[OPINION] Has Apple gone too far?

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(Note that whatever is being said here is solely my opinion, and does not reflect on whether the actual product is objectively good or not, so don’t get your panties in a bunch.)

So, Apple has launched the new 2016 MacBook Pro. Many MacBook Pro users have been waiting for this, as it has been quite a while since the last significant refresh had launched and were eagerly awaiting for Apple’s shiny new pro machine. Only, it wasn’t. What came out was a laptop that was a “Pro” in name and general hardware, but became a general laptop everywhere else.

Before we dive in, let’s see what has changed in the new MacBook Pros.

WHAT HAS CHANGED

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  • OLED Touch Bar – Replaces the function keys on the upper-tier 13-inch and all 15-inch models. A touch-sensitive panel that changes based on the application that is open. There’s also the TouchID fingerprint sensor on the side.
  • Display – Now supports a wider color gamut, is brighter and has a better contrast ratio.
  • Chassis – Is now up to 17% thinner than before, with a new Butterfly Keyboard and a larger trackpad.
  • Hardware – A more powerful GPU is added, along with faster I/O
  • Port selection – There are now only 4 USB-C ports on the new MacBook Pro, all of which are Thunderbolt 3 capable, along with a headphone jack

OKAY. SO WHAT’S WRONG?

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The ports.

Yes, I said it. It’s the ports that are the issue. Sure, there are some others, like how it didn’t have to be thinner, or whether the Touch Bar is implemented well or how it has a significant price hike now, but the ports are the main issue for this.

The last MacBook Pro featured the following ports;

  • MagSafe charging port
  • 2 Thunderbolt ports
  • 2 USB-A 3.0 ports
  • An HDMI port
  • A 3.5mm headphone jack
  • An SDXC card slot

All but the jack have been thrown out the door with the current model, replacing them all with 4 Thunderbolt 3-capable USB-C ports. On its own, maybe that’s not so bad, and Apple is known for killing off standards deemed to be old, but in this case, it’s not really that simple.

OKAY, WHY IS IT NOT THAT SIMPLE?

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In the past, Apple has killed off technologies deemed to be old and outdated, such as the floppy drive, and eventually the CD drive and FireWire. But by the time Apple drew first blood, their successors (CD for the floppy drive, cloud storage and USB flashdrives for the CD and floppy drive, USB for FireWire) were already far into the maturity stage and have almost become ubiquitous. In contrast, Apple’s decision to kill off USB-A and others at this stage is just too early. USB-C has only just recently started to see wider adoption with more devices adopting the new port design, notably smartphones but several laptops also have them (albeit as a secondary). However, the adoption rate for USB-C is still quite low right now, and still way too low to justify going all-in with USB-C at this stage in the game.

In order to keep using your current peripherals, you will have to consider adapters, which in the case of the MacBook Pro, can amount to a pretty ridiculous cost in total.

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Let’s not forget that since the iPhone does not have a Lightning-to-USB-C cable included, that would mean that the iPhone would not work with the MacBook Pro out-of-the-box. Furthermore, the included Lightning EarPods with the iPhone 7 would also not work with the new laptop because it does not have a Lighting port, and Apple does not sell a 3.5mm-t0-Lightning adapter designed to make Lightning headphones work with 3.5mm jacks. It’s gotten ridiculous to the point where Android phones like the Nexus 6P and Google Pixels work better with Apple’s shiny new laptop out-of-the-box than Apple’s own phone. This is something Steve Jobs would have thrown out of the door almost immediately.

SO, HAS APPLE GONE TOO FAR?

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Honestly, I’m inclined to go with “Yes” on this one. I had my concerns when the iPhone 7 made its debut without a headphone jack, with Apple declaring it to be a “courageous” move to kill it off. Seeing a similar ethos with the MacBook Pros solidifed my fears; That the designers are in control of the decision-making process within the company.

The current MacBook Pro is a far-cry from the earlier MacBook Pros that were popular with power-users who use one due to its sheer power and expandability along with professional users who found its display to be just perfect for creative tasks, where a well-calibrated, accurate display is paramount. While the power and display aspects of the MacBook Pro remain, the lack of expandability, emphasis on making it thinner yet again and now the port-selection has pretty much neutered it into a consumer-facing laptop. As a user who uses almost every single port on his laptop, this is a huge disappointment.

Apple needs to take a step back from being too obsessed over style and thinness in order to get in touch with reality. Killing off old standards is well and good but you have to do so at the right time in the right way. With the MacBook Pro, they haven’t. They killed it off way too early and they haven’t even bothered to supply a $1500 laptop with a $19 adapter to at least ease the pain. Apple is out-of-touch right now, and I seriously hope that the 2017 massive iPhone refresh could at least alleviate many of my concerns and give me hope in Apple’s future direction.

But to end on a happier note, whatever I say does not mean that the MBP is a bad laptop. It’s a solid laptop that’s plenty powerful for a lot of tasks, has a great display and some cool additions. On its own, it’s a fine machine. I just wish it had better decisions behind it.

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Let’s not forget that the glowing Apple is now gone
[OPINION] Has Apple gone too far?

The fallout of the Note 7’s demise

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The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 just recently went into the history books for all the wrong reasons; It was canned just 53 days after launch due to its higher-than-usual tendency to burst into flames. Despite initially pinpointing the issue to a manufacturing flaw on batteries supplied by Samsung SDI, and switching to Amperex Technology as a new primary supplier, the new phones still burned up in largely the same manner as the pre-recall units. At that point, Samsung had to can the device just to make sure it didn’t cause any more damage than what it had already done.

Obviously, this is very bad news for Samsung, as the company’s share dropped by 8% after the announcement, with the company bracing for further financial impact and also leaves people concerned about the future of the company going forward.

In this post, I’m going to talk about the potential fallout of the demise of the Note 7 and what this means going forward.

RIVALS GET A CHANCE

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Samsung’s arch-rival, Apple, might catch a lucky break

In what’s perhaps an obvious fallout, Samsung’s rivals will obviously get a chance to steal the spotlight.

The most obvious one is Apple. Despite the iPhone 7 being seen as an iterative update, many reviewers find it to be a very solid choice and it’s the next choice besides the Note 7 in many consumer’s eyes due to Apple’s branding along with some selling points.

However, this is also a chance for many of Samsung’s lesser rivals to steal the spotlight.

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So does LG

LG may have caught a lucky break as the LG V20 is set to arrive later in the month (learn how to better launch your devices next time, please), and with the Note 7 out of the way, LG has one less device to worry about, although it may still struggle in the face of the iPhone 7, along with Google’s Pixels, which, although many will find underwhelming and maybe overpriced, will still attract some attention due to heavy marketing and carrier promotions. HTC has already extended its $150 off promotion on the HTC 10 and others will soon follow.

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Another lucky break?

Samsung has left a hole open in its market dominance, and competitors will be sure to take advantage of it for as long as possible.

PUSH FOR BETTER BATTERIES

Another thing that the Note 7 fiasco has shown (or reminded) is that lithium batteries are inherently volatile.

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They may be relatively small, but they do pack quite a punch.

Lithium batteries work through the chemical reaction lithium-ions and electrodes. There is the cathode, which is connected to the positive terminal, and the anode, which is connected to the negative terminal. An electrolyte goes in between the two.

Jerry Hildenbrand of Android Central explains the process quite clearly.

When you discharge the battery (when you’re using your phone and not charging it) the cathode pushes its positively charged ions away and the negatively charged anode attracts them. Electricity flows out from the anode, through your device, then back to the cathode. Yes, electricity travels through a loop and isn’t “used up” by the thing being powered. When you charge your phone, the reverse happens and ions travel from the cathode through the electrolyte to the anode.

When these ions come in contact with the charged atoms in an electrode, an electrochemical reaction called oxidation-reduction (redox) frees the charged electrons to travel out through the battery contacts, which are connected to the electrodes. This continues to charge the lithium ions in the electrolyte until there aren’t enough left that can hold a positive charge that’s strong enough to move through the electrolyte paste, and your battery will no longer charge.

Source: What makes a phone battery explode?

So what causes them to catch fire? Well, one reason is that the battery may go into something called a “thermal runaway”, meaning that the battery generates way too much heat than it can vent, causing it to overheat to the point where it splits and smoke plus scalding hot sticky liquid comes out, which physically damages the devices and can burn things in whatever that liquid touches. Most lithium batteries are safe from this, however, as devices have several safeguards to prevent this from happening due to heat or bad charging. Another reason is that the battery could be punctured due to external damage, which causes a short-circuit. Hildenbrand explains why battery punctures are real;

Because the partitions and case are thin, they’re fairly easy to puncture or tear. If the structure of the battery itself is damaged in a way that makes the electrodes touch, a short circuit will happen. The instant electrical discharge is explosive, which can (and will) heat the electrolyte and create pressure to push it out through any ruptures in the battery case. It’s hot, it’s flammable and it’s in contact with a spark. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Source: Same as the one above

Hildenbrand also mentioned a pretty weird but useful safety precaution built into batteries;

A thin casing is also a safety precaution, though it sounds crazy. Thinner metal is easier to rupture, so less pressure can generate inside a sealed case — essentially creating a vent hole. Pushing out flammable hot liquid under pressure isn’t a good thing. Letting more pressure build until it ruptures a thicker case is worse.

Source: What makes a phone battery explode?

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Don’t mess around with them (Source: Crushader, Reddit)

Lithium batteries are clearly imperfect and actually pretty dangerous if everything goes south. The one fallout of this debacle is that development on new battery tech will potentially be focused on much more closely. Batteries that hold more power but also charge faster without damage, while also being safer. The main cause for concern would be the electrolyte paste, which is extremely flammable. Focus would potentially be on batteries that won’t have to rely on flammable material to make them work. It’s also worth mentioning that the fiasco would probably spread the word on the risks of lithium batteries to consumers. With the advent of cheap chargers and power supplies that could spell disaster, it was perhaps a good idea to let people know that the power-plant in their devices is actually quite volatile and they need to take care of it. The Note 7 is far from the only phone to have caught fire.

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What a sad fate for what used to be a Nexus 6P  (Source: yamz66, Reddit)

SAMSUNG, THE GALAXY S8 AND QUALITY CONTROL

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Samsung needs to focus on rebuilding its reputation

Last, but certainly not the least, is what lies ahead for Samsung and the Galaxy brand.

The Galaxy Note 7 fiasco has certainly left a tainted mark on not only the reputation of the Galaxy brand, but also the brand of Samsung themselves. Samsung would have to focus on rebuilding their reputation and brand power in order to maintain their market position and to regain consumer confidence.

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The Galaxy S7’s successor, the S8, will need to impress.

The next Samsung flagship, the Galaxy S8, will reportedly be unveiled on February 2017. Samsung has to make sure that the Galaxy S8 impresses so that consumers will be interested in the device. We probably won’t see much change in the exterior, but rumor has it that it will feature a pretty significant hardware bump, with rumors indicating a UHD display along with a dual-camera setup. Obviously, we won’t know until MWC 2017, but Samsung should get the memo.

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Another memo would be quality control. Samsung’s failure to address the Note 7’s battery fires in the first recall is certainly something very concerning. A Bloomberg article mentioned the following;

So the top brass at Samsung Electronics Co., including phone chief D.J. Koh, decided to accelerate the launch of a new phone they were confident would dazzle consumers and capitalize on the opportunity, according to people familiar with the matter. They pushed suppliers to meet tighter deadlines, despite loads of new features, another person with direct knowledge said. The Note 7 would have a high-resolution screen that wraps around the edges, iris-recognition security and a more powerful, faster-charging battery. Apple’s taunts that Samsung was a copycat would be silenced for good.

Source: Rush to Take Advantage of a Dull iPhone Started Samsung’s Battery Crisis

It is worth noting however that the Note 7 launched about a week earlier than the Note 5, and was in stores only a couple of days apart from its predecessor. So I cannot say with certainty that the Note 7 is rushed and without clear, credible claims to back it up, this is all speculation as of this time. However, this also serves as a lesson not only to Samsung, but everyone in the industry that quality control matters. When it comes to mass-produced products, there is no such thing as a product that is totally free from defects. But, adequate quality control measures can help reduce the risk of such defects from occurring.

There’s a few more things that Samsung could learn from the debacle, like clearer communication with customers, but overall, these are what I feel should be the main things that Samsung needs to think about moving on.

BOTTOM LINE

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The canning of the Galaxy Note 7 due to its battery faults is certainly terrible news for Samsung, and also very sad news for the entire tech world as we have lost what could have been one of the best smartphone released in 2016.

However, the death of the Note 7 should also be served as something to learn from when we move on from the debacle and see what lies in the future. Everyone has something to learn from the debacle, not just Samsung. Lesson in regards to quality control, batteries, recalls, communication, design and more will be learnt and in return, we will get much better and safer devices in the future.

Assuming everyone has learnt their lesson, the death of the Note 7 will not be in vain, as it will spur changes throughout the industry and we will get much better devices that can last longer and do more while being safer all at the same time.

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The Note 7 will not die in vain
The fallout of the Note 7’s demise

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is now dead

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In what could be a bit of a shock to some, the Galaxy Note 7’s production has been halted permanently. There are no plans to make any more, signalling the death of Samsung’s flagship for the latter-half of 2016, after a mere 53 days from its launch.

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This was the device that was poised to continue Samsung’s rocking 2016 after the big success of the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge and was also meant to show the most refined version of Samsung’s design language yet with a much more subtle curve to the dual-edged display and a more symmetrical design for a more comfortable grip, along with its hardware prowess.

That seemed to be the case when it first launched, breaking pre-order records in some countries, to the point where launch dates in other countries had to be pushed back. But all hell broke loose the moment some Note 7s started to burn and Samsung found out there was an issue with the battery.

One recall later and all is well, right? Apparently, not so, especially after some more devices burned up in almost exactly the same manner. At that point, the Note 7 can handle no more, and Samsung was forced to pull the plug.

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There we have it. The short but eventful and also sad life of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, quite possibly one of the biggest tech screwups in 2016 (maybe of all time as well) and also one of the fastest discontinued pieces of tech. The really sad part? It could’ve been one of the greatest smartphones of 2016 and possibly in Samsung’s entire lineup. But alas, it all ended up in smoke.

A moment of silence….

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The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is now dead

The Pixel situation

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So, you may have heard that Google pulled the curtains off a bunch of new products, notable of which are the Pixel phones, a 5-inch and 5.5-inch pair of high-end Android flagship devices designed to compete against the iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy devices at the high end. There is no Nexus device this year, and according to Google, there won’t be any in the future.

But why is the Nexus significant in this development?

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The Nexus hasn’t always been a brand that has had mainstream appeal. But to Android enthusiasts, the Nexus has always stood for a line of devices that delivered an Android experience that’s the closest to AOSP and also with fast, timely updates to boot for the most part.

The Nexus originally began with the Nexus One, a reference device based on the HTC Desire, and was sold unlocked with a pretty high price-tag at the time without carrier routes. As the Nexus One was designed with developers in mind, and had a build of Android that was pretty barebones, it didn’t catch on with consumers, but enthusiasts and developers liked it bare nature. The Nexus brand arguably reached more mainstream attention with the arrival of the Nexus 4 and Nexus 5, 2 LG-made devices that also had a rather affordable price point for its time ($349 for the 16GB Nexus 4, $399 for the 32GB Nexus 5) while also delivering relatively high-end hardware. That was thrown out the window when the Nexus 6 was revealed, a gargantuan 5.96-inch phone that was also sold for $649, a typical flagship price point. The Nexus 6 did not do as well as its predecessors, which many speculate is due to its high price and polarizing dimensions. The Nexus 5X and 6P followed up next year, and also had a lower price point, with the 5X starting at $349.99 and the 6P starting at $499.99. Many considered the 6P to be at a “sweet spot”, as the phone was nicely packed while at a price point that, while high, is lower than other flagships.

Pixels, pixels, pixels

But the Nexus line is now dead, confirmed by Hiroshi Lockheimer. Contrary to belief, however, the Pixels don’t serve as a direct replacement for the Nexus devices. Rather, the Nexus train has stopped on the 5X and 6P. Instead, the Pixels are a totally new line of devices, with a clear focus on Google services.

As the Pixel is Google’s high-end brand that started with the Chromebook Pixel, the Pixel phones carry a very high price tag, starting at $650 for the 5-inch Pixel at 32GB. It’s $100 extra for 128GB. The 5.5-inch Pixel XL starts at $770, and is another $100 for 128GB.

That introduces new challenges, however.

The challenge

Pricing the Pixels at such a premium is certainly a very ambitious move, but this is also a risk for Google as the competition is still pretty hot at this point in time.

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Samsung and Apple still reign supreme (Galaxy Note 7 and iPhone 4S pictured)

At the high-end market, Samsung and Apple reign supreme still. While Apple’s iPhone 7 may not be a mind-blowing machine or a serious head-turner, it is still a very solid device that is still getting some solid demand, even if analysts predict lower sales compared to the 6s. And while Samsung is still recovering from its scars inflicted from the Note 7’s battery recall, demand for their handsets is still solid in many countries, and given that both manufacturers have immense brand power, carriers would be more likely to put those in front than any other phone.

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Despite great features, companies like HTC and LG struggle to find a solid footing in the high-end market

This creates a problem for everyone else fighting in the same bracket.

HTC, who used to be the undisputed Android champ, is currently still struggling to make ends meet, especially since its latest flagship, the HTC 10, is not posting solid-enough sales numbers despite being an all-around excellent device. And LG has been losing momentum since the G4, exasperated by the criticisms towards the G5. Other OEMs have tried but failed to even get close to the duopoly (except Huawei), so it’s a bit of a tough call for Google at this point.

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Xiaomi is known for making devices with solid hardware at an unbelievable price

There’s another key area that has become a hot topic recently; budget busters. In 2016, the midrange-price market has become ultra-competitive, with the OnePlus 3 basically leading the charge with great hardware at a very compelling price-tag, but also newcomers like ZTE’s Axon 7, Huawei’s Honor 8, Alcatel’s Idol 4S and even Apple’s iPhone SE. These phones cost up to $400 and they promise a chunk of the flagship experience for a lot less cash. Then, you have manufacturers like Xiaomi, who are known for delivering phones that pack in solid hardware for an unbelievable price, sometimes less than $200 for a very capable midranger.

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The Zenfone 2 may not have been a glamorous thing, but at $300 for 64GB, it makes even a Samsung midranger look pretty “meh” in terms of value.

The midrange market is a very fierce part of the smartphone market, sometimes more so than the top-end segment because new phones that promise the flagship experience for less cash keep coming and some of the make justifying the premium on a true-blue top-tier flagship harder to justify.

There’s also other challenges such as it being a Verizon-exclusive when it comes to carrier partners in the United States among others, but arguably, the competition is the tough nut to crack.

Summary

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Google’s new Pixel devices aren’t Nexus successors, despite the Nexus now being officially dead. Rather, they’re the start of a new line of devices that are clearly aimed towards the high-end with a focus on Google services.

However, positioning those devices at the high-end presents a whole heap of challenges, many of which will prove to be quite an uphill battle for Google to go up against, especially in the realm of competition and brand recognition.

While this likely won’t end up the same way as the Amazon Fire Phone, which was truly a carrier-exclusive and ran a forked version of Android that did not feature Google Play, the chances of it finding success is kinda slim, considering that it not only has to battle Apple and Samsung at the high-end, but the likes of OnePlus, Honor, ZTE, Xiaomi and others at the midrange segment.

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Maybe Huawei will have another shot?
The Pixel situation