HTC’s woes continue with arrests and alleged Chinese government conspiracy

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HTC’s former VP of Product Design Thomas Chien (photo: HTC blog)

Taiwanese company HTC has not been having a happy time of late. Senior departures, including its COO; a halving of market share since 2011; former UK execs setting up a rival company; disappointing Q2 financials; and the possibility of the first ever loss in the company’s history in Q3.

But the latest saga in the company’s troubles read more like the plot of a soap opera than real-life. First, several of HTC’s former lead designers were arrested last week on suspicion of fraudulent expenses claims and leaking of trade secrets. Now Engadget reports that one of those arrested, ex-VP of Product Design Thomas Chien, may have been involved in a conspiracy with a Chinese municipal government to use both the trade secrets are purloined cash to create a rival smartphone company in China …  Read more

Google apparently slips unannounced Nexus phone in its KitKat video

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Earlier today, Google announced its upcoming Android 4.4 KitKat software update. In tandem with the announcement, Google posted a video that showcases the unveiling of the KitKat statue at the company’s headquarters.

At about 38-39 seconds into the video (embedded below), a Google employee is seen taking photos or video recording the statue with an unknown Nexus device (on the left).

Close-up shot

Close-up shot, click for larger

The backplate seems similar to that found on the new Nexus 7, and the camera lens appears to be larger than the current-generation Nexus 4. Speaking of the camera, Google executive Vic Gundotra previously hinted at major advances in the Android camera department:

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The unannounced phone also appears larger in size, so perhaps the new device will sport a bigger screen.

The next Nexus phone is rumored to debut in Q4. The video below has been pulled since this report was published, perhaps indicating that this was a true leak.

Here’s a copy of the video:

And here’s the new phone blown up:

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Thanks, Michael!

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Android 4.4 has a name: KitKat

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Google’s SVP of Android, Sundar Pichai just announced over 1 billion Android activations and the name of the next Android operating system on Twitter. Android 4.4 will be named after the Nestlé KitKat bar. A giant “chocolate” Android statue has also appeared alongside the previous Android mascots on Google’s campus.

As far as the changes in Android 4.4, Google says they are trying to “make an amazing Android experience available for everybody,” but so far there’s no indication of what that actually means.

To celebrate, Nestlé and Google have teamed up to giveaway a Nexus 7 and Google Play Store credits in specially-marked Kit Kat bars.

Galaxy Gear smart watch photos confirmed as prototype as more details emerge

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GigaOM has confirmed suspicions that the leaked photos of the Galaxy Gear smart watch were indeed of a prototype device made available to developers. The actual device being launched on Wednesday will be a much more finished product.

Battery-life was also added to the things we now know about the watch.

  • High quality OLED displays will show the full spectrum of colors.
  • The display will be around 2.5 inches diagonally (and 3 inches diagonally including the case.)
  • It will be powered by a dual core processor, probably a Samsung Exynos 4212 dual core 1.5GHz with Mali-400 MP4 GPU.
  • It has a camera and a microphone integrated into the strap and even tiny speakers.
  • It has Built in NFC and Bluetooth 4.0 LE
  • The Gear is powered by Android 4.3, with keyboard featured turned off.
  • The device won’t have a browser and will need the phone to tether to the Internet.
  • It will need a Samsung device with a watch-focused app store to install apps on the watch.
  • It has a built-in accelerometer and other sensors that will allow it to act has a quantified self device.
  • Expect battery power to be 24 hours with modest use, but around 10 hours with more active usage …  Read more

Purported photos of Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy Gear fitness-oriented watch leak out

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As Samsung’s September 4th unveiling of its Galaxy Gear smart watch approaches, some purported photos of the device have been obtained by VentureBeat. The device is expected to carry a 2.5-inch display, dual-core processor, and fitness functionality.

According to VentureBeat‘s report the watch is a “smartphone companion” that is meant to compete in a world of Nike Fuel Band-like devices. The design is described as fairly basic:

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Google reportedly acquired WIMM Labs for its Android smartwatch/wearable platform

WIMM One Module

Google has reportedly acquired WIMM Labs, the company that first introduced us to its 1-inch, Android-powered wearable platform back in 2011.WIMM stopped offering its open Developer Kit for its “WIMM One” platform back in the summer of 2012, noting on its website that it had “entered into an exclusive, confidential relationship” for the technology. According to a report from GigaOm, that’s because Google quietly picked up the company last year to help work on its own wearable products:

At the time, some publications speculated that Apple may have snatched up WIMM Labs to bolster its iWatch efforts, but GigaOM has now learned that the buyer actually was Google. The acquisition was facilitated by Woodside Capital Partners, and it looks like a significant part of WIMM’s staff stayed on to join Google. Most of WIMM’s senior staff still list their original company on their Linkedin profile, but a few have updated it with a mention of their new employer.

The news comes just as Samsung is about to introduce its new Galaxy Gear smartwatch product and as rumors of Apple releasing a smartwatch or similar wearable product continue to heat up. According to the report, which Google is yet to confirm, the talent picked up from WIMM is currently working with Google’s Android team. There is no mention of Google working on a smart watch product specifically, and, while the 1-inch WIMM One platform might be best suited to the wrist watch form factor, there is a possibility Google could put the tech towards other wearable products. Read more

Samsung Galaxy NX Camera available in the US starting October for $1,599/$1,699 w/lens

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Samsung announced today that the new Galaxy NX camera that it first showed off at a London event back in June will soon become available in the US after landing in the UK this month. Starting October, you’ll be able to pick one up for a hefty $1,599 (body only) or $1,699 with the bundled 18-55mm lens. This is the first time Samsung, or just about any big camera manufacturer, has released a professional mirrorless camera system running a full-blown Android OS. The device follows the more consumer friendly and less expensive compact Samsung Galaxy Camera it introduced last year. To navigate through the Android 4.2.2 UI, the Galaxy NX packs in a 4.8″ HD TFT LCD touchscreen display, 1.6GHz quad core processor with separate image signalling processor, hybrid autofocus, and a 20.3mp sensor. The device will also support 13 interchangeable lenses from the NX line and a brand new 10mm fish eye lens. And what good would an Android camera be without built-in Wifi and LTE capabilities? The Samsung Galaxy NX is definitely an interesting move for Samsung and we plan on bringing you a full review of the device soon.  Read more

Hugo Barra resigns from position at Google, will join China’s Xiaomi

Image: Wired.com

Image: Wired.com

According to a new report from AllThingsD, citing “sources in position to know”, one of Google’s top Android executives is leaving the company. The report states that Hugo Barra, who was the vice president of product management for Android, will soon be departing the company to join Chinese phone maker Xiaomi. Xiaomi produces its own high-end Android-based devices, though with a heavy custom skin on top. Barra originally joined Google in 2008 as a group product manager, having previously worked for speech firm Nuance, and has moved up the totem pole since then.

This news comes on the heels of Andy Rubin, the creator Android, stepping down from his position earlier this year. Given that Android is Google’s top product right now, Barra’s decision, especially when coupled with Rubin’s departure, will undoubtedly cause some tension within the company. Barra often appeared on stage at Google events, most recently at the second-generation Nexus 7 unveil.

AllThingsD also says that Barra tendered his resignation only recently, but that it was before he ended a romantic relationship with another Google employe. It is now believed that Sergey Brin, who recently split from his wife, is currently involved with Barra’s ex.  Sticky.

Update: Barra’s G+ statement:

A new Android chapter

After nearly 5½ years at Google and almost 3 years as a member of the Android team — the most amazing group of people I’ve ever worked with in my life — I have decided to start a new career chapter.

In a few weeks, I’ll be joining the Xiaomi team in China to help them expand their incredible product portfolio and business globally — as Vice President, Xiaomi Global.  I’m really looking forward to this new challenge, and am particularly excited about the opportunity to continue to help drive the Android ecosystem.

It has been an amazing ride and true honor to be part of the Android team at Google, and I especially want to thank +Andy Rubin , +Hiroshi Lockheimer , +Sundar Pichai and +Vic Gundotra for their phenomenal support and mentorship over the years.

+Android team, I will truly miss you all!

Sundar Pinchai’s statement:
Congratulations to Hugo on his exciting new adventure. We’ll miss him at Google but we’re thrilled that he’s sticking with Android. Best wishes Hugo!

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Google drops Nexus 4 price to just $199 for 8GB, $249 for 16GB

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Google has just announced that it is cutting the price of its Nexus 4 in Australia, Canada, Germany, Spain, Korea, the United States, and the UK. The device now runs just $199 for 8GB of storage and $249 for 16GB in the United States. Previously, it was priced at $299 for 8GB and $349 for 16GB.

Even though the Nexus 4 was released nearly a year ago, it’s still very solid smartphone, and will continue to get updates directly from Google for a long time to come. The device is powered by a 1.5GHz Quad-Core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor with 2GB of RAM and an 8MP camera.

Google is expected to announce a new Nexus device sometime this fall, though exact details still remain up in the air. Some rumors point to Motorola manufacturing the device, while others claim that it will be LG again.

At the same price as many phones are on-contract, the $199 off-contract Nexus 4 is a great deal. It’s available on Google Play now and will ship within 1-2 business days, though that may change depending on demand. Read more

AT&T’s Moto X now available to purchase directly through MotoMaker, $579 off-contract, ships in 8 days

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Five days after arriving on AT&T, Motorola announced today that its new Moto X flagship smartphone is now available to purchase directly through its Moto Maker website. Previously customers were forced to purchase the device through AT&T and enter a code on the Moto Maker site to start the customization process. Starting today, Motorola will allow AT&T customers to purchase the device directly through the Moto Maker site for $199 (16GB) or $299 (32GB) on contract, and it’s also making the device available without a contract for $579 (16GB) or $629 (32GB). While Motorola originally planned to ship devices ordered through Moto Maker in 4 days, the site is currently quoting a shipping time of 8 days.

The Moto Maker tool is the standout feature of the Moto X, allowing users to choose from over 2000 customization options for back, front and accent colors, unique wallpapers, and engraving. Unfortunately, we found out earlier this month that engraving won’t be available initially due to some manufacturing issues.

Verizon announced that Moto X would arrive in black and white on August 29, but the Moto Maker customization tool remains and exclusive to AT&T. Other major US carriers are expected to start carrying the Moto X by early September.  Read more