Tag Archives: Mobile

What’s The iPad advantage?

Ben Bajarin gives a brilliant account of the advantage that the iPad has over other PCs, in “The iPad Advantage” ($). In particular, this paragraph absolutely hits the nail on the head:

The PC is for certain a general purpose computer. Yet its form factor limits all its general computing capabilities to only be taken advantage while in a fixed position either at a desk, or with the device sitting on your lap. The iPad, and the slate form factor take this idea of mobile general purpose computing to an entirely new level. The iPad enables its general purpose computing power to be used in both stationary and mobile situations. The iPad liberates general purpose computing from the lap or desk and enables it in contexts where computing was absent before.

The iPad is usable pretty much everywhere, and that on its own increases its power compared to other PC types. I’ve used my iPad to write hundreds of words on the London Underground, something I’d never do with a laptop (mostly for fear of impaling people either side with my elbows).

Cheap Android phones don’t mean what you think they mean

Benedict Evans ponders the meaning of Android:

As should be obvious, this makes counting total ‘Android’ devices as though they tell you something about Google or Apple’s competitive position increasingly problematic. But to me, pointing out that ‘Android’ doesn’t necessarily competed with iPad is rather boring – what’s really interesting are the possibilities that these new economics might unlock. 

A good example is this – a 2G Android phone wholesaling for $35 (just one of hundreds). Now, stop thinking about it as a phone. How do the economics of product design and consumer electronics change when you can deliver a real computer running a real Unix operating system with an internet connection and a colour touch screen for $35? How about when that price falls further? Today, anyone who can make a pocket calculator can make something like this, and for not far off the same cost. The cost of putting a real computer with an internet connection into a product is collapsing. What does that set of economics enable? 

Benedict picks out what’s really interesting about Android, and it’s absolutely not that “80% market share” pundits keep going throwing around. The kinds of devices that Benedict describes aren’t in the same market as the iPhone: a $35 2G smartphone is as comparable to the iPhone as a Mercedes S-Class is to a Mini. Both do the same thing (carry you around), but no one who’s in the market for one of them will end up walking out of a showroom with the other. 

But what is interesting, as Benedict points out, is what a $35 Internet access device enables. When devices like this are as pervasive as a pocket calculator used to be, what does that allow us to do? Smart devices, network-enabled, which are almost cheap enough to throw away are much more interesting in the long term than expensive (but undoubtedly brilliant) devices like the iPhone. 

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.

Why did Microsoft buy Nokia?

Why did Microsoft buy Nokia?1 Why did the company choose to spend €5.44 billion of its cash reserves to buy a company that was already a close partner for Windows Phone, and which it had committed to pay billions in “platform support” cash2 to use its operating system?

Here's the official reasoning:

Building on the partnership with Nokia announced in February 2011 and the increasing success of Nokia’s Lumia smartphones, Microsoft aims to accelerate the growth of its share and profit in mobile devices through faster innovation, increased synergies, and unified branding and marketing. For Nokia, this transaction is expected to be significantly accretive to earnings, strengthen its financial position, and provide a solid basis for future investment in its continuing businesses.

The part about “faster innovation” is curious. Nokia never had a problem with innovation: it holds one of the largest patent portfolios in the tech industry, and collects billions of dollars per year to prove it. But what it always had was a problem with bringing that innovation to market. Nokia engineers were talking about single-button touchscreen smartphones years before the iPhone, but failed to bring their brilliant prototypes to market.

And failing to bring great concepts to market is something that Microsoft, too, has been guilty of. Potential innovations like the Courier floated around and then died. The company had prototype ereader hardware around years before the Kindle, and failed to bring it to market. In both cases, the reason for the failure to bring innovation to market was simple: protecting the Windows brand. If it doesn't run Windows (or isn't called Windows), Microsoft won't ship it – no matter how innovative it is.

What about the other reasons? Marketing, branding and advertising? What “synergies” (read: cost savings) can the two companies find there? Microsoft/Nokia might be able to drive better deals for ads and consolidate its work into a single agency, but there aren't billions of dollars of savings to be made there.

Marketing? If Microsoft wants to sell anything, it's going to have to ramp up the quality and quantity of marketing. Samsung outspends everyone else enormously when it comes to marketing, and even the cash reserves of Microsoft won't make up for a gap that big. Can Microsoft really compete with a company that spends more on marketing than Apple, HP, Dell, Microsoft and Coca Cola combined?

Maybe it could if the quality of its marketing was up to Apple's standards. But take a look at the advertising and marketing work for Surface and I you'll see why I have doubts it can deliver. When you create a tablet computer and choose to emphasis how great it works with an optional £100 keyboard, you're either trying to cover up the product's deficiencies as a tablet, or utterly missing the point.

Branding? Only if you ditch the Nokia brand. Otherwise, you have two brands, which is confusing and expensive. And given the license to “Nokia” that Microsoft has paid for, unlikely.

So if the “official” reasons make such little sense, why did Microsoft buy Nokia? Ben Thompson makes a good case that the Microsoft/Nokia deal was driven by an immanent switch to Android – or bankruptcy:

I theorize that Nokia was either going to switch to Android or was on the verge of going bankrupt. (I suspect the latter: part of the deal included €1.5 billion in financing available to Nokia immediately). And, had Nokia abandoned Windows Phone, then Windows Phone would be dead.

Which brings us back to that point about how Microsoft's failure to bring innovative products to market could be ascribed to its determination to protect Windows. Nokia was either going to go down the tubes, or admit defeat and move into the Android camp. This would have killed Windows, and condemned the Windows brand to the PC ghetto. And Windows is sacred: a few billion dollars of offshore cash (which Microsoft couldn't bring back into the US anyway without incurring lots of tax) is a small price to pay to “protect” the sacred cow of Windows.


  1. Yes, I know it's only bought the devices and services divisions and that the new/old Nokia will continue on. But to all intents and purposes, Microsoft has bought what most people think of as Nokia. 

  2. It may actually turn out that the billions in platform support would have ended up more than the amount Microsoft paid for Nokia. Looked at purely in this way, this is a good deal. 

iOS 6 Maps is a mess

In common with everyone else, I spent Wednesday night attempting to DDoS Apple’s servers by hammering them with update requests for all my iOS devices, plus all the applications, plus the odd Mac system update too. iOS 6 is, by and large, brilliant. I love shared Photo Streams. iMessage finally works how I expected it would. Panoramas are great.

But there’s one little problem: Maps. In short, it’s the most half-cooked piece of software that Apple has released in my memory, which goes back far longer than I’d care to admit. Worse than Ping? I think so: Ping was, after all, easy to ignore. Maps, on the other hand, is one of the core features of any mobile phone, and Apple has completely fluffed it.

Putting it bluntly, the maps on iOS are now so second rate that they’re a key advantage for Android, and one that I would expect Google to exploit as ruthlessly as possible. If you live in a major US city, I’m sure Apple’s maps are OK. You now get turn-by-turn navigation, which is great, and while Flyover looks like a novelty at first, it’s actually a pretty smart way of orienting yourself.

Outside the US, though, things are a little different. In London, the satellite images are decent enough, but weirdly the names of places are often slightly archaic. Step outside the M25, and the satellite images become blurry, pixellated, useless nonsense. The place names get worse (calling Daventry “Leamington” won’t win many friends in the Midlands). Businesses placed on the map seem to have been drawn from out of date data, in some cases fifteen years out of date.

Weirdly, it even incorporates trap streets that Google got rid of years ago. Search for Woodland Way in Canterbury. See Newark Street at the end? Doesn’t exist. If the satellite images were any good, you could see it going through two houses.

iOS Maps looks like what it is: something cobbled together fast from multiple sources of variable quality. And the problem is that for a core part of a mobile operating system, that’s nowhere near good enough.

Dell’s latest laptop borrows from Apple designs

Engadget reviews the Dell XPS 15z, which is supposedly a competitor for the MacBook Pro series.

Alt text

The short version: it’s cheaper, not as powerful, but does at least look a bit better than the old chunky XPS series.

When Dell tells you that the XPS 15z has no compromises, that’s not quite the case — it’s a solid choice at this price point, but corners were cut to get here.

(via Dell XPS 15z review — Engadget)

Who owns the platform? Adobe? Google?

Kevin Tofel on the announcement of Android support for Flash:

The key word in Adobe’s press release today being “expected,” which appears three times. Platforms other than Android are expected to integrate and work with Flash Player. All of the latest Android handsets are expected to see Froyo, which is required for Flash Player 10.1. The production version of Flash is expected to be available as a final production release for Froyo devices. Translation: Adobe hasn’t delivered anything to most handsets today and the fate of Flash Player is increasingly out of Adobe’s hands.

Kevin is spot on in highlighting Adobe’s use of the word “expect”, but I disagree with his last sentence. The fate of Flash Player isn’t out of Adobe’s hands: in fact, the fate of a platform which relies on Flash as a development environment is out of the hands of the platform’s creator.

Stewart Alsop says dumb things, get attention

Image representing Android as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

Stewart Alsop is having many problems with his Motorola Droid:

“The software (Google’s Android plus apps both from Google and from other developers) doesn’t work and is unacceptable on a mobile device.”

Only thing is that these are problems that it appears no other Droid users are having – blatant, massive issues which anyone even glancing at the phone for five minutes couldn’t fail to see.

But Stewart’s opinion is, at seems, that everyone else is wrong and he is the only one who has seen it.

Obviously, there’s some kind of conspiracy and all the other people who have Droids and are not reporting this behaviour are in on it. As opposed to, say, Stewart having a duff phone.

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