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  • Editorial: Apple survived 2016's onslaught of fake news and failed competitors

    Across 2016, ostensibly legitimate journalists and research firms gravely warned that Apple was in trouble on every front--from low cost wearables to Microsoft's 2-in-1 notebooks, to Google's new Pixel Phone and a resurgent Samsung--as well as falling behind everyone else in the emerging, very promising field of Virtual Reality. They were all so incredibly wrong we can now have a good end-of-year laugh at their expense.

    Apple's Infinite Loop campus

    Take a gander at the goose in Apple's sauce

    There are two measurements of success in the tech industry: one is applied to Apple, where expectations are stratospherically high and failure is always anticipated.

    The other is applied to Apple's competitors, where expectations are so low that even a tremendous, embarrassing flop can be written off as a "valuable learning experience" (Google Glass) and every new failure rudely blindsides perpetually optimistic observers (Google Pixel: who could have guessed it wouldn't sell in significant volumes!? At least it was a valuable learning experience).

    At the beginning of this year, AppleInsider published "Apple's competition is going to have a tough year in 2016", examining the question of whether Apple even faces any effective competition anymore.

    Throughout the year a variety of critics worked hard to invent competition for Apple. But no amount of advocacy or propaganda has shifted the reality that's readily apparent.

    Entering 2016, Apple earned virtually all of the profits in smartphones, in tablets, in PCs and had introduced the only successful smartwatch--capable of not just stomping out Android Wear and Samsung Tizen as competitors but also taking a large bite out of premium Suisse watch sales--even as its rivals struggled in every product category.

    Apple Watch in white ceramic

    What changed this year? Apple's weak competitors lost more ground and suffered more failures, setting Apple up against an even weaker competitive threat in 2017.

    Profits build offensive infrastructure

    At the same time, while Apple is now amassing incredible piles of resources (now above $237 billion) and is returning $2 billion to shareholders each quarter, it's also investing tremendously in a proprietary software development (including macOS, iOS, tvOS, watchOS; the Continuity and iCloud glue that bind them together and its new Swift language and the development tools that power third party apps).

    It's also investing billions in supply chain capacity, materials, operations and technology. And in parallel, it's building billions of dollars worth of new facilities, including its Campus 2 research and development offices in Cupertino and a global collection of other sites focused on software development, health technology, Maps, machine learning, silicon logic and other specialties.

    While pundits keep asking simplistic questions about where Apple's next big i-device is, the reality is that we already have an ultra-mobile personal computer in iPhone, and mobile professional computer in iPad Pro, and conventional Macs. Apple doesn't need to introduce another device category as much as it needs to maintain and advance what it already sells.

    Discussing mobile now is like discussing PCs in 2000. The important questions are about what we can build with this, and what we build next

    -- Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans)

    Microsoft wasn't expected to introduce a new OS every few years. Google wasn't tasked with creating a new search engine over and over again and HP and Dell churned out conventional PCs for many years without facing interrogation about the "next PC" replacement.

    Apple's silicon secrets

    What drove much of the forward progress of the tech industry in the 1990s and 2000s was actually Intel's processors, continually upgrading PCs, servers and the software they ran.

    Today, Apple is actually hampered by Intel's slower chip advancements in releasing new Macs. But in the iOS world, Apple has not only outpaced the industry in mobile Application Processors, but has also taken over ownership of the cream in mobile silicon.Apple has not only outpaced the industry in mobile Application Processors, but has also taken over ownership of the cream in mobile silicon

    It's done so by earning money on advanced chips and aggressively reinvesting that into further development.

    When Apple first worked on the Newton Message Pad in the early 1990s, it had to invest in developing the ARM Architecture as a new mobile processor.

    But it wasn't making enough money on hardware sales to rapidly and perpetually advance ARM chip development on its own. The rest of the industry, notably Nokia, began investing money into ARM chips and made them ubiquitous in phones. When Apple returned to ARM chips with iPod in 2001, they had become cheap and power efficient.

    Apple spent billions investing more money into commodity ARM chip orders until the late 2000s, when it began doing custom design of its own ARM cores. Apple has not only radically advanced the state of the art, but has done so on a scale that nobody else can match.

    No other phone or tablet maker sells anywhere near as many premium, powerful devices as Apple. That greatly reduces the potential for Google, a Chinese startup, or even Samsung to build a true competitor to iPhones or iPad at a similar cost structure. The chips used by Google's Pixel, for example, feature cores that are only half as fast as Apple's A10 Fusion.

    And despite various attempts by Google, Microsoft and others to dumb down smartphones into less powerful devices using simpler chips at a lower cost, Apple has proven that a lucrative demand exists for very powerful smartphones capable of advanced processing features--notably including sophisticated camera imaging and secure biometrics for authentication and Apple Pay.

    Across 2014, pundits and analysts were castigating Apple for not building a cheaper iPhone. Apple did eventually repackage iPhone 5 to resell it as iPhone 5c, and this was successful (despite many false reports maintaining that is wasn't). However, in the years since, Apple's own sales data has made it clear that it could perform better by focusing on more advanced and expensive models rather than cheaper repackaging.

    In 2015 Apple launched iPhone 6 alongside its most expensive ever iPhone 6 Plus. Next year, Apple is rumored to be adding an even more premium option to woo high end buyers.

    In direct contrast to the popular narrative of cheap commodity erasing Apple's Mac and iOS businesses, the reality is that Apple is increasingly becoming more difficult to compete against as it builds its own sophisticated custom silicon and refines its incrementally expanding software platforms.

    While Apple keeps advancing its state of the art in core technologies, consider what its rivals have been doing in 2016.

    Samsung's smoke screen of excessive innovation

    Samsung--after just beginning to recover to its 2014-level revenues after being clobbered by iPhone 6 & 6 Plus and then batted back down again by iPhone 6s an 6s Plus--rushed to market a poorly designed fablet flagship that was so dangerously prone to burst into flames that airports, metro stations and even cruise ships banned its possession on their vehicles. It was undoubtably the worst and most expensive recall to ever occur in tech.

    Samsung's Galaxy karma from fomenting Bendgate

    However, Samsung's fiery Note 7 conflagration was coached by the media as being a problem of the Korean conglomerate having "packed it with so much innovation" that, well, flames ensued. That ridiculous quote was actually set into type for the New York Times by Brian X. Chen and Choe Sang-Hun.

    Remember when these writers excused iPhone 4 signal attenuation as a problem with Apple "packing too much innovation" into its products? No, because they didn't. They reviled Apple's innovation and branded it as an inexcusable failure because it might drop a call if you hold it wrong--versus bursting into flames no matter how it's being held.

    Packed with so much innovation it naturally burns

    Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Geoffrey A. Fowler and Joanna Stern insisted that while Samsung's defective design of the Note 7 carried a clear risk for fire and should be powered down and returned immediately, "there's no reason to believe other Samsung models are dangerous," shortly before citing an anecdotal story of an iPhone 7 that was also said to have caught fire in a posting on Reddit, a false equivalency of the highest order.

    There's no evidence, anywhere, that iPhone 7 has an inherently flawed design that results in fire. If it did, there'd be many scores of reports, not a single photo posted to a site that provides an audience to the GamerGate and AltRight fringe--because Apple ships many times more premium iPhones compared to Samsung's Galaxy Note. There are, however, a variety of reports of other Samsung models catching fire (such as the Galaxy J5). But let's move past the selective reporting of facts by Fowler and Stern, because I don't have all day.

    Pay no attention the fire behind the curtain

    Note instead that after Samsung released millions of dangerous Galaxy phones, then bungled its recall, handed out new batches of equally defective replacements, then pulled its 2016 Note 7 flagship entirely, reporters and research groups fell all over themselves to "report" that Samsung's explosive launch would have absolutely no impact on buyers' behavior going forward and virtually no impact on its brand.

    Incredibly, CNBC and Reuters collaborated to spread the results of a single internal poll that insisted the "Galaxy Note 7 recall did not damage Samsung brand in U.S."

    That poll was necessary to conduct and report because earlier, independent polls had reported that 34 percent, and later 40 percent, of current Samsung owners said that in the wake of the recall that they wouldn't buy another Samsung phone. Of those leaving the brand, 30 percent said they planned to switch to an iPhone.

    With scathing results like that, why would news organizations with a clear bias against Apple feel the need to create their own data to refute the findings that exist on Apple's primary competitor, not to mention obvious reality? And why would they exclusively report only their own mind-bending findings? Also, what sort of data might they be able to create assuring the public of the safety of lead, asbestos, cigarette smoking and coal pollution?

    More recently, NPD similarly issued a report suggesting that Samsung's Note 7 fiasco had no apparent impact on U.S. phone sales for the company, based on sales data.

    However, it didn't quantify how much of this was attributable to Samsung offering generous cash handouts and other promotions, a very real expense necessitated by Galaxy Note 7 fires. However, it apparently remains necessary to exonerate Samsung because apart from that company, Apple has no real competition at all among smartphones that sell at a sustainable profit.

    And a sustainable profit is one where real money is made, not just fake numbers like those that were reported by the Wall Street Journal in an article suggesting that China's Xiaomi was actually showing positive signs of potential profitability

    Apple premium sales volumes lower than total global production of cheap devices!

    Samsung is the only company apart from Apple that earns any significant profits from its smartphone sales, due almost entirely to its premium-priced Galaxy flagship models. With the primary competitor to Apple's iPhone literally on fire and pulled from the market, the only way to continue to marginalize Apple's phone business would be compare iPhone sales against volumes of low end phones shipped into developing countries. Done!

    That's the same strategy IDC likes to use in
    marginalizing Apple Watch sales. Except that IDC can't even compare its Apple Watch estimates against other smartwatches, because that's not flattering to anyone but Apple. Instead, it has to compare $300 to $1,000 and up Apple Watch sales against Fitbit's fitness trackers with an average selling price of around $88 and Xiaomi's $13-25 fitness bands.

    In 2015, Apple stopped detailing sales volumes of iPods, Apple Watch, and other hardware, including the new AirPods. That's allowed critics to claim that Apple might be hiding its failures, an idea that isn't often applied to Amazon, Google, Microsoft or even Samsung, none of which document their own sales of bands, tablets or even phones.

    Selective scrutiny, broad credulity

    When Apple's chief executive Tim Cook noted that AirPods are "a runaway success" and that the company is "making them just as fast as we can" to meet demand, The Verge announced in its headline "that means nothing without numbers."

    What a curious, egregious double-standard in framing events from a site that celebrates Bezos graph scales, Amazon's meaningless sales chart rankings, Microsoft's perpetual claims of "sold out" inventories, and Samsung's "quite smooth" numberless smoke signals of suggested successes.

    Coincidentally, just days before skeptically suggesting Cook was lying about the popularity of AirPods, The Verge printed a Microsoft press release that claimed Mac users were rushing to buy a Surface. Rather than insisting that the claim "means nothing without numbers," Tom Warren nodded along with Microsoft's Surface advertisements, writing that they "might be paying off."

    Warren wrote, "Microsoft still isn't providing sales numbers, but the company claims 'more people are switching from Macs to Surface than ever before,'" then repeated, "Again, Microsoft refuses to provide numbers but vaguely claims 'our trade-in program for MacBooks was our best ever.'"

    Microsoft's Surface headline on The Verge expresses no skepticism of the the idea that significant numbers of MacBook Pro buyers are actually so disappointed in Apple that they are rushing out to those notoriously vacant Microsoft retail stores to snatch up its breathtakingly expensive Windows 10 PCs, but the site offers no similar level of credulity in the possibility that Apple's AirPods might be popular, even given the fact that Apple, an experienced high volume manufacturer, has stock-outs into January on a product it desperately wants to sell, not just advertise as a success.

    Pathetic Pixel, Stagnant Surface

    Perhaps writers at The Verge are just still really upset because they know that the site will have to write a new excuse for why Google's latest "Nexus," rebranded Pixel, failed to garner any real attention among buyers despite the website's valiant efforts to incessantly promote the device on behalf of Google.

    Or alternatively, perhaps it's disappointed that its parallel promotion of Microsoft's Surface has been similarly ineffectual. The pricey, "Sleep of Death" premium notebooks, hybrid tablets and convertible desktops have had more praise heaped on them than a Millennial, but that still isn't resulting in total sales reaching above the $1 billion quarterly ceiling they've bumped up against for the last several years.

    Before Microsoft got into hardware, all the tech media could talk about was how Apple's overall business model was doomed because of cheap commodity PCs. But now, Microsoft is supposedly going to be saved by innovative hardware designs and proprietary gadgets. Why? There's much less differentiation between a Microsoft branded PC and any other Windows PC running the same software.

    Google was similarly credited with having erected a commodity platform in Android that Apple supposedly wouldn't be able to compete against, or even keep up with in terms of innovation. Those stories proved to be entirely false, but now Google's own hardware is being described as able to stand out and compete against the that same bulk of cheap Android commodity. Why?

    Apple sells many times more notebooks, phones and tablets every quarter that either of its premium-commodity rivals, but the company is also tasked with not just remaining in the lead, but also bettering its own sales volumes each year by a margin greater than most of its competitors' total sales: another double standard.

    Imagine a runner expected to not only beat everyone else in the race, but also beat their own best time, every time, while being derided as having a boring running style and failing to invent new ways to run each time they race. Meanwhile, everyone else gets a trophy just for showing up.

    Virtual reality journalism

    Journalists are supposed to report what's happening, not invent a narrative they want to happen. The problem is that few modern tech writers are actually journalists. Many are casual bloggers from vendor advocacy sites with a grudge against Apple.Journalists are supposed to report what's happening, not invent a narrative they want to happen

    The New York Times hired Brian X. Chen despite his history in inventing quotations and attributing them to others for Wired, in an apparent attempt to instantiate his own desired reality (most famously, that Japan "hated" the iPhone).

    The Wall Street Journal hired blogger Joanna Stern from a background at The Verge and Engadget, both of which desperately advocated Android ideology despite the software's technical failings, Google's poor management and maintenance of it, and its ultimate failure to be anything other than a "toxic hellstew" of a platform for also-ran hardware companies lacking the resources to maintain their own platform.

    Bloomberg hired a rumor leaks blogger Mark Gurman to report hard news on Apple, after he scored such "exclusive reports" as the 2015 claim that the next Apple Watch would feature a camera and handle FaceTime calls (but not GPS!) and could be made from titanium, tungsten, palladium and platinum (but not ceramic!).

    The FaceTime idea made no sense to anyone familiar with watchOS or even Apple's developer guidelines that outlined its "glanceable" UI as targeting a few seconds of interaction, rather than sustained video calls.

    Tiny video calls of far poorer quality than the display on the phone you'd actually be using to handle the call anyway really made zero sense on any level. Essentially every other part of his report was also wrong. Yet this report was hailed for a year as being the definitive road map for Apple Watch, until everyone just forgot that everything they'd been told was completely wrong, made up guesswork.

    And yet today, the majority of the most viral headlines about Apple are crafted by these same bloggers, now at major news outlets and claiming to know lots of details about what Apple is actually doing in automotive and other areas where far less is actually known compared to Apple Watch. These same figures collectively predicted that iPhone 7 would be boring, when all signs clearly pointed to major advances.

    Apple's Tim Cook gets blogsplained in how to run a global enterprise by a person who reviews tech products

    Tech media writers can invent attributions, stage false equivalencies and present made-up product rumors and channel checks as credible facts and get away with it, because nobody calls to mind their reports once they've collect all the clicks they can.

    These fast-and-loose reporters are undermining their own credibility and the legitimacy of the media in general. They seem to feel entitled to continue without concern, because Apple is unlikely to correct them out of regard for its own secrecy. But how many times can you report that Apple is failing when it clearly isn't true?

    It's hard to think of a better example of 2016's virtual reality in tech journalism than VR itself, which was hyped into a frenzy and used as a data point showing how Apple was falling behind and failing to meaningfully contribute to the important and imminently commercially-relevant business--right up to the point where VR was ultimately deemed toward the end of the year as being "the biggest loser" of the holiday season.

    Post holiday sales data confirming our holiday buying study that bluetooth headphones (general category) were the big winner this holiday.

    -- Ben Bajarin (@BenBajarin)

    The biggest actual winner so far this holiday season? Bluetooth headphones. That comes after Apple was derided for buying Beats, which now leads in Bluetooth headphones. That acquisition also set Apple up to leverage its silicon prowess to develop its custom W1 chip and release its own AirPods, which appear to be a hit.

    While VR remained the "biggest loser" Bluetooth headphones were a holiday hit

    After so many years of preaching PC Commodity, Android Ascendancy, Tablet Media Consumption Theory, Global Device Volume Market Share, and a basket of other propaganda tactics designed to aggrandize everything outside of the most successful and competent hardware maker, perhaps 2017 is the year for tech journalists to stop trying to effect ideological change and more honestly begin to report reality.
  • Google is downplaying Android to focus its future on Chrome OS

    Five years ago, I described how Google was distancing itself from Android and increasingly pursuing a new strategy around Chrome OS. While that was a controversial idea at the time, Google's latest announcements show that's exactly what the company had been doing.

    In the summer of 2013, AppleInsider published a look at Google's then-new Chromecast, a web streaming device that was based on code from Google TV rather than Android. The article noted this as additional evidence that Google was working to distance itself from the Android platform that the company had developed under the management of Andy Rubin since acquiring it in 2005.

    At the time, Android seemed to be on top of the world. After first appearing as a hobbyist platform from Google in 2008, the new platform had suddenly surpassed expectations by serving as an effective software platform substitute in the production of new handsets, where it replaced JavaME, various mobile Linux distributions, Windows Mobile, Symbian and other platforms that had existed before iPhone.

    A Chrome wrench in the Android works

    Just as Android began taking off among phone hardware makers who were desperate to make something that could compete against iPhones, Google introduced an entirely new operating system: 2009's Chrome OS, initially aimed at netbooks. Google expected hardware makers to produce the first mini-notebooks running Chrome OS by the middle of 2010 -- in parallel with its phone-centric Android 2.0, which had just been released at the end of 2009.

    Google's dual OS strategy wasn't unlike Apple's Mac and iOS, or Microsoft's desktop Windows and Windows Mobile 6.x of the same period. But, it didn't exactly work out as expected. The late 2000's netbook demand that Google planned to capitalize on with Chrome OS was wiped out by iPad in 2010. Additionally, hardware makers weren't even ready to build Chrome OS netbooks until the middle of 2011.

    Chromebook partners like Samsung delivered their first models just as nobody cared about netbooks anymore

    By the end of 2010, Apple had sold nearly 14 million iPads at around $500, solidly shifting excitement in the industry from netbooks to tablets. Google scrambled to react and ended up delaying progress on Android for phones by focusing the next major 3.0 "Honeycomb" version squarely on tablets in 2011, just as Chrome OS licensees were also ready to bring the first netbooks to market.

    Steve Jobs' response to Android and Chrome OS

    Both Honeycomb tablets and Chrome OS netbooks flopped out of the gate. But that wasn't the only problem for Google's Android and Chrome OS. Both had also stirred up contention with Apple, which increasingly saw Google as an assailant rather than a partner.

    In February of 2010, Steve Jobs addressed Apple employees at a Town Hall meeting where he reportedly stated, "make no mistake; Google wants to kill the iPhone. We won't let them," while also disparaging Google's "don't be evil" mantra, calling it a "load of crap."

    Animosity continued to increase between Apple and Google. The pair had previously worked together to bring Google's powerful search and mapping services to iPhone using Apple's user-friendly apps and development platform.

    But, after Google mocked Apple at the release of Android 2.0, Apple stopped integrating new features of Google Maps in iOS, including its Google Latitude location tracking and the Google Maps+Navigation services that debuted with Android 2.0 in late 2009. Jobs had also announced in 2009 that Google's chairman Eric Schmidt would be stepping down from Apple's board, specifically because of Google entry into "more of Apple's core businesses, with Android and now Chrome OS."

    Google now pays Apple billions of dollars every quarter to retain search traffic from Apple's platforms-- but at the time Google's executives acted like a rift with Apple was not a big deal. In 2011, Schmidt confidently predicted that within six months, mobile developers would prioritize Android over iOS, erasing the lead Apple held in mobile development and the iOS App Store. That still hasn't happened seven years later.

    Google exhausts its excitement for Android

    While turning its key partner into an enemy, Google's Android not only failed to take over iOS's leadership in mobile development but also failed to crack into the premium hardware markets Apple was creating around iPhones, the new iPad, and its increasingly high-end Mac offerings.

    Google initially tried to beat the iPad with 2011 Honeycomb tablets that were larger and more expensive, alongside higher-end Android phones that introduced big screens, 4G LTE, NFC, fingerprint scanners and other all-new features. Google also began releasing initiatives to make Android relevant in TV boxes with the short-lived Nexus Q and in video game consoles with Android TV and the now discontinued Nexus Player.

    Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablets
    Google's Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablets were more like PC tablets than Apple's iPad

    As these failed, Google repositioned Android as a way to power a series of low-end 7-inch tablets, notably Google's self-branded 2012-2013 Nexus 7 with an astonishingly low price of just $199. Following cheap tablets, fancy Android phones were giving way to commodity devices with collapsing prices delivering scant profits. The ideas that Android partners would steamroll iOS and that they could advance innovation faster than Apple were becoming increasingly difficult to believe.

    By early 2013, Android's lackluster performance under the management of Andy Rubin resulted in Rubin being sidelined in "new projects." The Android division was handed to Sundar Pichai, the head of Chrome OS development. By 2014 Rubin was out of Google entirely.

    Sundar Pichai and the turning tide against Android

    Under Pichai, Google launched Chromecast in 2013 as a way to challenge Apple's popular AirPlay for wirelessly beaming audio and video from iOS devices to an Apple TV. Yet Chromecast wasn't based on Android. Instead, it used software developed for Chrome OS.

    Pichai also turned the script on Google's "cheap hardware," terminating its low-end tablets and launching the Chromebook Pixel, an expensive Chrome OS netbook priced at $1300 to $1450, taking aim at Apple's popular MacBook Air rather than its lower-priced iPads.

    Chromebook Pixel
    Chromebook Pixel was neither cheap nor Android nor successful

    Previous Chrome OS netbooks from partners including Samsung had been priced around $550. Pichai introduced the Pixel by saying, "the goal was to push the boundary and build something premium."

    Pichai also clearly saw Chrome OS as the future of Google's hardware licensing.

    "We're pushing computing forward," Pichai stated at the time. "It'll definitely make the ecosystem rethink touch. I think people will take the first step toward building tablets with this."

    That didn't happen. Chrome OS remained unpopular and Pixel sales never took off.

    The next year, Google floated another Android tablet, the Nexus 9 ironically code-named "flounder." It was designed to look just like Apple's then wildly popular iPad mini, which had been driving iPad sales into the stratosphere. It also carried a higher price, from $400 to $480, much higher than previous Android tablets from Google and its partners.

    But, its Apple-like price didn't result in Apple-like sales.

    Nexus 9 failed to challenge Apple's iPad or result in even a small commercial success of its own. Android tablets in general began to sink and the tablet market has contracted ever since.

    Google's hope that smartphone apps would simply scale up to a larger screen didn't result in a desirable tablet platform. In contrast, Apple had worked to create iPad optimized apps and showcased this in its introduction of iPads, resulting in a sustainable platform and demand for iPads that could run sophisticated, tablet-optimized iOS apps.

    Despite Google's hopes for Chrome OS, individuals and businesses weren't buying it. So Google began dumping low-end ChromeBooks on U.S. K-12 schools, many of which were happy to get any assistance in deploying low-priced computers of any kind. Four years later, that hasn't raised any tides for Chromebooks aimed at individuals or the enterprise.

    As Chromebook Pixel stagnated as a placeholder product with marginal sales, Google began development of a more affordable new Chrome OS tablet that worked as a "detachable" similar to the Microsoft Surface. Shortly before its release, however, Google decided Chrome OS wasn't going to work and instead launched the device at the end of 2015 as the Pixel C running Android, starting at $500. That made for another expensive, commodity Android tablet, again tied to a platform that could only run stretched smartphone apps.

    Pixel C
    Pixel C was Google's last Android tablet

    Last year, Google discontinued its Chromebook Pixel and the last of its Android tablets. Last week, Google introduced three new devices: Pixel 3 phones, a Home Hub "smart display," and a new Chrome OS Pixel Slate tablet. While it's notable that Google is again trying out Chrome OS instead of Android on its latest tablet, the company also raised eyebrows by dumping Android from its stationary "hub" tablet product.

    Rather than running Android or its officially sanctioned "Android Things" platform created specifically to power smart displays and speakers, Google's new Home Hub is more akin to Chromecast, again running software derived from Pichai's Chrome OS team rather than from Rubin's Android.

    Of the four device categories Google now sells, only one is still based on Android (Pixel phones), while its tablet, TV, and screen products have all moved on. If Chrome OS could run a phone well, Google would likely have made that shift too, but the reality is that it took Google five years to wean itself off Android in tablets. Three years after it introduced "Android Things," it's now weaned itself off of that, too.

    Google is rumored to be building a new "Fuchsia" platform to replace Android on phones and everywhere else it is still used. But the question remains: why is Google abandoning Android as rapidly as it can?

    Intellectual Property issues continue to hound Android

    It looks like Google's shift is from a combination of Android's design as an interpreted Java implementation rather than running native code, the continuing problem of Oracle's intellectual property lawsuits involving Android's appropriation of Sun's Java code, and Pichai's natural affection for his own Chrome OS work rather than Rubin's Android.

    Android fans can insist that the platform isn't inherently flawed but the reality is that Android phones require much more RAM to perform as well as iOS devices, and still can't keep up. Android also hasn't scaled well into wearables, tablets or into other devices.

    Android defenders can insist that Oracle has no legal rights to Android, or that its IP lawsuit has no merit, but the reality is that the case hasn't been thrown out and instead keeps getting stronger for Oracle, threatening to involve billions of damages against Google -- and/or the threat of inserting new regulation or scrutiny into how Google can use Android, a far more devastating prospect than simply paying a fine.

    Since we first published the idea that Google was distancing itself from Android, contrarians have insisted that this idea was preposterous. But here we are a few years later and Google is using non-Android software everywhere it possibly can: Chromecast, tablets, and screens, despite having Android code it could be using instead-- and years after delivering Android Things as a solution it expected third parties to use.

    Google even distancing itself from its "dominating" Android on phones

    Android is still heralded by its fans as a "dominant" platform that ships on most of the world's phones, just as Symbian did a decade ago. But among the companies that actually make any money related to Android, the brand doesn't seem very important. It's rather almost treated as a liability.

    Back in 2013, Android's largest licensee Samsung was already avoiding any direct mention of Android in its marketing of the Galaxy S4, focusing instead upon Samsung's own user interface and security layers, which could effectively be ported to alternative operating systems. At the time, Samsung had been selling Bada and was working on Tizen, both of which aspired to replace Android.

    Samsung's Galaxy S4 web page made one mention of Android in tiny type

    This year, even Google itself appeared to go out of its way to avoid saying even the word "Android." Writing for 9to5Google, Stephen Hall noted that "'Android' wasn't said a single time during the Made by Google 2018 keynote. It marks the first time ever that Google has held a public-facing hardware event like this -- since the introduction of the operating system in 2008 -- without at least mentioning it by name."

    He also noted that Google has stripped "Android" off of much of its app branding. Android Pay and Android Messages are now Google Pay and simply Messages.

    New Android apps and initiatives are also given a Google branding: Google One, Google Allo, Google Tasks. For its latest Pixel 3 products, Hall added that there is "no mention of Android on the retail box. Not even a mention on the boot screen."

    If Android is such a great brand and is "popular" among buyers globally, why are licensees and even Google itself avoiding any mention of it?

    The answers appear to be right in line with what we predicted five years ago. Android lingers under the issue of stolen IP, and its core foundation as a platform is not only flawed but fails to mesh which Google's own core competencies and the focus of its management.

    Google has always been a web services company, building web clients with web tools. It was only with the 2005 acquisition of Rubin's Android project that it got into the business of maintaining a non-web platform. Android simply hasn't worked out well. Google has invested tremendously into the platform but as years go by it hasn't been able to attract the kind of premium users that iOS has.

    Apple has free rein in a world dominated by Android

    The main thing that Android has accomplished is to fill up space that has prevented other potential competitors from taking root. When Microsoft tried to launch Windows Phone in 2010 to leverage its PC partners in taking on Apple's iPhone, it was stymied by the free availability of Android.

    When Samsung similarly tried to get Bada off the ground in 2010, and then Tizen in 2012, it was hampered by Android's lock on smartphone apps and mindshare. Note that Samsung has shifted its own smartwatches and Smart TVs to Tizen, making it clear that it wants off Android as much as Google does.

    Blackberry invested significantly in the development of Blackberry OS X, hoping that the new platform would power tablets, phones and other mobile devices. In a world increasingly dominated by Android, it didn't have a chance to get off the ground. It gave up and adopted Android and has sunk into oblivion ever since.

    Sailfish, Nokia's MeeGo/Maemo/Moblin, Ubuntu Touch and other open source mobile platforms have also been unable to germinate and develop under the suffocating blanket of Android.

    The companies that have used Android without Google, including Amazon's "Fire" fork and various distributions used in China, are largely increasing the legacy footprint of Android without really adding much value. If anything, this use of Android is only contributing to the difficulty in replacing Android with something better, either from Google or from an emerging competitor. Having the entire consumer electronics world largely aligned under Android-- handcuffed by its problems and unable to rapidly and radically innovate-- has been great for Apple

    On the other hand, having the entire consumer electronics world largely aligned under Android-- handcuffed by its problems and unable to rapidly and radically innovate-- has been great for Apple. It means that rather than competing against Microsoft or a radical new innovator it only has to keep ahead of a mobile platform that has never been directly profitable for its developers, and is hampered by its own legacy and fragmentation.

    That has allowed Apple to focus on optimizing iOS to work across generations of iPhones, specialize it to run on tablets and higher-end PC notebook replacements in the form of iPad Pro, and to leisurely develop new platform categories in Apple TV and Apple Watch.

    If Google, Samsung, Microsoft, or any other company were able to create a new platform to replace Android, they would not only face the difficult prospect of breaking through the suffocating atmosphere of the fragmented, installed base of Android. They would also find themselves in competition with an established mobile and wearable platform that generates tens of billions of dollars quarterly, one that has locked up the design of advanced, efficient silicon, and has an extremely sophisticated development platform that generates virtually all of the profits among third-party developers.
  • Video: How Apple's Intelligent Tracking Protection in Safari works

    Have you ever shopped for something on Amazon, and then noticed that other websites and even apps like Facebook are flooded with ads concerning that product? AppleInsider explains how this happens, and how Apple's implementation of Intelligent Tracking Protection in Safari works.

    For example, I once searched Amazon and Googles shopping results for a new pair of Adidas shoes, and it led to over a week of Adidas shoe ads in Facebook, Instagram, and practically any website I visited.

    Apple has been hard at work to prevent this, and their new solution is already hitting ad firms hard, with online advertising businesses reportedly losing out on hundreds of millions of dollars!

    The solution is Safari's new Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature, which came to mobile devices with iOS 11, and also to the Mac with the macOS 10.13 update. Many users are still reluctant to update to iOS 11. But, besides security, I think this feature alone makes updating to iOS 11, totally worth it.

    To understand how this new cross-tracking prevention feature works, let me first explain how cookies work. In short, cookies are bits of data from websites you visit, that are saved onto your device. The biggest example of this is a website saving your login information so you dont have to type it in with every visit.

    These cookies, called first-party cookies, make total sense and are completely safe and in the clear, since websites can only write or create them when a consumer is visiting their website.

    Now comes third-party cookies, where you are being served information or ads from a certain website, while you are on a completely different website. These third-party cookies have always been blocked by Safari, with one exception: if they were originally written as a first-party cookie from a visit to a website.

    This exception for first-party cookies was exploited by some ad tech vendors who developed solutions that wrote cookies using the advertisers domain. An example of this is when you visit a site like Amazon and search for a pair of shoes. A first-party cookie will be created to save your search history.

    Once you leave that site, advertisers could access that first-party cookie in a third-party context, in other words, while youre not on the original website where the cookie was created. They could then read that cookie and serve you ads based on what you searched for, and you end up seeing ads for shoes all over the web.

    Safaris new Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature puts restrictions on whether or not any business can continue to read or update first-party cookies when the user is not directly on the businesss site.

    Apples solution was to only provide third parties looking to use that cookie data with a 24-hour window from when a cookie was last accessed from the originating site. Every time you hit the originating site, the access timer is reset. After 24 hours from the last visit to the site, the time is up, and access is denied.

    This is why you may have still noticed third-party ads on other websites, even after updating to iOS 11.

    For example, last night I was searching for honeymoon packages on Safari, and this morning Ive been seeing Honeymoon ads all over Instagram. Thankfully, with Safaris new cross-site tracking prevention feature, those honeymoon ads should disappear about 9 hours from now, assuming I dont keep searching.

    Otherwise, Id be stuck staring at honeymoon ads for a couple of weeks until the advertising sites and algorithms realized Im not interested in that anymore. This is exactly why this new feature is hitting advertisers hard, and so why so many of them have been protesting Apples Safari tracking changes.

    Getting back to how the new feature works, like we said, access to first-party cookies from a third-party context will only be regained when you visit the primary website again, and in that case, the 24-hour timer will restart.

    If the user doesnt return to the primary website within the next 29 days, the first-party cookie will be entirely deleted.

    The only downside to this is that if you dont log into a website for a whole month, certain information like your login credentials stored in a cookie and not stored in your Keychain can be lost, and youll have to reenter them like it was your first time ever using that website.

    This new feature is not only useful for avoiding those annoying ads, but it also protects your privacy and security.
  • A deep dive into HomePod's adaptive audio, beamforming and why it needs an A8 processor

    The HomePod stands to be an audiophile's ideal speaker when it ships on Feb. 9, in no small part due to the considerable effort Apple has put into audio processing for the device. Audio expert Matt Hines of iZotope explains some of the technical hurdles Apple and other smart speaker producers have to overcome to provide a high-quality audio experience in a wide variety of environments.

    The first problem Apple and similar firms face when creating an intelligent speaker, like the HomePod, is to ensure there is an optimal audio experience for the user, regardless of where they are in the room. Hines, product manager of Spire by iZotope and guest on this week's AppleInsider Podcast, says the exact position of the user can dramatically affect the sound from a normal speaker, with the problem compounded by local acoustics.

    Moving a speaker around a room alters the sound reflections in a dramatic way, Hines suggests, such as a loss of bass frequencies when moving towards the corner of a room. While bouncing around the room, the reflections can multiply the sound in different ways, potentially causing some resonant frequencies to become inconsistently louder, an effect that is particularly noticeable for longer wavelengths.

    "Depending on where the ear is, you'll hear sudden, violent variations in frequency levels, which is why bass might disappear in the corner of a room," advises Hines. "It also helps explain why you'll argue with your family about whether the TV is too quiet or loud enough -- and you could all be right -- just sat in juxtaposed locations within a room."

    Items located within the local environment can also change sound quality, with soft furnishings absorbing some noise while harder surfaces have a tendency to reflect it. This is why places relating to audio production or audio consumption, like a recording studio or a high-end home cinema room, carefully select the materials they place on their walls, floors, and ceilings to shape the sound to the user's needs.

    In the case of Apple, it's using array of six microphones and a digital signal processor (DSP) to understand the environment based on its acoustics, and adapt the device's output to better suit its physical location and the room's audio profile. Considering the multiple speakers and the microphone array, it is possible for such a system to customize the output of each speaker to allow for a similar sound to be heard through as much of the environment's space as possible.

    If HomePod is running a realtime DSP that can alter the sound emitted from each of the device's seven tweeter speakers, it can constantly change the profile even if the environment itself changes, such as the mass of the listener moving to a different location in the same area. The experience is consistent regardless of position, with Hines adding the consistency will make listening to music "more seamless and more immersive."

    The DSP and this adaptive acoustic processing system will also help when the HomePod gains its stereo audio feature in a future update, one that will offer stereo audio split across two HomePods.

    In a typical stereo audio setup, "adjusting the listening position even an inch will have a very material impact on the arrival time of the audio to your ear," Hines stresses. "The crosstalk between speakers is now different and the room reflections are too."

    This raises an issue for the HomePod if it plays straight stereo without any adaptations, as the audio will almost certainly be affected by the position of the user. "A true stereo setup for HomePod would be a bad user experience, which Apple aren't in the business of offering."

    By using this audio adaptation, which Apple has attempted to patent, it means that the HomePods are able to take each other into account, so the stereo experience will still be present and enjoyable for those near enough to them to hear it, while still keeping the audio listenable in other areas of the room.

    The microphone array, DSP, and speaker collection also helps the HomePod in other ways, aside from playing audio. As the HomePod has voice-enabled features, such as those used by Siri, the system also helps with its reception of speech from users.

    The beamforming technology allows the HomePod to determine the position of the user relative to the device, and in turn adjust its microphone settings to better acquire audio from that direction. In effect, the audio feeds from all of the microphones in the array are analyzed for speech, with any extra noises picked up by the array used to remove extraneous sounds from the sound of the voice, making it clearer.

    "A beam-form mic array means that while there are multiple mics pointed in every direction, they can weight the signal received by each mic differently depending on a sort of correlation matrix," Hines explains, continuing that the processing "helps reject environmental surrounding ambience, and highlight only the more transient, desired speech material."

    Hines illustrates the difference in audio quality via an example of typical speakerphone systems, which use a single microphone that degrades in audio quality if the user moves further away or turns to speak in a different direction. While using an array of microphones pointed in all directions would provide more than enough coverage of a room to pick up the user's voice wherever they are, it would also pick up unwanted sounds from around the room that would need processing to remove.

    "This weighting is a constant computational process, so as you walk around a HomePod, those microphones are smart enough to know about it, and to ensure that you sound just as clear."

    This system also enables acoustic echo cancellation, significantly reducing the potential for feedback, an issue commonly endured when a speaker is placed too close to a connected microphone, with the resulting audio loop usually causing a high-pitched whine. Hines notes HomePod is intelligent enough to recognize occasions where the sound its making is being fed back to itself, such as a reflection from a wall or other nearby flat surface, allowing it to cancel that sound from the audio signal.

    The echo cancellation and beamforming technology will help with more than the ability to hand off calls from an iPhone to the HomePod. Providing as clean an audio feed as possible will help improve Siri's voice recognition accuracy, making it less likely to misinterpret a command or a query.

    "Simply put, there is a ton of stuff happening automatically in order to offer you a smart speaker that sounds good and works well regardless of where you are in your home," Hines declares. "Elegant simplicity is the hardest thing to build by far."

    Hines notes all of this audio processing, as well as other features like AirPlay 2, Siri, and HomeKit, is performed using the A8 processor, as used in the iPhone 6. Apple's need to use such a powerful chip to perform all of these functions and more, which Hines suggests could be seen by users as seemingly doing "less" than the usual workload of an iPhone is a "testament to how much is actually going on inside" the HomePod.
  • App Store review ridiculousness: Apple rejects AppleInsider's iPhone X app update because ...

    Apple's strict control of the App Store and content available on it continues to be both a blessing and a curse, as AppleInsider itself discovered this week, when the iPhone X update for our app was rejected simply because we published a news story about jailbreaking.

    I was notified by our developers at Crafted Monday evening that the new app update, which has been in the works for some time, was officially rejected by Apple. The reason? Last Friday, we published a news report on Alibaba researchers who apparently cracked into iOS 11.2.1, allowing it to run unauthorized code.

    This process, known as "jailbreaking," is frowned upon by Apple. And, presumably, any apps that help people to jailbreak their iPhone are banned from the App Store.

    AppleInsider's news story, meanwhile, simply covered the fact that iOS 11.2.1 had been hacked, and provided no details on how to actually jailbreak.

    Those facts did not matter in Apple's App Store review process, however.

    As managing editor of AppleInsider's editorial content, I don't have direct control over our development team. But I have received the countless emails and tweets from readers who are upset that the AppleInsider app has not yet been updated for iPhone X.

    Often, these notes are incredulous. After all, we're an Apple-focused website, they say. We should be among the first to add support for new Apple devices, they assert.

    The economics of app development aside (in which I have no part from a business perspective), such complaints and perceptions are ultimately a bad thing for the AppleInsider brand. In other words, it's in our best interest to launch our iPhone X app update as quickly as possible.

    As an independent website, AppleInsider prides itself in providing fair, sane and measured coverage of both Apple products and Apple as a company. Obviously, we won't be shying away from stories about jailbreaking because of issues in the iOS App Store review process.

    But our own experiences do highlight the strange and downright confusing submit-and-pray App Store review situation. In our case, revising and resubmitting the app costs more time and money, in a situation where Apple could be perceived as trying to leverage editorial control of the news we publish.

    Further, our rejection comes as a completely bogus, scam version of the game "Cuphead" launched on the App Store on Monday. It would be one thing if Apple's review process caught all of the truly bad actors, but our own app was wrongly rejected for editorial content while a $4.99 ripoff, designed to trick and take money from customers, was freely available to purchase on the store for hours.

    Heaven forbid you're able to read about jailbreaking, though.

    In theory, the App Store review process should prevent situations like the fake "Cuphead" release. And if, in practice, it caught those kinds of apps while sometimes mistakenly snagging others, some might argue that's an acceptable tradeoff.

    Unfortunately, in reality, App Store screenings are not consistent or reliable enough to build and submit an app with complete confidence that it will be approved. As evidenced by AppleInsider's situation, a submitted app update can become ensnared by a completely unexpected issue that has nothing to do with the functionality of the app itself.

    For now, you can still download the AppleInsider app for iOS, and even read about the latest jailbreaking news, if you so desire. Just know that the app doesn't support the iPhone X -- yet. And unfortunately, that's out of our control.
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  • Consumer Reports' dismissal of HomePod a familiar tale to Apple fans [u]

    Testing stalwart Consumer Reports declared this week that Apple's HomePod falls behind Google's Home Max -- and even the Sonos One -- in terms of audio quality. To anyone who knows the publication's controversial history with Apple products, that conclusion is utterly unsurprising.

    In Friday's screed, the same day as the product was released, Consumer Reports, after less than a day of use and comparison, declared the Sonos One, and the Google Home Max the champions for sound quality. That's noteworthy, because virtually every other major test conducted since the launch of HomePod, including AppleInsider's own comparisons, found that Apple's product offers superior sound.

    Don't just take our word for it (twice), though. Engadget on Tuesday agreed with the prevailing wisdom on it, as did USA Today, The Verge, What Hi-Fi, a very particular Redditor, and a pile of other venues.

    Consumer Reports is, of course, entitled to its opinion -- sound quality assessments are highly subjective.

    But two factors suggest that the report isn't relevant, nor of any particular value. Primarily, Consumer Reports has a long history of berating Apple products for issues that don't seem to actually manifest in any real-world environment. Second, their HomePod comparison has come to a conclusion that only they seem to hold.


    Back in 2010, Consumer Reports used its public-facing webpage to flog issues it had with the iPhone 4 antenna. But it required a subscription to the site to view the entire comparative analysis, where it ranked the iPhone 4 above all other smartphones of the day, saying that the antenna issue was completely solved by applying piece of transparent tape over the antenna line in the casing, using a protective case, or not squeezing it with a "death grip" while making a phone call.

    That fired up the internet as a whole, who saw only the public-facing post decrying the antenna -- yet the same complainants were not widely exposed to the full report stashed behind a paywall that said that the problems were incredibly minor and the iPhone 4 was at the top of the heap.

    As a result of the growing controversy, Apple uncharacteristically made a public statement, and provided free cases for early adopters, in an attempt to put the issue to bed.
    Gripping any mobile phone will result in some attenuation of its antenna performance, with certain places being worse than others depending on the placement of the antennas. This is a fact of life for every wireless phone. If you ever experience this on your iPhone 4, avoid gripping it in the lower left corner in a way that covers both sides of the black strip in the metal band, or simply use one of many available cases.
    The laws of physics are inescapable, and every smartphone even now can be shielded by human flesh when pressed up against an antenna gap

    And yet, somehow, this only applied to the iPhone 4, and not the other devices on the list according to the venue -- even though at the same time literally every other phone on their evaluation was seeing the same thing.

    Consumer Reports didn't bother to say anything about it afterward.

    The 2016 MacBook Pro

    Apple released the MacBook Pro redesign in the fall of 2016, and there was much to be said about it. As it always does, Consumer Reports got their hands on one shortly after the machines shipped in late October and early November.

    After about a month and a half of testing, in a post on their website, the publication said that while the new machines earned high marks in display quality and performance, they were found lacking in terms of battery life. Specifically, the battery performance of models tested "varied dramatically" during trials, and was as low as four hours, with the computers that were not under serious load.

    However, it was discovered that, during their testing, Consumer Reports toggled a hidden developer setting, which triggered an obscure bug. While the bug's presence was Apple's responsibility, tooling around in the developer's settings for Safari isn't a "real world" test, contrary to what publication claims.

    "This is not a setting used by customers and does not reflect real-world usage. Their use of this developer setting also triggered an obscure and intermittent bug reloading icons which created inconsistent results in their lab," Apple said. "After we asked Consumer Reports to run the same test using normal user settings, they told us their MacBook Pro systems consistently delivered the expected battery life."

    Following the bug fix, and Consumer Reports not messing around with developer settings, the product testers reinstated their recommendation for the machine -- an improvement over how they handled the iPhone 4 debacle.

    Unlike its declaration about the HomePod Monday just three days after release, Consumer Reports waited until its month-long testing was fully complete on the MacBook Pro before it published the results.

    The iPhone X

    The publication also disclosed its testing on the iPhone X and a bevy of other smartphones on Dec. 5 of last year, a month after the iPhone X became available. That report found the publication recommending the Galaxy S8 above the iPhone 8 Plus, with the iPhone X in a very close third spot.

    The testing was dramatic, with the phones taking major screen damage in a steel tumbling device after 50 rotations. We're not sure how "real world" this is, as the vast majority of iPhone drops are from approximately three feet to concrete, and only a few times in a product's life.

    The iPhone X tumbler
    The iPhone X tumbler

    However, again, Consumer Reports didn't talk about early results until they had been beating on the phones in question for a month -- more than 10 times the length of time it had before it judged the HomePod.

    Review challenges

    Consumer Reports has every legal right to share its opinions, the same as AppleInsider or any other venue. Examining a product in a review is, by definition, a subjective process, with audio product reviews producing the widest gap of opinion.

    If you're looking for an "objective review," or similar phrasing, you aren't looking for a review at all. Instead, find a news item dispassionately discussing the technical specifications of a product. By definition, a review isn't that, and is chock-full of opinions about a product.

    Perhaps Consumer Reports felt like they had collected all the information they needed after just a few days. That's possible, and with a product evaluated in a vacuum, and not compared to much else, a review can be done in less than that timeframe. However, this is contrary to every other consumer electronics comparison that the organization has ever done.

    Damning with faint praise

    It would have been better had Consumer Reports waited until their comparative testing was done to scream loudly that one smart speaker sounds better than the next. But, instead, this nearly century-old publication decided to say very little about how they reached their conclusions. Instead, they sensationally disclosed their findings, some of which flew contrary to everyone else's. And they did so just days after a product release, and yet they still give themselves an out if their exhaustive testing proved otherwise.

    Why they took this atypical path to publication, we don't know, and can only guess, since they have yet to respond to questions about the release.

    Right now, we don't know anything about the testing methodology. We don't know why Consumer Reports decided what it did, despite their press release vividly declaring that Google's offering is better.

    I am not here to defend the HomePod, and Apple neither requires nor desires my assistance -- and that's how it should be. I don't have a HomePod, nor do I have a Google Home Max, so I can't speak to the accuracy of the Consumer Reports declaration.

    But Monday's report, how it was disclosed, and a lack of a supporting narrative for the opinion, is not a good look for Consumer Reports, given their history with Apple products. The release is contrary to their own stated mission of "rigorously testing products" before advising the public.

    Worse yet, the early announcement stands in violation of what I think is their most profound mission -- they have failed to be a publication capable of "fearlessly investigating where markets have failed," and look to have become part of the problem instead.

    Update: Consumer Reports published a rebuttal on Tuesday evening. They noted in the rebuttal that they published their first look at the HomePod on Friday, and not Monday, and differed with some of our interpretations of the examination -- but we stand by our stance on the matter.

    AppleInsider has asked some follow-up questions, specifically about how Consumer Reports came to their conclusion about the HomePod and their interpretation of the MacBook Pro testing regimen versus what Apple had to say about the dialog, and will update accordingly.
  • Google's Pixel 2 XL priced higher than Apple's iPhone 8 Plus but is half as fast, lacks ma...

    Google's latest effort to show off its vision for "Pure Android" hardware costs more than Apple's iPhone 8 Plus but is half as fast, lacks a telephoto lens, offers no support for Qi wireless charging, isn't capable of recording smooth 60fps 4K video and--like Windows 10 Mobile--offers no potential of an installed base for building new, compelling AR apps.

    Pixel 2 and 2 XL are premium priced but poorly equipped

    Perhaps even more remarkably, the latest "Phone by Google" lacks support for SD Cards and removable batteries and lacks the extra RAM and processing power needed to run Android, as well lacking the legacy headphone jack that Google itself promoted as valuable and necessary just last year. It also features proprietary dongles that cost significantly more than Apple's, and doesn't even bundle in a pair of headphones.

    Priced more than the much faster iPhone 8 Plus

    In a departure from its earlier Nexus phones that aimed to deliver Android on a budget-- as well as Google's mantra about seeking to deliver $100 phones for people in developing countries-- the company's LG-built Pixel 2 XL demands a premium price, starting at $849 for the 64-gigabyte version. iPhone 8 Plus with the same storage is $799. Pixel 2 XL demands a premium price, starting at $849 for the 64-gigabyte version. iPhone 8 Plus with the same storage is $799

    Pixel 2 XL offers a 128GB option for $100 more, but for that price you can buy an iPhone 8 Plus with 256GB (twice the storage), an option that's not even available on Pixel phones.

    That puts you at $949. Buy a pair of headphones and you're awfully close to that $1000 price of Apple's future forward iPhone X that got everyone so upset just thinking about it.

    That's the prices Google has set for its pedestrian Pixel 2 XL, a phone that lacks the sophisticated hardware, the serious software, the enterprise credibility and the attractive design of an iPhone 8 Plus. Pixel 2 XL, along with its mismatched Pixel 2 built by HTC, look like a couple of plastic, abandoned refrigerators, not sleek smartphones.

    If nobody cares that its broke, don't fix it!

    Google's Pixel 2 XL has 4GB of system RAM, vs 3GB in Apple's iPhone 8 Plus. That's an issue because Android does a far worse job at managing memory. In fact, third-party testing has shown that Android software, particularly games, routinely use up four times the RAM as the same software running on iOS.

    Over the last several years, Apple's A-series Application Processors running at slower clock speeds have trounced leading Android flagship phones in performance benchmarks despite those phones having higher clock speeds and being packed with much more RAM. Google's Android OS is so bad at memory management that even simple tasks such as opening apps and multitasking between apps open in the background takes two to four times as long compared to Apple's iOS

    Additional RAM generally makes a computing system more efficient, up to point. How much it helps is constrained by the ability of the operating system to effectively manage how the system uses available memory.

    Google's Android OS is so bad at memory management that even simple tasks such as opening apps and multitasking between apps open in the background takes two to four times as long compared to Apple's iOS, even when those Androids are packed with more RAM.

    The fastest multitasker among a group of Android flagships tested this spring was a phone made by China's BBK, the OnePlus 3T. It packs an incredible 6GB of RAM, but was still just half as fast in working between apps as an iPhone 7 Plus with 3GB. The worst performer? Google's Pixel, with the same 4GB as this year's Pixel 2.

    Yet this year, Google thought it was more important to raise the price of its phone than to add more RAM, or overhaul the incredibly sloppy architecture of its Android OS. Despite its last-place performance, there's been no shortage of pundit praise for Google's Pixel brand, which was neither cost-effective nor impressively equipped in hardware.

    David Pierce of Wired, Napier Lopez of TheNextWeb, Ron Amadeo of Ars Technica, Andrew Griffin of The Independent UK, Alex Dobie of Android Central, the staff of The Wirecutter, Steve Kovach of Business Insider, and--of course--Dan Seifert of the Verge and Dieter Bohn the Verge and Walt Mossberg of the Verge all declared the Google Pixel to be the very best Android available.

    In this bizarro world of starry-eyed Google-fandom, it appears that nobody cares about snappy performance, premium phone prices, inadequate hardware specs or having a phone that looks like a cheaper copy of last year's iPhone.

    Vlad Savov even wrote of the original Pixel that "the Google phone is almost as good as the iPhone," again for the Verge--calling the whole point of Google's years of failed Android attempts with Nexus, Motorola and Pixel into question.

    However, despite all the glowing accolades from the Android press (and tons of web advertising from the world's top web ad network), Google's Pixel has seen very limited actual sales. Even in its peak launch quarter, Pixel only sold about as many units as Apple Watch (estimates for both are around 4-5 million), but Apple Watch is a premium iPhone accessory, not a must-have smartphone that everyone carries.

    Stuck on the slow Qualcomm path

    Minimal RAM and Android memory management aside, there's another reason why Google's premium-priced Pixel 2 XL is slower than iPhone 8 Plus: it's stuck using the only premium processor family still available to higher-end Android flagships: Qualcomm Snapdragon.

    Other performance-oriented mobile processor architectures (including Nvidia's Tegra and TI's OMAP) have abandoned the smartphone business, largely because neither Android nor Microsoft's Windows 10 Mobile could maintain sustaining sales of high-end phones.

    After years of racing to the bargain-bottom with products like the $299 Nexus 4 and working to facilitate the $100 Android One for developing nations, there are simply few options left for fast, premium chips at any price.

    Google's Pixel 2 XL (along with the standard Pixel 2) are forced to use a significantly weaker Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor. Apple's A11 Bionic chip used in iPhone 8 Plus (as well as iPhone 8 and iPhone X) is a remarkable 118 percent faster at typical single core tasks, and ramps up to reach multiple core scores more than 64 percent faster than Qualcomm's 835.

    Note that those scores are based on testing of Xiaomi's Mi 6, which pairs the same processor as Pixel 2 XL but with 6GB of RAM, 50 percent more than Google installs.

    Further, Geekbench is just measuring basic CPU functions crunching math algorithms. Apple notes that the A11 Bionic includes not just additional cores, but a new performance controller that's 70 percent faster at managing multithreaded workloads than last year's A10 Fusion.

    A11 Bionic is also faster in GPU performance and has high-performance silicon dedicated to machine learning, media compression and an advanced SSD storage controller (Pixel 2 models use the basic UFS 2.0 interface, compared to iPhone 8 with NVMe). All this adds up to a phone that's faster at real-world operations from opening files to editing videos.

    Not only is the Pixel 2 XL's brain slower, but it's tasked with managing 3.6 million pixels, an invisible-to-the-eye "advantage" in resolution that inherently contributes to slower performance in graphics given that iPhone 8 Plus only has to manage 2 million.

    In the scores above, the Xiaomi Mi 6 with more RAM also drives a 1920x1080 display, the same as the smaller Pixel 2 and iPhone 8 Plus. Google's Pixel 2 XL is tasked with a 2560x1440 display, so it has multiple reasons to reach scores even lower than the Mi 6 (despite being priced much higher).

    Google's Pixel 2 lineup is not just slower than Apple's iPhone 8 Plus, it's slow and poorly equipped for an Android. It's also absurdly priced for being an Android, given that Mi 6 costs about $420 for the 6GB version with 128GB of storage. Of course, that model is only sold in China. It doesn't run Google Play services, and likely doesn't work on LTE networks outside of China, despite using the same integrated Qualcomm modem as Pixel 2.

    That comparison does however highlight the absurdity of the contempt for Apple shown by Android fans, who point to prices and market share numbers of "Android" in China to denigrate Apple's "expensive and boring" iPhone, then turn around and suggest a willingness to pay more than iPhone prices for a Google phone that's less exciting than last year's iPhone, while having a slower processor and anemic memory.

    Tasked with collecting data

    While literally less powerful at its core, Google's Pixel 2 lineup has strategically decided to activate an always-listening microphone, ostensibly so users can identify ambient tunes faster than one could think to ask Siri what's playing.

    Amazon Echo in your pocket, always listening

    The reality is that this serves as a full time listening bug so Google can analyze everything it hears all the time, just like Google Home. It listens to what shows you have playing, what music you hear, what advertising you're exposed to, and what you say in personal conversations. You pay for Google's data collection with taxed performance and lower battery life. You also pay a premium price for the hardware, which is even slow by Android standards.

    Along with its spy mic in Pixel 2 models, Google also introduced a $250 Clips camera that serves as a home security system without any security: it just records candid moments all the time, generating tons of images that it hopes you'll sync up to your free Google cloud storage for analysis. Google wants to be Amazon, and wants you to pay for this.

    At Google IO this summer, the company also showed off a brainstorm of Android camera sharing features to automatically send images to people who it thinks are your friends appearing in the images you capture.

    All of these ideas seem as poorly considered-- perhaps analytically amoral-- as Google's hosting and selling of Russian propaganda and placements of ads next to extremist hate speech on YouTube.

    Pixel 2 is Google's woefully inferior, uglier yet more expensive version of last year's iPhone, with less security and more shamelessly overt spyware to track your behavior and then profile you for to anyone that might pay for targeted messages, regardless of how awful they might be.

    Pixel 2 has more expensive dongles, lacks modern new features and dumps several ideas that Google paraded as important last year. It fully reflects its maker as a greed machine without a shred of shame or humanity; a company that sees no value in honesty or integrity. Unsurprisingly, it gets top marks from phony reviewers.

    Pay all attention to the DxOMark behind the curtain

    Google touted the new Pixel 2 and 2 XL phones as being awarded the highest mobile camera scores by DxOMark, numbers it conveniently obtained before even publicly releasing the phone. Last year it did the same thing.

    DxOMark never got around to scoring Apple's iPhone 7 Plus, determining that it didn't have the setup to rank its new hardware features. Even worse, DxOMark's scores last year did not accompany evidence of superior results from the Pixel. In fact, its report portrayed Pixel photos as performing worse in low light than its peers.

    What is DxOMark scoring? Certainly not just the ability of a camera to take photos. The firm is a for-profit consultancy that licenses its internal DxO Analyzer tool for rating image quality, offering "installation, training and consulting services."

    That means its rankings share some of the problems of benchmark tools that can be used to "optimize for benchmark scores" rather than for performance. But there are other issues with DxO's numbers voiced by everyone from professional photographers to mobile device bloggers of all persuasions.

    Notably, Android Police stated last year that "DxO has an open conflict of interest (they certainly don't hide it) in judging such things given their financial interest in the whole ordeal, and should probably not be blindly trusted as a source of objective performance data on smartphone cameras." Google appears to be using DxO as a distraction away from the actual details of Pixel 2 photos and its camera features

    That observation was made after DxO awarded high scores to a Samsung Android phone.

    Conversely, after DxO awarded high scores to iPhone 8, it was an Apple-aligned writer (John Gruber of Daring Fireball) who wrote that "DXO ratings are horseshit," in a piece that noted DxO ratings "assign precise numbers like 96 for photos,' 89 for video,' and 55 for bokeh' -- but these numbers just give a false illusion of scientific rigor."

    "Particularly with their overall' score," he stated, "DXO is pretending to assign an objective scientific-looking measurement to something that is inherently subjective."

    Google appears to be using DxO as a distraction away from the actual details of Pixel 2 photos and its camera features, focusing attention instead on a precise number offering a "false illusion of scientific rigor."

    Missing features: camera

    There's a lot for Google to distract attention away from. Pixel 2 XL lacks the dual cameras introduced on last year's iPhone 7 Plus, including its support for 2x optical telephoto, and it uses a two element flash as opposed to the brighter, more accurate illumination of the four LED flash on Apple's iPhone 7 models.

    iPhone 7 Plus telephoto lens

    This year's iPhone 8 Plus further enhances its camera features, using dual lens differential depth processing to apply not just shallow depth of field Portrait capture, but also foreground Portrait Lighting processing of the subject, allowing you to select AR lighting effects that fully exploit the advantage of having two lenses.

    Google's Pixel 2 XL creates a blurred background effect through edge detection, making it possible to fake Portrait mode for a still shot, but failing to replicate what dual lenses can do in video using iOS 11's new Depth API.

    Apple's new Slow Sync flash on iPhone 8 turns the LED flash from a device that ruins most photos into a very useful tool, allowing you to capture foreground subjects with natural, flattering light that isn't overpowering while also picking up details in the background. Google's Pixel 2 XL still has a basic flash.

    Barely mentioned anywhere is the fact that Pixel 2 models can still only record 4K video at 30fps, which results in jittery video pans. Apple's newest phones can capture 4K in 60fps, as well 1080p Slomo at 240fps. Pixel 2 phones can only capture half that frame rate, putting them a solid year behind iPhone 8 models.

    iPhone 8 also saves its videos in High Efficiency HEVC format, the newest compression technology. Google has bet on its own compression technology, which is inferior in both size and capability, again leaving Pixel 2 a year behind Apple in codec technology (which incidentally, enables the ability to perform high frame rate video). Neither can be addressed in a software update.

    Despite all of this, Pixel 2 XL demands a higher price. Google (and most everyone covering its event) brushed all the facts aside to instead repeat an arbitrary DxO score delivered as proof the Pixel 2 camera is automatically better than everything else--even phones that don't have a score--despite lacking the hardware to capture great photos and take creative shots.

    It's noteworthy that last year, Google waved around DxO scores to distract from its Pixel lineup lacking OIS, dual cameras and zoom. Take a dimly lit skyline panorama with a Pixel phone and it appears to be capturing amazing amounts of light. However, the finished capture is blown out with no detail, and rather useless as a photo. Never mind, here's a high score!

    Hype and Hypocrisy

    At the same time, Google also bragged last year that its Pixel phones didn't have a "camera bump," as if less capable optics were an aesthetic feature.

    The problem of the "camera bump" was suddenly invented at the release of iPhone 6s, the first iPhone with a ring around its camera lens. It was commonly vilified as ugly and soul destroying because the device wouldn't lay flat on a table unless it was in a case. Never mind that most other Android phones already had "camera bumps" of some sort, often larger.

    After Google promoted Pixel XL's single piece of glass covering the top of its back and the camera lens as a superior design, actual users began reporting that any damage to the rear glass was not only difficult to fix on the niche phone, but also spread cracks across the camera lens, making it really bad at taking pictures at all.

    Pixel after a drop: no more camera. Source: TechRadar

    This year, Pixel 2 XL introduces a camera bump, and suddenly camera bumps are fine. Meanwhile, both Phone 7 Plus and 8 Plus have celebrated the camera bump, leveraging the additional bump to allow the phones to take better, more versatile photos as well as using their 2x zoom lens in video, slo-mo, time-lapse and panoramas.

    A similar double standard applied in Apple's elimination of headphone jacks, a subject vilified on last year's iPhone 7 despite making it possible to deliver the water resistance that last year's Pixel phones lacked. Now that Google has given up its own marketing and fallen in line behind Apple, the outrage and castigation of headphone jack removal has shriveled up into barely a mention by sites including the Verge, which inflamed the issue last year as "user hostile" and "stupid." Now that Google has given up its own marketing and fallen in line behind Apple, the outrage and castigation of headphone jack removal has shriveled up into barely a mention

    Unlike the Lighting port on iPhone 7 and later models that lack a headphone jack, Pixel 2 phones supply a USB-C connector, which remains new and more difficult to obtain. Apple moved to its proprietary Lightning connector in 2012, and now all modern iOS devices use it--an installed base nearing a billion devices. That makes it relatively easy to find digital Lightning headphones and Lightning power adapters.

    USB-C is so new only a few new Android phones use it. Even Samsung's Galaxy S7 flagship used micro-USB, the common "Android phone" standard. The result is that it's far less common to find a USB-C cable charger among friends or when trying to recharge at a pub or other establishment. Google's adapter also costs twice as much as Apple's.

    The Pixel 2 XL does pack a larger battery, and features the same USB-PD fast charging mode as iPhone 8. But unlike many Android flagships, the Pixel's battery is not removable, another feature Android buyers commonly complain about. One advantage Google has over iPhone models is that Pixel bundles an 18watt charger, while Apple includes only a slow 5watt adapter, meaning that to take advantage of fast charging, you'll need to buy a separate cable and adapter (or use the one that ships with modern MacBooks).

    Another power-related feature that relates to the removal audio jack is that last year, iPhone 7 models were criticized for not being easy to power while listening to headphones. Today's Pixel 2 has the same issue, and Google's solution is to buy an expensive $40 adapter that splits out a headphone jack from USB-C.

    Apple offers a couple of less expensive wired solutions, but also now supports Qi wireless charging, so you can listen while charging without any secondary adapters, whether at home or at a Starbucks or airport lounge. Pixel 2 models offer no support for wireless charging.

    Apple also introduced wireless AirPods as an alternative to the wired EarPods in bundles with new iPhones. Google doesn't bundle headphones, and offers "wireless" headphones that are connected by a wire, Pixel Buds. These were promoted as performing rapid translation, but the headphones don't actually do translation. The phone does the translation, just as Siri would on an iPhone.

    Priced like AirPods, "wireless" Pixel Buds

    Pixel Buds don't have the same auto-detection of when they're in your ear, as AirPods do, and don't actually fit into your ear canal. Instead, they wedge their neck-cord loop in your ear and hang on the edge of your ear canal.

    There's no ability to use their touch sensors to control song playback, and they don't automatically shut off when removed. But they cost the same price as AirPods, despite looking like cheap branded things Google would give away at a conference.

    More missing features: Haptic feedback, 3D Touch, TrueTone

    Despite rumors that Android would catch up to 2015's iPhone 6s and its support for depth sensitive 3D Touch, Google's Pixel 2 XL doesn't offer anything similar.

    It also lacks the precise Taptic Engine of iPhone 7 and 8 that's designed to provide haptic feedback in conjunction with 3D Touch, its solid state Home button, system-wide haptic feedback and custom haptic ringtones. Like older phones, Pixel only supports basic vibration.

    Additionally, Pixel 2 phones don't support anything like iPhone 8's TrueTone, which uses ambient light temperature sensors to adjust the display to appear natural in different lighting scenarios.

    Because 3D Touch, haptic feedback and TrueTone are all hardware features, there's no way that future Android releases can add that functionality to Google's current generation of Pixel phones.

    Every Google Phone is forgotten after it flops

    The more expensive, feature-challenged Pixel 2 XL undercuts Google's promotion of Android as being affordable and designed for the billions of people of Earth. It doesn't match the latest features of iOS, and continues to promote sending data to Google rather than protecting users' privacy as a desirable security. Who would buy it in volumes that might matter? That remains a mystery.

    Google has now been building and designing phones for a decade without ever creating a significant installed base or making any money from its vanity hardware busywork. That's a long time to be looking for your first hit in the hardware world.Google has now been building and designing phones for a decade without ever creating a significant installed base or making any money from its vanity hardware busywork. That's a long time to be looking for your first hit in the hardware world

    A major reason why Google keeps hauling out inferior products that fail in the marketplace is that reviewers in the media fawn over them as the emperor's new clothes, only to clap delightedly again the next year, Soviet-style, ignoring the cycle of failure that has kept Google from ever making any actual progress. Real feedback might prod Google to be competitive, or to give up on businesses it clearly isn't any good at to focus on what it actually can do.

    Google's first Android partnership to "take on" Apple's iPhone arrived in 2008, built by HTC: the Tmobile G1 (aka Magic). It was the first phone Google shipped with Android, and was specifically customized by Google to deliver a trackball and physical keyboard rather than relying on multitouch input.

    The G1 also lacked a headphone jack, instead supplying a proprietary ExtUSB port with an external adapter for plugging in headphones. All of those design decisions were terrible.

    Despite insisting at the time that the G1 keyboard was important and the headphone jack was not, Google and HTC later replaced the G1 with myTouch (Dream), a similar phone lacking a physical keyboard but adding a headphone jack on some versions.

    One year later, Google released a successor with HTC named Nexus One (Passion), which was launched in conjunction with Android 2.0 in 2009. It also retained the trackball unique to Google's original pure vision for Android phones, but lacked a physical keyboard and standardized on including a headphone jack.

    Writing for Engadget, Joshua Topolsky declared "the genuine-article Google Phone is finally here," and wrote that "while it's unmistakably HTC, there are plenty of design cues that feel authentically Google as well," a continuation of the earlier G1 that "Google worked tightly with HTC to create."

    Later in 2010, however, Google launched Android 2.3 alongside a new partner: Samsung. The Nexus S was mostly just a rebadged version of Samsung's Galaxy S, which so closely copied the iPhone that it launched the initial lawsuit between Apple and Samsung. "The genuine-article Google Phone is finally here" - Engadget 2010

    Samsung wrestled for control over the Nexus partnership, resulting in the successor being named Galaxy Nexus rather than Google's rumored choice of "Nexus Prime."

    In 2011, Google initiated efforts to take over Motorola Mobility in a bid to become a hardware maker itself. After purging most of Motorola's existing product designs it began work on new phone hardware more in line with its own vision for what Android hardware should be.

    In 2012, Google introduced a stopgap rebadging of an LG phone, sold as the Nexus 4--as tensions mounted between the search giant and Samsung, Android's largest licensee. The phone was given an entry price of $299 to attract buyers. Google continued working with LG to deliver the Nexus 5 and 5X in 2014 and 2015.

    The late-2013 Moto X was created entirely within Google's new Motorola subsidiary. Like previous Nexus partnerships it was hailed as being custom-created by Google, but it was also built under Google's direction.

    Moto X failed to sell as expected, resulting in a price slashing from $550 to $399 within its first few months. Motorola lost over $700 million for Google over just six months of Moto X sales, leaving Google ready to get rid of Motorola in 2014.

    Despite gestating under Google's ownership, Dieter Bohn of the Verge called Moto X "the first phone that truly reflects the new company's post-Google philosophies, it's thoroughly a Motorola phone, not a Google phone."

    Somewhat confusingly, some in tech media decided that phones designed and built directly by Google were not "Google phones," but phones built by other companies with input from Google were--at least before they failed in the market. Then suddenly the next Google-branded phone became the First Ever Real Google Phone.

    Every Nexus phone had failed commercially, to the point where in retrospect, Google's fans are forced to say that the company was simply doing a creative exercise and never intended to actually sell the products it so closely worked with its partners to develop, so fully hyped as innovative, and priced so attractively that it ended up losing hundreds of millions of dollars trying to sell them.

    That bizarre reality distortion was evident in a high production ad brochure posing as a Wired news article entitled "The Inside Story of the Moto X."

    In it, Steven Levy wrote of Google's Motorola acquisition, "What was Google thinking? Finally, we have the answer. The Moto X, announced today, marks the arrival, finally, of the Google Phone. The Moto X is the first in a series of hardware products that Google hopes will supercharge the mother company's software and services."

    After ridding itself of Motorola and a full series of Moto-branded phones ranging from flagships to economy phones, Google delivered a final Nexus 6 with Lenovo--which had acquired Motorola from it--toward the end of 2014."Moto X, announced today, marks the arrival, finally, of the Google Phone" - Wired, 2013

    A year later, in parallel with 2015's LG-built Nexus 5X, Google also partnered with China's Huawei to produce the Nexus 6P. But Google's relationship with both companies were going in the same sour direction as Samsung. Google was demanding more control over the platform, and its partners were increasingly resisting.

    A report by Android Police noted that Huawei was supposed to deliver a successor to the Nexus 6P, but Google demanded that the new model would be fully branded by Google with scant acknowledgment of Huawei as anything other than its manufacturer.

    Huawei had failed to make any significant inroads into the U.S. market on its own, and its Nexus 6P effort with Google had flopped just the same as every other Nexus launch. Huawei backed out of any participation with the Pixel rebranding, leaving HTC as the remaining company willing to build phones for Google to put its name on.

    Stuck with HTC, which has only been floundering in its own smartphone efforts recently, Google ended up with little more than a copy of an iPhone 6, lacking many of the premium features it once offered in its money-losing experiments with Motorola.

    Yet despite introducing one of the least innovative or competitive "Google phones" ever, the price of last year's Pixel lineup was the same as the faster, smarter, more powerful, better integrated and weather resistant iPhone 7 with a better display and better sound.

    Despite crowing that Pixel was created entirely by Google and merely assembled by HTC, the search giant recently found it necessary to spend $1.1 billion to acquihire 2,000 HTC employees who had worked on Pixel. The credulity needed to swallow this obvious contradiction was on full display from the same people who applaud Pixel as the best Android thing ever.

    Writing for the Verge Chris Welch wrote that "HTC basically served as a silent contractor" for the original Pixel phones, in the same article where he also introduced those 2,000 HTC workers as "the people responsible for creating it." Well, which is it?

    It's not sexy for Google to admit that its Pixel phones are built by LG and HTC, two of Android's largest commercial failures, companies that can't manage to sustainably, profitably sell phones on their own. Neither Samsung nor the leading Chinese Android makers are interested in building Pixel phones for Google at any price.

    Isolated from any criticism and surrounded by fan-journalists who will repeat any message they're fed as gospel, Google has zero connection to reality. The result is that this year, Google is raising the price of its HTC-built Pixel 2 as well as the LG-built Pixel 2 XL, again excusing its camera deficiencies while hiding behind a dubious DxO score, and offering very little that's new-- setting up Pixel 2 for the same sort of failure that will win it applause from reviewers who don't even care if it sells or not, because commercial success has no impact on whether Google will give them free hardware to play with next year.
  • Apple Music expands annual subscription option beyond gift cards

    People with an existing Apple Music subscription can now switch to a cheaper annual plan without having to buy a gift card -- though the option is relatively hidden.

    Image Credit: TechCrunch
    Image Credit: TechCrunch

    To find it, subscribers must go into the iOS 10 App Store, scroll to the bottom of the Featured tab, and select their Apple ID, TechCrunch noted on Monday. This will prompt for a password, after which people can tap on "View Apple ID," then finally on the Subscriptions button to check their Apple Music membership.

    A one-year individual plan is $99 in the U.S., a significant discount off the nearly $120 it costs to go month-by-month. Unfortunately, there are no annual tiers for student or family accounts, and the option is invisible to people who aren't already using Apple Music.

    In fact, Apple has so far downplayed the annual option in marketing. The gift card first appeared in September, but is only highlighted in the company's online store.

    Offering a discounted plan may nevertheless help Apple compete with the market leader in on-demand streaming, Spotify. The latter is still selling 12-month gift cards for the same price it costs to go month-to-month.

    Apple is also aiming to compete with Spotify by offering more original video content. Recently it premiered "Planet of the Apps," and hired two former Sony executives to spearhead future efforts.
  • How to trigger Siri on your iPhone instead of HomePod

    With HomePod, accessing Apple's Siri technology is more convenient than ever. But users might want trigger the virtual assistant on an iPhone rather than a speaker that blasts answers to anyone within earshot. Here's how to do it.

    As we discovered in our first real-world hands-on, HomePod is an extremely compact, yet undeniably loud home speaker. At home in both small apartments and large houses, HomePod's place-anywhere design and built-in beamforming technology generates great sound no matter where it's set up.

    Siri comes baked in, taking over main controls like content playback, volume management, HomeKit accessory commands and more. As expected, the virtual assistant retains its usual assortment of internet-connected capabilities, including ties to Apple services like Messages and various iCloud features.

    However, having Siri read your text messages out loud might not be ideal for some users, especially those with cohabitants.

    Apple lets you deny access to such features, called "personal requests," during initial setup, but doing so disables a number of utilities. Alternatively, users can tell HomePod, "Hey Siri, turn off Hey Siri" or turn off "Listen for 'Hey Siri'" in HomePod settings in the iOS Home app. Both methods, however, make HomePod a much less useful device.

    Luckily, there is a way to enjoy the best of both worlds, but it might take some practice. The method takes advantage of Apple's solution for triggering "Hey Siri" when multiple Siri-capable devices are in the same room. More specifically, users can manually trigger "Hey Siri" on an iPhone or iPad rather than HomePod, allowing for more discreet question and response sessions.

    According to Apple, when a users says, "Hey Siri," near multiple devices that support the feature, the devices communicate with each other over Bluetooth to determine which should respond to the request.

    "HomePod responds to most Siri requests, even if there are other devices that support 'Hey Siri' nearby," Apple says.

    There are exceptions to Apple's algorithm, however. For example, the device that heard a user's request "best" or was recently raised will respond to a given query. Use this knowledge to your advantage to create exceptions to the HomePod "Hey Siri" rule.

    When you desire a bit of privacy, simply raise to wake a device and say "Hey Siri." A more direct method involves pressing the side or wake/sleep button on an iPhone or iPad to trigger the virtual assistant, which will interact with a user from that device, not HomePod.

    On the other hand, if you want to ensure HomePod gets the message rather than an iOS device, place your smartphone or tablet face down. Doing so disables the "Hey Siri" feature, meaning all "Hey Siri" calls are routed to HomePod.

    If you're having trouble with "Hey Siri" or if more than one device is responding to the voice trigger, ensure that all devices are running the most up-to-date version of their respective operating system.
    Rayz2016brian greenlolliverMacsplosion
  • The Apple versus Microsoft hardware double-standard rears up again with the latest Surface...

    Across the last couple years, Apple's new Macs have been roundly criticized for raising their prices using flashy -- rather than purely utilitarian-- new features like the Touch Bar, while delivering only incremental improvements in performance due to a reliance on Intel's processors. Yet when Microsoft follows the same playbook, suddenly high prices are reasonable, flashy but unnecessary features are a sign of innovation, and big performance gains aren't really necessary.

    Microsoft's Surface Studio 2 is effectively a non-mobile tablet

    This week, Microsoft bumped up the specs of its Surface Studio 2, its all-in-one PC that converts into a huge stationary tablet. It's been two years since the original revision shipped.

    In the fashion of Apple, Microsoft boasted that the new machine was the "fastest Surface ever," as if it were competing against others making inferior Surface models, or that it needed to reassure the tech media that new computers are not suddenly getting slower each year after forty years.

    Microsoft couldn't claim it is the fastest Windows PC, however. In fact, writing for PC World, Mark Hachman noted in his hands on, titled "Microsoft Surface Studio 2: Still the PC you desire but can't afford," that even calling it the fastest Surface "may be true in the end, though Microsoft barely squeaks by with that definition on paper."

    PC nostalgia for yesterday's Mac

    Microsoft will use Intel's seventh generation Core i7 chip, just like Apple's fastest standard iMac introduced in mid-2017. But rather than complaining that Microsoft's brand new Surface Studio 2 should be using Intel's latest available processor, Hachman stated, "fortunately, performance isn't why you'll buy the Microsoft Surface Studio 2: It's that amazing, vibrant display."

    That's right: after decades of chiding Apple for not building a "headless" PC box from the '90s, suddenly the reason "you'll buy the Microsoft Surface Studio 2" -- and don't worry, you actually won't -- is because it incorporates a nice display.

    Specifically, as Hachman detailed, a "4500x3000 28-inch RealSense display [that] puts out even more light than before-- over 500 nits!" He added that "it was like falling into a more vibrant, colorful world."

    iMac Pro 5K
    Apple's "vibrant" 5K iMac first shipped four years ago

    Alternatively, you might say it's like walking into the summer of 2017, when Apple released its 5K iMac with 500 nits of brightness at 5128 by 2880 -- higher than the Surface Studio 2. Plus, that iMac display is in a more media-creative friendly 16:9 aspect ratio.

    To speak of this stuff as being "more than ever before" and a new epoch of computing is just kind of nutty.

    What the people want

    The Studio does offer its novel "easel mode" that turns its display into a panel you can write on using a special stylus, effectively making it a larger version of an iPad Pro without the mobility. If it were indeed 2015, we wouldn't have any proof whether people preferred using the conventional workstation format of the 5K iMac; the then-new, ultra-mobile iPad Pro with its Pencil for direct annotations, or the in-between Surface Studio hybrid that Microsoft shipped a year later at the end of 2016.

    Nearly two years later however, we know unequivocally that the 5K iMac is a hit ultimately contributing to Apple releasing an ultra-premium, super beefy version called iMac Pro. Plus, the iPad Pro has been the most successful premium tablet by a huge margin, while Surface Studio has been little more than concept so ineffectual that it has had no discernible impact on the number of Surface devices Microsoft has been selling since its arrival.

    Sales of the Surface haven't grown out of the range they've been stuck in for years.

    iPad Pro
    iPad Pro is highly mobile and far less expensive, making it versatile and popular

    Despite being a moderate upgrade that has only "finally" arrived after two years of the original Surface Studio, Tom Warren of the Verge wrote that "Microsoft has strangely decided to stick with a 7th Generation Intel Core i7 processor," and that "Microsoft isn't revealing exactly when this new Surface Studio 2 will launch." The expectation is that Surface Studio 2 will ship in December when Nvidia can deliver the faster GPU it uses.

    Microsoft has priced the Surface Studio 2 at a very high tier -- it starts at $3,500, with nothing underneath it in the Surface lineup apart from its three mobile products. That's $200 more than Apple's 27 inch iMac upgraded to a Core i7, 16GB of DDR4 RAM and 1TB of SDD storage at Apple's premium prices.

    Apple is known -- and often reviled by PC fans -- for its premium pricing. Yet in this case, an iMac is not just cheaper when similarly configured, but offers a wide range of significantly lower priced options starting at $1,800 for the 5K iMac, or $1,100 for the smaller 4K model where Microsoft does not.

    That indicates that Microsoft doesn't expect to sell many Studio 2 units to buyers outside of a very small group that will pay whatever it asks.

    So talking about Surface as being "what the people want" is not only factually false, but just plain insane. The only place where Surface has ever been popular is in the minds of PC columnists and fans with only imaginary funds to buy the products.

    Saying Surface is popular is like saying Google's Pixel 2 is popular: an easily demonstrable lie. One can be a fan of either, but you can't say everyone else is, because there aren't enough sales to matter.

    Surface Studio 2: a product for creative pros that's not very pro

    The primary allure to Studio 2 is the way it lies not quite flat so you can draw on the screen. This could appeal to a small sector of artists who prefer to draw by hand on a computer display, but prefer to be limited to a desk. Essentially, a $2,500 Wacom Cintiq permanently attached to a $1,000 PC so you throw both out and buy a pair of new ones when you upgrade.

    By entering a small market with an expensive, over-serving product that's less flexible and offers nothing really new, Microsoft has capitalized on the opposite of disruption.

    That is entirely the opposite of what Apple is doing with its iPad Pro, a product that makes hand-drawn artwork on a high-end display affordable, highly mobile, and compatible with a broad portfolio of popular touch-centric software, rather than trying to graft Apple Pencil into the existing desktop world of windows and a mouse, and requiring a complex hinge to make it possible to turn a desktop PC into a tilted drawing surface.

    Really, the meat of Microsoft's Surface show was so thin that Warren asked Microsoft's Surface chief Panos Panay what else the company might do, suggesting exciting ideas like a USB-C webcam or a modular version of the Surface Studio that would allow users to upgrade its internals.

    Panay replied, "Probably, you look at it and you see what's the evolution and how do we make it better for our customers. Yeah, there's still so much more to do, and while I won't tell you what it is you can put stories together."

    If you wonder why Apple doesn't comment on future products, you might also wonder why Microsoft does, actively suggesting here that consumers wait for an upgradable version in the pipeline and encouraging the Verge to imagine up vaporware, which it promptly did.

    The problem is, imagined vaporware is no longer a functional way for Microsoft to compete against the better, real products of its competitors. This may have worked in the '90s, when its arrogant promises were frequently used to dampen interest in real, shipping products, but leaving the tech press to imagine how great Vista could be while Apple was delivering real updates for Macs didn't work out well.

    Imagining up a fantastic future for Zune, Windows Phone, Windows RT, and Microsoft Band didn't help Microsoft compete against iPod, iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch, either.

    Zune, Surface RT
    When hardware fails to sell, Microsoft cancels it even if it says it won't

    Higher entry price, fewer options, seldom updated: why can't Apple do this?

    Rather than chiding Microsoft for doing all the things they've badgered Apple about since the beginning of time, PC pundits have a whole new way of looking at the world once it's a place where it's Microsoft trying to make money rather than Apple. And yes, it's a lot like their reception of Google's premium-priced hardware boondoggles like the Chromebook Pixel.

    Writing for the infamous ZD Net, Adrian Kingsley-Hughes coughed up a word salad on Microsoft's Surface announcement titled, "Microsoft's new Surface PCs are the Macs I want Apple to make."

    The only way to interpret this into a coherent thought is to assume he means Apple should offer products nobody wants and then go out of business, because he has never written anything in his career to suggest otherwise. But what he says he means is that, after switching "from PCs to Macs a few years ago as my daily workhorses" he now wants Apple to "learn a thing or two from what the Redmond giant is offering its users."

    He called Apple "old and stale" multiple times in a single page.

    "While Apple has been neglecting its desktops and laptops to mercilessly push the iPhone, Microsoft has been busy reinventing the PC," he wrote. "And the result is that Mac sales have become mediocre at best." Those last few words hyperlinked to an article he wrote in Q3 2014 referencing 18 percent YoY growth to 4.4 million Mac sales, a number he indeed did call "mediocre" at the time. But words have meanings.

    Microsoft has never sold so many Surface PCs in a year, and its sales haven't really grown since it launched the Surface idea, so it's not really clear what he's trying to say in calling Apple's vastly larger Mac business "mediocre at best." But the words he uses are that "Apple is in a position where it can let the Mac line go old and stale because Apple isn't a computer company anymore. It's now a company that sells the iPhone."

    In reality, the fact is that Apple's Mac operations have generated $25.2 billion in revenues over the last four quarters. Microsoft's total Surface revenues over the same period were $4.7 billion. Of course, most of that was from sales of its hybrid tablets, more comparable to Apple's iPad business which itself generated another $19.5 billion.

    To suggest that Apple doesn't care about Macs because it has a much larger business in phones is pretty silly coming from a person who is certainly aware that Surface isn't Microsoft's profit center.

    Additionally, Microsoft is doing a lot of work to support Surface and its four lines of hardware. Yet at the volumes of units it's selling, it can't possibly be making sustainable profits. Apple's computing product lineup isn't vastly larger, but its sales are massive and global. That enables it to make far greater profits even with pricing lower than Microsoft's.

    Microsoft is learning from Apple, just not quickly enough to matter

    It is true that Microsoft totally dropped the ball with Windows Phone and Nokia, leaving it with no meaningful remaining phone business at all. But that doesn't mean Microsoft cares more about its Surface PC hardware than Apple cares about its Macs.

    The ZDNet article immediately contradicts itself, stating that Macs are indeed critical to Apple because "having devices that support the iPhone and iPad is still important because it keeps people in the ecosystem. If there are no new Macs, people will start to look elsewhere, and that weakens Apple's grip on users."

    Maybe he just thinks he's the only one who thought of this, and Apple is ready to throw away the Mac even as it invests so much effort into its Continuity technology-- and most recently, its efforts in macOS Mojave to make iOS UIKit apps work on the Mac.

    In fact, since Microsoft shipped Windows 10 back in 2015, it has only deployed five minor point updates to its PC users. Across that time, Apple delivered macOS El Capitan followed by six point updates, macOS Sierra followed by six point updates, macOS High Sierra with six point updates, and the most recent macOS Mojave. A reasonable person wouldn't conclude that Apple doesn't care about the Mac because its iPhone business is doing so well in parallel (and getting the same pace of iOS updates).

    One paragraph later in the piece, and the author's certainty that Apple doesn't care about Macs anymore has turned into a future possibility: "But if Apple has dropped the ball, and can't keep the Mac offering updated, it seems that Microsoft, along with its army of OEMs, is ready to fill the void."

    However, given that Mac sales are incrementally growing even as PC sales shrink globally, and that Apple's iPad is a central cause of PC's arrested growth, isn't it Microsoft that dropped the ball, along with its army of OEMs, and hasn't Apple already "filled the void," leaving little room for premium PC makers, including Microsoft, to make any gains?

    Apple is trying new things, they're just successful

    While Apple hasn't radically remixed its hit form factors, the company also isn't just conservatively selling slightly polished versions of yesterday's technology. Its iPads and Macs employ new innovations ranging from custom high performance SSD controllers to advanced displays with ambient-aware color management.

    Apple pulled off porting its desktop OS to mobile, lightweight ARM hardware two years before Microsoft and managed to profitably sustain its iPad business across the five years since Microsoft gave up on RT, without destroying its conventional Mac business.

    Yet outside the largely standardized form factors of mobile, laptop and desktop computing, there's something else that Apple is experimenting in that is wildly more successful than anything Microsoft has done with its Surface brand.

    This performance is hidden inside Apple's Other Hardware segment, which includes HomePod, Apple TV, Apple Watch, AirPods and Beats. These specialized computers that drive personal entertainment, home audio and wearable technology have excelled in markets that other PC and mobile vendors (inclining Microsoft, Google and Samsung) have failed miserably.

    Across the last four and a half years, Apple's Other Hardware has generated three times the revenues of Microsoft's entire Surface business

    Apple's sales of Other Hardware have absolutely skyrocketed over the past four years, growing from $8.2 billion in 2014 to $14.3 billion last year. Over the last four and a half years, Apple's Other Hardware has sold $52.7 billion worth of "less conventional computing." That alone is three times the revenues of Microsoft's entire Surface business over the same period.