Today has been one of the rare days where we got big announcements from both the Android world and the Apple world. This morning, we finally got a look at the new OnePlus One Android smartphone (phablet?), and then this evening Apple announced its Q2 earnings which (mostly) exceeded expectations. But, there was an interesting subplot behind both stories: do tablets really matter?
Google has a clear vision for what it wants with Android Wear, and it is being very very clear in its message to developers on this point. The first round of Android wearables are not aiming to be complete smartwatches in the sense that many would hope they would be. Rather, these are planned to be companion devices which are mainly used for notifications, and don't really offer much as far as advanced functionality.
As we covered in Part 2, Windows Phone is expected to take a big jump with its feature set when version 8.1 hits. When you combine that with the reportedly aggressive licensing fees and expected expansion into more emerging markets, and there are good reasons to expect that Windows Phone can continue growing its market share in 2014. Although, without some incredible hardware and marketing, it's hard to tell exactly if continued growth will be enough to really allow Windows Phone to cement its place as one of the leaders of the mobile ecosystem.
As we covered in Part 1, 2013 wasn't as big a year for Windows as you might have thought. The software didn't see much change aside from a couple minor updates; the hardware saw some impressive moves, but users didn't pick up too much; and, overall, Windows Phone was the "fastest" growing platform in the world, but growing fast is easier when you don't have much market share to begin with. Still, Windows Phone has momentum, it has the backing of Microsoft and its deep pockets, and it has the backing of Nokia's hardware. So, while Windows Phone has a long way to go, it's hard to count it out in this race. And, Microsoft does have plans to fix at least some of the issues stated above, and a lot of those fixes are planned to be part of Windows Phone 8.1, which we'll get to in a bit.
We've already covered the top two biggest mobile platforms in the world in our State of the Platform series. We've looked at what 2013 held and what to expect in 2014 from both Android and iOS. Now, it's time to take a look at the fastest growing platform on the market, and the platform that has the best chance of becoming the final pillar in the modern mobile triumvirate: Windows. Although, it should be noted that there is quite a long road ahead for Microsoft's platform to reach that state.
Yesterday was absolutely filled to the brim with HTC One (M8) news, just as you would expect from the combination announcement/release day of a major Android flagship device. And, one of the more interesting bits of news was that HTC was not just going to release its BlinkFeed app into the Play Store, but that it would eventually be expanded for compatibility with non-HTC Android devices. The question quickly arose as to why HTC would do this, and after taking a while to ponder the question, I've formed a theory: it may be the only option left to compete with Apple and Samsung.
What was the last flagship smartphone announcement that really surprised you? Maybe last year's HTC One, or the Nokia Lumia 1020? The LG G Flex and its self-healing back was somewhat surprising, but it's hard to call that a flagship device. Similarly, the HTC J Butterfly in 2011 was the first device with a 1080p display, but that was definitely not a flagship. Maybe it would be the Nexus 4 in 2012, because of its extremely low price tag, but if you're just considering hardware, would you have to go all the way back to the iPhone 4 in 2010?
Earlier today, the first set of benchmarks came out to compare the Oppo Find 7 and its lower-cost sibling, the Oppo Find 7a. The results weren't exactly surprising, if you've been paying attention to what Motorola has been saying for the past year, but it does bring up an important question: is it worth a higher price tag to get the same relative performance?
A few days ago, Google finally unveiled its platform for wearable devices, called Android Wear. The initial reaction to the software tended to be positive, because it wasn't trying to do too much, and seemed focused on the right use cases for wearables. Given that the SDK is still a developer preview, there are quite a lot of questions still surrounding the platform and the hardware that will go along with it, including how or if apps will run on the system, and what kind of battery life can be expected. But, one question stands above the rest: how open will it be?
Before today, it was extremely difficult to know what to expect from Google's official wearable solution for Android. There were a couple reasonable assumptions that could be made, like the fact that an Android-based wearable would likely rely heavily on Google Now, both with its card interface and its voice command system. But, it was hard to know what to expect from the hardware or the overall software experience. Now that Android Wear has been unveiled, the assessments can begin.
I have to start out by saying that like many of you, I was very excited when I saw the initial videos for Android Wear, and even more excited when I saw the teaser for the Motorola Moto 360. I have never worn a watch with any regularity; and, since high school (read: since beginning to carry a cell phone), I have never worn a watch as anything more than a fashion accessory for a night. But, I can easily see that habit changing soon. However, unlike most of you, my job relies on my ability to set aside that excitement and take a look at what we should really be expecting from Android Wear. As great as the videos looked, there are some concerns to be had with Google's offering, which I'll get to as we go. First though, we should start out with what we should expect from the coming wave of Android Wear devices.
Canonical's founder Mark Shuttleworth is one person in the tech world who it seems always has something interesting to say, and today he was at the CeBIT computer expo in Germany, where he definitely had a few good words about the plans for Ubuntu Touch. Shuttleworth talked about the potential price points, and the intended user base, but we have to wonder if the strategy is sound.
When we went through the 2014 outlook for Android, one of the biggest questions looming on the horizon wasn't what was going to happen, but rather when it would all start. We knew that Android would be making the move to smartwatches and other wearables this year; and, we knew that Google would be starting the work to get developers on board and to optimize the platform for the super small screen. Now we know that theAndroid SDK for wearables will be released in just two weeks from now, and that helps to sort out when we should start seeing actual Android devices released with full Google services.
Now, it's time to move on to the main event, because 2014 is expected to be all about new Apple hardware. We'll start off broadly, because there is a lingering question regarding just how much new hardware we see. It is almost a certainty that we will see at least two new iPhones in 2014 (including the iPhone 6 and a maybe a plastic iPhone 5s to fill the mid-range) and the iWatch; but, after that, things get a bit hazy. You would normally assume that there would be a new iPad and iPad mini, and the rumors have also been talking quite a bit about a potential 12.9-inch iPad, which the media has taken to calling the iPad Pro.
When you take on the task of looking ahead at what's to come with Apple, you're dedicating yourself to wading through a lot of crap. The rumor mill is always active in the mobile ecosystem, but the Apple rumor mill is a never-ending flood of hopes, dreams, misinformation, and more than anything else: analysts that want to keep getting those checks. Because of all that, we can't go through every rumor that exists, and we have to try to focus in on the most plausible rumors based on some basic rational thinking.
Last time, we took a long trip in order to cover the major changes we saw over the past year in Android, and what to expect in 2014 for Google's system. Surprisingly, the look into Apple has taken an even longer journey (both in how long it took to write and in overall length of the piece), because while we skimmed over Android hardware for the most part, it is impossible to do the same with Apple. This means there s a bit more to cover in terms of where Apple's platform has come from in 2013, and what to expect from iOS in 2014.
If you've been watching the news today, you probably saw some headlines concerning some answers that Sundar Pichai gave at Mobile World Congress this week. We covered the story earlier, because Pichai confirmed that a Nexus 6 will be on the way in the second half of the year, and talked a bit about Samsung as well. However, some are reporting that Pichai said that Android was not designed to be safe, which you might think is a bigger headline, assuming that's really what he said.
Samsung president and CEO JK Shin set the tone for the Samsung Galaxy S5 announcement right from the start by saying, "After all, people choose meaningful and relevant improvement for day to day use, and that is small. One step further, evolution always changes the world. That's the meaningful innovation." (English is not Mr. Shin's first language, but you get the idea.) Simply stated: consumers don't want the Galaxy S5 to be filled with bloat, they want useful updates.
As those of you who follow the site know by now, I'm a fan of the Moto X. I was sold on the device the first time I held it back in August of last year, and once the Moto Maker support extended to T-Mobile and the price dropped a bit, I traded in my Nexus 5 for the Moto X. But, the entire time, what I've really wanted is the ebony wood version of the Moto X. Now I have it, and the TL:DR version of this article is this: the wooden back takes an already great phone and makes it even better. We always talk about glass and metal as so-called "premium" materials, but maybe we should consider wood in that same category when it comes to our mobile devices.
There is a new report from from Taiwan’s Economic Daily News, there is almost certainly another handheld device coming from Apple this year to go along with the new 4.7-inch iPhone 6. That much isn't really news at this point. The interesting thing is that the Economic Daily News claims that the 5.6-inch device will not carry the iPhone branding. Frankly, we're not sure what to make of this rumor.
We have been hearing some rumors here and there about what to expect in the upcoming Windows Phone 8.1 update, but ever since Microsoft released the SDK for the update, the rumors surrounding the update have positively exploded. We have been posting a couple articles every day with new information that has been gleaned from the SDK or other sources, so it is time to do a rumor roundup to make it easier to sort through what we know so far about Windows Phone 8.1. Of course, this article will be updated (and has already needed updating as it was written because the news doesn't stop when it comes to Windows Phone 8.1.