Friday, October 28, 2011

Hewlett-Packard Decides Not to Sell Off Their PC Business After All

Meg Whitman, new chief executive at Hewlett-Packard (HP), has confirmed on Thursday that the company has cancelled their plans to sell off their personal systems unit, formally known as the division responsible for HP’s personal computer business. You may remember that back in August, HP, which was then under the reign of Leo Apotheker, announced that they will stop manufacturing webOS based devices such as the Palm Pre. At the same time, they also declared plans to sell off their PC business. Leo Apotheker failed to mention any company who was interested in buying their PC business. Up to this point, no company announced their interest in acquiring the personal systems division of HP. If any company was interested, they haven’t made any formal announcement, but unfortunately, it would be too late to do so.
Now before I go into why HP would not want to sell their PC business after all, let me give you a review of what has occurred over the past year. Mark Hurd, resigned from Hewlett-Packard due to certain allegations against him (harassment?). Leo Apotheker was then named the new chief executive officer. Under his, what some might call poor, leadership, he announced their intentions to sell the personal systems group to another company, or spin it off into a separate company. In September of this year, the HP board of directors decide to fire Leo Apotheker in favor of Meg Whitman, as the new chief, due to harsh criticism by HP investors and the media.

Meanwhile, HP has not changed their decision to stop manufacturing webOS based devices such as the Palm Pre and the Touchpad.

But what immediately comes to mind, for most people is, “Why did HP pull back on their plans?” The answer is not glaringly obvious, but makes sense when you think about it. Any company the size of HP would have great difficulty spinning off the personal systems division as a separate company. It would be very costly for them to do so and would not be time efficient in the least. While HP does have other strengths in other areas, such as making printers, personal computers are still a large revenue stream. Eliminating personal computers from their product line up would almost completely pull them out from the consumer market, leaving them with business customers, which would severely hurt their client base. Some have argued that personal computers are very expensive to manufacture and bring in little total revenue after overhead. That is a common misconception, but Hewlett-Packard does in fact get a good source of income from personal computers because of the extra product support and software services they sell and bundle with their products. HP simply can’t do that with business products such as printers.

The final solution for HP’s problems is really unclear now. It may not be clear for a while what HP’s strategy is. But I can tell you that it might’ve been, from a purely financial standpoint, a smart move for them not to spin off or sell their PC business. Long term, I’m not sure what HP can do to succeed. All we can do is hope that Whitman can’t do any worse than what Leo Apotheker has done to the company.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Android 4.0 Announced, but Don't Get Too Excited!

Last Tuesday, Google and Samsung executives got up on stage in Hong Kong to announce Android 4.0, known as Ice Cream Sandwich and to announce the first Ice Cream Sandwich phone, formally called the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. The hardware of the Galaxy Nexus integrates very well with some new features of Ice Cream Sandwich, including NFC. Near Field Communication is a protocol that is now integrated into Android 4.0 that allows users to transfer data between devices by “beaming” the two devices, or bumping them together to transfer data. Almost any type of data can be transferred including contact information, maps, applications, website addresses, and more. Although this seems like a revolution in sharing information, you must consider the prerequisites for this to work. For one, both devices must have an NFC chip inside, and both devices have to be running Ice Cream Sandwich. While this is a cool idea and works well in theory, I have to really think hard about a solid use case for this feature.

Google also announced that with Ice Cream Sandwich, the “home” and “back” physical buttons that you commonly see with Android devices today, will become virtual, and on screen, in any application. Also, the “menu” and “search” buttons will cease to exist at all. Web and phone search will now work through the search bar at the top of the screen, by tapping on the microphone icon to dictate your searches, or typing it out through the keyboard. And anyone who likes the menu button will be disappointed, since there is no virtual menu button, but instead, Google is relying on developers to build similar functionality right into their applications. These rules may or may not apply to all devices, but are applied to the Galaxy Nexus, the first Android 4.0 phone. This way of interacting with devices has been before with Android 3.0 tablets, but has never been seen on an Android phone up until now. The buttons will work just as they do in Honeycomb. If you decide to rotate the device, the buttons will rotate as well. As expected, Google will be dealing with a lot of scrutiny for changing the way people will, going forward, interact with their phones. I, like most people, don’t favor these changes very well because I did like the physical buttons that most Android phones today ship with.

The core Google applications that ship with most Android devices today, such as Gmail and Google Calendar, have been updated as well to work with Ice Cream Sandwich, and at the same time, have been improved overall, and have added some major new features, such as offline Gmail, which will allow you to see all emails in the past 30 days, offline, or without using carrier data. This will address some of the issues and concerns that customers have had including the fact that the GMail and Calendar apps were lacking in various ways. Unfortunately, most of the features unveiled in the core Google applications, are suspiciously similar to what Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 platform has had for a while, and you can tell from the start, just by observing the interface, that Google has been influenced by the success of the Windows Phone “Metro” style UI. Now it is fair to say that Google didn’t completely clone Windows Phone’s “People” application, and to be fair, Windows Phone’s implementation of the same features is much better, not only in the contacts application.

Microsoft’s Windows Phone contacts application left, and Ice Cream Sandwich’s contacts app on right, demonstrates [suspiciously] close similarities between the two contact apps.

The largest concern I have with Ice Cream Sandwich is that older devices, such as the one year old, original HTC Evo, will not receive the upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich. Inevitably, but unfortunately, the manufacturers and wireless carriers are not likely to support their customers with older phones, as the manufacturers push them to buy new devices. That fact clearly foreshadows the inevitable, which is that the Android platform will only become more fragmented.

Largely, Ice Cream Sandwich is a very big upgrade and a much needed one, and overall, the interface changes are for the better, but things like making the home and back buttons virtual, will just leave customers who have come to know and love physical buttons, upset. I clearly didn’t mention all the features of this major release, but you can get a much clearer sense of what features Android 4.0 brings at the Android website ( Moreover, Google is lacking innovative ideas, and decided that cloning Windows Phone features was the way to go. I will leave it up to you to determine whether that’s acceptable or, not.

Ice Cream Sandwich will start shipping with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which is set to ship sometime in November, since Samsung hasn’t confirmed any more specific details about pricing and availability. However, it has been confirmed that Verizon Wireless will receive the Galaxy Nexus. It is up to manufacturers to upgrade their existing smartphone and tablet devices, but hopefully, even the older devices will eventually receive the upgrade. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Is the iPhone 4S a worthwhile upgrade?

Friday, October 14th, Apple launched the iPhone 4S, the next generation iPhone. The media was initially disappointed and started posting articles claiming that the iPhone 4S was a "disappointing upgrade" to the now out of date iPhone 4. But there are some notable new features in the new iPhone, that would make it a worthwhile upgrade, that is, if you are no longer enslaved in a contract with AT&T, Verizon or Sprint.

Unfortunately, up until now, the choices for an iPhone have been AT&T (exclusively for the first three generations) or Verizon with the iPhone 4. Thankfully, Apple has partnered with Sprint to allow Sprint to offer the iPhone 4S on their network. This does not mean much for many existing iPhone users, since they probably prefer Verizon or AT&T to Sprint since coverage on Sprint isn't exactly on par with AT&T or Verizon. However, for those who are not locked in an existing contract and subscribe to Sprint, the iPhone 4S is a noteworthy option.

While Sprint becoming the third wireless carrier option to the iPhone 4S is great, there are other important features to point out. The camera in the 4S has been upgraded specifications wise. Most people tend to compare cameras in terms of megapixels, or the amount of pixels a camera can capture. But that does not necessarily equate to higher picture quality. So Apple has decided to add five extra lenses to the iPhone, which allows for "precision elements to shape incoming light" and as a result, they claim that the image will come out much sharper.

The internal specifications of the iPhone 4S seems to be a noticeable feature that mainstream media picked up on.  The processor specifications have been bumped to two cores instead of one, which will make anyone's experience with the 4S much snappier than any of the previous generation iPhones. Applications can take advantage of the new two core processor to result in an overall faster experience.

The iPhone 4S will ship with the new iOS 5 operating system. iOS 5 introduces over 200 new features, but a few mainstream features that are absolutely worth pointing out. For one, iOS 5 includes a new "Notificiation Center" similar to Android's notification bar at the top of the screen. In iOS 5, any application or system notification will appear in a bar at the top that can be slid down to view more details about a given notification. This is a very efficient manner and elegant manner of storing notifications in a non obtrusive way. The new notification center in iOS 5 has been compared much to Android's notification system, which has had this mechanism for notifications much before iOS. At any rate, it's a welcome and much needed feature. iOS 5 also has many less significant new features.

Although most of the features so far don't seem mind blowing, the next one is. Apple has introduced a new digital assistant powered by your voice called Siri. Siri allows you to take control of your phone and perform  certain actions through your voice. For instance, you could send a text message with your voice, request for weather information for a given city, set a timer, or schedule a meeting, only using your voice. You could probably better understand the uses for Siri with a video Apple has provided on their website. Now it is to be understood that Siri is a first generation service, and that it may not work perfectly right away, but it will improve over each generation.

So the iPhone 4S may not be the major leap forward as the iPhone 4 was, but the 4S certainly does deserve credit for being innovative for the most part (notification center being an exception), instead of just copying competitors' features. The question that remains in consumers' minds is "is it worth it the upgrade?" If you are still bound within a wireless carrier's contract, then I would definitely say wait until the next iPhone comes out, since the now rumored "iPhone 5" is expected to be a much more substantial release. If you are in no rush to get a new device then I would wait. The iPhone 5 is expected to release next June with a bigger set of new features, so you should put that into consideration before rushing out to buy the 4S.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

What LTE Means for Consumers

You may have seen or heard of LTE by now, but not quite sure what the term means. But look no further, because you’ve found the right place to find the answer to, “What is LTE?”. LTE is also known as “4G”, which is a faster medium for mobile connectivity through your smartphone. LTE is an acronym for Long Term Evolution network. LTE is the successor to what many smartphone owners know as “3G”. LTE is the technology that Verizon Wireless has adopted as its 4G network. Now while 4G has been officially defined according to the FCC’s specifications, the regulations to market 4G have been enforced very little, and as a result, wireless carriers such as AT&T use the term 4G as a marketing term for their HSPA+ network, which is faster than 3G, but cannot match the speeds that an LTE network could offer. LTE by definition, and theoretical maximum speeds, is within the FCC’s guidelines for 4G. Verizon has taken the time and effort to expand their LTE network to more than 50 cities in the past year, putting 4G on the map for many consumers. Meanwhile, AT&T tries to market their HSPA+ network as 4G, but is not meeting the FCC’s guidelines, and T-Mobile is doing the same marketing sin. Sprint is currently using a different technology, known as Wi-Max, to market as 4G, which is much closer to the FCC’s guidelines than AT&T or T-Mobile. However, Sprint has recently announced plans to completely switch to an LTE based 4G network by 2013. This means that Sprint users would be able to take advantage of really an amazing technology, which will provide them higher data speeds, than Wi-Max, or AT&T’s HSPA+. AT&T is already building out an LTE network as well, but is doing so much more slowly than Verizon, which seems to be launching LTE much more rapidly than AT&T, which has experimental LTE in only a few cities. The benefits of an LTE network may not exactly be clear to you at this point. LTE is a major upgrade over an existing 3G network that all carriers provide. 3G is very limited in bandwidth, compared to LTE, which will make any consumer’s experience much smoother and much faster. The most bandwidth intensive activities, such as streaming a movie off of Netflix on your phone and tablet, will become a notably smoother experience for consumers. The LTE network that Verizon is implementing and Sprint will soon be, will address some of the issues of a traditional 3G data network, such as spotty coverage, and low data speeds. So now that I’ve demonstrated some of the advantages of LTE over 3G or HSPA+, the question must be wondering in your mind. “Why isn’t LTE everywhere?” Unfortunately, the wireless carriers don’t find enough reason to launch their LTE networks at a faster pace. Although Verizon could be the one exception to this statement, since they have been doing a decent job of introducing LTE into new markets. Sprint can’t rush out of their contract with Wi-Max, and really they don’t see a need to, and AT&T is, for whatever reason, not motivated to rapidly launch LTE. I hope AT&T and Sprint are taking notes from Verizon’s 4G launch. There is one other problem with what the carriers are doing, with Sprint being an exception. AT&T and Verizon have introduced data caps on both their 3G and 4G networks. That translates into overage charges for consumers who pass the 2 gigabyte or 5 gigabyte data cap, depending on the carrier. Sprint still offers an unlimited data plan on 3G and 4G, but their CFO was quoted saying that Sprint will continue to offer unlimited data for as long as it’s financially feasible. My concern is that LTE will provide customers with high amounts of bandwidth, but they will not be able to take advantage of those high speeds because of the implemented data caps on Verizon and AT&T. But despite all the potential and current problems with the carriers' policies and LTE implementations, the switch to LTE will ultimately allow consumers to be connected anywhere, hassle free. And since every wireless carrier is actively bringing forward LTE to market, we can expect LTE to arrive in most major U.S cities by the end of 2012.