Raspberry Pi 3 and the curse of human expectations

The new Raspberry Pi 3 is out, and it is a new, impressive iteration of the device that conquered the maker movement. The spec sheet has been improved with a new, more powerful processor (1.2GHz 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A53) but above all with native WiFi (802.11n) and Bluetooth 4.1 support .

The initial reception of the device has been pretty modest as seen on media coverage in the last few hours, something that speaks clearly about our human capability to get excited about something about several iterations.

When the first Raspberry Pi launched the first time, it was all bell and whistles. The world marveled at what it represented, but a few iterations later this thing isn’t apparently that impressive or remarkable. Or is it?

Of course it is. Being able to get a computer for $35 (well, you’ll still need a MicroSD card and some other peripherals) is absolutely impressive. The world needs to marvel again about this little device. It deserves everyone of us to marvel at this technological feat that gives anyone in the world an easy way to work, have fun and create incredible things.

Damn humans. We have the exceptional,  shameful capability of getting used to all kinds of marvelous things.

Source: Raspberry Pi 3 on sale now at $35 – Raspberry Pi

Follow up (I): The guys over Pimoroni have published a worthy first look at the performance and main features of the new RPi3 at their official blog. 

Follow up (II): There’s another good review at Make:, the article featured in Reddit. Welcome reddit users, btw!

Microsoft kills its Android porting  tool, welcomes only iOS developers

 

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The Windows Bridge for Android (Project Astoria) is dead. Microsoft has announced that on a new post on the Windows blog in which they explain that apparently the feedback from developers was critical to this decision

We also announced the Windows Bridge for Android (project “Astoria”) at Build last year, and some of you have asked about its status. We received a lot of feedback that having two Bridge technologies to bring code from mobile operating systems to Windows was unnecessary, and the choice between them could be confusing. We have carefully considered this feedback and decided that we would focus our efforts on the Windows Bridge for iOS and make it the single Bridge option for bringing mobile code to all Windows 10 devices, including Xbox and PCs. For those developers who spent time investigating the Android Bridge, we strongly encourage you to take a look at the iOS Bridge and Xamarin as great solutions.

Previous information showed that there was other reasons far more logical to kill this project. Technical problems have supposedly arose in the first few months of life of Astoria, which led their responsibles to delay it. Saying nothing about these problems and the silence on other channels -such as the developer forums- is not a good sign from Microsoft, who again lacks transparency.

The announcement makes one thing clear : Microsoft wants iOS developers to port their apps and games to Windows 10, and they’re trying to convince them with Project Islandwood. There’s other option for iOS and even Android ports: the recent acquisition of Xamarin could prove interesting to push the Windows 10 Mobile catalog as Microsoft pretends.

I doubt it more and more each day. Mobile World Congress was a missed oportunity for Microsoft -they should have published Windows 10 Mobile final version there- and I guess Xamarin is again part of their B plan. If they can’t win with their own platform, they will try to enter into other platforms through apps (Outlook, Cortana, Office), services (OneDrive, Skype) and developer tools (Xamarin).

Tough times to develop for Windows.

Where is the future of wearables and smartwatches? 

 

This week we’ve been able to see a lot of new products and projects at the Mobile World Congress 2016 in Barcelona. The smartphone is showing its age and the evolution of the latest high-end devices has not been demonstrated on the devices themselves, but on the accesories we can use with them.

Virtual Reality has been the star of the show, but these accesories must prove that they really can work out for users. Last year smartwatches and wearables were clearly getting a lot of headlines, but not this year: this year the MWC hasn’t payed attention to them.

The latest numbers from IDC show how the market for this devices has grown: every company involved has shown double digit growths -Xiaomi multiplied its unit shipments by 12x- and Apple has become the greatest smartwatch vendor out there currently. There’s another confirmation in these numbers: the smartwatch isn’t killing the activity trackers. Far from it.

So if the growth has been so nice, what has happened at the MWC? Why not showing them some love? The reason is clear: there’s currently little room for innovation in current models, but that could change in the next coming months.

First, with the launch of new versions of watchOS and Android Wear before summer. And second, with the arrival of the eSIM, the technology that will transform the smartwatch into an autonomous, independent device that no longer has to rely on the smartphone.

We’re getting there, and I suspect MWC17 will give us a lot of reasons to talk about smartwatches again.

What if Xiaomi Mi 5 was available worldwide?

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Xiaomi Mi 5, the latest incarnation of what has made the Chinese maker so famous, is an impressive demonstration of how things change. The copycat is no more: the Mi 5 is a real, original, high end phone in its own right.

Everything in this device screams fast. We’ll have to wait for the camera samples and its comparison to other high end smartphones launched recently, but again, the ex-copycat is really promising.

The problem is not the performance, and of course not the price -there’s no cheaper way to get your hands on a Snapdragon 820 device- but the availability of a smartphone that will be sold initially in China and India. I wonder what would happen if the phone was also available in the Western World, where lots of users would be anxious to get one of these models.

This a device that could mean a new resurgence for Xiaomi, indeed. 2015 was not as expected. With the Mi 5 things could really change… but selling the phone in Europe and the US would help a lot in that case.

The Google VR future is autonomous

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Google took a big step forward with the first iteration of Google Cardboard: that simple solution was able to democratize VR and make accessible to everyone. It was, however, a flawed product: too limited and too toy-ish.

Weeks ago rumors started to pour in -we just talked about it a few days ago-, and now it seems clear that Google will soon reveal a new piece of hardware that will be far more advanced and ambitious than Cardboard. It probably will be also a new step between the Gear VR from Samsung and the HTC Vive Pre/Oculus Rift.

According to the WSJ, the new headset from Google won’t be tethered to a smartphone or a PC to work, and that’s something that makes everyone question where will it get its content from. I assume it will have WiFi support, so you’ll have to connect to a streaming server: some kind of ‘VR version of YouTube’, if you will, with some kind of VR Android on it. Uhm.

We’ll see if that’s the case, but that future of an independente headset is quite difficult to imagine: a good VR experience needs a lot of power, and streaming those experiences is for sure really demanding. Interesting times for VR, that’s for sure.

Oculus Rift as the PC savior

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Yesterday Oculus revealed the details of the first PCs that will be able to show the “Oculus Ready” tag. These computers will come from makers such as ASUS and Alienware and will allow end users to enjoy a guaranteed VR experience that (theoretically) won’t suffer for glitches and problems.

Do-it-yourselfers who scrounge around part-picking websites may be able to get a slightly better deal on an extremely bare-bones PC that can power the Oculus Rift, but the bundled savings mean these Oculus Ready towers actually provide some decent value for the money. The Oculus Ready line should also provide an easy, “all-in” solution for eager virtual reality early adopters that have more curiosity than hardware-building prowess.

Those PCs won’t be exactly cheap, and even if you upgrade your system or decide to build one of your own, you’ll have to admit one thing:

Oculus Rifts are great news for the PC market.

I suspect there won’t be an enormous growth of those PC offered with the “Oculus Ready” certification, and the reason is that I guess early Rift adopters were already gamers and had systems that complied with the minimum requirements.

The $599 price for the Oculus Rift hardware won’t appeal most users if they have to spend another $1K in parts or a whole system. Not at least virtual reality really delivers what is expected from it -and we expect a lot-. If it does, if it indeed delivers, the Post-PC era could in fact be a great lie again.

 

Samsung Upgrade Program: you’ll have the latest and greatest with this subscription model

Apple introduced its upgrade program last year and according to previous data a nice share of iPhone users would be really interested in that kind of subscription model. According to Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster, as much as 50% of iPhone 6S buyers would choose the new program. The real results are still not that great, but we’ll probably see them next September, when the new iPhones are announced.

The idea could make a lot of sense for Apple and other big makers, and some sources are pointing out that Samsung is planning to launch a similar subscription model for its high-end phones. Customers will pay a monthly fee that will vary depending on the device, and will be able to get the latests phones -exchanging their current ones- as soon as they’re available. The model is pretty similar to what car companies do with leasing programs that allow to get newer models each year, for example.

Samsung’s upgrade program could be launched at its MWC 2016 event, but according to the current information the deployment of that program will be limited to South Korea initially. It’s unclear if that program will be associated to the integration of an embedded SIM (eSIM) that would make more comfortable for users to manage their devices and their data and voice plans -this has been discussed too with Apple’s Upgrade Program, but it seems unlikely at the present moment: carriers aren’t welcoming this kind of option and they are a key part of the current distribution strategy at Samsung.

This is what we expect from the Samsung Galaxy S7

Expectations are dangerous. They indeed were before Galaxy S6 launch a year ago, because we had been talking for months about the company’s Project Zero and its ambitious plan to reveal devices that really pushed the boundaries that previous models had reach.

Those expectations are again really high this year. Next February 21st we’ll know finally what Samsung is planning to maintain the high-end throne in the Android market. According to several leaks and rumors, Samsung will be present at the Mobile World Congress to launch two new smartphones: the Galaxy S7 and the Galaxy S7 Edge, which will be based in Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

This will be, according to famous @evleaks the final design of the new Samsung Galaxy S7 / Edge / Edge+.

Both of them will maintain the QHD (1440p) 5.1-inch display we saw on last year models, but the S7 Edge will feature a curved display. Those curves will be present too (and more pronounced according to recent leaked renders and images) on the edges. There have been some suggestions about it being IP68 certified -a feature that was available on the S5 generation- but that feature hasn’t been so appealing since Sony itself had problems managing expectations on this area. It looks like Samsung could surprise us with a rival to Apple’s Force Touch technology -maybe with a license to use Synaptic’s ClearForce– on those devices as well, but the fact that Google must support this throughout Android makes that feature difficult and risky to implement right now.

One of the biggest changes we’ll see comes from S7’s camera. According to several leakers, Samsung will take advantage of a BRITECELL 12 megapixels sensor with an impressive f/1.7 aperture. The new sensor promises better pictures on low light conditions, and we really hope it can at least match what Samsung did on the S6/Edge and their 16 megapixels sensors. The integration of the new sensor will have another collateral effect: the hump will go from 1.7mm (S6) to 0.8mm according to latest sources.

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There will be also variants in the processor area: the devices will be offered with both the Exynos 8890 and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 depending on the region, and will be accompanied by 4GB of RAM. The battery could see a little bump and reach a capacity of 3,000 mAh and could also be specially efficient according to Eldar Murtazin, who published a screenshot showing two days of battery life on a Galaxy S7. By the way: a USB-C port will be used for the first time on the Galaxy S family of smartphones, according to The Wall Street Journal, but we’ll have to wait for the confirmation to get more info on what’s behind this port (USB 3.0 Gen 1, maybe Gen 2?).

There will be good news for lots of users who complained last year about some features missing from the S5. Besides the chance to see a dust and waterproof smartphone, the most important will be the comeback of the microSD slot, which will allow users to expand storage with up to 200GB.

This are devices that again generate great expectations: we’ll see if they can live up to the hype.

 

 

The challenge for Google’s next Cardboard 

The Google Cardboard project has been incredibly succesful on its primary goal: democratize Virtual Reality and allow nearly anyone to get a glimpse of what this trend is going to allow us to do.

Now that they have succeed in that, it seems Google wants to monetize that kind of market too. According to the Financial Times, Google will launch a new headset that will be similar to current Gear VR. That’s the right move for Google -given that they don’t abandon the current version- and will allow them to compete on  market that will for sure have associated many opportunities to earn some money.

There are doubts, though. How many kind of devices will we have?

  1. Oculus Rift: the most expensive and -supposedly- the best to get the richest experience. (Gaming PC required)
  2. HTC Vive Pre: from what people are saying, this one is really starting to be a serious contender to Oculus’s headset. (Gaming PC required)
  3. Gear VR: that’s the cheapest way to enjoy a quality VR… if you currently are an owner of a Samsung high-end smartphone. We already discussed what are the differences between this device’s features and the ones Google Carboard has. (Samsung high-end smartphone required)
  4. Google Carboard: cheapest, most affordable way to play with VR and test if it can deliver what we expect it to deliver. (Any (capable) smartphone required)

From what we see, there will be a high-end and low-end for both segments: PC based and smartphone based. I guess for the time being the VR experience will be similar to what happens with regular games on the PC and the smartphone. If you want to enjoy a richer experience in almost every aspect -mobile games can be really addictive-, you’ll have to go for the PC experience. Mobile VR will be more casual, more of a testing arena.

So Google going for the high end makes sense. Hopefully being able to enjoy a better, more comfortable experience with (almost) any Android or iOS smartphone will push this kind of content even more.

Interesting times ahead.

 

Ubuntu convergence: dream or nightmare?

Last year Canonical and bq launched the first smartphone based on Ubuntu. Now they will launch the first tablet that is based on the new Ubuntu convergent platform. This device can act as a tablet, but also will act “like a full-blown PC when you connect a keyboard, mouse and display to it“.

I’ve already written about this in Xataka and Incognitosis in Spanish, so I won’t go much deeper here because mostly everyone is covering the news superficially. It doesn’t matter if the tablet maker is bq, it doesn’t matter what are the specs, and it even doesn’t matter that the device can actually offer the user a desktop experience when the tablet is connected to that display, mouse and keyboard we were talking about.

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What matters is the quality of that experience. And that quality isn’t gonna be high enough to convince users to make the switch.

I’ve reviewed the bq Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition not once, but twice. I’ve followed the progress of this project since Mark Shuttleworth first mentioned it in October’2011, when no one had talked about this convergence thing before (at least, not to my knowledge), and I had great expectations even though that dream was delayed many times.

The final arrival of Ubuntu approach has been so late that Microsoft has won that race: they’ve stolen the idea and applied it to Windows 10. The execution is still far from perfect on smartphones -I reviewed the Lumia 950 XL and Continuum a few days ago, again, in Spanish- and the problems I’ve seen on that device –UX incoherences, lack of universal apps on many cases, buggy behaviour everywhere– will for sure appear to on Ubuntu.

Launching a platform that wants to change the statu quo is a big challenge, and you won’t succeed with a platform in beta or even alpha status as these two are now.

Even Remix OS  is more promising than what I’ve seen on the Ubuntu front, and I suspect that the Ubuntu team will not be able to offer us that convergence dream they talked about for so long.

In fact, I suspect this will be more of a nightmare. Not only for us, the dissappointed users, but for Canonical as well.