Sideloading Woes

“Come to Android,” they said. “We have sideloding!”

This Google Pixel Feature Drop video popped up in my feed yesterday. I clicked in hopes that the one update I desired would be included: Speaker Labels. The demo at the Pixel event was stellar. It was one reason why I bought a Pixel 7 in the first place.

This December “Feature Drop” did include the new Recorder app feature! Now…how do I get it? I haven’t had to update my Pixel before. What’s the procedure?

My first thought was System Settings. That was the right direction. I found a security update waiting for me, so I triggered that process. It took roughly 45 minutes or so. When the phone rebooted, I was greeted with a series of splash pages showcasing the new features. Speaker Labels was there in all its promotional glory.

Then I go to test the app and bupkis.

No speaker label settings were to be found in the Recorder app. No prompts while the recording was going on.

After some googling (which is ironic when you are using Google’s search engine to solve problems with their software), I landed on a 9to5Google article from five days prior. Recorder version 4.2 was out and had support for speaker labels. When checking the Play Store, the most recent version was 4.0 from October 2022. How is Android’s newest Feature Drop promoting functionality1 when the latest version of the app isn’t even accessible on the Play Store?

Rather than wait for Google’s servers to update, I thought this would be a prime opportunity to try sideloading. This is the promise of Android after all. Installing an official Google app should be a cinch.

Not the case.

Linked in the 9to5Google article was APKMirror page for Recorder 4.2.490635119. There were two APK packages I could download. The only notable differences I could parse were DPI ranges and an extra known valid signature. I downloaded both to my iMac, plopped them in my Google Drive, and then downloaded them on my Pixel 7.

I then thought (perhaps naively) that I could just tap the APK and it would prompt me to install. Turns out you need an installer and wouldn’t you know, APKMirror has just that. I searched the Play Store and found APKMirror Installer.

There’s a level of Android jank to the app’s appearance: I don’t know what else to call it. Thankfully, it is clear to navigate. I browsed for the files, waited to install2, only to be met with an error citing invalid verification. There was no actionable information provided.

I tried both APK files. No luck. I went to settings to give the app permission to install. No dice. I entered developer mode, but that didn’t seem to have any indicator to my issue. I uninstalled Recorder, but that didn’t appear to help. 9to5Google even had an article from February 2021 titled “Here’s how to bypass verification when sideloading Google Camera or Recorder,” but that did nothing for me.

Then this morning I tried the whole uninstall Recorder and install from APKMirror Installer and it just worked?

What a cumbersome and vague process. If Apple is forced to offer sideloading, I pray it is more clear than this. I am glad the capability was there though, since Google itself seems to be flipping the server side switches very slowly.

1. Promoting on device!

2. You have to wait for 10 seconds to install anything unless you are a premium subscriber.

I Bought a Pixel 7

Don’t tell Tim Apple, but I bought a Pixel 7. This is my first Android phone.1 I’ve always wanted to have one lying around. It’d offer a peek to what I am missing on the outside of walled Apple orchard. I could have a better pulse on the Android and Google world. Curiosity drove this desire. So with an absurdly good trade-in offer, I decided to let my beloved iPhone Xs Max go to the great Best Buy in the sky.2 Really, I sacrificed it for science.

Then phone showed up yesterday. I set it up fresh. Then I asked myself, “what the heck am I going to do with this thing?”

I spent the night and morning digging into my ideas as to why I even bought the Pixel. Now that it’s here, it’s time to start experimenting and finding where it fits in my life.

The anchor of bringing an Android flagship into my personal technology fleet was utility.

When I watch the Made by Google events and Google I/O, there are usually a few features that leave me gobsmacked in one way or another. Google shows off software I want in my life. The prime example is live transcription. You see the demos on stage or in reviews and you can’t help but think there’s some sort of illusion happening before your eyes. My brain leaps right to interviews and my podcasts.

I tested this feature out just this morning by playing a few minutes of Ben Thompson’s interview with Mark Zukerberg and Satya Nadella about partnering in the Metaverse. The transcription is almost realtime. With decent grammar.3 When Google releases the update to their recorder app to add speaker labels, I plan to use this to make passable transcripts of Chapter Select and The Max Frequency Podcast. It may not be that perfect transcription, but the out-of-the-box accuracy and ease of use makes offering this type of resource affordable to me. It is magic.

Like I just talked about with Casey Liss as I prepared for becoming a parent, the best camera is the one you have on you. That’s a lesson I learned in photojournalism at UCF (one of many). I upgraded to the iPhone 14 Pro Max this year so I could have the best iPhone camera in time for my daughter’s arrival. We also bought a big ol’ fancy camera lens. This trade-in deal seemed like the perfect opportunity to add the legendary Pixel camera to my camera tool belt.

For years, I’ve hear MKBHD talk about Google’s punchy colors and I’ve seen the camera comparisons. Each manufacturer has their own spin on camera priorities and computational photography. I finally get to have two of the major players on deck.

I may be ride or die with Apple, but I do my best to stay on top of the major ongoings with Samsung, Google, and interesting Android devices. Generally, that involves watching MKBHD videos to keep a steady pulse. Keeping this eye on “the other side” has helped me see where Apple falls short and stays ahead. More so, the hardware and software is fascinating. Foldables only exist in Android Land for now. There are under glass fingerprint sensors, super fast charing options, and wild camera arrays. Experimentation is still in full swing over the walls. While Google’s flagship is hardly full-fledged experimentation compared to the rest of the market, the Pixel 7 feels that way to me as a near-decade long iPhone user.

So right now, my plan for the Pixel is two-fold: 1) use it as a tool for podcasting and recording and 2) have a better understanding of the Google and Android ecosystem. I’m looking at the Pixel with a laser focus. What can I do here to enhance my work? I don’t need Twitter or messaging or fitness on my Pixel. It won’t grow in those areas of my walled orchard. But I can use it to prune distractions in production. I can enrich what I make. The Pixel isn’t here to disrupt my workflow, but strengthen it. We’ll see how this experiment pans out.

And now for some quick, initial impressions of the Pixel 7 experience.

  • I prefer the iPhone 14 Pro Max always-on display. I like that colors and the widgets. If Apple was late to the always-on game so they could achieve this vision, I’m glad they waited.
  • The fingerprint is scanner is bright. It’s slightly slower than what I am use to (aka Touch ID), but them’s the breaks with optical sensors. Still a neat feature.
  • Face unlock, not so much. With no depth sensors, it’s physically not as secure as my fingerprint or Face ID. Having dual biometric access is an odd balance. I just default to the fingerprint. Sometimes the face works first. I may just disable Face Unlock.
  • The camera is snappy. There are these helpful little videos when you enter a new spot of the UI. HDR10 limited is limited to 30 fps.
  • Apple Music is nice to have, but weird to have a slice of Apple UI within the confines of Android. Is there an Apple TV app?
  • This phone is slippery. As MKBHD would say, it’s a glass sandwich. I have to buy a case.
  • The gestures are not natural and I’m not sure if that’s four years of iOS gestures or just out of touch design. If you even graze the left side of the screen, it reacts like a Back button. If I try to swipe open the lefthand panel in Discord, it backs out of the app. I turned the sensitivity of this feature as low as it would go. It will certainly take some getting used to.
  • Why are the Chrome controls up top? I don’t want to stretch to the upper right corner to access my tabs. Please. Help.

1. It can’t make phone calls, so is my Pixel 7 even a “phone?”

2. The Xs Max was/is valued around $185~, but the Pixel 7 promotions brought that up to $475. Best Buy also threw in a $100 gift card. After tax, the Pixel 7 cost me $60~, which seemed worth the price of my curiosity.

3. Unlike that sentence.

A dad took photos of his naked toddler for the doctor; Google flagged him as a criminal

A dad took photos of his naked toddler for the doctor. Google flagged him as a criminal” by Kashmir Hill for The New York Times (Apple News+ Link for The Seattle Times republication)

In December, Mark received an envelope in the mail from the San Francisco Police Department. It contained a letter informing him that he had been investigated as well as copies of the search warrants served on Google and his internet service provider. An investigator had asked for everything in Mark’s Google account: his internet searches, his location history, his messages and any document, photo and video he’d stored with the company.

Abby and I were already conscious of the consequences of sharing pictures of children. It’s something we’ve discussed with our own little girl on the way. An angle I never considered was a risk of being flagged for producing CSAM (Child Sexual Abuse Material).

I think back to Apple’s plan for assisting with finding CSAM on devices that they detailed and then delayed last year. John Gruber’s thoughts on this New York Times story do a good job explaining the two main methods companies use to flag CSAM—hashes against known material and AI to discover new material. Throw in to the mix server-side or on-device scanning, which was the crux of discussions surrounding Apple’s proposed method last year.

The on-device vs. on-server debate is legitimate and worth having. But I think it ought to be far less controversial than Google’s already-in-place system of trying to identify CSAM that isn’t in the NCMEC known database.

Now I am even more aware that the photos I take of my kid could harm them and myself. This is a difficult and delicate issue. I certainly will not by sharing photos via tele-medicine, if asked.

Mark did not remember this video and no longer had access to it, but he said it sounded like a private moment he would have been inspired to capture, not realizing it would ever be viewed or judged by anyone else.
“I can imagine it. We woke up one morning. It was a beautiful day with my wife and son, and I wanted to record the moment,” Mark said. “If only we slept with pajamas on, this all could have been avoided.”

Google Chromecast Preview

Television is evolving. With cable becoming a dying fad, the ability to stream video from computers or internet services has really changed the industry. Companies like Netflix are even making enough revenue to produce their own original content. In response to this streaming boom, companies have created small, box shaped devices that combine all these streaming services into one, smooth, user friendly experience. Honorable mentions are Apple TV, a small black box packing all your streaming needs and then some, and the Roku, a powerful multimedia streaming tool. Today, I am here to introduce the newest streaming tech on the block, the Google Chromecast.

Dollop of fairy dust not included
Dollop of fairy dust not included

Continue reading “Google Chromecast Preview”