Instagram invites Android users to beta-test new features

instagram logo

Are you an Android user who loves Instagram? Then you may soon have a chance to be an early beta-tester of the photo-sharing app’s new features for Google’s mobile platform.

Instagram said today that it is inviting Android users to test out new features before they get released to the public at large. The goal, of course, is to get a wide variety of feedback from actual users on what is working, and what isn’t.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 4.17.30 PM

Those interested in being testers must be willing to replace their live version of Instagram with a beta version, and be willing to put up with potential bugs and other problems.

Instagram, of course, is owned by Facebook, and this isn’t the first time users of a Facebook property have been invited to test pre-release features. Last March, the company issued a similar offer to Messenger for Android users, and in June, 2013, it invited users to test the main Facebook for Android app.

Those interested in taking part in the Instagram program must first join the Instagram Beta Group on Google+. Next, visit the tester link. Then download Instagram from Google’s Play Store to update an existing live version of the app. And finally, while testing the app, submit feedback through its “Report a problem” option.

 

 

 


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Imint Wants To Bring Real-Time Video Stabilization To Android

Screenshot 2015-01-09 at 16.48.55 We saw a number of companies launch apps for video stabilization in the last year — including Instagram’s Hyperlapse for iOS — and Apple brought stabilized video to the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus camera. Now,  Imint wants to do something similar for Android phones with the launch of Vidhance Mobile. Before you get too excited, though, it’s worth noting that Imint… Read More

Modular case gives your phone whatever it needs: Power, storage, more

i-Blades Smart Smartphone Case

CES 2015

The CES 2013 prototype of True Player Gear's VR headset. What will be hot in consumer electronics and computing in 2015? Read VB's full coverage of International CES 2015 to find out.

While everyone loves a smartphone case that offers extra battery life, who wouldn’t want to add a little bit more — and maybe even pick the features they wrap around their phone?

That’s the premise behind i-Blades, which today announced its new “smart” case, a product line that lets you choose from a selection of available add-on modules, including more battery life, additional storage, or even extended processing power.

The new product, unveiled at CES today, is built around the idea of personalized “blades,” which users can choose based on what feature is most important to them.

In the initial stages, i-Blades will offer battery power, storage, and custom processor modules. The company expects to partner with existing case makers. CEO Jorge Fernandes said i-Blades will begin shipping sample cases to partners in April or May, will scale up those shipments in August or September, and hopes to be selling them to consumers in November or December.

Fernandes said i-Blades will initially support high-end Android phones from Samsung, HTC, and others, and would like to add iPhone support by early 2016. But he acknowledged the difficulties of getting Apple on board, and said that’s why i-Blades is launching for Android first.

Pricing will vary widely, Fernandes explained, depending on what consumers want. A simple additional battery will probably cost around $20, while a blade with 1 terabyte of memory will go for $1,000.

Users could add up to a terabyte of storage, which could cost $1,000.

Above: Users could add up to a terabyte of storage, which could cost $1,000.

Image Credit: i-Blades

I-Blades users will start with a “Base Blade,” which connects to a either the phone’s USB or Lightning connector, and which provides additional battery power. But that can be swapped out in favor of a Memory blade, which adds up to a terabyte of storage; a Sports blade, which is meant to integrate with sports wearables; or a Medical blade, which allows interacting with health-related add-ons. The company also hopes developers will come up with a range of other custom options.

While it’s simple enough to supplement a phone with external battery power or even storage (Android phones support external storage via their USB ports, through an app), it’s not clear how the company hopes to integrate additional processing power or other features.

VentureBeat did not have a chance to check out the cases, and it’s hard to know at this point if they will work as promised, or if consumers will be interested in forking over $1,000 for extra storage. But the idea of a customizable smartphone case is intriguing. It will be interesting to see if phone and case manufacturers, as well as consumers, agree.


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Is Microsoft’s Windows Phone at long last dead?

Windows Phone 8.1

Microsoft’s attempt to climb back into the mobile phone race may finally be drawing its final breaths.

The latest market share numbers for mobile operating systems point to an absolute bloodbath for Windows Phones. Nobody was under the illusion that Windows Phones were doing well, but Kantar Worldpanel ComTech figures for the three months ending November 2014 indicate that they are on the cusp of almost total irrelevance.

Windows Phone market share fell to 3 percent in the U.S., down from 4.3 percent for the same period a year ago. In Europe’s five biggest markets (Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain), market share dropped from 9.8 percent to 8.3 percent in November 2014. Only Germany saw an uptick in market share.

And in China, the Windows Phone has been all but wiped out as market share fell from 2.7 percent to .6 percent.

Of course, these numbers don’t include many developing markets or regions such as Latin America, Africa, India and Russia. With the acquisition of Nokia, there’s some indication Microsoft may attempt to focus on the cheapest of smart handsets for emerging economies.

Still, all indications are at this point that the mobile operating system fight is now completely about Apple’s iOS versus Google’s Android. And it’s hard to see what Microsoft can do in the near future to change that dynamic.


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Apple gains market share with bigger iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus as Samsung and Android suffer

ios-iphone-6-6

Bigger iPhones have translated into bigger market share for Apple at the expense of Android and rival Samsung.

According to the latest report from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, Apple’s iOS grew its market share in every country surveyed for the three months ending November 2014 with the exception of Japan where the iPhone saw a surge in sales last year.

“While remaining the dominant global OS, Android’s market share dropped in most European markets and in the US where the decline was the first since September 2013.” said Carolina Milanesi, Kantar’s chief of research, in a statement.

In Europe’s biggest countries (Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Italy), Android had a market share of 69.9 percent, down 3.2 percent from the same period a year ago. Apple climbed from 17.5 percent to 23.8 percent.

Meanwhile, in the U.S. Apple climbed to 47.4 percent of sales, up 4.3 percentage points from the same three months in 2013. Android fell 2 percentage points to 48.4 percent, just a hair above Apple’s iOS devices.

While the report focused on mobile operating system market share numbers, Kantar says Apple’s gains were driven by the bigger iPhones last year. And given that the period doesn’t include December, the firm expects Apple’s share could climb even higher.

Kantar says these gains came at a cost to Samsung, which saw market share losses in Europe and the U.S., continuing a tough year for the South Korean electronics giant.

Apple also saw iOS market share in China rise from 17 percent to 18.1 percent last quarter. Though Android also grew in China from 78.6 percent to 80.4 percent, thanks to the tremendous momentum behind Xiaomi.


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How Android beat iOS in 2014, and vice versa

Android instead of iOS

There’s no single way to declare a winner between Android and iOS. They may be direct competitors, but Google and Apple have very different strategies for their mobile platforms.

Nonetheless, a lot happened in 2014, and on the last day of the year, it’s time to take a closer look. The Android-iOS duopoly went uncontested, but which of the two won?

Shipments and market share

Let’s get something out of the way right off the bat: the term “market share” refers to the current state of the market, which means devices purchased today as well as those many years ago (as long as they are still in use).

In terms of market share, Android has been winning for many years now in smartphones, while for tablets that trend is more recent. The latest quarterly shipments show the story hasn’t changed. We don’t have Q4 2014 data yet, but we can look at the other three quarters in the year.

For smartphones, IDC numbers are as follows: Android at 81.1 percent and iOS at 15.2 percent in Q1, Android at 84.7 percent and iOS at 11.7 percent in Q2, Android at 84.4 percent and iOS at 11.7 percent in Q3.

IDC doesn’t break down tablet shipments by operating system (only by manufacturer), but last month it did release an estimate for the year based on the data it has so far: IDC expects Android to be first with 67.7 percent of the year’s tablet shipments and iOS second with 27.5 percent. This is quite the gap if you remember it was only in 2013 that Android beat iOS for the first time in the tablet market.

No matter how you slice it, Android outperformed iOS in this area this year, both in smartphones and tablets.

Enterprise

Again, we don’t yet have Q4 2014 data yet, but the last three quarters tell the same story as in previous quarters: Apple has a very strong hold on the enterprise, leaving Google in distant second.

Good Technology estimates are as follows: iOS at 72 percent and Android at 27 percent in Q1, iOS at 67 percent and Android at 32 percent in Q2, iOS at 69 percent and Android at 29 percent in Q3.

This requires the same disclosure as previous “market share” figures: These numbers are for activations in the specific quarters, as opposed to total devices actually in use. That said, iOS has been dominating in this space for many years, so Android would need to win multiple sequential quarters in activations before it can capture actual market share as older devices are replaced in the enterprise.

Apps

In terms of total apps, Google Play has been growing faster than Apple’s App Store. It was last year that Google Play passed 1 million apps (in July 2013), just a month after Apple announced its App Store had passed 900,000 apps (in June 2013).

This year, both stores are around the 1.3 million app mark. Apple’s number is official as of September 2014, while estimates say that Google passed the same figure sometime earlier. Without anything official from Google (unofficial estimates put it closer to 1.5 million), it’s difficult to say which store is bigger at the end of the year. We’d wager Google Play beat Apple’s App Store this year, though that’s simply because it has been growing faster.

In terms of app downloads, Google Play is also likely gaining on Apple’s App Store, though we didn’t see it overtake its competitor this year. Apple has seen 85 billion downloads as of October 2014. The latest Google Play figure we have is still from July 2013, when it passed the 50 billion app download mark, a milestone Apple passed in May 2013. We expect Google may simply be waiting to announce the 100 billion milestone.

Developers

While the platforms that developers chose largely depend on the app ecosystem we outlined above, the amount of money made from these apps is also key. Unfortunately, Google has yet to disclose any specific numbers.

The latest figure from Apple came in July 2014, at which point its App Store had paid out $20 billion to developers, with “nearly half” coming from the 12 months prior. Google has kept quiet as its number is likely to be lower, which is naturally reflected in per-app estimates as well.

Final thoughts

In most areas, Google is already beating Apple, or at least catching up to it. Yet Apple still has a stranglehold in specific areas, ones that aren’t easy to break, including the enterprise as well as the hearts of independent developers and startups.

Looking forward to 2015, we don’t expect the landscape to change significantly, though competition will likely get fiercer. Google will continue to make headway in most areas, simply because its strategy is much broader: more shipments, more devices, and more markets. Apple, meanwhile, will naturally continue to focus on its area of expertise: more revenue.


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How Apple, Google, and Microsoft embrace (and ignore) each others’ app stores

An explosion of apps

When it comes to app development, Apple, Google, and Microsoft all have very different strategies that align with their respective business models. So with 2014 almost over, we decided to take a look at the trio’s mobile app stores to answer a simple question: How much do the three develop for each others’ competing platforms?

As you might expect, Apple doesn’t bother making apps for Android or Windows Phone at all. Google loves Android and iOS, and it almost completely shuns Windows Phone.

Microsoft, meanwhile, has adopted a strategy of developing apps for all three platforms. It even offers more iOS apps than Google does. In fact, both Microsoft and Google offer more iOS apps than Apple does in its own store.

Without further ado, here’s the state of the three companies and their apps on each other’s stores at the end of 2014:

apple_google_microsoft_apps_2014

To compile this chart, we tallied up the number of apps published by these companies in each of the three app stores. We’re counting apps listed in the stores, not those that come preloaded on devices. We’d also like to emphasize that not all apps are available in every market, so you may see fewer apps depending on which regional store you are accessing.

Not all apps these companies build for their own platforms are available in their own stores. 36 of the above Windows Phone apps are created by “Microsoft Mobile,” which encompasses all the former Nokia apps that have been rebranded to Lumia, as well a few low-quality or outdated apps that frankly shouldn’t be in the store anymore. Some of the Google apps are very similar (such as Chrome and Chrome beta), since we’re counting individual entries in the store.

Nonetheless, the above chart still gives a rough idea of how the three tech companies interact with each other’s mobile platforms, at present.

In 2015, we don’t expect Apple will significantly change its approach to competing platforms. We do look forward, however, to examining the state of the Microsoft’s platform after the Windows Store and Windows Phone Store merge. Will this push Google to start playing ball with Microsoft more? We’ll check back in a year.


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The 5 biggest moments in stickers, the product that ruled 2014 and beyond

google_hangouts_stickers

As the year winds down, tech pundits, analysts, and assorted eggheads are taking the opportunity to pontificate about what really mattered this past year and what technologies will change our lives next year

Artificial intelligence. Driverless cars. Smart whatevers. Elon Musk. Robots. Uber. Singularity. Blah, blah. And on and on and on.

But across the board, these digital gasbags missed the one product that easily had the greatest impact on the lives of regular people like you and me:

Stickers.

Stickers, stickers, stickers, stickers. Glorious stickers.

The elite tech punditry look down their noses at stickers as something for the rabble. Bread and circuses for the masses. But they’re wrong.

Stickers represent perhaps one of the greatest evolutionary moments in the history of human communication. They are tearing down the great Tower of Babel that divides us as a species and making it far easier to communicate with people from around the globe.

Stickers are fulfilling the great promise of Esperanto and constructing a language we can all embrace without having to learn Klingon, Dothraki, or some other made-up language that’s even more embarrassing when spoken outside a convention center packed with comic book nerds.

One can not underestimate the impact the sticker revolution will have. By creating a common tongue, a communal mode of expression, people around the world will realize that we are more alike than different. We will set aside ancient grudges as politicians use stickers to build economic and cultural bridges. War will become a thing of the past. Famine will disappear. Equality will spread across the globe.

Sure, stickers have been popular in some parts of Asia for a few years. But 2014 was the year stickers were embraced around the globe. When their potential to bring about the digital utopia we have longed dreamed about began to take shape.

In that spirit, here are the five biggest moments in stickers over the past year:

1. LINE launches a sticker marketplace

Japanese messaging app LINE made $65 million in sticker sales back in 2013. The company took a bold step toward the future in April when it announced that anyone could design and sell stickers in its marketplace. The launch of the LINE Creators Marketplace changed everything. Everything.

2. Feeligo creates animated stickers

Paris-based Feeligo is developing a stickers-as-a-service platform (yes, really) that may bring the sticker revolution to every website in the world. The company was innovating at a breakneck pace this year. Stickers for Gmail. Poo stickers.

But the one we loved the most was animated stickers, debuting in June. No more lifeless cartoons that just sit and stare. Now, stickers can move.

“Animated stickers allow us to show even more specific poses that can not be shown in a still image and give our stickers an even more unique character by showing the way they move and behave,” the company said.

3. Facebook adds stickers to comments

Stickers were once relegated to Facebook’s messaging app, but the social networking giant announced in October that people could now use stickers in comments. This massive breakthrough in commenting promised to ensure that civilized dialogue would become the norm online as people increasingly turned to stickers of hams dressed as bunnies to express their feelings about pictures of cats.

4. New stickers for Google Hangouts

In early December, Google debuted the result of its latest moonshot: New sticker packs for Google Hangouts for Android. While the company had added some relatively lackluster stickers earlier in the year, the latest announcement demonstrate how the search giant had gone all in on stickers.

“Stickers are not new, but we really went to town on this,” said Google exec Bradley Horowitz at LeWeb 2014 in Paris. “We’ve got pirates, we’ve got cats, we’ve got Vikings, we’ve got aliens. A guy taking a bath in a cup of coffee.”

See?

“This stuff is not revolutionary,” Horowitz said. (Wait, what?)

“But when you think about non-verbal communication, a sticker like this says more than anything else I could say,” he added.

5. Stickered app from Facebook

The social media giant unleashes a monster innovation: Stickers. On. Photos. On your phone.

“A lightweight new Creative Labs app by the Messenger team called Stickered for Messenger that enables you to add stickers to a photo and send them to friends on Messenger,” the company explained.

The app is available for Android, and soon, for iOS.

This will change everything. Again.


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