Driven mainly by financial technology (fintech) investments, blockchain has seen a fast uptick in adoption for application development and pilot tests in a number of industries and will generate more than $10.6 billion in revenue by 2023, according to a new report from ABI Research in New York.
That revenue figure is expected to come mainly from software sales and services.
Driving much of the interest in blockchain are multinational corporations rolling out proofs-of-concept and pilot programs, moves that have bolstered the credibility of and investment in the distributed ledger technology, according to ABI Research director Michela Menting, the report’s lead author.
Menting also pointed to tech giants such as IBM, Microsoft, Amazon, SAP, HPE, and Oracle, among others, who are pushing Blockchain-as-as-Service (BaaS) for first-time enterprise adopters, often enabling integration with existing enterprise software and cloud services.
Most notably, Menting said, use cases for tackling endemic problems in the global supply chain are proving particularly popular.
“Blockchain is being leveraged to resolve complex issues around transparency, efficiency and cost,” Menting said in a statement. “Successful pilots run by the likes of Walmart and Maersk in tracking and monitoring products on a global scale are emerging into commercialized platforms that will be market-ready in the next few months.”
As pilots succeed and become commercialized, they will drive efforts to deploy blockchain to address barriers and risks in other sectors too – especially in adjacent industrial markets, Menting said.
“The blockchain startup scene is dynamically rising to the challenge, with the brunt of activity concentrated in North America, Europe and selected Asia-Pacific countries,” Menting said. “Some highly innovative companies tackling the supply chain space include Blockfreight, Modum, OriginTrail, Skuchain, Sweetbridge, SyncFab, and T-Mining.”
ABI Research’s report was culled from two market datasets on Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technologies and Blockchain In the Supply Chain: Reducing Friction for Faster And More Efficient Logistics.
Bank of America agrees
Earlier this month, Bank of America research analyst Kash Rangan predicted that companies such as Amazon, Microsoft and Oracle would reap a financial windfall by offering BaaS, which is quickly growing as companies look to use the distributed ledger technology without spending a lot of money.
If just 2% of servers act as blockchain nodes some day, the BaaS market would reach $7 billion, according to Bank of America research analyst Kash Rangan.
In a note to investors yesterday, Rangan named nine companies best positioned to take advantage of the BaaS movement. Along with BaaS providers Amazon, Microsoft and Oracle, Rangan named IBM, Salesforce.com, and VMware as leaders in the space. He also said real-estate/mortgage companies with blockchain-based online services, such as like Redfin, Zillow, and LendingTree, will also benefit. Those services digitize the transfer of property.
As enterprises look to deploy distributed ledgers, the industry’s largest IT providers have launched BaaS efforts as a way to test the technology without the cost or risk of deploying it in-house and without needing to find in-house developers, which are in hot demand.
“The thing to be thinking about is that we’re still in the early innings of this blockchain wave,” said Bill Fearnley Jr., IDC’s research director for Worldwide Blockchain Strategies. “There are very few people with multiple years of deep, hands-on experience.”
Adoption growing quickly
In 2015, Microsoft became one of the first software vendors to offer BaaS on its Azure cloud platform. The Azure service is open to a variety of blockchain protocols, supporting simple Unspent Transaction Output-based protocols (UTXO) like Hyperledger; more sophisticated Smart Contract-based protocols like Ethereum; and others as they are developed, Microsoft said.
Azure supports distributed ledgers such as Ethereum, Hyperledger Fabric, R3 Corda, Quorum, Chain Core and BlockApps.
“BaaS on Azure offers services such as smart contracts and other third-party apps, and should benefit as use of blockchain on Azure increases,” Rangan said.
In 2017, IBM launched its blockchain service, and has since garnered some of the largest enterprise supply chain tracking deployments of the technology, including Maersk and Walmart. (In late September, Walmart asked its suppliers to enter their produce data into the IBM Food Trust blockchain, which the retailer is already using to track 25 food products from 10 suppliers.)
Walmart’s pilots have shown that the amount of time it takes for the company to trace a food item from store to farm was reduced from seven days to just 2.2 seconds.
In the past year or so:
- The Hyperledger Project released Fabric 1.0, a collaboration tool for building out blockchain-based business networks.
- SAP launched its BaaS offering on its Leonardo digital software platform.
- Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE) joined tech vendors offering BaaS. HPE plans to offer a flexible charging model, similar to other BaaS offerings, with prices based on the server node, CPU or core.
HPE’s offering is based on Corda, a blockchain platform developed by New-York-based banking consortium R3. R3’s Corda is the biggest commercial consortium among banks, insurers and others in a blockchain environment, according to Martha Bennet, a principal analyst with Forrester Research.
(FinTech firms have been among the first to embrace blockchain).
Corda became an open-source distributed ledger when R3 gave the code over to the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger development project.
Early moves gain traction in 2018
In July, Oracle announced its BaaS deployment, as did Amazon (as part of its AWS offering). Oracle’s BaaS is based on the Hyperledger Project, as is IBM’s, which aimed its BaaS offering at enabling cross-border money exchanges.
As for Amazon, it “will benefit from incremental cloud services demand from blockchain implementation, while improved supply chain tracking should make Amazon’s retail operations more efficient,” Rangan said.
While heavily hyped blockchain gained its initial notoriety from bitcoin cryptocurrency, it does offer a potentially new paradigm for the way information is shared in addition to helping companies save time and admin costs.
BaaS offerings are particularly attractive because many enterprises can use their current cloud providers to try the technology.
“As with any new technology, there is a learning curve as enterprise customers put it into production,” Fearnley said. “One advantage of partnering with a BaaS provider is users can leverage the lessons learned by the provider to help make their systems more secure.”
BaaS providers are also acting as consultants, Fearnley said.
Ninety percent of goods in global trade are carried by the ocean shipping industry each year. A blockchain solution from IBM and Maersk is designed to manage and track the paper trail of tens of millions of shipping containers across the world by digitizing the supply chain process.
Real-world use cases
Paul Brody, Ernst & Young’s (EY) Global Innovation Leader for Blockchain Technology, agreed that BaaS platforms make it easier for companies to both test and deploy distributed ledgers.
“We’re testing out all the development and deployment offerings of these different clouds and we’ve just launched our OpsChain [operations and supply chain] offering on SAP’s cloud platform and SAP Leonardo,” Brody said via email. “Our hypothesis is that while the BaaS/SaaS…deployment platforms are very useful and make management and deployment easy, it’s integration to ERP that will make it possible for enterprises to take full advantage of the value created by blockchains.”
Because companies run their businesses off the processes in ERP, asking them to move key processes off those system can make a blockchain deployment less appealing, Brody added.
For example, a company attempting to deploy a blockchain-based procurement system will already have carefully tailored ERP systems from vendors such as SAP to ensure they only buy from approved vendors and that only authorized users can approve purchases and payments.
“EY’s OpsChain system allows companies to manage complex multi-party procurement arrangements through a blockchain and do things like capture every available volume discount and track materials as they come through the supply chain,” Brody said. “However, the solution value would be somewhat diminished if the company had to go and re-build all their procurement rules in our blockchain system.”
By integrating its OpsChain system into SAP’s BaaS, Brody said, EY’s buyers can see, approve and pay for procurement activities within their existing business rules and systems, but get all the benefits of blockchain, such as its innate security and distributed nature.
Other uses for blockchain include the real estate market, which enables realtors, buyers, sellers and mortgage lenders a transparent view of all the data from a property transfer, reducing costs in time and payment processing.
Sandy Krueger, CEO of Staten Island Multiple Listing Service, rolled out a blockchain proof of concept for his company’s real estate listing site earlier this year to address transparency and the inefficiencies inherent in traditional property deals.
The blockchain, powered by ShelterZoom’s online platform, allows sellers, buyers and their realtor representatives to see all offers and transactions at the same time in real time.
“It makes the transaction more transparent in the sense that I, as the seller, know there’s an offer coming in so I can call my realtor and say, “What’s going on with this offer?” Krueger said, “rather than being left in the dark and waiting for someone to call me and tell me something’s going on.”
Other real world uses cases include IoT communications and data integration.
Blockchain not without issues
As secure as blockchain is thought to be, it is not without its problems. That’s because it’s built atop software that serves specific purposes, meaning it must depend on outside application software and cryptography.
But hundreds of start-ups developing blockchain technology that don’t necessarily use tried-and-tested algorithms.
Last November, for example, hundreds of millions of dollars in Ethereum cryptocurrency, called Ether, was frozen through a coding vulnerability that allowed one user to lockdown up to $300 million in other people’s money.
“As recent headlines would suggest, this makes testing especially important to try to see what happens when you put real data and real connections together,” Fearnley said.
For most enterprises, blockchain will not likely be a do-it-yourself enterprise,” Fearnley said. While there are some “interesting and powerful innovations” that come with the distributed ledger, “the challenge will be developing a staff to build out and maintain the network.”
Current users of PostgreSQL shouldn’t find the changes in the new edition too jarring, but several new and revised features are worth a look—either for future database projects or incremental changes to existing ones.
PostgreSQL has long supported partitioning tables for better performance and easier management. PostgreSQL 11 adds many table-partitioning options, such as supporting “upsert” (UPDATE or INSERT) functions on partitions to simplify database application code, faster queries for partitioned tables generally, and the ability to partition tables using the hash function of a given key, as well as ranges for a column value or a list of possible keys. This last feature includes automatic rebalancing of shards when rows have their hash key altered, so that rebalancing doesn’t have to be done as a regular maintenance task.
Stored procedures in PostgreSQL 11 can now perform their own transaction management. This makes it easier to write database-native functions that perform complex server-side operations like bulk alteration of data.
For faster queries, PostgreSQL 11 offers the option, disabled by default, to perform just-in-time (JIT) compilation on some query expressions, using the LLVM compiler framework. JIT compilation is most useful for queries that are heavily CPU-bound—for instance, when row results are being transformed on the fly.
Benchmarks demonstrate that JIT compilation provides a general speedup of about 20 percent, with performance boosts up to five times when paired with other optimizations. PostgreSQL’s developers have left open the possibility that other operations could be JIT-accelerated in the future as well.
Finally, many data operations in PostgreSQL 11, including table and view creation, now run faster when run in parallel, especially when performed on partitioned data.
In July 2010, I wrote about the next-generation iPad and what Apple needs to deliver.
Based on information gleaned from updates in iOS and intelligence coming out of the semiconductor industry at the time, I polished the crystal ball — in my usual purely speculative way — of what I thought successive iPads might look like, or the features they should contain.
I iterated this over the years — for the third-, fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-generation of the iPad. Some stuff I got right, some stuff I got wrong.
Typically, I’ve done this shortly after an iPad’s release. This time, I’m going to do it only a few weeks before the October 30, 2018 event, because, up until recently, I didn’t think we had enough clues.
When Apple announced its new, lower-cost, Apple Pencil-compatible iPad at its education event, it did not announce new iPad Pro models, which have not had a revision since June 2017 and, arguably, have not changed much since September 2016.
NEXT APPLE IPAD PRO: SENSORS AND CAMERAS
The Touch ID sensor, which has been part of the iPad Pro since its inception in 2015, is likely to make a departure with the introduction of the 10-inch and 12.9-inch models in favor of the Face ID sensor first introduced in the iPhone X and now the XS, the XS Max, and the XR.
The usability changes on the iPhone X were substantial enough to cause some controversy because it required significant user adaptation.
I would expect that those folks who did not migrate to the current generation of iPhones — who would be using Face ID for the first time on an iPad Pro — would endure similar issues, although iOS 12 has undergone enough tweaks in the intervening time period that a lot of the quirks have been sorted out.
I’m still not crazy with the double-click action on the side power button to confirm purchases in the App Store on an iPhone X/XS/XR. I’d probably dislike it even more on an iPad Pro, because you can’t do it one-handed, assuming Apple uses the same UX mechanism.
Another issue that goes beyond usability — and unlearning learned habits with the home button and Touch ID with a Face ID-based iPad Pro — is how well we can expect Face ID to work on a much larger device that is held further away from the face and in two different orientations.
I tended to use my iPad Pro most in a landscape orientation because it was the 12.9-inch model and holding it in a portrait mode was cumbersome. On the 10-inch model, it is less cumbersome, but I still feel that most people tend to use this device in landscape due to how most apps are written to take advantage of the screen real estate.
Placing the Face ID sensor with the front-facing camera on the top of the screen in portrait mode, as it is on the iPhone X would be aesthetically weird, but it would probably still work.
However, if the iPad Pro has the same iPhone X-style “notch” in a similar position on the device, it would likely annoy a lot of users, because it would appear on the right side or the left side of the screen in landscape.
So, I am going to go against convention and say that on the next iPad Pro, the selfie camera and the Face ID sensor will be placed on the top of the screen in a landscape orientation — not a portrait one.
As to cameras, it’s very likely that at least the 12.9-inch SKU of the iPad Pro will inherit the front- and rear-camera configurations of the iPhone XR, and that includes the 12-megapixel sensor in the rear and 7-megapixel sensor in the front with optical image stabilization (OIS). I’m not expecting the same dual cameras in the rear from the XS and XS Max, but it’s possible.
NEXT APPLE IPAD PRO: SYSTEM ON A CHIP/CPU/GPU
It is in this area where I believe the most amount of (modest) speculation is going to occur. The fastest chip Apple has right now is the 2.49Ghz 64-bit A12 Bionic , which utilizes a big.LITTLE-style asymmetrical-multiprocessing architecture using two larger “Vortex” cores and four smaller “Tempest” cores.
The existing A10X in the second-generation iPad Pro utilizes three large “Hurricane” cores and three “Zephyr” cores.
While Apple could simply dump the existing A12 Bionic from the iPhone XS into the new iPad Pro, I think they will revision the chip to an A12X, by adding one (maybe two) additional “Vortex” and a perhaps as much six “Tempest” cores using the existing TSMC fabrication process in the iPhone XS.
So a 3-4 Vortex/Tempest configuration. Or a 3-6 or 4-6. If I had to take bets, more likely a 3-6.
I don’t expect 6-6 or 6-8 or 8-8 until the introduction of an A13 or A13X potentially in an ARM-based Mac.
The A12 in the iPhone XS uses the M12 motion chip. I expect there will be an M12 — that’s a given.
The A12 uses a 4-core custom Apple GPU, which is a departure from the 12-core PowerVR-based architecture on the A10X. I expect that the core count will probably increase, likely to six based on display requirements.
I also feel it is safe to assume that the iPad Pro will have modest RAM improvements over the previous model (and the iPhone XS) which had 3GB LPDDR4X onboard. So, 4GB is probably what we are going to end up with, with 128K instruction/Data of L1 and 8MB of L2 cache, respectively. 6GB of RAM would be nice, but I doubt it.
NEXT APPLE IPAD PRO: DISPLAY
I believe that the 10-inch version of the iPad Pro is likely to maintain the same or similar screen technology and specifications as the previous version at 1920×1080, but the 12.9-inch is likely to undergo significant improvements.
Currently, the 12.9-inch iPad has a 2732×2048 264ppi screen, which uses Apple’s Promotion screen refresh and wide-color display tech. The resolution of the iPad Pro 12.9-inch has not changed since its launch in 2015, so it is due for a change.
I believe the 2018 iPad Pro 12.9-inch will be the first Apple mobile device to integrate a 4K (3840×2160) resolution screen so that it can consume 4K native content on the iTunes store, which, currently, only some of the highest-end Mac systems and Apple TVs connected to 4K televisions can natively display.
While many of the other improvements described in this article are highly iterative, a 4K display on an iPad Pro would be a significant enhancement and departure from what the product has now, but it would also demonstrate significant value-add and a reason for existing iPad Pro owners to upgrade to a new model.
NEXT APPLE IPAD PRO: AUDIO AND INTEGRATED NETWORKING
As to communications and networking, the deed has already been done: Qualcomm modems were dumped in favor of Intel modems in current iPhone models.
Given that Apple ships much fewer iPads than iPhones, in order to simplify its supply chain, I believe we are likely (guaranteed) to see an Intel-only LTE modem in the iPad Pro just as we have now on the iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR.
Read also: Introducing the Mac mini Pro
I also expect to see the same or a similar Apple/USI 802.11ac MU-MIMO Wi-Fi/Bluetooth module that exists in the iPhone XS.
I also think that, like the iPhones that recently did away with it, we can finally say goodbye to the headphone jack in the iPad Pro. If you are still using wired headphones (like me), it’s time to break out that Lightning-to-Mini jack dongle, in case you haven’t been using it on both your iPhone and iPad already.
NEXT APPLE IPAD PRO: DOCK CONNECTOR AND CHARGING
This is an area that can go two different ways: Either Apple does nothing and maintains the status quo by sticking with Lightning and a USB PD-compatible charging interface, or it does something different.
Going with the 7.5W Qi charging, which the iPhone 8 and iPhone XS has, is probably out of the question.
We already know what the AirPower looks like, there’s no proof it is going to be released at this October event, and there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to lay an iPad on top of one. It would be totally unbalanced. So, while Apple could equip an iPad with Qi charging, it doesn’t appear equipped to do it with its own accessory.
I think it is very likely the updated iPad Pro will maintain the Lightning connector and USB PD from the previous model.
While USB-C-to-USB-C (Thunderbolt) connectivity, as used on the current MacBooks, would be nice and inject some long-term sanity and industry standards into the equation, there are enough people who own both iPhones and iPads that keeping two (or three) different sets of cables would be perceived as annoying.
It’s bad enough that those of us who have iPhone 7s and older phones have to keep USB-A-to-Lightning cables around. Can you imagine, in order to take advantage of the latest fast charge technologies, having to keep USB-C-to-Lightning and USB-C-to-USB-C cables (assuming you don’t already do, as a current MacBook owner), as well?
One reason for moving to a USB-C-to-USB-C dock interface would be if Apple decided to fully implement Thunderbolt on an iPad so it could be used as a makeshift workstation with a much larger external display, mouse, keyboard, and an external GPU.
This sounds like a natural evolution for the iPad Pro, particularly if we see device convergence with the Mac, and the company finally decides to take on Microsoft’s Surface professional vertical markets. I just don’t see that happening this year, though.
What technologies do you think will be introduced into the new iPad Pro? Talk Back and Let Me Know.
PREVIOUS AND RELATED COVERAGE:
Apple’s privacy tools now go beyond Europe, so more now get to download the personal data it has collected.
The new Samsung Galaxy Note 9 was just announced and we expect three new iPhones and two Google Pixel phones to launch soon. Now is the time to consider selling your current one before market prices drop or plan to participate in a trade-in program.
he major smartphone launch season is upon us and one of the first out of the gates is the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, immediately taking over the top spot in our list of best smartphones.
The mostly excellent Galaxy S9’s new features aren’t quite as good as we’d like, but you’ll probably want to buy one anyway.
Best smartphones of 2018 for tech experts TechRepublic
Looking to get a new smartphone? Here are 12 devices with the best features out now.
Twitter has been making a series of moves to improve its platform, and one in particular has drawn attention by raising the profile of a pro-Trump meme used to troll liberals. If you’ve been seeing lots of references to “NPC,” this would be why. Kevin Roose of the New York…
Apple has more in the making, according to an invite sent out to members of the press on Thursday.
The company will hold a special event at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, in the Howard Gilman Opera House on Oct 30. The event will start at 10 am EST.
It’s been expected that Apple would host another event this year, following the iPhone event in early September. During the upcoming event, the company will likely announce revamped iPad Pro models, which are rumored to include Apple’s Face ID technology and a display that goes nearly edge to edge.
Image: Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/ZDNet
Other possible announcements include updates to the Mac line, with perhaps a revamped MacBook Air, and a Mac Mini A new Apple Pencil, and an appearance of Apple’s wireless charging pad, the AirPower, are also products we might see.
Previous and related coverage:
Tim Cook will be giving an ethics speech in Europe right around the time we thought there would be a new product event. So what’s really going to happen? We have no idea, but we can guess real good.
Apple’s privacy tools now go beyond Europe, so more now get to download the personal data it has collected.
Those wanting to upgrade their iPhones currently have an interesting dilemma. And Apple store employees are very aware of it.
The new iPad Pro is the biggest and fastest Apple tablet to date. The pressure-sensitive Pencil stylus offers superior sketching and drawing, and the Pro’s gorgeous giant screen and quad speakers are ideal for split-screen apps, multitasking and watching movies.
The iPad Pro 2018 models: 8 things the pros need TechRepublic
The iPad Pro is Apple’s effort to build a tablet for the enterprise, but it would be a better business tool with these features.
If you’re reading this column, there’s a decent chance you’re among Google’s most enthusiastic users — y’know, the type of person who’s super-tuned in to the company’s latest launches and is always eager to try out the exciting new app or service of the moment.
And if you are such an individual, there’s also a decent chance you’re feeling a bit dispirited and let down right about now. The truth is, I can’t blame you. I feel that way myself.
I’m not talking about the usual “Holy moly, Google’s watching my every move!” kind of concern. No — if you’re a Google superuser, you’re well aware of the company’s business model and the options available to you in that regard. What I’m talking about is the pattern Google has established of drawing its most dedicated users into new services with lofty visions and grand promises — and then, once said users have thoroughly invested in adopting those services and integrating them into their lives, changing its tune and abandoning the efforts entirely.
It’s an all-too-familiar tale for those of us who follow Google closely — and while the notion itself is nothing new, the trend has been escalating to especially upsetting heights as of late.
Consider: In the span of a single month this fall, Google casually assassinated Inbox, the next-gen email app it unveiled to much fanfare four years earlier — and then killed off Google+, the “future of Google” social layer it spent endless energy convincing folks to embrace.
Neither was a broadly adopted service by Google’s standards, clearly. But that’s not the point. Both were services beloved by Google’s most loyal and enthusiastic users — the sort of users who spread the word about useful new products and act as (often inadvertent) ambassadors for the brand. Google emphatically urged these human beings to weave these products tightly into their lives, and then the company quietly moved on when strategies shifted and shinier opportunities arose.
With Inbox, Google’s sell was as lofty as ever: At its launch in 2014, the app was described as being something “years in the making” — a “completely different type of inbox, designed to focus on what really matters.” The engineers behind it said it was “designed for the problems we’re going to see in the next 10 years” and explicitly painted the app as being the future of not only Gmail but email itself.
The sell around Google+ might have been even grander — and the goals even more ambitious. And then there was the “cannot fail” cloud of projected confidence surrounding the whole thing. As Wired put it in 2011, when the first elements of G+ started coming into focus:
No one expects an instant success. But even if this week’s launch evokes snark or yawns, Google will keep at it. Google+ is not a product like Buzz or Wave where the company’s leaders can chalk off a failure to laudable ambition and then move on. “We’re in this for the long run,” says [then-Google+-product manager Shimrit] Ben-Yair. “This isn’t like an experiment. We’re betting on this, so if obstacles arise, we’ll adapt.”
You know what else that article noted? The fact that the “crucial test” for Google+ would be “getting loyal Google users” to embrace the service — and that one of the company’s core assets for making G+ take off was that same base of users, “the vast majority of whom trust the company.”
And that, dear friends, more than anything else, gets at what Google ultimately ended this autumn. It didn’t just kill Google+ or Inbox; it killed the trust of its users — specifically, the most enthusiastic and loyal among them.
And let’s not forget that for all the fanfare with which these services were introduced and promoted, Inbox was ended with a single tweet sent in the midst of an attention-commanding Apple event, while Google+’s demise came in the form of a broader blog post published both on a U.S. holiday and one day ahead of a headline-dominating Google hardware event. That’s bad news masking at its best (or worst, depending on your perspective).
The company’s underlying message is clear: Decisions revolve around numbers on paper, not interests of people. And nothing is sacred; whatever we’re saying today could be ancient history by tomorrow. Use our services at your own risk and with the knowledge that they may or may not be here six months from now.
Things aren’t entirely so bleak, of course: When it comes to mainstays like Gmail, Calendar, Photos, and Docs — the services that either anchor Google’s enterprise-aimed G Suite program or are core elements of the company’s mobile package — you can rest relatively easy assuming the services aren’t going anywhere.
But even there, nothing is truly certain. Remember when Hangouts was the future of Google — the single, universal, cross-platform messaging platform to rule them all? I know I’m not the only one who exerted way too much energy getting friends, family, and colleagues to change over to Hangouts with the promise that it would simplify their lives and handle all their messaging needs. And we all know how that worked out.
We could dig up countless other examples — the most comical being when Google Reader was retired in order to push people toward Google Now and Google+ for content discovery, only to have Google Now be unceremoniously abandoned soon thereafter and now Google+ also following suit — but this fall’s one-two punch of Inbox and Google+ truly exemplifies the pattern, particularly as it applies to the Google power-user community and the amount of investment involved in embracing these services.
And sure, you can always download all of your data from either — but c’mon: What are you gonna do with mountains of text-based G+ posts or piles of random Inbox reminders? The challenge of having services shut down on you so often is more about perpetually restructuring your entire workflow (and the workflows of those you counsel) than abstractly “saving your data” in some meaningless way. And yes, Google is a business, and abandoning ineffective efforts is occasionally unavoidable. When your fickleness toward your own products becomes a groan-inducing punchline, though, it’s a good sign that you’ve failed to follow through a little too often.
I’d like to be the source of eternal sunshine here and say, “Hey, it’s all right! This probably won’t happen again” — but you can only be burned so many times before you start treating the source of the flame with caution. I’m also not gonna go overboard and say no one should ever use any Google service; Google makes some genuinely useful products, many of which do thrive in a long-term sense. Taking such an extreme stance would be both over the top and silly.
But to suggest approaching any new service with caution and taking the company’s ephemeral enthusiasm for the Latest New Thing™ with a healthy grain of salt? That seems both warranted and wise. Google has taught us time and time again it cannot be trusted when it comes to commitment, and this past month served as the harshest reminder of all.
That, unfortunately, is a lesson that’s tough to unlearn.
Sign up for my weekly newsletter to get more practical tips, personal recommendations, and plain-English perspective on the news that matters.
Laptops generally lack the raw power for seriously high-level computing, which is where portable workstations come into play. With powerful processors, plentiful storage and top-notch screens these devices don’t come cheap, and are relatively rare. Lenovo’s 15.6-inch ThinkPad P1 is certified for use with ArcGIS, AutoCAD, CATIA, Creo, Inventor, Microstation, NX, PDMS, Revit, Solid Edge, SolidWorks and Vectorworks.
Laptop makers are always trying to hit a sweet spot between power, usability, build toughness, portability and price. Although the ThinkPad P1 is Lenovo’s thinnest, lightest and sleekest workstation to date, that doesn’t mean it’s particularly compact or lightweight, or that it has a low price — it starts at £1,549 (inc. VAT, £1,290.83 ex. VAT). All of these things are traded off to meet the requirements of truly powerful computing.
Lenovo has built the ThinkPad P1 to the same exacting design and build standards it employs for its ThinkPad X1 Carbon range. So the black chassis is solid and tough, with carbon fibre used to help keep the weight down and the strength up. Even so, there’s 1.7kg of weight to tote here.
This is a big beast too. The 15.6-inch screen is really a requirement for a workstation — anything smaller would not be suitable for those CAD, animation, video design and other creative tools. Even a 15.6-inch screen is a compromise when you consider the desktop monitor size used by most creatives.
But packing in an even larger screen would have boosted both the price and the size of this laptop, and the latter is plenty for a bag or backpack to cope with: 361.8mm by 245.7mm by 18.4mm. Anyone wanting to carry this beast around will also need to factor in the power brick, which is twice the usual size and also adds weight.
Given that this is a laptop aimed at those doing design tasks, Lenovo could have taken a slightly more adventurous approach with the screen arrangement. The screen will lay flat on a desk, but won’t rotate any further than that. A mobile workstation like this might benefit from a 360-degree rotating screen, to allow working with a pen in tablet mode, and to accommodate easier sharing of content. HP certainly didn’t shy away from a more modern format with its detachable ZBook X2 G4, which puts all its computing power in a tablet-style screen, to which the keyboard attaches as a separate unit.
The speakers might also have benefited from a bit more attention. There’s no problem with volume, which at 100 percent is loud enough to reach across a conference table, and there’s no distortion at top volume either. But audio quality, although quite good, could be better: this laptop needs to show off the fruits of creative labour, so sound quality should be top-notch.
I have no quibbles with the screen though. My review sample was equipped with a Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) IPS panel, which was not touch responsive. The non-reflective finish is ideal for working on details at close range. I found the 300-nits screen a bit startling at maximum brightness — the 80 percent default setting for working on battery power is as bright as I’m ever likely to need. A 3,840-by-2,160-pixel IPS touch-screen display is also available, although this doesn’t appear on any of the three preconfigured models on Lenovo’s UK website.
The keyboard is built to Lenovo’s usual high standards. Those familiar, fat-bellied keys are springy and comfortable to use, while beneath them there’s a large trackpad with two physical buttons and a scroller designed for use with the TrackPoint that sits between the G, H and B keys. It’s a standard Lenovo arrangement, and one that works very well. The two-level backlight is toggled with the Fn key and space bar, and there’s a shortcut to the Windows Snipping tool via the Fn-PrtSc key combo.
A laptop like this needs to be powerful. The entry-level preconfigured model has an Intel Core i5 8400H processor with a discrete Nvidia Quadro P1000 GPU and 8GB of RAM, but move up to the most expensive preconfigured model and you get an Intel Xeon E-2176M processor, Quadro P2000 graphics and 32GB of RAM. Memory options top out at 64GB of RAM and SSD storage at 4TB.
It’s worth noting that only the most expensive preconfigured model runs Windows 10 Pro for Workstations, while all three models have the lower-resolution FHD screen. Boosting this to the 3,840-by-2,160 touch option will add further to the price.
The three off-the-shelf models can all be customised, and their basic specifications are:
- Intel Core i5-8400H, Windows 10 Pro, 15.6-inch 1,920 x 1,080 non-touch IPS screen, Nvidia Quadro P1000 graphics, 8GB RAM, 256GB NVMe M.2 SSD
£1,549 (inc. VAT; £1,290.83 ex. VAT)
- Intel Core i7-8850H, Windows 10 Pro, 15.6-inch 1,920 x 1,080 non-touch IPS screen, Nvidia Quadro P2000 graphics, 16GB RAM, 512GB NVMe M.2 SSD
£2,379 (inc. VAT; £1,982.50 ex. VAT)
- Intel Xeon E-2176M, Windows 10 Pro for Workstations, 15.6-inch 1,920 x 1,080 non-touch IPS screen, Nvidia Quadro P2000 graphics, 32GB RAM, 1TB NVMe M.2 SSD
£3,079 (inc. VAT; £2,565.83 ex. VAT)
Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet
The ThinkPad P1 has two Thunderbolt 3 ports, a pair of USB 3.1 ports, a full-size HDMI 2.0 port, an SD card slot and a 3.5mm headphone jack. There is a fingerprint reader and an IR camera for Windows Hello, and the option for a smartcard reader. The camera that sits above the screen has the Lenovo ThinkShutter privacy cover — just slide it over the camera to avoid any accidental snooping.
It’s a little irritating that anyone wanting to use wired Ethernet will need to use an adapter for the P1’s mini-Gigabit Ethernet port, but at least a dongle is provided.
Good battery life is a must for a device like this, which needs to process demanding workloads on the move. Lenovo rates the battery as good for up to 13 hours, but I’m not convinced this can be achieved when pushing the processor and graphics. Working with a mainstream workload of writing, browsing and streaming for four hours, I depleted the battery by 40 percent with the screen at its default 80 percent brightness for working on battery power. If you’re on the road and pushing this laptop to its full potential, expect to be seeking a mains power source before the working day is out.
Considering the punch it packs, the Lenovo ThinkPad P1 is a pretty compact laptop. It’s still quite large and heavy compared to true ultraportables, but anything less than a 15.6-inch screen would compromise the ability to fulfil its workstation purpose. The display itself is superb, even in its FHD incarnation without touch support.
Lenovo’s 13-hour battery life claim is ambitious, but in the real world this device is likely to spend much of its life in the office, moving around for client sessions every now and again. The real issue is that if you want to specify top-end CPU, GPU, RAM, storage and display options, things are going to get expensive.
RECENT AND RELATED CONTENT
Thin-and-light ThinkPad P1 pitches for the portable workstation market
Lenovo’s new ThinkPad P1 workstation is certified to run programs like ArcGIS, AutoCAD and Catia, but the ability to pack 64GB of memory and 2TB of storage into an ultraportable form factor should give it wider appeal.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 6th Gen review: A peerless business ultraportable
The 2018 ThinkPad X1 Carbon remains the business laptop to beat, offering a tough chassis, an excellent keyboard and all-day battery life for all but the most demanding power users.
Lenovo ThinkPad E580 review: A well-priced 15-inch business laptop with a great keyboard
Lenovo’s ThinkPad E580 is a well-built laptop that, with smart configuration, could prove to be an attractive option for the canny business buyer.
Lenovo ThinkPad X380 Yoga review: A classy 13-inch 360-degree convertible
The X380 Yoga combines typical ThinkPad features with a 360-degree screen, keyboard lock-out in tablet modes and a bundled stylus.
HP ZBook x2 G4 Detachable Workstation review: A hybrid for creatives
The ZBook x2 G4 is a premium device with a price tag to match. If you’re looking for a workstation-class detachable with excellent pen input, it’s your best choice right now.
Read more reviews
Spotify’s latest ad features a catchy popular pop tune and “a medley of horror film tropes” in the lead-up to its final tagline, per NPR : “Killer songs you can’t resist.” But it’s just that horror theme, along with what Billboard calls a “terrifying eyeless doll,” that has now prompted a…
The days of taking care of business exclusively in an office are over. You’ve got a powerful productivity gadget in your pocket practically 24/7, after all — and with the right set of apps, you can stay synced with the same spreadsheets, documents and presentations that are on your desktop and work with them seamlessly from anywhere.
Best of all? Achieving that level of connectivity on Android no longer requires a compromise. It’s been a long time coming, but the bar has really been raised when it comes to office app quality in the Google Play Store over the past few years. The question now isn’t if you can find a worthwhile set of office apps for your phone but rather which set of commendable offerings makes the most sense for you.
I’ve spent time testing all the relevant contenders, ranging from the small-name efforts that used to dominate my recommendations to the big-name products from the more well-known productivity players. Focusing on factors such as feature availability, ease of use, ecosystem integration and overall user experience, these are the best office apps on Android today.
The best fully featured Android office apps
Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint
Microsoft was embarrassingly late to the Android app party, but since the company started taking the world’s most popular operating system seriously, its Android productivity services have been among the best around.
That remains true today with its core Office offerings: Word, for word processing; Excel, for spreadsheet editing; and PowerPoint, for presentation work. If you’re used to using the equivalent Office 365 products on the desktop — or if you just need fully featured mobile office apps with all the bells and whistles — Microsoft’s trio of Android apps is going to be your best all-around option for on-the-go productivity.
Perhaps the greatest strength of Microsoft’s Android apps is their effortless cross-platform compatibility and consistency: First, as you’d expect, all three apps handle standard Office file formats flawlessly and with pristine formatting fidelity. And beyond that, if you’re already using Word, Excel or PowerPoint in any other setting, you’ll have essentially no learning curve with the matching Android versions; the apps’ interfaces and interaction styles will be immediately familiar and easy to master.
Word, for instance, starts off with a small, scrollable toolbar — a sized-down version of the Office Ribbon. It’s a smart way to conserve space and allow you to have a large working area (especially when a virtual keyboard is present and taking up a significant portion of your screen).
Tapping an arrow at the toolbar’s right side, meanwhile, expands the toolbar into a larger form with menu sections corresponding to most of the Ribbon tabs you see in Word’s desktop or web app: Home, with common commands for basic text formatting; Insert, with the standard full range of options; Layout, with commands for adjusting your document’s margins, orientation, column configuration and so on; Review, for checking spelling or word count, managing comments and activating Track Changes mode; and View, for moving between different layouts and zoom settings.
Microsoft Word’s toolbar in its sized-down, scrollable form (at left) and when fully expanded (at right).
The Word app’s toolbar also has a Draw section, which is present in the desktop version only if your device has a touchscreen. It allows you to select from a variety of tools for drawing or highlighting directly on your document with your finger or a stylus. Missing from the app’s toolbar are Design, References and Mailings sections; most of those options are just scattered across other appropriate-seeming areas.
The same approach and expansive feature set applies to Excel and PowerPoint as well. There’s really not much of anything you can’t do with Microsoft’s Office apps on Android — including collaboration (so long as your co-workers are also in the Microsoft ecosystem) and cloud synchronization: Out of the box, the apps support both local device storage and cloud-based storage with Microsoft OneDrive, and they provide simple options for connecting cloud-based accounts from Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, and other providers for seamless in-app access.
Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint provide familiar and feature-packed interfaces on Android.
The one asterisk to all of this: In order to get the apps’ complete set of features — or to use the apps at all on devices with screens that are 10.1 in. or larger — you’ll have to pay for an Office 365 subscription, which runs $70 per year for individuals, $100 per year for families (with up to five users), or $99 per user per year for businesses. That subscription unlocks a laundry list of advanced options, including the abilities to track and review changes, change page orientation, insert page breaks, and apply custom colors to text, shapes, and cells.
Assuming you already have such a subscription for desktop access, going with Word, Excel and PowerPoint on Android is pretty much a no-brainer. If you aren’t already subscribed and don’t necessarily need office apps with oodles of advanced features, though, the next option might be the better fit for you.
The best Android office apps for more basic needs
‘Twas a time when Google’s mobile office apps were barely usable, bare-bones affairs. Make no mistake about it: Those days are no more.
Nowadays, Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides are thoroughly polished and impressively capable on-the-go productivity tools. They boast tight integration with the broader Google ecosystem, along with a first-class system for syncing, collaboration and effortless cross-device access.
That last item is a critical part of the apps’ appeal. If you’re already invested in the Google ecosystem, personally or professionally — using Google Drive for storage, Gmail for email and so on — Docs, Sheets and Slides will fit naturally into your existing setup. You’ll use your same Google account to access them (and you won’t even have to sign in at all from your phone, since your account is already connected at the operating system level). You’ll be able to work on colleagues’ shared files right from your regular interface. And everything you do will be connected to your Drive storage and easily accessible from most any Google app on any device or platform.
The Docs, Sheets and Slides Android apps are easy to navigate and have all the basic features you’d expect for their respective categories. In Docs, for instance, you can style text, insert tables, adjust alignment and insert a variety of different types of bulleted lists. In Sheets, you can style and merge cells, create charts and find and use all sorts of common spreadsheet functions. And in Slides, you can use rich formatting tools, add speaker notes and insert your own custom backgrounds.
Google Docs and Sheets have easy-to-use interfaces with all the basic features you’d expect.
Google also adds in some distinctive touches, such as Docs’ Explore function, which allows you to search both your past work and the full web right within the word processor and then view results alongside your document — even inserting text or images from other sources directly into your current work, if the need arises. In Sheets, meanwhile, you can use Google’s Cast function to wirelessly show a presentation on any Cast-compatible TV or display without any special configuration.
Google Docs’ Explore function allows you to perform advanced searches in a split-screen view and then insert images or text directly into your document.
It’s in the more traditional advanced word processing, spreadsheet and presentation commands that Google’s apps lag a bit behind Microsoft’s — not being able to style tables within documents from the Docs app, for example, or not being able to sort rows within a spreadsheet in Sheets. If you need those sorts of beyond-the-basics capabilities, Google’s apps won’t be right for you.
Docs, Sheets and Slides also use proprietary Google file formats instead of the typical Microsoft formats — but practically speaking, that really isn’t a big deal anymore. Google makes it incredibly easy to import and open any common file format, and it makes it equally painless to export and share your files in any format you need.
Google’s apps are completely free for individual use, without any restrictions. For enterprises that require a fully managed setup, the company’s G Suite program starts at $5 per user per month.
The best Android app for scanning documents and images
The simplest, most effective and most versatile tool for scanning and processing physical documents from your Android phone is Microsoft’s free Office Lens app. Office Lens fires up your phone’s camera and starts looking for scan-ready objects as soon as you open it, and it quickly and consistently identifies relevant areas of content to capture — whether they’re part of a business card, a paper document, a photo, a whiteboard, or even a computer screen.
Whatever the case may be, Office Lens does all the heavy lifting for you: All you have to do is confirm what type of content you’re collecting and then tap a shutter button to make the capture occur. Office Lens will then show you the final result and allow you to edit or recrop if needed — but in my experience, the app is spot on more often than not, and adjustments are rarely required.
From there, it’s up to you what happens next: Office Lens can simply save the image as a JPG to your phone’s local gallery, or you can instruct the app to upload the captured content to OneDrive for further processing — most notably as a share-ready PDF or as a plain-text Word document, in which all visible text from your capture is extracted and ready to be copied and pasted wherever you need.
Office Lens can also save the resulting file into your Microsoft OneNote account or place it directly into a PowerPoint presentation. Annoyingly, the app offers no options for connecting directly with non-Microsoft services, but all it takes is a couple of extra taps to share anything you’ve scanned — as a regular image, a text-oriented document or a PDF file — to any other service present on your phone.
Office Lens brings a potent combination of power and simplicity to smartphone-based document scanning.
If you do use Microsoft’s services, Office Lens will allow you to search the text of all your saved scans within OneDrive. It can also extract contact details from scanned business cards and then save that info directly into your OneNote storage.
And if you prefer Google services, by the way, Google Drive has its own Android widget for scanning. It’ll save your image as a PDF in your Drive storage and make its text searchable to you there — but that’s about it; all in all, Drive’s scanning feature is significantly less versatile and powerful than Microsoft’s standalone equivalent.
The best Android app for creating, editing and annotating PDFs
If you ever need to create, edit or mark up PDFs from your phone, Xodo PDF Reader & Editor is the app you want. The free utility has everything you could possibly need for mobile PDF management — and it’s incredibly easy to use.
Xodo allows you to create new PDFs from images, documents and web pages. It’ll even let you create a blank PDF, which you can then fill with your own text or handwritten elements. The app has a simple feature for merging multiple PDFs together into a single file and even modifying existing PDFs to add, remove or change the order of their pages.
On the annotation front, Xodo provides a robust set of tools for highlighting text, underlining text, adding new text or handwritten elements, and adding Post-It-like comments onto a PDF. It also has a signature feature that lets you sign any PDF on the spot or store your signature so you can stamp it with a couple of quick taps in the future.
From text highlighting to simple signature placement, Xodo gives you a complete toolbox for on-the-go PDF editing.
Seems to good to be true for a free app, right? That was certainly my first thought: What’s the catch? But Xodo swears it never collects or stores any personally identifiable info or attempts to sell any of your data as part of this program. Instead, the company relies on enterprise licensing and the licensing of its underlying technology to turn a profit. Win-win, right?
And with that, your Android office app power-pack is complete. Don’t forget: We’ll tackle messaging apps, including email, next. For now, time to take a brief break (I recommend a grape soda) and then think about what other categories of standout software could help supercharge your mobile productivity setup. Note-taking apps? Travel apps? Maybe some clever apps for making your phone more efficient?
Whatever you need, I’ve got you covered.