Hong Kong Electronics Fair – tech insights for 2014

Being in the mobile software business in US or Europe, you might think that visiting an all-electronics fair in China is simply irrelevant. But it’s not.

This is a sneak peek into your future

Hong Kong Electronics Fair: tech insights for 2014 by Richard Dancsi
View of the Hong Kong Expo building from the Kowloon pier.

Not exactly the future of high-end technology though. At least the products showcased on the Hong Kong Electronics Fair would definitely not receive a standing ovation on an Apple keynote.

Most of the products and services here are of a significantly lower quality than what you see on the upper shelves in those electronics supermarkets in the US or Europe. Apart from the really big brands, the few exceptions won’t be amazing either – more like, well, decent.

I still think this is a great opportunity to look into the future:

  • The Asian region already accounts for 45% of all internet users globally. The next boom is coming soon as the penetration rate slowly reaches the US levels.

    These people tend to use low-end smartphones to access the internet, and the devices on the fair will meet a need on – among others – the humongous Indian or Russian market.

    Still think it’s irrelevant? It isn’t: it’s a safe bet that Google went back to support 512MB devices with Android KitKat just to fulfil the need of these markets.

  • Asian companies are not only manufacturers anymore, but also creative drivers with a huge market. As more and more products emerge, they will have an ever bigger impact on what services and devices we’ll see in the next years.

Insights from the fair for 2014

To start with the easy-to-guess ones, it’s no wonder that compact cameras and camcorders are nowhere to be found: most of these functionalities are already replaced by the features of the smartphones. Action cameras are still fine, but dedicated GPS and personal navigation tools are also gone.

Phones and tablets are blooming. I did hold five perfect iPad mini replicas in my hand, and tried dozens of other phones and tablets. Android seems to run on almost everything, even on portable wifi routers or mini USB computers.

The wearable accessories wave shows no signs of calming either. There are smart watches, fitness bands and some sort of smart glass-looking things. This still feels being an early stage here, with most of the showcased products lacking a strong use case just yet.

Smart homes, offices and class rooms are hip. Home sound systems even more: wireless speakers and headphones are everywhere – some with Bluetooth, some with AirPlay and some also with added NFC support. There seems to be a hipster-driven turntable comeback as well. (Hell yeah!)

My favourite tool, a 2-in-1 shower radio with built-in torch, shows that Asian inventors are unstoppable.

Hong Kong Electronics Fair: tech insights for 2014 by Richard Dancsi
Radio and flaslight. (Photo from Shenzhen XinHuaMei Electronics Ltd).

Can I get in? Can I get in for free?

Yes. Most probably, yes.

I was lucky enough to be invited by one of my clients, but everyone with a trading company can simply register online. As far as I know, if you do it quite in advance you can get tickets for free. The standard price is not high either though: 100 HDK – about £9 – will buy you access for the two visitor’s days.

Scams & pitfalls in China and lessons from Apple’s supply chain

For those of us who are unexperienced with the Chinese market just yet, the free seminars are an excellent opportunity to catch up. On these one hour long lessons you can learn quite a lot, from avoiding scams to negotiation techniques with Chinese partners.

Choosing the right supplier can make or break your business. It’s well known that Apple has over 150 suppliers – the biggest being Foxconn, employing over 250,000 in China alone and running the operations like clockwork. Foxconn then also has about 500 suppliers on behalf of Apple. Imagine the negotiation and management power they need to run a manufacturing monster this size. So these talks are indeed pretty useful.

Are you a government? Copy this event!

The Hong Kong Electronics Fair is the world’s biggest expo of the kind. It’s also something more: a 5-story example of how governments can support local businesses.

The event is organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), the international marketing arm for Hong Kong-based traders, manufacturers and service providers. The fact that they have 40 offices operating worldwide shows that they are serious about their mission, to create opportunities for the region’s small and medium-sized enterprises.

With the fair, electronics manufacturers and their distributors have a controlled and comfortable environment to find each other. More than 4,000 exhibitors from 30 countries are showcasing their wares, and have the opportunity to close the sale right on the spot.

How awesome would it be to have something similar for your business, right?

j j j

Remote setup for Android and iOS made easy

Developing a new mobile application takes a lot of iterations: with every new version we are adding new features, polish the old ones, measure user acceptance – and react as fast as possible.

However, with the long App Store submission process and the even longer period until Android users update their apps, it usually takes a while to experiment with new features.

To find the features people will love is the key to win a whole lot of hearts: hearts, that belong to the new users. The faster you can find out what product the users really want, the better – that’s why marketers keep using A/B tests for almost everything.

On mobile though, the free and paid split test solutions usually aim too much: they come with statistics, robust close-source SDKs (that crash all the time), and these services want you to commit for life and beyond.

That’s why we created AppWoodoo. A minimalistic, open-source SDK and a lightweight backend service that does exactly what you expect: receives a new list of settings every time you want it.

So, say, you can switch off Facebook login as soon as it turns out people leave your app for that. Or just add a “my mood” section which you can update daily.

If you are already eager to try it out, please do so. The SDKs are on Github (iOS, Android), and the service is live on appwoodoo.com

And now, some coding magic, with Android (you can do pretty much the same on iOS as well though).

In this example, we will create a simple screen to remotely display or hide a Login button, and measure the clicks via Google Analytics.

1. Add the settings on AppWoodoo

In this example I added the ENABLE_LOGIN_BUTTON setting and set it to false. (Go to appwoodoo.com, and create an app to get started.)

2. Integrate the SDKs

You will need the Google Analytics SDK and the AppWoodoo SDK; both are available for free.

3. Start to code

First, we add a loginButton in the xml (notice that the button is not visible):

j j j

Goodbye Nike+, welcome miCoach

As you may remember, I started to track my runs with Nike+ just about two months ago. Since then we shared a few moments (ten sessions and 50 kilometers) – quite enough time to know: I need something else.

Adidas miCoach - about Android, web, tech from Richard Dancsi
miCoach – slightly less style

The main reason for the break-up was something that’s not the really Nike’s fault: their app is only for running. Because I like to track my cycling routes as well, I had to have a separate app for almost the exact same thing: see some speed and location data on a map.

And since miCoach from Adidas (the Android version) was already there, I couldn’t help to see the advantages of it:

1. Better statistics: shows my actual speed in time (not only green/yellow/red colors), average by kilometers, fastest km, elevation data etc. Just perfect.

2. Works without registration. (Now, I registered anyway so that I can see my data online, but I really like the fact that I didn’t have to for using the app.)

3. Feels more accurate. Sometimes Nike+ showed 100m as the distance so far, right at my 600m turn (I used to run on the same route a lot.)

Some drawbacks:

1. Slightly worse UI. Not bad, not ugly, but well… Nike+ really was top notch on that.

2. miCoach asks for a code every time I start it. (Why? Anyone who gains access to my phone, could check my emails, Twitter, even payment data – but not how far I ran? It really doesn’t make sense.)

3. I have no idea, how the achievements work.

Well, let’s see how long this relationship lasts.

j j j

Why does Android look dodgy?

As much Android deserves the love for the great freedom it gives to its users (try to install a file manager to your stock iPhone or copy music to a friend’s computer), the user interface is just not there. They surely have put a lot of effort into Jelly Beans, but the devil is in the details. Look at these widgets, for example.

Android widgets: power control, music and weather
different colors, sizes, outer glow – on stock elements

In every operating system, at least the stock widgets should look alike – but, to mention just a few flaws, the three main widgets (power control, music and weather add-ons) are different in size, colors and they use different spacers between the buttons. The widgets coming from 3rd party developers in Google Play are not much help either: even the ones that claim support for the stock Ice Cream Sandwich are missing the guidelines with a mile or two.

Maybe Google’s development teams don’t work together very well. Maybe the UI teams’ quality assurance is missing. Maybe they just don’t care, because manufacturers like Samsung, Motorola and HTC have their own design tweaks anyway.

Either way, in 2012, the pixel-perfect paradise is not here yet.

j j j

Run, Forrest, Run (and track it)

Tracking runs and other sports is great fun, even if it means carrying another device. I got addicted to more data about my runs sometime last Summer, and tried half a dozen of apps since then. Now that the last update broke ‘My Tracks’ on my phone, it was time to look for a new one.

To look for a tracking app on Google Play is not easy though. There are hundreds of them out there, almost indistinguishable from each other and to make matters worse, I already have some preferences. They should be small, easy to use, easy to set up – and especially, don’t need any kind of registration or whatsoever. In fact, the less features the app has, the more I should like it: display the position on a map, measure time and speed – that’s all one can need.

I can’t really say why I did download Nike’s running app then. You have to register on nike.com before the first use. I don’t want to share anything on my Facebook wall. The app is huge. (16 MB, really? Will it do my runs for me?) And it’s not made by some nice indie developers on an island, but Nike, a giant. Yet, I did download it and tried it just now.

And I loved it!

The registration is annoying. I don’t even know what a calorie is, but it keeps showing me how many less of those I have. It always wants to share my embarrassing results with my friends and followers. But there is something to it that I really liked.

Great graphics, for starters. And while I’m not at all interested in calories, I really do like how it is displayed, together with the longest distance, fastest run etc -it’s just great to look at those screens. The whole lot is perfectly made and has some spirit, some unique touch to it. And the best thing is: I can’t wait for the next time to use it.

This app is a brilliant lifestyle product. Nothing less.

j j j

Phones and updates

These are the best times for smartphone users: the choice on the market is beyond imagination, operating system vendors go crazy with their innovations and device manufacturers break their legs to deliver the newest updates for the devices. Or are they? I quickly collected some data about software updates to figure whether Apple, Google or Microsoft spoils their users the most.

Android, Windows, iOS – stunning looking UIs

Windows (Microsoft)

It’s certainly not Microsoft that has the happiest users nowadays: according to recent news, regardless of the fact that the Nokia Lumia phones are only 1.5 years old, they won’t be updated to Windows 8 – ever. And if this is not enough, there is an even bitterer pill to take: the apps written for the new OS won’t run on the “old” devices.

Microsoft has a good enough excuse for this, as they rewrote Windows from ground zero. It’s hardly satisfactory for the users though, especially those who bought the devices just now: they feel like Microsoft owns them at least an apology for knowing this all along – but deciding to be silent about it.

Android (Google)

If Windows users are unhappy, it’s because they have never waited for an Android update. Although Google is rolling out updates in a pace no one has seen before, hardware manufacturers are unable to keep up with them. The main reason for rolling out their own versions is that they want to differentiate their products on the market; for HTC for example, Sense is still a strong selling point.

Cold comfort it is for the ones with an abandoned device – some of which never actually had an up-to-date operating system. The Understatement blog has a list of the devices and their software updates from last year, and the picture probably even worsened since: only around 10% of current devices updated to even Ice Cream Sandwich yet, the one before Android version – which came out end of last year.

iOS (Apple)

For now it seems that iPhone users are the luckiest of them all, as Apple still sells the iPhone 3GS, a device that came out three years ago. Compared to Android or Windows phones, it might be true: even those ancient phones will be able to be updated to iOS 6, Apple’s new operating system introduced last month.

The future is not so bright though: while the operating system and the new UI shine is coming to all devices, some features will be missing on some older iPhones. According to the iOS 6 teaser page – among others – turn-by-turn navigation, Siri, FaceTime will be available only on iPhone 4S – and so it will be exclusive to the latest devices. The iPhone 3GS seemingly leaves out of almost everything.

Well, having the new Maps app is still better than nothing.

With all that, based on the updates only, if I would buy a new phone now I would consider offers in this order:

1. Android (Nexus devices only)
2. iPhone
3. Android devices from other manufacturers
4. Windows 8 phones

j j j

Flash support

I dislike Flash websites, but I prefer being able to open them when I decide so. Therefore, I really like Android’s approach, hate Apple’s ignorance, and – hey, what the hell is Microsoft doing?

The Windows 8 Release Preview is out since yesterday, and one new feature is the Flash support in Internet Explorer. Because this operating system is already the one that will be installed on both tablets and desktop computers, it’s a good opportunity to see Microsoft’s strategy on the topic. The desktop version is less interesting (the browser has the full plug-in), but on portable devices Microsoft seems to share Apple’s performance concerns, and tries to solve the problem.

More than a simple integration, they worked together with Adobe to create a power-optimized, touch-friendly Flash player based on Flash 11.3. This stripped-down version will also have a video player and some more added features, but will miss out those which typically cause battery life problems. The interesting part is that it won’t work on every website: Microsoft will maintain a list of sites that are authorized to use Flash on Windows 8.

This is indeed an interesting concept, but it seems like the question is only about the attitude: weather Apple’s arrogance or Microsoft’s compromises, it’s just the matter of time for those old Flash websites to disappear completely. And although I would be surprised if anyone would dare to create a new Flash-only website now, I want to access them somehow in the meantime – therefore, I’m glad to see Microsoft’s efforts.

j j j