What the HTC Google Deal Means for Android

What the HTC Google Deal Means for Android

Google has announced that it will be purchasing part of HTC for $1.1 billion, in a move that will also include up to 2,000 HTC employees and most of the Pixel team.

In the official blog post, Rick Osterloh, Senior Vice President of Hardware at Google, outlined that, “These future fellow Googlers are amazing folks we’ve already been working with closely on the Pixel smartphone line, and we’re excited to see what we can do together as one team,” He went on to state that “The deal also includes a non-exclusive license for HTC intellectual property.”

With this deal, Google is gaining talented staff that know the market and better knowledge of the Pixel phone line and how it can be improved. Compared to the Motorola deal, this is more an acquisition of talent than a brand, but the state of the Android market is currently in a very different place ensuring Google can capitalize on the purchase far better than it has with past acquisitions.

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Google Pixel

“The fragmented user experience of Android phones and the increasingly mute voice of Google in this market demands them to raise their stakes and engage more with manufacturers of devices to show more ambition and offer a credible vision for the future,” explained John Baptista, Associate Professor of Information Systems at Warwick Business School.

“This deal with HTC shows confidence that Google has the ideas internally to drive this process, but needs to work more tightly with manufacturers to develop a more consistent experience between the phone and other devices such as wearables, home automation, car automation, as well as increasingly work related applications and integration with office systems.

With the Android marketplace so fragmented and only an estimated 13 per cent running on Nougat, it is clear Google has to step in and help the market find its footing.

“Executing its vision in partnership with HTC will set a reference for other manufacturers that use their platform and explain to its users how and why they should continue to engage with Google’s products,” Baptista told CGMagazine.

Both Apple and Google have built powerful operating systems that offer users a deep and diverse experience, yet the market is fragmented and there is no clear, dominant brand that represents Android. This move by Google to move things in-house will help the consumer feel confident that Google will update the devices and present them with the best possible offering of the OS.

The need for Google to step into the world of AR (augmented reality) further exemplifies why controlling all aspects of how the hardware talks to the software is important going forward. Apple has made a giant leap in the space with the ARKit, and while Google does have ARCore, it simply has not generated the buzz that Apple has already garnered in that space.

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Google I/O

“Augmented reality and virtual reality look increasingly to be the future for mobile, so it might be that Google needs to work more tightly with chip manufacturers to develop the hardware in conjunction with their software to deliver AR and VR capabilities,” Baptista said.

While this acquisition makes sense for Google, the advantage to HTC is still unclear. The company has had a solid relationship with Android since the earliest devices—such as the HTC Dream and the Nexus One phone—yet even with all this attention on Android, HTC has fallen out of favour in recent years with Samsung now controlling around 20% of the global smartphone market share.

HTC’s move into VR with the HTC Vive has also not panned out as intended. While the HTC Vive is one of the top-selling VR headsets, HTC has is looking to sell off the division or spin it off into a separate company, according to Bloomberg. It is unclear if this is still in the cards with this latest Google deal, but it is a sign that the company needs major restructuring to find a footing in highly competitive consumer spaces like gaming and smartphones.

On the other hand, this deal could inject some much-needed capital into HTC, giving it the freedom to expand its lineups and give it the credibility it needs to set itself apart from other competitors in the market.

“With this collaboration HTC could be associated with the next main competitor of the iPhone and potentially gain new competencies which strengthen their credibility and value.” he further explains that while it is “not an immediate fix but certainly potential for a brighter future for HTC,” Baptista outlines.

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Another aspect to consider is what other manufacturers will think of such an arrangement. With Google relying on third parties to make phones on the Android platform, it may hamper plans to further expand Android lineups.

“The immediate reaction of other manufacturers may be that HTC will gain an advantage compared to them, but both Google and HTC know that they need to show that their partnership will not threaten the success of their platform and relationships with other manufacturers,” Baptista explained.

“And that instead, will be used to push Android development and product development to better compete with Apple in mobile and other devices. From this development will emerge new standards and technical specifications for better integration of new features such as AR and VR, facial recognition, security etc. and connections with other devices such as more advanced LTE watches. Google and HTC will lead the development of these, which for other manufacturers is great if they can then benefit from this R&D too,” Baptista said.

One thing is clear, this move will help Google push the Android platform in the right direction. With a strong set of hardware and software that is updated and maintained by the company, it will only help Android as a brand and as a platform. Apple being tightly tied to the software and hardware has an advantage in the space, and with this move, Google makes a big step to closing that gap.

HTC Vive (Hardware) Review

HTC Vive (Hardware) Review

If you’re thinking about picking up a virtual reality headset and aren’t sure if you should get the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive, get the Vive. The Vive has so many advantages over its competitor the Oculus Rift that it already feels like a generation ahead.

While the Rift currently offers only sitting and basic standing experiences, the Vive has room-scale VR and it is a game changer. What this means is that you can walk freely around a predetermined space in your room as long as the lengthy cable on the headset can reach. The headset and (included) custom controllers are tracked in real-time with extreme precision. You also don’t have to worry about walking into a wall, as the Chaperone feature will cause a wireframe outline of your space pop-up in front of you when you near the edge.

Hardware Review: HTC Vive 6

This ability works via two base stations that have to be in corners of your room facing each other—be they wall mounted, on tripods, or otherwise. I mounted mine with strong velcro strips and placed some pillows underneath them just in case the strips didn’t hold, but after about a month they are still holding strong.

The controllers for the Vive are something totally different from any controller you’ve used, yet quickly becomes second nature. Each controller has a trigger on the back, a touch pad, a menu button, a Steam button, and grip buttons on each side of the controller. The touchpad is a hard plastic surface that tracks your finger similar to a trackpad, and also works as a physical button. The triggers are placed in such a way that pulling them feels more like pulling an actual trigger on a gun compared to how other controllers feel, though the amount of pressure needed is similar to what you’re already used to. Overall the controllers are quite comfortable and benefit from having rechargeable batteries, though time will tell how these batteries function after hundreds of recharges.

Hardware Review: HTC Vive 1

As HTC partnered with Valve in creating the Vive, you’ll be doing everything through Steam via the Steam VR software, which is far slicker than Oculus Home. Being on Steam also means you get access to a lot more games than Oculus Home, though one could argue that is due to Steam’s seemingly non-existent quality control. While there is already over 200 pieces of content available, many of the experiences are subpar at best. Currently, it seems like a lot of developers are focusing on making games where each controller controls a separate gun, and you’re meant to spin in circles shooting enemies as they advance at you. The genre already feels oversaturated and stale, even after existing for only a month.

Hardware Review: HTC Vive

However, there are a few standout titles available for the Vive such as The Gallery Episode 1: Call of the Starseed, a Speilberg-like first-person, puzzle adventure game with fantastic voice-acting, a catchy soundtrack and a talented cast of voice actors. For those looking for something a bit more relaxed, there’s the cute puzzler Fantastic Contraption that has players building vehicles to reach goals across the level. If you’re feeling artistic, Google’s Tilt Brush allows you draw in 3D space and create entire room-sized drawings you can walk through in virtual reality.

While the Vive has more commercial software available for it, nothing feels quite like a complete game or full-fledged experience you’d expect on any other platform whereas the Rift does offer a few titles that feel complete. This is most likely due to the Rift having kits in developer’s hands for a long time versus the relatively short turn time for the Vive to go from development to retail. The lack of any ‘killer’ game or software is really the only thing holding back the Vive right now, but with time that gap will be filled. In the meantime, Vive owners can play Rift games on their device via the free Revive software created by talented modders if they so wish.

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HTC Vive is hands-down the better of the two currently available VR headsets overall. It fits more comfortably, comes with custom controllers, has room-scale tracking, runs on Steam, and doesn’t seem to have those pesky ‘god ray’ distortions that the Rift is known to have. If you’ve got a powerful enough computer, a big enough room, enough money ($799 USD) and are ready to buy into virtual reality, the Vive is the way to go.  For those on the fence I’d suggest you wait and see what the future holds software-wise and how long it will be before the inevitable second iteration hits the market.

AMD looking to the future with VR

AMD looking to the future with VR

The tech giant AMD released their 2015 Q4 earnings this week which showed an overall loss in revenue. They expect their computing and graphics sectors to pick up speed with the release of VR headsets and the growing console community.

AMD made $958 million in revenue in Q4, which is 10 per cent less than their previous year. The company says that the primary cause for the decline is a lack of CPU sales.

Despite an operating loss of $49 million, AMD’s computing and graphics sectors grew 11 per cent with strong sales of both their Radeon 300 series graphics cards and APUs.

AMD looking to the future with VR 4“We expect this momentum to continue throughout 2016 as Oculus and HTC begin shipping consumer-ready VR headsets,” said President and CEO of AMD, Lisa Su. “The buzz and interest in VR is an exciting trend that is focusing the software industry’s attention and some of its brightest minds back on the PC platform.”

The company aims to win customers back in the declining PC market with their new line of high-performance energy efficient GPUs designed with VR applications in mind. These new cards are expected to ship in the middle of 2016.

AMD, in partnership with Microsoft and Sony, moved more than 50 million semi-custom APUs, a shipping record for the company. AMD says they have plans to continue generating additional revenue from new semi-custom business in the second half of the year.

AMD expects a loss in revenue for the first-half of 2016 due to seasonality of the PC and gaming markets. Despite this, AMD set out goals in the hopes to return to profitability by the end of the year.