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Ep. 50: Android Xooms, and Google Tells us how it is: Mobile

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Mobile: Ep. 50: Android Xooms, and Google Tells us how it is

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Android Tablets take over CES 2011 lead by the Motorola Xoom. We have a conversation with John Lagerling from the Android team about fragmentation, the android market, and Chrome OS vs Android. Join Antuan Goodwin and Justin Eckhouse for all that and more in the world of Android.

-AndroidZoom, a new app store, opens and tablets invade; all that and more in this week on Android Atlas Weekly for January 7, 2011. I'm Justin Eckhouse alongside Antuan Goodwin. We also have a special guest from Google. He is director of Android partnerships and his name is John Lagerling. Welcome. -Very nice to be here. Thank you. -Yeah, thanks for being here, John. -Can you start off and maybe give us an overview of what you do at Google and... -Absolutely. So, I deal with all carrier operator partnerships, all OEMs, semiconductor companies--basically all of these players in the ecosystem that help make Android the success that I feel it is. -Alright, awesome. So, we're gonna start out with a couple of questions. Obviously, there's a lot of Android news that's happened at the show, all sorts of crazy tablets. But I wanted to sort of dig into, sort of, the work that you do and the whole Android ecosystem. So, there's been a lot of talk about Android fragmentation, you know, especially on the OS, and skins, and how all the different manufacturers really wanna represent their brand. But I'm wondering on sort of a hardware end of things about fragmentation and about choice, and I know that you really promote that if you want to be open, you want consumers to have choice. But it's gotten to the point where, you know, Antuan and I follow Android like crazy, but I can't keep track of phones at all, let alone my mom trying to buy a phone. So, is there a point when, you know, choice is just too much choice for consumers? And how do you deal with that? -Yes, I understand. I think there is a-- there is a range which we want to be within. That's the range of interoperability. I think we-- most of the engineers at Google are developers; people who have, you know, been in the dorm rooms hacking, you know, games and-- and making apps. We know there's this culture that we wanna make sure that their addressable markets is not fragmented. -Right. -So, if I build an app, everybody will be able to roughly use it. At the same time, it is not a single device that we're building. So, we're catering for all of these different OEMs; and OEMs or handset manufacturers, they always want to differentiate. So, there has to be a few sort of well-defined layers of differentiation in terms of UI, in terms of, obviously, hardware. But I think we've done a pretty good job that's keeping sort of a rough range of interoperability while allowing for some sort of a big variety of-- of devices are out there. -Right. I mean, I'm more concerned with, you know, me as a consumer. How do I know which one to buy 'cause, you know, we have like 80 devices introduced last year. There'll probably be, what, 200 devices this year. -I think-- -You know, there's probably 20 different ones that are exactly the same from a consumer-- -You could probably choose any point of time to pick a device and buy and you will be sad a few weeks later because something cooler is coming out. I think that's-- that's the tough-- the tough, you know, choices that you have to make. -It's not a problem-- -When you want a phone is the time to buy it. -not problem that's gonna be solved by Google anytime soon. -I don't think so. I-- I think, you know, we cannot pick the winners. We couldn't-- we couldn't predict what would be the coolest devices last year. -Alright. -I mean, we do our best with our Nexus S device but that's just like a concept car, one try at doing something cutting edge but there's so many cool things that you can do that the OEMs are doing now. -Okay. -Cool. And another thing we kinda noticed is you debuted Honeycomb, the tablet OS this-- at this show and you've decided to stick with, instead of splitting the sort of tablet form factor and-- and interface off into its own sort of branch, to continue with your numerical naming system. So, it's-- it's Android OS 3.0. How is that going to affect what happens when you get the next update for your handsets for example? Or, how is that gonna affect the version of Android OS that lives inside of Google TV? Like, are they gonna continue along that same kind of path or will it be confusing with two Android 3.0 out there? -Yeah. I-- I think, you know, one thing, one way to understand this is that the development teams in Google that work on these releases are the same-- it's the same, you know, people for the smartphone releases that we've done so far, and the tablet release. So, it's a progression from everything that we've done so far. Gingerbread came-- came out recently 2.3; 3.0, which is Honeycomb, after Gingerbread. Obviously, it's like a big step ahead in terms of-- of the UI and what we've done. All of the learnings that we've done there, obviously, were based on that we wanted to take a fresh look at what should be the case of UI in a bigger-- in a bigger-- on a bigger screen, and the new sort of holographic, you know, enabled by a 3D UI that we built, I think, makes a lot of sense there. Having said that, I think on smartphones, too, we should expect higher capability, you know, GPUs and better CPUs, which could very well run a lot of the innovations that we've done on-- on Honeycomb. So, I wouldn't say that Honeycomb, specifically, is only for-- for tablets. I think, you know, all of the cool stuff that we've seen there could just as well trickle back to-- to other sizes of screens, and it's-- it's increasingly difficult to say what is a smartphone now versus, you know, a-- a 3G- or 4G-enabled tablet. -Those-- those screens keep getting bigger and bigger. -Yeah. -Well, I don't imagine to have a, you know, large phone up my ear. But, you know, with a Bluetooth thing in your ear, you can-- you could use your tablet. Who knows? -Right. So following up on the Honeycomb theme, I'm wondering, you know, there's-- there's sort of been a lot of confusion in the market with tablets and Android over the last 6 months or so. You know, we-- we've seen the Samsung Tab which came out pre-Honeycomb on sort of an OS that it seems like maybe Google is saying, "Hey, that's not really intended for tablet." And then we saw a lot of manufacturers, you know, announce tablets and say, "Oh, we're gonna wait. We're gonna wait for Honeycomb." What is the communication like between you guys and the manufacturers? And is that gonna improve at all going forward? -Yeah. So, I think we always have the-- the view of a pressure valve that is open source. So, Google, you know, we work-- we do these Nexus devices. We do the so called "lead devices" where we pick one manufacturer and one carrier to build this sort of new generation of-- next generation of the OS. But in between those, any manufacturer is free to just take the-- the open source and run with it and do their own. And I have to admit-- admit personally that, you know, tablets came quicker than I expected. -Right. -But it's just-- it's just awesome to see all of the manufacturers already being there with Google hardware, and now, with-- with the Honeycomb release, bring those together. I think it'll be a-- a big leap in the user experience. So it's-- it's the beauty of open source. It might lead, you know, users or consumers to question when-- when they should jump in and get a device, and again, the best time to buy the device is when you actually want it. So, just go ahead and pull the trigger. -As long as it's not the week before CES. -That's right. -That's my advice, anyway. -That's the only time to at least keep your receipts. -Alright. Alright, so, this one is sort of Android-related but more big picture device OS-related. So, you have Android. It's running on phones. It's running on tablets. It's running on Google TV. It's running on a lot of crazy stuff that we'll talk about later in the show. But then, Google has Chrome OS, too. So, how, you know, is there a room either from Google's perspective? I mean, I assume so. But from your perspective as well for Chrome OS, especially now that we're seeing stuff like the hardware from Motorola that actually can become part of a-- a laptop and you can sort of use that as an Android as a full computer there. So what, you know, do you have two OSes that are now competing for the same market? -Well I think, you know, we set out to solve two specific problems. I think if we start with-- with Chrome specifically, we looked at how much, you know, package hardware-- sorry, package software is actually selling more than-- than 1 million. You know, how many-- how many software suites have that type of usage, and it's-- it's just a handful. So, most of the usage, most of the eyeballs and the time that are spent, you know, on PCs are in the browser. So, it just made sense for us-- -Yeah. -to-- to investment in-- in just making that something stand-alone and useful. On the other hand, with Android, we looked at (I've been 12 years in the mobile industry) all of the inefficiencies, you know, different policies between carriers and, you know, different Java versions. It was just very tough for developers. The users didn't get the-- the cool stuff that they deserve. So, it's solving two different problems. I do agree that there are sort of, we're having a pretty cool browser, obviously, on the tablet version of Android just as-- as we have on the Chrome OS. And fortunately, you know, as most of the-- the internet services that we're seeing, people are building both apps and a web version for-- for mobile devices, and I think that's gonna continue for quite some time. -So you think a year from now, next CES, we'll still be talking about Chrome OS? It will still be here side-by-side with Android? -If I say "no," you know the Chrome OS guys will be quite, you know, do painful things with me, so... -It's okay. Just whisper it in my ear. -No, no. I think-- I think we'll-- consumers will choose whatever they will want for specific-use cases. I think we're in good shape. -Yeah. It'll be very interesting to see. Alright, John, well, thanks a lot for joining us. -My pleasure. -It was great having you. We'll be right back. We're gonna take a quick break and come back with all sorts of interesting Android news. -Thank you. -This is the EVO 4G. This is Android, which powers the EVO. "This is something nice," someone said about the EVO. So is this, and this, and all this. And this is something really, really nice that someone said about the EVO. Well, we thought it was nice. This is the HTC EVO 4G, only from Sprint: the now network. -Welcome back to Android Atlas. Thanks again, John, for joining us. Alright, let's get into the news. There's been a little bit of it, huh? -There's been a lot of bit of it. It seems like you can't throw a stick without hitting something with Android in it. -That's true. -I think, primarily though, the big story here has been tablet. -Tablets, tablets, tablets, and a couple of more tablets. -Exactly. -Yeah. -So, I mean, there'-- there's one tablet that sticks out. -And the [unk]. I think there's-- that tablets have been the big story. And of tablets, there's pretty much, maybe, 2 leaders. But I'll say, gonna call it now, the leader of the tablet Android show revolution at least has been the Motorola Xoom. -Right, that's Xoom with the X-O-M. We've actually, I think, we're supposed to be hearing about this coming for-- for-- it was previewed at an event a couple of months ago, weeks ago actually. -Right. -And the-- -At the All Things D conference, Andy Rubin showed it off. -Right. And this is looking like the best bet for the-- the iPad killer if you will. -Right. So, let's review the specs pretty quickly. It's pretty similar size to the iPad. -A little bit bigger screen. -Right. -10.1 inches versus 9.7, 1 gigahertz processor; pretty good resolution on that also, 1280 X 800. So, it should be a really, good, crisp screen. We actually got a chance to get hands on with that guy. -It was, and you know, it feels nice and sturdy. I was most excited about the front- and rear-facing cameras, as well as the 3G support now, but 4G support going to be added via hardware upgrade at some point. -And it's very interesting. They expect you to buy the 3G now and then in a couple of months, when they push out the 4G version, you take your Xoom back in to your Verizon carrier, you know, your local office and they'll actually swap out the antenna. So, you'll be able to upgrade it that way and it doesn't sound like they said you'd have to pay for that. -Yeah. -Well, I'm not really sure. -There were not totally clear on that I would say. -Uh huh. -So, the Xoom's coming out in the first quarter. We don't have pricing. It's, you know, expected to be in the normal tablet range, which is what, like, $400 to $700. -Yeah. It-- that sounds about right. It's gonna have to be there if, you know, they're gonna wanna, I mean, it's-- it's Motorola and they're pretty well known. But, you know, when people think tablet right now, unfortunately, they think iPad first. -Right. -So, if they wanna beat them, they're gonna have to also meet them on price. -Yeah, I think it's too early to say it's the iPad killer, but it's certainly the best chance, I think, we have seen thus far. -Well, one of them has to be an iPad killer. I mean, there's a bunch of them coming out. -Could the iPad killer be the iPad 2? -It might be or it might be Toshiba's 10-inch tablet that also came out. It's similarly spec'd. It's also got the front- and rear-facing cameras on that guy; a little bit bigger screen on it but about the same resolution. But, yeah, that-- that one also looked really interesting. Donald Bell actually got a good look at that one. -Yeah. We got a look at that actually before CES, right? -Yeah. -Okay. It-- it's interesting. It feels a lot heftier than the Xoom and not sort of quite as nicely integrated, but also a nice competitor. You know, I-- I think among the other sort of claims-to-fame, the Xoom's claim to fame was the first sort of Honeycomb tablet. -Right, and it seems like, although they're-- they're all having Honeycomb on them, but Zoom's gonna be the one that is definitely gonna offer the pure Honeycomb experience. That is the official Google experiencing. There's not gonna be any sort of custom skin on top of that. It's gonna be Android 3.0 as Google anticipated it or-- or, you know, presented it. -Okay. -And ti's actually pretty cool-looking. They got some interesting things going on, a lot of moving around the physical controls. You know, eliminating the need for the 4 hard buttons along the bottom and moving those to like virtual buttons 'cause you're gonna be flipping the thing around. And then, also, some scrollable widgets and stuff, some really cool 3D aspects. -The scrollable widgets was the-- one of the big, sort of, Honeycomb improvements that I was excited about. But also GTalk, the next version of sort of Google Talk, is gonna have voice chat, which makes a lot of sense because pretty much all the tables that are coming out have front-facing cameras. And... -Right. So voice chat or video chat? -Voice and you know. -Well, video chat's coming. -You-- you don't have a video chat without voice there. -It's gonna have to come. Yeah. -Yeah, I know. I think-- they-- it will come out with video chat. So, Honeycomb isn't out yet because none of these tablets are actually out. But, we're expecting the Android 3.0, a.k.a. Honeycomb SDK, to be released to developers in the coming weeks and hopefully, we'll start seeing tablets with it February or March timeframe. -Right. Some other interesting things and-- and sort of non-tab-- tablet-related news: Amazon is actually making some steps towards building an app store of its own. You know, you got the Goolge Market place, and there have been ruminations that Amazon was gonna build its own app store and recently, we actually just got new that they were-- they build an Amazon app store developer site. So that basically means-- -Right. -they're definitely coming out with one. They wouldn't be recruiting develops if, you know, they weren't developing something. -Yeah, they-- they started recruiting developers; not open to users yet. And it-- the interesting things about the Amazon app store, I mean, there's a couple of things. Like, Amazon, there's been other app stores, right? -Uh huh. -Carriers have done some and there's been some other little ones here and there. But none of them is Amazon, you know, the biggest retailer or biggest e-tailer certainly out there. But what they're doing with their app store is, first of all, they have a pretty strict review process for apps compared to Android-- -Uh huh. -marketplace which will just let anything in, right? More in line with Apple but maybe not quite as strict, but then, the way the pricing works is you submit your app. First of all, you pay a $99 yearly fee to be an Amazon developer, then you submit your app with a list price, and then Amazon decides how much they're gonna charge for it. You don't get a say in it. You know, they will accept free apps. But for paid apps, they decide and then they either give you 70% of the purchase price or 20% of the list price-- -Huh. -which is, you know. So, if you say, hey, I wanna, you know-- what was that iPhone app that was like the I'm-- -I'm Rich. -I'm Rich, yeah, exactly. I wanna have ha $999 app. -[unk] that was $1000 app. Yeah. -Yeah. -So, Amazon will get a pretty good chunk out of that one. On the-- on the customer side, as far as an Amazon app store is concerned, what I'm really interested in is Amazon's sort of recommendation engine and-- and how they're gonna bring that into effect. When you, you know, go on their website to look for a book, they have a pretty robust sort of algorithm for the deciding what are the books you'd like. So, I mean, if they can maybe put something in place that could look at the apps that you have and kind of apps that you enjoy and rate highly and recommend the cool apps, that could be some really good potential for app discovery there. -Yeah. It'll be interesting. I mean, Amazon is the force to be reckoned with, you know, in the online world. -Right. -So, let's talk about a story that I feel we talk about every week, and that is sort of the Android market share. So, there's a report out from comScore that Android has surpassed Apple to become the number 2 operating system in the US, and this sort of over a 3-month period ending in November. Android snagged 26% and Apple's trailing behind with 25%. And the big story to me always is that still in the lead is BlackBerry with 33.5% but continuing to decline. -Yeah. It's a huge install base there and, I mean, as the-- the other platforms start to, you know, more aggressively court of the kind of, you know, enterprise user, you'll start to see that kinda chip away more unless BlackBerry does something pretty drastic in the future. But, yeah, so I guess we're number 2. Yay! -Yahoo! Alright, so helping drive that market share of the future is a bunch of new phones. We're gonna start out with the HTC Thunderbolt. They have some interesting names for the phones out this year, I think. You know, we have Xoom tablet. We have Thunderbolt. We have a Bionic. What-- what's your take on to this HTC-- it's HTC's first LTE device, so, it's on Verizon's network. It's a-- it's a gigahertz processor. It's not the dual-core Tegra that pretty much everyone is using. -Right. -Right. But it's, you know, still a pretty speedy phone. CNET tested it and found that, you know, no one's on the Verizon network yet, but it was significantly faster than all of these sort of 3G Verizon phones that they have tested before or we have tested before [unk]. -This could be really good for streaming video or Flash or-- or audio on that really big screen. At least, you wouldn't look at audio on the screen, but yeah, you see what I mean. You know, my thoughts on this is that, you know, if it were introduced last week, my eyes would've popped. -Right. -But it's crazy how a couple of days and the 1 gigahertz processor isn't impressive anymore. Now, I'm looking at dual-core. -You're moving into dual-core gigahertz. -I'm just-- it's in the-- yeah, it's sitting alongside all these dual-core phones. -Alright. So what phone sparked your interest then? -The phone that sparked my interest, I was really kind of interested in the Droid Bionic just because it kinda checks all of the right boxes for me as far as features go. It's got the, you know, the-- the dual-core processor, a really big screen, a really nice-looking screen also. It's a-- -Right. -it's like jam-packed with-- with pixels and it's a good-looking screen. And also it had a very interesting OS. -We played with this at Digital Experience and this, to me, kinda look like the successor to the Droid X, although they won't admit that. -Well, they're saying that it's gonna live alongside-- -Yeah. -the Droid X and that the Droid X will still be there who will only wanna pay for a single-core processor. Whereas the Bionic will be there for the people who want the 4G, the faster processor. It'll be like kinda their new top of the line. -Right. -What they really meant is it'll be there until they run out of inventory. -Yeah, pretty much. -Yeah. -It's kinda how these things work. I mean, they-- they-- you-- it's funny how Android phones have such a short shelf life it seems. -Yeah. No. I mean, they definitely do, and that's kinda what we were asking John about, just sort of, you know, how they solve for that and-- -You don't. -Yeah. Exactly. At least Google doesn't solve for that. -Some of us try [unk]. -CNET tries to come out with great reviews and help you out with that. So there were a lot of other interesting phones. There's the Atrix 4G. -And that one I'm really interested in, specifically not so much for the phone itself, which is also very impressive, but it's because of it's kind of interesting form factor. It's a phone by itself; handset, you know, for a big screen, similar to the Bionic. But you can actually take the phone and dock it into what's kind of like a netbook shell, and it has a larger LCD, not a touchscreen, but LCD display and a full keyboard. And you actually can transform this phone into a netbook and you have access to the internet through the AT&T network. And then you also kinda have also access to all of Android contacts and all of the resources that are on your phone. -Right, yeah. -Still only a couple of gigabytes, you know, 16, something like-- -Actually that's a pretty interesting concept and that's why I was like, "Is there a room for Chrome OS anymore now that you can see Android on your-- on your desktop?" -Exactly. -We shall see. Alright, so, we're running short on time here and I wanna get to my favorite part of Android since I predicted it. All of our fans should remember the Android toaster this year. We have a lot of crazy Android devices this year. You looked at some car stuff. -Right. -Give us a quick rundown of what we're gonna see Android in your car. -Well, we have actually-- a company called Parrot, they're really good-- known for their Bluetooth handsfree calling system. They've actually debuted at the show a car stereo that runs on a version of Android OS. It's very customized version of Android OS that doesn't have access to the market or anything, but they're gonna be able to give you internet connectivity in your dashboard and also for things like maps and traffic and search and whatnot. Then we've also seen a company called Audiovox which is really known for their kind of car stereo equipment. They've debuted a head-- headrest entertainment system. It's touchscreen and it basically is a gigantic Android tablet that floats in your headrest so you can connect your car to the internet, stream Bluetooth-- not stream Bluetooth but stream YouTube videos, and play games in the backseat instead of watching a DVD when you're on a long trip. Great for keeping the kids entertained. -So, one of my favorites, actually, is the-- the Watch. So last year was the last year that the LG Watch was the big sort of best of show. -Yeah. -They wouldn't let us touch it. So I have-- you know, and that never really materialized, right? So this year, from Casio, who is, you know, the king of watches, right? -King. -Starting with all of our favorite little watch calculators. -Digital watches that-- -Calculator watch, right? -Yeah. -So this year, we have the Casio Bluetooth watch that will talk to your Android smartphone, and we've seen similar things. What this one does, so, it pairs via Bluetooth and it will tell you when you have new mail or any kind of notifications that are coming up on your phone. It actually can act as a pedometer as well and track all sorts of information about your route with the GPS on your phone and your speed. What do you think? -I haven't seen that watch in action but I'm looking at the photograph out right there and I'm wondering how are you reading all of that on that 2-line digital display? I mean, it looks interesting but as far as I can tell, the only thing that I saw was a signal strength meter in the top right-hand corner. But, I mean, it-- it could be interesting. There's tremendous potential anytime you start connecting things with Bluetooth with an open system because you can really get creative with the kind of things you can do with that. -Right. I think the one thing that I will call about those watches? It will come out before next CES. -Yeah. -This is more than we can say for the LG Watch. -Well, yep, you could say that. -Alright. Well, I think that's it for us today. Thanks for joining us. For those of you who haven't Android Atlas before, you can watch us every week live, Thursday, 2 p.m. Pacific. Or visit the Android Atlas blog which is cnet.com/androidatlas. And if you have any feedback or comments for us, send us an e-mail at androidatlas@cnet.com. Stick around for Digital City which I think is up next after this piece. Thanks!

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