Archive for the ‘Android’ Category

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Android home gaming consoles are nearly arriving for
the consumer market, but one at least needs a little
more time in the oven to bake. It’s the GameStick,
the super portable USB-stick style device that plugs
into an open HDMI port on your TV to turn it into an
Android-powered gaming machine, and its release schedule is being pushed back another month until
August, with a retail launch to follow after that,
because of a need to gather more feedback related to
the GameStick UI so that it can be refined prior to
wide release. GameStick wanted to nail the user experience strikes
me as a familiar refrain; another company, Leap
Motion, which also achieved lots of support from the
community for a novel idea, said something very
similar when it delayed its own product recently. In
both cases, the apprehension about getting things right the first time around is understandable, since
these are products that have few if any antecedents
with demonstrated success in the wider consumer
market. The GameStick delay, though another one on top of
its first ship date slip, isn’t yet one that should really
raise any eyebrows – projects typically underestimate
how long it will take to go to market on Kickstarter.
The Ouya was also delayed from its original planned
launch by three weeks, owing to “demand” on the retail side. BlueStacks’ GamePop hasn’t been
delayed as of yet, but it’s targeting a more open-
ended end of year launch, and that gives it some
flexibility to make sure the experience is just right
before putting too fine a point on things. All of these companies are venturing into relatively
uncharted territory, so delays are fine; you can’t hold
them to the same standards as an Apple or a
Samsung, and even those giants sometimes
encounter problems shipping exactly on time. One,
two, or even three small delays isn’t surprising; but once the months start to fall away and you don’t hear
much, that’s when it’s time to worry.

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IDC today was the latest to publish its numbers on
smartphone market shares after the major handset
makers released Q1 earnings, and like Gartner,
Strategy Analytics and the rest, it underscores the
power of Google’s Android platform at the moment:
Android OEMs shipped 162.1 million handsets in the quarter, giving the platform a 75% share of total
worldwide shipments, while Apple’s 37.4 million
devices put it at an increasingly distant second
position at 17.3%. Microsoft’s Windows Phone, driven
primarily by its partner Nokia (79% of all WP
shipments), grew the most of all platforms, with a rise of 133.3%, but that still puts it at a single-digit share,
3.2% on 7 million devices shipped. That meant that Microsoft has now overtaken
BlackBerry, which declined by just over 35% with 6.5
million shipments, ending with a 2.9% market share. Important to note that IDC specifies that this is
devices shipped, not sold. Some analysts have told
me that the two are effectively interchangeable terms,
but shipped is also potentially a more optimistic
figure: it points to how well retailers and carriers think
certain models are likely to sell in the quarter ahead. Occasionally these can lag compared to how well
certain handset makers are actually doing if a device
ends up selling worse than expected. What “shipped” numbers like IDC’s say is that
Android and iOS continue to, more or less, remain the
only games in town in terms of how confident sales
channels feel about shifting devices, with other
platforms relegated to niche status. This is something
that companies like BlackBerry are trying to change, as evidenced by a recent deal to extend a $256
million loan to Telefonica for purchasing BlackBerry
devices. IDC’s numbers show that together these two
platforms accounted for nearly 200 million units
(199.5 million) shipped, up 59% over a year ago. The
smaller players are not to be dismissed, though. Not
only is Windows Phone the most rapidly rising of all
platforms at the moment, but IDC notes that BlackBerry’s BB10 new range have hit 1 million
shipped devices this quarter. But turnaround will only come with that kind of growth
being sustained. “Given the relatively low volume
generated, the Windows Phone camp will need to
show further gains to solidify its status as an
alterative to Android or iOS,” writes Kevin Restivo,
senior research analyst with IDC. For the time being, the message to users, and to app
developers, is that these are the platforms where you
want to be. Considering how key content has been as
a route to attracting users to these devices, that will
continue to pose a challenge for the smaller players. As with Strategy Analytics’ numbers yesterday
detailing the profitability of different smartphone
platforms in the quarter, IDC notes that Samsung is
by far the “clear leader” in Android. It notes that it had
a 41.1% market share. As a sign of the ongoing
fragmentation of players on the platform, no other single OEM had more than a single-digit percentage
market share after that, “and an even longer list of
vendors with market share less than one percent.”
The fact that it’s still “free” to license Android, and
relatively easy to modify it for a more custom
experience, will mean that it will continue to be the platform of choice for OEMs looking for more
revenues from the ongoing boom in smartphones. As we saw in Apple’s earnings earlier in the quarter,
the company’s sales of iPhones are at an all-time
high, but in comparison to the growth of the rest of
the market, it’s actually off, with market share down
nearly six percentage points. There is some feeling
that part of this is due to the fact that the platform appears stale compared to all the change going on
elsewhere with software and hardware features, news
handsets and more. “Although demand remains
strong worldwide, the iOS experience has remained
largely the same since the first iPhone debuted in
2007,” IDC notes, pointing to a “massive overhaul” that appears to be on the cards with iOS 7. IDC also notes that over the last year, shares of the
biggest platforms have fluctuated, although Android’s
current 75% is the highest in a year. Against that, the
last time that Android approached 75%, in Q3 2012,
Apple’s share was only 14.5% as people held out for
a new iPhone model. That shows that Apple’s growth this quarter was at the expense of declines for other
smaller platforms.

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At its I/O developer conference, Google just
announced its new Play Games Services API, a new
API that allows game developers to save game
states and sync them between different machines.
This service will be available for Android and iOS
developers. The API will also include the usual achievements, leaderboards and multiplayer services
that developers have come to expect from similar
services. This new API will roll out today to all Android users on
Android Froyo and up. This new API, Google says,
will allow for real cross-platform gaming experiences
and ensure that users can easily switch between their
phones and tablets without losing their game states. The multiplayer aspect of the service will feature both
a matchmaking aspect, but the focus is clearly on
connecting you to your Google+ friends. The
matchmaking feature, as Google’s Huga Barra noted,
will match users automatically and the API in general
will handle “all of the hardcore data” worked involved in building a multiplayer game. Sadly, part of the demo failed at the keynote today,
but this is obviously a service that game developers
will latch on to. This move also clearly means that
Google is getting serious about gaming.

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Apple continues to lead both as the single-most
profitable smartphone maker, and by default the most
profitable platform, taking 57% of $12.5 billion in
smartphone operating profits in Q1, according to
figures out from Strategy Analytics today. Android
took 43%, equating to $5.3 billion, Neil Mawston, chief analyst with the firm, tells TechCrunch. The figures come as analyst houses are releasing
various estimates for how smartphones have been
selling in Q1. Strategy Analytics have published
some numbers that tell the story in a different way. Yes, Android is dominating smartphone sales
(Gartner’s figures yesterday noted that Google’s
platform took nearly 75% of all sales in the three
month period). Yes, Samsung continues to widen its
lead against Apple — now at 31% of all smartphone
sales. But it still has a ways to go before it tops Apple, which has built its brand as the premium
offering. (One possible reason why it has resisted up
to now launching a low-cost, more cheaply made
handset.) Within the Android portion of smartphone profits,
Samsung is taking the lion’s share and more. Its $5.1
billion in operating profit works out to 95% of all
Android revenues, and 40.8% of all smartphone
operating profits overall. Bad news for other vendors/
platforms like Nokia and BlackBerry: their collective profits totalled just $300,000 for the quarter, working
out to a 2.2% share of profits. This also shows that Samsung has come quite some
way in working out its profitability engine in the last
year as it has continued to grow. This time a year
ago, it was generating only about half the revenues of
Apple in mobile devices (and that was counting
Samsung’s smartphones as well as its feature phone handsets), and accordingly a thinner proportion of
profits. These numbers largely tally with some released
earlier this month by Canaccord Genuity (via
AllThingsD). The difference lies at the lower end,
where Canaccord Genuity says that vendors beyond
the top two effectively took nothing. With these numbers coming out just as Google I/O
kicks off, Strategy Analytics again throws light on just
how disproportionate Samsung’s weight is in the
Android ecosystem, and how its sales dominance
works out to larger economies of scale and profit: its
$5.1 billion in operating profits works out to 95% of all profits made on Android, with LG the only other
vendor to break out from “others,” with a meagre 2.5%
of profit share on $100,000 in operating profits. “An efficient supply chain, sleek products and crisp
marketing have been among the main drivers of
Samsung’s impressive profitability,” Woody Oh,
Strategy Analytics’ senior analyst writes. In contrast,
“LG delivered a small profit during the quarter, but it
currently lacks the volume scale needed to match Samsung’s outsized profits.” Just think of what that means for the even smaller
Android OEMs. Mawston believes that Samsung is actually
generating even more revenue than Google itself from
Android, counting things like mobile advertising and
apps revenue. “We believe Samsung generates more revenue and
profit from the Android platform than Google does,” he
writes. As Google’s Android head Sundar Pichai
today reported during that I/O keynote that there have
been some 900 million Android activations worldwide,
this begs the question of who is in the driver’s seat on the platform — and by association smartphones
worldwide. “Samsung has strong market power and it may use
this position to influence the future direction of the
Android ecosystem,” Mawston writes. “For example,
Samsung could request first or exclusive updates of
new software from Android before rival hardware
vendors.” If those kinds of requests are likely to get made, it will get harder and harder for Google to resist
and continue maintaining the level playing field it’s
tried to create for its mobile platform. Tablets are not included in any of the above
calculations, Strategy Analytics says.

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Google seems determined to leak all the exciting
Google I/O news ahead of the official event. We’ve
already seen the new Google Maps go live briefly
before being pulled down, are hearing reports of a new
music streaming service, and now there’s been
confirmation that the next version of Android appears to be Android 4.3. As with the Google Maps leak, this too was spotted
only momentarily before being pulled, but not before
being snapped by the folks over at The Verge, who
provided the first screenshot below. A reference to
“Android 4.3″ appeared in Google’s search results,
while they were poking through Google’s developer site, source.android.com. Google has since pulled down the cached page (it
now 404s). Bing has also spotted the reference: Other than confirming its existence, there’s not much
more detail to this particular leak regarding what the
updated operating system will provide in terms of
features. However, as the Verge post notes, the
update is generally expected to bring Bluetooth Low
Energy (BLE), which could help with battery life conversation on smart watches and other connected
devices, as well as the OpenGL for Embedded
Systems 3.0 graphics specification. developing…