Here we are, days before Christmas, and you're thinking about last-minute stocking stuffers. I've got an eclectic selection of things I would want to get or give for December 25th. Some of them will demand rushing online to take advantage of last-minute shipping offers. Others require no shipping at all, like music subscription services. Confession: Some items will require a larger stocking but no wrapping.
I present the list alphabetically, and in no order of preference.
Back in April 2013, when Forbes ran a commentary asserting it was time for Tim Cook to go, I forcefully responded that "Apple needs a COO, not new CEO". The day has arrived, with the company announcing this morning that Jeff Williams fills the vacant chief operating officer position. Eh, that's not what I had in mind, and Apple investors should question the wisdom of the appointment, too.
I mean no slight towards Mr. Williams, who looks more than adequately competent to handle the job. Like Cook, when COO, Williams is a manufacturing and logistics leader—excellent credentials to manage day-to-day operations over the world's wealthiest tech company as measured by market cap and quarterly net income. The problem: Cook and Williams are questionable pairing, because their backgrounds and skillsets are too much alike. You got an electron circling another electron in the atom's nucleus.
As Christmas comes closer, it's time to think about rewarding your ears, or someone else's, with exceptional audio experience—headphones that I would ask Santa to bring for myself or deliver to another. If big, booming bass is your thing, read no further. Buy Beats, Sony, or another brand boasting barreling lows that shake your skull as well as eardrums.
My picks deliver broader audio range, each with warmer mids and highs and amazing detail, depending somewhat on the source of your content. Highly compressed AAC or MP3 tracks lack lots, but these cans will get a little more fidelity from them. CD or lossless source might change how you listen to music forever.
Ho. Ho. Ho. Google gives early Christmas presents this holiday, by focusing on ways that families (or roomies) can better share that which is contextually precious: music, photos, online, payments, and videos. But Big G also trails Apple, which already offers its customers many of the same benefits.
Fresh today: Google Photos Shared Albums, which applies collaborative concepts that Apps users should find familiar. "People receiving the shared album can join to add their own photos and videos, and also get notifications when new pics are added", according to the official announcement. "You can even save photos and videos from a shared album to your Google Photos library, so that you can hold onto them even if you weren’t the one holding the camera".
Today, Google started selling its first homegrown tablet, Pixel C. You can buy one directly from the company—until they sell out! Google typically struggles stocking new devices, like Nexus smartphones and the Chromebook Pixel. On November 30th, I asked: "Where is Pixel C?", which was promised to arrive before the holidays. Now we know.
I hope to have the 10.2-inch tablet in possession within a few days and will subsequently post first-impression and full reviews. If you can't wait for that, and shouldn't, larger tech news sites already have their takes online. Search for the name, and you will find them. Don't wait on me, if you're thinking about one for Christmas!
So you bought iPhone 6. You love the understated styling of the aluminum enclosure and how the device feels in your hands. But iOS is a dog brain. It's loyal and friendly, but you want more than a tail-wagger that needs to be let out to pee. HTC has your back, with the shockingly similar-looking One A9. The imitator gives you close-enough design benefits with the extra bang of the freshest Android (Marshmallow).
Over the Black-Friday-to-Cyber-Monday weekend, one in ten A9 buyers moved up from iPhone 6 or 6s series devices, according to HTC. The manufacturer has a holiday special ending Jan. 7, 2016 that allures some switchers. Trade-in one of the Apples for full discount off the A9's purchase price (HTC mails a $499.99 check after receiving the old device). Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge traders get $200 and LG3 and LG4 owners $100.
Advertising rarely gets as good as this! Microsoft sets the mood for the season in a new spot where its New York store staffers serenade Apple specialists for "peace on Earth". A children's choir joins the caroling, creating a classic! This is award-winning advertising in the making. Filming at night adds terrific ambiance, topped off with Apple 5th Avenue Store employees embracing their Microsoft retail rivals.
If Microsoft is the British Empire, then Apple is the American era. Oftentimes, the mighty are arrogant and condescending about their dominance, and it's rare that they sue rivals for peace -- from a position of dominance. The humbled fallen must adopt new tactics in the New World order. For Microsoft, that means cooperation. If nothing else, the commercial is a metaphor for the new Microsoft.
Black Friday is behind us, Cyber Monday is here, and Christmas shipping new purchases cuts off in about three weeks. Which makes me wonder: Where is Google's new tablet? When announced at the end of September, Google product director Andrew Bowers said that the "Pixel C will be available in time for the holidays on the Google Store". Eh, yeah—by whose measure is "in time". The information giant typically sells out of new gear, which leaves little time to manage inventory. "Out of stock" notices will disappoint many shoppers, who may buy something else.
I watched for this baby to drop before Thanksgiving, particularly with Apple iPad Pro already available—three weeks now. Granted, the devices target different markets, if for no other reason than size (12.9 and 10.2 inches, respectively). But each is innovative and stylish and would make great presents for someone. I'm ready to buy, Google. As surely are many Android fanboys. I reached out to the PR staff there today and was told to "stay tuned", which could be interpreted as soon. We shall see, eh?
If you're smartphone shopping this holiday and wondering what to buy, my primer can assist—with caveats. I focus solely on Androids that are higher end but affordable, and I ignore iPhones. No slight against Apple devices is intended. I figure that people who want an iPhone won't likely consider an alternative. Also: The differences aren't as pronounced. For example, the major benefit choosing 6s or 6s Plus over the two previous models is slightly lower price (3D Touch is an unnecessary gimmick). The major benefit picking 5s over the 6 or 6 Plus is again price but also smaller size.
Among Androids, differences abound—and many, such as older OS versions or custom UI skins, are carrier or manufacturer imposed. That's without considering the bloatware that either or both parties might impose. I intentionally focus on devices that offer the most value for price paid, which includes upfront or payment-plan purchased unlocked.
Another Thanksgiving is upon us, as Americans stuff their bellies with turkey and vittles, before falling asleep during the afternoon football game. It's the day of family feuds, too much food, and setting the mood for the holiday season ahead.
We also count our blessings and give thanks for the year behind. I got to wondering what Google can be grateful for and compiled a short list for you. Perhaps you would like to add to it in comments or lash out at my lack of sensitivity on this special day. Please do. With that brief introduction, I present 5 things for which Google can give thanks, served in no particular order of importance.
My colleague Wayne Williams wonders: "I don’t get the appeal of 'smart' versions of luxury Swiss watches". He refers to today's launch of the $1,500 TAG Heuer Connected Android Wear smartwatch. Over on Google+, journalist Kevin Tofel asks: "Who else doesn't think many people will buy a $1,500 Android Wear watch simply because it's made by TAG Heuer?" Both doubters make good, and related, points.
However, I see TAG Heuer Connected differently. Whether or not anyone buys digital over analog—or nothing at all—is immaterial. The high-end brand is carried in fine jewelry stores everywhere. This watch will make Android Wear visible to millions of buyers who might never see the platform. Demographically, many of these same people might never encounter or consider purchasing Apple Watch, either,
Without even turning on the HTC One A9 (which I haven't yet), the physical similarities with iPhone 6/6s are unmistakable. The smartphones share striking design ethic, separated by the shape of the home-button fingerprint sensor, placement of the rear-facing camera, and left-side SIM and microSD card slots. But these differences aren't immediately obvious.
My question: Is this the Android for people wanting the iPhone 6s look but something more flexible than the iOS platform? If there is truth in marketing, HTC's tag lines reveal much: "Design worth imitating", which while referring the company's One legacy also could be interpreted as backhanded praise or even fist-to-snub about Apple's device, which some could argue imitates earlier One models. "Power to choose"—customization and personalization options not offered on fruit-logo handsets.
HTC is just killing me. Last week, I bought a new Nexus 9 tablet from Amazon, thinking: "What a deal!" But every Tuesday, the device manufacturer boasts big 24-hour sale. "What a steal" is my reaction to the weekly price cut, with buyer's remorse. The company sells, today only, the 32GB LTE model for what I paid for the WiFi-only variant: $359. Oh, the pain!
But this story is stranger still. I didn't regard N9 much of a good value when reviewing in May, writing: "I want to love Google-branded, HTC-manufactured Nexus 9. But ours is a contentious relationship". On Oct. 29, 2015, Amazon delivered the new tablet, and the user experience dramatically differs from the previous device—so much I must revise my review. Value is even better, for anyone buying on this November Tuesday and scooping the deep discount.
The haughty headline from yesterday's Apple fiscal fourth quarter 2015 earnings report isn't big revenue or profit performance ($51.5 billion and $11.1 billion, respectively), but a figure given by CEO Tim Cook during the analyst call: "We recorded the highest rate on record for Android switches last quarter at 30 percent".
Blogs, and some news sites, set the statement off like an atomic blast of free marketing for Apple. The fallout spreads across the InterWebs this fine Wednesday, largely undisputed or corroborated. Just because Cook claims something doesn't make it true. To get some perspective, and to either correct or confirm the public record, today I asked a half-dozen analysts: "Does your analysis of the smartphone market support that assertion?"
Wow, and weird, is my reaction to YouTube Red, which is live starting today. The experience is so different from the regular service, I am stunned. Fast-loading is the first thing, so be careful what you click—or turn off autoplay. Videos on Facebook feel like a moped racing a Lamborghini compared to YT Red.
Using this 2012 MissFender video as example: Pressing the stopwatch on my Nexus 6P at the same time I click to enter the URL, 9 seconds passes before I can start watching the vid. The time includes the auto-loading ad, how long it plays before YouTube permits me to skip, and lag caused by my own responsiveness dismissing the advert.