Apple Announcements 2015: iPad Pro, Watch, iPhone

Microsoft has often be accused of ‘firing up the Xerox’ to copy Apple’s ‘innovations.’  Well, during the Apple presentation on Sept 9, it seems that they are the ones who ‘fired up the Xerox.’  Indeed, the new 12.9 inch iPad Pro they introduced has many Surface 3 Pro features, including the docking keyboard and the pen, which Apple calls ‘the Apple Pencil.’  Cute.  Of course, this harkens back to the Steve Jobs comment “if you see a stylus, they blew it.” Of course, the Apple apologists will say that he didn’t really mean it that way.  Uh huh, right.

iPadPro_Pencil_Lifestyle1-PRINTAll kidding aside, the iPad Pro is a credible machine.  At nearly 13 inches, the screen is big enough to adequately display two apps, side by side. Interestingly, there’s no drag and drop between applications. You copy/cut and paste.  An odd thing to leave out.  Maybe iOS 9.2.

The iPad Pro’s stylus has a nice feature that lets the Pro know the angle and pressure the user is placing on the screen’s surface.  Sensors built into the device communicate this data back to the software, which, in turn, acts on it.  Designer’s can now draw fine lines or really thick lines without having to lift the stylus. 

Microsoft was on stage demoing Office for iOS.  Yep, it is a credible package that turns the iPad Pro into a real, honest to goodness productivity device. 

The Pro’s keyboard dock is very, very similar to the Surface 3 Pro’s keyboard.  In fact, there were many, many similarities, so much so, that it seems that Apple was acknowledging Microsoft’s lead in this space.  A refreshing turn of events.

The iPad Pro also boasts four speakers.  The sound, one would hope, is far better than the tinny monoaural sound that comes out of them now.

On the watch front, native apps are now available as is several new bands.

Apple TV got a major upgrade with the addition of in device memory, a redesigned controller and an app store. Yes, it now runs apps and games with ‘stunning, console quality graphics.’ Someone quipped ‘yeah, if the console is a Wii.’  Hey, the Wii is still a cool little console.  Leave it alone or I’ll give you a wedgie!

Prices for the Apple TV are $149 and $199 for the 32gb and 64gb versions.  No 4k yet.

Prices for the iPad range from $799 to $1069.

Of course, the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus were also on display.  The killer feature:  living images.  This is a feature that Microsoft has had in its Lumia smart phones for quite sometime.  Basically, the camera buffers about four seconds of video.  The best frame, for the iPhone and in the ‘middle’ is taken where as the Lumia is usually the best of the last frames.  Either way, the effect is impressive.  Apple has taken it a step further and provides magic that also captures audio.  The Lumia does not do that.

There were other interesting things about the phones…faster processor, more internal RAM, 12mp camera, but the living images is, by far, the best new feature.

Head over to CNET for much more detail.

Windows 10, the consumer rules

Win10_Windows_ProductFamily_WebMicrosoft unveiled a near complete Windows 10 platform at an event they hosted this past week (Jan 21, 2015.)  During the keynotes, several key features were shown off, which are sure to make just about everyone happy about the new addition to the Windows family.  Among the features highlighted were:

  • Continuum, the ability to rather seamlessly transition from desktop mode to tablet and back again, depending on whether or not you have your tablet docked or not.
  • Cortana, the Windows Phone assistant now comes to the desktop and tablet experiences as well.
  • Universal apps, which have been talked about for a long time, are a reality. These apps will work on phone, tablet or PC and the experience will be very similar across devices.
  • Spartan, the ‘new’ browser based on the old browser’s Javascript and rendering engines.
  • Clean and consistent user interface spans all types of devices, from phone to XBOX One.

Windows 10: The Next Chapter press event (day 2 of 2)Windows 10 not only gives desktop features to mobile devices, but some of those features are headed to PC land (and some to XBOX as well) including the notification area. On phone, you swipe down from the top edge of the screen. On PC, it will be near the tray. Either way, you will see the same things. And, perhaps the biggest feature of all, Cortana, the Siri like assistant, comes to the desktop.

There were also two huge announcements made, that really kind of overshadow all of the other stuff:  Windows as a service and Windows 10 upgrades will be free to Windows 7, 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 users, for the first year the product is available.  Yes, that gives you a year to get off your seat and upgrade those Windows 7 computers.  For free.

Windows as a service is currently aimed at the business area, but it could to consumer land at some point. The Windows as a service plan is very much like Office 365 and, in fact, includes Office 365 for business.  Pricing was not announced, but it is speculated to be around $12 per user per month.

Perhaps an overlooked aspect of the announcements Win10_Xbox_Devices_Webwas the XBOX One.  Windows 10 will be coming to that platform as well. And it will require a new interface…the XBOX controller.  Game streaming from XBOX One to any Windows 10 device will be baked in. You will be able to start a game on your console, continue on your tablet or desktop and finish back on your console.  The XBOX app for Windows will also be included and will be very similar to the Xbox 360 and Xbox One apps that are out today.

Microsoft will be releasing two huge Windows 10 computers, a 55 inch and an 84 inch device that is ‘tuned’ for conferencing and aimed at business (which means they will be expensive.) They will be from the Perceptive Pixel company that Microsoft purchased a while back. Called Surface Hub, you can see them in action here.

Oh, and there was one more thing…

Win10_HoloLens_LivingRoom_WebHOLOLENS. HoloLens is an augmented reality headset in the form of glasses. Among the things it can do…use your eye as a mouse.  This device is very intriguing and nothing I write here will convey that, so…I will point you to Youtube and to Engadget, where they had some hands on with the device and a nice write up too boot.

 

OFFICE

Win10_Windows_Mail_PrintA new version of Office was briefly shown. Office for Windows 10 is a touch enabled version of the productivity suite.  It will be available for all Windows devices (not sure about XBOX) and will be consistent across them.  Outlook on Mobile will use the Word engine so you will be able to, finally, create really nice email messages on your phone.  The suite will be available for free on all device that are under 8 inches.  Pricing for the other devices was not revealed.

If  you want to play around with the new bits, you can enter the preview program and download Windows 10 for your computer today.  The mobile version is coming out in February of 2015.

Record earnings result in an 11% drop in stock price…seriously?

There is a technology company that reported a ten percent rise in sales, earnings of five billion dollars or 59 cents a share and totals sales of $20.7 billion(US).  Yet, despite these great numbers, its stock sank 11% on the news.

What company? Microsoft. Why? Because they reported a $900 million write down on the Windows RT version of Surface. NOT the Pro Surface, which has been deemed a failure because it is lumped in with RT.  Indeed, the RT Surface is hardly a failure either. The write down is from where Microsoft lowered the device’s price by as much as $150 each.  Now, don’t get me wrong, Surface RT is not taking the retail market by storm. Far from it.  It is not selling all that well. There are a variety of reasons why, but, the biggest reason…it’s initial price was just too damn high.  $499 for an RT tablet is way too much.  Yes, it is a terrific device. Nice display, cool design, good feel and all around very nice hardware. BUT. There’s always a but.  Windows RT simply isn’t mature enough to command that kind of price. Microsoft needed to take a loss up front to get the machines out in the public hands.

Armchair quarterbacking aside, Microsoft has recognized what it did wrong and is making the necessary changes to right the ship. I think they will and I don’t think Ballmer’s head needs to roll. Yes, he should have realized they are not Apple and Surface RT is not the iPad. However, it is close now and lowering the price to $349 is a big step in the right direction.

The news was not all bad for the company. Office sales were up, Windows was steady and Windows Phone 8 is making big strides. In fact, Nokia reported selling more Lumia Windows Phone devices than Blackberry sold in its entire lineup.  Though, given that Apple moved 30 million iPhones compared to Nokia’s 7.5 million Lumias and one quickly realizes just how bad Blackberry is doing and also begs the question about Nokia as well.

Windows 8 devices, overall, are doing well, but not nearly as well as they could be.  The press is partly to blame and Microsoft is partly to blame but, the biggest offenders? The hardware partners. Mediocre hardware is killing the Windows devices market.  There are standouts, but, generally speaking, the state of the hardware is abysmal. You have a dynamite operating system that works equally well with touch and non-touch devices and, yet, the hardware is barely adequate for Windows XP. And these little 8 inch ‘saviour’ tablets? They will do more harm. Witness the poorly received Acer W3 8 inch tablet. The screen has been vilified. It is so bad that even Acer admits they need to do something about it. Question is what and when. In the mean, this overpriced tablet is leaving a bad taste in customer’s mouths. 

And, eight inches? Seriously? As long as that damned desktop mode is in Windows, you cannot have a touch screen under ten inches and be usable. Hell, I can barely use it at 10.6 inches.  I can’t imaging using it on an 8 inch screen.

The funeral that many are calling for is very premature. Microsoft will get it right.  They still have a huge advantage, contrary to what others may write, in Windows. Tablets, while handy, are not the end all and be all of computers.  I love them, but, we will still need our desktops. One day, that many not be the case, but, for the foreseeable future, it is.

SkyDrive: sync your OneNote notebooks, access all your PC’s, and share your photos

skydrive1Years ago, Microsoft introduced it’s Windows Live brand and, with it, a set of applications, including the Photo Gallery, Movie Maker and something called Live Mesh. Mesh was a syncing tool that also had a really nice remote access feature. This was, perhaps, its best feature. You could remotely access and control any PC that had Mesh and was linked to your Live Account. I used it extensively. Mesh also allowed file syncing between all of the machines in your mesh.

Alas, Microsoft dinkyed around with Mesh over the years and have now killed the product. All is not lost, though.

Enter SkyDrive.

When I first heard that SkyDrive was replacing Mesh, I cringed. Having seen it, I was thoroughly unimpressed. But…

Things change, time passes and software gets better. And, so did SkyDrive.

Microsoft has SkyDrive client software available for Windows, Android, iOS and Windows Phone. There is also a browser based client. Of all the choices, the web based SkyDrive is the better choice.

I’m not going to go over the clients, they offer only basic options, like file sharing.  The web site, however, is more.

While it will not provide the remote access, Microsoft is leaving that up to its partners, it does allow access to the file systems of any machines that you’ve linked to your SkyDrive account.  And this feature alone makes SkyDrive-the web site-a must.

If you are using Windows 8, that machine is automagically linked. I found my three Windows 8 devices are all linked to my SkyDrive account and let me access the file systems on the other devices.

skydrive2Other features include photo sharing, online versions of Word, Excel and Powerpoint and access to Outlook.  Microsoft keeps making SkyDrive more and more useful. It’s a shame they are not making the applications more useful, especially the rather lame XBox 360 version. I have yet to figure out why I would want that one.

For me, the ability to sync my OneNote notebooks is about as useful as the access to my devices, perhaps more so. I can now sync my notebooks between my PC’s, iPad, iPhone and my Asus tablet. Having access to that data has proven invaluable and, couple with the online Office apps, have eliminated my desire to put Office on my new machines. My Asus tablet does have Open Office, but mainly for use at work, where my access to SkyDrive is limited.

If you have not tried SkyDrive lately, give it a shot, you will be pleasantly surprised.

Microsoft does listen: licensing for Office 2013 is to change

In an amazing turn of events, Microsoft actually listened to its customers and has changed the licensing for the RETAIL version of Office 2013. As I previously warned, the license for retail, boxed copies of Office 2013 was perpetually tied to the machine that it was originally installed, unless that machine died within its warranty period AND Office were pre-installed. You would be able to transfer it ONCE.

Today, acknowledging its customers, Microsoft changed the licensing to be a bit more flexible. You may now transfer the license from one machine to another, but once every 90 days. So, you still cannot install on your desktop, your laptop, your brother’s desktop or significant other’s machine at the same time.

While not perfect, it is better and it does prove that Microsoft does, in fact, listen.

From the Office blog:

Based on customer feedback we have changed the Office 2013 retail license agreement to allow customers to move the software from one computer to another. This means customers can transfer Office 2013 to a different computer if their device fails or they get a new one. Previously, customers could only transfer their Office 2013 software to a new device if their PC failed under warranty.

While the licensing agreement text accompanying Office 2013 software will be updated in future releases, this change is effective immediately and applies to Office Home and Student 2013, Office Home and Business 2013, Office Professional 2013 and the standalone Office 2013 applications. With this change, customers can move the software to another computer once every 90 days. These terms are identical to those found in the Office 2010 software.

So, there you go. It’s a shame that they abandoned the three-install license (I called it the ‘family pack.’) With Office 2010 Home and Student, you could install and use it on three devices, concurrently. Install it on others as long as you uninstalled on one.  Nice, family and budget friendly and it gets more people using the software. For some reason, they abandoned this (OK, it’s Office 365 that did it) and went with the archaic terms for the boxed software. They REALLY want that subscription. Well, I’m just not sure I’d want to do that. At $99 a year, it would feel like I am buying it every year. Not sure I want to do that. And, while 2013 looks great, I’m just not sure it is any better than 2010. But, that is me. You decide, is it worth it? 

In comes outlook.com, out goes hotmail…buh bye!

It looks like Microsoft is finally going to jettison the Hotmail brand. I’d say, it is about time they did so. Hotmail has always had a negative connotation whereas Outlook generally means business. So…Hotmail is now going to be called Outlook.com.  Currently, the branding is still there, but you can sample the new look and feel (click here.)

outlookcomtiles

The new look is fresh and very app like.  It looks like the Outlook application that ships with Office 2013.  There is a healthy dose of Metro in there as well. In fact, hovering the mouse near the Outlook logo reveals a drop down arrow that, when clicked, displays tiles for more features like calendar and people. They, currently, link to the Live branded versions.

Using the new site is pretty intuitive: if you know how to use Outlook, this will be second nature. It is pretty, too.

I’m not going to go into detail here on how to use it, like I said, if you know Outlook, you know this site. I would just say that you will need to navigate around the page as moving the mouse may reveal more options than are obvious.

You will see advertising on the right side of the page. At first, I thought it was part of my email, then I realized it was an ad bar.  I’m OK with this, it is not obtrusive and is easily overlooked. If it keeps the service free, I don’t mind.

So far, I’ve not noticed anything missing. It seems feature complete and, for beta, it is pretty fast too. Go have a look around, I think you will like the clean layout and design.

outlookcom

Office 2013: word

Microsoft has formally introduced Office 2013 and Office 365. Office 2013 is the successor to Office 2010 and Office 365 is the rental version. I’m not going to discuss 365 today, in fact, I want to talk about one component of Office: Word. Word is probably tied with Excel as the most used application on the planet.

Before I start, I want to give a quick overview of the Preview version of Office that Microsoft made available today.  (You can grab it here.)

You start the process of acquiring the preview by clicking a bevy of Try It! buttons. Once you get to webmanagementyour Live account page, you click the install button to begin the download.  Once started, the process is fairly quick. It downloaded and began the install process in just a few minutes. Within 15 minutes, you can actually start using the suite. Performance is below par until the entire process is complete, but, once it is, I found the suite to be pretty snappy. Your account page on Live.com will show you how many machines you can install it on and will track that for you. It will show you the name of the computer(s) you have installed it on.  You have the option of deactivating office on a computer so you can install it on another. You have up to five computers for the home edition.

Word

Word15LoadDocumentThe first thing you notice about Word (or any of the apps) is that it has a Metro ‘feel’. No tiles, but the typography and colors match Windows 8’s Metro appearance.  Office, however, is a DESKTOP application, not a real Metro app.  That said, it has a Metro look and feel. Word looks terrific.  Gone is Aero and the chrome associated with a ‘normal’ Windows app. There’s no Window border and the open, close and minimize widgets are small and out of the way.

Upon opening a document,I noticed several things right away: the open file dialog box is now full accountscreen and if you hit the BROWSE button, only then will you get a standard file open dialog.  The open file page also has a link to your SkyDrive. SkyDrive is a 20gb file store that lives on Microsoft servers somewhere on the planet. Microsoft have integrated its web services very nicely and pretty seamlessly.  Also, you notice all of your options are now in a bar down the left side of the page and there’s an Account option that gives you control over what services you want, your SkyDrive and a few options for Office itself.

WordNavWhen your selected document loads, you get a navigation pane on the left.  It shows the structure of your document, provided you actually use the headers and sections properly (which I often don’t.) It is a convenient way to organize and edit your document.

hideRibbonThe Ribbon has been refined further. It is now flat (following the Metro mantra) and can be tucked out of the way, only to show when needed.  ribbonpinThe organization and presentation of the ribbon is much nicer than in previous versions of the suite.  The most used features are prominent on the ribbon and most of the keyboard shortcuts are still there.

Word is, first and foremost, a text editor.  As such, Microsoft added several things to enhance its editing abilities.  Text flows more smoothly and more intelligently when you move objects around your document. In previous editions, moving an image could sometimes result in your text going to a completely different page. That does not happen now.

A bit of Google Docs has been incorporated as well. I speak of the ability to share a document and have a group edit it.  Versioning and comments are integral and there is now the ability for an editor to respond to a comment without affecting the document.  Sharepoint like functionality is possible with SkyDrive.  Microsoft really has embraced the web, in ways I never thought they could.

One interesting, though totally unimportant feature: themes. Office 2007 gave you three color schemes. Office 2013 gives you Zune-like themes. There are no color schemes, oddly enough.  And the ‘themes’ are simple backgrounds that are unobtrusive and barely noticeable. They blend in while you work and are not in your face. In fact, you don’t really notice them. I’m not sure if this is good or not or why they bothered.

One annoying thing: as the result of Microsoft losing a bogus patent lawsuit, custom XML tags were bogusXMLremoved from the DOCX format. So, when I tried to load such a document, I was greeted with a message informing me that the XML custom tags would be removed. Not earth shattering, but annoying.

Overall, I’d say Office 2013 may prove to be a bigger deal than Windows 8 and I’d love to try it on a Windows 8 touch screen device.  It will ship on the Surface tablets, so when you purchase a Surface, you will get Office with the device.

The preview edition is available now and you can download it from here.

EDIT: Changed references to Office 15 to Office 2013.