Google Bringing Redeemable Gift Cards And Wishlist To Play Store!

Earlier today, the folks over at AndroidPolice got their hands on a new version of the Play Store APK. The new version only had slight visual changes, but even then was heavier by more than 300KB compared to previous versions. This got Artem intrigued, and with a bit of detective work from him, he has uncovered one of the most requested feature in Play Store – Gift Cards.

It looks like Google is finally ready to release Play Store redeemable gift cards. Some developers have even compiled the hacked APK to get to the Redeemable gift card screen. In addition to the Gift card option, it looks like Google is also working on bringing Wishlist to the Play Store.

Redeemable gift cards has been one of the most requested feature from Android users, and it looks like Google is finally ready to bring it to the Play Store. Redeemable gift cards should help lower the piracy rate in the Android ecosystem and bring in more customers. I only hope that Google does not keep this feature U.S only, and leave Android users in other part of the world in the dark.

Today, Flash Player For Android Dies!

Back in 2010, the Flash Player plugin for Android was released with quite a lot of media publicity and hoopla. The iconic Motorola Droid was among the first Android handsets to fully support the plugin, and offer PC like web browsing experience. While the first generation Android phones struggled to load heavy Flash based websites properly, the problem was fixed to a certain extent with dual-core processors touting Android phones and some enhancements to the plug-in from Adobe.

Fast-forward to today, and Flash for Android is dead. Today, Adobe will un-publish the Flash Player from the Play Store, which means that going forward no one can download and install the plugin from the Play Store. Adobe had also announced earlier that it would not release any more updates for the plug-in, except for security patches.

So why exactly did Flash die? After all, the plugin was, and still is, being used by millions of users and developers to create content on their websites?

Flash is not meant for mobile devices. It is simply a resource hogger and battery drainer. But the biggest reason behind the death of Flash Player is that one of the world’s largest mobile platform — iOS — did not support it. Steve Jobs had openly stated that iOS will never support Flash, and that the plug-in will die sooner than later. At that time, Adobe and others criticised Jobs for his views, but the late legend has proved himself right after all.

So what’s next?

If you are a web developer, make sure you don’t use any Flash based content on your websites. You can use HTML5 to embed videos and other media content on your websites.

What if I still want to install Flash Player plugin on my Android device?

Well, if you still want Flash Player on your Android device, you can manually install the plugin by following these steps. But keep in mind that it is just a matter of time before web developers ditch Flash as well.

Black Galaxy S III Confirmed; Coming In The Next 4-6 Weeks!

The Samsung Galaxy S3 is probably the only phone in memory that was launched without a black color variant. The handset was released by Samsung in ‘Marble White’ and a very dark, almost black shade of blue, ‘Pebble Blue’ colors.

However, a few days ago, a Black colored variant of the Galaxy S III popped up on the Internet, pleasing all the black gadget lovers. It was, however, uncertain whether Samsung will officially launch a black variant of the handset or was it just a blooper from the company.

While Samsung has not confirmed anything, a popular online retailer — Mobile Fun — just did. The retailer has put up a pre-order page for the black variant of the Galaxy S III, along with a blog post claiming that they are the first one to announce the new color of the handset.

The Black variant of the Galaxy S3 won’t be available immediately though. If the pre-order page of MobileFun is anything to go by, the black S3 will only arrive in stocks around 4-6 weeks from now on.

Google’s Self-Driving Cars Log Big Miles

Google’s self-driving cars have reached a new milestone. According to their official blog, their fleet of self-driving cars have logged more than 300,000 miles of testing. Google began this project back in 2010 to “help prevent traffic accidents, free up people’s time and reduce carbon emissions by fundamentally changing car use”. The World Health Organization, at the time this project was introduced, announced a staggering statistic that 1.2 million lives are lost due to traffic accidents. This has been one of the driving factors behind Google developing a safer way to travel.

The newest member of the Google Car team, the Lexus RX450h (Courtesy Google Blog)

Not only has Google logged more than 300,000 miles on their computer controlled cars, not one accident has occurred under computer control. While Google is proud of this accomplishment, they admit they have a long road ahead of them. “To provide the best experience we can, we’ll need to master snow-covered roadways, interpret temporary construction signals and handle other tricky situations that many drivers encounter.” This sounds like a pretty tall order considering most humans don’t even handle these situations very well.

The next phase for the Google car is to let the driving team go solo rather than in pairs. Up to this point, there has been one team member ready to take the wheel just in case of problems, while the other team member managed the car’s software applications. Moving to just one team member pushes the development of the Google car that much closer to the average commuter. “One day we hope this capability will enable people to be more productive in their cars.” I guess this means you’ll be able to put on your makeup on the way to work without fear of being in a wreck, or maybe finish up that last minute report while your Google car gets you where you’re going.

Pictured above, you can see the new Lexus RX450h that Google has recently added to its fleet of self-driving cars. “With each breakthrough we feel more optimistic about delivering this technology to people and dramatically improving their driving experience.” I just hope one day I can get an extra nap in on my way to work in the morning. Happy driving!

Facebook Stock At Nearly Half of IPO Price

Facebook’s stock has been completely hammered in the last week, after it reported its earnings for Q2 2012. While Facebook’s stock dropped nearly 20% following the earnings of Zynga and itself, the carnage is far from over.

Its stock is currently trading just above $20, which implies a valuation of just around $45 billion, which is much lower than the much touted $100 billion valuation it was supposed to be worth.

Its stock price is now just slightly more than half its IPO price, which means that nearly all investors are in the red. After showing explosive revenue growth in the last couple of years, its numbers in the last two quarters have failed to impress. Its ad offerings have failed to generate any significant revenue so far, and the most recent dip in its share price was triggered by allegations by an advertiser that 80% of all clicks on Facebook ads came from bots. To add to that, came the revelation that around 8% to 9% of Facebook’s users are fake users (duplicate users, misclassified accounts and “undesirable” accounts).

Facebook’s problems are many:

1. It still hasn’t been able to find a way to effectively monetize its growing mobile audience.

2. Its growth in the US and Europe has peaked, and there is not much revenue upside potential left through new user growth in those markets.

3. In developing markets like India, where it is expected to grow the most, the average ad revenue generated per user is much lower than in the US, so it wouldn’t impact its revenue growth much.

Given how Google has been making tons of money from search advertising, Facebook could easily be worth much more if it’s able to prove that social advertising is just as, if not more, effective as search advertising.

Google Wallet Now Supports Any Debit Or Credit Card

Google Wallet has been a disappointment for the big G until now. The service that was introduced way back in late 2010 with the Nexus S, has failed to garner any interest among the consumers. The reasons behind this are many including the lack of support for Google Wallet from the network operators themselves, the limited range of cards that was accepted by the service (Only CitiBank) and other security related issues.

Today, Google has released a new ‘cloud-based’ version of Google Wallet. The new version allows users to add any debit or credit card to their Google Wallet account, along with the ability to remotely disable any card from their Google Wallet account. The company has also rolled out an updated version of the Google Wallet app for its Android users.

Google Wallet also no longer uses the secure NFC chip on your phone to store your card details and other sensitive information. Except for Citi’s MasterCard, owners of any other card will see transactions on their card from Google instead of the original merchant.

Hopefully, these changes from Google will make Wallet more popular in the United States, and carriers other than Sprint will finally see it as a viable option.

Microsoft Wants to End All Patent Disputes with Google

Microsoft, Google, Apple and many other technology / software / internet companies have been embroiled in patent infringement and licensing disputes in the recent past. In the last couple of years, especially, the patent wars have really intensified, with tech giants spending billions of dollars to buy patents and/or license them.

Microsoft, being one of the pros in the game, has been making billions of dollars in patent licensing fees. One of its primary targets has been Android, and it has managed to coerce almost every major Android device maker to enter patent licensing deals with it.

In an unanticipated move, Microsoft has approached Motorola (and Google) rather publicly, in a bid to end all patent licensing disputes and enter cross licensing agreements covering both their patent portfolios at reasonable terms.

Microsoft’s official statement says:

“Microsoft has always been, and remains open to, a settlement of our patent litigation with Motorola. As we have said before, we are seeking solely the same level of reasonable compensation for our patented intellectual property that numerous other Android distributors – both large and small – have already agreed to recognize in our negotiations with them. And we stand ready to pay reasonable compensation for Motorola’s patented intellectual property as well.”

Microsoft is seeking a comprehensive resolution which would end all outstanding patent disputes, and also demanding that all patent licenses be granted at market rates determined by existing patent licensing agreements with other parties and FRAND terms.

One of the main reasons why Google had acquired Motorola was because of its patent portfolio, which provided it enough ammunition to go up against Apple and Microsoft which had been bullying it and its device partners.

Motorola commented on Microsoft’s statement:

“Microsoft wants to undercut Motorola’s industry-leading patent portfolio, licensed by more than 50 other companies on fair and reasonable terms, while seeking inflated royalties tied to standards that Microsoft alone controls. Motorola is always open to negotiations that avoid wasteful and abusive patent claims.”

While I hope that both companies end these time consuming disputes, it seems highly unlikely for now, given their long standing rivalry.

via AllThingsD

Google Acquires Wildfire, Social Marketing Startup

Google may be the juggernaut in the search advertising space, but Facebook poses a significant threat to it, with its new form of social advertising. While Google targets ads based on search queries by users, Facebook uses their social preferences, likes, shares, and other such data to target ads, which is arguably much more effective.

Today, Google acquired Wildfire, a social media marketing and advertising startup, which makes it easy for brands and companies to advertise on social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest and more.

The deal size is approximately $250 million, plus earnouts, according to AllThingsD. Wildfire has raised $14 million to date, and serves more than 16,000 customers including 30 of the top 50 global brands.

Google will likely integrate Wildfire’s social marketing/advertising platform with its search and display ad platform, enabling customers to manage their entire online advertising campaign from a single platform.

Google now offers ads across all categories — search, display, video, mobile, offline ads and social.

Google’ official press release said:

“In a complex and changing landscape, businesses want to manage and measure these efforts in an integrated way. We’ve been working towards this end for some time. For example, Google Analytics helps businesses measure the contribution of hundreds of social sites; our Admeld service has helped to serve ads in Facebook developers’ social apps; and our DoubleClick platform enables clients to run and measure ads across social websites. On Google+, brands use services like Vitrue, Buddy Media and others to manage their pages, with many more to come.

With Wildfire, we’re looking forward to creating new opportunities for our clients to engage with people across all social services. We believe that better content and more seamless solutions will help unlock the full potential of the web for people and businesses.”

Google Brings Google+ Hangouts to Gmail

Whether you like it or not, Google today has announced to integrate replace the video chat option in Gmail with the newly launched Google+ Hangouts. And this change is inevitable.

In a blog post, Google announced the new change stating that Hangouts will “deliver higher reliability and enhanced quality” to your chats.

Unlike the old video chat, which was based on peer-to-peer technology, Hangouts utilize the power of Google’s network to deliver higher reliability and enhanced quality. You’ll be able to chat with all the same people you did before and, in fact, with Hangouts you’ll now be able to reach them not only when they are using Gmail but also if they are on Google+ in the browser or on their Android or iOS devices.

All Gmail users will benefit from the new replacement. The Hangouts integrated within Gmail will enable users to video chat with up to nine people at once, and enjoy all the Hangouts features that you can within Google+, including watch YouTube videos together, collaborate on Google documents and share your screen.

Google Hangouts

With Hangouts in Gmail, users will not only be able to video chat with Gmail users, but friends on Google + and the Google+ iOS and Android apps as well. However, users need to have Google+ accounts to take advantage of all the Hangouts features to work in Gmail. Additionally, Google says that the Hangouts has a list of fun effects that you can try out. Wearing a virtual mustache or pirate hat is one such effect.

For Gmail users who have been using the earlier video chat feature on a regular basis, the Hangouts integration will certainly be a big improvement, with a complete new experience. However, for users who are not really happy with the integration, the best option you have is to get used to it.

The company has been focusing a lot on its social networking site Google+, and is trying to integrate many features that it offers with all other Google services. While the new change is rolling out slowly from today, Google says that it will be available to all Gmail users in the coming weeks.

Android Loses U.S. Smartphone Market Share to iOS in Q2

Strategy Analytics just released its quarterly report on the state of the U.S. smartphone market in Q2 2012. The overall market shrunk as smartphone shipments fell 5% year-over-year to 24 million units during Q2. Google’s Android lost market share to Apple’s iOS, and saw its market share decline to 56%.

The decline in quarterly shipments could be attributed to a volatile macroeconomic environment, tighter upgrade policies by operators, and the near saturation in smartphone subscribers in the U.S.

The number of Android device shipments were around 13.4 million, while the number of iPhone shipments were 7.9 million. Blackberry device sales dropped further to 1.6 million units, while other smartphones had aggregate sales of 1 million units.

Android lost 4.3% market share, while Blackberry and other platforms lost 4% and 1.6% each. Apple was the major beneficiary, and saw its market share increase from 23.2% to 33.2% year-over-year.

While Q3 2012 might not be as kind to Apple, Q4 will again see Apple’s market share skyrocket as the iPhone 5 is launched in late September or October.