Category: Product News


blackBerry-pinata

For a smartphone maker whose turnaround effort hasn’t quite gone as planned, forcing it into a strategic review of its business options, even the small victories are cause for celebration.

No surprise, then, that BlackBerry today issued a press release touting a small order for its new Q10 smartphone. Evidently, Hispanic broadcaster Univision Communications has agreed to purchase 2,000 units of the keyboarded handset, which it will use to upgrade all corporate-issued BlackBerrys.

Hardly a large order. Indeed, it’s woefully small compared to the purchases BlackBerry typically touts via press release. Recall that, back in March, the company announced a one-million-handset deal.

Which is not to say that smaller handset orders like these aren’t victories. Just that BlackBerry’s announcement of it on its own is curious. If the company is having trouble landing big enterprise orders for its new handsets, its best hope is to score lots and lots of smaller ones. That a pioneering smartphone vendor of BlackBerry’s size and history announced this small Univision buy on its own today suggests that perhaps the company is having trouble landing those smaller orders, as well. And that’s not a good sign.

If BlackBerry is landing larger enterprise engagements, where are the announcements? If it’s racking up smaller buys, why weren’t those noted along with Univision adding more heft to today’s press release?

pinky-and-the-brain-WinPho

Windows Phone’s market-share march continued apace during the three months ended in September, charting some significant growth abroad.

In the third quarter of 2013, Windows Phone accounted for nearly 10 percent of all smartphone sales in the European Union Five (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom), research firm Kantar Worldpanel ComTech said Monday. That’s nearly double the share the OS claimed during the same period last year.

Even more noteworthy: Windows Phone now holds an 11.4 percent sales share of Great Britain’s smartphone market, and in Italy it has actually overtaken Apple’s iOS, surging to capture a 13.7 percent share.*

In Australia, Windows Phone charted an equally impressive gain, rising 4.7 percentage points to nab a 9.3 percent share of new smartphone sales there. In Latin America, it increased its share by 1.3 percentage points, to 5.8 percent; and in the U.S. it grew its share year over year to 4.6 percent, from 2.7 percent. The operating system’s lone low point? China, where it lost two percentage points, slipping to a share of 2.5 percent.

Kantar_smartphone_sept2013

Clearly, Windows Phone is gaining momentum – largely thanks to sales of Nokia’s Lumia handsets. Recall that in the Finnish company’s recently reported third quarter, it once again posted an increase in Lumia sales. Nokia shipped 8.8 million of them during the quarter – a nice bump up from the record 7.4 million it sold in the quarter prior, and a vast improvement over the 2.9 million it sold during the same period a year ago.

Despite this quarter’s impressive gains, Windows Phone remains far behind behind Android globally, and behind iOS in all markets save Italy. But it’s scrapping ahead. And the growth it’s showing in Europe and Latin America is encouraging, indeed – more so now that BlackBerry seems to have forfeited whatever distant chance it might have had to be a third-place hopeful in the smartphone market.

*Caveat: Sales of new iPhones typically slow as we head into fall and the expected launch of Apple’s next generation devices.

moto_g_new

At first sight, Motorola’s new Moto G looks a lot like the Moto X. The biggest difference is one you can’t see: The price.

The Moto G is designed to sell for $179 or less without a contract, hundreds of dollars below the unsubsidized cost of the Moto X, not to mention the Galaxy S4 or Apple’s iPhone.

“The industry had really abandoned five billion people on the planet who were never going to pay $600 for a phone,” Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside said in an interview last week, showing off the device. “This is at literally a quarter the cost of the iPhone.”

Sure, there are Android phones that sell even cheaper, but they typically run older versions of Android, are incapable of running the latest apps, and often lack such things as a front-facing camera.

“There are products that are $70,” Woodside said. “They are just not very good. … We think there is an opportunity to show people there’s a better way.”

Obviously, Motorola had to cut a few things to hit even its price. The screen is smaller than the Moto X, and uses a less-expensive display technology. It also drops the always-on voice recognition, along with support for LTE networks and the active display that constantly pulses with the time and other notifications.

But the Moto G does pack a gigabyte of memory and 8GB of storage, and is running a quad-core Qualcomm chip. Even rarer among ultra-low-end phones, it packs a modern version of Android (4.3 for now, with a KitKat upgrade due soon).

Woodside suggested during his D11 appearance in June that the company saw an opportunity to offer a modern, powerful Android phone for much less than most rivals were doing.

While declining to forecast how many Moto G phones the company might sell, Woodside said that, this year, some 500 million people that will be in the market for a phone at that price point.

“It’s a big opportunity for us,” Woodside said. “We think we’ve come up with something that is going to appeal to lots of people.”

Most of those 500 million people live outside the U.S., largely in emerging markets. In Brazil, for example, where Motorola is debuting the phone, the average yearly income is $11,000. That means that the iPhone and other high-end phones are really out of reach.

“Outside the U.S., it’s a great aspirational device,” Woodside said.

However, Woodside also sees opportunities in the prepaid market; Motorola expects to start selling the Moto G in the U.S. starting in January.

Some European and Latin American countries will get the Moto G almost immediately, with the device launching in 30 countries.”Motorola hasn’t been in a lot of those markets for a long time.”

Woodside didn’t give much indication of where else the company is headed with future products, but suggested that there may be an opportunity to go even lower-end.

“There are a lot of letters that come before G in the alphabet,” he said.

E-Reader vs. iPad

Q:

My wife started reading e-books downloaded from the library on her iPad 2. Indoors the print is very readable, but it loses some of the sharpness in bright light. Some of her friends suggested the Kindle Paperwhite as a better reader in all types of light. What is your opinion?

A:

All current color tablets use a screen technology that washes out in sunlight and can become almost unreadable in direct, bright sunlight. The Kindle monochrome e-readers, including the Paperwhite, use a different technology that does well in all kinds of light. However, I have never noticed any degradation of screen readability on iPads or other quality color tablets in bright indoor light.

Q:

Is it fair to say that the iPad Air, like its predecessors, is designed more for content consumption than content creation, and that someone who really needs a computer but also wants a tablet (and can’t afford both) would do better with something like the new Surface?

A:

The iPad can be a fine productivity and creativity tool, with or without an accessory keyboard, depending on the app you are using. Business email and calendars, or the editing of office documents, work fine on the iPad, as do many drawing applications. You can even sign legal documents on it electronically. However, if you are looking for all the functions of a PC, a full Windows 8 tablet like the Surface 2 Pro would be a better choice, because it runs all the programs a Windows computer does.

Q:

In the new Mac OS X operating system, Mavericks, it appears it is not possible to sync Notes, Contacts and other data using iTunes via a cable connection. Is this true?

A:

Yes. Apple says: “In Mavericks, OS X syncs Contacts, Calendars and Notes using iCloud.” (That’s Apple’s Internet cloud service.) The company adds that, if you make changes to your data and don’t have access to the Internet, OS X will sync the data the next time an Internet connection is available.

Email Walt at mossberg@wsj.com.

MacBook_Air_Side

If you purchased a MacBook Air sometime between the beginning of this summer and last, Apple may owe you a new drive.

Apple said this week that it is recalling some 64 gigabyte and 128GB flash storage drives that were used in MacBook Airs sold between June 2012 and June 2013.

The company has issued a firmware update – MacBook Air Flash Storage Firmware Update 1.1 – that MacBook Air owners can use to determine whether or not their machines are affected. Drives found to be defective will be replaced for free.

Fledgling hardware startups are often pushing the envelope when it comes to innovations in a “connected” world. Ever-present Wi-Fi and new, low-energy Bluetooth tech present new possibilities.

Tile

But these same companies could face potential issues if user privacy is not completely thought through.

Take Tile, a nifty lost-item finder that has far surpassed its initial fundraising goal of $20,000. The system works by attaching $19 physical tags, or tiles, to items such as a phone or wallet. These tiles then wirelessly connect to an app on users’ smartphones using low-energy Bluetooth.

Digital “leashes” for lost items have been around for years. But Tile has a unique twist: Instead of alerting users when they stray from their belongings, the user tells the app that something has gone missing. Then Tile picks up the location data of other Tile app users – assuming that Bluetooth is turned on within their phone settings – that are near the missing object, and sends that data to the cloud. By doing that, Tile can give the missing object’s owner an idea of where it is.

In the company’s words, Tile uses the “Bluetooth connection of neighboring iPhones running the Tile app to cast a wider search net.”

But here’s where things are still a little murky: The company, started by co-founders Nick Evans and Mike Farley, is unclear what the opt-in process will be for other Tile app users, whose locations may be pinged at will.

When I asked Evans whether users might get an alert from the app that says something along the lines of, “You’re near another user’s lost item. Do you agree to share your anonymous location data now to help locate it?,” he said he firmly believes that those kinds of alerts would be a nuisance to users.

This location data might be gathered by the company even if the users have downloaded the Tile app but aren’t actively running it, Evans said. And Tile hasn’t determined yet how long that location data will be stored on Tile’s servers.

In other words, the company is still in the early stages of shaping its product vision and approach to privacy. Tile isn’t expected to ship until the winter. And yet it has raised over $2 million from excited backers and early adopters.

Tile isn’t the first crowdfunded startup to present a concept that could raise eyebrows. A $279 “life-blogging” camera called Memoto suffered some backlash when it introduced its product on Kickstarter last fall.

memoto_camera

The concerns were more overt in nature than the back-end opacity of the Tile app: Memoto is meant to be worn on a person’s lapel, or around the neck, to silently capture an image from your life every 30 seconds. Some saw this as obtrusive: What happens when the person in front of you is unaware that an image of them is being captured twice a minute?

Sweden-based Memoto, which hasn’t yet shipped the camera, has stood by its product’s concept. Co-founder Oskar Kalmaru said in an earlier interview with AllThingsD that Memoto had very carefully considered the privacy issues and made the camera “pretty visible,” despite its small size. “We didn’t design it like it was some sort of spy camera. That was really important for us,” he said.

In a more recent statement, Kalmaru insisted, “There is a higher level of transparency required from the Kickstarter community … stemming both from the nature of crowd funding, where everybody is working together toward a common goal, and from healthy scepticism towards the claims of any project creator.”

And while crowdfunded health gadgets are getting more and more love – there are even entire websites devoted to funding new health-care products – data privacy remains a concern, especially when the information is being transmitted to mobile phones.

Of course, blurred lines aren’t relegated to just tiny or crowdfunded startups: More established companies are regularly discovered to be gathering more data than consumers are initially aware of, or inadvertently sharing users’ smartphone contacts. Or they’re simply introducing new technologies to age-old devices, such as Google Glass, that present new concerns.

But bigger companies also have in-house lawyers that can guide product people through uncharted waters. Tiny startups do not. Many might be wise to focus their vision not just on product innovation, but also on privacy communication – with the same consumers who are throwing their faith and money behind a product.

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