Huawei builds the case for its own OS ecosystem

If US-Chinese tensions continue to remain as they are today, a separate Huawei mobile operating system looks to be a certainty but being competitive with Android is not a simple task.

Building the OS, which will be known as Harmony, is the simple part of the venture. In fairness, nailing the science and experience is anything but simple, but the complexities pale in comparison to the realities of building the supporting ecosystem and credibility. This is where Huawei will struggle, but today it has set out an interesting case at a London Huawei Developer Day.

“Today’s announcement concerning our Huawei Mobile Services offering, highlights our ongoing commitment and support for UK and Irish businesses and developers,” said Anson Zhang, MD of Huawei UK’s consumer business.

“In recent years we have grown significantly and owe our success to the consumers and partners who have chosen and believed in us. As a sign of that support and commitment to the UK and Irish market, we have announced our £20 million investment plan to recognise and incentivise our partners; so that jointly we can build an outstanding ecosystem together.”

Irrelevant as to whether Huawei has the best phones on the planet and the smoothest running OS, if there are no compatible games in the app store, few consumers are going to have an interest in purchasing the device. Huawei has to engage the developer community and convince them it is in their interest to make a third version of the app on top of efforts for Android and iOS.

Back in September, Huawei said it would be investing $1.5 billion to build-out its developer ecosystem. At today’s event, Zhang highlighted £20 million would be set aside specifically for the UK, while any developer which can publish its app on the Huawei App Gallery before January 31 would be entitled to a £20,000 incentive payment.

This is perhaps the most important and difficult job for Huawei over the coming months. The company does not have the same scale, or credibility, as its OS competitors in Apple or Google. It might well claim to have 600 million users worldwide currently, 4 million alone in the UK, but how many of these users are engaging Huawei by choice?

Your correspondent has a Huawei Mate 20 device, and presumably is one of the 4 million Huawei Mobile Services users in the UK, but the Google Play Store, YouTube, Chrome and Gmail are still used exclusively over the Huawei alternatives. Google’s services are not on new Huawei devices, and at the moment, that would certainly stop your correspondent from buying any Huawei products in the future.

This is the chicken and egg situation in play. Huawei needs to convince both the consumer and the developer ecosystem to put faith in it. Consumers will not come without apps and apps will not be developed without consumers. Some might, but nothing in comparison to the scale of the Google app ecosystem.

And so, the Huawei pitch begins, and there some very good ideas.

The first interesting idea presented by Huawei is the idea of more intelligent contextualisation. The different segments in the ecosystem are linked, allowing for a recommendation engine to offer more interesting results. If a user is a big Terminator fan, for example, the video store will recommend relevant titles, but then the music store will factor in this preference and the app store will start pushing first-person shooting games up the listings. It is taking context one step further, which does sound appealing.

Another idea to improve user acquisition is to develop customisable themes and backgrounds for the user which can be linked to apps and content. Jaime Gonzalo, VP Consumer Mobile Services, highlighted there are between 4,000 and 6,000 new apps published each month. To cut through this digital noise, there needs to be a more intelligent approach to user engagement and acquisition.

One very attractive point made by the team is the opportunity for scale which Huawei can offer. China is one of the most lucrative markets around for any app developer, and Huawei, as the telecom champion of China, can potentially offer access to the users in a way Google or Apple could not compete with. This is a very attractive carrot for the developer community.

Another final point on the business side, is the idea of local engagement. Huawei has said each market will have a local business development and operational team to aid the local developer community. Gonzalo claims to be the only business which can offer this USP, demonstrating the importance of this initiative.

Huawei is throwing money at the situation, almost making the creation of a deep developer ecosystem a loss-leader, because it recognises how critical it is to ensure the consumer business survives internationally. This might sound like a dramatization of the status quo, but as long as Huawei remains on the US Entity List, and banned from working with Google, its device business is in a very precarious position.

Looking at the more technical side, Andreas Zimmer, who works in strategy team, highlighted there are currently 24 software development kits (SDK) available for developers in the ecosystem, with plans to launch more in the coming months. Interesting enough, Zimmer claims only one is needed to make the very simple translation from Android and into the Huawei developer ecosystem.

The majority of the SDKs are as one would expect, but there were a couple which Zimmer wanted to push forward for attention.

Firstly, the Machine Learning SDK. This kit allows developers to integrate new AI components into the app, such as face detection, landmark recognition, emotion detection or object detection. Another Zimmer pushed forward was the Awareness kit. This SDK allowed the app to have greater contextual awareness, for example, understanding what time of the day it was, whether a headset is plugged in or the location of the user.

Both of these SDKs are very useful for enthusiastic and creative developers, but the question remains is whether Huawei has done enough to convince the developer community.

The Huawei consumer business is facing a serious threat. If it wants to continue to be an international brand, the Harmony OS needs to work and for this to happen, it needs to be embraced by the developer community. Consumers are tied to Android today, and it will take a serious swing for Huawei to crack this dominance in the Western markets.

Huawei’s OS will almost certainly be a success in its domestic Chinese market, and others were there are strong political ties. But the Huawei ambition is bigger than simply being a dominant domestic champion. As long as the US remains hostile to China and Huawei stays on the Entity List, the international future of the consumer business relies on the success of Harmony OS and the developer ecosystem.

Facebook sets out to create its own OS

Facebook has reportedly hired ex-Microsoft employee Mark Lucovsky to oversee the development of its own operating system to reduce the dependence on Google’s Android.

While many have tried and failed to muscle in on the Android dominance in the OS world, Facebook has largely sat back to benefit from the success of Google. That said, according to The Information, in hiring the man who co-authored the Windows NT operating system Facebook is attempting to break-free of the Android shackles.

Although there is no official confirmation from the social media giant, it does make sense. Facebook is not going to be fighting Android for a share of the mobile OS segment, though it allegedly wants more control of its own fate when it comes to the Portal and Oculus portfolios.

“We really want to make sure the next generation has space for us,” Facebook’s Head of Hardware Andrew Bosworth said during the interview.

“We don’t think we can trust the marketplace or competitors to ensure that’s the case. And so we’re gonna do it ourselves.”

With the Portal smart home devices, VR head Oculus and AR glasses codenamed Orion, Facebook is creeping more and more into the physical world. It might not be the traditional stomping group for Zucks and co. though these are emerging environments where the rules have not been written yet.

What is worth noting is this is not the first time Facebook has attempted to create an OS. In 2013, Facebook launched an OS which ran on some HTC phones, but it should not be under-emphasised how much of a disaster this way. It was a catastrophic failure.

However, the playing field is slightly different now. This is not an OS which is trying to replicate the Android experience on mobile, Facebook is attempting to define its own experience on these devices and dictate its own product development cycle.

Android beat Windows mobile because of antitrust distraction – Bill Gates

Bill Gates has suggested if it wasn’t for the costly and prolonged antitrust lawsuit in 1998, Microsoft would be the dominant player in the mobile OS world not Google.

This lawsuit, which lasted roughly three years, proved to undermine the Microsoft dominance on the technology world. With the playing-field levelled for competition, Microsoft gradually fell back into the chasing peloton, though founder Bill Gates suggested there was a much bigger impact for the business.

“There’s no doubt that the antitrust lawsuit was bad for Microsoft, and we would have been more focused on creating the phone operating system,” said Gates at the DealBook Conference in New York. “Instead of using Android today, you would be using Windows Mobile.

“We were so close. I was just too distracted that I screwed that up because of the distraction. We were just three months too late with the release that Motorola would have used on a phone. It’s a winner take all matter for sure, now no-body here has ever heard of Windows Mobile, but oh well.”

Some might dismiss Gates’ proclamation, the OS did launch after all and was not in the same league as Android, though it is an interesting idea.

If Microsoft had not been spending so much time defending its PC software business, more attention and investment could have been directed to the mobile OS. The transition from home computer to the smartphone was after all one of the contributing factors to Microsoft’s decline from power.

Interestingly enough, Gates also claims that if he hadn’t had to defend the business in such an intense antitrust case, he wouldn’t have retired so early.

While Microsoft is now recapturing its dominant position, thanks to a focus on the cloud computing segment, it spent years lurking in the shadows as an also-ran in the technology segment. This was still a very profitable company, but it had fallen from the dizzy heights of the 80s and 90s. The world moved from the home computer to mobile, and Microsoft was slow to react.

On the other side of the equation, Google acquired Android and entered the mobile world. This is perhaps one of the smartest bits of business ever, as Google reportedly acquired Android for as little as $50 million. Without this OS, Google would not have dominated the mobile world and would not be anywhere near as profitable as it is today.

Gates might be exaggerating with his claims here, though the world certainly look a lot different if Microsoft had won the mobile OS race.

Apple tells Google to stay in its lane over security claims

Apple has hit back at a Google blog post, which emerged last week, suggesting its rival in the smartphone OS segment was ‘stoking fear’ amongst its users.

The presence of vulnerabilities is nothing to be too surprised about, though when the owner of one smartphone OS points out said vulnerabilities to a rival, egos are always going to flare up. This appears to be the case here, with Apple offering its rebuttal to the Google claims, attempting to calm the waters.

“Google’s post, issued six months after iOS patches were released, creates the false impression of ‘mass exploitation’ to ‘monitor the private activities of entire populations in real time,’ stoking fear among all iPhone users that their devices had been compromised. This was never the case,” the statement reads.

Firstly, Apple claims the vulnerability was narrow, not broad-based as suggested by the Google blog post. Fewer than 12 websites were able to exploit the vulnerability. Secondly, Apple has claimed these websites were only operational for two months, as opposed to the two-year period which Google is claiming.

The vulnerabilities were reported to Apple in a responsible fashion in February, though last weeks blog from Ian Beer of Google’s Project Zero is what is irking Apple.

What Google pointed out to Apple in February is that there were several nefarious websites which exploited a flaw in the iOS programming to allow hackers access to iPhone users’ contacts, photos and location, as well as data from apps like iMessage, WhatsApp, Telegram, Gmail and Google Hangouts.

The vulnerability covered each version of the OS from iOS 10 through to the latest version of iOS 12, though it was not immediately clear from the blog post whether any data was actually taken from users. Apple has not offered any insight here either.

As mentioned before, the idea of searching for vulnerabilities is not new. Bug Bounties are often offered to individuals and companies to find and report the flaws to the company which owns the software in a responsible manner. Interestingly enough, bug bounty platform HackerOne has recently announced it has raised $36.4 million in a series D round of funding led by Valor Equity Partners.

We suspect Apple isn’t that concerned about a flaw being highlighted, its more who did the highlighting.

Aside from a few very minor ‘also rans’, the smartphone operating system market is dominated by two players; Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. This is where you have to take the severity claims about the vulnerabilities with a pinch of salt; it is of course in the benefit of Google to make the vulnerabilities seem as serious as possible.

The publication of the Google post could have come at a better time for Apple considering it is set to unveil its latest iPhone tomorrow (September 10).

“A lack of 5G support in the new iPhone won’t surprise anyone, though it will still disappoint operators looking for 5G devices to help them drive traffic to new 5G networks,” said Peter Jarich, Head of GSMA Intelligence.

“At the same time, new features that are expected – improved camera functionality, improved processor, upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 – may all seem incremental rather than revolutionary, particularly if the product line and form factor line-ups remain relatively constant.”

As it is unlikely the new iPhone will offer anything particularly innovative or revolutionary, combined with the high likelihood of it costing a small fortune, Apple will want to quash any negative connotations. The iLifers are extremely loyal, but with 5G attracting headlines around the world, some might be tempted to jump ship to a 5G-compatible device. Google’s claim of vulnerabilities might encourage a few more.

Google takes the fun out of new Android versions

Once a year, everyone used to gather around and have some fun guessing the name of the next Android, but Google is being a bit of a buzzkill with a refresh naming the next edition ‘10’.

Naming Android updates after deserts and tasty treats was a geeky quirk which brought a bit of sunshine, albeit for a short period of time. It is up there with the URL for the website of parent company Alphabet (abc.xyz), or the first doodle being of ‘Burning Man’ because that was where most of the office were on August 30, 1998.

But Google had to kill the fun.

“This naming tradition has become a fun part of the release each year externally, too,” Google said in a blog entry. “But we’ve heard feedback over the years that the names weren’t always understood by everyone in the global community.

Perhaps this is the end of ‘fun’ at Google as the company becomes increasingly corporate. Just like the removal of the ‘Don’t be evil’ clause in the company’s corporate code of conduct, perhaps this is a sign Google is growing up and the internal workings of the business will be more ‘appropriate’ for a company of its stature and influence.

There is of course a logical explanation for the move, but it is not as fun.

In some countries around the world, ‘L’ and ‘R’ are indistinguishable, while some deserts are not universally popular. For example, a pie is not thought to be a sweet treat everywhere, while the marshmallow would baffle some (For the Brooklyn Nine Nine fans out there, ‘what is this glutinous monstrosity in front of me’).

“As a global operating system, it’s important that these names are clear and relatable for everyone in the world,” the blog states. “So, this next release of Android will simply use the version number and be called Android 10. We think this change helps make release names simpler and more intuitive for our global community.”

Fortunately, the team is not ditching the friendly robot which so many people associate with the Android brand. It’s getting a bit of a facelift, but here to stay (hopefully!).

Huawei unveils its answer to Android; Harmony

At the Huawei Developer Conference, the Chinese vendor has showcased Harmony OS, its in-house operating system to provide an alternative to Google.

Huawei claims the new OS is faster and safer than Android, but primarily aimed at IOT devices. That said, it can be mobilised at a drop-of-the-hat, should the Android situation continue to deteriorate. Until the point of no-return, Huawei devices will continue to make use of Android.

“We’re entering a day and age where people expect a holistic intelligent experience across all devices and scenarios,” said Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s consumer unit.

“To support this, we felt it was important to have an operating system with improved cross-platform capabilities. We needed an OS that supports all scenarios, that can be used across a broad range of devices and platforms, and that can meet consumer demand for low latency and strong security.”

Currently, Harmony OS is more of a competitor to Google’s IOT focused OS, Fuchsia, but it is not difficult to see this was developed with mobile in mind also. This is the scale of the threat which is facing Huawei’s smartphone business unit.

Looking through the technical details, Yu claims the OS is safer due to the fact there is there is no root access available. Using external kernel services, the microkernel is protected by isolation, while the system also applies formal verification, a mathematical approach to spot vulnerabilities that traditional methods might miss.

As you can see from Yu’s statement above, Huawei is putting a positive spin on the development, though many will be able to read between the lines.

Over the last 12-18 months, the US has been aggressively attempting to undermine the fortunes and prospects of Huawei. Many have connected the White House’s propaganda to the on-going trade ware between the US and China, though the underlying reasons are irrelevant; the ripples of posturing are going to have negative impacts.

With regard to the launch of Harmony OS, Huawei’s entry onto the Entity List, effectively banning it from working with any US suppliers, was the most important development. This of course includes Google and Android.

Huawei might downplay the importance of this move, though the implications are significant. The firm would be able to continue using Android, it is open source after all, but if it is no-longer a Google partner it would not be entitled to feature and security updates at the earlier possible time.

Don’t listen to Huawei here, this is massive and would relegate the performance of its devices down the segment.

This is a major threat to the momentum being generated in the consumer business. Huawei smartphones are becoming increasingly popular, though if you remove the Android OS, software which probably grants the Chinese vendor credibility in some markets, the consequences could be swift and drastic. In creating its own OS, some of these concerns will be removed, security updates will be timely, but you have to wonder whether it will be any good.

The power of Android is not just brand credibility through association with Google, or timely security updates and product innovations, but it is really good. There is a reason Android killed off competition and overwhelmingly controls market share; it is the best OS available.

Not only will Huawei have to create an OS which is just as good as Android, but it will also have to create the supporting ecosystem. If there are no apps, services or products which are compatible with the OS, Huawei smartphones become no more useful than a doorstop.

It is a difficult one to predict whether the launch of its own in-house OS will actually work. Not only does it have to navigate the pitfalls of a new software launch, but it also has to combat the growing anti-China rhetoric.

Such is the reliance of todays consumer on smartphones, there only needs to be one problem for noses to be turned up at Harmony OS. Android is so reliable, why would consumers want to deal with problems, even if they are incredibly rare. Let’s not forget, Huawei’s heritage is in hardware and it has had a gluttony of software problems over the last few years; we suspect there will be a few blunders.

Anything short of perfect will be a threat to the Huawei smartphone. Consumers rarely like change, though a poorly performing OS might force newly acquired smartphone customers back to Android and rival devices.

That said, it is not difficult to imagine the Huawei OS alternative becoming a preference in China and Chinese-friendly nations. In such market, Chinese alternatives are preferred to US which can be seen with the rise of companies such as Huawei, Alibaba, JD.com, Baidu and Tencent. Using the Chinese domestic market as a vehicle to scale is a common technique for Chinese technology companies in recent years before casting eyes onto the international horizon.

This is of course not the first threat Google has faced in the OS market. Samsung attempted to branch-off with the launch of Tizen, while Windows Mobile was another challenge. Both of these OS’ focused on performance and security, but neither were effective enough to have any material impact on Android. Harmony OS is a different trial however.

Google might not be worried about losing market share in the Western markets, though in the emerging nations Huawei could find some traction. Not only are these nations which have better relationships with Chinese companies, but they present lucrative growth opportunities for Google. Should Huawei manage to launch the OS without major incident, we could be talking about three OS’ dominating the world not two.

Google points to security risk of Huawei ban, but what about commercial threat?

Google might have national security concerns about prohibiting Huawei from using the Android operating system, but it should also be worried about a potential threat to its market dominance.

If you are looking for a market with almost zero movement in terms of competitive threat, the OS segment is a prime example. With Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS, there is pretty much no-one else in the market worth considering. KaiOS has a fraction of the market, thanks to a focus on feature phones, while Nokia and Microsoft still have some legacy share, but realistically the duopoly of Google and Apple reign supreme.

That said, Huawei’s OS could prove to be a pain the Google’s side should all the pieces fall into place. It is of course a massive long-shot, but it is definitely a risk Google executives should be considering.

According to the Financial Times, Google has warned there could be some unintended consequences to the Huawei ban. With Huawei currently prohibited from using Android in any of its devices moving forward, Google is suggesting a rushed attempt to create an alternative could result in software bugs and an OS which is more susceptible to hacking. Huawei has already said it is progressing well with its own OS and should tensions between the US and China continue to rise, it will likely be debuted in the near future.

This is a risk but not something which is likely to concern the White House. It would not be a stretch to imagine the answer being ‘so what?’, if the Huawei OS has bugs that’s China’s problem. Google has reportedly approached the Commerce Department to request being exempt from the ban, allowing it to continue providing security updates to Huawei devices powered by Android, though it would seem these pleas have landed on deaf ears thus far.

Increasing the risk to national security is certainly an unintended consequence of Trump’s Executive Order to blacklist Huawei doing business with US firms, but there do seem to be more instances of friendly-fire each week.

During the immediate aftermath of the Huawei ban, several US firms were hit hard. US companies such as Xilinx, Skyworks Solutions, NeoPhotonics and Qorvo watched share price crumble away as they were effectively banned from engaging their biggest customer. Some have recovered slightly, but the damage has not been completely wiped out.

Another potential consequence to the ban is Huawei emerging on the other side of the conflict still intact. This could possibly be worst case scenario for the White House, as it would be a PR victory for the Chinese government and Huawei would be in a stronger position, no-longer dependent on the US. The OS market is one place US dominance could be notably challenged.

Huawei is currently the second-largest smartphone manufacturer in the world. This is down to a number of different factors, such as the price/quality comparison though its supremacy in the China market should not be underappreciated.

The China market itself might not be a massive concern to Google, as it is largely banned there, though other markets which are closely linked to China might be more of a concern. Android itself is an excellent springboard to profits for Google. Applications such as Gmail, Maps and Chrome as installed on devices as default, providing an outstanding link to monetization. As the second-largest smartphone manufacturer over the last few quarters, Huawei is a very good source of revenue for the Googlers.

If Huawei’s OS proves to be effective and it manages to convince international users that it is a brand which is worth persevering with, a third OS could enter the ecosystem. There are of course a lot of moving parts to consider, establishing trust with the consumer is going to be the biggest issue here as we suspect there will be some PR assault challenge the credibility of the OS and links to the Chinese government, but it is a realistic possibility. If it is anywhere near as good as Android, Huawei’s OS could gain market share and could chip away at Google’s profits.

That said, we can’t see Huawei making a significant challenge to Android’s dominance in the European markets, were the Huawei smartphone has seen good adoption trends, but there are others. Asia, for instance, or Africa, where Huawei’s cheaper devices may be more appealing than competitors. These are also nations which have largely managed to steer clear of being caught in the tension between the US and China.

As mentioned before, there is a lot which needs to go right for Huawei to gain a foothold and break the Android dominance around the world, but it is a realistic possibility, if only a long-shot. Usability and trust are two factors but developing the ecosystem would be another. The Google Play Store is a monstrous library of apps, and Huawei would have to offer something similar to be appealing to consumers.

Another unintended consequence is perhaps Huawei emerging as a more innovative and resilient player on the technology scene. By removing its reliance on US suppliers in certain areas of the supply chain, Huawei will be forced to move more capabilities in-house or search for new companies to plug the holes.

Huawei already had a sneak-preview of the damage which can be done through the US Entity List. ZTE was almost forced to extinction by the Trump signature on an Executive Order, which perhaps encouraged Huawei to invest more in HiSilicon, its own fabless semiconductor company based in Shenzhen. The more the White House forces Huawei to stand on its own, the more powerful Huawei could become.

The intended outcome of this action from the White House is surely to weaken China’s flagbearer in the telco and technology world, but if Huawei can ride the wave of adversity, it might just emerge as a much more powerful, innovative and influential player, free from any reliance on the US technology sector.

Qottab, Quindim or Quesito? Google releases Android Q beta

Every year Google releases a new version of Android, and while it is marginally entertaining to guess what sweetie it will be named after, it also provides a very useful roadmap for the future of mobility.

In controlling roughly 74% of the global mobile Operating System (OS) market share, Android is in a unique position to dictate how the ecosystem develops over the short- and medium-term. This year’s update appears larger and more wide-ranging than previous iterations, perhaps representing the significant changes to the industry in recent months.

“In 2019, mobile innovation is stronger than ever, with new technologies from 5G to edge to edge displays and even foldable screens,” said Dave Burke, VP of Engineering for Android. “Android is right at the centre of this innovation cycle, and thanks to the broad ecosystem of partners across billions of devices, Android’s helping push the boundaries of hardware and software bringing new experiences and capabilities to users.”

Privacy updates, gaming enhancements, features to accommodate for new connectivity requirements and addressing the foldable phone phenomenon, there is plenty for developers to consider this year.

Privacy as a product

New demands are being placed on developers around the world when it comes to privacy, but in truth, they have no-one to blame for the extra work than themselves.

This is not to say all developers have abused the trust of the consumer, but numerous scandals over the last 18 months and the opaque manner in which society was educated on the data-sharing machine has created a backlash. Privacy demands have been heightened through regulation and consumer expectations, meaning these elements are slowly becoming a factor in the purchasing process.

There are numerous privacy and security updates here which suggests Google has appreciated the importance of privacy to the consumer. Privacy could soon become a selling point, and Google is on hand with many of the updates based on its Project Strobe initiative.

Perhaps one of the most important updates here is more granular control of the permissions for individual apps. Users will not only have more control on what data is shared with which apps, but developers can no-longer request for consent for a catch-all data hoovering plan, while Google is also cracking down on un-necessary permissions. The team is updating its User Data Policy for the consumer Gmail API to ensure only apps directly enhancing email functionality have authorisation, while the same is being done for call functionality, call logs and SMS.

Data Privacy Survey

Source: GDMA: Global data privacy: What the consumer really thinks

Aside from the permissions updates noted above, users will also have more control over when apps can get location data. While some developers have abused the trust of users by collecting this data when irrelevant as to whether the app is open or not, users will now have the power to give apps permission to see their location never, only when the app is in use (running), or all the time.

There are other updates to the permissions side including audio collections, access to cameras and other media files. All of these updates represent one thing; privacy is a real issue and (theoretically) the power is being handed back to the consumer.

That said, Ovum’s Chief Analyst Ed Barton notes the critical importance of privacy features today, however, as Google could be considered one of the main contributors to the root problem, you must question how much trust the consumer actually has.

“It is noteworthy that privacy is something one might reasonably assume to have in most situations in modern life except in one’s digital life where the default expectation is that a vast digital platform knows more about you than your life partner and immediate family,” said Barton. “It is these circumstances which enables the concepts of privacy, personal data control and trust to be highlighted and used as marketing bullets.

“Privacy in something like an OS is meaningless unless you can trust the entity which made it so with Android Q the question, as always, is ‘how much do you trust Google’?”

Gaming enters the mainstream

Another major update to Android Q looks to target the increasingly popular segment of mobile gaming.

“Gaming remains one of the most popular genres on the app stores, while smartphones have allowed the industry to connect with the masses,” said Paolo Pescatore of PP Foresight.

“This has led to emergence of new games providers and a surge in casual and social gamers, while the arrival of 5G will open further opportunities for cloud based multiplayer games due to faster and more reliable connections and low latency. Mobile devices will be key in this new wave that also promises to bring virtual and physical worlds closer together providing users with immersive experiences.”

Capture

Source: KPMG: The Changing Landscape of Disruptive Technologies report

Here, there are two main updates which we would like to focus on. Firstly, Vulkan and ANGLE (Almost Native Graphics Layer Engine) to improve more immersive experiences. And secondly, improved connectivity APIs.

Starting with the graphics side, Android Q will add experimental support for ANGLE on top of Vulkan on Android devices to allow for high-performance OpenGL compatibility across implementations. The team is also continuing to expand the impact of Vulkan on Android, with the aim to make Vulkan on Android a broadly supported and consistent developer API for graphics.

In short, this means more options and greater depth when it comes to creating immersive experiences.

On the connectivity front, not only has Google refactored the wifi stack to improve privacy and performance, developers can request adaptive wifi in Android Q by enabling high performance and low latency modes. There are of course numerous usecases for low latency throughout the connectivity ecosystem, but from a consumer perspective, real-time gaming and active voice calls are two of the most prominent.

Gaming has slowly been accumulating more support and penetrating the mass market, and some of the features for Android Q will certainly help this blossoming segment.

Foldable phones; fad or forever?

Considering the euphoria which was drummed up in Mobile World Congress this year, it should hardly come as a surprise the latest edition of Android addresses the new demands of the products.

“To help your apps to take advantage of these and other large-screen devices, we’ve made a number of improvements in Android Q, including changes to onResume and onPause to support multi-resume and notify your app when it has focus,” the team said in the blog announcement.

There are of course a number of useful features which come with the increased real-estate, one of which is being able to run more than one app simultaneously without having to flick back and forth, as you can see from the image below.

Google Update

There are of course advantages to the new innovation, but you have to question whether there are enough benefits to outweigh the incredible cost of the devices. The power of smartphone and the astonishing tsunami of cash in the digital economy is only because of scale. With Samsung’s foldable device coming in at $1,980, and Huawei’s at $2,600, these are not devices which are applicable for scale.

Google is preparing itself should the foldable revolution take hold, but mass adoption is needed more than anything else. The price of these devices will have to come down for there to be any chance of these devices cracking the mainstream market, and considering recent trends suggesting the consumer is becoming more cash conscious, they will have to come down a lot.

The price might also impact the development of the subsequent ecosystem. Developers are under time constraints already, and therefore have to prioritise tasks. Without the scale of mainstream adoption, few developers will focus on the new form factor when creating applications and content. With little reward, what’s the point? Price will need to come down to ensure there is appetite for the supporting ecosystem to make any use of this innovation.

We’ve been complaining about a lack of innovation in the devices market for years, so it is a bit cruel to complain when genuine innovation does emerge, but a lot of work needs to be done to give foldable screens as much opportunity for widespread consumer adoption.

AI Pie is Google’s latest recipe for Android

Google has released the latest version of the Android operating system, named Pie, which unsurprisingly bigs up artificial intelligence credentials for the digital economy.

While it is the hottest buzzword of 2018, Google has been plugging AI for longer than most, arguably creating a global leadership position which few can compete with. The AI exploits date back to 2014 with Google’s acquisition of Deepmind, an organization which underpins a huge amount of success in the area, though Pie looks like it is AI-ed up to its virtual eyes.

“The latest release of Android is here! And it comes with a heaping helping of artificial intelligence baked in to make your phone smarter, simpler and more tailored to you,” said Sameer Samat, VP of Product Management for Android & Google Play on the company blog. “Today we’re officially introducing Android 9 Pie.

“We’ve built Android 9 to learn from you—and work better for you—the more you use it. From predicting your next task so you can jump right into the action you want to take, to prioritizing battery power for the apps you use most, to helping you disconnect from your phone at the end of the day, Android 9 adapts to your life and the ways you like to use your phone.”

This is the AI dream which we have all been promised, but the industry has largely failed to deliver to date; genuine personalisation. Whether Google can live up to the bold promises remains to be seen, but the world is changing in the right way.

For AI to be moderately successful in terms of personalisation and acting in an intuitive manner, the assistant has to be used. It’s all about data which is local and specific to the user, allowing the power of machine learning technology to adapt platforms and services. The last couple of months have seen users become more accustomed and comfortable with the idea, which sets the scene for the reality which has been built up in our minds.

There are of course the more complicated aspects of the AI, such as predicting your next task or managing diaries, but the simpler ideas are the ones which users might find the most useful in the first instance. Adaptive battery performance, or adaptive screen brightness are two features which will improve the performance of devices. Users might not even know any changes have taken place, but there is the potential to enhance the digital experience.

Of course, adapting the experience to the individual user is the image of AI which we have in our minds, and Google claims this is now possible. App Actions uses context and displays to predict what apps the user might want to use next, such as a news app is the smartphone detects you are on the way to the tube at 8am on a Tuesday morning. It might not be a gamechanger, but incremental steps forward are perfect when introducing new ideas, which could be deemed potentially intrusive by some.

Simplicity is the idea for the AI, and this has been rolled out throughout the display as well. With devices changing, Android needed to adapt as well, and soon enough navigating between screens, or searching for apps will become simpler. While we only have Google’s word to take on how good the operating system is right now, we do like the look of it. The Android team do tend to strike the right balance between usability and experience very well, and this looks to be the same.

First and foremost the update will be rolled out to Pixel devices, though devices that participated in the Beta program (Sony Mobile, Xiaomi, HMD Global, Oppo, Vivo, OnePlus and Essential) will get the Pie treatment towards the end of the year.

And of course…

Why not have a guess at what the next Android update could be named. Next up will be Q… this could be a tricky one…

Baidu rolls out another quarter of strong profit

Baidu has released financials for the last three months with its news product leading the charge for the Chinese search giant.

Total revenues stood at $3.93 billion, increasing 32% year-on-year, while mobile represented 77% of total net revenues, compared to 72% for the second quarter of 2017. The core business brought in $3.03 billion, a 28% rise, while net income was $967 million.

“We had another strong quarter in Q2 with search exhibiting robust revenue growth driven by AI-powered monetization capabilities and Baidu feed continuing strong traffic and monetization momentum,” said CEO Robin Li.

The potentially problematic news app, a similar proposition to the Facebook newsfeed, seems to have successfully negotiated regulatory landmines, reaching 148 million daily active users in June 2018, up 17% from the same period last year. While competitive offerings have been struggling to meet the censorship demands of the Chinese government, Baidu seems to have bowed suggesting there might be more successful numbers over the coming months. Competing video platform Bilibili was one which fell short of government expectations, leading to the app being temporarily removed from app stores by authorities.

The DuerOS, Baidu’s smartphone operating system based on an Android fork, had another successful period with the installed base reaching 90 million devices. Government officials might be keeping a close eye on the situation here, as a viable alternative to Android would be welcomed. AI investments across the Baidu business will improve capabilities here, as the team sign new partnerships with various different segments.

Baidu has now formed strategic partnerships with 20 global and domestic auto OEMs, including the BMW, Daimler and Ford. The autonomous vehicle space is a growing area, though other wins for the operating system are focused around the smart speakers. Not only does Baidu claim the DuerOS-powered Xiaodu Smart Speaker sold out 10,000 units within 90 seconds of its first two online sales, a partnership with InterContinental Hotels Group takes the smart speakers, and more importantly the OS, into the world of smart hotel rooms.

With the voice user interface set to become more important in the digital ecosystem over the next few years, DuerOS is certainly an area worth keeping an eye on.