Sunday, 23 November 2014

Was This F1's Worst Season Ever?

The right man won, but in the face of how much
competition exactly?
F1 has always had issues with one team or another making a technical breakthrough and rendering competition worthless. This year, thanks to things like development and testing freezes, we have had probably the least interesting season the sport has served up since its inception as a World Championship in 1950.

From the moment the cars arrived in Australia for the season opener we knew that the title was Lewis Hamilton's to lose. The Mercedes was so far ahead of the competition that no other car stood a chance. With no development allowed on the crucial new power plant, that would stand true for the rest of the season. Hamilton has a hand on the title by the end of first practice in Melbourne, no-one involved with the sport believed that Rosberg had a hope of beating him.

In the end, a combination of mechanical problems, some dubious driving from Rosberg at Monaco and Spa; and the double points fiasco meant that the title went down to the wire. Hamilton won eleven races compared to Rosberg's five.

Outside of the Mercedes team, only Daniel Riccardo managed to mount the top step of the podium, and then mostly because of problems for one or both Mercedes car.

To underline the superiority of the Mercedes car, at the final race at Abu Dhabi, the fastest Mercedes was an eye-watering 1.6 seconds faster than the fastest non-Mercedes. In a sport where gaps are usually measured in hundredths and thousandths of a second that was a yawning chasm.

So farewell 2014, a season of zero competition. 2015 will prove to be more of the same if Mercedes gets its way and prevents its opposition from developing their engines.

Jolla's Tablet Succeeds In A Small Way, Needs Partner

Jolla's impressive looking tablet has blown through the million dollar barrier in it's effort to get crowd-funded into production. There's clearly a desire for this quasi-open, Android compatible device, but in terms of its success we need to take a step back and a healthy dose of reality.

That million dollar achievement amounts to a round 4,000 tablets. In a market where Apple and Samsung sell ten million tablets a quarter that's not such a great achievement. Jolla needs to have a much bigger draw than the technical enthusiast market if it's going to make a real dent in tablet sales.

I'm sure that the Jolla tablet would be a much bigger success if it carries the Nokia name. Nokia is one of the few brands that people have a historical connection with - who hasn't owned a Nokia phone at some time in their life? However Nokia's deal with Foxconn shows that it's incredibly wary of getting involved in consumer hardware again.

Perhaps the success of this crowd-funding effort, allied to the close relationship between Jolla's team and Nokia, might be enough to persuade the giant to start making some bets on hardware again.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Motorola Blows Nexus 6 Launch

The Nexus 6 doesn't rank highly in this season's must have devices. Now an error by Motorola means that some of those sold are going to have to be replaced.

The problem results from a faulty firmware that Motorola installed on devices shipped to AT&T. The faulty devices have now been withdrawn from sale and the error has been corrected on new stock. Customers who have an affected device are being asked to return their devices to a store for replacement.

Given that the Nexus range is Google's interpretation of what an Android phone should be, and the Nexus 6 itself is the first premium device in that range, having such a high profile error as this occur is amateur hour level attention to detail. Added to the poor reception of the Nexus 9 and the withdrawal of the Lollipop upgrade for the Nexus 5, it hasn't been the most successful of product launches for Google.

European Parliament Planning To Pursue Dismantling Of Google

The European Parliament Wants To Take A
Jackhammer to Google.
The Financial Times is claiming that the European Parliament is to conclude its investigations into Google and recommend the seperation of Google Search from the rest of the company.

The suggestion would be catastrophic for Google were it to be enacted, although the parliament itself has no leverage to make this happen. In fact to drive this through, the European Commission would have to take this on and pursue it with vigour.

The argument being put forward by the investigation is that Google's dominance of the Search market puts it into a position where it is able to promote its own products over others. Giving it a competitive advantage.

Isn't that how business works? Build a great product and use its success to drive sales of further products.

Navigating The Modern Age As A Musician

Today is an interesting news day for musicians and song-writers, full of news about how embracing the internet driven music business is an opportunity to create an income stream from making music.

First off, Billboard is reporting on a piece of research by the Country Music Association that finds music streaming boosts album sales. The work uncovered some interesting facts, such as the fact that 69% of users who heard a track on streaming services took some kind of follow up action to learn more about the track or artist. That compares to around 17% of listeners to broadcast radio.

When it came to purchasing 25% of users who first heard a track on a streaming service went on to buy the track or the album from which it originated. Again that's a massively higher proportion that the 8% of broadcast radio listeners who went on to do the same thing.

Tech Crunch has a story about musicians engaging directly with their audience, and how it is possible to be successful with a much smaller audience as a result. In the piece Ryan Leslie details how he has used a variety of services to turn a small fanbase into an income generating one. Leslie has now turned his experience into a service called Disruptive Multimedia, aiming to help others to do the same thing. Leslie believes that an audience of just 150 'true fans' could keep a musician afloat.

Once more on Tech Crunch, Ron Miller has a piece which details how the music industry has been able to set the agenda with regards to recording contracts and how income is controlled and distributed. Miller argues that the internet has democratised the creation of content and musicians and song-writers have an opportunity to break free of the tyranny of the big labels.

Overall the message is clear. Embrace the new opportunities and don't tie yourself to the old model.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

F1: Can Mclaren Afford To Lose Button?

2009 World Champion Jensen Button may well be out of a
drive for 2015.
With the confirmation of Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari and the resulting displacement of Fernando Alonso, the pieces of the F1 2015 seat puzzle are falling into place. Alonso will almost certainly move to Mclaren-Honda next season and the only question remaining (at the sharp end of the grid anyway) is who will partner the Spaniard?

Based on his previous, stormy, year with Mclaren in 2007, it seems a likely that Alonso will be pushing hard for Jensen Button to be dropped. Alonso needs to have number one status in a team and having Button alongside him will not make him happy. Having been outraced and outwitted by the rookie Lewis Hamilton, Alonso knows that partnering with an Englishman in an English team can cause him problems.

Kevin Magnussen has a number of factors in his favour. He is extremely cheap - $500k compared to Button's rumoured $12m, which will please the bean counters; and he has performed erratically this season, which will please Alonso.

Yet I can't help but believe that if Mclaren and Honda are serious about this partnership it really can't afford to lose out on Button's services, especially next year when it will be looking to get some comparative feedback between the Mercedes and Honda powerplants.

The paddock will be weakened by the loss of Button, who is humorous and loquacious. His reaction to Alonso being asked if he would choose Button as a teammate spoke volumes.

Ultimately what happens at Mclaren seems to be as much Alonso's decision as Ron Dennis's. And that will tell as much about his self-belief. Choosing Magnussen would be a display of fear with a hint of cowardice. In this respect Alonso's reaction to the same question is illuminating.

Moleskin Goes For Digital Designers with Connected Notebook

Anyone who has used a Livescribe pen and notebook combo will tell you that it's an extremely capable solution. It's probably not an ideal tool for graphic designers and artists however and Moleskin hopes to leverage that weakness with its new digitally connected notebook.

Moleskin makes great products and this notebook is unlikely to be an exception, but the way that it integrates the digital and physical worlds isn't ideal and doesn't advance the art hugely over what Livescribe does, or indeed what Samsung has achieved with its S-Note app.

In effect the Moleskin notebook uses visual tags which mean that when you take a photo of your drawing the image can be corrected for skew and turned into a pair of digital files - a jpg and a svg. the latter will open in either Photoshop or Illustrator. Those services are important, because Adobe's Creative Cloud is the driver behind the whole solution.

In comparison Samsung's S-Note application does a fine job of de-skewing images and turning them into editable images from any piece of paper, whiteboard or notebook. Livescribe's tool is more restrictive but captures a true representation of what is on the page, rather than a converted page.

That vector image though might be the key differentiator for Moleskin and how well it works compared to scanning and converting a page will decide on how successful it is.

Nokia's N1 Shows Why It Never Needed Android

It's an iPad Mini, running Android. It's
derivative. In short, it's the Nokia N1.
At the moment I'm still not one hundred percent sure whether the Nokia N1 tablet is a Nokia design with Foxconn taking on all of the risks, or a Foxconn tablet that Nokia has agreed to apply its name to in return for a per device royalty paymet. Gut feeling is the latter.

Ever since Stephen Elop took Nokia down the Windows Phone route there have been dissenting voices demanding, pleading and moaning about Android. Nokia could have been the next Samsung with Android.

Realistically, that could never have happened. Samsung had already risen to the top of the pile and would have taken some serious unseating, and about the time, where all going well, Nokia would have been battling for top spot with Samsung, the entry of OEMs from China and India would have cut the market from under it.

What we would have got is what we have now. An iPad Mini clone, running commodity Android and a passable launcher overlaid. Nokia's reasons for doing this device are clear - an income stream, brand recognition on new hardware and a subtle two finger up to Microsoft.

If this is the future of Nokia hardware we can turn off now.

It doesn't need to be though. Not long after the N1 announced Jolla launched and secured crowd funding to begin the build of a new Sailfish powered tablet. The company is effectively the remnants of the Maemo initiative that Nokia had been making so much progress with, before its narrow focus on Symbian killed the company.

Nokia needs to bring those talented engineers back into the company and set off down the track that it started with its Internet tablets and then took to the N9 smartphone as Meego. A third way that beats out the current players in the market.

It's a somewhat riskier strategy, as many of Meego's features have been copied on other platforms. However Nokia was never successful by being a follower - even a fast-follower like Samsung. It needs to innovate, to do something new and ground breaking. Achieving that using Android and rip-off hardware is never going to allow that.

Nokia missed its opportunity once, hopefully it will use the next two years of standstill (part of its sale agreement with Microsoft) to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Beats Music To Become Part Of iOS Pre-Install

Those in the music industry seeking to slow, or even stop, the adoption of streaming services will face a new challenge with the news that Apple plans to integrate Beats Music into its iOS pre-install.

Since buying Beats Apple hasn't really pushed the service forward much, the rumoured price reduction hasn't happened, although that would seem to be a logical offer to tie into delivering the app to hundreds of millions of iOS users.

As to the likely take up, the reduction of some of the friction from the Beats sign up process (pre-installing the app, allowing the subscription to be drawn from the connected iTunes account) should prod a significant portion of those iTunes account holders to at least give the service a try. It's highly likely that Apple could go from being a music streaming also-ran, to overtaking Spotify's 12.5m paid subscribers almost overnight. In fact with on-demand music streaming currently counting around 22m paid subscribers, it isn't inconceivable that Apple will double the total number of subscribers worldwide in a matter of days.

One thing I'm not expecting Apple to do however, is to introduce a free streaming tier. Given the problems that this has given Spotify with the music industry, Apple may well want to avoid that potential conflict point.

F1: Young Guns Get Test Try-out

Jolyon Palmer will hope to kickstart
his F1 career by impressing in Abu Dhabi.
GP2 Champion Jolyon Palmer, Formula Renault Champion Carlos Sainz Jr. and Euro F3 racer Spike Goddard will all get a chance to stake a claim for  a vacant F1 seat for next season in the post-season young driver test in Abu Dhabi.

Palmer and Goddard will drive a Force India - although the team has already confirmed both Hulkenberg and Perez for next season, there's potentially an opportunity for one of the two to grab the reserve driver seat.

Meanwhile Sainz will try out in the Red Bull, with the prize for a good performance likely to be the second Toro Rosso seat alongside Max Verstappen.

Palmer's career has closely mirrored that of his father, JP the GP, who won the then F2 Championship by a country mile in 1983. Jonathan's career rather stagnated once he arrived in F1 with the massively underfunded RAM team. With available race seats thin on the ground and teams doing a poor job of promoting reserve drivers there's a risk that Jolyon's F1 career might never even take off.

Sainz looks the most likely to secure a race seat this year, but Toro Rosso have been pretty brutal about ditching drivers if they haven't performed to expectations. Having already taken part in one young driver test Sainz will need to impress if he wants to avoid being dropped before even getting his chance.