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Saturday, March 25, 2017

[Feature] Silicon Theories - March Edition

This was a busy week in the tech world...and I've got a few thoughts to share with you on all of it. There's something new from Google, something(s) new from Apple, and some old thoughts on what Android tablets mean to the world of mobile computing. Ready to dive in? Let's get to it!

The Android “O” Developer preview was released into the wild on Wednesday...
  • Android is maturing to a point where we are really down to just nitpicking at things this mobile operating system doesn’t have.  So it came as something of a surprise when Google announced a developer preview edition of the next version of Android, codenamed “Android O” (well, not too much of a surprise because Google did something similar last year) but what was a surprise was the list of features that are included in the developer version.  Now caveat here; the developer edition usually comes with the disclaimer that not everything can or will make it into the final version but even if only some does, we are seeing a really interesting major release here.  Some of the list includes:
    • New notification “bundling” - allowing you to group notifications by type, theme, or sender potentially
    • Picture in picture options for watching video
    • New quick toggles in the notification shade, with multiple behaviors based on whether you press the icon or the name of the feature “i.e. WiFi or Bluetooth”
    • Additional soft keys (in the form of left and right arrows) can be added to the navigation bar (and potentially even more buttons as well)
  • Improvements to battery life are promised as well, with an emphasis on how so-called “rogue” applications are managed in the background of the OS.  I’m sure everyone knows of the famous “Facebook killed my battery” problem where an app that isn’t coded properly (read: wasn’t optimized properly) keeps running along in the background long after you’ve closed it.  This new feature in Android O could be very helpful indeed, especially on lower end hardware or mobile phones without gigantic battery sizes.  And better battery life just makes the world a better place.

..the same day as new Apple products, including new red colors of both iPhone 7's (to support product RED) - and a newer iPad product
  • This seems an odd time for Apple to release this device (not that product RED isn’t a worthy product) but here is Apple in an off cycle throwing new stuff out there when it is very likely in the midst of preparing for what will be the most anticipated iPhone launch since the original launched 10 years ago.  This iPhone Edition or iPhone X or whatever we are calling it today has a massive hype train behind it...and these devices being released in March make me wonder if Apple is trying to use up all the shells they have for the current generation of iPhone, in anticipation of what is to come.  This years iPhone is rumored to be a radical redesign (along with perhaps a “S” revision of the iPhone 7 line which is more iterative) so getting rid of parts they might not need any more makes a certain kind of sense.  Of course, I’m probably just reading too much into this and it’s meaningless...but that makes this red iPhone release that much more unusual.
  • The new iPad is a bit of a throwback - as aside from the updated internals, it’s thicker and sports a display that isn’t as good as the previous generation iPad Air.  How very “unApple” of Apple to do such a thing!  Well...seems like it might be a better choice in hindsight, since the base price of this new iPad (not iPad Air, just iPad) is going to be much cheaper than previous ($329), and in the neighborhood of a downright impulse buy.  Tablet usage is shrinking in such a way that the life cycle of a tablet is much longer than that of other mobile phones, and more like that of a quality laptop.  So by making them a little less premium and a little more affordable, you might just entice people to upgrade a bit more often.  Probably not, but you’ve certainly got a better shot than if it’s a $499 price tag to get a new one.  

Speaking of tablets...why does the Android tablet space continue to be a complete mess?

Photo courtesy of Android Police
  • Samsung made a few waves at MWC 2017 by announcing a new tablet, the Galaxy Tab S3.  There wasn’t much in the way of detail at the announcement, as the launch date and pricing wasn’t available immediately.  Well...it was later revealed that the Tab S3 was going to start at $599 and that seemed like a bit high for something that isn’t your phone or laptop.  And it seems that early reviews of the device tend to agree:  the Galaxy Tab S3 is nice, but priced too high to be really considered.  
  • This is too much for a niche product that is not replaced very often (see the iPad refresh cycle noted above, and that’s likely the best selling tablet of any bunch) - and there hasn't really been a good AND affordable Android tablet since - well, the 2nd generation Nexus 7, which was released all the way back in 2013. Since then, we've had a bunch of higher end and priced tablets, and a few other cheaper and cheap options, but nothing that approached the terrific value proposition of that Nexus product from Google and Asus. I think the reality of the situation is simply this: when you're not Apple, you aren't going to sell a ton of these tablets, no matter what they are. So they have to make them premium, price them up, and hope to make it up in quality and not quantity. Which is exactly what Android users don't want to do. Much is made of the so-called "Apple Tax" on premium products, and say what you want, but people pay it. There is nothing close to an "Android Tax" and won't be anytime soon. About the closest you get is people willing to fork over almost $1,000 for the 128GB Pixel XL (and you can't even really buy those, and they aren't available anywhere) - no one is going to do the same for a tablet, even if you can hold onto it for years and years. Here's a novel idea, naively borrowed from OnePlus - try making a really good (not excellent, just very very good) tablet, and price it slightly below the iPad's price points. I have a feeing even without a ton of marketing, it might sell a lot better than an excellent device with a not-so-excellent price.

That's it for this month folks...if you have any topics you'd like to see featured in future columns, hit us up at silicontheory@gmail.com.


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