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  • The Gee-Whiz Factor

    June 3rd, 2015

    So you know that Microsoft is, as you’d expect, making a huge push to persuade you to upgrade to Windows 10 come late July. If you can’t wait, sign up for the Technical Preview, which continues to get regular updates. You expect the hype. Microsoft is still suffering from the Windows 8 failure, and I suspect most anything with a few reversions to previous style, such as the Start menu, would be a huge improvement. Whether it can jumpstart PC sales, however, is far from certain.

    There is also another version of Android coming, Android M. Lots of promises were made at the recent Google I/O developer conference, but the new features aren’t necessarily must-haves. Indeed, as one commentator recently noted at AppleInsider, Google has mined the iOS feature set big time in order to come up with some of those features. In fairness, Apple has itself gotten a few ideas from Android, so this game is played both ways.

    But the larger problem for Android is that, whatever new features are added, there’s no guarantee that your brand new smartphone, even if it’s a high-end model, will be eligible for the upgrade. This has been a longstanding problem with Android. If you don’t buy a pure Nexus smartphone that gets the latest and greatest, well fairly quickly, you have to wait for the manufacturer and wireless carrier to certify the update. It may never arrive. So last November’s Android L Lollipop is still on less than 10% of Android handsets. Although it was dinged for an “inferior” migration rate, iOS 8 is on from 82-86% of devices, depending on whether you believe Apple or a third party. Before iOS 8 came out, the previous version had exceeded a 90% migration rate, so it’s getting close.

    But even with the number one spot for mobile gear on the planet, Android has problems. Upstart Asian carriers running Android have a forked version, one that doesn’t support Google Pay or other Google features. So the company doesn’t benefit. Worse, a number of smartphone makers, including Samsung, are still paying Microsoft for the rights to use some of their patents in exchange for selling Android gear. Oh the indignity of it all!

    This doesn’t mean that Android will ultimately fail in the marketplace. Google’s marketshare is over 80%, although Apple excels in the most profitable segments of the smartphone market. It does mean that those who continue to claim that Apple must lose if they can’t catch up with Google are just plain wrong. Apple doesn’t want to sell gear that doesn’t make a profit. The only other smartphone company to make a decent profit is Samsung, and their numbers are not as good as they used to be, since they are being squeezed at both the high and low end.

    So pundits who breathlessly and mindlessly declare that Apple is doomed because they are second in the market don’t understand how the company operates. With the vast majority of profits in the smartphone market, constantly and chronically saying Apple is still doomed to fail totally misses the point.

    Now Microsoft’s smartphone situation is what’s really treacherous. After years of trying, it’s in the low single digits. Windows 10 will include versions for PCs, smartphones and tablets. But whether that attempt at platform integration puts a bandage on an open wound or gives the mobile platform new authority is questionable. While certain industry pundits lamely predicted that Microsoft would be second in the mobile handset market by now, it’s not at all certain there’s much room for new contenders to take on Android and iOS.

    Those extolling the virtues of the next versions of Windows and Android won’t have much time to remain relevant in news coverage, since Apple’s WWDC next week will change the discussion. It will be all or mostly about the next versions of iOS and OS X. Will the new features be sufficient to excite users, or will it be more about new or revised tools for developers? It’s hard to know from the early chatter, though some of the rumored features seem more related to reliability than to exciting people. But after the shakiness of OS X Yosemite, perhaps reliability will seem exciting.

    Each year, you wonder whether Apple can come up with anything new to create a lust factor. It doesn’t seem to be happening with Windows 10, and there’s not a lot that seems exciting about Android M, particularly since most people who run Android gear will never be able to upgrade without buying new gear.

    Last year at this time, I wondered what sort of wonders Apple might produce for their operating system upgrades. If everything had worked as promised, it would have been a superb feature set. But there were just too many problems.

    But Apple usually learns from its mistakes, so perhaps there will be an improved emphasis on making things more snappier and more stable, although that remains to be seen.

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