Posts Tagged ‘ Tech ’

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).


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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.

Top 5 Assets of Windows 8

Over the last week I’ve been giving Windows 8 Developer’s edition a test drive and I wanted to share my experience so far. This post is written with the fact that this is only a developer’s preview. Not all features are working yet, there are some bugs and implementation needs work but let’s keep in mind that Microsoft has at least a year (based on previous dev. editions) to get everything fixed and polished. So, without further ado, here are the top 5 reasons Microsoft could hit a home run with Windows 8.

1) It’s gorgeous!

Let”s face it, Microsoft hasn’t had the best track record for making beautiful products but with 8, they’ve come a long long way towards that goal. From the moment you turn it on, you get his beautiful splash screen that shows the time and your choice of background. Once you get into Metro UI, that’s when 8 really shines. I’ve always been a fan of windows 7 tile theme and to see it on the big laptop screen just makes it look all the better. It’s minimalistic, breathtaking and functional all at once. If you need to know the weather, check your emails and notifications or any other information, you just need to glance at the tiles. But the appeal isn’t just skin deep, even the oldest and most utilitarian of windows programs (I’m looking at you Task Bar) gets a makeover. This deep integration of Metro UI into Windows 8 is gonna be paramount to 8’s success.

2) Tablets!

Another area apple has taken the lead over Microsoft in. The only response windows has had so far was to put windows 7 on tablets but, as we’ve learned time and time again, it just doesn’t work. A tablet isn’t even at half the power of laptops and desktops yet so everything runs slowly or not at all. With tablet ownership is growing at a faster rate than all other PC’s, you can’t consider a tablet UI as secondary. And 8 definitely gets that right. Metro UI is beautiful, finger friendly and easy to learn. Even in it’s beta, I’d put it head and shoulders above Honeycomb (based solely on looks and implementation since 8 obviously doesn’t have the same selection of apps available as android).

3) Integrated

This is what 8 is all about. Microsoft doesn’t want two separate UI’s for it’s big screen products but wants to unify both under one roof. The outcome looks good so far and if they can make sure that both Metro UI and the traditional desktop get the attention they need, They’ll do just fine.

4) Apps (programs for the windows user of all of us)

The iPad’s monopoly is based almost entirely on the app selection that you just can’t get elsewhere. But this tactic is taken straight out of Microsoft’s playbook. Because of the integration, and he fact that 8 will have  a built in base of 400 million plus users, there’s gonna be a large incentive for developers to build for windows instead of Honeycomb (or ice cream) and maybe even iOS.

5) It’s unique

This is the reason that I’ve always been a fan of windows phone 7. If you’ve payed any attention to the big Apple/Samsung wars, you’ll have realized that iOS and Android have a lot of similarities (I’m not saying I agree with apple or that they should win, especially in light of the recent discovery that apple Photoshopped Samsung’s devices to look more similar to theirs.. but more on that later). Metro UI’s tile layout is unlike anything else out there and it’s still beautiful and functional. But that wasn’t enough to help Windows Phone 7 so Microsoft doesn’t exactly have an easy home run on its hands. But 8 amends some of Windows Phone 7’s woes with it’s built in library of programs (and shorter name).

Although, from what I’ve seen, Windows 8 isn’t perfect, It’s definitely the best update from either Microsoft or Apple in years (I’m looking at you Lion). It’s combination of sex appeal, performance and programs/app selection make for a winning OS that’s definitely worth following (and eventually purchasing