Thursday, 23 March 2017

Do You Really Think This Is The First Time Tim Cook Used A Surface Pro?

Pictures doing the rounds from the China Developer Forum in Beijing show a Surface Pro 4 apparently setup for Tim Cook to use at his seat. The Net is more than a little excited about the idea of Apple's CEO using Microsoft's hybrid.

However I'm absolutely positive this is far from the first time Cook has used a Surface Pro and it probably won't be the last.

Having initially been dismissive of Microsoft's hybrid concept Apple has been scrambling to catch up. That is strongly suggestive of Cook and his team trying early Surface devices and finding them to be weak products, missing the effect they would have on the tablet market and then changing their minds having tried later, more capable versions.

Any CEOs not paying careful attention to the work of their rivals is going to find themselves in a heap of trouble.  I don't think Cook is that sort of CEO.

More worrying for Apple is that a high profile event like this, in a key market like China, should  close to stack its delegates desks with Microsoft Surface Pros and not iPad.  A clearer indication of the problems with the current iPad line up you won't find.

What Does Apple's Workflow Purchase Mean For IFTTT

Apple has purchased iOS automation software Workflow for an undisclosed price, bringing the company under its own development team and removing the entry barrier to use by making the app free.

Integration of the app into iOS is sure to follow, as will wider adoption by third parties who previously held back from signing over access to the Web interfaces.

This is good news for everyone, except perhaps IFTTT. With a limited ability to monetise it's application a big buyout was probably the only way the service's founders and investors could have exited gracefully.

With more than half its user base likely to switch teams to Workflow over the next eighteen months that becomes less likely.

For the moment Workflow's iOS focus means IFTTT users have some additional capability, but I'm guessing Apple will erode that by the time it comes to give automation the big push into the public eye, possibly as early as WWDC next year.

LastPass Quickly Fixes Security Hole - Doesn't Fix Managers In General

Google uncovered a security vulnerability in the LastPass password manager. One that LastPass quickly fixed. That's good, but I'm not sure that it is anywhere near good enough.

Just a week ago I wrote about the attractiveness of password manager services to bad actors. This is exactly the reason why.

Discovery of a vulnerability like this potentially opens the doors to every service vaulted inside. Bank, credit card, share dealing accounts, retail, email and any other account of value. All unlocked by one vulnerability in an unrelated service.

A better demonstration of keeping all your eggs in one basket I haven't seen.

This isn't a criticism of LastPass itself, but we've seen in the past how difficult it is to keep a service secure. When the service holds such critical information that risk becomes unpalatable.

There are many other ways of securing passwords. Using one of those instead would seem a very sensible decision indeed.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

New iPads Don't Materialise After All, Price Drops Suggest Why

So no new iPads arrived today, despite the rumour mill pumping out stories of updated iPad Pro models and an all new screen size. In fact one new iPad arrived today, but rather than being a refresh or a new range topper it's a new entry level aimed at persuading older iPad owners to upgrade. It's prime selling point is that it's quite cheap for an iPad.

What happened elsewhere was a substantial price drop on the iPad Pros we already had, some boosted storage configurations (which also made their way to the iPhone SE) and a lot of tumble weed. 

iPad sales have been slumping for quarter after quarter and whilst a price drop should help overall sales, it's likely to result in a lowered Average Selling Price and lower profits for the iPad reporting line. 

On the back of a substantial iPad advertising campaign it really does suggest that Apple is struggling to shift iPad stock. It raises the question of whether Apple has indulged in some channel stuffing in order to boost numbers in previous quarters. 

And more importantly it suggests that the difference between iPad Pro sales and expectations are so great that Apple is being forced to keep an eighteen month old product in its line up to clear the decks. 

There are new iPads coming, of that I have no doubt. Hopefully the delay in releasing something new is because Apple has gone back to the drawing board on what was probably planned to be an incremental update. 

Microsoft Leaks Mac To Surface Migration Tool

Earlier today users were briefly able to download a tool to assist the migration from Mac to Surface. It was later pulled, presumably because Microsoft wasn't ready for it to go public. 

It's very existence speaks volumes for the progress Windows has made against Mac OS. For whilst the tool is branded for Surface owners there's no reason why Windows owners of any hardware persuasion shouldn't benefit from it. 

The idea that users would be migrating from Mac to Windows in sufficient numbers to make a tool worth developing would have been laughable even three years ago. 

Now it seems a perfectly logical thing to do, as Microsoft's Surface has helped drive the PC market in new directions. 

Whilst Apple has lagged, with lacklustre upgrades to its desktop and laptop ranges, customers have been finding more and more reasons to switch to a PC. 

Having bucked the trend on PC growth for a while, Apple now find itself stuck with no real entry in the growing hybrid market. 

Microsoft, on the other hand, has built a substantial hardware business and forged a path for its partners to follow. 

Monday, 20 March 2017

Confused Of Cupertino, What Does Apple Have Planned For New iPad Range

Over the last couple of months we've been hearing more and more rumours about a three device iPad launch for the end of March. The crux of which is that the two iPad Pro models will get a refresh and a new, edge to edge screen iPad, sporting a 10.5" display in the same size chassis as the smaller iPad Pro, will join the line-up.

I've already written about my disappointment in the apparent abandonment of the iPad Mini. Now the credibility of these rumours needs to be called into question.

The iPad Pro was the focus of a big push into the booming hybrid market. It hasn't been an unqualified success. Possibly because the iPad Pro has a much more focused market than an equivalent Windows 10 hybrid.

Customers weighing up the possibility of having one device to cover all of their computing and tablet needs are increasingly finding that the right answer is a Windows detachable - of which there are a variety of choices and prices which cover many more use cases than the limited selection the iPad Pro can address.

Is Apple's response to this challenge likely to be a light upgrade of the Pro and a new screen size? It seems unlikely. Apple has been pushing the iPad as a computer message everywhere and frequently, in an expensive ad campaign.

Maybe it's clearing the decks to make way for an entirely new iPad range which does away with the old designs and limitations. 

In that case selling the older model at its usual $100 reduction - a regular tactic for year old machines - is going to be a big ask. Especially if falling sales have left Apple with a large inventory. This would validate the ad campaign and put those rumours of new designs into a new light.

In fact it's the only way I can see a new three model range makes any kind of sense.

When we get new iPads I believe Apple will have rather more to offer than a warmed over range. Too many sales are being lost to the competition to believe anything else.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Google Is The New Microsoft - And Not In A Good Way

In the quarter which Android surpassed Windows to become the biggest operating system on the planet, Google chose to annouce major changes to its Hangouts app. This following the recent launch of two new messaging products. Which itself followed the previous release of a number of other messaging products.

The symmetry with Microsoft of the past is interesting - and should be raising major warning signs for Google.

Windows has been number one for decades. Really since the launch of Windows 95 every other platform has been a rounding error compared to the breadth of Microsoft's number one platform's installations.

That strength allowed Microsoft to reap phenomenal rewards and see of competition by either buying them out or starving them of oxygen in their market space. The story of Stacker is illuminating here, probably as much as the more high profile Internet Explorer / Netscape story.

Microsoft initially missed the bus on the internet and then had to scramble to catch-up. The anti-trust behaviour, for which Microsoft was prosecuted, was one of the mechanisms Microsoft used to quickly catch-up.

Microsoft never learnt its lesson though and managed to miss the significance of the smartphone revolution. Without the leverage of a near monopoly, it never managed to catch-up. That's a miss which will cost it dearly on an ongoing basis.

Google is the company in a near monopoly now. It has similar problems to Microsoft in the late 90s / early 00s, in that it has limited control of OEMs (even those who install Google Mobile Services), has to support a widening range of hardware and faces a perception that it does not have the customers best interest at heart.

And it has missed on Social and messaging, two areas where it can ill-afford to lose.

To be fair to Google it seems to have recognised the need to compete in both arenas, it just doesn't seem to have been able to deliver a competitive product. 

Not least because it is repeating mistakes Microsoft made with Windows Mobile / Windows Phone. Putting a product in front of customers and then sacrificing it on the altar of something newer, better and entirely incompatible with the previous version.

I can't even begin to think how many times Google has iterated its messaging product. 

Right now Facebook is unassailable in social and as a result it is hoovering up huge amounts of advertising revenue which would normally fall to Google.

Meanwhile Apple's iMessage / Facetime product so completely owns messaging that, on its own, messaging amounts to the biggest single reason to switch mobile platforms to iOS. 

Projecting platform migration patterns into the future Google faces a very real problem. New smartphone users generally enter the market with an Android smartphone and trend towards buying an iPhone when they upgrade or  as soon as they can afford to. iPhone buyers almost never leave. While there are new users and emerging markets to capture Android's numbers will continue to look good.

The story reaches a natural conclusion with Apple owning the smartphone market, Facebook owning the social market and Google relying on content and other platforms to keep its income flowing.

Hamburg Police Increases Windows Mobile Deployment - But It Isn't Sustainable

Hamburg Police has joined a number of other German police forces in equipping its officers with Microsoft Lumia devices, leveraging the power of the Universal Windows Platform to run the same business apps across phones and PCs.

The concept is sound and in this very tightly defined use case Windows phones are far ahead of Apple or Google in providing a secure, flexible and, above all, enterprise focused solution.

However the size of these deployments raises concerns as to the long-term viability of such projects. Hamburg's deal for 900 handsets at 100,000 euros amounts to just 111 euro per device. So not a particularly high end choice. 

So when Microsoft runs out of Lumias who is going to step in and fill the void? A low-end handset only works for an OEM if it can be sold in volume. There aren't enough government contracts around the world to guarantee the numbers an OEM would need to commit to a volume production run.

Which would normally mean the price per device would have to rise, to ensure the OEM isn't committing itself to a loss making project. However government contracts, by their very nature, are looking for extreme value for money and there is no guarantee that a pricier Windows phone would still win a tender process against an Android device for example.

There are rumours of a second HP handset targeting a lower price point. If Windows phones are to continue to gain ground in enterprise solutions like these that handset needs to arrive very quickly and hit a very focused price point. And it won't be able to do that by compromising on performance either.

All in all its a big ask and one which introduces risk for customers and Microsoft alike. Microsoft may not care about consumers, but numbers don't necessarily add up without them. Which may turn out to be a painful lesson for all concerned.

Apple Taxes An Issue In NZ Now


Kiwis found out this week just how much Apple have been shortchanging them in the tax department. Over the last ten years Apple has claimed $4.2bn in revenues but paid nothing in taxes. Based on the company's reported profit margins it would have a liability of more than $350m.

Given Apple's many billions in its cash pile this might seem like a small hill of beans, but it says a great deal about the way Apple treats small economies like New Zealand's. That $350m works out to around $900 for every man, woman and child in New Zealand today.

Whether the news that Apple plays fast and loose with its tax obligations affects sales remains to be seen, it certainly hasn't in other territories.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Sony Recieves NFC Power Sharing Patent, Just Made For Companion Devices

Wireless charging is great. All it needs is ubiquity to free us from the tyranny of power banks and travel chargers. Until that day comes we need an alternative that reduces range anxiety and supports clever usage.

Sony seems to have just the thing: a new patent which describes a way of sharing power between two devices wirelessly, using just NFC.

Most sites are talking about how you could potentially leech power from a friend's phone when your battery dies.

I suspect this is not the intention of Sony's engineers at all.

Instead consider how it changes the utility of companion devices such as smartwatches and wireless headphones. You use them exclusively with your smartphone, so it's a perfect place for them to grab a quick charge. Rest your wrist on your smartphone for five minutes to boost its battery for a couple of hours.

It's a far more interesting solution than just making your phone into another portable power bank. It does rely on your phone having enough charge to make it through the day and having the extra juice to charge your peripherals. But in that respect Sony have got this all tied up. Xperias have always delivered plenty of battery life.

Of course the key here is that Sony sells components rather than smartphones, so the purpose of this technology is not directed at selling Xperias, it's all about selling components to other OEMs.