Google launches Android Studio 2.0 beta with Cold Swap, app indexing improvements, and multi-touch support

android_studio_wide

Google has released Android Studio 2.0 beta, the latest version of its integrated development environment (IDE). Until now, preview releases were available in the Canary channel, but Android Studio 2.0 has been promoted to the Beta channel.

In November, Google unveiled Android Studio 2.0, the second major version of its IDE. Version 2.0 brings a slew of improvements, including Instant Run, a faster Android emulator, and a new GPU profiler. Google hasn’t shared when it expects to release Android Studio 2.0 in the stable channel, but we’re still betting it will be ready in time for the company’s I/O developer conference in May.

Google has been hard at work: This isn’t just about fixing bugs. The Beta release brings a slew of improvements, including the following:

  • Instant Run: The beta release introduces a new capability called Cold Swap. This option quickly restarts the whole application, which can be useful for structural code change, including changes to the class hierarchy, method signatures, static initializers, or fields. Cold Swap is available when you deploy to targets with API level 21 or above.
  • App Indexing: In the first preview of Android Studio 2.0 you could add indexing code stubs into your code. With the beta release you can now test and validate your URL links with the built-in validation tool (Tools => => Android => Google App Indexing Test).
  • Android Emulator: The rotation controls have been updated on the emulator toolbar. Multi-touch support (hold down the Alt key on your keyboard and right-click) for testing apps that use pinch and zoom gestures has been added.

android_studio_multitouch

Google says “the beta release is near stable release quality” but as with any beta, you can naturally expect that “bugs may still exist.” If you’re already using Android Studio, you can get the latest version on the Beta channel by going to Help and choosing “Check for Update.”










Google confirms Hangouts will now use peer-to-peer connections to improve call quality and speed

google_hangouts_logo

Google Hangouts has received a small but important backend upgrade: peer-to-peer (p2p) connections. Google confirmed to VentureBeat that the functionality started rolling out to all users this week.

Reddit user kxra spotted the addition in their Hangouts for Android app yesterday. We reached out to Google to gauge what exactly the feature meant for users.

“To improve call quality and speed, Hangouts will route audio and video over a peer-to-peer connection when possible,” a Google spokesperson told VentureBeat. The “when possible” part is key — Hangouts won’t be using p2p all the time. To be clear, Google confirmed that Hangouts is getting peer-to-peer functionality on all platforms, not just Android.

google_hangouts_android_p2p

A Hangouts Help support document explains that peer-to-peer connections allow Hangouts “to more efficiently route your call directly to the person you’re talking to, rather than connecting the call through one of Google’s servers.” Think of it like letting Hangouts know where you’re located so that it connect you more efficiently:

A direct peer-to-peer connection between you and the other person reveals both your IP addresses. With an IP address, it’s possible to approximate your location.

This is great news for anyone who has ever been frustrated with the call quality on Google Hangouts (oh god, don’t even get me started). Some, however, may be concerned that their IP address will be exposed. The good news is that there doesn’t seem to be a way to show someone’s IP addresses in the Hangouts user interface.

Indeed, just last month Skype, which originally used peer-to-peer connections, finally started hiding IP addresses by default. Until then, if someone wanted to attack or harass you online, all they had to do was figure out your Skype name and follow one of the countless guides to get your IP address. Once a malicious party had your IP address, they could perform a denial-of-service (DDoS) attack, a common method for taking down a device by overloading it with requests. Hopefully Hangouts won’t have similar problems.










YouTube will livestream Google’s AI playing Go superstar Lee Sedol in March

Lee Sedol.

Google will provide YouTube livestreams of its artificial intelligence (AI) software playing games of the ancient Chinese board game of Go against Lee Sedol, the highest ranked Go player in the world. Demis Hassabis, head of the Google DeepMind lab behind its AlphaGo AI system, announced the news today in a tweet.

The news of the broadcast of the five-game match to take place in Seoul — for which there is a $1 million prize — is interesting for a few reasons.

Google did not publicize the matches that its AI played against French Go champion Fan Hui — despite that the software swept the human 5-0, leading to a paper in the prominent scientific journal Nature.

Sedol, of South Korea, is much more well known than Hui — and it does make sense to build on all of the media attention that Google received as a result of the Nature paper.

Google is clearly jazzed about its progress in AI which is already used inside many products at Google. On the Alphabet earnings call earlier this week, Google chief executive Sundar Pichai boasted about AlphaGo’s victory over Hui, almost as if it was a business highlight for the quarter. AI isn’t a business segment at Alphabet or even a product. But as Google advances its technology in the area, AI could lead to business advantages — like greater user engagement and satisfaction with speech recognition on mobile devices.

It is possible that AlphaGo could lose to Sedol. That would be something thousands or millions of people would see in real time, and something that would persist on the Internet for years, right alongside all the other videos on Go and myriad other subjects on YouTube. A loss televised on YouTube like that could be an embarrassment to the herd of AI researchers inside Google, which is competing with companies like Facebook and Microsoft to pick up talent and technology.

But a victory would be a truly excellent coup for Google. It would be the kind of thing that would validate its considerable research spending on AI. People watched IBM’s Watson beat Jeopardy contestants on television. Now Google’s vastly more complex AlphaGo system could be in for its 15 minutes — or hours, really — of fame.

“If we win the match in March, then that’s sort of the equivalent of beating Kasparov in chess,” Hassabis told reporters in a press briefing on the Nature paper last month. “Lee Sedol is the greatest player of the past decade. I think that would mean AlphaGo would be better than any human at playing Go. Go is the ultimate game in AI research.”

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Conglomerate discount: A dangerous idea that must die, as Google just proved

stock market

So Google did it.

Alphabet, the holding company of Google, just announced its 2015 fourth quarter earnings at $8.67 per share on revenues of $21.33 billion, a profit so good that it sent the company’s market capitalization soaring above that of Apple’s, claiming the title as the world’s most valuable company.

It is an even more staggering, almost absurd, development when considering the enormity of other corporate behemoths in the top league. Apple had $234 billion in revenue in 2015, while Exxon Mobil and Walmart both exceeded $300 billion, all easily dwarfing Alphabet’s relatively meager $74.5 billion. But if anyone tries to explain that Alphabet’s surge was due to its stellar profitability rather than its relative size, then Amazon’s razor thin margins (of around 3%) cannot, and should not, have sustained the company’s stratospheric price to earnings ratio (P/E) at above 500, making it the world’s most expensive when measured by P/E.

Outdated measurement

This reveals a few basic ideas in business finance so outdated that they need to be immediately retired. Chief among them is the concept of conglomerate discount. Conglomerate discount emerged and rapidly gained popularity during the 1970s when private equity was in full swing. Big, lackluster, publicly listed companies were taken over one by one, often unwillingly, by activist investors. They streamlined, split, and diced the newly acquired companies into simpler, leaner, and smaller descendants, with each focusing on fewer businesses. With sweeping changes of top management teams and through the use of highly incentivized compensation, many of the companies were reborn agile and regained market leadership in their own right, and in the process unlocked shareholder value.

That wave of leverage buy-outs, hostile takeovers, and divestment proved to be so powerful that the idea that complicated businesses are always bad took root in the financial markets. Other than exceptions like GE and Johnson & Johnson, companies that don’t have a narrow focus are punished with a discount on their stock price. If Wall Street analysts can’t pigeonhole a company, it is probably a bad company, the thinking goes.

Simpler not always better

But this idea has outlived its usefulness. In the age of the Internet of things, big data analytics, crowdsourcing, and machine intelligence, industry boundaries have blurred. Industries are now shaped not by existing incumbents, but by disruptors — newcomers from outside. Uber, AirBnB, Xiaomi, Tesla, Netflix, and Amazon were all once outsiders. In this light, the prescription that a company should focus on its core competencies and current business line in order to achieve a stock premium looks downright ludicrous. Kodak did have a singular focus and look what happened to it. And one can theoretically argue that Amazon is enjoying a conglomerate premium rather than a discount. The fact that it started with selling books online, then provided web services, and later got into electronic book publishing has actually created a better overall growth prospect than any independent companies doing each of these things separately would have.

Of course, some economists still lament that Alphabet is trading at a discount relative to a hypothetical, stand-alone search engine business. How true this conjecture is, is anyone’s guess. But this would be to ignore the “big bets” in space programs and many audacious investments that might culminate in new knowledge, the sort of knowledge that can push Google’s search engine to new heights, above and beyond where any competitors could approach. The imaginary arguments here, for both sides, are pointless. The point is that the financial tools that we continue to apply to understand 21st century business are losing relevance.

In today’s knowledge economy, where leading companies are shelling out ample resources to acquire intangibles like intellectual property and talent while avoiding asset heavy operations, we still evaluate companies using metrics designed for the 20th century manufacturing sector.

While an auditor would dutifully count last year’s toy inventory in a warehouse, we have no clue how to put a price tag on a software algorithm. It’s a wonder that our financial markets function at all at this point. What’s worse is that, in the business world, outmoded ideas die a slow death. Conglomerate discount is just one of the many that has worn out its welcome.

It’s time for a change.

Howard Yu is Professor of Strategic Management and Innovation at IMD, where he teaches on the following programs: the EMBA, Advanced Strategic Management (ASM), Building on Talent (BOT), Breakthrough Program for Senior Executives (BPSE), Strategic Marketing in Action (SMA) and Orchestrating Winning Performance (OWP).










Android Wear expands gestures and voice commands, adds speaker support

AndroidWear-DesignedForYourWrist

Android Wear, Google’s wearable device platform, is getting endowed with a number of new input and output features as part of a firmware upgrade set to roll out “in the next few weeks.” Specifically, the watches will support a number of new gestures and voice commands, and tap into the functionality of their built-in speakers.

On the input side of things, the biggest news is the expansion of gesture controls beyond the basic wrist flick. After flicking to scroll among different cards, users will now be able to take action on them by quickly pivoting their arm downward in a motion referred to as “push.” Performing the action in reverse triggers a back command.

Finally, a quick back-and-forth shake of the wrist navigates to the homescreen.

With the expanded voice command capability, owners will be able to dictate messages to a variety of apps, including some of the most popular messaging services: Hangouts, WhatsApp, and Telegram.

And with the newly-enabled speaker support, Android Wear watches can finally be used as Bluetooth speakerphones for tethered handsets. Compatible wearables include the Huawei Watch and 49mm Asus ZenWatch 2.

This latest update will push the OS version to 1.4.0.










Google Boots Ad Blockers From Google Play

adblock-general Earlier this week, Samsung rolled out support for ad blocking in the new version of its web browser for mobile devices, the Samsung Internet Browser. Third party developers quickly responded by launching ad-blocking mobile apps that work with the browser. Now those developers are finding their apps are being pulled from the Google Play, and their updates are being declined. The reason? It… Read More

Google Play’s Podcast Platform Launch Appears Imminent

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 9.55.03 AM Google announced its plans to support podcasts in Google Play last October, and now it appears that the feature is ready to launch. A handful of users are reporting they’re seeing the new Podcasts section pop up in their Google Play Music app’s left-side navigation menu, underneath the section for Top charts, New releases, and their Music Library. This is clearly not a… Read More

Android Marshmallow finally passes 1% adoption after 4 months

Android Marshmallow

The latest version of Android is finally on 1 percent of devices. Google released its monthly update to the Platform Versions page for Android today, and the preceding zero for Marshmallow’s adoption is gone.

Android Marshmallow debuted just over four months ago on September 29 with the launch of Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P. But the devices didn’t start shipping until October, and not many new devices with Marshmallow have debuted since then.

Adoption of 1.2 percent after four months is sad to see, though we can expect growth to slowly pick up over the next few months. This is the latest confirmation that Nexus devices don’t sell well, and Google’s newest iterations are no exception.

android_adoption_february_2016

Here are the changes between January and February:

  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow (October 2015): Up 0.5 points to 1.2 percent
  • Android 5.0/5.1 Lollipop (November 2014, March 2015): Up 1.5 points to 34.1 percent
  • Android 4.4 KitKat (October 2013): Down 0.6 points to 35.5 percent
  • Android 4.1/4.2/4.3 Jelly Bean (July 2012, November 2012, and July 2013): Down 0.8 points to 23.9 percent
  • Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (December 2011): Down 0.2 points to 2.5 percent
  • Android 2.3 Gingerbread (February 2011): Down 0.3 points to 2.7 percent
  • Android 2.2 Froyo (May 2010): Down 0.1 points to 0.1 percent

As with any update courtesy of the Platform Versions 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 (which includes many Android phones and tablets in China, Amazon’s Fire line, and so on).

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

android_adoption_january_2016

The Android adoption order is still unchanged: KitKat in first place, Lollipop in second, Jelly Bean in third, Gingerbread in fourth, ICS in fifth, Marshmallow in sixth, and Froyo in seventh. Lollipop should take first place soon, and Marshmallow will jump over a few spots this year.










Evolution of mobile is shifting the balance of power between Google’s parent and Apple. Again.

alphabet blocks

When the stock markets open this morning, it’s quite likely that the company formerly known as Google (GOOG) will seize the crown as the world’s most valuable company from Apple (AAPL).

It is the latest twist in Silicon Valley’s favorite feud between two giants who once were friends until they became bitter enemies and rivals. And while there are many subplots and personalities involved, the main thread running through their competition is the rapidly evolving nature of mobile.

Mobile still seemed somewhere over the horizon when Google went public back in 2004. For the next four years, Google was more valuable than Apple, which was just regaining some momentum thanks to sales of Macs and iPods.

Then came the iPhone. And suddenly, their fortunes seemed reversed.

By April 2008, Apple’s stock was racing ahead and it topped Google in value. Google released the first commercial version of Android later that year, but for a long time, it left investors and analysts scratching their heads. What good is a free mobile OS to a company’s bottom line?

It also sowed the seeds of the rift between the two friends. Google CEO Eric Schmidt would step down from the Apple board. Apple CEO Steve Jobs seethed that Android was a cheap ripoff, and launch a proxy legal fight against the its leading partner, Samsung.

In the meantime, it seemed the real business was hardware (made more compelling by Apple’s slick iOS, of course.) Indeed, even as Android phones eventually gained the upper hand in terms of market share, iPhones were still commanding most of the profits in the mobile game. Google briefly regained the market cap lead but Apple topped it again after February 2010, just a few weeks after the iPad was unveiled.

Once again, Google and other challengers scrambling a new market pushed by Apple, this time tablets.

As Apple soared, Google fought off critics. The accelerating shift to mobile created concerns about Google’s revenue from mobile search versus desktop search. The company began to tinker with building hardware. It bought Motorola’s handset business to take Apple-like control over hardware and software development (and then sold it Lenovo a couple of years later).

Along the way, the companies changed leaders. Tim Cook replaced Steve Jobs, who died just a few weeks later. At Google, Eric Schmidt handed the throne back to Larry Page.

The two companies continued to pursue their visions of the future in their own different, and idiosyncratic ways.

Apple preferred to keep its every move shrouded in mystery even as rumors of work on a watch or car bubbled up. Google preferred to experiment in public, with things like Google Glass, driverless cars, and a host of other so-called moonshots.

For all of Google’s fantastical future gizmos, investors remained dubious that they would pay off any time soon. And Apple seemed out of reach until the past year.

A year ago, Apple posted blockbuster earnings on the strength of massive sales of its larger iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. But at the same time, sales of iPads continued to stall and then drop. In the most recent quarter, sales of iPhones were relatively flat as Mac sales also fell.

Despite a busy year of product launches (Apple Watch, new Apple TV, Apple Music), there doesn’t seem much indication that these new products will drive significant revenue any time soon. Since last July, Apple’s stock is down 26 percent.

The result is a big question mark hanging over Apple’s near-term future: What if the days of growing hardware sales are over for good?

In that case, the company has to rely on software and services to grow. And while App Stores sales continue to surge, its reputation for services (Apple Maps, iCloud services, for example) are not nearly as stellar.

Meanwhile, Google has continued to tinker. Most obviously with its name. It announced the parent company would now be called “Alphabet” and each of its products would be broken out separately.

None of these as of yet, as we learned in Alphabet’s first earnings yesterday, are producing much revenue. Though the are sucking up a lot of investment dollars.

The Google division is 99 percent of revenues, and the news from that corner delighted Wall Street. The company says big gains in mobile search were driving increased revenue. Executives point to a change in ad formats for mobile implemented last year that seemed to drive new momentum.

And YouTube viewership on mobile reaches more 18-49 year olds than any U.S. cable channel, the company claims.

Thus, after months of momentum behind its stock, Alphabet looks like it will nudge past Apple.

Alphabet’s stuck was already up more than 12 percent since last July. In after-hours trading, Alphabet’s stock was up 5.32 percent or $40.00 to $792 per share.

If that holds, CNBC estimates  that Alphabet would have $570 billion market cap, topping Apple’s value of $535 billion at the close trading.

More important than the market values, which can be ephemeral based on the whims of investors, is the real bottom line: In the last week of earnings, investors and Wall Street seem to be making a clear statement that they believe software and services will determine the king of mobile.

Of course, as we’ve seen over the past decade, the evolution of mobile can be cyclical. Apple may have temporarily downshifted to neutral, but it would be silly to think they can’t or won’t re-accelerate.

But for now, the fight for the future of mobile has moved back to Google-Alphabet’s home field where it certainly holds an advantage over Apple.

 

 

 

 

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Alphabet: What we still don’t know

Alphabet Bruce Szalwinski Flickr

Alphabet (GOOG), Google’s recently formed umbrella company, today for the first time disclosed financial figures for the non-Google efforts that the company calls “Other Bets.” That category includes somewhat mysterious initiatives like X (formerly Google X), Sidewalk Labs, Fiber, Nest, Calico, and Verily (formerly known as Google Life Sciences). But those hoping for more granular information about Alphabet’s less traditional products might be left feeling disappointed today. Too bad.

There is no specific financial detail available on, say, the Project Wing drone delivery program or the robotics division inside of the X lab. If you wanted to know how much revenue Fiber brings in, you’re out of luck. Want to know about sales of Nest? Sorry, nothing to see here. (Although on today’s investor call Alphabet chief financial officer Ruth Porat did say Nest had “very strong year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter revenue growth.”)

Today's Alphabet earnings statement.

Above: Today’s Alphabet earnings statement.

Image Credit: Screenshot

On top of that, Alphabet’s executives are still not breaking out financial figures for certain properties inside of the Google operating segment — including Android, YouTube, Google Apps, Maps, the Google Cloud Platform, and Nexus mobile devices.

Search revenue? Not here. Google Play sales? No. Chromebook sales? Nope. Chromecast sales? Nah. Pixel C sales? Nooo. Android Wear? Nah. Android Auto? No way. YouTube Music/YouTube Red? Not mentioned in the earnings statement. On and on we go.

What we do know — and what hasn’t changed — is that Google’s huge and profitable advertising business ($19.07 billion in revenue out of Alphabet’s total revenue of $21.32 billion for the quarter, or 89 percent of the total) is essentially paying for much of Alphabet’s other operations, certainly including the Other Bets.

Indeed, the majority of other bets are “pre-revenue,” as Porat said during today’s investor call. (Verily, Nest, and Fiber are leading the way business-wise in the Other Bets segment, she said.) We just don’t know exactly how these businesses are performing.

We do know, though, that in the aggregate Alphabet’s Other Bets led to an operating loss of $3.6 billion in 2015, with just $448 million in revenue.

If you look at Berkshire Hathaway, the holding company that includes Berkshire Hathaway Energy Co. (containing PacifiCorp, MidAmerican Energy Company, NV Energy, Northern Powergrid, Northern Natural Gas, and Kern River Gas Transmission Co.), Business Wire, Heinz, See’s Candies, you’ll see clearer information on income and revenue on multiple types of businesses on its quarterly filings. As a result, they’re more useful for consumers and investors alike. In that area, Alphabet can do more.

Google cofounder said the whole point of Alphabet was to give its companies “independence” to “develop their own brands,” and improve “the transparency and oversight of what we’re doing.” But even with today’s revised filing format, Alphabet’s entities remain shrouded in mystery, and the company (like Google before it), remains difficult to understand.

Google’s stated mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Well, it would be nice to see Alphabet make information about itself more accessible.

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