- Why China is hard to figure out (Marginal Revolution)
- Rumor: Android M Will Come With An Update Guarantee For Nexus Devices (Android Police)
- Google seeking new partners for next generation Nexus phones (DigiTimes)
- Apple acquires high-accuracy GPS technology firm Coherent Navigation (AppleInsider)
- Apple: Tim Cook: Apple Pay coming to China ‘soon’ (Mashable)
- Apple: Key iPhone 6s specs seemingly detailed in new report (BGR)
- Apple: Report: iOS 9 will be optimized for older devices, including iPhone 4S (Ars Technica)
- Xiaomi Picks Leadcore to Go Vertical – In search of its own custom processor (EE Times)
- BlackBerry: Microsoft, Xiaomi, Lenovo and Huawei ‘evince’ interest in BlackBerry (IB Times)
- Apple: KGI lowers Apple Watch forecast significantly, says over 80% of sales are larger 42mm version (9to5Mac)
1. Google Tracker 2015 (I/O edition): Android M, Chromecast 2, and lots more. Interesting tracker of Google projects. Mentions the fingerprint API rumored for Android M.
2. Key iPhone 6s specs seemingly detailed in new report, citing a press release by supply chain analyst firm TrendForce:
- Ships in 3Q (i.e., before September)
- 4.7″ and 5.5″ models (i.e., no 4″ model)
- Force touch
- Slimmer, due to reduced LED display backlight
- 2GB LPDDR3 RAM (faster)
- Continue using dual-LED flash
- 32GB as the base configuration
3. Apple Researching Combined 2D/3D Glassesless Displays. Of course they are. Probably for years.
China is receiving appraisal that it had already surpassed Korea in technical skills and its ambition now is to compete against U.S. after surpassing Taiwan, which has many fabless competitors.
Perhaps, it’s about time, maybe it’s inevitable. When Apple, Huawei and Samsung, three out of the five largest smartphone vendors in China are already designing handsets using their own processors, Xiaomi figures it’s time to go vertical.
Xiaomi wants its own custom-designed processors to differentiate its products and control its destiny, an executive of Leadcore Technology told EE Times.
Rather than putting together an in-house chip design team, Xiaomi chose Leadcore, a fabless chip company […] as its partner to source the technology. […]
Leadcore is working with China’s fastest growing smartphone company on “all three different levels — product, technology and patent,” Marshal Cheng, vice president of Leadcore explained […].
Cheng calls Xiaomi’s strategy shift “inevitable,” based on volume (Xiaomi shipped 61.12 million units in 2014 by the company’s own account) and the need to differentiate.
It’s not clear how deep this is, but it’s noteworthy. The bigger question: is customization the right approach for Xiaomi? If this is aimed at improving Xiaomi’s low-cost position (e.g., relative to Apple), then it may be a good move. If it’s aimed at differentiating (power, performance) against other cheap rivals, or against Apple, then it’s probably just adding time-to-market risk in return for little benefit.
In other words, it makes more sense for Xiaomi to strengthen its “moat” — low cost and, recently, scale – than it does for it to try and out-differentiate Apple. To-date, Xiaomi has not tried to differentiate against Apple. If it were, the last thing it would do is emulate Apple’s industrial design, OS look-and-feel, and keynote events. Instead, it has aimed to deliver a spec-competitive offering at a lower price. If history is any indicator, its deal with Leadcore is cost-focused, intended to deliver lower retail prices – at levels Apple won’t reach.
In terms of differentiating against Android competitors Samsung, Lenovo, Huawei, LG, and ZTE, it’s not likely that chipset differentiation is the factor that would help set Xiaomi apart. It’s certainly not a factor for Samsung and Huawei, who dabble in custom chipsets today. (If anything, image quality would be a more discernable attribute.) Conversely, Xiaomi’s low retail prices — derived by its use of online distribution and low internal cost structure – *have* helped it significantly. While its intent with Leadcore is not clear, it’s certainly plausible that Xiaomi seeks to sustain its ability to deliver low prices. Specifically, it might work with Leadcore to design chipsets that reach lower price points, faster, relative to what competitors can achieve.
You’ll see reference to volume support and IP protection in the article. Those are valid needs that Xiaomi has. But they’re not the drivers of the customization aspect.
Update: I updated this post to include the next-to-last paragraph.
- China wireless carriers to slash contract prices, could spur 4G boom (Reuters)
- MediaTek aims to go head-to-head with Qualcomm in high-end chips using Helio X20 platform (FierceWireless)
- Amazon VP: ‘Anyone working on NFC is focusing on last century’s problem’ (Mashable)
- Apple: Top Israeli Tech Exec says Apple’s 700 Israeli-based Engineers Mainly Work on New Chip Designs (Patently Apple)
- Xiaomi coming to U.S., U.K., France and Germany with accessories to sell (Phone Arena)
- Microsoft: Cortana for all: Microsoft’s plan to put voice recognition behind anything (Ars Technica)
- Microsoft will bypass carriers, push Windows 10 updates directly to phones (PC World)
- Samsung reveals a few facts about its round Gear smartwatch (Engadget)
1. Almost all smartphones sold today have the same two flaws — and the cases you’re buying prove it. Durability and battery life. Battery life is always in the news. This is a good reminder that durability is important too.
The question is, for the next $1 of R&D to spend, do you allocate it to optimizing durability? Tough call, but most might answer “no”.
(Correction: I don’t think I should have framed it that way. It really depends on what other features you’ve developed and what parts of the product you’re able to control. And, crucially, the degree of improvement you’re able to make.)
2. Why 8 and 10 CPU cores in smartphones are a good idea – a lesson from the kitchen. (Remember, not every company is in a position to optimize its own CPU.) The main point:
The clusters of cores have different performance and power characteristics. With clever scheduling the mobile OS is able to use the best core for the best job […] more cores equals […] better power efficiency, but not necessarily more performance.
3. How Smartphones Have Changed Photography, In Three Numbers. And add to that the simple ability to share them.
4. Samsung answers the Apple Watch Digital Crown with a rotating, round bezel. What they need to avoid is this.
5. Why the Verizon-AOL deal just might work: Mobile video ads are worth a lot. “Verizon didn’t buy AOL, a dying ISP—it bought AOL, a digital ad company.” Maybe because of this.
The week’s most important headlines. (Except for earnings coverage; plenty of that elsewhere.) Sign up here.
- Nest CEO Tony Fadell on the Future of the Internet (WSJ)
- Google Now becomes a more robust platform with 70 new partner apps (ZDNet)
- iPhone trade-ins eroding Chinese Android sales: Report (ZDNet)
- Cyanogen looking to work with Chinese vendors to load its software on more smartphones (Android Central)
- Apple: Future iPhones may sport both telephoto and wide angle cameras, patent application suggests (AppleInsider)
- Apple: iPhone’s New Growth Engine Illustrated: China’s Middle Class (Mobile Forward)
- More than Half of Apple’s China Levers are Unique to Apple (Mobile Forward)
- Samsung Pay scheduled to launch in the second half of 2015 (GSMArena)
- Xiaomi tries to end waiting period for phone buyers, amid complaints (PC World)
It’s too early to tell how successful Apple Watch will be. But what is clear is this: Apple continues to invent. It was striking, in fact, to realize — as Tim Cook, Kevin Lynch, and Jony Ive presented it – the amount of R&D that Apple has invested into making Apple Watch.
In terms of hardware, for instance, Apple developed unique or highly-customized technology in no less than seven areas. And these aren’t small achievements. They’re not feats of squeezing a camera into a watch or forms of specsmanship. They’re in important areas: related to CPU, interface, sensors, and very fundamental mechanics. The software achievements are equally impressive, spanning a range of 15 different problems Apple had to solve. All of these – hardware and software – are tough, fundamental advances aimed squarely at helping users achieve their goals.
I won’t re-explain each major technology area; others have written and said plenty. Instead, here are several of the high-order points, in my view:
1. The S1. Very customized. As if Apple said “a new class of device deserves a new class of computer”. This degree of customization is the right call – because it affects everything that’s supposed to make a smartwatch appealing and valuable: size, functionality, performance, battery life, and upgradeability. I don’t claim 100% certainty, but I’d venture to say Apple’s competitors don’t take this aspect as seriously. If you have more color, please email me.
3. The Digital Crown. It’s a zig toward the tactile when the industry has zagged so far toward the digital. (And it’s not for the sake of contrarianism.) Very cool solution. If an Apple car had 10x more of this physical interface ingenuity, that would be amazing.
Also, just as the mouse, scroll wheel, and multi-touch were central to the identity of the Macintosh, iPod, and iPhone, the digital crown really is central to the identity of the Apple Watch. If you had to pinch, or weren’t able to zoom in and out, it would be an entirely different experience.
4. Force Touch and Taptic Engine. These take the most widespread mobile interface, the touchscreen, and make it meaningfully richer. Pretty good achievement. And yes, to say the obvious: some form of Force Touch and Taptic Engine will land on the iPad and the iPhone. Like any new input approach, expect these to be used, over-used, and fine-tuned over time.
5. Digital Touch (the ability to share a tap, a sketch, or a heartbeat). Apple could have taken the best-fit smartphone interactions (e.g., notification vibrations), transferred them to the watch, and called it a day. But they didn’t. Someone stepped back and thought “The fact that this product is touching you *means* something; there may be value in a new kind of communication.” First-rate thinking.
6. Sketch. Time will tell if this perspective matters, but it’s as if the Sketch aspect of Digital Touch combines the best of Instagram (pictures) with Twitter (brevity) and Snapchat (the moment). And speed, a fourth attribute, was inherent in the demo examples.
7. The design, including the bands. The budget and attention here likely rivals the entire investment that any of Apple’s competitors put into their first-generation programs. Perhaps by a multiple. Ditto with the “making of” videos that Apple showed.
8. Heart rate sensor. The difficulty is in getting accurate readings. Let’s see how well Apple Watch performs, and how it addresses the challenges.
9. The incumbents. There is SO MUCH here that traditional watchmakers can’t touch. In short, everything in blue in the chart above. Why? Because of everything else in all the other charts in this article.
10. This is what it takes. This – all this new hardware and all this new software – is what it takes to launch a new category, and to have a shot at success. (And this doesn’t even get into the product management, marketing, and point-of-sale excellence that’s also required.)
A user interface tailored to the form. A communication method tailored to the context. A design that is careful and considerate, rather than a cost-reduced imitation of design. And the custom hardware, software, and manufacturing that optimizes each of these.
These achievements embody Jony Ive’s comment to Ian Parker of the New Yorker. (The quoted words are Jony’s.)
The creation of Apple products required “invention after invention after invention that you would never be conscious of, but that was necessary to do something that was new.”
A DIFFERENT FOCUS
How is Apple able to do this, while competing smartwatches (e.g., Samsung Gear models) deliver features like an “IR blaster”? I don’t think the answer is “complicated”, but it is a multi-part answer, best saved for later. (Many people have a perspective and, by helping my former company compete against Apple, I have mine.) For now, here’s a short version.
At the highest level, it has to do with company identity. Identity reflects the values of the founder(s), and it determines whether a company chooses to prioritize the new or the familiar, and whether it values quality or quantity. In turn, this drives resource focus: where a company allocates its resources – people, processes, technology.
Apple allocates more resources than other mobile companies (call them “component integrators”) in two key areas: Product Direction and Technology Development. The “vision thing” and the “invention thing”. It chooses new problems to solve for consumers, and it creates the technology to do so. That’s the short answer to “how is Apple able to do this?”
In contrast, most other mobile device makers either don’t invent, or they do so very sporadically. If you peered into each and counted the number of leaders, engineers, product managers, assets, and hours devoted to i) identifying new jobs to be done and ii) creating new technology to solve them, you might be surprised. Mostly, they purchase standard, complex components and work hard to integrate them into products.
To be clear, component integrators are important companies. They serve a valuable role: they help many of us get effective, reliable, reasonably-priced products. And the engineers at these companies are some of the best in the world. Component integration that is high quality, fast to market, and cost-effective is quite difficult.
But integration is not invention. As a company of invention, Apple conducts both broader and deeper exploration, it demonstrates the ability to take on higher risk, and it often reaps the resulting greater reward.
A DIFFERENT OUTCOME
Invention and integration produce different outcomes for the companies that specialize in either. Generally speaking, the differences are in performance and impact.
- Performance. By shaping their technologies, companies that invent increase their ability to shape their products. Invention enables differentiation. Differentiation – or doing valuable jobs in a better way — enables healthy pricing, and healthy profit. That’s why, in smartphones for instance, the vast majority (~ 99%) of the operating profits belong to the companies that invent the most: Apple and Samsung. Invention isn’t the *only* driver behind their performance, but it’s a major driver. The component integrators, in contrast, have been disrupted. (See Nokia, BlackBerry, Motorola, and HTC.) And Xiaomi? Yes, selling a product for minimal profit will move a lot of units, but the company has yet to make a significant profit.
- Impact. Component integrators, by virtue of (mostly) competing on price, help spread technology across the world. That’s important and valuable. But inventing companies also do this. They don’t do it via rock-bottom prices; they do it by offering functionality that’s both powerful and inspirational. Moreover, inventing companies do something that component integrators can’t: they shape the future, they push frontiers. They introduce the hardware, software, apps, or services that previously didn’t exist or weren’t polished enough for mass consumption. They create the NEW. And if it’s good enough, soon others make something similar.
Component integrators bring new advances to market, too (BlackBerry: the keyboard; Samsung: the phablet; Nokia: PureView camera; Motorola: Moto Voice). It’s just that companies that invent are able do so repeatedly and more frequently.
That’s what makes Apple – one of many technology inventors – so fascinating: watching it perform well, stumble at times, and watching it move mobile forward.
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