Our love affair with the tablet is over

Zal Bilimoria writing for Recode:

It comes down to size. The vast majority of the hundreds of millions of people who use tech every day are just fine with having two primary computing devices: One for your pocket and one for your desk. Tablets are trying (and failing) to be portable enough to go everywhere, yet large enough to be multipurpose. Despite all the keyboard origami and elaborate ways to make your tablet into a laptop, it isn’t one.

Fantastic piece on the current state of tablets. The iPad was quite exciting when it launched, mainly because it was a big, beautiful, version of the measly 3.5” iPhone screen many people already loved. But as the resolution and size of phone displays has improved, little room is left for a tablet in most people’s workflow. On the go, or sitting around the house, a phone with a 4-5” display works great. And in the office, you need a laptop or desktop PC to do your work. Tablets aren’t going anywhere, but they also aren’t going where everyone thought they would in 2010.

iOS X

Apple’s executives recently dismissed the possibility of iOS and OS X merging into a single operating system:

“We don’t waste time thinking, ‘But it should be one [interface]!’ How do you make these [operating systems] merge together?’ What a waste of energy that would be,” Schiller said.

“To say [OS X and iOS] should be the same, independent of their purpose? Let’s just converge, for the sake of convergence? [It’s] absolutely a nongoal,” Federighi said.

Dr. Drang has a nice piece on the subject where he correctly notes that touch targets on OS X would be too difficult to use on a touchscreen:

This is exactly what Federighi was talking about. Targets in Windows—which is what he was using, of course—and OS X aren’t designed to be hit with a finger. They’re designed to be hit with the much more precise tip of a mouse pointer.

But I don’t think people actually want to use a touchscreen on a laptop. Keyboards and trackpads work just fine. For example, many Windows PCs have touchscreens these days and relatively expensive MacBooks without touchscreens are consistently outperforming the PC market. If laptops with touchscreens were so desirable, people would buy them.

Instead, those who ask for iOS and OS X to merge really just want iOS to do more, especially on the iPad. The iPad is undoubtedly a beloved device and people want to use the iPad for as much as possible. While the iPad does many things better than a laptop, it is lacking in some key areas:

Keyboard and touchpad: I rarely see an iPad without a third-party keyboard. It’s absolutely necessary for serious typing. And constantly reaching up to tap the screen when using a third-party keyboard gets old pretty fast. A keyboard cover with trackpad similar to Microsoft’s Touch Cover would do the trick quite nicely. It’s shocking that Apple hasn’t released one of these yet.

Multitasking: And by multitasking, I’m referring to the pain you feel any time multiple apps or windows are required to complete a task on the iPad. The ability to view just two windows, or two apps, at the same time would be a huge improvement.

File management: One of the biggest features missing from iOS and OS X is cloud storage and syncing for files. I know, iCloud can store and sync files for each app, but most people don’t work that way. It’s why Dropbox is so popular. Several great third-party solutions are available and generally work well, however, they aren’t baked into iOS, which can be frustrating at times.

It doesn’t appear that the recent comments from Apple’s executives preclude any of these improvements, which can all be done solely in iOS without integrating anything from OS X. It should be encouraging to Apple that people want to use the iPad for more tasks. Hopefully Apple is listening and it makes iOS a little bit more powerful so we can use our beloved iPads even more.

Lenovo to acquire Motorola Mobility from Google for $3B

Google acquired Motorola in 2012 for $12.5 billion, so a $3B selling price seems like a huge loss. But there are some details that many have missed.

First, according to Michael J. De La Merced at NYT DealBook:

When Google bought Motorola, the hardware maker had about $3 billion in cash on hand and nearly $1 billion in tax credits. So that brings the original deal’s net price down to about $8.5 billion.

And don’t forget the sale of Motorola’s set-top and modem unit to Arris in December of 2012 for $2.35B, which brings the net price down to $6.15B. Google is getting $2.9B from Lenovo, which leaves it with a $3.25B loss.

But, according to Google’s press release, it is keeping most of the Motorola patent portfolio:

Google will maintain ownership of the vast majority of the Motorola Mobility patent portfolio, including current patent applications and invention disclosures. As part of its ongoing relationship with Google, Lenovo will receive a license to this rich portfolio of patents and other intellectual property. Additionally Lenovo will receive over 2,000 patent assets, as well as the Motorola Mobility brand and trademark portfolio.

Google valued the patent portfolio at $5.5B when it acquired Motorola. There is some speculation that the Motorola patent portfolio isn’t as valuable as Google originally thought, but it is surely worth something, which brings Google’s net loss even lower and likely close to zero.

The future of TV is already here

Two years ago, I decided it was time to cut the cord. My Comcast cable box had broken down again, the interface was terrible, and it was expensive. I hastily canceled my subscription and returned the ugly cable box in the same day. There was no plan to replace it. I had an Apple TV, but didn’t use it much. I had heard of HD antennas, but never tried one. New Year’s Eve 2011 was spent on the couch, not watching the ball drop on network TV, but streaming a low budget local New York telecast from my iPad to the Apple TV. My wife was not thrilled. Fast forward two years later and we’re in TV bliss: paying less money for a better TV experience. Cutting the cord isn’t just for geeks anymore. Anyone can have a better TV experience and save money in the process. Here’s how I did it.

The Setup
There’s a small investment required to cut the cord and still watch your favorite shows. For around $150 total, buy a Mohu Leaf HD antenna ($40) and either an Apple TV or Roku (your preference, both $99).

The Leaf antenna looks like a laminated piece of paper with an attached coaxial cable. The coaxial cable connects to the antenna input of your TV. Most TVs will automatically scan through all channels and save each available channel. I get around 20 free channels using the Leaf, including ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC in crystal clear HD. You’ll be amazed at how much TV you can watch for free with just the Leaf antenna. Local news, sporting events, and network prime-time TV are all available for free.

For all other content, the Apple TV has worked great for me. While many have speculated when TV is going to move to an a la carte model, few realize that it’s already here. iTunes offers almost every show from most major networks on an a la carte basis. Is Mad Men the only show you want on AMC? Great, just buy the season. New episodes will be available the day after they air. Some shows, like Mad Men, even include special behind-the-scenes features that aren’t available to cable subscribers.

The Apple TV interface is vastly superior to any cable box. It includes a “Favorites” page where you can pin your favorite TV shows, which is much better than trudging through a massive list of channels. Instead of remembering when to DVR a show, the Apple TV simply adds a badge to each icon when a new episode is available. If you buy a season, you’ll get an email when new episodes are available.

After 6 months or so, I realized that buying network shows like Modern Family, Parks and Recreation, Shark Tank, and Master Chef added up quickly. These are available for free using the Leaf, but only if you want to watch them live. Enter Hulu. For $7/month, Hulu provides a wide range of TV and movies, including the latest episodes of almost every network show. For me, Hulu acts as a DVR for the network shows you don’t watch for free using the Leaf.

Netflix provides even more TV shows and movies, and includes original series, such as House of Cards. I watch Netflix the least and its library seems to be getting worse, but I still keep it around for House of Cards and an occasional movie.

The combination of the Leaf, iTunes, Hulu, and Netflix provides more than enough TV to watch on-demand, and I’m able to watch everything I want, usually without commercials, and for less money than a cable subscription.

Savings
My Comcast bill was $175/month for internet and cable. Over a two-year period this costs $4,200.

I typically spend $30/month on TV shows from iTunes. This includes individual episodes, which cost $3/episode and entire seasons, which range from $15-45/season. Hulu and Netflix each cost $7/month. The combination of iTunes, Hulu, and Netflix, plus the up front cost of $150 and my monthly internet bill, costs $3,054 over the same two-year period, a savings of nearly $1,200.

What about HBO and ESPN?
These are the two outliers. They both have apps on the Apple TV, but they won’t work without a cable subscription. HBO does provide series for purchase on iTunes, but not until long after they originally air. Personally, I’ve decided not to watch these channels, however, I can appreciate that this is a deal breaker for some. At least HBO’s CEO doesn’t care if you use a shared HBO Go password.

What next?
There is much speculation about Apple’s plans to release a TV. In my opinion, Apple won’t be releasing radical new hardware, but instead will improve the current Apple TV hardware incrementally, improve the user interface, and, most importantly, deliver new content deals with media companies. Until now, Apple TV has been a “hobby” for Apple, but it has sold millions of units and spent years fine-tuning the experience and adding content. Don’t expect it to throw that all away. Instead, expect it to put the Apple TV front and center and run with it. It’s been a great experience for me and I could see it going truly mainstream with some small improvements and marketing dollars.

Will a larger iPhone cannibalize the iPad?

Lots has been written about Apple’s product design decisions and its response, or lackthereof, to competing products. Generally, Apple has a track record of making the right call. It famously rejected netbooks, for example. However, waiting this long to release a larger iPhone may go down in history as a misstep that allowed competitors, such as Samsung, to gain traction in the smartphone market.

While many have argued that Apple should skip a larger screen device, the popularity of phones with screens 5” or larger is now too much to ignore. So why has Apple waited to release a larger iPhone? My theory: the iPad.

When the iPad was released, many called it “just a large iPhone.” Despite its success and versatility, the iPad really is just a large iPhone. Since the iPad was released, iOS has remained largely the same between the two devices. Sure, the iPad displays more information and has more screen real estate for developers to utilize, but so will a larger iPhone. Suppose we have a 5-6” iPhone. Would it be fair to call the 8” iPad mini “just a large iPhone.” I think so. And if people already own a 5-6” iPhone, will they still want an iPad? I guarantee this question has been on the mind of Apple executives. Apple has never been scared to cannibalize its own products, but the this might be an exception to the rule.

Apple to release iPhones with bigger screens this year

This piece is quite interesting. Not only does it speculate on two larger screen iPhones (4.5” and over 5”), it gives some insight into the development of these phones and the future, or lack thereof, of the iPhone 5C.

First, it looks like the iPhone 5C was a dud and the strategy of wrapping the old phone in new plastic colors (what looks new is new) didn’t work:

Both new models are expected to feature metal casings similar to what is used on the current iPhone 5S, with Apple expected to scrap the plastic exterior used in the iPhone 5C, these people said.

Second, the article claims that Apple’s over 5” iPhone is only in preliminary development. If true, this is quite surprising. Large phones have been popular for a few years and I’d be surprised if Apple hasn’t been development iPhones of many sizes for that long or longer:

The smaller of the two models is further along in development, and is being prepared for mass production, the people said. The larger-screen version is still in preliminary development, they said.

A new year

A recent article from the Atlantic on how “the stream” crested in 2013 really made me think about this site and what I’m adding to the world. The aforementioned article cites a great piece by Robin Sloan, where she defines two types of internet media:

Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people that you exist. Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.

There’s way too much flow and not enough stock. My goal for Virtual Pants in 2014 is to add some stock to the world and stop adding flow. The goal is one article each month that will be relevant for at least a year. In-depth reviews of big products, technology tutorials that help people, exhaustive analysis of important issues, and maybe an interview or two. Things that will stand the test of time and add real value. I’m looking forward to it and I hope you enjoy.

Having fun at Microsoft's expense

Great piece by Der Spiegel on new NSA documents. Not only can the NSA intercept mail-order laptops to implant spying hardware and software, but they like to poke fun at Microsoft while spying using Windows error reports:

Although the method appears to have little importance in practical terms, the NSA’s agents still seem to enjoy it because it allows them to have a bit of a laugh at the expense of the Seattle-based software giant. In one internal graphic, they replaced the text of Microsoft’s original error message with one of their own reading, “This information may be intercepted by a foreign sigint system to gather detailed information and better exploit your machine.” (“Sigint” stands for “signals intelligence.”)

Twitter left $580K per employee on the table

Dan Primack for Fortune:

The only people who should be thrilled about this are Twitter’s bankers, who climbed over the Chinese wall to get a sweet deal for their high-net-worth clients.

Twitter itself obviously wanted a bit of price pop for PR and employee morale purposes, but here’s something else employees could be thinking about today: Had Twitter priced at $45.10 per share and used the extra proceeds to give out holiday bonuses, it would have worked out to more than $580,000 per employee. How’s your morale feel now?

The Nexus 5 is so close

Joshua Topolsky for The Verge:

The Nexus 5 is an excellent phone in many ways. It’s solidly built and feels great to use. It’s got serious processing power which means it can handle pretty much anything you throw at it. The phone has an absolutely gorgeous display. The KitKat update is polished and refined, and cements my belief that not only is Android leading the charge in mobile OSs from a functionality and user interface standpoint, but from a design standpoint as well. The battery life, while not perfect, appears to be good enough to get you through a day of work — which is certainly on par with its competition.

Sounds good! But it seems that there is always one deal-breaker with Nexus phones. This one is a doozy:

The 8-megapixel camera on the back of the Nexus 5 is certainly capable of taking rather beautiful photos in the perfect setting. Unfortunately for us, life is not filled with perfect settings — and when you’re faced with real-world picture taking, the camera underperforms constantly and consistently.