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Bill Bennett

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Apple is one world’s largest companies. It got there by giving people the technology they want. Products include the Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and AirPods.

iPhone, Android: Which is best phone operating system?

Android remains the most popular phone operating system. It has seen-off Blackberry, Nokia Symbian and Windows Phone. It’s polished and complete, yet many will tell you iOS offers a better experience.

Both iOS and Android are good. Each has its advantages. If you want more control over your phone choose Android. If you worry about your privacy and security choose iOS.

Fans of both swear their favourite is more productive or more fun. They both can be. And anyway, these things depend on your definition of productivity or fun and how you work.

Should you change phone operating system?

Before we look closer at the differences, one other key point. If you’ve spent the last ten years using one or the other, you’ll need a good reason to switch.

Making a change is disruptive. You’ll need to learn new ways to do things and, if you see your phone as a work tool, chances are, you’ll spend a small fortune buying new apps. You may also need to budget for things like earbuds and any other peripherals.

Only Apple makes iOS devices. You can’t buy them from a third-party. It makes the hardware and it makes the software. This is important.

There are no jarring glitches where one company’s responsibility stops and another’s starts. Apple gets to control every step from the moment you open the product box.

The hardware and software knit together. The experience is seamless and integrated. It is not always clear where one stops and the other starts.

Apple hardware is often beautiful. The beauty isn’t skin deep; it goes all the way through.

Integration

Android can’t match Apple’s integration.

Take Samsung, the leading maker of Android phone hardware. It speaks volumes that Samsung hides Android behind its own software overlay. So do the other phone makers.

You can buy Google Pixel branded phones with vanilla Android versions. Nokia also makes a range of pure Android phones with no overlay.

These are better integrated. They are a smoother experience than the phones with overlays. Yet, even here, Android’s integration is not as tight as Apple’s.

There’s also an inconsistent user experience.

Consistency

Move from any Apple iPad to an iPhone and things work much the same. This is not always ideal, but third-party apps are  consistent across the iOS range. Controls are consistent. Things act in the same, predictable way wherever you are.

Someone who uses an older iPhone can move to the latest one with little difficulty.

Android is better than it was five or six years ago. Yet, it still lacks consistency. A user switching from one Android brand to another will have to make mental adjustments. It’s not huge. For the most part it is no longer jarring. But it’s there. It’s a barrier to productivity.

Phone operating system fragmentation

When Apple introduces a new version of iOS, most users upgrade in days. That’s less the case with Android. It is a fragmented market with different users on different Android versions. And that’s before you account for overlays.

Although matters have improved in recent years, there are times when an Android app may not run on every model and OS version. Fragmentation makes life harder for app developers. They tend to write code for the most popular options, not all options.

While there are iOS apps that don’t run on some iPhones, there’s no similar fragmentation in Apple’s world.

Sometimes free is too high a price

Apple’s business model is about selling hardware and services like Apple Music. iOS is made for that purpose.

Google’s business model is selling advertising. Android’s  key commercial goal purpose is to collect data so Google can sell more ads. Google doesn’t even sell its software to phone makers. They get it free. This tells you everything.

You might be cool with that. You may think owning an Android phone means you’ll see better targeted advertising. And it is fair to say Apple collects data. But there’s a difference between data collection being a byproduct and being the goal.

It shapes how Google views you as a customer.

The problem comes when Apple engineers make a choice about how something works. Their point of reference is how do we make this experience better?

Google engineers ask themselves the same question. But they’ll also think about opportunities to collect more data.

Android not all bad

Android is not a bad phone operating system. It’s great.

Yet compared with iOS, it’s feels messy and disorganised. That’s not all negative. Some geeks like to tinker with their phones – that’s easier in the Android world. For some the freedom to tinker is more important than being productive or efficient. For others freedom is a path to productivity and efficiency.

Android has its charms. Apart from anything else, there wouldn’t be affordable phones without Google’s mobile operating system. Not everybody can afford to pay Apple’s premium prices. Not everybody wants to pay a premium. Android means you can get a  decent phone for a few hundred dollars.

And let’s not forget Android allowed Samsung and others to get into the phone market. It made competition possible. For that Google deserves everyone’s thanks.

Google docs drops geared-for-print

Google has finally dropped the idea that the end goal of Google Docs is to print words on a sheet of paper.

It’s been a long time coming.

When personal computers were new, word processors were all about print.

But it is now years since everyone used computers to produce printed documents. We may not have the promised paperless offices, but there is a lot less paper in the modern workplace.

These days documents usually spend all their time in a pure digital format.

Yet, until now, editing tools remain geared to print.

Word processors

Take Microsoft Word. You can’t use it for long before seeing a page break. Yes, you can use the web layout view which doesn’t have breaks. But that’s ugly to read as you put down words. And the outline view is for specialist uses.

Likewise Apple’s Pages or the Writer section of LibreOffice. They all assume you want to print documents on paper.

Dive in deeper and you’ll find word processor settings for page headers and footers. Again, these features are print-oriented.

Text editors have a digital-first perspective. But they still nod to printed pages at times.

Google Docs has offered an option not to show pages for years. I wrote Word processor software still geared to print on the subject in 2014.

Google Docs part of Workspace refresh

This week Google announced sweeping changes to Workspace, a set of tools that includes Google Docs.

The big idea behind these changes is that you are no longer working to put words on paper. It’s a symbolic move. It’s a philosophical move and it’s also a practical move.

Instead, Google Docs becomes part of a bigger picture: dynamic, interactive documents that integrate with other tools. This includes embedding video, even links to video conference meetings.

The challenge for Google is that many customers liked Google Docs the way it was. They may not print much these days, but the concepts and workflows are familiar. There’s no discontinuity adapting to a fresh approach.

There’s a lot more coming from Google. More to write about here. Yet for now, Google has untethered its popular word processor from print.

That’s progress.

Choosing the right mobile phone for 2021

For many people, a mobile phone is the computer they spend the most time with.

That makes sense. Phones don’t do everything well, but they are handy. Up to a point they are easy to use. Best of all, as the name suggests, they are mobile. You can take them to the work instead of bringing the work to them.

Modern phones handle voice calls, messaging and video calls. That’s only the start. They all have internet browsers, which gives you access to many cloud applications.

They also run apps in their own right. Your phone includes a camera and a GPS device that knows where you are and how to get to your destination.

All modern phones can play music and games when you are not working. Some include features allowing you to measure distances or handle other specialist tasks.

We’re not at the point where you can leave your wallet at home, but you can pay bills or unlock doors using your phone.

Popular mobile phone choices

There is a bewildering array of phone models. Although there is less phone brand choice than you might imagine. Here I’ve focused on the most popular models from the best-known brands. There are also a couple of wild-cards worth considering.

You should consider whether you need a 5G mobile. While 5G is faster than 4G, the older network is good enough for every mobile application in use today.

There’s no pressing need to upgrade. At the time of writing Vodafone and Spark have limited 5G networks. But they are growing fast. If you expect a phone to last years, it may pay to get a 5G model the next time you upgrade.

A word of warning, the Covid pandemic disrupted phone supply chains. New Zealand is not always at the front of the queue for models, especially with the Asian phone brands.

You may need to look further this year than in the past.

Apple is favourite

At the end of 2020 Apple was New Zealand’s top selling phone brand. It got there on the back of the iPhone 12. This comes in four models ranging from the $1350 iPhone 12 mini to the $2700 iPhone 12 Pro Max. The less expensive models are doing best at the moment.

The iPhone 12 represents the biggest change to Apple’s phone line since the iPhone X in 2017. It’s an all-screen design which brings together the best features of recent iPhones in a thinner, lighter package. Battery life is long, I go two working days between charges.

Performance is better than any other phone on the market and the iPhone 12 is more durable than other mainstream phones. The iPhone 12 works with the new 5G networks carriers are now building around New Zealand.

Depending on the model you either get a great camera or what could be the best camera available on any phone.

While iPhone 12 is expensive compared to rivals, you can expect it to earn its living for the next five years. That’s not something you could say about most alternatives.

Samsung top Android

There’s a reason Samsung, along with Apple, dominates New Zealand phone sales.

Samsung’s Galaxy models have been the best Android phones over the long haul. Rivals, especially Huawei, may pull ahead at times, but you can’t go wrong with a Samsung phone.

This year Samsung sales have fallen back a little. Yet the brand still enjoys success with its high-end and mid-range models.

Phones don’t get any further upmarket than the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2. It’s beautiful. If you need a device that is more a tablet you can fit in a pocket than a traditional phone then it is worth the $3500 asking price.

A bigger, 7.6-inch, screen, means you can read much more than on an ordinary phone. It also works better with web-based cloud apps.

There’s something magical about looking at a web page on the outside screen when using the Fold2 as a normal phone, then opening it to the same place on the same page on a much bigger screen.

Samsung has less expensive phones. According to IDC Research, the company’s A Series phones sold well last year. This year Samsung has updated A Series models.

The $700 Galaxy A51 has many of the features found in upmarket phones. It includes a fingerprint reader hidden behind the main screen. There’s a huge 6.5 inch AMOLED screen that is brighter than everyday displays.

Huawei in decline

Until recently Huawei was the clear challenger brand. That changed when President Trump banned US companies from working with the company. This meant Huawei couldn’t use American technology.

Huawei has the resources to make its own hardware and software. That’s what it does now, but the ban means users don’t have easy access to services like Gmail, Google Maps and so on.

It’s possible to work around the ban. Yet to no-one’s surprise most people chose not to buy Huawei phones. If the ban doesn’t worry you, the Huawei Y6p is an excellent budget phone. You can expect to pay around $230 for the Y6P.

For the money you get a lot of phone. There’s a 6-inch screen, 64GB of storage and a 5000mAh battery that will run for a couple of days. The catch is that you can’t run Google services. Many Android apps are not available. Although Huawei does offer a vast library of suitable apps through Petal Search, a few popular choices are missing.

Beyond the mobile phone big brands

Nokia and Xiaomi are two interesting smaller Android phone brands worth considering.

The $400 Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T is New Zealand’s lowest priced 5G phone. It does 95 percent of what a phone costing four times the price might do but leaves you with cash to spend elsewhere.

You may remember Nokia. These days another company, HMD, uses the brand under license. It makes a range of non-nonsense Android phones.

Nokia guarantees its models, like the $300 Nokia 3.4, get regular software and security updates. That puts it ahead of most other Android brands.

It’s slow compared with other phones mentioned here. And isn’t outstanding in any department except the quality of its software and its value for money. It’s a great choice if you don’t plan to push mobile tech to the limit.

A version of this post was first published in NZBusiness magazine. It is online as Which mobile phone is right for you?

iOS users vote no to Facebook app tracking

Did you ever doubt Apple users would choose to turn off Facebook app-tracking? It’s now a week since an iOS update arrived allowing users to make their own choice. Let’s look at the numbers.

Flurry Analytics, an advertising analytics company, reports around 88 percent of iOS users worldwide have chosen not to allow apps to track them. There’s a daily update of numbers of Flurry’s website.

The number is higher in the US. There a mere four percent of iOS users allow tracking.

No wonder Facebook went on the offensive with a whingey, dishonest response to Apple’s move.

It’s worth remembering there are countries where switching off Facebook app tracking is not allowed by law. And others where authorities might treat users who opt out with suspicion.

Apple’s popular move

The only conclusion to draw is that Apple’s privacy move is popular with customers.

This is an area where Android phone makers will struggle to compete.

Google’s mobile operating system has tracking baked through its insides like the word Blackpool through a stick of seaside rock. That’s the main reason Google subsidises Android.

Presumably there are Android users who prefer not to be tracked. Switching to Apple and iOS is bothersome, but worth the effort if you prize privacy.

Transparency

Apple calls the new iOS feature App Tracking Transparency. When you open an app, a pop-up appears on screen. It asks if you want to allow the app to track your activity across other companies’ apps and websites?

There are two choices. The first is “Ask App Not to Track”. The second choice is “Allow.”

If you take the first choice, Apple stops the app from using the code that identifies the device.

This is a string on letters and numbers. There is one per iPhone or iPad. It gives companies a unique identifier they can track as you move between apps and websites.

Apple then tells the app owner that you don’t want them to track you in any way. It sends a clear, unambiguous message.

It’s almost as clear and unambiguous as the message that 88 percent of users are unwilling to be surveillance fodder.

Facebook’s whingey ad-tracking response

Facebook tells users intrusive, privacy abusing ad-tracking keeps the social media service free-of-charge. It’s a snow job.

A week ago Apple upgraded its iPhone operating system. One key new feature of iOS 14.5 enraged online advertisers. It allows users to decide whether apps can track them across different sites.

Facebook’s response was to use its apps to tell users ad-tracking helps keep the service free of charge. 1 The warning appears on both the Facebook and Instagram apps.

Remember, Apple users can choose to let Facebook continue tracking. Keep in mind also that, for now, there is no similar feature on Android phones.

The implication is that without intrusive surveillance, Facebook can no longer feed you cat pictures.

Let’s stop right there

For decades before Facebook came along media companies such as newspapers, radio and TV channels managed to maintain teams of skilled journalists and talented broadcasters to keep you informed.

Like Facebook they did that by selling advertising. They had a rough idea who the audience was, in part because old media covered well-defined geographic areas. But they rarely knew much about the target audience.

Facebook has unprecedented global scale. It still knows where its audience is. Thanks to digital technology it has better location information than old media ever had.

It can piece together a lot of other information from clues its users disclose on the Facebook site. The internal Facebook data is often good enough to know if someone is about to become a parent or is in the market for a new car.

Ad-tracking means a better picture of you

By tracking a user over the rest of the online world it can get an ever more accurate picture of each individual user.

The information must be valuable to Facebook. It’s squealing and whinging tells you Apple rattled Facebook. Yet, from Facebook’s point of view there is less at stake than you might imagine.

Apple might account for close to half of US phone users, but worldwide less than one person in five uses an iPhone. And not all will use the privacy feature. (That comment didn’t age well). Facebook stands to lose extra tracking information from, at a rough guess, one user in ten.

It won’t lose all the information it gathers. It can continue to capture activity inside Facebook’s apps.

Which means in round numbers Facebook could lose five percent of the data it collects. That isn’t going to change the economics of its surveillance capitalism business model.

We know this will cost Facebook something.

At the moment it can track when users buy a product in an online store, it can then use that information to push ads for complimentary products. Think: ’You’ve bought a new motorbike, here’s a selection of helmets and leather jackets”.

When a user sees an ad on Facebook and, two days later, learns the user purchased that product online, it can bill more for the advertisement.

Ad-tracking drop in the ocean

In the first three months of 2021 Facebook took a whopping US$26 billion in revenue. Its net income was close to $10 billion. That’s double the result a year earlier.

The pace Facebook is growing at dwarfs any effect Apple’s privacy feature might have.

And that’s if we assume Facebook does not earn another cent from Apple customers who use its app. It’s an heroic assumption.

To argue that choosing not to let the technology giant know what you had for breakfast last Thursday so it can sell you a slimming aid next week means Facebook has to start charging is laughable.

It could end up costing Facebook two or three percent of its revenue. Remember, this is at a time earnings double every twelve months.


  1. At this point I should mention that for years Facebook had a message on the site that says words to the effect that the service was free and that it always would be. ↩︎

Pandemic tablet sales boom rolls over into 2021

Tablet shipments are up 55 percent on the same period last year. The 2020 tablet sales boom that started when the world went into lockdown rolled over into the first quarter of 2021.

IDC reports almost 40 million tablets were shipped in the quarter. It says the market hasn’t seen growth of this magnitude since 2013.

Demand for tablets remains high. IDC says it expects strong numbers to continue for a while yet.

Chromebook surge

Meanwhile some 13 million Chromebooks shipped in the quarter. This compares with 2.8 million in the same period a year ago. Growth was a stunning 357 percent.

We don’t see as much Chromebook activity in New Zealand as elsewhere. That could change, but most education sales activity here seems to be around low-cost conventional laptops and tablets.1

Apple dominates tablet sales boom

Apple’s iPad remains the star tablet performer ahead of Samsung, Lenovo and Amazon, in that order.

IDC says the iPad accounted for 31.7 percent of shipments in the quarter. A total of 12.7 million iPads left Apple’s warehouses during the period. Year-on-year growth was a 64 percent.

A rival research company, Strategy Analytics, says iPad shipments were up 75 percent. It counted a total of 16.8 million.

There’s a significant spread between the two market share estimates. Either way, iPad sales are surging.

Apple’s most recent financial reports noted the company made US$7.8 billion revenue from iPad alone during the quarter. That’s up 79 percent on the previous year’s revenue.

Things could be as strong this quarter. A week ago Apple announced the first iPad Pro model to use the company’s M1 processor and a mini-Led display.

Samsung strong

Samsung remains in second place with 20 percent of the market. It moved eight million units and saw shipments grow 61 percent.

Lenovo more than doubled its shipment numbers to 3.8 million. That’s a shade under 10 percent of the market. Growth was 138 percent.

We don’t see much of Amazon’s tablets in New Zealand. In the first quarter the company moved into fourth place ahead of Huawei which slipped from third place a year ago.

HP dominates Chromebook shipments, it accounted for one-in-three units during the first quarter. Shipments are up 633 percent.

Lenovo is in second place with a 25 percent market share. Shipments are up 350 percent. Samsung is a smaller player with only eight percent market share, but shipments climbed 500 percent. Now that’s a tablet sales boom in itself.

Phone shipments have shown similar growth in 2021


  1. I’m interested to hear if there are sizeable pockets of Chromebook action in New Zealand. If you know, please drop me a line. ↩︎