Huawei all smiles with $1.5bn developer plug amid the chaos

At its Connect Conference in Shanghai, Huawei executives attempted to put themselves on the front-foot with a $1.5 billion commitment to lure developers into its computing platforms.

This is one of the more notable challenges the business will face if it has to shift over to new operating systems. The technology might be fantastic, but if there isn’t the developer community and application ecosystem to back it up, there is little value. This is a massive consequence of Huawei’s entry onto the US Entity List, banning it from working with US suppliers, and should not be under-estimated.

The smartphone is the most obvious area to discuss, but there are others such as PCs and the developing IOT ecosystem. If Huawei is banned from using popular operating systems in these areas, its own version, Harmony OS, will have to suffice. If Harmony OS is to succeed, it needs developers to create products and applications which are compatible with it. With the additional funds, Huawei is aiming to increase the pool of developers it works with from 1.3 million to 5 million.

Looking at the rumours with the latest flagship smartphone, the Mate 30, it has been suggested the device will be delivered without any Google applications pre-loaded on the device. We’ll all find out in a matter of hours, though Huawei seems to be getting around the ban by including an open-source version of the Play Store on the device. This is not a long-term solution for Huawei, but it might suffice while it works on making the Harmony OS software and ecosystem battle-ready.

This is of course only one element of the Huawei business strategy moving forward. It is anticipating aggressive growth in the ‘Intelligence’ segment, and it does appear its enterprise business is going to get a supercharge moving forward.

This would appear to be a very sensible move for Huawei, as while it has dominated the network infrastructure market and made significant progress for consumer devices, it is little more than an ‘also-ran’ for enterprise. With numerous businesses becoming increasingly driven by digital models and technology, as well as the telcos aggressively promoting the promise of connectivity for future fortunes, there is a significant opportunity for growth.

“In terms of Huawei’s investment, they’re equally important,” Rotating Chairman Ken Hu said. “In the past, we mostly talked about connections. Today I’d like to focus on computing.”

If you are talking about autonomous driving, astronomy, and weather forecasting, the demand for compute power is only going to increase. Intelligence is going to be embedded on an increasingly large number of products moving forward, not simply limited to the cloud. And soon enough, the computing ecosystem is going to have to be a lot more collaborative.

All of these areas offer a lot of promise for those who can create solutions, cost effectively, to enable businesses to make money in the digitally-defined economy. For Huawei, this means new products in the semiconductor market, shifting to a more virtualised business model, opening up hardware products for customisable solutions and creating an opensource ecosystem to back-up the business.

Anyone reading these comments from Hu might think the business has just given up on telecoms infrastructure due to pressure from the US. This will never be the case, but often enough pressure forces innovative companies to find new ways to make money. We suspect this is the case at Huawei.

Huawei reportedly reckons it has an Android ban workaround

At a recent trade show a Huawei exec indicated that there may be a way to enable its future smartphones to access Android apps despite Google being banned from working with it.

The goss comes from Android Authority, which attended the launch of the Huawei P30 Pro at IFA in Germany. At the launch the head of Huawei’s consumer business group Richard Yu apparently told reporters he has a cunning plan to get around the catastrophic consequences of not longer having google support for Android.

While Android itself is open source and anyone is free to install their own take on it, the Play Store and Google apps such as Gmail. Maps, etc are all licensed from Google and can’t be installed on a phone without that license. If and when the US stops suspending the sanctions that come with Huawei being put on its entity list, Google will be barred from entering into further licensing agreements with Huawei.

An Android phones without Google apps and the Play Store is not worth having. There are already signs of Huawei having to adapt to that eventuality, with the P30 Pro featuring the EMUI 10 user interface that is ‘based’ on Android 10. The extent to which it deviates from Android 10 to the detriment is unclear.

In reference to the imminent launch of the flagship Mate 30 smartphone, Yu said Huawei is working on a way of letting users install Google apps on the non-official version of Android. He even went so far as to say that the process would be quite easy for users, without going into details. Even if that’s true, however, with there being so little to choose between flagship Android smartphones when it comes to hardware specs, there would still be little incentive for punters to accept any user experience compromise, so even this hope may be forlorn.

Nokia found to be best brand for prompt Android updates

There is significant variation in the performance of the leading Android smartphone makers when it comes to updating Android, according to new research.

Counterpoint has crunched the numbers and concluded that among all Android handset brands Nokia (manufactured by HMD Global) is the quickest and best at rolling out new versions of Android to its users after Google has issued them. Samsung Xiaomi and Huawei also do a decent job of serving their customers on this matter, but after them there’s a significant drop off.

Counterpoint android update chart

“Operating system and security updates are an aspect of Android smartphones that get relatively little attention,” said Peter Richardson of Counterpoint. “In our experience researching the industry, we have seen a few brands focusing on this. And perhaps because manufacturers are not talking about it, consumer awareness is also low. It doesn’t appear among the ten features consumers say they care about most, in our research.

“Unsurprisingly, therefore, little effort is expended by the top manufacturers in focusing on regular updates to the operating system and device security, despite it being a critical element in the continued safe performance of the smartphone. Many of the key features including battery life, processor, camera and memory are linked to the performance of the underlying operating system. We believe it is important to the overall consumer experience and is likely to become more widely recognized as such.”

This is a good point – what incentive is there for Android smartphone makers, who already operate on very thin margins and see Google and other OTTs hoover up most of the subsequence service revenue, to invest in something that has little apparent effect on sales? The main commercial answer would have to be brand reputation and things like NPS. Presumably prompt updates to yield some ongoing brand benefits and at least increase customer loyalty to some extent.

“High-priced devices are often updated first, but having the latest software is as important to mid- and low-priced products as it is to flagship devices,” said Abhilash Kumar of Counterpoint. “We, therefore, looked at manufacturers’ performance at updating software across all price tiers. By this analysis, Nokia stands out, again, as the brand most likely to update its full portfolio quickly.

Xiaomi and Lenovo also rank high in this metric. Brands like Alcatel and Tecno are the laggards. This is because these brands have broad portfolios, mostly in the sub-US$200 segment, and the lifecycle of their models tends to be short. Their products often transition from launch to end-of-life in as little as six months, which means they have less incentive to provide long-term updates.”

It seems likely that most brands are fairly prompt in updating their flagship devices but many drag their feet when it comes to the cheaper ones. As well as the reasons detailed above there’s the fact that the cheaper a device the more commo0ditised it is, making anything other than the core hardware feature set even less of a factor in purchasing decisions. That makes Samsung’s performance especially impressive since it has such a large device portfolio across all price tiers.

Google exposes massive iPhone hacking operation

Google’s Project Zero security team has revealed a vulnerability in iOS that exposed large numbers of users to a hack that allowed the installation of a monitoring implant.

This kind of hack is called ‘zero-day’, the definitions of which vary, but which refers to a vulnerability in a piece of software that leaves it open to exploitation by outside actors. The stated aim of Project Zero is to make zero-day hard and it goes about doing so by trying to find such vulnerabilities. Apparently it always publishes these findings after giving the owner of the software time to address the vulnerability and Apple was told about this one back at the start of February this year.

“Now, after several months of careful analysis of almost every byte of every one of the exploit chains, I’m ready to share these insights into the real-world workings of a campaign exploiting iPhones en masse,” wrote Ian Beer of Project Zero in the blog post detailing the findings. “Let’s also keep in mind that this was a failure case for the attacker: for this one campaign that we’ve seen, there are almost certainly others that are yet to be seen.”

This is at best very embarrassing for Apple, which prides itself on the relative lack of malware on its close software platforms. The malware was able to install itself on iOS devices if they merely visited an infected website, with no manual download required. Upon successful installation the malware apparently granted the bad guys access to everything on the phone, including passwords, chat histories, etc.

Google is, of course, Apple’s sole rival in the mobile operating system space, so it does seem pretty convenient that it should be discovering iOS vulnerabilities and publicising them. Project Zero’s policy, it seems, is to publish all such findings after an appropriate delay to allow for patching, which it should be stressed Apple did immediately, but you have to wonder whether it’s quite as keen to bring Android’s failings into the public domain.

Apple given golden opportunity to crack India with relaxed rules

Apple has struggled to gain any sort of traction in the Indian markets to date, but new Government rules could perhaps open the door a crack.

India is a market which represents a significant opportunity for the major players in the digital economy. It has the second-largest population globally and a smartphone penetration rate of roughly 24%, but one of the few markets worldwide where smartphone shipments are increasing quickly. Thanks to certain market disruptions, India is currently under-going its own digital revolution, with the increasingly wealthy middle-class easing into the digital euphoria Western consumers have been accustomed to as the norm.

Year Smartphone penetration1 Average income (US $)2
2018 23.9% 2,020
2017 21.9% 1,830
2016 20.4% 1,690
2015 18.6% 1,600

1Statista 2World Bank Group

The evolution of India and the surge of the digital economy in the country is moving at a dramatic pace. The opportunity for profit is monstrous, but this is a tricky market to crack.

This is the conundrum which Apple is currently facing. It currently has less than 2% of market share across the country (which isn’t increasing), and premium prices are stifling any genuine ambition to increase this.

Indian consumers are gradually spending more on devices, though by the time Apple’s prices would be deemed palatable, other brands might have already developed a strong sense of loyalty; do not underestimate the power of the Android/iOS divide.

Brand Market share
Xiaomi 31%
Samsung 26%
Vivo 6%
Oppo 6%
Realme >1%
Apple >1%

Figures curtesy of Counterpoint Research – Q2 2019 shipments

However, there is a glimmer of hope. The Indian Government has this week announced it will relax rules which dictate how foreign companies can operate in the country. Fortunately for Apple, the easement will allow it to sell directly to customers through its eCommerce channels.

In by-gone years, a foreign company had to source 30% of its production locally to create a retail presence in India. This presence includes online channels. With such reliance on China for the manufacturing elements of the supply chain, Apple has always struggled to meet these requirements. As a result, Apple’s devices have been sold through local partners, who add a premium to an already premium product; it has struggled to gain a foothold in the market.

Another element tied to this is the brand story. The Apple Store is a presence in 25 countries around the world, not only presenting a direct-selling opportunity, but a chance to offer an experience to current and potential customers. This is a fundamental building block in the Apple strategy, which is all about creating a brand and an identity to cultivate customers into the loyal iLifers you see around the world today.

Thanks to new elements being considered by the Indian Government, Apple now meets the requirements and will allegedly begin selling products through its own eCommerce channels in the coming months. These new considerations take into account more iPhones will be manufactured in India, not only for Indian consumers, but for export to Europe as well. This is massive win for Apple.

In short, there are two massive benefits for Apple. Firstly, it can own the purchasing relationship with the customer, dictating the messaging and reducing the price while maintaining profit margins. Secondly, it can begin to create the Apple experience for customers to nurture the sense of loyalty which is so critical to the Apple success over the years.

Apple is an incredibly successful smartphone manufacturer because it creates excellent devices, but the work which has been done to build loyalty with its customer base should never be underestimated.

Think back to the 90s and 00s when you saw Apple adverts on TV. None of these adverts ever really discussed products in the way you would expect but talked about the Apple experience. A huge proportion of advertising today is designed around story-telling and brand experience, but Apple was arguably one of the first to do it and remains one of the best at building this experience.

The result of these campaign was an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality which persists today. Whether it pins iOS versus Android, or Mac versus PC, the split is very apparent, and crossover is very rare. Not only does this segmented approach maintain loyalty for the individual products, it presents significant cross-selling opportunities. How many iPhone users have an iWatch, an iPad or a Mac also? We suspect a high percentage.

Shifting people into, and keeping them in, the Apple universe can partly be attributed back to the brand marketing campaigns, the closed ecosystem and ownership of sales channels and brand experience. And now, it presents another massive opportunity moving forward; software and services revenues.

Period Net sales Software and services revenue Percentage of total
Q3 2019 53,809 11,455 21.2
Q2 2019 58,015 11,450 19.7
Q1 2019 84,310 10,875 7.7
Q4 2018 62,900 9,981 15.8
Q3 2018 53,265 10,170 19
Q2 2018 61,137 9,850 16.1
Q1 2018 88,293 9,129 10.3

Figures taken from Apple financial reports – USD ($) in millions

Apple CEO Tim Cook has made a big deal about software and services, and he is very right. It attracts recurring revenues without the R&D and manufacturing price tag. There will of course still be R&D, but smartphones are very expensive products to produce at the level Apple customers demand.

Generating revenues through AppleCare, iTunes, Apple Music, iCloud, Apple Pay, Apple Books, Siri, maps, search or TV subscription services becomes substantially more profitable once people are bought into the ecosystem. And as you can see from the table above, it is becoming an increasingly important facet of the financial spreadsheets.

With many users persisting with the OS they have become accustomed to, if Apple wants to make India a profitable market, it will have to start embedding itself in the minds and lives of Indian consumers today.

The Indian market is one which offers great prospects and profits for those who play their hands wisely. Up to now, Apple would have been written off by many industry commentators, but will changes to the rules, the door is slightly ajar. But that is all it is right now.

Apple will have to convince smartphone users it is a better alternative than the Android ecosystem, while also justifying the premium it traditionally charges for products. This will be a very difficult battle, but Apple is in a better position today than it was yesterday.

Cisco hits expectations once again, but disappoints on forecast

Cisco has released financials for the final three-month period of 2018, beating market expectations for the 21st consecutive quarter.

He might not be the most flamboyant of CEOs, but like Satya Nadella over at Microsoft, Chuck Robbins is letting the business do the talking. Since his appointment in 2015, the vendor has gone from strength-to-strength, with these results adding another feather to the cap.

Looking at the financials, total revenue for the three months reached $13.4 billion a 5% year-on-year increase, while net income was down 42% to $2.2 billion. Although the latter figure might shock some, CFO Kelly Kramer has suggested this is only a blip on the radar, with the hole attributable to US Treasury Regulations issued during the quarter relating to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

In terms of the numbers across the year, total revenues stood at $51.7 billion, up 7%, while net income was $13.8 billion, an increase of 9% compared to the previous year.

However, it is not all glimmering news.

“Let me reiterate our guidance for the first quarter of fiscal ’20,” Kramer said during the earnings call. “We expect revenue growth in the range of 0% to 2% year over year.”

Considering the ambitious plans set-forward by the business over the last few years, this would not seem to be the most generous of forecasts. The dampened forecast might well disappoint a few investors. What is worth noting, it that despite having strong and stable foundations, Cisco is not immune to global trends.

Looking at the telco customers, Asia is demonstrating weakening demand for Cisco. The China telco business is weakening, while demand in India has dropped off as aggressive network roll-outs in 2018 are not being replicated today.

In terms of working with enterprise customers, the team had two major software deals in 2018 which are “tough to compare against”, according to Robbins, while the Chinese and UK markets are demonstrating weakened positions thanks to events which are outside of the control of the team. No prizes for guessing what those events might be.

What is worth noting is that while it is easy to point the finger of blame towards China in the current political climate, take    this explanation from Robbins and Kramer with a pinch of salt. Cisco’s revenues in China might have declined by 25% this year, though the market only accounts for less than 3% of total revenues.

Cisco is no different from any other vendor in the telco space right now. It might be performing healthily, though it is reliant on telcos getting their act together and pushing network investments forward. The 5G bonanza to boost profitability in the telco ecosystem is yet to appear, though there are hints it might be just around the corner (as always…).

“I would say don’t anticipate that being a huge profit driver off of the 5G transition that’s going to come when they build more robust broader 5G infrastructure where they’ll deliver enterprise services and that’s going to come after they do the consumer side,” Robbins said.

“So, it’s a bit unclear when that will take place. I’d say we’re not modelling and don’t anticipate any significant improvement in this business in the very near term.”

This is where the 5G hype can be slightly misleading. There are of course telcos who are surging ahead, but these are only a fraction of the networks around the world. It is promising, but the market leaders or fast followers are not going to flood vendors bank accounts with profits.

There are numerous markets who are still in the testing phases of 5G, with the telcos aiming to figure out the commercial business model to make the vast investments in future-proofed markets work. When we start getting to the steep rises of the bell curve, this is where the profits will start rolling in.

That seems to be the message from the Cisco management team today; we’re in a healthy position, but don’t expect this quarter to blow anyone’s mind away. The 5G euphoria is on the horizon, but investors will have to wait just a little bit longer.

Samsung seeks to improve its productivity offering by cozying up to Microsoft

One of the more interesting parts of the Galaxy Note 10 launch was the announcement of a productivity partnership with Microsoft.

This seems to be more of a general increase in cooperation than anything substantively new. The aim of the move is to make it easier to switch between Samsung devices when using Microsoft stuff, such as the Office suite. Samsung does the full monty of devices that could be used for productivity, from laptops to smartphones, and reckons there’s untapped demand for switching between them as circumstances and whim dictate.

“We believe the mobile industry is on the cusp of a transformation, one in which individual devices give way to seamless, connected and continuous experiences, wherever we go,” said DJ Koh, head of IT & Mobile Communications at Samsung. “Open collaborations, like this industry-leading partnership with Microsoft, are instrumental in pioneering a new generation of mobile experiences. As new technologies like 5G become a reality, our partnership will play an important role in helping people live more fluid, flexible lives.”

“Microsoft and Samsung share a long history of innovation and collaboration, and today’s announcements mark the next stage in our partnership,” said Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. “Our ambition is to help people be more productive on any device, anywhere – and the combination of our intelligent experiences with Samsung’s powerful, new devices makes this a reality.”

“Samsung’s deepening partnership with Microsoft was arguably the biggest news at the event,” said Ben Wood of analyst firm CCS Insight. “Samsung Mobile’s relationship with Microsoft started in 2015 when it first offered a trio of Microsoft apps and OneDrive storage on the Galaxy S6. This was followed by a “Microsoft Edition” of the Galaxy S8 in 2017. Being able to wirelessly connect your smartphone directly to a PC running Windows at the touch of a button is a big step forward. The cooperation between Microsoft and Samsung is a potent combination. Samsung can deliver unrivalled reach in terms of hardware and scale, while Microsoft is the leader in enterprise apps.”

The announcement was made as part of the launch event for the Samsung Galaxy Note 10, Samsung’s Q3 flagship smartphone event. The point of the Note range used to be that it was significantly bigger than the Galaxy but that is no longer the case, so it looks like Samsung is trying to focus on the productivity side of the Note instead.

And they might as well, considering how difficult it is to generate any buzz around new smartphones that are usually little more than spec upgrades. Perhaps conscious of the fact that the regular Note 10 is just 0.2 inches bigger than the Galaxy S10 Samsung has decided to make a supersized option with the ‘plus’ suffix, which offers 6.8 inches of shiny smartphone action.

The other big differentiator for the Notes is the S Pen, a smart stylus that allows you to write on the device and that sort of thing. This ties in neatly to the productivity narrative, especially since the devices come with handwriting-to-text software and the S Pen even has some gesture UI functionality. As you would expect from the Microsoft announcement, the phones have quick links to Office apps.

At the same event Samsung Also launched a new laptop and some tweaks to its smartwatch range. As is often the case, at least some of Samsung’s strategy seems to be defensive, presumably in anticipation of whatever Apple is going to launch on the next month or two. Last year Apple revealed a supersized phone and has long focused on productivity. We’ll leave you with a vid of the launch event and some specs.

 

Galaxy Note10, Note10+ Specifications

    Galaxy Note10 Galaxy Note10+
Display 6.3-inch FHD+ 6.8-inch Quad HD+
Dynamic AMOLED Infinity-O Display, 2280×1080 (401ppi), HDR10+ Certified Dynamic AMOLED Infinity-O Display, 3040×1440 (498ppi), HDR10+ Certified
* Screen measured diagonally as a full rectangle without accounting for the rounded corners; actual viewable area is less due to the rounded corners and camera hole.
* Default resolution of the Galaxy Note10+ is full HD+, which can be changed to Quad HD+ in Settings.
Camera Rear: Triple Camera
– Ultra Wide: 16MP F2.2 (123°)
– Wide-angle: 12MP 2PD AF F1.5/F2.4 OIS (77°)
– Telephoto: 12MP F2.1 OIS (45°)
Rear: Quad Camera
– Ultra Wide: 16MP F2.2 (123°)
– Wide-angle: 12MP 2PD AF F1.5/F2.4 OIS (77°)
– Telephoto: 12MP F2.1 OIS (45°)
– DepthVision Camera: VGA
Front: 10MP 2PD AF F2.2 (80°) Front: 10MP 2PD AF F2.2 (80°)
Body 71.8 x 151.0 x 7.9mm, 168g
(BLE S Pen: 5.8 × 4.35 × 105.08mm, 3.04g)
77.2 x 162.3 x 7.9mm, 196g
(BLE S Pen: 5.8 × 4.35 × 105.08 3.04g)
* Galaxy Note10+ 5G weighs 198g.
AP - 7nm 64-bit Octa-core processor (Max. 2.8 GHz + 2.4 GHz + 1.7 GHz)
* May differ by market and mobile operator.
Memory - 8GB RAM with 256GB internal storage - 12GB RAM with 256GB internal storage
– 12GB RAM with 512GB internal storage
* May differ by model, color, market and mobile operator.
* User memory is less than the total memory due to storage of the operating system and software used to operate the device features. Actual user memory will vary depending on the operator and may change after software upgrades are performed.
Battery11 3,500mAh (typical) 4,300mAh(typical)
*Typical value tested under third-party laboratory condition. Typical value is the estimated average value considering the deviation in battery capacity among the battery samples tested under IEC 61960 standard. Rated (minimum) capacity is 3400mAh for Galaxy Note10 and 4170mAh for Galaxy Note10+. Actual battery life may vary depending on network environment, usage patterns, and other factors.
* Super Fast Charging compatible on wired with QC2.0, AFC and PD3.0
* Wireless charging speeds with Fast Wireless Charging 2.0 compatible with WPC and PMA
* Wireless PowerShare: Wireless PowerShare is limited to Samsung or other brand smartphones with WPC Qi wireless charging
OS Android 9.0 (Pie)
Network LTE Enhanced 4×4 MIMO, Up to 7CA, LAA, LTE Cat.20
– Up to 2.0Gbps Download / Up to 150Mbps Upload
* Actual speed may vary depending on market, carrier and user environment.
5G 5G Non Standalone (NSA)
*Requires optimal 5G connection. Actual spend may vary depending on market, mobile operator and user environment.
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax (2.4/5GHz), VHT80 MU-MIMO, 1024QAM
– Up to 1.2Gbps Download / Up to 1.2Gbps Upload
*May differ by market and mobile operator.
Bluetooth® v 5.0, ANT+, USB Type-C, NFC, Location (GPS, Galileo*, Glonass, BeiDou*)
*Galileo and BeiDou coverage may be limited. BeiDou may not be available for certain markets.
Payment NFC, MST
*May differ by market, mobile operator and service providers.
Sensors Accelerometer, Barometer, Ultrasonic Fingerprint Sensor, Gyro Sensor, Geomagnetic Sensor, Hall Sensor, Proximity Sensor, RGB light sensor
(BLE S Pen: 6-axis Sensor including Gyro Sensor and Acceleration Sensor)
Authentication Lock Type: Pattern, PIN, Password
Biometric Lock Types: Fingerprint sensor, Face recognition
Audio Stereo speakers and earphones: Sound by AKG
(In-box earphones: Type-C plug, hybrid canal type, 2way dynamic unit)
Surround sound with Dolby Atmos technology (Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus included)
Audio Playback Format: MP3, M4A, 3GA, AAC, OGG, OGA, WAV, WMA, AMR, AWB, FLAC, MID, MIDI, XMF, MXMF, IMY, RTTTL, RTX, OTA, DSF, DFF, APE
Video MP4, M4V, 3GP, 3G2, WMV, ASF, AVI, FLV, MKV, WEBM

Microsoft has also been a member of the eavesdropping gang – report

Microsoft contractors have been listening to Skype and Cortana conversations without the full knowledge and consent of the apps’ users, claims a report.

We were almost immediately proved wrong when we said Microsoft, in comparison with Apple, Google, and Amazon, “fortunately has not suffered high profile embarrassment” by its voice assistant Cortana. Motherboard, part of the media outlet Vice, reported that Microsoft contractors, some of them working from home, have been listening to some Skype calls using the app’s instant translation feature, as well as users’ interactions with the Cortana.

Motherboard has acquired audio clips, screenshots as well as internal documents to show that Microsoft, just as its peers, have been employing humans to constantly improve the software algorithm and the quality and accuracy of the translations and responses. Also similar to the other leading tech companies that run voice assistants, Microsoft is ambiguous in its consumer communication, lax in its policy implementation, and does not give the users a way to opt out.

“The fact that I can even share some of this with you shows how lax things are in terms of protecting user data,” the Microsoft contractor turned whistle-blower, who supplied the evidence and decided to remain anonymous, told Motherboard.

“Microsoft collects voice data to provide and improve voice-enabled services like search, voice commands, dictation or translation services,” Microsoft said a statement sent to Motherboard. “We strive to be transparent about our collection and use of voice data to ensure customers can make informed choices about when and how their voice data is used. Microsoft gets customers’ permission before collecting and using their voice data.”

“Skype Translator Privacy FAQ” states that “Voice conversations are only recorded when translation features are selected by a user.” It then goes on to guide users how to turn off the translation feature. There is no possibility for a customer to use the translation service without having the conversation recorded. Neither does the official document say the recorded conversations may be listened to by another human.

Due to the “gig economy” nature of the job, some contractors work from home when undertaking the tasks to correct translations or improve Cortana’s response quality. This is also made obvious by Microsoft contractors’ job listings. However, the content they deal with can be sensitive, from conversations between people in an intimate relationship, to health status and home addresses, as well as query records on Cortana. “While I don’t know exactly what one could do with this information, it seems odd to me that it isn’t being handled in a more controlled environment,” the whistle-blower contractor told Motherboard.

The report does not specify where the eavesdropping they uncovered took place, but the line in the Microsoft statement that “We … require that vendors meet the high privacy standards set out in European law” can’t help but raise some suspicion that the practice could run afoul of GDPR, the European Union’s privacy protection regulation.

At the time of writing, Microsoft has not announced a suspension the practice.

Huawei Android alternative set to go live

Huawei has been forced to accelerate the development of its own smartphone operating system by the threat of having Android support taken away.

Arguably the most crippling piece of collateral damage inflicted on Huawei as a result of it being the main proxy in the Trump vs Ping battle of wills was the announcement by Google in May that it might have to stop supporting Huawei Android smartphones as a result of it being put on the entity list, which strictly prohibits US companies from doing business with anyone on it.

Android is the only game in town for all smartphone makers apart from Apple. As Amazon discovered a few years ago, there is zero market demand for even a forked version of Android that doesn’t provide access to the Play Store – something that Google has in its power to take away if it an Android OEM fails to play by its rules.

So none of them would willingly repeat Amazon’s mistake, but Huawei may have that decision taken out of its hands. If that happens even a rubbish OS is better than nothing and Huawei wasted little time in leaking the existence of its own OS soon after the Google announcement.

Now we have Chinese state-run publication Global times quoting anonymous sources as saying this HongMeng OS is set to be released at Huawei’s developer conference later this week. If this does happen we’ll presumably get some choreographed screen-shots, Jobsian superlatives and defiant rhetoric.

Or maybe not. Before we get too carried away it should be noted that HongMeng seems to have originally been intended as an embedded/IoT OS and that Huawei will only use it in smartphones if forced to. We’re led to believe that we’ll start seeing it in tellies before long and that, if necessary, will debut in cheaper smartphones sold in China towards the end of this year.

With all due respect to Huawei and its developers it’s very hard to imagine them coming up with any kind of OS that users would consider an acceptable alternative to Android. It might just be able to get away with it in the Chinese entry-level market, where compatibility with just a few Chinese apps might suffice, but for everyone else Android is a deal-breaker.

Android to grudgingly offer search choice in Europe

As part of its ongoing bid to get the EU off its back Android will give European users a choice of default search provider from next year.

Google was fined €4.3 billion a year ago for abusing the dominant position Android holds in the smartphone market. By March of this year it hadn’t really done much to rectify the situation so the European Commission thought a further €1.5 billion fine might strengthen its resolve. This resulted in a vow from Google to offer more choice of browser and search engine.

Now the internet giant has proudly announced that when an Android device is first started up in Europe it will offer a choice of default search providers. It won’t but this very simple feature into effect until next year for some reason and there are a few other strings attached.

The main one is that all the other wannabe Android search providers will have to pay a fee every time someone chooses them as the default search provider instead of Google. The more they’re prepared to pay, the better chance they will have of being included as they will have to bid against each other for inclusion, with auctions conducted on a country-by-country basis and a maximum of three alternatives allowed.

There is a bit of a prisoner’s dilemma for the other search providers, however, as if none of them bid Google still has to offer up three alternatives, which it will pick at random from those that have applied for inclusion. So if they all hold their nerve there’s a chance they could get included for free. Of course there’s always the possibility that the EC will decide Google attempting to profit from its remedial measures is too cheeky and demand it doesn’t charge. Let’s see.