Thursday, 8 December 2016

Digitimes Thinks Apple Will Hit 11m iPad Sales This Quarter

If it's right Digitimes may just have sounded a clear warning bell for Apple. The research company claims that Apple is in line to rack up just under 11m iPad sales in the holiday season quarter, compared to the 16m that Apple reported selling for the same period last year.

That would represent a more then 30% drop in sales year on year, despite having gone all in on its new iPad Pro. Worse still it also represents a significantly larger fall than the tablet market as a whole, which is expected to be down around 25% year over year.

Now Digitimes may be some way from the truth (but its supply chain sourced figures have been pretty good in the past) and we know that Apple's big problem has been persuading contented iPad buyers to upgrade, but if Digitimes is right Apple will ship just 40m iPads in 2016, a fall of 20% from 2015. With sales shrinking faster than ever before Apple's failure to address the hybrid market properly looks ever more dangerous. 

Right now Apple faces competition from Android tablets at the low end and Windows 10 tablets at the high end. With Microsoft's announcement of Windows 10 ARM earlier today those Windows tablets will go from being thicker, hotter and short on battery stamina; to svelte, cool and able to run an iPad to the wire on battery life.

All whilst running real Windows software.

That's not going to do anything to reverse the iPad slump.

Microsoft And Qualcomm Bring Windows 10 To ARM

Leaks recently told us that Microsoft would be delivering a Win32 emulator for its mobile devices but to day at WinHEC it unveiled Windows 10 on ARM. Windows 10 (not the Mobile version) will run natively on mobile processors - with a technical demonstration on the Snapdragon 820 - with full support for running legacy apps designed for x86 architecture via the emulator.

Microsoft is completing the vision that started off as Windows RT, but this time with sufficient power for real Windows functionality on a mobile device.

That introduces a real challenge for Intel, which recently canned its entry-level mobile Atom processor and pushes OEMs to an Intel Core m Y-series processor if they want performance and power management. The Snapdragon 835, where the first Windows 10 ARM versions are likely to land, will allow those OEMs to build cheaper Windows 10 tablets and hybrids with smaller batteries (and hence less weight).

That means devices like the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S and Huawei Mate Book can be lighter, faster and offer a better software library than the iPad.

The rumoured Surface Phone may well be the very first device to benefit from this new capability - although now promising were made on form factors. Nevertheless a phone that really can replace your PC - the combination of Windows 10 ARM and Continuum begins to make a pretty interesting proposition.

So the slow, painful death of Windows 10 Mobile makes more sense with this in mind. Take the HP Elite x3 three in one proposition and you have a phone that really can be your only device.

I'm still hesitant to say that consumers will flock to this new concept (as they certainly would if it were coming from Apple) but at least Microsoft and its partners will be able to offer a choice in the mobile workspace when Redstone 3 arrives.

Whilst Windows 10 is going to suffer some performance shortfalls running on a Snapdragon processor its unlikely to be long before ARM processors overtake classic x86 chips in performance. Intel's recent licensing agreement for ARM technology suggests that it is going to right on board for this change when it arrives, possibly as soon as late 2017.

Please Samsung, Don't Ditch The Headphone Jack

It's not courageous, it isn't clever and it isn't going to win you any friends. So as your designers begin to lock down the specifications and design of your next generation of Galaxy phones please don't sign-off on any design that excludes a headphone jack.

Look, don't get me wrong, I use Bluetooth for audio as much as the next man - probably more in fact. And I've probably been doing it for longer too. I get that the future is wireless.

However I have a good selection of quality headphones that I'd really like to keep using with my new smartphone. Even if I can use some trickery to make them work without a headphone jack, I'd really rather not carry the dongles or Bluetooth adapters to make them work.

Don't give me any nonsense about audio quality either. At some stage that digital file which I want to listen to will need to be converted back to analogue so that a speaker driver can move air around and create sound. Making that digital to analogue conversion at the speaker jack or at the ear piece isn't going to make a blind bit of difference.

When I next get on an airplane I don't want to be denied the joys of my noise cancelling headphones because I forgot the dongle that allows it to plug into a USB port.

But most importantly of all the only reason  you would have for removing the headphone port is that Apple did it first. Having thrown off your reputation for blindly copying Apple this would be an incredibly dumb move.

The world is watching, don't blow this.

Pebble Gets Dropped: No More Smartwatches, Warranty Support

It isn't just Google who is having a troubling time in the wearables market. Pebble has failed to turn its mainly crowdfunded business into anything approaching a viable business and today concluded its much rumoured sale of assets to FitBit.

The latter gains Pebble's IP as well as the watch platform its devices run on. The price has been rumoured to be in the region of $40m - an amount which fails to cover the company's existing debt. The remaining parts of the business (presumably manufacturing and design assets) will be sold to cover the remaining debt and then Pebble will be gone.

Technical support and software maintenance are gone, more importantly warranty coverage ends here too. Unless you bought your Pebble retail (in a country with appropriate consumer protections) that brand new wearable will be junk the instant it breaks.

Whether FitBit will use these assets to introduce more smartwatches into its products remains to be seen. More likely it will stick with its mostly fitness tracker based range and look to slowly add Pebble features in.

For Pebble's customers its a very unhappy ending and probably serves as a warning against going with smaller companies for products that demand ongoing support.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Android Wear Fighting Losing Battle

Motorola won't be making any more Android Wear devices, Huawei are unlikely to for the foreseeable future and the bulk of Google's wearable sales are likely to come from niche or specialist manufacturers for the short to medium term anyway.

Google has lost the smartwatch war, because nobody really wants a smartwatch and those that do want either an Apple Watch, due to tight iPhone integration; or a Galaxy Gear as a result of co-bundling promotions with Samsung's phones.

The only future for Android Wear is for a smartphone / tablet market-like realignment of pricing, with cheaper, entry-level devices driving the market based on price alone.

There is no cachet to wearing an Android Wear device - even the higher end devices are faintly ridiculous - and fitness trackers have the lower end of the market sewn up.

Right now Google has a wearable problem that is bigger than any being attributed to Apple. The fitness tracker / wearable market is pretty constant aside from the Apple Watch seasonal variations.

And it has pretty constantly rejected Android as both a product and a concept.

Windows 10 Mobile All But Done, Latest Sales Figures Show

Kantar Worldpanel released its smartphone sales report for October today and in amongst the not unexpected Note 7 driven Android slump and iOS growth was further evidence of Microsoft's imolation of  Windows Mobile.

Year on year Windows phone sales were down 50% in Japan and at least 60% in every other territory. In China sales were down an epic 96%.

As support for the platform drifts away I suspect Kantar will stop breaking out Windows numbers in its reports very soon... consumer interest in Windows on a phone is dead and no amount of promises of fancy Surface Phones in the future will bring it back.

Samsung Earns Another Reprieve In Apple Patent Case

With the Apple - Samsung patent trial a distant memory for most, lawyers for the two firms continue to coin it in as they battle over the legitimacy and size of the award.

Apple's $1bn victory had already been pared back to a little under half of its original size and Samsung is gunning for more reductions.

The US Supreme Court handed it a win today by ruling that all of the profits resulting from the infringing phones weren't owed to Apple.

That's a significant saving if the new figure gets based on the relevance of the Apple design patent.

The case goes back to a lower court now, with a new damages figure to be assessed.

Whatever happens now the real victors will be the legal profession.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

How Does Tesla Plan For The New World Order Under Trump?

The creation of a new administration packed with climate change deniers should have Elon Musk quaking in his boots. Especially when that administration will be led by a man who has been a vocal opponent of climate change veracity in the past.

After all, Tesla's business centres around products designed to minimize the human impact on our environment. That puts its US expansion at some risk.

On the plus side Trump has moderated his language on the subject in the last few weeks. A good sign, as is yesterday's meeting with Al Gore, the leading advocate for action on climate change. Apparently brokered by Trump's daughter lvanka the meeting apparently didn't end as acrimoniously as perhaps have been expected

In amongst all this good news, however, Tesla must be harboring some concerns about future business impact.

In order to secure itself a favourable position with the new administration Tesla needs to massively focus on exports. It may hurt a little, reducing the number of cars it sells at home, but in the long run being a net exporter of product and net importer of revenue makes for some pretty powerful arguments for the White House keeping its hands off the company.

After all, no President can afford to fall out with a company that is both prepared to manufacture in the US but also manages to make a positive contribution to the balance of trade.

H things go badly it may prove to be the only defense mechanism the company has.

Windows 10 Back Into Growth As Market Share Hits New High

After a short plateau following the cessation of free upgrades, Windows 10 has pushed back into growth again, capturing just shy of 24% of active desktop activity, according to NetMarketShare. With a fall in Windows 7 usage bringing the two most popular versions of Windows within 20% of each other, and a net reduction in the gap between them of nearly 2.5%, Windows 10 may well be the most popular desktop OS by this time next year.

Which should be enough to get close to Microsoft's one billion installs target.

Meanwhile Apple and Linux both managed to stabilise their share of usage - Apple halting a seven month downward trend that has seen 50% of its users disappear.

The growth in Windows 10 usage did nothing for Microsoft's browser market share. Edge remains stuck at 5% of the market, whilst Internet Explorer is gradually fading away.

In the mobile space, Windows phone usage has started to show the effects of the collapse in sales, with 25% of Windows phone users leaving the platform in the last two months. A similar performance over the next two months would drop Windows phone usage behind JavaME (mostly Symbian Series 40 devices, ironically) and Blackberry.

Monday, 5 December 2016

HomeHub Needs To Be Windows' Headless Horseman

Microsoft will be including new functionality in the next release of Windows 10 aimed at competing with Amazon's Echo and Google's Home devices. The feature, to be called HomeHub, according to more than one source, will extend Cortana's under the lock screen feature to create a personal assistant for the whole family.

That's a nice idea, but Microsoft has some work to do to make this useful or even viable.

Currently Cortana on the Xbox One offers some of this functionality - you can turn your Xbox on, launch apps and perform web searches when the Xbox is sleeping. However Cortana on the Xbox is mostly mute, the strength of the Amazon Echo is that it has no screen and Alexa responds verbally to natural language queries.

HomeHub needs to be usable in exactly the same way. At the moment Cortana too often replies with a 'here's what I found' message and displayed results. That isn't going to be an acceptable alternative to what Amazon is currently offering.

HomeHub needs to be able to work headless - without a screen - and not only will it need to work headless, but it must also provide sufficient intelligence to allow third-party OEMs to build Amazon Echo-like devices which are straightforward for a user to setup.

The beauty of the Echo is its ability to live anywhere in a home unobtrusively. That isn't something that a PC could ever do. So if Microsoft wants to have skin in this game it needs to think bigger than just adding new lock screen functionality.