You just gotta love Amazon. This morning, at long last, I received my invitation for Echo, the sizzlingly voice-controled streaming speaker that I raved about just two months ago. As a Prime member, I pay half-price, just $99. What a deal! Since then, I jealously waited while reading what others blogged about how much they enjoyed their Echoes. The device fits squarely where I contend is the next iteration in user interfaces: voice. Touch is just so passé.
In retail, customer impressions are everything. My first reaction was excitement, but the second turned it to dust. This thing won't ship until sometime between May and July? Seriously? It's like a bad Consumer Electronics Show joke, where the hottest tech device in this solar system debuts in January, but sales don't start until November. Don't sell me something I can't get for at least five fraking months!
Do you remember the old Nokia bricks—even the Finnish manufacturer's early smartphones? They were tanks. They were the Arnold Schwarzeneggers of mobiles—handsome and rugged. Then along came iPhone, and beauty bested brawn. Eight years after Apple cofounder Steve Jobs showed off the first prototype during January Macworld, design ethics applied to the original curse millions of iPhone owners today. The mobile is too destructible.
In July 2014, I wrote about my 20 year-old daughter's breakage streak: Three shattered iPhone 5s screens in about three months. The photo you see, taken on Christmas Day, is what her newest replacement looks like today. What's wrong with this picture? Need I even ask? The mobile's delicate design features are lost in protective gear that shouldn't be necessary. iPhone is flawed by design.
Oh the irony! I got up yesterday morning planning to write a version of the post you read now, choosing instead to look back at readers' life-changing tech. The trigger: Motorola starting the New Year with a 64GB Moto X model and my previous day's personal tech devices wrap-up, which got me to thinking abut smartphone differentiation. Processing power, graphics chips, and the like are passé. Who really cares but a minority of gadget geeks? But storage matters to everyone, and Apple gets it—as iPhone 6 and 6 Plus capacities demonstrate.
My feeds are full of reports this morning about a lawsuit filed against Apple alleging that iOS 8 consumes too much storage and, as such, the company misrepresents the amount available. I would have looked so smart writing yesterday about how much Apple gives that competitors don't. That's okay, now my analysis has a news hook. The point, for people reading no more than two paragraphs of any story: iPhone 6 capacities outclass competitors, and the problem of operating systems consuming much of available storage isn't new or exclusive to the fruit-logo company. Just look to Google and Microsoft, for example.
Three weeks ago I asked "What tech changed your life in 2014?" You answered here and on Google+. As the new year starts, I wonder what will make all our lives better. Apple Watch? I doubt it. Shake me awake from the nightmare if the wearable isn't the most successful flop of 2015. Windows 10? Skipping nine is a good sign, but is giving users more of what they don't want to let go life changing? Eh, no.
At the precipice of looking ahead, this is a last look behind. Once Consumer Electronics Show leaks and early announcements rush the InterWebs, all eyes will turn forward -- blind to what many people have, focusing on what they want instead. That's because "aspiration" is the defining word of the technology era, and the promise if you buy newfangled This or That your life will be better for it. Sometimes the promise is true, but too often not, which is why I asked the important question three weeks ago.
Looking back on this last day of the year, I wonder how my daily tech changed so much since the first. On Jan. 1, 2014, my core computing comprised Chromebook, Nexus tablet, and Nexus smartphone. Midyear, I switched out to all Microsoft—buying Surface Pro 3 and Nokia Lumia Icon. While commendable the effort, Windows poorly fit my lifestyle. Today, I'm all Apple—13-inch MacBook Pro Retina Display with 512GB SSD, iPhone 6 128GB, and iPad Air 128GB. I can't imagine using anything else.
Following the lead of my BetaNews colleagues Mihaita Bamburic, Ian Barker, Alan Buckingham, Brian Fagioli, and Wayne Williams, I review my year in tech, and unlike 2013 focus on products that released during the year. I present my 2014 personal tech alphabetically, from company name, rather than order of importance—because they all matter. Note: While the list looks like four, it's five because the first is two combined.
You lazy son of a bitch. It's Sunday, Christmas is Thursday, and you still haven't started shopping for gifts? Don't worry, we've got your ass covered with a quick, down-and-dirty gift bonanza. It's an eclectic mix because we have the attention spans of mice intoxicated by coffee and Krispy Kremes.
Lucky you. Many U.S. online shops grub for dollars by offering last-minute, free one-day shipping. Ha! There are some rewards waiting until Santa attaches reindeer to the sleigh. Read fast, because some of these are deals that won't last -- and when we say this grab bag is random, we mean it.
As the year comes to a close, I'd like to ask you something: What was the best tech purchase you made (or received as a gift)? What about it is so good?
December is a time of reflection and preparation for a new year and when blogs and news sites fill space with stories looking back on the past 12 months and making predictions for the year ahead. I avoid writing the latter type but have opined about some companies' successes and failures, typically Apple, Google, or Microsoft. But if you'll oblige me, I would like my 2014 reflection(s) to be about you -- to make you the star.
While I keep the list short this year, it wouldn't be U.S. Thanksgiving without my writing about gratitude, and why some tech company's executives, employees, and partners should prostrate and pray "Thanks".
Let's start off with Google, which continues a great run that started with Larry Page's return as CEO in April 2011. If he's not all smiles this Turkey Day, someone should slap that man aside the head. I could tick off a hundred things for which he should give thanks. For brevity's sake, so you can get back to the big game and bigger bird, I select some things that might not come to mind.
Cough. Choke. Collapse. That's me nearly needing the Heimlich maneuver during breakfast while looking over Samsung Black Friday deals. You can preorder them. Seriously. What the frak is that?
The routine started all so innocently. Samsung sent a promo email, and I curiously clicked the picture of a Chromebook and "Reserve Computing Deals". The webpage screenshot says all you need to know. You can, today -- as in right this very minute -- preorder either Samsung Chromebook 2 for assured savings ($20 or $50) between November 27 and December 1 for one and until the 27th for the other. I understand that Black Friday is late-month this year, but, c`mon, beat me with a sack of cash, sales preorders?
Over the weekend I started to seriously review my photos from Comic-Con 2014. Goddamn, there are some good ones—each and every one taken with Nokia Lumia Icon, which is essentially identical to the 930 model reviewed by colleague Mark Wilson. He panned the device because of Windows Phone 8.1; I'm in love because of the camera. But sometimes love is lost, and regretted. My sister has the Icon now.
I lug around iPhone 6, which camera by every measure that matters to me is inferior but one—startup shooting speed. Apple's shooter can't compete with the Icon. Fanboys will disagree, but, hey, they always will. The difference isn't fewer megapixels—eight compared to 20—but the intelligence and usability baked into camera and editing apps, lens, sensor, and choices the device makes when auto-shooting.
I so requested to buy Amazon Echo, which promises to bring Star Trek-like responsive computing to the home. The cylindrical device, announced today, is a Bluetooth- and WiFi-enabled speaker that responds to users' questions. Just say "Alexa" and ask something. "What's the weather?" "What is the largest dinosaur?" This is how search information should be, assuming Echo resounds as strongly as Amazon's product information and demo video claim.
Touchless interaction is by no means new. Apple got the jump with personal assistant Siri, which responds to requests and commands on iOS devices. Google Now, available on multiple platforms, is far superior, and Windows Phone now has Cortana. All three cloud-based touchless-response systems make your voice the primary user interface. But Echo, like the Moto X smartphone, is always listening, such that the interaction is almost completely hands-free. That's the difference.
On May 15, 2001, while previewing the first Apple Store to analysts and journalists, then CEO Steve Jobs boasted: "Apple has about 5 percent market share today", but the remainder "don't even consider us". Jobs exaggerated, and not for the first time, seeing as how Mac global share was more like 2 percent. But the ambition, to use the retail shops to "double our market share", was achievable. Three years following his death, with 10-percent long ago reached in the United States, something more startling occurred: During calendar Q3 2014, Apple moved into fifth place for global PC shipments, according to IDC. The question is why?
I have wondered for weeks, and waited until Apple's quarterly earnings report before writing an analysis. By my math, the average selling price of Macs was about $1,200 -- that in a PC market where sales are sluggish, at best, except below $300 selling price. Yet, according to financial disclosures, Apple shipped a record 5.5 million Macs, with units up 21 percent annually and 25 percent sequentially and generating $6.625 billion revenue; that's an increase of 18 percent and 20 percent, respectively, for the same time periods. Who in the hell is buying these things, and for so much money? The answer may surprise you.
In July, connected TV service went dark in the Wilcox household, as we pulled the plug on AT&T U-verse and switched to Cox Internet. That reduced our monthly bill from about $130 to $59.99 exactly; there are no taxes or surcharges applied to the Net. Now Cox tempts with a compelling offer: Add local channels and HBO or STARZ, with no-cost HD set-top box for another $9.99 month. Installation is free, and there is no contract. Price is good for 12 months. Should we?
Cox promises 44 channels, plus either of the premium channels (I want HBO). But, realistically, that means 10, since we only watch HD, plus the "Game of Thrones" channel. We already receive five over the air using a Mohu Leaf 50 HDTV antenna, which I have to review.
Sarah Perez makes the point before I could (oh lazy me): "Apple announces too many iPads". That's the most sensible take on tablets launched last week, and over the weekend copycat stories started posting. Strange thing, there's nothing new about iPad configuration complexity. The number of base SKUs, while way too many, increases by just two.
I first harped on Apple's "too many problem", following iPad mini's introduction two years ago, observing: "It's a crowded lineup, with overlapping features and prices not seen from Apple since the early- to mid-1990s". Crowded is understatement. The mini jacked up the number of basic configurations from eight to 14. However, when looking at all available SKUs, including two colors and carrier-specific models, the number jumped to 54.
The world's largest smartphone manufacturer is troubled. Overnight, Samsung warned that its third-quarter operating profit could fall as much as 61.8 percent because of weakness in its largest division, mobile, from which phones account for about 60 percent of company profits. Smartphone shipments are up slightly, but the money they generate is down substantially.
For Google, the news is a mixed blessing. In April 2012, I warned that "Google has lost control of Android" -- Samsung's dominance with customized versions of the mobile operating system being major reason. Big G effectively responded by separating core apps and services from Android, spreading them out across versions, and better unifying the user experience. Still, Samsung's TouchWiz UI is the main way tens of millions of people experience Android every day. The South Korean company's problems could eventually be good for Google, but will they benefit Android or pull it down?