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Summer fun: Android 4.3 leaks, Google gadget rumors

Jul 1, 2013  |  Eric Brown
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Android 4.3 firmware for the Samsung Galaxy S4 was leaked, revealing new features like battery-friendly WiFi hotspot searching and a more power-stingy version of Bluetooth. Meanwhile, a Wall Street Journal report suggests Google is working on its own Android-based game console, as well as a smartwatch and a new version of the Nexus Q media player, and is prepping new low-end smartphones for emerging markets.

It appears that Google will soon announce the next iteration of Android “Jelly Bean.” On June 28, SamMobile posted a leaked pre-release ROM destined for the U.S. version of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Google Play edition, running Android 4.3. SamMobile modified the build slightly to be compatible with the existing, non-LTE European GT-i9505 version of the Galaxy S4.



SamMobile Android 4.3 screenshots
(click images to enlarge)

 

The Android 4.3 release is incremental, but offers several welcome new features, as reported by Android Central, which posted a video tour. The site confirms earlier reports that the UI has remained largely unchanged, with most of the changes occurring internally.

Key new Android 4.3 enhancements are said to include Bluetooth Low Energy support for improved battery life using Bluetooth. Also new is a WiFi option that lets Google location services scan for WiFi networks even when the WiFi is turned off. This battery saving feature joins other new “battery-friendly” location APIs shown at the Google I/O 2013 keynote.

New phone and messaging features include the ability to add two-second pauses to a dialing string, enable dialpad autocomplete functionality, and change tone lengths. There’s also a previously tipped camera app with a revised UI, as well as other minor enhancements to multi-word SSID names and screenshot sharing, says the story.

Developer-focused options include the ability to monitor GPU rendering to test for frame rate, and new debug options for Android’s non-rectangular clipping feature. Android Central also noticed a “revoke USB debugging authorization” button for onboard deletion of RSA keys, and a mysterious “use experimental WebView” option.
 

Google game console, smartwatch coming

Google is developing a game console and a smartwatch based on Android, and is taking a second shot at its shelved Nexus Q media streaming device, according to a June 28 report in The Wall Street Journal. The Journal’s Google report, which was attributed to “people familiar with the matter,” offered no details on the products. The Google game console and smartwatch are being developed in response to similar products under development at Apple, say the Journal’s sources.

Both Apple and Google have seen how the Xbox has helped Microsoft ward off declining sales of Windows productivity software, and no doubt would like to match that success. Recently, a number of third parties have developed Android game consoles, including the handheld Nvidia Shield (image at right) and the open source Ouya, which recently shipped to mostly negative reviews.

A Google-branded game console may also be another attempt at the digital TV market, where the Android-based Google TV platform continues to struggle. (Vizio’s Co-star Google TV device is shown on the left.)

Google is also prepping a new version of the spherical Nexus Q media player device (shown on the right) designed for TV integration. Announced a year ago for $299, the Android-based device was slammed in reviews, and never shipped beyond pre-order fulfillment. It was recently discontinued on Google Play.

The Google smartwatch has been rumored for several months now. In the meantime, third parties have been spinning their own Android smartwatches, including Sony, which recently reprised its Android-based Sony Smartwatch (pictured on the left). Smartwatches are also expected from Apple and Samsung, the only company to publicly announce it is working on a wristwatch computer. Microsoft may also be in the hunt. The Apple model will be called the iWatch, according to a second Journal story, which reported that Apple recently applied for a trademark on the name in Japan.
 

Key Lime Pie to target emerging markets?

In other revelations of Google’s plans, the Wall Street Journal reported that the search and advertising giant is wrapping up development on “the next version of Android, which is expected to be released in the fall.” The release is said to be “better tailored to the lower-cost smartphones prevalent in developing countries.” According to the report, this is not the incremental Android 4.3 release, but the major new “Key Lime Pie” version, which we assume will be called Android 5.0.

The story adds that Google is developing several low-end Android smartphones of its own for developing markets. Presumably, the focus on developing markets aims to ward off potential competition from Firefox OS (image at right), Jolla Sailfish OS, Tizen, and Ubuntu Touch, all of which are aiming, at varying degrees, at the same new budget-conscious consumers. Today, Spanish carrier Telefonica announced that on June 2, it would start selling the world’s first Firefox OS phone, the ZTE Open, for 69 Euros, or about $90. The price includes a 4GB microSD card, as well as a prepaid balance of 30 Euros.

Finally, the Journal’s sources said that Key Lime Pie “will give manufacturers such as Samsung greater freedom to use Android in devices other than smartphones and tablets, such as appliances and wearable devices,” says the report. Considering that Android is freely available to vendors who are already building it into a wide range of embedded devices, including wearable smartwatches and other embedded devices, this may instead refer to the licensing of popular Google apps for those devices or other adjustments to license agreements with major Android vendors. Another possibility is that it pertains to technology specific to the Google Glass eyewear computer.

Oh, and while we’ve got your attention Google announced an update for the Google Glass firmware (pictured at the top-left corner of this post) today.
 

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