Friday, 23 January 2015

F1: A Strange Game Afoot At The FIA

Jules Bianchi and Philippe Streiff in better times.
F1 has always been a 'sport' with a Machiavellian nature, however events over the last couple of months suggest that things are getting more and more twisted at the capital of motorsport in Paris. The FIA, sanctioning body of international motorsport, has taken the unusual step of pursuing legal action against former driver Philippe Streiff over comments relating to the enquiry into the accident which gravely injured Jules Bianchi in Japan last year.

This follows on from its indefensible actions against former F1 doc Gary Hartstein, whose personal blog the organisation found intrusive enough to attempt to have him removed from his post at the University Hospital of Liege.

The most recent action against Strieff comes as a result of the Frenchman's complaints about the report made by the board of enquiry setup to look into the circumstances surrounding Jules Bianchi's accident and further treatment. Streiff calls it a whitewash, claiming that the panel was a group of the FIA's friends called together to ensure that no blame can be attached to the organisation.

Hartstein also has concerns about the report. He points out that there's a clear conflict of interest for half of the members of the panel. He's also concerned that out of a 300-page report submitted by the panel only a two-page summary has been released to the public. Both of those facts clearly show that Strieff's comments aren't entirely without foundation.

Hartstein questions some of the conclusions around the post accident care, particularly the time and method of transport of the patient to hospital, and whether all of the FIAs own regulations were followed.

For Streiff this almost certainly has some personal relevance. He was rendered tetraplegic following a testing accident in Rio in 1989, and at the time there were questions raised about the quality of care he received and how that impacted on his medical outcome.

Hartstein's troubles with the FIA relate to posts he has made on his personal blog deciphering the various announcements about Michael Schumacher's condition since his skiing accident over a year ago. Given all of the uninformed nonsense that has been published it has been useful to read the thoughts of a medical practitioner who has experience of the sport.

The FIA sent a representative to Hartstein's place of work and allegedly attempted to have him dismissed on the basis of these personal blog posts. The full story is outlined on Hartstein's blog here.

In both cases the disparity between cause and effect is significant.

As a result the FIA needs to disclose the full report and evidence to the public.

In the other matter, it appears the close personal relationship between Jean Todt, head of the FIA, and Michael Schumacher, has clouded the judgement of the organisation.

In neither case does the FIA cover itself in glory.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Blackberry CEO Offers Insight Into How Desperate Company Has Become

Blackberry CEO John Chen has posted on the company blog to explain how he views the net neutrality argument in the US. Within the post is a section demanding that application developers be forced to support all platforms.

Run that by me again...

Yes, Chen rails against software developers who won't support his platform and goes on to demand that "neutrality must be mandated at the application and content layer if we truly want a free, open and non-discriminatory internet".

No. Absolutely not. Software developers must be free to code for the platforms that offer them a return for their efforts, whether that be financial or otherwise. If that doesn't include Blackberry (or Windows Phone) then there should be no legal compulsion for them to do so.

Chen uses the examples of BBM and Netflix. BBM is available on pretty much all modern mobile OS platforms. He contrasts this with iMessage which is iOS only. Netflix does not have a Blackberry client. Chen claims that by not supporting Blackberry Apple and Netflix have created a "two-tier wireless broadband ecosystem".

The answer is not to legislate but compete. Blackberry just needs to make BBM a compelling choice across all platforms to compete with iMessage.

Interestingly, BBM isn't far behind Apple and WhatsApp in terms of messages being sent per day. The problem for the Chen is not about the service. Really it's about competing with Apple's walled garden ecosystem. Those dedicated iMessage users aren't going to switch to Blackberry when they can't gain access to their favourite messaging tool.

However, I doubt that iMessage lock-in is a big factor in Blackberry's failure to convert iPhone owners.

Microsoft Offers A New View Of Its Future

When I wrote about ecosystems and their importance a few days ago, Microsoft's failure to build a cohesive ecosystem was something that I noted. At yesterday's Windows 10 event, Microsoft's team showed how they planned to address that failure.

The universal nature of Windows 10 on desktops, tablets and phones isn't new - the plan to make Windows apps run everywhere has been in motion for a while. This year though, we begin to see the fruits of those endeavors: Windows 10 will allow most applications to be coded once and sold from one app store, but to run natively on all three platforms.

Microsoft took the first step in persuading Xbox owners that they should buy a Windows tablet or phone, by offering a remote play app that allows Xbox One gamers to play on and Windows 10 device. It shoots down one of the main arguments for buying a PS4 over an Xbox One. Current owners of PS4s and Xperia devices can remotely play their PS4 games on their phone or tablet. Microsoft takes this a step further by enabling this functionality on any Windows 10 hardware and supporting remote recording of gameplay.

With the Xbox One staging something of a recovery against the PS4, this look like a promising development and could boost both mobile phone and tablet sales.

Microsoft also looks like they have fixed the awful Office version currently shipped with Windows Phone. In Windows 10 Office will work the same whether it's running on a phone, tablet or in the modern environment. The traditional desktop user will continue to get a dedicated version.

There were new devices announced by Microsoft as well. HoloLens - which is a holographic projection device similar to Google Glass, but at the same time completely different. There was a new 84" touchscreen device intended to replace whiteboards called the Surface Hub and designed to improve in-room collaboration for teams.

Finally there were some tweak to the Windows 10 build. Cortana - the well-received voice assistant from Windows Phone moves across to the desktop and, as many have been predicting, Internet Explorer is replaced (sort of) by a new browser designed to challenge Chrome: Spartan.

All in all it was a good day for Microsoft. The key thing now, is to deliver on the promises made, rather than bringing a half-hearted, half-baked version of the vision it offered today.

That would represent real change.

Monday, 19 January 2015

The Long Story: A Strong Ecosystem Is Critical To Success In 2015

iPhone 6 sales will break all records when figures are released
for the holiday season.
Large electronics businesses face a tough year ahead. This year they either put their houses in order, deliver strong products and back them with a strong ecosystem or they won't be large businesses any more.

Over the last decade business models have changed, driven almost entirely by the way that Apple has revolutionised the sales of goods and services. By tying them together into a package that is interdependent at all levels in all directions, inertia is created which prevents customers switching to competing platforms.

Let's take a closer look at Apple's package to see how it should be done.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Xbox One / PS4 Price Reversal

One of the (many) reasons why the PS4 has consistently outsold the Xbox One since their respective launches in 2013 has been the price advantage that the Sony console has held. Initially this was down to Microsoft's insistence that Xbox One buyers would need a Kinect - like it or not.

When Microsoft reversed that decision and shipped a Kinect-less Xbox One the price difference was reversed. It still wasn't enough to gain Microsoft the sales crown.

A further price adjustment saw the Xbox One gain a price advantage over the PS4 in the run up to Christmas 2014. As a result the Microsoft console has taken the sales lead for two months on the bounce. Microsoft has now announced that the price cut will become permanent.

Which means, here in New Zealand at least, that it's possible to pick up an Xbox One Kinect bundle with the Assassin's Creed two game bundle for the same price as a single game WWE PS4 bundle, whilst the Kinect-less Xbox is now $50 cheaper.

The removal of the price disparity may do something to clarify which is the most popular console, certainly by installed user base the PS4 is ahead at the moment.

Personally I'm not convinced that either console has enough titles available to make it worth the upgrade, and there's certainly not been the must-have game that has driven customers into the stores.

For the moment I'll hang onto my aging Xbox 360 and wait for a clear winner to emerge.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Apple Patent Looks Like A Massive Speedbump For GoPro

A popular item right now, but can GoPro handle the arrival of
Apple in its market?
GoPro has had a pretty good run with its line og go anywhere cameras. From extreme skiing to skydiving to race cars and selfies, they're just about everywhere.

News that Apple has been granted a patent for a camera that sounds like it will directly compete with GoPro's range has sent their shares sliding on the stock market - and with good reason.

A quick read of the patent and associated design materials clearly show that the new Apple active camera will be waterproof and rugged and, more importantly, will work remotely with an iOS device or Apple Watch. That means remote activation and probably remote display as well. On the Apple Watch, which is undoubtedly going to be the hottest ticket item of 2015. You can see why GoPro's board might just be having crisis meetings right now.

Apple is the largest camera company in the world and its going for a new and lucrative market segment in the same way it always has done: aggressively. Currently the market for active cameras is small, there are few players, and nobody is really doing something that has universal consumer appeal. That's ripe for a game changing device with consumer pleasing capabilities.

And we all know a company that thrives in exactly those conditions...

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Sony SRSBTX300 Wireless Speaker Review

Twisting by the pool. The SRSBTX300 is a great portable speaker, but
don't let it get wet. Unlike many of Sony's other products it isn't waterproof.
It's summer here in the Southern Hemisphere and that means barbecues, pool parties and time at one of the many deserted beaches that line the coast (here in New Zealand anyway). If you're getting together with friends and family and making a proper day of it you'll probably want some way of taking your music with you. With smartphones being our music player of choice we invariably have the music, but those speakers on your phone (even HTCs Boom Sound handsets) just aren't going to cut it.

This is where the portable Bluetooth speaker comes in. Packing bigger sounds into a easily carried unit means that you'll be able to enjoy more sound at your gathering. And where portable Bluetooth Speakers are concerned Sony has delivered one of the best in the SRSBTX300.

The BTX300 is just over a foot long and two inches thick. It has a professional looking grey case with stainless steel end caps and a rotating foot on the right hand side, which acts as a stand, power switch and cover for the controls. It comes packed with a neoprene carry case and a dedicated charger.

There are three considerations when looking at portable speakers: sound quality, battery life and size. Getting the right compromise is the difference between delivering an average product and a great one.

In the BTX300 Sony has the mix spot on.

The sound quality is excellent. Bluetooth audio streaming uses the APT-X protocol which makes for crisp, clear audio. The speaker is rated at 20W and that's plenty to provide the music for a group of twenty people outside on the deck. Crank the sound up and there's no distortion and whilst there is a limit to just how loud the BTX300 will go, compared to other speakers of its size there is little to choose in terms of volume. Sony adds some DSP cleverness to the BTX300 as well, you can press the sound button on the side and tweak the output, adding bass or surround sound.

Battery life is a real stand out feature on the BTX300. It will stream audio for unfeasibly long periods of time. Over the summer I have set it up by the pool, with music streaming from my desktop PC, and the sounds have kept coming from late morning through to the kids bedtime around 7pm. That's a minimum of eight hours of music and I've never once had a warning about the battery. Unlike a number of other similar devices, the BTX300 will also let you stream when charging, a handy and convenient feature if you have it set up to charge and want to throw some tunes to it.

Connectivity is straightforward - either using NFC (a quick swipe across the top of the speaker) or standard Bluetooth pairing. Range is excellent as well, my iPhone, Lumia and GS5 all held a good signal up to the 10m range which is standard for Bluetooth connections. Perhaps not so strangely I was able to maintain a solid connection with either the Xperia Z1 or Z3 Compact at greater distance - another four or five metres in the Z3's case. Whichever phone you're using, once you exceed the connection range audio drops out intermittently before eventually closing the connection. A clever trick the BTX300 performs is to power down if there is no music being sent to it for long enough.

Portability is excellent. You probably wouldn't want to throw a larger speaker than this into a day bag for a trip out to the beach or to head out for a picnic. The neoprene case is a nice touch and protects the speakers enclosure from scratches and dings should you be a little carefree about what's in the bag with it.

All in I've owned the BTX300 for nearly a year now and I'm pleased to say that it has performed admirably, meeting all of my expectations for a portable wireless speaker.

Apple's Refund Workaround Might Not Fly With EU

Apple's compliance with the EU's distance selling regulations, specifically the part about allowing customers a 14-day cooling off period during which they can get a no questions asked refund, was implemented in a sloppy and uncomfortably weak way.

At least where apps are concerned.

Asking for a refund certainly gets you one, however the app isn't deleted off the user's devices and they can continue using the app as if they had paid for it. This is a weak solution from Apple, who must have been aware that they were going to have to comply with the ruling for some time. On a platform as locked down as iOS, why aren't Apple able to enforce the deletion of an app when providing a refund?

Instead Apple have applied a workaround, which they say will only be implemented on users who look like they are gaming the system. A dialogue box warns users that if they download the app they are buying within 14-days of purchase they waive their rights to a refund.

This doesn't seem like a fix that the EU will accept. After all, a user will be required to download the software in order to determine whether it meets their needs.

Apple needs to pull its collective finger out and do the refund properly, including deleting the app. The amount of money they've made out of the development community, it's the least that should be expected of them.

As If Blackberry's Problems Aren't Big Enough, It's Shot Itself Again

Remember that time when Blackberry paid a celebrity to promote its devices and they went and gave the game away by tweeting from an iPhone. You'd think the company would have been furious and feathers and fur would have flown.

Apparently not.

Looks like they decided that it seemed like a pretty good idea - well compared to using its own dreadful phones anyway. How do we know? Because The Verge caught them doing it too...

So exactly how much do you want that Blackberry now?

TNW: Throwing A Bit Of Crazy Into The Mix

This is what a cuckoo looks like when it isn't bashing out
articles for TNW.
The Next Web crept on to my list of regular news sites a couple of years ago. It's generally a site with good quality reporting. However, every so often it comes out with some epic nonsense and this week it managed it twice.

The first article by Mic Wright condemns Amazon for signing up Woody Allen to create new content for its media services. Why? Apparently its a slap in the face to abuse survivors.

Because Woody Allen has been convicted of an abuse crime? No.

Because Woody Allen was tried of an abuse crime? No.

Because his (acriminously seperated) ex-wife Mia Farrow, and step-daughter have made an accusation of abuse, which has almost no credibility and has been discounted by all who know Allen, Allen himself and the evidence of common-sense? Apparently so.

The Next Web believes that we live in a world where it is right to deny people work on the say-so of any baseless accuser. Four words: innocent until proven guilty.

Next we have an even stranger article by Owen Williams titled "Even with a head start, fitness wearable makers haven’t figured out how to beat the Apple Watch".

Let's be clear, these aren't other smartwatch OEMs that Williams is writing about. This is fitness band OEMs, of whom Williams writes "these companies are now simply living on borrowed time" and "the only people that care about you tracking your fitness are all the companies trying to tell you that this year is the year of wearables".

In Williams world view the Apple Watch is going to come to market and sweep all of these bands away.

Really? In a world where most people don't have Apple iPhones (and therefore can't use the Apple Watch full stop), where most fitness bands are discrete devices which have batteries that last for days, weeks or in some cases months (whereas the Apple Watch will need charging every night and therefore won't even be able to track your sleep patterns) and the average price of a good quality fitness band is around a third of what Apple will be charging for  its device.

I don't doubt that the Apple Watch will be a massive seller and will be number one smartwatch on the market. To suggest that people will cease to buy fitness trackers because of any smartwatch completely misses the point of these devices.

Cloud. Cuckoo. Land.