TUAW wrote about why the iPhone is not a commodity.
Of course, the idea that smartphones are fast becoming commoditized is often brought up as a reason why Apple needs to come out with a magical new product immediately. The often overlooked reality is that Apple works tirelessly to ensure that the iPhone houses features that competitors simply can’t match. We saw this most recently with the introduction of Touch ID on the iPhone 5s. While some competitors — namely Samsung — have attempted to mimic the functionality of Touch ID with their own offerings, the simplicity, usability, and more importantly, the reliability of Apple’s own implementation remains unrivaled.
It is easy to copy but hard to recreate the same experience.
Recently at WWDC 2014, we saw that Apple remains committed to enhancing the feature set of iOS in ways that are difficult, if not practically impossible, for competitors to copy. The mounting integration between iOS and OS X is the most glaring example. With iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, Apple continues to blur the lines between the Mac and iOS. More importantly, Apple’s over arching theme of “continuity” brings with it a number of features that will have a real impact on the way consumers use technology; Handoff is a boon for efficiency while the ability to make phone calls from the Mac elicited boisterous applause from WWDC attendees.
This type of seamless integration will prove frustratingly difficult for companies like Samsung or LG to implement. Microsoft could presumably go down this path, but with the share of Windows Phone still obscenely low, they’ve still yet to prove themselves a major player in the mobile space.
Apple has started to move towards differentiating the iPhone from the competition. Perhaps the question we should ask is how Android can avoid becoming a commodity.
If anything, commoditization across Android handsets seems like more of a pressing issue than commoditization vis a vis Apple and Android.
Engadget reviews the Samsung Galaxy S5.
Getting down to brass tacks, how well does the thing actually work? It depends. I trained the GS5 to recognize both of my thumbs and my right index finger, since those are the three digits I use the most when waking up the phone. Over the course of several days, I made dozens of attempts with each finger and it only recognized me on the first try about half the time — and that’s a generous estimate. More often than not, I had to swipe my finger two or three times before it let me in; typing in a PIN code would’ve been more efficient. Worse, there were other times when the scanner wouldn’t recognize me at all, even as I adjusted my swipe speed, angle and finger pressure. And even when it works, there’s a small delay after you swipe before the phone accepts your print.
As for one-handed use, don’t even bother. It’s technically possible, but the odds of success are so low I have a better chance of seeing Narnia each time I open my closet. Normally, I hold the phone in my left hand and try to swipe the sensor with my left thumb; however, my thumb is at such an angle that the sensor simply can’t recognize it. Sometimes it’ll work if I push the phone up a little higher and try to position the thumb at a more shallow angle, but even then, it takes multiple attempts, and it’s so off-balance that I’ve come close to dropping the device several times. Apple’s sensor, on the other hand, has no problem picking up my fingerprint from any angle.
When TouchID was first announced, critics called it a gimmick. Yet when people saw how it simply works and removed the hassle of unlocking the phone, other companies started taking note and implemented fingerprint technology as well. But merely copying the idea of scanning the fingerprint is not enough. You need to do it in such a way that gives a great user experience and people actually want to use it.
Engadget reports on Samsung’s quarterly earnings.
Samsung’s marketing budget has always been vast, but in the last quarter it was far larger than even the manufacturer itself would have liked. The company admits that it’s been forced to spend extra money on promotions for older and lower-end devices that have been filling up its warehouses due to “weak demand.” This dip in trade, combined with the extra spend on publicity, is causing the company’s recent, gradual profit decline to quicken: it now expects to earn around 24 percent less this quarter than it did a year ago, with underlying sales down by an estimated 8-11 percent.
When you have so many different phones and provide little or no support for the older and lower-end phones, why would people want to buy them? The key lies in focus.
Another thing they need to ask themselves is it whether it is worthwhile to splurge on advertising? Especially when they people they sponsor actually prefer to use the iPhone.
John Gruber wrote about Microsoft’s past and future.
What they missed was the next step from every desk and home: a computer in every pocket. It’s worse than that, though. They saw it coming, and they tried. Pocket PC, Windows CE, Windows Mobile — swings and misses at the next big thing. They weren’t even close, and damningly, Steve Ballmer didn’t even seem to realize it. That’s what’s so damning about that video of him laughing at the original iPhone.
Steve Ballmer laughed. Bill Gates didn’t.
Microsoft’s institutional lack of taste had finally come to bite them in their ass. While Ballmer laughed at the iPhone and presumably walked around with a Windows Mobile piece of junk in his pocket, Larry Page and Sergei Brin carried iPhones. Google never laughed at the iPhone; it made money from it by providing web search and maps. Google quickly became, and remains to this day, a leading developer of iOS apps. And it was Google that was fast to follow the iPhone with Android, slurping up the commodity-market crumbs that Apple, focused as ever on the quality-minded high end of the market, eschewed. I don’t think it was ever within Microsoft’s DNA to produce the iPhone, but what Android became — the successful fast follower — could have been theirs if they’d recognized the opportunity faster. The Microsoft of 1984, a decade away from industry dominance, wrote software for the original Mac, and learned from it. When Bill Gates first saw a Mac, he didn’t laugh — he wanted to know how it worked, right down to specific details, like the smooth animation of its mouse cursor.
MacWorld wrote about Apple’s customer satisfaction.
Compare this with Microsoft’s lack of control over PC hardware:
Now, if you live near a Microsoft store, you can buy a PC on which Microsoft does own the desktop experience: The devices the company sells in its own stores come with a clean installation of Windows, blessedly free of the meddling of those other vendors. Alternatively, you can bring in a PC and have Microsoft clean it up for you, even working with the hardware manufacturer on your behalf to solve problems.
For a fee.
That seems crazy to Mac users. But as a Windows user, one either lives with the crapware or pays Microsoft or a third party to clean it up—yes, that’s right: clean up your brand new computer.
Then, there’s Google’s lack of control over Android:
Android phones are similarly jacked up with crapware, often installed by not one but two parties: the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and the carrier. Oh, boy! Do I want to use Google’s music service or Samsung’s? Or maybe Verizon’s? Man, if only I had bought a case with this phone maybe I’d have a fourth choice.
So, we have a sad situation where consumers live with the clutter.
For the majority of Windows and Android users, the user experience comes pre-cluttered with a confusing cacophony of attempts to steal your eyeballs. And, since those two platforms are used by more people than Apple’s, that means most of the people in the world go through their desktop and mobile computing lives like this.
Apple has the advantage of producing the software and hardware, creating the experience it wants to give its users.
But the all-in-one experience is not going to end there. With iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, that experience will be enhanced with Continuity. If you own a Mac and an iPhone or iPad, you get to enjoy a seamless experience moving between the platforms.
Monday Note shared some iWatch Thoughts.
The most ambitious rumors project 50 million iWatches sold in the first 12 months. I think that’s an unrealistic estimate, but if a $300 iWatch can sell at these numbers, that’s $15B for the year. This seems like a huge number until you compare it to a conservative estimate for the iPhone: 50 million iPhones at $650 generates $32B per quarter.
The Daily Dot reported on the weird Google I/O keynote.
A protester upstaged Google’s keynote:
It all started a short while into the keynote when an audience member holding a banner began screaming and yelling at the crowd. The woman was protesting the influx of tech workers into the San Francisco area, and the banner she was holding claimed that she had been evicted from her home by a Google employee.
Then came a string of demos that Google probably wishes it could redo, including apps that wouldn’t load, a game graphics demo that was flickering and repeatedly cut out, and a coding example that had to be attempted three times before it displayed properly. It was all very strange, and the awkward mumbling from the audience whenever something broke certainly didn’t help matters.
After two hours of technical talk, with nary a mention of new hardware or consumer-level software, the attendees began to get a bit bored. It was at this point that Twitter briefly became a strange meta-I/O, with dozens, or perhaps hundreds of attendees hopping on their Twitter accounts to talk about how bad the show was—while it was still going on.
The talk stretched on for another hour, but the craziness refused to subside. At about the two-and-a-half-hour mark, a man began running around the conference hall screaming something at the top of his lungs, and this time it had nothing to do with real estate prices.
“You all work for a totalitarian company that builds robots that kill people!” he repeatedly screamed at the top of his lungs, moving about the audience in an attempt to avoid being forcibly escorted from the building.
Imagine the backlash if any one of these happened during an Apple keynote.
WSJ.com reported on the Android TV.
The article provides a good review of Google’s attempt to take over the living room:
- Google TV (2010)
- Google TV 2.0 (2011)
- Nexus Q (2012)
- Google TV 3.0 (2013)
- Chromecast (2013)
- Android TV (2014)
TechCrunch reported on the stark absence of Google Glass and Google Plus during Google I/O.
This year, Glass wasn’t even mentioned, and no presenters wore it on stage. Even when the discussion turned to wearables — an ideal time to work in its face computer — Google had nothing to say.
When I spoke with Google X head Astro Teller earlier this year, he made a fairly eloquent case for widening the conversation out to all cameras and surveillance, rather than focusing on Glass, which he called the “world’s worst spy camera.”
But Google has certainly pulled back from trumpeting the device during its keynote, if today’s program was any indication. Even a hardware revision announced this week didn’t warrant a mention.
For Google+, the lack of mentions are likely due to several factors. First, the ‘father’ of Plus, Vic Gundotra, left Google this year. Around that time, we heard from several sources that certain aspects of Plus, like the wonderful Photos product, could be getting the standalone treatment. And the ‘rest’ of Google+ would be relegated to a single sign-on service that acted as a platform, instead of a holistic ‘product’ of its own.
Macworld writes about why Apple cares about your privacy.
And when you really dig into the details, you learn that Apple lets you NSA-proof your iCloud keychain, encrypts Messages and FaceTime calls end-to-end, protects an employee’s personal information from his or her employer when using Mobile Device Management, and has designed the iPhone without law-enforcement back doors.
But in the most telling recent news of all, it appears the Apple will randomize the WiFi hardware address of iOS devices to frustrate location and advertising trackers who use this address to know who you are when you move around in public. This is a subtle feature that the vast majority of iOS users won’t ever realize exists, even as it protects them.
This goes against the current of corporates that attempt to mine as much data from users as possible to better target advertisements or to sell those data to other companies.
So why does Apple place such emphasis on privacy?
Corporations generally limit their altruism to charity, not to core product and business decisions. Apple likely sees a competitive advantage in privacy, especially when its biggest direct competition comes from advertising giant Google and the enterprise-friendly Microsoft. Apple believes consumers not only desire privacy, but will increasingly value privacy as a factor in their buying decisions.
It is a critical advantage against its key rivals:
Google can’t stop scanning user email, since targeted advertising is its core business. Facebook won’t encrypt messages end-to-end for the very same reason. Microsoft can’t restrict enterprise administrators from controlling phones and computers, since enterprise manageability is core to its primary customer base, especially as it loses ground in the consumer market. Android—okay, Google—can’t dictate hardware design, and thus can’t consistently secure customer data on the device. Essentially, Apple uses the difference in its business model to attack competitors on privacy.