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 Smartphones

You Asked: How Can I Save My Phone’s Battery When it’s Cold Out?

winter, phone
Getty Images

Wintertime can be a big drain on your phone's battery

If you’ve ever had a hunch your phone’s charge doesn’t last as long in the wintertime, you’re not crazy: Cold temperatures have a nasty effect on batteries.

The scientific explanation for this lies in how batteries work. Basically, their job is to store chemical energy until you need them to power or charge your device. Then they go about converting that chemical energy into electrical energy. However, cold weather causes internal resistance, slowing down the conversion process and resulting in less overall capacity. The kinds of batteries used in most phones are particularly vulnerable to this effect.

Translation? Just like wintertime makes it harder to get your car to start, your phone won’t last as long in cold weather. However, all is not lost — there are some ways to keep your phone as warm and happy as a skier sipping hot cocoa after a day on the slopes.

First, keep your phone as close to your body as you can. Take it out of your backpack or purse and stick it in your jeans or, better yet, in the inside pocket of an insulated base layer. That’ll help your body heat keep things warm. Second, consider picking up an insulated case. These can be a little on the bulky side, but it’s better to have a cumbersome case than a dead phone.

And finally, avoid taking your phone out in really frigid temperatures — the ambient air will suck out your phone’s heat quicker than you can send a text to Mom.

TIME Smartphones

Apple Might Finally Be Beating Samsung in Smartphone Sales

But some analysts say it's a tie

Apple and Samsung have long been bitter rivals in the smartphone market, with each able to claim an advantage over the other: The higher cost of Apple’s iPhones have helped the company enjoy wider profit margins, while Samsung has historically clobbered Apple in terms of the number of devices shipped.

However, that may no longer be the case.

Apple sold a record 74.5 million iPhones last quarter, it said as part of its earnings report Tuesday. A day later, Samsung said it sold somewhere between 71 and 76 million smartphones. That means there’s a decent chance Apple is now beating Samsung not only in profit margins, but also in number of devices shipped.

Still, some analysts are sowing doubt over whether that’s actually the case. One research firm, Counterpoint Research, says Apple is now on top: It says Samsung only shipped 73.8 million devices last quarter. Ben Barjarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies and TIME columnist, also gave the nod to Apple.

But another analyst, Strategy Analytics, has taken the middle road and called it a tie, saying Apple and Samsung both shipped 74.5 million devices, giving both companies an equal 19.6% share of the global smartphone market.

A tie game means we’re headed to overtime. Whether Apple can hold on to its maybe-possibly-kind-of lead over Samsung depends on how its newest iPhone models perform as their shine wears off. Apple’s sales numbers last quarter got a big boost from the introduction of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, particularly in China, where the bigger devices were an equally big hit. If history is any indication, Apple won’t refresh its phone lineup for several months at the earliest, while Samsung is reportedly set to drop a new flagship model early this year to replace the Galaxy S5. If that as-yet-unannounced phone is a winner, it could put Samsung right back on top.

TIME the big picture

Why Sapphire Isn’t the Future of Smartphones

Apple Unveils iPhone 6
Apple CEO Tim Cook shows off the new iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch during an Apple special event at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts on September 9, 2014 in Cupertino, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Sapphire just costs too much and doesn't make for good screens

Apple’s long-awaited announcement of its new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus last fall came with an unexpected twist: Contrary to rumors, the company opted not to use an ultra-strong glass called sapphire for the devices’ screens. That was startling because Apple was involved in a major deal with sapphire company GT Advanced, ostensibly to provide the material for Apple’s newest phones.

After Apple announced its sans-sapphire iPhones, it was revealed that GT Advanced couldn’t deliver the amount of the material Apple required on time because of production issues. In a column I wrote last fall, I said Apple never planned to put sapphire screens in the iPhone 6 regardless of GT Advanced’s problems. However, it turns out that Apple did in fact enter into the GT Advanced deal wanting to use sapphire screens in its new iPhones, but by late 2013, the company realized that issues at GT Advanced meant that just wasn’t going to happen. Apple changed direction at the beginning of 2014, when it began working with Corning to deliver its newest version of Gorilla Glass for use on the iPhone 6.

Not long after the iPhone 6 was announced, the relationship between Apple and GT Advanced imploded, with the latter filing for bankruptcy. As of today, there’s no indication Apple is still seeking sapphire screens for any new iPhones — but its patent filings mean it’s impossible to rule out this possibility.

But there are other reasons sapphire won’t see the light of day in smartphones. First, it’s incredibly difficult to make sapphire screens in serious quantities at a cost that would make them feasible for even top-of-the-line smartphones. Also, the smartphone market’s trend toward bigger screens is making sapphire even more expensive to produce and buy.

I recently recorded a podcast with two professors of material sciences that helped me gain a better understanding about the costs and difficulty involved with creating sapphire screens in volume. Joining me in this discussion were Richard Lehman, a professor and chair of Rutgers University’s Advanced Polymer Center, and Dr. Helen Chan, chair of Lehigh University’s Department of Materials Science.

You can listen above, but here are some of the key points we discussed:

  • Glass is used in almost all smartphone screens, and is a great solution. Lehman pointed out that sapphire is used in watches and products that have a long life. But because smartphones have a lifespan of 18 to 24 months, the extra cost involved may not be worth it for most consumers.
  • Lehman said glass costs about a nickel per square inch to manufacture, while sapphire costs several dollars per square inch to make. He also pointed out that manufacturing glass is highly scalable, while Dr. Chan explained that it takes a 2,000-degree furnace to melt sapphire, which has a serious impact on the environment.
  • While both professors are not experts in manufacturing, they brought up key points on the virtue of sapphire as a potential material for screens, but questioned anyone’s ability to make these screens in large volumes. In addition to the melting process, sapphire must be cut razor-thin and subjected to extra polishing, according to Chan. It takes at least four different steps or procedures to produce each sapphire screen.
  • The issue of transparency came up, too. Lehman pointed out that with sapphire, “there is a high reflective index involved that cuts down on the transmission through the screen and it also could give glare.”
  • Lehman said Corning’s new Gorilla Glass 4 is twice as tough as Gorilla Glass 3, providing 80% more protection in standard tests on survivability.
  • The professors also pointed out that hardness (a key attribute of sapphire) might not be the best way to go with next-generation smartphones. Here’s a video from that illustrates this point well and explains the breaking point of glass compared to that of sapphire:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVQbu_BsZ9o

Although the podcast and the video explore the possibility of using sapphire as a screen material for smartphones, they reinforce the idea that the long-term prospects of sapphire screens on smartphones just aren’t viable. Given the additional costs to make a sapphire screen and the increasing strength of more traditional glass, anyone pursuing sapphire for use on smartphone screens would be up against some pretty formidable challenges. For sapphire to be the future, we’d need to see a major breakthrough in its manufacturing process — and from what I can tell, that just won’t happen in the near future.

MONEY online shopping

The Old-School Way J.C. Penney Is Taking Aim at Amazon

Customers shop at the J.C. Penney Co. store inside the Glendale Galleria shopping center in Glendale, California.
Customers shop at the J.C. Penney Co. store inside the Glendale Galleria shopping center in Glendale, California. Patrick T. Fallon—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Thanks to smartphones and screens available at every turn, it's easier than ever for shoppers to browse in one place and buy in another. And now the old-fashioned mail catalog is making a comeback.

For years, retailers have been trying to figure out how to best cope with the “omniconsumer.” Regardless of whether you’ve heard of the term or not, you probably are one. The term refers to shoppers who use all possible channels—online, in store, and sometimes even via catalog phone order—for the purposes of browsing, researching, and buying.

Several years ago, the biggest threat to the retail world arose from the trend of “showrooming,” or the act of browsing products in stores before ultimately purchasing them online for a lower price, typically at Amazon. The phenomenon led many retailers to expand price-matching policies to better compete with Amazon; the fact that Amazon is no longer assumed to always have the cheapest prices has hurt sales at the world’s largest e-retailer as well. The more recent flipside to showrooming has been “webrooming,” which entails browsing products online (often at Amazon) before ultimately purchasing them in a store.

A Boston Globe story published during the 2014 holiday shopping season offered a glimpse of the prototypical webroomer:

“I usually go online to check prices and narrow down what I want to get,” said Kameko Lindsay, a 21-year-old nursing student at Northeastern University. “Then I go to the store and see what I can find. For me, I’d rather touch things before I buy.”

Obviously, this kind of behavior causes havoc for Amazon and other pure online players. A recent Motley Fool post explored how webrooming and other trends—including the option to purchase online and pick up in a store—have been hurting Amazon. It’s still by far the world’s largest e-retailer, but it has slowly been losing market share, with online sales growth at Home Depot, Costco, Walmart, and others outpacing Amazon. And webrooming appears to be getting more common. A survey from Accenture finds that 78% of consumers have engaged in webrooming, versus 72% who say they’ve showroomed. In a similar poll from 2013, 65% of shoppers said they’d be likely to webroom, versus 62% who said they would showroom.

That’s only one example of how tech is tweaking shopper behavior and altering the retail landscape accordingly. Another, arguably more surprising example comes from an old-fashioned retailer—J.C. Penney— bringing back an equally old-fashioned sales platform: the print catalog. As the Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend, in March J.C. Penney will start mailing out 120-page glossy catalogs to customers, even though the struggling retailer hasn’t sent one out since 2010, and catalog mailings in general have fallen dramatically.

What’s spurring J.C. Penney’s renewed interest in catalogs is that, curiously, they seem to boost online sales. Kurt Salmon, the retail consultancy firm, notes that 31% of consumers have a print catalog handy at the time they’re making online purchases. What’s more, there’s some indication that people who purchase with the aid of catalogs tend to spend more.

TIME Smartphones

Microsoft’s New Windows Phones Cost Under $100

Lumia 435 Microsoft

The new phones are targeting low-income users in developing markets

Microsoft’s new Lumia smartphones are the cheapest Windows Phones the company’s ever made, it announced Wednesday. The Lumia 435 and 532 are part of Microsoft’s continuing effort to claw back market share by targeting fast-growing markets abroad.

The 435 and 532 will go on sale in Asia, the Middle East and Europe for $80 (69 Euros) and $91 (79 Euros) respectively.

“We’ve realized our goal of creating the most affordable Lumia devices to date, opening up the opportunity to reach those people who are buying a smartphone for the very first time,” corporate vice president for Microsoft’s phones unit Jo Harlow said in a statement.

The bargain-basement Lumias will join a growing portfolio of Microsoft phones for shoppers on a shoestring budget, particularly in the developing world. Earlier this month, the company unveiled a $29 “Internet-ready” phone, not quite smart enough to be called a smartphone, but cheap enough to attract first-time buyers. Now those same buyers can upgrade to a Lumia smartphone for an extra $50, giving them an incentive to stick with the Windows brand.

And if there’s anything Microsoft’s mobile unit is hurting for right now, it’s loyal smartphone customers. Global market share for Windows-enabled smartphones has flatlined around 3%, according to sales data collected by market research firm IDC:

IDC: Smartphone OS Market Share 2013, 2012, and 2011 Chart

If Microsoft wants to attract a virtuous cycle of users and app developers to its Windows mobile platform, clearly it could use a defibrillator. It appears that Microsoft is now looking abroad to find that jump-start, where obscure competitors can come roaring out of nowhere and unseat the established players. China’s Xiaomi, for example, went from relative obscurity to the top mobile phone seller in the Chinese market last year, clocking in at 240% sales growth, according to the tech research firm Canalys. So don’t rule out a miraculous revival of Windows phones just yet.

TIME Smartphones

This Is China’s Answer to Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus

Xiaomi Mi Note
Lei Jun, chairman and CEO of China's Xiaomi Inc. presents the company's new product, the Mi Note on Jan. 15, 2015 in Beijing, China. ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images

Xiaomi is out with a high-end phablet

Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi is going after Apple with its latest device.

Xiaomi on Thursday unveiled the Mi Note, a 5.7-inch premium smartphone that company CEO Lei Jun specifically identified as slimmer and lighter than Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus, while boasting a larger screen, Engadget reported. Jun added that the Mi Note’s 13-megapixel camera does’t protrude from the phone’s back — a jab at how iPhone 6 users often complain about how the camera lens sticks out.

There are two options for the Mi Note: a lower-resolution model, on sale Jan. 27, and a premium resolution phone (Mi Note Pro), on sale by late March. Off-contract, the base phone starts at 2,299RMB ($370) for the 16GB model, while the Mi Note Pro has 64GB of storage and is 3,299RMB ($530). The Mi Note Pro is the most expensive phone ever sold by Xiaomi, which first became popular for making well-received phones at affordable prices.

Xiaomi, which is only four years old, became the world’s most valuable startup last month. Known as “China’s Apple,” the company is China’s number one smartphone manufacturer, and number three in the world by sales, behind Apple and Samsung.

[Engadget]

 

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 Smartphones

Samsung Just Took a Big Shot at Android

Samsung Z1 Tizen India
Indian Bollywood actress Huma Qureshi poses with Hyun Chil Hong, president and CEO of Samsung India, during the launch of the Samsung Z1 smartphone at a function in New Delhi on Jan. 14, 2015. Sajjad Hussain—AFP/Getty Images

Samsung's newest smartphone runs on its own Tizen operating system

Samsung has launched its first smartphone powered by its Tizen operating system, a long-delayed departure from the Google-owned Android software that typically powers the company’s mobile devices.

The Samsung Z1, released Wednesday, runs on Tizen 2.3 and is available only in India. The Z1 is a low-end device, with a 4-inch screen, 4GB of storage and a 3.1 megapixel camera for about $92.

While Tizen feels similar to Android, the Z1 launch is a major step in Samsung’s attempt to lessen its dependence on the Google-controlled software as both companies look to connect devices beyond smartphones. Samsung previously promised Tizen-powered smartphones in early 2013 and then again last year, but neither plan panned out.

Before the Z1, Samsung’s only device running Tizen was its Gear S smartwatch and some of its new smart TVs, which the company announced at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month.

Read next: This Is the Best Android Phone For Most People

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