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Showing posts from September 14, 2015

Microsoft Lumia 435 Review

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As entry-level smartphones go the Lumia 435 is about as entry-level as you can go. How low? Well its currently available on PAYG in New Zealand for $69 - including a $19 credit, making the phone's real price $50 - or about £20 at today's exchange rates. For that price you get a 4" screen at WVGA, 2mp rear and 0.3mp front facing cameras, 8GB of storage and 1GB of memory. There's a micro-SD card slot for expanding that storage by up to 128GB, ensuring that you'll always have space for your media and files. The processor is a dual-core Snapdragon 200, a first in a Windows Phone. The absence of 4G is unsurprising, however HSPDA+ should keep things ticking along nicely and, as a bonus, will be much more battery friendly. The 435 will be one of the phones which receives Windows 10 Mobile first, likely to be sometime around the end of October. The promise of ongoing updates at this end of the smartphone market is something unique and, frankly, at this price if your only…

Apple's iOS Adblocker Platform Doesn't Work That Well Right Now

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Contentious. That's a good word to describe the reception of iOS 9's ad blocking capabilities thus far. On one side you have the argument that content producers have a right to earn a living from their work, on the other that users are entitled to a level of control over what happens when they visit a website.
Personally I disagree with the concept of preventing ads from displaying, at the same time understanding why people feel that intrusive and data gobbling downloads are ruining their browsing experience and costing them money (on mobile devices anyway). Having upgraded my iPhone 6 and iPad Air 2 to iOS 9 and installed some content blockers to see how they work I found browser performance was not particularly improved. Side by side with my second iPhone 6 running iOS 8 there were negligible differences in load times. However, I didn't measure data so that might be the real differentiator here. I did compare the iOS ad blocker on my iPad with Internet Explorer's TPL…

Apple Is Coming, Car Makers Need To Be Ready

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When Apple entered the mobile phone market in 2007 there was a general belief amongst the incumbent phone OEMs that the company would fail to rock the market.

We now know exactly how that went. Nokia, RIM, Motorola and Palm have either been consigned to history or are teetering on the brink.

Now the signs are that Apple are working on a car. Probably electric, possibly self driving. And car makers should be quaking in their boots.

Anyone who has any doubts about Apple's ability to disrupt the car market in the same way as they have the phone one need only look at the success that Tesla has had, both in terms of building a brand from scratch and then using it to sell cars in the premium market.

Apple already has the brand and it has capital to spare to support building both the engineering and manufacture parts of the business; and the infrastructure to support it.

For car makers imagine the nightmare scenario of an Apple electric car backed by an international network of propriet…

Can You Imagine A Switch To Android App In The iTunes Store

No, me neither. The thought of Apple allowing a competitor to publish such an app is laughable. Google is much more open and as a result Apple has been able to publish a 'Switch to iOS' app in the Play Store. That App is currently being hammered with one star reviews by Android fans, somewhat unsurprisingly. Something which John Gruber finds hilarious. No John, what's hilarious is that you're prepared to accept a situation where Apple can sensor its app store to prevent this sort of app. Or any other app it takes a dislike to. A not uncommon occurrence as it turns out.

Sonos Adds Groove Support

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I have to say I'm not entirely sold on Wi-Fi based whole home streaming audio solutions like Sonos, or Airplay. It isn't something that really fits with the way that I consume music. That is, I'm generally in the same room where it's playing, so streaming via Bluetooth works a treat. The sound quality may be better on Wi-Fi streaming solutions but my hearing isn't acute enough to tell the difference. However, if your audio demands are greater and Sonos is your choice of home audio you've just picked up another choice of music service. Sonos and Microsoft have enabled Groove streaming through the media system. As a Groove subscriber I'm pleased that Microsoft appears to be putting more weight behind the service than it did with previous iterations (Xbox Music and Zune Music) even if it isn't something I'll personally get to benefit from.

Apple's Adblocker Will Hurt Apple-centric Sites Most

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iOS adblocking has been a thing for a day now and I'll be interested to see how it has started to impact on web publishers ad revenue at this early stage. A good indicator is Nilay Patel's article on the front page of The Verge today, which portrays the future as a hell characterized by all out war between Apple, Google and Facebook. He's probably not far from the truth. Apple News and adblocking together demonstrate where Apple sees the future of content monetization. Not on the web, but in an app. An app controlled by Apple and with ads provided and managed by Apple. However that's for the future. Right now there are more pressing concerns for publishers - especially those which are Apple-centric. If the majority of your hits came from iOS devices up until two days ago you are particularly vulnerable to adblocking tools running in iOS 9. Sites which provide Apple news and commentary are almost certainly entirely in this category. Now I'm pretty sure that users w…

Amazon Announces New Tablets And A Change Of Focus

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Amazon has released details of its refreshed Kindle Fire range and in doing so demonstrated that it understands how the tablet market has changed since the original Fire was launched. Whether its new direction is sufficient to win it back some relevance in the tablet market remains to be seen. The biggest news is a 7" tablet which will sell for just $50. That's going to make it an attractive purchase when compared to the no-name and rebranded imports that currently populate that price band. Also announced were $150 and $230 8" and 10" versions. These look to be pretty good value for the price and for the first time pack external storage which can be used for downloaded media storage. Amazon is advertising them as more durable than the iPad, but given the significant price difference between the two ranges I can't see anybody making a buying decision between the two. New services are what will be the bigger machine's unique selling points. The new Undergroun…

iOS 9 On The iPad Does Not A PC Make

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One of the big messages coming out of Apple's big launch last week was that the iPad Pro was a professional class machine, ready to take on the duties that would normally be completed on a laptop. The bigger screen does make this easier - especially multi-tasking apps using iOS 9's new side by side feature, however otherwise the enhancements should apply just as much to the iPad Air 2.
I retrieved my iPad Air 2 from the desk drawer where it has sat untouched ever since I swapped to the Surface 3, charged it up and the updated it to iOS 8.4.1 in order to get the iOS 9 upgrade.
Frankly it wasn't worth the effort.
The iPad is a working replacement for a laptop only if your work involves a very specific set of tasks. For me I need something beyond what the iPad and its cut down applications can offer. My intention had been to bench the Surface 3 and use the iPad exclusively for a period of time to record my observations. After just one hour with the updated iPad it became cle…

iOS 9 Arrives And The Pleading Has Begun

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If you've been reading about the arrival of iOS 9 today you're probably already picking up on one of the big themes playing on publisher's minds.
Adblocking and white lists.
Almost every site I've visited today has slipped in a small, request to be white listed if you're planning on using adblocking on your iOS device.
Not really surprising seeing as most Web browsing comes from Apple's mobile OS and presumably most ad click through and page view income is dependent on those users seeing ads. For those sites not wanting to get involved in an escalating war of ad services against ad blockers their only hope is to ask for an exception to the blocker.
I wonder how many users will hear the content provider's pleas? And for those that do, how long before they get bored of the process and get blind to those requests?

iOS 9 Upgrade Problems A Result Of Apple's California-centric World View

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As is usual whenever Apple pushes out an upgrade to its mobile operating system legions of device owners are taking to social media to complain about how they can't download the update. That's hardly surprising given that Apple is trying to deliver the update to the whole world of iThings in one go. The software was released for download at 10am PST on the sixteenth. Yet for some of the world's population it had been the 17th for several hours by then. Had Apple taken a global view and released the software to individual territories as they crossed into September 16th the load would have been spread much wider than flipping the switch globally at an arbitrary time. I can only assume that Apple's reasons are fixed around the belief that California is the centre of the world. It isn't. In contrast Microsoft managed to release Windows 10 to the world by switching on individual territories as they crossed into release day. Maybe that's something else that Apple ca…

Airdrop Vulnerability Identified, Fixed

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Apple's proprietary solution for sending files between devices has a major vulnerability which can allow a hacker to gain control of your device by disguising malware as a legitimate iOS application. As the package is delivered via Airdrop its automatically delivered to your phone without any user interaction, although its only activated when your iOS device is reset. Two things here. First of all don't leave Airdrop wide open to anybody, restrict it to contacts only (swipe up on the home screen and tap the Airdrop panel to set this). Secondly, Apple has patched the vulnerability in iOS 9, which should be available to supported iOS device owners now. Once again the advantages of Apple's limited hardware selection and direct control of delivery systems mean that security is better controlled when compared to competing platforms.

The Alfa Romeo Giulia Really Is Going To Have It All

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The Alfa Romeo Giulia has been wowing the crowds at the Frankfurt motor show this week, and for good reason. This is the first full production rear wheel drive Alfa Romeo since the 75. It looks fabulous, especially when compared to the bland teutonic designs that fill this segment. And now it turns out that the Giulia's mix of twin turbo V6 power and lightweight design produce a car that, in Quadrofoglio trim at least, is going to leave the traditional performance saloons from BMW, Mercedes and... and well everyone else really, eating dust. The  Giulia is reported to have lapped the Nurgburgring in 7:39. That's phenomenally fast. How fast? Quicker than the Lamborghin Murcielago, the Audi R8 V10, even the McLaren-Mercedes SLR. That's pretty radical for  four seat, four door saloon car. Nearest peer? The BMW M5, a whopping sixteen seconds slower around the 'Ring. Even so its unlikely that the Giulia will appear on the streets in anything like the numbers of its less cap…

Tim Cook, Meet Lumia Living Images

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Of all the bizarre places you might expect Apple CEO Tim Cook to pop up, BuzzFeed is probably not one of them. Nevertheless in amongst his visit to the New York Apple Store - which was either Megalomaniac or Messianic, depending on whose report you read - Cook took some time to walk and talk with the site's Managing Editor John Paczkowski.

In the interview he demonstrated either a Jobs-like Reality Distortion Field or an ignorance of the market his number one product plays in.

“I think Live Photos is a medium that hasn’t existed before. It’s like discovering a new form.”

The quote is clearly wrong. Live Photos certainly has existed before. As Microsoft would no doubt be pointing out, were it not currently buddying up with Apple. Like Hey Siri and 3D Touch it isn't new or innovative, other than to the iOS platform.

So here's the launch of Lumia Living Images, from April 2014. Play spot the difference.

Driven: Mercedes A180, Decidedly Average At A Premium

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When Mercedes introduced the first A-class back in 1997 it delivered one of the most technically innovative and ground-breaking designs on decades. The upright body shape and sandwich floor design created a roomy compartment with exceptional safety features. When it replaced the A-class in 2012 Mercedes stepped back from its innovative (and controversial) design to release the W176 A-class, a standard family hatchback that lacks any of the features that made its predecessor unique. In designing something conformist Mercedes is clearly seeking to see a better return on its investment than the original, which managed two million sales in its fifteen year lifespan. Externally the A180 is drab - and that's not just down to the gunmetal colour of the carI drove. It's a design which lacks any kind of flair, doesn't draw the eye in nor reward visual appraisal. In a class filled with interesting designs and topped by the eye-poppingly gorgeous Alfa Romeo Giulietta, the A-class i…

Another Android Vulnerability Surfaces

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Google's mobile platform may well be the most popular on the planet, but if it keeps springing security holes its going to be very difficult to keep the ship afloat. The latest bug being reported by Ars Technica is a lockscreen vulnerability which allows anybody unauthorised access to any phone running Android 5.x I say any phone, but that's not quite true. Google released a patch last week which should have addressed the problem on Nexus devices. The rest of the Android community? They'll have to wait. Anecdotally it appears that Samsung has been pushing the patch to some devices in some regions - but presumably not ones locked by carriers. That leaves most Android users exposed, with no real idea of when this might get fixed by their OEM and carrier. Exposing once more the weakness of the Android platform. In a week when Apple will launch iOS 9 to all iOS devices from the last four years this sums up the differences between the two platforms perfectly. If you want an An…

Apple On-course For Another Record Breaking iPhone Launch

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Whilst the iPhone didn't make too many headlines after Apple's Ask Siri event last week (not in comparison to everything else that was announced anyway) there's a reason why it forms the bulk of Apple's business: customers get enough of it.
That looks like its about to manifest itself in another record breaking launch, as the 6S looks to have beaten its predecessor's pre-order numbers and will almost certainly beat its first quarter sales numbers too.
How much of this is down to pent up demand for the new features in the 6S (a better camera being the only really noteworthy one) and how much is down to Apple's new finance package remains to be seen. If numbers are up in the US, but steady elsewhere, we'll know it's the latter.
More likely the general security and update failings of Android are pushing more and more customers away from Google's platform and onto Apple's. Recent security warnings, plus the poor performance from OEMs and networks i…

Burberry Launches Apple Music Channel

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Brands have had their own channels on Spotify and YouTube for years, so it shouldn't be a big surprise that Apple Music will also offer them the same service.
First out of the gates is Burberry, which will offer playlists based around the fashion house's brand values.
This sort of deal is exactly the thing that demonstrates the point made by Eric Schmidt. Do you really want to abdicate selection of music to a clothing manufacturer? What possible connection can there be between a fashion label and the music you like?
It's likely that this will be the first of many such announcements from Apple, as more brands seek to bask in the reflected glory of Apple's success. I imagine that Apple will see these sorts of deals as wins in two ways: an income stream and a selling point for the service.
For listeners there is no downside. An channel which gives you a clue as to how brands would like you to see them could prove to be an interesting form of entertainment. A bit like buz…

Apple Music A Decade Out Of Date According To Eric Schmidt

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The BBC has been running a series of articles on the Intelligent Machine, describing the changes in the world that have been - and are being - wrought by artificial intelligence and machine learning. The latest article is an interview with Alphabet (nee Google) chairman Eric Schmidt.
In article that mostly talks about turning the art of the possible into the actual and available Schmidt uses music services as an example of how machine learning delivers a better service to listeners, helping surface new artists that match their existing tastes.
There's a neat little barb dropped in there too.
"A decade ago, to launch a digital music service, you probably would have enlisted a handful of elite tastemakers to pick the hottest new music." Schmidt writes.
It's hard to argue with his sentiment. Do we want to be told what music we should be listening too or do we want to find new music we'll enjoy because it matches what we currently like? Personally I find the idea o…

New Microsoft Hardware Incoming

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Microsoft has started sending out invites for a Windows 10 hardware event on October 6th, where its expected to unveil the next version of its Surface Pro, new Lumias, the Surface Hub and possibly the Hololens. Its also likely that we'll get confirmations of shipping dates for Windows 10 Mobile and Xbox versions. The date is a couple of weeks earlier the rumours suggested, as well as missing the symbolically interesting 10th October date, suggested by @evleaks. It's going to be a big event for Microsoft, given that the future of its hardware strategy has been in question ever since it wrote off its investment in Nokia. The leaks around the new Lumias and Surface suggest that Microsoft have got a story to tell next month. Let's see how they manage to build media interest in the run up to, during and after the announcements.

Microsoft's New Strategy Is A Defense Against 'Good Enough'

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Android tablets, the iPad, Chromebooks and the new iPad Pro represent a significant challenge to PC sales and Microsoft's embracing of these platforms represents a strategically sound defense against what could prove to be death by 'good enough'.
None of the devices I've listed above are particularly brilliant on their own, currently you need to pair them with a 'real' computer to cover the whole range of functions that form the current computing landscape.
For consumers this may not be the case for much longer. There comes a point where these cut down machines become good enough that we no longer worry about the missing functionality.
For old Microsoft this would prove to be an enormous problems. By focusing on delivering Microsoft services everywhere it becomes less so. The partnership with Cyanogen, the acquisition of Android and iOS apps, appearing on stage to talk up the capability of the iPad Pro, all of this demonstrates that Microsoft now has a desire…

Rob Rhinehart's Smartphone Takedown

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After his last controversial post on outsourcing his life, Soylent developer Rob Rhinehart is back with an altogether more grounded piece on the problems of smartphones in modern life and how he has got around them.
The starting point, as ever, is how notifications were causing his smartphone to take over his life. There's a key piece of learning here, for anyone who uses a smartphone. Manage your notifications, before they take over your life. The point when you know you've failed? The day you have to strap on a smartwatch.
There are very few time-sensitive methods of communication that we need notifications for. One is text messaging - still the only universally supported way of getting a message almost instantly to a third party without having to know what phone or service they are using. You can safely enable text message alerts, on some platforms you can even enable them on a per contact basis. So when your phone beeps you know its someone you want to take notice of.
If …

Apple May Have Chosen The Wrong OS For Its Big iPad

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Now that the dust has settled down and we've got over the fact that Apple was undertaking a brief stint as the world's biggest Microsoft cover band, there's an opportunity to review what Apple did with the new iPad Pro.
First of all it validated the efforts of Microsoft and Samsung in bringing the stylus back into the mainstream. Apple may call its stylus a pencil, but it's a stylus all the same. Albeit a clever one.
The keyboard cover showed that Apple's design bods don't always get things right. It's ugly and clumsy when compared to the Surfaces Type Cover. The quick availability of third party keyboard covers suggests Apple was aware that it had issues with its design.
All those comments not withstanding, viewed as a whole the iPad Pro stands up as a product. It will take sales from the top of the tablet market and from the bottom end of the Macbook market. It fits a niche for Apple owners who want more than an iPad but already have a laptop.
In that re…