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Apple Doesn’t Need a Television

November 26, 2012 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials

Making televisions is a fool’s errand and the real solution is already here.

We shouldn’t blame Walter Isaacson. 13 months ago his official biography of Steve Jobs revealed the recently-deceased Apple CEO had his mind set on revolutionising television. “He very much wanted to do for television sets what he had done for computers, music players, and phones,” Isaacson wrote. More too Jobs reportedly told him: “I finally cracked it.”

The tech press went nuts and a product was expected before the end of the year. Quickly expectations were redefined and an Apple television would instead launch before the end of 2012. In September reports leaked that it may skip 2012 altogether. And now we hear Microsoft wants to get in on the act and Xbox TV will take on Apple’s TV in 2013.

Stop. Stop. Stop! It’s time for some perspective because both Apple and Microsoft would be mad to make televisions.

For a start let’s look at the financial aspect. According to The Economist “none of the companies that make large liquid crystal display panels earn money from it” and between 2004 and 2010 the industry lost a combined $13bn. This sector not only includes televisions, but screens for monitors, laptops and explosive growth areas like mobile phones and tablets. Prices for LCD panels have fallen by 80 per cent since 2004. Costs for their manufacturing have fallen 50 per cent.

Volume doesn’t help. Panasonic’s television division has been unprofitable for the last four years, Sony for the last eight years. In fact just three weeks after Isaacson’s revelations about Jobs’ supposed master plan emerged former Sony CEO Howard Stringer (below) was publicly admitting “every TV set we all make loses money”. In Sony’s case The Economist clocks that at $45 per set. Even the mighty Samsung, the world’s biggest producer, found its division has so consistently turned in losses the division was spun off as “Samsung Display” in April. Long term the solution for Microsoft and Apple could be OLED, but for now it remains prohibitively expensive.

Of course the counter point is no Apple or Microsoft TV would just be a TV. Instead both companies will find profitability through integration of ‘smart’ functionality. Except they won’t.

What we have seen this year alone in receiving two generations of iPad eight months apart (the iPad 4 having twice the performance of the iPad 3) is that truly smart devices are constantly evolving and their lifecycles are getting ever shorter. Time flies in the ‘smart’ world. The original iPad has already been cut adrift both in terms of performance and software support and it was only released in mid 2010. It’s almost a relic. Would you think the same way about the television you bought 2 1/2 years ago? This is a sample, to read why the real solution for Apple, Microsoft and its customers is already here read the full article @ TrustedReviews


Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings. 

Libratone Zipp

November 21, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

The first portable speaker to allow AirPlay on the move is a technical triumph.

Review Price £329.00
Score 7/10

Pros
Lossless audio on the move
Stylish, customisable design
AirPlay

Cons
Short battery life over WiFi
Bass overwhelms treble
Extremely expensive

Key Features: 60W 2.1 speaker arrangement; AirPlay & DirectPlay lossless streaming; Dedicated iOS configuration app; Up to 9 hours battery life

After years of neglect, competition in the portable speaker market is finally picking up with credible choices across a range of budgets. Now joining the ranks at the top end is premium Danish speaker manufacturer Libratone and it has high hopes of wooing those with a little more cash to spend.

Its weapon of choice is the Libratone Zipp, a device which continues the shrinking theme that has seen Libratone follow up its debut product, the home cinema focused Libratone Lounge, with the Libratone Live AirPlay speaker. At £329 the Zipp costs as much as, if not more than, some extremely accomplished docks so what justifies the significant outlay?

Design
The first thing that will catch your eye is how the Libratone Zipp looks. Combining wool with a Pringles tube may not sound like a wise idea, but somehow Libratone pulls it off and the 260 x 102mm, 1.8Kg design is both stylish and different. Interestingly its “handpicked wool from Italy” covers are interchangeable too with Libratone shipping black, yellow and red covers in the box with further shades (grey, pink, purple, green and blue) available online. Build quality is also superb, so if you want a portable speaker that stands out this is it.

Features
Beyond looks, however, the Libratone Zipp is also a smarty pants. Its headline feature is ‘PlayDirect’ Libratone’s adaption of AirPlay which allows the Zipp to be used on the move, freeing it from the usual constraint of your Wi-Fi network. Libratone achieves this by equipping the Zipp with its own Wi-Fi signal and the result is a portable, lossless streaming standard without the need for dongles. At present you do need to manually add proxy settings to allow your iDevice to use 3G when connected via DirectPlay, but it is clearly explained in a standalone page in the box and takes minutes to setup. It only needs to be done once.  The Libratone Zipp can also switch to standard AirPlay with buttons for it and PlayDirect cleverly hidden behind the leather carry handle. The switchover takes about 10-15 seconds. The handle also hides a battery indicator, 3.5mm jack and USB port which can be used for charging devices on the go.

On paper this has the potential to make the Libratone Zipp the ideal device. It can charge like a dock without the bulky connector, it does AirPlay and it also offers lossless streaming on the move. Furthermore this flexibility makes the Zipp a doddle to setup – just connect to its Wi-Fi network – and Libratone also offers an app which will both configure AirPlay and let you adjust the sound between seven presets and even tweak output for its position in a room.

Performance
All of which means the Libratone Zipp has the style and functionality to succeed, so what of its performance? By default the Zipp pacts a surprising amount of bass. Unlike most portable speakers which use passive bass radiators to conjure the low end, the Libratone Zipp has managed to squeeze in an active bass driver creating a mini 2.1 system. This is capable of outputting up to 60W or 96dB at a sound pressure level (SPL) of one metre (aka when you’re within one metre of the device).

Furthermore the Libratone Zipp’s projection of sound is good as Libratone has used the tubular design to angle the tweeters and midrange drivers to fire in different directions. Libratone dubs this ‘FullRoom’. The downside is Fullroom somewhat muddles the left and right stereo channels, but given most portable speakers offer little-to-no separation this isn’t a huge compromise. It wipes the floor with the disappointing Jawbone Big Jambox. This is a sample, to learn what the frustrating flaws are that mar the product read the full review @ TrustedReviews


Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings. 

Half Life: Get Used to Shorter Product Cycles

November 19, 2012 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials

Product life cycles are getting shorter, but is it good or bad for the consumer?

CES 2013 is just around the corner and with it gadgets that will inevitably make everything we just received for Christmas feel antiquated and useless. Well get used to that feeling, because it’s going to happen a lot more often.

Product lifecycles are coming down. In an age of rabid competition, particularly in the mobile space, it is becoming increasingly unfeasible to release a device and expect it to remain attractive to consumers for its typical 12 month lifespan. Even Apple CEO Tim Cook recently admitted customer anticipation for the iPhone 5 curtailed sales of the iPhone 4S so significantly it missed its sales targets in its most recently reported quarterly financial results.

The solution? Give consumers an unexpected iPad 4 in addition to the new iPhone and iPad Mini to make up the numbers a month before Christmas. The tactic will likely work, but in doing so Apple – preacher of the 12 month product cycle – had replaced its third generation iPad just 7 1/2 months after release. Since then talk has already begun of the iPhone 5S being released in Q1 2013. Should it launch in late March that would be almost six months to the day since its predecessor took centre stage.

Apple is far from alone. Leaks for the Samsung Galaxy S4 started five months after launch while Google upgraded the spec of the Nexus 7 from 16GB to 32GB within three months. HTC followed up the One X in April with the One X+ in October (both below). A new even more highly specced model, the HTC Droid DNA, has now been announced for late November. Motorola meanwhile is releasing its flagship devices with ‘MAXX’ versions almost simultaneously.

This cycling is like spread betting, taking the pressure off any single release which could send share prices plummeting and allowing for rapid iterations sweetened by accompanying tweaks. Companies are also more nimble when it comes to reacting to game changing devices like the Nexus 4.

Understandably owners aren’t pleased though, as even the most well researched purchase can get an unexpected polish at seemingly any time giving no period of grace. Occasionally vouchers or discounts are given, much as Google handed out to buyers of the Nexus 7 just before its price drop, but it doesn’t always happen. That said the approach clearly keeps enticing new buyers who wanted just that little bit extra before pulling the trigger on a purchase and existing owners need to remember their device still fulfils the criteria that made them buy it in the first place.

All of which means shorter product cycles are a win/win for both companies and consumers, right? Not exactly… This is a sample, to read about why shorter product cycles can be a threat to innovation and what it means for the smartphone and tablet industry read the full editorial @ TrustedReviews.


Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings. 

D-Link DIR-865L AC1750 Cloud Router

November 15, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

A bargain 802.11ac router with one frustrating flaw.

Score: 8/10
Review Price £125.00

Pros
Excellent 802.11ac & 802.11n 5GHz performance
Easy setup with useful Cloud accessibility
Bargain pricing

Cons
Poor 2.4GHz 802.11n performance
Unispiring design
mydlink Cloud platform basic at present

Key Features: 802.11ac; Dual band 2.4/5GHz ; 4x Gigabit Ethernet ; mydlink Cloud platform

While we still await laptop, tablet and smartphone makers to jump on the bandwagon, there is no doubt the 802.11ac revolution is now well underway. Having seen next generation routers from three of the big four manufacturers (Netgear, Linksys and Buffalo) it is now left to D-Link to complete the line-up.

It does so with the Cloud Gigabit Router AC1750, also known as the D-Link DIR-865L. As with all descriptively titled products, the name gives much of the game away. The D-Link DIR-865L features 802.11ac at up to a theoretical 1300Mbit (the remaining 450Mbit comes from 802.11n theoretical performance being tacked on top), Gigabit Ethernet and the company’s ‘mydlink’ Cloud platform. As a premium router, the D-Link DIR-865L also features dual channel 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. The former is 802.11b/g/n compatible while 802.11n/ac work on the latter.


Design
With most 802.11ac routers manufacturers going big on plastering 802.11ac logos all over their packaging along with its “three times faster than Wireless N’ slogan, but remaining far from radical in their designs, D-Link is no different. The D-Link DIR-865L is a big rectangular block measuring a sizeable 240 x 167 x 32mm and weighing in a 550g. Happily is continues the recent trend in dumping external antennas, but it also continues the less welcome pattern of only sitting one way round – in this case in a portrait alignment.

Like most other rivals, D-Link also continues to fit just four Gigabit Ethernet ports to its routers and a single USB 2.0 port for networking a hard drive or printer. In this day and age six and two would seem a more sensible arrangement. USB 3.0 would be welcome as well, but v2.0 isn’t yet a bottleneck for most networking performance.

As for build quality it is reasonable, if in the usual vein of 100 per cent plastic casing for the obvious signal-related reasons. What we don’t like is the return to the bad old days of a shiny, fingerprint magnet piano black and it has some way to go to match the slick, matt finish and curved lines of Linksys’ routers which remains the benchmark for router designs at this time. In short the D-Link DIR-865L won’t offend, but it won’t inspire either.


Setup
Happily the lack of drama in the D-Link DIR-865L’s looks is also found in the setup process. Like Cisco, D-Link has unveiled a Cloud platform (‘mydlink’) and while this offers a convenient setup route for mainstream users, the more tech savvy still have access to the tried and trusted D-Link router UI over an internal IP address.

As for mydlink, it allows users to access router settings. This includes adding/blocking devices and setting up email alerts when new devices connect to the network, fail to connect or if there is new firmware available. These options can also be done over apps for iOS and Android. For now the service is rudimentary and the options certainly don’t match that of Cisco’s Connect Cloud, but it is a nice bonus which will no doubt evolve substantially over the coming months.

This is a sample, to read about the router’s performance and frustrating Achilles’ heel read the full review @ TrustedReviews.

Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings. 

Is Samsung Tech’s Top Dog?

November 12, 2012 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials

Why Samsung could top Apple, Google & Microsoft even without an OS.

There are many numbers associated with Samsung: 370,000 employees, a $250bn annual turnover, nearly $400bn in total assets and more than 80 diversified business units which cover everything from shipbuilding and jet engines to investment banking and medical services.

That said, for many the most eye popping figure in Samsung’s recent history is a relatively meagre 1.8 million. For this is the figure by which the Samsung Galaxy S3 outsold the iPhone over the last three months to become the world’s most popular smartphone.

Admittedly both companies did huge business during what were their third financial quarters. Apple shipped 16.2m iPhones, Samsung shipped 18m Galaxy S3s. Furthermore the win wasn’t as clear cut as it appears. The trading period came in the run up to Apple’s iPhone 5 and even CEO Tim Cook admitted customer anticipation curtailed sales. As it turned out the iPhone 5 had just 10 days on sale before the Q3 figures were filed.

And yet for Samsung this matters little. Circumstance or not it demonstrated to the world – however briefly – that the Korean giant can stand toe-to-toe with Apple and win, even in the battle of the iPhone 5 vs Samsung Galaxy S3. It could also argue that anticipation for its Samsung Galaxy S4 is already building and it has to compete with every other Android handset, while Apple knows many of its customers will only choose iPhones.

Furthermore Samsung has now shipped 30 million Galaxy S3s in the five months that the handset has been on sale. Projected over the course of 12 months this would put it neck and neck with the iPhone 4S while remaining just one of the many models Samsung sells. Even more heartening is – despite the continual reference to limited apps – it is clear Apple’s stranglehold on the tablet sector is weakening. In Q3 2010 Apple had a remarkable 93 per cent market share, but Q3 2012 it has fallen to just above 50 per cent. The dominant force behind this fight back, with models like the Tab range and the Samsung manufactured Google Nexus 10.

Make no mistake Samsung is fighting a war on price. Both the Samsung Galaxy S3 and, in particular, the Google-branded Nexus 10 significantly undercut their targeted Apple products, but they do so without significantly sacrificing features or style. It is a trend we have already seen with the company’s laptops as its budget offerings have been augmented by premium designer ranges like the ultra-slim series 9 Series. This flagship line-up is continued in its television series where the company again dominates the segment and has shaken off its bargain basement roots. And besides isn’t the next tech battleground said to be the living room?

And yet there is a huge hole in all of this: Samsung lacks an ecosystem… or does it?

This is a sample, to read about Samsung’s potentially killer ecosystem build from radically unconventional means see the full editorial @ TrustedReviews.


Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings. 

Nuance Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12

November 6, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Evolution not revolution, but this is the best voice recognition software on the market. Period. 

 

Score 9/10
Review Price £149.99

Pros
Class leading speech recognition accuracy
Dictation wirelessly via Android & iOS apps
Posts to social media, browses websites
Adapts to writing & formatting style

Cons
Accuracy still drops in noiser environments
Evolutionary, not revolutionary upgrade

Key Features: Over 99 per cent potential accuracy; Faster Performance engine; Dictate wirelessly using an iPad or iPhone; Post straight to Facebook & Twitter; Full Gmail & Outlook.com compatibility

Screens are meant to be touched, games consoles are designed for us to wave our limbs in front of them and Google and Apple are desperate for us to talk to our phones. Amongst all of this speaking to our PCs has fallen somewhat by the wayside, but the company providing the speech recognition technology behind Siri wants us to try again.

Features
Somewhat predictably ‘Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12′ is the successor to the excellent NaturallySpeaking 11.5 and somewhat predictably Nuance is calling it the “fastest, most accurate and easy-to-use version of Dragon yet”.

What causes these proclamations are claims of a 20 per cent improvement in out of the box speech recognition accuracy, faster performance and new technology which looks to learn your preferences as you use the software – for example how your format words, phrases and numbers. In addition is full Gmail and Outlook.com support, correction options respond to more naturalistic language as well as more natural text-to-speech reading of your work by Dragon which allows you to review without returning to the screen.

These features build on existing core features such as social network integration (“Post to Facebook…” / “Post to Twitter…”), web search and opening and closing of programs. Perhaps most useful of all, however, was v11.5’s integration with Dragon smartphone apps which allow dictation via your phone’s microphone letting you ditch a headset completely.

Setup
Voice recognition software has a reputation for infuriating, lengthy setup routines and while NaturallySpeaking 12 doesn’t drop them completely the process is quick and – most importantly – educational. A nice tweak Nuance has made from v11.5 is the setup process now takes even more care in teaching you key commands and usage scenarios while it learns your voice so it is well worth doing. In all it took about 15 minutes and even new users would feel confident about using punctuation, switching between programs, composing emails and performing web searches in this time. The training process and additional training exercises can be accessed at any time.

Of course it is worth pointing out smartphone voice recognition has no setup process whatsoever which may make some impatient. The counterpoint is the setup is both a tutorial and should be far more accurate than just trying to adapt to the generic tones of your nationality. At least that’s the theory… This is a sample, to find out how v12 performance, whether existing owners should upgrade and to here my version check out the full review @ TrustedReviews

Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings. 

Cook Has Recipe for a New Apple

November 6, 2012 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials

 ‘What Would Steve Do?’ is no longer Tim Cook’s first thought as he starts to put his own stamp on Apple…

Technology’s greatest polisher and refiner finally had some big news for us this year. It wasn’t a taller iPhone 5 or smaller iPad mini or some such other technical tinkering the company can do in its sleep, but something much more important: it gave the impression change is afoot. For those outside of tech circles the signals were subtle, but in axing 15 year Apple veteran Scott Forstall the company was doing much more than moving on its ‘senior vice president of iPhone Software’. It was daring to do something which might have angered Steve Jobs.

Forstall (below) was Steve Jobs’ golden boy. A 43 year old high flyer who, rightly or wrongly, carried a reputation for being charismatic, ruthless, difficult to work with and a fierce backer of Jobs’ love of skeuomorphism. Forstall was Jobs’ prodigy, squint your eyes and he even looked a little like his older mentor. Tim Cook was meant to keep the CEO’s seat warm for him, not sack him.

Reading industry reports, Forstall had been asked to leave because of the launch problems with Apple Maps and Siri, both projects he headed up. More specifically “sources said Forstall refused to sign a public apology” for Apple Maps when complaint levels became critical. Forstall apparently didn’t believe an apology was needed… sound like anyone familiar? Consequently Cook broke with Apple’s and Jobs’ long running approach of blamelessness and issued an iOS 6 maps apology, the most open and heartfelt apology seen from the company in decades.

For Cook this is said to have been the final straw, but it was preceded by “years of friction” between skeuomorphism advocates Forstall and Jobs on one side (Jobs’ famously chose the leather finish in iCal by matching them to the seats of his private jet) and a Jonathan Ive lead opposition which thought the software should match the hardware’s minimalist, clean lines. In the reshuffle this week Jonathan Ive was appointed ‘Senior Vice President of Industrial Design’ giving him command over both hardware and software design. Forstall lost, so by extension did Jobs.

This is extremely exciting and very, very dangerous. “What would Steve do” has been a mantra proclaimed inside Apple and outside by its most loyal customers ever since Jobs’ passing last year. Yet less than 13 months later is now clear diversion from his rigid template has begun. Why? Because Cook realises Apple cannot keep battery farming the geese which lay the golden eggs. In the last few years Apple has become the biggest company in the world, but it has done so largely pitching evolution of revolutions. This is a sample, read the full article @ TrustedReviews to hear about the challenges facing the new Apple and why the battleground has already moved on from tablets and smartphones…


Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings. 

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