Mar 202015

Among the things Eric Schmidt has contributed to Google, his push to have the company invest in government lobbying is by far the most valuable. In fact, if you don’t count the embarrassing silences and talk-overs you get whenever someone puts him in front of a microphone, the Walking Retraction hasn’t contributed much else.

Witness the report from the FTC that was “leaked” to the Wall Street Journal as part of one of their FOIA request (oopsie!) detailing the serious misgivings the agency’s bureau of competition had with Google’s abuse of its monopoly power and how close the agency was to prosecuting Google.  The bureau of competition had serious issues with some of Google’s business practices, such as scraping reviews and product rankings from sites like TripAdvisor and Amazon and repackaging it as its own. In the words of the report, Google “use(d) its monopoly power over search to extract the fruits of its rivals’ innovations.” These complaints were made not just from known griefers like Microsoft and Yelp, but tech giants such as eBay and Amazon. The Journal report describes four categories about which the bureau expressed concern: bias Google showed in its search results, the aforementioned scraping and repackaging of others’ content, the restrictions Google placed on advertisers own data which made it difficult to work with other advertisers and Google’s practice of punishing content providers in its rankings for cutting deals with other search engines.

Even though the bureau of competition has historically had great influence over whether or not the agency pursues further legal action against a company, the five FTC commissioners for some reason voted to close the investigation in 2013, much to the delight of Google. Contrast the grave concerns cited in the report with with the public statements made by Google’s chief Shylocks Kent Walker and Dave Drummond about the inquiry:

Google’s “conduct has resulted—and will result—in real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets.”

“Speculation about potential consumer harm turned out to be entirely wrong,”

“It is clear that Google’s threat was intended to produce, and did produce, the desired effect, which was to coerce Yelp and TripAdvisor into backing down (from initial complaints about their content being stolen and used as Google’s).”

“The conclusion is clear: Google’s services are good for users and good for competition.”

There seems to be a small disconnect. Not that anything that’s ever fallen out of the faces of that dynamic duo has smelled of anything but horseshit.

So why would such a damning indictment from within the FTC fizzle into a wet fart when it came down to a vote? It might have something to do with Google’s $16.8 million lobby spend in 2014, which ranked it 9th out of any company in the nation and the clear #1 in the tech sector. Or maybe it’s because they were the second-largest corporate contributor to Obama’s re-election campaign.

Nah. I’m sure all those millions were thrown at government to ensure a free and open internet with Liberty and Justice for All.


Well-played, Google. I guess the difference between getting away with using an actual monopoly to bend the likes of eBay, Amazon, Microsoft and Yelp to your will and getting railroaded by the DoJ for introducing competition into the ebook market is a few million dollars in the right coffers.

Is it any wonder people in this country despise politicians?

 Posted by at 6:07 pm
Mar 122015

It’s been 4 months since I’ve gone into the “Edit Post” section of the WordPress CMS and I’m sure several of my loyal readers were wondering when TMA would be back banging on his keyboard – or if he was just going to go full-on Roughly Drafted. The issue I’ve been having with writing is strongly related to the topic of this post – namely that the tech universe covering Apple is so rife with friction-generating prostitutes that flailing logic against their stupidity felt a lot like attempting to dispel a cloud of mosquitos with a hatchet.

It’s not that I expected this site to have any effect whatsoever on the people who seek to profit from their irrational anti-Apple takes, but watching the entire landscape of tech writing gradually slide in that direction after every successful Apple product announcement or earnings call made the whole exercise feel pointless.

As I continue to debate the merits of running the red ink operation that is TheMacAdvocate (calls to Surojit Chatterjee about his coping strategies remain unanswered), let me regale those dozens of active readers who aren’t botnet nodes with my thoughts about the Apple Watch.

When Tim Cook first announced the Watch, my reaction was mixed. Obviously a segment of the market ripe for disruption – after Samsung’s multiple entries, which were just “ripe” – Apple seemed to be the company to lead the charge into wearables. But a watch seemed to be a device that has defied additional complexity. The mobile phone market was young and flawed; the market for watches was one of the oldest technology markets on the planet. The addition of fitness tracking devices only created a niche sub-market. Maybe the failings of numerous other manufacturers should have been viewed more as a harbinger rather than a lack of execution. My confidence in the device was bolstered mainly by the ability of Apple to design and execute something that broke radically from the status quo.

After Spring Forward, I am more cautiously optimistic. The Watch seems to occupy the most personal space of any Apple product, and not just because it can track your heart rate. It’s the ultimate companion in that it is literally bound to your person. Think about this way: your Mac, your iPad and your iPhone are on a spectrum of availability from least to greatest, but even your iPhone gets left on the counter, in your coat, etc. The Apple Watch will persist through your showers, your sleep cycles, your workouts. It represents ultimate availability. The Apple Watch is the final pole in that spectrum. Although the Mac/iPad/iPhone-like functionality of the device will (appropriately) scale down because of its size, it will always be with you. Earlier I mentioned the excellent hands-on by Rene Richie. In comments (where, with Twitter, has been where I’ve been leaving my “contributions”), I had this to say:

I really like the representation of Apple as “staging convenience and complexity.” There is a trade-off between accessibility and productivity – one that companies like Microsoft continue to fail to understand. For them, it’s doing all things on all devices; for Apple it’s about terracing the experience and putting the device you *need* in front of you with pointers (and tethers) to the device you want. That device used to be on your desk or in your laptop bag. The Apple Watch completes the continuum of “pure productivity” and “pure accessibility” in a way I think few people understand today. Great take.

So how did the technorati react to the event? By defining the same dichotomy present after every Apple product announcement. The reasonable vs. irrational reactions all had one thing in common: whether or not the person was actually present for the hands-on portion of the event. Some of my favorites:

Kevin Rose thinks “The Gold Apple Watch Is Perfect for Douchebags.” Kevin believes because the Apple Watch Edition doesn’t appeal to the collector, the technologist or the gold lover (whoever the fuck that is), that it has no appeal. Who is Kevin Rose? Ten years ago you’d be laughed out of a room for asking. Rose, you see, founded Digg, which was a hugely popular community-moderated news aggregator. You know: like Reddit is today. After leaving Digg once a site redesign decimated its user base, Rose built on that success with…actually, nothing really. He founded a mobile application development company called Milk, then shut it down a year later. In 2012, he signed on with Google as Legacy Early-Internet Founder Dude a Senior Product Manager for the red-hot social networking site Google+, then moved over to Google Ventures. He also runs a site called “Watchville,” because he has boundless time, a fetish and several remaining zeros in his checking account from early investments in small start-ups like Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. Sadly, Rose’s ancient tech-cred is more than many others’ qualifications to speak on the Apple Watch.

Gizmodo’s Mario Aguilar thinks you shouldn’t buy the Apple Watch because it’s the first version. Aside from being guilty of one of the most hackneyed tech tropes out there (“Never buy version 1!”), he cites the original iPhone and iPad as evidence of v1 suckiness. Apparently Mario forgot how far ahead of anything else these devices were when they were announced – probably because he was 7 years old at the time. He does stay away from the rank stupidity of DBR cornerstone Jesus Diaz, however, which suggests the site may be 3 steps into a 12 step troll recovery program. And Aguliar’s colleague Sean Hollister actually posts a decent, if not terribly reflective hands-on piece. The real news here is that Apple is unfortunately not shitting on Gizmodo anymore by locking them out of their events. Sometimes Apple’s high road makes me sad.

Finally, Rob Enderle doesn’t have very nice things to say about the Apple Watch. Of course, his concerns contain a density of stupid that you’d see if you put Diaz’s stupid through a black hole. I’ll hand this one off to the Macalope, who has had much more fun skewering Apple idiot-seeders than I have lately. Rob’s already earned his place here. The amazing/tragically depressing thing is that he still finds an audience, which should tell you everything you need to know about why I haven’t been writing.

 Posted by at 2:45 pm
Mar 112015

After a looooong Winter, I’m definitely due for some word count and the Apple Watch seems to be as good an entry point as any. In the meantime, Rene Ritchie has an excellent, concise take on the Watch’s place in the Apple product line from his time at the Spring Forward event hands-on:

That’s the advantage of Apple staging convenience and complexity. You can do more with an iPhone than ever before, but you still can’t do everything you can do on Mac, and some things you certainly can’t do as efficiently. You can do a lot of very important things, however, and do them even more conveniently. And that means you don’t have to go running back to your Mac as much as once did.

 Posted by at 10:51 am
Oct 282014

Whenever Apple makes creates a bridge that joins average people and advanced technology, there’s usually a coalition of asshats more than willing to dig in their heels against it, a move almost always motivated by a healthy dose of self-interest. On the surface, that’s what the members of the Merchants Customer Exchange (MCX) are looking to do to Apple Pay. The motive, which has some legitimacy for the member businesses (more on this misconception below), is that Apple Pay is stingy with customer information while the MCX allows merchants to “Protect and leverage valuable data to offer your customers better experiences and interactions throughout the path to purchase.” This kind of consumer data is valuable. Just ask Google, a company that has been able to sustain multi-billion dollar “moonshot” bonfires fueled by revenue generated by this kind of information. CurrentC, the MCX app that’s currently invite-only, interacts with users and culls their information through “Secure transactions and customer data storage.” Given that massive consumer data breaches at retailers like Target and Home Depot over the past year have cost consumers and retailers millions, it’s understandable that people are a little wary about having their information floating around “The Cloud.” It’s also (obviously) clunky as fuck compared to Apple Pay.

It would seem that in the case of the 50-something merchants that are members of the Exchange, the desire to obtain spending data outweighs their desire to have their customers served by the most user-friendly, secure transaction technology available. But the majority of these businesses would be wise to think about some the motives held by some of the bigger fish in the MCX pond. First, let’s take a look MCX’s current membership, organized loosely by category.

mcx retailers.001

The only broad category with which Walmart doesn’t compete directly – yet – is restaurants. I’d argue that the category benefits the least from the incorporation of Apple Pay: many require you turn over your card to a server at some point in the payment process. How else would they be able to pencil transfer your credit card information? Southwest Airlines is another throwaway. It’s very strange to me that the commercial airline that most wants to paint itself as the approachable – dare I say “fun” carrier – would shun Apple’s mobile payment offering, but the fact that the purchase of an airline ticket is rarely made at the counter makes me doubt this will make a difference anyway.

The biggest retailer and the biggest player on the list is Walmart, the world’s largest company by revenue. There’s a few other names on the list that can be explained by their relationship. Sam’s Club was created by Walmart and named after its founder. Dunkin’ Donuts and Wendy’s are frequently deployed as food service options within Walmart’s stores (Walmart ended new McDonald’s installations in 2007).

But why would so many other retailers join Walmart in denying what is arguably the greatest advance in mobile payment technology? Irrespective of Walmart’s motivations, the rest of the names on this list have to know that Walmart wants to replace them. Many of them are being crushed by their relentless competitive pressure. Sears Holdings, the company which owns Kmart and Sears, just booked its ninth consecutive quarterly loss. Best Buy’s stock still hasn’t recovered from a disappointing 2013 holiday shopping season.

Grocery and convenience merchants are also squarely in the sights of the world’s largest retailer. In 1988, Walmart starting selling groceries. In 1993, it introduced its own brand. It now outsells all other grocery chains – and it’s not close.

Gas stations are also potential targets. Murphy USA, a spinoff of Murphy Oil, builds gas stations in the parking lots of several Walmart locations. You’d also think that gas stations would be perfect for a one-tap mobile transaction solution like Apple Pay.

The question for these businesses is this: is the data provided by some Google-esque coalition of merchants – data that can almost all be gleaned by using the merchant’s existing loyalty cards now – really more valuable than the convenience snub being mashed in the faces of consumers with ample disposable income? There are at least 25 million iPhone 6 and 6 Pluses in the wild. Walmart and Target are doing well enough to weather a storm of consumers who can – and will – shop with their feet. I’d argue that the Walmart and iPhone 6 users demographic is different enough to be measurably less impactful than, say, the overlap of iPhone 6 owners and Banana Republic shoppers. Why in the world would merchants stand with a competitor poised to crush them? Wouldn’t these businesses want every advantage they could get?

I guess we can ask the outgoing CEO of Best Buy next year when their business becomes the next Circuit City.

Update: One obvious factor that I hadn’t discussed is the role of credit card processing fees, which is usually a 2-3% fee paid by merchants to credit card companies for the use of their cards. The thinking is that if enough merchants get together and make CurrentC a thing, they can avoid – or at least negotiate down – those fees. If this is the factor that MCX members are hanging their Apple Pay objections upon, it’s even worse than any denial of consumer data. CurrentC seeks to link to your checking account to affect transactions, which is something I had to read twice. Let me get this straight: MCX members, many of whom have already previously fostered their own data breaches – data that included credit card information – wants access to my real money using the cloud to store my data?  BwahahahaIn a nutshell, MCX wants to sidestep a cost of doing business, forgoing the concept of credit cards altogether by accessing your checking account through a kludgy, inferior customer-facing app.

Update 2: Well that was fast. According to Tim Cook, speaking at the WSJD Live event (via Gruber), after one week in operation, Apple is already the leader in contactless payments. MCX, on the other hand, has been around since 2011. Their invite-only app is currently testing in “some retail locations in Minnesota.”

Update 3: Gruber serves up another compelling link: a NYT Magazine look at Target data collection practices and why your spending information is so valuable to merchants.

 Posted by at 11:10 am
Sep 102014

I admit that I’ve been cooly analytical about most of Apple’s recent product announcement. Part of that may stem from the fact that it’s usually pretty clear what Apple will be announcing based on their refresh cycle; part of it may be that every detail of Apple’s upcoming products are called out by intrepid bloggers months ahead of time. The end result is that there are usually few surprises remaining by the time Tim or Phil take the stage for the official announcement. Yesterday, Cook’s “One more thing” brought back a feeling I haven’t felt watching an Apple event in a long time: joy and astonishment.

There are numerous things that make the Apple Watch unique in a sea of prematurely ejaculated shartwatches, but I believe the most impressive thing about it is the way Apple has – again – reinvented the ways we physically interact with technology.

The Digital Crown, the most vital interaction a user will have with the device, is a variation of Apple’s enormously popular iPod clickwheel, which is probably why Cook in his presentation and Apple on its website referenced it as a parallel innovation. The original iPod introduced the concept of rotation for input selection. Something about that interaction is so familiar that it’s ingrained, whether you’re adjusting your thermostat (which I’m sure is why Nest (and iPod) founder Tony Fadell used it), dialing a rotary telephone  – or obviously setting the time on your watch. Apple used this near-universal familiarity and incorporated it into cutting edge technology in a way that’s truly useful. Pressing the Crown serves as the home button; “winding” it serves as a selector, a means of zooming content and doubtless myriad other uses that will make themselves known the closer we get to an actual product launch.

The button below the Digital Crown, for which I haven’t seen a proper name given yet, is analogous to the Menu button on the original iPod; it’s an input that allows an entirely different set of shortcut and contextual options separate from the Crown. It’s a pairing with which users should be familiar – like the right-click a mouse. If you agree with the premise that numerous gestures on the face of a smartwatch would be not only confusing by obstructive to content, it’s a smart way to create selection options away from the watch face.

Apple also introduced a deepening of their touch metaphor  – literally – with the addition of the Force Press. Instead of trying to work with interaction paradigms that wouldn’t make sense on such a small screen, Apple took one of its most successful input methods and expanded it along the same axis of interaction. A tap will select; a tap and push will bring up an entirely different set of functions. Again, this is a way to create thousands of interaction options using just a few familiar, unobtrusive movements.

Taptic feedback is the way users will receive notifications through what Apple is calling it the Taptic Engine. It’s a gentle tap emanating from the backside of the watch to your wrist. For a device as body-personal as the Apple Watch, it’s a suitably subtle method of notification – miles away from the beeping and flashing that seems to be taking over my iPhone. Upon hearing about the feature, my first reaction was “Of course that’s how notifications should work.”

These interaction technologies are a strong reflection of Apple’s greatest skill as creators of tools. They think deeply about how people use things and design their offerings around this use. Back when the Moto revealed its 270 360, I wasn’t as impressed as a lot of people about the fact that it was round (turns out it isn’t). I wrote:

Instead of letting history dictate or limit the things it can do because it’s worn in a place historically occupied by a watch, maybe Motorola should think about what they want the device to do and let those things dictate what it looks like. I’ve heard of a certain Apple designer who thinks of what he works on that way and he’s regarded as pretty good at what he does.

The Apple Watch is not a hollow harkening – it doesn’t run on references devoid of practical use. It’s Jony Ive’s reimagining of how a watch should work based on how we use technology. I remember listening to Moto’s head designer talk about how they were “reinventing the modern-day timepiece,” and I really hope they have those guys on suicide watch. Apple just announced its smartwatch – amateur hour is over.

 Posted by at 12:42 pm
Aug 132014

Because I’m a tech fan with a vested interest in keeping competition alive and well, about a year ago I offered Samsung some advice: start copying Apple again.

Obviously Samsung are big fans of my work.

Obviously Samsung are big fans of my work.

At the time – and until recently – Samsung has been taking a beating by the reviewerati for a lack of…whatever the reviewerati thought Samsung had been contributing to the consumer electronics market before 2013. Disappointments included stifled yawns at the release its flagship Galaxy S shartphones and the Galaxy Gear series of wearable devices that no one knew they wanted, mostly because they didn’t. The company’s books started to feature smaller black numbers: profits for the company are coming off their third consecutive quarter of decline and are sitting at a seven quarter low. Because Samsung have never really done anything in the way of design very well on their own, and because the court system designed to protect intellectual property in this country is a joke, I didn’t see a downside to Samsung going back to its larcenous ways. I guess the company was listening.

It's not an S II level clone, but it ain't far off

It’s not an S II level clone, but it ain’t far off

The Galaxy Alpha is Samsung’s triumphant return to the well. I know, I know: rounded rectangles yadda yadda. A lot of other phones have taken as much of a design cue from the iPhone 5/5S as the Alpha does, but it’s just that Samsung was so set on distinguishing itself from all the good-looking hardware, no doubt muttering “We don’t have to copy the iPhone. We don’t have to copy the iPhone” to themselves the whole time. It’s good to see the company putting out a product so comfortably in their wheelhouse.

A couple of things struck me funny about Samsung’s announcement:

Timing: Just far away enough from Apple’s event to not seem like a freeze, but with a careful mention that the phone would be available in “early September” for both the millions of people who were holding out for Samsung’s latest before buying an iPhone 6.

Concessions: Samsung’s Galaxy S series’ most notable feature used to be its pocket-busting display. Not so with the Alpha, which will feature a half-inch smaller 4.7” screen. Unfortunately, those monster screens were the thing that allowed larger batteries, which in turn allowed Samsung to make snarky commercials about the iPhone’s battery life. The Alpha’s battery will be a full 50% smaller, which is also why it will have a lower-resolution 1280 x 720 screen. It’s a shartphone that gets top billing for its primo construction, but then compromises on those Fandroid-boner-inducing specs to achieve that “premium” feel. And they’re also keeping the dimpled backside – aka the Fat Man’s Ass. Kind of a mixed message there, Sammy.

This is where Samsung finds itself: not innovative enough themselves to design something people will want to buy, they’re going back to doing what they’ve always done – that thing that defines them as a company.

 Posted by at 9:32 pm
Jul 232014

Apple announced its 3rd quarter earnings last night and despite posting the most aggressive earnings growth since 2012, your troll headlines center around the decline in iPad sales for the second consecutive quarter. I’m not going to say Apple wouldn’t want the 15 million unit sales every quarter, but the plateauing of the iPad is inevitable. The reasons are pretty straightforward.

Smartphone : Necessity :: Tablet : Luxury

For everything that’s great about iPads, they are still “tweener” devices, which is why a certain contingent of clueless tech pundits couldn’t see the need for them – until they started selling by the millions. Keeping in mind that iPhones and iPads are running the same OS, the primary difference between the 2 devices comes down to telephony and real estate. If people can only afford 2 devices, chances are those devices are going to be a desk/laptop and a smartphone. With the almost-certain announcement of a larger screen iPhone, the real estate delta shrinks even more and the iPad’s size becomes even less of a selling point. As the market for tablets continues to saturate, there are still tens of millions of people that need a smartphone, compared to the millions who want – but will never get – an iPad.

The iPad Isn’t Subsidized

Unlike the iPhone, which can be subsidized over the course of a 2 year contract, you pay for the full value of an iPad up front. Even though, according to Apple, only 25% of iPhone sales are subsidized (which is excellent long-term news), that’s still a significant number of people who were able to afford an iPhone they may not have been able to otherwise.

What Would Act 3 Even Look Like?

Looking at the history of the iPad’s evolution, there are 2 major milestones: one pioneered, the other conceded. The Retina Display elevated tablet displays to a new level, making everything else look 8-bit in comparison. With the iPad Mini, Apple took a cue from Android OEMs and admitted to the market that a 7” smaller tablet was worth a product entry. With the Retina Mini, Apple combined both these achievements into a truly remarkable product. Aside from Retina and Mini, everything else about the iPad was about thinner, lighter, and faster. I think the Retina Mini represents “peak iPad”. I really can’t imagine another major innovation within the iPad product line. Then again, Apple is the company that translates surprise and delight into billions of dollars; I’m just a dude raking in literally tens of AdSense pennies a year writing about them. If anyone can revolutionize the tablet – again – it will be Apple.

It may be that the iPad has peaked as a product, but I believe it still has several iterations of relevance left. Even though its market will always be smaller, and it may be shrinking, it will be formidable for at least the next 5 years. With features in iOS 8 and Yosemite like Continuity and Handoff, owners of Apple devices will gain several more compelling reasons to own an iPad. We’re still decidedly in a post-PC world, despite what some crank-yankers may try to tell you.

Oh – and Macs out-shipped PC this quarter. Again.

 Posted by at 10:05 pm
Jul 082014

I’m sure my readership is all broken up about Samsung’s latest earnings guidance, which is warning that the company’s operating profit has dropped 24% YoY to a 2 year low. Just in case you thought the anticipated $7.1 billion in operating profit was one of those “YoY anomalies”, that figure is also down 16% from the previous quarter. It appears that pundit-dubbed “innovation” combined with a budget-busting campaign of negative advertising and flagship BOGOs haven’t been enough to keep the bends from continuing to bubble up through the company’s bloodstream. The news was so bad that Samsung actually felt the need to explain its performance in a statement issued with its 2Q guidance. The excuses, which range from the appreciation of Korea’s currency to increased competition in India and China in the “throwaway” shartphone category, belie a deeper concern that Samsung has had its 15 minutes. So what has changed since those glorious salad years of 2012 – 2013? I have a couple of theories.

A Case for Defending Your Patents

This is what the Galaxy S (the S II) looked like in 2011:


This is what it looked like (the S III) in 2012:

Screeny Shot Jul 8, 2014, 3.41.28 PM

Apple filed its “home field” infringement suit against Samsung on April 18, 2011. I think you could make a case that the S III was the first phone whose design deviated meaningfully from the iPhone. Some of this was to accommodate the larger 4.8″ screen, but some of the design choices, including the body’s exaggerated curvature and the choice of materials, was in response to the threat that Apple’s legal action represented. Since it filed and subsequently prevailed against Samsung, the company never went back to slavishly copying the hardware features of the iPhone.

The trial itself also scarred the Samsung brand. Between borderline illegal tactics, which included destroying evidenceviolating court-ordered prohibitions and Samsung’s obnoxious defense attorney posturing, the size of the jury award gives an indication of how put-off the U.S. jury was by the company’s antics. Even though Judge Lucy Koh continues to make a mockery of Apple’s jury verdict, which was rendered almost 700 days ago, the deterrent effect of a relentless Apple combined with the image of Samsung as an unethical monster has irreparably tarnished the company’s brand – at least in this country.

The Spaghetti Stopped Sticking…If It Ever Did Stick

So what does a company that is strongly discouraged from directly copying a competitor do for its next act? They innovate shit out a bunch of half-baked ideas into the market, of course! In addition to continuing to inflate the size of their shartphones and tablets to include every diagonal measurement imaginable, Samsung also jammed sensors, music streaming services, basically anything it could use as a presentation bullet into their hardware. I’d say that effort reached its peak with the release of the S4, whose bizarre presentation was a microcosm of its feature set. “Features” like Eye Tracking, Air Gestures and Air View were demoed like they’d be useful only to be universally panned as anything but. Because quoting myself gives me a boner:

The Galaxy S4 represents an impasse for Samsung. No longer able to rip off Apple’s features – as much – and not being able to do anything with the hardware beyond what the tech press has ubiquitously referred to as “evolutionary”, Sammy is left to pack shit features and a couple of useless sensors into their kit.

After the S4, things deteriorated. There was the Pebble, a music player/S III accessory that forgot that the market for those devices was already incorporated into smartphones. Then there was the single greatest indication that Samsung was deliriously desperate to be viewed as an “innovator”. In what can be traced back to a single blog post, Samsung and the rest of the technorati got a whiff of a rumor – that Apple was making a smartwatch – and decided to base a product on it (innovation!). The resulting Galaxy Gear, now in its 3rd iteration, is just as useless as it was when version one was released.

The Low End Is Getting Pinched

One of the excuses Samsung laid out as contributing to its shrinking position actually is true: Samsung no longer has command of the low-end shartphone market. Coming most notably from Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi, Samsung is not only face-down in the profit-fetching segment  dominated by Apple, it’s now facing competition in the much less profitable segments it used to dominate. One thing that bad horror movies has taught me is that it sucks being the center segment of the human centipede. Especially on taco night.

In the midst of all this red ink is Apple, a company that just consistently puts out the best consumer electronics experiences on the planet. If the latest WWDC is any indication, they’ve just started hitting the gas on 2014. I’m looking forward to seeing several more pairs of treadmarks across the Samsung logo in the coming months.

 Posted by at 4:38 pm
Jun 262014

I realize this post is coming the day after Google’s 2014 I/O keynote, but I just woke up from it. I give Apple a little bit of shit for the way they trot out 26 3rd party developers during their keynotes, but Jesus Christ if Google did not just bore the shit out of people.

So what did they announce? I think the most successful part of the presentation was what they didn’t announce, namely a Google-branded instant paperweight à la the Nexus Q or the Nexus 7. Then again, they did talk a lot about their current crop of shartwatches, but at least there’s a bit of distance between the Google brand and abysmal failure.

Speaking of not talking a lot about something, can we get a shout-out for Google Glass?


I guess we can’t. The darling of concept videos about the future of IRL tech interaction and the one-time twinkle in Sergey’s and Larry’s eyes was only mentioned once in passing. To be fair, it may not be the case that Google is trying to distance itself from what every reasonable person on the planet is panning as a dorkified privacy bomb; it’s entirely possible that someone dangled something shiny in front of the presentation team and they collectively forgot it existed. It’s not like they didn’t have the time to plug it.

Come to think of it, Google seems to be forgetting stuff it’s done at previous I/Os, then repeating it at the next one:

  • 2011’s Android Update Alliance, a really, really, really nice way of asking OEMs to abide by Google’s UI guidelines, is now the Android Silver Initiative, which from what I understand added another “really” to the request.
  • Google spoke at length about Google Health. Wait – that got killed during one of Google’s “You Get What You Pay for” beta purges 2 years ago. Now it’s Google Fit, not to be confused with Apple’s Health and HealthKit (you can be sure that developers and service providers won’t).
  • The Open Automotive Alliance, which was basically a sign-in sheet of everyone making cars and everyone in technology not named Apple now has a name (and not much else): Android Auto. It – surprise! – will be phone based, primarily use voice as the input and will have its own APK. No release date for anything because those aren’t required when you’re trying to freeze the development partners of a competitor. The assumption that any self-respecting manufacturer would give a shit about what Google’s doing in a car when they could partner with Apple is still pretty damn funny.
  • And this year’s Rasputin Award goes to Android TV, which is Google’s fourth attempt to break into the living room. I can’t imagine OEMs are too excited about the prospect of getting kicked squarely in the balls five times in a row, but I might’ve learned after the second or third time, so what do I know?

Maybe Google could retain the services of a consultant to help keep their initiatives to 1 or 2 iterations. I happen to know a guy.


But back to somewhat new stuff, chief among the announcements was the new version of Android dubbed L-Word. There was speculation that the candy-based theme that had come to define major Android releases was dead, but I guess they just haven’t signed the licensing agreement with the L-sweet’s manufacturer like they did when Kit Kat whored for Google the last time around. I, of course, have some suggestions for 5.0:

  • Laffy Taffy: A whimsical take that echoes Android’s approach to device compatibility. “Your phone’s only 6 months old and isn’t getting the most recent version of Android? That’s hilarious!”
  • Lemonhead: A double entendre that describes a defective product and the facial expression made by someone biting into the candy, which is similar to that of a person who first discovers the amount of crapware installed on her new Android phone.
  • Life Saver: Because calling Android a platform secure from malware is as accurate as calling a piece of candy shaped like a life ring thrown to you when drowning a life-saving device.

One thing that is new is the Android Runtime, or ART, the virtual machine that replaces the Dalvik runtime Google…errr…”borrowed” from Oracle. I suppose this will limit the scope of the lawsuit Oracle is ultimately going to win against Google to devices running versions of Android from just the first half of the alphabet.

There was also an overarching theme of “one experience for all devices” which may or may not be a Microsoft slogan. Let’s see how quickly Google recoils once it gets a taste of Redmond’s stunning level of failure in trying to achieve that pipe dream.

 Posted by at 4:27 pm
Jun 252014

The closest analogy I can come up with to describe the Amazon Fire Phone presentation is that it was like watching someone stroke a guitar that’s perfectly tuned on half its strings. There was the inclusion of the genuinely-useful Mayday feature into the phone – and then there was the bizarre backstory behind the 4 camera head-tracking feature – complete with a video appearance by a creepy mannequin head. There was Firefly, which made 100 million objects identifiable by the phone – and then there was the $300 starting price. I was alternating between nodding for 10 minutes and shaking my head for the next 10.

I’ve heard it articulated by many pundits that – for high-end product categories like the iPhone and iPad – it would take an absolute home run to compete. Attacking the low end is a strategy, but any Android OEM not named Samsung will tell you it’s not a very profitable one. The Fire Phone cuts an impressive swath of air but ultimately corkscrews itself into the ground.

“But,” I hear people protest “Amazon isn’t competing with Apple; it’s offering a way to more efficiently pipeline its wares to consumers!”

Is it giving the Fire Phone away?

Then no, it’s not.

For the Fire Phone to be an effective way for people to spend more on Amazon’s services require either 1. A phone significantly cheaper than the iPhone or 2. A phone so feature-compelling as to justify an iPhone-like price. The Fire Phone has some intriguing features, but blooping singles isn’t going to win Amazon any share against a company that clears the fences every year. People aren’t going to be mainlining Prime if they don’t buy the phone.

You could see this same type of not-compelling-enough competitor to an Apple product 3 months ago when Amazon presented the Fire TV. A snazzy voice command feature and some slick device specs were soiled by a UI that heavily favored Amazon’s own content at the expense of all content available. There’s already a device serving content from a siloed ecosystem – it’s called the AppleTV, jackasses. Fire TV’s search was a feature perfectly poised to attack a shortcoming of Apple’s product. Instead? A swing and a miss. And then there’s the creepiness factor.

What was the point of the 4 cameras on the face of the phone again? To track your head in space even if one or two of the camera was obstructed? Why the hell do you need to track someone’s head to do something that can be accomplished by tilting the phone? Was Bezos asleep during the whole “this is how the NSA surreptitiously takes control of your smartphone” thing when he dreamt up a phone with 4 front-facing cameras that leer at you constantly? By watching him gleefully go on about discerning people heads from inanimate ones, you’d never know it. People don’t want to socialize with people who have cameras strapped to their faces and people don’t want a smartphone that is constantly scanning their visage and recording their voice just so they can buy cheap Lightning cables more efficiently.

So the Fire Phone, much like the Fire TV, is a bizarre conflagration of features that delight, then puzzle, then creep you the fuck out. I’m starting to think of Amazon as Google with higher-end kit and faster delivery.

 Posted by at 5:04 pm
  • RSS
  • Twitter