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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Motorola Xoom Android 3.1 update starts tomorrow in India

The Android 3.1 update for the Motorola Xoom may only start in August in Europe, but apparently it can arrive outside the US earlier than that. According to FoneArena, Motorola has officially announced that the update will start rolling out in India tomorrow, on July 29.

The update will come over-the-air, and your tablet will notify you about its arrival and ask you to install it. The update will finally activate the SD card slot in the Xoom. Multitasking has been improved, and widgets are now resizable too.

There’s also keyboard and mouse input support over Bluetooth, support for most joysticks and gamepads via USB or Bluetooth, a File Manager comes preinstalled, and high performance Wi-Fi access can now be maintained by apps even when the screen is turned off.

The size of the update will be around 40 MB. If you’re itching to get Android 3.1 on your Xoom, you can start manually checking for the update tomorrow by going to Settings > About tablet > System updates. Other countries are also poised to receive the update soon: Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. Though it’s unclear right now whether the rollout will start tomorrow in these countries as well. Anyway, regardless of where in the world you’ve purchased a Xoom from, the Android 3.1 update is on its way to you.

Karbonn's first Android phone, A1

Karbonn Mobiles has launched its first Android smartphone, A1. Karbonn A1 comes with a 2.8 inch touchscreen and is based on Android 2.2 OS.

A1 has a 2.8 inch touch screen along with WiFi, 3G and Bluetooth. Karbonn A1 supports WiFi Hotspot and ability to store application in external memory. Other features of the A1 include Adobe Flash 10.1 version, 600MHz processor, 7.2 Mbps support (3G), a 3.2 MP camera, 1100mAh battery, expandable memory (up to 32GB) and GPS.

Standard Android applications and features like Google Map and G-sensor come with the smartphone, as well as the ability to download applications from the Android Market.

The phone is priced at Rs 6,999. The company plans to introduce three more Android smartphones in the coming months.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Why Samsung's Galaxy Tab is 'meh'

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1
Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 was launched at the company's headquarters in Seoul. Photograph: Jo Yong-Hak/Reuters

Ever since the iPad shipped, I've been waiting impatiently for a comparable Android device to emerge – something of like shape, size and capacity, but from a more open ecosystem than the one Apple offers.

Like Apple, Google operates an Android App Store that it controls – if your app doesn't please Google, it doesn't go in the store. But unlike Apple, Google allows you to install apps from unofficial sources, meaning that you can download apps directly from their authors or buy them from stores that compete with (or complement) Google's store.

This is the kind of thing that's important to me. After all, a tablet without software is just an inconveniently fragile and poorly reflective mirror, so the thing I want to be sure of when I buy a device is that I don't have to implicitly trust one corporation's judgment about what software I should and shouldn't be using.

The introduction of the iPad sparked a series of Android tablet launches, and none of them had sufficiently impressive specs or form-factor to capture my desire, until Samsung announced its Galaxy Tab 10.1. Despite having one of the stupidest and most awkward product names in recent memory, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 boasted specifications that met or beat the iPad 2 on every axis, and came with the latest Android tablet OS, 3.1, preloaded.

So I asked a friend who was coming over from Chicago to buy one for me and bring it with him (the device isn't available in the UK until 4 August), and I greedily unwrapped it, charged it up, and got down to business with it. I've used it on my own at home and office, given it to my three-year-old to test, and taken it on a quick overseas trip, and at this stage, I'm prepared to venture a verdict: meh.

It's true that the Galaxy Tab 10.1 does all the basic stuff you'd like from an Android tablet, has a long-lived battery, weighs little, and has a good, sharp screen and two very good cameras – one facing you and one facing away. The camera is a delight – there's something really fun and right about using a big, 10.1in screen as a viewfinder, especially when shooting video, and the pictures are beautiful. By and large, the OS is easy and intuitive, and the software offerings from Google's Android store and its competitors are fine as they go.

But there are a few annoyances and a couple of dreadful flaws that make the Galaxy Tab 10.1 into a disappointment. First, and worst of all, there is the business of the USB connector. Apple's iOS devices famously use a long, flat proprietary connector that provides some easy cash for the company in the form of specialist cable sales, and locks competing devices out of using speaker-docks and other accessories. This is one of my gripes with Apple devices, and the use of standard, cheap, widely available mini-USB cables in Android phones (including the excellent Samsung Galaxy S, which I am delighted to own) is a major selling point for me.

But Samsung's tablets – for no discernible reason – use a custom tip that isn't any of the standard mini- or micro-USB ends. Instead, it's a wide, flat connector, like the one Apple uses, but of course, it's not compatible with Apple's cables, either. I've already lost mine, run down the battery and now I can't use the tablet again until I find another one. I passed through three airports recently, and none of them had a store that stocked them.

I have phone charger cables in my office, my travel bag, my backpack and beside the bed. The very last thing in the entire world that I need right now is to have to add another kind of USB cable to all those places. The decision to use a proprietary connector in a device whose major selling point is that it is non-proprietary is the stupidest thing about the Galaxy Tab 10.1 – even stupider than calling it the "Galaxy Tab 10.1."

Likewise disappointing was the decision to omit the microSD card slot on the Wi-Fi-only version of the tablet. The 3G-equipped models come with a built-in microSD reader (handy to have, especially if you need to load some data onto the device and you've mislaid the stupid proprietary cable). This is integrated into the Sim assembly used by the 3G devices, and rather than leaving the empty Sim assembly in place and leaving the card-reader intact, Samsung removed the whole thing.

Continuing on the theme of data-transfer, the new versions of Android have made fundamental changes to system by which devices talk to personal computers. Up until now, Android devices showed up on your desktop as standard USB storage, and you could move files off or onto them by dragging them around in your file-browser. This was straightfoward, fast and easy, but it did have one minor annoyance: when your Android's storage was mounted on your PC, it wasn't available to the Android device, meaning you couldn't work with the files on your Android at the same time as it was using the storage to play back movies or audio.

To fix this, Android borrowed MTP, a Microsoft technology developed for the Zune, which theoretically allows you to use your tablet's files even as you're using your PC to move files off or onto the in-built storage. It's a nice idea, and would represent a minor improvement to the Android experience, if it worked.

But it doesn't. When you plug your Galaxy Tab 10.1 into your PC, Android automatically launches a Samsung file-transfer app that takes up your whole screen. This communicates with a desktop app to allow you to transfer files – very, very slowly. And if you try to launch another Android app while the file-transfer is taking place, it severs communications with your PC, causing the file transfers to fail. In other words, the system that's supposed to let you use your Android while you transfer files requires that you not use your Android while you transfer files.

What's more, the adoption of MTP means that Android now requires a proprietary desktop app to effect simple file transfers – an app that is, if possible, even worse than iTunes, and represents no selling-point for those of us who want non-proprietary, "just-works" mobile devices.

Samsung really doesn't seem to have its head around the notion of Android's strength being its non-proprietary, open nature. They've preloaded the device with several Samsung apps that, insultingly, can't be deleted without "rooting" the device, a process that voids your warranty.

The 32GB, WiFi-only Galaxy Tab 10.1 will ship in the UK in August, at an unrevealed price, though lists it for pre-order at an insane £899 (the comparable iPad 2 costs £479.00 and I paid US$699 for my Galaxy Tab 10.1).

I'm not giving up on my search for a great Android tablet – I'm eyeing up the forthcoming Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet. I love Lenovo's ThinkPad laptops, and the ThinkPad Tablet comes with standard USB connectors, video out and an SD slot (it also has an optional stylus and carry-case with an integrated ThinkPad keyboard – my favourite keyboards in the world).

iPad Trumps Android Smartphone Activations in the Enterprise: Good

Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad isn't just the hottest consumer tablet in the market; it's also beating all Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android-based "Honeycomb" tablets and smartphones combined in the nascent enterprise market for mobile devices.

The iPad, which sold more than 28 million units worldwide, accounted for 95 percent of business tablet activations, according to Good Technology's latest data report on mobile devices in the workplace.

Android tablets, such as the Motorola Xoom and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, declined to 3.1 percent of overall tablet activations for the quarter.

Perhaps few people are shocked by this; there are myriad tales of weak Honeycomb tablet sales, with influential blogs such as Daring Fireball reporting that only 1.35 million Honeycomb slates have sold.

However, Good said the number of iPad and iPad 2 activations in the enterprise exceeded the total amount of Android smartphones activated for Q2 by a count of 27.2 percent to 24 percent, respectively.

Android smartphones represented nearly 33 percent of all smartphone (non-tablet) activations compared with iPhone's 66 percent.

More broadly, Good also said Apple iOS, the platform on which the iPad and iPhone are built, represented 78.7 percent of net new activations, with Android accounting for the remaining 21.3 percent.

By comparison, Good said in April iOS devices represented just under 70 percent of net new activations from Jan. 1 through March 31 this year. That was before the launch of the iPhone 4 on Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZW).

Good surmised that the rise in iOS device representations is partially due to Apple selling the iPad and iPhone through AT&T (NYSE:T) and Verizon, which began selling the iPhone 4 in February and sold 2.3 million iPhones in its second quarter.

But it's also reflective of the fact that consumers are bringing their iPhones and iPads into the workplace, said Good, which sells software to manage mobile devices to 182 of the Fortune 500 companies.

Regardless of the "why," these are interesting statistics considering that Android is the smartphone market leader with anywhere from 35 percent to 38 percent market share, according to current reports from IDC, Gartner, Nielsen and comScore.

"While Android continues to gain market share overall, Good's enterprise end users are showing clear preference for Apple products," said John Herrema, senior vice president of corporate strategy at Good Technology.

Interestingly, some 46 percent of iPad activations came in the financial services sector. That dispels the notion that risk-averse industries are shunning mobile devices not made by big enterprise brand Research In Motion, whose BlackBerry smartphone and PlayBook tablet sales are waning.

Overall, little about Good's data is encouraging for BlackBerry or Android's enterprise representation. But it's important to remember, Good is just one mobile device management shop and this is just one quarter. The market has way to go before all of the places in the mobile platform race are assured.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

iPad stays top tablet: Faces growing Android challenge as Amazon circles

Apple’s iPad continues to dominate the tablet market, with global shipments up to 9.3m units according to the latest figures, though its percentage marketshare has declined by over 33-percent thanks to increasing competition from consumer-centric rivals. 61.3-percent of tablets sold worldwide run iOS, analysts Strategy Analytics calculate, with Android taking the lion’s share of what remains, at 30.1-percent.

Android’s rise from Q2 2010 is significant, with the Google platform on just 2.9-percent of the tablets a year ago and seeing shipping numbers of just 100,000 units. The analysts now believe that 4.6m Android tablets were sold in Q2, not least because of the dedicated tablet version of the OS, 3.x Honeycomb, which was designed specifically to suit larger-screen devices.

Despite generally negative reviews, Windows 7 holds third place, with a reported 4.6-percent of the marketshare. That puts it ahead of QNX, the platform RIM has used for the BlackBerry PlayBook, which lags in fourth place with 3.3-percent. Strategy Analytics blame the absence of key apps like a native email client on the PlayBook for its placement

Since the figures detail Q2 2011 – April through June inclusive – newer slates like the HP TouchPad don’t get a look in. Looking forward, the Android tablet segment is open to a single, dominant vendor, and there are suggestions that it could well be Amazon. “If Amazon decides to enter the Android tablet category later this year, that will bring fresh excitement and buzz to the Android community” Neil Mawston, Director at Strategy Analytics suggests, ”but Amazon will need to deliver a truly standout offering if it really wants to make headway against the popular iPad.”

Google unveils Android 3.2 OS

The Honeycomb 3.2 operating system was in the news for a long time, but now it has been finally announced by Google, in a blog posts on the Android Developer forum.

The latest Android version will be more capable than its earlier version and will also support Qualcomm processors, which is an added advantage in order to improve the compatibility.

The apps with fixed size that are actually designed to run on smaller gadgets will run better than ever before. The latest upbringing of Google will not try to optimize the application as per the screen resolution. Besides, it provides you with manual choice to opt whether the application has to be stretched to fit the screen or a tad bit zoom would do better.

With the new improvements, the Android 3.2 system will also allow media sync, which will now be possible straightly from the SD card unlike the system memory earlier.

To make it more interesting, Google has provided the control to the developers to enhance the use of system resources such as the display resolution with regards to the application and their display, which in turn will result in much better view.

As Google is working hard on the new Android Honeycomb 3.2, so just get set to hear very soon that the developers are releasing the update patches for tablets. The update is likely to hit the tablets over the next few months, while some of the companies have already announced their tablet to be released with this new version of Android OS.

So, just get ready to see this amazingly improved operating system on the tablets in the near future. Some of the recently released tablets are also compatible for this update and they might also get the upgrade soon after its release.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

ITC ruling against HTC may spell trouble for other Android makers

An examination of the two patents the U.S. International Trade Commission found handset maker HTC infringed upon in an initial ruling on Friday has revealed that the patent claims in question may apply to "every Android device out there."

Apple won a skirmish on Friday in its ongoing dispute against HTC when a judge for the ITC ruled that the Taiwanese company had infringed upon two patents.

"HTC will vigorously defend these two remaining patents through an appeal before the ITC commissioners who make the final decision," Grace Lei, general counsel for HTC, was reported as saying. "This is only one step of many in these legal proceedings."

The judge's findings are subject to review, with a target date for the final commission decision set for December 6, 2011, according to patent expert Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents.

The commission has the power to ban imports of products deemed to be in violation of patents, a move that would devastate Google's Android mobile operating system platform if multiple handset manufacturers were blocked.

The patents HTC was found to have violated are 5,946,647, "System and method for performing an action on a structure in computer-generated data" and 6,343,263, "Real-time signal processing system for serially transmitted data."

An in-depth analysis by Mueller of the specific patent claims HTC has been found guilty of violating suggests that the infringing technologies are part of the Android architecture, rather than unique enhancements made by HTC. As such, competing Android vendors such as Motorola and Samsung may also be at risk.

Apple's '643 patent appears to relate directly to the iPhone's practice of detecting contact information, such as phone numbers and email addresses, and forming a link that, when clicked, performs contextualized actions. Documents submitted by Apple accuse HTC of violating this patent through Android's "Linkify" functionality.

According to Android's own developer reference site, which is cited in the documents, Linkify takes "a piece of text and a regular expression and turns all of the regex matches in the text into clickable links."

Given that, according to Mueller, the feature is "most probably built into each and every Android device out there," a final ITC ruling upholding Friday's ruling would pose a serious threat to all U.S. Android vendors.

Apple's '263 patent describes "the use of real-time application programming interfaces (APIs) interposed between application software or driver software and the real-time processing subsystem."

In spite of HTC's claims that it has "alternate solutions" for the issues, Mueller believes the signal-processing patent will be "extremely hard" to work around. "In Android's case, it's possible that working around this patent requires a fundamental change to Android's architecture, and possibly even to the architecture of the underlying Linux kernel," he wrote.

In fact, prominent Android smartphone and tablet maker Motorola Wireless seems to have recognized the danger of these patents, as the company preemptively sought to have them invalidated last October after filing suit against the iPhone maker. Apple subsequently added the patents to a countersuit against Motorola.

AppleInsider uncovered job listings on Friday that indicate Apple is shopping for lawyers for litigation team in preparation for the coming intellectual property showdown between Apple and its rivals, namely HTC, Motorola and Samsung.

iOS Projects Leapfrog Android

The number of projects being developed for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch has jumped this year, while Android's share of the market has dropped, according to analysts.

Flurry, a provider of in-application analytics for mobile devices, reported there was a second quarter surge in development of new software for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch in the second quarter. The report, released yesterday, states that the number of iOS projects rose to 57 percent of what developers were working on, from 54 percent in the first quarter. The number of iPad projects rose to 15 percent from 10 percent. Meanwhile, while the number of projects aimed at Google's Android OS dropped to 28 percent from 36 percent.

This is the second quarter that Apple has gained in developer interest and Android has declined; the report cites the launch of the iPad2 and the introduction of the iPhone to U.S. network Verizon as major factors.

"Apple reported that it had sold a cumulative 200 million iOS devices. Currently the App Store contains more than 425,000 apps, with total downloads surpassing 15 billion," stated the report. "From the developer's point of view, the most attractive aspect of the iOS consumer audience is that they all have credit cards on file with iTunes. This means 100% of them can seamlessly pay for apps and in-app purchases. All told, the App Store offers a powerful business opportunity to developers and has attracted leading mobile developer support."

However the report also noted that Google's more open Android OS distribution strategy has garnered the support of numerous notable OEMs. "This is spawning a rapidly growing installed base of Android devices that is gunning to overtake the iOS installed base," said the report.

550.000 Android units activated daily

Vice-President of the mobile phone division from Google, Andy Rubin, announced the statistics of Android units. According to the statement, every day, there are 550.000 units that are activated and more, it seems that the percentage rising of the Android activations is over four percent every week.

According to News Factor, the new statistic from Google is not very good news for the main competitor Apple. According to the analysts, the impressive level that the activation reached is mainly owed to the great dynamic that Google has got on the emerging markets in the entire world and on the other hand the variation of the devices that are using the Android system in all the corners of the world.

The four percent raising that Android is exceeds every week is for certain a scary statistic for Apple, that, according to the analysts can reach the Google’s statistic because of the slow runs of their devices that are losing more and more ground in front of the Google’s units.

The statistics were presented into a special meeting in which Google announce the estimations for the second trimester of this year. According to the official statement, Google had a gross profit of 2.21 billion dollars, having an amount with 36 percent over the initial estimations, according to another source,

These profits aren’t only from the Android unit’s activations and from the advertising strategy of Google. More, it seems that the 550.000 daily activations that Google had is an amount that is exceeds the statistics from the last month, when there were only 500.000 units activated every day and this might be considered a record for Google.

This means that, in the entire world, there are in this moment almost 135 million Android units that are active. More, Google made other statistics regarding the application downloads and it seems that the Smartphone users with the Google platform included downloaded six millions applications from Android Market.

Even so, the skeptical experts of Android units thinks that a weak point for the devices are the related tablets of the operational system, that aren’t very popular despite of the assumptions that Google will repeat automat the success that they had on the phone segment.

More, the research companies in the mobile phone devices are showing that iPhone is regaining ground after it was in the shadow for a very long time, in which the Android units had a lot of success.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Bangalore-based EAFT launches 10.1-inch Android Tablet 'MagicTile Marathon'

The Indian tablet market has already heated up with the launch of the Motorola Xoom, HTC Flyer, Acer Iconia Tab A500, BlackBerry's PlayBook and Apple's iPad 2. But don't just get blinded by all the known brand names as India's home-grown tablets are too making their way to the market. And the latest in the series of India's home-grown tablet is “MagicTile Marathon”. The device was launched by Bangalore-based EAFT Technologies India on Tuesday.

According to the company, the tablet has 3G connectivity, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and uses Android operating system 2.2 (also known as Froyo). The tablet has eight-hour battery life. Marathon has a 1.0 Gigahertz processor and 512MB of RAM and a 10.1″ LCD touchscreen display. The device also has a microSD card slot and memory can be extended up to 16 GB. As per the specifications, Marathon has 1.3MP camera.

EAFT is offering the device at Rs 29,990 with one year of warranty and free transit insurance. The company is presently offering Marathon at Rs 26,990 as special launch price.

It's notable that Olive Telecom, MSI and even HCL Technologies have already launched their tablet PCs in India. And now reports suggest companies suggest Spice Telecom, Micromax, Zen Mobile, Karbonn and Lava Mobiles are too willing to try their luck in the tablet segment.

When we are talking about home-grown tablets, how can we forget to mention Sakshat. The low-cost tablet, developed by the Indian government, is also in the pipeline and likely to hit market very soon.

New Android Market App Brings Movies, Books to Smartphones

Google recently released a new Android Market app for Android 2.2 or higher that makes it a snap for U.S. users to rent movies and purchase e-books. Android users have been looking forward to movie rentals on their phones ever since Google announced the service during Google I/O in May. Tablets running Android 3.1 are already enjoying the feature, but with the new Market app Android smartphone users can finally get in on the movie rental action, starting at $1.99. Book purchases are also a long time in coming to smartphone users as the feature debuted in the Web version of the Android Market in February.

To get started with movie rentals you need to download a new videos app, which is only available once you get the updated version of the Android Market. Google says the new app is rolling out to users in the United States and worldwide right now so you should be seeing it shortly. Only U.S. users can rent movies and purchase books, but Google says it plans to roll the feature out to select countries soon.

New Android Market App Brings Movies, Books to Smartphones

While you're waiting, you can still check out movie rentals and book purchases by visiting the Android Market online. Google says it has thousands of movie titles to choose from, but based on what I saw in the Web version of Android Market the selection is not on par with iTunes. Several top titles from iTunes such as Source Code, Cedar Rapids and The Adjustment Bureau were noticeably absent from the Market. But it's a good bet the movie selection will improve over time. Google says its e-book catalog includes has more than 3 million titles.

New design

New Android Market App Brings Movies, Books to Smartphones

Click to zoomThe new Android Market app is also scoring big marks from critics for its interface, which appears to borrow from the Microsoft's tiles used in the Windows Phone 7 Metro UI. Google says the new user interface makes it "faster, easier, and more fun to discover great apps, movies, and books." The new market app also includes more top charts, and collections such as staff picks and Editors' Choice apps.

Get the new Android Market now if you dare

If you can't wait for the new Android Market to roll out to your phone, you can download the new app right now through unofficial channels. Several Android-focused blogs including Android and Me and Phandroid are providing links to purported Android Market APK files. Just keep in mind you're downloading and installing the new app at your own risk.

Friday, July 8, 2011

IPad, Android Drive 6% Gain in IDC’s Global Tablet-Computer Sales Forecast

International Data Corporation raised its 2011 forecast for global sales of tablet computers by 6.2 percent to 53.5 million units on the strength of Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s iPad and Google Inc. (GOOG)’s Android operating system.

Though sales in the first calendar quarter fell 28 percent from the prior quarter, Framingham, Massachusetts-based IDC raised its forecast for the year citing increased competition between tablets. Samsung Electronics Co. and Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. continue to lag behind Apple because unlike the iPad maker they require customers to buy a data plan, IDC said in a statement today.

The share of Android-based devices grew 8.2 percentage points to account for 34 percent of the tablet market, IDC said.

“Like the PC market, media tablets had a bit of a challenging quarter in Q1, as concerns about general macroeconomic issues and the post-holiday letdown took a toll on demand,” IDC vice president Bob O’Donnell said in a release. “We expect the rest of the year to be much stronger.”

The decrease in the first quarter indicates the tablet and e-reader markets are maturing and not as influenced by “media hype” as they once were, the research company said. Sales of e- readers such as Barnes & Noble Inc. (BKS)’s Nook and Amazon Inc.’s Kindle also fell in the first quarter, though IDC forecasts sales to increase 24 percent over 2010 due to more diverse offerings, including color devices.

Is Android Microsoft's next cash cow?

Thumbnail image for Samsung Galaxy S.jpgThis story ran in the print edition of The Seattle Times on July 8, 2011. -Sharon Pian Chan

In the hunt for the next billion-dollar business, Microsoft may have discovered one in mobile software. It costs Microsoft nothing to produce and sell, and it's not Windows Phone.

It's Android, the wildly popular -- and free -- mobile-phone software made by competitor Google.

In the past nine months, Microsoft has gone after a handful of companies that make Android phones and tablets.

It has either sued or persuaded the companies to pay it license fees for some technologies found in certain Android features. Microsoft contends it has patents on those technologies.

Four companies in the past two weeks said they will pay licensing fees to Microsoft for selling tablets and phones that run on Android.

HTC, a major Taiwanese smartphone maker, entered into a licensing agreement in April to pay Microsoft a reported $5 per Android phone

Microsoft has begun talking to Samsung, the world's largest maker of Android phones, about a licensing agreement, Reuters reported Tuesday, citing South Korean media reports.

Microsoft, Google and Samsung declined to comment for this story.

But Brad Smith, Microsoft's chief attorney, addressed the issue in a wide-ranging discussion with reporters in June. Asked whether Android is a new business for Microsoft, Smith said, "We've been open that we're happy to enter into a licensing agreement" with companies that make Android devices.

Asked about a Citi analyst report that HTC was paying Microsoft $5 per Android phone, Smith said, "That seems like a fair price." He said $5 is less than how much Microsoft charges for each Windows Phone license.

"At Microsoft, we stand behind our products and customers," Smith said. "Google says it stands behind its products, but some days they stand so far behind, I'm not sure anyone can see them."

If Microsoft managed to get all Android phone and tablet makers to cough up $5 per device, Microsoft could make more than $913 million a year, using Google's figure of 500,000 new devices per day.

At Microsoft, any business that can bring in $1 billion annually is significant. In fiscal 2010, the Entertainment and Devices division, which includes the Xbox business and mobile software, made $8.1 billion in sales and $679 million in operating profit.

Google has said its mobile business, including search, advertising and services, is a $1 billion enterprise. The company gives away Android, but it sells deals to phone and tablet makers who want exclusive rights to offer the latest software for a limited period.

Android is the world's fastest-growing mobile operating system. Google said 100 million people are using Android devices and, by year's end, it's projected to have 40 percent of the worldwide smartphone market, according to Framingham, Mass. research firm IDC.

Nokia's Symbian software, which topped the market for a long spell, is expected to shrink to 21 percent; Apple will maintain a share of 16 percent and Research in Motion's BlackBerry will slip to 15 percent.

Microsoft's share, which includes both Windows Phone and its older Windows Mobile software, will grow slightly to 6 percent. Analysts think Microsoft has the potential for faster growth over the next few years because of a partnership with Nokia that makes Windows Phone the primary software for phones Nokia says it will start selling in the fourth quarter.

Tablet and phone makers flocked to Google because Android is a royalty-free alternative to Apple's iPhone and iPad software (Apple does not license its software to other companies, in any case). Android was more technologically advanced than Microsoft's previous phone software, Windows Mobile.

Microsoft has yet to develop an operating system designed specifically for tablets. It said it is building its next operating system, Windows 8, to run tablets and traditional PCs. That system is expected to be finished between October 2011 and 2012.

In October 2010, Microsoft launched the first volley at Android, suing Motorola Mobility in U.S. District Court of Western Washington and complaining to the International Trade Commission. Microsoft claims Motorola's Droid phones, which use the Android platform, infringe on nine of Microsoft's patents.

In November, Motorola countersued Microsoft in federal courts in California and Florida, saying Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows Phone 7, Hotmail and Exchange Server software infringe on its patents.

Microsoft also sued Barnes & Noble in U.S. District Court in Western Washington over its Nook e-reader, claiming the book giant copied Microsoft's intellectual property as well. The Nook runs on Android.

Smaller companies Onkyo, Velocity Micro, General Dynamics Itronix and Wistron said in the past two weeks they will pay Microsoft license fees for devices they sell that run on Android.

Microsoft could potentially target many other companies with Android devices, including Dell, Sony, Sony Ericsson, Asus, Acer, LG and Toshiba.

One company is absent from Microsoft's cross hairs: Google.

Law professor Mark Lemley said large companies in the IT industry normally avoid suing each other directly.

"It's kind of like in the Cold War, this idea of mutually assured destruction," he said. "You have the power to take me out of the market and I have the power to take you out of the market, so why should either of us exercise that power?"

Lemley, the William H. Neukom professor at Stanford University, has represented Google's book-search business, but not its mobile-software business. He said it's not unusual for companies to sue each other's customers.

"What's interesting about smartphone litigation is that we're seeing that traditional détente in the IT industry breaks down," he said. "It's because companies are aggressively jockeying for market share, and nobody really knows how the market is going to shake out."

He said the lawsuits could stifle innovation; that happened during the early days of the aviation and radio industry.

Colleen Chien, a patent-law professor at Santa Clara University Law School in California, said Microsoft has become much more aggressive about intellectual property.

Microsoft and Google, along with other companies, recently bid against each other for a set of Nortel mobile-technology patents. Microsoft's consortium won.

"They're fighting over patents in the courtroom, and in the auction house, and for the customer in the marketplace," Chien said.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Could Google+ give Android a needed boost?

While I was on a rare family vacation all last week, two things happened: I won nearly enough money in Vegas to procure my next smartphone and Google rolled out it’s best social effort yet with Google+. You’d think these two random events were unrelated, but actually, they’re tied together. After using the beta of iOS 5 on my iPod touch, I’m sufficiently impressed to consider a new Apple handset over another Android addition. However, Google+ may shut down the momentum of my migration back to an iPhone, and in the bigger picture, could boost Android overall at a time when sales are starting to peak by some measures.

Since I’ve been offline for nearly 10 days, I haven’t used Google+ all that much yet, but I like what I see so far. And based on the commentary around the web, others do as well. Google seems to have learned from its failed Wave and Buzz efforts, plus it has taken an innovative approach to managing privacy in a social network. The Circles feature is intuitive and lets me easily post or keep up with certain groups of my choosing. Huddle, the group chat client, shows promise in my limited usage as well, although Stacey’s not a fan.

I can easily envision Google+ becoming fully integrated with the Android platform, providing native access to contact information such as phone numbers or email addresses, along with the social status, check-in locations and photos from my friends. Essentially, thanks to Google Profiles, Google+ could be a contact database with full social networking integration, along with various communication methods: chat, messaging, and voice. While there’s an iOS version of Google+ awaiting approval from Apple and also an HTML5 web-based version of the client, it’s this type of deep integration that could make Android more appealing if Google+ becomes a success.

It’s certainly possible that such far-reaching integration may never happen, but some current Google+ functionality is unlikely to ever be available for other platforms, which is typical of many key Google apps. Think of Gmail, which offers a better experience on Android handsets thanks to a native app. Google Music doesn’t exist for other mobile platforms outside of a clunky web version, and the free Google Navigation service is an Android exclusive, too.

We won’t know what functionality is missing from the iOS version of Google+ until the app is approved, but it’s likely that the Instant Upload feature won’t be there. This function uploads photos taken from an Android device’s native camera app in the background to a private album: Snap a picture and it’s safely on the web for storage or later sharing in Google+. Google is offering unlimited storage on Picasa with Instant Upload, which sweetens the pot even more.

Instant Upload alone isn’t enough to cause an iOS owner to switch to Android, of course, especially since iOS 5 brings Photo Stream, a similar (albeit more limited) feature. But it’s an example of how the Google+ experience will likely be best on an Android device. And that type of better experience can sway some to the Android camp.

I’m still impressed with what I see in the iOS 5 beta, but I’ll be waiting to see what the Google+ client for iOS can and can’t do before I decide what my next phone will be. It’s not the sole determining factor by any means – I’m still holding out hope for a larger iPhone display, for example — but based on how promising this new Google service looks, it’s definitely part of my decision process.

Android IP headache may become a migraine

How dominant can Google's Android operating system become? Dominant enough for almost an entire industry of rivals to play a $4.5 billion game of patent keep away. Now it's time to rev up the lawsuits.

Last week, a consortium that included Apple, EMC, Ericsson, Microsoft, Research In Motion, and Sony won 6,000 Nortel patents for a cool $4.5 billion. Google had started the bidding with a $900 million stalking horse bid, reportedly got cute with pi-related offers, and lost its best chance to defend Android in the courtroom. Nortel's patents are one swell swan song for the bankrupt telecom equipment provider that has already been split up and sold in chunks.

Few parties involved in the consortium are talking, but Android must be a real pain for Apple, Microsoft, and RIM to all team up against Google. RIM chipped in $770 million and Ericsson added another $340 million to the winning patent bid. The remaining splits are unknown, but Robert X Cringely reported that Apple put up $2 billion for Long Term Evolution (LTE) 4G patents, with Microsoft and Sony adding $1 billion. Microsoft is staying mum about its role.

The odd thing here is that Google initially said it was bidding on Nortel's patents to defend against lawsuits. Apparently, Google thinks it can get better returns on $4.5 billion by paying lawyers to defend Android.

So what's next? Lawsuits. Lots of them.

As previously noted, Citigroup analyst Walter Pritchard reckons that Google has little intellectual property to defend Android. He said:

Google appears to have very little IP to defend itself with. The general protocol when a defendant is faced with an IP infringement accusation is to "retaliate" with infringement counterclaims and ultimately force some sort of cross licensing or other detente instead of entering a prolonged and costly legal proceeding that may result in a costly or disruptive settlement. Without significant IP of its own, Google is not likely to be able to deploy this defense...

Cringely said that it's likely that Google will file lawsuits over the $4.5 billion winning bid with an antitrust and restraint of trade complaint. The search giant will juggle any upcoming suit with its ongoing battle with Oracle over Android.

But the real battle royale will come as the consortium moves to sue Google over Android. If Oracle vs. Google is notable, just wait until Apple sues over Android. For its part, Microsoft is already busy collecting royalties over Android. Florian Mueller recaps Microsoft's licensing deals with Android device makers.

Google wasn't going to cure all of its Android IP problems with Nortel's patents, but it would have acquired one nice line of defense. Losing Nortel's patents--even at the ridiculous $4.5 billion price tag--may come back to haunt Google and Android.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Mystery of the missing Honeycomb apps

PC World - Google's much-anticipated tablet operating system, Android 3.0 Honeycomb, made its splash in late February with the launch of the Motorola Xoom. Few Honeycomb-optimized apps were available at launch, but no matter: The expectation was that they'd follow soon after. Why wouldn't they, given the ever-growing popularity of Android?

But instead of an explosion of Honeycomb apps, the fuse burned down to the powder keg...and then nothing happened. Four months later, we're still waiting: The number of Honeycomb-optimized apps remains in the low hundreds. By comparison, there are over 100,000 apps optimized for the iPad.

So, what gives? Is there something especially hard about optimizing an Android 2.x (Froyo, Gingerbread) app for Android 3.x (Honeycomb)? Are developers waiting for Ice Cream Sandwich (presumably, to be called Android 4.0), which will merge the tablet OS and phone OS into one? Is there just not enough demand? Are there problems with tablet app discovery in the Android Market? Is it just because Honeycomb is so new?

We delved into the mystery, reaching out to a number of prominent Android developers for the answers to these questions and more. In our quest for answers, we sought out primarily developers who have successful Android apps that are also available for the iPad, but don't yet have a Honeycomb version. And while we uncovered several significant reasons, virtually everyone agreed on the main underlying cause.

Design and redesign

Honeycomb is optimized for a large, horizontal display -- large, as in 8.9 inches or greater. (This is why you still don't see 7-inch Honeycomb tablets, though the expected Honeycomb 3.2 will fix that.) But with the larger display comes design challenges.

"It's much more a design problem than an SDK [software developer kit] problem," says Bill O'Donnell, the chief architect at Kayak Mobile. "Or rather, it's not a problem, it's just work. You want to use your design resources where they get the absolute biggest return possible." He noted that an app for a 10-inch screen is (or, at least, should be) a totally different experience from an app for a 3.5-inch screen. This is particularly true when an app is primarily focused on text, like Kayak's.

All Android 2.x apps will run on Android 3.x, but oftentimes the text just looks awkwardly small and clunky; this is because the Android SDK does not automatically scale fonts, so developers must create their own code to get their fonts to scale up or down within their apps, which can be extremely tricky. When graphics are involved, you must use higher-resolution graphics and program them to be scalable, so that when they are on a larger screen they won't become pixilated. However, this requires the size of your app to be larger, and it may put more of a strain on the device's processor. For Kayak, a major redesign would need to happen, which would take an investment of resources -- and they want to make sure it will pay off before they commit to that.

For other apps, adapting to a larger screen isn't so much of a problem. Many game developers have opted to use third-party development engines such as Unity. "Unity takes out a lot of the grunt work and lets us port our apps to many different devices and platforms," says Marc Andreoli of GameResort, which makes the very popular Stupid Zombies game, among others.

"We have to build our games in a way so that the graphics scale to different screen sizes, but Unity does the heavy lifting," Andreoli said. This is a tremendous boon for a small company (GameResort is just a two-man team) trying to do big things. Unity has enabled them to get essentially the same experience across Android 2.x, Android 3.x (Honeycomb), and iOS devices.

Tommy Forslund of Polarbit (Raging Thunder II and Reckless Racing, among others) agrees. "We don't have a specific Honeycomb version out for any of our apps -- largely because there isn't a need for one. We do have versions out which run full-screen in high resolution, but these work on any Android device, regardless of OS version."

The Polarbit developers use the Fuse engine (a third-party development platform similar to Unity) to accomplish this, which allows them to target many different operating systems and screen sizes at once.

Third-party development engines can handle all of the scaling for developers (as long as the visual assets used are of a high enough quality) across many different platforms. The developer needs to write an app only once, and the third-party development engine translates that app to run on many different platforms. Without these third-party engines, you would have to hire other teams of developers to accomplish that versatility, which many smaller companies can't afford.

Apple's iPhone sales surge as Android slows

However, the new numbers from Neilsen show that Google's Android operating system is still No. 1 among U.S. smartphone activations. Apple's iPhone has won the title of the fastest growing in market share.

About 27 percent of the smartphones sold in the country from March to May used the Android system developed by Google (Nasdaq: GOOG). That number has remained flat this year.

Those buying iPhones, though, rose to 17 percent in the May quarter compared to 10 percent in the previous quarter.

Android is the most used among all smartphone owners in the U.S., as well, with 38 percent of the market vs. 27 percent for Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL) device.

Dallas-based offers both Android-powered phones and iPhones. AT&T has more than 1,000 employees in Dayton.

AT&T had been the exclusive provider of the iPhone, but Verizon Wireless, part of Verizon Communications Inc., was granted permission in January to start selling its version of the popular smartphone. Verizon began selling the phone in March and it can be bought at local Best Buy Co. stores as well as through Verizon’s retail outlets.