Android features I'm envy of as an iPhone user

Since 2015, my daily driver phone is an iPhone. In this almost a decade, I have been closely following the moves of the only iOS alternative, Google’s Android.

Despite my preference for iOS, there are good ideas on the other side of the turf that I would like to be copied by Apple.

Some of them have begun to be implemented — even if only in the European Union, by law. The Digital Markets Act (DMA) forced Apple to open iOS more, creating holes in the famous walled garden that the company has built around its ecosystem and that leaves on the sidelines what goes against its interests.

In public, Apple argues that the artificial limitations of iOS are for the good and safety of users. It’s a paternalistic statement, petty and, worst of all, largely unfounded.

I classify them unfounded because Apple’s solutions are competitive on their own merits, regardless of the artificial/disloyal advantages they enjoy for “playing at home”.

See, for example, the browser market. Web developers love to hate WebKit, Safari’s rendering engine that, in iOS, is mandatory for all other browsers.

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The beauty of free and open source software

The beauty of free and open source software (FOSS) is the possibilities that it opens up for better futures to abandoned or spoiled projects.

It happened recently with Simple Mobile Tools for Android. After the apps creator sold them to a shady company, someone forked the code to continue the development oriented to the original intentions.

Two other examples of which I learned from F-Droid’s latest weekly report.

Geometric Weather, a weather forecast app, stopped being developed and was retired from the store in mid-March, already with the promise that a fork was on the way.

It has arrived! It’s called Breezy Weather and has four distinct versions, from the most purist (with also free data sources) to the traditional. In the project repository, there is an instructions page about these versions.

The other app, the Android keyboard OpenBoard, had been abandoned for two years. This is far from ideal, but less bad that a group has adopted the project and now relaunched it with another name and a series of improvements and bug fixes. It’s called HeliBoard.


Mozilla is testing a Firefox built in text translator

Mozilla is testing the translation of selected text in Firefox. For now, as Omg! Ubuntu shows, it’s only available in experimental versions of the browser.

It’s a fantastic feature, similar to what Apple introduced in macOS 12 Monterey in 2021. By the nature of what I do, I deal with lots of texts in English throughout the day. (My mother tongue is Portuguese.) Having a decent translator just a click from the mouse away, anywhere in the system, is a super power that I didn’t know I needed.

Recently, I tried to use only Linux (and Firefox as the main browser) for a week. I resorted to the DeepL extension, which offers a similar feature, although a little unstable. Having a translation tool built into the browser is probably better.

The Firefox solution is limited to Firefox/browser. It’s a shame, but better than nothing.


The “follow” button is Substack's attempt to extinguish newsletter competition

I like to be right (who doesn’t?), but for some predictions I would like to be proven wrong. One of these is that Substack is a time bomb. Turns out it blown up earlier than I imagined.

In August 2023, Substack released a weird new feature: a button to follow people on its network. Why does a newsletter platform, which by definition employs this feature (we “follow” a newsletter when we subscribe to it), need to have a “follow” button?

According to the official blog post,

A follow offers a lightweight way to start a relationship with a writer or reader, with the option to convert it into a subscription at any time. By following them, you can stay up to date with what they’re reading, liking, publishing, and subscribing to—through the Notes feed and on their profiles.

This is so “social media” that Substack app asks for access to contacts to synchronize them and discover friends who are also in the Substack.

At the end of 2023, newsletters owners on Substack noticed a change in behavior on the platform, according to The Wrap: a significant increase in the number of followers on Substack and the stagnation of new subscribers to the newsletters.

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New family plans and pricing on Fastmail

Fastmail has changed its plans and now charges in 20 different currencies instead of only USD. The new plans are aimed at “individuals and families”, and include one, two or even six users. The old ones continue to exist, but now in a “business” category.

The old standard plan now offers 50 GB of storage instead of 30 GB, and the basic one bumps from 2 to 5 GB. Those who are already customers will be migrated to the new plans and local values later this year, but already enjoy the extra storage.


How tech giants cut corners to harvest data for AI

The New York Times published a bombshell report on how, behind the scenes, large AI companies find a (sometimes illegal) way to harvest content to train their large language models, the basis of generative AI.

The funniest part is Google turning a blind eye to OpenAI transcribing 1 million hours (!) of YouTube videos to power GPT-4 because Google itself was doing the same for Gemini. (The practice violates the terms of use of YouTube.)

It gets better. Two days earlier, YouTube CEO Neal Mohan told Bloomberg that the use of videos by OpenAI to train Sora, its astonishing AI video generator, would be against the platform’s terms of use.

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