TAG | amazon
A recent internal Drone delivery video (via Engadget) that was made public on YouTube a few days ago shows the Netflix interpretation of how drone delivery might work – albeit with a more humorous and more dystopian take than Amazon’s highly polished vision of Prime Air. Suffice to say, in the Netflix parody video, side effects of home delivery by flying robot might include being… Read More
Back in October last year, I first heard rumblings that Nokia was working on an Android handset. “Devs rumor but rather solid, not confirmed by eye,” said my source. Not long afterwards, others began to report similar rumours. However, at the time it remained unclear if this was simply the remnants of an existing skunkworks project that would never see the light of day — Nokia’s plan B, if you will, after it chose Microsoft’s Windows Phone as its primary smartphone platform — or something more significant.
What I also couldn’t figure out is how Nokia had resolved the “risk of commoditization” that then CEO Stephen Elop had cited as reason for not adopting Google’s mobile OS over Microsoft’s platform in the first place, once the decision had been taken to ditch its own Symbian and MeeGo OS efforts. With today’s unveiling of the Nokia X — Nokia’s first Android phone, which is targeting emerging markets and designed to be a Windows Phone “feeder” — we now have the answer.
But first, here’s how I summed up Nokia’s Android dilemma in early 2011, shortly after news of its Microsoft Windows Phone partnership first broke:
… as Nokia explored adopting Android with Google it was the “commoditization risk“, as Elop has since described it, that turned out to be the deal-breaker. Specifically, Nokia wanted to replace Google Maps with its own Ovi offering, along with changes to Android’s handling of email, contacts, calendar, app-store and over-the-air software management in an effort to stop value moving entirely to Google – to which the search giant said no. Unless, that is, Nokia wanted to fork Android completely and therefore “stay behind the curve.”
Hellbent on competing with Google in apps and services, and staying true to Elop’s original thinking, Nokia has chosen to use its own forked version of Android for the Nokia X, swapping out a plethora of Google offerings for its and Microsoft’s own, similar to Amazon’s Kindle Fire strategy. But in doing so, it’s also swapped the risk of commoditisation with the risk that comes with fragmentation. A decision that, ironically, could leave it lagging behind in third-party app support all over again.
As my colleague Natasha Lomas explains, “the huge draw of a Nokia handset built atop Android is of course access to the Android app ecosystem — and the circa one million apps that brings”. Except it doesn’t, at least not right away, since the Nokia X swaps Google Play for Nokia’s own Android app store. Nokia also says that not all Android apps will be compatible with Nokia X; it reckons 75% will work “out of the box”, and is hoping to persuade developers to make the necessary API tweaks to the remaining quarter.
Nokia’s banking that its reach and scale in the markets its targeting will mean it can attract the extra developer support required to make its own version of Android a success, but fragmentation is a dirty word in the ears of app makers, no matter the logic. And for end-users it can be confusing and frustrating (as a BlackBerry 10 user, which purports to support Android, I should know).
Which leads me to this whole “feeding” Lumia strategy; Nokia’s belief that its Android-based Nokia X can be a feeder for users who’ll eventually upgrade to a more powerful (and more expensive) Lumia running Windows Phone.
Consider this: what if the risk of fragmentation turns out to be a complete non-issue — which it may well do — and the Nokia X and future Nokia Android handsets keep apace with the app store race? It could lead to a situation where an “upgrade” to Lumia would feel like a downgrade if a Nokia X user’s favourite Android apps were conspicuous by their absence on Windows Phone (remember the Instagram debacle, anyone?).
Were this situation to arise, a better choice for a Nokia X owner might be to upgrade to a Samsung or any number of other mid-tier Android phones, which incidentally carry Google’s services. That would not only leave a bad taste in Nokia’s mouth, but Google would be left licking its lips, too, knowing that most of the value created by Nokia’s adoption of Android could end up on Mountain View’s plate after all. Unless, of course, Microsoft cancels the Nokia X product, once its acquisition of Nokia’s smartphone division completes later this year.
Microsoft is in the advanced stages of closing its acquisition of Nokia’s handset business, but in the meantime Nokia is reportedly working on Android devices. How does Microsoft feel about that? “They’ll do some things we’re excited about, and some things we’re less excited about,” said senior executive Joe Belfiore, to a room of chuckling journalists and analysts.
“We have a terrific engineering relationship with Nokia,” he noted. “We’ve done a bunch of excellent collaboration [on] products…We’re proud of the work we do together.”
Nevertheless, as many have rumored, bolstered by some apparently leaked images (such as the ones here), Nokia has also been spinning other plates, with the WSJ reporting that the so-called Normandy device coming as soon as later this month.
Why? As Natasha pointed out the other day, this wouldn’t be an official Android device but a forked version, along the lines of what Amazon and many Asian handset makers have created. The idea here would be that it could use the device to target specifically lower-end users who are not reachable at the lowest price points of Nokia’s Lumia devices, but are looking for a “smarter” device than the Asha line from Nokia. The handset, the WSJ reports, has been in the works from before the deal with Microsoft was set, and points to how, with with many engineers and others leaving Nokia through layoffs, there are still some wildcards in the pack.
Rumours that primary Windows Phone OEM Nokia has been two-timing Microsoft by keeping an Android phone project on its backburner have been doing the rounds for a while now (aka the rumoured Nokia Normandy device). But yesterday the Wall Street Journal tipped more fuel on this fire, citing “people familiar with the matter” confirming that Nokia will unveil an Android powered device at the Mobile World Congress tradeshow in Barcelona later this month.
Now there’s plenty of WTF here. Not least because Nokia is about to hand over its mobile making division to Windows Phone maker Microsoft in exchange for a substantial pile of cash (€5.44 billion/$7.2 billion). So why would Microsoft, which has its own mobile platform, sanction its soon to be mobile making division to build an Android-powered device?
On the surface, it sounds like madness. And yet, as others have previously speculated, there is potentially method to this madness — being as Windows Phone has failed to challenge Android’s reach at the lower end of the smartphone market.
The bottom-of-the-range $180 Lumia 520 (pictured at the top of this post), which was announced at last year’s MWC conference and has sold relatively well for a Windows Phone, is still a ways more pricey than the least expensive Droids (sub-$50 Android handsets are available in emerging markets).
Ergo, switching to Android for budget devices would be one way for Microsoft to slice itself a larger portion of a very large (and growing) chunk of the smartphone pie.
If the best traction for Windows Phone has been at the lower end price-point, then pushing that lower still could be a winning combination — even if the resulting phones won’t technically be Windows Phones. Yet they will look and taste like Windows Phones, spreading the flavour of Microsoft’s mobile OS further than it’s thus far been able to go.
The Android powered Nokia device the WSJ’s sources discuss would come preloaded with Microsoft (and Nokia) services, including a Nokia Android app store, rather than Google software and Google’s Play store — effectively making it a Trojan horse pushed inside the Android fortress to ‘on-ramp’ first time smartphone users.
Or a plucky landing on the shores of occupied territory, if you will.
The device would also not resemble vanilla Android in terms of its UI, but would rather be a fork of Android — just as Amazon has forked Android for its Kindle Fire tablets and to further its own ends, not Google’s — with Nokiasoft apparently dressing the interface to make it look like Windows Phone.
Doing that would mean the budget Droid could acclimatize first time smartphone users to a Windows Phone world — i.e. in the hopes they will upgrade to a full-fat Windows Phone Lumia smartphone in the fullness of time.
According to the WSJ, Nokia engineers have been developing the Android device before agreeing to sell its mobile making division to Microsoft last fall. But up to now it hasn’t been clear whether Nokia planned to move ahead with the project or not.
The newspaper’s sources confirm the handset will be unveiled later this month — so presumably the project has been okayed by Microsoft’s new CEO Satya Nadella.
Nokia is holding a press conference at MWC, where TC will be on hand to cover the news. (Albeit, Nokia’s understated invite for this event isn’t giving away any Droid-flavoured hints:)
It’s not clear whether the Normandy Android landing is a stop-gap strategy while Microsoft retools Windows Phone for even lower prices smartphones. But the WSJ says Microsoft will be refocusing WP attention on flagship smartphones, to better compete at the higher end. (Yeah, good luck with that…)
At its earning call last month, Nokia — the only substantial Windows Phone OEM (controlling 90% of the market according to AdDuplex) — revealed it sold a total of just 30 million Lumia devices during in the whole of 2013.
Compare that to Android’s vast sprawl: Google announced 900M active Android activations in May last year. And cumulative active Android activations are likely to break the billion mark this year as the platform continues to expand to new device types to fuel further growth.
With comparative numbers like those it’s not hard to see Microsoft’s logic in signing off a Windows Phone-flavoured Android-powered low end smartphone Trojan horse.
Windows Phone certainly needs a better growth strategy. Some might say it needs a growth strategy period. And, ironically, piggybacking on Android may be the best way to achieve that elusive momentum.
At the time of writing Nokia had not responded to a request for comment.
Clickdrive wants to be the first open platform device that connects all driving apps and aftermarket monitors. The small black box, which plugs into an adapter under your steering wheel, lets you run several apps simultaneously from your smartphone, directly on the device itself, or on Clickdrive’s cloud platform.
“There are a bunch of driving apps coming out of various natures, but what we don’t have is the ability to use more than one at a time,” says Mark Sutheran, co-founder of Clickdrive, which is based in Singapore, but works with international car models.
He compares on-board devices currently on the market to computers where you had to load tape software one program at a time.
“You can have an iPhone app and connect it with a specific OBD. Then when you want to switch to another app, you have to pull out the adapter and plug another one in. It’s not scalable.”
Clickdrive is now raising funds on Indiegogo to start production and has hit about $10,000 of its $100,000 campaign goal, which has a March 15 end date. The device will ship in November, but to give people a chance to test out Clickdrive’s SDK before the final hardware is available, the startup is sending crowdfunding supporters a free lite version in April. (Since there’s been some confusion, Sutheran emphasizes that the Clickdrive lite, which works only with Android and is made with an off-the-shelf adapter, is definitely not the final device).
In addition to offering the convenience of letting drivers run several iOS, Android, or Windows apps at once, Clickdrive’s creators also claim that it is faster and more secure than most existing OBDs.
The device will come with a bundle of apps that other developers can add to using Clickdrive’s SDK or open API. (Check out demonstrations of its analytics for cars in Europe, the Americas, or Asia here).
Driving apps already on the market include Automatic, a Y Combinator alum and Techstars-backed Dash, both of which offer their own hardware to connect with smartphones. Apps like Dash also work with other Bluetooth-enabled OBD, including some that cost as little as $10 on Amazon.
But Sutheran says Clickdrive will appeal to car enthusiasts who are eager to run more than one app at a time, as well as people who don’t want to pick and chose between apps that monitor their fuel usage, carbon emissions, engine performance, or driving performance.
Clickdrive can download and run third-party apps on the device itself, which means it will continue to analyze and store data even if your smartphone is out of power. The Clickdrive is also upgradable, so you can add more storage or new connectivity options, like GSM, 4G or Zigbee.
Sutheran, a self-described “petrol head,” first became interested in car computers when the engine of his Fiat Coupe blew up after he bolted on a turbo. This was back in 2004 and connected diagnostic tools for vehicles were too expensive for Sutheran to afford after shelling out for repairs. So he built a device to connect his car engine with his laptop.
At that time, Sutheran was working as a software developer and consultant, creating trading systems for investment banks such as Lehman Brothers. Then in 2012, Sutheran decided to leave the financial industry and see what he could do with the advancements in mobile tech and cloud computing in the eight years since his Fiat Coupe’s engine met its fiery demise.
Sutheran and co-founder Rishi Saraswat say they built Clickdrive with the same engineering principles they applied to low-latency, high-performance trading systems. They expect the device’s first adopters to be other petrol heads, as well as tech enthusiasts and people who want to reduce carbon emissions.
But Sutheran expects the apps and devices that connect to Clickdrive to quickly become ubiquitous.
“In a few years, there may be many thousands of driving apps out there,” Sutheran says. “Insurance companies will offer premiums if you install their apps, and there will be ones for ridesharing, tracking your family members’ driving, parking. There are many, many different ways you can go with this.”
A report from Business Insider earlier today claimed that Barnes & Noble had eliminated its Nook hardware engineering staff in its entirety. Barnes & Noble has confirmed to TechCrunch that there were “job eliminations across the organization,” but stressed that they have not in fact eliminated their hardware division as first reported.
Nook spokesperson Mary Ellen Keating provided the following statement from the company to explain the current situation and recent organizational changes:
We’ve been very clear about our focus on rationalizing the NOOK business and positioning it for future success and value creation. As we’ve aligned NOOK’s cost structure with business realities, staffing levels in certain areas of our organization have changed, leading to some job eliminations. We’re not going to comment specifically on those eliminations. We believe we have a strong management team in place at NOOK, having recruited significant new talent. The new NOOK management team is focused on managing the business efficiently so that it becomes financially strong while at the same time aggressively moving to drive revenue growth.
The Nook business hasn’t been doing well for a long time, and the unit’s revenue dropped 32.3 percent year-over-year last fiscal quarter. There have been multiple rumors about B&N considering buyers for the Nook business, but so far, it seems to remain committed to the division despite its declining fortunes.
Sony seems to be intent on extricating itself from the e-book market, where few companies have seemed to be able to weaken the Amazon stranglehold. It recently announced it was shutting down its e-book market in the U.S. and Canada, and moving existing users to Kobo. Nook remains in the game for now, but players are dropping like flies, so who knows how much longer that will remain true.
Ouya’s original hardware featured just 8GB of storage onboard, but a temporary Limited Edition all-white version launched during the holidays doubled that to 16GB. Now, the game console startup is making that a permanent feature of its newest hardware, an Ouya console with a solid matte black finish that also offers better Wi-Fi connectivity and a “refined” controller design.
The new 16GB version adds $30 to the MSRP of the original, coming in at a total of $129 for the console and one controller. It goes on sale at Ouya.tv, as well as Amazon and Amazon.ca starting immediately, and the original 8GB model will continue to be sold as well at its original $99 price point (which is discounted to $69.99 currently on Amazon.ca)
As for what’s been improved about the controller, Ouya says that the joysticks and buttons are “better” and that the controller has less lag time overall. We’ve asked for more specifics around the improved Wi-Fi, but have yet to hear back with any details. The new console also ships with the latest Ouya firmware, which is said to improve all-around performance for the Android-powered hardware.
Ouya has faced some challenges lately, including the departure of one of its key founding team members, VP of Product Muffi Ghadiali. The company has not released any sales data recently, so there’s no telling how it’s performing, but the introduction of a new SKU seems a little unusual given the relatively modest nature of the tweaks.
Developers on the platform recently shared some numbers regarding their software sales on the console with Gamespot, which could be an indicator of hardware sales strength. Feedback was mixed, but overall the impression given was that sales by no means represent runaway success. Ouya has raised $23.6 million in funding to date, including its initial crowdfunding campaign and a Series A round led by Kleiner Perkins.
Dash, a Techstars New York-backed startup that wants to be like a Fitbit for your car, has now launched. The product includes a combination of a hardware device and smartphone application which offers real-time feedback on your driving, trip logs, access to vehicle diagnostics (that pesky “check engine” light, and who can fix it!), a map showing where the cheapest gas is nearby, and even social features.
Like several of the “connected car” products on the market, Dash’s hardware involves an OBD device you can purchase from either within the Dash mobile application or the Dash homepage. The Dash software will also work with any Bluetooth-enabled OBD device, if you happen to already have one, or you can choose from two types of devices Dash’s homepage points to: generic devices found on Amazon for $10 and up, or a premium OBD LINK LX which is a steeper $69.
The Dash software works with either type of device, the company says. But the premium hardware offers a better build quality, power management capabilities, and connection reliability, among other things.
Once installed, the device connects via Bluetooth with your Android smartphone to communicate with the Dash app.
The app offers you a variety of helpful tools, both when you’re on the road and when you’re off. The app’s design is well done, too – very modern and clean, which is still somewhat of a surprise on Android, though that’s increasingly less of a case these days as developers begin to treat the platform with the respect its larger marketshare has earned.
As noted above, Dash offers a variety of “connected car” features, including the ability to track your trips, watch your gas consumption, find nearby gas prices, detect crashes and alert emergency services, understand the warning messages your car’s computer throws and even locate a reliable mechanic who can resolve the problem. Mechanics are ranked by proximity and star ratings, explains Dash co-founder and CEO Jamyn Edis.
Edis and Brian Langel both previously worked at HBO before starting Dash, where Edis was VP of R&D, which included tech strategy for HBO GO, and other skunkworks projects using augmented reality, video search, smart TV apps, Nike Fuel-like hardware for HBO Sports and more. Before that, he spent a decade at Accenture, working on large-scale technology projects and strategy for a variety of clients, including Sprint, British Telecom, Fox Interactive, MySpace, Warner Music, PlayStation and many more.
Meanwhile, Langel, now Dash CTO, had previously built the backend architecture for HBO GO, and worked on HBO Sports. He has also worked for Union Pacific Railroads and McGraw Hill.
For a long time, the two had been looking to work on a project together around the idea of smart, connected devices. And when the company was founded back in June 2012, the landscape for connected car was fairly barren.
Today, that’s not necessarily the case.
“What’s different and fresh about our approach here is that we’re tackling cars as a platform – one that we think is really under-leveraged as a consumer technology,” explains Edis. Plus, he adds, “we’re technologists. We love data and we think we can improve our lives by using data, whether that’s physical fitness with Jawbone, or whether that’s home and HVAC using Nest.”
With Dash, the improvement also includes a focus around safety and overall smarter driving. In the case of the former, while the app is in “in transit” mode, it will actively warn you through auditory alerts when something goes wrong (e.g warning you that you were breaking too hard, or other bad behaviors). But instead of just being an annoying robot “backseat driver,” Dash gamifies the experience, pitting you against friends or other nearby in a competition to earn the better “drive score.”
Meanwhile, similar to Prius, the app will inform you while driving of your fuel economy, allowing you to make adjustments in response.
Edis says that all this is just the beginning, too. The company is working on a bevy of other features, including targeted promotions that are based on your driving, location and other non-personally identifiable features, an iOS application, and partnerships around its developer API which would see Dash able to communicate with other smart devices, like those which Edis calls “trigger services” or other smart home platforms.
The seven-person New York-based company has raised an undisclosed seven-figure round of seed funding from Techstars, VCs (with car manufacturers as LPs), and angels including Foursquare co-founder and CEO Dennis Crowley, Makerbot co-founder and CEO Bre Pettis, Dave Morin, and others.
Dash now competes with a number of ODB apps and similar services in an ever-crowded market, including YC-backed Automatic (whose “Link” dongle is a bit pricier at $99.95), Carvoyant, CarMD, Torque, Car Doctor, and many others.
The Dash app is live on Google Play here.
Unlike the Oculus Rift’s focus on virtual reality, or Google Glass which forces a heads-up display into every facet of life, the Glyph is a media-centric device. For now, it offers a nice pair of high-end headphones with a headband that can transform into an immersive display.
The $499 wearable headset, complete with over-the-ear headphones, uses a new display technology the company called “Virtual Retina Display”. The Virtual Retina Display involves no screen at all, instead projecting images directly onto the retina with a complex array of LEDs and mirrors.
According to co-founder Ed Tang, this is meant to mimic the way our eyes work in real life, when they aren’t focused in on a computer or TV or smartphone screen, providing a much sharper, more realistic viewing experience.
The Glyph isn’t supposed to be a virtual reality device that cuts you off. Instead, it’s meant to be a headphone replacement with an optional display.
The Glyph can work natively with any audio or video source (including Xbox, smartphones, Netflix, etc.) through an HDMI/HML cord, and Avegant ensures that users can get to whatever content they want from anywhere in the world through a single cable.
But what about head-tracking?
The Glyph is packed with a 3-axis Gyro, accelerometer, and a digital magnetometer to allow for head-tracking when content is compatible. Tang claims that the team is working on mapping the headtracker to a mouse, with the goal of making most PC-based first person games will work right out of the box.
Later on, they’ll release some developer tools to give coders the option to build out mobile-based content.
Glyph Beta Video Mode
Glyph Beta Color Choices