Friday, 9 October 2015

Apple Is A Dumping Ground For Tesla Rejects

Interviewed in Germany, Elon Musk called out Apple's plans for building a car, dismissed its poaching of employees and generally offered a similar demeanour to phone company execs in the days before Apple launched the iPhone.

Specifically Musk called car manufacturing a difficult business, intimating that it would be too difficult for Apple.

He also said that the employees Tesla was losing to Apple wouldn't have made it in the company anyway.

That sounds to me like the sort of thing that gets replayed for years after being proven wrong.

Musk is clearly a smart guy. Tesla is a smart company. But Apple is full of smart guys and is a smart, successful and very deep pocketed company. One that had enormous customer loyalty.

Customer loyalty amongst the sort of people that Tesla will be targeting to grow sales.

There is a saying about keeping your mouth shut and being thought a fool being better than opening it and proving the case.

Am I the only one that this is a perfect demonstration of this?

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Microsoft: Please Sort Out Your Regional Restriction Mess

Over the course of this year I have moved from mostly an Apple stack to a mostly Microsoft one. Previously I used a MacBook Air, iPad Air 2 and iPhone (in rotation with other phones) to get a consistently 'Apple' experience.
However I've now switched to Microsoft - Surface 3, Lumia 930 and Xbox One - and it's marvelous. OneDrive, Office 365 and Xbox Live are enabling services that make the experience seamless. There are none of the glitches that characterize Apple's cloud services and much more flexibility as a result.
However, Microsoft hasn't really worked out how to do regional control properly.
For example, I'm an Englishman in New Zealand. I want Cortana on my Lumia and given that there's no recognition engine for the (very different) New Zealand accent right now, Cortana is not enabled in New Zealand Lumias.
Fair enough.
However, the English recognition model for the UK is available and given that I'm English I'd quite like to use Cortana with it. The only way I can do this is to switch all of my regional and location settings to then UK, the upshot being that I can no longer access the NZ app market.
Buying NZ specific apps becomes a chore, as I have to switch my phone back to an NZ configuration, buy the app and then revert to UK settings. Often it's too much messing around just to try a new app, so if it isn't available in the UK store I probably won't buy it.
On the Xbox things are even worse. I have to perform the same regional switcheroo to enable voice on my Kinect sensor. The app situation I can live with, however the Live TV feature is wrapped up in a neat little catch 22: voice control will only work if I'm setup as if I'm in the UK, but the OneGuide feature then gives me UK channel information.
Less than helpful.
I realise there are good reasons for trying to separate out regions when it comes to voice recognition, but given the high degree of population mobility it really doesn't make sense to do this based on location. How about allowing people to choose voice recognition engines based on where they're from and how they talk, rather than where they happen to be?
Cortana on my Lumia works 100% perfectly in New Zealand - so there's no functional reason for not allowing people in New Zealand to use it with whatever regional accent they specify.
Come on Microsoft, you know it would make sense.

Balckberry And Sony Have One More Shot At Smartphone Success

It appears that both Blackberry and Sony have moved into the last chance saloon, as far as their futures as smartphone manufacturers is concerned. Both see 2016 as a make or break year: make a profit or abandon the market.
Sony's new Z5 is probably one of the few premium phones with the name and capability to challenge Apple and Samsung for premium smartphone sales. However Sony's longstanding and absolute inability to understand how to manage the mobile market, marketing and carrier relationships suggest that the Z5 will be no more successful than the handsets that preceded it. Any profit that Sony makes is unlikely to be sufficient to keep it in the game.
For Blackberry things might be a little different. After years of trying and failing to keep its user base with a new OS and iPhone-alike handsets the company is heading into 2016 with the promise of something new: Android.
The Blackberry Priv looks to draw on the strengths of Blackberry - strong hardware and security - whilst integrating the benefits of Android - flexibility and huge software support.
If the company can prove that it does security better than plain Android it may be on to something.
Much will depend on how it deals with the Android bugbear: upgrades. If Blackberry can keep its handset patched and upgraded to a similar level of consistency that Apple manages with the iPhone it may be onto something.
If, on the other hand, it allows Google and the carriers to water down that process it will have nothing to offer over any other Android OEM and then it will be in a race to the bottom as price becomes its biggest selling point.
One way or another 2016 is going to see some significant changes in the smartphone market...

Waterstones Sold Kindles? Who Knew

Apparently Waterstones is removing Amazon's Kindle from its shelves after the eReaders notched up poor sales.
Colour me stunned. The last place I'd go looking for an eReader would be a book shop. Frankly the last place I'd expect to want to sell one either.
Book shops sell books because customers value the feel of a book in their hand. I have no idea why, I haven't bought a printed book in over a decade, I've bought hundreds of electronic ones. It didn't take long to get over the loss of the tangible benefits of an actual book (primarily the fact that it doesn't need a battery and it's pretty robust) once you get an eReader of some sort.
Once you realise that something less than half the size of a paperback can carry your whole library, give you instant access to a virtual book store and can be used at night without disturbing your significant other thanks to backlighting, the idea of paper books soon loses its appeal.
By trying to sell customers eReaders bookshops have been hastening the apocalypse, that day when nobody buys printed books anymore. They might not sell many but they no doubt planted the seed in the minds of customers who might otherwise never have considered a ebook of any sort.
For most people a Kindle means Amazon. If you're an Amazon customer (especially one thinking of a Kindle) the chances of you ever going into a Waterstones - or any other traditional bookseller - are pretty slim.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Scandal-hit VW May Not Sell Diesels In The US Next Year

Wired is reporting that Volkswagen has withdrawn its application for EPA certification for 2016 model year diesel-powered cars. That likely means that VW will only offer petrol-powered cars in the US for the foreseeable future.
Even though it's the result of the emissions test cheat it's probably a good result for America. In Europe the push to reduce carbon emissions meant that diesel oil was heavily subsidized, to the detriment of air quality as a result of much higher particulate and NOx emissions - even before VW's shady practice was uncovered. In the US diesel has never been anything like as popular and as a result air quality hasn't suffered to the same extent.
Car manufacturers are complaining about the new Euro 6 emissions standards, which seek to address this bad policy by cleaning up tailpipe emissions to a much higher standard. Those car makers are asking for the Euro 6 requirements to be phased in - allowing them to keep selling existing 'dirty' beyond the cutoff this month.
Europe's failure to properly manage the amount of soot exhausted by diesel engines has had an enormous effect on air quality and health. Visit any large European city and you'll know immediately. If the smog isn't a clue then the 'taste' in the air certainly will be. It's worrying that people living in these cities don't even notice how bad the air is.
One of the first things that I noticed when leaving the UK for New Zealand was the enormous improvement in air quality. Yes, part of that is down to the much lower population density. However a significant factor has to be the almost total absence of diesel powered vehicles.
More than just pushing for better tailpipe emissions from its new vehicle fleets, the EU needs to address air quality issues by pushing forward plans to electrify private transport, hand in hand with strategies to improve the quality and adoption of public transport.
Anything less would be just as scandalous as Volkswagen's decision to cheat the emissions test.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4: The Right Update

The Surface Pro lost its place at the top of Microsoft's hardware stack yesterday, when Microsoft pulled the best 'one more thing' since Steve Jobs turned three devices into the iPhone back in 2007.
However that doesn't mean the Surface Pro 4 received any less love in its update. Microsoft managed to deliver exactly the sort of thing that builds user engagement and loyalty.
The Surface Pro 4 is more powerful, has a bigger, better screen and a more accurate pen. It even launched a new buzzword - PixelSense, a very Apple-like way of bypassing all the technical detail and making a forward leap easily digestible to the masses.
The really clever thing though was how it managed continuity of accessories. If you have a Surface Pro 3 with a Type Cover, case or Surface Pro Dock they'll work with you new Surface Pro 4 when you upgrade. That's the sort of thing that eases the buying decision at upgrade time.
On the other hand if you have a Surface Pro 3 and you're not ready to upgrade yet, the new Type Cover with fingerprint reader and the new Surface Pro Dock will work with your existing hardware until you are.
Its a good strategy that offers further benefits. The popularity of the Surface Pro 3 has seen third-party accessory vendors jump onboard like never before.
With the Surface Pro 4 having the same form factor and connectivity those vendors are seeing the potential customer base for existing products grow. Something that's likely to encourage the development of more accessories.
That's a quality that is more important than many OEMs realise. There's nothing like being able to accessorise a new device to validate a buying decision.

Continuum: Brilliant, But Of Limited Application

This is the sort of Continuum dock that Microsoft should have built.
Microsoft unveiled its new Windows 10 Mobiles, the new Lumia 950 and 950XL, and with them the first Continuum product, the Display Dock.
When it was demonstrated there was no question that it worked beautifully, the phone carried on doing phone things whilst also doing desktop things at the same time.
There's no question that a Lumia with Continuum and a Display Dock could cover most of your computing requirements.
Shame that next to no-one will use the feature.
The thing is, how many times do you find yourself in a position where you have your Lumia but no Surface or laptop? And access to a keyboard, mouse and monitor? Almost never.
I could see some potential use case where you might throw your display to a Miracast capable monitor or TV but otherwise, in the form that Microsoft demonstrated it will be a thing of great rarity.
However it does validate the concept of the Motorola Atrix and several Asus phone / tablet combos. If Microsoft were to deliver a cheap clamshell dock which mimicked a laptop there might be an argument for replacing your laptop and phone with a Continuum capable Lumia.
In fact given that it appears to be a standard USB-C connection there's no reason why a third-party couldn't do this. And in the (mostly unlikely) event that Windows 10 Mobile takes off in a big way I'm sure someone will deliver this.
Don't hold you breath though.

Microsoft Promo - Do Great Things

Microsoft dropped a new promo video to go along with the new devices it launched today. It seems that Microsoft's marketing is getting stronger, hand in hand with its devices.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Microsoft Returns To The Flagship Market With Two New Lumia Models

We know pretty much everything that there was to know about the new Lumia 950 and 950XL thanks to several leaks - including one from Microsoft itself.
The two high handsets announced look pretty competitive and could potential interest Android owners who look at the spec sheet when picking a new phone.
The design is very business focused, as befits a handset that's likely to appeal to enterprise, business and professionals. The two handsets are very much Microsoft products, with a nod to Nokia's design practice of the past.
What we didn't get, unfortunately, is an official Windows 10 Mobile release date. However the two new 950s are slated for a November release, so those handsets identified as being in the first phones to receive the new OS should see their upgrades around the same time, hopefully.

With The Surface Book Microsoft Just Put Laptops On Notice

Microsoft blind-sided the rumour-mongers and leak sites this morning, with what could prove to be the defining hardware of 2015/6. The Surface Book takes all that is brilliant about the Surface Pro and targets the laptop rather than the tablet.
Just look at that hinge!
Whereas the Surface Pro is a tablet that can replace your laptop , the Surface Book is the laptop that makes regular laptops look horribly out of date.
Its a premium machine at a premium price, a market that Apple has had sewn up for ages. That is no longer the case. The MacBook Pro is just as outdated and limited by comparison as every other laptop out there.
Tim Cook may have no intention of building a MacBook with touch, but you can rest assured Apple will build a Surface Book clone within three years. It will have to.
The best announcement out of this morning's event? There was plenty of competition, but I would say so.