Monthly Archives: July 2015

What Ails Android Lollipop?

Android 5.0 Lollipop was unveiled at last year’s Google I/O event, and it was generally expected that the version would become fairly popular. With its much touted rival, iOS 8, running into multiple hiccups, many had even predicted that the adoption rates of Lollipop would trump that of the new iteration of Apple’s mobile platform. Nine months on, that scenario has certainly not materialized – and Android Lollipop is struggling with an adoption rate of around 12% (KitKat and JellyBean continue to be the leaders in the Android ecosystem). It is pretty clear that, in spite of mostly favorable reviews, not many have upgraded to Android 5.0. Let’s deliberate on some probable reasons for this here:

 

  1. Fragmented rollout – The confusion over which devices would be getting Lollipop (and when) definitely had an adverse effect over its adoption figures. The Nexus devices got the update first (Nexus 4, 5, 7 and 10), followed by the Moto G and Moto E phones. In between, the update was stalled and re-launched by Google. Samsung recently announced that the popular Galaxy Note 2 and Galaxy S3 handsets will not be getting the Lollipop update. For Sony Xperia Z handsets, Android 5.0 started rolling out only a month back. Many Android users with phones of other brands still don’t have an idea about when, if at all, they will get the Lollipop update. The presence of too many vendors, and the stagewise rollout, have hampered the version’s usage figures. After all, you can’t upgrade to a platform if it is not available!
  2. Where is Nexus 6? – Google’s usually reliable Nexus program has, unexpectedly, not been running smoothly of late. Nexus 6 (which, along with Nexus 9, was the new flagship device accompanying the launch of Android Lollipop) was released in mid-October. Strangely, general users as well as professional Android app developers reported that the device was almost perpetually ‘out of stock.’ The specs of Nexus 6 looked great on paper, and it might have given Lollipop a much-needed thrust. Sadly, the device remained unavailable for most people. Even if they wanted a new phone with Lollipop, they could not have it.
  3. Very few users get the plain-vanilla Android experience – Nexus users get it, Motorola users come close – but that’s about it. Unlike the centralised control that Apple has over its iOS platform (in fact, it gets some flak for the lack of customization options), every Android vendor tweaks around the source codes of updates, and bloats the platform with their own built-in apps, games and other software. This is a problem that every Android update faces, and is not an exclusive issue with Lollipop. For instance, after a month of its release, Android KitKat had a measly 1.1% adoption rate (that, however, is way higher than the 0.1% share that Lollipop managed after the same time). This robs people of the motivation of upgrading to new versions.
  4. Uncertainty over carrier services – The poor adoption rate of Android 5.0 can also be partly attributed to the unforeseen carrier-related problems. According to the official Android policy standard, it can take 14 days or more for an update to become available on a Nexus device after its release – and while Nexus 9 shipped with Lollipop pre-installed in the devices, the other Nexus handsets received the update 10-12 days later. More interestingly, the LG G3 phones received the update before most Nexus handsets. This air of uncertainty was created due to the unavailability of the update to the different carriers. Unless Google makes things more systematic soon, the upcoming Android 6.0 update (Android M) might have a similarly rocky rollout.
  5. No extra motivation to upgrade to Lollipop – According to survey reports in Android app development forums and communities, about one out every two Android phones are currently running on the JellyBean platform. KitKAt, which also had a slow start, has recovered well – and is present on roughly 1 out of 3 devices. There has been no single USP of Lollipop (Material Design is not reason enough) that would motivate most Android-users to go for the update. The general perception has been that Android 5.0 is a decent enough update, but it does not offer much in the way of extra features over JellyBean or KitKAt.
  6. Initial bugs and performance issues – Well, every major platform upgrade has bugs (you need not look beyond iOS 8.0 and the terrible iOS 8.0.1 update for that). However, the initial performance-related complaints and user-problems were not addressed soon enough – with the first set of patches coming with the Android 5.0.2 update. Things like the absence of ‘Silent Mode’ (replaced in a later update) also created a negative buzz about the Lollipop iteration. Not surprisingly, it was painfully slow to come out of the blocks.
  7. Budget smartphones are mostly shipping with KitKat – Mobile marketers and app developers agree that the availability of devices at both ends of the price spectrum gives Android a key advantage over its arch-rival, Apple iOS. The Lollipop update, however, has not benefited from this, since nearly all budget smartphones are currently shipping with Android KitKat (with some giving users the option to upgrade to Lollipop). Initially, it was expected that Lollipop would gradually take the place of JellyBean, in terms of adoption. Instead, KitKat is being the big winner as people are moving on to new devices, mostly at the expense of Gingerbread.
  8. No high-end flagship phone to fall back upon – Even iPhone app development experts agree that, the predecessors of iOS 8.3 were, at best, mediocre (and at worst, bug-ridden). However, their adoption rates remained high – simply because iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus (on which iOS 8 debuted) enjoyed huge demand among buyers from the word go. Android 5.0 Lollipop has had no such support, with Nexus 6 not being readily available, and Motorola also not managing to upgrade its most popular phones quickly enough. Perhaps Samsung could have given Lollipop the muscle to fight it out with iOS 8 – but the South Korean company is way down in the pecking order of getting the update. Maybe, the Google-Samsung feud has been a reason behind this.
  9. Can statistics lie? – Generally not, but there is an outside chance that Android Lollipop is more popular than it is made out to be by mobile software and app developers. All that we know is the adoption rate, a percentage figure, is lousy – but nothing is known about the absolute number of devices on which Android 5.0 has been installed. It can well be that Lollipop is present on a fairly large number of handsets, and that figure is not being reflected due to the remarkably fast rate at which new Android smartphones are being launched every quarter.
  10. Choice of markets initially – We have already pointed out how LG G3 got Android Lollipop before some of the Nexus devices. The company – which, incidentally, is a direct rival of Samsung – tested the update in Poland (a relatively small market), instead of going for a rollout in one of the wider markets. As a result, the initial adoption rate remained low – simply because the user base who could move to the new OS was not large enough to start with.
  11. Poor support for older devices – Another Android policy that has hurt the adoption of Lollipop is the stipulation that Nexus or Google Play Edition handsets which do not receive the update within eighteen months of the latter’s release, will not receive it at all. This makes it virtually impossible for users with older Android phones to move on to the Android 5.0 Lollipop platform. Apple has handled this far more sensibly with iOS 8, with the update being available to iPhone 4S as well (although there are performance issues). The total count of devices that support Lollipop is significantly lower than those supporting KitKat or JellyBean. Yet another problem.
  12. So, is Android Lollipop a flop? – Most experts from the field of Android development feel that it would be a folly to label the Android 5.0 update as a flop. After all, it had several glitches to start with – which were gradually ironed out. As a result, the adoption rate of Lollipop has somewhat picked up in the last couple of months or so – and there is every chance that this momentum would continue. Android KitKat had sorry adoption rates to start off with too (albeit higher than Lollipop), but it is now close to becoming the most-used Android version. It might well happen that, as Android M is launched and runs into similar problems, Android Lollipop will gain in popularity.

 

A recurring theme regarding Android 5.0 has been its unsystematic, uncertain rollout plan – to vendors as well as carriers. Even the Nexus line of phones – normally the quickest to get new updates – has faltered, compounding the problem. Unavailability of the Lollipop update on low and mid-range phones has not helped things either. It would be mighty interesting to see how Google tries to make sure that the initial adoption figures of Android M (scheduled to release in 2015 Q3) is high enough…or at least, higher than that of Lollipop!

 

Apple WWDC 2015: A Roundup Of The Key Announcements

A slew of exciting new announcements were made at Apple WWDC 2015, held from 8-12 June at the Moscone Center, San Francisco. While nothing was mentioned about an upgraded Apple TV, there was plenty of other news that grabbed eyeballs. We here take a look back at the main highlights of the event.

According to many, the announcement of Apple Music was the biggest highlight of this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). The service was officially launched yesterday, along with the release of iOS 8.4 (the final iteration of the iOS 8 platform). Several other expected, and not-so-expected, announcements lighted up the annual conference event of the Cupertino tech giant. Here are some of the takeaways from Apple WWDC 2015 that have got software experts, iOS developers and general enthusiasts buzzing:

 

  1. iOS 9 is coming soon – It has already been a week since the second beta of iOS 9 was seeded to app developers, and the final release is expected to be sometime in mid-September. Confirming early reports, it has been stated that the new platform would not bring in a host of new features, and will be more focused on enhancing the stability and performance of devices. The ‘low power mode’ of iOS 9 is aimed at improving the battery life of mobile devices (to be fair, Apple has already done a decent job in this regard with the iPhone 6 Plus). HealthKit is going to be more informative, and the platform would take up very little space in the users’ devices. For iPad Air 2 users, iOS 9 will open up the opportunity of split screen multitasking – i.e, working with two applications at the same time. Other minor tweaks include the renaming of ‘Passbook’ as ‘Wallet’ and ‘News’ replacing ‘Newsstand’.
  2. Apple Music – As touched upon briefly above, this was one of the most-anticipated announcements from Apple Inc. at this year’s WWDC. More than a year after acquiring Beats, the company has finally launched an all-new music-streaming service (which would, according to company CEO Tim Cook, “change the way you experience music forever”). The $10 monthly subscription gives users a range of cool services – right from fast and unlimited music from iTunes Music, to the DJ Zane Lowe-hosted Beats One radio station. Apple has thrown in Connect (the social platform via which performers can get in touch with fans) in the subscription package as well. There is a trial period of three months available as well. While all seems great about Apple Music, the big question is whether it will be able to stave off the challenge from Spotify.
  3. The smarter Siri 2.0 – For all its witticisms and general helpful features, Apple’s mobile digital assistant has been falling behind its arch-rival, Google Now for some time. As many iPhone app developers across the world had predicted, Craig Federighi announced at the WWDC that Siri would (finally) be upgraded, with the new version debuting on the first-generation iOS 9 devices. Contextuality and ability to anticipate will be the two high points of the open-sourced Siri 2.0 – and it would now be able to understand commands more easily (for instance, based on the iOS apps/websites a user has opened when (s)he gives a command). The location support features of the new Siri will be top-notch as well. Let’s just see how much of a ‘proactive assistant’ Siri 2.0 indeed turns out to be!
  4. Transit support in Apple Maps – The initially unreliable Apple Maps (not a patch on Google Maps) is getting better – and mobile app developers feel that the addition of public transit directions would be a big step in this regard. Unlike most other mobile map services, the revamped Apple Maps will also provide timings, directions and other information related to subway services (in addition to rail, bus and ferry routes). The Transit Maps will be available in a few select locations to start off with – and depending on the feedback, Apple will gradually expand it further.
  5. All hail El Capitan – OS X 10.11, codenamed ‘Gala’, will be called ‘El Capitan’ – and it will also be released later this year. According to reports from Mac forums and online app development panels, the new version would be mostly about giving the performance of the OS X platform an extra edge (that’s right, the designs and layouts of Yosemite will not be overhauled or anything). The smart window-management system in El Capitan will probably be its most user-friendly feature – with people now being able to save several desktop layouts in the navigation bar, as well as operate more than one Mac application on split screens. Spotlight search has got a lift as well (think: more integrated queries), while the site-pinning option in Safari is a welcome addition. What’s more, OS X 10.11 is likely to receive some extra support from Metal 3D Graphics SDK. The general feedback of OS X Yosemite is mostly favorable, and Apple is looking to build on it with ‘El Capitan’.
  6. Notes app to become better – The fact that Apple had not bothered to update ‘Notes’ – one of its most widely used mobile applications – till now had been a bit of a surprise. While professionals from the domain of iOS development had not entirely anticipated this, the Cupertino company has finally given ‘Notes’ a rejig, in a bid to make it even more handy for iPhone-users. The app will now have a separate, completely cloud-based syncing engine, and come with built-in measurement options, checklists and other sketching and formatting options. People will be able to add rich multimedia content to the application as well. This was one of the more underrated announcements at WWDC 2015 – but it is certainly a very important one for general users.
  7. Arrival of Apple Pay in UK – Mobile payments technology is catching up across the world, and the news that Apple Pay will finally become available outside the United States is not much of a surprise. In the UK, as many as 8 leading banks have already pledged support to Apple Pay, along with quite a few famous product brands (like Portrose, Boots, and Marks & Spencer). The most striking announcement was, however, that the mobile platform would support the public transportation system in London. This will be a first for any US-based transit company, and is likely to take the popularity of mobile payments in the UK to a new level.
  8. New OS for Apple Watch – For professional WatchKit app developers, this one is really exciting. New apps for Apple Watch will be able to use the speakers of the smartwatch for audio/video playback. This, in turn, will make the applications more interactive and engaging. In addition, WatchOS 2.0 will have full support of the HealthKit and HomeKit applications. There is more for the users, with the ‘Time Travel’ feature being particularly interesting (for soon-to-happen events). The quality of the first set of Watch apps has not been particularly great, and WatchOS 2.0 will open up the opportunity for third-party developers to come up with more customized, more useful software for the wristwatch.
  9. Newsstand has given way to News – The half-baked Newsstand app, which was, according to many iOS app makers, a sore point of both iOS 7 and iOS 8 – has finally been replaced by ‘News’ – a completely revamped application. Scheduled to debut in Australia, UK and the US, the News app will let people read a vast range of articles, journals and other stuff. It would also suggest new articles, based on what a user is currently reading. There will be an option to ‘follow’ certain publications as well. The design and layout of News, unveiled at the WWDC, looked mighty impressive – and it seems like FlipBoard will finally have a worthy rival.
  10. Custom CarPlay apps – Another minor surprise from Apple at this year’s conference. Evidently, the company is planning to boost its desktop, mobile, and auto operating systems simultaneously, with CarPlay getting major feature boosts. Developers will now get the chance to create separate, custom apps to monitor the features and functionality of vehicles (instead of being overly reliant on what the old CarPlay OS did). App designers and UI/UX experts have reasons to cheer too, since the new CarPlay screens will be of high DPIs, and there will be several different display sizes. A great chance for leading automakers to make their vehicles more sophisticated and buyer-friendly.
  11. Support for new cards in Apple Pay – Not only has Apple Pay been made available outside the US, it is also set to become more useful than before. On devices running on iOS 9, users will be able to add and store reward programs and credit card information (for cards issued from stores) in Apple Pay. Passbook has been replaced by Wallet – a new, more secure service. To add to the convenience of users, Apple Maps will indicate the merchants which support payments via Apple Pay.
  12. Smarter keyboard solutions – The keyboards in iOS 7 and iOS 8 devices have copped quite a bit of criticisms – from users and iOS app development experts alike. Those up top has clearly taken notice, and the announcement of a significantly tweaked keyboard for iOS 9 has been the result. While the newly-introduced support for third-party keyboard shortcuts and swipe gestures will all be handy – the ‘Shift The Entire Keyboard’ option is the most interesting. The complaints about the ‘Shift’ tab will stop and people will be able to type more quickly and accurately. The improvements in the iOS keyboard is also a telltale sign that Apple is working on a high-end iPad Pro (which might just be like a mini-Mac).
  13. HomeKit’s reach gets wider – No longer is HomeKit limited to Apple TV. At WWDC 2015, it was announced that users could connect their iPhones/iPads via cloud – and then use the HomeKit app. The range of functions of HomeKit has also been expanded, with security setups and motion sensors being adjustable by this app too. The new HomeKit version gives greater control to users to monitor things at their home, through a range of iDevices.
  14. Native support for Watch app developers – Till now, all apps for Apple Watch had to be paired with the iPhone. This over-reliance of the smartwatch on the smartphone will be done away with by WatchOS 2. On the platform, developers will be able to create native applications for Watch. Features like Digital Crown and Motion Sensor, hitherto out-of-bounds for third-party mobile app companies, can also be integrated in apps optimized for the WatchOS 2 platform.

 

Staying with Apple Watch for the moment, the all-new Complications feature has been included to let wearers play around with watch faces. The memory requirement for installing iOS 9 will be 1.3 GB – considerably less than the 4.9 GB needed for upgrading to iOS 8. The no-show of the new Apple TV at WWDC 2015 was a bit of a disappointment though, but it is being widely expected that the new set-top box (together with developer toolkit and remote control) will be released before the end of the year.

 

Which of the above announcements at this year’s WWDC is the most exciting?