In a blog post, Facebook’s Chris Marra and Daniel Weaver explains how Facebook optimizes its experience on Android by breaking up devices by year:
We call this new concept “year class” – essentially, in what year would a given device have been considered “high end” in? This allows teams around the company to segment the breadth of Android devices into a more understandable set of buckets, and as new phones are released, they’re automatically mapped into the representative year. For example, the Alcatel T-Pop I bought at a market in Mexico is immediately recognized as a 2010-class phone, despite its 2012 release. Overall, about two-thirds of the phones connected to Facebook are equivalent to something released in 2011 or earlier.
Year class allows teams to think about a handful of segments of the Android population, rather than every individual device. Using year class in conjunction with screen resolution, we can break down metrics to make decisions about why behavior shifts on different devices – is it performance, screen real estate, or something else? While the Android OS version is still useful for reliability and crash benchmarks, we’ve found year class to give us a much more accurate portrayal of how performance and behavior can vary between different devices.
In addition to analyzing data by year class, we are using it to roll out new product features. Using year class we shipped a better commenting UI to 2012 year class or better phones high-end devices while we worked to optimize it on older models. We also use it to power News Feed ranking, so that we don’t show as many video stories to phones that can’t play them smoothly, and prioritize showing you things that work best on your phone. Going forward, year class can help determine many other logic decisions around animation, how much content to load, and other element’s of the apps performance.
For the full blog post, click here.
Article courtesy of Inside Facebook
Just like how users can take photos taken with their phone and import them to Instagram, while cropping and adding filters, they can now do the same thing with video. The newest upgrade for Instagram will allow users to import video already on the phone, cut out the 15-second snippet they want posted, and add specialized filters.
Instagram also added a new feature to its iOS app: an image stabilizer:
There are few things more distracting than a crooked horizon in a photo. We’re happy to announce that we’ve developed a brand new technology that brings you straight photos instantly. When you take a photo with the in-app camera, you can now tap the new Straighten icon and your photo will correct to be level—it’s that simple. The straightening tool also includes a slider so you can rotate and adjust any photo—including ones imported from your photo library—as much or as little as you’d like.
Video capabilities have also been opened up to more Android users, as people running on the Ice Cream Sandwich platform can now record and upload video to the site.
Article courtesy of Inside Facebook
Anyone can shoot a good photo with Instagram. Directing a good video is a whole other ballgame. But until now there was an even playing field. Everyone had to shoot their mini-movies in the app. But Instagram just began allowing you to upload videos. That means pros can shoot on high-tech cameras, edit on a desktop, and post their masterpieces to Instagram to outshine your crummy amateur videos.
The new 4.1 version of Instagram for iOS and Android adds video support for Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, and one-touch photo straightening in IOS, but the big deal is video uploads. The app’s big competitor, Twitter’s Vine, seems to have allowed some brands to upload videos, but otherwise everyone still has to create within Vine.
Uploads will turn Instagram Video into a more serious art form but not necessarily a more unique one. The limitations of shooting videos in-app forced directors on Instagram and Vine to be creative and experiment. Now as long as it’s shorter than 15-seconds, they can post whatever they want to Instagram. They could patch together highlights of their old work, promos for their new stuff, or remix someone’s ripped YouTube video.
And video uploads this will fling open the door to brands. Many were likely shy about conveying their brand through low-production value clips. Now they can have big agencies ship them clips to publish. Many suspect video to become an advertising medium for Instagram, especially since the 15-second length matches that of shorter TV commercials. This option would equip advertisers to directly load in their TV spots without help from Instagram or Facebook.
Will we get to see more beautiful videos on Instagram? Sure. But will the average person be as inclined to post their off-the-cuff creations when they’re facing meticulously storyboarded, lit, and edited material? Maybe less so.
Instagram was launched with an emphasis on simplicity. By allowing creators to get complicated, it could divide the community, and send video novices packing for Vine’s amateur pastures.
[Image Credit: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez]
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Ever since the launch of Instagram for Video, there’s been one thing that was so obviously missing that we actually asked where it was during the announcement itself (well, during the Q&A afterward, at least): video importing.
Up until now, any video you wanted to push into Instagram had to be shot through the Instagram app. If you had something sitting in your camera roll already that you wanted to upload… well, bummer. No longer.
Instagram has just started rolling out version 4.1 of their app, an update that focuses on three things:
When we first asked Instagram’s Kevin Systrom about video importing, he gave two reasons for its absence: they were still working out how to best
handle editing, and they wanted people to be shooting Instagram videos through Instagram.
The problem with that last bit, though, is that it’s… not really how good (non-scripted) video happens. The best moments to share with video are the ones that you don’t expect; they’re the things that just so happen to occur while you’re recording, not because you’re recording. Capped at just 15 seconds, Instagram’s built-in video recorder isn’t very good at capturing these little bouts of serendipity.
The update should start rolling out to both Android and iOS users today, so keep your eyes peeled.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Google updated its Android version usage stats today, and for the first time Jelly Bean has pulled ahead as the most-used operating system. That’s probably been helped by a number of OEMs pushing out Jelly Bean updates to their handsets recently, including the AT&T Galaxy S2. Gingerbread is still a close second, however, indicating a lot of older devices are still in use.
Google provides monthly updates on OS version share and this one takes into account data collected (based on Google Play store usage) over a two-week period ending today, July 8. Jelly Bean has been approaching a majority share, but this is the first time it has passed it, thanks to a 32.3 percent share for versions 4.1.X, and a 5.4 percent share for versions 4.2.X. Ice Cream Sandwich, which was sandwiched between Gingerbread and Jelly Bean, is less popular than both with the next biggest chunk of 23.3 percent.
Jelly Bean is the most current version of the Android mobile OS, so this is good news both for developers and for Google. OS updates almost always bring new features for developers, but developers need the OS to actually be used by a large number of users before they can adopt those new features, and adopting those new features is what Google and other mobile platform operators will attract and keep new users.
Fragmentation is often cited as a big problem for Android, and Google has taken steps to address that, including expanding its Nexus program to include more devices. Both Samsung and HTC now offer their flagship handsets (the Galaxy S4 and HTC One) via Google’s own Play store, featuring “Google Edition” monikers that grant them updates in time with Google’s own Nexus line of devices, which is to say as soon as they become available.
That, combined with ongoing efforts to push updates out faster to eligible hardware via carriers, is helping Google make progress in terms of getting people on newer versions of the OS faster. I’d still prefer that every Android phone had the option to change it to a “Google Edition” quickly and easily, without expert technical knowledge, but maybe that day’s not too far off, if Google really wants to ramp up the speed of adoption of new OS versions.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Google felt it appropriate to highlight some of Glass’ specs earlier this week, but there’s much more to the company’s wearable display than just the 5 megapixel camera and its 16GB of internal storage. In case you were hankering for a taste of what else makes Google Glass tick, Android developer (and Glass Explorer) Jay Lee spent some time tinkering with his preview unit and managed to figure out what kind of hardware it has under the hood.
Lee managed to confirm that Glass runs Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich (CEO Larry Page noted during Google’s most recent earnings call that Glass “obviously” runs on Android), and also determined that it has a Texas Instruments OMAP 4430 chipset. In case you haven’t been keeping abreast of developments in the mobile chipset market, the OMAP 4430 was used in devices like the original Motorola Droid RAZR and Samsung’s 7-inch Galaxy Tab 2.0 — solid devices during their prime, but the chipset that powered them is far from new.
Sadly, some of the particulars are still shrouded in mystery — Lee wasn’t able to figure out the processor’s clock speed (the 4430 CPU can be clocked between 1 and 1.2 GHz), and the device only reports that it has 682MB of RAM, but Lee suspects the total is actually 1GB. Still, that’s not too shabby a spec sheet for a device that essentially lives on your face, and some recent reports reveal that the ambitious headset may be surprisingly too simple to root to. Liam McLoughin, an intern for Google’s Chrome team, recently tweeted to note that gaining root access to the search giant’s curious head-mounted display seemed simple in theory, a development that prompted Lee to go digging in the first place.
Meanwhile, Cydia founder and administrator Jay Freeman revealed on Twitter that he too had made progress in gaining access to the device, and even posted a picture to show off how far he’d managed to go. At this point we’ve already seen some companies embrace the Glass platform (Path and the New York Times immediately spring to mind) and others like Evernote are known to be crafting experiences for Glass, but some moderately powerful hardware and seemingly easy rootability could make Glass an even bigger hit for Android tinkerers.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Where is Twitter Music for Android? With today’s launch of Twitter’s new music discovery platform, the company has again made a move to sideline the install base of around half of the U.S.’s smartphone audience by failing to deliver a native application for users of non-Apple devices. It’s a strategy that still remains prevalent among tech companies today, both large and small. The companies’ reasons vary: for many smaller startups, there simply aren’t enough developers to build for iOS and Android simultaneously. Meanwhile for others, the iOS-first decision is more of a strategic play.
Twitter Music is now the second major new mobile application that Twitter has brought to Apple device owners first. The company previously launched its Vine video-sharing application as iOS-only in January, and it still remains exclusive to that platform today.
The interesting thing about Music’s launch – a move announced on ABC’s “Good Morning America” – is that Twitter is attempting to reach a mainstream audience with the app. In the U.S., that audience is just as likely to be on Android as iOS – if not more so, in fact. Google’s Android platform now accounts for 51.7 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers, while Apple’s iOS reaches 38.9 percent. (Source: comScore.)
The Android platform is also now surging past iOS in terms of smartphone sales. This month, Kantar reported that in the first quarter of the year, Android’s percentage of U.S. smartphone sales was 51.2 percent to iOS’s 43.5 percent.
Then there’s the worldwide market to think of, which Android now dominates.
If there are simply more users on Android, and the platform is growing, does it not follow that app makers should start addressing that platform as more than an afterthought at some point?
Maybe not just yet.
Apple device owners tend to do more mobile web browsing, as has been widely known for awhile. But they’re also increasingly likely to stay with apps over time – reports have shown that iOS users are more loyal to the apps they download, for instance.
But perhaps most importantly is the fact that some number of Android owners aren’t downloading mobile applications at all. Google tacitly acknowledged this fact earlier this month, when it made a change to the way it measures Android version adoption on its Developers site. The company explained that, going forward, it would only show data reflecting those devices that had visited the Google Play Store.
Or in other words, there are enough Android devices out there which are not visiting the Google Play Store to affect the data that developers most care about – people who might download their apps.
This “Android engagement” conundrum has been discussed for many months now. A number of theories abound. Some believe there are quite a few Android owners who simply don’t use their phones like smartphones. IBM’s Black Friday 2012 data seems to back this up. These users are phone-first, and “smartphone” second.
But Android’s install base and app-engagement patterns are far from being the only reasons for this ongoing trend of iOS-first on mobile. Ash Rust, a co-founder at the Y Combinator-backed VoIP and messaging startup SendHub, says his team made the iOS-first decision for other reasons.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, where many of these young companies like SendHub are based, a large number of the industry folks carry iPhones. “Up until recently, I rarely saw anything except iPhones in people’s hands,” says Rust. “That’s from our own team, other companies we’re friendly with, and friends and family,” he explains. “iOS was the best choice because we could readily get quick feedback from people we knew.”
That’s a problem that even a company the size of Facebook faces. It finally went so far as putting up posters begging employees to test Facebook on Android.
Rust also points out that iOS offers developers more revenue, too. The most recent data from app store analytics firm App Annie shows this to still be the case – as of last quarter, iOS apps earned developers nearly three times more revenue than those on Android. That’s a hard number for developers to ignore.
Lacking In-House Talent
Elsewhere in San Francisco, Ajay Kamat, founder of an iPhone app called Wedding Party, agrees that his region heavily favors iPhone. “When we started, most people on our team were iOS users, so we understood the platform well as consumers,” he says. “There are simply more developers with iOS experience in the community,” Kamat adds, noting that developers with Android experience are “very hard to come by.”
At Ness, another West Coast-based, mobile-first (and currently mobile-only) startup, the company is even putting Android development not second but third – behind a mobile-optimized website. Co-founder and CEO Corey Reese admits that part of the reason for this is that the company doesn’t have a full-time Android developer on staff – well, at least, not yet.
“I will say that amongst our engineering team, there’s a lot of interest in learning Android and experimenting with it – perhaps even more broadly than iOS when iOS was picking up steam,” he says. “A couple of years down the road, Android as a developer environment is going to be in a pretty strong place,” Reese predicts.
At 955 Dreams, makers of the popular Band of the Day iOS app, and more recently, event finder Applauze, the company’s iOS focus has also been, in part, because of their comfort and familiarity with developing on the iOS platform. “For us as a company, we’re still learning the core tenets of Android development and design. You can’t force these things,” proclaims CEO Kiran Bellubbi.
But he agrees that Android’s moment is coming, noting that it wasn’t until recently that the startup felt Android could offer its users a good experience. “Until Ice Cream Sandwich was released we couldn’t really use Android devices to do the kind of things that we needed to build Band of the Day or Applauze from an interaction design and execution point of view,” Bellubbi explains.
“Since Ice Cream Sandwich, the rate of improvement in the OS and in the associated devices has been fantastic and all serious developers will soon be considering both ecosystems at launch – if they are not doing it today, they will in the next year. This is inevitable,” he adds.
Big Names Initially Bypass Android
A number of high-profile apps have also made iOS their first home for new releases or major updates. In fact, that may have been to their advantage at times. For example, some believe that Instagram’s popularity, which led to its $1 billion acquisition by Facebook, had to do with its exclusive nature at first – you could only use Instagram on iPhone, that is. Today, nearly half of its 100 million users are on Android, however, which hints that everyone’s iOS-first strategy may have some faults; clearly, there is demand for quality apps among Android users.
Mobile magazine Flipboard was another big-name brand to start on iOS, first targeting iPad for its magazine-like form factor. But when it came time to move to smartphones, the company chose to extend its Apple user base with an iPhone app, instead of addressing both top mobile platforms at the same time.
“iOS and Android each have different strengths which lend themselves to different things,” explains Flipboard co-founder Evan Doll of his company’s decision. “iOS devices are more predictable in terms of screen sizes and capabilities, which is helpful when you’re building new functionality. As these different platforms and their capabilities evolve, I expect there will be firsts for all of them,” he adds.
Yahoo has also focused on iOS more heavily with recent app launches, debuting the revamped flickr for iOS first, and today’s gorgeous Weather app is again iOS-only. Greg Kumparak, who reviewed the app for TechCrunch, suspects that with Weather, there may even be technical hurdles to delivering that same experience on Android. “There are just a few little things I haven’t seen done on Android before,” he notes, referring to several technical touches he spotted in the app.
These little flourishes matter to those who take design seriously, like 995 Dreams or Wedding Party, for instance. “iOS makes it simple to do certain types of transitions and animations compared to Android,” Kamat tells us.
As for Twitter? While the company won’t reveal its Android strategy beyond saying the platform will be addressed “in time,” it’s likely suffering from all the same issues affecting other startups, too: adoption and engagement trends among Android users; a need for more developers; technical and design challenges; and more.
Android has come a long way since its debut. It’s a solid and promising platform for running apps. It’s in the hands of a lot of people. It’s growing. Now it’s time for the companies who build apps to catch up.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Remember that hefty leak from a few weeks back that pointed to a dramatic redesign for Google’s Play Store Android app? Well, in case you were still unconvinced, Google has confirmed that just such a facelift has been in the works, and that the new 4.0 version of the Play Store app will start rolling out to devices running Android 2.2 and newer some time today.
It would seem that Google’s big goal with this new redesign was to bring the Play Store in line with other prominent Android features — ever since its last major facelift, the Google Play Android app has been swathed in blacks and greys, with color highlights corresponding to different content types breaking up the visual monotony. At the time the shift in design made sense — Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich featured a colder, darker aesthetic than previous versions of Android and also relied on light blue UI flourishes. Services like Google Now and apps like Google Search have gone in a drastically divergent direction these past few months though, and the now the Play Store doesn’t look like the odd one out.
Much like what you’d see in Google Now, individual apps, songs, and books now live in discrete cards, and there’s a much greater focus on big, eye-catching images. Those dreary colors have been given the axe too in favor of a much lighter design that helps make all that content stand out even more. According to Google Play group product manager Michael Silinski, Google has also sought to improve the process of discovering Play Store content by lumping books, tunes, and apps into themed groups. Interestingly, that zeal for a better Play Store experience isn’t limited to the front-end: some 60,000 apps of dubious quality were removed from the Google Play Store back in February, which points to (among other things) a more concerned effort by Google to emphasize quality over sheer Play Store size.
Sadly, the update hasn’t hit any of the Android geegaws floating around my office, so this early demo video of the 4.0 release (courtesy of Droid-Life) will have to hold you over until then.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Is it because Android is the most popular smartphone platform in the world right now, or is it because it’s just fundamentally easier to attack? In any case, Google’s mobile juggernaut Android continues to be the world’s biggest magnet for mobile malware. According to a report out today from security specialists F-Secure, Android accounted for 79% of all malware in 2012, up from 66.7% in 2011 and just 11.25% in 2010. On the other side of the spectrum, Apple’s iOS, the world’s second-most popular platform for smartphones in terms of new purchases, remains one of the least compromised, with 0.7% of malware on its platform.
Symbian, whose market share is in rapid decline and is being left for dead by its former parent Nokia, is down to 19% of all malware, compared to 62.5% two years ago. F-Secure predicts that it will go the way of the dodo bird and become extinct in 2013, as users replace their Nokia handsets with Android devices. Meanwhile, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry and J2ME each accounted for less than 1% of threat families in circulation in the year.
Breaking down progress over the past year, Android’s malware record appears to have seen a particularly bad spike in Q4 2012. F-Secure notes that in the fourth quarter it accounted for a full 96% of attacks. In fact, according to its records, all other platforms except for Symbian (at 4%) didn’t appear to have any malware threat families received at all.
Holding these up to Q4 market analysis, these figures are not proportionate to market shares for current sales, but they are somewhat more reflective of what devices are in circulation today. In that sense, the shift between Symbian falling and Android rising is due to the fact that Android has been the biggest benefactor of Symbian’s decline.
“Malware in general has a parasitic relationship with its host,” writes Sean Sullivan, security advisor at F-Secure Labs. “As old Symbian handsets continue to be replaced by those with other operating systems, especially Android, Symbian malware dies off and will probably go extinct in 2013.”
In terms of what forms malware is taking, F-Secure says that 66% of detections were trojans (malware masked as something else). F-Secure believes that Google’s increased security prompts, which it introduced with the 4.2 variant (Jellybean), should help bring that number down. However, if you look at Google’s most recent stats on distribution, released this week, Android 4.2 is only at 1.6% — meaning that this make take some time to come to pass. (For the record, Gingerbread 2.3.3 and upwards remains the most popular in terms of distribution, at 44%, with Ice Cream Sandwich at number-two with 28%).
Another major problem continues to be dodgy SMS messages: F-Secure notes some 21 of the 96 Android threat variants come from premium SMS that encourages downloads and sometimes end up as repeat problems by way of subscription services to which users unwittingly become subscribed. Then, users don’t know about this until the charge comes up on their bill — if they bother to scrutinize that bill, that is.
Interestingly, F-Secure also notes that those releasing malware have become more sophisticated in their reasons for infiltrating devices. Specifically, there’s been a significant shift in terms of malware attacks becoming financially motivated over the last several years, with financial gains now well outweighing those attacks that have been made in the past. Why the shift? It may be because malicious hackers were still learning the ropes for how to infiltrate devices back in the day.
Or it could be something else: The rise in financial motivations also speaks to the fact that we as a population are using our devices for significantly more transactional services — and that makes them increasing targets for attacks aimed specifically at that fact. This is something that will eventually have to be squared with all the many ambitions and developments in the market today to turn our handsets into our default wallets.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch