Apr 10, 2011

Google tightening control of Android, insisting licensees abide by 'non-fragmentation clauses'?

A storm seems to be brewing over the realm of Android development. Bloomberg's Businessweek spies have received word from "a dozen executives working at key companies in the Android ecosystem" that Google is actively working to gain control and final say over customizations of its popular mobile OS. That might not sound unreasonable, and indeed Google's public position on the matter is that it's seeking to stabilize the platform and ensure quality control, but it does mark a major shift from where Android started -- an open source OS that was also open to manufacturers and carriers to customize as they wish. Not so anymore, we're told, as apparently Mountain View is now demanding that content partnerships and OS tweaks get the blessing of Andy Rubin before proceeding. The alternative, of course, is to not be inside Google's warm and fuzzy early access program, but then, as evidenced by the company recently withholding the Honeycomb source code, you end up far behind those among your competitors who do dance to Google's pipe.

Things have gotten so heated, in fact, that complaints have apparently been made to the US Department of Justice. They may have something to do with allegations of Google holding back Verizon handsets with Microsoft's Bing on board, ostensibly in an effort to trip up its biggest search competitor. Another major dissatisfaction expressed by those working with Android code is that Google needs an advance preview of what is being done in order to give it the green light -- which, as noted by a pair of sources familiar with Facebook's Android customization efforts, isn't sitting well with people at all. Google and Facebook are direct competitors in the online space and it's easily apparent how much one stands to gain from knowing the other's plans early. As to the non-fragmentation clauses in licenses, Andy Rubin has pointed out those have been there from the start, but it's only now that Google is really seeking to use them to establish control. The future of Android, therefore, looks to be a little less open and a little more Googlish -- for better or worse. As Nokia's Stephen Elop puts it:

"The premise of a true open software platform may be where Android started, but it's not where Android is going."

Google working on a face recognition app that leads to your personal info? (update: Google says 'no')

Before we all get in a huff about this, Google has been very eager to point out that the facial recognition app it's developing will work on a strictly opt-in basis. That means if you don't want it to scan all of Facebook, Flickr and the rest of Google's vast hoards of internet knowledge to find you, identify you, and collate your name, phone number and email address into a handy data sheet, it won't. Okay? So relax now, everything's fine. Seriously though, Google's latest research venture sounds like a dashing stride into a minefield of privacy concerns as it aims to use people's faces to instantly identify them and provide any salient info about them. Project leader Hartmut Neven, whose company Neven Vision was gobbled up by Google in 2006, says the team is being very cautious in how it addresses people's rather apt apprehension, but he insists there's actually great value in having a face-recognizing and data-mining app. Great value for the app's user, perhaps, but we'd rather just stick to business cards, if you ask us.

Update: Google has reached out to clarify that there are no plans to introduce functionality of this sort yet, not without "a strong privacy model in place." More importantly, however, the linking of facial recognition to personal data is described as "inventions of the reporter" rather than something the company's actively pursuing.

Amazon said to be considering NFC-based mobile payment service

As you may be aware, Amazon does actually already make it easier for you to shop at places other than Amazon.com with its Amazon Payments service, and it now looks like it might even be thinking about expanding things to brick and mortar stores as well. More specifically,Bloomberg is reporting that Amazon is exploring a mobile payment service based on NFC technology, which would let you pay for items and receive things like loyalty points using nothing other than an NFC-equipped cellphone. Not surprisingly, Amazon is also said to be considering some other features that would send folks back to Amazon.com -- Bloomberg gives the example of someone shopping for jeans in a retail store who can't find the right size, and says that they could simply scan the jean's tag to order a pair online. Details are otherwise a bit light, and the service is apparently still not quite a sure thing, although a person familiar with the matter says Amazon will decide whether to go forward with it or not "in the next three to five months."

Sony CEO casually mentions he's supplying cameras to Apple

Sony CEO Sir Howard Stringer reportedly let slip that his company is producing camera for the next batch of iPhones and iPads during a public interview with the Wall Street Journal. Traditionally, Apple's sourced its sensors from OmniVision, including the delightfully backside-illuminated 5 megapixel CMOS unit you'll find in the iPhone 4, but since Sony too has BSI tech and OmniVision has reportedly encountered delays, your next portable Apple product might house a Sony Exmor R sensor like the one we admired on the Xperia Arc. Mind you, that may not end up actually happening, because of the context in which Sir Howard revealed the news -- according to 9 to 5 Mac, he said that the factory producing sensors for Apple was affected by the Japanese tsunami. Oh well.

Android's in-app billing makes a dent: Dungeon Defenders free on Android Market

Dungeon Defenders: First Wave cost $3 when it first came out. This week, the iOS version will cost you ninety-nine cents. But if you want to play the Unreal Engine-powered tower defense game today, you can have it for free -- developer Trendy Entertainment is now leaning on Android's new in-app billing systemto pay for the whole thing. We can't give Trendy all the credit, of course, as Glu Mobile's Gun Bros and Tapulous' Tap Tap Revenge 4 are doing the same thing, but to our knowledge both of them were free to play from day one. Free-to-play gaming has been a controversial proposition in the console and PC gaming space -- most publishers would just like to sell a game once, and call it a day. On phone, however, where apps are expected to be cheap, it could indeed make more sense to charge users for items and upgrades than to have users "buy" the game. Either way, we penny-pinchers are pleased as punch with the idea.

Spice Mobile's Popkorn handset touts built-in projector, 1080p unlikely

We're big fans of new kit splashing down close to home, but there's a certain intrigue attached to handsets hailing from faraway locales. So when a loyal reader tipped us off to Spice Mobile's M-9000 Popkorn, a candybar phone from India featuring a built-in projector, we understandably took notice. Originating from the land of saffron for 6,900 rupees (approximately $158), its showcase feature allows users to project broadcast television onto the wall -- not exactly an ideal TV replacement, but it'd do in a pinch. Additionally, designers integrated live and scheduled recording of FM radio for those who'd rather listen in. Conversely, the M-9000 is a woefully dated phone, held back in the ages of analog TV, GPRS and Edge networks. No specs were noted on the projector's resolution, though given an internal 2.4-inch display at 320 x 240, we speculate its splay is one only Mr. Blurrycam could appreciate. Much like India itself, the Popkorn is an apt representation of the past and future, held together as one. Perhaps that's why we feel such fond sentiment for this little guy -- check out Spice's entire portfolio at the source.

Leaked K-Touch W700 bringing Tegra 2 to China Unicom, abandons hope of affordability

Chinese phone manufacturer K-Touch has set out to prove domestic manufacturers are not solely KIRF in their intentions. Taking a huge leap into the high end, China Unicom's WO network will soon be graced with the W700, a Tegra 2 beast that's certain to instigate a double-take at China's design ambitions. As for specs, look for a 3.8-inch, 480 x 800 capacitive screen, 5 megapixel shooter on the back, (0.3 megapixel up front), and 512MB of memory keeping everything in check. K-Touch has previously dipped its toes into Android's currents with its more pedestrian W606, but this appears its first attempt a Froyo release. This powerful slab is set to retail for HK$4,200, or approximately $540 in actual money. Looks like theOptimus 2X is finally getting the company it deserves, eh?

HTC invites journalists to 'see what's next' on April 12th

 Good old HTC is cooking up a little somethin' somethin' for an April 12th launch in London town, for an event kicking off at 1.30PM BST or 8.30AM EST. While consulting our solar calendars, we noticed that's when Microsoft's MIX 2011 developer gathering is also getting started, but we're sure it's just a coincidence and HTC isn't about to spring a battery of new Windows Phone 7 devices on us. In fact, if you stare at the invite's image long enough, you might just convince yourself you're looking at a bulging smartphone screen, which could indicate we're talking about the EVO 3D's European launch. You never know with these things. Whatever happens, we'd advise circling the date and making sure your popcorn supplies aren't running low.


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