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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Silverlight, WPF, HTML 5, Metro and err…Flash…

20 09 2011

There is a lot of talk about these technologies, especially
after the Windows 8 BUILD preview. For many, Silverlight and WPF appear to be
dead, simply because it isn’t supported in the Metro world of Windows 8…This
technically is and isn’t true, depends what you think is in a name…

Windows 8 Metro

Looking for Files from any application in the Metro world, 1 single user experience

WPF and Silverlight

Both of these are essentially built on .NET libraries, which
in the desktop mode are still there, just as they are in Windows 7. However, in
the Metro world, these libraries have made their way into the WinRT library
collection, with this in mind and the fact that Metro runs XAML, you see that,
well the names may have changed, but Silverlight and WPF does run in Metro.

To “Metro” your application you do have to make some
changes, and these are very small indeed, we are talking a few changes to
include libraries and that’s about it. These changes though appear to be mainly
focused on touch enabling your application fully in the Metro world.

So if you wrote WPF applications and or Silverlight apps
that run OOB (out of browser), then things are pretty much business as normal. However,
if you wrote RIAs in Silverlight and had them running in the browser, then you
won’t be too happy. You see IE10 in the Metro world will not support plugins,
and that’s probably all down to touch and touch based libraries. If you want to
run Silverlight in a browser, then you need to be in desktop mode and use IE10…Not
perfect, but makes sense…

We also have to remember what we want to have as our
experience on the machine. You see, Silverlight in browser mode, and even
Flash, does deliver “Applications”, but the user experience can be very
different between apps. In the Metro world, Metro isn’t just about making your
apps run on that part of the OS, but is also about a seamless experience, look
and feel between all applications. It is also about integrating these
applications with the OS and other installed applications. What does that mean?
Well you cant have a Flash or Silverlight app running in Metro that then doesn’t
behave as other apps do, or more importantly how a user expects them too. In
the Metro world we can “Search” inside apps, we can seamlessly share content
and data between apps that never knew anything about each other. If we allow a
Silverlight app from a browser to run, then it won’t support this level of
experience, and more often than not, it won’t look and feel like a “Metro” app.
That consistent look and feel is what users want, expect and Microsoft has to
enforce…

Charms and searching within Apps

All apps should behave the same, deliver that same look and feel and support functions such as "Search" and "Share" in the same way. A single user experience

Apps

Apps are essentially the future for the desktop and the web,
Microsoft understands this, just as well as Apple does. You see the web was
never designed to deliver us “Applications”, rather it was designed and
architected to distribute and deliver content. This is primarily why we have
plug-ins for browsers, as even HTML 5 has limitations on what you can and can’t
do. Throw into the mix the horrible issues that arise with browser
compatibility and you see why Apps are far better for the user and for the OS.

Just as we have with mobile phones (and Apples iPad for
example), we will have an app store, which allows us to purchase (or get for
free) applications, for Windows 8, these will be XAML (WPF / Silverlight apps)
or HTML 5 with Javascript (though I believe and suspect XAML will be the
technology of choice).  In this way, Apps
will behave in similar fashions, so it makes it easy for any user to add more
apps to their machine and use them quickly and efficiently. This isn’t the case
with browser plugins nor with typical “chrome” based applications.

Death of Flash?

Well not really, but I do fear this signals the beginning of
the end for Flash. Essentially if you develop in Flash, I would be jumping ship
fast! I also have a chuckle when I think of apps such as Tweet Deck, which essentially
will have to be “Metroed” or make its users have to move to the desktop. Since
I have seen Tweet@rama in demos on Windows 8, I think Tweet Deck will have to
get itself “Metroed”, if it wants to stay alive…

Flash will be on the desktop side of things only for Windows
8, and that includes AIR. So what does this mean for Flash? Well why would a
user want to “flip” into desktop mode, go to a website or open a Flash based
application and leave the lovely Metro world behind? It isn’t going to happen.
Sure for business applications, complex studios (such as photoshop), users won’t
mind moving back to the desktop, but then it makes sense to be in desktop mode
for these kind of complex applications. But most things in Flash are either to
enrich our web experience or to provide a cross platform simple(ish)
applications – such as Tweet Deck. So in the new world, those apps would be
delivered by XAML in Metro and by HTML 5 in the browser, leaving nothing for Flash
to deliver.

The future…

Well the future of the web is HTML 5, the future of real
RIAs is Apps as too is the future of desktop applications. For complex
applications and legacy applications we will have the classic Desktop mode from
Windows 8, and I think this makes a lot of sense. Essentially Windows 8 is
everything to everybody; no matter what they want, expect and need to run…

WPF and Silverlight developers will simply be named Metro
developers (or something similar), web developers HTML 5 developers and Flash
will slowly disappear from the PC as it has already the iPad and probably Mac
OS…





BUILD and Windows 8…

19 09 2011

So last week saw Windows 8 developer preview being shown off at Microsoft’s BUILD conference, and well, there was a lot to take in. BUILD was also showing off Windows Server 8 and a host of other Microsoft initiatives / solutions, including Windows Phone 7.5 and Windows Azure. With all that being shown off, it was hard to keep up and understand what exactly Microsoft was telling us about their future products and services. Unfortunately, as with most things Microsoft does, this meant that there was a lot of “dodgy”, to put it politely, blogging and tweets being thrown around. Essentially many tweets and blog posts were simply wrong, or written by pure Microsoft haters, so the messages coming out from BUILD did get a little lost for some…

Anyway…Let’s have a look at Windows 8 and what it could mean to consumers and businesses…

Metro

Well this is the new interface style if you like, what Windows now looks like by default. Metro is something Microsoft has been pushing, but it’s essentially a design look and feel. Many people see this as
primarily just for tablets, but I disagree. I like the idea of switching on my PC to see the “live tiles” environment, allowing me to peer into applications without needing to open them. It’s a feature I like on the Windows Phone 7+ platform, and I personally think it works really well for the PC, laptop, tablet market. Metro applications also look and behave great, and I have no problem with moving away from “chrome” based windowed applications.

Windows 8 new Metro UI. It's Alive...

The “Metro” side of Windows 8 only supports “metro” style apps and HTML running in IE10 (currently no Silverlight or Flash in the Metro browser experience). Metro also provides a design methodlody for applications, and as such, a framework for developers to work within when delivering “apps”.

There are also “contracts” in place between applications, allowing them to share functionality via “charms”, such as the “search charm”. What does that mean, well it means you can search inside your app from the standard search dialogue. Even better, you can share content between apps using the “share” charm, so I am in one app, and I wish to share some content, I can click on the system charm and simply share it with another application. This provides a real slick feel to using the system, as if the Apps are part of Windows 8, as opposed to a single bit of software that simply runs on Windows 8. There is quite a difference there…Essentially metro and charms all adds to the user experience, and rich environment, Windows 8 aims to deliver.

Charms in action

Using "Charms" with touch screen keyboard to search within apps

Many though have stated, why ship Metro style for the PC if you are also supporting the more traditional “desktop” look and feel, which essentially is Windows 7 updated. There have even been calls for supplying metro only for tablets, and desktop view only for traditional laptops and desktops, a bit like Apple shipping iOS for tablets and full on Mac OS for Mac Books. Well to these people I simply say “you don’t get it”…

Flexibility, choice and function is what people want. If I own an iPad and I want to edit some pictures by using Photoshop, I can’t. That means switching over to my laptop, Mac book, PC whatever to do that work, not great if I am at the mother in-laws for example. So why not deliver a tablet that can allow me to do that work if I want? What’s wrong with having the flexibility and option there? Nothing…After all, I don’t have to go into the standard desktop if I don’t need to…

Native Desktop

The native desktop is still there, essentially it looks and feels like Windows 7, and there is nothing wrong with that. The native desktop is used to support more complex applications, applications such as Photoshop or Visual Studio, applications that need lots of tool bars, need to show lots of actions and functions to the user. There is nothing wrong with these types of applications, and not all applications could be designed the “metro” way (nor should they).

The native desktop is just that, it’s everything Windows 7 is right now, so all your legacy / business applications that have gone before will run fine on Windows 8.

 

Tablets, Laptops, Netbooks, PC’s, Phones…ARM, the lot…

One of the big things with Windows 8, and something Microsoft kept on pushing at BUILD, was that Windows 8 is for all devices, and that means all forms of hardware. So Windows 8 runs well on my fully blown development beast of a PC, yet it works just as well on a small wafer thin tablet running an ARM processor. This is actually great, it means I have a single experience across all my devices, while Microsoft needs only support a single platform.

Now, throw into the mix Microsoft’s investment into the cloud and Windows Live, and you start to see added benefits of this kind of thinking. You can have all your devices understand “state” between them, so understanding where I am in an xbox live game for example, or where I am in terms of a business process. That makes life a lot easier and flexible. Simple things such as changing my “Avatar” on my PC is replicated across all my devices, which is a great touch…

For quite sometime I have wanted a tablet that allows me to install everything I may ever need on it, so that includes development studios, it includes database administration suites, it includes photo editing software etc etc and I simply cannot do that with a tablet. So that means I lug around a great laptop just in case I need these things, yet I mainly use that to search the web, run some power point presentations, check email etc etc. With Windows 8, I can get my PC on a tablet, and use it as a tablet, until I need to use it properly, and in such an event, I can…

 

WinRT, .NET, WPF and Silverlight

Ok, now this is where many bloggers etc really annoyed me, especially those saying “Microsoft has killed .NET and Silverlight”. The essential truth is that many “components” that make up the .NET framework (and therefore the Silverlight framework) have been incorporated into WinRT (which is the metro side of Windows 8 libraries – if you like). Metro apps run either XAML or HTML 5 (note that if you are familiar with WPF and Silverlight that XAML is the front end of those technologies) but don’t run what we could term “native WPF or native Silverlight” applications. Metro apps “managed code” environment is either C++, VB, or C# (oh that’s just the same as WPF and Silverlight), and pretty much everything is the same. If you have an old Silverlight or WPF app,
you do need to make a few, and I do mean few changes, before it runs in the metro environment. I personally don’t see the big problem with this. Sure if you have a business application running on Silverlight, you now need to change it if you want to run it in the Metro world, however, you can always run it in the desktop environment…If you want to migrate, make the few changes and away you
go, and you now have a Metro application. Those changes are essentially a few include changes, and that’s it…

When you look at “Metro”, you see that it really is just an update to Silverlight / WPF, actually the whole of Windows 8 looks and feels like a Silverlight / WPF.

 

HTML 5 and scripting languages

HTML 5 is now supported along with Javascript in Visual Studio 2011, now I don’t think this shows any movement away from Microsoft technologies (such as XAML), rather it shows Microsoft’s aim of allowing as many developers as possible to develop great applications for Windows 8.

From some of the videos I have watched, I would suspect that using XAML is better for Metro applications (well delivering some of them), however, HTML 5 is going to do more than adequate job.

 

Windows Azure

There was a lot on Windows Azure, especially when we start looking at how Windows 8 synchronises between all your devices. Now I am not one who has shouted about the cloud from day 1, I have often spoken of some of the issues regarding compliance and many issues with the cloud. However, that being said, Microsoft uses Azure very very well with Windows 8. They have also gone through a lot of work of exposing may Azure interfaces to developers, allowing them to take advantage of the power of Azure across all devices. Great thinking…

I also liked a lot of things being done with Azure, and how Microsoft have really addressed compliance issues that do raise their head when we think of cloud computing. If I am honest, I think the stuff I have seen on Azure of late has me praising the concept of the cloud so much more. Though I feel that’s more aimed at “Azure” than cloud computing in general. I still have issues with IaaS and concepts of cloud applications running in my browser (I hate that, I want a real user experience, a real application, and guess what, with Metro or the desktop and Azure, I can get that very easily).

 

Developers, developers, developers

BUILD was all about developers, and that means putting them at the forefront of Windows 8, giving them the tools they choose to develop with and allowing them “sell” to potentially millions of customers. On that note, there was a lot made about the sheer number of devices out there that will be running Windows 8, and just how big that audience is for developers. I know that Apple has gained traction here; I know that Android has gained traction too, but at the end of the day, if you develop for Windows you have the biggest audience out there. And that is a fact…Throw into the mix Windows 8 capabilities on tablets and the deal with Nokia, and I think you see that Microsoft is working hard to get even more devices running their software.

 

Much more I have missed…

There was simply so much at BUILD that I can’t possibly start talking about all the things I am aware of, nor did I fancy writing multiple blogs on essentially a platform that is only at developer preview stage.  I didn’t touch on Windows Server 8, nor other features such as NFC enablement, but there you go. Go visit Channel 9 and watch the hundreds of hours on BUILD.

Essentially, Microsoft has been working very hard, it has taken on board the need for touch, and the fact that mobile and tablets are becoming must have devices, and as such, Microsoft should have Windows running on them.

I personally think Microsoft has done a great job with Windows 8 and Azure, and I can really see them taking Apple on head to head in markets where Apple currently dominates. Is this Microsoft getting back to their best? I think so…