Happy 10th anniversary, Android

Happy 10th anniversary, Android

It’s been 10 years since Google took the wraps off the G1, the first Android phone. Since that time the OS has grown from buggy, nerdy iPhone alternative to arguably the most popular (or at least populous) computing platform in the world. But it sure as heck didn’t get there without hitting a few bumps along the road.

Join us for a brief retrospective on the last decade of Android devices: the good, the bad, and the Nexus Q.

HTC G1 (2008)

This is the one that started it all, and I have a soft spot in my heart for the old thing. Also known as the HTC Dream — this was back when we had an HTC, you see — the G1 was about as inauspicious a debut as you can imagine. Its full keyboard, trackball, slightly janky slide-up screen (crooked even in official photos), and considerable girth marked it from the outset as a phone only a real geek could love. Compared to the iPhone, it was like a poorly dressed whale.

But in time its half-baked software matured and its idiosyncrasies became apparent for the smart touches they were. To this day I occasionally long for a trackball or full keyboard, and while the G1 wasn’t pretty, it was tough as hell.

Moto Droid (2009)

Of course, most people didn’t give Android a second look until Moto came out with the Droid, a slicker, thinner device from the maker of the famed RAZR. In retrospect, the Droid wasn’t that much better or different than the G1, but it was thinner, had a better screen, and had the benefit of an enormous marketing push from Motorola and Verizon. (Disclosure: Verizon owns Oath, which owns TechCrunch, but this doesn’t affect our coverage in any way.)

For many, the Droid and its immediate descendants were the first Android phones they had — something new and interesting that blew the likes of Palm out of the water, but also happened to be a lot cheaper than an iPhone.

HTC/Google Nexus One (2010)

This was the fruit of the continued collaboration between Google and HTC, and the first phone Google branded and sold itself. The Nexus One was meant to be the slick, high-quality device that would finally compete toe-to-toe with the iPhone. It ditched the keyboard, got a cool new OLED screen, and had a lovely smooth design. Unfortunately it ran into two problems.

First, the Android ecosystem was beginning to get crowded. People had lots of choices and could pick up phones for cheap that would do the basics. Why lay the cash out for a fancy new one? And second, Apple would shortly release the iPhone 4, which — and I was an Android fanboy at the time — objectively blew the Nexus One and everything else out of the water. Apple had brought a gun to a knife fight.

HTC Evo 4G (2010)

Another HTC? Well, this was prime time for the now-defunct company. They were taking risks no one else would, and the Evo 4G was no exception. It was, for the time, huge: the iPhone had a 3.5-inch screen, and most Android devices weren’t much bigger, if they weren’t smaller.

The Evo 4G somehow survived our criticism (our alarm now seems extremely quaint, given the size of the average phone now) and was a reasonably popular phone, but ultimately is notable not for breaking sales records but breaking the seal on the idea that a phone could be big and still make sense. (Honorable mention goes to the Droid X.)

Samsung Galaxy S (2010)

Samsung’s big debut made a hell of a splash, with custom versions of the phone appearing in the stores of practically every carrier, each with their own name and design: the AT&T Captivate, T-Mobile Vibrant, Verizon Fascinate, and Sprint Epic 4G. As if the Android lineup wasn’t confusing enough already at the time!

Though the S was a solid phone, it wasn’t without its flaws, and the iPhone 4 made for very tough competition. But strong sales reinforced Samsung’s commitment to the platform, and the Galaxy series is still going strong today.

Motorola Xoom (2011)

This was an era in which Android devices were responding to Apple, and not vice versa as we find today. So it’s no surprise that hot on the heels of the original iPad we found Google pushing a tablet-focused version of Android with its partner Motorola, which volunteered to be the guinea pig with its short-lived Xoom tablet.

Although there are still Android tablets on sale today, the Xoom represented a dead end in development — an attempt to carve a piece out of a market Apple had essentially invented and soon dominated. Android tablets from Motorola, HTC, Samsung and others were rarely anything more than adequate, though they sold well enough for a while. This illustrated the impossibility of “leading from behind” and prompted device makers to specialize rather than participate in a commodity hardware melee.

Amazon Kindle Fire (2011)

And who better to illustrate than Amazon? Its contribution to the Android world was the Fire series of tablets, which differentiated themselves from the rest by being extremely cheap and directly focused on consuming digital media. Just $200 at launch and far less later, the Fire devices catered to the regular Amazon customer whose kids were pestering them about getting a tablet on which to play Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds, but who didn’t want to shell out for an iPad.

Turns out this was a wise strategy, and of course one Amazon was uniquely positioned to do with its huge presence in online retail and the ability to subsidize the price out of the reach of competition. Fire tablets were never particularly good, but they were good enough, and for the price you paid, that was kind of a miracle.

Xperia Play (2011)

Sony has always had a hard time with Android. Its Xperia line of phones for years were considered competent — I owned a few myself — and arguably industry-leading in the camera department. But no one bought them. And the one they bought the least of, or at least proportional to the hype it got, has to be the Xperia Play. This thing was supposed to be a mobile gaming platform, and the idea of a slide-out keyboard is great — but the whole thing basically cratered.

What Sony had illustrated was that you couldn’t just piggyback on the popularity and diversity of Android and launch whatever the hell you wanted. Phones didn’t sell themselves, and although the idea of playing Playstation games on your phone might have sounded cool to a few nerds, it was never going to be enough to make it a million-seller. And increasingly that’s what phones needed to be.

Samsung Galaxy Note (2012)

As a sort of natural climax to the swelling phone trend, Samsung went all out with the first true “phablet,” and despite groans of protest the phone not only sold well but became a staple of the Galaxy series. In fact, it wouldn’t be long before Apple would follow on and produce a Plus-sized phone of its own.

The Note also represented a step towards using a phone for serious productivity, not just everyday smartphone stuff. It wasn’t entirely successful — Android just wasn’t ready to be highly productive — but in retrospect it was forward thinking of Samsung to make a go at it and begin to establish productivity as a core competence of the Galaxy series.

Google Nexus Q (2012)

This abortive effort by Google to spread Android out into a platform was part of a number of ill-considered choices at the time. No one really knew, apparently at Google or anywhere elsewhere in the world, what this thing was supposed to do. I still don’t. As we wrote at the time:

Here’s the problem with the Nexus Q:  it’s a stunningly beautiful piece of hardware that’s being let down by the software that’s supposed to control it.

It was made, or rather nearly made in the USA, though, so it had that going for it.

HTC First — “The Facebook Phone” (2013)

The First got dealt a bad hand. The phone itself was a lovely piece of hardware with an understated design and bold colors that stuck out. But its default launcher, the doomed Facebook Home, was hopelessly bad.

How bad? Announced in April, discontinued in May. I remember visiting an AT&T store during that brief period and even then the staff had been instructed in how to disable Facebook’s launcher and reveal the perfectly good phone beneath. The good news was that there were so few of these phones sold new that the entire stock started selling for peanuts on Ebay and the like. I bought two and used them for my early experiments in ROMs. No regrets.

HTC One/M8 (2014)

This was the beginning of the end for HTC, but their last few years saw them update their design language to something that actually rivaled Apple. The One and its successors were good phones, though HTC oversold the “Ultrapixel” camera, which turned out to not be that good, let alone iPhone-beating.

As Samsung increasingly dominated, Sony plugged away, and LG and Chinese companies increasingly entered the fray, HTC was under assault and even a solid phone series like the One couldn’t compete. 2014 was a transition period with old manufacturers dying out and the dominant ones taking over, eventually leading to the market we have today.

Google/LG Nexus 5X and Huawei 6P (2015)

This was the line that brought Google into the hardware race in earnest. After the bungled Nexus Q launch, Google needed to come out swinging, and they did that by marrying their more pedestrian hardware with some software that truly zinged. Android 5 was a dream to use, Marshmallow had features that we loved … and the phones became objects that we adored.

We called the 6P “the crown jewel of Android devices”. This was when Google took its phones to the next level and never looked back.

Google Pixel (2016)

If the Nexus was, in earnest, the starting gun for Google’s entry into the hardware race, the Pixel line could be its victory lap. It’s an honest-to-god competitor to the Apple phone.

Gone are the days when Google is playing catch-up on features to Apple, instead, Google’s a contender in its own right. The phone’s camera is amazing. The software works relatively seamlessly (bring back guest mode!), and phone’s size and power are everything anyone could ask for. The sticker price, like Apple’s newest iPhones, is still a bit of a shock, but this phone is the teleological endpoint in the Android quest to rival its famous, fruitful, contender.

The rise and fall of the Essential phone

In 2017 Andy Rubin, the creator of Android, debuted the first fruits of his new hardware startup studio, Digital Playground, with the launch of Essential (and its first phone). The company had raised $300 million to bring the phone to market, and — as the first hardware device to come to market from Android’s creator — it was being heralded as the next new thing in hardware.

Here at TechCrunch, the phone received mixed reviews. Some on staff hailed the phone as the achievement of Essential’s stated vision — to create a “lovemark” for Android smartphones, while others on staff found the device… inessential.

Ultimately, the market seemed to agree. Four months ago plans for a second Essential phone were put on hold, while the company explored a sale and pursued other projects. There’s been little update since.

A Cambrian explosion in hardware

In the ten years since its launch, Android has become the most widely used operating system for hardware. Some version of its software can be found in roughly 2.3 billion devices around the world and its powering a technology revolution in countries like India and China — where mobile operating systems and access are the default. As it enters its second decade, there’s no sign that anything is going to slow its growth (or dominance) as the operating system for much of the world.

Let’s see what the next ten years bring.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

HTC’s blockchain phone is real, and it’s arriving later this year

HTC’s blockchain phone is real, and it’s arriving later this year

HTC isn’t gone just yet. Granted, it’s closer than it’s ever been before, with a headcount of fewer than 5,000 employees worldwide — that’s down from 19,000 in 2013. But in spite of those “market competition, product mix, pricing, and recognized inventory write-downs,” the company’s still trucking on.

And while its claim to being “the leading innovator in smart phone devices,” is up for debate, the Taiwanese manufacturer has never shied away from a compelling gimmick. Announced earlier this year, the Exodus definitely fits the bill. The “world’s first major blockchain phone” is still shrouded in mystery, though the company did reveal a couple of key details this week at RISE in Hong Kong intended to keep folks interested while it irons out the rest of the product’s hiccups.

Chief among the reveals is an admittedly nebulous release date of Q3 this year. It’s hardly specific, but it does make the phone a little bit more real — unlike the images, which are still limited to the above blueprint picture at press time.

Here’s a quote from the company’s chief crypto officer, a position that really exists.

In the new internet age people are generally more conscious about their data, this a perfect opportunity to empower the user to start owning their digital identity. The Exodus is a great place to start because the phone is the most personal device, and it is also the place where all your data originates from. I’m excited about the opportunity it brings to decentralize the internet and reshape it for the modern user.

Prior to the launch, the company is partnering with the popular blockchain title, CryptoKitties. The game will be available on a small selection of the company’s handsets starting with the U12+. “This is a significant first step in creating a platform and distribution channel for creatives who make unique digital goods,” the company writes in a release tied to the news. “Mobile is the most prevalent device in the history of humankind and for digital assets and dapps to reach their potential, mobile will need to be the main point of distribution. The partnership with Cryptokitties is the beginning of a non fungible, collectible marketplace and crypto gaming app store.”

The company says the partnership marks the beginning of a “platform and distribution channel for creatives who make unique digital goods.” In other words, it’s attempting to reintroduce the concept of scarcity through these decentralized apps. HTC will also be partnering with Bitmark to help accomplish this.

If HTC is looking for the next mainstream play to right the ship, this is emphatically not it. That said, it could be compelling enough to gain some adoption among those heavily invested enough in the crypto space to pick up a handset built around the technology.

HTC promises more information on the device in “the coming months.”

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

A look back at HTC’s 10 most iconic devices

A look back at HTC’s 10 most iconic devices
HTC is gone. The company of today is not the company that helped start the smartphone revolution. That’s a shame, too. In the early years of the smartphone, HTC released some of the best devices available.
Here’s a look back at 10 of the company’s most iconic devices.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

HTC is gone

HTC is gone
Gather around, campers, and hear a tale as old as time.
Remember the HTC Dream? The Evo 4G? The Google Nexus One? What about the Touch Diamond? All amazing devices. The HTC of 2018 is not the HTC that made these industry-leading devices. That company is gone.
It seems HTC is getting ready to lay off nearly a quarter of its workforce by cutting 1,500 jobs in its manufacturing unit in Taiwan. After the cuts, HTC’s employee count will be less than 5,000 people worldwide. Five years ago, in 2013, HTC employed 19,000 people.
HTC started as a white label device maker giving carriers an option to sell devices branded with their name. The company also had a line of HTC-branded connected PDAs that competed in the nascent smartphone market. BlackBerry, or Research in Motion as it was called until 2013, ruled this phone segment, but starting around 2007 HTC began making inroads thanks to innovated touch devices that ran Windows Mobile 6.0.
In 2008 HTC introduced the Touch line with the Touch Diamond, Touch Pro, Touch 3G and Touch HD. These were stunning devices for the time. They were fast, loaded with big, user swappable batteries and microSD card slots. The Touch Pro even had a front-facing camera for video calls.
HTC overlayed a custom skin onto Windows Mobile making it a bit more palatable for the general user. At that time, Windows Mobile was competing with BlackBerry’s operating system and Nokia’s Symbian. None was fantastic, but Windows Mobile was by far the most daunting for new users. HTC did the best thing it could do and developed a smart skin that gave the phone a lot of features that would still be considered modern.

In 2008 HTC released the first Android device with Google. Called the HTC Dream or G1, the device was far from perfect. But the same could be said about the iPhone. This first Android phone set the stage for future wins from HTC, too. The company quickly followed up with the Hero, Droid Incredible, Evo 4G and, in 2010, the amazing Google Nexus One.
After the G1, HTC started skinning Android in the same fashion as it did Windows Mobile. It cannot be overstated how important this was for the adoption of Android. HTC’s user interface made Android usable and attractive. HTC helped make Android a serious competitor to Apple’s iOS.
In 2010 and 2011, Google turned to Samsung to make the second and third flagship Nexus phones. It was around this time Samsung started cranking out Android phones, and HTC couldn’t keep up. That’s not to say HTC didn’t make a go for it. The company kept releasing top-tier phones: the One X in 2012, the One Max in 2013 and the One (M8) in 2014. But it didn’t matter. Samsung had taken up the Android standard and was charging forward, leaving HTC, Sony and LG to pick from the scraps.
At the end of 2010, HTC was the leading smartphone vendor in the United States. In 2014 it trailed Apple, Samsung and LG with around a 6 percent market share in the U.S. In 2017 HTC captured 2.3 percent of smartphone subscribers and now in 2018, some reports peg HTC with less than a half percent of the smartphone market.
Google purchased a large chunk of HTC’s smartphone design talent in 2017 for $1.1 billion. The deal transferred more than 2,000 employees under Google’s tutelage. They will likely be charged with working on Google’s line of Pixel devices. It’s a smart move. This HTC team was responsible for releasing amazing devices that no one bought. But that’s not entirely their fault. Outside forces are to blame. HTC never stopped making top-tier devices.
The HTC of today is primarily focused on the Vive product line. And that’s a smart play. The HTC Vive is one of the best virtual reality platforms available. But HTC has been here before. Hopefully, it learned something from its mistakes in smartphones.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Edge Sense is starting to come into its own with HTC’s U12+

Edge Sense is starting to come into its own with HTC’s U12+

Edge Sense has always been a gimmick — but who can blame HTC for embracing a gimmick. The company’s mobile division has been struggling in recent years, so why not embrace the novelty of a squeezable side input? The tech got a bit more support when Google embraced it for the Pixel 2, renaming it Active Edge in the process.

With today’s announcement of the U12+, HTC is introducing Edge Sense 2. The company promised it would keep updating the feature, and this new flagship is starting to making it that much more compelling. The second generation doesn’t make it an essential feature, but some key additions point to how more sensors on the sides of the handset could turn it into more than just a glorified additional button for the phone.

Some of the coolest additions here are the ability for the phone to recognize which hand is holding it and adapt the interface accordingly. When held in a single hand, the feature offers up multiple options, including the ability to lock screen orientation for video viewing and squeezing to take photos or shoot video. And, that functionality is customizable, meaning users won’t get locked into a devoted Bixby button-style situation here.

Also worth noting on the Edge Sense front is that HTC has swapped out the mechanical buttons on the side of the phone, moving instead toward haptic feedback. It takes a little getting used to, but the upshot is that it helps keep the phone that much more water-resistant, and fewer moving parts means less opportunity for breakage — always a good thing.

As far as the other ways HTC is working to distinguish its latest flagship, the six-inch handset retains the “Liquid Surface” design language found on the U11. The glossy service is even more aesthetically distinct this time out, with the addition of the Translucent Blue color scheme, which offers a cloudy and colorful peek into the phone’s innards.

The camera deserves mention here, too. Granted, it’s a tough place to distinguish your handset these days, but the U12+ scored a 103 from DxOMark, which puts it ahead of the rest of the handset market, save for the Huawei P20 Pro with its ridiculous three cameras. Highlights for its two cameras include super-fast autofocus and HDR Boost 2 for improved images in poor lighting conditions.

HTC’s made a point of upping its game on the audio front, and that continues here with loud built-in speakers and a pair of active noise-cancelling earbuds. Inside is a Snapdragon 845, coupled with 6GB of RAM and up to 128GB of storage. All in all, it’s looking like a solid handset.

There’s no notch on the screen this time out, but the company implied in a meeting that that’s something likely to arrive on the next-gen flagship. The phone goes up for pre-order today and will start shipping early next month. No word on pricing yet, but HTC tells me it won’t be “dramatically different” than its predecessor.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Yes, HTC is working on a ‘blockchain phone’

Yes, HTC is working on a ‘blockchain phone’

A few weeks ahead of its latest flagship announcement, HTC just revealed another piece of hardware. While the Taiwanese company has consolidated much of its mobile offerings in recent years, it announced today at the Consensus 2018 blockchain conference in New York that its upcoming Exodus handset is embracing everyone’s favorite tech buzzword.

So, what makes a phone a blockchain phone, exactly? Security and cryptocurrency support, mostly. According to HTC’s Exodus landing page, “Our vision is to expand the blockchain ecosystem by creating the world’s first phone dedicated to decentralized applications and security. With the release of the HTC Exodus we can now make this a reality.”

The Exodus will support Bitcoin and Ethereum, among others, courtesy of a universal wallet, secure hardware and decentralized apps. According to The Next Web, HTC has also outlined plans to create a native blockchain network, whereby cryptocurrency can be traded amongst Exodus users. Naturally, users will also be able to purchase the phone itself using cryptocurrency. That price and the release date, however, have yet to be revealed.

There’s not really a lot of information beyond that and the above drawing, but HTC is clearly gunning to make a splash as its numbers have shrunk in overall proportion to a declining smartphone market. Even with rapidly increasing awareness and interest in the cryptocurrency space, however, it’s hard to imagine Exodus making much of a splash.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

HTC confirms its newest flagship smartphone will arrive May 23

HTC confirms its newest flagship smartphone will arrive May 23

Perennial smartphone struggler HTC has revealed its newest smartphone — the U12/U12+ — will launch on May 23. The big spoiler from the company is that the phone will include… components.

That isn’t exactly an informative teaser, but we do actually have a flavor for what HTC will bring to market.

Serial leaker Evan Blass, writing for VentureBeat, revealed a dual-camera setup on the reverse of the phone, with a Snapdragon 845 chipset, 6GB of RAM and either 64GB or 128GB of internal storage under the hood.

HTC badly needs this device to be a winner. Its most recent results for Q4 2017 were grim with a loss $337 million from total sales of $540 million. The company did get a cash boost from a $1.1 billion deal to sell some of its tech and talent to Google, but that wasn’t reflected in these results.

The firm is putting that capital to use for “greater investment in emerging technologies” that it says will be “vital across all of our businesses and present significant long-term growth opportunities.” The fruits of that aren’t likely to be seen for a while yet.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Covering “Virtual Insanity” in virtual reality

Covering “Virtual Insanity” in virtual reality

A musician from Raleigh, North Carolina named Chase Holfelder, recorded a cover of Jamiroquai’s “Virtual Insanity,” a stonerific acid jazz anthem that should be familiar to ’90s kids. This version, however, is recorded entirely inside a virtual reality rig with the help of the HTC Vive and VRScout.
Holfelder used the SoundScape VR project to play and sequence the music, allowing him to snap drums with virtual drumsticks and play the piano using the Vive paddles. In all it’s a pretty exciting of Vive’s interactive elements.
There is very little real commercial utility in VR… yet. However, when artists like Holfelder fire up their rigs and make artistic stuff like this they show us the possibilities of the medium and how we might be interacting with complex systems in the future. Sadly, he did not slide across a virtual floor or wear a furry hat in this video, an oversight that sets VR research back by at least a few years.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

TPCast unveils adapter to enable multiple wireless HTC Vive VR headsets

TPCast unveils adapter to enable multiple wireless HTC Vive VR headsets
Late last year, TPCast announced an adapter that cut the HTC Vive cords. The company is back with an enterprise version that delivers 2k content to several HTC Vive units with sub 2ms latency.
Unveiled at Nvidia’s GTC 2019 conference in San Jose, the product is aimed at VR uses cases where multiple people are sharing content across different VR headsets. The company says this includes medical, automotive, real estate, and training.
Like the consumer version, the units strap on the back of HTC Vive headsets and streams the content wirelessly from the connected PC to up to four VR headsets. At launch only the HTC Vive is supported though the company says it intends to support more models by the third quarter of 2018.
The unit, called the TPCAST Business Edition Wireless Adapter, will be available directly from TPCast at first and then available from retail channels. Pricing was not announced but it’s logical that it will cost significantly more than the $220 the company charges for the consumer version.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

HTC had a terrible holiday quarter

HTC had a terrible holiday quarter

Smartphone and VR headset maker HTC has published its consolidated results for Q4 2017 — and it makes for grim reading.

The topline figures are:

  • Flat quarterly revenue of NT$15.7 billion (~$540M) with gross margin of -30.8%
  • Quarterly operating loss of NT$9.6 billion (~$330M) with operating margin of -60.8%
  • Quarterly net loss after tax: NT$9.8 billion (~$337M), or -NT$11.93 (-$0.41) per share

HTC says this latest quarterly loss was due to “market competition, product mix, pricing, and recognized inventory write-downs”. So pretty much a full house of operational and business problems.

The one bright spot for HTC’s business is a deal worth $1.1BN, in which Google acquired a chunk of HTC’s hardware business — which was completed at the end of January.

That one-off cash injection is not reflected in the Q4 results but will rather give some passing uplift to HTC’s Q1 2018 results.

HTC says it will be using the Google windfall for “greater investment in emerging technologies”, writing that they will be “vital across all of our businesses and present significant long-term growth opportunities”.

There’s no doubt that any business revival would require hefty investment. But exactly what long-term growth opportunities HTC believes it can capture is questionable, given how fiercely competitive the smartphone market continues to be (with Chinese OEMs making what running there is in a shrinking global market); and how the VR market — which HTC bet big on in 2015, with Vive and Valve, to try to diversify beyond mobile — has hardly turned out to be the next major computing paradigm. Not yet anyway.

So the emphasis really is on the “long-term” earning potential of VR — say five or even ten years hence.

HTC flags the launch of its VIVE Focus standalone VR system in China — which it last week said it would also be bringing to the UK and other global markets later this year — and the launch of a VIVE Pro premium PC VR system in January, which it was showing off at CES, as examples of focused product innovation in the VR space.

Following a strategic business review aimed at optimizing its teams and processes — both for smartphones and VR — it also says it now has “a series of measures in place to enable stronger execution”, and is touting fresh innovations coming across its markets this year.

But HTC is going to need a whole lot more than squeezable gimmicks and shiny finishes to lift out of these doldrums.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch