It should be clear by now that there's much more at play in Android 4.4 KitKat than some early reports alluded to, and one of the more interesting (to me, anyway) tidbits managed to escape the early leak treatment.
Tucked away toward the tail-end of Google's Nexus 5/KitKat presentation was a mention of a feature called App Indexing that should get companies (and the Android app developers that work for them) a little worked up. That's because Google has developed a way to deep-link to the contents of an app from within a user's Google search results with a feature it calls App Indexing.
Here's how it works. Say you're using the Google Search app to dig up some dirt on that Ender's Game movie that doesn't look very good. If you happen to have the IMDb app installed on your device while you search, you'll be treated to an info card in that results stream that includes an “Open in app” button. Give it a quick tap and the IMDb app will spring to life and immediately direct you to its Ender's Game listing.
Naturally, the feature isn't just limited to showing off movie details - so far the full list of supporters includes Allthecooks, AllTrails, Beautylish, Etsy, Expedia, Flixster, Healthtap, IMDb, Moviefone, Newegg (yes!), OpenTable, and Trulia.
The way Google sees it, the move is all about providing these companies with a choice. If they think their mobile interfaces are enough to keep users engaged, they can simple go about their business. But if they already have an Android app (or are in the process of building one) that can do a better job of engaging with its users, a little extra work to implement those deep links may be well worth it.
It's not hard to look at this as a move to bolster Android app development, either. There's little doubting that Android is a global force - which may be only compounded by the fact that Android 4.4 KitKat may drive device sales in developing markets by bringing a more advanced feature set to cheap hardware - and in many cases the Google Search app is going along for the ride. That means that with any luck, huge swaths of the global Android community will be searching for stuff using the Google search app and seeing those deep-linked “Open in app” buttons when they've got the right apps installed. Tell me that's not a compelling reason for a company to develop an Android app if they haven't already.
Despite the buy-in from all those app partners, it'll be some time before users like me will actually start getting those results in the wild. Google is testing the feature with those previously listed partners, but the updated cards that will display that information won't actually roll out until some time in November.
A few days ago, a set of leaked images pointed to some pretty drastic changes to the Google Hangouts Android app, the biggest of which was that users would be able to send SMS messages without having to switch into another messaging application. Well, Vic Gundotra trotted onstage at a Google+ event in San Francisco (after a power outage caused a half hour stream delay, no less) today to confirm exactly that.
The Hangouts Android app will be indeed able to fire off bog-standard text messages, as well as share a user's location and send/display animated GIFs like this one when the update rolls out in a few days.
If you'll recall, the iOS version of the Hangouts app got at least one of these tweaks ahead of the Android version (which was a surprising and refreshing change of pace) - as of about two weeks ago, iOS Hangouts users could send and receive animated GIFs, and got the ability to make Google Voice calls over a data network as an added bonus. (I should note that last bit is a bummer, but it's a story for another time).
But really, it's that SMS support bit that seems the most intriguing if only because we're starting to see some peculiar movement in the messaging space by players that have sought to own it. Take Facebook for instance. Earlier today it pulled back the curtain on a revamped Messenger app for Android, and the once-present support for sending SMS messages from certain Android devices is officially gone. To hear Facebook tell it, the feature was the victim of poor traction so it got axed. Fair enough - there are more than enough mobile messaging apps out there to fill the chat void for certain users, and Facebook Messenger is poised to reach plenty of them.
So two companies, two drastically different approaches to SMS. Though both aim to connect as many of their users as possible, Google's approach is one that needs to be as fundamentally inclusive to Android users as possible. I don't see Google axing SMS support even if it's as much of a drag as Facebook's attempt was.
Now that's not to say that Google is necessarily dead set on owning the messaging experience on Android; that would run counter to the openness of Android itself, and it's already been confirmed that users can set other SMS apps as the default in Android 4.4 KitKat. But there's little question that Hangouts is much more attractive now than it was just a few hours ago.
This curious little addition has also revived questions about the future of some of Google's other apps. Hangouts on Android is itself a fairly robust messaging application, and more than a few people have wondered whether or not it's ultimately going to replace the occasionally iffy Google Voice app as a sort of centralized communications hub. At least, I'm hoping that's ultimately where Google is taking things.
Either way, SMS support in Hangouts could also serve as a shot across Apple's bow - the folks at Cupertino often tout iMessage's cross-device capabilities, but in practice the service doesn't always work as well as it should.
Hey Google Glass Explorers, Google thinks you're keen. Really, they do.
So much so in fact that the company has been quietly working on an updated version of the Glass hardware, and those of you who shelled out $1,500 to be among the first to support the project will be able to swap your existing units for the second revision for free.
Of course, Google Glass is still a ways off from its general launch date - expect it to land some time in 2014 on some sort of Google barge - so naturally Google is gearing up to expand its pool of
guinea pigs Explorers. To that end, existing Explorers will have 14 days to choose three acquaintances who are worthy of paying $1,500 for Google Glass.
But let's back up for a moment. What exactly makes this new iteration so special? So far it seems like a pretty incremental upgrade - unless you're like me and wear honest-to-goodness specs everyday. Google's Glass team has confirmed on (where else?) its Google+ page that this version will be able to be fitted with “future lines” of prescription lenses. It's also going to pack a mono earbud, presumably because the existing bone conducting speaker system isn't exactly the loudest thing you'll ever hear.
With any luck, Google will have tweaked the internals a bit too, as the existing loadout is getting pretty long in the tooth. In case you've forgotten, it sports a TI OMAP4430 chipset and 1GB of RAM, which essentially means that in an age of incredibly high-powered components in smartphones, current Glass owners are walking around with the equivalent of a Galaxy Nexus on their heads.
And in case you were curious, here's a copy of the email Google is sending out to eligible Explorers, just so you know what to look out for:
Being part of the Glass Explorer program is pretty insane (good insane): let's face it, using cutting edge technology that changes every month requires a certain sense of adventure. We're looking for more Explorers like you to be part of the program, so we've opened up a few more spots and this time, you decide who gets in. We want you to invite three people to join the Explorer Program, people who you believe would make great Glass Explorers.
You have 14 days to invite 3 of the best potential Explorers you know to buy Glass.
Just a reminder that all Glass Explorers must:
- be a US resident
- be 18 years or older
- purchase Glass
- provide a U.S. based shipping address OR pick up the device in New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles
We've said it before and we'll say it again: thank you for all your feedback and support. It's because of you that Glass has come this far, and we're truly grateful.
There really isn't much we don't know about Google and LG's new Nexus 5 at this point - a leaked service manual blew the door open on plenty of technical details, and Google even “accidentally” outed the device in the Google Play Store, giving us a $349 price tag for the base 16GB model.
Now, thanks to the one and only @evleaks, we've gotten yet another glimpse of the forthcoming phone in some decidedly different livery. Rather than the bog-standard matte black finish we've seen on and off for the past few months, this newly leaked image shows off a white version of the device ahead of its official launch… whenever that may be.
In case you haven't been keeping up with the Nexus 5′s long journey from rumor to actual product, the Android 4.4 KitKat device is said to sport a 4.95-inch display running at 1080p and a quad-core Snapdragon 800 chipset clocked at 2.3GHz. Oh, and let's not forget 2GB of RAM, an active LTE radio, and a mildly improved 2300mAh battery - all told we're looking at a pretty solid update.
Arguably more important than that new chromatic choice is the latest in a long line of purported release dates for the Nexus 5 - this time it looks like November 1 is the day to circle on your calendars. For a while there it looked like we would get our first official glimpse at the Nexus 5 on October 15, a day that came and went with nary a peep from Google. Then there came word of a small Google Play event slated for the evening of the 24th in New York City, which ultimately turned out to be little more than a meet-and-greet for certain members of the press.
Couple that with a separate report from the folks at MobileSyrup forecasting a launch on October 31 and it's starting to seem very likely that the Nexus 5 will make its grand debut at the end of the month. Of course, that's only a few days away and there's still no smoking gun - Google hasn't started distributing invitations - so we'll see just how much longer this not-so-secret secret winds up staying under wraps. Curiously enough, the Nexus 5 may not be alone when it hits the Google Play Store for real. An LTE-enabled version of the Nexus 4 put in an appearance in the Bluetooth Special Interest Group's device certification listings.
Google's Q3 2013 earnings report has just crossed the wires, and they're better than expected. The company reported that over the past three months, it generated $14.89 billion in consolidated revenue and $2.97 billion in net income, as well as non-GAAP earnings of $10.74 per share.
According to Yahoo Finance, analysts expected the company to report about $14.8 billion in revenue for the quarter and earnings of $10.35 per share. Fortunately for the search and advertising giant, that's a big change from last quarter. The company missed Wall Street's EPS and revenue expectations during its last go-round.
Investors are already reacting to the news: Google's share price at market close was 1 percent, but at time of writing it's surged nearly six percent in after-hours trading.
More than a few people are keeping an eye on Google's ad business, and more specifically the company's cost per click. Online marketing firm The Search Agency reported the other day that it saw Google's cost per click on the upswing, noting a 3.5 percent lift over the last quarter. Google's new report points to something different though - specifically, it looks like CPC dipped 8 percent sequentially and 4 percent when compared to the year-ago quarter. That's not exactly the sort of trend the company was looking to continue, as cost per click declined 6 percent sequentially back in Q2.
That advertising business is going to get a bit weirder in the coming weeks: Google has announced that it will use the photos and endorsements of its Google+ users to give some ads an extra boost of personal credibility. With that said, though, Google's Enhanced Campaigns (which allow advertisers to devise a single ad campaign that can be deployed across multiple types of devices) should help the company cement its position in mobile. Meanwhile, Google's paid clicks were up 26 percent year-over-year, and up 8 percent over the previous quarter.
This quarter also saw Google get a little bolder with hardware - its Motorola Mobility subsidiary released the customizable Moto X to generally positive reviews, and the curious $35 Chromecast dongle rocketed to the top of Amazon's sales charts almost instantly. If anything, the former is a hair more interesting since the Motorola division has been posting loss after loss for the past few quarters, as well as dramatically trimming its headcount in a bid to cut costs. For now Motorola's staff count seems to be holding steady, but the division only raked in $1.18 billion in revenue (or 8 percent of the total revenue pie) and reported a considerable $248 million operating loss.
This is a developing story, please refresh for updates.
Android plays host to some impressive tablet apps - I'm partial to IMDb and Flipboard to name just a few - but I've all too often downloaded an app only to discover that it's a regular phone app scaled to fit a larger display. Needless to say, the experience was less than ideal. Now Google is pushing to shine more light on Android apps that are optimized for tablets with a pair of modifications that will go live starting on November 21.
The first change may be the more visually shocking of the two - Android apps that don't fit Google's tablet criteria will be marked as “Designed for phones” so users know exactly what they're getting into before they download.
Meanwhile, the second deals with a feature Google rolled out earlier this year, a “Designed for Tablets” view that highlights (what else?) apps that have been crafted with specific tablet experiences in mind. Users will who scour the Play Store on their tablets will soon discover that those top app lists - think Top Paid, Top Free, Top Grossing, etc. - will show off those tablet-tailored apps by default (though users can reconfigure it to show all apps just like before).
Those Play Store modifications won't go live for a few weeks yet, but the timing has me wondering whether or not Google is planning to push a new tablet at around the same time. I know, I know, past performance isn't a guarantee of future results, but the Nexus 10 was originally revealed back in October 2012 and started hitting the Play Store's digital shelves in November. And now that we're hearing Google is preparing to officially out the Nexus 5 and Android KitKat and a revamped Nexus 10 sometime next week, it's starting to seem like we'll see a similar timeline unfold shortly.
And really, what better way to welcome a new raft of Android tablet owners than by showing them apps that really allow those devices to strut their stuff? It's a win-win too - while those users get easier access to the best Android tablet apps, developers who spend the extra time to make sure their tablet experiences are more than just stretched-out phone interfaces can score some much-needed exposure.
Apple made waves this morning when it announced its oft-rumored September 10 event, but Google isn’t giving up the day’s limelight without a fight — according to a post on Sundar Pichai’s Google+ page, more than 1 billion Android devices have been activated to date. That’s not exactly a shock considering the sort of momentum we’ve seen in activations over the past few months. CEO Larry Page said there were 1.5 million Android activations a day back in July and Android device activations hit the 900 million mark earlier this year.
Even more puzzling than that is the name of the next version of Android, which bucks the long-standing trend of generic dessert names. As it turns out, Android 4.4 is going to be called “KitKat” and not “Key Lime Pie” as earlier thought, though at this point there’s still no official word on when we can expect to see the build go live. Kit Kats are of course a popular chocolate treat made by Nestle, and at this point we’re trying to determine how much this
crazy little deal is worth, but the promotional blitz has already begun.
UPDATE: Google has confirmed to the BBC that the idea for the name originated with them, and that no money is changing hands as part of the deal.
Nestle has already kicked off a bizarre cross-promotion strategy that will bestow Nexus 7s and Google Play credits on those who find specially branded Kit Kat candy bars emblazoned with the Android logo, à la Willy Wonka. Yes, this is really happening. Apparently the agreement was finalized behind closed doors at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and all parties involved amazingly managed to keep the name under wraps (I slay me) for six months despite the fact that Nestle has been churning out that Android-laden packaging for 50 million candy bars.
Though the name itself is enough to get Android fans and mobile pundits talking, Google may be looking to expand its scope with this latest update. The newly anointed Android KitKit landing page claims that it’s the company’s goal “to make an amazing Android experience available for everybody,” which may hint at an expansion into different hardware segments. Google already has some skin in the smartphone and tablet games thanks to its acquisition of Motorola Mobility and hardware partnerships with Asus and LG, but it’s possible we could see Android KitKit powering a smartwatch — a move made partially possible by Google’s quiet acquisition of WIMM Labs last year.
Google’s Chromecast is a curious beast because it’s incredibly cheap and does exactly what it promises, but that hasn’t stopped from developers from (what else?) trying to make the $35 dongle even more useful. That’s exactly what esteemed Android dev Koushik Dutta did — earlier this month he reverse engineered the Chromecast to create an app called AllCast (nee AirCast) that let users stream stuff not just from their browsers, but straight from their Android smartphones too.
Sounds pretty great, right?
Well, thanks to a recent update pushed out by Google, AllCast doesn’t work anymore. To hear Dutta tell the tale on Google+, this was probably a calculated move to ensure that only Google-approved content providers could play.
Heads up. Google’s latest Chromecast update intentionally breaks AllCast. They disabled ‘video_playback’ support from the ChromeCast application.
Given that this is the second time they’ve purposefully removed/disabled the ability to play media from external sources, it confirms some of my suspicions that I have had about the Chromecast developer program: The policy seems to be a heavy handed approach, where only approved content will be played through the device. The Chromecast will probably not be indie developer friendly.
Dutta’s tinkering with Chromecast didn’t end there — he managed to bake Chromecast streaming support into the popular Cyanogenmod custom Android ROM in early August, though to my knowledge the feature hasn’t yet been pushed into nightly builds. In fairness though, none of Dutta’s distributed work has been built using Google’s still-in-beta Cast SDK, so there was always a chance Google could muck things up for Dutta and devs like him.
When Dutta released the first beta version of Allcast, The Verge’s Casey Newton pointed out that Google would likely put the kibosh on it. After all, Google could easily score some points with major content providers by closing off parts of the Chromecast system that would allow users to stream illicitly obtained media to their televisions, or at least show that it’s committed to controlling its ecosystem. It’s a bummer for would-be Chromecast buyers looking for ways to get more out of the HDMI dongle, but Google never said that the Chromecast would be open in the way that Android is. I’ve reached out to Google to see if they want to weigh in, and will update this post if I hear back from them.
UPDATE: A Google spokesperson just replied with the following comment.
We’re excited to bring more content to Chromecast and would like to support all types of apps, including those for local content. It’s still early days for the Google Cast SDK, which we just released in developer preview for early development and testing only. We expect that the SDK will continue to change before we launch out of developer preview, and want to provide a great experience for users and developers before making the SDK and additional apps more broadly available.
Motorola has never been the most prolific smartphone maker, but there’s no question that they’ve churned out a lot of hardware over the years, but now that Motorola is flying under Google’s banner, you can expect to see some shifts in the company’s hardware strategy, and it looks like that scattershot approach to making phones is getting the ax.
According to Motorola Corporate VP of product management Lior Ron, the company is going to be trimming down the number of phones it releases so it can better focus on the ones that are really worth it.
“We’ve done a lot of devices before,” Ron told TechCrunch in an interview earlier today. “Now we’re going to do a few — very few. Everyone of those devices is going to really matter for consumers.”
Those are some pretty bold words from the man who headed up the Moto X project, but it isn’t the first time that we’ve seen the company try to embrace a more streamlined product strategy. Sanjay Jha, CEO of a then-unified Motorola, basically said the same thing a year-and-a-half ago, citing the woes “incremental innovation” as the big drivers behind his decision. At the time, it seemed as though Jha’s words struck a chord with at least one other beleaguered Android device manufacturer, as HTC publicly committed itself to producing a smaller number of “hero” devices just a few days after Jha did.
According to CNET, the next of those “very few” devices that Motorola is reportedly working on is a lower-cost device meant to expand Motorola’s position in cost-conscious global markets.
Ron declined to explain just how dramatic this change in focus is going to be for the company, but that’s not to say that Motorola will be without its share of repeat customers. Motorola confirmed to CNET earlier this month that the company is slated to become the sole manufacturer of Verizon’s popular Droid line of Android devices. Previously, companies like HTC and Samsung were allowed to pitch in as well, but it now appears that Motorola will run that show entirely.
Then again, the “more wood behind fewer arrows” approach presents some potential issues, too, and HTC serves as proof. Despite the fact that the HTC One received near-universal critical praise, the company that made it recently reported quarterly profits down a whopping 83 percent from the year before. On the other hand, many have argued that Google’s interest in Motorola was based purely on the value of the company’s patent treasure trove — it’s not hard to look at any revenue that Motorola brings in from hardware sales as icing on that cake. And Google (naturally) seems all for the strategy, despite the potential pitfalls it entails.
“Our mandate from Google, from Larry, is really to innovate and take long-term bets,” Ron said. “When you have that sort of mentality, it’s about quality and not quantity.”