Category: Mobile Computing Apps

Google Maps has now come back to the iPhone

Article

Google Maps is now available for iPhone | Official Google Blog

App Store location

Google Maps

My Comments

Previously, people who used the iPhone or iPad had the Google Maps provided as an integrated mapping solution for their devices. Then, when iOS 6 was launched, Apple decided to pull the Google Maps from the operating system and substitute it with a poor-quality mapping solution.

This has led to situations like people ending up in the wrong location and nearly dying, and the Victoria Police advising against using Apple Maps because of this poor-quality mapping.

There was so much criticism of this mapping solution that Apple had to bow to public demand and create an app group for third-party mapping apps for their iOS devices. Now, the Google Maps mapping solution has been made available to iOS 6 users through a downloadable app. This has the advantages of the Google Maps such as vector-driven maps, 3D views, turn-by-turn navigation and Street View but ported to the iOS platform.

For those of you who are still working with that trusty old iPhone 3GS, this app can work with that phone. Infact, any of you who are updating an iPhone or iPad to iOS 6 should infact factor in deploying Google Maps along with YouTube on the device as part of the update plans in order to gain the full benefit of these popular services on that iDevice. Similarly, when you buy that new iPhone or iPad, it may be a good idea to make these apps your first downloads from the App Store as part of commissioning that new device.

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The Pioneer SMA series wireless speakers can now become Internet radios

Articles – From the horse’s mouth

Pioneer upgrades SMA wireless speaker systems with vTuner Internet radio

Firmware Download Site

My Comments

I have previously written an article about the Pioneer XW-SMA series of Wi-Fi-capable wireless speakers which can play music from your mobile device or laptop using either AirPlay or DLNA technologies. These can work as their own access points if you don’t have access to a Wi-Fi segment that can work across many devices like a home network.

But Pioneer has extended the functionality of all of these speakers by integrating vTuner internet radio functionality. You can add this functionality on to these speakers by performing a firmware upgrade.

Here, you have to download the latest firmware file from Pioneer’s Web site and upload it to the speaker via its management Web page that you discover through the Bonjour device list in Safari or the Network option in Windows Explorer. Here you have an option to open the device Webpage for each of the devices.

But how do you select the Internet-radio stations where the speakers don’t have a display? Here, you have to install the Pioneer ControlApp program on your iOS or Android mobile device and select the stations using that app. This is in a similar manner to what Sony are doing for their wireless speakers where they use a remote-control app on a mobile-computing device to control the speakers.

Of course, you would need to have the speaker connected to a network that has access to the Internet without the need for a login page when you want to listen to Internet radio. For best results on the road with a wireless-broadband connection, I would recommend using a “Mi-Fi” device.

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App Essentials for your smartphone or tablet

Introduction

You may have just bought your first smartphone or tablet computer and are starting to browse around the iTunes App Store or Google Play app store using your device.

At this point, you may hear from your teenage son, other family members, friends or workplace colleagues about what apps to start off with as you get in to the world of the mobile-computing platform. In some cases, your teenage son who has that ultra-cool iPhone that is full of apps to impress others with, grabs your phone, asks for your platform username and password and starts filling your phone or tablet up with various apps.

It is also worth exploring the app store for those apps that are essential to your profession or hobby so you can make your mobile device earn its keep in your work and leisure life.

Communications

One main app class that suits the mobile computing platform very much are the communications apps. These encompass the social-network apps as well as other chat, VoIP and messaging apps.

They work best with the smartphone but some of the apps can be used with most tablets in a speakerphone form. But if you want privacy or better call quality, you would need to use a wired or Bluetooth headset.

Social Networking

(Smartphones, Tablets)

Facebook Android

Facebook for Android

If you have presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other social networks, you can have your experience with these social networks extended to your smartphone or tablet.

This is typically provided for in the form of platform-native mobile apps that you use to interact with the social network. Most of these apps are written by the social-network but some are written by third parties, typically as multi-social-network amalgamation tools.

The ones written by the social network are primarily a mobile user interface for most tasks that you do with this service such as browsing activity, adding posts or uploading photos. Some social networks such as Facebook and Google+ also write “messaging” apps that work primarily on the messaging and presence functions that the social network offers.

Chat, Messaging and VoIP

(Smartphones, Tablets)

Skype Android

Skype for Android

This leads me to apps that work as front-ends for various chat, messaging, presence and VoIP subsystems. Examples of these include Skype, Viber and various SIP user interfaces or softphones; or even gateways to Yahoo Messenger or Windows Live Messenger.

These apps provide a touch-friendly view for writing messages or engaging in VoIP / chat sessions. If the communications subsystem has the ability to know whether one is online or offline, there is the ability to look at a glance to see who is online at a given moment.

Banking and Finance

(Smartphones, Tablets)

If you use Internet banking services regularly, an Internet banking app would be a good idea for your phone. Most of these apps are Web links to the bank’s mobile site but an increasing amount the apps are client-side apps which run on your phone and link to online banking APIs that are used as part of your bank’s Internet-banking setup.

Similarly if you maintain a share (stock) portfolio, you may want to install a stockmarket app so you can see the state of your shares. Some of these apps may allow you to buy or sell the shares or submit orders to your stockbroker.

Entertainment

Internet radio and music

(Smartphones, Tablets)

TuneIn Android

TuneIn Radio for Android

Most subscription Internet-media services like Pandora have a mobile app for them so you can benefit from your media subscription through your smartphone or tablet. As well, the TuneIn Internet radio app allows you to have the same kind of access to Internet radio stations such as your favourite local and overseas radio stations as you can on an Internet radio.

Most smartphones and tablets come with a music player with some platforms like iOS offering a comprehensive take on this form. But you can purchase improved music players for Android devices like the PowerAMP music player which I use. These ones provide better control over your music playback and some of them even have their own “tone controls”.

Video apps

(Smartphones, Tablets)

Similarly, one or more video apps may help you with having access to video content. This could be fulfilled by a video player which would be important if you download or rip video content and sync it to your device. Of course, the platforms would come with a video player app but there may be some better third-party apps available in the app store.

The one that a smartphone or tablet shouldn’t be without is a YouTube front-end. For iOS 6 users, this can be fulfilled by you using the Google-supplied YouTube ap. If you also visit other video-on-demand sites, it may be worth looking for mobile front-ends for these sites.

DLNA network media software

(Smartphones, Tablets)

TwonkyMedia Android

TwonkyMedia for Android

Programs that work with DLNA Home Media Networks typically are either controllers, players or servers. The former function allows you to push content to a DLNA-compliant receiver or smart TV using the phone’s or tablet’s screen as the control surface. Some of these programs also allow you to “throw” Internet-sourced resources like Facebook photos to DLNA-compliant TVs.

A variant on this theme, supported by different media players, is the DLNA media player which allows you to play content held on a DLNA Media Server like your network-attached storage. Some of these programs such as the Android variant of TwonkyMobile, allow you to download the media files to your phone so you can play the media on it without being on the network.

Another class is simply a DLNA Media Server which shares content held on your phone with other DLNA-compliant devices. This may be part of the DLNA Media Controller, like TwonkyMobile, but could be its own app, thus allowing you to play music to DLNA-compliant Wi-Fi speaker docks.

Song Identification Software

(Smartphones, Tablets)

Shazam for Android

Shazam song-identification for Android

You watch a favourite show on TV or you hear that piece of music being played over the speakers in that bar. But you want to know what it is or who performed it.

There are two mobile-platform apps that can help you identify the titles and artists of songs that are played. These are Shazam and SoundHound and they are accurate on most popular music including some jazz. But they don’t work well with classical and opera where you want to know what it is “composer first, work (including movement or aria name) second”.

These apps also provide further information on the music such as lyrics, or a biography or discography for the performer. They also allow you to buy and download the music from an affiliated store like Amazon or, for iOS devices, iTunes. Of course, they keep a history of the songs you used the software to identify so you can use this when buying the music from your favourite outlet and on your favourite media.

Games

(Smartphones, Tablets)

Of course, no smartphone or tablet is complete without a collection of games installed on it. They can range from card, casino and board games through the classic pinball and arcade games to newer game styles such as the unforgettable Angry Birds. There are some games which you can play online across the world and are typically based on a social-network infrastructure but there are others where you simply play against the computer.

These games allow you to fill in the time while travelling on public transport or waiting for that appointment and, in some cases, can be an ice-breaker for conversation with others.

Information on hand

Reading / reference apps and electronic bookstores

(Tablets)

IMDB Android

IMDB movie app for Android

If you want to use your tablet for reading. you won’t go far when finding the reading apps. Some of these work alongside electronic bookstores and newsstands so you can buy and download books, newspapers and magazines to your device, with a few of them like Amazon Kindle available across all platforms.

This extends to dictionary, translation, Bible and other reference apps which have the information at a glance. The apps may work with the information locally stored on the device or may obtain the information online.

Public-transport timetable apps

(Smartphones)

Most public-transport authorities and operators are building apps that work as information sources about their public-

TramHunter Android

TramHunter for Android – Melbourne trams

transport systems. Typically these provide access to the latest timetables and information concerning cancellations or delays affecting the public transport service.

Some of the apps even have a “journey-planner” function which works out the best journey for your needs. If the public-transport provider has the ability to track its vehicles as they are providing the service, their app may also provide real-time information on the public-transport service so you can know how long the wait is for your service.

It is worth having one of these apps for each city you travel in. In some cases, you may need the apps that are specific to a transport mode like the bus or tram services.

Sports scoreboards

(Smartphones, Tablets)

London 2012 Official Results App

London 2012 Official Results App

One app class that can help you enjoy the sports events that you follow better are the scoreboard apps. This is something I have covered previously on this site more as a tool that augments how you follow those fixtures rather than using them as something to follow them on.

One example is using one of these app to keep tabs on the scores while you are watching that football game in that packed-out bar. Another is gaining a quick glance at the cricket or baseball score as you hear that major event like a run or batter-out being called on the radio while you are outside, so you can decide on whether to run inside and see the replay on the TV.

The good apps in this class are typically developed by the sports broadcasters or the leagues and codes themselves. For Australians, including “Aussie expats”, I would recommend the “Footy Now”, “League Now” and “Super Rugby” apps for AFL, NRL and Super Rugby Union leagues respectively.

Calculators and Converters

(Smartphones)

Most smartphones come with a basic four-function calculator as part of the “supplied” apps. But the app stores are full of better calculator apps such as some that may provide an “adding machine tape” view, more functions like scientific, statistic or financial functions or the ability to support different data-entry methods like “Reverse Polish Notation”. These then position your phone as an alternative to the scientific calculator that you would have had for school.

An app class that I would consider important is a unit conversion app. This is where you can enter a quantity that is in one unit so you can find out what it is in another unit. This is important if you are think in Imperial / US units like pounds or inches and you see references to quantities in metric units or vice versa.

Utilities

Mobile-phone torch app

(Smartphones)

One app that I would consider essential for a smartphone owner would be the “mobile phone flashlight”. These work with the phone’s display or flash LED to turn your phone in to a flashlight (torch). Here, they can be useful as an on-hand source of light for many different situations — think of having to check out what’s wrong with the engine when your car plays up at night; checking which circuit breaker had tripped when the power went out or simply letting yourself in to your home at night.

Emergency info app

(Smartphones)

ICE In Case of Emergency Android

ICE In Case Of Emergency for Android

Another Important app that is worth having is the emergency info app. This keeps essential emergency information on your phone like your doctor’s details, medication information and next-of-kin and even has direct access to the contact details so you can contact then directly from your phone.

This is more important if you have a chronic illness like epilepsy or diabetes but can be of benefit for anyone, especially if you travel in to foreign areas.

QR code reader

(Smartphones, Tablets)

One important app class for your smartphone and tablet is the QR-code reader. These apps use your phone’s or tablet’s rear-facing camera to read and interpret QR codes.

But what are QR codes? These are a common form of two-dimensional barcode that is printed on flyers and other artwork, most often as a link to an online resource.

The good QR-code readers like i-Nigma do have a high accuracy rating no matter what the code is printed or shown on. Some of these readers can also read the standard barcodes on merchandise so you can look up further details on the product that the code is on.

Mapping and distance log apps

(Smartphones)

Endomondo Pro Android

Endomondo Pro for Android

Most smartphone and tablet platforms come with a good GPS-driven map but the app store may offer better mapping solutions. This may be important if the platform didn’t come with a really-good map solution or there is a solution that suits your needs better like a “hiking-specific” solution.

A distance-log app that uses the GPS functionality and / or the accelerometer in the phone can be a great boon if you are walking. Programs like Endomondo can work well if you track your outdoor workouts and some of them may work as “breadcrumb tracking” apps.

Client apps for electronic notebook services

(Smartphones, Tablets)

If you use cloud-based services like Dropbox or Evernote, it is worth having a mobile client app for this service. This allows you to review and update the information that you have at these locations from your smartphone or tablet in the same way that you can from your computer.

Conclusion

Once you know of the essential apps to have on your smartphone or tablet, no matter the platform that it runs, you can find that you will end up gaining a lot more mileage out of your device as you use it through the day.

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WiFi Direct–Another way to share files between Android devices

Article

WiFi Shoot: Sharing files over Wi-Fi Direct | Android Authority

My Comments

The Android mobile phone platform has provided many options for “throwing” files between devices.

Firstly, there was the Bluetooth “object-push” profile where you can share material between devices that have this protocol and are set up for it. This includes Android and Symbian-based mobile phones and some devices like a few Bluetooth printers and printing kiosks.

There was the subsequent arrival of the “Bump” ecosystem which allowed you to transfer the files via Internet after you “bump” the phones next to each other. This implemented a “recognised bump” pattern to register users with this system.

Next the Android platform integrated Near-Field Communication as part of the Ice Cream Sandwich iteration and implemented the file transfer as a specific function called “Android Beam”. This was exemplified in the TV advertising that Samsung did for the popular Galaxy S II phone and Samsung’s “super variant” of that function where two people touched each others’ phones to each other.

Now that most newer Android devices come with Wi-Fi Direct, a new app has been launched to enable one to “throw” files between these devices using this method. The app which is called WiFi Shoot and is currently in beta version, exposes itself as a “share” option for images and videos and can transmit the images or videos; or receive any of these files.

There are plans to open it up to a larger array of content types once the bugs are ironed out of it. Similarly, it could support “throwing” of files to and from other non-Android devices that use Wi-Fi Direct as a file-transfer or object-transfer method such as printers that could print photos or Windows PCs that have the appropriate software.

I see this as another way that the Android platform is working towards a level and competitive playing field for activities involving mobile computing.

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Google-written YouTube client for the iPhone now available from the App Store

Article

YouTube releases standalone app for iOS, tablet-tailored version in the works – Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Introducing a new YouTube app for your iPhone and iPod Touch | The Official Google Blog

iTuned App Store Download link

My Comments

Apple are intending to remove the integrated YouTube player from iOS 6 as part of “stripping off” all things Google from the iOS platform. But Google have responded by developing a standalone player to be distributed through the iTunes App Store.

The version that is currently being premiered is pitched at iPhones and iPod Touch devices but Google are working on a “large-screen” version that is pitched at the iPad tablet.

There is an Integrated user interface for content discovery, where one can browse or search for videos. This includes access to the YouTube Channel Guide as well as an improved search-as-you-type engine. Even the ability to share YouTube videos through the “usual suspects” (Google+, Facebook, Twitter and email) has been improved.

The repertoire of videos avaliable to users with this YouTube client has increased, with users being able to view the Vevo music-video library like most of the clips that defined music video in the 1980s like this Dire Straits clip.

Of course, those of us who run iOS 5 on our Apple mobile devices could download this if we want the improved YouTube experience on the device. Also, this may provide a “coarse” user experience for the iPad until the iPad version is released.

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Sports Scoreboard Apps–Relevant to the Olympics

Article

Follow the 2012 Olympic games on your iOS or Android phone | CNet

My Comments

London 2012 Official Results App

London 2012 Official Results App

Whatever side of the world you are on, you will be wanting to keep tabs on the Olympic Games in London. For example, you may want to know whether your country is clawing the Gold medals or a favoured athlete is performing well in the sport you are watching. It can even extend to knowing when a new world record has been set or broken.

But the problem is that you may be watching it during that Olympics party that you are attending or hosting at home and everyone runs in to the living room for that key race where that record is being set or broken. Or you are watching an Olympics event in that crowded bar and you want to make sure you can get that drink without missing that record-breaker or gold-medal performance. A good thing to do is to equip your smartphone with an Olympics sports-scoreboard app. Like most apps of this kind, these are offered for free by a sports publisher or broadcaster or one of the official sponsors of the sport.

These apps will benefit people who are on the other side of the world where the activities occur overnight and they may not be able to follow them in real time. Here, the sports scoreboard apps can be useful for checking on the scores for the events that just occurred as part of starting your day’s activities so you can decide whether to watch the replays or not.

Your local official broadcaster, like the NBC in America, may run a scoreboard app for the major mobile platforms. There is also a good scoreboard that is offered by Samsung for both the iOS and Android platforms. This one offers the scoreboard for each of the fixtures as well as a medal tally and the ability to track an event or athlete. The limitation with this is that you cannot track a country team, whether for team-driven or individual-driven sports. ScoreMobile currently offers an “event alert” for medals and breaking news, but nothing more.

It is still worth considering these apps as part of “tooling up” your smartphone or tablet computer for the Olympics so you can have the best value out of these games when you use these devices.

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Two-screen TV viewing a strong trend

Article

The Future Of TV Is Two Screens, One Held Firmly In Your Hands | Fast Company

My Comments

There is something that is becoming a reality with TV. It is where our TV-viewing sessions are involving two screens – one large screen carrying the main video and one smaller screen that we are holding in our hands.

This has been brought about by the popularity of the tablet, laptop and smartphone which are serving the second-screen role.

Some of us may think it is just for checking email or the activities of our Facebook Friends or Twitter followers. But a fair bit of this activity is to do with the content itself.

For example, one could be using GetGlue, Fango or other TV-related social networks to find out who is watching this show and what others have to say about it. Similarly, one could be checking the show’s Website and looking at other information and commentary that exists there. These are activities that may not work well on the big screen.

Similarly, most big-screen applications cannot support multiple concurrent logins for social-network or similar uses; and they are typically require “pick’n’choose” or “SMS-style” text entry.

In the case of news, a good quote for this is that “the revolution doesn’t have to be televised”. Here, one could be checking other news resources to verify the veracity of a news story, which can be very difficult during election time. This is augmented through comment feeds and Tweet feeds that are set up during news events like the one I participated in during the UK parliamentary inquire in to the News Corporation phone hacking scandal where I was dropping Tweets in to the feed from a Fujitsu laptop that I was reviewing. Similarly the scoreboard apps that I have mentioned about previously could simply work as an always-live scoreboard display during a sporting event and some sports like cricket or racing may benefit from these apps further by displaying supplementary scores like track position or bowling scores.

Of course, the commercials as we know them will be hamstrung by the two-screen viewing experience. This is more so as the traditional goal of eyeballs at the screen during ad breaks is reduced more. Here one could be following up information on the second screen while the ads play on; as well as visiting the kitchen or bathroom or stoking up the log fire. But the information that one could be following up on can relate to what was in the TV program; or it could be to follow up on something that was advertised during that ad break or a previous ad break.

As I have noticed and observed, this concept of two-screen TV is hard to adjust to for some people, especially the older generation who are more interested in focusing directly on the screen. It may be us simply glancing down at that smartphone or tablet so we can know further what is going on with some events.

I see this as becoming an interesting chain of events as we integrate in to an online and highly-interactive media-consumption life.

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Jumping over from iPhone to Android–Samsung makes it easier

Article

Samsung frees fanboys from iPhone with freeware • Reg Hardware

Download Links

Easy Phone Sync

Android client: Google Play

Desktop Handler: Developer’s download site 

Easy Phone Tunes

Android client: Google Play

Desktop Handler: Developer’s download site

My Comments

Some of you who own iPhones have perhaps thought of jumping over to some nice Android-driven smartphones like the HTC One X or the Samsung Galaxy S3. But some of you may have built up music, podcast and other data collections using the iTunes software and this is more so if you use a Mac.

Now Samsung have provided an “own-brand” version of Easy Phone Tunes as a data transfer tool to link the Android phone to iTunes. This tool, Easy Phone Sync, is based around an app that is installed on the Android phone and a desktop client that is installed on an iTunes-equipped regular computer that is running Windows or MacOS X.

The commonly-available “Easy Phone Tunes” app is more about syncing your iTunes music library or a subset thereof to the Android device rather than moving across the data like contacts info.

But what I see of this is that it is a step in the right direction to permit iPhone users to jump over to the more open-frame Android environment and also to support heterogeneous mobile-computing environments where there is a mix of Android and iOS devices.

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DLNA now part of Nokia Lumia WP7 phones with Play To app

Article

Nokia’s Play To app now available for Lumia devices, enables DLNA-connectivity – Engadget

“Play To” DLNA App for Lumia’s Already Available in Marketplace | My Nokia Blog

My Comments

A feature that Microsoft should have provided as part of the Windows Phone mobile operating system but provides as part of the Windows 7 desktop operating system is the “Play To” function. Here, it allows you to push pictures, audio content or video content from your device to a DLNA-compliant network media player that can be controlled by other devices.

A question I have pondered about this operating environment is whether one could play content held on the phone or on a DLNA-compliant network media server through that smart TV or network-capable home-theatre receiver using one of these phones. Now the question has been answered with this app being available for the platform.

But, personally, I would like to see this available on the Windows Phone MarketPlace as an app for any WP7 phone and work in a “full” manner with network and local content. This means that it could download content from a DLNA NAS to the phone, play out content to a DLNA device, upload photos and video content to a NAS with DLNA upload functionality as well as cause content held on a media server to be played on a media-renderer device. This could them prove the Windows Phone 7 as part of the industry-standard media management landscape.

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Android now on par with Apple for tablets–what this could mean for printed-content delivery

Article

As tablet use grows, Android use on par with Apple, report says | Mobile – CNET News

My Comments

Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet

Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet – a 10″ Android business tablet

Over the last year or so, there has been a lot of talk in the newspaper industry about heading to the digital-delivery path, with most newspaper publishers running the idea of offering their mastheads in a digital-delivery form. This has been lately augmented over the past few days of the Fairfax media group announcing their new direction and pushing the idea of a subscription-based digital-delivery arrangement for their two main mastheads, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

When I have heard this kind of talk, the tablet platform that is most often cited and supported for these applications is the Apple iPad. This is because it is seen as the most popular form of tablet computer for this application. But, from the CNET article, it is becoming so that the Android tablet platform is being placed on a par to Apple’s platform, mainly due to Amazon’s Kindle tablets.

I would also find that the Android tablet platform has yielded some capable products like the ASUS Transformer Prime; as well as the Samsung Galaxy Tab series and the business-oriented Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet that I just reviewed. These do appeal to users who “know what they are after”. Similarly, the Android platform has also yielded the 7” coat-pocket-size tablets like the Toshiba ATiSo that I reviewed recently.

Toshiba Thrive AT1S0 7" tablet

Toshiba Thrive At1So 7″ tablet

What I would like to see more for this platform is that the newspaper publishers work on integrated app-based newspaper readers for this platform rather than focusing the integrated experience to the iPad. Here, the 7” coat-pocket-size Android tablets could allow a user to have a few mastheads in their coat pocket to read on the train or the Transformer Prime could double as an electronic newspaper.

One platform that I am pleased with is the Zinio platform used for distributing magazines. Here, the effort was to deliver the magazine mastheads to a variety of devices ranging from the iPad through the Android tablets to the Windows and Mac desktop platforms, simply by working on a client program for each of the platforms.

Newspapers could look at developing a platform that allows the development of client apps for different device platforms and allow the user to subscribe to multiple mastheads without cluttering up their device with apps. It may either have to go for an app for each publisher or an app that is supported by multiple publishers and works as an online newsstand.

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