Sunday, 29 September 2013

New Surfaces

Microsoft have announced Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2. This is the updated versions of Microsoft's entry into the tablet market. The confusing thing about Surface is that one version of Windows will run normal Windows applications and the other will run only the new 'Metro' style applications with the exception of a special version of Microsoft Office.

The Surface Pro 2 is a very expensive 'ultrabook' type of PC that has a 10 inch screen and can be used as a tablet. The Surface 2 is a tablet that can be used as a PC occasionally to do some work with standard Office apps.

The Surface Pro 2 product makes a lot of sense. A fully Windows compatible PC. A premium priced product for people who have the money to pay extra for that particular format. For a half gigabyte drive version of Surface Pro 2 you will be paying £1400. That is not the PC most people would buy. A very decent super thin laptop can be purchased for around £900 with a 14 inch screen.

Most tablet purchases right now are about consumption; movies, photos, web browsing, reading books etc. Most buyers are buying the iPad because of the Apple brand and most buyers of Android devices buy on price. The Surface 2 is the tablet that is not cheap nor from a brand that is recognised for making tablets. People who recognise the Windows name will be confused that the Surface 2, unlike the Pro, will not run Windows applications.

Last year the original Surface RT didn't sell well. Microsoft took a $900 write down of stock. I can't see how this new product changes the situation.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Blackberry heads for the exit

This week Blackberry, the company that used to be RIM (Research In Motion), announced 4,500 redundancies and a loss of just slightly less than $1 billion. This is possibly the announcement of the end of a company that once was the premium supplier of secure mobile phones to business.

The end has been a long time coming. Blackberry dismissed the iPhone and Android as toys because business needed a real keyboard. In reality the onscreen keyboard would do for most people. The extra screen real estate and touch was what people liked. The extra mis-step was to create a tablet that could not do email unless you paired it with a Blackberry. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time! The Blackberry Playbook ended up heavily discounted and cheaper than no-name Chinese Android devices a year or so after launch.

The greatest Blackberry asset is in fact Blackberry Messenger (BBM). This was the IM that defined secure messaging. They could transform to a much smaller software and secure messaging company.

Blackberry has now reduced it's model range to 4 devices and now says it wants to concentrate only  on business.

That's a sensible strategy because in recent months Windowsphone has move to being the third mobile ecosystem. This has partly been increased sales but also because a complete collapse of Blackberry sales.

The mobile market has become mostly Samsung and Apple. Even Blackberry seems to have been beaten.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Iphone 5c not iCheap

The new Apple iphone has launched. The iphone 5s is the flagship phone and the 5c is the lower priced version.

The rumour was that the 5c was going to be the cheaper version of the iphone to usher in a new period of affordable Apple phones for a younger audience wanting a less conservative designs that can be bought off-contract. In the USA and Europe contract phones are subsidised phones. This means that the price you pay for the phone is just a part of the cost. The monthly fee from the wireless phone company includes a monthly amount to pay for the phone.

For the rest of the world you buy a phone. This is referred to as off-contract. In the UK many people now buy last years' smartphone on ebay and then get a sim only contract with 30 days cancellation as a reaction to 24 months contracts.

Traditionally phone manufacturers have dealt with off-contract purchases in several ways. Some have sold locked pre-paid phones to try and force customers into paying for minutes on a longer term basis. Some offered cheap old models of Android phones. Apple has tended to offer last years' model on a cheaper contract plan. Not completely off contract but a move towards a wider audience. These days you can still buy a iphone 4S on a contract albeit half the contract price of a current model with only a small upfront payment.

So the stage was set for Apple to announce an obscenely expensive fashion icon of a flagship phone and a new accessible low-cost 'peoples iphone' for the masses. This would break Apple into the mass market of low cost Android phones and potential own a second market rather like the ipod Nano conquered low cost flash memory based music players.

This did not happen. Instead the iphone 5c looks a little like the iphone 5 but with a choice of colour cases. Nokia helpfully pointed out that they have had a range of coloured cases on their Lumia range for a couple of years! The main surprise was that this phone was not priced very cheaply. In fact you would not get much change at all from £500.

Added to this there is no nfc chip for mobile payments and no wireless charging (available in £199 Google Nexus 4). Apple are not big on standards preferring their own (closed) ecosystem, or, as they might put it, thinking differently.

If you are not an Apple fan but perhaps what you might refer to as a man or woman in the street looking for a low cost off-contract phone then this is probably not a price bracket you would be considering. In the real world I am still seeing a lot of cheaper Android smartphones being sold off-contract by budget conscious consumers. I am also seeing more Windowsphones costing £89 beginning to appear on my commute. Apple has effectively decided not to compete in this market. This is not necessarily a bad thing if they make great profits out of the premium market. However that market is now mature and is beginning to look like a replacement market whereas the budget consumers are becoming a mass market.

This may have been the last chance Apple had to become a genuine mass market player in developing countries.


Apple Website


Sunday, 8 September 2013

Podcast Mystery

The latest figures on Windowsphone show that sales are now up to 9.2% market share in the UK. Now rocketing ahead of Blackberry. So maybe I might have a moderately popular Nokia Lumia 820 by this time next year.

In the meantime I got the GDR 2 update this week. GDR stands for 'general distribution release'. Apparently Microsoft are releasing more patches at some point called GDR 3 and then next year the update formerly codenamed 'blue' will become Windowsphone 8.1.

With this update the FM radio feature was restored. It was last seen in Windowsphone 7 but disappeared when 8 was released. However I was hoping for podcast support. I used to like listening to downloaded podcasts on my Windowsphone 7 and I was amazed that if was not in Windowsphone 8. Apparently US customers have this feature but the rest of the world doesn't. I can't understand the logic of this.

The workaround for Windowsphone owners is bizarre. Basically you download the desktop sync app from Microsoft and then ITunes. Use iTunes to sync your podcasts and then setup the desktop sync app to work with iTunes. In other words you use an Apple product to get podcasts on a Windowsphone.

Thanks Apple for helping out Windowsphone!




Sunday, 1 September 2013

The Long GoodBye

Techies get worked up about having the latest PC, the latest mobile, upgrades and tablets but in the real world a lot of people get by on last years' model. According to recent stats its worse than just last years' tech because some people are still using Windows XP - now 11 years old.

Most estimates are showing out of all the copies of Windows currently being used around 37% are XP. However from 9th April 2014 there will be no support for the venerable old OS. The new reality is that users will be vulnerable to new malware, virus and security issues. So the question might be 'What is stopping people from upgrading?'

Some people will have made a conscious decision not to upgrade due to a dislike of the current revision of Windows. This can be both a rational and emotional response to change. Others may have applications that depend on XP. Perhaps the largest group of people just bought a PC with Windows XP on it and they see no reason to change and will just wait until their computer fails before upgrading.

For some cost could be a factor. You normally get Windows bundled on your PC. You never actually 'buy' Windows. Essentially huge numbers of Microsoft customers don't choose Microsoft or which version of Windows they have. This is all done seamlessly in the background by their PC maker and Windows is 'free' with the PC. Many people regard Microsoft Office as a 'feature' of Windows because they paid a one-off fee on a trial version of Office that came with their PC. All these people have a relationship with Microsoft which is 'arms length'.

So if you want to upgrade your version of Windows how much does it cost? On the Microsoft UK website the cost is £189.99 for Windows 8 Pro. Buying a PC with Windows is not much more. If you are prepared to go for the non-pro version then £99.00 will get a copy. Although there are a few launch upgrade packs in stores for £49.00 left over from earlier in the year.

For the average consumer upgrading makes no financial sense at all.

There are around a billion Windows users in the world and with 37% using Windows XP that translates into more than 350 million people. If XP customers were given an upgrade at £20 then that is potentially more than half a billion pounds cash Microsoft could make and they would kill off Windows XP.

I suspect the current pricing strategy will mean people will wait to buy their next PC. The problem for Microsoft is that many people might think they don't need a PC and a low cost tablet might well meet their needs. If that happens then Microsoft will not just say goodbye to XP but also to their next sale of Windows.