As we close on 2014, and approach 2015, it doesn’t hurt to take a step back and reflect on what was accomplished and what didn’t work out so well during the year. 2014, without a doubt, showed off some great new tech like Android Wear, and virtual reality is finally showing tangible signs of life. Even Apple decided to finally do something new (for itself) and make a reasonable phone size.
2014, as it’s winding down, is also showing some rather dangerous indications of what might be in store for Android OEMs in 2015. Sharp declines in sales, market stagnation and ridiculous patent warfare may bleed over into the new year, and I doubt anyone is going to come out victorious in the end.
Although Android Wear appears to be a relatively new concept for us, it’s been around for a while. Since it was first shown off in late June and subsequently made available in July, it has been in the market for a little over five months now. Initial impressions of the platform in general was pretty lukewarm, as it is usually the case with new software. So has anything changed since then?
In a public statement released today, Samsung apologized for the illnesses and deaths of several of its factory workers who have contracted diseases after working at the company’s plants in Asia.
The company’s CEO, Kwon Oh-hyun, said, “Several workers at our production facilities suffered from leukemia and other incurable diseases, which also lead to some deaths.”
About a month ago, reports began to surface that the workers in Samsung’s semiconductor plants in Asia are facing miserable working conditions, which have caused serious health threats — including leukemia.
Survey time again folks. Gotta love these things. Whenever I come across surveys like this they tend to always beg more questions than provide any useful statistics. However, I’ll digress for a moment to report the news. According to a recent study over at Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP), this year exhibited a greater influx of Android users moving over to Apple’s OS and the iPhone was much greater when compared to last year’s iPhone launch. According to Mike Levin, CIRP partner and co-founder “Ideally, Apple attracts a significant percent of its customers from Android and other systems,”.
Furthermore, according to the research, during this year’s most recent iPhone launch the company saw a pretty hefty increase in users coming from a previous iPhone, most likely as a result of there being very few consumers left in the U.S. without a smartphone. According to the graph above by CIRP, in Sept of 2012 there was a 16% jump from individuals moving from an Android smartphone to the Apple operating system. The study goes on to further state that this year the number jumped to 21% with the launch of the iPhone 5s and 5c devices.
The Chromecast was announced with a heavy amount of fanfare. Obviously the price played a major role in that, but it was also because many of us envisioned unlimited possibilities. However, it might not be the device we were all hoping for. As of right now, all Chromecast development is at a standstill since the Google Cast SDK is only for whitelisted devices. But Koushik Dutta was able to break that and release his own app called AllCast, which
can play video from your Gallery, Dropbox, and Drive. Unfortunately, Google’s latest update to the Chromcast disabled the ‘video_playback’ support from his application so it won’t work.
We pretty much knew everything about the Moto X from all the leaks and last week’s DROID announcement. There was really nothing to be surprised about except for one thing, and that one thing happens to be the biggest disappointment with the phone: the price. We heard rumors of $299 off contract, which made perfect sense based on the specs of the phone. Instead we got $199 on contract. I’m sorry, but that is way overpriced when you consider the Galaxy S 4 and the HTC One have better specs and are priced the same.
Motorola might argue that the Moto X will give the user a better user experience with it latest features, clear pixel camera, and battery performance, but it doesn’t take away that the specs are subpar and don’t warrant the same price as other phones that offer more. I was absolutely shocked when Rick Osterloh announced the pricing and said that it would not be available in the Google Play Store. I was sure that it would be offered for $299 and carriers would offer it on contract for either free or at worst, $99. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. Word is that Motorola is working on a cheaper version of the phone. Cheaper? This one is already perfect, just price it right.
Following in the footsteps of Open Source pioneers IBM and Red Hat, Google has taken a giant leap forward in preserving the purity of Open Source and Patents in the world of technology. In a recent blog post on Google’s “Open Source Blog”, Senior Patent Counsel, Duane Valz, makes a less-than-obvious attack on patent and money hungry technology companies (like the one named after that one fruit that Eve took a bite out of that started this whole mess). He states the importance of protecting this purity to ensure continued innovation in the world of computer software, and continued advancement in cloud computing, the mobile web, and the internet in general.
Today, Google announced its “Open Patent Non-Assertion (OPN) Pledge“. In it they pledge “NOT to sue any user, distributor or developer of open-source software on specified patents…unless first attacked.” Gotta love that last part! Google, in their infinite wisdom, has included an Apple escape clause (Oops! Just came right out and said it that time).
At this point Google has only identified 10 patents relating to MapReduce in their initial pledge list, but vow to expand on that list, adding “past, present or future” open-source software that might rely on pledge patents. Good for you Google!
Recent reports have indicated tensions could exist between Google and Samsung, but were downplayed by Google CFO and Senior Vice President Patrick Pichette as well as Samsung Mobile Chief JK Shin. Although their working relationship is probably amicable, I have to believe that there is a little uneasiness at Google. Consumers continue to buy Samsung Galaxy branded phones in droves. So much so that 40% of all Android phones sold are Samsung branded. In fact, Samsung has sold 200 million more phones than the next Android manufacturer.
On one hand, Google should be delighted in what Samsung has accomplished. Android is now a dominating mobile OS, and a big thanks has to go to Samsung for being a big part of that. On the other hand, it’s never a good idea for one entity to have such a large piece of the pie. Companies with too much power can dictate and give less choice to consumers. If Google had their choice, every manufacturer would be equally as successful, but unfortunately it doesn’t work that way in the real world.
Around the summer of 2010, my contract was coming to an end and the HTC EVO 4G on Sprint was very appealing. Touted as “America’s first 4G phone”, it featured a large display and great specs at the time. I desperately wanted this phone and every Sprint store, Radioshack, or online store, was out of stock for four to six weeks. With my contract ending in just a couple weeks, the options were simple: Either buy the EVO 4G for full price and then some due to demand, or just grab a Blackberry. Unfortunately, an outdated BlackBerry Curve it was.
You have to hand it to Samsung really. After getting the public to generate unprecedented buzz and pandemonium, Samsung certainly brought in the Galaxy S 4 with a bang thanks to its snazzy Unpacked 2013: Episode I event. Heck— the buzz and excitement caused not one, but two competitors to try and pour salt in Sammy’s coffee, yet Sammy wasn’t deterred. As opposed to the traditional unveilings and demos that we’re used to seeing at keynote events, Samsung instead thought about doing something ummm, “unique” or “different” to say the least by providing a variety of skits, dances and literally theatrics to introduce its new flagship. More importantly, Samsung used its brand name to be out of the box in comparison to its competitors: go into the heart of the Broadway, use one of the world’s largest stages complete with an orchestra, an MC and some sweet live performances to introduce something that is “unique” and different”.
While those of us in attendance were quite impressed (and believe us, Rob Nazarian & I were certainly entertained at the event)— the Galaxy S 4 certainly poses a significant observation of not just the Galaxy S 4, but Samsung as a brand as we know it: Samsung is utilizing the features and more importantly— the marketing of its products to sell its brand. Make no mistake about it: Samsung has made a serious transition going from what was known as a relatively unknown Korean brand to a wannabe Apple competitor to what is perhaps the most exciting and controversial brand to date. The scary thing is this— not only is the transition a success, but everyone else is now playing catchup in terms of brand recognition and excitement.