Google's developers took a couple of weeks off for the holidays – or from my perspective, they gave me a couple of weeks to rest – but now they're back and it's time for the app updates to resume. Naturally, it's time to breathe life back into the teardowns, and we're back with a big one. Google Search v4.1 began rolling out to users yesterday, and we've already seen quite a few little adjustments and improvements.
Now that you can put widgets on your lockscreen, there's a whole host of things you can do even before unlocking your phone. and if that's not enough, there are afewalternativelockscreens that will let you do even more. Today we're getting another one from a slightly surprising source: Microsoft. Say hello to the Next Lock Screen, an app from the company's Microsoft Garage internal team.
You lucky jerks in those limited areas with Google Fiber access have all the fun. Not only do you have relatively inexpensive and lightning-fast home Internet, you get TV service with support from Google. The latest update to the Google Fiber IPTV app for Android adds even more goodies, most notably the ability to pause and play television with the standard lockscreen controls or with an integrated Android Wear app. Make sure and show it off to your peasant friends who live in Cabletown.
Baby Time may not sound like something young bachelors everywhere need to install on their Android Wear devices, but it is. By default, these new watches wake up with the right gesture and are then eager for your touch (or anything else's). This app functions as a basic lockscreen that disables most input until it is turned off.
With Baby Time installed, parents can lift up their kid without worrying about the young'un dismissing messages or ordering rides.
The lockscreen is one of the areas that's getting a pretty heavy makeover in the L release (henceforth just known as L), and, since it's generally the first thing you see when a device is turned on, seemed like a logical starting point.
It's been a busy month in the Android app world, particularly if you want useful tools or visual tweaks. There's one big app that we're not featuring in this roundup: the Google Now Launcher, AKA the Google Experience Launcher. We're omitting it from the main list because it's only compatible with Nexus and GPE devices - even the few standard Android devices that have been upgraded to KitKat can't play with it unmodified.
Lockscreen feeling a little boring? Why not toss the whole thing out and try something different? Many third-party lockscreens are a bit awkward and lack features, but SlideLock seems like it does some cool stuff. SlideLock stands in for your stock lockscreen and replicates the notifications from the notification shade so you can deal with them without unlocking the phone.
SlideLock has a clean interface with a clock, date, and custom (optional) status bar.
Unlocking our phones is quite the hassle. Sticking a PIN or password on the lock screen is your most reliable option, but inputting that information every time admittedly gets old. There's face unlock, but that's too easy to circumvent. As for fingerprint scanning? The required hardware isn't exactly widespread. So now Descartes Biometrics is offering users the ability to unlock their smartphones... using their ears.
Once installed, ERGO serves as your phone's lockscreen.
We're slap bang in the middle of CES at the moment, but if you're full up on wearables and Android-powered ovens, take a break and check out the best apps of 2013's final month. Below in no particular order you'll find our favorite new apps that debuted during the holiday season. There were a ton of significant app updates, of course, but these are the best new entries from December, along with a few honorable mentions.