Wednesday, February 26, 2014

After WhatsApp and Viber, buyers are circling around Japan’s messaging app Line

Japan’s SoftBank wants to buy some or all of Line, a wildly popular messaging app, Bloomberg reports. Line, which is based in Japan but is owned by South Korea’s Naver Corporation, has 360 million users worldwide, most of them in East Asia.

In 2013, Line’s full year revenues were $335 million, making it the highest for any non-game app in both Google and Apple app stores, according to App Annie, an analytics firm. WhatsApp, which Facebook bought last week for $19 billion, came in ninth on App Annie’s list. Earlier this month, Line reported earnings of ¥12.2 billion ($120 million) for the fourth quarter of 2013, up 550% over the previous year.

All of which makes Line an obviously attractive target, especially coming in the wake of two big messaging app deals in the past two weeks; Rakuten, another Japanese firm, acquired Viber on Valentine’s Day this year for what now seems like a bargain-basement price of $900 million. And then there’s Facebook’s $19 billion WhatsApp buy. BNP Paribas estimates that Line could be valued as high as $14.9 billion.

Yet Line is nothing like the two messaging apps that have gone before. The key feature of Viber, used by some 300 million people, is that it facilitates free phone calls, much like Skype. People rarely use it to send messages. WhatsApp’s focus has been entirely on making a simple, uncluttered app for people to send messages to friends and family.

Line, on the other hand, is crammed full with goodies. It is best known for its use of “stickers” or oversize emoticons that users can purchase and send to friends. But it derives more than half of its revenue from in-app games. Despite its ranking as the top non-game revenue maker, it is at heart a gaming company. SoftBank has some experience in this market, having acquired a majority stake in Finland’s SuperCell, maker of “Clash of Clans,” a popular mobile game. The Japanese telecom and internet company also owns a majority stake in GungHo Online Entertainment, maker of the successful “Puzzles and Dragons” game. Moreover, SoftBank also has experience with messaging apps through its joint venture with Bharti Airtel, BhartiSoftBank, which owns the Indian messaging app Hike. (Line, for its part, entered India last year and quickly signed up 10 million users.)

At least one other company has also shown an interest in acquiring a stake in Line, which is also reported to be planning an IPO. Line denied talks with SoftBank. ”There’s no reason to sell a stake and no plan to sell,” a spokesperson told Reuters. With messaging apps in high demand at the moment, Line can afford to be pricey.

Source: Quartz

WhatsApp to add voice calls after Facebook acquisition

WhatsApp will add free voice-call services for its 450 million customers later this year, laying down a new challenge to telecom network operators just days after Facebook Inc scooped it up for $19 billion.

The text-based messaging service aims to let users make calls by the second quarter, expanding its appeal to help it hit a billion users, WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum said at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Monday.

Buying WhatsApp has cemented Facebook's involvement in messaging, which for many people is their earliest experience with the mobile Internet. Adding voice services moves the social network into another core function on a smartphone.

On Monday, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg defended the price paid for a messaging service with negligible revenue. He argued that rival services such as South Korea's KakaoTalk and Naver's LINE are already "monetizing" at a rate of $2 to $3 in revenue per user per year, despite being in the early stages of growth.

Media reports put WhatsApp's revenue at about $20 million in 2013.

"I actually think that by itself it's worth more than 19 billion," Zuckerberg told the Mobile World Congress. "Even just independently, I think it's a good bet."

"By being a part of Facebook, it makes it so they can focus for the next five years or so purely on adding more people."

WhatsApp's move into voice calls is unlikely to sit well with telecoms carriers.

WhatsApp and its rivals, like KakaoTalk, China's WeChat, and Viber, have won over telecom operators' customers in recent years by offering a free option to text messaging. Telecom providers globally generated revenue of about $120 billion from text messaging last year, according to market researcher Ovum.

Adding free calls threatens another telecom revenue source, which has been declining anyway as carriers' tweak tariffs to focus on mobile data instead of calls.


Since the advent a decade ago of Skype's voice over Internet service, which Microsoft Corp has acquired, and the rise of Internet service providers like Google Inc, telecom bosses have gotten used to facing challengers whose services piggyback on their networks. But carriers complain that the rivals are not subject to the same national regulations.

Mats Granryd, the CEO of Swedish mobile operator Tele2, said he was happy to partner with the likes of WhatsApp because of the additional data traffic they generate. But he shared the concerns of other network operators that they must operate under strict national regulations that Internet companies are not subject to.

"They (Internet firms) need to be regulated a little bit more and we need to be regulated a little bit less," said Jo Lunder, who heads Russian mobile network operator VimpelCom.

Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao said he did not understand how such an important acquisition as the Facebook-WhatsApp deal could go unchallenged at a time when European network operators were facing intense regulatory scrutiny.

"These types of deal are a clear indication that the world is changing and the regulations don't fit anymore," Colao said on the sidelines of the conference.

Both Facebook and WhatsApp CEOs have cast themselves as partners to telecoms network operators.

On Monday, Koum also announced a partnership with E-Plus, the German subsidiary of Dutch group KPN, under which it will launch a WhatsApp-branded mobile service in Germany.

The European Parliament is set to vote on Monday night on a package of proposed telecoms market reforms which among other provisions would restrict the ability of carriers to charge internet companies like Facebook to give them an enhanced service in handling their network traffic.

Source: Reuters

Friday, February 7, 2014

China reveals own mobile operating system

China has unveiled its own mobile platform, dubbed China Operating System (COS) with the aim to break the monopoly U.S. tech giants Google and Apple currently have in the market.

The state-approved and government-funded operating system was developed jointly by China's Institute of Software at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (ISCAS) and Shanghai Liantong Network Communications Technology, Sina news reported on Thursday.

COS is based on Linux and serves as an operating platform for PCs, smartphones, tablets, and set-top boxes as well as supports HTML5 applications. However, due to "safety concerns", COS is not an open source system, revealed a report.

The OS has one application portal, similar to Apple's App Store.

There are several security issues with open source operating systems, including Ubuntu and Android, where hidden security vulnerabilities make it easy to control personal devices, the report added. Moreover, launched by foreign companies, these open source platforms also "failed to acclimatize" in the Chinese market across many aspects, including user's interface, input method, speech recognition, cloud service stability, application downloads, and support, among others, said director of ISCAS, Li Shuming, in a NetEase report.

Learning from the essence of other open source software, the underlying codes and user interface of COS were all built independently, Li added. He said the platform addressed security issues, and consumers who are familiar with Android will also find it easy to start with COS.

He noted that the Linux-based OS also aims to break the monopoly of foreign applications. Currently, 100,000 applications are available on the COS, according to local reports.

A promo video of COS uploaded on the internet revealed that variants and features of operating system were very Android-like. China's online community also questioned how COS was able to launched with 100,000 apps, with some summizing that the Chinese platform was "just an OS based on the open source Linux and a strong imitation of Android system".

Source: ZDNet

CyanogenMod releases ROM installer for Macs

Cyanogen Inc has released a new installer for Mac systems that takes out a few of the more daunting steps involved in 'flashing' its version of Android onto smartphones and tablets.

Released in beta on Thursday, the installer app for Macs automates several steps that a user would normally have to do manually to flash a CyanogenMod to a device. For example, the user won't need to root their device or unlock its bootloader, and the installer obviously handles the flashing process. Backups on the other hand need to be done separately.


Mac CyanogenMod installer interface

The Mac installer follows Cyanogen Inc's — the company behind CyanogenMod — release of a Windows installer last November. Its companion installer app for the Android device made a brief appearance in Google Play before Google requested its removal because it encouraged users to void their warranty on devices. (One of the risks involved in installing a custom ROM such as CyanogenMod is that rooting the device in the first instance voids the warranty for many devices.)

Mac users that want to download the installer need to join beta group to access the software.

The installer only uses a stable build of CyanogenMod, meaning its KitKat-based CM-11 — which is still only available as a 'nightly' builds or the more stable ‘snapshot’ build — is off the menu for now. Still, as CyanogenMod's wiki pages note, its stable Android 4.3-based CM 10.2 supports dozens of devices, including Samsung's Galaxy S2, S3 andS 4, Galaxy Note 2 and the HTC One.

Source: ZDNet

CyanogenMod says goodbye to Jelly Bean with 10.2.1 release

Aftermarket firmware company CyanogenMod has released a final update to its 10.2 line of Jelly Bean-based code.

The latest CyanogenMod update, CM 10.2.1, will be the last to be based on Android 4.3, according to the company. "CM 10.2.1 has been branched and released, officially ending our planned release process for Jellybean (Android 4.3) code," the CyanogenMod team announced on Saturday.

As a "maintenance release", the update focuses on bug fixes over adding features but does bring support for a handful of new devices too. The CM 10.2.1 release sees support extended to the Droid RAZR HD, Photon Q, Nexus Q, Nook, Nook HD and HD+, which are among around 40 other devices that have a stable release.

The first CyanogenMod release for Android 4.3 came last August, about a month after Google released that version of Android.

As noted by Android Community, the 10.2.1 release doesn't support the international version of Samsung's popular Galaxy 2 (the i9100), which got a stable release last September under Android 4.2-based CM 10.1.3. The site points out that OmniROM, a younger alternative ROM-maker with a smaller list of supported devices, has added the device to its roster, however. The device is also supported in the nightly build of CyanogenMod's KitKat-based CM11 release.

As with previous final releases, the developers of Cyanogen Mod will now plough more resources into building new features for its CM11 codebase. The team plans to add CM11 support for at least 65 devices and currently has a "snapshot" release (one up from the bleeding edge nightly releases) for around 50 devices. 

Cyanogen Inc, the newly formed company behind CyanogenMod, is also working with Chinese hardware startup OnePlus to deliver a device in the first half of the year that will feature a customised version of the firmware. 

Source: ZDNet

Apple releases iOS 7.1 beta 5 to developers with higher-quality international Siri, altered keyboard

Approximately two weeks following the previous seed, Apple has released iOS 7.1 beta 5 to developers. The new beta is currently available for those running earlier versions of 7.1 via Software Update in Settings.

Previous betas revealed some minor user-interface changes in the Phone application. Release notes for this new beta indicate some Siri improvements for international users. “This seed adds new natural-sounding Siri voices for English (Australia), English (United Kingdom), Japanese, and Chinese (Mandarin – China),” according to the release notes provided by a developer.

We’ll update this post as more details about the new beta come to light:

- New shift and caps keys

Source: 9to5mac

BBM on Android and iOS Updated With “Find Friends” Feature

BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) got off to a rocky start when it made the jump to Android and iOS, but at this point the app appears to be running pretty smoothly. Today, the Canadian company introduced a new “Find Friends” feature to help you add more contacts to your BBM account.

The new feature should be available starting today. Once the app has updated, you can use it to scan your phone for any contacts who are already using BBM. You can then send out individual invites to chat or simply add everyone you know with a single tap. And of course, you’ll also be able to invite your friends who aren’t already on BBM to join the service. That alleviates any need to fumble around trying to exchange BBM PINs.

With BlackBerry’s smartphone business hanging by a thread, the company’s fondly remembered messaging service may be its best chance to stay relevant. The company hasn’t revealed how many active users the BBM app has been able to grab, but helping current users find and invite their friends should help the service continue to grow.

Source: BlackBerry

KitKat claws 1.8 percent Android market share

According to stats published by Google, the newest Android release, codenamed KitKat, is powering under two percent of Android devices accessing the Google Play store.

The data, which is based on smartphones and tablets accessing the Google Play store over a 7-day period ending on February 4, 2014, shows that Android 4.4, codenamed KitKat, is installed on 1.8 percent of devices.

This time last month KitKat market share was at 1.4 percent.

(Source: Google)

Android 4.4 was release on 31 October, 2013, and first made its public appearance on the Nexus 5.

This latest version has a long way to go to catch up with the previous release, codenamed Jelly Bean. This release, which includes versions 4.1.x, 4.2.x and 4.3, power 60.7 percent of Android devices and makes it the single most popular version. However, Android version 4.1.x is the single most popular release, installed on 35.5 percent of devices.

This means that there's considerable fragmentation among devices running Jelly Bean, with the majority unable to benefit from features introduced in versions 4.2.x, 4.3, and now 4.4 as KitKat is rolled out to handsets.

However, Jelly Bean's nearest rival continues to be Android 2.3.x Gingerbread, a version first released back in February 2011, and this version continues to power 20.0 percent of the devices accessing the Google Play store. However, the good news is that this version's dominance is eroding slowly as the months progress, but it is likely to remain significant for at least another year.

The problem with getting users up to the latest version is not down to a lack of interest. Indeed, the speed and ferocity with which iOS users upgrade to the latest version shows that users clearly are interested in new versions of operating systems. The problem is that Google is the beginning of a long system that updates have to go through.

Whenever Google releases a new version of Android, device OEMs have to then customize the release, add their own tweaks and personalizations. Then, for smartphones and tablets that are hooked to a carrier contract, the carriers have to add their own branding. The problem is made worse by the fact that neither the OEMs of the carriers feel there's much of a benefit in pushing free software updates to customers, and would rather focus on selling owners a new device.

Beginning in April 2013, Google started delivering data collected from each device when the user visited the Google Play Store. Previously, the data was collected when the device simply checked in to Google servers. Google believes that the new data "more accurately reflects those users who are most engaged in the Android and Google Play ecosystem."

Source: ZDNet

Mozilla previews Firefox Launcher for Android with adaptive app search from EverythingMe

Mozilla today offered a sneak peek at its upcoming Firefox Launcher for Android. The organization has teamed up with EverythingMe, which will power the contextual adaptive app search.

The company says it will share updates as soon as “development is finished” and it prepares for a beta release. It wouldn’t offer any timing details so there’s nothing to mark on your calendar just yet. Update: EverythingMe tells TechCrunch a download will be available “in the coming weeks.”

As you can see, the early version of the launcher lets you group apps into categories and pin contacts for easy access. The search icon above presumably leads to EverythingMe while the microphone icon is probably the usual Google voice search on Android. There’s what appears to be an alarm clock app, but other than that other apps all look alike, with Chrome naturally swapped out for Firefox.

Other than that, Mozilla is throwing around phrases like “makes it easy to discover the content you want in any moment, “optimized for the way you use your phone,” and “a personalized and customizable Web experience that is fun and intuitive.” With no specific features to go on, it’s difficult to say whether this Android launcher will be able to differentiate itself effectively from the many options out there.

The EverythingMe partnership will be the key differentiator. An excerpt of our coverage from just yesterday seems particularly relevant:
EverythingMe released the first version of its Android launcher last year, with a search-focused approach. However, the Israeli startup found that not many people actually like to search on their phones, and you can be a lot more successful if you give users what they want, when they want it, without them having to do anything. In fact, they’ve found that there are 20 times the amount of interactions per day with their contextual homescreen than with the previous version.

Mozilla knows it will be very difficult to convince Android users to use its launcher over another. It’s hoping EverythingMe’s unique approach will help.

Source: TNW

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