Android Wear going Up Market?

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Apple has thrown down the gauntlet to the luxury watch industry with their recent announcement of the gold Apple watch priced at about $17,000. Word has it that the Swiss watch giants are more than a little worried by these developments. Google has just announced a partnership with Tag Heuer and Intel to make an Android Wear  premium watch…so things just got real in premium watch land.

To date wearable watches have been all over the map in terms of pricing and design. Most are stuck in the “Get Smart” world of clunky geekery, I have yet to see one I really like…and as an Apple phone user I couldn’t use them anyway. Interestingly fitness trackers have completely out sold smart watches, they are typically priced afford-ably and do something which their users actually value. Most people already carry a smart watch in their pocket…it’s called a phone. I like the form and function of my Tissot watch. It’s robust, doesn’t need charging and if I destroyed it or lost it I wouldn’t be devastated. It does one thing really well. I don’t leave home without it…but I easily could. I probably check the time on my phone more often than I do my watch by a factor of three to one.

The announcement with Tag Heuer is interesting especially because the top guys at Tag explicitly said they would not be going the “Get Smart” route. Out the box the smart money will be on their watch being much more expensive than most Android Wear devices. I’m OK with that. Having Tag use their watch expertise to make an attractive robust watch which does something which users care about is a really good idea. Most people won’t be able to afford it but having them pull it off (assuming they can) may set a new direction where wearable meets functional meets style…and I’m all for that.

Expectations from the Apple Watch “Spring Forward” Event Today

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The Apple Watch, set to go on sale likely next month, will be Apple’s first venture into the smartwatch market and also its first new product category since the iPad made its debut in 2010. Introduced back in September, this gadget is expected to come with a number of new features and a wide selection of styles.

Apple has left many questions unanswered regarding features, price, battery and more. Full details will be revealed during the company’s Spring Forward press event today. Here’s what we expect to learn about the Apple Watch.

  • App Development

Several big companies are reportedly planning to release apps for the Apple Watch on launch. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter are among them. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide’s app will be able to unlock hotel-room doors, and United Airlines plans to release an app to provide flight notifications.

  • Battery Life

Apple CEO Tim Cook has said he expects the Apple Watch battery life to last all day. Beyond that, the company has remained mostly quiet. On the low end, the Apple Watch may last only 2.5 hours under constant active use. Combined passive and active use would bring the Watch closer to 19 hours. To stretch that, it may also ship with a feature called Power Reserve, which would reduce its power consumption and disable all features outside of timekeeping.

  • Communication Methods

The Apple Watch will display notifications from apps and a paired iPhone. It will enable users to communicate in new ways, through heartbeats, Siri, sketches and Yo-style taps. Users will also be able to transfer messages, emails and calls from the Apple Watch to an iPhone for longer conversations.

  • Health And Fitness Focus

The Apple Watch will come with a variety of health features at launch, including a built-in heart-rate sensor. It will be able to track various types of activity throughout the day, such as moving and exercising. And if a user is not standing up or walking around much, it can be set to provide a gentle nudge with a couple of vibrations.

  • Price

The Apple Watch will start at $349 for the sport model, which features an aluminum case and Ion-X Glass for the touch screen, according to the company. But Apple hasn’t said where it plans to price the stainless steel-version and the 18-karat gold Apple Watch Edition, which both feature a sapphire screen. The steel model could come in at between $499 and $549. Estimates place the gold model anywhere between from $5,000 to $10,000.

  • Watch Band Options

The Apple Watch will have a number of interchangeable bands available for purchase. Among the options are five colors of the fluoroelastomer band, eight leather bands and three steel bands. Prices for the bands are expected to fall between $49 and $99 for the fluoroelastomer and steel bands. If Apple introduces gold options, their prices could go into the thousands of dollars.

  • Retail Store Changes

Apple is expected to make some changes to its retail stores when the Apple Watch launches, such as the introduction of glass display cases to create a more upscale buying experience such as a jewelry store. The Watch could also get its own retail space: Apple has been seen setting up displays in high-end department stores in Paris and London.

 

Score One For The Bad Guys

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Q: What do you call 10,000 lawyers chained together at the bottom of the ocean…A: A good start.

I imagine I’m not alone in the category of business people who loathe large chunks of our legal system. Among the most repulsive are the patent laws. In a case announced today Apple has been hit with an absurd fine of $533 million over alleged infringement of patents claimed by SmartFlash LLC. Thankfully the ridiculous size and basis of the award will more than likely mean that it will be rightly thrown out in the appeals process but the award will likely encourage the foul occupation of patent trolling to continue.

Just in case you missed my earlier rants on this topic the patent trolls are essentially investment companies who buy up old patents (typically absurdly general and wide ranging ones granted before the patent courts had any handle on technology) and hold companies of all sizes to ransom by suing for infringement. The poster child for this process who just won against Apple has no employees, makes no product, has no revenues and only solely exists to attempt to exploit defunct overly general patents. This is a toxic business…it’s a tax on any company trying to business in this fair country and makes us look ridiculous as a nation. I wish Apple all the best possible luck in overturning this toxic verdict.  The verdict was (of course) issues in the same East Texas jurisdiction as most of the other patent Troll cases. I have no idea why a particular set of Texan judges have set them selves up as the arbiters (and cheer leaders) for the patent troll cases but they have…one can only assume they have their own internal rewards structure in place to make it worth their while.

As in increasingly tech based economy this kind of nonsense is harmful to growth and stifling of innovation. Unfortunately the trial lawyers are a huge political force so getting legal reform is going to be an uphill battle. Until then us tech folk will keep wasting time and money fighting absurd law suits…Thank you Texas

Apple’s Auto Gamble Is Risky Business

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Apple may be taking a big risk by wading into the automobile market, but that it may be an essential one for a company that must keep moving forward or risk being left in the dust by competitors.

Rumors have the $700 billion company looking at getting into the automotive business, and that the company has already assembled a large team of experts to work on the project.

An “iCar” by 2020 may mesh well with the company’s core competencies of redefining everyday products such as music players, smartphones, and eventually watches. Apple may have decided that cars is the next logical place to go, and the company certainly has a lot of pressure to continue to take bold new steps, especially with developments by competitors such as Google creating their own self-driving cars.

It won’t be a decision to be taken lightly, and Apple certainly has time to back out. Former General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz noted in the report that it would take enormous capital to launch an automotive product, and the industry typically doesn’t have big profit margins. It seemed strange to him that Apple would go into a business where, at best, Apple can expect a 5 or 6 percent margin, and in bad times, it will cost the company a great deal of money.

And it’s more than just the capital. There are a huge amount of state and regulatory obstacles to overcome, as well as global hurdles such as engineering a car to drive on the right-hand side. Most likely, Apple would jump into the electric car market, as Tesla has. It’s not clear whether it would also seek to go for automation as Google has.

Tesla may be an example of why Apple might want to think twice. The automaker has burned through lots of money in the past 10 years and have sold just 35,000 cars in the last year. Apple is not likely to be happy with similar figures.

What do you think? Would Apple fare well in this new endeavor?

Oh, How Apple Has Changed Since Steve Jobs

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Sticking to his guns typically paid off dividends for Jobs and Apple, even when vocal critics mocked the company’s decisions. But since Jobs’ death in 2011, Apple has been slowly pushing back against some of its founder’s most strongly held beliefs and doing things Jobs said he would never consider. Here are a few things that he strongly disliked that Apple decided to incorporate into their products:

Stylus: This week, an Apple analyst suggested that the company’s forthcoming iPad will ship with a stylus. One of Steve Jobs’ most famous rants was about how much he hates styluses. In 2007, while introducing the iPhone at the Macworld convention in San Francisco, he mocked other smartphones of that era that featured styluses.

“Who wants a stylus?” Jobs said while introducing the iPhone. “You have to get ’em, put ’em away, you lose ’em. Yuck! Nobody wants a stylus. So let’s not use a stylus.” “God gave us 10 styluses. Let’s not invent another,” One of the first things Jobs did when coming back to Apple in 1997 was to kill the Newton, a tablet-like device that used a stylus.

Yet Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities said the widely expected 12.9-inch “iPad Pro” will come with a stylus when Apple announces it in the spring, according to reports.

Small tablets: Another epic Jobs rant came in October 2010, when he discussed his disdain for a new wave of smaller tablets coming to market. On the company’s earnings call with analysts, Jobs said the iPad’s 10-inch screen was “the minimum size required to create great tablet apps.”

He said even making images appear sharper on the screen wouldn’t help smaller tablets become usable “unless your tablet also includes sandpaper, so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one quarter of the present size.”

“There are clear limits of how close you can physically place elements on a touch screen before users cannot reliably tap, flick or pinch them,” he said. A year after Jobs died, Apple introduced the iPad mini — by far the best-selling iPad in the company’s lineup.

Big phones: During Apple’s iPhone 4 “Antennagate” nightmare in 2010, Steve Jobs derided big phones. When a reporter asked him whether Apple would consider making a bigger iPhone to improve antenna reliability, Jobs scoffed. He called Samsung’s Galaxy S phones “Hummers.”

“You can’t get your hand around it,” Jobs said. “No one’s going to buy that.” Apple finally debuted a taller iPhone 5 a year after Jobs died, and a much larger iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus last year.

Life-like software design: Steve Jobs wanted the iPhone’s software to mimic real life. For instance, he told Apple’s designers to model iCal’s leather after the seats on his Gulfstream jet.

Apple’s Mail app had a linen background, the iBookstore featured wooden shelves, and the Notes app was made to look like a legal pad. A year after Jobs died, Apple fired Scott Forstall, a software executive who was a champion of Jobs’ design preferences. A year later, Apple introduced iOS 7, which did away with any ties to real-life objects.

Apple Gets Slapped With a New Year Lawsuit

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their newest devices – and most-recent operating system. The lawsuit, which takes a specific look at iOS 8 asserts that Apple did not do their customers proper justice by letting them know just how much space the new operating system would take up. The lawsuit especially evaluates those with 8GB or 16GB iPhone’s which quickly become filled and bogged down.

The horror stories when iOS 8 was first released – of users having to delete hundreds of photos, extensive apps, and even being required to get rid of things that would otherwise seem off-limits to traditional storage saving tactics. The complaint says, “To put this in context, each gigabyte of storage Apple shortchanges its customer’s amounts to approximately 400-500 high resolution photographs.” It then goes on to point out that Apple “fail(ed) to disclose to consumers that as much as 23.1 percent of the advertised storage capacity of the devices will be consumed by iOS 8 and unavailable for consumers.”

One major complaint that the lawsuit brings up is Apple’s eagerness to sell “cloud” storage, in exchange for the storage that is ultimately lost due to the operating system. While there isn’t any direct link between the two actions, and Apple has been offering cloud storage at a price for a number of years – it brings some questions to the surface. Specifically, are operating systems being bloated in an effort to get users to buy additional cloud storage?

The complaint says Apple uses “sharp business tactics,” to ultimately trick their users into buying more storage capacity – especially on smaller devices. Looking at the 16GB models of the iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, and iPhone 6 Plus – between 2.9 and 3.3GB of device storage is unavailable to users – which equates to between 18.1 and 20.6% of the device’s total storage space. Interestingly, the iPad, iPad Air, and iPod are all impacted even more. They lose between 3.4 and 3.7GB of storage – which equates to as much as 23.1% of storage space on the device.

The fact that nearly a quarter of the storage in those devices is useless definitely creates issues. Additionally, the change from iOS 7 to iOS 8 was one that is unique in that it required far more space than any other update to date so far. The situation was even worse for smaller 8GB devices, and it would appear as though this lawsuit will quickly be heading for class-action status – as more, and more grow to list of users upset by how much storage is absolutely useless in their new, or old, devices.

Tech Winners and Losers of 2014

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Life’s never dull in the technology space, with company takeovers, new product launches, senior management changes and security breaches occurring on – what feels like – a near daily basis. The past 12 months has seen plenty of these scenarios play out in the IT industry, with devastating consequences for some and positive outcomes for others. With this in mind, these are the tech industry’s winners and losers in 2014.

LOSERS

Wearable technology 2014 look set to be the year where vendors stopped talking up wearable technology products, and actually started releasing some, but it didn’t quite pan out that way.

While Apple and Google both unveiled their first ventures into this area (in the form of the Apple Watch and Google Glass respectively), both products are earmarked for unspecified general release dates in 2015, but precise details are scarce right now. High cost and ugly designs have repeatedly been cited this year as reasons why the wearable tech trend hasn’t quite set the world alight, but there’s always 2015, right?

Sony Pictures The hacking community had a bumper year in 2014 by managing to take down high-profile targets including online auction site eBay and US retailer Target, to name but a few.

However, the largest, most wide-ranging and – potentially – the most damaging was the one involving Sony Pictures in November. Members of the self-styled Guardians of Peace hacking collective breached the firm’s computer network, stole company documents and emails by the hundreds and then proceeded to dump them on torrent sites.

North Korea has been cited as the source of the attack, after the hackers made repeated references to Sony Pictures’ forthcoming comedy film The Interview, the story of which centers on a fictional assassination plot involving North Korean leader Kim-Jong Un. The hack took an even more sinister turn earlier this month, with the perpetrators threatening “9/11-style” attacks on cinemas that showed the film, prompting Sony to pull its release altogether.

HP While its five-year turnaround plan continues apace, the tech giant has faced some tough decisions this year to safeguard the company’s future, resulting in widespread job cuts. In October, HP announced plans to hive-off its PC and printing business from its wider enterprise hardware and services arm at a cost of another 5,000 jobs. The move came as a surprise to many, given the backlash it suffered several years ago when former CEO Leo Apotheker proposed a similar move.

Uber While the number of people downloading the Uber taxi finder app has sky-rocketed this year, the company, its senior management and its operating methods have all come under fire. Thousands of black cab drivers took part in an hour-long protest against Uber’s method of working out the cost of fares that saw central London brought to a standstill in June.

The company has also garnered complaints about the way it treats journalists, after one of its executives suggested hiring a team of researchers to “dig up dirt” about those who write bad stories about the firm. And, if all that wasn’t bad enough, Uber faced a monumental backlash in December after its surge pricing system, whereby the cost of fares grows in line with demand, kicked in during the Sydney hostage crisis. This meant people using its service to escape the scene were charged around four times the normal fare.

Samsung After wowing smartphone buyers with its flagship Samsung Galaxy S3 and S4 handsets in 2012 and 2013, respectively, the South Korean tech giant was widely expected to replicate the sales figures notched up by these devices with the S5. Despite a striking re-design, the introduction of biometric security, a heartrate monitor, and a wealth of other bells and whistles that garnered favorable reviews, sales of the S5 fell short of analyst expectations.

Just to round off a bad year for the firm, December saw analyst house Gartner unveil its latest smartphone market tracker, which also revealed Samsung had lost 8 per cent of its global market share because of a fall in demand for its products in China.

iCloud Cloud security worriers were gifted a fairly credible reason about the integrity of off-premise storage this year, after hackers managed to side-step Apple’s iCloud log-in procedures and leak naked pictures of a host of female celebrities online. The fallout from it prompted Apple to issue assurances in September 2014 that it was tightening up security around its flagship cloud storage service.

WINNERS

Blackberry After what can only be described as a disastrous 2013 for BlackBerry, the past 12 months have been considerably better for the Canadian smartphone maker. While the previous year saw the firm hit with multi-million inventory charges, senior management changes, and an abortive attempt to acquire the firm by its largest shareholder, 2014 has seen it embark on a concerted push to reconnect with enterprise users to very positive effect.

This has resulted in the release of the eye-catching BlackBerry Passport, which has chalked up better-than expected sales, and lofty predictions about a return-to-growth for the firm in the not too distant future.

Mojang Even if hadn’t been acquired by Microsoft, it’s highly likely games developer Mojang would have made it on to our 2014 winners list, based on the continued popularity of its flagship offering Minecraft. The game is said to have 100 million registered users, and saw its user base widen considerably this year with its release on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles.

Microsoft coughed up $2.5 billion for Mojang earlier this year to safeguard the game’s availability on Windows PCs and phones in the future, and – we assume – ensure Mojang’s senior management enjoys a very nice Christmas.

WhatsApp It’s fair to say WhatsApp’s 450 million-plus users were a little skeptical about how honorable Facebook’s intentions were when news first broke that it was planning to buy the IM service in February. With fears abounding that Facebook might opt to shut the service down and incorporate it into its own Messenger service, or even start charging users to send missives to each other, the WhatsApp user base wasn’t happy.

In response, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised users the service will operate as it always has done and continue to do so as a standalone entity. And since the $22 billion deal was finally waved through by regulators in October 2014, he’s shown no signs of backtracking on this.

Hackers 2014 has certainly been a busy one for the hacking community, with a series of high-profile attacks on the likes of Sony Pictures, iCloud and eBay causing massive disruption to their operations and – not to mention – reputations.

While vendors and industry types often predict cyber-attacks will grow in complexity and sophistication as time goes on, these three provide solid evidence that this is a trend that’s already occurring.

 

Rumored Sapphire Display on iPhone Screens Likely Won’t Happen

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It’s pretty clear that something went very wrong between Apple and its bankrupt sapphire supplier GT Advanced Technologies over the past year. There are good reasons to believe that Apple’s sapphire display plan for the iPhone 6 may have been doomed from the start because it seems both Apple and GT Advanced underestimated the major difficulties. These difficulties varied from needing to have an extremely clean environment during ongoing construction, to having uninterrupted supplies of water and electricity to regulate the temperature of the molten aluminum oxide. Apple declined to help install backup power supplies, thus multiple outages occurred, ruining whole batches of sapphire.

Sapphire, the world’s third hardest mineral, was supposed to drastically reduce or eliminate scratching on the surface, thus eliminating the need for screen protectors. It would be a huge selling point for those of us that seem to find some sort of way to scratch or drop our phone throughout any given day.

The Apple-GT marriage was troubled from the start. GT had never mass-produced sapphire before the Apple deal. The New Hampshire company’s first 578-pound cylinder of sapphire, made just days before the companies signed their contract, was flawed and unusable. GT hired hundreds of workers with little oversight; some bored employees were paid overtime to sweep floors repeatedly, while others played hooky.

All of which is a major problem in its own right, but add in the fact that Apple already uses one-fourth of the world’s supply of sapphire to cover the iPhone’s camera lens and fingerprint reader alone, upping that supply to cover screens is bound to exacerbate any preexisting problems—like, say, keeping track of the sapphire in the first place.

Manufacturing wasn’t the only problem. In August, one of the former workers said, GT discovered that 500 sapphire bricks were missing. A few hours later, workers learned that a manager had sent the bricks to recycling instead of shipping. Had they not been retrieved, the misfire would have cost GT hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Whether Apple or GT is ultimately at fault here we’ll likely never know. However, it may be safe in saying that given the huge difficulties Apple encountered in producing sapphire displays in its first attempt, you probably won’t get a sapphire display on the iPhone 6s or even the iPhone 7.

The Jobs Problem?

 

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The recent furor over horrible (if not actually criminal) behavior at Uber has led me to wandering about the culture of our industry…in short is tech turning nasty? I’ve been in tech in one form or another for most of my career. On the whole most the tech people in it fit nicely into the stereotype of socially awkward but nice weirdos.  Many of the management were a little less likable but still not horrible by any means. Although as an industry we have been traditionally a pretty homogeneous bunch in recent years we have seen some very nice growth in both ethnic and gender diversity….but there’s a “but” here.

Anyone who has read my blog will know that I’m a huge fan of Steve Jobs. He was our Da Vinci and his pointless entirely avoidable death robbed us of several decades of innovation.  However pretty much anyone who met him (including myself) would testify that he was at best rude and prickly…at worse a total A-hole. Just after his death a few years back the fabulously well written biography by Walter Isaacson revealed just how gratuitously rude, arrogant  and unpleasant Jobs routinely was. To a person everyone in our industry has read that book….many times in some cases.  It’s a new kind of tech bible and it clearly teaches that nice guys finish last. I haven’t met that meant real A-holes in our industry…but the one thing that they all had in common was their love of quoting Jobs on almost every topic. It’s weird and disturbing and growing….and I hate it.

Russia…Really?!

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As a sixties baby growing up in London the Russians represented real and impending destruction…indeed when Regan assumed power we were reasonably sure it all be over and sooner rather than later. As the USSR collapsed Russia regressed to something close to its peasant roots until Czar Putin reestablished the monarchy.  Nowadays, Russia is a hot bed of tech innovation and in my industry, we spend inordinate amounts of time and effort fending off Russian hackers and bots. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many Russians and in the vast majority of cases they have been charming  educated folk…a little crazy in some cases but still.

All of this makes me wonder why on earth a good percentage of the Russian population is made up by apparently rabidly homophobic monsters.  Granted there are still an extraordinarily large number of states in the US were you can be fired for simply being gay…so we shouldn’t be too smug…but a good majority of Americans almost certainly wouldn’t join in beating a gay person to death on the street…or film it or post it online.  If that happened it’s likely that the police would get involved and (who knows) the perpetrators would likely be prosecuted.  Not so in Russia. There it’s common place for people to suffer outrageous assaults, even murder, simply for being gay. A climate of intolerance is encourage even codified by the government.

The most recent manifestation of this lunacy comes to us from St Petersburg where a monument to Steve Jobs (in the form of a giant cell phone) has supposedly been taken down by the company which erected it simply because Tim Cook recently came out as gay.

If this is true (and there may be some uncertainty around the timing) it’s as silly as it is sad. It may be especially ironic because Russians (who can afford them) simply love all things Apple.  A much more sincere idiotic reaction might be for Russians to stage iPad burnings where their beloved status symbols would be ritually incinerated…but that’s never going to happen.  Meantime I go out of my way not to buy anything made in Russia.  Granted that’s a reasonably futile gesture as most of what we buy from Russia is in the form of oil and raw materials and it’s hard to tell whether the gas you are putting in your tank is supporting oppression…but the thought is there.