Skifta Preview: Talking Streaming with Qualcomm’s Digital Media Gurus

We've been covering Qualcomm's Skifta project since almost the very beginning, from when the DLNA streaming media system was a simple 2009 side-project in the chipset company's labs, to its status as a legitimate standalone product with an eye on potential revenue streams. Android Community has had early access to the latest version of Skifta, hitting the Android Market today, to see whether a free app can really replace expensive media streaming systems around the home and office. Skifta build 68 does everything we're already familiar with from the app, so you get access to local media sources - such as your phone, NAS, computers sharing media and other devices - as well as streaming radio content, which can be squirted to a DLNA-compliant TV, WiFi radio or other device and controlled from your Android phone. A free download, it uses straightforward media plugins to add extra internet content; as for playback, if you have an internet-connected TV (or a DLNA-supporting streamer) then you're all set. As ever, as long as you have the bandwidth, it all works surprisingly well. The Skifta UI has been polished since the early days, with a three-step process of picking a source - audio, video or images, including Facebook and Picasa photos - then a playback device, and finally choosing which media you'd like to play. The new version adds in support for premium channels, like Napster; if you have a Napster account, you can log in and access the service's 10m+ streaming tracks. There's also new control over playback, to take into account the fact that not all media players are created equal. Given that many users have drives full of video and audio using different codecs, Skifta now allows you to choose which media player app on your phone you want to use to render the content. We loaded up vPlayer and Rock Player, and could choose between them in a simple Android dialog box. It means that files not natively supported by the Android media player can now often be played using a third-party player, and hugely extends the use of Skifta. We caught up with Skifta's director of marketing, Gary Brotman, at MWC 2011 last week, and talked to him about the future of the app and the growing Skifta ecosystem. With a long background in digital music - Brotman is actually behind one of the streaming radio channels featured in Skifta, Paper Buddha - he's unsurprisingly enthusiastic about the potential of the app, particularly when it comes to partnerships with other media sources. Napster - as added in build 68 - is just the start of it; Brotman is also keen to work with other subscription-based music services, such as Spotify. "It's less about owning music, today, and more about having access to it" he told us, suggesting that while people have historically built up huge stacks of CDs and records, and then gone on to amass collections of MP3s, the focus now is shifting away from ownership and more to ubiquity. Part of that is the increase in connectivity options, like 3G/4G on mobile devices and faster WiFi networks in homes and offices. "Previously, you had what content you could carry or had loaded up before you left" Brotman explained. As for making Qualcomm some money, Brotman is cautious of the usual ways Android apps are monetized. Although adverts are the obvious strategy - either AdWords in the app itself, or even audio or video promotions interspersed with the streamed content - he's wary of negatively impacting the user experience, especially when it comes to mining users' media catalogs for context-aware ads. Instead, the Skifta team is looking for more roundabout ways of commercialising the software, perhaps through affiliate links to download music from Amazon or other vendors. If you hear a track you like on a streaming radio station, Skifta could offer a one-click way of purchasing that music, with Qualcomm taking a slice of the proceeds. Alternatively, if more premium channels - such as Spotify - get onboard, Skifta could take a tithe of their subscription revenue too. Of course, there's always the potential for Skifta to evolve into a paid version, or perhaps split into free and premium, though for now the app remains a free download. You can find the updated build 68 in the Android Market; don't forget to let us know how you get on in the comments.

Android 3.0 Honeycomb SDK finalized

Google has released the final Android 3.0 Honeycomb SDK, complete with finalized APIs, on the eve of the first Honeycomb-based tablet being released. Developers now have the final set of tools to code for the Motorola XOOM and subsequent Android 3.0 slates, and the new API level is 11. The Android 3.0 Honeycomb platform highlights are here, and there's a breakdown of differences between APIs here. There's also an update to SDK Tools (r10) and ADT Plugin for Eclipse (10.0.0), including such niceties as improved rendering of what the final on-screen app will look like. Instructions for downloading the Android 3.0 SDK are here.

Nexus S and Nexus One Gingerbread 2.3.3 update going out OTA

Google has begun pushing out Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread updates to the Google Nexus S and Nexus One. According to the official Nexus Twitter account, the over-the-air updates have already started, but users should be patient since it "may take a few weeks for OTA to complete." The update will be incremental for the Nexus S, but the Nexus One's first official taste of Gingerbread. We've just checked one a Nexus One in the UK, and there's no sign of new firmware being available, so it seems we'll have to be patient (or wait for someone to offer a side-loading version of the official ROM, of course). [Thanks n900mixalot!]

Motorola XOOM Has Bootloader That’s Both Unlockable and Relockable

As if to throw the entire developer world for a loop in the face of today's realization that the ATRIX 4G has a completely locked bootloader, Motorola Mobility's Twitter account has just gone ahead and tweeted the fact that the XOOM will have an unlockable and lockable bootloader. This function will, they say, enable developers to access hardware for development, and as they don't say, allow hackers to sing and dance with the system, tearing it down to the ground and remaking it in their own image.

Atrix bootloader gets locked down, no custom ROMs

The back and forth between Motorola and XDA Developers has undergone a new chapter as the bootloader for the Atrix 4G phone has been locked down to prevent any installation of custom ROMs. That means that for now, there's no way to remove MotoBlur, or add any custom work to the phone. When it comes to adding custom ROMS Angry users already know the score target="_blank" via Twitter: "@tdcrooks if you want to do custom roms, then buy elsewhere, we’ll continue with our strategy that is working thanks."

Quantum Dots Future of Samsung Displays

Behold, the Quantum Leap of our time! Researchers over at Samsung Electronics have been making a full-color display with none other than the elusive technology called quantum dots. What the heck is that all about? Quantum-dot displays, they say, are not only cheaper and more energy-efficient than the LCD displays found in today's common devices, they're brighter too! Samsung currently has a four-inch diagonal display whipped up that uses an active matrix, that is, each of its quantum-dot pixels is controlled with a thin-film transistor, and the entire prototype is made of flexible plastic so it can bend with ease!

myTouch 4G Source Offered Up by HTC Aside Aria, Desire Z, Desire HD

Oh you lovers of the insides of phones, today is one of those good days. Good days for the HTC involved, that is, as several phones have had their Android source codes released via HTC's Developer Center per their agreement that they'll do so no matter what they're doing with Android, an open-source project. The phones on the block to be chopped and screwed are the myTouch 4G, Desire Z, Aria, and Desire HD. If you're a fan of any of those, we're looking at you myTouch 4G fans, we encourage you to explore the code and bring the community some lovely tidbits that we might feast upon them with joy.

Samsung Mystery Phone gets MAP designation at Verizon

Samsung’s newest mystery phone has gotten a MAP price designation on Verizon's website. MAP, standing for "minimum advertised price," is a designation given to a phone when it's ready to be advertised and the launch date is about to be set. The new phone, known as the SCH-i510, has been speculated to compete with the HTC Thunderbolt, and as such, is likely to go for around $250 with a two year contract from Verizon, or around $750 unsubsidized. But what do we know about this phantom phone?

NOOKcolor Root for DIY in-Auto Awesomeness [Video]

Oh you didn't know that NOOKcolor had been rooted and taken far beyond its innocent book-reading beginnings? Oh it's been brought far, far beyond. In a video posted by juicedigital, a rooted version of the Barnes & Noble Android tablet is shown to not only be rocking pretty hard playing music, surfing the internet, and downloading apps from the Android Marketplace, it's essentially nearly got GPS map functionality and is changing the in-car life of this intrepid hacker / modder.

HTC Thunderbolt Skype video support slips

The bad news continues to mount for the HTC Thunderbolt as word is getting around that video chat using Skype will not be available when the 4G phone reaches customers on February 28th. A leaked page from BestBuy.com shows Skype's video chat feature will not be available as planned. But slipped dates are nothing new for this HTC Phone. As you recall from last week, it's launch date slipped a week. So chances are, we'll see Skype video calling down the road, but the question is, when?