Mossberg: All the Walt that’s fit to print

Welcome to Mossberg, a weekly commentary and reviews column on The Verge and Recode by veteran tech journalist Walt Mossberg, executive editor at The Verge and editor at large of Recode.

Welcome to Mossberg, a new weekly commentary and reviews column on The Verge and Re/code by veteran tech journalist Walt Mossberg, now an executive editor at The Verge and editor at large of Re/code.

In 2010, Google tried an experiment — not with self-driving cars, or goofy eyeglasses, but with smartphone freedom. For the introduction of the very first Nexus phone — its showcase Android device — it attempted a disruptive business model.

Instead of being offered through carriers, the Nexus One was initially sold only online. I can still remember a very senior, very excited, Google executive showing me in advance how it would work. On one Web page, you’d configure and order your phone, unattached to any carrier. On the next page, he said, “you’d see the list of carriers bidding for your business.”

It was a great idea, because it separated the purchase of the phone from the choice of a network. That eliminated carrier influence over handset design and selection, and gave consumers maximum choice in both phone features and carriers.

But it flopped. Only one major carrier, tiny T-Mobile, was willing to participate. The others saw Google’s plan as a threat to their considerable control over the smartphone itself.

But conditions in the U.S. mobile phone market have lately begun to change in a way that loosens the carriers’ grip, and now, it’s time to finish the transformation here in the U.S. It’s time for U.S. operators to focus wholly on being first-class wireless carriers, not second-rate electronics retailers and app developers.

Until very recently, carrier control in the U.S. remained a major problem. Even the biggest brands, like Samsung, had to make special tweaks to seemingly identical models to please the network operators, or produce superfluous special models altogether to remain in their good graces.

Only Apple, possessed of a massively powerful brand and the first modern smartphone, managed to retain real independence from carriers. And it bought that freedom at a steep price: A years-long exclusive with AT&T in the U.S.

For their part, consumers were locked into two-year contracts that trapped them with a carrier, lured by ultimately costly subsidies that made a $650 phone look like it cost $199.

Fast forward to today, and two important things have happened to raise hopes that smartphone design, pricing and marketing can be finally fully pried from the fingers of network operators.

First, the deadly combination of phone subsidies and two-year contracts, which kept customers locked into a carrier and didn’t allow upgrading to new phones as often as they wanted, is fading. T-Mobile started this trend, and its bigger rivals are falling into line, the latest being giant Verizon.

Now, most carriers sell you a phone at full price, usually spread out in payments over a couple of years, and sell service plans separately without a two-year commitment or the built-in device subsidy. As long as you pay off the phone, or buy it for full price up front, you can change carriers whenever you want.

Second, something like Google’s bold but failed original Nexus plan is going gangbusters — in China. Multiple home-grown phone makers there, notably Xiaomi, sell often surprisingly classy phones largely online at low prices. They don’t worry about carriers. Consumers buy the phones, then separately buy plans from carriers and pop the relevant SIM card into their shiny new handsets.

It’s time to treat the smartphone like any other computing device, to leave the selling and supporting of them to the Best Buys, the Apple stores, the Amazons.

Apple, the country’s most important smartphone maker, took a huge step toward this future last week. It announced that it would sell new iPhones under its own installment plan, which will include a warranty — cutting out the carrier. The plan allows for an upgrade every year, which is obviously in Apple’s interests. And, ominously for the carriers, these will be unlocked iPhones, able to be switched from carrier to carrier at any time.

If that plan takes off with the iPhone, it will pressure carriers to focus on their actual product — the network — not phones made by others. It will incent them to compete wholly on such things as speed, coverage, reliability and the price of service.

Companies like Verizon and AT&T have invested billions to build and sell an intangible, but vital, product: The wireless network. Nearly everyone depends on major carriers, and nearly everyone can buy devices that make use of them, in tens of thousands of online and offline locations that aren’t tied to the carriers.

So why should the owners and sellers of the networks even have vast chains of stores? Why should they sell phones and tablets and subtly or otherwise steer customers to certain models? Why should they be able to dictate certain hardware and software features (like bloatware apps for carrier services) to weaker or more pliable manufacturers (pretty much every manufacturer not named Apple)?

Why, in an era when networks are well understood and most components standardized, should handset makers be required to undergo onerous “certification” processes that allow carriers to demand changes to the design of their devices if they want to use them on the network? One small-company American tech CEO told me the other day that it will cost him more to clear “certification” processes at the four big U.S. carriers than to build and sell the first major production run of a new handset he’s planning to launch.

And why should Android updates, including those that enhance security, be delayed for months by carriers?

“The first customer of a smartphone maker in the U.S. today has to be the carrier, and that’s not good for the consumer,” said David Morken, CEO of Republic Wireless, a small carrier that mainly routes calls and texts over Wi-Fi rather than cellular towers.

Think about this for a minute. Does your home landline broadband provider sell laptops or Rokus or iPads or any of the other things that make use of the Wi-Fi or wired connections it provides? Does it require Dell or HP to “certify” that their devices work with their networks. No, and no.

So why should wireless carriers be any different?

To find out, I called up Glenn Lurie, the CEO of AT&T Mobility, who served for many years as that carrier’s top liaison to Apple. Not surprisingly, Mr. Lurie strongly disagreed with the premise of this column.

“Our core business is building fantastic services,” he said. “The phone is a means to an end for us.”

AT&T has stores, he says, because “customers deserve choice” in phones, and AT&T’s stores carry many models. (Of course, so do Best Buy and Amazon.)

As for the certification process and the demands carriers put on handset makers, he said AT&T works “very closely with those manufacturers so they work well on our network.”

And he declared that “I foresee that customers will always have the capability to buy a phone from us.”

Well, there’s no law against Mr. Lurie continuing to sell phones, but I predict that, eventually, his company won’t be doing that. New, more attractive, direct-to-consumer models, like those now popular in China, will win out.

A few months ago, while in Beijing and Shenzhen visiting some of the top makers of Chinese-branded smartphones, I was repeatedly told that the number one thing that stopped these companies from entering the U.S. market was the power of the carriers.

(AT&T’s Mr. Lurie told me that he, too, was recently in China, and that he didn’t hear complaints from Chinese phone makers about carrier control in the U.S., adding, “We’re wide open to doing business with them.”)

I believe that wireless networks and phone makers became fused decades ago because the very idea of mobile telephony was a costly novelty. Unless there were networks, there’d be no market for mobile phones. Unless there were mobile phones, there’d be no market for networks.

It wasn’t unprecedented. After all, in their own early days, some TV networks and TV makers were commonly owned and Hollywood studios owned theater chains. These arrangements were eventually broken up by the government.

Most famously, in the 1970s, in the famous Carterfone case, the FCC finally stripped the old AT&T landline phone monopoly of its power to bar consumers from using any phone or device on its network of which it hadn’t approved. Sound familiar?

I’m not calling for any government action. I just want to see disruptive market forces applied here at home to the world’s most important electronic device.

The benefits would be huge. Competition in both spheres — handsets and networks — would be enhanced, once each stood alone and true prices and features became clearer. Updates for Android users would be much faster. And new entrants in handsets would come flooding into the U.S.

It’s 2015. The wireless network is an established necessity and the smartphone is a mature, if evolving, product. We need to finish the job in the U.S. of making them stand alone.

Walt Mossberg #ReCode #TechNews #BizNews #News

Android Pay now available in New Zealand

Android Pay has arrived in New Zealand!

New Zealand is the latest country to receive support for Android Pay. New Zealanders who bank through the Bank of New Zealand can add their Flexi Debit Visa to their phone via the Android Pay app, then pay for gas, food and more at a number of popular businesses using just their phone.

There are several New Zealand businesses that support Android Pay — whether you’re looking to grab a bite to eat at McDonald’s, Burger Fuel, or Domino’s, do some shopping at Noel Leeming or Torpedo7, or make payments at mobile carriers 2degrees or Spark.

Currently, the Bank of New Zealand is the only financial institution supported, and the BNZ Flexi Debit Visa is the only card you’re able to add. Time will tell if other New Zealand banks will hop on the Android Pay bandwagon, or whether other BNZ cards will be added to the service.

Marc Lagace #AndroidCentral #Android #News #Google #Alphabet

Take the VisionMobile State of the Developer Nation Survey and enter to win a Google Pixel!

Here’s how to easily win a new Google Pixel!

We’re proud to be supporting the State of the Developer Nation Survey run by our friends at VisionMobile! This is the 12th developer survey, focusing on a 360-degree view of developer tools, skills and salaries.

The survey features questions on topics like programming languages, platforms, app categories, new technologies, revenue models, IoT verticals – and of course – tools. It’s a survey made by developers, so the questions will be relevant plus you will get to learn something new — and it only takes 15 minutes!

And we promise, this is a survey that’s actually fun! Once you complete it, you’ll get to find out what kind of character you’d be in a fantasy world, based on your responses: A mage? A fighter? A dragon slayer? Take the survey and find out!

Participants can win one of the dozens of prizes available, including a Google Pixel, MeccaNoid G15 KS, an Apple Watch Series 2, an Oculus Rift headset, Udemy courses, and more. VisionMobile will show you how your responses compare to other developers’ in your country. You’ll also be the first to receive the State of the Developer Nation report (coming March 2017) based on key survey findings.

Take the survey

Michelle Haag #AndroidCentral #Android #News #Google #Alphabet

Moto Z may get a Google Tango Moto Mod in 2017

Let’s Tango, Moto.

Right now, Google Tango is a great idea trapped inside mediocre hardware. As we saw in Lenovo’s Phab 2 Pro, there is a lot of potential in the camera-reliant augmented reality technology, but right now there’s really no reason for a consumer to invest in it.

Motorola, Lenovo’s mobile-focused subsidiary, plans to change that in 2017 with a Google Tango Moto Mod, according to company president Aymar de Lencquesaing, speaking to a group of reporters at a meeting in Chicago. “We’re likely to to have a Tango module to basically enable the Z to have Tango functionality,” noting that “augmented reality on a phone is a technology that’s likely to stick.” There is tons of potential there, he continued. “We’ll follow, or lead, the market in this area.”

Lenovo, Motorola’s parent company, worked directly with Google on the Tango-powered Phab 2 Pro, which happens to be the first consumer product to work with the nascent technology. de Lencquesaing wouldn’t go as far as to confirm the existence of a Tango Moto Mod, but hinted that it would be a natural progression for Motorola’s modular platform, which currently works on the Moto Z, Moto Z Force and Moto Z Play.

Moto Z, Moto Z Force and Moto Z Play

Our Moto Z review!

Moto Z Play preview

The Hasselblad True Zoom is a Mod to remember

Moto Z specs

Moto Mods custom backs

The latest Moto Z news

Discuss in our Moto Z forums

Motorola Verizon

Daniel Bader #AndroidCentral #Android #News #Google #Alphabet

Hey Amazon, we’re still getting used to voice-first devices — please don’t give Echo a screen

Adding an alternative would slow down adoption and weaken the core experience.

A version of this essay was originally published at Tech.pinions, a website dedicated to informed opinions, insight and perspective on the tech industry.

According to Bloomberg, Amazon is developing a high-end Echo-like device which will feature a better speaker and a seven-inch touchscreen. The speaker is said to be larger and to tilt upwards so the screen can be visible when on a shelf or counter and the user is standing. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that Amazon’s Lab126 hardware unit was working on an Alexa-powered device featuring a tablet-like computer screen known internally as “Knight.” The device will be running a version of Fire OS.

The temptation of adding a screen

The people familiar with the product who talked to Bloomberg said the screen will make it easier to access content such as weather forecasts, calendar appointments and news. It might just be me, but I struggle to see this as a solid business driver. The great advantage of using Alexa for my morning briefing is that I can listen to it while I get breakfast ready or pack my daughter’s lunchbox. I would not have time to stop and read or even look at something. Also, Alexa’s voice travels so well across the room over the morning chaos, a screen would have me move close to it to be able to look at it.

As voice-first is not yet an entrenched behavior, giving an alternative would slow down adoption and negate the considerable progress Amazon has made in this area.

I cannot help but think that the main task a screen would help with is shopping. If I am trying to buy furniture, clothes and gifts, being able to see them is a huge improvement versus Alexa just calling out the description of the item.

Having a screen could, of course, also help with content, and would allow Amazon to enrich some of the experiences by adding a visual output to the voice. Music is a good example of this. But the question is whether Amazon needs to add that screen to Echo.

While a screen could add to the overall experience, I strongly believe it should not be an alternative input mechanism. Adding touch to voice would weaken Alexa in an environment where consumers feel very comfortable using their voice. As voice-first is not yet an entrenched behavior, giving an alternative would slow down adoption and negate the considerable progress Amazon has made in this area.

Leveraging existing screens versus adding a new one

We have plenty of screens in the home that Alexa could leverage — some, like a Fire TV or a tablet, might even be “controlled” by Amazon. Others, including our phones, could be exploited by the Alexa app. If our interactions with Alexia remain voice-first/only, the screen would be a simple display with no need to interact with it. This would make the Fire TV the perfect companion for Alexa.

Ironically, Alexa being trapped in the little cylinder allowed her to be free.

The risk of adding touch is, even if Amazon does not intend it as an alternative input mechanism, consumers at this initial market adoption stage might easily revert to old habits. In a way, this reminds me of how people, at the beginning of the tablet market, bought a keyboard to use with their tablets so they could revert to a user experience they had experienced for so long with PCs and that felt familiar and safe.

Over time, as AI continues to develop, I could see a role for a device that intelligently understands what is appropriate to show on the screen, and proactively does that by having Alexa suggest, “Do you want to visualize it?” or saying “Let me show you.” There are instances where displaying the content seems easier than an alternative solution. Recipes are often used as an example to illustrate how voice-only does not work. But if you had an app that lets Alexa break down the steps so you could literally have her coach you through the recipe and check, “Ready?” or “Tell me when you are ready,” you would not need to visualize the steps.

The risk: Turning Alexa from leading actress into a supporting role

Echo was successful because people bought it for what it was: A speaker with a digital assistant. Actually, a digital assistant in a speaker would be a better description of what consumers were buying. Users did not have other options but to talk to Alexa to get her to do anything. There was no old behavior to revert to.

Competition in this space is growing, but the battle will not be won by adding features that weaken the core experience.

Ironically, Alexa being trapped in the little cylinder allowed her to be free — Free of any limitations that being part of a more traditional device, such as a smartphone or a tablet, would have imposed on her. Trying to turn Echo into a glorified Fire tablet could demote Alexa to a mere feature versus the genie in a bottle we know her as. For people who bought Echo, there was nothing else the device could do other than allowing them to interact with Alexa.

To grow engagement, Amazon needs to penetrate our homes more, and to expand beyond them, but this needs to be done in a way that leaves consumers deeply connected with Alexa so their reliance feeds their loyalty. Voice needs to remain the main input, as this is ultimately how our assistant will become personal.

While competition in this space is growing, the battle will not be won by adding features that, while differentiating in looks, weaken the core experience. Accelerating Alexa integration with other devices, continuing to expand her skills, and improving her knowledge will help to stay ahead of the curve and keep users engaged and loyal.

Carolina Milanesi is a principal analyst at Creative Strategies Inc. She focuses on consumer tech across the board; from hardware to services she analyzes today to help predict and shape tomorrow. In her prior role as chief of research at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, Milanesi drove thought leadership research; before that, she spent 14 years at Gartner, most recently as VP of consumer devices research and agenda manager. Reach her at @caro_milanesi.

Carolina Milanesi #ReCode #TechNews #BizNews #News

OnePlus 3 gets its first beta Android 7.0 Nougat build

Manually jump to the latest software right now.

As we tip over to December we’re still waiting for an official OTA update to Android 7.0 Nougat on the OnePlus 3, but the most anxious among us can now be the first to see what OnePlus has done with Nougat by installing the latest Open Beta 8 software. Because of the big jump this latest beta will not arrive over the air for current Open Beta users — you’ll have to manually apply this update.

The quick changelog from OnePlus:

Upgraded to Android 7.0 Nougat

New Notifications Design

New Settings Menu Design

Multi-Window View

Notification Direct Reply

Custom DPI Support

Added Status Bar Icon Options

Added Quick Launch For 3rd Party Applications

Improved Shelf Customization

As is always the case with beta software — particularly the first release of a new platform version — we want to give the proper amount of caution here to let you know this will be unstable and potentially have issues. OnePlus notes that right off the bat Android Pay may not work properly, and there are general stability and performance problems.

You get the latest software, but be ready for potential bugs.

More importantly for some, you won’t be able to simply downgrade back to Android Marshmallow if you’re unhappy with this beta Nougat experience. The only way to go back to Marshmallow requires a special Open Beta build (available from OnePlus customer service) that will format your device, so proceed with caution here as it’s a one-way street unless you want to lose your data.

For those who are aware of the risks and willing to give Nougat a try on their OnePlus 3, head to the OnePlus forums and grab a download of the 1.3GB .zip file containing the new update. Hook up to your computer and use the “adb sideload” command to apply the update as you would any other update, or if you are already on an Open Beta build you can simply put the file on your phone and manually update through the system settings.

OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T

OnePlus 3 review: Finally, all grown up

The OnePlus 3T is official

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OnePlus 3T vs. OnePlus 3: What’s the difference?

Latest OnePlus 3 news

Discuss OnePlus 3 in the forums


Andrew Martonik #AndroidCentral #Android #News #Google #Alphabet

Google’s latest Santa Tracker arrives with new game and visual redesign

Get in the spirit of the season.

Google’s yearly refresh of its Santa Tracker always brings some new fun and a fresh take on the Santa story, and the 2016 iteration is now available in Google Play and on the web. As always, the Santa Tracker app and website bring tons of interactive activities and games to help kids pass the time while waiting for Santa to arrive.

Alongside a full slate of simple and fun games in the app, there’s a new game called Present Quest that actually tasks you with walking around in your city to collect virtual presents and drop them off places. Santa’s Village has been redesigned and upgraded in both the app and web as well, and if you head to the website on your computer you’ll have a different set of browser games available.

The new app and website are full of good fun time killers for kids and adults alike, even if you don’t want to get up and walk around in the cold for a high score in Present Quest. Download the Santa Tracker today, and maybe you’ll enjoy playing some games whne you’re with the family this holiday season and even throw up the complete Santa Tracker experience on your Chromecast when we hit December 24.

Andrew Martonik #AndroidCentral #Android #News #Google #Alphabet

YouTube enables 4K live video streaming for all

Quadruple the resolution for your streaming needs.

Though you’ve been able to upload (and of course watch) 4K resolution video on YouTube for years now, the world’s most popular video hosting service is now enabling live streaming in the new higher resolution, including 360-degree videos. From the viewer’s perspective nothing will change, aside from the fact that live videos will now have the same option to bump up to 4K resolution as when you’re watching a recorded video. The change here is really for content creators who are ready to make the jump up to 4K.

Just like when YouTube enabled 4K uploads back in 2010, enabling 4K streaming is a bit ahead of its time considering how much extra hardware and bandwidth are required to consistently stream at that rate. YouTube’s help docs lay things out, but it basically comes down to having four to five times the bandwidth available to consistently stream in 4K.

If you’re using the basic “stream now” interface inside YouTube, the bitrate will automatically be selected based on your encoder settings and give you the highest possible resolution. At this time there’s no option to optimize for lower latency, as the site will instead optimize for the least amount of buffering on the viewer’s end.

To show off the new higher-resolution streaming tech, you’ll be able to watch The Game Awards tomorrow (6 p.m. ET) streaming in 4K directly in YouTube.

Andrew Martonik #AndroidCentral #Android #News #Google #Alphabet

How to Use “Hey Siri” to Launch Siri on Your Mac

Siri is finally on the Mac, but unlike the iPhone version, you can’t launch the virtual assistant with your voice. Sure, there are dock and menu bar icons to click, and you can set a keyboard shortcut, but you can’t just say “Hey Siri” to start giving commands.

Click Here to Continue Reading

by Justin Pot #HowToGeek