Tuesday, 29 July 2014

OneNote Parody Video - LMFAO

I know there are some of you out there that will hate this video, however as well as being a pretty funny parody of LMFAO it also makes for a pretty good advert for the combined talents of the Surface Pro and OneNote.

The Microsoft engineers who put this together obviously had a good time making it and if it focuses more on being funny than demonstrating the products I think we can forgive them that...

Monday, 28 July 2014

F1: Mercedes Hungary Team Orders Call A Big Mistake

Probably not so chummy this evening
In developing the fastest package fpr the 2014 season, Mercedes gave themselves the nicest problem a race team could have - ensuring that their drivers played nicely in the battle for the driver's and constructor's Wordl Titles.

Thus far the team seem to have done okay - barring the misadventures of Monaco qualifying and the few technical problems they have experienced, it's been clean sweep all season long.

In Hungary though, a combination of safety cars and weather contrived to cost them the race, but also to once more sow discord into the harmonious team environment.

And it was all their own fault.

At two-thirds distance Lewis Hamilton was told not to hold up team-mate Nico Rosberg - on the quicker option tyre - and he politely declined. We're told that the team made the call off it's own back and Rosberg didn't ask to be let by initially. Having then been told that Hamilton was going to let him through Rosberg was left fuming when he didn't.

This was a terrible error of judgement by Mercedes. Hamilton and Rosberg are battling for the driver's title and for one to aid the other at his own expense would be complete madness. had there even been the slightest possibility of anyone else putting up a challenge for either title then perhaps you could understand Mercedes desire to get the best result possible for Rosberg.

As it was the only person to benefit from team orders would have been the German, with Hamilton effectively damaging his own prospects to assist.

Uncalled for.

In refusing to allow Rosberg past Hamilton was able to secure third place - one ahead of his rival - to reduce the gap at the top of the table to 11 points.

However the call made by Mercedes looked an awful lot like one based on a preference for a German driver to take the title and has hurt the team's reputation.

Not to mention the discussion between the two drivers that will follow a situation not of their own making.

Friday, 25 July 2014

OnePlus One Review - Something Kind of Different

OnePlus has generated a fair bit of buzz with its new handset, for several different reasons. Having had a chance to try one hands-on I can tell you that the buzz is warranted. This is a great phone. For the price I'd even go as far as saying it's an amazing phone. Not perfect, but as close as you can get right now.

The first thing that you'll notice when picking up the OnePlus One is that despite having a 5.5" screen it feels neither heavy nor unwieldy. The materials feel more premium than any mid-range phone has a right to feel and the balance in the hand is excellent. There's no way this is a one-handed phone - but if you're after screen real-estate on this scale that shouldn't be a surprise to you.

What a screen it is though. A 1080p IPS panel, the colours are excellent and screen elements are as sharp as anything at this resolution. I'd say that the panel on the HTC One M8 is a hair better, but that's about all that's in it.

The screen has Gorilla Glass protection and is wrapped around a white polycarbonate back piece. This can be removed and replaced - with rear panels in different colours and textures in the offing. On the sides you'll find the power key (right) and volume rocker (left), along with a tray for your SIM card.

On the front you have two unique features - the 5mp front facing camera for the selfie generation and a set of capacitive buttons that can be disabled in software. Personally I'd keep them on, even if they are very unevenly and dimly lit. Losing screen real estate isn't compensated for by their deactivation.

On the back is the 13mp main camera and LED flash.

In use the OnePlus One is snappy, you shouldn't expect any slowdowns when navigating the lightly tweaked Android environment, provided courtesy of Cyanogen - the modding community ROMs which are popular third party choices on most other handsets. This should deliver Android updates much quicker than other manufacturers - although at the time I tried the phone it was running KitKat 4.4.2.

That's good because the combination of Snapdragon 801 and 3GB RAM feels like it could munch through the next couple of releases without any problems. OnePlus is promising two years of firmware upgrades for the One - something that Cyanogen should allow them to achieve.

The use of Cyanogen has allowed for significantly more customisations than other handsets - disabling the capacitive buttons in favour of on-screen ones for example. One thing I would definitely be changing, if this was to be my own phone, would be the lock screen. It's not unpleasant but looks a bit... homemade. Also for first time users there's no indication that you need to swipe down to unlock the phone. With many Android OEMs allowing you to swipe in any direction to unlock that can be a little awkward at first.

The default OnePlus One / Cyanogen Android theme is a little child-like at first acquaintance, however it does grow on you as you use the phone more and if you really can't get on with it there's the option to make it look and (mostly) behave like other OEMs phones by applying their skins.

Aside from the issues that you can resolve by tweaking something from the extensive settings, list my only real complaints about the OnePlus One are the missing micro-SD card - I couldn't recommend the 16GB version due to this omission - and the good but not class leading battery life. In my time with it I found the OnePlus One drained it's (non-replaceable) cells quicker than my Xperia Z1. Even so, it wasn't a problem making it through a day on a single charge.

All in all I really liked the OnePlus One. It feels nice in the hand and has an excellent screen. Updates should be timely and battery life acceptable. The 13mp camera wasn't a match for the 20mp camera in my Xperia Z1, otherwise I could quite happily make one my daily driver.

As it is, if you aren't coming from the Lumia 1020 or Xperia Z1/Z2 the camera will be at least as good as what you're using now so that shouldn't stop you. But be warned, spend the extra and get the 64GB model, anything less will be problematic from an available storage point of view.

Here in New Zealand the 64GB OnePlus One retails for $640 - around £335. At that price it's impossible to see how they have made it so good.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

RIP James Garner 1966 F1 World Champion!

You might remember James Garner as Maverick or perhaps Jim Rockford, but for me it will always be his role as Pete Aron in John Frankenheimer's 1996 Grand Prix film that will stand-out.

If you have an interest in cars and haven't seen it then seek out the DVD  it's the best tenner you'll ever spend...

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

iPad Sales Down - Not Surprising Really

Apple's financial report made pretty good reading if you're a shareholder, employee or loyal customer. Overall sales grew by more than 5% and profit by nearly 12% compared with this time last year. That's pretty impressive for a quarter with no new hardware releases.

However, there was one downside, a 9% drop in iPad sales, which has been picked up on and offered as evidence of Apple being in trouble at a number of sites.

That's very far from the truth. Here's why.

The iPad is an exceedingly popular tablet, to the point where even after a year of being outsold by Android tablets it's still the most popular tablet in use today.

It's getting a bit long in the tooth though. Since the iPad 3 replaced the iPad 2 there hasn't really been a compelling reason to upgrade if you have an older iPad. Similarly with the iPad Mini, the arrival of a Retina Display didn't really give existing users a driver to update.

Unlike smartphones, there's no contract driven subsidy that makes an iPad a painless purchase and as a result users are holding off upgrading - to the point where I believe that the only real driver is an iOS update that leaves your existing device out in the cold.

Whilst the iPad isn't expensive when compared to its peers, there are an awful lot of budget tablets running Android at the same screen sizes that can be had for less than half the price of an iPad.

Combined with a lack of compulsion to upgrade for existing owners it's clear why iPad numbers are down.

On the bright side, Apple is due to launch all sorts of new hardware in the second half of this year and amongst those new launches will definitely be a new iPad or two. At a guess we'll see a thinner iPad Mini, a refreshed iPad and a larger screened iPad to compete with the recently launched Galaxy Tab Pro.

This new range is almost certainly going to release that pent up desire to upgrade for current owners leading to a bumper couple of quarters for iPad sales.

So I wouldn't worry too much about the iPad  I'm sure that Tim Cook isn't.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Comparing Apple and Microsoft As Communicators

Last week both Apple and Microsoft had big announcements to make about the future of their companies, for Microsoft it was a round of layoffs on an unprecedented scale. For Apple it was a new partnership with IBM which should see it make further strides into the enterprise.

Apple's announcement has huge implications for the way the business is run, a new opportunity to present iOS as a truly capable business device, being pushed to large enterprise customers by IBM, a company those customers know and trust.

In contrast Microsoft announced changes that will affect the livelihood of thousands of its employees, will change some of it's product lines and kill off others.

How were those messages communicated to staff? Well here's Satya Nadella's widely circulated message to Microsoft and here (courtesy of 9to5 Mac) Tim Cook's private one to Apple's staff.

Once you've read the two memos it's easy to understand the differences between the two companies. Nadella's message twists and turns and covers it's backside at every point. It could have been summarised in just a few words without putting the recipients through the mental torture of deciphering the hidden meanings. It is a linguistic game of twister.

Cook's message is brief, to the point. Nadella has created a bonus round of buzzword bingo.

If every management communication in Microsoft is as legible, straightforward and open to individual interpretation as this one, it's no wonder the company is struggling.

Here's the gist of the Microsoft memo:

"In order to maintain a competitive business and to improve efficiency in the way that Microsoft operates following the takeover of Nokia, up to 18,000 job losses will be required. 12,500 of those will be in the Nokia organisation. Most affected employees will be notified in the next six months and the company will be providing severance pay and assistance in finding future employment to all of those impacted."

Did the memo really need to say anything else?

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Nokia Bears Brunt of Microsoft Job Cuts

When Microsoft announced it was going to buy Nokia it talked about bringing efficiencies to the new business.

This week the announcement that 14% of Microsoft employees were being made redundant hit those former Nokia employees hardest with 12,500 expected to lose their jobs one the final toll has been taken.

That's going to be hard on a company that has already been through radical restructuring prior to the merger being announced.

For Microsoft as a whole it doesn't paint a great picture - worst case expectations were for 6,000 job cuts across the whole business. With three times as many Microsofties now facing redundancy it beggars two questions: Was Microsoft really this badly overstaffed pre-merger? And what products will die as a result of this change?

One thing we do know, Nokia's X range of Android AOSP phones won't be around much longer, as Microsoft focuses on Windows Phone. Which should also end those rumours of Microsoft adopting Android apps on its mobile platform.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

F1: German GP Promises To Get All FRICed UP

The 2014 F1 season potentially descends further into farce this at this weekend's German Grand Prix, after the FIA declared that the trick suspensions currently being used by at least seven of F1's teams were illegal. These FRIC suspensions (Front Rear Inter Connected) must either be removed from the cars using them or face the threat of appeals for technical non-compliance and ultimately disqualification.

The FIA have offered to allow the continued use of FRIC suspensions if all of the teams unanimously agree to them remaining. With some teams at a distinct disadvantage from not having the technology that doesn't seem to be a very likely scenario.

Will this shake up the grid? At least some of the teams believe that Mercedes FRIC is responsible for an element of its advantage. Perhaps the loss of the system will reduce the advantage that Rosberg and Hamilton have at every race, however I doubt that it will be enough for other teams to prevent the domination of the Silver Arrows continuing.

However the big test will come on Friday, when we find out which teams have retained FRIC and which teams intend to protest. If the race stewards aren't asked to make a judgement before Sunday then when the chequered flag falls the final race result will be a long way from being decided.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Developer Income Matters

We are close to the point where Google's Play Store will be distributing more money to developers than the iTunes Store - quite a landmark point, when its was estimated that Apple paid out up to five times as much as Google just a couple of years ago.

The growth in income for the Play Store has been driven by two things - the growth of the Freemium sales model, which entices users into apps and then sells them additional features (or in the case of games more lives, bonuses or weapons necessary to progress in the game); and the growth of Android phones in South America and similar developing markets, where this model undoubtedly works better.

Average revenue per user will still favour developers who publish in the App Store, but realistically the figure developers are most interested in is going to be the total income generated, and in that respect the Play Store is going to creep ahead - especially now that Google are tracking more than one billion live Android phones in current use.

Sure developing for the App Store is easier - and with Apple's new tools promising to lower the bar in that respect - but developing for the bigger market is going to be a big draw, whether those developers are pro-Apple or not.

And with recent research suggesting that around 70% of apps in the App Store are zombies - not been downloaded in the last three months - it's going to be all the more important to get large numbers of early downloads before apps disappear into the dark hole where apps go when they are no longer fresh and new.

Developer income matters, because like any creative medium it's a bet by the creator that their end product will be sufficiently popular to generate enough income to validate their efforts.

A bigger target audience and a greater overall return are two factors that are likely to determine where those efforts are targetted.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Android Apps On Windows Phone Would Be A Death Sentence

Windows Phone may be getting the ability to run Android apps, if rumours on several sites are to be believed. Given that Microsoft already has a range of phones running AOSP and access to a Microsoft/Android ecosystem that doesn't appear to be a great stretch.

However the arrival of Android apps on Windows Phone will mark the end for the platform. Developers will have no incentive to create for the platform and buyers will have no reason to choose one over an Android alternative. 

Satya Nadella's recent 'employee' email didn't make it sound like Windows Phone was on it's deathbed, however in an interview with The Verge Nadella was asked a specific question about whether Microsoft could win in the Smartphone market. His response? Talk about the Surface Pro 3. If I was on the Windows Phone team I wouldn't be taking that as a huge vote of confidence.

If Windows Phone disappears - whether that be a slow death or a quick one - I'm not entirely sure that current Windows Phone users will follow Microsoft onto AOSP. Whatever plays Microsoft makes to build its platform it always has the problem that Google and Android are synonomous and users buying Android phones are ultimately looking for the whole Google experience. Will they accept the Microsoft one instead?

I'm guessing most will not.