Joe Wilcox

Google would be wrong to abandon Plus or Nexus

madness crazy hands

If you believe the rumors -- and I rarely do, unsubstantiated -- Google+ and Nexus are over. Gossipers claim the social network will lose identity and prominence, while the Nexus 6 smartphone is no more than dust in the wind. Who is writing the script here? George R. R. Martin? Because the Google killing-spree has a "Game of Thrones" (aka Song of Ice and Fire) feel to it -- you don't know which product will be killed next. For sure, the death count is mighty since Larry Page's return as CEO three years ago.

But Google will make a huge mistake if it backs off Plus, or worse, puts Nexus to the sword. These assets' value is immeasurable. Enthusiasts are any company's best marketers, and these products command large and vocal fan bases. Enthusiasts are crucial to Google gaining and maintaining brand charm, particularly as government overlords answer competitor complaints: "Antitrust! Antitrust!" Fans aren't just good marketers, they are foot soldiers rallying against invaders, like European or U.S. trustbusters.

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Apple should be very afraid

scared frighten fear cat

Today's Moto E announcement demonstrates exactly what Lenovo sees in Motorola and illuminates one major reason why purchasing the cellular device company makes so much sense. The affordable phone, at $129 unlocked, targets people who have yet to buy smartphones, but own so-called dumb ones. They make up a huge market, much of it in Lenovo's backyard and largely ignored by Apple.

Smartphones accounted for 62.7 percent of mobile handset shipments during first quarter, up from 50.7 percent a year earlier, according to IDC. But as sales shift to smartphones they also slow in many mature markets, such as the United States where the install base nips 50 percent. Looking ahead, the higher-hanging sales will be the lowest-cost phones, where unlocked matters in many emerging markets, particularly Asia.

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Say, Google, save Chromebook from Intel while you still can

Chromebook Pixel dreamy

PC manufacturers' priorities baffle me. For years I bitched about OEMs shipping laptops with low-resolution screens -- even Apple. Sony is, or was, the exception but offering the feature for a price premium. My first 13.3-inch notebook with HD resolution (1600 by 900) was a VAIO. In 2006! Apple only followed the Japanese company six years later. The screen is the gateway to your computer, so why do so many OEMs ship cheap displays? For Macs and many Windows PCs, panels are brighter, if not higher-res, today. But not Chromebooks, even as prices push against the $299 threshold and pop above it.

Yesterday's Intel-Google event was an eye opener, or perhaps eye-strainer for anyone looking for Chromebooks with better screens. During the Q&A, PC execs dodged a couple questions about the displays, the majority of which are 1366 x 768 resolution and dim 200-nit brightness. Resolution matters less when panels are bright and deliver consistent color and contrast from wide viewing angles. Chromebooks consistently ship with the best keyboards on any laptop for any price, and the trackpads are exceptional, too. The displays suck. Only two models are good enough. Most newer models change nothing.

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Google-Intel Chrome OS event

surprise present kid bag

In San Francisco, Google and Intel kick off a special event for Chrome OS, which I assert is come of age with the matchup. Ahead of the 1 pm Eastern start time, Lenovo announced new Chromebooks and Google unveiled "Classroom", preview of a new education app.

Unquestionably, Chrome OS-devices are primed for the education market, and many of the newest Chromebooks are directly marketed for schools, students, or teachers. Dell jumped ahead of today's event touting Chromebook 11 adoption in schools.

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Chrome OS comes of age

Chromebook Pixel logo

Today's Google-Intel event is a turning point for Chrome OS. The matchup is more magnanimous than Apple shipping the first x86 Macs eight years ago. Intel is after all the other half of Wintel, and the company's coming out for Chrome OS endorses the browser-based operating system as mainstream -- as do a rash of new Chromebooks announced or released over the past month by Acer, Dell, Lenovo, and Samsung.

Chrome OS has huge momentum in the education market, for example. There are news stories about school conversions nearly every week. Those are sales taken away from Apple or Microsoft platforms. Success is shocking, because every new operating system directly competing with Windows has failed since release of version 3.1 two decades ago. The Microsoft monopoly is insurmountable, or was until Google's entrance.

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Dell Chromebook 11 review

Dell Chromebook 11 lid

Chromebook represents a philosophical change -- a quiet revolution -- in personal computing, where relevance moves from hardware and software to electrical service-like cloud utility. In this brave new world, Chromebook is an appliance meeting most desktop needs, and pricing is closer to microwave ovens than to traditional PCs.

Nowhere is there more receptiveness to adaptation, or willingness to lead technological revolution, than the education market. There is historical precedent and fortunate timing: Chromebook fits neatly. Cost is low, utility is high, and familiarity is great. What is more natural to Millennial students than the web browser? They are accustomed to breathing the cloud's rarefied air and enjoying the benefits of anytime, anywhere computing -- freedom to float. Dell Chromebook 11 is primed for educational use while, unlike Lenovo's model, being easily purchased by anyone. This review addresses the computer's suitability for students, teachers, or you.

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Apple's ad campaign really is 'powerful'

Apple Powerful ad

I can't seem to escape Apple's "Powerful" commercial, which during some primetime programs airs two, or even three, times. The TV spot is aspirational marketing done right, with booming tagline: "You're more powerful than you think".

Apple's response to new smartphones like HTC One M8 or Samsung Galaxy S5 isn't something new but more aggressive advertising highlighting iPhone 5s benefits. The campaign, particularly the main commercial, is emotive and empowering. The message is simple: You can achieve your dreams when using the Apple handset. While Android competitors focus on features, like larger displays and quad-core processors, Apple singles out benefits -- what you tangibly get by using iPhone 5s and a dozen different apps the ad campaign highlights.

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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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