Friday, 27 July 2012

The Olympics - Fun and Games?

Tonight, the lights go up and the UK opens its doors to the world's oldest, and greatest sporting event - The Olympic Games. But what does it mean for the sports and the athletes that represent them?

Before I get onto sport I must start with the laughing stock that LOCOG has become. If you've missed the talking points, where on earth have you been?? Due to overwhelmingly, laughably strict regulations on sponsorship and advertising, LOCOG and the companies it represents, have reversed a manageable situation into a PR nightmare. McDonalds for example have paid to be the official food provider? Anyway, that's fine. It's a bit odd having a sporting event which involves the world's elite athletes, paired with a chain of fast food restaurants, but its a free market! When this is a problem however is when the a builder is asked to remove the Greggs wrapping from his pasty in case the news channels catch a glimpse. Seriously. The overly strict measures have encouraged unsurprising responses; Paddy Power for example pushing the boundaries in every conceivable way.

Or how about the banner below that went viral very, very quickly. Simple. Ambush marketing tactics have been adopted by the likes of Nike as well. 

Now I understand why these regulations are in place - the official sponsors plunge a vast amount of money into the Olympics and they need to be convinced to do so.
     After London 2012 however, I wonder whether these providers will need more convincing as to whether the sponsorship of the Olympics is indeed a worthwhile investment. Aside from the billions they spend to be a sponsor. Is the Olympic footfall and exposure (which let's face it is probably unnecessary for many sponsors) enough to counter-act the damage to brand image that many sponsors are experiencing?

The exclusivity of pairing with the Olympics is obviously a tempting proposition. However, given the PR issues these companies are facing, LOCOG would be well advised to consider alternative, less invasive restrictions ahead of Rio 2016.

But what about for some of the sports involved? For the development of Women's football I believe the Olympics means a great deal. An extended run in the tournament could see Women's football recognised as a far more prominent part of the commercial sporting Britain. It would bring the whole UK to their feet in cheer and support for British women's football. The emotional importance to this link cannot be underestimated. Opposing that however is the prospect of failure, and whilst not harming the development of the Women's game in Britain a great opportunity would have been missed. So in that respect there is a great deal of pressue on the women's football team to represent not only their country, but their sport.

I read the news that Gareth Bale had exaggerated his injury to avoid playing in Olympics, not with surprise, but sadness and anger. The actions of Bale is simply the tip of an iceberg that simply devalues the Olympics - "The World's Greatest Sporting Event". In my opinion, sports such as football and tennis should be dropped from the Olympics. Sports where the Olympics is not viewed as the pinnacle should remain separate. The British view the World Cup as the biggest footballing stage; Wimbledon as the Tennis equivalent. Is Andy Murray psyched about playing in the Olympics? Is Craig Bellamy? Those that are excited are the younger players, or those from countries that would view the World Cup as a distant dream. If either of these groups had a shot at Wimbledon or the World Cup, would the Olympics pale into insignificance? Unfortunately the answer is probably yes. For runners, jumpers, throwers, swimmers, cyclists and many more, the Olympics is the pinnacle. The outstanding stage that they train for years to reach. The stage should be saved for these people, not those that join the bandwagon to boost viewing figures.
     The Olympics offers a platform for an expansion of interest. In my old sport, athletics, there is a potential for a sport that has slid from public attention, in as dramatic a way as county cricket, to be rejuvenated. All it takes is for success - Jess Ennis perhaps, or Holly Bleasedale. For one moment, the attention of Britain, and the world will be on them. Success results in interest. In youngsters wanting to imitate heros. Maybe Adam Gemili? Not necessarily winning, but perhaps making the final or running under 10 seconds. These moments, and events, are once in a lifetime and the knock-on effect is potentially staggering. In a similar way to Women's Football, a strong performance from Team GB athletics team can inspire generations, and put the sport of athletics centre stage once again. A weak performance and athletics risks further falling away from public attention. No pressure...
     I've focussed on these sports, not because they are the most significant, absolutely not; but because they are where my knowledge base lies.

Whatever happens at the Olympics; be it a flag-based fiasco irritating the one country one would advise not to piss-off, or the return of the wettest year in record. British cynicism doesn't endure events like these. The country will get behind it, and make it The Greatest Show on Earth.

Let the Games begin!

P.S All comments encouraged!

Monday, 23 July 2012

An Apple a day? Not for me!

Someone asked me recently; "How can you be a tech person, and not like Apple, or own anything 'Apple'? The question surprised me and made me think: Why don't I like Apple and its products? Furthermore, can you be a tech person and dislike Apple? The simple answer is, of course, yes.

But what is my problem with Apple and its products?

Apple, quite unashamedly places the majority of its products at the high end of the pricing spectrum which, in my eyes, requires a justification for that expenditure. Now don't get me wrong, I am happy to pay good money for good technology however I simply struggle to justify the extra cost for those Apple products. I can just about get over the extra for the iPad (which as a sidenote is still the best tablet, but the Nexus 7 is going to be the first Android tablet to test it), but the extra for iPhone contracts, iMacs and MacBooks seems extortionate. Here's an example; a friend of mine purchased an iMac (27") for £1500. We were playing FIFA on it but it lagged, and lagged. Why? Because Skype was running in the background. Now come on - the equipment you could purchase (minus the Apple logo) for that kind of money would by far exceed the spec on that iMac. But unforunately most won't do the research. But those costs pale in comparison to my bewilderment at the cost of the accessories. However good the quality of materials in a charger, surely it cannot justify anywhere near £60? How?!

Maybe it is because of this cost that Apple has become so very clichy. There is no argument against it - Apple is clichy. (Thumbs-up to the marketing team). Now I'm certainly not clumping all Apple consumers into this category but those that do fall into the 'fanboy' group do wind me up. It's these people who were outraged that Instagram became available on Android and continue to insist that Android have copied iOS every step of the way (and happily ignore when iOS copies Android). It's this feeling of being in an exclusive group which provides some consumers with some sort of meaningless superiority. But let's be clear once more. Apple products certainly are not flawless. One thing that bugs me when I discuss Apple products with people is the 'Apple products don't get viruses' line. Let's put this straight; Yes they do. That is why Apple install, or at least recommend, extra virus protection. Apple's reputation has carried from their 'pre-boom' days when Apple was less popular. Microsoft had problems with viruses because of their popularity, they were an obvious target. Apple - less so. However, given the rapid increase in the popularity of Apple, they are now being targeted, and infected. In fact, in 2011, the Pwn2Own conference discovered Safari to be the easiest browser to hack. It took just 5 seconds. One other thing, (which in the same token indirectly complements Apple's marketing team), is this 'sequences shortened' hidden extra on an advert. Haven't spotted it? Have a close look because it only flashes up for a second. This prompted suings in Australia for misrepresentation of the workings of the iPad (Yes, its not quite so quick to sync etc!) Brilliant advertising, minus the music which style is beginning to grain...but essentially fooling consumers.

Its the focus on design (and Apple products do look fantastic) over substance which I take issue with. I see it as a matter of preference, and unfortunately, fashion. My focus when purchasing a computing device is on spec. For example, I like a good camera on my phone, my HTC One X has a greatly-superior camera to the Apple iPhone 4S. I believe the One X looks good but more importantly it has fantastic hardware - and software. It would irritate me if every 18 months another slightly different version of what I have is released. Not different in design (if it is, it isn't noticeable) but in minor hardware or software changes. Apple owners - doesn't that irritate you? Do you not get bored? To me iOS is tired and dull. I would be interested to hear your thoughts. I guess I like to have choice. not between 32gb and 64gb but between manufacturer and style, with the option of customisation. For example, I like the large screen phones. Not quite Samsung Galaxy Note, but not million miles off. Apple does not offer consumers this option.

Many reading this won't agree with me, and fair enough. It's become quite a vicious battle between the Anti-Apple brigade and the Apple-fanboys. The fact of the matter is that the people who are benefiting from this competition is the consumer as the companies are pushing, as quickly as possible, the limits of tech knowledge. I love my HTC One X and I wouldn't change it for anything right now. I'm sure that some readers feel exactly the same about their phones, be it an iPhone 4S or Samsung Galaxy Note etc (not a BlackBerry though, we all know that would be a mistake.)

Do I hate Apple products? Not particularly, no. I appreciate that they offer the consumer a solid piece of kit that is functional. What I do hate is the 'Apple World' where as long as an 'i' is placed in front of a product, it is often blindly considered superior. It is simply not the case. The purpose of this blog is to open peoples eyes to the prospect of other manufacturers producing better equipment and dispell the myth that in mobile phones and computing, Apple is in its own league.

I anticipate, and encourage comments. I look forward to a discussion!