Like lots of other people, overnight I pondered Google's surprise sale of Motorola to Lenovo. The timing sure seems odd. Conspiracy theories abound. Among tech bloggers, Samsung ranks as top reason, given the timing, just days after the American and South Korean companies cut a lofty cross-patent deal that also turns way down the extent of Android customization. Certainly the latter agreement is important to Google, for reasons I laid out two years ago in post "Google has lost control of Android".
Some conspiracy theorists contend that Google always planned to sell Motorola and rebuilt the brand only to gain leverage against Samsung, which arguably exercises more direct influence over Android than does Google -- at least from a user experience perspective. But I disagree. The Motorola unloading is a lot more about the search and information giant's acquisition of Nest than anything Samsung does. My reasoning follows.
U.S. Thanksgiving Day comes late this year for retailers, but makes more time for Google to count its blessings and to offer gratitude for them. Oh, they are bountiful, and there is still another month of them to come. The year 2013 will be remembered as one of the finest in Google history. The company has so much to be thankful for, I could have trebled the list.
But for succinctness, I whittle down to those things that mean more than others or that otherwise would be overlooked in the typical yearly review. The list goes from that for which Google should be least thankful to most. Gobble. Gobble.
Developer Rudy Huyn has steadily improved his popular 6tag Windows Phone 8 app up to the point where an official Instagram client would struggle to compete with the former's feature set. The app has received frequent updates since its release, the latest of which just arrived sporting a couple of major new features.
Using geolocation, 6tag, which reached version 1.5, can now display a list of posts created in nearby locations. Users can select the covered distance (presumably the radius) through a slider -- the default value is two kilometers -- and see a map with the places where fellow Instagrammers have created the nearby posts.
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.
Emergency surgery is the appropriate analogy for the firing of the iconic CEO. Yes firing. Microsoft announced Steve Ballmer's departure today, quite unexpectedly, and in his own words "within the next 12 months, after a successor is chosen". Meaning: Soon as there is a replacement, he is gone. Vamoose. Adios. We'll send Christmas cards. Not!
Unless Ballmer is in ill-health, or something bad happened to someone he loves, he wouldn't just walk away whistling to the wind. The man is too passionate about Microsoft. There is but one interpretation: The board of directors gave Ballmer his pink slip.
Adopting Windows Phone 8, and ditching Android, was one of the most daring decisions that I have ever made in my entire tech life. I am the sort of person who does not warm up to major changes (not my strong suit), especially ones that involve transitioning between two polarizing mobile platforms. But, surprisingly, I gave up the flexibility and versatility of the green droid operating system for the glanceable information and simplicity of Windows Phone. Admittedly, it was not smooth sailing from day one.
The problem is that, in order to fully adjust to the change, something has got to give, namely features that I consider to be essential for a modern-day smartphone operating system. For some they may not matter as much, but others -- like me, and maybe you -- are likely to be left wanting for more. And, no, I am not talking about widgets, themes, root or Instagram (it, however, seems to be the tech media's favorite blaming toy even though there are good third-party alternatives), but rather more down-to-earth, mundane ones.
Today, Gartner offers grim prognostications for the PC's future, which is not surprising. That the analyst firm took so long disturbs and reveals much about how all these consultants seek to preserve client contracts before anything else. I've warned for years that connected-devices would diminish the personal computer's relevance, much like the mainframe's decline three decades ago. The PC era is over, as I asserted here 26 months ago. On Halloween 2008, I asked in a Microsoft Watch post: "Will your next PC be a smartphone?" What took Gartner so long? The "new device religion" analysis still misses the mark, too.
Following IDC's lead, Gartner now combines PCs, smartphones and tablets into a single forecast. By that measure, in 2012, Android worldwide device shipments (497 million) exceeded Windows (346.5 million) and will more than double (to 1.07 billion) by 2014. Analysts warn the operating system that defined the PC era will struggle with Apple iOS and OS X to be the second dominant platform. By many measures, the circumstance looks grim for Microsoft and Windows, and that's already the popular sentiment today among blog posts and news stories about Gartner's forecast. Don't believe them.
François Beaufort, the developer who recently made headlines by outing Chromebook Pixel, is stirring up things again. He uncovered code that all but assures Google Now will soon come to Chrome and Chrome OS. I can't overstate how enormously game-changing the service will be. Google Now is the purest evolution of sync and the killer app for the contextual cloud computing era.
We are on the cusp of Star Trek computing, where information is available at the command of your voice and the machine is a personal assistant that anticipates you. Google Now delivers a hint of this future on Android devices. Bringing it to PCs puts the search and information giant ahead of everyone because, with the exception of a possible future Microsoft-Facebook partnership, no other company has the resources to provide so much personalized information to so many people in so many places in so many ways.
What a difference three years make. In April 2010 I asked "Will iPad cannibalize Mac sales?" and a month later PC sales. Fast-forward 12 months, NPD answered a definitive "No". I disagreed: "Call me cynical and skeptical, but I'm convinced that changing behavior will cause many smartphone buyers, and many more tablet adopters, to delay PC upgrades".
Today, NPD sees things a little differently, based on fresh survey data that puts context behind two years of declining PC sales -- that despite Windows 8's release little more than three months ago. The firm finds that 37 percent of US consumers now access content on smartphones or tablets they used to on PCs. Changing behavior like this affects computer sales, as consumers shift behavior and delay PC upgrades or don't buy ever.
Apple executives like to talk about the post-PC era as an opportunity. But they have a post-Steve Jobs crisis that needs resolution first -- and fast. This week's calendar fourth quarter earnings report is time to assess where the company is and where it might be a year from now, and whether investors should lift falling shares from the nosedive.
Post-Steve Jobs -- and I'm talking as much about the time before his death -- Apple has lost the quality that made great products. The company’s approach to computer/device design is consistent and pervasive: Humanization. Apple design seeks to humanize complex technological products. There has been much written about Apple design in context of products that look good. But there is something more fundamental: Designing tech that is easy to use by making it more an extension of the human being -- more part of you. It's this quality missing from recent new product iterations, which aren't any more human-like than their predecessors. Meanwhile, competitors like Samsung do better.
Later this month, I plan to jump cold feet into the next computing era by making a tablet my primary PC. I was all primed to start last year, but improved Google Chromebooks derailed the experiment. New year is here and good time for a computing resolution. Already, I made major computing platform shift in 2012 -- ARM, Android and Chrome OS. I'll write about the journey, which surely will tumultuous, at least to start.
I won't go alone. Yesterday morning, my wife asked about trading up to a larger tablet (she used the Nexus 7 I bought her in July). The request was totally unexpected. I added her as another user to my Nexus 10 and let her play around. She likes! She likes! So I ordered her the larger tablet, planning to sell the older one (and some other gear, to cover cost). The idea: We would together go tablet as main devices, with Chromebook as backup (hey, sometimes you need Flash, for example). We will share my Nexus 7, which has HSPA+ radio, to carry around when out and about (me sitting in the man chair while the women shop; she while, say, waiting for her dad at the doctor's office). But both of us will primarily use our own Nexus 10s.
Tomorrow, the Consumer Electronics Show officially kicks off, not that many vendors are waiting. There already are plenty of Day 0 and -1 announcements, which make me wonder if this -- the first of two posts -- isn't already late: What I would like and not want to see during this year's big event. If early press galas are any indication, many CES participants won't hit the jackpot in Las Vegas this year. Sadly that's a trend.
Like 2012, I'm sitting out the tradeshow. The real benefit is mingling, and that's for everyone -- from journalists to manufacturers to distributors. CES really isn't about gadget geeks but everyday consumers and CE manufacturers getting goods to them. Why else would LG's press gala feature 39 new driers and 72 refrigerators coming this year? But the big noise is all about the toys today, as it will be all week.
I join colleagues Mihaita Bamburic, Alan Buckingham and Wayne Williams recounting what tech I used in 2012. But unlike them, I made dramatic platform changes, more significant than first using Windows over New Years holiday 1994, buying a reburbished PowerBook in February 1999, adopting Facebook and Twitter in 2006 or purchasing Nexus One in January 2010. Each of these marked major platform changes -- and some not always lasting. Consider this: in early 2012, I owned a 1.8GHz Intel Core i7 MacBook Air, iPhone 4S and iPad 3. I end the year using Chromebook and Android smartphone and tablets.
During the year I moved from OS X and Windows running on Intel to an ARM-and-Chrome OS laptop, and after several failed attempts at adopting tablets (three generations of iPads, really), I embraced not one but two Android slates. I store all my data in the cloud -- local storage is now merely a way station between destinations rather than personal repository. This old dog is learning new tricks, and if I make such dramatic platform changes what does that mean for younger users who are more flexible and not as financially or habitually Apple/Microsoft/Intel committed? Look around, the PC era rapidly evaporates around you and its disappearance will be difficult to ignore in 2013.
Nexus devices are largely sold out this holiday season. Supply can't meet demand, particularly the new smartphone. But one Google gadget is missing altogether, pulled before official sales started. I've got Nexus Q, and you should be able to have one, too. The entertainment device is quirky, but I like it. Surely there is stock sitting around in some warehouse somewhere. Sell it out, Google. Give geeks something else to clamor for and recover some of the development and manufacturing costs.
The sphere-shaped device is a remarkable product, and changes fundamental concepts about digitally-delivered entertainment. Users stream music or movies from the cloud, using Android smartphone or tablet as remote control. The approach solves a fundamental end-user problem with digital content: Simple sharing.
US consumers love to use cloud-connected mobile devices to enhance their shopping experience -- surely something more than a few of you do now that holidays are here. Perhaps least surprising is the number of Americans using smartphones to find local stores -- 78 percent, says Nielsen. That's good news for Google Now, standard browser search services or even Apple's Siri. Sixty-three percent of shoppers check prices in the store. Hey, I do that all the time. Place orders, too. Can you say Amazon?
More Americans use tablets to research items than smartphones (68 percent to 61 percent) or to read reviews of recent or future purchases (53 percent to 45 percent). Forty-eight percent of tablet owners purchase digital items and 43 percent physical goods from their devices. Mea culpa, I do both.