Tech Roundup: Google Anti-trust, Project Fi & More

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

Ecosystem Battle and Google's anti-trust case in EU:
Like it or not, the ecosystem battle is raging like never before. Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon and to a lesser extent Yahoo! are all behind the 'big data' gold rush, trying as much to lock us in to their 'walled' ecosystem of apps and services in the process. While some are free and some are not, switching between ecosystems is not only time-consuming, but also sometimes expensive. What if an app or a service that you use the most is free on one platform, but costs on another, or even worse, is not even available? Will that affect your next smartphone purchase? Probably, unless you don't mind paying the developer for the efforts he put in to develop the app or you're aware of an alternative that can substitute for your favourite app's absence. Like for instance choosing Google Drive in place of iCloud when switching from iOS to Android. But how practical is this?

Apple in fact is betting on this one single 'lock-in' factor (i.e. iTunes/iCloud) to entice you into purchasing its latest Apple Watch, which in addition to being cleverly marketed as a fashion cum luxury cum fitness accessory requires an iPhone to function unlike Fitbit or even a Microsoft Band for that matter. Google's Android powered smartwatches are no different either, but with rumours of iOS support floating in the air, you never know. (Whether Apple would allow such a thing is another matter altogether, as it recently rejected an app for declaring Pebble support which it later labelled a mistake.) Cross-platform compatibility after all is very crucial. Just ask Microsoft and Yahoo!, both of which have strategically and whole-heartedly (or out of no other choice) gone the cross-platform way in the ever changing tech landscape to lure in more users. And it's working too!

Microsoft, buoyed by its partnership with Samsung and Dell to bundle Microsoft apps on their Android devices and with cloud storage service Dropbox to tightly integrate its Office apps, recently announced a similar collaboration with Cyanogen as well. All of which brings me to back to Google, which has once again become an anti-trust target, like the Microsoft before it, in the European Union, with the European Commission formally charging the Mountain View-based search giant of indulging in anti-competitive practices by bundling its own services into the core of Android operating system. It has also accused Google of abusing its monopoly in the search engine market to rank its own services favourably in search results and thereby hence diverting traffic from its rivals. The EU's latter move comes after its failed efforts to secure a settlement with Google by forcing it to alter its search results page last year. Google has 10 weeks to respond to EU's allegations.

Android Lollipop isn't perfect:
It's almost an year since Google officially unveiled the Material Design-themed Android Lollipop, and while it's heartening to see app developers embrace the new design paradigm with much enthusiasm, what baffles me completely is Google itself, which is still yet to bless some of its Android apps with a Material Design makeover (Hangouts, Google Authenticator to name a few). And the lesser said about the inconsistent navigation drawer (it's almost fixed now with Newsstand's latest update), scroll bar and share menu behaviour across various apps and the Holo-inspired What's This Song? sound search widget, the better! Thankfully, it's not just me who's nitpicking. The folks over at Android Police have torn apart Lollipop from top to bottom, revealing its imperfect, not so colourful side. Read it here.

Twitter stocks crash after early earnings leak:
Micro-blogging social network site Twitter has been of late battling a sluggish user base growth, causing it to unleash a variety of measures, from promoted tweets to auto-playing video ads, to increase its revenue, especially post its IPO. The company, which had scheduled to release its quarterly earnings after New York Stock Exchange closed for April 28th, came in for a shock when Selerity, a data mining firm that periodically crawls various websites to see if earnings results are posted online, took to... Twitter to break the news an hour early that the company missed estimates and that its user base increased to 302 million. As the bad news trickled in, Twitter's shares began to tumble by as much as 18 percent, leading it to halt trading and preemptively announce the results.

In other news:
  • In a world first, Chinese researchers edit DNA of fertilised human embryo; triggers ethical debate.
  • NASA's New Horizons probe to Pluto snaps the first ever colour image of the planetoid and its moon Charon.
  • Hubble Space Telescope celebrates its 25th anniversary.
  • NASA's Messenger space probe slams into Mercury on April 30 after running out of propellant.
  • Norway to become the first country to switch off FM radio starting January 11, 2017.
  • After Project Loon and Google Fiber, Google unveils new plan to cost-effectively connect people on the Internet; officially becomes a wireless carrier (aka MVNO) with Project Fi that allows Nexus 6 users to seamlessly switch between T-Mobile, Sprint and Wi-Fi networks.
  • Twitter's logged out home page gets an overhaul with curated topic pages in an attempt to attract more users.
  • Google's popular video-sharing service YouTube turns 10.
  • Chinese handset Xiaomi unveils Mi 4i ('i' for India, geddit?) exclusively for the Indian market at Rs. 12,999; Ratan Tata, chairman emeritus of Tata Group, buys a stake in the company.
  • LeTV unveils a trio of smartphones in China with USB Type-C connectivity port.
  • Facebook-owned instant messaging service WhatsApp hits 800 million monthly active users; rolls out voice calling (VoIP) on Android and iOS.
  • Music streaming service Grooveshark shuts down; apologises without reservation for failing to "secure licenses from right holders".
  • Google tunes its search algorithms to favour mobile-friendly websites on its results page (SERP); will not affect desktop SERP rankings.
  • Sony and LG unveil their next-gen Android smartphones Xperia Z4 and G4 respectively.
  • Cyanogen releases its Lollipop version of Android, CyanogenMod 12S.
  • Finnish telecom giant Nokia set to buy French rival Alcatel-Lucent for US$ 16.6 billion to take on fellow competitor Ericsson.
  • Facebook adds video calling to Facebook Messenger; launches Hello, a dialler replacement app on Android with support for Wi-Fi calling.