Saturday, 17 December 2016


Google Assistant, currently available on the Google Pixel phone, is the default interfaee for Google's first designed phone.

The assistant is also available from the Google Allo application for those who dont have the £650 to buy Google's latest phone.

The idea is that instead of just searching Google you have a conversation with the assistant. The conversation understands context so after asking how long is the Golden Gate Bridge you can follow it up with  "How do I get there?". Google assistant is supposed to work out that what you want is directions to the previously mentioned query. Context.

Behind all this is the idea of "bots". Robotic like beings that live on the internet and respond rather like call centre staff. You might say this is an extension of search or the direction that customer service is heading.

However it's not just Google. Microsoft is also putting money into the bots too.

The Skype Preview app now has a bots section where you can interact with freewheeling bots. The Skyscanner bot allows you to book a flight just by talking to the bot. You can order a pizza, play blackjack and lots more.

Both Microsoft and Google think the future is "bots". I am not so sure. It seems to me that to command a bot you have to have a clear idea of what you are doing. Booking flights is sometimes a matter of browsing, looking a different prices, backing up, checking times and much more. I tend to think websites are better.

However in the era of Snapchat and Twitter maybe bots really are the future.

Sunday, 4 December 2016


Fast charging
Smartphone technology may have moved on a lot in recent years but battery power is stuck in the slow lane.

Just recently a neighbour was around for coffee and he asked whether I had a lightening connector for his iphone to give it a charge. I haven't had an iphone for years so I had to decline. Apple actually makes this stuff a little more difficult with small batteries that dont really last a whole day and not adopting the global USB charging standard. It's an Apple thing of course. Apple prefer the look and feel of a  deviee being perfect even if it means their customers have to keep plugged in every couple of hours.

The next day I headed off to Edinburgh for the day. I forgot to put a charging power pack in my bag and sure enough during the day the phone dropped to a miniscule 1% when I switched it off about an hour before I got back home. From almost no charge it need about an hour just to get back to around 10% on the wireless charger.

The obvious thing is that batteries need to be bigger and better. However until that happens 'fast charging' is with us. Samsung has got fast charging along with a number of other manufacturers. Getting a fairly impressive charge in about 35 minutes.

ARM chip maker Qualcomm supports Adaptive Charging (Quick Charge 2.0). This is on Samsung devices. However you can't quick charge with the screen on and it generates a lot of heat.

Oneplus have their own take on fast charging called Dash. Tech nerds are getting quite excited by the Dash charger pumping up the amps, allowing the phone to be used and charging up in 30 minutes. They also seem to have a reasonably sized battery too.

The choice seems to be splitting into the fashionista phone with frequent pit stops to charge up or something like the Oneplus with fast charging that means fewer visits to the wall socket for shorter periods.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

3 + 1 = T

Oneplus has been the self-proclaimed "flagship killer" phone maker arising from startup status with the Oneplus One phone 3 years ago.

Initially the mid priced phone was promoting itself as having all the features of a premium priced Android phone without the price. While other manufacturers sold through traditional retail Oneplus was a direct seller. Dell began it's PC business this way too as an insurgent in the PC market during the 1980s.

The latest Oneplus phone, called the Oneplus 3 was just released in June this year. However surprisingly Oneplus now have a phone called the 3T six months later. Oneplus seems to have destroyed the expected annual upgrade cycle beloved of traditional marketing rules.

The price of the new device has also crept up and is now very definitely mid-priced. In the UK you can even get devices on a conventional contract with O2. Very much the opposite of the direct model.

What has happened?

Oneplus might answer that it is just innovating. I think it's something else. Let's remember the love Android hacks have for the "pure Android experience" the so-called "stock Android". This is a reaction against the crapware many manufacturers cram on their phones and useless apps you can't get rid of. Samsung is one of the worst.

To counter the crapware is the pure Android experience that comes from Google and their Nexus range of phones. The 5X was a mid-range, mid priced phone. The 6P was more expensive but well under the price of an iphone. All that changed in the last couple of months. Google is now selling phones as fashion items like Apple. The Google Pixel has replaced the Nexus at a much higher price.

Android purists, to get the latest OS, the latest features, long battery life, decent camera and no crapware need to spend eye watering iphone prices now. No cut price pure Android except on the pages of ebay.

So here comes Oneplus with it's Oxygenos. An Android experience that people say is pure Android with useful customisations. The 3T has the same processor as the Pixel, more memory, same storage, decent camera, good battery life and fast charging.

It looks to me that Oneplus is positioning the 3T as the alternative to the expensive Pixel phones. The replacement for Nexus owners. Could be that the 3T, although more expensive than it's predecessor, is hitting a market sweet spot vacated by Google.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Should I Learn Hungarian?

I like Windowsphone. I use a Lumia 950 right now as my daily phone. However there is no doubt about it that Windowsphone users like the product better than Microsoft. Microsoft are in full on "abandonware mode" with the platform in intensive care for a variety of reasons too numerous to go into. My Lumia still has a great camera and even with all the hot air about Apple's "best camera on any iphone" and Google Pixel's "best camera on any smartphone" the 950 has a superb Zeiss lens and 20mp pictures despite being last years' flagship.

However I do miss the apps. My bank doesnt even have one. So I have a Samsung Galaxy S6 that occasionally use. The problem is that Samsung has done something that PC users has been hit with for years - crapware. You buy a new PC, or a Samsung device, and it's filled with apps to "help you". Apps you never use except by accident and wish weren't there. In the Windows world most, if not all, uninstall. If you are an IT Pro you can even do a whole clean install on a PC. Not so with Samsung. The official Samsung phone comes with built in crapware you can't remove unless you download and root the device. You can remove it a bit but it sits there as an update. If you press update all then it comes back.

My problem is a bought my phone from Ebay. Actually that overstates it. I bought a brand new device at a decent price as a European phone from Ebay. By European I mean unlocked and working well except for one thing. It was destined for the Hungarian market. After setting the default language to English all worked well and there is literally no problem except for the crapware.

The crapware deal Samsung has done in Hungary seems to be some kind of electronic magazine or newspaper. Every so often I get asked to update my Hungarian magazine.

I can't remove it unless I root the phone and that is lot of effort to remove just one app. I have disabled all the other Samsung crapware but this one is just vaguely irritating. It sits there in a sort of unwanted pointless way.

I do feel guilty that I can't use this app. The unwanted and slightly unloved dimension to apps you cant install is not just annoying but also wasteful of space.

The only route to liberate this app from limbo would be to learn Hungarian. That's crapware for you.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

What Apple Music tells us about who Apple think is the market leader

The first ipod launch by Apple was in October 2001. It had a 5gb hard disk and could store 1000 songs in you pocket. Slightly less well remembered is that it used a FireWire port, standard on a Mac, and synced with iTunes only on a Mac.

It was only a Mac product. That mean't it reached a tiny fraction of home computer users. Even if 100% of all Mac users bought an ipod around 90% of computers would not be able to use it. This was because they used Windows.

Not only did no version of itunes exist for Windows the hardware interface, FireWire, was rarely found on a Windows PC and was usually an expensive add-on card. To expand the sales of ipod it would have to go for the Windows market.

Apple first did a deal to get another music software program for Windows to sync to the ipod. Eventually itunes was available for Windows and the ipod used a USB cable to sync.

The ipod took off. When the iphone was launched in 2007 it was immediately available for Windows due to a version of Itunes being available.

Steve Jobs used to say that people wanted to own their music not rent it. So Apple pretty much ignored the streaming music services like Spotify. Even Microsoft has had streaming services  - Zune, Xbox Music and now Groove.

All this changed with the release of Apple Music in 2015.

Like most Apple products it works only on Apple devices. Apple Music is a streaming service that you use with your iphone.

However there is also an app for Android. Nothing for Windowsphone, no app for Windows 10 UWP (Universal Windows Program).

Apple's view of the world is that they are the premium mobile device company and their competition is Google and Android. Microsoft Windows is now a legacy consumer platform with itunes. Just a few years ago Microsoft was a serious player in the consumer computing space, Steve Ballmer, the former CEO would bite off the hand of any journalist with an iphone near him. He would carry a Windows laptop and a Windowsphone everywhere.

Today Microsoft is the enterprise and cloud company. Making Windows for consumers is a legacy business. Xbox One is a outlier. They are not interested in consumer products.

You can tell the most important consumer technology companies by the apps on iphone and android. You can tell the company Apple thinks is the biggest market for their products because their music app is available for Android.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Iphone Day

Iphone day is a moveable annual feast where Apple believers gather at stores worldwide to buy the latest model. Although these days we have the Internet so people should be able to order from home and have it delivered there is a special need for Apple fans to come together. Almost like religious belief.

The new Apple iphone 7 Plus comes in at $749 although this price is masked by the monthly payment plans. In the UK the price has risen due to post Brexit falls in the value of the pound, However mere money wont get in the way of the true believer.

This iphone is not mush more than it’s predecessor. It is always, in the words of Apple, “the best iphone ever”, but it reflects a maturing of the market. The 2007 iphone was revolutionary and made the most important personal computer one you could carry in your hand. The apps ecosystem and the the marketing power Apple had over phone carriers forced combined voice, sms and data plans into affordable tariffs.

We are now 9 years into the iphone revolution and almost everyone who wants, and can afford, iphone in the west has got one. Older iphones are used as “hand me down” phones in families further diluting the market. Apple has quietly upped the spec of less well selling products such as ipad and Apple Watch as well as reducing prices. Its also noticeable that Apple is no longer going to give the number of phones sold on the first weekend as it has every other year. You could just think cynically that Apple dont want to announce because sales are going down but I think the market is simply maturing and iphone is now an evolutionary product rather than revolution.

The annual Apple Day seems now to be something for fans and part of the marketing process. Buyers who need an iphone now should order online. If they want an in-store experience of enjoying shiny new things then wait a few weeks and pop in to feel the love. Queuing in the rain seems something for the fanboys.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Nougat feast

If you are in the IT world and you hear Kitkat, Marshmallow and Nougat you will think Google.

These are all versions of the Android mobile operating system. Android is now on 80% of the world's mobile phones. Huge market share when compared to Apple iPhone, Blackberry and Windowsphone. Blackberry now sell "secure" Android phones. Which should tell you something about Android "security".

Apple do well out of iphone as a premium device that makes a lot of money. Microsoft have now integrated Windows 10 so much into all their products that Windows 10 Mobile is now just a compiler switch and costs next to nothing to produce. Microsoft just produce a couple of reference models now and rely on partners to make Windowsphone with no license fees for devices below 8 inch screens. Basically free.

Google is in a different position. Android is free. There are literally thousands of Android variants and you can pick up a tablet for very little cash. Google have partners that make Google branded phones once a year but most Android phones are not Google. Google earns money from advertising and the Play Store. Microsoft gets the most money from Android directly because of the Microsoft technology in Android. Microsoft makes an estimated $2 billion per year from Android.

Saying Android's success is a Microsoft success sounds daft but financially it's true!

Android's numeric success has led to thousands of compilations of Android and thousands of versions. The only real benchmark has been the regularly updated Google Nexus devices which reviewers praise for running "stock Android". Google themselves have switched between HTC and LG as manufacturers.

As a result the first upgraders to Android Nougat will be Nexus owners. Then it's up to the other manufacturers to send it out. Samsung are often pretty good just being a few months behind.

For the phone carriers upgrading and security patches are not that important. What they want to do is sell a new phone. They would rather you bought a product every couple of years than do software upgrades, unlock your phone and go to a sim only contract. For this reason Google like their unlocked phones and do their updates over wifi.

There is so much money in Apple that carriers dont delay an Apple update. Also Apple news quickly gets to Apple owners. Not so much for Android. IT Pros will be flashing roms, customising etc but this will by pass the great mass of purchasers. They will just stick with their 2013 copy of Android Kitkat (4.4) unless they get an onscreen prompt to update. If they go into a store they get offered a Samsung, HTC or Sony device.

On the eve of Android Nougat (7.0) we find 30% of Android users are still on version 4.4. If apps want to take advantage of 7.0 features at least 30% of the audience is excluded. The success of Android OS and it's lack of central control means many users are actually using old software versions and potentially subject to security vulnerabilities. Market dominance has it's price.

This is the same position that Microsoft found itself when it had 94% of the PC market. Microsoft developed a patch and update policy. Google hasn't and cant because of the diversity of Android.

So it's with some sense of irony that Microsoft's Windowsphone, with little market share, now running Windows 10 Mobile is being updated almost monthly using the same technique as the PC update strategy. Arguably this makes Windowsphone the most secure and most updated of any mobile OS and most suitable for non-IT Pros. Funny thing that.