Google Fellow Amit Singhal recently accused Bing of copying some of Google’s search results. Google had created what it calls “synthetic queries” – test search queries that tie two terms that normally have no connection, and discovered that after a while the same connections start appearing on Bing.
For example, Google created a synthetic query linking the non-sensical word “hiybbprqag” to a result about seating in a theater in Los Angeles. After a while, the same result appeared on Bing; Google claims that the only way this could have happened is if Bing simply copied the result from them, as the only connection between the query and the result was Google.
Microsoft’s answer, coming from a company’s spokesperson, was clear but not very revealing: “We do not copy Google’s results.”
Bing Corporate Vice President Harry Shum later expanded Microsoft’s short answer to a more detailed one, essentially claiming that the search results Google claims Bing has been copying have in fact come from Bing’s users.
“We use over 1,000 different signals and features in our ranking algorithm. A small piece of that is clickstream data we get from some of our customers, who opt-in to sharing anonymous data as they navigate the web in order to help us improve the experience for all users,” wrote Shum.
But Google didn’t plan on letting this go that easily. The company decided to escalate the incident on its official blog with a long post, detailing how its engineers discovered that Bing is copying Google’s results, and what they did to “catch” Bing red-handed.
The post is extremely detailed and reads like a detective story for the tech-minded, so we invite you to read it in its entirety here. Here’s the important bit, though: Google claims that Bing is using “some combination” of IE8, Bing Toolbar and possibly some other means to send data on what people search on Google and what results they click to Bing.
“Put another way, some Bing results increasingly look like an incomplete, stale version of Google results—a cheap imitation,” concludes Google.
The gloves are obviously off, and after a sharp jab like that, we’re sure that we’ll hear more from Microsoft about the story. Stay tuned.
We’re watching something really fascinating happening at Google: a very public effort to prevent the company from falling prey to the kind of bureaucratic molasses that has enveloped so many companies before it. Many have complained that Google is already there. Perhaps. But it’s nothing like at Nokia, for example, which continues to struggle with its highly bureaucratic culture and lethargic decision-making as it slowly loses share to Apple and Google in the handset market.
The primary meme that has emerged in the single week since Google revealed its now widely dissected CEO switch is: Page’s ascension is about streamlining decision-making at Google and helping the company be more “nimble.” And in the tag cloud of articles that have appeared in the intervening six days that word would be among the most prominent. In Brad Stone’s Bloomberg piece yesterday, “Larry Page’s Google 3.0,” the term appears yet again:
Now comes the third phase, led by Page and dedicated to rooting out bureaucracy and rediscovering the nimble moves of youth.
Stone describes some of the organizational moves and decision-making philosophy that Page espouses to accomplish this ambitious goal, even as the company says it will add 6,000 more people this year. They involve clarifying lines of authority and empowering the group or product leads to move faster — though they must also coordinate their efforts. This balancing act is embodied in a weekly leadership meeting called “Execute”:
The unstated goal is to save the search giant from the ossification that can paralyze large corporations . . . Among the most important barons at the meeting: Andy Rubin, who oversees the Android operating system for mobile phones; Salar Kamangar, who runs the video-sharing site YouTube; and Vic Gundotra, who heads up Google’s secret project to combat the social network Facebook.
“We needed to get these different product leaders together to find time to talk through all the integration points,” says Page during a telephone interview with Bloomberg Businessweek minutes before a late-January Execute session. “Every time we increase the size of the company, we need to keep things going to make sure we keep our speed, pace, and passion.”
The article goes on to profile some of the leaders — “barons” as Stone calls them, evoking Medieval Europe — of the various groups at Google:
Google has realized more quickly than most companies that it needed to make changes and adjustments to ensure that its culture did not become an obstacle to success. When people ask why company X or Y can’t innovate or move quickly enough the answer is rarely people or product it’s almost always culture and organization. However because it’s elusive and intangible “culture” is infrequently discussed as the the determinant of success or failure.
Beyond the obvious antitrust and regulatory investigations, the next year will be a significant one for Google. The company will continue to “print money” via paid search so revenues will not be a measure of Page’s success in reforming Google.
Other less dramatic things will let us know how he’s doing. For example is the flow of employees from Google to Facebook (and elsewhere) arrested? Does the press focus turn partially back to product innovation and away from anti-trust, privacy and regulatory issues? Does Google regain some of its “geek chic” again?
Page obviously doesn’t have control over all these things. But a leader can have a profound impact on an organization and its culture. You can already feel a slight shift in Google’s image, literally embodied in the shift from the generally polished and sometimes aloof Schmidt to the more quirky and Gatesian Page.
BBC’s Maggie Shiels analyses how Facebook has ramped up competition competition with AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft and Google with Facebook Messages.
Facebook Messages aims to tie users more closely to the social networking site at a time when everyone is battling for their attention.
The product will merge texts, online chats, and emails into one central hub.
Facebook said traditional email is too slow and cumbersome and needs to step into the modern world of messaging.
“This is not an email killer,” Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg told reporters and analysts at an event in San Francisco.
“Maybe we can help push the way people do messaging more towards this simple, real time, immediate personal experience. Email is still really important to a lot of people. We think this simple messaging is how people will shift their communication,” added Mr Zuckerberg.
In a case of bad timing, reports surfaced hours after the Facebook launch that Gmail suffered an outage.
The new service is seen as offering an alternative to Gmail, the fastest growing web service in the past year with over 193 million users according to data tracker ComScore.
Email remains one of the most popular means of communication
The irony was that ahead of the announcement, speculation was rife that Facebook’s new product would be most crippling for Gmail. Mr Zuckerberg said he did not see it that way.
“In reality they have a great product.
“We don’t expect anyone to wake up tomorrow and say ‘I’m going to shut down my Yahoo Mail or Gmail account’.
“Maybe one day, six months, a year, two years out people will start to say this is how the future should work,” said Mr Zuckerberg.
AOL which at the weekend previewed changes to its once popular web mail service disagreed email is doomed.
“Email remains one of the killer apps on the internet,” said Brad Garlinghouse, AOL’s senior vice president of consumer products.
Industry analyst Augie Ray of Forrester agreed.
“Research we have done shows we know that in the US 90% of adults check their mail at least once a month and 59% of adults say they maintain a profile on a social networking site.
“There is a big gap between the reach social media has and the reach email has.”
Ease of use
At the heart of Facebook Messages is an effort to ensure users “see the messages that matter”.
The new feature will simplify how people communicate whether it be via text, instant messages, online chat or email. All these messages will come into one feed known as a social inbox allowing users to reply in any way they want.
All 500million plus users will eventually be offered an @Facebook.com address
Facebook said around 70% of users regularly use it to send messages to friends and and that a total of four billion messages pass across the site every day.
“We really want to enable people to have conversations with the people they care about,” Facebook’s director of engineering Andrew “Boz” Bosworth told BBC News.
“It sounds so simple. We have all this technology that should be enabling that but it’s not. It’s fragmenting that. So I have one conversation on email with my grandfather and another with my cousin on sms and all these things don’t work the same way.
“I shouldn’t have to worry about the technology. I should just have to worry about the person and the message. Everything else is just getting in the way,” added Mr Bosworth.
The new system will be modelled more on chat than traditional email which means there will be no subject lines, cc or bcc fields.
Liz Gannes of technology blog AllThingsD said she believed users will have a bit of a learning curve on their hands.
“I think the product is just different enough from what people are used to that it will feel really weird to users for a while.
“The lack of subject lines will get people upset at first and then of course they will probably realise they never wanted them anyway.”
Other features include being able to store conversations so users can have a complete archive of communications with friends and family. Mr Bosworth likened this to a modern day treasure trove of letters stored in a box.
Incoming message will be placed in one of three folders – one for friends, another for things like bank statements and a junk folder for messages people do not want to see.
The product will also represent a challenge to Yahoo with over 273 million users and Microsoft which has nearly 362 million.
“For me today represents the day when Facebook truly becomes a portal on the level of Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL,” Charlene Li social media analyst with the Altimeter Group told BBC News.
“They now have to start making their inboxes more social. Friends are the new priority as opposed to the conversation. This makes Facebook so much more functional.”
The new product will be introduced slowly over a number of months
Robert Scoble technology writer and founder of Scobleizer.com said this product gives everyone something to aim for.
“This is a new kind of communications system but its not game over for Yahoo and Gmail and all the others because it will take decades to get people to stop doing traditional emails.
“However this is something new and very powerful because Facebook can tap into my social graph and ensure that only my friends are there and I won’t get spammed.”
Facebook said this product was the biggest the social networking giant had worked on to date.
The company will also offer an @facebook.com email address to every one of its more than 500 million users.
check out what’s the first reaction of the analysts here.
In 1993, The New Yorker ran a famous cartoon with two dogs near a computer, with one mutt telling the other “On the Internet, nobody knows you are a dog.”
Oh, how times have changed.
In the Facebook internet, everyone knows exactly what breed of dog you are.
That was Facebook’s real trick — convincing the world to identify themselves online. They pulled that off by giving net users a place to share photos and pithy updates, when the real purpose of Facebook, it turns out, is to layer identity over the fabric of the web.
For years, Google’s natural enemies seemed to be Microsoft and Yahoo. But as the search giant trounced those giants in the search space battle, it’s been slowly losing momentum in what may turn out to be the real war — the one for the display ad revenues — to an unlikely foe: the dorm-room-born Facebook.
We’ve seen a public pissing fight this week over who owns social network contact information, but that’s just the start.
Today, Facebook is reportedly getting into Google’s e-mail face, mounting a challenge to Gmail, Google’s most successful social product. Users will reportedly get @facebook.com or fb.com e-mail addresses. But more importantly, Facebook already has ranking scores for every one of your relationships with contacts on Facebook and will use that to prioritize your inbox, according to the tech rumors.
That’s an important side battle, but it’s not where this war will be lost or won. That’s not where the money is.
Facebook, which began its life as a small private club for Ivy Leaguers, now has its sights set on what might be the net’s biggest pot of gold yet: a way of placing ads anywhere on the net with a granularity Google can only dream of — in no small part because Google promised its users never to go down that path.
And that’s why Google, the web’s most successful advertising company, sees Facebook, not Microsoft’s Bing, as its biggest rival.
Some tech pundits foresee a Facebook future where friend recommendations replace search, or Facebook gets enough data from what users like to make a more relevant search engine. That’s unlikely, for a number of reasons, including that Facebook profiles aren’t that detailed and that Google is already building social into search (look here if you are logged into a Google account to see a glimpse of what’s going on).
Instead, follow the money Facebook is making now. Depending on how much you have filled out your Facebook profile, you might have noticed that Facebook ads are sometimes eerily too good, as if Eminem’s music label actually knows what kind of music you like.
If you’ve had that sneaking feeling, then you know exactly why Google is trying to play social catch-up with Facebook, and how Facebook could single-handedly save the online publishing industry.
What gnaws at Google is not so much that Facebook users spend a lot of time on its competitor’s site. And it’s not even that Facebook gets so many page views that it now serves up an astounding 23% of the U.S.’s online display ads, according to a recent survey by comScore. That’s more than twice as many as Yahoo server and ten times as many as Google, though Facebook’s rates remain low.
Instead, the search giant is scared by two things it sees as possibly undermining its stature as the web’s top tech company.
One, there’s so much interaction and information being shared inside Facebook that it has become a decent-sized replica of the Web inside the Web. And Google can’t crawl and analyze much of what happens in there. That’s a problem when your goal is to organize the world’s information. Google is blind to this because much of what happens on Facebook remains in Facebook. (Ironically, this is due to users’ privacy settings, which Facebook has relentlessly tried to chip away at over the last four years.)
Two, Facebook knows who you are and has the right to use that information because you explicitly gave it to them. Google has different kinds of data that reveal a lot about who you are and what you are interested in — some of it very private. But very little of that data is information you explicitly told the company to share, and they’ve assiduously promised not to use your search history and e-mail data to profile you.
For years, that’s not been a problem for Google. They made the majority of their $7.29 billion in revenue in the third quarter from little text ads that show up next to and above search results.
Those adds are all keyed off the words you type into that little box. There’s no targeting involved. It doesn’t matter to Google’s AdWords system who you are, what you’ve searched for before, or what you do in other Google services (the only real targeting available in AdWords now is by location).
Google then expanded this program in 2003 to run ads on other people’s sites, its AdSense product, which now includes text and display ads. For years, those ads were also purely contextual, based mostly off the words on the site running the ads. So if you ran a blog about your life as a dentist, your readers would see ads for dental floss and teeth-whitening products.
But then, in search of a new revenue stream, Google bought DoubleClick in 2007 for more than $3.1 billion.
DoubleClick is one of the net’s display ad giants and has been serving banners ads on sites across the net since the early 1990s, using each ad serving spot as a way to track what you are reading to make inferences about your interests and build a pseudonymous profile of you tied to a cookie in your browser.
But despite having a large number of sites running the ads (including Wired.com), AdSense/Doubleclick ads still account for only 30 percent of Google’s revenues. And, surprisingly, the targeting isn’t very good. You can go here to see what Google thinks it can deduce about you just from your browsing.
The problem is that Google built a wall between user search data and advertising — and the mammoth financial success of AdWords proved that the separation was fine at the time. A search query was likely to show intent, and it really didn’t matter to advertisers selling something who the searcher was.
To make display ads better, Google kicked a hole in that wall in 2009 when it started including the videos you watch on YouTube as a way to target display ads ads at you.
Google isn’t talking about how well those ads perform compared to its purely contextual ones. But according to a Wall Street Journal story from this summer, Google is “soul-searching” over ways to turn what you do while logged into Google into data that can be used for targeting ads. That’s agonizing for Google since it’s always promised that it would keep that usage data separate from its ads.
But Facebook has never made that promise, and its users don’t seem turned off by the targeted ads.
They know they gave up the targeting data by typing it into their profile box, by becoming a fan of a company on Facebook or clicking a “Like” button. And now Facebook is training users to stay logged-in to Facebook all the time, for the convenience of logging in to sites or “liking” a story.
Why does that matter?
It matters because now you are your Facebook identity all over the net, telling every site that plays in the Facebook ecosystem exactly which dog you are, that you like playing fetch and what other dogs you run in a pack with.
Which means, it’s a virtual certainty that Facebook-targeted ads are going to start showing up in your hometown’s newspaper, your favorite online music site and hundreds of other sites you visit. And unlike the targeted third-party ad systems run by Microsoft, Google and others, there’s no need to track you around the net to try to infer from your reading and video viewing habits how old you are, where you went to college or what you are into.
As the underdog in this fight, Google’s best weapon will be openness — tying to turn users against the walls of Facebook, while Facebook will try to be just open enough to keep users and partners from revolting.
Facebook knows all of that already because you told them. Facebook touts the story of a wedding photographer in Michigan who’s expanded his business tremendously simply by targeting ads at locals who mark themselves as “engaged.” Gabriel Weinberg, the one-man show behind the search engine DuckDuckGo, went so far as to create an ad targeted just at his wife.
Now, Facebook advertisers don’t actually know anything about you — at least not until you click on an ad, visit their site and handover your e-mail address. Instead, they use a simple panel in Facebook that lets them choose what categories to target, including age, location, education and gender. They can further target ads based on the things you have liked or added to your profile. Facebook runs the ads on a company’s behalf but never turns over a list of who fits the targeting criteria to the advertisers.
As a private company, Facebook doesn’t have to share public numbers, but a spokesman told Wired.com that advertisers are getting comfortable with Facebook, and it has thousands of advertisers. Revenues are estimated at $1.3 billion a year and rising, while investors and secondary markets are valuing the company at more than $40 billion on Sharespost, a private stock market.
That despite the fact that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has never loved ads. He kept them off his site as long as he could, and even the ones that run now are relatively small, given how big and loud ads have gotten on the Web outside of Facebook. Some marketers complain that the Facebook ads just aren’t visible enough on the site, so they concentrate their efforts on getting people to “fan” their pages, in hopes the news that you like “Starbucks” makes it into the news feeds of your friends.
Facebook says it’s not working on any third-party ad system, and right now, it doesn’t need to. It’s flush with cash from investors, who’ve poured hundreds of millions into the company, without Zuckerberg losing control. It can bide its time, making Facebook even more central to the internet, building more relationships with top advertisers and convincing more sites to turn over their login systems to Facebook.
But it’s a near inevitability Facebook takes the same, logical step Google took and starts putting ads on third-party sites, targeting Facebook users reading the Washington Post, The Daily Beast, or your hometown newspaper.
Those ads could be splashy and dominant – the way advertisers like them these days, without distracting from the Facebook experience. They can also be very targeted, without Facebook having to hand over the info about that reader to the website.
It has the potential to be the opposite of Google’s Adwords/Adsense division, with huge profits coming from outside the Facebook walls. Facebook could then grab a giant and dominating slice of an evergrowing online display ad market, while simultaneously making display ads actually targeted.
Facebook even makes the case that its ad system is less creepy than third-party systems that track you, mostly without you realizing it, around the web. While they do see what you are doing around the web when you are logged into your Facebook account and there is a “Like” button on that site, the company says it does not mine that information and deletes it after three months. No other third-party ad network comes close to forgetting so soon.
Facebook’s advantage is that they probably don’t need to do this sort of tracking, given all the profile data, friend connections and likes that you’ve fed into their system. If advertisers and users get comfortable enough with ads based off that data, then there’s no reason that a site such as the New York Times wouldn’t want to turn over at least some of their ad sales to Facebook. Having spent years getting advertisers used to targeting the Facebook generation, Facebook would be able to charge very high rates to advertisers.
That’s because it would not only be able to do very granular ad targeting, but it could do so on a site with the reputation of the New York Times.
Online papers love the idea of targeted ads, because contextual ads just don’t work for news. What ad are you going to put up next to a story about a flood in India? An ad for Indian rugs? What about next to a story about a plane crash? Or even a story about a run-of-the-mill mayoral election?
One hope to fix that giant problem facing the media industry is to know who your readers are.
And that means building identity into the internet.
Facebook’s the only company to have done so, and that’s why Google is fighting to catch up to “social.”
There may not be room for more than one online identity company on the net, but Google has assembled a high-powered team of coders and thinkers, including Slide’s Max Levchin, the open social evangelist Chris Messina and Plaxo’s Joseph Smarr, to take on the Facebook crew.
As the underdog in this fight, Google’s best weapon will be openness — tying to turn users against the walls of Facebook, while Facebook will try to be just open enough to keep users and partners from revolting. The best case scenario? Google figures out how to turn identity into an open protocol like e-mail — something you can host and control anywhere that lets you stitch together whatever services you like.
And if that effort fails, Facebook’s relatively benign child-king will be in control of what you can and can’t do with your identity on the internet.
And Mark Zuckerberg will have built a company worth more than $100 billion — and maybe worth more than Google.
Last week, on Mouse2House blog where I regularly contribute on Technology, I discussed how Facebook is going to kill Gmail and the dorm-room-born company might be the biggest enemy of Facebook. In this post Wired’s Ryan Singel analyzes how Facebook could beat Google to win the net.
If you didn’t think the Nexus S was real, perhaps these pictures of the purported device will convince you otherwise.
Kudos to Engadget, which was the first publication to get pictures of the mythical successor to the Nexus One. The device is built by Samsung and has a lot of similarities to the Galaxy S Android phone.
According to multiple reports, the Nexus S runs Gingerbread (Android 2.3), features a 4-inch AMOLED screen, a curved back, a front-facing camera and will be available on T-Mobile. It’s expected to be announced at the same time as Google’s official Gingerbread announcement.
Once again, neither Google nor Samsung have confirmed the existence of this device, so while we’re pretty sure it’s real, there’s always the chance that this is a fake. Until someone confirms the Nexus S exists, here’s another picture of the device.
Android 2.3, codenamed Gingerbread, is expected to materialize this month. Little is known about Gingerbread’s features, however, because Google develops the operating system behind closed doors and doesn’t publish a roadmap. This has fueled a lot of speculation among Android enthusiasts.
Google has hinted that 2.3 could bring a user interface refresh that will reduce the need for handset makers to broadly deviate from the standard user experience. Various leaks have suggested that the platform is being overhauled to boost its suitability for tablet devices. Google’s new WebM multimedia format, which uses the VP8 codec, will likely be supported out of the box. It’s also possible that Gingerbread will include some of the music library streaming and synchronization features that the search giant demonstrated this year at the Google I/O conference.
We have some ideas of our own about what Google should be doing. We think that Android’s messaging applications need an overhaul, Google should make a stronger effort to deliver good first-party software, and the home screen could use some better widgets.
1. Fix the Android e-mail client
One area where Android is still disappointingly weak is conventional e-mail. Google’s own Gmail application is nice, but those of us who still use IMAP feel like second-class citizens. I have had all kinds of problems with Android’s mail application and have learned that I simply can’t rely on it to perform as expected. Google has some work to do to catch up with superior third-party mail applications like K-9.
One of my pet peeves is the native mail client’s lack of support for moving messages between folders—a deficiency that makes it impossible for me to use the program for triaging my e-mail. A feature request calling for the ability to move messages between IMAP folders was filed in Android’s official issue tracker in 2008 and was finally marked as implemented in September of this year. I’m going to be deeply disappointed if the fix doesn’t land in Android 2.3.
Another annoyance is the program’s inability to represent the user’s IMAP folder hierarchy as an actual tree when switching between folders. Instead, I get a massive flat list where each name includes the full path. This is especially obnoxious when I’m trying to get to a deeply nested folder, because the end of the names get truncated, making it impossible to differentiate between individual subfolders. I often have to guess and try multiple times before I find the right folder.
2. Deliver good first-party applications
Tight integration of Google’s Web services is arguably one of Android’s major selling points, yet there are still a number of important Google services that are poorly supported on Android. It’s mystifying that the search giant hasn’t built its own native Android applications for Google Docs or Google Reader. In both cases, users are forced to rely on third-party offerings that aren’t particularly compelling. I’ve also been deeply unimpressed with the buggy Google Finance application, which has never worked reliably for me. I’d really like to see those first-party application gaps closed in future versions of the operating system.
3. Unify Android messaging
Another frustration with Android is the lack of cohesion between the various messaging applications. Google Voice, Google Talk, Messaging, and the standard dialer are all little silos that don’t naturally flow together. It’s not always obvious which application the user should open to access the specific features that they want. The fact that the Talk and Voice icons are nearly identical just adds to the confusion. A more streamlined interface that brings all of the features together in a more natural and intuitive way would greatly improve the Android user experience.
4. More flexible home screen with better widgets
We recently reviewed LauncherPro, an excellent third-party Android home screen replacement that offers a lot of really impressive features and a very slick set of custom widgets that were loosely inspired by HTC’s Sense user interface. I happily paid $2.99 for the “Plus” version of LauncherPro just for the great scrolling agenda widget. It also has a really good widget resizing feature and support for a multitude of customization options. It makes the default Android home screen seem quaint or crippled by comparison.
It’s amazing that a single third-party developer can so vastly out-engineer Google at building a quality home-screen experience. I think that Android needs to match LauncherPro’s feature set out of the box in order to be competitive. I’m hoping that the rumored Android user interface overhaul will bring a superior home screen, but if it doesn’t, then I think the folks at Google should seriously consider hiring/acquiring LauncherPro’s prolific and highly talented developer.
5. Support for higher resolution and a real tablet UI
Although hardware vendors like Samsung are adopting Android for their tablet products, the platform is not designed for the tablet form factor. There seem to be conflicting views within Google about Android’s suitability for tablets in light of the manner in which the platform’s compatibility definition and APIs are structured. The early prototypes have largely failed to impress and some hardware makers like LG have said that they are waiting for future versions of the platform before they will do Android tablets.
Leaks indicate that a new tablet user experience for Android could potentially be introduced in either Gingerbread or the rumored Honeycomb version. We are hoping that it happens sooner rather than later because there seem to be a lot of gadget makers that are ready to deliver the hardware today and simply need better software.
A related issue is the need for native support for higher screen resolutions. Google’s official documentation doesn’t really address resolutions that are higher than WVGA. We’d like to see Google encouraging Android hardware vendors to move towards something like the iPhone’s retina display. There is also a clear need for more netbook-like resolutions on tablet products.
Waiting for Gingerbread
A fresh round of sketchy Internet rumors claim that Gingerbread will start hitting Nexus One handsets in an over-the-air update this week. These rumors are based on a tweet written in Spanish by someone who is thought to be a leading member of the Open Handset Alliance (the fact that he misspells both “Android” and “Alliance” in his LinkedIn profile doesn’t help the credibility of these rumors, though he does appear to have given Android-related presentations at some mobile conferences).
I think it’s likely that the SDK will emerge at some point this month or in December, but I’m a bit skeptical about the claim that the Nexus One update is going to start rolling out this week. Even if they push a test version to a limited number of developer phones, it’s highly unlikely to be the actual final build. Regardless of when it lands, we are looking forward to seeing what new features Google has cooked up.
Earlier this month Zong — China Mobile’s first overseas brand operating in Pakistan — introduced Huawei and Google co-production IDEOS U8150, the cheapest Android 2.2 Froyo handset available in the market, for PKR 15,999 ($185) with six months internet and pay as you go connection.
While at first I wasn’t very surprised as Chinese low-priced products are traditionally a not very good alternative to big brands. However, after few days many of my friends started asking me about this “Smart Phone for All”. Therefore, I conducted some research and decided to feature a review here.
Based on the Froyo 2.2 iteration of the Google Android OS, the Huawei Ideos is aimed at the budget end of the smartphone market and represents Huawei’s big push for mass adoption outside its native Eastern markets. Huawei is best known to most consumers as a maker of 3G dongles and MiFi-style 3G hubs.
The Huawei Ideos does everything right to create a cheap phone with plenty of smarts. It’s not going to take on the big, beautiful Samsung Galaxy S, but it’s got an even newer version of Android.
PC Advisor’s Verdict
If you’re keen to get into smartphones and have a limited budget, the Google co-developed Huawei Ideos is a great start. Running the latest Android 2.2 OS and with customisable coloured backplates, it offers the appeal of the customisable Android platform without the drag of an expensive and lengthy contract. Recommended.
The Huawei Ideos may skimp on a low-res screen and camera, but it’s made exactly the right moves in bringing Android to the masses. 802.11n Wi-Fi and HSPA combine with the latest version of the Android OS to give the Ideos the leg-up on most other phones, at any price. Although you’ll miss out on Flash Player, you won’t regret saving some dosh on this responsive, usable phone.
Google Android 2.2 Froyo OS
2.8in (240 x 320) capacitive touchscreen, 256k colours
Unlike most smartphones, the Huawei Ideos has a brightly coloured backplate (where others come in unremitting black, though we’re pleased to see Sony Ericsson has recently begun offering a white version of its 8.1Mp Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Android cameraphone).
It’s notable that the backplate of the Huawei Ideos is much easier than most to remove – good news if you need to swap the SIM card or should you want to customise its look with a different coloured plate. Our review handset rocked a shiny cyan blue that gave it an illusory glow when placed on a light coloured surface. There’s no disguising that this is a fairly cheap-feeling handset, but we’ve certainly enjoyed using others far less.
As is standard for most smartphones now, the display accounts for two thirds of the total frontage of the Huawei Ideos. The screen is a modest 3in across with a resolution of 320×240 pixels. Anyone accustomed to the pinsharp display of the iPhone or other high-end smartphones will find the screen pedestrian, but given the price tag of just £130 or so, sans lengthy contract, it’s a small compromise.
The other aspect to note about the Huawei Ideos’s screen is that it doesn’t support multi-touch. Finger-based navigation is fast and responsive. A Google search bar sits prominently on the front page – unlike other screen elements, holding down a finger and dragging it elsewhere doesn’t let you relocate it. At the opposite end of the searchbar is a microphone button that allows you to speak a search term.
It recognised the phrase ‘PC Advisor’ well enough, but its first result was for the web hosts of the mobile version of this website, while result G pinpointed our offices from three years ago. Google Maps needs to update its listings for this aspect of the Huawei Ideos to work well, it seems.
Like all 2010 Android devices we’ve tried, the Huawei Ideos’s display is bright and colourful. You can flick its five screens from side to side in what is now a signature feature of Android devices. You don’t get fancy visual extras à la HTC or Samsung, but this allows the Ideos to be an excellent ambassador for unadulterated Android 2.2.
A sweep to the left brings up local weather information and tabbed news headlines delivered as RSS-style nuggets. Top stories, UK, Sport and Entertain tabs quickly bring you up-to-date about what’s happening. This at-a-glance listing is much easier than having to fire up a full web page, but we noticed that the content wasn’t necessarily refreshed as much as you might expect. Several hours after Wayne Rooney agreed new contract terms with Manchester United, for example, the Huawei Ideos’s Sports link was still seemingly unaware.
Getting online with the Huawei Ideos is a fast and painless experience. Now that 3G connectivity enjoys widespread coverage in UK cities at least it has become more reliable. Logging on to our home and office Wi-Fi networks was also straightforward.
Hardware buttons below the Huawei Ideos’s screen are used to initiate and end calls, while a large wobbly central button wakes up the screen from its unlit state and is used for moving up and down menu lists. Other navigation functions are covered by touch-sensitive buttons at the very bottom of the display and onscreen.
The Settings menu lets you view the Huawei Ideos’s on-device storage space, manage, mount and format SD cards, as well as allow you to change connection and accessibility options. The Accessibility option prompts you to download a free screen reader from the Android Market, for which you’ll need to provide Gmail login details.
Text to speech and voice recognition options on the Huawei Ideos include a parochial/sensible (depending on your viewpoint) ability to block offensive word recognition so your little darlings don’t use speech search to navigate to a website they shouldn’t.
One of the new features being punted in Android 2.2 is support for Flash video. This battery-draining feature is not offered in lower specification Android handsets such as the Huawei Ideos, but our initial tests of this feature on the more expensive Motorola Milestone 2 suggest there are flaws in its provision anyway.
General web surfing is fine considering the cramped screen and need to manually zoom in and out of pages. The accelerometer inside the Huawei Ideos is quick to respond to changes of orientation so you can read web pages in landscape mode.
As with most Android phones, you need an SD card to store pictures from the onboard camera. The 5Mp camera here is now just about average. It certainly can’t hold a candle to the likes of the Motorola Droid X or Xperia 10.