For the next five billion: Android One

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Knowledge is a game changer. I’ve long been inspired by the Internet and how it opens the doors to opportunity. It provides access to knowledge, no matter who you are or where you are. For instance, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Nobel Laureate at a world-class research center or a young student at a rural school in Indonesia, with Google Search, you have the same information at your fingertips as anyone else.

If we look at how people are getting online and accessing information today, increasingly it’s through a smartphone. While 1.75 billion people around the world already have a smartphone, the vast majority of the world’s population—over five billion more—do not. That means most people are only able to make simple voice calls, rather than connect with family through a live video chat, use mapping apps to find the closest hospital, or simply search the web. We want to bring these experiences to more people.

That’s where Android One comes in. At I/O, we first talked about this initiative to make high-quality smartphones accessible to as many people as possible. And today we’re introducing the first family of Android One phones in India.

Addressing key barriers—hardware, software and connectivity
There are three big reasons why it’s hard for people in countries such as India, Indonesia or the Philippines to get their hands on a high-quality smartphone. First, is the hardware itself. Even entry-level smartphones still remain out of reach for many (bear in mind that in some of these countries the average monthly income is around $250). Second, many people in these markets do not have access to the latest Android software and popular applications. Finally, even where 3G and 4G networks are available, not enough people have phones that can support data and the plans can be expensive.

Android One aims to help tackle these challenges. By working closely with phone and silicon chip makers to share reference designs and select components, we’re making it easier for our partners to build phones that are not just great to use, but also affordable. They have lots of processing power, so you can get information quickly. They have high-quality front- and rear-facing cameras. And for all those pictures, along with your apps and videos, Android One phones will have expandable storage. We also added features that people in India will find particularly useful, like dual SIM cards, a replaceable battery and built-in FM radio.

To help ensure a consistent experience, Android One devices will receive the latest versions of Android directly from Google. So you’ll get all the latest features, up-to-date security patches, and peace of mind knowing your stuff is always backed up. It also means Android One devices will be some of the first to be updated to the Android L release later this year. For our hardware partners, they’ll be able to create customized experiences and differentiate their devices without having to change the core software.

In an effort to reduce data costs, if you have an Airtel SIM card, you’ll get these software updates for free for the first six months. As part of this same Airtel offer, you’ll also be able to download up to 200MB per month worth of your favorite apps (that’s about 50 apps overall) from Google Play—all without counting toward your mobile data usage.

More to come
This is just the beginning of the Android One journey. The first phones, from our hardware partners Micromax, Karbonn, Spice and chipmaker MediaTek, are available starting today in India from leading retailers starting at Rs 6,399. We’re also excited to welcome more partners to the program, including phone manufacturers Acer, Alcatel Onetouch, ASUS, HTC, Intex, Lava, Lenovo, Panasonic, Xolo, and chipmaker Qualcomm. We expect to see even more high-quality, affordable devices with different screen sizes, colors, hardware configurations and customized software experiences. Finally, we plan to expand the Android One program to Indonesia, the Philippines and South Asia (Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) by the end of the year, with more countries to follow in 2015.

Access for access’s sake is not enough. With Android One, we not only want to help people get online, we want to make sure that when they get there, they can tap into the wealth of information and knowledge the web holds for everyone.

September 15th 2014 Android

Android Apps in Chrome OS

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Google built an app runtime for Chrome that allows Android apps to run in Chrome OS. The first Android apps you can run in Chrome OS are Duolingo, Evernote, Sight Words and Vine.

Bringing more powerful apps to Chrome OS is a great idea. Making it easier to bring mobile apps to Chrome encourages developers to go beyond web apps and write native apps that work offline, include hardware integration and work outside of the browser. While cross-platform web apps are still useful, the new Chrome apps can bring some missing features that people expect to find in native apps. “These combine the best of websites and native applications — they’re available offline, are always up to date, and they can communicate with devices like USB drives & Bluetooth speakers,” explains Google.

“These first apps are the result of a project called the App Runtime for Chrome (Beta), which we announced earlier this summer at Google I/O. Over the coming months, we’ll be working with a select group of Android developers to add more of your favorite apps so you’ll have a more seamless experience across your Android phone and Chromebook,” informs Google. You can tell Google what Android apps you’d like to be ported to Chrome.

For now, the first 4 apps can only be installed in Chrome OS, but I’m sure that Google will add support for Chrome in the near future.

It’s interesting to notice that the apps aren’t manually ported to Chrome, as I assumed. Here’s an explanation from a Google employee:

“The app code is all running on top of the Chrome platform, specifically inside of Native Client. In this way the ARC (Android Runtime for Chrome) apps run in the same environment as other apps you can download from the Chrome Web Store, even though they are written on top of standard Android APIs. The developers do not need to port or modify their code, though they often choose to improve it to work well with the Chromebook form factor (keyboard, touchpad, optional touchscreen, etc).”

Here’s an APK for Duolingo (Android app) inside the CRX file (Chrome app):

September 12th 2014 Android

Android Wear, moving forward like clockwork

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Earlier this year, we launched Android Wear, bringing Android to wearables. Since then, the first watches powered by Android Wear, the LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live, have gone on sale, developers have already built thousands of apps enhanced for Wear, and great new watches are becoming available from more partners.

Our goal with Wear is to build technology that helps you connect with others and get stuff done. So often, technology can become something that gets in the way of everything else. But we want to build devices that you can use when you need and forget about when you don’t—technology that’s built for your sake, rather than its own sake. Coming throughout the rest of this year, we’re making some updates to Wear that will help you get even more out of your watch—and the rest of your life, too.

First, we’re bringing offline music playback and GPS support to Android Wear. Go for a run or bike ride with your Android wearable and leave your phone at home. You’ll be able to listen to music stored on your watch via Bluetooth headphones. And if your watch includes a GPS sensor, you can track your distance and speed too.

The second update will enable downloadable watch faces, so you can customize the visual design of your watch’s home screen to show the information you want to see most—like your calendar or fitness sensors. Developers will soon be working on watch faces, making them available on Google Play.

We’re also continuing to work with manufacturers to bring you even more watch options, with different shapes, styles and sensors.

  • The Moto 360, the first Android wearable with a round display, is now available for sale in the U.S.
  • The Asus Zen Watch, coming later this year, includes a bio sensor, so you can keep tabs on your fitness and relaxation levels throughout the day.
  • The LG G Watch R uses a circular display, includes a heart rate monitor, and will be available later this year.
  • Last, but not least, we’re happy to welcome Sony to the Android Wear family with the Sony SmartWatch 3. It uses a transflective display for easier readability in sunlight, includes a GPS sensor, and will be available later this year.

These watches, as well as those unveiled earlier this summer, will all get the new software updates described above as soon as they’re ready in the coming months. We’re also working with our partners on even more improvements, which means your device will continue to get better, with updates provided directly to you.

Whether it’s giving you directions, letting you stay in touch more easily or keeping track of your steps so you can stay fit, Wear is designed to help you out without getting in your way. With new features and many new devices to choose from, chances are there’s a watch that’s just right for you.

September 6th 2014 Android

Why I’m Watching Deep Linking In Mobile

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The post Why I’m Watching Deep Linking In Mobile appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

first web page

The first ever web page, created by Sir Tim Berners Lee to explain, naturally, the WWW.

We are at a turning point in the mobile app ecosystem where deeplinking is becoming a priority and not just a feature.URX blog

This week marks the beginning of a journey I’m taking to understand “deep linking” in mobile. I’ve kept one eye on the space for some time, but it’s clearly heating up. Last Spring three major mobile players – Facebook, Google, and Apple – all announced significant developments in deep linking. Twitter has also fortified its deep linking capabilities of late, as has Yahoo.

Most of these major players are supporting deep linking for commercial reasons – their business is driven by advertising, and a huge cut of mobile advertising revenues are in turn driven by app installs. Marketers want to be able to link directly to specific places inside their apps, so they can drive qualified leads to convert (and measure effectiveness/optimize campaigns). To be clear, these are the ads that show up inside apps on your mobile phone encouraging you to download a free game or service. These install ads make up a huge percentage of mobile advertising revenue, though it’s hard to find hard figures for exactly what percentage. Current estimates range between 30 and 50% - either way, that makes them the largest category of mobile advertising, period.

This all reminds me of how search played out on the desktop Web – search was a huge percentage of overall “online advertising” revenues in the early days, but it took a while before analysts started breaking search out as a category independent of “online advertising.” Twenty years into search, that category still represents more than 40% of all online ad revenues. So yep, I’m watching deep linking, because I think there’s a big there there.

But there’s a funny hitch to the evolution of linking inside our mobile ecosystem. On the Web, the link is pretty much the atomic unit of value – from the get go, *anyone* could create a link from one web page to another. The web was built on links, and in the early days those links were built, for the most part, by *users* of the web – people like you and me. We built link-heavy websites, we blogged and linked profusely, we emailed links around, and in doing so we connected static web pages one to another, all in the name of navigation, discovery, and ease of use. It was only later, as search rose to prominence and people started to realize the commercial value of links, that the SEO industry became a commercial monster. In short, linking behavior predated commercial exploitation.

But in the mobile web, commercial exploitation is driving linking behavior, and I find that fascinating. Certainly there’s any number of reasons for this, from Apple’s early iOS design decisions to the fact that apps are, for the most part, personalized experiences that are not driven by the early web’s model of static pages meant for consumption by any and all comers. Regardless, I’ve got a hunch about deep linking - I’m hoping it’s the seedbed for a major shift in how we experience mobile computing. For now, mobile deep linking is the purview of developers and savvy mobile marketers. But I think in time this may change. I wrote a bit about that hunch here:

…while developer-driven deep links are great, the next step in mobile won’t really take off until average folks like you and I can easily create and share our own links within apps. Once the “consumers” start creating links, mobile will finally break out of this ridiculous pre-web phase it’s been stuck in for the past seven or so years, and we’ll see a mobile web worthy of its potential.

I imagine a time when applications encourage their users to share links from inside apps, and everyone finds that sharing behavior will create a positive feedback loop similar to the one that drove the rise of the original Web. From there, any number of innovations will arise, speculating on what those might be is worthy of several future posts.

For now, I’ve come across a crop of startups focusing on deep linking as well various industry efforts in the field (I have Semil Shah and Roy Bahat, among others, to thank for my early lessons in the space). In the coming weeks, I’m meeting with many of them, including URX, Kahuna, DeeplinkAppboy and several stealth startups, and of course larger players like Twitter. As I get smart, and if I find interesting stuff, I’ll report back here. In the meantime, if you’ve got any suggestions for me, please leave them in comments or ping me on Twitter. Thanks!

The post Why I’m Watching Deep Linking In Mobile appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

August 19th 2014 Android, apple, Facebook, Google

Offline Android Games

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Google Play Store has a collection of games that work offline. It’s a hand-picked list of free and paid games like Despicable Me, Asphalt 8, Dots, Minecraft, Riptide GP, Temple Run 2 and more.

“Whether you’re in airplane mode or stuck with zero bars, all these games require is your thumb. Now you can play your heart out from anywhere with our selection of off-line games,” says Google.

Maybe Google should allow users to create their own collections they could share with other people. A Google search reveals a lot of Google Play collections: Get Things Done, Essential Games, Abstract Puzzlers, MMORPGs, Hidden Gems, Mood Boosters, Picture Taking, For The Power User and more. There are also music collections, movie collections, books collections, Newsstand collections.

August 3rd 2014 Android

How Many Android Apps You’ve Installed?

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You can find a list of all the Android apps you’ve ever installed from the Play Store using your current Google account in both the Google Play Store app (My Apps > All) and the Play Store site. For some reason, the site doesn’t use pagination and doesn’t load content as you scroll, so you need to wait until Google displays a long list of apps.

Google doesn’t offer a way to filter the list of apps you’ve installed or downloaded, but you can use your browser’s find-in-page feature (Ctrl+F or Cmd+F for Mac). The list is sorted alphabetically in the Play Store site, while the Play Store app displays recently installed apps first.

Google Play doesn’t even show the number of Play Store apps you’ve installed on your Android devices over the years. If you’re curious to find the actual number, go to Google Dashboard and scroll to Play Store.

The Play Store app lets you remove apps from the list, but the Dashboard number is still accurate.

August 3rd 2014 Android

Google Audio History

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A recent update to the Google Search app for Android added enhanced support for the “OK Google” hotword. If you go to the settings, tap “Voice”, then “OK Google Detection”, you can enable “from any screen” and “from lock screen”. This way, you can say “OK Google” to start a voice search or action when the screen is on or the device is charging and even from the lock screen. Right now, this feature is limited to English/US and requires Android KitKat.

When you enable these features, Google asks you to say “OK Google” 3 times to train the speech recognition software and it also enables Audio History. “When you use voice activation commands such as ‘OK Google’ or touching a microphone icon, a recording of the next thing you say, plus a few seconds before, may be used and stored by Google and associated with your Google Account to help recognize your voice and improve speech recognition.”

Your recordings are available online at the Google Audio History page. “Only you can see your history. Some items may take up to an hour to display,” informs Google. You can delete the recordings, play them or click the Google search links. Click the “gear” drop-down menu, click “delete” and you can pick from “past hour”, “past day”, “past week”, “last 4 weeks”, “the beginning of time” (the same options that are used by Chrome’s “clear browsing data” feature).

You can disable Google Audio History from the Android app’s settings, but this also disables “OK Google” detection from any screen or from the lock screen. “When Audio History is off, voice searches will be stored using anonymous identifiers and won’t be saved to your Audio History, even if you’re signed in to your Google Account,” informs Google.

“Google uses your Audio History to: learn the sound of your voice, learn how you pronounce words and phrases, recognize when you say ‘Ok Google’ and improve speech recognition across Google products that use your voice.”

The new Audio History feature seems to replace Personalized Voice Recognition, an opt-in setting added back in 2010. “If you opt into personalized recognition, we begin to associate the recordings of the words that you ask us to recognize with your Google account. We then automatically use these words to build a speech model specifically for you. This speech model enables us to deliver greater recognition accuracy,” explained Google back then.

While it makes sense for Google to improve the voice search history and build personalized voice models, I can’t find any connection between the improved “OK Google” detection, which works offline, and the Audio History online service. It’s probably an artificial requirement, just like the Google Now feature, which requires enabling location services in iOS, but not when using Android.

July 11th 2014 Android

Connected TV Market Crosses 1B Devices As Google Pins Its Hopes On Android TV

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atv-framed A new report from Strategy Analytics puts the global market for connected TV devices at over 1 billion currently installed units, which include smart TVs, set-top boxes like the Apple TV, game consoles, connected Blu-ray players and more. The market is predicted to double in size between now and 2018, reaching the 2 billion mark, with smart TVs carrying embedded platforms as the main segment… Read More

July 10th 2014 Android, Google

Chromecast Adds Support for Android Screen Mirroring

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As previously announced at Google I/O, Chromecast is about to become a lot more functional. The latest version of the Chromecast app for Android (that’s version 1.7) adds support for screen mirroring. The feature is still in beta and it’s limited to a few high-end Android phones and tablets running Android KitKat 4.4.1+: Nexus 4, 5, 7 (second generation only) and 10, Samsung Galaxy S4 and S5, Note 3 and 10, HTC One M7, LG G2, G3 and G Pro 2. Google promises to add more devices to the list.

“To start mirroring, simply select ‘Cast Screen’ from the navigation drawer in the Chromecast app and select your Chromecast device. On Nexus devices, this feature is also available through the quick settings menu,” explains Google.

Hopefully, Android L will add native support for screen mirroring, so you’ll no longer have to use the Chromecast app.

This screenshot shows screen casting in action. Obviously, the entire screen is mirrored, including the on-screen navigation buttons, if your device has them.

July 10th 2014 Android

Facebook Tests Android L-Style Lock Screen Notifications

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fb-notifications A new update for the test group of Facebook for Android users briefly enabled lockscreen notifications, at least for new message activity, before a later update today seems to have disabled the feature. The notifications looked very similar to the lock screen notifications Google showed off at I/O this year, one of the new upcoming features of Android L, the next major update for… Read More

July 9th 2014 Android, Facebook, Mobile