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Happy 10th anniversary, Android

Posted by | Amazon, Android, andy rubin, Angry Birds, Apple, artificial intelligence, AT&T, China, computing, consumer electronics, digital media, Facebook, Gadgets, Google, google nexus, hardware, HTC, HTC Dream, HTC EVO 4G smartphone, huawei, india, iPad, iPhone, Kindle, LG, lists, Mobile, Motorola, motorola droid, motorola xoom, Nexus One, oled, operating system, operating systems, phablet, Samsung, smartphone, smartphones, Sony, sprint, T-Mobile, TC, TechCrunch, United States, Verizon, xperia | No Comments

It’s been 10 years since Google took the wraps off the G1, the first Android phone. Since that time the OS has grown from buggy, nerdy iPhone alternative to arguably the most popular (or at least populous) computing platform in the world. But it sure as heck didn’t get there without hitting a few bumps along the road.

Join us for a brief retrospective on the last decade of Android devices: the good, the bad, and the Nexus Q.

HTC G1 (2008)

This is the one that started it all, and I have a soft spot in my heart for the old thing. Also known as the HTC Dream — this was back when we had an HTC, you see — the G1 was about as inauspicious a debut as you can imagine. Its full keyboard, trackball, slightly janky slide-up screen (crooked even in official photos), and considerable girth marked it from the outset as a phone only a real geek could love. Compared to the iPhone, it was like a poorly dressed whale.

But in time its half-baked software matured and its idiosyncrasies became apparent for the smart touches they were. To this day I occasionally long for a trackball or full keyboard, and while the G1 wasn’t pretty, it was tough as hell.

Moto Droid (2009)

Of course, most people didn’t give Android a second look until Moto came out with the Droid, a slicker, thinner device from the maker of the famed RAZR. In retrospect, the Droid wasn’t that much better or different than the G1, but it was thinner, had a better screen, and had the benefit of an enormous marketing push from Motorola and Verizon. (Disclosure: Verizon owns Oath, which owns TechCrunch, but this doesn’t affect our coverage in any way.)

For many, the Droid and its immediate descendants were the first Android phones they had — something new and interesting that blew the likes of Palm out of the water, but also happened to be a lot cheaper than an iPhone.

HTC/Google Nexus One (2010)

This was the fruit of the continued collaboration between Google and HTC, and the first phone Google branded and sold itself. The Nexus One was meant to be the slick, high-quality device that would finally compete toe-to-toe with the iPhone. It ditched the keyboard, got a cool new OLED screen, and had a lovely smooth design. Unfortunately it ran into two problems.

First, the Android ecosystem was beginning to get crowded. People had lots of choices and could pick up phones for cheap that would do the basics. Why lay the cash out for a fancy new one? And second, Apple would shortly release the iPhone 4, which — and I was an Android fanboy at the time — objectively blew the Nexus One and everything else out of the water. Apple had brought a gun to a knife fight.

HTC Evo 4G (2010)

Another HTC? Well, this was prime time for the now-defunct company. They were taking risks no one else would, and the Evo 4G was no exception. It was, for the time, huge: the iPhone had a 3.5-inch screen, and most Android devices weren’t much bigger, if they weren’t smaller.

The Evo 4G somehow survived our criticism (our alarm now seems extremely quaint, given the size of the average phone now) and was a reasonably popular phone, but ultimately is notable not for breaking sales records but breaking the seal on the idea that a phone could be big and still make sense. (Honorable mention goes to the Droid X.)

Samsung Galaxy S (2010)

Samsung’s big debut made a hell of a splash, with custom versions of the phone appearing in the stores of practically every carrier, each with their own name and design: the AT&T Captivate, T-Mobile Vibrant, Verizon Fascinate, and Sprint Epic 4G. As if the Android lineup wasn’t confusing enough already at the time!

Though the S was a solid phone, it wasn’t without its flaws, and the iPhone 4 made for very tough competition. But strong sales reinforced Samsung’s commitment to the platform, and the Galaxy series is still going strong today.

Motorola Xoom (2011)

This was an era in which Android devices were responding to Apple, and not vice versa as we find today. So it’s no surprise that hot on the heels of the original iPad we found Google pushing a tablet-focused version of Android with its partner Motorola, which volunteered to be the guinea pig with its short-lived Xoom tablet.

Although there are still Android tablets on sale today, the Xoom represented a dead end in development — an attempt to carve a piece out of a market Apple had essentially invented and soon dominated. Android tablets from Motorola, HTC, Samsung and others were rarely anything more than adequate, though they sold well enough for a while. This illustrated the impossibility of “leading from behind” and prompted device makers to specialize rather than participate in a commodity hardware melee.

Amazon Kindle Fire (2011)

And who better to illustrate than Amazon? Its contribution to the Android world was the Fire series of tablets, which differentiated themselves from the rest by being extremely cheap and directly focused on consuming digital media. Just $200 at launch and far less later, the Fire devices catered to the regular Amazon customer whose kids were pestering them about getting a tablet on which to play Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds, but who didn’t want to shell out for an iPad.

Turns out this was a wise strategy, and of course one Amazon was uniquely positioned to do with its huge presence in online retail and the ability to subsidize the price out of the reach of competition. Fire tablets were never particularly good, but they were good enough, and for the price you paid, that was kind of a miracle.

Xperia Play (2011)

Sony has always had a hard time with Android. Its Xperia line of phones for years were considered competent — I owned a few myself — and arguably industry-leading in the camera department. But no one bought them. And the one they bought the least of, or at least proportional to the hype it got, has to be the Xperia Play. This thing was supposed to be a mobile gaming platform, and the idea of a slide-out keyboard is great — but the whole thing basically cratered.

What Sony had illustrated was that you couldn’t just piggyback on the popularity and diversity of Android and launch whatever the hell you wanted. Phones didn’t sell themselves, and although the idea of playing Playstation games on your phone might have sounded cool to a few nerds, it was never going to be enough to make it a million-seller. And increasingly that’s what phones needed to be.

Samsung Galaxy Note (2012)

As a sort of natural climax to the swelling phone trend, Samsung went all out with the first true “phablet,” and despite groans of protest the phone not only sold well but became a staple of the Galaxy series. In fact, it wouldn’t be long before Apple would follow on and produce a Plus-sized phone of its own.

The Note also represented a step towards using a phone for serious productivity, not just everyday smartphone stuff. It wasn’t entirely successful — Android just wasn’t ready to be highly productive — but in retrospect it was forward thinking of Samsung to make a go at it and begin to establish productivity as a core competence of the Galaxy series.

Google Nexus Q (2012)

This abortive effort by Google to spread Android out into a platform was part of a number of ill-considered choices at the time. No one really knew, apparently at Google or anywhere elsewhere in the world, what this thing was supposed to do. I still don’t. As we wrote at the time:

Here’s the problem with the Nexus Q:  it’s a stunningly beautiful piece of hardware that’s being let down by the software that’s supposed to control it.

It was made, or rather nearly made in the USA, though, so it had that going for it.

HTC First — “The Facebook Phone” (2013)

The First got dealt a bad hand. The phone itself was a lovely piece of hardware with an understated design and bold colors that stuck out. But its default launcher, the doomed Facebook Home, was hopelessly bad.

How bad? Announced in April, discontinued in May. I remember visiting an AT&T store during that brief period and even then the staff had been instructed in how to disable Facebook’s launcher and reveal the perfectly good phone beneath. The good news was that there were so few of these phones sold new that the entire stock started selling for peanuts on Ebay and the like. I bought two and used them for my early experiments in ROMs. No regrets.

HTC One/M8 (2014)

This was the beginning of the end for HTC, but their last few years saw them update their design language to something that actually rivaled Apple. The One and its successors were good phones, though HTC oversold the “Ultrapixel” camera, which turned out to not be that good, let alone iPhone-beating.

As Samsung increasingly dominated, Sony plugged away, and LG and Chinese companies increasingly entered the fray, HTC was under assault and even a solid phone series like the One couldn’t compete. 2014 was a transition period with old manufacturers dying out and the dominant ones taking over, eventually leading to the market we have today.

Google/LG Nexus 5X and Huawei 6P (2015)

This was the line that brought Google into the hardware race in earnest. After the bungled Nexus Q launch, Google needed to come out swinging, and they did that by marrying their more pedestrian hardware with some software that truly zinged. Android 5 was a dream to use, Marshmallow had features that we loved … and the phones became objects that we adored.

We called the 6P “the crown jewel of Android devices”. This was when Google took its phones to the next level and never looked back.

Google Pixel (2016)

If the Nexus was, in earnest, the starting gun for Google’s entry into the hardware race, the Pixel line could be its victory lap. It’s an honest-to-god competitor to the Apple phone.

Gone are the days when Google is playing catch-up on features to Apple, instead, Google’s a contender in its own right. The phone’s camera is amazing. The software works relatively seamlessly (bring back guest mode!), and phone’s size and power are everything anyone could ask for. The sticker price, like Apple’s newest iPhones, is still a bit of a shock, but this phone is the teleological endpoint in the Android quest to rival its famous, fruitful, contender.

The rise and fall of the Essential phone

In 2017 Andy Rubin, the creator of Android, debuted the first fruits of his new hardware startup studio, Digital Playground, with the launch of Essential (and its first phone). The company had raised $300 million to bring the phone to market, and — as the first hardware device to come to market from Android’s creator — it was being heralded as the next new thing in hardware.

Here at TechCrunch, the phone received mixed reviews. Some on staff hailed the phone as the achievement of Essential’s stated vision — to create a “lovemark” for Android smartphones, while others on staff found the device… inessential.

Ultimately, the market seemed to agree. Four months ago plans for a second Essential phone were put on hold, while the company explored a sale and pursued other projects. There’s been little update since.

A Cambrian explosion in hardware

In the ten years since its launch, Android has become the most widely used operating system for hardware. Some version of its software can be found in roughly 2.3 billion devices around the world and its powering a technology revolution in countries like India and China — where mobile operating systems and access are the default. As it enters its second decade, there’s no sign that anything is going to slow its growth (or dominance) as the operating system for much of the world.

Let’s see what the next ten years bring.

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LG is releasing an Android One handset with near flagship specs

Posted by | Android One, hardware, LG, Mobile | No Comments

Android One is one of a handful of Google projects aimed at helping the mobile operating system run better on entry level devices. As such, those handsets that qualify for the program are generally pretty middling, at best.

But LG’s G7 One bucks the trend, with some specs that wouldn’t be out of place on a 2018 flagship. Leading the way is the Snapdragon 845, Qualcomm’s top of the line processor, coupled with a 6.1 inch QHD+ display and a 3,000mAh battery. There’s also that familiar notch up top design that’s all the rage on flagships these days.

There are certain cost cutting measures. The bleeding edge dual camera tech that LG prides itself on isn’t on board here. The 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage are not great, but perfectly acceptable for most. The headphone jack is still in place — which is a good thing for a budget device — it’s silly to expect users to have to factor in the price of bluetooth headphones.

The handset will be debuting at IFA in Berlin this week. Price is still TBD, but LG promises an “exceptional” one. At the very least, that should mean it comes in well under the company’s flagships.

If LG is able to offer up something truly exception from a price perspective, it could be the thing the company needs to help stand out in a smartphone race that has largely left it behind. It’s a strategy that has worked well for OnePlus, and LG could certainly use the hook.

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JBL’s $250 Google Assistant smart display is now available for pre-order

Posted by | Android, artificial intelligence, chromecast, computing, Gadgets, Google, Google Assistant, hardware, JBL, lenovo, LG, TC | No Comments

It’s been a week since Lenovo’s Google Assistant-powered smart display went on sale. Slowly but surely, its competitors are launching their versions, too. Today, JBL announced that its $249.95 JBL Link View is now available for pre-order, with an expected ship date of September 3, 2018.

JBL went for a slightly different design than Lenovo (and the upcoming LG WK9), but in terms of functionality, these devices are pretty much the same. The Link View features an 8-inch HD screen; unlike Lenovo’s Smart Display, JBL is not making a larger 10-inch version. It’s got two 10W speakers and the usual support for Bluetooth, as well as Google’s Chromecast protocol.

JBL says the unit is splash proof (IPX4), so you can safely use it to watch YouTube recipe videos in your kitchen. It also offers a 5MP front-facing camera for your video chats and a privacy switch that lets you shut off the camera and microphone.

JBL, Lenovo and LG all announced their Google Assistant smart displays at CES earlier this. Lenovo was the first to actually ship a product, and both the hardware as well as Google’s software received a positive reception. There’s no word on when LG’s WK9 will hit the market.

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LG Mobile’s losses continue but now sales are falling too

Posted by | Asia, consumer electronics, G7, latin america, LG, LG Electronics, lg g7 thinq, Mobile, smartphone, smartphones, technology | No Comments

Korean electronics giant LG is soaring to new heights, but its mobile division continues to lag well behind the rest of the company and the signs aren’t promising.

LG’s latest financials released today recorded another quarter of success with operating profit jumping 16 percent year-on-year to hit KRW 771 billion ($715.1 million) as overall sales rose 3.2 percent across the group. LG said its sales and profit for the first half of 2018 are at all-time highs but — and you knew a but was coming… — its smartphone division remains a significant loss-maker.

The company’s mobile and communications division — which houses LG Mobile — posted yet another quarter in the red. Sales of KRW 2.07 trillion ($1.92 billion) represented an annual drop of 23 percent, while the division carded an operating loss of KRW 185.4 billion, or $171.95 million.

That’s compared to a quarterly profit of KRW 407 billion ($377.48 million) for LG’s home entertainment business and a KRW 457.2 billion ($424.04 million) profit for its home appliance unit, which are LG’s two stand-out business units.

There’s nothing new herelosses are commonplace for LG Mobile.

It hasn’t been break-even or profitable since 2014. Those losses have been cut by some degree since the company shook up the division with new leadership in November 2017, but there’s plenty to worry about with sales dipping noticeably over the past two quarters of business.

This time around in Q2, LG put its mobile losses down to “the slowing growth of the global smartphone market and a decline in mid- to low-end smartphone sales in Latin America.” While it claimed that the size of the operating loss was down to investments in sales and marketing ahead of the release of its next flagship devices.

There’s a hint a reorganization — perhaps even layoffs — as the company added that it would “seek to further improve its business structure” as it aims prepares to push its LG G7 ThinQ and LG V35 ThinQ devices worldwide and get ready for those new launches.

More changes are on their way, you’d imagine, as LG is surely looking for a way to stem the bleeding but also retain a mobile business has certainly been iconic despite its struggles in recent times. Perhaps the answer is a downsizing in a similar style to Sony in 2016. Back then, the Japanese firm was losing even more than LG is per quarter but it began to be more strategic with its new device launches and target sales markets. The end result of that strategy was an end to the big losses and a more sustainable mobile business.

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Next iPhone could be available in grey, white, blue, red and orange

Posted by | analyst, Apple, apple inc, electronics, Gadgets, iOS, iPhone, iphone 5s, iPhone SE, LG, macintosh, ming-chi kuo, oled, Samsung, smartphone, technology, Video | No Comments

According to a supply chain report, Apple is preparing to release three iPhone lines this fall. One, a 5.8-inch iPhone X with improved specs and lower price. Two, a new 6.5-inch iPhone X Plus with an OLED screen. And three, a 6.1-inch iPhone with Face ID, which is said to come in a variety of colors including grey, white, blue, red and orange.

Ming-Chi Kuo reports, via 9to5mac, that the 6.5-inch iPhone X Plus is said to take the $1000 price point from the iPhone X. This will cause the next iPhone X to be less expensive than its current incarnation. The colorful 6.1-inch iPhone will be the least expensive model with a price tag around $700. Information about storage was not included in the report.

The least-expensive iPhone is said to resemble the iPhone X and include FaceID though Apple might concede the dual-camera option to the higher price models. The analyst expects this $700 option to account for 55% of new iPhone sales and increase through 2019.

If the part about the colors is correct, Apple is set introduce a slash of color to the monochrome phone market. Currently, phones are mostly available in greys and blacks with most vendors offering a couple of color options through special editions. That’s boring. Apple tried this in the past with its budget-minded iPhone 5c. Making its best-selling model available in colors is a distinct shift in strategy. It’s highly likely other firms such as Samsung and LG will follow the trend and push the smartphone world into a rainbow of colors.

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LG adds more AI camera features and a notch for the G7 ThinQ

Posted by | g7 thinq, Gadgets, hardware, LG, lg g7 thinq, Media, smartphones | No Comments

LG has done a really terrible job keeping the G7 ThinQ under wraps. But clearly the company doesn’t mind. Building up the hype cycle is clearly more important to the handset maker than any kind of big reveal. In addition to leaked images from nearly every angle, the company has already issued several official press releases ahead of today’s big unveil in New York.

As numerous photos have already suggested, LG’s the latest company to go all in on the notch. There’s a big one up top that will no doubt evoke Apple’s new flagship for many users — though the G7’s cutout is smaller than the iPhone’s, and the curved bottom bezel is a bit larger.

In a prebrief ahead of today’s announcement, a spokesperson for the company said LG anticipates that the notch will be a fact of life on high-end handsets for the next one and a half or two years, as phone makers work to figure out the ideal solution for going full screen. A display manufacturer itself, the company floated its own flexible display tech as a potential workable solution.

LG’s settling on this as the latest iteration of the “second screen” feature found on the V20. Here, however, that refers to FullVision — essentially an optional black bar that sits on either side of the notch, creating the appearance of a flush top bezel.

Notch aside, the screen is a 6.1-inch QHD+, which works pretty well in sunlight, courtesy of a boost button. LG’s also put some effort into the phone’s speakers, which, until recently, have been one of the most overlooked pieces of most phones. These get really loud — in a demo, we were able to hear music pretty clearly played across the room.

The real centerpiece is, as the name suggests, ThinQ. That’s the AI camera the company introduced at MWC with the latest iteration of the V30S. It’s a neat feature that’s some combination of flashy gimmick and genuinely useful feature. Essentially the system utilizes AI features to identify what it’s shooting and adjust accordingly. It also shows its work in the process, flashing seemingly random words on screen as it attempts to figure out what it’s looking at.

I didn’t get to spend much time with the device this time out, but it did a pretty admirable job figuring out when people were in the room. In all, the system has 18 shooting modes — around double the amount rolled out on the V30S. New additions include:

  • Baby
  • Pet (In addition to Animal)
  • Beverage
  • Snow
  • Sky

Of note is the low-light camera, which “increases the brightness of each shot.” It’s not really on the level of Huawei’s latest offering, and does appear to still include a fair amount of noise on dark shots, however. The handset also gets a Portrait Mode, which brings a familiar approximation of the bokeh effect, introducing blur in the background to help frame the subject. Like Samsung’s offering, the effect can be adjusted after the fact.

The handset has a devoted side button, dedicated to Google Assistant. LG has no plans to let users assign different features, but will do so if enough users request it. Built-in far-field voice technology also helps Assistant hear voices in a noisy setting.

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The curious case of the LG V30S ThinQ

Posted by | hardware, LG, lg v30, Mobile, Mobile World Congress 2018, mwc 2018 | No Comments

 Welcome to LG’s new smartphone strategy. A new flagship every year, followed by an incremental upgrade six months later. It’s a strange approach that’s sure to annoy early adopters, but LG’s certainly not the first to adopt the strategy — it’s in-line with the sort of thing OnePlus, among others, have been doing for a while now.  The first such handset from… Read More

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LG shakes up its struggling mobile division with new top executives

Posted by | hardware, LG, Mobile, Personnel | No Comments

 If you’ve stopped paying attention to LG in the last couple of years, you’ll learn everything you need to know from the first paragraph of its latest press release that highlights a “sweeping realignment to better address the challenges ahead.” The company’s in a tough spot. It makes good and innovative phones, but just can’t seem to make a dent in a… Read More

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Google is reportedly investing $875M in LG Display to give the Pixel a curved screen

Posted by | Asia, Google, LG, LG Display, Mobile, PIXEL | No Comments

 Here’s a fresh rumor that is all kinds of interesting. Press in South Korea are reporting that Google is in talks to invest one trillion KRW ($875 million) in LG Display, one of the world’s most prominent producer of screens for smartphones and tablets, in a move to give its Pixel smartphones some curves. The Yonhap News Agency, citing sources, said that the investment would… Read More

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The LG G6 has a hidden face, and it’s impossible to unsee

Posted by | bezel, g6, Gadgets, LG, Mobile, mwc, MWC 2017 | No Comments

c5sl1fjwmaaniti Images of the LG G6 leaked today and overall it looks like a solid phone with soft lines, very little bezel and a face on the backside made up of the dual lenses and power button. It looks surprised and maybe a little shocked.
LG will likely reveal all the details of the phone next week at Mobile World Congress. Read More

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