With the holiday season upon us, we tend to start thinking about how our waistlines have a nasty habit this time of year of expanding as this year comes to a close and the new one begins. Fear those Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas cookies no more- we’ve found fitness apps that will help you stay active and healthy this holiday season so you can start your new year off on the right foot.
Remember that kid in high school who was popular, seemed to have it all, and then just disappeared? Maybe they never moved out of their parents’ house or they ended up at the local McDonald’s, taking your order whenever you stopped there on your sporadic visits to your parent’s home. That’s the kid that peaked in high school, and as bad as we feel for them that their lives ended up being extraordinarily ordinary, we secretly love that it never happened to us.
Blackberry is the kid that peaked in high school.
I had a Blackberry Pearl hand-me-down from my father when I was in high school. Just to age myself a bit, this was almost seven years ago when I began using the phone. I absolutely loved that Blackberry. I used the phone until the end of its lifetime which ended with buttons missing, a track ball that wouldn’t roll smoothly anymore, and buttons that just wouldn’t click anymore. This was during the peak of Blackberry, just before the iPhone took over the world by storm. I still had friends who used Blackberry phones and we were all obsessed. The funny thing looking back is that Blackberry was and probably easily is still the phone I was most fond of and rarely complained about.
The full keyboard was revolutionary at the time. Honestly, you didn’t have to use T9 anymore and anyone who used to text on the old flip phones can attest to how incredibly annoying it was and how difficult to learn the process of texting was with a T9 keyboard. But the full keyboard on the Blackberry was amazing and especially because it was the QWERTY keyboard layout, only two keys per button was arguably way more awesome than three (sometimes four, we’re looking at you letter ‘s’).
Who cared if the camera wasn’t that great? There weren’t many other phones boasting an amazing camera. For the average Joe, we were still using Cannons and Nikons to take photos on family vacations. Remember how photography with actual cameras was still
something people did 6-7 years ago? Blackberry was taking the world by storm; “Crackberry” became a term for the phone and the dedicated user base it had built.
Before Apple created iMessage, Blackberry had BBM (Black Berry Messenger) and for those who used it, it ruled. All you needed was another Blackberry users pin and you could send them unrestricted length text messages. All around, you were just cooler by using BBM. All up until, the iPhone launched.
The first problem emerged with how small of a consumer base Blackberry was building. As for a high school student like myself at the time, I couldn’t fully utilize the features on Blackberry phones. For your every day and business needs, Blackberry phones were the “it” phone. Getting emails on your phone and being able to confidently type responses without worrying about how awful T9 was really revolutionized what you wanted to buy. Blackberry didn’t concern themselves with other target groups- they had their niche market and they were fine. No need to try to market to anyone else, you and everyone you knew that used their phones were doing plenty word of mouth advertising. Blackberry believed in
the loyalty of their consumer base.
Then the iPhone invaded. It was a well planned surprise attack. Once the iPhone caught fire you looked outdated carrying around a Blackberry- or literally anything that wasn’t an iPhone. The camera was better, the screen was better, the user face was amazing and simple to use, and Apple convinced you that you NEEDED the phone. You may not have wanted it, but man did you need it.
The big downfall Blackberry encountered, which I would consider their kiss of death, was their nonchalance about the beginnings of the iPhone. RIM, the company that owns Blackberry, was too confident in the loyalty of their consumer base. Talk about being stabbed in the back about a million times. RIM didn’t take the iPhone seriously, didn’t consider how seriously the iPhone was going to potentially dominate the market, so they didn’t prepare. Technology changes- that’s just one of the brutal ways the industry functions. Blackberry became so irrelevant so quickly it makes your head spin if you think about it too long.
Now I can’t speak for what the top guys of Blackberry were thinking, but I can only imagine it was along the lines of, “We have made a terrible mistake.” As they sat in their offices watching their market shares tank and loyal customers abandon them.
What really sealed the fate of Blackberry and turned it into the brunt of all jokes today was not adapting their software to be downloadable on Android or Apple products. Blackberry essentially refused to give into their rivals to keep their company alive. I mean, after the kind of attack they suffered with the iPhone release, I think they valued their pride over continuing a successful business platform. Because they ultimately missed their window to adapt their software to be available cross platform, Blackberry was swallowed whole by the technology shift. They were left behind, licking their wounds as their market shares tanked drastically. Today, Blackberry has made their software available on all the main platforms but no one cares. The last time I heard of anyone using a Blackberry was about three years ago, when my friend was trying to hold out hope.
My friend bought one of the touch screen Blackberry’s the company struggled to release a few years after the whirlwind of iPhone. The phone was terrible to say the least. It was littered with random glitches, the phone would freeze quite often, and she would complain she felt left out because she didn’t have an iPhone. Her phone completely quit on her about three months into their estranged relationship, and she jumped ship to join team iPhone. Her hopes of a better Blackberry days had died, along with her phone.
Although I personally did not join team iPhone, smartphones that mimicked the iPhone were quickly making their debuts and I ditched team Blackberry as soon as I graduated high school. Thus ended my great relationship with my Blackberry Pearl and it joined the depths of all other discarded Blackberry’s.
Let’s revisit our high school analogy. I attribute the iPhone’s takeover to high school graduation. As if Blackberry crossing the stage to receive their diploma was all the time they needed to lag just enough for the iPhone to swoop in and convert almost their entire user base. And then, just like that, Blackberry became the laughing stock of the mobile world as their stocks plummeted.
Try going into a mobile phone store today to buy a Blackberry. I’ll bet you’re not going to find one. The stores today are dominated by iPhone vs. Android. I’m pretty sure if you asked a sales associate if they had Blackberry you would have to google a photo and say, “I want to see this phone right here.” The looks people get when they try to buy Blackberry phones must be hilarious. You can’t download the prominent apps that lead the market today onto your Blackberry phone. This puts you behind. Makes kids feel left out in their social groups. Makes you the brunt of all bad Blackberry jokes in the office.
So now Blackberry is trying to launch the Blackberry Passport 2 (Surprise, I didn’t even know there was a Passport 1) and having it run Android Lollipop (or maybe Marshmallow depending on how long the launch takes). They’re still keeping the keyboard off the screen which I find to be a critical design flaw. The technology has evolved to on screen keyboards, so I feel that’ll be a tough sell to resort people back to this type of screen change. Then there are rumors about “Venice”, which will try to rock the design of the very undesirable slide out keyboard. Blackberry is definitely trying, but it’s unfortunate it took them this long to decide to bring their A game.
But the market is competitive, and unless Blackberry is prepared to create a phone that will blow Google and iPhones completely out of the water, they don’t stand a chance. If they had competed with iPhone from the beginning, they may have stood a fair chance in remaining relevant. Perhaps they could be like Brittney Spears- recovering from a 2007 meltdown and coming back years later with a revamped image and public persona. It could happen.
So what have we learned from the downfall of Blackberry? Don’t be stubborn- accept that in the technologically dominated world we live in now that if you don’t keep up or stay one step ahead of your competitors, you become irrelevant. You have to keep an open mind in order to keep your business alive and thriving.
Though as we all learned from that kid who peaked in high school, the further away your glory years are, the less chance you have of recreating them.
As usual, 2014 was a busy year for mobile. Apple released not one, but two bigger iPhones, Amazon jumped into the market with the Fire Phone, Android and iOS continued their dominance, mobile payments got a huge boost with Apple Pay, and mobile phone car integrations got a huge boost with Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto.
I don’t expect that 2015 will be any different. There is still a lot of opportunity in mobile. It’s a dynamic market with rapid technology advancements making it hard for anyone to keep up. That being said, here are some trends that I’m watching the rest of this year.
- Android gradually pulls away from Apple in market share
Android and Apple have been neck-and-neck over the last few years, but I feel this is the year Android slowly pulls away. Don’t get me wrong, the iPhone is a great product, but the shear volume of Android competition is creating innovations that makes it hard for one company to keep up with.
- Smaller phones make a comeback
For some reason, it’s near impossible to buy a flagship phone these days that isn’t at least 4.7″ in screen size. We’ve entered the “SUV” stage of the phone market where bigger is perceived as better. While the bigger screens are great, there’s still a market for smaller 4″ handsets. It’s an end of the market that’s been abandoned, for now. I suspect we’ll see new flagship phones come out this year that will give people the option of carrying a pocket-sized phone again.
- Phone hardware advances stall
There’s only so many ways you can build and style a rectangular slab of metal and plastic with a screen. In fact, all of the latest hardware features are gimmicks rather than technological breakthroughs. In 2015, the biggest advancement will be made in software – both in the apps and the operating system itself.
- Modular phones open up new business models
Google’s Project Ara, a modular smartphone project, is slowly coming to life. When it does get here later this year, I expect it will open up a bunch of new business models and spawn a cottage industry of hardware manufacturers that will allow you to customize your phone. For example, are pictures you’re thing? You’ll be able to plug-in a great camera. Need extra battery life? You can trade-off features for a bigger battery. The options will be endless.
- Windows Phone (Microsoft) ends up third by default
Microsoft continues to spend their way to grabbing market share. The problem is, it isn’t working. Even though their share of the market declined in 2014, it fell a lot slower than their competitors. Microsoft is going to end up as the third mobile option. It’s not because they won, it’s because they had enough money to survive longer than their competitors at the bottom of the mobile food chain. While this may change with the launch of Windows 10, the effects won’t be felt until mid-2016 at the earliest.
- Amazon takes another run at phones
The Fire Phone was a flop for a myriad of reason, the primary ones being carrier lock-in and price. I don’t know much about Jeff Bezos, but I do know that he is a fierce competitor who wants to win. The phone is an important part of Amazon’s strategy, and they will take another run at it this year. They need to dramatically lower the price and bundle with a free/discounted phone service made available through Amazon Prime. I figured they could offer the phone service as an MVNO through one of the existing carriers, but Google may beat them to it.
- No-contract options continue growth
If you haven’t tried going no-contract, you should. T-mobile has been very successful acquiring customer with their no-contract options, so I expect that we will see more no-contract options from all the major US wireless carriers in 2015.
- BlackBerry gets acquired
As a hardware provider, BlackBerry is done. Their software, though, is still very valuable. I expect that 2015 will be the year that someone looking to enter or augment their mobile offerings steps up and buys BlackBerry.
- Wearables look for a niche
Smartwatches, Google Glass, and fitness trackers were all the rage this past Christmas, but in my opinion, they are a fancy solution looking to solve a problem none of us have. Do we really need to carry around more devices that scream for our attention? I don’t expect big things from wearables in 2015. In fact, I don’t see the market for wearables growing until they find their killer app.
- Tablets struggle to maintain their growth rate
Two years ago, it was predicted that tablets would clobber PC sales. Turns out people realized they still need PCs for true creative work. Tablets are great consumption devices, but they don’t need replaced nearly as often as phones. I suspect the tablet market will still be healthy in 2015, but don’t expect it to grow as rapidly as in the past, and don’t expect it to be a true replacement for the desktop/laptop PC – at least not in 2015.
- Apps adapt to car integration
Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto are making their rounds at the car shows this winter and spring, which means we should see them in cars this summer. The car is a new context area for apps, so developers will have to adapt their apps to these new use cases. I suspect that developers will spend more time adjusting their apps for car integration than they will updating them for wearables.
- Mobile payment options advance, but don’t go mainstream
Apple Pay is gaining momentum in mobile payments, but mobile payments are still not ready for mainstream. The existing merchant credit card players are dragging their feet with mobile implementation, and businesses have too much invested in existing hardware to make wholesale changes. Mobile payments will continue to be an area of focus for lots of companies in 2015, but I still don’t see it as a mainstream payment option. Maybe in 2016, but I suspect it could be 2017 before the mobile payment market really takes off.
Out of all the above, the only constant I can guarantee for 2015 is change, and lots of it.
Since the smartphone market is dominated by the iPhone and Android devices, I’ve reorganized the buying guide a bit this month to provide recommendations depending on which device type you are looking for. I’ll start by providing recommendations for people looking to upgrade or buy an iPhone. To go straight to the Android recommendations, click here.
iPhone buying/upgrade recommendation: DON’T
Because the iPhone 6 will be available soon, really soon.
Here’s what we know, or should I say are projecting, at this time.
- The next iPhone will have a bigger screen. It’s pretty much set that we will at least see a 4.7″ screen size (compared to 4″ today). It’s possible that there could be a 5.5″ version, although rumors indicate that Apple is having quality issues producing the 5.5″ device (see here).
- According to Bloomberg’s sources, production has started this month in anticipation of a reported launch date at the end of September.
- The phone design is expected to be more iPod touch like, which means it will be thinner with more rounded edges.
- As you would expect, it will have a new processor meaning it will be even faster and more capable than the iPhone 5s.
- To improve durability, Apple is supposedly switching to sapphire glass technology. Rumors are that the new sapphire screens can resist scratches and all sorts of torture, except being run over by a car. Given how hard my teenage kids are on their phone, they (and I) will appreciate the improved durability.
I suspect that an announcement regarding the phone’s release date will be coming sometime during the second half of August, once most people are back from their summer vacations. I’m sure that lines outside the Apple stores will start shortly thereafter.
If you’re interested in seeing what the new device might look like, here is a video showing a comparison of an iPhone 6 mock-ups to existing devices. You can also check out this link for a lot more pictures and videos.
If, for some reason, you absolutely cannot wait until September because your iPhone decided to go for a swim or went MIA, then do the sensible thing and get an iPhone 5s. Do not buy the iPhone 5c, it’s based off of the iPhone 4s which is almost two years old at this point – an eternity in mobile time.
Android buying/upgrade recommendations
For Android devices, I’m going to break things down into on-contract and off-contract devices. My personal preference is to buy devices off-contract for the flexibility and freedom to choose the best available plan, but it does require more up front investment. If you like the discount and don’t mind the commitment a two-year contract requires, then on-contract may work better for you.
Best on-contract Android devices
Samsung Galaxy S5
Samsung’s latest Galaxy device has one of the best cameras out there, and it’s features are the most polished given they’ve had four prior generations to perfect them. If you’re currently using a Samsung Galaxy device, say an S2 or S3, then I would definitely recommend the S5 for the smoothest and easiest upgrade path.
HTC One M8
The HTC One is my personal favorite due to its superior build quality and construction. I’ve always been a fan of HTC’s devices. They just don’t have the same name recognition as Samsung due to inferior marketing. Either way, you won’t be disappointed with the HTC One M8 or Samsung Galaxy S5.
Best off-contract Android devices
Even though the device is about a year-old, it’s still a great device, and a virtual steal at $349 without a contract. In addition to a lightweight, thin design, Google is really good about getting all of the latest Android updates onto the Nexus 5 really fast since it uses a stock Android build. That alone is enough to highly recommend the device.
I’ve been using the Moto X for my daily driver for the last 6 months, and I would highly recommend it. It is very close to a stock Android experience, and Motorola has been very good about updating the device quickly with the latest Android improvements. It also has a lot of design options, including wood covers, and it’s a good bargain at $349. It’s also not nearly as big as most Android devices, making it a little easier to carry around in your pockets.
If you’re looking for a great budget device, get the Moto G. For $219, I’d even recommend keeping a Moto G around as a back-up or loaner device, especially if you use AT&T or T-mobile as your carrier. Its specs won’t match up with flagship devices from Samsung or HTC, but as a starter device for a first-time smartphone user or for kids, it’s a great bargain. I’d still contend it’s one of Android’s best kept secrets.
By the way, if you’d really like to go cheap, you can check out the Moto E, which is only $129 off contract. I’d only recommend it as a backup device in case you lose or break your primary phone as it compromises a few too many specs, including connection speed (no LTE) for it to be feasible as a daily device.
Windows Phone and BlackBerry
I would stay away from both of these devices, and if you’re currently using one, I would advise switching. There are too many gaps in available apps that will hurt your productivity and diminish your smartphone experience. In addition, the market share is too small to be a priority for developers. New apps are geared toward toward iPhone and Android devices due to shear volume, and because of that, some apps never make it to the Windows Phone and BlackBerry platforms.
I know Microsoft is trying hard to make Windows Phone relevant, but until there is a compelling reason to switch, I wouldn’t. As for BlackBerry, their best days are behind them. For loyal BlackBerry users this is a tough pill to swallow, but the sooner you accept it and move on, the better off you’ll be.
Since carrier quality varies significantly by region, I generally stay away from specific carrier recommendations. That being said, if you are looking for a carrier or want to make a change, check out my article, Choosing a mobile carrier, for tips and guidelines.
If you have questions about any devices, feel as though I left one out, or have personal experience with any of devices, please share in the comments.
Amazon announced the latest addition to their product line yesterday, a smartphone named the Fire. It didn’t come as much of a surprise. I’ve been expecting them to release a phone for sometime now. In fact, I thought they were going to release one during 2013 (see my prediction here). Now that the Fire is official, here are my thoughts after seeing the announcement and reading reactions from across the web.
Overview of the Fire
The Fire looks a lot like any other smartphone. According to Jeff Bezos, it was designed with one-handed operation in mind. It’s reasonably sized at 4.7″, which compares favorably to the 4″ screen of the iPhone 5s but not as large as the 5.1″ screen of the Samsung Galaxy S5. The processor and memory is in-line with upper mid-range smartphones on the market today, and the screen has a resolution of 720p, which is fine for viewing photos and watching video. The biggest difference in the hardware design is the presence of four front-facing cameras. These cameras track the users eye and facial movement and play a key role in Dynamic Perspective, one of the Fire’s many innovative software features.
In fact, software is where the Fire differentiates itself from other phones on the market. In addition to Dynamic Perspective, the Fire also has a service called Firefly for identifying phone numbers, website, email addresses, music, movies and more. It comes with Amazon’s Mayday service for offering on demand help. It also comes with a full year of Amazon Prime, which I would contend is one of the best values money can buy. Given the ho-hum design of the phone, it’s pretty clear that Amazon is trying to differentiate itself through the software and service offerings available on the Fire.
- Integration with Amazon Prime service
As I mentioned above, Amazon Prime is one of the best values out there. At $99 for the year, you get unlimited access to streaming video, streaming music, the Kindle lending library, and free two-day shipping for Amazon purchases. The Fire integrates with all of these services and includes a one year subscription to Amazon Prime. You don’t need the Fire to take advantage of Amazon Prime, but the tight integration with the phone will let you get even more for your money.
Firefly is a cross between Google Goggles, Shazam, and a barcode reader. The application can identify phone numbers, web and email addresses, music, movies, and tons of household products. Sure, it’s another way to help funnel you into the Amazon purchasing machine, but what’s wrong with that? If you’re already using Amazon to purchase a lot of products, Firefly will help streamline the process.
One of the biggest issues with most phones is figuring out how to use them. By coupling the Fire with its Mayday customer help line, Amazon is hoping to help customers learn the Fire’s features faster.
The not so good
- AT&T exclusivity
I don’t understand this decision. I’m sure AT&T paid a lot of money for this right, but it severely limits the available market. Didn’t Amazon learn anything from Apple and its AT&T exclusivity? Once the iPhone became available on additional carriers, market share for the iPhone really took off. If this a long-term exclusivity, Amazon may come to regret this decision.
- Fire OS
I get it that Amazon has invested a lot of money in their own version of Android, but it just isn’t as polished as the true Android experience. I’ve had a Kindle Fire for the last 18 months, and while the OS is capable, it’s not as full featured or as smooth as my Nexus 7 Android tablet. For starters, the lack of Google services such as Maps, the Play Store and Play Music would be a serious issue for me. It’s not a big deal on the tablet, but it would be very noticeable and inconvenient on a phone.
Dynamic Perspective: Game-changer or Gimmick?
Amazon is making a big deal out of Dynamic Perspective – the ability of the phone to respond to how you hold, view, and move it. At this point, I view this feature as more gimmick than game-changer. Until developers are able to work with feature and create some unique user experiences and interactions, I don’t see what the big deal is. Sure, it’s kind of cool, but it’s not a necessity. My guess is that it’s a neat trick that people will play with for a bit when they get the phone, and then they’ll rarely use it after that.
What it will take to succeed
The smartphone market is dominated by the iPhone and Android devices, so Amazon has a lot of work ahead of it. In my view, here’s what they will need to do to succeed:
- Drop exclusivity, quickly
Long-term exclusivity is not a winning formula for a phone. It might get you some short-term cash, but it won’t buy you market share long-term. The Fire Phone needs to be available across as many carriers as possible, as quickly as possible.
- Developer support
Whether manufacturers like it or not, the success of their platform is dependent on support from developers. If developers aren’t building apps for your platform, you’re toast – just ask Microsoft and BlackBerry. Amazon will need to continue to market hard to developers and make it as easy as possible for them to develop for Fire OS. In particular, they need to make sure that popular mobile apps such as Evernote and Dropbox are available on the Fire Phone.
- Google services
While Amazon might not want to admit it, they would be smart to work out a deal to include Google services in the Fire OS. It could help bring across a lot of Android users who otherwise would be hesitant to switch, such as me.
Would I buy a Fire Phone?
I’ll admit that I’m a fan of Amazon. I use Amazon for a lot of services, am an Amazon Prime member, and own a Kindle Fire. The Fire Phone appears tailor made for me, but I don’t plan to buy it. Since I’m not an AT&T customer and don’t plan to switch anytime soon, that eliminates me as a possible customer. The lack of Google services and app selection are also deal killers.
At this point, I wouldn’t recommend the phone unless you’re heavily invested in the Amazon ecosystem and Amazon App Store. Even then, I would suggest that you hold out and wait for the second version of the phone. I’m certain Amazon will make a lot of improvements in the Fire Phone hardware and software once it gets used by the general public. Unless you like being out on the bleeding edge of technology, waiting is a wise move.
Overall, I’m not expecting the initial Fire Phone to be a success. It might even fail spectacularly. However, I don’t advise betting against Amazon. Bezos and crew do not enter a market without a long-term vision, and I expect they are in the market for the long haul. I expect that Amazon will learn from its experience, and they will use that knowledge to come out with a stronger version 2 offering next year. I don’t see Amazon challenging iOS or Android for market supremacy anytime soon, nor will they challenge Apple or Samsung for smartphone market share. What I expect is for Amazon to grind away and carve out a significant market share over time with a phone and services that appeals to its most loyal base of customers. It’s a plan that they’ve managed well with their Kindle line of tablets, and one that I suspect will work well for them in smartphones as well.
For further reading about the announcement, here are a sampling of articles from my favorite technology sources:
- Gigaom – Amazon’s new Fire Phone is a 4.7-inch device with 3D effects
- The Verge – The Amazon smartphone is here: meet the Fire Phone
- Engadget – The Fire phone is Amazon’s ultimate hardware weapon
- Gizmodo – Amazon Fire Phone Hands-On: Great For Amazon, Less For You
- Gigaom – Amazon’s Fire Phone doesn’t really impress me (yet)