Sunday, November 10, 2013
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
A few weeks ago I wrote about Harley releasing a new bike aimed squarely at the lower end of the market. It has arrived, in two variations the Street 500 and Street 750. You can go directly to the source and read about them on Harley's website, it's not a joke. I didn't think it would be, the rumor was too hot and from too many sources to be a load of hooey, but Harley has really surprised me with a rather fine looking bike at a reasonable price point. The prices of $6500 for the 500cc and $7500 for the 750cc model are rather appealing.
And I'm sure that's not the whole list.
Have you noticed that over the last few months that Google has given Android an entire suite of productivity apps? It is no longer just a phone/tablet OS, with this suite of apps your smart phone and tablet rival and in some places beat the pants off of Microsoft.
If you would have asked me a year ago if I thought that Google had any real ideas about having an OS for everyday laptop users, I would have laughed and quicly said, "NO! Chrome OS is neat and all, but it requires an internet connection to be really useful." At this point I'm beginning to wonder if Google might not have two desktop OSs.
The same can be said for Apple's iOS, over the past few months they have most of the things in the above list covered as well.
Chrome is the dumb terminal realized and useful. It may not technically be one, but it's the same idea. A computer with low power, little storage and requiring "the network" to function. Chromebooks are a little more than this but, not much. What they are is an excellent way to cheaply arm your corporation or school with computers that link directly to Google and their apps. To be fair, you could also deploy Chromebooks as cheap devices to use with Office 365 on the web. Google hopes that you would be using their Google Apps though. Essentially as long as you have a network connection and what you need lives in the cloud a Chromebook is great. Take either one of those things away and it gets dicey.
Android is Google's mobile operating system, but it more and more becomes like the desktop. On a tablet, with Android 4.4 you will be able to do all the basic functions of a business desktop, create and edit documents and spreadsheets with Drive or Quick Office and print with Cloud Print. Print, that's the key here, until now it's been quite the challenge to print with a mobile device. Hopefully Cloud print will remedy that. So now take that list above and think about it, Android can do anything that Chrome can do, the kicker is, there are also Hundreds of thousands of applications for Android and an internet connection is not required for many tasks.
So far, Google has kept Chrome on Laptops, there are no tablets and as far as I know there are no full PCs running the OS. As for android it is installed on many different pieces of hardware from phones to TV's, but it's main focus is the smartphone and tablet. Let's think about this tablet for a second, no, not the Nexus 7. The Nexus 10 and others of similar size. They are pretty close to laptop screen size, in fact, Asus makes several Android laptops. The transformer series, this like the device I'm writing on at the moment, a HP Split X2 has become my favorite form factor. Sure, the tablet portion is a little too big to be toting around like you would a Nexus 7 but it's pretty convenient when you need/want to use it as a tablet and very good when using it as a laptop.
Rumors floating around say that Samsung is going to be releasing a 12.2 inch tablet and that apple will be making larger tablets as well. At first I was like, What the Hell? I have a 13" tablet and it's really too big to use as a tablet, why would Samsung and Apple even consider this? Then proverbial ton of bricks dropped on my noggin', these devices are the bridge. They will sit between traditional 10" tablets and laptops, each will come with some sort of attachable keyboard and pointer control, whether it be a keyboard cover, like the Surface or an actual keyboard dock, like the Asus Transformer series and the HP Split devices.
Samsung's, device will obviously run Android with all the Samsung tricks, making the device have many of the features of the Microsoft Surface without all the Windows desktop baggage. Add that to the huge number of app in the Play Store and we have a winner, maybe.
The same could be said for a larger iPad, you can count on Apple giving the device some extra features, like possibly two apps on screen at once and maybe a Wacom style digitizer with hand writing recognition. All the while keeping it iOS not OS X.
Because of the device I'm typing on right now. The press doesn't know it yet, but devices like the HP Split, the Sony Tap 11 and the Asus T100 are going to take market share from Apple and Android device makers. Windows 8.1 is pretty good and the devices are better than the current alternatives from Apple and Android. I have the HP Split X2, it's a mid range device at about $700, but it boasts full Windows 8.1 and a dock with an extra battery tucked inside. It's not a perfect device, at 13" the screens a little big to carry it around as a tablet, but it works great on the couch or around the house. It's a little heavy for a laptop, after using a MacBook air, but tolerable. At the end of the day I wouldn't trade it for any of the Android devices out there, but with 4.4 Kit Kat, this may all change.
With Android you can build the same device, but cheaper. Android will run fine on much less robust hardware, as will iOS, this is where Apple Keeps it margins and still sells the device at a reasonable cost and Samsung should be able to undercut any decent Windows wielding competitor.
It's yet to be seen if this style device will be a big hit with the public, but it looks as if the Asus Transformers and the Windows hybrids have had good enough sales to make Samsung and Apple interested. The Apple angle is interesting, because if Apple does it, then it's instantly validated, the Apple faithful will purchase the device in droves and create a market for Samsung and other manufacturers, as well.
Where does that leave Chrome?
If Android becomes a valid laptop operating system should Google merge it with Chrome? I don't think so. Chrome serves a different purpose, it's to be the cloud OS for education and business. Focusing on ease of use and keeping things simple. Android, on the other hand, has the freedom to move into the laptop space and become the more complex OS.
The Power of the Apps
While, I can see this all coming to pass, don't think that iOS or Android are going to try to take over for Mac OS or Windows, that's not the point. These devices will be in the same category as the Microsoft Surface, tablets with the chops to do light to medium content creation, while leveraging the Play Store and Apple's App Store's huge inventories. That's the hinge, right now the Windows Market is still fairly sparse, there are some amazing apps, but there are loads of things missing. If Apple and Samsung can get these devices out the door, price them resonably and promote the hell out of them, they'll have winners. If they wait, and Microsoft get's things together and the Windows Market starts to mature before these devices show up, well, it'll be interesting.
The other interesting thing about Apps is Apple and Google can easily afford to give their software away, but because Microsoft's business model is all about software licenses they can't. Apple and Google are already using this to their advantage, all the Google apps are free and Apple recently made their office suite free for people that purchase new hardware. They can get away with this because Apple make their money off of Hardware and Google makes theirs off adds.
Microsoft makes their office software free on the Surface and the Surface 2, but not on the Pro version. The problem with this is it's the Home and Student edition, thus if you want to use it for business, you are supposed to purchase a license. As far as I can tell, Apple and Google don't care how you use their office software, as long as you use it and it locks you into their ecosystem.
Monday, November 4, 2013
On August 24 1995, computers started moving to the main stream. Windows 95 with the help of falling computer prices, a relatively strong economy and wide availability of the internet moved the computer from the office into the home. Over the next few years Windows gathered a massive majority share of the desktop market. Since then Microsoft Window's share of the desktop market has fluctuated but, they have maintained that majority and it appears that they will continue to do so for the immediate future. There is however a new, quiet, challenger.
Thursday, October 31, 2013
Planned Obsolescence, it's a taboo term. In the marketplace it is real enough though, think about it. You know if you buy your jeans at the discount store their life span is relatively short, on the other hand if you purchase a well respected name brand, say Levi or Ralph Lauren, the jeans will probably last a few years. Yet, even these longer lasting jeans have "Planned Obsolescence" built in. The more expensive pair is built with better materials and hopefully better craftsmanship but, they still wear out. The cheap ones are made of lesser materials and generally with only passable craftsmanship, they wear out faster. Would the expensive brand sell you jeans that would last a lifetime? If it were feasible, sure, but you'd never buy them. The cost would be too high. All companies are looking for repeat customers, whether the repeat business is brought in by quality, style or price, is determined by each company and their portfolio of products. In general the higher quality(longer lasting) product is more expensive, while the lesser quality or trendy product is less expensive, other factors come into play as well.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
That's it, the new iPad Air, with all it's whiz banginess and the $499 price tag. Have no fear though you can get an iPad Mini for $399. Yup, that's right Apple is not trying to, in any way, compete with the current crop of 8 inch or less tablets.
First lets try to find a financial reason to purchase an iPad Air. The cheapest one is $499.
Microsoft Surface 2 - $449
Nexus 10 - $399
Galaxy Tab 10.1 - $360
Surprisingly this little list makes the Galaxy Tab look pretty impressive, get all the Samsung goodies and save $140 over the iPad. That's several apps, movies and songs worth of cash if you happen to consider yourself locked into the Apple ecosystem.
The Nexus 10 looks good, but it's getting close to the iPad in price making the decision a little harder.
The Surface 2 against the ipad, purely on price is a fail. Once you purchase the basic covers for each device the Surface is easily more expensive with it's touch cover.
The bottom line here is that you pay a premium for Apple or Microsoft devices call it a tax or whatever, it's there. Both the Surface 2 and the iPad weigh in well over $100 more than the equivalent Android device. There are some other Windows devices out there but for this comparison, I chose devices that are the newest and have pricing info available. In the near future there will be several more 10-11 inch Windows 8.1 devices to choose from, some of which may be cheaper than the iPad.
Now let's look at the iPad Mini against it's competition, The new Mini starts at $399
Kindle Fire HDX 7" - $229
Nexus 7 - $229
Dell Venue 8 Pro - $299 (Full Windows 8.1)
Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 7" - $179
Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8" - $279
There are no real comparisons here, each and every one of these devices are a much better buy than the new iPad Mini, the Apple tax is at it't lowest is $100 but can you really compare the Dell with full Windows 8.1 to an iOS device? The Galaxy Tab 8 isn't even really the competition, it's a niche device. The new iPad Mini is really competing with the Kindle, Nexus 7 and the Galaxy tab 7 where the tax runs between $170 and $220. That's a lot of scratch for this category of device. Think about it, for the price of the iPad Mini you could purchase a Nexus 7 now and trade it in or sell it next year and still end up spending less.
This worries me. For the space to keep getting better it needs to be competitive and with Apple positioning the Mini at such a high price, they will be conceding market share to Android, for sure, and maybe even Windows. With the hardware maturing, it won't be long till the prices start to drop even further on the non Apple devices and we get into a situation that Apple faced once long ago. A situation where Apple's prices are so high that it no longer makes sense for anyone to purchase their devices. Android and Windows tablets will, in time, position themselves into various price/performance tiers similar to how PC's have done for the last decade or so with the low end being really cheap and the high end still being cheaper than Apple most of the time.
It's really hard for me to put a $ number to this because of the wild currency fluctuations that are going in the world, but if we talk in today's dollars I expect to see $100 seven inch Android devices with good specs within the next 12 months and $150 Windows tablets in the 7-8 inch range. These devices won't have the latest and greatest hardware, but the current crop of Intel Haswell and Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processors seem to be the break point for battery life and performance, next year there will be better, but with the other components coming down in price as well, I expect to see these two processor families have long lives and move down the price scale over the next year or longer.
We'll see this in the ~10 inch category too, but I don't think it will be as fast. I've watched the pricing on these devices and while the prices will slide down some, probably enough to give Apple fits, it will be more gradual. It seems that most manufacturers want to keep these devices as high margin as possible, and imply that they are a premium device over the smaller tablets.
The big question is will Apple concede the market to Android and Windows in an attempt to keep their premium appeal and high margins? I really hope there's someone at Apple that knows what they are doing, because right now it looks a lot like 1985.
Note: This was written as a comparison that the average consumer might do. Most consumers don't compare the internals, various abilities or the accessories, with the exception of the Apple Smart cover and the Microsoft Touch/Type covers which are heavily marketed.
Current pricing was taken on 10/22/2013 from Amazon, where possible or the manufacturers website.
Sunday, October 13, 2013
I was looking through the news this morning and giggled a little, at several websites that had the "Google Now" tip calculator up on the front page. Slow news day I guess, because really, who can't do the simple math that tipping and splitting the bill entails. It looks a little like this.