Archive for January, 2013

No, iPhone fatigue is not setting in

January 28 2013 Leave a comment

The press never tires of the Apple versus Android debate, but rarely offers any insight. Reuters has a great example of the genre today.

Driven by a combination of iPhone fatigue, a desire to be different and a plethora of competing devices, users are turning to other brands, notably those from Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, eating into Apple’s market share.

I’ve been trying out a Samsung Galaxy Tab (an unwanted gift, to be honest) for the past few months and find it laughable when anyone suggests that Samsung devices offer a competitive threat to Apple’s iPhones and iPads.

Let’s be clear: the iOS devices are in a different league when it comes to the user experience, which is why it attracts such strong brand loyalty.

Android is a cheap alternative with no loyalty whatsoever (except for a tiny number of nerds who just want the latest hardware and highest specs, regardless of whether the software works properly or not).

Comparing the two is like comparing Ferrari and Daewoo. Which is why the reporting on this “corporate battle” is so absurd. Of course people are buying Android devices — they’re cheap and are installed on hundreds(?) of different mobile gadgets, most of which are far cheaper than the cheapest iPhone.

Even so, most Android customers would probably buy an iPhone or iPad if they could afford one. After all, Apple more or less created this market. What Samsung has done is to offer a “similar” experience at a cheaper price — and its sales are really just a reflection of the demand created by Apple’s runaway success.

Indeed, these kinds of articles are a measure of just how successful it has been. In no other industry do journalists expect a very pricey, premium product to also be a mass-market sales monster, yet Reuters clearly seems to expect that of Apple.

What is happening, I suspect, is that the penetration of smartphones is rising rapidly as late-adopters reluctantly upgrade their old bricks. They’re not really interested in a smartphone but the entry-level models are now so cheap that it’s a no-brainer. Android will hoover up these low-value customers, while Apple continues to focus on the top end of the market.

The great advantage of this popular misconception is that Apple’s stock looks like a bargain. Investors read nonsense like this and it sinks in. After all, most investors are middle-aged men with little to no understanding of the modern world — as demonstrated by the Facebook IPO.

Categories: tech Tags: , , , ,

The worst piece of journalism ever?

January 23 2013 Leave a comment

An extraordinary correction on a recent Time story:

This article has been changed. An earlier version stated that Oxford University accepted “only one black Caribbean student” in 2009, when in fact the university accepted one British black Caribbean undergraduate who declared his or her ethnicity when applying to Oxford. The article has also been amended to reflect the context for comments made by British Prime Minister David Cameron on the number of black students at Oxford. It has also been changed to reflect the fact that in 2009 Oxford “held” rather than “targeted” 21% of its outreach events at private schools, and that it draws the majority of its non-private students from public schools with above average levels of attainment, rather than “elite public schools.”  An amendment was made to indicate that Office for Fair Access director Les Ebdon has not imposed but intends to negotiate targets with universities. It has been corrected to indicate that every university-educated Prime Minister save Gordon Brown has attended Oxford or Cambridge since 1937, rather than throughout history. The proportion of Oxbridge graduates in David Cameron’s cabinet has been updated — following the Prime Minister’s September reshuffle, the percentage rose from almost 40% to two-thirds. Percentages on leading Oxbridge graduates have been updated to reflect the latest figures. The article erred in stating that private school students have “dominated” Oxbridge for “centuries.” In the 1970s, according to Cambridge, admissions of state school students ranged from 62% to 68%, sinking down to around 50% in the 1980s. The article has been amended to clarify that although only a small percentage of British students are privately educated, they make up one-third of the students with the requisite qualifications to apply to Oxbridge. The article erred in stating that Oxford and Cambridge “missed government admission targets” for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Rather, the universities scored below “benchmarks” for admission of students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds which are calculated by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, a non-governmental body. The article was amended to clarify the point that Cambridge continues to run Sutton Trust summer schools. The article mistakenly suggested that the current U.K. government had launched an “initiative to reform Oxbridge.” There was no official initiative, but rather a marked push by the government to encourage change. The article referred to Cambridge and Oxford’s efforts “in the past two years” to seek out underprivileged students. In fact, their commitment is far more long-standing — programs to reach out to underprivileged students have been operating at the two universities since at least the mid-1990s. The article erred in suggesting that Cambridge had protested state school targets, and in stating that it had “agreed to” ambitious targets, rather than setting the targets themselves that were then approved by the Office of Fair Access. The article has been amended to clarify that there is debate over whether the ‘school effect’, whereby state school students outperform private school students at university, applies to those at the highest levels of achievement, from which Oxford and Cambridge recruit. The article has been changed to correct the misstatement that a lack of strong candidates from poor backgrounds is not the concern of Oxford and Cambridge. The article has amended the phrase “Oxford and Cambridge’s myopic focus on cherry-picking the most academically accomplished,” to more fairly reflect the universities’ approach.

Full article here: U.K.’s Elite Universities Try to Bridge Privilege Gap |

Categories: odd

Bad Words: Virtually

January 17 2013 Leave a comment

This is the first in a series of mini posts on linguistic annoyances. First up, this use of “virtually” in a New York Times piece written by John Howard, the former Aussie prime minister:

I was elected prime minister in early 1996, leading a center-right coalition. Virtually every nonurban electoral district in the country — where gun ownership was higher than elsewhere — sent a member of my coalition to Parliament.

via Australia Banned Assault Weapons. America Can, Too. –

“Almost” is a better choice, unless Howard is suggesting that rural districts sent his coalition members to parliament virtually. I don’t doubt that such an arrangement would make sense in Australia (who wants to go to Canberra?), but I don’t think this is Howard’s message.

Categories: language Tags:

Japan: No longer a basket case?

January 16 2013 Leave a comment

America’s political right is obsessed with the notion of a debt crisis, even in the face of inconvenient truths that have a habit of appearing out there in the real world.

As some lobbyist writes in the FT today, this is how debt crises are supposed to happen:

What happens when an economy runs out of fiscal space? The presumption is embodied in the image of “hitting the wall”. Under this assumption, public debt exceeds a certain limit and financial confidence collapses. As a result, interest rates rise, the currency falls and panic ensues.

Unfortunately, this has never really been observed. And the best possible example of an indebted, developed economy — Japan — completely refutes it. Japan’s ballooning debt has not led to higher interest rates, a falling yen or panic.

Even so, Adam Posen manages to fill an article with evidence-free reasons why the US should not indulge in a new New Deal.

I have no idea if he’s right or not (though I certainly don’t like the way he says it), but it seems to me that people are starting to re-assess Japan’s response to its long economic slump.

After all, in 20 years of depressed growth, Japanese unemployment never reached levels that the US has suffered since 2009. And when you factor in the past few years of recession and weak recovery in the west, Japanese growth during the past decade is actually not that bad.

Of course, Shinzo Abe isn’t an enlightened figure. He’s doling out cash to his cronies for political reasons, but coordinated easing from the BoJ and fiscal stimulus from the government seem like a much more sensible approach than what’s happening in the US right now.

China’s problem of plenty

January 16 2013 Leave a comment

Someone posted an interesting comment on Simon Rabinovitch’s article about Chinese banks in the FT today, which describes a thorny problem facing mainland lenders: too much cash.

Rabinovitch sums up by saying:

There are some glimmers of hope that money in China is beginning to flow away from banks. Non-bank sources of credit, including bonds, exceeded bank loans in the second half of 2012, an important step towards a diversified financial system.

And attracts this neat retort:

Rabinovitch totally misses the point here. In a country where there is too much ‘private’ debt, and you’re coming off of three years of the world’s largest expansion of debt ever, the last thing you want is for the controls on new debt issuance to ‘flow’ away from banks. That prevents the government from full control over the expansion of credit, and allows for bad ‘WMPs’ to flourish (insuring that more malinvestment occurs and that creative destruction is not allowed to start). As noted by the head of the Bank of China, nothing more than “Ponzi schemes.”

Banks aren’t lending because there’s too many NPLs and they cannot expand their balance sheets anymore. So, the PRC government is letting ‘non-bank’ lenders continue to fuel the expansion of debt. While it may be necessary to some small extent (the country is running pretty much on empty as far as real growth), the reality is that 1/3rd of the total savings in China is now invested in these ‘non-bank’ debt instruments (or, nearly 1/2 of annual GDP). That’s not good at all, and not a source of “hope”…

Categories: economics, money

The lobby for the status quo

January 9 2013 Leave a comment

Paul Krugman is a Nobel prize-winning economist, right?

He went to Stockholm and rubbed shoulders with the world’s leading scientists, novelists and peacemakers — fellow members of this elite community. Right?

Wrong, kind of. Alfred Nobel was a Swede who, as everyone knows, made his fortune in the explosives business. On his death, he bequeathed that fortune to the endowment of five awards in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace. Not economics.

The prize that Krugman won is officially known as the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, and has been sponsored by the Swedish central bank since it created the award in 1968.

It is the only other prize awarded by the Nobel Foundation, and some of Nobel’s descendants actively protest the association of the economic prize with their name.

Discussions about nominations cannot be disclosed for 50 years, so we have a few years to wait to find out how the selection process works, but one thing is clear, according to Bernard Lietaer, an economist who once worked at the Belgian central bank: there must be no discussion of the monetary system.

“Didn’t they tell you? Never touch the money system,” Krugman once told him, apparently. “You’re killing yourself academically if you touch the money system.”

Mainstream economists disagree over many things, but they rarely differ much over the money system. Whether in the Soviet Union or the USA, bank-debt money was the only game in town for both communists and capitalists.

“We have been blind ideologically to what is common between them,” says Lietaer in an interesting presentation on “monetary blind spots and structural solutions”:

This video is the first of five parts, in which Lietaer challenges assumptions about how our money system works the way it does. And why.

“At Belgian central bank, they told me: ‘We exist, the central banks exist, the IMF, the World Bank exist for one purpose: to keep the system going as it is, not to improve it.’ It is the lobby for status quo. At the time, in the 1920s, the banks got the best deal they could ever get, so they created a reality that froze it forever. There’s an active lobby that nobody sees as a lobby, because central banks are different from the banks, right? But there’s one thing they agree on, the money system.”

They also agree that anyone who challenges the status quo doesn’t get a “Nobel Prize”.

Alex Jones meltdown

January 8 2013 1 comment

Alex Jones on Piers Morgan. Brilliant. He even conducts part of the interview in a mock English accent.

“There are no metal sharks in the water!!”

“Suicide pills!!”


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