Facebook Phone Leak Points To Budget HTC Device, Homescreen App For All Androids

Facebook Home Phone

Facebook’s new “Home” on Android will debut on a mediocre HTC handset codenamed “Myst” but will be available on standard Android phones, according to an autopsy of a leaked developer build of the Facebook “phone” software scored by Android Police. This aligns with our scoop and predictions from last week about what Facebook will launch at its big press event on Thursday.

Building a slightly modified Android operating system for an HTC handset would give Facebook the freedom to customize its user experience in ways iOS and stock Android won’t allow. This includes a highly personalized homescreen that pipes in Facebook news feed content and notifications, but also has deep Facebook functionality built in elsewhere.

However, there may be a limited market for a phone that’s totally focused on Facebook. So, as I wrote last Thursday, Facebook is likely to release a more basic version of its HTC homescreen experience as a homescreen launcher replacement standalone app that’s compatible with the unmodified Android OS — the most popular mobile smartphone operating system in the world. This would give Facebook’s hard work a much wider audience than if its homescreen was shackled to HTC.

Ron Amadeo of Android Police’s impressive find of this Facebook phone application package file (APK) confirms all of this with new details.

Facebook Phone Hardware

There’s always the potential this device could have just been a tester and something better could be debuted Thursday. But the handset build.prop file from the APK says Facebook’s new software is meant to run on:

  • Manufacturer: HTC
  • Model: MYSTUL (Myst_UL)
  • Carrier: AT&T
  • Platform: MSM8960 (Dual Core)
  • Ram: 1GB
  • Display: 4.3 inch @ 720p resolution
  • Android Version: 4.1.2
  • Sense Version: 4.5
  • Rear Camera = 5M
  • Front Camera = 1.6M
  • No SD Card
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • Wi-Fi a/b/g/n

These specs mesh with what Unwired View reported the Facebook-HTC device would have, and they point to a handset very similar to the HTC Sense 4.5. There’s also the potential this could run on other carriers beyond AT&T.

“Facebook Home” Software

As for the software, it includes a logo titling it “Facebook Home” just as we wrote last week. Special features that the software has Android permissions for include the ability to:

  • Spawn windows that stay on top of all other windows
  • Turn off the lock screen
  • Activate as soon as your phone starts
  • Monitor what other apps are currently running
  • Control the phone’s Wi-Fi connection
  • Change the system settings

In the layout XML and image files are indications that Facebook Home will let you view Facebook news feed stories, a more standard clock screen, shortcuts for launching apps, and search via Google.

One of the most fascinating features is referred to as “Chat Heads” in the APK, and comes with the ability to “pop out chat head.” It appears to let Facebook Chat conversations float above the currently viewed screen and remain visible even while you use other apps. Think how certain websites let you activate a music player that stays persistently visible and doesn’t pause a song as you browse between different webpages. This could be similar but for mobile chat. The Chat Heads feature could be one that only runs on Facebook’s modified Android OS.

“Home” For Any Android

Possibly the most important thing Android Police discovered is that the Facebook Home software comes ready to read the settings of the launcher for the stock Android operating system, and the HTC launcher, but also the TouchWiz Launcher — the front-end mobile interface designed by Samsung. That means Home is designed to run on the more traditional Android OS installed on handsets made by OEMs other than HTC. Essentially, Facebook could ship a version of Home that could be downloaded from Google Play onto a wide variety of devices.

It makes perfect sense and supports what I wrote last week. The premier version of Home could be shown off on an HTC running a build of Android altered by Facebook. This would include the custom homescreen, but also deeper hooks, such as the ability to Facebook Chat while in other apps. On April 4th or a little down the road, Facebook could also offer a slightly less powerful version of Home for standard Android. If both are a success, it could pressure other OEMs beyond HTC to partner with Facebook to modify the Android builds they run to be compatible with the premier version of Home.

This strategy would let Facebook: 1. Build its dream experience on HTC, 2. Offer a deeper homescreen experience to anyone with Android, and 3. Persuade more OEMs to work with it.

That sounds good in theory, but the success of Facebook Home will come down to whether it really adds value on top of the existing Facebook flagship Android app. If not, few will buy the HTC Facebook phone; only the most hardcore social networkers will install the homescreen replacement, and OEMs won’t invest in deeper Facebook functionality. Years of work on Facebook’s part could fizzle out.

But if it does succeed, Facebook Home Users could give us what I call a sixth sense for our social lives by instantly being able to see on our homescreens what’s going on with our friends. It could perhaps even push Apple to open new homescreen modification abilities to developers. And most critically, without manufacturing its own devices, Facebook could gain more control of the mobile experience and drive even more engagement on the small screens that everyone’s switching to.

Read more about Facebook’s big new Android project:

Facebook To Reveal “Home On Android” Sources Say Is A Modified OS On HTC At 4/4 Event

Facebook’s “Home” On Android Could Give You A Sixth Sense For Your Social Life

Facebook’s Android Homescreen Could Expose Apple’s Inflexibility

TechCrunch » android

The GPS-Enabled DJI Phantom Quadcopter Makes The AR.Drone Look Like A Toy


Back in 2010, our own John Biggs rightly described Parrot’s AR.Drone as ” the coolest thing [he had] seen in a long, long time.” Since then, Parrot has launched the AR.Drone 2.0 and while it’s still a very cool gadget, quadcopters have come a very long way since 2010. Last month, the folks at DJI, who mostly specialize in developing unmanned aerial systems for commercial use, sent me one of their consumer-oriented and GPS-enabled DJI Phantoms to review.

Most quadcopters are aimed at hobbyists and take a good amount of assembly and at least some experience with flying remote-controlled aircraft. The Phantom, which has a list price of $ 849 but currently retails for about $ 680, comes mostly pre-assembled and is extremely easy to fly, thanks to its built-in compass and GPS module. Thanks to having GPS built-in, the drone always knows where it is in relation to you. So depending on the mode you are flying in, every input you give will always be interpreted in relation to you and not in relation to where the front of the aircraft is (here’s a video that explains how this works).

The other cool thing about the GPS mode is that the drone can hover in position even if it’s windy. It’ll just auto-correct for the wind, thanks to its built-in autopilot (you probably want to turn this mode off when you are trying to take a video, however, as the constant corrections will show up in your videos).

This autopilot also kicks in if the Phantom loses its connection with you remote control if it flies out of reach or your remote runs out of battery, the drone itself is very low on battery, or because you turn it off to see if the autopilot actually works. Once the failsafe mode kicks in, the drone will simply fly up to 60 feet, fly back to where it first took off and land. I actually tried this and it worked surprisingly well. The drone touched down just about 3 feet from where I launched it. When you spent $ 700 on the drone and another $ 300 or so on a GoPro 3 Silver, that’s a nice feature to have.

The Phantom is a clear step up from something like the AR.Drone. Its communication distance is just under 1,000 feet and a maximum horizontal speed of about 32 feet per second and a descent speed of close to 20 feet per second. That’s fast and feels even faster if you are just learning how to fly it.

These specs show that this isn’t just a toy but can actually be used for some pretty impressive aerial photography. Indeed, since the Phantom launched earlier this year, a whole ecosystem has sprung up around it that provides owners with everything from improved propellers to cases and multi-axis camera gimbals. A gimbal, by the way, isn’t a must, but if you want to take really stable videos without the so-called “jello” effect (here’s a pretty extreme example of that), both a gimbal and some well-balanced after-market rotors will surely help.

Here is a video I took with the Phantom and a GoPro 3 White over the weekend:

The Phantom’s battery lasts just under 15 minutes, so you probably want to buy at least a second one, given that the package only includes a single 2,200mAh battery and a charger.

If you decide to get one of these, by the way, make sure you read the instructions and watch this series of videos before you turn it on. The Phantom may look like a toy and is easy to fly, but this is a pretty high-end piece of technology and there are a few things you need to know and do before your first flight.

With the 2013 NAB Show just around the corner, it’s a fair bet that DJI will announce a few new products in the coming days and we’ll make sure to keep a close eye on this company.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

Android And Windows Phone Gain, BlackBerry Loses In Smartphone OS Share According To Kantar

Screen Shot 2013-04-01 at 9.26.37 AM

The big winners in the three-month period ending in February in terms of smartphone share globally and in the U.S. were Android and Windows Phone, according to Kantar Worldpanel, with BlackBerry experiencing significant declines in consumer interest and iOS remaining fairly level in most markets. The bad news for BlackBerry is that it saw its smartphone OS share decline even in the U.K., where it launched BB10 and its new hardware at the end of January.

Windows Phone isn’t really posing a threat to iOS or Android, which continue to dominate smartphone share is all markets, but it is starting to pull away from BlackBerry and Symbian when it comes to making a strong showing as a third place contender. In the U.S., Windows accounted for 4.1 percent of smartphone sales in the three-month period ending February 2013, up from 2.7 percent for the year-ago quarter. BlackBerry, by contrast, represented only 0.7 percent of smartphone sales in the U.S. according to Kantar, down from 3.6 percent during the same time in 2012.

In the U.K., BlackBerry slid from 16.8 percent of all smartphone sales in the three-month period ending in February last year, to just 5.1 percent of sales for the same span in 2013. That’s a drop of 11.u7 percentage points, during a period that included a full month of BB10 device sales. BlackBerry itself claimed 1 million devices shipped for its most recent fiscal quarter, which included BB10 launches in Canada and the U.K., but when pressed about how much of that represented actual sales, execs hedged and noted that it was “sort of” closer to between two-thirds and three-quarters of that 1 million figure on its investor conference call.

Android’s performance has likewise been strong, with big increases in many markets, including Great Britain, Germany, and Mexico. And while iOS remains relatively stable, with either small slides or gains across the board, it isn’t losing significant ground to the competition in any market: Android is eating space given up by legacy players like Symbian, which in most cases is dropping share quicker than BlackBerry. BlackBerry has the most to lose, however, since Symbian is no longer being actively developed. We’ll see if the gradual worldwide rollout of BB10 can reverse some of the losses being reported by Kantar in the coming months.

TechCrunch » android

Steam Gauge Gauges The Size/Price Of Your Steam


The value of my Steam account is $ 492.65, and the sum of it requires 155.02 GB of space storage space. Awesome. And my Dad said I would never do anything worthwhile.

Steam Gauge is the product of Hacker News user jprusik and is worth several minutes of your time. It pulls data from public steam accounts through the Steam Web API and aggregates everything into a sortable and exportable list. You can even share the data on Twitter and Google Plus. And since it pulls public accounts, you can check up on your buddies’ obsession, too.

There are some caveats. It’s not 100% accurate. While my account might have a face value of $ 492.65, I didn’t spend that much. Steam Gauge clearly doesn’t pull how much you paid for each game, just the value of each game. For instance I know I didn’t pay $ 39.99 for Half Life 2: Lost Coast.

Hopefully future builds will show play times, which is the most telling stat available through the Steam client. I’m particularly proud of the time I’ve put into Battlefield: Bad Company 2.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

DuoFertility Is A Fertility Monitoring Sensor-Plus-Service That Helps Childless Couples Get Pregnant

DuoFertility Colours 2

UK startup DuoFertility is tackling a really tough problem: infertility. The company has built a sensor-plus-service business to predict the most fertile days of women who are having difficulty conceiving to improve the chances of conception — hence its tagline: “assisted natural conception”. There is no invasive technology involved, just a lot of number crunching.

The startup’s approach sits somewhere in the middle of the competition in this space. It argues its technology is more sophisticated than more basic over-the-counter physical products such as home urine tests or body-basal-thermometers (which are also cheaper than DuoFertility’s offering), as the data captured by its wearable sensor is more accurate. Data is also sent back to DuoFertility staff for monitoring and reviewing – so it’s being looked at by specialist staff using bespoke algorithms rather than generalised models.

On the other hand, the product is cheaper than a cycle of artificial insemination — and much cheaper than IVF. It’s also nowhere near as invasive as either of those alternatives. DuoFertility costs £495 with unlimited support vs around £800 for a cycle of artificial insemination (including drugs and tests) and around £4,5000 for a cycle of IVF, says CEO and co-founder Shamus Husheer.

“It is this combination of both automated analysis and expert review of this data that sets us apart from anything else out there, and probably to a large extent explains why our pregnancy rates are so high for patients who are well past buying something off the shelf at the pharmacy,” he says

“The really surprising thing is that, for only a relatively small increment in cost over the [more basic, competitor] at-home devices, DuoFertility gives a vastly higher pregnancy rate than artificial insemination, and even matches or exceeds that of IVF.”

Success is a little difficult to measure, however, as a variety of factors have to be considered – as Husheer explains: “Although 80% of normally fertile women will get pregnant within their first year of trying to conceive, infertile couples (those who have been trying for more than two years) have only about a 12% chance of getting pregnant over a year. Therefore simply saying x% of patients will get pregnant is meaningless (or worse, misleading) – this does not however prevent some less scrupulous clinics and products from doing exactly this.

“Therefore we publish our success rate data only on these ‘difficult cases’ of infertile patients, and specifically those who have qualified for or already been through IVF. We then break this data down by both female age and time trying for a baby, which are the most important factors in determining success rate. A peer-reviewed scientific paper on exactly this was published at the end of 2011, demonstrating a pregnancy rate that was higher than that from a cycle of IVF for every age group under 45 (the rates themselves ranging from over 40% to less than 15%).”

The Technology

So what exactly does DuoFertility’s technology do? The product consists of a wearable sensor, worn inside an adhesive patch so it remains attached day and night, which logs the woman’s “body temperature and movement thousands of times a day and night to calculate deep sleep core temperature”, plus a reader unit which receives the data from the sensor via a modified version of RFID. The reader calculates likely future fertility — based on “all of the information it has seen about you to date” (users can enter “a range of different parameters on the reader, from menstruation to ovulation pain to illness”).

The reader connects to a PC via USB to display past and near future fertility charts. Additional data can then be added by the user, such as medical or home test results and notes for DuoFertility’s staff to read. And all the data is automatically transferred to DuoFertility’s servers in Cambridge, U.K. for analysis and expert review.

“We use all of the data for each individual woman, and all of the thousands of others that we’re monitoring, to work out exactly which algorithms work for the woman most similar to this one,” says Husheer. “That allows us to dramatically improve the prediction of fertility, but also allows us to identify a range of underlying issues that may be preventing conception. There are of course many cases where the data does not perfectly fit any existing model, and so these cases are escalated to human fertility experts for review and, if necessary, a discussion with the patient or their doctor.”

DuoFertility aims to identify the 42-78 hour monthly window when couples should be trying to conceive — and says that by continually monitoring women it can pick up on signs that a particular cycle is similar or different to a previous cycle, as well as compare a cycle to similar cycles in its database.

“Basically, there is zero point in providing a prediction of ovulation down to the minute, if in fact it is five days wrong. Far better to give couples a realistic assessment of when they are likely to be fertile, and update this as we get more data. This means that for some couples ‘the goalposts move’ – they can quite literally see our algorithms updating the prediction when they connect to our servers. And if we recalculate something at our server, and they haven’t connected recently so might miss the newly calculated critical moment – we send an email or give them a call. That call has resulted in more than one baby,” adds Husheer.

Of course not every couple will be able to get pregnant — even after using the product for a long time — so customer relationship management is a “pretty critical” component of the business. Raising false hope is certainly not part of DuoFertility’s business model, says Husheer — although he notes that for couples who can’t afford IVF, continuing to use DuoFertility despite poor “absolute chances” may be their best hope. ”We find that being absolutely crystal clear about this often makes for a difficult but ultimately necessary and productive conversation with the couple,” he says. The startup also offers refunds to new users if it believes it won’t be able to help them, and reviews users after four to five months (and regularly after that) to ensure continued use still makes sense for them.

Starting up

The idea for Duofertility was conceived during Husheer’s PhD research at Cambridge University. The link is indirect, since his research was actually building instruments for particle accelerators. “I realised that several of the instrumental techniques we used could be applied to human physiology, and specifically to monitoring fertility,” he tells TechCrunch. 

Husheer (pictured right, with fellow co-founder Oriane Chausiaux) and a group of fellow graduate students – “scientists and medics”, some with PhDs in infertility – then got together and entered a university business plan competition in 2006, going on to win £20,000. The money funded a prototype and the filing of the first patent. “By mid 2007 we had brilliant data and several local Angel investors telling us to hurry up and graduate so that they could fund the project,” says Husheer. “Just 18 months and less than £1 million later, DuoFertility had been through design, development, trials, medical approvals and sold to the first customer.”

The first DuoFertility was bought in May 2009, although Husheer says the first pregnancy was “actually somewhat before that” — during early trials. “Sales really stepped up when DuoFertility was stocked by the largest UK pharmacy chain, Boots, in 2011 as the result of our participating in a reality-TV show hunting for innovative new products for the major retailers,” he adds.

Further funding came via the competition route, after DuoFertility won Qualcomm’s European QPrize in 2011. That in turn led to attention from Qualcomm’s venture capital arm. Husheer says the company has now raised a little over £2 million in funding from three Angel investor groups and from Qualcomm Ventures.

Growing In The U.S.

DuoFertility’s next big step will be raising its profile in the U.S. — by targeting key national medical conferences such as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in May, and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in October to properly enter the market. Husheer notes the company “recently achieved FDA clearance”, and although U.S. users can buy the device via DuoFertility’s website and be supported in using it, he says the business needs to spend time introducing the product to the medical community to make doctors aware of it and ensure they are happy to recommend it.

“We have a small team on the ground in the U.S., calling on doctors in New York and California to introduce the product and make sure that DuoFertility fits into the way that they practice medicine. Over the next few months we will be hiring several more commercially focused people, both for activities directed at the medical community and the consumer — so any [TechCrunch] readers with experience in bringing similar technologies to market in the US should drop me a line,” says Husheer.

“From a regulatory perspective we are clear to sell anywhere in the E.U. or U.S., and in several countries that accept their medical clearances (e.g. South Africa and many Arab states). As a company selling on the Internet it will be no surprise that we have patients in almost all of these places – in fact we now have babies on every continent except Antarctica. That said, our primary focus is the U.K. and U.S.,” he adds.

Part of the issue with the U.S. market is that, for legal reasons, DuoFertility is not allowed to provide medical advice to the patient directly — but must work through the patient’s doctor. “This means their doctor is preferably included ‘in the loop’ from the beginning, however if the patient just uses DuoFertility without a doctor we can refer to a doctor we work with in their city if they need one,” Husheer adds.

DuoFertility has more than 30 staff at present, working shifts to ensure U.S. timezones are covered. The number of staff is likely to rise over the next year — especially if the company  replicates its U.K. fertility centre on U.S. soil so that American couples can be monitored by staff in the same timezone.

The company broke even in 2011 but has been ploughing investment into ramping up for the U.S. market so, overall, the business has not been profitable recently but Husheer says that’s all part of its growth plans: “Our investors seem to be very happy with this strategy, as everyone can see that the US will be the major market for us.”

TechCrunch » Gadgets