Car As Media Channel: Google Announces Android Auto

Car innovation does not keep up with the rapidity we expect from mobile or PC developments. What has largely been plaguing the auto space has been a lack of cooperation as each car manufacturer creates their proprietary technology, not to mention their 3+ year development cycles. Take Ford Sync for example, which has a custom app platform where developers can only create apps for new Ford vehicles. If that developer tries to iterate for another manufacturer, they have to start over. For real innovation to take place, their needs to be a standard operating system in the car.

Enter Android Auto, announced this week at Googe I/O which looks to power the infotainment systems across 40 car manufacturers including Honda, Hyundai, Volvo and more. Similar to Apple’s Carplay it works by plugging your phone into the car console which then displays it on the center display. Interestingly enough, the apps are all voice-controlled and glanceable to address safety concerns. The result brings more media into the car and improves utility like better navigation, location recommendations and more. The mobile component makes Android Auto current as app updates will be reflected in the car.

Twitter Introduces Mute Feature

Twitter is looking to answer its detractors who think its feeds are overcomplicated and too busy by introducing a Mute feature across Android, iPhone, and Web platforms. The option, as its name implies, allows you to silence other users in your feed by taping on the gear icon and choosing “mute @username.” The goal is to give users more control over the content they see, and to allow you to curate your own feeds by selectively cutting people out. Muting users doesn’t stop people from favoriting, replying to, and retweeting tweets – they can still use Twitter as usual. And, the muted user won’t know that others have muted them; it’s entirely silent. It’s a way to hopefully reduce the noise on the social network, and keep users engaged in a customized feed that works for them. 

Hulu Will Offer Free Mobile Viewing

This summer, Hulu wants to ramp up its subscription numbers by offering free viewing for mobile device this summer. It’s part of a broader effort to keep up with Netflix, and to encourage multi-device viewing on the platform that is increasingly being configured to be watched on both mobile and desktop. Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins said that they’re backing this effort up with the campaign this summer – and it strikes the casual observer as a fairly transparent way to hook new users. In conjunction with this effort a new, redesigned iPhone app will be released this summer. As well, Hopkins reiterated that Hulu is in talks with traditional paid-TV providers to integrate with existing cable boxes, which would be a huge win for the on-demand network. 

Facebook Buys Fitness Tracker Moves

Facebook is making a big push into the tracking space – both in terms of tracking user data, and now in terms of tracking users’ movements. Today, Facebook announced that it purchased Moves, a fitness tracking app that records daily activities using smartphone. The goal, of course, is to record more data and to continue to target users in increasingly specific ways to make consumers’ lives more quantifiable – as well as to provide advertisers with a much wider range of ways of serving ads to specific instances. For now, Facebook intends to keep the apps independent much like it presently does with Instagram and Whatsapp. Nonetheless, it presents Facebook with the way to continually store increasingly personal data about its users. 

MLB.TV Comes To Chromecast

Chromecast continues to bolster its offerings; after recently adding stalwarts NBA to its ever-growing list of streamed options, it announced that, just in time for this baseball season, MLB.TV will be available on the streaming platform. Once users download the required updates they’ll be able to download MLB.TV on the device and stream from there. That said, users will have to buy a subscription to MLB, which doesn’t come cheap: $24.99 per month or $129.99 for the entire season (which includes At Bat radio subscription as well). As the streaming stick continues to fill out as expected, it is becoming a cheaper, more accessible version of the Roku – and ultimately, cable TV. 

Android Dominates Global Market; iOS Controls Western World

In a confirmation of what many have already believed to be true, dotMobi released a new report indicating that although iOS tends to dominate the western world, on a global scale Android is outpacing the Apple mobile platform – as far as mobile browsing goes. The company gathered the data by sifting through mobile site views and their locations. The final tally? iOS services control browsing in 34 countries, including the major Western markets of US, UK, Canada, France, and Japan, while Android controls the remaining 67 nations that dotMobi was tracking. The other important conclusion to draw from this data is that there is a veritable global duopoly of mobile operating systems; that is to say BlackBerry, Windows phones, and others barely register in the study. Good news for Apple and Google, but for advertisers, it means that products geared toward mobile OS’s that aren’t iOS and Android aren’t going to be as valuable. 

LG Smart Bulb Syncs With Smartphones

LG today announced a Smart Bulb that connects with Android and iOS devices. In a move that firmly couches LG within the consumer-facing connected home market, the 10W LED light bulb allows users to control the lighting in their homes with their phones. The light also has several nifty features: it can flash alerts when you get a phone call; it has a security mode that can make your home appear inhabited while you’re away; it can pulse to the tune of music from Android device. Most importantly, LG says that the bulb can last for more than 10 years at a five-hour-per-day use rate. For now, the device is only available in Korea for the equivalent of $32, but as the connected home becomes more and more consumer facing, expect new devices to continue cropping up more and more quickly. 

Motorola & LG Announce Android Wear Smartwatches

Fresh off of Google’s announcement that it’s developing an Android smartwatch OS called “Wear,” Motorola and LG have announced new pieces for the operating system. LG’s G Watch, due to arrive next quarter, looks to be a simplistic plastic touch screen much like other devices already available on the market. Motorola’s Moto 360, however, could likely become the creme of the smartwatch crop. With real leather and machined metal, it’s a sleek-looking device that brings the form factor of the smart watch to a level likely deemed more than acceptable by most regular watch owners, who want a device fashionable enough to actually sport on their wrists. Both prominently feature Google’s Android Wear, and represent concrete, physical steps to compliment Google’s earlier announcement to break into the smartwatch space. 

Google Gets Serious About Wearables

Wearables have been a hot topic since the new year, with CES featuring wearables a-plenty. Until now, most were powered by third party operating systems, all with different standards and functionalities. Google has decided that Wearables are a potent enough market to expand the Android operating system into, and have announced that they are developing a new wearable SDK for Android. The tools will be available to all in roughly two weeks, and will look to get Google’s interface into smart watches, fitness bands, and others to enable seamless sync between devices and phone operating systems. So although Apple beat Google to the car, it looks as though Google is taking the lead on wearables and connected devices as they continue to flourish. 

WhatsApp To Add Voice Calls This Year

On the heels of Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp, the popular messaging service announced that it will expand into full-fledged voice calling for both iOS and Android this year. The feature will be available to BlackBerrys and Nokia devices afterwords. According to The Guardian, the voice calling will initially be free, but that will likely be temporary. Messaging is free at first but thereafter requires a $0.99/year subscription, so it’s likely that we’ll see a similar model for voice calling. Whether that will change with an eye to profitability under Facebook, however, remains to be seen. WhatsApp also released a user update: it now has 465 million monthly active users and 330 million daily users – 15 million more monthly users than even Facebook.