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None had expected the UK based supermarket chain Tesco to come up with a tablet offering of its own; and if that wasn’t enough, the company has now stated they are planning a sequel for launch soon. All of it started with the Hudl, whose biggest feature has been its affordable price tag. Tesco is claiming the Hudl, which went on sale for £119 (roughly around 195 USD), sold in numbers significant enough to warrant coming up with a sequel. The Hudi went on to notch up sales figure of more than 35,000 within the first few days of its launch, while around 300,000 have been sold in the two months since. That is the entire shipment they had expected to sell through the end of 2013.
As for the upcoming Hudl 2, almost the entire thing remains cloaked in secrecy and the only thing we know of the upcoming device is that it will sport enhanced specifications. That’s hardly surprising considering every sequel is designed to be better than its predecessor. However, it remains to be seen just how much of an improvement Hudl 2 comes with without disturbing the affordability factor which is believed to be Tesco’s trump card.
Aldi’s decision to follow suit with an even cheaper tablet, one that costs just £80, may be a competing point for the Hudl. Dubbed the Medion Lifetab Android tablet or just Lifetab, the tablet comes with features that can be considered befitting the price tag, though a reported four hour run time will be a real pain. Nevertheless, the tablet offers compatibility with the Google Play Store where it will have access to over 850k Android apps. The tablet also comes pre-loaded with quite a few apps such as Drawing Pad, a media player, and a month long free trial of Kaspersky Tablet Security.
As such, there seems to be a new battle brewing in the ultra-low cost tablet segment where the Hudl may have taken an initial lead, though competition is hot on its heels.
The US Apple App Store has crossed one important milestone, that of playing host to over a million live apps for the first time ever. The above feat has been achieved in around five years’ time since the app store first came into being in July 2008. Apple had announced its worldwide app store has made it past the million approved app mark almost a year ago though back then; it’s about 700k apps that were live. Now with over a million live apps, the number of approved apps now stands at a staggering 14 million. Of the more than million apps now live, more than half of these are specific to the iPad while around 900k app apply to the iPhone. In comparison, the Google Play Store now has 881k live apps of the 1.17 million that has been approved.
However, there has been no official statement issued highlighting the above feat. This is surprising as this is the kind of news that anyone will like to go around town trumpeting such an achievement. It was the app discovery site Appsfire that first spotted such a development, something that has been confirmed by Macrumors own app discovery site AppShopper which lists the number of apps available for download being 1,006,557.
Apple has just had a bumper November for sales, which saw demand for its products rise 19 to 20 percent month over month. This is much higher than the normal six percent increase in sales during Novembers over the past several years. Sales are usually robust during the month which marks the onset of the holiday shopping season, though demand for Apple products seems to be exceptionally high this year. This prompted Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Brian White to declare this year’s performance to be the best so far.
Much of the demand can be attributed to the new range of Apple devices. These include the new iPad Air, which comes with a new design that has made it among the thinnest and lightest tablet in the world, and a new iPad mini with Retina Display that has been in short supply, prompting buyers to lap up the first gen iPad Mini which continues to flourish. The new iPhone, which incorporates a fingerprint scanner, has also been selling in record numbers. The iPhone will get a further boost in sales if the deal with China Mobile to launch the iPhone in that country has indeed gone through as expected.
“With approximately 97 percent of the sales now accounted for in our Apple Barometer, we estimate sales in November rose by approximately 19-20 percent month-over-month, and well above the November average of up 6 percent over the past eight years,” said White. “As such, we believe this November will prove to be the strongest in the history of our Apple Barometer.”
The good performance no doubt will lead to a much better showing during the holiday quarter, even after taking into account a 10 percent drop in sales during December. “If we assume an average MoM sales decline of 10% in December, we estimate our Apple Barometer will grow sales by 28% QoQ in 4Q:13, or more than double the average increase of 13% over the past eight years,” said White in a research note to investors.
Apple’s Barometer is a measure of sales achieved by the company based on data compiled from the Taiwan based companies that supply the components that goes into the making of the Apple devices.
The YotaPhone breaks a lot of new ground with its dual display design, opening up a lot of new opportunities for users. With a regular LCD display on one side and an e-ink panel of equal size on the other, the YotaPhone could well be the ultimate smartphone device for many out there; well, theoretically at least. The device isn’t exactly cheap either, having already gone on sale in select European countries for a cool 499 Euros, though it’s not known when it’s going to land in the US.
One question that is on top of everyone’s mind is whether the YotaPhone is as good as it claims. The device comes close, but leaves some space for improvement. To begin with, the device lacks the sleek shine of many of its ilk. Instead, the YotaPhone comes across as a chubby device with thick bezels that give it somewhat of a budget smartphone look.
The lack of the typical Android set of buttons along the front makes things look clean and interesting, though it also requires the user to use a few swiping actions to get going. A right swipe is needed to reach home, while a left swipe accomplishes what the back button does. To see recent apps, one will have to double tap on the display. Similarly, a swipe down using two fingers will take a screenshot of the display and transfer it to the rear display. The gesture controls might be a little disappointing to Android loyalists, which is further amplified by the fact that the swipe pads can be unresponsive at times.
This takes us straight to the most interesting aspect of the device, the secondary e-ink panel along the rear. Unfortunately, being used to the likes of the Amazon Kindles, the rather low 640 x 360 pixel e-ink panel leaves a lot to be desired. Text can be fuzzy to hardly readable at times on the display that has been fetched from the front LCD panel.
However, reading ebooks can be satisfactory, though not the best. The biggest issue here is that the e-ink panel is bogged with ghost images, with a faint image of the previous display lingering. If that is not enough, the lack of adequate ebook reading apps can be telling. While popular ebook reading apps such as Kindle or Kobo can be downloaded on the device, the same won’t work with the e-ink display. Instead, those who’d like to read books will have to make do with the Bookmate app, and it suffers from a very limited collection. There aren’t many apps currently available that can make the most of the e-ink panel, though the notepad that the device comes with can be pretty handy.
These issues however cannot dent the biggest advantage that the e-ink panel has to offer, that of its power saving credentials. The display can hold an image all day long without draining the battery and the rear e-ink panel can also be handy for checking email, notifications, and incoming messages without having to wake up the phone, thus saving power. The e-ink panel also allows for reading just as comfortably in bright sunlight conditions as it would indoors, adding tremendous flexibility to the device.
As for the front LCD 1,280 x 720 pixel display, things are pretty much the same as can be expected of a device running Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean except that its controls require getting used to. The dual core chip rated at 1.7 GHz does a good job at keeping things quick and peppy though it doesn’t have the more advanced quad core chips.
In the end, what can be said is that it’s still a work-in-progress. The YotaPhone needs to be fine-tuned before it can deliver a complete and enriching user experience. While the device as a whole needs a fresh and thorough once over, the rear e-ink panel will definitely benefit from more third party apps being developed to make the most of it, something that is practically non-existent right now. As things stand right now, there isn’t much that can be done with the e-ink side of the YotaPhone even though it does have the potential of being a pretty handy ebook reading device.
There has been no dearth of prototypes of some form or the other showcasing displays exhibiting varying degrees of flexibility. However, it’s only now that bendable display technology seems to have matured enough to make the transition to a commercial entity. Both Samsung and LG have come up with smartphone which they claim to incorporate flexible displays. Of course Samsung isn’t just stopping with the Galaxy Round smartphone device but has announced flexible displays will form a major chunk of their product portfolio starting 2014 onwards.
Unfortunately, Samsung isn’t revealing all its cards which leave a lot of questions unanswered. The broad picture that has emerged is that Samsung will be relying on transparent displays and touchscreen metal mesh panels for its future smartphones and tablets. The company is also reported to have filed a patent application for a transparent display that will have touch based controls both at the front and the rear. These apart, Samsung has also been showing off flexible and even bendable display quite regularly. This makes us wonder if the future Samsung device will in reality be bendable or flexible.
Meanwhile, LG has released a video showing just how flexible their G Flex smartphone really is. Unlike Samsung’s Galaxy Round that bends vertically, the LG G Flex bends horizontally along the center. Also, with the G Flex, it is not just the display that is flexible but the entire smartphone device which is flexible. LG is claiming the device can even withstand forces of up to even 32 kilos directly on its rear before returning back to its original curved shape. What this means is that it is not the display alone but the entire smartphone construction that incorporates flexibility. Even the rear has been shown to be self-healing, having the ability to regain its original texture within minutes even after having been scratched vigorously.
As such, what is amply clear is that it is not just devices with flexible displays that are going to win the race but devices that as a whole exhibits flexibility, including the display. As for the benefits of such devices, there are many with the prime being that these are much better off in handling stress and strain. Theoretically, such a device will be able to withstand stress much longer than conventional LCD based devices though it also depends on the design and build of the specific device. Another advantage with flexible as seen on the Galaxy Round or G Flex is that they will have less glare on the eyes. Even Apple is believed to be considering incorporating flexible displays for its forthcoming iPhone 6 though its more wrap around in nature.
Other challenges that manufacturers will have to take in their stride is to come up with economic means of producing flexible devices in enough quantities. Currently the Galaxy Round has only been released on a limited scale which has seriously limited its wider availability. Let’s just hope such issues have been sorted out before companies takes to launch device with flexible displays.
Google has embarked upon another major expansion drive, this time targeting the Latin American countries for making available its Google Play Book services. The five new countries that will now have access to Google Play Books include Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela. The last time we have seen Google expand its service was about a month ago when it’s Google Play Book services was launched in South Africa, Turkey and Switzerland. With this, Google’s ebook service is now available in 44 countries worldwide. However, in stark contrast, Google Magazines are only available in a handful of countries, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, and United States.
In any case, those in the aforementioned countries can log into their Google account to access the ebook section, an inherent advantage of which is that it can also be accessed via non-Android devices as well.
Barnes & Noble together With Microsoft has announced an exclusive Nook for Windows 8.1 offer that will allow residents in UK to download books and magazines for free. Of course it is a limited period offer, enabling those who installs the Nook for Windows 8.1 app on their devices to download up to 5 ebooks and 5 digital magazines from a select list free of cost.
“By providing bestselling books and top magazines for free, new NOOK customers in the UK can start their digital libraries with some great content from the NOOK Store. We look forward to rolling out similar great offers to customers in more countries in the future, helping them to experience our unmatched reading platform,” said Jim Hilt, Managing Director, Barnes & Noble S.à.r.l.
Among the titles offered free include bestsellers The Moaning Of Life by Karl Pilkington, Booker Prize winner The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, and Of Lions and Unicorns by Michael Morpurgo. Magazines on offer include the likes of Cosmopolitan UK, Men’s Health, T3, Esquire UK and and so on.
Speaking of the development, Dr. Fiona Fyfe, Product Marketing Manager, Windows Apps said: ”We are really excited to have the NOOK App on our platform. Our customers will benefit greatly from the exclusive offer of five free books and magazines from the NOOK Store. The Windows 8 operating system works across a range of devices, making it perfect for an eReading app like NOOK. This year, activations of Windows 8 devices has grown, and this in turn has seen our customers engaging deeply with the Windows Store. Currently, we have over 100,000 apps in the Windows Store and the NOOK App is a strong addition which will deliver a great reading experience to our customers.”
B&N had recently embarked on a major expansion drive, making available its Nook app for the Windows 8.1 platform in 32 countries and 12 languages. Among the countries the app has been made available include Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States.
The National Library of Norway has embarked on an ambitious mission, that of digitizing all of its titles with the hope of achieving this by mid-2020. Such an endeavor will cover every book ever published in the country since, as per Norwegian law, all published material in all media should be deposited with the National Library of Norway. This will ensure everyone in Norway has access to the books at all times, which also includes those that come under the purview of copyright laws. Users will be able to download the books, though this applies only to those that are not copyrighted.
The National Library has stated they will continue to hold onto their physical collection in spite of the digitization efforts. Also, with books becoming machine readable which will not require a physical presence in the library, the authorities stated they will continue to encourage and promote the library as a physical meeting place. The library owns some rare collections of manuscripts, maps, posters, special books, photographs, and more, and will continue to make these available.
There have been widespread digitization efforts elsewhere in the world given the public preference for digital copies of printed texts and the sense of urgency surrounding preserving rare volumes. Also, given that maintaining digital copies is far more cost effective than their printed counterparts, libraries around the world have taken to digitizing their physical collections in the wake of budget cuts.
Amazon revealed that as many as 25 out of 100 of its best-selling titles in 2012 were from indie publishers. This should serve as a measure of the growing clout that the indie publishers and authors have come to wield. Also, lest anyone have any doubt about what exactly “indie” refers to or whether it would include publishing via any of those other than the big six publishing house in the US, an Amazon spokeswoman clarified by saying: “This figure is referring to Kindle books on Amazon.com in 2012, with ‘indie’ meaning books self-published via Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). So a quarter of the top 100 bestselling Kindle books on Amazon.com in 2012 were self-published via KDP.”
Experts believe the share of authors preferring to publish their own books is fast catching on, so the percentage of indie authors is expected to rise further in the coming years. As Orna Ross, director of the UK Alliance of Independent Authors, which is a representative body of self-published authors, said: “We are in the middle of a major change. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we reached a situation where the majority of the top books are author-published. I don’t see what would stop that.”
Another trend is self-published authors who make it big ending up landing lucrative deals with conventional publishers. Paul Pilkington, a lecturer in a university in the UK, signed up with the UK-based publisher Hodder & Stoughton after two of his novels went on to sell more than 150,000 copies, other indie authors who got picked up by conventional publishers include the likes of Kerry Wilkinson and Beth Reeks. Kerry Wilkinson signed up with Pan Macmillan after success with his crime series which he had initially self-published. Beth Reeks, the nineteen-year-old student of physics, has been picked up by Random House after her romantic fiction, The Kissing Booth, which she had published at the storytelling site Wattpad, created a fan following of over 19 million.
However, not everyone is impressed with the development. As independent publisher Colin Robinson of Or Books cautioned: “It’s possible that some of the publishers I’ve never heard of are in fact imprints set up by the author of the book but, especially as several appeared with books by more than one author (or at least one author’s name), it seems unlikely that more than a few are. Disney and Little Brown are doing great. So are joke books.”
There has been a recent furor when erotic or adult themed novels ended up being listed alongside children’s titles, pointing fingers at self-published authors of those works. The booksellers blamed this on the rampant increase in indie authors who often would publish such stories to gain publicity or earn money.
Publishers and distributors of e-books in Japan have voiced concern over the proposed hike in consumption tax from the current 5 percent to 8 percent by April 2014. However, while the taxation would apply to ebook publishers and distributors in Japan, the same when sourced from overseas vendors enjoy immunity from the tax net. As such, retailers such as Amazon or Rakuten’s Canadian arm Kobo are not required to pay consumption tax in Japan. This as per the local players are allowing the overseas vendors undue benefit vis-à-vis their domestic counterparts.
As per the current legal system, ebooks purchased and downloaded from servers outside of Japan are deemed transactions, and are hence considered to be outside the purview of consumption tax. It is only the items and services purchased in Japan that are subject to paying consumption tax.
“Online shoppers are sensitive to prices. One of the reasons that foreign vendors gained a large share in the Japanese market was the unfair environment regarding the consumption tax,” said an executive with bookstore operator Kinokuniya Co.
This, as per Daiwa Institute of Research Holdings Ltd. is also leading to the Japanese government losing out billions of yen in revenue every year. The loss is pegged at a substantial 25 billion yen in 2012 alone. The domestic players are urging the government to come up with a quick solution though anything of that sort seems unlikely to emerge before spring 2014 when the higher rate structure will come in place. Government sources have assured local publishers and ebook retailers they are investigating the matter and have assured a level playing field for all though that is not expected to happen anytime soon.
“At the time the consumption tax was introduced (in the late 1980s), few imagined that the Internet would develop this much. The Finance Ministry should start upgrading legislation to create a fair environment,” said Yoshikazu Miki, a law professor at Aoyama Gakuin University.
Market research firm IDC has projected the Windows-based tablet segment to grow to 39.3 million units by 2017. This will include both stand alone tablet devices as well as hybrid tablets, devices that come with a detachable keyboard and can be operated as either a tablet or a notebook device. This rise is expected to fill the void created by the shrinking PC sales, at least to some extent, which has been steadily declining since the advent of the tablet device. IDC pegged the PC segment to stabilize at around 300 million units by 2017, claiming these might have lost relevance to some extent, even though they cannot be replaced by portable devices yet.
It is only the emergence of Windows 8.1 along with low power consuming Intel Bay Trail chips that has led to some degree of acceptability to Windows tablets. Windows based tablets accounted for less than 1 million units in 2011, though it is expected to grow to a bit more respectable 7.5 million by end of 2013. In contrast, Apple has sold 14.1 million of its iPad devices in the third quarter of 2013 alone, while the Android tablet segment reached 16.8 million devices in Q3, 2013.
IDC has stated that the entire tablet segment itself is registering slower growth of late and has been forced to revise its estimates for 2013 to 221.2 million, down from the originally estimated 227 million units. The research firm also stated the segment could end up registering just single digit growth rate by 2017, from the present 53.3 percent.
IDC analyst Tom Mainelli attributed the lower demand for tablets to the emergence of big screen smartphone devices.
“In some markets consumers are already making the choice to buy a large smartphone rather than buying a small tablet, and as a result we’ve lowered our long-term forecast,’ said Tom Mainelli. “Meanwhile, in mature markets like the US where tablets have been shipping in large volumes since 2010 and are already well established, we’re less concerned about big phones cannibalising shipments and more worried about market saturation.”
Meanwhile, there have been a slew of tablet launches running Windows 8.1, which includes the Dell Venue 8 Pro, Dell Venue 11 Pro, Lenovo Miix 2, Toshiba Encore, Asus Transformer Book T100, and others. All of these have had positive reviews so far and are expected to fare well in the market, though it remains to be seen if these can unsettle both Apple and Android’s tablet market share by a significant margin just yet.
Africa has long been referred to as the dark continent, which means there is ample scope for the light to shine; and that is exactly what is happening in that part of the world. Focusing on just one measure of development, internet usage in Africa has hit the fast lane. Even this can be termed an understatement given the astounding 3,606 percent growth rate that internet usage has reached in the continent achieved since the beginning of the new millennium. Of course this has led to a ripple effect as this has spurred the demand for internet based service, with digital publishing being just one of them.
“The proliferation of smartphones across Africa, combined with the inevitable burst into e-commerce, means that we would be foolish to ignore what is about to happen with publishing in Africa,” said Jeremy Weate, associated with Abuja-based Cassava Republic, a Nigeria based e-publishing firm that publishes fiction, non-fiction and children’s books. The obvious reference here has been to the more than 160 million Africans that connect to the internet, with it being smartphones that has emerged as the most preferred device to get online.
“Moving to e-books addresses some of our most significant challenges with print books,” Weate further added.
“In Nigeria, it is a tough ask to find a printer that can offer reliable services, a wide range of paper and guaranteed product quality.
“We don’t have to worry about printing, warehousing, distribution or engaging in fruitless marathons across the continent for payments that will never come,” said Weate.
A higher access to internet is also seen by publishers as a means of drawing the Africans to read more books, a trend that has been lacking sorely among the masses. Such an endeavor is getting further impetus with the efforts of Worldreader, a non profit organization that has been distributing e-readers among school children in the continent with the aim to dram them to read ebooks. Statistics depicting Worldreader’s efforts too are commendable, having delivered more than 70,000 ebooks among 13,000 children in nine countries in the African continent.
Meanwhile, Weate also stressed on promoting reading ebooks via smartphones given the wide reach these have already achieved.
“Many young Africans are already comfortable reading on mobile devices and we think this trend will continue as the price of smartphones gets cheaper,” said Mr Weate.
With this being the trend, it could just be a matter of time before major ebook publishers and device manufacturers such as Amazon, B&N, Kobo and such make a beeline for the African market.
Jolla, the Finland based company that developed the Sailfish operating system has stated they wish to see the operating system being installed on Android smartphone devices now being used. The company further stated Sailfish is compliant with Android apps which should provide the impetus for individuals to port Sailfish on their devices, which again, as per the Company CEO Tomi Pienimäki is fairly easy to accomplish.
Jolla as a company came into being only in 2011 and was set up by a group of ex-Nokia employees with the aim of further developing the MeeGo mobile software that Nokia has been working on before switching over to Windows full time. It’s good to see all of the efforts that has gone into the development of the MeeGo mobile platform not going to waste and has culminated into what has come to be known as the Sailfish. However, with Jolla yet to strike deals with existing smartphone makers into developing a device based on Sailfish, the best way for the operating system to be provided mass proliferation is to allow it to be ported on existing Android hardware dotting the world mobile landscape.
However, Sailfish right now is only available developed for use in a smartphone device though the company behind it has stated they wish to see the platform transcend to other areas of computing as well. This should include tablet devices though not specifically mention by Jolla; neither do we know when the platform could be seen invading the tablet scene.
Meanwhile, the company has just come up with its own hardware running the Sailfish OS. The device was handed out to 450 people who had pre-ordered the device. Zdnet’s Jo Best got to spend some time with the new device running the new OS and came out with mixed feelings. The OS does seem to hold a lot of promise though there also are just too many bugs and other deficiencies out there for the OS to be deemed as half baked as of now. Understandably, app store is still in the early stages of its development while the apps too seem to be not yet ready for prime time action.
However, the platform itself comes with some inherent qualities though it can be a topic of debate if those can be termed positive or otherwise. For instance the OS requires few tabs to be operated while there isn’t a back button either. The latter can be sorely missed if someone ends up in a situation that wasn’t intended and needs to back out. Also, the home screen houses a set of icons along the top left which intimates the user of any notifications such as missed calls or unread messages. However, none of these can be reached directly from the home screen and the user will have to navigate further to attend to these. A few tabs saved in the home screen but several more needed in the end.
However, a positive aspect of the OS is the ‘peek’ functionality that it provides which allows the user to swipe up from the bottom to keep themselves abreast of any recent notifications. This can be invoked even while working on any app while lifting the thumb will let go of the notification zone.
Also, another interesting aspect of the smartphone Jolla has come up with is the interchangeable ‘other half’ casing that can be snapped on to the set. However, it’s far from being of just cosmetic value to the user even though it’s going to be available in several exciting color options. Instead, they can also be used to add specific or distinct functionality to the device using NFC. Jolla believes the concept can be picked up by third party players such as an ‘other half’ inspired by a football team or a particular company for their employees and so on. These in turn will add the desired ‘look and feel’ to the device.
However, what can be said in the end is that both the hardware as well as the platform still needs some serious polishing efforts to make them shine in the already crowded smartphone segment. The hardware costs a quite high $399 while fielding mid-range specs and a below average camera while the Sailfish still needs more work to make it look and feel sophisticated.
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