Tech Roundup: Apple's Record Quarter, Snapchat Discover & More

[A recurring feature on the latest in Science & Technology.]

OnePlus all set for OxygenOS on Feb 12 (Image: OnePlus Forums)
Apple has a monster of a quarter; sells record number of iPhones:
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, must be a very happy man these days. After all, the tech giant behind game-changing products such as the iPod, iPhone and iPad has posted the biggest ever quarterly earnings in its entire history. Sorry, scratch that. The largest quarterly profit ever for any company, energy firms included. Just imagine, US$ 18 billion in net profit and record-breaking revenues of US$ 74.6 billion. Wow! The awe-inspiring quarterly performance, while definitely one for the record-books, unsurprisingly also revealed the one single reason behind this monster of a success: the iPhone. Sorry again. The bigger iPhone.

Apple chose to remain mum, as is its custom, on the country and model-wise sales numbers, even then it's fairly reasonable to assume that the bigger iPhone models, iPhone 6 and 6+, and China (at the expense of Samsung and other Android players) played a huge role in it selling 74.5 million smartphones (equivalent to the number of smartphones sold by Samsung!) in a single quarter. The company, which had for a long time taken immense pride in the iPhone's one handed usability, finally gave in to public demand by releasing two bigger iPhones last year, and the bet seems to have paid off not only in attracting old and new users to its ecosystem, but also in successfully shaking up the Android big-sized flagships.

Having said that, isn't too much money now riding on a single product? iPhone has been an insanely good business for Apple and will always be (at least until the next breakout product), even if it ends up cannibalising the sales of iPads, like it did this quarter (Plus, iPads also have a longer shelf life when compared to an iPhone. I'm still using my 3rd generation iPad for that matter and it's going to be three years!). To put it in other way, is Apple ready enough to tackle peak iPhone? What will it diversify to? Apple Pay and its enterprise oriented partnership with IBM are perhaps some of the steps in that direction. What of the Apple Watch then? Does the much-anticipated fashion accessory-cum-smartwatch, set for launch this April, have the potential to become the next big thing from the tech-giant? Only time will tell.

Microsoft reportedly to invest in Cyanogen:
This is an interesting situation. Is it not? Microsoft, maker of Windows OS, investing in a company that develops a rival operating system? While both the companies have declined to comment on the development, Wall Street Journal is reporting that strategic investors are eagerly backing Cyanogen in an attempt to diminish Google's control over Android (emphasis added). Yes, you read that right! Google, for its part, has been slowly but steadily tightening its grip over the open-sourced mobile operating system by moving more and more pieces of Android from AOSP to Play Store/Services (as excellently put by Ron Amadeo from Ars Technica), and the very words from Kirt McMaster, CEO of Cyanogen Inc., that "We're going to take Android away from Google" makes it very clear.

Cyanogen, maker of a modified version of Android called CyanogenMod, found itself in a hot soup not long back after OnePlus's plans to launch its popular CyanogenMod-based One smartphone in India was thwarted by Micromax, which revealed details of its deal with Cyanogen to exclusively sell smartphones running their OS in the country. Following the bitter fallout, OnePlus has announced plans to ditch CyanogenMod and unveil its own forked version of Android AOSP called OxygenOS come February 12.

Facebook now wants you to be on Facebook even at work:
Facebook wants to be everywhere. Just like Google is at present. The dominant social network, increasingly spreading its wings into high-growth markets like Asia and Africa via its app, giving people living there a first taste of what Internet looks like (and hence by extension hook them into their ever-growing user base), now wants to be your professional social network too. Called Facebook at Work, the web/smartphone app will function as a collaboration tool in your office to share documents and data instead of relying on the conventional electronic mail, reports the Wall Street Journal. With the app already open to a select few companies as a closed beta at present, it remains to be seen if Facebook's latest attempt has enough arsenal to give sleepless nights to LinkedIn, Slack, Microsoft and the newly announced Amazon WorkMail!

That's not all however. It's no surprise that Facebook wants it be your one-stop destination for almost everything, right from catching up with your friends to news, to games to purchases to watching videos and whatnot. What it has newly stepped into is a Google Now/Foursquare-like territory with a feature called Place Tips. By tracking your location from cellphone networks, Wi-Fi, GPS and Facebook BlueTooth beacons, the company hopes to serve you fun, useful and relevant info about the place you're at, reads the company's blog post. It also added that it will be testing place tips (available only for iPhone users at the moment) in the coming weeks at various places around New York City.

Snapchat ventures into news and content discovery:
Snapchat, which made ephemeral messaging a household name with its vaporising missives, will soon begin to serve its users with editorial and multimedia content from various major brands like CNN, ESPN, National Geographic and many more. Called Discover, the feature will also be a new avenue for advertising, the company said. Happy Discovering!

In other news:
  • Only five northern white rhinoceros (one lone male) are left in the world as the critically endangered species inches towards extinction; scientists race against time to develop in vitro fertilisation techniques in a last-ditch attempt.
  • Google plugs in third party apps into its intelligent personal assistant Google Now as noted earlier by Android Police, making it all the more powerful.
  • Samsung and HTC to release their next generation flagship smartphones Galaxy S6 and One M9 respectively at Mobile World Congress, Barcelona starting 2nd of March.
  • Apple releases iOS 8.1.3 update that reduces the insane amount of free space required for iOS updates among other security fixes.
  • Microsoft rebrands its recently acquired email app Acompli as Outlook on Android and iOS.
  • Former Motorola CEO (and current Dropbox COO) Dennis Woodside reveals that the dimple at the back of Google Nexus 6 smartphone was originally intended for a fingerprint scanner; says the plan had to be nixed following Apple's acquisition of fingerprint sensor developer Authentec back in July 2012.
  • Online retail giant Amazon has a surprise profitable quarter thanks to its premium content delivery service Amazon Prime; intros Amazon Web Services-based WorkMail to take on enterprise email services Outlook 365, Slack and Google Gmail.
  • Popular Chinese handset maker Xiaomi shows off Mi Note and Mi Note Pro phablets to take on Apple's iPhone 6/6+ juggernaut.
  • Microsoft's Denim update to Windows Phone OS arrives with big camera improvements.
  • Popular social network Facebook releases Facebook Lite for Android mainly targeting the developing markets; drastically reduces the app's storage requirements.
  • Google announces a strategic reset of its high-tech eyewear Google Glass at its quarterly earnings call.