23 Jul 2013
The latest reports from Cupertino say Apple is working on a 13in iPad model to complement its existing 9.7in iPad and 7in iPad Mini.
The larger tablet would no doubt be a sight to behold. The bigger retina screen would only further shine if given a bigger canvas, and no doubt developers would be chomping at the bit to bring innovative touchscreen features to their iOS games.
But what about consumers? Buying trends have already indicated that, for many people, a smaller size is in fact preferable. The 7in tablets have long outsold their 10in counterparts, and while cost might be a factor, there is also enough evidence to suggest that as far as tablets are concerned the form factor and portability are also a primary concern.
Given that the consumer market has largely driven the direction of the tablet space thus far, a 13in iPad could prove to be both too expensive and too unwieldy to really make the sort of market splash Apple prefers with its products.
But what of the enterprise angle? Apple has always been a powerhouse in areas such as digital photography and design. This is where a 13in iPad could have major appeal. Imagine being able to use the touch interface of iOS with a large-screen canvas? Such a device would be hard for many media professionals to resist.
But even then there are concerns, primarily over the cost. Along with the higher price a bigger screen would command, there's the bigger hardware requirements that would come from being able to drive a device that size. This could push the cost of a 13in iPad to the point where, for only a couple of hundred dollars more, you could simply purchase a MacBook Air and have all the hardware benefits and more without losing the portability a large-screen iPad could offer.
It's important to note that such a device is far from a sure thing, at this point Apple is said to be doing nothing more than looking to build a prototype. But at this early juncture there remains plenty of doubt that there is even a real market for an even bigger iPad.
22 Jul 2013
Apple and Motorola are both preparing to release new smartphones this year, with rumours that Apple's new iPhone and Motorola's Moto X are on the horizon.
For Motorola, the release will be at a 1 August event in New York. The firm will also use the occasion to unveil its Moto X handset, which will be the first handset release since the company's acquisition at the hands of Google.
Despite owning Motorola, Google had vowed to continue to work with other mobile vendors and the company has maintained its Nexus hardware line. Google has said from the start that it will allow Motorola to function on its own, and analysts have speculated that the $12bn deal was largely made in order to beef up Google's patent portfolio.
Apple, meanwhile is said to be nearing the arrival date for its new iPhone. The handset, known in the media as the iPhone 6, is set to arrive this autumn and is likely to include a number of new hardware improvements.
According to a report form the International Business Times, the arrival for the new iPhone will be slated for 27 September. The publication speculated that the new iPhone will hit the market a few days after the release of the iOS platform.
The release would fall in line with Apple's release schedule, which usually involves new iPhone models being released in early to mid-September and iOS updates are usually showcased several months prior to release at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC).
For the last couple of years Microsoft's been having a tough time of it. Competitors such as Apple and Google have been rolling out a host of new software, services and hardware that, to some commentators and a vast section of the general public, make Microsoft products look like something from the Stone Age.
One of the biggest parts of this criticism was the PC giant's stuttered entry into the tablet space and previous lack of ARM support for its Slate PCs, which – using fully blown computer processors – featured woefully short battery lives compared with their Android and iOS, non-Windows rivals.
Because of this when Microsoft unveiled its two brand-spanking-new Windows RT operating system and own-brand Surface RT tablet it made perfect sense, at least on paper. After all, the tablet technically ticked all the boxes, featuring an ARM mobile processor that while light on power offered decent battery life and a new touch-based tile user interface.
However come release the Surface RT suffered the same fate as BlackBerry's PlayBook tablet, with consumers and businesses by and large ignoring the device and sticking to their existing iPad and Nexus devices. As a result Microsoft's been forced to radically cut the price of the RT, leading to a massive $900m write-off on the quarter – for those who can't remember BlackBerry took a $485m hit on its 2012 third-quarter revenues when it slashed the PlayBook's price. In total that's almost $1.5bn in trying to enter the tablet market dominated by Apple and its iPad.
Of course there are multiple possible reasons for both tablets' poor sales, but for me there's one key explanation; they both boast woefully underdeveloped app stores. Unlike the Surface Pro, which runs using the full version of Windows 8, the RT uses the stripped-down version. This means unlike the Pro, the RT isn't legacy application compatible and can only run apps in the main Windows Marketplace, which sadly, like the PlayBook's, is woefully lacking when compared to iOS and Android's.
While there are of course other reasons for the RT's poor performance, for me it's the biggest as the understocked marketplace shows developers – a key component in any ecosystem's success – aren't interested in Windows RT. Time and time again we've seen that technical prowess means nothing unless developers are interested in the device's software ecosystem – remember MeeGo and Symbian?
For this reason it seems more than fair to say the Surface RT is the new PlayBook.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
It was revealed today that Nokia only managed to shift 7.4 million Lumia smartphones in the second quarter of 2013. While this is in some ways positive as it's a marked increase on the modest 5.6 million the Finnish firm shifted in Q1, it's still a massive issue when you consider how well other smartphone makers are doing. Take Samsung, with its seemingly unstoppable wave of Galaxy devices. The Galaxy S4 flagship managed to beat Nokia's quarterly Lumia sales in just one month, storming past the 10 million sales milestone a mere four weeks after launch.
What makes this particularly sad is that – like HTC and its stellar One smartphone – Nokia is making decent, revolutionary smartphones. Take, for example, the Lumia 925: the phone is absolutely full of custom Nokia services and technology that really makes the most of Windows Phone 8. These include an amazingly good rear camera, with a custom Carl Zeiss lens and a sixth glass camera element that make it the current top smartphone when it comes to imaging prowess. The 925 also has a slew of impressive Here location services.
Sure the Galaxy S4 has its own share of custom features, running Samsung's Touchwiz user interface, but most of these are superfluous, or simply don't work. Take, for example, Eye Scroll and Air Gesture. Both services sound cool on paper, with Eye Scroll making the phone automatically scroll down when you've finished reading a section of text, and Air Gesture letting you interact with the S4 without actually touching the display using Minority Report-style gestures. However, actually using them is a downright chore, with Eye Scroll taking forever to actually realise you've stopped reading and Air Gesture requiring your hand to be so close to the screen, it's all but pointless.
This, combined with the S4's pretty much untouched Galaxy S3-style design, makes the Samsung phone feel a little dull, especially when compared with Nokia's colourful wave of Lumia devices. Because of this, while the sales speak volumes in the world of business and we can't deny Samsung has done an amazing job creating Apple-level buzz around its devices, the low Lumia sales are slightly disheartening. Here's hoping Elop's optimistic promise rings true and the soon to arrive Nokia Lumia 1020 does something to change this.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
Google is doing its hardest to make sure you never have to leave your chair and thus never cease using its lucrative web-based products. In its latest war against the holiday, Google has added Venice and the Eiffel Tower to its roster of places to virtually visit.
Silliness aside, the technical feat of mapping Venice is actually something to behold, and something Google has been unable to do until relatively recently. As is rather obvious if you know anything about Venice, roads are relatively hard to come by in a city made up of more than one hundred islands. You have two realistic choices: Walking or gondola...ing. Google has chosen to do the former, by attaching a camera to a four-foot pole and mounting it to a backpack (see above).
Known as the Trekker, this piece of tech is operated by an Android device, with pictures snapped through 15 lenses every 2.5 seconds. The specially designed gear has already been to the Grand Canyon, so Venice should be a comparative walk in the park. The images collected should be up by the end of the year.
It's not the oddest piece of Street View tech out in the wild, however; the tie is currently between the Street View Trolley and the Street View Snowmobile, used for museums and mountains respectively.
Elsewhere, Google's lesser-known Cultural Institute has put together a rather excellent interactive exhibition for the Eiffel Tower. Complete with archive images and informative slideshows, the collection also features a Street View version of the Iron Lady which allows users to explore each of the three accessible levels of the tower. It's fantastic.
With Google now covering so much of the Earth's best tourist spots, it almost has the holiday experience covered through vertical integration; Earth for the flight, Street View for the destination and the Play Store for dreadful in-flight movies. Bliss.
By V3's Michael Passingham, who's in need of a holiday
Oracle has shut down support for Sun's virtualisation product lines in another move that sees the IT giant integrate the historic platform into its own offerings.
The company said that it would no longer be supporting various Sun software lines in an effort to further integrate Sun products into its own software lines.
Oracle said when it announced the move: “In an effort to more tightly align Oracle's future desktop virtualisation portfolio investments with Oracle Corporation's overall core business strategy, we have ended new feature development for Oracle Sun Ray Software (SRS), Oracle Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) software, Oracle Virtual Desktop Client (OVDC) software, and Oracle Sun Ray Client hardware (3, 3i, and 3 Plus)."
The company said that it will continue to support both products though their lifecycle despite the decision to shut down support. The platforms were among the brands Oracle acquired when it purchased Sun Microsystems in 2009.
Oracle added that it would continue to support the Sun products and transition users to the new offerings.
“Going forward, Oracle's desktop portfolio investments will be focused on continued development and new enhancements to both Oracle Secure Global Desktop and Oracle VM VirtualBox software,” the company said.
16 Jul 2013
It's surprising to think that something as widespread as chip and PIN hadn't really made any tentative steps outside the safe haven of brick-and-mortar stores until very recently. Up until last year, customers were still paying tradesmen, small stores and market stallholders exclusively by cash or cheque.
The world of chip-and-PIN machines is certainly a costly one, and for good reason. Dealing with encrypted financial transactions is hardly a walk in the park, and it requires a certain amount of processing and data muscle to work. Smaller businesses have been priced out of the market for many years, which is why you so often see minimum spends on card transactions.
But with the continued expansion of the smartphone market, many people are now carrying half of the ingredients required for a portable and affordable remote card payment system, namely the brain and the data connection.
The market is now looking rather crowded, with plenty of companies including iZettle, WorldPay and soon even PayPal offering similar devices, all of which include a one-off fee for the purchase of the hardware and then scrape off 2.75 percent of every transaction taken after that.
Payleven is another business making its way into the hands of smaller enterprises; the Berlin-based company began operating last year and received a large investment boost that is rumoured to be in the "tens of millions of euros", and can now be found in Apple Stores across Europe.
UK chief executive of Payleven, Ian Marsh, says that this new style of device certainly appeals to the 1.3 million small and medium businesses in the UK that don't have card readers due to the prohibitive costs of up to £600 per year, but there's also the cool factor.
"Who wants this cool little device rather than this big clunky box?" he said. And that's where his company is making headway, with a small and light device that integrates with industry-standard retail systems such as Micros, and has an open API that allows the IT staff of larger companies to tailor the device to their own needs. Payleven machines can now be found in tens of thousands of businesses worldwide.
But it is the small businesses that will see the most benefit; electricians, mobile hairdressers and everyone in between can avoid awkward moments resulting from clients not having enough cash, or a lack of change. But how do normal consumers feel when their plumber produces what looks like a toy chip-and-PIN machine from their jacket pocket?
A look at an electricians' forum reveals that some tradespeople aren't quite there yet. "It's very tempting to try these modern chip-and-PIN systems out, but I do wonder how much customers would trust swiping their credit card on my phone," one user wrote. "I think I'll just stick to cash cheque and the Pingit idea for now."
This user has stumbled upon the other potential rival to traditional chip-and-PIN machines. Payments which take place on smartphones using the internet, such as Barclays PingIt are making serious progress themselves. Indeed, just last month Barclays announced £10bn transferred through its mobile app roster.
In the end, however, it's not about one system being better than another. As is always the way, it is about whatever is more practical and trustworthy for the most important person in the chain: the consumer.
By V3's Michael Passingham, who loves chips
Dell shareholders are nearing the vote on the company's proposed buyout plan, and opponent Carl Icahn is upping his offer hoping to halt a deal at the last minute.
The investor activist said he would up his bid to acquire outstanding shares in the company with the addition of warrants, which could increase the per-share price stakeholders would collect in the sale and offer them the chance to re-purchase their shares at a later date.
The bid comes in the wake of announcements from Dell that three outside appraisal firms brought in to review the offers have accepted the company's original plan. That offer, backed by founder Michael Dell and an investment group, would purchase all outstanding Dell shares and effectively take the company private.
Icahn has long opposed the bid, claiming that the company's $13.65 per-share offer undervalues the company and rips off shareholders. He has since formed his own group, but the viability of the offer has been called into question by the company's special committee.
Now, as the vote nears, the company is trying to quell talk of an Icahn buyout once and for all. Additionally, it has spoken out against a call from Icahn to have Dell stock appraised.
“The Special Committee cautions Dell stockholders that Carl Icahn’s latest entreaties that they pursue appraisal with respect to the Dell acquisition misrepresent the risks and costs involved in this course of action,” the company said in a statement.
“Mr Icahn’s letters claim that seeking appraisal is a 'no-brainer' involving 'no risk' and that stockholders 'might get lucky' if they follow his advice.”