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.

China is too important and Apple knows it

According to The Wall Street Journal, Beijing Regulator Orders Apple to Stop Sales of Two iPhone Models:

Beijing’s intellectual property regulator has ordered Apple to stop sales of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in the city, ruling that the design is too similar to a Chinese phone. The move is another setback for the company in a key overseas market.

Competing in China is difficult. Local businesses are overprotected there, and even Apple has to take a step back if someone there feels its position threatened.

It’s difficult to imagine that Apple has copied the design from one of those local, small makers (and not the other way around), but China is too important right now for them.

China is to Apple what Apple is to many of the countries it makes businesses with: the bigwig.

 

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.

Goodbye, Atom: you won’t be missed

Vlad Savov writes about Intel and its smartphone strategy: Goodbye, Atom:

Late on Friday night, Intel snuck out the news that it’s bailing on the smartphone market. Despite being the world’s best known processor maker, Intel was only a bit player in the mobile space dominated by Qualcomm, Apple, and Samsung, and it finally chose to cut its losses and cancel its next planned chip, Broxton. This followed downbeat quarterly earnings, 12,000 job cuts, and a major restructuring at a company that’s had a very busy April. Intel is still one of the giants of the global tech industry, but it’s no longer as healthy and sprightly as it used to be.

I would say one of the biggest mistakes of Intel was XScale: giving up on ARM chips could be seen as logical back then, but it was also a little bit arrogant.

Intel had to fight from the top down and that bet never worked out. History has shown us that ARM and its bottom-up strategy has clearly had much more sense in the mobile space.

When Otellini confessed that he passed on that agreement with Apple and their future iPhone -knowing nothing about Apple’s product- it became clear that he was not considering the long term. The company was doing really good back then, so a risky move like that was out of the question.

The situation was exactly the opposite for Andy Grove back in the 80s: the memory business was a road to nowhere, so he had to risk everything, and he made the right decission with his bet on microprocessors. He was looking for a solution on both the short and the long term, and he was lucky. Otellini wasn’t, of course.

Sadly for Intel, this is another example of the innovator’s dilemma. Atom -ahh, those netbook times- won’t be missed. It’s wise to accept defeat.

The quest for the real Apple Watch

Comparing launches can deceive anyone. That’s what The Wall Street Journal has made speaking about the Apple Watch, which is supposed to have sold around 12-13m units on its first year.

The iPhone sold 6.1 million units in the 12 months after its launch in June 2007.

Both devices had clear limitations, and in fact the iPhone 3G was a clear advance but not that much in hardware: the App Store was the thing that changed that phone -and the rest of the market- forever.

With the Apple Watch, everyone is expecting a change as big as that one. Daisuke Wakabayashi writes about an important possibility in the future Apple Watch 2:

Apple is working on adding cell-network connectivity and a faster processor to its next-generation Watch, according to people familiar with the matter.

That would make the Apple Watch really autonomous, but will be that enough? Other smartwatches had that feature before and sales and functionalities haven’t been really convincing. At least, not according to sales figures. Samsung Gear S was a good example of this, and the Gear S2 has a version with an embedded SIM (eSIM) as well, although it’s not available yet.

It would be interesting to see if that autonomy can push smartwatches forward, something that I suspect will have to do much more with software (again) that with hardware. The smartwatch can certainly be more useful with that kind of option, but the smartphone is clearly the perfect fit for the world as it’s designed today.

Technology and the dangers of oversimplification

I was reading another thoughtful piece by Vlad Savov at the Verge and I thought I could write a comment there. Quoting Savov when he was explaining the current trend in launch events:

I think we lose something (maybe not entirely tangible) when we adapt the presentation of technological products to the lowest-common-denominator audience. Apple obviously doesn’t agree, and it set the tone for simplifying technology and making it seem less daunting — but maybe we’ve overcorrected.

That’s one of the big ideas I really agree with, so the initial comment at The Verge grew, and it has become what I think could be a post here. There it goes:

I write about tech for a living too and the dicotomy is there: I love tech spechs and I can really appreciate that tech evolution you have talked about. The problem is, not many people can. The Verge readers and my readers can, of course, but this is the exception that proves the rule: that my mother, or my neighbour, or my friend just want to know if the device feels right.

This is something I’d say you own Walter Mossberg understood a lot sooner than many other tech journalists that focused too much on specs. Fortunately we can have the best of both worlds as tech readers: we can enjoy both a Mossberg review but also a more technical one here and there by other editors. AnandTech usually fits there for me, for example, but there are even deeper resources for each category that can really get even more technical that we’d love to.

Launch events have become a show. And lately not one for nerds. The oversimplification is also dangerous: I like the first Jony Ive videos when they started to be included in Apple launches, but I’ve started to hate them. My impression now is that Ive (and Apple) is even laughing at me and other technical users. They’re not, of course. They are just selling their products.

The problem is, they’re not selling them to me, but to “normal” (I’m sure you get me) people. It’s quite difficult to find certain tech details for some products (the RAM included on the different iPhone models is a good example), and that’s another showstopper for people that love specs, and benchmarks, and that kind of data that really puts that part of the equation in context.

#Build2016 signals the death of the Windows phone

Not a single mention. That’s what we had at the Build 2016 keynote from Microsoft a few minutes ago when we tried to get some news from the Windows 10 Mobile operating system.

We’ve got lots of other news: the promising rise of the conversational bot (either with voice or with text), the transformation of the Xbox One into a PC, and the surprising arrival of a Linux console natively in Windows 10.

win10mobile

But again, nothing about Windows on phones. We saw some Lumias on the stage for the demos, yes, but what about new apps, or developer tools, or games for that platform? Nothing was mentioned, and that is the biggest disappointment of a conference that should have followed the ‘Mobile first, cloud first‘ mantra.

It certainly could follow that first part, but not with Windows 10 Mobile, that’s for sure. With a late final version of the OS that isn’t even available on every Windows phone, a diminishing software catalog, an inmature (that’s sad but undertandable given the maturity of the project) Continuum and a worrying lack of devices, the platform has big shadows over it.

#WhereIsWindows10Mobile, Microsoft? Where?

What if HTC and Xiaomi merged?

HTC’s revenue has dropped 55% year-on-year accoding to its latest financial results. The company situation is worrisome, and its smartphone business has been unable to reverse that fact. Every single model released in the last few years hasn’t had the warm welcome other HTC devices had in the previous years.

But HTC is far from dead. The HTC Vive seems to prove that, and it’s clear that virtual reality –and wearables– is now a possible last resort now that their phones are fighting with irrelevance and, above all, with the ones from Apple, Xiaomi, Lenovo and Huawei.

Xiaomi is doing quite well, though: it’s soaring in wearables and the recent launch of Xiaomi Mi 5 marks an interesting milestone that will allow them to compete in the high end (with almost mainstream prices).

HTC’s smartphone business isn’t working, and Xiaomi smartphone business is limited by its international expansion, something that HTC could provide.

What would happen if these two companies merged? Current HTC market cap is $81.94B, while Xiaomi has a market valuation of $45B. One could benefit from the other: HTC would be able to take advantage of Xiaomi’s strengths and ditch its own smartphones (or combine them with the best from its partner), while Xiaomi would be able to expand globally faster.

Is this nonsense?

What if Xiaomi Mi 5 was available worldwide?

mi

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.

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.

bq1

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.