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Google gives a preview of its upcoming L release of Android

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June 25, 2014

Today, Google gave us a small preview of its upcoming 'L Release' of its Android operating system, due to be released sometime in the fall.

At Google I/O, vice president Sundar Pichai said that the next iteration of the mobile operating system, featuring more than 5,000 new APIs, is designed for form factors beyond mobile.

To be sure, Pichai outlined a few but new principles for the redesign of Android and Chrome OS, including contextually aware, voice enabled and seamless.

Engineering director Dave Burke highlighted some of the new features of the revised OS like personal unlocking that uses voice recognition, Bluetooth connections, and other custom options for skipping the PIN lock.

He also said that the new L release will run entirely on Android’s new 64-bit compatible runtime, ART, that provides performance improvement without developers needing to update any code.

Android design head Matias Duarte described the new look as “one consistent vision for mobile, desktop and beyond.”

“Material design,” as Duarte explained it, was the inspiration for the expanding and reforming user interface design inside the new Android release.

Developers will now be able to assign different elevations for design aspects and Android will illustrate that depth with shadows and lighting.

For example, Android TV is an extension of the Android SDK designed to fit bigger screens.

The user interface compiles streaming services, games and relevant information while enabling voice controls, search, and Google Cast support.

Android TV can leverage an Android Wear device as a directional pad for navigating the screen. It’s coming to Sony and Sharp TVs in 2015 and set-top boxes from Asus and others are coming soon as well.

Engineering director David Singleton provided a quick demo and update for Android Wear. He announced that a full Android Wear SDK was being made available today, opening up all the sensors and features of wearable devices.

He confirmed the Samsung Gear Live and LG G Watch, both available for order tomorrow. Moto 360 will be available later this summer.

Android Auto, is a voice-enabled, simplified version designed for in-vehicle telematics screens.

The demo focused on music, navigation and messaging. He announced that forty new partners have joined the Open Automotive Alliance and promised the first new cars with Android Auto would be out this year.

Even before all the new iterations of Android, the OS has a very big user base. Pichai said Android now has one billion active daily users.

But Google is still talking about getting its OS out to the next five million people. Android One is a new initiative working in that direction.

It’s a set of hardware reference platforms and turnkey solution for OEMs with the same stock Android software.

It will open up Google Play to locally relevant apps and offer full updates on-par with what Nexus devices already receive.

Pichai revealed Micromax, Karbonn and Spice as the first OEM partners for Android One.

In other mobile and wireless news

Japanese wireless carrier DoCoMo has come up with an interesting new concept-- a wearable SIM card that will authenticate all your devices on its network, all under one single account. And it works.

DoCoMo says the portable SIM is currently a “pocketsize mini device” but that “further downsizing” will deliver “convenient wearable devices”.

Those devices will include a SIM slot, Bluetooth and NFC. Here's how the company sees the device working.

“By simply waving Portable SIM next to a mobile device, the user's subscriber identity can be transmitted to the mobile device via Bluetooth, eliminating the need to physically insert a SIM card.

Then, using that feature, the smartphone user can switch their subscriber identity from a personal device to a shared tablet in the workplace.

For security reasons, the switched phone number in the smartphone is locked down once the Bluetooth link is broken.

Portable SIM cards can securely store multiple credentials, such as IDs and passwords, so it also can be used with PCs and other connected devices to eliminate the need to type in such information everytime when accessing online-shopping and other websites.”

And DoCoMo might just be on to something big here. Mobile data plans spanning more than one device are starting to become common in some parts of the world. NFC already has a means of authenticating and initiating Bluetooth connections is also starting to become reasonably common in wireless speakers.

DoCoMo's idea seems to make sense-- having multiple data plans is not very convenient, or cost-effective, while any technology that improves security will be welcome by the rapidly growing mobile community.

DoCoMo says it “will continue to study key technologies, functions and service applications before commercialization of the new device” and will “also study several ways to link Portable SIM and other smart devices, such as TVs, music players and in-car monitoring systems, to bring convenient services and products to customers.”

In other mobile news

Sprint and T-Mobile, through their proposed merger, gain a chance to 'clean up house' associated with Sprint’s past mistakes while conveying the message that the new company will be focused on growth.

Overall, corporate deals are one of the top reasons companies change their monikers, said Tim Calkins, a marketing and branding professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

For example, SBC Communications took AT&T’s more widely recognizable name after acquiring the company in 2005.

And in 2000, Bell Atlantic Corp. and Vodafone AirTouch Plc abandoned stodgier corporate brands to christen their wireless venture Verizon Wireless-- a name that never existed before.

T-Mobile is the world’s 27th-most-valuable brand, while Sprint doesn’t even make the top 100, according to Millward Brown Optimor, a brand consulting firm.

As Sprint has lost millions of customers in 2013 alone, T-Mobile added more subscribers last quarter than larger rivals AT&T and Verizon Communications combined.

“The most important element is to find a name that best competes with AT&T and Verizon,” said Laura Ries, a brand consultant who cofounded marketing strategy firm Ries & Ries in Atlanta.

“If I had to choose, I’d go with T-Mobile as the name because it is fresher and it has mobile in the name. And let's face it-- T-Mobile USA is a popular company in America.”

Bill White, a Sprint spokesman, and Anne Marshall, a T-Mobile spokeswoman, both declined to comment on this story.

“Branding will be a huge question if these two firms come together,” Calkins said. “They need to understand what Sprint means to people and what T-Mobile means.”

There isn’t a hard and fast rule on how to do this the right way, said Oscar Yuan, a brand strategist with Millward Brown Optimor.

In other mobile news

A wireless services provider in London is offering a landline-free subscription to citizens living in the heart of the city.

U.K. Broadband, which is owned by Hong Kong's PCCW Group is offering what it described as "fibre-fast speeds without any hassle".

The new company, Relish, is able to use British Telecom's copper wiring - which the one-time state monopoly wholesales to other broadband providers such as BSkyB and TalkTalk - because its networks run over LTE 4G and Wi-Fi.

Relish is selling the new service to central London-based consumers and businesses in a move to apparently disrupt the market.

Consumers who are in Relish's relatively limited range can expect to pay £20 per month for the service.

If they lock themselves into a 12-month contract, then customers get the hardware for free, otherwise there's an added £50 installation fee.

But some might feel a bit cheated out, however. Relish has not gifted that part of London with access to its no hassle network.

In other wireless news

The news is out today that Barnes & Noble and Samsung are working together on a new tablet design. The two firms will launch co-branded tablets. The new devices will be known as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Nook, and will feature Samsung's hardware and customized B&N Nook software.

The first Galaxy Tab 4 Nook will hit store shelves in the United States in August with a 7-inch display.

The decision to partner with Samsung might be a good one for Barnes & Noble. The company's Nook business has been failing miserably lately, with its last-reported quarter ended January 25 showing a 50.4 percent decline in sales.

B&N shareholders have been calling on the company to make drastic changes or shutter the operation altogether. For its part, Samsung is performing somewhat better in the tablet segment and is one of the leaders in Android-based tablets.

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The partnership effectively ends Barnes & Noble's foray into hardware design. The company said on Thursday that while it'll still offer its Nook GlowLight -- a backlit e-ink e-reader -- it will now only support the Nook slates it's launched to this point.

Leaving the hardware design to Samsung allows Barnes & Noble to better focus on its own software and Nook content sales.

To be sure, content sales have also proven difficult to generate lately. During the last-reported quarter, which includes digital apps and e-books, among other services, saw sales drop 26.5 percent year-over-year to just $57 million.

What's not immediately clear at this point is just what Samsung will get out of the deal. The company is performing well on its own and doesn't necessarily need a Nook partnership with Barnes & Noble to dramatically improve its business.

In a statement yesterday, Samsung kept its plans close to its vest, providing no insight into why it might have taken the deal.

Barnes & Noble also announced on Thursday that it's relocating its campus. The company is moving from its 208,000-square-foot Palo Alto campus to two new facilities in Santa Clara and Mountain View that together take up 88,000 square feet.

The move is part of a much broader attempt on Barnes & Noble's part to reduce expenses. Indeed, the move itself will save the company about $102 million over the length of the lease.

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