BlackBerry Venice hands-on video: Android slider has touch keyboard, universal search, and Google services

blackberry_venice_leaks

BlackBerry’s Android phone, codenamed Venice, continues to see leak after leak. Following the slew of images we’ve already seen, we now have a hands-on video.

In June, rumors that BlackBerry was building an Android smartphone returned in full force, followed by a big leak in July. Then in August we saw the keyboard, and also learned the device will likely launch on all four major U.S. carriers (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile) in November.

As one who loves BlackBerry hardware but not the software, I’m excited about the potential of a proper QWERTY phone with Android apps. Today’s video comes courtesy of Bell Mobility retailer Baka Mobile:

The clip shows features like tap to wake, universal search, and even demoes that the keyboard responds to touch, much like the BlackBerry Passport. This means you’ll be able to navigate the phone without blocking anything on the touchscreen.


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We’ve seen rumored specs that include a Snapdragon 808 processor, a 5.4-inch QHD LCD, and 3GB of RAM, but nothing has confirmed these yet. The device is expected to feature a dual curved display (think Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge) with a physical keyboard that slides up from underneath (think Palm Pre). The hardware is similar to the slider that BlackBerry showed off at Mobile World Congress in March, though that device was clearly running BlackBerry OS 10.

But all the leaks have shown Android. They all depict Google apps, suggesting Venice is getting a largely unmodified version of Android, unlike Amazon’s Fire OS, which is based on a fork of Google’s mobile operating system. We’ve also seen an Android version of BlackBerry Hub, supposed Chromecast support, and Content Transfer for BlackBerry that will let you move phone data using Google Drive.

Seeing a hands-on video of the device is the best confirmation yet that this device will be announced within the next two months.

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Apple’s first Android app, Move to iOS, is getting killed with one-star reviews

ios_9_iphone_ipad

Apple today launched Move to iOS, the company’s first Android app built in-house. As we noted earlier, “it should surprise no one that the first app Apple built for Android helps you ditch the platform.” The fact the app is getting flooded with one-star reviews is equally as shocking.

At the time of publication, the app has an average rating of 1.8. The larger majority (almost 79 percent) are one-star reviews, followed by five-star reviews (almost 19 percent).

If this isn’t a prime example of just how dumb the five-star rating system is, we don’t know what is. Here’s what any Android user who fires up Move to iOS on Google Play will see:

move_to_ios_reviews_all

This is also a stark reminder of just how much Android users hate iOS. I read through a bunch of these reviews and I have to say these three summarize the whole lot the best:

move_to_ios_reviews_sample

Some are unhappy that Apple didn’t even bother to use Google’s Material Design, others dislike Apple’s closed platform, and the rest just hate the app because it was developed by Apple.

But that’s not really the issue here. Fanboys will be fanboys, haters love to hate, and trolls will troll. The problem is that Google is giving them a platform to do it.

You see, just like on Apple’s App Store, Google Play lets you rate an app right after you download it. I grabbed Move to iOS myself, and indeed I was able to choose the one-star option right away.

move_to_ios_rate

Before you rip me apart, no I didn’t hit submit.

Google (and Apple) could solve this issue fairly easily: Require x minutes of use before you can rate an app. What x should be isn’t easy to say, and probably widely depends on the type of app in question. It’s a numbers game: How long are you willing to wait to do “harm” to an app you’ll never use?

Still, even a minimum one minute of use would significantly cut down on the number of illegitimate one-star reviews. And this goes the other way too: Many five-star reviews are also fake.

Both Google and Apple would help their users and developers by revamping how app store ratings work.

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Apple launches Switch to iOS app for Android users

ios_9_iphone_ipad

It really should surprise no one that the first app Apple built for Android helps you ditch the platform.

In addition to launching iOS 9 today, Apple also released Switch to iOS, a new Android app that helps users of Google’s mobile operating system switch to Apple’s mobile platform by moving their data for them. Aside from Beats Music for Android, which Apple acquired, this is the company’s first Android app — you can download it now from Google Play.

Update: The app is getting killed by one-star reviews.

Apple didn’t announce Move to iOS along with iOS 9 at WWDC 2015. Instead, the new app was quietly listed on Apple’s What’s new in iOS page that same day.

move_to_ios

As its name implies, the app lets you migrate your content from your Android phone or tablet to your new iOS device. Move to iOS transfers contacts, message history, camera photos and videos, web bookmarks, mail accounts, and calendars.

A future version will be able to help users rebuild their app library. Your Android apps, or rather their iOS counterparts, will be automatically added to your iTunes Wish List. As long as the app exists on both platforms, regardless of whether you paid for it or not, Apple will suggest that you get it again.

In the app store description, Apple explains how Move to iOS works:

When you choose to migrate your data, your new iPhone or iPad will create a private Wi-Fi network and find your nearby Android device running Move to iOS. After you enter a security code, it will begin transferring your content and put it in the right places. Just like that. Once your content has been transferred, you’re ready to get going. iOS will also set up your default mail account.

Move to iOS supports phones and tablets running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich or higher. On the Apple side, you’ll need an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 9.

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Moto X: Pure Edition is a great upgrade, even if its size screws up my one-handed grip

The Moto X Pure Edition.

When it comes to what I need from my phone, I am a strict utilitarian. I don’t care how sexy the curves are or how much the exterior shines. I need a device that is willing to be my lifeline to the online world while I am schlepping through the outside one.

So when Motorola’s new Moto X Pure Edition (named the Moto X Style in some countries, starting at $400 unlocked through Moto Maker in the U.S.) graced the office today, showing off its brand-new sleek physical design and large screen, I decided to drag it through the streets. So I took hold of the beautiful little device and put it to a true test. Let’s take a ride to Oakland.

Two-fister

Moto X Pure Edition in hand

Above: So … maybe if I shove it side ways with my ring and pinkie finger, my thumb will be able to slap the Play Store shortcut

Image Credit: VentureBeat

If I’m lying in my bed, watching something on Netflix on the Moto X Pure Edition, the device’s size works great. For just about everything else that I have to do that is boring and adult, and the environments I have to do those things in, my biggest hang-up is the size. This isn’t so much something that the Moto X Pure Edition is guilty of alone, however; it’s an industry-wide thing.

Every year, the size of smartphones creeps up, and my pocket has already hit critical capacity with just my Samsung Galaxy S5. And as with every upgrade, this phone is making a little bit more progress in its quest to peak at the outside world from the confines of my Lee’s.


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Then there is the difficulty of trying to one-hand the device, which is how I have to handle my smartphone during my commute. Where my thumb can barely reach the far corners of my Samsung Galaxy S5 using a palm grip, I can’t touch the far sides of the Moto X Pure Edition without doing a risky finger-roll move.

You know the maneuver. The smartphone is sitting comfortably in the palm of the left hand, with the right hand locked in a death grip on the grab bar on the commuter train. In order to touch something on the far end of the screen, the four pointing fingers have to lift and roll the phone up to get the far edge closer to the thumb.

It’s simple enough to do when sitting at a desk, but it’s an extreme challenge when I am walking down Market Street or performing a balancing act standing inside a herky-jerky commuter train.

Good physical design

Moto X Pure Edition Back

Above: OK, Moto X, turn around and face the floor.

Image Credit: VentureBeat

As I tried to perfect my finger-roll technique while standing on the train, I found that the other physical traits of the phone were intelligently thought out. I really like that Moto phones have their power and volume buttons positioned on the right side, which line up perfectly so that the index and middle fingers of my left hand rest naturally on top of them.

The sensitivity of the switches seems on-point. Any light tap of the power button causes the device to respond; full activation requires a slightly harder input.

The spine of the Moto X Pure Edition’s back has a nice convex slope that feels friendly resting on the palm and grooves of the fingers. The material on the back, however, is a bit slippery for my liking. Seeing as I tend to wrap my new smartphones in a case of some kind, this is an issue that winds up resolving itself, but it’s still worth bearing in mind.

The data/charge port is the only thing on the bottom plane of the phone, making it a one-prong slot. Look, I tend to charge my devices before going to bed, which means a lot of extra fumbling and juggling in the dark. Simplicity is definitely a plus for me.

Let’s shoot some stuff

Moto X Pure Edition BART

Above: Shooting with the Moto X using default settings, under artificial light, with a train heading to the East Bay going to full speed.

Image Credit: VentureBeat

The Moto X Pure Edition’s 21-megapixel rear-facing camera is great for taking quick shots in everyday situations. I appreciate that the zoom requires rotating a UI widget with one finger, as opposed to pinching and stretching with two. The amount of light coming into the aperture can be controlled similarly, although this feature seems to stick within a small range.

Still, some people may not care about the lighting function. Hell, in our viral world, where we shoot on the fly to capture such things as a man fighting an elderly woman for the last seat on the train, most people don’t have time to adjust light and zoom. With that in mind, I made sure to take some random shots in various lighting to show what the camera can do under default settings.

Moto X Pure Edition street

Above: Shot with the Moto X. Under shadow, aiming toward a fully lit background. Testing how the camera deals with lighting and extreme foreground, middle ground, and far background objects.

Image Credit: VentureBeat

The results were pretty good for a camera phone. Even when I swung the camera violently or tried to trick it with a moving object, it did a great job of auto-focusing quickly and differentiating what needed to remain in focus. The longest it took for the lens to focus was about half a second, and that was after a pretty violent swap from an up-close object to a wide shot with subjects in the foreground, middle ground, and background.

Moto X Pure Edition me

Above: I hate selfies. …

Image Credit: VentureBeat

And for the hell of it, I tried the five-megapixel front camera. The only thing I hate about this is having to take a selfie.

Good video, great external audio

As much as I complain about the size increase, the large screen on the Moto X Pure Edition is beautiful when it comes to playing games and watching videos. The screen is bright, with sharp colors and a crisp high-definition image.

What impressed me most, however, is the external audio. The Moto X Pure Edition uses a dual speaker stereo which gives sound for games and video richer depth and range compared to my Samsung Galaxy S5. It’s not a high-end home-theater experience — and for fuck’s sake it’s a phone, so let’s not push it there — but it’s so much clearer and layered than what I am used to.

Would I upgrade to this?

If I needed a new phone? Definitely.

I’d bitch and moan about the size of the thing and how the industry keeps pushing for larger devices. But as is true for most of us dopes, when I see a larger screen and improved audio for movies and games, my principles take a back seat as I hand over my debit card. I’d assure myself that the stitches in my pants pockets could stretch a little bit more for the team.

The thing is, I’m not in need of a new phone, so I won’t. The entertainment value of the screen and speakers is great. The camera is wonderful. But I don’t think that’s enough to justify dropping the cash ($400), when what I have works fine for stuffy adult tasks like emails, text messages, and phone calls. I know that is boringly practical of me to say.

I’m just going to have to keep one-handing my old Samsung Galaxy S5 while BART’ing through Oakland.

Motorola sent VentureBeat a Moto X Pure Edition for the purposes of this review.


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Cyanogen CEO says Cortana is coming to the mobile OS, but Microsoft refuses to confirm

Cyanogen OS.

Cyanogen, the startup behind the Android-based Cyanogen mobile operating system, is working with Microsoft on a major integration of Microsoft’s Cortana personal digital assistant for Cyanogen OS, if a report today is to be believed. But Microsoft wouldn’t confirm the information.

Cyanogen is “working with Microsoft to deeply integrate Cortana into the next version of Cyanogen OS,” the International Business Times reported, today attributing the information to Cyanogen cofounder and chief executive Kirt McMaster. When VentureBeat reached out to Microsoft to learn more, a spokesman responded with this a vague comment pointing to the partnership with Cyanogen that Microsoft unveiled earlier this year.

“As we announced in April, we’re excited to integrate Microsoft’s high-value services across the Cyanogen Operating System,” the spokesman wrote in an email to VentureBeat. “We have no further details to share at this time.”


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A Cyanogen spokeswoman would not elaborate on the plans, either.

“We have a strategic partnership with them to integrate popular Microsoft services into our operating system,” she told VentureBeat in an email. “We have no other details to share at this time.”

You would think both companies would want to confirm the report at the very least, because it’s mutually beneficial. But that’s not the case today, oddly.

If it’s true that Cortana is coming to Cyanogen OS, it would be significant for Cyanogen as a mobile platform, which is available preinstalled on an increasing number of devices, including the OnePlus One. Cortana’s ability to deep-link into and control content in many mobile apps could help Cyanogen OS stand out even more from other phones running on Android or Android derivatives. Microsoft is making Cortana smarter and smarter, and in the future it could potentially do things that can’t be done with Android’s default, personal digital assistant, Google Now.

The new level of partnership also would mean that Cortana is becoming more pervasive.

Cortana debuted on Windows Phone last year and is now available on PCs running Windows 10. Microsoft rolled out a Cortana app for Android in public beta last month, and it will appear on iOS, too. (Apple’s iOS devices, of course, come with Siri, which is expanding its presence to the Apple TV.) There’s no guarantee that most iOS and Android users will adopt it, but for those seeking new mobile experiences, a Cyanogen OS phone with Cortana from a Silicon Valley startup could be just right — especially for Windows 10 users who are getting to know Cortana.

Cyanogen’s Microsoft partnership in April brought technologies like Office, OneDrive, OneNote, Outlook, and Skype to Cyanogen. Microsoft was reported to be considering an investment in Cyanogen but ultimately chose not to participate in the startup’s $80 million round, which included top-tier investors Andreessen Horowitz, Benchmark, and Redpoint Ventures.

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If you told me in 2007 that BlackBerry and Nokia would make Android phones, I’d have called you crazy

Old Nokia & BlackBerry Phones

Eight years can be a long time in technology, a truism perhaps best illustrated by former mobile phone giants Nokia and BlackBerry.

Photos purported to be of a new Nokia C1 Android phone emerged this week. And while this wouldn’t be the first Nokia-branded Android device to emerge — the company introduced the N1 tablet in China this year, and it previously had an experimental Android X project in the works before Microsoft killed it — it serves to remind us all just how much has changed in the mobile realm in recent times.

As with Nokia, fresh rumors surfaced last month that BlackBerry is gearing up to launch its own Android smartphone, codenamed Venice. Reports suggest it could launch as soon as November in the U.S.

How times have changed.

Cast your mind back to 2007. The first version of Apple’s new iPhone had come to market, but of the estimated 1.2 billion mobile phones shipped that year, Nokia accounted for almost 40 percent. It had just acquired NAVTEQ to boost its mapping technology, and would the following year snap up Symbian in a move that could have helped set Nokia up nicely in its quest to retain its mobile market share.

But cracks in the Nokia ecosystem started to show, and by 2011 the company was firmly in Microsoft’s pocket as the duo sought to create a true third force in the smartphone race (after Android and iOS).


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Fast forward to 2015, and Nokia is a shadow of its former self — Its mobile phone unit now belongs fully to Microsoft and its mapping business is under the wing of three German car giants. Moving forward, Nokia will consist of Nokia Networks, a broadband network infrastructure business, and Nokia Technologies, a division that Nokia will use to keep its consumer brand alive.

Nokia has stated that its path back into the mobile phones business will be through a brand-licensing model, with partner companies responsible for manufacturing, sales, marketing, and customer support. But it can’t do much until its contractual agreement with Microsoft (to not make phones) expires at the end of this year.

Fellow smartphone maker BlackBerry has a similar story to tell. The Canadian company, then known as Research in Motion (RIM), saw its share value peak in 2007 at $236. Today, it sits at a little more than $7. In 2009, it was shipping up to 20 percent of all smartphones globally, and boasted north of 40 percent of the smartphone OS share in the U.S., but both of these figures are now estimated to be at less than one percent. Though it continues to ramp up its enterprise services, including mobile security, BlackBerry is a fallen giant of the smartphone world.

In 2007, the very same year the first iPhone launched, Android was officially unveiled by a “broad alliance of leading technology and wireless companies” who announced what it called the “first truly open and comprehensive platform for mobile devices,” with Google spearheading the development.

Today, there are at least 24,000 distinct Android devices out in the wild. The operating system was on 80 percent of devices shipped last year, according to IDC data, with iOS making up almost 15 percent. The remaining chunk consisted of Windows Phone, BlackBerry’s OS, and “Other.”

With the benefit of hindsight, 2007 was a pivotal year for the mobile phone industry. But at the time, if you’d told me that eight years down the road, both Nokia and BlackBerry — giants of the mobile world — would be turning to this new Google-class standard of operating system, I would have called you crazy.


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Android Can Dominate The Enterprise Mobility Game

android-work The convenience and versatility offered by mobile devices and the ubiquity of connectivity has caused a shift in the way we live and work. Gone are the solitary cubicles and stodgy desktops of yore, replaced by the mobile workforce user. Companies are adopting strategies like bring-your-own-device and deploying better governance policies to harness the increasing demand for enterprise mobility. Read More

Street View on Google Maps is now available as its own Android app

Google / Street View

As major tech companies continue to unbundle their offerings into individual apps, Google has today followed suit with the launch of Street View on Google Maps (version 2.0) as a standalone app on the Google Play store.

Amazon also just made available its video-streaming service as its own app on Android earlier this week.

If you have a smartphone with gyroscope, you can now take and upload photospheres from directly inside the Street View app. You can also browse the wide range of existing photospheres that Google has made available.

Everywhere Google's Street View imagery is available across the world

Above: Everywhere Google’s Street View imagery is available across the world

Google has shown that it’s not afraid to explore the more uncharted parts of the globe to make the Street View experience great. In March, it took to the Amazon rainforest on a zip line for its latest real-world imagery.

Users can also float down the Colorado River, or — going as far back as 2013 — goggle over giant pandas in the zoos of Asia.

Apple is known to be working on its own Street View rival for Apple Maps since June. But while Apple was only just getting started, Google was the same month recording its first-ever vertical Street View imagery.

Google's new Street View standalone app

Above: Google’s new Street View standalone app

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Gluru launches to become Google Now for business

Gluru-Google-Now-business

As a certain Isaac Asimov once penned, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

I felt that way the first time I saw Google Now. When it originally launched, I just happened to have a flight booked the next day. With a simple swipe, the details of that trip were shown front and center, along with a reassurance that my plane was still on time. A few days later, Google Now started showing me the latest results of matches including my favorite sports teams. Magic.

Of course these days, thanks in part to Google, we expect this level of personalization. In fact, according to my most recent study, over 77 percent of “digital natives” expect a personalized website experience.


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But solutions like Google Now, while great for individuals and consumer-level data, don’t work so well for those trying to do business — the entrepreneurs, salespeople, and executives that need their own documents and communications at their fingertips.

Attempting to solve this problem, Gluru has today unveiled a first look at its new app on Android and web browser, designed to be the “Google Now for your business content,” surfacing exactly what you need, when you need it, in context with your business activities.

Gluru’s founder and CEO is Tim Porter. Porter was marketing director at Shazam before spending six years at Apple as part of the core team in the early days of iTunes Europe. His most recent tenure was at Google, where he was instrumental in launching Google Play in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). In January 2015, Gluru closed a $1.5M seed round with investors Playfair Capital and GECAD Group leading the round and participation from angels including former Shazam CTO Chee Wong. Porter showed me around the Gluru app on both the browser and in Android.

On launching the app, a clean interface shows you the day ahead. It draws this information from your calendar and other connected sources, such as planned meetings, calendar invites, and more. It understands and presents the contacts it thinks you’ll need to interact with that day, and shows you what meetings you have coming up.

Gluru-daily-digest-web

Above: The daily digest after selecting a particular contact

Selecting one of those events makes the magic happen. Not only was I presented with a list of the people in that meeting, but Gluru also showed me all the Google Drive content it thinks is pertinent to that event. Gluru currently presents files and information from Google Mail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, OneDrive, and Evernote. Selecting a person from the daily digest shows me the files it thinks are important for that contact.

Importantly, the more you use it, the better the system learns, understands, and anticipates your needs. At its heart is a machine-learning engine that uses predictive analytics to better understand the user and what they need, when they need it.

In addition to the daily digest, Gluru includes a button with a lightning bolt icon. It is, somewhat tongue-in-cheek I suspect, called the “Now Button.”

Gluru-now-button-meeting

Above: The “Now Button” in action on Android

Pressing this tells you exactly what you’re supposed to be doing right now, and presents all the information that will help you in that current task. Gluru also offers a search capability that allows you to find anything it understands — people, documents, spreadsheets, meetings, companies, and more.

I talked with Porter about the future of Gluru. In particular, we discussed the future of the solution, and plans to link it to CRM solutions, project management systems, and other third-party data sources.

“Although Gluru can benefit individual consumer users, our focus is on busy professionals either as individuals or as a team,” Porter said. “We see Gluru as the future brain of data-heavy CRM or project managements systems, and more. Imagine the time saved if all of your information was automatically organized into Salesforce, and it recommended the files you need, before you know you need it, so you don’t have to retrieve it.”

As a long-time user and now analyst of solutions like Salesforce, the appeal of this is not lost on me.

“What if when a file is shared in Slack, all the files you need to work with automatically appear,” Porter said. “In a sense, this is a smart layer between your files, wherever they are. Solving the issue of knowledge management, and associated wasted time in a smart, elegant contextual way, is what truly excites us.”

But what happens if Google expand its Now solution to include document look-up functionality that surfaces the right content based on calendar entries?

Gluru-daily-digest-Android“Google Now is outwardly focused on bringing you useful information and context from the Internet and is a generalist assistant for consumer users,” Porter said. “Gluru is purely focused on saving time for professionals and is dedicated to organizing information from your workflow and connecting that information to you or your teams’ important moments.”

But Porter believes the separation between Google Now and Gluru isn’t just about target markets.

“The AI and deep learning technology behind the recommendations that Gluru makes for calendar entries is something that is beyond any features available right now,” Porter said. “Gluru is not only about calendar recommendations — it predicts the most important people you will work with and the most important files you will need to work with them. Gluru then learns from you the more you use it. Gluru also automatically organizes your files based on your workflow, so you no longer have to spend time filing.”

The company is planning additional integrations with internal network systems for instant access to company files, workflow and CRM software, as well as with additional applications including iCloud, Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint, and more. Gluru is also planning an API for developers and enterprises to build its capabilities into new or existing applications, like Slack, Hipchat or Salesforce.

Following a closed beta that included over 300 professional users, Gluru is available to the public today from Google Play and its website. An iOS version is planned. Gluru is free for individuals, and there are no limits on usage. The company does charge for teams, but pricing is on a per request basis and is dependent on the size of the team.

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