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Why I’m Already Giving Up on Android Wear

Mashable

I believe in wearable technology. From Google Glass to smartwatches, the idea that you can have access to useful and essential information right when you need it — without digging a smartphone out of your pocket — is compelling. Once you have that convenience, you don’t want to go back.

That’s why it’s so jarring when that ability disappears after you’ve grown used to it. Ever since Google I/O in late June I’ve been wearing an Android Wear smartwatch, the Samsung Gear Live, fairly regularly. But too often I’ve picked up the watch from my desk or nightstand only to be greeted with a dead screen where my faux-sophisticated digital watchface is supposed to be.

It’s technically my own fault. This happens whenever I take off the watch and forget to put it back in its charging cradle. Android Wear smartwatches are designed to provide “all-day” battery life; the device expects — in fact, depends upon — me to remember to recharge it every single night, or else it reverts to what I like to call bracelet mode.

This is why Android Wear stumbles so badly right out of the gate. Although it feels logical to expect users to simply mirror their nightly smartphone recharge habit with another gadget, as I’ve discovered, that’s a wrongheaded assumption.

While a smartphone is easy to keep in a pocket in almost all situations, I often find the watch inconvenient to wear while playing with my kids (who are still young enough to be picked up) or, say, cooking. In those cases, off it goes to the coffee table, kitchen counter or nightstand — usually for the night.

That habit is deadly to an “all day” smartwatch because of its secondary role. For my smartphone, I will almost always remember to charge it because it’s my primary window into my digital life; if I forget to juice it up, I’ll be cut off from what’s now a fundamental part of the way I (and millions of others) live.

Smartwatch habits

For a smartwatch, though, things are different. While its notifications are convenient, they’re not always essential. I really only “need” the notifications when I’m working and tend to mute them at home. Add to that the expectation created by decades of wristwatches that a watch can be put down for days, weeks and even months and still just work (“Take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’,” etc.), and you practically guarantee that all but the most anally retentive will occasionally forget to charge their smartwatch.

Android Wear does give you warnings when the battery is running low, but given the poor battery life you probably won’t see them in the case of a forgotten overnight charge. If you’re at, say, 30% when you go to bed, the 20% alarm won’t trigger until a little later, and by morning the watch will probably be completely dead — especially if you have the watch face permanently displaying the time.

It certainly doesn’t help that most smartwatches require a cradle to charge, which usually means there’s no way to quickly recharge it with any cable you have conveniently lying around the office.

Pebble Chief Evangelist Myriam Joire recently said battery life was the biggest challenge facing wearables, and she’s dead right. Wisely Pebble built its smartwatch to run for several days at a time, which I now regard as table stakes for any device in the market.

Battery futures

There are more than a few positives about Android Wear — the gesture-based UI is quite good and setup is nice and simple — but the poor battery life is such an issue that the platform should never have been released in its current form. I have high hopes that future models (including the beautiful Moto 360) will last longer, but the first two products hint that that’s probably unlikely. After all, if it were possible to create a lightweight smartwatch with four- or five-day battery life using Android Wear, why didn’t Samsung and LG do that in the first place?

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But really — what IS the point of Windows Phone?

CITEworld

Tech blogger and former Microsoft employee Robert Scoble drew some attention today for suggesting that Microsoft should abandon Windows Phone.

Scoble is an easy target — he’ll never live down the Google Glass shower thing — but in this case he’s making a pretty rational point.

Windows Phone was Microsoft’s attempt, four years ago, to grab a profitable chunk of the smartphone market from Apple and Google before it was too late.

It didn’t work. Microsoft’s share of the smartphone market is still well under 5%– as it’s been since Windows Phone launched in November 2010. Windows Phone shipments are growing overall, and it’s the number-two platform in some countries like Italy, but overall, worldwide, its market share makes it insignificant to most developers, users, and companies.

(I don’t always subscribe to the church of market share, as installed base is more important for drawing developers, but every year that Windows Phone stays a bit player means it will have to take even more market share in the future to make a dent in the installed base. Also, I know that Android isn’t really a single platform but has multiple versions and forks and runs on all kinds of devices with different screen sizes and specs, but in general the various Android platforms are closer together than Android and Windows Phone are — and in most cases, an app maker starting from scratch will get more users with an Android app than a Windows Phone app.)

Microsoft’s dreams of achieving 10 or 15 or 20 percent market share with Windows Phone look to be just that — dreams. It could happen, but based on all evidence so far, there’s zero reason to assume it will.

So if it’s doomed to be a perennial also-ran, what is the point of Windows Phone? Why should Microsoft keep investing in it? If Microsoft under Satya Nadella is really serious about making the cloud the platform for the next generation of the company, why not just build cloud services and clients that work equally well on competing client operating system platforms?

Here are a few possible reasons.

The developer argument. PC sales are flat. Most of the growth in computing platforms over the last few years has been in mobile devices, particularly smartphones. As Microsoft pursues its “One Windows” vision, in which the various versions of Windows — desktop, tablet, and phone — get closer to the “write once, reuse most of the code and tweak slightly to run everywhere” ideal, it must have a feature-competitive mobile platform to keep developers engaged. If Microsoft were only to focus on the PC and tablet, it would lose all those developers who believe the future of apps is mobile-first.

Yeah, but: With insignificant market share, Microsoft is basically irrelevant in smartphones anyway. It’s hard to imagine a mobile-first developer investing in Microsoft before iOS and Android, unless they already have a big Windows app business or a ton of Microsoft-platform experience anyway and want to leverage that into mobile platforms, perhaps via Xamarin.

The lock-out argument. Microsoft’s biggest business today is selling productivity and back-end infrastructure servers and the client apps that go with them. Its most promising business is selling cloud services that replace or augment those servers — and still work with the same client apps. If Microsoft allows Apple and Google to control the smartphone market, those companies could make arbitrary, secret, and/or difficult-to-reverse-engineer changes to their platforms that block these Microsoft apps and services from working properly. Having Windows Phone gives Microsoft a trump card — at least for enterprises who rely on Microsoft’s productivity servers, services, and software and want to enable a mobile workforce. (Consumers may not care as much, or at all, given the well-developed ecosystem of apps and services on iOS and Android for every imaginable personal productivity function.)

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Report: Samsung and Google Butt Heads Over Smartwatches

Mashable

Are Google and Samsung fighting over Tizen’s role in wearables? According to a new report, the answer is yes.

According to The Information, Google CEO Larry Page met with Samsung Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee at the Allen & Co. conference in Sun Valley. The purpose of the meeting? To discuss Samsung’s plans for wearables.

Evidently, the meeting wasn’t a success. The report reveals Page was unhappy to hear that Samsung still plans to focus most of its wearable efforts on its own Tizen operating system rather than giving more support to Android Wear.

Although Samsung has made a smartwatch that runs Android Wear — the Gear Live — the bulk of its smartwatch efforts are focused on Tizen.

Google and Samsung have a decidedly complicated relationship. Samsung is the most successful Android OEM by a large margin. As a result, Samsung wants to be able to differentiate and customize its experience. Sometimes, however, things go too far. In January, Samsung agreed totone down the extent to which it customizes Android’s user interface. Still, that hasn’t stopped Samsung from creating its own app store and doing its part to maintain the Galaxy branding.

With wearables, the situation becomes even more complex, because Samsung is essentially selling two competing devices. The Gear 2 smartwatch runs Samsung’s own software and works only with Galaxy smartphones. The Gear Live, on the other hand, has to follow Google’s rules and will work with any Android 4.3 or higher device — even if it’s made by someone other than Samsung.

The wearable market — especially the smartwatch part of it — is still new enough to allow Samsung to support both platforms. Assuming the smartwatch truly does go mainstream, however, Samsung may have to choose a platform and commit to it. For Google, the question then becomes, what does it need to do to keep its most important partner committed, without ceding control of its platform.

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The Australian Mobile Phone Market Hit Seasonal Low In Q1 2014, says IDC Australia

IDC PMS4colorversion 1 300x99 The Australian Mobile Phone Market Hit Seasonal Low In Q1 2014, says IDC Australia

A total of 2.05 million mobile phones were shipped in Q1 2014, recording -22% quarter-on-quarter (QoQ) and -17% year-on-year (YoY) decline as the market rationalised following a peak Christmas season last quarter.

The general migration from feature phone to smartphone continued on into the first quarter of 2014 as expected, resulting in a -38% decline in feature phone shipments. Smartphone shipments, however, declined as well by -20% QoQ, caused by a seasonal lull resulting from the transition period between two major product launches in the market.

“The smartphone market in Q1 was subdued when the initial hype over Apple’s new iPhone 5s and 5c tapered off from last quarter. Consumers were also holding off their purchases in anticipation for the next wave of Galaxy S smartphones from Samsung, then rumoured to be in Q2,” says IDC’s Senior Market Analyst, Amy Cheah.

Android continue to hold the largest share of the overall market with Samsung leading the pack. The vendor took to reducing prices of older generation Galaxy S phones ahead of a highly anticipated Galaxy S5 launch, regaining share from Apple as demand for iPhone 5s and 5c normalises.

IDC expects 4G LTE adoption and migration from feature phones to remain key drivers of smartphone adoption, with a forecasted growth of 5% in smartphone shipments by 2014. Smartphone screen sizes are also expected to be larger as economies of scale drive cost of display panel downwards. “While still niche now given the high price points, phones with screens larger than 5 inches, or more commonly known as Phablets, will become mainstream as lower display cost opens up greater opportunities for affordable low-end Phablets in the long run,” says Cheah.

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Screen Shot 2014 07 02 at 12.46.27 PM The Australian Mobile Phone Market Hit Seasonal Low In Q1 2014, says IDC Australia

The great tech lull of 2014

CITEworld

One of the things that really struck me about Google I/O this year was how much of it felt like a retread of old ideas.

Android TV? That sounds like the resurrection of Google TV, which wasannounced at the 2010 show. Android Wear and Nest? Recall the connected-everywhere vision of Android @Home, the big deal of the 2011 show. Android “L” is just the next version of Android — it’s got a lot of important new design elements and promised enterprise security features, but it’s an incremental release of an already immensely successful product. Google’s new attention to providing cloud infrastructure to third-party developers, while useful, is simply following down the same path Amazon pioneered with AWS a few years back.

I had a similar sense watching Apple’s developers’ conference earlier this month. Our writer Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry drew a lot of flak for his criticism of WWDCand how he thought it reflected on Tim Cook’s leadership as operations guy rather than visionary. I have a lot more admiration for Cook — his reorganization of Apple to be more open and less controlling, and able to concentrate on multiple huge complicated projects at once, are remarkable changes that bode well for the company’s future.

But I understand what Gobry was getting at. What’s the big vision? How does Apple see the future, and what products will it create or enable to help bring us into that future? This is the company whose last three hit products revolutionized the recorded music industry, created the smartphone industry, and threatened the consumer PC industry with irrelevance. (Not to mention, Apple was arguably the inventor, or at least the great popularizer, of the personal computer in the first place.) Instead we got a bunch of disparate ideas and some connective tissue that may or may not be used to construct products that we may or may not want.

Part of the “meh” comes from a misunderstanding of what these conferences actually are. Because Apple and Google have done so much to revolutionize technology for everybody, we sometimes forget that these are conferences for developers — the people who build the next generation of products that will wow and delight us. They’re not for the rest of us, really.

But still. There’s a sense right now that big technology companies and startups alike are casting around for the next big thing.

Everybody seems to agree that the next wave of computing will involve a bunch of previously dumb devices becoming smarter with new kinds of sensors and processing power provided largely by cloud services, and getting connected up in some fashion. This data will be collected and compiled and used to provide custom-tailored services, even to the point of anticipating your desires before you have them.

This is what’s behind Apple’s HomeKit and CarPlay, Google’s acquisitions of Nest and Dropcam its new connected car and TV initiatives, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s talk of “ubiquitous computing and ambient intelligence,” and Internet of Things and big data efforts by enterprise giants from Cisco to SAP to Salesforce. Not to mention hundreds of startups.

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What Google Understands: Context Is King

Mashable

If Google I/O 2014 were a military campaign, it would have been called Operation: Android Everywhere. From wristwatches to TVs to cars, Google extended the reach of its mobile operating system far beyond the smartphone, deploying new Androids to conquer territory that will determine who controls our connected future.

Android WearAndroid AutoAndroid TV — each one puts Google software into devices that we use every day. Surprisingly there was no talk about Android Home, but no doubt that’s coming — just as soon as Google works out exactly its acquisition of Nest Labs will fit into that picture.

The presence of Android on these platforms wasn’t new in itself. After all, there have already been plenty of third-party cars, TV sets and wearables that run Android. But what Google brings to the picture is a greater vision than just having a device that’s “smart.”

As the owner of the platform, it is in the perfect place to deliver a unified experience — the same way Apple does.

What Google was really selling at I/O was context, or more precisely contextual awareness of devices. A watch that runs Android is good; a watch that’s aware of where your phone is and which apps are on it is better. When the two devices are aware of each other, new functionality is created.

The upshot for the consumer: a whole new level of convenience.

“The integration between the different platforms is more important than any of the platforms themselves,” says Kelly Merrell, director of Android development for Mercury, which builds the TED app. “The watch itself is interesting, but what the watch can do when connected to the phone — like the lock screen using the wearable to say, ‘This is the right person that’s holding the phone.’

“The phone by itself can’t do it. The watch by itself can’t do it. It’s only when the two exist, there’s now new functionality unveiled just because of that connectivity.”

Android where?

Android Wear is fundamentally different from the Android smartwatches that came before it. Other models typically require the user to download separate software for each individual app that works with the watch — a tedious process at best.

With Android Wear, app notifications simply start appearing on the watch the moment you link it with your phone. To borrow a phrase that’s often associated with Apple products: It just works.

“You can pretty much put Android on everything already, but the level of integration you’re going to get is pretty limited,”says Ken Kyger, a developer for Cloudspace. “How many smartwatches are out there? And they all run Android or some fork of Android, but none of them really give that full, immersive rich experience.”

Part of context is knowing what data to share and what not to. Credit where it’s due here: Google learned a lot about how to do this properly with Glass. Android Wear watches, for example, don’t show you every single Foursquare check-in Twitter @reply but instead they’re grouped, prompting you to go to the phone for the full experience.

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A 10-sensor iWatch says Apple’s smartwatch will be nothing like Android Wear

IDG News Service

If Apple’s iWatch design brief includes 10 sensors, then the all-but-inevitable smartwatch won’t be a simple device. It will be aimed squarely at exercise enthusiasts, quantified-selfers, and anyone concerned about an expanding waist line.

And the iWatch would also be nothing like Android Wear smartwatches from the likes of LG and Motorola—gadgets that will use Google Now to push information like sports scores, weather alerts and navigation directions. This foreshadows a war between two entirely different philosophies in the wristband space. Apple’s proposition: A smartwatch should be dedicated to telling you about what’s happening inside your body. Google’s stance: A smartwatch should be focused on the world around you.

On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple’s upcoming smartwatch will include “more than 10 sensors” to track health and fitness activity, according to multiple unnamed sources. The report also backs up an early Reuters article that says Apple’s wearable will be manufactured by Quanta Computer in Taiwan. The Journal’s anonymous sources say the smartwatch will come in “multiple screen sizes” (the Reuters article only mentions a 2.5-inch display), and that the wearable could be released in October, with shipments hitting between 10 and 15 million units by the end of the year.

Given that more than 51 million iPhone 5 units sold during last year’s holiday season, the iWatch—even if it hits 15 million sales—would still be a relatively niche product for Apple. The Wall Street Journal report remains unsubstantiated, of course, but if Apple ultimately goes all-in with a health-focused wearable, it will have a natural companion to its just announced Health app.

That’s great product synergy for Apple, but such a wearable would also be pursuing a market that has, apparently, failed to find traction with consumers. According to a January 2014 study by Endeavor Partners [PDF], more than half of all people who’ve purchased a wearable activity tracker have given up on their devices. (This particular wearable category emerged in 2012.)

The Journal reports that Apple “aims to address an overarching criticism of existing smartwatches that they fail to provide functions significantly different from that of a smartphone.” That’s a lofty goal, and we might assume that the iWatch’s battery of sensors will be able to track our heart rate, skin temperature, and rates of perspiration.

But Samsung already has wristbands that track heart rate, and they don’t work very well. And Basis makes the Basis B1, a wearable that tracks all three data points—yet the company remains anonymous to all but a niche collection of quantified-self disciples. 

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Samsung bets big on fingerprint scanning in its war with Apple’s iPad

The Guardian

Samsung has beaten Apple to a fingerprint-reading tablet with the launch of two new flagship Galaxy Tab S models, four months before Apple unveils its next iPad.

The new 8.4in and full-sized 10.5in Galaxy Tab S are also the first tablets available with a high-resolution large-size organic LED (OLED) screen showing that the new display technology, which emits its own light and does not need a backlight, has reached maturity beyond smaller smartphone screens and high-priced televisions.

OLED screens are widely expected to replace LCDs in most instances, being more power-efficient and producing more vibrant colours with deeper blacks than is possible with the LCD screens like those used by most smartphones, tablets, laptops and televisions.

The new device is Samsung’s latest move to capitalise on its growing share of the world tablet market. The company claimed an 18% share of the global tablet market in 2013 with 39.2m tablets shipped, compared to Apple’s 35% and 74.3m tablets, giving them together more than half of all shipments.

“The tablet is becoming a popular personal viewing device for enjoying content, which makes the quality of the display a critical feature,” said JK Shin, CEO and president of Samsung’s IT & Mobile Division. “With the launch of the Galaxy Tab S, Samsung is setting the industry bar higher for the entire mobile industry. It will provide consumers with a visual and entertainment experience that brings colours to life, beautifully packaged in a sleek and ultra-portable mobile device.”

Denise Yuan, tablet planner for Samsung, told the Guardian: “We performed a lot of research on consumer usage and found that people mainly use tablets for web browsing, videos and gaming – entertainment mostly, which made the display the most important part and why we focused on bringing our Super AMOLED screen to the Tab S.”

Samsung claims that the Tab S’s Super AMOLED screen has a contrast ratio 100 times better than LCD, which makes text easier to read on screen, but also photos and videos appear closer in depth of colour to the real world as the eye sees it.

It’s all about touch

Apple is widely expected to bring its Touch ID fingerprint sensor, released with the iPhones 5S in September last year, to its iPad Air and iPad mini tablets in October, marking a year since the Cupertino-based company unveiled the biggest design change in its tablet’s history with the iPad Air.

The Galaxy Tab S runs the latest version of Google’s Android “KitKat” 4.4.2, but uses Samsung’s “TouchWiz” customisations to the basic Android experience, which the Korean company also uses on its Galaxy smartphones and other Galaxy tablets.

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The hottest trend in mobile: going offline!

Computerworld

The consumer electronics industry has spent the past 20 years making everything connect wirelessly to the Internet — from PCs to TVs, cameras and speakers.

This includes, of course, the most wireless of wireless devices, the ubiquitous smartphone.

Your average smartphone connects wirelessly in three ways: via mobile broadband, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth — all of which get faster, more reliable and more widely available all the time.

So why is there now a big trend in the industry to make apps work in places where no Internet connection is available?

A dream abandoned

Years ago, the dream was to blanket the world with universal connectivity. Entire cities would be blanketed with Wi-Fi. Continents would be dotted with cell towers. Geosynchronous satellites would provide fast Internet connectivity to everyone, everywhere.

Just look at the grandiose intentions of the Bill Gates-backed company Teledesic in the 1990s: “On day one of service, Teledesic will offer broadband telecommunications access for businesses, schools and individuals everywhere on the planet.” Teledesic went out of business in 2002.

In recent years, reality has set in. We are nowhere near providing Internet connectivity everywhere. So now, companies are wisely starting to do the next best thing: Making their apps and services work offline.

Over the past month, the industry has flooded users with apps and services designed to work without an Internet connection.

Making the world safe for going offline

Google this week rolled out better offline support for its iOS and Android Google Maps apps. It enables you to choose an area and then tap a button to download the mapping data to your phone, saving it for later use. Then when you’re out on the road, you can look at the map without going online. So you don’t have to worry about getting lost if you’re in a mobile broadband dead zone.

The Android version of Google Search has a new offline mode for the Google Now feature as well. Even without a connection, the Google Now cards will keep on coming.

The company has also been working hard to make its cloud-centric laptop platform, the Chromebook, as functional offline as possible. Google publishes a page listing all the things you can do with a Chromebook without an Internet connection — things like using email, adding appointments to the calendar and so on. Any day now, Chromebooks will have the ability to download and play TV shows and movies offline.

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Smartphone Momentum Still Evident with Shipments Expected to Reach 1.2 Billion in 2014 and Growing 23.1% Over 2013, According to IDC

IDC PMS4colorversion 1 300x99 Smartphone Momentum Still Evident with Shipments Expected to Reach 1.2 Billion in 2014 and Growing 23.1% Over 2013, According to IDC

According to a recently published mobile phone forecast from the International Data Corporation (IDCWorldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, worldwide smartphone shipments will reach a total of 1.2 billion units in 2014, marking a 23.1% increase from the 1.0 billion units shipped in 2013. From there, total volumes will reach 1.8 billion units in 2018, resulting in a 12.3% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2013–2018.

“What makes smartphone growth so amazing is where the growth will be taking place,” said Ramon Llamas, Research Manager with IDC’s Mobile Phone team. “Smartphone shipments will more than double between now and 2018 within key emerging markets, including India, Indonesia, and Russia. In addition, China will account for nearly a third of all smartphone shipments in 2018. These – and other markets – will offer multiple opportunities to vendors and carriers alike, but the key will be balancing affordability with expectations.”

On a worldwide basis, IDC expects the average selling price (ASP) of smartphones to reach $314 in 2014, down 6.3% from the $335 ASP in 2013. From there, ASPs are expected to reach $267 by 2018.  While these prices point to a definite decline, users still expect top-notch experiences regardless of what smartphone they purchase.

“Until recently, low cost has equaled poor quality in the smartphone space,” said Ryan Reith, Program Director with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. “Given the competition at the high end, vendors like Motorola are trying to skate to where the puck is going by offering extremely affordable devices like the Moto E, which offer a ‘good enough’ experience that will suit the needs of many. This goes to show that components that were used 2-3 years back in high-end smartphones are still sufficient in many aspects, and ultimately will allow vendors to come to the table with viable low-cost solutions.”

Operating Systems

Android –Android will undoubtedly remain the clear market leader among smartphone operating systems with share expected to hit 80.2% in 2014. Looking forward, IDC expects Android to lose a minimal amount of share over the forecast period, mainly as a result of Windows Phone growth. Android has been, and will continue to be, the platform driving low-cost devices. ASPs of Android smartphones were well below market average in the first quarter of 2014 and are expected to be $254 for full year 2014, dropping to $215 in 2018. Growth of Android phones is expected to outpace the market in 2014, rising 25.6% with volume just shy of 1 billion units.

iOS – Despite rumors of a larger screen iPhone, IDC expects share of iOS to drop from 14.8% in 2014, to 13.7% in 2018. Apple continues to be strong in mature markets, where devices are heavily subsidized, but emerging markets are expected to drive overall market growth, and appetite for smartphones in these markets is at the sub-$200 level, significantly below Apple’s selling prices. iOS volumes are expected to hit 184.1 million in 2014, growing to 247.4 million in 2018. Growth of 20.0% this year will slowly drop to year-over-year growth of 6.1% in 2018, more in line with overall market growth.

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