Joe Wilcox

Apple makes MacBook Air less appealing

Apple-logo

The significance of today's MacBook Air refresh: What is and what isn't. I focus specifically on the smaller model. What is: Slight processor refresh, but lower entry price -- $899 for the masses and $849 for education, both 100 bucks less than yesterday. What isn't: Retina Display screen resolution.

From the perspective of physical size, screen dimension (11.6-inches), resolution (1366 x 768), Intel processor, and core benefits, the lower pricing brings MacBook Air closer to Chromebook, particularly for school purchasers. Both computers compete for educational buyers, and Dell, HPLenovo, and Samsung all target the market with compelling Chromebooks. As differences diminish and price gaps lessen, the Apple becomes less appealing by comparison. Stated another way: New pricing shines fresh spotlight on MBA, which similarities to lower-cost Chromebooks are greater for school year 2014-15.

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Tim Cook pulls off a Steve Jobs

magician magic

I meant to write this yesterday, but day late is better than never. Listening to Apple's fiscal second quarter 2014 earnings conference call on Wednesday, I was awed by how cleverly and aggressively CEO Tim Cook stated growth metrics for iPad and iPhone. My immediate reaction: "What is he hiding?" Wall Street beat down Apple shares following release of great Q1 results three months ago. From the stated stats to announced 7-to-1 stock split, seems to me like Cook intended to aggressively and proactively manage perceptions -- and he did. He was unusually free sharing sales and growth data, which is uncharacteristic of Apple but typical of perception management tactics.

Company cofounder Steve Jobs was a master marketer. Cook isn't in the same league of inspiring people to believe that "One More Thing" aspires greater happiness. But Cook lived up to his name -- cooking the numbers -- in Jobs-like sleight of hand. Look here people, instead of over there, and witness magic rather than the trick. But behind the veil, iPad and iPhone don't look as great as he presented them. One thing you learn, if working as a journalist long enough: When to recognize misdirection or deception.

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Samsung Chromebook 2 is delayed

Chromebook 2 13-inch

Sorry, but I can't tell you why yet. I have this statement from Samsung PR about 13.3-inch Chromebook 2, in response to my inquiry: "The product is now shipping at the end of May". That puts the computer in the channel a month later than planned. I have asked for a reason but don't expect to get one.

Samsung unveiled Chromebook 2 in March, in 11.6- and 13.3-inch configurations. The company started taking preorders more than two weeks ago, offering a free case to anyone purchasing before April 27. I ordered one on April 8 from Amazon with delivery date of April 29, which put expected launch a day earlier. But then on April 10, Amazon emailed that my new delivery date would be May 2 and the website indicated availability on the 1st. Last week, Amazon changed the date to May 15 and by the beginning of this week to May 29. Around the same time, Samsung stopped taking preorders of this model and the 11.6-inch white. The manufacturer still accepts preorders on the black, smaller Chromebook, for which Amazon lists May 7 release.

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Microsoft Q3 2014 by the numbers: $20.4B revenue, 68 cents EPS

Satya Nadella

Today, after the closing bell, Microsoft disclosed results for fiscal third quarter, during most of which freshly-minted CEO Satya Nadella captained the ship. Of course, he carries a course set for him by predecessor Steve Ballmer, and his real impact is really quarters away. But there's a fresh presence behind the wheel and a new hat hanging in the captain's cabin. That's reason enough for Wall Street to forgive any storms the good ship Microsoft sales -- eh, sails.

For the three months ended March 31, Microsoft reports $20.4 billion revenue, flat year over year. Operating income: $6.97 billion. Net income: $5.66 billion, or 68 cents a share. All figures are GAAP.

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Apple Q2 2014 by the numbers: $45.6B revenue, $11.62 EPS

currency cash money

The Apple of Wall Street's eye takes little bruising today, with announcement of fiscal second quarter results. During three months when concerns about falling revenues and profits was constant rumbling, the fruit-logo company defies the worst naysayers.

For fiscal Q2, Apple reports $45.6 billion revenue and net profit of $10.2 billion, or $11.62 a share. Gross margin: 39.3 percent. International sales accounted for 66 percent of revenues. A year earlier, the company reported revenue of $43.6 billion and $9.5 billion net quarterly profit, or $10.06 per share. Gross margin was 37.5 percent.

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Honestly, Microsoft, what are you doing?

Surface 2

Microsoft announces fiscal third quarter earnings on Thursday -- reason for me to visit the site today in preparation. I saw what you see in the photo. Tagline: "Honestly, my new PC is exactly what I need at half the price I thought I'd pay". I find the company's months-old "Honestly" campaign to be refreshing in overall presentation and emphasized benefits. Value is big among them. (Colleague Wayne Williams disagrees, by the way.)

Honestly, what's missing: More promotion how great a value Surface is. The Windows RT model doesn't get loads of respect, but I increasingly think that it should. Surface 2 offers HD display, like the Pro model, setting the tablet apart from comparably-sized Androids or iPads selling for about the same price: $449, with 32GB of storage. Microsoft Store offers the refurbished original, granted with lower screen resolution, for $199. Bump memory to 64GB and pay $219. Keyboard cover is another $74.01. Honestly, wow.

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Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 is just right [review]

Kindle Fire HDX 89

If Goldilocks visited the bears' home and tried tablets instead of porridge and beds, Google Nexus 7 would be too small. Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 12.1 would be too big. But Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 would be just right. This tweener tab is optimal size, packs bright breathtaking display, and is easily used for many hours with minimal eye, hand, or arm strain. While screen size and design concepts are little changed from the previous model, the HDX is thinner, lighter, higher-resolution, and well-matched to a bizarre-looking but beneficial case cover.

Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 is a nearly perfect Android tablet -- that is for anyone buying into the Amazon lifestyle. If I were asked to recommend any tab, the HDX would be one, and iPad Air the other. Both share similar usability benefits and tightly-integrated content and commerce stores, supporting services, and appealing apps. In late November, I put both tablets on my list of favorite products for 2013.

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Acer C720P Chromebook puts brawn before beauty [review]

Acer C720P

I struggle to aptly describe my feelings about Acer's affordable touchscreen Chromebook. The C720P is the lover you keep in the dark, for the benefits, but which you wouldn't be seen with in the daylight. Performance and battery life are wow-worthy. But the plastic exterior looks and feels cheap, and the touchscreen is too dim -- well, for my tastes.

More than two months now using the C720P, I like the computer least of all the Chromebooks to pass my way. I really want to love the laptop, and maybe you will. Perhaps experience using other Chromebooks soils my perception, and I am too quick to compare. That's why I sought, and got, reaction from C720P owners, many of which are more forgiving about appearances for performance benefits. Their responses are essential to this review.

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Google Camera goads iPhone

Google Camera Ugly Dolls

Android phones running stock or manufacturer-installed KitKat 4.4+ get a big photo-shooting upgrade today. Google Camera is now available from the Play store. The app replaces the standard shooter on Nexus devices and places a separate camera app on others. The headline feature: Lens Blur, which does exactly what the name indicates. You shoot the image, and then use the app to either blur the foreground or background. Photographers call the capability "bokeh", and it usually requires a specialized lens on dedicated hardware to produce well. The blurred effect is highly desirable for portraits. Can you say selfie?

Google does what Apple should -- use software development wits to add hardware smarts. This is exactly the kind of thing I would expect from the fruit-logo company first. But that's a number recently missing from the iOS crop. Google is by no means first to offer software blur, but in my testing delivers arguably the best effort. Hell, the new camera app even shames newfangled hardware mechanisms. HTC One M8 uses two lenses and feature UFocus to produce bokeh. In my testing, on The One and Nexus 7, blur is surprisingly comparable.

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You can have Apple iPhone 5s, I'll take HTC One M8

HTC One M8 and BlinkFeed

Many new smartphone shoppers will compare the HTC One M8 and Samsung Galaxy S5, which are about the same size, offer similar high-end features, run Android (with customized user interfaces), and arrived in U.S. retail stores within days of one another. But since I move from iPhone 5s to what henceforth will be referred to as The One, the two devices are uniquely attractive, and both pack bleeding-edge cameras, my comparison is more Apple to oranges. If iPhone 5s is high up your shopping list don't buy without first considering The One. It's my choice, although granted it might not be best for you.

I moved from the original One, the M7, to the 5s a few months ago. You might laugh at the reason. I find that my daughter, who shuns Androids for Apples, is more likely to text message when we both use iPhones. She is away at college. But the 5s, like iPhone 5, immediately disappointed for phone calling. Reception tends to breakup in my neighborhood on both devices, using AT&T or T-Mobile. Calling is superior and adequate on either One, and even better on the Moto X. The One illuminates the Apple's inadequacies, which simply are unacceptable coming from the company that popularized touchscreen smartphones.

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Amazon buys comiXology

Kill Shakespeare on Comixology

Jeff Bezos expands his digital-publishing empire, by acquiring one of the electronic comic-book pioneers. I get more PR emails from comiXology than most any other company. Not as much as Google or Microsoft, but close. That is until recently. Now I understand why, assuming silence is golden before the big merger announcement.

Amazon expects to close the acquisition during second quarter, giving the company a big footprint in the digital comic-book market. Founded in 2007, comiXology helped bring Marvel and DC Comics to digital. Rough -- and very inexact industry estimates -- put paid digital comic downloads at 40 million per year.

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HTC One M8 arrives in more stores

HTC One M8

Well, hell, someone pinch me and tell me this is April 11th; my calendar says the 10th. Because HTC sent BetaNews email (and tweeted) that the One M8 is available now. I called several AT&T stores, which confirmed sales starting today; Sprint also. T-Mobile launches tomorrow, however. So that tweet isn't quite what it seems: "See it, touch it, believe it. The new HTC One (M8) has landed at retailers nationwide".

Verizon got an early lead, on March 25th. According to HTC, The One "is hitting store shelves at the other U.S. operators today. Customers of all major U.S. operators will now be able to walk into stores and pick-up the HTC One (M8) starting at just $199". That's true for some carriers, but not all. If you're on T-Mobile and willing to wait, The One will be zero dollars down and monthly payments spread over 24 months.

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Will you buy HTC One M8?

HTC One and Friend

In light of Brian Fagioli's review and Friday's official launch, time comes to ask whether or not you will buy HTC's newest flagship, the M8. The name takes away from powerful connotations that HTC One carries. But maybe there is something to M-eight (you know, Mate). Henceforth, I will refer to this magnificent smartphone as The One. For many of you, it will be.

Brian isn't the only BetaNewser testing The One. I have the T-Mobile variant, which unlike his Verizon model carries no carrier branding. Thank you, Pink! Or is that Magenta? Beauty and the Beast is applicable moniker. The smartphone delights the eyes but challenges the hands, because it is so big. Largely the blame belongs to one of the biggest benefits: The front-facing speakers. For comparison, and I kid you not: The entire length of iPhone 5s is about the same as the length of the HTC smartphone's screen. Right, just the display. The One measures 146.36 x 70.6 x 9.35 mm compared to the Apple's 123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6 mm.

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Hello, Chromebook!

HP Chromebook 11 Keyboard

Today Mihaita Bamburic bids "Goodbye, Windows XP!" Meanwhile, Wayne Williams walks down eXPerience memory lane. For good reason: This week, Microsoft pulls the life support plug -- following many, many, many delays. Henceforth, you use XP at your own risk, or forcibly march forward into the second decade of the 21st Century. You could follow Microsoft to Windows 8.1, or be truly courageous. Mac or Linux laptop are options, or you could go Chromebook. Yeah, you read right.

Here in the United States, Best Buy will trade in your XP clunker and give "minimum of $100 toward the purchase of a new Windows computer, Apple computer or Chromebook". The offer ends April 19, so hurry. The cash back will practically pay for a new Chromebook, which costs so little and does so much -- surely more than your XP wheezer. Someone from the Windows division once told me that O2, as in Oxygen, was one of the runner-up names for XP. How fitting. Your old machine has been living off oxygen for far too long. Pull the plug. I'll give you some reasons why Chromebook.

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I gave up the Ghost

ghosts

I spent time with the Ghost blogging platform today. I am intrigued by the visuals and promised simplicity. But I don't see the latter. At this stage, I just see complexity. Yet the whole premise is stripping back to basic blogging, rather than managing content as WordPress increasingly demands.

This month I put up a website for my personal independent publishing brand, and there are few posts, making it a good test case for migration. I easily used the WordPress plugin for exporting posts in Ghost format and imported them just fine. But I see too much trouble adapting themes, most of which look fabulous, BTW, or prepping other basic features.

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