Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Microsoft Exits Mapping, Uber Moves In

Microsoft will no longer be in the business of mapping, after it announced its Bing mapping unit would pass into the hands of Uber, along with around one hundred staff who work there.
Its a sign of Microsoft refocusing on its key goals, so not a huge surprise. It will be interesting to see how this affects Uber's appetite for swallowing up Nokia's Here Maps service, which it has strongly been rumoured to be doing.
Given the strength of the Here product and technology this move suggests perhaps the asking price for Here is too high or the Finns lack of rush to sell has forced the company's hand. Uber needs maps and it needs its own mapping service to safeguard its business.
A chunk of Microsoft will satisfy that demand for now, but I suspect that Uber will be in the running for Here, whenever Nokia finally decides to get rid of it.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Xperia Z3 Stars At World Cup Final

The Under 20 FIFA World Cup climaxed here in Auckland yesterday with the Final and third place play off games being played in what was probably the worst weather that New Zealand has to offer, continuous and heavy rain.

The games produced great football, five stunning goals and a surprise World Champion, but the star of the show was my Xperia Z3 Compact.

In a day that started early and finished late; and encompassed an almost unprecedented workload, the Z3 delivered on all fronts.

Battery life was never an issue, despite a large number of voice calls, messages, emails and social media use. Add in all the photos and videos I took and there I have no doubt that neither my iPhone 6 nor  Lumia 930 would have made it through the day. The Xperia did, and with more than 40% of the battery still remaining after a sixteen hour work cycle.

Of course neither the Lumia nor iPhone would have survived the rain anyway. 

So whilst others kept their phones in their pockets or tried to use them whilst sheltering under their coats, I was able to carry on using the little Sony as normal, even if I was having to shake water off the screen every couple of minutes.

So although Serbia went home with the trophy, the gold medal winner for me was the Xperia Z3 Compact.

Friday, 19 June 2015

About Those Apple Terms

So Apple's new News service had been canvassing bloggers for permission to publish their RSS feeds to iOS devices. Or rather Apple has been asking bloggers if they want to opt out of being published.

That sends to have caused something of an uproar. Which suggests some don't understand why they have RSS feeds at all.

RSS, Really Simple Syndication, is a method of sharing your blog posts to aggregators of all sorts. Apple is just taking what you make freely available and republishing it in the News app.

By offering bloggers the option to remove their content from the service Apple has gone above and beyond what is reasonable.

The other complaint has been about Apple's legalese which accompanies the offer. Specifically the stipulation that the publisher indemnify Apple against legal action for the content of the blog. Seems reasonable, prevents Apple being sued for hateful, unlawful or slanderous posts. As an aggregator I see no reason why Apple should take responsibility for the content of your posts.

In short what we have here is a mountain from a molehill. It is only receiving interest because Apple is mentioned.

If you don't like what Apple is proposing to do why on earth are you using RSS to syndicate your feed?

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Stephen Elop To Leave Microsoft

Microsoft has announced that Stephen Elop will be leaving the company. It's a tame end to the tenure of the man who was briefly tipped as the next Microsoft CEO. Since Elop took over Microsoft's hardware division has seen some improvement, notably in the Surface line, however as Microsoft has demonstrated that hardware sales are a secondary consideration in its future, Elop's management of that division was always going to be hamstrung.

Elop's legacy will be the mobile phone division, which Microsoft acquired for Nokia at great expense. Many claim that he was a Trojan Horse, despatched to the Finnish company to decimate it in order to facilitate a cut price buy for Microsoft.

I don't buy that. Nokia had screwed the pooch with its own in-fighting, navel contemplating and refusal to develop products that customers wanted. When Elop arrived the company was all but finished. 

Was the decision to switch to Windows Phone the right one? Probably not, with the benefit of hindsight. However the logic used at the time (that Samsung would eat all of the Android market and profits) was solid and prescient. Windows Phone was Hobson's choice when a decision had to be made.

What Elop will be most remembered for though, is his Burning Platform memo, which set out to Nokia employees just how much trouble the company was in and why. It pulled no punches and sugared the pill not at all. 

It's still an impressive read now.

F1: A Quick Easy Fix, Tyre War

1983 and three tyre companies battle for F1 supremacy. US West Grand Prix winner John Watson's Michelin-shod car is so far back at the start you can barely see it.
F1 has become somewhat tedious, to the point where fans are abandoning the sport in ever greater numbers. Since the Belgian Grand Prix in 2013 there have only been four race winners and there had been uncertainty about the outcome of just two of those races in all that time.

The sport needs fixing. The sports governing bodies, teams and even drivers are all asking how this can be done.

The answer is easy: tyre competition.

F1's decline has come about ever since a single control tyre was mandated. Bringing back competition between tyre manufacturers changes the whole dynamic of the sport and introduces some uncertainty into races.

Ideally there should be at least three companies competing, with absolute freedom to innovate and develop between races. We would lose the ridiculous two compound rules and allow teams to use whichever tyre suits their car best, with the only restriction being the number of tyres used over the course of the weekend.

It's a quick and simple fix to the problems of boring F1 seasons, requires limited extra expenditure and promises race weekends packed with excitement.

Why would you not do it?

Windows Phone Needs A Better Flagship

If you want a premium phone running Android I'm sure you know where to go. The Galaxy S6, HTC One M9 and Xperia Z3 all offer high end features and build. An aspirational choice for Android users looking to upgrade from their first Android phone.

For Windows Phone that isn't necessarily the case.

Which phone is the flagship? The 1020 with its amazing camera but outdated internals and small screen? The 930 with its lack of standout features and appalling battery life?

There's no question that Microsoft has a new top of the range handset coming when Windows 10 Mobile arrives. Will it be a true flagship though? Windows Phone needs one, because Microsoft have been successfully converting entry level users to its platform and then failing to offer them a better handset to aspire to.

As it stands the Lumia Icon/930 fills that role, with its great screen, solid build quality and decent (but not outstanding) camera. Yet it has too many flaws to offer up as a competitor to those Android phones I mentioned, never mind the iPhone 6. How can a phone be this heavy yet have such a poor battery? Who signed off on a camera shutter button with all the feel of a soggy marshmallow? Why choose to make a device with a non-removable back (and hence no card slot or replaceable battery) and then install a back that is trivial to remove? Not to mention several software issues that seem to be completely 930 specific.

These sorts of design mistakes can't be repeated with the new flagship, otherwise Microsoft won't retain those customers that its entry-level devices have won come upgrade time.

Monday, 15 June 2015

E3: Microsoft Brings Xbox 360 Games To Xbox One

Backwards compatibility. It's the number one reason why people I speak to say that they won't be upgrading to a next gen console. At E3 Microsoft just gave Xbox 360 owners an upgrade path that removes that particular complaint.

The change of architecture between the current consoles and last gen boxes was always going to prevent true backwards compatibility, however Microsoft have created a workaround using an Xbox 360 emulator on the Xbox One, and a process for packaging games as downloadable content. Insert your 360 game disk into your new console, wait for the repackaged game to download and then its playable, requiring only that the original disk is in the drive to play.

At launch - before the holiday season according to Microsoft - there will be around 100 games re-packaged, with hundreds more to follow so there's a pretty good chance that your favourites will be in there.

For Sony it's a blow, as it makes it much harder to convert Xbox 360 owners to a PS4, given that there is now a clear upgrade path on the Microsoft platform.

What with this and the news of a new professional level and highly customisable controller; new games and the availability of Xbox One to Windows 10 game streaminf its been a pretty good E3 for Microsoft. Be interesting to see how Sony responds.

Modern Bus Service Leap Dead Already?

The concept behind San Francisco startup bus company Leap was a good one: provide a modern, business class express bus service for Silicon Valley workers who wanted more than just a ride. Two slip-ups seem to have done for the company though: failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and failure to procure an operator's licenses which resulted in the arrival of a cease and desist order from the Public Utilities Commissioner.

According to Ars, Leap's vehicles are being auctioned off by a liquidator which suggests that the company won't be with us much longer.

That's a shame, although a failure to understand the basic requirements of operating a bus service is a bit of a schoolboy error. Maybe those behind the service were hoping to do an Uber-style run around the regulator and hope to win in the court of public opinion.

It would be interesting to see how such a service would go down somewhere less restricted by regulation. The UK, for example, where bus services have been deregulated for thirty years. Mass transit is generally better in the UK than the US (although not as good as most other European countries) but it seems to me that a high quality bus service offering the technical and service enhancements that Leap envisioned could certainly be viable along certain routes between big UK cities and their feeder towns.

Samsung Safety Truck. Genius.

For anyone who has sat frustrated behind a wagon on a single carriageway road this is a godsend. A phenomenal idea from Samsung and one that should be productionised across the world immediately.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Please Microsoft Put Moonraker Back In The Game

This is allegedly the Nokia Moonraker, a smartwatch that the company was moving towards production before it was bought by Microsoft last year. Apparently it was canned because of a potential conflict with Microsoft's Band. That's a shame because this looks a lot more smartwatch and a lot less fitness band.

Whilst smartwatches haven't necessarily proven that they have a role on your wrist when compared to normal watches, as a platform Windows can't really hope to compete without having an offering and this could have been a good start.

Microsoft needs to consider whether the clunky Band is enough of a presence in the wearables market. The Moonraker looks like a product that needs further investigation. Please.