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Monday, October 31, 2011

Half of UK population owns a smartphone

Google Android
Google's Android is the most popular smartphone OS in the UK. Photograph: Robert Galbraith/Reuters

Just under half of the UK population now owns a smartphone, and Google's mobile operating system Android is powering half of those those being sold – followed by RIM's BlackBerry models with 22.5% and Apple's iPhone at 18.5%.

The pace of smartphone sales is accelerating rapidly, too. In the 12 weeks to 2 October, they comprised just under 70% of mobile phones, according to new research from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech.

The findings mark a key shift in the availability of mobile phones and internet connectivity in the UK, as millions more people become connected through handheld devices with access to data services on the move.

But for Finland's Nokia, the past three months have seen its smartphone sales drift even further downwards, so that its Symbian OS – which is being phased out – made up only 6% of sales, compared to nearly 20% a year ago. Apple also saw its share of sales fall dramatically, from 33% to 18.5%.

However both have cause to look ahead to the next set of data. Nokia has just relaunched its smartphone offering, introducing phones which go on sale from mid-November using Microsoft's new Windows Phone software.

For Apple, Kantar's data measurements ended two days before it launched its newest iPhone 4S handset, which has since seen record demand. Apple chief executive Tim Cook said in October that the company had seen a rapid slowdown in sales ahead of the launch as people waited for the new device.

Carolina Milanesi, smartphones analyst at the research company Gartner, said though that many of the smartphones now in peoples' hands are just being used as "glorified feature phones" – the previous generation of phones, which could not run apps or connect to the internet.

"People are still pretty much using them for calls and texts," she said. "What's needed is for people to be educated more by the handset companies about what they can do with the device.

"Apple is good at showing people how they can use apps, but other companies need to move away from saying they've got five-megapixel cameras or whatever. But I think next year we will see people using these devices more effectively as more apps become available on low-end devices, especially as those become more powerful."

Android's share of the UK market has roughly doubled since the same period in 2010, when it had 29% of the market. Among Android handset makers, Taiwan's HTC took the lead in the UK, with 45% of the sales for Google's software in the past 12 weeks.

But Samsung, which recently claimed the crown as the world's largest maker of smartphones, is catching up, reports Kantar, with 38% of Android sales, boosted by its Galaxy SII and Ace handsets.

Sony Ericsson saw its share drop from 20.5% of Android sales a year ago to just 8.5% over the three months to October – which will give Sir Howard Stringer, who last week announced a full buyout of joint venture partner Ericsson, extra impetus to restore the phone company's fortunes.

Nokia and Microsoft now see their future as co-dependent in the mobile space – and the challenge for Microsoft was emphasised by the latest figures, which show that a year after it launched its Windows Phone OS with a number of handset makers, it only had 1.4% of sales.

A number of mobile carriers have ceased selling the previous generation of handsets, and Nokia now stands as the principal driver for Microsoft's efforts in mobile.

Dominic Sunnebo, Kantar's global consumer insight director, warned that the next year could see a lot of jockeying for customers.

""Over the next six to 12 months, the current group of Android owners will be coming to the end of their contracts and looking for an upgrade," he said.

"Our data shows that when these consumers upgrade they tend to remain fairly loyal to Android itself – 62% buy another Android mobile – but considerably less so to the handset manufacturer."

Android stands on Microsoft's shoulders

A top Microsoft legal eagle has moaned that Android smartphones and the like are profiting from cash that his bosses have invested in research and development.

"These devices have moved from having a rudimentary phone system to being a full-fledged computer, with a sophisticated, modern operating system. In doing that, they have really stood on the shoulder of companies like Microsoft who made all these billions of dollars in investments," Horacio Gutierrez, deputy general counsel of Microsoft's intellectual property group, told the San Fran Chronicle.

Gutierrez was busily defending Microsoft's patent dispute onslaughts, including many against Android handset manufacturers that have resulted in licensing settlements with the Redmond firm. The latest Google buddies to pay up include Samsung, which signed a royalty deal with Microsoft for undisclosed payments on unknown patents in its phones and fondleslabs in September, and similarly Compal this month.

The disputes have led the Chocolate Factory to accuse the tech world of some sort of conspiracy against its smartphone OS.

Back in August, Google's chief legal officer David Drummond said in a blog post that "Android's success has yielded … a hostile, organised campaign against Android by Microsoft, Oracle, Apple and other companies, waged through bogus patents".

Gutierrez said "Microsoft has invested for decades more money than anyone else in research and development directed toward the efficiency of operating systems", and it was these efficiencies that its patents relate to.

According to the lawyer, all the smartphone innovation is in the software now, so software ideas have to be a part of intellectual property.

"Many things that earlier were implemented in hardware - think of telephone switching and circuits - are now implemented in software," he said. "So the question of whether software should be patentable is, in a sense, the same as asking whether a significant part of the technological innovation happening nowadays should receive patent protection."

"It's not the idea or the final outcome that is patentable; it's the particular way in which the outcome is brought about. So two different means of getting to the same end would be independently patentable," he added

Android Apps Get Big Break on Google TV

Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) unveiled a software update for Google TV on Friday that includes a slew of apps.

These are based on Android 3.1, Google spokesperson Jacques Herbert told TechNewsWorld. This is the latest version of the so-called "Honeycomb" release.

An update based on Honeycomb has been expected for a while.

Sony (NYSE: SNE), a long-time Google TV partner, reportedly demonstrated a Google TV set running Honeycomb at CEDIA Expo 2011, the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association conference held in Indianapolis, Ind., last month.

The Google TV Software Update

The Google TV software update released on Friday focuses on four areas: simplicity, improved search, a custom YouTube experience and Android apps.

The interface is simpler, the customizable home screen has been redesigned to offer swift access to an owner's favorite content, and all shortcuts are shown within the "all apps" feature, similar to how it's done on an Android smartphone or tablet, Google said.

The search feature has been improved across the board. Further, a new app called "TV & Movies" lets consumers browse through 80,000 movies and TV episodes across cable, satellite, Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX), Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN), YouTube and other sites.

Google has also integrated YouTube more closely with Google TV search so consumers can turn any topic into a channel.

The YouTube experience for Google TV has been revamped so consumers can get to videos more rapidly.

Finally, Google TV now has access to the Android Market. So far, 50 developers have put up Google TV apps on the Android Market.

The update will be available on Sony devices early next week and on Logitech (Nasdaq: LOGI) devices after that. More updates and more Google TV partners are in the works.

It's The Apps That Count

Google reached out to devs to create apps for Google TV at the device's launch back in May of 2010, so why have only 50 devs responded, given the phenomenal growth rate of Android mobile apps?

"We worked closely with these developers to get their apps ready for the update," Google's Herbert said. The update itself will include Android and Web apps from more than 100 partners when it's released, he added.

More than 50 of these partners have developed new apps for the update, and there will be about 800 Android apps available on the Android Market, of which 30 will work well on television.

"With thousands of developers, we expect new apps to appear on Google TV all the time," Herbert stated. Apps will be offered by partners including CNN Money, Flixter, Fox Business, Kraft (NYSE: KFT) Cooking, NPR, Motor Trend and The Wall Street Journal, he elaborated.

"Supporting a new platform such as a TV is not simply about porting the code over," Simon Khalaf, president and CEO of Flurry Analytics, told TechNewsWorld. "It's about developing a great experience."

It will take time to develop Google TV apps, "but the excitement [among devs] is there, and in big numbers," Khalaf added.

On the other hand, perhaps Google hasn't funded app development efforts sufficiently, suggested Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

Another factor could be that few Android app devs are really making any money, Enderle told TechNewsWorld.

Who Wants Set-Top Boxes Anyhow?

Longtime Google TV partner Logitech had to cut the price of its Google TV offerings twice this year, from US$299 to $249 and then again to $99, in an attempt to boost sales.

To put things in perspective, Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) quietly discontinued its 40 GB Apple TV set-top box and slashed $100 off the 160 GB model to bring the price to $229 back in September of 2009.

One year later, Cupertino announced a new version of the Apple TV for $99.

It could be that consumers may not want to shell out money for a set-top box from a third party when cable companies offer them as part of a subscription package, Enderle stated in a previous interview.

"HP was in this market and it got out," Enderle elaborated. "NetGear and LinkSys had products that never sold well. The only product that has really moved well is the Xbox, but that's probably because the vast majority of people bought it to play video games."

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Microsoft attorney outlines Android patent tactics

It takes flowcharts to keep track of all the mobile patent lawsuits under way.

Apple sued HTC, while Kodak sued Apple, Samsung and Sony. RIM filed suit against Kodak and Motorola. And what are called nonpracticing entities (or patent trolls, if you prefer) such as Intellectual Ventures and NTP have sued pretty much the lot of them.

It can seem - and some have argued - that the patent system itself is broken, forcing companies to spend more time and money on legal battles than research and development.

But that view betrays an ignorance of history, according to Horacio GutiƩrrez, the deputy general counsel in charge of Microsoft's intellectual property group.

In an interview with The Chronicle, he said that a flurry of patent disputes has followed any new disruptive technology at least as far back as the telegraph, as companies sort out whose inventions the latest innovations built upon. The smart phone, a veritable Swiss Army knife of digital tools, is no exception.

It's an ugly process, but it's normal and necessary, he said. Without patent protections, companies don't have the incentive to spend years and millions developing new products. And without licensing agreements and the occasional lawsuit, their competitors wouldn't respect the investments and inventions protected by those patents.

Like many companies, Microsoft is playing both defense and offense in today's patent wars. It's being sued by NTP, but it has also demanded that companies using Google's Android mobile operating system pay licensing fees for a number of Microsoft's patents that it claims the free software infringes upon.

In March, it filed suit against Barnes & Noble and its device manufacturers, after the company refused to pay up for its Android-based Nook e-readers. In its legal response, Barnes & Noble said the Redmond, Wash., software giant was pushing for licensing fees that were higher than it charges for its own mobile operating system, and questioned the validity of the patents in question, saying they relate to "arbitrary, outmoded or nonessential design features."

Google has said Microsoft is trying to "extort" profit from companies after failing to gain a substantial share of the smart-phone market itself.

GutiƩrrez, who has been outspoken on patent issues in blog posts and press interviews, strongly disagrees. In our interview, he argued that Google is simply "standing on the shoulders" of companies like Microsoft and that licensing agreements are the healthy solution to these patent conflicts.

Q: Microsoft has struck at least 10 licensing deals with companies using Android, including Samsung and HTC, and you've sued Barnes & Noble. Some have called it a campaign against Android, others patent trolling. How would you describe it?

A: Every time there are these technologies that are really disruptive, there are patent cases. People who lived in that particular time would look and say, "What a mess, we certainly must live in the worst time from an (intellectual property) perspective. The system is broken and something has to be done to fix it."

That's the situation we're in right now. If you think of a mobile phone or a tablet computer today, they're not your father's or your grandfather's cell phone.

The devices have evolved and become so much more powerful, because they've added a number of technologies that pre-existed the new devices. In general, they use software to become general-purpose computers.

As we've seen historically, there is a period of unrest and a period of readjustment, until the claims on the ownership of different pieces of technology are well known. There's a period of actually licensing and cross-licensing that makes these issues disappear into the background.

When you buy the device as a consumer, you get it out of the box and enjoy it immediately. What you don't see is an invisible web of licensing and cross-licensing arrangements that actually make it possible.

So licensing is not some nefarious thing that people should be worried about. Licensing is, in fact, the solution to the patent problem that people are reacting so negatively about.

Is fragmentation hurting Android?

Choice is usually a good thing. As customers we want to be able to choose the colour, the specifications, the price, etc. that suits us. That thinking is pretty much out the window when it comes to Apple though and iPhone is a perfect example of this.

Ever since it was introduced in 2007, pundits have ridiculed Apple’s smartphone for nothing having camera, not having expandable memory, no copy-paste, no multitasking, and only one colour.

Most shortcomings and lack of choice have been addressed by Apple over the models since then but in principle the arguments still exist, now targeting the iPhone 4S.

Chances are if you do adhere to such arguments against iPhone you’re a big Android fan. One of the big differences between Android and iOS is the choice you have as a customer. There’s a myriad of different form factors, designs, screen sizes, touch and keyboards, memory, processors, etc. on the Google side. And that’s good in the sense that there is a choice, so almost whatever you want there’s an Android device out there for you. If you instead go for

Apple, there’s one smartphone and one tablet. Sure, there is different size of storage space and Cupertino did keep iPhone 4 and 3GS around, but still, in reality, there’s only one, the 4S.

This variety of choice is often called fragmentation and the argument is that from software development and user experience point of view it’s not necessarily a good thing. Consider developing an app for Android Honeycomb, Google’s operating system for tablets: you will be faced with 7, 8.9, and 10.1 inch displays (at least), with a variety of pixel resolutions. Surely that can’t be helpful in terms of developing a consistent and good user experience. I’m not a programmer and I readily admit that I have no idea what Android has in

its back pocket that it pulls out to rescue developers that are trying to create that consistent user experience, but it would seem to me it’s not a very good situation.

On the other hand, I can also see that on iOS, where it’s standardised to the point of almost being just one choice, it can be stifling creativity, but I don’t see it as bad for users as fragmentation could be for Android. One simple test for that is look at the apps available for both platforms. Apple’s iOS leads in terms of number of apps but not by much. What’s more interesting, solely based on my own experience of using many iOS and Android devices, is that I think there are more apps of high quality and unique ideas for iOS. This is of course just my opinion, but I do find it easier to find apps with better design of interface, graphics as well as functionality for iOS than for Android. Perhaps part of the reason for that is that iOS is less fragmented.

Rest assured, Apple is not going to change its approach so the question is will Google? I don’t think so because it deals with so many hardware partners.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Spotty Software Updates Keep Android Users Stuck in the Past

We’ve known the Android platform was fractured for some time. Stop a handful of Android owners on the street, and odds are at least one of them will be running an out-of-date version of the OS.

But we didn’t know it was this bad.

Santa Barbara-area entrepreneur Michael DeGusta created a chart on Thursday detailing the frequency of OS updates across the myriad devices running the Android software. The results are ugly.

Out of the 18 released Android phones DeGusta surveyed, seven of them haven’t ever run a current version of the Android operating system. It’s as if you were stuck perpetually running an old copy of Windows 98 on your desktop. And nobody wants that.

Further, over half of the devices surveyed stopped receiving support updates from manufacturers less than one year after initial release. Eighty three percent of the devices don’t even run Gingerbread, the most up-to-date version of the Android OS for phones. Gingerbread was released almost one year ago.

To create the chart, DeGusta tracked down every U.S. Android device shipped since 2007 to mid-2010, as well as the frequency of the software updates for each device. He took that information and paired it against the current release of Android at the time, showing which phones were up to date, and which ones weren’t. Green squares represent phones running the current version of Android at that point in time. Yellow, orange and red squares represent phones running versions that are one, two or even three or more versions behind the current one.

The chart details the serious issues device manufacturers face in keeping Android software current on their phones. Chart courtesy of Michael DeGusta

Juxtaposed against that of the iPhone’s version update history, Android’s track record is appalling. All four of the iPhones released in the measured period have been kept up to date on software releases.

Part of the disparity between the two platforms is a sheer numbers game. Apple had only four phones to worry about updating (now five, after the debut of the 4S), while Google — who licenses its Android software out to multiple manufacturers — must now deal with hundreds. Optimizing software integration with the many different specification sets across available Android hardware is an impossible task.

Not to mention the breakneck pace of Android’s software development cycle. In the four years since Android launched, the software underwent nine different software version launches. iOS has undergone half of that.

Take heart, Android users — there’s hope for change yet. At its I/O conference in March, Google and a host of partner manufacturers introduced an initiative which guarantees manufacturers will provide Android software updates to purchased smartphones for a minimum of 18 months.

“Expectations around phones have changed,” said VP of Android engineering Hiroshi Lockheimer when we spoke last week. “It used to be that phones didn’t get upgrades, and industry players are coming from that ‘non-upgrade’ philosophy. We’re trying to build awareness in the industry that things have changed.”

The Problem With Android

Android is the leading smartphone platform with a diverse array of devices available from a variety of manufacturers, and from virtually every wireless carrier. As capable as the Android OS might be, though, its diversity is also one of its greatest handicaps.

Google recently unveiled the next major release of Android: Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich". The latest iteration of Android combines the features and capabilities of the Android 2.3 "Gingerbread" OS for smartphones, and Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" OS for tablets into an integrated OS that serves both types of devices simultaneously.

Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich"

"Ice Cream Sandwich" sounds yummy, but who knows when I'll get it for my Xoom?"Ice Cream Sandwich" will soon be available on the flagship Samsung Galaxy Nexus samrtphone. If you don't rush out to get the Galaxy Nexus, though, it is a guessing game when you might be able to get an Android 4.0 update for your existing Android smartphone or tablet…or if you ever will at all. That is the problem with Android.

Motorola's latest Android phone--the Droid Razr--begins pre-orders today, and will ship to customers sometime during the first half of November. When users receive this cutting edge device, it will already be obsolete because it is built on Android 2.3.5--a variant of last year's "Gingerbread" release. Motorola promises that the Droid Razr will be updated to "Ice Cream Sandwich" in the first half of 2012. Woo hoo?

Meanwhile, owners of the initial Android showcase phone, the Google Nexus One, are just out of luck. Google has already announced that the Nexus One hardware is "too old" and the device will not be updated to Android 4.0.

It is a problem that plagues all Android devices. A chart from illustrates the Android smartphone models that have been released in the United States, and how far behind most of them are in relation to the current Android release.

Compare the Android update history with iOS. The iPhone 3GS was initially launched in June of 2009. It is more than two years old, yet when iOS 5 was released it was immediately available for download for the iPhone 3GS, as well as the iPhone 4. While it took more than six months for "Gingerbread" to be deployed on a statistically significant segment of Android devices, when Apple updates iOS it generally has 90-plus percent penetration in a matter of days.

I have a Motorola Xoom tablet running "Honeycomb"--Android 3.2.1 to be exact. The Xoom is one of the standard-bearers of what Android tablets are supposed to be capable of. When "Ice Cream Sandwich" is released for the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, I would expect to be able to immediately download the new OS for my Xoom as well. I won't hold my breath.

The reality is that I will be lucky to get "Ice Cream Sandwich" on my Xoom in the next six months. Meanwhile, my original from April of 2010, and my iPad 2 are both happily running the iOS 5 update that came out a couple weeks ago.

Answering the question of why Android devices take so long to get the latest update, or don't get the update at all, the post explains, "Obviously a big part of the problem is that Android has to go from Google to the phone manufacturers to the carriers to the devices, whereas iOS just goes from Apple directly to devices."

Vendors often claim--as Google has with the Nexus One--that the older hardware just can't keep up with the newer Android OS. The post goes on to point out, though, that the hacker community often ports the latest OS to these devices just fine, so that argument seems to be invalid in at least some cases.

There is no denying that hardware eventually becomes obsolete, and that some older devices truly lack the horsepower and capabilities that the newer Android OS demands. On the Apple side of the fence, there are still legacy models that are no longer supported as well. It's just that they are three years or so old--not devices that were sold as cutting edge, flagship smartphones a few months ago.

Google, Android device manufacturers, and wireless carriers all need to work together to implement a more streamlined system to get the latest updates out to devices faster, and to create a more predictable environment where users can be confident that the cream-of-the-crop smartphone or tablet they are investing in won't be rendered obsolete for six months or more while it waits to catch up…just in time for the next release of Android to put it two steps behind again.

Effect of Android fragmentation on users

Though the Android Market has many apps but not all of them can be operated on all the Android devices.

Despite its No 1 status, Google's Android is facing an unusual threat of fragmentation.

Unlike other OSes, Android has many versions and has handsets in various price categories with different specifications. Though the Android Market has many apps but not all of them can be operated on all the Android devices owing to their hardware and software capabilities.

There are numerous single core devices on which many games just won't run. Many games don't even appear in Android Market app in the Android phones, though they do show up in the web based Android Market. This is fragmentation in full force when developers are creating products for certain processors or specific phones only.

There are clear guidelines given by the Android authorities to the app developers on how they can scale the same app to different screen sizes and pixel densities. Many developers do not pay attention to these guidelines, mostly because it may increase the cost of making of the apps. As a result, some apps even crash on unfamiliar screen types and sizes and others don't look good.

Talking about the different Android versions, there are several apps in the Android Market which work on certain Android versions only. So the other users with other handsets may be left in the lurch for those apps incompatible with their Android operating system version. The situation becomes even worse if one user has a tablet and the other one has smartphone, as there are numerous tablet specific apps in the Android Market due to rush among the developers to come out with tablet specific apps, they skipped the smartphone apps altogether.

Even when Google brings out new user features for new Android versions, for example faster code compiler and native tethering for Froyo, the users having other Android versions missed out on the fun. Same thing happened when global audio equalizers and efficient memory management came for Gingerbread, but other users could not get these features.

Google, Oracle Trial Over Android Claims Pushed Back

SAN FRANCISCO (Dow Jones) -- The anticipated trial to resolve Oracle Corp.'s (ORCL) claims that Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Android mobile-phone software infringes on Oracle's intellectual property has been pushed back, according to court filings.

In a court filing on Wednesday, Judge William Alsup wrote that "the trial will not be in 2011," adding that lawyers representing each side have until Nov. 18 to file objections to the proposed trial plan.

The jury trial will be broken into three phases to cover copyright liability, patent liability and other remaining issues, according to the filing.

Oracle sued Google in August of last year, alleging that Google's Android software infringes on patents and copyrights associated with Oracle's Java technology.

Oracle acquired Java when it bought Sun Microsystems.

Face-to-face meetings last month between Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and Google CEO Larry Page failed to produce a settlement, and a trial had been expected for this month.

Google has complained that Oracle and other rivals are seeking to undercut Android by filing patent lawsuits, rather than competing fairly in the marketplace.

Meanwhile, Oracle has suggested that it is owed billions of dollars in damages as a result of Google's alleged infringement.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Android topples Apple to be no. 1 download choice

TORONTO: Google Inc.'s Android operating system passed Apple Inc.'s iOS as the most popular software platform for application downloads as consumers bought more Android smartphones.

The Google platform accounted for 44 percent of all app downloads in the second quarter, eclipsing Apple's 31 percent share, according to ABI Research. That was fueled by a 36 percent jump in Android phone shipments from the previous three months, ABI said.

Google, based in Mountain View, California, introduced Android in 2007 as an open-source platform, allowing any phone maker to use it for free and focus on designing hardware rather than software. Android has helped propel Samsung Electronics Co. into the ranks of top smartphone makers and drive a recovery at Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. even as sales of Apple's iPhone surged.

"Android's app downloads per user still lag behind Apple's by 2 to 1," said Dan Shey, practice director of mobile services at ABI.

Android Overtakes iOS in App Downloads

The Android operating system now leads in total app downloads, another benchmark in the race to dominate the smartphone market, according to ABI Research.

Android Overtakes iOS in App Downloads

The market research firm's Singapore office said Android overtook iOS in the second quarter of this year with 44 percent of mobile app downloads being delivered to Android devices, compared to 31 percent going to iOS gadgets.

Android has grown much faster than ABI's earlier projections have suggested. In 2009, Google's OS facilitated just 11 percent of total app downloads. At that time, the firm projected that figure might grow to 23 percent by 2014. Instead, 2011 seems to have been the year that Android made its move on iOS. As recently as August 2010, ABI reported that iOS still held a dominant 52 percent of the market for mobile app downloads.

“Android’s open source strategy is the main factor for its success,” says Lim Shiyang, an ABI research associate. “Being a free platform has expanded the Android device install base, which in turn has driven growth in the number of third party multiplatform and mobile operator app stores."

According to ABI, Android’s install base now exceeds iOS by a margin of 2.4-to-1 worldwide; by 2016 that will grow to 3-to-1.

Shiyang says the open source factor alone could be enough to explain Android's success, but ABI also notes that growth in iPhone shipments slowed in the middle of 2011, likely as consumers decided to wait to buy a new iPhone until the next model (which we now know to be the iPhone 4s) was released. While Apple growth was slowing, Android shipments increased 36 percent in the second quarter.

Of course, the picture for the last quarter of 2011 could look very different, thanks to the October release of the iPhone 4S, which has already broken sales records. And Apple users still download more apps per user than Android by a 2-to-1 margin, according to the ABI report.

“Apple’s superior monetization policies attracted good developers within its ranks, thus creating a better catalog of apps and customer experience,” says ABI's Dan Shey.

In the end, both Apple and Android win. ABI expects global app downloads for 2011 to hit 29 billion total, a huge increase from 9 billion downloads in 2010. That's thanks to a total smartphone install base that's expected to grow 46 percent this year.

Android, iOS Competition Is Good for Mobile Industry: 10 Reasons Why

Competition is the cornerstone of business. If just a single company was dominating every respective market, the innovation consumers and enterprise users around the world enjoy today wouldn’t be nearly as advanced as it is. In fact, it’s quite possible that the very things many folks take for granted wouldn’t even be available.

Yet in the mobile operating-system space, there are multiple legal battles being waged that Google claims, stifle competition. Currently, Google’s Android operating system is being targeted by a host of companies, including Apple, Microsoft, and Oracle over charges that the platform violates patents held by those companies. Microsoft has been so effective in targeting Android, in fact, that it now has entered into licensing agreements with vendors producing over 50 percent of all the Android-based devices hitting store shelves.

It gets worse. Apple supporters say that Android copies iOS, and has become successful by including their favorite company’s ideas. Android partisans point to features such as iOS Notification Center claiming that Apple’s OS copies Android. Through it all, it quickly becomes clear that there is no easy way to solve the debate.

But should we? The fact is, Android and iOS are strong competitors that are trying to gain an upper-hand with each new software release. That’s good for all stakeholders—including Apple and Google. Read on to find out why:

1. It makes Apple see its faults

It’s easy for Apple to become over-confident. Nearly everywhere the company turns hear praise and adulation from its many admirers for delivering outstanding products to the market. However, Android’s continued innovation is making Apple realize its own faults. Consider, for example, the addition of Notification Center to iOS 5. Android has long had a similar feature but Apple hasn’t. The iPhone maker saw the error of its ways and addressed it. Without Android there, who knows if that would have happened?

2. More Android versions

Each year, Google releases several different versions of Android that in one way or another improve upon their predecessors. This year, for example, Google has offered up Android 3.0 “Honeycomb” and improvements to Android 2.3 “Gingerbread.” It will soon bring Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” to the market. If it weren’t for the competition it faces from iOS, who knows if Google would feel so compelled to release new and improved versions of its mobile platform so often?

3. It helps vendors sell more devices

As mentioned, competition in the mobile OS space is good for everyone. In fact, it helps vendors. Right now, several handset makers, including Samsung, LG, and Motorola rely upon Google’s Android platform to operate their companies. If Android was a loser, they wouldn’t be able to sell too many products. But thanks to the competition Google faces from Apple it keep releasing new and improved versions which allows vendors to release to devices based on those versions.

4. Market domination is the death knell

It’s clear that if one company’s technology held an overwhelming advantage over the mobile OS market innovation would suffer to the detriment of all mobile phone buyers. But that’s nothing new. Domination in any market creates stagnation and makes the leading company lazy, complacent and more inclined to rake in as much profit without rapidly improving its technology to the benefit of customers and partners. Luckily, we don’t have that in the mobile OS space because of strong competition. And we’re benefiting from it.

5. It brings other software vendors into the fold

The nice thing about competition is it allows other companies to break into a market. Too often, there are markets that are dominated by a single firm that provide no points of entry for smaller startups. But with more competition, it’s easier for a product to make a name for itself. In the mobile OS market, that’s especially the case. Right now, Windows Phone 7 and Samsung’s Bada operating system are slowly but surely making inroads, even as Android and iOS continue to dominate. If only one OS was dominating, who knows if those operating systems would even have a chance?

6. Tablets will only improve

The big issue in the tablet space is that there is really only one company—Apple—building the devices people want. But with competition from Android and help from vendors, that might soon change. Take, for example, the expected December launch of the Amazon Kindle Fire. That device, which goes on sale for just $199, is designed to establish a foothold in the tablet market. If it’s successful, it will also help Android become a more worrisome competitor to iOS. Will it take down the iPad? Probably not. But it will arguably be the first product to prove other companies besides Apple can succeed in tablets. It’s relying upon Android to do it.

7. It pushes prices down

The nice thing about competition is that it typically pushes prices down. After all, if a company that’s losing on features can’t gain an upper hand, its best option is to win on price. In the mobile OS market, Android and iOS pricing isn’t at play, but handset pricing is. Apple has been forced to keep iPhone and iPad pricing the same because of the threats it faces from competitors running Android. Companies running Android on their devices are also wary of pricing products too high for fear of looking too expensive against the iPhone. Make no mistake, Android and iOS competition is keeping smartphone and tablet prices down. And looking ahead, they might decline even further.

8. Consider the advertising angle

There’s more to the competition between Android and iOS than just market share. Currently, both Apple and Google are trying to gain a stranglehold on the mobile-advertising market. Apple has iAd, while Google has AdMob. Thanks to the competition between those firms, neither company has been able to fully take control over the mobile-ad market. That’s a good thing because the more competition in that space, the easier it is for users to avoid unwanted and intrusive ads.

9. It splits cybercriminal focus

As we’ve seen in the desktop operating system space, when a single platform has all the market share, cybercriminals will focus on it because that is where the most potential profit is. It’s the reasons why Windows is targeted each day and Mac OS X is a harder nut to crack for cyber-criminals. In the mobile space, however, cybercriminals can’t focus all their efforts on a single platform since the market is bifurcated mainly between iOS and Android. That makes it harder for cyber-criminals to seriously compromise the security of either Android or iOS and gives Apple and Google more time to contain outbreaks.

10. It gives enterprise users more options

Prior to the launch of the iPhone, enterprise users really only had one option available to them: BlackBerry. Since then, however, with Android and iOS putting pressure on RIM in the corporate world, companies have three—and if you include Windows Phone 7, four—options available to them when deciding to deploy new smartphones. In the IT space, having more options is extremely important. And thanks to the competition Android and iOS are bringing to the market, IT managers have all the options they need.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Android gaining on iPad

Sales of tablet computers running Google’s Android software rose more than ten-fold in the last year, as new figures suggest that Apple’s iPad may finally be facing serious competition.

Products made by Motorola, Samsung, Acer and others have been greeted with some critical acclaim but have failed to make a serious dent on the dominance of Apple’s iPad. According to analysis by Strategy Analytics, however, Samsung’s latest generation of Galaxy tablets has led a rise in Android tablet sales and pushed the iPad’s market share last quarter to 67 per cent, down from 96 per cent.

Android-powered tablet computers accounted for 27 percent of global sales during the last quarter, jumping from 2.3 percent a year earlier, Strategy Analytics said.

New products from companies such as Amazon are expected to further accentuate the trend.

“Amazon’s strategy of minimizing its hardware price is set to ignite the entry-level tablet segment and attract more mass-market consumers,” Neil Mawston, a London-based director for the research company, said in a statement to Bloomberg.

Samsung’s tablets have been subject to legal action from Apple around the world, however. In Steve Jobs’ forthcoming biography, he is reported to have vowed to “go thermonuclear” and spend “every penny” of Apple’s $40billion cash pile to destroy Android, which he regarded as “stolen” from Apple. Google has recently launched its new version of Android, codenamed Ice Cream Sandwich, and says that while other companies are resorting to legal action it is focusing on innovation.

Total tablet sales amounted to 16.7 million units in the third quarter, more than tripling from 4.4 million a year earlier, Bloomberg said.

Apple's iPad Dominance Fades? I Don't Think So

What? Android tablet market share has skyrocketed almost 700 percent since a year ago, and the Apple iPad has plummeted to a meager 67 percent of the market? Why is it then, that iPads are everywhere, and the only place I see any other tablets is on the display table at Best Buy?

I'll tell you why. It's because the jump in Android tablet market share is an elusive myth like Big Foot or the Lochness Monster. It is a fantasy created from spinning stats so hard it could give you whiplash.

Apple iPad 2

Contrary to hyperbolic reports, the iPad still dominates.One of my PCWorld peers wrote about stats reported from Strategy Analytics. That report claims Android tablet market share has jumped significantly to 27 percent, and that the iPad is down to only 67 percent of the tablet market. Let's take a closer look at the claims.

Shaky Math

It takes a lot of spin to make hyperbolic claims about Android tablets grabbing 27 percent of the market, or iPad market share dropping to 67 percent. The report, however, doesn't really say that. It is only focused on the most recent quarter, and it is only looking at the number of devices shipped.

If a new car model comes along and the manufacturer cranks out tens of thousands of them in a given quarter--enough to account for 27 percent of the vehicles manufactured that quarter--it doesn't necessarily mean that it sold any of them. It certainly doesn't mean that the new model suddenly accounts for 27 percent of the market compared against other manufacturers and models that have been sold for years.

Shipped or Sold?

One of the problems that seems to come up repeatedly when comparing Apple and Android in both smartphones and tablets is the distinction between the number of devices that have been shipped, and the number of devices that have actually been sold. Apple tends to report sales figures while its rivals like to talk about how many devices they have sitting in the Best Buy warehouse.


There are plenty of tablet rivals, but lets stick to comparing real-world sales, not who built the most.The HP TouchPad is a prime example. Just before pulling the plug on the webOS tablet and clearancing out the entire inventory for next to nothing, HP was touting numbers that it had shipped more than 250,000 tablets. Those reports were followed by complaints from Best Buy that it had only managed to sell about 25,000 total and a request that HP buy back the useless inventory.

Reporting the number of units "shipped" is like using the Fifth Amendment when testifying in court. Taking the fifth essentially implies guilt--because if you have nothing to hide there is no reason to hide behind the Fifth Amendment. Similarly, quoting the number of devices that have "shipped" is the same thing as saying "we're too embarrassed to tell you how few we've actually sold."

There is plenty of competition out there. It is virtually inevitable--just as a function of the sheer volume of tablet choices available--that Apple's overall share of the tablet market will drop over time. But, cherry-picking a single quarter and comparing the number of iPads sold against the number of other tablets that were manufactured and shipped isn't even an apples and oranges comparison--its like comparing apples and bicycles.

Let's keep it real. Android tablet makers may have ramped up production this past quarter, and it may be true that Android tablets account for 27 percent of the tablets manufactured during the past quarter, but what counts is how many have actually been purchased and are being used in the real world.

When it comes to that stat it's no contest--Apple owns the market for now. We'll see if the Amazon Kindle Fire can put a dent in that at all.

Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich vs Apple iOS 5: comparison of features

Comparison is increasingly being made between two great operating systems for smart phones and tablets launched within the last few weeks. Both iOS 5 from Apple and Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich from Google have impressed their respective constituencies.

Android lovers would rarely appreciate Apple’s latest operating system, while Apple fanboys will never appreciate anything remotely connected to Google’s Android operating system. But notwithstanding the catfight between the fan base of the two operating systems, the two OS come with numerous interesting features and capabilities.

Cupertino based tech giant was first to introduce iOS 5 days before it launched iPhone 4S in the market. The last time it had rolled out iPhone 4 and the new operating system on the same day, causing repeated problems and outages of its website for several days. So it had learnt its lessons quite well.

iOS 5 and ice cream sandwich come with many innovative features. Android 4 is the first unified version for tablets and smart phone and it comes with improved voice commands, and facial recognition features. On the other hand Apple’s latest operating system boasts of many great features including BlackBerry type messaging service called iMessag besides of course iCloud and Siri.

Android 4 or Ice Cream Sandwich and iOS 5 come with great voice commands features. Siri’s voice recognition app makes a real difference when it comes to voice commands. Many smart phone analysts say that Siri is going to be a real game changer in favor of Apple and its iOS, though only time will tell if it alone can make such a great impact.

Another important aspect that is going to make a real difference between iOS 5 and ice cream sandwich is how the two provide web browsing experience to users. Though in my view, Windows Phone 7.5 Mango update gives an edge to Microsoft over the two, nonetheless Apple and Google have made significant improvement in OS recently. Google’s latest OS comes with a much improved Google Chrome browser that looked many times better than the previous browser available to Android users. On the other hand Apple iOS 5 has also received a much-needed Safari overhaul.

When it comes to multitasking Apple is a well known leader in it and its operating system has supported multitasking for ages. iOS 5’s new Notification Center shows all your phone notifications including SMSs, emails, friend requests, and others in a single place.

Android phones are catching fast with Apple products that use iOS. Apple’s latest operating system can work only on Apple products, but that is not the case with Ice cream Sandwich. So far ice cream Sandwich has appeared on Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Its operating system is an open source OS, and it can easily run on any third party phones and tablets.

Another great feature that is available on both the operating systems is cloud computing. Apple has put in a new feature on its latest operating system that is called iCloud. Android cloud computing may use Google music to store data. Google has been in cloud computing for several years.

When it comes to quality of photos that the two operating systems produce, the two compete very well on many a counts. With Ice Cream Sandwich Google has given many new photo tools that were not available in older versions. The best feature of ice Cream Sandwich are photo-editing tools in the image gallery. It helps in improving many photos that include red-eye reduction, straightening, and hipster filters. On the other hand iOS 5 comes with great photo editing tools that many further improve the quality of pictures. The new OS from Apple lets you switch between the camera and camcorder modes, besides of course between the front and rear cameras.

Meanwhile an Ice Cream Sandwich fan has this to say, “iOS cannot top Android in speed. That depends on the carrier and if they have 4g service and my Droid Charge beats the iPhone 4s, and my old Droid Incredible beats the iPhone 4. While it’s true that most good apps go to the App Store, some are expensive, and some are useless. In the Android Market, half of the apps are free, most are useful. And it is true that Android is prone to hacks and malware, the developer treats you like an adult and can fix it. Apple just give you a new iphone. And if you jailbreak your iphone, if there’s a problem, Apple won’t fix it or give you a new one. Google don’t care if you rooted your Android device. Siri is basically an annoying AI that may be useful in some cases, but you have basically the same thing with Android that doesn’t use a robot(ironically). But, iPhone do top lots of things. Games (COD Zombies is not on Android), musics (if itunes have k-pop, it will be great), camera (My sister’s iphone 4s blows my Droid Charge Camera), and security (un-penetrable if you’re an iOS owner”.

Android Developers Create Siri Rival "Iris" in 8 Hours

Who needs Siri when you have the lovely Iris telling you how she feels on Android smartphones?

While Android boss Andy Rubin told an AsiaD audience that smartphone users should talk to people, not to their devices (essentially poking a stick as Apple's new Siri feature on the iPhone 4S), an Android development team named Dexetra was hard at work creating a rival product called "Iris."

Sorry Andy, but even the developer community thinks interaction with an Android smartphone would be cool, and it only took Dexetra six to eight hours to create the first alpha version. Of course, Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" will feature a much-improved voice input engine, but whatever.

"It started out as a lazy Friday with half our team missing, the influx of tweets and posts on the 'Awesome Siri' were flying everywhere," reads the company blog on October 14. "Suddenly, I got the urge to do something similar for Android. Since we have been working on NLP and Machine learning for over an year now, I had a crazy belief that I could pull this off. Somehow I managed to write a tiny engine that could answer your questions, digging the results from the web."

One week later, the revised alpha looks nothing like it did before, moving beyond mere questions to allow further conversations about the same topic. "Even ask her how she is feeling today, whether she likes something etc. You can also try those Siri like wacky questions and Iris will give you sarcastic answers," the company said on Friday.

To test this, I asked Iris how she felt today. At first she responded with an "Oi," but when I asked again, she decided she felt sleepy. Not really knowing what to ask a female AI next, I asked her about the weather. She pondered over my silly question for a moment, and then said it was sunny actually, "it's like proper spring."

"Will it rain?" I asked. I planned to go stretch my legs after having my little conversation. She promptly told me that a typhoon was coming. Oh yea? And where exactly is this typhoon given that I'm on the east coast?

"On the earth, duh," she responded in her flat-but-edgy electronic voice. Smartass.

"Are you my new girlfriend?" I then asked, creeping myself out a bit. I hoped that no one was hearing me.

I got a flat nope, duly rejected by an Android phone. Surprisingly discouraged, I asked if she hated me. She responded with a prompt "no, I don't hate anyone. Hate is a useless emotion."

"Do you have any emotions, Iris?" Not even Mr. Data has emotion unless he fires up that special chip in his head.

"Yes," she responded. "I do have emotions."

After that, I turned off the app and clicked the phone into standby mode. That was enough Iris for me today, thank you very much.

In addition to the whole conversation mode (which is admittedly fun and creepy at the same time), the new and improved Iris now pulls up images and links when possible, is a lot faster than the previous alpha build, and is reportedly more intelligent. "We have added a few more fact engines to the mix," the company said. "Now iris has an enhanced knowledge base. So expect more questions to be answered."

To get Iris loaded up on your Android device, head here. Your new robotic assistant (girlfriend) will also require "Voice Search" and "TTS Library" apps to be installed if they aren't already. Now if she just had an actual face...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Android Boss Knocks Siri

People seem to think that Apple's new voice-activated personal assistant, Siri, is pretty cool. But not Andy Rubin, the Senior Vice President of Google's Mobile division.

Nope, the head of Android told AllThingsD at AsiaD that your phone shouldn't be a companion--it should be a tool for communicating with real companions.

"I don't believe your phone should be an assistant," Rubin said Wednesday. "Your phone is a tool for communicating. You shouldn't be communicating with the phone; you should be communicating with somebody on the other side of the phone."

That's an interesting though, considering Google is about to launch Android 4.0, dubbed "Ice Cream Sandwich," which has many new features and improvements--including a much-improved voice input engine.

To Rubin's credit, he's not totally hating on Siri--he's just not sure that people want to talk to their phones.

"To some degree it is natural for you to talk to your phone," Rubin said, but he's just not sure that people will want to talk to their phones if they're not actually talking to another person. Still, he said that "we'll see how pervasive it gets."

He also said that, while he doesn't think talking to your phone will catch on (though 4 million people beg to differ), he does think Apple "did a good job of figuring out when the technology was ready to be consumer-grade."

The iPhone 4S, which officially launched last Friday, sold a record-breaking 4 million units in the first three days. The 4S isn't as revolutionary as some people had hoped for--it's got a faster processor and a better camera, but no cosmetic improvements.

However, one of its key selling points is Siri, the sassy virtual assistant that understands natural language commands (for example, instead of saying "What is the weather like today?" you can say "Will I need an umbrella today?").

Not everyone is as unimpressed as Rubin. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer recently praised Siri in The Telegraph, and also said that Apple was a "good competitor, but a different one." Ballmer also knocked Android, saying that it was "hard for me to be excited about Android phones."

Of course, Ballmer doesn't have the best track record with bashing competitors: in 2007 he said Apple's iPhone (now the best-selling smartphone in the world) had "no chance" of getting any significant market share, and in 2008 he said that Google (whose mobile OS Android currently has the largest chunk of market share) wasn't exactly at the "top of the list of the top competitors we've got going in mobile."

Sony Ericsson confirms, HTC hints at Android 4.0 upgrade

SMARTPHONE MAKER Sony Ericsson has confirmed that its Xperia handsets will get an upgrade to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), whilst HTC has hinted at its own plans.

Google unveiled the latest version of Android yesterday so naturally the question on everyone's lips is 'when will I get the upgrade?' We haven't been told specific timeframes but Sony Ericsson gave us the following positive reply on the subject.

The firm wrote, "Sony Ericsson is currently rolling out the upgrade to [Android] Gingerbread 2.3.4 across its entire 2011 Xperia smartphone portfolio. This software upgrade will be available through a phased roll out in select markets. Beyond Gingerbread 2.3.4, we plan to upgrade our 2011 Xperia smartphone portfolio to the next Android platform made available to us."

Sony Ericsson said that further announcements regarding the update will be published on its blog.

We also contacted Taiwan-based phone maker HTC, which was somewhat vague about the upgrade to its own handsets, which include the Desire S, Incredible S and Sensation.

It said, "We are excited about the latest update for Android, Ice Cream Sandwich, and are currently reviewing its features and functionality to determine our upgrade plans. Our goal for Android updates is to give every customer an improved user experience, which means balancing each phone's unique hardware, HTC Sense experience and the Android kernel. While our goal is to upgrade as many of our recent devices as possible, we are committed to maintaining every phone's performance and usability first. Please stay tuned for more updates on specific device upgrade plans."

Now that we've seen exactly what ICS has to offer, we look forward to getting our hands on it. The latest version of Google's operating system combines Android 2.3 Gingerbread for smartphones with Android 3.X Honeycomb for tablets into one integrated operating system.

The first smartphone to come pre-loaded with Android 4.0 ICS will be the Galaxy Nexus, which Samsung and Google introduced yesterday. It will have a 4.65in 'contour display' with HD 720p resolution, a dual-core 1.2GHz processor and a choice of 16GB or 32GB of internal storage.

Asia emerges as battlefield for Google, Apple and Samsung

HONG KONG: When Google Inc unveiled its latest version of Android, the operating platform powering 50 per cent of the global smartphone market, it picked Hong Kong as the destination to show off the new software on Wednesday.

The event in Hong Kong, where a population of 7 million has a mobile penetration of 200 per cent, highlights Asia's importance as a market Google is keen to win in its high stakes war with Apple Inc.

In the process, the search giant is deepening ties with Asian electronics powerhouse Samsung Electronics, the largest Android seller, which is also set to overtake Apple as the world's biggest smartphone vendor in the third quarter.

"The Asian market is very important. Especially some of the countries are really emerging with smartphones and we are very excited about the opportunity," Won-pyo Hong, executive vice president for Samsung's global product strategy, said on the sidelines at the All Things D technology conference in Hong Kong.

The three-day event hosts senior executives from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Alibaba Group, Sony Corp, Twitter and other companies. South Korea's Samsung, cross-town rival LG Electronics Inc and Taiwan's HTC Corp are already leading the Android charge, with some of these vendors also supporting Microsoft's software.

Samsung's Galaxy Nexus, which sports both the Samsung and Google logos, will be the first device running the new Android system named 'Ice Cream Sandwich', aimed to unify the software used in tablets and smartphones.

The release comes after Apple began sales of the iPhone 4S, which boasts a voice-recognition technology dubbed 'Siri'.

"This will be our strategic product for the year-end holiday season, as (Apple's) iPhone 4S just came into the market," said JK Shin, president and head of Samsung's mobile communications business. The product will be launched in November.

Asia-Pacific, already bustling with smartphone users, will drive further growth in feature phones and smartphones over the next few years, while European and U.S. markets stagnate, analysts say.

Microsoft said on Thursday it will launch Mango-powered handsets from mobile makers including Nokia Oyj , Samsung and HTC over the next few weeks.

"As the price comes down, emerging markets do become a huge opportunity, but also the existing markets in western Europe and the U.S., because as the price point comes down, more people will get into the smartphone market," Andrew Lees, president of Microsoft's Windows phone division, told Reuters in an interview on Thursday.

Android software, which Google licenses free to manufacturers, is the most popular smartphone software globally, ranking ahead of Apple's iOS as well as software by Microsoft and Research in Motion Ltd .

Android runs on 190 million devices, up from 135 million in mid-July. As of the second quarter of this year, shipments of iPhones totalled around 129 million units, while that of iPads totalled 29 million, IDC figures show.

Smartphones now create 25 per cent of all phone market volumes, and the majority of the profits.

Jerry Yang, Yahoo's co-founder highlighted Asia as a "very important and growing" consumption market for Yahoo.

"Southeast Asia and India, in the next three years, there will be 100 million users coming online," Yang said, pointing to the proliferation of $50 feature phones.


This week, Apple's Chief Executive Tim Cook highlighted Greater China as its next big growth opportunity, saying "the sky's the limit there", even as the company missed street estimates for profit for the first time in 10 years.

Cook told analysts that Greater China -- mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan -- was becoming an all-important region for Apple as it has "become No 2 on our list of top revenue countries very, very quickly." Revenue from the region increased four-fold to $4.5 billion during the quarter.

China and India, the largest and fastest growing mobile markets, with about 1.8 billion mobile phone subscribers, still have a smartphone penetration rate of less than 5 per cent and this is where the top players are likely to boost investments and jostle to stitch deals with telco operators.

"For 2011 and 2012 we expect Apple to build a viable mid-range smartphone business and to pressure Android vendors with a reliance on the mid-range, while heavily pressurising others such as RIM," analysts at Nomura said last week in a report on the global mobile phone industry.

Apple lags rivals in smartphone markets, such as India and China, where buyers mostly choose handsets based on prices unlike the trend in matured markets.

Huawei Technologies and smaller rival ZTE Corp Ltd , are also aggressively muscling in on mobile devices.

This month, Apple launched its first store in Hong Kong, which joined its five other China stores as those with the highest traffic and among its highest revenue stores in the world.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hybrid browser to lead Opera's Android charge (exclusive)

OSLO, Norway--The rise of Android and its built-in browser could be seen as very bad news for Opera Software, a company that's built a business with a mobile browser popular on the very low-end devices that Android smartphones often replace.

But Opera sees things differently: Android is a major part of its plan for future growth. And a product due in 2012 that marries the Norwegian company's two mobile browsers, Opera Mini and Opera Mobile, will lead the company's defense of its mobile-browsing stronghold, CNET can report exclusively.

Opera Mobile is a traditional browser, with an engine to process the Web page code and run JavaScript programs. Opera Mini leaves all that heavy lifting to an Opera server that sends a boiled-down version of the page to the phone. Though the Mini approach hobbles some Web sites' interactive features, it cuts network usage significantly, eases battery life, and lets Opera Mini run on devices too feeble for Opera Mobile. Opera has more than 140 million browser users per month, with the vast majority using Opera Mini.

With the hybrid approach that Opera plans for Android devices, the Mobile browser will detect when the network is strained and switch into a Mini mode to cut the data-transfer burden, Chief Executive Lars Boilesen said in an interview here. No longer will Opera users have to decide on their own whether Opera Mobile or Opera Mini would be better at a particular moment.

"We'd like to take Mini and put it into Mobile," Boilesen told CNET. "We call it Opera with Turbo for Android...That is something we are looking forward to launch at the beginning of next year."

Benefiting from the Android threat
With the hybrid browser, Opera is trying to turn a business threat--Android--into an opportunity. Net Applications' analytics show Android's stock browser growing as a percentage of global Web usage while Opera Mini is dwindling. But Boilesen believes the large number of Opera Mini users can be converted to Opera Mobile once they upgrade to Android.

Opera Software is trying to get its employees to help promote Opera Mobile and Mini for Android with this fake money featuring CFO Erik Harrell.

Opera Software is trying to get its employees to help promote Opera Mobile and Mini for Android with this fake money featuring CFO Erik Harrell.

(Credit: Stephen Shankland/CNET)

"In countries where we have more than a million [Opera mobile browser] users, we have a very strong brand. It's natural for them to ask to use Opera on whatever phone they get," Boilesen said.

And since January 2010, when Boilesen took over as CEO from Opera co-founder Jon S. von Tetzchner, the number of countries with a million or more Opera mobile browser users has increased from three or four to more than 20.

For that reason, Opera has launched a major Android push. It's no coincidence that when Opera launched the first versions of Opera Mini 6.5 and Opera Mobile 11.5 last week, it began with Android versions.

"We're more focused on Opera for Android. It takes time to make a really good browser. Now we have it, so we're really aggressive," Boilesen said.

How aggressive? "We should get to a 10 percent market share as soon as possible. That's our target" for Android now, Boilesen said. "I think we're on our way to do that. We now have 5 or 6 million users, and we have good reviews."

The marketing department is shifting into a higher gear, too. The Opera offices in Oslo are littered with fake money sporting the face of Chief Financial Officer Erik Harrell; each bill exhorts employees to spread the word about Opera for Android. "Tweet like you've never tweeted before," the bills say.

Monthly Opera Mini users more than in Russia in the last half year, rising from just over 300,000 in April to 700,000 in September.

Monthly Opera Mini users more than doubled in Russia in the last half year, rising from just over 300,000 in April to 700,000 in September.

(Credit: Opera)

It's true that Opera is at a disadvantage because its mobile browsers aren't generally preinstalled on Android devices--though some Samsung products are an exception. But that's par for the course for Opera, which has dealt with Internet Explorer being built into Windows for Opera's entire history, and Boilesen said he believes the company's upcoming data-thrifty hybrid browser will appeal to the carriers that can be powerful allies.

"In the U.S. you have a lot of capacity issues. There are so many smartphones connected to base stations," a big problem for the carriers, he said. "We help them to take away traffic through our server compression engine. If you're on a very busy network, or if you have a slow connection, [Opera's hybrid browser] is something operators will be interested in."

Growth besides the U.S. is very important to Opera, though. And the "BRIC" countries of Brazil, Russia, India, and China are high on the priority list given their growing use of mobile Web. Opera is doing well in first three countries, but Opera has launched a joint venture with China Telling called Oupeng to try to make better headway in China.

"In all BRIC countries we are the market leaders, but in China we were very small. Something was wrong...Our user experience was not ideal. It's all based on typing URLs," Boilesen said. But in China, the company needed to "use a light portal with keywords. You put relevant content in front of users. We realized either we had to create lot of content, or we had to invest a lot and find a partner."

Opera's Turbo boost
Turbo is the name of the feature in Opera Mobile and in the personal-computer version of Opera that cuts data usage by using Opera's servers by compressing images, for example. The hybrid version means Web page code such as HTML, JavaScript, and CSS also won't have to be sent over the mobile network.

Here's a comparison I ran using the new data-tallying feature of Opera Mobile and Opera Mini. The BBC's home page is 1.7MB, a size you can check using Opera running its default state with Turbo turned off. Turning Turbo on shrinks the page size to 519KB. With Opera Mini, the page size shrinks even more, to just 304KB.

Opera's mobile browsers now tell people how much data the proxy-server approach is cutting out of their data plans.

Opera's mobile browsers now tell people how much data the proxy-server approach is cutting out of their data plans.

(Credit: Opera Software)

Though Boilesen said the new hybrid approach will arrive early in 2012, Chief Development Officer Christen Krogh--who's in charge of actually delivering it--said Opera hasn't yet pinned down a specific schedule.

But Krogh was enthusiastic about the approach, seeing it as the natural combination of its mobile browsers and mobile-phone computing trends.

"With Opera Mini, we're going from the bottom up. We see these feature phones becoming more and more capable. And for Opera Mobile, it comes in from the top. It's fantastic for tablets, and good for smartphones," Krogh said. "We have these two forces, one from the top and one from the bottom. You don't need a doctorate in statistics to see at some point the twain will meet."

Revenue derived from partnerships with operators has become Opera's biggest source of money.

Revenue derived from partnerships with operators has become Opera's biggest source of money.

(Credit: Opera Software)

Better business
Two years ago, Opera was struggling financially, but it's back in the black now. One of the hard decisions the executives had to make was abandoning one of the company's two earlier businesses, consultancy work building custom browsers for carriers. That meant Opera's business had just one leg to stand on for a long time--the ad revenue shared from search-engine partners to whom Opera drives search queries.

"It's been tough, but we feel we are better off now. It was healthy for us to get away from this consultancy business," Boilesen said. "That freed up new resources. We put them on an Android browser. We have now Opera Mobile for Android. It's really going well."

Indeed, Opera finances continue to improve: revenue for the second quarter of 2011 increased 29 percent to $40 million, up from $31 million the year earlier, and profit rose even more, 47 percent, from $3.6 million to $5.3 million.

"The last four quarters have been record quarters," Boilesen said. "Now the focus is how to build on that."

One major effort is to penetrate the TV market. Opera has deals to embed its browser in products from Sony, Toshiba, Philips, Loewe, and Sharp, and at least one other big-name partner is in the works. With the deals, Opera's technology can be used as a traditional browser, but Krogh demonstrated at the company's Up North Web press event how it's also a basic engine to reach big icons that can be operated with just a remote control.

That means Opera becomes a platform to reach an ecosystem of TV-friendly apps that happen to be built with browser technologies--video on demand, games, or reading news with CSS-based page-reading technology proposed by Chief Technology Officer Haakon Wium Lie that can be operated with a remote control's four-way rocker switch.

Christen Krogh, Opera's chief development officer, shows the Opera-powered app interface in Sony Bravia TVs.

Christen Krogh, Opera's chief development officer, shows the Opera-powered app interface in Sony Bravia TVs.

(Credit: Stephen Shankland/CNET)

Opera also is pushing into app store work with its Handster acquisition. That technology is used to power app stores for LG Electronics, Ericsson, and others, but it can be used for TVs, too. Opera also has payment processing abilities that Boilesen expects will mean new commerce-derived revenue. "People will be buying real stuff and not just software on the Net," he said.

Another Opera growth effort is in advertising. The company's January 2010 acquisition of AdMarvel means it now has ad-exchange technology that publishers can use to deliver ads targeted to particular demographics or areas. The service dovetails with the Opera servers used for Opera Mini.

And the company, which now has 750 employees, is hiring.

"We're back on the growth path," Boilesen said.

Shift to Apple, Android over BlackBerry seen

JOHNS STUART has been chained to his BlackBerry for years, first as a systems manager for Wall Street bank Morgan Stanley and then as chief information officer for Beverly Hills Wealth Management.

But last week, Mr. Stuart ordered an iPhone from Apple, Inc., ending his seven-year relationship with BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM).

His move highlights how even security-conscious banks and IT managers, who have been among RIM’s most loyal customers, are starting to defect, lured by improvements in rivals that challenge the BlackBerry’s much-vaunted safety features.

“RIM has always been at the top of their game when it comes to device management. Apple has caught up,” Mr. Stuart said.

The BlackBerry has been losing ground in the business market to the iPhone and, to a lesser extent, devices running Google, Inc.’s Android software, as companies gradually allowed their employees to choose their own mobile devices.

Last week’s massive BlackBerry network outage, which spanned four continents, is likely to speed up RIM’s decline, analysts said.

Many banks already allow employees to choose their devices and the BlackBerry outage is likely to push more in that direction, according to Julie McNelly, an analyst with Aite Group, who advises financial institutions on data security.

“The barn door is already open. Most of the horses are already gone,” she said. “This could potentially accelerate the process.”

The BlackBerry used to own the corporate market because companies believed RIM was best at protecting enterprise data and prevent the theft of corporate secrets.

The outage highlights RIM’s Achilles heel: the fact that all BlackBerry messages are routed through its own data centers means information is more secure, but it also creates a single point of potential failure.

Messages sent through phones from Apple and other vendors do not travel through any central network, so they do not have that same weakness.

While that has meant rival phones were less secure in the past, many security experts say the iPhone has caught up to the BlackBerry, thanks to improvements in Apple’s latest iOS software. And for Android phones, a proliferation of third-party security software have also helped.

“In most ways, iOS is at least as secure as BlackBerry, namely in malware prevention, exploit prevention, etc.,” said Charlie Miller, principal research consultant with Accuvant and a highly regarded expert on mobile security.

He said the BlackBerry is still superior in data encryption and manageability, but added that “reliability obviously is a problem recently for Blackberry.”

Samsung to unveil new Android model on Oct 19

Seoul: Samsung Electronics said on Friday that it planned to unveil a new smartphone based on Google's latest version of the Android operating system at an event in Hong Kong on Oct. 19.

The announcement came after the world's second-biggest handset maker put off the launch of the new device based on the Ice Cream Sandwich system while the world paid tribute to Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who died last week.

"We are unpacking our new Android phone in concurrence with Google," Samsung said in a statement on Friday, without disclosing the name of the new gadget.

Apple and Samsung are engaged in a bruising legal battle that includes more than 20 cases in 10 countries as the two jostle for the top spot in the smartphone and tablet markets. Apple is also the biggest customer of Samsung, buying mainly chips and displays.

Apple's new iPhone 4S finally went on sale in stores around the globe on Friday, with fans snapping up the final gadget unveiled during Jobs' lifetime.

A US judge said on Thursday Samsung's Galaxy tablets infringe Apple iPad patents, but also that Apple has a problem establishing the validity of its patents.