SMART­PHONES

Google is pulling ahead as the war to en­tice smart­phone re­cruits rages, writes Jen­nifer Dud­ley- Ni­chol­son

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page - Jen­nifer Dud­ley- Ni­chol­son trav­elled to Tokyo as a guest of Google

Google An­droid wins hearts and minds.

THE bru­tal smart­phone war is poised to be­come even more merce­nary.

Af­ter a fierce four-year battle for con­sumers’ hearts, wal­lets and pock­ets, Google and its An­droid army have over­taken the mighty Ap­ple iPhone.

More than 135 mil­lion An­droid hand­sets have now been sold – 6 mil­lion more than the global iPhone stash.

Plus, more Google-run phones are be­ing turned on at the rate of 550,000 a day, Google ex­ec­u­tive chair­man Eric Sch­midt says, or more than 381 a minute.

But the smart­phone race is far from won. New Google re­search shows smart­phone adop­tion is rapidly in­creas­ing – par­tic­u­larly in Aus­tralia – fu­elled by cheaper prices, more use­ful apps and in­ex­pen­sive data plans.

While the in­ter­net gi­ant plans to lure those new buy­ers with fresh soft­ware and fea­tures in the com­ing months, Ap­ple is also poised to launch a new, faster iPhone model and could have a legal ace up its sleeve.

E Guide at­tended Google’s re­cent Mo­bile Revo­lu­tion con­fer­ence in Tokyo to sur­vey the smart­phone field.

THE RISE AND RISE OF SMART­PHONES

Few gad­gets are more pop­u­lar than smart­phones. The Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics As­so­ci­a­tion last week pre­dicted smart­phone sales would jump 45 per cent this year to reach $ 23 bil­lion, lead­ing the elec­tron­ics in­dus­try.

But the rise of smart­phones in Aus­tralia could be even sharper. At the com­pany’s Tokyo con­fer­ence, Google re­vealed re­sults from a 30-coun­try sur­vey on smart­phone adop­tion and use.

The sur­vey of 2000 Aus­tralians found the coun­try has the sec­ond-high­est smart­phone pen­e­tra­tion in the Asi­aPa­cific re­gion, with al­most 37 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion us­ing an ad­vanced mo­bile phone – more than the US, the UK and Ja­pan. Google mo­bile re­search prod­uct mar­ket­ing man­ager Ryan Hay­ward says more in­ter­est­ing is the coun­try’s rapid rate of adop­tion.

‘‘ Some­thing like 80 per cent of peo­ple who had a smart­phone in Aus­tralia said they had got it in the past few months,’’ he says.

Smart­phone adop­tion in Aus­tralia could be even higher, how­ever.

Tel­stra’s re­cent sur­vey of 2827 Aussies found 46 per cent of mo­bile phone own­ers use a smart­phone – a fig­ure con­sumer ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Re­bekah O’Fla­herty says will grow ‘‘ to more than 60 per cent over the next 12 months’’.

Al­most a quar­ter of those were of the Google An­droid va­ri­ety, Tel­stra’s sur­vey found, up from 5 per cent last year.

But the Ap­ple iPhone is still the top hand­set in the coun­try by a large mar­gin, ac­cord­ing to In­ter­na­tional Data Cor­po­ra­tion fig­ures.

ICE CREAM SAND­WICH

The rapid rise of Google An­droid phones is likely to jump higher later this year when the com­pany re­leases new soft­ware, nick­named Ice Cream Sand­wich. Un­like other An­droid re­leases, this up­date will work on smart­phones and tablets, pro­vid­ing a com­mon ex­pe­ri­ence and, Google global part­ner­ships di­rec­tor John Langer­ling says, a more re­fined one.

While many early An­droid smart­phone adopters may have been highly tech-savvy and will­ing to dig deeply into phone menus, Langer­ling says the lat­est ver­sion is de­signed for a wider au­di­ence.

‘‘ It used to be the case An­droid users were a bit more pi­o­neer­ing,’’ he says.

‘‘ Since that’s not the case any more, I think there’s more pres­sure for us to do some­thing that’s more eas­ily di­gestible. It has to cater for the wider mar­ket and more gen­eral mass users.’’

Langer­ling says the new soft­ware, due later this year, will fea­ture new wid­gets, bet­ter multi-task­ing and more con­trol over app no­ti­fi­ca­tions. Ice Cream Sand­wich will also de­but new cam­era tricks that track fa­cial fea­tures. One demon­strated at the Mo­bile Revo­lu­tion con­fer­ence tracked the lo­ca­tion of the user’s eyes and moved an im­age on screen to mimic a 3D view. Move your head down the screen and it can show you what lies un­der a vir­tual ta­ble, for ex­am­ple.

An­other fea­ture, called Vir­tual Cam­era Man, iden­ti­fies and zooms in on peo­ple speak­ing to a phone’s cam­era, ig­nor­ing silent by­standers, while a third recog­nises fa­cial fea­tures and lets users tweak them, vir­tu­ally cre­at­ing a smaller nose or big­ger teeth, for ex­am­ple.

Langer­ling says the ‘‘ more pol­ished soft­ware’’ will also find new ways to group mes­sag­ing to­gether, from SMS to in­stant mes­sages. But he ad­mits no soft­ware up­grade guar­an­tees have been for­malised with phone mak­ers yet, as an­nounced ear­lier this year, and as a plat­form An­droid is far from its fi­nal form.

‘‘ We’re still at an in­no­va­tion curve that is per­haps steeper than it has been,’’ he says. ‘‘ It would be com­fort­able if we could feel OK, we’re al­most done, but we’re not there. We’re still in the early days.’’

AN­DROID’S CHAL­LENGES

De­spite a brisk trade in Google An­droid phones from Sam­sung, HTC, Sony Eric­s­son, Mo­torola and oth­ers, the smart­phone war is still rag­ing.

Ap­ple sold more than 20.3 mil­lion phones in the last quar­ter and is strongly ru­moured to be plan­ning a new iPhone for re­lease in Septem­ber. Pos­si­ble fea­tures in­clude a speedy dual-core pro­ces­sor, 8-megapixel cam­era, wire­less charg­ing and a slim­mer form.

Ap­ple is also bat­tling Google in the legal arena, af­ter fil­ing a law­suit against An­droid phone maker HTC. The US In­ter­na­tional Trade Com­mis­sion re­leased an ini­tial rul­ing this month find­ing that HTC had vi­o­lated two of Ap­ple’s patents.

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