Tuesday, 1 December 2015

VW Sales Down 25% In US

Volkswagen isn't just going to get hit with fines and compensation suits following the exposure of its emissions test cheats. Its sales are plummeting too.
The German car company's US arm reported a year on year drop off 25% last month and that despite heavy discounts on its petrol only models.
For current owners this is going to end up badly too. First they're going to see fuel economy figures drop as VW implements more stringent emissions controls on affected engines. Then they will be hit at resale time, with lower demand of VW's diesel products inevitably meaning lower values at trade in time.
It seems that the only positive outcome of the scandal is that VW will need to heavily invest in EVs to recover consumer confidence.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Adele And The Benefits Of Streaming

Adele's new album, 25, sold bucketloads in its first week on sale - breaking sales records on both sides of the Atlantic.

Was this because she kept the album off streaming services, in spite of it or did it make no difference at all?

Early reports were that the majority of 25's sales were physical copies of the album - CDs. That tells you a great deal about the sort of people who buy Adele's albums. The chances are that these people would have bought the album whatever was happening on the streaming services.

The remainder of the buyers will be made up of those who would have bought anyway but just haven't embraced the streaming model yet (those people who still buy stuff on iTunes), people who bought because they couldn't wait to hear the album and would have normally streamed it; and various PR and label schemes to boost sales numbers.

The smallest of those numbers is almost certainly the middle one. People who have paid out for a streaming subscription seem to me to be the people least likely to go and buy an album.
So it's likely that withholding the album from streaming services resulted in few additional album sales.

What it certainly did do was deny the artist and other rights holders the income stream that the combined might of 100+ million streaming service users would have provided.

If we estimate that 25% (generously) would have listened to the album at least once that's around 275m plays. At the average rate of $0.007 per stream that services end up paying, that's around $2m that was left on the table. I can't imagine that there would have been fewer streams.  And of course  the streaming model is a gift that keeps giving.
Who benefits most from Adele's decision to keep 25 off streaming services? Other artists, that's who. Because the streaming model pays a proportional slice of a fixed pie to anyone who had songs streamed over a month the absence of 25 from streaming services means that every other artist is better off as a result.
I doubt that was the intended result though...

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Land Rover Demonstrates The Awesome Power Of Paper

Yes, that's a Range Rover driving across a bridge made of paper. Ignore the car, despite this being an ad for Land Rover the impressive thing here is that engineering, planning and simple physics allows nothing more than several thousand sheets of paper to form a bridge that is capable of holding the weight of an extremely heavy SUV.

Formula E Introduces Drone Racing: Roborace Coming In 2016

Formula E, the electricity fueled single seater racing championship has had an impressively exciting start to life. At the start of its second season as a championship we've already had more excitement and more racing than a decade of Formula 1.
Formula E is adding a support series with a difference. Roborace will use the same cars and technology as the Formula E series, however there will be no drivers, as the cars will be self-driving.
Clearly this is an attempt by the Formula E organisers to tempt potentially interested parties like Google, Apple and Tesla to throw their hats into the ring. And of course gives them an incentive for joining the main Formula E championship too.
All sorts of interesting challenges in the offing, both in getting the series off the ground and developing the technology to get the cars racing.
Looking forward to seeing how this one develops.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Apple Considering Dropping Headphone Jack, Follows HTC Once More

This dongle allowed you to use standard headphones with HTC's proprietary headphone socket.
Various Apple sites are reporting that Apple is likely to ditch the 3.5mm headphone jack from the next iPhone in favour of audio over Lightning. The move is allegedly being made to allow even thinner bodies on future iPhone.
This obsession with being thin isn't healthy though. In the same way that we have seen a backlash against super-thin, size zero models, it's time we let Apple know what we think of its constant reduction in the iPhone's size.
If the phone's internals don't require all the space that a body accommodating a 3.5mm headphone jack offers, stuff some extra battery in there instead. As an iPhone user I'll never complain about longer battery life. It's been an iPhone weak spot since day one.
It's also something that HTC did first - several of its Windows Mobile handset used a proprietary mini-USB port which the headphones plugged into.
Another case of where HTC leads, Apple follows?

The Lesser-Spotted Blackberry User

Yesterday I saw somebody using a Blackberry. Actually out and about and in anger. What was once a normal occurrence has become so rare that I actually stopped and noted it. It wasn't a new Android-powered Blackberry either.
I can't remember the last time that I saw someone using a Blackberry. And I work in the sort of circles where owning a Blackberry used to be a badge of importance - users complained if they didn't get one and felt undervalued by their employers.
This may be a Kiwi phenomenon, but all I see people using are Samsung phones in the main, followed by iPhones. There are a handful of Sony Xperias and people of a technical bent seem to prefer the Nexus 5, whilst Nokia/Microsoft Lumias seem reasonably popular. I even see the occasional HTC.
Anything else is a complete rarity. Huawei - which seems to be everywhere in retail - doesn't seem to have made too much of a dent in the market yet. Phones from LG and Motorola are about as rare as Blackberries and I can't remember the last time I saw someone with a feature phone.
I wonder how much mindshare Blackberry has left. Does it have enough loyal users left to build a bridgehead with its Android range or has the name lost its appeal to all but a faithful few.
Next quarter's sales figures should be interesting.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Nokia 230: Is This Microsoft's Best Phone Of The Year

Neither of Microsoft's new Lumias is likely to sell in any serious numbers, but one phone that Microsoft did launch this month probably will: the Nokia 230.
This is a pretty serious feature phone for emerging markets. $55 (before subsidies and discounts) nets you a 2.8" QVGA screen, T9 keypad and a pair of 2mp cameras with LED flash. There's an SD card slot for expanding out the onboard storage and a dual SIM version for those markets where this is a popular option.
Check out those app icons : Facebook, Twitter and Skype all come pre-installed on this thing and the Symbian Series 30+ apps store has a good selection of others. Gamers will be pleased with the offer of one free Gameloft title per month during the first year of ownership. For a feature phone its pretty well connected.
Whilst it may not be the last word in smartphones it certainly appears to fit the requirements of its target markets, providing communication at affordable prices.
So if it turns out to be Microsoft's best selling phone I wouldn't be entirely surprised.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Lukewarm Reception For New Lumias Not A Problem For Microsoft

The Lumia 950 and 950XL are the first new phones running Windows 10 Mobile, they represent Microsoft's play for a future for Windows as mobile platform and the crumbling remains of the phone manufacturing industry formerly known as Finland, Nokia.
Reception to the release of such momentous hardware has been lukewarm and that's being kind. The prospect of another failed reboot of Windows for smartphones seems to have taken the wind out of the sails of even the staunchest of Microsoft's supporters.
The general gist of the response elsewhere has been: 'Continuum's nice, but who will use it', 'a decent camera doesn't make a winning proposition' and 'still no apps'.
In order to disrupt entrenched competitors who have 97% of the market, partisan following and well established ecosystems Microsoft needs more than competitive internals, it needs a blow your socks off feature that drags customers into retail stores just to ogle at them.
What the launch of these new phones tells us is that Microsoft has given up on the mobile market. Windows 10 Mobile exists to satisfy the needs of specific corporate customers and Microsoft will base its mobile strategy on apps delivered to competing platforms.
As a result Microsoft probably doesn't really care whether anybody likes the new Lumias or not.

Was Apple Right About Fixed Storage After All

Removable storage and the ability to quickly and cheaply expand the capacity of Android phones has been on of the mainstays of the argument against the iPhone ever since it launched. There's a good reason. The prices Apple charges for its larger memory configurations are way out of line with customer's perceptions of what that extra storage is worth.
Of course Apple makes that 'storage tax' harder to avoid by shipping its devices with base storage capacity that is borderline unusable.
However, I'm finding that with the right level of storage from the start neither Android nor Windows Phone needs to offer the memory expansion. Currently the three phones that I own are the Nokia Lumia 930, Samsung Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6.
None have storage expansion. None have caused me any problems with running out of space.
Samsung's decision to make 32Gb its base configuration on the S6 has rendered the conversation around the removal of storage expansion moot. Google doesn't offer memory expansion on its Nexus line, citing concerns around the performance of devices which have to accommodate large and/or slow memory cards. It needs to follow Samsung's lead and make 32Gb its base storage level. I'm sure if Apple were to do the same the whole issue would be forgotten.
It's unlikely to happen though, as the base iPhone is built to hit a price point and Apple is unlikely to sacrifice its margins (or the pressure on consumers to pick a higher spec device).
Incidentally when I say none of these phones have expandable storage, technically that's an untruth. The GS6 offers USB OTG, which allows mass storage devices to be connected and used as part of the file system.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

iPad Pro: Birth Of The Super-Tablet

Having had the opportunity to try the iPad Pro (unfortunately without the Pencil) and subsequently had some time to consider the device now that I no longer have it, I think I'm forming a clearer picture of the what kind of device it is and how it fits into the modern device-scape.

In the same way that the iPad cemented and popularised the idea that there was a third device that could sit between smartphones and laptops, providing some of the convenience of the former and some of the capability of the latter, the iPad Pro defines its own class.

It isn't a hybrid computer that blends laptop and tablet functionality, like Microsoft's Surface range. It doesn't perform the same range of tasks anything like as well.

It isn't a laptop replacement either. There are too many compromises that prevent it from being the go-to, single device, for most people.

It is a new and interesting take on what an iPad is, a device that opens up the tablet to different ways of consuming and creating content. Its size demands a trade off. It's less comfortable and elegant to use in the hand - by virtue of its size. Yet it makes for a much better desktop companion - also by virtue of its size. Not forgetting the amount of processing power that Apple has endowed it with.
It is a new class of devices which for want of an existing name I shall call the super-tablet.
So now we have two distinct classes of devices that everyone will have: a smartphone and a PC. In between them we have three categories that fill the gap between them in different and complementary ways: tablet, super-tablet and hybrid.
The super-tablet requires some further development though. For example, there aren't a huge number of applications that fit the super-tablet definition. Also sharing of data between applications in iOS needs to be fixed before Apple can truly have claimed to have conquered this new class.
Apple will fix this and developers will fill the gaps given time. What consumers gain is a wider choice of solutions to fit the many and varied ways of working that exist. And as we all know, choice is a good thing.