Archive | Top Ten Tech Stories of 2013

24 April 2014 ~ 0 Comments

#1: Microsoft buys Nokia

We’ve been working on a recap of the biggest stories in mobile and tech from last year. With our good friend Scottie Ladeaux we’re going to bring you a new post looking back on our picks from 2013 every Thursday.

We got there! This is the final instalment of a ten part video series looking back at the year 2013 in mobile and tech. And the long-awaited #1 biggest story in tech from the whole of last year is the news of Microsoft completely buying out struggling Nokia’s Mobile Phones Division.

We talk about the history of Nokia and what this acquisition means for them as well as the whole future of the battle between various smartphone operating systems. We also question the role of Stephen Elop in the relationship between Microsoft and Nokia.

It wasn’t a complete surprise to everyone, but this news shook up the entire business world and is sure to play a huge role in shaping the future of smartphones and mobile tech in general.

Nokia may have been in the business since the ’70s and produced the first handheld mobile ever but soon after the first smartphones came out they’ve been in decline. The Finnish company were the world’s biggest handset manufacturer for fourteen years but in 2012 Samsung emphatically replaced them.

Despite a massive marketing budget and lucrative royalty-sharing deals, their Windows Phone mobiles make up fewer than 5% of smartphones sold and Nokia have forced through a massive savings strategy. But even with 15,000 redundancies, they have been haemorrhaging cash and their revenues crashed from over €7 billion to just under €3 billion in the second quarter of 2013.

Nokia had been all but written off until September last year when Microsoft announced they’d be acquiring the whole company in a massive £4.6 billion (or $7.2 billion) deal. Microsoft also agreed to invest an additional €1.5 billion in financing to help with the Finnish company’s cash flow woes and debt issues.

It’s an industry open secret that, unlike other rival manufacturers, Nokia chose not to partner with Android when it first came out as they feared they would not survive the competition of Google’s market. Instead their plan was to join Microsoft and aim to control a whole vertical with their phones being manufactured from Nokia components rather than off-the-shelf parts. But nobody predicted they’d end up being owned by them.

This shakes up the entire smart phone market. Now, there really are only three big players left – Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android and Microsoft’s with Windows Phone. Previously, BlackBerry had also been in the running but with Microsoft choosing Nokia over them, it’s hard to see a place for BlackBerry in the future of smart phones. Especially since their revenues have also plummeted in recent years and due to their internal issues which we discussed in video #5 in this countdown.

However, some saw a conspiracy in the demise of Nokia. Stephen Elop was the head of Microsoft’s Business Division for two and a half years before he took over as Nokia’s CEO in September 2010. This was the first time that Nokia had a non-Finnish director and he received a $6 million golden handshake.

Elop’s reign at Nokia was fraught with controversy. It was under his leadership that Nokia’s internally-developed operating systems – Symbian and Meego – were in favour of Microsoft’s OS. He also deriding the company in public statements and some suspected him to be a Trojan horse-style saboteur destroying them from the inside.

The fact that Nokia’s market cap has plummeted over the last few years. has meant that it’s ripe for the picking and Microsoft were able to snatch up a bargain compared to a few years ago. There were rumours that Microsoft would try to buy Nokia ever since he was appointed and as part of the deal Elop will now return to Microsoft as head of their Devices team. But

Regardless, this acquisition will be remembered a major event in the history of mobile phones. Microsoft has been struggling to keep up as a technology company in the age of mobile and if they want to salvage any of the success they’ve retained since the ’90s it’s in many ways an entirely necessary gamble.

Still, the duopoly of Android and iOS seems incredibly solid at the moment and it’s hard to see how they can chip away at their market share. However, it is clear that they are willing to spend and do whatever it takes to have a chance to be one of the major players in this business. The strategy has been failing so far, so it’s hard to see how ploughing even more money in can make a drastic difference. But it certainly makes things much more interesting for the next few years and it can only be good for consumers to have more competition and innovation.

What did you think of this series? Do you reckon we covered all the major stories in tech and mobile from last year or we there some that we omitted? And what’s your take on the Microsoft-Nokia deal? Could Elop really have been a plant devised to produce a preferential price?

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17 April 2014 ~ 0 Comments

#2: The Search for Microsoft’s Next CEO

We’ve been working on a recap of the biggest stories in mobile and tech from last year. With our good friend Scottie Ladeaux we’re going to bring you a new post looking back on our picks from 2013 every Thursday.

Today we have then penultimate story in the countdown and Scottie is talking us through the search for Microsoft’s next CEO after Steve Ballmer stands down this year.

In the time since he’s been at the helm, Microsoft has made $120 billion in profits, and $80 billion in dividends. Ballmer, who has lead the tech giant since founder Bill Gates stepped down in 2000, announced his intention to retire in August of last year.

Our take it that they really need to shake things up if they are to thrive in a post-PC market. Elop has the mobile expertise but he’s probably not the best choice. Unfortunately, from Microsoft have been on self destruct for the last several years – the Office Ribbon and Windows 8 are hard to forgive.

So what do you think? Is Ballmer leaving Microsoft on his terms, or is he being forced out? And who do you think is going to be the new CEO? Will Microsoft turn things around, or are we witnessing the decline of one of the biggest corporate giants ever?

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10 April 2014 ~ 0 Comments

#3: iOS 7 & the new iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C

We’ve been working on a recap of the biggest stories in mobile and tech from last year. With our good friend Scottie Ladeaux we’re going to bring you a new post looking back on our picks from 2013 every Thursday.

Working on this series have flown by are we’re already down to #3 in the countdown. What were your top ten tech stories from last year and what do you think is still left to cover?

Right now, we’re looking at a big event from 2013 and that’s Apple’s new mobile releases: iOS 7 & the new iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C. We going into a bit of detail into the background behind the design decisions that went into iOS 7 as well as ways to hack the Touch ID fingerprint sensor on the iPhone 5S.

iOS 7 is the new version of Apple’s mobile OS and we first got a look at it on June 10, 2013 at the Worldwide Developers Conference. It has been hailed as the most revolutionary iteration yet but to understand why, we need to back up a bit and revisit some Apple history.

In case you don’t remember, there was a huge backlash from users when Apple replaced Google Maps with their own app in iOS 6. It was an inferior app but was also rushed out and riddled with glitches and errors.

These ranged from the humorous – such Dublin zoo being positioned in London – to the downright dangerous after Australian police released an official warning than some errors were potentially life-threatening.

Following this fiasco Scott Forstall was dismissed from his post and Jony Ive was put in charge of the interface. Forstall and Steve Jobs have long been proponents of a design philosophy called skeuomorphism and were responsible for all the realistic user interface elements in iOS such as the the plasticy 3D buttons in the calculator and the yellow lined paper in the Notes app. iCal’s leather-stitching effect was apparently based on a texture Steve Job’s private jet!

In contrast, Ive thinks this produces an inconsistent look and feel between different apps and is a proponent of flat design. He was supported by senior Apple UI designers see skeuomorphic design as unnecessary “visual masturbation” and said “skeuomorphism was getting totally out of hand, particularly where the UI metaphor started limiting functionality”.

After Ive took over, the look of iOS7’s interface is strikingly different. Gone are cluttered wood grains and paper textures, and instead you get minimalist icons and a clear, bold palette.

This turned out to be rather controversial as many professionals criticised iOS 7 as too childish and generally badly designed. There were also usability concerns as many clickable regions were now just plain sans serif text and no longer look like buttons which seemed to go against Apple’s easy-to-use ethos.

As a result, new features were rather forgotten. But, while there was barely any functionality added to core apps, iOS 7 did pack in many enhancements such as finally introducing a usable Control Centre, tweaking the camera app, improving the multitasking ability, and adding more notifications as well as a nifty faux 3D parallax effect. The Safari web browser also gained the ability to open more than 8 tabs, thank goodness.

But iOS 7 was just the beginning – Apple’s biggest news was the new handsets. Unfortunately for tech fanatics, by the time they were officially announced on the 10th September there wasn’t anything new or unexpected for Apple diehards.

Predictions based on leaked photos and Apple’s Apple’s £225 million acquisition of mobile security firm AuthenTec turned out to be correct and the iPhone 5S sported a new fingerprint sensor. The other news was that the it had a phenomenally-powerful 64-bit A7 CPU as well as an integrated M7 motion co-processor that would continuously monitor data from the accelerometer, compass, and gyroscope.

There were also slight improvements to the camera hardware but what seemed to get people most excited was the new gold (or champagne) colour option.

The other “new” handset was the iPhone 5C which was effectively a rebranded iPhone 5 with a new plastic shell. It seemed aimed at shaking off the top-end reputation of the iPhone brand to be more appealing in emerging markets. However, the price still seemed high at £469 or $549 for the 16GB version and an even steeper £549 or $649 for the 32GB version. Analysts were disappointed that it didn’t make the £300 price point especially as we know from the parts list that Apple makes about 100% profit just on the hardware.

Both phones were released on the 20th September last year with the official public release of iOS 7 two days earlier on the 18th. Unfortunately, within days of the release, the highly-touted Touch ID fingerprint scanner was cracked by the Chaos Computer Club, a German hacking collective.

They’ve since refined the method but to start with they simply photographed the fingerprint at 2400 dpi, digitally cleaned up the image, and then laser printed it at half that resolution onto a transparent sheet using as thick toner as the printer was able to produce. By applying a layer of standard PVA glue, the toner left an indent producing a fake fingerprint that just needs some damp breath applied to break into an iPhone 5S.

Of course, despite this, the sales figures of both phones has been very impressive– within just days of the launch in September, Apple had shifted almost ten million iPhones landing them a new sales record. So another iPhone launch and another massive success for Apple.

The only downside would be the relatively poor sales of the 5C so far. Despite Apple artificially-constricting the supply of the 5S , the 5C is selling three times slower. Nevertheless, there’s evidence it’s making inroads into its target markets and even seems be winning over new customers with about half its buyers switching from competing brands.

What’s your thoughts on iOS 7 and do you own an iPhone 5C or 5S? What do you think is going to take the top two spots in our countdown from last year? Please do drop comments on this story and your predictions for what’s coming next.

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