Sometimes there is revolution in evolution. That's my surprising reaction to iPad Air, which Apple started selling on November 1. This is simply the best tablet I have ever used. Period. The fruit-logo company wisely chose to resist reinventing the wheel and build a vehicle around four instead.
For people who complain -- and there are many -- that Apple's newest 9.7-inch tab shows waning innovation, let me correct the record. You are oh-so wrong. iPad Air is an amazingly refined piece of art -- like a sculpture chiseled to perfection. iPad 3 and 4 are unpolished bricks by comparison. More importantly, anyone looking for a tablet to largely, or completely, replace a Windows PC or Mac, Air is it.
Google groupies make too much of third quarter tablet shipment estimates released yesterday. By IDC's reckoning, Apple's global share fell from 40.2 percent to 29.6 percent year over year. Meanwhile, Samsung soared from 12.4 percent to 20.4 percent share. The whole Android market grew at iPad's expense -- that's the popular contention smirked across the InterWebs. Yeah, right.
Apple apologists are quick to give the money rebuttal whenever market share tides turn against the products -- that the fruit-logo company earns more per device than rivals, sometimes all of them combined. The revenue rebuttal is exhausting for being so predictable but often also it's right and no truer than the tablet market. Q3 share numbers make lots of sense behind CEO Tim Cook's shocking decision to raise iPad mini 2 prices by $70 over the original -- that's about 22 percent. Profit share is his priority.
New iPads reveal much about Apple's current and long-term device dilemmas. Full-size iPad cannibalizes Mac sales, while mini does the same to the larger tablet. Those are the clear takeaways from yesterday's product launches.
CEO Tim Cook is no Steve Jobs, and perhaps that's a good thing. Where Jobs championed grammatically incorrect "think different" -- as a marketing and product development strategy -- Cook thinks differently, making fundamentally difficult branding and pricing decisions to preserve current and future Apple crops. There's great risk in the strategy and greater by doing nothing.
Steve Ballmer's departure from Microsoft will be a series of epitaphs written over the coming months. Many arm-chair pundits and analysts will scrutinize his 13-year tenure as chief executive, and you can expect him to be the scapegoat for all things wrong with Microsoft. Most assuredly, Ballmer could have done many things better, but he also contended with forces out of his control: government oversight for anti-competitive practices conducted under predecessor Bill Gates' leadership; maturing PC software market; and rise of the Internet as the new computing hub, among others.
For all Microsoft's CEO might have done wrong, he was right about something dismissed by many -- and I among them: Google. Ballmer started treating the search and information company as a competitive threat about a decade ago. Google as Microsoft competitor seemed simply nuts in 2003. How could search threaten Windows, particularly when anyone could type a new web address to change providers? Ballmer was obsessed, chasing every Google maneuver, often to a fault. Execution could have been better, but his perception was right.
Many people reading this review tangle up in features. They have a spec-sheet mindset that obscures seeing some products' benefits. Google gets the difference, and you should too. The paper holder that wraps around a Starbucks coffee cup is a feature. Protecting your hand from burning is a benefit. While related, the two are distinct. Any evaluation of Chromebook -- or any other thing to be purchased -- should focus on benefits first. Specs are a distraction.
In offering my first impressions about HP Chromebook 11, I step back from features and focus on benefits and who gets the most from them. Based on the out-of-the-box experience, for most people reading this review, I would not recommend the computer, which Google co-designed, over Intel Haswell-based Chromebooks. However, keeping with suspicions expressed yesterday, the tiny Chromebook would be right for students. Design, size, portability, functionality and value for price offer the right mix of benefits for preschool-to-grade 12 students. HP Chromebook 11 is what white MacBook was to kids last decade.
Nearly a year after unveiling an ARM-based Chromebook with Samsung, Google has a newer, costlier and not-so-updated model from HP. Like the older computer, screen dimensions, physical size and weight are comparable -- as is the stingy RAM, which as a long-time Chromebook user I must fault. But there's a sexy, new enclosure and four bright color accents that could make this tiny beauty the PC stocking stuffer of Holiday 2013.
HP's push into Chromebooks should disturb Microsoft. The manufacturer is the software giant's most-loyal OEM partner. If "traitor" isn't a word uttered in response throughout the hallowed halls of the Redmond, Wash. campus, it should be. Just as Microsoft moves Windows 8.1 to market, HP primes not one, but two, new Chromebooks -- the other with 14-inch display -- in the only segment of the PC market that is growing.
Today, third quarter ends, and in about three weeks Apple will reveal during its earnings call smartphone shipments. The data is a lens for truly assessing what iPhone 5s and 5c sales could be during the holidays. Already, complaints are loud and obnoxious across the InterWeb that the fruit-logo company offers little true innovation in either device -- that the magic is gone. I disagree. CEO Tim Cook is smarter than many critics think.
The smartphone market in late 2013 resembles portable music players seven years ago: Rapidly saturating, particularly in mature markets like Europe and the United States and among wealthier purchasers in countries like China, India and Russia. This release is very much about preserving and extending the Apple brand in a slowing sales segment, while preparing for what comes next. That's absolutely the right approach.
Google's self-promoting Chromebook educational sales is more than public relations fluff. Laptops running Chrome OS provided "all the growth" in the otherwise troubled U.S. retail PC market during back-to-school buying season, according to NPD. Otherwise, overall PC sales fell 2.5 percent, with desktops down 5 percent and notebooks off by 2 percent. Mac laptop sales sank 3 percent and Windows notebooks by 6 percent. Chromebook sales topped 175,000 units.
"Chromebook sales are being helped by demand for low-cost computing", Stephen Baker, NPD's vice president of industry analysis, tells me today. "We saw strong sales in under-$300 Windows products as well". But Windows is established, while Chromebook is new and necessitates a mind-shift reset: Mostly working in an Internet-connected web browser.
Windows 8 started out on shaky legs, but Microsoft's flagship platform found firmer footing during the lucrative back-to-school buying season, foreshadowing Santa could deliver gifts, rather than coal, this holiday season.
"Touch appears to be coming into its own as a core feature in the Windows ecosystem", Stephen Baker, NPD's vice president of industry analysis, tells me today. The analyst firm released new U.S. retail data showing two bright spots among otherwise tepid sales. "Chromebooks and Windows touch helped offset what could have been much steeper declines this back-to-school season", he says.
If a prominent analyst's sales estimates are correct, Apple hit, at best, a single rather than homer launching iPhone 5s and 5c. Yesterday, the company announced first-weekend sales of 9 million, which compares to 5 million for iPhone 5 a year earlier. But today, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster tells Bloomberg:
"When I saw that 9-million number, I basically fell out of my chair. But you have to put that 9 million in context here". Apple's so-called sales includes "channel fill of the 5c". Based on that, the real number of total new iPhone sales was "closer to five-and-a-half million". I cannot overstate what the number really means for the launch.
First-weekend iPhone sales look good at first glance, and they're surely nothing to snicker at. But the numbers are not as big as they might seem. A year ago, iPhone 5 racked up 5 million sales, which compares to 9 million combined for successor 5s and the new 5c. Five is more than nine right?
But the math isn't so simple. The 9-million figure should stand on its own, and not -- as many blogs and news sites state today -- suggest sales surge. Don't be fooled by Apple marketing. What's good isn't great.
I just have to ask, because the price irks me.
Late this afternoon, Guy Kawasaki, Motorola's chief evangelist, posted to Google+ that Moto X "Developer Edition now available". I've been waiting for this, being on T-Mobile, which doesn't directly sell the handset. But the phone isn't available for me, or likely you. Verizon model is $649.99. GSM X is "coming soon", presumably for same price. While the phone packs an "unlockable bootloader" and is contract-free, price busts my budget, particularly considering one major benefit -- personalized appearance -- isn't available.
The first new iPhone reviews are in, and there is increasing buzz about how 5s supplies will be greatly limited, as in "severely constrained". Something everyone should keep in mind about iPhone 5s availability. There is huge, as in humongous gigantic, benefit to Apple.
In business perception is everything, and supply shortages generate blogs and news stories and the appearance that the product is super hot-in-demand. No preorders and buzz about coming supply shortages should get people to stores, standing in line -- a phenom not really seen since iPhone 4. Waiting lines -- longer the better -- create perception a product is wanted and result in more blogs, news stories and social network shares.
Today, at the Intel Developer Forum, Google and OEM partners unveiled plans to release new Chromebooks using Haswell chips. That means long battery life, on the order of MacBook Air, for a fraction of the price. Six top OEMs will produce Chromebooks, which isn't the best news for Microsoft and Windows 8.1. ASUS and Toshiba join Acer, HP, Lenovo and Samsung.
"Intel’s latest processors consume less power to improve battery life by more than 2X over previous generations, while offering increased performance", Caesar Sengupta, Google's Chromebook product manager, claims. "This means these new Chromebooks can last all day so you can focus on getting things done".
I am apprehensive about Googorola's choice to launch Moto X with AT&T -- the carrier that failed with HTC First (Facebook phone), like Verizon Wireless with Microsoft Kin, which were targeted at similar audiences. My concern: Death in childbirth. A device so different, in terms of responsiveness, must be experienced by many people fast to build excitement and demand.
In business and marketing perception is everything. Negative perception, or lack of any at all, can kill Moto X. Motorola's top priority should be fast sales and building social media buzz around touchless and personalization benefits. I don't see either coming from the exclusives given to AT&T.