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Worldwide phone sales 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 sales. 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.

Follow the money

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. ↩︎

Apple Newton MessagePad 130It raised smiles 14 years ago when I carried a 1996 Apple Newton MessagePad 130 into the IDG Auckland office.

IDC is the publisher of titles like Reseller News, ComputerWorld and PC World. It was a workplace where the Newton was instantly recognisable.

The Newton looked odd among the 2006 Motorola flip phones, Blackberrys and Palm Pilots1.

Old dogs, old tricks

Odd, but not too ancient to use. My Newton still worked fine. I could still scrawl notes on the screen with a stylus2. It could still track my diary dates and manage my contacts.

Of course, the Newton couldn’t hook up to much else. The Newton MessagePad predated Wi-fi and Bluetooth. However there was a proprietary cable that would send a trickle of data to and from a PC or Mac.

The Newton needed AA batteries. I had a rechargeable pack that was an afterthought, but my MessagePad didn’t have internal rechargeable power like many modern devices in the 2005.

My motivation for digging the Newton out from the back of the cupboard and giving it another go was twofold.

First, I wanted to see if the technology was as far ahead of its time as it seemed in 1993 when I had my first Newton. In some ways it was.

The second reason was because, at the time, there were rumours Apple was working on something that would replace the Newton. According to the reports that something was also a phone.

The rest is history.

Hardware that goes on and on

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Newton MessagePad 130 was that it was still working after a decade. When the Newton line was first launched there was talk of the devices being short-lived. A year later I sold my working Newton on TradeMe.

So long as it isn’t dropped or hammered by hard use, a digital device can live a long time. It will always be able to do whatever it was purchased for in the first place3.

But keeping devices for years is not fashionable. In some circles it is almost viewed as subversive.

Technology companies carpet bomb journalists like me who covering the sector with new products. There is a constant stream of product launches. New this, improved that, enhanced4 something else and so on.

It can get tiring.

New, improved a bit

Often the new thing is better than the old thing. It is rare that it is so much better that we should bin the old stuff and buy the new. And yet that is what people do. Often far too soon.

The hardware you buy can, and should, last for years. There is more to not jumping to the latest model than being frugal. Electronic hardware is hard on the planet, an ecological time bomb. In the case of some materials it can also be the cause of much misery.

Upgrading less often makes the world a better place.

Wise technology buyers choose hardware with a long life. Even if you don’t intend to hang on to something for ages, you’ll get a better price if you sell your device on when you upgrade.

Hardware that lasts

There are two parts to finding products that last a long time. Some hardware brands take a pride in making things that last. Others design their gear so that it can be upgraded.

According to Asymco, the average life of an Apple device in 2018 was four years and three months. That number has increased since then. I’ve seen estimates that iPhones now last almost five years.

Statista estimates the life of an average phone, iPhone and Android, in the US is around 2.88 years.

The sources and methodologies for the two sets of statistics are different, so we can’t read too much into the numbers. Even so, it appears Android phones are active for much less that iPhones.

Retain value

Supporting evidence for this comes from Trademe. Second hand iPhones retain value far more than second hand Android phones.

Another thing to consider is that Apple has historically provided software updates for longer than Android phone makers.

The point here is not to say one is better than the other. I’ll leave that to you. What’s important is if a phone’s lifespan is important to you, choose an iPhone.

You can do similar research with tablets and various types of computers. Apple hardware tends towards lasting longer than average.

Meanwhile some brands are easier to upgrade. You can’t do much to keep a MacBook Air up to date. It’s a piece of cake to put more memory, more storage or a faster drive in a Windows desktop computer.

Popular helps

There is something else to consider about device long life. If you choose a popular brand, that would be Apple or Samsung for phones, Apple, HP and Dell for laptops and so on, there’s a bigger community of people to support that product over the long haul.

You won’t have trouble finding someone to fix a broken Apple or Samsung phone, you might struggle if you pick a less popular brand like, say, Oppo.

Likewise there is a ready market in components like replacement batteries or screens for popular products. Finding parts for obscure hardware is tough.

You may have other tips for getting more out of your spending on hardware. Feel free to share in the comments below. There is a prize for the best tip.


  1. I had each of these too ↩︎
  2. Apple had fixed the early teething troubles with handwriting recognition, late model Newtons like the 130 were remarkably good at the job. ↩︎
  3. So long as there are no idiotic software updates that render the thing useless. ↩︎
  4. Was there ever such a weaselly marketing word as enhanced? It implies something is better when often it means is some problems are now fixed. ↩︎

Apple Installed Base (Number of Users)
Apple Installed Base (Number of Users)

For the second year in a row, Apple held a developers conference that should frighten its competitors. Relying on a nearly maniacal obsession with the user experience, Apple is removing oxygen from every market that it plays in.

At the same time, the tech landscape is riddled with increasingly bad bets, indifference, and a lack of vision. Apple is pulling away from the competition to a degree that we haven’t ever seen before.

Source: Above Avalon: Apple Is Pulling Away From the Competition

Above Avalon analyst Neil Cybart says Apple is stealing a march on other technology companies. He says the company has made long-term decisions that mean its rivals will struggle to catch up.

The story needs to be read through a careful filter. Cybart writes about the company both from an investment point of view and from a Silicon Valley perspective.

This doesn’t necessarily make his analysis biased or wrong, it isn’t,  but it can lack broader context.

Coherence

Cybart’s main idea is that Apple has pulled now all its strands together. The range of products and services has a new coherence and a clear direction.

This, according to Cybart, comes at a time when rivals are weakening.

Together these two trends have set up conditions that will move the company even further ahead of rivals over the next decade.

He makes a good case. Yet there are flaws in this line of thinking. Maybe flaw is too strong. Let’s say questions.

Samsung lack of vision

In the middle of the web post Cybart lists the ways Apple is beating key rival technology companies. He, rightly, notes that Samsung “remains rudderless from a product vision perspective.”

While that’s true, Samsung is a major component supplier to Apple and other hardware companies. If you look closely at Samsung’s financials, it’s clear the areas that compete with Apple are not central to Samsung’s profits.

The areas where the two companies co-operate are more important to Samsung.

Cybart correctly dismisses Google and Amazon as direct rivals. In the greater scheme of things their hardware products are inconsequential. Yet both remain on growth trajectories that could yet pose a threat to Apple.

Microsoft hardware

Microsoft’s hardware move has failed to alter the balance of power between Macs or iPads and Windows hardware. Cybart is right on the money when he says Surface mainly takes business away from Microsoft’s Windows partners.

Yet like Amazon and, to a lesser degree Google, Microsoft is powering ahead with cloud computing. These companies are building a significant digital world where Apple doesn’t play.

This is not a criticism of Cybart’s story. He is on the money as far as personal computer hardware and its immediate successor technologies are concerned. Apple does look set to dominate.

Beyond this there are parallel markets where Apple is, at best a bit player. These markets interact with Apple’s market. In the future they may interact in ways that are not yet clear.

Shorn of context, Apple is powering ahead. But let’s not forget Amazon and Microsoft are also powering ahead. Technology is not a simple zero-sum game.

Vissles wireless charger

One of the earliest memories I have of school is our headmaster coming into our class on occasion and reading stories from his Rudyard Kipling book that must have been as old as he was.

My favourite to this day was “The Elephants Child” and I can still hear the headmaster’s perfect diction when saying words like Limpopo like it was the last thing he’d ever say.

What has that got to do with reviewing an accessory you might say? Well, other than adding a bit of colour to a pretty vanilla product, this review also has a pretty major elephant. We will get to that later.

The product in question is the Vissles Wireless Charger, which is unsurprisingly, a wireless charger.

One charger to power them all

Its main point of difference is that it does something that Apple can’t; it allows you to charge your AirPods, Apple Watch and iPhone with the one accessory. The party piece for this charger is that it only requires one external power connection to charge all three devices.

The actual device is about the size and shape of an iPhone 11 Max if the designer had recently discovered rounded corners and decided to go all in. It’s finished with a futurist white plastic gloss, which should fit in with most decors, if that is your thing.

There is no actual charger supplied, so I’m assuming Vissles decided you’d use your existing Apple Watch charger, which is fair.

The Vissles charger also requires you to insert your Apple Watch cable into its housing. This is also fine, but in my case my Apple Watch cable was about 1 meter too long, so I couldn’t use it. Just be aware of this if you have a long Apple Watch charging cable.

As far as using the charger goes, it does what it says on the box. Charging three devices on something that looks like a surfboard from Star Wars is genuinely gratifying and potentially space saving as well.

Fumble-free

I particularly enjoyed not having to fumble around looking for a charge cable to poke into the bottom on my phone, and being able to have somewhere for my AirPods to “dock” permanently while charging. I can’t fault the Vissles Wireless Charger at all from a form and function point of view.

However, I promised an elephant and here it is: I just can’t workout who this accessory is for?

Sure it’s slightly annoying fumbling around for the free charge cable that came with my phone or headphones. It’s great having a central charging station, but is it something you really need? I guess that’s not for me to decide. If you think you do, then this accessory will fulfil your brief very well.

This review was written by Timaru-based James Sugrue. Who describes himself as coder, author, hardware tinkerer, father, husband and geek. James does a bit of motorsport too.

Apple iPhone SE 2020 with charging pad

Sometimes the stars align. Apple set out its hardware stall in early 2020 with advanced, yet lower priced, iPhones, iPads and Macs. The the pandemic hit.

Affordable models arrived as the world tightened its belt to deal with the inevitable downturn.

Take the iPhone SE. It looks like a two-year-old iPhone on the outside. Yet inside the case it has a 2020 processor. The A13 Bionic chip also powers the iPhone 11.

Lockdown ready

April’s story calls it an iPhone that’s right for lockdown times. News reports suggest the SE sell faster than Apple expected. The company struggled to meet demand. Although that could also be down to pandemic supply chain problems.

Last month’s iPhone SE review says: “This may not be the most exciting iPhone from a technology point of view. Yet it is the iPhone a lot of people have been waiting for.”

You can’t argue a NZ$800 phone is cheap. Many readers will wince if we describe it as affordable.

Yet it puts advanced technology and, arguably, the best experience in reach of more buyers.

The iPhone SE stacks up well against similar price competitors. If Android is not your thing and you prefer to avoid second hand hardware, its $800 price tag is tempting.

iPad

This year’s base iPad model costs NZ$600. You get a lot of iPad, but not enough storage. Its 32GB is not enough for most uses. Pay $780 and you’ll get a 128GB model. It represents good value for money.

Move up to the iPad Pro and prices start at NZ$1500 for an 11-inch model. That’s in line with prices two years ago but you get more iPad. The base Pro now comes with 128GB at the price of the two year old 64GB model.

Although currency movements haven’t been kind to New Zealand, prices for new MacBook Airs are still $100 or so lower than the models they replace. They come with better keyboards. Apple kept MacBook Pro prices in line with earlier models, but bumped the storage. Likewise the Mac mini.

Apple remains at the more expensive end of the market when benchmarked against similar hardware from other laptop makers. Yet the gap has narrowed. If you like the performance, the operating system and the wider Apple experience that margin is less of a barrier than it was.

Apple still has nosebleed prices if you know where to look. You could fork out NZ$10,800 for the basic Tower version of the Mac Pro. A full configured model can cost more than NZ$94,000. That includes NZ$700 to put wheels on the beast.

That’s not likely to be on your shopping list. A nice iPad keyboard might be. Apple wants NZ$549 for the iPad Pro Magic Keyboard. That’s pushing it.

Some incorrect prices were shown in an earlier version of this post.