Huawei challenges Android with a backup plan

Amir Efrati on The Information:

And to hedge its bets against Google’s control of Android, Huawei is also secretly developing an alternative mobile operating system, according to three people briefed about the project.

Android forks do exist, but not all companies can offer a compelling alternative. The problem lies in Android Apps and Services: although things like the Play Store are not that important in China -where this backup plan makes more sense-, the store and the rest of Google services linked to the Android operating system make this platform difficult to beat.

Amazon is a good example of a success story here, but only on its niche of Kindle tablets. Cyanogen seemed promising but its presence is now not so prominent, and Microsoft, the only company that could have an interesting fork of Android with its services, prefers not to mess with that -although they did with the Nokia X phones-.

I wonder why Huawei would risk its good relationship with Google -they make the Nexus 6P- with a move that’s not so clear if you look outside of China.

Anyway, the move is entertaining for us, users and media. We’ll see where this leads to.

Amazon Kindle (2016) seems cheaper than Paperwhite but it’s not

All-new Kindle in white (Photo: Business Wire)

The new Amazon Kindle (2016) is thinner, lighter, has ads -with Amazon’s “Special Offers” and most interesting, has Bluetooth audio support (for blind readers).

But it doesn’t have physical page flipping buttons, and resolution is still its weak point against its eldest brother, the Kindle Paperwhite. This e-book reader is pretty much invincible if you want the best price/performance relationship.

Nice, useless update.

Apple and the innovator’s dilemma

I’m sure many of you would like to see Apple hit the ground with a wallop. This is what happens when you’re so big: there are the ones who love you (very much) and the ones who hate you (very much). I don’t wish harm on anybody, but I must recognize that I made an evil chuckle when Apple published their latest financial results and we saw that money losses can beat up anyone .

Obviously those numbers could be seen from different points of view. Apple supporters quickly jumped to step pointing out that in fact the problem wasn’t that they sold too few (of everything) last quarter: the problem was that they had sold too much (of everything) on the previous quarter. If one looked at the overall picture, things were in fact pretty good. Maybe the quarter had not been so bright, but my evil smirk was responded by Apple with a powerful infernal laugh:

cashpile

The vignette is funny and true, but the same webcomic would have been appropriate on other companies in the past. Companies that ended up being overtaken by those who did long-term thinking. Marco Arment wrote on Saturday his thoughts on the subject, and there he compared Apple to BlackBerry. He explained how BlackBerry smartphones were good on that moment because that was the concept we had about a smartphone. But they were wrong about the future, and like many others, they weren’t ready for what would happen after the iPhone’s launch:

No new initiative, change management, or acquisition in 2007 could’ve saved the BlackBerry. It was too late, and the gulf was too wide.

Today, Amazon, Facebook, and Google are Placing large bets on advanced AI, ubiquitous assistants, and voice interfaces, hoping That These Will Become the next thing That our devices are for.

If they’re right – and that’s a big “if” – I’m worried for Apple.

The analogy is clear for Arment: Google, Amazon and Facebook -I wonder why he doesn’t mention Microsoft here- are making great investments in cloud services and technologies really promising like Artificial Intelligence. Apple has hardly done anything about this. Some people commented in HackerNews that this was not entirely true and that the company has made some recent acquisitions (Emotient, VocalIQ, Perceptio), but this is just makeup, because whhat Apple has not could be probably more important:

Data.

Apple is a company that has never placed special emphasis on collecting data, and that could be a decisive factor for its future because data allows to feed those IA platforms. Can the IA dig the grave of Apple? Well, I would say that if there is a candidate technology to transform our lives, that’s AI. In fact, it will also have a huge impact -if everything goes as it seems- in other promising fields, including self-driving cars, of course.

It may be the case that Apple doesn’t need to invest in AI, or in those cloud services that remain untapped. It may be the case that Apple is just waiting: someone gets the next big thing in a rough way, and then they come, and then they pull off an enhanced version of it and they show it to us in a way that suddenly we recognize as the one we needed and then we all want to be part of that revolution. That happened with the iPod, of course. And it happened again with the iPhone.

It hasn’t happened again.

It may also be the case (too many ‘mays’) that Apple has not the resources to innovate in this area, and in this regard the solution would be relatively simple, of course: use their  checkbook. I don’t see them moving on that direction, but if someone has deep pockets, that’s Apple. A company whose most high-profile acquisition was Beats, a company for which they paid $3B and has allowed them to become a ‘me too’ in streaming services.

The bottom line is clear. Apple is doing really fine, but if you had to bet on a company that in 10 years had not only survive, but triumph, would it be Apple? I don’t think so, especially since Apple just seems to look short term. Others try to look beyond, and I like that. And this is the reason I think that sooner or later Apple will have a really big problem. Unless they wake up, of course.

The next Amazon phone won’t be made by Amazon

bezos1

According to The Information, Amazon is coming back to the smartphone arena. Their first try was a disaster in nearly every possible way -too many gimmicks, too pricey for example- but now they’re taking a far more conservative approach.

Instead of building a phone themselves, Amazon is going to launch several devices from third parties that will integrate Amazon operating system, Fire OS, onto those smartphones.

The bet now is not on the hardware side, and the attack goes straight against Android as a platform. Amazon has never licensed this operating system on the tablet market, but this data reveals they’re considering this on the smartphone side.

This is an interesting, more conservative strategy. They won’t risk that much and the move makes sense. They have replacements for several Google Play services (beginning with Amazon Appstore), so they have a pretty compelling alternative to promote their contents and services.

I really don’t get why Amazon didn’t do this in the first place.

The conquest of Alexa

In the coming weeks, Amazon expects to release a smaller, portable version of its voice-activated tabletop Echo speaker, building off the device’s surprise success.

In 2014 Amazon surprised us with its Fire TV device: you could push a button at the top of the remote to active a universal voice-search function.

In late 2014 there was an even bigger surprise. Amazon wanted to conquer our living room from a different perspective. Not with a smartphone, or a console, or a set-top-box. It wanted to conquer us with a speaker. But a neat one. Amazon Echo was born, and Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant, was a cornerstone of that and other products from that point.

echo

The idea was brilliant then, and is still brilliant today. You could argue that Amazon’s approach to the app store is far from ideal, but they have really good ideas on other segments, though not everything is a success.

So now the rumors are coming: Amazon is preparing a newer, smaller, cheaper version of its Amazon Echo. Its design resembles a beer can, it appears, but there’s a better idea, as Alex Barredo pointed out shortly after the news appeared:

I don’t know if they’d sell millions, but that, for sure, would be pretty interesting too.

Source: Amazon to Release Portable Version of Echo Speaker in Coming Weeks

YouTube Music: try to compete with that, Spotify

The audio streaming services should be pretty worried about the launch of YouTube Music, a streaming service that goes beyond what Google Play Music offers, but also what Spotify, Rdio, Pandora, or Apple Music -to name a few- offer right now.

And that’s because for a similar price you are not getting just the audio, but also customized music video streams that you can enjoy both online and offline, mixtapes that refresh daily and, of course, no ads.

I wonder how Spotify or any other, can compete with that. The only thing missing: you can’t create your own playlists, a feature that is available on Google Play Music.

I’m expecting two things here: the extinction of Google Play Music (to merge with YouTube Music), and the dusk of this new streaming trend that will probably have only another guest star: Facebook.

Source: YouTube Music is here, and it’s a game changer | The Verge

Follow-up: Gizmodo has a pretty different view.

Amazon banning Chromecast, Apple TV: my country, my rules

 

Amazon.com Inc. will stop selling media-streaming devices from Google Inc. and Apple Inc. that aren’t easily compatible with its video service, the latest example of the company using its clout to promote products that fit with its own retailing strategy.

It’s unfair for users that take advantage of Amazon great service, but it’s a logical decision from a business point of view.

The move, coming just before the year-end holiday shopping season, shows how Amazon is willing to sacrifice sales of popular brand name products — Apple and Google have the best-selling media streaming devices generally — to bolster its own video-streaming service

The explanation is weak, yes -Chromecast and Apple TV aren’t “easily compatible with its video service- but at the end what matters is trying to get traction in this segment. Helping competitors to get their content instead of yours is silly.

I’d have done the same exact thing.

Source: Amazon to Ban Sale of Apple, Google Video-Streaming Devices – Bloomberg Business

Modern slaveries

This weekend The New York Times published an incendiary article about work culture at Amazon. It wasn’t much of a surprise, really: anyone who has read “The Everything Store”, by Brad Stone, already knew what can you find inside Amazon. Those horror aren’t new, but when several former employees showed their hands and some as the NYT share that stories the  dimension changes. Someone I know made a quick summary in Twitter about that article: A

Amazon: work ’til death and if you have personal problems, fuck yourself

This message was one amongst several ones these days. There were others such as the post at The Next Web in which the editor decided to stop buying things at Amazon considering how that company care about its employees. Praiseworthy and a good way to let Amazon know what we think… if everyone does the exact same thing. Seems complicated.

Not everyone criticized Amazon, of course. An intermediate boss shared his own story about those facts and made it clear that he hadn’t seen any of the things told in the NYT’s article. Another employee joined that crusade with a similar opinion, and that led to the final answer by Mr. Bezos himself. Amazon’s founder published a letter to his Amazonian with a discourse that could have been told by any benevolent dictator. He denied everything, he said that  “the article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know” and he proclaimed himself as a fighter against injustice. C’mon, Jeff. Some of us know how Amazon has succeeded the way it has, we know about some negotiating tactics your people use thanks to Amazon’s leverage, and we know how many people has left the company in questionable terms.

Amazon is difficult if not impossible to beat on its customer service, but almost everything I’ve read from them that speaks about it within doors leaves the company in a difficult position. Even knowing that there is people that lives to work, what is happening at Amazon is almost absurd. There was a debate at Hacker News and the summary is clear: where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

That weird kind of modern slavery is nonsense. No one is going to remember you for your hard work you did at certain company. Nonsense. Not unless -and even in that case, maybe- you’re the founder of that company. It’s good to work hard, to succeed, to get your goals, to get a better life for you and your family, but it’s abundantly clear to me that living to work is not a good idea.

I may show my hand here, but I’ve known for a while that my family quality of life is above everything else. The demonstration came a few years ago, and the change for me (job, home) has been like night and day. I’ve learned my lesson in case a similar situation affects me and my family again.

I don’t know anyone -anyone- who regrets not having worked enough in his life. Quite the opposite. I remember reading an article in The Mirror in which a nurse that had taken care of elder people told the story of the things they regretted the most in their lives. Most of them regretted working too hard. Not enjoying life enough. And we’ve got only one life. You know about this: seize the time, carpe diem… everything we say to realize that every moment is precious and that we are probably wasting it while we shout, fight, regret, fear or worry about something.

Or while we work at Amazon. Too bad.