Earlier this week, news that Google was implementing an Apple-like app review process began to spread. According to a report from Android Police, the company was now screening and approving apps for Android TV before they were allowed into the Play Store. Of course, any sort of review process like this, at first glance, seems like a big strategy shift for the company, which famously – and sometimes dangerously – doesn’t pre-approve Android apps before they go live. Could this signal a change in direction for Google, with Android TV as the early testbed?
The answer, as you may have guessed, is “No.”
First of all, let’s point out that Android Police’s report (which was regurgitated by a number of Android blogs) was based on a section of the Android developer documentation which stated that Google’s team “reviews apps for usability” for Android TV:
Before distributing apps to the Play Store on Android TV devices, our team reviews apps for usability with a DPAD (apps) and Gamepad (games only) and other quality guidelines.
Those guidelines were actually posted before Google announced the Nexus Player in October, so they’ve been live for some time now. This is not new information – it was just not common knowledge.
Android Police’s report calmly clarified that it actually makes sense to review TV apps beforehand, and that does not necessarily mean that other platforms, like Android or Android Wear (wearables), would also soon see similar app review processes put into place. That didn’t stop others from wondering about the possibilities, however.
But after asking around, we understand that, indeed, Google has no current plans to review Android apps in other product categories prior to acceptance into the Play Store. In fact, it doesn’t even have a dedicated review team for the Android TV apps the way Apple has “App Store reviewers.” At Apple, there are dedicated personnel devoted to reviewing an app not just for functionality, but also compliance with a number of developer guidelines and other terms of service, like not allowing adult content, for example.
Meanwhile, at Google, checking these apps for proper functionality is just one of many tasks these Googlers handle.
The only reason Google is even reviewing TV apps in the first place is that these apps are quite different from other Android apps – there’s no touchscreen, and the apps need to adhere to some basic TV standards and Android TV design guidelines. They need to work with the DPAD (apps) and Gamepad (games), as stated above.
The staff is only making sure the apps work properly. They aren’t judging an app’s quality.
Explains a person familiar with the team’s thinking: “If it’s a fart app for TV, then it’s a fart app for TV.”
Today at the Slush conference in Helsinki, home-town hero Nokia — the part of the business that did not get sold off to Microsoft, that is – has revealed its first device: the N1, a iPad-like small tablet with an aluminum shell, a 7.9-inch screen and the Android Lollipop OS. Selling for $249, it will be sold first in China by way of a manufacturing and distribution partnership with Foxconn and initially at least will be WiFi-only.
“They said Nokia is dead,” Nokia’s head of devices Sebastian Nyström, pictured below, said as he started out his presentation today. “I say, they couldn’t be more wrong.” After the N1, there will be more products to come.
He then launched into an emotional (for a Finn!) speech about Nokia’s focus on great design, engineering and a consumer focus — areas he said the company could not leave behind with the sale to Redmond.
Teasingly, he said that N1 will be aimed at those who have not yet found the Android tablet that they love.
You can see our a video demo of the N1 here. This the first device announced by the company since the sale of its devices and services business to Microsoft for over $7 billion. That deal prohibited Nokia from making smartphones or handsets for 30 months, up to January 2016, but that deal didn’t cover other devices.
The other product from Nokia since then has been an Android homescreen, the Z Launcher. Now it’s clear that the Z Launcher was laying the groundwork for today’s integrated hardware news — it runs using the launcher, complete with the neat features that the launcher includes, such as the ability to scribble a letter on the screen to call up a specific app.
The downloads over the first few days for the Z Launcher passed 100,000 Nyström said today, and as of today it will be free of charge to download starting today in the Google Play store.
The idea of Nokia making another move into hardware may have been, as Nyström said, an inevitable given the company’s culture — despite the fact that many of Nokia’s team that had built those consumer products over the years have left the company over the last several years.
If you consider the company’s bigger picture, however, it is not at all surprising.
Microsoft is not especially interested in the Nokia brand as such, and despite its significant weakening over the years, Nokia still has a strong magnetic pull, with the company’s devices continuing to rank among the most popular for mobile phones overall — that’s including feature phones as well as smartphones and taking global numbers.
(And on that front, markets like China have long been a goal for the mobile phone industry, appetite whetted by its huge population, its total embrace of mobile and its growing economy. It’s no surprise that this is where Nokia will launch first, especially given a helping hand from Chinese manufacturing giant Foxconn, which has been growing horizons into services and more.)
While Nokia consistently failed to parlay its incumbent position on mobile into a strong smartphone business in the years before its Microsoft sale, perhaps a restructured and smaller business will come out fighting in a way that the Old Nokia never managed to do.
Put simply, it would be crazy for Nokia not to try to capitalise on these different forces.
The N1 – or rather its box — had been teased in an announcement yesterday. Since then, some of the specs have been leaked out prior to the announcement being made on stage today. (For the record here are Nokia’s official specs.)
Made with a shell of sandblasted aluminum, the N1 looks remarkably like an iPad mini.
This is a similarity that even the company itself is playing up. Ramzi Haidamus, president of Nokia Technologies, told the FT that the N1 tablet “would be as good as Apple’s iPad mini but cost less.”
The promo video that Nokia posted of the device, meanwhile, highlights that even more.
Watch this video from 5″-25″. Pretty easy to guess isn’t it? Wrong!! Someone from Cupertino will be in Helsinki soon https://t.co/A1NPeWvluj
— Francisco Jeronimo (@fjeronimo) November 18, 2014
(Full video below.)
Other features will include Gorilla Glass 3, a weight of 318 grams, an 8 megapixel rear camera and a 5 megapixel front camera. It will be WiFi-only and it’s not clear when and if there are plans to expand that to mobile networks. Given Nokia’s pedigree on the network side and existing relationships with carriers, it seems like it will only be a matter of time before this is added.
Nokia is not the only Finnish company that is likely to be unveiling hardware this week at Slush. Jolla — founded by Nokia vets — has been teasing an announcement this week, too.
The latest version of Google Play services will include several interesting new features in Google Maps, Google Drive, Google Wallet, and the recently launched Google Fit. The rollout will be made in the next few days.
In Google Maps, the API now includes a default toolbar that makes it quicker to get directions and navigation by automatically giving turn-by-turn directions to a destination, as well as a “lite mode” map option that allow developers to put thumbnail images of maps in their apps. Users who want to see a larger version can tap on the thumbnail, which launches the Google Maps app.
Google Drive now lets developers add public and application private custom file properties to a Drive file, which the company says will make search queries more efficient. It also claims that Drive’s new API makes syncing Drive files easier and more battery friendly, with the ability to control when files are uploaded based on network type and the amount of battery charge still left in phone. In addition, users can also now cancel pending uploads.
Meanwhile, Google Wallet’s API know lets developers add a “Donate with Google” button in addition to the “Buy With Google” button. Google Fit’s API update means that it is now easier for developers to support pauses in their apps or workouts with multiple activities by adding activities in “sessions,” or specific intervals of time.
Featured Image: Bryce Durbin
Ordinarily, I am left cold by deal or sale pitches, but HTC’s new ‘Hot Deal‘ program, whereby it offers bargain basement pricing on items from its stable of devices every week during a limited window, has proven interesting. This week’s deal for the HTC One M8 at just $299 outright for an unlocked device (or a carrier-locked version of your choosing, if you’re a masochist) is very interesting, since this is still what I consider the best Android smartphone hardware currently available.
The deal is extremely limited, which makes sense given that it’s a discount of more than 50 percent. HTC says 200 people will get the $299 price, starting at 9 AM PT today, November 11, and then another 300 people after that will be able to order it for $499, which is still $150 off the original sticker price (and still a good deal if you’re in the market for an Android phone). The deal is off as of 9 PM PT tonight, but it could end earlier if available stock is depleted.
Last week, HTC’s offer of a $199 Nexus 9 tablet (half the regular $399 asking price) lit up the Internets, and nearly instantly sold out, so if you’re looking to get in on this offer I’d prime your browsers to the company’s Hot Deals website and get ready to do some furious reloading, and prepare for potential frustration, too.
Apple has added a new tool to its website for removing phone numbers from iMessage registration, even if you no longer have the iPhone in question and can’t toggle iMessage off in settings. The website lets you simply enter a phone number, where Apple will send you a code via text message, which you then enter into a field on the same site to confirm your desire to remove your number from iMessage.
The system will help users who’ve switched platforms to Android devices make sure that their phone number is no longer registered to iMessage. That should solve the issue of users who part ways with their iPhones missing messages which still make their way to iMessage, but don’t end up on any target device. It’s a problem many people who’d switched over to Android without fully deactivating iMessage often reported, and was even the cause of a lawsuit Apple faced from users encountering said issue, and Apple promised a software fix back in May.
Apple’s new website also includes instructions for deregistering your phone number before you divest yourself of your iPhone, which involves simply navigating to Setting Messages and then toggling iMessage to the off position. The new web-based tool for those who’ve already migrated and are facing frustration at lost or missing messages should be a big help however, and also comes in handy for users who might switch between platforms, say when travelling, or developing and testing mobile software.
If you’re in the predicament of no longer having an iPhone but needing to remove your number from the iMessage servers, go head and navigate to this page and follow the two step process for an easy resolution.
The Android Wear smartwatch collection is expanding, with a host of new devices hitting pre-holiday season after their initial debut this summer. The Asus ZenWatch will be the next to go on sale, with a street date of November 9 for Best Buy initially, with a later launch date on Google Play in the U.S., at a price of $199. We first got wind of the Asus Android Wear device at Google’s I/O in June, via an exclusive report right here on TechCrunch, but customers will start getting their actual hands on hardware soon.
The Asus project is interesting for a couple of reasons: First, it manages to offer a unique design compared to other rectangular Android Wear watches, and one that might closest resemble the Apple Watch coming next year from everyone’s favorite fruit company, at least on a surface level. Second, it’s the first Android Wear watch to include UI features and more customized software. Google has said that it kept the initial release of Android Wear devices pretty basic and essentially all locked on providing the same experience, but also that manufacturers wouldn’t always be so handcuffed, so it’ll be interesting to see what Asus does with the first taste of a bit more freedom.
While all the Android Wear devices to date have managed to perform admirably in terms of nailing the basics, I’ve yet to test one that struck me as anything other than a passing fancy. The Moto 360 probably comes closest, but the fact that its circular display isn’t a perfect circle is almost heartbreaking from a design standpoint, and despite marketing bluster, Android Wear seems better suited to square or rectangular displays. Asus is offering a look that should be a good mix of fashion and function, with a battery-friendly AMOLED display and easily customizable strap options. There’s no built-in GPS, however, which means it can’t take advantage of the latest software offerings in the Android Wear platform firmware.
At $199, the Asus ZenWatch is on par with most current devices, but its unique customization of Android Wear might start to show us how OEMs can differentiate Android wearables outside of hardware design considerations.
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