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It’s been a hard week for me – I spent two days hitting the road and I want to share some of my travelling experience. There was some stir concerning the news that Nokia Maps will be available on all WP7 devices while the Drive application will be exclusively available in Nokia phones only. For some reason these quite obvious facts impressed a lot of people while making some believe that Nokia is being dissolved in WP7. The truth is, Nokia has never been anything unique and the company is anything but losing personality right now. But, I suppose, when next year the Drive application will be released in the Microsoft app store it will also cause some stir and Nokia’s fans will once again call it a wise move to make cash off other WP7 manufacturers. Only the demand will be so small it will only illustrate the market’s needs. But enough for the future let’s get back to the present time.
I don’t like the genre of traveller’s notes as it is usually a boring description of what anyone would see if he went to the same places. So I will try to avoid being banal and try to tell you something you I found interesting during my trip.
When you are about to cross the Atlantic it is crucial to have juice in your gadgets (it took 11 hours) to be able to work or have some entertainment while you travel. In these terms I was fully packed: I had a fully charged iPad, MacBook Air and three cell phones. But I had some problems with earphones – I had lost the ear tips from my favorite Bose earphones so I got a pair of decent cheap noise cancelling earphones in a BestBuy vending machine ($75 in airports or $50 in stores).
If you travel a lot then for about $50-70 you can as well get a player with earphones instead of buying earphones separately for the same price as the earphone quality will be about the same especially when it comes to Sony or Philips players (in Duty Free stores). I have already bought about a dozen of players this way which I then give to my friends.
I cannot imagine visiting a country without getting a local SIM card which is very easy in most cases. I don’t need a phone call map as my phone does his job great while in roaming (I make very few phone calls but have a lot of incoming calls and SMS). You need a SIM to always stay online, have proper navigation, work with your mail, Twitter and so on. On this trip I wanted to try out the Verizon Wireless Wi-Fi router but it seemed too pricy at $250 and $400 of safety deposit from your credit card (in case of any kind misusage). AT&T did not have any prepaid data plans so I went for T-Mobile. There is an unpleasant surprise for Europeans here as phones from Europe work in EDGE only while what they call 4G in T-Mobile USA is actually HSPA+ which works at different frequencies so your phones, modems and tablets won’t be able to work in these networks. But it still seemed nice to have unlimited Internet access for just $2 a day even on EDGE only. But I was wrong and on the very first day in San Francisco I learned that it was impossible to tweet a 2MB picture. Working with texts was fine but I simply could not sync all my mail at once because of the T-Mobile’s bandwidth. However, it was enough to work with the navigation system.
On the third day I found that most f websites I tried to open on maps were blocked for no reason although I could view them before. I could not figure out why it happened but then I was not really that interested.
While sightseeing in the city I used Samsung Galaxy Note and Nokia N9 for navigation. With the Note I used Google Maps and Nokia Maps with N9. The Note’s hefty battery allowed for an entire day of navigation while Nokia was running out of juice a lot faster. The quality of the maps was about the same on both devices, however, Google Maps’ interface is easier to use and POIs are a lot more relevant there (were relevant to my interests to be precise). Nokia Maps list all kinds of entertainment facilities under museums making search for the right place more complicated. So if you search for museums near Pier 39 you get an endless list of all kinds of places while Google Maps sort places by popularity and relevance (Google Maps also tell you working hours which saves you visiting dedicated websites).
Some may say that I am being partial to Nokia Maps but what I mean is – however useful it may be to have all your maps available offline only online navigation can really give you all the info you need. So my corollary is when abroad get a local SIM to get the maximum out of your phone’s navigation capabilities.
It’s fascinating but while I was in the US people kept noticing my Galaxy Note and many asked me where they can get one. I frankly did not expect such a positive image of the Samsung brand in America. And, on the other hand, no one seemed to notice my Nokia N9 – very few Americans can still remember this brand. For them Nokia is just one of the many.
One of my colleagues also had a Nokia N9 and his impressions pretty much agreed with my own. But I will tell you everything about this phone in the dedicated and rather harsh article I will soon release (don’t rush to call me biased – just read the article and then decide for yourself). A funny fact: when we were in the plane on our way back home we saw a man with another Nokia N9 which made three N9s in one plane and considering the infinitesimal sales of N9 it was an incredibly improbable occasion.
And the last bullet point of my notes. While we were waiting for a flight in the Frankfurt airport we wondered why free Wi-Fi was gone from the terminals. Apparently, the reason is that carriers do not want to lose money on it as they have to pay to get equipment into the airport. The airport, on the other hand, does not care how much the Internet costs on its territory as it is not a factor for travellers. So in airports no one except for passengers is interested in cheap telecommunications. It made me think whether something will change in this situation in Europe. American airports prove that carriers can provide free Wi-Fi and still make money on phone calls as there aren’t a lot of people who use VoIP.
This concludes my traveller’s notes and I will write a separate article on my visit to the Silicon Valley. As for now let’s get to other stories.
There is a big story going on in the US and though so far it concerns only the internal affairs I think it might have a big effect on the rest of the world. The US Supreme Court is examining the case whether the police can use GPS tracking devices in cars to track movements without getting a court order and, naturally, permission or notification of the subject they track.
Both parties have good arguments. The judge of the lower court decided that tracking the car can give a full picture of its owner’s lifestyle: what gym he goes to, where he gets groceries and how faithful he is to his spouse. It is complete 24 hours surveillance. The police on the other hand claim that since movements in cars are public they are not subject to the 4th article of the Constitution. The police have the right to watch over a car in public places – they do not need a court order for that. They cannot search a vehicle without proper authorization or valid grounds but they can watch it all right. So their main argument is that GPS tracking is basically the old same procedure only cheaper. The Obama administration longs for a positive verdict and they have all chances to get it now for the police and other law enforcement agencies.
There have been similar cases previously. Like Katz v. US, 1967 when court prohibited using surveillance devices in phone booths as phone calls made in booths were recognized as private. In 1983 the US v. Knotts case the court ruled in favor of using beepers (car tracking devices) in public streets while in 1984 in the US v. Karo case the court ruled against use of beepers on private territory as it was assumed to be invasion of privacy.
It is yet unclear what the court’s verdict will be in this new case but even if it rules against GPS tracking the government will still have a lot of different means to watch over people like speed cameras, CCTV etc. which have not yet been unified into a single surveillance system but I am quite sure it will happen soon. I also think that many countries will follow the American experience and the Supreme Court’s decision concerning GPS tracking.
It is so intriguing to read the feedback on the article about possible developments around Sony Ericsson when it becomes a subdivision of Sony. Some comments show that many do not understand what is happening on the market and are unaware of Sony’s position. For the majority of consumers Sony is still the embodiment of quality and style. I also share this sentiment. In 1990s I had Sony Trinitron models followed by 100 GHz TV sets from Philips, Sharp and Samsung. The common sense won and I see no point in paying premium prices for the brand name alone, if Samsung boasts a comparable picture quality together with an array of additional features for a lower price. It explains why consumers prefer Samsung and similar manufacturers. Here we come to the key point some people overlook. The world has changed a long time ago, but some did not notice it and keep on living inside their own bubble.
Starting from 1989 and the real estate crisis in Japan the Nikkei kept on falling, which is obvious from the following table
It may not tell you much, but starting from 1989 Japanese companies started investing abroad and achieved considerable success. They invested heavily in foreign economies, which is reflected in the Nikkei index (with certain exceptions and reservations). Unfortunately, during the last 20 years Japan suffered due to economic crises and natural disasters alike. It did not turn Japanese economy into a weak one, but it is not in best of shapes now.
Sony is a prime example of the trend and last week the company warned that for the 4th year in a row it awaits losses ($1.1 this year). A “strong” company cannot receive profit 4 years in a row. Just the TV department will lose almost $2.2 billion in this financial year and the sector has been going down for the last 8 years. The explanation is not only in the weakness of Sony. Samsung and LG chose this niche as a key one around 20 years ago trying to emulate Sony (details are clearly highlighted in the book titled Sony vs Samsung). Nowadays everybody is suffering losses on the TV market. Hard times only recently came to Korean manufacturers, while European companies are giving up their positions one by one. Companies from Japan are not bankrupt yet, but the winner will take it all. The rest of the pack will either surrender or waste funds on supporting sales.
Sony is planning to restructure its TV department once again. It should break even in 2012 and start earning money in March of 2013. The market did not appreciate the news and the shares of the company lost their value. Panasonic is not profitable as well, while Philips is going to leave this market niche altogether. Manufacturing will be transferred to TPV Technology. Sony is in dire straits because it has a joint venture in LCD manufacturing with its main rival (Samsung). Give it up and you will save some cash in the short term, but you will lose high quality and relatively inexpensive panels. There is no way out. I am not sure that the problems of Sony are so vital for us, but it is crucial to understand if it can save Sony Ericsson. Sony has been losing money 4 years in a row and could not restructure its TV department. All in all I think the end of Sony Ericsson will not be glorious. I talked to several Sony Ericsson employees who were informed about the plans for 2012: SE will introduce only 3-4 models in the premium segment.
Misconceptions around Sony are unprecedented. The brand is extremely popular in the US where consumers still have good memories. One of my acquaintances who spent 20 years in the US army and visited Japan around that time remarked that “Sony is the synonym of quality associated with best products, which cost a lot”. I am afraid that in terms of technological advantages Sony can boast only its design at the moment, while it has not come up with considerable innovations for a long time. It’s a pity, especially taking into account my long and deep affection of Sony products. At the same time while choosing between Sony Vaio and MacBook Air I went for a cheaper Apple model and received more features for my money.
HTC is not doing as well as they would like to. No sooner as I complained that their portfolio was inflated by similar models as the company confirmed my ideas. While announcing new record figures for the quarter (+68% in income and +93% in smartphone sales) HTC said that 4th quarter results will be lower than figures for in the 3rd quarter. This warning is sensational. Among key factors the company cites strong models from other companies and the release of iPhone 4S in October instead of this summer. The main explanation is that the company reached its maximum potential with the current lineup. There are too many similar handsets and it is an issue. Short lifecycle and models with similar characteristics devalues them morally. Many companies were caught in the trap before HTC. Annual results will be far from disappointing, but in 2012 the growth will slow down and not much can be changed as the product range for the first part of 2012 has been already finalized. HTC masterminded their own downfall. It is a pity, but we had to expect such developments. Now the company has another target to change the structure and become even stronger. Alternatively HTC can stay a minor market player (its share is modest now, though HTC is rather influential). Anyway, in 2012 HTC will undergo structural changes as its current business model is not appropriate for new targets and must be altered. I hope they succeed.
P.S. Have a nice week and enjoy the fall weather! This week you will read reviews of Nokia N9, Galaxy Note, FLY MC145 and several other articles into the bargain.
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Published 11 November 2011
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