Feb 032019
 

Apple’s stockprice has taken a bit of a tumble just recently, prompted by a statement from them indicating that they’ve made a bit of a mess of the iPhone releases and they’re not selling as many as they expected.

Foolish scaremongers are predicting the demise of Apple. Over a few bad quarters? That’s just ridiculous.

If anything (and you fancy a gamble), now is probably a good time to buy shares in Apple, because they are not going away any time soon. And they will probably come up with an answer to what they are doing wrong.

So what are they doing wrong?

Too Few Products

It may seem a bit strange to say considering just how many different iPhones you can buy, but what I am really talking about here are product types rather than individual variations. After all whether you are buying an iPhone X, XS, XS Max, or XR, you’re still buying an iPhone.

Just take a look at the Apple web site navigation bar :-

Each of those (with the possible exception of a particular keen Mac user of the “Mac” group, and of course “Music”) is a product that a person is only likely to have one of.

And keeping the number of products you sell small makes you more vulnerable to the occasional “miss”. Which with the best planning in the world will happen from time to time.

Just imagine what is missing :-

  1. The Apple HiFi
  2. The Apple alarm clock.
  3. The Apple home/small office network server.
  4. The Apple power-line ethernet adaptor.
  5. The Apple WiFi access point.
  6. The Apple air pollution monitor/smoke detector.

And that’s just a few items thought up by an individual on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Don’t Ignore The Fringe Fanatics

For many years, Apple survived by making products well suited to the audio/visual creator community. And yet looking through the Mac line-up, there is nothing there suited to the real power user.

And yet Apple has fans who still want to run macOS – either compromising on their needs by getting an iMac Pro (usually with huge piles of non-Apple external disks) or by getting an ordinary PC and running macOS on it.

Give them what they want, and no a promise to release a proper Mac Pro “someday” isn’t sufficient.

There may not be a great deal of profit in it, but a small profit is better than none. And catering to power users may well have a greater effect than you suppose – they are or can be influencers. Imagine every photographer, videographer, and sound engineer saying “Forget about Windows; get yourself a Mac”.

Because that’s what they used to say.

Too Expensive

If you ask anyone if they would like more features, the answer is almost always yes, but they can become more reluctant if you ask them to pay a little more money for those features.

And if you ask them to pay more for features they are not interested in, they’ll rapidly lose interest if money is tight and their old phone is ‘good enough’.

And that is what has happened, the latest iPhone has more and better features than any previous iPhone but the price has crept up. For many (including the affluent “middle-class”) it has become a significant purchase rather than something that can be paid off with 2-4 months of minor inconvenience.

Follow The Path
Oct 042011
 

So it has been announced at last. The iPhone 4S, which is more or less an iPhone 4 with some fiddling – a faster processor, an improved antenna, and a software update that gives it a feature that Android has had for a while. That is voice control.

Undoubtedly it will all be done in a very slick way – that is the Apple way, but is it enough ?

Well it all depends on what you mean by “enough”. It will undoubtedly sell – both to the Apple fans who worship anything Apple produces whatever the merits, but will it sell enough to keep Apple’s current level of influence in the mobile smartphone sector ? After all, Steve Jobs has now left and everyone is wondering how the new Apple will maintain it’s leadership in the smartphone and slate market.

Well the iPhone 4S is nice, but so is my iPhone 4. But it is hardly a major improvement – yes it’s faster; probably a lot faster. And the antenna improvement will please those who managed to tickle the antenna problem on the iPhone 4 (I could only do so by going through ridiculous contortions).

It’s a perfectly reasonable mid-life facelift, but it’s a touch late for a mid-life facelift, although admittedly a bit early for a whole new phone. Oh! Sure Apple will claim that the internals are completely different, but it’s still an improved iPhone 4 rather than an iPhone 5. Although it’s unreasonable, Apple’s problem here is that the iPhone 4S looks a little boring and in a post-Jobs era, they need to convince people that they are still able to release exciting products. And this isn’t it.

The big problem I see from my personal perspective is that there is no option for an iPhone with a big screen (and no I don’t mean an iPad!). If you look at the oodles of choice you can find in the Android phone market, you will find examples of premium smartphones with larger screens than the iPhone. Such as the Samsung Galaxy S II with a 4.3″ screen, and that is not even the largest smartphone screen you can find (although it may well be the best).

Sure not everyone wants a large screen on their smartphone, but I do and Android gives me that choice. And plenty of other choices – 3D screens, physical keyboards, etc. And no being chained up in Apple’s walled garden!

So yes, sorry Apple but it’s a bit of a yawn event. Try again with a proper iPhone 5 with a large (for a smartphone) screen.

Nov 062010
 

Well it’s here! An android slate that is – something I’ve been after for quite a while. And it turns out to be a Toshiba Folio 100. Perhaps not the best picture, but at least it hasn’t been stolen :-

55585

Hardware Thoughts

Supposedly some people thinks it feels cheap, well I can say it doesn’t. Admittedly there is a fair amount of plastic involved in the case, which is perhaps where the thoughts come from but it’s pretty good plastic. Perhaps it compares a little unfavourably with the Apple iPad or iPhone4, but for a half plastic device it’s not bad at all. The back is textured plastic which is perhaps a slightly dated design feature, but it does mean the slate feels less likely to slip out of your hands – that iPhone experience of the slick metal and glass (for the iPhone4) and slick plastic (for earlier iPhones) feels good out of the box, but most people end up sticking it inside a case and the need to feel it securely in your hands is at least part of the reason for the case.

The back is slightly smaller than the front, which makes it look a tad slimmer than it really is, but the thinner edge makes it easier to hold onto the device. The 25cm screen sits within a larger area leaving a 2cm border around the device. Again a slightly dated design feature, but it does mean that when you hold it with your thumb on the top surface for a more secure grip, you don’t obscure any part of the screen.

The top of the bezel holds the tiny lens for the built-in webcam and a hole for the microphone. The right edge holds in order, a battery/power light, and a series of four touch sensitive buttons which are quite possibly just sensitive areas of the touchscreen – the LCD panel doesn’t extend to the edge of the device, but the glass of the touchscreen does. The top edge holds the only physical buttons – an on/off switch, and a volume control rocker switch. The on/off switch feels a little loose, which isn’t good, but the volume buttons seem to work fine.

Connectors can be found on the right edge and bottom edge with some covered by rubber covers. After having seen so many devices that recharge through a USB connection, it seems oddly old-fashioned that Toshiba have included a conventional powerbrick to plug into an old-style proprietary power-jack. This is one place where being dated is not good – why not use the USB ports for power like everyone else ?

Without commenting on the software (yet!), in use the device works pretty well. The screen is nice and clear; the touchscreen is pretty responsive and accurate although there’s always room for improvement. The only oddity is those touch sensitive buttons on the right – they sometimes seem reluctant to activate. Of course the screen is both reflective and subject to getting greasy fingerprints on it.

The Software

Before I start making any comments, please be aware of two things that may influence my comments :-

  1. I haven’t used an Android device before so I won’t be aware of how this device compares in use to other devices. Plus of course nobody (according to Google) is supposed to be using the current Android builds for tablets!
  2. My home Wifi network is especially flaky so some problems may have been down to this.

The Toshiba may be running Android 2.2 but it isn’t quite the full Google experience – there are no Google applications, and the real Android Marketplace isn’t there. Of course Toshiba has bundled in some applications to get started with, including it’s own Marketplace application, but it would be nice to have a choice. What is missing from the bundled applications is a map viewer (admittedly this would have to be manually driven given the lack of a GPS unit, but even so), and a game or two. It may also be sensible to have a more obvious “widget” on the home screen(s) to lead into a quick overview of the device. And please explain the different power lights in that quick overview!

The Marketplace. Well it looks fine at first glance, but is a little flaky in operation. It is subject to frequent crashes, and there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot in it – for instance where is the Kindle app? And what there is in there seems to be very haphazardly arranged with some rather startling choices of categories.

Ok, perhaps Toshiba have restricted apps to things that will work well on the Folio which would explain the limited numbers. Well, no. At least two of the apps I downloaded turned out to restrict themselves to a phone-sized display which looks very silly. I could understand that sort of thing on the main Android Marketplace as Android slates are so new, but in Toshiba’s “walled garden” ?

The photo above shows that at least some applications originally written for a phone-sized display work “correctly” on the larger screen of a slate, although perhaps resulting in a somewhat humorous result. Although I can imagine some people would find calculators with such big buttons useful. What Toshiba needs to do is :-

  1. Debug their marketplace app so it doesn’t crash (and doesn’t have so many issues with long lists of apps!).
  2. Restrict apps in their marketplace to those apps that work well on the Folio, and categorise them much more carefully.
  3. Allow the use of the standard Android Marketplace – perhaps with the addition of a quality warning screen. Or indeed with an option in the settings to allow it’s use.

Despite claims that this device supports Flash, the Youtube experience shows that it isn’t quite there yet – you get a screen saying you need to upgrade your version of Flash. There was a slip of paper put into the box telling me to check the Toshiba Multimedia website for a Flash download, which doesn’t seem to be there. But why can’t the Flash update be included into the standard update mechanism ? This all has the feel of a slightly rushed product. In some ways this is fair enough, providing that there are frequent updates online (through the “Toshiba Service Station”).

Over a few days, my initial impression of it being a little rushed have been reinforced – there after frequent crashes of the Toshiba applications, and the system has a habit of slowing down to a crawl from time to time. The only update that has been provided so far has been to the Toshiba Marketplace application – which didn’t come through the “Service Station” app, and that has made things worse. Now there are no applications available at all!

Apparently Dixons have gotten so many returns, that they are effectively refusing to sell any more (see the article from The Register). Toshiba needs to buck up it’s ideas pretty quickly here. Even if it is just an update to :-

  1. Provide the standard Marketplace application.
  2. Provide an option to remove all of the added Toshiba applications.
  3. Provide an explanation that the Toshiba branded applications are being temporarily removed for quality issues.

At the very least they need to send out a message either on the device itself, or via an email to urge customers to apologise, be patient and announce expected dates when updates will be provided.

Final Words

Well, even after the long awaited update the Toshiba software was still sub-standard. The best option for anyone who hasn’t lost patience and returned their Folio is a community-hacked up ROM.

Jul 242010
 

When the iPhone was first introduced, it was available on “unlimited” data plans although in reality “unlimited” meant “as much as we think is reasonable” with no indication of how much was reasonable. The first iPhone was also not capable of being “tethered” to a computer so the computer could use the phone as an Internet router – which was kind of odd as all other smart phones allowed that.

And then the iPhone acquired the tethering ability and the carriers insisted that customers pay extra for tethering. Which was sort of odd as no other smart phone required that. But it was sort of understandable as the iPhone had an “unlimited” data plan, and the ease of use had encouraged customers to make use of that “unlimited” data plan to the extent that many mobile networks suffered from a lack of bandwidth. The extra cost of tethering was a means of rationing how much bandwidth an iPhone customer could use.

But now with the iPhone4, all those “unlimited” data plans have mysteriously disappeared to be replaced with plans that limit you to 500Mb-1Gb per month. And yes you still have to pay extra for tethering. Why ?

Now that the data plan is no longer unlimited, why is there an extra charge for tethering ? Surely we are now in a situation where it does not matter what you use the data bandwidth for, but merely how much and whether you exceed the default limit. Those who want to exceed that limit pay more; those who want to tether only in an emergency don’t need to pay extra for something they do not need every day.

And yes I am one of those who would only use tethering in what to me are unusual circumstances – I don’t travel frequently and when I do travel, I have no great urge to ensure that I’m online. But just occasionally it may be useful – say if I’m contacted by work, as a laptop is far better to run an ssh client than an iPhone.

Jun 262010
 

I have yet to play with (or indeed spend much time reading about) iOS4 so it is possible that I am totally wrong with this one and this missing feature is actually supplied by the latest iPhone operating system. But if not … what about plugin input methods ?

That is allow other people to write extensions to the on-screen iPhone keyboard. Whilst Apple have undoubtedly come up with the best possible method for inputing text on a touch-screen, there are always a few who would like to try other ways such as :-

You could even allow users to craft their own on screen keyboards to allow easy access to extra symbols such as emoticons – which for some strange reason are available on certain far eastern keyboards but not on English ones ?!?

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