Windows Phone hitting double digit market share in Europe

nokia lumia 920 windows phone 8 smartphone homescreen live tiles somegadgetguyI keep telling you people, the actual gadget matters less than the ecosystem of customers+hardware+software+accessories. You can’t fake that. Customers will not be impressed by one new handset no matter how good it is. Every manufacturer wants to jump into this market and sell as well as the iPhone does. It’ll never happen, and people forget that the iPhone didn’t just waltz into the smartphone market without some teething pains. Anymore, a company needs to show us at least three years of steady growth, refinement, and support before they’ll start to crack into consumer awareness.

Well wouldn’t you know it, Microsoft is getting to that three year point, and I’m starting to see the occasional Windows Phone out in the wild. Here stateside, MS is a distant third place competitor growing to only around 3% of the smartphone market, stealing the third spot from Blackberry. Recently announced by analysts at Kantar World Panel however, Windows Phone is cracking into double digit share in Europe. WP is within one percent of the iPhone in Germany, makes up 10% of the French market, and stands at 12% in Great Britain. Averaging the five largest European markets Windows Phone is currently at 9%.

The Nokia brand still counts for a lot in those markets, especially the blend of unique design and bleeding edge camera technology. Unfortunately Nokia somewhat abandoned us here in the States, so they’re pretty much rebuilding their consumer base from scratch. We do get to see some very general trends though, and from my anecdotal experiences, the push into entry level devices is serving Nokia very well. Doesn’t hurt that outlets like CNET can’t figure out the difference between a phone which costs $100 out the door, and a phone which costs $100 on contract. Surprisingly, Nokia’s 520 does a remarkably good job of competing against phones which cost four times as much.

Plus with a two faction war between Apple and Samsung, those consumers who want something a little different only have Microsoft to turn to. Never underestimate someone’s desire to go a little hipster. We live in an age where new smartphone consumers will know Apple like people from my generation saw Microsoft.

Read the full write up at Kantar World Panel.

Do we need mid-range phones anymore?

WP_20130728_004

Nailing pricing in the mobile industry is a delicate and necessary balance. We accept $50 tiers separating the highest of high-end premier phones all the way down to the cheapest off contract entry level affair. Where a phone lands on that spectrum can make or break a device. Premier phones typically make sense. You put the most cutting edge gear into a slab and we expect it’ll be around $200 on a two year contract. Ditto the low end, slide in well known low power hardware and a price between $100 and $200 off contract can be compelling. The mid-range is a lot trickier. Which leads me to wonder, do we even need mid-range phones anymore?

It’s around that $100 on contract price point we start really running into issues. Purpose building a phone for that price point is becoming an increasingly dicey proposition. Manufacturers can still make a nice device at that price, usually with very few compromises, but you still need to ask your consumers to accept a “lower end” experience while paying more than the entry level kit. Often those compromises involve less storage, lower resolution screens, and reduced processing power. All those things which make using a phone nicer.

htc one mini synthetic benchmarks somegadgetguy video reviewAlso there’s a certain cachet to using a premier phone. Geek is chic. It’s fashionable, and we recognize the difference between Galaxies and iPhones like we do the difference Audi and BMW.

Outside those image concerns, we also have a timing problem. Tech devalues fast. If you need to exist at the bleeding edge, you pay a tax not unlike buying a new car. If you can wait a month or three, what was once a premier expensive handset can usually be purchased at a mid-range price. For example, at $100 on a two year contract you can get a perfectly acceptable HTC One Mini. Not a bad buy by any means. I’m really enjoying it. However, for that same $100 on contract you could also get an LG Optimus G Pro phablet. I just sat through a commercial offering a promotional deal for the Galaxy S4 for the same price too. Is the HTC One Mini as “good” as the GS4? Probably not.

We also see around a two year lifespan for phones. Apple popularized this with the iPhone. When a new iPhone is released the current iPhone drops in price. At carriers you can often find phones like the Galaxy S3 still kicking around. The GS3 still gives phones like the HTC One Mini a run for its money in terms of specs and it’ll carry more of that fashion statement. To continue a bad metaphor, people will be more impressed by last year’s Lexus than this year’s Toyota.

iPhone5c_34L_AllColors_PRINTLastly, manufacturers could save a little money by purposely pushing older premier phones into the mid-range. Releasing a phone comes with its own unique design, quality assurance, and support issues. Bug fixes, software updates, warranty issues, a company goes through that once for their top of the line gear, then they could purposely ride that investment for several years after. It would also be a boon to third party accessory manufacturers, knowing that their R&D will have a longer tail to recoup. That can only improve a company’s ecosystem when customers know they can count on accessories, replacement parts, and service for a while after they purchase, even if they purchase late.

I’m usually the first person to celebrate more choices and options, but right now we’re in an era where even successful companies are trying to manage consumer and stock holder expectations against risk. Unless I’m missing something glaring (and please point it out in a comment if I am) releasing a phone into the mid-range seems like the riskiest move a company can make…

My Morning Commute – Woman watches video on tablet while driving

WP_20130924_08_53_17_Pro__highresWe have to be better than this people.

We all get comedically outraged when we see bad tech behavior from people operating motor vehicles, when we recount those stories at dinner parties. However, there’s something sickeningly shocking about actually confronting this behavior head on. Out in the wild. Actually on the street. That momentary, icy chill when you realize that someone values their video watching more than the lives of all the people around them on the road.

Distracted driving has become one of my causes. It’s already illegal to use tech in this manner, but that doesn’t seem to act as much of a deterrent, and over 100,000 crashes a year involve technology. We need to do a better job of making it unfashionable. We need to make it as socially unacceptable as drinking and driving. We can be responsible tech citizens.

Moments after I took this photo, I honked my horn to see if I could snap her out of it. She didn’t even flinch before she turned to merge on I-405.

And yes, the irony of me using my phone to snap this pic isn’t lost on me.

For more info on the dangers of distracted driving, I would humbly ask you check out www.ItCanWait.com, please share the free documentary From One Second to the Next (directed by Werner Herzog), and you can also check out a recent event held here in LA to encourage people to sign the pledge to curb distracted driving.

The Post Where We Say Goodbye to Blackberry?

blackberry stock slideI’ve been staving off writing this for some time now. Even among all the reports of potential buyouts, I kept hoping the company would start to turn itself around, find some momentum. It looks like that wont be happening.

Blackberry is warning investors ahead of their official call on September 27th that revenue will be more than a billion dollars below expectations. Yup. Expectations were hovering around $3 Billion, and BB will be reporting $1.6 Billion. Ouch.

Of course these are analyst predictions, and analysts are notoriously bad at predicting the future, but this will obviously hurt BB’s image (under-producing) more than it’ll hit any market watching “guru”.

Reactions to the news has caused a stock slide of almost 20 percent. Another blow to the company, and now CEO¬†Thorsten Heins is announcing the first measure to be taken will be a round of layoffs to the tune of 4,500 axed jobs. They’ll also be streamlining future handset launches. Instead of the six phones they were planning on introducing over the next year, they’ll be dropping down to four, two high-end and two entry-level.

blackberry os 10 handsets z10 q10 smartphonesIt’s this combination of expectations and time which is going to put a hurt on upstarts and smaller companies moving forward. Yes, BB once ruled the smartphone landscape, but they didn’t properly focus on the consumer experience. Sure they have great mind-share and brand recognition, but they are also creating a new product line from scratch. New OS. New devices. Customers are wary of “new” right now.

Apple found success in smartphones based on years of consumer trust built on iPods. Android needed about three major revisions before it started gaining traction outside low cost, entry-level gear. HP bailed on Palm before it had a shot when it wasn’t immediately successful out of the gate (they’re currently floundering with half-way attempts at Android, with rumors pointing to a possible Windows Phone in the works). Microsoft is just now starting to be taken seriously in mobile, now that we’re looking at a third generation of Windows Phone hardware about to hit the market.

BB is on that “new” list. The bummer is, BB OS10 is pretty great. It’s a refreshing spin on a mobile UI. Gestures are clean. It looks good. It’s a nice experience. This means almost nothing right now. Customers don’t want “new”, they want an established ecosystem. They want to trust that their devices will get updates and that they’ll see new devices in the future. They want apps, and they want to see cases they’ll never buy at Mall kiosks. Those things only come with time and sales. Those early sales are going to be harder and harder to come by as every player that fails in this market will only reinforce why consumers should only buy something established. Why they shouldn’t take a risk.

Years. Blackberry needs years.

GTA 5: Chatting Violence in Media and Breaking Sales Records – Arlene Bynon SiriusXM Radio appearance

ArleneBynonI always enjoy my appearances on the Arlene Bynon show. She’s a savvy business commentator, and she had me on for a segment covering the release of Grand Theft Auto 5.

We discussed the popularity of the game, its passionate following among gamers, the business impact of breaking $800 million in one day, and some of the controversy surrounding violence in media.

Originally Aired September 18, 2013.
Arlene Bynon: SiriusXM radio ch. 167, weekdays 4-6pm ET.

Pick Your Poison: OS Fragmentation or Feature Fragmentation?

One of the most impressive aspects of owning an Apple phone or tablet is how good Apple is at rolling out OS updates. With very few meltdowns, MILLIONS of devices are updated on launch day, and the entire ecosystem moves forward very quickly. Early estimates point to almost 30% of iOS users are now on iOS7. By controlling the hardware and software environment, Apple has created a process Google will probably never be able to approximate.

TheAppleLounge iOS-7-Comparison-ChartWhile even older devices will get these OS updates, iDevices like the iPhone 4 and iPad 2 wont be getting all of the new features of the OS. This makes sense as it’s older, under-powered hardware, and Apple is ruthless about protecting the user experience. However, as what we get excited about during an OS update are new features, claiming the iPhone 4 “also gets iOS7” is a very small touch disingenuous. It does get iOS7, just not ALL of it.

The Apple Lounge built this great graphic detailing which devices would be getting new features, and which would be left out. On the whole Apple has done a terrific job of moving things like Control Center and Multi-tasking forward, but some lost features might be a touch frustrating.Things like panorama photos and in-camera filters might be kind of a bummer for folks who prized the iPhone’s camera. Also, for as frustrating as it can be to transfer files on and off iDevices, the lack of AirDrop on older hardware might be frustrating for some.

This also brings up weird splits in product lines. The iPad Mini is largely the same internal hardware as the iPad 2, but the iPad 2 will not be receiving Air Drop support while the iPad Mini will. Ditto the “iPad with Retina Display”. If you have the iPad 3, no Air Drop for you, but the iPad 4 is good to go. Definitely a bummer as we would imagine the hardware in the iPad 3 is probably more robust than in the iPad Mini.

Contrast that with the scattered OS update path on Android, and Apple still has the cleaner process, but Google is taking steps to improve the Android ecosystem. They wont be able to corral all of the various manufacturers, they’ve been trying to do that for a while now, but they can go around them to a degree. Over the last several months we’ve been watching Google slice pieces off of Android and putting those pieces up as stand alone apps. While it might seem like a small thing, it shouldn’t require a full new OS update to install a small improvement to something like the keyboard, and now Android users can install the stock Nexus keyboard as a separate app.

google settings app screenshot somegadgetguyTaking that idea a step further, the new Google Settings app shows up in your app drawer now and gives you a lot of control over gaming, Google+, and remote device management (like tracking your phone if it gets stolen). Google Play Services is also updated through the Google Play app store. Rather than waiting out full OS updates, all of the peripheral services and controls, things that developers interact with for instance, can all be updated independently of the OS.

While most services like G+, Play Music, and Maps have always been this way, and people are somewhat used to them being one part hardware and one part cloud, I hope this idea extends soon to other features on our phones like the camera. Taking a cue from the Nexus Keyboard app, it would be a nice way to unify the camera experience on Android handsets, that there would be one simple Android camera experience if people want something simple and familiar. Ditto the photo Gallery, as it can be jarring moving to a new phone and having a completely different experience for organizing and sharing photos and videos.

This solution isn’t perfect either, as some improvements will still require that full OS iteration, and things like hardware controls have to be buttoned down (hello Bluetooth funkiness), but as Google implements more individual component updates, fewer and fewer Android users will be left out in the cold as app developers and services move forward.

I’ve come to the opinion that there really isn’t a “best” phone, tablet, or ecosystem anymore. For a couple years now, the question you have to ask yourself is: What compromises are you willing to live with? As even low end phones now can be surprisingly capable, I think service and support will become even more meaningful to the end user.

So pick your poison. What kinds of updates work better for you?

Live Ask Juan: Upgrades to help an older PC with Video Editing?

inside computer pc hardware upgrade videocard ram cables somegadgetguyGot another great reader question. Thought I’d take to the Youtube’s to answer it!

From Youtube viewer TableReadTheater:

Hey Juan,
I have an older PC, like 3 or 4 years. It still runs ok, but I want to start doing some video editing. I can’t buy a new system yet, but I can spend a little on a few parts. What kinds of upgrades can I do to help it run better for video?

Jon Rettinger from TechnoBuffalo back tracks on his original Surface Pro review in time for Surface Pro 2.

I wrote a longer maudlin article about agenda “journalism” and bias. I had no idea I’d be rewarded so soon with another perfect example of why we journalists need to take a more nuanced approach to reviewing, and at least try to overcome our natural personal bias.

Screenshot (91)Windows 8 has been incredibly divisive in the tech community. Most of the commentary surrounding MS’s new OS has been pretty negative, and there have been a number of criticisms regarding changes to the UI. See, when you change something as well established as Windows, a UI which hasn’t been significantly altered since Windows 95, people are going to freak out. For as much as we like to think we want “new” and “bleeding edge” we don’t weather actual change all that well. Windows 8 was a shock for me, but after a couple days on a touchscreen laptop, I came to not only really like the UI, but also appreciate the improvements to file management and hardware resource management.

That’s the kicker however. I had to take a couple days to get used to it. I didn’t write up reviews and thoughts during that time. I wanted to understand it before I shared my experiences with readers, even though I was hopelessly behind the tsunami of early angry reviews.

Windows 8 is far from “bad”, it’s actually quite good. If Microsoft is guilty of anything here, it’s not making a bad product, but doing a miserable job of communicating with consumers what the changes were going to be.

And now, in time for the Surface 2 launch, we’re seeing people “come to appreciate” the changes to the UI. Now Windows 8 is “elegant”. Those adorable scamps, they just had to “get used to it”, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s not really as bad as their initial reviews would have led MILLIONS of tech enthusiasts and blog readers to believe. It’s almost like you get more honest and accurate information when you don’t put an un-boxing and first impressions video up as your proper review of a product. Interesting.

Sorry to pick on you Jon, but welcome to the club. Glad you finally figured out how to use a product that most of us haven’t had any serious or significant issues with. I hope you enjoy the Surface Pro 2 even more. Maybe spend more than a day with it before you “review” it?

Hit the jump for Mr. Rettinger’s ACTUAL review of the Microsoft Surface and Windows 8.

Continue reading “Jon Rettinger from TechnoBuffalo back tracks on his original Surface Pro review in time for Surface Pro 2.”