iPhones, Battery Cases, Battery Life and Samsung Galaxy S6

With the release of Apple’s new Smart Battery Case for the iPhone 6/6s, some pundits are proclaiming that this is proof that Apple has been putting form over function, and that this product is an admission that the iPhone’s battery life is not enough.

Of course, the more careful journalists like Joanna Stern do not forget to mention that the people who find the iPhone lacking in battery life are heavy users.

You know who I blame for my battery anxiety disorder? Obviously not me, and my excessive checking of email and social media. I point the finger at Apple, and its insistence on compromising battery life for phone slimness.

On Tuesday, the company finally admitted that heavy iPhone 6 or 6s users like me could use more power

Some are less so and make very careless comments (Phil Baker writing for Techpinions).

The thinness tradeoff most likely was driven by their passion for ID winning over usability. Apple’s design of nearly every product for years has been about thinness, from the Air to the iPads, to the phones. Each new generation is thinner than the last. Apparently, there was no one strong enough to push back. I bet at least 80% of iPhone 6 users would have preferred more battery life in exchange for a phone that’s 1 or 2 mm thicker.

Now I am totally aware that in survey after survey of smartphone users, battery life is the major concern. However, the percentage of customers who are complaining is in the 30-40% range, and it is also unclear whether they are suffering enough to chose a phone that has more stamina, but is also heavier and bulkier.

Lacking any good publicly available survey results, we could look at the market-wide product trends for clues.

The hugely respected Anandtech website conducted battery tests for a variety of devices, and concluded the the iPhone 6s/6s Plus have very good battery life compared to other smartphones. If the iPhone battery life was so inadequate, and 80% of customers would really put up with a few extra millimetres of thickness for a larger battery, then why haven’t the competition opted for better battery life then the iPhone?

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The Samsung Galaxy S6 is also reported as to having a smaller battery than its predecessor. Why would Samsung do this if most customers valued battery life over thinness?

Personally, I know I often run out of battery life and I bought the Smart Battery Case. I have my own opinions, but I am also aware that they do not represent the bulk of the market. That is why data is important and why personal opinions are mostly worthless, unless you are writing reviews for a audience that is just like you.

Who Is To Blame For Samsung’s Bad Fortune?

As the profits plunged on Samsung’s smartphone business, the web has been awash with reasons.

Ben Bajarin has shown very nicely that the largest problem that Samsung faces is the decline of the high-end business, which is also mentioned by a Samsung executive in the Guardian article.

The high-end of the business has been dominated by Samsung and Apple and still is. This means that there are two possibilities.

  1. Apple took away Samsung’s sales in the high-end. That is to say, users of high-end Android phones (who were mostly using Samsung devices) switched to the iPhone.
  2. The high-end market for Android smartphones saw a sudden shrinking. That is to say, mid-range smartphones were perceived as good enough and hence there was no need for customers to purchase high-end Galaxy devices anymore.

I suspect that both of these happened but I want to analyze them in isolation because it makes the situation easier to understand. Although these two look similar, they are actually very different. The first means that Apple was able to steal market share away from Samsung. The second means that vendors of mid-range smartphones (including Samsung of course) captured the customers who previously bought high-end phones. We will look at each separately.

Apple is stealing away the high-end

This is obviously happening. All reports point to Apple selling huge numbers of iPhones and it has been suggested that a lot of these are switchers who have abandoned Android phones.

The important thing is why. Of course the triggering event is the increased screen size of the iPhone 6. However, what is more important is why couldn’t Samsung match the iPhone 6 before Apple threw down the gauntlet. Why was Samsung left clinging to screen size as the only feature that could keep it competitive in the high-end.

Although design and/or Apple’s brand could well be a factor, it is also as likely that iOS and its app ecosystem could have been perceived to be superior than Android. If this was the case, then the blame would have to be put onto Google. Google failed to create an operating system and ecosystem that was competitive against iOS. The only reason that the high-end Android market existed at all was because Samsung had large screens while Apple did not.

If it was design or branding, then it would be harder to place the blame on either Samsung and Google simply because Apple is so good at these. Either way though, the result is that the high-end Android market cannot exist anymore.

The high-end Android market is shrinking

This is a completely different dynamic. If this were the case, then we should be seeing customers who previously owned the flagship Galaxy devices either downgrade to mid-range Android devices or to extend their replacement cycle. I have not yet seen a statistic that suggests that this is happening, but it is plausible.

This can only happen if Android smartphone hardware is starting to be considered as good enough, even by previous high-end purchasers. This also has to happen while at the same time, on the Apple side of the fence, Apple customers are not considering iOS hardware to be good enough. There must be something very different happening to Android customers and iOS customers.

The good enough of hardware is determined by software. If the software can take advantage of new hardware and create a true benefit for the customer, then old hardware will not be good enough. On the other hand, if the software does not have any compelling features that require new hardware, then old hardware will be good enough. No matter how much the hardware improves, whether customers will demand it depends on software.

In the case of iOS, the OS made full use of the 64-bit hardware to enable much faster processing of photos and movies. The OS made use of the TouchID sensor, which is also now being used by the Apple Pay service. Apple has given each piece of new hardware a significant reason for existing, and that is why customers want new devices.

On the Android side, that has not been the case. Google has not moved quickly to 64-bit, it has not worked hard on corporate level security, and it has not introduced software support for biometric sensor technology. Instead, Google has introduced a lot of software technologies that enable low-powered devices to smoothly run the latest operating system. Instead of adding new features that would take advantage of new high-end hardware, they focused on making sure that the mid-range and low-end hardware would be able to run the latest operating system and to take advantage of all of its features. In summary, Google actively designed their new operating system so that Samsung would have a hard time differentiating itself.

Although I’m not sure whether Google did this intentionally, it has made it very difficult for high-end Android smartphones to compete with mid-range ones. This is not only a challenge for Samsung, but it will also be a challenge for any OEM that plans to move upmarket. It will mean that companies like Huawei, Lenovo and Xiaomi will not be able to move up-market unless they gain significant control of the OS.

So what should we blame?

I think that Google was targeting the low-end from the start, but Andy Rubin was not. I genuinely think that Andy Rubin was much more focused on the high-end and he didn’t seriously consider making Android work better on low-end devices. I think he wanted to make Android as good as or even better than iOS. The fact that his reign coincided with when Samsung was strongest is no coincidence.

When Andy Rubin was removed and Sundar Pichai took over, it became rather clear that instead of fighting with iOS, Android would focus on the low-end. In fact, most products that Google creates (many of which were under the supervision of Sundar) aim at the very low-end where prices are normally zero. Google Docs is a prime example of this, as is Chrome OS. Google’s strategy is to commoditize all markets except for search and advertising, by providing a good enough product for free.

Samsung could have tried harder to take control of Android so that they could create software that took advantage of high-end software. In fact, they tried. Considering that Samsung was mainly a hardware company, I don’t think that they ever misunderstood that they needed good software; it was just that they didn’t have the resources or the culture to create great software. It’s hard to blame their strategic thinking for this.

Google could have tried harder to preserve the high-end. However, it’s priorities were clearly in the low-end. It’s hard to focus on both.

I would say that the only strategy that we could actually blame was Samsung’s decision to team up with Android. Samsung should have seen that Google would ultimately aim to commoditize their own OS and all hardware vendors using their platform. Samsung should not have helped Android to gain market share, and instead waited for a contender whose priorities aligned better with Samsung’s goals. Of course, that is what Nokia did.

Luxury versus Premium In Tech

Why aren’t iPhones being disrupted by low-end Androids?

Apple’s iPhones have retained their value (high selling price) and sales despite a large number of low-cost Android devices entering the market. The quality of these low-cost Android devices has also improved significantly, and as a result, many people have claimed that the performance difference between these and the iPhones no longer justify the premium prices. That is to say, low-cost Android phones are “good enough” in the terminology used in “The Innovators Dilemma” by Clayton Christensen.

If the low-cost Android phones are “good enough”, then Christensen’s theory suggests that the high-end iPhones could be disrupted. However, market performance of the iPhones suggest that this is not happening. New iPhones break sales records every year whilst the selling price has not come down appreciably. Interestingly, Samsung, which dominates high-end Android, has had a hard time selling its most recent flagship device this year compared to last year. If anything, what we are seeing is high-end Androids being disrupted by low-end ones, whereas the iPhone is somehow immune.

One big question is, why aren’t iPhones being disrupted by low-end Androids? Why isn’t Apple facing the same problems that Samsung is? Many people give many different explanations for this.

Differentiation alone is not the answer

A common theme is that Apple controls the whole experience while Samsung only controls the hardware. Hence Samsung has more difficulty differentiating itself from the cheap OEMs. While this is no doubt true, differentiation only matters if the unique features that you provide are useful. To illustrate this, imagine if iOS and Android were absolutely equal in utility. Then the differentiation that iOS provides would not provide a competitive advantage for Apple; it would only make them different. And being different alone will not increase your sales.

This becomes clearer if we go back to the mid 1990’s, when Apple was in dire straits. Even at that time, Apple had control of both software and hardware whereas DELL and Compaq did not. However, this did not help Apple at all. Because the classic Mac OS was no longer significantly better than the competition, differentiation was no longer positive; it was actually negative.

Although I do not dispute the importance of differentiation, it is only positive if you have a superior product. If you have an equal or worse product, then differentiation is actually toxic. Differentiation can be positive or it can be negative. Hence the key attribute that we should be looking at is not differentiation, but whether or not the product is significantly superior or not.

iPhones as a luxury

Another common explanation is that the Apple brand has now attained luxury status, and that this has made iPhones immune from feature and price comparisons. This means that iPhones can command high prices despite features being on parity with cheaper Android phones.

It also suggests that iPhones will be immune from low-end disruption as described in “The Innovator’s Dilemma”. Low-end disruption happens when technology improves the functionality of a product up to the point where it overshoots the needs of the majority of the public. Therefore, for low-end disruption to happen at all, the product must improve over time. Since luxury status is often not a function of technical progress, this makes luxury immune to “The Innovator’s Dilemma”.

I have huge issues with how the word “luxury” is used in these contexts. The way many people use “luxury” is to explain a how a high-priced product sells well despite the absence of any perceivable (at least to them) desirable functionality. They are not saying that the iPhone is luxury because it shares certain attributes with other luxury products; instead they are calling it a luxury because all other explanations have failed.

Regardless of whether the iPhone is truly a luxury or not, this is not how we should be using this word if we are serious about understanding the truth. Instead, we should strive to understand consumer behavior towards luxury products and see how the iPhone fits in.

Luxury vs. Premium

If you look up “luxury vs premium” on Google, you can see that this topic is quite often discussed.

James D. Roumeliotis sums up a long blog post with the following;

Luxury is not premium – and premium is not luxury. They are two dissimilar categories catering to different market segments.

A luxury brand is more about prestige and appearance – it’s about pedigree and social stratification. As objects of desire, they stand out as aspirational to all but a few souls. These crucial elements keep these products exclusive on purpose. Premium, on the other hand, stands for performance, value added, state-of-the-art, craftsmanship, and timeless design.

Mark Whiting conducted a market research study on luxury brands which is summarized in a blog post;

The criteria used to classify Luxury brands

Although putting a brand in the luxury or premium category is the result of a personal opinion, our Luxury Detectives agreed on seven criteria defining luxury brands.

  • Uniqueness: Irreplaceable objects, produced in small quantities, handcrafted. Can only be made in a specific place or country. Exclusive distribution: strategy of rarity, waiting lists, few stores. For one of our Luxury Detectives based in Los Angeles, Villebrequin perfectly captured the spirit of Southern France.
  • Timelessness: Products that will last that will never go out of fashion and will be passed on to the next generation.
    Excellence: They will be made by skilled artisans and the finest fabrics and fabrication will be used. Culture of connoisseurship. The best customer service will apply.
  • Iconic Communication: A very sophisticated and codified visual universe built on dreams, desires and fantasies .
    Sensual Aesthetic: Refined aesthetic that conveys sensuality, indulgence with a hint of extravaganza and it appeals to the 5 senses.
  • Brand Soul: Builds its identity around a creator, the history of the house, and has its roots in history.
  • Innovation: Brands that dare to push boundaries and surprise. They stay faithful to their roots, but modernize and adapt style to present time to express coolness

And finally, Seth Godin says the following;

Luxury goods are needlessly expensive. By needlessly, I mean that the price is not related to performance. The price is related to scarcity, brand and storytelling. Luxury goods are organized waste. They say, “I can afford to spend money without regard for intrinsic value.”

That doesn’t mean they are senseless expenditures. Sending a signal is valuable if that signal is important to you.

Premium goods, on the other hand, are expensive variants of commodity goods. Pay more, get more. Figure skates made from kangaroo hide, for example, are premium. The spectators don’t know what they’re made out of, but some skaters believe they get better performance. They’re happy to pay more because they believe they get more.

The iPhone attributes which are related to premium are;

  1. State-of-the-art performance: Despite having lower specs on paper, iPhones have had much smoother animations and scrolling than even the top Android devices. Benchmarks, particularly on web browsing performance have also consistently shown iPhones to be faster than Android.
  2. Craftsmanship and timeless designs: It has been widely recognized that the craftsmanship and design of iPhones are superior to Androids.

The iPhone attributes which are related to luxury are;

  1. Brand Soul: The history of the Apple brand and the association with innovation and the life of Steve Jobs is very strong and unique.
  2. Innovation: The history of the Apple brand has been around innovation. Many people perceive Apple to be the most innovative smartphone manufacturer.

On the other hand, some attributes that are important for luxury products, but are lacking on the iPhone;

  1. Uniqueness: Even in unsubsidized countries, iPhones have a least double digit sales share. This easily disqualifies iPhones from being unique in developed countries.
  2. Needlessly expensiveness: Although iPhones are more expensive then their Android counterparts, the price is not too different from Android flagships. You cannot say iPhones are needlessly expensive.
  3. Iconic communication: Commercials for iPhones always feature ordinary looking people doing ordinary things. They do not use iconic figures going to an extravagant location in a luxury car. Apple is not sending a luxury marketing message.

We can see that although Apple does have luxury brand appeal, their product, marketing and pricing strategies are very strongly non-luxury. Instead they are squarely aimed at the premium market.

It would be very wrong to classify iPhones as luxury.

Consequences

Premium means being a high-quality product with superior performance and design/craftsmanship. Advances in technology will allow new market entrants to easily attain a premium position in the performance aspect. Also, since manufacturing of Apple products is outsourced to China, design and craftsmanship are not too difficult to copy either (as proven by Xiaomi). Hence being a mainly premium supplier means that you will feel the forces of low-end disruption, and you are in no way immune.

Premium suppliers have to make sure that their products are always state-of-the-art with the best designs and craftsmanship. In the tech world where innovation (driven by Moore’s law) is so fast that any technology risks being overridden by “The Innovator’s Dilemma” in a matter of years (witness the flat-panel TV story), this is extremely difficult. What happens is that you may be state-of-the-art, but your technical expertise overshoots customer needs and becomes irrelevant very rapidly.

It is not constructive and even misleading to categorize iPhone as luxury. As with Samsung, Apple is subject to the forces of low-end disruption and has to ensure that the iPhone is premium by making sure that it is significantly better than cheaper Androids in both performance and design/craftsmanship.

Apple has been better at making their products premium. Samsung has failed. It’s that simple.

Galaxy S4の標準ブラウザが1年前のChromiumをforkしているかも知れない件

先日、Galaxy S4の標準ブラウザのUser Agent Stringに“Chrome”の文字列が入っているのを知りました。

情報源はたかおファン氏のブログです。

Galaxy S4 (SC-04E)のChromeのUser Agent Stringは

Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; Android 4.2.2; SC-04E Build/JDQ39) AppleWebkit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/27.0.1453.90 Mobile Safari/537.36

そしてGalaxy S4 (SC-04E)の標準ブラウザのUser Agent Stringが

Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; Android 4.2.2; ja-jp; SC-04E Build/JDQ39) AppleWebkit/535.19 (KHTML,like Gecko) Version/1.0 Chrome/18.0.1025.308 Mobile Safari/535.19

参考にGalaxy S3 (SC-06D)の標準ブラウザのUser Agent Stringは

Mozilla 5.0 (Linux; U; Android 4.0.4; ja-jp; SC-06D Build/IMM76D) AppleWebkit/534.30 (KHTML,like Gecko) Version/4.0 Mobile Safari/534.030

さらに標準ブラウザのアドレスバーに“chrome://version/”と入力すると、Chromeに似たバージョン表皮がされるということなので、たかおファン氏はSamsungが独自にChromiumをforkしたのではないかとしています。そうなるとforkしたのはChrome 18 (2012-03-28リリース)。結構古いバージョンで、Chrome for Androidがβ版から抜ける以前のバージョンです。

ことの背景

このあたりの背景については、2013年5月にブログを書きました(英語)。それに補足する形で、背景をまとめました。

  1. “Jelly Bean” (Android 4.1)以降、GoogleはAndroidの標準ブラウザ(いわゆるAndroid stock browser)を外し、Chromeを標準ブラウザとしました。
  2. GoogleはJelly Beanのリリース以降は、Chromeを標準ブラウザとしたとされています。しかし実際にはJelly Bean搭載デバイスであっても、依然としてAndroid stock browserを標準ブラウザとしているものが大半です。Jelly BeanでもOSにはAndroid stock browserのエンジンが搭載されており、web viewを使ったときはChromeではなくAndroid stock browserのエンジンが使用されます。
  3. Android stock browserはオープンソースですが、Chromeはオープンソースではありません。ChromeはAndroid OSには含まれていませんし、Chromeをプレインストールするためには別途Googleとライセンス契約を結ぶ必要があります。Chromeのオープンソース版としてChromiumプロジェクトがあり、Chromeはこれをforkしたものです。

Samsungの判断の背景

SamsungがChromiumをforkしたのならば、それは完全に納得のいくことです。

  1. Samsungとしては単にChromeを搭載するのでは差別化ができません。Samsungは独自の機能をもったブラウザを作りたいと思っています。
  2. 独自のブラウザのベースとしては、a) Android stock browserベースのものを作る、b) Chromiumプロジェクトをベースに作り、c) 独自にWebKitベースのものを作る、が考えられます。Chromeはオープンソースではないので、これをベースにはできません。
  3. 2013年5月時点では、私はSamsungがc)を選択すると予想していました。なぜならTizen OS用ブラウザがHTML5テストで好成績を収めていたからです。TizenブラウザをベースにAndroidに移植するのではないかと予想していました。
  4. 結果的にはSamsungはb)を選択した模様です。

それでこれは良いことなのか困ったことなのか

Android stock browserはバグが多かったり、サポートしていないHTML5, CSS3の機能が多かったりしたので、Androidをサポートする場合にはもともとかなり神経を使いました。Androidは古いバージョンが依然として使われていることも多いので、Androidをサポートする限りは新しい機能があまり使えないと覚悟していました。使うにしても、実機で十分にテストする必要がありました。

今回のSamsung Galaxy S4の標準ブラウザはChromeに似ているとはいえ、バージョンが古いものです。これほど古いバージョンについては、web上で情報を見つけることができません(例えばCan I useにも古いChrome Androidの情報はありません)。しかもテストするには実際にGalaxy S4を使うしかなく、他のデバイスで代用することができません。

Chromeに似ているので、Android stock browserよりはバグが少なく、HTML5やCSS3の機能が使えるだろうと期待はできます。しかしテストが面倒になった分、開発者にしてみればSamsung Galaxy S4の標準ブラウザは迷惑です。

やはり開発者の立場でいえば、総合的にはマイナスと言えるでしょう。

今後

今後もAndroid stock browserの開発が進まなければ、Samsung同様にChromiumをforkするメーカーは出てくるでしょう。どのバージョンをforkするかはそれぞれバラバラになる可能性があり、いろいろなバージョンのChromiumが混在する事態になりかねません。来年ぐらいになれば、ちゃんとwebに情報があるChrome version 27ベースのforkになるので、安定してくると思います。しかし現状では実機でテストしなければわからない状態と言えます。

Chrome version 27以降をベースとしたforkが増えれば、AndroidのHTML5, CSS3は大きく改善します。AndroidのChromeがAndroid 4.0以降でインストール可能とはいえ、実際に使われているケースは圧倒的に少数派です。大部分のユーザはAndroid 4.0以降でも標準ブラウザを使っています。それがChromiumベースになるのはありがたいことです。

まとめると、今後はAndroid stock browserが使われなくなり、Androidのブラウザ フラグメンテーションがますますひどくなります。しかしChromiumの高いバージョンがベースとなっていけば、web開発者としては実用上、負担は軽減されます。