Project Ara: stop making us dream your dream, Google

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Julia Love for Reuters:

Alphabet Inc’s Google has suspended Project Ara, its ambitious effort to build what is known as a modular smartphone with interchangeable components, as part of a broader push to streamline the company’s hardware efforts, two people with knowledge of the matter said.

It’s nice to be part of a dream, but not when that dream implies time, money and effort that developers and makers all over the world spend into Google aspirational projects.

Google’s Project Ara was one of those, and although the idea was intriguing, the modular phone is the solution to a problem we don’t really have. Vlad Savov expressed it well a few months ago, and the efforts by other makers such LG (LG G5 & Friends), Lenovo (Moto Z & MotoMods) or Fairphone (with its Fairphone 2) show this kind of market is not convincing much people.

The difference is clear: LG and Lenovo just make the bet and dream the dream by themselves. Google dreams with us, and as Eduardo Archanco said, that is not always fair. Not at least for those who are much more than mere spectators.

Yoga Book: Going beyond the tablet

The guys at The Verge have done a fine job by discussing how the new Lenovo Yoga Book came to life. This is a hardware device that, as Nilay Patel has said over at Twitter, is the first fascinating one in a long time.

The new and impressive Instant Halo Keyboard won’t be perfect for many people, but I’m sure the trade-off is worth it. Being able to type, write and draw on the same surface is a great deal, and not many hardware makers would have thought of an option as creative and bold as this.

In fact, there’s one company everyone would think of if asked which could be responsible of that innovation. That company, of course, was Apple.

It hasn’t been that one for some time now. The problem is, this is becoming the new normal.

Apple should have done something like this. Lenovo? Not in a million years.

And here we are.

The 3.5 mm unnecessary goodbye

I’m sure you’ve already heard that the new Moto Z has no headphone jack. The well-known 3.5-mm minijack has said goodbye in this device that detonated back the debate about that future in which both Lightning -for iPhone users- and USB-C -in other platforms- will be the ports we’ll connect our headphones to.

This is not a typical post from and old user protesting for a change that he did not ask. It’s an open letter to all who advocate change for the sake of change without the right reasons. Without assessing the consequences that this change will have.

It is true that some technologies must die. There are others that are just better and allow progress and improve upon them. It happened when Apple got rid of the floppy drive and even the optical drive, and when we stopped using the IDE interface to jump to a SATA interface that is now cornered by the M.2 standard on SSDs. And so is the case with a lot of technological goodbyes that make sense because as I say they bring many advantages and only one disadvantage: that the old thing no longer works with these formats or those standards. And if it works, it is through bulky and cumbersome adapters that one is forced to use during the stages of transition to ABetterEra ™.

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That’s not the case with the headphone jack because this standard had no fundamental problem. As explained in XDA Developers, when you connect your headset to a phone you do to get the sound through two components: the DAC/AMP couple. Audio crash course on mobile devices:

The Amplifier, AMP for short, simply amplifies the audio signals that are generated by the DAC or Digital Analog Converter. All music and sounds on your device are stored digitally (1’s and 0’s) and in order to hear them you need it to be converted to Analog which is where the DAC works its magic. From this point all the headphones need to do is carry the signal to the speakers and your ears, most have no need for converters or amplifiers in the headphones themselves.

No mystery here. Our phones (and any other device with a headphone jack, such as our laptops or PCs) have their DAC and AMP, and this is where some phone makers invest more (HTC 10 LG V10) and other less (almost all the rest), with specialized DACs/AMPs that give more power and sound quality and act in the same way camera sensors act in our phones. There are decent ones and there are good ones. If you want great pictures with your phone forget about decent sensors, because you will get pictures that will simply look … decent (surprise).

Saying goodbye to the headphone jack will cause the AMP/DAC couple to be no longer part of the smartphone, but part of the headphones themselves, which will integrate the electronic and will theoretically perform better than many current devices. They will at least if you pay the (higher) price of these USB-C or Lightning headphones with good quality DACs and AMPs. True, you can reuse these headphones with any mobile device and get the same quality audio from all of them (the device will only store zeros and ones), but I doubt that the price reduction on the smartphones -if any- will be in the same range that the price rise we’ll see on those future headphones.

The funny thing is that the idea to remove the 3.5 mm jack isn’t that new, and in fact there are products such as the AudioQuest Dragonly Black that allow to get a specialized DAC/AMP for your (mobile) device easily and with a fair price ($99 on Amazon) Apparently this little module makes your phone sound a lot better -forget about the HTC 10- and you can combine it with whatever device (laptop, phone, tablet, whatever) and headphones you like.

Who are this good news for? I’d say these are good news for handset and headphones manufacturers, which will follow this new trend madly. This will allow them to sell better, more expensive sound with a better connector thanks to ANewEra ™ of acoustic sensations.

That’s a big lie.

You could get the same performance with a good DAC / AMP in your current device. Manufacturers simply want to take away that option from production costs in their smartphones and increase that costs (exponentially) in future USB-C and Lightning headphones. Which believe me, will be considerably more expensive both on the hign and the low-end for. This will mean that you’ll pay pretty more for the same sound you already get on your smartphone with some decent headphones like the astonishing Xiaomi Piston 3 ($19.99 on Amazon) that I’m enjoying wight now.

I totally agree with certain technological farewells. Saying goodbye to standards and specifications that are obsolete and have newer, better alternatives is perfectly valid.

This is not one of those cases.

Goodbye to the perfect disposable phone

This looks bad. I’ve been writing all day about the new Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus from Lenovo, and in fact I’ve just written an opinion piece at Xataka (Spanish).

The feeling about those products isn’t positive. The road taken by Motorola Lenovo after swallowing a company that has been legendary in the segment mobility is very, very sleazy. I didn’t think about approaching it that way, but again Vlad Savov has published a great post at The Verge where he has compared Motorola and Lenovo with Palm and HP. The analogy is clear, and I fear that unless something strange happens Motorola could end up as an entry in the Wikipedia and a memory of something good for those who had the privilege of enjoy his best years. That is precisely what Palm has become. And I quote (emphasis mine):

There’s no doubt, looking at the new Moto G range for 2016, That the former Motorola now lags ITS competition. Chinese Have surpassed rivals Moto phones industry in the design stakes, and the overall quality of Android software has improved to the point where the purer Moto experience is not all that big of a selling point. Will the new Moto G phones be decent? Sure. They just will not be competitive.

The new Moto G4 models are indeed ok, but they are not superior to their competitors. They have become what every manufacturer should fear: a me too who follows boring trends and neglects what brought real value to the phone. As I said at Xataka, this is no longer the terminal that for years caused that feeling of being a bargain.

This stylized photo shouldn't deceive you. This device is not worth what it costs. Not anymore.
This stylized photo shouldn’t deceive you. This device is not worth what it costs. Not anymore.

For years, the Moto G has been the device most recommended by me to my relatives, friends and acquaintances. It was a sure bet, one that worked flawlessly and that could suffer anything without that being a tragedy.

It was as close as possible to the perfect disposable smartphone.

These devices aren’t that. With prices starting at £169 (about $243) for the Moto G and £199 ($286) for the G Plus (they’ll arrive to the US later than in most countries), they go too far from that price that we psychologically associated with a fair cost for a phone that could easily fall to the toilet or the floor without making us cry.

The problem is that everything looks bad in the future of this legendary brand. Lenovo had already announced they wanted to change the branding and use only the word Moto, but that contempt for this manufacturer is evident in other details. A good example is how Lenovo has announced the Lenovo K5 in Spain as a replacement for the Moto G4 Play that, truth to be told, shouldn’t have been announced because it is an absurd product both in specifications and goal market. A poor tribute to a product that changed the mid-range forever and that made Motorola, as Savov said, a beloved maker again -and a very American one- after spending a few years with no clear path to follow.

So dear readers, my recommendation is clear: unless reviews tell us otherwise, these Moto G4 / Plus can go to hell. There are several better options from other manufacturers.

What a pity. Poor Motorola.

The smartphone price wars are not victimless

Vlad Savov on The Verge writes:

Say that you do buy the rock-bottom-priced, Shenzhen-produced Android phone with the lofty specs from a random brand. It has a replaceable battery, but where will you get one when you decide you want a spare? It runs the latest Android today, but who will ensure it does so tomorrow? And who will bear responsibility for any overheating issues or display flaws?

These aren’t problems only related to local Chinese makers. Android updates are a big problem for big brands too, but Savov makes a good point. We should pay for certain features.

There has to be an intermediate point between the absurd margins of Apple iPhones and the equally absurd war we’re seeing on the entry level. Are we seeing the beginning of a disposable smartphone market? Uhm.

Source: The smartphone price wars are not victimless