Sharing what’s up our sleeve: Android coming to wearables

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Most of us are rarely without our smartphones in hand. These powerful supercomputers keep us connected to the world and the people we love. But we’re only at the beginning; we’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s possible with mobile technology. That’s why we’re so excited about wearables—they understand the context of the world around you, and you can interact with them simply and efficiently, with just a glance or a spoken word.

Android Wear: Information that moves with you 
Today we’re announcing Android Wear, a project that extends Android to wearables. And we’re starting with the most familiar wearable—watches. Going well beyond the mere act of just telling you the time, a range of new devices along with an expansive catalogue of apps will give you:

  • Useful information when you need it most. Android Wear shows you info and suggestions you need, right when you need them. The wide variety of Android applications means you’ll receive the latest posts and updates from your favorite social apps, chats from your preferred messaging apps, notifications from shopping, news and photography apps, and more. 
  • Straight answers to spoken questions. Just say “Ok Google” to ask questions, like how many calories are in an avocado, what time your flight leaves, and the score of the game. Or say “Ok Google” to get stuff done, like calling a taxi, sending a text, making a restaurant reservation or setting an alarm. 
  • The ability to better monitor your health and fitness. Hit your exercise goals with reminders and fitness summaries from Android Wear. Your favorite fitness apps can give you real-time speed, distance and time information on your wrist for your run, cycle or walk. 
  • Your key to a multiscreen world. Android Wear lets you access and control other devices from your wrist. Just say “Ok Google” to fire up a music playlist on your phone, or cast your favorite movie to your TV. There’s a lot of possibilities here so we’re eager to see what developers build. 

Developer Preview 
If you’re a developer, there’s a new section on developer.android.com/wear focused on wearables. Starting today, you can download a Developer Preview so you can tailor your existing app notifications for watches powered by Android Wear. Because Android for wearables works with Android’s rich notification system, many apps will already work well. Look out for more developer resources and APIs coming soon. We’re also already working with several consumer electronics manufacturers, including Asus, HTC, LG, Motorola and Samsung; chip makers Broadcom, Imagination, Intel, Mediatek and Qualcomm; and fashion brands like the Fossil Group to bring you watches powered by Android Wear later this year.

We’re always seeking new ways for technology to help people live their lives and this is just another step in that journey. Here’s to getting the most out of the many screens you use every day—whether in your car, in your pocket or, very soon, on your wrist.

March 19th 2014 Android

QuizUp Tops 1 Million Downloads on Android, Too

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QuizUp has more than one million Android signups since being made available on the mobile operating system on March 6, according to the count on Google’s Play store. The trivia app, made by Plain Vanilla Games, had already been among the fastest growing iOS games before displaying similar success with Android.

Released on iPhones in November, QuizUp quickly amassed one million users on its way to more than 10 million. The Iceland-based company is amassing a loyal following that's interested in trivia across more than 400 topics.

Thor Fridriksson, QuizUp CEO, has told Adweek that the average user spends about 30 minutes a day in trivia challenges. The app also lets users discuss topics on bulletin boards and message each other individually.

Additionally, the games provider has indicated an interest in offering branded quizzes. Big brands can already be found in the game—although they are not paid placements—with categories based on Disney and Harry Potter.

There is a quiz called Beer Logos, yet another area in which trivia clearly blends with brands. Perhaps Budweiser will pay QuizUp in order to hijack appearances by Coors (or vice-versa).

At any rate, the potential for ad dollars is there.

Meanwhile, in December, Plain Vanilla raised $22 million in a fundraising round led by Sequoia Capital.


    





March 18th 2014 Android, apple, Google, Mobile, Technology

What Fast-Growing Trivia App Didn’t Have an Android Version Until Today?

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QuizUp, the mobile trivia game, launched on Android today after becoming a fast hit on the iPhone last year. The Iceland-based Plain Vanilla Games also launched QuizUp on the iPad last month, and CEO Thor Fridriksson said that he has been bombarded with potential users asking for the Android version.

QuizUp reached one million users in eight days after its iPhone release in November—one of the fastest growing iPhone apps of all time—and now has more than 10 million users. Its popularity was mostly due to word of mouth, but the marketing team at Fiksu also helped to get the word out. 

Fiksu said its marketing was responsible for an average of $1 spent for every iOS user acquired, which was below the average cost per install in the mobile gaming industry.

QuizUp is focused on growing its user base with the Android launch, but Fridriksson said it is also working on native ads that mix its quizzes with marketing and brands.

“We are in heavy talks with lots of very interesting partners when it comes to native advertising,” Fridriksson said.

In December, QuizUp raised $22 million in a fundraising round led by Sequoia Capital.

“Still looming is how are we going to monetize and that’s a question for lot of social apps like Snapchat,” Fridriksson said. “We have really exciting chance to work on doing monetization that actually gives value to the users and we want to do that correctly.”

Fridriksson has envisioned sponsored quizzes for brands on related topics, like car trivia for automakers and film trivia for movies. Movies and shows already are popular quiz themes.

QuizUp’s team is scheduled to be among the startups attending SXSW.


    





March 7th 2014 Android, Mobile, Technology

What Would You Ask Sundar Pichai, SVP Android & Chrome at Google?

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The post What Would You Ask Sundar Pichai, SVP Android & Chrome at Google? appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

sundar_pichaiA week from this coming Sunday at SXSW, I’ll be interviewing Sundar Pichai, Google’s Senior Vice President, Android, Chrome & Apps. Pichai has a huge job at Google, overseeing the company’s mobile ecosystem, from hardware (the Nexus platform) to the burgeoning Play store (oh, and that little browser/OS called Chrome, to boot). Last year, he took over Android from its founder Andy Rubin, who has moved his focus to new (and currently undisclosed) Google moonshots. Android is a huge business for Google – more than a billion devices have been activated since its inception. And that’s well before markets for autos, wearables, and enterprise heat up.

The interview is in classic SXSW keynote form – just us on stage, with a room of 1,000 or so attendees from the festival’s interactive track. On a prep call last week, Sundar mentioned he’d be up for hearing from readers here and on various social networks, so I’m issuing a call: What questions do you have for the man in charge of Google’s mobile future? A few that come to mind:

- What is Android’s role beyond phones & tablets? Pichai has said Android is moving into areas such as the enterprise, wearables, and automobiles. How might that play out? Will Nest become an Android device? Will you have to join Google+ to manage your thermostat?!

- I’ve called Google Now “The tip of a very long spear.” Is that a fair characterization?

- Much has been written about fragmentation in the Android ecosystem-is this a problem? Is Android truly “open”?

- The relationship between Google and Samsung seems strained – how is it going?

- What is the future of the Nexus effort – is Google committed to being a hardware player, or is the Nexus line mainly a way to show off how best to create devices? Related – what happened with Motorola? Was that a mistake, or part of a master plan?

- How do Chromebooks and the Chrome OS fit into Google’s future? How do we think about Chrome as separate from Android?

-  Chromecast, Google Fiber, Play, YouTube: All seem positioned to combat the Comcasts of the world. What’s Google’s POV on cord cutting and the cablecos?
Might Google up and buy sports rights?

What questions do you have for Pichai? Leave a comment here, or tweet them to me @johnbattelle. Hope to see you at SXSW!

The post What Would You Ask Sundar Pichai, SVP Android & Chrome at Google? appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

February 25th 2014 Android, Google

How Google’s $7B Loss On Motorola Is A Success (Or Not)

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Google spent $12.5 billion for Motorola, sold it off in pieces that returned $5.1 billion, and yet some analysts are claiming that it was a deal well struck.

On its face, Google’s purchase of Motorola Mobility, a deal that closed in 2012, was a failure. It seemed like an overpriced play to buy the old electronics company’s cellular patents. Google surprisingly kept the handset division and it tried to build its own smartphones—that didn’t work well.

Now, Google has a deal to sell Motorola’s smarthphone making division for $2.9 billion to Lenovo. It already got $2.2 billion for Motorola’s cable box making business. That adds up to $5.1 billion, and in one Wall Street breakdown of Google’s Motorola adventure it adds up to a win, despite a seeming $7 billion loss.

“Make no mistake, Google’s Motorola buy was a success,” analysts from SunTrust Robinson Humphrey said, in a report.

In a breakdown of the value of Motorola’s components, the analysts said the handset division was worth $1.9 billion when Google bought it, and Lenovo is paying $2.9 billion.

So, Google comes out ahead in that alone.

Then add $2.45 billion Google keeps in patents, the cash Motorola came with and a favorable tax position, and Google winds up making $780 million from the deal struck yesterday.

Of course, these valuations are just estimates—for instance, the patents are said to be worth $100,000 a piece—and the calculations don’t take into account the drag Motorola has been on Google the past two year, sucking resources from smartphone development and marketing. The one Google phone to be made from the ill-fated union, the Moto X, was a failure—on top of the other doomed phones that Motorola launched under Google’s umbrella.

However, Wall Street is such an optimistic bunch, that it forgives money that’s squandered in the past, when a company makes a move to preserve cash today, as analyst Colin Gillis of BGC Partners said.

“Investors tend to be forward looking—so cash wasted in the past is less of an issue than cash wasted in the future,” he said.

So there may be some disagreement about just how well or poorly Google faired with Motorola.

The hardware company lost $800 million a year, a mark on Google’s super profitable business record. That drain is expected to still weigh on Google when it releases earnings later today. Still, the retreat from hardware has sent some mixed messages.

Gillis pointed out that Google just paid a premium—$3.2 billion—for Nest Labs, a smart thermostat maker. That price is 10 times Nest’s yearly revenue estimates.

Google didn’t need to be the hardware maker, it was an attempt to follow Apple’s model of building the devices, developing the software and selling the services. Now, Google’s other hardware partners—Samsung, HTC and the rest—don’t fear it as a hardware rival, which had raised concerns at the time of the Motorola sale.

“The positioning also seems difficult to understand, where it’s desirable to be in the thermostat business but not smartphones,” Gillis wrote in a note to clients today.

He characterized Motorola as “big bet gone wrong” for a Google known for costly moonshots.

SunTrust analysts noted that Lenovo, the No. 1 PC maker, has the opportunity to compete in smartphones as well, and could expand Google’s Android presence even further.

“The combination of Lenovo and Motorola creates a clear No. 2” in the Android ecosystem, SunTrust said.

Google’s ultimate goal with Motorola was always to create a viable Android player so one company like Samsung didn’t dominate its mobile software.
 


    





January 31st 2014 Android, Google, Mobile, Technology

Google Sells Motorola to Lenovo

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Google’s decision to sell Motorola Mobility to Lenovo for $2.91 billion is even more surprising than Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion in 2011.

“Lenovo will now acquire world-renowned Motorola Mobility, including the MOTOROLA brand and Motorola Mobility’s portfolio of innovative smartphones like the Moto X and Moto G and the DROID™ Ultra series. In addition to current products, Lenovo will take ownership of the future Motorola Mobility product roadmap. Google will maintain ownership of the vast majority of the Motorola Mobility patent portfolio, including current patent applications and invention disclosures.”

Motorola’s patents weren’t that valuable, Google didn’t manage to make Motorola profitable, it started to compete with the other Android OEMs and sold Motorola at a loss. Still, why not try harder to make Motorola shine once again? Why admit defeat and show that your strategy was wrong?

I think the answer can be found in Google’s licensing agreement with Samsung:

“Samsung Electronics and Google Inc. furthered their long-term cooperative partnership with a global patent cross-license agreement covering a broad range of technologies and business areas. The mutually beneficial agreement covers the two companies existing patents as well as those filed over the next 10 years.”

Samsung is the biggest Android OEM and a switch from Android to Tizen would be a very bad news for Google. If Samsung used its dominant position and asked Google to get rid of Motorola, Google didn’t have other options.

Motorola is a lost bet, Google showed that the health of the Android ecosystem is more important than owning Motorola.

“Lenovo has the expertise and track record to scale Motorola Mobility into a major player within the Android ecosystem. This move will enable Google to devote our energy to driving innovation across the Android ecosystem, for the benefit of smartphone users everywhere. As a side note, this does not signal a larger shift for our other hardware efforts. The dynamics and maturity of the wearable and home markets, for example, are very different from that of the mobile industry. We’re excited by the opportunities to build amazing new products for users within these emerging ecosystems,” said Larry Page, Google’s CEO.

Apparently, Motorola’s Advanced Technology Group will continue to work at Google. “That means the Ara modular smartphone concept, as well as sensors you swallow and passwords you tattoo on your skin. The Advanced Tech team is headed by one-time Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency director Regina Dugan, and has been behind some of the more sci-fi things that Google has demonstrated since acquiring Moto’s mobile biz.”

{ Thanks, Jérôme and Tolis . }

January 30th 2014 Android

Bing Rewards is Going Mobile

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Bing Rewards was designed to help you discover ways Bing can help you do the things that are most important to you. It allows us to recognize and appreciate our most consistent, loyal users with additional perks as a way of saying thanks for choosing Bing. You can earn credits by searching every day and then redeem them for great rewards including gift cards from top brands such as Amazon.com, Xbox, Skype, Fandango, and Dominos or donate your credits to a local school or charity of your choice.

Today we are taking our very first step to let you search and earn on the go. Available on iOS and Android devices starting today and coming soon to Windows Phone devices, we are rolling out the ability to search and earn and take advantage of offers right from your phone. Over the next several months we’ll be extending nearly all of the Bing Rewards features our members love on the PC to these mobile experiences.

How does it work?

Signing into Bing Rewards on your mobile phone using your Microsoft or Facebook account takes you to a new mobile optimized dashboard that has offers customized just for you. In addition to many of the offers you would find on your PC, there is a new exclusive mobile-only search offer that gives you an opportunity to earn additional credits on your phone.

Tracking your credits is simple on your phone: just go to your Bing Rewards dashboard or check out your credit balance at the bottom of every Bing search results page. Now whether you’re searching with Bing on a PC, tablet, or phone, it’s easy for you to get rewards.  

Redeeming

Next we’ll be adding the ability to redeem your credit balance in the mobile version of the redemption center so you can redeem and easily use digital gift cards and coupons when you’re on the go. For now when you’re ready, go to the Bing Rewards redemption center on your PC to redeem credits for a selection of gift cards, donations, and sweepstakes entries.

This is just the first step and you can expect additional updates in the coming months. To learn more, click here.

- Alex Danskin, Senior Marketing Manager, Bing Rewards

January 30th 2014 Android, Mobile

Google Works on a Fitness API for Android

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Wearables are now the next big thing. A lot of companies develop smart watches, smart glasses and head-up displays, smart headphones, smart clothes. They all include low-power sensors that can obtain information about your health, your activities, the things you see.

Android 4.4 supports some new sensors for detecting and counting steps. These sensors are implemented in hardware and are only available on Nexus 5.

Google now works on a Fitness API for Android which will allow applications to view and edit fitness data. They can “view and edit your fitness tracking, health and activities data, including reading and writing raw and transformed data”. This might allow Google to store data obtained from multiple sources to your Google account so that other applications can process it, show charts and other useful information.

It’s not clear if this new API will be available in the next Android release or in Google Play Services.

{ Thanks, Florian. }

January 17th 2014 Android

Gift Guide: Our Favorite Android Phone

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nexus5-test

Chris and I spent a good chunk of our last Droidcast discussing some Android-centric holiday picks, but we felt that one of those choices could use a bit more fleshing out. That said, we took a moment to stop bickering and share some thoughts on Google and LG’s Nexus 5, a device that wound up being our favorite Android phone of the holiday season.


The TL;DR

Price:
16GB $349
32GB $399

Important Specs:
+ 4.95-inch, 1080p IPS display
+ Quad-core Qualcomm 800 chipset @ 2.26GHz
+ 2GB RAM
+ 2,300 mAh battery
+ Ships with Android 4.4 KitKat
+ 8MP rear camera, 1.3MP front-facing camera

Darrell: Google’s new Nexus 5 phone, made by LG, is a little more understated in design than the Nexus 4 that preceded it. But it has design harmony with the Nexus 7 tablet, and its outer shell is more function than flash, with a matte rubberized case back that won’t slip and slide all over the place like the Nexus 4 was prone to do.

Chris: Unlike the Nexus 4 — which was ostentatious in its own little ways — Google and LG apparently strove to dial back the design of its smartphone hardware to the point where there’s honestly not that much to talk about. It’s solid and monolithic. It looks like a pint-sized Nexus 7 from behind. If you’ve got a black N5 there’s a chance your volume rocker will wobble in some mildly annoying ways. The speaker (yes, singular) is, sadly, pretty pitiful and the software didn’t help matters earlier on there. Google has started pushing tweaked versions of the phone through the pipeline that have enlarged grille holes for the mic and speaker though, so last-minute Christmas shoppers should benefit from some mild (if necessary) design tweaks. And the subtler design of the Nexus 5 has another added benefit – showcasing that gorgeous full HD 4.95-inch display.

Darrell: The display is one of the Nexus 5′s strongest features and the one that’s been complimented most often by strangers and friends who’ve asked me about the phone. LG continues to produce a display that’s far superior in terms of color rendering and accuracy than most of the other ones provided by Android smartphone OEMs, including the very capable HTC One. It’s impossible to discern individual pixels on the screen, too, thanks to very high PPI, and auto-brightness for the screen works somewhat better than it does on most previous Android phones, although I still find this is an area where Apple has managed to far outstrip its Google-powered rivals.

Chris: But all of these physical accoutrements only tell part of the story. Some will call the look “boring” without raising anyone’s hackles, but the better word is “unobtrusive”. Nexus 5 isn’t so much a star in its own right as it is a window that looks out over Android 4.4 KitKat and the updates that have already been issued to further polish the experience.

nexus5

Darrell: What’s really impressive about the Nexus 5 is that it begins to approach the point where you don’t think about Android software anymore, thanks in large part to KitKat, version 4.4 of Google’s mobile OS. KitKat doesn’t change how Android works very dramatically, but the changes it does bring make using it feel a lot more intuitive. Swiping left to access Google Now, for instance, is a much more natural and easily discoverable action for users new to Android than swiping up from the home screen button, which isn’t even a physical button to begin with.

kitkat-screens

Other small tweaks like the integration of Google’s search database information to populate caller ID information about incoming calls are similarly amazing, if minor additions. In the short time I’ve been using my Nexus 5, I’ve had a surprising number of opportunities to make use of this aspect of KitKat, and it’s made it much, much easier to do the kind of required call screening that you benefit from if you’re working as a tech reporter. Once Google flips the switch on the Google+ integration to identify incoming callers based on the phone numbers they make public on their profiles, this will get a lot more useful, too.

Chris: It’s also worth noting that Google has talked up some neat features that will add to the overall KitKat experience. Perhaps the biggest? The search giant will soon start rolling out mobile search results that deep-link into the contents of your apps – that could make for both richer search results and a push for better quality Android apps because of the potential for exposure.

For better or worse though, it’s often the Nexus 5 launcher Darrell spoke of that causes the device to stand out from the crowd — even if your, say, Moto X gets the KitKat treatment, the experience will be obscured a smidge by the lack of that launcher. Is that going to be a dealbreaker for people? Hardly, but it’s a fine reminder of the importance Google puts on its Nexus-class devices.

Darrell: People have complained about the Nexus 5′s battery life, but I did not find it to be offensive. Did it impress me? No. Battery life on the Nexus 5 is simply adequate — it can usually get me through a work day — and shouldn’t really be a huge factor in your buying decision unless you’re seeking something that really packs an unusually outsized amount of usage time between charges. The one really disappointing thing on the Nexus 5 is camera quality: it’s an improvement over the terrible camera in the Nexus 4, but not a significant one. Nexus devices are so far behind on IQ that any of Apple’s iPad tablets can produce superior pics. Also, the software interface for actually using the camera is no good, and KitKat has done nothing to change that.

Chris: Whoa there, friend. I’m just about right there with you on the Nexus 5′s camera: despite the inclusion of and Google’s own crowing about camera quality, I’ve found the photo quality is nothing to right home about. It’s far from lousy, but it’s readily outclassed by some of the competition. And to be quite honest, I’m ready for these smartphone players to start pushing boundaries that really matter. I’d argue there’s an upper limit to how big a screen can get before it finally tiptoes over the line of ridiculousness (the Nexus 5 thankfully avoids that line just fine). And cameras, useful though they may be, are purely supplementary to the smartphone experience.

But batteries? That simply has to be the next big frontier. Motorola’s the most prominent company looking to push the battery boundary, but if Google is going to use the Nexus line as a sort of ideal for what Android devices can be, pumping up longevity could be a great signpost for the rest of the industry.

Darrell: This Nexus is a smartphone that impresses at first use, but that actually grows on you with time. It’s already surpassed the HTC One as my favorite Android device, and its design, while at first seeming somewhat forgettable, has become really appealing with continued use.

Chris: At first I was tempted to call this “the best Nexus phone yet” before I slapped that repugnant urge out of myself. Of course it’s the best Nexus phone. But is it worth your money? My answer is an big yes — it’s not perfect, but it’s great out of the box and Google and LG have shown that they’re committed to making the entire package better as needed.

You can check out our complete Holiday Gift Guide 2013 right here.

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December 23rd 2013 Android

Android and Google’s Shifting Priorities

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I’ve been reading Fred Vogelstein’s book “Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution” (Amazon, Google Play) and realized that Android wasn’t that important for Google until 2009-2010, when Motorola Droid and Nexus One were launched. It was an operating system designed to compete with Microsoft’s Windows Mobile that ended up competing with Apple’s iOS. Back in 2007 and 2008, Google’s partnership with Apple was more important than Android, a project that was understaffed. Android only became important when Google realized that Apple’s dominance in the mobile space could spell trouble for Google.

Here are some quotes:

1. “Gundotra was putting the Android team on the spot. “I said, ‘Convince me that this [Android] is something we [Google] should believe in,’ and I know they had never had anyone ask those questions, and it was tough for them. ‘Who are you to ask these questions again?’ they wondered.” A former senior member of the Android team echoed this feeling: “In the early days, Google Mobile [the team working with Apple on the iPhone] hated us. I mean, they thought we were the biggest pain in the ass in the world. I know Vic Gundotra [who now runs Google's competitor to Facebook, Google Plus] has come around and been a great advocate of Android, but he really hated it at first. He thought [Android] would be a distraction that would upset his relationship with Steve Jobs. There was a lot of butting of heads and arguments internally about strategy and things like that.”

2. “The Jobs meeting was particularly difficult for Rubin, friends say. He was indeed as furious as Jobs described, and he almost quit Google over it. He understood what his bosses were saying intellectually. But Jobs had bullied him in front of his bosses, and they hadn’t backed him up. For a while thereafter he had a sign on his office whiteboard that read STEVE JOBS STOLE MY LUNCH MONEY.”

3. “Schmidt says today that not only had he and Jobs talked about Android, he’d made it clear to Jobs that in terms of Google priorities, iPhone came first. ‘I think maybe Andy [Rubin] understood the importance of Android back then, but certainly the rest of Google did not. We were busy doing other things,’ Schmidt said to me in 2011.”

4. Eric Schmidt in 2011: “Larry and Sergey and I understood the strategic value of Android, but none of us I think foresaw how strategic it would become. Every once in a while a perfect storm occurs. Your competitors make some mistakes. You end up with the right product at the right time. There are really no other good choices of products. It all sort of happens in a moment. That’s what happened with Android.”

December 23rd 2013 Android, Mobile