Now that 2014 has come to a close, we can definitively say that the PC market has turned around in the US, growing 5% after years of decline.

Without much category competition, PC innovation grew stagnant over the decades. Then tablets came and easily beat PCs that catered to low cost, light computing needs. PC makers tried new things, but the technology wasn’t ready. New, experimental devices were either too heavy, too slow, too short on battery life or too expensive. Windows 8’s bad reputation certainly didn’t help.

2014 was a comeback because the entire PC value curve shifted upwards significantly. You got far better PCs for a given price, and customers — now used to great smartphones and tablets — demanded and expected quality. Only the top PC makers met that expectation.

Meanwhile, the tablet form factor saw little change so naturally, it made sense for customers to upgrade their old PCs for a dramatically better experience. The tablets they already had were just fine.

Now that we are on the brink of “good enough” convergence between PCs and tablets, I expect the hybrid form factor to grow even more as people seek to save money and do work on their tablets.

Last year, I consistently beat the gong for big display smartphones, and that was before the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus made the notion popular. This year I am beating the gong for hybrid devices.

Well, that was a longer lead-in than I expected to write. On with actual numbers from IDC.

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Have you heard of Color? It’s the start-up that raised a staggering $41 million without a product. Unfortunately,  that capital didn’t translate into a hit and Color soon folded.

Clinkle could be the next Color. Clinkle raised an amazing $30 million, also on the back of concepts and not actual product. Unfortunately, that capital didn’t translate into a hit and…Clinkle is now pivoting.

TechCrunch has a story on the pivot, now called Treats, and it basically sounds like a debit card with rewards you give to your friends. I use the word “basically” because I’m still confused by the mechanic, despite TechCrunch laying it out in point-by-point form.

That’s got to be worrying for Treats.

People are busy and have enough problems; most won’t learn something new that’s complicated when there are already so many good alternatives.

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Think you’re good at poker? Well then, I’ll wager you can’t beat this robot 1-on-1. Developers and researchers from Alberta University have created Cepheus, a self-learning poker AI that’s supposedly unbeatable.

It became good by stimulating literally billions of poker games, and then learning from each one. 10,000 hours of experience is a flash in the pan compared to the education Cepheus gave itself.

If you’d like to try to take down the tech monster, you can here.

So this is cool, but when you think about it, it’s also really scary. This is just poker. One day, technology would have advanced enough that an AI can run billions of simulations about anything and learn everything — it won’t need stupid, slow humans to teach them.

Self-learning AI will either usher in an unprecedented golden age for humanity…or doom us as an obsolete species.

A teenager wrote about how teens use social media and it’s fascinating. It’s based off his experiences and observations of peers, so perhaps the sample size is limited, but it’s well written and insightful in connecting human psyche to products. It’s worth a read, and if you’d like the TL:DR here it is…

  • Nobody really shares on Facebook, but it’s weird to not be on it
  • Everyone is on Instagram — it’s a high quality experience
  • Few understand Twitter
  • Teens like Snapchat because they can be themselves, they don’t really care about privacy or security
  • Tumblr is about anonymity
  • Yik Yak is great for schools and maybe not elsewhere
  • Women use Pinterest

One thing I do wonder about is the premise of the article — the fascination the tech punditry have about teenagers, their behavior and what products they use. Knowing what teens like is good data of course, because they tend to be early adopters and can signal what everyone else will eventually use; moreover, they’ll grow older and eventually comprise the mass market.

However, their importance in the grand scheme of things is a little exaggerated. Teen obsession doesn’t always translate into to adult obsession. Off the top of my head: Pokémon, One Direction, Cancun and existential angst.

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There’s a cat fight happening between Google and Microsoft. Basically, Google has a policy to publicly disclose any bugs it finds within 90 days of informing the software provider. In this case, it was a bug in Windows that allowed a person’s system to be taken over. It’s not easy to do, but possible nevertheless.

The 90 window passed with still no fix from Microsoft, so Google went ahead and published the bug for all hackers to learn. Microsoft did issue a fix just two days after Google went public, and obviously isn’t happy with Google. As a Microsoft representative wrote:

Although following through keeps to Google’s announced timeline for disclosure, the decision feels less like principles and more like a “gotcha”, with customers the ones who may suffer as a result. . .What’s right for Google is not always right for customers. We urge Google to make protection of customers our collective primary goal.”

So who’s right, who’s wrong?

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I don’t normally think much of clones, but the Remix Ultra from Jide is intriguing.

Let’s get it out of the way: it’s basically a rip-off of the Surface, right down to the aesthetics, adjustable kickstand, thin detachable keyboard cover, location of SD card and ports, etc. Even the software looks the same.

Fortunately, there are two key differences that can validate the Remix Ultra’s existence. The first is that the tablet is based on Android and with a custom launcher that’s designed for productivity. The second is price.

I’m in the middle of testing a Lenovo Yoga Pro 2 Tablet and, there’s no sugar coating it, Android is terrible for tablets right now and especially for productivity use cases.

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I used to be an active Kickstarter, having backed Pebble, the Buccaneer, a couple games and a bunch of other things. However, I didn’t back a single project in 2014 after realizing most will get horribly delayed and/or fall way short of what was promised. It makes more sense to simply wait for products to be ready and buy then.

The Dash by Bragi was one project I nearly gave into last year. I’ve mentioned them before on this blog. They’re essentially wireless Bluetooth earbuds with touch controls, microphone and fitness tracking. They look pretty sweet, and unsurprisingly Bragi received plenty of funding.

Engadget was able to get a hands-on with The Dash at CES and apparently they are for real: they look as advertised, touch controls work and they don’t fall out of your ears. The author says they will start shipping next month to the earliest backers.

I don’t know how good they are going to be, but let’s plan for the worse and hope for the best. Let’s assume The Dash is going to be a classic example of trying to do too many things and nothing well. If that’s the case, I know exactly what I would have cut: everything but the music and microphone.

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