Essentially no one can buy an Essential Phone.

Amazon and Tencent Back Smartphone Maker Essential:

Essential Products Inc., the smartphone maker founded by the creator of Google’s Android mobile software, confirmed it has a new $300 million war chest as it prepares for the seemingly insurmountable task of taking on Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Inc.

The startup on Wednesday unveiled the large roster of investors taking a chance on it, including Chinese internet company Tencent Holdings Ltd. TCEHY 0.28% and Amazon Inc.’s AMZN -0.69% Alexa Fund. Essential also disclosed that Best Buy Co. stores and Amazon.com Inc. will be its retail launch partners in the U.S.

But the company stopped short of the big reveal: When exactly its $699 titanium-encased smartphone will be available.

Great, Andy Rubin’s company has 300 million dollars. Good for them. They still haven’t shipped their Essential phone.

One more clarification: they aren’t taking on Apple, they’re taking on Samsung. Samsung is the largest manufacturer of Android phones in the world with a 48.7% share. Huawei is a distant 6.4%. They need to tackle Samsung before they tackle Apple.

After reading the features of the Essential Phone, I can’t list any competitive advantages it has. It has top-of-the-line specs (as of 2017) and an edge-to-edge screen (quickly becoming table stakes).

The Essential Phone hardly represents traditional competition, let alone asymmetric competition.

The Not-So-Essential Phone

The new phone from the creator of Android didn’t ship when he said it would:

The new phone from Android creator Andy Rubin appears to be delayed.

When he announced the Essential smartphone at Recode’s Code Conference in May, Rubin said it would start shipping within 30 days, The Verge reported. The company also started accepting pre-orders for the $699 device.

But more than 30 days have passed since then, and Essential isn’t shipping the phone yet.

Creating a computer operating system doesn’t mean you have any idea how to design and market a successful phone.

The Essential Phone isn’t as essential as Andy Rubin thinks it is.

Since I’ve taken one jab at Android, I’d like to take this opportunity to remind readers this was Rubin’s vision of Android:

Rubin’s grand vision of Android was barely an evolution of Palm Pilot OS.

Android wasn’t designed for multi-touch which is why it took so long for Android UI to approach the velvet-y smoothness iOS had from the beginning.

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Product, Technology

HomePod – More Than a Speaker + Siri

Over in the r/apple subreddit, u/Arve highlights an interesting thread in the r/audiophile subreddit concerning what’s under the hood in Apple’s new Siri-enabled HomePod:

There is one comment from that thread I’d like to highlight:

  1. They’re using some form of dynamic modeling, and likely also current sensing that allows them to have a p-p excursion of 20 mm in a 4″ driver. This is completely unheard of in the home market. You can read an introduction to the topic here. The practical upshot is that that 4″ driver can go louder than larger drivers, and with significantly less distortion. It’s also stuff you typically find in speakers with five-figure price tags (The Beolab 90 does this, and I also suspect that the Kii Three does). It’s a quantum leap over what a typical passive speaker does, and you don’t really even find it in higher-end powered speakers
  2. The speaker uses six integrated beamforming microphones to probe the room dimensions, and alter its output so it sounds its best wherever it is placed in the room. It’ll know how large the room is, and where in the room it is placed.
  3. The room correction applied after probing its own position isn’t simplistic DSP of frequency response, as the speaker has seven drivers that are used to create a beamforming speaker array,. so they can direct specific sound in specific directions. The only other speakers that do this is the Beolab 90, and Lexicon SL-1. The Beolab 90 is $85,000/pair, and no price tag is set for the Lexicon, but the expectation in the industry is “astronomical”.

Lots of people online are calling it overpriced because they think Apple just slapped a bunch of speakers in a circular configuration and added Siri, but the engineering behind it is extremely audiophile niche stuff. And it does this all automatically with no acoustical set up or technical know how. And even if you are obsessive about your existing tuned audio set up, just think of how much better enthusiast stuff will become once this kind of technology becomes the accepted mainstream baseline for speakers.

So Apple has included a technology in HomePod only found in $85K speakers.

Details like this make the differences between Apple and Amazon crystal clear.

The fact that both HomePod and Echo both have integrated AI assistants is where the comparisons end. The purpose of the Echo is to make it easier to order more things from Amazon. Apple has nothing analogous to Amazon’s megastore, so it needs to be something more than a “good enough” speaker you can order shit from.

via Twitter

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The Rough Life of a Tech Editor

NYTimes: New iPad Pro Inches Toward Replacing PC, but Falls Short

Brian X. Chen isn’t sold:

Here’s the problem: The Smart Keyboard is thin and the keys do not click well or feel as satisfying to type on as the keyboards on a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air; after a long period of typing, the Smart Keyboard felt flimsy. The keyboard for the 10.5-inch model is still small and cramped compared with a MacBook keyboard.

So a tablet isn’t a laptop. Shocking.

There’s more:

The other issue is ergonomics. Using the touch screen in combination with the Apple keyboard can be a pain on the wrist.

Say, for example, you are using the keyboard to scroll through an email or website: If you want to open a link, you have to lift your hand away from the keyboard and tap the link. Or say you want to adjust the screen brightness or hit pause on a music track while typing: Both actions require reaching up and touching the screen. These keyboard-to-touch-screen reps get tiring.

My goodness. You have to actually lift your frail, nerdy hand off the keyboard. That has to be exhausting.

This is where we’re at in the modern world. This is what it looks like when your only problem in life is deciding what mobile devices you want to spend $800 of your dollars on.

I acknowledge I am part of this group too (shit, I’m a guy complaining about a guy complaining about a piece of tech) and if you’re reading this post, so are you, but let’s just not forget Mr. Chen was the same dude who erroneously claimed the Japanese hated the iPhone in a 2009 story his editor had to write a lengthy apology and explanation on.

I don’t trust Chen any further than I can throw him.

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Product, Technology

“We have a dream to overcome Apple.”

Since I’m a human, and we humans love to focus on the negative things around us, even if things are great, I’m going to point out what I think is one of the dumbest feature placements on a phone I’ve ever seen.

Samsung has decided it was a good idea to place the fingerprint reader on the back of the new Galaxy 8, right next to the camera lens:

To make it extra confusing, the fingerprint reader appears to have very similar contours and shape to the camera lens. What this means is, as you fumble your finger around the back of your Galaxy 8 to tap the fingerprint reader, there’s a high likelihood you’ll be smudging up your camera lens in the process.

The reason Samsung is merely dreaming of overcoming Apple, and not actually doing it, is because of shitty decisions like this.

Maybe next year, Samsung. Maybe next year.

No Speaky to Bixby

Samsung says Bixby voice assistant won’t ship with Galaxy S8:

One of the key signature features of Samsung’s Galaxy S8, its Bixby voice assistant, won’t work out of the box, when the device goes on sale later this month. Other parts of Bixby, including its visual search and reminder abilities, will ship at launch, a Samsung representative told Axios in a statement.

Samsung really doesn’t like being reliant on Android to power all their mobile devices. Tizen is the most obvious example of this. TouchWiz is another. Bixby is the latest example.

What I want to know is if Samsung is truly invested in Bixby for the long-term?

Siri was very beta and had many problems when it first launched. Today it has much fewer, although it has a ways to go. Apple’s great at having the balls to ship 1.0 versions of products and then iterate year after year. Remember when everyone was bitching about the shitty colors, icons, and hard-to-read Helvetica Light in iOS 7? If you compare iOS 7 to iOS 10 you can see a lot has changed in four years.

Even if Samsung does decide to stick with Bixby, they have yet to prove they can ship top-quality software experiences on par with iOS and Android.

If Samsung is dreaming of overcoming Apple, they have some work ahead of them.

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New Mac Pros for 2018

John Gruber with the Mac Pro scoop:

Let’s not beat around the bush. I have great news to share:

Apple is currently hard at work on a “completely rethought” Mac Pro, with a modular design that can accommodate high-end CPUs and big honking hot-running GPUs, and which should make it easier for Apple to update with new components on a regular basis. They’re also working on Apple-branded pro displays to go with them.

I also have not-so-great news:

These next-gen Mac Pros and pro displays “will not ship this year”. (I hope that means “next year”, but all Apple said was “not this year”.) In the meantime, Apple is today releasing meager speed-bump updates to the existing Mac Pros. The $2999 model goes from 4 Xeon CPU cores to 6, and from dual AMD G300 GPUs to dual G500 GPUs. The $3999 model goes from 6 CPU cores to 8, and from dual D500 GPUs to dual D800 GPUs. Nothing else is changing, including the ports. No USB-C, no Thunderbolt 3 (and so no support for the LG UltraFine 5K display).

I’m not a Mac Pro user, but I’m excited about this nonetheless.

Now the Apple-branded pro displays I am interested in.

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They call it a dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.*

Over at The Verge, Dan Seifert has a interesting look into Samsung and their goals behind the new S8:

“We have a dream to overcome Apple.”

With that simple, obvious statement, the air was sucked out of the large conference room in Samsung’s Suwon, South Korea, headquarters before the company even had a chance to show me the device I flew halfway across the world to see. It’s not often that you hear someone at Samsung actually verbalize the unsaid motivation for many of the company’s products — most executives won’t even mention Apple by name. Yet here was the company’s vice president of product strategy just blurting it out to a small group of journalists.

It seems marketshare isn’t always enough and doesn’t always make you feel like the best. It was only in Q4 2016 that Apple regained the #1 spot in market share. Before this past Q4 Samsung had been the reigning champ.

One of the S8’s flagship features is their new AI ‘bright sidekick’, Bixby:

It’s a smart play: Samsung knows it can’t compete with Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and others when it comes to raw machine learning power and putting vast amounts of information at your fingertips, so it’s using Bixby to solve a simpler task, one that those companies have largely ignored. Bixby isn’t going to try to be the everything-assistant. Instead, it will be that “bright sidekick” that complements those other services. It’s a new user interface, not a new way to ask how tall the Eiffel Tower is.

Wow, less capable than Siri and ‘Ok, Google’. Sounds like a must-have feature!

Seifert had a nagging thought that quelled his optimism for the S8:

As I watched brand-new S8 phones get bolted together on Samsung’s new production line in the Gumi factory, it was obvious that the company has a plan for designing great hardware in the wake of the Note 7 fiasco. But as much as I knew that the devices coming off that factory line would have amazing hardware and eye-catching design, I couldn’t escape a nagging thought.

I realized that there’s a thing that many pro users do when they get their hands on a new Samsung smartphone: they immediately disable as many of Samsung’s own apps and services as possible and replace them with Google’s versions. The appreciation for Samsung’s design and hardware rarely extends to its software efforts.

Samsung makes Android phones, so the only way (outside of hardware) they can distinguish themselves from all the other Android phone makers is to make a unique software experience and people are disabling their software features.

Ouch.

Good luck with that dream, Samsung.

*the title of this piece was borrowed from George Carlin

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The Mature Smartphone Market

The end of smartphone innovation:

This autumn Apple will release a new iPhone design, and the fact that it postponed a new design and kept the 6 design for three years instead of two suggests it has something that will attract attention. However, it will really still ‘just’ be another iPhone. Meanwhile, we have some indications that Apple is working on AR glasses (of which more later) and certainly was working on a car project – but neither of these is likely to see a mass-market consumer release for a year or two at the least (cars perhaps longer). So, expect a lot more ‘innovation dead at Apple!’ stories.

This is paralleled at Android, I think: the new developer release of version ‘O’ has lots of good work and solid worthy stuff, but nothing world changing. Again, the cry will go up, “innovation is dead!”

Evans is skeptical on voice being the next hot tech. He’s more bullish on augmented reality (AR).

It seems like only yesterday the iPhone was released, but in reality it debuted 10 years ago this past January. The smartphone market is mature, so everyone is anxious about what comes next.

Like every other tech company, Apple’s goal now is not to predict the post-iPhone future, but to invent it.

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Product, Technology

Spark

Blanchard Joins Readdle to Work on Popular Email Client ‘Spark’:

Readdle has hired former Apple Mail engineering manager Terry Blanchard in a position that will focus on creating the “future of email” for Readdle’s popular email client “Spark,” working with an entirely new team of his choosing in Silicon Valley. Blanchard’s new role, per his LinkedIn page, is vice president of engineering for Readdle.

I decided to start testing Spark as my main email client on iPhone and desktop a few months ago and so far I love it.

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Interface, Product

Trivially Easy

Android Wear has made it trivially easy for fashion companies to ‘make’ tech products:

March has been a particularly fecund time for new Android Wear watch announcements, though unlike previous years, the brands behind these devices are almost all from the fashion and luxury spheres of business. Tag Heuer, Montblanc, Hugo Boss, Tommy Hilfiger, Diesel, Emporio Armani, Michael Kors, and Movado are just some of the well known names announcing Wear 2.0 smartwatches. This wave of new products is symptomatic of a broader trend in the tech industry: one where a high degree of component and software integration has made it almost trivial to launch a new tech product, whether or not you’re actually a tech company.

I wonder if this ‘trivial’ aspect of wearable tech is going to help move the needle for Android Wear sales. At the end of last year Apple was still leading in the contracting smartwatch market.

The crux of the problem with these internally identical Android Wear watches is that tech consumers demand substantive differences between cheap and expensive gadgets. How does Montblanc justify charging three times as much as LG for a watch that is functionally the same as LG’s? When Tag Heuer or any other famed watchmaker puts four-figure prices on its mechanical watches, there’s an implied promise that they’ll have an unmatched quality of workmanship and precision. But when those same companies outsource the brains to Google and the brawn to Qualcomm, what’s left for them to differentiate themselves with?

This doesn’t make any sense. The Apple Watch Series 2 is functionally identical across all price points (the Series 1 isn’t water resistance and doesn’t have GPS).

The real question is: can Google make a smartwatch interface that feels just as premium as the shell and straps around it?

It took years for Android for phones/tablets to be in the same league as iOS in terms of a seamless software experience that didn’t jitter and adhered to a set interface guidelines. I wonder if it will be the same for Android Wear.

Snap’s Valuation

How a Money-Losing Snap Could Be Worth So Much:

By the end of 2016, Snapchat had 158 million daily active users. By comparison, Instagram, probably the closest comparison and a formidable competitor to Snapchat, had about 30 million users when Facebook bought it in 2012 for what was then considered an eye-popping price of $1 billion.

(Facebook had earlier tried to buy Snapchat for $3 billion, which its founders rejected — wisely, it now appears.)

And $1 billion now looks like a bargain compared to what investors are paying for Snap. At $34 billion, each of Snap’s daily active users is worth $215, six and a half times per user what Facebook paid for Instagram.

As of January, Instagram reported 300 million daily active users. At $215 each, the Instagram app alone would be valued today at $64.5 billion.

These are static numbers, and what Snap is selling investors is growth. According to Snap’s prospectus, Snapchat user growth was 48 percent in 2016, about the same as the year before. If it can pull that off again next year, it would reach an impressive 234 million users, though still short of Instagram.

The Snapchat story “is all about growth,” Mr. Nathanson said. “It’s not about economics.”

I installed Snapchat maybe 2 years ago and tried using it. It didn’t work out and that’s ok. I’m not in the target demographic. I’m almost 40 and few of my friends use it.

Instagram grew because of the simplicity and broad of appeal of photography. I know people 10-20 years older than me on Instagram and I know people 10-20 years younger than me on Instagram. I post photos on it every day.

Can Snap grow? Who knows.

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