September, a big tech month…

4 09 2013

Ever since Apple started making big announcements in September a few years back, it’s become increasingly popular to be the month of big tech news. Samsung copied Apple a few years back and started making their announcements just a few days before Apple, and often September is the month we also get some form of announcement from Google and or Microsoft. September 2013 has been no different.

 

Samsung announcements

These have been pretty odd affairs in recent years, and to be honest, I’m not sure they have been that successful. This year we are talking wearable technology and specifically smart watches. Are these the next big thing? Hmmm. I’m not entirely sure, if technology on your wrist was really going to take off, I think my Casio watch with calculator was quite a “killer” back in the late 80s. I heard a great quote today in relation to wearable technology, “people only wear something that looks good”. That means it needs to look equally as good as something like a Rolex, Tag or Omega watch before it really really has appeal. Let’s face it, no matter what the best looking tech company in the world has to offer (which is Apple not Samsung), I’m convinced tech on my wrist won’t get better looking than that produced by brands like Omega.

Obviously there will be a market for wearable technology, I just don’t feel it will be something the masses adopt, especially when we think how much bigger phones are getting (not smaller). Wearable technology like a watch will not replace my smart phone, so why would I have it?

If you are thinking about Google glasses for example, then again, this kind of tech has other pitfalls. For one, if you already wear glasses I’m not sure the tech even works for you. If you, like me, hate having things distract your eye, then again the tech is not going to be for you. Throw on top of that the fact the glasses don’t look great (and there is a massive market in laser eye corrective surgery so we don’t have to wear glasses) I start to think a lot of this is tech for tech sake…

IMHO, wearable tech may have a place, but its not for the masses and no one should be seeing this as the future and the replacement of the phone, not at least a fair few generations (try 15)…

 

Apple’s big do…

Every September the online media get excited, and I read so much about what will Apple deliver, and what we expect from Apple, and oh, this is what we think this invitation means…I am still amazed at how much coverage a simple invitation gets, and that’s before anything has been announced. Only last night I caught some tech news on the TV and the breaking news was the Apple invitation that had been sent out with colour spots on it! I mean, really, is this massive tech news, especially compared to what really was the ground breaking story of the month, Microsoft purchasing Nokia!

That being said, we are expecting some new form factor iPhone 5s. Now I am not sure how much new tech, if any the new iPhone will have, but it no doubt will be received with a lot of excitement, that’s what brand Apple receives no matter what these days. I personally don’t think we will be seeing anything major in this latest version of the iPhone 5, some colour options, maybe a little more configuration, but there wasn’t any real innovation with the iOS 7 refresh, so don’t expect anything on the hardware front if the OS didn’t offer anything new.

 

Microsoft and Nokia

No matter what Apple or anyone does in September 2013, the big news must be that of Microsoft purchasing Nokia’s devices division. This is a massive shift away from Microsoft’s original vision, that Microsoft delivers software only, not hardware. This shift may have been on the cards, and for some time – since the Nokia announcing it would go all in with Windows Phone – I’ve been stating it’s only a matter of time before Microsoft buy Nokia.  I think further clues should have been taken from the Surface tablet release. Surface may not be doing as well as Microsoft would like, but it’s been a bold move by them, and is basically a statement that “Microsoft no longer has confidence in OEMs to deliver the hardware and the design to best show off Windows technology”. In many ways I have to agree with this. It should also have been clear that Microsoft would need a devices arm after Google purchased Motorola. That makes Google, Microsoft and Apple now all in the mobile phone devices game, which must be a concern for makers like HTC and Samsung, since they have the hardware but rely on software from other sources. Perhaps they will be moving into the software game (I hope not, but you never know).

It’s also not a bad time for Microsoft to really get aggressive with mobile. It’s had some good news as of late, Windows 8 has gained some traction and now commands a greater market share than Mac OS X, and Windows Phone has moved into 3rd regarding smart phones.

Though Microsoft are now well and truly in the hardware game, I firmly believe that Microsoft will continue to license its software and that Windows Phone will be available to OEMs such as Samsung, HTC and many more, because after all, software is still Microsoft’s core business. What it means though is Microsoft can now ensure there are devices in the mobile and tablet market places that can compete in terms of design, performance and build quality with those delivered by Apple. By ensuring this level of design, it forces OEMs to deliver the same, or surpass Microsoft’s efforts, or simply become irrelevant.

Many people may claim Microsoft is a dying company, that they haven’t done anything in years, blah blah blah and that Nokia is dead and should have gone with Android. To me, these are statements from people who don’t understand the two companies, don’t understand business and require glasses when it comes to looking into the future. These are probably the same people who said Apple is dead only months before the launch of the iPod.

Microsoft is still a massive powerhouse, and don’t think that Windows is a poor operating system. Just spend a few days being totally open minded and use Windows 8, on a PC, tablet or phone. The OS is far from perfect, but it really makes sense. The user experience is very slick, the capabilities of the OS is far more powerful than any of its competitors and Microsoft provides development tools that are simply second to none. Throw into the mix its Windows Azure operating system, its dominance in the business world and you can start to see that Microsoft may know after all how to become popular with the consumer again. If you don’t believe me actually try the OS with a fresh mind. On a mobile phone, the experience is second to none it really is, but I appreciate the look and feel is not for everyone, and nor should it be or ever be. Mobile phones are personal devices, and as such an element of personal taste will always come into play. The big problems for Windows 8, be it on the phone or tablet, is the lack of relevant apps in the market place. Size of the app store means nothing, most apps available on all the platforms are really a waste of time, but what kills Microsoft is currently the lack of “expected” apps. I really believe Microsoft has got to get paying some companies to bring their apps to Windows 8, be it phone or tablet. Only then, once consumers know they are getting at least the same apps on a Windows device will they make the switch…

 

So, Microsoft and Nokia, a single OS with no compromises across all devices, on hardware that is reliable, looks good, performs well and is innovative, that’s visionary, that’s big thinking. Now all Microsoft has to do is win back love from developers (which its more than capable of doing) and it really is back in business with the consumer…Oh, and controlling your own hardware surely will be a big tick in the additional profits column (if all goes well, if not a rather big drain).





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….