Category Archives: Mobile

The Problems Faced By Windows Phone

Long-time Windows Phone user Romit Mehta decided to buy an iPhone 5S, and his reasons for doing so exemplify why Windows Phone is in trouble.

Two of the problems Romit lists strike me as being particularly important when considering the future of Windows Phone:

Windows Phone lacks polished features. Romit talks about Notification Centre, and the similar Windows Phone feature lacks the ability to see recent updates clearly:

Invariably, I find myself hearing a notification from the phone and not realizing what it was for by the time I pick it up from across the room. Could it have been an ESPN score alert, or a News360 breaking news alert? If it is a WhatsApp message, I know the live tile gets updated, but what if the tile already had a non-zero number?

Then there are the missing enterprise features, something which might be surprising coming from Microsoft:

My new office has wifi everywhere on campus, but they use Microsoft Protect EAP (PEAP) for network authentication, which I couldn’t get to work on my Lumia. As I understand, it is not supported by Windows Phone 8 and is not available in GDR2 either.

Family and friends are elsewhere. Romit talks about how his family use iPhones, and it would be “great if I could iMessage with them and FaceTime with them for free.” You could argue that they should switch away from Apple-only technologies, but when you’re dealing with users who just want something that works, and it’s already “just working” for them, that’s a tough sell. And unlike Windows Phone, if Romit has any Android-using friends, there’s a version of Google Hangouts available for iPhone.

Microsoft’s biggest problem is that it’s playing catch-up, both from a development perspective and in its market share. Although having cloud-based services means it can avoid some of the worst network effects, it’s playing catch-up there too: Skydrive is a good product, but it lacks both mindshare and marketshare compared to Dropbox and Google Drive. Hotmail is still a powerful force, but the impetus is towards Gmail. And Office remains a strong brand, but its appeal is now mostly limited to the office: home users are increasingly looking elsewhere.

Apple is winning. Google is winning. Can we shut up now please?

Ben Thompson on the Google we always wanted

Android did its job: Google’s signals have unfettered access to users on every mobile platform. Microsoft is in no position to block them, and Apple, for all its bluster, isn’t interested.

Chrome is doing its job: Google’s signals sit on top of an increasing number of PCs, slowly making the underlying OS irrelevant.

Google+ is doing its job: Every Google service is now tied together by a single identity, and identity is the key to data collection on mobile.

This is the thing that people often don’t get: while Google and Apple appear to be competing with each other, because both companies sell a mobile platform, in fact they have entirely different aims and objectives. This means that it’s perfectly possible for both to “win” by their own criteria.

Apple wins by selling the best devices, ensuring no one can stop them delivering the best user experience and making a profit from them. Google wins by improving its advertising products and ensuring that no other company can lock it out, depriving it of potential audience. 

This is why the occasional talk of Google pulling or handicapping its iOS products (see the comments here) is laughable. Google doesn’t care if you’re using an iPhone or an Android phone. It cares if you’re using Google services or not. And the best way to get iOS users to use more Google services is to produce better products for iOS, rather than expect them to buy a new mobile phone. 

Cheap tablets and baked beans

Jared Newman reviews the Hisense Sero LT 7in tablet, currently selling for $99 in Walmart:

But there’s one big caveat with the Sero 7 LT, not listed on Walmart’s product page: According to Engadget, TechRadar and others, this tablet will only last for about four hours on a charge. Most other tablets last at least twice as long. Even if you’re not planning on hours of consecutive use, a big battery allows you to keep your tablet lying around for days at a time, using it on and off throughout. With a four-hour battery, you’ll need to be extra mindful about plugging the tablet in when it’s not in use.

Also, keep in mind that while the Sero 7 LT’s microSD slot compensates somewhat for the measly 4 GB of built-in storage, it’s not a cure-all. Some Android apps and widgets can’t be installed to a microSD card, and juggling two sources of storage can be a hassle.

So in other words, it’s a tablet which has a battery which makes it certain not to last through the day, tiny amounts of storage, and a dual core processor which is likely to make it feel sluggish. It has no roadmap for future software upgrades. Essentially, it’s barely useable for the kinds of purposes that any family would want to use a tablet for. 

Yes, it’s cheap, but in the way that 10p tins of beans used to be cheap: you’d open them up, and find a third of the can was thin watery sauce, with some tough, tasteless beans nestled at the bottom. You’d eat them, because they were the only thing you could afford: but if you could afford anything better you’d buy that instead.

Hardware in a software world

The inestimable Mr Gruber:

Even “hardware” features are defined by software, and can no longer be judged on their own. Consider, say, mobile phone cameras. The camera itself is important – the sensor, the lens, the physical size – but ultimately what matters is the quality of the images it produces, and software is a huge part of that.

This is something that I have to repeatedly point out to Android users. Over and over again, they point out how the hardware on a particular phone is better than the iPhone, and how the software allows you more precision control over the shot you take with the camera.

And over and over again, I ask “which takes better pictures?”

And the answer is always the iPhone.

(via Daring Fireball Linked List: CES Is the World’s Greatest Hardware Show Stuck in a Software Era)

The end of the beginning in the mobile market

Benedict Evans sums up the current state of the mobile market:

“In other words, Apple has 20-30% of the market by volume, but it is the top 20-30%. Google ‘has’ the rest, but has only a very tenuous connection to large parts of it, and another large proportion is likely to be worth little or nothing for a long time. Roll on uncertainty (link): everything will change, again, in the next year. ”

This is only phase one. Whether iOS and Android are even in the same market most of the time is up for debate.

What, exactly, is Android?

Toward a More Informed Discussion on Android | TechPinions:

“Android is in no way shape or form the same as OS X, Windows, iOS, Windows Phone, or RIM’s Blackberry OS. When we speak of those operating systems we are speaking of a unified platform controlled by one company whose platform share represents the total addressable market, via single SDK, for developers. Should a developer want to develop for any of those platforms, all they need do is get the SDK for that single platform. Android, however, is an entirely different beast.

Android is not actually a platform, it is an enabling technology that allows companies to create platforms Because Android is open source, all the term Android refers to is the AOSP, or Android Open Source Project. Anyone can take this core code and create their own custom operating system using Android as the core. Google created and manages the AOSP but also has their own version of Android. Amazon does this and has their own version of Android. Barnes and Noble does this and has their own version of Android. I would not be shocked if new entrants as well take the Android platform and make it their own for their own needs as well.”

This is the thing that gets overlooked, all the time. Android is not a single, unified operating platform: it’s a set of semi-compatible platforms, built around the same technology.

Amazon’s version of Android is to Google’s version of Android what FreeBSD is to Ubuntu. You can probably get the same apps to run – but be prepared for some tweaking.

Google’s iOS app strategy

If you think that it’s in Google’s interests to create better apps on Android than iOS, two recent releases should absolve you of that notion.

First, there’s the latest release of Gmail, an app that’s so good even Android sites are wishing it was available on their platform.

Then there is YouTube, which improves so much over the previous (Apple-created) app that I wish Apple had dropped its own version sooner.

So what’s going on? Why would Android’s creator make better apps for the platform it competes with than for its own?

There’s two reasons. First, as I wrote in my most recent posting on Macgasm, the role of Android isn’t to defeat iOS, but to ensure that Apple does not dominate mobile in a way which meant it could lock Google search out. Second, there’s the issue of revenue. Although Google doesn’t break out how much it makes from ads served to iOS devices, given that iOS drives far more web traffic than Android it’s safe to assume Google serves more web ads to it. And that makes iOS a more profitable platform for Google than Android is.

Given this, why would Google want to damage a platform it makes more money per user from, in favour of a platform it makes less money per user from? Google is driven by data, and the data says that providing services to iOS users makes it money.

A Simple Illustration of Why Windows 8 is Going To Fail

Brent Ozar, in an update to his earlier post:

After getting linked from HN and Reddit, I’ve gotten a bazillion comments that boil down to “You should have updated Office.”  Yes, if only I could have figured out how.  Since this post went live, Microsoft has explained how to get it:

For Windows RT Surface users, the update can be had by:

  • Head to the Control Panel version of Windows Update, not the Metro-accessible version that you use for more everyday settings changes.

Two different versions of the same functionality, one of which is semi-hidden. And that’s the one you need to use to do a very necessary thing. Windows 8 – or at least the Metro/Old Style combination – is looking more and more like a failure every day.

A simple illustration of what Microsoft doesn’t get about hardware design

Why I’m Returning My Microsoft Surface RT | Brent Ozar:

This tablet hardware doesn’t just compete with the iPad – it bypasses the iPad in many ways that are significant and valuable for me.

I plugged in my USB presentation remote and it just worked.

I plugged in a 64GB micro SD card with all my presentations and files and it just worked.

So far, so good. But wait!

I popped out the kickstand and started typing and it just worked.  Well, almost – if there’s one significant compromise in the Surface RT, it’s the kickstand.  You get two and only two positions for the kickstand: open and closed.  There’s no adjustments.  I think the kickstand angle was designed for airplane use by short people, because the screen hardly goes back at all.  It’s probably perfect for Danny DeVito when he puts it on the seat back tray in coach class, but for me on a desk, it’s too steep.

The built-in front-facing camera for Skype is angled so that it’ll work great when the kickstand is open, but again, only for Danny DeVito, or maybe for people who want to show off their chests in Skype.

Microsoft has taken the spec sheet approach to hardware design. Adding a kick stand is good, because you can put it on the spec sheet and that’s another plus point. But it’s basically unusable (unless you’re vertically challenged), which reduces it from a plus point to a meaningless feature.

Fail.

The problem with Surface

Microsoft’s Surface: Less Than A Tablet, Less Than A Notebook PC, Less Than Ideal | TechPinions:

“The only Windows desktop software that the Surface RT runs is Windows Office. That’s it.

There are over 4,000,000 applications that run on Windows. The Surface RT falls 3,999,999 applications short of being an adequate notebook PC. And that’s really short of ideal.”

Much as I’d applaud Microsoft for trying something different, Surface has all the disadvantages of Windows without the advantages of running pretty much every application you’d ever want.