playing HD video non-stop! [experience from SonyEricsson Xperia Mini Pro and Sony Xperia U]

To give you an idea of how multi-purpose domestic equipment can be the "jack of all trades, master of none", here is a photo taken with a compass app. I am pointing the camera at the sun, at 14h36 European time. East? No. An hour forty earlier the sun would have been due south (13CET, 12UTC). It reads better after I flip the phone around in a figure-of-eight motion for ten seconds to wake up the compass, but I find the lower end Sony(Ericsson) phones have spectacularly useless compasses inside. I think I calibrated my MotoDefy compass once. With the MiniPro and U, I need to jiggle the phone before using the compass, each and every time, or I risk having apps like Google Sky stuck showing me that bit that I can't see for the tree in the way. Useful.

The first test was to start up the on-board GPS and get a placement:

Next, start up the "GPS Bluetooth" app. It seems my GPS wants to have a pairing key each time it is used, which is slightly annoying but not world-ending. The default settings worked "out of the box", so it was basically just selecting the GPS device and then waiting for it to lock in.

The difference was minor, which is what I would expect given the two devices were next to each other. Google Maps picked up on the locations and showed me where I was, just in case I was lost and wandering around outside at 11pm under a nearly-full moon. Ooooh.

The problem is...

The next day, while Google Maps worked with the fake GPS location, My Tracks and Wikitude do not. This makes me wonder how Navigation would fare. I haven't tested that yet, so there is still hope for the Bluetooth receiver...?



Speaking of which, this leads me on to Wikitude. A form of "augmented reality", you point your phone's camera around and links and information will appear through what you are looking at. Think of Google Goggles on drugs.

While the idea is good, the implementation leaves a lot to be desired. The application is slow to get going (if you don't have GPS active and tap on the "Ignore" button when the app prompts you, it will sit there and never start up - duh!), slow to load, slow to load information, slow to switch modes, and it seems to be crash prone in the worst possible way - after using it for about ten minutes and taking a few screenshots, it crashed the entire UI in a way that was only resolved by popping out the battery.
There is something it does quickly, mind you. It updates the overlay (seen above and below) quickly, leading to a highly jittery display where it is difficult to hold the phone up and tap on something. This is really not aided by a stupid rendered airship inviting you to follow this on Twitter. Tapping anywhere near that will switch you to Twitter, gee, thanks. Oh, did I mention that switching back to the app from the unwanted Twitter webpage is really slow?
If there are multiple items (as in the example above, you can see them stacked), tapping will "explode" the list into separate items. If you are lucky, on a mobile phone you will see a "Cancel" button, and maybe parts of the exploded items. Try to move the phone to read the items, they'll collapse back to the stack. Count to five, they'll collapse back to the stack. I tried to take a screenshot of this, but they didn't hang around long enough to read, never mind capture. I can only assume this "looks better on a tablet". For a mobile, a lot less inter-item space and some sensible form of damping are desperately required.

Perhaps part of Wikitude's problem is it is simply trying to be too much. It doesn't open directly in to the camera AR view. You must select this from a menu of stuff like hotels, sights, a tap-on-bubbles game, scan money to get exchange rates, etc etc. Perhaps this app should concentrate on doing one thing well?

Finally, this. Lulzacite. Discovered in 2000 in a little mining down not so far away. Named after a Mr. Lulzac, or maybe just named for the lulz...

(psst - that plastic duck - it knows everything)


On app permissions

I discovered a nice pair of apps - one for learning Katakana, and one for learning Hiragana. It can ask you to choose based upon sound, or to draw with your finger. The drawing is especially well thought out, for it will introduce the kana two at a time, first with an outline. Then with dots at the start/end of the lines. Then with dots at the start. And finally with no cues. If you mess up, it will go back to showing you the outline again for that kana. It will have you 'learn' two, and be tested on say five or so before the next two are introduced. The test ones may contain kana you have seen before, and it appears to emphasise ones that are considered "difficult" (I know 'o' so it was interesting to see it appear so often, but it is a tricky one) and also ones you got wrong.
It's good. I like these apps. And better yet, they run without a need for special permissions.

Unfortunately, there is a Kanji version, part of a series. The permissions here are more onerous. Automatically start at boot? Discover known accounts? Accordingly, I didn't install it.

Nice to see the YouTube app has changed yet again. Maybe this one, with its more Apple-like interface, might actually work. It has also changed its icon meaning that it vanished off the home pages and needed to be reinstalled there. Not a big thing, but it is dumb that Android can't handle changing an app icon.


Holiday over - as is winter

Well, my week's holiday is now over. Back to work tomorrow. :-( Still, at least it was (mostly) lovely and sunny, pollution aside. While the forecast for the following weeks is not as good as this week was, what I can say is that the indications are that winter and all its rain and endless storms appears to be over and spring is on the way.

Japanese Quince:

Almond (not quite sakura, but close):

The venerable Daffodil:

Even the Pear wants in on the action. It's not quite ready, but almost:


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