Android L: All you need to know about Google’s next mobile OS!

Google held its annual developer conference, Google I/O yesterday, and it was pretty much a given that it would showcase a new version of Android, smartwearables, Android TV and Android for cars. Google did show us all of these things but the biggest change was to Android itself.

Android fans and developers got to see a new version of Android codenamed ‘L’. This version will be out in fall of 2014 and will come pre-loaded on new Android devices. Of course, for older devices it will be up to OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) to decide when they will send out the update.

“This is one of the most comprehensive releases we have done: it has over 5,000 new APIs, and we are thinking not just for mobile, but for form factors beyond mobile,” said Google’s Android and Chrome boss Sundar Pichai, during the keynote presentation at I/O.

And while there’s a good chance that Android L could be called Android Liquorice or Android Lollipop by the time it comes out, it has a lot of stuff that’s new. We take a quick look.

First up, Android L will see the software get a massive design change. Google has gone for something called Material Design which lets developers add shadows and seams to give visuals on a phone’s screen the appearance of depth. Essentially Material Design will allow developers to add a more animated element to their apps. Elements can dynamically shrink and expand, there’s more white space between elements, and there’s an overall 3D look.

According to Google’s own blog, Material Design will allow developers to, “...apply to your apps for a new style: it lets you easily infuse your own color palette into your app, and offers new system widgets, screen transitions and animated touch feedback. We’ve also added the ability to specify a view’s elevation, allowing you to raise UI elements and cast dynamic, real-time shadows in your apps.”

As this piece on CNET explains “Material Design opens up a 3D interface even on 2D screens by letting programmers specify not just what color a pixel should be, but how high it should be in a virtual stack.” Google will also bring this Material Design to Chrome OS.

Secondly Google is promising improved processor performance on smartphones. Google has introduced Android Runtime (ART) as the system default. According to the company’s official blog, “ART offers ahead-of-time (AOT) compilation, more efficient garbage collection, and improved development and debugging features.”

There’s also support for 64-bit support architecture. Google also says that apps written in the Java language can run immediately on 64-bit architectures with no modifications required. The company is als promising better graphics on L via OpenGL ES 3.1 and thus ensure that app developers can get capabilities such as compute shaders, stencil textures, and texture gather for their games.

Better Battery performance is also going to be a key part of Google L. Project Volta as Google calls it comes with new tools and APIs to help apps run efficiently and conserve power. There’s also a Battery Historian, a new tool that will let developers see how their app ends up using power over time. There’s also a job scheduler API to ensure that developers can set some tasks to run when the device is charging or idle to reduce battery usage.

Matias Durante, Vice President, Design at Google, speaks on stage during the Google I/O Developers Conference at Moscone Center. AFP

Matias Durante, Vice President, Design at Google, speaks on stage during the Google I/O Developers Conference at Moscone Center. AFP

Notifications on Android L are also going to see drastic changes as well. Google will ensure that users can access notifications content, updates without unlocking the screen. There’s also Heads-up notification, which will appear in a small floating window if the user is working on another app. Users can choose to reply to that notification while they are in the app or also ignore it. Developers can add their own colour and branding to the notifications.

The ‘Recents’ tab has also gone a drastic change in Android L. It will now show all recently used apps as “a stacked card overview” and will include recently accessed websites from Chrome. Other apps can also add items to the list. The advantage of this is that if you open a website on your mobile browser and then switch to something else, you can just go back to ‘Recents’ to view that website instead of opening Chrome all over again. It looks much prettier than the current multi-tasking system, and resembles more like the cards in Google View.

Google is also bringing in Universal Data Control L where Android users will be able to control how data on their handset is shared. Users will also be able to divide their devices between work and personal modes. Essentially this is Google’s way to reach out to the Enterprise user and convince them that an Android phone is just as good for work as it is for play. Interestingly  Google’s Sundar Pichai also mentioned Samsung’s Knox Security Technology (which allows division between work and personal data on Samsung phones) and said that they (as in Google) would be using the technology in Android as well.

Android devices can now function in Bluetooth Low Energy peripheral mode, which will let apps use this to let nearby devices know the presence of the smartphone. For instance, developers can apps that let a device function as a pedometer or health monitor and transmit data to another BLE device.

Android L will be out this fall. Image Tech2.

Android L will be out this fall.


Given that Android L will also allow for integration across Google devices such as Chromebooks, smartwatches that run on Android Wear, cars that support Android Auto, it’s evident that the company is pushing for a larger agenda with Android being the sun around which all of this will revolve. With Android L, what we’re seeing are some refreshing changes to the OS, but for users L will mean more if they end up getting the updates as soon as it is released, otherwise many won’t get access to these features.

Apple widens U.S. lead over Samsung, makes ground on Google!

Apple iPhone 5

Research firm comScore reported Thursday that a survey of of the United States market for smartphones during the month of February 2013 has revealed Apple’s iPhone widening its lead over second-ranked Samsung, which went up one percentage point to grab a 21.3 percent share of US-owned smartphones during the three month average period ending February 2013. In other words and in another data point proving Apple doomsayers need to re-run their spreadsheets!

During the same timeframe, Apple’s has gone up from 35.9 percent in November 2012 to 38.9 percent of U.S. smartphone subscribers in February 2013, an increase of 3.9 percentage points. The good news doesn’t stop here: Apple’s iOS mobile operating system which powers all iPhone, iPod touch and iPad devices, increased 3.9 percentage points to 38.9 percent, matching Apple’s aforementioned smartphone devices share.

comScore (US smartphone vendors, 201302)

Google’s Android platform, available on numerous devices from dozens of manufacturers, still ranked as the top smartphone platform with a healthy 51.7 percent market share in February 2013, but it dropped two percentage points from 53.7 percent market share in November 2012…

Per comScore data, BlackBerry ranked third with 5.4 percent in mobile OS share while Microsoft (3.2 percent) and Symbian (0.5 percent) continue to be rounding errors.

According to independent analyst Horace Dediu, the numbers don’t mean people are abandoning Android. “To be clear, Android is not losing users, but they are gaining far fewer than iOS,” he wrote on Twitter.

US mobile platform net user gains (Asymco, comScore February 2013)

In terms of top smartphone vendors, in addition to the #1 Apple (38.9 percent) and #2 Samsung (21.3 percent), HTC came in third with a single-digit share of 9.3 percent, while Google-owned Motorola and LG rounded up the top five list with their respective 8.4 percent and 6.8 percent share.

All told, researchers estimate that the United States had some 133.7 million smartphone owners. Growth, however, is notably slowing and was pegged at an estimated eight percent compared to comScore’s November 2012 data.

comScore (US mobile OS share, 201302)

The smartphone industry appears to be saturated elsewhere as well, with today’s news of France Telecom complaining about a slowdown European carriers are feeling over belt-tightening amid the continued fragility of the economy there.

CEO Stephane Richard, who runs France Telecom, warns “there are fewer early adopters”so selling a phone for $600 is “getting more and more difficult.”

“Customers are more focused on price,” he told Bloomberg Businessweek. “Except for a few hundred thousand people who will buy the latest iPhone – except for that category of people – the majority of the market will be difficult.”

US Smartphone adoption (Asymco 001, February 2013, comScore data)
US smartphone penetration rate chart via Asymco.

comScore data highlights his point: the U.S. smartphone market is obviously peaking with a 57 percent mobile market penetration, although we’re obviously still far from the saturation point as the remaining 43 percent non-smartphone owners upgrade to their first smart device.

Google Chrome browser is now the top free app in the App Store![+Speed Test]

Google Chrome has quickly grown to become the world’s most popular browser on desktop, and its growth on mobile devices seems almost equally fast – the browser arrived on Ice Cream Sandwich not too long ago with an awesome interface, and now it’s made its way to the iPhone and iPad on the App Store.

Google's Chrome browser is now the top free app in the App Store

Available for free and sporting the same gorgeous interface, Chrome climbed to the top of the free app ranking on the iTunes in mere hours.

We’re not surprised – after all the browser has some killer features apart from the looks as it comes with full syncing between accounts across devices. All the tabs you have opened along with your history and bookmarks get synced so if you left a website on a desktop, you can pick up where you left off on the mobile version.

Google Chrome vs Safari speed test on iPhone :

It’s funny to hear so many reports about how much slower than Safari Google Chrome will inevitably be, due to its lack of access to the Nitro Javascript engine. While that may be true from a technical standpoint, and no doubt data heads will be able to show me numbers that back that fact up, in real world usage, such stats tend to be tossed to the sidelines.

I’m not going to claim that the following speed test is anything close to scientific, but it will give you a decent idea as to what to expect from Google Chrome.

So, who won our speed test? Check inside for the details…

Note: As stated, there is nothing scientific about this test. Google Chrome was installed on an iPhone 4S using iOS 5.1.1, and Safari was ran on an iPhone 4 running iOS 6 beta 2. Granted, you’re going to expect the scales to tip a bit in Google Chrome’s favor due to the completely optimized iOS install, and the faster hardware. Even still, this test will give you a good indication that Google Chrome isn’t exactly a tortoise when it comes to speed. In real world usage, I found it more than adequate. Judge for yourselves.

What do you think? Is Google Chrome the downright slowpoke that everyone makes it out to be?

Update: For those crying foul, here is a video showing the reverse scenario. i.e. Chrome on the iPhone 4, and Safari on the iPhone 4S.

The point of these videos isn’t to show one browser blow another out of the water, it’s just to show that Chrome is entirely usable from a real world perspective.

Gorgeous iOS concept shows off dynamic icon badges and more!

With WWDC coming up on Monday, there’s only a few days left to speculate on what new goodies Apple will unveil. We know for sure that iOS 6 is on the menu, but what new features will the update bring?

The consensus seems to be that, other than a number of revamped applications, Apple’s mobile OS will remain largely unchanged from its predecessor. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t dream big…

MacStories points to an impressive new iOS concept from designer Joost van der Ree. The video is reminiscent of past works from Jan-Michael Cart, and includes tons of cool feature ideas. Check it out:

Overall, it’s a really well thought-out concept. It seems like some of the features, namely the Mission Control concept, would be better suited on the iPad. But we’re really digging the Dynamic Badges idea.

In the end, these features all seem more than a tad bit too ambitious for Apple — especially for iOS 6. But here’s hoping they’re at least taking notes for future iterations.

Android grabs top smartphone OS spot in UK

The Android OS system is now the number one mobile OS for smartphones in the U.K. with a 36.9% slice of the pie as of the end of last month. Last year at the same time, Android had a 20.1% share of the U.K. smartphone market which trailed both the leading 29.2% market share belonging to iOS and the 26.7% belonging to Symbian.\

Just like in the U.S., Android models started getting launched in the U.K. in waves with different models offering different screen sizes, more powerful processors and a multitude of new features. This fragmentation worked in Android’s favor in the U.K. where Google’s open source OS had to compete against just 3 iOS powered smartphones. And while Android did overtake iOS and Symbian to reach the top spot in the United Kingdom, it was the sharp drop in Symbian’s share that Android quickly gobbled up.

Android is now number one in the U.K. - Android grabs top smartphone OS spot in UK
With Nokia now using Windows Phone, you can expectfurther declines from Symbian and some gains from Microsoft’s mobile OS. Still, Windows Phone will probably not pick up all that Symbian loses leaving more room for Android to gain market share. Last quarter in the U.S., the launch of the Apple iPhone 4S allowed the latter to hold a leading 48.4% share of the smartphone market. Android held 42.8% of the U.S. market in Q4.

According to Dominic Sunnebo, global consumer insight director at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, for the first time ever, the percentage of Brits using a smartphone is over the half-way mark at 50.3%.