Nintendo Switch and the curse of being original

I’ve never been a Nintendo user. This legendary maker has always developed consoles and franchise games which always seemed childish to me. Too simplistic, too faithful to a type of games that no longer were what I was looking for. Too loyal to their heritage.

I did my little experiment a few years ago with the Nintendo Wii, of course. I fell into the Wii fever like many millions of people did before (and after) and then realized that I had a brief, shallow interest in Wii Sports although I recognized the concept as brilliant to casual players. Although playing with family and friends was fun, most of the time one ended up playing alone, and then the thing was not so funny. I sold it a month later.

Like many other Nintendo consoles before and like others that have been launched later, the Wii beat all its competitors in one area: originality. The products of this manufacturer have always managed to try to impose new trends and give a twist to those that already were there, and that is what they tried to do with an almost forgotten Wii U and what they are trying to do again with the new Nintendo Switch.

Does this console make sense today? As you can guess, I’m too confident on that. The hybrid console concept may have certain appeal, but Switch does not compete here with the Xbox One or the PS4. It does not even try. It competes with our smartphones, and I’m afraid it has already lost that battle.

It has because everybody already has a smartphone and because the human being is lazy by nature. You will not take two devices in the backpack when you can take just one. Even if you can take ‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’ everywhere, the competition with a smartphone it’s too tough: that device is ubiquous and versatile. You don’t need nothing else (most of the time).

It doesn’t help the fact that we’be got a limited number of games available (by the way, we’ll see how FIFA delivers at the Switch) or that the price of the console is at the level of a PS4 / Xbox One which offer superior experiences on the technica side. This isn’t certainly a guarantee of better game experiences, but most of the games the vast majority of people want are developed for those platforms. That “me against all” fight of Nintendo makes third party titles difficult to spot.

I’m sure there is a market for the Switch, but I would say that market has been dwarfing over the years. This looks more like a second (expensive) console than a main console for the vast majority of video game fans, and as I said a few months ago, I think Nintendo should accept its reality and take advantage of what it could do on smartphones with little effort. In Ars Technica they go further and claim that this is the last time that Nintendo rolls the dice to look for luck, and although it’s a pity to read and say that, I think they are right. It may be the swan song of a company that is cursed because of its obsessive quest for originality.

The iPhone, 10 years later

Ten years ago mobile phones were exactly that. Phones to talk. The few who dared to bring to the market some other device with the “smartphone” tag tried to bring us something that seemed good, but that neither in usability nor in user experience was acceptable (Hello Nokia N95).

But of course, we didn’t know then.

And then the iPhone showed up. An absolutely disruptive and revolutionary product. One that would end up transforming everything and everyone, although we could not know that on that cold January 9, 2007 in San Francisco. Many only saw the gadget for what it was. Few could see its possibilities. They didn’t even care too much about its shortcomings, because we all wanted one to be able to amaze ourselves. I ended up buying one nine months later, even though it was not possible to make calls (officially) at that time in Spain.

It did not matter if other mobile phones had 3G, or better camera, or GPS, because none of them could overcome the iPhone’s user interface and compete with a vision that for the first time turned the phone into a real pocket PC, one in which you could make a lot of good stuff. That sparked something all over the world: industry, users, developers. It was a magical moment.

Clic.

And yet, I’m always amazed at how little we talk about the other great disruption of the iPhone. Without that particular thing, this device would not have had the relevance it had. That second disruption was the one that really set apart the iPhone not as a device, but as a platform.

It’s ironic to see how those original iPhones didn’t have native applications: instead of that Apple made use of web applications in an operating system that did not even have its own name (“iPhone runs OS X” was the sentence used on their press releases). The second disruption, which completed the concept, would take another year to arrive. It launched with the iPhone 3G, that product I spoke about a day before it was launched with one of those predictions logical but invisible to many people:

The big revolution in the new iPhones will not be the hardware they include, no. It’s cool to be able to enjoy 3G connectivity and even GPS, but the really important part of these models is that they are expected to finally offer support for an SDK which developers have been working for for months. That’s the great disruption of this iPhone: mobile applications.

Clic.

Another great revolution was in our hands. One that ended up making the App Store a reference model for the rest of platforms. Not only that: it set the Apple smartphone as an example of everything others wanted to accomplish.

These two disruptions, as I said, changed our world. Giants fell and new ones rose, and in the meantime we started to adapt to a new world in which something singular happened: the mobile phone was no longer a device to (merelly) talk to others.

Clic.

The phone became something much bigger, because these small rectangles of glass, metal and plastic have been transformed themselves and transformed us. All the revolutions have had their lights and shadows, and the iPhone has not escaped from that blessed curse. It doesn’t matter: this a very special day for the iPhone.

Happy birthday. And congratulations for changing our world.

The Kaby Lake fraud

Do not buy a computer this year.

There it is. You can stop reading now. That’s the conclusion of this post, which I publish with outrage after seeing how the presentation of new Kaby Lake CPUs from Intel is an absolute disappointment. Marc Whalton expressed it well at the beginning of his analysis in Ars Technica (emphasis mine):

The Intel Core i7-7700K is what happens when a chip company stops trying. The i7-7700K is the first desktop Intel chip in brave new post- “tick-tock” world-that means that instead of major improvements to architecture, process, and instructions per clock (IPC), we get slightly higher clock speeds and a Way to decode DRM-laden 4K streaming video. Huzzah.

That first sentence is sadly true, and in fact you would not need to read much more than that. Just having a look at some of the graphs that show its performance in synthetic benchmarks makes everything clear again:

This is just one example of how Intel has managed to fool the entire industry and become a lazy company. One that lives on past glories. Like Apple, I’d say.

That review of the Intel Core i7-7700K at Ars Technica is by far the best you can read about this microprocessor. It is, in fact, the only thing you should read about it, and here I include reviews done in Spanish and in English that are a real shame. They are because they stick to the message that Intel wants to offer, and they close their eyes to the obvious criticism. Intel has become confortable with itself. I am especially surprised and disappointed by the short-sighted review at AnandTech, a tech site I normally revere but that in this case has published its review with a misleading headline and conclusions. They even criticized in the text the ability to overclock (“our CPU sample is somewhat average to poor in terms of overclocking performance“) and then end up with a section where they crowned it as “the new champion”. Wrong.

Why has Intel settled for this? I would say they did this for a simple reason: they could. At the moment there is no competition in the market, and unless AMD Ryzen tells us otherwise – and the leaked evidence does not point to it – it will not be there for quite some time. It seems that Intel will be able to continue in lazy mode, accommodated and without really innovating.

The situation is worrying and sad, especially beacuse Intel has been on this path for a long time. His old tick-tock philosophy amazed us and made us enjoy an astounding pace of innovation, but between the reality that physics imposes —Moore’s law has an expiration date, if it is not already expired— and self-imposed Intel, we end up with a regrettable strategy. The one of the delays and rehashes, that is what is Kaby Lake. A 14 nm rehash.

I would say more. It is a fraud.

Save your money and wait for Cannonlake. Maybe the 10nm are worth it, because Kaby Lake does not.

Facebook and Google define our mobile life

Happy new year, my dear readers.

Nielsen has released a new report with the ‘Top Smartphone Apps of 2016’ in the U.S., and there it becomes clear that two tech companies dominate the scenario here. Facebook and Facebook Messenger account together for 275 million of unique users per month on average (350M if we add Instagram, #8 on this list), but the next five spots go to Google, who had 511 million of unique users on average each month thanks to its plethora of services.

We have then Apple Music on the #9, and a surprising Amazon on the #10 with the biggest growth of all of them: a staggering 43% YoY.

You can tell a lot from who is on that list, but also from who isn’t. Like Snapchat, or Twitter, or WhatsApp (popular outside the US) or WeChat (China centric).

There’s also a strong message here: Apple is mostly irrelevant on the services arena, and they don’t seem to need people using their services when at least they use their devices. The cloud failure is again evident on this chart, but the contrary is true for Facebook, that has built an empire with just an app.

That is much more powerful, I’d say, than building it with hardware, because Facebook is ruling a lot of people’s lives and is their reality. That’s frightening and marvelous and daunting and incredible. Something similar could be said of Google, who all of us should fear even more for its appetite of having us and, beyond that, our data.

These are dangerous times, and to have two companies that depend on our private data and our behaviour to exist is terrifying. And seeing us not doing anything about it is even worse.