I'm not easily impressed. Lots of tech products see the light of day each year, but only a few I consider to be truly great. And by that I mean technology that I want to have in my life, that brings value, and, last but not least, that makes me feel good. The subjective factor is just as important, I believe, when it comes to the things that I have to look at and interact with on a daily basis. That's just the way it is, and I'm fine with it.
Because of this, a pretty long list can get really, really short in no time. My colleagues have already shared their favorite tech products of 2014 with you, and now the time has come for me to do the same. It's BetaNews tradition, after all. So, without further ado, here they are.
If you are a MacBook Air user, chances are you are pretty happy with your device. It may not be the fastest or the lightest laptop around, but it has a great keyboard, gets amazing battery life, is more affordable than ever, can run Windows, and, thanks to iOS 8 and OS X 10.10 Yosemite, works great with iOS 8 devices. Even Microsoft is impressed, calling it "great" and "delightful".
Microsoft, however, believes you can do better. In a new video ad made for this holiday season, the software giant once again aims to make MacBook Air users finally see the light, and realize that the device they should be using is Surface Pro 3. But if MacBook Air is already "great" and "delightful", why would someone want to switch?
On May 15, 2001, while previewing the first Apple Store to analysts and journalists, then CEO Steve Jobs boasted: "Apple has about 5 percent market share today", but the remainder "don't even consider us". Jobs exaggerated, and not for the first time, seeing as how Mac global share was more like 2 percent. But the ambition, to use the retail shops to "double our market share", was achievable. Three years following his death, with 10-percent long ago reached in the United States, something more startling occurred: During calendar Q3 2014, Apple moved into fifth place for global PC shipments, according to IDC. The question is why?
I have wondered for weeks, and waited until Apple's quarterly earnings report before writing an analysis. By my math, the average selling price of Macs was about $1,200 -- that in a PC market where sales are sluggish, at best, except below $300 selling price. Yet, according to financial disclosures, Apple shipped a record 5.5 million Macs, with units up 21 percent annually and 25 percent sequentially and generating $6.625 billion revenue; that's an increase of 18 percent and 20 percent, respectively, for the same time periods. Who in the hell is buying these things, and for so much money? The answer may surprise you.
I understand that it's the dog days of summer, when news is light, readers vacation, and writers struggle to produce current content. So I'll forgive colleague Mihaita Bamburic, for his misguided attack against Surface Pro 3. He asserts that Microsoft markets the computer to the "wrong crowd". If that would be tech writers, he gets a nod. Otherwise, I shake my head and point a finger.
I've read this misguided diatribe before, from tech reviewers switching to the Microsoft PC from an Apple, but never expected it from him. As someone who has bought and paid for MacBook Air and Surface Pro 3, I say that Microsoft's marketing is spot on target. The problem isn't the potential consumer buyer but geek writers, particularly those already using Macs.
Microsoft will have a hard time convincing consumers who wish to buy Apple's MacBook Air to get Surface Pro 3 instead. That is not because the former is the better purchase, but because these devices aim to please two different crowds. You're either a Mac or a PC, as the old Apple commercials would say today.
I believe that Microsoft does not realize that it is pitching Surface Pro 3 to the wrong crowd. Swaying would-be MacBook Air owners in the hybrid's direction is not a simple matter of touting feature benefits, as in Surface Pro 3 can be more and do more than MacBook Air. People have to be convinced that those features are things they want; just because they are offered does not automatically mean that they will immediately gravitate towards the device that has them. Yes, some do not want more just because they can get more. And, would-be MacBook Air users do not want more. It's more likely that would-be Surface Pro 3 users do.
It is no secret Microsoft is marketing its new Surface Pro 3 Windows 8.1 hybrid as a direct rival to Apple's venerable MacBook Air ultrabook. As someone who owns the latter of the two I can see why. Both are premium devices that are similarly priced (Surface Pro 3 is more expensive, however, when purchased with Type Cover) and offered in near-identical configurations, power-wise, which yield comparable battery life (MacBook Air is better in this regard, even if only by mere hours). However, as I wrote in a past article, Surface Pro 3 offers extra features, like a touchscreen and tablet credentials, which can, arguably, make it more appealing.
As I said before, Microsoft's best chance of persuading MacBook Air users to switch to Surface Pro 3 is come upgrade time, as, right now at least, this upgrade, as appealing as it may be for those willing to dump OS X for Windows, is not worth the cost penalty. Microsoft appears to be aware of this, as it launched a new trade-in offer for MacBook Air owners. And, unexpectedly I might add, the Surface Pro 3 maker offers quite a bit in return.
First in a series. My preference is to write about tech that I use -- an attitude shared among BetaNews reporters. We like to get hands-on and write with authority, from experience. That's one reason I write so little about Microsoft now, not being immersed in the company's products. Lately, mine is the Google lifestyle.
But yesterday I started using the original Surface -- the one frequently maligned by critics for so-called limitations associated with Windows RT. This is my first experience with the tab, although I reviewed and frankly loved Surface Pro. Out-of-the-box impressions are great. This is a hugely satisfying tablet, and surely the experience is better with its successor. I was right to ask 5 days ago: "Why not Surface 2?"
The features of the new Microsoft Surface Pro 3 are impressive even when they are assessed individually. But they are even more impressive when grouped together in one single device, which might just be the first one of its kind that is actually the real deal -- it works as a tablet, it works as an ultrabook and it is good enough to replace both. At least that is what Microsoft is saying.
During the presentation event Microsoft made it clear the Surface Pro 3 is meant to compete with Apple's mighty 13.3-inch MacBook Air, more so than with the iPad. Make no mistake, this device is not a tablet in the traditional sense of the word. It is akin to a hybrid PC, much like the Surface Pro 2, due to its size, processor architecture and target market. So, because Microsoft made a big deal out of it being better than its ultrabook rival, how does it compare with the bigger MacBook Air?
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, HP, Lenovo, 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.
Today, Apple launched a refreshed MacBook Air lineup featuring a higher-clocked Intel Core i5 processor. The minor update comes nearly one year after the company unveiled the previous generation, which toted impressive battery life.
The small bump in speed is a welcome improvement that will make Apple's ultrabooks perform slightly better in resource-intensive scenarios, while delivering comparable battery life to the 2013 lineup. It is, however, not enough to justify an upgrade from the 2013 MacBook Air, in case you are thinking about it, as this is virtually the only difference between the two generations.
Battery life continues to be the weak spot of mobile devices. Smartphones, tablets and laptops can quickly run out of juice, rendering them useless in mere hours. In places with access to the power grid the battery can be easily recharged, but that may not be the case in other locations. I often find myself in this position while traveling. Tethering makes it even worse.
Road warriors can turn to external batteries, which usually pack a decent charge, but also see a noticeable degradation in performance over time. BatteryBox is a new entry in this market that is touted to keep power-hungry devices running for many hours in one go, while never losing capacity.
For jotting down digital notes, I prefer Evernote over any other app, including Google Keep and Microsoft OneNote. The main thing I like about it is the superb platform availability that allows me to use the service on every laptop, smartphone and tablet that I own. The sharing feature is also great; my girlfriend and I can seamlessly share and edit each other's notes and notebooks.
While Google Keep is not yet a strong contender for me, OneNote can be as good as Evernote. Some would argue it is even better. Because both my girlfriend and I use Windows Phone 8 smartphones, Microsoft's app would appear to be a natural choice. But, the lack of support for OS X means OneNote is a no-go, as I cannot use it on my MacBook Air. Until now.
Due to my geeky nature I am prone to making rash decisions. If something interesting grabs my attention chances are I will want to try it out right away, without giving too much thought to the possible implications as curiosity gets the best of me. More often than not (luckily), I enjoy the experience from the get-go and end up accepting the new, but this has not been the case with my switch from Windows 8.1 to Mac. Things just did not make sense to me right from the start, it did not feel natural and it did not just work. I have since wanted to go back more times than I can remember.
Years and years of muscle memory and computing habits, that I developed whilst using Windows, went down the drain as I started my Mac experiment (a costly one at that). Bye, bye! The software that I needed or wanted to use was simply not there, or working as I would have liked it to, on OS X. I definitely did not enjoy this part, nor the one where I had to find good alternatives to my favorite programs, learn how to do basic things again, and adapt to what was basically a quirky new platform for me. I am not a masochist, I enjoy trying out new things, but even I had to admit that I was in over my head.
Macintosh is 30 years old. If this were "Logan's Run", January 24 would be Last Day. Or the 1960s, time to ditch the computer because, you know, don't trust anyone (or anything) over 30. Declaration: I am a Mac user, which surely surprises the long line of people accusing me of being anti-Apple. My Mac sojourn started on a Winter's day in December 1998. I've abandoned Apple a few times since, even briefly boycotting, but always come back.
My first Macintosh sighting was August 1984. I spent the summer in Chapel Hill, N.C. and often hung out on the University of North Carolina campus. The college book store displayed the Apple, which I found remarkable. I wasn't a computer geek, nor am I one now, but nevertheless found the device charming. A decade later, I started using a Windows PC and for a while was a Macintosh bigot. I particularly enjoyed ribbing the graphic designers with whom my wife worked when their Macs crashed, wiping out hours of Photoshop or QuarkXpress work. "Get a PC!" was my common retort.
Since the beginning of 2013 and until late-December, countless new tech products have tried to outdo their predecessors and the competition, and woo potential buyers, with more features than before (some of them gimmicky, some of them useful), distinct form factors, lower price-tags, wider ranges of color options (like the Lumia series and, later in 2013, the iPhone 5c) and any differentiating factor that can make you say "I'll buy it".
Needless to say, there have been quite a few disappointing new products launched throughout 2013. Going back to CES, we can take a look at some of the best examples of "what were they thinking", starting with a potty that tries to leverage iPad apps to teach your young child how to use one properly. But, at the same time, there are some tech products that were also launched in 2013, and have managed to stand out (in a good way). In this article I will walk you through my favorite ones.