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Android creator Andy Rubin: Essential Phone is now available to order

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Following months of anticipation and some broken promises, Android creator Andy Rubin has made it official: The Essential Phone has finally launched and is now available to order.

The brand new handset is currently listed for pre-orders on Essential’s own website as well as on Sprint and Best Buy – though it seems each vendor will have a different offer for the phone (more details on that will follow later, but Sprint is reported to offer a $260 discount at retail).

The Essential Phone will be available unlocked from its own web store at the price of $699. Those interested in getting the auxiliary 360 camera module can take advantage of a limited time bundle that includes both for $749.

In his announcement post, Rubin assured that devices purchased at Sprint and Best Buy will be “compatible with all major carriers.”

Additionally, the handset will be available in both ‘Black Moon’ and ‘Pure White’ Colors.

The news hardly comes as a surprise after last week Rubin took to Twitter to tease images of the Essential Phone in production.

The former Android boss has yet to share when the phone will start shipping, but some pre-registered users were already getting notifications devices will be sent out within seven days, according to a Wednesday report from 9to5Google.

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As Kubernetes surged in popularity in 2017, it created a vibrant ecosystem

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For a technology that the average person has probably never heard of, Kubernetes surged in popularity in 2017 with a particular group of IT pros who are working with container technology. Kubernetes is the orchestration engine that underlies how operations staff deploy and manage containers at scale. (For the low-down on containers, check out this article.)

In plain English, that means that as the number of containers grows then you need a tool to help launch and track them all. And because the idea of containers — and the so-called “microservices” model it enables — is to break down a complex monolithic app into much smaller and more manageable pieces, the number of containers tends to increase over time. Kubernetes has become the de facto standard tool for that job.

Kubernetes is actually an open source project, originally developed at Google, which is managed by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF). Over the last year, we’ve seen some of the biggest names in tech flocking to the CNCF including AWS, Oracle, Microsoft and others, in large part because they want to have some influence over the development of Kubernetes.

Growing quickly

As Kubernetes has gained momentum, it has become a platform for innovation and business ideas (as tends to happen with popular open source projects). Once you get beyond the early adopters, companies start to see opportunities to help customers who want to move to the new technology, but lack internal expertise. Companies can create commercial opportunities by hiding some of the underlying complexity associated with using a tool like this.

We are starting to see this in a big way with Kubernetes as companies begin to build products based on the open source that deliver a more a packaged approach that makes it easier to use and implement without having to learn all of the tool’s nuances.

To give you a sense of how quickly usage had increased, 451 Research did a container survey in 2015 and found just 10 percent of respondents were using some sort of container orchestration tool, whether Kubernetes or a competitor. Just two years later in a follow-up survey, 451 found that 71% of respondents were using Kubernetes to manage their containers.

Google’s Sam Ramji, who is VP of product management at Google (and was formerly CEO at Cloud Foundry Foundation), says it feels like an overnight sensation, but like many things it was a long time in the making. The direct antecedent of Kubernetes is a Google project called Borg. Ramji points out that Google was running containers in production for a decade before the company released Kubernetes as an open source project in 2014.

“There was almost a decade of container management at scale in Google. It wasn’t an experiment. It was code that ran the Google business at scale on Borg. Kubernetes is built from scratch based on those lessons,” Ramji said.

Cloud native computing

One of the big drivers behind using Kubernetes and cloud native tools in general is that companies are increasingly operating in a hybrid world where some of their resources are in the cloud and some on-prem in a data center. Tools like Kubernetes provide a framework for managing applications wherever they happen to live in a consistent way.

That consistency is one big reason for its popularity. If IT was forced to manage applications in two different places using two different tools (or sets of tools), it would (and does) create a confusing mess that makes it difficult to understand just what resources they are using and where the data is living at any particular moment.

One reason the Cloud Native Computing Foundation is called that (instead of the Kubernetes foundation), is that Google and other governing members recognize that Kubernetes is only part of the cloud native story. It may be a big part, but they want to encourage a much richer system of tools. By naming it more broadly, they are encouraging the open source community to build tools to expand the ability to manage infrastructure in a cloud native fashion.

Big companies on board

If you look at the top 10 contributors to the project, it involves some major technology players, some of whom cross over into OpenStack, Linux and other open source projects.These include Google, Red Hat, CoreOS, FathomDB, ZTE Corporation, Huawei, IBM, Microsoft, Fujitsu, and Mirantis.

Dan Kohn, the CNCF’s executive director, says these companies have recognized that it’s easier to cooperate around the base technology and compete on higher level tools. “I would draw an analogy back to Linux. People describe Kubernetes as the ‘Linux of the cloud’. It’s not that all of these companies have decided to hold hands or are not competing for the same customers. But they have recognized that trying to compete in container orchestration doesn’t have a lot of value,” he said.

And many of these companies have been scooping up Kubernetes, container or cloud-native related companies over the last 12-18 months.

Company Acquired Company Purpose Date Acquired Amount
Red Hat Codenvy container development team workspaces 5/25/2017 Undisclosed
Oracle Wercker operate and deploy cloud native apps at scale 4/17/2017 Undisclosed
Microsoft Deis workflow tool for Kubernetes 4/10/2017 Undisclosed
Mirantis TCP Cloud cloud-like continuous updating 9/15/2016 $30 million
Centurylink ElasticBox mutli-cloud applications management 6/14/2016 $20 million
Apprenda Kismatic support and tooling for Kubernetes 5/19/2016 Undisclosed

All of this adds up to a set of businesses being built around a tool that didn’t even reach 1.0 until July 2015 (although there were several 0.x releases prior to that). Since then, use has steadily climbed.

Earlier this year, the CNCF announced that 36 companies agreed to a Kubernetes certification standard — when was the last time 36 tech companies agreed to anything? They did this to prevent any individual member from creating a non-compatible or inconsistent version that would either behave differently than expected or would not be portable from one version to another. This is typically known as forking and the organization, recognizing the growing popularity of Kubernetes, wanted to ensure to the extent possible that, that didn’t happen.

Building an ecosystem

Companies commercializing Kubernetes include Google itself,which offers a Google Kubernetes Engine (formerly Google Container Engine), Red Hat OpenShift, Pivotal’s Pivotal Container System (known under the confusing acronym PKS) and CoreOS Tectonic. AWS just jumped on the bandwagon too with Kubernetes support for its container service. Earlier this year Docker, the company that started the container craze, did the same.

Photo: Courtesy of Google (click to enlarge)

Beyond finding ways to commercialize the core open source version of Kubernetes, there are a range of other tools being developed from host management and secure images to logging and monitoring to name but a few.

All of this points to a rich of set of tools being developed around an open source project that is barely two years old. This is what happens when you create an open system. Innovation tends to happen as people need tools applications for running that. We have seen it with Linux. We’ve seen it with Hadoop and OpenStack, and we are seeing it with Kubernetes — and this year it took off in a big way.
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Google Assistant is coming to older Android phones and tablets

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The Google Assistant, Google’s take on Siri, Cortana and Alexa without the approachable name, has long been available on most modern phones and tablets. But given the fragmentation of the Android ecosystem, many older devices will never get the newer versions of Android that actually feature built-in support for the Assistant. Now, however, Google is bringing support for its voice-activated helper to phones running Android 5.0 Lollipop and tablets running Android 7.0 Nougat and 6.0 Marshmallow.

Lollipop launched back in 2014, so we’re talking about a rather old phone operating system here (Android 8.1 is now standard on Google’s own Pixel phones), but according to Google, more than 26 percent of all Android devices still run some version of Android 5.0 Lollipop. Just over 30 percent run Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Still, with an update to the Google Play Services, even these older devices will now get access to all the goodies that the Google Assistant promises — and often delivers.

If you still own one of these older Lollipop phones, you should see an update relatively soon. It’ll only be available to users who set their language to English in the U.S., U.K., India, Australia, Canada and Singapore, as well as to those who have set their default language to Spanish in the U.S., Mexico and Spain. Google says it will also roll out to users in Italy, Japan, Germany, Brazil and Korea.

Because the Assistant on these older devices isn’t baked right into the launcher, though, you’ll have to launch the Google Assistant app before you can ask your phone for directions, the weather, recipes or jokes (in case you are feeling sad).

As for Marshmallow and Nougat tablet users, they’ll get the update over the course of the coming week, as long as they are in the U.S. and have set their language to English.
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Google Home learns how to multitask

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Google’s smart speaker got a little smarter this week, with the addition of a multitasking feature. The new capability makes it possible for the device to accomplish two different missions at the same time. It was rolled out with little fanfare and first noted by CNET. We’ve since confirmed the addition with Google.

It’s a bit surprising that the company rolled it out to Home units with no mention. It’s a handy addition to what’s essentially been a single-minded device. The company has been promising to add Routines since the Pixel 2 event a few months back, essentially creating pre-determined scenes that tie a bunch of actions to a command (something that’s been supported by both Siri and Alexa for a while). This is something else, though.

Rather than having to preload all of that via an app, you can simply ask it to perform two jobs simultaneously. Only two, though. Not three or four — that would be flying a little too close to the sun. You also have to separate tasks into individual commands, as the device won’t understand two tasks crammed into the same sentence. Even though it’s limited, the silently released feature is arguably more handy than the forthcoming Routines as it can be accomplished on the fly.

In spite of letting Alexa get a pretty massive head start, Google’s done a pretty solid job playing catch-up to the Echo’s existing skill set. The new one comes as the company readies Home Max, a premium addition to the Home line due out sometime next month.

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