Android Keyboards in India

Why don’t Android phones sold in India come with Google’s Indic keyboard set up as default?

Specially for phones that don’t ship with proprietary/3rd-party keyboards, doesn’t it make a lot of sense to pre-install Indic keyboard over the default English keyboard?

It’s such a small step, yet can be quite a big enabler for the users (and, even, possibly a differentiator) – using the power of defaults to deliver a better user experience!

What does $3.2 Billion buy you?

Motorola – a Google company, no more.

What?

In August 2011, Google bought Motorola Mobility for a reported price of USD 12.5 Billion. This included cash and credits of about USD 4 Billion. Net price paid: USD 8.5 Billion.

After a year and a half of shedding employees and departments, and putting some of its own execs in-charge, Google sold the home equipment business of Motorola to ARRIS in December 2012, for USD 2.35 Billion.

Finally, on 29 Jan 2014, Google sold the remaining operations of Motorola Mobility to Lenovo for USD 2.91 Billion. Except the patents. It kept the patents for itself.

Why?

So, after all the buying and selling ended, Google ended up picking a bill of about USD 3.2 Billion. What did they get for that not-so-insignificant amount?

Some, from one end of the tech divide, will tell you they got some dud patents and a hole in the pocket.

Others might differ. Martin Bryant put out one insight on Twitter:

Google keeps most patents after reviving an ailing player in the Android ecosystem: a Machiavellian scheme if it was all preplanned.

[Update] Chris Lacy had other angles in mind:

Samsung made app concessions, Google left phone hardware & there’s a S/G patent deal. Lots more to this. Reporters, go investigate & report.

[/Update]

The truth, I guess, is somewhere in the middle. Google did end up brilliantly reviving an ailing player, one with a strong existing brand, in the Android ecosystem. They still might have overpaid for the patents, though no one will ever really know unless they’re tested in a court. The sale also helped assuage any troubled feeling amongst other players in the Android ecosystem who may have started feeling threatened by a reviving Motorola owned by Google. Individually, none of them seem worth the money. Together, they start to seem like a master stroke.

The Answer

So, to answer the question in the title: USD 3.2 Billion buys you about 20,000 patents (incl pending) of some value, a vibrant market for your product (Google’s flavour of Android), cooperation of key market partners, and a stake in a fast growing but controversial market without having to directly invest there (Lenovo operates, and is HQed, in China!)

Google got a great deal, me thinks!

Android Jelly Bean – Search/Now App & Voice Commands

Google Now weather card on left; Weather card from Google Search app on right.

The Good

Voice commands now recognise my Indian accent, and do a pretty good job of it. Much better than any other speech recognition service I’ve used so far. Thanks Google!

The Not So Good

When using voice commands (or just regular text-input search) from home screen, the Google Search/Now app forgets all about my location, and other relevant data.

For instance, by default the app shows a card with weather in my location (London, UK). But when I ask for temperature (weather) using the same app, it shows me a card with weather in Washington, DC!

I tried a few other searches too – pizza joints, bus services, etc. In all cases, the app just displays generic results without using my location (or time zone) information. Is something badly broken here, or am I doing something very wrong? Hope folk from Android team notice this issue (there seems to be no way of sending feedback/bug report) and sort this out.

Also, there’s the small bit that the Indian accented speech recognition works only with an Internet connection. Offline recognition only supports US, UK and Australian English :(

More, as it comes.

Android Jelly Bean – First Impressions & Suggestions

Android – Jelly Bean

Great Things

  • Super fast responsiveness.
  • Love the transition effects in/out of apps, but would’ve loved to have an option to switch them off.
  • Google’s own apps have been optimized and work really well.
  • Default Gallery app has been fixed – use to take ages to load albums, now is faster than even QuickPic.
  • Google Now works brilliantly.
  • Face Unlock now works despite my having encrypted the phone (in ICS, only options were password and passcode), and works really well!

Issues

  • While Google’s own apps have been optimised for Jelly Bean, most of 3rd party apps haven’t. This causes quite a bit of dissonance – both in appearance and performance.
  • Google Now works really well here in London. Wonder how it’ll do when I visit back home to my small town in India. Or even smaller towns here in the UK.

Suggestions

Matias Duarte and the Android team have done a great job on the looks and responsiveness of Android. They now need to sort the issues around wide variety in quality of apps, and of OS upgrades. I suggest they exchange notes with the Chrome team.

For homogenizing the app quality, they should take a similar approach to what Chrome team has announced for roll-out of Manifest Version 2 to apps on Chrome Web Store ( See ‘Manifest version 1 support schedule‘). Also, as earlier suggested by Abraham Williams, OS updates should be moved to a rapid release schedule, and (my input) be turned into silent upgrades – just like Chrome.

These changes might require some heavy lifting at the OS/update architecture level, but can be real game changers for Android in the platform wars.

Continue reading Android Jelly Bean – First Impressions & Suggestions

Tizen viewpoint – Sept 2011

I wrote this note on Tizen last September when it had just been announced. Someone I was pitching for work to, had asked me for a brief note on Tizen, and this was my submission. The recent announcement by Samsung about merging Bada with Tizen reminded me of this note and so I decided to post it here. [Having just read it again, it again showed how quickly this industry changes – what seemed so unlikely a few months ago seems one of the likeliest outcomes now.]


The Background

The Tizen project is a coming together of multiple organisations, OEMs, Intel, Linux Foundation and maybe even telecom operator, with unusually varying motives and thus has both the advantages – becoming a widely accepted industry standard – and the disadvantages – lack of ownership and direction – of any such project.

The OEMs have for some time now been in a struggle for control of industry profits and dynamics with the big three platform owners – Apple, Google & Microsoft. Till recently, Google with its open, free & independent Android was the platform of choice for these OEMs. However, all three of those qualities of Android are now in doubt thanks to Google’s pending acquisition of Motorola, Microsoft’s patent taxes and moves from Google to tighten control over development and deployment of Android.

Intel has long been trying to get a foothold in the smartphone industry, where ARM designed chip-sets dominate. With mobile OS platforms being adapted and extended to tablets, TVs and other connected devices, Intel realises that it could be left out of a huge and fast growing market catering to all possible connected devices. While MeeGo and its AppUp store may be part of its attempts to develop a complete platform, at its core Intel is fighting for relevance as the industry moves towards a low-energy, connected device environment.

For LiMo and Linux Foundation, this coming together of Intel, OEMs and, possibly, some mobile operators may present an unprecedented opportunity to promote Linux’ acceptance as a wider consumer platform. Being committed to an ‘open’ environment, Linux Foundation could also provide a neutral outlook to Tizen by ensuring no single promoter could lock-in the platform to its own proprietary technology.

On the technical side, the development and widespread acceptance of HTML5 standards opens up another opportunity for a new platform. When combined with the Linux core of LiMo or MeeGo, HTML5 obviates the need for an advanced set of proprietary tools to enable app development while allowing for quick porting of applications from established OS platforms. This had been a handicap for both LiMo and MeeGo with the requirement of native apps and, Nokia-owned, Qt apps, respectively.

The Strategy

Although the background to announcement of Tizen seems clear now, the future strategy is still a little hazy. However, considering the primary goals of key backers, a possible strategy for Tizen may be to develop the core OS and a set of development tools, with a very basic platform of content and services around it.

This would allow its key supporters – the OEMs, Intel and telecom operators – to customize the platform to their own individual needs and branding. All of them also want to independently capture the benefit of content sales flowing through their devices or networks, and an open, independent platform may suit their needs better. Intel would benefit by reducing the control of big three platform owners in deciding which chip-sets may be supported and ensuring Tizen is fully Atom-compatible.

One aspect critical to its success, though, will be support from app and content developers. Use of HTML5 as a development platform eases the transition path for developers but without a single large market or a strong promoter (like Microsoft with WP) backing it, developers might be vary of committing to the platform. Also, remaining to be seen is the DRM support on the platform – a lack of which may keep off content producers.

Ultimately, solving the riddle of ‘Which comes first – Apps or Customers?’, may require strong actions from Tizen’s backers beyond making announcements. These actions could be in a form similar to Intel’s recent $300 million Ultrabook fund, incentivising developers for apps and content for Tizen and OEMs for using the OS along with Intel’s AppUp store. Quick release of an SDK with a set of APIs and the initial set of devices will also encourage the developer community to take the device seriously.

The Future

Over the longer term, the biggest determinant of Tizen’s future may not be its own development, but how the industry dynamics with other OS platforms play out.

Of the various scenarios possible, the one best suited to Tizen’s success is one in which the bigger OEMs and Intel perceive themselves being further restricted by big three platform owners, are unable to promote their own OS platforms, and see their immediate bottom-lines threatened.

However, in an alternative scenario, if Google decides to sell off the OEM bits of Motorola, resolves the patent issues surrounding Android, and comes to a mid-way understanding with the OEMs over control of the interface and content, it can still rally the independent OEMs behind itself and cause the Tizen initiative to flag.

Also, if the big few OEMs – mainly Samsung and HTC – decide to bet on their own OS platforms by developing in-house (e.g. Bada 2.0) or buying orphans (like WebOS), it could still weaken their support towards Tizen’s development.

At the moment, Tizen is an outcome of spread betting by leading industry supporters while they see how the industry dynamics resolve themselves. To be successful, it will require strong support in terms of development, incentives and new devices from its promoters but that stage is still some time away. Till then, the core OS itself may continue development but as a platform it is likelier to follow LiMo’s graph than that of Android.

Tapping A Pain Point

Every new version of smartphone operating systems (iOS / Android) brings forth a ton of new features. Frequently, these new features include some (IMO) pretty flaky ones like Siri and face-recognition login. I don’t have in-depth knowledge of how Apple and Google decide which new features to include in their OS platforms, but if I was in their place, one way I would like to figure new features would be by addressing pain points.

One big pain point I discovered with my beloved Nexus One was that it could be lost / stolen, and once it was gone, I had no way of ensuring that all my data and applications on it could be secured. Yes, after I lost it, I did find a ton of applications that could have possibly helped me in tracking, wiping and even recovering my phone – but it was ‘after’ I had lost it. And that makes these applications slightly redundant. A person has to feel the pain of loss of a smartphone (or a close contact’s smartphone) before realising the need for an application that could have helped recover the lost/stolen phone.

I’m assuming that smartphone loss/theft would have taken off with the rise in popularity of smartphones over the last few years. Given the price of many of smartphones these days, losing them hurts. But that hurt can be somewhat lessened with phone insurance. The bigger pain point is the huge loss of data that we keep on these phones, specially if the phone was not locked and the data can be easily accessed by whoever got/took the phone.

My question is, given how big a pain point this potentially is, why have none of the major smartphone platform vendors – well, mainly Apple and Google – done anything about it?

Steve Jobs famously told Houston that Dropbox was not a product, but a feature. But, in my opinion, if there’s just one functionality that needs to be a feature of the OS/platform and not a 3rd party product, it is this: ability to wipe/encrypt, lock, trace lost and stolen smartphones.

Most smartphones these days come with GPS chips and regularly ‘check-in’ with the platform provider’s servers. Tapping into these two features, it should be relatively easy to provide a simple lost/stolen phone service.

What I suggest is this: Google, say, should provide a web page where I can sign in with my Google ID and see a list of all devices originally registered with that as the primary ID. When I mark a device there as stolen / lost, Google should:

  1. wipe/encrypt all the data on the device,
  2. remove all the applications I bought/downloaded from the device,
  3. disable most communication functions on it,
  4. start logging the GPS location of device, and
  5. display a static message on the device stating that it has been reported lost, thus disabled and should be returned to owner / police.
The first 2 steps would ensure safety of any user data that was there on the device, and the next 3 will help in recovery of the device.
Along with the option of marking a phone as lost/stolen, Google could also provide a ‘un-register’ device option so users can disassociate their IDs from the device before selling or disposing it off. The basic action required from Google’s side in this case would be:
  1. wipe all user data and applications from the device,
  2. reset the device to factory settings after dissociating all services and user IDs with it.

Yes, any smart thief might still be able to bypass all this by simply wiping the device and installing a custom ROM, but a lot of devices could still be recovered  and it would help protect user data on the phone from easy unauthorised access. More importantly, bricking phones this way would send out a strong signal to people who find/steal these lost/stolen smartphones that they are worthless bricks and they can have a greater chance of reward from returning them than trying to take them for keeps.

Continue reading Tapping A Pain Point

Apple advertises Samsung Tab

This is going to be launched on the market with the velocity of a fire hose and is going to just come in and take away iPad 2 sales so quickly that by the time we get to final hearing the full impact of the patent infringement will be to the detriment of Apple and to the benefit of Samsung.” – Apple’s Lawyers on the Galaxy Tab 10.1

If I were Samsung, I’d highlight those quotes in my product advertisements.

Might even finally offer Apple some royalty payments, for using the quote :)