Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Ten Million Can Be Both A Small And Big Number

According to sources in the music industry, music website Hits Daily Double has calculated Apple Music's take-up in its first month at ten million subscribers.

That number probably gives it second place behind Spotify in the music streaming business, which is pretty good.

It's also pretty dismal.

Apple has over a billion iOS devices out there, with at least half of them in countries where the Apple Music free trial is available. That's a conversion rate of just 2% if we take the kindest cut of numbers. On a free service that Apple has launched heavily. To a loyal market and with no real entrenched competition.

It's less popular than a free U2 album.

So what has gone right and what's gone wrong? Plenty of bad publicity for a start, and that from loyal Apple hacks who usually turn a blind eye to the company's missteps.

Apparently you mess with a man's music library at your own peril.

Apple's demographic probably doesn't help. People who buy iPhones tend to be... less adventurous then others, more likely to take the beaten paths than forge their own. Exactly the sort of group who would be slow to take up streaming subscriptions and stick to buying music in traditional ways.

All that said, ten million is a reasonable start, if Apple can keep gaining users at that rate - and convert a good proportion of them to paying users - then it will be well on its way to owning another market segment.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Nissan Leaf: All-Electric Can Make Sense

Nissan used to be a byword for reliable but dull. Over the last few years cars like the GT-R, Qashqai, Murano and Juke have largely helped it shed that image. By selling the Leaf Nissan hopes to further move away from that image by becoming the first manufacturer to sell an all-electric family car which was also affordable.
The Leaf cost NZ$39,990 - about the same as a premium brand car in its class. On top of that you'll need to consider the NZ$2-3,000 that your charging point install will set you back.
Once its all done though you can say goodbye to the petrol forecourt forever. The Leaf's electric battery pack offers a 140-150km range when fully charged, more than enough for the average Kiwi commute. A full recharge would cost around $5 - although changes are you aren't going to be using a full charge in most commuter scenarios. Plugging in every night is a good idea though, you never know when you might need the extra range. At a cost of around 3c per kilometre it makes the Leaf substantially cheaper to run than its petrol powered rivals.
Driving the Leaf without too much of an eye on range (my own commute is a round trip of only 20km) makes for an interesting drive. The Leaf's electric power plant is very responsive, there's almost no lag between pressing the loud pedal and the 'go' arriving. Its quiet, but it isn't as quiet as you'd expect an electric car to be though - road and wind noise filling in the gaps that would normally be covered by the engine.
Inside the Leaf is a nice place to be. The dashboard is well laid out and hints at something futuristic. The entertainment system and Satnav are easy to use and the screen is utilized for the standard reversing camera. Automatic climate control can be set to pre-cool (or heat) the Leaf whilst its plugged into the mains, meaning you're using less of your precious range for getting to the right climate after setting off. Legroom is good and the seats are nicely upholstered. The light coloured material may show the dirt after a bit of use though.
The only real downside is the limited boot capacity, as there's a large transverse hump which steals boot space and makes the larger space available when the seats are folded down pretty much useless. We aren't talking Elise or Alfa 4C levels of impracticality here, but certainly something that would give the average family of four some concerns when packing up the boot.
So the Leaf makes good sense financially and its an enjoyable drive too. Its well loaded with features and specced nicely for the price. And as New Zealand electricity is almost all renewable it makes for a very ecologically sound choice too.
Unfortunately there are no charging points outside of the few being provided by Nissan dealers. In a city the size of Auckland that's unforgivable. Although Auckland Transport is suggesting that these may be coming to its City Centre car parks.
So if you are in the market for a small family car, a Golf or Mazda 3 for example, and your commute isn't beyond the range of the Leaf, then I'd definitely suggest taking a drive in one before committing your cash elsewhere.

La Tour: A Name Blackened Forever

Doping has been the bete noir of cycling for as long as I can remember. Ever since the 1988 Tour of Shame, when doping really hit the front page, fans have never really been sure who is clean and who isn't. As testing became more rigorous so the dopers became more sophisticated and it appeared the real battle amongst the mountains and plains of France was between the chemist and the tester.
Then Lance Armstrong happened. A seven-time tour winner, cancer survivor and high profile celebrity on both sides of the Atlantic, Armstrong's continued and vociferous denial of doping was enough to convince his fans. Until the weight of evidence became overwhelming and Armstrong admitted to doping all along. As more and more former winners came clean on their enhanced performance, it became difficult to declare a winner for some Tours.
The sport lost. It lost because those who cheated not only claimed the glory but also because good riders who were potential winners in a clean field were nowhere against chemically enhanced rivals, ultimately giving up on the sport that should have been nurturing their skills and passion.
And the sport will continue to lose. Chris Froome's second victory was marred by abuse along the route. Even the sport's fans who make the effort to turn out to greet the riders through the towns and villages no longer believe that it's possible to win the Tour without cheating. Froome was not lauded as a great rider, but despised as the best of the cheaters.
Froome and his fellow 2015 Tour participants will claim to be racing clean, but much as we want to believe them I doubt even their biggest fans will be able to say, hand on heart, they don't have some reservations. That's a legacy that Lance Armstrong has certainly bequeathed to future winners.
How does Le Tour and cycling in general recover its reputation? Only by creating an even more extreme testing regime. Daily testing of riders? Genetic profiling? In order to put its house in order the world of cycling needs to find some method of guaranteeing that riders are succeeding only through their own efforts.
Until then the Tour's result sheet remains only a passable work of fiction.

China Opens Way To Games Consoles

Having previously barred the sales of games consoles for over a decade, the Chinese government is opening their sale up across the whole country. This follows a small scale trial which played out in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone last year.
For next gen gamers the console war has all been about Sony and Microsoft, with the PS4 and Xbox One going toe to toe with the Sony console generally ahead at this point. The opening of the Chinese market could see both platforms blossom, and for Microsoft its going to be hugely important to avoid the drubbing it has received in Japan, where its Xbox One sales are, to all intents and purposes, zero.
Sony will be expected to do well in China, but I suspect the greatest beneficiary will be Nintendo, a product which has struggled elsewhere might just be a winner on the Chinese market and Nintendo is desperate for that result.
For all three this is a golden opportunity to make it big in a market with huge potential, without the hovering shadow of Apple and with little serious competition from local OEMs turning out cheaper devices. That's an advantage that may not last for long and all three will need to grasp it firmly with both hands.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Goldmine Of Windows Phone Update Information Released

Want to know what's happening with Windows phones when Windows 10 Mobile arrives. You need to head over to Windows Central and read this post by Daniel Rubino, which reveals all.
I won't spoil the impact of the article because it's clearly the result of significant research and tapping of sources, but I have to say the talk of the Cityman and Surface Pen compatibility, added to the Continuum features make for a properly mouth-watering prospect.

Sweating The Assets: Why The PC Market Is Shrinking

The PC market continues to shrink - alarmingly so if you are one of those OEMs that rely upon PC volume to maintain a viable business. That could be a result of consumers delaying upgrades to get a Windows 10 PC, but I very much doubt it.

Much more likely is that a PC duty-cycle has been extended significantly. Better hardware and software has meant that performance doesn't drop off until many years of usage have been completed.

As an example, the Acer Ultrabook I bought in 2010 and the MacBook Air I bought in 2011 are both still perfectly serviceable machines. The latest versions of Windows 10 and OS X run comfortable on them and but for the arrival of hybrid machines in the form of Microsoft's Surface I would be happily using one or the other of them.

For business and enterprise users there are taxation benefits to both three and five year life-cycles for computer equipment, but for home users there are no reasons to replace a machine which is working well. The net result? Falling sales.

Its identical to what's been happening in the tablet market, although there it happened much more quickly - probably because there are a more restricted set of tasks that tablets are used for.

Apple is seeing growth in the marketplace because a greater proportion of people replacing their PCs are choosing a Macs, whilst Microsoft is seeing large growth from a low starting point because it has built premium devices backed by a quality user experience. I suspect that these two will continue to buck the general market trend for a little while now.

For the common or garden PC vendor though, there are more tough times ahead and competing only on price, whilst possible in the enterprise market, isn't going to fly with consumers.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Account Management Challenges In The Living Room

PlayStation, Apple TV, Xbox. The encroachment of technology services into the living room is more or less complete. I can't remember visiting anybody recently who wasn't rocking one of these devices in their home.
Which raises some interesting questions about the balance between security and usability for a device and service for the whole family which is tied to one user's account.
At the moment most of these devices rely upon you either giving any user carte blanche to purchase content with your account or being there to authorise each purchase by entering a password.
That's not really useful in a context where we're more and more expecting these services to replace the broadcast media we've been used to consuming.
There are shortcuts - an Xbox equipped with a Kinect sensor will see and recognise you; and sign you in automatically. Apple is rumoured to be adding Touch ID to the next Apple TV remote control and Sony....
For now separate user accounts and a strict bar purchasing content amount to a reasonable work around. That won't always be true. Fixing this issue should certainly be on technology vendor's radar.

With $200bn In The Bank You'd Think Apple Could Buy Someone Who Understands The Cloud

Write a list of all the things that Apple is good at, what have they got in common? Absolutely no cloud service involved. For some reason Apple has the reverse Midas touch when it comes to cloud services, everything it does turns into brown smelly stuff.
Latest example of this? Apple Music. Here's a service that Apple has spent a lifetime preparing yet still hasn't managed to get right. When absolute dyed in the wool Apple fans, for whom Apple can usually do no wrong, suddenly start moaning about a new Apple service you know something is very wrong.
As it is, Apple Music seems to be randomly destroying customers carefully curated music collections. A similar theme has run through anything cloud since Apple decided to mangle photo collections with iPhoto.
Right now Apple is sitting on a huge pot of cash and it has a technology that it hasn't been able to work out. The logical answer would be to find a company that 'gets' cloud services, buy them and use that expertise to fix the woeful mess that is iCloud, and as a result all the services that Apple hangs off it.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Starbucks And NYT Offer A Glimpse Of One Possible Future

How do content creators get paid on the internet? Right now there are two options: advertising and subscriptions. The former is disliked by users, can be intrusive and damages the browsing experience at many sites. On the other hand the latter is incredibly difficult to get right and by limiting access to your content hurts your ability to grow.
Starbucks and the NYT have announced a partnership which may offer a third way.
In future Starbucks loyalty card members will get access to NYT articles (and other news sources further down the line) whilst NYT subscribers will get credits to their Starbucks accounts. By tying a content product and a physical product together both companies hope to profit.
For Starbucks it means more reasons to join its loyalty program and, once you're in, more reasons to choose Starbucks for your regular caffeine hit. For the NYT it means a funding source for its news service which isn't actually obstructive to users.
This kind of arrangement does rather depend on the NYT's paywall, which has the negative effect of reducing the overall potential audience for its news. Projecting into the future it also means that the NYT becomes a Starbucks news service, as its established readers waste away and new ones become harder to attract. It also means that Starbucks gains more and more of the upper hand in the relationship.
The concept of linking virtual and physical content together isn't a bad one, perhaps with some refinement it will offer a sustainable income stream for publishers.

Xbox One On The Verge Of Mouse And Keyboard Support

In a Twitter exchange discussing the potential of streaming Windows 10 to Xbox One - the reverse of the service that Microsoft has recently enabled - Phil Spencer let slip that mouse and keyboard support is on its way for Xbox One, and presumably with it a whole range for additional capability that these new input devices enable.
There's no question that some games lend themselves more naturally to mouse and keyboard control and it has been one of the strengths of PC gaming in the past. By adding that capability to the Xbox One Microsoft is greatly expanding the realm of games that game be played on the system, not least because once the Xbox switches to a Windows 10 codebase, games written for Windows 10 will be relatively easy to release for Xbox too.