Archive for Google
Have you been waiting (not so) patiently while it seems like everybody around you gets to play with Android Lollipop before your device delivers the operating system update? Google seems to understand that it is hard to wait, proving an update to the Google Now Launcher that will make it seem like you’re ready to rock with Android 5.0.
Google Now Launcher and the Google Search app now feature the beautiful new Material Design styling –instead of the way it used to work, where they tailored themselves to whatever version of Android your device was running.
All in all, functionality is about the same as it was before… but you will see the Google Search bar sport a fresh white colour and entertaining animations at the top of the launcher. Google Now has added a slide-in panel on the left side of the screen that allows you to switch between accounts, set reminders, and update your corresponding settings.
Think of it as a bit of a cheat (or at least a preview), and enjoy!
If Apple had silently decided to stop providing security updates for nearly 1B of their users, the public outrage would be hard to ignore. Unfortunately for Android users, this is exactly what Google did when they chose to stop supporting WebView for those with older versions of their operating system –a shocking revelation when you consider that nearly 60% of devices fall below the Android 4.4 KitKat cutoff.
When a lot of the latest security exploits are found in WebView, is Google courageous or stupid to discontinue support? On one hand, it makes good business sense –allowing Google to focus their development efforts on fewer versions of Android, which means updates and upgrades should be delivered faster (a methodology that has worked reasonably well for Microsoft over the years, with their policy of sun-setting of support on older versions of operating systems in due time… though they usually give actual notice to users ahead of time). The other benefit as I see it, is it encourages users to upgrade their Android operating system in a more timely manner –which would be a much easier pill to swallow if upgrading was a choice users were always able to make and not reliant on manufacturers rolling it out for them.
WebView provides functionality to Android apps that allows for the display of web pages without having to launch a separate web browser application, making it a beloved and often-used feature (for developers and hackers alike).
So far Google isn’t talking about this change, but it seems unlikely that users are going to let them off the hook that easily. Chances are good that they will point out that third-party developers could always choose to provide ongoing support for WebView separate and apart from their updates, but that seems inefficient and maybe even dangerous for users who are less than tech-savvy.
Apple has been offing iTunes Match for a few years now, so it was about time Google stepped up to the plate and joined the music-streaming-from-the-cloud game. Offering you the ability to stream music from your devices (including smartphones, tablets, and laptops –including those powered by iOS, MacOSX, and Windows as well as Chromebook), Google Cast is all about crisp and high quality sound for compatible speakers, sound bars, and A/V receivers.
Combining iTunes Match with AirPlay capabilities, Google Cast is app-independent… meaning you can use you choice of a growing number of music and audio-related apps, including: Deezer, Google Play Music, iHeartRadio, NPR One, Pandora, Rdio, TuneIn.
Initial hardware will be available from leading brands like Sony, HEOS by Denon, and LG as early as Spring 2015.
If you’re curious, take a look at the official launch video linked below for a more detailed look at Google’s new service.
Microsoft has started to finally enjoy a little mobile marketplace success in the form of app development, but they are still circling the drain when it comes to creating a must-have smartphone or tablet. This isn’t to say they have given up: Windows 10 promises to be truly innovative and exciting (whenever it actually hits the streets). Too little, too late? Perhaps… but what if Microsoft’s new operating system also let you take advantage of Android apps? Now that’s a concept worth considering.
Rumour mills are spinning once again, suggesting Microsoft will buddy up with Android –though nothing is official yet (and some reports indicate this would be a last-resort move).
So would the addition of Android support indicate defeat for Microsoft, or brilliance? On the surface it may seem like compromising, but ultimately it may mean getting larger numbers of Microsoft-platformed hardware into the hands of consumers. If that happens, native Windows-based apps would likely be welcomed over ported Android apps.
Some developers are voicing concerns to the contrary, stating that by allowing Android apps on the mobile Windows platform, enthusiasm for native app development for Microsoft will be killed.
But let’s be realistic. Microsoft already has difficult attracting and keeping developers for their platform… why not take any opportunity they can to sell more units and gain marketshare?
In September, Amazon updated their Android app such that it was actually a completely functional app store. Flash forward to today, and it appears Google has made Amazon’s signature application un-findable using search in the Play Store (though the Amazon direct link does seem to work, for now).
There is a new app in its stead (we presume) called Amazon Shopping that looks pretty much like the old app did, minus the App Store bit.
The moral of the story, is that it appears as if Google wasn’t thrilled with Amazon making their digital catalog available for sale in this manner. When asked for a comment, Amazon noted:
“We launched a new Amazon App for Android Phones on September 9 that provides an award-winning mobile shopping experience, enables customers to discover and purchase all of Amazon’s digital catalog, and provides customers access to the Prime Instant Video player and unlimited streaming of over 40,000 movies and TV episodes. Google subsequently changed their Developer Distribution Agreement on September 25. As a result, we removed the app from Google Play and published the Amazon Shopping app. Customers who want the best Amazon experience on their Android phone, including access to Prime Instant Video and Amazon’s entire digital catalog, can still get the Amazon App for Android Phones at amazon.com/androidapp.”
Of course, the question that begs asking is if Amazon didn’t think it was doing anything sneaky or against the rules… why did they keep it so hidden?
Google hasn’t responded with a comment so far, but it has to be making Android fanatics a little nervous… the search giant seems to be locking things down in a way that labels them more like the thing they hate the most (Apple).
There isn’t an iOS user out there who hasn’t been attacked by an Android fanatic. It is unrestricted, they say. It is free, they say. It is so open, they say. It doesn’t come with the same strict (and unreasonable) rules that iOS does, they say. As it turns out, rising popularity has changed the game significantly… with an Android device now in novice hands more often than not. This reality has forced Google to realize that a little control over their operating system isn’t a bad thing, beginning with a tighter rein on the Play Store (making it look an awful lot more like Apple’s App Store).
Some of the recent changes are fairly harmless, like adding a page for your account that lists every app you have ever bought. Other are slightly more intrusive, like removing a selection of piracy-related apps (including: The Pirate Bay Premium, The Pirate Bay Proxy, The Pirate Bay Mirror, and the PirateApp) from the Play Store by citing violations of their content policy for intellectual property provisions. It gets worse: the developers responsible for those apps also received a policy strike that readies their accounts for suspension if there are repeated violations.
Of course, this attack against piracy shouldn’t really be much of a surprise. Earlier this year, Google added a content suggestion box to their search functionality that lets users easily buy or rent content found in their results. Around the same time, Google also made some adjustments that saw piracy sites losing rank –a move that hurt popular sites, but benefited those that were lesser-known.
Die-hards will still scream from the mountain-tops about how these changes aren’t a big deal if you are willing to jailbreak your device (or side load apps)… but many of the same things could be said for hacked iOS devices too. If you ask me, the real news is more about Google’s changing philosophy than it is about operating system capabilities.
What you won’t hear from those same people, is how Google pretty much rules the targeted ad game: selling your private information to make a little money (some of which goes to pay for patent licenses and other technologies that are required by their ‘free’ operating system).
So what bothers Android evangelists more: seeing Google implement screening processes for apps in their store, or realizing that Google being a little bit more like Apple is a necessary (and functional) evil?
Android users in China (now numbering in the ten of millions) will be happy to know that many of them will have access to Google’s app store (hopefully, at least). Though a specific launch date has yet to be discussed, Google is working with a legal team to get plans together (many of the core Google Play services, like Gmail and Maps, are currently being blocked in China).
Earlier this week, Google also announced that policies were changing for Chinese app developers –allowing them to make money from their paid apps being downloaded from 130 countries worldwide (China isn’t included in that list yet, but would be with a local-to-them app store).
Not everybody will be thrilled to hear this news, with several alternative Chinese platforms already in place to distribute Android apps; Google stands to make a lot of money (in their stead) considering the potential revenue stream from so many new users… but it will not be without considerable investments. Beyond legal considerations, Google has no infrastructure in China (think servers and bandwidth to begin) –all of which will be subject to the seemingly arbitrary Chinese regulations.
Advertising sucks in general, but we recognize it as a necessary evil in a lot of situations –not the least of which being a means to raise the funds required to keep the Internet going (or at least the content contained ‘within it’). Now, what if you could visit your favourite sites, and instead of seeing an advertisement block on the screen and being encouraged to click on it… you could just donate a little money to the site and not go through that dance? Google is betting you might just take them up on that offer, creating a new service that does that exact thing: Google Contributor.
Contributor is being labeled as ‘alternative monetization’, allowing us to designate a monthly fee we are willing to sacrifice in the name of Internet content with the promise of not having to see Google ads (though you will still see a pixelated box in the space where the ad would have been displayed).
Contributor is currently in beta, with participants getting involved by invitation only. During this phase, there are 10 publishing partners (like Mashable, Imgur, and WikiHow) with an opt-in dollar amount of $1, $2, or $3.
I’m not sure I see Contributor as a viable alternative to advertising… at least not in it’s current form. I would wager that most seasoned web surfers are already quite familiar with tuning out advertisements. Now, if I could see an ad-free version of the site (where the entire screen real estate was given to the content I’m actually interested in seeing), I’d be much more likely to toss in a few dollars.
While it may seem that the news is primarily for developers, Google’s announcement that Google Play services is receiving a series of updates is good news for everybody –more features and more functionality all around!
The Google Maps API now includes a toolbar that provides users with turn-by-turn directions quickly to a selected marker. With the updates, Google Maps will offer a ‘lite mode’ that makes it easier to show locations in a list mode when it makes better sense (think of it like a thumbnail).
Google Drive will support public and application private custom file properties, allowing for developers to deliver quick searches and create apps that can save data that will persist. In addition, developers will have more granular control over when files are uploaded (like when a device is next plugged in or connected to Wi-Fi) –plus giving the ability to cancel an in-progress upload.
Google Wallet is reading to allow for “Donate with Google” buttons in addition to the existing “Purchase with Google” option.
For those of you using Google Fit, developers will now be able to create more effective apps that can add activity segments supporting pauses and multiple-activity workouts.
Apparently this list of updates will be realized gradually over the next few days, so we don’t have long to wait for all of these good things!
According to the latest comScore metrics, Android is in the lead as the dominant smartphone platform in the mobile marketplace. With 52.1% of the market share, Android is a fair step ahead of Apple who is lagging behind at 41.7% (third place went to Microsoft at a pitiful 3.6%, with fourth landing in BlackBerry’s lap at 2.3%).
Android didn’t lead every statistic, however… with Apple leading the pack as the top smartphone manufacturer (based on 174 million people with U.S.-owned devices), securing 41.7% of that market share as well. By comparison, Samsung is next in line with only 29.0% –leaving LG to secure third place with 6.9%.
While it may seem a little difficult to understand how Android can lead in the platform category while lagging in the hardware division –it’s due to the range of OEM manufacturers. Samsung may be making the most sales, but others like LG, Motorola, and HTC are also delivering a large number of units that contribute to the overall total number of smartphones.
The comScore report also identified the most downloaded smartphone apps (for U.S. smartphone mobile media users, aged 18+ on both iOS and Android platforms): placing Facebook on top, followed by YouTube in a distant second place.
Boasting themselves as a leading Internet technology company, comScore “measures what people do as they navigate the digital world – and turns that information into insights and actions for our clients to maximize the value of their digital investments.”
Already having Gmail under their belts didn’t stop Google from continuing to rethink email. Apparently it was years in the making, but only now is Inbox a reality (promising to give you focus on the things that really matter).
In a blog post announcing Inbox, Google employee Sundar Pichai described the service:
“With this evolution comes new challenges: we get more email now than ever, important information is buried inside messages, and our most important tasks can slip through the cracks—especially when we’re working on our phones. For many of us, dealing with email has become a daily chore that distracts from what we really need to do—rather than helping us get those things done.
If this all sounds familiar, then Inbox is for you. Or more accurately, Inbox works for you.”
Key features of Inbox allow you to better organize your email categories using bundles (grouping together things like bank statements or utility bills), highlight key information from important messages (with examples like flight itineraries or event information), and reminders (letting you focus on your priorities so that you don’t need to keep track of tasks and appointments, complete with a Snooze feature). Also included with Inbox are what Google calls Assists, described as little bits of information that make your life easier. As an example: if you make a restaurant reservation, Inbox will add a map to your confirmation email.
Inbox is currently in a beta phase, with used only gaining access via invitation; there is no word on when it will see open release.
Those of you who love Gmail just the way it is may need to be a little concerned: Google has a history of abandoning projects in lieu of new ideas (speaking as somebody who still feels the sting of Google Reader having been discontinued)… and it is easy to see that they have several services starting to overlap (Google Now has a lot of similar personal assistant functionality).
According to the latest statistics released by Chitika, the LG user base has exhibited the greatest usage share growth as compared to any of the competing Android brands since June 2014. With a 1.7 percentage point gain and representing over 10% of the total North American smartphone and tablet Web traffic, LG should be counted as a significant player in the mobile market.
Samsung can rest easy for now, sitting comfortably at the top of the heap with 57.4% of the current Android market share –but it would be wise to keep at least one eye on their competition given their less substantial 1% gain since June 2014 (despite the release of an entirely updated line of mobile hardware during this period). Amazon is sitting precariously in the third spot (with a meagre .5% lead on Motorola), likely due in large part to their Fire tablets as opposed to their unremarkable smartphone sales.
Google was down this quarter, falling to just 3.6% –but these numbers should look a little better shortly with the release of the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 devices.
Chitika’s report also indicated that smartphones continue to dominate the mobile Web traffic, with very little growth in this area being observed in the Android tablet space. Some speculation suggests that this is due to Apple’s dominance in the tablet arena, but it may also be due in part to the next-generation phablet type smartphones prompting users to invest in large-screen, smartphones instead of a tablet.
Founded in 2003, Chitika is an online ad network that boasts the delivery of “over four billion strategically targeted ads each month to a network of over 300,000+ sites.” Together with high profile advertising partners like Yahoo!, Chitika has developed proprietary optimization technology that promises to display the right ad, at the right time.