Monthly Archives: December 2012

I’m pretty sure Walmart is giving Android Police a holiday traffic surge.

You know what’s weird / interesting / a little sad? On Christmas day, I’m sitting here looking at Android Police’s live traffic figures (that’s sad in and of itself, I guess), but there’s an absolutely massive surge in the number of people on our “Download latest Play Store version X” articles. Most of the traffic is from the US.

I thought about this for a moment, and then did a query for “android tablet” on Walmart’s website, and sorted by best-selling. The top three sellers are all super-cheap off-brand tablets without the Play Store (and by cheap, I mean $80-120). There are an additional 6 such tablets in the top 16.

So a bunch of people probably got a bunch of crappy not-really-legit Android tablets for Christmas, and they’re downloading the Play Store. Tablet fever must be reaching epidemic proportions.

eBay better prepare for the incoming onslaught of lightly used 7″ coasters.

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Android Tablets Still Suck And Acer’s $100 Tablet Isn’t Going To Do Anything To Fix That

The $100 tablet is the tech media’s Moby-Dick. An unrelenting obsession. One I don’t get.

Perhaps it’s the notion of universally affordable computing – an affirmation of the belief that, one dayliterally everyone will be able to afford some kind of computer, and we’ll all ride unicorns and eradicate poverty forever or some other pie-in-the-sky fantasy like that.

Maybe it’s the result of some horridly misguided belief that tablets are like DVD players. That we’re all just waiting for them to drop from their obviously-too-high “new tech” price, as shipment volumes and technological advancements allow companies to lower MSRP’s.

Or it could just be that a sub-$100 tablet makes for a good headline.

Regardless, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Acer is making a $100 tablet and it might not come to the US. This, of course, set tech blogs aflutter. Gizmodo, I think, distilled the sentiment rather well with their headline: “You won’t be able to buy the first decent $100 tablet.”

Oh boy. Because if we can’t have the first half-decent-looking $100 tablet here in Murica, it’s an affront to consumers who very obviously want $100 tablets. What the hell is Acer thinking!? Let’s lay down a few basic premises before I start slamming this thing.

  1. No duh people want $100 tablets. That’s like asking if people want $5000 BMW’s – we live in a consumerist society where people are so fixated on “getting a good deal” that they’d probably buy a wet cardboard box full of human feces if it was 87% off on Amazon Gold Box for 30 minutes.
  2. Tablets are computers. What do you notice about computers? Well, laptops in the $500-1500 range comprise the lion’s share of all computer sales today, a price point they’ve stabilized at for the last, I don’t know, ten years. Sub-$500 laptops aren’t very good, as the netbook bust made clear.
  3. Very cheap durable goods such as tablet computers or laptops are perfectly OK in developing countries where literally every cent (or its equivalent) counts – I’m not bashing the concept completely.

OK, first, let’s talk about this whole “decent” part. You know what wasn’t decent? The first Kindle Fire. In fact, it really sucked. It still really sucks. It’s so god-awful slow that it makes me want to gouge my eyes out with a rusty spoon. It is bar-none the worst experience I’ve ever had with a tablet. And the Kindle Fire HD 7, while it is significantly better, is still at least slow enough to make me consider gouging my eyes out with a rusty spoon.

Part of that is Amazon’s ghastly software, but part of it is also the fact that all the pretty, modern user interface effects and games and widgets we want to run are actually getting to be slightly CPU-intensive. And yes, while I’m sure your old Nexus S is running Android 4.2 Open Kang Special BBQ X-Tweak w/ DR01D Kernel 1.2 and Super-Secret Script ZIPALIGNED as smooth as a greased-up pig on a slip-and-slide, the rest of us don’t spend 2 hours deciding which launcher’s homescreen transition animations are our favorite. You, Mr. I’m Basically A Developer, may want a $100 tablet so you can totally ROM it out and overclock it and make a hand-shot YouTube video of it running Modern Combat 4, but that’s not why anyone else wants a $100 tablet.

They want it because it’s a tablet and it’s $100. That is the entirety of the thought process there. In fact, it probably goes something like this. See iPad, desire, see $500 price tag, feel discouraged, Google “cheap iPad,” find cheap Android tablets, buy god-awful Coby or ViewSonic, receive, proceed to use for a week and then never again.

The difference with Acer’s tablet, many argue, is that it won’t be quite so terrible that you’ll actively consider hitting it with a hammer. Even though it has a 1.2GHz dual-core CPU of unknown lineage. And even though it only has 512MB of RAM (gag). Hey, the iPad 2 made it by on 512MB of RAM! Well, yes, because iOS handles multi-tasking much differently and generally just uses less RAM. Android with 512MB of RAM is a trip on a time machine I want no part of.

While I can’t say for certain until I use it, I can already safely assume a couple things about Acer’s $100 slate, simply because of the price point. The screen will be abysmal. The battery life is going to be awful. The build quality will be questionable, if not outright offensive. Performance will be, at best, on par with something built in early 2011. Sure, it’s likely going to be better than some off-brand piece of junk, but this is by no means shaping up to be a Nexus 7-beater. It’s a crappy tablet whose only redeeming quality is its price.

Would it sell if Acer brought it to America? Yep. It might even sell pretty well. But within a few months, you’d have a few million unhappy people with sub-par 7″ tablets that they stopped using a while ago, and many would probably swear off another Android tablet for good.

And then, they’d buy an iPad Mini – because Apple doesn’t just sell an image, it sells a reputation for quality and customer satisfaction. More sub-$200 Android tablets will ship in the next year than iPad Minis, but I guarantee you the proportion of those tablets in use a year after purchase will lean unabashedly toward Apple’s product – that’s why the iPad still kicks Android’s ass in terms of web traffic-based market share. Most people who buy Android tablets don’t actually end up using them that much.

Adding super-cheap Android tablet into the fold here in the US wouldn’t do much good for anyone but fanboys. If anything, it’d just be more fodder for Apple’s next keynote.

Android is winning the worldwide smartphone war – and for good reason. Android phones are getting really great, in a big way. There are more awesome Android phones on the market right now than ever before, and they do more than ever before. They have real legitimacy.

Android tablets remain little but a value proposition. Or a way to stick it to Apple. The Nexus 7 is still the best Android tablet on the market by far, and after 6 months with one, I’d say it’s just OK. I don’t use it nearly as much as I used to. The latest Android update has caused a lot of issues. And I just don’t find using it very rewarding or fun; more and more, I have to think about picking it up, and that’s never a good sign for a product that is by design a casual consumption machine.

The Nexus 10, while it may be a good tablet (I’ve heard plenty of gripes about bugs, though), is a canvas without paint – 10-inch-optimized content on Android is still scarce.

I know the arguments. Content will come with device sales. Once the content is there, Android tablets will be a lot better. But I don’t really know if I believe that at this point, because tablets are still a luxury. Nobody needs a tablet. And if you’re buying a $200 tablet, it’s very likely because you want to avoid buying a more expensive one (if I could pick any tablet regardless of cost, my answer is still iPad). In turn, that means you aren’t very likely to pay for too many apps or other content – also luxuries. Which means you probably won’t enjoy your tablet very much (the apps are, without a doubt, what makes the iPad really great), and you’ll use it less and less.

At that point, you’ll be just another end-consumer sale on some market share graph that clearly shows Android tablets are “gaining momentum.” All the while, the iPad continues to unabashedly dominate web traffic metrics (like Chitika), because it’s the only tablet people actually like to use, as opposed to buy. The Kindle Fire is bringing up second place, and that goes to show the power of Amazon’s front page placement strategy, because it’s a truly awful tablet.

Until people enjoy using Android tablets – which means until they’re ready to spend money on quality content to fill them with – they’ll continue to disappoint unless Google, or the manufacturers, do something about it. Like creating their own ‘full-experience’ premium software – which is what Samsung is (very half-assedly) trying to do. Sadly, I think Samsung has a better shot than Google at this point in terms of selling Android tablets to the sort of customers Google actually wants. Which is to say, iPad converts.

The alternative is a fundamental attitude change for consumers, which is the exact opposite of what a $100 tablet would bring about. I consider such a shift unlikely given any of the products on the market today. Android tablets are, to me, still far from being certain to succeed, let alone become the dominant player.

A $100 tablet won’t magically make content appear. It won’t suddenly make people like Android tablets. It won’t do any of the things that Android tablets need to happen in order to succeed on any sort of long-term basis. Cheapness is not enough in of itself, and I really wish people would understand that.

Also, Merry Christmas.

The Hype Machine: Why I Hate Samsung Press Conferences

Hey, have you heard? CES is coming! Next month! It’s going to be great. Seriously, it is. I’ve only been to CES once before (last year), but I liked it a lot. And the 2013 show is going to be a blast, too. Ron and I are going to be there for AP! We’ll be critcizing reporting on all sorts of new Android stuff.

And let me emphasize that again: I really, really look forward to the show. I look forward to meeting the various OEMs, chipset makers, and all the crazy-weird companies that somehow afford a booth on the show floor. CES is gadget Mecca, and it’s fun to just sort of bask in the overwhelming ridiculousness (and awesomeness) of it all.

But then there’s Samsung’s press conference. Last year, if you were at the show, you may remember it: there was a line probably a thousand people deep to get into a ballroom at the Venetian. It sucked. We (myself and Artem) waited, but we didn’t queue up soon enough, and probably 500+ people were turned away. We just assumed the turnout was because Samsung was so gosh-durned trendy.

Well, after receiving our “invitation” to CES 2013’s Samsung press conference (I use that word in ironic quotes very intentionally), I’m ready for an even bigger clusterfuck. I don’t even know if we’ll get in by planning ahead. Why?

A little thing called “first come, first served.”

Yes, that means every Tom, Dick, and Harry with a business card and CES lanyard (they say “the media,” but something tells me badge type checks won’t be strictly enforced, and if they will be, it’s not mentioned) can get in line and see what’s new from Samsung. Great. Because Joe Blow from High Tech Metalworking Monthly who has nothing better to do on his boring Monday at the show wants to the see the next Galaxy thingamajig!

We experienced this last year. There were tech outlets that, frankly, no one’s ever heard of in line for the press conference, and that had no real place taking seats from members of the press that are actually there to work. I don’t want in the Samsung press conference because it’s exciting (even if it is) – I want in because I’m there to deliver information to our readers. It’s my job.

And yet, I guarantee that once again, this year will be nothing short of the line for Space Mountain at Disneyland on high school Senior Trip night.

And why does Samsung do this? It’s very obvious to me: hype. Samsung wants as many people in that line at CES as humanly possible. They want everyone vying for a chair. They want to turn people away once the room is packed to the brim – to give the event a sense of exclusivity. To make it feel like something Apple would do.

And it’s stupid. It really is. In fact, it’s juvenile – no one else (of consequence) at CES does this but Samsung.

So, I’m going to line up that morning, and I’m going to sit there. And I’m going to miss another press conference for another manufacturer, and instead, sit on the carpet in the hallway of a Vegas hotel within the carefully laid-out bounds of two sets of velvet ropes. Because Samsung wants me to do that.

How nice.

A Brief Blurb On PR

I know a few PR professionals have me followed in social circles, so I figure this’ll be relevant to at least some people.

Leading up to CES, I correspond with probably two-dozen PR / MR professionals every week, probably half of them for the first time. Two dozen out of the probably 150+ that email me. Here are three simple tips for interacting with new tech media people (eg, bloggers).

  1. Get to the point: I don’t want to read a 1000 word press release regarding your client’s product unless you already know for a fact it’s extremely relevant to the scope of our content coverage.
  2. If you have to send multiple emails: You’re doing something wrong. If I didn’t reply to the first one, it’s either because you didn’t do a very good job presenting the information (see point 1), or because I’m not interested. Then following up with a phone call (which I admit, I will answer) after I don’t respond is a great way to leave a very negative impression about the way you and your firm do business.
  3. A little research goes a long way: There are two simple facts that can be garnered from my email address. First, my name is David. Second, I am associated with AndroidPolice.com – a consumer-oriented blog focused on Android and Android-related topics. Is your email relevant to Android? No? Then I’m probably deleting it! Send it again, and you risk meeting my spam box.

Listen, I get that PR emails are form documents often sent to a gigantic list of media outlets, and I understand if I get something non-relevant from your firm. I’ll just delete it. As long as you don’t send it again, I don’t really care – I’ll request to unsubscribe if that becomes an issue.

But repeatedly contacting me about the same non-relevant topic with the same labyrinthine press release? Not to diminish the job (really, I mean it – I understand media emails are but one small part of it), but think about this from the media’s perspective.

If you get a phone call that turns out to be from a telemarketing number, and you ignore it, how happy are you if the same telemarketer calls again two days later because you didn’t answer?

I work with a lot of great PR / MR people, all of whom have different styles of communicating information. The things they have in common? They know my name, and they don’t ask me if I got “their previous email.”

Fanboys Rising: How A Little MP3 Player Tells Us Samsung Has Won

Reading the comments in Eric’s article about the Samsung Galaxy Muse last night (link) made something abundantly clear to me: Samsung fanboys are now a thing. And they’re probably here to stay. And they will vouch for almost anything with the “Galaxy” brand emblazoned on it – including this remarkably dumb little MP3 player.

The Galaxy(R) Muse is a 4GB glorified iPod Shuffle that syncs MP3’s via the headphone jack on your Samsung GALAXY(R) phone using a Samsung GALAXY(R) app, and can’t be used any other way. It costs $50. Edit: This is wrong. It can be synced to your PC via Kies, too.

Wow, an accessory that only works with a single OEM’s hardware because it’s stupidly and unnecessarily restricted for the sake of encouraging bundling… Who does that? Because a product that’s easier to use and has more features (like FM radio and expandable storage) and is compatible with anything with a USB port and is cheaper doesn’t already exist.

Let’s think about this same product release from a different perspective. If Apple came out with an iPod Shuffle that was only able to sync music via connecting to an iPhone’s headphone jack, how do you think the average Android fan would respond? I’m guessing innumerable spelling and caps lock variations on “haha stupid crapple that’s so dumb lol.”

Looking at the comments on Eric’s article, though, you’d think this was a great product. In fact, when it comes to almost anything Samsung makes lately, the sentiment I see all too often is that because Samsung made it, it’s OK to find as many ways as humanly possible to justify its existence, even if it only works with Samsung products. Let’s call it “niche.” Yeah, that’s a nice word that describes things that aren’t particularly practical or desirable unless you twist your logic like a pretzel.

And yes, I know – some people were happy to point out that you could get this little gizmo for $25 after applying a coupon code. Huzzah! It doesn’t change the fact that you’d still have to be putting on brand-loyalty blinders to buy the Samsung Music Rock over a $30 Sansa that is so clearly superior I already feel slightly ill thinking about how someone will still manage to justify purchasing the Magical Galaxy Musical Stone. I guess it’s better shaped for use as a suppository?

This does say something important about the smartphone world, though. Samsung has clearly done something no other handset manufacturer besides Apple has – achieved significant brand loyalty among consumers. And while it’s not like any company endorses frothing fanboys on blog post comments, it’s not hard to see why attaining that kind of status is every marketing guy’s wet dream.

Let me be clear: I don’t hate Samsung. In fact, my daily driver right now is a Galaxy Note II, and for the most part, I love it.

But watching the Samsung-faithful set up their own little reality distortion fields (oh yes, I’m going to start making all sorts of Apple analogies to describe Samsung fans) tells me we’re going to be witness to a fan-war on a Ford / Chevy scale over the next few years. Get your popcorn.

Thoughts on Surface

For the last few weeks, I’ve had the fortuitous opportunity to spend some time with the Microsoft Surface RT. I have a few thoughts I’d like to share about that experience.

Productivity

Productivity on Android sucks. Productivity on the Surface RT blows it away. Not even close. Office RT still has its quirks, but Microsoft continues to show that it dominates the spreadsheet and document ecosystem for a reason: it’s had nearly 30 years of experience perfecting it. Google Docs is a middling product whose only real strength is real-time collaboration / sharing. Microsoft is well on its way to emulating this, and frankly, once it manages to hone that concept, I see no reason to care about Google Docs (or Drive – whatever you want to call it).

Browsing

IE10 makes Chrome for Android look like a toy. It renders more quickly, runs more smoothly, and simply makes for a better mobile browsing experience. Again, because it brings basically the entirety of the desktop browsing experience with it, like Office RT brings the desktop productivity experience.

Multitasking

Android multitasking has refined itself over time, but Windows RT uses the same multitasking solution found in Windows 8. And it’s better. Windows was designed from day one to be a multitasking operating system. Android was designed to be highly modal. It’s kind a of a “duh” victory for RT here.

Speed

Windows 8 RT can go from super smooth and blazing fast to annoyingly laggy and unresponsive so quickly it makes me feel bipolar. One moment I’m in awe, another I’m furiously tapping at the screen wanting to throw the Surface out the window. Android is just far more consistent in terms of performance.

App Ecosystem

Windows RT still has a pretty meager app selection, though there are already a number of very high quality apps available. Cocktail Flow (also on Android), for example, is gorgeous. Hulu Plus works pretty well. Netflix is decent. Epicurious’ app, unlike Android, doesn’t make me want to self-harm. It’s hard to say how quickly the app selection will grow at this point, but if Microsoft’s dev tools allowing x86 / ARM cross-compatibility are as robust as we’ve been told, I’m optimistic that quality Windows 8 touch-friendly apps will eclipse Android ones fairly quickly.

Gaming

Ugh. Non-existent on Windows 8 RT at this point. Pathetic. Android has a massive advantage here.

UX / UI

I find both Windows and Android pretty natural at this point, and having a Windows desktop on the Surface is pretty powerful for things like multitasking. And a lot of Windows 8 RT’s gesture actions and such are pretty cool – much more slick and visually appealing than Android’s. Some of them are also absurdly frustrating and unintuitive, whereas Android is far more straightforward and simple. RT simply requires too much work to get to something as simple as display brightness or system updates. Android wins for ease of use, Windows 8 wins for presentation.

Hardware

The Surface is too heavy to use as anything but a small laptop. Too thick. Too wide. I tried using it in bed or while sitting in a chair, and it’s just unnatural. I revert to the laptop position with the type cover and kickstand instinctively, and have no desire to use it without the keyboard / mouse crutch. In a way, that makes it powerful. In another, it severely limits its usability as a tablet. That said, I do find myself very naturally mixing touch input and mouse / keyboard on the RT. It’s a little weird. I get an anxious impulse to clean my screen a lot because of it – my brain is thinking, on some subconscious level, “Your laptop’s screen is FILTHY! CLEAN IT NOW!” only to have it soiled again 30 seconds later.

Final Thoughts

Right now, Surface is too buggy, expensive, and weird for any normal person to buy it. It’s going to be a total commercial flop. Surface Pro probably will be too (even if I totally want one). But I have zero doubt touch-enabled Windows 8 convertibles and tablaptops (tablets used mostly as small laptops) will catch on. Probably mostly the non-RT ones, though. Microsoft has done a hybrid touch / mouse and keyboard OS right. They’ll kill (or become) the Ultrabook. It’s going to take some time to get all the kinks worked out, but I have no doubts about the ecosystem growing around this platform, or the average person’s willingness to live in the Windows 8 world. It’s nice.

Should you buy a Surface, though? Hell no. Total waste of $500. It’s more science experiment than serious tool at this point. Then again, an Android tablet is even less of a serious tool. At least it has a killer Gmail app and lots of games, though – which the Surface does not.

Tl;dr – if you don’t have a Nexus 7, get one you idiot. But don’t be surprised if a year or two from now a Windows 8 tablet / small touch-enabled tablatop starts to look appealing.