Posts Categorized: Smartphones

Apple 2016: What were they thinking?

Posted by & filed under Apple, Blog, Devices, News, Opinion, Smartphones, Steve Jobs, tvstrategies.

Although 2016 was generally a good year for technology, I do have a few bones to pick about Apple.  Hence, my first annual 2016 Apple ‘What were they thinking?’ blog post.

My “Baker’s” Top Ten list:

1) New MacBook Pro: The Touch Bar, which is the signature feature of the higher-end models. It’s dim and difficult to see, even under lesser indoor room illumination; and there’s no way to adjust its brightness manually.

2) New MacBook Pro: No real-world connectivity except for WiFi, BlueTooth and two or four USB-C ports.  Meaning that you need adapters for Ethernet, external display or projectors, and no SD memory card slot, which are useful (required) in Enterprise market,

3) New MacBook Pro: No Magsafe connector, so now, after a ten year hiatus, people can again bring their machines crashing to the floor when they trip over the power cord,

4) New MacBook Pro: Does not incorporate the latest Intel Kaby Lake processor.  People buy this machine for a 4-5 year lifecycle, and part of that is to buy the latest possible processor. The only reason I can think of, for why Apple opted for a previous-generation processor, was to boost 2016 revenue for the MacBook Pro line,

5) New MacBook Pro: No optical (CD/DVD-R) drive.  Even though these have been missing on the MacBook Pro for a few years, I’m not real happy about having to use an external DVD/CD drive to back up my machine onto physical media, which I still do every so often,

6) iPhone 7: No headphone jack, end of story.  Hope that Apple keeps the 6s around for a while longer,

7) iOS: Apple conditions users to use the button in the upper right to go “back” – except for voicemail, where the UI in that position is for changing your voicemail greeting,

8) iOS: Why does Apple insist on hiding elements of the UI that are useful, like the Search box and the ‘Back’ arrow in the browser?

9) iOS: Users have to shift to the alternate keyboard for the @, which is only the most used character on the Internet.  Really?

10) iOS: Apple ‘expires’ old versions of iOS too quickly, even when the new ones are known buggy.  Yes, you can download older OS versions, but as soon as the installer program pings Apple, the installation process is halted.

And just like a “Baker’s Dozen,” where you get 13 for the price of 12, here’s the rest of my Baker’s Ten:

11) Software stability:  iOS 10.2 broke several of my apps.  iOS 10.2 also apparently shuts down some iPhone models when the battery level reaches 30%.   iOS 9 was problematic too.

12) Technical support:  Neither an AppleCare phone support rep nor any of the Genius Bar staff in my local Apple store could confirm whether a Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet adapter could be used to connect and migrate my software and content from my old Mac to the new one – and told me to use WiFi.   I had to buy the Ethernet adapter and try – thankfully it worked fine.

I waited for a long time before buying a new MacBook Pro, hoping for better.  But given the first five items in my list, I went ahead and bought a 2015 model instead, which still has at least the first three.   The 2015 model is sufficient for my purposes, has fast solid state storage, the screen is beautiful, and it has the connectivity I need (with the exception of the optical drive)

After Steve Jobs returned to the company 20 years ago and Apple had its long series of successes with the iMac, iPod, and all the other iDevices, it hurts to think that the post-Jobs Apple has again lost its way.

Just as was the case pre-Jobs’ return, Apple again has many Mac models on the showroom floor, with little to differentiate many of them.  Who remembers the Mac Performa, Quadra, Centris, LC, Macintosh II, and Classic, which were all available at the same time. Bewildering.  Much like the current MacBook line-up.  Too many models, and many of them don’t quite fit.

Tizen: Is Samsung more powerful than Google?

Posted by & filed under Android, Intel, IPTV, Middleware, Samsung, Smartphones, Technology, Tizen.

tizen-logoThe Tizen software platform has been flying slightly below the radar for a couple of years now, but its time has come.  Tizen has a common core, plus four profiles: Tizen Mobile, Tizen TV, Tizen IVI (in-vehicle infotainment), and Tizen Wearable.  Tizen also has some very significant board members and partners.  Tizen’s lineage includes Samsung’s Linux platform and the LiMo (Linux Mobile) operating system.

Watchers of the mobile and connected TV device categories might remember MeeGo, an open-source operating system that was a merger of Nokia’s Maemo and Intel’s Moblin platforms.  MeeGo was used by IPTV set-top maker Amino Communications in its Intel Atom-based set-tops in 2010, though they later abandoned it.  In 2012 Intel changed its focus and joined Samsung in Tizen, which in effect, made Tizen MeeGo’s successor.

Samsung raised some eyebrows with Tizen at the 2014 Mobile World Congress in February, positioning it as a potential replacement for Android in Samsung smart phones and wearable devices.  At the 2014 Tizen Developer Conference, which happened to coincide with Apple’s WWDC in San Francisco last week, Samsung demonstrated that its own Tizen transformation was well underway.

Last week, Samsung also introduced the Samsung Z, its first Tizen-based smartphone; and Galaxy Gear 2, a Tizen-based wearable.  Tizen was even on TV: the Tizen Developer Conference had several Tizen TV sessions, and a cloud-based content repository for mobile users called Tizen Cloudbox, was being demonstrated on a Samsung smart TV.   And also last week, Multichannel News reported that the TV browser and middleware provider Espial was collaborating with Samsung on an RDK-based solution (although the article said nothing about Tizen).

Is Tizen good or bad for the TV technology space?  It depends on what the definition of “TV” is: a set-top box with a TV attached, versus a connected smart TV that has no set-top box.  Presumably,  Samsung’s existing smart TV app development platform, which supports HTML5, CSS3 and adaptive streaming standards, will be under Tizen.    On the pay TV side, now that Liberty Global has joined Comcast and Time Warner Cable in the RDK venture, a Tizen-based STB wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility (assuming that the RDK were to be ported to Tizen).  Liberty Global’s Horizon set-top uses Samsung hardware.  But a Samsung Tizen STB is only a matter of speculation.

Another interesting direction for Tizen is in the Connected Car, where it could stand to challenge iOS, Android and Microsoft – just as it is doing in smartphones.  Tizen is available through the GENIVI alliance, which provides a Linux-based environment for automotive IVI (in-vehicle infotainment) systems.

All of this begs two questions.  First, is there room for “yet another” TV software platform?  I think, yes.  It certainly won’t hurt the TV software space: there are tens of middleware providers, and these days, large operators are tending more toward custom-built set-top software environments using components from multiple suppliers, rather than monolithic single-vendor stacks.

Just today (June 9), Accedo, which provides an application platform for pay TV, connected TVs and the Microsoft Xbox, announced that it was joining the Tizen Association program.  Clearly, Accedo sees a market opportunity – the question is whether it’s for Accedo in Samsung smart TVs, Samsung smartphones and tablets, or in pay TV set-top boxes (where Accedo has numerous customers).  Accedo positions itself as a provider of “…HTML based video and music streaming applications for connected devices.”  So perhaps it’s all of the above.  Actually, given what Accedo does, they must also recognize that they can ride Tizen’s coat tails into two new categories, wearables and cars.

The other, broader, question: “Is Tizen good for the industry overall?”  Again, I think yes.  It could have a huge and positive impact anywhere Android is sold.  Unlike Microsoft Windows Phone and Nokia, which have near negligible mobile device share today, Samsung is the largest provider of Android devices.  So an across-the-Samsung-board switch to Tizen will displace a significant percentage of Google’s Android base.   Assuming that Google cares, this potential for disruption could force Google to make Android better.  (I’m skeptical, since Google’s history is to abandon every iteration of its products and platforms as soon as a replacement becomes available. Ask Logitech about Google TV).

There’s one caveat: any effort by Samsung to force-replace Android with Tizen in devices already in the field may be met with some resistance.  While Apple’s fiercely loyal iDevice users squaked about the changes made by iOS 7, the underlying Apple ecosystem did not change.  By contrast, the act by Samsung to replace the entire Android ecosystem with one of its own is a much bigger move.  Ask yourself as an Android user: what would you do if you turned on your device one morning and found Tizen there?  Or as a Mac user, what if MacOS X suddenly disappeared and were replaced by Windows?

If successful, can it mean that Samsung is more powerful than Google?  Perhaps Tizen means that Samsung has finally decided that its product is not a product at all: it’s a relationship, and not just the next device.  Google has to decide the same thing: if Google only cares about ad sales, at the expense of a trustworthy experience with the Android brand, then it will be a matter of time before Google’s Android OEMs go looking for alternatives.  Samsung may be only the first to do so.  I’m encouraged: despite Tizen’s Samsung ties, device competitors Huawei and LG are on Tizen’s board while ZTE and Panasonic are members of the Tizen community.

Telecompetitor: 1990s App Lives Again – and other low-profile high-impact disputes

Posted by & filed under Apple, Apps, Blog, Devices, Google, HTC, Opinion, Smartphones, Telecompetitor.

The telecom industry is accustomed to conflict. Recent battles have been fought over network platforms, apps, and the electromagnetic spectrum. And the next set of transformational battle lines are already drawn in areas such as home automation and connected cars.

As with past industry transformations, these are high stakes games, being driven by powerful industry forces. Here we’ll look at some current low-profile but potentially high-impact battles involving mobile payments, user interfaces and the personal communications experience. Read the entire article on Telecompetitor!

The cost of botched service is customer loyalty

Posted by & filed under Apple, Blog, Opinion, Samsung, Smartphones.

This is a continuation of a blog entry that I made in early February, concerning my experiences with a Samsung mobile smartphone and my carrier, T-Mobile.

About a week after sending my phone to Samsung for the software ‘re-flash,’ an email showed up saying that Samsung couldn’t do it because it had a hardware issue. The cost of repair was revised from zero (which I had received in writing), to $70. I called them to confirm – were they really changing the terms of their deal? – yes (although, the service rep was very polite about it). I knew this phone should under hardware warranty, since it was less than a year old, so I told Samsung that I’d be back with proof. They said they would do the repair if I could prove it.

So I went back to the T-Mobile retail store to request a printed record but they had no access to my repair history, although they politely offered to allow me to pay my bill… If I had any hopes that I would receive customer service in a T-Mobile retail store, these hopes were now officially dashed: these stores are only for sales and payments, not post-sale customer service.

Back home, and back on the phone to T-Mobile phone support, which confirmed that the unit I had was, in fact, less than a year old. But they could not warrantee it because the unit that it replaced was more than a year old. You’ve got to be kidding me. A silence, and then the T-Mobile rep said: “But wait, you have insurance on this phone! You can replace it under your insurance plan!” Why was I not informed of this three weeks and 8 hours of effort ago? Because the phone was being used under my phone number, and not the phone number for which it was originally activated (even though both numbers are on the same family plan).

As soon as I told them that the phone was originally activated under another number on my family plan, the insurance suddenly applied and I was allowed to choose one of four different phones. I asked Samsung to return the Vibrant to me, which they did. T-Mobile sent a replacement phone – a Samsung Exhibit II (Samsung model number SGH-T679) – which was similar but not identical to the Vibrant model. It works, and I’m getting used to it.

How does this story end? First, I was impressed by the complete lack of customer service that I received from T-Mobile – one of the worst customer experiences that I have ever had. This lack of concern for customer loyalty, and the incredible inefficiency of this process truly lowered the bar. And why does T-Mobile treat customers as potential criminals? Every time I call them, they ask me to enter my phone number and the last four digits of the primary account-holder’s social security number. Then again, verbally, once an agent answers. And why does T-Mobile disable the over-the-air update feature for smartphones and force the use of a USB cable, especially when the update software tells you that you can only update the phone over the air? I don’t get it.

Second, I’ll revise my grades to both Samsung and to T-Mobile. For T-Mobile’s utter ineptitude and lack of customer concern (and I won’t even get into the absence of retail staff training), I give them an F+. The ‘+’ comes only because they finally addressed the repair on my phone by replacing it. I give Samsung a D-. Good manners don’t count when companies retract promises made. This error was not a matter of $70 revenue for a service case. It was a matter of customer loyalty and retention. I also own two Samsung TV sets but my next one? Not so sure.

Truly, I hope that Samsung does a better job with their connected TVs than they do for their mobile phones, since the task of support for an app-enabled connected TV is probably more involved than it is for a phone, not to mention that is a lot more difficult to return a TV to the manufacturer for repair.

Third, it reaffirms my loyalty as an Apple customer. If this Samsung phone breaks, I will most definitely buy an unsubsidized iPhone. Even if the Samsung can be repaired under warranty or insurance, I will sell it on eBay as soon as it comes back from reapir. Say what you will about Apple and their spoiled-rotten ‘fanboy’ customers, but Apple is a market leader for a reason. I don’t have the time or the inclination for anything less than a superior customer experience. That’s right up there with usability, and Apple wins on both.