Tech Deals

Whenever people see my collection of technology, they either get the impression that I’m rich or I squander away my fortunes. But having technology isn’t as expensive as you may think and I’ll show you in this new segment. Let’s start with basics that even grandma can get in on. You may be bumming out on that missed chance over black Friday and maybe cyber Monday didn’t rack in the treasure trove you expected to but don’t fret, it’s not over yet. This season is ripe with deals from online retailers; Chiefly Amazon.com. Just watch the hourly deals ticker and you’ll be sure to find yourself a steal. Last year during this post black Friday/pre Christmas sale I was able to snag a pair Monster Turbines for $54.99, these things retail for 129+ regularly so that’s a pretty steep mark down. If you’re looking for a phone, get a new line of service and you’ve got yourself a free high-end smartphone (I’m talking Galaxy, Droid and all of HTC’s offerings, not the cheap stuff) for a penny shipped! Also, if you got that great deal on the TV or Monitor or speaker system, don’t buy the cables in-store! Store often mark up these products to make up for the lowered price on the real tech. And no matter how many BestBuy employees tell you that you need gold plated connections, don’t buy it. If you go to Amazon you can have a brand new pair shipped the next day for 5 bucks or less (assuming that you have Prime, which you should). Newegg, TigerDirect and other retailers also blow out their inventories around this time so if you’re at a desk job or have access to the internet otherwise, it can’t hurt to check out these and other top sites once every hour or two. That’s it for now but there’s definitely more to come!

 

Changes

I was thinking about this blog and how I’ve been looking at it and I think it’s due for a change of pace. As you’ve noticed, I don’t write often but I write a lot. I don’t mean to drag on and on but my double major in history kicks in when I’m writing and I feel like I have to cover all my bases. These posts are actually a cut of my original drafts because they come out so long. Another thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve been very selfish in treating this blog as a way to output my thoughts and never really considering using it to give something to my readers (more on that later). So, starting this week, I’m going to cut down on the editorials (for the sake of your time and my sanity) moving them to once a week on wednesdays or fridays… whichever I see fit. I’m also adding some new topics more focused on you lovely people. Two such topics that I already have in mind are about buying tech products without breaking the bank and answers to questions I get from everyday people about technology and one about hacks that you can try out. I just need to take a break from writing three page Exposés and add a little variety to my blog. I hope you guys enjoy the new layout and expect to hear from me very soon!

Kindle Fire Reviewed

Hey folks, good news! Reviews for the highly anticipated Kindle Fire are finally out and they’ve kinda been what I expected at first but didn’t want to accept. When it was announced, the price and visual appeal were enough to make me think of it as the ultimate tablet. I completely overlooked the smartphone level specs and small screen size and how they would inhibit the device’s operations but that becomes apparent the moment you try to load websites, pinch to zoom or view magazines. But, thanks to Amazon’s Silk browser, this tablet is actually still competing with the new 7-inch Galaxy Tab. The fact that a $200 tablet was able to beat a tablet twice it’s price at all deserves huge praise. So, if you go in expecting something on par with the iPad, of course you’re gonna be disappointed and that’s not Amazon’s fault. But if you’re looking at other sub $300 tablets, Amazon’s offering is sleeker, faster and has a much better UI and app selection. There just isn’t any competition here. A solid 3.5 out of 5 (or 4 if you’re going in with the right expectations) is very well deserved.

Google VS. Apple

Google’s been on a tear lately with its Android operating system. It has become the most popular phone operating system, commanding 40% of the smart phone market, and still expanding at an incredible rate. It’s hard to imagine that the adorable little green android’s humble beginnings on the bulky, sluggish, and unpromising T-Mobile G1. From there came a torrential downpour of phones, each better than the last until finally we had a true iPhone competitor with the HTC Incredible (Verizon’s rendition of the first Google Nexus phone). From then on it has been a chase, every year Apple would announce a new phone that would blow all the current Android phones out of the water and the enclave of Android would continue to push back until a clear competitor would arise and the cycle continues. But, while this trend is what makes Android profitable, it is also a huge crutch moving forward. Android is the bestselling OS by far but three major aspects of its growth keep it far behind Apple’s throne:

  1. In all its growth, the Android OS has managed to completely avoid Apple’s market share. Apple has been growing steadily and untouched since the first iPhone came out. Every year they break records (4 million in the first weekend this year) and every year they mint more and more income. Android has actually planted itself in the lush soil left behind by decaying giants Nokia, Windows Mobile, and BlackBerry.                     
  2. Android also isn’t that profitable once you break it down. Google actually makes little or no money on the operating system itself, it just gives it away and profits on the tail end with the search engine, baked in services and (mainly) Android Market… That’s how it’s supposed to work at least. In reality the Android Appstore isn’t even as profitable as Blackberry App World even though it commands more than twice the market share. The companies are also not touching Apple’s numbers individually.      
  3. And the biggest reason, like it or not, is that they’re just not Apple. Before you light your torches, let me explain myself. An Apple product just has an air of prestige and class that no Android phone has matched to date. Even six months after the iPhone 4 was announced, it was still outselling the latest and greatest of the Androids even with their dual-core, LTE, massive screen and all that. No Android has ever been a heavy hitter after more than three months of shelf life.
               

And I shouldn’t forget to mention Apple’s earnings on the iPhone. No phone comes close to having the same market dominance as the iPhone. In fact, carriers pay top dollar just to have the iPhone in their line up just because it brings that many customers. Sprint’s deal to get the iPhone on their shelves is losing them money and they won’t start making returns on profit until 2015! That just shows you how strong a presence the iPhone has. Add to that the amount of capital Apple has to put towards R&D for new devices and their complete control of hardware and software and it doesn’t look like they’re being dethroned any time soon.

iOS vs. Android: Why Geeks Should Go Apple

*Before we proceed, I need to add a disclaimer: this whole post would be completely useless if you make your decisions predominantly on image (if you want an iPhone to look cool or you want an Android for geek cred, I can’t help you). *

Choosing a mobile operating system has become one of the most pivotal options for consumers everywhere. To make the choice easier, a rule of thumb has been that if you’re nerdy, you should own an Android and if you’re a technophobe (or the vast majority of people) you should just stay with iOS. But maybe it’s time to change that rule of thumb. As both companies have matured, they have shown tendencies that support an opposite measure. Before you go blasting, hear me out for a bit and I think I could change your mind.

The original line of thought was that Android, while less user friendly, allowed those looking to tinker with their devices to tinker away to their hearts content. iOS, on the other hand, was much more user friendly but was far more locked down. But thanks to Jailbreaking, iOS has become a much more the nerd’s tool. One big problem with Android is that there are so many different phones and versions of Android that no single device can build up a hacker community, and those that do are outshone within months. But iOS devices are updated in a timely manner so they all get the love and support they need from third party developers. iOS devices can be jailbroken in as little as a website visit and click of a button and once they’re jailbroken you can use Cydia to do everything from change the skin to downloading third party apps and even dual booting Android. In fact, some features (such as wireless syncing) became available on Cydia before getting baked into iOS. And if a new device, say an iPhone 4s, get exclusive apps that should be available across the board (*cough* Siri), then you can count on the developer community to make a port within a few weeks to a couple months.

That’s all fine and well, but if you’re an average Joe who doesn’t want to deal with jailbreaks and Cydia then all this means absolutely nothing to you. An Apple device is nothing but a waste of money in your hands; a beautiful waste of money but a waste nonetheless. With Android though, you can get a device that’s just as responsive for free. Plus, Android phones offer features that are more useful on a day-to-day basis such as full QWERTY keyboards. As for usability, Android has become more and more user-friendly with each and every iteration, and that’s about to ramp up with the upcoming release of Ice Cream Sandwich, Google’s OS. Sure, rooting isn’t as easy as jailbreaking and the hacker community is abysmal on a per-phone basis but what does that matter to the average person? Some of you might point out that Android’s appstore collection isn’t comparable to iOS’s and I would have to whole-heartedly agree with you there. But the average person doesn’t venture that far with Apps. Give them basic apps (Facebook, twitter, mail, maps) some games (Diner Dash, Angry Birds, Doodle Jump, etc.) and some camera apps and they’re more than perfectly content. Not everyone is jumping for the greatest VNC client or Plex app on his or her phone. Most people just want a phone that lets them check services and maybe waste time in the subway/bus or wherever.

Again, if you’re a die-hard Android or Apple fan then this doesn’t apply to you since your mind is already made your mind up and nothing I can say is likely to change that. And, of course, there are going to be exception to this basic rule since not everyone fits nicely into a little mold. But, for the vast majority of phone users, this is a good guideline for choosing a mobile OS. I know not everyone will agree so I would like to hear your opinions in the comments section. Whether you think I’m brilliant or I’m spewing shit, just

Amazon’s Long Game (and Wall Street’s Woes)

 

Q3 earnings calls came out last week and they had Wall Street worried about Amazon’s prospects. The problem is that Amazon has been losing money even with its incredible, record-breaking sales volumes and income. But, this doesn’t mean that you should throw your Amazon shares out the window just yet. As much as analysts hate the idea, Amazon’s actually taking a loss now in order to gain more in the long run. Case in point, the new Kindles. The new Kindles with ads aren’t making strong returns on sales right away and the Kindle Fire is actually costing Amazon about $10 a piece, with pre-sales already in the millions. What’s harder to see in these numbers is the future return on the investment. With the Kindle readers, Amazon just has to sit back and watch the money roll in from ads throughout the device’s life span. But the Kindle Fire is a trickier beast. With the Fire, Amazon is deploying a number of tactics to make sure it gets returns on its investment: Operating system, Amazon’s Ecosystem and the Silk Browser.

 

Operating System:

 

The Fire isn’t running vanilla Android, far from it. The Operating system has been heavily coated and tied down with Amazon services. You can’t even access Google’s Android Market from the device. While this might sound like a negative, it’s actually almost necessary for Amazon to turn a profit on its tablet business. Android apps are notoriously easy to download and play for free from the device’s browser, and when the plan is to make a profit on the tail end… that can really be a problem. Instead, Amazon has its own Appstore on the device and the version of Android is different enough that you can’t just download pirated apps. The lack of an SD card also closes a lot of leaks such as side-loading illegally. And the ties to Amazon services aren’t exactly hurting the company either, which takes us to our next topic….

 

Amazon’s Ecosystem:

A major fact we shouldn’t forget about the Fire, it’s basically a glorified Amazon storefront. All the Amazon services are riding on board so you have access to the app store, kindle store, music/video stores and let’s not forget Amazon.com in its entirety. Everything you could ever want you can purchase straight from the device anywhere, any time. And just to get you hooked, Amazon has the one-click purchase so you can spend without realizing it and throws in a free month of Amazon Prime. After just a month of access to the thousands of videos on demand and free second day shipping, most people will probably find it in their hearts to pay the yearly fee. And because of the device’s ridiculously low price, people will definitely be coming back to buy. This factor alone will probably assure a tidy return.

 

Silk Browser:

 

To squeeze even more money out of the device, Amazon played a dirty little trick on us with Silk. The Silk browser (developed in-house by Amazon) actually runs most of the tasks on Amazon’s servers, making for a faster browsing experience… but that’s only a front. On the backend, the browser funnels user information straight to Amazon. Just imagine how powerful that information is. The device has your name and account information tied to it and added to that they also know what you’re interested in from your searches, what you watch, what you listen to, what you read and what you’ve bough. And they have access to the rest of your information through other web services you use… talk about a gold mine. That information could be used to make extremely targeted ads or sold to third party companies who’ve only seen such user information in their wet dreams. I’m not saying that there is no end-user benefit to Silk (in fact, first reactions have been quite positive) but I’m just saying that Amazon was looking pretty closely at its bottom line when it came out with the feature.

 

And, there is another reason for biting the bullet that isn’t so strictly monetary: customer relations. Amazon has always tried to get prices as low as possible for its customers and keep them coming back. The Kindle Fire is literally too good a deal to be true, and that sentiment will not be lost on customers. So, even though Amazon’s Q3 spread sheets aren’t glittering, they’re making wise investments on something that will definitely pay off in the long run (and they definitely have the capital to start investing). In fact, they’ve already started manufacturing millions more devices than they originally anticipated. So don’t go worrying about Amazon, they’re gonna be just fine.