Last Wednesday in Berlin Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Gear, a new smartwatch that will work in tandem with the new Galaxy Note phablets that were also announced. Predictably, the announcement took the tech world by storm. Of course, with all the hype surrounding the possible development of the iWatch, you’d think that the wristwatch computers were something new. In fact, you can buy an Android compatible smartwatch from Sony, or pre-order the crowd-funded Pebble that works with both Android and iOS.
So what’s so special about the Galaxy Gear? Simply speaking, with this new hardware release Samsung set itself up as the gold standard for mass-market wearable mobile tech. Google Glass costs $1,500 and is currently only available to a select few “explorers,” and the iWatch is, for now, little more than an idea and a patent application.
The Galaxy Gear, on the other hand, comes in at a not-at-all prohibitive $299, and what it has to offer is certainly worth the sticker price. The Gear boasts a 1.63 inch display that users access through simple and intuitive swipe commands. One button on the side serves both as a home screen button (if pressed once) and activates voice commands (if pressed twice). (In fact, one of the few issues reviewers have with the device is that voice commands cannot be activated without having to press a button with the free hand.)
One of the cooler and more unexpected features is the 1.9 megapixel camera built into the watchband. Users will be able to take pictures and film simply by tapping on the watch’s screen. The watch can also be used to make phone calls, so pretty much everyone who owns one will get to feel at least a little bit like Dick Tracy. (We’ll have to wait for the laser cutter to be added before we can feel like James Bond.)
Some pundits are criticizing the watch because most of its features only work in tandem with a more powerful device, but users can still access the pedometer and a few other apps without needing to access their phones or tablets. And speaking of apps, with the advent of the Galaxy Gear a whole new world just opened up for mobile app developers … time to get to work!
There are a few fixed truths in the mobile app industry: Developers prefer iOS because of the lack of platform fragmentation, Android users don’t like to pay for apps, and in spite of a significantly higher number of Android smartphones in circulation, iOS mobile app revenues are still higher than Android’s.
However, a recent report by ABI research suggests that a new trend is developing. According to that report, Android app revenues will hit $6.8 billion dollars in 2013, which is roughly double the total from 2012. And while Apple will still rule the roost when it comes to mobile app revenues, it appears as though Android might just be able to brute force its way into a dominant market share if things keep going the way they are.
Android users’ thriftiness and the operating system’s fragmentation have long been considered its
principle weaknesses, but over time they may come to be considered strengths. The fact that Android users prefer not to pay to download apps means that those apps have to be monetized using other means. This means “freemium” apps (where the user is given both access to an app’s basic features as well as incentives to purchase premium features after download) or advertising. And of course, if anyone knows a thing or two about targeted online and mobile advertising, it’s Google, so ultimately those ad revenues might cover the difference.
Android will also likely be able to exploit one of Apple’s key disadvantages: the sticker price. iPhones are expensive, and prohibitively so for consumers in developing countries, many of which have bypassed a generation of technology by using mobile networks and skipping the development of landline infrastructure altogether. Even some parts of the U.S. are considering going completely wireless. And Apple has seen the writing on the wall, which is undoubtedly why the iPhone buyback program was launched with great fanfare in recent weeks. The only way Apple can get its products in the hands of lower-income consumers is if it sells them older, refurbished models. However, once the mobile app culture spreads to the rest of the globe, consumers are still likely to want access to ad-supported, free-to-download mobile apps.
From the outside, the palace of Versailles just south of central Paris is a breathtakingly beautiful tribute to what man can do with enough drive, talent, and money. Because Louis XIV had to melt down most of the furniture to finance wars, however, Versailles is mostly empty on the inside, so if visitors want to understand more than they would otherwise be able to by looking around empty rooms, they have to rent headsets with pre-recorded explanations of what they’re seeing.
And it’s possible that Google Glass just might replace those headsets, and not only in Versailles, but all over the world. An app called Field Trip was specifically designed for Google Glass (it’s already available for handsets), and its goal is to provide information and reviews of whatever might happen to fall beneath the user’s gaze.
That’s just one of the innovations being considered for Google’s revolutionary product, but techies all over the planet are coming up with new uses for the device that most of us haven’t even seen yet. For example, Mercedes Benz wants to integrate Google Glass into its navigation system, so that in addition to their onboard system, users will also have access to pedestrian directions once they exit their vehicles. Apps like Winky turn Google Glass into something Q might have developed for James Bond – which is probably why Google Glasses were banned in Gitmo – and while plenty of people are leery over privacy concerns, others are embracing the possibilities. Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morley, for example, thinks it would be a “great idea” for NBA refs to wear them during games … whether because it provides a cooler viewing experience for spectators, or because Morley would be able to contest their calls, he didn’t say.
All that said, Google Glass has a bit of an image problem at the moment. As Wired pointed out, the Bluetooth headset and the pocket protector were both fantastic products in their day, but that didn’t stop people from rolling their eyes at people who used them. Sites like White Men Wearing Google Glass imply that this is just another toy for rich people. In addition to a perception that they’re for the nerdy and the privileged, Google Glass is also going to have to deal with the fact that when used in certain ways by certain kinds of people, they can
be pretty creepy. Still, there’s opportunity here for app entrepreneurs – what are you waiting for?
It’s no secret in the industry that mobile app developers prefer Apple over Android, and a recent report by OpenSignal provides some insight into why this is the case. OpenSignal makes an app (for both platforms) that allows users to manage their data connections, and it culls data from its users that allow it to dabble in app analytics as well. The recent report shows that the Android operating system is currently working on an astonishing 11,868 different devices, and that number is only going up. That’s a very long tail indeed.
This is both a blessing and a curse for Android developers. On the one hand, Apple CEO Tim Cook positively loves to gloat over Android fragmentation and opines that it’s “terrible for developers.” Several versions of Android’s operating system, some of them quite old, are still being used by a great many Android customers, which means that many developers can’t put their best foot forward when coming up with products that have to work on older machines with fewer features.
Screen size is another major issue plaguing Android developers. While iOS developers only have to work with four different screen sizes (iPad, iPad Mini, iPhone5, and older iPhones), those creating for Android can’t optimize for a small number of devices without significantly reducing the size of their customer base.
It’s not all bad news, as CNET (among others) reports. Although proper testing for Android apps might take considerably more time than it does for iOS apps, with Android devices available at a wide range of price points, there are an awful lot more Android customers than there are iPhone users. Granted, market share is something of a flawed metric in the mobile economy (considering that Android hardware manufacturers are competing with one another as well as with Apple), but the fact of the matter is that Android users can get a device that’s exactly right for them, right for their budget, their usage needs, and so on. The gap is only going to widen over time; foreign markets are exploding, especially in many developing countries who will probably skip having landlines altogether.
In short, OpenSignal’s report demonstrates that developing for Android can be a headache, yes, but there’s also considerably greater potential for reward.
You’ve probably noticed by now, but the home entertainment experience is at this very moment in the throes of a paradigm shift. Web-based creations from Netflix and elsewhere netted quite a few Emmy nominations, Apple TV and Roku are doing well, and even the venerable Nielsen ratings rolled out a system that will measure consumption on broadband, X-Boxes, iPads, and desktops.
For many consumers, it’s a question of numbers. Having grown weary of Comcast’s stranglehold on traditional cable entertainment, more and more consumers are seeking alternatives that will allow them to watch what they want, when they want, and how they want … and perhaps most importantly, at the price they want as well. Subscription services like Amazon Prime, NetFlix, and Hulu make up the battleground of the future, and are likely to leave traditional cable television far, far behind.
This week Google entered the fray, announcing its presence with authority. Coming in at a price point significantly beneath Apple TV and Roku, the $35 Chromecast is a small HDMI jack that looks like a flash drive, and will allow users to stream content from their phones, tablets, and laptops directly to their HD television screens. As is true of most of the hardware Google produces, Chromecast is a cross-platform device that works with Android and iOS devices, as well as pretty much anything that runs Google’s Chrome browser.
While it’s significantly cheaper than Apple TV and Roku, there are a few things Chromecast won’t do. It doesn’t directly mirror other hardware devices the way AirPlay does, but it will stream NetFlix, Hulu, YouTube, and eventually, Pandora. It also comes equipped with something called “Chrome tab projection,” which essentially allows you to stream any content that will play on your desktop browser. (Notable exceptions are Silverlight and QuickTime.) Additionally, any device can serve as the controller, allowing users to pause, play, or change the volume from whatever device they choose.
It’ll be interesting to see what enterprising mobile app developers can come up with to enhance the viewing experience once devices like Chromecast go mainstream.
One of Android’s greatest strengths lies in its open sourcing, but this is also one of its greatest weaknesses. Just about anyone can submit a mobile app to the Google Play store, after which the market gleefully sorts out who succeeds and who fails.
The list of things that can get your app removed from the Google Play store is therefore a short one, but it’s certainly not impossible. Highest on that list is malware. Google is fairly
thorough when it comes to keeping malicious mobile apps out of the store, and if any of those should make it through, they’re removed as soon as they’re discovered.
Google’s not too keen on apps that are designed to block mobile ads, as it demonstrated with its recent removal of AdBlock Plus. The move generated a great deal of criticism from Android consumers, but it’s worth noting that ad-blocking software is very unkind to Google’s bottom line. Of course, Android being Android, users can still download those apps elsewhere, but Google wants nothing to do with them.
More recently, however, Google’s taken to removing apps that are of low quality. The precise criteria for removal are unclear, but last April Google removed as many as 60,000 apps from its virtual shelves.
The Android mobile app landscape was designed to be something of a Wild West, with developers being able to submit and publish just about anything they want after which the market sorts it all out. At last month’s I/O Conference in San Francisco, however, Google decided to create a safe haven for a certain class of apps, a move that demonstrates the extent to which Google has decided to take education seriously.
It’s called Play for Education, and essentially it’s a safe place for educationally friendly mobile apps to be made available to educators and students alike. It will allow for bulk purchases, instant distribution, and includes partnerships with NASA and PBS.
This is excellent news for Android developers working on educational mobile apps. As of June 24, 2013, developers will be able to use the Google Play Developer Console to request that their apps be included in Google Play for Education. Unlike the free-for-all environment of the rest of the Google Play store, however, apps submitted to Play for Education will undergo a rigorous third-party review process in which actual educators will not only determine whether or not a particular submission is appropriate for the portal, but will also determine where those apps should be categorized (by subject, age group, etc.).
One of the more important benefits of inclusion in Play for Education is that mobile app developers can concentrate their efforts on producing a quality mobile app for students while leaving the lion’s share of the marketing to Google itself. Successful apps will have a ready-made consumer base that won’t have to fret over the appropriateness of the content or the possibility of malware, and will benefit from the robust pilot programs that Google is initiating in order to put the apps in the hands of educators and schoolchildren throughout the country.
Before you consider submitting your Android apps to Play for Education, there are (at least) two things you’ll need to do: first, study the Guidelines, and second, make sure that your educational app is optimized for Android tablets. And naturally, if you have an idea for a mobile app but lack the technical development skills, give us a call today and we’ll get you started.
If you happened to catch game five of the NBA Finals on Sunday night, you might have noticed the three-minute commercial for Jay-Z’s upcoming album “Magna Carta Holy Grail.” The announcement came as something of a surprise for Jay-Z fans, and an even bigger surprise for fans who also happen to be Samsung users.
In the commercial, Jay-Z gives a hint of what’s to come: “We don’t have any rules; everybody is trying to figure it out. That’s why the Internet is like the Wild West, the Wild Wild West. We need to write the new rules.” We certainly agree that only one “wild” doesn’t suffice to describe the Internet, and to be sure, there are plenty of people out there who are quite happy with it remaining a wilderness. In this particular case, however, Jay-Z wants to experiment with the way art is distributed in the 21st century.
A special mobile app will be made available on June 24th, and will provide an “unprecedented inside look into the album personal stories and inspiration.” Additionally, the first one million users of the Samsung Galaxy S3, Galaxy S4, and Galaxy Note 2 who download it will be able to listen to the album on July 4th, three days before its official release. According to the Wall Street Journal, Samsung paid $5 apiece for the copies of the album it’s going to be giving away, which might very well make this album the first ever to go
platinum before its official release. Perhaps the inevitable and unfortunate puns that will accompany that release – “Samsung just got its hands on the holy grail of hip-hop,” for example – might just be forgiven.
Jay-Z’s maneuver seems to be in keeping with a welcome trend in the distribution of art, one that began about a year ago when Louis CK bypassed traditional venues and sold his comedy concert “Live at the Beacon Theater” directly from his website for $5 a pop. People with high-quality, reasonably priced alternatives tend not to steal stuff so much, which is probably why consumers continue to hold HBO’s feet to the fire for not making its programming available without a pricey HBO subscription (Game of Thrones is the most pirated show on the Internet). With any luck experiments like Jay-Z’s will have a significant and positive impact on how we get our entertainment in the future.
There’s an engaging, highly addictive, and surprisingly educational game that recently debuted on the Internet called Geoguessr. The player is provided with five random Google Street View images in succession, and is asked to pinpoint on a map of the world where that image was recorded. You can base your guesses on all sorts of criteria (language on the street signs, what side of the road people are driving on, local flora, the presence of mountains or shorelines, etc.) and, if you’re lucky enough, might end up with the dead giveaway of a sign reading, say, “Welcome to Fairbanks, Alaska.”
Geoguessr demonstrates some of the whimsical potential for Google Street View, but the fact of the matter is that it’s become enormously helpful in all sorts of ways. The Houston Association of Realtors has an app, for example, that provides a Google Street View of every house listed for sale, and we assume this is true of realtors across the country. Additionally, Google is participating in the laudable task of cataloguing Hurricane Sandy relief efforts in partnership with the organization Historypin.
Recently, Google announced the addition of 1,001 new destinations in a move that appeals to virtual tourists. The new destinations include everything from Seville Cathedral in Spain to the Fullerton Heritage Promenade in Singapore, from the Bosque de Chapultepec in Mexico to Brazil’s Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady Aparecida, and a bit closer to home, the Mark Twain House and the Vermont State House.
Now, Street View raises some privacy issues, particularly in Germany, and those issues are sure to be hashed out over the next few years as we all try to come to grips with technology’s seeming incompatibility with privacy. That said, we can’t help but marvel at the breathtaking strides taken by Google to make the world available to everyone. They’re also going to have to come up with a new name for it, since “Street View” implies views from the street, and not so much the views from the Singapore Zoo or – get this – underwater.
As Google continues to roll out additions and enhancements, it’s obvious how Google set the gold standard for cartography in the 21st century.
Two and a half
years is an awfully long time in the mobile tech industry – that’s three iPhones ago, to give you an idea – but it turns out that the most popular Android operating system was in fact released in December 2010. The operating system dubbed “Gingerbread” is currently installed on about 38.5% of all active Android devices. “Jelly Bean,” the most recent Android operating system, is running second at 28.4%, followed closely by the only very slightly older “Ice Cream Sandwich” at 27.5%. The remaining spots belong to the rest of the Android OS iterations with delectable names like “Honeycomb,” “Éclair,” “Froyo,” “Donut,” and “Cupcake.”
As a matter of fact, Jelly Bean only recently overtook Ice Cream Sandwich, which Google considers to be something of an Android milestone, but the fact that Gingerbread, an operating system that’s older than both of these, remains is both a curiosity and an embarrassment. Of course, Jelly Bean is likely to overtake Gingerbread fairly soon, but that’s likely to happen right about the time that Google rolls out Jelly Bean’s successor (expected later this year), at which point the race to the top starts all over again.
All this OS jockeying reveals one of the more intractable problems facing Android hardware and software: fragmentation. On the one hand, Android fragmentation allows both hardware manufacturers and software developers (including independent mobile app developers) nearly complete freedom and the opportunity to compete in a marketplace without having to go through the rigors of Apple’s maddening approval process. On the other, developers hoping to exploit Android’s coolest features while still appealing to the broadest possible audience are hamstrung by the fact that less than a third of Android consumers are using the most advanced OS.
Compromises are inevitable, of course, particularly when mobile app developers not only have to work with several operating systems, but also with a massive crowd of smartphones that all have different specifications. The good news for developers, however, is that Google promised to ensure that every
new OS works on any Android smartphone produced in the 18 months prior to the OS’s release.