Android, All Broken Up

•12/17/2009 • Leave a Comment

There’s at least three versions of the Android operating system that have a significant number of users, meaning that developers will likely develop and test for more than just one.

Android Developer Breakdown
Android Versions Chart

Increased fragmentation of the Android OS has been a concern, and now, we (Google) are releasing figures to help developers make decisions on which versions they should support, and which ones aren’t worth it. While fragmentation will likely still be a concern, especially for those worried about speed to market, and the cost of support, it’s smart that Google is being as open as possible about the breakdown. In summary, we say that most devices, or 54.2 percent, are running on Android 1.6. The second-largest userbase is using Android 1.5 at 27.7 percent. Meanwhile, 1.1 and 2.0 are running 0.3 percent and 2.9 percent respectively.

 

Google wrote: “In summary, Android 1.5, 1.6, and 2.0.1 are the 3 versions of the platform that are deployed in volume. Our goal is to provide you with the tools and information to make it easy for you to target specific versions of the platform or all the versions that are deployed in volume.” To be even more helpful in the future, Google says it plans to update the dashboard regularly and to include other information like devices per screen size, etc.

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Is a Google Netbook on the Horizon?

•12/17/2009 • Leave a Comment

Chrome OS on a Netbook

Google will do anything to make a buck.

The Google Phone makes sense in a high-risk “upset the whole industry” sort of way. But, what does a Google netbook really have to offer?

In this case, God may not be in the technical specs, but in the business details. Does Google have some plan to subsidize these products to get its ads in front of business users? Might the Google netbook be effectively closed to non-Google applications as a result?

Underpowered as they are, netbooks aren’t really business computers, at least not if you have real work to do beyond e-mail and Web surfing. Google’s Chrome OS may solve some of the performance problems that plague netbooks, but at the expense of requiring a broadband connection for access to many applications.

Working with everyone who worked on the Nexus One (Google Phone), I’d probably shrug off the thought of a Google branded netbook.  Now, I am willing to accept the notion.

Yes, a Chrome OS netbook does need to meet certain technical specifications, including the use of a solid-state drive instead of a conventional spinning hard drive for storage.

Google is perfectly capable of finding manufacturers who would happily build such a machine (I’ve had the budgets hit my desk recently), provided it would include Google and “Made for Chrome OS” labeling. Microsoft and Intel have been doing this for many years.

I am not opposed to Google working very closely with hardware vendors to create products, but I don’t see how it makes sense for Google to be directly competing with the HPs, Acers, Lenovos, and Dells of the world.

Perhaps, Google just wants to make sure Chrome OS will get a good start in the world and will then bow out of hardware. Microsoft has done this in some market segments, but stayed as a competitor in others.

Microsoft has stayed away from branding its own computers, however, allowing a Windows-compatible hardware ecosystem to flourish. Google, however, may be heading off competition among Chrome-compatible hardware even before the OS is released.

Google’s entry into handsets and netbooks may not be a coordinated attack on two industries at once, but probably is. Google has been mum on its business objectives, besides driving advertising revenue, but I think there is more to it. Google doesn’t need to sell hardware and give away operating systems in order to sell advertising.

However, if Google can develop significant market share with devices that only show its advertising and, perhaps, only run its applications, then it will have the sort of market control that Bill Gates could only dream of.

Go, go gadget Google!

Google Searches for Staffing Answers

•05/19/2009 • 2 Comments
Current and former Googlers said the company is losing talent because some employees feel they cant make the same impact as the company matures.

Current and former Googlers said the company is losing talent because some employees feel they can't make the same impact as the company matures.

Concerned a brain drain could hurt its long-term ability to compete, Google Inc. is tackling the problem with its typical tool: an algorithm.

The Internet search giant recently began crunching data from employee reviews and promotion and pay histories in a mathematical formula Google says can identify which of its 20,000 employees are most likely to quit.

Google officials are reluctant to share details of the formula, which is still being tested. The inputs include information from surveys and peer reviews, and Google says the algorithm already has identified employees who felt underused, a key complaint among those who contemplate leaving.

Applying a complex equation to a basic human-resource problem is pure Google, a company that made using heavy data to drive decisions one of its “Ten Golden Rules” outlined in 2005.

Edward Lawler, director of the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California, said Google is one of a few companies that are early in taking a more quantitative approach to personnel decisions.

“They are clearly ahead of the curve, but a lot of companies are waking up to the fact that there is a lot of modeling that can provide you with critical data on human capital,” Mr. Lawler said.

The move is one of a series Google has made to prevent its most promising engineers, designers and sales executives from leaving at a time when its once-powerful draws — a start-up atmosphere and soaring stock price — have been diluted by its growing size. The data crunching supplements more traditional measures like employee training and leadership meetings to evaluate talent.

Google’s algorithm helps the company “get inside people’s heads even before they know they might leave,” said Laszlo Bock, who runs human resources for the company.

Concerns about a talent exodus have revived in recent weeks amid the departures of top executives, including advertising sales boss Tim Armstrong and display-advertising chief David Rosenblatt. Meanwhile, midlevel employees like lead designer Doug Bowman, engineering director Steve Horowitz and search-quality chief Santosh Jayaram continue to decamp to hot start-ups like Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc.

Current and former Googlers said the company is losing talent because some employees feel they can’t make the same impact as the company matures. Several said Google provides little formal career planning, and some found the company’s human-resources programs too impersonal.

“They need to come up with ways to keep people engaged,” said Valerie Frederickson, a Silicon Valley personnel consultant who has worked with former Google employees. “If Google was doing this enough, they wouldn’t be losing all these people.”

Google spokesman Matt Furman said the chance to contribute to “constant and often amazing innovation” keeps employees engaged. The company is determined to retain top product managers and engineers.

Google wouldn’t say how many people have left, but says it has managed to hang on to its most important staffers. “We haven’t seen the most critical people leave,” Mr. Bock said.

Android 2.0 “Donut” – Life After “Cupcake”

•05/16/2009 • 1 Comment


It seems that the Android development team here at Google has sugary baked goods on the brain, because they’re not stopping with Android 1.5 Cupcake. The next update that they’re cooking up is coming from the bakery as well, because Android 2.0 is being referred to as Donut. No kidding.

I know of a certain safety inspector at the Springfield Power Plant that would drool at this possibility, only to be disappointed when he discovers that the so-called Donut is nothing more than lines of code. Mmmm… delicious code…

Android 1.5 Cupcake is currently making its way onto Android handsets in the United States, so I guess it’s only fair to consider what is going to be its successor. These things take time. Very little is known about Android 2.0 Donut, but our team is apparently talking about a release schedule, among other things.

From a cupcake to a donut. I wonder what the next in the Android line of releases will bring? Macaroons? Brownies? Macadamia and white chocolate cookies? How about a five-minute chocolate cake?

ANDROID CUPCAKE ON THE G1 TOMORROW!

•05/14/2009 • 3 Comments

Google‘s Android fans who have been waiting patiently for new gadgets are about to get a treat.

Cupcake to be sent out tomorrow!

"Cupcake" to be sent out tomorrow!

On Friday, the Internet giant and its carrier partners will begin pushing out a software update that will add more features and functionality to handsets that run on its open-source mobile platform, Android.

Dubbed Cupcake by Google, the update is essentially a 1.5 version of Android. Google and its partners have tweaked Android several times since its fall 2008 release, but Cupcake represents the platform’s first major upgrade.

Cupcake will include some powerful new features, including a virtual on-screen keyboard for touch-screen phones, easy video uploads to YouTube and live data feeds. Google has also revamped some core features, like voice recognition and the mobile browser. Android’s basic look got a makeover too, with more sophisticated background images and icons and a browser that can display more complex Web pages.

Developers will revise their apps to incorporate the new features. The team behind the eco-themed application Ecorio plans to make use of the video-recording feature. ULocate Communications will build a widget and integrate speech recognition into “Where,” its suite of location-based services. Big in Japan says it will add a “live folders” function to its popular ShopSavvy.

It all adds up to a richer experience for consumers. Ecorio users already share strategies for reducing their carbon footprint via written messages and photos. With Cupcake, they’ll be able to bond over video clips, says Ecorio co-founder Taneem Talukdar.

ULocate likes the idea of widgets because they give users a seamless way to get updates on local weather and listings “without being spammy,” says Ivan Mitrovic, the company’s vice president of engineering. Speech recognition adds convenience, a key feature in any location-aware app. People will be able to say the word “pizza” and get directed to the nearest pizza parlor (using a global-positioning system), for instance.

Alex Muse, co-founder of Big in Japan, says the new live folders feature, which stores real-time updates without having to open the related app, is ideal for keeping lists. Since ShopSavvy is a shopping service, the company is inserting a shopping wish-list to the app. The folders could also be used to access other types of live data, such as recent Facebook updates, Twitter tweets or stock prices.

Sprint To Offer Portable Wifi “MiFi”

•05/14/2009 • Leave a Comment

Sprint will offer a portable 3G device that can create a personal Wi-Fi cloud in June.

The MiFi 2200 mobile hotspot utilizes Sprint’s EV-DO Rev. A mobile data network to create a Wi-Fi zone for up to five devices to connect to the Internet. The MiFi includes WPA2-PSK, WEP, and SPI Firewall for security, and users can connect devices like cells phones, laptops, portable music players, and other gadgets capable of a wireless Internet connection.

At 3.5 by 2.3 by 0.3 inches, the MiFi is slim and highly portable. The device is made by Novatel Wireless, and it said its battery can get up to four hours of usage, and up to 40 hours of standby time on a standby charge.

The announcement comes about a week after Verizon (NYSE: VZ) Wireless announced its own portable hotspot device that’s also made by Novatel. Both carriers offer the MiFi hotspot for $99 after a mail-in rebate, but the service charges differ.

Sprint offers a $59.99 monthly plan for up to 5 GB of data, or Simply Everything users can pay $149.99 a month for unlimited text, calls, and mobile Internet for a smartphone, as well as up to 5 GB of data for the MiFi. Verizon has a $40 monthly plan that includes 250 MB of data, a $60 plan with 5 GB of data, and a 24-hour day pass for $15.

The move is another signal that carriers are looking toward untraditional mobile data services for additional revenue streams. Sprint already provides the unbranded data services for Amazon.com’s Kindle, and it’s looking to provide the data connection for numerous devices as it rolls out a WiMax network with Clearwire

Apple Rejects Jesus iPhone App

•05/12/2009 • 1 Comment

A look-at-me-I’m-Jesus iPhone app: banned. An app that has users shaking a baby until it’s dead: allowed, then later banned. A Nine Inch Nails app update that links to a site with dirty words: banned, then later allowed. Apple tells iPhone app developers upfront it will reject “offensive” content and bar it from the App Store, but who exactly is making the call as to what’s offensive?

he growing list of controversies surrounding the Apple App Store might make for a new killer iPhone app. Call it “Developer Demolition Derby”: use the phone’s accelerometer to keep your third-party app on course to Apple approval and financial success while steering it past objectionable content, consumer outrage, censorship obstacles and inconsistent company guidelines. The makers of the Me So Holy app couldn’t stay on that course. The developers announced on their blog Monday that Apple had rejected their application, which would have allowed users to put photos of their faces over pictures of Jesus and other religious figures and upload them to their Facebook More about Facebook pages.

“We feel that Apple is being too sensitive to its perceived user group and are disappointed that this otherwise creative, freethinking company would reject such a positive and fun application,” the developers wrote. “The message to developers is that they should think inside the box, rather than outside it.”

The developers released a portion of their rejection letter from Apple, which quotes section 3.3.12 from the company’s software development kit (SDK): “Applications must not contain any obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, etc.), or other content or materials that in Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable by iPhone or iPod touch users.”

A Brief History of Apple App Outrage

It is how that objectionable content rule is applied — sometimes after approval, sometimes before — that has allowed Me So Holy to join those stories involving iPhone apps that have generated mainstream media headlines. The controversies are also causing technology observers to wonder about the app approval process in Cupertino.

It began with the outrage over an approved app that let users “shake” a crying baby until it’s dead, generating howls of protest from child abuse prevention advocates. The resulting outcry forced Apple to remove the app and apologize.

Then an update to an app produced by the band Nine Inch Nails was rejected due to objectionable content: The app linked users to NIN.com which contains some parental-guidance-suggested music and images. NIN frontman Trent Reznor wrote about it on his Twitter More about Twitter account, and Apple later rescinded the ban on the update.

At what point do the Apple App Store controversies start to impact the company’s relationship with developers? “If you’re going to run a walled garden the way they run it, they need to provide guidance with the developer community so they know what the boundaries and limitations in the App Store are,” Steve Rubel, senior vice president/director of insight at Edelman Digital, told MacNewsWorld. “I think they need to bring in more transparency in the process. They should show who’s making these decisions.”

The answer to that question, at least with regard to the “shaken baby” app fiasco: “It’s not going to be some kind of senior person,” according to technology marketing expert Rick Chapman. “I’ll bet this is some kid who’s not particularly up with the current zeitgeist, who didn’t have a clue as to what they were looking at and only found out after the bad taste had left the barn,” Chapman told MacNewsWorld. Chapman is the founder of consulting firm Aegis Resources and author of In Search of Stupidity: Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters.

The Importance of App Store Placement

Apple did not respond to a MacNewsWorld request for comment regarding the app store approval process. However, Amy Bohutinsky, senior vice president of marketing at online real estate data company Zillow, provided some insight. Two weeks ago, Zillow released a GPS More about global positioning system-powered iPhone app that tracks a user’s location and provides real-time data on houses, including current values, listing prices, price histories and realtor contact info if a house is for sale. It has quickly become one of the app store’s most popular downloads.

“For us, it was a really clean process,” Bohutinsky told MacNewsWorld. “I don’t know if that’s the norm or not, but it was really easy on our side. Once we submitted it, it got approved pretty quickly.”

That approval came in a matter of weeks and didn’t require any face-to-face meetings, Bohutinsky said, but connections provided by Zillow’s funding partners did result in a trip to Cupertino by the company’s top executives for a personal demonstration. Otherwise, “they have a pretty tight process, where you submit it, they approve it, and they choose a date for when they want it in the store.”

The Zillow app has been a featured application in the App Store. It has just passed a quarter of a million downloads. It’s also been well-reviewed by users, who use a star-rating system to pass judgment. “There’s a story there about how being chosen by Apple and being featured in some way helps with popularity and downloads,” Bohutinsky said.

Consumer Backlash?

Will stories about app controversies have any real impact on iPhone users or potential customers? Thanks to the publicity, “with all these events, it’s now a consumer issue, and they need to let the consumer know [the guidelines] as well,” Edelman Digital’s Rubel said. “If they continue to play this game, they’re going to give more credence to the jailbreaking community.”

Those controversies regarding which apps to approve and which ones not to approve may have company officials feeling ultra-paranoid and give people the impression Apple is out of touch with the values of all its customers, not just those in a certain age demographic, according to Aegis Resources’ Chapman.

“I don’t think they know how to react. They are completely whipsawed,” Chapman said. “They have created this very proprietary store with complete control over the distribution channel. No one forces you to download apps. The problem is cultural at Apple, I would imagine. An older person should be keeping an eye on things. They just don’t quite know what to do.”