Sprint has decided to get deeper into the social and mobile space, announcing today that it has acquired Handmark and its subsidiary OneLouder. The acquisition is meant to beef up its Pinsight Media+ advertising group, specifically.
Through Handmark, OneLouder has built social apps like Twitter clients Tweetcaster and Slices, and Friendcaster, a Facebook client. The acquisition price hasn’t been made known, but it’s a huge win for the Kansas City tech space, a place that I visited just a few weeks ago.
Sprint hopes that this acquisition will bring a more “entrepreneurial spirit” to its mobile program, hoping to lure developers to use its own advertising platform. Mike Cooley, VP of New Ventures at Sprint shared: “The business, culture and technology they bring will be a huge asset to our business, and ultimately the customers of Pinsight Media+.”
Through building all of its apps, OneLouder found a niche in advertising, having its own team that has worked on the ad platform and used its own apps to test it out. This deal also brings Sprint some strategic partners like CBS, which has a sports app powered by OneLouder. Tying the work that OneLouder has done on its ad platform with Sprint’s customer base should juice its mobile advertising efforts immediately.
The great thing about the acquisition is that Handmark and OneLouder will stay in its current home of Kansas City, serving as an example of what a budding tech hub it really is. Sprint has been trying to get involved with the KC tech crowd, as all of the activity surrounding Google Fiber has inspired companies to be formed and money and time to be spent on building communities and refocusing on making the area attractive to both coasts as an alternative base.Read More →
There is a misperception about the new Google Cloud Platform that the company put into general availability last week at Google I/O. It’s not a brand new platform. It’s what Google has used for years. It is Google’s foundation. It is what makes Google, Google. And now it’s open for the first time to developers and businesses.
Google Platform is new in the sense that anyone can now use it. But until now only a relative few number of people have had access to the platform.
Google Cloud Platform officially launched at last year’s Google I/O. So it still has a lot of hype that comes with a new Google service, especially at an event like Google I/O. It does not have the full set of features that comes with Amazon Web Services (AWS). A customer can get a much deeper service level agreement (SLA) from Windows Azure. Customers can use a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) like Openshift and leverage the Red Hat infrastructure. OpenStack is an option for companies that want to build out their own open cloud environment. Go that route and a customer has a host of vendors to choose from. Red Hat, IBM and HP are just a few to choose from for any number of software and services.
The Power Is In The Network
But there is one thing in particular that sets the Google Cloud Platform apart. And that’s the network that connects the company’s data centers so questions can be answered in milliseconds. It’s what makes it possible for Google to offer 3D maps, translation APIs and Google Glass.
“It is blazing fast,” said Will Shulman, co-founder of MongoLab about the network in a panel at Google I/O about distributed databases. “The other thing – it has a private distributed backbone between all the data centers.You are talking over Google’s backbone, not over the Internet.”
The network speed makes a difference in a few ways. The compute and storage in Google Compute Engine are separated but for the user it appears as if it is all together because it is so fast. It’s like having one giant, programmable super computer that in reality is distributed across thousands of servers.
The network speed also helps make a difference in cost. With the speed, comes the ability to process more data in less time.
Google factors its network into its pricing, much like cloud provider ProfitBricks does. ProfitBricks uses InfniBand, which offers more bandwidth capably than Google’s 10 gigabyte network. Regardless, Google’s fiber network and data center optimization provides the opportunity to offer sub-hour pricing, down to the minute.
On the Google platform, a customer can double the cores and do a data job in 30 minutes at the cost that it would normally take an hour to do.
Google views data centers as living things. They are not islands but exist in a connected world, connected to devices, other services and other data centers.
It’s this view that shows why Google has to be so considerate of its own network. The world is becoming a vast data fabric. But networking is expensive. Compute and storage costs continue to decrease but networking has not gone down at the same pace as CPU and storage, said Google Product Maanger Amit Argawal in a presentation at the Open Network Summit last June.
What it costs to connect a 10 gigabyte pipe between two regions in the United States is different from connecting different countries in Asia, where the markets are emerging fastest, In the video, Argawal says in the video. Devices are ubiquitous and disposable. Someone can lose a smartphone, buy a new one and be back up in a half-hour. The data is in the cloud not on the device. The services in turn are populating across the network. Put together it’s a virtuous circle. The network needs to be fast and interactive. If not, user engagement will slow. High availability needs to be built into all layers of the stack.
Why Developers Play A Crucial Role
To allay networking and other costs, Google has to continually keep its operations running optimally. The Internet business model means services have to be free or for a small fee. That means Google has to make sure developers are building apps on services that will help Google extend its advertising products and low-cost cost subscription services such as Google Apps.
And that’s why Google Cloud Platform plays an important role in attracting more developers, who in turn help extend Google’s properties.
For example, Google talked at Google I/O about how it offers tools to help developers integrate into the Google back-end. Google Maps, Chrome. Android and BigQuery all have these integrations. Google Glass will get integrated but for now it is not the number one focus.
AWS has a rich developer ecosystem and has a deep selection of services to offer. But Amazon is not an identity and services provider like Google is. Google has more data to offer developers so that will also be a strong selling point going forward for the company with developers.
For Cloudant, a distributed database company, it’s the fact that there is now another community outside AWS that it can tap. “There are a large and growing number of developers on Google,” said Co-Founder and Chief Scientist Mike Miller, who also sat on the distributed database panel.
Google App Engine symbolizes some of the differences that may attract developers. Google announced at Google I/O that PHP would be offered on Google AppEngine. This will make Google available to the scores of web developers who have built their web sites with the programming language. In March Google acquired Taleria, showing its continued emphasis on building out support for dynamic programming languages and need for systems that scale out efficiently. From Frederic Lardinois post about the acquisition:
The company claimed that its technology allowed developers to “handle more users with fewer boxes, without changing a line of code.” Talaria also claimed its ” server lets you keep your favorite high-productivity languages, but with the scalability and performance you’d expect from a compiled language.”
And then there is the ease of use that Google is trying to offer with Google App Engine. These include back-end as a service tools and more management features that allow developers to focus more on the code then the back-end.
That’s important for companies such as OrangeScape, a “visual PaaS,” for non-developers to build apps. CEO Suresh Sambandam said that means the company can keep its IT team relatively tight.
Google has a network that makes it arguably one of the largest carriers in the world. But it’s the cost of these data centers that will be its biggest challenge going forward. It’s almost as if Google had to open its infrastructure to extend its distributed network as efficiently as possible while continually attracting developers to scale its business model.Read More →
Google I/O, the company’s sixth annual developer conference, got officially underway in San Francisco on Wednesday, and it was an eventful day. It took the company every minute of its epic three-hour keynote to unfurl a laundry list of announcements and updates, seemingly across every product category in its arsenal — from Android, Chrome and Search to Maps, Google+ and Hangouts — each with a fresh coat of paint. We even saw the arrival of Google’s very own subscription music service, today, which is already being touted as a potential Spotify killer.
Amidst Larry Page’s triumphant return to the stage (after addressing his much-discussed vocal issues yesterday), Google’s soaring stock price and sexy smartphone demos, it was easy to miss an important announcement concerning Google’s foray into a considerably less sexy market: Education. (And K-12 education, no less.)
Android Engineering Director Chris Yerga took the stage to introduce Google Play for Education, through which Google hopes to extend Play — its application and content marketplace for Android — into the classroom. The new store, which is scheduled to launch this fall, aims to simplify the content discovery process for schools, giving teachers and students access to the same tools that are now native to the Google Play experience.
Teachers will now be able to search for and recommend learning content by category, grade level, and a variety of other criteria, and will have the opportunity to discover content recommended by other educators, for example. What’s more, every piece of content served within its curated portal is pre-approved by educators before being posted, so that teachers can rest easy knowing the recommended content is quality and school-appropriate.
Google has already begun to recruit content partners, with NASA and PBS among those that have already signed on to make their content available to users when the store goes live this fall. Yerga said that the team plans to begin accepting content submissions from developers at some point this summer.
Today, Apple is far and away the de facto leader in the education space, but with its new educational app marketplace, Google is clearly positioning itself such that it can begin to make a real play at challenging that dominance. To that point, the real key to Google’s new product is the fact that it enables administrators to distribute applications to their entire team. If a teacher wants to shoot content to a couple hundred Android devices, they simply have to type in their group’s name and voila, Google will push that sucker out to everyone on the list.
Another important perk for cash-strapped teachers is that the marketplace doesn’t require them to use credit cards to purchase content. Instead, educators have the option to buy apps and content in bulk and charge those purchases to their account. These are important features for educational users, removing a great deal of the friction around acquiring learning content.
Not only that, but, while schools and educators are eager to bring apps and other digital learning tools into their classrooms, it’s critical for them to be able to manage and to bring some oversight to the content distribution process. Plus, the Android Marketplace, er, Google Play, has had a long-standing malware problem, so that extra layer of teacher control can help get schools over the hump.
While the penetration of Apple’s mobile devices into education is significant, when it comes to other hardware, IT departments don’t want to deal with the hassle of networking iDevices. Plus, Apple products are expensive — and especially for bulk orders, schools will want to turn elsewhere.
Where Google can have a real advantage over Apple is in its ability to combine Google Play for Education with Google Appls for Ed. Small businesses have been adopting Google’s productivity software in droves, and the interest has started to grow among school boards who want to introduce tablets into their classrooms and use Google Apps as the standard.
Together these two products can work hand in hand in the classroom, with each becoming more powerful as a result. In turn this could help create the incentive or leverage that it needs to begin attracting new users.
The biggest takeaway: If it weren’t already abundantly clear, Google is no longer just a search company. The company has been exerting tremendous effort to achieve a unification among its products, not only in terms of design, but in the way its products interact with each other. That is best demonstrated by the fact that Google products now touch just about everyone. In a sense, Google is becoming a utility provider — for both consumers and developers — and, in turn, a data company.
While Apple has long been focused most of its attention on design over the years, Google’s focus on utility has allowed it to build a massive infrastructure, collecting data from across a broad range of software products at a nearly unprecedented scale. For me, there’s no better testament to the utility and wide application of Google’s infrastructure than Education.
Naturally, in juxtaposition with sexy new smartphones and mobile technology, streaming music services and re-imagined social networks, Google’s work in Education tends to end up in the backseat. But, for this reason, Google has quietly (and quickly) gained noticeable traction in Education, thanks to the adaptation of its utilities and gadgets, like Google Apps and Chromebooks, to the learning market.
For example, in February, Google announced in February that Chromebooks are now in over 2,000 schools across the U.S. For awhile now, Apple has grabbed most of the attention in the education space thanks to the rapid adoption of iPads among schools and teachers. Furthermore, when we talk about Google having positioned itself as a provider of essential utilities, there’s probably no better than the company’s recent announcement that the entire country of Malaysia — that’s 10 million students, teachers and parents — will use Google Apps for Education as part of the country’s effort to improve its education system.
Through its Google Apps products, Google allows students and teachers to collaborate in realtime through Web apps, while using already-familiar tools like Google search and Gmail. The other part of this is, Google’s cloud, its infrastructure, allows it to operate its software products at scale without the traditionally high costs. For that reason, the company can make its educational products accessible to cash-strapped IT departments, for example.
With infrastructure that allows it to run its software at scale from the cloud, Google’s products become more flexible. That foundation behind it, with Google Apps having found penetration among small businesses, it adapted the suite to address similar productivity and collaboration inefficiencies in education.
Apply that to Google Play and pair it with Google Apps, and you can start to see why EdTech entrepreneurs and investors, when asked what the biggest trends are in education (that no one’s talking about yet), more than a few have said “start paying attention to Google.”
And with the impending arrival of Google Play for Education, if Google can start to get Android tablets into the hands of kids, it looks like they might just be onto something…
Google Developer page here.Read More →
Google’s Sundar Pichai spoke to Wired in an interview published today ahead of Google I/O this week, describing what it’s like to be taking the helm of both Android and Chrome going into the annual conference. Pichai took over for Andy Rubin, who stepped out of his role heading up Android back in March.
These days, he says not much has changed around his thinking about Chrome and Android, but he did have some statements about the open nature of Android that rang more sincere than most statements from Google execs on that aspect of the business, which is usually referred to as an impossibly good thing.
Open Is Great, But…
Pichai reiterated the company’s general love for the “open” nature of Android, but he also brought up the very real ways in which it limits Google’s ability to provide a consistent and recognizable experience to all users of its mobile OS.
“Here’s the challenge: without changing the open nature of Android, how do we help improve the whole world’s end-user experience?” Pichai told Wired when asked about the biggest challenge facing Android. “For all your users, no matter where they are, or what phone or tablet they are buying or what tablet they are buying.”
It was a theme that Pichai came back to again and again, when discussing how Facebook Home has changed the OS experience at a basic level and what Google felt about that. He said that Facebook Home is “exciting,” while disagreeing diplomatically with it from a central philosophical standpoint, explaining that he believes people aren’t at the center of the experience in his mind. Once again in relation to Facebook Home, Pichai talked about the challenges of providing a universal experience to users.
“We want to be a very, very open platform, but we want a way by which end users are getting a good experience overall,” he said in the interview. “We have to figure out a way to rationalize things, and do it so that it makes sense for users and developers. There’s always a balance there.”
Finally, Pichai talked about the different issue of forking Android entirely, and discussed how Google feels about that.
“In general, we at Google would love everyone to work on one version of Android, because I think it benefits everyone better,” he told Wired. “But this is not the kind of stuff we’re trying to prevent.”
This is possibly the most frank anyone at Google has been about how the company views these tangential efforts. Google accepts them, because that’s the nature of the open approach it took when it started out with Android, an approach that helped it win over carriers and OEMs looking to do more than just provide an interchangeable vehicle for another company’s software and services. But Google is also frustrated by them, in that they splinter its efforts, ultimately resulting in Android fragmentation.
Google And Samsung = Microsoft And Intel
On the subject of the supposed Samsung/Google rift that many in the media suspect may be developing, Pichai echoed the company line and said that Google isn’t concerned about Samsung’s prominence in the overall Android ecosystem. He basically said that Samsung has been instrumental in helping push the technology forward for both companies.
Samsung’s relationship with Google is like that of other “long stable structures” found throughout the industry, Pichai said, pointing specifically to the relationship between Intel and Microsoft. Microsoft and HP would be another key example of a long-prosperous combination that never destabilized because of one party craving too much influence over the other. One could argue that the Android ecosystem is a different beat, with Samsung having much more power than any one partner that Microsoft ever had, but that’s hard to quantify.
Google I/O May Be Light On New Stuff
Pichai also seemed keen to take the wind out of people’s sails regarding what’s coming up at Google I/O, which takes place this week Tuesday through Friday in San Francisco. He said that the event will be very much developer focused, especially since it’s not timed around any major product announcements.
“It’s not a time when we have much in the way of launches of new products or a new operating system,” he said to Wired. “Both on Android and Chrome, we’re going to focus this I/O on all of the kinds of things we’re doing for developers, so that they can write better things. We will show how Google services are doing amazing things on top of these two platforms.”
Rumors suggest we might see an updated Nexus 7 and possibly a Nexus 4 with new features like LTE connectivity, but those could be considered minor enough.
Chrome And Android
The biggest takeaway from Pichai’s talk with Wired was that he clearly loves both of his children equally. He resisted multiple attempts by Levy to pit the two against one another, and to point one as unnecessary in the face of the other. Pichai didn’t seem like a man running two horses with the intent of picking the winning one late in the game; Chrome and Android both came off as equally worthy pursuits that Google intends to continue for different but equally valid purposes. That could be why we’re hearing that Android-powered notebooks are on the way, as well as Chrome-powered tablets.
It’ll be interesting to see if Pichai gives both equal billing at the Google I/O keynote, too, which takes place at 9 AM PT on Tuesday morning. We’ll be there covering the action, so tune in to see how it shakes out.Read More →
So far, the Pebble smart watch has done little besides offer up watch faces for users to tinker with, but the apps are starting to come in, and today marks the much-anticipated debut of early marquee partner RunKeeper. RunKeeper was an early player in the smartphone-based activity tracker market, and continues to be an industry leader. It was a natural partnership for both Pebble and RunKeeper, and now consumers get to see what the two can do together.
The new Pebble RunKeeper integration works with both Android and iOS apps, and provides the same functionality for both. RunKeeper CEO Jason Jacobs says that his company is very interested in the wearable tech market, and he believes that the key to cracking open a much broader audience for fitness and health tracking tech could be gadgets like the Pebble, which make it even easier to access and use information gathered by tools like RunKeeper.
“What’s really exciting for me is that what people were expecting was that it just makes it easier to have a RunKeeper controller on your wrist,” he said, describing the experience of the Pebble integration’s early beta testers. “But what they’re finding is not only can it do that, but it’s actually more powerful than an app because it’s starting to change the way they’re interacting with the data, it’s more seamless to their experience, it’s not disrupting their flow.”
Jacobs says RunKeeper’s thesis as a company is that that’s exactly what needs to happen in order to help this kind of activity tracker technology find wider purchase among a mainstream audience. “The data needs to be more actionable, and it needs to be proactively given to you so that you don’t need to hunt and look for it,” he said. The Pebble is a good way to achieve that, since it can surface any data that a smartphone, either Android or iPhone, can gather on its wrist-mounted display.
On the Pebble, RunKeeper will display pace, speed, and distance travelled and offer workout start and stop features. It can work with runs, and also bike rides and walks, and does everything most will need to get a lot more out of their smartphone supported workouts right away. It offers RunKeeper a way to compete with wearables like the Nike+ GPS sport watch, all the while allowing them to focus on the tech they do best, leaving hardware to more specialized partners.
“The software is really hard, and we think it’s a really big opportunity, and we want to be the best at the software piece,” Jacobs explained. “Part of that is pushing the phone’s capabilities so that you don’t need hardware, but part of that is also playing nice with all the best of breed hardware that comes out. In terms of being that best of breed hardware ourselves, it’s not in our roadmap or aspirations. It is in our road or aspirations to be a good neighbour.”
This version of RunKeeper for Pebble is just a start, Jacobs says, noting that during the development process they realized they could add in much more, like setting pace on the smart watch, setting distance targets and more. RunKeeper also worked closely with Pebble to get this particular integration developed, and says we’ll see similar UI elements used as other fitness tracking apps come on board. Future work could go into helping RunKeeper differentiate its experience further as the development ecosystem for Pebble progresses.
Jacobs leads me to believe that RunKeeper will be opportunistic about partnerships with hardware companies and other software efforts operating in the same general space, and this Pebble partnership is just one part of a larger strategy to try to find the key to cracking the mainstream market with a product that, while successful, has had more niche appeal up until now. The Pebble is also arguably a niche product, but taken together, it’s possible two things aimed at a very specific audience could combine in just the right way to attract a much broader following.Read More →
One of the most impressive things we happened upon at CES this year was the Tactus keyboard, a special fluid-filled layer that could be baked into a tablet or smartphone to provide users with a physical keyboard that could recede back into the screen when it wasn’t needed.
Since then the company has been flying under the radar, but it turns out Tactus has been hard at work on a prototype device with help from a prominent player in the touch interaction space. Tactus confirmed to TechCrunch that it has partnered with touch panel experts at Synaptics to create a reference device — a 7-inch Android-powered tablet — that it will begin shopping around to OEMs and carriers at the end of June.
As you might expect, the company was hesitant to name names, but newly-installed sales and marketing VP RK Parthasarathy noted that “multiple tier 1 OEMs” are already waiting for a chance to fiddle with the 7-inch reference design kit, and that the first Tactus devices were still slated to be shown off some time this year… just not around these parts. Instead, Parthasarathy expects the first official Tactus-enabled tablet to make an appearance at a trade show in Asia in Q4 (the tight-lipped VP wouldn’t confirm which) before popping up at CES in early 2013.
Fortunately, it seems as though those Tactus-enabled tablets may able to compete on price just as devices like the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire do right now. Despite the seeming complexity of adding a fluid-filled outer layer to a tablet’s screen, it’s apparently a walk in the park compared to the alternative. According to Parthasarathy, the process of handling and cutting down glass for the traditional cover lenses that sit over tablet displays is cumbersome and pricey enough that implementing a Tactus layer is a viable financial alternative. The fact that the keyboard can be made to work with whatever OS sits below it is an intriguing proposition to boot — there’s nothing stopping Microsoft or Apple from running with these things short of a mismatch in vision.
The move works rather nicely for Synaptics too — the company’s touch layers have become ubiquitous in laptops and smartphones, but short of an appearance in Samsung’s 10-inch Galaxy Tab 2.0 Synaptics hasn’t had much success in cracking the tablet market.
“The tablet market has been evolving, and Synaptics has been criticized for being late to the game,” said Synaptics technology strategist Dr. Andrew Hsu. Granted, the tablet market is still relatively small compared to the handset business — while Synaptics’ presence in tablets has been modest, it hopes that partnering with Tactus can help them pick up steam in an already-crowded market.
It’s an incredibly neat concept and seems to work well enough in practice, but are people really clamoring for a return to more tactile way to interact with their devices? After all, big names in the mobile space like Samsung have been tinkering with ways to users to manipulate their gadgets without the need to lay a finger on them. In short, are touchier keyboards really the way forward? At least one person would probably agree, but as far as Tactus is concerned there’s nothing to stop an OEM from baking a whole host of interaction methods into a single device.
“What we’re seeing is a natural evolution,” Parthasarathy pointed out. “We don’t believe there is a single interaction mechanism that belongs on every device. Users will have a multitude of interface options, but serious content creation requires a physical interface.” We’ll soon see if the Tactus vision ultimately pans out — with any luck, that initial batch of Tactus tablets will go on sale a few months after appearing at CES.Read More →
BlackBerry and Samsung devices have been given the go-ahead for use on Defense Department networks. The approved devices are BlackBerry 10 smartphones, BlackBerry PlayBook tablets using the Enterprise Service 10 system and Samsung’s Android Knox. The Pentagon said earlier this week that it also expects to clear Apple devices using iOS 6 in early May.
Pentagon spokesman Lt Col Damien Pickart said in a statement that “this is a significant step towards establishing a multi-vendor environment that supports a variety of state-of-the-art devices and operating systems.” He added that the approval of BlackBerry and Samsung devices does not mean product orders would be placed. Instead, it allows user groups within the Pentagon to select those devices.
In February, the Pentagon initiated an effort to broaden its approved mobile devices so the military can access the latest communications technology and is not dependent on just one equipment vendor. The Pentagon’s initiative to diversify its roster of electronics led to a report that it was in process of phasing out almost all of the BlackBerries used by its employees, which the Pentagon denied.
SaThe Department of Defense’s plans do mean, however, that BlackBerry now faces much more competition for the Pentagon’s 600,000 mobile users. The department currently has 470,000 BlackBerry users. There are also 41,000 Apple users and 8,700 Android users, most of whom are currently participating in pilot or test programs.Read More →