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Friday, October 07, 2011

R.I.P Steve Jobs: A Tribute

sjobsA couple of days ago I posted the following on Facebook.

“iPhone 4S hardly looks worth wait though Apple fanboys will still queue to get one. Some people would buy a dog turd if it had Apple logo on”

Given the news that Steve Jobs had passed away came less than 48 hours later, that comment might appear at first glance a little harsh. Look a little deeper and you’ll see a compliment about a man who was one of the greatest technological visionaries and business leaders of the last 30 years.

Is there another company out there that can claim a customer base as loyal as Apple’s?  A customer base that will continue to buy in to any product produced, a customer base that has grown and grown in recent years to make Apple so big, they are now one of the world largest companies and have larger cash reserves than the US government.

Let me put my dog turd comment in to perspective with a real world example.
When the original iPhone launched I worked for another mobile phone manufacturer.  At the time all people were bothered about were features (primarily number of megapixels in the camera) and what price plan a phone would be free on.  Essentially if your phone had bigger numbers than the competition and a lower price point you were on to a winner.  And then came the iPhone.

If the company I worked for at the time (or any other mobile manufacturer for that matter) had gone to the mobile networks and said, “here’s our new phone, 2 megapixel camera, no MMS, no video record, only partial Bluetooth support and no 3g, oh and by the way you need to sell it for nearly £300 but the your customers also need to take an 18 month contract paying at least £40 a month of which we want a cut so you’ll have to give your customers fewer minutes/text/data than they would get on any other phone for the same price”, we’d have been laughed out of the room and probably never got to do business with them again.  Yet that is pretty much what Apple, a company with no history in the mobile market did and had major networks fighting it out with each other to get exclusivity on the iPhone.

And that’s the genius of Steve Jobs.  He was able to make people want his products so much that as a complete newcomer to the mobile market he was able to dictate the terms of the deal in a way far more established companies such as Nokia, Motorola and Samsung had never been able to.

It’s not that something such as the App Store was an original idea, just that they were the first company the networks allowed to introduce such a service.  I remember see loads of cool stuff on prototype phones that never made it to the final model because the networks wanted total control of the user experience and services phones could deliver.  Apple and Steve Jobs changed that.

The iPhone itself wasn’t revolutionary, metaphorically speaking other than its UI it was the dog turd of mobile devices for its time, but it did revolutionise the mobile phone industry, just as the Macintosh and iPod before it and the iPad since have helped redefine sections of technology.

People who know me, know I am not Apples biggest fan (not that I particular have any hatred of them either), I don’t own a Mac, iPhone or iPad and don’t see that changing anytime soon.  But without the vision and genius of Steve Jobs, I wonder how many of the gadgets I do have and love would be the same as they are today.  So for that I say, thank you Steve, and may you rest in peace.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Reminiscing, Facebook Style

f8Yesterday during Facebook’s F8 Developer keynote, Mark Zuckerberg unveiled a raft of new features to the Facebook platform.  As expected, there was an announcement about a music service, though not as many predicted some form of music player built in to Facebook.  Instead, users will be able to see what music their friends are listening and with one click launch services such as Spotify to listen to the same thing.  Similar services will be allow people to do the same with films/tv being watched or news and websites being read all rather unobtrusive in the new ticker rather than clogging up the main news feed. Sounds pretty good as a way to discover new content, but all this paled in insignificance compared to possible the biggest chance to how Facebook will look since it launched, Timeline.

To me, Timeline is a total game changer in how people will be able to use Facebook.  At the moment, I find Facebook allow me to give an update about what I am doing at a particular moment in time and probably to a greater extent find out what friends are up to.  With the introduction of Timeline, I can see my use of Facebook changing dramatically.

At the moment, I keep a blog and upload photo’s to one of the many photo sharing websites and this provides some sort of memory bank of things I have being doing, but its all a bit disjointed and cumbersome.  What Timeline aims to do is bring all this in to one place and give me this overview of my life all in one place by recording my interactions through Facebook, whether that is the music I’ve been listening to, holiday photos, life changing events, social activities and other interactions with friends.  It then puts this altogether in, well a Timeline so If I want an overview of say my life in 2010, it just puts it there for me.

Like almost 1 billion other people I use Facebook at the moment, but I’d hardly say it was a key component of my life, just useful in keeping in touch with friends.  With Timeline I can see it becoming a central feature of my online life, just because it will allow me to keep a record of my life with almost no effort.  Then if I want to look back with fond memories remembering how things were so much better back in the day, I’m just one click away, whether its what I was up to , what friends were doing, what we were watching, listening to or games we were playing.

Since Google+ launched I’ve been itching to try it out, but having an Apps account means I still can’t get access. After yesterday’s F8 keynote however, I’m not sure I’m really that bothered anymore. I’ll still probably give it a go when Google finally get around to letting Apps users have access, but yesterdays announcements Facebook has effectively given a great big "HA HA” Nelson Muntz style to Google and the anyone else hoping to take on the social giant.  Facebook has just raised the bar, and not by a Sergei Bubka 1cm at a time, not even a Usain Bolt record smashing measure. No Facebook has risen the bar by a couple of orders of magnitude.

On a final note, if you haven’t already seen it, I suggest you watch this video of the first few minutes of the keynote. Some interest new features for Facebook and very funny.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Mobile payments to come of age?

1.2_paymentIt’s been a while since I last blogged, partly due to a very hectic work schedule but mainly as I have seen very little to blog about. Had time permitted I may have rustled up a few words about Google’s Chromebooks which look very promising, but other than that I’ve seen or read about very little worthy of a blog entry for the last few months.  Even Gadget Show Live proved a little underwhelming in the way of anything new with a real wow factor.

I’ve had my HTC Desire for over a year now and in this time have seen nothing new or heard of any upcoming devices that would tempt me away. Everything phone coming to the market seems to offer little if any advantages over my Desire. My only gripe is it could do with a little more memory for storing apps as far too many don’t offer the option to install to SDCard.  The one thing that shows promise and would be likely to make me change my phone is NFC, Near Field Communication.

The idea of being able to use a mobile phone as a means to pay for goods is not new, I saw working prototypes of such technology from one phone manufacturer many years ago, while in the Far East they have been carrying out transactions in this way for a number of years.  In the western world however, the concept is still relatively new though this looks set to change over the next year or so. 

Orange were the first to get in on the act with their announcement of Quick Tap, a partnership with Barclaycard that uses a Samsung Tocco Lite with an NFC chip. On the surface the idea seems rather flawed. First you need a Barclaycard and rather than the card being charged when you use Quick Tap, you have to top up your Quick Tap account first with you card, hardly seamless technology.

Yesterday, Google announced Google Wallet which on the face of it looks a far more promising effort to use NFC as a means for payments.  Initially it too is limited to certain credit cards, but Google has promoted the openness of its system and how it hopes to bring on board more partners over time.  In an ideal world, users should be able to add any of their card details to their Google Wallet, regardless of card provider with the App then using the phones NFC chip for contactless payments directly from the card.  Hopefully both VISA and Mastercard will get on board and allow any of their cards, with any provider to work with Google Wallet or any similar system.  Roll out the technology to enough retailers to be able to accept such payments and then NFC will become a viable alternative payment option.

NFC isn’t going to become an overnight hit, its going to (initially at least) be a slow burner but provided networks, manufacturers and card providers don’t try to lock us in to their own unique solution it has the potential to explode and revolutionise the way to pay for certain goods.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Closest ever title race see’s Steelers come out on top

badge_steelersIt took until the last day of the season, but last night the Sheffield Steelers became the Elite League Champions for the 3rd time (and their 7th league title). Going in to the final game, Steelers were level on points with the Cardiff Devils and just one point ahead of the Belfast Giants.  With Cardiff’s last game being against league whipping boys the Edinburgh Capitals, realistically Belfast were out of the race and the title came down one game, than between Sheffield and Braehead.  A Sheffield win and the championship would be theirs, a loss and the title would be going to Wales.

Sheffield came out and did the job required in a dominant and clinical performance.  The game was as good as over early in the second when the Steelers scored two quick goals leaving Braehead looking lost.  After Steve Munn scored on a breakaway to make it 5-0, Braehead called a time out to recompose themselves, and while it steadied things, the Steelers never looked back taking the win 7-2 and with it the Elite League title.

In a post last month, I made my predictions on where I saw the league going and I’m happy to say this time I was wrong.  I correctly predicted that Belfast would only drop a couple of points to Sheffield, I just expected Cardiff and the Steelers to each drop a couple more points that they did.  But no sooner is the business of the regular season over, than we move on to the playoffs, in fact Sheffield and Dundee get things underway this Tuesday in Sheffield.

The match-ups for the quarter finals look like this: -

Sheffield V Dundee
Cardiff V Hull
Belfast V Coventry
Nottingham V Braehead

It’s hard to look beyond the top four to make the finals weekend, perhaps with the exception of Nottingham where a Braehead upset is definitely on the cards.  Certainly a win for Hull or Dundee would be a major shock and while if they can all click Coventry certainly have all the tools to beat Belfast, giving their form this season a Coventry win is unlikely.  But over two games we all know anything can happen, a lucky bounce or a hot goalie is all that’s needed to bring about a surprise or two.

Assuming the final four is made up of the top four things then get a little more tricky to predict, I wouldn’t write off any of them when it comes to a one off game, you only have to look at some of the results between the teams this season to see that.  As for my predictions, I’m going to sit firmly on the fence. One of Nottingham, Sheffield, Cardiff or Belfast will win the play-offs, but which one, I guess we’ll know in a couple of weeks.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Could Amazon Challenge iPad Dominance?

amazon_logoI’ve just read quite an interesting article on  It talks about how market research company Forrester says that the current generation of tablets can’t compete with Apple’s iPad, primarily as the manufacturers don’t have the back end infrastructure such as high street shops and dedicated App store that Apple does.  It goes on to suggest that online retailer Amazon may be best placed to challenge Apple’s dominance.

It makes sense.  The biggest problem for most manufacturers is they are reliant on making profit from the actual sale of the device.  Apple on the other hand generates significant revenue from sales through iTunes and it’s App store, and this gives Apple an advantage.  Apple can if its wants use its devices as loss leaders.  Its closed ecosystem means anyone buying an i-device is then locked in, so Apple can recover an losses on its hardware from the revenue it generate through its App store.  The likes of Motorola and Samsung making Android based devices don’t have that luxury.

Amazon on the other hand already has its own ecosystem in place with which it can lure users if it were to launch its own device, something it is no stranger to.  Amazon’s Kindle has been a huge success.  Although it doesn’t give any actual numbers, Amazon claims it is the company’s best selling product.  The actual sales of Kindle’s on their own is of no significant value, what it does mean is that users are then tied in to Amazon’s own ecosystem for buying eBooks, and this is where Amazon makes the real money.

As well as eBooks Amazon can also provide users access to various other forms of digital content.  They already have music downloads, an Android App store and following the acquisition of Lovefilm a video streaming service. Sounds kind of familar to what Apple offer to their customers, so the next step seems relatively obvious, build a device to drive more people to use these services.  Given an Android app store is already part of the proposition, a tablet based on Google’s OS seems the logical direction to take, and perhaps then iPad will have the competitor it needs to bring about true innovation to the market.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Apple gets all the hype, but Kindle is where it’s at

kindleLast week, Apple finally revealed the successor to the iPad, iPad 2.  As usual with Apple there has been a lot of speculation and hype around the iPad 2, and in my opinion as with most things Apple the final product fails to live up to the hype.  That’s not to say anything bad about the iPad 2, just that Apple’s PR machine tend to overhype their products making them out to be more than they really are.

The original iPad brought about a new type of device, the tablet which in the last 12 months has also received hype beyond all proportion.  Why do I say this? Well the only place I have seen an actual iPad (or any other tablet for that matter) is in a shop, on the shelf. I am still to see anyone actually using one in the real world and know of only one person who actually owns one.

Now compare this to ebook readers.  I first saw someone using one last summer while on holiday, in fact I saw a few people lounging round the pool with them.  Fast forward to the new year and I now see people using them everyday on their commute to and from work.  Most people (including myself) seem to favour Amazon’s Kindle.

The other day three of the four people sat in the same section as me were all reading their Kindle.  Maybe I just mix in the wrong circles but I know more people with ebook readers than tablets and see far more people using them.  Maybe that will change during this year, but I no one I know has said they want or will be getting a tablet, so for me the jury is still out.  So forget tablets, this year already seems to be the year of the ebook reader, at least it is in the real world if not in that of PR and hype.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Arrogance of Apple never fails to amaze

apple-logoLast week Apple announced its plans to allow content providers to offer subscriptions to their apps, with a number of catches.  The biggest was the 30% cut Apple will take from all subscriptions, which when added to the fact that publishers must allow subscribers to sign-up through the app and are not allowed to redirect people to a website to sign-up along with not being able to charge more for purchases through an iOS device than they do elsewhere isn’t looking very publisher friendly.

Now first let me make a few things clear, Apple has every right to charge for this service and set down terms for publishers wishing to use their ecosystem.  What annoys me is the way they seem to think they can dictate how publishers do business outside that ecosystem. 

For example, many high street retailers have different (usually cheaper) pricing on their websites, its their business and if they want to charge different prices for their products/services through different channels then why not, the overheads for websites are very different to a bricks and mortar shop.  So why should Apple be allowed to tell content providers how much they can charge for a product or service available outside the Apple ecosystem.  If a provider wants to charge 10% or 20% or 30% more for subscriptions through iOS then why shouldn’t they.

Still not convinced, then let me put it another way. Take a subscription based service such as Spotify. £9.99 a month for its premium service which lets me sync playlists to my phone. Now if Apple take 30% of that price, Spotify’s share is down to £6.99, so in order to maintain their existing margins (ignoring tax) they need to increase the price £14.27.  Remember under Apples rules Spotify can’t charge less on their website than through the Apple App store, and this is where the Apple terms start to effect not just the publishers, but the consumers too.  Take me as an example, I don’t have an iPhone, I have an Android phone.  Should Spotify wish to still provide its services to iOS users, it is people such as me who are penalised with a 43% price hike despite. So the question is, Apple be able to force me to pay more for a service I use, despite me having my usage of the service having no link to Apple?

Around the same time Google launched One Pass, a similar service with lower (10%) fees and non of the trappings that come with Apple’s subscription service. Hopefully publishers will take a stand and refuse to provide there services on iOS devices while Apple maintains its current stance.  I understand why Apple want to do things this way, they want total control of their ecosystem and users to become so reliant on it they don’t move to alternative platforms.  If publishers take a stand, users may choose to make the switch to Android, WP7, WebOS or Blackberry when they suddenly find the apps they want are no longer available on iOS. Remember last year Apple wanted its next iPhone to have an integrated SIM, but a carrier revolt soon put an end to that idea. Publishers should follow that lead and stand against Apple.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Elite League Title Race Hots Up

eihltitleIt was only a few weeks ago it was looking like the Cardiff Devils could run away with the Elite League title.  What a difference a few games make.  Cardiff’s record breaking winning streak came to and end, and since the Devils have faltered including being on the wrong end of a 7-1 score line to Braehead last week. Quietly, the Sheffield Steelers went on their own winning run leapfrogging the Devils and currently sit at the top of the table, 6 points clear of Cardiff. But this years title is far from being a two horse race.

Most peoples pre-season favourites, the Belfast Giants have also been quietly picking up the points and following back to back wins against the Coventry Blaze now sit second in the table, 5 points behind the Steelers.  Belfast's form since the start of the new year has been impressive. In 11 games, they have dropped points just twice (losses to Sheffield and Nottingham), which given 7 of those games have been against either Sheffield, Cardiff, Nottingham or Coventry plus a couple against Braehead is quite an impressive record. In fact in their 6 games since losing 5-4 to Sheffield towards the end of January, the Giants have only given up 7 goals. The Giants certainly seem to be finding their form at the right time.

Here is how the run in for the rest of the season looks for all three teams.
Cardiff Sheffield
Newcastle A
Dundee A
Edinburgh A
Hull A
Sheffield H
Sheffield A
Edinburgh H
Newcastle H
Hull H
Nottingham A
Coventry A
Edinburgh A
Sheffield H
Sheffield A
Coventry A
Braehead A
Nottingham H
Hull H
Newcastle A
Braehead H
Hull A
Nottingham H
Coventry H
Edinburgh A
Braehead A
Cardiff A
Cardiff H
Dundee H
Hull H
Belfast A
Nottingham A
Belfast H
Newcastle A
Braehead A
Braehead H

Of the three Sheffield seem to have the toughest run in.  The key games will be the four against their title rivals. Two wins against Belfast would give the Steelers a 9 point cushion, while wins for Belfast would put them within a point of the Steelers.  Assuming Cardiff Win their games in hand, the games between the Devils could give the Steelers a 6 point cushion or at the other extreme put the Devils 2 points clear at the top of the table. Of rest of the Steelers games most represent potential stumbling blocks. Newcastle should be the easiest on paper given their ever shrinking roster, but a win in Whitely Bay is unlikely to come easy and despite early season results Dundee are much improved and Hull are kept Sheffield on their toes all season.  An away trip to Nottingham is always a tough task, particularly the night after playing the Giants in Belfast while Braehead have proven they can take points off the big boys, so the three games with them are likely to provide a challenge.

Belfast look to have the easiest finish to the season playing both Newcastle and Edinburgh twice.  In fact other than the two games with Sheffield have just two games against teams in the top half, Coventry and Nottingham both away on the last weekend of the season. If things come down to the final weekend it could be a tough ask for the Giants. Giants also have the disadvantage of having just 4 or their remaining 11 games at home.

Cardiff have a mixed set of games. While two trips to Edinburgh and one to Newcastle should see points in the bag, they also play Nottingham, Coventry and Sheffield twice. What could be of advantage to the Devils, is unlike the Giants, most of these big games are at home, a place where Cardiff are notoriously difficult to beat. And if things come down to the last weekend of the season, a final game against Edinburgh means almost certain 2 points for the Devils, while the Steelers and Giants have the much tougher games against Braehead and Coventry.

So who do I think will win?  I’m going to stick with my pre-season prediction of Belfast. I think they may drop a couple of points against the Steelers, and while they have a tough last weekend, I don’t see them dropping any more points (particularly against the Panthers if the Steelers are still in with a chance of winning the that last weekend, Green to start in goal for Nottingham anyone?).  Sheffield and Cardiff have a tougher set of games and I think both will drop a few points, just enough for Belfast to win the league, but there could end up being no more than a couple of points separating all three at the end of the season.  The big games are where the top three play each other, and a point for an overtime loss could be crucial in deciding where the title goes.