Happy anniversary, Android

It’s been 10 years since Google took the wraps off the G1, the first Android phone. Since that time the OS has grown from buggy, nerdy iPhone alternative to arguably the most popular (or at least populous) computing platform in the world. But it sure as heck didn’t get there without hitting a few bumps along the road.

Join us for a brief retrospective on the last decade of Android devices: the good, the bad, and the Nexus Q.

HTC G1 (2008)

This is the one that started it all, and I have a soft spot in my heart for the old thing. Also known as the HTC Dream — this was back when we had an HTC, you see — the G1 was about as inauspicious a debut as you can imagine. Its full keyboard, trackball, slightly janky slide-up screen (crooked even in official photos), and considerable girth marked it from the outset as a phone only a real geek could love. Compared to the iPhone, it was like a poorly dressed whale.

But in time its half-baked software matured and its idiosyncrasies became apparent for the smart touches they were. To this day I occasionally long for a trackball or full keyboard, and while the G1 wasn’t pretty, it was tough as hell.

Moto Droid (2009)

Of course, most people didn’t give Android a second look until Moto came out with the Droid, a slicker, thinner device from the maker of the famed RAZR. In retrospect, the Droid wasn’t that much better or different than the G1, but it was thinner, had a better screen, and had the benefit of an enormous marketing push from Motorola and Verizon. (Disclosure: Verizon owns Oath, which owns TechCrunch, but this doesn’t affect our coverage in any way.)

For many, the Droid and its immediate descendants were the first Android phones they had — something new and interesting that blew the likes of Palm out of the water, but also happened to be a lot cheaper than an iPhone.

HTC/Google Nexus One (2010)

This was the fruit of the continued collaboration between Google and HTC, and the first phone Google branded and sold itself. The Nexus One was meant to be the slick, high-quality device that would finally compete toe-to-toe with the iPhone. It ditched the keyboard, got a cool new OLED screen, and had a lovely smooth design. Unfortunately it ran into two problems.

First, the Android ecosystem was beginning to get crowded. People had lots of choices and could pick up phones for cheap that would do the basics. Why lay the cash out for a fancy new one? And second, Apple would shortly release the iPhone 4, which — and I was an Android fanboy at the time — objectively blew the Nexus One and everything else out of the water. Apple had brought a gun to a knife fight.

HTC Evo 4G (2010)

Another HTC? Well, this was prime time for the now-defunct company. They were taking risks no one else would, and the Evo 4G was no exception. It was, for the time, huge: the iPhone had a 3.5-inch screen, and most Android devices weren’t much bigger, if they weren’t smaller.

The Evo 4G somehow survived our criticism (our alarm now seems extremely quaint, given the size of the average phone now) and was a reasonably popular phone, but ultimately is notable not for breaking sales records but breaking the seal on the idea that a phone could be big and still make sense. (Honorable mention goes to the Droid X.)

Samsung Galaxy S (2010)

Samsung’s big debut made a hell of a splash, with custom versions of the phone appearing in the stores of practically every carrier, each with their own name and design: the AT&T Captivate, T-Mobile Vibrant, Verizon Fascinate, and Sprint Epic 4G. As if the Android lineup wasn’t confusing enough already at the time!

Though the S was a solid phone, it wasn’t without its flaws, and the iPhone 4 made for very tough competition. But strong sales reinforced Samsung’s commitment to the platform, and the Galaxy series is still going strong today.

Motorola Xoom (2011)

This was an era in which Android devices were responding to Apple, and not vice versa as we find today. So it’s no surprise that hot on the heels of the original iPad we found Google pushing a tablet-focused version of Android with its partner Motorola, which volunteered to be the guinea pig with its short-lived Xoom tablet.

Although there are still Android tablets on sale today, the Xoom represented a dead end in development — an attempt to carve a piece out of a market Apple had essentially invented and soon dominated. Android tablets from Motorola, HTC, Samsung and others were rarely anything more than adequate, though they sold well enough for a while. This illustrated the impossibility of “leading from behind” and prompted device makers to specialize rather than participate in a commodity hardware melee.

Amazon Kindle Fire (2011)

And who better to illustrate than Amazon? Its contribution to the Android world was the Fire series of tablets, which differentiated themselves from the rest by being extremely cheap and directly focused on consuming digital media. Just $200 at launch and far less later, the Fire devices catered to the regular Amazon customer whose kids were pestering them about getting a tablet on which to play Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds, but who didn’t want to shell out for an iPad.

Turns out this was a wise strategy, and of course one Amazon was uniquely positioned to do with its huge presence in online retail and the ability to subsidize the price out of the reach of competition. Fire tablets were never particularly good, but they were good enough, and for the price you paid, that was kind of a miracle.

Xperia Play (2011)

Sony has always had a hard time with Android. Its Xperia line of phones for years were considered competent — I owned a few myself — and arguably industry-leading in the camera department. But no one bought them. And the one they bought the least of, or at least proportional to the hype it got, has to be the Xperia Play. This thing was supposed to be a mobile gaming platform, and the idea of a slide-out keyboard is great — but the whole thing basically cratered.

What Sony had illustrated was that you couldn’t just piggyback on the popularity and diversity of Android and launch whatever the hell you wanted. Phones didn’t sell themselves, and although the idea of playing Playstation games on your phone might have sounded cool to a few nerds, it was never going to be enough to make it a million-seller. And increasingly that’s what phones needed to be.

Samsung Galaxy Note (2012)

As a sort of natural climax to the swelling phone trend, Samsung went all out with the first true “phablet,” and despite groans of protest the phone not only sold well but became a staple of the Galaxy series. In fact, it wouldn’t be long before Apple would follow on and produce a Plus-sized phone of its own.

The Note also represented a step towards using a phone for serious productivity, not just everyday smartphone stuff. It wasn’t entirely successful — Android just wasn’t ready to be highly productive — but in retrospect it was forward thinking of Samsung to make a go at it and begin to establish productivity as a core competence of the Galaxy series.

Google Nexus Q (2012)

This abortive effort by Google to spread Android out into a platform was part of a number of ill-considered choices at the time. No one really knew, apparently at Google or anywhere elsewhere in the world, what this thing was supposed to do. I still don’t. As we wrote at the time:

Here’s the problem with the Nexus Q:  it’s a stunningly beautiful piece of hardware that’s being let down by the software that’s supposed to control it.

It was made, or rather nearly made in the USA, though, so it had that going for it.

HTC First — “The Facebook Phone” (2013)

The First got dealt a bad hand. The phone itself was a lovely piece of hardware with an understated design and bold colors that stuck out. But its default launcher, the doomed Facebook Home, was hopelessly bad.

How bad? Announced in April, discontinued in May. I remember visiting an AT&T store during that brief period and even then the staff had been instructed in how to disable Facebook’s launcher and reveal the perfectly good phone beneath. The good news was that there were so few of these phones sold new that the entire stock started selling for peanuts on Ebay and the like. I bought two and used them for my early experiments in ROMs. No regrets.

HTC One/M8 (2014)

This was the beginning of the end for HTC, but their last few years saw them update their design language to something that actually rivaled Apple. The One and its successors were good phones, though HTC oversold the “Ultrapixel” camera, which turned out to not be that good, let alone iPhone-beating.

As Samsung increasingly dominated, Sony plugged away, and LG and Chinese companies increasingly entered the fray, HTC was under assault and even a solid phone series like the One couldn’t compete. 2014 was a transition period with old manufacturers dying out and the dominant ones taking over, eventually leading to the market we have today.

Google/LG Nexus 5S and 6P (2015)

This was the line that brought Google into the hardware race in earnest. After the bungled Nexus Q launch, Google needed to come out swinging, and they did that by marrying their more pedestrian hardware with some software that truly zinged. Android 5 was a dream to use, Marshmallow had features that we loved … and the phones became objects that we adored.

We called the 6P “the crown jewel of Android devices”. This was when Google took its phones to the next level and never looked back.

Pixel

If the Nexus was, in earnest, the starting gun for Google’s entry into the hardware race, the Pixel line could be its victory lap. It’s an honest-to-god competitor to the Apple phone.

Gone are the days when Google is playing catch-up on features to Apple, instead, Google’s a contender in its own right. The phone’s camera is amazing. The software works relatively seamlessly (bring back guest mode!), and phone’s size and power are everything anyone could ask for. The sticker price, like Apple’s newest iPhones, is still a bit of a shock, but this phone is the teleological endpoint in the Android quest to rival its famous, fruitful, contender.

Let’s see what the next ten years bring.

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The New York Times sues the FCC to investigate Russian interference in Net Neutrality decision

The ongoing saga over the FCC’s handling of public comments to its net neutrality proposal continues after The New York Times sued the organization for withholding of information that it believes could prove there was Russian interference.

The Times has filed multiple Freedom of Information Act requests for data on the comments since July 2017, and now, after reducing the scope of its requests significantly was rejected, it is taking the FCC to court in a bid to get the information.

The FCC’s comment system keeled over in May 2017 over during the public feedback period as more than 22 million comments were posted. Plenty of those were suspected of using repeated phrases, fake email addresses and even the names of deceased New Yorkers. The FCC initially falsely claimed the outage was because it was hacked — it wasn’t and it has only just made that clear — it seems instead that its system was unable to handle the volume of comments, with a John Oliver sketch thought to have accounted for a surge in interest.

The New York Times, meanwhile, has been looking into whether Russia was involved. An op-ed in the Washington Post from FCC member Jessica Rosenworcel published earlier this year suggested that as many as 500,000 comments came from Russian email addresses, with an estimated eight million comments sent by throw-away email accounts created via FakeMailGenerator.com. In addition, a report found links between emails mentioned in the Mueller Report and those used to provide comment on net neutrality.

Since the actual events are unclear — for more than a year the FCC allowed people to incorrectly believe it was hacked — an FOIA request could provide a clearer insight into whether there was overseas interference.

Problem: the FCC itself won’t budge, as the suit (which you can find here) explains:

The request at issue in this litigation involves records that will shed light on the extent to which Russian nationals and agents of the Russian government have interfered with the agency notice-and-comment process about a topic of extensive public interest: the government’s decision to abandon “net neutrality.” Release of these records will help broaden the public’s understanding of the scope of Russian interference in the American democratic system.

Despite the clear public importance of the requested records, the FCC has thrown up a series of roadblocks, preventing The Times from obtaining the documents.

Repeatedly, The Times has narrowed its request in the hopes of expediting release of the records so it could explore whether the FCC and the American public had been the victim of orchestrated campaign by the Russians to corrupt the notice-and-comment process and undermine an important step in the democratic process of rule-making.

The original FOIA request lodged in June 2017 from the Times requested “IP addresses, timestamps, and comments, among other data” which included web server data. The FCC initially bulked and declined on the basis that doing so would compromise its IT systems and security (that sounds familiar!), while it also cited privacy concerns for the commenters.

Over the proceeding months, which included dialogue between both parties, the Times pared back the scope of its request considerably. By 31 August 2018, it was only seeking a list of originating IP addresses and timestamps for comments, and a list of user-agent headers (which show a user’s browser type and other diagnostic details) and timestamps. The requested lists were separated to address security concerns.

However, the FCC declined again, and now the Times believes it has “exhausted all administrative remedies.”

“The FCC has no lawful basis for declining to release the records requested,” it added.

Not so, according to the FCC, which released a statement to Ars Technica.

“We are disappointed that The New York Times has filed suit to collect the Commission’s internal Web server logs, logs whose disclosure would put at jeopardy the Commission’s IT security practices for its Electronic Comment Filing System,” a spokesperson said.

The organization cited a District of Columbia case earlier this month which it claimed found that “the FCC need not turn over these same web server logs under the Freedom of Information Act.”

But that is a simplistic read on the case. While the judge did rule against turning over server logs, he ordered the FCC to provide email addresses for those that had provided comment via its .CSV file template, and the files themselves. That’s a decent precedent for the New York Times, which has a far narrow scope with its request.

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Beau Willimon shows us the path to Mars in ‘The First’

Beau Willimon, the screenwriter and playwright who created Netflix’s “House of Cards”, has turned his attention from Washington, D.C. to outer space in his latest series “The First”.

The shows have more in common than I expected. Sure, “The First” is about a future expedition to Mars, not present day political machinations. And instead of the fourth wall-breaking monologues that “House of Cards” was known for, the new series relies on long, nearly silent sequences where characters ponder their decisions and brood over the past.

But “The First” (which launched all eight episodes of its first season on September 14) isn’t an outer space adventure filled with special effects. In fact, most of the story takes place in New Orleans, focusing on the political, financial and technical challenges that the team (Tom Hagerty, the astronaut played by Sean Penn) faces it can even take off.

When I interviewed Willimon and executive producer Jordan Tappis, I suggested that the show seemed to be more about Earth than Mars — but Willimon didn’t quite agree.

“I actually think it’s completely about Mars,” he said. For one thing, he has a multi-season plan, which will presumably take us to the Red Planet eventually. And while Willimon acknowledged that it would have been “a lot safer of a narrative choice to leap straight into the mission,” he wanted to explore other angles, like the fact that “the reality of getting to a place like Mars is that it would incredibly difficult to even get to the starting line.”

The First

Part of that difficulty involves confronting space skeptics who wonder whether the mission is worth the cost and risk. In a traditional science fiction story, those opponents would probably be depicted as wrongheaded or even downright villainous, but in “The First”, they seem to have a real point.

“My own personal attitude is, I absolutely think we should go to Mars,” Willimon said. “The value of exploration in any form, in space or here on Earth, speaks to a long and deep desire in humanity to understand and confront the unknown” — and that’s on top of the material and scientific benefits.

Still, he said he wanted “The First” to “reflect the world in which we live and the world in which we’re likely to live 13 years from now,” which meant telling “the story of people who don’t share that same belief, who challenge it from a philosophical or emotional point of view. … Any astronaut going to Mars has to confront the fact that he or she may die. The question for any of them, or for any loved one, is: Is it worth it?”

Ultimately, Willimon said, “We didn’t want to create a fantasy here. We’re not interested in science fiction. We’re interested in science fact.”

That meant creating a plausible roadmap for how we might actually get to Mars. In “The First,” the mission is organized by a private company called Vista, but the funding comes the U.S. government, and Willimon suggested that this kind of public-private partnership will probably be necessary.

LOS ANGELES, CA – SEPTEMBER 12: (L-R) Creator/Writer/Executive Producer Beau Willimon speaks onstage at Hulu’s “The First” Los Angeles Premiere on September 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for Hulu)

With the current excitement around companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin, he said “the private sector has a lot to offer in accelerating a mission like this and making it cost efficient.” But he doesn’t think the private sector is going to get us to Mars on its own.

“In reality, the cost of getting to Mars, no matter what version you speculate, is enormous,” Willimon said. “I don’t think it’s likely that a purely private sector venture is going raise that amount of capital … In our conception, the money is coming form NASA, which means it’s really coming from taxpayer and the U.S. government, while the actual execution, building the hardware and seeing the mission through, is contracted out to Vista.”

“The First” also depicts everyday life in 2031. Tappis explained that the production team “worked really closely with a handful of consultants and experts in the field” to develop its version of future technology — which looks a lot like the technology of 2018, but with a few key advancements in areas like self-driving cars, augmented reality and voice communication.

“When you think about 13 years ago, the world looked pretty similar to the way it looks today, but with a few grace notes that you would find that showcase the evolution between then and now,” Tappis said.

One thing that has changed dramatically in the past decade is the television landscape, and I suggested that by creating and showrunning “House of Cards,” Willimon essentially kicked off the shift to streaming content.

“To be honest, I think that would have happened regardless of ‘House of Cards’,” Willimon replied. “We were the first show to go do that, because we were in the right place at the right time and were smart enough to say yes. But I think the trend was underway and was going to happen one way or another.”

As for the future of television, he said, “If this much change happened in less than a decade, who knows what might happen 15 years form now. Maybe … the audience isn’t going to be watching shows on handheld devices, but instead watching it floating before them on AR glasses.”

Near-future speculation is fun, and it’s a task that Willimon and Tappis seem to have taken very seriously. Still, if “The First” ends up running for several years, there seems to be a real risk that it could be overtaken or contradicted by how space travel plays out in the real world, or how consumer technologies evolve.

“While we think our speculation is an informed one and certainly plausible in terms of what it could look like, the time will come when we do make our first mission to Mars and it will either be very accurate or it won’t be,” Willimon said. And yet, just as we still watch the ostensibly outdated “2001: A Space Odyssey”, he argued, “There’s a deeper story there, which is the human story of people with messy lives trying to accomplish something great. There’s an essential truth to that, which we hope is timeless.”

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How to watch Bodyguard finale online for free: stream from the UK or abroad

Are your nerves still intact? Well they may finally be finished off this weekend as the finale of gripping drama Bodyguard airs on BBC One at 9pm. 

In the age of on-demand, multi-channel TV, Bodyguard has bucked the trend by pulling in millions of viewers for its Sunday night slot (6.8 million for the first episode alone) – and with millions more catching up on iPlayer each week, Jed Mercurio's political thriller is being dubbed the drama of the decade. 

Now there is just one more episode to see what will become of Sergeant David Budd (Richard Madden) as evidence unravels in the case surrounding Home Secretary Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes). With no word on a second series so far, this could well be the last we see of Bodyguard, so expect twists, turns and fireworks aplenty.

If you're outside the UK for the big finale, you can still live stream the show using a VPN. How to get one of those, and which is best for you, can be found out below. The good news is, it couldn't be easier and there are free trials to be had.

How to watch Bodyguard online for free in the UK:

To watch the Bodyguard finale in the UK, all you need is a TV license and a phone, tablet or computer with an internet connection. Or a tele, of course, if you're about the more traditional living room set-up. 

The series climax begins at 9pm BST and is an extended episode, running to 10.15pm. If you're not tuning in via a TV, you can watch live via BBC iPlayer or TVPlayer.com. You can also watch the show after it's aired using BBC iPlayer, which is on a host of devices including smartphones, tablets and smart TVs. All six episodes in the series will be available to watch for six months.  

Live stream Bodyguard from anywhere else in the world:

If you're out of the country or live abroad but still want to watch the eagerly anticipated finale live, fret not, it's still possible. This is possible using a VPN and TVPlayer.com to get around the usual geo restrictions.

Which VPN is best for you? Our fave is ExpressVPN. And how do you use that to watch Bodyguard online? Read on to find out all you need to know.

When will the Bodyguard be broadcast abroad?

The stunning success of Bodyguard has seen Netflix come knocking. That means the six-part political thriller will be available to watch via the on-demand channel in all countries outside the UK and Ireland from October 24.

With the show attracting more viewers than any BBC show outside its World Cup coverage, it looks like Bodyguard will follow in the footsteps of The Fall, Peaky Blinders and more in becoming a BBC-to-Netflix smash. 

Main image courtesy of bbc.co.uk

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