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13

Dec 2011

Are Microsoft immature, or smart?

Posted in Business tactics, Online PR | 0 Comments

Ben Rudolph is what tech companies like to call an “evangelist”. Personally, I think a more realistic term is “paid fanboy”, but there you go. He works for Microsoft, specifically focusing on the Windows Phone 7 brand. But why’s he appearing in the news this week?

Well, it’s because he’s giving Windows 7 handsets to those who tweet their Android issues at him, and use the hashtag #droidrage. Yes, that’s correct. Tell him why your Android phone sucks, and he’ll send you a Windows 7 phone. Doesn’t sound like a bad deal. Unless you’re Google.

This is essentially the equivalent of being at school and offering anyone who calls Jimmy “fat legs” a chocolate bar. Few people are actually doing it because Jimmy has fat legs; they’re doing it for the free chocolate. But regardless of what their motivation is, Jimmy gets a load of bad press.

#droidrage could potentially become a trending topic in the United States today, and that’s going to cause Google a fair few PR problems. But what’s the right response? Offering Android handsets to those who tweet using the hashtag #wp7hasnoapps? Or being a little more mature and weathering the storm of bad-press anecdotes, some of them potentially fabricated?

It might be a new approach Microsoft are testing to see whether they can shake things up a little bit. Given that as I write this, news is going out that the head of Windows Phone 7 has been replaced, a new direction might actually be on the cards.

The legality of the issue is a little hazy, because neither the fans or Rudolph are saying anything libellous. But I think anyone who’s not waiting for Google’s reaction with bated breath clearly doesn’t have much interest in the future of the smartphone market. Android has a whopping market share (51%) simply because it’s not tied to one brand, as iOS is, and that’s its primary advantage. But if it starts to appear flawed in any way, all it will take is the average user becoming aware of the flaws, and Android’s grip on the market may begin to slip.

It’s a dangerous approach to marketing Windows 7 phones, but who knows? It just might work, provided Microsoft can get away with it. Thoughts?

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17

Jun 2011

Five ways to tell you’re Apple-addicted.

Posted in Technology | 2 Comments »

It would appear that the Apple iPhone 5 is well on-course for a September release date, and it looks very shiny indeed. I own a Macbook Pro, and I absolutely love the thing, but I stop short at iPads, iPhones and iPod Touches simply because I know that they’re a lot more restrictive and overpriced than Apple would have me believe. I’m sure the latter is also the case for my computer, but it’s also got one of the best keyboards in the world and an incredible OSX, so I find those two features help somewhat, although OSX could be out the window soon if Jobs and co. have their way.

So are you Apple-addicted? I thought I’d offer five ways in which you can tell. Feel free to use this list to identify addicts when you’re out and about – believe me, some of them are that easy to spot.

1) You will pay literally any price. Some iProducts are priced at a level that renders them inaccessible to most. People will sign phone contracts with gigantic monthly charges just to own an iPhone 4. The Macbook, I feel, is a justifiably expensive machine, but a smartphone that can’t multitask worth a damn or a tablet computer that can’t even run Flash? No, I don’t think so.

2) You will upgrade every time you can. There are people out there who own every generation of iPhone. I don’t mean the 3GS and the 4, I mean the three that came before those models, too. My Macbook is now one generation behind, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to replace it before the Olympics, if not later. If it works and it runs the latest OS, keep it.

3) Everything Steve Jobs says sounds like honey flowing down your ear canal. Jobs is a lovely bloke, and I feel no ill-will towards him whatsoever. But sometimes he’s a little arrogant, and those that can’t stop talking about how great his presentations are are blind to the self-important commentary he provides every time a comparison-bearing slide mentions Microsoft. He’s a brilliant technological innovator, but it’s not just him there are many others working with him. People forget this about Gates, too, who isn’t even the CEO any more. Must irk Steve Balmer to no end.

4) You continue to use your barely-paid-for iPhone with a cracked screen. Look – just get it repaired! If you can’t afford an iPhone, that’s not your fault – that’s theirs. They overprice the iPhone to the degree where it’s hard to buy one on launch day, let alone repair it a week later once you drop it and crack the not-actually-shatter-proof glass screen. There’s a desperate quality to these people, attempting to play Angry Birds or write important business emails through the haze of spider-web fissures and shame.

5) You’re feeling uncomfortable right now. I’m a fan of Apple products, and I’m open about it – a lot of people tend to back-track fairly rapidly when confronted about their unabashed love for everything with a metallic casing and an Apple logo somewhere on it. Chill out. I’ll argue the benefits of Mac OSX and my Macbook Pro till the cows come home, because any writer knows that the keyboards they supply are the best on the market, and that combined with an efficient OSX and good hardware means I don’t have to justify the purchase.

Hopefully that should help, but in the meantime, enjoy The Oatmeal’s fantastic Apple comic; I feel it really captures the whole experience of being an Apple addict.

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5

May 2011

5 interesting uses of Microsoft’s Kinect Sensor.

Posted in Technology | 7 Comments »

I love this thing. I own an Xbox 360, but I don’t want Kinect, for the simple reason that I bought a games console so I could sit down and be entertained with minimal physical involvement. Jumping around doesn’t quite fit into that. However, Microsoft have, quite surprisingly, encouraged people to mod and hack seven shades of [expletive] out of their sensor bar in order to find new uses for what is clearly the new standard in sensor technology. Here are five uses I think are particularly amazing, and go to show that the games industry is not about training teenagers to shoot up their educational establishments. Enjoy.

1) A post-earthquake assistance robot.

Seriously, I’m not joking – here it is. It uses the sensor to help it find its way through the rubble and assist the various brave individuals who save so many lives after an earthquake. They could really make good use of this in Japan right now, and personally I think it’s an incredibly touching display of putting gaming tech to use in a real-life environment.

2) Controlling someone else’s body.

This sounds rather sinister, but it’s actually pretty clever. By using the sensor to read his movements, artist Choy Ka Fai has enabled himself to send nerve impulses to the arms of a volunteer, triggering movement in someone else’s body. Soon, we shall call him The Puppetmaster.

3) Controlling a robot.

Okay, to some this may not be as jaw-dropping as acutally controlling another human being. But when you consider the fluidity of the robot’s movements, this could be great for a variety of uses. Bomb disposal being the first one that comes to mind – camera goggles and a Kinect robot? Zero-risk bomb defusal operations, at least for the person doing the defusing.

4) A robotic assistant in surgery.

In a surgical environment, being calm, unwavering and extremely precise is a requirement. Trust me, I watch Grey’s Anatomy. So when you’ve got a robot helping you out with a surgery in progress, it can really help the process along and even minimise risk due to a lack of human mistakes.

5) Helping the blind to see.

For me this is definitely one of the best. By attaching the sensor to the head of a blind person, these people have worked out a way to help them detect obstacles, which negates the need for a golden lab trotting around everywhere. Okay, sure, it means no lovely pet dog, but it affords the blind a sense of independence that I feel is really a step in the right direction.

These are just a few, but if you know of any, don’t hesitate to comment and tell me about them. Enjoy the next step towards virtual reality, everyone.

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28

Mar 2011

Has eBay given up on being eBay?

Posted in Business tactics | 0 Comments

Two-point-four billion dollars. The highest purchase eBay’s ever made, and now GSI Commerce is theirs, they’ve got access to a mind-numbing amount of brands, in an ongoing attempt to transform themselves from the site that’s sold everything from your old wardrobe to one person’s virginity and someone else’s blackness, to something more similar to Amazon.

Sadly, it’s not going to work. If you found yourself on the principles of an open market, an auction house that allows anyone to sell almost anything, and find success beyond your wildest dreams, you have one main advantage: your service tends to make Amazon’s Marketplace look fairly bad.

A crisis meeting may have been called. Evidence that Amazon Marketplace is, in fact, very reliable, was probably shown to company directors. And of course, most eBay users do not log on to buy anything from eBay itself.

In their new direction, I think this may be what eBay are missing – they are not an online shop to most people. They are the site where people sell their stuff, nothing but a middle-man. To start selling products out of their own garage is going to throw people, slightly. I’ve seen their brand pages, and even after getting over my aversion to eBay a wee while back (my old argument being it’s being run by anonymous users with infinitely less accountability than corporations – incorrect, I know), I wouldn’t touch them with a tent pole.

It’s worth asking what makes me feel that way, and I guess the answer would simply be that they’re not a company I buy things from, just a site I use to buy things from random people around the world. I’d stick with that angle, because no one’s ever going to out-do them.

Competing with Amazon, even if you’re just as big, if not even bigger, is a fairly silly idea. As is Microsoft’s attempt to rival Google’s eponymous engine with Bing. It begs the question of why, exactly, companies this large haven’t yet realised that they are their own brand. Amazon is “buy new stuff, at a shop on the web.” eBay is “bid on auctions”. They all have their unique angles, and bar Apple and Google, no one’s done that well by attempting to branch out.

Arguably, the range of brands is impressive, with GSI Commerce having deals with everyone from Ralph Lauren to Hewlett-Packard. The problem this raises is that sellers are now going to need to slash their prices.

It’s a buyer’s market – if I know eBay’s doing a Ralph Lauren polo for £80, I can guarantee someone’s selling it, with postage costs included, for £75. It looks like a bizarre eventuality, of eBay competing in a price-war with its own users. Then again, if it wasn’t going well, it wouldn’t be expanding, so we’ll wait and see.

Still getting my new stuff from sellers and Amazon, though. For now.

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22

Oct 2010

Bing/Facebook vs. Google: the social media battle continues

Posted in Social Media | 0 Comments

This week Bing seriously upped their game by teaming up with the Facebook developers to try once again to make Bing search results more social.

The idea is that after someone conducts a search on Bing, they will be able to see which of their Facebook friends have ‘Liked’ whatever it is they have searched for. The results which have been ‘Liked’ by your friends will come up at the top of the search results. Bing believes that this will make the results mean more for users who will gain more from the search.

At the moment it only works in the US, but if it does well Microsoft and Facebook plan to bring it to the rest of the world.

But what about Google, which currently has the market dominance? Google has added a ‘Shared by’ link. Their SERPs already incorporate real-time results and the number of times people have shared the article. It also shows you mentions on social-networks.

The difference between Bing and Google’s offerings is that Bing will show you which of your friends ‘Liked’ something, so you don’t just know that it may be popular but can put a face to the ‘liking’.

The question is, do we really need to see which of our friends have ‘Liked’ something we are searching for on Bing? Is it not enough to see that they like your mate’s picture or your amusing status update? And will it really make any difference to your consumer choices?

According to Bing we are constantly calling on our friends to make decisions. For example what was the film like? Do you think that dress is nice? We want to know their opinions and while they might not make up our minds for us, they will probably influence our choices.

At Microsoft’s Silicon Valley headquarters in Mountain View earlier this month, Mashable was live blogging from the event and reported the following:

‘Zuck is going back to when Facebook got started. “From studying psychology, I knew that a huge amount of people’s brains is focused entirely on processing information about people.” Emotions, expressions etc. This is the most interesting information that people track around the world — it’s hard-wired into us.’

There is certainly something of the truth in this, we do want to know about others around us. However what happens if, to take the example used by Bing, we are looking for a good steak restaurant in San Francisco? We search for it in Bing, the results come up and we’ll probably just choose one of the first results. But with the integration of Facebook, we will see what our ‘friends’ on Facebook have ‘liked’. This of course relies on the fact that our friends are searching for similar things that we are.

Also, I don’t know about you, but a lot of the people on my Facebook are not actually my close friends. If for example someone who I believe has bad taste ‘Likes’ something, I will be even less likely to visit the place. I don’t know whether this means I should do some serious ‘Friend’ culling on Facebook or whether there is a flaw in Bing’s latest developments.

But let’s face the hard facts. In the UK google has roughly  a 90% share of the search engine market, whereas Bing has about 4%. In the US Google has a 71% share and Bing has about 10%. So, we’re not talking about Bing merely being a little behind Google in the market, it is a long way off being the most-used search engine.

By joining up with Facebook though, Bing is upping it’s game. Facebook is, as we know huge and constantly growing, and the network certainly has an impact on internet trends and what people are doing and buying. But it may need more than that to compete with Google. Especially as Google is realising, that it doesn’t matter what size your business is and how well you are doing, you need to get involved with social media or you’re going to get left behind.

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13

Aug 2010

What has Bing advert overload done to us?

Posted in Business tactics, Social Media | 0 Comments

Not sure about you, but the Bing adverts have, as of late, become one of my most despised advertising campaigns. The endless noise and dubious message that any other search engine is going to give you unrelated results, and the implication that we’ve all seemingly got some kind of mental disorder where tangential conversation techniques are the only way to go.

Allow me to de-bunk this marketing campaign, if you will.

First off, take a look at these figures. These were released in July 2010 – before and during the “information overload” advert campaign, which is still   going. Yahoo’s share of the UK search engine market has fallen by a couple percent, leaving it third to Bing.

This all sounds hunky-dory until you consider that their combined market share is still equivalent to what it was before. Bing has consumed part of Yahoo’s slice of the online pie, but Google’s still got the same amount of pastry, crumbs and cherries in sauce it had a year ago. Dominance over the market second-comer is not an achievement, not when you’re supplying the search technology for your competitor and their market share was below 5% to begin with.

But the advert asks an interesting question: what has information overload done to us? This is a valid question, and one that it’s taken a Microsoft ad campaign to make us ask of ourselves. Personally, information overload now means I’m learning more than I was ten years ago in my spare time. It means I can research and reference in the space of a minute, and nothing is too complex now as sites covering a single subject help us to study along a gradient of complexity.

Google has, unfortunately for Microsoft’s Bing engine, sealed the market shut, and if in ten years it became the West’s only search engine I wouldn’t bat an eyelid. After all, it works well for what I need it to. Make sure you’re preferring UK results (especially when shopping), stick Safesearch to strict to filter out the waves of immaturity in Google Images, and you’re laughing.

But what if it didn’t work so well? The problem with a monopolistic market share in technology is that consumers tend to flail in panic, en masse, when something goes seriously wrong. Take the iPhone 4, for example. One moment it’s the Messiah, the next we’ve digitally lynch-mobbed Apple to the point that the man at the head of the operation “decided to leave”.

“Digital lynching” is an interesting phrase, and one a colleague coined recently. Apple’s Anntennagate martyr, and HP’s CEO are suffering from the same melodramatic backlash from the public – social media tirades. Twitter has become the new forum for slamming public figureheads, and trending and hash-tags allow this to happen. But are big jobs suffering for it? If Google’s Android system is successfully sued and the funding goes down the toilet, the OS with it, will Twitter turn on Oracle, or Google?

It brings me back to thinking about Bing. Is it a good thing? Do we need a wider choice? I’d say so. Google’s a fantastic search engine, but when one company gets a monopolistic hold on the market, almost no one holds a hand up and says “stop”. However, if it was to happen in government, there’d be protests on the streets.

Tyranny is no different in business, the only change is that your money’s going to Apple for your phone, Microsoft (or Apple again) for your computer and Oyster for your travel (if you’re in London), rather than paying your taxes to whichever party is currently dominating the ballot box. Are we now more subsceptible to marketing than we ever were? Is Bing just another pusher? What has information overload done to us?

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