Once a upon a time, Microsoft saw fit to put together a YouTube app for Windows Phone and it was actually pretty great — it let users download videos straight from the app and there was nary an ad to be found. To absolutely no one’s surprise, Google wasn’t too pleased: after all, the features that made the app so appealing didn’t exactly jibe with YouTube’s terms of service, and the search giant demanded the offending app be removed.
Well, after a bit of back and forth (and a conciliatory update), it seems the two companies have finally come to an agreement. Microsoft and YouTube released a statement today affirming that the two companies will work together on crafting yet another YouTube app for Windows Phone that doesn’t fly in the face of Google’s and YouTube’s rules.
Here’s the (admittedly brief) statement in full:
Microsoft and YouTube are working together to update the new YouTube for Windows Phone app to enable compliance with YouTube’s API terms of service, including enabling ads, in the coming weeks. Microsoft will replace the existing YouTube app in Windows Phone Store with the previous version during this time.
So there you have it. Frankly, the news doesn’t come as much of a shock — Microsoft was seemingly caught off-guard when Google’s ire first became known and was willing to make things right by adding those ads should Google give the company access to “the necessary APIs.” Then again, a Google representative points out things like YouTube’s the iFrame API have been open to the masses for a while now, so it’s unclear why Microsoft didn’t just go that route in the first place. While it’s refreshing to see these two work out their differences here for once (mostly because Microsoft has been poking at Google with its Scroogled campaign for months now), the real loser here is the consumer.
In just a few weeks a new, ad-laden version of the app will trickle into the Windows Marketplace and Windows Phone users who have downloaded the app will soon find themselves faced with the prospect of embracing a much different YouTube experience. Granted, it’s only one app that’s being bowdlerized, but Windows Phone has been making significant strides when it comes to app quality lately and it’s a bummer to see such a prominent app lose its charm.
In the event you’re a Windows Phone user who hasn’t yet updated your YouTube app to the latest version, you may want to wait before taking the plunge. Microsoft recently pushed a tweaked version of the app into the Windows Marketplace that removed the ability to download videos on the fly, though you still won’t be subjected to in-stream ads.
A new report from 9to5Mac and its usually well-connected sources today adds a little more color to what we’ll be seeing from the big iOS 7 redesign rumored to be making an appearance at WWDC this year in June – and what we’ll apparently be seeing is a lot less color. The visual overhaul not only emphasizes so-called “flat design” (avoiding complicated textures in favor of bold, solid tones), but also features the use of many black and white elements across the UI.
The new report reiterates what we’ve already heard – that Ive is heading up a pretty extensive overhaul of Apple’s mobile OS, concentrating primarily on the visual aspects of iOS. Now, though, we get a bit more info about how and why Ive is targeting so-called skeuomorphic elements (those that mimic real-world textures) and additional details about specific elements of the OS that have undergone change, plus redesigned apps and even some new features.
Ive feels that the sorts of heavy textures used in the current iteration of iOS aren’t designed to last, and will quickly take on a dated look, according to 9to5Mac’s sources. Physical metaphors for digital design are a dead end, he apparently believes, and makes for a lack of harmony between and among individual iOS apps like Notes, Maps and Game Center. It’s true that other, more recent takes on mobile interfaces have focused more on unity, like Windows Phone, but it’s also true that from a success perspective, iOS has trounced Microsoft’s newer mobile OS; flat design may have the praise of the tech community, but it hasn’t necessarily proved itself in the consumer arena yet.
Other big changes coming to what people are used to on iPhone include the lock screen mechanisms, which will finally see the iconic lock screen re-envisioned with a “shine-free, black interface” says 9to5Mac. Round buttons will replace the grid for security code input, and notifications might get more useful thanks to expanded interactivity options made possible through multi-touch gestures.
Notifications in general will get some changes, ditching the linen texture background per the report in favor of something more black and white. More widgets are on their way to Notification Center, too, and we could see access included to regularly-accessed settings, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and the Airplane Mode switch.
The Home Screen gets a minor but notable visual refresh, losing the shine on buttons and system apps given flatter designs that don’t “pop” quite as much as the current versions. iOS 7 also apparently borrows a trick from Android, adding in panorama-style scrollable wallpapers that continue across home screens, instead of presenting the same static image for each. In general, common interface elements like the on-screen keyboard will undergo a flattening effect, ditching things like drop shadow and toning down the color in favor of greys, whites and blacks. This extends to core apps like Mail, Calendar, Maps and Notes, each of which have more uniformed, primarily white interfaces. Each also gets a unique olor for buttons and highlights, however, providing a strong visual cue about which you’re using while retaining a similarity of design across all the software.
New features reportedly include a standalone FaceTime app for iPhone, as well as Flickr and Vimeo integration, and better in-car tools connected to Maps and Siri for hands-free use. We’ll also see a lot of changes on the developer side, likely with the introduction of many new APIs to unlock more potential for apps, something which has become a common feature of iOS updates.
9to5 reports that we’ll see this arrive for the general public along with new iPhone and possibly iPad hardware this fall. The iPhone version of the iOS 7 redesign might beat the iPad version out of the gate however, as the report claims that Apple’s design and engineering talent are focused on pushing out the smartphone version first. Hopefully we’ll learn more at the WWDC keynote, which is coming up June 10, and where we’ll be reporting live.
The barrier to entry for the Unity game rendering engine for developers on iOS, Android and BlackBerry 10 has gotten lower, as use of Unity tech is now free on both mobile platforms. Unity CEO David Helgason announced the changed terms today during the Unite Nordic trade conference, according to Pocket Gamer’s Keith Andrew. The dropping of licensing fees for the engine’s basic tier means that features which once cost $800 now carry no charge at all.
The change in pricing structure is all about building momentum for indie game creators and studio, according to Helgason. Unity has shifted to a free licensing structure on the web and on desktop platforms, and has long hoped to bring the same model to its mobile platform products, according to Pocket Gamer. Later on, the same deal could be made available to Windows Phone 8, the company says.
Unity 4 on mobile offers a number of impressive features, including real-time shadows and multi-screen AirPlay support for building unique game experiences. For Unity, offering the basic license free to game devs is essentially also lowering the barrier to their revenue-generating paid tiers and offerings, including assets for in-game use and Pro and Basic add-ons, team licenses and more.
For mobile devs, it gives them a level of access to tools used by some of the biggest and most successful gaming studios on Android and iOS, including Rovio (which uses Unity for Bad Piggies), as well as those used by hit indies like Year Walk, The Room and more.
This is a good thing for the independent games development community, and hopefully it means we’ll see even more top-tier titles coming out of brand new places. The iOS and Android mobile software stores aren’t quite the Wild West of new and exciting indie content they once were, but they still provide small developers more exposure and opportunity than other platforms, and maybe this will help that continue to be true in the face of increasing investment in mobile software from big name game studios.
Maluuba, the Waterloo, Canada-based Siri competitor and TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2012 Battlefield finalist, today announced that it has added two new features to its voice-powered personal assistant app for Android and Windows Phone: sports and TV schedules. With this, Maluuba users in the U.S. and Canada can now ask it for near real-time sports results and query the service for TV listings in their area by name, genre or channel.
One aspect of the service the Maluuba team has always been proud of is the fact that it has managed to add additional domains to the service quickly. The service started out with 18 domains, including restaurants, movies and general knowledge queries, but the team has continued to expand the range of topics it can handle since then. It has also rapidly expanded internationally since its launch and launched its Windows Phone 8 app earlier this year, too.
With the new sports integration – and thanks to Maluuba’s expertise in natural language processing – users can ask Maluuba questions like “When is the next Blackhawks game?” or ‘How many wins do the New York Yankees have?” and get answers almost immediately. To get this data, the company has partnered with Sports Direct. For TV shows, Maluuba now understands questions like “When’s The Big Bang Theory playing next?” or “What’s on Channel 5?”
“These features are a testament to our vision. Users want exact results, not just blue links that are merely related,” Mohamed Musbah, Maluuba’s product manager, said in a canned statement today. ”When you first use Sports or TV search on Maluuba, you’ll realize how easy and fast search can be.”
With its recently announced “conversational search” feature, Google is also adding more voice and NLP-powered search tools to its feature set. Maluuba, right now, still seems to be ahead of Google in many areas, The company tells me that it believes Google’s entry into this market validates Maluuba’s model and the team doesn’t seem to be afraid of Google for now.
Jolla, a Finnish startup formed in response to Nokia’s decision to ditch MeeGo in favour of Windows Phone, has finally taken the wraps off the smartphone hardware that will be paired with its “unlike” Sailfish UI. Being a startup is challenging enough in any business sector but Jolla is seeking to compete in the fiercely competitive smartphone space, going up against giants Samsung and Apple who hold the majority of the market in a pincer grip. So it’s hard not to dismiss their efforts as too late. But it’s a lot harder to accuse them of doing too little.
Jolla’s strategy for fighting the mobile industry’s Goliaths is all about standing out by doing things different. Today’s hardware underlines how this startup is hoping to disrupt the concept of a single flagship device — such as the Samsung Galaxy S4 — that’s hankered after and owned by millions yet with only a little variation in case colourings to tell the difference between each one.
In seeking to break down software homogeneity with its Sailfish UI and a business model that encourages working with third parties to develop new types of smartphone experience that loop in others’ data, Jolla is also taking aim at hardware commoditisation via a cross-over feature in its debut device that it’s calling the Other Half. The Other Half refers to removable hardware shells that snap on to the back of the handset and can be changed and customised by the user. But the feature goes further than interchangeable shells — which is not at all new, dating back in spirit to early Nokia mobile phones of the 1990s with their removable facias, and more recently to a device like Nokia’s Lumia 820, which has a coloured and swappable backplate.
Jolla’s Other Half isn’t just decoration but links to the software on the handset — using an unconfirmed bridging technology that sounds to my ear like NFC — allowing content on the phone to be tied to the addition of a new shell, or even for new physical features to be incorporated and supported.
Jolla’s Marc Dillon, now head of software but until recently CEO, gave some examples of how the Other Half feature could be used — noting that this is about opening up the back of the device for others to come in and augment.
“You have the processor side of the device, the power side, the engine, and then the Other Half is about adding to that. This is a new kind of media where it could be anything from your favourite artist could release their latest album on the other half of the Jolla device, and then when the user buys this they have a physical thing from their favourite artist then when they snap it on to the other half of their Jolla device, then everyone can see it, that they support and love their artist and then on the inside they could get the content. They could get maybe special content, that could only be released in this format like videos or links to websites or tickets or special offers, things like that but because of this interface between the two halves,” he told TechCrunch.
“It can not only be media, it can be very simple things — so maybe you have a colour palette, so when you go out of an evening you might have a different colour depending on your outfit and that colour then carries through to the software updating the Ambience of the device. So you might have — if you have a green dress, you might have a green device and then you have green icons and green Ambience [Sailfish UI theme] on your phone. But it can also be more interesting — you can add features. Like the camera is a good example, the native camera of course has a flash but maybe you’re going to a party and you want to have a big flash so you can take pictures in the dark at a nightclub. So really the imagination is the only limit here.”
“Instead of having a device with some bulky things attached to it or some things sticking out the side of it to extend the capabilities of the device, or to add content, we’re giving a new way for users to actually design and co-create with us new ways of using the device,” Dillon added.
“Of course we will be offering a choice of Other Halves for the user to buy but this is a place where we want to see others get involved. Designers can design Other Halves for the device, engineers or hackers or techies can design new interfaces and maybe add physical hardware features that they wish they had on their device but might have a smaller market than to deserve having a whole entire device,” he said. “We talked about 3D printing them today. So it could be those kinds of things, but really we’re offering a new kind of interface for a device so that people can really take their imagination, and I believe there will be a lot of third parties and a lot of people who have a lot of great ideas in order to help you use the Other Half of the Jolla device.”
The Other Half may be a bit of a clumsy name but it’s a savvy move that taps into the custom hardware trend that’s growing off the back of the rising profile of 3D printing. That said, it does of course remain to be seen how much interest Jolla can spark for others to get involved in co-creation with only one device to its name and that device not launching for another six months. It will need enough traction to get the co-creation party started.
The idea to link the hardware and software has been part of Jolla company discussions and plans since the beginning, according to Dillon. “It’s been something that we’ve been planning and working towards the whole time. The Ambience was a hint of how this can come together,” he noted, adding: ”Hardware like many things, it’s become a commodity, so the problem with commodities is it generally forces things down — things become kind of lowest common denominator… We set out to make the greatest device that we could, and we understood that the software and the user experience is key because that’s where the value comes from in the device and the hardware is the realisation of that, it’s a productisation of the software.
“So we kind of took this tack, then of course the hardware has to be fantastic it has to support the software and support the user and be something the user can be proud of and my belief is that when people see the Jolla device they want to see what’s inside.”
“This iteration, the direct stuff here, has been about a year in development. It started getting really good for me about six months ago and I’ve been using the device for a while now, and it’s really started to feel fantastic, when the hardware and the software have come together. They were done by the same designers and the same people so it has been kept in mind that the two go together, that the two have a synergy the entire time. We’ve had a roadmap the entire time as well so we’ve had a set of hardware specifications to work with,” he added.
It’s worth flagging that Jolla is not the only mobile maker to take an interest in 3D printing and custom hardware, even if it’s taken that further by creating a link between custom hardware and phone content. 3D printing is something Nokia has done with the Lumia 820 shell, for instance. Dillon said Jolla may also look to open source the 3D design of the Other Half, telling TechCrunch “I could see that happening”.
Asked specifically about the bridging technology between the hardware shell and the software, Dillon declined to give specific details, saying: “There’s a number of options here but there is a connection between the Other Half and the software. And of course all of that needs to be open as well.”
Asked whether the device will launch in the U.S. he said Jolla is looking at other markets but opting for Europe and China first. ”We’re starting with Europe and China and we will be extending to other markets as we go. We’re in the delivery phase at the moment so we’re building the infrastructure, and the logistics in order to be able to deliver and care for the users of the device, and we’re of course going to look at other markets as we go.”
“It’s the target to get the Christmas market in Europe, Chinese New Year. That’s the big milestones,” he added. “The most important thing is we come out with a fantastic product… When we’re shipping at the end of the year if it’s a fantastic product then it’s really going to resonate and I think we’re really going to have a lot of demand.”