Tag Archives | Google Android

Resolved: The Best Gadgets Are the Work of One Company

TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington is reporting that Google is absolutely, positively working on an Android phone of its own for release early next year. He seems to be confirming scuttlebutt from a month ago, and the only thing that’s changed is that the shipping schedule has supposedly slipped a bit.

If Arrington’s right, Google may be about to indulge in an act of overweening hubris: It’s hard to imagine that HTC, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, and other makers of Android-based devices will be anything but profoundly ticked off at the prospect of their software supplier going into competition with them. But the more I think about it, the more I hope that the Googlephone is a reality.

Almost without exception, every truly great handheld gizmo has consisted of software and hardware from one company. The iPhone and iPod, of course. Palm products from the original PalmPilot right up to the Palm Pre. Every BlackBerry ever released. Almost every Psion. They’ve all been more than the sum of their parts, because they’ve been beautifully integrated in a way that’s only possible when a single company’s responsible for everything.

It’s certainly possible to build a really good gadget with somebody else’s software–Verizon’s Droid proves that, as do other devices all the way back to HP’s beloved 200LX palmtop. But they’ll always operate at a disadvantage to ones that reflect a single vision.

Arrington says he knows nothing about the specs of the alleged Googlephone.  It would be pretty sad if it turned out to be a mundane handset that could have come from anybody. I’m thinking it would pack a highly customized version of Android that’s even more focused on putting a bevy of Google services in your pocket. Any guesses?




One True Google Phone? I’m Skeptical, But Hopeful

Google PhoneTheStreet’s Scott Mortiz is reporting that Google plans to sell a phone of its own. The device will supposedly run Android (of course) and will go on sale at retail stores this year (and hey, that means soon–there isn’t very much 2009 left). It would be an unlocked phone that would run on AT&T, T-Mobile, and most carriers around the world, and Google is supposedly undertaking the project to get more control over the integration of the device with its own services.

Moritz based his story on a report by analyst Ashok Kumar, who says he’s spoken with hardware companies involved in bringing the product to market. According to this GigaOM post, Kumar also says that Google will release a netbook (presumably running Chrome OS) next year, and that both the phone and the netbook will use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon CPU.

Despite the confident tone of Mortiz’s piece, my instinct is to be skeptical about the prospect of Google entering the phone business. Android is starting to take off as a platform, thanks to its enthusiastic adoption by a whole bunch of companies, including Verizon, Motorola, HTC, and others. Wouldn’t they rather see Google as a partner rather than a competitor? Even if Google went to extreme lengths to avoid giving preferential treatment to its own device, it would be bound to leave other Android supporters feeling uneasy, and possibly eyeing other options.

Then there’s the notion that the Googlephone would be sold unlocked, not through carriers. I’m a fan of unlocked phones myself, and will happily pay a premium for ’em. But the market for unlocked phones is tiny–in the U.S., anyhow–because prices are so much higher than the deals you can get by signing up for a contract. Google being Google, it might pull a game-changing move that would result in an affordable unlocked phone, but you gotta think that doing that would make its partners even unhappier.

I may be doubtful, but I hope Google does release its own phone. Aside from the wealth of iPhone apps, the iPhone’s greatest advantage over the competition is the sheer seamlessness of its integration of hardware device and the iTunes-related services. Many companies try to ape Apple’s level of hardware-software-service integration, and very few even come close. But it’s ultimately a noble goal, and I’d like to see what Google would do with Android if its only goal was to make the very best Google phone possible. It would drive other Android supporters bonkers, but it might (A) make consumers very happy, and (B) keep Apple on its toes…


An Advance Look at Android 2.0

Android 2.0Google CEO Eric Schmidt is predicting that use of the company’s Android phone OS is about to explode. That’s exactly the sort of thing you’d expect the CEO of Google to predict, but in this case the self-serving prediction looks like it might be the accurate one, too. We’re only just now starting to see Android-based phones arrive in significant quantities, and while none of the ones we know about so far seems to be a landmark device, they add up to a platform that’s likely to be the iPhone’s most formidable rival for the time being.

So far, I respect Android but don’t love it–as an OS, it gets the job done, but it doesn’t match the innovation, efficiency, elegance, or ingenuity of Apple’s iPhone OS or, as seen in the Pre, Palm’s WebOS. So I’m looking forward to Android 2.0–aka “Eclair”–and am intrigued by The Boy Genius Report’s gallery of screenshots. They don’t reveal anything awe-inspiring, but there look to be lots of little refinements, plus a faster browser, Exchange support, a unified inbox (although one which, oddly enough, supposedly doesn’t support Gmail), and built-in Facebook integration.

It’s impossible to judge an operating system from screen images alone, and many Android phones will sport customized interfaces and functionality. But if Android’s going to be everywhere–and I bet it is–it’ll be nice if it’s fully competitive with the most polished and functional mobile OSes in existence. Eclair looks like a step in the right direction, at least…

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Verizon and Google Team Up for Android Phones

Verizon and AndroidGoogle’s Android phone OS may have gotten off to a slower start than I’d have expected, but it’s quickly making up for lost time. Today’s news: Google and Verizon Wireless are working together directly to design new Android phones, the first of which will be unveiled in “the next few weeks.” They’ll come with Google Voice.

The proof will be in the pudding phones, but it’s good news for consumers that the nation’s largest wireless carrier will be getting Android phones. It’s good news for Verizon, too–the company’s signature smartphone, the BlackBerry Storm, didn’t turn out to be a particularly formidable iPhone rival, and the Google partnership gives Verizon multiple additional shots at getting phones that are cool enough to grab mindshare and marketshare away from AT&T and Apple. (We still have no idea whether Verizon will get the iPhone anytime soon.)

For all the Android phones released and announced to date, I think we still haven’t seen the platform’s defining handset–the one that’s slick enough to join the iPhone 3GS and Palm Pre among the most sophisticated next-generation smartphones. (We haven’t seen a BlackBerry that fits that description, either–and definitely not a Windows Mobile phone.) Sounds like it won’t be too long until we’ll be able to form opinions about whether one of the first Verizon/Google offerings might be that phone.

Heck, maybe I’m just in an upbeat mood, but this is potentially good news for iPhone owners, too. The more smartphones from other carriers that have Google Voice, the greater the chances that Apple might decide it’s in its competitive interests to stop pondering the Google application and get it for the App Store. Wouldn’t be cool if AT&T ended up putting pressure on Apple to…approve innovative telephony apps like Google Voice?


Facebook (or Part of It) Lands on Android

iPhone owners have had a very solid Facebook application for a while now–one that’s better than ever in the recent 3.0 release. Users of Android phones just got their first Facebook app–developed by Google with help from Facebook, and available in the Android Market–and the charitable way to look at it is to think of it as a good start. It’s got some of the obligatory basic features, like the ability to view your wall, your feed, and info on your friends. You can comment on things and Like them, and upload photos. There’s a neat Android Widget–a sort of mini-Facebook that sits on the phone’s desktop–and an equally neat Facebook address book that lets you dial your friends’ phone numbers if they’ve listed them in Facebook.

But the list of things that are in the iPhone app but not the Android one is just about as long as the list of items the Android one does have. If there are photos, I can’t figure out how to view them. I also can’t tell if there’s a way to pull up a friend’s info unless that person happens to have something in your feed. There’s no support for events or chat, and I don’t see a way to accept friend requests. And some aspects of the user interface are a bit wonky (it takes so many clicks to view comments on your wall that you might lose interest).

Android fans aren’t completely out of luck; it’s easy enough to jump from the app into Facebook Lite, the Web-based version of Facebook. Despite its name, it’s a richer incarnation of the service than the Facebook app in a number of ways, and sports features which the app lacks. But if I’d been champing at the bit to get my hands on Facebook for Android, I’d be disappointed by this first version. With any luck, Google is already at work on a meatier update.

After the jump, some screens.

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Building an Android-Based iPhone Killer: Doable?

androidquestionsDaring Fireball’s John Gruber has a smart post up exhorting somebody–anybody–to build an Android phone that’s better than the iPhone. As far as I can tell, no manufacturer of Android-based phones has set out to do that–Android phones are getting better, as shown by the significant improvement that T-Mobile’s myTouch 3G represents over the first-generation G1. And some Android phones sport better specs in certain areas than the iPhone, or features that the iPhone doesn’t have. But nobody’s used Android to get to an overall phone experience that’s neck-and-neck with the iPhone yet. (And the overall iPhone experience remains so remarkable that folks are willing to forgive the phone for its many limitations.)

Android has gotten off to a slower start than I expected; even so, I still think it’s likely that it’ll provide the iPhone with its stiffest competition in terms of sheer market share in the years to come. I’m less optimistic about there being lots of Android phones which are just as good as the iPhone, for the same reason that there aren’t lots of Windows PCs that are just as good as Macs–the PC-like business model behind Android encourages manufacturers to build commodity products (albeit potentially good ones), not unique and ambitious ones of the sort Gruber is hoping for.

(Which doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to build something unique on Android; the best Windows laptops, such as Voodoo PC’s Envy 133, use the platform for products of Apple-like refinement and creativity. It’s just that the economics of building products on a common platform encourages those products to be…common.)

As of right now, the iPhone’s most formidable competitor in terms of overall experience is unquestionably Palm’s Pre. It’s anything but a coincidence that it’s also the smartphone that came out of the design process most similar to Apple’s approach, with one company designing the software and hardware from scratch. Very few companies will ever get that ambitious. But I hope that many companies do the next best thing: build Android phones that are so thoughtfully designed and customized that you forget they run an OS that’s available on scads of phones from scads of manufacturers.


Your GSM Phone is (Probably) Vulnerable to Malicious Text Messages

TAFT screen iphone 25Virtually all GSM phones (such as Apple’s iPhone) and GSM wireless operators (such as AT&T and T-Mobile) on the planet appear to be vulnerable to attacks using specially crafted SMS text messages discovered by security researchers Zane Lackey and Luis Miras. At the Black Hat Briefings this morning, the two researchers demonstrated several different ways they could bypass anti-spoofing protection in cellphones, and as a result, could send phones hidden commands, profile phones, or even exploit vulnerabilities that remotely disable a targeted phone’s ability to send and receive calls or text messages.

The researchers described how they set up test systems which could read the header data sent along with text messages, then used software to craft their own custom headers and messages and sent those messages to various types of GSM phones. Based on the behavior of the phones they tested, they were able to create several kinds of automated attacks for various phone models, and determined a method an attacker could use to silently connect to mobile phones and retrieve information that permits the attacker to identify the make and model of phone, and other profiling information.

One aspect of the vulnerability not well understood is how different models of phones will behave when they receive these specially-crafted messages. Some, like the Sony Ericsson model shown at right, provide the user no context as to whether information pushed down to the phone comes from a legitimate source.taft sony settings screen med

In a final coup for the conference, Lackey and Miras demonstrated an iPhone app they call TAFT which can, at the click of a few buttons, transmit various types of attacks against specific, vulnerable phone models, including iPhones, and phones running the Windows Mobile 5 and pre-“cupcake” Android operating systems.

The researchers are currently working with all major carriers and phone manufacturers to fix the problems, but warn that it may take some time before the vulnerabilities have been patched.


Google Releases Google Voice App for BlackBerry and Android. Now Let’s Hope It Releases Google Voice.

Google Voice LogoGoogle Voice just got more useful for BlackBerry and Android users: Google has released apps for both platforms that provide access to the service’s features. Sounds like the most significant aspect is that they make dialing outgoing calls using your Google Voice number a whole lot easier. (If you use your phone’s “real” number to call folks, they can use Caller ID to see the number and may add it to their address books, thereby making it a lot tougher to train the world to use your Google Voice number as your only phone number.)

Here’s a video from Google explaining the new apps:

iPhone users (like me) don’t have an app yet–we can access Google Voice from Safari, but only via a pretty basic interface. But over at TechCrunch, Michael Arrington says that Google Voice’s Craig Walker told him that an iPhone app is in the works. Once it arrives,  I can try being All Google Voice, All the Time. (For business calls, that is–I’ll bet I’m not the only proprietor of a very small business who uses my phone-company phone number for personal calls, and my Google Voice number for work stuff.)

The most important remaining question about Google Voice remains the same: WHEN IS GOOGLE PLANNING TO OPEN UP THE SERVICE TO ANYONE AND EVERYONE WHO’D LIKE TO USE IT?!? Google still isn’t saying. But the fact that it’s rolling out these apps and steadily letting folks who requested invites months ago in is a good sign that the rest of world won’t have to wait forever. I hope. (I can’t think of another Web service that’s had such a high profile and received so many upgrades while remaining available only to a smalllish group of users.)


WSJ: Dell is Developing an Android Handheld

Dell Android DeviceRumors about a Dell handheld device of some sort have been circulating for ages, but the Wall Street Journal is reporting what seems to be more than mere rumor. It says that Dell is working on a handheld that will sport an ARM processor and run Google’s Android OS. It may come out in the second half this year, the Journal says. Or be delayed. Or never come out.

The Dell gadget would apparently be a rival for Apple’s extremely successful iPod Touch–a device that’s been around for two years and which still doesn’t have much in the way of direct competition, though it’ll get some later this year when Microsoft’s Zune HD appears. The Journal’s story points out that a Dell Android handheld would be an example of the Mobile Internet Device form factor championed by Intel–even if it runs a non-Intel CPU–but the most striking thing about MIDs so far is that that nobody who claims to make one has built anything that consumers want to buy in significant numbers. Apple made the Touch into a hit in part by blithely sidestepping all the mistakes the rest of the industry was making, such as trying to shoehorn full-strength operating systems onto tiny devices and giving them lame physical keyboards.

At this point in any story on Dell’s handheld plans, it’s mandatory to mention that it tried making MP3 players before and failed. But basing a new device on Android would be smart (it relieves Dell of most of the challenges of being a software company). And Dell picked up some interesting intellectual property and smart people when it acquired a mobile software/service company called Zing in 2007. Bottom line: Dell isn’t any more of an unlikely candidate to take in the iPod Touch than anyone else who seems to be planning to do so.

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Windows 7 $tarter Edition?

I’m not an expert on how to price operating systems for maximum sales and profit. Microsoft is. So I hesitate to jump in here, but a DigiTimes story (as covered by Ars Technica) is suggesting that Microsoft may want about twice as much money from PC manufacturers to put Windows 7 Starter Edition on a netbook as it currently charges for Windows XP. Says Ars:

This translates to at least a $50 increase in price if netbook makers want to offer Windows 7 as opposed to Windows XP. That typically isn’t a big deal, but for netbooks, $50 is a very big difference, so it’s no wonder OEMs are still trying to negotiate with Microsoft. Most laptops currently offer Windows Vista, which should have a much smoother price change going to Windows 7.

Regardless of Windows 7 Starter’s pricetag, the whole boom in under $400 netbooks presents Microsoft with one of its biggest challenges ever. There simply isn’t enough profit built into netbook prices for it to charge PC manufacturers what it’s used to getting for a copy of Windows. So far, it’s managed to keep Linux from getting much of a toehold by selling Windows XP for cheap. But the situation presents the best opportunity for alternative operating systems that’s come along in a long time, and as contenders from Android to Jolicloud jump into the netbook market, it’ll be fascinating to see if they catch on…and how Microsoft responds.