Study: Google's Data Collection on Stationary Android Phones →

Douglas C. Schmidt, Professor of Computer Science at Vanderbilt University, cataloged how much data Google is collecting about consumers and their most personal habits across all of its products and how that data is being tied together.

Here is what he found:

  • A dormant, stationary Android phone (with the Chrome browser active in the background) communicated location information to Google 340 times during a 24-hour period, or at an average of 14 data communications per hour. In fact, location information constituted 35 percent of all the data samples sent to Google.
  • For comparison’s sake, a similar experiment found that on an iOS device with Safari but not Chrome, Google could not collect any appreciable data unless a user was interacting with the device. Moreover, an idle Android phone running the Chrome browser sends back to Google nearly fifty times as many data requests per hour as an idle iOS phone running Safari.
  • An idle Android device communicates with Google nearly 10 times more frequently as an Apple device communicates with Apple servers. These results highlighted the fact that Android and Chrome platforms are critical vehicles for Google’s data collection. Again, these experiments were done on stationary phones with no user interactions. If you actually use your phone the information collection increases with Google.
  • Google has the ability to associate anonymous data collected through passive means with the personal information of the user. Google makes this association largely through advertising technologies, many of which Google controls. Advertising identifiers—which are purportedly “user anonymous” and collect activity data on apps and third-party webpage visits—can get associated with a user’s real Google identity through passing of device-level identification information to Google servers by an Android device.
  • Likewise, the DoubleClick cookie ID—which tracks a user’s activity on the third-party webpages—is another purportedly “user anonymous” identifier that Google can associate to a user’s Google account. It works when a user accesses a Google application in the same browser in which a third-party webpage was accessed previously.

Former Google SVP: "If you truly care about great photography, you own an iPhone" →

Vic Gundotra, former SVP at Google:

Here is the problem: It's Android. Android is an open source (mostly) operating system that has to be neutral to all parties. This sounds good until you get into the details. Ever wonder why a Samsung phone has a confused and bewildering array of photo options? Should I use the Samsung Camera? Or the Android Camera? Samsung gallery or Google Photos?

It's because when Samsung innovates with the underlying hardware (like a better camera) they have to convince Google to allow that innovation to be surfaced to other applications via the appropriate API. That can take YEARS.

Also the greatest innovation isn't even happening at the hardware level - it's happening at the computational photography level. (Google was crushing this 5 years ago - they had had "auto awesome" that used AI techniques to automatically remove wrinkles, whiten teeth, add vignetting, etc... but recently Google has fallen back).

Apple doesn't have all these constraints. They innovate in the underlying hardware, and just simply update the software with their latest innovations (like portrait mode) and ship it.

Bottom line: If you truly care about great photography, you own an iPhone. If you don't mind being a few years behind, buy an Android.

And for clarification on his role at Google:

By the way, I ran all of Google's mobile efforts from 2007-2010. I was SVP of engineering. So I understand this topic reasonably well. I would NEVER buy an Android phone again if I cared about photography.

As the smartphone category hits maturity and physical hardware innovations become more incremental (aka "boring"), we're going to see companies put more focus on tighter software integration with custom silicon.

This just happen to be one of Apple's greatest, most underrated strengths.

iOS 10: The Future of iOS Apps is Widgets, Extensions →

iDownloadBlog explains that with iOS 10, you can now unlock the iPhone without launching the home screen:

When an iOS device is unlocked, the OS gives apps access to encrypted data.

As a result, launching Camera from the Lock screen of an unlocked device gives you unrestricted access to the whole Photos library as opposed to showing only the images taken during that particular session if you launch Camera from the Lock screen of a locked device.

Here’s another example.

For security reasons, many people prevent Lock screen access for the Notification Center. As much as this great for preventing someone from sniffing around your Notification Center, it’s also a nuisance as reading your incoming alerts requires you to unlock the device.

In addition to these lock screen changes, iOS 10 adds more ways to access apps without launching them individually:

  • bring up Siri and interact with richer app widgets
  • swipe on the home and lock screens to interact with richer app widgets
  • 3D Touch apps on the home screen for widgets and shortcuts
  • quickly switch to third-party iMessage apps without leaving the conversation (e.g. send Paypal money to friends)
  • perform third-party actions directly within Apple Maps (e.g. book an Uber ride)

These changes show that Apple's once proud, "There's an app for that," tagline is evolving into something different. Since iOS 2, we've thought of the operating system as the platform which you use to launch traditional apps. Now, Apple is turning specific parts of iOS 10 — Siri, iMessage, Apple Maps, Lock Screen, Widget panel, 3D Touch Quick Access — into their own little platforms.

This makes things interesting for app development. Maybe in the future, app developers won't be saying, "I need to create apps for iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple TV, and Apple Watch ."

Maybe in the future, they'll be saying, "I need to create widgets and extensions for Siri/iMessage/Maps/Music/etc" and everything will simply work on all Apple devices.

Typical iPhone Haters Be Like… →

Typical iPhone Hater:

So, basically your question is "Should I buy a device that uses the same technology as every other smart phone but costs substantially more, has few useful software features, hundreds of apps that all do the same thing, and will be considered gauche in a year?"

Yes. Because:

  • Apple's ecosystem is more tightly integrated with its own devices/software/services as well as major partner companies. Look at how many credit card companies and banks support Apple Pay.
  • iOS is more secure and reliable than Android. (See "Stagefright" exploit and "Google won’t fix security bug in nearly a billion Android phones")
  • iOS developers are quicker to adopt the latest APIs/features because iOS users update their OS far faster than Android. (iOS 9 adoption is at 50% in less than a week. Android Lollipop took 5 months to reach 12%.)
  • when iOS devices break, there is free face-to-face customer support at Apple Stores. And often times, they'll replace broken devices with brand new ones, for no extra charge. (Where do Android users take their phones when they break?)

All of those points have value that some consumers find worthy of paying a premium for. None of these points are ever highlighted in spec sheets, but they are real things that convert first-time Apple customers into happy, loyal ones.

Everyone wants to maximize their bang for their buck. But there are two kinds of people:

  1. those who focus on minimizing the cost
  2. those who focus on maximizing the value

Loyal Apple customers are the latter.

The Future of SEO: Apple vs. Google →

Ethan Smith:

These changes mean that users can now search for app content directly from Google search and even have app content pushed to them within the Android operating system. Apple recently announced its own search engine, launching with iOS 9 and El Capitan this fall. Users will be able to search for content directly from their devices via Spotlight and Safari search.

All these changes signal that Google and Apple are actively working to move search from the web directly to your device and to make app content as easy to discover as a web page. […]

In the new world of SEO, those who own the operating system own the search experience. Google’s Android operating system will give Google further leverage to increase its share of search. And with 43 percent of mobile users powered by iOS, Apple will immediately become a major player in search. The biggest losers will be companies like Microsoft, which has struggled to gain traction with Windows mobile devices, and Yahoo, Ask, and AOL, which have no mobile operating system strategy.

As an Apple enthusiast, this excites me.

As a web developer, this terrifies me.

As a person UX designer, I know that people will always naturally take the path of least resistance, which means this could very well become a reality.

Android's Achilles' Heel →

A security writer, loyal Android user, and self-proclaimed Apple-hater, Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, explains why he's saying goodbye to Android:

Google still has very little control over software updates, and Android users are basically at the mercy of their carriers and phone manufacturers when it comes to getting updates or new operating system versions. For example, it took Sony more than six months to push Android 5.0 Lollipop to its new line of Xperia Z phones, despite the fact that it had promised for a much shorter turnaround after Lollipop was released by Google. Just for comparison’s sake, when Apple released iOS 8 in September of last year, it immediately became available for all iPhone users, even those with an 2011 iPhone 4S.

As security expert Cem Paya put it, that was a conscious decision Google made when it created Android. Paya called it a Faustian deal: “cede control over Android, get market-share against iPhone.” Basically, Google was happy to let carriers put their bloatware on their Android phones in exchange to having a chance to fight Apple for in the mobile market. The tradeoff was giving carriers and manufacturers control over their Android releases, leaving Google unable to centrally push out operating system updates.

Some carriers and manufacturers are better than others, it’s true, but they all pretty much suck when it comes to pushing updates. There really isn’t a better way to put it.

As security researcher Nicholas Weaver put it in a (now deleted) tweet, ”Imagine if Windows patches had to pass through Dell and your ISP before they came to you? And neither cared? That is called Android.”

Some people look at the mobile landscape as a battle of brands/fanboys: Google vs. Apple.

Some people look at it as a battle of ideals: open vs. proprietary.

But really what it boils down to is a battle of execution. With a closed, proprietary system, Apple is able to execute their vision faster than anyone else. When Google wants to push security updates or new features to all Android users, they simply can't.

The State of Smartphone Market Share in One Chart →

This is the perfect way to visualize the current smartphone landscape. While Apple has "only 20%," it completely dominates the premium end. Android dominates the rest of the current installed base (mostly the mid-range). The low-end market is all up for grabs.

Ben Bajarin brings up the important questions for Android going forward:

Google has a base of rapidly maturing customers (just over a billion of them) who will continue to expect innovation around the platform in areas they consider valuable. Areas around cloud, imaging, sensors, and so much more. Android’s current user base is increasing in their sophistication. As computing advances, so should Android for this customer set. Yet, in this next phase, Google is going to also want Android to appeal to a first time smartphone user, say a farmer in Africa, for example. So the question is, how does Google evolve Android to cater to both their most sophisticated, demanding, and profitable existing customers, and a first time customer in Africa who is absolutely not PC literate and may not be literate at all? This creates a fundamental problem at a platform level and at a business model level, for Google. This is why I say we can’t make assumptions about which platform will win with the next two billion. The user base in question is using feature phones today. They make calls and have type literacy around 10 key and or radio/TV dials. This is the extent of their technical literacy with electronics. It is in addressing this next phase of mobile where I believe the Android schism happens.

Could it be an Android fork like Cyanogen has the most potential in this next phase? Could it be Windows Phone has an opportunity? Or maybe a web platform version like FireFox OS, that simplifies everything to web apps? Or perhaps Google figures it out, or comes up with something completely different than Android to address this new set of customers. The point is, we have no idea. It is a green field. It is uncharted territory for computing.

Android and iOS features converge, maintain different philosophies →

Benedict Evans:

One way to look at this is that iOS and Android have been converging - they arrived with more or less the same capabilities despite starting from opposite ends. Apple has given up control where Google has taken it. And of course Google has had to add lots to Android just as Apple had to add lots to iOS (and they've generally 'inspired' each other on the way), and just as Apple has added cloud services Google has redesigned the user interface (twice, so far).

But the underlying philosophies remain very different - for Apple the device is smart and the cloud is dumb storage, while for Google the cloud is smart and the device is dumb glass. Those assumptions and trade-offs remain very strongly entrenched. Meanwhile, the next phases of smartphones (messaging apps as platforms and watches as a dominant interface?) will test all the assumptions again.

Samsung Backtracks on Bloated TouchWiz UI →

Killian Bell, Cult of Android (emphasis mine):

Samsung’s TouchWiz user interface for Android is universally mocked for being bloated and slow, but it would appear the South Korean company is finally set to do something about it. Sources say it won’t just be overhauling its hardware for the upcoming Galaxy S6, but also its software as well as it aims to deliver an experience as smooth as pure Android.

TouchWiz isn’t just a skin on top of Android; almost every element of the user interface has been modified by Samsung in some way, and it comes with a whole bunch of Samsung apps and features — the vast majority of which are never used by the average consumer.

It doesn’t just make for a poor user experience, but it means that even on the latest hardware, TouchWiz can be slow and inefficient. Many Android fans — including me — will avoid Samsung devices just because of the software, or use third-party ROMs like CyanogenMod to provide a better experience.

Looks like Samsung's Next Big Thing is backtracking on all the gimmicky crap that they used to promote as The Next Big Thing.

More doesn't always mean more, folks. Samsung is learning this the hard way.

Google Under Fire For Quietly Killing Critical Android Security Updates For Nearly One Billion →

Thomas Fox-Brewster, Forbes:

Android smartphone owners who aren’t running the latest version of their operating system might get some nasty surprises from malicious hackers in 2015. That’s because one of the core components of their phones won’t be getting any security updates from Google, the owner of the Android operating system. Without openly warning any of the 939 million affected, Google has decided to stop pushing out security updates for the WebView tool within Android to those on Android 4.3, better known as Jelly Bean, or below, according to appalled security researchers. That means two-thirds of users won’t receive cover from Google, the researchers noted.

The WebView piece of the messy Android jigsaw allows apps to display web pages without having to open another application. Many apps and ad networks use the component, which the Google Android team even advocates in its developer documentation on rendering web pages. It’s also the favored vector for attack for nearly any remote code execution vulnerability in the mobile OS, according to Rapid7 engineering manager Tod Beardsley. “WebView, for many, many attackers, is Android, just as Internet Explorer [Microsoft's browser] is usually the best vector for attackers who want to compromise Windows client desktops,” he told Forbes.

Software weaknesses have repeatedly been uncovered in Android and WebView, making the lack of updates even more dangerous. Rapid7 has added numerous exploits to its penetration testing kit Metasploit. The most recent version comes with 11 different WebView exploits bundled in, meaning both ethical and criminal hackers could easily exploit the tool and subsequently Android operating systems.

This is the part that really sucks about having such an open platform. Too many hardware choices = too much hardware diversity = too many devices running different versions of the software = too much fragmentation to maintain a secure and consistent experience.

Open doesn't always win.