Tech.pinions – Perspective, Insight, Analysis Perspective. Insight. Analysis Wed, 29 Mar 2017 08:00:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The analysts at Tech.pinions share their thoughts, perspectives, and observations on the technology landscape. Tech.pinions – Perspective, Insight, Analysis Insight and Perspective on the Technology Industry Tech.pinions – Perspective, Insight, Analysis The Future is Unevenly Distributed – Tech Should Fix That Wed, 29 Mar 2017 08:00:56 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

William Gibson famously said, “the future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed yet.” Nowhere is that more true than in the tech world where it’s easy to think that innovations, products, and services available to us are ubiquitous, even when their distribution is, in fact, very limited.

Square and Google Home come to the UK

Both Square and Google announced on Tuesday their products were coming to the UK. In Square’s case, this is its first entry into that market, but its fourth international market outside the US, after Canada, Australia, and Japan. In Google’s case, this is its international debut for the Google Home speaker and its Google WiFi routers. I have to confess, I was unaware Square hadn’t launched in the UK and was also unaware Google hadn’t made its new hardware products available outside the US until now. But I suspect that’s typical of those of us who follow the tech market in the US – we’re so accustomed to being the first to see new technologies, we rarely spare a thought for those who don’t have access to them yet, even in a neighboring markets like Canada (as with the Google Home and Echo).

Even within the US, Haves and Have-Nots

Even within the US, though, there are often haves and have-nots when it comes to new technology and Amazon’s footprint is a great example of this. Amazon just announced two new pickup grocery locations for its Amazon Fresh service but they’re both in Seattle (and currently only open to employees). It’s Amazon Go grocery store is also only in Seattle (and perhaps for a bit longer than planned, limited to employees). Amazon’s brick-and-mortar bookstores? All but one of the stores it has opened or announced are in or near big coastal cities, the latest in Chicago. Its Fresh delivery service is also limited to just a few markets, as are its same-day delivery services.

But this goes well beyond just Amazon. One of Lyft’s competitive disadvantages relative to Uber is the smaller number of cities (and countries) where it operates, even in the US, something it’s trying to rectify with a rapid expansion this year. I’m in New York City this week and am finding there are a raft of options for ride-sharing services (for someone who feels increasingly uncomfortable with patronizing Uber) but that’s not the case everywhere in the US. Even something as seemingly ubiquitous as the Apple Store is still missing from several US states.

Silicon Valley’s Other Diversity Problem

Diversity is frequently in the news when it comes to the tech industry and was again this week with the release of Uber’s diversity report. When we talk about diversity, it’s typically about underrepresented gender or racial groups but there’s also another form of diversity the US tech industry is missing out on — exposure to these parts of the United States and the world where many of the services Bay Area residents take for granted are simply not available. A tech worker living in San Jose can likely commute to work using Uber, Lyft, Waze, or a number of other tech-based transportation services, order lunch through Postmates, and get groceries delivered at night from Instacart, Amazon Fresh, or Google Express. But many of those services aren’t available (or in some cases relevant) in much of the rest of the country.

Living in such an environment and among other people who are benefiting from the rise of technology alternatives to traditional services, it must be tempting to think of these innovations as unmitigated boons to mankind. Of course, it’s often in the rest of the country where the negative impacts of these changes are felt, as jobs get sucked out of rural and suburban areas, either to disappear completely or to be replaced in high-tech zones. Engineers who only ever see the tech-infused version of the world they live in can have little conception of the impact it causes elsewhere or the way the other half, or more accurately the other 99%, lives.

Going Global is Tough but Important

That’s why going global with a product or service is so important, though it may in some cases be tough. If innovations are beneficial, they should be as widely spread as possible, as quickly as possible. It’s obviously much tougher where extensive physical infrastructure such as retail stores, warehouses, or even fleets of cars and drivers are needed, but we often see even digital products and services like Amazon Echo and Google Home restricted to just a few markets, even ones that share a common language. That’s why I was so impressed by Netflix’s global launch a little over a year ago and continue to be impressed by major digital services from Apple like iTunes which span the globe, or even Siri, which supports many different languages in more countries than any of the other major virtual assistants. Doing that work is hard – it requires local language support, cultural understanding, partnerships with local players, and more — but it deserves doing because the benefits of many of these technologies are worth spreading as far and wide as possible.

It’s also important for companies to put their people into more diverse places because only then can those employees more accurately understand and represent the needs of those they’re trying to serve and create products and services designed to help a much broader swathe of the population. I’ve also been impressed recently by Steve Case’s mission to grow tech hubs outside of the big existing ones as a way to bring renewal and growth to more places across the US.

More people in the tech industry should be thinking about how to distribute the future more evenly, both within the US and across the world. That applies to their own businesses as much as to the products and services they sell.

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What Samsung Needs to Show Us with the Galaxy S8 Tue, 28 Mar 2017 08:00:35 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

On Wednesday of this week, Samsung will unveil the Galaxy S8, its latest flagship smartphone, at an event in New York. Along with a couple of other members of the Tech.pinions team, I’ll be at…

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Augmented Reality Finally Delivers on 3D Promise Tue, 28 Mar 2017 08:00:26 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

The disillusionment was practically palpable. 3D—particularly in TVs—was supposed to be the saving grace of a supposedly dying category, and drive a new level of engagement and involvement with media content. Alas, it was not to be, and 3D TVs and movies remain little more than a footnote in entertainment history.

Not surprisingly, many people gave up on 3D overall as a result of this market failure, viewing the technology as little more than a gimmick.

However, we’re on the verge of a new type of 3D: one that serves as the baseline for augmented reality experiences and that, I believe, will finally deliver on the promise of what many people felt 3D could potentially offer.

The key difference is that, instead of trying to force a 3D world onto a 2D viewing plane, the next generation 3D enables the viewing of 3D objects in our naturally 3D world. Specifically, I’m referring to the combination of 3D cameras that can see and “understand” objects in the real world as being three-dimensional, along with 3D graphics that can be rendered and overlaid on this real-world view in a natural (and compelling) way. In other words, it’s a combination of 3D input and output, instead of just viewing an artificially rendered 3D output. While that difference may sound somewhat subtle in theory, in practice, it’s enormous. And, it’s at the very heart of what augmented reality is all about.

From the simple, but ongoing, popularity of Pokemon Go, through the first Google Tango-capable phone (Lenovo’s Phab 2 Pro), into notebooks equipped with 3D cameras, and ultimately leading to the hotly rumored next generation iPhone (whether that turns out to be iPhone 8 or 10 or something completely different remains to be seen), integrating 3D depth cameras with high-quality digital graphics into a seamless augmented reality experience is clearly the future of personal computing.

Integrating 3D depth cameras with high-quality digital graphics into a seamless augmented reality experience is clearly the future of personal computing.

The ability to have objects, data and, ultimately, intelligence injected into our literal view of the world is one of the most intellectually and physically compelling examples of how computing can improve our lives that has popped up in some time. Yet, that’s exactly what this new version of augmented 3D reality can bring.

Of course, arguably, Microsoft HoloLens was the first commercially available product to deliver on this vision. To this day, for those who have been fortunate enough to experience it, the technology, capabilities and opportunities that HoloLens enables are truly awe-inspiring. If Magic Leap moves its rumored AR headset beyond vaporware/fake demoware into a real product, then perhaps it too will demonstrate the undeniably compelling technological vision that augmented reality represents.

The key point, however, is that the integration of 3D digital objects into our 3D world is an incredibly powerful combination that will bring computing overall, and smartphones in particular, to a new level of capability, usefulness, and, well, just plain coolness. It will also drive the creation of the first significant new product category that the tech world has seen in some time—augmented reality headsets.

To be fair, initial shipment numbers for these AR headsets will likely be very small, due to costs, bulky sizes and other limitations, but the degree of unique usefulness that they will offer, will eventually make them a mainstream item.

The key technology that will enable this to happen are depth cameras. Intel was quick to recognize their importance and built a line of RealSense cameras that were initially designed for notebooks to do facial recognition several years back. With Tango, Google brought these types of cameras to smartphones, and as mentioned, Apple is rumored to be bringing these to the next generation iPhone in order to make their first stab at augmented reality.

The experience requires much more than just hardware, however, and that’s where the prospect of Apple doing some of their user interface (UI) software magic with depth cameras and AR could prove to be very interesting.

The concept of 3D has been an exciting one that the tech industry has arguably been chasing since the first 3D movies of the 1950s. However, only with the current and future iterations of this technology tightly woven into the enablement of augmented reality, will the industry be able to bring the kind of impact that many always hoped 3D could have.

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An Important Step Forward in Apple’s Strategy Mon, 27 Mar 2017 15:59:43 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

As I was thinking broadly about Apple’s pricing shift with the iPad, it’s clear there is an important strategy coming into play for Apple. Any good analysis of Apple notes their value is in the…

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Three Millennial Tech Myths Busted Mon, 27 Mar 2017 11:42:07 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

A core thesis we have about the future of technology here at Creative Strategies centers on a younger demographic. Because of that, much of our continued research on the industry leads us to do dedicated studies of the Millennial demographic to help us understand the unique function of technology from this cohort. We recently completed a study spanning hardware preferences, software behavior, collaboration techniques, communication techniques, and more specifically on the 18-24-year-old millennial segment. This group is largely still in college and about to enter the workforce with an established set of collaboration and cloud-based workflows. An essential part of our study was to understand how this demographic is using the combination of hardware, software, and cloud services to be productive.

As part of our study, we discovered some interesting data which busts many myths associated with this demographic. For reference, this study was taken by 1,446 respondents within the millennial demographic and over 90% are 18-24. This study also spans over 40 college campuses.

Myth #1: Millenials are Done with Facebook
Perhaps one of the most popular myths is millennials don’t use Facebook anymore or, if they do, it is not central to their social media usage or an app that gets used daily. We asked millennials which apps they use on a daily basis. To our surprise, Facebook is still king. 89.35% of millennials still use Facebook on a daily basis. This percentage was the highest of all the apps we tested. Next on the list was Snapchat with 76.36% using it daily followed by Instagram at 73.79%.

While all current data we have suggests engagement time may indeed favor things like Instagram and Snapchat over Facebook, there is no doubt millennials still have Facebook as a daily part of their behavior. The more we study how millennials and even Gen Z use different social networks, we observe how each seems to serve a purpose. None appear to replace each other entirely but they all offer something a little different. This demographic has no problem juggling them effectively for their needs.

Myth #2: The PC is Dead to Millenials
Perhaps the most interesting hardware discovery our study made was how important the PC still is to this demographic. Through a variety of questions and behavior scenarios we tested, we came to the realization the PC is still the form factor this demographic uses and prefers to get “real” work done. While this demographic is certainly the most comfortable using their smartphone to do things that classify as “work”, more so than older demographics, they still prefer their notebooks for a variety of productivity, creativity, and entertainment use cases.

One of our questions tested a specific scenario to understand how they may weigh hardware preferences in a particular situation. We presented them with a scenario where they were going on a trip and were going to be working on a project while they were traveling. On this trip, they could only take one device for all their needs. We asked them to choose if they would take their notebooks, smartphone, or tablet. We were certain it was a no-brainer and the majority would want their smartphone. To our surprise, 42.46% said they would choose their notebook. The smartphone barely beat the notebook with 42.92%.

The scenarios we tested showed the strength of the laptop form factor when any level of “work” or “school project” was involved. Based on many of the write-in comments on why they choose the device they did, it was clear that, had there not been work involved, there would have been no contest with the smartphone as the clear winner.

Myth #3: Face to Face Meetings are not Desirable
The strength of myth is questionable but I hear it frequently from senior managers at large corporations. Many Silicon Valley tech companies which employ large numbers of millennials also note how prevalent video conferencing has become with this generation. There is no question the idea of face-to-face meetings may be suspect or questionable with this demographic — they feel it is a waste of time. However, our study shows they still view face-to-face meetings as the most efficient way to collaborate.

We examined the preferred collaboration methods at different stages of a project for millennials and found face-to-face meetings were viewed as the most useful and preferred for both the planning and brainstorming part of the project and the check up/review stages. Collaborating through things like Google Docs, or a messaging client like iMessage were sufficient to keep making progress. However, when it mattered at critical stages, nothing replaces a good old fashioned meeting–even with millennials.

The more we study different demographics, the more we see quite distinct behavior patterns depending on their life stage. Most of the “myths” I’ve heard are observations of either young millennials or Gen Z who have much more time on their hands. The contrast is quite stark once you observe millennials in college, entering the workforce, or in their late 20s already working and starting a family. Technology remains constant at all stages. Technology is almost always the answer to many problems or challenges with this demographic. However, the ways it is implemented and used may vary widely by life stage and this may always be a constant as well.

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Podcast: Apple iPads, Semiconductor Renaissance, Intel AI Sat, 25 Mar 2017 08:00:57 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

In this week’s Tech.pinions podcast Tim Bajarin, Ben Bajarin and Bob O’Donnell discuss the new product announcements from Apple, new developments in the semiconductor market from companies like nVidia and ARM, and Intel’s recent announcement of a new AI organization.

If you happen to use a podcast aggregator or want to add it to iTunes manually the feed to our podcast is:

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Despite 5G Hype, still a Compelling Roadmap for 4G Fri, 24 Mar 2017 08:00:59 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

5G was the dominant topic of conversation at this year’s Mobile World Congress. While this might be the sexiest topic in telecom right now, there’s still a compelling 4G LTE roadmap, incorporating many of the capabilities promised for 5G – especially the earlier, ‘pre-5G’ versions that have been discussed. What’s clear about 5G is it will roll out in stages, it will be messy, and there will be multiple “versions” of 5G.

Meanwhile, what about 4G, the LTE workhorse we all know and love? Well, there’s still a lot of gas left in the LTE tank. First, even though the US, Japan, South Korea, and a handful of other countries have 80% or more of their subscribers on 4G, that number is still less than a third of total subscriptions globally. So there is still substantial investment going into 4G. Second, even as 5G is deployed, LTE is going to provide the primary coverage layer for the foreseeable future – likely out to 2025 – even among the ‘early adopter’ 5G countries. That’s because 5G is likely to be deployed in islands or pockets until the business case is truly proven. And it will require a massive number of small cells which, as we’ve learned with the early stages of the small cell market, are difficult to deploy at scale.

Most importantly, there is still a compelling roadmap for LTE, promising significant improvements in speed, latency, and spectral efficiency. Much of what is promised for 5G — especially the pre-standard or early stages of 5G — can be accomplished within the LTE roadmap.

LTE Advanced, which was introduced a couple of years ago, has already delivered speeds exceeding 100 Mbps and a 2x or greater boost in capacity per MHz, using carrier aggregation, 4×4 multiple input (MIMO) antennas 256 quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM), and an assorted soup of technologies with even less user-friendly acronyms.

The roadmap for the next two to three years is equally compelling. The next stage is called LTE Advanced-Pro, which some call 4.5G. Some of the capabilities include:

• An even higher number of potential ‘carrier aggregation’ channels (from 5 to 32)
• Support of much wider spectrum bands
• Peak data rates up to 3x that of LTE advanced
• Latency improvements of 50% or more
• Further MIMO enhancements, for better coverage
• Support for unlicensed spectrum, such as 5 GHz
• A host of enhancements for IoT, to support lower speed, narrow band access for low power devices

All this added together promises significant increases in throughput, improved latency, greater spectral efficiency, and other improvements. If you thought we needed to wait for 5G for gigabit services, think again: last year, Qualcomm introduced the X16 modem, which is the first commercial modem to support Gigabit LTE up to 1 Gbps—that’s LTE Cat 16—by using four antennas to simultaneously receive 10 LTE data streams boosted to around 100 Mbps each through advanced signal processing. In reality, the operators won’t offer gigabit LTE, just as peak 5G speeds of 10 Gbps represent more of a theoretical than a practical number.

Another key aspect of LTE Advanced Pro will be using carrier aggregation in the unlicensed bands, such as 5 GHz (used by WiFi). Contentions around this issue were ironed out late last year and we should see services such as LTE Unlicensed (LTE-U) rolled out as soon as this summer, delivering business case-driven speed boosts and capacity increases. This, plus additional bands of 700 MHz, AWS, and eventually 600 MHz spectrum being deployed or becoming available soon, provide a lot more ‘real estate’ to increase channels. That translates into faster speeds and more capacity. The fact the operators are now all offering some flavor of an ‘unlimited’ plan, even with asterisks, reflects their increased optimism with respect to the capacity picture.

The significance of all this is many of the improvements and attributes touted for 5G, especially in its early stages, will be delivered within the LTE roadmap. Now, how exactly LTE Advanced Pro will be marketed is an interesting question. Remember when Metro PCS and Verizon were the first operators to deploy LTE in 2010? Within a few months, AT&T and T-Mobile branded their HSPA+ services, which technically were still 3G under the 3GPP framework, as ‘4G’. Some cried foul although, in reality, HSPA+ in some markets outperformed LTE (it was very situational). Still further, what was originally promised for LTE really wasn’t delivered until some of the first LTE Advanced Services started to be incorporated, circa 2013.

This playbook is likely to be (already is being?) replayed with respect to 5G. I would not be surprised if some operators branded aspects of their 4.5G services as 5G. They might call it ‘Pre-5G’. But ‘4G Plus’ and ‘5G Minus’ are likely to be much the same thing, from the standpoint of the user experience.

The bottom line is we don’t have to wait until 2020 or later for some of the significant improvements promised with 5G. There will be material increases in speed, latency, and capacity along the LTE path and those capabilities are already part of the 12 to 18-month roadmap of the major device vendors. So, while 5G might grab all the headlines, there’s still lots of reasons to get excited about 4G.

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Unpacking the Week’s News: Friday, March 24, 2017 Fri, 24 Mar 2017 08:00:24 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Twitter and IBM Watson come Together Against Abuse – By Carolina Milanesi Twitter has had a history of abuse and bullying for most of its life but it seems the negative trend has escalated over…

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Liability: the Biggest Problem Facing Autonomous Driving Thu, 23 Mar 2017 08:00:53 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

I have been looking into the issue of liability within the realm of autonomous automobiles and ran across a recent post by one of our contributing writers who posted this on his own site. He…

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Google’s YouTube Advertiser Problem has No Easy Fix Thu, 23 Mar 2017 08:00:46 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Last week, UK advertisers, including the government, the Guardian newspaper, and various others began boycotting Google’s ad products including YouTube over the fact their ads were appearing next to troublesome content, ranging from videos promoting hate to those advocating terrorism. Unsurprisingly, given the exact same issues exist here in the US, the boycott this week began to spread to Google’s home turf, with several of the largest US advertisers pulling their ads from some or all of Google’s platforms. The challenge facing Google is this problem has no easy fix – with two of three possible scenarios, either creators or advertisers will be unhappy, while Google is probably hoping a third scenario is the one that actually pans out.

The Problem

The main focus of the complaints has been YouTube, although the same problem has, to some extent, affected Google’s ads on third party sites as well. On YouTube, the root of the problem is the site has 400 hours of video uploaded every minute, making it impossible for anything but an army of human beings to view all the new content being put onto the site continuously.

As such, Google uses a combination of algorithmic detection, user flagging, and human quality checking to find videos advertisers wouldn’t want their ads to appear in and those systems are far from perfect. Terrorist videos, videos promoting anti-Semitism and other forms of hate, content advocating self-harm and eating disorders, and more have slipped through the cracks and ended up with what some perceive as an endorsement from major brands. Those brands of course, aren’t happy with that. Following some investigations by the UK press, several have now pulled their ads either from YouTube specifically or from Google platforms in general until Google fixes the problem. US brands like AT&T, Verizon, Enterprise, GSK, and others are starting to follow suit.

No Perfect Fix

From Google’s perspective, the big challenge is its existing systems aren’t working and there’s no easy way to fix that. Only one reasonable solution suggests itself and it’s far from ideal: restrict ads to only those videos which appear on channels with long histories of good behavior and lots of subscribers. That would likely weed out any unidentified terrorists, hate mongers, and scam artists without having to explicitly identify them. Problem solved! Except that, of course, the very long tail of YouTube content and creators would be effectively blacklisted even as this much smaller list of content and creators are whitelisted. That, in turn, would be unpalatable to those creators, even if advertisers might be pacified. Of course, it would have a significant effect on YouTube’s revenue too.

Given that some creators are already unhappy with what they see as the arbitrary way YouTube already determines which videos are and aren’t appropriate for advertising, going further down that route seems dangerous and will create problems of its own. But, given the current backlash against YouTube and Google more broadly over this issue, it can’t exactly keep things as they are either, because many advertisers will continue to boycott the platform and there’s likely to be a snowball effect as no brand wants to be seen as the one that’s OK with its ads appearing next to hate speech, even if others aren’t.

So, we have two scenarios, neither of them palatable. One would be essentially unacceptable to the long tail of creators and would likely significantly impact YouTube’s revenue, while the other would continue to be unacceptable to major advertisers and also would significantly impact YouTube’s revenue. To return to a point I made at the beginning, this actually is broader than YouTube to programmatic advertising in general, including Google’s ads on third party sites. Alphabet’s management has cited programmatic advertising, where humans are taken out of the picture and computers make the decisions subject to policies set by site owners and advertisers, as a major revenue driver in at least its last four earnings calls, mentioning it in that context at least seventeen times during that period.

To the extent the programmatic method of buying is a major source of the content problem at YouTube specifically and Google broadly, that’s particularly problematic for its financial picture going forward. There was already something of a backlash over programmatic advertising towards the end of last year when brand advertising was appearing on sites associated with racism and fake news but this YouTube issue has taken to the next level.

Hope of a Third Scenario

Alongside these two unappealing scenarios, there’s a third. Google must be hoping this one is what actually pans out. This third scenario would see Google making more subtle changes to both its ad and content policies than the ones I suggested above and eventually getting advertisers back on board. That approach banks on the fact brands actually generally like advertising on Google, which has massive reach and – through YouTube – a unique venue for video advertising that reaches generations increasingly disengaged from traditional TV. So I’d argue advertisers don’t actually want to shun Google entirely for any length of time and mostly want to use the current fuss to extract concessions from the company both on this specific issue and on the broader issue of data on their ads and where they show up.

Google’s initial response to the problem, both in a quick blog post on its European site last week and a slightly longer and more detailed post on its global site this week, has been along these lines. It’s accepted responsibility for some of its past mistakes, identified some specific ways in which it plans to make changes, and announced some first steps to fixing problems. However, the fact that several big US brands pulled their advertising after these steps were announced suggests Google hasn’t yet done enough. It’s still possible advertisers will come around once they see Google roll out all of its proposed fixes (some of which were only vaguely described this week) and perhaps after some additional concessions. That would be the best case scenario here. Some of the statements from advertisers this week indicate they’re considering their options and reviewing their own policies, suggesting they may be open to reconsidering.

But these current problems still highlight broader issues with programmatic advertising in general, on which advertisers won’t be placated so easily. I could easily see the present backlash turn into a broader one against programmatics in general, which could slow its growth considerably, with impacts both on Google and the broader advertising and ad tech industries. I would think Google/Alphabet would be extremely lucky to emerge from all this with minimal financial impact and I think it’s far more likely it sees both a short-term dent in its revenues and profits from the spreading boycotts and possibly a longer-term impact as brands reconsider their commitments to programmatic advertising in general.

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New iPad Pricing, EDU, and the Clips Strategy Wed, 22 Mar 2017 08:00:34 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Reflecting on Apple’s announcements yesterday and it is clear the new pricing scheme of iPad is the most significant. What this demonstrates is a fascinating and nuanced observation. When needed, Apple is willing to compete…

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In the Market for a Tablet? No-Brainer to buy an iPad Wed, 22 Mar 2017 08:00:14 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

I am sure you know by now Apple has announced a new iPad model simply called iPad – aka the 5th Generation. This is not quite an update to the Air 2 as some of the features, such as weight and thickness, are the same as the Air.

The fact Apple did not hold an event for the announcement had more to do with not setting high expectations than with the significance of this product. The 9.7” iPad has been the most popular model for Apple. Since moving to the iPad Air line, Apple has been able to please customers who thought they wanted a smaller form factor. In reality, what they wanted was the higher portability that comes with a lighter device. The price drop of the older Mini generation helped buyers who wanted the most affordable iPad but would have not necessarily picked this product based on screen size.

Apple believes there is still a market opportunity for iPad both as people upgrade older models and as they discover iPads for the first time. For many consumers, however, making the jump to buying the first iPad or upgrading to a new model has not been easy. Depending on where you are in the process, there are either cheaper Android alternatives marketed as equals or the iPad you are using still fulfills your needs, making it hard to justify an upgrade.

This week, Apple made buying an iPad simpler and more affordable. The new line up is pretty clear:

    • iPad Mini is no longer the entry level iPad with consumers choosing this option based on form factor rather than price
    • No need to use the Air name as iPads are all lighter and slimmer than they were before the Air was introduced. I made the same argument for the MacBook Air when the new MacBook was announced and we’ll see if I am right
    • 9.7” is not only the most popular size but it is where Apple sees the future of iPad as it plays well in consumer, enterprise, and education. So the price aggressively comes down to $329
    • iPad Pro remains the flagship for people who want the best and/or people who are ready to make the switch from a PC or a Mac and make the iPad Pro their main computing device. The two sizes offer choice depending on your mobility requirements.

Tablets remain a category of device many consumers do not see as necessary. In fact, according to a GWI report, only 5% of online Americans consider a tablet as their most important device to access the internet, whether at home or elsewhere. This compares to 24% for smartphones and 40% for laptops. This lack of a clear role limits how much consumers are prepared to spend on them. Yet, when people use iPads satisfaction is high.

According to J.D. Power, iPads have the highest satisfaction in the category at 830 (out of 1000). Satisfaction is measured across performance, ease of use, features, styling and design and cost. iPads outperform the competition on every factor aside from cost. Apple just addressed this very point.

 Apple is not going to Concede the Education Market to Chromebooks

Tablets are not just a consumer play and Apple is very well aware of that. Over the past year or so, Apple has been focusing on empowering their iPads in the enterprise through partnerships with IBM and SAP. Education is another major market for iPads but lately, Apple has been under pressure from a growing number of Chromebooks being used, especially by K-12 schools.

While $329 is an aggressive price in the consumer market, Apple pushed even more on education and will make the new iPad available through its education channel for $299. Targeted, aggressive pricing is something Apple is willing to do for certain segments and done in a way that does not negatively impact the brand.

Apple also collaborated with Logitech to make a rugged case available through the same channel, priced at around $99. Logitech will also offer an add-on keyboard for the rugged case and a “Rugged Combo”.

While even at this price, Apple remains higher than Chromebooks. But there is more than just iPad Apple brings to the table compared to Chromebooks. Once the price gap closes, the other factors hold a different weight. Apple’s app ecosystem is much larger than what Chromebooks have to offer and the fact Android apps will run on Chromebooks will not make the situation much better. Many of the Android apps available in the store are still not optimized for tablet use, which of course, limits how user-friendly and rich the experience can be. Accessories ecosystem is also a plus for Apple as it lets the iPad better fit in with other tools teachers might be using in the classroom. The last point I think worth mentioning is security. Apple’s strong focus on privacy and security for its devices and the apps that run on them is an added benefit I am sure schools consider. Google and Apple both offer specific education tools to monitor access on the devices to limit vulnerabilities but the cloud/browser-based nature makes that more challenging. Of course, the fact Google Docs work well on iPad is a reassurance for teachers who are invested in those tools.

The education market is certainly becoming a battleground for Google, Apple, and Microsoft. It will be interesting to see who will focus on a more holistic experience that centers on empowering teachers and students to teach and learn vs. facilitating admin and management of kids and staff.

In Other News

There were more Apple announcements on Tuesday.

There was an updated storage option for the iPhone SE that now starts at 32GB for the same price of $399 and a small $50 premium for the 128GB version. This is a sensible move by Apple to future-proof this line for further software upgrades.

To celebrate the ten year anniversary of support for Product RED and the fight against HIV, Apple released a RED iPhone. This is a first for Apple who have done several RED products over the years — iPods, Beats headsets, iPhone and iPad Cases — but never an iPhone.

Lastly, Apple announced Clips, a video editing app that will be available as a free download in April. Despite some confusion on social media, this is NOT a competitor to Snapchat or Instagram. Clips is about creating content to be shared on the social platform of choice. iPhone is used more and more for pictures and videos and giving users the opportunity to add features such as stickers, lenses, and filters makes a lot of sense. Apple is aware, however, that its audience is not made up of social savvy teenagers only. So Clips comes as a separate app rather than being integrated into the main camera app. First and foremost, this approach avoids annoying users who are not interested. It also offers Apple an opportunity to further develop Clips by adding other capabilities in the future – think AR.

It remains to be seen, however, if avid Snapchat and Instagram users will be interested in creating the content in Clips before they share it through their social platforms. If Clips takes off, Apple would have created direct user engagement and would have shifted value back to the hardware and, ultimately, leave to the social network platform the delivery portion of the engagement.

Clips is a great example of the kind of first party apps Apple should be focusing on to add value to hardware. While the wider ecosystem is a great strength and the balance of keeping partners and developers engaged is tricky, there is certainly room for Apple to do more.

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Chip Magic Tue, 21 Mar 2017 08:00:55 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Sometimes, it just takes a challenge.

After years of predictable and, arguably modest, advances, we’re beginning to witness an explosion of exciting and important new developments in the sometimes obscure world of semiconductors—commonly known as chips.

Thanks to both a range of demanding new applications, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Natural Language Processing (NLP) and more, as well as a perceived threat to Moore’s Law (which has “guided” the semiconductor industry for over 50 years to a state of staggering capability and complexity), we’re starting to see an impressive range of new output from today’s silicon designers.

Entirely new chip designs, architectures and capabilities are coming from a wide array of key component players across the tech industry, including Intel, AMD, nVidia, Qualcomm, Micron and ARM, as well as internal efforts from companies like Apple, Samsung, Huawei, Google and Microsoft.

It’s a digital revival that many thought would never come. In fact, just a few years ago, there were many who were predicting the death, or at least serious weakening, of most major semiconductor players. Growth in many major hardware markets had started to slow, and there was a sense that improvements in semiconductor performance were reaching a point of diminishing returns, particularly in CPUs (central processing units), the most well-known type of chip.

The problem is, most people didn’t realize that hardware architectures were evolving and that many other components could take on tasks that were previously limited to CPUs. In addition, the overall system design of devices was being re-evaluated, with a particular focus on how to address bottlenecks between different components.

People predicting the downfall of semiconductor makers didn’t realize that hardware architectures were evolving and that many other components could take on tasks that were previously limited to CPUs.

Today, the result is an entirely fresh new perspective on how to design products and tackle challenging new applications through multi-part hybrid designs. These new designs leverage a variety of different types of semiconductor computing elements, including CPUs, GPUs (graphics processing units), FPGAs (field programmable gate arrays), DSPs (digital signal processors) and other specialized “accelerators” that are optimized to do specific tasks well. Not only are these new combinations proving to be powerful, we’re also starting to see important new improvements within the elements themselves.

For example, even in the traditional CPU world, AMD’s new Ryzen line underwent significant architectural design changes, resulting in large speed improvements over the company’s previous chips. In fact, they’re now back in direct performance competition with Intel—a position AMD has not been in for over a decade. AMD started with the enthusiast-focused R7 line of desktop chips, but just announced the sub-$300 R5, which will be available for use in mainstream desktop and all-in-one PCs starting in April.

nVidia has done a very impressive job of showing how much more than graphics its GPUs can do. From work on deep neural networks in data centers, through autonomous driving in cars, the unique ability of GPUs to perform enormous numbers of relatively simple calculations simultaneously is making them essential to a number of important new applications. One of nVidia’s latest developments is the Jetson TX2 board, which leverages one of their GPU cores, but is focused on doing data analysis and AI in embedded devices, such as robots, medical equipment, drones and more.

Not to be outdone, Intel, in conjunction with Micron, has developed an entirely new memory/storage technology called 3D Xpoint that works like a combination of DRAM—the working memory in devices—and flash storage, such as SSDs. Intel’s commercialized version of the technology, which took over 10 years to develop, is called Optane and will appear first in storage devices for data centers. What’s unique about Optane is that it addresses a performance bottleneck found in most all computing devices between memory and storage, and allows for performance advances for certain applications that will go way beyond what a faster CPU could do.

Qualcomm has proven to be very adept at combining multiple elements, including CPUs, GPUs, DSPs, modems and other elements into sophisticated SOCs (system on chip), such as the new Snapdragon 835 chip. While most of its work has been focused on smartphones to date, the capabilities of its multi-element designs make them well-suited for many other devices—including autonomous cars—as well as some of the most demanding new applications, such as AI.

The in-house efforts of Apple, Samsung, Huawei—and to some degree Microsoft and Google—are also focused towards these SOC designs. Each hopes to leverage the unique characteristics they build into their chips into distinct features and functions that can be incorporated into future devices.

Finally, the company that’s enabling many of these capabilities is ARM, the UK-based chip design house whose chip architectures (sold in the form of intellectual property, or IP) are at the heart of many (though not all) of the previously listed companies’ offerings. In fact, ARM just announced that over 100 billion chips based on their designs have shipped since the company started 21 years ago, with half of those coming in the last 4 years. The company’s latest advance is a new architecture they call DynamIQ that, for the first time, allows the combination of multiple different types and sizes of computing elements, or cores, inside one of their Cortex-A architecture chip designs. The real-world results include up to a 50x boost in AI performance and a wide range of multifunction chip designs that can be uniquely architected and suited for unique applications—in other words, the right kind of chips for the right kind of devices.

The net result of all these developments is an extremely vibrant semiconductor market with a much brighter future than was commonly expected just a few years ago. Even better, this new range of chips portends an intriguing new array of devices and services that can take advantage of these key advancements in what will be exciting and unexpected ways. It’s bound to be magical.

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A Moment on Twitter Tue, 21 Mar 2017 08:00:34 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

I recently found myself wondering what an average moment on Twitter would look like if you could take a snapshot of all the tweets being posted at any given point in time. Where would the…

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An Important Trend in Semiconductors Mon, 20 Mar 2017 08:00:21 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

A distinct and important trend is emerging and worth paying attention to in the semiconductor industry. As I noted a few weeks ago, a renaissance is happening in the chip industry. Semiconductor innovation is not…

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