Nexus smartphones and tablets have developed a cult following among enthusiasts mainly due to Google's ability to deliver updates to the latest versions of Android in a timely manner. The software also has little to no customizations over the code that is available in AOSP, unlike that of many devices that have been offered throughout the years by Android vendors, such as HTC and Samsung. Android enthusiasts often refer to Google's distributions as "pure Android", even though that is no longer the case exactly with the new Nexus 5, that has introduced a launcher not officially found on any of its siblings (or available in AOSP for that matter).
Nexus devices were also supposed to usher Android vendors into releasing smartphones and tablets that adhere to the design guidelines established by Google. This is one area where the search giant's brand has failed to become a trendsetter, as the likes of HTC, LG and Samsung continue to apply their own vision on how their Android handsets should look at the software and hardware levels. Remember how physical buttons were supposed to go away from the front of Android devices? Well, they are still alive and kicking even in 2014 and even on tablets (even though there were clear signs pointing to slates only adopting on-screen keys). It could, therefore, be argued that the Nexus ethos has already ran its course and it is time for Google to move on. So should Google move on?
As you would expect, tablets proved to be a popular purchase over the holiday period, with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker reporting a solid rise in global shipments.
According to preliminary data, worldwide tablet shipments grew to 76.9 million units in the fourth calendar quarter of 2013 (4Q13), delivering a 62.4 percent increase over the previous quarter and 28.2 percent growth over the same period a year ago. For the full calendar year, worldwide tablet shipments totaled 217.1 million units, which is up from 144.2 million units shipped in 2012. But despite that good news, things don’t look quite so rosy for the future.
You would think that after Apple delivered fiscal first quarter record results -- we're talking $57.6 billion revenue and $13.1 billion net profit -- that investors would be happy. But, no-o-o! Apple shares sank more than 8.5 percent in after-hours trading last night. They are down about 8 percent in midday trading. That's what happens when perceptions about the future, rather than present performance, define a company.
But the problem is bigger than just Wall Street analyst or investor fear frenzy. There's an echo chamber bellowing this fine Tuesday, as bloggers and journalists stumble over one another to sound the loudest alarm. After seeing the headlines on Yahoo Finance -- like "New Apple looks like the old Microsoft", "Cure to what ails Apple can be found in the margins", or "How does Apple get its mojo back?" -- I realize someone needs to do a reality check. Geez Louise, Apple had a fantastic quarter. The apocalyptic reaction is nothing less than insanity.
Patent litigation seems to have become part and parcel of handset and tablet releases recently, but at least one battle appears to be coming to an end. Samsung and Google have signed a patent agreement, ending years of legal wrangling. An announcement on the Samsung Tomorrow blog goes into little detail about what the deal entails but a global patent cross-license agreement has been signed which covers both existing patents and those filed over the coming decade.
Allen Lo, Deputy General Counsel for Patents at Google said: "We're pleased to enter into a cross-license with our partner Samsung. By working together on agreements like this, companies can reduce the potential for litigation and focus instead on innovation". While both companies will undoubtedly be pleased that a deal has been struck, ultimately it is consumers who will benefit from what should turn into more collaborative ventures in the future, with both side gaining access to the other's technologies.
Handset news aplenty this week. The Nokia Lumia 929 appeared for sale in China, and also showed up on Verizon's US website under the Nokia Lumia Icon name before quietly disappearing. None of this did anything to improve Windows Phone sales for Nokia which were found to be disappointing. Figures released this week showed that phablets are going to become increasingly popular as user look to merge smartphones and tablets in to a single device. It will probably come as little surprise that in the next few years it is predicted that mobile apps will be the most used software. Samsung Galaxy Note 3 owners were disappointed to find that upgrading to KitKat killed their ability to use third party accessories.
Ahead of the release of Update 1 to the operating system, Microsoft finally got around to releasing a guide to mastering Windows 8.1. So keen is Microsoft for you to learn more about Windows 8.1, a second batch of guides was released later in the week. And while you're becoming an expert Windows 8.1 user, Microsoft would like you to take a second look at Internet Explorer and rethink its web browser.
Yesterday, Microsoft released its earnings report for Q2 FY2014 (that is Q4 CY2013), revealing revenue of $24.52 billion and net income of $6.56 billion (78 cents per share). The Redmond, Wash.-based corporation has managed to beat the average analyst consensus of $23.68 billion and 68 cents per share respectively, as my colleague Joe Wilcox noted.
Aside from the strong overall results, there was another part of the earnings report which has caught our attention -- Surface sales. Revenue from Microsoft's Windows RT and Windows 8 tablets reached $893 million during the quarter. That is $493 million more than in the first fiscal quarter of the year. Good news, right? Surface is finally starting to take off, after all. Well, an SEC filling puts a damper on any enthusiasm, as Microsoft actually lost money on its tablets in Q2 FY2014.
Finnish maker Nokia has released its earnings report for Q4 2013, the first that indicates how the company, and its financial health, will look like without the Devices & Services arm that is set to be part of Microsoft's portfolio. That business is listed under "Discontinued operations".
Another effect of the sale of this business is that Nokia no longer lists the exact volume for the mobile phones and smartphones sold during the quarter. This effectively rules out any precise Lumia Windows Phone performance comparison. However, the company gives bad news as it reveals unit sales are actually lower for its Windows Phones compared to the previous quarter, when it sold 8.8 million of them.
Intel has used the Bett 2014 educational technology show in London to announce reference designs for the next generation of devices aimed at the education sector.
The Intel Education Tablet and Classmate PC feature student-friendly features along with Intel’s Education Software suite of learning tools.
What do you get after taking out the cellular prowess from a very, very large smartphone? The answer would be a tablet, albeit one that falls on the smaller side. It is exactly what Japanese maker Sony has done with its Xperia Z Ultra, which will be available in a Wi-Fi only version this week.
For those unfamiliar with the Xperia Z Ultra, the device was announced in the first half of 2013 with a 6.44-inch display, Android 4.2 Jelly Bean and 4G LTE/HSPA+ cellular connectivity, as the main selling points.
What's that? Another music streaming service? Another one?! You could be forgiven for having this reaction to the news that Dr Dre's Beats Music is now available for iOS and Android; this is a market that is already rather saturated, and music lovers are not exactly short of options when it comes to picking a service to satiate their audio needs. So any new service vying for attention has to have something rather unique to offer if it is going to stand out from the competition.
Beats Music does have a unique selling point. It is a service that is about more than just streaming music, it aims to deliver the right music according to the time of day, what you are doing and where you are. Is this sort of stream tailoring enough to win over music fans? Only time will tell, but Beats Music certainly has a fight on its hands if it is to wrestle users away from the existing services that have been established for some time.
Since the latest generation of the Kindle Fire family of tablets rolled out, it almost seems the devices are on sale more often than not. Just recently the retail giant celebrated being named number one in customer satisfaction with a promo code for its devices, now it’s using football as an excuse for one more deal.
It’s not hard to deduce why this latest bargain is being given -- Amazon is headquartered in Seattle, Washington, home of the Seahawks who are now Super Bowl-bound to battle the Denver Broncos. In fact, the graphic currently displayed on the homepage illustrates the Seahawks-49ers game this past Sunday.
The phablet. It's a device with a silly name, but it's a market that is gaining massive momentum. Analysis by Juniper Research suggests that the number of larger-screened devices that ship will rocket by 600 percent by 2018. Projected figures show shipments jumping from around 20 million devices in 2013, to 120 million five years later. But taking into account the loose definition of a phablet it is possible that the figures could be even higher.
In fact there is no "official" definition of a phablet, at least in terms of the size of screen a device must sport in order to qualify for the title. Juniper Research acknowledges that phones with very large screens are increasingly common, with many high-end handsets featuring 5 inch - 5.5 inch displays. For the purposes of its report, Juniper Research uses the term phablet to refer to handsets that have a screen size between 5.6 inches and 6.9 inches.
Almost 3.5 million British children under the age of eight have tablets and nearly 4 million learned to use a smartphone or tablet before they were three.
New research from price comparison and switching service uSwitch reveals a growing nation of cyber tots with 29 percent learning to use a touch screen device before the age of three and 11 percent before they were two.
There's no shortage of choice when it comes to 7-inch tablets, and Samsung is extending the selection even further with the release of the Galaxy Tab3 Lite. As you've probably discerned from the not-particularly-enigmatic name, this is a device closely based on the original Galaxy Tab3, albeit in a thinner lighter design. Or so you might think. Despite the name, the Tab3 Lite is not smaller in terms of dimensions or mass. In fact it is both larger and heavier than its predecessor. Here, 'Lite' refers to trimming back on the hardware spec.
Looked at in terms of size, it looks as though the Tab3 Lite has gained a little over the holiday period. The Lite model is more than 3mm wider, over 5mm taller and 10g heavier. The new device is 2mm thinner than the Tab3, but it is the other specs that make for interesting reading. A 2 Megapixel rear camera replaces the 3 Megapixel unit, while on the front you'll find that the camera has disappeared entirely.
This was a week dominated by CES, and there were a huge number of announcements about upcoming hardware. Lenovo took the wraps off the (slightly) heavyweight ThinkPad Tablet 8, but any excess weight was countered by the ultra-light ThinkPad X1 Carbon ultrabook. HP's range of business desktops even included one device running Android, while Nvidia's new Tegra K1 promises much for the mobile market.
Competitor Qualcomm revealed two processors designed for entertainment while Pure's Connect platform opens up the possibility of using any streaming music service with its wireless speakers. Smart TVs are set to benefit from the addition of Roku software, but it seems that the technology du jour is 4K, with a new 4K laptop from Toshiba joining the streams of 4K TVs and monitors.