22 December 2011

BlackBerry Is Looking Tasty

If you read Gizmodo you have heard it a million times:  Research In Motion = Shit.  Their products are at least five years behind, when they release something it is complete crap, they are bleeding customers, their next gen operating system may never be released because it is terrible, and the list goes on.  As far as the Apple and Android faithful are concerned, BlackBerry needs to be wiped away like the soft brown stuff from their behinds.  However, BlackBerry's parent company has never looked better.  At least as far as a take-over is concerned.

Let's start with some annoying facts:
  1. Research In Motion is still profitable.
  2. BlackBerry is still gaining customers.
The reason they still make money and companies are still buying their devices are actually pretty reasonable:
  1. BlackBerry works as well as the competition for the things a business buys them for: Phone calls, email, calendar and contacts.  They even have devices without cameras which for many businesses is a requirement.
  2. Basic BlackBerry devices (Bold, Tour, etc) tend to be more durable.  Our experience has been that they can last 4 years of heavy use, or about double what an iPhone or Android will normally last.
  3. Corporate environments would prefer that their employees not install a bunch of stuff on their phone  since that data charge gets a lot higher when they are watching Netflix.
  4. BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) allows fine grained control of everything on the device at a level the competition does not offer.
  5. BlackBerry security is second to none with every packet of information being encrypted on their personal network.
  6. BlackBerry devices can also securely access applications on the trusted network of the company.
So while consumers have long left the BlackBerry world it makes sense that many businesses are sticking with them.  That is a huge prize of large customers loyal to a set of devices that are years behind the competition.  Add to this a nice mess of patents and that BES software that businesses love and you can see the value.

Even more exciting is that RIM is profitable with a ridiculously low PE ratio that is almost unheard of in the tech industry.  This number shows the total value of the stock in multiples over earnings, so the lower the number the better.  Apple has a relatively low ratio of 14, Google is 21 and Amazon is clearly an over priced stock at 94.  Research In Motion is trading at 3.  Despite earning a profit the investors have already priced the company to fail.

There are countless organizations that I can see being quite successful taking over RIM - from software vendors like Microsoft to hardware vendors like Samsung and every company in between.  It really does not matter who buys them as long as they are willing to either clean house to enjoy the profits of existing customers or develop a new product offering within their own corporate gifts.  Either way, the BlackBerry looks like a very tasty purchase.

04 December 2011

I love me some Fire.

Want to watch movies, listen to music, read a book, subscribe to magazines or play video games on an easy to carry device?  Sure, you could buy an iPad, like everyone else, or you can pay less than half the price and do the same thing on technology that is better suited to the task.  iPad owners everywhere are looking up my home address so they can T.P. my house but let me explain before they send the Cupertino Gestapo after me.

In mid 2011 the tablet battle had been to make a device that can do nearly everything a PC can do, run it extremely quickly and to have a feature set the competition could not match.  While Apple decimated the competition, Jeff Bezos realized that most people were merely consuming media.  Apple’s approach of storing everything on the device was inefficient and required purchasing more and more gigs of storage.  (Apple could resolve part of the problem by allowing memory upgrades but then they would sell fewer tablets.)  Amazon’s answer is the world’s first cloud tablet: Kindle Fire.

When we purchased an iPad we plugged it into a computer, logged into our Apple account and then set it to start syncing all of our content to the device.  A couple of hours later our iPad was ready to use and any time we want to grab a new song or movie from our home network we connect it with the USB cable.  (iCloud has another set of problems that has not worked well for us, but that is a conversation for another day.)

The Kindle Fire was already connected to our Amazon account before we even turned it on.  Our favorite music, videos, photos and documents were in the Amazon cloud so there was no need to wait hours for it to sync or to purchase a more expensive tablet to store it.  We have as much content and apps available on our Fire as our filled iPad and still have over half of the space free which might explain why Amazon only has one 8 gig model available.

We have found the design of the Fire better for consuming media than the iPad.  Even the newer model from Apple is too heavy for holding more than an hour at a time whereas the Fire is merely the weight of a good book.  If you are primarily watching movies and reading material then the widescreen is a better perspective.  The size is also important since the Fire will fit nearly anywhere, even in a jacket pocket., whereas an iPad needs to be in your hand or a separate bag for travel.

The most important distinction between the two devices is the price.  No one needs a tablet.  While I can understand a smart phone replacing a computer for people who only need access to email and Facebook, a tablet is an accessory to a home computer.  As such, anything over the two hundred dollar price point is a significant expense given the current state of our economy.  While the iPad is a nice device, I also always felt it was way too expensive for something we use to play a game or watch a movie.  The Kindle Fire is the tablet for hobos, and while two Benjamin’s is hardly “cheap”, it is finally a price that makes sense for what a tablet does.  Heck, Amazon is so concerned about pricing that it gives away a free app every day in their store – just in case you exhausted your savings account buying the device.

While the Fire is a great step forward for tablets, there is still room for improvement.  Anything living in the cloud requires an internet connection and since there is no 3G model of the Fire you may be limited to using locally stored items (books, magazines, apps) when away from a Wi-Fi connection.  The speed of the device can also be jumpy since the processor is just barely fast enough for the job.  For web browsing the Fire is fine but the iPad is nicer.  The base OS still needs work such as cleaning up the launcher and support for Exchange Server connections.  Lastly, while the image quality is quite good it is still not nearly as good as the older Kindle models for all day or sunlight reading sessions.

For some of you the iPad is still the better choice that is worth the premium price.  It is better-crafted hardware that can do much more so it lives closer to the “desktop replacement” world than the Fire.  If you have purchased most of your content through the iTunes store then it is worth the extra cash to stay in the Apple universe.  Plus the price difference can be narrowed if you pick up an iPad from Apple’s refurbished store.

As is always the case with technology, this game is still changing.  Apple recently launched their own cloud service and supposedly has different sized tablets in the works.  Amazon has been slightly more public about their intent to release different versions of the Fire in the coming months, as well, and likely will continue to have a price point far below the iPad.  So, this is a nice review for where we are today but no one knows who will be lighting the world on fire tomorrow.