Android 7.0 Nougat makes more sense on tablets… and convertibles

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Big smartphones are everywhere, and Nougat’s new features make them more useful.

Honeycomb was meant for tablets. The idea tried to take advantage of that new gold rush started with the iPad, but that iteration never took off.

Tablets are back, but with a different perspective: now they’re trying to conquer not just the consumption but also the production of content, and the new features in Android Nougat take that into account.

Split view is probably the most interesting here, but changes to notifications and other areas that seem to merge certain ideas from Chrome OS -like the new dual system partition- make Android 7.x Nougat an interesting option for the future convertibles that will follow the premature Pixel C.

That and the ability to run Android apps on Chrome OS could bring us a new twist in this market.

Google Duo: simpler must be better

It’s  somewhat incredible how Facetime has no clear contestant in the world of mobile video calling apps in Android. We’ve got Skype and other options, of course, but none of them has conquered Android users and here we see even much more fragmentation than on the instant messaging market.

That’s what Google is trying to solve with Google Duo, which pursues something remarkable: minimalism and simplicity. The app is available starting today for Android and iOS, so we’ll see if in this world of overcomplex applications something like this really makes sense to users.

Maybe separating that from Hangouts was the right thing to do after all.

The Chromebook question

I’m currently on vacation so I’ll write less often. I’ll keep reading what’s going on thanks to Twitter and my smartphone, and yesterday I found an interesting article titled ‘Why I left my new MacBook for a $250 Chromebook. There are a few good arguments there to defend a platform that previously wasn’t that easy to support.

The first one: we spend more and more time working and entertaining ourselves on the cloud. There’s an inherent problem there in my opinion: being too much dependent on those services and their servers is really nice and convenient, but you could find yourself losing everything you had there -so safe, so secure, right?- if you are not careful enough.

The second one: Chrome OS support for Android apps is coming, so suddenly we’ve got something that gives us a truly convergent platform from Google. It may be not Remix OS, but it’t a really good way to way to solve the problem taking advantage of both the virtues of Chrome OS and Android. Google seemed pretty stubborn when asked if Chrome OS and Android would merge eventually, and this kind of support finally answers this question.

Mobile and desktop computing, together at last.

This makes Google the owner of one of the greatest and more powerful software platforms ever developed. Only the App Store could compete here, because Microsoft has fallen behind in a segment it owned for so long.

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The author from that post gave a few examples of some apps from OS X that had pretty good alternatives in Chrome OS thanks to their web application versions, but this is almost anecdotal when now we’ll have access to a software catalog with more than 2 million apps -there’s certainly a lot of useless ones- to solve our needs and never look back again to a pure desktop OS.

That could take some time, of course, but for me that conquest of the desktop from mobile OS is the future. Why not buying a Chromebook yet? The time hasn’t come for me yet, but I’ve recently crowdfunded the Superbook at Kickstarter, a device I find even more interesting on the short term.

Better and faster Chromebooks will come in the Fall with the announcement of the final version of Android N. These machines will of course support Android apps as one of their selling points, and maybe there we’ll start to see where this kind of merger develops. Chrome OS and Android will make sense on desktop machines too, so we¡ll be living interesting times on this front as well.

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.

Suddenly, Chrome OS makes more sense

Chrome OS wasn’t mentioned once at yesterday’s Google I/O keynote, but there was a big update coming: Android apps will be part of that experience in a move that proves that the ‘merger’ between the two platforms was indeed a reality.

Google waited until day two of its I/O developer conference to announce what might be its biggest and most impactful news. With the Play Store, Chrome OS is suddenly a lot more compelling to users who might have shied away from using a device that could only use the web and web apps.

That’s the real story here: Chrome OS users will be capable of running lots of Android apps on their Chromebooks thanks to the arrival of the Google Play Store to this operating system. In fact the integration of the two OS’s seems pretty natural:

Apps show up as fully independent, separate, resizeable windows, instead of inside some weird Android zone. Their notifications appear inside Chrome OS’s own notifications area

What is more interesting here is that there’s no emulation or virtualization here: Android runs almost natively thanks to containers and has “full access” to resources such as Wi-Fi, processor or RAM -and of course, to the touch screen-. This move won’t make Android a desktop operating system at last by itself -and the approach is different from Remix OS-, but its combination with Chrome OS seems to make sense.  This feature will be available for every certain Chrome OS user in the fall; it will be interesting to see what’s improved in that moment.

Source: Bring Your Android App to Chromebooks | Android Developers Blog

Apple, Microsoft, and the future of convertibles 

Paul Thurrot reflects on the convertible/detachable market:

One might argue, correctly, that the iPad Pro is not exactly a full-featured productivity machine today. But the key word in that sentence is “today.” Apple will evolve the iPad Pro and improve things on the productivity side of things. But I don’t see how Microsoft or any PC maker can turn a Surface or other PC tablet into a great consumption tablet. The apps and ecosystems just aren’t there.

And that’s the bit that Microsoft needs to figure out. Surface can see a certain level of success … as a PC. But if Microsoft wants to expand this product beyond that niche usage, it will need to fix the entire Windows ecosystem, a daunting and perhaps impossible task. But all Apple needs to do is keep chipping away at iPad Pro, which already outsells Surface. Imagine how bad it will get when the functionality catches up.

I’d say that for many people productivity equals -right now- a desktop operating system. Microsoft leads the way right now on the convertible market because they didn’t have to change really that much to their Surface line in terms of software. These devices work well as laptop replacements and you can expect to do your job nearly as  efficiently as you would on a laptop or on a desktop.

On the iPad Pro front the problem is exactly the opposite: it works really well as a consumption device -like the iPad has always done- but it doesn’t do that well on the productivity front, where things like a more powerful multitasking, window management or even a file explorer (that’s right, iOS, you don’t have one proper file explorer) are several elements that the user identifies with a productivity environment.

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The question is, which one will perform the other task better and before its rival. The Surface can work as a consumption device, but tablet Mode in Windows is not that good in apps or user experience.

iOS, on the other part, is advancing on the productivity issues and it is becoming clear that software developers will be far interested in taking advantage of the device capabilities becausethe iPad Pro user is a paying customer, one that will probably pay for a good productivity app in order to expand the versatility of that convertible.

I suspect Apple (and Google) have an easier path to conquer the perfect detachable. Remix OS has shown us that. Kids don’t grow using a PC anymore: they grow using a smartphone or a tablet, so Android and iOS are too familiar to them. If those platforms solve the gap to become productivity platforms as well, Microsoft will have a tough battle ahead.

#Build2016 signals the death of the Windows phone

Not a single mention. That’s what we had at the Build 2016 keynote from Microsoft a few minutes ago when we tried to get some news from the Windows 10 Mobile operating system.

We’ve got lots of other news: the promising rise of the conversational bot (either with voice or with text), the transformation of the Xbox One into a PC, and the surprising arrival of a Linux console natively in Windows 10.

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But again, nothing about Windows on phones. We saw some Lumias on the stage for the demos, yes, but what about new apps, or developer tools, or games for that platform? Nothing was mentioned, and that is the biggest disappointment of a conference that should have followed the ‘Mobile first, cloud first‘ mantra.

It certainly could follow that first part, but not with Windows 10 Mobile, that’s for sure. With a late final version of the OS that isn’t even available on every Windows phone, a diminishing software catalog, an inmature (that’s sad but undertandable given the maturity of the project) Continuum and a worrying lack of devices, the platform has big shadows over it.

#WhereIsWindows10Mobile, Microsoft? Where?

Android N won’t be enough for convertibles

Latest data from IDC suggest that convertibles will transform current tablet sales: the current sales drop this year (5.9% from 2015)  will stop next year with “single-digit growth in 2017“. That growth will have a leader: Windows.

Microsoft’s operating system is leading this market now, but it will do with even more strength in the next few years, increasing the gap with iOS and Android.

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The latter will probably have the same problems on convertibles that it has shown on regular tablets. Not many applications take advantage of the tablet and that’s a real issue for users that can enjoy a better software catalog for tablets both on Windows and, of course, iOS.

But there’s another problem coming: productivity. Last year Pixel C showed promise, but in the first reviews  it was clear that Android was not a good match for a convertible. It wasn’t then, and it won’t be this year despite the current discount in price.

The reason is again clear: Android N is available for developers and supports several devices (Pixel C included), but the only real feature that will enhance that productivity scenario is the new multiwindow support. It’s nice to have that finally -one year after iOS introduced it-, but it’s far from enough. Again.

When you are in front of a convertible with a laptop and a touchpad (not in this case), you want a laptop experience, not a tablet experience. That’s the one we actually are productive with. So I’d ask Google why are they being so stingy and so shy in their convertible bet.

Considering the rumors about an Android and Chrome OS merger, these are not good news. I would expect much more from Google.

Microsoft kills its Android porting  tool, welcomes only iOS developers

 

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The Windows Bridge for Android (Project Astoria) is dead. Microsoft has announced that on a new post on the Windows blog in which they explain that apparently the feedback from developers was critical to this decision

We also announced the Windows Bridge for Android (project “Astoria”) at Build last year, and some of you have asked about its status. We received a lot of feedback that having two Bridge technologies to bring code from mobile operating systems to Windows was unnecessary, and the choice between them could be confusing. We have carefully considered this feedback and decided that we would focus our efforts on the Windows Bridge for iOS and make it the single Bridge option for bringing mobile code to all Windows 10 devices, including Xbox and PCs. For those developers who spent time investigating the Android Bridge, we strongly encourage you to take a look at the iOS Bridge and Xamarin as great solutions.

Previous information showed that there was other reasons far more logical to kill this project. Technical problems have supposedly arose in the first few months of life of Astoria, which led their responsibles to delay it. Saying nothing about these problems and the silence on other channels -such as the developer forums- is not a good sign from Microsoft, who again lacks transparency.

The announcement makes one thing clear : Microsoft wants iOS developers to port their apps and games to Windows 10, and they’re trying to convince them with Project Islandwood. There’s other option for iOS and even Android ports: the recent acquisition of Xamarin could prove interesting to push the Windows 10 Mobile catalog as Microsoft pretends.

I doubt it more and more each day. Mobile World Congress was a missed oportunity for Microsoft -they should have published Windows 10 Mobile final version there- and I guess Xamarin is again part of their B plan. If they can’t win with their own platform, they will try to enter into other platforms through apps (Outlook, Cortana, Office), services (OneDrive, Skype) and developer tools (Xamarin).

Tough times to develop for Windows.

The challenge for Google’s next Cardboard 

The Google Cardboard project has been incredibly succesful on its primary goal: democratize Virtual Reality and allow nearly anyone to get a glimpse of what this trend is going to allow us to do.

Now that they have succeed in that, it seems Google wants to monetize that kind of market too. According to the Financial Times, Google will launch a new headset that will be similar to current Gear VR. That’s the right move for Google -given that they don’t abandon the current version- and will allow them to compete on  market that will for sure have associated many opportunities to earn some money.

There are doubts, though. How many kind of devices will we have?

  1. Oculus Rift: the most expensive and -supposedly- the best to get the richest experience. (Gaming PC required)
  2. HTC Vive Pre: from what people are saying, this one is really starting to be a serious contender to Oculus’s headset. (Gaming PC required)
  3. Gear VR: that’s the cheapest way to enjoy a quality VR… if you currently are an owner of a Samsung high-end smartphone. We already discussed what are the differences between this device’s features and the ones Google Carboard has. (Samsung high-end smartphone required)
  4. Google Carboard: cheapest, most affordable way to play with VR and test if it can deliver what we expect it to deliver. (Any (capable) smartphone required)

From what we see, there will be a high-end and low-end for both segments: PC based and smartphone based. I guess for the time being the VR experience will be similar to what happens with regular games on the PC and the smartphone. If you want to enjoy a richer experience in almost every aspect -mobile games can be really addictive-, you’ll have to go for the PC experience. Mobile VR will be more casual, more of a testing arena.

So Google going for the high end makes sense. Hopefully being able to enjoy a better, more comfortable experience with (almost) any Android or iOS smartphone will push this kind of content even more.

Interesting times ahead.