Monthly Archives: January 2013

Well, it’s happening: the iPad is tearing into even Apple’s PC sales

Looks like that time everyone predicted would come, has: Apple’s PC sales went down, and iPad sales went through the roof. Cannibalization really does seem to be happening.

Mac Q1 2012 sales: 5.2 million
Mac Q1 2013 sales: 4.1 million (-21%)

iPad Q1 2012 sales: 15.4 million
iPad Q1 2013 sales: 22.9 million (+49%)

Say what you will, I still think Apple makes the best laptops in the world, and they got way better last year with the addition of Retina models (though the cost is a little north of “crazily prohibitive”). They also make the best ultra-portable laptop, the Air, which is pretty cheap in Mac terms.

The fact that sales still went down isn’t incontrovertible evidence of PC cannibalization, but it’s very compelling. My mom doesn’t even use a computer anymore – she does everything on her iPad. Normal, non-tech-savvy people are leaving the computers at work, and using iPads and smartphones at home.

I’m not saying the PC market as a whole is dying, so much as it’s on its way to becoming a niche. To ‘regular people,’ the PC is increasingly a specialist / workplace tool. The iPad is the new $500 laptop. Note that I don’t say ‘tablet,’ because I’d rather use a Chromebook than suffer through using an Android tablet as a general computing device.

The iPad does email, it does ‘the internet,’ it does YouTube / Netflix / Hulu, it does Angry Birds, and it does Facebook. And that’s what most people seem to care about these days. Why buy a laptop when an iPad is more portable, cheaper, and undeniably in vogue?

One can only hope for Android tablets that a rising tide lifts all boats.

Advertisements

Beer Night: One Of Britain’s Best-Kept Secrets – Meantime Brewing

Living in California, I’ve grown up in what is arguably the beer and wine capital of the whole of the United States. California has more wineries and microbreweries than any other state (more than most countries, actually), and as a result, rich traditions have grown around those industries in the past few decades.

I’m here to talk beer, though. One of the things I’ve become accustomed to as a Californian is hops. Hops everywhere. If California were to have a quintessential style of beer, it would undoubtedly be the India Pale Ale. But the thing is, Californian IPA’s taste nothing like their divergent cousins in Britain. By UK standards, our IPA’s are so insanely bitter and floral that they’re probably deserving of a new category, to mark the distinction. British IPA’s are far more mild, and generally easier-drinking. That’s not always a bad thing. But because of the “go big or go home” mentality around beer in California, it’s hard to find genuinely good, middle-of-the-road brews sometimes. Everything is taken to the extreme.

And sometimes I really like that. An insanely bitter imperial IPA can explode with notes of pine, citrus, and a strongly floral bouquet. Beers like Sculpin, Pliny the Elder, and Sierra Nevada Harvest are not to be found outside the US, and are particularly prevalent in the Golden State. Imperial stouts, doppelbocks, tripels, imperial porters, barleywine, American strong ale – we are obsessed with taking beer to the edge.

Sometimes I need a break, though. And in the winter, that usually means something dark. I discovered Meantime Brewing’s London porter at World Market a few years back, and I’ve been a happy (if only occasional) customer ever since. Porters have a storied history in Britain, and Meantime’s interpretation is a classic one. Not too intense, not too crazy – balanced. It’s still rich and smokey, like a good porter should be, but it’s incredibly easy to drink, and is a great warmer served just below room temperature on a winter day. While it achieves a great, but not mindblowing, 90 points on Beer Advocate, I will say firmly that this remains my favorite porter of all time. And yes, I rank it above Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter, which is blasphemy to the ears of many a beer lover, I am sure. It’s worth the high cost of entry (usually $8 for a bomber – in a super-heavy champagne bottle) even if only to try it once.

20130114_193158

But what if I told you that Meantime made an even better porter. Well, they do. It’s called Meantime Hospital Porter, but you won’t find that label on it anywhere in the US. Apparently the ATF has issues with alcohol being sold with the word “hospital” on the label. What you will find it under is “Naval College Old Porter.” It’s $14 for a bomber, and clocks in at a modest-for-an-aged-beer 8% ABV. It is quite simply the best porter I’ve ever tasted, good enough that this is the third time I’ve purchased an admittedly pricey bottle. Hospital Porter is aged for 18 months in oak barrels, but is then mixed with a younger porter (presumably the standard London Porter) before bottling. The result is a beer that has many of the positive characteristics of oak aging (smoothness, oak flavor influence, warmth), but few of the negatives (not syrupy, sweet, or overly intense). The diluting of vintages works damn near perfectly.

This is one that I suggest you make a note of for future purchase – Meantime suggests it can be aged up to a few years, and that this will improve the smoothness and complexity over time.

I prefer to drink it as soon as I get it home, but hey, to each his own.

The New Corvette Is Here And I Think I Just Peed My Pants

If you follow cars, you probably know at this point that the completely re-styled Corvette is going to be unveiled very soon at the Detroit Motor Show. Pictures are leaking on an hourly basis.

The new styling, in a word? Aggression.

Image

 Image via Jalopnik

The Corvette has never looked particularly mean. Even the most sought-after Vettes (personally, I’m a fan of the ’63 split-window Stingray, but who isn’t?) aren’t really edgy. The C2 Corvette was basically America’s stylistic answer to the stunning Jaguar E-Type. There is no doubt that the E-Type inspired dozens, if not hundreds of vehicles in the decades after its introduction in 1961 at the Geneva auto show – the C2 Corvette being one of them.

Over the years, though, Jaguar started to get more conservative. It fell into a more luxurious, tasteful image. The Corvette, too, became more conservative. The problem was that because the Corvette really stood alone in Chevrolet’s lineup, and had no such association with luxury or refinement, it had little to fall back on but its 1950’s-fiberglass-boy-racer roots.

For decades, this allowed the Corvette brand to limp on with relative success, cashing checks against that increasingly distant heritage.

It wasn’t until the C6 platform was unveiled in 2005 that a real Corvette took the motorsports world by storm again – almost 40 years after the C2 went out of production. But by then, the damage we can still see clearly today had been done.

We all know what the Corvette represents. Guys with gray hair hitting on women in their 20’s. Mid-life crisis. Ego issues. On and off involvement in poorly-organized crime. Some people still respect the Vette, and after the C6’s out-of-left-field motorsport domination, I guess that’s understandable. The ZR1 was truly a track car for the road. But come on, no one looks at a yellow Corvette today and thinks “I would have absolutely zero reservations about being seen in that vehicle.” If you think that, you’re either a bigger man than I, or part of the Vette’s terrible image problem.

The new C7 may finally mark an end to the stigma. It is edgy. It is daring. And it has corners. Lots of them. And intake vents – intake vents everywhere. No circular tail lamps. No giant swaths of swoopy fiberglass panels. No awful looking plastic and vinyl interior. The C7 looks rigid. It looks mean. It looks like it’s ready to take on the European sports coupes and then go get a cappuccino because fuck you Americans can order fancy coffee, too.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not my cup of tea (the hyper-aggressive sports car look doesn’t do a lot for me). But it’s a hell of a lot better than what it replaced, because it looks like the sort of car that should perform like I’m guessing it does. The C6 ZR1 was insanely fast. Ferrari fast. And I’m betting this is, too. The difference is that this Corvette isn’t a safe-looking retirement hot rod for your father in law to putter around town in order to relive his boyhood fantasies. This is a Corvette that’s built to go fast, and it lets you know that’s exactly what it’s meant to do.

So good on you, GM, for having the balls to do what you avoided for so long. Now let’s hope the numbers live up to those air intakes and carbon fiber accents. I may not think it’s pretty, but seeing something so overwrought, crude (come on, it has leaf springs), and violent kick the shit out of a 458 on the track would certainly get my patriotic juices flowing.

CES 2013 is a complete and utter joke and I honestly don’t want to come back next year.

When I went to CES in 2012, I had a pretty good time. I’m having a pretty good time this year, too, but that’s in no way thanks to the gadgets that have been unveiled thus far (well, with one exception).

2012 had stuff. Cool stuff. Samsung did a Smart Window thing. Moto announced the DROID RAZR MAXX. The DROID 4 was unveiled. Sony announced the Xperia S and Ion. We saw Intel Medfield Android tablets and Medfield smartphones. AR.Drone 2.0 made its first appearance. AT&T announced six phones. Toshiba made a bunch of tablets. We were treated to a preview of the tablet that would later become the Nexus 7. Sprint outed is first LTE phones. The Transformer Prime was announced. Acer did a thing. Samsung confirmed the Galaxy Note was headed to AT&T, making it the first (and in any practical sense, only) carrier in the US to do so.

So, what’s happened this year? NVIDIA showed off a really cool portable gaming system called Shield. I mean legitimately cool. And Tegra 4. Though Tegra 4 doesn’t exactly seem to be a massive leap forward, if I’m honest. There was also the Xperia Z / ZL drop, but we’ve seen those phones leaked eight ways to Sunday over the last couple of months anyway.

Can you think of anything else that’s actually worthwhile we’ve seen this year? I don’t consider Huawei and ZTE devices we’ll never see in the US, or Intel’s new downmarket chipsetexciting. Qualcomm unveiled some new chips at an absolutely insane keynote, and these chips do things faster and better..er. But come on, they’re processors – if they didn’t get faster every year, something would be seriously wrong. I’m not saying they’re unimportant (they’re obviously very important), but chip announcements at CES (the CONSUMER electronics show) are low-level nerd stuff that the average person couldn’t care less about. They aren’t products – they’re things that go in the products.

Verizon announced jack squat. Sprint discovered phones have FM radio chips. AT&T wasted 2 hours of my morning talking about a smart home. Samsung took the opportunity to offload the boring-ass, almost certainly hilariously-overpriced Verizon 4G-ified Note 10.1. LG unveiled some new Google TV that isn’t really new and really doesn’t do anything cool, and basically nothing else. Toshiba brought zero new Android products. Acer came with its already-announced $100 tablet, and it’s awful, and actually costs $130-150, which makes it exponentially worse. And oh boy, somebody made the world’s thinnest phone for the fiftieth time. Huzzah.

The best part of this whole conference has been the ridiculous stuff, the misfits – like an Android powered oven. At least that’s interesting. I don’t think it’s good, but it’s interesting. And then there’s RCA’s tablet with a TV tuner – it’s so bad it’s kind of funny, in an endearing sort of way. But it’s still bad. There’s also stuff like the Polaroid Android camera with swappable lenses, and that’s just so bad it’s sad. Tomorrow we’re going to see the YotaPhone (link), and I am genuinely excited about the depths of awfulness it may trawl. We also might see Shield tomorrow, and I’m genuinely genuinely excited about that.

Otherwise, this year’s CES seems like a bust. And I don’t just mean Android – I mean everything. What did we see? Faster ultrabooks with touchscreens – an exceptionally incremental evolution, if a necessary one for Windows 8.

4K TV’s you can’t afford, and even when you can, that don’t really make much of a case for their existence in the first place. We watch things on the internet now. Can you imagine how long it’ll be before 4K streaming over the web catches on, or is practical? And TV still needs a content revolution so desperately that the media is practically inventing Apple TV set rumors because it considers such a product inevitable.

Smart appliances are still overselling mediocre, clunky implementations of ‘futuristic’ functionality. Designer headphones that are still overpriced and gimmicky. And the requisite dark corners of the LVCC’s halls are still filled with phone cases, various accessory makers, Chinese white label companies, and app developers hoping for little more than a chance to make a pitch to new investors.

CES used to be about unveiling a lot of new and truly exciting products. Now, it’s an easy way to lump lame new products no one cares about – or that simply can’t justify their own, separate announcement events, like TVs – under a media spotlight so intense that it makes them seem like they’re something you should care about. Or you can use it to announce old products and kind-of-sort-of pretend they’re newish, like LG did (NVIDIA is guilty of this with Grid, too). It’s a CES reality distortion field.

And it works. I won’t deny that for a second. It’s also been a part of the CES game for a while now – it’s not like the mass offloading of lackluster / old-as-new-again products at trade shows is a new tactic. But it used to be that legitimately cool stuff was interspersed in there, too. This year, though, seems worse than ever. I can’t say I’m excited about a return trip to what is increasingly just a self-perpetuating tech circus. There is no real steam pushing this show anymore, it’s 90% reputation fumes. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if more big names drop out of it entirely for 2014.

I wouldn’t blame them, either.