Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Wearables Seem to be Flopping

In June, NPD reported that less than 500,000 smartwatches have been sold since October 2013.
They also reported that only 20% of consumers had any interest in smartwatches at all.

The Google Android Wear app (necessary for anyone with an AW smartwatch) is only showing 100,000 - 500,000 installs on the Play Store.

Today, I ran across this TechEye post featuring a report from Tata Communications saying that only 15% of the British are interested in wearables. The corresponding number for the US is only 12%!

Fitness band maker, Jawbone, just made it possible to use their app without having a band, prompting Adriana Lee of ReadWrite to comment:
With the new app, Jawbone’s step-tracking features work using the phone alone, no rubber shackle necessary.  [Emphasis added.]
Numerous publications enthusiastically covered the Jawbone announcement, especially the part about lack of "wristband" or "wearable". Google news currently has 75 stories about the release.

Here's a selection of headlines that give you the flavor:

It seems pretty clear that people are not thrilled about having something on their wrists.

Android Wear and Apple Watch smartwatches are not good bets at this point.

While Google Glass is achieving some specialized acceptance in places like surgery, it is largely regarded as either a joke or as offensive, with a surprising number of places outright banning the technology. I don't really find it offensive or funny myself, but I do think of it as both unnecessary and as under-powered/over-priced (even if it were $300) for the value it delivers.

I believe a big factor in adoption of wearables is battery life -- numerous others have commented on this. People don't want another electronic gadget that needs charging every day.

Another big factor is that people seem to want less notification, not more.
I wrote earlier about Android Wear reviewers universally condemning AW's notification model:
I've seen similar complaints about Samsung Gear, Google Glass and Pebble.

I'm fond of my FitBit flex... it needs charging only about once a week and sends me email when it needs charging. It syncs automatically when I get back to the house. It then automatically notifies MyFitnessPal so that I can an updated calorie target. It is almost invisible to me.

I'm potentially interested in Intel's new version of a fitness tracker:
It want one because it adds heart monitoring and time to what I get from the FitBit Flex... BUT... I only want it if it has decent battery life. It must easily last 24 hours or I won't even consider it. Really, I don't want to have to charge it more than twice a week. I'm am interested because the diet I'm on requires careful monitoring of activity and this is hard to do without technology. The Intel device would allow me to replace two devices (a FitBit Flex and a Polar heart monitor) with one.

The important points about my desire for the Intel devices is:

  • It meets a real need.
  • It makes that need more easily satisfied.
  • The cost matches my perception of value.

In the end, I find it interesting that the most popular wearables out there are specialty devices. FitBit Flex, Jawbone and others easily outsell all smartwatches. I strongly suspect that the average person has no interest in a general platform on their watch (e.g. Android Wear, Apple Watch).

Looking at Google Glass, again what one sees is that it is only being used in places with a special need.

I think smartwatch and other wearables makers need to rethink their offerings from the ground up. Simple, inexpensive and filling real needs are what is going to win the day.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Review of Acer Chromebook 13 CB5-311-T1UU

I just got a new Chromebook. It's the new ARM-based one from Acer:
  • Processor: NVIDIA Tegra K1 Quad Core 2.1 GHz Processor
  • RAM: 4 GB
  • SSD: 32 GB
  • Screen: 13.3" @1920 x 1080 Matte Finish
  • GPU: NVIDIA Kepler GPU with 192 NVIDIA CUDA cores
  • Battery Life: 11 hours
  • Weight: 3.3 lbs (only 0.34 lbs more than a 13" Macbook air)
  • Cost (now): $379.99

It replaces my old (ordered July 14, 2012) Samsung XE550C22:
  • Processor: Celeron 867
  • RAM: 4 GB
  • SSD: 16 GB
  • Screen: 12.1" @ 1280 x 800 Matte Finish
  • GPU: Intel built-in
  • Battery Life: 6 hours
  • Weight: 3.1 lbs
  • Cost (then): $482.97
The new Acer Chromebook seems to be superior in every way to the Samsung 550 which I used very heavily and found quite satisfactory. (I used it so often I've worn out the battery.) I also have a Samsung ARM-based Chromebook (XE303C12), which I use for personal use. It is fine, but I find it a bit slow, especially with a lot of tabs open.

The first issue I'll deal with is the processor. In my old Samsung 550, the Celeron 867 chip Geekbench 3 scores are:

  • Single Processor: 1030
  • Multiple Processors: 1767
As it is a quad-core, the K1 in the Acer wins easily:
  • Single Processor: 1036
  • Multiple Processors: 3236

I didn't run Graphics benchmarks, but the Acer easily wins here... the K1's graphics are competitive with Haswell (Intel 4th gen) chips. The Sandy Bridge (Intel 2nd gen) 867 chips are much, much slower at graphics.

I haven't had a chance to really test the battery, but many other reviewers say the 11 hours is real. I got about 4-5 hours of heavy usage with the Samsung 550. I'll be quite pleased if the Acer gives me 9 hours of heavy usage - so far that seems likely.

The display... you may see other reviewers complain about this. It is a matte display. Apparently these other reviewers are Mac users and just don't know what a matte display is. In case you don't know... a matte display looks a bit "blurry" relative to the glossy displays which are the only ones available on a Mac. In the PC and Chromebook world, you have both kinds of displays. Glossy displays are great for viewing pictures, with crisper colors... BUT they are very bad about glare. Light from behind you will often get reflected into your eyes. A matte display overcomes the glare problem, but at the cost that things are not as crisp. I find it amazing how many of the authors reviewing the Acer Chromebook don't seem to understand what a matte display is. It's one thing to prefer a glossy display, it's another to say that a matte display is "inferior". The truth is the display on the Acer Chromebook is the best matte display I've every seen.

I've seen some reviewers talk about the Acer Chromebook lacking in performance. They were using the model with less memory... perhaps that is an issue... otherwise, I'd have to say they're nuts.
Sure, a Chromebook Pixel, with it's Core i5 processors will outperform the Acer -- ON CPU INTENSIVE TASKS... but, graphics-wise, the Acer is competitive. CPU intensive tasks are simply very rare on Chromebooks.

To give you an idea of how well the Acer works, I tested it as follows:
I started 3 tabs, with Pandora and two YouTube videos running. I then opened 15-20 tabs.
I then did various tasks like reading news via RSS, recording information in MyFitnessPal, and some developer related tasks that used significant CPU. I worked like this for about an hour (rather annoying with 3 audio streams going simultaneously). I encountered 3 very brief hiccups of one of the three audio streams... and I'm pretty sure it was a network bandwidth issue, not a CPU issue. In short, I am extremely pleased with the performance. It's much more capable than the Exynos 5250-based Samsung and HP Chromebooks. I also have the new Asus Chromebox and the LG Chromebase that are Intel Celeron 2955U Haswell based... I find the performance of the Acer Chromebook to be competitive with those systems. The 2955U is supposed to be 20% faster than the K1, but I believe its graphics is slower, and also ARM's chips have coprocessors for things like video decoding. The overall effect is that it feels similar.

In the end I have to say that this is the Chromebook I've been waiting for.
No fan, long battery life and a decent-resolution display. All for $379.
I'd take this any day over even a Chromebook Pixel.

The battery life seems to exceed 10 hours with my usual heavy usage. I'll update again in a month or so when I have more data points.

The Duolingo Android app works great on this machine. I had a great deal of difficulty on the Samsung 550 with it's ability to do voice recognition... it works great on the Acer... perhaps a better microphone?

Its keyboard and trackpad are very nice.

The lack of fan is wonderful.

Its webcam is quite good.

I keep looking for something negative... but so far I just cannot find anything.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Alternatives for iPhone Users that Prefer Smaller Phones

The trade press is finally waking up to the fact that Apple's insistence on a tiny number of products means that people that prefer small phones are being left out in the cold.

This post is a list of various high-end non-Apple phones that are relatively small -- it has a US bias as many good Android phones simply are not for carriers here (Xiaomi for example). To be on the list, the phone had to have a 720p or better resolution, a smaller size than the iPhone 6 and LTE.

As an iPhone user, you may not realize just how much better the web browsing experience is on a wider phone, so be sure and check that out.

(Sizes below are Height x Width x Thickness in inches)
For comparison:
Apple iPhone 4s:  4.5 x 2.31 x 0.37
Apple iPhone 5s:  4.87 x 2.31 x 0.30
Apple iPhone 6:   5.44 x 2.64 x 0.27

Android Phones

Sony Experia Z1 Compact:  5.0 x 2.56 x 0.37

Sony Experia Z3 Compact: 5.01 x 2.56 x 0.34

LG Optimus G E975:  5.19 x 2.71 x 0.33

Samsung Galaxy Alpha 5.21 x 2.58 x 0.26 in

Windows Phones

Nokia Lumia 928:  5.24 x 2.71 x 0.40

MidRange Phones

If you are willing to not have not quite as fancy a screen or as fast a processor, there are many more options available.

Some examples include:
Moto G LTE (Android):  5.11 x 2.59 x 0.46
Nokia Lumia 635 (Windows):  5.1 x 2.63 x 0.36

These phones tend to have better battery life than higher end phones. They are also cheaper. Despite what Apple and Samsung might have you to believe... phones really don't have to have high-end displays and processors to get what you want done. I'm seriously considering the new Moto G (see below) for my next phone.

GSM Arena has an interesting phone finder that will help you quickly sort through all the options.

Apple's Ridiculous Pricing

Consider the soon to be released, Moto G LTE 2014 (a good mid-range Android phone) vs the very high end iPhone 6:
               |    Moto G LTE 2014    |      iPhone 6
Size           |  5.57 x 2.78 x 0.43   |  5.44 x 2.64 x 0.27
Screen DPI     |         294           |        326
Storage        |        16Gb           |       16Gb
RAM            |         1Gb           |        1Gb
Cost (unlocked,|                       |
no contract)   |        $199           |       $649

Battery life tests are not yet available, but numbers from the two company's numbers suggest that the Moto G will have a better battery life than the iPhone 6. (Certainly the earlier Moto G had a better battery life than the iPhone 5s.) Finally a word about the two phone's operating systems: Android and iOS. The previous version of Android needed less CPU/GPU resources than the the current version. Likewise the next version of Android (likely releasing in October) will use even less resources. Apple has used more resources with every release of iOS... eventually forcing you to upgrade your phone because it becomes too slow.

Now there is no question that the iPhone 6 has a faster processor and GPU, but do you really need that? Is it worth the price difference? If what you use your phone for is to browse the internet, run a few apps like Facebook, maybe a fitness program, text and the occasional phone call... probably the answer to both questions is, "No".

Friday, September 12, 2014

Apple Manages to Convince Customers That Beige is Gold

The release of the iPhone 6 this week (which have the same colors as the iPhone 5s) got me shaking my ahead again at the "gold" phone... quite simply it is not gold... it's not even close to gold. It is quite simply beige.... a sparkly beige perhaps, but unquestionably beige.

Consider the following pictures:

Beige PC case (Corsair)"Gold" iPhoneActual Real Gold

Originally the color was called Champagne Gold... but it's nothing like the color of Champagne either:

UPDATE: It turns out, there is a color called "champagne" that is sort of like the iPhone color.
See Wikipedia for all the details, but here's a brief quote:
The color champagne is a name given for various very pale tints of yellowish-orange that are close to beige. The color's name is derived from the typical color of the beverage Champagne.
The color is shown as:                                        
But still, there is nothing to warrant the use of the word "gold" in describing the color of the iPhone.

It is beige (sparkly with a red-ish cast if you like).
And the other two phones are just two different shades of grey.

Be careful if you try showing this to an owner of a beige iPhone... they tend to resent it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Apple Has Most Boring Event in its History

As expected, it released two awkwardly shaped the #iPhone 6 and 6 plus. The phones maintain the aspect ratio of the newer iPhones... except they get even bigger!

Here's a chart comparing the sizes with popular Android devices:
PhoneHeight  Width
iPhone 4, 4s4.52.31
iPhone 5, 5C, 5S4.872.31
iPhone 65.42.64
iPhone 6 plus6.223.06
Nexus 55.432.72
Moto X5.092.57
Samsung Galaxy S4  5.382.75
Samsung Galaxy S5  5.592.85

For those unhappy that the new iPhones are so large, the Android world has a number of phones sized like the Moto X.

Apple also pre-announced the "Apple Watch" it's a lot like an Android Wear watch.
When Microsoft used to do things like this they were called "vaporware".
The Apple Watch is surprisingly ugly. Basically a square with 3 different metal casings an a variety of watchbands. It has an ugly wartish knob on the size that is reminiscent of a winding stem on a mechanical watch. Hey Jony Ive, I thought you said skeuomorphism was bad?

It comes in two sizes... even the larger one is likely to have very bad battery life.
It has wireless charging -- which is good, cause you'll need to do that a lot... think of it as an iClock.
They did have an interesting way of launching apps.
The cheapest is $350 and as the high-end ones have 18K gold-plated casing, one expects they will be truly expensive.
They tried to make it out as a great fitness device, but as it's functionality requires the presence of an iPhone, I doubt they'll succeed that much outside of the truly Apple faithful.

They made a vague announcement of something called Apple Pay. I'll wait to see what that really entails before commenting. (It was actually a very long vague announcement.)

The rest was rehash of what was said at the WWDC.

Seriously, that's all there was. Even the colors of the iPhone remained the same: beige and two shades of grey... you do know Tim Cook was at IBM for quite some time?

[This post originally started out as a "live" blog of the Apple Event today... but so little happened at the event, I didn't want to bore you, so I made this synopsis.]