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The Geek’s Reading List: Week of October 17th, 2014

Piccioni: “Xiaomi’s profit formula is the opposite of Apple’s, which collects its highest profits with the introduction of each model and needs to come up with new model after new model to keep those margins up.”This has been another very slow tech news week. The big news was multiple announcements of “breakthroughs” in fusion research. Unfortunately, the “breakthroughs” which were announced did not include the fusion reactor producing more energy than they consumed, which is actually the only thing which matters. Also of note was the release of some Apple and Google product refreshes, which were greeted with yawns with the exception of their respective fanboy sites.

Lockheed Claims Breakthrough on Fusion Energy

I counted at least three “breakthroughs” in fusion energy over the prior week, but this particular item got, by far, the most coverage. At least 6 people sent stories to me, and I am very appreciative. Unfortunately, none of the purported breakthroughs actually announced true breakeven, or where the reactor produces as much energy as it consumes. There have been prior announcements of breakeven, but these designs were only breakeven if you count the energy impinging on the fuel, not the entire system. I have a lot of respect for Lockheed and, while it is easy to be cynical, I believe fusion will become viable. Just not today.

“Lockheed Martin Corp said on Wednesday it had made a technological breakthrough in developing a power source based on nuclear fusion, and the first reactors, small enough to fit on the back of a truck, could be ready in a decade. Tom McGuire, who heads the project, said he and a small team had been working on fusion energy at Lockheed’s secretive Skunk Works for about four years, but were now going public to find potential partners in industry and government for their work. Initial work demonstrated the feasibility of building a 100-megawatt reactor measuring seven feet by 10 feet, which could fit on the back of a large truck, and is about 10 times smaller than current reactors, McGuire said.”

Here’s how Google’s Nexus 9 stacks up against Apple’s iPad Air 2

You might have missed the announcements associated with a few Google and Apple products this week. The Apple hype machine seemed to have sputtered, at least with respect to the latest iPad and Google never gets the same coverage out of product releases in either event. Mind you, the future of tablets ain’t what it used to be, and I consider both products to be significantly overpriced, probably by at least a factor of two (you can get a decent tablet for less than $200 nowadays. As this shootout shows, with the exception of “thinness” there isn’t a lot of differene between the two devices. Save your money and buy a cheaper one.

“In the span of two days, the two hottest tablets of the fall have been announced. On Wednesday, Google took the wraps off the Nexus 9, a spectacular new high-end tablet manufactured by HTC. Thursday, Apple announced the iPad Air 2, a modest upgrade to last year’s stellar iPad Air. Naturally, one runs iOS 8 and its associated apps, and one runs Android Lollipop and its apps. For many users, that’s difference enough to choose one over the other. If you’re not married to either ecosystem, and you want to know where to dive in, consider these points of comparison.”


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Xiaomi, Not Apple, Is Changing the Smartphone Industry

I have remarked frequently that pricing trends for smartphones (and tablets) is decidedly down, especially for the “new” buyer. You can get a pretty decent, unlocked, name brand, Android smartphone for less than $200 nowadays and, fashion statements to the contrary, it is hard to make a case to spend much more. I’ve never seen a Xiamoi phone so I don’t know what the quality is like, however, I expect this model with dominate in the future, with the expection that vendors will, in fact, cut prices over time. As a result, companies with high margins will see them evaporate.

“To sell high-quality cell phones at so low a price, Xiaomi keeps each model on the market far longer than Apple does. On average, a new version of a phone is launched every 265 days in the industry – down from 345 days in 2009. But Xiaomi doesn’t renew its product for two years. Then, rather than charge high prices to cover the high cost of state-of-the-art components, Xiaomi prices the phone just a little higher than the total cost of all its components. As component costs drop over the two-year period by more than 90%, Xiaomi maintains its original price, and pockets the difference. So essentially its profit formula is the opposite of Apple’s, which collects its highest profits with the introduction of each model and needs to come up with new model after new model to keep those margins up.”

Giant Battery Unit Aims at Wind Storage Holy Grail

I find it interesting that most people think battery prices will drop precipitously, with the notable exception of actual battery experts. After all, we are talking about a low tech electrochemical assembly, not a semiconductor device. Nevertheless, the byzantine world of alternate energy pricing, which demands distributors buy power from wind or solar regardless of demand leads to some pretty strange things where the distributors end up paying industrial customers to use power in order to stabilize the grid. If you get paid to take power and can resell at peak rates, maybe short lived, expensive, batteries make sense. Thanks to my friend Luigi di Pede for this item.

“Electric-car battery prices already have fallen by 50 percent since 2010 to about $500 per kilowatt hour, and “by drawing on auto-battery technology, battery makers may also be able to supply storage batteries at a lower price,” Citigroup said in a Sept. 25 report. Tesla Chairman Elon Musk said in July that battery packs for electric cars will drop to $100 in the next 10 years. The Tehachapi batteries are supplied by LG Chem Ltd. and are the same type used in General Motors’ Volt.”

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