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Electric cars

Last week we welcomed our newest (and by quite some margin, youngest) car – a 2015 Nissan Leaf with the optional 6.6kw charger, it sadly means saying goodbye to our trusty workhorse shed Saab 9-5 Aero. I think the Saab has been in my ownership for the longest period of any car (almost six years), its comfortable, reliable enough and has the space, pace and grace to almost be a Jaguar.

But if there is one limitation of my Scandinavian shed, it is that the fuel it drinks is often quite a lot. Whilst I’ve eeked out 40mpg on a very conservative motorway jaunt in the past (and lots of motorway trips was the cause for the purchase), I find myself doing very short runs over the last two years, specifically to day care and back as I now work from home. This type of driving is not the Saab’s forte, and a good run around town sees the MPG crash down to below twenty and recently its started me thinking about what I use the car for.

In short, not much and certainly not to go all that far – perhaps I could find an electric car?

I had discounted the idea as after the wedding this year, I am not flush with cash but then I happened upon a very interesting deal for a Gen 1 Nissan Leaf (£200 down, £99 a month *36, 3 years servicing, battery owned, warranty etc), and I started to some calculations and that figure was either equal or less than my monthly fuel cost for the Saab, especially if you start to throw in service costs etc.

And so I chatted things over with the wife and pinged the dealer in question, over the last few weeks there has been some back and forth involving the local dealership when they gave me a counter offer a gen 2 car for £159 pm. The gen 2 has a better heating system, a crucial black interior (kids) and bigger boot that was more buggy friendly than the gen 1. This was over a 4 year period so not what we were looking for, fortunately the other dealer matched the deal over a 3 year term.

So the deal would be £1k deposit, £159 pm, 3 years servicing, 2 years warranty, battery warranty till 2020 and free home charger.
We’ve never undertaken a lease vehicle before, preferring the comfort of owning a car – but with the 2nd hand prices of EVs all over the shop, the risk is lower via PCP/hand back.

And at that price, we thought it was certainly worth a punt.

I think people are missing the point on how to use Surface

As you probably know, the Surface RT and Pro have integrated kick stands that prop the tablet at a 26 degree angle, this has proved to be a controversial addition. The case made out in many reviews is that the kick stand is fine and dandy when you are using it on a table but makes the Surface impossible to use on your lap.

Now, call me crazy but I like to make fair comparisons, and so in the interest of fairness I tried using my HP Touchpad without a case in the same circumstances:

  • Seated: worked fine, slides about a tad
  • Knees up:  worked fine

Amazing insight right? Now I tried doing those again with but this time using a bluetooth keyboard and it was a major PITA. This should not shock you, just because its possible to use a bluetooth or external keyboard on your knees, does not mean you should. Just as you might be able to use the Surface Kickstand and touch cover on your knees (or not as the case may be), doesn’t make it a good idea.

In fact, I would argue that most people would know this, so why is it being used to bash the Surface?

Surface at its core is a convergence device – full power pc when you need it, tablet when you don’t, so it begs the question – why use it like a laptop all the time?  It seems to me that people are stuck in the mindset that you can only use Surface with the touch cover and kickstand, but Windows Store apps can be used with the on screen keyboard. Sure if you want to use desktop apps on the go, then you will most likely need to use the touch cover but think about the use case for a second: what are you doing and do you really need to use the desktop app?

I would argue in most cases that you could use Windows Store apps for the majority of mobile situations, unless you need to spend serious time typing.

My typical usage of a laptop covers these sorts of apps:

  • Evernote
  • Mail
  • Chrome
  • Keynote/Pages
  • Tweetdeck
  • Some form of IDE (Visual Studio etc)

Now, apart from IDE’s everything else is covered by Windows Store apps and if I was on the train, tube or in a cab I would default to metro apps first. If want to spend time writing long form entries or messing around with APIs I would do it somewhere more comfortable i.e. a table and chair. Everyone makes a like for like comparison with the iPad but they seem to be forgetting that typing on a naked iPad is fine for around the house, but on the go it can slip and sometimes fall off. Which is why 99% of people have invested in some form of smart cover as it stops the iPad slipping around and gives you angled typing position.

Which, funnily enough are starting to become available for the Surface:

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http://www.ebay.co.u…t-/181024698002

It’s “worth to have apparently” but offers a decent solution to on the go usage i.e. RT Apps and on screen keyboard on the move and then keyboard goodness when you have a table.

Or to put it another way, exactly how you would use an iPad with a bluetooth keyboard.

Storage Wars: How much space do Windows 8 default Apps use?

This week Microsoft confirmed that the Surface Pro would have just 23GB free space on the 64GB model and 83GB on the 128GB variant.

Even if you factor in the ability to use external storage and memory cards, having 41GB of storage taken up by the operating system, recovery and default applications is poor. Windows 8 comes preinstalled with a range of default applications and you can view the size of them in metro settings but to save time I’ve collated a list of apps and their size in MB:

Bing Weather – 62.7
Bing Travel – 372
Bing Sports – 90.6
Bing News – 68.9
Bing Maps – 18.4
Bing Finance – 104
Bing – 10mb
Mail, People, Calendar, Messenger – 247
Reader -12.3
Sky Drive – 14.7
Zune Music – 40.04
Xbox Live games – 73.6
Xbox Companion – 61.6
Photos – 19.3

For a total of 1195.44mb (or 1.16GB)

Apps stay around longer than you want

If you navigate to the Windows Apps folder, which contains the metro apps (Its hidden by default and you will need to add your user to the admin group to view its contents) it appears that by default Windows 8 seems to retain all versions of the application. This means that for each update, the previous version of the app is kept, for example I have four versions of Zune Music, three versions of the Music, it’s not clear if they will ever get deleted or if the user has to do something to make that happen. Either way they all take up space unnecessarily and could easily be avoided when the app updates.

1.16GB is not exactly a lot of space, 5GB is taken up by recovery partition, the question is what else is taking up the remaining 34.84GB  and more importantly,  is there a way to remove it?

Getting Started with FirefoxOS

FirefoxOS is a new mobile platform, one with the aim to connect the next billion users and give them a great mobile experience.

But you don’t have to wait until a product is launched to try it out or start to develop for it, you can do that right now!

R2D2B2G (catchy name right?) is a Firefox add on that makes getting FirefoxOS up and running on your Mac, Linux or Windows machine really easy!

All you have to do is download the latest version of the simulator from here then install it via the Add Ons menu in Firefox!

Once you’ve installed the add on, navigate to Tools> Developer Tools > FirefoxOS Simulator

Click the Simulator button and congratulations you have a working FirefoxOS simulator!

 

If you want to find out more, I’m running a meetup at the end of the month where we’ll have FirefoxOS experts on hand to help out and show you how to create apps for FirefoxOS!

September Mobile madness

September.

One of the most cherished months of the year, as it presents clear skies and the last of the warm weather for the year.

It also seems to be the month where every mobile provider reveals their new hardware, on the cards so far:

5/9: Motorola

The current rumour going is that they are to announce an ‘edge to edge’ screen (think no bezel on the side) that will no doubt be attached to superlatives such as ‘engrossing’. My hope is that Motoblur (Motorola’s Android UI layer) is further improved, perhaps further in line with Google’s Android HIG.

5/9 Nokia

The phone maker from Espoo has really taken a pounding over the last year, dumping Symbian, Meego, Maemo has cost them market share and revenue. It needs to show some fantastic devices that grab both the industry, consumer and carrier mindsets like no other.

6/9 Amazon

The Kindle fire was a small success, estimated at 5 million sold in the USA, it was a fairly decent first attempt at a tablet and the high quality Android tablet to compete on price. It was hamstrung by a lack of international presence and a poor OS as a starting point (Android 2.2 Froyo). I am hoping that the devices (I am aiming for two) revealed offer competitive specifications, a fair price and is available in more than just the USA. The main thorn in Amazon’s side? The Google Nexus 7, which at £159 is a quality device from a known brand at a great price. All statements that we used when the Fire launched last year. One thing is clear – Amazon will need to show something more than just price to maintain interest in its tablet line.

12/9

Apple

Want to know why everyone is suddenly announcing hardware in the first week of September? Look no further than the undisputed king of the revenue ring, Apple. Next week they will be unveiling their latest iPhone and perhaps a new iPad Mini (though the iPad might be revealed at another event this month), with a rumoured 4 inch screen, micro dock connector and slimmer profile, the next iPhone is all about refining the concept of what Apple think is the best phone.

19/9 HTC

2011 was a Tumultuous year for HTC, from massive profits to disastrous losses, 2012 offered a new vision focussing on core handsets tried to stem the tide but failed to ignite consumer demand. Choosing to anounce in the same week as Apple is a risky move, anything unveiled could get drowned in the coverage of the next iDevice. Personally I hope that they continue the unique design philosophy set out by the One series of phones combined with a new streamlined Sense UI. As the only way they can succeed in this crowded market is by  showing users a distinct reason to invest.

Regardless of what platform you support, the next few weeks will offer something for everyone.

I love September.

Facebook phone

So the rumour mill has cranked into gear once again and spat out its latest juicy morsel, that Facebook is partnering with HTC to release a phone.

The question isn’t why they are doing it, but why has it taken this long?

I suspect they were playing the long game, watching to see how Amazon would fair with its Kindle Fire. Although they are two completely different segments (in this case tablet vs phone), they have one thing in common – the operating system.

As apparently like Amazon Facebook are planning to use a customised version of Android to power their device, the question is which version will be used at the foundation. Amazon used Android 2.2 aka Froyo which was an improvement on past versions but hardly set the world on fire, one hopes that both Facebook and Amazon make the leap to using Ice cream sandwich.

Regardless this puts a pin in a lot of peoples dreams that Facebook would use a HTML5 base for their mobile platform, of course the reasons for these hopes were never actually confirmed and the basis of them (project Spartan) seems to have disappeared.

With WebOS in purgatory, I guess all hope is on FirefoxOS to realise the web platform dream.

Of course this could be exactly what it was at the start, a rumour.

Time will tell.

 

RIM still has a chance with Blackberry but it needs to move fast!

Typing RIM into Google News makes for nasty reading. If you are unaware of the current situation for the Canadian phone maker, here are some choice headlines:

And that’s just a snapshot.

If I was Mike Lazaridis or Jim Balsillie, I would be wondering two things, one where did it all go wrong and what can be done about it. The world isn’t interested in the first question and deeply concerned about RIMs’ plan to answer the second.

Continue reading at PostDesk!

Can console gaming companies (Nintendo, Sony) succeed in the mobile market?

PS Vita

My latest article on PostDesk is about how Sony has the option to create three new pathways for the consumer with new convergence devices in the pipeline it has the means to deliver it, but in order for it to succeed it needs to leave devices such as the PS Vita behind.

http://postdesk.com/blog/console-companies-mobile-market

What kind of fish do you want to be?

I’ve been wanting to get back into development for a while now and I’m been mulling over what platform to target and I’ve decided on Window Phone. Now some of you maybe wondering why would I target a platform with few customers and limited market share,  there are two driving factors behind my decision.

The first is the learning hurdle, two years ago I used to be a .net developer, creating superawesomesauce applications for teaching and learning and although this was in VB.net (dont throw things). This means that although C# is a different (and vastly superior) language, it isn’t too much of a leap.

The second reason is more pragmatic, namely App discovery.

I meet a lot of developers in my day job as a developer evangelist and they are all beginning to face the same problem, standing out for from the crowd.  At time of writing the most popular App store have over five hundred thousand Apps available for download, how does a developer get noticed? More importantly how does a customer notice a developers work?

Sure if you’re lucky you might get featured on the front page of an App store, but the odds are slim. If you’ve got a lot of VC funding (or a big company behind you), you can afford to pay for advertising and marketing, but this is difficult path with no guarantees of success. If you’re really lucky you might get social media working for you, that quintessential business driver, word of mouth. I trust my friends more than I do advertising (even though they themselves may be recommending based on awareness created by an advert), as there is little chance of their recommendation being anything but genuine.

Indeed Matt Mills co founder of usTwo, creators of Whale Trail spoke to the Guardian on the importance of word of mouth for their revenue model now that Apple’s ‘New Game Of The Week’ promotion has finished:

“We’re hoping that if somebody’s downloading it, they’ll be talking about it, and there are 2-3 big updates planned over the next 6-8 weeks,” says Mills. “We need to get to the people in the pub. Game Of The Week is fantastic: it tells us we’ve made something special. But my wife, mum, dad or sisters don’t really look at the App Store in that way. They find out about new apps when somebody tells them.”

But getting people to talk about your App is very, very hard (but not impossible) so most developers have no choice but to upload and cross their fingers.

So my question to you is this If you are working on your own, is being another item in an overstocked store the best way to get noticed?

I don’t think it is, certainly if you are just getting started in the App industry.

Which is why I am looking at Windows Phone, yes it may only have 5% market share at time of writing and an under developed App store but I see that as an opportunity. The recent Mango update, the Windows Platform has had numerous improvements and it has been well received by industry pundits and consumers alike. The most notable addition has been Nokia’s conversion from Symbian, which has now begun to energise both Windows Phone developers and, perhaps more importantly other hardware partners. Indeed, on watching the unveiling of the Lumia 800 and 710, and the subsequent revelation that these phones would have Nokia’s largest marketing budget ever HTC and Samsung confirmed that they would increase their marketing budgets to compete. Which means that we’ll be seeing a lot more Windows Phone devices around, especially if they can get the price point so that they can offer most Windows Phones free on contract.

But thats the future, in the short term there is still an App store that needs developers, customers that wants to buy Apps and most importantly a provider that is actively promoting developers.

In the end it comes down to this, do you want to be a small fish in a big pond, or a big fish in a small pond?

And for that reason, I’m out…..

Commuting into London with my girlfriend is one of the most enjoyable aspects of my day, as before I used work from home so would ‘lose’ about four hours of us time. We normally talk about plans for the day, news items, things of interest on twitter – the usual stuff.

Today was different.

As I missspelled yet another tweet I decicded that it was time to install a new keyboard; namely Swiftkey. Swiftkey is a popular replacment for the stock Android powered by an AI engine that helps predict your intentions with greater accuracy. Accuracy was something I dearly needed, as since moving to Android I felt like I had regressed to my early dyslexic days getting words and letters all wrong.

So off I went to the marketplace, thinking isn’t it great that I have the option to replace something as fundamental as the keyboard. Perhaps Android isn’t so bad after all.

Installation and setup was fairly simple, and soon enough I had a shiny new keyboard to use. Which promprly started to bog down my system and hold on key presses. Now some of you may have stuck with it, but this really rubbed me up the wrong way and after ten minutes of not much improvement I made my way to the uninstall menu.

Big mistake.

After uninstalling Swiftkey my keyboard defaulted to the chinese/english layout with no obvious way to change it back to the stock keyboard. At this point my girlfriend asked me a question about a tweet of mine, deep in thought of how to sort out this problem I responded with an irritable “What?”.

Afterwards I put the phone away and we continued our normal commute, but I did mull over the problem. As I was walking towards TechHub, it then hit me, that I wasn’t getting annoyed over a keyboard, it was the operating system.

The Android keyboard is a microcosm for the overall platform, the very nature of android and the fact that you can replace something as important as a keyboard is used as excuse for a substandard effort. The mindset feels like (and this is just my personal opinion) that the feeling is that its ok, not bad, satisfactory. Not good enough? Don’t worry install something else!

I fail to see how making the user apply plasters, bandages and gauze to a platform to correct its faults,  is not only acceptable but lauded as a unique selling point.

Android and I are getting a divorce, it isn’t amicable.