Posts Tagged ‘ Windows Phone 8 ’


Microsoft created a virtual assistant, made Windows free on small devices, and brought back the Start button – but it’s still playing catch-up

This has been a big week for Microsoft, with a flood of new announcements and changes of direction. Along with its Build conference, new CEO Satya Nadella has made a number of moves designed to reverse the public perception that the company is an aging also ran in the technology races.

The changes include
Rolling out its new Cortana digital voice assistant
Announcing that Windows would be free to manufacturers of devices with small screens
Coming out with “universal” Windows technology that helps developers build apps that run on multiple versions of Microsoft’s operating system
Reviving the popular “Start” menu for Windows 8.1

Though some of those moves are more important than others, they’re all good things. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’ll be enough to solve Microsoft’s problem of being seen as your father’s technology vendor. Here’s why:

Consumers vs. IT
As noted above, Microsoft’s issues right now revolve around how the company is perceived by consumers, and it’s unlikely that these initiatives will be enough to change those perceptions. While all useful, none of them are truly new. Instead, they’re playing catch-up to existing products and services from Microsoft’s competitors, perhaps with incremental improvements, or acknowledgements that previous Microsoft strategies simply weren’t working out.

Technology professionals will welcome these changes, but the IT community isn’t where Microsoft’s problems lie. In my experience,, enterprise IT generally likes and trusts the company. Microsoft’s challenges lie in convincing fickle consumers that it’s as cool and innovative as Apple and Google. I can’t imagine these moves being exciting enough to do that.

Better, but not better enough
While initial reports suggest that Cortana is a credible or even superior alternative to Apple’s Siri and Google Now, the fact remains that other companies pioneered the voice assistant idea. Cortana would have to be light-years better than its already-in-place rivals to truly give Microsoft a significant advantage.

Similarly, making Windows free for mobile devices may help spark more device makers to adopt the platform, but it’s not like it will make an immediate difference to consumers. Besides, Android is already free to license. Once again, Microsoft is playing catch up.

Universal Windows app development may pay off with more app choices in the long run, but it’s a pretty geeky concept for most end users. Finally, bringing back the Start menu will ease the transition to Windows 8 for some holdouts, but let’s face it, the cool kids aren’t really interested in desktop Windows at this point.

Put it all together and you’ve got a collection of tweaks and that could change the substance of what Microsoft does, but won’t dent the way most people think of the company.

More, please!
Still, there’s a big ray of hope here. The fact that Microsoft was willing and able to make these changes could signal that more are on the way. If Microsoft can keep shaking things up and continue to show that things really are different now, eventually people will begin to notice and perhaps change their minds about the company. And then it truly won’t be your father’s Microsoft any more.


 

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Microsoft insists on selling us its Surface laptop/tablet hybrid, but it needs to take user preference into account.

With the announcement of the second version of Microsoft’s Surface tablet coming up later this month in New York City, this might be a good time to ask a pertinent question: What’s really important in a hybrid tablet?

Hybrid devices like the Surface and Surface Pro, the HP Split 13 x2, the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11s, along with many others, fall somewhere between a classic iPad-style tablet and an Ultrabook-style laptop like the Macbook Air or Sony Vaio T Series. They are designed to work as both standalone tablets and keyboard-equipped laptops. The idea is that one device can take the place of both, saving money and the hassle of carrying and switching between multiple devices.

The Problem With Hybrids
It’s a nice theory, but the devices haven’t really caught on yet, and I’m pretty sure I know why.

The problem, as I see it, is that most of these hybrid devices are trying to too hard to do it all, and that’s pretty hard to pull off. Hybrid makers would do better to concentrate on one aspect of the device, and then make the other capability a nice add-on for extra functionality.

But here’s the kicker: The laptop, not the tablet, needs to be the core of this combo.

I’ve used many of these devices, including the Surface and Surface Pro and the HP Envy x2, as well as touchscreen “laptops” like Google’s Pixel Chromebook. They’re all interesting devices, but none of them is perfect. Working through each one’s compromises, though, made it abundantly clear that for the device to have a chance of replacing a separate laptop and tablet, it had to ace the laptop portion of the test.

A hybrid with a strong laptop function that also works as a mediocre tablet could still find a home in many business users’ kits. After all, having a second-rate tablet at hand is often better than not having a tablet at all.

But if the device can’t cut it as a laptop, all bets are off. What good is a hybrid laptop/tablet if you still have to lug along your laptop to do your real work?

A Tale of Two Surfaces
The differences between the two existing Surface models make the point obvious. The Surface is lighter and enjoys longer battery life than the Surface Pro, but its Quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3 chip is underpowered for a laptop. Worse, relying on Windows RT means it may not run all the Windows programs a laptop would. It simply won’t replace a laptop for anyone who really needs one.

The Surface Pro, while bigger, heavier, more power-hungry and much more expensive, sports an Intel Core i5 chip like those in many traditional laptops. If you can live with its relatively small screen and those snap-on keyboards (I could), then it might actually be able to replace a standard laptop for you. And it’s still usable as tablet. Sort of, anyway.

And that’s what these hybrids are all about: Replacing what you absolutely need to have, and doing a good-enough job at the add-ons that would be nice to have. Or, that’s at least what they should be doing. Let’s hope the upcoming Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro do a decent job.


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Latest report says Windows Phone will be neck-and-neck with iPhone by 2017.

Some time back, IDC predicted that Windows Phone would overtake iPhone to be the dominant platform in the smartphone business. This was met with a round of snickering and outright laughter. IDC gave Microsoft and Nokia until 2015, so they have two years to go, but right now, it doesn’t look like it will happen, does it?

And, according to this report from Canalys, it won’t happen. Canalys predicts that by 2017, the iPhone will have a 14.1% market share, while Windows Phone is right behind it with a 12.7% share. As of last year, the iPhone had a 19.5% market share, and Windows Phone a 2.4% market share.

Nothing changes with the Android market, which at this point should be called the Samsung market. It had 67.7% market share last year and will be at 67.1% in 2017.

Jessica Kwee, analyst with Canalys, said in the report that “Apple’s growth will be curtailed by the fact that momentum in the smartphone market is coming from the low end, and Apple is absent from this segment.”

Conversely, Microsoft and its partners, particularly Huawei, will deliver lower-end phones at more competitive pricing. Over the long term, the low-cost Chinese manufacturers will be what pushes Windows Phone into double digits.

“Longer-term it is the Chinese vendors that are best placed to challenge Samsung’s market dominance. Microsoft already has a relationship with Huawei and ZTE in the phone space, and Lenovo is a major partner in the PC space. These partners will be needed to help deliver the scale that Microsoft needs,” Kwee wrote.

I can agree on the Apple side of the analysis. Apple has always been a premium product maker for an affluent audience, and there is no intention of changing that. The game changer will be if Windows Phone ever lands OEMs that will push into the high end. It had LG and Samsung, then lost both. Nokia is going a great job, better than I expected, but it is essentially going it alone.

Then again, that’s how most of the smartphone market is operating if you think about it. The iOS market is Apple only. BlackBerry has talked of licensing its OS; so far, no takers. Nokia is pretty much the Windows Phone market with a little on the low-end via HTC, and Samsung is almost half of the total Android market.

There are other variables I don’t think Canalys took into consideration. What will Samsung do when it ships its Tizen OS? That will surely change the landscape. What if Windows Phone gains momentum and some of these also-ran Android phone companies decide they have a better chance with WP than against Samsung?

That’s why market predictions, like the weather in New England, are impossible to predict beyond one day.


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Microsoft has no reason to save Dell

Written by admin
February 2nd, 2013

If I kicked in a few billion dollars for anything, I’d want something in return. But does Dell have anything Microsoft would want?

By now, you’re probably familiar with the reports that Michael Dell is looking to take his company off the public stock market and make it private again. The deal would be the largest leveraged buyout since the economy hit the skids in 2008, and one of the biggest ever. Because of this, the current problem won’t be easy to solve.

As it looks now, Michael is basically going to have to empty his piggy bank, which means his 16% stake in the company, financing by private-equity firm Silver Lake Partners, and arrange another $15 billion in debt financing with banks.

Microsoft is also involved, reportedly ready to contribute $2 billion or more of equity in the form of a preferred security. Other reports put Microsoft’s contribution at between $1 and $3 billion.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Microsoft’s role is proving to be a sticking point, which should surprise no one. You don’t hand over $2 billion and let a company go on its way. Word to the WSJ is the key players in the deal still need to work out the ways Microsoft would and would not be involved in Dell’s business after a deal closes.

Looking things over, it would seem there is more downside for Microsoft and Dell than there is upside. The great upside potential for both companies, as I see it, is that they would be the closest thing to an Apple-like scenario of merging hardware and software under one roof. It won’t be as tightly knit as Apple, but it will be closer than it is now.

That said, I’m not sure how much tighter they can get. Dell and Microsoft MCTS Certification are already close and have great integration between hardware and software. There’s not much more the two need.

At the same time, Microsoft risks alienating or damaging its relationships with other OEMs, especially HP and the surging Lenovo. We’ve been through this argument before when talking about Microsoft MCITP Training making prototype smartphones and tablets. It’s risky business, but at the same time, where else would the OEMs go?

And, on that note, will a meddling Microsoft put an end to Dell’s Linux efforts? Dell offers Red Hat and SuSe enterprise servers and is working with Canonical to certify Ubuntu on the PowerEdge servers. What will become of that?

Dell has sworn off smartphones for now, having gotten burned on some earlier models like the Streak a few years back. But Microsoft is anxious for OEM partners. Will it lean on Dell to offer Windows Phone 8 devices? If so, how will Nokia, Samsung, HTC and LG take it, if they aren’t the supplier through Dell?

Taking all of these headaches into account, it’s hard for me to see an upside. In this case, Microsoft might want to just wash its hands of the whole thing. Or give a loan with no expectations of influence, although I kind of doubt that would happen.

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Why I abandoned Windows Phone 8

Written by admin
January 7th, 2013

I recently acquired a Nokia Lumia 920 to experiment with Windows Phone 8. But a few weeks in, I’m already back to my Android-based device.

A few months ago, I forced myself to switch to Windows 8 on my desktop system (and laptop) and ended up liking the operating system very much. Once I got used to the quirks and garish look of the new Start screen and learned many of the shortcuts built into Windows 8, I found myself enjoying the operating system and was more than pleased by its myriad of enhancements and performance improvements.

I initially made the switch to Windows 8 because I wanted to fully immerse myself into the OS before formulating any strong opinions. Considering how much I ended up liking Windows 8 on my desktop, I thought I would conduct a similar experiment with my smartphone. For the last few years, I have been deeply entrenched in the Android ecosystem and have experience with a multitude of devices. I enjoy installing custom ROMs on the devices and have experimented with countless apps and utilities. At this point my smartphone is an integral part of my day-to-day computing, and I’ve grown fond of a handful of apps and the convenience of always having my inboxes and access to the web in my pocket.
I picked up a [Windows Phone 8-based Nokia Lumia 920 and was initially impressed. The hardware itself is excellent. The Lumia 920’s camera is top notch. The device is obviously well-built. The screen looks great, and navigating through Windows Phone 8 was smooth as silk. At first, my Android-based device (currently a Samsung Galaxy Note II) remained my daily driver. I kept the Lumia 920 handy until I felt I was comfortable using its email client, browsing the web. But eventually I customized the Start screen to my liking and got a good feel for what Microsoft and Nokia were trying to accomplish with the phone. I installed only a couple of apps and got comfortable with them too.

After a couple of weeks and a good initial impression, I decided to dive in head-first and make the Lumia 920 my daily device. At first, I was happy with the decision. I dug the Live Tiles and the Lumia 920 never lost its luster; it’s a great phone.

But as I started to install more and more apps and dig deeper into the Windows Phone App Store, I was regularly disappointed. There seemed to be three kinds of apps available for Windows Phone 8:

Apps specifically designed for the OS that showed signs of greatness
Quick-and-dirty ports of apps obviously designed for other platforms
Kludges that were nothing more than wrappers for mobile websites

The apps designed with Windows Phone 8 in mind were mostly great. I especially liked the IMDB app, which blows away its counterparts on other mobile platforms. The Facebook app was also very fast and responsive, but it wastes a TON of screen real estate with larger-than-necessary fonts in the navigation menu and wasted white space in the feed. There were times when I could only see a single post in my news feed because of all the wasted screen real estate. I’m not sure what the app developers were thinking with that one.

Then there were the obvious ports that just didn’t look right on Windows Phone 8. One in particular, Words with Friends, comes to mind. I know it’s an older title and games aren’t a necessity, but I enjoy playing Words with Friends; it’s a nice break in the day. Anyway, fonts (like the one used to display the score) were nearly illegible and the game is just plain broken. As of a couple of weeks ago, you couldn’t use words with the letter “Z” and the main screen wouldn’t update when it was your turn. You’d think with the amount of complaints logged in the app store someone at Microsoft would fix the game, but no such luck.

And then there’s apps like YouTube, which seem to be little more than wrappers for the YouTube mobile site. Minimal effort was put into optimizing the app for Windows Phone 8, and it shows.

As you probably guessed by now, my little experience was a failure. I’m back to my Android device and don’t plan to give Windows Phone 8 another try for a few months. If Microsoft wants people to give Windows Phone 8 serious consideration, they’ve got to get serious about offering quality apps for the platform. It’s not just about the number of available apps, it’s about the quality, and at this point in time Windows Phone 8 trails in both departments.


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