Monday, 21 July 2014

Comparing Apple and Microsoft As Communicators

Last week both Apple and Microsoft had big announcements to make about the future of their companies, for Microsoft it was a round of layoffs on an unprecedented scale. For Apple it was a new partnership with IBM which should see it make further strides into the enterprise.

Apple's announcement has huge implications for the way the business is run, a new opportunity to present iOS as a truly capable business device, being pushed to large enterprise customers by IBM, a company those customers know and trust.

In contrast Microsoft announced changes that will affect the livelihood of thousands of its employees, will change some of it's product lines and kill off others.

How were those messages communicated to staff? Well here's Satya Nadella's widely circulated message to Microsoft and here (courtesy of 9to5 Mac) Tim Cook's private one to Apple's staff.

Once you've read the two memos it's easy to understand the differences between the two companies. Nadella's message twists and turns and covers it's backside at every point. It could have been summarised in just a few words without putting the recipients through the mental torture of deciphering the hidden meanings. It is a linguistic game of twister.

Cook's message is brief, to the point. Nadella has created a bonus round of buzzword bingo.

If every management communication in Microsoft is as legible, straightforward and open to individual interpretation as this one, it's no wonder the company is struggling.

Here's the gist of the Microsoft memo:

"In order to maintain a competitive business and to improve efficiency in the way that Microsoft operates following the takeover of Nokia, up to 18,000 job losses will be required. 12,500 of those will be in the Nokia organisation. Most affected employees will be notified in the next six months and the company will be providing severance pay and assistance in finding future employment to all of those impacted."

Did the memo really need to say anything else?

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Nokia Bears Brunt of Microsoft Job Cuts

When Microsoft announced it was going to buy Nokia it talked about bringing efficiencies to the new business.

This week the announcement that 14% of Microsoft employees were being made redundant hit those former Nokia employees hardest with 12,500 expected to lose their jobs one the final toll has been taken.

That's going to be hard on a company that has already been through radical restructuring prior to the merger being announced.

For Microsoft as a whole it doesn't paint a great picture - worst case expectations were for 6,000 job cuts across the whole business. With three times as many Microsofties now facing redundancy it beggars two questions: Was Microsoft really this badly overstaffed pre-merger? And what products will die as a result of this change?

One thing we do know, Nokia's X range of Android AOSP phones won't be around much longer, as Microsoft focuses on Windows Phone. Which should also end those rumours of Microsoft adopting Android apps on its mobile platform.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

F1: German GP Promises To Get All FRICed UP

The 2014 F1 season potentially descends further into farce this at this weekend's German Grand Prix, after the FIA declared that the trick suspensions currently being used by at least seven of F1's teams were illegal. These FRIC suspensions (Front Rear Inter Connected) must either be removed from the cars using them or face the threat of appeals for technical non-compliance and ultimately disqualification.

The FIA have offered to allow the continued use of FRIC suspensions if all of the teams unanimously agree to them remaining. With some teams at a distinct disadvantage from not having the technology that doesn't seem to be a very likely scenario.

Will this shake up the grid? At least some of the teams believe that Mercedes FRIC is responsible for an element of its advantage. Perhaps the loss of the system will reduce the advantage that Rosberg and Hamilton have at every race, however I doubt that it will be enough for other teams to prevent the domination of the Silver Arrows continuing.

However the big test will come on Friday, when we find out which teams have retained FRIC and which teams intend to protest. If the race stewards aren't asked to make a judgement before Sunday then when the chequered flag falls the final race result will be a long way from being decided.


Monday, 14 July 2014

Developer Income Matters

We are close to the point where Google's Play Store will be distributing more money to developers than the iTunes Store - quite a landmark point, when its was estimated that Apple paid out up to five times as much as Google just a couple of years ago.

The growth in income for the Play Store has been driven by two things - the growth of the Freemium sales model, which entices users into apps and then sells them additional features (or in the case of games more lives, bonuses or weapons necessary to progress in the game); and the growth of Android phones in South America and similar developing markets, where this model undoubtedly works better.

Average revenue per user will still favour developers who publish in the App Store, but realistically the figure developers are most interested in is going to be the total income generated, and in that respect the Play Store is going to creep ahead - especially now that Google are tracking more than one billion live Android phones in current use.

Sure developing for the App Store is easier - and with Apple's new tools promising to lower the bar in that respect - but developing for the bigger market is going to be a big draw, whether those developers are pro-Apple or not.

And with recent research suggesting that around 70% of apps in the App Store are zombies - not been downloaded in the last three months - it's going to be all the more important to get large numbers of early downloads before apps disappear into the dark hole where apps go when they are no longer fresh and new.

Developer income matters, because like any creative medium it's a bet by the creator that their end product will be sufficiently popular to generate enough income to validate their efforts.

A bigger target audience and a greater overall return are two factors that are likely to determine where those efforts are targetted.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Android Apps On Windows Phone Would Be A Death Sentence

Windows Phone may be getting the ability to run Android apps, if rumours on several sites are to be believed. Given that Microsoft already has a range of phones running AOSP and access to a Microsoft/Android ecosystem that doesn't appear to be a great stretch.

However the arrival of Android apps on Windows Phone will mark the end for the platform. Developers will have no incentive to create for the platform and buyers will have no reason to choose one over an Android alternative. 

Satya Nadella's recent 'employee' email didn't make it sound like Windows Phone was on it's deathbed, however in an interview with The Verge Nadella was asked a specific question about whether Microsoft could win in the Smartphone market. His response? Talk about the Surface Pro 3. If I was on the Windows Phone team I wouldn't be taking that as a huge vote of confidence.

If Windows Phone disappears - whether that be a slow death or a quick one - I'm not entirely sure that current Windows Phone users will follow Microsoft onto AOSP. Whatever plays Microsoft makes to build its platform it always has the problem that Google and Android are synonomous and users buying Android phones are ultimately looking for the whole Google experience. Will they accept the Microsoft one instead?

I'm guessing most will not.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Sharp Intake A Breath: Barcelona Runway Near-Miss

I guess that these must happen quite regularly, given the number of flights and low levels of separation between landing and departing airports, but to see two aircraft ina near miss incident, caught on camera is an eye-opener.

The video below, captured at Barcelona-El Prat airport shows an Aerolineas Argentinas A340 cross a runway where a Russian UTair 767 is in the process of landing. The Russian pilot realises what's happening in time and aborts his landing, however the margin between escape and disaster looks worryingly small.

What the cause of the incident was isn't clear - did the airport controller give the Argentinian pilot permission to cross or did he misunderstand an instruction to hold? Either way this came close to a repeat of the world's worst air disaster - the 1977 Tenerife accident, where an aircraft on take-off hit another on the runway at a cost of 583 lives.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Samsung Galaxy S5 Battery Kit Is A Winner

The Spare Battery kit for the S5
As each generation of smartphone replaces the last so the scramble for those precious few extra minutes of battery life. The more that our phones do, the less they do it for.

There have been workarounds. Sony introduced stamina mode to its Xperia range, effectively reducing functionality in order to eke out those extra hours of life. Which is all well and good. However there is a better solution, one that has been around for a while and is currently only available from Samsung amongst the larger OEMs.

The removable, replaceable battery.

Sure you can use external battery packs to recharge a device on the go, but it's hardly an elegant solution.

Samsung has a much cleverer and altogether more integrated system, which makes for a slick way of doubling (or tripling, if that's what you desire) battery life.

The Galaxy S5 has a pretty good battery stamina as standard. It even has a more extreme version of Sony's Stamina mode to really push the limits of regular battery usage.

However if your movements keep you away from mains power for longer than normal periods, then the combination of one or more extra batteries, plus Samsung's rather nice external battery charger means that with some sensible precautions you can keep it running for days or even weeks without ever having to be tethered to the wall. For $50US you get the charger, spare battery, a travel case for the charged battery and a wall charger - an impressive price all things considered.

Perhaps its an old school concept, but it works well. Run your phone's battery down, remove the S5's back cover, swap the battery, and hey presto you're off and running for another 24 hours. Buy more batteries îf you want to extend you grid-independence even further.

When other phone manufacturers struggle with making a device that keeps going through the day it clearly shows that Samsung is focused on the sorts of real-life challenges that Smartphone users face every day.

You can find more details of the Charging kit on Samsung's website here.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Smartphone Photography Rocks


As a rule smartphones make great cameras for those moments that you wouldn't otherwise capture, because you wouldn't be carrying a normal compact camera. Generally the sort of pictures captured are a record of life, for storage away on a drive (cloud or local) and remembering who, where, what and how we lived our lives and grew up.

There's a new generation of phones though, that are capable of much more.

This shot was taken with an Xperia Z1, which sports a 20mp camera and some software trickery which allows it to capture a photograph that would have once been the domain of professional photographers with serious camera equipment.

It's the sort of photograph that I could never have dreamt of taking, yet was able to capture on the spur of the moment, using a piece of technology that fits in my pocket.

Isn't technology wonderful?

F1: Bernie Threatens Italian Grand Prix, Small Teams

A different F1 - Monza '82 and as the midfield goes through
there's a whole heap of racing going on behind
Bernie Ecclestone may be approaching a million years old but that hasn't stunted his desire to rip every penny from Formula One and scoop up profits everywhere, from everyone involved in the sport.

Under attack this time is the historic circuit of Monza - home of the Italian Grand Prix.

Bernie has been complaining that the deal agreed with the circuit to run the Italian Grand Prix until 2016 didn't make enough money for him, so the Italian Grand Prix was unlikely to feature in the calendar after the current deal expires.

That's not to say that Bernie doesn't want an Italian Grand Prix, just that he's begun the process of negotiating the price upwards for the Italian organisers at a very early stage of the negotiations.

The problem for them is that F1 in Italy is on a downward spiral - the sport has been damaged by the 'circus tricks' which have been introduced to artificially spice up the racing. Ferrari aren't doing well and Italy itself is suffering the consequences of the current Euro financial crisis. Pouring more money into Bernie Ecclestone's pockets isn't in the interests of anyone but Bernie.

Alternative venues have been suggested - Mugello being one -  but they don't have the sense of history that Monza brings to the table. And aren't likely to pay more for the privilege.

Something else that would be sorely missed from the sport would be the minnow teams. Already we have a shortage of teams on the grid - just twenty cars on the grid as opposed to the thirty to thirty-four cars used to make it to races twenty years ago. It seems an a lifetime ago that we had enough teams on the grid to demand pre-qualifying and twenty-six race starters even at Monaco.

Bernie wants the remaining small teams to die. For Caterham and Marussia that doesn't promise a great future. It's not great news for Sauber or Force India either. Especially as the way of doing this is to introduce third cars for all the remaining teams. Which effectively ends their hopes of scoring points or getting into the money.

Right now F1 is in a mess. The racing is artificial and the rules ridiculous. Ferrari boss Luca De Montezemolo has been widely critical and there have been whispers of a withdrawal from the sport by Ferrari.

Nothing being said right now gives me any hope that things will be getting better any time soon.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Yo? Yo! Yo...

Yo.

I was going to leave it at that. After all if a company publishing an app that sends one word messages from your smarthone has managed to raise $1million in funding, surely that should be sufficient for a blog post too, shouldn't it?

If you could change the word that got sent I could even see it as being twitter for the conversationally challenged, but no, one word is all you get.

Yo.

Apparently the most marketable generations (teens and early twenties) are going wild for this app. Looks like we've failed as a civilisation then, in the space of less than a decade we've reduced our young to monosyllabic grunts of acknowledgement, sent in lieu of having something to say.

Yo.

From racking up Facebook likes and twitter followers these people have reached a plane where the need for acknowledgement from their peers is so great that the exchange of a one word message, devoid of personalisation, is an acceptable fulfillment of that need.

And if you're wondering why Yo has so easily found funding, just consider the bandwidth available for marketing when the content is a two-letter word.

Yo.

It's the end of humanity as we know it...