Tag Archive | "android 4.0"

Chrome for Android Ups the HTML5 Ante; Now Scores Highest of Any Mobile Browser

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Chrome Beta for Android phones and tablets was launched just last week by Google. Unfortunately, it’s restricted to Android 4.0 and beyond, which means in all likelihood, only about 1% of you currently have access to it. Although the default Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich browser is Chrome-like in many ways, the Chrome Beta brings the Chrome aesthetic to the Android platform along with an emphasis on synchronization and a big boost to web-standards compatibility.

In addition to syncing your bookmarks from desktop to mobile and back, Chrome for Android also lets you open tabs on your phone or tablet that are currently open on your computer. Unfortunately, this isn’t a two way street (you can’t access tabs currently on your phone/tablet from the desktop browser). You can also command pages to open on your phone using the Chrome to Mobile Beta extension, although this feature has always been possible with the older Chrome to Phone extension which only requires Android 2.2+ to use.

With Chrome for Android, your familiar omnibox comes with you as well. If you frequently visit a site through Chrome on your desktop, your omnibox will pick up on those queues on your mobile as well, helping you get to the site you want more quickly. There’s also incognito browsing on Chrome for Android, but this feature is present in the default browser as well, so it won’t be anything new if you’re already on Android 4.0+.

Chrome for Android actually makes perhaps its biggest stride in a mostly invisible, but utterly important area: web compatibility. Just the other week I published a story showing which mobile browser had the best compatibility with the still-evolving  HTML5 standard. At the time, RIM’s in-development browser was at the top of the list with a score of 329 from HTML5test.com, while the highest scoring currently-released browser was mobile Firefox (available for multiple versions of Android) with a score of 313. Although Chrome for desktop has long led or been consistently among the top most compatible HTML5 browsers, the default browser on Android was actually far behind the curve with a score of only 256 for the Android 4.0 ICS version of the browser, and just 182 for the Android 2.2/2.3 version of the browser which the vast majority of smartphones are running.

With the release of Chrome for Android, Google has make a significant improvement to HTML5 compatibility over the default browser, improving by 87 points over the Android 4.0 ICS browser and a whopping 161 points over the Android 2.2/2.3 version. At 343 points, Chrome for Android now stands as the #1 most compatible HTML5 browser. This isn’t quite as high a score as the desktop counterpart, which currently scores 373 in the test, but it’s a good sign of things to come.

Chrome for Android uses the same rendering engine as the default Android browser as far as I can tell, so you likely won’t see any major performance gains (although I am noting a ~200ms improvement in Sundspider between the default browser and Chrome). However, the user interface is more interactive and offers many improvements over the default browser (especially if you’re using the pre-ICS browser). Another new feature is a link preview box which automatically pops up when Chrome is unsure which link you’ve clicked (where there are many links close together). You’ll see a little box pop up which magnifies the links and makes them easier to click. This is handy, but half the time I can’t even get it to come up on purpose which makes me question how well they are able to detect when it will be needed.

I’ve got the Galaxy Nexus on hand and I’ve been trying Chrome for Android since it came out. While I’ve got issues with a few user-interface inconsistencies and a stalling omnibox (hopefully to be fixed post-beta), it’s undeniable that Chrome for Android can provides a much richer and more ‘hands-on’ experience thanks to a rethought UI.

I don’t have a tablet running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich handy so I haven’t been able to get a feel for Chrome for Android in that form. Fortunately, our pal Ritchie from Ritchie’s Room has the Asus Transformer Prime (now upgraded to Android 4.0 ICS) and put together a great video showing what the experience is like (his written thoughts on the browser are here):

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79x67bjZGtA

As you can see, it looks very much like Chrome on the desktop. This is a great thing because it really extends the Chrome browser experience across multiple platforms; not just in terms of synced bookmarks, but also in look and feel. Imagine how close to a desktop experience you’d get if you were running Chrome for Android on a tablet hooked up for use as a desktop computer!

One thing I wish Chrome for Android would do is sync your ‘Most Viewed’ sites that are shown when you open a new tab. At the moment, the ‘Most Viewed’ section exists on Chrome for Android, but it only considers sites that you’ve viewed on your phone, not those on the desktop as well. This may be intentional (as one might browse differently when on desktop or mobile), but it also might be attributable to the ‘Beta’ tag currently adorning this initial release of Chrome for Android. Also not currently functioning in the browser is Flash. Again, this might be a beta thing, or perhaps Google is putting the final nail in the coffin.

It’s unclear if Google intends to eventually turn Chrome into the default browser for Android, but I think you’ll agree with me in saying that it would make a lot of sense. The boring default browser has long lacked any thoughtful tab management or much of a user interface; Chrome for Android feels like a big (overdue) step in the right direction. It would be odd if Google maintained two separate mobile browsers for Android, but it isn’t outside the realm of possibility — it likely depends upon the organization and cooperation of the Android team and the Chrome team within Google.

If Google treats the Chrome Beta like most products they’ve ever labeled with ‘beta’, be prepared to see that beta tag for years to come!

Using the Galaxy Nexus as a Desktop Computer [video]

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As a long time UMPC (Ultra Mobile PC) user, having a single device that could function as a mobile companion and a desktop computer has been a long time dream. For years I used Sony’s excellent UX180 UMPC to facilitate this sort of usage, but cramming a full desktop OS into a handheld package was not a solution that could work for the mainstream. Trying to scale from big to small proved to be difficult for battery life and control schemes. In the end the UMPC never reached out of the niche category. The dream, however, has lived on.

Could Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich be the OS that not only bridges the gap between smartphone and tablet, but also extends to the desktop?

It seems that scaling from small to large may be a better approach for the computer-as-a-desktop paradigm, as is evident from this video demonstrating such usage with a Galaxy Nexus hooked up to a large monitor, wireless keyboard and trackpad:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_–zcmqIyRI

If the demonstration above isn’t a compelling look at where the future of mobile computing could lead, I don’t know what is!

Seeing this really reawakens that dream of having a single device that can scale gracefully across multiple use-cases. Chippy calls this sort of multiple-scenario functionality ‘High Dynamic Range Computing‘ (HDRC); among other challenges, he warns that the industry may resist supporting HDRC because they want us to continue to purchase multiple devices instead of just one.

The author of the video makes a great point — this is already a pretty good experience, but it’s rarely even touted as a feature of the platform (maybe that’s some of the resistance coming into play).

We’ve seen similar multi-scenario computing with Android devices before. The Motorola Atrix has an optional ‘lapdock’ which gives the user a large screen and full keyboard, and even a full build of Linux Firefox to use. Alternatively, the Atrix could be hooked up to a dock with HDMI output for use with a full monitor. Though less broad in scope, Asus is leading the way with the ‘smartbooks’ form-factor by offering detachable keyboards to their line of Transformer tablets.

If Google started to push this sort of usage, they could give all Android users HDRC functionality which would provide a productive environment when the device is hooked up to the right peripherals. It seems like all of the core functionality is already built into Android. Google could get an important upper-hand on Apple with this strategy as Apple would likely shy away from this sort of power-user feature.

What’s your take on HDRC with Android devices? Is this something you’d like to see further developed, or would you rather keep your productivity and your smartphone consumption separate?

The State of Android Tablets in 2011. A Survey

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At the beginning of the year, if you would have told me that, by the summer, there would be a dozen different Android tablets available for order from reliable, first tier manufacturers, I would have told you to get outta town. We were likely all desensitized to the constant stream of news that seemingly had the same message: “Company X announced the Y Tablet today. It features blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah. No information was released on a launch date or pricing.” It had gotten to the point that I immediately went to the bottom of any announcement of a tablet-device, and if it had the standard blurb about no launch date or word on pricing, I did not read the article.

Read the full story

Nokia: More Relevant in the US Than Ever (Maybe)

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Nokia has only been relevant for me once in my smartphone life, and that was when I was overseas. Since returning stateside, I have not given Nokia news more than a miniscule glance as I pore over the day’s tech reports. In fact, I have not honestly cared about a Nokia phone release since the mid-90s, when they were one of the top name brands in the US. Until this year that is. Nokia has become relevant again, although not quite in the way that you might think. And while their partnership with Microsoft may be doing a little-bit to correct their sky-diving financial position, I question whether Redmond is doing the best thing overall for increased adoption of Windows Phone.

Before we continue on with the editorial, let’s hit some of the facts of the last week’s announcements. At Nokia World 2011, Nokia introduced two phones that are expected to eventually make their way to US carriers. They are the Nokia Lumia 800 and 710. The latter has a 3.7 inch display with a resolution of 480×800, a 5MP camera that can shoot 720p video, weighs in at 4.4 ounces, has 8GB of flash storage, 512MB of RAM, runs on the Qualcomm MSM8255 chip, which is a 1.4GHz single-core CPU, and communicates on GSM bands.

The Lumia 800 also has a 3.7 inch display, a high resolution 8MP camera, weighs in at 5 ounces, has the same 480×800 resolution on an AMOLED display with Gorilla Glass, 16GB of storage and 512MB of RAM, and an identical processor…in fact, much between the two phones is identical.

Back to the editorial. There are a few things I see as positive about Nokia-Soft’s announcements. Kudos to them for getting the product out on time. We did not need another smartphone-delay storyline to track across months of PR apologies. And the big thing? People are talking about Nokia again, and not only in negative terms. At least not entirely.

Nokia needed to hit one of the park last week at Nokia World, but there are a few areas where these announcements fall well short of that. The announcement of these two phones, to me, is more like a “we’re still hanging in there inch level of effort. It feels very analogous to the Palm Pre release, which offered some compelling potential. But from the announcement of the Pre through the first several months up to release, I felt like I was watching a once great boxer taking jabs in the ring, wobbling, unable to put his hands up and protect himself, but still able to remain standing and even dodging a jab from time to time. But I knew that the other guy was eventually going to land a haymaker that the former champ would just not be able to take.

I get the same sense from the Nokia announcements last week. Maybe the better analogy would be watching a once great boxer through the last few bouts of their career. They keep losing, but in each bout there is a round or a few moments when you think they are on the road back, before they finally succumb each time. While the Lumia product line shows promise, and seems to offer a steady, work-horse level device, neither of the two devices are game-changers. Nokia is in the same position that Android tablet-makers are. They cannot afford to bring a device or devices that are within arm’s reach of the current benchmark products, and offer them at the same price. While there is no pricing information on either of the Lumia devices, I cannot see them being offered at less than $199 and $149 price points for the 800 and the 710 respectively. I believe this based on the pricing of Nokia’s handsets in the past within North America, and the fact that, for some reason, they have struggled to land on carriers with subsidized prices. The Nokia Astound debuted back in April on T-Mobile at one of the most affordable release prices for a Nokia smartphone in North America ever — $79.99. But I do not see Nokia being able to match that pricing for either one of these phones. If they come out at or near the same $199 price point as many premium Android handsets or the $199 iPhone 4S model, when the Nokia phones do not have front-facing cameras or equally high resolution screens, their ability to compete will be sorely lacking.

If Nokia can get the Lumia 710 down to a $99 price point, and slug it out against low-end Android phones, then maybe this maneuver has a chance of gaining traction. As for the Lumia 800, I expect it to come out at $199, and likely on T-Mobile as I do not see AT&T having a lot of interest in this device. So it will go to the smallest of the big four US carriers. But it will also be on the one carrier that does not have the iPhone, so for its current customers who enter the market for a new phone, it could very well be a viable choice. I was on an HTC HD7 on T-Mobile at the beginning of the year and was very happy with that selection. But right now, the only thing Microsoft seems to be touting as the differentiating, breakout feature of Windows Phone is Xbox Live integration [ed. note: that integration is majorly lacking and painfully bolted-on]. This was a nice hook at the beginning of the year, but the Xbox is six years old now, and even as a gaming platform, its pre-eminence as being a new place to go is not as shiny as it once was. As for hardware, Nokia phones have always been appealing to photo buffs for their excellent cameras. But great photos and Xbox Live are not enough to bring Nokia back to relevance in the US.

Overall, this does not feel like the mass offensive that it needed to be. Nothing out of this announcement was anything that was not entirely predictable. At the end of the day, it feels like less than what Nokia needed to do to right its burning platform. These are not devices that will save Nokia’s bacon. Nor is it indicative of a strategy that shows a glimmer of things to come that will make sweeping changes in Nokia’s business position within the market. Nokia seems to have generated much more buzz about their one-off Meego phone, the Nokia N9, than their just-announced Lumina series (though it may still be too early to call).

While falling short of what is needed, I also felt like Microsoft and Nokia weakened Microsoft’s position with its other hardware partners. If I were HTC or Samsung, I would have had sharp words the following day over the use of statements that proclaimed the Lumia line as the “first real Windows Phone(s)”. The hardware manufacturers that stepped out with Microsoft for the launch of Windows Phone, at very high risk to their own earnings, should not have suffered the suggestion that their efforts and their hardware designs were of little value. While not all CEO’s make decisions out of spite, I think the Microsoft and Nokia statements would have at least caused me to ask my CFO for the most recent accounting statements on my Windows Phone product line to evaluate how much value-adding it was really providing.

Microsoft took a risk when it migrated its smartphone strategy away from an Enterprise-focus to a consumer-centric one. Without the old corporate in-roads to lean on, they now have to compete in the same arena with the same rule-set as the iPhone and Android products. I do not see the Lumia has being a huge crowbar in that battle. I like Windows Phone, and would not have a problem selecting it as one my next devices. But I still do not see the operating system, the ecosystem, or the new Nokia devices as converging recommendations that I would give to non-techy customers looking for advice on their next smartphone, or first-time smartphone buyers. It is not clear to me where Microsoft and Nokia are heading in terms of starting an offensive that will lead to all of this increased market-share that so many analysts are claiming Windows Phone will achieve in 2014/2015.

The Lumia devices appear to be beautiful hardware, and I thoroughly enjoy Windows Phone 7 when I use it. But this is about what Microsoft and Nokia are doing to convince the consumer population that is not already on their side that the Nokia devices are viable and competitive alternatives to the iPhone and premium Android devices. Based on last week’s event, I am having a hard time convincing myself that the two companies have done enough. This smells very much like the Palm Pre launch (except for fact that Nokia’s phones appear to be arriving on time as promised). Microsoft and Nokia will need to come in at lower price points than the competition, and quickly get to offering compelling, differentiated features and offer unique service partnerships to compete against Apple and Google. Seeing as how it appears that they have missed those targets within this window of opportunity, I am not sure when they can pull this trifecta off before suffering that aforementioned haymaker that could be in the works. An iPhone 5 announcement in the spring, or arrival en masse of Ice Cream Sandwich phones could quickly push Nokia off the stage of relevance if they and Microsoft cannot push some major offensive in the interim. Oh, yeah, and after scoffing at everyone else’s Windows Phone devices, I would not expect help to arrive from the camps of HTC and Samsung anytime soon.