MediaFile

Google enters the tablet wars with a small, safe bet

Google took another bite at the hardware apple with the announcement Wednesday of the Nexus Seven tablet. The tablet, very wisely, is not looking to compete with Apple’s iPad – the indisputable leader — but rather the smaller, cheaper tablets from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Outside of the iPad monolith, the Kindle Fire and Nook Color have been the most competitive entrants (albeit modestly) since Apple created the market in 2010.

Google’s Nexus Seven is a safe bet and, especially given Microsoft’s (sort of) foray into tablets, not entirely unexpected from the search and advertising giant.

And that’s why Google is smart to go after a part of the market where Apple doesn’t compete — the iPad is a “full-sized” device of 9.5 inches that starts at $500. There’s no reason to believe Apple is interested in making a 7-inch model, a size the late Steve Jobs derided. But both Amazon’s Kindle Fire and the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet are 7-inch models that retail for $200, the same as Google’s Nexus Seven. By going after less-entrenched – but still huge! – companies, Google’s success doesn’t have to be measured against Apple’s. It can start small – literally – and see if it makes inroads against two companies still trying to make inroads themselves.

Avoiding direct competition with the iPad also lets Google avoid comparison with Apple’s significant app advantage. Apple benefits from a seemingly endless supply of third-party apps (actually 225,000), which makes the iPad a digital Swiss Army Knife, an all-purpose mobile tool that is very often a replacement for a laptop.

The other small, less dexterous tablets come from content companies that realized that building a tablet was just a good way to put up a better storefront in the digital age. Both the Kindle and the Nook Tablet are tied to reading, and buying, books. They are meant to be more robust alternatives to smaller, lighter, cheaper e-ink e-readers and as such are modest conceptual upsells. The Kindle also is a streaming platform for Amazon’s smallish but respectable film library. Most important, it is tied to a retail universe where most things Amazon sells are one click and two days away from arriving at your doorstep.

Scratching the Surface: When is a tablet not a tablet?

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

Microsoft’s huge announcement Monday that it was going into the consumer computer business is a turning point for the Redmond giant – a real gloves-off, damn-the-torpedoes moment. It’s also perhaps a grudging nod to Apple and Steve Jobs’s view that hardware and software need to develop together to get it right. Until now Microsoft has ceded hardware issues to other companies – Dell, HP, Acer, Samsung, etc. Now it will compete with them.

But the notion that “The Surface” – Microsoft’s new tablet PC unveiled Monday but not expected on the market until the end of the year – will take on Apple’s iPad is misguided.

Apple, Google and the price of world domination

In his first appearance at the World Wide Developer’s Conference as spiritual leader of the Apple faithful, CEO Tim Cook made it clear that he intends to not just further Steve Job’s vision but expand upon it. It’s never been more clear that Apple is intent on world domination.

Conspiracy theory? No. Try inescapable conclusion.

What else are we to make of Apple removing Google Maps from the iPhone? Google Maps was a core feature on the very first iPhone, but it will disappear in an iOS software update announced Monday at Apple’s developer conference.

Apple’s tension with Google is legendary. They began as friendly neighbors in largely complementary businesses – former Google CEO Eric Schmidt was even on Apple’s board. But after the introduction of the Android, Steve Jobs’s anger at Google’s entry into the mobile phone business was palpable.

Apple and the innovation dilemma

Just how long can Apple run the table in the post-Jobs era? It was simply a matter of time before those whispers turned into a question asked out loud. George Colony, the CEO of Forrester, a research and advisory firm that has followed the company as closely as anyone, is taking a particularly dim view of Apple’s future. In a blog post that was guaranteed to spark a conversation, Colony says Apple’s days as a market leader are numbered; its “momentum will carry it for 24-48 months” and then, absent a “charismatic leader” in the Jobs mold, it will devolve from “being a great company to being a good company.”

Colony doesn’t get too specific about what this means, but we know. It’s not just about market cap, or stock price or any other shareholder metric. Colony is talking about that combination of imagination and execution pixie dust that has made Apple the most significant high-tech company of the moment, and one of the most important ever.

It’s a pretty big statement, especially since Apple is on fire: $6 billion earned on $40 billion in revenues in the most recent quarter, the iPhone selling as briskly in the rest of the world now as it did in the United States for years, 65 million iPads sold in two years, more cash than it knows what to do with, and at least one analyst speculating that it’ll be a $1,000 stock before long.

Even when Apple is losing, it wins

The Department of Justice, as anticipated, filed suit Wednesday against Apple and five of the Big Six publishers over alleged price-fixing. Three of those publishers have entered into a proposed settlement with the DOJ, but Apple is still on the hook.

We won’t know until we know whether Apple will win, lose or settle (and now there are 16 states piling on the charges, too), but in a way it’s a sort of hapless victim. If the DOJ theory is correct, Apple did participate in a sort of conspiracy, but one driven (again, according to the allegations) by publishers that were determined to keep controlling e-book prices. In the beginning of the e-book industry it was the publishers, not Apple, that had the upper hand.

It’s important to remember the climate in which this alleged conspiracy unfolded. Amazon, against publishers’ wishes, was going rogue with $10 e-books. The mammoth online retailer – which got its start in print books but essentially created the e-book business – was widely thought to be making nothing, or next to zero, on its proprietarily encoded e-books, the better to boost demand for the Kindle.

Tech’s forbidden touch

“You can look, but you can’t touch” – great advice in most museums, and every strip club. But it makes no sense when it comes to our computers. We are getting very touchy-feely with our smartphones and tablets, and this is how it should be. Even BlackBerry and Amazon’s Kindle, which launched with hardware keyboards to differentiate it from the competition, have abandoned them.

It’s no accident. We touch instinctively. We are born touching everything, and only learn where the boundaries are later in life. Our handheld devices are reconnecting us with the primary technique we used to learn about the world we had just entered. The metaphor extends. Now it’s the mobile computers that we use to learn about the world around us, and we control them with our fingers, by touching a screen. How do you place a price on that?

Many are trying, thanks to software patents. Patents have become a bane to the very essence of innovation. They are arsenals, ostensibly meant to defend but more often used to offend. Yahoo’s lawsuit against Facebook over 10 patents further proves that weaponizing software patents is the last gasp of a dying business.

The high costs of the cloud

How great is it that high-definition video is now portable? Thanks to cloud computing, superfast 4G networks and tablets with high-resolution screens, we can watch thousands of movies and TV shows in lush, beautiful clarity wherever we go.

In a way, that is pretty great, as the millions of people who have bought the new iPad with retina display and LTE connections have already seen. But in another way, it’s going to quickly become not so great: As hi-def video – or rather, the data bandwidth to deliver it – becomes a commodity for more people, that commodity will start to become much more expensive. Not just for consumers, but for the companies that will increasingly need more wireless spectrum and wired infrastructure to handle the surge in data demand.

Call it the curse of the cloud. The proliferation of online video services and portable devices to watch them on have added congestion to data networks even as wireless carriers impose fees on its biggest data users. According to Bytemobile, video accounted for half of all mobile data traffic in February, up from 40 percent only a year earlier.

Teardown experts crack open Apple’s new iPad

The electronics hardware experts at iFixit find themselves again in the spotlight as they crack open the latest iPad to see what chips, display and other components make it tick. Teardowns, as they’re called, are closely followed by investors betting on which companies supply components for consumer electronics devices like Apple’s massively iPads and iPhones.

iFixit sent its engineers to Australia, where they managed to buy one of the first new iPads to be sold, and — fueled by cans of Red Bull –  proceeded to crack it open with tools ranging from guitar picks (to pry open the cover) to “spudgers” (for poking and prodding at wires).

They’re live-blogging the entire affair, but so many people appear to be watching that iFixit’s webpage is responding very slowly.

A new iPad, the same iEthics

Several days after the launch of the new iPad 3, HD, or whatever it’s called, we all know about it’s blazing 4G capabilities, including its ability to be a hotspot, carrier permitting, of course. We know about its Retina display, which makes the painful, insufferable scourge of image pixelization a thing of the past. We know about Infinity Blade. We know that to pack all this in, Apple’s designers had to let out the new iPad’s aluminum waist to accommodate some unfortunate but really quite microscopic weight gain. We know the iPad’s battery life is still amazing, and its price point is altogether unchanged. We know Apple has adopted a cunning new strategy of putting the previous-generation iPad, as it did with the iPhone 4, on a sort of permanent sale, to scoop up the low end of the high-end market. (We wonder if this was Steve Jobs’s last decree or Tim Cook’s first.) We know a lot about the iPad.

But what we don’t know: How many of Foxconn’s nearly 100,000 employees will harm themselves, intentionally or inadvertently — or their families or loved ones — in the manufacture of it? And will the developed world ever acknowledge the dark side of these truly transformative technologies, like the iPad, or will we continue to tell ourselves fables to explain away the havoc our addictions wreak on the developing world? Is a device really magic if to pull a rabbit out of a hat, you have to kill a disappearing dove?

Those of us who have been technology journalists have long been subjected to the cult of Steve Jobs’s Apple, and those of us who are fans of technology are mostly well aware of the stark elegance and extreme usability — even the words seem inadequate — that come with using, let alone experiencing, Apple products. But the rumblings about Apple’s manufacturing processes started years ago, and the recent New York Times series on the ignobility of Foxconn as an employer blew a hole in the side of that particular ship of willful ignorance. Few Apple consumers can claim not to understand the human sacrifice behind their glowing screens — the death, diseases, exhaustion, mental and emotional stress, and superhuman expectations placed upon the workers who bring these magic devices to life. It’s not just in the papers — Mike Daisey’s This American Life podcast exposé on Foxconn and Apple is a mere click away, and most mainstream media have given at least passing coverage to the working conditions reflected in the Gorilla Glass on our devices.

Apple, the new iPad, and being ‘sanely great’

Sometimes it’s best to start with the obvious. The “new” iPad announced Wednesday will sell like mad when it goes on sale next Friday. So confident is Apple in what it isn’t calling the iPad 3 that it didn’t even bother to give it a special name. It’s just iPad, even though there is a first-generation iPad (a retronym, of course) and an iPad 2. When you’ve achieved one-name status — Bono, Cher, Liberace — you don’t give that up lightly.

The new iPad has a bunch of hardware and design upgrades that do make sense, even though the impetus for incorporating them may or may not have been to play catch-up with some Android tablets that nobody is buying.

It’s nice to see 4G make its first appearance on an Apple device — one wonders why this wasn’t possible on the iPhone 4S that came out not that terribly long ago. This exponentially better network standard isn’t widely available yet, but where it exists. it spoils you quickly.