All posts in “Android”

BMW says ‘ja’ to Android Auto

BMW today announced that it is finally bringing Android Auto to its vehicles, starting in July 2020. With that, it will join Apple’s CarPlay in the company’s vehicles.

The first live demo of Android Auto in a BMW will happen at CES 2020 next month and after that, it will become available as an update to drivers in 20 countries with cars that feature the BMW OS 7.0. BMW will support Android Auto over a wireless connection, though, which somewhat limits its comparability.

Only two years ago, the company said that it wasn’t interested in supporting Android Auto. At the time, Dieter May, who was the senior VP for Digital Services and Business Model at the time, explicitly told me that the company wanted to focus on its first-party apps in order to retain full control over the in-car interface and that he wasn’t interested in seeing Android Auto in BMWs. May has since left the company, though it’s also worth noting that Android Auto itself has become significantly more polished over the course of the last two years, too.

“The Google Assistant on Android Auto makes it easy to get directions, keep in touch and stay productive. Many of our customers have pointed out the importance to them of having Android Auto inside a BMW for using a number of familiar Android smartphone features safely without being distracted from the road, in addition to BMW’s own functions and services,” said Peter Henrich, Senior Vice President Product Management BMW, in today’s announcement.

With this, BMW will also finally offer support for the Google Assistant, after early bets on Alexa, Cortana and the BMW Assistant (which itself is built on top of Microsoft’s AI stack). As the company has long said, it wants to offer support for all popular digital assistants and for the Google Assistant, the only way to make that work in a car is, at least for the time being, Android Auto.

In BMWs, Android Auto will see integrations into the car’s digital cockpit, in addition to BMW’s Info Display and the heads-up display (for directions). That’s a pretty deep integration, which goes beyond what most car manufacturers feature today.

“We are excited to work with BMW to bring wireless Android Auto to their customers worldwide next year,” said Patrick Brady, Vice President of Engineering at Google. “The seamless connection from Android smartphones to BMW vehicles allows customers to hit the road faster while maintaining access to all of their favorite apps and services in a safer experience.”

Nodle crowdsources IoT connectivity

Nodle, which is competing in the TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin Startup Battlefield this week, is based on a simple premise: What if you could crowdsource the connectivity of smart sensors by offloading it to smartphones? For most sensors, built-in cell connectivity is simply not a realistic option, given how much power it would take. A few years of battery life is quite realistic for a sensor that uses Bluetooth Low Energy.

Overall, that’s a pretty straightforward idea, but the trick is to convince smartphone users to install Nodle’s app. To solve this, the company, which was co-founded by Micha Benoliel (CEO) and Garrett Kinsman, is looking to cryptocurrency. With Nodle Cash, users automatically earn currency whenever their phones transmit a package to the network. That connection, it’s worth noting, is always encrypted, using Nodle’s Rendevouz protocol.

The company has already raised $3.5 million in seed funding, mostly from investors in the blockchain space: Blockchange, Work Play Ventures (Marc Pincus), Blockchain Ventures (Blockchain.com), Olymp Capital, Bootstraplabs and Blockhead.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t Benoliel’s first rodeo in this space. He also co-founded the mesh networking startup Open Garden, which used a somewhat similar approach a few years ago to crowdsource connectivity (and which made a bit of a splash with its FireChat offline chat app back in 2014). Open Garden, too, competed in our Startup Battlefield in 2012 and won our award for most innovative startup. Benoliel left his CEO position there in early 2016, but Nodle definitely feels like an iteration on the original idea of Open Garden.

“We define the category as crowd connectivity,” Benoliel told me. “We leverage crowdsourced connectivity for connecting things to the internet. We believe there are a lot of benefits to doing that.” He argues that there are a number of innovations converging right now that will allow the company to succeed: Chipsets are getting smaller, and an increasing number of sensors now uses Bluetooth Low Energy, all while batteries are getting smaller and more efficient and blockchain technology is maturing.

Given the fact that these sensors depend on somebody with a phone coming by, this is obviously not a solution for companies that need to get real-time data. There’s simply no way for Nodle to guarantee that, after all. But the company argues it is a great solution for smart cities that want to get regular readouts of road usage or companies that want to do asset tracking.

“We do not address real-time connectivity, which is what you can do with more traditional solutions,” Benoliel said. “But we believe IoT is so broad and there is so much utility in being able to collect data from time to time, that with out solution, we can connect almost anything to the internet.”

While some users may want to simply install the Nodle Cash app to, well, make some Nodle cash, the team is also betting on working with app developers who may want to use the platform to make some extra money from their apps by adding it to the Nodle network. For users, that obviously means they’ll burn some extra data, so developers have to clearly state that they are opting their users into this service.

The team expects a normal user to see an extra 20 to 30 MB of traffic with Nodle installed, which isn’t really all that much (users of the standalone Nodle app also have the option to cache the data and postpone the transfer when they connect to Wi-Fi). Some app developers may use Nodle as an alternative to in-app payments, the team hopes.

The company is also already working with HTC and Cisco Meraki, and has a number of pilot projects in the works.

If you want to give it a try, you can install the Nodle Cash app for Android now.

Finally, an official Craigslist app

Fancy websites and services come and go, but Craigslist endures. And now one of its main shortcomings is fixed: there’s an official app. Currently available for iOS and in beta for Android, the app provides a true-to-form Craigslist experience: useful, unfussy, and anonymous.

There isn’t much to say about the app beyond that it faithfully replicates the website, down to the color scheme. All categories of posts are available to browse or search; you can favorite things, save searches, and change the way results look. Different categories have their pertinent settings, so when you look for a car you’ll get odometer, model year and so on the way you do on the site.

No account is required at all to browse listings or contact sellers, and conveniently all their contact info pops up easily, letting you email, text, or call as desired.

Obviously the web app is still perfectly serviceable, and some may even prefer it. But it’s nice to have a native app, if only to deter the imitation Craigslist apps that piggyback on the popularity of the original no-frills listings.

The app was released yesterday and is already climbing the charts. Grab it today and start looking for free furniture!

Android’s ‘Focus Mode’ exits beta, adds new scheduling features

Google is expanding its suite of “Digital Wellbeing” tools for Android devices with a new feature, Focus Mode, launching today. This feature allows users to turn off distractions — like social media updates or email notifications — for a period of time, so you can get things done without interruption. Focus Mode was first announced at Google’s I/O developer conference this May, and has been in beta testing until now, Google says.

Unlike Do Not Disturb, which can mute sounds, stop vibrations and block visual disturbances, Focus Mode is only about silencing specific apps.

Within the Digital Wellbeing settings, users select which apps they find most distracting — like Facebook, YouTube, Gmail, games or anything else that tends to steal their attention. These apps can be paused temporarily, which stops those apps’ notifications. Plus, if you try to open the app, Focus Mode reminds you they’re paused.

During beta testing, Google said tester feedback led to the creation of a new enhancement for Focus Mode: the ability to set a schedule for your app breaks. This allows you to continually block app notifications for the days and times you choose — like your 9 AM to 5 PM working hours, for example.

There’s also a new option to take a break from Focus Mode, which allows you to use to use the blocked apps for a time, then return to Focus Mode without entirely disabling it to do so. In addition, if you finish your work or other tasks early one day, you can now turn off Focus Mode for that day without breaking its ongoing weekly schedule.

The Focus Mode feature is one of now many investments Google has made into its comprehensive Digital Wellbeing feature set, which was originally introduced at Google I/O 2018 but initially only on Pixel devices. Since then, Google has expanded access to Digital Wellbeing features and further integrated its features — including parent control app Family Link — into the Android OS.

It has also developed digital wellbeing apps outside of its core Digital Wellbeing product, with October’s launch of a handful of wellbeing experiments. This set of apps included a notification mailbox, unlock clock, and even an easy way to printout important information from your phone so you don’t have to keep checking your device throughout the day, among other things.

Elsewhere across Google’s product line it has developed settings and controls devoted to wellbeing, like YouTube’s reminders to “take a break,” automations for Gmail, downtime settings for Google Home, and more.

Google says the new version of Focus Mode exits beta testing today and is rolling out to all devices that support Digital Wellbeing and parental controls, including Android 9 and 10 phones.

Xiaomi’s Q3 earnings report shows slowing growth

Xiaomi, the world’s fourth largest smartphone vendor, on Wednesday reported a 3.3% revenue growth (QoQ) in the quarter that ended in September. While the results fell largely in line with analysts’ expectations, a drastic drop in the company’s growth underscores some of the struggles that handset makers are facing as they shift to services to make up for dwindling smartphone purchases globally.

The Chinese electronics firm posted Q3 revenue of 53.7 billion yuan, or $7.65 billion, an increase compared to 51.95 billion yuan ($7.39 billion) revenue it reported in Q2 and up 5.5% from the same period last year.

This is largely in line with analysts’ estimated revenue of 53.74 billion yuan, per Refinitiv figures, but growth is slowing. As a point of comparison, in Q2, Xiaomi reported QoQ growth of 18.7% and YoY of 14.8%.

Xiaomi said its adjusted profit in the aforementioned quarter was 3.5 billion yuan ($500 million), up from about 2.5 billion yuan a year ago. Gross profit during the period was 8.2 billion yuan ($1.17 billion), up 25.2% year-over-year.

The company said its smartphone business revenue during Q3 stood at 32.3 billion yuan ($4.6 billion), down 7.8% year-over-year. The company, which shipped 32.1 million smartphone units during the period, blamed “downturn” in China’s smartphone market for the decline.

Marketing research firm Canalys reported this month that China’s smartphone market shrank by 3% during Q3. Despite the slowdown, Xiaomi said its gross profit margin of smartphones segment had reached 9% — up from 8.1% and 3.3% in the previous quarters.

Other than Huawei, which leads the handsets market in China, every other smartphone vendor has suffered a drop in their shipment volumes in the country, according to research firm Counterpoint.

But for Xiaomi, this should technically not be a problem. Long before the company listed publicly last year, it has been boasting about its business model: how it makes little money from hardware and more and more from delivering ads and selling internet services.

That internet services business is not growing fast enough, however, to be an engine for the overall company. It grew by 12.3% year-on-year to 5.3 billion yuan ($750 million) and 15% since last quarter. Either way, it accounts for only a fraction of smartphone business’ contribution to the bottomline.

Xiaomi said two years ago that it will only ever make 5% profit from its hardware, something its executives told TechCrunch has been engraved in the company’s “constitution.” But the slow shift to making money off of internet services, while making less money from selling hardware, is one of the chief reasons why the company had an underwhelming IPO.

Meanwhile, the user base of Xiaomi’s Android -based MIUI software is growing. It had 292 million monthly active users as of September this year, up from 278.7 in June.

In more promising signs, Xiaomi said its smart TV and Mi Box platforms had more than 3.2 million paid subscribers and revenue from its fintech business, a territory it entered only in recent quarters, had already reached 1 billion yuan ($140 million).

But it’s hardware that continues to make up the biggest proportion of its revenues. The company, which is increasingly moving its gadgets and services beyond Chinese shores, said revenue from its international business grew 17.2 year-over-year to 26.1 billion yuan ($3.7 billion) in the third quarter — accounting for 48.7% of total revenue.

In a statement, Xiaomi founder and chairman Lei Jun said the company is hopeful that it will be able to further grow its revenues when 5G devices start to get traction. The company has plans to launch at least 10 5G-enabled smartphone models next year, he said. No word from him on what the company intends to do about its services ecosystem.