Tag Archives: Apple

Apple’s Public Secret: Macs and PC Gaming

For those financial analysts who took the time to comb through Apple’s fiscal fourth quarter results last year, it was noted that despite overall declines, Apple Services – the division which includes Apple Music, Apple Pay, and the App Store – posted very healthy growth of 24% up to $6.3 billion. If this growth continues the Services division is on track to become a Fortune 100 company in its own right later this year. A decent proportion of that revenue will come from mobile games. It’s fair to say that mobile gaming has a far wider market reach than console or PC, partly due to cost and accessibility; the success of apps like Angry Birds and Pokémon GO are a testament to its appeal. Indeed, mobile gaming is generally seen as socially more acceptable than PC or console gaming, which still has a reputation (at least in many European countries) as being the preserve of the youth and hobbyists where a much larger financial commitment is required.

Despite the importance of gaming to the mobile platform, and increasingly to the stagnating PC market, Apple has resisted overtly marketing towards gamers, instead leaving that up to individual app studios. This is understandable for a brand which positions itself as luxury/lifestyle, the technical equivalent to a designer fashion label, allowing for Apple products to perpetually command high ASPs. Just as the iPhone/iPad is now the gaming platform of choice for many consumers, Macs can be considered a PC gaming alternative. According to the latest survey from Valve’s Steam cloud gaming platform – the most important global online shop for PC games – Mac OSX now makes up 3% of all users, with 50% of those users being Macbook Pro owners. Back in 2015 Valve stated that Steam had over 125 million players, meaning that even two years ago there were 3.75m Mac OS gamers on their platform alone. Looking further into Steam’s data, the top selling games for Mac OSX include all of the world’s biggest eSports titles such as Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

A common question repeatedly asked by channel and vendor partners is why CONTEXT includes Macs as part of the PC gaming market. The simple answer is that when the PC market is segmented according to what is gaming capable based upon system specs, Macs are part of the gaming market. At the low-end of the market, Apple has a healthy share thanks to the high number of iMacs utilising the AMD Radeon R9 M390 and similar GPUs. This configuration will not allow for full GFX settings on many AAA game titles, however it will still run popular games with acceptable framerates. Thanks to Apple’s announcement in early June that high-end VR-ready GPUs would soon be available either as a tethered add-on or as a standard system spec, Macs will be better equipped to compete in the enthusiast-end of the PC gaming market. In the case of the Thunderbolt 3 external GPU, this allows for a VR-ready upgrade at $599. This might seem steep given that AMD’s Radeon RX 580 retails for $300, however $599 is still cheaper than buying a new VR-ready notebook, and the dev kit also comes with a $100 discount on the HTC Vive.

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In the fashion world, high-end products are sometimes adopted by a non-target market – the story of Burberry’s clothing in the UK is a good example – and PCs have a history of being co-opted for purposes beyond the vendor intention. In the end, consumers will always have the final say on how they want to use a technology; as the Apple Services financials show, a vendor may wish to keep their success a public secret.

by JW

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Filed under gaming, Mobile technology, PCs

Chester Gould was Right

It wasn’t until I was loaned Apple’s new Watch Series II that I put one on. When the Watch was launched I decided it would not be something I’d wear, much less buy. But I’ll admit, I was pleasantly surprised to get it, and welcomed the chance to give my 26-year old Rado a rest while I tried the Watch out.

I’m not going to get into the technicalities because a watch is for wearing, it’s personal, apart from saying what an amazing piece of kit the Watch is: beautifully crafted, fabulous screen, snappy performance, even GPS, and so easy to set up and incorporate into living alongside an iPhone.

But when I first put it on, it took a while to get used to the sheer bulk of the 42mm screen, and the gold colour with a beige woven nylon strap was to my taste a bit bling. It took a few days to get used to having it on my wrist, and get through the inevitable mixed reactions from staff, family and friends.

Then I started using it, responding every time the haptic tap alerted me to a message, meeting, or exhortation to stand up, or breathe. I discovered Siri on the Watch – and started leaving text messages everywhere to try out, in the style of Chester Gould’s comic book detective Dick Tracy, the experience of talking to your wristwatch. It worked very, very well. I got hooked on Activity monitor, and was thrilled the day I completed 230% of my daily exercise requirement.

Interestingly, Apple seemed to have learned from the Series I that their Watch will never make it as a desirable piece of luxury jewellery along the lines of a Rolex or Cartier, despite sales – according to the company – ranking the Watch as number two in the world in terms of value. Instead, sensibly, the Watch is now pitched at the health, leisure and up market lifestyle sector and in that vein, especially with the GPS, I reckon it fits very well indeed.

As I said at the beginning, a watch is a personal thing. I wonder if everyone who has a Watch goes through the same stages I did: first, fascination for and playing with the technology. Second, using every alert and app available so that the taps on your wrist begin to run your life. And third, settling down to a modus operandi where only the important things that complement the Macbook/iPhone partnership are allowed through.

I was sitting on a plane writing this blog, and as the steward leaned over dispensing snacks, I could see a silver colored Apple Watch – with metallic strap – sitting on his wrist.
“Aha,” I said, “an Apple Watch. Is that a Series I?”
The steward saw my Watch. “Is that the new one?” he asked.
“Yes, I’m trying it out,” I replied. “What do you think of yours?”
“Actually, I never wanted one,” he said. “I was given this as a present.”
“Do you like it?” I asked.
The steward glanced at his Watch, paused for a second, and replied, “It’s growing on me.”
Which just about sums it up. Apple’s Watch – it’s growing on me.

by JD

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Filed under Connectivity, IoT, Mobile technology, Smart Technology

High Street Retail: Down but not out

At first glance, the ONS retail statistics for August painted a rosy picture of the UK retail industry. Headline figures, such as the volume and value of sales increasing 6.2% and 4.1% respectively year-on-year, suggest that there is much cause for celebration for retailers across the country. Dig a little deeper behind these figures, however, and the picture starts to look a little less pretty – especially for the high street.

So where do these positive figures come from? Food stores were actually the main drivers of growth, whereas the outlook for household goods was particularly worrisome. Year-on-year, the volume of goods purchased in-store contracted for the first time since May 2014.

Turning stores into destinations
The key challenge for high street retailers, and electrical retailers in particular, is pulling customers back into stores and encouraging them to spend. In order to do so, we expect to see companies take the initiative and begin offering consumers something that they are not able to get from online shopping: an experience.

Bricks-and-mortar stores offer retailers the opportunity to showcase their products in key ways which online cannot replicate, be it through demonstrations, experiential activities, or simply giving the consumer the chance to get their hands on the product. For example, John Lewis has recently dedicated 1,000 square feet of prime retail space in their Oxford Street branch to the smart home category. This is a long-term investment in an emerging product range, which has driven an increase in sales, and, importantly, increased the percentage of sales in store.

New technologies such as Virtual Reality present a significant opportunity for retailers to turn their shops into destinations. Take the example of AT&T in the US, which launched a Virtual Reality cruise experience across 133 of its stores using Samsung Gear VR. In the UK, EE recently partnered with BT Sport to allow football fans to watch football matches through VR headsets at four of their stores across London. Stunts like this give consumers a reason to visit the high street.

The future role of the high street
Turning high street stores into hubs of activity and showrooms for new products will drive footfall and in turn, sales. Apple’s model may prove a blueprint: it’s no coincidence that Apple’s stellar sales run parallel to bustling Apple Stores where users can try out new products.

For retailers considering abandoning the high street and going online-only, it’s worth noting that a visible high street presence can also drive online sales: when John Lewis opened a department store in Chester, for example, sales in the region climbed 30%. This also might explain why Amazon has started to rollout physical bookstores in the US; at the very least, it reveals the importance of an omnichannel approach to retail.

Omnichannel goes beyond offering the consumer multiple channels to purchase, instead focusing on the importance of delivering a seamless experience across online and in-store. Viewed in this context, a physical presence in the high street offers a vital touch-point for consumers to try products before they buy, regardless of whether that purchase happens in-store or online.

Bricks-and-mortar shops are the most personal point of connection between retailer and consumer – so, far from disappearing, we hope they will play an even greater role in driving brand loyalty and sales across channels in the future. Retailers should begin to take advantage of the unique, experiential opportunities offered by physical stores, viewing them as just one component part of a broader omnichannel strategy, where customer experience is key.

by AS

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Filed under Retail, Retail in CONTEXT, virtual reality

“Will someone take me seriously?” Why smart home manufacturers may end up echoing Steve Jobs

15 years ago Steve Jobs launched the mould-breaking Apple stores and created a retail model which generates more revenue per square foot than any other retailer. He was driven to this because he was tired of having his products placed at the back of the store.

Today, there are still too many retail stores where the most exciting new technology ecosystem to emerge in a generation is being put at the back of the store or even omitted from the sales offering.

The good news is that we are seeing a new type of experiential retail store emerge where connected objects are front of stage. Fnac, the French based retailer, has launched a Fnac Connect format dedicated to smart and connected products. Half of Maplin’s sales area is dedicated to Connected Home and John Lewis has invested in a Smart Home experiential area in its flagship Oxford Street store.

But the smart home retail sector is still lacking the Apple magic – which by the way is nowhere to be found in Apple where Homekit is ranged in a quiet corner somewhere!

Here are some tips for what we think is necessary to achieve what Steve Jobs has done with Apple:

  • Courage is needed – to bring the goods to the front of the store and provoke people’s curiosity. The ROI is not there today, but the winner will be an innovator who takes a longer term view of this market.
  • Understanding consumers is vital – they are prepared to spend £150 on one product in 2016. Across Europe it is the same story. There are plenty of products to fill the shelves which sit below the £150 threshold – smart plugs (topselling introduction to the world of connected home), lightbulb starter kits, smart home starter kits, baby monitors, IP cameras, or one of the most recent arrivals – a smart door lock. The only category where it is hard to spend in this budget is smart thermostats most of which sit between £200-300 and often include installation costs.
  • Nothing will happen unless retailers assume their historic role of educating consumers – this is the biggest barrier to people purchasing smart home goods. 65% of consumers in our recent Smart Home survey worry about their home when they are away from it, but only 10% have heard of an IP camera or a smart door lock. Imagine if through good selling practices, retailers were able to link these two and sell a solution to a real consumer need. This education role is now being led by the specialist etailers, who are doing a great job of explaining new products and supporting confused consumers – look at a UK etailer like Vesternet (http://www.vesternet.com) and the helpful support system they have created.

If there is one courageous retailer who is mimicking Apple in the Smart Home world it is Lick in France (https://lick.fr/). Its 17 Paris based stores are dedicated to connected objects. There are well educated salespeople, some ex Apple employees – who engage and explain how those products work and can bring benefits with customers. The store layout is simple and encourages dialogue with salespeople across tables like in the Apple store. Stéphane Bohbot, the founder, calls his salespeople “coaches”. The retail space is used also to showcase tech start-ups, part of the booming French Tech sector.

Steve Jobs always loved France and used Paris as the base to launch a number of his products. Maybe the French are going to lead the way on Smart Home Retail as Apple has done for the last 15 years in mobile technology.

by AS

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Filed under Connectivity, Home automation, Retail in CONTEXT, Smart Home, Smart Technology

Do we need a giant iPad?

‘Larger devices such as laptops much be switched off and safely stowed…’ said the safety announcement as I typed away.

Scanning the aisles, the flight attendant stopped next to my seat.

“Excuse me sir”, he said with a weary sigh, looking at me reproachfully in a “why can’t these passengers do what they’re told” way.

“Can you put that laptop away until we’re airborne, please.”

I smiled.

“That’s not a laptop,” I said, sensing victory, but trying not to sound smug. I waited, and then added, slowly and carefully, savouring the words:

“It’s an iPad.”

The attendant narrowed his eyes, and as he paused I pressed home my advantage.

“And it’s the big one.. the new iPad Pro.”

The flight attendant took a closer look, saw the familiar iOS icons, and – either baffled or impressed – decided not to argue, and moved on down the aircraft.

And that’s the thing about Apple’s new iPad Pro – it’s huge.

Its not that much narrower all around than my MacBook Pro 15″. In fact, it’s the size of two normal iPads stuck together side by side.

But seeing the new iPad Pro in pictures and on your computer is nothing compared to opening the big white box it comes in and pulling out the huge 12 inches by 8.68 inches wide slab of screen. It takes a few minutes to adjust the senses, especially when you’ve been used to playing with the drop dead gorgeous and right-sized iPad Air.

Set up is typically Apple-easy, and once it fires up, you can really experience the size. Everything is scaled up. The icons seem to jump out of the screen. And the screen is truly amazing. With the brightness turned up and a high resolution picture on display, the colours dazzle, resolution is pin sharp and it seems like you’re looking into the depths of a 3D image.

I’d read a review comparing the speed of the iPad Pro with a MacBook Air, but wasn’t prepared for the difference between my iPad Air and the Pro. The pro flies.

Boot up is notably fast. Response is instantaneous. Screens come and go so smooth and fast it’s like being in a race and always being beaten to second place. I’ve not run any tests, but the screen on the iPad Pro seems to respond even more quickly than my MacBook Pro 15’ Retina display. No shadow effect either but that’s another story.

But why a giant iPad? Yes, it’s a lovely device and beautifully crafted. But where does it fit? There’s little doubt that Microsoft’s Surface Pro has a lot to do with it, that businesses – according to CONTEXT numbers – like the idea of a high-powered laptop/tablet hybrid. Apple’s push into business needs this product, and even Apple CEO Tim Cook himself says the iPad Pro will replace laptops.

I can see why. The combination of touch and keyboard is liberating. The Apple keypad works, in fact better than the Clamcase Pro I have on the Air. The connector is brilliant and takes all the problems out of detachable keyboards. To me it feels natural, typing away and then darting to and from the screen to touch a spelling correction here, copy and paste there, while casually scrolling around.

But… I’m hesitating. My MacBook Pro is a pocket rocket, yet even though I’m loath to give up all that power and storage, I’ll give it a go. I’ll leave the MacBook at home, and do the office thing with the iPad Pro. I know travelling works because I do it with the iPad Air all the time. Plus nearly everything I need to access is on the Cloud.

What could go wrong?

This is going to be fun.

by JD

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Filed under IoT, Smart Technology, Wearables

Gadgets, gizmos and… Apple TV

I have the worst TV ever made. I won’t embarrass the maker, but the software is grindingly slow, the “smart” part is anything but smart, and trying to establish any logic amongst the fifty or so buttons on the remote would defeat a Mensa member. However, the screen is pretty good.

So when I was offered the chance to play with Apple’s new TV, I thought maybe here was my salvation. Apple’s slick interface, the new tvOS, and an exceptionally cool remote with only five buttons, a touchpad with Siri surely would enable me to bypass my TV’s internal workings.

It took a few minutes to set up. And I didn’t have to do anything more than put my iPhone near the Apple TV which read my details and set everything up for me. Nice. Then to switch on the telly and give it a go. First impression? Neat interface, snappy control (love the touch pad) and so many apps – it will take me a while to go through them all. Siri is a hoot to use. During any movie you’re watching, you can ask: “what did he say?” and the movie pauses, rewinds, then plays the last spoken scene again and even adds subtitles for you.

But can I play all my Freeview channels and replace my TV controller? Kind of. There’s an app called TV Player that has the majority of channels such as BBC and ITV.  I’m still not sure if it’s HD or not, but the image is good most of the time and the sound perfect. Also, if I ever wanted extra channels I can pay for them. On its way is BBC iPlayer, an absolute necessity.

Next step is to hide the TV remote and let the family judge. So far, the Apple TV is much more than just another gadget or gizmo, it looks closer to relegating my TV to a pure display role and giving me the flexibility of viewing choice that my “smart” TV wasn’t able to provide before.

by JD

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Filed under Connectivity, Retail in CONTEXT

Apple Watch – flop or not?

When Apple announced the Watch, commentators were quick to claim that it would help bring wearables out from geek obscurity and into the light of the mass-market. Just like Apple had reinvented smartphones, mp3 players and tablets, so too would the smart watch be re=imagined for the likes of you, your grandmother, and me.

Several months on however, the vacuum generated by Apple’s reticence to release actual sales figures has opened up a speculative space: is it (and by extension the Smart Watches category as a whole) a flop or not?

A flurry of sensationalist articles pointing to a supposed 90% plunge in US Apple Watch sales certainly steer one towards the flop end of the spectrum. Slice Intelligence, the source of these figures, accompanied these claims with some dramatic looking figures.

The question is, how many early adopters can there be? Those keen enough to buy into the first-gen Watch iteration would likely have rushed to adorn their wrists as soon as it came on the market, leaving only a few keen stragglers, and a greater mass of as of yet unconvinced customers, many of whom are waiting for a second generation no doubt.

What’s more, any ‘disappointing’ sales figures still effectively trounce the Smart Watch competition, capturing the lion’s share of the market in the space of just a few months. Reading between the lines of Apple’s recently published quarterly results, it appears that the Watch is already a billion-dollar business.

Clearly, any flop related commentary is not quite justified. Neither is it possible to speak of an inevitable success however. A whole suite of first-gen issues need to be ironed out before the Watch is quite ready for breakout success. Too much currently rests on marketing nous and brand loyalty, leaving many (including the Watch owners I have spoken to) unconvinced as to its actual use value.

So neither flop nor outright triumph, but most definitely a propitious start, most definitely a space to watch.

by TG

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Filed under IoT, Mobile technology, Smart Technology, Wearables