How Microsoft should woo Android and iOS developers to build Windows 10 apps

windows 10 microsoft
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It’s common knowledge that Microsoft has an app problem, both with Windows and Windows Phone. The state of both has been improving steadily for a while now, developers still largely don’t care anywhere nearly as much as they do about Android or iOS.

Internally, Microsoft has explored various ways of offering Android apps on Windows and Windows Phone, including by way of an emulator (similar to how BlackBerry allows Android apps to run on its devices). The rumor that Android apps will one day run on Windows devices is one that simply refuses to die.

While such a strategy is attractive for many reasons, mainly because it could potentially quickly solve the app quantity problem on Windows, it’s the wrong approach. Microsoft should instead woo Android and iOS developers to use its developer tools, and then deploy their apps to Google Play and/or Apple’s App Store, in addition to the Windows Store.

That way, the company avoids potential performance problems, possible legal issues, and can still ensure apps are built specifically for Windows 10, as opposed to simply getting a flood apps repurposed from other platforms. The pitch would be quite straightforward: ‘Use the best developer tools on the planet to build apps that reach the millions of new Windows 10 devices on top of the millions of Android and iOS devices.’

This is not a new strategy. Microsoft has done started down this road with Visual Studio’s adoption of Apache Cordova, an open source platform for building multi-device hybrid mobile applications using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. But those are very basic apps.

Microsoft’s next step is to offer tools that could directly compete with Apple’s and Google’s offerings. iOS tools are already quite advanced and Google has finally ramped up its efforts with Android Studio, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to wedge in between the two.

It’s no wonder the rumor of Microsoft acquiring Xamarin, which lets developers use C# to build native Android, iOS, Mac, and Windows apps, keeps popping up every few months. When it comes to supporting programming languages for building on non-Microsoft platforms, there’s absolutely no reason why Microsoft should stop at HTML.

Despite its failures in mobile, Redmond is still known for how well it supports developers. And again, the company would be able to make a very unique offer: if you use our tools, you’ll simply be able to reach more users. Instead of developing for just Android, or just iOS, or even just Android and iOS, why not build for Android and Windows 10, or iOS and Windows 10, or all three?

That’s something Apple would never do, and given its disregard for Windows Phone, neither would Google. Despite a multitude of mistakes in mobile, Microsoft still finds itself in a very powerful position: it has the money, resources, and expertise to win over developers. Furthermore, even though Windows Phone is a very distant third to Android and iOS, the Windows Store on Windows 10 will be pushed to millions of users because it will work across PCs, tablets, and smartphones. That’s potentially very enticing for app developers.

In short, Microsoft needs to expand its cross-platform strategy for developers. The perfect time is coming to do exactly that: the company’s Build conference is just a month away.

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Google responds to WSJ allegations: Microsoft visited the White House more than us

The White House
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Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal published a fairly in-depth critique of Google’s close-ties with the White House, saying that the Internet giant had visited around 230 times since President Obama had been in power, or roughly once a week. Today, Google responded to some of the allegations in the piece, taking the time to clarify some of the points, as well as pointing the finger at other companies.

Taking issue with the figure of 230 surfaced by the WSJ, Rachel Whetstone, senior vice president of communications and policy at Google, says that 33 of the visits were by people not employed by Google at the time — so in other words, they weren’t representing Google. So that leaves 197 — and five of those were made by a Google engineer who was helping to fix the Healthcare.gov website.

Elsewhere, Google says “a dozen” visits were for YouTube interviews with President Obama following the State of the Union, as well as taking photos for Google’s Art Project.

Having whittled its White House visit count down, Google says it consulted the White House records for other companies, and Microsoft made 270 visits over the same period, whereas Comcast made 150 visits — which is in stark contrast to the WSJ’s claims of just 20.

Combative

In case you missed the memo, Google and News. Corp., the Rupert Murdoch-owned parent company of the Wall Street Journal, have a long combative history, and this latest spat is a continuation of that. The main beef in the WSJ’s report relates to meetings specifically in 2012, around the time Google was facing an anti-trust investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over Google allegedly favoring its own products in search results. The FTC ultimately voted to settle with Google in 2013.

The WSJ article from earlier this week was actually a follow-up to a more in-depth report from the week before, which argued that some members of the FTC had wanted to sue Google after identifying “real harm to consumers and to innovation.” The FTC has refuted this, however, saying:

“Contrary to recent press reports, the Commission’s decision on the search allegations was in accord with the recommendations of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, Bureau of Economics, and Office of General Counsel.”

However, the WSJ is now pointing to a “flurry” of meetings around the same time this case was happening, suggesting that relationships were perhaps a little too cosy. “Google’s knack for getting in the room with important government officials is gaining new relevance as scrutiny grows over how the company avoided being hit by the FTC with a potentially damaging antitrust lawsuit,” it said, adding:

“As the federal government was wrapping up its antitrust investigation of Google Inc., company executives had a flurry of meetings with top officials at the White House and Federal Trade Commission, the agency running the probe.

Google co-founder Larry Page met with FTC officials to discuss settlement talks, according to visitor logs and emails reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Google Chairman Eric Schmidt met with Pete Rouse, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, in the White House.”

The documents don’t show exactly what was discussed in late 2012. Soon afterward, the FTC closed its investigation after Google agreed to make voluntary changes to its business practices.”

Google is adamant that its meetings were not to discuss the antitrust investigation, however, saying it discussed “everything but,” including patent reform, self-driving cars, mental health, Internet censorship, and cyber security.

Google also pointed to a handful of co-attended meetings, including Microsoft, which Google highlights somewhat ironically as it was “the main complainant in the FTC’s antitrust investigation.” So Google is trying to turn this on its head — with the WSJ pointing an accusatory finger at Google for its meetings at the White House, Google’s saying “actually, it’s not what it looks like, and what about those other companies?”


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500 iOS games per day: Flooded mobile market is tricky for indie devs

Minecraft: Pocket Edition
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Click here for all of GameBeat’s 2015 Game Developers Conference coverage.

SAN FRANCISCO — If you’re working on a mobile game right now, you might want to look away.

Hundreds of new games come out every day on the Apple App Store and Google Play. In 2014, about 500 new iOS games and 250 Android games appeared in their respective stores every 24 hours. The staggering numbers underscore the difficult situation that independent developers — who don’t have the marketing muscle of a major publisher to wade through the digital flood — face when releasing their titles for smartphones.

“Of course, a lot of those [games] will never get noticed, so it’s not like you’re really competing with all [of them],” said Mike Rose, a talent recruiter for SpeedRunners developer TinyBuild. Still, he added, this doesn’t change the fact that developers need to do a lot of legwork just to bring some attention to their games.

The data comes from Rose’s extensive research into indie game sales on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, 3DS, PC, iOS, and Android — with mobile being the most volatile of them all. He scoured the Internet for postmortem stories and emailed around 100 different indie developers for their insight before presenting his findings at a talk during this year’s Game Developers Conference.

Since free-to-play sales are harder to quantify, the figures (in the picture below) only reflect paid games.

GDC 2015: Indie game sales on mobile

Above: 2.5 million sales or bust.

Image Credit: Giancarlo Valdes/GamesBeat

According to Rose, the low-end of the scale comes from developers who had little to no marketing and whose discussions with Google or Apple (for possible storefront promotions) “didn’t get anywhere.” The middle tier benefited from some exposure on the App Store and Google Play as well as from the press and fan discussions on forums. Getting featured on those stores is tough: Apple and Google only promote a handful of games per week.

The coveted 30,000 to 2.5 million sales range are for the rare few that had a ton of exposure or a lot of help from Apple, like when it uses games in commercials or press conferences to help sell more iPhones and iPads.

“You can probably count the number of giant successes on mobile on two hands just from the last year,” said Rose.

He offered a few suggestions for those looking to increase their potential sales: Developers should start talking to Apple and Google early on in development, they should pay constant attention to their games with updates and new downloadable content, and games should launch at a price that leaves room for discounts or price drops in the future.

Though the market looks bleak, the massive audience on mobile (800 million with iOS devices alone) means the struggle might be worth it if developers can figure out how to climb up the top-grossing charts.

“Mobile is super risky, as I’m sure you all know,” Rose said during his concluding remarks. “But it can give you big success if you manage to tick a lot of boxes and get a little bit lucky.”


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How Google’s using big data and machine-learning to discover new drugs

Drug Research
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From answering heath-related questions in its search results to a fitness data platform for developers, Google is becoming increasingly ingrained in the fabric of our daily health-and-wellbeing habits. But behind the scenes, the Internet giant is also working to expedite the discovery of drugs that could prove vital to finding cures for many human ills.

Working with Stanford University’s Pande Lab, Google Research has introduced a paper called “Massively Multitask Networks for Drug Discovery,” [PDF] which looks at how using data from a myriad of different sources can better determine which chemical compounds will serve as “effective drug treatments for a variety of diseases.”

While the paper itself doesn’t reveal any major medical breakthroughs, it does point to how deep learning can be used to crunch huge data-sets and accelerate drug discovery. Deep learning is a system that involves training systems called artificial neural networks on lots of information derived from key data inputs, and then introducing new information to the mix. You might want to check out our guide to five emerging deep learning startups to watch in 2015.

“One encouraging conclusion from this work is that our models are able to utilize data from many different experiments to increase prediction accuracy across many diseases,” explains the multi-authored Google Research blog post. “To our knowledge, this is the first time the effect of adding additional data has been quantified in this domain, and our results suggest that even more data could improve performance even further.”

Google says it worked at a scale “18x larger than previous work,” and tapped a total of 37.8 million data points across 200+ individual biological processes.

“Because of our large scale, we were able to carefully probe the sensitivity of these models to a variety of changes in model structure and input data,” Google says. “In the paper, we examine not just the performance of the model but why it performs well and what we can expect for similar models in the future.”

This feeds into a bigger trend we’ve seen of late, with many of the big tech companies investing resources in deep learning. Last year, Twitter, Google, and Yahoo all acquired deep learning startups, whie Facebook and Baidu made significant hires in this realm, and Netflix and Spotify carried out work in this area too.

At VentureBeat’s HealthBeat conference last October, we looked at how the future of healthcare could lean heavily on robotics, analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI). And feeding into this diagnostic element is treatments, which is increasingly turning to AI, big data and deep learning too, as we’re seeing with this latest research from Google and Standford.

By automating and improving predictive techniques, this should not only speed up the drug discovery process but cut the costs. From the Google report:

“Discovering new treatments for human diseases is an immensely complicated challenge. Prospective drugs must attack the source of an illness, but must do so while satisfying restrictive metabolic and toxicity constraints. Traditionally, drug discovery is an extended process that takes years to move from start to finish, with high rates of failure along the way.”

In short, testing millions of compounds can take a long time, so anything that can increase the chances of striking a succesful combination can only be a good thing. This is where machine learning at scale may help.


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Google updates Play Services API with new location features for Android apps

A new feature of Google Play Games lets developers turn Android smartphones and tablets into second-screen controllers.
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Google is once again updating Google Play Services, its Android application programming interface (API), to add new features for developers. The new version is 7.0.

Google Play Services is the company’s set of features for building apps that connect with Google products such as Maps and Drive. The previous version, Google Play Services 6.5, came out in November, 2014.

Screenshot of Google's new Place Picker dialog, in Play Services 7.0

Above: Screenshot of Google’s new Place Picker dialog, in Play Services 7.0

The top features in this new API offer features for developers to add location-friendly features. There’s a new “place picker” dialog that makes it easier for people to select their current location based on the geodata provided by their phone and the database of locations that Google has.

And there’s an enhanced Places API that gives developers access to that location database — including details about specific venues and items within the database — either through Google’s user interface or through their own UI.

Google writes, “We will be rolling out Google Play services 7.0 over the next few days,” and notes that the software development kit for new new API will be available once that is complete.

Other updates to the API:

  • Google Fit: The company has updated several of the APIs for its fitness-tracking service.
  • Google Mobile Ads: Developers can now integrate data from Google’s AdMob (a mobile advertising network) with Google Analytics.
  • Google Play Games: There’s support for the new Android game features Google announced today, including the ability to connect an Android tablet or smartphone to a nearby TV as a second screen for gameplay — enabling you to use your smartphone as a controller, for instance.
  • App Indexing: Google has simplified this feature, which “lets Google index apps just like websites, enabling Google search results to deep-link directly into your native app.”

Google announced the news on its Android Developers Google+ page, and posted more details on the Android Developers blog.

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Google X exec Mary Lou Jepsen leaves to pursue new ‘moonshots’ with Oculus

mary lou jepsen
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Mary Lou Jepsen, who has been head of Google X’s display division since 2012, has left to join the maker of another high-tech set of eyewear: Oculus VR.

Jepsen’s career has revolved around taking what she calls “moonshots.” During her tenure at Google X, she worked on two such efforts, including Google Glass. While at the company, she reported directly to cofounder Sergey Brin.

Although an Oculus spokesperson would not elaborate on what Jepsen will be doing at the Facebook-owned virtual-reality technology developer, it’s a safe bet it’s something high-level and strategic. In her past, which included a stint as one of the very first group of students at the MIT Media Lab, and later a professorship there, she was the cofounder and CTO of the One Laptop Per Child project. That project aimed to make laptops available to children for about $100 each.

Her work also led her to be named one of the “Time 100” in 2008, essentially ranking her among the hundred most influential people on the planet, as well as being listed as one of the 50 greatest female computer scientists of all time by the Anita Borg Institute.

According to Time, she was the co-creator of the world’s first holographic video system, in 1989.

Her penchant for taking moonshots may be a coincidence, but Jepsen was also a NASA fellow from 1992 to 1994, during which time she designed a new anti-glare illumination system for the space shuttle, according to her resume.

Over her last couple of years at Google, Jepsen was involved in building the company’s follow-up to Google Glass. However, it’s not yet known what that is.

Jepsen’s joining Oculus makes a lot of sense, given her long history with display technology. In addition to work at the MIT Media Lab, Google X, and now Oculus, she also was founder, CTO, CEO, and then board member of Pixel Qi, a company whose “mission is to catalyze the massive LCD manufacturing industry to faster innovation via the first truly fab­less effort in the industry.”

Her hiring was first reported by GigaOm.

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Android Lollipop hits 3.3% adoption, KitKat passes 40%, and Jelly Bean continues to slide

Lollipop Forest Google Android
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Google today released its monthly update of the Platform Versions page for Android, and it looks like the latest version has managed to double its adoption share. Android 5.0 Lollipop has hit 3.3 percent of the pie, cutting into the growth of Android 4.4 KitKat, once again the only other version to gain adoption share this month.

In fact, KitKat is about to pass Jelly Bean, which encompasses Android 4.1, Android 4.2, and Android 4.3. In other words, there will soon be a new Android king in town:

android_adoption_march_2015

More specifically, here are the changes between February and March:

  • Android 5.0 Lollipop: Up 1.7 points to 3.3 percent
  • Android 4.4 KitKat: Up 1.2 points to 40.9 percent
  • Android 4.1/4.2/4.3 Jelly Bean: Down 1.9 points to 42.6 percent
  • Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich: Down 0.5 points to 5.9 percent
  • Android 2.3 Gingerbread: Down 0.5 points to 6.9 percent
  • Android 2.2 Froyo: Unchanged at 0.4 percent

For the sake of comparison, here’s the Android adoption chart for February:

android_adoption_february_2015

As with any updates using this tool, we have to point out that the data is gathered from the Google Play Store app, which requires Android 2.2 and above. This means devices running older versions are not included, nor are devices that don’t have Google Play installed (such as Amazon’s Fire line).

More to follow

To recap, we currently have Jelly Bean in first, KitKat in second, Gingerbread in third, ICS in fourth, Lollipop in fifth, and Froyo in sixth. KitKat will overtake Jelly Bean before Lollipop passes Gingerbread, as unfortunate as that is.

As we’ve said before, Lollipop’s slow start is not surprising given the lukewarm popularity of the Nexus line and how long it takes for Android device manufacturers to push out updates. Multiple new Android devices were announced at Mobile World Congress today in Barcelona, and more are expected to follow in the coming days.

Nevertheless, Android 5.0 won’t see significant adoption for a few more months.

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Google’s Sundar Pichai: Here’s how we’re taking apart Google+ and rethinking it

Google sign Carlos Luna Flickr
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Following confirmation of a shakeup at Google+, Sundar Pichai said today the company was also splitting the social networking service into two pieces.

In an interview on stage at Barcelona Mobile World Congress, Pichai, senior vice president for products at Google, said the company had viewed Google+ as having two main components: A stream of activity and a social layer.

The social layer, for Google, was really about how people shared items across its various services, from YouTube to Google Docs. The company plans to peel that off and focus on it even more, though Pichai did not offer a lot of details on that.

For the stream, however, Pichai said the real value for people has been photos. And so the company is going to put a renewed focus on photos, also separating that into its down product.

“Photos are a big use case,” Pichai said. “So we are going to say this is the stream now.”

In addition, Google Hangouts will also be separated out and getting additional investment and resources from the Company, Pichai said.

Pichai didn’t offer a time table for the changes. He also did not say directly that Google would kill the activity stream on Google+, but that seems entirely likely.

Earlier today, Google Exec Bradley Horowitz confirmed reports that he had been placed in charge of Google+. In his post, he also referenced the coming changes.

“Just wanted to confirm that the rumors are true — I’m excited to be running Google’s Photos and Streams products!” Horowitz wrote. “It’s important to me that these changes are properly understood to be positive improvements to both our products and how they reach users.”

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Google confirms plans to become a virtual mobile network in the ‘coming months’

Mobile Network
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BARCELONA, Spain — Sundar Pichai, Senior VP at Google and the man who heads up Android, Chrome, and Google Apps, has confirmed the long-standing rumors that it was planning to launch its own mobile network in the U.S.

Taking to the stage at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain, Pichai discussed many facets of Google and Android, but the one stand-out revelation was that the Internet giant is working with “carrier partners” and will announce something later this year.

Google has already been involved in a number of projects involving the “network” side that enables its various technologies and services, including Google Fiber which is still slowly rolling out in the U.S., as well as Project Loon — its initiative aimed at bringing high-speed Internet access to remote areas of the world via hot air balloons.

Google hasn’t revealed much about its plans to be a so-called mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), whereby it piggy-backs of existing carriers to offer its own service, but Pichai did attempt to play things down by admitting it didn’t plan to do anything at scale. In other words, it seems like it plans to launch what will be a pilot project at first and see how things go.

Amazon too is rumored to be entering the mobile network space, as more services shift to the mobile realm, and it does make sense for the big tech titans of the world to make moves into this sphere. Indeed, rather than looking to ink a deal with a single carrier, it’s believed that plans are afoot to get multiple networks on board, thus letting Google identify the best network at any given time based on a user’s location and desired service — SMS, voice or data.

In other words, Google likely isn’t launching an MVNO as we’ve come to understand it, and it may not even be something that you’re able to sign up to as a standalone service. Whatever its plans are, however, all will be revealed “in the coming months”, according to Pichai.


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Google takes to the Amazon rainforest on a zipline for its latest Street View imagery

Google's Zipline for Street View
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Two weeks after landing in Greenland with impressive panoramic views, Google has taken to the treetops of the Amazon rainforest on a zipline to capture some stunning imagery of life in one of the world’s largest ecosystems.

Though this isn’t Google’s first effort at obtaining images from the Amazon rainforest, it is the Internet giant’s first ever attempt at capturing imagery in this way for Street View.

Google has teamed up with the Amazonas Sustainable Foundation (FAS) for this latest initiative, the same organization it partnered with back in 2011 to capture a small part of the Rio Negro Rivers in northwest Brazil.

Though Street View has traditionally been about capturing street-level images for Google Maps, it has long transcended this by evolving its cameras and techniques to record imagery from a myriad of weird and wonderful places — this includes underwater at the Great Barrier Reef, and now on a zipline from the treetops of the Amazon.

The latest imagery isn’t just from great heights, however, as Google has taken its cameras on boats down 500km of rivers, 20km of trails too.

With deforestation in the Amazon accelerating after a period of stabilization, shining a light on the perilous position of one of the world’s greatest natural resources is surely a good thing.


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