Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Android Vs iPhone - will it sell

David Teeghman of Discovery News wrote several articles on why he believes that the Android, Google's phone OS, will defeat the iPhone iOS and why the Apple phone will finally languish.

The last two articles are here;

The problem is that his arguments are full of holes. Lets look at his points.

"...the iPhone is only available through AT&T, where it will languish"
Thus is a typically US centric view. In most countries, as is the case here in Australia, the iPhone is available unlocked and also on most carriers that have 2G/3G networks. Do not blame the sub standard carrier networks in the US for the issues with the iPhone. Neither should he blame the iPhone for the questionable regulatory situation in the US. If you want phones unlocked make sure that your government outlaws anti-competitive practices.

"...Apple's iPhone Operating System only operates on the iPhone"
Good point. And I concede that this is an issue but not as big as he seems to think. It has pushed the iPhone from zero to the biggest smartphone usage in four years. Despite what the punters said at its launch four years ago.

His parallel with the Mac of the 80s is inappropriate. There are many significant differences. The Mac was launched in a different market, was aimed at a difference audience. Was competing against a number of good products and did not provide many unique and groundbreaking features which no other product had. What the iPhone did was re-define the smart phone and every other OS has been trying to catch up since. I am not saying that they will not but Apple has such a lead now the momentum will carry on for a very long time. Apple have to make some serious mistakes to loos the plot now.

"It has always insisted that it develop and sell its own software"
Again he has a good point. However, while people are able to obtain good software for nothing or small outlay and very conveniently then users will not care. What Apple has done is provide a single easy to use portal for all users. Whilst I have serious concerns over Apple's monopoly of iPhone apps it has re-defined the smartphone software market. Despite the issues with this model it has actually worked to Apple's advantage.

"Last time, Microsoft dethroned Apple"
This is a misrepresentation of what happened. There was no throne in the mid 80s. There was no clear leader with many different platforms. There were many runners in the race and it was certainly the openness of the PC that made it the winner. But that was a different market and the OS only rode on the back of the success of the PC. There are many more things that could be said about that time and why it was that MS-DOS/Win won the day but to say that there are any parallels here is to misunderstand both markets.

"And Google will do a better job than Microsoft, which has developed a series of terrible operating systems that are prone to viruses."
All OSes are more or less prone to viruses. The only reason that the PC became the leader was its proliferation. There was no point in trying to load viruses on platforms that only have a small proportion of the market. Why hit thousands of platforms when you could hit millions.

The whole thrust of his final article is cost.

"HP sells five times more computers each year than Apple. It's no wonder, when the HP Pavilion laptop starts at $579 and the Apple MacBook Pro costs at least $1,199."

Not sure about his statistics but if you look at the price/feature comparison then the prices are now pretty close. I think that the issue is that Apple do not want to be in the $579 laptop market. That is a decision they have made and that must suite them. However the market is completely different and this is more or less irrelevant to his point.

"Apple's market share will fall precipitously as more users abandon the iPhone for the more economical Android."

Possibly. I bought the iPhone because it was the first phone that did what I wanted in a handheld device. It has issues and annoyances but compared to whatever else was on the market it was streets ahead.

It is try that the Android has caught up tremendously but the plethora of viable alternatives has not stopped the sales of the iPhone 4.

I think what the author is missing is the true reason that the PC has such a huge market share now. In the late 80s the PC really took off. The reasons for this are more or less unimportant since it is the momentum that this created that ensured its longevity. So long as they maintained a product that was attractive to consumers then they would continue buying them. The iPhone has a momentum that only serious mistakes by Apple can stop. People are still buying them in droves and price does not appear to be such a factor to the consumer as it is to the author.

There is one factor that the author is ignoring and it is an extremely clever marketing strategy for Apple, the app store. Once people buy an iPhone and they start buying apps then they have invested in more than just the phone, they have a good incentive to stay with an iPhone since they have several hundreds of dollars in apps they they will have to abandon if they move to another platform. This reinforces users loyalty to that platform. This means that people who have had an iPhone for a one or two year contract are unlikely to move to another platform. The iPhone is definitely in for the long haul and as good as Android is it will continue to dominate the market.

Maybe the iPhone will decline in the years to come and other smart phones may grow in popularity but the momentum that the iPhone certainly has the market share and will continue for a long time. What I believe that the Android is doing is filling in the gaps for people who would not necessarily buy a smart phone but want to dabble their feet. As well as satisfying the smartphone needs of Apple haters and fence sitters. Now that Apple has shown the mass market that a smartphone can be a smart choice it is now opening the market for all smart phone players and to my mind whether it be Apple, HTC, Samsung or whatever the market has changed irreversibly and the smart phone has now come into its own thanks largely to Apple.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The iPhone jailbreak and the DMCA

A few months ago Apple asked the US copyright office to rule on whether jailbreaking the iPhone violated the copyright legislation. The latest event in the saga is a recommendation by the US Library of Congress on the DMCA. You can see the relevant information in this excellent article by Will from interMobile.

What the DMCA act says, and also the Australian legislation as amended in 2007, is that it is a violation of copyright to break encryption, or to write software that breaks encryption, or to distribute software that breaks encryption that is in place to prevent copyright software from being copied or distributed in violation of the terms of the copyright.

In practice this means that ripping DVDs and Blu Rays by breaking the encryption is a violation of the copyright. Even writing and selling the software is not permitted. The Australian legislation does have several exemptions. My reading of it suggests that non-commercial use is permitted so long as the copyright of the work in question is not violated. In other words it is OK to rip CDs, DVDs and BluRays for personal use or if the work itself is out of copyright or in the public domain, or the work permits copying, or for "fair use".

However jailbreaking an iPhone does not in and off itself result in the ability to copy protected software to other devices. A further step is required of actually breaking the encryption on the app itself. For this reason jailbreaking does not violate the DMCA according to the Library of Congress. To establish this as law it needs to be tested in court but this is unlikely since this recomendation from the Library of Congress makes it unlikely that such a case would succeed. I think it is clear that Apple has accepted this as an umpires ruling. This will not stop Apple from trying to prevent jailbreaking though.

As far as Australian law goes we can safely assume that jailbreaking is not a violation of the Australian copyright legislation. In my opinion neither does it affect hardware warranty. We have very clear rights in law against hardware defects and despite what any one says nothing that Apple says either in their conditions or in public statements can negate our statutory rights. In any case you can easily do a restore before taking the phone back for repair/replacement.

Hopefully this will put an end to the ill-informed statements made by some people regarding the legality or otherwise of jailbreaking.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

iPhone Slip Case/Backup Battery

Last week I went looking for a slip case type backup battery to recharge my iPhone in the absence of power. In those rare instances when I have been overusing my iPhone and I am out of the car or away from home or desk. I have one of these devices that plug into the bottom and it has been very useful on several occasions and for about $20 from eBay is excellent value for money. The problem is however that they are awkward to use and do not fit into most iPhone specific USB docks. It does fit in my radio/dock and it can be charged with the USB iPhone cable.

I did a search on Ebay and found one on sale from accdigital for less than $20 including shipping. It took less than a week to arrive from China and for $20 I thought that it was worth taking the risk. If it was rubbish then I was only $20 down compared to the brand name products which were around the $70-80 mark plus shipping.

It claims to be 1800mAH which is a little more than the internal battery. This just more than doubles the battery capacity of the phone.

The item arrived in the post about a week after I bought it from eBay in a bubble wrap pack for protection. In the package was the battery pack, a USB cable and instruction written in your typical Chinese broken English. The instructions were however perfectly intelligible, with some re-reading.

I put the pack on charge by plugging the supplied USB cable into the USB power adaptor that comes with the iPhone. I left it for about an hour or two to make sure that it had a full charge. It claims to charge in 30 minutes but I have not had a chance to put this (or its claimed capacity) to the test.

The iPhone slides nicely into place and once the small switch on the bottom is turned on it begins to re-charge the phone. The battery and phone can be charged with the supplied USB cable and it will even sync with iTunes with the USB cable attached without having to remove the battery pack. The pack only weighs 66.5 grams and although it does add to the phone's weight of 137 grams (203.5 grams) does not fee unwieldy in the hand due to the pack's shape.

You could leave the pack connected permanently and use the USB cable to charge and sync or you could charge it separately and use it in emergency situations only. Either way it is a great addition to anybodies accessory pack and great value for money.

Pros: Light weight, feels good in the hand, can sync and charge using the supplied cable, cheap.

Cons: Cannot use a cradle to sync/charge while the battery is in place.


Despite the one drawback I can happily give this five stars. The price more than outweighs the inconvenience of having to remove the phone when docking. The ability to sync and charge both the phone and battery with the USB cable is an excellent feature.

I had an opportunity to test the capacity of the pack. I was at 10% charge and attached the pack to the phone. I continued using the phone continuously and within an hour the pack was completely flat and the phone was charged up to about 80%. This probably roughly equates to one full charge which is about right. The pack felt quite comfortable all the time I was using the phone with it connected. This confirms my initial score.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

iPhone 4 Antennagate or...

How to elevate a non-issue into a media scrum.

Apple's press conference and the media response is yet another demonstration of how easy it is to manipulate the media and how hard it is to get a reasoned and objective response when the media are only interested in hyperbole and sensation.

You can see a summary of the Apple press conference here and the video here.

To summarise their thesis is that all phones suffer from differing sensitivities when holding the phone in different ways and the iPhone 4 is no different. However in real world situations the iPhone has excellent performance and many are reporting better performance in low signal conditions that the previous models of iPhone. This is certainly born out by the reviewers who are mostly saying the the iPhone 3GS has more dropped calls than the iPhone 4. Indeed some are saying that the iPhone 4 is a far better performer, take for instance this Australian blogger who cannot replicate the "death grip" no matter how hard he tries.

Steve backs this up by quoting return rates on the iPhone 4 which are lower than for the iPhone 3GS at the same point. If there was indeed such a big issue surely users would be returning their phone in droves. This is not happening and indeed the reports from users such as the one above is that there is no issue. In one case the user returned his phone and the replacement fixed his problem (cannot remember where I read this but it was from a tech blogger). From AT&T data in the US the number of calls for antenna issues is 5.5 per thousand or about half of one percent. This is pretty low considering the publicity that has surrounded the issue. The actual return rate is one third of that for the iPhone 3GS. This hardly rates as a significant issue if people who are using the phone do not think it is an issue.

What about the media response. Well this article from the ABC shows how poor the state of real investigative journalism is in the world today. The headline alone shows that the author did not even bother to read the transcript or watch the video. The two sources she quotes are Gizmodo who has a vested interest and a lawyer who is binging a class action against Apple and AT&T. Gizmodo was prominent for obtaining a prototype of the iPhone 4 and tearing it down. They have since been precluded from Apple events and there is little love lost between the two. In fact Gizmodo has been leading the charge against Apple. Neither of the two sources for the ABC article could be considered to be objective observers. It seems to be that the ABC simply regurgitated the anti Apple slant from these sources and did not bother to verify their claims. Lazy journalism at its worst.

If you want to know the real story then listen to people who are using it on AT&T's rather dodgy US network not the ivory towered journalists or parties with a vested interest.