Analyzing the Week: October 17th

Apple, Google, and Intel…

Last week Apple launched its new Retina 5K iMac, Google showed off the Nexus 6, and Intel’s partners finally started selling a thumb drive sized PC. Our apologies for skipping last week, but outside of Lenovo’s new laptop and tablet line up there wasn’t much of anything going on. In any case let’s get to the news.

At a press event last week Apple announced to a highly captive audience that it was refreshing its iMac lineup. The high-end 27” model would be receiving a monstrous 5K panel (5120 by 2880 pixels) along with a variety of other features like Thunderbolt 2, Fusion Drive, and a Haswell refresh based Intel CPU.  AMD scored a win with this announcement as Apple has chosen its Radeon R9 M290X and M295X graphics solutions. Of course the price is astronomical at $2499 for the based model, but it’s still a technical achievement.

Apple has done it again by pointing out how conservative PC OEMs are with their desktop hardware. First with the Mac Pro and now with the iMac Apple has done a perfect job of highlighting why the PC market is slowly fading away. To add insult to injury Apple has, by its own account, been taking a little bit of market share from traditional PC OEMs like Dell, HP, Acer, Asus, and Lenovo over the last couple of quarters. Apple’s pricing structure will never allow them to move the kind of volumes that other PC OEMs do, but the quality of their products has allowed them to capture most of the high-end. At the multi-thousand dollar super high-end price points only small system builders and boutique PC companies are offering any competition to Apple in terms of build quality. And in the entry-level professional space HP and Lenovo’s offerings aren’t enough to challenge Apple on price let alone innovation.

As much as it pains me I’m going to have to give Apple quite a bit of credit here. Even though their prices are nuts they seems to be the only company that’s actually innovating in the All-in-one and workstation markets. PC OEMs like the newly privatized Dell don’t need to catch up to Apple per se, but they do need to build something that isn’t just a warmed over version of Intel’s reference design.

Google announced that its Nexus 6 phablet that will be going up for preorder before the end of the month. The device comes with a 5.96” screen sporting a resolution of 2560 by 1440 on a 16:9 AMOLED panel covered in Gorilla Glass 3. This endows it with a borderline silly 493 pixel per inch. Unlike like prior Nexus devices the 6 comes with a technically decent 13 megapixel camera that has an f/2 aperture, dual LED flash, optical image stabilization, and 4K video capture. Battery life should be about one full day and it has a copious amount of sensors and support for a variety of wireless standards. Interestingly it has a Snapdragon 805 SoC at its core which is at this moment in time the fastest phone chip that Qualcomm makes.

The Nexus 6 will go up directly against Samsung’s Note 4 and Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus. These are both devices it appears to outclass on build quality but that have well developed market niches whereas the Nexus 6 is Google’s first offering in the phablet space with its new and unproven Andriod 5.0 Lollipop OS. It also comes at a higher price point than most had expected at $649. Traditionally Google has produced its Nexus devices as 100,000 unit lost-leader products but at its current price point I don’t believe anyone would accuse them of doing that with the Nexus 6. With that said Google’s Nexus devices have developed a bit of a cult following that is used to regular OS updates so there’s little doubt that the Nexus 6 will fair reasonably well on the market.

Intel’s now aging Bay Trail SoC is still popping up in interesting places like this thumb drive sized PC that a Tech Report reader found on Alibaba. Billed by its product page to fill the same niche as devices like Google’s Chromecast this device actually sports some pretty decent industrial design despite its $70 price tag in 500 unit quantities. It uses Intel’s Z3735F or G SKU which are a four core, 2 Watt, versions of Bay Trail and one to two gigabytes of RAM. There’s not a whole lot to the device but its mere existence is entertaining given how much more powerful it is than the Marvell SoC inside Google’s Chromecast. If you wanted to see how Intel’s contra-revenue programs are distorting the low-end market look no further than this device which uses a $17 dollar chip built on Intel’s 22nm process according to Intel’s data sheet.S|A

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Thomas Ryan is a freelance technology writer and photographer from Seattle, living in Austin. You can also find his work on SemiAccurate and PCWorld. He has a BA in Geography from the University of Washington with a minor in Urban Design and Planning and specializes in geospatial data science. If you have a hardware performance question or an interesting data set Thomas has you covered.