Monday, 24 April 2017

Apple's Best Selling Computer Needs To Be Its Primary Focus

If we agree with Apple's definition of the iPad as a computer then we can probably also agree that the iPad is the best-selling computer of all time. Even off the back of a six quarter slump, individually the iPad probably outsells every other computer in production today.

That slump remains a worry. There's no question there are fewer iPad buyers out there than there used to be. The question remains why?

My guess, based on personal experience, is that the iPad is a computer with limited use cases. For most users it is a secondary device, which sits between a laptop and a smartphone without having the advantages of either.

My view remains that iOS offers Apple a more profitable future than Mac OS and that it should be moving development resources from latter in order to make the former a more capable platform.

Capable of really replacing a laptop that is.

Apple charges about the same for an iPad Pro 12" as it does for a MacBook, when fully specced out. I'm pretty sure the iPad attracts a significantly higher profit margin for Apple than the MacBook at this point.

However given the choice between an iPad or MacBook as your only device, there's no question that all but a small minority would go with the MacBook. Or, as seems increasingly, a Windows 2-in-1 device that offers the best of both worlds. The Huawei Matebook, for example, is around 25% cheaper than either iPad or MacBook, offers the best of both and includes all necessary accessories. Given the way that Microsoft is updating Windows 10 it's also likely to be usable on the latest version of its platform for as long as either Apple product.

For the iPad Apple has control of both the software and the hardware to a much greater degree than with the MacBook, which uses bought in Intel processors and also has to support any device which plugs into the USB-C port. Thanks to its Mfi initiative Apple doesn't have to concern itself with any of this legacy support in iOS. As a result the software can be more streamlined and perform better on less expensive hardware.

Making the step from companion device to fully fledged computer is going to take some effort to pull off, and more importantly the desire to make it happen. In doing this Apple may cede more of the PC market to Windows vendors, but the payback will be a position of strength as the market changes over the coming years.

Microsoft Embracing Failure Is Great, Except Where It Damages Customer Relationships

Satya Nadella took part in a Q&A session with Business Insider's Polish office and some parts of the conversation made for interesting reading on Microsoft's future direction.
Asked about failure Nadella responded that he "embrace(s) it" adding that in a risk-taking culture failure needs to be seen as a learning opportunity.
That's a fair comment, one that speaks of a company which values an ability to quickly make and then can new products as and when they fail. A company like Google for example.
The problem for Microsoft is its customer relationship and how it maintains this whilst allowing products to fail. For Google it is less of a problem. Users invested very little in the Circle, Google+ or Hangouts products other than their time and commitment. So whilst they weren't particularly happy they also weren't out of pocket.
Microsoft's recent high profile failures have been all about platforms and the customer relationship is very different there.
Take a few recent examples Windows RT, Windows Phone 7, Windows Phone 8 and Kinect.
In each case customers invested cash in a platform which Microsoft canned shortly after. In each case customers investment in hardware was cut from beneath them as Microsoft either killed the platform entirely or cut their upgrade path.
Even now Windows 10 Mobile users are finding Microsoft to be an unworthy partner for their phone investments. The latest cut back on phones which will receive the Creators Update removes phones like the 730 / 735, 830 and 930 all of which have equal or greater specs than the Lumia 640 / XL which will receive the upgrade.
There's no reason for these phones to be cut off from the Windows 10 Mobile upgrade path other than Microsoft's desire to get them out of the support cycle so that its Windows Mobile platform can be officially declared a failure.
Getting these users to continue to invest in Microsoft products or platforms is going to be increasingly difficult. Whilst that doesn't concern Nadella because they will mostly be consumer or small business customers and his focus is enterprise, the case remains that end user support is key to maintaining enterprise confidence.
Look around enterprise workplaces now and note how many users are now using non-Microsoft products. Particularly look at how many BYOD users have switched to MacBooks, and iPads. Look at the growth of Chromebook in education and how Microsoft is having to react to this new challenge.
It all speaks to a company in which consumers have little confidence. A risk taking culture is all very well, unless the collateral damage of your failures has the ability to come back and bite your future effort s.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Plastc Melts Down - Multicard Payments Just Too Hard

Plastc seemed like a remarkably straightforward idea: a credit card which can pretend to be any of your other cards and reduce the amount of plastic in your wallet.

The company bypassed traditional funding methods and offered its devices as pre-orders at $155 a pop, Enough people were interested to generate a reported $9m. Unfortunately that wasn't close to enough to make it to market, so today the company closed its doors and announced it would be filing for bankruptcy.

So a number of lessons here. Fintech is hard. Payment Card Industry compliance measures are strict. Payment technology is a moving target. Banks are behemoths for a reason.

Most importantly, credit cards are free, and Plastc was expensive. It's rare to get rich when you're competing with free. 

Plastc intended to mimic the magnetic stripe of your existing card in order to mimic the card itself. The arrival of NFC meant that was an outdated model. The further arrival of Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay - all of which allow you to stack your phone with multiple virtual cards - meant the game was up for Plastc.

Interestingly the collapse resulted from failures to attract the interest of venture capitalists, who presumably saw all of the issues and walked away, a rare outbreak of common sense there then.

Windows 10 On ARM Arriving This Year, Is This Why Windows 10 Mobile Is Dying?

Qualcomm has let slip that the first devices running Windows 10 for ARM will ship later this year. The Snapdragon 835 will likely be available in sufficient numbers to allow manufacturers to start pushing Windows into a new market.

Of course there's already a version of Windows which runs on ARM. Windows 10 Mobile. Which Microsoft seems to be doing its level best to euthanize.

The timing seems suspiciously convenient. Windows 10 Mobile running out of steam just as Windows 10 for ARM comes online.

Is Microsoft about to attempt another reset of its smartphone plan? It seems unlikely that it could hope to fool customers one more time, however if the alleged Surface Phone rumours are credible and the timing of ARM-based Windows 10 is more than coincidence maybe it believes that a PC with phone capability is still a viable plan.

Personally it sounds far-fetched. Stranger things have happened though. 

Steps Towards Making An iPad A Better Computer

Apple has spent the last eighteen months trying to convince us that the iPad is a computer, one fit to replace your PC  (but not your Mac, oh no). It's wrong. Adding a keyboard case to a tablet that already had plenty of third-party options doesn't change the underlying weakness of iOS for full computer use. Nor does a pencil.

There are a few narrow use cases where the iPad can make a good go of replacing a computer. It's even true that, with the addition of some key peripherals, the iPad can be useful in an enterprise environment as a BYOD PC replacement.

What it can't do is standalone as a true working tool all of the time, for any use case.

Some of the reasons for this relate to the way iOS works, fixes will have to come down the line as part of the iOS upgrade waterfall.  Others though can be fixed relatively easily and without huge effort on Apple's part.

The absolute easiest? Add native mouse support. The Bluetooth profile is already there, all it requires to make it useful is to make iOS treat a mouse pointer in a similar way to the pencil tip - a much more precise finger tap in effect.

Opening up iOS to mice opens up whole new applications to the iPad. Third-party virtualisation tools make the world of enterprise all the more accessible. Currently only Citrix has usable iPad support and that's because it has jerry rigged its own mouse support into the Receiver app.

The other things Apple needs to fix is external display support. Right now, with a Lightning adapter, an iPad's screen can be mirrored to an external display. That's better than nothing, but still very limiting.

Right now, in my office I'm sat in front of my Surface 3 which is powering two external screens via a DisplayLink dock. One plug and I have a full desktop setup. My colleague, sat three desks away has his iPad Pro hooked up to one screen and is using the Apple keyboard case to input to it. It is a very uncomfortable and constraining setup.

There are two routes to fixing this. One, to partner with DisplayLink to build its drivers into the next release of iOS and give iPad users a workable dock solution. Or - and this is the more Apple solution - build a proprietary clone of DisplayLink which works natively with iOS and Lightning to achieve the same thing.

By making those two relatively innocuous changes Apple makes its iPad and awful lot more attractive to a new group of potential customers.

And actually earns it that Pro name for the first time too.

Microsoft To-Do Is No Wunderlist Replacement Without Automation

Yesterday Microsoft introduced the World to its new To-Do application, which it says will replace the Wunderlist app it acquired two years ago. 

At first glance To-Do seems like a pretty good looking product and it has certainly inherited the feel of Wunderlist. It has a reasonably complete feature list too.

What it doesn't have though, is any form of automation support. Wunderlist supports Microsoft's own Flow tool, whilst also allowing tasks to be created via email, giving it de facto IFTTT support. Neither of these items had made it into To-Do yet. 

Not to say that To -Do is a bad product, but the ability to automate task creation is one of my top reasons for using Wunderlist over other task managers. 

Microsoft will need to make this a priority for the next release of it wants me to upgrade. 

Juicero Quick To Respond To Bloomberg Report - Refunds For All

As I mentioned yesterday in my post about the wild world of Silicon Valley venture capitalists, the heavily funded and almost completely pointless jucing system Juicero, is the latest in a line of big bang startups to have their pants pulled down to exposed their bare-faced cheek(s).

Juicero has been quick to respond - CEO Jeff Dunn promising any Juicero customer can return their unit for a full refund. It's an offer you should grab with both hands if you were one of those fooled by the emporer's new clothes.

After having its nonsense about squeezing goodness from fruit pulp well and truly torn apart, Juicero is left with just one selling point: its ability to remind you to drink fruit juice.

The truth is  you're much better off buying good quality, pre-packaged fruit juice or a $100 blender and fresh fruit; than dropping $400 for a Juicero and paying for its overpriced fruit pulp packs.

Microsoft Commits To Twice Yearly Windows 10 Updates, Enterprise Wins As A Result

Having released Windows 10 Creators Update last week, Microsoft has now committed to a roadmap for future releases.

Most imminently Redstone 3 (AKA Continuum Release) will arrive in September, with twice yearly updates to arrive every Spring and Autumn thereafter.

That's an aggressive update schedule and confirms Microsoft's commitment to keeping Windows 10 fresh and competitive.

It's a schedule which is being pushed on the basis that it supports enterprise refresh programs, however Microsoft still has a piece of work to complete getting enterprise customers to commit to Windows 10. Many are just a couple of years out from a major piece of work to get Windows 7 deployed as a replacement for XP.

The key message behind the new commitment to regular updates does seem to be aimed at enterprise customers though. The message being that once Windows 10 is deployed into an organisation it will never have to go through the pain of a platform upgrade ever again.

That's an attractive promise of jam tomorrow that will resonate with CIOs around the world. Most of whom would gladly swap twice weekly, technology led Windows 10 refreshes for the pain of having to deliver business programs to validate all enterprise applications against new platforms twice a decade.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

F1: Honda Needs To Abandon Reliability, Push For Performance

F1 must be a pretty painful experience for Honda right now. After a pretty disastrous couple years under the 2014 engine formula the company must have been hoping the new 2017 rules for F1's turbo hybrids would put them back in the game.

That has proved to be far from the case, With McLaren battling customer engine powered teams like Haas, Sauber and Toro Rosso in the lower midfield.

Given that its last foray was similarly disastrous - between 2000 and 2008 it achieved a single Grand Prix victory - a fortuitous result in Hungary in 2006 in a weather affected race - this shouldn't be a surprise.

Honda withdrew from F1 at the end of 2008, humbled. Its works effort had achieved one victory in nine seasons. The scale of that failure illustrated by the efforts of private Honda tuner Mugen, who took four race wins in the preceding nine years with its Honda based units.

In fact a golden period between 1986 and 1991 aside (collecting six constructor's and five driver's World Championships) Honda has been a perennial struggler.

Honda has clearly experienced major issues so far this season and it is rapidly losing the faith of its McLaren partner. That of lead driver Fernando Alonso is long gone.

Which leaves only one option for Honda, throw caution to the wind, build for performance and take the pain (and penalties) of repeated engine failures. Reliably running around battling for the last point is good for nobody. On the other hand a short show of blistering pace would be good for everyone's morale, even if it were to come to a premature and fiery end.

The exception being Monaco of course, where a horsepower deficit is far less important than the rest of the Grand Prix calendar. And where the guile and experience of Jensen Button might be sufficient to bring home a good result.

Samsung Galaxy S8 - Meet The New Boss

I had the opportunity to spend time with the Galaxy S8 and S8+ today and, not unsurprisingly, it turns out we have a new smartphone king. For now, anyway.

It's a device whose main pitch for sales based entirely on its Infinity Display. 

The front of the S8 is almost all screen, and what a screen it is. For content consumption it's a unbeatable choice. However, Samsung is demoing the S8 with a set of 21:9 format videos, which fit the screen and look breathtaking. Normal videos either have letterboxing or require zooming within the Samsung video app to get the same, full screen effect.

For colour, brightness and contrast Samsung is leagues ahead. Yet every year it manages to boost performance of its SAMOLED technology to make older screens look average. This year is no exception.

For regular use I am unconvinced of the value of a tall, narrow screen. Yes, you can stretch a thumb from side to side, even on the bigger S8+ model, but the height of the screen doesn't work for me. That may pass with some re-education but it was one of the two flies in the ointment.

The other being the fingerprint scanner positioning. I just couldn't get comfortable with it stuck to the back of the phone, to one side of the camera like a very late afterthought.

Of course you don't have to use the fingerprint scanner. There is a fast and reliable iris scanner which is a fine alternative and one I'd recommend you use even if the fingerprint scanner was in a better place.

The main camera is one of the few components carried over from the S7, given how good the camera was there its no surprise that it performs admirably here too.

The Bixby assistant - along with the associated hardware button to launch it - feel like they could be the start of something new. No more than that because right now it feels altogether too much like Google Now, which raises questions about its presence on the S8. 

Touch Wiz has been cleaned up. Notably there's no more app drawer link on the home screen. Instead a swipe up or down on any home screen panel will bring the app drawer into view. Retro, for those who used the original Googlephone, the G1. 

In most other ways the S8 is an S7 turned up to 11. A little better in every department. Quicker, smoother, more refined. It is the current state of the art in smartphones. 

Whether that will be the case when Apple's ten year anniversary iPhone swings by in September remains to be seen.

For now though, you'd be a fool to invest your smartphone money anywhere else.