Mozilla

Former Mozilla CTO: 'Chrome Won' (andreasgal.com) 246

Responding to Firefox marketing head Eric Petitt's blog post from earlier this week, Andreas Gal, former chief technology officer of Mozilla (who spent seven years at the company) offers his insights. Citing latest market share figures, Gal says "it's safe to say that Chrome is eating the browser market, and everyone else except Safari is getting obliterated." From his blog post (edited and condensed for length): With a CEO transition about 3 years ago there was a major strategic shift at Mozilla to re-focus efforts on Firefox and thus the Desktop. Prior to 2014 Mozilla heavily invested in building a Mobile OS to compete with Android: Firefox OS. I started the Firefox OS project and brought it to scale. While we made quite a splash and sold several million devices, in the end we were a bit too late and we didn't manage to catch up with Android's explosive growth. Mozilla's strategic rationale for building Firefox OS was often misunderstood. Mozilla's founding mission was to build the Web by building a browser. [...] Browsers are a commodity product. They all pretty much look the same and feel the same. All browsers work pretty well, and being slightly faster or using slightly less memory is unlikely to sway users. If even Eric -- who heads Mozilla's marketing team -- uses Chrome every day as he mentioned in the first sentence, it's not surprising that almost 65% of desktop users are doing the same. [...] I don't think there will be a new browser war where Firefox or some other competitor re-captures market share from Chrome. It's like launching a new and improved horse in the year 2017. We all drive cars now. Some people still use horses, and there is value to horses, but technology has moved on when it comes to transportation. Does this mean Google owns the Web if they own Chrome? No. Absolutely not. Browsers are what the Web looked like in the first decades of the Internet. Mobile disrupted the Web, but the Web embraced mobile and at the heart of most apps beats a lot of JavaScript and HTTPS and REST these days. The future Web will look yet again completely different. Much will survive, and some parts of it will get disrupted.
Facebook

Facebook's Instant Articles Platform To Support Google AMP, Apple News (techcrunch.com) 23

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: One of the problems publishers face today in making their content more readable on mobile devices is that there are multiple, competing formats available for this purpose. Facebook has Instant Articles, Google is spearheading the AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) project, and the Apple News Format optimizes content for iOS devices. Facebook is today taking a crack at a solution to this problem by rolling out support for both AMP and soon Apple News as a part of its open source Instant Articles software development kit. The updated SDK will now include an extension that lets publishers build content that's publishable in all three formats, beginning with support for Google's AMP in addition to Facebook's own Instant Articles. In the weeks ahead it will also include support for publishing to Apple News, though the company didn't provide an exact launch date for when that feature would be added.
Android

T-Mobile's 'Digits' Program Revamps the Phone Number (arstechnica.com) 47

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: T-Mobile has announced the launch of its "Digits" program, coming May 31. Digits is a revamp of how T-Mobile phone numbers work, virtualizing customer numbers so they can work across multiple devices. It sounds a lot like Google Voice -- rather than having a phone number tied to a single SIM card or a device, numbers are now account-based, and you can "log in" to your phone number on several devices. T-Mobile says the new phone number system will work "across virtually all connected devices," allowing multiple phones, tablets, and PCs to get texts and calls. This means T-Mobile needs apps across all those platforms, with the press release citing "native seamless integration" in Samsung Android phones, Android and iOS apps, and a browser interface for PCs. The new phone number system is free to all T-Mobile customers. Customers can also buy an extra phone number for $10 or by signing up to the $5-per-month "T-Mobile One Plus" package, which is a bundle of extra features like a mobile hotspot and in-flight Wi-Fi.
Android

And Now, a Brief Definition of the Web (theverge.com) 62

Dieter Bohn, writing for The Verge: Traditionally, we think of the web as a combination of a set of specific technologies paired with some core philosophical principles. The problem -- the reason this question even matters -- is that there are a lot of potential replacements for the parts of the web that fix what's broken with technology, while undermining the principles that ought to go with it. [...] A lot of tech companies are flailing around looking for ways to fix this problem. There are web apps that work in Chrome but not really all that well elsewhere. There are Instant Articles in Facebook and AMP pages on Google. There are Instant Android apps that stream to your phone over the internet instead of being installed, which go away when you're done with them just like a browser tab. Google claims to be trying to bring some of the open ethos of the web to smart speakers. Hell, go back to 2014 and you'll find Apple pundit John Gruber arguing we should consider apps and "anything transmitted using HTTP and HTTPS" as part of the web. [...] And now, a brief definition of the web: To count as being part of the web, your app or page must: 1. Be linkable, and 2. Allow any client to access it. That's it.
Sony

'Sony Needs a Fresh Hit' (bloomberg.com) 123

Even as Sony's CEO Kazuo Hirai has done a remarkable job over the past five years -- taking bold decisions on the areas the company should be focusing on, and cutting efforts on those that aren't working -- his company desperately needs a fresh hit to boost its revenue and to become relevant in the mind of most, writes columnist Tim Culpan for Bloomberg. An except from his article: According to a company statement Tuesday for investors' day, the key will be to "remain the 'last one inch' that delivers a sense of 'wow' to customers," expand recurring revenue, and pursue new businesses.Those three strategies are closely linked. With TV sales in decline, its Vaio PC business spun off, and its smartphones barely a blip on the radar, Sony's last inch is heavily dependent on the PlayStation. Sony's Game & Network Services business has grown at both the top and bottom lines over the past five years, but the games console business is stuck in time. [...] Sony needs to build a device that will be far more ubiquitous and can appeal to consumers beyond the current male-skewed slowly aging hard-core gamer base. Amazon and Alphabet, with Echo and Home, are two such examples, and Apple will probably follow suit. With its background in audio, video, sensors and entertainment, Sony has all the right parts to make it happen. For the company that invented the Walkman, dreaming up another hit shouldn't be so hard.
Cellphones

Samsung's Galaxy S8 Active Looks Like a Rugged LG G6 (theverge.com) 31

The Wireless Power Consortium has released a leaked image of the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S8 Active. While it's only one photo, the image shows a smartphone greatly resembling LG's G6. The Verge reports: First, the display: the S8 Active won't have curved edges, like the regular S8. The big question this year was what Samsung planned to do about the screen, since curved glass may be more susceptible to cracking, and Samsung seems to have decided the best option was to get rid of it altogether. Instead, the S8 Active has a flattened out look but retains the S8's rounded corners, making the front of the phone look a lot like LG's G6. Samsung seems to have made the bezels a little bit larger on the S8 Active, particularly on the sides. But overall, the front of the phone still seems to get fairly close to the nearly all-screen look of actual S8. The second thing this photo shows is that Samsung isn't putting buttons back on the front of the phone. That's not necessarily a huge surprise, but it'll make the device a bit harder to handle when wet, since owners will be relying on the touchscreen. And finally, this photo reveals a bit of what Samsung is doing to make the phone rugged. All four of its corners bump out, suggesting they've been reinforced to absorb shock should the phone get dropped; it looks a lot like what Samsung has done in the past.
Android

Hackers Hit Russian Bank Customers, Planned International Cyber Raids (reuters.com) 19

Russian cyber criminals used malware planted on Android mobile devices to steal from domestic bank customers and were planning to target European lenders before their arrest, investigators and sources with knowledge of the case told Reuters. From the report: Their campaign raised a relatively small sum by cyber-crime standards -- more than 50 million roubles ($892,000) -- but they had also obtained more sophisticated malicious software for a modest monthly fee to go after the clients of banks in France and possibly a range of other western nations. Russia's relationship to cyber crime is under intense scrutiny after U.S. intelligence officials alleged that Russian hackers had tried to help Republican Donald Trump win the U.S. presidency by hacking Democratic Party servers. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied the allegation. The gang members tricked the Russian banks' customers into downloading malware via fake mobile banking applications, as well as via pornography and e-commerce programs, according to a report compiled by cyber security firm Group-IB which investigated the attack with the Russian Interior Ministry.
China

A Tip for Apple in China: Your Hunger for Revenue May Cost You (wsj.com) 57

Li Yuan, writing for the WSJ: Apple's latest predicament centers on its App Store. Last month, Apple told several Chinese social-networking apps, including the wildly popular messaging platform WeChat, to disable their "tip" functions to comply with App Store rules (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source), according to executives at WeChat and other companies. That function allows users to send authors and other content creators tips, from a few yuan to hundreds, via transfers from mobile-wallet accounts. Those transfers are offered by the social-networking apps free of charge, as a way to inspire user engagement. Now, those tips will be considered in-app purchases, just like buying games, music and videos, entitling Apple to a 30% cut. For Apple, which has been observing slowing growth in mature markets, China is increasingly becoming important. But the company's my way or high-way approach might hurt the company's image in China. And that image as well as fortunes of local companies, is what the Chinese authorities deeply care about. As Yuan adds, "while it's understandable that Apple wants to tap the App Store for more money, its pressure on the app platforms risks alienating powerful Chinese companies, turning off Chinese iPhone users and drawing unnecessary attention from the regulators." Executives of these IM messaging apps tell WSJ that Apple has threatened that it would kick their apps out of the App Store if they don't comply. The problem is, WeChat is way more popular in China than Apple -- or its iPhones or its services or both combined, analysts say. WeChat is insanely popular in China, and people love to use the app to pay for things they purchase and send money to friends. Apple's greed could end up resulting in millions of new Android users, analysts said.
Google

Google Launches Google Assistant On the iPhone (venturebeat.com) 6

At its I/O 2017 developer conference, Google announced the Google Assistant is coming to iOS as a standalone app. Previously, the only way for iOS users to get access to the Assistant was through Allo, the Google messaging app nobody uses. For those interested, you can download the Google Assistant on your iOS device here, but keep in mind that your device needs to be running iOS 9.1 or higher. VentureBeat reports: Google Assistant for iPhone won't ship on Apple's mobile devices by default, and naturally won't be as tightly integrated into the OS. But it is addressable by voice and does work with other Google apps on Apple's platform. Apple has API restrictions on iOS, so Google Assistant can't set alarms like Siri can. It can, however, send iMessages for you or start playing music in third-party apps like Spotify. You also won't be able to use the Home button to trigger Google Assistant, so you'll need to use the app icon or a widget.
Google

Google Home Gets Notifications, Hands-Free Calling, a TV Interface and More (theverge.com) 37

Google has announced several news features for Google Home to help it better compete against the Amazon Echo. The six new features coming to Google Home include: notifications, free calling to phones in the U.S. and Canada, calendar and reminders, more streaming services, a TV interface, and new locations. The Verge details each feature in its report: Notifications: Google calls this feature "proactive assistance." Essentially, Google Home will do its best to alert owners to things they need to know, like reminders, traffic alerts, or flight delays.
Free Calling To Phones In U.S. and Canada: Google is one-upping Amazon by letting the Home dial out to actual landline and mobile phones. Whenever this feature rolls out, you'll be able to ask the Home to call anyone on your contacts list, and it'll dial out to them on a private number.
Calendar and Reminders: You can finally set reminders and calendar entries. Finally.
More Streaming Services: Google Home has already been able to control a handful of music and video services, but it's about to get a bunch of major missing names. For music, that includes Spotify's free tier, Deezer, and SoundCloud. For video, it includes HBO Now and Hulu. On top of that, Home is also getting the ability to stream anything over Bluetooth.
A TV Interface: Sometimes you actually want to see what's going on, so Google's making a TV interface for the Google Home. You'll soon be able to ask the Home to send information to your TV, from basics like the weather and your calendar, to information it's looking up like nearby restaurants or YouTube videos you might want to watch.
New Locations: The Home is going to expand to five new countries this summer: Canada, Australia, France, Germany, and Japan.

Android

Amazon Refreshes Fire 7 and Fire HD 8 Tablets (betanews.com) 28

BrianFagioli quotes a report from BetaNews: Amazon's tablets have needed a refresh for a while now, and today it happened. The company announced two newly updated models -- the Fire 7 ($49) and the Fire HD 8 ($79). They both feature Alexa support, of course, and are designed for a quality experience with all types of media, such as movies, music, and books. The 7-inch has a 1024 x 600 resolution, while the 8-inch variant has 1280 x 800. Best of all, they are extremely affordable. At these insanely low prices, you might expect anemic performance, but both come with a respectable Quad-core 1.3 GHz processor. The Fire 7 has 1GB of RAM, while the HD 8 has 1.5GB. Regardless of which model you select, you will also get both front and rear cameras. The low cost might make you think they will be cheaply made, but Amazon claims they are more durable than Apple's newest iPad.
Android

Android Now Supports the Kotlin Programming Language (venturebeat.com) 91

In addition to Java and C++, Google announced at its I/O 2017 conference today that Android is gaining official support for the Kotlin programming language. VentureBeat reports: Kotlin is developed by JetBrains, the same people who created IntelliJ. Google describes Kotlin, which is an open sourced project under the Apache 2.0 license, as "a brilliantly designed, mature language that we believe will make Android development faster and more fun." The company notes that some have already adopted the programming language for their production apps, including Expedia, Flipboard, Pinterest, and Square. There are already many enthusiastic Kotlin developers for Android, and the company says it is simply listening to what the community wants. But Google's choice didn't just come down to the team believing Kotlin will make writing Android apps easier. Developers will be happy to know that Kotlin's compiler emits Java byte-code. Kotlin can call Java, and Java can call Kotlin. Indeed, "the effortless interoperation between the two languages" was a large part of Kotlin's appeal to the Android team. This means you can add as little or as much Kotlin into your existing codebase as you want, mixing the two languages freely within the same project. Calling out to Kotlin code from Java code should just work, while calling to Java code requires some automatically applied translation conventions.
Android

Google Takes Another Shot At Making Android Great On Low-Budget Smartphones (phonedog.com) 55

At its developer conference, Google unveiled Android Go, a project wherein Google will offer a version of Android that runs swiftly on budget, low-specced smartphones. With the new strategy, Google hopes to further improve the low-budget smartphone ecosystem in developing markets. Android Go will be focused around building a version of Android for phones with less memory, with the System UI and kernel able to run with as little as 512MB of memory. Apps will be optimized for low bandwidth and memory, with a version of Play Store designed for those markets that will highlight these apps. From a report: Another feature of Android Go will be data management. Android Go will let you easily see your data usage, and thanks to carrier integration, it'll also let you top-up with more data right on your device.
Google

Google's Android Now Powers More Than 2 Billion Devices (cnet.com) 30

At Google's developer conference IO 2017, CEO Sundar Pichai said Android is now running on more than two billion active devices. The milestone, Pichai said, Google achieved this month. CNET adds: It took three years for Android to double its user base, having disclosed that it had 1 billion active devices at its developer conference in 2014. In 2015, Google said that it had 1.4 billion active users on Android. While phones make up a bulk of its devices, it's starting to see a proliferation of other gadgets running on the software.
Android

HTC Launches 'U11' Squeezable Smartphone With Snapdragon 835 CPU, No Headphone Jack (theverge.com) 69

HTC has officially launched its newest flagship smartphone today, the U11. While it has competitive specifications for a flagship smartphone of 2017, such as a 5.5-inch, Quad HD display, and Snapdragon 835 processor with 4GB RAM, it has some unique features of its own. HTC is introducing a new way to interact with the U11 by letting you squeeze the sides of the device to perform different functions. The Verge reports: This new feature is called "Edge Sense," and it can be configured to do a variety of tasks with either short or long squeezes. You can set a short squeeze to open the camera and then take a picture when the camera app is open. A long squeeze can be configured to launch the Google voice assistant or toggle the flashlight on and off. In addition to Edge Sense, the U11 has a similar design to the U Ultra from earlier this year. That means it's metal and glass -- a departure from the all-aluminum unibody designs of past HTC phones -- with curved panels that blend into the metal frame and vibrant, pearlescent colors. That also means it lacks a 3.5mm headphone jack, instead relying on its USB Type-C port for charging, data transfer, and audio function. HTC says removing the headphone jack has a number of advantages, including allowing the company more room inside the phone for other components and making the design of the bottom edge smoother. It also allows for a better audio experience, as the included headphones have both audio tuning and active noise cancellation, without having to rely on a secondary battery. In addition to the headphones, HTC is including a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter for use with other headphones, which it didn't for the U Ultra.
Android

Motorola Looks at Dirt-Cheap Smartphones Again, Launches Moto C and Moto C Plus (motorola.com) 55

We have seen over hundreds of manufacturers launch over thousands of smartphone models in the past three years. One of the remarkable smartphones, aimed at those who aren't planning to break a bank for it, has been Motorola's Moto E. Priced at $129, unlocked, without a contract, the handset was immensely popular in the developing markets. It changed the smartphone ecosystem at places like Indonesia and India, pushing several other Android OEMs to step up their game -- and they did. Three years later, after a series of "overpriced" phones, Motorola is attempting to break the affordable smartphone market again. From a report on CNET: The most important thing to know about the Moto C and C Plus, it seems, is that the phones are cheap. Like, really cheap. Motorola's Moto C starts at 89 euros (which converts to $98), and the more advanced C Plus begins at 119 euros (that coverts to $131). As for the specs, the Moto C sports a 5-inch display (854x480 pixel-resolution), 5-megapixel rear camera, 2-megapixel front-facing camera with flash, 1.3GHz quad-core processor (unspecified model), 4G support, 2,350mAh removable battery, 8GB storage, 1GB RAM, and support for two-SIM cards. The handsets run Android 7.0.
Android

Netflix Says No To Unlocked Android Smartphones (androidpolice.com) 255

An anonymous reader writes: Last week Netflix app started showing up as "incompatible" on the Play Store for rooted and unlocked Android devices. However, the app itself continued to work fine, leading some to think it could have been an accident. However, Netflix has now confirmed to blog AndroidPolice that blocking modified devices from downloading the app was intentional. This is the full statement: "With our latest 5.0 release, we now fully rely on the Widevine DRM provided by Google; therefore, many devices that are not Google-certified or have been altered will no longer work with our latest app and those users will no longer see the Netflix app in the Play Store."
Android

Google's 'Project Treble' Could Lead To Faster Android Updates (arstechnica.com) 83

Thelasko quotes a report from Ars Technica: Ahead of Google I/O, Google has just dropped a bombshell of a blog post that promises, for real this time, that it is finally doing something about Android's update problems. "Project Treble" is a plan to modularize the Android OS, separating the OS framework code from "vendor specific" hardware code. In theory, this change would allow for a new Android update to be flashed on a device without any involvement from the silicon vendor. Google calls it "the biggest change to the low-level system architecture of Android to date," and it's already live on the Google Pixel's Android O Developer Preview. This is not a magic bullet that will solve all of Android's update problems, however. After an update is released, Google lists three steps to creating an Android update:

1. Silicon manufacturers (Qualcomm, Samsung Exynos, etc) "modify the new release for their specific hardware" and do things like make sure drivers and power management will still work.
2. OEMs (Samsung, LG, HTC) step in and "modify the new release again as needed for their devices." This means making sure all the hardware works, rebranding Android with a custom skin, adding OEM apps, and modifying core parts of the Android OS to add special features like (before 7.0) multi-window support.
3. Carriers add more apps, more branding, and "test and certify the new release."

Android

Google Maps Now Uses Street View To Show You Exactly Where To Make Turns (theverge.com) 25

Google Maps has received a small design update that will show Street View images of every road you're supposed to turn onto. "If you tap the image, Street View will open up to that location, showing an arrow in the direction you're meant to turn," reports The Verge. From the report: It's a small change, but it could make a difference at confusing intersections or for people (like me) who are very bad with street names. The change was spotted by Android Police. Unfortunately, the images display as tiny thumbnails until you tap to open them up, so while the addition is definitely helpful, it's not quite glanceable information -- you'll definitely have to tap to open every turn that you want to see in detail. The feature only appears to be on Android for now. But Google's iOS app usually has the same look and features, so it may just be a matter of time before it gets updated. Android Police also points out that Google changed the bottom navigation bar when getting directions. It takes up a bit more of the screen now, but it's also a bit more explicit about what tapping certain things will do. Altogether, seems like a smart change.
Microsoft

Microsoft Is Surprisingly Comfortable With Its New Place In a Mobile, Apple, and Android World (fastcompany.com) 73

An anonymous reader writes: The company that once held a mock funeral for the iPhone -- complete with dedicated "iPhone trashcans" -- now has a very different attitude about the company of Jobs. The Microsoft whose old CEO Steve Ballmer in 2007 famously predicted the iPhone had "no chance; no chance at all" of getting market share, now readily accepts and embraces a world where the iPhone and Android dominate personal computing. Microsoft talked a lot here at its Build 2017 developer conference about extending Windows experiences over to iOS and Android devices. And it's not just about fortifying Windows. Microsoft says it not only wants to connect with those foreign operating systems, but by bringing over functionality from Windows 10 (along with content) it hopes to "make those other devices better," as one Microsoft rep said in a press briefing yesterday. The developers here at Build cheered when Microsoft announced XAML Standard 1.0, which provides a single markup language to make user interfaces that work on Windows, iOS, and Android. In one demo, the company demonstrated how an enterprise sales app could be extended to an iOS device so someone could continue capturing a potential client's data on a mobile device. Windows not only sent over the client data that had already been captured, but also the business-app shell that had captured it.

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