Windows 8 for business and for home

10 04 2013

I know most organisations are either stuck on Windows XP or migrated a short while back to Windows 7. Typically (or should I say historically) organisations seem to embrace every other version of Windows, which puts them on a 4-5 year upgrade cycle. So any ideas that businesses are shunning Windows 8 because of it new tile start screen isn’t quite accurate.

What is true is the fact that no matter what Windows 8 was, businesses wouldn’t look to update until Windows 9 was released, and most of us thought that would be approximately 2 years after the release of 8, so September / October 2014. However, with Microsoft’s recent announcements of Blue being available at the end of the year, it seems that Microsoft is now looking for annual releases of its OS, and since that OS is now essentially across all devices, that includes mobile, tablet, laptop and good old desktops. So this new release cycle from Microsoft will no doubt have an impact on how businesses look to their upgrades.

 

Give it a short amount of time and you come to love the start screen in your business

Give it a short amount of time and you come to love the start screen in your business

 

Windows 8 now

My own company, CloudZync, is using Windows 8 for the majority of users (though I will be honest, some are on Windows 7 still) and I must say, having both operating systems in the organisation hasn’t caused a single issue. But, I have noticed that when I move back to Windows 7 I’m starting to get a little frustrated. It seems the start screen has become something of a blessing, even though I spend I would say 85%+ of my time on the desktop side of the OS. I really wouldn’t listen to those who say the OS its jarring and moving between “Metro” and “desktop” is confusing, because it simply isn’t. Sure there are some things you need to learn but they are so easy, like just put your pointer in a corner of the screen, that pretty much sums up what you need to know as the rest is very intuitive (well I think – especially when compared to other operating systems out there). Sure there are some things that frustrate me with Windows 8, but that’s true of every single OS and piece of software I think I have ever used.

I’m glad we have Windows 8 now in the organisation as with Microsoft’s new OS releases being mainly “upgrades” I think moving between Windows 8 and newer releases will be quite a seamless and painless experience.  I expect Blue to be more about upgrades to Windows 8, addressing some of those user frustrations and bringing even more seamless experiences between the OS and the cloud.

 

Intuitive

I do find I get very frustrated with peoples take on what intuitive is. I’m sorry, but something isn’t un-intuitive because it doesn’t work like something else you are used to. That means it’s just different. Intuitive for me means I should be able to logically understand where something maybe. When moving to iOS I have to say I found it very un-intuitive, yet most people say it’s an easy to use OS, which it is, once you know all the little oddities of it. That doesn’t make it a highly intuitive OS. If I handed iOS to my Dad for example he would hate it, and moan like hell about it. (He recently looked at the iPhone, Samsung Galaxy and Nokia Lumia devices, he went with the Lumia as he said that one made sense to him how to use it, the others would require him to learn the UI). Likewise, things on Windows 8 are different to 7, and many of us at first think “wow 8 is so un-intuitive” because it’s different to what we have learnt. But if you come at with no expectations, and don’t think it should be the same as something else, you soon find that actually, it’s a very intuitive OS. Sure there are some odd things that aren’t intuitive, but just like iOS, once you know them they seem brilliant and then obvious.

 

Windows 8 in your organisation

There are some real nice features when you start moving all devices to Microsoft’s latest OS. I have a Windows 8 phone, Windows 8 PC, Windows 8 netbook (which since I have had access to an RT hasn’t been used) and a Microsoft Surface RT. When switching between devices it’s amazing how much is synchronised and how easy it is to be working on one, then switch to the other. I would say improvements could be made for sure, but as a work environment, it really is second to none.

Yes I am aware of how improved Apple is in this department, but I too have an iPhone for testing our software on and our CEO uses his iPad consistently. What I’ve noticed is though anything that is a bit more work focussed or requires greater attention, he has to switch back to the desktop PC, while I’m equally happy on any of the Windows 8 devices (granted I don’t like editing office files on my phone but it’s not that bad).

Moving forward, Windows 8+ is a no brainer for me. Tablets that double up as real desktop, desktop and tablets seamlessly acting together and don’t forget a wide selection of Windows 8 phones that bring it all together on your mobile. For an organisation, it makes almost no sense to splash cash on anything other than Windows devices, all you do is add in another level of complexity that simply doesn’t need to be there, and worse, you have to spend much more money.

Think of this example, my sister in law is a sales rep. She has an iPad which she uses to show prospective clients items they can stock, great, it’s a nice experience. However, if the client wants to purchase or look at anything in real detail, then she has to get out her laptop and boot that up and use bespoke software on there to complete her sale. She is essentially carrying around 2 devices, one of which is being used as a glorified catalogue, something that just presents well. Now if her organisation had purchased a Windows 8 tablet then that’s all she would need to carry. She can replace the iPad delivering the same experience and then still have all the power of her legacy apps available on the tablet. It would have saved her company a tidy sum…

 

Organisation Upgrades

No matter your take on Windows 8, there is no doubt in my mind that come October 2014 we will start seeing mass migration of organisations away from Windows XP and 7 in favour of 8, Blue or whatever it will be called by then. What will be hard is how the media (especially tech bloggers) look at this, will they then say Windows 8 was a disaster like Vista but Windows 9 is amazing? Or will they finally grasp that their rather 90’s view of desktop computing is dead and that the desktop is very much on the same cycle as mobile operating systems and their wireless upgrades?





iPhone 5: What Apple got right

13 09 2012

September 12th was the big day and Apple finally showed us their new iPhone 5. However there wasn’t anything there that many of us didn’t know about already, such was the extent of leaks leading up to this event.  So far the reaction to the event is one of underwhelming acceptance…It seems that Apple hasn’t been an innovative company for some time now, rather everything they do is playing catch-up with other people’s ideas and innovations while attempting to maximise and squeeze yet more revenue from their current customers. This, Apple does exceptionally well at…

iPhone 5, it got no NFC right at least: Picture from engadget

Catch up on the iPhone 5 launch event here at engadget

So while there are many blogs, articles, reviews out there that show what’s wrong with the iPhone 5, and there is quite a list, I am going to focus on something they did get right, and that flies in the face of all the technology journalists, who on this subject often show they know nothing about technology and or business combined…Apple got it right when they opted NOT to include NFC in their device.

 

No NFC for the iPhone

While many reviewers are saying this is dangerous omission I have to say it’s highly sensible. If you believe what tech journalists are saying, then we should all be making NFC enabled mobile payments pretty much now, and they have based this belief not on fact, rather on marketing gumph from a few companies out there, VISA, Google and a bunch of phone networks. What they all fail to take into account is that customer experience is being put ahead of practicality, security and cost. In the real world, this means most businesses will not be using it.

The payments industry is pretty much in a mess, there is nothing wrong with the customer experience of using cash or cards, yet there is a common belief amongst businesses and customers that they should be able to make payments with their mobile device. This has lead to endless different approaches to mobile payments, almost all of which centre around NFC capabilities. However, let’s just think for a moment. Cards are not secure things; we know this by how easy it is to make fraudulent transactions, especially in a digital age. NFC is not a secure form of communication, VISA even state this in their own Patent applications. So put the two together and you get…A great demonstration of how we can use mobiles to make contactless payments, but ultimately a nightmare for merchants with endless costs and charge backs, essentially fraudsters saying “don’t mind if I do”. No wonder most merchants say “no thank you”….

Other phone manufacturers may have embraced NFC in their devices, but even then, each manufacturer and device OS uses it in different ways. Just because your device supports NFC doesn’t mean it supports contactless payments. We see this mess with Googles own Wallet only being able to support the one bank card, its own pre-paid card having to be pulled and you not being able to use your Google Wallet at a typical contactless payment point. Throw in the fact that the phone carriers want a bit of the NFC action and you can quickly see how messy this environment is. Sure it’s competitive, but it’s competitive because no one is doing the same thing and everyone is arguing over who owns what part of an NFC based transaction. Even Microsoft’s Windows 8 phones support NFC based transactions, but you need to get yourself a secured NFC SIM with your card details on it. Not exactly lending itself to you simply adding all your payment cards to the device. But this is because the phone carriers want some of the payment transaction action, and it’s a way to stay friends (at the detriment of practicality, customer experience and security).

I haven’t even spoke about costs of supporting NFC for the merchant, which essentially means new hardware, firmware, support and maintenance for that hardware and perhaps updates to their POS if they want to distinguish between a chip and pin card transaction, signature, card not present, or contactless payment, even mobile contactless payment.

So while so many seem to be singing the praises of NFC and perhaps mentioning concerns that the iPhone 5 doesn’t have NFC, I would say no NFC for Apple is a wise move. Apple usually only embrace a technology once it really has proved itself, so not to deter from the customer experience of using their devices. NFC is no different….As a reviewer of the iPhone 5 there are many areas of concern, lack of NFC is for sure not one of them…





Windows Phone 8 Summit

21 06 2012

It’s been a big week for Microsoft, first on Monday its big surprise, the arrival of Surface tablets, Microsoft’s own branded tablet hardware running Windows 8 RT or Windows 8 Pro, and yesterday (Wednesday) Microsoft lifting the covers on Windows Phone 8.

What has amazed me is that for once, I didn’t feel let down by Microsoft presentation, nor the actual products they are delivering. For my look at Microsoft Surface read here.

Windows Phone 8

So what are the big things with Windows Phone 8, and why might Windows Phone finally grab some market share?

Windows Phone new start screen

Windows Phone 8 start screen (right) provides greater flexibility to the user, and delivers more info through live tiles on the start screen than before

Well it’s been broken down into 8 areas; however I won’t run through all of them just the big ones.  Firstly, new hardware. Microsoft is actually supporting smart phone hardware that all other smart phones have, so that’s dual core technology, greater screen resolution etc. What is testament to the Windows Phone OS is that it has been quicker than any other mobile phone OS while running on hardware that really doesn’t stack up. If you have paid attention to any of the “smoked by Windows Phone” campaigns, then you will see that on day to day tasks, things that really matter, the Windows Phone devices beat all comers easily. Impressive.

The second thing, and probably the most important, is that Windows Phone 8 is running off the same core code as the full version of Windows 8. Now that may not sound that impressive, but it actually is. That means Microsoft has delivered on its one OS across all devices. From a developers point of view it means writing drivers once, it means writing applications once and then following some simple steps to quickly port to Windows Phone. In addition, Windows Phone now supports native code, which will open up the device to many more games and apps, and make life easier for people to move a game from iOS to Windows Phone for example. We must remember that Microsoft has the largest developer network out there, and all of a sudden these developers can write code that works on any device. We must also remember that Windows Phone market place (app store) is growing at quite a good rate at the moment, nothing spectacular but not bad. In recent reports and surveys we see that many app developers have been holding off for Windows 8, knowing they would have greater cross over across all devices then, and knowing they will have better features to access. This move to the one OS for all devices, though technically very tricky (lets face it Microsoft is the only company actually daring to do this) may well be the right decision – I for one can see endless benefits which will no doubt help Windows the brand. Another benefit here is re-use of code from other Microsoft applications, a great example being IE10. It seems IE10 is a bit of a new thing, and its the same IE10 engine across all Windows 8 devices – including Windows Phone 8. For website developers that makes life soooo much easier, in addition to the end user, it means a mobile browser that delivers all the features of a full fledged browser. Microsoft have worked hard here to make it the quickest mobile browser available, and looking at like for like comparisons, it is now leading the way. (Just a shame many will just here IE and groan, I want Chrome or something without using it). I personally hated IE until the release of IE9. You can’t argue with IE9, its a great browser, and IE10 seems to be now the best out there…Mind you has taken Microsoft long enough on that front!

The third thing is maps. Now Apple with iOS 6 has made a massive break with Google maps, and though Apples own app looks stunning (as to be expected) when you actually start comparing with what they did have, I fear users may be let down. Apple maps simple don’t have the same level of detail as Google maps, nor does it support different forms of transportation (so only plans journey if I am driving) and it’s not as fast. This will be a concern for many iOS users (though I am sure many will say iOS maps are much better – and that will be based on an Apple blog which shows the improved graphics etc.) I would hedge my bets that many will update to iOS 6 and then go straight to the app store and search out Google Maps and Google drive. Anyone who has spent some time looking at mapping on mobile devices and drive navigation will know that Nokia here is a very long way ahead. Even Microsoft has admitted that its own Bing maps cannot compete, so what they have done is teamed up to deliver Nokia maps and Nokia drive across all Windows Phone 8 devices. Thats a big deal, it means Windows Phone will have by far the best mapping system possible on a mobile device, it also means with the new live tiles some added richness – such as your app learning your most common routes and your live tile telling you how long your journey home will be before you even leave!

Finally, the start screen. Metro has been highly successful and well received and many phone reviewers love the Windows Phone OS, its just a shame the public hasn’t really gotten to see it that much. That I feel is down to the historic name of Windows on a mobile and or the hardware used. I have heard many people say they wont buy a Nokia because they didnt like the Nokia they had 6 years ago….Thats not a good thing, but it does show that with some exposure and sales reps pushing the devices, there is room to increase sales drastically. Some may say Metro is too restrictive, but with the updated metro UI on Windows Phone 8, the user really can personalise their phone to a greater extent. That’s a good thing, and it means all the benefits of live tiles actually just got better. You can now see a host of information on your home screen set out how you want it. I know widgets provide some comparison to a live tile, however they are big and clunky. Live tiles in this new format have got better, with 3 different sizes allowing the live tile to show basic, medium, or highly detailed information.  See the above screen shot comparing Windows Phone 7 Metro start screen with Windows Phone 8. Remember you can configure those tiles however you want. I personally think the new home screen makes other OS home screens look rather dated and clunky. A sea of static icons is never good, no matter how much art work you put into them…

The competition

I’m not going to get carried away and say Windows Phone 8 is going to take the market by storm, simply because of the history involved with mobile, and the fact that at present, Windows Phone has around 2% market share in the US and about 4% everywhere else. That’s not good. The smart phone market is dominated by the iPhone and the multitude of Android devices, so gaining market share is going to be tough. But it seems many of the technical barriers have now gone. There will be more apps, apps that you love on iOS are already on their way, there will be more power in the hardware, greater capabilities and features you will come to expect from Windows 8 across all your devices that you simply won’t get with anyone else (be you an end user or a developer). But, and it’s a big but, users will need to know their fav apps are in the marketplace or they simply wont jump ship and move to Windows Phone. There are still apps missing re productivity, business and games that are real barriers to entry for people who have had their smart phone devices for a few years. Only once these apps are available will Windows Phone 8 be on a level playing field in the eye of the consumer.

However, on a positive note, with Windows 8 hitting PCs later this year, people will become accustom to the Metro UI, and though at first, I think many will feel intimidated by the change, I’m positive that the change will be for the better.  Once users get used to it, it makes sense they will look at Windows tablets, as the UI, the experience is the same…From tablets, we then move to mobile phones, and again, its the same UI, the same apps, the same experience. All of a sudden, life is a lot easier for the average consumer, to quote Apple “it just works”. I see this as the foundation from which Microsoft and its mobile partners can build upon and get some market traction. (As long as those key apps are there)

Business market

I must not forget that Windows Phone 8 also included a bunch of business functionality that no doubt will have the enterprise looking at Windows Phone devices. This functionality is mainly around security, but also the fact that the enterprise can get its own hub on the device, and deliver its own apps to the devices without having to go through the Windows Marketplace. That’s a big deal. Throw into the equation that it’s the same UI across all devices, that they can secure and manage all devices in the same way and Windows Phone is all of a sudden a great idea for business. Oh I didn’t mention full blown office, sharepoint or lync either.

Business may even see Windows Phone adoption as a way of getting users ready and used to the move to the Metro UI either in a Windows 8 update or more than likely, Windows 9 when it is released.

Focus

Finally I wanted to say that I’m glad Microsoft has focused on the things that its users want, and have pointed out. In the IT world the old 80-20 rule should apply to most things, and though you may not get all the functions you can get on the latest Android device or iOS 6, what you do get is 80% of those functions working a hell of a lot slicker. For almost all of the consumers out there, even that 80% of functionality is too much, with most of it never getting used.

What I found surprising this week after sitting through the iOS 6 launch and then the Windows Phone 8 launch, is how much of iOS 6 was about adding functionality that Windows Phone and Android already have, and focus on things that demo very very well, but in the real world are a little gimmicky or lack substance (though I often find this with Apple products). I have spent some time with the new Galaxy device, and what a bit of hardware and such a rich set of features. But, in doing 95% of my tasks that I use a phone for, it had me frustrated. What I would say to anyone is actually spend some time using the OSs available, find out the best ways to access facebook, twitter, news, stocks and shares, calender functions etc and then compare. Play with the devices as if you were using them on a daily basis before you judge any of the mobile operating systems available. Unfortunatly in the modern world, it seems too many people simply voice opinion not based on any form of facts. I find this frustrating, but also missleading to others. So my advice, use the operating systems for yourself before you judge any of them….I have, and though I find more on iOS and Android, I know I wont use those features. When I compare like for like with the features, apps etc that I use, I find my daily tasks etc are done better with Windows Phone.

I’m glad MS hasn’t gone into a feature race as such, rather it is focusing on what the majority of us use our mobile devices for, and made that experience better than its competitors. That’s typically an Apple trait, perhaps MS is out “Appleing” Apple….





Microsoft Surface arrives

19 06 2012

Monday June 18th was a weird day in the tech world, for once Microsoft managed to create a buzz and a stir regarding an announcement they were to make, yet no one knew what that would be. This felt more like an Apple announcement than anything we have come to expect from Microsoft – which is a good thing and lead to a lot of speculation.  I too joined in with that speculation, believing that Microsoft was to announce a 7” eReader device with new partners Barnes and Noble, how wrong could I have been…

Microsoft Surface Tablet, showing off its built in stand and magentic cover that doubles as a keyboard

Microsoft Surface Family

We now know that Microsoft has announced a family of tablets named Surface. For those of you who keep up to date with technology, you would already have heard of the Surface name from Microsoft, that particular product being a multi-touch enabled table device that was highly focused and sold to businesses. Now though Surface is the brand name for Microsoft’s own made tablet devices, meaning Microsoft has gone into the tablet market in a big way.

This is a bold move from Microsoft and quite a break from tradition. Typically Microsoft doesn’t do hardware, rather it lets its OEM partners build the hardware and Microsoft focuses on the software. However, in recent years it seems the hardware that runs Windows just doesn’t look as sexy as anything produced by Apple, none of the devices have that wow factor which can only harm sales. The latest ultimate laptops are starting to compete, but it has taken a long time for many of the OEMs to get with the game and start designing good looking, light weight hardware. I can’t help feeling that Microsoft has been forced into delivering its own hardware for the tablet market, simply because it cannot rely on OEMs to deliver hardware that looks as sexy as that produced by Apple.

Microsoft Surface Devices

Essentially Microsoft has shown us two tablets, one that runs Windows 8 RT on an ARM based processor tablet, and the other, running full blown Windows 8 pro on a tablet powered by an Intel Ivy Bridge processor. Here is some information on the specs:

  • A full-size USB port and a 16:9 aspect ratio angled at 22 degrees.
  • 10.6-inch, 16:9 widescreen HD Display.
  • Integrated Kickstand: Built-in kickstand lets users move Surface from active use to passive consumption.
  • Touch Cover: 3 mm pressure-sensitive Touch Cover senses keystrokes as gestures will come in different colors.

    Microsoft Surface Magnetic Covers that are keyboards

Surface for Windows RT

  • OS: Windows RT
  • Light(1): 676 g
  • Thin(2): 9.3 mm
  • Clear: 10.6″ ClearType HD Display
  • Energized: 31.5 W-h
  • Connected: microSD, USB 2.0, Micro HD Video, 2×2 MIMO antennae
  • Productive: Office ‘15′ Apps, Touch Cover, Type Cover
  • Practical: VaporMg Case & Stand
  • Configurable: 32 GB, 64 GB

Surface for Windows 8 Professional

  • OS: Windows 8 Professional
  • Light(1): 903 g
  • Thin(2): 13.5 mm
  • Clear: 10.6-inch ClearType Full HD Display
  • Energized: 42 W-h
  • Connected: microSDXC, USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort Video, 2×2 MIMO antennae
  • Productive: Touch Cover, Type Cover, Pen with Palm Block
  • Practical: VaporMg Case & Stand
  • Configurable: 64 GB, 128 GB

    Microsoft Surface with its own stand

From the specs I would suggest that Microsoft is going after the business user and home users who like to do more / want to do more with tablet devices. I think this is a wise move as Apple devices still have a very long way to go to get real market share in the enterprise. For any business looking into tablet devices, Microsoft Surface has just made their choice a no brainer. Get Surface for Windows 8 professional and you get the best world of a fully blown ultimate laptop, combined with the flexibility, portability and battery life of a tablet – not to mention the capabilities to hook the device seamlessly into your network at work and run legacy applications if needs be. Why would any business opt for an iPad now?

With regards to home users, Microsoft has really only targeted those users who want a tablet in place of their laptop. Until now, the problem has been for many users (including myself) is that I would love the flexibility of a tablet device, yet I potentially want all the power a laptop provides, meaning I would need to purchase both. Microsoft Surface has changed that, and with the neat magnetic cover doubling as a real keyboard, Microsoft has basically removed my need for a netbook or laptop. For me, and I am sure many other users, Microsoft has moved us to a desktop and tablet only world with the laptop for some acting as a desktop.

OEMs

One of the reasons I personally didn’t think Microsoft would build their own tablets, was that of Microsoft’s relationships with OEMs such as Samsung, Asus etc. It does seem harsh that Microsoft now will actually compete against them in the tablet market, but after spending some time thinking about this move, Microsoft may actually be helping them.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe some of the OEMs will be a little annoyed at Microsoft Surface, however Microsoft is in a far better position to get marketing and the tech world reviewing Windows 8 by having their own hardware. In addition, Microsoft is actually setting the bar quite high in terms of design, and what consumers will now expect from a Windows 8 tablet device. Let’s look at Windows Phone as a comparison.

When Windows Phone launched there was quite some anticipation, however the devices launched by the OEMs (Samsung, HTC etc.) actually were not that attractive to look at. The hardware specs were not that great, and compared to some Android devices and the iPhone, the Windows Phone looked quite underpowered. What is the saving grace is the actual OS itself; however, many people base their phone purchase on how the device actually looks. Only now with Nokia Lumia devices are we seeing some aesthetically pleasing Windows Phone devices, and with that, a little more marketing and market traction. With Windows 8, Microsoft cannot wait for one of the OEMs to finally get their design act together, Windows 8 in many ways is already a big enough risk. Here with Microsoft Surface, Microsoft are showing OEMs what can be achieved, and almost saying “go out there and do better!”. That’s a good challenge to set, one I’m sure will lead to many more Windows 8 tablet devices turning up that a) look stunning and b) contain some real punch.

By Microsoft only announcing two higher end devices, I feel we can read that Microsoft is not wanting to be the biggest hardware player in the tablet market, rather they are showing the way for their OEMs.

Marketplace

One of the main concerns many may raise is the lack of apps available for Windows 8 at launch or the marketplace ecosystem. I personally don’t see this as a problem at all. We have already seen in the past couple of weeks numerous reports about how developers and software companies love developing for Windows phone, how simple it is and how important they feel developing for Windows 8 will be. Attracting developers is not a problem for Microsoft, so getting the “apps” available also won’t be a problem for Microsoft (Windows Phone now has over 100,000+ apps all of which will be available on Windows tablets).

We must also remember that the Windows Marketplace will also allow older software to be sold, which means that on a Windows 8 pro surface tablet, the user has access to any software ever written to run on Windows. They also have access to the complete windows market place for metro based apps too.

I know that Apple has a great ecosystem, but you cannot deny that the Microsoft ecosystem is its equal if not better.

Conclusion

Windows 8 is a big release for Microsoft, and it’s quite a gamble, so much so that I feel Microsoft couldn’t leave it to OEMs to deliver sexy tablet devices when Windows 8 launches. If the OEMs failed, then Windows 8 could possibly fail in this market place, something Microsoft obviously doesn’t want. By producing their own Microsoft Surface tablets, Microsoft has ensured the tablet market has some wonderful Windows 8 tablets available when the general public can finally start purchasing Windows 8 tablets. If anything, this reduces the risk associated with Windows 8 and tablets for Microsoft a little, and ups the potential profits for them at the same time.

Microsoft Surface also sends a message to OEMs, that they can build sexy devices that rival and beat the iPad in terms of design, and with Windows 8 they will have an OS that beats iOS in terms of user experience and productivity, not to mention flexibility in how the user works.

Android has been the OS of choice for most tablet makers, probably because there wasn’t a viable tablet option until Windows 8. Microsoft may have in one swoop confined Android to just the mobile phone world, which makes it quite isolated when we think of how users want to share content across all their devices. That isolation could really harm Android in the smart phone arena in the long run.

Microsoft has come to the tablet market with a bang (this time round) and has actually delivered something special…I for one never doubted them….





Life after RIM in the enterprise?

30 03 2012

There has been a lot of talk about RIM today, caused mainly because the company has stated it is giving up on the consumer market and heading back to its roots, the enterprise. Couple this with the $120m loss the company has made and the hints at “sale”, and you do see why lots of people have been talking about RIM. (If you don’t know RIM – Research in Motion make the BlackBerry devices).

One of the big conversations I have been involved in today (on Twitter with @BPMredux @puleen @souvikbonnerjee and @AlbertoManuel) is just what do we think will happen in the enterprise regarding the use of mobile devices, and vendor offerings for mobile based solutions. @BPMredux asked in his blog two simple questions

“How many BPM vendors have a mobile BPM solution based on Apple, Android or Windows Mobile”

and

“Now how many of you are still stuck with RIM and Blackberry in your own corporate environment?”

You can join in his debate at http://bpmredux.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/mobility-inside-the-bpm-scene/

So in this blog post I have want to have explore at some of the main points and give some thoughts based on conversations and relationships I have with a number of IT professionals that work within the enterprise supporting their systems…

BlackBerry

Are we seeing the BlackBerry swansong?

RIM is still a big player

For sure RIM is still a big player in the enterprise. Most people I know and speak too (within large corporations) have BlackBerry devices handed out to them as their corporate phones. There are lots of reasons why the enterprise opts for BlackBerry – security being one, durability another. Many people I speak to who have to support mobile devices within their business prefer BlackBerry, and that’s because they have better control over them, they are easier to administer, the battery life is second to none and the devices are durable (they do seem to get dropped a lot). These things mean less time is spent with the end user trying to address issues, and after all, time is money…

Apple is making in-roads in the enterprise

This all being said, the iPhone is making in-roads in the enterprise, especially within the “exec” levels of business. While the phone is undeniably a great phone, it does cause headaches for business, especially if you are already standardized on RIM. Throw into the mix that not much else in the enterprise is Apple based and the fact that you do pay over the odds for their devices, and you can see why, even with a great offering like the iPhone, Apple still isn’t king of mobile for business.

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)

This is something I hear a lot about and read about. However, in reality, this really hasn’t shown any traction with the enterprise, and I very much doubt it ever will. Predominantly BYOD is a media thing based on what some SMEs maybe doing – it simply isn’t a great option for the enterprise, and here is why…

The enterprise needs to support its workforce and their devices, mobile, desktop, tablet, laptop whatever. This means they have resource dedicated to help ensure IT runs smoothly. That IT needs to administer these devices, ensure business applications run as expected, ensure everything is secure as possible and support end users. (They do other things also, but no need to list out everything). If the IT department has control over its devices, it knows what they are, it can secure them better, ensure the software works as expected, manage roll outs, upgrades etc etc and help users with their devices (without having to train IT staff / mobile support staff on every handset available to a consumer). In addition, standardization allows the enterprise to strike good deals with their suppliers and all big business has preferred suppliers – that’s just life. So imagine you take all that control away from IT. What are you left with? Yeap, a mess. You simply can’t have users connecting random devices to your network. You can’t expect vendors to support all mobile platforms under the sun for bespoke software for that business. You can’t expect in house IT to help users with their particular phones OS or hardware issues, and you can’t expect everything you need to work on the device to work on every single device (have I said that one already?). All in all, BYOD is a great concept, lovely for startups and SMEs, but for the enterprise, this isn’t an option…

Software vendors and their mobile offerings

The BYOD issue does illustrate that software vendors do not support all mobile devices. Sure there are comments that solutions should be mobile web enabled, that they should run using HTML 5, but that user experience is going to be pretty poor. The reason we love our native apps is that we can do more with an app, and the experience is a lot better than anything we see on our mobile web browser. This means vendors have to support native apps, and do they really need to support so many different platforms? Ideally they want to support one, but realistically know they may need to support a few. The problem for a vendor at the moment is which to support? RIM is a must, or is it…It used to be. Apple devices, well they are a must aren’t they…well yes and no…Android? No. Symbian…erm No….Windows Phone…Well potentially……

So what do you do as a vendor? I personally would wait until the end of the year to make a decision…

Windows 8 in the enterprise

Let’s be clear, Windows 8 may not be rolled out across the enterprise as soon as it’s released, but business will be reviewing it, and scheduling in a Windows upgrade path. Some upgrade paths will be quicker than others, and some may do their normal, and wait for the version after – so upgrade when Windows 9 is available as they haven’t long been on Windows 7. The point is Windows 8/9 will be the standard OS on the enterprise desktop and on majority of their servers. With this comes the normal office based software and legacy applications that every enterprise has running on a Windows environment. However, Windows 8 is a little more than just a desktop OS. All of a sudden the enterprise can have the same OS across all devices, including mobile and tablets. Think what a nice thought that is for IT within the enterprise and vendors alike. A single OS to administer across all devices,  a single user experience to support and the ability to seamlessly tie in lots of services they already use back into the devices of choice. Office, Outlook, Lync, Office 365, Sharepoint, cloud backups, device synchronization etc. That makes life a lot easier for IT doesn’t it…

As a vendor then, supporting Windows 8 is a must. But hold on, if you support Windows 8 metro what do you support all of a sudden? Yes, tablets (including ARM based tablets), desktops, laptops, netbooks and with a few tweeks, mobiles. All of a sudden supporting Windows Phone seems an obvious choice –  a necessity. So perhaps it’s back to the usual suspects, support Windows first, then perhaps Apple…Or vice versa depending on where you are with your mobile policies and vendor software.

Let’s think about suppliers to the enterprise. Most enterprises have a strict supply chain policy, and with Windows 8, this means the enterprise can choose who supplies their hardware, including desktop and phones. Remember Fujitsu, Acer, Dell, Nokia, Samsung, HTC and others deliver Windows 8 mobile devices. These same companies will deliver Windows 8 tablets, and most of them will deliver desktops, servers, laptops and netbooks. The enterprise therefore has the flexibility it desires regarding suppliers, but the security, administrative advantages of being tied into a single ecosystem, which runs all their legacy software. Essentially, for the enterprise, Windows 8/9 is a no brainer across all devices….

Where does this all leave RIM?

Well, to be blunt, I believe in a very deep, dark hole.

Essentially if it becomes a no brainer to support Windows Phone in the enterprise and Windows 8 tablet devices, then Apple will continue to struggle in the Enterprise, but that’s not a great loss to them. RIM on the other hand, if they struggle in the enterprise then I believe we will be saying goodbye to RIM and thanks for the BlackBerry memories. Without a consumer market, Windows 8 could well be the last nail in the BlackBerry coffin. I for one am already starting to think that by mid 2013, I could be writing a blog along the lines of “bye bye RIM, thanks for the BlackBerry memories…”





Windows 8 has got it right

14 03 2012

I have read a lot of great things about Windows 8 and a lot of negative things about it too. It seems that Windows 8 has polarized opinion across the media, and this really is shown on blogging sites such as ZDNet and Business Insider. I have noticed with Windows 8 that there are two types of bloggers, those that want to use it, feel it, see what’s actually new and think of it as a new piece of software at beta release (which it is), and those who simply are looking for any reason to say why it will fail and why Windows 8 is the next Vista, or why we should all use an iPad for business or something….What is weird, as yet, I haven’t read a blog that really skews its slant in a biased way towards windows 8 (must be the sign of the times).

So like many things in life, there is no point listening or reading so called journos on such matters (just as I rarely listen to film critics), you simply have to use it, and spend some time with it. So when the CP of Windows 8 was released at the end of February I thought it was time to install it on my work machine and see what it really is made of…

By the way, I am writing this on my Windows 8 machine, using Metro IE 10, which I have to say is the nicest browser experience I have used on any form of device, be that mobile, tablet, laptop or desktop…I really like it….

 

Windows 8 Start Screen

Windows 8 Metro Start Screen

 

Touch

OK, many blogs say Windows 8 is far too focused on touch, and it neglects the desktop and the good old days of mouse and keyboard. This may seem true, when you read the blogs and see some screen shots, but actually use it for a few days (in my case in a hard work environment) and you soon realise that actually, Metro works just as well with a mouse and keyboard. Sure it’s nicer with touch, but everything is nicer with touch, far more intuitive and even dare I say still novel.

What we must all remember is that touch is the future, and that includes the desktop and laptop worlds. Already we see many PCs with touch monitors, and if you have used them, you find their experience is better than standard PCs without it (even running Windows 7). By the start of 2013 I wouldn’t be surprised if most new PCs came with a touch screen option. Windows 8 is a new UI for the next 10 years for Microsoft, and touch has to be at the centre of it, like it or not. If you are one of those people who still want to use a mouse and keyboard, that’s fine too, but don’t knock an OS for supporting what will be the mass market shortly.

Clashing Metro and Desktop

Clashing user interfaces is something that is also being thrown at Windows 8 at lot, people claiming that its “jarring” moving from the metro world to the desktop. I really think this is looking for faults for the sake of looking for faults. I have 3 monitors and 2 of which are in desktop mode, the third Metro, and to be honest I don’t find the experience jarring at all. Sure they look and behave differently but so do many programs you run. Currently with any OS, you have a few windows open and the experience between those windows is just as “jarring” as there is no standard design for apps.

I really don’t find a clash, especially if you stop seeing them as different user interfaces, and see them for what they are. Metro home screen is the start button, just full screen. When you run multiple monitors it’s really nice having the metro side of things on a screen on its own, it works really well. I also have the option to ditch it and go full desktop. We have to realise that metro is start, and metro apps are immersive experiences, designed yes for touch and tablets, but work just as well on the desktop. The Maps App for example means I will never use Google maps or any maps in a browser again! It is a brilliant experience on a desktop machine.

When you run multiple monitors you find that probably on one of them you will have one window open to the full screen, typically for me this will be Outlook, and the other monitor may have VS 2010 open full screen and the third lots of multiple windows open, depending on what I am doing. So the concept of full screen apps in metro fits in nicely with multiple monitors I find. If on a single monitor, if you want to have two windows open at once, you can with Metro, nothing stops you, just that the apps run side by side (a feature many of us use in Windows 7 to snap windows side by side). Not many of us have multiple windows open so we are viewing them all the time, we have multiple windows open so we can work with them, but to actually view them no, we switch between windows. I think the alt tab is the most used key, and with Metro this doesn’t change, nothing is stopping you from opening many many apps…

 

Mystery in using the Metro UI

With anything new, comes new ways of doing things. Many have written that you have to “re-learn” the Metro world, and know where to hover your mouse etc. This is sort of true, sure you have new areas or zones where you hover your mouse and new things happen, but that is “added” to your windows experience, and if you can’t remember to move your mouse to one of four corners to activate something then you really won’t even remember why you are on the PC in the first place.

There are new things to learn, for example start button is gone, but metro home is start, you access “charms menu” by hovering the mouse in the bottom right, or top right hand corner of the screen, sure its new but now you know, it’s pretty easy to remember. If anything its very intuitive once you give it a chance. My Dad who is approaching his 70s is always scared of a new OS coming from Windows as he is still in XP mode, but after 10 mins with Windows 8 he was more than happy with it.

Once you get used to some of the new ways of doing things, you soon find that these are standardised across everything in Windows, which makes life so so so much simpler. Think about changing settings in your browser, or an app, often we end up looking through menus to find where they are (not always in the most obvious place). You then go to a different application and you want to change those settings and yeap, you spend ages looking for them in that app as they are not in the same place. With Windows 8 all that is gone, just go to the charms menu, and there they are, settings…No matter what app you are in.

Oh, and don’t forget, Metro is for all your devices, phone, tablet, laptop, desktop….

Lumia800

Nokia Lumia 800 showing its Windows Metro Interface. Metro across all your devices makes life simple

 

Default classic desktop

So you boot up and you are greeted with Metro, some saying they want to be greeted by the classic desktop and bypass metro, but I really don’t see why. Once in the desktop, what will you do, you will look to open an application. So why didn’t you simply open the application from the metro start screen? If it’s a desktop app, it fires and you are in desktop mode? Booting into desktop, and then clicking on start, then programs, then selecting your application of choice is far more time consuming than selecting it from the metro start screen. Plus, in desktop mode, do I have live tiles telling me information I may need?

 

Metro doesn’t work for everything

Ahh this is true, and this is the point of Windows 8 in some ways. You have one OS for all your devices, so just as typical Windows desktop apps don’t work well for mobile devices, certain metro design concepts won’t work for certain applications. I doubt there will be a VS 2012 in Metro, or a Photoshop metro app. You simply need the accuracy of a mouse, you need the text based menus with all your options, so traditional desktop interface works well.  With Windows 8 you get the best of both worlds, and more to the point the flexibility. I want to be able to do “everything” on my chosen device, and with Windows 8 I have that flexibility. It maybe that I have a metro version of outlook or mail open, but then need to work with Photoshop; I have the freedom within the OS to work as efficiently as possible in both environments. Can you say that with any other OS across any or should I say all of your devices?

I personally am glad metro doesn’t suit everything. If it did, think of those entire legacy apps people would be trying to re-write…They won’t will they, and the desktop works well for those apps, so why re-invent the wheel for something that isn’t broken.

 

Kinect Support missing

This made me laugh out loud; that someone has complained about this is mad! Windows 8 is a beta / consumer preview edition; it’s not a finished OS. Likewise do we have Kinect Support on all other operating systems…erm, no. I’m sure it will be there come the end of 2012, and in many ways you can argue it is there already. Since the desktop world supports legacy apps, it will no doubt support the current Kinect drivers, API etc available for Windows 7.

 

Live tiles ….

I think you either love these or hate the look of them. I personally love the practicality they bring. With my Metro start screen I see so much information without doing anything other than look at the screen. I have noticed I do the same with my Windows phone, no longer do I flit between multiple apps for quick updates, and I simple look at the screen and the various tiles. In many ways, Live tiles are great from productivity and making sure you are aware of what’s going on…

I think if you hate the look of them, you haven’t actually spent any time with them. If you have, the blocky nature makes things easy and clear to see, and the fact they are actually live, constantly moving and updating you with information is great. Many have said that they will look messy once you get different apps and graphics being used, I have to disagree, if anything the tiles look more vibrant. I think the tiles look more standardised, even with lots of different apps and graphics being shown than a sea of icons which I used to have (be that on my phone or desktop). Moving back to the old icon world really does feel like a step back in time now, and I think that will be many people’s thoughts once they spend a little time with Metro and live tiles.

 

Business adoption will be slow

This may be true, but not because Windows 8 is something they don’t like, rather because the Enterprise update in cycles, and this usually means an update ever 2 versions of Windows in recent years. Most companies went from Win 95 to Windows XP. I don’t recall anyone opting for Windows 98. On the server side we went NT 4 to 2000. Roll forward and enterprise moved from XP to Windows 7 and server side from 2000 to 2005/8. It’s not because the other versions of Windows were cra* rather the releases didn’t fit in with the Enterprises upgrade timescales. I think Windows 8 is being released so soon after 7 so that it does miss the Enterprise upgrade path on purpose. This means by the time Windows 9 is being released; everyone will be happy with the Metro concept and be very eager to move to Windows 9 in the enterprise.

Sure in the tablet scene, many businesses will opt for Windows 8 tablets, especially with support for legacy apps. I read in one blog though that because windows 8 on ARM won’t support these legacy apps that business will turn to the iPad….You see the sort of rubbish that gets written? Why would any business chose an iPad in such a case? The iPad also won’t run your legacy apps, so I think the business will opt for Windows tablets on Intel chips and sacrifice the added 2 hours of battery life (so that’s 10 down from 12 looking at the battery span of the Windows 8 Developers Preview tablet).

 

Gamble…

Is Windows 8 a gamble…Yes, but is it a massive one, no not really. If you hate metro, you will live in the desktop mode. If like me you like to move forward, and you are prepared to spend more than 5 minutes judging a book by its cover, then you will soon like Metro and everything it stands for, and that will include the Metro start screen and “apps” in Windows 8…

I think Microsoft have got it right with Windows 8, and we have seen some real innovation finally from a desktop OS.





HTML 5, Native Apps, the iPhone and Windows 8

7 03 2012

I have been a tad quiet on the blogging front for a little while, simply because I haven’t had time really to sit down and write anything (though I have found time to read a lot)….Ok excuses over…

In this post I want to look briefly at the whole HTML 5 Vs Native app debate, and how Windows 8 potentially changes that landscape…

 

HTML 5

It’s something that has been a dream of developers, a single code base, a single “app” if you like that works on any system you can think of. HTML 5 does deliver that, well sort of. You see HTML 5 maybe being touted as that multi platform solution, but the whole architecture of using a browser and HTML isn’t right for actual applications. If you want to present some information and some basic functionality (think blogs for example), then HTML makes great sense, and that after all is what it was originally conceived for, to deliver content (not applications) to any machine.

The issues arise when we start to use HTML to deliver actual applications, and this is something that has been going on for some time – long before HTML 5 raised its head (my own companies have done this too). There is nothing wrong with web apps as such, but you must realise that they do lack certain functionality, and equally important, the user experience is NOT as good as a native application.

 

The iPhone effect

Before the iPhone was released, many software development companies were starting to deliver real business solutions as “thin client” applications – essentially web apps. I personally hated these, but did see the benefits when it came to roll out, updates etc over standard “thick client” applications. Many companies even started to deliver apps via FLASH, providing the software with a richer environment, much improved user experience but still rely on the distribution architecture of the web to actually deliver the app to the end user.

With mobile devices, there was no flash support, and we started to deliver “mobile” web apps, though not that great and a little clunky, they did work to an extent…But then along came the iPhone and this did change everything.

The iPhone had a much better web experience than any other handset, yet still using web apps on such a device was not good. The iPhone though had an app store, and an environment that worked well for delivering applications to the device, and these were native applications, applications that actually worked very well and provided the user with a much improved experience. All of a sudden to support mobile well, it was expected you write a native app…

 

Flash support

Flash did provide great experiences over the web architecture; the whole plug-in concept did get round so many issues with traditional thick and thin client apps, though Flash did have a lot of issues, especially security ones…Flash was also dependent on support on the device, on PCs this wasn’t a problem, but on mobiles etc the game was different.

By not supporting FLASH and singing the praises of HTML 5, Apple effectively killed off the browser plug-in and cross platform support for technologies that could deliver thick client experiences in a thin client fashion. Instead, Apple forced that user experience to only be available via native apps, as it knew all too well, no matter how good HTML 5 is that it cannot compete with native applications…

 

Native Apps

I personally think the whole native app experience is far far better for the end user. Native apps deliver great usability, the look good and their functional capabilities far outweigh the potential of a web app. The App environments provided by Apple and now Microsoft also negate so many issues associated with installing “dodgy” software.

By controlling the distribution of applications, Apple and Microsoft effectively can ensure (to a high level) that the applications are good, that they perform well (which makes their device look good) and just as importantly, know the application isn’t up to no good. The problem with the web, installing plug-ins or actually applications is that the end user doesn’t have anyone else saying “yeap, this is fine to install”. As a consequence, the majority of computer problems, viruses etc are born out of the end user installing something by being tricked into thinking it was safe….

 

Native expectation

So many of us are now used to the native mobile app experience,  which we like, that we now expect the same sort of environments on our desktop machines, tablets go without saying.  Because of this, Apple and Microsoft are providing app stores on desktop machines, which potentially changes how we install applications on our machines – and the sort of experiences we start to expect. You could argue that the iPad has really started this migration of “apps” from the mobile phone to general devices that we use…

 

Windows 8 effect

Though the iPhone and iPad dominate their respective market places, Apple don’t dominate the desktop, and we must remember that the desktop is still a massive market. Windows 8 no matter what is written about it will change the desktop, and with Windows 8 you can only install “metro” apps via the application store. These apps are immersive full screen rich experiences, and they are native applications. So, just as we see with mobiles, we will start to users opting for “apps” over HTML 5 web experiences.

For businesses, even micro-online retailers, the importance of delivering native “apps” appears to be growing. On the plus side, this means you have the opportunity to really deliver applications and experiences of note to consumers, on the downside, you have to realise that you need more investment in the front end of your applications. (Mind you, the amount of time spent making sure your HTML website runs the same on all browsers across all platforms, and then is mobile compatible etc etc the difference may not be as great financially as you expect).





Could Android Die?

9 12 2011

There is a lot written about Android, and there is no doubt, that it has taken market share within the world of smart phones by storm, now commanding around 40-51% of the smart phone market share (depending in which country you are).  But could Android start to lose its market share, so much so that it could even die off as an OS?

Well, let’s not get ahead, but it does have a number of problems which could see its commanding market position being eroded. Though each issues isn’t a major concern on its own, once you start adding all these together, you start to see reasons why manufacturers and consumers alike may well move away from Android…

 

IP issues

If you are an Android fanboy then you may not like this, but the fact is that the Android OS has some liberal code within it shall we say. It infringes on a number of intellectual property rights of a number of different companies, all of which aren’t happy about having their work stolen (in their eyes). Personally I can’t blame these companies for looking for compensation – after all they were the ones that invested the money in the first place in the necessary R&D.

Android has so many IP issues that most manufacturers that ship Android devices, now pay Microsoft a license fee to be able to do so. I know that many hate Microsoft in general and hate the fact that Microsoft is doing this, but again, you really can’t blame them from a business point of view.

This issue may not be a massive one, but it does make manufacturers look at other operating systems for their devices, and there has even been rumours that HTC and Samsung may even look to build their own operating systems (I doubt it though). As a manufacturer, if you have to pay Microsoft to use Android, isn’t it worth your time to also look at Windows Phone?

 

Orphaned hardware

One of the big issues with Android is that Android devices don’t get upgraded. Most Android devices are orphaned in less than a year, meaning that they don’t receive the latest updates to the operating system. For your bog standard user this isn’t a major problem, but for those who like to use apps on their device, this can cause some problems. There are many apps out there that are Android version specific, which means you could find the app you want won’t run on your particular Android device, though it’s an Android app. For the consumer, this is potentially a source of real frustration.

 

Hardware faults

Android devices go wrong more than any other device, which is reportedly costing carriers billions each year. Again this may not be a massive issue in its own right, because this cost must be being outweighed by the money coming in from Android, but it is another negative for Android. If carriers start to feel this cost is getting too high, then Android will have a very tough time of it very quickly.

 

 

Apple hate it…

Whenever we read about Android there are comparisons with Apple’s iOS, and you can’t help it. When you browse smart phones in a store, you can’t but notice that Android devices do look like a bit of a copy of the iOS user interface. With some manufacturers it really does look like they have blatantly copied the iPhone in every respect (I will not mention any names).  We all know that Steve Jobs hated Android and vowed to kill it off, and Apple do still seem pretty determined to do their best here, pursuing a number of injunctions globally stopping the sale of many Android devices.

 

User experience

When you compare the user experience to other mobile operating systems available, you get the impression that functionality wise, Android really does compete. However, as an experience, it’s not great. Many people complain it renders graphics slowly, that it’s clunky, that it’s not intuitive to use and I would personally agree with all these comments. When you compare it to iOS it feels like a poor man’s imitation, and that is not good. When you compare it to Windows Phone 7, well, you start to feel like you are comparing an Austin Metro with an Aston Martin in terms of looks, polish and performance.

 

The power needed and battery drain

Because the way the UI is designed, Android really does need quite a bit of power to start to deliver slick animations and performance. This is why we see Android devices boasting some serious hardware power, all that power is needed to make sure Android performs. But this comes at a cost. And that price is battery life. If you want to use your Android as a true smart phone, then you may well kiss good bye to your battery before you get home from work (probably a long time before you get home from work). Is your phone really smart if you can’t even use it as a phone before the day is out?

 

Viruses and Carrier IQ

Ahhh the dreaded virus word. Android is an open OS, it also has a very open market place, enabling rogue apps to easily make their way down onto devices. Throw into the mix that the OS itself is open source and you can see that it isn’t too difficult to start building rather malicious apps that make it onto the device. Not a great problem at the moment, but as more user make the move over to smart phones, more viruses will be created and the more of us consumers will get annoyed with devices that are so prone to them.

The carrier IQ incident really hasn’t done Android any favours. Though it was also found on the iPhone, it was to a lesser extent. RIM and Windows Phone (along with Nokia in general) won some kudos here by proving that Carrier IQ doesn’t ship on these devices.

 

Different flavours

Google likes to think it controls Android, but it doesn’t in all areas. A great example is Amazon and its Kindle Fire. Built on a “forked” version of Android, Amazon now maintains its OS for Kindle Fire. This doesn’t sound like an issue, but as a consumer things do start to get confusing, all these flavours of an OS is not good (one of the reasons why UNIX couldn’t defend Microsoft within the Enterprise).

 

No go for business

Android is a no go for Businesses in any way shape or form. Simply put, it’s too open and too risky. This won’t ever change.

 

Google and Motorola

The Google deal is of great concern to many manufacturers that use Android. Why would Google help them with Android when they are now in direct competition? Will Google make newer releases available to other manufacturers, let alone provide preview software versions? This coupled with Android IP issues are probably the two biggest concerns to manufacturers – and why we continually hear rumours of them looking at other options (including Windows or purchasing another OS).

 

Interoperability

As we start to embrace more devices and more cloud based services, so we expect to be able to do more things across those devices seamlessly. Android isn’t great for this. But there is a game changer coming, and that’s Windows 8.

Windows 8 enables real connectivity between devices, and seamless integration with cloud services. This is all done with a single UI experience across phone, tablet, notebook, laptop and PC. Once this is released to the consumer, this will be the level expected for all forms of devices. Can Google really get Android to do this quickly and in a fashion that doesn’t feel like beta software? I don’t think they can, but I believe Apple can, and will…

 

Nokia

They may not be dead after all, and if Nokia gets back into the swing of things in the smart phone arena then everyone else needs to watch out. Nokia still commands the largest market share within the mobile phone industry, and recent releases of the Lumia 800 in Asia indicate just how strong their brand is globally. Throw into the mix the deal with Microsoft and you can see the real possibility of a resurgent Nokia…

 

Conclusion

Android is going nowhere for the time being. But all of these points raised in this post are all issues that grouped together, could spell bad times ahead for Android. When looking at the mobile OS world, if you fall out of favour, you will fall out very quickly indeed. We need only look at Nokia and now RIM…





Disappointed with the cloud?

12 10 2011

A recent eBizQ question has sparked this post, essentially it asked “Why are so many disappointed with the cloud?”, and this question was based on the fact that few organisations have made the move to the cloud, and those that have, many are stating they are disappointed with the results…So why would you be disapoointed? After all, it does what it says on the tin…

 

Cloud variants

A big problem is what do people mean when they say the “cloud”? If we take a look at the big players here, Amazon, Microsoft and Google, we see 3 different interpretations. Amazon deliver IaaS, which is Infrastructure as a Service. So essentially they deliver you an infrastructure for you to leverage as you please. This is very different to Microsoft’s Azure take on things, in which Azure delivers PaaS – Platform as a Service. Think of IaaS as your physical servers, all connected with nothing on them, and think of PaaS as physical servers, but running the server OS. Essentially Azure is the operating
system for the “cloud”.

Unfortunately, “cloud” is a very broad and “loose” description, so organisations must understand what type of “cloud” they are leveraging or buying into.

 

Expectations…

First off, let’s remember that the “Cloud” isn’t a solution, it’s just another platform. As a company you didn’t purchase Microsoft Windows Sever and expect it to solve all your IT needs did you? The “cloud” is a platform, nothing more, and yet as a platform it has capabilities that just aren’t available anywhere else.

Convenience, or something more?

Some argue that Cloud can be seen as IT convenience, which is true to an extent. If you view the cloud as nothing more than convenience, then you will no doubt also argue that the cloud makes far more sense to small organisations, as opposed to mature companies that have invested heavily in data centres – effectively providing them with cloud like capabilities. In many cases this is
very true, I myself have written posts illustrating reasons why the “cloud” is not applicable to some companies or IT solutions. Yet, “cloud” is more than just convenience, it’s about scalability, availability, reduced administration and reduced IT overheads. If you are a mature organisation, then no doubt your data centre will be specified to meet your maximum demands placed on it, as it
has to. For most of the time this means you have a lot of “spare capacity” and in effect, are wasting money. With the “cloud” and especially PaaS, you only pay for what capacity you need at that time. So you can quickly scale to meet demand peeks, but when you have little demand, your costs decrease as you lose that spare capacity.

We also have to look at capabilities here, using “cloud” based solutions we have a real option for continuous connected availability across a range of devices. We can share “state” between devices etc which makes it far easier to jump right back into work, where I was, even when I swap from my work PC to my work tablet or laptop at home, heck even to my Phone.

 

Security

This is a big issue, and unfortunately many security concerns are simply invalid. The cloud doesn’t mean open access to all! However, in some cases, compliance and regulatory demands mean you cannot jump to certain cloud providers or solutions. For example, for compliance you may well need to keep your data stored in your geographic location, so you can’t have it physically residing in the US when your company and the owners of the data are in the UK. That will include your data back too. So, you need to be aware just what your cloud provider is doing with your data / files, and make
sure they can meet your compliance needs.

 

Cloud based solutions

The big problem why organisations are disappointed with the “cloud” is the actual applications, their capabilities and user experiences. To be blunt, most cloud based “apps” pale when compared to traditional desktop based applications. Why is that? Well it’s mainly down to implementation of the software application, nothing really to do with the “cloud” as a platform.

Most “cloud” solutions are fully in the cloud, so essentially you access them through a browser. This is a massive problem and hindrance, and for business, web applications just don’t meet the needs. I don’t care what anyone says; running software in a browser is ok for only a handful of solutions – not for everything. Some of the problems with web based applications are listed below, and these are real problems and cause for disappointment with cloud based solutions at the moment:

  1. Integration – how do you integrate multiple solutions? How do you integrate a cloud solution with standard desktop bound solution?
  2. Customisation – do you really have an option to have your software customised to your needs? Again probably not, as the solution is there for “all – in the cloud”, not just you
  3. Cross platform – HTML 5 is what keeps getting mentioned, but the issues still remain about how it performs within different browsers. In addition, think a bit wider. Does HTML based apps really deliver what you want cross platform? Think “cross devices”, how can you get the best user experience across multiple devices and their operating systems. Think PC, Mac, Windows Phone, iPhone, Android, Tablets, Laptops, XP, Win 7 etc
  4. Asynchronous – many web based apps aren’t really Asynchronous, which means your user experience can suffer, especially when you are making round trips to the cloud and back (same problem applies to basic websites that are implemented poorly)
  5. Data Extract – what is available, does it meet your needs, and whats the user experience here
  6. Synchronisation – Can you synchronise between devices and return to your application in the same state?
  7. Backup – what backups and formats can you get?
  8. Application upgrades – will you be charged for upgrades?
  9. Service Level Agreements – just what agreements can you get in place?

 

Improving the cloud experience…

So I have spent some time highlighting why organisation may well feel disappointed with the “cloud”, but now I want to point out how cloud providers and more importantly, software vendors, can replace disappointment with real excitement…

First off, your “Cloud” provider, you need to choose carefully, make sure you understand what they are providing (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS capabilities) and then understand what they do to meet you compliance needs. Take into consideration what you want to deliver via the “Cloud” – does your desired solution even work in the cloud or on a particular cloud platform?

I personally recommend the Microsoft Azure platform, simply because it delivers far more than just typical PaaS, it delivers brilliant development tools, application capabilities and synchronisation capabilities (it is also tied in pretty tightly with the up-coming releases of Windows 8 and Windows Server 8 – keep that in mind).

Windows 8 leverages Cloud capabilities heavily (Microsoft's Azure)

Windows 8 leverages Cloud capabilities heavily (Microsoft's Azure)

Secondly, and most importantly, choose “cloud” solutions that leverage your devices – so that’s your actual PC, Mac, Phone etc…The big change is how we use the “cloud”, moving away from a single UI within the browser to an actual “application” solves so so sooooo many of the issues highlighted. So what do I mean?

Cloud based applications need not run in the “cloud”, they need only be distributed or leverage cloud services, data and content. So the application is installed and runs on the device, accessing cloud services, data and content. When we move to this model, you see how usability, experience, and capabilities all drastically increase. So:

  1. Integration – This is made a lot easier, real application integration can take place, be that using cloud services in another application, or actually sharing data on your device between applications (this can be taken further with Windows 8 and the use of contracts and charms)
  2. Customisation – Customising applications for a client is made a lot simpler, it becomes something that is in essence, not that different to customisation of typical desktop in house applications today
  3. Cross platform – well the iPhone has shown us that using platform specific technologies deliver the best user experience. Would you rather use the iPhone app for that, or trundle off to the website. You will use the app. So this is no different, deliver “Apps” for the desired platforms and HTML 5 for platforms where you will not support apps. (Remember, that you are not maintaining multiple versions of solution code, rather multiple front ends, nothing more)
  4. Asynchronous – Running typical applications allows developers to really use asynchronous capabilities within their solutions, improving performance and the user experience, not to mention
    dodging the browser time out issues
  5. Synchronisation – with apps you can leverage the cloud to then store your synchronisation data, which makes it possible to synchronise your applications across all your devices in real time
  6. Upgrades – these are made easier, even for customers who run highly customised applications

 

Quick finish…

Essentially, disappointment in the “cloud” is actually disappointment caused by “cloud” expectations being wrong, choosing the wrong cloud provider, or using cloud solutions that are limited, limited because they are stuck in a browser…With time, we will see greater understanding of what cloud providers actually provide, greater understanding of IaaS vs PaaS and we will see software providers delivering “apps” as opposed to just browser based solutions.

See the cloud as a platform, nothing more, and choose solutions based on their capabilities for meeting your business requirements. Good cloud based solutions, that leverage apps, will not only meet your expectations, but will offer you more features, more functions, less administration and ultimately run at a cheaper cost for you…





Kindle Fire in the tablet market? errm…No…

29 09 2011

So yet another tablet has been launched, this time the Amazon Kindle Fire, and again we find another entry into the tablet market is being touted as a possible iPad killer. But is it really? Have companies, such as Amazon, RIM, HP etc actually got it right when it comes to tablets? I don’t think so…

Kindle Fire

Is the Amazon Kindle Fire anything new in the tablet marketplace?

In the beginning there was Bill…

It seems an age ago that we heard Bill Gates telling us that the future of mobile computing was with touch, and he showed us a number of “Slate laptop” type things. I loved this concept, but unfortunately the UI just didn’t lend itself to this kind of touch environment, and as a result, business and consumers didn’t embrace the whole thing.

Fast forward a number of years and we have Apple announcing the first iPhone, which to be fair was not a great phone in terms of features. However, what Apple did was deliver a user experience that was not even closely matched, they delivered a sleek easy to use, touch based UI and consumers loved it. Add on top of this the “app” store capabilities and we soon have what we know as the leading smartPhone on the market.

 

Phones lead the way for tablets

Essentially tablets were dead, until Apple then decided to manufacturer what seemed to be, a bigger iPhone but without the phone capabilities, tablet. The iOS suited touch, and was easy to use, and it
appealed to consumers who liked the idea of surfing the web from their sofa on something bigger than their phone. It appealed to us running Apps on a bigger screen. And, well, the iPad has taken off. It dominates the tablet market place, and when you look at the competition, you can see why.

Many state the tablet market is highly competitive, and that is true if you aren’t Apple. Essentially everyone else is fighting it out for Apple scraps in this marketplace, which Apple has a monopoly on. All the other offerings have come at the tablet market in pretty much the same way, thats use a touch based phone OS and get it on a tablet…Namely Android in the majority of cases.

 

What a consumer actually wants?

Yesterday with the launch of the Amazon Kindle Fire, many people said it will succeed because it delivers what consumers want, well I’m not so sure. Analysts are constantly stating that Amazon has people’s card details, so it’s easy for them to open up their online stores and make content and apps highly available to the consumer, allowing the purchase sequence to be seamless. Well I am sorry, having to re-enter some card details is no barrier to a consumer at all. Also, do we really feel comfortable with so many companies now holding our card details? Just look at the Sony incident? In
addition, we are all making the assumption that all the consumer wants to do is consum simple Apps, books, videos and music on their tablets. Well I don’t agree…

 

Problems…

So is what the Kindle Fire offering more of what consumer’s want (well the Price maybe), but probably not. Do we honestly see people looking at the iPad and then thinking, No, I will opt for the Amazon Kindle Fire? I don’t. Do we really see people looking at other tablets that aren’t the iPad and thinking, I will go for the Amazon device because the seamless payment is better? No. Do we see people opting for the Kindle Fire to replace their Kindles? Now that’s a BIG NO…People bought the Kindle as an eReader, and it’s brilliant at that. Not because its easy to buy books on (though that is true), not because Amazon has my card details, but because I can actually read a book as if it was a real book. Dont get this confused with the user experience. The eInk screen is brilliant, you don’t get eye strain like you do from a tablet, you can read it outside, and essentially, it works well…The Kindle Fire, is not the same, it’s a standard colour tablet, which means I am not going to be getting rid of my Kindle to read Kindle books on that…

So there are a number of problems here. Finally, do we see people going for a tablet that is so small? So far, tablets of around the 7” size haven’t made much of an impression, and I can see why. With smartPhones offering almost everything a tablet does in term of apps etc. what is the real benefit of having a tablet that in some cases is only 2” bigger? Amazon Kindle Fire or HTC Titan Phone?

 

Flexibility, consumer need and business drivers

Tablets are here to stay, but the next big thing in them is actually to deliver real flexibility in terms of how we use computers today. At the moment, tablets are too much like big phones than they are small portable computers. But don’t get me wrong, for many consumers this is perfect for them. I know some people run quite complicated Apps, but this is a rare feature. If I want to do some real computing, and some real tasks I need at least a notebook, or a laptop, hell even a fully blown PC in many cases…

Let me give you an example. One of the Directors I work with, bought an iPad 2, which he takes to all meetings we have, which he loves and uses a lot. However, I take a notebook running Windows 7 Starter. Why? Well it’s my need. I would love to take a tablet, but none exist that allow me to do all the things I want to (at the moment that is). While he looks at the odd app, browses the web on his iPad, and that’s about it, I have to plug my machine into projection screens, I have to run presentations, I have to modify those presentations, I have to go through technical prototypes and even
demonstrate applications, proof of concepts and much more, all from that little notebook. And that notebook is holding real databases on it, real development environments.

When I go on holiday, I take the notebook with me, as I can pretty much do everything I need on it (well within reason). I would love to swap it for a tablet, and have that user experience you get with a tablet for the 60% of my needs, but I simply can’t because of the other 40% of needs. So for me, I make do on my phone for what people use tablets for, and I own a notebook. What I want is real flexibility in the tablet marketplace…

The same applies for businesses. While some have adopted the iPad for certain applications, many find that it doesn’t quite deliver everything they need. The limitations of using essentially a Phone OS is too limiting for business and power users. We even find that businesses want to be able to run certain applications on a tablet, but this just isn’t possible, so reps etc use notebooks or take fully blown laptops with them…

 

Tablet market future?

Well who knows. I for one don’t believe iOS is going to be rivalled by any Android based tablet. Nor do I believe that the iPad will come up against much competition based on devices that rely on “content access” and “seamless payments” as major selling points. No, the Apple iPad will only be challenged once more is possible with a tablet than is currently on show in the market.

Enter Windows 8…Windows 8 could potentially be a game changer in this market. On many tablet devices it will run only “Metro”, but it is running real windows and delivers the power of a PC, and that flexibility to a tablet. In addition, on some tablets (just like the one given away by Samsung at Microsoft’s BUILD conference just a few weeks ago), you will have the full power of a PC, with “Metro” and access to the real desktop.

Windows 8, Metro Style

Windows 8 could be the game changer in the tablet marketplace

What does this mean? Well it means for typical “tablet needs” that we see in the market today, you have that with Windows 8. You have access to the Microsoft App store and you will have access to content from Amazon, eBay etc just as you do from your PC. In addition you have a full PC there, in your hands, so if you need to do more with it you can. You also have the option of different devices running the same software, and at different price ranges (just like we have today with PCs).

Going back to my own example. Windows 8 on a tablet would mean I would ditch the notebook. I would use the tablet 60% of the time, just like people use their iPads today. But, when I need to, I am able to carry out that other 40% of tasks on the same device. (Note I will not be replacing my PC, anyone who things we will only own tablets instead of PCs is wrong, or they see us with tablets accessing far larger screen). I will take away a USB keyboard and maybe a docking station for the device, and I can use it just as I use my computer at work. Now that’s real flexibility. Throw in all the added benefits of being connected to Azure with Windows 8, and I find that my little tablet is my PC at home, it is my PC at work…Now that’s real flexibility which opens up the tablet market to many more business users, and consumers…

The tablet market isn’t competitive at the moment. But I believe it will be, just not until we see Windows 8.








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