Browser maker Opera’s first WebKit browser has exited beta. The full launch for the browser previously code-named Ice adds a few additional minor updates to the meaty feature-set demoed at the Mobile World Congress tradeshow back in February.
The new updates in this full launch version of the Android browser are as follows:
- Toggle navigation bar from top to bottom
- Wrap text when you zoom
- View active tabs in full screen
- Search and navigate with a responsive address bar
The Android browser represents a huge shift for Opera as it moves its business from technical development to product-focused development, leaving its Presto framework behind and adopting the de facto standard WebKit engine, plus Chromium — a move Opera confirmed in February. Update: Since then Google has announced it’s forking WebKit as Blink. Opera confirmed to TechCrunch that while the current version of its Android browser is built on WebKit/Chromium 24 it will be moving to Blink once it arrives in the Chromium code (due in a later version, it says).
At the time of its WebKit switch announcement, Opera argued then that ditching Presto and adopting WebKit frees up its engineers to focus on product development in a bid to stand out in the increasingly homogenous smartphone browser space.
The other issue for browser makers is that they are fighting with apps for users’ eyeballs. Research put out by mobile analytics firm Flurry in April found that U.S. Android and iOS owners spend an average of 80% of their time within apps, and just a fifth (20%) within mobile browsers. Moving the needle back in the direction of the browser is Opera’s goal here.
Key features of Opera’s Android browser include a content discovery feed that can be accessed by swiping right from the home screen — a feature clearly designed to encourage users to spend more time inside the browser, and less time using social networks and apps like Twitter which also incorporates a personalised discovery feed to try to keep users within its apps, supplementing its even stickier social content.
Opera has also leveraged its data compression expertise for the Android browser with an “off-road” mode that can be toggled on to reduce data consumption in order to improve browser performance when network coverage is poor, or lower data costs when roaming.
Gestures and a light coloured user interface round out Opera’s offering here. According to Google Play the browser has had between 10 million and 50 million downloads in the past 30 days, and appears to be sustaining users’ interest with no sign of a big drop in interest yet. Its Google Play rating is currently 4.5 stars with close to 350,000 ratings.
AirWatch, the startup that helps businesses manage security and more on employees’ mobile devices, is today announcing that it has raised another $25 million, led by Accel with participation also from Insight Venture Partners. The funds come as part of an expanded Series A round, originally for $200 million, which the company announced with a splash in February during Mobile World Congress. This Series A is the first outside money raised by AirWatch, and values the company at just over $1 billion, according to sources.
Both AirWatch’s CEO, John Marshall, and Ryan Sweeney, the partner who led the round at Accel, tell TechCrunch that this latest expansion of the round was made at the same valuation. It comes just weeks after rival Good Technology raised a $50 million round and is preparing for an IPO.
As with the earlier $200 million, this latest injection will be used to help AirWatch build out its business, add more services, and quite possibly make some acquisitions along the way.
Marshall declined to say what areas acquisitions might be in, other than to note that they would be strategic investments to expand product lines and customers. “I think we will look very carefully at adjacent technology or tuck-in acquisitions,” he told TechCrunch. “I would not want to answer [who they are]. The three companies that I am looking at right now are all doing different things, and I don’t want to tip off our competitors.”
One area where AirWatch sees a particularly bright spot is in what Marshall refers to as “containerization of content,” in which services exist not just to manage whole devices but to be able to make more sophisticated services to partition and control particular services, such as a specific suite of enterprise apps or even one particular area of data. “The largest portion of our business is still in the enterprise mobility management space, including devices as well as apps,” he said. “The growing part of the business is around being able to secure the content in a digital locker. We see a lot of growth in extending that out within our customer base. I can’t emphasize how important this is in our strategy.” It will also lead AirWatch further also into desktop services, supporting not just mobile devices and platforms but the services and PCs used to run things when workers are not running around.
The funding, and AirWatch’s moves to grow, are signs of a consolidation afoot in the area of mobile enterprise services, specifically around mobile device management and the larger “BYOD” trend, where workers are following larger consumer trends using smartphones and tablets to do everything online, and are increasingly bringing in their devices to the office to help them work there, too. Up to now, there have been dozens of companies working in this space, both big (like AirWatch and Good) and small.
“We think this market is going to play out quickly,” said Marshall. “There are haves and have-nots, and we want to be the market leader and continue increasing that separation. Consolidation is absolutely on the cards.”
He also says that will play out not just in terms of services and winning business but also in terms of funding. “The VCs are getting pretty smart and are realizing that the winners are shaping up. That will cut off capital for those players who are not in the leading pack. Some will be acquired, and some will disappear.”
Indeed, Sweeney at Accel agrees on the investing front, but adds that the company is also gearing up to look for more mobile enterprise investments going forward.
“We’re actively looking in mobile enterprise,” he told TechCrunch. “This is the largest investment we’ve made in mobile enterprise to date but [the trend of] folks bringing phones and tablets from home to work and leaving with your PC in your pocket are still growing, so we think mobile enterprise will be a growth area for 3-5 years for sure.”
Marshall says AirWatch is currently adding 500 business per month, which would put its current client base at around 7,500, with some of the bigger names including Delta, Lowe’s; United Airlines; Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); Skanska; PepsiCo; Henry Ford Health System; Mount Sinai Medical Center; Best Buy and Abbott Laboratories. The company boasts four of the top five global Fortune companies; the top four global energy companies; six of the top 10 global airlines; six of the top 10 global pharmaceutical companies; seven of the top 10 global consumer product companies; five of the top 10 global luxury goods companies; two of the top three global hotel groups; nine of the top 10 U.S. retailers and three of the top five U.S. medical device companies.
The Chinese government will reportedly begin issuing 4G licenses (link via Google Translate) by the end of this year or early 2014 at the latest, following news that China Mobile is set to take construction bids for its 4G network as soon as this month. The country’s efforts to build out its TD-LTE network as quickly as possible is a potentially lucrative opportunity for telecom equipment makers, which have been hurt by the sluggish global economy.
In addition to domestic operators like Huawei and ZTE, foreign telecom equipment and chip makers hoping to peg their growth to the expansion of China Mobile’s 4G network include Ericsson, Nokia Siemens, Alcatel-Lucent, Qualcomm and Samsung Electronics.
China Mobile said last month that it will spend 190.2 billion yuan ($30.1 billion) on its networks this year, with about a quarter of that amount earmarked for TD-LTE technology. The company, the world’s biggest telecom operator by subscriber number, is expected to build 200,000 TD-LTE bases, in addition to 110,000 3G bases. China Mobile’s 4G subscriber base is forecast to reach 228.8 million in 2017, representing 52 percent of China’s 439.9 million total 4G users, according to estimates by IHS iSuppli.))
Ericsson, the world’s largest 4G vendor, is especially eager to grab a bigger slice of China’s 4G market. “We are not satisfied with the results Ericsson achieved in China Mobile’s first-round 4G bidding last year,” said Mats H. Olsson, senior VP of Ericsson Asia-Pacific, during February’s Mobile World Congress. “In the past Ericsson paid a lot of attention to countries including the United States, Japan and South Korea and mainly focused on the deployment of FDD-LTE networks. Now we have turned our sights on China and TD-LTE technology.”
Domestic telecom operators ZTE and Huawei are expected to land the most 4G network contracts with China’s three major carriers (China Mobile, China Unicom, China Telecom), however, because they enjoy backing from the Chinese government. Securing contracts is especially important for ZTE because its performance has been lagging behind Huawei.
It is still unclear whether China Mobile and China Telecom will operate TD-LTE networks together or separately, as the rival companies would prefer. China’s third major telecom operator, China Unicom, wants to hold on to 3G TD-SCDMA as long as possible because it has yet to recoup its 100 billion yuan ($16.3 billion) investment in the slower speed network, which it began building in 2007. TD-LTE’s predecessor TD-SCDMA was originally developed to become a global 3G standard, but its use was ultimately limited to China.
Mozilla was keen to talk up the 3.0 version of its Firefox OS simulator back in March, but didn’t have much to share about when eager developers could start fiddling with it. Thankfully for HTML5 buffs, that six-week quiet period is over — the team just announced on the official Mozilla Hacks blog that the newly updated simulator is now available to download.
All of the features that appeared in the preview release are accounted for — think support for rotating displays and a mock geolocation API for testing location-aware apps — but the simulator suite has been polished a bit since we last saw it. Most of those tweaks are housekeeping changes: the size of the download has been reduced, which has led to snappier boot times, and the simulator now supports common OS shortcuts like Cmd + Q to shut down, but the simulator has also been updated to run newer versions of Firefox OS and the Gaia user interface layer.
With that said, prospective Firefox OS developers will probably use one simulator feature more than any other: the ability to push work-in-progress applications to connected test devices. Mozilla and its hardware partners Huawei, LG, and ZTE (who showed off its first FFOS device at Mobile World Congress) have been pointing to device launches in Brazil, Colombia, Hungary, Mexico, Poland, Serbia, Spain and Venezuela later this year, but the quality of the experiences found on those phones will ultimately determine whether or not Firefox OS flops.
Even so, strong early sales of Firefox OS developer devices may point to a promising official launch for the first set of consumer-facing phones later this year. Just look at Spanish hardware OEM startup Geeksphone — it began selling its Keon and Peak reference devices for $119 and $194, respectively, late last month, and the company was forced to limit the number of handsets sold that on launch day so the 20-person team could keep up with shipping.
That’s a promising start especially for a company as young as Geeksphones, but there’s no question that Firefox OS is going to face some serious competition in its launch markets. Android powers a staggering number of cheap smartphones, and Nokia has refocused its efforts to build low-cost devices based both on Windows Phone and the aging Series 40 OS. Meanwhile, persistent rumors of a low-cost iPhone continue to make the rounds — Firefox OS seemed like a novel option for new and adventurous smartphone owners when I first played with it, but we’ll have to see how the rest of the industry responds.
LG’s Optimus G successor, the G Pro, is coming to AT&T on May 10 with pre-orders beginning May 3, the companies revealed in a press release today. LG’s Optimus G Pro offers a 1.7GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, a 5.5-inch 1920×1080 display with a pixel density of 400ppi, and a 13 megapixel rear-facing camera. The G Pro will be available on a two-year agreement for $199.99, and packs AT&T 4G LTE cellular connectivity.
Chris checked out the G Pro back in February at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and came away with a decidedly positive overall impression. The phone’s high points seem to be its camera and light and slim design, as well as a built-in IR blaster that means it can operate as a universal remote for you TV and other home electronics.
The phone’s arrival was hardly a surprise, having been leaked earlier by Android Central, which pegged the exact date. Then LG announced an event for today, May 1, and went on to confirm that this would indeed be about the Optimus G Pro late in April.
For LG, it’s a phone that follows the Optimus G, a flagship device that has done fairly well so far, hitting the 1 million sales mark back in January of this year, after a release in September 2012. The G also provided the basic groundwork for Google’s Nexus 4 Android reference device, which reached 1 million in handset sales in February, according to an estimate based on serial numbers calculated by Nexus 4 owners.
The G Pro will be going up against the extremely well-reviewed HTC One, and the Android juggernaut, Samsung’s Galaxy S4, so it’s got a lot to compete with. But for fans of the last two major LG-made devices, this looks to be decently attractive upgrade.