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….





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).





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…





Apps Apps Apps. Oh and web services

31 08 2011

The growing demand for smart phones, and the ever growing number of us who now own one, and almost rely on one, means we (as consumers and end users) now expect to be able to consumer content and work in different ways. It’s amazing that “culturally” many of us now come to expect certain possibilities from our mobile devices, and that means we expect certain things from the content we wish to access or the solutions we wish to use to work. With this in mind, we need to architect solutions and user experiences not just for the “web” or the desktop, but for both, and not just for both, but also for mobile devices…

 

Apps, Apps and yet more Apps

It really all started with the iPhone, the drive for “there’s an app for that”, which means many of us now use apps for so many day to day type tasks. Apps deliver a far greater user experience than any web based “app” can in a mobile browser, even HTML 5. Keep in mind this fact, as it means consumers expectations are higher than ever, which ultimately means software developers need to provide “App” solutions, and not rely on HTML 5 for cross platform compatibility.

This same expectation on our mobiles means we expect similar from our desktop experiences. So while HTML provides cross browser capabilities and the newer HTML 5 provides richer experiences, it doesn’t quite hit the expectations consumers and users now have.  So what does this mean? Well it means that the desktop application is not dead, rather it is evolving, throw in the cloud and we can see where things “should” be going…

The Cloud

The cloud and SaaS opens up new doors, especially for “Apps”. Relying on HTML 5 to deliver cloud based applications is simply mad, simply because user’s expectations have moved on. For me, HTML 5 is simply 2 years already too late. The solutions then should be delivered in “app” type fashion, and this is where I believe Silverlight and Flash will lead the way. Both can deliver almost desktop type solutions and user expectation, but be deployed over the web. With Silverlight you can run it within the browser or out of the browse, as if a real desktop application installed on the machine. This surely is the way to go…

I know Apple goes on about HTML 5, but do we really believe that Apple sees people using HTML 5 apps on their iPad, when a user can access a far better experience, more features etc. by simply using the “App” for that?

Web Services

Good old web services play a pivotal role here, allowing any form of application (desktop, HTML 5, Silverlight, Flash etc) to communicate and essentially “work”. It seems that all these technologies are starting to “align” which means that these are exciting times…

One architecture for all?

With the cloud, web services and the drive for apps, we essentially have a single architecture that is already drawn out for us for so many different types of solutions. The only down side is that “apps” need to be developed for individual platforms, though Flash and Silverlight cover a few of the basis. But, “Apps” are essentially the front end of the solution, all the work is still being done down in the engine room and via web services, so it’s not as big of an issue as many may try and claim.

New ways of doing business

This architecture, and mobile devices, along with their apps, opens up so many new avenues for the ways in which we communicate, we consumer content, we play and how we work. It even means so many business processes that we believe are fixed in “stone” can be changed, and be changed for the better and at a cost that isn’t astronomical.

I think Apps, along with the cloud and web services will change the way in which so many day to day processes and tasks are done, I also firmly believe that there are a number of technologies in the pipeline that will take too long to evolve and will be overtaken by the “app” monster…I feel the big HTML 5 could well be one of them, with many organisations not investing in new HTML 5 websites, or applications, rather opting for real “Apps” leveraging web services…

What do you think will suffer at the hands of apps?

It would be interesting to know what other budding technologies, or big ideas, that you think may potentially fall by the wayside, because we now have such an architecture and consumer expectation for Apps…





Why does Apple love HTML 5?

20 03 2011

There is an awful lot of talk and hype regarding HTML 5, with one of its main advocates being Steve Jobs and more importantly, Apple as a company…What so many don’t ask themselves is “why is Apple making a big push for something that essentially provides them no revenue”

 Apple often site HTML 5 as one of its reasons for not supporting Flash and Silverlight, stating they support the web free of plug-in technologies and want to ensure the web stays open source etc etc. Whenever I hear this it is so obvious that there is a different agenda, after all it makes no sense for Microsoft (with Silverlight) or Adobe (with Flash) to charge for these technologies, if they did, no one would use them and no websites would leverage them to deliver rich applications. What I continually find astonishing is the amount of so called journalists and bloggers that believe that Apple want a free, open web. Let’s remind ourselves, Apple exists to make money…

What’s in it for Apple?

Let’s ask ourselves, what’s in HTML 5 for Apple? I mean really in it for them? The answer is, Apps…

Now I may have lost you there, you probably thinking apps have nothing to do with HTML 5 as such, and you would be right. You see, HTML 5 is the future of the web for sure, and it will bring new life to the web with animiations, even video playback to an extent, (though we have this via Flash and Silverlight already, so nothing new to the web, just new to HTML). HTML 5 won’t make the web a “richer place”. You see, HTML 5 will still suffer the same limitations, namely running in a browser, the web architecture and the end user experience (not to mention cross browser compatibility issues, DDA compliance etc etc). This means websites wont be all singing and dancing apps, rather they will remain pretty much website experiences we have at the moment (well with a bit more “jazz” to them). You see, Apple is counting on the web going back to its roots more, and we are seeing this with many more websites looking cleaner, and simpler to meet certain compliancy issues and to make life easier for users (not to mention making life easier for developers when supporting all browsers across all platforms). What Apple doesn’t want is real rich applications to be delivered via HTML 5, well not the type that can compete with desktop based applications, or mobile apps.

Apple doesn’t want HTML 5 to be the wave of the future for application development because it can’t make money from that, rather it wants us all to have to “download” and use specific “apps” for platforms. Think the iPhone App store and you see what I am getting at.

Essentially one of the biggest reasons people opt for the iPhone is not because it’s the best looking phone, it has the so called best screen display (which it doesn’t) nor these days for its revolutionary touch screen and OS, no, it’s because of the App store, and the rich “internet” experiences these apps open the user up to.

Flash and Silverlight are technologies that can deliver “apps” via the internet and over the internet, cross platform, cross browser etc and all from the same code base. This is a real threat to Apple. After all, if I can write a great app using Silverlight and have it deployed with small mods to any form of device, then as a development company I have opened up my markets and saved money. This is a good thing. However, Apple now would have an app that, though rich and great on its platform, is just as good and readily available on other platforms. Which detracts from some of the appeal of its own product.

You see, Silverlght and Flash are real threats to Apples unique “app” store.

Here is an example of why Apps are the future and why Apple wants us all to love HTML 5.

How do you use Facebook on your mobile? Do you use a browser and the HTML version? Probably not because it’s too slow, clunky and the end user experience not that great. You use Facebook via your Facebook app for your mobile, which you downloaded from an App store (for apple, android or market place for windows). Apple take this further with the iPad, providing not just an app for your iPhone, but a slightly different app that works better on the iPad, the iPad being something that apparently is designed for web experiences on the go. Yet it still wants you to download apps, and, that is one of the reasons why Apple don’t want us to use Flash or Silverlight, because these technologies can deliver rich “apps” onto any platform potentially, not just specific to the iOS.

Today I watched an advert for sky news, and there was no mention of the sky news website, only that, for the very best experience, use the sky news iPad app…What does that tell you?

This confirms that Apple see Apps as a way of cornering the web market, especially when over 30% of web consumption was via mobile devices last year in the UK. The future of the web is reverting back to information based sites, with richer websites being delivered in HTML 5 yes, but real applications, and real rich intuitive experiences that work on multiple devices coming from dedicated apps.

Conclusion

Apple doesn’t want to supports Flash or Silverlight, if it did it means they have lost their app store edge. Imagine sky news delivering one solution for all platforms via Silverlight. The advert would have been “get the very best experience with our Sky News App, for iPhone, iPad, Windows Phone, Android and to your desktop”…Immediately, I don’t need to have an iPad to get the very best experience, rather I can choose which device, which OS, all of which detracts from Apple’s marketing and business plans in many may ways.

Apples tactics of using “content” to help us make the decision to purchase their hardware aren’t anything new. Look at how VHS beat off Beta-max? VHS was a lesser solution, but it had more content on it, and more to the point, content that was in high demand. Because of this, it meant users opted for the VHS platform as they then got the films they wanted, which meant Beta-max sales dropped until there was only one, VHS.

So while we all harp on about how great HTML 5 will be, we must remember that the big players (especially Apple) want it to succeed only to destroy Flash and Silverlight, which plays right back into their hands of delivering true rich experiences, only via their platform specific dedicated apps and app stores..And of course, we all do, so we will all be using apps to access the web…

I am a strong believer in the future of the web being Apps, as applications will always be able to potentially deliver far richer end user experiences. What I don’t want to see though is the need access the best experiences based on hardware and what is made available though an “App” store.  We should be able to access these apps directly from web pages, and opt for the mobile version, or the desktop version, or the slate version.

HTML 5 may be a way of lighting up HTML and making it richer, but it potentially could also be the way of forcing us all down the route of App stores and choosing hardware to best access web content. Now to me, that is not the point of HTML 5…





The future of the web? Apps all the way…

11 02 2011

This year will be the first year it is believed, that web access will be carried out on more mobile devices than actually through a PC or laptop. That’s a massive shift in the way we use the web. But don’t think that means we are sticking with browsers and HTML 5 even. What it really means is that more of us are looking towards mobile apps for access…

Take an example, do you from your mobile device use Tesco website for your shopping, or do you use their app. Almost everyone will say the app (if you shop at Tesco via the web that is). So why do we use the app and not the website? Simple, user experience…

Apps User experience

The problem with mobile devices is the screen real estate, they are simply small, even when you use an iPad, the real estate is smaller than a traditional netbook or my 19” wide screen TFT monitor…So seeing everything can be tricky, and it means scrolling around a lot. Secondly is the experience, waiting for pages to load over the web etc etc.

Apps provide a more “desktop” type experience, often loading is done in the background or even core data is stored on the device. So that means performance is greatly improved and we don’t have to pay greater network charges. In addition, apps are designed specifically for the realestate problem, so we get nice smooth experiences which make browsing using a web browser pale in comparison…

What can we learn from this…

What we learn is that, HTML 5 may be the future of websites and even rich internet experiences on the web and to some extent mobile devices, but the future is still on the device itself. Running software via a browser is architecturally inefficient; it’s very restrictive and comes with no end of issues. That’s simply because the web was not designed to deliver applications, rather it was designed to deliver content.

Can we deliver “apps” to the desktop? Yes we can. This is something I am a strong believer in. The web is great for delivering content and communications between the client and a server. If we make the small leap that components of an application are content, then we see that we can deliver desktop apps down to the client via a website, and have them communicate with servers in the cloud over HTTP. This is why I love the Silverlight model, as it’s all there…

Delivering applications this way makes the most of the web architecture and leverages all the benefits of being on the desktop, just as “mobile apps” make the most of being on the device. This is a great way of delivering real applications to business users, either over the web or intranet, running them out of the browser. You have a desktop app, with all the flexibility of a web app. A great solution….

Facebook scenario?

I’m not saying this is where we should all be, but websites such as Facebook would benefit massively from having a desktop app version. Why? Well how many people do you hear actually compliment the Facebook website on its looks, feel and how they use it? I don’t think any, rather I hear constant moaning about its performance, lack of intuitive navigation and, well the list goes on. The only good point is that they can access it over the web. But, how many use Facebook the website on their phone? Hardly any, rather they opt for their devices Facebook app (which delivers a better experience than the website most times). So if you had the choice as an end user, would you  have a rich desktop app for Facebook, rather than having to go to the website? I know I would!

Silverlight and Flash can deliver those capabilities, HTML 5 cannot. I think the future should be HTML 5 for websites, Silverlight and or Flash for desktop “web” apps…