Android, Jellybean and What we can expect next from Google

These past three weeks have been jam-packed with OS news. First Mountain Lion reared its face back mid february then Microsoft released the highly anticipated Windows 8 consumer preview to the public. These new softwares from the tech titans of silicon valley show us not only what’s coming later this year but the direction they’re taking computing. For once Apple is the less interesting of the two, presenting an OS that’s just more of an incremental step closer to bridging the iOS/OSX gap. Windows on the other hand is coming in packing a completely new OS with Windows 8. The desktop we’ve all come to know and love has taken a backseat to a more Windows Phone 7-eque metro tile screen. This new interface makes windows more walled, adds an app store and, most importantly, finally makes Windows finger-friendly.

                                

But in all this buzz, one major player is still left out. Google has for over a year now been trying to sell us on the idea of a Chrome OS without any success. Sure, they’ve come down in price but at the end of the day they still leave people asking, “why don’t I just install Chrome?” But, Google has seen nothing but good results when it comes to their Android mobile OS. In light of the major plays by both Cupertino and Redmond, Google may just have just had their hands forced. Putting Android on a laptop would make for a lightweight OS that, with the inclusion of the Android market, would be more than capable of performing most common tasks such as writing documents, browsing the web, playing music and light gaming. And because Google licenses Android for free, a mobile version could be priced competitively against Microsoft’s offerings and still keep all the revenue from searches and Android Market purchases.

So what’s the hold up? Well, Google still has a lot of work to do before they’re ready to enter the laptop market. First of all, Android on tablets is a hot mess. Samsung, by far the largest seller of Android tablets, had to admit during Mobile World Congress that their tablet  sales were less than steller. The biggest reason is most likely because Android isn’t micromanaged enough. It’s closing in on half a year since Ice Cream Sandwich was released and we’re still only seeing it on select devices. While this is a nuisance for smartphone owners, it’s a deal breaker in the high-end market. If Google wants to be a respected player on the laptop front, they’re going to need to be able to give people the peace of mind that their $400+ investment will be supported for 2-3 years at least.

This may just be speculation but with the way the market is going I don’t think Google has a choice unless they want to kill off the Chromebook experiment. For now, we just have to hold our breath and wait to see what’s coming down the road with Jellybean.

Are we in the Post-PC era?

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably been buried in iPad news by now. But with the announcement of the new iPad came the return to talks of a “post-pc era”. For anyone who doesn’t already know, the post-pc era is supposed to mark the end of a time when the traditional desktop/laptop computing experience is usurped by the tablet and smartphone. There is a bit of truth to this, but for the most part it’s just hyperbole from marketers trying to get us hooked on the next thing and reporters looking for clicks.

The undeniable truth of the matter is that sales for smartphones and tablets (at least apple tablets) are where we’re seeing the majority of growth. At the iPad announcement Tim Cook announced that iPad sales had exceeded laptop sales from a slew of high-profile manufacturers including Acer and Lenovo. I’m not debating the truth of that statement but I will contest the impact of it. Apple and a good percentage of the tech news circuit would have you believe that this means people are giving up their computers en masse and jumping to the iPad. That’s just not true. Tablet and computers from day one have had two very separate uses and appeals. A tablet shows its strengths with it’s simpler and more intuitive design and beautifully laid out apps, web browsing, games and media in genera where a computer would shine with higher-end media and production. I’m not going to sit down on a tablet and type an essay or even edit more than a few pictures any time soon, it’s just not practical. Some people might make a case for a dock but then how is that any different/better from using a laptop? 

There are two reasons why smartphones and tablets outsell tradition computers and neither of them have anything to do with replacing the latter. The first reason is the personality of tablets and phones. In an average famiily there is probably a main desktop for shared use and maybe a laptop or two for the parents.  You can have multiple accounts and aside from timeshares, there usually isn’t a problem with sharing a computer. Tablets and phones are a completely different story though. I wouldn’t let anyone use my phone for an extended period of time, it’s just too personal. A tablet i’d be a little more open to sharing but I still wouldn’t co-own with anyone. Because of this reason most families have phones for every member and tablets are following that same trend.

The second reason is getting closer to the media push. Tablets and phones don’t last long. I’ve had my Macbook pro for nearly two years now and it’s still as sleek, fast and capable as when I first got it (even more so but I’ll come back to that later). If all goes well I won’t have any good reason to replace it for another two years, just try keeping a tablet/phone for that long. I got my first smartphone last summer (1 GHz, dual core, 4 inch screen, 5mp camera… the average high-end smartphone at the time) and it’s already feeling dated. Motorola doesn’t feel like updating to the latest OS and there’s nothing I can do about it plus new apps are already running slower than they should. I had an iPad 1st gen and it was experiencing the same age problems along with just looking like garbage compared to the latest slab. This shift from a 4-5 year replacement time to a 1-2 year means that every person who buys in to a tablet counts for twice the sales at least. And when yo consider that every member of the family upgrades their phone once every other year, that’s about 8+  phone purchased for every laptop renewal period. Even if everyone keeps their traditional computers and only a quarter of those people have tablets, tablet sales are still going to reflect a large percentage of the market. 

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So why the push for the “post-pc” era? Mostly the second reason. The computer market is competitive that HP (the world’s largest PC maker) was considering selling its PC division. The overly aggressive PC market pushes profit margins to their thinnest. Apple is the only manufacturer with high returns per computer (Sony is close but they don’t move nearly as many computers). Tablets have much higher margins and because of the constant changes in processors they are replaced at a much higher rate.

And there are some hidden costs to tablets too. If anyone tries to make the PC more “curated” as the tablet is, the masses would throw a fit but tablets started off as a walled garden and people came to accept and even prefer that experience from the very beginning. This means that any media going through the tablet generates revenue for the manufacturer (or Google in Android’s case). Another reason companies want to push tablets is control over hardware. The computer hardware division is highly competitive and cuts profit margins to an extreme. When my computer turned one, I was able to replace the hard drive with a much faster one and double the ram to 8 gigs for south of $150 so my computer still runs faster than the majority of newer ones. When my iPad turned one I just found myself frustrated with all the apps I couldn’t run and I had no choice but to buy a completely new one. Add on top of that the fact that we somehow justify the price markup for memory on a tablet.16 extra gigs shouldn’t cost more than $20 but we pay $100 dollars for it and we’re even willing to pay $300 extra for a whopping 48 gigs more (16-64)! One of the highest-end Solid State Drives on the market (Intel’s) cost under $150 for 120 gigs… that’s less than half the price for more than double the capacity and performance! 

So when you hear talk about the “post-pc” era and all the hyperbole surrounding it, take it with a grain of salt. Companies have a vested interest in getting everyone on tablets and reporters have a vested interest in writing on whatever is new and controversial. People still prefer to watch movies, play games and do work on computers and they’re not leaving any time soon. 

I just looked a…

I just looked at the site stats and I have to say I was more than impressed. It’s been more than 3 months since I’ve posted anything relevant and yet I’m still getting 50+ views per day! I think that speaks plainly to the fact that I should return to posting. I’m not making any promises of tri-weekly posts but if anything major happens/comes out I’ll push out a post for you all. Stay tuned!

Spreading the word!

Here are some of the interviews that I had over lunch

 

 

 

Buying More for Less: Week 2

You’ve decimated half of the leftovers in your fridge, set up the last of your new tech purchases, passed the last of that turkey and even the most stubborn stores have stopped with the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales: that means the holidays are halted right? WRONG! Christmas is just around the corner and the deals are as bountiful as your fridge. Go online and you can still find great deals on Christmas gifts or just more tech toys for yourself. Amazon, TigerDirect, Newegg, and most of your favorite website have probably found some way to turn this trans-holiday lull into a specials zone and drive up sales. Another avenue you may want to explore, woot. Woot.com is a company owned by Amazon.com that focuses on one sweet daily deal. Because of the vagueness of that mission statement, it’s often a hit or miss ordeal (you could get an iPad one day and a Dyson vacuum the next) so you have to check it once every morning and hope that they have something you want; if it is the prices are hard to beat. But woot isn’t just a one trick pony; they have a home.woot site that offers good prices on furnishings and other home décor items; Wine.woot offers quality brand name vintage wines and wine accessories; kids.woot offers deals on kids toys and fun stuff that anyone with an inner child can enjoy; and shirt.woot offers… shirts. All these sites use the same one day, one deal setup but woot does have one more trick up its sleeve, deals.woot. Deals.woot offers five deals each day and below that has deals posted by the woot community from a number of websites. What really drags me into woot though is the feel. The whole thing feels more personal and small business-y (just read their disclamer – yes, I suggested reading disclaimer – and you’ll know exactly what I mean) and it makes shopping a more pleasant ordeal. If there’s anything you’re looking for, I suggest this site as one of the places you should look before you buy. That’s my tip for today, more coming your way next week!

In Defense of Windows Phone 7

 

tl;dr

For the time being, WP7 is underpowered, lacks developer support and is still behind in features we’ve come to expect as standard. But if you don’t care about apps (besides Angry Bird) or having the fastest phone money can buy and just want a gorgeous interface to stay connected, take occasional photos and just keep things simple, you’re in for a treat. If you have a smartphone (or if you’re on a computer) and want to try out the WP7 experience, just click here.

 

The phone space has become a battleground between Android and iOS. Android owns over half of the industry and iOS is raking dough and dominating mindshare like nobody’s business. This isn’t exactly the most fertile ground to sow your seeds but you’ve gotta plant something if you ever wanted to grow. Playing the part of the little Charlie Brown tree in between two mighty evergreens is little Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7. But it could be worse for Microsoft, just ask Nokia and RIM. So, what chance does Microsoft stand to enter this mature (by tech standards) industry? Quite a bit actually. Windows Phone 7 came like a breath of fresh air to the smartphone OS space. As much as people like to fight over Android vs. iOS, they’re actually very similar operating systems when you look at the side by side. They have the same app layout, marginally different page layouts and besides widgets and more customization on the Android front, the differences pretty much end there. But you’re not gonna see Microsoft in court defending its OS any time soon. The Metro UI tile layout is a first and it accomplishes three things very well; It’s simple, eloquent and informative all at once. The hubs are also unique (although ICS is cozying up to the design) and they provide full information in a weird but interesting partial page layout. Microsoft has really created something from the ground up that they can claim to be 100% their own. You really have to give it a chance. But enough with the flattery, WP7 has quite a few knocks against it as well. First of all, it’s the new kid on the block. The phones coming out on the Windows front aren’t the highest end models the OEMs churn out and carriers don’t exactly place them front and center. WP7 also lacks any mentionable developer community. If Microsoft want to ever get this thing off the ground, it definitely needs the right stuff. Hoping to mend these issues, Microsoft has partnered with Nokia to be the sole software provider of future Nokia phones. This might sound strange seeing as neither companies have strong marketshare but it’s actually quite a brilliant strategy… although not immune to failure. Nokia used to be the premier phone maker until the smartphone era came. Since then they’ve floundered through OS’s (Symbian, Maemo, back to Symbian, then MeeGo) without finding anything that stuck. But even through this tumultuous time they’ve been praised for their hardware design, exactly what WP7 has to bring to the table.  Nokia also retains a strong market presence in Europe that will undoubtedly help propel WP7 into the hearts and minds of developers. This is only the hope though, and things aren’t coming to a solid start. The first phone to come out of the alliance, the Lumia 800, left reviewers both astonished and appalled. The design is a beautiful unibody structure that looks great and feels great in the hand but that’s where the flattery ends. The screen is a tiny 3.7 inches and a lowly 480 x 800 pixels, it’s running on a measly 1.4 Ghz single core processor, it has just 512 megs of ram and the camera is an outdated 5MP Carl Zeiss lens. These feature  read like a dream a year ago when they were introduced with the N9 but in a market where two moths is midlife crisis there isn’t a good excuse for releasing rebranded internals. Of course, there was a push to get something out the door by holidays 2011 so there’s still hopes that Nokia will wow us early next year. For the time being, WP7 is underpowered, lacks developer support and is still behind in features we’ve come to expect as standard. But if you don’t care about apps (besides Angry Bird) or having the fastest phone money can buy and just want a gorgeous interface to stay connected, take occasional photos and just keep things simple, you’re in for a treat. If you wanna give it a shot for free, just click here (preferably on a handheld).


Are you getting Ice Cream Sandwich?

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Ice Cream sandwich is out and Google’s fragmentation problem is rearing itself to everyone’s chagrin. Imagine being at the beach with your family and your parents choose to give only a few of you Ice Cream and you just have to sit there and watch. Oh, might I remind you that you’re paying these parents monthly…this is terrible! With my iPad, I got iOS 5 in a timely manner and my single complaint – not having multitouch – was cleared up within a few weeks and I’m completely up to date. My Motorola Triumph that came out this summer, the Motorola Atrix that was the darling of the smartphone world BACK IN FEBRUARY and that HTC EVO that ushered in the 4G era less than a year and a half ago are all out of the question. I understand why my phone was off the list, it’s a Virgin Mobile phone, but I can’t understand how you can leave behind the Goliaths of the Android space less than two years after their release? And even those phones that are getting upgraded aren’t getting it until “first half of 2012″… in what world is that acceptable? Remember that Open Handset Alliance that EVERY ANDROID OEM SIGNED UP FOR? What happened to the 18 months of support? This is a huge problem when you’re tied to a two year contract and the person you’re paying nearly a hundred bucks to (or more) each month doesn’t care enough to keep you supported after your device is out of the spotlight but you’re still stuck in a contract. This definitely isn’t the best way to build up customer appreciation and this shows why Apple is still #1 in customer satisfaction and brand quality in general. Enough of my ranting, here’s the list of supported phones (from Engadget) so check it out and prepare to be dissapointed.

Note: If you don’t see your device listed, don’t fret… yet. If it hasn’t been confirmed or denied, the OEM’s likely still deciding which products will get the upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich. Keep checking back here from time to time, as we’ll continue to update the list.

ASUS

Official statement:

Google recently announced the latest update for Android, Ice Cream Sandwich, which brings some exciting new features and capabilities. At ASUS, we pride ourselves on delivering a great experience with our products, thanks to frequent updates that further enhance our products’ capabilities. We’re delighted to confirm support for Ice Cream Sandwich on the ASUS Eee Pad Family – our aim is to bring the latest Android update to the Eee Pad Series, but at this time we are unable to set a date for its release. Please stay tuned for more news on our Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade plans.

Confirmed:

Denied:

  • None specified
AT&T

Official statement:

We plan for both the Vivid and Galaxy S II Skyrocket to be upgraded to Ice Cream Sandwich.

Confirmed:

  • HTC Vivid
  • Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket

Denied:

  • None specified
HTC

Official statement:

HTC knows how excited our fans are to get their hands on Google’s latest version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich, so we’re thrilled today to announce the first wave of HTC phones that will receive upgrades: We can confirm the brand new HTC Vivid is upgradeable to Ice Cream Sandwich. In addition, Ice Cream Sandwich is coming in early 2012 to a variety of devices including the HTC Sensation, HTC Sensation XL and HTC Sensation XE, as well as the HTC Rezound, HTC EVO 3D, HTC EVO Design 4G and HTC Amaze 4G through close integration with our carrier partners. We’re continuing to assess our product portfolio, so stay tuned for more updates on device upgrades, timing and other details about HTC and Ice Cream Sandwich.

Confirmed:

  • Rezound
  • Vivid (AT&T)
  • Sensation (OG, XL and XE)
  • EVO 3D (Sprint)
  • EVO Design 4G (Sprint)
  • Amaze 4G (T-Mobile)
  • Sensation 4G (T-Mobile)

Denied:

LG

Official statement:

LG confirms today that the Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) OS will be initially available for the following high-end LG smartphones which were introduced this year: the Optimus 2X, the Optimus Black, the Optimus 3D and the Optimus LTE. We are also continuing to evaluate the ICS OS to determine whether it is compatible with the functionality, features and performance of other LG smartphones to make the ICS OS available on as many LG smartphones as possible. In December this year, the forthcoming upgrade schedule and additional specific models for the ICS OS upgrade will be posted on our LG Mobile Global Facebook page (www.facebook.com/LGMobile) and on our local LG websites. Please stay tuned for more updates from LG.

Confirmed:

Denied:

  • None specified
Meizu

Official statement:

MX market remains unchanged. However, MX and M9 we will soon upgrade to 4.0 (Jack Wong, CEO).

Confirmed:

Denied:

  • None specified
Motorola

Official statement:

We’ve confirmed that DROID RAZR/ Motorola RAZR, DROID BIONIC, and Motorola XOOM (all editions) will get an upgrade to ICS… we have not confirmed any devices will not get ICS.

Confirmed:

Denied:

  • None specified
Pantech

Official statement:

We’re currently evaluating our plans and will provide an update soon. Our customers are our top priority and we intend to upgrade technically eligible products.

Confirmed:

  • None specified

Denied:

  • None specified
Samsung

Official statements:

Samsung Mobile U.S. has not made any official announcement plans for Ice Cream Sandwich software updates to any of our US products. We will let our customers know as soon as we have more information to share.

From Samsung UK’s Twitter account: “The Galaxy S II will be receiving ICS, but there are no dates confirmed as yet. We’ll keep you posted.”

From AT&T: We plan for both the [HTC] Vivid and [Samsung] Galaxy S II Skyrocket to be upgraded to Ice Cream Sandwich.

Confirmed:

Denied:

  • None specified
Sony Ericsson

Official statement:

Sony Ericsson is currently rolling out the upgrade to Gingerbread 2.3.4 across its entire 2011 Xperia smartphone portfolio. This software upgrade will be available through a phased roll out in select markets. Beyond Gingerbread 2.3.4, we plan to upgrade our 2011 Xperia smartphone portfolio to the next Android platform made available to us.

Confirmed:

Denied:

  • None specified
Sprint

Official statement:

Sprint will begin to rollout Google’s latest version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich, to our customers in early 2012. Ice Cream Sandwich will be available via an over-the-air update to a variety of devices including HTC EVO 3D, HTC EVO Design 4G and other key products in our line-up. Stay tuned for more details and exact timing.

Confirmed:

  • HTC EVO 3D
  • HTC EVO Design 4G

Denied:

  • None specified
T-Mobile

Official statement:

T-Mobile is committed to enhancing customers’ experience with our devices, including providing upgrades to the latest Android operating system — Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). We are actively working with our OEM partners to ensure that a number of eligible T-Mobile devices are upgraded to Android 4.0 in the coming months and will communicate updates as we have additional details to share. Today, we can confirm that Android 4.0 is expected to come in early 2012 to the HTC Amaze 4G and HTC Sensation 4G.

Confirmed:

  • HTC Amaze 4G
  • HTC Sensation 4G

Denied:

  • None specified
ViewSonic

Official statement:

Google’s latest update for Android Ice Cream Sandwich brings advanced features and functionality to users. ViewSonic will support Ice Cream Sandwich with our award-winning ViewPad tablet line and are currently evaluating the operating system. Once the BSP is formally released from Google, we’ll have more details, as at this time we can’t set an exact release date. Stay tuned for more updates, as our team will bring you the exciting announcements as we’re able.

Confirmed:

  • ViewPad series

Denied:

  • None specified
ZTE

Official statement:

ZTE hasn’t issued an official statement about Ice Cream Sandwich or when we will introduce new products using the upgraded OS. However, we continue to work very closely with Google to ensure we deliver the best possible Android user experience across all of our devices and with all of our partners.

Confirmed:

  • None specified

Denied:

  • None specified
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