Huawei challenges Android with a backup plan

Amir Efrati on The Information:

And to hedge its bets against Google’s control of Android, Huawei is also secretly developing an alternative mobile operating system, according to three people briefed about the project.

Android forks do exist, but not all companies can offer a compelling alternative. The problem lies in Android Apps and Services: although things like the Play Store are not that important in China -where this backup plan makes more sense-, the store and the rest of Google services linked to the Android operating system make this platform difficult to beat.

Amazon is a good example of a success story here, but only on its niche of Kindle tablets. Cyanogen seemed promising but its presence is now not so prominent, and Microsoft, the only company that could have an interesting fork of Android with its services, prefers not to mess with that -although they did with the Nokia X phones-.

I wonder why Huawei would risk its good relationship with Google -they make the Nexus 6P- with a move that’s not so clear if you look outside of China.

Anyway, the move is entertaining for us, users and media. We’ll see where this leads to.

Amazon Kindle (2016) seems cheaper than Paperwhite but it’s not

All-new Kindle in white (Photo: Business Wire)

The new Amazon Kindle (2016) is thinner, lighter, has ads -with Amazon’s “Special Offers” and most interesting, has Bluetooth audio support (for blind readers).

But it doesn’t have physical page flipping buttons, and resolution is still its weak point against its eldest brother, the Kindle Paperwhite. This e-book reader is pretty much invincible if you want the best price/performance relationship.

Nice, useless update.

Microsoft Edge efficiency isn’t (that) important: usability and options are

Chart showing average power consumption per browser (lower is better) based on aggregated telemetry. Edge on average consumed 465.24 milliwatts; Firefox, 493.5; Chrome, 719.72.

Microsoft has published a recent study about its browser capabilities and its power efficiency. The numbers don’t lie: if you want to maximize your battery life, you should use Microsoft Edge and forget Chrome, Firefox and Opera.

The results speak for themselves: Microsoft Edge outlasts the rest, delivering 17%-70% more battery life than the competition.

This is for sure interesting and important, but not so important to change user habits and convince him to switch to a new browser that basically wants you to perform the same tasks you do on your favorite browser in other way.

Usability and options are the key here.

I don’t use Edge because I don’t care about its ink option to mark pages -especially (and not too much) useful on tablets and convertibles- or its reading mode. I care about extensions and having the freedom to customize my browser as I want. I want to do the things I do in other browsers the exact same way I do them there, and I want things like my passwords, bookmarks and my history saved them.

Freeze frame from a video rundown test comparing streaming battery life on four browsers. Click to play.

I remember Firefox giving the option to import Chrome bookmarks a few versions ago: that was a dealbreaker to switch. Edge doesn’t take this into account, and I think they should focus on trying to convince users to switch offering them a better browser that they will find familiar.

Otherwise Edge is condemned.

 

China is too important and Apple knows it

According to The Wall Street Journal, Beijing Regulator Orders Apple to Stop Sales of Two iPhone Models:

Beijing’s intellectual property regulator has ordered Apple to stop sales of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in the city, ruling that the design is too similar to a Chinese phone. The move is another setback for the company in a key overseas market.

Competing in China is difficult. Local businesses are overprotected there, and even Apple has to take a step back if someone there feels its position threatened.

It’s difficult to imagine that Apple has copied the design from one of those local, small makers (and not the other way around), but China is too important right now for them.

China is to Apple what Apple is to many of the countries it makes businesses with: the bigwig.

 

The 3.5 mm unnecessary goodbye

I’m sure you’ve already heard that the new Moto Z has no headphone jack. The well-known 3.5-mm minijack has said goodbye in this device that detonated back the debate about that future in which both Lightning -for iPhone users- and USB-C -in other platforms- will be the ports we’ll connect our headphones to.

This is not a typical post from and old user protesting for a change that he did not ask. It’s an open letter to all who advocate change for the sake of change without the right reasons. Without assessing the consequences that this change will have.

It is true that some technologies must die. There are others that are just better and allow progress and improve upon them. It happened when Apple got rid of the floppy drive and even the optical drive, and when we stopped using the IDE interface to jump to a SATA interface that is now cornered by the M.2 standard on SSDs. And so is the case with a lot of technological goodbyes that make sense because as I say they bring many advantages and only one disadvantage: that the old thing no longer works with these formats or those standards. And if it works, it is through bulky and cumbersome adapters that one is forced to use during the stages of transition to ABetterEra ™.

dragonfly

That’s not the case with the headphone jack because this standard had no fundamental problem. As explained in XDA Developers, when you connect your headset to a phone you do to get the sound through two components: the DAC/AMP couple. Audio crash course on mobile devices:

The Amplifier, AMP for short, simply amplifies the audio signals that are generated by the DAC or Digital Analog Converter. All music and sounds on your device are stored digitally (1’s and 0’s) and in order to hear them you need it to be converted to Analog which is where the DAC works its magic. From this point all the headphones need to do is carry the signal to the speakers and your ears, most have no need for converters or amplifiers in the headphones themselves.

No mystery here. Our phones (and any other device with a headphone jack, such as our laptops or PCs) have their DAC and AMP, and this is where some phone makers invest more (HTC 10 LG V10) and other less (almost all the rest), with specialized DACs/AMPs that give more power and sound quality and act in the same way camera sensors act in our phones. There are decent ones and there are good ones. If you want great pictures with your phone forget about decent sensors, because you will get pictures that will simply look … decent (surprise).

Saying goodbye to the headphone jack will cause the AMP/DAC couple to be no longer part of the smartphone, but part of the headphones themselves, which will integrate the electronic and will theoretically perform better than many current devices. They will at least if you pay the (higher) price of these USB-C or Lightning headphones with good quality DACs and AMPs. True, you can reuse these headphones with any mobile device and get the same quality audio from all of them (the device will only store zeros and ones), but I doubt that the price reduction on the smartphones -if any- will be in the same range that the price rise we’ll see on those future headphones.

The funny thing is that the idea to remove the 3.5 mm jack isn’t that new, and in fact there are products such as the AudioQuest Dragonly Black that allow to get a specialized DAC/AMP for your (mobile) device easily and with a fair price ($99 on Amazon) Apparently this little module makes your phone sound a lot better -forget about the HTC 10- and you can combine it with whatever device (laptop, phone, tablet, whatever) and headphones you like.

Who are this good news for? I’d say these are good news for handset and headphones manufacturers, which will follow this new trend madly. This will allow them to sell better, more expensive sound with a better connector thanks to ANewEra ™ of acoustic sensations.

That’s a big lie.

You could get the same performance with a good DAC / AMP in your current device. Manufacturers simply want to take away that option from production costs in their smartphones and increase that costs (exponentially) in future USB-C and Lightning headphones. Which believe me, will be considerably more expensive both on the hign and the low-end for. This will mean that you’ll pay pretty more for the same sound you already get on your smartphone with some decent headphones like the astonishing Xiaomi Piston 3 ($19.99 on Amazon) that I’m enjoying wight now.

I totally agree with certain technological farewells. Saying goodbye to standards and specifications that are obsolete and have newer, better alternatives is perfectly valid.

This is not one of those cases.

4 questions about the troubling app subscription model

The news coming about the new App Store subscription model -that, by the way, will be applied to Google Play as well– are really interesting, but I find them troubling.

There is certainly content on which subscriptions make sense, but I’m not really sure apps and games can really benefit from this model. The questions arepretty obvious:

  1. Developers won’t probably give everything they have in mind in the first version to ensure they have something new to offer in future releases for their subscribers, right?
  2. Developers that offer the (near) perfect app -at first, or through several updates- will have a tough problem to justify new updates and the subscription model itself. What will users be paying then? New features they don’t need (that can spoil the original app)?
  3. Does this subscription model give the users more rights to ask for features? That’s not the case for video, music or “text” subscriptions, but again, the case is different.
  4. What about security patches? We took for granted that when we paid for an app we had some support associated to it. What will be the new terms of use on this cases? “Only critical updates are free“?

I’m sure developers like the idea, but hopefully this will be just an option for certain kind of apps that deserve that model.

Hopefully.

The Xbox One will focus on games, and that’s a good thing

When Microsoft launched the Xbox One it made it in two different keynotes: one devoted to TV and video content, and the second one devoted to games. This console was meant to conquer our sitting room and be our entertainment hub, but users spoke: they just wanted games, and that’s what ultimately made the PS4 gain a big advantage.

Microsoft didn’t surrender of course, and they announced a DVR capability for the Xbox One that was supposedly coming to the console sometime this year. It won’t finally:

Microsoft is no longer planning to add a TV DVR feature to its Xbox One console. The software giant originally unveiled plans to add TV DVR to the Xbox One back in August, noting that the feature would arrive some time in 2016. “After careful consideration, we’ve decided to put development of DVR for Over-the-Air TV on hold to focus our attention on launching new, higher fan-requested gaming experiences across Xbox One and Windows 10,” revealed a Microsoft spokesperson in a statement to The Verge

Users want games? They’ll have games.

Source: Microsoft isn’t adding a TV DVR feature to the Xbox One anymore | The Verge

Voice assistants’ worst enemy? Our embarrassment

Today Cortana arrives on Xbox One (for preview members) and I suspect it’s use will be pretty common among their users for two reasons:

  1. Many of them were already using Kinects to shout some voice commands, and now that interaction will grow between them, but even more importantly, 
  2. They will be able to use the feature at home and in private. 

People feel uncomfortable when they try to use a voice assistant in public. That’s what a recent study from Creative Strategies tells us: that feature is becoming more and more widespread on smartphones, smartwatches and other wearables, but lots of people feel weird to use Siri, Cortana or Google Now in public: 

20% of consumers who said they never used a voice assistant stated they had not done so because they feel uncomfortable talking to their technology, especially in public. With public usage as low as 3% for iPhone users, it seems users are still uncomfortable talking to their devices

There’s clearly a cultural barrier here, but cultural barriers happen to dissapear like almost anything else. 

Time.

Microsoft’s ‘mixed reality’ sounds like a confusing plan B

Terry Myerson at Computex 2016:

Today, we announced that Windows Holographic is coming to devices of all shapes and sizes from fully immersive virtual reality to fully untethered holographic computing. Today we invited our OEM, ODM, and hardware partners to build PCs, displays, accessories and mixed reality devices with the Windows Holographic platform.

It’s good to hear that Microsoft opens up its platform and allows others to develop its own devices, but this feels weird. Why would anybody want to invest time and resources in something that hasn’t proved anything?

The same happens with that new ‘mixed reality’ concept that Microsoft has been talking about. Combining VR platforms with AR platforms could be interesting, sure, but Microsoft seems to be the weak one in this battle. HTC and Oculus have the winning hand (or at least a better hand) because they’ve already showed that this platforms can do something that interests certain kind of users.

All Microsoft has given us at this point is nice promo videos.