Toshiba portegeAt The Register Simon Sharwood writes: Toshiba has finally and formally exited the laptop business.

The Japanese computer maker had a long run. It made its first laptop in 1985. As Sharwood says:

Toshiba “…claims to have been the first to make a mass-market computer in the now-familiar clamshell form factor. By the 1990s the company was producing solid workhorses in the Satellite range and started to make meaningful stretches of mobile work possible with the small, thin and light Portégé range.”

It’s no accident that the first tiny, portable computers came from Japan. In the 1960s and 1970s country was ahead of the world when it came to miniaturisation. This is the culture that introduced the world to the Sony Walkman.

Space saving Toshiba

There’s another reason laptops took off early in Japan. They take up less room.

Japanese homes and offices have far less space than elsewhere in the world. Even senior managers would have small desks. A desktop computer, which in those days meant a large and heavy CRT display along with a hefty main box, wouldn’t leave much space for anything else.

Toshiba enjoyed an early success in New Zealand. For years it was one of the top five PC brands. In September, 1993 I interviewed an IDC analyst who told me Toshiba was a leading brand here because its products “allowed executives to take work home with them”. The NBR published this story.

In their day Toshiba laptops were great, but as Sharwood reminds us:

“As the 2000s rolled along Toshiba devices became bland in comparison to the always-impressive ThinkPad and the MacBook Air, while Dell and HP also improved. Toshiba also never really tried to capture consumers’ imaginations, which didn’t help growth.”

Toshiba’s fortunes waned. Japan’s followed. The country was never more than a bit player in the PC business after that. NEC faded from sight, at least in New Zealand. The last we heard of Toshiba was years ago. In 2014, it delivered a Chromebook to New Zealand.

Sharp picked up the Toshiba brand two years ago. By then Japan’s remaining visible laptop maker, as far as New Zealand is concerned, was Panasonic with its range of hardened Toughbook models.

Since this was written, the Toshiba brand has resurfaced in New Zealand with Dynabook models

Worldwide phone shipments fell 14 percent in the second quarter of 2020. Analyst company Canalys reports every brand except Apple saw a drop.

It was the second quarter in a row to see a drop in phone shipments. Phonemakers shipped a total of 285 million phones during the quarter. This compares with around 350 million phones shipped in the same period a year ago.

Not only did the Covid-19 pandemic hit sales, it closed factories and disrupted supply chains. People were less able to get out and shop for new phones, yet they chose not to order online.

Phone shipments down as money goes elsewhere

If anything, money that may have been earmarked for phones was spent on computer hardware enabling people to work from home. Other potential buyers hung onto their money as they face financial uncertainty.

Apple was the bright spot. iPhone sales were up 25 percent on the same period last year. It remains the third largest phone maker in terms of unit sales behind Huawei and Samsung. The company’s market share climbed from around 11 percent to roughly 16 percent.

Canalys says the new iPhone SE accounted for around 28 percent of its sales.1 It reports: “Apple is demonstrating skills in new user acquisition. It adapted quickly to the pandemic, doubling down on the digital customer experience as stay-at-home measures drive more customers to online channels.”

The iPhone 11 was Apple’s best seller taking 40 percent of sales.

Last week this blog reported on Huawei overtaking Samsung as the largest phone maker.

Canalys sounds a warning note about future sales. It says consumer purchasing power has stayed stable thanks to government stimulus packages. The market now faces problems as the stimulus money ends and expected job losses mount.


  1. I’d recommend this to anyone wanting an iPhone without financial stress. ↩︎

Huawei Petal Search

A US ban shut Huawei out of Google Play Services. It hope Petal Search will make that less of a problem.

Huawei sold more phones than any other company last quarter. It overtook Samsung, mainly thanks to strong sales in China.

For Huawei, success in the home market is a bright spot. Things are less positive in the rest of the world.

Last year the US government issued an embargo that stops the company from using Google’s version of Android.

This makes it harder for people who purchase new Huawei phones to find the big name apps. Among the ones that are hard to get are WhatsApp, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and Google Maps.

Popular apps missing

Not having the most popular apps is a barrier to selling phones. Ten years ago Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system floundered because the world’s largest software company didn’t include the most popular apps.

It’s technically possible to run a lot of popular Android apps on a Huawei phone.1 To get them users are required to do a lot of the leg work.

Some popular Android apps can work through a browser, in many cases with less functionality.

In practice the workarounds can be tedious and laborious, the kind of dreary repetitive tasks that technology was meant to eliminate.

That may not be a barrier to people reading this blog post, it will be a huge problem for less tech-savvy phone buyers. There’s another problem to consider that we’ll get to in moment.

Easier, not easy

Huawei aims to make the task easier. Its main, long term, strategy is a Huawei-branded App Store. Many apps have made it to the Huawei App Store. But there are millions, Huawei says around three million, more apps out there.

The company is racing to fill the Huawei App Store, but that will take time. It needs to convince developers to offer tweaked versions of their software. Huawei’s base software is Android, which means Android apps don’t need much work to make the cut. Yet, building Huawei specific versions is not going to be a priority for every developer.

Petal Search is Huawei’s interim alternative. It lets users search for non-Google Play versions of Android apps. In many cases these can be downloaded from developer sites or from third party app libraries.

While it works fine on one level, it is far from perfect. For a start, apps stores have conditioned users to expect timely, automatic updates when software is refreshed. Petal Search doesn’t fix that. You could find yourself running insecure versions of apps – as if the Android world wasn’t insecure enough.

And this brings us to the other big problem. App store owners are supposed to vet apps for quality and security flaws. This doesn’t always work as it should, but there is safety going through the big official app stores.

Petal Search risks

Petal Search can leave you wandering through the seedy backstreets. It can be risky.

Huawei doesn’t need to worry about Chinese customers, they don’t use Google Play Services. There are other countries where Google is less important. But for the western world, the company has millions of phones in circulation that will, in the coming years, be up for renewal. If the Huawei app experience disappoints, they won’t be upgrading to a Huawei phone.

And that’s the huge barrier facing Huawei. It doesn’t matter how great the hardware is, nor does it matter if Huawei sharpens its pencil and drops prices to bargain basement levels. Without access to the apps phone buyers want to run, those fancy phones are lifeless slabs of glass, plastic and metal. They will be almost impossible to sell.


  1. Although paid apps and apps requiring subscriptions can be extra tricky. ↩︎

Huawei phonesReuters reports: Huawei overtakes Samsung as top handset maker thanks to robust China sales

China’s Huawei Technologies snatched the title of biggest smartphone seller from Samsung Electronics in the second quarter, underscoring the resilience of the China market even as global demand for phones plunged amid the pandemic.

Huawei shipped 55.8 million devices in the April-June period, trumping Samsung’s 53.7 million, according to data from research firm Canalys.

There’s not much in it and phone companies can, sometimes do,  manipulate ‘shipping’ data. Numbers for China are notoriously rubbery.

Yet Huawei snatching the phone sales crown from Samsung marks an important turning point. Five years ago at the Huawei P8 phone launch in Singapore, consumer business group CEO Richard Yu told me his goal was to beat Samsung.

Beat Samsung, challenge Apple

Yu also said Huawei plans to challenge Apple. Samsung may have been the best selling phone brand, but Apple is the one that makes all the money and is recognised by its rivals as the leader. That’s another story.

What’s remarkable about Huawei passing Samsung this year is the company can’t sell a thing in the US, one of the largest markets. It is also hamstrung by US sanctions that mean it can’t use new American-made technology from companies like Google or Microsoft. Most important of all, this means Android.

The pandemic could have been another barrier between Huawei and its phone sales ambition. Covid-19 hit China hard early on and disrupted the country’s supply chains.

Huawei made it to the top rank on the back of dominating sales in China, the world’s biggest phone market.

It’s not all good news for Huawei. The company’s phone sales were down five percent when compared with the same period a year ago. Meanwhile Samsung sales fell 30 percent. Huawei’s non-China sales fell by almost as much: 27 percent.

It’s likely normal service will be resumed when markets recover from the pandemic. Samsung can press home its Android advantage. The company has moved closer to Google since the US pushed its main rival away from the search giant.

There’s a possibility the lack of Android and Google services has yet to sink in with Huawei’s non-China customers.

Yet for now, we can let Huawei enjoy reaching its long-held goal.

 

ipad air

An enforced stay at home meant a change of emphasis for personal technology. The Apple iPad proved the best tool of all.

Here in New Zealand we spent five weeks at lockdown level 4 and two weeks at level 3.

For most of us that meant staying at home apart from exercise, trips to buy food or urgent medical appointments.

Above all it meant working and being entertained at home. For that you need a computing device, the right software and decent connectivity.

iPad ticks all the boxes

Phones, tablets and personal computers all fit the bill, but the one that delivered best on all counts turned out to an iPad.

It could be any iPad. In my case it was the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, but most of what I’m about to say could equally apply to a basic NZ$600 model

The iPad has the perfect combination of features for working at home. The screen is much bigger than on a phone.

Videoconferencing is a breeze. If you are lucky enough to work with other Apple users the FaceTime app is excellent. We used it for three way catch-ups with our daughters who were locked down elsewhere.

Not everyone you deal with chooses Apple kit. Zoom and most other popular videoconference tools work fine on the iPad. In fact I find they work better on the iPad than anything else.

That’s entertainment

The iPad is also great for watching Netflix and other online entertainment. Sadly there was no sport in the lockdown, but it’s great to cuddle up warm in the wee small hours to watch matches beamed in from the other side of the world.

All iPads are good for video, the 12.9-inch screen is better for older, weaker eyes. It’s also possible to wirelessly connect the iPad to a big TV screen. In our case we use a Chromecast.

Add a keyboard to an iPad and it becomes a basic computer. You can surf the web, read and compose emails, write blog posts like this one or even wrangle Office apps like Microsoft Word and Excel.

It’s possible to write without a keyboard. I’ve posted elsewhere about my keyboard-free iPad writing experience.

Yet a real keyboard is better. I have an Apple Magic Keyboard, the iPad Pro Smart Keyboard and a couple of older Logitech Bluetooth keyboard. All work a treat.

iPad creativity

There are creative apps. My iPad doubles as a music workstation, photo editing terminal and games machine. Apple’s Pencil helps when it comes to fine drawing or other on screen work.

I also download magazines, books, audio books, podcasts and music. It’s a great reader.

Yes, you can do all the above with a phone. Yet the bigger screen improves everything, except portability, which isn’t a huge deal in a lockdown.

Best of all the iPad’s form means you can do all these things from a desk, from the dining room table, from the deck, sofa or the bed.

Value

Apple iPads can be good value. As already mentioned the cheapest full size model costs NZ$600.

That’s much cheaper than an equivalent phone and, by the time you’re added a keyboard, the price is on a par with everyday laptops.

That basic iPad will done everything, although it may wheeze a little with more demanding create apps.

While the basic iPad is a bargain at $600, you may be reading this and thinking you could economise further with a cheaper tablet. There are pitfalls with that plan.

A cheaper tablet will have a lower quality screen. In general it will be slower than the iPad and may not be so flexible with software choices.

You’ll need to budget extra for a keyboard. There are excellent Logitech keyboards for around $170. These will also protect your iPad. The Apple Magic Keyboard doesn’t hook up direct to the iPad – I use a stand when I wrote on the iPad with this keyboard. It costs $150.

Apple’s Smart Keyboards are pricey. The 11-inch model costs NZ$330 while the 12.9-inch iPad Pro Smart Keyboard costs $359. I find they work the best, but they bump up the entry price a lot.

Storage

The other cost to consider is buying more storage with your iPad. The basic model comes with 32GB. That’s fine if you are at home and have an external hard drive or a cloud account with plenty of storage. I’d recommend finding the extra $180 to get the 128GB model.

Adding a keyboard and storage takes the price up to around the $1000 mark. If you don’t have a specific need for a laptop and there is maybe already a more traditional computer at home, this would be good choice.

Is it good value? It depends on how you use technology.

It clearly is good value for me. Apple recently added an iPadOS app that tells you how much time you spend with the device. During a typical lockdown week I was spending about 45 hours on the iPad and less than an hour on the iPhone.

 

Global sales of smartphones to end users declined 20.2 percent in the first quarter of 2020, according to Gartner, Inc. The global shelter-in-place combined with the economic uncertainty brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic led to demand for smartphones collapsing as consumers stopped spending on nonessential products during the first quarter.

“The coronavirus pandemic caused the global smartphone market to experience its worst decline ever,” said Anshul Gupta, senior research analyst at Gartner.

“Most of the leading Chinese manufacturers and Apple were severely impacted by the temporary closures of their factories in China and reduced consumer spending due to the global shelter-in-place.”

Source: Gartner says global smartphone sales declined 20 percent in first quarter of 2020 due to Covid-19 impact

We knew it was coming. Even so, the raw numbers are still dramatic. All the main phone makers operating in New Zealand suffered big falls. Samsung and Huawei fared worse. Apple, not so much. Gartner also reports people are hanging on to their phones for longer.

The worldwide numbers from Gartner are consistent with the fall in New Zealand device sales.

Gartner says the first quarter could have been worse for Samsung. It has a limited sales presence in China and doesn’t make phones there.

Huawei is the biggest loser with sales dropping 27.3 percent year-on-year. That’s its first decline. As recently as 2018 Huawei’s market share was still growing at the expense of its rivals.

The company’s problems are less to do with Covid-19, although heaven knows that is bad enough. Huawei cannot use Google apps or the Google Play store with its new phone models. That is a huge turn off for customers outside of China.

Apple got off to a strong start before the pandemic hit. Garter says it may even have been on track to break records.

Huawei p40 pro

In March Huawei launched the P40 Pro. It is the company’s latest flagship Android phone.

Going by the reviews, the hardware is as good as it gets for Android.

It could have been a contender for 2020’s best phone.

Yet there is more to a phone than hardware. If anything the software and services are more important. So is the way these two integrate with the phone hardware.

Android, not Google

This is a problem for the Huawei P40 Pro because it is the first major Android phone from a top brand that doesn’t include Google Mobile Services.

Last May the Trump Administration placed heavy sanctions on Huawei. The company is not allowed to licence or otherwise use US-made technology.

Which means Huawei’s new phones can only use the open source version of Android.

Moreover, new Huawei phones can’t offer Gmail, Google Maps or You Tube. Huawei is cut adrift from the Google Play Store. You can’t pay for stuff using Google Pay.

Clever, up to a point

Huawei has found one clever workaround the problem. It has re-released versions of earlier phones that are still allowed to use these services. The Huawei P30 Pro recently appeared complete with everything Android.

That works if customers don’t mind buying what could be thought of as old technology. Not that 99 percent of users would ever know the technology is old, it still feels modern enough. As my P30 Pro review says, you get a lot of camera.

Homegrown ecosystem

P40 Pro buyers are stuck with Huawei’s own homegrown ecosystem. You get Huawei’s unexciting EMUI 10 operating system wrapped around Android and a handful of substitute apps. The apps might get the job done, but while some buyers may be satisfied others may not warm to them.

Huawei also offers its own App Gallery. The company said it was going to, or maybe that is will, spend a billion US dollars on the gallery. It has 3,000 software engineers working on it.

Whatever the claims, it’s like entering an Eastern Bloc shop in the bad old Cold War days. There are gaps everywhere and many apps are limp, pale copies of the real thing.

Even the included email app is, well, not a patch on Gmail. Huawei really ought to have poured some resources into making that one sing and dance.

If you are hooked on Facebook, there is no app. In fact you won’t find any of the most popular apps.

A brave decision

You’ve got to really want a Huawei P40 Pro to get one. Or you have to be extra keen to stick-it-to-the-man.

For a start, the P40 Pro isn’t listed in the Spark or Vodafone online stores at the time of writing. You could buy it from 2degrees at NZ$1500 a pop or on a plan.1

Then the challenge is making it work the way you’d want an Android phone to work. A lot of geeky folk are attracted to Android precisely because it does offer more scope for tinkering that Apple’s iPhone.

No doubt some of these will enjoy the P40 Pro challenge.

Security melt-down

You can use third-party app stores. If you work for a corporation your IT security people will probably have a melt-down at the thought. There are downloadable and published hacks and so on. Android is already a minefield for malware and scams, heading into this territory is not for the faint hearted.

Patching security updates is likely to be troublesome and P40 Pro owners may even be violating the terms and conditions for services like online banking using such risky software.

Huawei has made some great phones over the years. In another world, the P40 Pro would probably be among them. But it isn’t. Whether its handicap is fair or reasonable is one thing, but regardless of those matters, it would not be wise to sink $1500 of your own money into a crippled phone.


  1. The marketing material at the 2degrees site doesn’t go anywhere near mentioning the phone is not like other Android phones. This could be grounds for getting your money back if you feel duped. ↩︎

Phone market Q1 2020 data from IDC shows shipments1 of new phones dropped 11.7 percent year on year in the first three months of 2020. That’s a total of 275.8 million phones.

It is the biggest year-on-year drop ever seen.

First quarter numbers are usually lower than the fourth quarter which includes all the phones purchased as Christmas gifts. The fourth quarter usually also captures sales of new phones immediately after the major product launches.

Yet this took place before phone buyers faced the full impact of the Covid–19 pandemic. Sure parts of China were closed down. And China does account for about a quarter of the worldwide new phone market. That’s going to have a huge impact.

Likewise, most of the world’s phones are made in China. Production and the pre-production supply chains were badly affected in the second half of the quarter.

It’s unlikely the current quarter will see much improvement. China may be back at work, but people elsewhere have been, many still are, in lockdown. That’s not great for phone sales. Nor is the economic uncertainty. That new phone sale is an easy expense to cut when the future looks tougher.

Samsung hit hard

While Samsung remains top dog with 58.3 million phones and a 21.1 percent share, it suffered the largest drop in shipments during the quarter. Year on year sales are down 18.9 percent.

There is good news for Samsung. IDC says the higher price of the Galaxy G20 phone means better profits.

Samsung has two important phones scheduled for launch later this year. The Galaxy Fold2 and the Note 20 are both likely to be expensive phones at a time when demand for pricey high-end models could cool.

Huawei better than you might expect

The political waves rocking Huawei’s boat have harmed phone sales less than you might expect. Year on year sales are down 17 percent. That’s bad, yet not as bad as Samsung.

Apple’s year on year sales were, in effect, flat with a 0.4 percent decline. This translates into an increased share of the overall market. It has 11.8 percent. The company’s success was mainly thanks to its iPhone 11, which in certain configurations is the most expensive non-folding handset.

IDC says that if the trend to lower price phones continues, and let’s face it that looks likely, Apple should have a hit on its hands with the iPhone SE.

Phone market Q1 2020 data shows industry in for bumpy ride

To get an idea of how this quarter could go, Qualcomm, which makes chips for mobile phones, says it expects a 30 percent year on year drop for the current, second quarter. Given that it takes orders from phone makers ahead of manufacturing, it has a good handle on the market. That would be a huge drop.

IDC suggests a bright spot could be 5G. People need new handsets to use the faster wireless technology. It’s possible customers will trade up to 5G phones later in the year.

On the flip side of this, most users won’t notice any performance difference from switching to 5G. Data will download faster, but at the time of writing there are no mobile apps that can use faster data speeds.


  1. Shipments is industry talk for products that have left the warehouse en route for customers. While a shipment is not the same as a sale, it is close enough. Retailers don’t tend to carry huge inventories of product these days. ↩︎