Our greatest peacetime leader

Posted by Chris Green on Wednesday April 17 @ 8:30 am

Today we pay our last respects to Baroness Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and one of the most important leaders our country has ever had.

As someone who was born in the late 70s and thus grew up in the 80s – I witnessed first-hand the state the country was in due to financial mismanagement by previous administrations and runaway abuse of power by militant unions. I also witnessed the recovery – fuelled by supporting private enterprise, breaking militant unions that were led by people hell-bent on furthering their own ridiculous political aims at the expense of representing workers effectively, and implementing a policy of divesting loss-making state-owned businesses to the private sector where they could sink or swim. It worked, and today businesses like BT, BP, British Gas, National Grid, Pickfords, BAA Airports and more are now thriving, tax-paying organisations where they were once loss-making state industries that were a drain on the Treasury.

My family started the 80s with very little. We ended the decade in a far better place thanks to a better economy, more jobs, better education and a culture of innovation and enterprise. The power stayed on, teachers stopped striking and it no longer tool six months to get a phone installed. That happened because of Margaret Thatcher’s government and the policies it successfully implemented.

When Argentine forces invaded the Falklands, Margaret Thatcher took the decision to send our troops in, insistent that all parts of the United Kingdom warrant defending. The successful defence and reclaiming of the Falklands was perhaps Margaret Thatcher’s finest hour. It certainly was one of the finest of our brave servicemen, many of whom sadly lost their lives successfully defending the citizens of Falklands from foreign occupation.

Everyone is entitled to their own views. For me, Margaret Thatcher represents everything that is good about our nation. She took a country that was floundering and on the brink of economic and social collapse, and implemented her ideology to rebuilt it into a strong enterprising nation where opportunity was available to all if they were prepared to work for it.

We have lost a great Briton today – and we all should mourn that loss, while remembering the great accomplishments made during her time in office.

In peacetime, Margaret Thatcher truly was our greatest leader.

It’s a #BlogEATBlog World….four people, hotdog toppings and a Sunday in Brick Lane

Posted by Chris Green on Tuesday March 13 @ 9:53 pm

This past Sunday I was fortunate enough to take part in the third heat of #BlogEATBlog, a good natured cooking contest involving some of the web’s leading food bloggers and tweeters, and the superb hot dogs of Big Apple Hot Dogs.

The task was straightforward – make my own gourmet topping for a gourmet hot dog. Trust me, it’s not as easy as it looks.

After multiple test runs and a frantic Saturday producing litres of the final mixture, I had produced my ultimate hot dog topping – a creation I’ve called Damson Relish:

Recipe (made in small batches)

  • 2kg Home Made Gherkins – diced
  • 800g Red Onions – Coarse Chopped
  • 20 Red Chillis – finely chopped
  • 20 Green Chillis – finely chopped
  • 200ml – 10yr Old Single Malt Scotch – we used Ardbeg
  • 1litre Damson Mixture
  • Rosemary – to taste
  • Cumin – to taste
  • Paprika – to taste
  • Cajun Spices – to taste
  • Salt – to taste
  • 40 Rashers of Smoked Streaky Bacon

After two weeks of pickling in a secret mixture of vinegar, spices and seeds in the cupboard where we keep the snow shovel, vacuum cleaner and the electricity meter, drain the gherkins and dice into nice big chunks, then fry off the excess moisture and put to once side.

Coarsely chop the onions and then marinate in the Scotch. Hold back some of the scotch for use later.

Finely chop the chillis, mix with the marinated onions and lightly fry off the excess moisture.

Recombine the gherkins on a low heat, add salt and spices to taste and stir in.

Then add the Damson mixture and simmer on a low heat.

Add in the rest of the Scotch once the mixture starts to thicken. Then allow the mixture to simmer and thcken some more until sticky.

Rest and cool.

You then end up with something like this:

Thanks to Sue Aron at The Art of Puddings for the help on the Damson mixture front.

On the morning of the contest, I crispy fried the bacon and blitzed it into small pieces for sprinkling on top of the mixture.

So, having created the mixture and loaded it into Tupperware boxes, I headed to Brick Lane’s Vibe Bar where I met up with Abiye Cole from Big Apple Hot Dogs (@bigapplehotdogs) and the three other competitors.

In addition to me, three other contenders took part in this heat (the third of four heats), each bringing an excellent, homemade and exciting twist to topping a hot dog.

First up was Paul Lomax (@paullomax) with his Canadian-inspired Poutine Hot Dog. A mixture of homemade cheese curds, gravy and crunchy topping went into this one. By far the most unusual, and very tasty too. Great combination of textures and favours.

Next was Rose (@_RosieT) with her classic Chilli Cheese Dog, with a mixture of yellow and red cheese, this not only tasted nice, but had a classic American look.

Finally we have Sam (@steampie) with his Bourbon Bacon Marmalade with Crispy Leeks. Delicious topping, and the Crispy Leeks were fantastic. We were adding them to everything at one point, and they make a great bar snack on their own.

Here are all four toppings on Abiye’s amazing fresh hot dogs.

My hot dog is liberally topped with the Damson Relish, then topped off with sprinkled crispy bacon to add a nice smoky, salty bacon crunch. Frying off the gherkins ensures they retain their crunch, even after the cooking and combining with the sauce mixture. The chillies add a small amount of heat, but mostly contribute flavour and colour, while the ‘drunken onions’ that were combined with a generous potion of peaty, smoky Scotch proved to be a real winner with the customers, as well as adding a unique flavour to the overall relish.

Overall I was really pleased with how the relish turned out. The feedback from the many Big Apple Hot Dogs customers that opted to have my topping on all or part of their hot dog was really positive, as has been the feedback on Twitter.

The winner of my heat has yet to be announced, but whoever it is, along with the winners of the previous two heats and this coming Sunday’s fourth heat, they will go through to a grand final to become overall champion and have their name added to Abiye’s cart. It’s not about the prize, it’s about the build :)

If you came along and tried the toppings, do please vote on Twitter using the hashtag #BlogEATBlog.

Thanks to everyone who participated and to all the people who made the journey to Brick Lane to try the hot dogs. We had a great time and I hope you did too!

An idea for Apple: An ultra low-cost ARM-based PC for the masses

Posted by Chris Green on Thursday February 9 @ 6:00 pm

Maybe it was due to the cold I’m currently struggling with, or a by-product of the medicine I’m taking for it, or it could just be my brain’s attempt to keep me sane while I power through exhaustion until my holiday in May – but last night I had the most peculiar, vivid and financially plausible technology dream ever.

Let me explain…..

I dreamt, in surprising detail, that Apple had launched an ultra low-cost desktop PC/media player called the iSocket (yes, the name is terrible, but stick with it), which had a striking resemblance to the company’s AirPort Expresspocket Wifi router.

However, instead of containing a Wifi router, the casing in fact contains a very small, basic but effective ARM-based PC, not unlike the one about to go on sale from the Raspberry Pi project. Only Apple’s one ran a complete version of iOS along with the Apple TV big screen media player interface, giving you all the capabilities of an Apple TV, but also the full iOS application set and the ability to buy and install additional apps like you would on an iPhone or iPod Touch does.

The iSocket featured a HDMI connector (with audio), 3.5mm audio out, two USB ports, an Ethernet port, an SD card slot and a mains plug. It also had built-in Wifi and on-board Bluetooth, should you prefer to connect a keyboard and mouse to it wirelessly. As previously mentioned the chassis was a slightly oversized version of the Airport Express, with the intention that you plug the device straight into the wall socket, keeping it neat and tidy, as well as keeping it compact and reducing the production cost by keeping everything on one very simple motherboard.

Ultimately, what we are talking about here is an Apple TV with some additional connectors, a different casing, and a full iPod Touch-style iOS build embedded, rather than the cut down media player version of iOS currently used in the Apple TV.

The most curious thing about the iSocket was the price. In the dream, Apple planned to sell this device for $1, working on the basis that the hiding it would take on the initial hardware sale would be more than clawed back through the combination of higher app and content sales. Or even content subscriptions…..

When I woke up this morning, I was so convinced of the detail and plausibility of the dream, I had to go and double-check that it wasn’t a real product that had been announced overnight by Apple and that I’d heard about on the radio or TV while sleeping.

Suffice to say the iSocket had not been launched by Apple, and neither had it launched any other $1 ultra-basic PC with a less stupid name than the one my lucid sleep-deprived brain conjured up.

But, it is a plausible device, and the $1 price tag isn’t completely mad either. With Apple’s gargantuan cash reserves, the company could afford to take a massive up-front hit to seed these devices globally, in order to achieve longer-term recurring revenues. However, whether it would fit Apple’s product strategy or be deemed too geeky for a company that is now firmly in the mainstream is unclear.

Apple’s interest in desktop computing has waned in recent years, as demonstrated by the slowing in development of its iMac, Mac Pro and Mac Mini products. You can’t blame the company – desktop PC sales are in decline globally. The big money and big interest right now is in portable devices like laptops, tablets and smartphones. However, desktop computing is still a cost-effective starting point for the next generation of software developers to start (it’s where I started, writing software for the Amstrad CPC, Commodore Amiga and early Windows PCs). Also, desktop PC technology does make for a good media player platform – and internet-connected media players are growing in popularity thanks to ubiquitous broadband availability and the growth in online content delivery services such as iTunes, LoveFilm and Netflix.

Also, a low-cost, small and simple to deploy desktop computer wouldn’t hurt Apple’s market share in emerging economies where a £1,500 MacBook Pro or £600 Mac Mini just won’t fly in volume just yet, but a cheap and cheerful ARM-based iOS desktop mated to a cheap monitor or flat panel TV will, seeding interest and desire for bigger, more expensive Apple products in the future. Finally, a very cheap, discreet PC connected to a TV would be appealing to those put off by the complexity and cumbersome look and feel of Windows and MacOS laptops.

The guys working on the Raspberry Pi project have already demonstrated that you can build and sell – profitably – a decent spec ARM-based micro computer for about $25 (£17). On that basis, the likes of Apple could easily sell a similar device, running iOS or an embedded ARM-port of full MacOS X, as a loss-leader for $1. Such a device, due to its minimal on-board storage, would be heavily reliant on either external storage drives or Apple’s iCloud service for storage and file-sharing (another upsell opportunity), while the ability to access and purchase (or rent) content and apps from the iTunes Music and App Stores would generate suitable additional revenue to more than offset the initial loss on the hardware.

Contrary to the company’s current strategy, iOS apps are extremely well-suited to a TV/Living Room environment and are a more friendly way of delivering Internet-based services into a non-computing environment than a web browser on a big-screen TV.

Apple then gets to make massive inroads into the consumer PC space and complete the integration of Apple mobile devices within the home, but moreover, gets to move even more into the home media player space than it has achieved so far with the Apple TV devices.

Yes, there is all likelihood that Apple is going to launch a TV with all of the above integrated into it. But as we have seen with Freeview boxes, until people are ready to replace their TV, bring them along for the ride with an external box that does everything the integrated unit can do, rather than just the limited Apple TV feature set we have today.

In the meantime, as I mentioned earlier in this post, the first Raspberry Pi devices are set to go on sale very soon – I think they will be extremely interesting and disruptive devices. If I’m quick enough, I plan on purchasing a couple.

Until then, I’ll keep dreaming of the Apple iSocket, or at the very least, a price cut for the Mac Mini.

Steve Jobs: One Man, One Incredible Vision

Posted by Chris Green on Thursday October 6 @ 10:14 am

stevejobs

People come and go throughout our lives and throughout history. Yet, while we are here we all change the world by our actions, hopefully for the better. Be it building a loving family and helping to bring new life into the world, building a stable business that creates work and better lives for others, creating new technologies, new ideas and new approaches that change and improve the way we did things before, or simply changing the world by making the people around you smile. The things we do define us and define the world we live in and leave behind. While we all make a contribution, the impact that some make on the lives of all of us can be simply staggering.

Steve Jobs was one of those people. As co-founder of Apple Computer (now Apple Inc) he helped bring about a new era in computing, shaping the way we would use personal computers for decades to follow, while showing that computers could be a thing of beauty on the outside, as well as incredible inside. He also played a key role in transforming computing from geek hobby into an aspirational mainstream activity.

Even after he was ousted from Apple, his wonder and excitement about technology refused to wilt, leading him to found NeXT and invest in Pixar Animation Studios, creating not only the technology that would later become the foundation of MacOS X and help save Apple, but also the animation technology (and of course bringing together talented people) that delivered some of the most popular family movies in modern history, bringing joy to millions and raising the bar for what can be achieved with computer generated imagery and animation.

His return to Apple unquestionably helped save the company, which was on the brink despite the efforts of previous CEO Gil Amelio to steady a sinking ship. On his return, Jobs not only brought fresh ideas and new approaches with him, he helped inspire a demoralised workforce, and encouraged them to do more and do better with the limited resources left at the company.

The subsequent products that Apple produced, while not necessarily technologically advanced, achieved an important goal – they changed the way we lived, worked, communicated and had fun – all for the better. The iMac, which helped kill off the anonymous beige box design ethos of personal computers, or the MacBook, that helped trigger a massive shift towards portable computing among both consumers and business users. Then there was the iPod. Not that advanced, and among the last products to market, it was the one that learned from the mistakes of its predecessors. Combining good looks, massive storage, and ease of use. When combined with a revamped iTunes app and one-click purchasing of music, it revolutionised the way we chose, purchased and listened to music and audio content.

The iPhone has had a profound effect on the mobile phone industry, While still accounting for a small percentage of the overall market, it is still a very lucrative product and has not only become a must-have item, it has inspired the rest of the industry to raise its game and advance product development far beyond where it would be today without such robust and creative competition from Apple.

As for the iPad, it is another example of a product and market sector (tablet computers) that Apple has achieved huge success with where others have failed, doing so by creating something that did not fall foul of the mistakes made by those before it. I would be absolutely lost without my iPad 2 – it goes with me almost everywhere.

These are just a few of the creations that Apple produced during Steve’s second period at the company, and all were produced with Steve taking a major hands-on role in their design, usability testing and even the packaging. Steve believed that every Apple product should feel special every time you use it, including when you unbox it for the first time. It is an approach that always appealed to my child-like wonder of technology and something that is neglected by so many other companies.

Steve Jobs has always been at the top of the list of people that have inspired me to do more, do better and to be passionate and excited about technology and what it can do for the greater good. His passing is deeply sad, but at the same time we should try not to dwell on the fact he is no longer with us, but be happy that for 56 years he was here and during that time he had a profound and positive effect on the way millions of us live and enjoy our daily lives.

As I write this, I am sitting at a desk surrounded by Apple technology. From my MacBook laptop to my iPad 2, to my iPhone and my iPod, Apple is a major part of my life thanks to Steve Jobs and his vision, determination and passion for technology. Most of us will have at least one piece of Apple technology in active use, or have done so in the past. That alone speaks volumes for the lasting legacy created by Steve’s work.

Steve Jobs showed the world (and me) how to “Think Different” and with it, he changed the world, for the better.

Thank You, Steve.

Why you should never buy a car from the Citroen main dealer attached to Citroen’s UK Head Office!

Posted by Chris Green on Tuesday August 23 @ 9:46 am

The Citroen C4 I was supposed to buy - you can see the wheel arch dent in this pic that was not fixed as agreed

The Citroen C4 I was supposed to buy - you can see the wheel arch dent in this pic that was not fixed as agreed

This past weekend I was supposed to be picking up a new (well, low-mileage used) car from Citroen’s Slough dealership. The one directly attached to Citroen’s UK headquarters in Slough. As you’ve probably already guessed, things didn’t go to plan and I am about to deliver the most deserved naming-and-shaming ever.

After a rocky start, I’ve had the best part of five hassle-free, but expensive, years’ service from my trusty and beloved Rover 75. Unfortunately, as much as I want to keep the 75 until it’s old, rusty and the doors fall off, its low mpg (24 on a good day with the wind behind you) and my 70 miles-a-day commute mean that it’s just not a financially viable car to keep using seven days a week. I’m pouring around £350-£400 a month into the petrol tank, and that’s a big expense. The car was bought in a different time, when I commuted to work on the Tube and only really drove at weekends. In that scenario, owning a V6 gas guzzler was a manageable and enjoyable luxury expense. Sadly, it’s now a much larger dent in my pocket that I can no longer sustain.

Having looked around a fair few car marques including Skoda, Kia, Nissan, Fiat, Peugeot, MG and Ford, I settled on a Citroen C4. I found a viable example of the car, a Citroen Approved Used 2008 (57 plate) 1.6 HDi (Diesel) VTR+ in Puss Beige (Sahara Gold) with Citroen’s EGS semi-automatic gearbox. Fortunately, I’m not fussy about car colour at all. The car can allegedly achieve 62mpg (manufacturers claimed combined fuel consumption) and had a nice array of toys on it including cruise control, speed limiter, stability control, trip computer and a boot that you could comfortably stuff a dead body into without folding the rear seats down. You never know when this might come in handy!

Having viewed the car at Citroen’s Slough dealership (remember, this is the one directly attached to Citroen’s UK headquarters in Slough) on July 30th, we proceeded with an agreement to buy the car (on finance) on agreement that certain remedial work be carried out on the car prior to handover. These items included:

  • Repairing a large paint scuff and dent on the passenger side rear wing wheel arch
  • Repairing a large paint scuff on the passenger side front bumper
  • Investigate and mend faulty electric mirror control on driver door window control panel
  • Replace or skim warped brake disc on drivers’ side rear wheel

I was assured this would all be done, and we shook on the deal (and I paid a £250 deposit). We agreed for the handover of their car (and my part exchange car) to take place on the morning of August 20th – giving them a full three weeks to complete all the works on the car to a high standard, including completing the bodywork repairs to Citroen paintwork and corrosion warranty standard.

We arrived at the dealership (Citroen Slough – the one directly attached to Citroen’s UK headquarters in Slough) at 9am on August 20th as agreed, only to find no sign initially of the sales rep. He showed up about five minutes later as we were fetching coffee from their machine – all fair enough so far. Whilst he was very keen to get me to sign a myriad of paperwork (as well as get another £750 out of me – the rest of the cash I was down paying on the car – which I stupidly paid up straight away, albeit on a credit card so have some protection), I was more concerned with inspecting the car before I made the sale final.

Having been asked to sign a checklist confirming that everything was in order, I downed my pen until I could inspect the car, and produced my own five page check-list of things based on information and advice from the Citroen C4 Owners Club forum.

Reluctantly, the sales rep led me out to where the car was waiting in their collection area.

The first thing I inspected was the bodywork repairs – which were a joke! The rear wing repair was pathetic; with no effort made to restore the wheel arch crease and curve (it now has a completely flat patch in the middle of the arch. There were also clearly visible dents still around the centre of the damage as well as paintwork scratches.

The front bumper scrape looked like it had been T-Cut polished as part of a wash and wax, and nothing else. They again only did the middle of the scrape, leaving the ends of the scrape untouched and a large deep scratch above it untouched and dirty. They also managed to create fresh damage in the form of scraping the passenger-side body-coloured bumper insert so deep it’s down to the underlying plastic. Looking at the damage, it would appear that either someone reversed into the car, or the car has hit a bollard or roof support in a car park.

There is also paint damage in the passenger side front wheel arch lip (down to the bare metal, but easy to touch up to seal it. After these botched bodywork repairs, they then had the cheek to apply the £299 GardX protection I paid for – an utterly pointless exercise on such bad bodywork that, thanks to the shoddy work (and no work in the case of the front bumper) does not conform to Citroen paintwork and corrosion warranty standard

Next, I checked the boot wiring loom rubber sheath. The wiring loom in the boot is subject to a recall at present, as the loom has been fitted too short/too tight on a significant number of cars, causing it to rub on the bodywork, breaking the cables and causing the electric boot lock to fail (there is no key override). When that happens, you can’t open the boot.

The wiring loom rubber sheath where the wires exit the main car and enter the boot lid looks a bit manky where it joins the boot lid itself, suggesting it is going to be susceptible to water ingress in the future, if not already. The dealership insists this particular car is not subject to the boot wiring loom recall. However, I expect this to be an area for future problems, if not from broken cables then from water ingress based on the malformed and ill-fitting wiring sheath.

The car was advertised and sold as having a full dealer service history. However, on finally seeing the service log book it was completely blank! It turns out there were no manuals with the car, so they put an old spare set in (and incomplete at that, just the main user manual and log book, no getting started guide, no RD4 car stereo manual). After much arguing, a single A4 laser printed page (that looked like it had just been knocked up in a hurry in Microsoft Word) was produced, claiming to detail the full service history from a Citroen dealership in Wrexham where the car was first registered and allegedly maintained. Suffice to say this was not convincing. It also has no value as nobody will accept the piece of paper as a legitimate service history and proof of accumulative mileage.

Furthermore, I asked for proof of what work had been carried out on the car by Citroen Slough. A printout was produced that revealed they replaced 2 wiper blades, had a new remote control key produced and they claim to have replaced the Air Doseur (which is known to leak oil on a C4, dripping into the Alternator which is directly underneath it). On inspection there was an oil stain on top of the Alternator. However, the Air Doseur does not look new at all, and had dirt and other muck on the two rubber pipes, suggesting it’s been in place and undisturbed for quite a while.

No evidence of addressing the brake disc issue or the dodgy electric mirrors control on the driver’s door panel. Also no recent service (allegedly the mystery Wrexham dealership did it in November last year) – the oil was as black as tarmac and Citroen Slough failed to even do a basic courtesy oil and filter change, instead sticking me with a £200 service bill almost immediately in order to make the car safe and reliable to drive.

On further inspection, I noted that the faux carbon fibre trim surrounding the gearstick was extremely loose and had acquired several scrapes and indents in it, which I am confident were not there when I first inspected and test drove the car.

The car also only had a 10-month MOT, not the full 12 month I was expecting and as would be normal with any other manufacturer-approved used car of MOT age.

I also discovered the two front tyres are two different makes. Both rears are factory Michelins, but the driver’s front is a Goodyear, and the Passenger front is a Pirelli! Both have completely different tread patterns and the wear is uneven. I consider this to be extremely dangerous, a view that has been backed up by both the RAC and by Michelin, Citroen’s recommended tyre supplier. Replacing the tyres will cost in excess of £300 if I have to do it.

Odd tyres and a mixture of tread patterns on the front will significantly compromise handling and grip, as well as overworking the stability control and ABS as it tries to compensate.

The end result is I refused to take possession of the car. I scooped up the V5 for my Rover, along with its manual and service history and the keys and walked out. They still have my £1,000 and I’ve stupidly allowed them a window to make good the car when I should have reclaimed all my money and never set foot back in there. However, having received expert advice, I am no longer prepared to accept the car in its current form at the agreed price.

The simple fact of the matter is I’ve had to endure significant aggravation, cost, lost time and, quite frankly, was left quite upset at the disgusting way I was treated on Saturday. This included the sales rep I was dealing with went and grabbed a decidedly yobbish and extremely aggressive colleague (who’s presence was never explained or justified) to try and intimidate us into taking the car as was without complaint (which didn’t work). The problems, the botched remedial work, the additional damage to the car caused by the dealership, the odd tyres, the damaged and loose trim panel around the gearstick – it all damages the resale value of the car, my confidence in the car, my confidence in the dealership and its ability carry out any of the work properly, and my confidence in Citroen full stop.

I highly expect my next visit will reveal the car still has not been prepared as agreed and I will be rejecting it for good and claiming a full refund of the £1,000 I’ve paid so far as a deposit.

Full Disclosure: Following several attempts to complain via Twitter to Citroen UK, I received a very polite and constructive call from their PR department. They in turn escalated my complaint to an extremely confrontational, rude and argumentative person at the Citroen Slough dealership (a real let-down as I was hoping for progress on this). The individual who called displayed little interest in rectifying anything other than begrudgingly addressing the bodywork and getting the original dealer that allegedly maintained the car to reissue and stamp a service history booklet. He demonstrated no interest in delivering good customer care, rebuilding trust or making good the obviously poor performance and attitude displayed by the staff at the dealership and the overall sub-standard state of the car.

On the basis of this so far, I would have to say avoid buying a Citroen car from a Citroen main dealer, and in particular avoid Citroen Slough at all costs!

BBC Interview: Will Japan’s problems damage Apple’s supply chain?

Posted by Chris Green on Thursday April 21 @ 11:16 am
Chris Green - BBC News Interview - April 20 2011

Yesterday morning I was on BBC News previewing Apple’s results and talking about how the disruption in the global component supply chain is likely to impact Apple’s plans for new devices (iPhone 5) and its ability to meet demand for current products (iPad 2 etc).

The interview is now up on the BBC News web site and can be viewed here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13143021

In case you are not aware, Apple last night reported its best Q2 ever, generating $5.99 billion in profit. However, combined iPad and iPad 2 sales undershot expectations at 4.7 million units, against analyst expectations of 6-6.2 million. iPod sales continue to decline, down 17 per cent as falling sales of the basic iPod Classic and iPod Shuffle devices diluted growth in sales of the newer and feature-rich touchscreen  iPod Nano and iPod Touch units.

Previewing Apple’s results at the BBC

Posted by Chris Green on Wednesday April 20 @ 3:58 am

It is extremely early in the morning, and I am off to BBC TV Centre to preview Apple’s Q2 results which are due out at 10pm BST tonight (5pm Eastern).

I’ll be on BBC News Channel at 5.30am BST this morning on World Business Report talking about what we can expect from Apple’s numbers.

Overseas viewers can watch the show live on BBC World at 6.30am CEST and 12.30am Eastern in the US.

Lots of interesting things to discuss including the implications of the Japan earthquake and tsunami on Apple’s component supply, whether iPod sales will decline further and the initial success of the iPad 2.

Off to the BBC…

Posted by Chris Green on Friday April 15 @ 6:01 am

I will be on BBC Radio 5 Live today at around 7.45am BST talking about Google’s financial results and the challenges facing co-founder Larry Page as he takes the helm as chief executive.

The iPad 2 – the good, the bad and the backlight leakage

Posted by Chris Green on Thursday April 14 @ 12:20 pm

<b>Apple's iPad 2 offers many improvements over the original, including front and rear cameras, as well as a magnetic screen cover and magent-controlled sleep mode, similar to that found on RIM's BlackBerry devices.</b>

Some of you will know that on launch weekend I decided to splurge and buy an Apple iPad 2. Yes, I did indeed say buy – rather than get hold of a review unit.

There are several reasons for this. Firstly, I’ve had advance access to the iPad 2 in the form of units from the initial launch in the US, so have been able to review test the unit already. Secondly, off the back of that review testing, it quickly became clear that this was a piece of equipment I both wanted and needed to add to my computing kit.

I considered buying the original iPad on several occasions after its launch, but each time (including one time when I arrived in an Apple Store with money to spend on one), I decided against it. Usually, it came down to the fact that the original had no camera at all, let alone a front-facing camera for video conferencing – a ‘killer application’ for a device like the iPad.

Fortunately, with the iPad 2 Apple rectified this and added both a high resolution rear camera and a low-resolution front camera, bringing the iPad 2 into line with the iPhone and 4th generation iPod Touch.

But why buy one so early? Well, I have always been an early adopter (despite the early birthing pains that have to be endured when you buy anything from the first production run), but mostly, it comes down to the camera and integrated microphone. For me, the ability to use the iPad 2 for Skype calls and video conferencing is a massive help. Even though Skype has not released an iPad-native client, the iPhone/iPod Touch client makes full use of the iPad 2’s camera and mic, enabling both voice and video comms without the need for extra equipment or a headset. The results have been very good and I’m now regularly using it for Skype calls with colleagues in the US and with work clients.

I also opted for the 3G version of the iPad 2, which I have paired with a mobile broadband subscription from Three. Unlike other networks, Three provides a generous data cap, the network has been reliable and they don’t care what you use your allocation for, so VoIP calls, video streaming etc are all acceptable. Of course, when you use up your monthly 15Gb bandwidth allocation, you then start paying. Fortunately, I haven’t maxed it – yet!

Facetime is also very impressive, but there has been limited opportunity to use it, as even most of my iPhone 4-owning friends show little interest in Facetime as a communications option, preferring voice calls or SMS instead. It’s a pity as the audio and video quality that can be achieved with Facetime and a decent Wifi connection is remarkable given the basic front facing camera on the iPad 2, iPhone 4 and 4th generation iPod touch.

Beyond this, the device fits my needs and my lifestyle. There’s plenty of processing power under the bonnet, and it handles tasks such as email and web browsing very well (if you can live without Flash support). The lack of text messaging support on the 3G-enabled units (it was the same with the original iPad) is a big oversight, and hopefully Apple will rethink this and address in a forthcoming firmware update, but otherwise it excels as a communications tool (the official Twitter app for the iPad is a particular success).

However, for all the positive aspects of the device, there are some negatives.

For starters, I find the portrait/landscape automatic switching to be far too sensitive. Often it will switch orientation after the slightest angled movement, and then won’t switch back as easily. Automatic orientation switching is a good thing, but it needs to be less sensitive or at least be user adjustable.

Then there’s the backlight bleed. This is a defect that affects many, but not all, early iPad 2 units. I’ve already had mine replaced once (a week after the UK launch) and I’m going back to the Apple Store this weekend with a view to having the replacement replaced as well, as it’s worse than the original.

Backlight leaks around the edge of the screen creating a glowing flare effect around the edges. This is only visible on black backgrounds, so is unlikely to have any impact on everyday use, but is very noticeable when watching YouTube, BBC iPlayer or any other form of video that is not full-screen. My unit is afflicted by this all along the bottom edge and at both the left and right top corners. Tech news site Engadget has an excellent article and video illustrating the backlight leakage problem.

My view is that the bleed is a result of some sloppy assembly, no doubt prompted by the need to rush production and build up a stock of units for the initial launch phases. Unlike the original iPad, the iPad 2 display and glass front are glued in place, rather than clipped. I think that the backlight is leaking through the glue seal, either where the glue is thin or where there are gaps in the glue application. This is merely an assumption, but it would explain it. If correct, it is also something that can easily be fixed on the production line without requiring a major change to the design or assembly process.

Despite this small quality control glitch, the iPad 2 is still a must-have. Even if it does turn out to be a stopgap release (still not convinced it’s going to be replaced this year as some are claiming), it still represents a major step forward from the original iPad, and will still be a viable device for several years to come.

Virgin Mobile UK: A useless company staffed by incompetent liars!

Posted by Chris Green on Wednesday December 29 @ 9:24 pm

Today I decided to purchase a new BlackBerry as a secondary device, having decided that my HTC Desire is awful and no longer fit for purpose (In fact, I don’t think it was ever fit for purpose).

I decided to take out a new contract with Virgin Mobile (owned by cable company Virgin Media), as this company was offering a good deal on the BlackBerry Curve 8520 – free handset and only £12.26 a month for two years for unlimited BlackBerry service and a basic talk plan.

So, I called Virgin Mobile to place the order. What follows are the basic details of how this moronic company has managed to take a perfectly straightforward purchase of a new BlackBerry Curve 8520 on a new contract, with next day delivery, and turn it into a complete disaster and waste of my time in just sic hours.

On calling Virgin Mobile I had to deal with a foreign call centre, by the sounds of the person who handled my call it was in the Philippines. This is where it all started to go wrong. The call centre rep had a terrible grasp of English and didn’t really seem to know what they were doing. My credit check also took a prolonged period of time, though allegedly I did eventually pass it (and am good for three contracts apparently). I had to repeat everything multiple times, and had to ask for everything to be repeated due to the poor English skills of the sales rep. In addition, the rep was far more interested in trying to to up-sell the contract and sell insurance than actually log my details or answer any of my questions.

However, I was called back by the same rep two hours later to say that my order had not gone through the system (a very vague and unexplained statement) and that she was going home now so wouldn’t be able to deal with it any further? I requested an explanation as to exactly what to the problem was and why it was not being rectified. None was given. I was then told that if the phone didn’t come out on Thursday it would come out on January 5th and would this be OK. I said no, it most certainly would not! I then insisted on escalation and was eventually called back by another person (this time in the UK) at about 5.30pm.

This person claimed I had not been credit checked at all by the foreign call centre and that my bank details had not been logged on the system. In addition, she claimed that my order failed because my address was too long? She took my address and bank details again and promised to push the order through manually, and that she would call me back by 6pm to confirm whether the phone was ordered and would be delivered on Thursday. The call never came.

So, as I write this, it’s nearly 9pm in the evening, I’ve not received the promised callback to either tell me the phone is on its way or to confirm that Virgin Mobile can’t organise a booze-up in a brewery. I now have no idea if the phone is going to be delivered on Thursday, or ever, and the very rude woman I’ve just spoken to at customer service told me there was nothing about an order on my account, the department dealing with it is closed and that I’ll have to call back tomorrow. No help whatsoever and very rude in the process.

In short, Virgin Mobile is utter crap and your staff are a joke. You have repeatedly lied to me today, you have failed to complete a very simple order for an advertised product, you have taken sensitive data from me in the form of my bank details and debit card details and failed to use them in the way that was promised. You have failed in your duty of care regarding my personal data having lost said banking and payment details after the original sales call, resulting in me having to give them to you again. You then failed again to use that data in the stated way – as you failed to actually set up a direct debit or process my order. In addition to all of this you have, as a result of your incompetence, potentially run a completely unnecessary second credit check, an action that will affect my on-going credit rating.

I will be calling you on Thursday morning. However, it will most likely be to tell you to shove your BlackBerry. If this is how you treat new customers at the point of inception, I certainly don’t want to be dealing with your unpleasant, untrustworthy and utterly incompetent organisation for the next two years of a contract!

I also expect an apology!

UPDATE: I received a phone call from Virgin Mobile’s call centre at 11pm on Wednesday night. No apology was offered for calling me so late in the evening, no acknowledgement was made of the fact I was already in bed at that time (I did mention this on the call), in fact, the caller (a different Philippine call centre rep to the one who handled my original order call) had no concept of what time it was in the UK.

Anyway – the call centre rep still had no idea what was going on or why my order still had not been processed. All he offered to do was run the order again (and credit check me, again). Despite the time, he claimed they could still get the phone to me on Thursday, and when pointed out that no courier company was going to collect a handset from Virgin Mobile at past 11PM one night for next dat delivery, he chirped up with the following:

“Well if it doesn’t come on Thursday, maybe it will arrive in 2-3 days, but that will also be OK”.

No, it bloody well will not be OK!

Virgin Mobile (and with it Virgin Media). I’ve made a bold statement with the title of this post – I challenge you to prove me wrong. So far, you have only proved me to be absolutely right!

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