Speaking on Saturday, Jonney Shih, chariman of Asus, stated that this would be the year the company focuses on pushing its low-cost ZenFone smartphone range to the global market. He also let slip a few thoughts about the company’s successor to the excellent ZenWatch.
Shih hinted that Asus’ next smartwatch could be designed to last up to seven days on a single charge of its battery, a notable improvement over the current ZenWatch’s maximum of two days.
This battery saving likely won’t just come from a larger battery capacity, Asus may be planning to opt for a more energy efficient, lower performance processor next time and might be prepared to cut down or even ditch Android Wear in favour of a more efficient, simplified operating system. Exact hardware details weren’t given, but Asus looks to want to further differentiate itself from other high-end smartwatches by offering additional battery life.
“The ZenWatch is defined by us as a companion to a smartphone, and we think it still has a lot of room for improvement,”
“As a companion device, its central processing unit and operating system should be more simplified than the current version, so that I can use it for up to seven days on one charge, rather than for just two days.” – Jonney Shih, Asus
With Asus talking about a simplified OS, Samsung looking to push Tizen more heavily this year and LG rumored to be preparing its own WebOS powered smartwatch, Google’s Android Wear platform could end up being sidelined by custom built smartwatch operating systems in the future.
Back at the launch of the Asus ZenWatch last year, Shen also let slip that the second-generation ZenWatch is planned for Q3 2015. The smartwatch is said to feature SIM-card funcationality, allowing it to take calls without being tethered to a smartphone. Asus also has plans for two lost-cost “wrist-band like” devices targeted at the health and fitness market.
A Missouri lawmaker is pushing for a law that would require a person to present identification every time that they use a mobile payment system on their phone or tablet.
Last Wednesday, Democratic Rep. Joshua Peters of St. Louis introduced a measure that would require a customer to show a state drivers license or other identification when they use a mobile wallet app or other electronic payment system. The measure also forces merchants to record the license or identification number or else the merchants would be responsible for illegal purchases.
Obviously, the goal of this measure is to slow down the likely increase in fraudulent transactions using Google Wallet or Apply Pay. But this comes off as an extreme over-reach for a new type of technology.
One of the biggest advantages of using Google Wallet and Apple Pay is the ability to purchase items without pulling out a card to show retailers. If customers are forced to dig into their wallet to get their ID during a purchase, why wouldn’t they just use their credit cards?
I also can’t imagine businesses will be thrilled at the idea of having the full responsibility of maintaining additional customer information, in this case identification numbers, for every purchase in their store.
More details have emerged about Google’s secret plan to become a wireless service provider.
The Information and the WSJ reported last week that Google is readying the launch of its own MVNO service, using Sprint’s and T-Mobile’s networks. Now WSJ is back with a few more details on how Google wants to disrupt the highly competitive wireless industry.
According to the WSJ, Google’s current goal is to launch its service in the first half of 2015, though this timeframe is subject to change; a launch that was previously scheduled for October 2015 was cancelled. Contrary to speculation that the service would be initially limited to a small number of test markets, Google’s service is likely to be offered nationwide, says the report.
Google’s wireless service will rely heavily on Wi-Fi connections
Google’s wireless service will rely heavily on Wi-Fi connections, with cellular service bought from T-Mobile and Sprint as fallback when Wi-Fi is not available. Google already has a deal in place with Sprint, though the carrier reportedly used a volume clause to protect itself from giving too much access to Google.
At least initially, Google doesn’t want to lower prices, one person familiar with the matter said. The actual goal is to give users excellent service without them having to commit to a long-term carrier agreement. But Google is working on a technology that would see wireless providers bid for connections in real time, ensuring that the user gets the smallest price. Indirectly, this competition could lead to smaller prices, the source said.
There are already companies out there using Wi-Fi to bring prices down. Just last week, FreedomPop launched a plan that gives customers access to 10 million Wi-Fi hotspots for just $5 a month. Google will presumably attempt something similar. The company could even rely entirely on data, giving users access to Google Voice over data, instead of conventional voice access. Google is also interested in the use of currently unused radio spectrum to build a network of Wi-Fi hotspots in certain cities.
Project Ara recently held its second dedicated developer’s conference and modular component development looks to be making strides outside of Google’s R&D department, as is the aim. The latest example comes from a collaboration between Sennheiser, a popular German audio company, and Phonebloks, an early player in the modular game that began collaborating with Project Ara back in 2013. Between them, the two have come up with a couple of neat modular component concepts for those who want a little more from their smartphone’s audio.
The first concept module, named “amphion”, was one of the most popular requests from the Phonebloks community. It is designed to deliver high quality audio capture and playback. Packed with an energy efficient class G amplifier and a low-noise microphone input path, Sennheiser reckons that its design not only meets the demands of the audiophile, but is also perfect for musicians or journalists looking to capture some high quality audio for use at a later date.
The module also houses a low latency digital signal processor, presumably to make use of Sennheiser’s customised EQ and other digital effects, as well as your phone’s usual playback tasks. The DSP is also user programmable, opening up the module to tweaking and experimentation by other developers.
The “proteus” audio block concept comes with two audio jacks for users to more easily share their musical finds with friends. Sennheiser suggests that this could have other interesting implications too, such as using two stereo jacks to connect up four microphone inputs for pin-point directional audio capture.
As Project Ara moves closer to a consumer release, we will hopefully see a few more unique and interesting ideas appear from various component designers. What do you think about Sennheiser’s modular concepts? Do you have any module ideas or wishes of your own?
Facebook is targeting users of entry-level Android devices with a new app that is now available in a handful of developing countries.
The app is called Facebook Lite and is basically a low-fi version of the full app known by hundreds of millions of users worldwide. Lite, which appears to be actually a wrapper for a web app, is just 262KB in size and it should work even on devices with very low processing power and slow 2G connections. As TechCrunch’s Jon Russell notes, the app is based on Snaptu, an app that Facebook acquired in 2011, which allows Facebook to run on some feature phones.
The app is fairly basic in functionality and design, but all the key components are present, including Messenger, Pages, Groups, and more. There’s also notification support, so users should be able to rely on it for the core Facebook experience. Here’s the app’s Play Store description:
- Fast to install — the app is less than 1 MB
- Quick to load
- Efficient with data
- Designed for 2G networks and areas with limited network connectivity
From testing the app on my Mate 7, performance and responsiveness are clearly several notches below the full Facebook app, but that is to be expected from an application designed to run on basic devices.
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The app appears to have been quietly launched on January 20. For now, Facebook Lite is available in Bangladesh, Nepal, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. These are all markets where connectivity is spotty, at best, and where smartphone penetration is still low. Facebook appears to be using these locales as a test bed before rolling out Facebook Lite to more regions.
Facebook has a clear interest in getting more users online, given how user acquisition has tapered off (or even turned negative) in most developed markets. Facebook Lite is just one of the initiatives that Mark Zuckerberg’s company is pursuing in developing markets, with other examples being Internet.org (bringing free Internet access to underserved areas) and Facebook Zero (sponsored access to Facebook).
The Uncarrier is offering up a new way to save some money. T-Mobile introduced their new Score! program today, which can save you a good chunk of money on new phone purchases, and even score you free phones. For a fee.
T-Mobile’s new SCORE! is a paid service, available to users on prepaid or postpaid contracts. Simply pay in $5 per month, after just six months you’ll be eligible to upgrade your current device to a free entry level phone. After twelve months, the deals go up, a larger selection of free phones become available, you’ll find savings of up to $200 on devices all the way to the latest flagship offerings.
The phones currently on hand include the entry level Alcatel Onetouch Evolve 2, free after six months. Mid rangers include the Alcatel Onetouch Fierce 2 and LG Optimus L90, free after a year. At the top, the Google Nexus 6, Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy S5 are on deck at a discount.
Is Score! worth it?
The bottom line when it comes to deals like these, are they worth it? At face value, the answer is yes, Score! is worth it. That free phone after six months will cost you just $30 in Score! fees, regularly $80 or more. Your $60 of Score! fees after a year will get you free phones worth upwards of $198 regularly, or as much as $150 off the regular price of the Nexus 6 or Note 4.
Where can you go wrong with Score!? That’s simple. For starters, at least in the first round, T-Mobile offers a limited selection of devices in the program. From there, the longer you wait to upgrade the less money you will save. If you do not go for the free entry level phone every six months, or cannot commit to purchasing a new higher end device every year, this may not be the program for you.
Head on over to the T-Mobile website to check out all of the details of the new Score! program.
Do you think the Uncarrier is doing a good thing here, can you benefit from T-Mobile’s new Score! program?
If you needed a reminder that the folks at Cyanogen are working hard toward a stable release of the next version of their CyanogenMod OS, the nightlies stream of CM12 is seeing a new boot animation on devices.
While there is beauty in simplicity, the new CyanogenMod 12 nightlies boot animation rocks a simple animation based around their blue robo-bug. The biggest change, and likely the hardest part for users to get used to, is the white background of the animation, which we all know can be a serious pain when rebooting a device in the dark.
CyanogenMod 12 nightlies have only been available for a few weeks now, promising to bring the latest release to mainstream CM users soon. As evidenced by the new boot animation, CM12 takes into account the latest design standards of Android Lollipop and Material Design. We’ll leave it to you to decide if the team is embracing Google’s design approach, or shunning it, but we can’t help but notice the similarities in the animation ripple effects.
Of course, if you do not like what you are seeing, be sure to head into the CyanogenMod Theme Showcase app to flash a new boot animation.
What do you think of Cyanogen’s new boot animation for CyanogenMod 12?
This week was all about rumors, as a steady stream of details about Samsung’s and HTC’s next flagships trickled out. We have a good idea of what to expect from the One M9/Hima, with key details including a 20MP camera, larger battery, and an iterative design. Samsung did a little better at keeping the Galaxy S6 under wraps, but we still got a few juicy tidbits about the phone’s design and specifications. In other news, the Snapdragon 810 was in the spotlight, WhatsApp launched its first desktop client and banned 3rd party clients, Google’s plan to become a carrier leaked, and Cyanogen’s CEO revealed his vision of a Google-free operating system.
Inside AA HQ
It was a quiet week behind the scenes at AA HQ, with few public-facing changes, but quite a lot of work going on in the background. We’ve made some changes to the AA homepage, replacing the “hero menu” with a carousel showcasing our most recent videos. Our YouTube team is doing such a great job churning out great videos, that we feel this change will bring you more value in the long run.
We’re also ramping up our sister sites SoundGuys.com and TabTimes.com, with more news coverage and featured pieces, and adding some team members to bring you great content. We still have a long way to go with these properties, but we’re confident we can make them reference websites in their respective niches, just like AA is your source for all things Android.
Today, we’re giving out a Nexus 6 in our weekly sweepstakes! Throw your name in the hat here. Good luck!
Friday Debate podcast
The stuff you shouldn’t miss
Here are some interesting posts for your Sunday reading:
- Review: Lanh does his best to break the rugged Sonim XP7
- Review: How is Samsung’s new batch of metal mid-rangers? We review the Galaxy A5
- Feature: Microsoft announced some cool things this week. We look at how Android is impacted
- Review: Jewels from Asia: we review the Meizu MX4 Pro
- Feature: Andrew ponders the implications of Google entering the wireless industry
- Feature: Simon weighs the pros and cons of a potential Samsung-Blackberry marriage
- Opinion: Bogdan looks at HTC’s year ahead and why it’s time for the company to grow again
Top news of the week
And here are the top news in the Android world this week:
HTC One M9 rumors
- Alleged HTC One M9 “Hima” pics leak, possibly prototype version
- Bloomberg: One M9 to feature 20MP rear camera, smartwatch coming along
- Alleged HTC M9 “Hima” cases leaked (updated)
- More details about the HTC One M9/Hima emerge
- Samsung drops Snapdragon 810 in favor of Exynos for Galaxy S6 – Bloomberg
- Qualcomm’s 2015 roadmap reportedly outed, rumored to bring Snapdragon 820
- LG denies G Flex 2 and Snapdragon 810 overheating issues
- (Updated) WhatsApp begins crackdown on unlicensed 3rd party clients
- WhatsApp comes to the desktop, with a catch
Galaxy S6 rumors
- Rumor: Samsung Galaxy S6 to launch at MWC 2015, but no LG G4
- More details about Galaxy S6 edge’s special features surface
- Rumor: Galaxy S6 could feature glass back panel and non-removable battery
Google going wireless
Cyanogen’s fighting words
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A clever dev over at the XDA-Forums has scored himself a touch of bounty for working out the xploit. Sorry… exploit. The method is not intended for the international Xperia Z3 and Z3 Compact devices, which come with unlockable bootloaders, and are rather easily tinkered with by the AOSP and ROM enthusiasts. Nor is it for the Verizon variants with modified hardware. Instead, the exploit is for markets like the U.S. where carriers tend to lock things down.
Let’s not beat around the bush here, with Android Lollipop set to release for Sony hardware soon, You are likely better off waiting for the OTA before rooting. Also, this is not an easy process. Right off the bat, up to date firmware is not compatible, so you’ll need to first roll back to version 23.0.1.A.5.77. From there, it is a matter of simply creating a pre-rooted version of the phone’s hardware, flash a recovery image for your model, then apply the root exploit itself.
XDA user zxz0O0 is who you have to thank for bringing root to your locked Sony Xperia Z3 or Xperia Z3 Compact. He’s been known to bring exploit and similar tools to the forums and will take home at least a part of the current $3017 bounty available for breaking the lock on Sony gear.
Head on over to the XDA post on the matter to get all the resources and instructions to root your Sony Xperia Z3 and Xperia Z3 Compact handsets.
Will you go for root on your Xperia Z3 or Xperia Z3 Compact?
When dealing with fixed allocations of monthly data usage, conceivably, a conscientious customer will ration their consumption in the first part of the month, and may inadvertently find themselves with an abundance of packet communications remaining for the latter half. In a typical situation, this is all-but-wasted. When T-Mobile announced that it was going to be allowing users to “roll-over” their data into the following month via its Data Stash service, it seemed like a breath of fresh air; all the more so when AT&T followed suit.
Verizon Wireless, however, has no intention of giving its customers this benefit, nor does it care how many (if any) people defect out of disgust. The company’s Chief Financial Officer, Fran Shammo, was quoted in an interview this past Thursday as saying, “We’re a leader, not a follower.” The CFO then further hammered in the point by adding that, “We did not go to places where we did not financially want to go to save a customer… and there’s going to be certain customers who leave us for price, and we are just not going to compete with that because it doesn’t make financial sense for us to do that.” Bold words, to be sure, but then again given the company’s recent performance results, it can afford to make such claims.
This makes for a rather interesting situation, as typically when one carrier introduces a major game-changer, the others follow suit to cash-in. See the whole $0 down, monthly installment-based structure that has become a mainstay at several carriers these days. Still, while T-Mobile is inclined to take bold initiatives and do things that its competitors wouldn’t dream of, the company has recently fallen under greater scrutiny as to just how far/long CEO John Legere can maintain this type of business strategy.
At the end of the day however, Verizon customers must now simply accept the situation and hope the company has a change of heart eventually.