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TR – Moto X: Motorola’s statement that top-end Android handsets have got it wrong

August 6, 2013 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials

The Moto X is a premium smartphone like no other, but is it trendsetter or freak?

Google used Motorola to make an announcement last night: premium Android handsets are getting it wrong. The message was delivered via the Moto X, a smartphone the two companies have been working on since Google bought Motorola for $12bn nearly two years ago. What are they getting is wrong? Apparently just about everything.

MotoX (1)

The slogan for the Moto X says it all: “Made for you, responds to you, designed by you”. It may sound like a Christmas perfume ad, but the key message to customers is ‘we understand you better than they do’. The result is a handset that shuns the key specifications of virtually every 2013 premium Android smartphone: 5-inch display, 1080p screen resolution, quad-core processor, 12-megapixel camera (or greater), expandable storage and sub 10mm thickness.

Furthermore, following numerous leaks that gave the hardware elements away, the biggest shock of the night turned out to be the Moto X’s price: $199 with a two year contract. This is the same bracket as the Samsung Galaxy S4, Sony Xperia Z and HTC One. Contract-free prices weren’t much better: 16GB – $575 (£380); 32GB – $630 (£415) with the latter price again putting it within touching distance of these handsets once tax is added.

Initial impressions would suggest Google and Motorola are not only the ones who misunderstand their audience, but that they have both lost the plot.

Brains not brawnMotoX-512x460
Moto XBut perhaps they haven’t. Techies may find this a shock, but the Moto X primarily bins what the mainstream consumer could not care less about. Instead it preaches terminology that may well appeal to a very wide audience: accessibility, design, camera quality, one handed use, real world performance and crucially… battery life. Each brings genuine differentiators:

Accessibility sees voice control made touch-free which may finally ease the stigma around its use while an ‘Active Display’ helps prioritise and give quick access to handset notifications. The Moto X is also context aware and can change mode automatically depending on your activity (such as selecting its car mode when you start driving).

Designs can be unique thanks to over 500 styling combinations. This entails two frontplate options (white or black), 18 backplate colours and seven finish options. Cleverly these individual appearances are chosen at the point of sale (via the ‘Moto Maker’ website) and come with a free two week exchange option. The inspiration? Nike’s ID shoe and Mini Cooper customisation.

Camera quality is delivered via the first ever smartphone RGBC image sensor (dubbed ‘Clear Pixel’). Motorola claims it brings 70 per cent better low light performance due to an extra set of white pixels and we’re curious to see how it stands up in testing. The Moto X can also shoot 60fps 1080p video with both the front and rear cameras, which is unusual.

One-handed use is viable since Motorola gave the Moto X the smallest footprint of any premium Android handset (129 x 63mm). This is due to a very slim bezel which makes operation less of a stretch. Motorola has also optimised the camera app to shoot burst photography and zoom in and out with just one finger, which is clever.

Real world performance may well patch up some of losses the Moto X’s dual-core processor suffers in artificial benchmarks against quad core (and greater) rivals. This is because Motorola has equipped the handset with ‘the X8 Mobile Computing System’ which is made up of eight ultra low power cores that specialise in doing the heavy lifting for typically resource intensive software functionality such as motion sensing and voice recognition. It still won’t beat other flagship Android handsets in the latest games (despite an Adreno 320 GPU), but everything else should feel snappy and potentially even smoother given its minimum skinning.

Finally the biggie: battery life is claimed to last up to 24 hours with standard usage. That’s 50 to 100 per cent more than the competition manages. This is due to the compromises of a smaller screen size, lower resolution and the drop from a quad to dual core processor, the X8 system and those extra few millimetres not shaved off its width to squeeze in a layered battery. Interestingly battery life may be enough to win over heavy users who tend to be attracted to high end handsets. After all a still functioning phone is better than any flat one.

Give it more Googlemoto-x-insides
Moto X constructionAnd yet the Moto X does have some significant weaknesses and they come from the most unlikely source: the surprising lack of synergy between Motorola and Google.

For a start the Moto X will not ship with the current version of Android and is not guaranteed to receive prompt updates to future releases. This seems unthinkable for a handset Google has been so heavily involved in shaping and for a company run by a CEO and product head it installed from its own staff.

Surprisingly Google has also let Motorola customise stock Android. Even more surprisingly it appears the genuinely impressive functionality Motorola has added is being developed independently of Android 5.0. This includes exciting glimpses of future proximity based screen unlock technology from a chip in your pocket to even a pill you swallow and Motorola’s already available Chrome-based browser extensions which bring call and text message alerts from your phone to your laptop.

But the biggest concern remains the Moto X’s RRPs. Google’s track record with the Nexus range meant it was widely predicted the Moto X would give us all its goodies while hitting Nexus 4-like bargain pricing to suck in a wider market. As it is even mainstream consumers will have to learn to look past the headline features the Moto X lacks and we feel it would’ve been a far stronger proposition fighting midrange rather than flagship Android handsets.

Lastly the sales strategy is extremely atypical of Google with Motorola confirming there will be no international launch for the Moto X and it will be sold solely in the US with customisation options initially limited to AT&T. This will kill a lot of buzz for the phone and seems a strange tactic given Europe is Android’s most successful hunting ground.

The pros of the Moto X are genuinely differential and disruptive, but its cons feel like basic failings by Motorola and Google to properly leverage their relationship and target the right price bracket. As such it seems the Moto X has as much to learn from the existing smartphone market as it has to teach.

To read the original article on TrustedReviews click here

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. 

 


 

 

TR – UK porn filter: 5 reasons it won’t work

August 6, 2013 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials

From a technological standpoint, the new pornography laws don’t stand up…

Pornography will be blocked from every UK home and across public Wi-Fi services according to plans announced on Monday by Conservative prime minister David Cameron. Those still wishing to access pornography will need to speak with their Internet Service Provider (ISP) to opt back in.

In a speech Mr Cameron said the move was taken to crack down on child pornography as well as limiting access to pornography to “protect our children and their innocence.”

David-Cameron

In addition to the block, Mr Cameron said videos streamed online will be subject to the same restrictions as those sold in shops. Search engines have until October to implement stronger filters to block access to illegal content, and police and experts from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) will have greater powers to trace illegal content and examine file sharing networks.

The new laws will come into practice for all new ISP customers by the end of 2013 while existing customers must be contacted by their ISP and asked whether they wish to use “family-friendly filters” or not.

Since the announcement supporters and objectors have been in strong voice. Supporters backing the protection they argue it will give to children and less technologically aware families. Detractors citing the evils of censorship, the moral stigma created by opting against the filters, the shifting of responsibility from good parenting and the hypocrisy of the government’s funding cuts to CEOP last year.

We have a bigger complaint: the new laws suggest politicians don’t understand technology. Consequently – for better or worse – the measures taken to enforce them will fail. Here are the reasons why:

Reason #1: Filters don’t worktor-onion
Tor The subject may be controversial, but we have been here before with another equally polarising topic: piracy.

Due to legal rulings, ISPs were last year required to block access to prominent piracy sites and for search engines to filter results.

While this may dissuade the most casual of pirates, a quick search will reveal numerous ways to get around these blocks from VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), DNS patches, web proxies, alternative addresses to access the sites in question, browser extensions, anonymous browsers like Tor (simplified version of how it works pictured above), smartphone apps and even via a hack using Google Translate!

The result? In April, illegal downloads of Game of Thrones broke piracy records.

In short, even effectively deployed filters are easily bypassed whether it be for piracy or pornography.

Reason #2: ISPs are an ineffective police
The final sentence to Reason #1 is particularly pertinent here because even though “effectively deployed filters” are easily circumvented, most ISPs are in no position to effectively deploy them in the first place.

The prevalence of pornography has fuelled the new laws, but prevalence also reflects demand and no ISP has the resources – either in manpower or financial – to keep a lid on it all. “It’s technically not possible,” said Trefor Davies, chief technology officer at ISP Timico to the Telegraph. Furthermore, what isn’t blocked rises straight to the top and most likely stems from the darkest and least well trodden areas of the Internet.

Equally problematic are the mistakes that will happen. “Blocking lawful pornography content … will lead to the blocking of access to legitimate content” argues Nicholas Lansman, secretary general of ISP industry body ISPA. “It is only effective in preventing inadvertent access.”

Reason #3: Free software does a job better
Moralists will argue that taking the responsibility for what children surf away from parents and placing it on ISPs encourages neglectful parenting. Whether or not this is true from a technological standpoint the bigger concern is it will push more effective, free filtering software into the background.

To their credit much of this software is already supplied by the majority of ISPs including Virgin Media (Virgin Media Security), BT (NetProtect Plus), Sky (McAfee Parental Controls), TalkTalk (HomeSafe) and many more. There are also family filters built into Windows and Mac OS X as well as the majority of smartphone platforms.

In addition, most third-party routers have integrated parental controls these days and Cloud platforms like Linksys Smart WiFi and D-Link’s mydlink can be controlled from any location with a web browser. Furthermore, all these services let parents tailor settings to their own preferences, limit content based on time of day, specific devices and so forth.

By contrast, the new laws tell families to either block pornographic access for everyone in the household or grant access to everyone in the household. It is a blunt instrument that risks giving parents a false sense of security when better control is already at their fingertips.

Reason #4: Impacts net neutrality
DatainOneMinute

DomoThe secretary general of ISPA has already said the new laws “will lead to the block of access to legitimate content” and this means a system of white listing innocent sites must be undertaken.

Where the line is drawn – soft pornography, lads’ mags, tabloids, lingerie shops, galleries, social media websites… – is already a problem, but it also favours the larger sites who will be vetted more quickly.

The concern is this creates a two tier internet where there is no hope of vetting every possible website that may sail within touching distance of a ban. How not? According to Domo (graphic right) last year there were 48 hours of new YouTube video, 571 new websites, 347 new WordPress blogs, 27,778 new Tublr blogs, 3,600 new Instagram photos and 684,478 new pieces of content uploaded to Facebook every minute.

As such only broad strokes can possibly be used with the major corporations getting preferential treatment while a small online gallery specialising in artistic nudes, for example, may go out of business.

Net neutrality is the principle that all data on the internet is treated equally by ISPs and governments. As battered as it is by search engine rankings and piracy blocks, it cannot remotely hope to exist under the new pornography laws.

5. Private networks are child pornography’s distribution system

While minors’ inadvertent access to pornography is deeply concerning, child pornography is clearly the deeper evil and it is hard to see from a technological standpoint how the new laws can better control it.

“[Child pornography is] invariably shared over private networks and not found by a simple image search,” argues Daniel Foster, founder of web hosts 34SP.com. “History shows us that they will be quicker at keeping this target moving than law enforcement will be at catching it.”

Where the new laws may have some success, however, are the greater search powers given to both CEOP and the police to examine file transfer networks, but they will likely run into strong opposition on privacy grounds.

That aside it is hard to see how the majority of the new laws can successfully address child pornography or children’s access to pornography and they may in fact do more harm than good.

To read the original article @ TrustedReviews click here

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. 

 

 

En Voyage – Hybrid computers (August 2013)

August 6, 2013 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials

Every month I write the gadget column for Eva Air’s in-flight magazine. Eva Air is one of the biggest airlines in the Far East.

For August I looked at the pros and cons of hybrids, the growing trend to building laptops with detachable screens which can function as fully fledged tablets.

Grabs from the magazine as below (click to enlarge). You can read a digital version of the En Voyage August edition here

2013 - 08 - Hybrids

Click to enlarge

 

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. 

 

 

TR – 8 reasons Windows RT was dead on arrival

August 4, 2013 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials

With foresight and hindsight we look at why Windows RT was never likely to succeed…

Microsoft’s latest financial results are in and both earnings and profits are up. In fact, financially everything looks pretty good for the company apart from one glaring issue: Windows RT. Microsoft revealed it has taken a mind boggling $900 million hit on Surface RT due to “inventory adjustments”. In plain English: no-one wants them.

So why is Windows RT proving to be such a hard sell? We think we have some pretty good reasons…

Reason #1: It’s Windows 8 Lite
When Windows RT was announced it sounded like a great idea: a version of Windows that is finally compatible with ARM processors. The presumption was that it would allow Windows 8 to be used on more portable devices with greater battery life, cut hardware costs and launch Windows into the tablet space (more of later).

The reality was to get Windows 8 on ARM, Microsoft had to butcher it so it would run on less powerful hardware. So instead of extending the reach of Windows 8 for all intents and purposes Windows RT splintered the operating system and consequently…

Reason #2: It confuses people
For a start there is the name: ‘Windows RT’. It stands for ‘Windows Run Time’ – a reference to the Windows Runtime Library (WinRT) technology that allows developers to write apps that work across both it and the full fat Intel-based Windows 8. Yes it is not exactly consumer friendly, but given its Windows 8 Lite status meant Windows RT couldn’t responsibly be called ‘Windows 8 on ARM’ Microsoft found itself in a pickle.

Worse still, having picked a terrible name, Microsoft did a poor job of explaining its relevance to consumers, which only complicated things. Consumers understood the models of Apple and Google: phones and tablets share an OS (iOS and Android) and PCs and laptops share an OS (Mac OS X and Chrome OS).

Suddenly Microsoft was saying: phones use Windows Phone, PCs and laptops use Windows 8 and tablets use Windows RT… except when those tablets are hybrids which use Windows 8… though there will also be a line of dedicated tablets that use Windows 8. It’s a mess.

Microsoft-Surface-RT

Reason # 3: Hardware wasn’t ready
While we predict Windows RT doesn’t have long for this world, we suspect history will remember it more kindly. It is an ambitious idea that doesn’t work and a major reason is the hardware wasn’t ready. Had Intel had powerful, low power chips like Intel Haswell and the next-generation Intel Atom’s a few years earlier, Microsoft wouldn’t have needed to butcher Windows 8 during its development to make it run efficiently on ARM. Similarly had ARM had low chips powerful enough to run Windows 8 a few years ago Microsoft could’ve focused on a full version with sophisticated emulation software.

The problem is Microsoft was desperate. It had seen the iPad suddenly succeed in tablets where it had failed time and again and it had no answer. Instead of pitching a half baked version of Windows Phone (which – naming aside – may have been the smarter idea) it went for the differentiator of a full Microsoft Office experience by butchering Windows 8. Which brings in another argument about Windows 8 in general…

Reason #4: Apps weren’t readyWindows-Store
While Windows RT’s ambitions were caught out by hardware restrictions, arguably the fundamental idea behind Windows 8 is also ahead of its time. Again Microsoft was acting out of desperation as it watched a shrinking PC market and wanted to make an OS that was all things to all people and all devices.

Windows 8.1 suggests Microsoft knows how to improve the OS over its lifespan, but where it has a gargantuan amount of x86 legacy software to fall back on, Windows RT dropped all that in favour of the duo’s shared touch friendly apps. Naturally at launch very few of these apps were available which led to weak demand and in a self fulfilling prophesy weak demand led to app developers ignoring the platform. Windows 8 could survive this, Windows RT cannot.

Reason #5: It competes with itself
It is said that a daft dog bites itself, but with Windows RT Microsoft showed it was more than happy to sink its teeth into its own hindquarters. Whereas Apple and Google push distinct product lines that work together largely without overlapping, Windows RT was primarily a cheaper alternative to Windows 8.

“Would you like this Windows 8 Surface tablet or this Windows RT Surface tablet, sir?” For those who opted for Windows 8 it made Windows RT look pointless, for those who opted for Windows RT its limited experience damaged the Windows 8 brand. It is a stunning example of unintentional self sabotage.

Reason #6: Poor launch hardware
And yet Microsoft would’ve gotten away with some of this had the hardware, which greeted the launch of Windows RT, been more appealing. Yes, Microsoft had its Surface range, but it was available in limited quantities and still suffered from poor battery life – ironically the very thing making it ARM compliant was meant to solve.

But more damaging was that while we have mentioned Windows RT was major hardware challenge, partners were unmoved to meet it. Like consumers they seemed reluctant to invest in innovative designs having seen Windows tablets fail many times previously and so stuck to what they knew: pushing out desktops, laptops and even some hybrids for Windows 8.

Consequently, Windows RT hardware was thin on the ground and Acer, HP, HTC, Nokia and Toshiba cancelled devices before launch. That scared off others such as Samsung, which caused them to pull out after launch.

Reason #7: Its walled garden is excessive
Even with a near catatonic start, Windows RT may have grown support had Microsoft not implemented restrictions that make Apple platforms look like an open source hippy convention. All Windows RT apps must be vetted through the Windows Store with Microsoft taking the same 30 per cent cut of sales developers give up for entry to the more successful Apple App Store and Google Play stores.

Customers are similarly restricted. Before using the Windows Store, Windows RT users must sign up for a Microsoft account – something that is true of Windows 8, but Windows RT owners have no other way of obtaining software. Furthermore, unlike Windows 8, Windows RT locks users to Internet Explorer and even this is a cut down experience since Microsoft doesn’t allow any web plugins and Flash content only works on Microsoft-approved websites.

Jailbreaks have been developed, but Microsoft is actively looking to close these which, in its current state, is like pointing a loaded gun at its own feet.

Reason #8: It was too expensive
Ballmer-RT-prototype (2)It is unclear why the Windows RT devices that have made it to market are so expensive, but we’ll hazard a few guesses.

First, all partners have to build devices to rigid hardware guidelines that ensures a minimum level of quality, but leaves manufacturers fighting over the same components.

Secondly, Microsoft charges too much for the Windows RT licence. No standard fee is set, but prices can be as high as $120 and talk of slashing them to $30 comes too late. After all every Windows RT device not only needs this licence, but one for Microsoft Office is also mandatory.

This combination seems to have caught out hardware partners themselves. Lenovo exec David Schmoock said last August that he expected Windows RT tablets to retail for $300 – $500 (£196 – £328), but its launch device was $800 (£524). Somewhere the sums went badly wrong. You don’t challenge the market leaders by being more expensive.

Time for a trip to the vet
Some of these points were obvious at launch, others have only reared their heads thanks to hindsight. That said, as it stands Windows RT has no consumer or hardware traction and it serves only to confuse consumers, fracture the Windows 8 brand and damage its credibility by association.

The humane thing to do is for Microsoft to put Windows RT out of its misery. Windows 8.1 shows great promise and Microsoft needs to focus on two primary OSes. It was a nice try, it failed. Time to move on.

To read the original article @ TrustedReviews click here

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.

 

 

 

TR – One Microsoft: 5 reasons why Ballmer’s shake-up will revitalise Microsoft

July 17, 2013 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials

The most radical shake-up of Microsoft in a decade should bear fruit.

Last week, under pressure Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced the biggest company-wide reorganisation in his 13 years in charge. He repeatedly stressed the need to become ‘one Microsoft’ saying “we will see our product line holistically, not as a set of islands.”

Having delved through the restructure we think there are strong reasons why the changes may just work…

Reason #1: Platform unity
The old Microsoft was separated by divisions – Windows Phone, Windows, Office, Xbox – whereas now it is separated by function: OS, Apps, Cloud and Devices.

For platforms this means all development will be done by the ‘Operating Systems’ group and developed in unison, regardless of the device the platform will be released on. Working together should see better unification between Windows, Windows Phone, Xbox and any future technologies Microsoft is interested in – such as smartwatches. Common rules for design, integration, navigation and more can be agreed upon from conception.

The Apps, Cloud and Devices groups will operate similarly working towards a single, unified app store, SkyDrive as the save and sync backbone across all products and all hardware devices designed together with complementary principles.

This is hugely ambitious and will take time. Whether it can be achieved is also crucial to Microsoft’s long-term future, but it seems more achievable under the new infrastructure.

Reason #2: Simplification
This applies on both a corporate scale and to end users.

As a corporation Microsoft’s structure now makes more sense. The aforementioned OS, Apps, Cloud and Devices groups will fit into the ‘Engineering’ section, other sections are Marketing, Business Development and Evangelism, Advanced Strategy and Research, Finance, HR, Legal, and COO (which includes sales, tech and field support).

This shows what a behemoth Microsoft is, but it is also easy to grasp and logical with clear chains of command. This is vital for a company whose divisions had been a labyrinth and traditionally competed against rather than worked with one another.

For end users, Ballmer’s stated vision is equally transparent: “One Microsoft, all the time”. This means he expects the creation of Engineering – which will primarily serve consumers – and its grouping by function to produce holistic products. A system whereby knowing how one device operates means you can easily understand others. This is an area where Apple has excelled with the evolution of iOS across iPod, iPhone and iPad product lines.

“Microsoft has the clear opportunity to offer consumers a unified experience across all aspects of their life, whether the screen is a small wearable, a phone, a tablet, an 85in display or other screens and devices we have not yet even imagined,” said Ballmer. Microsoft’s video below shows its future vision of how this may play out.

Watch Microsoft’s vision of the future video:

Reason #3: Leverage
Ok, so it’s one of ‘those’ words, but it’s an apt one in this case. Unity and simplification bring a third key advantage: the ability of more successful products to give leverage to struggling ones. Key for Microsoft in its restructure is seeing Windows give a leg up to Windows Phone.

It is easy to forget how dominant Windows is. For all its criticism Windows 8 sold 100 million licenses in six months while the world’s most successful phone, the iPhone 5, has shipped just over 50 million units in nearly 10 months. Whether licenses or actual sales that’s one heck of a Windows customer base and with an ‘Apps’ division now primed on creating a single, compatible app store between Windows and Windows Phone it greatly incentivises app makers to reconsider the smartphone platform.

Microsoft is looking to leverage a similar effect on its cross-platform voice and messaging services by vertically integrating Skype through Windows, Windows Phone, Xbox and Office. WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, BBM and iMessage will all be in its crosshairs after Microsoft Messenger faded from relevance.

The same becomes true of SkyDrive when effectively melded into these platforms and gives it a massive boost in facing up to the threat of Dropbox, Google Drive, Amazon Cloud Drive, SugarSync, Box and others.

Reason #4: Nimbleness
Over the last decade Apple and Google have shown Microsoft size shouldn’t mean sluggishness and Ballmer is no longer prepared to use the company’s magnitude as an excuse. “The timeframe for product releases, customer interaction and competitive response is dramatically shorter,” he argues. “As a company, we need to make the right decisions, and make them more quickly”.

To back this up a key part of ‘one Microsoft’ is changing how the company works. From this point onwards each major initiative will have a ‘champion’ who reports directly to Ballmer or his primary advisors and drives cross company integration of the project. It will also mean there is faster feedback on how each initiative is or isn’t working across the whole company. With teams unified by function roll outs can then be made more widely, altered or even scrapped before too much time passes as the big picture is always in place.

A leak on Thursday that major Windows Phone 8 fixes won’t arrive until 2014 shows the size of task Microsoft has here. But failure is not an option.

3
Reason #5: New hero products
From Xbox to Surface and its vice-like grip on netbook and Windows Phone specifications, Microsoft has enjoyed increasing influence in hardware and that is only likely to increase following the restructure.

The creation of a dedicated ‘Devices’ group suggests this statement isn’t rocket science, but Microsoft isn’t looking to compete with partners, but rather inspire them. Of course ‘inspiration’ from this no doubt stems from Google’s increasingly popular line of Nexus devices, and teasers for Surface Pro and Surface RT refreshes have already been issued. It is reverse engineering: convince consumers to convince hardware partners.

Surface tablets still have a long way to go in this regard, but this is only the beginning. Talk of a Surface smartphone and Surface watch refuse to die down and rumours Microsoft may and potentially must buy Nokia continue to gather momentum. Now Microsoft has the perfect structure to house it.

And for those still in doubt about Microsoft’s hardware intentions, Ballmer actually let the cat out of the bag last year. In an interview with the BBC he asked and answered the question himself: “Is it fair to say we’re going to do more hardware? Obviously we are.”

…there’s always a BUT
And yet there is always a ‘but’ and with a reorganisation of this scale there are understandably a lot of them.

Most poignant is whether Microsoft can pull it off. Ballmer may well revel in telling people the new company will no longer be “a set of islands” but it has been allowed to exist like this for more than a decade under his rule and such a mammoth cultural change will be hard to implement for a company long seen as stuck in its ways.

Secondly, it could be argued the changes come less out of inspiration and more from desperation as Microsoft watches the PC market enter the longest duration of decline in its history. Meanwhile, talk of product and platform unity has been Apple’s calling card for years, it was the theme of Google I/O 2013 and even Samsung has been converging its phones, tablets, laptops, desktops and TVs for some time now. This all may be brave new territory for Microsoft but it isn’t new to its biggest rivals.

There is also the feeling that this is the last roll of the dice for Ballmer and the new structure solidifies his position when he may not be the best man to execute its grand plans.

4

And yet I think Microsoft deserves the benefit of the doubt. Love or loathe Windows 8 and Windows Phone, they are arguably the most ambitious operating systems on the market and, despite its embarrassing climb down over Xbox One DRM, arguably the Xbox One aims higher than the PS4 even if it’s at the expense of purity. An ambitious, successful Microsoft lets no company sit on its laurels and that is good news even if you favour one of its rivals.

Ballmer’s talk of ‘One Microsoft’ may just enable this and he argues the restructure “will drive us to set shared goals for everything we do”. For Ballmer and Microsoft they have set upon a path which excites, but from which there is no turning back.

Click here to read the original 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. 

 

 

 

En Voyage – Portable Power (July 2013)

July 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials

Every month I write the gadget column for Eva Air’s in-flight magazine. Eva Air is one of the biggest airlines in the Far East.

For July I looked at the pros and cons of convenient gadgets which provide portable power and there are some surprising options available.

Grabs from the magazine as below (click to enlarge). You can read a digital version of the En Voyage July edition here and for a more detailed look at portable power read my TrustedReviews feature: ‘The Next Spec War Must Be Battery Life

2013 - 07 - Portable Power

click to enlarge

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.

 

 

En Voyage – Health (June 2013)

July 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials

Every month I write the gadget column for Eva Air’s in-flight magazine. Eva Air is one of the biggest airlines in the Far East.

For June I rounded up the latest Health gadgets, arguably the tech sector’s biggest current craze.

Grabs from the magazine as below (click to enlarge). You can read a digital version of En Voyage’s June edition here.

2013 - 06 - Health

click to enlarge

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.

 

TR – 802.11ac vs 802.11n – What’s the difference?

July 3, 2013 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials

Next generation Wi-Fi is here and it brings huge benefits.

b, g, n, ac… wireless standards haven’t had the most logical of alphabetical progressions, but it has just had the most important.

Last week governing body the Wi-Fi Alliance certified the ‘802.11ac’ standard, paving the way for the mass roll-out of ‘wireless ac’ devices. As this standard is built into routers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, televisions and much more we look at what enhancements it will bring over its predecessor, 802.11n, and whether it is worth getting excited about.

news-828-1 802.11ac Compatibility
The first thing to get out of the way is – like past Wi-Fi standards – 802.11ac is backwards compatible with 802.11b, g and n. This means you can buy an 802.11ac-equipped device and it will work just fine with your existing router. Similarly you can upgrade to an 802.11ac router and it will work happily with all your existing devices. That said you will need both an 802.11ac router and an 802.11ac device to enjoy the standard’s biggest benefits. And those begin with…

802.11ac Speed
With any new wireless technology speed is always the headline-grabbing feature but, as with every wireless standard to date, the figures tossed around can be highly misleading.

1.3 gigabits per second (Gbps) is the speed most commonly cited as the 802.11ac standard. This translates to 166 megabytes per second (MBps) or 1331 megabits per second (Mbps). It is vastly quicker than the 450Mbit per second (0.45Gbps) headline speeds quoted on the highest performing 802.11n routers.

1So wireless ac is roughly 3x as fast as wireless n? No.

These figures are ‘theoretical maximums’ that are never close to being realised in real world scenarios. In our experience wireless n performance tends to top off around 50-150Mbit and our reviews of draft 802.11ac routers have typically found performance to be closer to 250-300Mbit. So 2.5x faster when close to your router is a good rule of thumb (though far more at distance, which we’ll come to shortly).

Happily this gain is likely to increase as 802.11ac devices advance. Wireless 802.11n supports a maximum of four antennas at roughly 100Mbit each, where 802.11ac can support up to eight antennas at over 400Mbit each.

Smaller devices like smartphones tend to fit only a single antenna, but it gets even bigger in tablets (typically two to four antennas) and laptops and televisions (four to eight). In addition no 802.11ac router released so far has packed more than six antennas.

A final point: beware routers claiming speeds of 1,750 Gigabits. It is a marketing ploy where the manufacturer has added the 1.3Gbit theoretical maximum speed of 802.11ac to the 450Mbit theoretical maximum speed of 802.11n. Sneaky.

802.11ac Range
While speed is what will likely sell 802.11ac routers, range is equally important. Here wireless ac excels.

The first point to make is the 802.11ac standard lives entirely in the 5GHz spectrum. While some more modern routers broadcast 802.11n in 5GHz as well as 2.4GHz they remain relatively rare.

Consequently, the 5GHz spectrum tends to be ‘quiet’, meaning much less interference from neighbourhood Wi-Fi. This more than counters the fact that, in lab conditions, 5GHz signals do not actually broadcast as far as 2.4GHz signals. 5GHz is also necessary to support the faster speeds of wireless ac.
beamDiagrams
The second key factor is 802.11ac makes ‘beamforming’ a core part of its spec. Rather than throw out wireless signal equally in all directions, WiFi with beamforming detects where devices are and intensifies the signal in their direction(s).

This technology has been around in proprietary form (it made a huge impact in the D-Link DIR-645), but now it will be inside every 802.11ac router and every 802.11ac device.

The combination of these two technologies is profound. This was most clearly seen with the Linksys EA6500 which hit speeds of 30.2MBps (241.6Mbit) when connecting to a device just two metres away, but still performed at 22.7MBps (181.6Mbit) when 13 metres away with two solid walls in the way. By contrast Linksys’ own EA4500 (identical except being limited to 802.11n) managed 10.6MBps (84.8Mbit) dropping to 2.31MBps (18.48Mbit) under the same conditions.

The real world result is 802.11ac not only enables you to enjoy the fastest 100Mbit (and beyond) fibre optic broadband speeds all over the house, but to enjoy it along with multiple streams of Full HD content, super low latency gaming and blazing fast home networking all at the same time.

802.11ac Availability
Here comes the first caveat. The announcement of the Wi-Fi Alliance’s 802.11ac certification programme means 802.11ac equipped products can now be certified, but that process will take time as thousands of chipsets need to be tested.

Of course some manufacturers have jumped the gun. The 802.11ac routers we have tested are sold as ‘Draft 802.11ac’ products and while many may become certified through a firmware update, it is not guaranteed. Draft 802.11ac products are also not guaranteed to perform optimally with other Draft 802.11ac products – especially between different manufacturers. Certified products are.

The good news is the first certified chipsets are already creeping out and they come from the likes of Intel, Qualcomm, Cisco, Realtek, Marvell, Broadcom and Samsung – manufacturers with extensive networking expertise and who licence their chipsets to others. For example Intel has only one chipset certified – the ‘Dual band Wireless 7260’ – but it is expected to be at the heart of most Haswell-powered Ultrabooks. The most high profile of these to date is the new 2013 MacBook Air.

Air A full list of 802.11ac certified chipsets can be found here

Furthermore, adoption should be fast. The first 802.11ac routers carried a hefty premium, but this has dropped quickly to the point where price shouldn’t be a barrier to anyone keen to hop onto the bandwagon. In addition 802.11ac is extremely efficient and it brings power savings compared to 802.11n, meaning it is ideal for mobile devices. The Samsung Galaxy S4 and Samsung Mega phones already pack wireless ac.

As such, while 802.11ac products are only trickling out at present, it will turn into a tidal wave by early 2014.

Should I wait for 802.11ac?
All of which begs the question: should I now buy any device that isn’t 802.11ac compatible? The short answer is no. If you live alone in a small flat where you have no signal problems 802.11n may serve all your needs, but in larger, multi-user homes and homes with network attached storage the benefits of 802.11ac are simply too good to miss out on. Especially when buying devices you expect to keep for a number of years.

The longer answer is 802.11ac is a revolution that will be hard to actively avoid. Wireless ac will be built into most laptops and phones within the next 12 months and routers will increasingly come with it (though ISPs are typically slow to adopt new standards in the routers they give out, so plug an ac router into theirs and switch off their wireless to get around it).

It will take time and money for your home to be fully 802.11ac compatible, but it will be worth it.

To read the original article on TrustedReviews click here

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. 

 

 

 

 

Samsung is damaging the Galaxy S4 brand

July 3, 2013 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials

Greed and complacency are catching up with the smartphone giant…

 

 

Customer: “Could I have the Samsung Galaxy please?”
Shop: “Which one?”
Customer: *smugly* “The Galaxy S4 please”
Shop: “S4, S4 Mini, S4 Active or S4 Zoom?”
Customer: “I’ll take an iPhone”

Somewhere Tim Cook is having a chuckle. While Apple has come under increasing pressure for iterative hardware and restricted software, its biggest competitor appears determined to dilute and devalue the very brand that has done all the damage.

Right now ‘Galaxy’ is the only name in the smartphone world that can hold a candle to ‘iPhone’, but it stands on a precipice. 30 Galaxy phones have been released since the original ‘i7500′ was launched three years ago this month. It is joined by 11 Galaxy tablets since the original Galaxy Tab appeared in September 2010.

Next month both lines will increase again. The 8-inch and 10.1-inch versions of the Galaxy Tab 3 will be launched along with the Galaxy S4 Mini and a Galaxy S4 ‘LTE-Advanced’ edition will be released in Russia and Japan before an expected wider international launch. That retailer discussion will become even more comical.
18-06-2013-17-39-53
Greed
Let’s not beat around the bush, this all stems from greed. Samsung has hit upon a cash cow and it is determined to milk every last drop. Furthermore, by and large, greed has been a policy that has paid off.

After modest sales of the original flagship ‘Galaxy S’, things took off with the Galaxy S2. It sold over 40 million units in 20 months. The Galaxy S3 hit that total in just six months and the S4 sold 10 million units in just 27 days – a figure the S3 reached in 50 days.

And yet not all is well. The Galaxy brand has become an near-impenetrable mess, packed full of models ranging from the budget to the bizarre. More to the point, the premium ‘Galaxy S’ brand – the torch to burn down Castle iPhone – is also feeling the strain for the first time. This week Galaxy S4 monthly sales predictions were slashed by a third and the initial reception to the S4 Mini has been less than kind. This comes just a year after the Galaxy S3 Mini met with a similarly lukewarm reception which preceded mediocre sales.

If Samsung has been polluting its Galaxy brand from below, signs are it is now starting the rot from the top.

18-06-2013-17-40-11

Complacency
It all stems from greed’s biggest bedfellow: complacency. 14 months ago the Galaxy S3 was launched into a specifications dominated market. Its combination of power and expandability built upon the S2 and blew rival Android manufacturers out the water.

But its success disguised two significant factors. 1. That in truth it wasn’t a massive upgrade from the S2, and 2. Major Android rivals HTC, Sony and LG were in disarray.

Repeating the trick again with the S4 is proving more difficult. The reception to the S3 Mini hasn’t helped, but rivals are also now able to counter the S4’s horsepower and are going for tangible differentiators such as the luscious unibody aluminium design of the HTC One and waterproofing of the Sony Xperia Z.

Worst of all Samsung is proving its own worst enemy. The aforementioned S4 Mini looks set to damage the S brand in the same way the overpriced, under performing S3 Mini did and Samsung’s insistence that it knows best how to recode an increasingly attractive Android has led to criticism that its calling card TouchWiz software is little more than bloatware.

BBC Watchdog revelations that TouchWiz leaves just 9GB of a 16GB S4’s memory free have added further credence to this.
touchwiz-bloat
Opportunity
The obvious point to make here is, having dominated Android smartphones, Samsung is opening the door to competitors. To an extent that is true. A stunning S4 could’ve dealt a fatal blow to struggling HTC, but instead the One is slowly bringing it back to life. Likewise flaws in the Xperia Z have largely gone unnoticed after Samsung’s headline antics and Sony is gradually rebuilding with the impending Xperia Z Ultra looking to be another step on the road to recovery.

Similarly aggressive Chinese rivals like ZTE and Huawei are now pushing into the premium smartphone sector as well as gaps appear.

That said Galaxy still remains king of the Android market, Samsung will still produce record results in its next few financial quarters and predictably talk of a unibody S4 edition is gathering momentum. Samsung may be making mistakes, but like Apple it has become large enough to survive for a while by being reactive and it isn’t going to be unseated any time soon.

What is in doubt, however, is Samsung’s master plan. The unilateral TouchWiz UI that was going to merge Samsung TVs, tablets, phones and eventually a hop to its Tizen platform to beat Apple at its own game is losing credibility just at a time when increasing demand for stock Android could fracture the whole process.

Samsung wants to be above the risks of platform dependence before Microsoft and Google’s dalliances with hardware become a major focus. Right now it’s blowing it.

To read the original article on TrustedReviews click here

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.

 

 

Microsoft must buy Nokia now

July 3, 2013 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials

Huawei’s interest in acquiring Nokia is a warning shot Microsoft cannot afford to ignore if it wants Windows Phone to succeed.

Someone at Microsoft give Richard Yu a kiss. This week Huawei’s chatty chairman spoke openly about the possibility of buying Nokia. Typically this isn’t how it works.

Products may leak, but takeovers are shrouded in secrecy and were this one to have gone through, Microsoft could’ve effectively waved goodbye to its smartphone business. It is a shot across the bows the company cannot afford to ignore.

Richard-YuWindows Phone is weak
Richard YuHuawei VP of external affairs Bill Plummer rode to the rescue on Tuesday saying the company “has no plans to acquire Nokia”. But the key part came from Huawei CEO Richard Yu (pictured below) the day before. He recognised the potential in a Nokia purchase yet criticised Windows Phone. He described the OS as “weak” and questioned why it should command a licence fee when Android is free.

The message to Microsoft was clear: the vultures are circling around your largest and sole exclusive partner and it is highly unlikely any would maintain a Windows Phone-only business model. With Microsoft’s OS holding just 1.5 per cent market share globally and other handset makers having treated it with relative ambivalence to date, a Nokia takeover could see the platform die.

Nokia’s Synergy
What’s more Nokia is a hugely appealing target right now. Yu spoke of “some synergies” between Nokia and Huawei, but that would be true for just about every handset maker and potential handset maker on the market today.

Aside from Apple, platforms are not created by handset makers any more and Nokia is a master of innovative, durable hardware. As one of the oldest phone manufacturers it also holds a lorry load of industry patents and – given its recent woes – is criminally undervalued.

In fact so convinced are traders of Nokia’s suitability for a takeover that the company’s stock leapt 11 per cent in a day just on the possibility of Huawei interest.

Furthermore any deal could make sense to Nokia. Far from a one trick pony, the Finnish giant has its reach across many industries – from industrial telecommunications to digital mapping and web services. It is unlikely any would-be suitor would want the whole package, and Nokia could divest itself of its most troublesome arm.

If it isn’t Huawei, then ZTE and Samsung would be equally worthy suitors. A Galaxy S5 with PureView camera technology and Nokia mapping on a Tizen platform could provide the Korean giant with complete independence. Google and even Apple – the latter looking for a reliable, independent, end-to-end supply chain after its much publicised fall out with Samsung – could all join the bidding. Who wouldn’t want Nokia?

Microsoft Must Buy
The answer should also include Microsoft. Rumour has long circled that Microsoft’s exclusive Windows Phone partnership with Nokia was a placeholder for a purchase in the first place. Microsoft testing the water before going all in on to complete a model both Apple and Google (with its purchase of Motorola) can now offer. With reports that Microsoft is in advanced talks about a Nokia takeover, this seems to be true.

With the threat posed to Windows Phone of any rival takeover and the knock-on effects for its ambitious but controversial Windows 8 and Xbox One it surely now can’t afford to stand still. From one perspective Microsoft is on the verge of uniting the most complete cross platform ecosystem in the industry, but from another it is brittle and the threat to any one element could see the rest come crashing down.
stephen-elop-nokia-and-steve-ballmer-microsoft
Can Microsoft Buy?
All of which begs the question: why would Microsoft leave itself so open in the first place? Theories abound that Microsoft knew moving to a single new platform would see the Nokia share price tank, so why not wait as any takeover price would get cheaper – at least until traction was gained.

The flip side to this is Microsoft has hardly been one to preach value in the past. In 2011 it paid $8.5bn for Skype just two years after it had been acquired by investor Silver Lake for $1.9bn. Similarly Microsoft blew $6bn on online advertiser aQuantive in 2007, only to discard most of it in 2009 for just $530m. It also would have paid $44bn for Yahoo! had the Yahoo! board seen sense in 2008. This is a company not usually shy in throwing its money around.

Instead the reason is more likely to be partners. In massaging Windows Phone into the arms of handset makers, Microsoft is desperate not to scare off their fickle affections by diving into the sector itself. Rumours of a Microsoft-branded smartphone have been around for years, but there is a reason why it hasn’t done it. In addition, the move to hardware would necessitate a huge restructure of company operations.

Microsoft Surfacing
Or would it? Early last year I argued Microsoft is turning into Apple and with the launch of its own brand Surface tablets in late 2012, the development of its own, highly controlled app store and locked down Windows Phone UI (no skins here) Microsoft has shown little concern over whose toes it has stepped on – developers, manufacturers or networks.

Even Ballmer admitted to the BBC last year “Is it fair to say we’re going to do more hardware? Obviously we are.”

Microsoft is about to enter a new era. Q4 2013 will see Windows 8.1, refreshed Surface tablets, a significant Windows Phone 8 update and the launch of the Xbox One. Each is critical but fragile and the timing couldn’t be better for the company to make a huge statement of intent.

Microsoft must step up and secure the future of its ecosystem. If it doesn’t the opportunity has never been better for someone to step in and tear it apart.

To read the original article on TrustedReviews click here

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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