Mar 282013
 

Bloomberg posted an article about Samsung’s rise to become the #1 maker of smartphones and it’s worth a read if you can hold your nose a little. It’s a decidedly puffy piece that brushes off Samsung chairman Lee Kun Hee’s “legal difficulties” with a clause and the Apple-Samsung patent case with seven lines of summary. No mention anywhere of how Samsung’s labor practices have come under fire (indeed, no mention of labor existing outside of Korea at all), nothing about its FRAND patent abuse, nor any judgment on the S 4 event aside from “Samsung is probably the only other company that can throw a product introduction and have people line up around a city block”. I should hit these guys up for my biography.

Clearly the output of S-Translate

Clearly the output of S-Translate

Still, it’s an interesting exploration of some of the reasons that Samsung is the only Android OEM to actually make money.

Mar 262013
 

I’m late to the party on this one, I know. After 5 months slinging fecal hash for ReadWriteRithmatic Web – or whatever the fuck they’re calling it today – visionary Dan Lyons has left for some marketing firm. One more bowl rotation closer to the sewer pipe. As I said last September, while panning a piece he wrote for Shitshowdo:

For what it’s worth, Dan Lyons is a pathetic human being who sifts through the ashes of controversy for a living while regretting every second of his career since the FSJ salad years, aware that every piece of excrement he throws up for public viewing is another point closer to the origin on the graph of his career trajectory, which can be plotted thusly: r = aθ, where a is a real-number constant greater than 0.

Bon voyage, Daniel!

Mar 262013
 

I’m having a crisis of faith. It seems like The Verge has been yet again tainted with some word count that I have deemed unworthy of its otherwise-excellent presence. This one is on the “broken promise” of iCloud. The author is Ellis Hamburger who, according to his Verge bio page has penned a grand total of 2 articles for them (including this one). And he comes to The Verge from SAI at Business Insider, so you know he couldn’t possibly be a troll.

iCloud, perhaps more than any Apple software product, is meant to “just work.” When Apple introduced iCloud, it made clear its hopes to eradicate settings menus and file systems in favor of automation. Steve Jobs pledged to do a better job than he did on MobileMe, Apple’s notoriously horrible stab at web services a few years ago. With iCloud, changes you make to documents on your computer show up instantly on your iPhone and vice versa. “It just works,” Jobs exclaimed when he first demoed the service in 2011. “Everything happens automatically,” Jobs continued, “and it’s really easy to tie your apps into iCloud’s storage system.”

That does sound like a broken promise, doesn’t it? The link to Jobs’s famous introduction of iCloud, the one where he describes MobileMe as “not our finest hour”, he does talk about iCloud integration for apps. Except the apps Jobs is talking about are Apple’s own Contacts, Calendar and Mail.

Oops.

Listen: I can almost understand the temptation to dig up and defile Steve Jobs’s corpse for hits, but if you’re going to juice your bait with SJ’s memory, try invoking something that relates to your core premise. But the Hamburgler isn’t just content to make a false tie-in to something Steve Jobs never said; he also has ample evidence from several (mostly unnamed) developers who (mostly don’t want to) go on record calling out Apple’s sync solution for their apps as a steaming pile. I guess it worked for The New York Times, right?

First up: Dan Pasco, CEO of Black Pixel, creator of the allegedly (based on critical reviews such as here) excellent Kaleidoscope, where he claimed, on the company’s blog, that they couldn’t resolve issues with iCloud and Core Data and therefore wouldn’t be including it as an option for their app. Chiming in is Pocket lead dev Steve Streza with a tweet “ Remember that @blackpixel has many of the brightest people in Cocoa development. If they couldn’t get iCloud working, who can?” Pretty heavy hitters make for a pretty damning indictment of the thing Steve Jobs never mentioned when he introduced iCloud. But a quote from one respected developer and a tweet from another can’t be the basis for an article, can it? The Verge obliges, but from here, the quality of the commentary takes a nose dive.

“I’ve rewritten my iCloud code several times now in the hopes of finding a working solution,” complains Michael Göbel, developer of several Mac apps, in a blog post, and “Apple clearly hasn’t.” If you do a little digging, you’ll find that one of Göbel’s apps is Free, a “distraction free” writing app which one reviewer describes as “a blatant rip-off of iA Writer“. What separates the 2? iA Writer managed to find a way to use iCloud to sync. Later in the piece, Göbel continues to lament “If you don’t incorporate iCloud into your apps, Apple will never feature them.” Let’s test that theory by looking at the top apps from Apple’s own featured “New to the Mac App Store” section:

Screeny Shot Mar 26, 2013 4.25.06 PM

Off the top of my head, I know that 1Password, Evernote, Paprika and (obviously) Pocket don’t lean on iCloud. There goes that theory. Clear, Pixelmator and Wikibot did manage to find a way to feature iCloud, however. Let me offer an alternative explanation as to why Göbel is having a tough time getting noticed: naming your app after a suffix that’s tagged on the majority of free apps in the App Store (256 from a cursory search) isn’t going to help people find your product. It also helps if you app isn’t one of the most hackneyed productivity app types –  distraction free writing apps – in the Store.

Following Göbel’s lament, we get a flood of unsourced quotes, from “a very prominent developer, one top developer, and a developer quoted in the Apple developer support forums (no bile thrown out there, ever).

Then we get Brian Arnold, who has been “receiving customer complaints and one-star ratings” as a result of Steve Jobs’s broken promise that he didn’t make. The link provided takes you (again) to Apple’s Developer Forums, the account for which a certain blogger let lapse so I can’t verify the context of the complaint. I do know Arnold is author of “I Ching, the Book of Changes”…oh wait. Brian actually reprinted the classic Fu Xi tome, except that Fu Xi didn’t have access to the App Store and was therefore unable to juice his $7 app with $40 of in-app purchase options. Arnold’s By Flat Earth Studio LLC also has “What the Walrus Knows: A Guide to Beastie Energies!” to his credit, which as far as I can tell gives you advice from a walrus.

The next named source, Justin Driscoll, again from the Developer Forums, writes “Can anyone from Apple comment on this [Core Data] situation? I’m scheduled to run a promotion for the app (which I’ve already paid for) tomorrow and now it looks like I have to remove the app from sale instead.” Without access to the actual app he’s referring to (which probably would have made for not-SAI-level reporting and therefore omitted), I’m assuming Driscoll is referencing the one app on his site, the journaling app OnePAD. You’ll be happy to hear that apparently he has found a way to incorporate iCloud sync, as it’s listed prominently as a feature as of version 1.3.3 and is currently enjoying a 4.5 star average rating.

One quoted developer may or may not have a beef with a more successful app that managed to use iCloud, another is an Android app-level reprinter; the last seemingly doesn’t have the problem Hamburger ascribes to his app. I’m not saying Apple’s Core Services is the bee’s knees or that its accessibility to developers couldn’t be improved, but there’s a way to construct a critique that isn’t this. Between the STEVE JOBS LIED linkbait headline – that refers to something Jobs never said – and a little context provided by the not “top developers” who chose to be quoted, I’d say Hamburger learned a lot from his days at SAI. It’s a shame he has to inflict it on The Verge’s readership.

Update 3/28: my other usually-reliable tech news reporting staple, Ars Technica, has a much better piece outlining the issues developers are having with iCloud/Core Data sync. Jacqui Cheng writes an expository, well-sourced piece – unlike what The Verge coughed up.

Mar 242013
 

Under the heading of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, Ed Bott has a pretty damning timeline of Google’s talk-up, and subsequent rug-pull of its support for both Google Reader and its back-end RSS support. Of course, Ed Bott can’t help but take a shot at his employer’s beat’s other arch-nemesis, regarding the future of NetNewsWire in a post-Google Reader world :

Wisely, the developers of that product have decided not to make the same mistake twice. They’ve dropped their plans to rely on Apple’s iCloud.

Unfortunately, as a service that Apple relies on to provide core sync for its for-pay hardware, and as such unlikely to go away ever, the comparison to Google’s free services is a little south of genuine. You can’t blame Ed: after a couple hundred words hitting the nail on the head, he was bound to smash his thumb eventually.

 Posted by at 10:59 pm
Mar 242013
 

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog has an excellent crystallization of the problem with Google’s systematic service discontinuations, most recently (and extensively, in terms of user base) with Google Reader. Money quote:

The problem, I’m beginning to think, is simply mismatch. The core services of Google’s business are often not the Google services I rely on most. And even when their core products and my needs do meet, the business connection is indirect.

It’s that last clause that nails it – this notion of the indirect relationship. What Google’s users perceive as Google’s products is not how the company actually makes its money; their users’ information does that. This is not a subtle point. You pay Dropbox for storage (or use it for free, but it’s the same principle that makes the company their money), and that’s all they do. You may also pay Google for extra email capacity, but they couldn’t care less about providing that service; it’s a means to an end. As long as they can make their baubles shiny enough (and of course free), they will always be assured wide adoption. But this isn’t a “surprise and delight” level; it only has to be good enough for Google to get its hooks into their users’ data. This is the reason why every attempt for Google to create an actual product (Nexus Q, Chromebook Pixel) that people could buy have been laughed out of the market. It’s also the reason why every Spring, when Google kills their unprofitable “free” services, so many people realize that they get what they pay for.

 Posted by at 1:08 am
Mar 212013
 

And someone didn’t like it. Rather than go too far into why I think that Gruber isn’t right – and he may be, but he’s not yet – I’ll link to my most recent tech blog find: John C. Welch, who writes bynkii.com and co-hosts the Angry Mac Bastards podcast. I am honestly ashamed I hadn’t found this guy earlier, if for no other reason than he’s possibly the only person writing about Apple who’s more angry, derides more people and swears more than I do when he writes. Seriously: this guy drops f-bombs like I drop beats dishes. And he’s awesome.

Bottom line: don’t mistake enthusiastically toeing the party line for capability. No one even knows what Kevin Lynch is going to be doing for Apple except, of course,  Apple. The company that hired him. After they meticulously screened him, thoroughly interviewed him and almost certainly made him explain Gruber’s claim chowder quotables. It’s not like Tim Cook browsed over to Daring Fireball and muttered “Fuck me – not again.” I’m pretty sure they worked through their issues before they made him a job offer. And I’m pretty sure they made it despite his pro-Flash/anti-Apple delirium . I don’t know if JG’s scotch was going down particularly well that night, or it was because the Yankees, despite their bloated payroll, aren’t waiting for the postseason to shit the bed. Whatever the reason, I’ll chalk it up to an off night.

Just for a little while, can we pretend the John Browett thing was a one-off and give Apple a little credit for hiring someone that could possibly contribute greatly to their pretty-good-but-not-great online services presence? Even though it’s de rigueur to jump in Apple’s shit way before it’s warranted, a little restraint isn’t a bad thing either. Especially for someone who usually chooses their fights as wisely as Gruber.

 Posted by at 10:46 pm
Mar 212013
 

A couple years ago, I wrote about how J.D. Power provided some much-needed perspective regarding how people feel about their smartphones. That was when the iPhone was the top rated smartphone for only the sixth consecutive time. Today, that kind of perspective is easier to lose than ever. Apple’s stock is getting shit on for no apparent reason, cheered on by the mob of asshats that feel emboldened to make evermore frequent predictions for Apple’s imminent demise.

Screeny Shot Mar 21, 2013 8.57.39 PM

Last 2 months: much more Douchebag than Lannister

Apple can’t even hire anybody without a usually-stalwart Apple blogger calling him out as a “bozo” for some shit he said while working for an Apple competitor. As people become more desperate for their precious pageviews, the anti-Apple rhetoric has risen from occasionally asinine to ubiquitously asinine. Cue J.D. Power’s announcement that Apple has bested the smartphone field yet again – for the ninth consecutive time. And it wasn’t even close.

How do you spell commodity? A-N-D-R-O-I-D

How do you spell commodity? A-N-D-R-O-I-D

Apple scored a whopping 59 points above the average. Speaking of average, check out the Android OEMs hugging the “meh” line. Overlay that shit all you want guys: it looks like your plans to make Android “special” netted you exactly jack shit. I’m sure the people surveyed had to check the label on the phone before shrugging their shoulders in ennui. And Thorazine Heins should pull his company’s handsets out of the customer satisfaction toilet before spouting off about how stale Apple’s tech is.

 Posted by at 9:24 pm
Mar 152013
 

Philip Elmer-DeWitt posted a roundup of analyst chatter following the launch of Samsung’s Galaxy S 4 last night in New York. What you’ll see is the typical mixed bag of ennui and batshit insanity. Let’s review what the greatest analytic minds covering Apple today have to say:

Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster: Galaxy S4 Evolutionary, iPhone To Essentially Maintain High End Share In CY13. “The Galaxy S4 appears to be largely an incremental update to the S3 including a slightly larger screen (4% larger on diagonal), better camera and processor, and updated software, but largely the same body style and casing. We believe some of the software features are unique, including the tilt to scroll, video pausing based on facial recognition, and hand gesture based interactions, but view these software improvements as minor compared with what Siri was to the iPhone 4S or even Google Now to Android… Despite the launch and fanfare around the Galaxy S4, we continue to believe that Apple will maintain a low 40% market share in the high-end smartphone market in CY13.”

Despite Munster being wrong about so very many things, he is (correctly) conservative in his assessment of what the S 4 will mean to Apple’s sales. Basically, it’s status quo. And those “software features” are nothing but items on a list of things users won’t engage, as evidenced by The Verge’s hands-on with the device.

Jefferies’ Peter Misek: Software Features Took the Stage. “The hardware was as expected and much like iPhone 5, the S4 saw little change in design from its predecessor besides a slight increase in size from 4.8″ to 5”. Samsung focused primarily on its software innovation and interface inputs such as gesture control and Smart Scroll/Pause. While we were impressed overall with our hands-on experience, we await to see how these features perform in the real world and if they are actually used. What does this mean for Apple? We believe the S4 will certainly sell well and it is incrementally negative for Apple; however, the device is not revolutionary, in our view. Aside from the large screen size, which we believe gives Samsung a large advantage over Apple, we believe many of the features can easily be replicated. Additionally, a major complaint amongst Galaxy users is that they do not like Samsung’s customized software, especially when it is a downgrade in performance from stock Android features.”

“Software innovation” that Misek has to “see how these features perform in the real world and if they are actually used”. Apparently Misek was more impressed than the people who write about technology for a living, or maybe his feigned praise is meant to be offset by his “wait and see” rhetoric, which is analyst codespeak for everything. And I’m sure Apple’s hard at work on “many of the features [that] can easily be replicated”. If they’re easy to replicate, Apple doesn’t replicate them. Read a book about Apple or something. Further counter to his point about Samsung’s “software innovation” is the statement that “a major complaint amongst Galaxy users is that they do not like Samsung’s customized software”. So which is it? This is typical analyst stroke-and-slap doubletalk. Anyone basing an investment decision on this non-analysis deserves to lose all their money. You have been warned.

Nomura’s Stuart Jeffrey: Galaxy S4 to help Samsung overtake Apple. “While clearly a step forward relative to the S3, there is much that is evolutionary about the S4, rather than revolutionary. Nevertheless, we see the S4 potentially helping Samsung to overtake Apple in high-end smartphone shipments during 2013. Our initial thoughts include: • Derivative form factor – the S4 looks rather similar to the S3 and sustains. • Samsung use of plastics as the main backing material. • Some compelling new features, although some will only work with other S4s or new Samsung TVs, arguably limiting their appeal. • 35-40m high-end S4 and Note sales per quarter seems feasible, which would see Samsung overtake Apple in terms of high-end volumes.”

Evolutionary. Remember the sting when critics leveled that term against Apple’s 4S? That’s pretty much the word reviewers are using, only Apple’s evolution tends to result in actually useful features, not the ADD-riddled uselessness being offered as features in the S 4. Bonus burn for use of the word “derivative”, which I think we can all agree summarizes Samsung’s entire smartphone existence. Yet the 35-40m number will overtake Apple? OK. Guess it’s good that the standard insulation of “seems feasible” was added to this “analysis”.

Barclays’ Ben Reitzes: More Competition for iPhone Comes As Expected. “In terms of competition vs. Apple, the GS4 seems largely as expected – and there could be some relief for Apple (certain versions of LTE won’t be available until later this year). However, as we stated recently in a recent report – we believe that Samsung’s momentum is a major issue for Apple. As a result, we need to see Apple expand its iPhone market this year in a big way – and improve its platform. However, Apple seems rather silent of late – and could be waiting until C3Q to make any competitive response outside of potential adjustments to pricing.”

“Largely as expected”, but it represents Samsung’s “momentum”. Read the first part of the topic sentence again: “In terms of competition, vs. Apple, the GS4 seems largely as expected”. I don’t know what that even means. And how do you know an analyst has no clue about Apple’s product cycle and should therefore pursue a career doing something else? “However, Apple seems rather silent of late.” That’s because they’ve been silent every year around this time since forever. The incomparable Daniel Eran Dilger, writing for AppleInsider, tells us how the competition has exploited this “quiet period” in the past. This level of ignorance comes from analysts who should be using their “insights” to fuel trash can fires under a bridge to warm their recently-unemployed asses.

Credit Suisse’s Kulbinder Garcha: Galaxy S4: An impressive device. “We believe the S4 device will continue to drive growth for Samsung in the high-end of the smartphone market from ~115mn devices in 2012 to ~180mn devices in 2013 with build plans as high as 200mn units. Combining this with Apple’s growth, we continue to highlight that the high-end of the smartphone market should grow to unprecedented levels, and will likely grow 34% yoy to nearly 400mn units in 2013… The addition of Galaxy S4 to Samsung’s high-end portfolio certainly presents risks to Apple in the near term owing to increasing competition and product transition. Long term, we still believe iPhone remains a growth business (our iPhone estimates are 158mn/194mn in CY13/CY14, implying global share of 16%) driven by continued growth in the high-end of smartphone market, incremental opportunity from carrier expansion (we estimate 65mn) and ecosystem advantage.”

A 57% increase YoY? That’s pretty ambitious. The rest of it is exceptionally non-committal, which is how analysts like it.

Stifel’s Aaron Rakers: Samsung Ups the Smartphone Ante. “We believe that the display, the camera, the software and several unique features ups the ante in the smartphone market… Comparing the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S4 specs:

  • The iPhone 5 has a screen resolution of 1136 X 640 pixels and 326 ppi. The S4 has a screen resolution of 1920 X 1080 pixels and 441 ppi.
  • The screen size of the iPhone 5 is 4 inches compared to 5 inches for the S4.
  • The iPhone uses a 1.3 GHz dual-core processor compared to a 1.9 GHz quad-core or 1.6 GHz octa-core processor for the S4.
  • The iPhone only has a 8 MP camera versus 13 MP for the S4.
  • Finally, the iPhone 5 weighs 3.95 ounces versus 4.59 ounces for the S4.”

Samsung ups the ante by upping the specs on their phone. Let’s engage in the totally-discredited practice of comparing specs between Samsung and Apple devices. “The iPhone only has a 8 MP camera versus 13 MP for the S4”. 13 is more than 8! Samsung’s upping the ante! When intelligent analysis fails, I guess you can always default to product specs. Because everyone knows the experience of using a smartphone boils down to who has the most (unused) processor cores in their devices, right?

hahahno

 Posted by at 1:58 pm
Mar 152013
 

Samsung’s Galaxy S4 event is over and what do you know: the handset looks the same as the S III. “If it looks the same, how will people know I upgraded?” you may ask yourself. It’s not like Sammy didn’t try. Actually, the features of the S4 were a decent reflection of their absolutely bizarre presentation, illustrated by staged vignettes that had the emotional resonance of an aluminum bat whacked against a flagpole, perfectly encapsulated in Samsung’s new tagline for the device: Life Companion.

“Touch Wiz? I’m into whatever you are, honey!”

On the software side, the S4 is taking a very similar approach, vomiting an array of gimmicky “featurettes” which, while they may distract the average raccoon for 15 seconds, will have the user adhesion of a wet post-it, soon-to-be defaulted to “off” in Settings.

First though, I want to address the presentation.

What the hell is wrong with Samsung? The ugly kid with the box reading from a script that was rejected from a Bollywood B-film, the too-glib emcee handing off the mic to the incoherent Samsung executive that segues into some kind of series of live performance commercials? If Apple orchestrates an event like Spielberg, Samsung may rate Michael Bay. Maybe. The only thing the whole cornucopia of shiny, sucky things tells me is how desperate Samsung was to distract people from the actual quality of the phone they were introducing.

That's an exit-only door, dipshit. Better cut to the next scene!

That’s an exit-only door, dipshits. Cut to the next scene!

And speaking of pushing something in through an exit-only door, one of the most glaring omissions of the presentation was the word “Android”. I heard it once the whole time. Yet the S 4 will be released with the latest version, Jelly Bean 4.2.2, the only current device to offer it. Next to zero mention of Google’s contribution to Samsung’s product, yet Samsung still manages to extort the latest-and-greatest from them. That’s power. I hope Andy Rubin remembers to pack the ball gag and latex gimp suit in the box of office supplies he’ll be handing off to Sundar Pichai. Maybe he can just leave it in one of the desk drawers.

Once onlookers recovered from Samsung vomiting an assortment of specs and features all over them, the tech press got to go hands-on with the S4. I’d like to go over a few of the things that Samsung thinks is going to differentiate the S4 from other devices:

Eye Tracking, Air Gestures and Air View

So get this: you have a 5″ device in your hand, but if for whatever reason you don’t want to touch the…touchscreen, Samsung has some features for you. Smart Scroll will scroll a webpage based on your eye movement and Smart Pause will freeze a video if you look away from your phone and restart it if you move your head back. Not your eyes; your head. So if you divert your attention, make sure you turn your head away from your smartphone in an definitive motion. From The Verge’s hands-on of these features:

From our limited testing, “Smart Pause” and “Smart Scroll” skew more toward gimmick — they’re supposed to detect your eyes, and either pause your movie when you look away or scroll when you reach the bottom of a page, but neither worked much at all in our time with the GS4.

Of course they didn’t work. Anyone who knows anything about how people actually interact with handheld technology could deduce this sight unseen. Why do you think they had a fucking 8 year old on stage tap dancing?

Air Gestures allow you to wave your hand inches away from your smartphone to move through a series – like moving from one photo to the next in an album, for example. Instead of grabbing your phone one-handed and using your thumb to side-scroll, now you can use 2 hands. Maybe because the 5″ screen (a whopping .2″ improvement over the S III – or is it S3 now?) is bordering on the phablet zone. Back to The Verge’s David Pierce (yes, that one):

“Air Gestures” let you scroll through pictures or scroll a webpage by literally swiping with your hand, without touching the screen — you just sweep from left to right over top of the phone, and it responds. It looks ridiculous, but it works (original emphasis).

At least “it works.” This is The Verge’s Android apologist dissing a feature in italics. Think about that for a second. Two of Samsung’s headline features don’t work and one makes you look ridiculous as you treat your phablet like a Kinect.

Last but not least is Hover Preview, which allows you to preview content – such as enlarging a photo – by hovering your finger just above the screen. Picture yourself about to tap on a photo (that your fingers are already inches from anyway) and holding it there to affect a preview when you could move it another inch and just tap it. After watching all of these features get manhandled by tech blog writers, all I can think is what is the fucking point? These aren’t motion sensors rigged to a plasma TV where you’re sitting a few feet away. This is a device you hold in your hand. Did Donald Trump design this thing?

S-Health

Keeping with Samsung’s inane habit of sticking “S” in front of every feature it rips off of Apple, Samsung went in an entirely new direction and stuck “S” in front of a feature it copied  from about 100 motion sensing apps available on iOS. But they did shoehorn temperature and humidity sensors into the S4 (because you could never get that from the 10,000 geo-locating weather apps), so at least you’ll feel a twinge of guilt before never using them.

Group Play

Samsung also introduced some social features. Group Play lets you sync up a song with other S4s – because nothing is quite as impressive as a 7.1 system comprised of 8 smartphones. No word on whether or not “touching dongs” would be required to activate the feature.

Screeny Shot Mar 15, 2013 11.46.29 AM

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. But jacking up specs that have little bearing on the actual usability of a device and pumping it full of sensors that enable features no one will ever use – and are available in abundance in Apple’s superior iOS ecosystem – isn’t stoking any reviewerati fires. Putting on batshit insane off-off-off Broadway quality performances to launch these products won’t distract consumers from Samsung’s building desperation.

 Posted by at 11:52 am
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