Watch out Apple, Facebook is Gearing Up to Launch Its Mobile App Store

Back when Facebook announced its Open Graph Protocol, I wrote that Mark Zuckerberg is a helluva ambitious bloke. He doesn’t want Facebook to be just another website we use every day, he wants Facebook to become an integral and essential part of our daily lives. Open Graph enabled Facebook to weave itself into the fabric of the web, and collect huge amounts of data on our preferences and interests.

FacebookNow, if TechCrunch is to be believed, Facebook is working on a new platform aimed squarely at mobile users. The new platform, codenamed Project Spartan, will leverage HTML5 and other web technologies to deliver mobile applications and games. The initial target will be iOS devices (iPhones and iPads running Mobile Safari). However, given that it will essentially be a HTML5 based platform, it shouldn’t be too hard to extend Project Spartan to Android and other mobile platforms.

According to the report, there are about 80 outside developers currently working with Facebook on Project Spartan. Facebook will essentially act as a wrapper around these apps, and support sharing options and monetary transactions (through Facebook Credits). The app developers are expected to roll in their applications within the next couple of weeks, in preparation for the impending launch of Facebook’s app store.

Mobile app stores are blossoming and even the little known ones like Opera Mobile Store are pulling in hundreds of thousands of downloads per day. Given its huge user base and cross-platform presence, Facebook obviously believes that this is another segment it can compete in. While browser based apps have the advantage of being cross-platform, the lack of system level access (access to APIs) will also make them restricted in many ways. Facebook’s app store won’t be able to outperform or eliminate Apple’s App Store and Android’s Market. However, it doesn’t need do. Even if it succeeds in grabbing a decent percentage of users, Project Spartan will be a lucrative platform that will steal a significant amount of revenue from the likes of Apple. And of course, it will give Facebook foothold in another segment that initially seemed to have little to do with the social network.

Google Nexus 4G with Android 4.0 Rumored to Land around Thanksgiving

Google-NexusGoogle’s experiment with alternate distribution channels might have flopped as far as the Nexus One is concerned, however it did succeed in winning a million hearts. The Nexus One went on to become the ultimate developer and power user handset, thanks to its quick firmware updates and customizability. Google followed it up with Nexus S manufactured by Samsung, which again proved to be popular among Android enthusiasts. However, more than six months have passed since its release. Unsurprisingly, rumors about the successor to the Nexus S are already beginning to rear its head.

BGR claims to have learned that the successor to the Nexus S, which will tentatively be called the Nexus 4G, is under development. As the name suggests, it will be equipped with a LTE (4G) radio. Apart from that, it will feature bleeding edge hardware that is head and shoulders above what is currently available in the market. It will boast of a dual core 1.2GHz or 1.5GHz CPU (OMAP 4460 or a 28nm Krait-based Snapdragon) and 1GB of RAM. The powerful hardware will be complemented by a giant sized screen with 720p HD resolution. Once again, the rumored resolution, will be a major step up. However, the large size and sublime resolution will pose a few interesting challenges regarding usability and battery life. Furthermore, the Nexus 4G will feature 1080p video recording; however, the camera will be a 5 megapixel one. Nevertheless, resolution is not the best indicator of quality, and BGR believes that the Nexus 4G will be able to deliver high quality images thanks to its enhanced optics. And last but not least, the next-gen Nexus will ship with Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). Ice Cream Sandwich is expected introduce many of the enhancements showcased in Honeycomb (Android 3.0) to mobile phones.

The manufacturer of the next Nexus is not yet known; however, recent leaks suggest that Google might have picked HTC again to build the Android flag bearer. The Nexus 4G is expected to be released around Thanksgiving.

Facebook Collaborating with Spotify to Offer Streaming Music

Forbes is reporting that Facebook is currently testing a new streaming music feature. Rumors about Facebook launching its own music service to complete with iTunes are nothing new. However, Forbes’ report suggests that Facebook won’t actually be launching its own music service. Instead, it will be tapping into Spotify, which is already a sensation in Europe.

Spotify-Facebook

The new feature will show up as a small Spotify icon on the left hand side of the Facebook news feed. Clicking on the button will download the Spotify app in the background, providing users with access to Spotify’s massive library of songs. Spotify already has a Facebook app; however, this collaboration will enable them to integrate more tightly, besides reaching millions of more users. Facebook users will also be able to play songs together with their friends. This is an interesting feature that is likely to be particularly appealing to the lovebirds.

The catch is that this service will only available in regions supported by Spotify. Spotify’s services are currently available only in select few European countries including the UK and France. US launch is in the cards, but has been taking a lot longer than anticipated.

Facebook will not be paying Spotify for its services. For its services, Spotify will get access to a Facebook’s user base, many of whom might sign up for the premium subscription. Free users are only allowed to listen to up to 10 hours of music per month.

Windows 8 Cloud Features Detailed [Screenshots]

Last year, a bunch of presentations detailing planned Windows 8 enhancements were leaked. Those documents gave us a glimpse of what Microsoft was planning for the next iteration of Windows. It was obvious that one of the key differentiators for Windows 8 is going to be cloud integration. Back then, I wrote:

With Windows 8, user accounts will finally become user centric. Your cloud based user account will follow you, from machine to machine.

Now, some leaked screenshots and some sleuthing from MDL forum members, have thrown up a fair amount of concrete information on Window 8’s cloud integration. According to Microsoft, more than 52% PC users work on multiple computers on a regular basis. In order to make switching between workstations effortless, Windows 8 will be introducing ‘Roaming Profiles’. When you logon to different devices using your ‘connected password’, your settings will be automatically transferred to the device. The ‘Roaming Options’ Control Panel item will allow you to add or remove the following from your roaming profile:

  • Desktop Wallpaper
  • Aero Glass Color
  • Ease of access control panel
  • Magnifier
  • On screen keyboard
  • Narrator
  • Speech recognition settings
  • Language profile
  • Text prediction preferences
  • IME dictionary
  • Application settings and search history
  • Windows Taskbar settings
  • Windows Explorer settings
  • Windows Search settings
  • Windows Mouse settings
  • Wireless network profiles
  • Saved website credentials

Windows-8-Roaming-Profile

Interestingly enough, as pointed out by Long Zheng, Windows 8 seems to have the ability to detect if you are using a metered internet connection, or a connection with low bandwidth cap.

Windows-8-Roaming-Profile

Furthermore, another MDL forum member has posted a screenshot that shows the cloud authentication feature in action. Windows 8 will provide the option of either logging in as a local user, or logging in using cloud identification. Quite obviously, Microsoft will be tapping into the Windows Live network for the cloud oriented features.

Windows-8-Cloud-Logon

The public beta of Windows 8 is still several months away. In the meantime, if you want to get a taste of Windows 8, go ahead and download the leaked Windows 8 M2 (pre-M3) release.

More Windows 8 Tidbits Revealed – History Vault, TouchScreen Gestures, Immersive Browser, and Black Screen of Death

Windows 8, the successor to the largely well-received Windows 7, is slated to be released next year. Public beta testing should commence later this year; however, you don’t have to wait that long to get a taste of Windows 8. Just a few hours back, an M2 (Milestone 2) build of Windows 7 was leaked, and it’s already available on popular torrent trackers. However, using a leaked build has its own caveats and risks, and is not for the faint hearted. If you don’t want to subject yourself to the trouble of frequently installing and re-installing leaked Windows 8 releases, we suggest that you do the next best thing – subscribe to Techie Buzz! We will be continuously bringing you the latest scoops about Microsoft’s next big operating system.

We already know that Windows 8 will feature a Ribbon interface for Explorer, have an improved task manager, support pattern logon, include webcam and PDF reader apps out of the box, and include an app store. Windows 8 will also introduce a new packaged application model called AppX. Another new feature, which is aimed squarely at tablet users, is Immersive browser. We mentioned it briefly in a previous article. However, thanks to the M2 build leaked yesterday, we now have a better look at the Immersive browser, which is similar in appearence to Internet Explorer for Windows Phone 7, but features the desktop Trident engine.

Immersive Browser Screenshots
Immersive-Browser-Tabs
Immersive-Browser-Address-Bar
Source: Neowin

Neowin also spotted an YouTube video demonstrating some pretty nifty new touchscreen gestures and effects.

TouchScreen Gestures and Effects

Another major new feature in Windows 8 is “History Vault”. In simple terms it’s a front-end for the “Shadow Copy” feature that was introduced in Windows Vista (Windows XP had a rudimentary implementation of this feature). The “History Vault” will provide quick access to previous versions of documents and files backed up automatically by Shadow Copy. This will finally make Shadow Copy accessible to even non-technical Windows users. Apple’s TimeMachine interface still makes this look like a hack job, but as they say, something is better than nothing.

History Vault Screenshot
Windows-8-History-Vault
Source: WinRumors

The final bit of news from WinRumors isn’t exactly a feature, but is interesting nonetheless. The leaked builds of Windows 8 feature a black screen of death instead of the infamous blue screen of death (BSoD) for stop errors. No one likes to see a BSod; however, it’s one of the most well known (and ridiculed) aspect of a Windows system. It has become a pop-culture legend on its own right. Black screen might conserve power, appear more slick, or whatever; but, I know that I will feel a tinge of sadness if Microsoft finally decides to ditch the BSoD. The BSoD has secured it’s own place in the pop-culture, and is one of the things we love to hate about Windows. Hopefully, this is only a temporary move, and the BSoD will be back by the time we are ready for the RTM (Release to Manufacturing) build.

Windows 8 Black Screen of Death Video

Source: WinRumors

YouTube Beefs up Its Movie Rental Service in a Big Way

YouTubeEarlier today, news broke that Netflix is officially bigger than Comcast or any other cable provider in the United States. We all knew that this was bound to happen, but how soon it has happened surprised quite a few people. In the near future, cable providers will be reduced to mere suppliers of dumb-pipes, as consumers with busy schedules will begin to rely almost exclusively on streaming content provided by the likes of Netflix. Apples knows this, as does Google.

Apple jumped into the game a few years back by expanding its iTunes store. Google joined in last year, by adding a rentals section to YouTube (for US users only). However, YouTube video rentals has failed to make much of an impression. In fact, most people aren’t even aware that YouTube has a section for renting movies and television shows.

The main limiting factor for YouTube has been its tiny and uninteresting catalog. However, that might be about to change. According to TheWrap, YouTube has inked a deal with several big studios, including Sony Pictures Entertainment, Warner Brothers and Universal. Fox and Paramount are apparently still not onboard. However, YouTube should now at least be able to expand its catalog beyond niche and old movies and television shows.

YouTube is expected officially announce the expansion of its video-on-demand service within a couple of weeks. Exactly how much of a competition it is able to offer to iTunes and Netflix will depend on multiple factors, including the success of Google TV, and Android tablets. If Google can make the process of purchasing and viewing content from different devices seamless, then YouTube rentals might just manage to become a household name like Netflix and iTunes in the near future.

Sony Ericsson XPERIA Mini Pro II Gets Snapped in All Its Beauty

The Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro II has surfaced once again, and thankfully, this time around, Mr. Blurrycam decided to stay at home. A Chinese website has published some gorgeous snaps of the successor to the Xperia Mini Pro. The Mini Pro II is no Arc, but it’s still quite a looker.

Sony-Ericsson-Xperia-Mini-Pro-II-1
Sony-Ericsson-Xperia-Mini-Pro-II-2

While the Mini Pro will be a tad bigger than its predecessor, SE is still quite serious about the ‘Mini’ tag. Leaked specifications suggest that it will feature a 3.0 inch screen with a resolution of 320 x 480 pixels. It’s expected to be powered by a capable 800 MHz Scorpion processor with Adreno 205 GPU. Considering SE’s recent trackrecord, it seems pretty obvious that it will sport Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) at launch. Other features include FM Radio, 5 megapixel camera with HD video recording, and expandable memory (up to 32 GB). Of course, the biggest attraction of this handset is its physical QWERTY keypad.

Sony-Ericsson-Xperia-Mini-Pro-II-3
Sony-Ericsson-Xperia-Mini-Pro-II-4

Samsung has been making things tough for other manufacturers by launching attractive handsets like the Galaxy Ace at unbeatable prices. However, if the Mini Pro II is priced sensibly, Sony Ericsson might have a winner in its hands.

Windows 8 M2 (Build 7955) Leaked

WindowsAlthough Microsoft has been sharing Windows 8 test builds with trusted partners for several months, us mere mortals had to wait until early April to get a taste of Windows 8. However, the flood gates seem to have opened, and we have another leak on our hands.

BetaArchive, the forum responsible for leaking Windows 8 M1, has done it once again. This time, they have managed to get hold of Windows 8 Build 7955 (6.2.7955.0). This build is a lot newer than the earlier build. If I am not mistaken, it is the final build of the Milestone 2 (M2) tree. According to the notes provided by the releaser,

  • You can unlock the following:
    • Ribbon UI
    • Application Folder (now working, in 7850 it was broken)
    • Full DWM (hideblur)
  • The following requires the ”red pill”:
  • Webcam
  • Login (that ugly guy with ctrl+alt+del, the fishy wallpaper, pattern login)
  • TaskUI (new taskmanager)
  • PDF Reader
  • Immersive Browser

At the moment Windows 8 M2 is available for download only on the private BetaArchive FTP server; however, it should begin popping up in various torrent websites in an hour or so. As always, keep in mind that installing a leaked build is fraught with danger. Besides the risk that it might have been tampered with, you might experience severe performance and stability issues. The file released by BA has the MD5 hash 40861A02CB14B0D2D7930910DB6CC6E4 and is a 2.47GB (2,657,079,296 bytes) download.

White iPhone Will Be Launched Worldwide on April 27

Thanks to innumerable delays, the fabled white iPhone has almost attained mythical status. However, the wait might finally be over. Earlier in the week, we had spotted an white iPhone 4 running a test build of iOS. Now, 9to5Mac has obtained the inventory list of BestBuy, which lists April 27 as the launch date for the white iPhone 4. Earlier, iPhoneItalia had claimed that the much awaited variant of the original iPhone 4 will be launched on April 26, while 9to5Mac had confirmed April 27 as the launch date in Netherlands.

White-iPhone-4-Best-Buy-Inventory

In fact, one customer has already managed to snag a white iPhone, thanks to a goof-up by Vodafone UK staff. In a statement to WSJ, Apple had confirmed that the white iPhone will be launched this spring. However, the sudden flood of information suggests that retailers around the world have already started receiving shipments of the highly anticipated handset.

We would normally be cautious about getting too excited based on unconfirmed reports. However, the multitude of independent confirmations makes it likely that the white iPhone will indeed be launched next week. The pristine beauty of the white variant caught the attention of many a people around the world when it was first unveiled. However, the big question is, how potential buyers have already opted for the black edition? Apple repeatedly delayed the white iPhone 4, and failed to provide a concrete release date, or a satisfactory explanation for the delay. With iPhone 5 release being around the corner, many users might opt to wait it out.

Windows 8 to Feature a Pattern Logon Screen for TouchScreen Users [Video]

The folks at MyDigitalLife have done it again. A user has managed to uncover a pattern logon screen in Windows 8 that is similar to the authentication system found in Android. Previously, MDL forum members had managed to unlock several hidden features like Ribbon UI (user interface) for Windows Explorer, Advanced Task Manager, native PDF viewer, and native WebCam application.

The pattern logon screen is obviously targeted at touchscreen users, although it can also be operated using a mouse. Windows 8 is being designed from the ground-up keeping multiple form factors in mind. It will be the first version of Windows to support ARM chipsets, which power majority of the handheld devices (including tablets). Other tablet oriented features we have seen includes a more touchscreen friendly task manager, and an immersive version of Internet Explorer. Immersive Internet Explorer uses the desktop Trident rendering engine, but has a tile-based user interface similar to IE for Windows Phone 7.

Windows-8-Pattern-Logon-Screen

The undesirability of Windows 7 as a tablet operating system has already left Microsoft playing catchup in, what Apple terms as, the “post-PC” segment. Once again, Android seems to be the only operating system that can mount a serious challenge to the iOS. Microsoft will need to do a lot more than just integrate bits and pieces of Metro and Ribbon, if it hopes to catchup. Windows M3 was released to trusted partners on March 29. If and when that build gets leaked, we should get a better idea about the direction Microsoft intends to take with Windows 8. In the meanwhile, check out this video to watch the new logon interface in action.