TIME Smartphones

Why Microsoft Would Invest in an Android Startup

The Latest Mobile Apps At The App World Multi-Platform Developer Show
A logo for Google Inc.'s Android operating system is displayed on an advertising sign during the Apps World Multi-Platform Developer Show in London, U.K., on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013. Chris Ratcliffe—Bloomberg / Getty Images

The potential investment hints at a larger battle to grab real estate on your phone's homescreen

Microsoft is reportedly set to invest in a startup building its own version of the Google-owned Android mobile operating system.

Microsoft will hold a minority stake in Cyanogen, which rewrites Android’s open-source code and offers it as a souped-up alternative to Google’s version of the platform, the Wall Street Journal reports. Some 50 million devices currently run Cyanogen’s Android, while CEO Kirt McMaster says his army of 9,000 volunteer programmers are reshaping the software into a superior product.

“We’re going to take Android away from Google,” McMaster told the Journal.

That raises a few intriguing question about Microsoft’s investment — such as:

Why should Microsoft care about this startup?

Google currently dominates the mobile market. Roughly 84% of the world’s phones come pre-installed with Android, according to estimates from IDC. That means a vast majority of phones come pre-packaged with Google apps. Unbox the phone, and there they are the home screen. The user can always download rival apps, but who’s going to take the time to download Microsoft’s apps when Google’s are already there?

How did Google come to dominate the home screen?

Google gives away Android’s source code for free, even to rival device manufacturers. But the giveaway comes with a few strings attached. If device makers want access to Google’s most popular apps, such as Search and the Google Play store, they have historically had to sign agreements to place those apps “immediately adjacent” to the home screen, according to signed contracts reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Cyanogen’s version of Android, however, would release device makers from those contractual obligations. That would mean if Microsoft made hardware running Cyanogen’s Android, it would be freed up to put its on apps front and center.

Can’t Microsoft just puts its apps on the phones it already makes?

Sure, but Microsoft’s Windows Phones comprise only 3% of the global market. That’s why Microsoft has recently unleashed its flagship apps for iPhone and Android phones. Apple iPhone and iMac users have already downloaded Word, Powerpoint and Excel more than 80 million times to date. Now that its apps are in a polygamous relationship with rival devices, Microsoft might want to ensure they get front and center on all devices.

Will Google let that happen?

Probably not without a fight. The whole purpose of the free Android giveaway is to route as many users as possible to its search pages, where it gets millions of eyeballs on its advertisements — and Google’s ad business, especially on mobile, is already showing weaknesses.

TIME apps

iPhone and Android Finally Have a Full-Featured Outlook App

It's Microsoft's latest move to make cross-platform apps

Microsoft freed Outlook email from the confines of the office PC on Thursday, releasing for the first time fully-featured Outlook apps for iPhones, iPads and Android devices.

The new Outlook apps are now available for download through Apple’s iTunes and the Google Play store. While Microsoft previously offered versions of Outlook for iOS and Android, neither had the power of this new software.

Outlook for iOS and Android Microsoft

Microsoft’s move comes on the heels of its decision to release a motherlode of its flagship software from Word to Excel as mobile-friendly apps that work across a range of devices.

“To date, we’ve seen more than 80 million downloads of Office on iPhone and iPad worldwide,” Microsoft said in a public statement. “We have received tremendous customer request for Outlook across all devices, so we are thrilled to fulfill this for our customers.”

The new Outlook mobile app includes familiar features, such as swipe gestures for rapid archiving and machine learning algorithms that learn which emails the user is most likely to read and pushes them to the top of the inbox. What sets the app apart is a built-in calendar, enabling the user to schedule an appointment within the app, rather than laboriously copy and paste event details in a second, calendar app.

Microsoft on Thursday also released new versions of its Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps for Android tablets.

MONEY Tech

You’ve Bought a Lot of iPhones Lately

Phone sales drove Apple's revenue to nearly $75 billion in its latest quarter, the most profitable one in the company’s history. Apple's revenue was higher than Microsoft's and Google's combined.

TIME Autos

Google Wants Automakers’ Help to Build Self-Driving Cars

Vehicle prototype photo of Google's self-driving car.
Prototype of Google's self-driving car. Google

And automakers are also interested in working with Google

It doesn’t look like Google is planning to go it alone in the world of cars. An executive for the search giant told Reuters Wednesday that the company plans to talk to traditional automakers like General Motors, Ford and Toyota as it aims to bring self-driving cars to the mainstream by 2020.

“For us to jump in and say that we can do this better, that’s arrogant,” Chris Urmson, Google’s lead on its self-driving car initiative, told Reuters. But the company still hasn’t yet decided whether it will build its own cars or offer software and parts for cars manufactured by others.

Jon Lauckner, GM’s chief technology officer, said earlier this week that his company would “be open to having a discussion” with Google about developing self-driving cars. Companies like GM, Audi and Mercedes-Benz are already well on their way to developing their own driverless systems.

As part of Google’s plans for the auto world, the company is reportedly developing a car-specific version of its next operating system, Android M, that will allow drivers to access the Internet and use Android apps without synching their smartphones to their vehicles.

[Reuters]

TIME apps

Hands-on: Google Translate Is Now a Way Better Travel Companion

It's not perfect, but it'll help you get around and order food

A new Google Translate update released for Android and iOS Wednesday should let you have more seamless conversations with people speaking other languages, Google says, as well as translate road signs on the fly using your phone’s camera.

The new functionality seems almost like it’s beamed in from the future, but does it actually work? We took the new features for a spin to find out.

Conversation Mode

Google Translate on Android was already pretty sophisticated, allowing users to conduct conversations across languages by alternating between two language detection modes. But the new update makes real-time conversations even more seamless. When the app is in listening mode and set to translate between a pair of languages, you can simply place your phone between two people and speak normally. The app can naturally detect which of the two languages you’re speaking on the fly. After you say a sentence, the app will present a written translation and speak the words in the foreign language as well.

In our tests using a high-end Moto X smartphone, the app was able to translate several sentences flawlessly when I spoke with a colleague fluent in French about Paris. Some sentences came back in English somewhat garbled (“what you eat and when you were there” instead of “what did you eat when you were there”), but for the most part it was pretty easy to maintain a dialogue using context clues.

A conversation with a Spanish speaker didn’t go as well — but the speaker in our test wasn’t fully fluent. The app seemed to get tripped up several times by her American accent. It had a difficult time differentiating between words that are similar in Spanish but wildly different in English (for instance, the app several times interpreted Sí, which means yes in Spanish, as Si, the Spanish word for if, or the letter “C” in English). For this conversation we had to hold the phone up to our mouths, using it more like a traditional microphone. It seems likely that the app is more attuned to native speakers of particular languages.

Translations in Spanish, French and English alike fell apart pretty quickly if we tried to move beyond simple sentences. The app isn’t good at interpreting a pause in speech as a period ending a sentence or a comma before a new clause. So while conversations are “real time,” they’re a bit halting as you wait for the translations, and they have to be simple so as not to confuse the app.

The translations also often skipped over a lot of proper nouns, including relatively simple names like Jonathan. And like all voice-recognition apps, it worked best in a quiet space, which may not always be available during real-world use.

Scanning Mode

The update also introduces a nifty new feature to translate text in the real world using a camera phone. Previously, users had to take a snapshot, wait for the app to scan all the text within the frame, and then see the translations. Now, the app can translate text on the fly. A “Stop” sign changes to a “Parada” sign before your eyes. The feature also works pretty well for itemized lists (like restaurant menus), but it gets finicky when you try to translate a whole block of text.

Conclusion

Overall, the new features would make Google Translate a great companion for a trip abroad. The app seems useful for handling simple requests, like asking for directions or ordering a meal. It can’t fully shatter a language barrier, but for two people who don’t speak each other’s language at all, it would certainly create a bridge toward understanding.

Our biggest request, however: a button you can press to explain what the app does in any language, so people won’t freak out when you try to shove a smartphone in their face.

TIME Android

This Easy Android Trick Will Keep Your Home Screen Clutter-Free

Motorola Mobility Portfolio Launch Event
Today, Motorola announced the new Moto X and G, Moto Hint and Moto 360 by opening its headquarters for media to meet the engineers and designers committed to offering people more choice, control and accessibility in their personal technology. Daniel Boczarski—2014 Getty Images

So you won't need five different home screens anymore

No one wants a cluttered home screen on their smartphone, but that can seem like an inevitable outcome for anyone who downloads lots of different apps. However, Android users can change one simple setting to help keep their phones clean and tidy.

Here’s how to do it: In the Google Play store, navigate to the Settings menu by clicking the three-layer icon in the top left corner or just swiping right. Within settings, you’ll see a checked box for the item “Add icons to Home Screen.”

This is Android’s default setting, and means that every new app you download winds up taking up some real estate on your home screen. Uncheck the box, and new apps will be shuttled to the “app drawer,” which is the Android equivalent of the Programs folder on a PC.

You can use the app drawer, usually accessible via a permanent button on Android’s home screen, to see a full listing of all your apps. Then you can pick and choose which apps to feature on your home screen by simply dragging them from the app drawer to the home screen.

Google originally shared this handy tip on the Android team’s Google+ page.

TIME Smartphones

This Is the Best Android Phone For Most People

Samsung Galaxy S5
Several attendees are at the Mobile World Congress that was held in Barcelona between 24 and February 27, Samsung introduces its latest model Galaxy S5 in Barcelona, Spain on February 27, 2014. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

It's the Samsung Galaxy S5

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com.

the-wirecutter-logo

After testing every major Android smartphone this year, we think the Samsung Galaxy S5 makes the most sense for most people. But there are at least half a dozen great Android smartphones, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, so it’s hard to choose just one for everyone. Here are the standouts.

Should I upgrade from my existing phone?

If you rely on your smartphone throughout the day, and your old one isn’t serving you well anymore, get a new one—it’s worth the cost if you use it constantly. But if you’re happy with your old phone, hang onto it, especially if you’re still within the carrier contract that subsidizes its cost.

When you do get a phone, get the newest and best phone you can afford, especially if you’re signing a two-year contract. The better the phone you get today, the more likely it is to be usable until your contract expires. This is why we recommend top-tier Android phones, rather than the “free” phones your carrier offers.

Samsung Galaxy S5 (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, Verizon)

The Samsung Galaxy S5 is a balanced phone with many strengths. It has a beautiful 5.1-inch 1080p screen, great battery life, a good camera, a removable battery, and a microSD slot. It’s even water-resistant—it can survive being submerged in three feet of water for half an hour. It’s a very practical choice that’s available on every major carrier, and it’s easy to find accessories for it.

On the downside, the Galaxy S5’s plasticky build might be a turnoff (unless you keep your phone in a case); its user interface is bloated, confusing, and cluttered with apps of dubious value from both Samsung and your carrier; it has a finicky fingerprint sensor that’s not as good as the iPhone’s; and its gimmicky heart-rate monitor is rarely accurate.

The Galaxy S5 isn’t perfect, and it isn’t as well-built as Apple’s iPhone. But it does everything pretty well, and it won’t die if you drop it in the toilet, so it’s a solid choice for most people.

Motorola Moto X 2014 (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, US Cellular)

In many ways, the second-generation Moto X is one of the best Android phones ever made. It’s well-built, it has very similar specs to the Galaxy S5, and you can order it with wood, plastic, or even leather backplates. It feels great in the hand, and the few software bits that Motorola adds to stock Android are actually useful, such as always-on voice-command recognition and on-screen passive notifications. It’s much more pleasant to use than the Galaxy S5—and it costs $100 less. The Galaxy S5 is usually $200 with a two-year contract or $600 without; the Moto X starts at $100 for a two-year contract and $500 without.

Unfortunately, the Moto X’s battery life and camera aren’t as good as those of the Galaxy S5; it isn’t as water-resistant; and it lacks the S5’s removable battery and microSD slot. Still, it’s still one of the best phones you can buy—unless you’re on Sprint.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular)

If you know you want a big phone—either for getting work done more efficiently, or just to have a big screen—get the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. It’s half an inch taller than the Galaxy S5 or Moto X, and a quarter of an inch wider, so you should forget about using it one-handed. But the upsides are a 5.7-inch 2560×1440 screen, plenty of power, fantastic battery life, great cameras, and a stylus. Its software lets you use apps side-by-side so you can take advantage of the huge screen. The Note 4 is sturdier and feels more solid than last year’s model, the Note 3.

The Note 4 is expensive and huge, and like the Galaxy S5 it suffers from Samsung’s bloatware. But it’s the best big Android phone for getting work done, because its software takes advantage of its huge screen, unlike with most big phones.

Moto G (Unlocked, GSM)

The Moto G is the cheapest decent Android phone you can get. We recommend the Universal 4G LTE model from last year. It has a slower processor, less RAM, and a lower-resolution screen than today’s more-expensive phones, but it’s far better than any other phone at its price. (This year’s model has the same processor, but a larger 5.2-inch screen and a microSD slot. However, it lacks LTE, so we prefer last year’s version.) The Moto G also runs stock Android 5.0 Lollipop—it’s very rare for cheap Android phones to have up-to-date software, and it’s one of the things that sets the Moto G apart.

The Rest

There are many other great phones out there, such as the HTC One M8, LG G3, Sony Xperia Z3, and Google Nexus 5 and 6, but each has at least one or two major weaknesses. You can read more about those phones in our full guide on The Wirecutter.

In closing

Most people will be well-served by either the Galaxy S5 or Moto X, depending on your priorities. The Galaxy Note 4 is our choice for a big phone, and the Moto G is the best cheap phone.

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation please go to The Wirecutter.com.

TIME Video Games

The Kim Kardashian Game Isn’t Making the Megabucks Everyone Thought

Lynn Hirschberg Celebrates W's It Girls with Piaget and Dom Perignon
TV personality Kim Kardashian attends Lynn Hirschberg Celebrates W's It Girls with Piaget and Dom Perignon at A.O.C on January 10, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. Donato Sardella—Getty Images for W Magazine

That initial projection of $200 million is looking optimistic

Kim Kardashian’s once wildly popular mobile game, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, is not so popular anymore.

The socialite’s app has dropped to the 19th spot in Apple’s App Store and showed a similar plunge in the Android market, Yahoo Finance reports.

Kim Kardashian: Hollywood lets users create their own Kardashian-style star and ascend, after completing various quests, to A-list status. After its release in June 2014, it immediately shot to the top of the charts, following which analysts predicted it would net $200 million.

However, the game only earned $43 million in the third quarter, and although publisher Glu Mobile won’t release fourth quarter earnings until early February, the $200 million mark seems out of reach.

Not that Kardashian minds. She apparently gets 45% of net profits.

[Yahoo Finance]

TIME Smartphones

How to Make Your Android Battery Last Longer

man-holding-android-phone
Getty Images

Take advantage of the Android's ability to fine tune battery usage

Cell phone batteries have come a long way since the first smartphones, but we’re demanding more of the devices that double as our navigators, cameras and media centers. Along with the usual battery-drainers — Wi-Fi, GPS and video streaming — Android phones come with some unique energy gluttons, such as live-updating home screen widgets.

However, Android phones let you fine tune how your battery is used to a level not possible with iPhones. Here the key ways you can extend your Android phone’s battery life without having to change the way you use the phone (too much).

Save power with these settings

Check which apps are draining your battery

In all versions of Android, hit Settings > Device > Battery or Settings > Power > Battery Use to see a list of all apps and how much battery power they’re using. If an app you don’t use often seems to take up a disproportionate amount of power, consider uninstalling it.

Uninstall apps

Delete apps you don’t use from a single menu by heading to Settings > Apps > All. Tap on each app and hit Uninstall to remove it as well as any data it has created.

Remove unnecessary widgets from the home screen

Many Android apps, including social networks, weather apps and news apps, come with widgets that sit handily on the home screen for real-time updates. However, widgets are battery drainers due to their constant syncing with the mother ship or power-sucking animations. If you don’t need a permanent window into the Facebook news feed or regular updates on the weather, remove the superfluous widget by pressing and holding it, then dragging it to the trash can icon.

Turn off notifications

Getting real-time updates of what’s going on in your apps is handy for things like email or social networks, but many apps automatically demand permission to send notifications as well for reasons that are much less useful. Turn off notifications by heading to Settings > Apps, then visiting less necessary apps and unchecking “Show notifications.”

Minimize app syncing

Another alternative is to keep app notifications on but decrease how frequently the app syncs and checks for changes such as new messages, extra game coins or updated weather stats. Head to Settings > Accounts & Sync to do this manually for each app, or toggle off auto-sync in the same menu.

Shut down location tracking

Most apps track your location and therefore use more battery power than strictly necessary by accessing your GPS. Head to Settings > Location to see which apps are tracking you, then tap each to turn it off. (The downside to turning this off is seeing less accurately targeted ads.) HTC also recommends shutting down maps apps after you’re done.

Kill unused connections

Keeping Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and cellular data turned on means your phone is constantly scanning for these connections whether or not it’s connected. Turn off the connections until you need them by swiping down from the top of your phone, tapping your device’s equivalent of Quick Settings, then toggling the relevant icons.

Turn on Airplane Mode in low-signal areas

Smartphones use more power when trying to connect in low-signal areas. If you can’t get a signal, turn on Airplane Mode by swiping down. Then restart your cellular connection when you’re in an area with better coverage.

Cut down on phone calls in a moving car

According to Google Support, phone calls made in a moving car take up more power because the phone needs to transfer its signal between cellular towers.

Use the Power Control widget

Keep an eye on and tweak display brightness, Wi-Fi, GPS and cellular connections and auto-sync from the Power Control widget. This widget comes preloaded on most Android devices, but if you don’t see yours in your Widgets section, head to the Play Store to download it. (need the link)

Keep weather updates local

Who doesn’t love the weather widget that tells the time and the temperature in one handy, live-updating home screen box? If you’ve loaded yours up with cities where you’ve been vacationing, that widget could be contributing to heavy battery drain. Remove superfluous cities from your weather app by heading to Settings.

Use a dark background

For Android phones with AMOLED screens —high-end smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC One M8 and Moto X —hyper-bright displays use a lot of power. Snatch back some of that battery juice by choosing a dark background so that fewer pixels need to be lit up. Head to Settings > Display > Wallpaper — and make sure you don’t select a live wallpaper (one that has motion), which require extra power.

Decrease screen brightness

If you’re running low on battery power, dimming the screen makes a good temporary fix until you can get to a charger, no matter what sort of display technology your phone uses. Pull down the notifications menu, find the brightness slider and drag it to the very dimmest display level you’re comfortable with.

Decrease screen timeout

You can save a little bit of battery power many times over by decreasing the length of time your phone remains idle before its display automatically goes dark. Head to Settings > Display to adjust Screen timeout to, say, 10 seconds rather than an interval like 30 minutes (which you may have chosen if you were doing something like using the phone for a recipe).

Stop vibrating

If your phone is ringing, you don’t need it to vibrate as well. Head to Settings > Sound and uncheck “Vibrate while ringing.” To really get into battery miser mode, turn off haptic feedback, the handy little vibe when you press virtual keys, by going to Settings > Language and unchecking “Vibrate on keypress.”

Turn on Power Saving Mode

Top-end Android phones, including the HTC One M8, Samsung Galaxy S5 and Moto X, have a Power Saving Mode that restricts some features in order to extend battery life. Head to Settings > Saver (or Power Saver), where you can also fine tune specifics such as whether or not to conserve CPU power, screen brightness or vibration feedback and choose whether or not to turn off data connection when the phone is asleep.

Newer phones such as the HTC One M8, Samsung Galaxy S5 and LG G3 also have an ultra and extreme power-saving modes in which data connections turn off when the screen is off, notifications, GPS, Auto Sync and Bluetooth are off, and only essential apps such as text messaging, email and the clock are allowed to run.

When Android Lollipop 5.0 becomes available, its battery saver feature will extend the battery life of your device up to 90 minutes, says a Google rep. New power controls will also include an estimate of the time remaining before you need to charge.

More helpful battery life tips

Keep your phone cool

According to the Battery University blog by Cadex Electronics, phone batteries degrade much faster when they’re hot, whether you’re using the phone or it’s idle. Avoid leaving your phone on the dashboard of your car on a sunny day.

Charge your phone before it drops too far below half power

The best way to maintain smartphone batteries is to keep your phone battery more than 40% charged. Constantly allowing the battery to go from completely full to completely empty can damage it and decrease its capacity over time. On the flip side, leaving your phone plugged in when it’s completely full can also degrade the battery. Best practice? Keep your battery between 40% and 80% charged.

Always get updates

Whether updates are intended for downloaded apps or the Android OS itself, they generally include bug fixes and tweaks that improve performance, including how efficiently battery is used.

This article was written by Natasha Stokes and originally appeared on Techlicious

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TIME apps

Apple’s App Store Just Had Its Biggest Day Ever

Customers spent half a billion dollars on apps in a single week

Apple already won Christmas. Now it looks like it probably won New Year’s too. The company just revealed that New Year’s Day was the largest sales day ever for the App Store, which sells apps for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. During the first week of January, customers spent nearly $500 million on iOS apps, a new record for Apple.

2014 wasn’t a shabby year for the App Store either. Apple said app sales rose 50 percent year-over-year and the company paid out $10 billion to developers in 2014. Since Apple keeps 30% of the revenue from each App Store transaction, that means the company pocketed about $4.3 billion from app transactions last year. Overall, developers have earned about $25 billion from app sales since the App Store launched in 2008, putting Apple’s total take above $10 billion.

Cultivating a user base that spends lots of money on apps remains one of Apple’s key advantages over Google and its Android operating system. Though the vast majority of smartphones today run on Android, the App Store’s global revenue was 60% higher than revenue from the Google Play Store in the third quarter of 2014, according to mobile analytics firm App Annie.

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