HTC Making the Google Nexus 9 with NVIDIA Tegra K1?

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | September 25, 2014 - 10:45 PM |
Tagged: tablet, Nexus, google, nexus 9, nvidia, tegra k1

The Nexus line is due for an update, with each product being released for at least a year. They are devices which embody Google's vision... for their own platform. You can fall on either side of that debate, whether it guides OEM partners or if it is simply a shard the fragmentation issue, if you even believe that fragmentation is bad, but they are easy to recommend and a good benchmark for Android.

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We are expecting a few new entries in the coming months, one of which being the Nexus 9. Of note, it is expected to mark the return of HTC to the Nexus brand. They were the launch partner with the Nexus One and then promptly exited stage left as LG, Samsung, and ASUS performed the main acts.

We found this out because NVIDIA spilled the beans on their lawsuit filing against Qualcomm and Samsung. Apparently, "the HTC Nexus 9, expected in the third quarter of 2014, is also expected to use the Tegra K1". It has since been revised to remove the reference. While the K1 has a significant GPU to back it up, it will likely be driving a very high resolution display. The Nexus 6 is expected to launch at around the same time, along with Android 5.0 itself, and the 5.2-inch phone is rumored to have a 1440p display. It seems unlikely that a larger, tablet display will be lower resolution than the phone it launches alongside -- and there's not much room above it.

The Google Nexus 9 is expected for "Q3".

Source: The Verge

Google+ Not Required for Google Accounts Anymore

Subject: General Tech | September 22, 2014 - 02:15 PM |
Tagged: google, google+

I cannot help but feel like this is a step on the eventual phasing-out of Google's most recent attempt at a standalone social network, Google+. Until just recently, the company was doing all that they could to force it into each of their services; now, they give you a "no thanks" option when creating a Google account (for GMail, Google Docs, and so forth).

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Image Credit: Marketing Land

Marketing Land claims to disagree. They expect that Google will "continue making subtle changes to the service" such as enhancements to Hangouts and Hangouts on Air, or even spinning out Google+ Photos. The thing is, these initiatives will not mean that they are supporting Google+; rather, it says that they are supporting the parts of it that worked. The article did not even mention actual Google+, the social network, as something that Google might consider updating -- just Hangouts and other sub-products.

This all depends on what you consider "Google" to be. Not having a profile on a message-sharing service does not really change much, despite how it feels. The real point should be reducing the barrier-to-entry for cross-promotion. A unified login helps in reducing effort to acquire new users without any real risk. Forcing users into your ecosystem could help, if it does not shove them away.

And Google seems to care even less about keeping users in their eco-system with a limited communication and microblogging platform.

ARChon Brings App Runtime for Chrome Outside ChromeOS

Subject: General Tech | September 20, 2014 - 11:33 AM |
Tagged: chrome os, chrome, google, Android

Last week, we reported on Google's App Runtime for Chrome (ARC) beta release. Its goal is to bring apps from the Google Play Store to ChromeOS through an Android stack built atop Native Client. They are sandboxed, but still hardware-dependent for performance. Since then, vladikoff on GitHub has published ARChon, a project which brings that initiative to desktop OSes.

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Image Credit: ARChon Project

To use Archon, you will need to use an x86-64 version of Chrome 37 (or later) on Windows, Mac, or Linux. This project is not limited to the handful of ARC-compatible apps that Google officially supports. The Android apps need to be converted into Chrome extensions using a tool, also available, called chromeos-apk. In fact, the example app is an open source version of the game, 2048, rather than just the four launch apps from Google.

Whether Google intends to offer this, officially, with their Chrome browser is the most interesting part for me. I would prefer that everything just works everywhere but, failing that, having a supported Android platform on the desktop without dual-booting or otherwise displacing the host itself could be interesting. And yes, Bluestacks exists, but it has not been something that I would recommend, at least in my experience of it.

Source: ARChon

Android One sub-$100 Phones for Overseas Announced

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | September 17, 2014 - 02:03 PM |
Tagged: google, Android, android one

In much the same way as FirefoxOS is targeting foreign markets with low-cost phones, with the Intex Cloud Fx as the extreme example, Google is pushing for the overseas markets with Android One. Based on Android 4.4 and updated as new versions launch, for up to two years at least, the devices will not be old and outdated.

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In terms of hardware, the platform is said to feature front and rear cameras, a quad-core processor, a microSD card slot, and dual SIM slots. Google has several partners involved with the initiative: Acer, Airtel, Alcatel, ASUS, HTC, Intex, Karbonn, LAVA, Lenovo, MediaTek, Cromax, Panasonic, Qualcomm, Spice, and Xolo. Besides a baseline standard, and a bit of marketing, there does not seem to be much to the platform itself.

Of course, delivering a quality standard, at an affordable price, to places which normally cannot obtain smartphones at all is noteworthy.

Source: Google

ChromeOS Gets Android "App Runtime for Chrome (Beta)"

Subject: General Tech, Systems, Mobile | September 13, 2014 - 02:52 PM |
Tagged: google, chrome os, Android

To some extent...

This is not the entire Google Play Store; in fact, it is just four Android apps at launch: Duolingo, Evernote, Sight Words, and Vine. According to a Google spokesperson, via Ars Technica, the company built an Android platform on top of Native Client, which is their way of sandboxing (a subset of) native code for use in applications which require strict security (such as a web browser). Android apps can then see and use those platform-dependent Android APIs, but be kept at two arms-lengths away from the host system.

chrome-os-android.png

From the app's standpoint, code will not need to be changed or ported. Of course, this is sound in theory, but little bugs can surface in actual practice. In fact, Flipboard was demonstrated at Google I/O under this initiative but is curiously absent from launch. To me, it seems like a few bugs need to be resolved before it is deemed compatible (it is dubbed "Beta" after all). Another possibility is that the app was not yet optimized for a Chromebook's user experience. Claiming either would be pure speculation, so who knows?

Android apps using App Runtime for Chrome (Beta) are available now at the Chrome Web Store.

Source: Google

IDF 2014: Intel and Google Announce Reference Design Program, Guaranteed 2 Week AOSP Updates

Subject: Mobile | September 9, 2014 - 10:00 AM |
Tagged: tablet, reference design program, Intel, idf 2014, idf, google, aosp, Android

During today's keynote of the Intel Developer Forum, Google and Intel jointly announced a new program aimed to ease the burden of Android deployment and speed up the operating system update adoption rates that have often plagued the ecosystem.

In today's Android market, whether we are talking about x86 or ARM-based SoC designs, the process to release a point update to the operating system is quite complicated. ODMs have to build unique operating system images for each build and each individual SKU has to pass Google Media Services (GMS). This can be cumbersome and time consuming, slowing down or preventing operating system updates from ever making it to the consumer.

androidref.jpg

With the Intel Reference Design Program, the company will provide it's partners with a single binary that allows them to choose from a pre-qualified set of components or a complete bill of materials specification. Obviously this BOM will include Intel x86 processors like Bay Trail but it should help speed up the development time of new hardware platforms. Even better, OEMs and ODMs won't have to worry about dealing with the process of passing GMS certification leaving the hardware vendor to simply release the hardware to the market.

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But, an even bigger step forward, is Intel's commitment on the software side. Everyone knows how fragmented the Android OS market with just 20% of the hardware on the Play Store running Android KitKat. For devices built on the Reference Design Program, Intel is going to guarantee software updates within 2 weeks of AOSP (Android Open Source Project) updates. And, that update support will be given for two years after the release of the launch of the device.

AOSP-logo.jpg

This combination of hardware and software support from Intel to its hardware ODMs should help ignite some innovation and sales in the x86 Android market. There aren't any partners to announce support for this Reference Design Program but hopefully we'll hear about some before the end of IDF. It will be very interesting to see what ARM (and its partners) respond with. There are plenty of roadblocks holding back the quick uptake of x86 Android tablets but those companies would be blind to ignore the weight that Intel can shift when the want to.

Google Will Not Buy Twitch.tv... Amazon Did.

Subject: General Tech | August 25, 2014 - 03:49 PM |
Tagged: amazon, twitch, twitch.tv, google

Well this is a surprise (and I think a pleasant one). We were under the impression that YouTube, the video distribution arm of Google, was planning to purchase Twitch for $1 billion USD (pending regulatory approval). Today, it was made official: Amazon would be purchasing the video streaming platform. Twitch's CEO, Emmett Shear, published an open letter to their community with a message of thanks and a confirmation of Amazon's acquisition.

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I guess "eSports" is ready for... Prime time.

Twitch did not mention their value, but don't worry -- Amazon published a press release. The retail and infrastructure giant will pay $970 million in cash. The entire deal is expected to finalize "in the second half of 2014". Since we are already in the second half of 2014, that means any time between now and New Year's (assuming "Calendar 2014").

On the copyright front, I believe this is a major step forward. We originally feared that YouTube, and its parent company, Google, would impose a similar system to their own upon Twitch, to appease copyright owners. This is a problem because YouTube's copyright complaint system is plagued with abuse. I hope that Amazon and Twitch will be more friendly to potential, unproven infringers than YouTube has demonstrated itself to be.

Lastly, Amazon has a big, existing business in web infrastructure and online content delivery. Whether you look from the angle of Prime Video or Amazon Web Services (EC2, CloudFront, etc.), the company can handle sending bits from one place to another. They seem to be a good fit on on that front.

If there was any doubt that Amazon wants to be a big part of the gaming industry, it is gone.

Source: Amazon

Google Play Store Could Be Redesigned (Maybe Even Soon)

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | July 16, 2014 - 01:11 AM |
Tagged: google, google play, Android, android l

If you have looked at Google's recent design ideologies, first announced at Google I/O 2014, you will see them revolve around skeuomorphism in its most basic sense. By that, I do not mean that they want to make it look like a folder, a metal slab, or a radio button. Their concept is that objects should look like physical objects which behave with physical accuracy, even though they are just simulations of light.

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Image Credit: Android Police (and their source)

Basically, rather than having a panel with a toolbar, buttons, and columns, have a background with a page on it. Interface elements which are affected by that panel are on it, while more global actions are off of it. According to Android Police, who make clear that they do not have leaked builds and readers should not believe anything until/unless it ships, the Google Play Store will be redesigned with this consistent, albeit broad, design metric.

Basically, if you are navigation bar, pack your desk and get out.

If true, when will these land? Anyone's guess. One speculation is that it will be timed with the release of Android "L" in Autumn. Their expectation, however, is that it will be one of many updates Google will make across their products in a rolling pattern. Either way, I think it looks good... albeit similar to many modern websites.

Google I/O 2014: Android Extension Pack Announced

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Mobile, Shows and Expos | July 7, 2014 - 01:06 AM |
Tagged: tegra k1, OpenGL ES, opengl, Khronos, google io, google, android extension pack, Android

Sure, this is a little late. Honestly, when I first heard the announcement, I did not see much news in it. The slide from the keynote (below) showed four points: Tesselation, Geometry Shaders, Computer [sic] Shaders, and ASTC Texture Compression. Honestly, I thought tesselation and geometry shaders were part of the OpenGL ES 3.1 spec, like compute shaders. This led to my immediate reaction: "Oh cool. They implemented OpenGL ES 3.1. Nice. Not worth a news post."

google-android-opengl-es-extensions.jpg

Image Credit: Blogogist

Apparently, they were not part of the ES 3.1 spec (although compute shaders are). My mistake. It turns out that Google is cooking their their own vendor-specific extensions. This is quite interesting, as it adds functionality to the API without the developer needing to target a specific GPU vendor (INTEL, NV, ATI, AMD), waiting for approval from the Architecture Review Board (ARB), or using multi-vendor extensions (EXT). In other words, it sounds like developers can target Google's vendor without knowing the actual hardware.

Hiding the GPU vendor from the developer is not the only reason for Google to host their own vendor extension. The added features are mostly from full OpenGL. This makes sense, because it was announced with NVIDIA and their Tegra K1, Kepler-based SoC. Full OpenGL compatibility was NVIDIA's selling point for the K1, due to its heritage as a desktop GPU. But, instead of requiring apps to be programmed with full OpenGL in mind, Google's extension pushes it to OpenGL ES 3.1. If the developer wants to dip their toe into OpenGL, then they could add a few Android Extension Pack features to their existing ES engine.

Epic Games' Unreal Engine 4 "Rivalry" Demo from Google I/O 2014.

The last feature, ASTC Texture Compression, was an interesting one. Apparently the Khronos Group, owners of OpenGL, were looking for a new generation of texture compression technologies. NVIDIA suggested their ZIL technology. ARM and AMD also proposed "Adaptive Scalable Texture Compression". ARM and AMD won, although the Khronos Group stated that the collaboration between ARM and NVIDIA made both proposals better than either in isolation.

Android Extension Pack is set to launch with "Android L". The next release of Android is not currently associated with a snack food. If I was their marketer, I would block out the next three versions as 5.x, and name them (L)emon, then (M)eringue, and finally (P)ie.

Would I do anything with the two skipped letters before pie? (N)(O).

Do you know Juno?

Subject: General Tech | July 3, 2014 - 09:39 AM |
Tagged: linux, linaro, juno, google, armv8-a, ARMv8, arm, Android

By now you should have read Ryan's post or listened to Josh talk about Juno on the PCPer Podcast but if you find yourself hungry for more information you can visit The Tech Report.  They discuss how the 64-bit Linaro is already able to take advantage of one of big.LITTLE's power efficiency optimization called Global Task Scheduling.  As Linaro releases monthly updates you can expect to see more features and better implementations as their take on the Android Open Source Project evolves.  Expect to see more of Juno and ARMv8 on review sites as we work out just how to benchmark these devices.

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"ARM has created its own custom SoC and platform for 64-bit development. The folks at Linaro have used this Juno dev platform to port an early version of Android L to the ARMv8 instruction set. Here's a first look at the Juno hardware and the 64-bit software it enables."

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