Facebook decided to unveil something new on Android and there were the usual speculations about a Facebook phone. It was not a Facebook phone on Android but it ultimately turned out to be a app launcher for Android phones.
“Facebook Home” allows users to get their Facebook feeds, notifications, photos and updates on the home screen of an Android phone. It has some handy features, which leverages Android open system, to bundle Facebook at the centre of your phone.
It will be available pre-installed with the new HTC First phone too. From 12th April it will be available for download for HTC One X, HTC One X+, Samsung Galaxy S3 and the new Samsung Galaxy S4.
“Facebook Home” could be a potential masterstroke by the social networking giant. Why potential? I will get to it a bit later in this post.
How does ‘Facebook Home’ work?
Facebook Home goes live for certain Android phones on 12th April. It will have your Facebook updates and more on the home screen. The app launcher will allow Facebook apps to be bundled and launched seamlessly to work with Facebook.
Another great innovation is Chat heads. Yes, they are actually calling it “chat heads”. The chat heads feature allows users to manage their text message and Facebook messaging from a single place.
Chat Heads feature will also allow users to keep chatting from any screen they are on and users will be able to move chat heads anywhere on the screen to get back and fro between chatting.
So why is “Facebook Home” a great idea?
Here are a five reasons why Facebook Home is a masterstroke.
Much of Facebook’s revenue will come from mobile phones over the next 5 years. Facebook Home basically injects and takes over your phone. You phone experience becomes Facebook based rather than app based.
Any one using Facebook Home on their Android phone, will naturally ignore other products. That makes Facebook more and more central to those users.
Facebook will get to show full screen ads from time to time, which could be a lot more effective on mobile phones screens. In app payments also could be next and promoted with more success on Facebook Home rather than a mobile phone app.
Also Facebook will now have access to data that they never got, which is access to your GPS data on the phone, you favourite apps, places you visit and people you call most often.
Finally, Facebook has a natural advantage. It is the only company that could pull off something like this. With over 1 billion users it has the necessary mass to have enough people use features like “Facebook Home” and NOT miss other apps. This applies especially to people who are prominently using only Facebook on their phones.
Where ‘Facebook Home’ could go wrong?
Okay, now I am back to why it is a “potential” masterstroke and not a bonafide one.
The problem with “Facebook Home” is that Facebook has a bad track record regarding their mobile phone apps. Even on my iPad, it is one of my least favourite app.
Facebook also has not the best track record of users trusting it with their data. Photos and updates are one thing but I am sure they do not want Facebook tracking who we call or send text messages to. With “Facebook Home” they could be closer to doing exactly that.
Finally, users literally need to surrender their phone to Facebook for ‘Facebook Home’ to work. It is something that people over 25 years age, might not like at all. Professionals do not necessarily want to use a social network all the time on their phone and might prefer using Facebook as a mere app.
With pros and con weighed, I find this is exciting news for heavy Facebook users. It also is a bit of a backhanded compliment to Android as a OS. Facebook is choosing Android for their newest innovation and not Apple’s iPhone it always did in the past.
Rendering engines are an important part of a web browser. They can be one of the primary reasons why a browser is snappy or dead slow. I find Chrome to be fast and responsive and one of the reasons for it is, it’s based on Webkit – an open source rendering engine.
Today, Google announced that it is ‘forking‘ Webkit and building its own rendering engine for Google Chrome.
Why is Google doing this?
One of the main reasons why Google is releasing a new rendering engine is, Chromium (the open source version of Chrome) handles multi-process architecture differently from other Webkit-based browsers (like Safari).
Another reason seems to be about decreasing the code base as much as possible. As Google puts it – “we anticipate that we’ll be able to remove 7 build systems and delete more than 7,000 files—comprising more than 4.5 million lines”.
With Blink, Google has complete control over the rendering engine they use and that fortunately leads to less bugs and more stability.
Is Google being evil?
That’s the classic question, for a company that claims not to be evil. Personally, I think there is nothing wrong with Google releasing a new rendering engine.
Some people think that Blink is Google’s way of moving away from Apple’s involvement in its browser (Apple is one of the biggest contributors to Webkit) and that’s one way to look at it.
Opera to follow Google
Opera has recently announced its switch to Chromium Webkit from Presto. Now that Google plans for Blink as their rendering engine, Opera too agrees with it.
I’m more interested about how Blink will effect Chrome on Android, which is really slow and half-baked right now.
The new numbers on how Android versions are distributed across the phone market are out. Data collected over a 14 day period of active phones, show that now over 25% of Android phones are running on Jelly Bean. The data was released on Android’s own portal for developers.
If you include Ice Cream Sandwich, then that total number is almost 55%. It is good news for App developers that more than half the phones are running Android ICS or higher.
Android phones have always been criticized for having a fragmented distribution. Though Android phones sales are several times more phones than say Apple sells iPhone, but a large number of them use Android 2.3.3 (Gingerbread) version.
Android really took a big step of improvement with ICS and has steadily improved since. So developers will be happy that over 25% of Android phones now run on Jelly Bean.
What’s so special about Jelly Bean?
Jelly Beans has a lot of improvements as far as features go, but the big difference is that it is usually running on high-end smartphones. These are high end phones like HTC One, Galaxy S3 (and S4 when it starts shipping) and Nexus 4 devices. People who use these devices are more likely to not just download apps but also pay of them. If more people are ready to pay of apps, that will automatically attract more app developers.
“My enemy’s enemy is my friend” is a quote that is true for both Yahoo and Dropbox. Yahoo announced that Dropbox will be available on the service. The integration with Dropbox means, Yahoo mail users can directly store their attachments files like photos, videos and documents on Dropbox.
Once users on Yahoo mail, check an email with an attachment, they will see a pop-up that asks them to store attachments with Dropbox.
Yahoo and Dropbox are natural allies
Yahoo has a popular web mail service but no cloud offering as yet. It is also a company on the decline from its glorious past and trying to get back on its feet. It probably cannot now invest in a cloud offering.
So it makes sense that Dropbox and Yahoo are working together being natural allies. But the problem of attracting new users in big numbers still continues for Yahoo. Dropbox too has a uphill battle against the likes of Google Drive and Microsoft’s SkyDrive.
The news of Google Reader being closed down on July 1, 2013 has turned out to be good for many RSS feed clients. One such service tasting success is Feedly. As Google Reader users are moving to find decent alternatives, Feedly through its blog post announced that over 3 million users were added onto Feedly in just two weeks.
Feedly – The unofficial heir of Google Reader
Feedly was launched in 2008 and has grown its user base to 4 million users prior. This was before Google announced it was shutting down Google Reader. Feedly has taken advantage by updating and launching Feedly Mobile client for iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Android phones and tablets.
It has also designed add-ons or extensions for browsers like Firefox, Chrome and Safari. Feedly claims now that they are serving upto 50 million feeds.
With the speed Feedly has managed to snag Google Reader users, it can be said that it is now fast becoming the ruler of the space being vacated by Google Reader.
Interest in RSS Feeds is back!
Digg too has recently announced a new project on building a alternative for Google reader. Currently Digg’s plans are still far from reality and it will probably take a few weeks if not months before they launch an a good feed reader product.
RSS feeds are getting more attention today than ever. RSS feeds will survive and thrive until Google shuts-down Feedburner. That will be a major setback but shutting down feedburner for Google will be tricky given its importance to the Blogger.com platform.
Microsoft is planning an update to Windows 8. The first update seems to be called “Blue” in Microsoft internally. This update is expected to fix a lot of issues with Windows 8 and expected by June 2013.
Facebook has also been introducing a new design for feeds and updated search feature called Graph Search. Facebook uses the colour blue a lot on its website’s UI.
Today being 1st of April, Google rolled out a non-existent feature called Gmail Blue.
It suggests that Gmail’s design will be dominated by the colour blue. See the video below that shows how Gmail Blue will takes the service into the 21st century. The funniest part being a project manager at Gmail speaking with a deadpan face that the idea was to completely redesign something while keeping everything the same.
This video seems a poking a bit of fun at Facebook’s design and also Windows 8 upgrade being called Blue. Jokes apart, Gmail today turned nine years old. It was launched on invitation only basis on 1st April 2004.
So who do you think Google was mocking? Facebook or Microsoft? Do drop in your comments.
GoodReads a popular social network for book readers and authors has been acquired by e-commerce giant Amazon. GoodReads is mainly a website that allows users to list books they have read and add reviews.
GoodReads is mainly a also social network, because users can follow the book reading activities and reviews by their friends. This really took off with Facebook integration which allows people to follow their Facebook friends and also post GoodReads activity on their Facebook timelines.
This was a great acquisition for Amazon as GoodReads would have been for interesting to Google and Apple who are also into selling books. For being a social networking product, I am sure Facebook might have been interested too.
Though GoodRead’s has a user-base of 16 million which might seem insignificant compared to the hundreds of millions of users registered on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.
But these users are typically people (includes me) who buy books online (print and digital) so it will be great opportunity to sell books to these users. Also more importantly a lot of these users are authors who also keep a close eye on book reviews and ratings of their books. Overall GoodReads will be a gold mine of data for Amazon.
Thankfully according to GoodReads blog, it looks like Amazon will keep the GoodReads branding and features intact and keep it an independent platform for book readers.
It looks like Google is finally taking India seriously as a consumer market. Today Google unveiled a double treat for users. First was making movies available on Google Play and also making movies made available on rental with YouTube.
Google Play has started listing local movies that can be downloaded for Indian users. I saw that a quick search of Hindi movies brought about a few popular movies that can be purchased.
Mostly the prices are lower for older movies while newer ones are expensive. Foreign language movies are even more expensive.
The movies are up for rental on YouTube with their new featured channels that allow Indian users to not just stream full length movies free but also rent them online. This option of renting movies is newly introduced in India. The listings and pricing seems similar to Google Play movies.
Apple has already launched Apple TV in India. I can see Google now is preparing the ground for something similar. It is reasonable to expect Google TV being made available in India at some point of time.
Though one major drawback in India are broadband speeds are not exactly blazing fast all over but if more people rented movies online, ISPs will see an opportunity to improve broadband speeds.
Flipboard today updated its app for the iPad and brought in a new feature. This feature allows users to create public or private magazines with their favorite collections. While many users who use Flipboard actually use it to consume their social and RSS feeds, they could not really interact with other users.
This is basically a collection of webpages that can be bookmarked and saved with other Flipboard users. We can create these personalized magazines using a bookmarklet too. This makes it useful as we can bookmark some pages into magazines from your desktop browser and then get back to them on a tablet.
Flipboard also displays publicly available magazines prominently. This in reality makes Flipboard into a social network of content curators.
At the moment this update is available only on iPad but should be available on Android soon.
There are also many Google Reader alternatives ramping up their plans. Also Digg which once specialized in social bookmarking is promising a new RSS feed reader. This is a great time for smaller companies who are specializing in tracking content publishing and feeds. The problem with companies as large as Google is they might not be able to dedicate innovative minds on a fulltime basis to smaller projects but that is not a problem with smaller companies.
At the moment, Flipboard is really coming out with some innovative features but its only downside is it does not have a web application to use from the browser.
When everyone was predicting that RSS will die, Google shut down one of its oldest and less-popular products i.e. Reader. Even after weeks later, people still continue to rant about it.
That’s because, it’s not just Reader which has shut down, but it has broke so many RSS reader apps on iPhone, Android which rely on it for sync. But from an optimistic view, now that Reader is no more, many new RSS readers will start to pop up in app stores.
Press is one such RSS reader which might even replace Google Reader for you. Read on.
Unlike most of the news reading apps on Android/iOS, Press sports a traditional RSS look while still looking pretty and well designed. This is probably the biggest difference between it and other readers. Apps like Feedly don’t feel like an RSS reader in any way, but Press does.
It has an in-app browser, which is good to have. You can choose between fonts like Roboto, Source Sans Pro, Open Sans etc. for body of blog post. The default is Source Sans Pro which looks beautiful.
You can navigate between articles in the app using phone’s volume rocker.
If you want to save data, you can have the app to sync only on Wi-Fi and not on cellular data.
Though it uses Google Reader for sync, the app developers have made it clear that sync will work without problems even after July 1st. They have plans for rolling out a web/desktop version too.
The app costs 1.99$ and is available in the Play Store both for phones as well as tablets.