Opera Ties Up with Airtel to Enable Instant Internet Activation in India Through Web Pass

Just a few days back, Opera had revealed that its Web Pass initiative had gotten off to an impressive start in Malaysia. Now, it is hoping to replicate the same success story in India. The Norwegian browser maker, which itself has its roots in a telecom company, has tied up with Airtel to introduce its innovative Web Pass feature to India. “Access to the web is a universal right. Partnering with market leaders such as Airtel has offered us the opportunity to help lower the barriers to access the mobile web and empower more Indian users to get online,” said Lars Boilesen, CEO, Opera Software.

Opera-Web-Pass-Airtel

Opera Web Pass offers mobile users pay-as-you-go connections that can be activated instantly from the browser itself. It offers a cheap, on-demand, and instant connection to the World Wide Web to a wide section of the populace. For many of Opera’s users, the only way to go online is through their mobile phones. You can read more about how Opera Web Pass helped increase data usage on DiGi Telecommunications networks in Malaysia in my previous article.

Some of the plans that Airtel will be offering are:
i) An hour of Facebook for Rs. 10
ii) An hour of Twitter for Rs. 10
iii) An hour of internet usage for Rs. 20
iv) 24 hour unlimited internet subscription for Rs. 60

Additionally, a weekend surfing plan will also be available for unknown amount. An Opera spokesperson was unable to confirm if the plans were for 2G or 3G or both. All of these plans are billed by the duration of validity, instead of metrics like bandwidth and speed, which will make it simpler for the novice user to understand. Topping up doesn’t require any online payment system, and all purchases made are added to the user’s mobile bill.

Samsung HomeSync is an Android Jelly Bean Powered Set Top Box with 1 TB Storage

Samsung is expected to launch its flagship Android smartphone in an exclusive event on March 14. However, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have anything to show off at this year’s Mobile World Congress.

Besides unveiling the Galaxy Note 8.0, the Korean giant also quietly announced something called the HomeSync. HomeSync is a media streamer, which is in many ways identical to the Apple TV. It’s essentially an Android powered set top box that hooks up to your television.

Samsung-HomeSync

The HomeSync is powered by a 1.7 GHz dual-core processor of unknown make, 1 gigs of ram, and runs Android Jelly Bean (probably Android 4.1). It provides full access to the Play store, unlike many other similar products which only support apps that are optimized for the idiot box. HomeSync supports streaming of games, audio, and video from your Galaxy device to the TV wirelessly at full HD (1080p). The biggest draw of the Samsung HomeSync is its 1 TB storage that supports up to 8 different profiles, with password protection of content, and easy sharing.

The HomeSync is slated to go on sale in April 2013; however, Samsung provided no inputs on the expected market price.

Opera Mini and Mobile Continue Growing, Web Pass Gets off to a Good Start

OperaOpera Software has often highlighted Opera Mini as a browser that ‘connects the unconnected’. What they mean is that Opera Mini on mobile phones is often the only way a significant chunk of its users access the World Wide Web. Opera Mini is extremely popular in nations like India, Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, Malaysia, and Kenya, where PC penetration is low, but mobile phone penetration is extremely high. The reasons for this are obvious. Opera Mini works even on low-end phones, and is capable of rendering web pages that these phones would otherwise be unable to render. It also compresses web pages during the data transfer, thus increasing speed and reducing bandwidth consumption.

Putting two and two together, towards the end of 2012, Opera Software introduced a service called Web Pass. Web Pass offered mobile web surfers pay-as-you-go internet connections. Realizing that most people in developing nations don’t have means of online payment like Credit Cards, Opera tied up with mobile service providers to enable instant purchase that would be billed to the user’s mobile connection. Malaysia’s DiGi Telecommunications became Opera’s first partner, which allowed users to instantly purchase data packages. Pay as you go plans included cheap options like Facebook hourly pass (0.15 USD), as well as more full fledged data options like 24 hour internet packs (0.65 USD).

In this month’s State of the Mobile Web report, Opera Software zeroed in on its new Web Pass, and apprently it’s doing quite well. Some of the stats that Opera shared are:

  • Up to 52% of all Opera Web Passes in any given month were bought by returning customers.
  • By incentivizing use through a free Facebook hourly web pass for the entire month of January DiGi managed to increase the uptake of paid web passes significantly. This resulted in an average revenue increase of 56%, and a 65% increase of the average number of transactions per day, compared to the revenues before the promotion drive.
  • There has been a very low checkout-abandonment rate and an overall checkout success of more than 77% among users with sufficient funds.
    The most popular web pass is one that provides customers with time-based, unlimited access to Facebook.

Opera Software also revealed that it gained 8 million active mobile users in the month of January. The total user count of Opera’s various mobile offerings currently stands at 237 million. Opera is also doing fairly well in the smartphone segment, with a 32% of the total users of Opera Mini and Opera Mobile using smartphones to browse the web. These users constituted 32% of the new installs witnessed last month.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Cases Leaked, Suggests SII Like Design

Samsung is the undisputed champion of the Android world, and the only manufacturer that can even come close to the hype and marketing blitzkrieg of Apple. The Korean giant squashed its Android competition with the Galaxy SIII, which helped it solidify its spot as the world’s biggest smartphone manufacturer. However, it will be facing stiffer competition this year from the likes of HTC and Sony, which seem to have finally got their acts together.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 is set to be unveiled in an exclusive event in New York on March 14. So far, the Korean giant has done well to keep its next flagship under the wraps. It is rumored to have a 5” full-HD (1080p) AMOLED display, with an Exynos Octa 5 (8-cores) processor powering the latest version of Android (Android 4.2 – Jelly Bean). Rumors also suggest that the US kit might ship with Samsung Exynos 5440 (quad core). However, what we don’t know is exactly how the phone looks.

Now, thanks to Mobilefun, we can get some idea about the design and size of the new Galaxy S4. Mobilefun has published snaps of a bunch of Galaxy S4 cases, which we have faithfully reproduced below for your viewing pleasure. The cases suggest a design that is more in line with the Galaxy SII than the Galaxy SIII, which was famously dubbed as ‘the phone designed by lawyers’ by AndroidPolice. The button and port placements are quite similar to its predecessor. The Galaxy S4 will feature the volume control buttons on the left, the power button on the right, the micro-USB port at the bottom, and the headphone jack at the top. The back case suggests the presence of a big camera (reportedly 13 megapixel), LED flash, and a rear speaker.

Samsung-Galaxy-S4-Case-Pictures
Pictures of Samsung Galaxy S4 Cases

HTC One High Resolution Shot Leaked

HTC will be unveiling its newest flagship smartphone on February 19th, in parallel press conferences held in New York and London. The star of the show will certainly be the smartphone we have been have been reading about under the codename M7.

Last week, FrAndroid suggested that the M7 will retain its name when its launched officially in France on March 8 for €649.99 (about $870). However, @evleaks, a Taiwanese tipster who has been accurate before, is now suggesting that the M7 might be just a codename. The fresh report suggests that HTC will officially unveil the M7 as the HTC One. Evleaks has also obtained a high-resolution press shot of the HTC One, which shows off the 4.7” monster in all its glory.

HTC-One

The HTC One will be powered by a 1.7 GHz Snapdragon processor, and feature 2 gigs of RAM, 32 gigs of internal storage, a 13 megapixel rear camera, and a 2 megapixel front camera. The rear camera is speculated to be using a stacked sensor with ultrapixels that will boast of an extremely impressive f/2.0 aperture. The camera will also be capable of super slow-motion and HDR video capture in 1080p. On the software side of things, it will ship with Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean), and sport the latest HTC Sense 5 user interface. The HTC One will also feature something called “Double HP techno Beats” technology for enhanced music experience.

Carbon for Twitter Arrives on Android with Its Gorgeously Animated User Interface

After teasing us for months, Dots and Lines has finally introduced Carbon for Twitter in the Play store. Carbon made a name for itself on the WebOS App Catalog and Windows Phone Market as a gorgeous, intuitive, and powerful Twitter client for the masses as well as power users. Making the cut in the crowded Play app store will be tougher, but judging from the initial spate of downloads, there’s still room for a carefully crafted Twitter app for Android.

Carbon-Twitter-Android

Carbon for Twitter makes a positive impression the moment you launch it. After a quick splash screen, you are asked to authenticate yourself, and within seconds your Twitter stream is laid out in front of you in neatly arranged cards. Two-finger downward swipe takes you to the bottom of the list, while a similar gesture in the upward direction will take you to the top. Swiping right will take you to the Mentions and Direct Messages screens. There are subtle animations for practically everything you do, and Carbon for Twitter feels alive in a way very few Android apps do. My favorite is the little card tilt animation that Carbon does while jumping in and out of a conversation. In spite of having a beautiful user interface that is livened up with thoughtful use of animations and clever gestures, Carbon feels fluid and fast. None of the lags and momentary freezes that are oh-so-common in Android are present in Carbon.

Carbon-Twitter-Stream

This is not to say that it’s all rosy with Carbon. The first version is understandably buggy, and crashes every once in a while. I have already had to reinstall it once to fix a crash loop. Carbon is pretty feature complete, and includes support for native retweets as well as classic retweets, lists, searches, hashtags, and trends. The Filters feature deserves a special mention, since it’s something I am only used to seeing on desktop clients. You can cleanup your Twitter stream by filtering out content based on people, hashtag, or keywords. However, power users might spot that a few features they are accustomed to using in other clients are absent in Carbon. Sync frequency can’t be changed (it’s either once every fifteen minutes or not at all), the app doesn’t have a widget, integration with third-party url shorteners and image uploaders as well as services like Twitlonger and Tweetshrink is absent, and video uploads don’t seem to be supported at all. Tablet support is also missing at this point. However, this is only the first version. I am sure that M.Saleh Esmaeili, the developer, wanted to get a working version out as soon as possible, and feature enhancements will come later.

Carbon-Twitter-Profile

Carbon for Android was initially supposed to be a paid app; however, since Play store doesn’t support payments in the developer’s country, he decided to release it for free. As of now, Carbon is a completely free app without any in-built advertisement. It’s the most visually attractive and fun Twitter client I have seen on the Android app store. If none of the missing features I listed above are dealbreakers for you, go ahead and take it for a spin. It’s still early days for Carbon, but it has definitely raised the bar for Android apps as far as aesthetics is concerned.

Carbon-Twitter-Conversations

[ Download Carbon for Android ]

Sony Announces ‘my Xperia’ Remote Security Service for Xperia Smartphones

Sony is working on rolling out its own security service called ‘my Xperia’ for its Xperia range of Android smartphones. The new service will be similar to the remote security features offered by Samsung Dive and HTC Sense.

Sony’s my Xperia service will be capable of:

  • Locating your Xperia smartphone remotely, and placing it on a map. If the device can’t be located immediately, you have the option to be notified at your associated Google account once it has been located.
  • You can sound an alarm if the device is misplaced.
  • You can lock your device remotely and display a custom message on the screen.
  • You can specify a contact phone number where the finder can get in touch with you.
  • You can perform a remote wipe to delete data stored in the internal memory as well as the memory card.
  • You will receive confirmation in your Google account once your device has been locked or wiped.

Sony-my-Xperia

The my Xperia service will be available globally in the second quarter of this year. However, a pilot program will be started in Nordic countries in a phased manner over the coming weeks. The pilot program will start with the Xperia Acro S, and new devices will be added later. Users selected to participate in the pilot program will receive a notification in their handset.

While ‘my Xperia’ is rather limited when compared with what some of the other alternatives like Avast can do, it’s a welcome initiative. I only hope that Sony will aggressively push it to ensure that most new users install the service. I have seen too many people waking up to the needs of remote security apps only after their device has been stolen.

Opera Announces New Webkit Based Mobile Browser – Opera Ice

Big news coming out of Oslo, Norway. Opera Software, the browser firm behind Opera Mini and Opera Mobile, is working on a new mobile browser called Opera Ice. Ice is being billed as the future of web browsing, and will be shaking things up in more ways than one.

Technically, the biggest difference between Ice and other Opera products will be its engine. Opera is one of the few browsers to have its own rendering engine, which is called Presto. The other layout engines are from Microsoft (Trident), Apple (Webkit), and Mozilla (Gecko). We might have several dozen browsers spread across numerous platforms, but all of them use one of these engines. Opera’s engine has been a source of pride for it, and has allowed it to shape web standards and lead the way with innovative features. However, it’s also the least popular of the existing engines. Since, no two engines are completely alike, this often means additional headaches for Opera in terms of website compatibility. Desktop websites have traditionally been optimized for Trident, due to Internet Explorer’s dominance. Mobile used to be a segment where Opera ruled the roost. It’s still a major player with more than 215 million mobile users. However, Webkit has emerged as the leading mobile browser engine. Google Chrome uses a modified version of Webkit, and the default Android browser as well as Chrome for Android uses Webkit. Apple’s Safari for iOS also obviously uses Webkit. Moreover, since Apple strictly restricts third-party layout engines on iOS, all iOS browsers are forced to employ Webkit. A a result of Webkit’s dominance in mobile browsers, mobile websites are invariably solely optimized for Webkit. Perhaps not wanting to play the catchup game all over again, Opera is ditching its venerable browser engine for Ice.

Opera-Ice

The change in browser engine will also help Opera to get into Apple’s iTunes App Store. Opera already has Opera Mini for iPhone and other Apple devices, but Opera Mini isn’t a complete web browser, and is ill-suited for modern, dynamic websites. “Opera mini is great, but it is not a fully-fledged offering like Chrome or Safari. There are too many sites it doesn’t work with,” noted Opera’s CEO Lars Boilesen.

Engine isn’t the only thing Opera Software is changing in Ice. It introduces a new paradigm for web browsing that is better suited for modern touch-enabled devices. Ice gets rid of the chrome entirely, and makes use of the full screen space to display content. This lends a web-app like feel to the web pages. Ice doesn’t look or feel like anything we have seen before from Opera Software. Opera’s products have never been about minimalism. They have been power horses, which offered gazillions of features to please the power users. With Ice, the priorities have changed. In fact, Opera is even going so far as to get rid of tabs. Internally, the browser will maintain tabs, but it will be abstracted from the user. One existing feature that will still be present in Ice is speed dials. However, Opera is ditching thumbnails for icons in Ice. Web search will also be retained in Ice. However, it will be completely redesigned to show live previews of results from various sources as you type your query. Check out the video embedded below to get a glimpse of Opera Ice in action. It was recorded during an internal all-hands meet held before Christmas, and was obtained by Pocket-Lint.

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about Opera Ice. I love the idea of a browser designed from the start-up for touch; however, I am also worried that Opera might end up hindering usability and productivity by taking minimalism too far. I will reserve my judgement for now, since we don’t have enough information. However, I really hope that Opera nails it, and will definitely be taking Opera Ice for a ride, when it shows up next month.

Nokia Reports Better Than Expected Q4 2012 on the Back of Strong Lumia Sales

Nokia finally seems to have caught a break, and has kicked off the new year with some unexpected good news. The fourth quarter turned out to be better than expected, and the Lumia series experienced solid sales.

“We are pleased that Q4 2012 was a solid quarter where we exceeded expectations and delivered underlying profitability in Devices & Services and record underlying profitability in Nokia Siemens Networks”, said Stephen Elop, CEO of Nokia. Nokia sold 4.4 million Lumia smartphones during the last quarter of 2012, which is more than what it managed during the previous two quarters combined. The well received Lumia 920 obvious played a significant role in Nokia’s strong performance; however, Nokia didn’t officially give a model-wise breakdown of Lumia sales.

Nokia-Lumia

The other good news is that Lumia is finally outselling Symbian devices, whose sales tally stood at 2.2 million. “We focused on our priorities and as a result we sold a total of 14 million Asha smartphones and Lumia smartphones while managing our costs efficiently, and Nokia Siemens Networks delivered yet another very good quarter”, added Elop. 9.3 million units of Asha full-touch smartphones, which have been performing well in markets like India, were sold.

Lumia’s sales numbers were undoubtedly helped by the holiday season, but the total sales tally would have probably been higher if Nokia hadn’t been conservative about the number of handsets manufactured. Nokia is predicting a weaker Q1, 2013, based on the fact that it doesn’t have any new device launches, and Q1 is a seasonally weak quarter. However, the introduction of Lumia 920 in several new countries is expected to help the sales figures. Lumia 920 was launched in India just a few hours ago, and was launched in China last month.

Samsung Announces Octa-Core Exynos 5

The explosion of smart phones, initially kicked off by the iPhone, has fueled tremendous improvement in mobile processors. We went from 1 GHz single-core processors to 1.5 GHz quad-cores in less than three years. Now, the relatively easy ways of improving performance performance are out due to power and heat considerations, and manufacturers are being forced to innovate.

Nvidia chose to increase the number of GPU cores to 72, and switched to quad-core Cortex-A15 (with a fifth power saving core) for the Tegra 4. Some doubts have already been raised about Nvidia’s performance claims, but we will have to wait to know for sure. Qualcomm is relying on a combination of updating the GPU, increasing the CPU clock speed to up to 2.3 GHz, and increasing the bandwidth to deliver performance improvements with its new Snapdragon 600 and 800 series chipsets. Current generation Snapdragon chipsets have been reported to generate a lot of heat and as Qualcomm continues to push the clock speeds, that might become a bigger concern.

Samsung-Exynos-Octa-Core

A short while back, Samsung revealed its cards, and shared with the world what it has in store for mobile devices. The new Exynos 5 will boast of an octa-core CPU. Yes, you read it correctly. The next generation SoC (System on Chip) from Samsung will have eight cores. Fortunately, the Exynos will never use all eight cores simultaneously. Exynos 5 will have two clusters of quad-cores. One of them will be Cortex-A15 CPUs, while the other one will be Cortex-A7 CPUs. A7 CPUs are known to consume a lot less power, and will be used for non-intensive tasks. In other words, Samsung is hoping to improve upon Nvidia’s concept of using a fifth power saving core for common tasks to save battery. The A-15 CPUs will kick in only when required, and as per Samsung’s stats, can deliver more than twice the performance of Exynos 4 quad.