Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for December, 2011

The Larger Scope

Vlad Savov wrote an editorial on The Verge rightly criticising Samsung for their stubborn and crass lack of support in upgrading year-old devices.

Earlier today, Samsung revealed that it won’t update the Galaxy S, its most successful smartphone to date, to the latest version of Android. You might shrug and dismiss that as just more evidence of Android’s inherent fragmentation or the need for buyers to beware, but I take grave issue with it. This is a decision based not on technical constraints, as Samsung would have you believe, but on hubris.

The Galaxy S, as Savov notes, has sold nearly 20 million units worldwide. It was released just last year, and already Samsung can’t be bothered to upgrade it to Ice Cream Sandwich. Savov takes issue with this, noting that “Samsung considers its relationship with the consumer to be concluded the moment the sale is completed,” a decision that is counter to that of Google, Apple and Microsoft. Those three names all consider software to be upgradeable, for the most part, even after it’s sold. Apple and Microsoft charge to upgrade major versions of their desktop operating system, but not for their phones.

Android exists in a netherworld of somewhat murky distinction between Google’s role, the hardware vendor’s role, and the role of the carrier. All three have a say in whether a device gets upgraded. While it’s true that Google doesn’t really care one way or another if a user upgrades, the hardware company wants their custom software on it, and the carrier would prefer if you didn’t remove their preinstalled apps that nobody ever uses.

This post was picked up by Matthew Panzarino at The Next Web, who makes two very important observations. The first regards the nature of Android as a platform:

Samsung has no ecosystem or platform of its own. In fact, it can be argued that Android itself isn’t even a platform, it’s a collection of tools that allow companies to build a platform.

This is absolutely true, as far as the user’s perspective is concerned. They wouldn’t articulate it nearly this way, but as far as many are concerned, the OS on the phones of different manufacturers is distinct.

Panzarino also notes that this isn’t just Samsung:

[I]t’s systemic to Android as a whole. The makers of Android hardware see little benefit in updating even devices that are less than a year old. And, though I think it’s a punk move, I don’t blame them. There is little to no return to be had.

As I wrote a while back, Android hardware manufacturers aren’t using Android because it’s the best OS out there, but because it’s the best that they can get their hands on. It ticks all the boxes they care about: it allows customisation, it’s free to implement, and there’s the freedom for carriers to negotiate and meddle with it. Why would Samsung care deeply about an OS that they have no immediate allegiance to [1]?

Marco Arment noticed Panzarino’s post, and offered up his take:

Nobody in the Android ecosystem — not Google, not manufacturers of Android devices, and certainly not the gadget blogs that review and promote them — seems to care about long-term user satisfaction, even when “long-term” is as short as a two-year smartphone contract.

He also wonders if the Android user base feels any loyalty to the platform, or if they’ll reciprocate the uncaring and ostracising characteristics displayed by the hardware manufacturers. According to research published by GFK last month, 84% of iPhone users will buy another iPhone, but only 60% of Android customers plan on being loyal to their platform. I wonder if these numbers will be different now that a significant number of customers have been excluded from a major update.

All this comes as Chris Ziegler published a visualisation of most (but not all) of the Android phones HTC has released in the past year. He notes that, among other problems with having such a large quantity of phones:

[M]ore SKUs means more firmwares, and more versions of those firmwares. Each of those versions needs the care and feeding of an engineering team, and there are only so many engineers to go around. If a particular model is unpopular — which is more likely when you’re releasing a countless array of them — long-term support becomes an even greater risk.

To summarise: manufacturers make a lot of phone models which they are unwilling to upgrade or maintain. I simply cannot think of a reason why this is good for customers in the long term.

  1. While it’s true that Samsung and Google have their Nexus partnership, the rest of Samsung’s lineup isn’t tied to Android. If another OS were to come along that worked better for Samsung, they’d have few qualms about switching their lineup to it. [↑]

Apple at the Retail Crossroads

John Dvorak:

So how much more can Apple grow the retail business?

I see no reason why Apple cannot have 1,000 stores that would all be successful. Staples Inc., the office-supply chain, has 2,000-plus stores.

Sound logic. I mean, Staples stores don’t ever generate the kind of revenue that Apple stores do, but a thousand stores for an accessible quality brand seems fair.

Apple seems so adept at retail that there is no reason to doubt that it could go out and buy a company like Staples to expand in the sector. Why not?

Seriously? That would be a terrible idea. I can’t think of a Staples store that would match any of the criteria for an Apple store in terms of location, design, structure or size. Apple has much better options for their $80 billion.

(via Kontra)

Best Buy Cancels Some Online Orders

Brian X. Chen:

A number of online shoppers this week complained that some of their BestBuy.com orders placed in November or December were being canceled, just days before Christmas.

The electronics retail giant has apologized for the cancellations. Best Buy cited overwhelming demand of hot product offerings, which led to some orders’ being canceled.

As Chen points out, this is treading awfully close to fraud.

That 7-Inch iPad?

Instead of a new screen size, Blair thinks it’s more likely that Apple will keep its current iPad 2 on the production line after the launch of a third-generation iPad. This would allow Apple to reach a lower price point and address demand at the mid-tier range.

I think this is much, much more likely. If Apple keeps the iPad 2 at around $400 (or less), and introduces an iPad 3 with a retina display, Siri and an A6 at the current iPad price points, I can’t see their market share going down at all.

HTC Completed Workaround to Skirt a U.S. Apple Patent Ruling

The Apple patent in question specifies that…

A system and method causes a computer to detect and perform actions on structures identified in computer data. […] [T]he user interface can present and enable selection of the detected structures, and upon selection of a detected structure, present the linked candidate actions. Upon selection of an action, the action processor performs the action on the detected structure.

It covers the detection of phone numbers, parcel tracking numbers and so on. Apple was granted a ban of HTC devices that infringe upon the patent on December 19, but HTC isn’t worried:

“It’s actually quite rarely used,” HTC Chief Executive Officer Peter Chou said of the feature.

Well I’ll be damned.

The Story of Dropbox

It’s explained in this very well-written article, but it never fails to surprise me just how reliable Dropbox is. I have folders and files of kilobytes to gigabytes and it never misses a beat.

The article makes pains to compare Dropbox to iCloud, but I think this comparison is unwarranted in many regards. For most people, Dropbox is about syncing files, whereas iCloud is about syncing application data. Dropbox has application integration, but it’s not what most people think of. If it can be compared to any Apple product, it’s iDisk without the suck.

AllThis Sleazy Dishonesty

The controversy over this is similar to that created by Clout, in that it implies endorsement and membership without consent.

Marco Arment, whom I sourced this article from, paints it clearly:

I’m very conservative about endorsements and promises of my time, and I’d never agree to participate in something like AllThis. To have them spamming Twitter with my name and promising people my time is fraudulent, malicious, and deeply offensive.

‘Ship Today, Update Tomorrow’

Mike Isaac, for Wired magazine:

The problem is, when a manufacturer rushes a product to market, consumers often suffer the brunt. Whether it means cutting corners on user-experience testing, or fast-tracking hardware/software integration between the device and its OS, a quick rush to market is often self-defeating, leading to a speedy release of a half-baked product.

Isaac makes a number of excellent points, but I think he missed a big one. Thousands of people will be unwrapping a Kindle Fire as a Christmas or Hanukkah gift and before using it, they’ll have to update the software. It’s a brand new product that needs to be finished by the user. It’s why giving furniture from IKEA is kind of a dick move unless you’re prepared to build it.

(via Shawn Blanc)

Does Airport Security Really Make Us Safer?

Year after year, articles in widely-respected publications confirm that the short answer is “no”, and the long answer is “not even slightly”.

In this Vanity Fair article, Charles C. Mann, with the assistance of security expert Bruce Schneier, notes a number of gaping security holes. They’re not subtle, nor invisible. They don’t involve shoes; they’re just common sense. And yet we’re forced to strip down every time we fly.

Fuck Me? No, Fuck You

M.G. Siegler:

A subsequent report by Barb Darrow for GigaOm suggest that this move wasn’t about Microsoft thinking about their own timing (as Shaw clearly states) as much as it’s about Microsoft being snubbed by CES and them saying “fuck you” in return.

I think this works out best for both parties, but at this point it’s unclear who exactly pulled the trigger. My guess is that Microsoft had long been contemplating pulling out of CES, and the Consumer Electronics Association had long been thinking of removing them. Here’s the clincher:

Shaw wrote (and reiterates in the tweet) that it was Microsoft’s decision: “we have decided that this coming January will be our last keynote presentation and booth at CES.” But CES directly refutes this to NYT: “In an interview, Jason Oxman, senior vice president of industry affairs at the group, said it invited companies to deliver keynote speeches at the convention, not the other way around.”

Siegler interprets this as Microsoft being snubbed. The way I read it, however, is that Microsoft wouldn’t agree to another keynote if asked.

The Six Best Comedy Podcasts on Earth Right Now

Remember when podcasting was a big thing? Remember when Apple promoted the hell out of it, and it was a major bullet point on their iTunes page? Well, it’s still going strong. This is a good selection. I highly recommend (as I often do) The Smartest Man in the World. If you need a few introductory episodes, I thoroughly enjoyed Stations, Crackers and Beans:

I remember having a room service breakfast at the Groucho, which consisted of a sullen guy who kicked on your door and threw you a bowl of cereal. A bowl of cereal. Hot breakfast: unheard of in a place with a restaurant. Again, this is London, so don’t ask for a lot. “You want a whole room with a sink and everything?”

Mozilla and Google Sign New Agreement for Default Search in Firefox

This is interesting. Google has their own browser which recently overtook Firefox in market share. Also of note is the confidentiality of this deal. It’s standard business practice, but both Mozilla and Google profess to being open and transparent.

Yajoe over at Hacker News analysed Mozilla’s 2010 audit and dug up some specifics on the deal, including this juicy nugget:

Mozilla’s burn rate was 62 million, which means Google paid for the entire Mozilla development effort in 2010.