Joe Wilcox

I declare independence from Google

Monopoly-game

Fifth in a series. Two years ago today, I stepped away from Apple, following a boycott later abandoned. My problems were philosophical, regarding the company's aggressive patent litigation that thwarts innovation. This July Fourth I seek freedom from Google, and not for the first time. I don't oppose the search and information giant, nor like fanboy rally for it. I declare independence as a practical exercise; an experiment. Can you -- OK, I -- do without Big G's expansive portfolio of products and services? I want to know.

In many regards, Google is the Internet gatekeeper U.S. trustbusters asserted Microsoft would be, in their late-1990s court case. Big G is unquestionably a monopoly that integrates features and products for competitive gain. In the United States, Google's search share is about 67 percent (3.5 times greater than second-ranked Microsoft), according to ComScore, and as much as 90 percent in some countries. Android's worldwide smartphone share is about 80 percent, according to IDC.

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10 things Microsoft should do with Nokia

Nokia Lumia Icon

In April, Microsoft concluded acquisition of Nokia's Devices and Services division, announced in September 2013. With ownership comes responsibility, which starts with Microsoft preserving and reviving an iconic brand. Before the phone maker fumbled touchscreen smartphone market, the brand dominated the world -- commanding overwhelming cellular handset market share across Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America.

Some competitors strayed from the path Microsoft follows. For example, Google wrongly sold Motorola to Lenovo, which is reason for big smiles up Redmond, Wash. way. Hardware's research and development value to software and services cannot be overstated. Apple gets it, and I thought Big G did, too. Nokia is a vitally important asset to Microsoft that goes way beyond Windows Phone.

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With Surface Pro 3 as mediator, Windows and I reconcile our differences

Surface Pro 3

Fourth in a series. Before adopting the Chromie lifestyle and declaring independence from Apple two summers ago, I primarily was a Mac user. I wrote most of the so-called anti-Apple stories (so some commentary say) on the company's laptops. Chromebook still warms my heart, but for the summer -- and likely longer -- we part ways. On June 20, I walked out of Microsoft Store San Diego with a free Surface Pro 3. But I am accidental thief; that story later.

In April, I wrote about "My two years with Chromebook", giving loads of praise. I might still use Chrome OS as my primary platform today, if not for sudden partial loss of vision -- non-diabetic macular edema in both eyes. The ailment compelled a reevaluation of my computing needs. I purchased a refurbished Surface RT preinstalled with Windows 8.1, because of the free Word, which will ease ebook publishing. I really enjoyed the user experience, much more than the Surface Pro reviewed in February 2013. Updated operating system is major reason. Also, Microsoft's ClearType improved my diminished reading ability.

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Smart consumers will be Android Wear wary

panic hands due man afraid

I find the whole smartwatch craze rather amusing, even more so now that Google has officially announced Android Wear, with two models, made by LG and Samsung, shipping next month. One-day battery life? Bwaaahaha. Do they never learn? Microsoft-powered smartwatches got better than that a decade ago, and short battery life still turned out to be one of the main reasons the timepieces failed.

In product design you can never ignore existing behavior. A watch is a set-it, and forget-it device. I suppose some gadget geeks accustomed to daily smartphone charges (or less) will be dumb enough to buy. But smart consumers will be Android Wear wary. Just ask Microsoft about the road to ruin, which is paved with the best intentions, the right manufacturing partners, and concept seemingly smart that isn't.

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Microsoft is cooler than Apple

cool frog sunglasses

Third in a series. In business perception is everything. Many companies succeed or fail not because their products are great but their brands are perceived to be that way. Apple is a remarkable perception manager. Consider iPhone 5s, which features and benefits fall far behind many competing devices. Rather than innovate, the fruit-logo launches an evocative marketing campaign -- "You're more powerful than you think" -- that makes the smartphone look better. Improved. The ads are compelling because they communicate: Your life will be better, you shall achieve your dreams, by buying iPhone 5s.

Meanwhile, competitors like Microsoft truly innovate and take the kind of risks that once defined Apple. Last year I asked: "Will 2013 be another year of Apple iteration masquerading as innovation?" Yes, and halfway into another year, little is changed. The answer is the same. Last month I explained "Why Apple no longer innovates". OS X Yosemite and iOS X 8 are prettier, but so what? Meanwhile, Windows 8/8.1 is a radical rethinking of the platform -- as is Surface, which delivers refreshing change to computing. What's that long-forgotten Yellow Pages tagline? Let your fingers do the walking. They do on Surface.

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My Nokia Lumia life begins

Nokia Lumia Icon

Second in a series. Sunday started an unexpected journey long anticipated. I walked out of Microsoft Store San Diego holding my first Nokia since abandoning the brand in 2009. Before Nokia imploded, first unable to respond to Apple innovations and next by adopting Windows Phone as primary platform, I preferred the handsets -- using over the years the N95, N96, N79, N97, and N900.

I am the proud owner of the Lumia Icon, which marks my family's slow migration to Verizon from T-Mobile. AT&T would make more sense, since the iPhones my daughter and father-in-law use would work unlocked. If the Lumia 930 were available, I could go to the Blue rather than Red network from Pink (which becomes Yellow if purchased by Sprint). My initial reaction is surprisingly good, of the handset and Windows Phone 8.

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Microsoft breaks the Surface tension

Microsoft Surface

First in a series. My preference is to write about tech that I use -- an attitude shared among BetaNews reporters. We like to get hands-on and write with authority, from experience. That's one reason I write so little about Microsoft now, not being immersed in the company's products. Lately, mine is the Google lifestyle.

But yesterday I started using the original Surface -- the one frequently maligned by critics for so-called limitations associated with Windows RT. This is my first experience with the tab, although I reviewed and frankly loved Surface Pro. Out-of-the-box impressions are great. This is a hugely satisfying tablet, and surely the experience is better with its successor. I was right to ask 5 days ago: "Why not Surface 2?"

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Why not Surface 2?

Microsoft Surface 2

Colleague Wayne Williams is right to call out Surface Pro 3 hidden costs necessary to make a reasonable laptop replacement. There is another choice, which geeks often overlook. Surface 2 is a great value for the price, and everyone considering Apple iPad Air as a laptop replacement should look to Microsoft's tab first.

Before explaining, I start a diatribe that will continue to future posts. Geek reviewers hung up on specs and the fanciest features missing what matters more: Benefits -- to whom they are important and in what circumstances. Not everyone needs the fastest, coolest thing, or can afford it. Lower-cost is a benefit, too, and it's one too often ignored by fanboys and tech reviewers. Wayne gets it. So should you.

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HP Chromebook 11 without Google is less appealing

freaking out omg no shock surprise

Let me start by thanking HP public relations for quickly responding to my information request, even after my warning the story would likely be ugly -- and it is. Today, the company unveiled a new Chromebook 11 model that is less than the original. As widely-rumored last month, the beautiful, 300-nit, IPS display with wide viewing angles is gone. "It’s an 11.6-inch screen with standard display technology", according to HP. That means dimmer and duller.

HP designed the first Chromebook 11 "With Google", which is branding appearing on the computer's underside. The laptop without Google matches the look of the 14-inch model, adopts similar fantastic keyboard, reduces display quality, and keeps the same aged ARM chip and puny 2GB of memory. The panel and processor choices perplex. If I had to choose between the original, which I reviewed in October, and its successor the choice is simple: Last year's model, which debuted at $279 and is available from Amazon for $225. The newer Chromebook 11 lists for $279 and sales start next month. Even if priced the same, I would choose the original.

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While you watch Apple, the Android Army marches forward

man binoculars distance

As the American tech press turns to San Francisco and Apple's developer conference, the real world looks to Taipei and Computex. There you see the Android Army's march against iOS. ASUS announces new Android tabs, HP takes the wraps off a laptop running the operating system, and Samsung serves up a phablet so large it crosses category boundaries. In literature, they would call this foreshadowing. Do you see how this story will unfold -- as Android manufacturers and Apple engage like factions from the Divergent series.

Android accounted for 39.7 percent of device shipments -- hybrids, PCs, phones, and tablets -- during 2013, according to Gartner. Apple's iOS and OS X: 10.4 percent. Forecast for this year puts Android at 47.2 percent and the fruit-logo platforms at 11.5 percent. That's context for today's announcements from the East and West. As I write, Apple's announcements dribble (iOS 8 and OS X 10.10) out of Worldwide Developer Conference 2014, so this post focuses on what the Android news means.

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Why Apple no longer innovates

Apple-logo

The more I ponder Apple's Beats acquisition, the less sense it makes. Buying big well-known brands that compete with yours is usually a bad idea -- worse when the acquirer owns no foreign brands. Extinguishing the big name, as Microsoft does with Nokia, is marketing murder. There's no place for the Beats brand in the Apple lexicon. The gun is drawn and ready to fire.

What I do see is another sign that Apple has lost its way. Tim Cook is a very able CEO, but as stated previously he is Star Trek's Spock without Captain Kirk (Steve Jobs). Cook's approach to business logistics, while brilliant, unmakes Apple. Beats is an acquisition that is off-key -- out of tune with the culture that made the fruit-logo company great. As such, on this Thursday in May, comes my confession. I was wrong five years ago in post "Why Apple succeeds, and always will". That company is gone.

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My two years with Chromebook

Chromebook Pixel keyboard

Colleague Alan Buckingham is on a summer sojourn using HP Chromebook 11. I took similar journey during August and September 2011, but the Samsung Series 3 Chromebook -- much as I liked the overall user experience -- couldn't satisfy my needs. In May 2012, with Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550's release, all changed. I started down a permanent path, looking back once for a few weeks. I am a Chromebook convert and eagerly watch to see where Alan will be when the summer sun fades to autumn colors.

"Can I use Chromebook as my primary PC?" It's a question I see often across the Interwebs. The answer is different: You can use Chromebook as your only computer. The only PCs in my home are Chromebooks. There are no Macs or Windows machines doing double duty. Chromebook is more than good enough. Most people will be surprised just how satisfying Chromebook can be -- and how affordable. For 96 cents more than the cost of one entry-level MacBook Air, you can buy from Amazon four HP Chromebook 11s -- the model Alan uses now. User benefits are surprisingly similar.

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AppleCare+ iPhone replacement costs more now, but you knew that -- right?

money cash magnifying glass

I learned about the change yesterday, unhappily. File this story under "read the fineprint department". Since Apple introduced its extended warranty plan, I have praised the benefits and plucked down the extra $99 for every new iOS device. AppleCare+ extends standard repair coverage to two years and offers fairly affordable replacement -- up to two times. Somehow I missed that Apple raised replacement price to $79 from $49 for iPhone.

The saga started around the midday meal. My daughter expressed amazement how last week her iPhone 5s popped out of her jeans and fell from a third-story balcony. No damage. Twenty-minutes later, while we sorted clothes for the thrift store in the garage, she fumbled the device, which fell face flat onto the cement -- shattering the screen. No words can describe either of our reactions. The irony was so thick my eyeglasses fogged.

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Apple isn't Phabulous

iPad Air

Goldilocks knocks on Apple's door looking for the right mobile device. She first picks up iPad Air, which with 9.7-inch screen is too big. Then she tries 4-inch iPhone 5s, but it's too small. Finally she grabs iPad mini, thinking the 7.9-inch display is just right. But unlike the fairy tale, Goldilocks is disappointed. She drops the tablet, goes next door to Samsung's house, and takes the Galaxy Note 3, which at 5.7 inches -- and with stylus -- is just right.

There's a gaping hole in Apple's product line -- and one CEO Tim Cook better quickly fix. Through it sales leak to competitors, but into a category where Apple doesn't compete. Tech-Thoughts analyst Sameer Singh observes about first calendar quarter global handsets: "As of now, we can assume that ~20 percent of all smartphones shipped have screen sizes large enough to become acceptable substitutes for tablet computing tasks".

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Net Neutrality: When you are the competitor

stressed businesswoman

As the Net neutrality debate rages and feels fresh, it's easy to forget just how long this thing has been raging. While searching for a post over at my personal website I stumbled onto a forgotten analysis from April 2006, when I lived on the East Coast and had Verizon FiOS.

Critics complain the Federal Communications Commission seeks to create two Internet Information Highways -- one fast lane and the other slow. But something I identified 7 years ago is still relevant today.

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