Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tablet PCs - And the Winner IS... Apple (For Now)

There was a pretty interesting article in DigiTimes that said that most of the major hardware manufacturers were going to throw in the towel in terms of the tablet PC market, and instead focus on "ultrabooks" (not "netbooks" like they did 2 years ago).


If you don't know what an "ultrabook" is here's a video that explains it. Basically, think of the MacBook Air. It's a thin notebook PC that lacks an optical drive, has an "instant on", and will periodically "poll" the network for RSS updates, etc.

I guess hitting the "refresh" button on your web page was a little too cumbersome for some folks.

Oh yeah, and it has a physical keyboard.


"Ultrabook"? Really?

It's more like: "Hey we know how to build notebooks, but since we can't compete in the tablet market because our operating systems are too bloated with crap - let's just invent a new 'category' of devices because that's something we can control."

It's so funny to me that rather than try to make their mobile operating systems (Android and Mobile Windows 7 or 8) - work well and quickly on the more modest hardware of the tablet - they are just giving up and going back to the old status quo.

Oh sure, it has some brushed aluminum, and it's thinner and lighter than a "traditional" laptop or notebook - it's essentially the same thing.

And it's already be "done" - again, by Apple.

I know that Amazon's Kindle Fire is selling like gangbusters - but have you checked out their own product review page? People are saying - "it's cool - for what it is."


People were really looking for a fast, elegant, responsive - and less expensive iPad. They thought - "Hey, it runs Android, has a browser... will be a perfect gift as a tablet PC for my loved one."

It turns out that most people who bought one (disclosure: I did not!) see it as a disappointing "knock off" that's slow, unresponsive and basically unusable as anything other than a nice eReader.

They were expecting a device that was just like the iPad but cheaper. Unfortunately (for them and for Amazon) all they got was cheaper not better.

Now, to be fair, Amazon says they are going to push out an over-the-air update in the next two weeks - and they're hinting around that there is a Fire 2.0 in the works. However, I think the damage may already be done. You don't really get a second chance to make a first impression (ummm... no physical volume buttons - really?).

Apple gets this.

Amazon doesn't. RIM doesn't. HP doesn't.

Even though the first iPhone had only a handful of apps (as did the iPad on launch); they got the experience correct. The look and feel. The buttery smooth interface animations. The small, light, yet "solid" feel of the hardware. The aesthetics. The simplicity of use.

Those things really resonate with customers - especially the performance and ease-of-use. Once you've used an iPhone or iPad for any length of time - just try puttering around on an Android phone or tablet...

It just feels like a cheap knockoff of the original in terms of both the interface experience (it's slow and jumpy and hard to click the tiny icons) and the hardware (bit kunky with multiple physical buttons at the bottom).

On the other hand, non-Apple devices are less expensive (on the whole).

Alas, it appears as if no company has come up with the have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too tablet...

Friday, December 02, 2011

Big Brother IS Watching You - Via Your Smartphone (UPDATED)

WARNING: If you're the paranoid type - take a pill or stop reading here - because this information will put you into a spin.

OK - disclaimer out of the way.

I'll start with the bottom line: If you're using a non-Nokia Android device on AT&T or Sprint (not Verizon), or you're using a Blackberry - your phone could be recording and sending absolutely everything you do on your phone from web searches, to SMS, to application use, to continuous real-time tracking and storing/sending the information back to your carrier.

That's because some handset makers (including Apple - more on that in a minute) and some carriers use a piece of software called Carrier IQ that sets at the deepest levels of the operating system (also known as a "rootkit"). This handy-dandy piece of spyware software intercepts every single keystroke, button push, search string, URL, SMS message, email and (potentially) every voice call - before the operating system even displays it to the user.

Don't believe it? To quote an article on Gizmodo:
This video, recorded by 25-year-old Android developer Trevor Eckhart, shows how it works. This is bad. Really bad.
Here's that video - scroll ahead to about the 9:00 mark for the real interesting stuff:

WTH? Ummmm.... "cool." Now, as one might expect, the carriers are insisting that they are only using this data for "diagnostics" - when applications crash, or calls are dropped, etc.

Yeah, sure.

Being in the software industry for as long as I have, I get the fact that it's helpful to get the machine state if something goes horribly wrong - in order to trap for it in future releases and help the application(s) to get better and more resilient over time.

And, although iPhones also have Carrier IQ on them - it has been discovered that Apple really does only use it for that purpose. And, unlike the Android systems - you can easily turn it off by going to Settings -> Location Services -> System Services and setting the "Diagnostics & Usage" to "OFF". By the way - the default setting for this is OFF! (more information)

Personally, I have no problems with companies wanting to improve the stability of their operating system and/or application (although I have my "Diagnostics & Usage" set to OFF on my iPhone).

The thing I have a problem with - is that you as the user are never notified that your phone is spying on you. And that you can't opt-out of this type of information being transmitted/used (on non-Apple devices). And that you can't even stop the service from running in the first place - even when you press the "Hard Stop" kill switch.

Since this video came to light only 4 days ago - it has caused an absolute firestorm of controversy - to the degree that both the US and German governments are getting involved to see what (if any) privacy laws have been broken.

Now, I'm not really big into conspiracy theories - but in my mind just having this software on 141 MILLION devices begs the question: what happens when some hacker figures out a way to exploit this program? What if they already have? What if this software has been exploited by law enforcement (the "hush, hush" kind) for surveillance or illegal wiretapping?

I'm just sayin'... if you're using a wireless device running Android either buy a Nokia device, switch to Verizon, or just buy an iPhone and be done with it.

UPDATE #1 (02-DEC-2011 9:29am): - Ummmmm... you know that whole "illegal wiretap" stuff that I put in there? Well, it turns out that WikiLeaks just released 287 files on surveillance products from 160 companies designed to get around those pesky privacy laws. Allowing "remote forensics" including keylogging, screenshot captures and much more. DOH!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Life In The Fast Lane

I recently returned from a road trip through Colorado, Utah and Nevada - and besides having a most excellent experience on part of the I-15 in Utah with an 80 mph speed limit - I noticed something fundamentally cool about drivers in other states:

1. They know how to drive (for the most part)
2. They stick to the slow lane except for passing (it's law in Colorado!)
3. Their states realize that the fast lane is for people going "fast"

There were numerous speed limit signs that specifically stated a minimum speed limit in the fast lane as well! It's a bit scary that we have to tell people not to drive slow in the fast lane. However, I think we should extend this model to other areas of life as well.

We obviously need to be more explicit as a society - that way people have a clear understanding of expectations, and will, in turn, become more self-aware.

Maybe all we need are a couple of well-placed signs. Here's a couple of ideas to get the ball rolling:

"Play nice and stop being so selfish, pig-headed, arrogant, and ineffectual" (Congress)

"Stop bitching and go back to work" (Occupy Protesters)

"Grow up and stop being hostile to your customers" (All Banks)

"A 24% interest rate is criminal" (All Credit Card Companies)

"We will provide 9% more/better service for a 9% increase in premiums" (All Insurance Companies)

"We do not have to fix every single bridge, road, highway and airport at the same time" (All Cities/Counties Getting Stimulus Money)

And I could just go on and on... but you get the idea. And now that the California State Legislators are giving back their taxpayer-paid cars (and gas and maintenance and insurance) - I have a suggestion for the $15 MILLION in saved tax money. Replace all the current freeway speed limit signs with new ones:

"Speed Limit 65 Minimum 64"

What are some signs you would like to see?

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